Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie

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Bill Loguidice's picture

Commodork book coverCommodork book coverRob O'Hara's new book, Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie, has recently been restocked and is available again directly from his Website. The book is a collection of Rob's stories and memoirs that took place during the classic computer Bulletin Board era, which for those who haven't experienced BBS's directly, should be familiar with the concepts from past Armchair Arcade articles and discussions. These were the heady times in mainstream personal computing before the Internet became of public interest and there was nothing really resembling the World Wide Web, save for proprietary and closed online services that generally charged (gouged) by the hour, like CompuServe and GEnie. BBS's were bulletin board systems that users would host on their computers and others would dial directly into and were generally free (unless you were calling long distance), enabling file sharing, discussions and game playing, among other things. Comparitively primitive versus what we have today, but still amazingly robust, the best setups with multiple lines in and lots of members could still impress.

In any case, Rob has made the complete first chapter available for your reading pleasure in PDF format, which sort of sets up the whole rest of the book. While these types of books can often be tedious and self serving - really, who care about someone else talking about the old days in book form? - Rob is the real deal and it seems like a really fun read.


Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Nerdic Sagas

Indeed, I came in at the tail end of the "BBS" days when Computer Shopper was still about as close as you could get to a "World Wide Web." CS would print all the BBSs in the US, splitting them up into two sections (A-R, S-Z or something like that). Some of those old BBSs were really huge, with 20-30 phone lines and various means of gouging you. Some charged by the month, others by the hour, and others by the minute. Many were free, but since long distance was so expensive back then, you really couldn't consider it "free." I guess the lucky folks were those living in big cities, where they could choose from a number of free BBSs and not have to worry about long distance.

It's strange how annoyances like not being able to connect, getting a busy signal, and the like now seem almost idyllic. I can remember how excited I was to get my first modem (A Hayes 2400 Baud modem) and trying to connect. Of course, living in a tiny hamlet in Louisiana, there were zero BBSs I could reach for free. The only ones were 1-800 BBSs like the Small Business Administration and weird ones like Waste Water Management and the like. These boards were closely monitored and anything not related to the topic was promptly deleted, so you had to try to code your messages to make them sound relevant.

A few of the boards were running on standard BBS programs like WildCat!, and if you knew what you were doing, you could "hack" them by entering commands that weren't listed in the menu. A few even let you do real-time chat. I'm not sure what the numbers were on these, but I can remember meeting dozens and dozens of folks chatting (illegally, I might add) on these 1-800 BBSs like DWIE and DOE (Dept of Energy). Most of them were young people, either teenagers or young adults (20-30).

I actually got a letter from AT&T threatening me with legal action for "abusing WATTS lines." I'm still not exactly sure what that means, but it sounded really scary at the time. I coudln't dial any 1-800 numbers for a month.

We were even able to play primitive games with these chats. One of them I remember is "macro duel." The idea was to try to lure someone onto the site into a real-time chat with you. This was usually done by impersonating females and the like. Once they were in, you'd hit them with a very lengthy macro. Somehow, this would knock them off-line, and since these BBS was usually crowded, it was very hard to get online again (could take hours). Nasty little business.

At any rate, I definitely don't miss these old days and am VERY glad to have the net. Ahh...Terminus...Zmodem...AT...Nope. No nostalgia there.

BTW, was anyone here on the old Portal network? As far as I know, that was one of the last of the big mainframe networks to actually cater to the Amiga crowd.

Mat Tschirgi (not verified)
I was on some BBSes back in

I was on some BBSes back in Atlanta before I had an Internet account with Mindspring (which later became Earthlink).

The main one I remember was called Index. Paul, one of my Iranian friends, got me into the whole BBS craze. The BBS boards were a real precursor to the Internet. I remember playing the classic BBS game "Legend of the Red Dragon," which was a menu based MUD. This same BBS had it rigged so you could play Doom online against other people via the BBS-- really cool stuff.

=- Mat Tschirgi =- Armchair Arcade Editor
Hear my gaming podcasts!

The Super Koopa Troopa Show

Played to Death

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
I stuck to local BBS' myself

I stuck to local BBS' myself and didn't connect for myself until I got my Amiga 500. My first modem was 1200 baud and eventually I got an incompatible 9600 baud modem that could only do 2400 baud. I used BBS' right through about 1996 (or even late 1995), when I finally got to switch to the Internet with 14.4 and eventually 28.8 modems. Through a friends' BBS I was able to get access to USENET around the 1993/94 timeframe and some of those classic posts are still archived via Google. It just goes to show you really have to be careful what you say and be professional, always, no matter how old or what your situation is...

Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[ My collection ]
[ ]

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Food Fight

I vaguely remember playing Legend of the Red Dragon...At least, I think I do. I also remember another one called "Food Fight" that was really fun. There's a list of these "door games" on Wikipedia, but not much content...

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
I remember being a point in Fidonet

I was a point in the old Fidonet way back. The bulletin board I logged into quite frequently was Brainbox which was owned by one of my friends of the time. I frequented some other bulletin boards for downloads etc. 2400 baud modem was the first modem I got, within a year I progressed to 9600 and later a 14K4 upgraded to 28k8. I used my 56k (Bullet modem) quite extensively because for the longest time it was impossible to get broadband internet acces from my home.

I was actually teaching a computerclass when Gohper, telnet,usenet and ftp were the major internet platforms. I remember being thrilled by the fact that I could actually make a computer in Finland send me it's files. I never forget my first public area sessions where quite a lot of c64 binaries could be found - YES there already was quite good c64 emulation back in 92'93'94 that used d64 images, prg files and t64 files. I remember amazing my prof Tuinstra with
Miha Peternel's C64s emulation.

-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-

Flack's picture
Joined: 09/06/2006
Memories and More

I can tell you what abusing a WATTS extender was (I did it frequently). A WATTS line was a phone number that you could dial that would in turn give you another dial tone. Many businesses had them so that people (from home) could dial the number and then call long distance, charging the call to the company. Many businesses also had 1-800 WATTS extenders, which were like gold. You could dial into one of those puppies for free (since it was a toll free number) and call anywhere in the country for free, until either the company changed its three or four numeral passcode, or Ma Bell called YOU.

The greatest thing about this entire experience so far has been hearing everyone else's memories and stories, and how similar they were to my own.

Rob "Flack" O'Hara


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