Off-line Adventures- by Trevor Smith

You may be wondering why I'm writing about off-line adventures in an on-line magazine. Am I advocating that users should jump off the information highway and go back to the non-connected world of days gone by? Not at all. Well, mostly not at all.

The fact is that despite the media's love for all things on-line, there are times when a combination of on and off-line strategies works best for information gathering and dissemination. In fact, OS/2 e-Zine! is a perfect example of this. Every month we devote a fair amount of energy to putting together an on-line resource for OS/2 users, but at the same time we create zipped copies for off-line reading. Why? Because some users prefer to get the goods, log off and read at their leisure -- without running up on-line charges.

My Point

Last month's article on Yarn and Souper by Jon F. Kaminsky made me realize that I could benefit from a similar arrangement. For a while now, I've been spending way too much time and money in on-line charges reading Usenet news groups. The fact that it's part of my job (as well as a hobby) to keep up on current events and opinions in the OS/2 community means I can spend one third or more of my monthly on-line time reading newsgroups. I decided it was time I found a way to get the job done without using any of the 65 hours a month my local ISP allows me.

But Wait

Before I could assemble the various tools I needed to do this, I had to decide what my goals for this little project were. I wanted a system that would: This meant I needed:
  1. a scheduler of some kind
  2. a dialler that would log on without someone around to press the "dial" button
  3. a program to retrieve and post news, and
  4. a program to read and respond to the news

The Pieces to the Puzzle

The first item seemed pretty straightforward so I headed off to Hobbes to see what shareware was available for OS/2 to schedule tasks. I found a few likely suspects and after trying some of them, I settled on Alarm Clock v3.0. Alarm Clock allows users to specify times for events to happen on their systems (either simple reminders or launching programs). It is reasonably powerful in its ability to schedule recurring events based on many different patterns. My needs were fairly straightforward though, and luckily Alarm Clock is also easy to set up despite its power.

My Internet provider, like many, provides "free" hours when users can log on and not be billed, in my case, between 2:00am and 8:00am. Although I'm occasionally awake after 2:00am, it's not my preferred time for news reading. This is where Alarm Clock came in: I set it to start my Dial Other Providers (DOP) application at 2:15am just to give myself a little leeway in case my computer's clock was off.

But this exposed a flaw in my plan. I (erroneously) thought that the DOP utility would not dial my provider without me being there to press the "Dial" button. This meant that while Alarm Clock would open DOP, it would just sit there without dialing unless I was around. (I found out later that providing the "Name" field of the entry to be dialled as an argument in the DOP settings notebook will cause it to "auto-dial" that entry.)

While In-JOY and other dialers will also "auto-dial" as soon as they are opened, I had a few other reasons for wanting to pursue a different approach. In reality, all the DOP actually does is call a command line program, ppp.exe, and send a few parameters to it. So I fiddled with ppp.exe until through experimentation, research and luck, I got it to perform the same function that the DOP graphical interface was. I now use this command line to dial my provider:

ppp.exe com2 57600 priority 1 rtscts notify exit defaultroute connect "pppdial.cmd"
The "pppdial.cmd" parameter tells ppp.exe to use a REXX script written by Don Russell that I use to do automatic redialing if I get busy signals. This works so well that I now use it exclusively to save a few seconds (because I'm not loading the graphical overhead of the DOP) whenever I want to log on to the 'net. This may also be of interest to users who run OS/2 on memory challenged systems. If so, feel free to e-mail me.

The News

Now that I had my dialler logging in automatically, I needed some way to get the news. There are a few different news readers for OS/2 that allow users to download articles, log off and read them from a local hard drive. Even though Souper and Yarn are not the simplest of these, I chose to use them. I had originally tried the two programs when I first got Warp but gave up on them for various reasons. Jon's article gave me renewed enthusiasm and I decided to try again.

I won't go into detail on how to get Souper and Yarn running since the INF file included with Jon's article last month covers that topic quite well. Let's just say that I had to work slowly and carefully setting them up to get everything working properly.

Once I did, I set Alarm Clock to start Souper shortly after dialling my Internet provider (about 5 minutes later to ensure the dialler had time to log in). Again, I actually could have used an alternative dialler like In-JOY to do this. In fact, In-JOY could have automatically dialled my provider when it was started and automatically started Souper once the connection was made. For various reasons, I chose to do it the hard way but using In-JOY instead of my command line dialler would have worked fine too.

Now, when Souper logs in, it uploads any articles I have written while off-line and then retrieves all the messages in most of the comp.os.os2.* hierarchy. After Souper finishes running, my Internet connection sits idle for 15 minutes at which point it shuts off due to inactivity. This is one of the least elegant parts of my solution but since I'm not being billed for the time anyway and since surely no-one is trying to call me at 3:30am, I don't worry about the 15 minutes of dead phone time. I can then read the news from the comfort of my own hard drive each morning when I start my day. Simple.

That's the Climax?

And that was basically it. I'm sure you've already realized that there are no revolutionary secrets here. What I've done is patch together a few common OS/2 utilities, mostly freeware, to bring the on-line community to me in an off-line way, and in the process, manage my time a little more efficiently.

BTW, the total cost of all the software needed to perform this little miracle is:


 * Souper v1.5
by Chin Huang
download from Hobbes (ZIP, 173k)
Registration: Freeware

 * Yarn v0.90
by Chin Huang
download from Hobbes (ZIP, 438k)
Registration: Freeware

 * Alarm Clock v3.1
by WalkerWerks
download from BMT Micro (ZIP, 242k)
Registration: US$25


Trevor Smith is the editor of OS/2 e-Zine!. When he's not fiddling off-line newsreaders, he's fiddling with articles like this one.

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