BBS: The Documentary

Before this whole Internet/Web fad, before AOL, before CompuServe, before even Prodigy, we had the BBS -- dialup Bulletin Board Systems serving communities of computer users. BBSed had their heyday in the Eighties, and they were generally small, homebrew systems -- a Sysop (System Operator) would start up a BBS by installing special software on a spare computer, attaching a modem and a phone line, and waiting for the calls to roll in. The BBS was primarily a local thing, because generally people didn't want to spend money to dial long-distance. So what you had in the Eighties (and still very much into the Nineties, and a bit still today) was a broad patchwork of regional online communities. This local aspect of the system was largely lost when everyone moved to the Internet, and it's only present in niche sites like Craigslist and various City Guide sites.

As a teenager, I was hugely addicted to BBSes, and even had a special phone line put in (thanks, parents!) so I could dial up my local 'boards' to exchange messages, play online games, and chat (that last option was only available if the BBS's Sysop was rich enough to have multiple phone lines running -- or if you were chatting with the Sysop him or herself!). I often met new computer geek friends online, then found out they went to my middle school. And this was in the Eighties!

I keep running into former BBS users who remember the "good old days," (when busy signals were a regular feature of "checking your email") and thought I'd blog about the topic. The other day I was buying paper at the local paper warehouse and the cashier and I somehow got into a conversation about BBSes. I'm telling you, we're everywhere, hiding in plain view. So I'm wondering -- are any flossers former BBS users? Do you remember the days of downloading files in tiny segments, configuring your dialup client to work with the latest and greatest download protocol, and trying to figure out how to use Fidonet to send email (then "e-mail") cross-country? (Bonus points: remember when your friends got 2400 baud modems before you did, and lorded it over you for months? And when it happened again with 9600 and 14.4k modems?)

Much more, including a 10-minute clip of The BBS Documentary, after the jump!

Whether you're an old-school BBS user or just interested in computer history, there's one film that's required viewing: The BBS Documentary. Spanning three DVDs, this five-hour film chronicles various aspects of the BBS scene through interviews with those who wrote early BBS software, ran major BBSes, even those who created the ASCII/ANSI art that was a staple of the BBS scene. As Wired Magazine said, it's "surprisingly engrossing." I bought the DVD set when it first came out in 2005, and have recently started watching it again -- and I'm reminded how much history is revealed by the film. This is history that's been happening in garages, basements, and spare bedrooms across the world for the past thirty years -- and you'd hardly know it if you didn't see a film like this.

If you're ready to experience the whole film, order The BBS Documentary now! If you're not up for paying for it yet, you can watch several hours of it online at Google Video, or watch this clips compilation from YouTube:

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Arthur Shi, iFixit // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
The New MacBook Has a Crumb-Resistant Keyboard
Arthur Shi, iFixit // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Arthur Shi, iFixit // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Soon, you won’t have to worry about ruining your Macbook’s keyboard with muffin crumbs. The 2018 MacBook Pro will feature keys specifically designed to withstand the dust and debris that are bound to get underneath them, according to Digital Trends. The keyboard will also be quieter than previous versions, the company promises.

The latter feature is actually the reasoning Apple gives for the new design, which features a thin piece of silicon stretching across where the keycaps attach to the laptop, but internal documents initially obtained by MacRumors show that the membrane is designed to keep debris from getting into the butterfly switch design that secures the keycaps.

Introduced in 2015, Apple’s butterfly keys—a change from the traditional scissor-style mechanism that the company’s previous keyboards used—allow the MacBook keyboards to be much thinner, but are notoriously delicate. They can easily become inoperable if they’re exposed to dirt and debris, as any laptop is bound to be, and are known for becoming permanently jammed. In fact, the company has been hit with multiple lawsuits alleging that it has known about the persistent problem for years but continued using the design. As a result, Apple now offers free keyboard replacements and repairs for those laptop models.

This new keyboard design (you can see how it works in iFixit's very thorough teardown), however, doesn’t appear to be the liquid-proof keyboard Apple patented in early 2018. So while your new laptop might be safe to eat around, you still have to worry about the inevitable coffee spills.

[h/t Digital Trends]

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iStock
Finally! Windows Notepad Is Getting an Update for the First Time in Years
iStock
iStock

While some of Window's core programs have evolved dramatically over the years, or disappeared all together, Notepad has remained pretty basic. But as The Verge reports, the text-editing app is about to get a little fancier: Microsoft is updating it for the first time in years.

Since it debuted in 1985, Notepad has become a popular platform for writing out code. One common complaint from programmers working in non-Windows coding language is that Notepad doesn't format line breaks properly, resulting in jumbled, messy text. Now, both Unix/Linux line endings (LF) and Macintosh line endings (CR) are supported in Notepad, making it even more accessible to developers.

For the first time, users can zoom text by holding ctrl and scrolling the mouse wheel. They can also delete the last word in their document by pressing ctrl+backspace. On top of all that, the new update comes with a wrap-around find-and-replace feature, a default status bar with line and column numbers, and improved performance when handling large files.

The arrow keys will be easier to navigate as well. You can now use the arrow keys to deselect text before moving the cursor. And if you ever want to look up a word online, Microsoft will allow you to connect directly to Bing through the app.

The new Notepad update will be made available first to Windows Insiders through Windows 10 Insider Preview, then to everyone on the forthcoming update, codenamed Redstone 5, likely later this year.

[h/t The Verge]

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