Whatever Happened to the Artsy Fartsy BBS?


by Roxanne Tellier

In the nineties, I ran the Artsy Fartsy Bulletin Board System out of my home for several years. Those were the days of 2400 baud modems and the scree scraw weeeeeeeeeekkkk!!! sound of the connection soon became a part of my every waking and sleeping moment.

In those days, tens of thousands of hobbyists around the globe ran primarily text-based boards, where users could exchange messages, upload and download files, (often pirated) play games, and generally hang out with other computer geeks.

leisure suit larryThese boards were in someone’s home, and that system operator (sysop) could see what the incoming caller was doing, since their actions scrolled by on the sysop’s own monitor. Sometimes a sysop would break into your session for a one-on-one chat, which was always a little bit of a fanboy experience. The sysop controlled entry – they could disallow your admission, or give you access to the ‘secret’ files you craved, like the latest version of FileMaker Pro or the naughty Leisure Suit Larry video games. And all you knew about this person was that they were probably as cuckoo for computers as you were.

Roxanne Online We ComputeThe boards were personal, they were usually rather unprofessional, messy, and run by teenage boys, and the boards were often geared to special interests. For about three years I wrote a bbs column, Roxanne Online!, for We Compute!, a monthly paper I helped launch, describing local boards, how to access them, and how to find boards that catered to your personal needs.

(I still have all of the clippings of those columns, and someday I intend to scan them, and upload the texts to a website. Patience, padawan.)

Only the cognoscenti, the nerds like myself who used local bbs boards, could foresee that this ability to communicate, pretty much for free, with likeminded people around the world, was the future. I loved being a bbs user, and when my old friend, Iain Grant, offered to set me up a board on my own PC, I jumped at the opportunity.

I became friends with many of Toronto’s FidoNet Region 12 Net 250 sysops along the way, getting to know people like Craig Hastings, Paul Chvostek, Don O’Shaughnessy, Luke Kolin, James Korolas, and Loralie Freeman, many of whom I remain in contact with today.

Over time, and as I trawled the Net Echos for fun, I came to know and eventually spend a lot of quality online time with, some of the denizens of the FidoNet Writing Echo. Each of the writers, whether their writing was yet in print or not, had interesting details to share about their work, and publishing. Pakki Chipps, Laurie Campbell, Rocky Frisco, Dennis Havens, George Willard, Jack Lynch, Billie Sue Mosiman, Shalanna Collins, Lisa Peppan, Carl Thames, Pamela Dean Dyer-Bennet, Diane Lamoureaux, Kevin R. Tipple, Karen Rhodes, Jack Ruttan, Douglas Rhodes, Rich/Rachel Veraa, Michael Nellis, Patrick Goodman, Rebecca Bohner were just a few of the people I would never have encountered, had I not discovered this wonderful online world.

And it was a very egalitarian world. When you chatted with people, you only knew as much as they’d decide to tell you. Anyone could present as any gender, race, or sexual preference. No one was ‘The Boss.’ the horseman

While most of us used our real names, there were a few who preferred to be known by a pseudonym. George Willard, aka Mark Matthews, was an ‘animal lover’ in the carnal sense, and his book, “The Horseman,” got him and his ‘bride,’ Pixel the Pony, as guests on a Jerry Springer TV episode that was the one episode Springer never aired. It was a very long time until the episode became available at all, and then, only on some rather shady video tapes.

I met Pakki Chipps ‘in real life’ soon after my mother died. I had mentioned in an online post that I needed to go somewhere and heal, and she immediately messaged me to say she was preparing a room in which I could stay, and that her daughter Weyla was already out picking flowers for the room.

sooke bcAnd that’s how I came to stay on a reserve in Sooke, BC, where I spent a week doing nothing but relaxing on verdant hills and exploring rain forests with someone whom I had previously only known online.

Many of us were musicians as well as writers. Rocky Frisco was a true Oklahoman character, adept at many fields. He’d been a race car drive, a disc jockey, a writer, an actor, and JJ Cale’s goto keyboardist from 1957 until Cale’s death in 2013. Rocky’s Wikipedia entry is a study in just how much one man can pack into a life. I was honoured to finally meet him when he played The Phoenix with Cale in 2002.

I would often feel that this entree into the online world was slightly unreal. I’ll never forget the time we were on vacation in Florida. We drove up to a Miami medical treatment centre, where we had arranged to have coffee with Rich Veraa, a writer who was a resident there. As we pulled up to the centre, I saw two men in wheelchairs – one white and one black – and realized that I had no idea what this long time friend actually looked like. It was an ‘aha!’ moment for me; in the future, I realized, people could be whomever they wanted to be online, unconstrained by any reality. For good OR ill.

rachel veraaSomewhere along the line, Rich Veraa became Rachel Veraa, but not many of us gave it a lot of thought. People lived their lives as they pleased, and most of us didn’t care what you got up to, as long as you had something interesting to share in your writing.

Not having met most of these writers in person was no impediment to very long, very strong friendships. Although the Writing Echo is long gone, I still stay in touch with many of it’s denizens, on Facebook, and thru the Writing Tavern Google group. I get to read the exploits of Laurie Campbell, as she and her husband prepare to return to New Zealand in retirement, and Dennis Havens can be counted on to keep me in the loop of what he’s been up to in his writing, and in the music world, where his past as a life long Vegas musician and composer of many a Sousa flavoured march makes him a delightful raconteur.

billie sueThe first time I encountered one of Billie Sue Mosiman‘s horror tales (she wrote over a hundred novels, and was also a well-respected editor of horror anthologies) I was a little bit in awe of actually having this talented woman as a ‘pen pal.’ I often think about how she would describe accompanying her beloved husband Lyle, a long distance trucker, while she sat in the cab and wrote to the rhythm of the road. Billie Sue loved her man, her little dogs, and her life, all with equal passion.

wiremanTo look at her, Billie Sue looks like a typical Southern belle (born someplace like Mobile, Alabama, I think) with no more concerns than the cotillion and whether there’s enough Spanish Moss on the oak trees adorning the plantation house… okay, I’m being silly again—I know those sorts of Southern belles went out about the time the carpetbaggers invaded the Deep South after the War of Northern Aggression, as some call it. Although she lives in Texas (or Alabama, I’m never quite sure) with her husband Lyle, I don’t think they can afford a plantation or would want one if they could. And probably the cotillion would be the last thing on her mind—unless as a setting for a massacre; she’s been a full-time writer for years, and her favourite genres are (surprise!) thrillers and horror/fantasy, at least judging by what she’s been publishing lately. The first book of hers I read was called Wireman, about a singular serial killer who used piano wire to garrote his victims. And she looks so normal!” (from AmazingStories.Com/2015)

pamela dean tam linEvery time I pick up one of Pamela Dean‘s wonderful science fiction or fantasy novels, I marvel again at how lucky I’ve been to have had access to her generous sharing of writing and publishing knowledge over the last three decades.

Times were very different, pre the sort of Internet connectivity we now take for granted. You probably didn’t know what a BBS was unless someone you knew was a hobbyist. Most people were actually a little afraid of computers in general; when I applied to be the executive secretary of the CN Tower‘s food and beverage director, the job involved working on one of the only five computers in total that were in use in the executive offices at that time.

first IBM PCTimes changed pretty quickly, though. We went from, “computers! too scary!” to “How does this thing work, and why do I have a steamer trunk full of AOL starter discs?” almost overnight. Prodigy and CompuServe also got into the game, and soon the internet was so intertwined with the corporate world that any sense of the intimacy or personality of the bbs days was gone. When the internet went viral in the late nineties, it was the computer equivalent of the dinosaurs being wiped out by comets – one day BBSes were there, and the next … poof! Gone.

Though – in the beginning, none of the majors really sounded much different than they had back in the 2400 baud modem days.

 

It was right around that time that we were moving from our home in the east end of Toronto to a bungalow in Scarborough, and that seemed like a good time to shut down the Artsy Fartsy, and put the home pc to better use, making a living, working from home (which was ALSO considered an impossible ‘ask’ for the average office worker in the mid nineties. Old school bosses just didn’t believe they’d get an honest day’s work out of anyone whom they couldn’t see by a quick glance around the workplace.)

BBSes were the gateway drug that allowed many computer geeks to get involved with the Internet, well before the hordes arrived. There’d have been no eBay, PayPal, or Youtube without the hobbyists who were the first to see the potential of a worldwide connectivity.

These days, what with our dependence on smart phones, and the ubiquitous
hyper-connectedness of the internet, most of the social media sites tend to feel more like corporate-sponsored trips to the mall.

Our interactions with friends and family (and Russian trolls) are interspersed with cute animal videos and products tailored to the information big data firms glean from our conversations, enabling big corporations to better target what they’ve decided we need in our lives, all for a pretty price.

It’s slick, and professional, and very corporate, impersonal to a fault. And it’s not anywhere near as fun as the bulletin board systems of the nineties.

You just had to be there.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today


When you are smack dab in the middle of massive change, it’s nearly impossible to parse what is going on all around you.

hippies love not warBaby boomers have been there a few times. The chaos of the sixties, when the world suddenly went from belonging to your parents, to belonging to you and your like-minded friends – remember that?

That same sort of massive overturning of the status quo happened again around 1998, and most of us just rolled with it, not realizing how irrevocably our world was about to change. Once again, the world was being handed over to a new generation, and those who wanted to keep current, were about to be sent back to school or risk being considered a dinosaur.

tech change computers

A few weeks ago, a Facebook buddy, Walter Frith, posted something that I can’t stop mulling over in my mind … how is it that I lived in the middle of a complete technological upheaval, and never felt so much as a tremor?

Walter wrote, ” I’m watching the first season of The West Wing again for the zillionth time and having begun in the 20th century, it’s a hoot seeing the occasional typewriter, enormous video cameras, referencing the Encyclopedia Britannica with no mention of smartphones, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Twitter, all of which had not been invented yet. Watching a political drama series without ANY reference to social media seems almost absurd now but the times were what they were back then, 19 years to be exact.”

… mind … blown …..

I was actually working in tech back then – first at Oracle, then as a writer and sales person for the Canadian rags Toronto Computes, then The Computer Paper, and finally We Compute!

old cell phonesFrom Parade Magazine:
The Evolution of the Cell Phone
• 1973 – The first cell phone. The phone Martin Cooper designed for Motorola weighed 2.5 pounds and had a battery life of 20 minutes.
• 1983 – Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. …
• 1984 – The Nokia Mobira Talkman. …
• 1995 – The Motorola StarTAC. …
• 1996 – The Nokia 8110. …
• 1998 – The Nokia 5110. …
• 2004 – Motorola Razr. …
• 2007 – The iPhone.

I had a cell phone in the late eighties, early nineties, but it was enormous, and cost hundreds of dollars a month to service. Very few people, beyond those who could write it off as a business expense, bothered with cell phones back then.

We moved to Scarborough in 1998, and I found a new career selling collectibles on eBay (which had debuted in 1995.) Most of my transactions were done by cheque or money order, until PayPal launched in 1999, and forever changed international commerce.

There was no Wikipedia prior to 2001, and though it may feel like you’ve always been on Facebook, that site launched in 2004, eventually burying MySpace, which had launched in 2003.

Youtube came along in 2005, and Twitter arrived in 2006. Mixtapes were effectively put out to pasture when Spotify debuted in North America in 2011.

And the smartphones .. ohhhh the smartphones! It was 2007 before we began arguing over which iteration of LG, Samsung or iPhone was best. Can you imagine that? In only eleven years, trillions of dollars have been generated for an industry that didn’t even exist before 1973.

It’s hard to envisage how we lived prior to all of this tech. Cast your mind back to 9/11, for instance. At that point, with almost no one being on any form of social media, the North American phone network became impassable in hours, as we all tried to connect with people who might have been affected by the tragedy.

The cell phone changed our life. The smart phone put an incredibly powerful computer into our pockets and purses. And most of us can’t envision leaving the house without that lifeline.

You know what else didn’t exist, even ten years ago? The iPad (2010,) and tablets in general. Uber (2009) and Lyft (2012,) AirBnB (2007,) Pinterest (2010,) 4Square (2012,) Instagram (2010,) and KickStarter (2009.)

And that’s just a few of the apps we believe we can longer live without .. and we have no idea what leaps and bounds of thought and tech might be coming down the pipeline to blow our minds in the 2020s.

There’s only one way that this relentless tech explosion could feasibly be stopped – if someone, a powerful person, so out of touch, so narcissistic and so megalomaniac, believed that it was within his right to take over the heart of current tech – the cell phone – and bend it to his needs.

That would be a bridge too far, I believe, and might even cause those who rely on the convenience of this ‘computer in their pocket,’ to opt out … to reject the very instrument that has become their lifeline to the rest of the world.trump on cell

But that would never happen .. right?

 

oh oh ….

 

 

 

Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City


Bruce Springsteen’s refusal to play North Carolina because of new, drastic LGBT laws might have shocked some people, but it didn’t surprise me at all.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band cancelled their Greensboro, NC concert because of the state’s new law blocking anti-discrimination rules for the LGBTQ community. The so called “bathroom law” clause in the bill forbids transgender people from using the restroom that matches the gender they identify with, and that’s a real problem for transgendered people.

missippi bathroom lawsSo far, North Carolina is just the latest state to go this route, following in the footsteps of Mississippi and those looking to do something similar: Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin.   As of last Tuesday, the National Center for Transgender Equality was tracking 49 bills across America, 32 of which dealt with bathroom access. More than a third (12) of those bathroom bills are still actively being considered.

From Funny or Die …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqASSN5S2CI

Also tucked inside North Carolina’s HB2 act is a sneaky little Trojan horse that strips workers in the state of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, a right that has been upheld in court since 1985. “If you were fired because of your race, fired because of your gender, fired because of your religion, you no longer have a basic remedy,” said Allan Freyer, head of the Workers’ Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh.

Conservative media and internet pundits sprang to attention at Springsteen’s decision. Most postings were sad admissions of the lack of truly ‘conservative ‘artists, and the pain it caused them to  have to be exposed to thoughts unlike their own, all in the name of entertainment. Like this poor fellow …

 “if I refused to watch any movie or show, listen to any music or laugh at any jokes by people who are flaming liberals, entertainment options would probably come down to a choice between Ron White or watching paint dry.”

States-transgender-lawRepublican Mark Walker unwisely weighed in on the controversy. “I consider this a bully tactic. It’s like when a kid gets upset and says he’s going to take his ball and go home.”

No, sir – it’s the state that’s doing the bullying. Springsteen is reacting to discrimination, and the loss of civil rights, levied by the state. And so is PayPal, recently cancelling its plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte, that would have employed 400 people, following the passage of the law. Add to that basketball great Charles Barkley, who has urged the National Basketball Association to move its All-Star Game next year away from Charlotte, N.C., unless the law is repealed.

Springsteen’s been down this road before – remember Sun City?

sun city artists againstSpringsteen, Steve Van Zandt, producer Arthur Baker and journalist Danny Schechter gathered  together what rock critic Dave Marsh called  “the most diverse line up of popular musicians ever assembled for a single session,” in 1985 to record an album, and video, protesting apartheid in South Africa. The artists also pledged to never perform at Sun City, as long as apartheid was an issue. The group were dubbed Artists United Against Apartheid.

The Sun City video, described by Schecter as “a song about change not charity, freedom not famine,” featured  Miles Davis , Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run–D.M.C., Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Clarence Clemons, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, Jackson Browne, Daryl Hannah, Bono, Peter Wolf, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Stiv Bators, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil Scott-Heron, Nona Hendryx, Lotti Golden, Lakshminarayana Shankar and Joey Ramone, with the signature background vocal sound created by Lotti Golden, B.J.Nelson and Tina B.

From Wikipedia: “The song “Sun City” was only a modest success in the US, reaching #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1985. Only about half of American radio stations played “Sun City,” with some objecting to the lyrics’ explicit criticism of President Ronald Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement.” Meanwhile, “Sun City” was a major success in countries where there was little or no radio station resistance to the record or its messages, reaching #4 in Australia, #10 in Canada and #21 in the UK. The song was banned in South Africa.”

Said Jackson Browne at the time, “Sun City’s become a symbol of a society which is very oppressive and denies basic rights to the majority of its citizens. In a sense, Sun City is also a symbol of that society’s ‘right’ to entertain itself in any way that it wants to, to basically try to buy us off and to buy off world opinion.”

Could the Boss have seen North Carolina’s new law as anything other than “very oppressive and a denial of basic rights?”  Of course not.

The apartheid regime in South Africa finally ended in 1994.But injustice and discrimination flourish around the world.

Almost unknown, and virtually invisible, is a newer group against apartheid, this time in artists against apartheidthe Middle East. (ArtistsAgainstApartheid.org). No matter which side of the political fence you or your country are on, this group has the right to organize and protest.

“Artists Against Apartheid Declaration of 2010: Artists Against Apartheid is an international alliance committed to Equal Rights and Justice, and the elimination of apartheid in our world. While crimes of apartheid are ongoing in Palestine-Israel, we will stand in solidarity with the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS,) and the cultural boycott of Israel.”

A quick search on ‘artists against discrimination’ nets hundreds of thousands of results, from all over the globe, from Australia, to France, and to Mexico, with all stops in between and around.

We don’t hear much about the Guerrilla Girls, a protest group launched in 1985, that call themselves “the conscience of the art world.”  And as they admit, after 30 years of protest, there’s been very little change.

ageism after sexismNor do we hear about the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receiving more than 19,000 age discrimination complaints in each of the past two years.

That’s why it’s important when artists of Springsteen’s stature take a stance on injustice. As he said, he could have confined himself to making a political statement from the stage during the concert, but cancelling the concert, which officials have told the media will cost the Greensboro Coliseum a loss of about $100,000, “ is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”

Most of us can’t make a big dent on injustice. The old saw about ‘voting with your wallet’ can certainly help turn the tide in some commercial issues,  but when governments pass laws that cause companies to decide against investing in your state, and artists to refuse to entertain you, the dilemma that the Religious Right and many Republican states must face becomes clear … as much as you may want and need jobs and entertainment, you’re gonna have to decide which is more important –  your fiscal duties or your need to control other peoples’ genitalia.

Indiana – The Sting In The Tale


It almost seems redundant to once again revisit the events in Indiana of several weeks ago. And I wouldn’t even bother, except that I’ve seen several items on the television and in the media that miss a very important part of the story.

indiana stampIn a nutshell – Indiana Governor Mike Pense signed SB 101 into law on March 26, 2015. The bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was a variation of a similar bill that 19 other states had enacted. There was a slight difference with Indiana’s version, however, since the bill carried with it a significant risk of discrimination or refusal of service state wide to the LGBT population.

Before the bill had even been signed, several large companies with business in Indiana threatened to withdraw from any further dealings with the state. The bill was signed despite those protests.

indiana how stupidWithin hours, social media had erupted in fury, and businesses and other municipalities began to announce a boycott of the state, including CEOs from Angies’ List, Salesforce Marketing, Apple, PayPal, Anthem Inc., Eli Lilly, Cummins, Emmis, Roche, Dow AgroSciences. Mayors of some other American cities would no longer allow their representatives to visit Indiana on the jurisdictional dime.  As the potential loss of income and taxes mounted into the hundreds of millions of dollars, the Governor began to back pedal on his decision, first announcing that the bill was simply being misunderstood, and then admitting that they would be putting amendments into the act, in an effort to calm the troubled waters.

In the midst of this chaos, a video was released that quickly went viral on Youtube. The owner of a small mom and pop pizzeria was filmed saying that their business would refuse to cater gay weddings.gay wedding pizza

The story was that ABC-57 reporter Alyssa Marino  walked into a random shop – Memories Pizzeria –  in the small town of Walkerton (Population 2,300),  and asked owner Crystal O’Connor how the business felt about Indiana’s new Act. Her reply was that she was in favour of it, noting that while anyone could eat in her family restaurant, if the business were asked to cater a gay wedding, they would not do it. It conflicted with their biblical beliefs. The question was entirely hypothetical, as the business had never been asked to cater a same-sex wedding.

The backlash was immediate. Within 24 hours, after numerous emails, phone calls, and threats from bodily harm to bomb threats, the business was closed. memories pizza

But within hours of the reportage, a GoFundMe page had appeared, with donations being sent to the family to offset their financial downfall. The page was shut down after 3 days, when donations reached over $840,000 dollars.

http://www.gofundme.com/MemoriesPizza

At the time, I thought the funding page was set up by a journalist who actually understood and empathized with the chaos that poor couple had been sucked into, based on a response to a hypothetical and malicious question by an opportunistic media. If that was the case, and based on how eagerly the public will turn on anyone for any perceived racism, sexism or other ism, I could only wish the couple well, and applaud the journalist’s actions. It’s the little guy, the Joe Public, who often winds up used and tossed aside in a ‘scandal’ such as this, and my concern was that they not be left penniless for their inadvertent martyrdom to their religious beliefs.

If only that high-minded sentiment had been true. And here’s where so many reporting on the situation have dropped the ball. As it turned out, the entire stunt was cooked up by a contributor to Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze. The contributor, Lawrence Jones, set up the page, and is also a political operative who has worked with James O’Keefe from Project Veritas as an “investigator” who has been involved with other political grandstanding in the past, including an attempt to “expose” fraud among “Obamacare Navigators” in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. the blaze indiana

Lawrence Jones did not altruistically set up the GoFundMe page to help the Pizzeria or its owners; the page was set up to create divisiveness and to establish an “us against them” mentality, pitting religious Christians and their beliefs against the 5% of the country who identify as non-heterosexual.

I learned a lot about the world, and myself, during that week. I learned that most of us who live in a technological world are hyper-aware of events in other parts of the world, over which we have little or no control. knee jerk reactionsI learned that politically inclined, social media addicts – like myself – tend to leap to conclusions, and knee-jerk into a strong left or right position. Some of those addicts will respond to those events with far too much enthusiasm, ramping up from their role of “concerned citizen” to “potential arsonist’ in the blink of an eye.

my right to discriminateWe may be brimming with good intentions, and righteous beliefs, but those beliefs have to be tempered with the knowledge that there are human beings being effected by our enthusiasm. It’s a very fine line between standing up for our own rights, and taking rights away from others.

I also learned that those of good hearts have to be constantly on the defensive against those with radical ideologies, whether religious or non-religious,  who seek to manipulate those kind hearts for their own gain, and perceived political support.

Universal-KindAnd the most interesting thing I learned along the way was that many of my friends who identify as LGBT were completely unaware of the bill, or any of the events that followed the bill’s signing. That in itself was sociologically fascinating – it would seem that the most incensed and obsessed torch bearers were not those directly effected by the bill. We who sprang into action were more concerned that those we love or care about, be they hetero or homosexual, be respected for their diversity and rights, as human beings. Human beings are not toys to be used as political playthings.

Define-PoliticsIn every society, there is a wide spectrum of beliefs. The key to an advanced and civilized society is to respect EVERY member who dwells within. Pitting citizens against each other, especially for political gain, is a dirty ploy that should not be rewarded by putting those divisive elements into power.