Tuesday, January 5, 2010

25 Years of World Devastation!

In order to put a few people in sheer apoplexy of seeing two posts in the same day on my blog, I thought I would just put out a couple of Random thoughts...

2010 is going to be the Chinese year of the Tiger... Hopefully no relation to Mr. Woods.

2010 is also going to be the 25th anniversary of the greatest band that never existed, World Devastation. So heres to Herb, S'car, Spike, TMC and the rest of the honorary members of the band World Devastation. Remember, "call-out for fall-out" and "us want nuclear!"

Update: Thanks to Max for sending in a picture of the "official tour T-Shirt." I think Motel West was one of the few (if not only) BBS in the nation to go this far with its true fandom... The link to the t-shirt back side with complete (as in completely bogus) concert dates is in the comments to this post. BTW, the numbers in the parenthesis is the population of the city (at that time).

The Perpetual Story

An interesting phenomena on a few BBS systems was called a perpetual or never-ending story. So how does this work? Picture a BBS message system similar to a blog or threaded discussion board today. The only real difference is that only one person can be on and read at a time. The person who is online reads the story, and chooses to whether or not to add to the story. The rules changed based on what BBS you were on. Typically most BBS's had the unwritten rule that you don't kill off any of the characters. Thankfully, the Motel West didn't have that rule.

What is the benefit of a perpetual story? Well if you have a lot of quality contributors it becomes a funny mish-mash of "how do I get the character out of this one?" You are basically put in a position where you write the next chapter of the story...for good or for evil. Every once in a while you would get a person who didn't care much about the story and would undoubtedly end it someting like this...

"And then Winefred pulled out a shotgun and killed everyone. The end."

Or another way some people tried to kill the story was...

"Mr. Coffee pulled out a nucluear device and pushed the button...BOOM! The End."

And the classic way to end a storyline in the 1980's was of course the "Dallas Method":

"...and then Frank Zelba rolled over and woke up. Looking around the room he in amazement he announces, 'It was all a dream!'"

It was a great way many of us armchair authors could chime in using our "mad writing skilz" and show the world that we are the next Heinlein, Herbert, or Adams! In that 20 or so minutes, we controlled the world...and the crazy antics of our friends...as we all ended up in the story in one part or another. As mentioned in earlier posts, our real life exploits frequently became subject fodder for our story board.

The real time / multi-user aspect of the internet makes this type of perpetual story more difficult to execute today. Plus, there would be many more literary assassins who would try to sabotage the story than in years past. Back then, we didn't need to worry about spambots posting about little blue pills, the next hot stock tip, or the latest weight loss craze.

Anyways, heres to those made up gems of old, were you could steal your friends girlfriend, his brothers cherry red convertible, and save the story all in the same post... :) Isn't that right? Frank? S'car? Lioness? Anybody?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Just slow, not abandoned...

I was reading an article the other day about how most of the blogosphere was abandoned. How could you tell if your blog was abandoned? Well, the blog didn't have a post in the last 6 months its most likely a goner.

I have a few more stories up my sleeve.
  • ISP Conspiracy and Hardware Data Compression.
  • Modem Initialization Strings.
  • Why AMD chips are now worse than Intel chips.
  • (ok, just kidding)
Actually, there is the story of the origins of Sanctuary (as a name and my forays into D&D). The tale of the boy who asked 13 girls on a date in 1 week. The adventures of working as a door greeter at the Motel West. And finally, there is the parable of the 7-11 ice-machine.

And who knows, maybe if we really get bored we can discuss the merits of the Hayes AT command set and how your dial-up ISP could have given you 4x the dial-up speed with very minimal effort and not much real cost to themselves...

So, when I finished unpacking boxes I'll sit back down and continue this slow process through the 1980's and other fun.

Oh, and if your interested in the story of the house in the picture, just click here. I'm sure they own the legal copyright to the picture.

Monday, February 9, 2009

It's 2am, do you know where your restraunt is?

Something everyone needs is a place to hang out.  With the crew of the Motel West it was either Denny's or "HQ".  

Evidently there was a strong Pizza making theme with the crew of the Motel -- and many of them worked late at their job making/delivering Pizzas.  Well, where do you hang out after work...when after work means after midnight usually?  The answer: Denny's!  No ID's, no 2 drink minimum, and almost no drunks hitting on you!  And what made Denny's better was that we had a custom waiter that was always there....MIKEY!  He was a great waiter.  He took care of us, even if all we did was come in and order 5 coffee's and a coke.  The occasional sugar packet fight didn't seem to bother him at all.  Probably because he new we would clean up the mess.

We met many members of the Motel West at Denny's.  That was the neutral location that we always chose to have people meet us F2F (Face to Face).  Some people jumped in and said hello...and I'm sure some people walked in...saw us...and ordered a coffee to go.  Oh well, their loss.    Denny's became the virtual extension of the BBS -- or I guess it would be better to say that the Motel West became the virtual extension of the nights of coffee at Denny's.  What happened at Denny's usually appeared on the BBS later...and things that happened on the BBS were usually argued in detail at Denny's.  

Could it have been Village Inn, or someplace else?  Possibly...but Village Inn didn't have Mikey.  And visits to Denny's when Mikey wasn't there were not always the best.  Some waitresses did not quite understand our group...and were a little hesitant.  But hey, who wouldn't be with our group...  So here's to Denny's the virtual next door neighboor to the Motel West.  

Friday, February 6, 2009

As the BBS software churns...

The nice thing about the Colossus BBS software was that it was very configurable.  But there were some things about it I didn't like.  Namely, you had to pay for it (eventually) - and I didn't write it.

Now, being a teenager, the not wanting to pay for it is something that nearly everyone can understand.  One of the killer aspects of the on-line world was that there were a lot of "free" software that you could download.  Most of the free software was legitimate -- but there were sites out there that allowed you to download "commercial" software.  The biggest problem with downloading software was the speed.  As we've commented before we were cruising around at 300 baud (remember, that's only 30 characters per second).  I significant piece of commercial software could have been 180KB .. which would only take you 6,000 seconds to download. That's 1 hour, 40 minutes of download time. With other overhead ... this was easily going to be 2+ hours.  

Now why was I concerned about not writing the program?  Well I was an aspiring programmer myself.  When I learned that Colossus was written in Pascal, I figured that I was a pretty good Pascal programmer and I could do better than that.  I think I started writing "My" BBS software several times.  Some time afterwords, the upgrade to Colossus came out ... and it was called of all things, Collie.  It was a bit better than Colossus, but more a rename than anything else.  I'm not sure if I migrated Sanctuary over to Collie or not.  Not to long after that, the people who wrote Colossus / Collie converted their project to Wildcat!  I never really liked that software, it was just a bit to weird for me.

Speaking of weird software, the "BBS" software that always had caught my eye was WWIV.  (I'm not sure what WWIV stood for...I always assumed it was for World War 4, but who knows).  I really enjoyed the format for that software...but every time I downloaded it...it was not very friendly and/or nice for me at the Sysop level.  What I wanted was configurable version of WWIV, with a Colossus Sysop interface.

In hindsight, what I always wanted was the custom software that ran on the Motel West.  Unfortunately the Motel ran on an Apple ][ (yes, it was spelled that way).  And even if I had the gumption to finish my custom BBS re-write, I probably wouldn't have been happy with it.  The thing that made the Motel West one of the best BBS software out there --- was the content, or better said: the contributing users.  The best part of the BBS was the community.

Many years later, I ended up buying a BBS software package.  It was written by a guy named Mike Woltz.  The software was called SpitFire.  It too was written in Pascal.  I never did finish my custom BBS software, but I was able to use what I learned to make add-on modules for my Spitfire BBS software.  It was with that software that "Sanctuary" became a 24-hour a day / 7-day  a week full-time BBS.  It ran for quite a few years.  We had users come and go.  We ended up running games on the BBS which drove much of the traffic.  But we never did really have the community that we did on the Motel West.

Many people look back to their High School years and see the time they spent playing sports, or being with their school friends.  When I look back to my High School years, I remember many a night pecking a way at a keyboard, composing the next chapter of the on-line story, ... and hanging out at Denny's at insane times of night.  When I went to my High School senior prom, I didn't ask a girl at school -- but rather asked a girl from the BBS.  We had a blast!  Afterwords we went to Denny's for Ice-Cream and the other members of the BBS had dressed up for "Prom" as well.  

Wow, that reminds me of the story when the members of the Motel West offered to buy TM.Cavalier a date...but that is a story for another time.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

And now a message from our sponser...

Ok, so there is actually no message from a sponsor. I just felt that two consecutive blog postings from me would be just plain unnatural.

So, what does Liquid Paper (a.k.a. White-Out) have to do with my BBS life? Evidently quite a lot. It seems after just one night of boredom waiting for everyone else to get done (so we can go to our favorite restaurant) I grabbed a bottle of white-out off a neighboring desk and start to color things with it.

...the Liquid Paper bottle...
...someone's shoe...
...other objects...

I mean it's perfectly normal, right? Low blood sugar. Lack of Sleep. Lack of something relevant to do. I mean the brush mounted in the cap is just WAITING to be used. Well after that one night, TM.Cavalier and Liquid Paper became one of the running jokes of the Motel West (there were a few I recall). When you get a large group of friends together typing out their life and adventures on a green and black screen each day, little one-liner zings quickly become part of every post. A little jab here and a little jab there to generate some friendly banter.

The BBS scene was very much like Radio -- it is the theater of the mind. What someone says on the BBS becomes a kind of reality...a virtual reality you may say. Every alias developed a persona that had elements of the person behind it, but at the same time was quite a different person. Frequently people who hit it off well with the group on-line didn't mesh well with the group in a real life situation. Why? The person was friendly and outgoing only in the virtual world. In the real world they were a petty self-centered jerk. Almost nobody that I met on-line ever turned out to be how I expected them when I finally saw them in person. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing. I remember user with the alias Your Conscience who was very obnoxious and quite brutal on-line. In real life this guy was hilarious to be around. Once you realized who he really was, the on-line persona morphed into a person hitting you with abstract random information just to throw you off kilter.

So, back to white-out. In the on-line persona of TMC, Liquid Paper became the drug of choice...or more correctly a battle axe in the hands of someone recently returned from the "hospital" who is anxious to tell you that they "are all better now."

Friday, August 1, 2008

Deity Complex, Colossus, and what the Parrot saw.

Well after a few months of the BBS scene, it became clearly obvious that the most important, popular, and powerful person on any BBS was the Sysop. The BBS Sysop with the touch of a key could give you 5 minutes, or take away 5 minutes. (Since the BBS was a single phone line affair, you had to have time limits put on the callers so that they didn't sit online all day and hog the whole BBS.) The Sysop could force you into chat mode (the IM of the day), or ignore your chat requests.

Also, in the early days every one used an Alias online - and only the Sysop knew the real names behind the pseudonyms. Aliases that I have used in the BBS world are:
  1. Merlin - Very original, eh?
  2. Lord Corwin - I liked Roger Zelazny's Amber series.
  3. (my real name) - Hey no one was using real names, right?
  4. (my real name backwards) - Yes it's pronounceable and does sound strangely Slavic.
  5. Gheti Bait - Pronounced "Fish Bait"...isn't English fun?
  6. Minor Deity - Rather short lived...
  7. The Midnight Cavalier - Abbreviated to TMC, TM.Cavalier - origin of this name to be future BLOG fodder.
Anyways, back to the deity complex... So, like all idealistic teenagers, I decided that my computer hobby would soon grow to that of BBS operator. In order to do this I had to overcome some obstacles:
  • My own computer - mom & dad wouldn't let me take over the "family" computer for this.
  • My own phone line - easily achieved after my dad spent 2 hours trying to call the house only to get a busy signal (courtesy of Interplay...)
  • BBS Software (cheap, configurable)
Well, like any good 16 year old, I went to work and saved up some money and when I finally got a $1,000 saved up I purchased a Car...well, no a computer. And not any computer, but the fully loaded awesome PCjr! (Yes, there were now 2 PCjr computers in the same house, scary isn't it.)

Next, BBS computer software: My problem? My computer had 1 floppy drive. I had to find software that would fit on to 1 floppy disk WITH the operating system and any other support programs I need. Remember, this was before the advent of the "Hard Drive" in a personal computer, so for a floppy disk to be bootable, it had to have an operating system on it.

So I searched and finally downloaded the BBS software Colossus. It was relatively easily to set up. Colossus was a "shareware" program if I recall correctly...what that meant was the program was fully functional, but you were encouraged to pay for it if you really liked it. The registration for Colossus was about $50, so I decided to hold off (hey I just dropped a grand for the computer, I was broke!) and continued to use the program for free. I already had the name picked out, "Sanctuary BBS" from the book series Thieves' World by Robert Asprin. I was now ready to start my own BBS.

Now, all I needed was callers...

(full disclosure: there is actually no parrot content in this post)