14 July 2022


(reposted from my frotz.prose.sh blog) 

I grew up in a sort of in-between time and social class. I was a teen in the early 1980s, and while my family did reasonably well financially my parents didn't feel like the expenditure for a "real" computer ($1,600+ USD for an IBM PC or compatible around 1983 or so in 1983 US dollars) was worthwhile. I certainly didn't earn enough money to purchase something like that for myself with the sorts of jobs I could get, but I could afford an Atari and then buy various add-ons as time went on.

Since no one in my family graduated from a college or university (until my youngest sister), I had no idea what the Internet was, but I definitely was into BBSes and CompuServe in 1984 after I got my first modem (and then had to get my own phone line to avoid tying up the house line when people could reasonably expect to use the phone). I even wrote a couple of BBSes with a high-school friend of mine who also had an Atari, and we ran our own for a while until we got interested in something else.

It is probably nostalgia creeping up on me, but I miss the ease with which one could start programming back then. The machines all came with a rudimentary BASIC interpreter, and one could pay for Pascal or other "serious" programming languages when one bumped against the limitations of BASIC. I think we wrote our BBS software in Pascal or a strange little language called Action! that was Atari-specific. Our first BBSes were strictly interpreted BASIC, of course, and 300-1200 bps and a single user at a time (I couldn't afford more than one phone line) meant that aside from bugs even the BASIC BBSes ran reasonably well.

The programs were less functional, to be sure, but also it was much simpler. We didn't need SDKs or APIs, or dynamically linked anything. When I got into linux around 1993 or 1994 I was really surprised at how much faster a statically compiled system booted on my junk 486sx computer I had. Even now I occasionally try to compile software statically, but it seems mainly a fool's errand that leads to tears unless it's something like ffmpeg (which I do still statically compile).

I don't know why I was thinking about BBSes or my old Atari, but I sort of miss the old single-host BBS. I was never super big into FidoNET or the other gateways - I liked the little self-contained islands where one got to know the other users, and the little cultures that developed on those isolated systems.

That got me to thinking about setting up a BBS that could accept ssh, and there are some packages still around and apparently in use so maybe I will. I ran a Mastodon server for a while but in the end many users just used my low-pop Mastodon instance to get their feeds from octogon.social or the main Mastodon instance so I eventually took it down so the cobwebs wouldn't choke out the local channel.

As usual there's no real point to this post - just my reminiscences and (maybe?) nostalgic cravings.