I stumbled on your site a few weeks ago when I was searching for (what else?) textfiles. I found an ancient one I printed out in maybe 1988. (It doesn't seem to be on your site. "How to have fun at K- Mart" .. I attached it to this email in case you'd like to add it to the site.) I thought it was cool and it reminded me of my childhood.
And, since you seem to like stories of people who grew up in that era, here's what I have to say:
According to my mother, the first time I ever used a computer was in 1978 when I was 3. My Uncle Jack (who was actually my godfather) told me to press a bunch of buttons and I did. It turns out I "wrote" a BASIC program that said "I love you Mommy!" and then he showed it to my mother. I have absolutely no memory of this, honestly, but I'm told it happened. I also remember (circa 1981/82) being shown an old TI computer. I don't remember the specs, but I do remember playing Hunt the Wumpus on it, and Stephanie (Jack's daughter) showing me how to write a program that printed the same thing over and over again. (Which I thought was unbelievably cool.)
My dad bought an "IBM clone" called a Leading Edge. It was an 8088 4.77 mhz machine with a Hercules monochrome display in 1983. It also had a whopping (for 1983) 10 megabyte hard drive… and he spent damn near $500 extra to get a 1200 baud modem for it. (The price is a guess, but I remember 2400 baud modems costing about $800 in 1985.)
I was absolutely forbidden to touch this machine. But I saw what it could do from a distance, and desperately wanted it. So, my dad compromised and bought me a Commodore VIC-20. (If I'd known anything about Commodores, I woulda gotten a Commodore 64 instead of the VIC-20.) I loved this machine and immediately learned to program in BASIC so I could make use of it. I basically really only knew 4 commands. Print, Goto, Input and how to use the "If" command to process responses given from Input. I'd sit there writing horribly boring programs.. but I loved writing them. I'd plug cartridges into the back and play games. Oh, I loved them. Defender, Gorf, various Scott Adams (_NOT_ the Scott Adams who writes Dilbert) text adventures and a few others. But the VIC-20 wasn't really that interesting after a few months. My dad got me a Tape Drive for it, and that made it more fun because I could save my programs on a regular casette tape. He actually once spent his lunch hour at work making a Space Inavders-like game for me to play. He flow charted it out (he was an electrical engineer at the time and was really old school. He knew how to write programs on Punch Cards.) and then came home and spent about 3 hours making it work on my VIC-20.
Eventually, my friend Stephen's father for a genuine IBM 8086 machine. No hard drive, just two 5 1/4" floppy drives but they had a dual monitor setup. Monochrome (black on green) and a CGA (Composite Graphics Adaptor.. lousy resolution and only 4 colors.) monitor. For some reason, his father was scared of burn in on the CGA monitor so we mostly had to use the monochrome one. But you were able to switch by typing a simple command in DOS.. "mode co80" .. and it'd switch instantly. ("mode mono" got you back.) To this day, I have no idea how he managed to do it with 1983 technology.
Anyway, Stephen has a 5 1/4" floppy with about 30 games written in basic crammed on it. (5 1/4" discs held 360k. 30 games crammed into 360k. Wow.) I loved playing the games on this disc when I was there. The only game I remember clearly was this all text trucking game where you said how fast you wanted to drive down a certain stretch of road and then the game told you if a cop pulled you over or not. the idea was to deliver a load of merchandise on time while not running out of gas and having to walk miles to a gas station. I would absolutely love to get a copy of this game again just for nostalgia's sake.
I managed to get a copy of this from him and spent hours playing all the various games on there. (I really can't remember the others.. I think there was a Star Trek based ripoff type game as well.) At some point in 1984, the ban on me using the computer was lifted and I was allowed to use it, but with big restrictions. My dad basically had to start whatever I wanted to do, and I wasn't allowed to exit the program or try to start anything on my own. (He was scared to death I'd somehow accidentally erase one of the important files he had on there. I was 8 and didn't know what DOS was. I couldn't have done anything like that. heh.)
However, the life changing moment came when he called Stephen's dad on his modem and connected directly to Don's (Stephen's dad) modem. I think Don had jury rigged some sort of BBS type setup, or maybe they were just using term programs, I'm really not sure. I was thinking.. "Wow. This is great." They let me and Stephen talk for a while over the connection, and that was interesting to me as well. Then he sent an interesting file… one of those ASCII art pictures of a naked girl, like you have on the textfiles.com site. I immediately thought.. "Whoah! You can have nudity on the computer?" (I was 8 or 9 at this time. It didn't really turn me on, but it had a taboo feeling to it.) After this, another change happened.. I was permitted to use the modem to call local BBSes.. and, oh boy, did this start a trend that still exists to this day. After getting a list from Stephen of local BBSes, I tried calling one up. (He was the only friend I knew who even knew how to turn a computer on. My other friend, Steven, had a brother named Scott who knew how to program, but Scott wasn't the kind of person I could ask about anything. and yes, I had a confusing childhood.. I'm named Steve and my two best friends were named Steven and Stephen.)
Calling BBSes turned out to be great. I believe I called my first one in 1984, a BBS called Drew com. (Anyone who was BBSing in 84/85 in suburban Philadelphia is going to remember Drew com.. _everyone_ called it, it was really weird how popular it was.) It turns out this was an "adult" BBS and I think it amused Drew (sysop) that there were two kids on there.. (9 and 10.. me and Stephen) .. who had absolutely no idea that it was an adult BBS.
Shortly after that, Drewcom went down.. but by that point I'd found what turned out to be my focal (and overall favorite) BBS from roughly 1984 until 1992.. The Fire Command Center. It was run by a volunteer fireman. Occasionally other volunteer firemen would wander onto the board, thinking it was some kind of fire fighting BBS. There were lots of others around as well that I liked.. if I think about it, tons of names come flooding back.. The Foxes Den, The Graveyard, Dark Lightning, Starfleet Command, System-2, The Hunting Grounds, Galileo's Grove, The Lighthouse .. the list goes on and on. At my peak, I think I had about 8 boards I was calling regularly (ie, every day. Sometimes multiple times per day.) and about 15 more I called at least twice a month. (suburban philly was a good area for boards, especially since we had metro phone service which allowed me to call the entirety of Philadelphia with no toll charges as well as a huge chunk of suburbs. Unlike a lot of other mid 80's BBSers, with one exception in 1989 or so, I never had the urge to call long distance boards.) At my peak, I think I had about 35 BBSes on my term program's quick dial menu. I'd just put them on auto dial.. it would go down the list until it found a board that wasn't busy and connect me. If you let me, I'd spend from about 10am until 8pm on various BBSes. If I ran out of boards to call, I'd just pull out my list of Philly boards and call one I'd never called before. a list of philly area boards had about 60 boards on them, so I never really ran out.
When I first started, me and Stephen spent much time downloading pictures of naked girls. I don't remember the picture format, but it wasn't JPG (which didn't even exist yet) or GIF. I had a picture viewer which made stuff viewable on my monochrome display.. I had my own floppy disc and was worried my father would discover my pictures, so I have them "innocent" names like "limo" or "car" .. (always named after cars, since Stephen was big into cars and knew the names of cars I'd never heard of.) I later discovered text porn files, and massed a fairly large collection of these. At the time, I thought they were the greatest things ever written. Looking back, they were probably written by 14 year olds who'd never even seen a live naked girl. I bet I'd find them hilariously bad today.
Me and Stephen spent hours either at my house or his (he lived literally next door to me) calling various BBSes and playing games we downloaded. This was how I got into piracy. I had no idea the games I was downloading were illegal. I thought everything was free and buying games in the store was optional. I remember pirating an early version of Turbo Pascal so I could run a primitive version of the WWIV BBS program that came in source code form.
I was always fascinated with running my own BBS, but never could get permission from my parents to do so. I'd download the programs and then get Stephen to call me, and we'd just screw around on "our" BBS for a while. Several times, I did manage to get permission to run an "overnight only" BBS from my parents. (My mom was scared of burning down the house because the computer was on all night.) This would be in about 1988 or so. So, I'd put it up from maybe about 11pm until 7am and get a whole 3 callers. when people started calling during the day (and leaving my number on auto dial for 10-15 minutes at a stretch), I was immediately forbidden from ever running a BBS again. (and then my parents decided to report all these calls as being harassing, which ended up getting me banned from several local boards because a few sysops were trying to log in and the police showed up at their doors a few days later. Most of them dealt in warez, hacking and phone phreaking, so they were all pretty pissed about this. One put an electromagnet to his hard drive because he thought it was a bust and was _severly_ pissed at me. I always found it funny that he kept an electromagnet in his closet in case he was busted.)
Of course, one of my favorite memories from this time period was.. what else? … text files. I'd read (but almost never download or capture) them a lot. I remember we had a nasty Apple vs. Commodore war going on the mid/late eighties. You'd see files with titles like.. "20 reasons why Apples rule and Commodores suck" and then comeback text files with names like.. "Reasons why people who write lists with names like "20 reasons why Apples rule and Commodores suck" suck." I supposed the person who originally wrote that thought it was incredibly clever.
I also read files on phreaking, credit card fraud and hacking. In fact, I still have a disc full of old Unix hacking files. (Assuming the disc hasn't gone bad.) The funny thing is that the stuff on hacking Unix passwrd files still works today just as well as it did in the early eighties when the stuff was originally written. (The password cracking programs need some work to compile on modern compilers, but the theory behind them is still sound.)
The files you have here are similar to what I read. As a coincedence, I actually do work for a credit card company now.. and the credit card fraud stuff from the mid eighties looks incredibly dated now. Laughably dated. Anyone even trying any of those methods would be busted almost immediately now in 2004. It's interesting to see how far the credit card industry has come since then, though. I can't help but feel that I'd be the envy of the mid 80's credit card fraudster, seeing as I'm looking at approximately one hundred credit card accounts per day, complete with security info. (Mothers maiden name, social security #, etc.) But this is off topic. (And no, for the record, I've never commited credit card fraud of any kind and have no intention of starting.)
I also looked at how to make explosives, memorized a few of the simpler recipes, and thought I as majorly badass because I knew how to make them. (I never tried to, thank God. I probably woulda lost a hand or something if I had.) I also looked at instructions on how to make illegal drugs.. and, once again, thought I was majorly badass because I knew how to make LSD. (What I saw wouldn't work. If I'd made the "LSD", I likely woulda just gotten sick to my stomach and that's it.) I also saw the famous "Nuclear Bomb" recipe (which suggests storing uranium in a coffee can) and, pathetically, I thought it'd work until I was actually into my twenties. (I finally came to my senses and realized it wouldn't work when I was about 22. That's sort of pathetic if you think about it, seeing as I first read the file when I was maybe about 15.)
I just had fun on the BBSes, I never really got into any of the bad stuff… although I took pride in my theoretical knowledge of all things badass. (And was always worried the police were going to bust me for just _knowing_ how to build a blue box. I'm sure that little notion would have had a bunch of people laughing at me if I'd ever told anyone back then.)
Then, in 1988, I learned about the Internet. (My dad was working for Unisys and doing some sort of job that required him having NATO clearance and governmental Secret clearance. I have no idea what he was doing. Anyway, he also had Internet access at work only and would print out pages of messages off rec.videogames.nintendo (I _think_ that was the name.) to help me with whatever games I was playing on my NES at the time.
I kept the Internet in the back of my mind, thinking it was really just another message system. (I basically thought Usenet was all the Internet was.) And stayed very active on BBSes until I graduated high school in June 1993. At that point, the BBS scene was slowly eroding. The Fire Command Center had closed in 1992 after a phone number change had pretty much killed 90% of their callers. all the other boards I mentioned above pretty much died as well, save Galielo's Grove which turned into a Warez board and became impossible to get on. I'd leave the number on redial (exclusively.. trying to get onto that board only) for literally 2 or 3 hours and not be able to get on. A very few of the other boards managed to survive. The Graveyard bravely held on until 1996 and then the sysop, deadbeat, finally decided it was time for it go down.
Anyway, in summer 1993 I discovered a pay service called Delphi which allowed text only Internet access, and I jumped on it. I got into the Internet and this signalled the end of my BBSing days. I kept on calling a very few boards into about mid 1995 and then pretty much stopped. The board scene was more or less dead and gone by 1996. The Internet was just starting to gain commercial popularity at that point, with America Online coming into existence. Even though I had only been an Internet user for 3 years, I already felt like a veteran and resented widespread internet access. This was heightened by the fact that I'd been a "modem user" for a decade at that point. I shudder to think I'm now a 20 year "modem using" Veteran. It sure doesn't seem like two decades.
From 1993 until probably about 2001 I really didn't give a crap about
BBSes and didn't care that they'd died. But now I find myself getting nostalgic for it. Now I wish I'd held onto some of the stuff from then. (Old capture logs of my "joke-a-thon" posts in particular, which had pewing out bad horrible jokes, which was something I was known for from about 1990-1993. Anyone who frequented my favorite board still shudders at the phrase "RG Joke-a-Thon" RG were the initials of my favorite handle, Red Guardian. It's the name I used most, but for the last half of 1992 and all of 1993 I changed my name to Omega Red. (People were starting to wonder if I was a communist, I think.. Red Guardian and Omega Red were both comic book characters who were "bad guy communists." I was about ready to change my handle to Weapon Omega, but I was already being called Omega Red Guardian by people and realized I'd morph into Weapon Omega Red Guardian if I changed again.)
And that is my story. I'm now an internet junkie and am wondering if soon something better than the Internet might come along? Everything has a life cycle, you know, even the mighty Internet. But if something does come along, you know I'm gonna be one of the first to embrace it…. but I'll be holding onto my nostalgia items this time.
(Please forgive my more than likely horrible grammar. It's 4am and I'm about ready to crash into my bed. There's a lot I didn't touch on just because I'm too tired, like me morphing into an amateur programmer. But that stuff really isn't that interesting anyway.)
– Steve Steve Reeves – email@example.com – Aspiring writer, FRUA Mod Designer, Ray Tracer, Video Game Freak, musician, MUD coder, FRUA Designer, Cart Pusher.