The Shooting Star BBS -- Over ten years of history.


What is the Shooting Star BBS? Just a web page on the WWW now. But there's a long history behind the Shooting Star that dates back to July of 1985 (it's been ten years as of this month).

I started modeming back in June of 1985 and had a BBS up and running within a couple of weeks. I had no idea how to run one or what it took to run one (as far as software went). Back then, there were probably less than 100 active BBS's in the Seattle area, and most of these were either Apple II or Commodore 64 pirate boards. I owned an Apple //e and soon became one of the regulars on the local Apple BBS scene. I remember frequenting a board called "The Rising Sun" and finding a little bug in the code that allowed any user to view new user passwords. Soon after that I was logging into other systems using other people's accounts (I feel safe to admit this now, 10 years later). One of these systems was Tiger's Lair ran by Eric The Red. Unfortunately Eric was there watching his BBS one day when I logged on under a hacked account and pulled me into chat. "This isn't King Arthur" he said. Well, to make a long story short, it turned out that Eric lived about a block away from me and we ended up meeting in person (we also attended the same High School). He provided me with my first BBS software, GBBS. This led to some interesting partnerships between our two systems, including a brief message network system called StarNet. We could tie two sub-boards (message forums) together between the two systems so that a message posted on my BBS would eventually be transferred to Tiger's Lair via modem. This worked quite well, but because it required custom coding, we were never able to expand it beyond our two systems (most sysops didn't know how to program their BBS, they were just running stock software).

One problem that I soon found out about GBBS was that the original programmer had included a nice backdoor that allowed people to drop to DOS from anywhere within the BBS. He also had a way of checking the serial number of the software, which in turn was used to reference the correct key sequence to drop to DOS (if I recall correctly, they all started with ^S^P and about 10 characters after that). Unbeknownst to me, much of the BBS public knew about this "secret" backdoor and I ended up having people crash my BBS on an almost daily basis. And thus began my encounter with the ATC BBS (Apple Trading Club).

The ATC was one of the most popular trading (pirate) sites on the West Coast for Apple II software. The sysops were well known and quite cocky. Worst of all (for me), they were also good programmers. Being the new kid on the block (or "loser", as was the common label back then), I kindly mentioned the problem I was having with this backdoor to the sysop of the ATC (alias The Doctor). He said he'd gladly remove the backdoor for me. I remember sitting there watching him remotely program my computer in 6502 assembly (something I knew nothing about at the time) through his modem (and I still remember my parents asking me to hurry up so we could go eat). After some time, he finally said "Okay, I think that's it, you won't have a problem with that anymore." Of course a few days later, I walked into my room and once again saw someone call and drop to DOS from my BBS. So I immediately called the ATC and reported the violation: "Hey, I thought you said you removed that backdoor!" To which he replied: "I never said I removed it, I said I changed it; I'm the only one who knows what it is now." He claimed he changed it to the name of some band and if I could figure it out, he'd remove it for me. Well, I never figured it out so I dumped GBBS and ended up running an AE line instead.

AE=Ascii Express. It was the terminal software for the Apple II at the time. Actually, if you had an AppleCat modem, Catfur was the terminal software to have. Catfur ran only on AppleCat modems and enabled people to double the speed of their file transfers by taking advantage of the hardware within the modem. Keep in mind that in those days, the standard baud rate was 300. The AppleCats could do 1200, but only during file transfers (one end would drop carrier while the other would step up to 1200 and send the data). The AppleCats were actually very complex modems for their time, being able to also create voice/music synthesization and tone recognition (with an optional chip). You could even chat with the other user during file transfers. Well, I was a 15 year old kid without money, so the only modem I could afford was an internal 300 baud Zoom modem, thus I was forced to run AE. AE Lines were just host/server modes of the AE software, similar to the host modes of most terminal software today (Telix, Procomm). I received my first copy of AE via mail from an AE sysop known as Alex 42. He ran one of the more successful AE lines in the area and, unlike The Doctor, wasn't out to backstab unsuspecting new users.

The Shooting Star BBS became The Shooting Star AE for many months. I came to know most of the other AE sysops in the area, including Amra and The Rand(0)miser from the Hyborian AE Line, and The Crusader. Oh yes, and I can't forget to tell the stories of The Terminator! The Terminator (real name Seth, which we now speculate to be the infamous Seth Warshavsky) was a 13 year old kid who desperately wanted to run his own BBS/AE but really didn't have the knowledge or talent to do it. So instead he bothered everyone who ran a successful system to help him set up his own. I can still remember adapting my borderlines program over to run on his BBS (this was before I really knew this kid). As time went on, The Terminator began to develop a reputation for being a severe loser and a general bother to the modeming community (at least on the Apple II systems). Nobody could stand this kid and we all tried to keep him off our systems. One day The Rand(0)miser called up my AE and uploaded this program along with some documentation (which he typed using the Copy command in AE). We went into chat mode and he tells me that I'll really like this one. The program was called TDM, which stood for "Terminator's Dick Massager". The documentation mentions running the program and inserting your dick into the floppy drive, then sitting back and enjoying. And for a small fee, you can get the official TDM rag to clean up your mess! So I ran the program, a little display came up telling me to hit a key when I was ready. I hit the key, the disk drive comes on and starts making these obnoxious noises (those of us who owned Apple II computers heard it all too frequently). It was classic. If there had ever been a great rag or put-down in BBS history, this was it. I later received the source code from him and made some small modifications to the program and released TDM v1.1. One day, when I get time and jump-start the Apple II again, I'll try and get the code (in text format) over to this page along with the documentation. There were also stories of a stripper that was sent to Seth's house after a few users on The Enterprise BBS (ran by Mr. Spock) got together and paid for one. If I remember correctly, some sort of police investigation followed shortly afterwards.

Speaking of police investigations, there was also one involving Tiger's Lair BBS. Eric's board was pretty popular for finding all kinds of different text files on various subjects ranging from how to use a modem to how to build a bomb. Apparently some kid downloaded one of these bomb making files and ended up blowing his hand off. Since Eric always put his BBS name and number in these files, they easily traced it back to him as the source. I still remember him calling me one day: "The cops have been asking my neighbors if I run a BBS and saying they're looking for me, you better stash all your stuff!" That started a brief panic attack. But a day or two later he was contacted by the police and got to hear the 911 recording this kid made after blowing his hand off. I could tell by talking to him about it that it was a humbling experience and, if I remember correctly, he removed all similar files from his BBS.

As time went on, the users and sysops changed. The ATC turned into "The Sheik's Line" (I think) and eventually into "The Covert Society" which still operates to this day. Mr. Spock, who ran the Enterprise and had been around for several years already, eventually disappeared. There were other systems back then that stuck around for a few years, including PPS/ICS. ICS was this semi-huge BBS system that ran exclusively on Apple II computers. It was a combination adventure game/message base/file transfer system. ICS was actually four or five different BBS's all networked together (via Super Serial Cards) with names like "enPSS", "dsPPS", "esPPS". They were quite addicting and the sysops knew it (surprisingly, I actually ended up in tech school with one of them, Ron McRae, a few years later). Several accounts were actually owned and controlled by the sysops with names like "Mark Moberly Falcone" and "Mother Mary Fanatic" (note the initials MMF--also see spoof here). The networking features allowed you to chat/fight users on the other systems, as well as transfer messages, etc. It was quite an accomplishment for the time (at least I thought so). I remember being fascinated that when the BBS crashed to DOS, the user was unable to type anything while the sysops took over. Another adventure type system was Bongoland ran by Bongo Don. This system was also very popular, but didn't have quite the draw the ICS systems had. Eventually both the ICS systems and Bongoland disappeared from BBS history.

Other BBS's came and went, like the one ran by a Commander Su (I think that was his name) and his co-sysop, Dr. Egypt. Dr. Egypt was a newcomer who claimed to be from the East coast where most great crackers lived. He also claimed that he had cracked many games and was a member of various cracking groups. Funny thing was, I'd never heard of him before, and eventually grew to resent him. So much so that one day I hacked their BBS using a known-exploit and uploaded rewritten portions of it that allowed me to execute a trojan I had also just uploaded (and wrote). I only had one shot at doing it right, and after running the trojan, I got no response from the BBS but never knew if it completely worked. Not until I called another BBS and got pulled into chat with its sysop, Gary 7. Gary said that Commander Su called him complaining that someone took down his BBS and wondered if I knew anything about it. I pleaded ignorance, but he knew better. So he asked, "I just want to know one thing--how in the hell did you get that message to come up on his screen?" The message he was referring to said: "This is your last warning--get rid of Dr. Egypt!". At that point I knew my trojan executed correctly and also took out his hard drive. Several days later, they got their BBS back online and Dr. Egypt posted that it was a virus that took the system down. The dumb SOB was still clueless and making up lies, proving that all my doubts about him were true. They also blamed my friend, Sinister Fiend, for uploading the virus which of course was false (but entertaining). I also found out that Commander Su's father had important files saved on that hard drive--oops!

As for the Shooting Star, I eventually got ahold of some decent BBS software and heavily modified it to my liking. I also wrote several programs that were distributed across the US/Canada (DDBomb, Track Maker, PAE/PAE ProDOS). Even wrote a virus in assembly language named Doomsday, but never distributed it (until now). It randomly infected files, incremented a counter, and after 21 executions or so, wiped out the partition sector on every attached drive along with a few random sectors just for good measure. Nasty. It also had a little splash screen with a neat sound effect that I stole from the crack page of another program (Stellar 7, I believe). The cool thing is that my computer was completely protected because I had a hacked EPROM chip that had $DC burned into an unused area which made my Apple //e unique to all others in the world, and the virus checked for this! Likewise, if you changed an unused byte in the boot sector from $00 to $01 it would also render the virus harmless (so I could protect others). Why did I do all this? Because it had been done to me on multiple occasions and I wanted my own little "nuke" to fight back with. Allowing BBS users to upload executable files entertained a certain level of risk, and on at least two occasions trojans were uploaded to my BBS and I was coerced into running them, resulting in an unbootable hard drive and lost data. No anti-virus software existed back in those days!

PAE (Pseudo Ascii Express) was file transfer program developed by the Unknown Pirate for the GBBS system. It became quite popular with the DOS version of GBBS, but when Apple ProDOS finally became the standard operating system for Apple II computers, GBBS was rewritten in ProDOS and PAE was left behind. Eventually I got around to re-writing the DOS version of PAE into a ProDOS version, but only after a new product, SuperTAC (Super Total Access Control), was released (I didn't get my hands on GBBS ProDOS in time). Eventually SuperTAC was incorporated into the official GBBS software package so PAE ProDOS never gained that much popularity, even though it had features that SuperTAC didn't. There were still a few rebels who ran it, including a BBS in California. Funny thing was, some of the same variable names used in the original PAE were also used in SuperTAC! Hmmm...

When Apple finally dropped the II line (Apple IIgs was the last model made) even the last of the faithful users gave up. I was forced to learn how to use MS-DOS and the 80x86 processor. After considerable reading/practice, I eventually ported most of my Apple II BBS code over to it and began running The Shooting Star BBS under MS-DOS. PAE was also ported over into PAE MS-DOS, but I never did make it available to the public as a door (just never got around to it).

Today, I no longer run the BBS version of The Shooting Star. That was taken down in 1994 after the user base began to decline as the Internet became more and more popular. So now I have this insignificant WWW page which is fine for the time being. I've got too many other things going on anymore to devote all my free time to programming and running a BBS. Besides that, the modeming community has changed drastically over the past 10 years. It used to be full of hobbyists who knew a lot about computers and were developing new ideas. Now it's more commercialized with corporations getting involved. And the general computer user is no longer that hobbyist/hacker, but someone who is just out there exploring. Trying to run a successful BBS without having multi-line support and chat forums is almost impossible. And with the Internet making its presence known, if you don't have support for it on your BBS, it's just one more reason not to call. So I've decided to pass on the current situation and wait to see what develops.


PS- I hope to include links to actual documents/files from the Apple II days in the future. I still have old userlists, text files, and programs. First I'll have to see if that old Sider ][ 20 meg HD will power up! (yes, I still have my original //e).

[Update 4/2/2010]: Several files are now available here.

Hey! Did you know that you can run old Apple II software in your browser? Check out the Virtual Apple ][.

[Shooting Star BBS]