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posted by janrinok on Sunday December 04 2022, @07:31PM   Printer-friendly

Revisiting the wonder and betrayal of online life circa 1992:

I suppose that some of you, like me, will remember the very early days when logging in to a BBS was the only way to connect to other people on the internet. But how many of you actually ran a BBS? Here is one such story:

Thirty years ago last week—on November 25, 1992—my BBS came online for the first time. I was only 11 years old, working from my dad's Tandy 1800HD laptop and a 2400 baud modem. The Cave BBS soon grew into a bustling 24-hour system with over 1,000 users. After a seven-year pause between 1998 and 2005, I've been running it again ever since. Here's the story of how it started and the challenges I faced along the way.

In January 1992, my dad brought home a gateway to a parallel world: a small black plexiglass box labeled "ZOOM" that hooked to a PC's serial port. This modem granted the power to connect to other computers and share data over the dial-up telephone network.

While commercial online services like CompuServe and Prodigy existed then, many hobbyists ran their own miniature online services called bulletin board systems, or BBSes for short. The Internet existed, but it was not yet widely known outside academic circles.

Whereas the Internet is a huge connected web of systems with billions of users, most BBSes were small hobbyist fiefdoms with a single phone line, and only one person could call in and use it at a time. Although BBS-to-BBS message networks were common, each system still felt like its own island culture with a tin-pot dictator (the system operator—or "sysop" for short) who lorded over anyone who visited.

Not long after my dad brought home the modem, he handed off a photocopied list that included hundreds of BBS numbers from our 919 area code in North Carolina. Back then, the phone company charged significantly for long-distance calls (which could also sneakily include parts of your area code), so we'd be sticking to BBSes in our region. This made BBSes a mostly local phenomenon around the US.

With modem in hand, my older brother—about five years older than me—embraced calling BBSes first (we called it "BBSing"). He filled up his Procomm Plus dialing directory with local favorite BBSes such as The Octopus's Garden, The Body Shop, and Chalkboard. Each system gained its own flavor from its sysop, who decorated it with ANSI graphics or special menus and also acted as an emcee and moderator for the board's conversations.

I have a distinct memory of the first time I realized what a BBS was. One day while I looked over my brother's shoulder, he showed me the file section of one of those BBSes—a list of available files that you could download to your local computer. Pages of free-to-download shareware games scrolled by. My eyes widened, and something clicked.

"You can download games for free?" I remember thinking. I noticed one file labeled "RAMPAGE.ZIP" that was one hundred kilobytes—or "100K," as listed. Thinking of Rampage on the NES, which was one of my favorite games at the time, I asked my brother to download it. He declined because it would have taken over five minutes to transfer on our 2400 BPS modem. Any file around one megabyte would take about an hour to download.

Online time was precious back then. Since most BBSes only had one phone line, you didn't want to hog the line for too long or the sysop might boot you. And there was extra jeopardy involved. Since we were using our regular house telephone line to connect, the odds that my mom would pick up and try to dial out—thus ruining the transfer process—remained very high. But whatever the risks, the thrill of remote projection by computer sunk into me that day and never left.

Follow the link for the full story - and he is still active today but not on a BBS....

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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Monday December 05 2022, @04:05PM (2 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday December 05 2022, @04:05PM (#1281277)

    I downloaded some horrible Atari BBS written in BASIC around 1984 and cleaned it up - mostly just fixing up data structure inefficiencies and such, but I also identified a critical part that I recoded into 30 to 40 bytes of assembly code which sped the whole thing up to where the 1200 baud modem was the bottleneck (as it was when I started, a 300 baud modem wasn't the bottleneck most places....)

    I didn't have access to a C compiler for the Atari 8-bits back then, what did you use? Was it on a cartridge?

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  • (Score: 2) by optotronic on Tuesday December 06 2022, @02:44AM (1 child)

    by optotronic (4285) on Tuesday December 06 2022, @02:44AM (#1281354)

    I know we used Deep Blue C for awhile. I think we also used Ace C. Neither was on a cartridge. We used SpartaDOS for development and ultimately required it for running the BBS.

    The C compiler didn't have much in terms of a standard library. Or maybe it was just too big so we wrote most or all of the I/O routines assembly, calling the OS CIO routines.

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday December 06 2022, @03:22AM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday December 06 2022, @03:22AM (#1281357)

      C and my Atari days never crossed. Later, around 1993-ish, I used the Cosmic (French company) C compiler for our 6811 work, it was quite good - anytime I checked the generated assembly it was tight, unlike some other C compiler for 6811 we had that made barely functional bloated slow garbage out of the same C code.

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