• Published on | Jun 02, 2016 | by Chris Osborn

The Age of Aquarius?

@MWTremblay on Twitter was asking me if I hung out regularly on IRC, and although I’ve written my own IRC client, that was a long time ago and don’t really use IRC much anymore. I mentioned that I use Twitter as my new IRC, and he said he was looking for something more compatible with an Atari XE. Challenge accepted! About a week later I found the time to work on that project and spent the day cobbling up a BBS door in Objective-C that would allow a user to send a tweet.

Another challenge I had set for myself was trying to get my Mattel Aquarius to connect to my BBS. I do have an Aquarius modem and the included software, so you’d think it would be a simple matter of plugging it and dialing. Unfortunately loading from cassette on the Aquarius is incredibly unreliable. In the two years that I’ve had the modem I was only able to load the software once, and that was when I had no phone line at home to connect the modem to!

One of the things I decided to try was to see if I could extract the files from the original tape with the idea that if I were to convert the actual bytes back into audio instead of just making a copy of the sound that I might have better luck with the Aquarius. I digitized the tape then fed the audio through the Aquarius emulator which had no problem recognizing the files and converting them to CAQ format. I then converted the CAQ back to wav to get a perfectly clean audio file I could play into the cassette port of the Aquarius. When I played the new wav file from my iPhone into the Aquarius, the software loaded on the first try! Finally it seemed like I was going to have some connectivity!

Of course it wasn’t that simple. I dialed into my BBS and saw the greeting, but I couldn’t sign on! The communications software was incredibly simple and for whatever reason they had decided that it should do odd parity and there were no options to change it to space parity or 8 bits with no parity. The software I’m using on the BBS expects a full 8 bit connection so when it saw characters with the high bit set it didn’t see them as ASCII.

For a moment I was kind of stumped on what to do. I had no option to change parity on the Aquarius, and no option to ignore parity on the BBS. But I had just last week added parity detection to tcpser! I could use that as a workaround for the parity problem, at the expense of making things a bit convoluted.

I setup a 2400 baud modem on my PBX and had the Aquarius dial into that one. Once I had the Aquarius connected I then fired up tcpser using the 2400 as its serial device. Then I could type AT commands on the Aquarius that would go out the 300 baud Aquarius modem, come in on the 2400, then go to tcpser which would then make the final connection to the BBS! It took two real modems and a modem emulator, but it worked and I was in!

Once I was on the BBS it was easy to navigate through the menus - although painfully slow at 300 baud - and send the world’s first tweet from a Mattel Aquarius. The Aquarius was finally part of the information age!

 

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