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Issue 6 - August 1993

BABBA Magazine - The
Bay Area Bulletin Board Advisor




About the Cover:
Sysop's view of the 24-line Monterey Gaming Systems BBS, custom designed and coded by David Janakes.




Publisher and Editor: Mark Shapiro

Distribution: Elsa Cahill, Robert Escamilla, Phil Gantz, David and Lisa Janakes, Mark Murphy, Lee Root, Robert Shannon, and Mara Stancavage.


Page 1 had a full-page ad for Magic Kingdom Systems.
Pages 2 and 3 had full-page ads for Laitron Computers.
Page 4 had a full-page ad for Adventure Tickets.


Editor's Opinions


Questions and Comments

Q: Are these questions real or do you make them up?

A: Every question or comment we print has been sent to us. We choose which and when they are printed.

Q: How many people read BABBA?

A: We publish 30,000 copies, so assume at least 30,000 people read it. Some other magazines claim that each of their issues is read by over 4 people! We don't know how anyone could claim that. Advertisers should judge the response of an ad, not how many claimed readers might see it.

Q: Why do you list commercial BBSs that do not "provide a useful level of public access" as you described in issue 3? They offer nothing for free and shouldn't take up space in your publication of useful free access BBSs.

A: Good Point. We may someday stop listing commercial services (having no level of free public access) unless they pay for an ad.

C: I am disappointed with BABBA as you seem to have forgotten the first time users. Please keep your articles geared for the newcomer.

A: We keep the newcomer in mind but we are for all levels, not just for beginners. Our first 3 issues were filled with articles specifically for the new modem user. Like any magazine, every issue of BABBA is different. We cannot be all things to all people all the time. Look up our back issues! We will have more beginner level articles in the future.

Q: Can you tell me the name of the Sysop that runs the so_and_so BBS?

A: No. If you do not see a Sysop name in the BABBA summaries, the Sysop wishes to remain anonymous.

Q: Why does BABBA, and many other BBSs, refuse to let in 300-baud modem callers, This is a symptom of BBSs with a bad attitude - with arrogant and snooty Sysops!

A: Some people expect too much from a free BBS, (or a free magazine). Sysops running a BBS out of their pocket and valuable time are amazed when a few non-contributing callers demand the BBS cater to their needs immediately. Our response:

1) The anger is misplaced. Not allowing 300 baud is generally a practicality issue, not a personal one. These days, 300 baud is not fast enough to do anything useful on most BBSs. Some BBSs are very busy and access is metered to each caller. The Sysop can opt to prevent 300 baud callers from wasting time. You will find some lower speed or simpler BBSs where you can log on at 300, but this list is shrinking fast.

2) The Sysop is not obligated to any special requirements. A Sysop can decide "14.4 or up only" if they wish. It is their BBS.

3) We have added a new question to the BABSYSOP.FRM file for Sysops to fill out. The question is, "What is the minimum modem speed your BBS accepts". Soon we will list the minimum speeds so people with slow modems will know.

Q: I wasted a lot of time looking for your magazine. The stores run out fast. Why don't you put more of them out?

A: We are ad revenue limited, and the 30,000 disappear fast. Please to get to the store early in the month, or subscribe. The BABBA picked up from a rack or from the stack is a free magazine. Enjoy it for what it is. We will listen to constructive criticism - but please don't expect too much for free.

Q: Is it effective to place advertising on BBSs?

A: Not really. Printed material, especially the kind that is saved, is more effective than BBS advertising.

C: In response to the letter claiming that internal modems waste power by being on continuously, I might point out that most of the people I know with external modems have units with external power supplies. When you turn off a device which uses a wall adapter, the transformer blithely performs like a small induction heater. If you really want to be "green" try putting your adapters (modem & otherwise) on a separate power strip with a switch. (PATRICK MARSHAL)

A: Good point, especially in the Summer.


The bottom of page 5 had ads for SPAUG - the Stanford Palo Alto PC Users Group (www.mediacity.com/~spaug) and Post Box Plus



Programmers Corner

Creating a Low-Cost Multi-User BBS With UNIX/dBASE software on the IBM PC
(By: Randy Just)

A large variety of single node and multi-node BBS software can be found as public domain, freeware, shareware, or commercial software packages. BBS software packages which support multiple node operation usually rely on other packages such as DESQView, or some other multitasker for operation. Setting up an external multitasker properly can be a difficult and time consuming task. Packages that don't rely on an external multitasker tend to be expensive.

One combination of products that I have used which does not require an external multitasker and is extremely configurable is TBBS (The Breadboard System) and TDBS (The Database System) from the eSoft company. TBBS has its own internal multitasking and TDBS allows a Sysop to write code in dBASE III+ which allows for the development of a very custom system. The biggest drawback of this system is that for a two-line system the cost will exceed $500. Beyond two lines, software costs will exceed $1000.

Why use dBASE to write a BBS?
A shortcoming of many bulletin board software packages is the lack of configurability. Most have some flexibility, but are usually constrained by some underlying architecture. Using dBASE to develop a BBS is a valid choice because dBASE closely aligns itself with one of the primary reasons a BBS is started. That reason being the display and maintenance of database information. Creating, maintaining and the ability to query information are the strong suits of dBASE. dBASE is also a language that useful utilities and applications can be developed - with a minimal amount of learning time. There are many books available on programming in dBASE as well as countless souls that have spent much time with this language.

Some shortcomings of dBASE are that it is not designed for such tasks as serial port maintenance. But that is where products (which can be a front end to dBASE) come in. With an operating system or an application handling the dirty work and dBASE code handling the data, it becomes a powerful duo.

A Solution
I have reviewed a pair of products that have many similar features as the TBBS/TDBS combination, but for a far more reasonable cost. These products are Coherent from the Mark Williams Company and dBMAN from VersaSoft corporation. Coherent is a UNIX operating system work-alike. It closely resembles the popular version 7 of UNIX.

Two of its most notable features are its cost of $99.95 and it's outstanding manual. It has been around for a number of years in a variety of configurations. The most recent version is 4.0 which is a true 32-bit operating system. Mark Williams has added many features over the life of Coherent, but still has maintained the low price of $99.95. Over 200 utilities are included along with Borne and Korn UNIX shells. Included is a C language compiler and the necessary communication utilities to connect to other systems via uucp and Kermit protocols. Utilities are also included to read and write MS-DOS diskettes. Additional files for Coherent are available on a support BBS as well as the Internet. System requirements are a 386 or higher processor, 1MB RAM and 10 MB of hard disk space.

VersaSoft offers dBMAN for a variety of operating systems including Coherent. dBMAN can be most accurately described as a dBASE III+ work-alike with additional features. The current version of dBMAN for Coherent is priced at $149.95. This includes an unlimited user license as well as pseudo compiler to speed up dBASE III+ applications by as much as 10 times. dBMAN for Coherent requires version 4.0 of Coherent with 2 MB of hard disk space and about 500K of RAM plus 128K per BBS node.

UNIX Brings It Together
UNIX handles serial port communications very easily. This is one of the fortes of the UNIX operating system. Using a pair of inexpensive two-port serial cards, four modems can be added easily. This is done without purchasing any additional software. Coherent will also support multiple port serial cards such as the Digiboard. The answering of the modems and presenting the user with a log-in prompt are handled by the Coherent O.S.

By configuring the system it is possible to launch an application of your choosing after a user logs on. The application launched becomes a Coherent BBS door. The application launched can be a product such as dBMAN. dBMAN is configured to then start a dBASE III+ BBS application.

Let's Build a BBS
As a test to see what kind of system could be developed in a short time with dBMAN, I decided to build an application which could be used as part of a BBS. Within three hours I was able to develop an application which let the user tag which files were desired for downloading and then send the files via Zmodem. The program consisted of a browse window where the user could scroll backwards and forwards through file listings. When a desired entry was seen, it could be tagged by simply marking it with a tap of the space bar.

The modem file transfers were handled by "shelling" out to the operating system and passing the file name to Zmodem. My test program took less than 150 lines of code. The end result was a way of selecting files for downloading that was easy to use. Sample dBMAN code for the browse window, the selection of files and the actual code to download the selected files is available on the Berryessa Central BBS (Babba Zone 1). The file is named 9308SRC1.BAB and is a free download. (That BBS closed years ago.)

dBMAN supports the dBASE III+ command and function set. It also includes other commands and functions that make setting up a BBS system much easier. Among these are the support of arrays, low-level file reads/writes, a much enhanced browse command, windowing and additional support for multi-user operations. These additional commands and functions make many programming tasks much simpler. There is also an applications generator. I did not have the opportunity to try this utility out, so I cannot comment on its operation. Per the dBMAN documentation it states "... a fully commented source code program is generated."

The pseudo-compiler included with dBMAN is called Greased Lightning. It is not a true compiler. My experience showed that the speed of my application was definitely enhanced after compiling. With the optional run-time license available from VersaSoft, it is possible to compile your application with Greased Lightning and then distribute it with their unlimited run-time version.

The Pluses and Minuses
Though there are many pluses to using a combination of Coherent and dBMAN to create a BBS, and there are some drawbacks. The primary drawback is that the operating system is not DOS and therefore a wide variety of BBS applications (i.e. doors) cannot be used. In defense of Coherent, there are packages available for free on the Internet to handle such tasks as Fidomail, Usenet, Internet mail and mail readers. These packages almost always include the source code (usually C) which further allows modifications. Also, just about any application can be run as a "door" under Coherent without modification. One of the strongest benefits of Coherent is the powerful multitasking capabilities of UNIX without having to purchase huge amounts of memory and additional software.

Summary
For a software cost of $250 and some dBASE III+ programming efforts it is possible to develop a custom multi-node BBS which can surpass the more expensive packages available from other firms. BBS applications already developed for Coherent show that performance is still good on a 386 system with eight nodes in operation. Anyone considering a multi-user BBS, where flexibility is a must, should take a look at the combination of Coherent and dBMAN as a possible low cost option. A person with an intermediate knowledge level of dBASE could build a BBS in a short period of time that would truly be different than the rest of the systems out there.

Sources:
Coherent 4.0: From Mark Williams Co. 60 Revere Dr. Northbrook, IL 60062. (800) 627-5967
dBMAN for Coherent 4.0, Ver. 5.3: From VersaSoft Corporation, P.O. Box 36078 San Jose, CA 95158 (408) 723-9044


Randy Just is the principal owner of Just Computers! (www.justcomp.com), developers of custom Internet, BBS, and business applications software.


The bottom of pages 6 and 7 had ads for Computers At Large, Megamedia Corporation (www.megamedia.com), Computer Modules (www.compumodules.com, Pacific Exchange, and the MCA Financial Group (www.interest.com/mca).



Multimedia Update

Upcoming Multimedia CD Releases
(By: Raaj Menon)

Many new CD titles are beginning to hit the retail shelves. We take a peek at some of the more interesting ones:

20th Century Video Almanac
This CD is an overview of 20th Century events. It uses an extensive archive of motion videos to produce a visual encyclopedia of the century including audio, photos, and text. The CD has over 100 historic video clips with sound totalling over one hour of full motion video. It also has over 100 photos and many pages of text. Some of the other features include special focus on categories of interest in sports, war, politics, disasters, etc. The 20th Century Almanac is just hitting the stores now and is a good buy. This is an overview CD disc. Available now. A complete 5 disc set will be available in late August with topics in Sports Science, Technology, War, Politics and Disasters.

Space Shuttle
This CD lets you take part in the Space Shuttle as though you were a member of the crew. You will participate in a fascinating Multimedia tour of every aspect of the space program. It lets you examine the design of the module, attend crew training, observe the launch sequence and monitor conversations between astronauts and Mission Control. You will also explore and master every nuance of the Space Shuttle gear and orbital flight, plus all the details of living and working in space. Available now.

Newsweek Interactive
This CD is slated for release at the end of August. This will be the first general interest magazine to be published in a quarterly, Multimedia CD-ROM format. Through its interactive documentaries you will be able to experience motion video, audio, animation and photo essays. Some of the features of Volume 1 include: videos of endangered species, colorful animations of global weather phenomena, baseball, original stories, movies, audio created by the editors of Newsweek magazine, a library of Newsweek and Washington Post articles and dozens of video and audio clips.

Oceans Below
Oceans Below introduces you to a variety of equipment components and underwater environmental factors. A map of exotic locations are provided in which you choose your ideal dive site. Learn about local sea-life through video clips and photos, and pursue a number of unique diving experiences. Explore shipwrecks, feed an eel, hitch a ride on a Manta Ray. The CD has over 45 minutes of video clips, plus numerous photos, narration and original music. Oceans Below will be available early September.

Capitol Hill
Experience what it's like to be a member of Congress. See the Capitol building on your interactive tour. Participate in ceremonies and budget reviews. Multiple video sequences and photographs, along with narration and text present a full spectrum of the sights and sounds of government from the inside. Capitol Hill also allows you to test your knowledge of Congress in a challenging game scenario. Available in September.

Mario is Missing - CD Deluxe
This CD-ROM version offers even more than the original disk product. It has more cities to explore, additional clues to collect, new artifacts to return to their rightful locations and is all enhanced by the sights and sounds of Multimedia technology. Some of the features include fully animated characters, digitized photos, voices, and sound effects and full motion video. Available in early August.

Chessmaster 4
The MPC CD-ROM version is due out in November. This will probably be the best chess game ever put on CD-ROM. Some of the features will include listening to enhanced opponent personalities commenting on the game in conversation mode, engage in long distance matches using modem and network hookups, play multiple games at once with simultaneous exhibition capability, automatic annotation, an opening book editor and SVGA graphics.

The best selling CD-ROM currently is The Seventh Guest by Virgin Games. Next issue we will cover more new title releases on CD-ROM.


The bottom of page 8 had an ads for StylePro and Western Hemispherics Technology (www.wco.com/~rholland).



BBS of the Month: Uncle D's Directory

(By: Dave Spensley)

The Uncle D's Directory is a general purpose BBS that carries many files for the hearing impaired. My niece was born with 5% hearing in one ear and 10% hearing in the other. We tried many things to help her step into our world in the best way she can. We began a search for educational tools that could bridge the gap between her world and ours.

We immediately noticed the attraction of the computer screen to Karina and her deaf friends at school, as the computer provided a tool for communication. The problem was, there was little software that provided educational communication without sound being a major part. In fact there was little software period. What was there was mostly Apple, very little IBM compatible. We felt that the more exposure people got to educational software the easier the language gap could be overcome between the hearing impaired and the rest of the population. Without a doubt, the computer could bridge the language barrier.

We searched many bulletin boards across the country looking for software that would be helpful to the deaf. We made many friends; Herb Bartow who developed a program showing ASL (American Sign Language) on the screen when the letters or words were typed in. Another friend, Frank Holmes developed Fun With Letters and Words and many more programs and has now adapted hand signs into the programs he creates. These friends and many more have become associates of our BBS and have helped our goal of having the type of educational software that is helpful to the hearing impaired.

We started Uncle D's over 4 years ago as a stopping place, a warehouse, a gathering place for enthusiasts who feel that the computer is a universal tool capable of bridging the gap between the worlds of the deaf and the hearing. The name came from Karina's sign for me.

The board is free to all to use and now has over 300 megabytes of files and games of educational and communicational value. In addition, we maintain a free classified ad section, a bulletin section and a message section where all people can communicate. We even have several full electronic newspapers which are changed monthly and are entertaining.

We are becoming very strong in game software and are acting as a central place for many software game developers. We have the RIME network that allows communication on many subjects on a national basis. Many online games and interesting items can be found in our doors. We have grown over the years into a multi-user board. Everyone is welcome!


The bottom of pages 9 and 10 had ads for Just Computers! (www.justcomp.com), and Monterey Gaming Systems.



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Start a BBS?

Thinking of starting a BBS? Here is some general advice on what's needed to start one:

Time
Figure on spending between 4 and 16 hours to set up a BBS. Fine tuning a BBS can take 20 more hours. Maintenance is about 4-8 hours a week, more if you log on and participate in the BBS yourself. Add time for any upgrades or additions to the BBS, such as networks, new nodes (telephone lines) or door games.


Telephone Lines
You need a voice grade (normal) dedicated telephone line for each node of a BBS. A single node BBS (one caller at a time) requires only 1 phone line. It is usually easy to find an extra telephone wire set to add a single line BBS.

A 4 node BBS needs 4 telephone lines and allows 4 callers at a time. Multiple lines in a residence sometimes require the Trench. Most single family homes only support 2 phone wire sets. The Sysop needs to invest considerable time and money digging a trench from the street to the house, typically requiring concrete removal and new wiring. If you have to dig a trench or take some other drastic measure, have extra phone lines installed for the future.

You should get plain residence service. Consider getting flat-rate unlimited service so your BBS can call out and you can use the line yourself. Do not get any special features. Multi-Line BBSs should consider "Hunting". For a small fee, all your telephones will appear to have the same phone number to your callers.

Hardware
You need one modem for each node of your BBS. We recommend the newer-model 14.4 external modems. You need a dedicated computer for the BBS. The computer chassis (and the modem) must be powered up 24 hours. (Technology will one day progress so that a phone call will wake up the modem and computer.) The monitor/printer/etc. peripherals to the computer can be turned off.

How powerful a computer depends on the type of BBS. A single node 2400 baud simple BBS can be constructed with almost any computer. We have BBSs listed in BABBA that do not even have a hard disk! Generally, the more powerful the computer, the better. Multi-Node BBSs with high speed modems always need powerful computers. Many BBSs have huge hard disks on very powerful computers.

When a BBS has more than 2 nodes, special hardware is required. Either a special (expensive) serial board, or a local computer network must be used. This requires more time, money and expertise than does a 1-2 node BBS. Some BBS software companies sell a complete solution for many-node BBSs. Many people hire consultants to help them install such BBS systems.

Software
As you can see in BABBA, there are many different BBS software packages. Some of the most popular packages in the Bay Area are Wildcat, PCBoard and Spitfire. Here are some quick PRO/CON looks at these packages. This is our subjective opinion, your mileage may vary:

Wildcat is available for $129 plus shipping from Mustang Software, (800) 236-6878. PRO: Good user interface. Very popular. Good support. CON: Tends to crash (for some Sysops)

PCBoard is available for $170 plus shipping from Clark Development Company, (800) 356-1686. PRO: Robust, never crashes, industrial strength BBS. Price includes 2 node support. CON: Clumsy message interface. Non-intuitive for new BBS callers.

Spitfire is available for $90 from Buffalo Creek Software, 913-39th Street, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265. PRO: One of the simpler BBS packages, modest computer requirements, no extra cost for any number of nodes. CON: Support is limited.

Besides these 3, there are many other good choices for BBS software packages. Multi-Node BBSs require multi-tasking software, such as DESQView, etc. In all cases, a BBS should be set up as a single node BBS first. After it is debugged, then upgrade to a multitasking multinode BBS.

Get a Mentor
The hardest part of putting together a BBS is the software. BBS software packages are notoriously difficult for a first timer to set up. You should select a BBS software package used by a Sysop you know - who is willing to help you install and debug it. Failing that, perhaps a consultant can help.

Use the opinion of someone you trust when selecting a BBS package. Make sure you tell that someone your goal in setting up your BBS, e.g. now many nodes, etc.

Having a mentor Sysop to guide you through the labyrinth of BBS configurations really helps. One hour of telephone support from a guru is equivalent to 16 hours of trial and error while thumbing through the manual.

Buy the BBS software package and skim/read the manual. Try the install program, get familiar with the package and how to change things. Try setting it up. When you have troubles, call your mentor. An ideal quick start to set up a BBS is to copy a Sysop's BBS setup - with their permission of course. It is far easier to change a running BBS to meet your needs than to set one up from scratch. Like many other software packages, BBSs are sometimes available as test drive or shareware versions. Like all shareware packages, you should pay the registration fees as soon as possible. Test driving a BBS package is not as useful as test driving other software packages. You should choose a BBS package because you can get support for it, or you like it (as a BBS caller), or you like its features.

If your BBS is located in your home, get a P.O. Box. BBSs usually end up having some sort of mail-in registration or a donation form. You don't want to post your home address on your BBS. When you get your BBS up, you know where to list it!


The bottom of pages 11 and 12 had ads for WH Networks (www.whnet.com), and Western Hemispherics Technology (www.wco.com/~rholland).



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Dueling Standards: V.FAST verses V.32terbo

As we mentioned in issue 1, the next generation of high speed modems will likely be V.FAST or V.32terbo. Thanks to Rockwell, V.FAST is ahead now. Rockwell is the company that makes the 'guts' of many popular modems. Rockwell is one of the companies we can thank for the wave of commodity modems that have driven prices down.

Rockwell has promised to ship their new V.FAST chip in production quantities by November. This chip includes the DSP (Digital Signal Processing) "data pump" that can handle up to 28.8 kbits/second over normal (analog) telephone lines.

Rockwell's progress on the V.FAST chip set is a setback to the V.32terbo proponents. The V.32terbo proponents formed their own group because they were impatient with the slow progress of the V.FAST specification, and chances for a worthy DSP chip set to be developed quickly. V.32terbo is a "here and now" specification for quickly boosting modem speeds to 19.2 baud.

The current crop of 14.4K modems are a great value and will not be obsolete for a few years. The outlook for BBSs is good because faster modems always increase BBS activity. Soon we will have either 19.2K or 28K modems. Rockwell is helping to decide which one will be available at commodity prices.




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Internet Corner - Archie

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

What is Archie?

Before the Archie utility, one of the most tedious things to do on the Internet was to find a file. Although FTP lets you 'get' any file on the network, little was posted about where a file is located on the Internet network.

Archie is a system which allows you to search indices of files available on public servers on the 'net'. You can ask Archie to find file names which contain a text string, or ask it to suggest files that contain a certain word in the description. Archie returns the file names that meet your criteria and the name of the server that has the files. You can then use the FTP utility to get your file from the Internet storage site.

Archie gets its name from archive. It is a utility developed in Montreal at McGill University. I personally maintain a database of over 900 Archie sites, allowing access to 50 Gigabytes of information and files. Anyone can log on to an Archie server and easily search for files.

Telnet
Telnet is used to log on to other computers on the Internet. It is used to access databases, indices, catalogs and other services available to the public. Telnet lets you work from your computer and log on to a remote computer anywhere on the net. The simplest way to use Telnet is to type: "Telnet name_of_remote_site" at the command prompt. An example of using Telnet to access the Archie utility is shown below.

Using Archie
It is good Internet etiquette to access sites closest to you, to keep system costs down. To use Archie, try the Internet (IP) address of nearby Archie site: 128.167.254.195 (the IP # for archie.sura.net)

A Session transcript with an Archie site follows. Bold prompts show system prompts and displays, italics show my comments.

{gostsaib:2} Telnet 128.167.254.195
login: Archie

Log in as Archie - to activate the Archie server.

Welcome to the ARCHIE server at SURAnet!
archie.au 139.130.4.6 (Australian server)
archie.nz 130.195.9.4 (New Zealand server)
archie.luth.se 130.240.18.4 (Sweden)

Many more servers are shown when you log in, only the first 3 are shown here.

Currently, the available help topics are:

A list of help commands is displayed next. Then you see the archie prompt.

archie>
archie>
list
984 sites are stored in the database
a.cs.uiuc.edu 128.174.252.1 02:40 14 Jun 1993

This lists all 984 archie sites available, only the first is shown here. Following is an example of using the prog command to search the database for a file.

archie> prog surfing

My keyword for Archie to search for is surfing. Archie then gives a large listing of all ftp sites that had files with the name surfing in the title.

archie> bye
{gostsaib:2}

I quit my Archie session back to the local network I started with.

My complete Archie server list, Archie site list, and the Archie help commands, are available on the Berryessa Central BBS (Babba Zone 1) as a file named 9308ARCH.BAB and is a free download. (That BBS closed years ago.)


Page 13 had ads for DC to Light and Windows Online (www.wolnet.com).



Taglines

Taglines are one-liners placed at the bottom of email messages. Here are a few examples:


Pages 14-36 had very detailed listings of local BBSs and Internet Service Providers.

Page 37 was a full-page ad for New Media Computer.
Page 38 was a full-page ad for TeleText Communications.


End of Issue 6. Go back, or to Issue 7, or to Mark's home page.