I always do the BBS network files first, because the direct mail files can leave me in a state of rage somewhere between highly incensed and "kick the dog". Why? The mailed transmittals can be so stupid!
I realize that is an offensive word and that I should say the people sending them are ignorant or need educating, but I'm sorry, they are still stupid. There is no other word for it. Let me explain:
Before I cast aspersions on all ASP authors, let me say that authors are not a homogeneous group. Some do a very fine job of preparing program transmittals. Unfortunately, they are in the minority. The majority demonstrate they know nothing of BBS operation or of virus transmittal. If I may use an analogy, this is like a 747 pilot that knows nothing about airports or thunderstorms. You don't want to fly on his airplane.
Sometimes I wonder if these authors think that I am in dire need of their file transmittals. Since my disks always seem to be full, I must remove one file from my board for every file I place on the board. It is much easier to not update the board. Each new program is like a new box of soap flakes competing for space on the supermarket shelves. For many submissions the result will be, No Soap Today!
Let me use one ASP submittal from Washington as an example. The names have been changed to protect the guilty. After unsuccessfully trying to access the disk, I determined it was a FRIsBY-PO. The name has a double meaning. FRIsBY-PO is an acronym for Fixed-up Really Intently By Your Post Office. The name also refers to what I do with the disks.
The submittal envelope was constructed from a standard 8 1/2 x 11 laser printed sheet, folded over and taped in three places. The front is labeled in two places with the words, FIRST CLASS MAIL, DO NOT BEND, as if the processing machines would tender special handling. The back was labeled with a beautiful bit-mapped ASP logo plus nineteen lines of text describing the submittal. The spindle and mutilate post office machines couldn't tell which side of the envelope contained the address or stamp, so it canceled both sides. So much for reading the description. Let's try the disk.
The 360K, 5.25" disk was enclosed in a paper sleeve without packing
or padding of any kind. A directory listing showed only three
files: INSTALL.BAT, FILENAME.EXE and README. Excuse me! Where are
the ASP files? Where is VENDOR.DOC ?
Where is FILENAME.ZIP containing FILE_ID.DIZ ?
I pride myself in having really good file descriptions. I allow up to 10 lines of description. Sometimes, I add to the existing descriptions, if I think the file needs it. I have a problem with user uploads. I get descriptions like: A "really great program", A "really great game", or "Makes your disk run fast". It doesn't matter what the uploader writes, if the ZIP file contains a FILE_ID.DIZ file because the users description is replaced with the description within the ZIP file. This is the authors one big chance to bypass the users short file description with one of his own. It's a shame to pass it up.
A poor file description is the kiss of death for many files. Most users must be sold on the benefit of the file before they will take the time to download. A record of downloads is automatically maintained by my BBS, and if the file hasn't been downloaded within a year... it's goodbye file.
I read the README file on the disk. It contained a one line hint as to its application. I imagined, if the disk could talk, the dialogue would sound like this:
[Disk] Please, Mr. Sysop, put me on your board.Stupid dialogue? You bet! But what about the information on the sleeve that couldn't be read? I thought, this must be another shareware author that thinks I don't like using my thousands of dollars of investment in computers and that I would rather spend my time typing in his descriptions from printed text.
[Sysop] Love to, Mr. Disk. What do you do?
[Disk] I'm sorry. That's a secret.
How clever he used the back of the envelope for his text too. Well, not really. He could have printed it on the inside of the envelope. What about the edges of the paper? Why didn't he just put his stamp on the floppy sleeve? Why bother with envelopes or packing? Do unsealed floppies go for post card rate? I bet he could have saved another two cents.
I squinted through the cancellation to find the words: ...you are authorized to distribute FILENAME* subject to the conditions contained in the file VENDOR.DOC. Load FILENAME on your BBS as FILENAME.EXE ... (* Name changed to FILENAME to protect the guilty.)
Wait a minute! You don't have a VENDOR.DOC or OMBUDSMAN.TXT. Perhaps, it's because your 360k disk already uses 360,897 bytes with three files. Besides, I think there is something else wrong.
Let me get this straight. I'm going to put up a BBS. I'm going to pay for the software. I'm going to pay for the phone line. I'm going to put hundreds if not thousands of hours into my BBS and now you are going to tell me how to place your file on my BBS... When you have not had the courtesy to ZIP your program, have not provided a file description, much less, the files ASP promises me you will provide... When you have not had the courtesy to even ask... In fact you are telling me... And... Oh yes, if I really want to support ASP, I should join ASP (if ASP approves of my board) and pay $50 a year to be a second-class non-voting member to help authors to make money off my board.
OK, maybe I'm easy. I attempt to ZIP the files for this poor, rude, ignorant author. Before I process the disk, I check it for viruses. The disk fails the file integrity check. I remove the disk and slowly rotate it. Then I see it, a small dimple on the disk that matches the one on the envelope. The post office strikes again. FRIsBY-PO time. What a waste of my time. What a waste of the author's time and money. Now that's stupid, isn't it?
The easiest and most inexpensive way to go from a one-line BBS to two lines is to use multitasking software, such as DesqView 2.60, OS/2 2.1, DesqView X, or even Windows 3.1/NT.
Make sure the BBS software you use is capable of running multiple lines. Many shareware, and most commercial packages, such as PCBoard, Wildcat, The Major BBS, and TBBS, are all built specifically to handle multiple nodes. All you really need to do is copy the correct files (as listed in your BBS documentation) to a 2nd directory, open two windows under your multi-tasking software (I strongly suggest using DesqView 2.60) and start two copies of your BBS software. Each copy is configured to use a different modem.
Setting up a small network is a great way to expand your system inexpensively up to a point. When you start getting big (more than 4-6 nodes), it gets expensive each time you want to add another node or two. You'll need to buy a minimum of $500-$600 worth of equipment for every two nodes you add. (Mini-Tower Case, 386 Motherboard, Memory, Monitor Card, Keyboard, Floppy Drive, I/O Card with 16550s, etc.) Of course, you need to buy the modems at around $140-$200 apiece.
With a regular serial card, or a non-intelligent serial card, the CPU must interrupt whatever it's doing every time 1-16 bytes needs to be sent to, or from a modem. With 4-8 lines running simultaneously, this can bog down any CPU quickly, which causes all the nodes to slow down significantly.
Examples of intelligent serial cards are the ARNET SmartPort Plus 16 ($1695 retail) and the Digiboard 8/XE ($900). These cards have a CPU on board, generally a 80186, to help off-load communications processing from the CPU. A key feature of intelligent serial cards are the use of dual-ported RAM, which is simply a segment of memory (16K-512K) that both the serial card and the CPU can address directly.
An intelligent card allows the CPU to write directly to memory, in any size chunk it needs to, from 1 byte to 64k or more. This means the CPU can dump large quantities of information onto the intelligent serial card, and then let it handle sending data to the modems, as required. Obviously, intelligent cards are a great advantage when running more than 4 lines on a single machine.
As you can see, after 4 nodes, costs start to grow astronomically with LAN based systems. When you add in other things, such as electricity at $20/Month per CPU, space required to house the equipment, time spent maintaining the LANs, the intelligent serial card system starts to look very appealing.
In most cases, a multi-port serial card is the more cost-effective way to expanding your BBS past 4 lines. The best ones out there, in my opinion, are made by a company called ARNET. They run faster than the Digi-Boards, and have a 24-Hour replacement policy, with free unlimited 800 number technical support. When you expand your BBS, the initial high cost of $500-$1700 is offset quickly.
The issue of ethics in online communications is rarely dealt with in a mature manner. Instead, the press, including well-meaning computer experts, often focus on the misdeeds and activities of such groups as skin-heads, neo-nazis, child pornographers and other bizarre groups that operate on the fringes of the online world.
Online ethics can be explored from several perspectives. The Buddhist perspective, in the form of five precepts, or "guidelines for living", is presented here.
Unlike a set of commandments or laws, these precepts are considered a natural morality, one on which the universe is based. When one follows precepts, one is in harmony with the universe. When one violates this natural morality, the universe is unbalanced and usually corrects itself with often painful results.
The Buddhist practice is built on at least 200 precepts. For our purposes, we will concern ourselves with lay people. Monks and nuns are specially trained to uphold morality, something that lay people have a much harder time accomplishing because of our ever-changing environment and social conditions. Lay people are expected to follow a minimum of 5 precepts.
Each of these precepts, as stated earlier, are not laws or commandments. They are ethical guidelines for fostering spiritual development. As ideals, precepts are often hard to live up to. One should occasionally review ones progress to explore where one may be lacking. We will also fail at times to uphold the precepts. In this case we need to be firm but not harsh, like dealing with a small child. Dust yourself off and stand up again. One Zen saying reads: "Fall down seven times, get up eight."
We must vow to promote ideas as if they were endowed with their own lives. We must also foster a peaceful atmosphere and manner that promotes similar activity. If you meet up with an idea that you happen to like or respect, foster it and make it grow. If you encounter a nasty idea that you don't care for, or even despise, cross the grid and walk the other way. Be just and avoid violence at all costs.
Violence also comes in the form of "ones and zeroes." We should have a look at our online "games" collection. For example, Castle Wolfenstein is a programming marvel - but it is also an incredibly violent interactive game, whose realism only increases its popularity. These kinds of toys may appear to be harmless. After all, nobody gets hurt, right? However, it's the psychological effects that we should be concerned with. With increased exposure to violence, whether real or make-believe, we become desensitized. Since our goal is realization, desensitization is another hurdle in understanding ourselves and how our minds work.
Most of us use shareware. Although we are not legally required to register shareware, use beyond specified limits is a violation of the trust between you and the software author. In a sense, it is stealing. We should register shareware when possible.
To deter theft, we should practice the opposite of stealing: giving. Please give advice to confused people or those with questions. Also, please upload authorized software to promote the concept of shareware and freeware. Another important point is to register with and support online services and publications that you use regularly. Like spiritual centers, your donations are needed to promote the activities of the many so-called "free" entities.
Sexuality can be a positive aspect of our lives, one that fits into a spiritual framework. To form an ethical online guideline for the use of sex, one must ask: "What is the appropriate use of sex?" I would answer that it would be an activity that promotes the full nature of a human being - body and mind. Titillation and exploitation often fail to miss this mark. There are some tasteful nude graphics of both men and women, and there are interesting adult conferences on various sexual issues. However, the line of tastefulness is hard to draw, and these materials don't seem to overtly promote spiritual practice.
In addition, adult software and graphics lack material form - they are not real. They lack the substance of a true lover and the intimacy of one who cares for you. The goal here is full psychological and spiritual development. We want to base ourselves in reality, not the delusion of fantasy and false values.
We must also be wary of the people around us. In this cyberworld of amorphous people and personalities, we will eventually come upon individuals who, through online interaction, become sexually attractive. We must not treat this differently from any other encounter in RL (Real Life), the opposite of the 'imaginary' world of VR (Virtual Reality) or Cyberspace. We must continually show respect and restraint, appropriate to the situation. Since our likelihood of actually meeting the individual is slim, the emphasis here is psychological.
While online, we should tell the truth, including one's real name and phone number (if required). The reason for requiring truthful information is to foster responsibility for one's actions. Users having a name similar to Julie Smith have a tendency to be more responsible than those with names like Butch Cassidy or Batman. This small bit of truth allows us to foster responsibility and community among the cybersangha.
When responding to messages in conferences, remember that online services can be considered "electronic publishers" of information. Don't say or claim anything that you are not fully prepared to back up with proper sources. This also includes correct speech that promotes spiritual practice and the upholding of these precepts.
Correct perception of reality precludes drug abuse which can keep us confused and off-balance. Therefore, like in the example of medicinal purposes, drugs and alcohol are not inherently bad or evil. It's only when drugs unnecessarily cloud over perception that delusion (and suffering) begins.
How could drug abuse possibly be a problem in Cyberspace? There's a more subtle form of drug use that releases chemicals into our bodies through outside stimuli. In Cyberspace these catalysts are those dreaded "ones and zeroes", meaning programs like shareware games. You may laugh, but watch your breathing the next time you play the latest VGA/SoundBlaster virtual-destruction game. Not only do these programs desensitize us to death and suffering, they give caffeine, cocaine, and other drugs a real run for the money. This is not to say you shouldn't play them (they're definitely one of my vices); just be aware of how they affect the body, and decide if it's how you really want to feel.
These five "cyberprecepts" form the basis for the "cybersangha", the goal being to view things just as they are, without delusion. It may sound revolutionary in this instant-gratification society, but the cyberculture is used to periodic "revolutions". May auspiciousness be upon you.
Gary Ray is a Zen Buddhist lay monk, and a graduate of the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley. Gary is the publisher of the CyberSangha publication, which is on the web at www.wenet.net/~csangha.
Page 16 had an ad for Just Computers! (www.justcomp.com).
Page 17 had an ad for the Pacific Exchange BBS, Computer Modules (www.compumodules.com), and the Bust out BBS.
Q: For the past week, my modem has all of a sudden become "jerky". It types a line of characters, then stops for a minute or two, then types another line. It gets REALLY annoying after a while...
A: One can only guess, since there is not enough information to tell for sure. I'm guessing the "E" in your 2400E model is for error correcting. You need to look up the command for your modem (mine uses "\N0") that turns off error correcting. When you have done that, one of two things will happen:
If you get a ton of funny looking characters, it's because you have a bad phone line or some other device sharing the line (like an extension), or worse yet a broken modem. Have you changed anything lately, like adding an answering machine, with your phone setup?
If everything works fine after turning off error correction, it is likely your hardware and software are fighting over who does error correction because your modem firmware is wrong. Check with the manufacturer to see if new ROMs are available, or get a new modem.
Q: I run a 12-line 2400 baud BBS and the weird thing is that USR Sportster model modems don't seem to be able to connect reliably.
A: The problem is likely the Sportsters. Some older Sportsters were shipped from the factory with the B1 setting as the factory default. The correct setting is "B0". Do not confuse it with "&B".
BTW, if you are using V.32 modems, they will connect with the Sportster at 2400E. I see one or two a day. Since very few 2400 baud modems have error correction, it's a dead give away. I jump into chat mode and ask them if they are using a USR modem and they wonder how I know.
Q: What is the difference between error correcting hardware and error correcting protocols?
A: Good question. The simple answer is hardware error correction is much faster and much more expensive than software error correction. This apples to oranges comparison of error correction is really more like an apples to watermelons comparison. First, a few definitions:
"Error Correction" is when you say 2 + 2 = 5 ... no, 2 + 2 = 4. In this case you have both detected and corrected your own error.
This contrasts with "Error Detection" where you say 2 + 2 = 5 and pass the paper to your teacher, who says your calculation has an error and returns it to you to correct yourself. The teacher could have corrected the error - and then it would be called error correction.
Error Correction versus Error Detection is a very important distinction that is frequently abused. Most so-called error correcting protocols are really error detecting protocols.
Why be so picky? There are places where only true error correction will work. If your business has a cashier, you would want your cashier to be an error-correcting cashier. (If you rely on your customers to correct errors, you could be out some change.) There are other places where error-detection is enough. How about light bulbs? When a light bulb burns out we detect its failure. Error correction is not needed because we replace the light bulb.
The are lots of different kinds of error detection/correction and most can be implemented in both hardware and software. Let's contrast the difference by looking at the economics of error detection versus correction.
Personal Computers use error detecting RAM (Random Access Memory). Error detection takes an additional memory bit for every (8 bit) byte of storage memory. Military PCs may use error correcting RAM. It takes at least 3 extra bits for every byte of error correcting RAM. Error correction is desirable, but the cost is not always justifiable. The space shuttle uses both hardware and software error correction.
Back to error correcting protocols. The first XMODEM used a simple checksum to detect errors. If an error was detected, a "NAK" or negative acknowledgment was sent and the bad block of data was resent. This form of error detection is sometimes called "Backward Error Correction" leading to the erroneous title of error correction.
Today, most protocols operate (In the context of error correction) just like XMODEM does, except for a slightly more advanced form of checksumming. One exception is YMODEM-G. It does not detect or correct errors. YMODEM-G is normally used in conjunction with hardware error correcting modems. Most BBSs will not allow the YMODEM-G protocol selection unless an error correcting (hardware) modem is connected on both ends.
Q: My favorite BBS will not allow .EXE files to be uploaded. They say it's for security. How does uploading an .EXE file compromise security?
A: Most BBSs maintain intense virus screening. Still, no one is ready to claim their virus screening detects all viruses and "Trojan Horse" viruses. EXE files are a favorite hiding place for viruses. Not allowing .EXE uploads is one part superstition, one part convenience, and one part historical.
The old CP/M boards had a real concern, because they let the user drop down to the operating system level. Today, no BBS program lets a user drop down to the OS level. However, it is still a convenience and an extra protection to have everything ZIPped up with all the files in one package.
For the superstitious, the ZIP structure adds another layer of protection. ZIP is the most popular file compression standard used by BBSs. The ZIP file structure does not find, remove, or kill viruses - but it does prevent the actions of a virus from infecting the BBS. Besides virus protection, ZIP files have many additional benefits:
Your favorite BBS will let you upload .EXE files if you place them in a ZIP file. Name the ZIP file in such a way that it contains at least part of the program name together with the version number. Be sure to include the DOC and/or other support files.
Page 19 had a full-page ad for Prestige PC Consulting.
Page 20 had ads for The Cutting Edge BBS, Style Pro, and the Digital Publishing Company.
ANSI - While actually an acronym for the American National Standards Institute, it refers to the widely used graphics on BBSs.
Archive - A file which has been compressed, or at least stored, under a specific name. This allows for faster transfer times and the grouping of related files. Originally meant for files with an .ARC extension.
ASCII - An acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange which is the most common format for text files found on BBSs. ASCII is also a file transfer protocol that is often seen on BBSs. This is not truly a transfer protocol, but is used in isolated cases. There is no form of error detection available and usually only ASCII files can be sent in this way.
Batch - A group of files which is either downloaded or uploaded, commonly called a Batch File Transfer.
Baud Rate - The speed of the modem connection, the higher the rate the faster data travels.
Bit - Binary Digit. The smallest computer storage unit. Bits store binary states, having a value of 0 or 1. Eight Bits form a Byte.
Bulletin - Text which the Sysop has made available to users. Bulletins may be informational or educational, give high game scores, or whatever the Sysop deems appropriate.
Bulletin Board System (BBS) - A computer hooked up to a modem so that other people can call and access information, files or games.
Bits Per Second (BPS) - The rate data is transmitted through a modem connection. Increases with the baud rate.
Caller - Someone who accesses a bulletin board from a remote location.
Capture - Saving text from BBS display to a file on the remote computer (normally in ASCII format). Chat - The ability to communicate with users on other lines (or nodes). Callers can chat back and forth in a live conversation.
Communications Software - Computer program which allows for easier calling of BBSs. Some software packages have all kinds of advanced features, and many are quite easy to setup.
Compressed File - A file, or group of files, which have been reduced in size using compression utilities. A compressed file uses less disk space and speeds up transfers.
Conference - A separate area on a BBS which is directed at specific topics. Conferences almost always have their own message base, and some have their own file directories or doors.
Default - Refers to settings used by BBS or communications software. Many times the preset configuration works fine, especially for new users.
Door - A program with has been added on-to the BBS, but is not part of the BBS software itself. Sysops customize their board by adding game or utility type doors.
Download - Receiving data from a BBS through the modem connection. Downloads from BBSs are known as files.
Drop Carrier - Hanging up on a BBS without following the proper log-off procedures. Occasionally can happen on either end unintentionally.
Echo Mail - Messages which go out over a BBS network.
External Protocol - A File transfer protocol which is not actually built into the particular BBS or communications software, but must be accessed externally.
File - Data transferred through the modem connection for use on the receiving computer. Files can be complete programs, informational text, graphic images, or other formats.
Freeware - Software which is legally copyrighted, however, the author asks for no monetary compensation for the program. Hot Keys - An option on a BBS that saves you from having to hit the enter key after each selection. Most people use this option.
HS/Link - This is a new protocol which is offered on some bulletin boards. It is a high speed, single and bidirectional file transfer protocol with many advanced features.
Internal Protocol - File transfer protocol which is built into the particular BBS or communications software.
Line Noise - Random unwanted characters which can occur during a modem connection due to the fact that the telephone system was originally designed for voice. Higher quality modems filter out most line noise.
Local - Use of the BBS at its physical location. Typically, the Sysop accesses the BBS software directly.
Logon - Calling a BBS, and going through the common procedure of giving your name and password.
Main Board - The primary conference on a BBS, and where the callers normally are when they first logon. Most messages, files and doors, should be found here.
Message - Something left by a BBS user for others to read. A message could be left for a single user, or for all users to read.
Message Base - All messages left on a BBS, or more specifically the location of those messages.
Modem - Device which allows computers to talk to each other over a system which originally designed for voice.
Network - Different BBSs exchanging messages to increase the activity and diversity of the message base. The echo mail net-work allows a user to leave a message on one BBS which can be read on BBS at a different location. On some of the large networks a message can be read literally around the world.
Node - Commonly used as the number of telephone lines hooked up to a BBS with each line being a node, but each BBS also has a local node.
Password - A unique series of keyboard characters that a caller selects to gain access to a BBS. It should be kept confidential to prevent others from logging-on and using your name. The first time you call a BBS, it may look as if you need a password to gain access. Just enter any password you choose.
Paging - Requesting a live chat with the Sysop, who may answer (if available).
Private - Indicates a conference or message is not meant for all callers, and may refer to some BBSs which have restricted access.
Protocol - Modems must use the same protocol to communicate during file transfers. There are a growing number of protocols to choose from.
Public - A conference, message, or BBS which is open for any caller. A public message can be read by all users. A public board can have private messages and perhaps some private conferences, but generally access is available to all.
Public Domain - Programs or files which are released free of charge with relatively very little restriction for use.
Remote Computer - A computer which has connected to the BBS by modem.
Script - A questionnaire setup by the Sysop to get information from the caller.
Security Level - Level of access given to a caller which determines what the caller may access on the BBS. Users may require a higher security level to access certain conferences or files.
Shareware - A revolutionary new marketing concept which encourages people to try before they buy any software. If you like the program you are required to pay a registration fee for continued use. If you don't like it, just delete it and move on.
Sysop - Short for System Operator, the person who operates the BBS.
Transfer - The receiving or sending of a file with a BBS.
Upload - Sending data, typically files, to a BBS through the modem connection.
User - Originally meant to imply someone calling in the local mode, while those who access the BBS from a remote computer were known as callers. Now commonly implies both callers and users.
User Account - The record containing information for an individual user. Things like user name, password, address, the number of uploads and downloads, security level are typically found in the user account.
Verification - Many BBSs have some way of verifying that the caller logging-on is actually who they say they are. Caller ID, doors which call the user back, or calling all users by voice are common practices.
Xmodem (CRC) - This may or may not be the most popular protocol in use today, as it is slowly being replaced by quicker and more reliable protocols. Xmodem (CRC) sends files in blocks of 128 characters at a time and checks for errors using a sophisticated Cyclic Redundancy Check.
Xmodem (Checksum) - Information is transferred in 128-byte blocks with a less reliable Checksum error correction method.
1K Xmodem - This is a variation of Xmodem (CRC) that uses blocks that are 1 Kilobyte (1024 bytes) in size.
1K Xmodem/G - This variation of Xmodem is meant for error-free channels such as error correcting modems or direct cable links between two computers. It achieves great speed but it does not have error correction and if an error occurs the transfer is aborted.
Ymodem (Batch) - This protocol is a variation on 1K-Xmodem, which allows for multiple files to be sent per transfer. While transferring files, it uses a 1024 byte block size and the CRC error correction method.
Ymodem/G (Batch) - A variation on Ymodem, this protocol is faster because it sends 1024 blocks without waiting for acknowledgment. There is no error correction and if an error occurs the transfer is aborted.
Zip - The most common form of compressed file found on BBSs.
Zmodem (Batch) - This advanced protocol is very fast, incredibly reliable and offers many features. Zmodem can transfer files in a batch and can detect and recover from errors quickly. The Zmodem Recovery feature can resume an interrupted transfer.
Page 37 was a full-page ad for PARS International Computer (www.pars.com)
Page 38 (back cover) was a full-page ad for
End of Issue 9. Go back, or to Issue 10, or to Mark's home page.