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Issue 17 - July 1994


West Coast Online
Magazine

(Freely available at more than 1,200 locations.)




About the Cover:

The road to Nevada - with a sign reminding us about the future of the online world.




Publisher/Editor: Mark Shapiro

Contributing Editor: Robert Holland
Modems/Disks: Fred Townsend
Operating Systems: Randy Just
Copy Editors: Bryce Wolfson and Cheryl Milstead
Administration: Veronica Shapiro
Production: Steve Kong and David Hayr

Distribution: Sean Andrade, Roy Batchelor, Leo Bounds, Chris Brown, Jami Chism, Bill Clark, Robert Escamilla, Adam Fernades, Phil Gantz, Bob Harris, Gary Hedberg, Jeff Hunter, Phil Intravia, David & Lisa Janakes, Joe Jenkins, Wendie Lash, Frank Leonard, Sara Levinson, Mark Murphy, MTR, Pete Nelson, Laurie Newell, Ed Ng, Evan Platt, Jack Porter, Steve Pomerantz, Gary Ray, Alex Riggs, Lee Root, Bob Shannon, and Chris Toth.

Printed at: Fricke-Parks Press (510) 793-6543




Pages 1, 2, and 3 had full-page ads for Laitron Computers.



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Editor's Notes

Welcome to West Coast Online

BABBA originated in the San Francisco Bay area. Our distribution now includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Oregon, and the state of Washington. We changed our name to West Coast Online to reflect expanding distribution.

For those unfamiliar with us, we are not the same old type of computer/BBS/online magazine. We cover topics in a refreshingly straightforward way. And we're never shy about giving our opinions...

You may have picked up WCO at a new distribution site. Welcome. WCOs go fast - subscribe to avoid missing any issues.


Page 4 had ads for The Professor's DeskTop POP and IBBS West.




Questions Letters Comments

Q: I bought a modem that came with software and I just can't make it work. What should I do? (S.B. San Ramon, CA)

A: After reading the instructions in your modem and software manuals, you have some other options (in no particular order):

C: When I logged onto your BBS, my old communication software only lets my 14,400 bps modem connect at 9,600 bps, but your BBS said the connection was 38,400 bps. (J.B. San Jose)

A: You must tell your modem program to communicate at a speed of (at least) 19,200 bps. Each computer almost always should talk to its modem faster than the modems talk to each other. Check your modem manual for information about locking the serial port rate, and hardware flow control.

On our BBS, the PC talks to our external 14,400 bps modems at 38,400 bps. If we set our software to talk to the modems at 9600, the modem would only talk at 9600. That's what probably happened in your case.

C: I keep having trouble uploading to your BBS, but not others. (many readers)

A: We had an old serial card that was "flaking out". Thanks for letting us know. We replaced two serial cards (and an IDE card) with a Quickpath Portfolio (www.quickpath.com) card, which fixed all the problems.

Q: I want to make a batch file to take the modem off-hook after I run my communications program. How can I send commands to the modem from a batch file? (G.R. Bellingham,WA)

A: You can put an echo ATH1 > COM2 in your batch file. This also works from the command prompt. Another example is echo ATM0 > COM1, or echo +++ATZ > COM1. (On some modems, you must send a +++ before any AT commands.)

Another alternative is to use a utility program to send commands to the modem. ATSEND, by Joseph Sheppard, can be found on local BBSs. If your batch file calls another program or batch file, you may need to use the CALL command. CALL will return control to the first batch file after the called batch file or program has completed.

Q: Why is issue 1 so expensive ($12)? Also, is the Modems Made Easy book available in bookstores? (D.M. Martinez)

A: Supply and demand. We had only a few copies left of our charter issue, so the price was $12. We found more, so we have lowered the price to $10. As a service to our readers, we sell the Modems Made Easy book, see page 10. It is also available in bookstores.

Q: I cannot upload messages while editing a BBS message. I select Zmodem and when I upload text, it fails. (B.H. San Jose)

A: Try the ASCII protocol (within your modem program) when uploading messages.

Q: Someone uploaded to my BBS a picture depicting bestiality. I deleted it immediately, but wonder, is such a picture illegal? (initials withheld upon request)

A: Our staff does not include lawyers, police, or judges, so we can only share our personal opinions with you. Our best guess is that such picture files are illegal.

The Supreme Court has ruled that illegal information/pictures are defined by local standards, without ruling on the definition of what "local" is. We think it likely that some community may attempt to extend their standards beyond pornography. Be wary of the thought police.

Clearly, there are First - and Second - Amendment issues here. As repugnant and boring as those kind of pictures would be to us, we don't believe pictures of anything should be illegal. E.g., a picture of a murder is not a murder.

Food for thought: It is legal to kill animals for food or sport. If you were an animal, would you rather have intimate relations with a human or be killed by one?

C: When callers learn that a teenager runs a BBS, they usually think the worst. Some think they can log in with a fake account and leave rude messages, and the Sysop won't care because he/she is a teenager. Most teenage Sysops are diligent and responsible. We want to be treated as normal Sysops. (J.L. Los Altos)

A: First, why do your callers know you are a teenager? Do you post your age on your welcome screen? The quality of a person does not depend on age. As a Sysop, you deal with a faceless public, and will meet all types of people online. Develop friendships with your courteous callers, and ignore the occasional rude visitor. Here's a bit of advice for dealing with rude visitors: Never wrestle with pigs. You get dirty, and the pigs love it.

Q: Rather than having to install a switch, I want to turn off my PC speaker with a software program. Do you know of such a program? (M.S. San Jose)

A: Perhaps a small TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) stand-alone utility program could do this. Anyone who knows of such a utility (or can write such a program) please contact us.


Page 5 had ads for the Liberty (www.liberty.com), Party Wherehouse, and the Home Buyer's Fair BBSs.




"BABBA BITS"

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Hot serial card

GTEK (www.gtek.com) has a new 4-port serial board with unique features that should interest all multinode Sysops. The Blackboard-4 has 16550 UARTs, and IRQ choices of 2-5, 6, 10, 11, 12, and 15. Uniquely, it supports serial port speeds up to 460,800 bps on all 4 ports - perfect for today's 28.8 kbps modems and beyond.

The Blackboard-4 has a unique watchdog circuit to detect crashes. Upon a "lock up", the board performs a hardware reset.

Finally, Sysops can go on vacation without the fear of the BBS locking up the moment they back out of their driveway. The Blackboard retails for $295 and includes a 4-foot 10-conductor DB-25 cable.


Best of Breed Books

The Zen of Code Optimization (Coriolis [www.coriolis.com] Group Books, $39.95) by Michael Abrash, is a well-written book that is more than a primer on code optimization. It gives both clear-cut tutorials and insights on the nuances of assembly, C, and C++ coding.

Intel-based microprocessor hardware considerations are covered with just the right amount of detail. The book includes a disk of mostly ASM source files. The average file size is small - some may prefer to type the examples in.

This book falls into the rare category of being very technical and very readable. Most chapters start with a human interest story that somehow gets linked to the theme of the chapter. An interesting addition to your library, this book will not replace any of your other programming books - but it might make you a better programmer. Available at computer bookstores or from the publisher.

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The alliance between RISC-based PowerPC chip manufacturers and big-name companies should not be underestimated. Inside the PowerPC Revolution (Coriolis [www.coriolis.com] Group Books, $24.95), by Jeff Duntemann and Ron Pronk, clearly explains why.

In this easy to read and entertaining book, the authors explain Apple's (www.apple.com) leading role in the PowerPC market, and the role of other major computer, operating system, and chip companies. If you are curious about the PowerPC, or want an overview of the computers of today and tomorrow, you can't go wrong with this book. Available at computer bookstores or from the publisher.





The Bay Area Sysop Alliance (BASA)

BASA holds monthly meetings for Sysops and active users of online services. The meetings are open to the public. Every meeting has a guest speaker. Questions from the attendees of the meetings help guide the discussions.

The meetings start at 7 PM, and last for one to two hours. There are no fees to attend the meetings, except that (where applicable) ordering food or drink from the restaurant is appreciated. The meetings are nonsmoking.

This month, the guest speakers will be Stuart Rosenbaum from Cardservice International (www.cardsvc.com) and Ron Stein, president of Media Tech Innovations. They will discuss the requirements, procedures, and costs of getting a merchant credit card account for an online service or a small business.

Sunnyvale: Roy Batchelor is the meeting facilitator. The next meeting will be on Tuesday July 12, at Vito's Pizza, 1155 Reed Avenue (500 feet from Lawrence Expressway).

Walnut Creek: Jeff Hunter is the meeting facilitator. The next meeting will be on Thursday duly 14, at Papagottso's Pizza, 1995 North Main Street, (corner of North Main and Ygnacio, one block from the BART station).



Through the Glass, Darkly

(By Thomas Pitre, PhD. - http://pitreassociates.com)

There is a lot of dark fiber optic cabling out there, but soon it will be lit up, transmitting gigabits per second and carrying digitized voice, speech, data, and images around the California metro areas. Recently, the Japanese reported a 10Gbps fiber transmission. The potential of fiber is more like one Tbps (that's one trillion bits per second).

The Englishman, John Tyndall, demonstrated the principle of light guides in 1870. He showed that light could be bent around a corner as it traveled in a medium. The medium was water. In his demonstration, he showed that when water was poured out of a spout, with a light beam aimed through it, the light followed a zigzag path inside the curving path of water as it flowed. A similar zigzagging occurs inside the core of a fiber optic cable.

Fiber Optic Cables
How does a fiber optic cable work? It's made of fused silica or very high quality glass with an index of refraction between that of air and diamonds. Refraction affects the speed of light through material. The speed of light changes as it bounces and travels in different directions. The width of the inner core of commonly used multimode fibers is 62.5 microns. A micron is one-millionth of a meter (about .00004 inches). That's small, but capable of carrying a very broad range of frequencies.

Details
The signal source (carrying the information) injected into the fiber core is usually a LED (Light Emitting Diode) or a laser. Lasers are used for long-hauls and for more reliable data transfer. Many foreign and domestic companies (e.g., AT&T, 3M, AMP) make fiber, connectors, tools, and test instruments for fiber. The signal must be injected into the fiber core at a specific angle. The waves are controlled inside the core by the physics related to reflection and refraction.

Light changes speed and direction when it meets a boundary or a change in material. Infrared light waves (wavelengths from 850 to 1550 nanometers) are reflected along the fiber core. Surrounding the fiber optic core is the cladding, consisting of special glass manufactured with a slightly different (about 1-2%) index of refraction. This small change in boundary refraction causes the light to remain inside the core, and controls its speed. Many modes (or "channels") can exist in the core at the same time. Surrounding the cladding is a buffer material of plastic, KevlarTM fibers, and an outer jacket.

Fiber Optic Advantages
The bandwidth of POTS (plain-old-telephone-systems) used to be less than 4 kilohertz. Because telephone systems are becoming digitized, voice lines may now use up to 64 kilohertz of bandwidth. The 500 MHz bandwidth of fiber channels economically provide a large capacity.

In addition to its ability to carry many signals, fiber cable is very light. It takes eight tons of copper cable to match the capability of 160 pounds of fiber. Fiber does not rust, is difficult to "tap" (wiretap or snoop), and is immune to ground loops and electromagnetic interference. Signal loss is minimal - and the light source can still be effective after losing 99.9% of its original power.

Home Town Wiring
Pacific Bell is installing fiber throughout the South Bay. Fiber is installed underground - the cable is laid in a bed of sand and gravel, protected by a heavy, outer sheath lined with a material affectionately known as "icky-pik". The primary threat to fiber is the rodent population that gnaws on anything they find in their underground kingdom.

Schools teaching fiber optics in the area are: Information Technology Center; The Light Brigade (www.lightbrigade.com); and Fibertron (www.fibertron.com). Contact them for more information concerning fiber optics training and certification.


Page 6 had an ad for Bill Lauer & Associates.



Setting up a Windows BBS
(A lesson in humility)

(By Chris Toth Sysop of Mr. Natural's BBS)

When I was looking for BBS software, I wanted what every Sysop wants - everything, at a price that would fit my budget. I needed a package with "Front Door" compatibility (a program that allows the BBS to transfer FIDO-style mail), support for multiple nodes, RIP graphics, and Internet mail. I needed an excellent mail system with a full-screen editor and QWK mail support. I also required group chat, support for CD-ROM drives, and door drop (configuration) files.

PowerBBS (PBBS), written by Russell Frey, is an elegant Windows-based BBS package that meets all of my requirements. PowerBBS's Internet support includes uudecoding software. The menu system is unique, allowing the user to either hit hot keys to jump from function to function, or use arrow keys in a convincing simulation of pull down menus. These are just some of the functions guaranteed to delight any Sysop. Software this good has got to have a catch, and PBBS does, it runs as a true Windows application!

Setting up PBBS was simple. In less than an hour I had an out-of-the-box BBS ready to receive calls. Being a true Windows application, PBBS runs fast.

3 Versions
There are three versions of PBBS software: shareware, registered, and the professional version. The registered version and the shareware version are the same. The Sysop is expected to register the shareware version after a reasonable trial period. The professional version includes the source code. The shareware version is not crippled and the manual text is included in the ZIP file. This let me verify that it would do what I wanted before purchasing it.

FIDO and Front Door (Never Plug-And-Play!)
As a FIDO Sysop, my first task was to get Front Door up and running. Front Door is difficult to set up with a BBS, and the PBBS documentation did not help. The PBBS documentation for installing and using Front Door is inaccurate and incomplete. If I had not already had a lot of experience with Front Door, I might have quit PBBS right there.

It took me several days, but with the help of another PowerBBS Sysop, I finally got it up and running with Front Door. The author of PBBS is working on a new front end mailer that will eliminate the need for using Front Door. After I could send and receive my FIDO mail, I was hooked, and registered the professional version.

Internet (Rarely Plug-And-Play)
After receiving the professional version, I immediately started to set up PBBS for multiple nodes. I set up an account on an Internet server for the BBS. I ran into some trouble getting the Internet mail to import properly.

After much trial and error, I succeeded in getting the system to import and export Internet mail. I was never able to get PBBS to import the Internet mail from node 2. I finally tried setting up the Internet event on node 1, and it immediately started tossing, packing, sending, and receiving Internet mail from my server. I have not had any major problems with it since.

Windows Headaches
Windows is a hated word among Sysops. Windows is famous for unexplained lockups, mysterious COM port problems, and being soooo slow. I used to take pride in the statement "I don't do Windows". Most serious Sysops running a multinode BBS use a LAN, Desqview, or a combination of both. PowerBBS is so good that I learned to "do" Windows.

Up to this point, I had been running the system on two nodes and planned to expand the system to four nodes. I wanted to avoid the hassle of IRQ conflicts, and the expense of a multiple IRQ-sharing communications board, so I setup a Local Area Network. My network software is WebCorp v4.03. It is supposed to be 100% Novell Netware compatible and support all standard IPX/SPX drivers.

Getting the network to work was the most difficult part for me. I am very familiar with networks, but my ignorance of Windows really slowed the process. I got a crash course in General Protection Faults. GPFs occur when Windows runs two pieces of software that each want a piece of the same memory pie. Like a fed-up mom, Windows dumps the problem back into your lap and says "you handle it!" (Then it promptly crashes.)

Microsoft support provides little help for those suffering from GPFs. The Windows manual doesn't even mention them. None of the files I downloaded from the Microsoft support BBS helped. When I left a message on the PBBS support BBS about this, the response was "This is a very difficult problem and it may take you some time to fix it."

It took me almost a week to figure out how to get the system to work. However, many of the external programs such as door games still continued to crash. It took three more weeks of torture before I finally was able to get the system to run reliably. Of course, it will take even more time to finish customizing my BBS.

The GPF problems I was experiencing had nothing to do with PBBS. Most problems were due to conflicts between Windows and the network software I was running. If Windows came with documentation that listed error messages, had a real troubleshooting chapter, and described all the possible commands available for the SYSTEM.INI, it would have saved me days of grief. (See the next article, "Windows Communication Tips")

Is PBBS for You?
If you are not experienced with setting up a BBS, yet you want it to do "everything" right out of the box, then maybe you should look for a simpler BBS package such as Wildcat!, VBBS, or The Major BBS.

If you are a Sysop who wants a very powerful Windows-based BBS, that will process Internet mail and allow you to multitask your PC, to do work while running a BBS, then PBBS is for you. PBBS is not quite the turnkey system it professes to be - though the major problems I ran into were related to Windows. Dealing with finicky Windows software typically causes problems and heartaches.

The PBBS manual is well-written but lacks important information and examples in key areas. The manual is being completely rewritten and will be available for the next release. PBBS support is enthusiastic and they usually reply within 24 hours. However, they seem to have been overwhelmed by the interest in their software. It can be difficult to get through to the support BBS. You may find yourself calling the four-line support BBS at 3:00 AM, just to get through.

PBBS's problems are solvable, and having a BBS that does just about everything is worth a little sweat. PBBS really does just about everything! Watching the first bundles of Internet mail and newsgroups get tossed and placed into my mail areas made all the work worth it. Whether or not you want to admit it, Windows may be the future of bulletin board software.

PowerBBS is shareware, and at the time of this article, the registration cost is $99 for the regular version and $189 for the professional version. Look for the file name PBBS*.ZIP on BBSs, the product support BBS at 516-822-7396 (www.powwwerworkgroup.com).


Page 7 had an ad for Moe's Books (www.moesbooks.com)




Windows Communication Tips

(By Chris Toth)

There are many ways to tweak Windows to run smoother with communication programs. Here are a few suggestions to help Windows work with communication programs:
Page 8 had ads for RGB Monitor Repair, and the Tiger Team, Monterey Gaming System, and the Auto-PC BBSs.




Mac and Back

(By Ross Bernhiem)

The Macintosh computer is different from other types of computers in a number of ways that can cause problems communicating with non-Macintosh systems. Most of the problems are easily solved if you are aware of them.

CR/LF in ASCII files
As with other non-IBM PC computers, the Macintosh uses a carriage return to signal the end of a line and start the next line. Older computers require both a carriage return and a line feed to do the same job. (The carriage return/line feed combination comes from the mechanical teletype machines used in the early computer days. Later model computers, including PC-type computers, have kept it for compatibility and it has became a de-facto standard.)

When online in terminal mode, most Mac communication programs automatically compensate. When you type a message online, the program adds the line feed to the carriage return sent to the other machine, and strips it off when receiving.

Problems occur when you read text from files you've downloaded. In your Mac text editor/word processor, the linefeed shows up as a rectangle in the left margin because linefeeds are not automatically removed during the file transfer. After downloading a text file from a PC-based BBS to your Mac, you should use a utility to remove the line feed from each carriage return in the file. Before uploading text files from your Mac to a PC-based BBS, you can use the same utility to add linefeeds. If you upload frequently to a PC-based BBS, you might request the Sysop run a utility to add the missing linefeeds on their end.

File Names or FILENMES
The Macintosh file-naming system allows long names and characters that other computers don't allow. For instance, Microsoft DOS restricts file names to eight alphanumeric characters and a period followed by three characters, with no spaces allowed. DOS file names do not use the asterisk, slash, or back-slash characters. Most Mac terminal programs allow a file to be temporary renamed before an upload. If not, you must rename the file to follow DOS rules.

Batch Transfers
Not all batch file-transfer protocols (BP) are the same and not all implementations of Zmodem are created equal. Zmodem is a common BP having automatic start-up and file naming features, support for multiple file transfers, error correction, and resumption of failed partial transfers. One feature of Zmodem (and other BPs) can present a "gotcha" when transferring files to a non-Macintosh system. Zmodem sends the name of each file to the receiving computer so it can put the proper name on the file.

BPs use the file name as it exists on your computer, not the name that you type when the remote computer asks for a file name. The remote computer may not allow the Mac file name to file transfer. While BPs such as Zmodem can automatically truncate a long file name to an acceptable DOS length, not all implementations do so.

Batch Protocol Solutions
If you have trouble uploading files from your Mac to a PC using Zmodem, try these remedies:
Inside Mac Files
The Macintosh is graphical, and the Mac file system makes special accommodations. On the Mac, all text is stored as graphic information, so the Macintosh stores not only the text, but also additional information about how to display it (such as the font, size, and text style).

The Macintosh file system stores files in two parts (called forks), a resource fork and a data fork. This makes many tasks easier, such as localization or programs for different countries or alphabets. When transferring Macintosh files, they must be made compatible with the file storage systems on the other computers, which do not split each file in two parts.

MacBinary
MacBinary is a Mac program built into many communications programs that encodes Mac files into a single file, compatible with other computer file systems. That single file can be downloaded and decoded by other Macintosh computers. Be sure you have MacBinary enabled in your application. Another way to solve the dual-fork problem is to use a file compression utility such as Stuffit Deluxe.

Other Mac programs handle ZIP and other archive formats used by DOS computers, but the only time you are likely to need this is when transferring QWK mail packets or archived files with DOS machines.

MacBinary Headers
When you enable MacBinary, Mac communication software adds a header to the file before the upload occurs. The header describes the file's type and creator codes and other information to prepare it for storage on a remote system. When a Mac telecom program downloads such a file, MacBinary uses the header to recreate the file with all of its original attributes.

If that header is absent, the file will usually appear with a default type (usually TEXT) and creator, determined by the telecom program. Some Mac utilities can supply the missing file information, and some Mac programs can look at the data in the file to determine what its file attributes should be. You typically cannot open a text file downloaded from a PC-based BBS by double clicking it (Open it with SimpleText, TeachText, or better yet, a word processing program.)

Use MacBinary?
If you want non-Mac users to be able to use Mac data files without difficulty, disable MacBinary in your telecom program before uploading the file. This will upload only the data fork and omit the MacBinary header. Before transferring text files, save them as ASCII (or text-only). Do not use MacBinary! Exceptions are if the target DOS machines have programs that can use Mac files directly.

When sending Macintosh files to a PC-based BBS for use on another Macintosh, use MacBinary to encode the file for storage on the non-Macintosh computer. Be sure to note this is a Macintosh-only file when you write the file description on the BBS. Food for thought: If the program that reads your file cannot use the extra formatting information saved in it, the recipient will have to spend a lot of time and effort to remove it.

Finally, the QWK mail packets used by many BBSs for offline mail readers should be transferred without using MacBinary. Follow the archive format used by the DOS computer. Most QWK mail readers for the Mac will either do this directly, or come with the needed program.


Page 10 had an ad for Atlantis BBS/Internet service.




End of page 10. Go back or go to page 11 or to Mark's home page.