CBBS, The First BBS

networkA bulletin board system or BBS is a computer system running software that allows users to dial into the system over a phone line and, using a terminal program, perform functions such as downloading software and data, uploading data, playing games, reading news, and exchanging messages with other users.The BBS heyday was from the late 70s to the late 90s. Originally much of the information was plain text and ANSI art. The phenomenon sported it’s own magazines and BBS networks that provided a variety of different access, gateways, message boards, and information. With the rise of commercial internet access, the systems lost popularity.

The first BBS in existence was the CBBS (Computerized Bulletin Board System). Originally a computer program created by Ward Christiansen to allow him and other members of the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists Exchange to share information with each other, he created a protocol that enabled the sending of binary files over a modem. After further experimentation during a raging blizzard that struck Chicago that winter, Christiansen and friend Randy Suess put together the hardware and software for the system. On February 16th, 1978, the CBBS was online.

At the time, the internet wasn’t much and users had to dial in to the CBBS computer via modem directly. Although users could only access it one at a time, the CBBS spawned an entire community of BBS systems that have lasted well into the modern age. The advent of the internet took alot of the thunder away from BBS systems, but CBBS helped foster some of the original ideas behind user forums and message boards. CBBS lives on today to an extent with the invite-only forum on Suess’ website, chinet.com

Speak N Spell

speaknspell2The Speak N Spell learning aid functioned much like a parent preparing a student for a spelling quiz. It would say the word, allow the pressing of keys labeled with the alphabet to spell out the word, then report on the result of the effort.

An outgrowth of Texas Instrument’s basic research in synthetic speech, the product was designed to help children seven and up learn how to spell and pronounce more than 200 commonly misspelled words. Solid State Speechâ„¢ was an entirely new concept which stored words in a solid-state memory much like a calculator stores numbers.

Speak N Spell employed an entirely new concept in speech reproduction. Unlike tape recorders and pull-string phonograph records used then in many “speaking” toys, the Solid State Speech circuitry had no moving parts. When it was told to say something, it drew a word from memory, processed it through an integrated circuit model of a human vocal tract and then spoke electronically. In its main mode of operation, Speak N Spell randomly selected a word and pronounced it in standard American English. A child pressed the unit’s alphabetic keys to spell the word, which appeared, letter by letter, on an eight-character display screen. Right answers earned verbal and visual praise; wrong answers received patient encouragement to try again. A number of games were offered to intrigue children of all ages.