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May 27th, 2005

BBS: The Documentary

The geek side of me got overly excited the other day when I saw that is bound to raise some eyebrows.

BBSes are what initially got me interested in self-publishing. One could say that without BBSes, there might not be a Daily Ping. I remember in 7th grade using an Apple II with a 300 baud modem in my school’s computer lab to call up local systems. I was the typical newbie when I started (much like many first-time Ping posters, I thought I was the shit and people better bow down), but by 8th grade, I was writing my own BBS software and running it on the school’s Apple IIGS with a 1200 baud modem. It was called the MMS-BBS and the phone number was 953-9663. I can’t believe I remember that.

I had a lot of trouble with the software I wrote–it was cause for celebration when the modem didn’t lock up overnight–but I’ve gotta say, it was pretty cool. It allowed posting, e-mail, and even some simple door games (the equivalent to Flash games in 1987). It was never hugely popular, but it was an incredible learning experience and I’m thankful that Mr. Henkel gave me such freedom in the school’s lab.

Ah, the days of BBSing in the life of a young computer geek. Does anyone else even have a clue what I’m talking about? I know Paul does and I bet that Joseph and Chris do…

Posted in Miscellaneous

FROM: Rob [E-Mail]
DATE: Friday May 27, 2005 -- 9:47:35 am
I definitely know what you're talking about. I never wrote my own BBS software (which would be neat, but I knew nothing about programming when I was into BBSes), but I screwed around on a lot of local BBSes.

I remember in 9th grade or so where a friend and I learned the hard lesson that, just because you don't have to dial a "1" before the number, that doesn't mean it's not long distance.


FROM: Paul
DATE: Friday May 27, 2005 -- 9:54:44 am
Of course. BBSing was really, really great. My first modem was a 2400 baud model for my Commodore 128D, and when I discovered BBSes it was just amazing.

For a while I got into the door scene, too, crafting about 20-25 or so for a local BBS called SCUG - Suburban Commodore Users Group. I became fast friends with one of the SYSOPs (SYSOP!) and I started getting credits - which you needed to download files - up the wazoo.

It was a very different time, very different than even GEnie.

FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Friday May 27, 2005 -- 11:22:32 am
Oops, meant to include you in that list, Rob!

And the long-distance thing: remember "scopes"? Where you could pay a few bucks a month to extend your local calling area? I had a scope from Medford to Cherry Hill since all the good BBSes were there.

FROM: Merle [E-Mail]
DATE: Friday May 27, 2005 -- 3:24:53 pm
Oh, yes. I, too, had an Apple ][+ and was thrilled to get a 300baud modem.

Well, except I could not get entire floppy images from my usual BBS. They had a one hour time limit, only enough for 100K -- and the Apple floppies were, what, 130K?

I preferred the Nochange BBS system, but they went under just after my friend bought their software. Sad. Tradewars was a great game.

And even back then there were trolls and flamewars. It's not the internet that makes people rude...

Ah, those were the days. Sit any kid in front of a green-screen or behind even a 14.4k modem and they would scream.

FROM: Chris [E-Mail]
DATE: Friday May 27, 2005 -- 4:28:41 pm
Yep - I remember paying well over $100 for a 2400 baud modem and then staying up all night logging into BBS' around Atlanta. I eventually forked over some cash to become a member of one that had a bunch of lines - 36 I believe. That eventually became one of the first ISP's in Atlanta.

Remember the text based chat you could do with other BBS? We thought it was totally amazing that we were chatting with Australian girls in real time.

Many days, I miss the simplicity of a BBS.

FROM: Joseph
DATE: Friday May 27, 2005 -- 5:29:12 pm
I know what you're talking about, mostly because I looked over the shoulder of my friend who had a Commodore 64 and all the extra hardware. You know, the kid who had all the cool stuff, but didn't appreciate using it unless he had some dopey underfunded kid like me sitting next to him watching him live his cool computer age life.

My gradeschool was very late into computers. We had one Apple IIe in 1984, and it was hands off. There was this crappy computer software by BSC that walked you through the parts of a computer. Really lame--it was no better than a paper and ink format for learning how to use a computer. The only good thing was, I was a janitor for the school, and I'd spend hours playing Oregon Trail after sneaking into the library where the computer was kept, instead of sweeping up. Then, by the time I got to high school, they were still dicking around with Trash 80s well after the Mac came into being. Kids learned BASIC and thought it was cool. To me, it was like learning how to ride a horse in the automobile age. I didn't actually get my first computer until 1995 or 96--a Packard Bell (Backward Hell).

My college was behind the times, too. I remember learning PASCAL and trying to run programs on the VAX. Do they still have VAX based systems? I think my home computer has more memory than my college's entire VAX did. By the way, the only thing I accomplished with PASCAL was a crude tic-tac-toe game. It worked, but it wasn't as good as Oregon Trail.

But it's great compliment to me to actually be metioned in the body of a Ping--I feel that I've arrived. It's also a great compliment to be confused for a computer geek at such an early age. You forget that I'm really just a one trick pony on the computer. I learned about html tags right here before your very eyes!

FROM: Marcus Mackey
DATE: Friday May 27, 2005 -- 5:39:17 pm
I miss the heyday's of the BBS in a lot of ways. Of course when I really got into the whole BBS scene, most of the BBS'es in Chicagoland for Mac users were running on Firstclass Client/Server. Basically it was a graphic GUI mini desktop that you could make custom settings files which included everything from .aiff and .wav files to custom desktop pictures and icons to spice up the interface. It had chat, instant messaging, mailboxes, upload/download files (including the various BBS in a box CD's that included lots of shareware apps. to distribute), hidden conferences for the privelaged, plug-in text turn-based role playing games, and gated conferences (conferences that could be shared with multiple servers). When Softarc ramped up the pricing and turned the product into an educational distance-learning as well as inter-office collaboration framework client/server application... they all but killed the Firstclass BBS scene single-handedly.

Unfortunately... the last one that I frequented died about 8 years ago (Insane Domain a/k/a ID) had pretty much become an unmanaged runaway server with few continual frequenters from the past. Between ID, 0's and 1's, the Digital City Chicago server (very popular for a period), and ummm... Raccoon Master's server he ran in Herscher, those were probably the most popular First Class BBS servers.

Hotline Client/Server (IP/domain-based internet BBS'es; no direct connection via dial-up; Firstclass supported IP/domain and dial-up direct connection via modem) and The Internet itself (including the dawn of PHP-based forums) all but killed what BBS'es once were, and now P2P has all but levelled/buried Hotline/mHXD (CLI-based Hotline server clone for Unix platforms) and the various client clones (I still use Frogblast in OS X though).

I still liked Firstclass the best though.

FROM: Marcus Mackey
DATE: Friday May 27, 2005 -- 5:43:56 pm
...and ummm... Raccoon Master's server he ran in Herscher, those were probably the most popular First Class BBS server.

...In Chicagoland. Had to clarify that. There was still a couple of other servers I hit after the fact via IP-based connections. One First Class-based server was still going strong in Wisconsin as late as 2000.

FROM: Merle [E-Mail]
DATE: Sunday May 29, 2005 -- 2:20:55 pm
Joseph, yep, there are still vaxen around. Our big cash cow at work is software that runx on the vax. And I can tell you, we lost a lot of employees to the $200/hr offers from companies in 1999 worried about y2k.

Oregon trail was fun, but I liked lemonade stand better. What scares me more is that Oregon trail was clearly all it could have been, given the 20K or so of disk space it took up. But people have been making versions for more modern machines:

What is this then?

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