The Lost Civilization of Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems

November 7th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

The Cave BBS Logoff ANSI by Nukemaster

Last Friday, The Atlantic published an article I wrote in which I explore modern-day dial-up BBSes.

Some of you may remember that I've visited this topic before — on this very blog — way back in 2006. In my recent virtual travels, I found it very interesting to see how things in the dial-up BBS space had changed over ten years, and I allude to that in my Atlantic article.

I've mentioned this many times before, but for those of you who are unfamiliar, I ran a dial-up BBS called "The Cave BBS" between 1992 and 1998. Since 2005, I have also run a telnet version of The Cave.

To read more about my BBS adventures, check out the "BBS History" category on VC&G.

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[ Retro Scan ] HP 95LX

August 30th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Hewlett-Packard HP 95LX HP-95LX Handheld Computer Pocket Computer Palmtop PC User's Guide Cover scan - 1991HP-95LX: Like a computer-shaped cookie that you can't eat

In case you didn't know, the HP 95LX is a small, portable IBM PC compatible machine running a full version of MS-DOS that ran off of two AA batteries. It marked the beginning of HP's palmtop computer line, which I wrote about recently in a slideshow for PCMag.com.

The HP 95LX is special to me in particular because I've had one for over 20 years now. My dad bought the machine slightly-used from a friend not long after it came out. After fiddling around with it for a while, he gave it to me, and by 1993, I had it in my collection.

Using an RS-232 serial cable my dad built for me, I managed to transfer some MS-DOS programs to it (a few text-mode games mostly, and a few HP 95LX apps I downloaded from CompuServe), that I remember taking to school and using once or twice just for kicks. I also used that serial cable to hook the 95LX to a modem so I could call BBSes with it.

The worst thing about the 95LX — aside from its 1/4 CGA screen that doesn't let you run many MS-DOS apps — is that if you don't have a plug-in memory card, you lose all your saved data on the RAM disk if it runs out of batteries. Sure, it has a backup coin cell battery (or maybe two), but if that runs out, you're out of luck. The PC Card-like memory cards cost a lot of money back in the 1990s, so I never had one until recently.

Still, it's an amazing little machine. Very capable — if you have the patience to use it. A few years later, HP got everything right with the 200LX, which is still a popular portable MS-DOS machine among certain diehards today.

[ From HP 95LX Users's Guide, 1991, cover ]

Discussion Topic: Did you own a palmtop PC in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sega Channel

September 2nd, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Sega Genesis Sega Channel advertisement - 1995"Get hooked in."

Since its debut in late 1994, the Sega Channel remains one of the most fascinating footnotes of video game history. Essentially, the system had two components: a hardware cartridge that a customer plugged into his or her Sega Genesis, and a premium subscription cable TV service (usually $14.95 a month) that provided a selection of games the customer could download.

Games, when downloaded, were saved temporarily to DRAM in the cartridge (which lost its contents when the system was powered off), and the customer could download up to 50 games a month. The service also provided news about video game releases in the form of text displayed on the screen. The information transfer was one-way, however, so Sega Channel could not provide truly interactive online content.

When news of the Sega Channel first hit, I called my local cable company as the ad suggests. Unfortunately, we never received Sega Channel service in our area, so I didn't get to try it out myself.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, September 1995, p.39 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever subscribe to Sega Channel? Tell us about your experiences.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Supra 28.8 Kbps Modem

July 29th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Supra Modem Ad - 1996Glowing Modem

In my early BBS days, I started using a 2400 bps external modem hooked to the serial port of a PC clone. A few years later, I switched to an external Intel 14,400 bps modem. Then I believe I got a Creative Labs Modem Blaster kit with an internal 28,800 bps modem on an ISA card. After that I moved up to 33,600 with some generic Winmodem, then 56,000 bps.

In 2000, I signed up for my first cable modem service…and the rest is history.

[ From Internet World, February 1996, p.9 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What speed was your first modem?

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Prodigy 20 Years Ago Today

December 25th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

The Main page of Prodigy on December 25 1992 by Benj EdwardsAn angle-corrected close-up view of Prodigy's front page on Christmas 1992.

Twenty years ago today, I awoke with anticipation and ran downstairs. It was Christmas morning, and I could hardly wait to open my presents.

One of those presents turned out to be a connection kit to Prodigy online service, which I had been begging my father to buy for most of the year. 1992 was the year I jumped head-first into computer telecommunications by calling local BBSes. I became fascinated with modems and wanted to explore their every possible application.

That Christmas morning, my dad was on hand to document my first experiences with Prodigy using the family Sony Camcorder. I have captured various stills from that video, and I am posting them here to share a small slice of the Prodigy experience in 1992.

Unfortunately, my computer at the time, the IBM PS/2 Model 25 (which my dad purchased new circa 1987 and later became a hand-me-down to me), came equipped with a monochrome monitor. So the glory of Prodigy Christmas 1992 in color is sadly now lost to history (well, unless someone else out there can find some color screenshots of Prodigy on Christmas 1992).

[ Continue reading Prodigy 20 Years Ago Today » ]

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Wikipedia is Deleting BBS Game History

December 8th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Wikipedia deleting BBS Door Game Entries

As we speak, certain vigilante Wikipedia users are hard at work erasing whatever scraps of little-known BBS door game history that resides in Wikipedia's databases. The first casualty in this war was the entry for Space Empire Elite, which was deleted early this morning.

(For those of you unfamiliar with BBS door games, here's a brief definition: BBS door games are computer games, usually text-only, that were traditionally played over modems and accessed through dial-up BBSes. They are called "door games" because users pass through a figurative "doorway" from the BBS software into another program (the game program) to play them. One of the most notable examples is TradeWars 2002.)

The problem, it seems, is that the games aren't "notable" enough and lack the sources for a Wikipedia article.

[ Continue reading Wikipedia is Deleting BBS Game History » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Cave BBS Turns 20

November 26th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

The Cave BBS first log file - RedWolf PC Plus Minihost - 1992A vintage printout of my first BBS log.

Twenty years ago yesterday, I set up a BBS for the first time. The Cave BBS. Admittedly, it was nothing more than a bare-bones system run through Procomm Plus' Minihost module Minihost, but it was a start. Within a few weeks (with a brief detour running VBBS for a few days), I had a full-fledged WWIV BBS setup running on a Tandy 1800 HD laptop with a 2400 BPS modem.

[Brief aside — I can't find a copy of that ProComm Plus MiniHost for MS-DOS software anywhere — does anyone have it? I have the terminal emulator part, but not the MiniHost.] [ Update 11/27/2012 - Thanks to Jim Carpenter (see comments) for helping me find it! ]

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Cave BBS Turns 20 » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Finally…a 1200 Baud Modem

November 19th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Radio Shack TRS-80 DC-2212 Modem 1200 Baud - 1985FINALLY, I mean, COME ON.

You too could be the proud owner of this Radio Shack TRS-80 DC-2212 1200 baud modem for the low, low price of $399.95 (about $859.81 in 2012 dollars).

…If you traveled back in time with the proper currency, that is. But I wouldn't recommend it.

I recently bought a cable modem that is the equivalent of a 150,000,000 baud modem. It cost $70 in 2012 dollars. Not bad for progress.

[ From BYTE, September 1985, rear cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What speed was you first modem?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Game.com Internet Module

March 26th, 2012 by Benj Edwards

Tiger Game.com Internet Module Box Front and Back - 1997Tiger Game.com Internet Module Box

Two years ago, I posted a scan of the Tiger Game.com instruction manual. Today, I bring you the box for that console's little-understood Internet cartridge, released in 1997.

The box you see above included a Game.com serial cable (which allowed the console to be hooked up to an external RS-232 Hayes compatible PC modem) and a cartridge with the "Internet" software on it. In truth, the cartridge contained little more than ASCII text-based terminal emulator software.

In my previous Game.com Retro Scan, I described the Game.com's Internet connectivity, which I will quote below:

The Internet on the Game.com wasn't nearly as exciting as it sounds. Sure, it supported "checking your email" and uploading high scores to the Tiger website, but a user had to access the 'Net through a text-only terminal emulator cartridge — and then only via a serial cable that linked to a stand-alone dial-up modem.

It was a messy business. Being text-only, the user had to type in commands to whatever ISP the user chose (assuming they provided shell access) with the stylus on a tiny on-screen keyboard. Tiger did provide its own ISP that made the process slightly more user friendly. While far from practical, having a terminal emulator was an amusing capability. I used the Game.com call some BBSes around in 1997 for a chuckle.

As you can see, the Game.com's Internet feature wasn't very practical or useful, but it certainly serves as an amusing footnote in game console history.

By the way, Tiger once offered (or planned to offer) its own Tiger brand external modem for use with the Game.com. I'm not sure if it ever made it intro full production, but it is extremely rare either way. If anyone out there has seen one, please let me know.

[ From Tiger Game.com Internet box (module 71-529), circa 1997 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first video game console you bought that could communicate with the Internet?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Tiger Game.com

June 21st, 2010 by Benj Edwards

Tiger Game.com Manual Cover - 1997The original touch-screen game system.

Pop quiz: which video game console first featured a touch screen? (Hint: It's not the Nintendo DS.) How about this one: Which handheld console first supported Internet connectivity?

Believe it or not, Tiger Electronics — a toy company famed for its cheap electronic games — came in first on both counts with the Game.com in 1997. (Sega Saturn was the first home console to support Internet in 1996).

I was a Game.com early adopter, having bought one close to its release. The wonder of its primitive touch screen alone seemed to make up for its deficiencies at the time, so I was pleased at first. The unit shipped with a built-in version of Klondike Solitaire and a Lights Out game cartridge, both of which showed off the system's touch capabilities well. But my infatuation with the Game.com turned out to be brief.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Tiger Game.com » ]

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