Sep 9th

The BBS era … &SPEED=202

The BBS era for me was roughly 1982 – just crossing into 2001. I took over the operation of the BBS in the 1983 timeframe, though I had been a co-sysop on it previously. With my main access to a modem being the computer lab in the elementary school across from jr. high, when I was in the 7th grade.. my “co-sysop” abilities were a stretch of the term. I looked forward to the one period a day when I was TA in that computer lab across the street. Besides getting to “leave campus”, I got to use the Apple II’s. Shortly thereafter I had gotten a modem of my own, though it was a Hayes Micromodem II, it was a lot cheaper than the Apple-Cat II. In the new A+ Magazine there was an ad.. Garden of Eden computers, selling the Apple-Cat II for $269! December was coming up, and that meant extra tips from the paper route .. so I sold the Micromodem II and eagerly awaited the UPS truck with a wad of cash.. back in the era when UPS COD was a kid’s best friend, and the drivers in brown actually took green paper. That was just the beginning of a line of UPS deliveries of Apple II hardware.

One time the UPS driver commented, “If you’re not into computers, you are now.. ” as he recognized the Applied Engineering packing tape, saying he delivers “a lot of boxes from this shipper”.

About 1985 the BBS became full time when the house got another phone line because I kept it tied up. If only they had known what the breakup of AT&T would bring. Those 5 digit MCI access codes were something else. 😉 Around 1987 I switched the software to that of what a friend wrote. It was called Elfnet, though it was not a networked system, it was because he was known as the Grey Elf when he ran a BBS in the San Francisco Bay Area prior to moving to Southern California. It was Applesoft based and he was a diehard Hayes modem type, and in turn he got me interested in a Hayes Smartmodem 2400. I had a multi-format BBS that supported AE and Cat-Fur for transfers, and with the addition of the Smartmodem 2400, every type of connection was supported, with regards to the Apple II. At the time those were 103/212/202/v.22 – 300/1200/2400 & Apple-Cat II.

The Apple-Cat II would detect the inbound ring, and answer at the half ring point. Checking for a Bell 202 connection rate first, , then 103 (300), and if nothing was negotiated, it sent an ATH1 to the external modem that was attached to the external serial port on the Apple-Cat II Expansion block.

Once the Apple-Cat II detected that the Hayes Smartmodem 2400 had picked up the line, it would stop sending it’s carrier and go on hook. The SM2400 would then send the carrier as if it answered at 2400, and negotiate for the 2400 or eventually the 1200 connection. It was done that way because if the Apple-Cat tried for Bell 212 (1200) the caller would get that instead of 2400 if they had it, unless they specifically configured their terminal to not connect at any other rate.

Once that was figured out, the modem driver set a value at a memory location, corresponding to the connection rate. The values were $67, $82, $8A, and $E0.

That was so that the BBS software itself could tell the speed that the caller connected at, and even change it. Though changing it was universal. It could hit any speed, it’s real purpose was to allow for the Apple-Cat’s 202 mode to be used during reading messages and downloading from the G-Files section.

For the speed changing part, a second memory location would be set with the connect speed which is the fastest speed available during that session. If the caller was using Cat-Fur as the terminal program, that value would be $82. All the values are here, and their respective baud rates:

Standard Baud Rate Decimal Hex
Bell 103 300 (Full Duplex) 103 $67
Bell 202 1200 (Half Duplex) 202 $82
Bell 212 1200 (Full Duplex) 212 $8A
CCITT v.22 2400 (Full Duplex) 224 $E0

If the connection was Apple-Cat II based, then the BBS software would adjust the speed accordingly, to send data using Bell 202 which was specifically supported by the Apple-Cat II, and very select few other modems, all external. No other internal Apple II compatible modem supported this rate.

The switching was done at the main loop for data to be sent to/from the modem and the speed was changed using an Applesoft Ampersand (&) extension. If data was being sent to the modem, the memory location of the highest speed was checked, if it equaled $82, then a GOSUB loop was called, if data going out, &SPEED=202 : when the data was finished, &SPEED=103.

Could you do &SPEED=224? Sure. Would the connection drop? Sure. Aside from the Apple-Cat II, switching speeds was just not something that was done, not until later on with higher speed modems like the US Robotics Courier, Telebit Trailblazer and Hayes V-Series.

In 1987 I got the US Robotics Courier HST 9600 and for a short time I had the HST on the Apple-Cat’s serial port at 9600, and had the BBS available at baud rates from 300 to 9600. Shortly after the ROM 01 upgrade became available, I switched to ProDOS one night. Did I mention I was one of those die-hard refuse to switch from DOS 3.3 types? So much so that a few of us even considered hacking ProTERM to work under DOS 3.3.

Along with the ProDOS switch meant switching BBS software. Before the custom Apple-Cat supporting BBS software, I was using T-Net BBS, which was compiled with Microsoft TASC. Eventually I had made a T-Net modem driver for the ProDOS version of T-Net BBS that worked very similarly to the previous one, but when the HST 14.4 came, I decided to switch to using the inbuilt IIgs modem port instead of the serial port on the Apple-Cat, and eventually dropped the Apple-Cat from the system all together when I switched BBS software again after that.

The BBS was known as /<-Mart, (The Krack-Force), Project TerraForm, the CPU (Central Phoenix Underground) and the Space Bar, from 1982 through sometime in 2000, when the modem last answered. It started as a part time BBS, with night time hours in area code 714, which changed soon after to 619, and later on to 760.


The photo above is from 1988-1989 when the BBS was in the 602 area code for about a year, you can see the Courier HST just off to the side. All of that hardware was not hooked up at the absolute same time, but it was all usable. The Sider’s and two Xebec “Trustor” (Thrustors), being SASI were actually all accessible at one time, as they were setup as single ProDOS volumes, and one of them was DOS 3.3. The Corvus OmniDrive was where the BBS software resided, and that was accessible on both IIgs’s, another one was on an adjacent desk out of view.

The Tallgrass DC600 tape drive worked in place of the Sider backup drive, and was used to backup those Siders, and the 8 inch drive had an SVA (Sorrento Valley Associates) 8″ Controller. The Disk II stack was from the original BBS/AE days, and utilized two Rana Systems quad drive controllers, and an additional Disk II card, for a total of three slots. Whatever hardware was on the BBS storage wise usually stayed with the computer. The beige 800K drive up top actually has the daughter card from a UniDisk 3.5″ stuck to the top of it, and it’s hooked inline with the two AppleDisk 3.5″ drives below.

One of the “annoying” things about the Sider was how you had to setup “all four” common file systems on the drives, and waste “a little” bit of the drive, and also have two ProDOS volumes. Since the Sider was the same system as the Xebec, when Xebec worked to make the whole sub-system cheaper and went on to mass-market it, skipping the whole dealer network and selling direct, that meant that while the Xebec drive had a lot less friendly software, the user had to do math, keeping track of heads/cylinders/blocks and set up the partition map manually, the Sider did all this for you with a graphic interface. You just allocated portions of the drive to each file system, and it set it up for you.

But what if you didn’t want any of that? You wanted the whole thing to be DOS 3.3, or one ProDOS volume? If you put side 2 of the Sider disk in, and BRUN INSTALL PT#4, and after hitting return, press the ‘R’ key once. When the program loaded, if it found that ‘R’ in the keyboard buffer, it would allow you to manually setup the Sider like the older Xebec drives. You could leave off Pascal, CP/M and do just one single ProDOS volume.

The BBS was in the dinning room of the apartment and it was quite “whiney” in there with all those drives running. The maintenance guy fixing the air conditioner one day commented that “no wonder it broke”, and “this place looks like NORAD”.

The box to the lower left is the Rana Systems 8086. One way to describe it is an “External PC Transporter”, though not nearly as capable, and actually able to be a stand alone PC. With it’s interface card, it could be used to transfer files between the two operating systems and it’s drives be used for the Apple II.

I still have most of that stuff, and even a couple of Coca-Cola Classic cans. I could probably set up that whole scene again, and take better photos, better than a scanned print from Longs Drug’s Fuji Film Fotolab equipment.

A post on the Facebook Apple II Enthusiasts triggered this as a response, and I decided I’d post it here instead .. as it grew a little long. 🙂

Until next time .. hopefully with more frequency..

…end Of phile…


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