A Faux BBS Gets Software On To Your Vintage Machines

Back in the golden age of modems and phone lines, bulletin board systems, or BBSes, were a great way to find new software from the comfort of your own home. Most have shut down over the past few decades, as the Internet took over as a more flexible method of cat picture software distribution. [equant] was a fan of browsing for warez through a text interface however, so recreated the experience in a way that’s useful today. The result is RetroBridgeBBS.

The software runs on a modern PC, ideally a Linux one that runs Python 3 and has a serial port. Then, you can hook up your old retro computers via serial using a null modem cable. Fire up appropriate terminal software on the retro computer and you’re rewarded with a BBS-like interface. From here, you can search selected online repositories for software, and download what you like. The host PC parses requests from the retro PC over the serial link, and shuffles back the requested files downloaded from the Internet. Currently it’s set up primarily for Macintosh users, with some useful features to avoid downloading StuffIt archives of the wrong version – a perennial frustration in the 90s. Future plans involve expanding the system to suit more platforms.

It’s technically anachronistic, but it feels like a period-correct way to get software onto a vintage computer. It’s also a great way to do so when you’re lacking appropriate floppy hardware, hard disk emulators, or network cards – all of which can be expensive and in short supply. There’s other ways to go about it, too, of course – you can do some nifty things with an ESP8266, don’t you know! Video after the break.
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Amiga In The MiST Gets Online With An ESP8266

While he couldn’t quite come up with the cash to buy one in their hayday, [Bruno Antunes] has always been fascinated with the Amiga. When PCs got fast enough he used emulators like UAE to get a taste of the experience, but it was never quite the same thing. Not until he found the MiST anyway, which uses an FPGA to implement several retro computers such as the Apple II, Atari, and of course his beloved Amiga.

The only downside for [Bruno] was that the MiST has no network interfaces. To get onto the Internet, he had to install an ESP8266 inside the device and spend some quality time tweaking various software settings to get everything talking to each other. The end result is a BBS hosted on an Amiga 1200, that’s running on an FPGA, that’s connected to WiFi via an ESP8266. What a time to be alive.

Adding the ESP8266 to the MiST was actually quite straightforward, as there’s an unpopulated serial port header right on the board. Though [Bruno] cautions this header has been removed as of version 1.4 of the device, so if you’re in the market for an FPGA retro box and might want to get it online at some point, that may be a detail to keep in mind. The ESP is running a firmware which implements Serial Line IP (SLIP); which allows you to use TCP/IP over a serial port, albeit very slowly.

The hardware implant went well enough, but unfortunately [Bruno] found the ESP8266 was unable to communicate through the thick metal case of the MiST. He enlisted his girlfriend to make a new papercraft enclosure for the MiST that the ESP could talk though, and it even has the added benefit of glowing thanks to the internal LEDs. We probably would have just got one of the ESP modules that includes an external antenna, but to each their own.

With the hardware taken care of, the rest of the considerable write-up details how he got the Amiga operating system to talk to the Internet through the SLIP connection. He goes over everything from setting the system time with NTP to getting a Telnet daemon installed. As you might expect, this involves installing a number of additional software packages, but [Bruno] is kind enough to provide links for everything you’ll need.

We’ve seen the ESP8266 used to get other retro computers onto the modern Internet before, but it’s usually through the use of an external device. This internal modification is very clean, and seems like a no-brainer for anyone who owns a MiST and a soldering iron.

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Arduino Revives A Classic 1980s Minitel Terminal

Before there was the Internet, there were a lot of would-be Internets. Compuserve comes to mind, as do Prodigy, GEnie, Delphi, and the innumerable BBS systems that were once gateways to worlds beyond our CRT monitors and 300 baud Hayes Supermodems.

Service providers varied by region, of course. The French postal and telephone service rolled out their service, Médium interactif par numérisation d’information téléphonique, in 1978. Mercifully and memorably shortened to Minitel, the service was originally intended primarily as an online telephone directory, and later expanded to include other services. [Kevin Driscoll] and [Julien Mailland] recently resurrected a Minitel terminal, a Videotex terminal that was the gateway to the service. The terminal they used, a model 1B, is a stylish machine with a monochrome CRT display and compact “AZERTY” keyboard. [Kevin] and [Julien] built a Videotex server for it using an Uno and a logic-level converter to keep the two talking. Using the hardware, they’ve developed a Twitter client, a webcam display, and dumb Linux terminal.

[Julien] and  [Kevin] previously authored a great history of Minitel that’s worth a read. And we’ve seen a few Minitel hacks before, including converting one to USB for use as a Raspberry Pi terminal.

VCF East XIII: Another Day In Retro Paradise

While the weather alternated between mist and monsoon for most of it, the thirteenth annual Vintage Computer Festival East was still a huge success. People came from all over the country, and indeed the world, to show off computers and equipment that was easily older than many of those in attendance. From 1980’s robots to recreations of the very first machines to ever carry the name “computer” as we understand it today, there were a dizzying array of fascinating exhibits to see for those who made the pilgrimage to the InfoAge Science Center in Wall, New Jersey. The people who own and maintain these technological touchstones were in many cases were just as interesting as the hardware they brought to show off; walking encyclopedias of knowledge about the particular piece of vintage gear that they’ve so lovingly shepherded into the modern day.

Through it all, save for a brief intermission to get chili dogs from the nearest WindMill, Hackaday was there. We got up close and personal with [Brian Stuart]’s impressive ENIAC emulator, listened to some ethereal chiptunes courtesy of [Bill Degnan]’s MITS Altair 8800, saw relics from the days when the “app store” needed stamps from [Allan Bushman]’s impressive colleciton, and got inspired by the [Alexander Pierson]’s somewhat more modern take on the classic kit computers of the 1970’s.

But those were’t the only things on display at the Vintage Computer Festival, not by a long shot. There were over 100 individual exhibits this year at VCF, and that doesn’t even include the workshops, classes, tours, or the daily keynote presentations. To say you get your money’s worth on the ticket is something of an understatement.

It’s fair to say that there’s no real substitute for seeing a show like this in person. But in addition to the aforementioned articles, a rundown (in no particular order) of some of the interesting exhibits and attractions from this year’s VCF is a decent consolation prize. If this piques your interest, we’d invite you to keep an eye out for the next Vintage Computer Festival. We’ll be there.

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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.

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34C3: The First Day Is A Doozy

It’s 5 pm, the sun is slowly setting on the Leipzig conference center, and although we’re only halfway through the first day, there’s a ton that you should see. We’ll report some more on the culture of the con later — for now here’s just the hacks. Continue reading “34C3: The First Day Is A Doozy”

BBSing With The ESP8266

Modems have been around for longer than the web, and before we had Facebook we had the BBS scene. Somewhat surprisingly, people are still hosting BBSes, but have fun finding a landline these days. [Blake Patterson] is one of the leading aficionados of retocomputers, and recently he took it upon himself to review an interesting new device. It’s the WiFi232 Internet Modem, a device that turns a WiFi connection into something a computer with a 25-pin RS-232 connector can understand.

The WiFi232 is made by [Paul Rickards], and given the last few years of WiFi-enabled retrocomputing projects, it’s exactly what you would expect. Onboard the WiFi232 is an ESP8266 module emulating the Hayes AT command set. Baud rates from 300 to 115200 are supported, with power provided through a USB mini jack or solder terminals.

[Blake]’s computer den is the stuff of legend, and as such he has more than enough toys to test out this universal WiFi to Serial converter. Devices used in the test include the Apple //c, IIe, Amiga 1000, and TI-99/4A. In short, everything works just like it should. [Blake] was able to pull up the extant bulletin boards on his collection of ancient computers. You can check out [Blake]’s review of the WiFi232 below

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