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Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2006 01:32:56 -0500
From: Thomas O'Nan 
To: jason@textfiles.com
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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