BULLETIN BOARD CONSTRUCTION SET
More sysop power than ever before
by ERIC CLAUSEN
For several months prior to this article, Antic has known that the Bulletin Board Construction Set was nearing completion. And we eargerly awaited the chance to examine the program and see it at work online. As soon as we received our test copy, we assigned the review to telcommunications buff Eric Clausen, author of our definitive article "Everything You Wanted To Know About Every DOS" (July, 1984). Meanwhile, as the article was being written, Antic Marketing Services Director Gary Yost made contact with the author of BBCS and obtained it for sale via Antic Arcade Catalog! ANTIC ED
Once in a while new software appears that's so uniquc, innovative and useful that it changes the lives of many users. One of these rare programs is the Bulletin Board Construction Set (BBCS).
Scott Brause, sysop of the Jersey Atari Computer Group, spent two years writing BBCS as a solution to his problems with AMIS, FOREM, and other Atari BBS programs.
The result is a 48K machine language (not compiled BASIC) program that lets a sysop control advanced features which were previously difficult or impossible to implement on Atari BBS programs.
Unlike the commercial software "construction sets" most of us have seen, BBCS does not use icons to represent functions. Instead the BBCS master disk contains four main BBCS editors, in addition to the main BBCS program.
These editors, through their own menus and submenus, set up all the system files, message bases and so on. They do most of the proramming for you, giving sysops who are not expert programmers the freedom to personalize their Atari boards in a way never before possible.
In fact, there are so many possible ways to implement BBCS that you could end up with a sloppy bulletin board design. So be careful not to leave any loose ends as you design a board accurately reflecting your real wants!
BBCS is compatible with most Atari DOS's in most densities. This could be especially valuable to sysops with unusual hardware configurations.
If you are using the Hayes version of the BBCS, it supports the Hayes Chronograph through Serial Port 2 on the 850 interface. BBCS will also support the new R-TIME cartridge from ICD, Inc. This is a cartridge-based chronograph with battery backup and it doesn't require the 850 interface. The value of chronograph support becomes evident after you've manually entered the time and date a few hundred times. In addition, the accuracy of hardware clocks is generally better than software clocks.
SECURITY & PRIVILEGE
BBCS supports passwords, time limits (0-255 minutes) and up to 65,791 security levels which should be a reasonably adequate number for most of us.
The construction set also supports "privilege levels," similar to security levels. If users' privilege level aren't high enough, they will not even see certain menu items although they may have the necessary security clearance.
A "blacklist" function is also supported. If you have destructive users, the system can log them off as soon as they log on.
BBCS lets you define up to 26 menus. Each one can contain up to 30 entries. Each entry on each menu can have its own security and privilege level! Up to 26 different menus can access the same files.
The message base editor offers search and replace functions in addition to the more basic features. BBCS allows individual messages up to 1940 bytes in length (15 single density disk sectors) with up to 257 messages online at a time.
For uploading and downloading, BBCS supports XMODEM and ASCII XON/XOFF file transfers. You can limit the number of downloads per person from 0-255 in each online session. Also, if a caller attempts to download a file whose transmission time exceeds the caller's remaining online time, the download will not be permitted. And, yes, BBCS definitely supports 1200 baud. Before a download takes place, the program calculates the actual transmission time at the current baud rate and reports it.
BBCS allows you to define up to 26 different terminal types (25 besides Atari), so owners of non-Atari computers can access your board if you so desire.
All of the BBCS editors are accessible from DOS or from within BBCS itself. This lets you completely reconfigure the board, clean up message bases and perform other housekeeping chores from a remote location. With any other BBS program lacking sufficient security, this could lead to problems caused by malicious hackers. BBCS, with its tight security, should be immune from this type of problem.
The Configuration Editor is the back-bone of BBCS. You start here to create your new bulletin board.
Initially, this editor prompts you for 28 different parameters to define the new board's various characteristics. Each parameter allows several options, for a total of several thousand possibilities. You should make a thorough study of the BBCS documentation to help you navigate through the many possibilities.
Typical of BBCS, these parameters offer great flexibility. Entries range from defining screen and character hue and luminance to defining securities, baud rate options, various log on options, 24-hour file options, specification of drive numbers for message bases, download limits, time limits and much, much more.
You also get the ability to modify previous system configuration files without re-entering all 28 parameters. In addition, a utility to define or edit different terminal types (up to 26) is included. A userlog and message base initializer is provided as well as a utility to increase the size of previously existing message bases and userlogs.
This is the primary editor for defining system menus and creating online survey polls.
All menus can contain up to 30 different options, each with its own security and privilege level. Actually, you have up to 47 possible types of menu entries of which up to 30 may be chosen. However, several of these are reserved for sysop use only and some are reserved for future revisions.
All menu entries and security levels are defined here. This can be a lengthy process and a great deal of planning is required to produce a unique, interesting board. Fortunately, editing of previously defined menus is provided in a simple and direct fashion.
The survey creator sub-menu allows an easy way to create online polls and surveys. You can present a question and allow the caller five choices of response.
This editor provides all of the basic functions for userlog maintenance. The user also has the ability to do a search on the userlog under any of four criteria: user name, password, location and security level.
The sysop can access all BBCS editors remotely. Remote access to this editor and the message base editor can make "housekeeping" chores much more convenient.
MESSAGE BASE EDITOR
Similar to the userlog edior; this editor provides for all basic housekeeping functions through the editor menu. A good line editor plus search and replace functions for editing the message base are provided. Messages may be moved from one board to another, as well as deleted. Again, remote access to this editor is awfully nice.
BBCS MAIN PROGRAM
After the editors have done their work and created all necessary system files, you're ready to boot the main BBCS program.
When you do, the system asks you for date and time, and then gives a system status report including available disk storage, time, message base status, number of callers (probably zero at this point) and so on.
When a caller logs on, complete information regarding that caller is displayed to the sysop and recorded by the system.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE?
Since many alternate DOS's are supposed to be compatible, I immediately made a DOS XL (Axlon Ramdisk) copy of BBCS. This is a favorite of mine due to its Atari file compatibility and its Ramdisk support. Apparently MEMLO is too high with this particular DOS and memory conflicts with some of the editors made it impossible to use. This is a problem for me because I'd like to be able to use my Ramdisk for ultra fast file access with BBCS.
I then turned to TOPDOS since it also offers Ramdisk support. Unfortunately, TOPDOS defines the Ramdisk as D8: and BBCS will not recognize drives higher than D4:.
I discovered a minor bug in both the message base editor and the userlog editor. In the userlog editor in the 'zero flags' sub-menu, option E (time allowed on system) does not function at all.
In the message base editor; loading the editor always gave an error 170 (file not found) followed by the loading of the file. In addition, under the 'word process' function, I specified a file which was too large to handle. The program would abort the function and return to an unreadable garbage-filled submenu. Obviously, memory had been modified in some unpredictable ways.
For a program as complex and flexible as BBCS, good documentation is an absolute must. The preliminary documentation desperately needs to be re-written before final release. Hopefully some changes will be made in software and documentation after all, my review copy was version 1.0.
If you own an Anchor Mark XII modem, you have a potential problem running any BBS program. Fortunately, there is an easy fix.
The Anchor Mark XII does not monitor the DTR line (pin 20 on the RS-232 connector). This makes an otherwise fine piece of equipment practically useless for running a BBS. The fix for this is to put a jumper between pin 20 and pin 6 (DSR line) Thanks to the Austin ACE November 1984 newsletter and Antic contributor Charles Cherry for identifying this problem and making a workable solution. I've tried it and it works!
WHERE TO CALL
At this time there are a few BBCS boards in operation.Sysop Eric Semel has been beta tester for BBCS for several months and knows the BBCS program well. Call Eric Semel's board at (213) 305-7843, it's 300-1200 baud, log on in ASCII). The Michigan Atari Computer Enthusiasts also have a BBCS board, at (313) 882-5909. Naturally, you can also call the original BBCS board run by Scott Brause himself at (201) 549-7591.
A regular contributor to Antic, Eric bas owned his Atari for three years. In his spare time he is a dentist in San Francisco.