Atari 8-Bit computing nostalgia during a pandemic – What free time and a legacy of Atari 8-Bit experience brings 40 years later.
Recently when I first realized a solution to the easing of building and the ultimate deployment/hosting the year 2020 Atari 8-bit BBS with modern connectivity, I reflected on the events which lead me to this rationalization in the first place. I also had some inspiration from members of the Atari community to share my experiences of these past 40+ years but didn’t see my experience that different until now in reflection.
During the pandemic and as always, my Atari hardware was not far from me at any given time even as moving around from east to west, always thinking about the sound of the clicks of the Atari Keyboard, a 1050 drive loading a BBS with the sound of a modem connecting. These were the sense memory triggers to remind me of how I became a sysop and what affects the 80’s using Atari 8bit hardware impacted my life today. Some of us became engineers, built businesses, contributed to the technology we have today and while that may not be all Atari 8-Bit related, for me, most aspects for my journey, values, integrity, and socialization have a direct connection to the time when I was most engaged in programming, gaming and running a BBS.
The school aspect was secondary even though that’s where it all started with the Commodore PET CBM Series 2000. I was lucky to have a mother very supportive of critical thinking, learning, and technology enablement. While she may describe it differently, driving my brother and me to school early in the AM so we could use the newly built PET computer lab was the starting block. We quickly adapted to commodore basic, basics, and all we wanted to do week after week was to have a working version of Pac-Man running on the PET CBM... A few of us built out screens, labor-intensive graphics, and attempted to put the whole thing into motion. Attempted but not successful, as our skills could produce graphics, not exactly reaction to controls, movement, and of course making those little dots disappear. Commodore led us to the purchase of a Vic-20 and the excitement factor was enormous. Here we are at home with our computer purchased at Toys-R-Us. Yes, you could buy a computer in the now nearly defunct toy store. So, let’s put this at about 1982. We used the VIC with its expansion cartridge and tape drive for about a year when we started being introduced by our local Long Island, NY friends to the Atari world. And this is where the brilliance of mothers comes into the world of Atari computing. We were not wealthy, far from it and when we started discussing the Atari purchase, well my retail knowing mother used a tool from her kit to return all the Commodore hardware and gain a store credit for a brand new Atari 800XL. The lady pulled it off with a 1050 and a bunch of Elephant Memory disk. She had superpowers in our eyes. Our group of local friends came with their drives, disk holders filled with treasure, and one disk with AMIS. We had to get a modem!
Exploring the basic programming written for AMIS was to us, a masterpiece in logic and complexity, we know better now. Taking the print function and pushing it to 1030 was easy enough to understand but the message bases were not so simple. Didn’t take long to build a functioning version of AMIS and try and test it around to see if we had anyone interested in our attempts to be Sysops. My brother and I connected and published the BBS to our parent's phone line, and waited so we could push the joystick fire button to connect anyone to our world. Not ideal as anyone ring and we would run and hit the button and well most of the time it was not someone for the BBS. Spending more time on the keyboard, we got better, and the graphics improved, plus we realized even being so young, we could just call up the phone company and order a phone line.. Can’t remember the full number but 516-242-1XXX is all I’ve got. Southern Comfort BBS was online and with hack instructions along with a visit to RadioShack, we have a relay driven ring detector. It was a great feeling to build solutions and finding ways to combat inhibitors for the sake of accomplishment. Now with the board running, uploads coming in, space at a premium and bigger better boards coming online all the time and competition for users phone dollars, even with all having access to calling codes by now, we met a group of people, all our age building on the AMIS foundation. Handle, The Griff, ran a newly posted board and wanted to build more BBS’s on some outstanding work. At this time, we are about 11 and a good distance apart to obtain the disk for building on The Griff’s version of AMIS, Southern AMIS. What do you do when your 11 and not on a BBS, meet at the mall. We make a plan, I take a bus alone for the first time, get to the mall and meet up with this group of kids who are just as pale as me, haven’t seen daylight until this day and instant friends. I had the disks and while I was grateful to make some new relationships, getting home and loading those disks was all I could think about. My brother eagerly awaiting at home hopefully with some concern I would make it back but probably as the thrill of getting to putting up our new BBS was beyond reasonable excitement. And of course, this is when we returned the Atari 1030 Modem and make some kind of a deal for the MPP 300. Southern AMIS was made for the MPP and its auto-detection features. We get to work, and we now have a presence in the Atari BBS community of Long Island along with The Bandits Hideout, South of the Border, WingNut, Magic BBS, The Shack, Lighthouse, Captain Jacks, Adventure, and the list continues. And with all things which need to evolve, after a year or so of the blue box MPP, The Griff now has a version for Hayes and start running 2400 Baud with a new 130XE, basic XE, and ramdisk. Moving fast!
If you have been reading this and have no point of reference to the world we lived in, you would question our sanity a 1000 times. Staying home from school and late-night programming, not leaving the house for days to get the next file up on the site, or be the first to have online slot machines, this would seem very foreign. We were extraordinarily passionate about accomplishment and community. We didn’t want to let any user down accessing the board. We learned about ourselves in the way of values in sharing (sometimes not exactly legal software but sharing), critical thinking, problem-solving, integrity, reliability, and the power of networks in friendship. Collaboration during this time was outstanding as with common goals, everyone wanted to succeed, and we all contributed our time, skills, and work product for nothing more than the community.
Today, after all these years, yes I have an Atari BBS running in tribute to our childhood platform, Southern AMIS. The disks for the original BBS somehow lost along with many stacks of those Elephant Memory disks but the ideology and basis of the foundation provided during these times not forgotten and even passed along to my kids about the same age. Somehow they are interested in the project and enjoyed hearing this recap of the time I spent as a Sysop...
All things come to an end and CompuServe was the end for us. As we now had after school jobs and building some savings, a PC ended up near the Atari set up along with another modem to access the new dial-up platforms, 9600 baud. The sense of community changed, with a bigger net, collaboration and working together locally changed quickly but the foundation of Atari and the pride of ownership still intact to this day as I look at my 800XL with an SIO drive, WiModem 850 interface, when I log into Basement BBS as I did when I was a kid, everything seems right in the world.
During the pandemic, I wanted to do a few things while at home so the months would be memorable and positive. Reading more, learning something new, closer to family, and bringing a BBS online. So far we are all healthy and safe and all of our ambitions being realized. I’m fortunate with the foundation discussed, I have been in a business where everything I learned in the BBS community supports our innovation, growth, collaboration, care for people, and were we do business. I still have that need to be reliable the same way our BBS needed to be running at all times for our users. It’s funny to architect solutions around technology such as AI and RPA for financial services and then, load up the Accounts Receivable program on my Atari and know it started a career for me. I suspect the impact of the high point of BBS’s has a similar impact for many of you. Here is to all the unknow legends of our generation and the known ones, thank you. Thanks, JP!
Southernamis.ddns.net:23 runs in the AWS cloud 24/7 on Atari 130XE, 850 interfaces at a lightning speed of 2400 baud.
Southernamis.com, the website, is being built out to share these stories and provide the now growing communities of Atari BBS users a place to record our founding and history as part of the community already well established. With my kids, we now 3D print replacement parts for the Atari community and sell our wares on eBay. The money of course goes to upgrading 3D printers and PC’s which now need expensive graphics cards. The geek factor continues through the generations until their time comes to leave it behind but the instilled connection to the network, people, and the values passed along.
Feel free to connect through this forum, or my contact email is easy, sign into the Southern Amis BBS, either by telnet or @ www.southeramis.com, and leave me an e-mail.
Rob Sherman - Sysop of Southern Amis BBS