BBSs and early Internet access in the 1990ies

This talk explains how individuals were able to communicate globally in the 1990ies using self-organized networks of BBSsin networks like FIDO and Z-Netz, before individual access to the Internet was possible. It also covers the efforts of non-profit organizations to provide individual access to Internet Mail+News via UUCP and later via IP during that period.

This talk covers how individuals could participate in local, regional and global message-based data communications in the 1990ies. It covers the technologies used to access such networks, both on the infrastructure (BBS) side, as well as on the user/client side.

At the same time, the talk is a bit of a personal journey from

  • accessing dial-up BBSs using accoustinc coupler and modem
  • becoming CoSysop of a BBS and learning about how to operatie BBSs
  • being a Node/Point in message based communications networks like Z-Netz and FIDO
  • using UUCP to participate in Internet mail/news (Usenet)
  • working in the technical team of Kommunikationsnetz Franken e.V. to set up a community-based ISP with modem and ISDN dial-up banks, satellite based Usenet feeds, analog leased lines ISDN-SPV.
  • helping getting Germany’s alleged first Internet Cafe (we then called it an Online Bistro) connected

I never was able to know anyone close enough to do fun stuff like back to back DSL modems, or even in this day & age run fiber optics, do ATM or anything fun like that.  As they say telecoms always break down at the last mile, or in my case the first mile.

Building Synchronet on Debian Stretch

Yay

I still run an ancient BBS, using Synchronet on OS/2.  The problem being that I not only get port scanned an incredible amount of times, but so many things out there now logon as root/root and they think they are on a Linux machine and can then shell script their way into some exploits.  Ive tried rate limiting, and other methods, but I end up with so many distributed connections that SIO can’t cope and it’ll crash.  A reboot will fix it, of course, but rebooting 2-3 times a day is a bummer.  So I thought I’d front my BBS with a stub BBS, which means building Synchronet from source.  And while there is some guides on how to do this, I naturally hit some weird undocumented error.

So yeah, get ready for this fun error:

jsapi.cpp: In function ‘JSIdArray* JS_Enumerate(JSContext*, JSObject*)’:
jsapi.cpp:3988:16: error: cannot convert ‘bool’ to ‘JSIdArray*’ in return
return false;

So it turns out that GCC 6 and higher won’t compile the older javascript engine that Synchronet relies on.  Ok, so I figured I would just fix the cast and go on my way.  But no, as part of the build process once it figures out that I’ve tampered with a file it’ll re-unpack the engine and break on the same error again.  And this is why I find things that try to be so ‘easy’ and holding (I’m looking at you Cmake!!!!) end up being totally black box, and absolutely useless.

So what I really need is g++ 4.x, and what is the quickest and easiest way to get the old compiler?  Ugh, grab the package from the prior version Jessie.  Seriously.  Add this into your /etc/apt/sources.list

deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ jessie main contrib non-free

and then run:

apt-get update && apt-get install g++-4.9

And take the new line out of /etc/apt/sources.list or you will have hell to pay.

After that it was a matter of modifying some of the logon code to streamline the logon process, and to gut the ‘ham radio’ door into something that’ll telnet to the OS/2 BBS.  After a bit of work it actually works.  I even tested Zmodem, and that works too!

Logging into the proxy

I need some ASCII art or something.  That and probably turn off new user registration.  Guest access is all anyone can get on the proxy.

Telnet menu

I could probably do more here.  Years ago I ran some public access Ancient UNIX stuff, but the problems were that it got slammed from the internet.  But if Synchronet can keep up with the idiots on the outside, I guess this works as a jump point into something else?  I may have to see about adding some 386BSD, and Linux 1.0

QEMUOS2 via modern Synchronet

And here we are, at the old BBS.  I never got that many people to begin with, and I did like having the only OS/2 BBS on the internet up.  The other BBS O-Zone seems to have given up, as their domain expired.  So it’s just me, once more again.

I’m sure the vast majority of people won’t care, but I guess I finally hit the tipping point where 1996’s SIO just can’t keep up in 2017’s world of relentless port knocking.

Powered by OS/2

I think I’m the last one on the internet crazy enough to try this, but here goes…

powered by os2

So the VPS where I run my BBS came up, and they wanted more money.  And honestly, running a BBS from 1994 in 2015 just doesn’t cut it when it comes to system resources, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to bring it ‘home’ so I moved it inside.  The cool thing though is that I don’t have to use usermode nat anymore, so I can use FTP to shuffle files around, which is a nice thing to have.  I may have to investigate if there is an rsync as well, as reading files directly from the VM would be a bonus.  It’d be cool to read things like Tradewars scores, last user activity and whatnot.

While I was setting up HTTP, and repointing to a new address, I figured I’d go all in on OS/2, and load up Apache on OS/2 2.0, and let it host it’s own website.

Hosting on OS/2
Hosting on OS/2

The ‘hard’ thing to fight was updating the mime.types, and dealing with CR/LF issues moving my old pages from Linux to OS/2.  Luckily my C: drive is already HPFS, so I have long filenames already.

I guess the next thing to do is setup a RAM disk, and virtual servers so I can move Team OS/2 onto OS/2.  Someone named Kohtaro Shinya just snagged the original Team OS/2 page.  At least it’s not some forex scam, but now it’s tourism for Osaka.

But yes, my crappy BBS still lives, I think it’s moved hosts at least 7 times since 2011.

BBS down. again.

LOL Maybe I’m just cursed at this point.

This is an email to follow up on the update on our social network accounts (twitter and facebook: @hosthatch) that we are investigating an issue on SSDNode15. Instead of fixing this server, we have chose to restore from 1 hour old backups to some of our other stable servers running for 3+ months with no downtimes. SSDNode15 has unfortunately had very bad luck and has failed 3 times in the past month, which is why we are going to take it out of production, replace most of the parts, burn test it and then put it back into production.

Although I had time to check the log, it turns out I had over 250 users, but a good 150 of them couldn’t figure out the synchronet mandatory send a letter to sysop thing so they abandoned the process.

I don’t know why, but I still liked the idea of being the last OS/2 sysop on the planet, but this year has been ridiculous.  Now that I have it running on VMWare, maybe it’s time I just buy a UPS, and run it on ESX from now on.  But at the same time, I did like the idea of it running in a datacentre.

Running Synchronet on an Amazon EC2 instnace

Well apparently Amazon will even let you have a free ‘micro’ instance on their EC2 cloud for free!  From this blog post, you can see how easy it is to setup a Windows Server 2008 instance, download & install Synchronet.

I would imagine that with the 32bit version of Windows Server, you should be able to even run NTVDM stuff (meaning old MS-DOS Doors).

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 4.32.12 PM

Although I’m going to keep mine running on the old Qemu on top of a Linux VPS.  But this may be easier for some of you who wanted to run one, to get things going.

BBS is back online… again!

Well it certainly is the trade off, hosting  in the ‘cloud’ means you really don’t own anything.  But at the same time it’s not subject to my less than par power, internet connection…

But as long as you remember to backup you can always fish data out, and get back online.  So I think its about a week stale, but its a heck of a lot better than down completely.

And I’ve got to rave about BlueVM, I was kind of bummed about my last VPS basically going under so I was thinking about giving up all together, when I found this offer for $1.50 USD a month!  So how could I go wrong??  So far the server feels nice & snappy, my Qemu processes is running without issue, and its already completed a sync with vert.synchro.net and I’m sure it’ll get back onto the list.

For people with flash enabled browsers, click here or just telnet to bbs.superglobalmegacorp.com ..

Another OS/2 Synchronet BBS

It’s always cool to see them pop up in the wild.  So here is the quick writeup on gabucino.be going over some of the trials of setting up bbs.gabucino.be ..

And apparently he’s had far better luck getting the modems to operate well more like modems.  So no cheating as I did by using passive mode FTP to transfer QWK packets in & out of the system.  Its all very cool, and of course powered by OS/2 on Qemu so that makes me happy!

There isn’t a flash/java based page, so I’d recommend using syncterm.