is a heck of a popular guy.
After all, people from all parts of the world call his
home in Reston's South Lakes Village 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
has some help answering the phone: In his
basement sit 24 computers linked by a sophisticated network system, forming one of the area's largest computer bulletin boards, The Virginia Connection.
has run the system since New Year's Day 1985, keeping it on-line continually while adding capacity, efficiency devices and services for the hundreds of computer junkies who use the bulletin board to send messages, play games, share programs and tap into thousands of information sources.
Subscribers -- who pay a flat fee of $36 a year -- call McClenny
, log on and write a message. (It can be designated for specific users or for everyone to read.) Several times a day, McClenny's computer bundles the messages and sends them to several larger mail networks and bulletin boards.
The computer also receives bundled E-mail from other systems.
Over the course of two or three days, a given message passes from system to system, finding its way around the world.
Part of the fun is simply scanning all public messages -- a process eased by more than 750 message categories, such as sports or Rush Limbaugh.
Users may read the messages one at a time, or, using special off-line "readers", download hundreds or even thousands of messages to read at their leisure after signing off.
"Prior to this you'd have to sit there on-line and read the messages", McClenny
Replies and new messages may also be compiled off-line and then "uploaded" to the message base in the twinkling of an eye.
It's also possible to "chat" -- have a real-time conversation with another user, typing in your end of the dialogue and seeing the response appear on your screen.
You can almost hear the person's voice.
Subscribers can choose from a selection of games to play on the system, or participate in group activities such as a football pool with imaginary high-stakes gambling.
If you're looking for shareware programs for anything from looking for computer viruses to chess games, McClenny's
system offers more than 80,000 programs organized into 100 file directories.
Users can also retire to the electronic version of a private dining room, carrying on their conversations free from strangers' eyes.
McClenny warns, however, that as the SysOp -- system operator -- he has the right to read all private messages: He doesn't, but he wants people to know the rules.
The electronic frontier is fairly free, but McClenny
still has to play sheriff at times.
Since children use the system, he
asks users to refrain from profanity.
also asks users not to "flame" one another -- the E-mail term for personal attacks.
In eight years and 10 months, McClenny
has only had to kick one unruly subscriber off the system, telling him to hang up and not call back.
"I'm truly blessed that I don't have people that give me a hard time, or give other people on the system a hard time or upload anything they shouldn't," McClenny
Like many computer buffs, McClenny, a retired district manager for Hechinger's, backed into his hobby.
had always been interested in the emerging technology, buying his
first personal computer from Radio Shack in 1979 and replacing it with an IBM PC in 1984.
liked to play around with various programs and especially enjoyed playing computer chess.
But it wasn't until he
was transferred to Virginia Beach, living in a small furnished apartment away from his
family, that McClenny
embarked on his
In search of more programs, McClenny
bought a bulletin board program for $8 and set it up as a depository for shareware.
hooked up his
modem and ran the program day and night.
Ninety days later, his
hard drive was full and he
had to buy another.
transfer back to Reston, McClenny
kept the network going.
It grew to three machines, then four, then five.
By that time, information was moving noticeably slowly -- the system wasn't sophisticated enough to handle the flow of information.
So this year -- after soliciting advice from experienced subscribers -- McClenny
bought a "very expensive" Novell
program that made everything move quickly.
added 10 machines in April, and paid $2,400 to the phone company to run an extra cable to his
house -- giving him 20 phone lines and the capacity for 90-100 lines.
In May 1992, McClenny
made the bulletin board a business.
can now accept credit card payments, and he
said the board is "almost self- supporting" at this point.
But despite the cost in time and money, McClenny
happy to be a SysOp
"It's just been a whale of a hobby," he
It's also made McClenny
a minor celebrity to his
People recognize his
name in strange places.
has friends around the country.
even visited a subscriber on the island of Anguilla, bringing him toothpaste and floppy disks from the mainland.
McClenny, who is also a ham radio operator, has communicated with folks in Saudi Arabia, England, Cuba and Greece.
"People see me and say, "Hey, I've spoken to you," he
"You don't know who you're going to meet, or where."
built most of his
computers himself, using spare motherboards, cases and 386 disk drives from various manufacturers.
Most of the machines sit on a high shelf in a back room of his
In the next room, scattered around his
desk, several monitors -- one for every four computers -- tell McClenny who's on the line and what they're doing.
This year marked a leap forward for the network.
not only added several computers, he
bought five compact disc machines that can store vast amounts of compressed information, instantly retrievable when a subscriber requests it.
With his bank of CD-ROMs McClenny provides gigabytes of extra shareware that does not take up valuable hard disk space.
spends much of his
time monitoring the software deposited to his
system, or uploaded in computer parlance.
One of the major tasks is making sure the uploads are virus-free to protect himself and everyone that uses the board.
If a virus were to make its way into a popularly-downloaded program, it could cause havoc across the world.
needs to make sure it's shareware -- programs distributed for free by the software authors in exchange for a few dollars to be sent by each user -- rather than proprietary software, which is illegal to copy for distribution.