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TAPR BBS Sysop Guide

Information on Managing a Amateur Radio BBS
Barry Buelow, WA0RJT
54 pages. ISBN: 0-9644707-1-3

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Don't let the ham digital revolution pass you by! If you think you might be establishing or operating a packet radio bulletin board system, then this book is for you. Save hours of time and endless frustration getting started, and find tips and short cuts from ham radio's digital experts.

Finally, a book with things you need to know about in order to operate an amateur packet BBS, explained in easy-to-understand English, not overly-technical mumbo jumbo!

Read the review of the book

Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 Definition of a BBS
  • 1.2 Prior Experience
  • 1.3 Reference Documents
  • 1.4 Credits
  • Getting Started
  • 2.1 Planning
  • 2.2 Perspectives
  • 2.2.1 SYSOP
  • 2.2.2 Network
  • 2.2.3 Users
  • 2.3 Ownership
  • 2.3.1 Club Affiliation
  • 2.3.2 Financial Considerations
  • 2.4 Regional Network Organization
  • 2.5 SYSOP Skills
  • 2.6 Frequency Selection
  • 2.6.1 User Port
  • 2.6.2 Network Port
  • Equipment Requirements
  • 3.1 Computer
  • 3.2 Ports
  • 3.2.1 User Ports
  • 3.2.2 Network Ports
  • Software
  • 4.1 BBS Software
  • 4.1.1 F6FBB
  • 4.1.2 AA4RE
  • 4.1.3 W0RLI
  • 4.1.4 MSYS
  • 4.1.5 Others
  • 4.2 Software Setup
  • 4.2.1 System Configuration
  • 4.2.2 Forwarding Files
  • 4.2.3 File Directories
  • 4.3 Supporting Programs
  • 4.3.1 G8BPQ
  • 4.3.2 MBBIOS
  • 4.3.3 KISS
  • Operation
  • 5.1 Day-to-Day Operation
  • 5.1.1 File Maintenance
  • 5.1.2 Keeping Traffic Moving
  • 5.2 Additional SYSOPs
  • 5.3 Personal Messages
  • 5.4 Bulletins
  • 5.5 Files
  • 5.6 Contingency Planning
  • 5.7 User Operations
  • 5.8 FCC Regulations
  • 5.9 Log Analysis
  • Enhancements
  • 6.1 CDROM
  • 6.2 Gateways
  • 6.3 Servers
  • 6.4 DX Cluster
  • Theory of Operation
  • 7.1 Hierarchical Forwarding
  • 7.2 Bulletin Flooding
  • 7.3 White Pages (WP) 7.4 BBS and Port Drivers
  • Hierarchical Addressing Protocol
  • Glossary

Review of BBS Sysop Guide

Presely Smith, N5VGC
TAPR PSR, Issue #58, Spring 1995 p18.

The BBS Sysop Guide, by Barry Buelow, WA0RJT, is a well written book that is easy to read and understand. This book covers all aspects of becoming a packet BBS Sysop, from the technical details of what equipment is required, to the emotional and political issues that any BBS Sysop will face. The book also captures the essence of the BBS Sysop experience. The author states in the introduction that "Operating a BBS is a rewarding burden." All of us who operated packet BBS systems for many years can certainly relate to this statement.

This book contains chapters on getting started, equipment recommendations, short reviews of the various packet BBS software available, details on the operation of a packet BBS, and information on use of servers, and other such add-on features available for most packet BBS systems.

In section 2, the book describes the issues of setting up the BBS. The author states that "Establishing a PBBS which interacts with the local network and users will be a significant event." From my own experience of starting a BBS, I know that other local BBS Sysops are not always friendly toward a person establishing a new BBS. Some actually discourage the potential Sysop from setting up a BBS. The author states that there are distinct views of the BBS. The Sysop views it as "his" BBS, the network owner/operator or users of the network may not like the BBS because of increased traffic on the network, and the users of the BBS will expect the BBS to be available "all hours of the day and night." As the author states, "As a Sysop, you should anticipate this situation..." BBS users sometimes forget that ham radio is a hobby and this book describes various way to minimize such problems. One issue not discussed is that the Sysop's family is also making the commitment to this BBS and that the wife and other family members must also understand the commitment.

In chapter 3, there is an excellent description of the equipment needed to have a viable system. I've seen several packet BBS systems that were not successful due to inadequate equipment. This chapter also addresses the issue of backup equipment that should be available in case problems develop. Having the proper backup equipment will minimize the family disruptions described earlier.

Chapter 4 has a short description of many of the most popular BBS software packages that are available. The author notes that "Regardless of the features, a new Sysop should strongly consider using the same software as his neighbors." If this is done, the new Sysop will have an Elmer who can answer questions, and using the same BBS system minimizes forwarding problems. This chapter also details potential problems in setting up the BBS. Manuals tend to be expert friendly. When something goes wrong such as a system hang, the author states "Debugging this type of problem can be time consuming and frustrating." It's important to keep the setup simple at first and then add other features.

The use of G8BPQ node software is also described in chapter 4. There is a description of the software, but no discussion as to why a BBS system needs to also use this node software. Additional information on the BPQ node and a diagram is found in section 7.2. This is the one area I thought could be better organized and explained in the book.

Operation of the BBS is described in chapter 5. The author claims that "The minimal daily effort to maintain a BBS is about 15 minutes." The Sysop must examine any messages held for review, insure the file maintenance has been performed, check messages with bad addresses, and other such duties. The book also describes how enlisting additional Sysops can help minimize the effort on any one person. Other issues discussed in this chapter include contingency planning and the current FCC regulations on who is responsible for the content of bulletins and messages. Most BBS systems have logging facilities that keep a record of the connects of various users and other BBS systems. The book states the "procedure is to close the log file, usually at the end of each month." Some BBS systems keep log files by week. This book does not discuss the volume of information that may be generated in a single month. My F6FBB system generates over 1MB of log data per week, so the Sysop must plan for the disk space required if logging is enabled.

Chapter 6 describes other enhancements that can be added to a packet BBS system such as the use of callsign CD-ROMs, various servers, and interfacing to a DX Cluster. Chapter 7 describes the theory of operation. This chapter has sections on hierarchical forwarding, bulletin flooding, White Pages (WP), and BBS port drivers. In section 7.4, the reader will find a diagram of the hardware and software which would typically be used with ports including both AX.25 ports and phone ports on a BBS system.

The remainder of the book is a collection of various reference information. Included is a copy of the Hierarchical Addressing Protocol that was adopted by the TAPR BBS Special Interest Group. Also included are tables of continent identifiers, country identifiers and regional identifiers organized by country codes. These identifiers are used in the creation of the hierarchical addresses for packet messages. There is also a glossary which explains many packet and packet BBS terms in the book.

In summary, I would like to recommend that anyone who is considering becoming a packet BBS Sysop should read this book. It will help you decide if you really want to become a packet BBS Sysop. Current Sysops will find this book to be a concise description of many of the issues that the active packet BBS Sysop faces each day. This book will also help the user of a packet BBS system understand the effort and commitment the Sysop is providing to the BBS users and to the community. This book takes a short time to read and provides the reader with excellent insight into what is required to be a packet BBS Sysop.

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