by Darius Kazemi, August 13 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

On-Line from afar

RFC-225 is titled “RAND/UCSB Network Graphics Experiment”. It's authored by Eric Harslem of Rand and Ron Stoughton of UCSB. It's dated September 13, 1971.

The technical content

For about a month now, programmers at RAND Corporation have been accessing UCSB's On-Line System (OLS) via graphical consoles at the RAND offices.

Specifically, the OLS is being accessed via the Rand Video-Graphics System (VGS), which is equipped with a tablet input. It runs a special program locally that acts as a kind of virtual OLS interface that emulates the second keyboard needed to use the OLS. If you look at the ASCII art diagram you'll see it's divided into three parts:

A display from the OLS module.  The top of the screen has a feedback line, the remainder of the upper half is  the output display from the OLS, and the lower half is a large area containing various function buttons.

(By the way, the figures in the original document are almost certainly not ASCII art. Most of the drawings in the early RFC series were converted to ASCII from their original form as line drawings in the late 1990s. If/when I can dig up the scans, I'll add them here.)

They plan to present the result of this work at the October graphics meeting in the form of both a paper and a film showing its use.


We haven't heard from Ron Stoughton since the very earliest days of the Network Working Group! He was one of the original members and his name is listed in RFC-3 as the primary contact for UCSB. This is the first RFC he is listed as an author on, and he will only write one more after this.

Further reading

The Rand Video-Graphics System is described in detail in this 1971 paper.

Here is a poor-quality photo of the system in action, from the paper:

A blurry black and white image of a man hunched over an electronic tablet, looking at a monitor with a bunch of knobs and dials on it.

And here's a block diagram of the system, also from the paper:

A block diagram of the Rand VGS, breaking out its components including a speaker and microphone with a press to talk switch, a TV screen with 875 lines, coaxial video output, a tablet, and a keyboard.

There are more photos available in this less detailed but higher scan quality paper at the RAND website.

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About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.