Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2006 01:32:56 -0500 From: Thomas O'Nan To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Love Your Site Thanks for putting up the information about my old BBS, The T.A.R.D.I.S. One of my old users discovered your project and told me about it because my system wasn't there. You asked for an essay about early BBS life, and I thought I'd let you have one about the early years. TARDIS actually started as an amateur radio BBS running a program called Super Ratt in 1982. This ran over the radio using RTTY-ASCII encoded radio signals and a device called a TNC to interface between the radio and an Apple ][+. You didn't need a login, all you had to do was send RBBS and the system would startup, ask for your callsign and start talking to you. It was fun, but after a while something new came along called Packet Radio and the software for radio BBS on that only worked on PCs. My little system never had much traffic. But then I discovered the phone modems and a service called Genie. Not long after that I discovered the earliest version of the Prime BBS software. I spent about five hours downloading it at 300 baud from Genie for a 140k disk file. After that the TARDIS was born. Based in the style of the British SciFi show Dr. Who (bigger on the inside than it was on the outside), I kept a simple philosophy, run a BBS that anybody, using any equipment could use. This included the deaf and blind people who had difficulty in the old days when things started getting complicated with special ASCII graphics codes. I kept it pretty simple. The original system was a 300baud,48k Apple ][+ with two 140k floppy drives, one with the program and system files, and the other to store the messages. It didn't take long for this to blossom to a larger system. The next step was upgrading to a 64k Apple ][+ running Apple ProDos, then a 400k 3.5" drive. Next a new thing called a hard drive was added, a whole whopping 5meg of hard drive, then a 10meg was added when the 5meg for a whopping 15meg system. This wasn't bad for a system running at 2400baud. You could store a lot of text messages on 15meg of space after all. At the end, I had a 40meg hard drive, but the speed never made it past the 2400 baud modem speed, the Prime program didn't support it. During the time that the BBS ran in Indianapolis, there was a little free computer paper and tried to let people know about the local computer shops, and there was a BBS list. At one point they had a person who wrote a few articles that talked about the local BBSs who went by the name Mr. Microphone. He'd write about the technology behind a particular BBS, the programs, the games and such, but not much else. Then he did a story on The TARDIS, the fan hit the crap! My users were insulted, they wanted his hide nailed to a barn! Seems he didn't like the TARDIS, not because it was one of the few non IBM BBS running in Indianapolis, not because it was an Apple //e (another upgrade, thanks to a user called Romana, and a monetary donation from another user, the BBS was always free), his problem was the fact that there weren't enough PC files for download. Seems his grading system only worked if you had PC files for download, my users pointed out that the TARDIS was a community message and e-mail BBS and not a file exchange. The next month, he printed a different review, that kind of apologized for his lack of vision. I thought it was kinda fun at the time, so I kept out of the controversy and let my users do their thing. The thing I really liked about the BBS was the community that happened around the TARDIS. The Prime software allowed the BBS to run with ease. The Sysop could run the system with the help of others and I did. We had things that weren't seen on other local systems, often things that some users never knew were there. Once a user logged on for the first time, the sysop had to verify them, and once that was done, they had access based on how old they were and male or female. At the time there was a lot of problems with females getting online, they usually ended up having a bad experience with all the guys hitting on them. Prime allowed me to set up rooms and set access so that people would have or not have access. So I set up several general rooms that everyone could get into, I set up an Adult's section, and I set up a Ladies only section. If you weren't allowed into a room, you never knew it was there, it was invisible. I had several of the local BBS ladies who ran the Ladies room, and I stayed out of it, they did it all, to this day, I don't know what went on in that room! It was fun. One of the neat things that the PRIME software allowed was the ability of any user to start a conversation topic, so inside of each room there might be as many as 255 discussion topics going on. All I had to do was keep the flame wars to a minimum, and I did have some. There were some topics I didn't allow, mostly because they always ended up causing a flame war, usually topics coming from the extreme right wing, most of the users I had were academic, moderate or liberal. I still have all the equipment too, but I don't think I'd ever do it again, no time. So what happened at the end? Well, that wasn't fun. Phone lines were noisy and we were all constantly looking for ways to help keep out the noise. I had special lines put in that were less noisy, I had filters in the line to quiet the noise, for the most part, it was pretty good. My first modem ran 150 baud, then 300, 1200 and 2400. Then the first error correcting modems came out. But the problem with the PRIME software at the time was the way the modem interfaced with the computer, Bob Garth used a custom wired cable to do his own hand shaking between the serial card and the modem. This all worked really well, UNTIL error correction, at this point a simple flaw happened between certain modems, and I tried a ton of them, but if a user with one or two of the cheaper, old non error correcting and very noisy would call in, the modem would wait for a longer period to connect, during the part of the connection where the error correcting happened, the modem and the serial card would loose sync and stop talking, I would then have to shut down the computer and reboot to get resynchronized. I spent months working on this problem, changing modems, program settings, dip switches and filters. Then just when I thought I had everyone informed what was happening a couple of kids who wanted something destructive to do, decided to set up their computers to crash mine using the modem sync problem. They just put on a cheap 2400 modem, and set their systems to dial mine every 30 seconds, this locked up my system, and kept everyone else from getting in. They did this for two months! I knew the stats on my incoming traffic and I knew that I didn't have people calling me every 30 seconds, when things worked, I would get about 500 calls a day, and never had people complain about getting in, once these two started their thing, nobody got in. I contacted the phone company about the problem, at first they weren't willing to help, in those days the phone company hated BBSs, they wanted to classify them as a business and when a modem was on a residential line (like mine) they (ATT) didn't want to deal with it. Eventually I talked so a person at the phone company that dealt with nuisance calls. He went after the two kids and in the end they were arrested for what they did, I kept out of it, I never received any compensation for what they did. Their parents swore they didn't know what was going on and that it was all my fault for running a BBS that locked out their kids from an adult section they weren't supposed to be in anyway. After that, I just didn't have the heart to run a system anymore, the internet was coming and everything changed, after about two more years the good local community BBSs were all gone. The neat thing was that I had 3500 users able to log in at the end, 750 of them were regulars, about 40 were more than daily callers. I became friends with many of my users and still keep contact with them today using iChat and e-mail. My co-sysops were all wonderful people and the community that grew around the TARDIS was something I will always cherish. Thanks again. Tom O'Nan
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