Getting back to Fidonet

About a few dozen years ago I have become a member of Fidonet community, long before the Internet became available in the small city of Kerch. It was a great time, I must say. Being an introvert, I found it hard to communicate with people in person, so Fidonet became a great source of communication for me. One way mostly, I preferred reading over writing. Regardless of that, I have managed to find a few great friends. But that is another story.

I was fascinated by the way FTN network worked. Being a nerd, it was not enough just to use Fidonet, I just had to look under the hood. I ended up writing a few FTN GUI tools in Delphi, which I learned thanks to one of my Fidonet new friends. One of the tools was called Attach Manager, it was designed to help to send files over Fidonet by creating Binkley-style outbound packets in the mailer’s outbound directory. It sure was fun creating that tool, and learning more about how FTN work. It was also flattering that other community members started to use this piece of software as well.

Shortly after, I have decided to become an unofficial Node. I could not become a real one, because we only had one phone line, and I had to share it with my mom. Well, actually it was she who was sharing it with me. Anyway, I grabbed a next free node number from the nodelist, did setup mailer and Echo Processor, and kind of forced my friends to become my points, which wasn’t too hard as my phone line were good enough to transfer data at 33.6 Baud/s (we’re talking dial-up modem here). Sure thing I wasn’t able to push mail to my uplinks, so everything stayed local.

I don’t remember how Fidonet started to fade. I guess I was too excited about the Internet becoming available in my hometown. Soon I stooped using Fidonet at all. As a data-hoarder, I wonder if I still have the last version of my Fido folder, burned somewhere on a CD-R.

And now, to get back on topic of getting back 20 years later, I need to say just one word – Nostalgia. It got me bad. I was browsing Reddit and at some point, I stumbled across the post about the BBS stations that are still up and running in the United States. I started the Telnet (thanks Apple for removing it from High Sierra) and hopped in. I don’t know what could time travelers possibly feel, but I am pretty sure they would feel something similar to what I felt. Falling through the rabbit hole straight back into the room in my mom’s apartment I was living in the late 90s, facing the well-forgotten unknown. And forgotten it was. Literally. I was trying to remember how things worked in Fidonet, and I could not. I have forgotten how to configure the software to work with Fidonet, I have forgotten how Attach Manager used to work (and even look), I only remembered a few names from the list of the software I used to keep my unofficial Node station working. T-Mail, FastEcho, and Golded. From here I started my journey.

Through the Doc’s Place BBS  I have posted a message to the POINTS area board, asking if there are Nodes who are still accepting new Points. And oh boy, I have got a reply! The SysOp of The Rusty Mailbox BBS gave me a Point account and helped me a big deal of remembering how Fidonet works and how to setup necessary software. Replaced by the BinkD, T-Mail wasn’t needed anymore, as the dial-up modem was out of the picture (for good, but I kind of miss that sweet sound). I have decided to turn my time machine to the max and installed OS/2 4.52. It was my dream to switch to OS/2 entirely back in the late 90s, but I was stuck with the USRobotics WinModem, which wasn’t working anywhere, but under Windows. With Binkd being available for OS/2, nothing was holding me back, and I did set up my brand new Point station under this wonderful OS, and I was finally able to use the best, in my opinion, FTN Editor – FleetStreet. I could not be happier. Since version 1.24, released on April 25, 1999, FleetStreet turned into an Open Source and had dropped the necessary registration. FastEcho, in the other hand, still requires registration, but it could be easily and free of charge done, just by reaching the original FastEcho author – Tobias Burchhardt, which was very exciting by the way, to talk to the man who created this legendary Echo Processor.

FleetStreet and FastEcho/2 running on OS/2 4.52
FleetStreet and FastEcho/2 running on OS/2 4.52

After my OS/2 station was up and running, I have decided to bring the Fidonet to my Mac. To do that, I had to use Husky Project, which is an Open Source FTN software bundle. It was a little bit of a pain to compile and set it up, but after it was all done – it had started to work just great. Also, the good-old GoldEd+ had to be compiled, as well as the Binkd, but those projects are so well organized, it was very easy to compile and setup. After that being done, I had a perfectly working FTN Software Bundle on my Mac.

Just for the fun of it, I later recompiled everything on my Raspberry Pi under Raspbian (a Debian based distro for RPi). It was working so good, that I stopped using my Mac binaries, and had started using the software running on my RPi through the remote terminal session instead.

GoldEd+ Running on Raspbian
GoldEd+ Running on Raspbian

So this is what I have got so far. But it is not the end. I am waiting for the Raspberry Pi Zero W I have purchased to arrive. Even with a single-core CPU, it is got to be powerful enough to run FTN software. In the nearest futures I would like to reach the New York City regional NC to ask for a place in the official nodelist, and finally become a real Node. The fact that I could run the whole Fidonet Node station on such a tiny machine fascinates me.

Raspberry Pi Zero size comparison
Raspberry Pi Zero size comparison