In my last article, I gave an example on bringing the Amiga onto a network using TCP/IP – adding a browser (iBrowse) we layered on HTTP, bringing us on to the world wide web. In this article, we’re going to step backward to the dawn (from an end users perspective) of machine networks – the dial up modem and the BBS.
First a little context… As I mentioned the Web is based on a protocol called HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) which sits on a TCP/IP stack. Communication with BBS’s operated on a predecessor to TCP called Zmodem, at the protocols basic level it behaved in a similar way to TCP, a packet of data was sent and response of success or failure was returned to the host.
The most noticeable difference for todays modern web user is the interface used to access the BBS. This is done through a terminal application, which is for the most part what developers and engineers still use today to SSH or connect into another machine – essentially it’s an application that provides a view into a remote system.
Enough of the geekery and let’s move onto the full retro experience on our Amiga’s, BBS’s!!
For this experiment the interface I use on the Amiga is called Term, I’m certain there are many other terminal options available but Term has some built in Hayes AT commands, which I’ll cover more soon, however, Term will save you the pain of remembering all the modem commands. Secondly, to compliment the Hayes enabled interface, I’m using a US Robotics Sportster 33.6k baud modem which is importantly, a Hayes compatible modem.
Side note: I picked up this modem for a $1 at a flea market and back in the day, the first modem I used on the Amiga was a similar 14.4k baud that I borrowed from my school in 1992 to call BBS’s in the US (I was in the UK), after my parents got the phone bill, my online adventures didn’t last long!
You’ll connect the modem to your Amiga through the serial port, you’ll also notice here the Amiga has the wide variant of the port. If you bought a modem that was only used on PC’s, you might need to convert from the 9 pin wide to the 25 pin. A handy little utility I found to check if your modem is working is DialNumber which can be found on Aminet.
If you encounter system -> modem communication problems, check the serial settings under preferences and drop the baud rate to well under the capabilities of the modem, I started at 9600 baud. Another point worth mentioning is the interrupt dip switches on the back of the modem, mine came configured to work on a PC but after digging through online documentation I discovered that the switch configuration for the Mac worked on the Amiga.
If all goes well you’re ready to fire up Term and dial up a BBS. A good place to start are the Cottonwood and Borderline BBS that run on a C64. You can find them on them on the web here and the phone number is 1-951-652-1690, sorry UK, Europe and Oz, I haven’t looked up any international BBS’s yet.
After you get the nostalgic bbeeebrrrrppp ping ping sound you should be ready to start exploring the non internet online world. Using a BBS is fairly self explanatory, there’s nothing complicated going on here, menu options are presented in the form of a single character. There is of course a much easier way to get your feet wet in the BBS world, that is Telnet. Most BBS’s support the protocol and can be accessed through any modern web browser, Cottonwood can be found here.
I hope you have enjoyed this high level guide to the pre-Internet era and until next time…