Lloyd Robert Borrett

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Bulletin Boards Booming

by Lloyd Borrett
Today's Computers, March 1985

You may have noticed that computer bulletin boards are popping up all over the place. What are they? How do they work? What benefits do they offer?

Bulletin boards have been around for the past five or six years. The first boards were done "supermarket style": a short list of electronically posted notices and one-liners that provided vital statistics and no more. Now, with more than 1000 systems in the US and a growing number in Australia, that has all changed. Indeed, the term "bulletin board system" has become a limiting definition.

The electronic bulletin board is no longer the souped-up, computerised version of the local supermarket listings, nor is it just electronic mail. In essence, it is a message system that allows the user, through a modem and terminal .program on his own computer, to log on to a "host" computer, get data, messages, and information, leave messages and data, and upload and download programs. The user, in effect, controls the host computer, although the flexibility and power of the system lies in the database of the "host".

These boards, as a convenient way to spread information, trade messages, and meet people with similar interests, have a secure niche in personal computing. Mostly, these systems answer a desire to talk with other computer enthusiasts. This is especially important in Australia, given the distance that separates most clusters of computer users.

To the person stuck in a country town with no computer store for a hundred miles, it means the difference between isolation and understanding. For the price of a long-distance telephone call, he can dial into a bulletin board and contact dozens of people who know about his equipment, give him hints on programming, and simply talk about computers.

Most of the bulletin board systems are run by private users. They are run for fun, there is no connect charge or set-up fee, and anyone is welcome to sign on. Some of the boards are set up by computer clubs so that members can keep in touch between meetings. Others are sponsored by businesses, which turn on the communications equipment after business hours.

To access a bulletin board you need a modem, which is a device that connects a computer to the telephone line. It translates the digital data you send to another computer into signals that can be transmitted over a telephone line. The computer on the other end also has a modem to return the data to its original digital format.

Most direct-connect modems and acoustic couplers cost between $200 and $700. The dearer models offer faster transmission speeds, and the ability to switch from the Australian CCITT standards to the US Bell standards. All of the Australian bulletin boards allow for data transmission at the speed of 300 baud (about 30 characters per second). The other communications parameters they all use are: eight data bits, one stop bit, and no parity.

Your computer needs to have what is variously called a communications, serial, asynchronous, or RS-232 interface. (The jargon we have to describe computers is hard enough to handle without having so many different terms used to describe the same thing!) Some computers come with this interface built-in, with others it is an "optional extra".

You also need software to control the computer and the modem. This can vary from a simple set of BASIC statements that allow your computer to act like a dumb terminal (a terminal with no independent processing capabilities) to sophisticated programs that automatically dial and re-dial a phone number until a connection is made. One important thing the program should do is allow you to save on disk the data you receive from the bulletin board.

Most of the user-run bulletin boards will let you in the first time you call. All you have to do is connect your computer to the telephone through the modem, dial the board number, then answer some simple questions. Once you have gained access to the bulletin board you usually see a menu. This is a display of things you can do, and the code letters or numbers you have to enter to do them.

If you have a printer hooked up to your system, and you can print what is on the screen, it is a good idea to get a copy of the menu. The information on how to do things, how to ask for help, and most important -—how to make a graceful exit, are usually on this first menu. It will save you many headaches if you have the information written down.

The same thing is true of the bulletin board sub-sections. There is usually a separate menu display to tell you how to download files, another one to explain about writing messages, and so on. Many systems will let you enter a question mark, or type HELP to get instructions, but do not rely on it.

Most bulletin boards are single-user systems, allowing only one caller at a time. The big commercial systems such as the Source, the CompuServe in the US and the Australian Beginning, have multiple telephone lines. These systems allow users to type messages directly to one another, but there is an hourly fee for using the system.

Within the next few months several Australian bulletin boards should have multiple lines. Of course this will increase the costs of establishing and running such systems, and a combination of commercial sponsorship and moderate annual subscription fees will probably become more common.

Practically all bulletin board systems have "public" and "private" messages. Public messages can be read by anyone, while "private" messages are flagged to be seen by just one other person. Of course, there is really no such thing as a private message; any message you leave can be read by the system operator, usually referred to as the SYSOP.

Unfortunately bulletin boards are in danger of becoming a self-limiting phenomenon, the victim of frivolous usage. There are users who, with a mood of selfishness, toying, even abuse, literally "break" bulletin boards. They crack special codes, damage the computer and wipe out disks. There are others who write irate and obscene messages.

Three similar bulletin board systems running on IBM PCs and compatibles were established in Melbourne during the second half of 1984. All three started out as entirely open systems with anyone being able to gain complete access. The persistent abuse by some less than social people has resulted in all three systems now asking users to go through a registration process. Those who aren't registered have limited access.

If you want a taste of bulletin boarding, phone my "PC Connection" board on (03) 528 3750. This board runs on an IBM PC at 300 baud. Dial the number, wait for the connect tone, and then send some carriage returns (Enter) to establish connection. You can read messages, bulletins, and the list of more than 400 public-domain software files available for downloading. Check the following directory for details about other Australian bulletin boards.


PC Connection IBBS, (03) 528 3750. Sysop: Lloyd Borrett. Service: 24 hours. Messages, bulletins, IBM PC and compatibles public-domain software.

HiSoft Australian IBBS, (03) 799 2001. Sysop: Richard Tolhurst. Service: 24 hours. Messages, bulletins, IBM PC and compatibles, Apple, Microbee and C-64 public-domain software.

Computers Galore IBBS, (03) 561 8497. Sysops: Bob Cooban & Martin Scerri. Service: 24 hours. Messages, bulletins, Apple, CP/ M, IBM PC and compatibles public-domain software.

Melbourne Micro Computer Club CBBS, (03) 762 5088. Sysop: Peter Jetson. Service: 24 hours. Message system only.

Sorcerer CBBS, (03) 434 3529. Sysop: Ian Branch & David Woodberry. Service: 24 hours. Program downloading and messaging for Sorcerer Computer Users Association members.

Tardis RCPM, (03) 67 7760. Sysop: Malcolm Miles. Service: 6pm to 9am weekdays, 24 hours weekends. Program downloading and messaging for CP/ M users.

Omen IV RTRS, (03) 846 4034. Sysop: Phillip Westh. Service: 24 hours. East Ringwood RCPM, (03) 870 4623. Sysop: Mick Stock. Service: 4pm to midnight.

Gippsland RCPM, (051) 34 1563. Sysop: Bob Sherlock. Service: 24 hours. Program downloading and messaging for CP/ M users.

Gippsland MAIL BUS, (051) 27 7245. Sysop: Max Moore. Service: 24 hours. Special mail only system.

New South Wales

Mi Computer Club BBS, (02) 662 1686. Sysop: Evan McHugh. SerŽvice: 24 hours.

Micro Design Lab RCPM, (02), 663 0151. Sysop: Stephen Jolly. Service: 24 hours.

Sydney Public Access RCPM, (02) 808 3536. Sysops: Barrie Hall & David Simpson. Service: 24 hours.

Omen RTRS, (02) 498 2495. Sysop: Ted Romer. Service: Monday to Thursday 4.30pm to Sam; Friday to Monday 3pm to 8am.

Sydney TRS-80 User Group RTRS, (02) 332 2494. Sysop: Michael Cooper. Service: 24 hours.

Dick Smith Electronics BBS, (02) 887 2276. Sysop: Ian Linquist. Service: 24 hours. Challenger-based system with messages, bulletins and software downloading.

Prophet Remote TRS-80, (02) 628 7030. Sysop: Larry Lewis. Service: 24 hours.

Sydney Apple User Group, (02) 451 6575. Sysop: Mathew Barnes & Andrew Riley. Service: 24 hours.

Sydney Osborne User Group, (02) 95 5377. Sysop: Daniel Moran. Service: 24 hours.

Oracle TRS-80 System, (02) 960 3641. Sysop: Rowan Evans. Service: midnight to 6am weekdays; midnight to Sam weekends.

Sydney Sorcerer User Group, (02) 387 4439. Sysop: John Woolner. Service: 6pm to Sam weekdays; 24 hours weekends.

Texas Instruments User Group, (02) 560 0926. Sysop: Shane Anderson. Service: Monday and Tuesday 7pm to lam; Saturday 7pm to midnight; Sunday 9am to midnight.

Sydney Tomorrowland RBBS, (02) 411 2053. Sysop: Mike Kidson. Service: 24 hours. Messages, bulletins, and buyer's guide for MS DOS and PC DOS users.

Info-Centre, BBS, (02) 344 9511. Sysop: Paris Radio. Service: 24 hours.

Newcastle Microcomputer Club RCPM, (049) 68 5385. Sysop: Tony Nicholson. Service: 5pm to 8.30am weekdays, 24 hours weekends.


Software Tools RCPM, (07) 378 9530. Sysop: Bill Bolton. Service: 24 hours. Messages, CP/ M, CP/ M-86, Concurrent DOS, PC DOS and UNIX public-domain software.

Brisbane Tomorrowland, (07) 286 2438. Sysop: Ian Bennetts. Service: 24 hours. Messages, bulletins, and buyer's guide for MS DOS and PC DOS users.

South Australia

Adelaide Micro User Group BBS, (08) 271 2043. Sysop: Richard Newcombe. Service: 24 hours.

Computer Ventures BBS, (08) 255 9146. Sysop: Daniel Schumacher. Service: 24 hours.

Northern Territory

Outback RCPM, (089) 27 7111. Sysop: Phil Sampson. Service: 24 hours.

Omen II RTRS, (089) 27 4454. Sysop: Terry O'Brien. Service: 24 hours.

Western Australia

Omen III RTRS, (09) 279 8555. Sysop: Greg Watkins. Service: 8am to 12pm weekdays, 24 hours weekends.


Launceston RBBS, (003) 34 0911. Sysop: Mike Scott. Service: 24 hours.

Last modified: Saturday, 15 October 2011


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