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Tales from a BBS Junkie 267

Jason Scott writes "As someone who is bathed in Bulletin Board System (BBS) history nearly every waking hour, I can sometimes feel like I'm the only one going completely out of his way to find narratives. It's easy enough to copy together a bunch of floppy disks or scan a bunch of printouts but that's not really the glue of what put the online world together and why it still holds a strong meaning for people who were there. As a result, I'm always seeking out people to tell their stories from a personal perspective, or at least take a good shot at putting together the human side of the whole BBS era for the sake of those who missed it. If I'm lucky, I stumble upon a few sites where people do a great job of cobbling together what they didn't throw out from their teenage years. I might even find an extended story out on a website, spanning multiple pages." Read the rest of Jason's review.
COMMODORK: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie
author Rob O'Hara
pages 167
publisher Lulu.com
rating 8
reviewer Jason Scott
ISBN 978-1-84728-582-9
summary A memoir of one young teenager's life in the BBS world in the 1980s

With Rob O'Hara's book Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie, I believe we have the world's first BBS Memoir. Weighing in at around 160 pages, O'Hara covers his life from 1977 through to 2002, tracing the effect that Bulletin Boards, videogames, and computers have had on his life. Just 33 years old, it might seem strange for someone to write an autobiographical narrative so soon, but like a lot of youth who've grown up in the age of the home computer, O'Hara's gotten a lot of living done in that short time.

This is a self-published book, or more accurately, an author-controlled book. It is currently distributed by Lulu.com, an on-demand printer that provides you with a very "book"-looking book that you would be hard-pressed to think didn't come right off the shelves of the local chain bookstore. The only difference is there's no professional editor jamming through the work before it gets to you. It's easy to find flaws in a lack of slickness and flow in a self-published book, but also no real filtering out of "the good stuff", either. So I think of this book as a real sweet homebrew creation, rough-hewn but full of heart, not unlike the boards it talks about.

Because of this, the first few dozen pages are choppy. O'Hara works his way around his memories to find his voice: He tries to explain what it is that drives a person to still keep a pile of Commodore 64s in his garage, or build a 20-machine arcade in his back yard (the author includes a picture of this great-looking playroom), or even to want to talk about this history in the first place. He covers it from different angles: the urge to be a collector, the nostalgic dad remembering his carefree days, and the computer guy with the cred built up from now-decades of experience with the machines. He also struggles, initially, with who the book is for: folks completely unaware of the history of the BBS and home computers of the 1980s, or other 30 and up computer geeks who want to take a joyride through a shared childhood? In doing so, he actually touches on some great thoughts on what attracts people to old pieces of plastic and microchips, and why things were so different for him.

A sixth of the way in, O'Hara dispenses with the helping hand, cracks his knuckles, and goes in whole hog. Instead of asking if anyone gets it, he assumes you've gotten this far because you want to know it, jams the wayback machine into full throttle, and plunges into the world of BBSing for a teenager in Oklahoma. Except, of course, it's really every BBS kid's childhood: The little bargains, the quiet victories, the betrayals, the triumphs.

The heart and soul of the book actually are warez. Warez in the old sense, of newly-acquired one-off floppies of games, painstaking bargained for, traded, and spread out to gain fame and reputation. Throughout the book, it comes back to the warez, and O'Hara does an absolutely fantastic job of capturing the sense of power and expression that engulfs a teenager who has been able to use his skills or his patience to get his hand on a program that nobody else has and then turn around and use that slight lead to his advantage. The methods he uses are laid out in brilliant detail; one involves registering with bulletin boards in a city his family will be vacationing in shortly, allowing his far away "exotic" location to be verified by the system operator, and then traveling to that city and leeching them dry for a free local call.

O'Hara never lets it get dry and technical; it's about people he met while trading software, the kind of people who he partied with, got into fights with, or loved. He's not always nice and he's not always the hero; what really rings true is how none of it feels pumped up or faked, dressed up as some inherently soul-searching activity where every moment in bristling with poignant meaning. That said, some of it rings very close to the heart indeed.

In fact, this book's greatest effect may be the touchstone it provides for one's own experiences. Even as Rob's younger self is getting drunk at a BBS party and stumbling in panic from a perceived bust into the flatbed of a parked truck to sleep it off, I'm harkening back in my own mind to events that accompanied my BBSing that I'd forgotten wholly and totally. But I was there again, saving my own warez for the right moment, meeting my own soon-to-be-lifelong friends, making my own grievous mistakes. Anyone who used BBSes for any period of time will want to run to their keyboards and tell their own story; I see a lot of long e-mails in Mr. O'Hara's future.

One small disclaimer: On page 14 of the edition of the book I have, Rob mentions my BBS Documentary, but just to say it's not what he was aiming for with his book. And he's right; we don't step in each other's territory and his book does what my film couldn't; go front to end on one boy's story to turning into a man online. And for that, I thank him, and I think a lot of others will too.

Is it for everyone? No way, but a book that takes on its subject so intensely shouldn't be. If you or an older sibling or parent touched a plastic-and-metal home computer, sipped your bandwidth through a modem, or held a 5 1/4" floppy disk in your bag to give to someone else, this book is your book. It might even be your memories, too.

It's a good book and can be ordered through Lulu or directly from the author, who sells autographed copies.

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Tales from a BBS Junkie

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  • by Psionicist ( 561330 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:20PM (#16190467)
    I have this urge to share my favorite (or, at least top 3) Slashdot post of all times:

    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=159051&cid=133 21834 [slashdot.org]

    As an ex-sysop, I wonder occasionally how a modern chatter would do on an old style BBS....
    • by Himring ( 646324 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:02PM (#16191247) Homepage Journal
      My favorhelliote thing was whIen netheed to sysop wotuakeld stdoartwn lethtteing yserouver know in the middle of your typing that he needed to shutdown and it would mesh with your typing in the terminal....
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ackthpt ( 218170 ) *

      I have this urge to share my favorite (or, at least top 3) Slashdot post of all times:

      Cor! I remember reading it the first time.

      I dunno which is funnier, the post or me actually having met the kind of personality which would have been the user. A few times. One now owns and runs his father's chain of pharmacies. That was 25 years ago. Come to think of it... I wonder if he's behind any of the spam I get these days.

      Why do you need a privileged account?

  • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:22PM (#16190499)
    Broderbund software used to have a support BBS that a bunch of us in the San Francisco Bay Area took over for our personal chat room. Used to spend hours there, we even used to get together in real life.

    It got to the point where Broderbund came to us to find beta testers for their software products. I dont think I ever once saw anyone use that system for its intended purpose.
    • Very similar situation for me.

      I accidentally stumbled on to a BBC run by "The World's Biggest Bookstore" in Toronto when I was a teenager. I have no idea why they had a BBS, and it only lasted for about three years, but in that three years a pretty big community sprouted up there who basically used it as a chat room and file trading site. I met up with the people from it a couple of times, and it was great for a socially awkward teenager like me to suddenly feel like I had a bunch of friends.

    • by robpoe ( 578975 )
      My first BBS experience was with my Commodore 64 and some old 300 baud modem. You actually had to dial it pulse, and switch a switch manually to make it connect. Or you just dialed it with a touch tone phone, then flipped it to conenct.

      Upgraded to a Aprotek Minimodem C (1200 baud) and found the online world of BBS'ing. Got into some of the more nefarious sides of it (i dont know what the author did in warez, but I was a courier), not paying for LD calls and whatnot.

      I upgraded to a PC, and the fun got mor
  • Man, this takes me back. Thought I would key in with one of my earliest BBS experiences. I remember back at my highschool, in our computer lab, my programming teacher allowed me to set up my own BBS, at my school. I remember setting that up, think we had 3 or 4 lines, and just watching the rest of the geeks form my school pour in. We had quite a few games we would play, turn based stuff, the one that really comes to mind was this space trading game, can't for the life of me remember what it was called, but
    • by AdamTrace ( 255409 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:32PM (#16190713)
      Tradewars, probably...?

      I'm pretty sure there are Internet versions of it out now... you might do some websearches...

      • Yeah, I believe www.blacknova.net is one of them.
    • It's amazing how much different the experience was. I remember logging into one system to play Lemonade Stand, as well as get in my Trivia questions for the day. (If you scored high enough, you became the virtual President of something or other. The title kept hopping between a few of us as we logged in every day and got a slight edge on our friends.) I'd also check the latest messages, and send one hopping the BBS 'net (sorry, I forget what it was called) to continue a discussion that had been going on for
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by revlayle ( 964221 )
        "...and send one hopping the BBS 'net (sorry, I forget what it was called)..."

        Ahhh.... FidoNet!!
      • I'll never forget the music my Apple II played on mild or hot days in Lemonade Stand. I also liked seeing how much I could charge for a glass on hot days ($20? $30?).
    • I managed to start getting involved on BBSs a little before they started fading away because of the rise of broadband. Every now and then I still want to find a good old-fashioned local BBS, but unfortnatly, the local computer mag that used to run BBS listings, isn't running them anymore.
  • by queenb**ch ( 446380 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:28PM (#16190635) Homepage Journal
    I can recall when:

    Modems hooked up the handset on your rotary phone...

    We thought we were big time with a 9600 baud internal modem...

    Whistling into pay phones for free calls was legal...

    I can recall an internet before the BBS's came...

    2 cents,

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Whistling into pay phones for free calls was legal...

      Could you do a good 2600 Hz?

      For what it's worth, it was never legal, as nebulous "theft of service" or "misuse of network" laws would have gotten you. But you wouldn't have gotten caught, which is close enough.

      • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @10:02PM (#16194469) Homepage
        Nobody "whistled into pay phones". You could use a tone generator to make the same sound as a quarter dropping, and get a free call. 2600Hz was from home phones, to 800 numbers. Typical how people misremember things that they never did in the first place.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Nobody "whistled into pay phones". You could use a tone generator to make the same sound as a quarter dropping, and get a free call. 2600Hz was from home phones, to 800 numbers. Typical how people misremember things that they never did in the first place.

          2600 was to get trunk access from any line. This was typically done with a blue box. The quarter tones were done with a red box by replacing the crystal in a standard dialer with (I believe) about a 6.5 MHz crystal (can't remember the exact frequency).

    • We thought we were big time with a 9600 baud internal modem...

      Remember how Compuserve charged more per minute for such "high speed access"? Man, those were different days...
    • 9600!?

      Fuck, man, I remember feeling 1337 because I got a 1200 baud half/duplex Apple-cat modem.
      • by fatboy ( 6851 )
        I remember feeling 1337 because I got a 1200 baud half/duplex Apple-cat modem.

        We called it !200 baud :)
    • I always found the hacker 'zines endlessly fascinating. I didn't enter the scene until around '90 so I was a little late coming in. Computer Underground Digest was sort of a 'Your Rights Online' before slashdot. Many of them, such as Phrack or Cult of the Dead Cow, were outdated even while I was reading them (how to create the blackbox to hack pay phones, etc).. there was some crazy sh*t in those that would probably not go down well in modern times.. how to build all sorts of bombs, hack streetlight compute
      • Ah, I remember cDc. I got suspended from school for printing "Desert Road Dick Disaster" in the school library and making the mistake of giving it to an acquaintance of mine, who then got caught and got me suspended. I emailed Deth Veggie about it, and he suggested I buy some cDc stickers and put them on my backpack. I wish I'd kept that email.
      • Having to build an a adapter to hook my VICmodem (C=1600) up to the handset cable on my phone because the handset used some weird wire scheme
      • Getting my first autodial modem (a C=1660 300 baud beast)
      • Getting my first 2400 baud modem as a second-hand that a friend of mine had fried and subsequently trying to find a terminal program that would work with it
      • Novaterm! Holy cow! 80 line display on a C64! :)
      • Being able to use a paperclip to ground the microphone to the shielding on a payphone
      • Internet? We
      • by rk ( 6314 ) *

        One of my favorite parts of BITNET was doing recursive commands.

        I remember once asking our mainframe in Oxford, Ohio to ask a machine at MIT to ask a machine in the UK to ask a machine in Israel who was logged in to the VAX across the quad. It took about a minute, but it worked.

  • The heart and soul of the book actually are warez.
    So, who's got a torrent link for the book?

    ...I'm kidding! It'd be funny, though.
  • LORD (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:31PM (#16190671) Homepage
    What slashdot needs is a "[F]lirt with Violet" option.
    • That and moderation could entail bribing Commander Taco for the room keys so you can slay a sleeping poster.

      Ah... LORD was a kick ass game. I miss thee.

      The joy of battling a hord of a thousand squirels.
  • Door Games (Score:2, Funny)

    by cjkeeme ( 980951 )
    I still play LoRD everday. Remember the "jennie" code? =)
    • My local science fiction club, LASFS, [lasf.info] had a BBS for a while, and LoRD was our most popular game. When it folded, we put the various BBS games on one of the club's game computers. You could only play each character once per day, but could have many characters. I had to hide the editing program after a bit to keep munchkins from cheating. I also added a character called "Baby Huey" but never played him, so that he looked like a great chump for people to wack. What they didn't know is that I'd edited his
  • How great it was to be on the computer at the start of the new day knowing you once again had turns to use!
  • Was a fun read... (Score:3, Informative)

    by revlayle ( 964221 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:32PM (#16190707) Homepage
    I bought this book straight from Rob when it premiered at OVGE (Oklahoma Video Game Expo). The memories it brought back were almost overwhelming during parts of the read (which I did in one marathon reading night).
  • I remember when I went off to college, finally got to a city that had a decent supply of BBSs, and discovered online PORN for the first time. 256 color VGA online porn....
  • the good ole days (Score:5, Insightful)

    by koa ( 95614 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:34PM (#16190747)
    When I ran a BBS in the 'old days' as they were, I remember when the internet and IRC started to take hold and I wondered- just what a "Door" would end up looking like.. (i.e. Tradewars)... Somehow, the "door" became the grand-daddy of the "MMORPG"..


    Ever notice how if you try explaining the BBS days to someone that never experienced it, you somehow end up looking like that stereotypical "wild eyed old coot" who raves about "back in my day, we walked 100 miles to school in the snow, with one shoe! AND WE LIKED IT!" ... People have no concept of a 300bps modem with the "phone coupler", and how when a 1200pbs modem with the "High Speed" light was worth $2500bux....

    I am not a wild eyed old coot. I'm 28 damnit!

    • I've had trouble even figuring out how to explain it. I tried with my cousin once. He doesn't even remember dial-up connections to the internet, so the idea of something like the internet, except no web pages, and only local people would connect, and sometimes only one person could connect at a time, and..... I lost him back at "except no web pages". He doesn't have a concept of what the internet is except for web pages. Even the Usenet is incomprehensible to him.

    • Dont' forget, you had to tie an onion to your belt.
    • by NMerriam ( 15122 )
      I remember the joy of trying to log in at 12:01 every night to three or four different BBSes to do my daily turns on the door games. And the amazing joy when BBS linkups started happening, so you could pass messages to people outside your own area code and play door games with someone in another city with only 12 or 24 hours delay!

    • Ever notice how if you try explaining the BBS days to someone that never experienced it, you somehow end up looking like that stereotypical "wild eyed old coot" who raves about "back in my day, we walked 100 miles to school in the snow, with one shoe! AND WE LIKED IT!"

      ssh -l mono muon.mono.org
      telnet muon.mono.org

      The web site is dead at the moment, the bbs is alive and kicking... :)


      -- Pete.

    • by misleb ( 129952 )
      Wow. 28 and you remember 300 baud phone couplers? I'm 31 and I got in around 2400 baud. You must have been a pretty young BBSer. Probably a really annoying one too. ;-)

  • obligatory (Score:3, Funny)

    by Bloke down the pub ( 861787 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:39PM (#16190845)
    someone who is bathed in Bulletin Board System (BBS) history nearly every waking hour

    Anyone else read that as "every wanking hour"?
  • BBS (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Daemonstar ( 84116 )
    I used to run a BBS back in highschool in the small town (11k people) where I still live. In fact, at one point in time, there were 4 BBS's to choose from, hehe. I ran Wildcat! BBS software with a single dialin line. Had the ol' NightOwl shareware CD's to download off of and even registered copies of TradeWars, Usurper, and some other turn-based game that I can't recall at the moment. The games were the best. I was the 2nd person in town to own a 28.8kbps modem. 'Tis what got me started into computers
    • by koa ( 95614 )
      Agghhh. Wildcat!?

      I still cringe when I see the color "yellow".. you know what I mean. ;>

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Timex ( 11710 ) *
      I remember when I got my first 9600 baud modem, an upgrade from 2400 baud. It was a Racal-Milgo-- a big beastie. I had it hooked up to my Apple IIgs, and for some reason, I could only get 4800 baud.

      I remember calling one board, and right as I got the Login prompt, the SysOp dropped in and addressed me by name. (This was just before Caller ID was common, and this BBS didn't have it anyway.)

      I asked how he knew it wasw me, and that's when I learned that I was the only one in the area that got MNP5 at 4800 b
  • by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) * on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:45PM (#16190959)
    I was born in '82, in very rural western PA, and lived on a retired farm. No cable, no municiple services (water/trash), we even burnt wood to heat our house/water. My first computers were a TI-94a and a TRS-80 I started using at the age of 5, though I couldn't do much with them for a few years except play video games and wonder why programming had "order of operations" (I wasn't yet to discover the joy of algebraic constructs for a few years). I had fun learning BASIC and making inane programs that let me type to my friend ALL THE WAY ACROSS THE ROOM by using a *VERY* long printer cable.

    Two or three years after I got my Mac Classic in '91, I discovered the joys of using a modem to chat with that same friend, who lived two miles away. It's a shame he was in a pay phone code from my house (yes, things are that messed up here that you have to pay to call two miles, thanks regulations) otherwise I'd have experimented more - at least I found the control-G trick and used it to freak him out at will.

    I'd been to a few BBSes, but they were all pay calls from where I was, and my parents didn't take too kindly to that. My friend's parents took even less kindly to his $500 phone bill one month. That was pretty much the end of that.

    I used to watch C-NET and yearn for internet access... after watching that horrible Sandra Bullock movie, The Net, with my parents, I thought it'd be impossible to talk them into it, but I woke up on my 14th birthday to get what was, perhaps, the best birthday present I got since my 0th - a real, live, 2400kbps AOL connection. Two weeks of that convinced my parents to upgrade to a 14.4 modem, of course, but I digress.

    I really missed out on the BBS culture, and on newsgroups (only occasionally posted for tech support, which I'm probably happy about now that anyone can go back and read my inane teenage programming discussions). I missed out on something that people on slashdot look back at with nostalgia, and I realize I'll never really understand those experiences. The "MMO" tradewars (or corewars if you had shell access), the novelty of the online discussion format itself, the sharing of interesting and new software (I had a mac though, probably couldn't run any of it). I guess my question is - am I missing that much? Ever since the day I started using the internet, I've been addicted to it and have really gotten a lot out of it - heck my girlfriend went to my high school but we were in different grades and never talked until facebook came along. It's a part of me and a part of my culture. Did I miss something in there, by not having been absorbed in BBS culture? There was nothing to do where I grew up anyways, and I actually spent most of my time engaged in self-educational activities rather than just playing video games.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AlHunt ( 982887 )
      >Did I miss something in there, by not having been absorbed in BBS culture?

      Yes and no. I think us former BBS-ers have more appreciation of the current internet experience having lived with 2400bps modems, single line BBSes, all text based games and so on. We used FIDOnet to send mail around the world without internet or long distance phone calls - sometimes it'd take a day or two for your message to propagate to the other side of the world. ANSI art ...

      Along the way, BBSes, games, etc gave us the motiv
      • ...set up modem init strings, resolve IRQ conflicts...


        Don't remind me. I can't count how many times I managed to set the modem all screwy whilst trying to install a new piece of hardware. (Or get an old one working right.) Invariably, it meant that the computer would dial the wrong number. Which would leave me sheepishly picking up the phone and trying to explain to the person on the other end why I just screeched in their ear.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vertinox ( 846076 )
      Born in 79.

      I had gotten an IBM PS1 in 90 something. Played around with AOL (good lord!) and Prodigy, but my highschool friends got me hoked on BBS when I was a Freshman in Highschool.

      Played LORD to death and even got in a real world fight over that game (kind of).

      Then the internet came in 95/96. I thought that was awesome playing Quake I with people in sweeden and chatting with people, but I missed those old systems mostly because you knew everyone.

      Even if not in persons you felt you shared a secret club or
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
      Yikss. I was using BBSs in 1983!
      Yes the joy of the Commodore 64. Getting my elite account because I actually broke the copy protection on a game myself. Life was a lot more innocent back then I think. No phishing, spam, or worms to worry about.
      The Internet really is much better in many ways but really not as much fun. Back in the day at least one of the local BBSs through a bbq each year.
    • "perhaps, the best birthday present I got since my 0th..."

      And how! Those hospital blankets were mad trendy!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
      The attraction of the BBS was that it was like your own local coffeehouse. The internet lacks that -- chat rooms are far less personal-feeling than even the most primitive BBS (your cable across the room trick almost qualifies! :) A good BBS had its own ambience, its own regulars, its own specialties of the house, not duplicated anywhere else.

      But BBSing is not dead, and you can still experience it ... in fact I still use a messaging BBS every day (access via telnet://techware.dynip.com [dynip.com] or http://techware.d [dynip.com]
    • by misleb ( 129952 )

      Two or three years after I got my Mac Classic in '91, I discovered the joys of using a modem to chat with that same friend, who lived two miles away. It's a shame he was in a pay phone code from my house (yes, things are that messed up here that you have to pay to call two miles, thanks regulations) otherwise I'd have experimented more - at least I found the control-G trick and used it to freak him out at will.

      Ha! CTRL-G was an accidental discovery for me. Who would have thought that a beep would be enco

  • I used my school loan money to get the Wildcat! 4 BBS software, a faster modem and a second phone line for my souped up IBM AT computer in 1995. I had this weird idea -- probably from reading too many issues of Boardwatch -- that I could go into business while still a college student. Then this thing called the Internet crashed the market and I got kicked out of the university. (I'm sure playing Magic: The Gathering and Risk with my roommates until three in the morning had nothing do with me being tossed ou
  • Before the advent of the BBS there were the precursors in the way of Message Systems back where I once lived. In the late 70's and early 80's, at the college there was Message System and at a local school district was something called NOOZ. Different styles, but ultimately the same result. Places users signed up for accounts, posted and read notices. Flamewars errupted, on such meaningful topics as Gun Control, what bands constituted Heavy Metal proper and whether music was better during republican or d

  • I got my first c64 at the age of 12 in the 80's and a 300 baud modem, seeing BBS's and downloading demos and sid tunes, was great. I enjoy these books and the BBS Documentary (worth the buy), lots of stuff pre-Internet that people never experienced. Rehashs some good times as a kid not many people know, and I'm not even freaking ancient yet.... Not talking punch cards or wireing my own computer, or begging for mainframe time.

    Trying to fit your entire OS on a floppy (amiga days)
    Downloading Demos and mods.
  • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:07PM (#16191335) Homepage Journal
    O'Hara's gotten a lot of living done in that short time.

    First of all, we're talking about 25 years! That's hardly a short time.
    Secondly, since it's a memoir of BBSing in the days of dialup access, I doubt there was "a lot of living done", either.
  • It all came down to the personality, and personalness of it. Each BBS had it's own style, flavor, charm, and was very personal. That is what is missing from the internet. Even the telnet bbs's that are up now have an impersonal feel to them. It is very hard to describe the full difference unless you have experinced the BBS world, and can compare that experience to the internet.

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
      Telnet-based BBSs can still have "that old time local coffeehouse flavour" (try telnet://techware.dynip.com [dynip.com] for a good example) but I think that may well be restricted to those that started life with dialup, or at least are run by a sysop who hies from the dialup era, and knows what sort of user-environment he wants to create.

      And I think the difference is largely that with telnet, you get a random sample of users from everywhere, whereas with dialup, you got mainly folks in the local calling distance, plus
      • by misleb ( 129952 )

        nd I think the difference is largely that with telnet, you get a random sample of users from everywhere, whereas with dialup, you got mainly folks in the local calling distance, plus subsets of regulars on other BBSs that shared the same messaging networks. So with dialup, there was already a shared culture factor, just from proximity

        This is the deal breaker for me. A telnet BBS could never recreate the feel of a one/two-line local BBS. Also, it seems contrived. There was a certain charm to using a modem

        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
          Well, I don't telnet into Techware to be retro; I do so to keep in touch with the same people I've been BBSing with (via various echomail networks) for the past 12 years. Probably because it's been the same core community for so long, it doesn't matter to us whether it's telnet or dialup -- the atmosphere (and even the interface) are the same. I still log into Wildcat, upload/download my QWK/REP packets, and read/reply in BlueWave, same as I did 12 years ago. Only the route my electrons take has changed.
    • by misleb ( 129952 )
      What made BBSes personal was their locality. Half the fun of BBSing was flaming someone or beating their ass at some door game and then finding out that you know the guy from school... or it is the brother of a guy you know. It was a strange mix of anonynimity and familiarity.

      Also, there is something very appealing about knowing that you are dialed into a computer in some local guy's basement. I always felt so priviged to chat with the sysop. I actually visited a couple of my favorite sysops just to see the
    • It is very hard to describe the full difference unless you have experinced the BBS world, and can compare that experience to the internet.

      Agree 100%. There's not much that compares to the feeling of "woo!" when a single or two-line BBS finally answered after an hour of busy signals, or the joy of stumbling across The Wanderer in Trade Wars. Also, for me there was a certain intimacy that I felt with a simple character-based interface that just isn't there with all the flashy graphics and bitmapped font
  • I think the main thing that made what Pat Kroupa once called the "modem world" special is unlike most communication medium, it was homegrown, sociable, and a little anarchic. I was never much of a ham radio person, but it serves as a comparison - I am not an expert, but in the rules I read you must register with the FCC before you are able to make a communication, you must identify yourself before any broadcast, you must speak in English, you must not use any code words etc. Then compare that to the freed
  • by i)ave ( 716746 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:35PM (#16191797)
    Yep, I'm nostalgic for those days. I had 110 echomail feeds coming in from Fidonet and several other mail networks. I remember being among the first SysOps to stumble into the Adam Hudson 20meg limit on a message base (which crashes the system and you lose every message). It still amazes me what we could get done with .BAT files and Frontdoor. I remember getting a message from a user one day who kindly listed for me the entire contents on the root directory on my C: drive after gaining sysop priviledges and using my hidden menu to drop to DOS on my computer. He said, "if you create a menu option for ALT-254 on the numeric keypad, then when hackers try this they won't get sysop priviledges, they'll just be redirected to whatever that menu option takes them to." I was pretty shocked, went and tried it, and sure enough... In the early versions of Remote Access, anyone who hit alt-254 on the numeric keypad received user level 64000 and had access to any menu option. That was my first lesson in not being able to trust the author of a program. Several months later, Andrew Milner fixed the "bug", but I'd already done away with any drop-to-dos options. Good times.
  • by mikefocke ( 64233 ) <mike...focke@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:48PM (#16191985)
    I was a long time computer type, having used Multics' forum before the personal computer craze began. I got into PCs through the Atari 400/800 side and produced the Washington DC area bulletin board list for that community for a few years, then gravitated to the IBM side due to work related use.

    The unique aspect of my list was that it contained only phone numbers and data that were verified every month. Now remember many of these boards had one phone line so you had to wait in line to verify that the board was still operating. I could get 90% the first week of the month, 97% by the end of the second week, and then it was a struggle to get the last 3%. Sysops liked the list because it contained a short summary of what the focus of the board was so they weren't spending time verifying one time callers.

    Just to focus on the DC area IBM boards, at the beginning there were perhaps 50 which over time grew to 750 that I could dial locally (and boy did I hear from the SysOp who was just outside my range, how I was discriminating by not listing him. Some even got one local-to-me number so they could be listed.). There was about a 5% drop out rate per month, even at the height. Mostly kiddie boards when mom and pop found out they couldn't use their phones. As the Internet became the new thing, boards started dying so that the drop over a year must have been 70%. It was quite sudden, you could hear the whoosh. At the end, there were perhaps 70 boards still up but no one was using them. I could verify them all in about 2 hours.

    My kids got status in school for a while because their dad was the BBS list guy. All I got is a lot of lost sleep. Though oddly enough, perhaps 10 years after the boards died, I ended up hiring one of the SysOps. I still bump into someone occasionally who remembers my name from those days. I have no idea how many are still operating in the DC area.

    Every once in a while I get a querry from one of the BBS historians asking if I have data on how many lasted through the entire period etc. Strangely enough, I still have a few of those old ZIP files lying around. None of the files I produced for the Atari community though.
  • Apple-net (Score:3, Interesting)

    by centerfire ( 741520 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @06:11PM (#16192283)
    Wow, that really brings back the memories. In the early 80's, in the bay area, I ran a BBS called -=Tiger's Grotto=-. I even remember the number! 415-329-0159. I ran it off an Apple II clone, a Franklin Ace 1000, seven floppy drives, and a Hayes 300baud micromodem. The system was called apple-net by John Pechachek. Eventually, I found a used Corvus 10MB external hard drive and a thundercard to tell time. Otherwise, users didn't have any time restriction. The Corvus drive was about the size of a large size XT box, and was really loud. Like an obnoxious turbine. I even advertised in the local BYTE magazine and to my amazement, people actually dialed it. Great fun. I remember a couple other BBS's in the bay area; The White House, and Pirates Bay. Pyroto Mountain was another favorite.
    • by puto ( 533470 ) *
      I called yours and all the other bbs.

      I ran a bbs using GBBS on my apple //e. I had a Corvus as well.

      I think pirates bay was the one that got busted.

      I am from New Orleans. We had the NOPG, the new orleans pirates guild.

      Cracker from California who I got to talk on the phone, the gonif, jewish kid who could break copywrite protection on anything.

      You brought me back bro.

    • The 415 BBS's were some kind of nirvana back in the very early 80's. I was stuck way up in BC with a couple of local boards and ended up racking up big long distance bills dialing in to those systems. Yours rings a bell - I may well have dialed in at some point.
  • I just found my entire BBS, Quicksilver, in a cardboard box. It's on a 105MB Hard Card with an ISA bus. Not sure what to do with it, though I kind of hate to toss it. It's a FidoNet board complete with Binkleyterm and a horrednous batch file to make it all work--really taught me some batch tricks. Oh, well, a casualty of the Internet.
  • Three words (Score:2, Interesting)

    by funkboy ( 71672 )
    Operation. Overkill. ][.

    Before Civ
    Before Doom
    Looong before WoW

    This was our crack:

    http://www.operationoverkill.com/ [operationoverkill.com]

    For those that don't know, this is "The original wastelands game." In a lot of ways, there are many "modern" games that could learn from the gameplay and user interface design. It was an excellent combination of nethack-style map navigation, narration, and turn-based combat. The funny thing is, one could say the same thing about the Fallout games, which are of course also "wastelands" games
    • by zaren ( 204877 )
      So I hit the link...

      Hrm, Terminal.app isn't totally ANSI-friendly, have to find another app...

      [entry@OWHQ] login: Zaren ...

      Searching recruit list ...

      You must enter both your first and last names!

      Oh yeah, gotta do both...

      Recruit Name: Zaren En- crap, damn typos...

      Hrmm, Delete key doesn't work... ctrl-H? Woo, still works! 15 year old muscle memory comes back...

      Ah, the kids need to get to bed, I'll have to lok at this later...

      -- : *

      Return to REALITY? Y

      Back to Reality...
  • by TheDarkener ( 198348 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @06:17PM (#16192379) Homepage
    ...as another BBS junkie from back in the day. =) Had a 2-node Renegade BBS in Northern California. Called my first board at 2am with my best friend because when my brother's friend showed us how to do it, every one of them were busy.

    After it connected (my first recollection of the 2400 baud modem connection sound), it asked "What is your name: ". My friend and I looked at eachother with fright. What is this?? We put in "Beavis" (yes, that Beavis.)

    Then it asked, "What is your LAST name: " We again looked at eachother, with more fear. Could it be we just hacked something? What dorks we were. =p We typed in "Smith".

    Then it displayed it's user agreement, a page long with disclaimers and verification. We were so scared that we were connected to something that we weren't supposed to be, that we hung up, turned off the computer, and unplugged it (including the monitor). We spent the next hour talking about it.

    That's what turned me into a techie. =) Man, I wish everyone could feel the way I felt in the BBS days. Of course, I'm sure there is an equivelent in everyone's life.
    • by inKubus ( 199753 )
      All of you people need to check out the BBS Documentary [bbsdocumentary.com]. They sell a DVD of it (actually 3 DVD's). It's around $40 and it's really quite good, they have interviews with a lot of Sysops, some programmers, the creator of Fidonet, Ansi artists, etc. It takes you back, and it's a good way to put the wife to sleep ;)

  • was trying out new software and new ways of doing things. Freeware was everywhere, and you could find new programs all the time. I liked Telix for a terminal program, because of its C-like scripting language. You needed a mail reader like SLMR or Bluewave and software for file transfers: xmodem, ymodem, zmodem, and I had a nifty automator for that written by the Byte Brothers.

    In addition to the various online games mentioned, I had a cool one called Modem Wars that you played against someone else with a

    • Telix... Now there's a blast from the past... I don't recall requiring seperate software for file transfers though... that's what the zmodem, xmodem, sealink, etc. were for.

      I didn't go in for the chat thing much, but I do seem to remember grabbing a dozen different versions of the magik screen saver...

      We mostly used it as a client to access various vendors sites to download drivers (scsi drivers, video drivers, hdd info (some disks didn't print the number of heads/cylinders etc. on them)...

      Sure, things were
    • by misleb ( 129952 )
      I used to connect directly with a friend and we'd chat right through the terminal program. It was pretty dumb. We could have just called each other and talked voice. Although this way we could transfer files to each other. I believe my terminal program of choice was Telemate. It did all the file transfer stuff. Never had any use for a mail reader though. The only electronic communication I had was just the forums and private messages on BBSes.

  • I'm sure I'm giving up what would be a great social app by posting this :), but it would be nice if there was a site where former users could reconnect with other users from a given BBS. As a former sysop myself (Ethereal Realms when I ran WWIV and Mental Vortex when I ran DLG Pro), it would be neat being able to connect with some of my old sysop pals from WWIVlink, WWIVnet, and Fidonet.

    Maybe some sort of combo discussion and directory service?

    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
      What you want is here: http://www.bbsmates.com/ [bbsmates.com]

      WWIV, lordy was that a miserable thing from the user's POV... totally linear and no way to read/reply offline... I'm a Wildcat fan myself. :)

      I remember the name "Ethereal Realms", probably from one of the BBS lists that floated around back in the day. -- I maintained the list of BBSs local to Santa Clarita CA.

      • by allenw ( 33234 )
        Cool, I'll check that out. Thanks!

        Actually, WWIV did support offline messages if the sysop had the proper bits installed. I know my WWIV board did. The lack of threading was one of the reasons why I moved to DLG Pro. [Although, my system was almost heavily, heavily modified from stock. I published quite a few of my source mods and other bits, so that's probably where you saw it from.]

        In the area where I brought up Ethereal Realms--Carbondale, IL--was surrounded by RBBS, Wildcat!, RA, and a ton of othe

  • by singularity ( 2031 ) * <nowalmart.gmail@com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @06:44PM (#16192693) Homepage Journal
    obUseful: Anyone wishing to reconnect with BBS pals from "back in the day" should check out BBSmates.com [bbsmates.com]. Not a lot of users in my old area code, but worth checking out.

    I got my first computer in 1986, an Apple //c.

    Upgraded to an Apple //gs in about 1989 or so. In 1991 (I think that was the year), I got a 2400 baud modem for my birthday. Most people were upgrading to 2400 around this time, but there were still several 1200 (and even 300's) out there still.

    The Louisville, Kentucky BBS scene was fairly active. The BBSs became "homes away from home". As a geek in high school, it was a wonderful opportunity to find people like me, especially when they were all collected together in one place, and there were no embarrassing introductions needed.

    The fact that you had a computer, a modem, and had found the BBS was proof you were worthy enough to be treated, at minimum, as "one of us."

    I had my normal four or five that I would call every evening (and more often if I could). Watching discussions, checking my personal messages...

    it was a whole other life. People were not judged on looks, on fashion, on anything like that. It was your typed word as who you were.

    Louisville also had monthly gatherings, referred to as "The Meat". It was held the first Saturday of each month in the now defunct Galleria downtown. The first couple of times I went, I believe I had to have my parents drive me and pick me up. I have no idea what I told them I was going to be doing down there.

    I slowly met some of the people I knew on the boards. Looking back now, I realize I was closer to those people in high school than my actual classmates. I even dated a girl for over a year that I met on a board.

    In the fall of 1993 I started college, and got access to the Internet. As quickly as the BBS scene changed my life, it disappeared from my life. By the time I got nostalgic for those days, the boards I remembered were all gone.

    -singularity (a.k.a. "Merlyn" around the Louisville scene back in the day)
  • I'm reading it right now. I met Rob on one of the vintage computer forums I frequent (actually, it was http://www.vintage-computer.com/vcforum/index.php [vintage-computer.com] ) and saw the tag in his .sig about his book, so I checked it out (you can read the first chapter in PDF format, from his website). I liked it and ordered the book directly from Rob. It cost a little more, but he autographed it for me.

    If you lived through the BBS scene back in the early to mid 80's (and even later), then you owe it to yourself to read th
  • I hope this isn't off topic.

    But, is there a place to play Tradewars online? I would LOVE to play this game again, but have been out of luck in finding anything via google.

  • 1. Teenager with computer gets modem

    2. Teenager turns 16 and gets car

    3. +++ATH0

    You weren't a real BBS if your AC
    wasn't one of the 35 reachable by
    PC PURSUIT [phreak.org]

  • I recall configuring Procomm Plus to continually dial a set of 10-12 BBS numbers, sometimes it would connect on the first, othertimes it would cycle through all of them for nearly an hour. On those BBS systems you'd find chat, games, and other interactive features that I seldom used. I instead used them as a source for shareware (games, utilities, apps), digital art, and ascii art. You'd have BBS systems bragging about the number of CD-ROMs they had available (or perhaps they'd say they had over 2GB of d
  • Ahhh nostalgia.... Here's my story, after I picked up a 286 computer with an EGA monitor and a whopping 210 megs of hard disk space off of a building company when their power flickered, I changed out the power supply and I was online shortly with a 2400 baud modem. I was 12 at the time (1993). I found the Southeastern Information Depot (SID) and downloaded a list of atlanta area BBS's (Hacker's Layer, the Brick Wahl, etc). After that, it was onto some hacking and warez BBS's. I stayed on those until int

  • No shit.

    Was 16/17sh in high school, met a woman who was 10 years older than me (25/26sh). (.. and yes, I know she had committed statutory rape but she was hot as hell, and I was the one that instigated it). I remember the huge parties we would have with a bunch of my friends , we would get together.. work on setting up a new BBS using one of our phone lines, or a old 80x86 that my grandma gave me from her small office after she had upgraded...).

    I remember when I tried to get a MFM drive through the Secur
  • one of the few articles where I actually read the majority of posts.
    I miss the BBS days hard. I think the world could benefit from a return to those days. That being said, I know everyone and their dog spooned LORD at night, but not I... I much preferred The Pit, and Land of Devestation. Multiplayer goodness. You could build forts, move around a big map (in real time even, sorta). Sysops could complete reconfigure the map, create new towns, scripts, etc. Its a shame it didn't catch on more. In all honesty i

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.