ASCII by Jason Scott

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The Age of Reason: An Apple II BBS —

From: Gene Buckle
Subject: Maniac IIe...

Telnet to The Age of Reason -

Apple IIe running GBBS Pro v1.3j and the Land of Spur game from Dura Eurpos.
The _only_ of either one running on the whole fraking planet. :)

Gene Buckle’s one of my secret weapons in the fight to save BBS History – he’s midwifed more transactions that resulted in BBS Software than I can begin to count. And he’s thorough, too. The BBS Software Directory wouldn’t be the same without him.

You can really do this, telnet into this connection and try out an Apple II running GBBS, a convenient and informative look back. You can see the early versions of menu interfaces for forums, and maybe understand things a little more… if you weren’t there at the time.

For the uninitiated, here is the title page:

Connect at [2400] baud!
Ctrl-S Stop/Start  Spacebar to Exit
/ \
/   \  ___   ____                  The Age of Reason BBS
|  |  |/   \ / __ \                 Running GBBS Pro v1.3
|  _  |  |  |   ___|                2400 Baud, 8 Bits, 1 Stop
/__| |__\__  |\____/ _____           Proudly run by geneb
________| |/    \/  __/____  ____   ____   ___  ____  _ ____
/__________/   |  | /_|     \/ _  \ /    \ / __//    \| ' _  \
\____/ __/|  |   |  ___|   |  |    \   |  |  | \  |
/ /   |     /\____/ \___,_|\_  /\____/|__|  |__\
________/ /    |  |\ \__    ________/  /
/_________/    /__/  \___|  |__________/ -jmb

(*> Welcome to Age of Reason <*)

New users type "NEW"

Account Number

Several notable aspects here, and as the years go by I feel like my explanations become more and more basic because examples of them are starting to disappear more and more with each passing month. Note how the title screen desperately needs a monospaced font (all the letters the same size). Without this, it’s a somewhat illegible jumble of slashes and underscores, missing the point entirely. Sometimes documents fall into my possession that seem to be messed up and corrupted files but which merely need the right formula, be it monospaced fonts, a specific system font, and a standard like MS-DOS’s ANSI or Atari’s ATASCII to make it all right.

Also note that the system requests an account number – you put in your number (like, say, 15) and THEN your password and only THEN does it start showing you your own name. It is not, in other words, your username, just your handle, your easy to remember reference for humans reading it, while the database record is all you get to work with as far as identity verification. Woe be to you if you logged onto 10-12 new BBSes in a night and forgot to write down your account numbers and which BBSes they went to!

A moment of reflection, please, on this little guy:


This collection characters on either side of the redundant “Welcome” line (which actually served you well if you connected from a problematic or incompatible system, or just couldn’t make out the slashes), are pure decoration, that little bit of humanity peeking out from the basic prompt. It’s not needed, per se, even less so than the use of slashes and underscores needed to be done, other than to make the name bigger. It’s a flourish. I live for those, and they achieve various levels of complication over the years. So, too, is the login prompt:


The characters are “dash dash greater than” but the arrow is as clear as day.

Let’s take a quick look at the menu:

:     List of Supported Commands     :
:   <(B)>  Goto the Bulletin Boards  :
: (R)ead :  E -> Examine your stats  :
: (S)end :  F -> Feedback  to Sysop  :
:  mail  :  G -> General files menu  :
::::::::::  H -> Get detailed  help  :
: $ = News  O -> Other  BBS numbers  :
: I = Info  T -> Terminate  session  :
: C = Chat  U -> Get a user listing  :
: L -> Caller Log for  todays Calls  :
: Q -> Quick scan of bulletin boards :
: D -> Define  system display  parms :
: P -> Change / Update your password :
: V -> Vote on your  computer equipt :
: X -> Goto the  file  transfer area :
: SPUR -> Land of Spur Gateway       :

There were no real “standards” for what menu letters should go to what function, hence “$” for “News” while “N” lays fallow. (Some software made this (N)ewscan.) “Messages” and “News” are different functions here, and most critical, to me, are the General Files.

Why? Well, this is one of those obscure trivia facts that is out there if you look for it but which a lot of people don’t care either way: the first textfiles that I think of as what would end up on come from the (G)eneral Files Menu, where the system operators would put funny, informative, or important textfiles up for people to read. The name “General Files” quickly shortened to “G-Files” or “G-Philes”, or even “Philes”, and that’s where that reference comes from. In today’s world, a lot of what the G-File functionality would stand for is done with “Sticky” messages, messages that float at the top of a topic board for people to read and post on as needed. Note how the “File Transfer Area” is a separate location completely, and with that situation, the chances of making sure people could read these important G-Files (when they were things like system rules and information) were that much decreased. The fact they later flourished into these hot tokens of shared chicanery was just an unexpected but enjoyable mutation. While people are there, why not throw them a few box plans or hacking tips?

The creator of GBBS, Greg Schaefer, has gone on to do many cool things, and he put a lot of excellent work back when he was a young kid working on this project. I interviewed him for the BBS Documentary and should probably get that interview up, as he was utterly shortchanged both in the film and the amount of time I actually had him on camera .

Great work bringing this up, Gene. I invite all students of the BBS era to remind themselves, in some small way, what it was like.

Categorised as: computer history

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  1. nimbus says:

    Neat. What’s the oldest home computer currently running a BBS?

  2. geneb says:

    Thanks nimbus.

    Up until a few weeks ago, I had the oldest micro running a BBS. I was running Citadel v2.10 on a Heathkit H-89 that was built in December of 1982. I took it down because the lack of traffic wasn’t worth the wear & tear on the hardware. I had it connected to a POTS line with a Hayes 300 baud modem. I may put it back online using tcpser like I’m doing for the Apple IIe, but I haven’t decided yet.


  3. I love that I get a busy signal from telnet when the bbs is busy :)

    Connected to
    Escape character is ‘^]’.
    Connection closed by foreign host.

  4. I love that I get a busy signal from telnet when the bbs is busy :)

    Connected to
    Escape character is ‘^]’.
    Connection closed by foreign host.

  5. Ben Frazier says:

    In the pics linked above, which one is Greg S?

  6. Ben Frazier says:

    FYI… Kevin Smallwood ( made a post on the 80sBBS mailing list stating that he is the owner of GBBS, GBBS Pro and LLUCE.

  7. Jason Scott says:

    Greg is the person to the right, wearing glasses.

    He also sold the rights to GBBS away quite some time ago, so it is entirely possible that Kevin owns the rights now. Greg got out of the business of BBS writing and moved onto various other projects, back in the middle of the 1980s.

  8. marco says:

    hi gene,
    could you help me putting an apple IIe bbs online using tcpser.
    Which choice do I have for the machine I’d like to use as telnet server? Is Mac OS an option? Or is it usually DOS or Linux (I don’t consider Windows right now for I don’t have a spare PC to use for it, just very old notebooks and x86)