Why doesn't WCO review modems? That question has been posed by our readers many times since our charter issue. More than once, we have responded with our modem review policy:
One modem company, very confident of their product, Zoom Telephonics, saw an issue of WCO that stated our policies, and sent us two Zoom VFX 28.8 external modems to evaluate. As it turned out, this is the first model sent to us that was as good as our current USR Sportsters. (We know there are other brands of modems that would work fine, but so far, none of them have been submitted for review.)
V.FAST modems are cheaper than V.34, will (high-speed) connect with V.34, and can be upgraded to V.34. A good V.FAST modem is better than a good V.32bis (14.4 kbps) modem. And, our testing showed the Zoom VFX 28.8 to be a good modem.
The Zoom VFX 28.8 is a full featured external modem with all the specs (including MNP 10 for cellular phone use), with Class 1, 2, and Group 3 fax. This modem is packaged in a good-looking, clean, and (of interest to Sysops) stackable, high-quality plastic case. In the sunlight, you can see through the dark plastic front panel to a space that could hold a LCD or LED alphanumeric display screen. The display screen is not needed, the LEDs on the front panel clearly display the status of each connection.
We placed more than 100 calls to BBSs and Internet services with these modems, and installed them on a BBS to take more than 3,400 calls. The results were connection speeds from 1,200 to 26,400 bps, with no dropped carriers, no aborted or problematic file transfers, and no difficulty making a connection, in short, a perfect score.
We never did get a full 28.8 kbps connection speed, like any V.FAST or V.34 modem, your ability to connect at 28.8 kbps depends on the quality of the phone connection. We did get 26.4 kbps in most cases. And, reliable 26.4 kbps beats unreliable 28.8 kbps anytime!
Like most modems, when installed on a BBS, these do not reset as quickly as a Sportster modem does if an initial connection fails. With a Sportster, if you call it voice, it will stop trying and reset within 15 seconds. This is a good idea - if you can't establish contact at any speed, it's best to hangup and get ready for a realistic modem call. So far, in our testing, only the Sportster does this. Other modems keep trying for as long as the S7 setting allows.
The Zoom modem worked out of the box. For BBS use, modems usually need customized NVRAM settings. We installed the modems on a PCBoard (software brand) BBS, so we initialized them with PCBoard's modem setup program to (mostly factory defaults):
The retail package includes a manual. The first page introduces the modem as a 14.4 kbps modem. Aside from that, it is clearly written and easy to follow. Also included is a quickstart brochure and a reference card. Ignore the Quickstart brochure's request you possess the "Packet of free and reduced-price database offers" (We think that's a typo, all we found was online service provider offers.)
You can use the Zoom VFX 28.8i as is, or upgrade it to V.34. Although the V.34 upgrade is available now, ($49.95) there is no mention of it on the box, or in any documentation. (Call technical support or their BBS for information.) Bundled software is WinFax Lite and DosFax Lite for faxing and COMit for DOS and Windows. (Use COMit to download another modem program, e.g., Telix.) A typical array of major online service provider offerings are included: Delphi, CompuServe, Reuters, Prodigy, and that hard-to-find rarity - an America Online startup disk.
The Zoom VFX 28.8 external modem is
available at stores, works great, and we
recommend it. Their BBS number is (617)
423-3733, Voice (617) 423- 1076, or Fax
Soon, we'll upgrade our test modems to V.34 and report our results, although we expect it to work the same way as the V.FAST version - excellently.
Page 19 had ads for DSP.NET (www.dsp.net), and the Internet Roundtable Society (www.wbs.net).
I have been a BBS Sysop since 1989. One of the BBS packages I investigated was TBBS. Although I liked the flexibility of TBBS, and the fact that it could run 64 lines on a single PC, it was too expensive for me at the time. It was around $400 for a two-line version back then, so I opted instead for a shareware copy of Remote Access for $50.
I came across a book called Creating Successful Bulletin Board Systems by Alan D. Bryant that comes with a full-featured, two-line copy of the TBBS BBS software, all for only $39.95. This book is interesting in a number of ways. It provides theory on running a BBS, good practical advice, and although it comes with TBBS it is not a TBBS manual. (An ASCII copy of a TBBS manual is available on the disk that contains TBBS.)
The first chapter starts off by telling you that you may not want to run a BBS at all. If your goal is to have a system for transferring files between corporate offices, or if you just want to be able to work on a computer remotely, then a full-blown BBS system is not what you need. The book lists the different capabilities, advantages, and disadvantages of various types of telecom software. This helps you to decide what is right for your needs.
If you decide that a BBS is what you need, then read the chapter on figuring out what your reason is for running a BBS. Is it going to be a company information system? A business in its own right? Is it your latest hobby? Do you just want to be the coolest dude or dudette on the block?
Deciding why you want to run a BBS before implementing it will help you to pick software that can support what you want to do. For instance, if it's going to be a business information system, the software had better be user-friendly or you may end up frustrating clients who try to use it. If you plan to make money from running a BBS you should probably make sure that your BBS software has subscription, billing, and audit trail features. If it's just a hobby, your BBS software had better be capable of providing the services that you want for your users.
There is a chapter on picking a theme for your BBS. Some people may think this is silly. However, unless you find some way to differentiate your BBS from the zillions of systems out there, you are not going to get as many callers as you should. People need a reason to call once, and then you've got to give them a reason to call again and again. Picking a good theme and implementing it is crucial to a BBS's long-term success.
One thing the book hinted at but did not mention was the BBS that tries to be all things to all people. I have called BBS systems that have offered "40 online games, 100 file areas, and 1000 message echos." This sounds great, until you realize that the Sysop is running a one-line BBS system, so there's no way that the 40 games will also have players you can compete with, the file areas will never all get filled, and no one on the system will be able to keep up with the 1000 message echos so you probably won't be able to make friends with anyone in the message areas.
A typical one-line hobby system that's just starting can probably support 2 games, 10 file areas, and 6 or so message areas. After things pick up, then add games, file areas, or message areas as needed. If message areas aren't filling up (and you want them to), you may want to remove some games or files, or vice versa. Finding the right balance takes considerable time and thought.
The chapter on calculating the costs of a BBS should be read by anyone thinking of setting up a BBS for the first time. Many people don't realize how much a BBS can cost in time and money until they're in over their heads. Everyone who's been calling boards for a while has seen the "Three Month Wonders," BBSs that pop up and shut down quickly. This chapter might convince some people to wait until they're really ready before they start.
There are also sections on picking BBS hardware, understanding the tradeoffs of different types of multiline BBS software, mail networks, graphical BBSs, caller ID, and many types of doors that are available. If you plan on running a BBS as a business, there are chapters on business structures, advertising, marketing, billing, getting a credit card merchant account, liabilities, taxes, licensing, and accounting. In a few places, the book gives the impression you should wear a suit and tie while working on the BBS!
My biggest disappointment with the book was the section on BBS legal matters, all two pages of it. I can summarize the legal advice given in two sentences: Don't worry, be happy. If you are still worried, talk to an attorney.
If you are thinking about starting a BBS, or want to try TBBS, you should buy this book. If you are running a hobby BBS and want to turn it into a business, the book is helpful. If you've been running a successful BBS for more than a year, you already know everything in this book.
Page 20 had ads for IBBS West, and Black Tie Records (www.wco.com/~blacktie).
On the text-based Internet, there are FAQ files (documents addressing "frequently asked questions" about a wide range of subjects), gophers, and other informational files available by ftp. The addition of graphics and, sometimes, sound, brings new tools to the user-driven "gift mix". Paul Philips found this out with what started as a tongue-in-cheek posting to the alt.culture.internet newsgroup on Usenet (reprinted with permission):
Doing a little catch-up web surfing, I happened upon
http://www.cs.rpi.edu/~zalewskk/disclist.htmlat which this character put a list of every CD he owns on WWW. This is a 30K file. I think this is only one in a long list of possible useless uses for the web. We have only begun to scratch the surface. Imagine:
I expect to have the happeningest web pages on the planet, and you are welcome to come by anytime! Yes, waste your life away reading about trivialities of my life that even I don't care about! It's the future, man!
- Check out my lunch database and find out what i've been eating the past few weeks! Search on any food and find out how often its been in my diet! GlFs plotting average calorie consumption also available.
- On Paul's wardrobe page, see what's in my closet! It's updated daisy to reflect what's currently in the laundry basket and what's available for wearing. Want to help me pick my attire for today? Send me email.
- Real time link to my car's odometer. See the miles advance as you watch! I must be driving somewhere then, get it?
Have you ever seen a list of CDs that somebody you don't know owns? YOU WILLTM.
On a whim I'm starting a collection. So far the CD page is the only winner, but who knows how large this might grow - send me submissions. The URL for endless fun is: http://www.primus.com/staff/paulp/useless.html - Catch the fever!
The useless.html references the Cool Site of the Day, and accurately describes it as not always living up to its name. Some days are cooler than others, but it's interesting to check out anyhow. http://www.infi.net/cool.html.
One of the December Cool Sites was a terrific offering originating in the Bay Area, Real Beer, all about microbreweries. It's also one of the best examples of web design out there to date - the right mix of useful information and commercial content. The public transit pub crawl (and the link to the San Francisco Bay Area public transit page) is inspired. http://and.com:80/realbeer.
To view the San Francisco Bay Area Transit Information
Project's World Wide Web page direct:
People with connections to transit agencies whose information should be here but isn't might want to exercise a little influence with those agencies to help this project out. The Bay Area Transit Information Project can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On to the arts... the San Jose Symphony has a visitors' center on the World Wide Web. You can view upcoming concert programs, listen to musical excerpts from selected upcoming concerts, see pictures of the San Jose Symphony, view seating charts for the concert halls to help you decide on ticket purchases, and view pictures of the conductor. No ticket ordering online yet - that's in the plans. http://www.webcom.com/~sjsympho.
All this traveling around the web making you hungry?
How about a trip to Godiva Chocolate, which has teamed
up on this web page with Chocolatier Magazine.
Recipes, trivia, order information, recipes, and did
I say recipes? http://www.godiva.com.
After that sugar rush, check out radio personality Alex Bennett's page. http://www.hooked.net/alex/.
Okay, your friends want to know what's so special about World Wide Web. Rush them off to the Plastic Princess Page. Hint: It's about Barbie. http://deepthought.armory.com/~zenugirl/barbie.html. And ending this month's tour in the realm of the sublime, the Grand Canyon National Park page, a gift to Internet users from a private citizen. http://www.kbt.com/gc/gc_home.
Note: Sometimes the web page address needs a trailing slash ("/") and sometimes it doesn't. If you can't retrieve a page and you've typed an address in without it, try adding the trailing slash.
Page 21 had ads for the iNFormation Exchange BBS, Atlantis BBS, and SF Hotel Reservations (www.hotelres.com).
Businesses of many sizes have installed Novell servers but don't have the luxury of a full-time system administrator. Here are eight tips for those who must maintain a small Novell network:
1. If running a non-dedicated server, make the investment in hardware to move up to a dedicated server. You will benefit from speed improvements and have fewer corrupted data files.
2. If you run Novell Netware Version 2.2, upgrade to Novell 3.12. Version 2.2 is obsolete and soon Novell will discontinue support. Novell has twice lowered prices on the newer versions to encourage people to upgrade.
3. When running Novell version 3.1X, it's easy to fill up a hard drive. When deleting a file, it is removed only from the file listing that you see. To really delete the file, you must login as supervisor and go to the root directory of the network drive (e.g., F:\) Then, type F:\PURGE /ALL. This will delete all files that were marked as deleted from the hard drive so you can use the freed-up space. The system should be purged at least once a month - once a week is better. (Remember, is fairly easy to un-delete a file from your network drive - if you have not run purge.)
4. Keep your network safe from viruses. Viruses can redirect, destroy, or corrupt data on your computer and network. They move from computer to computer hiding in the boot sector of a disk or attached to other files on a disk. Once your network is infected all computers attached to it can also be affected. Here are a few ways to prevent a virus infection:
Always use passwords. Change the supervisor password periodically, and keep it secret. Do not walk away from a PC where you have logged in as supervisor. Do not grant supervisor equivalence to any user. Passwords and access rights are the keys to the kingdom - guard them carefully. Grant access sparingly.
To stop unauthorized access, use the console command SECURE CONSOLE. This will prevent users from changing date and time, loading NLMs, copying files from the \SYSTEM directory, or removing DOS from the file server.
6. Check the security on your network. At the DOS prompt on networked PC, type SECURITY to start Novell's user security scan. You might want to type SECURITY > SECURITY.LOG to put the report in a file called SECURITY. LOG to save and edit with a word processor. The security program will find possible security violations:
On your home or remote computer, run the second part of these programs with a modem attached to your computer and phone line. When you run the program on your side, it calls the Network computer to allow you to run it as if you were there. You could use the computer at your office to call another stores to check on sales, or update inventory. Some businesses transfer data files from remote sites to the main office at the end of the day to monitor sales, inventory, etc.
8. Prices for hard disks have plummeted, tempting you to add disk space to your server. If you do, consider extending the current volumes across new disks. Netware volumes can span physical disks, and the server can write to multiple hard disks simultaneously. Spreading volumes across hard disks should improve server speed.
Page 22 had ads for Liberty (www.liberty.com), Party Line (www.partyline.com), Nolo Press (www.nolo.com), and the Auto-PC, Anathema Downs, Catalina Avenue, and the Searchlight of San Luis Obispo BBSs.
For me, email is a godsend. It allows me to communicate both quickly and inexpensively with people around the world. There's no quicker way to fill up your in-box, as well as your address book, than with listservs (listservers). Listservs (sometimes called discussion groups or mail lists) are similar to Usenet groups (e.g., comp.dcom.modems, alt.barney.die.die.die, etc.) The chief difference is the Usenet is open to anyone's perusal, while listservs are restricted to those who subscribe.
Each listserv group consists of a list of the email addresses of all subscribers to that group. This list is kept at a central location, and each time an email message is sent to the list's address, it is forwarded to each subscriber. As a subscriber to any particular group, you may receive anywhere from one or two messages a day to as many as a hundred, depending on the group and the topic (thread) of discussion.
Listserv systems have both a "subscribe to" address and a separate address to post messages to the list. The subscription address is the mail server at the site. There might be a hundred lists on a single server. The server handles tasks such as maintaining the subscriber rolls for each list. The message address is for the list itself. If you post to this address, it is broadcast to all list subscribers.
Listservs were originally set up on Bitnet, an academic subgroup of the Internet. Most Bitnet sites have listserv software that manages the lists, and often their archives, automatically.
Today, there are many types of mailing lists, each having some degree of automation. The listservs are generally the most sophisticated, the majordomos somewhat less so, and some can only forward mail and perform no automatic maintenance at all. Those in this last category can be annoying when it comes to changing your email address or unsubscribing.
Each list has an "owner," or administrator, who manages the subscriber list and makes sure the technical aspects are working. Sometimes this includes "moderating" the list. A moderator looks at each post before letting it go out to the list, and may discard those that are irrelevant or repetitious. If space is a problem, you may want to stick to moderated lists.
When subscribing to a list you will usually receive a message with information about changing your mail options, searching the archives of the list and unsubscribing. Save this message - it can come in very handy later. Generally, you can unsubscribe by sending a message with the words "UNSUB listname". If that doesn't work try "SIGNOFF listname" instead.
One way to obtain a list of listservs on a given topic by sending email to email@example.com. Leave the subject line blank, with the body of the message containing the words: LIST GLOBAL /topic. You can inquire about more than one topic by adding lines LIST GLOBAL /topic2, etc.
Also useful is the "How to Find an Interesting Mailing list" file. To receive it, follow the above directions but change the body of the message to "GET NEW-LIST WOUTERS".
Dartmouth offers a list-of-lists on their gopher
This list includes a wider range of lists than the address
above. It can be downloaded as large text files or
as a database complete with searching software. You can
now search the Dartmouth database more easily using the
InterLinks navigator at Nova Southeastern University:
To search listservs: (http://alpha.acast.nova.edu/cgi-bin/lists).
The home page is: (http://alpha.acast.nova.edu/start.html).
Jan Hanford and John Buckman of the Walter Shelby Group have a listserv page that has alphabetical listings by title and category. (http://www.clark.net/pub/listserv/listserv.html) They also have a commercial software package called InfoMagnet that will perform searches for listservs and even send subscription requests automatically.
This illustrates a valuable lesson: With email, etiquette, or "netiquette," is very important. Remember that you're communicating with people you've never met, through an impersonal medium. People often find it easy to send off a tirade they wouldn't dream of uttering in conversation.
Choose your words carefully, especially if the thread is one you feel strongly about. You may not only offend the person with whom you have a disagreement, but also others on the list and this will shade their opinion of you. I've seen many "mea culpa" posts from people who hadn't realized how offensive they sounded until their own post was bounced back to them.
Listservs sometimes have companion Usenet groups, usually found in the "bitnet.listserv" hierarchy. When a listserv is also on Usenet, the interaction between the two can take different forms. Generally, all the mail posted to the mailing list will be posted on the Usenet group, but not vice versa. If a list is available as posts on a Usenet group, you can peruse it at your leisure without piling up email. Most lists will be of no interest to you, so look for a list where you'll actually enjoy reading the posts. Otherwise, it will become a pain to keep your mailbox from filling up.
The hottest thing at COMDEX 94 was probably COMDEX 95! The tone was set by the not ready for prime time player, Windows 95; the product that has all of its camp followers not ready too. Besides Windows, other excellent products such as WARP were present, saying, why wait for a true preemptive multitasking 32-bit OS when you can have it all NOW! While IBM's parade is a good one, it's also a short one. The people are looking for Chicago in a town near them. There are also lots of empty motherboards looking for CPUs too.
What the world needs is a great $10 CPU. Intel has hinted at dozens of variants of its Pentium chip but until they are made from silicon rather than Unobtainium, and the price drops below 3 digits (FF hex doesn't count) the Pentiums will go to the deep pockets and the average user will be at the Windoze store looking in.
The combination of newly emerging CPUs and the PCI bus, has kept the motherboard designers working overtime. The scarcity of the new silicon has probably done the average user a great favor. It has allowed the peripheral chip designers, PCI bus specifiers, and BIOS code writers a chance to get their products debugged before mass production propagates grief.
The old 16-MHz 386 (They were supposed to be 20 MHz but Intel couldn't make them run at 20 MHz) development motherboards had parallel and serial ports. Many early 386 and 486 motherboards copied this feature and even added an IDE interface. Motherboards of this type quickly lost favor when the inability to turn off these built-in ports was missing and the BIOS refused to access off-motherboard ports.
They're B A C K! This time, on-board motherboard ports may be the greatest thing since Swiss Cheese (The holey alliance between Intel and the PCI Institute). Let's look at the PCI bus to see why. First a brief review of history.
The lack of a VESA local bus standard turned it into a disaster. VESA motherboard buyers simply didn't have any assurance that VESA cards would be compatible with their motherboards. Intel didn't want to repeat history. They wanted a 64-bit local bus that would allow its Pentium to shine. PCI was their answer, and they sought to prevent the re-occurrence of the VESA disaster by designing the tightest bus specifications ever written. (It didn't work, hence the PCI 2 spec.) For end users, the best part was the specification of no address or interrupt jumpers (soft configuration). Interrupts are even shareable!
The PCI specification limits a motherboard to a maximum of 5 bus loads. Five loads translates to a maximum of four cards since at least one load is used by the motherboard. If this was a general utility bus, a limit of four cards could be a problem. Since there are really only two common applications that need the bandwidth of a local bus, video and disk adapters, five loads seem like more than enough.
Current PCI motherboards feature 2, 3, and 4 slot configurations. The PCI slot connectors are easily spotted by their white color. PCI designs also use conventional ISA (black color) or EISA (brown color) slots for conventional functionality. Some even feature ISA/VESA slots (How's that for covering your bet?).
The new PCI motherboards have many other features, some new and some old. The first is a new PCI / ISA (or EISA) BIOS. With soft-configurable PCI slots, the BIOS must now keep track of system configuration. There are also new chip sets to replace the original buggy Intel Pentium Neptune chip set. Some have incorporated the keyboard BIOS within the chip set functions.
The ISA slots conform to the original IBM PC-AT specification going on ten years old. Too old for soft configuration. However, if those functions normally performed by ISA bus cards were on the motherboard, the BIOS could keep track of them too.
National Semiconductor has been making an IDE, floppy, parallel, double serial, and game port on a single chip for some time. Variations of these chips are seen on many of the new motherboards. Most offer Advanced IDE (AIDE) ports. A few offer SCSI, or IDE and SCSI, on the motherboard as well. Some are configurable like they were on the PCI bus, but a few still use the old technology. The best part of all these features is that motherboards having them cost about the same as without them. This makes PCI/SCSI motherboards (minus CPU) cheaper than PCI/SCSI daughterboards. It also makes the motherboard a lot cheaper than the Pentium chip required for it.
The big question is which Pentium to choose. NextGen is offering a 586. Cyrix is offering a Pentium soon. AMD will be starting Alpha testing of their Pentium within a few months. Which choice depends on your timing and your budget. Right now the plentiful Pentium market seems to be limited to the Intel 66 MHz. The 80 and 100 MHz versions are in short supply. Be prepared to pay close to $500. If that's too stiff for your budget (and a buggy chip), then wait 3 to 9 months. Intel is expected to follow its practice used with introduction of competing 386 chips of sharply lowering prices to freeze out competitors. Whether you buy an Intel chip or a competitor chip, you'll save money.
Cyrix is expected to be first with a non-Intel Pentium. However, many are betting on AMD. Unlike Cyrix, AMD foundries its own chips, and historically makes totally compatible chips-with better performance than Intel's chips. AMD expects to be in full production in about nine months.
NEC introduced their quad speed CD-ROM player at COMDEX 93. There were quite a few more quads this year. The most interesting were the TEACs that were only half the height of a normal CD-ROM player. This leaves room for some other device in the same area. The most popular combinations were CD-ROM / hard disk and CD-ROM / 3.5" floppy. There was also a six CD-ROM jukebox player selling for little more than a single CD-ROM player.
For the second year, Apple's presence was subdued. Only a handful of MACs displays were seen at the show. The same was true of UNIX and other non-PC platforms. COMDEX could just as well be renamed COMDEX-PC.
Page 23 had an ad for Prestige PC Services.
Pages 24-27 had listings of thousands of BBSs.
Pages 24-27 had ads for Nitelog (Now Red Shift Internet) (www.redshift.com), and the California Systems, UFO, Terminal One, and the Sacramento Pacific Exchange BBSs.
Page 28 had a full-page ad for the WCO Internet Service.
End of Issue 23. Go back, or to
Issue 24, or to
Mark's home page.