A little trip to yesteryear - like, the 1970s. 300 baud modems - YES, THREE HUNDRED BAUD MODEMS ...


Bulletin Board Systems (BBS)  were the precursor to our modern-day Internet. Ward Christiensen and Randy Suess started it all by creating their CBBS - Computerized BBS - in Chicago in 1978. The BBSs that followed were all dial-up systems, where you actually told your modem to call a phone number to connect. No fancy graphics, for the most part  ... just plain ANSI colors, like my Main Menu pictured above.

Us older Sysops (SYStem OPerators) began at 2400 baud. (Yes, 2400 baud.) Many Sysops got to know Hayes Microcomputing's Dennis Hayes, and purchased our modems directly from him at "Sysop Discount Pricing."  56kb ... 14.4 ... v.32 ... X-Modem ... Zmodem ...

BBSs are no longer with us. During their heyday, they were maintained by (for the most part) individuals who maintained the system and dedicated phone lines for others to visit. Visitors could chat locally ... or connect with other networks - like FidoNet. It wasn't uncommon for your visit to be interrupted by the Sysop, inviting you to chat for a while.

And those chats consisted of complete sentences. This was before ROTFLMAO and BFF were the nomenclature for Web texting.

At Boardwatch Magazine's annual ONE BBSCON conferences,  14-year-old Sysops could "hang out with bearded, working-class dudes, a Robert Heinlein-reading 'Nam vet, or a chain-smoking British lady named MsJuge who invited the 15-year-olds over to her house to drink beer. Everyone called each other by nicknames. You could play touch football with Rigger, a shady individual in his 20s who used to design movie sets, around whom rumors swirled that he dealt drugs and once shot at a cop. You wondered if someone you flamed would show up," wrote John Gorenfein in Flak Magazine several years ago, reflecting upon the demise of BBSs.

Then, one day in the early 1990s, BBS Sysops realized everyone was talking about the Internet.

As time passed, newsgroups - then the Web - came and seduced everyone. The awe and wonder of being able to talk to some Swedish or Ukranian person without long distance fees made it all the less compelling to call up the BBSs.

But computing would never be so "local" again.

What did ATD BBS Offer?

The Bulletin Board System concept offered  unique, small online community environments for their visitors. Each BBS was a village of its own. Many BBS systems offered message discussion forums, online games and Shareware files for downloading. A number of these systems were "networked" - others completely standalone.

My interests back then were (and continue to be)  online legal issues and telecommunications law, the JFK assassination, and amateur radio. The most popular files areas on my system were those pertaining to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the JFK assassination.

Some BBSs charged subscriptions to their visitors. Some dealt with x-rated nonsense. I always answered a new caller's inquiry of, "Hey, where are your ADULT files?" by pointing them to my Telecommunications Law or EFF files areas. Hey, those concepts are pretty "adult" in nature, aren't they? Those callers never returned ... (grin)

Using the Main Menu above, here's what my users were subjected to offered ...

That little (sm) - Service Mark - is quite legitimate. And I believe it to be the very first issued to a BBS in the State of California (maybe the nation???). I applied for it, and had to educate California's Secretary of State what "services" were offered by my BBS, and why I wanted a SM to protect my property. And I proudly have March Fong Eu's signature on that certificate. She was the first Asian American woman ever elected to a state constitutional office in the United States. She became famous for smashing a toilet bowl on the state Capitol's steps during her successful campaign to ban pay toilets, which she said discriminate against women.

[B]ulletin Menu - BBS industry-related news, and EFF Action Alerts.

[M]essage Menu - Gateway to FidoNet and Internet messaging.

[Q]uestionnaires - Usually fun questionnaires, Sysop or user-submitted ... topics on news of the period, or just about anything.

[P]age the Sysop - Would physically make my computer BUZZ to wake me up alert me someone wanted assistance.

[H]elp with the system - plain text file to help newbies.

[F]iles Menu - Took the visitor to 43 different files areas. My BBS prided itself as an official distribution point for PGP (which is in the news often when authorities want access to detainees’ laptops, but they are encrypted and require a passphrase to “open”(something abut that Fifth Amendment ... ).

I also was a supporting member of the ASP - Association of Shareware Professionals. And I'd receive a 6x6x6" box chock full of 5.25" floppy disks every two weeks or so with new and upgraded Shareware titles to post on the BBS.

Electronic Frontier Foundation published their EFFector Newsletter - and was immediately available to my visitors in the EFF files area. The EFF just published their 500th EFFector newsletter on February 20, 2009! Coincidentally, I worked the EFF booth at the 7th annual Southern California Linux Expo in Los Angeles last month ... here's the evidence a photo of our booth ...

L-to-R: My most-patient-woman-on-the-planet wife, Karen, EFF membership recruitment manager Sara, and myself.

I am proud of my association with the EFF. They have been fighting for your and my online rights - as well as advising us what our online responsibilities are - since 1990.

[D]oors Menu - "Doors" were, well, sub-programs that visitors could enter and use. I was a distribution point for several authors' works. Popular doors were Online Shopping (with TeleFlora handling credit card transactions. TeleFlora was probably the first credit card processor to actually recognize the "marketability" of BBSs), US BBS Listing Service, Online Business Cards, File Request Service, Surveys and Voting Booths, Myers-Briggs Personality Test ... and a lot more.

[N]ewsletter - Where the Sysop's ego was displayed for all to peruse. Today, we call this a “blog.” (grin)

More - possibly - later. Thanks for reading!

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