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Mark Shields
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touring the boards

1985.03.01 14.36


One of the great joys of my life is to visit as often as I can with some very special friends. These nice people let me use their equipment, borrow their programs, use their files, and tie up their phone lines. Must really be lifelong friends, you must be thinking. Well friends they are but not lifelong. Further, I've never met a single one of these dear friends.

Well, if you haven't figured out what these ravings are leading to, I'll tell you: these friends are your friends, too. They are the Systems Operators ("Sysops," for short) of the various TI-related bulletin boards across the country. This article will hopefully entice more of you to visit with these "friends of the TI" and enjoy their handiwork. It is a brief guided tour of the various systems and a few tips on their use.

Believe it or not, I know of five completely different bulletin board systems that run on TI computers. They are as follows:
  1. TIBBS (tm Ralph Fowler)
  2. TI-BBS (written and sold through the Chicago Users Group)
  3. CALTEX (copyrighted and sold by CALTEX SOFTWARE, San Jose, California
  4. TI-COMM (written, predominantly, by John Clulow, public-domain)
  5. Various one-of-a-kind systems. I'm aware of two unique systems. One, written by Mark Hagedorn and run by Sysop Gary Blydenburgh called the 99BBS SYSTEM (617-6645988) has a download section which requires the user to run a special download program from Extended BASIC to obtain programs (the program listing is free and online for downloading as a text file). Another entirely different system is run in Houston, Texas, by a Sysop named "Captain Kirk." The BBS is called (what else?) the USS Enterprise (713-466-0701). To say the least, an unusual system!
I would like to touch on each system briefly and perhaps give you an idea of some of the ins-and-outs of these systems.

First, and most prevalent, are the TIBBS systems. This system was written by Ralph Fowler of Kennesaw, Georgia. It is the most well-known of all the boards for the TI. It most recently has been released in a new version which now sports true TEII program transfers (portions of this written by Randy Jones of Raleigh, North Carolina). I have seen these transfers available on the Raleigh TIBBS (Sysop Amnon Nissan, 919-851-8460. Wichita TIBBS (Sysop Jerry McCluskey, 316-6813167, and, of course, the TIBBS "flagship" station in Atlanta (Sysop Ralph Fowler, 404-425-5254. The transfers work fine but are just as slow as they were on The SOURCE - 20 seconds per sector (i.e. 10 minutes for a 30-sector program). Also, I have a unique problem with the TEII downloads. I have a multi-user phone system. It seems that these transfers are very sensitive to being "errored out" by any clicks, beeps or rings on a phone line. I suspect that "call waiting&quo; will do the same. Raleigh has the largest download selection and is regularly updated; Wichita has some Pascal programs among others; the Atlanta TIBBS seem» to discourage hot program has long been Fowler's opinion that TIBBS are for information exchange and if people spend all their time downloading programs, the message base suffers.

TIBBS systems that, to the best of my knowledge, do not have TEII transfer protocols as yet but are outstanding boards in their own right are:
  • Philadelphia TIBBS (Sysop Tom Burke, 215-927-6432) - totally unique TIBBS, virtually completely modified by the sysop; unique features include: Joke section, TI Forum (an on-going file section for presentation of opinions on a wide range of topics); and original text-file programs. Also, the sysop has an access level scale: first-time callers will have to be upgraded to access certain areas of the board.
  • HUG TIBBS (Sysop Stephen Foster, 713-699-2073) - perhaps has the most technically oriented message abase of all the TIBBS. Some real hardware/software geniuses frequent this system. Recently adopted the Philly TIBBS format with multiple file areas, marvelous file areas which are frequently updated. Active dealer section.
  • SPIRIT of 99 TIBBS (Sysop Gale Ringley, 614-451-0880) - truly a marvelous TIBBS; outstanding file content and maintenance with file dealing with Forth, Assembly and Extended BASIC. Text file programs changed weekly. Features on-line TI store with catalog and ordering available from extensive stock of TI software and hardware.

You will be asked for your name (first name, then last name), location and verifiable voice telephone number when logging on. You will be assigned a user number and input a 3-6 character password for firsttime use (this used to be optional for infrequent callers). It takes about 30-45 seconds to assign user number so be patient. Because of increasing system abuses ("phreaking" or plain foul language), on your first call, you may not be allowed to access all features of that particular BBS until verified.

For example, you may be allowed to read messages but not enter messages on your first call. This may be an inconvenience, but it is justifiable when one considers what Sysops must go through to "clean up" their systems each day. The TIBBS systems respond to single letter inputs (no need to press enter after menu choices), pressing "A" aborts a file, "P" pauses a file, "C" continues a file. The menus vary from system to system but, in general, look like this:

Press any key to abort
(A)lter screen/text color (TEII only)
(B)ulletin from SysOp
(C)hat with DENIS
(E)nter a message
(F)ile Up/Download (Tis only)
(G)oodbye (Disconnect from TIBBS)
(H)ard/Software for sale
(L)ocal For Sale
(M)essage count/system status
(O)ther TIBBS systems
(P)assword change
(S)earch/scan messages
(T)ime and date information
(X)pert user mode on/off
(Y) Computer news

It is a wise move to jot down the files and inputs required for the areas you want to visit when the menu first shows. It will save you have to type "?" to get the menu aftger each file is viewed. "G" is goodbye. Don't just hang up after typing that in! Messages you may have entered may not be saved unless you wait for the system to prompt you to hang up your phone.

The hottest new (I hesitate to use "new," since the original TI-BBS system run by the Chicago user group was billed as "The First TI Bulletin Board") system is this fine program sold by the Chicago UG. Chicago now sports two of these systems (Chicago WEST, 312-766-2797 and Chicago SOUTH, 312-757-3135) and I have found another system in Indiana (219-854-4787). This is a great system with true TEII transfers, extensive file sections on Assembly, Forth and Extended BASIC. All three I have visited are well run, as fast in response as TIBBS and sport active message bases. The feature I like best with this system goes back to my aforementioned problems with TEII transfers on a multi-user phone line.

TIBBS will "retry" on a download five times (I think) and then abort; the TI-BBS systems just keep plugging away until it gets done or you cancel it (CTRL 3 with TEII). I had to it retry ten times and then successfully complete a program transfer. This saved a lot of screaming as I was on sector 42 of a 48sector program!

I believe you have to hit enter after each input on this system. Here is a typical menu for this system (they are the same on all three I visited):

TI-SOUTH Main Menu
(A)dvertisers section, computer services (TI products)
(B)ulletin section (TI-SOUTH information)
(C) hat with sysop
(D) elete a message you previously saved (only you can delete your messages)
(F)ile transfer section up/downloading. (True TEII transfers)
(G)oodbye (hangup)
(I) terns for sale or trade. This section has stuff for sale by individuals
(TI-SOUTH users)
(L)eave message section (add a message to the board)
(N) ew screen and text color change
(M)essage count/system status
(O)ther TI-BBS phone numbers
(P)assword change section
(RF)read messages in a forward count
(RB)read messages in a backward count
(RT) scan titles of messages
(S)end private message to sysop
(T)ips and tidbits section
(U)ser log. Gives a list of all TISOUTH users and when last called
(?)This screen

CALTEX is a system which is little known nationally but is quite widespread with systems on both coasts. The system was written and sold by CALTEX SOFTWARE of San Jose, California, which also runs the CALTEX flagship in San Jose (408-926-8767). I have visited a couple of others, including Long Island, New York, (516-289-3667).

This is another unique system. The main feature of interest is a one-of-a-kind transfer system for programs. Not text-file, not TEII, here's how it works: You obtain a DATALOADER via text-file download. Then, off-line, you type in or convert the D/V80 file to an Extended BASIC program. Then, when you get back on, have the DATALOADER saved on a disk as LOAD. When you select program transfers from the menu, you. flip to Extended BASIC, load the DATALOADER program, select "D" to download, and the program will be automatically downloaded by the copyrighted DATALOADER program to your disk in a D/V163 (merge) format file. Off-line, you simply merge the program in and then SAVE it out to program format. Error checking is good; better than text-file, not as good as TEII. You will be told of an error in downloading the program. Then you must start all over with the DATALOADER. With a little practice, this system works quite well. It is a major improvement over text files (especially large ones) inasmuch as you don't need to convert from D/V80 to program. Program files on these systems tend to be extensive.

CALTEX TIPS Here is a sample menu and a breakdown of the file "module," a CALTEX characteristic. An unimpressive main menu doesn't reflect the extensive file areas in the CALTEX system.

Main Menu
C = Call SysOp (chat mode)
D = Download
F = File Module
G = Goodbye (Q = Quit)
L = List of recent callers
M = Message Module
R = Request for password
S = Screen options
T = Time elapsed
U = Upload
Function? F

*File Module
Press (M) for Menu, (Enter) to abort
File? M
X = abort, S = pause, Q = resume,
Z = f/fwrd, (CTRL X,S,Q,Z are the active keys)

*File Module
B = Bulletins
D = DATALOADER II (program listing)
F = For sale/wanted
H = How does DATALOADER II work?
I = Information about the system
M = Menu (this menu)
N = System news, title screen
O = Other bulletin board systems
P = Password information
S = Software listing (CALTEX software)
T = Technical information, tips
U = User group news (various groups)
W = What's in the downloads?
TI-COMM, the system fathered by the "King of Public Domain" John Clulow of Toledo, Ohio, is a program given free for the asking. It runs via a home-brew "AAAD" (autoanswer, autodial device) which the sysop must build. Once built (about $30 in parts), it converts the lowly Volksmodem into a 300 baud autoanswer and dial BBS! A remarkable development, indeed. John himself sysops a TI-COMM in Toledo (419 - 385-7484). A second one is in Cleveland (216-289-7311). These systems, thanks to the sysops. are efficient. Though a bit slow, I keep calling these systems back because of their excellent file areas. The tutorials on these systems are as good as any system running. They are well worth a call.

The other BBS systems are all unique and defy general description. Gary Blydenburgh's system in Massachusetts sports a great file section and program transfers. Blydenburgh also has software and hardware for sale, which you can order by modem using a credit card. The USS Enterprise has text-file program listings and an interesting message base. "Handles" (psuedonyms) are encouraged on this system, so expect to see messages from King Kong and others. I wish I could spend more time describing the BBS systems that support TI users. They are all marvelous, largely due to the dedication of the sysops and user groups/dealers that make these systems available to all of us.

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