Browsing Modern Day BBS on the Epson PX-8 Laptop

As you read this, there are still people chatting away on Bulletin Board Systems all over the world. Running on newly written software and without the need to actually use a dial-up modem, these (slightly) more modern takes on the BBSs of yore can be compelling diversion for those who might want to decompress a bit from contemporary social networks.

[Blake Patterson] is one of these people, and he writes in to tell us about his recent experiments with using a particularly gorgeous example the Epson PX-8 “Geneva” laptop on modernized BBSs. The form factor of the device makes it a fairly convenient client for chatting, despite the somewhat unusual screen. Luckily, modern BBS software is able to cope with the PX-8’s 80 character by 8 line LCD display, it’s just a matter of getting the thing online.

The trick is tethering the PX-8 to a Linux machine as a serial terminal. [Blake] had to build a serial cable for the laptop, and then used a basic USB-to-serial converter to get it connected to a Raspberry Pi. Once you’ve logged in over serial, you can simply fire off a telnet command to connect to the BBS of your choice. In the video after the break, he demonstrates what it’s like browsing and chatting on a BBS using the PX-8. The screen certainly takes a bit of getting used to, but actually works fairly well given the nature of the BBS interface.

[Blake] recently gave us a look at a Wi-Fi “modem” for retro computers based on the ESP8266, if you’d rather cruise your favorite BBS without a dangling Pi.

24 thoughts on “Browsing Modern Day BBS on the Epson PX-8 Laptop

    1. i’ve got a PX-8 in box. it’s barely been used and has sat for 2 years unused by me. so, i’ve been tempted to sell it along with a Dolch keyboard, Kaypro keyboard, and a keyboard from a Bondwell B310SX. as for pessimism, it never interests me to get old things onto the internet and i’ve had a difficult time understanding why people mention the switches. barring any more utterances of hobbyist shortcomings and preference, i’d like to unload these space-invading objects. for money.

      1. I ended up selling a Kypro II and an original IBM PC motherboard on eBay. I didn’t get as much as I expected (about $50 each), but given they were both free it was still an infinite % profit margin.

        1. I got $90 for an untested Apple II motherboard that had been hanging on the wall in my parents’ garage since the late 90s :-P If I’d had a power supply and had been able to test it and sell it as working/tested I probably could have gotten more for it, considering I’ve seen working complete Apple IIs got for ~$1200

    1. At a certain point, just keeping the stuff out of the landfill is the “hack”. Though I think in this case it’s more about the fact that modern BBS is able to scale the UI to weird screen layouts like the one this machine has which is worthy of mention if you’ve got an oddball retro machine sitting around.

    2. That’s how computing worked, way back when. This is what networking was at the beginning. The terminal was called a dumb terminal for a reason; it did it’s one thing, running ROM-based termial comms program talking to its one interface, a serial port. The host machine was a stand-alone allowing sometimes a single user accessing via serial, sometimes a group of users time sharing. In a day when the Apple Watch I’m wearing can outperform SGI graphics workstations from the 90s in many regards, this might seem pretty mild or basic, but that’s how things started out and I was trying to capture a bit of that here.

    1. Until 2012 when I went to DSL, I’ve always had shell access, going back to my first ISP in 1996. Except for a brief period when my ISP in 1999 turned off the shell, I was using terminal software to connect to the ISP until 2001. So any computer with a serial port could be used. I still have shell access, but I’m no longer paying that ISP for dialup.

      If I wanted to use an old computer , I’d just hook it up to the desktop via the serial port. When I got a refurbished computer two years go I made sure it had a serial port, just in case. It’s like dialing up my ISP in 1996, the terminal connecting to a server, except no phone line involved. And probably my desktop has better specs than that 1996 server.

      I have a Radio Shack Model 100 laptop, bought in 1985. The potential was better than reality for me. But it had a modem. But I never got far, 40 characters of 8 lines didn’t really work well with the BBSs.

      Michael

  1. So do any listeners out in HaD land have a favorite BBS?
    Please share with me/us your favorites!
    (Personally, I’d be more interested in ones that were centered on discussions of particular technologies rather than social/political fora)

      1. last year, a friend unzipped his (MajorBBS) BBS archive from 1999, reset all account passwords to null, put it online, shared the IP with his Facebook Friends, and then about a dozen of his (still-)friends picked up where they left off. with their accounts intact and untouched, they went for MajorMUD and Chat/Trivia mostly. the nostalgia was great, but of course [those] people have less time and interest in that culture now.

  2. The reason I got this setup for this exercise was the flexibility of the new BBS software running the Level 29 BBS.

    The BBS recently underwent a notable change when the SysOp, @FozzTexx, transitioned the board from the off-the-shelf software he was running to a system he’s written from scratch in an effort to make it more compatible with vintage systems featuring meager character display capabilities and 40-column text modes — or sometimes even less, such as the VIC-20 (22 characters by 23 lines), the ZX-80 (32 by 24), and certain vintage mobiles.

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