[UFO Chicago] what draws you here?

Nick Moffitt nick@zork.net
Mon, 28 Jan 2002 18:00:11 -0800

I used to be a big fan of Citadel BBSes.  They originated in Seattle,
and were made popular in New Jersey as well.  They were the ultimate
form of elegant design for low-bandwidth links.  THree keys got you
just about everywhere you needed (Goto, read New, and Enter message).
As the original author once wrote:

> Citadel is a room-structured message system. The fundamental design
> goal is to provide a congenial forum conducive to interesting
> discussions. The software is intended to be as unobtrusive,
> unintrusive and unconstraining as possible. In software as
> elsewhere, good engineering is whatever gets the job done without
> calling attention to itself. -- Cynbe ru Taren, 1982

The big thing about Citadels was that Cynbe (and, traditionally, all
other developers) released their source code into the public domain.
The BBS itself was often a discussion forum for the development of
Citadel itself.

One such BBS, Eskimo North Port, went through its history from a Z-80
CP/M box to an Amiga running Cit68k to a bunch of Sun-3s and 4s.  The
sys(op|admin), Robert Dinse (nanook@eskimo.com) even wrote a funny
cit-like shell on top of usenet, and made the whole system look like a
BBS (you could always get your own shell via ! or set your default
shell to bash or tcsh instead of the eskimo BBS shell).

So we had a big community on this large central shell server.  It was
one of the first US sites to join the then largely Finnish IRC
network.  I remember the Finns looked down on us Merkins as latecomers
and would often boot us from their channels.  This was before EFNet
even existed.  

SO I got some huffy help with SunOS, poked around in various dirs, and
generally learned to use Unix.  I had played trek on a 4.3BSD box (for
sufficiently refrigerator-sized values of "box") as a younger child,
but had never really got into using Unix.

So ultimately when I found out about the FSF and project GNU, I was
really excited.  A lot of people on the cit network bandied about the
term "copyleft" (in retrospect, not knowing thing one about what it
was actually about), and I had come to love the feeling of community
development that came from citadel's workings.

But the days of the BBS were limited, and the Internet was not ruled
by DOS.  I had the choice, and I made the disastrous first step of
going to OS/2.  I read the Unix Hater's Guidebook and sneered at Unix
like a worn old Lisp Machine user.  But eventually through all that
flaming of Unix, I realized that I had actually learned it better than
I ever thought i had on Eskimo.

So I finally gave up and wiped OS/2 and set up foo.usfca.edu as a
slackware box.  Ultimately that box was compromised, and I set up a
Dec Multia (alpha) with Red Hat as zork.net.  The Multia outlived its
usefulness, and I finally bought real hardware and set up the current
Debian box.

My real learning of Unix came from a few experiences:
	- seeing it as a "place" where hundreds of people coexisted
	  and helped me out.
	- learning the flames and architectural blemishes inside-out
	  helped me to understand the fundamental design philosophy.
	- learning the flames left me astounded when I realized "oh,
	  they fixed that?"
	- Learning Perl, then finding out that shell and awk did the
	  same things, but better.

	01234567 <- The amazing* indent-o-meter! 
        ^	    (*: Indent-o-meter may not actually amaze.)