Yarn and Souper- by Jon F. Kaminsky

Off-line USENET News/Mail Combo

With the many choices in Presentation Manager (PM) Internet applications now available to the OS/2 community, it may seem backward to deploy an off-line news reader application that runs only in text mode. However, once you get the Yarn-Souper combo cooking on your desktop you may never want to go back.

This review is intended to introduce the OS/2 user to a very productive off-line reading system which is sometimes overlooked because of difficulty getting the pieces installed (neither Souper nor Yarn have very explicit help), or because they are text-mode applications. Because of space restrictions, an extensive "how-to" guide won't be presented here, but to accompany this review I have created an on-line install/tip guide to the OS/2 Yarn-Souper combination. This guide is in INF book format and is downloadable here. It is my intent that as I become better skilled in Yarn and Souper, or as users send me tips, I'll keep updating this INF resource so if you are reading this article months after it was originally published, don't hesitate to contact me or check the on-line version (if you are reading an off-line copy of OS/2 e-Zine! ) for the latest update.

What are Yarn and Souper?

The Yarn-Souper combo consists of two separate text-mode applications written by Chin Huang. Souper is a program that transfers mail and news from a POP3 mail server and NNTP news server respectively, to Simple Offline USENET Packets (SOUP). Once downloaded, these SOUP packets are then used to create a "news base" which can be read by a compatible off-line reader such as Yarn. Yarn consists of a suite of programs that are used to store and read USENET news and mail downloaded from a USENET host.

I'll beg the question -- why would anyone want to use a text mode program when we have this wonderful graphical interface under OS/2? The answer to this is two-part -- Souper is simply a utility that goes and gets your mail and news and in my opinion, looks don't make any difference or provide any added functionality to perform that task. It might be nice, however, to have a small PM interface to Souper with some menus to the various options you can send Souper out with (perhaps I'll write one soon).

And as far as Yarn goes, text mode can be an advantage. First, and foremost, it's fast. Yarn is also very easy on your eyes and when I'm ready for a good hour or so of off-line reading I want a program that will not result in eye strain. Changing the displayed font size is as easy as choosing the system menu of an OS/2 window and clicking on "Font Size". Or if you prefer, Yarn can be run in a fullscreen OS/2 session for even easier readability. And you can easily navigate Yarn with one hand on the keyboard (no mousing under Yarn as of version 0.90).

What can I do with Yarn and Souper?

First off, you can save time and connect charges (I shudder to think of all the on-line time I used to waste using Newsreader/2!). Yarn and Souper combine to create a very rich off-line news and mail reading utility. You essentially send Souper out to get the news or mail you want, run an import program to convert the SOUP packets, and crank up Yarn to do some serious reading. The applications are configured by simple text files (which you can edit yourself) and by specifying command line parameters.

Once inside Yarn, you can create e-mail, news replies, or original articles using an editor of your choice. When you have created an "upload packet" consisting of articles or e-mail, Souper then provides the means to upload the packet.

Installation and Setup

The Souper program was designed to work with the IBM Internet Connection. While the on-line install/tip guide mentioned above walks you through the entire setup procedure, the basic setup essentially consists of the following steps:
  1. Ensuring that the following line is present in your \tcpip\etc\services file:
    pop3               110/tcp 
    If the line is not present, you'll have create it in the "Network services, Internet style" portion of the Services file.
  2. Ensuring that the PPP/SLIP settings notebook includes the correct information for your service provider (see the on-line install/tip guide for details).
  3. Installing the Yarn program files using the included install script (e.g., English.cmd) to a directory such as x:\tcpip\yarn
  4. Copying Souper.exe, Yarn.exe, the Import.exe and Expire.exe programs, and the archiver program executables to a directory on your config.sys PATH statement (I suggest X:\tcpip\bin if you're using the IBM IAK). A fine choice for the archiver is Info-Zip's freeware OS/2 versions of Zip and Unzip.
  5. Running the included "Adduser" program to set up the basic configuration and the user home directory (the one referred to as %HOME%), and then placing the Souper newsrc (the listing of your newsgroups) in the %HOME% directory. Note: Yarn will create its own newsrc file to keep track of downloaded material. This file is created automatically in the HOME\yarn directory (not to be confused with the x:\tcpip\yarn directory)
  6. And finally, modifying your OS/2 config.sys file, adding environment variables which tell Yarn where its directory is located, where your home directory is located, and what your time zone is.
Once you get it all going, you'll probably want to open up the user config file located in your \HOME\yarn directory to fine-tune your set-up or header information.

Make me Some Soup as Quick as You Can

The best way to utilize the features of Souper is to create a series of OS/2 command files that hold the parameters you might use to control Souper's behaviour. For example, a file called get-the-news.cmd (or whatever) might contain only the line:
souper -m -k 4096
which tells Souper to get the news, leave the mail, and don't exceed a 4096 KB packet size. The on-line install/tip guide includes a few more examples of command files you can create to retrieve and upload your correspondence. Once you have a bevy of command files in your X:\tcpip\yarn directory, shadow them to a folder on your desktop, and after you're connected to your ISP, click on the appropriate icon to launch your Souper task. You can get as involved as you wish with command files and you can even accomplish several tasks consecutively in one command file (like upload mail/news, then get more news, import the downloaded news, and then start Yarn -- you get the idea). Souper also supports kill files to zap any unwanted material at the source so you never have to see it.

And one of the nice features about running a robust multi-tasking system such as OS/2 is that you can be productive by going about your other tasks while Souper runs in the background.

Yarn Gives Good Thread

When Souper has finished getting all the news and/or mail, and you're ready to read, you import the messages that Souper has downloaded into Yarn. You could do this by creating an "Import_to_Yarn.cmd" command file such as:
Import -u
Yarn
This command file imports the soup packets and starts Yarn with the newly downloaded messages. Yarn operates in three levels: The Newsgroup Selection level (GIF, 6.6k), which greets you when you first open the program, the Article Selection Level, and the Article Reading Level. Upon starting, Yarn will immediately notify you if any mail is present in your mailbox (assuming you sent Souper after it). You can read news or mail, and reply to either as in any other mail or news program, and you can store and retrieve your correspondents' addresses in Yarn's built-in address book.

At the Article Selection Level, depending on your configuration, you'll see something like a list of subjects by thread, with the corresponding author, and whether you have previously read the article or not (useful for those pesky cross-posts). You simply highlight an article of interest and press Enter. This brings you into the Article Reading Level (GIF, 13k) where you normally read, create replies to the thread, or e-mail responses to an individual. Yarn includes many other built-in features to navigate/kill threads, sort articles, mark articles as read or unread, extract UUencoded files, etc.

Spinning Your Own Tall Tales

If you don't know already where to go for Yarn and Souper resources, one place you'll certainly find a great deal of information is the Yarn Bells & Whistles Page/2. This page also includes links where you can pick up the latest in Yarn accessories. In addition to this site, the latest versions of Yarn (0.90) and Souper (1.5) can be found on such sites as Hobbes, the Walnut Creek CDROM.COM site, and the PC Yarn archive (file names for OS/2 are souper15.zip and yrn2_090.zip).

For those more dedicated to the art rather than the concept, there is even a Yarn mailing list. To join, send an e-mail to listproc@lists.Colorado.edu consisting only of the words:

SUBSCRIBE YARN-LIST Your name

Conclusion and Acknowledgements

The Yarn-Souper combo is a highly functional (but somewhat overlooked) offline newsgroup/mail retrieval solution. It is currently available on-line in many of the familiar places OS/2 users have grown accustomed to looking. In comparison with other off-line readers, I much prefer this combo. In my opinion, it's faster, wastes less time, and is easily configurable once you know where to go to change settings. Try it -- you'll like it!

Author's note: I gratefully acknowledge the help of OS/2 newsgroup regular Richard Steiner for providing the original encouragement and help in getting the Yarn-Souper combo going on my desktop. Also, Steve Withers with IBM New Zealand deserves recognition for providing some of these tips, originally included in his Yarn-Souper installation note.


 * Souper v1.5
by Chin Huang
MSRP: Freeware

 * Yarn v0.90
by Chin Huang
MSRP: Freeware


Jon F. Kaminsky is principal hydrogeologist of Northwest Environmental Geoscience Co. in Tacoma, Washington and when not practicing geology, he indulges in writing shareware OS/2 utilities. He has written articles for scientific journals, and now, an on-line magazine.

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