Cabe Atwell/Electronic Design
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Electronic Design’s BBS Restarts After 30 Years During Catastrophic Website Outage

April 1, 2024
The original Electronic Design Bulletin Board System (BBS) is once again active after three decades of inactivity.
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Technology Advancements

April 1st, 2024 @ Electronic Design: Generative AI

From recursive regenerative AI to solar submarines, our special April 1 articles cover all aspects of design in the electronics world.
Attila Mezei | Dreamstime
Technology Advancements

Download the April 1st, 2024 Ebook

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What you’ll learn:

  • How the Electronic Design BBS looks today.
  • More about what it takes to run a BBS.

 

At 2:45 am, Kip Johnson got “the call.” He knew exactly what it meant at that time in the morning: “Fire up the BBS!”

It’s been 30 years since Kip was that 11-year-old computer whiz kid, the only kid, let alone person, who knew how to use those new-fangled computer calling programs. He was always in charge of running the bulletin board system, a charge he never took lightly.

That’s Bulletin Board System (BBS) for those who need a reminder. A pre-internet way of connecting to information and files through a dial-up connection and a modem, typically over a telephone line. They’re run by System Operators, SYSOP for short.

I was asked to go and observe Kip. I sped right on over and met gleaming enthusiasm. I was let into a room of loud computer fans, clicking telephone lines, brief screeching sounds. Kip starts talking...

“I could feel it in my heart tonight. Like riding a bike. Like remembering where I hide that last Twinkie for after school. The SYSOP in me was back!”

And back he was without missing a step. The 486 DX2 66MHz with 64 MB of RAM was running, and four lines were waiting. Within 13 seconds, the first user connected. In 45, all of the lines were full.

Forum Free-for-All

The forum was already flooded with conversations about the latest tech, BBS busy signals, how long it took to connect, share ratios, and, of course, the status of their TradeWars2002 and Barren Realms Elite games, which have been running concurrently for the past tri-decade. It’s safe to say The Electronic Design BBS was an unstoppable Trade War node at this point.

Kip was finally able to see a majority use of the zmodem protocol with connections. Last time he was called on, zmodem took a backseat to the more tried-and-truer x and ymodem. He’s happy to see people enjoying the error checking and correcting this time around. I see a slight grin of pride pass across his face. This was particularly handy for the majority of readers who have slower 14.4k and 33.6k connections.

“It’s not surprising. 14-4, 28-8, 33-6 marked the beginning of the modern age, in my opinion. 96 baud was so TRS-80. People have to hold onto those modems for emergencies like this!” Kip tells me as he’s answering message boards.

He was right. I can see my first 14.4k US Robotics modems, plastic yellowing with age in my mind. It’s in a box somewhere in storage! For shame.

Phreak a Bypass

Out of the blue—lightning strikes the telephone box on the side of the house! The thunder’s rumble pierces through me like a defrag. As I duck for cover, I see Kip, unphased, grabbing a small brown canvas zipper bag. He says, “The lightning took out two of our lines. I got to phreak a bypass.”

Running outside, he twists off the little tin lock on the phone box. I see a bunch of smoldering telephone lines. In the little bag, he pulls out tools flashing around like Edward Scissorhands. He clips, cuts, and exposes some fresh copper in the lines.

He pulls out a telephone with alligator clips at the ends of the cord and clips it to the frayed lines. I hear a dial-tone sound. “We still have a signal,” he says as he disconnects. But I can see the lines are too short! In the time it takes me to feel worried, he connects the frayed lines with some alligator-end jumpers from the canvas bag. “This will have to do; I don’t have enough line to do a complete replacement.” He rushes inside; I stumble to catch up.

Back inside… all four lines are connected! A message pops up in the forum, “Did we lose a line?” Kip types, “Not on my watch.”

I didn’t see a human being anymore… I truly saw a SYSOP!

Later in the evening, screens and little lights are enough to see Kip sitting facing away from me at his 21-in. Trinitron CRT. The glow wraps around, turning him into little more than a silhouette. Buckle spring key presses ring, combining with PC fan sound in almost perfect harmony. For some time, users connect and disconnect, it sounds like glass breaking. Thousands of users. Time passes unnoticeably.

Electronicdesign.com comes back online. The last BBS user disconnects. Kip turns off the tower.

“Go Ahead, Take the Gateway”

“It’s time to pass the Gateway, Cabe,” Kip said in a quiet voice, soaked in hesitation.

“What?” Having zero clue what that meant, I met his hesitation with quick confusion.

“The Gateway is all yours, my friend. Treat it well, and it’ll do the same for you.” He didn’t want to look at me, but I could see light glinting off the welling of water in his eyes—from the side.

I was about to say “what” again when I saw it… a faded Gateway 2000 logo on the tower running the BBS. I decided to give him a moment.

“That’s why you’re here. Someone paged me, saying, ‘cabe like old pc 2.’” I see the pager’s message.

“Hey, do you still pay by the character for those… wait… I may have mentioned I bought an old laptop recently, but I don’t know about…”

“Don’t be so humble, Cabe. I got a good feeling about you. Go ahead, take the Gateway. It’s a ‘strong-machine.’ That’s all a SYSOP needs.” Kip disappears, probably in the other rooms or something.

“A strong-machine? What does that even mean,” I thought as I threw the tower in my back seat. The last glimpse of Kip I saw was his face illuminated by the KVM switch LED right before he switched it off. His house was dark. I drove away.

I got home when it was still dark. I stopped looking up how much a DX2 66MHz tower goes for at auction and thought again about the evening’s events…  “If a BBS SYSOP has a ‘strong-machine,’ why not use it? Yeah, I get it! Let’s do this! But, can I really be a… SYSOP?”

Electronicdesign.com came back on at 3:28am. That was the most life-changing 43 minutes of my life. I keep the fire. I’m there in the dark waiting for the moment—for the call—for the pager message?

See you on the BBS.

CabeTRONIC (Your NEW friendly neighborhood SYSOP)

Read more articles in the April 1st series in the Humor section of our Series Library.

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