BBS Novice to Addict in Two Weeks
As the modem beeped out the tones, my palms started to sweat. Though I've been a TPC member since 1988, I'd never used the BBS much, and my last logon had been a year ago. Connection. "Press <esc> twice for Wildcat!" An ironically appropriate prompt, I thought, as I fought the urge to really "escape" and abort the logon. With trembling fingers, I typed in my name, my password, and the BBS menus appeared. I was in, and the pressure was on to do something, without looking like an idiot....
I felt my way around a few menus, saving everything into a "capture file" in my communications software so I could go back and review what I'd done later, off-line. I downloaded a file or two, and got off the system fast. A first small success! But the second time I logged on, I made a huge "newbie" mistake. I naively asked the BBS to send me "all" the message files in fast, "non-stop" mode. As hundreds, nay, thousands of messages zipped by on my screen I sat and stared, frozen in amazement. I got over 3MB of messages before one of the Sysops cut the connection.
As I skimmed the messages (which ran over 1,900 pages in my word processor - No, I didn't read everything!), I was intrigued by the variety of people and topics. Embarrassed about my "mistake," I took a deep breath, logged on to the BBS again, and started asking "dumb" questions.
To my relief, nobody thought my questions were stupid. People offered suggestions and shared stories about their own flubs. Many users welcomed me to the BBS, and encouraged me to stay on. By the end of the first week, I was starting to feel like part of a community, and I began looking forward to logging on every day.
One of the first things that I learned was that I needed a mail reader. Mail readers allow you to log on to the BBS and automatically collect and download your personal messages, and public messages in any discussion forums that you specify. You can then read the messages, and reply to them off-line. The software keeps track of where you want your messages to go, and the next time you log on, it will send your replies to the appropriate people and/or conferences.
The mail reader made all the difference to me. In past years when I'd tried out the BBS I'd always read and composed messages on-line, with the accompanying pressure of trying to digest and respond to dozens of messages as quickly as possible, so as not to tie up the phone line. With the mail reader I can take my time choosing what I'm interested in, what I want to respond to, and have the luxury of reviewing and editing my replies before I send them.
I'm using a free mail reader called OLX-TD that I downloaded from the BBS (and which is also included in the TPC New Member Pack). It took me about an hour to skim the manual and set up the software. While I may be a BBS virgin, I have years of DOS and Windows experience, so it may take awhile longer to figure it out if you're a PC novice. Never fear though, there are plenty of TPC members who'll help you set up your system if you ask.
So what's kept me on the BBS over the last few weeks? Information? Yes. Help with computer and software questions and problems? Yes. But mostly the friendly people. It was like moving into a new neighborhood and having a block party, followed by individual visits from interesting people. It's a lot of fun once you get going, and if you persevere and log on once a day for a week, chances are good you'll be hooked. And once you're hooked, you'll have to log on at least a couple of times a week to keep up with your new community.
What tips do I have for beginners, based on my own recent experiences?
1) Get a mail reader. It'll save you time, money, on-line "performance anxiety," and will endear you to other members who'd otherwise be growling at busy signals while you stumble around the BBS on-line.
2) Make sure your communication software's "capture" function is on while you're on the BBS. This way you can replay your session when you're off-line, and look at the BBS prompts and menus, and review what you did on-line. I still keep my capture function on, just in case I run across something new. (Just remember to delete your capture files occasionally so they don't eat up your hard disk.)
3) Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you're polite and throw in a sincere "please" and "thank you" here and there, you'll be amazed at how much help people will give you. Everyone is a beginner at something.
4) Remember that what you write is not accompanied by any body language. Statements that easily pass in the heat of oral discourse can look strange or harsh in print. I've found the TPC BBS community to be very forgiving and easy-going (a few of my weirder messages were simply ignored), but a quick check of your responses before you upload them could save you from some embarrassment.
5) Don't worry about what you sound like to others on the BBS. Newcomers are given some leeway to feel their way about. It can seem overwhelming, and perhaps even intimidating to meet so many friendly, helpful, open people on the BBS, but you'll soon get to know them. You'll quickly start to recognize people's message styles, and over time will develop your own.
6) Don't wait for introductions. If some topic grabs your attention, hop right in and contribute. It's the only way people will know you're on the BBS, and are interested in what they're talking about.
7) Some discussions can be rather free-wheeling, and the BBS is not too concerned about that other popular "PC" these days, Political Correctness. I find the atmosphere to be more like a rollicking neighborhood pub, than a Victorian tea parlor. You'd better not mind people speaking their minds!
Why not give the BBS a try? I'm really enjoying it. If you're completely new to modems and telecommunications, the club has software and materials to help you get set up. There are also workshops for beginners. Don't be shy and wait six years to get on-line, like I did! Hope to see you on the BBS.
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