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Issue 1 - March 1993

BABBA Magazine - The
Bay Area Bulletin Board Advisor






Welcome to issue one of BABBA - The "shoe-string" issue.

We believe we are breaking new ground with this publication. Please give us feedback on what you like, or don't like. Your response will improve issue number two. Thanks for picking up this issue, and please read on...

BABBA is fully supported by a BBS. The BBS is located in BABBA ZONE 1 (North San Jose) at 408-xxx-xxxx. (v32v42bis 14.4K) (That BBS closed years ago.) BABBA ZONES will be explained later. They are handy for saving on your phone bill.

The BABBA BBS is where you can leave comments, suggestions, tips, reviews, articles, just about anything you want to share. The BABBA BBS has text versions of articles in this issue, with BBS listings sorted any way that you request. Sysops should download our BABSYSOP.FRM file. It is a plain text ASCII file. Fill it out, and upload it to the BBS at 408-xxx-xxxx, so we can list your BBS in BABBA.

The BABBA BBS spent a long time hiding inside the Berryessa Central BBS. If the BABBA BBS is busy, you can call the Berryessa Central BBS at 408-xxx-xxxx. Files and messages will be forwarded to the BABBA BBS.




What We Are

BABBA is a publication for anyone who uses modems, or is thinking of using one. This is the start-up issue - a sample of what we have in mind.

Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) do not get the publicity they deserve. The media is quick to point out illegal pirate BBSs, but typically under-reports the majority of good BBSs that provide a legitimate public service.

How to use BBSs, and what is available on them, is typically not front page material in most computer related publications. How to use your modem, BBS etiquette, and network usage are but a few of the many examples of issues not adequately covered in publications.

Communications, especially "electronic" communications, are important now, and destined to be even more important in the future. A goal of this publication is to assist people in using local electronic communications.

This publication is centered on, but not limited to, coverage of LOCAL BBS and modem/communications issues. We intend to cover hardware, software, fax, LANS, Internet and email systems, all computer types, and much more. Local BBS issues and listings will always be high on our priority list. If there is something you wish us to cover, let us know.

We are relatively local and specific. We keep within the specific fields of computer and modem usage. That covers a very wide area. We emphasize local BBSs. Local BBSs include gateways to world-wide networks, also covering a very wide area.

Our goal is to give you practical and useful information. Another goal is to make all aspects of using your modem easier. We are a publication tied to a BBS. You can upload or download letters to editor, comments, tips, articles, reviews - annything.

We are here to help people in the Bay Area learn how to use modems, computers, and especially BBSs. We are here to provide the best BBS listing service. Using a database, we sort BBSs by many different criteria, to help you find the ones you are interested in.

We are here to save money on your phone bill. With our listings, you know exactly where you are calling. No more surprises with the monthly phone bill.

We are here to save you time and frustration. If you are looking for a BBS that carries a genealogy conference, we help you find it. If you are a Sysop and want to know which local BBSs use the same BBS package as you do, we can help with that too.

There are three ways to produce a publication like this:
The first way is as a publication that each reader pays for at a store.
The second way is as a subscription publication that is paid for, and then mailed out.
The third way is a publication paid for by advertising revenue.

We are aiming for the third way. This will keep the costs the lowest, while keeping circulation and quality the highest. If we do not generate sufficient advertising revenue, we will go to a subscription-based publication.

We believe this publication is a service to all computer and modem users in the Bay Area. In spite of our tight budget, we won't compromise on print quality. We print our publication on quality paper and use book ink. This means we are easy to read and your hands do not get dirty from reading us!

We are a service, and a magazine, just starting up. With your help and feedback, we will improve. We are here to fill a gap.

Founder/Publisher/Editor: Mark Shapiro.




ANSI Colors

If you have a color (PC, MAC, etc.) computer, you owe it to yourself to try USING it when calling BBSs. Even if you do not have a color monitor, you can benefit from the graphics and animations. When we mention color here, we are talking about both color and non-color ANSI graphics in general. Many BBSs use color for both the organization and the recommended commands for their menus.

Color and animation are required to use many BBS door games. Most BBSs have well planned color displays or animations that should be seen at least once. Color is used to improve the organization and user interface of a BBS, and is just plain fun. Using color on a BBS is made possible by the device driver ANSI.SYS (or the equivalent), described later.

One drawback of using the color capabilities of BBSs is that it can slow things down. If you are using a 9600 or faster modem, this is not a problem. Using a 1200-baud modem with elaborate color ANSI animation might be annoying if it takes 2 minutes to complete. Try and use color on your first calls to every BBS that supports it. Once you have seen how fast it runs, and seen the ANSI work the Sysop has done for your benefit, you can turn off the color option (on the BBS) for all your subsequent calls.

ANSI.SYS: This is a DOS device driver on your computer. It is required to use color BBSs. BBSs send ANSI commands to your PC to cause color, graphics, or animations. To use a color BBS, you must have either ANSI.SYS or an emulation of ANSI.SYS. Most modern IBM compatible PCs have ANSI.SYS already built into the Disk Operating System (DOS).

If you choose color on a BBS, and get garbage or funny characters, chances are you do not have ANSI.SYS set up correctly. Sometimes you can still make out what is happening, enough to go to the [Y]our settings or [O]ptions screens that let you un-choose BBS color. It is best to check to see if you can use ANSI before calling a BBS.

ANSI.SYS is available, in some form, on almost every IBM compatible PC. (Some Windows terminal programs do not always recognize ANSI). Most color Macintoshes, and other brand computers, have terminal communication programs available that do a fine job of emulating PC ANSI.

To use ANSI.SYS on an IBM compatible, you may have to put the command: DEVICE=ANSI.SYS in your config.sys file. First read your PC or DOS manual, or type out your config.sys, to see if you need to add it. Generally, older PCs need the DEVICE=ANSI.SYS command and newer PCs do not need it. DesqView users need to use DVANSI.COM.

Besides ANSI.SYS, there can be other problems that make using ANSI color difficult. Some video cards, or video card drivers are difficult to use with ANSI. You may have to experiment with your terminal program or ask for help. If you have a color computer, it is worth the effort to use your computer's full color capabilities on your modem visits to BBSs. You can get help from a computer dealer, or (of course) from a BBS.



File Compression

File compression programs are very common when using BBSs and modems. Anyone using a modem should be thankful to the authors of the popular shareware compression programs. Perhaps even thankful enough to register them?

Two reasons for file compression are:
1) It makes files smaller, so they will transfer faster.
2) It packs many similar files into one single file, for convenience.

File compression works by taking advantage of the occurrence of repeating characters within a file. In the simplest case, it works by noting a character, and the number of times the character repeats in a file. A simple file compression program would work by representing the number, and location of repeating characters, in an efficient way, to create a compacted file format.

Most, but not all, files have repetitions that a compression program can make use of, to reduce the size of the file. The compression achieved depends on the type of file. In general, plain text documents compress the most, and picture (e.g. GIF) files, compress the least.

Almost all file compression programs will display help, copyright, registration, and instructions if they are executed without any command line arguments.

There are several different compression file formats. We will briefly discuss the very popular PKZIP and PKUNZIP formats here. Files compressed or decompressed with these programs are called ZIP files, as the file extensions produced by these files is almost always *.zip.

To compress a text file named myfile.txt, you would use the PKZIP program: PKZIP myfile.zip myfile.txt. This makes a new .zip compressed file, and leaves your text file as it was.

To compress all text files in a directory: PKZIP myfile.zip *.txt This makes a new .zip compressed file, and leaves your text files there.

To decompress myfile.zip into all your text files, you would use the PKUNZIP program with the command PKUNZIP myfile.zip.

There are several different compression file formats. All work in similar ways, compressing or decompressing files. Some other popular compression file formats are *.arj, *.arc, *.lzh; and on the MAC, *.sit.

It pays to carefully read help files supplied with compression programs. One useful option makes the compressed file have the same file date as the individual files that went into it. With PKZIP, the -o option preserves the file date.

There are some types of files that should not be compressed. Some files, such as some picture (GIF) files have patterns that appear random to the computer. These type of random files may actually increase in size when compressed! Other types of files are already compressed, (e.g.) self extracting applications. Some files do not compress enough to make compressing them worthwhile.

Even if a file won't compress, sometimes compression programs are useful to keep related files packed together in one file.

Some of the advantages of compression are reduced when using modern modems with the (e.g.) V42bis protocol. These new modems do compression automatically. Decompressed files sometimes transfer almost as fast as compressed ones do on these new modems.

One way to use compression programs is to use them when you get a good space savings, or if it binds related files together for the purpose of transferring by modem, or file archiving.

Some BBS Sysops compress everything, and insist you do too, before you upload a file to their systems. Some Sysops prefer only to compress when it makes sense to do so.

Keep in mind that you should decompress unknown files in an empty directory. You don't always know how many files will be created.

There is competition among the shareware compression program authors. New versions keep coming out with better performance. Sometimes the latest versions of these programs have bugs, so keep an older version around.

You can get compression and decompression programs on most any BBS. Some BBSs prefer one format over the other. (.ZIP and .ARJ are popular in the Bay Area.)




What kind of Modem to Buy?

Buying a modem for the first time can be easier than buying a second one. A first modem is easier to buy - as most people tend to buy a cheap one, perhaps recommended by a salesperson. A second modem is usually a replacement for your first one, and may require more thought. Here we will list choices and recommendations for buying a modem - your first, or your second one.

At any large computer super-store there is a bewildering array of modems. Even the smallest shop has several models. The prices ranges from about $30 to $800. The price depends mostly on your choices. Sometimes the $30 modem turns out to be a waste and will "cost" you more. Sometimes it is better to buy a bit more modem than you can afford. (Even in this economy?)

The first choice to make is, internal or external. Internal modems are "bus" based, and external modems are serial port based. In some cases you don't have a choice. Some computers do not support internal modems. Some considerations when deciding between internal and external modems:

Expense: Internal modems are usually cheaper. Only in laptop-sized computers, are internal modems more expensive than external.

Installation: Installation of internal modems is usually more difficult than with external ones. Make sure you have a spare IBM compatible slot. Another consideration in using a modem is - do you have a spare IBM PC interrupt (IRQ) available? If your IBM PC has lots of add-in cards and options, you may not find a spare IRQ available. Use a diagnostic program to find out which IRQs are available. Most computers have a spare serial port, and a spare IRQ.

If your PC has an unused external serial port, an external modem is easy to install. Easy to install means you don't have to open up your PC and tinker with it. Make sure of the connector style of your serial port.

Modems, internal modems especially, are usually NOT "plug and play". There is a chance that you will leave your PC cover off for a few days while installing an internal modem, while you fumble with jumpers and/or dip switches. (Especially on a IBM type PC)

If you must add a serial port, then an external modem can cost even more, and be just as hard to install, as an internal modem. If you have a spare serial port, installing an external modem merely requires buying a modem cable, and running it between your PC and your modem. (See our article below - High Speed Modems.)

Maintenance/Convenience
An external modem is easier to maintain. You may need to reset the "dip" switches on an internal modem someday, and that usually means moving your PC around.

Many modem manufacturers will notify you of PROM (Programmable Read Only Memory "firmware" chip) upgrades. A PROM upgrade is easier with an external modem - you don't have to take your PC apart for a PROM upgrade.

External modems are easier to use, as you can see the LED lights or displays, which helps you see what the modem is doing. External modems are easier to troubleshoot, return, and sell. Desk space: No contest, internal modems win. No AC power cord. No serial cable.

Speed, Features, and Protocols

Modems speed is measured by "baud rate". The baud rate is simply the speed that characters are transferred across the telephone lines. Modems come in speeds between 300 and 19,200 baud. The most popular modem speeds are 2,400, 9,600, and 14,400 baud.

Besides speed, modems are measured by the protocols they support such as MNP5, V22, V32, V32bis, V42, and V42bis. These protocols indicate the ability of the modem to use automatic hardware compression and automatic error correction. The more of these protocols mentioned on the modem package, the better. When a modem has these protocols, it will transfer files faster, and work more reliably over noisy phone lines. For best results, buy a modem that implements all the protocols listed above. The higher baud rate modems with all the protocols cost the most. Slow modems with few protocols cost the least.

Other Considerations

Some modems have other features such as fax send and/or receive capability, or very convenient indicators and controls. Some modems include software and/or cables. This is especially useful when you don't have an IBM compatible PC. If you select an external modem, you will need a modem cable. The store you buy the modem from should be able to tell you which cable to buy.

Where and How to Buy

Most likely your purchase of a modem will be trouble-free. But play it safe. Be aware of the return policy of the store before you buy. always keep all packing material. Even the best of modem manufacturers sometimes makes a lemon. Just in case, keep everything in brand new condition, and save your receipt. Don't send in the warranty card until you are sure the modem works. An external modem is easier to return.

Most modems connect fine with most other modems. Only a few modems are non-standard. If you see V22, V32, bis, or V42, on the box, you are buying a standard modem. Two popular reasons people have trouble using modems:
1) They have trouble setting it up.
2) They have a new modem with a new or "buggy" PROM.

Ask a friend, or ask a question on a BBS, to get fresh facts from people who are now using the same model modem you are considering buying. Find out what communications program they use with the modem. Try to find out what version of PROM they have in their modem. If possible, buy a modem with a known good, or a later date/higher number, PROM revision. The modem instruction manual will tell which command to send to display the PROM revision.

Recommendations

All things being equal, the faster your modem is, the more you will use it, and the more fun you will have with it. If you call long distance, (and these days, 5 miles away can be a toll call!) a fast modem can pay for itself by saving on your phone bill, or connection charges.

The basic speed of a modem is the most important thing to consider. Ignore the "effective throughput" that most modems brag about - although a modem with all the latest protocols will typically transfer data faster than modems without the protocols.

The improvement of those extra protocols is typically 50%, not the 400% so often bragged about. A 9,600 baud modem having no modern protocols is about 3 times faster than a 2,400 baud modem with all the protocols.

If you are on a budget, 2,400 modems start at less than $40. If you are thinking of buying a 9600 baud modem, you probably should just get a 14,400 baud modem. There is a big price jump between 2,400 and 9,600, a smaller jump between 9,600 and 14,400. Don't buy a 1,200, or worse yet, a 300 baud modem.

A novice on a budget should consider buying a 2,400 modem inside a bundle/package deal. These deals are sometimes offered by the major online USA-wide services. These bundles include the modem, a cable, some software, and easy instructions. The cost is not much more than buying the modem alone. The online service offered can be used, but you will have more fun and usefulness calling local BBSs.

If you are interested in faxing, many modems have excellent fax features. If this is of interest to you, make sure your modem works with the modem fax software you want to use. The store can sometimes help with this.

If you do your homework, and can return a modem if it does not work for you, buying a modem is a risk-free investment that offers a great hobby, information, fun, and value.




High Speed Modems

Today's high speed modems require more attention to your computer setup than the old slow modems did. In the days of 1200 or 2400 baud modems, we were not concerned with hardware handshaking, locked serial ports, and 16550 UART chips.

Today's 9600, 14400, (and higher) modems require that your hardware, software, and modem are ALL set up right. Unfortunately, not all computer manufacturers, software companies, and modem makers make this easy. Here is some helpful information:

High speed modems require "Hardware Handshaking" to operate at full capacity and reliability. To make a high speed modem work, you need to have the following:

1) Serial cable (for external modems)
2) Communications port, and UART
3) Software Setup

1) Serial cable: This only pertains to external modems. Internal modems do not use a serial cable. Try to keep the cable length 6 feet or less. Do not get a NULL-MODEM cable, these are not for your modem.

Every IBM PC compatible has hardware handshaking ability built in, and can use any "standard" serial RS-232 modem cable. Modems usually have a 25 pin "female" connector. The PC serial port, COM1 or COM2, has either a 9 or 25 pin male connector. You need a cable with a male 25 pin connector on one side and a female (9 or 25) pin connector on the other. This is easy to do, as the PC world has fairly standard serial port connectors and cables.

Macintosh (and other) computers: Hardware handshaking is supported by the Macintosh serial port, but some older MAC modem cables do not support hardware handshaking. Find a computer store that can tell you if the cable they sell has hardware handshaking support. Most newer MAC modem cables will work fine.

2) Communications port, and UART: Most PCs (Personal Computers) mechanically support hardware handshaking. The main reason for using hardware handshaking is to get maximum speed. In some computers, especially the IBM PC type, the UART chip can limit the top speed your modem can work at. A UART is a type of computer chip. The long name for this chip is: Universal Asynchronous Receiver Transmitter. This chip controls the interface between the computer and the serial port. This chip has gone through some changes over the years. First there was the 8250 family, then the 16450 family, and now the 16550 family. If you use a high speed modem, you should use a 16550 UART chip.

Most PCs (and PC I/O cards) have the older style UART chips. Even brand new top of the line PCs usually have the older chips. We will concentrate on the IBM PC, as the MAC and other computers, typically do not need the UART upgrade.

How to check it: One way is to locate your serial card, and look for a big chip with the number 16550 on it. Another way is to get a utility program (from a BBS) to check if the 16550 chip exists in your system. If your PC has a new "all in one" combination IDE disk drive/Serial/Parallel/Game controller board, it is a safe bet it has the old chip! If you determine you need to upgrade the chip, there are two ways to go:

1) You have an older style serial card with an existing 16450 or 8250 chip, and empty sockets; or 2 chips in sockets. In this case, the upgrade is easy. Go to a computer store that sells Integrated Circuits, and buy a 16550 chip. Power down your PC, and place the chip in the empty socket next to the existing chip, or replace the older chip with the newer chip.

Don't bend any pins, and remember the notch in the plastic that shows you the direction the chip should face. Sometimes you will also need to buy, and then insert the missing 1488 and 1489 support chips in the two empty sockets next to the existing ones. If you are not comfortable doing this, find a friend, or a computer service store or technician to help you.

2) You have a "combo" board. In this case, you need to buy a serial board AND a plain vanilla IDE disk drive board. Buying these boards separately, allows you to upgrade the serial board as described earlier. The boards are inexpensive. Make sure you get a "vanilla" 2 serial port card. If you shop around, you can get a serial card with a 16550 already installed. Do not buy a board with only one 16550 chip that can not be upgraded to include a second chip. Do not buy a 4 port "super" serial board. The cheapest option is to buy a simple 16450 serial board with a socket on it, so you can add a 16550 chip to the socket. The IDE board should NOT have a serial controller on it.

All this is easier than it sounds. Have your local computer shop do it for you if you are not comfortable with it. Also, you don't have to upgrade your UART chip, but your modem will work better if you do.

3) Software Setup: Your communication program must be configured correctly to use hardware handshaking. The first thing to check, is the serial port locking and baud rate. If you have a 16550 UART or the equivalent, you can safely lock your serial port to 38,400 baud. If you don't have the chip, 9,600 always works, and 19,200 might work.

Ironically, modem manufacturers sometimes recommend using hardware handshaking, but do not set up hardware handshaking as the default. Make sure you set your modem up for hardware handshaking, as covered in the modem manual. Preferably, you can set up your modem, and then WRITE the settings, to store them in the modem. This topic is covered in the modem manual. We will be covering this in detail in an upcoming issue. You can also have your communication program send the proper initialization strings that allow hardware handshaking.

Read your modem manual first, then set up your communications program. Make sure your communications program does not use auto-baud detect. This defeats the purpose of hardware handshaking. The BABBA listings can help you when setting up your software with your brand of modem. Look at our summary BBS listings. Find a BBS that uses the same brand of modem you have. Politely ask the Sysop (in a public conference) for some tips on how to set it up. More than likely the Sysop will help you, and other callers of the BBS will join in, to answer your questions. We intend to cover this topic in more detail in an upcoming issue.

The Future
Now that we know a bit more about setting up today's fast modems, it's time to discuss what's coming up next. Predicting the future is not easy. There are at least two specification "standards" for the next generation of modems; V.FAST and V.32terbo. These two new specifications describe modems faster than today's "commodity" 14,400 baud modems. Baud is a nickname for how many thousands of computer bits of data can be transferred across the phone line per second.

Ironically, both these new specifications came out of the same CCITT group. The CCITT is the Consultive Committee for International Telephone and Telegraph, the group responsible for setting international modem standards.

V.FAST is the specification that the CCITT is slowly refining. It will define the path for modem speeds up to 28.8 baud (roughly bits per second). They have been working on it for long time, taking into consideration the DSP (Digital Signal Processing) chips that will have to be designed for such a task, over normal (analog) voice telephone lines.

The newer V.32terbo specification was proposed, and voted down, at a CCITT meeting. V.32terbo proponents formed a growing splinter group that wants to get something going soon. V.32terbo is a "here and now" specification for quickly boosting modem speeds to 19.2 baud. The V.32terbo group agree that V.FAST is ultimately where we need to go, but are impatient with how slow V.FAST is developing.

Some chip and modem companies are planning products for both standards, and of course, they are not "compatible". We will keep you posted. But for today, a 14.4 baud modem is great. It has robust specifications and will not become obsolete for years.



Calling a BBS

Calling BBSs is like learning to ride bicycles. They are tricky at first, with a learning curve; but once you learn how, you never forget. There are many different BBS software packages. Each Sysop, the System Operator, runs their BBS differently. In spite of this, all BBSs have a lot in common. Here we will give you some background information and tips for your first time, or every time, you call a BBS.

Where to find BBS phone numbers? You came to the right place - BABBA. BBS phone numbers are listed in a few publications. Most BBSs carry lists of other BBSs.

The Sysop
The System Operator is the person who sets up and maintains the BBS. Running a BBS takes considerable time and money. It takes hundreds of hours to set up a BBS system. Many hours of maintenance are required to keep it running. Running a BBS is a "labor of love", and is sometimes an addiction.

Let us all be grateful and thankful to the kindly Sysops who do us a favor by keeping their "boards" running. Sysops have many different reasons for running a BBS. As busy as Sysops are, they will almost always make some time to help you with questions or problems.

Registering for a BBS
Most BBSs require some type of registration. This can be as simple as a few online questions when you first call. It can be an automated call back, where the BBS calls you, to make sure your phone number is valid. Often a BBS will require a mail-in registration form.

One of the frustrations of calling a new BBS is that few BBSs give you significant access on your first call. Some BBSs give only the option of leaving a comment or saying good-bye on your first visit! We all want instant access on every BBS we call. The limitation on first call access is necessary for security on some BBSs. There is no short term solution. Be patient, and you will usually get good access within a few days. One solution is to call several BBSs, to start the registration process on each of them.

Why do Sysops make you register for their BBSs? One reason is legal. A Sysop is responsible for what "goes on" on the BBS. By verifying who you are, anything illegal you do can be traced back to you. This is very rare, but occasionally people break the law, and the Sysop does not want to be a part of that.

Another reason for registration is to discourage hacking, uploading viruses, leaving obscene messages or any other destructive activity. Another reason for registration is to prevent you from tying up the BBS all day by logging on under 20 fake names. There are more reasons why registration is very common. Typically the hassle of registration insures that the BBS will stay up, be fair to all, and be a "safe" and fun place to visit.

One of the frustrations of calling a new BBS is that few BBSs give you significant access on your first call. Some BBSs only give you the option of leaving a comment or saying goodbye on your first visit! We all want instant access on every BBS we call. The limitation on first call access is necessary for security on some BBSs. There is no short term solution. Be patient, and you will usually get good access within a few days. One solution is to call several BBSs, to start the registration process on each of them.

Some Sysops require a small cash donation for use, or for unlimited access to their BBS. This is understandable. In most cases, the costs are very reasonable, especially when you consider what you are getting. Almost all BBSs have a FREE level of access. If you really enjoy a certain BBS, it makes sense to help the Sysop with a small donation.

Handles: Many BBSs let you, and some even encourage you, to use a "handle". A handle is a nickname or a fake name that can be used to either protect your privacy, or just to have fun with. Most BBSs that let you use a handle, insist on knowing your real name, address, phone, etc. Only the Sysop will know this. On such BBSs you log in and are known by your handle. Of course some BBSs do not allow handles at all, they want everyone to use their real name.

What to expect, and tips: When you log into a BBS, you may get a question asking if you want color or not. Then you always get a "Welcome" screen. Next it asks for your name and password. If you are new, you get to choose your password. There is usually a few more and sometimes many more questions. Eventually, you get to the main menu.

Of course, BBS numbers are notoriously busy. Keep a slew of BBS numbers in your dialing directory. Never count on a BBS accepting your call when you want it to. Keep trying. A BBS usually answers the phone on the first ring. If the phone keeps ringing, the BBS is either temporarily down, or the number no longer belongs to a BBS.

BBSs have 3 main features: Files, Messages, and Doors. Most have all 3.

Files: BBSs usually have enormous quantities of useful, unique files. Some BBSs have files in different conference areas. Don't forget to JOIN a conference to see if more files are there. Sysops usually do a fine job of organizing files for you.

Messages: BBSs usually have fascinating message conference areas. You can find interesting and helpful information. Some conference areas are local, for one BBS only. Other conferences are "Echoed", where BBSs all over the City/Country/World exchange their electronic mail. On some BBSs there are so many messages exchanged, you will want to use an off-line mail reader to review them. Some BBS packages let you text search the messages. This is useful if you just want to read messages about Zoology.

A few tips on messaging: Don't use ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME. It is hard to read, and considered "shouting" by some. Try "quoting" when replying to a message, so everyone can follow the conversation. Don't respond to a message with just "YES". Keep it polite. Read and respond to your mail.

Doors: Many BBS have "Doors". These are additions to the BBS software. Games are very common. Matchmaking, classified advertising, information, and other BBS doors are popular. Doors are so popular that some BBSs specialize in them. All doors display online help.

Viruses? Mostly nonexistent on BBSs. The Sysop checks files for viruses. Useless, dangerous, commercial, or virused, files are deleted. Viruses are real, but a BBS is not where you typically get them, in spite of what you may have read before. With registration, very few people upload viruses. You are safest on BBSs that require registration. BBSs are much more likely to find and stop a virus, than to spread one. Still, ANY new file should be tested for a virus, whether from a BBS, or anywhere else. BBSs almost always have the latest shareware virus checkers.

How to be a good caller

Some BBS callers are under the impression that a BBS must grant them access. This is incorrect, a Sysop has the right to deny access to any caller for any reason at any time. The same is true for restaurants, magazines, and movie theatres. Most of the time, a Sysop denies access to a person for a very good reason. If a caller has paid for access to a BBS, the Sysop should refund a prorated amount. The caller to any online system (be it 1 line to 1000 lines) is a guest.

Always read the instructions. Read the help, read the news. Sysops are constantly amazed at how often they are asked the same thing that is explained in plain English, 12 places all over their BBS, including the main screen.

Upload a file that the BBS does not already have, once in a while. Sysops take a dim view of people who download 400 files and never upload.

Participate in the message conferences once in a while. Delete private messages to you, after you have read them. Don't "drop carrier". Log off properly from the main menu. Read your mail. Appreciate the BBS that your Sysop has created.

How to be a good Sysop
Arrange your BBS so a caller can look and browse around, before registering. Let the user decide when to register, to get more access.



Modems with a Mission

(By Tom Boyles)

I'm sure all of us can remember the first time we used a modem. It might be a memory of frustration because the modem didn't want to work right... or at all. It might be remembering setting the handset into the modem that looked like a huge contact lens case and getting ready for the 150-baud connection. Whatever the memory, data communications have come a long way and modems have come a very long way.

I remember my first time using a modem. I bought a PC with a 1200 baud internal modem included. At the time I had no idea what a modem did, how it worked, or what in the world a BBS was. A friend told me about a bulletin board system he used to run and all I could picture in my mind was a bulletin board hung on the wall and a bunch of notes attached to it with thumb tacks.

I ended up with a list of BBS numbers from another friend and anxiously went home to try them out. I tried several, to only get a busy signal or a very depressing announcement, Were sorry, the number you have reached has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Wow, what a let down! I made another call with one of the last numbers I had on that list.

Finally, I heard the now very familiar tones of two modems making their connection. I sat up in my chair waiting anxiously for what was to happen. My heart began pounding and my forehead began to sweat. My screen cleared itself and letter by letter, messages started to scroll across it. I was very excited! My brain was buzzing with thoughts that my PC was connected and getting all this information from another system, and I have no idea where this system is. A very exciting moment for me. Guess you had to be there!

After getting my phone bill I found out it was a long distance call even though the area code was the same as mine. But I kept calling just to make the connection. It's funny because this particular BBS had no interesting value to me. I kept calling to connect, then I would just hang up! (Probably annoying the Sysop!) Those first experiences with a modem occurred only a few years ago. Now I work with modems everyday, as a Tech Support Specialist for a Bay Area modem manufacturer. My 1200 baud modem is long gone, I gave it away to a friend, who never has used a modem and had no idea what a BBS was!

What kind of Modem?
If you can transfer a file or files across telephone lines faster, it's going to save you time and in long distance calls and save you money. So when looking at modems and the assortment out there of different speed capabilities and other protocol capabilities, it will all depend on your specific application.

There are modems that handle error correction, data compression, and even some are able to fax! Having a good idea what your needs are in data communications is going to save you having to upgrade later. A 2400 baud modem with no error correction or data compressing capability may be all you need. If you are one of those file treasure hunters like most of us are, error correction and data compression are nearly a must! Error correction has the ability to look at the data being transferred.

The ability to receive error free files is very important. If the transmission is not error free, you have to retransmit the entire file in a single block to replace the one that contained errors. Having to re-transmit is a waste of your time, and possibly, a waste of money. Error correction eliminates that from ever happening. Most likely, within a local call, files will be transferred error-free, but not always. With an error correcting modem, you are able to "bank" on files transferred error free the first time. Now let's take a quick look at faster transfer rates. Consider a 700K byte file. At 2,400 baud, it will take approximately 49 minutes to transfer, at 9600 baud, about 16 minutes, and at 14,400 baud, about 9 minutes. Between 2,400 baud and 14,400 baud, there is a huge difference, of over 40 minutes in transfer time. If you are calling long distance...

If you are still at 2,400 baud or even 1,200 baud, you may be a happy camper, but there are many advantages to going high speed. One of the disadvantages of getting what you think is the fastest and the best, is that some modem being introduced is faster and better. Most modems coming on the horizon are going to be "upgradable".



The RIME BBS Network

One of the most useful services a BBS provides is a link to echo-mail networks. An echo-mail network links many BBSs together to share their public message conferences. There are many different echo-mail networks. Two of the most popular are named FIDO and RIME. This month we will cover the RIME network. RIME is a great way to get help or advice to almost any question. You can find a conference on almost any topic you can think of.

By logging on to a BBS with a network link, you can access a wealth of information. Networks like RIME let you keep in contact with a long distance person over local calls. Through local BBSs, RIME has thousands of nodes in most cities, and some countries.

RIME (RelayNet) started in 1988, and is headquartered in Maryland. It is a world wide network of BBS systems that join together to form an electronic mail system. RIME also provides support for many special interest groups, and support for many products. RIME has thousands of member BBSs across the USA, and in many other countries.

A BBS you call (that carries RIME) will typically be a node. A node makes local calls to a local Hub. The Hub typically makes the long distance calls to Maryland twice a day. Mail typically crosses the country twice a day, so response on the RIME network is very quick.

Phone bills for hubs get quite large. In most cases the phone bill is split between the local BBS nodes and the Hub. Your Sysop pays to get started with RIME, and typically pays part of a long distance bill every month. If you use RIME, remember that this costs the Sysop extra money.

Each BBS has a unique Node Number and Node Name. Messages are usually public on an echo-mail system. If you have a message that is primarily of interest to one location or person, it is best to route it. A routed message only goes to the one place you routed it to. The way to route a message in RIME is to put a
->NNNN at the top of your message. The NNNN is the node number, or name of the node, your message should be sent to. The - > should be the first line of your message.

Using RIME
When you enter your message on a BBS with an echo-mail conference, you may be asked if you wish to ECHO the message. If you answer Yes, your message will be sent out to all other participating bulletin board systems. If you answer No, the message remains on your local bulletin board and is not transferred through the network.

When you echo-mail your message, remember that it is being copied to over 1000 BBSs. It is considered polite to quote a few lines from the message you are responding to. That helps the recipient remember the conversation even if he/she reads the message days later.

There are hundreds of RIME conferences. Each conference has a host who knows a lot about the topic of the conference. RIME, like all networks, has simple rules to comply with. The most obvious rule is: No offensive, insulting, or abusive language.

Each Sysop can carry as few as 3, and as many as over 400 RIME conferences, in addition to the local conferences on their BBS. The Bay Area is rich with RIME nodes, and has more than one RIME Hub.

Every BBS that carries RIME has online help, and files to download, that explain more about RIME. Download these files, to learn the many features available to you on RIME. One of the RIME files on a member BBS available for download is the alphabetical listing of all the current RIME conferences. The list is large and diverse. If you see a conference you like that a local BBS does not carry, ask your Sysop. The Sysop will usually carry a RIME conference upon request.

RIME is very active. Many thousands of new messages from around the world arrive daily. You can browse them, text-search them, or download them, and use an off-line mail reader. Many BBSs have a mail door, where you can download mail. Some are very sophisticated, and all are easy to use.

If you call more than one BBS carrying an echo-mail system, you may see a duplication of messages. The easy way around this, is to Select your conferences on each BBS. Selecting conferences also prevents you from getting messages you are not interested in.

If you think you have an opinion that everyone agrees with, try leaving a message on an echo-mail linked BBS. Someone will disagree with something you write. It is a unique and fun experience. Be polite and focused, don't ramble on about nothing. Echo-mail networks are occasionally subject to long messages about nothing in particular...

You can make friends, look up lost acquaintances, get help and advice, chat, and learn things by using a network like RIME.




Ask Fred

(By Fred Townsend)

Got a modem hardware or software configuration or setup problem? Then... Ask Fred

Q: I am using ProComm for WINDOWS. Whenever I try to download a file the transfer appears normal until the end of the transfer. Then the program hangs and finally I get a message - "File Transfer Aborted". When I check the disk, the file is not there. I have tried XModem, YModem, and ZModem protocols.

A: Windows 3.1 as well as all the earlier versions of Windows have trouble with file transfers. It seems Windows does not detect the EOF (End of File) character so the file is held open. After a time out period the file is closed. Since ProComm thinks the transfer is incomplete, it deletes the file.

There are several things that can be done to fix your problem. First, go into Procomm and set "Delete aborted Transfers" to "No". This will keep Procomm for deleting the file. Then test the program by downloading a ZIP file of some kind. The transfer may still hang but the file should be there after you leave Procomm using a normal exit. Test the ZIP file using the command PKUNZIP -T FILENAME. If the file is OK, you have a temporary fix. If the file is not OK, use PKZIPFIX and retest.

Assuming your transfers still hang or your files contain errors, there are many ways to improve performance. Start with upgrading ProComm. There are several patches for ProComm For Windows on many bulletin boards. PC101.ZIP, PROCOM3.ZIP and WMODEMS.ZIP do not specifically address this problem but won't hurt either.

Take a look at the setup of your system. Use either COM1 or COM2 for your modem. DO NOT use any serial boards or bus mice that use COM3 or COM4 for ANYTHING unless you are absolutely certain these boards do not share interrupts or port addresses:

IRQ Number Description
00 Timer
01 Keyboard
02 Link to IRQs 8-15
03 COM2, COM4
04 COM1, COM3
05 LPT2, or Reserved
06 Floppy disk controller
07 LPT1, LPT3
08 Real time clock
09 Redirected IRQ2
10 Reserved
11 Reserved
12 PS/2 mouse
13 Math coprocessor
14 Hard disk controller
15 Reserved


Try to use a serial board that uses a 16550AFN UART. Most dedicated serial boards use the 16450 or earlier 8250 version UARTs. If they are socketed they may be replaced with the 16550AFN chip. Most IDE boards with serial ports use a VLSI 16450-like chip so stick with a dedicated serial card.

If you elect not to use the serial ports on an IDE card, be sure to remove the serial port jumpers so the serial port will be disabled. If you can't avoid using an IRQ-sharing I/O card on a machine that does not have MCA or EISA architecture, you need to add the following line to the [386Enh] section of the SYSTEM.INI file: COMIrqSharing=TRUE

If you have a 16550 UART, return to ProComm setup and make sure 16550 = Yes. Finally, make sure you do not run other applications while downloading.


Fred Townsend is a Consulting Electronic Engineer serving Silicon Valley with high performance designs and Noise Management.



BABBA Zones explained

This feature is long overdue in a publication. BABBA ZONES let you easily see which BBSs are free local calls. This information is available in your phone book of course. Instead of thumbing through phone books, when you see a new BBS (or any other phone number), use our convenient listings. We first list all the phone number prefixes in each BABBA ZONE. Then we list the zones that are local calls for you.

First find the BABBA ZONE you are in. Then look to see what other BABBA ZONES are local calls for you. We do our best to be as accurate as we can. We depend on the Pacific Bell phone books and feedback from you, to keep us accurate. This feature should prevent that awful feeling when you see a phone bill for a BBS you thought was a toll-free call.

As the telephone books explain, zones close to you are free - for Flat-Rate local unlimited service. Zones close to you are charged as a local call if you have a Measured-Rate service. After each BABBA ZONE listing, we list the Zones that are FREE-CLOSE and FREE. The "CLOSE" label indicates the BBS is located within a short driving distance. The "FREE" label is accurate for Flat-Rate service, but is a guide to all, as to which BABBA ZONES are local calls for you.

This feature will expand every month. The area codes are displayed first, then the 3-digit prefixes within that area code. We suggest you cut out this BABBA ZONE guide, and tape it near your computer or phone.



BABBA BBS Listings explained

This is a key part of our publication. This is the 'prototype' and will improve with each issue. Our published database reports will help you find exactly what you are looking for. We are open to suggestion. If you have a better idea for sorting or the format, let us know. We need more BBSs for this listing...

We have 4 BBS list reports, followed by summaries for each BBS. Look at a listing that shows what you are looking for, then at the summary listings to get more information about a BBS.

Alphabetical Listings
Short, and Long BBS Names: This is simply the name of the BBS.

BABBA ZONE: This lets you know if the BBS is a "free" call for you. It also tells you the approximate location of the BBS.

PHONE: This is the first phone number of the BBS. Some BBSs have more than one phone line, and many of them use one phone number. See our BABBA ZONE listing.

Baud describes the fastest modem speed the BBS offers. Some high speed BBSs restrict 300 or 1200 baud modems. If you use a BBS for chatting or messaging, a slow baud BBS will do fine.

FREE BAUD: This is the top speed available to all callers. PAY BAUD: This is the top speed available to (usually paying) members of the BBS.

CATEGORY: This is a one word summary of what the BBS would describe itself as, if only allowed one word, which is the case here. :)

REFERENCE NUMBER: This is an identifier for every BBS. This is a quick way to identify a BBS to/for us.

BABBA Zone Listings

This list is sorted by the BABBA ZONE, your local calling area.

If the BBS has at least one other number, a second phone number is shown. Most multiple line BBSs use the same phone number for some, or all of their lines.

Operating Hours: Most BBSs run 24 hours a day except for maintenance. Some are only open during certain hours.

On-Line Since: This is the Year and Month the BBS first came on line. 8501 means the BBS started in January 1985. Sysops are proud (and rightly so) of the number of years a BBS has been up.

Total Phone Lines: How many telephone lines are dedicated to the BBS.

Free Phone Lines: How many telephone lines are open to the public, without payment, on the BBS. Some BBSs have low speed lines for free, and high speed lines for paying members. Some BBSs have no "free" lines, but they let you log on, and look around, so we include them.

"Free Access": Most BBSs have an adequate level of free access. You may have to register, be verified, or maintain a ratio of messages or uploads, to maintain the free access. These are BBSs that have reasonable FREE access levels without having to pay.

MAX$ per Year: This is the maximum the BBS charges for the highest level of access. Some have tiered access levels where you get good access for less than the amount shown here. All BBSs charge very reasonable rates, for the services they provide.

Messages Listings: Off-Line Mail Support?

Some BBSs have "doors" or other support for off-line mail. Off-Line mail support lets you up and download your messages, and spend less time on the BBS. You can review or reply to mail with an off-line mail reader. This is very popular with echo-mail linked BBSs that can get large amounts of mail. Local Conferences: This is the number of different message topic areas the BBS has. This shows the variety of themes the BBS messages are categorized by. Quantity and quality are two different things. These conferences are local to the one BBS.

Net Conferences: The total number of echo-mail linked message topic areas the BBS has. This is the total for all networks the BBS carries. These conferences are shared by many BBSs.

NumNets: The total number of different echo-mail networks carried by the BBS.

Net List: The names of the echo-mail networks carried by the BBS.

A Hub for: This is primarily of interest to Sysops. This is a BBS that other local BBSs call to get echo-mail from.

Abbreviations for some networks:
COLL: Collector's Net
ENTS: Enterprise Systems
FNET: Forem
INTER: InterNet
OS2: OS2Net
SMART: SmartNet
SBTN: South Bay Tri-Net
TCAL: TCalNet
TREK: TrekNet, TrekkerNet
UNI: UniNet
USE: UseNet
USPO: USPolNet

Software Listings
BBS Software: This is the brand and revision of
BBS software the Sysop uses to run the BBS.

Sysop's OS: This is the computer operating system the BBS runs with. Abbreviations:
DV: Desqview
NOV: Novell
WIN: Windows

Primary FILES ON BBS: The brand of computer the BBS carries files for.

Other FILES ON BBS: Some BBSs carry files for more
than one brand of computer. Abbreviations for files:

Text: Only text
MAIN: IBM mainframes
ALL: Many computers supported
2: Two other kinds of computer files
3: Three " "

Keep in mind that all text, and some other files, can be used by any computer or viewed on any terminal.

AREAS: This is the number of categories the files on the BBS are split into. For the same number of files, more categories implies more organization, or specialization.

HD: This is the number of files available for download on the BBS from a hard disk. On a message or support BBS, this is irrelevant.

CD: This is the number of files available for download on the BBS from CD-ROM or a tape drive.

OFF: Are there more files off-line? Some Sysops have other files they can put on-line for you upon request.

Total DOORS: Doors are useful or fun extensions to the BBS. Once again, quantity is not always quality. Number of doors on the BBS.

Role DOORS: Some game doors consist of a ongoing "role" each caller plays. Dungeons and Dragons is an example of this type of game. All door games have some degree of role playing. This number shows the doors that are categorized as ROLE doors.

BBS Summaries
This has descriptions from the Sysop about what is on their BBS. Category, specialties, unique items, support information is shown. Other information is shown that gives a good snapshot of what the BBS is about.

Sysop: A name or handle appears here. Sometimes the Sysop prefers not to be named. Sometimes they are known by their "handle".

Handles?: Some BBSs only allow real name callers. Some encourage or allow handles (YES). Some let you use handles if they know your real name (YES-LIM).

Support for: Some BBSs are sponsored by businesses or are a support center for some product, service, or group.

Hard Disk capacity: This is the size of the hard disk used by the BBS. Again, quantity is not quality. Generally, larger hard drives carry more freshly updated files. On a message or support BBS, hard disk size is irrelevant.

CD-ROM capacity: This is the on-line capacity of the Compact Disk Player used by the BBS. CD-ROMS sometimes have files not as "fresh" as those on a hard drive.

Sysop Organizations: Some BBS Sysops are members of clubs for Sysops. One popular local club is the United Sysops Association.

Modem information: The brand, model, and protocol of the BBS modem(s) are shown.

If you find any errors in our listings, please leave a comment to us on the BBS at 408-xxx-xxxx.



The rest of Issue 1 was a very detailed listing of local BBSs and telephone number zoning information.

End of Issue 1. Go back, or to Issue 2, or to Mark's home page.