Explaining Tcpser for VICE

Ubuntu 5 Comments »

Recently I decided that I wanted to run another Color64 BBS. I don’t have any of my Commodore hardware nor do I have room in the junk room my wife calls my “office”. So I went looking for a way to emulate it. I needed to use what I had around me. Which in this case was a machine I had running Vista that was flaky. So I put Linux on it. Low and behold, the issues I had with Windows disappeared. That and suddenly I had access to software that wasn’t easy to setup in Windows.

People kept telling me that others had run a BBS in emulators but I wasn’t able to find hardly any information on how to do it. The only information I found was how to hook a real C64 up to a PC or how to use a hacked version of VICE on Windows machines. Both ways referred to using a program called “tcpser” with some commands you had to go on blind faith that they would work. They didn’t explain those commands. Tcpser on Linux has a man page, but there are still mysteries on how to use it properly with an emulator. So let me explain what I have found out.

This information should work for all versions of tcpser. My examples will be with Ubuntu 12.04 distribution of Linux. First we need to download it. Ubuntu bundles everything we need for it. Just use  sudo apt-get install tcpser

Next we run the command in a terminal window. The window has to stay open the whole time the BBS is running. Unless you detach the process with something like tmux. But that’s something for a different day. 🙂

Let me explain what this command is doing. It doesn’t seem to be documented well enough for a newbie to understand it well. 🙂

  • -v 25232   This is the port tcpser will present a virtual modem to VICE on. In this case we chose 25232. This can be any port as long as it is free.
  • -p 6400   Tells tcpser what port to listen for incoming “calls” on. In this case we chose 6400. Once again, it can be any open port that other services aren’t using. This is the port the caller will be connecting to.
  • -tSs  Activates the S & s Trace flags. This is entirely optional. The ‘S’ is to put modem output to stdout. The ‘s’ sends modem input to stdout.
  • -l 7 This is the logging level. In this case we chose the most verbose of 7 just to see how it works. You can also choose 0 which is the default of no logging, or 1 which only shows fatal errors. Those three levels were the only I could find in the documentation.
  • -i "k0"  This is the initialization string. It takes most of the commands in the Hayes ‘AT’ command set. In this case we are only setting flow control to none. If the BBS software doesn’t know how to answer an incomming call (I don’t know why it wouldn’t. But you never know right. 🙂 ) you could also put “s0=1” to answer on the first ring.
  • -s 1200  This will report the incoming call as 1200 baud all of the time. Make sure VICE is set to that baud rate. If not you will get Frame Errors and probably be frustrated as to why this doesn’t work.
  • -N "/tmp/noanswer.txt"  This command points to a text file that will be sent to the caller if the software on the receiving port fails to issue the  ata command. Make sure tcpser has permissions to read this file. I chose /tmp/ as everyone should have access to that folder. You might want to chose /etc or /var though.
  • -B "/tmp/busy.txt"  Points to a text file to be sent if the server is already taking a call. This way someone trying to access your board knows at least that you are up and haven’t crashed or abandoned your hobby. The same permissions and folder warnings apply for this as the -N command above.

Armed with this information you should be able to set up your “modem” to either call other BBS’s or setup your own BBS. If you discover my settings to be wrong or have new insight I overlooked please add it to the comments or send me an email. It took some time for me to figure out how to use tcpser correctly, hopefully this will save someone just a little time.

BBS from an iPad

BBS, Color 64, Commodore 64 No Comments »

I miss running a BBS. That was back when you actually felt like YOU controlled the computer, not the other way around. These days even programmers don’t understand why the computer is acting up. It seems to take a village of IT people just to run a word processor.

That’s not how it always used to be. Back in the 90’s when I ran a BBS with Color64 on a Commodore 64 it only took one person to run the whole show. Not that it was a big show or very long running. Mine was canceled after about two years. And for good reason, it wasn’t very interesting. I didn’t have much software available to download and I wasn’t able to locate a ton of BBS ‘doors’ as they were called to play games on. Though I had a few.

My absolute favorite was called Nuke Em. In Nuke Em you played as a country and had to buy various parts of missiles and build a missile stockpile. Once you had a stock pile the only logical and fun thing to do is nuke your enemies. While that sounds more like real life now, back then it was fun. Like when as a boy I played ‘War’. Now days if my son asked to play ‘War’ I wouldn’t let him for fear that he would be shot by accident by the police. Not that police are wrong mind you, they just have a very tough job. And when they make mistakes, that’s all you hear about for a week on the news.

Anyways, back to the BBS, I also wasn’t able to generate much conversations on my board either. Considering that I maybe had 25 members that only wanted to download software I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me. But boy did I have grandiose dreams for that board. So I have been looking for a way to run Color64 again.

I don’t really have room or access to run a real C64. But even if I did it seems that the only instructions on the Internet today seem to require using a Windows system as the interface to the net. And since I am not made out of money I am using what I have available, an old PC I thought was dead running Linux. And I can’t seem to find ANYWHERE for step by step to run Color64 on VICE and get it to pick up the line when someone ‘calls’ in.

So I am doing the next best thing. Writing software to emulate the experience for me. Which is a HUGE undertaking. One of the issues is terminal emulation. Commodore computers used a customized keyboard to display text in a different way then other computers. This allowed them to have graphics in text. (See the homepage for an example.) Even HTML won’t do that as easily as the Commodore did.

Another issue with terminal emulation is nobody sits still. How much time do you spend in front of a laptop or desktop vs a phone or tablet? I spend a lot of time with a laptop but that’s at work. To really have fun I need to be able to access the BBS from a tablet or phone. That means emulate the experience of sitting behind my Commodore 64 in HTML so I can use my iPad to play those games. That’s a tough order. But one I might be able to accomplish by the time my kids emulate the XBox 360 to relive their youth like I am doing with the Atari 2600 now. So check back from time to time. Hopefully I will be able to post links to this project so everyone can experience those two Mountain Dew fueled years close to how I did. (Minus the heart problems I am sure all of that caffeine I drank will cause. And late nights spent fixing a door to work.)

Hello world!

Uncategorized No Comments »

Ok, well I have thought about blogging for a long time. But I just never thought I would have enough to say that anyone would be interested in. Then my Wife asked if I could setup a blog for her so she could blog about food. Of course I will do just about anything for the Wife. So I dove into WordPress. Man, I couldn’t have been happier. It was so easy to setup and modify. So here is my Blog. Where I will post about anything that comes into my mind. Which these days is Color64 BBS, Commodore 64, and retro gaming. And the various web projects I find myself drawn to create to hopefully make life a little easier. So I hope you like it. Drop me a line and let me know.

World’s smallest arcade machine

Arcade Games No Comments »

I ran across this article and thought it was interesting. It was about the world’s smallest video game cabinet. I wouldn’t want to have to create my own games for it but it was inventive. I have always dreamed of building my own cabinet because I thought real cabinets were out of my price range and I don’t know that I could stomach defacing a cabinet to put either a MAME machine in it or another arcade board. Lucky for me this isn’t an issue. I don’t have the space nor the money to build my own. So hat’s off to Mark Slevinsky for a really cool hack.

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