Note: This article was first published on
Saimin in 1989. It was updated in 2009 - to celebrate the Hawaii Macintosh &
Apple Users' Society 30th Anniversary.
I remember my very first Honolulu Apple Users Society (HAUS)
meeting, held at the Arizona Memorial Auditorium in 1981. The club consisted of
about 200 members, with nearly all of them showing up at this meeting. At that
time, I was a 12-year old member of the Junior Apple Users Society (JAUS) – a
Special Interest Group (SIG) within HAUS, hanging out at Memory Lane in
downtown every Saturday morning. All the members of JAUS were under 18 years
old. The monthly general meeting was meant for adults, but the main topic of the
night intrigued me.
The guest speaker of the night was Dale Ott, the system
operator (SYSOP) of a dial-up bulletin board system (BBS) called Hawaii
Connection. He demonstrated his BBS right there in the auditorium via a
telephone line. Before the demonstration, Dale asked the audience for a raise of
hands of who owned a modem. Out of the 200 people who attended, only five hands
were raised, including mine.
The demonstration of his BBS impressed me so much that I
wanted to learn more about BBS’. Seeing my dad knew Dale personally through
amateur radio, we received a personal invitation to his home the following
night, to give us a personal tour of his BBS. I was sold! I wanted to BBS, so
that I too can get into the telecommunications game, and become l33t
(geek speak for “elite”.)
Computer Bulletin Boards (CBBS, also called BBS or just
"boards") was already popular on the mainland, starting out in the late 1970s.
But, to us Hawaiians, it was a totally new gateway to the outside world – in
paradise where the only access to information from the outside was either
through newspapers, radio and television.
I originally wrote this article in 1989, and at that time I
was still very enthusiastic about modeming. Re-writing this article in 2009 in
preparation for HMAUS’ 30th anniversary was a major challenge. How
exactly could I convey the feelings I had as a 20-year old, today as a 40-year
old? In 2009, we are spoiled by instant access to the Internet, with absolutely
no physical borders separating us. Keep in mind that in 1981, there was no
Internet for the common man. There was no cable modem or DSL. There was no
iPhone or even cellular phones. There was no such thing as a web site, Twitter
or eBay. Even private mail between two BBS’ was unthinkable at the time. You
could dial into a mainland-based BBS, but until recently long distance fees were
quite expensive – about $10.00 for only a 15-minute session.
I earned my first Internet account in 1989, after hacking
my way into the University of Hawaii @ Manoa system. Obviously, I didn’t write
about this in 1989 seeing the statute of limitation still hung over my head. I
told a hacker friend that just by learning about a student at UH, I could hack
into his account. I picked my prey in an IS class I took, and within days I
figured out he was interested in astronomy. Let’s just say that you should never
use a planet name as your password, and for the next three years I was
impersonating a student from India.
In 1990, a good hacker friend of mine using the alias
Hermes worked with Eugene Villaluz and I, and ran SpringBoard Exchange
– a board managed by the Cyberspace Jaycees (a chapter of the Hawaii Jaycees.)
SpringBoard Exchange was also HAUS’ next generation BBS, replacing Dale Ott’s
Hawaii Connection II (more about that later.) That was my last experience
running or using a BBS. With the hacked UH account, I learned how to configure
my Macintosh IIsi for PPP and TCP/IP, and soon my BBS dial-up days were over.
With those updates behind us, let me bring you back in time
to 1981. President Reagan was in office. The Oakland Raiders won its last Super
Bowl. Rupert Murdoch was still building his media empire. And, Steve Wozniak
still worked for Apple Computer. Owning a modem in 1981 was considered a
privilege. The price for a good 300-baud (we used “baud” instead of the more
formal “bps”) modem was around $350. To demonstrate just how rare modems were, I
estimate one out of every 75 users owned a modem. Being able to BBS placed you
in a l33t group of people. And, at a period where only the l33t
had the connections, only the very privileged were ever able to open up their
own BBS to the public. Hosting a BBS required either a dedicated telephone line,
or a very limited schedule – with access usually only in the evenings when no
one at the home was using the telephone (yes, there was life before cell
phones.) And, as a SYSOP, never forget to disable Wonderphone!
Just like the Internet today, years later modeming became
far too mainstream. By the late 1980s, most computers came with a modem of some
form. And, just like a typical web site today, most people who owned modems
attempt to put up their own dial-up BBS – with all of them failing within days
or weeks. The conversations that go on the boards turned from hacking, pirating
and phreaking - to meaningless pop culture chatter, similar to what you see
today on Twitter. The purpose of the Internet today is all about selling
yourself to the world, and to be accepted. The BBS in the 1980s was all about
the access of information you could not get through non-electronic means: warez,
social networking, cliques and being l33t. Did I mention being l33t
was important? C’mon now! I was 12 years old! Of course it was!
The first version of my story was published in HAUS’ SIGNAL
newsletter in February 1990. The story was actually written for the members of
Saimin – a multi-line chat system I was once a member. I am so glad I
wrote the story back then, because today I really don’t remember the details. I
must give my thanks to the late Glynn Garavito for somehow obtaining a copy of
my story, and publishing it in the newsletter. While working as The Mac Geek at
Software Plus, I came across the February 1990 newsletter on Kevin
Throckmorton’s desk. He was my manager at the time, and was also a board member
of HAUS. After reading the article, I re-joined HAUS after being away from the
club for four years.
From 1976 to about 1984, the most popular personal computer
in Hawaii was the Apple II line, specifically the Apple II Plus and later the
Apple IIe. Interesting enough, the Apple IIe was rarely ever used to run a BBS.
The first five boards ever to go up in Hawaii ran on the Apple II Plus. The
majority of BBS users used Apple computers; therefore most of the boards were
oriented towards Apple users. All of the real-time hackers during that period
owned the Apple II Plus, simply because it was the most flexible of its time. It
had the most software (more than the Commodore VIC-20 or the TRS-80 Color
Computer,) and only losers used Commodore and Trash-80 computers.
The very first BBS of the "modem era" came out in early
1981. Computer Store - an Apple software outlet in Aiea right next to
J&C Repair, opened a board based on an Apple II Plus, two 5.25" floppy
drives, and a Hayes Micromodem II running at 300-baud. The software used was
Networks II, written by Nick Naimo in 1980 (and who I would run into almost
30 years later on Wikipedia.) The board was totally supported by the store
itself, and it consisted of only 30 users. The board was only a message-based
system - the whole message base totally dedicated to the popular Apple II
computer. No uploading/downloading capabilities were available. This board
survived until mid-1982.
Around the same time in 1981, Computerland of
Stadium Mall put up its own BBS called the Conference Tree, written in
Pascal on the Apple II. This board was the first of its kind in Hawaii. A person
was able to append their reply to the message, which made it look like a "tree"
of messages – similar to what you see today on Slash-Dot and CraigsList. Message
topics ranged from current issues to adventure games. This board pretty much ran
Computer Store's board down because of its popularity – as most people shopped
at ComputerLand for their Apple computers. The user list consisted of about 50
frequent callers from Hawaii and other parts of the United States. According to
Jay Fields, the SYSOP of the Conference Tree, he didn't have the source code to
modify the board; therefore the board wasn’t scalable. This led to the downfall
of the board later on.
In late 1981, Dale Ott, at that time working for the Navy,
opened up the first residential BBS in Hawaii called Hawaii Connection.
This board, based in his home in Hickam, ran off the exact same setup as
Computer Store's, except this time the SYSOP was a programmer. Dale modified the
software to his own taste, thanks to the Networks II software being written in
Applesoft and assembly language. Messages ranged from amateur radio (Dale was a
ham operator — AH6AC) to Apple II technical discussions. The board was also the
official BBS of HAUS. There, the club posted notices of the Special Interest
Group (SIG) meetings and other functions. I remember buying 10 diskettes, 5.25"
SS/SD through the club for the cheapest price in town — $45.00.
Charlie Kong, another member of HAUS and coordinator of the
Utilities SIG, worked for Computer Market, located right next to the old
Flamingo's restaurant (today is the abandoned CompUSA on South Street.) Already
a BBS user in the islands, he and store owner Kris Kapur agreed to open up their
own BBS in the store called Honolulu Networks. The board ran off of a
Basis 108 computer (I have three of these systems in my museum) which was an
Apple II Plus compatible. The system also ran off of two floppy drives and a
Hayes Micromodem II running at 300-baud, and later a Novation Smart Cat
1200-baud modem. The board was about 150 users strong, but it was not as popular
as Dale Ott's board, which had about 170 regular users. Charlie's board was the
first board to offer downloading of software, the only protocol being ASCII file
transfer. Yet another Apple board, Charlie offered many programming tips for the
Apple users and offered discounts on software at the store.
In 1981, the BBS user base were dominated by adults –
people like HAUS Dale, Charlie and my dad. JAUS members like me felt that the
bulletin boards like Hawaii Connection and Honolulu Networks were for adults –
leaving out us young people out in the cold. We needed some place of our own to
hang out and talk about pirating software and hacking. After begging and
pleading to Dale, he gave me the software needed to open up my own board. At
that time, I also had the exact setup as all the other boards: Apple II Plus
with 64KB of RAM, two 5.25-inch floppy drives, and a 300-baud Hayes Micromodem
II with a dedicated telephone line. Ah! The dedicated telephone line is the key
to success of a BBS. After many days of testing, modifying, and even more
testing by me and JAUS, I finally had a working bulletin board.
On January 2, 1982, I launched Pearl City Networks.
I named the board after the Woodland Hills Network, also a Networks
II-based board in California. There were many firsts for my board. Pearl City
Networks was the first board to be totally dominated by the youth. It was also
the first board in Hawaii to be SYSOP’d by a youth. As a matter of fact, at the
age of 14, I was the youngest SYSOP in the U.S., according to the Miami Herald
when a reporter called me for an interview. Pearl City Networks was only a
message board at first, but the posts felt different from all the other dull and
boring adult-oriented boards. I allowed the users to use aliases to identify
themselves – a first for BBS’ in Hawaii. The conversation on the message base
ranged from school, parties, movies, and JAUS functions. Grown-ups were allowed,
but they were next to not being wanted on the board.
Pirating of software was the hottest topic. However, since
the Networks II software couldn't support downloading of any kind, JAUS held
"pirate-fests", which were monthly weekend parties, held at one of the member's
residence. The pirate-fests consisted of, on the average, 15 Apple computers
running at the same time, over 200 blank diskettes for each member, and tons and
tons of software!!! The test lasted from Friday night to Sunday night.
Soon, I modified Pearl City Networks to utilize ASCII
Express The Professional – a popular telecommunications application, to use
the Ward Christensen protocol (a form of XMODEM for the Apple II) from within
Networks II. This enabled Apple users to transfer files back and forth in
binary, rather than ASCII and the PR#3 hack. Pirating erupted in Hawaii because
of the introduction of AE Pro. Many other Apple BBS users opened their own AE
Lines so that they too can receive software from other users on their own.
Pearl City Networks also opened up other message bases such
as the “Story Board” (which in turn was renamed the “Gory Story Board”,) the
“Shrink Board” (SYSOPed by Courtney Harrington who also worked at KHON-TV at the
time,) the “Teen Board,” and the “Sex Board.”
Paul Conahan – a JAUS member, was the first person in
Hawaii to purchase the l33t Novation Apple Cat II modem - the most
valuable tool for the hacker of the boards. The Apple Cat II modem was God
(sorry, God.) It did everything: 1200 baud half-duplex, sound generation
capabilities including the ability to play music, touch-tone decoding, and Hayes
Micromodem II emulation. A person was NOT a true hacker unless he owned one of
these babies. I was the second one among the JAUS bunch to purchase one, but I
spent the extra hundreds of dollars for the 1200 baud full duplex version. This
made Pearl City Networks the first private BBS to have 1200-baud capabilities.
Other Apple Cat owners in the mainland used software called Disk-Fer
which was the ultimate hacker's way to transfer whole diskettes through the
modem. Another one called Cat-Send also utilized the Apple-Cat
half-duplex feature to transfer Dalton’s Disk Disintegrator (DDD) parts.
Many of Pearl City Networks’ users used hacker lingo such
as, "I'll Disk-Fer Canyon Climber to ya!!! Call me!!", or, "The Jerk is a SMUCK!!!
A MITSU!!!" Offline, most of the users knew each other's real names. But still,
when we met at the weekly JAUS meetings, we even used our fake names in normal
conversation. The most popular users on the boards were Richie Rich (me). The
Ayatollah, Yuri Andropov, The Jerk, Tiger Tramp, Bucktooth the Pirate, The Spy,
and The Pirate. The Spy founded the Hawaii chapter of The Inner Circle -
a l33t group of people who hacked computer systems. Their headquarters
were based on Pearl City Networks’ “Private Section.”
Soon, the majority of the BBS users in Hawaii were kids
below the age of 16. Around 1984, a new group of users popped into the BBS scene
— the-more-adult-aged-but-still-juvenile-delinquent users. Iron Maiden
was the first of this type to invade the Hawaii BBS scene. He and Sir Lancelot
started to mingle with one another on Pearl City Networks, and soon became good
buddies. At the same time, Byte Rider – another Pearl City Networks user, put up
TI-TeleCom, the first modern non-Apple computer based BBS in his home,
running on a Texas Instrument 99/4A computer. Byte Rider was also the first
person to use BBS software totally written by him. As a matter of fact, I don’t
think BBS software for the 99/4A was ever written by anyone else. Byte Rider
attracted the same crowd on his board as Pearl City Networks, except his board
consisted of a more rowdy group of teenagers, including Iron Maiden, Sir
Lancelot, and Lincoln F. Sternn (known as The Preacher in later years.) Just
imagine Mel Gibson’s “Mad Max” character and his friends invading a BBS.
Together, these punks formed the infamous "151 Gang" -
named after the gang's favorite beverage (or they would call it “the breakfast
of champions.”) Another board that came about the same time as TI-TeleCom was
Space-Net, run by Bob Silva, also known as Bob Zilla. His board was very
much like Pearl City Networks and TI-TeleCom. It was yet another Apple BBS, but
it was the first board to draw users through promotional stunts, such as
T-shirts, contests, etc. For the first time, there was competition between the
three Hawaii BBS powerhouses, to see who was the most popular: Richie Rich (me),
Byte Rider, or Bob Zilla. At times, things even became physical. I once hopped
on a bus from Pearl City to Downtown Honolulu – bringing a Louisville Slugger
bat, to bash Byte Rider’s head. Byte and I became the best of friends that same
The BBS world in Hawaii at this point consisted of JAUS
(also known as Fish-Net among its members) and the 151 Gang. While searching
through the mainland BBS’ for new ideas for Pearl City Networks, I came across
an anti-Jew board in New York City. The weird thing about this board was that
half of the board membership were self-identified Jews, while the others were
anti-Jews. The SYSOP opened a special section, knows as the "Mudslinging Board,"
and the Jews and the anti-Jews used this board to throw words of profanity,
hatred, etc. at each other. As a matter of fact, two Jewish kids were found in
an alley in New York City beaten to death by a baseball bat (not mine) as a
result of a mudslinging session on the BBS. The BBS was shut down by the police
– the equivalent to today’s shutting down of a hate-based web site. Being the
deranged individual I once was, I thought, "Hawaii needs a message board like
this!!!" I quickly introduced the mudslinging section to Pearl City Networks. It
was the first of its kind in Hawaii, but it would not be the last.
The mudslinging sessions were mostly fighting between
Fish-Net, the 151 Gang, and other people labeled as "leaches", "losers", or
"mitsus", among others (a “mitsu” was a gaming geek who hung out at Mitsukoshi
- a popular gaming place.) Words of all kinds were thrown at one another.
Threats of physical violence were usually made, but were never carried out as
far as I know. Soon, Pearl City Networks was not only the most popular board at
the time - it was also the most unpopular board among the adult users.
Soon, the mudslinging went beyond Pearl City Networks and Space-Net, spreading
into TI-TeleCom, and unfortunately, Honolulu Networks.
The 151 Gang was soon banned from all BBS’ because of their
mass abuse on all the boards. The 151'ers showed power among the hackers, and
normally demonstrated it by hassling Charlie Kong at the store, shaving eyebrows
off of little kids such as Bucktooth the Pirate (I brought the shaving cream,)
and formatted BBS’ hard disk drives whenever they hacked their way in.
Iron Maiden also opened his own board called Stonehenge,
running on the Franklin Ace 1000 computer, an Apple II Plus compatible. The
software was based on Networks II – just like virtually all the other boards.
The board lasted a very short time because of the lack of users, probably
because Iron Maiden was a 151 Gang member.
Another craze throughout the BBS world was phreaking. Many
of the Fish-Net and 151 Gang members used illegally obtained long distance
service codes to contact other hackers in the mainland. Some of the boards had
private sections for posting newly discovered Sprint and MCI codes. However, the
long distance companies started a major crackdown on the phreaking in Hawaii.
Soon, many people among the two groups were caught red-handed. However, no one
spent time in prison or paid fines.
Around mid-1985, TI-TeleCom changed its name to Zylog,
and soon became one of the ultimate hacker boards in the islands. I shut down Pearl City
Networks in early 1986 after leaving home for college, and Space-Net
followed right after that. At the same time, many other boards such as
Whopper, UHPC, The Restaurant, Oral Majority, etc. were
coming out of the woodwork. Never again did owning a BBS of your own was a
prestigious thing. Anyone could open a BBS of his own, and many people did.
However, most boards that opened after 1986 never lasted for more than four
months. This caused BBS listings to become out-dated quite quickly, and
eventually BBS’ as a whole became an unreliable source.
A classic example of a "lame" board I must recall was this
board run by Mike Watson in Schofield Barracks. It ran off an Apple II Plus with
a 300-baud modem. When you posted a message, the message was printed immediately
onto paper. When the SYSOP came around to it, he would enter the message using
Applesoft PRINT statements embedded into the board software. The neat thing
about it was since most hackers couldn’t spell or write a complete sentence,
this method corrected all the spelling and other grammatical errors.
By the late 1980s, other boards came about such as HIX,
Saimin, Da Kine, among others around this period. Saimin ran
successfully until the late 1990s, when Rabbit Man moved Saimin II to the
Internet (http://www.saimin2.com). HIX is now managed by the University of
Hawaii @ Manoa, and serves as the backbone of the Internet in Hawaii –
connecting all the Hawaii-based Internet service providers like LavaNet,
Time-Warner Internet and Hawaiian Telcom together so that localized traffic
stays within Hawaii.
Zylog was shut down in late 1985 when Byte Rider sold his
TI-99/4A computer and purchased an Amiga 1000 system. Immediately after
receiving the Amiga, he brought up a board called Sirius Cybernetics
which eventually became the oldest running free BBS in Hawaii - shutting down
around the early 1990s when Byte Rider left Hawaii for a job with CompuServe. It
was also considered the last of the dying breed of the old BBS.
Not only were there free BBS’ available, there were also
pay systems. The first pay board in Hawaii that I can recall was set up around
1983 called Isle-Net, which HAUS member Bob Cunningham was involved in.
When Dale Ott took down Hawaii Connection in 1984, he retired from the Navy and
took a job at Memory Lane Computers where he setup a BBS called Hawaii
Connection II, which was a pay board, and was geared for Apple Macintosh
The last known pay board to hit the islands was
Data-Line Communications, run by Wayne Carvalho. These pay boards offered
many services that free boards couldn't get, but the "hacker ethic" never
existed on these boards. True hackers never paid for access to anything! The pay
boards were also very reasonable, usually run from $1 to $5 per hour for local
The biggest thing to hit the BBS revolution in Hawaii was
Talk-Net. It was a multi-line IRC-like chatting system set up at the
University of Hawaii @ Manoa. Run by GG and her friends, Talk-Net came up
usually at the end of each semester when there was a lot of time left on many
user accounts. Normally, a session wouldn't last for more than a week, sometimes
as long as two weeks and sometimes as short as a few hours. Nevertheless, it
brought the ultimate hackers into an arena to exchange many types of information
to each other and enabled hackers to meet other hackers. Many friendships were
built around Talk-Net. Talk-Net was permanently shut down by the late 1980s,
once the hackers who developed Talk-Net were now working at the school.
My best memory has to be Saimin. Soon after
graduating from college in 1990, I joined Saimin as Richie Rich, and soon met
lifetime friends like Rabbit Man. I think Saimin is Hawaii’s first social
networking service – much like MySpace or Facebook. Saimin’s technology was just
amazing. It hosted five dial-up lines – the only of its kind ever in Hawaii. To
handle the five lines, Rabbit Man networked two Apple II Plus computers together
using the game I/O port. One Apple II was used to host the five Hayes Micromodem
II modems in five of its slots, and a second Apple II to host the Disk II
drives. By 1990, the schools were getting rid of their Apple II computers, so
Rabbit Man had a stock of about 12 machines sitting in his closet in case one of
his two computers burned out.
The great thing about Saimin was that the users were like
family. Totally different from the 151 Gang or Fish-Net, the Saimin users would
host weekly outings, such as billiards at Hawaiian Brian’s, bowling at Kapiolani
Bowl, or ice skating at Ice Palace. We even held picnics at the Aiea Loop Trail.
To summarize the history of the BBS in Hawaii, a user like
me who lived and breathed the entire ordeal may notice the change in the BBS
user. Users yesterday were creative. They expected nothing but a message board
to talk-story on. The things users talked about were anything but computers.
Today, with the Internet and Generation Y, the magic is gone. The Internet is
much too easy – to the point where users are far too naïve and sensitive. A BBS
user during the 1980s had to develop thick skin in order to fend the likes of
the 151 Gang, among other cyber bullies. Today, some Internet users are walking
time bombs, waiting to blow a mental fuse and become physically violent.
Never will we ever have the excitement and suspense we
experienced on Pearl City Networks, TI-TeleCom, or Space-Net. I don't know
about you guys, but if I was able to wish for anything, I'd wish that I could go
through the entire ordeal that we've been through all over again, including The
Ayatollah's End-of-School Party in Makiki, circa 1985. That was BBSing!!!!