Using the Wisconsin Network - Part 4

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN


In Part 3 of our series, we explored how a node broadcasts it's "Routes", and why this is important to the node. We also talked a little about how this information can be gotten from the node, and how it can be useful to you. We will continue here, and go further into how you can more effectively use network nodes.

We have talked about how radio paths are not always 100% perfect, and how the route quality numbers can help you determine how good a path to a given node is. But how do you determine where you can go, and more importantly, how to get there?

Remember that the node keeps a "Route Table" of nodes that it can reach. Each is assigned a quality number. This number is recalculated every time a route is rebroadcast through a node. For example, lets say that we have a Node called WAPR1 hearing a node with the alias of WAPR2. The path quality to WAPR2 is 160. Another node with an alias of WAPR3 hears the node WAPR1 with a route quality of 160. Node WAPR3 calculates the route to WAPR2 as being 140. This is because there is a little bit of route quality loss evey time a route is passed through a node. Earlier we mentioned that a route quality of 150 and higher will probably be a fair-quality route. Not excellent, but usable under most circumstances. If a route is lower than 150, it will not be reliable. So, most nodes are set to ignore routes with a quality lower than 150.

Routes with a quality of higher than 150 are put on a "Nodes List". You may have already seen a "Nodes List". You can easily see this by giving a node the "Nodes" or "N" command. This will tell you every other node that can be reached by the node that you are connected to. It lists both the Alias and the Call-Sign of these nodes. This Nodes List is updated automatically every hour. New routes are added when the nodes hears other nodes broadcasts, and old ones that are no longer heard are gradually deleted from the nodes list.

Notice the word "Gradually". This does not happen right away, and an "Obsolete" route may remain on the nodes list for a few hours. This is a source of frustration for packeteers, a node may be on the list, but they can't connect to it. The node thinks this obsolete listing is there, but it may have faded out due to band conditions. How do we get deal with marginal or obsolete routes?

First, use the "N" (Nodes) command sparingly. Sometimes, a rather sizable list of nodes will appear when you invoke this command. This will not only give you a few "Obsolete" node listings, but it tends to congest the frequency you are on, not to metion other frequencies that a distant node or nodes may be on. When connected to a distant node, the R (routes) command may be a much better indicator of nodes that you can actually connect to. It is also helpful to know where a particular node is, and where it goes.

Another node command, the I (info) command, will be most helpful. This will usually return one or two sentences telling you where the node is, perhaps who sponsors it, and sometimes what function it provides. This can help you pick your path by eliminating useless connections, ones that you do not need to make to get from point A to point B.

Another thing that will help you navigate the network is careful observation. Keep an eye on your local Nodes List. Keep track of what nodes reliably appear on the list, and when they appear. Nodes that appear only in the early morning hours are probably not reachable at about 2 P.M. It is wise not to try connecting to them in the late morning hours, even if they are still on the nodes list. Remember, it takes a few hours for a route to become obsolete and disappear from the nodes list.

Perhaps the most helpful suggestion that can be made about navigating the network with success is to use it carefully. If you like to log onto distant BBS's to check them out, use the features of the BBS to keep the connection quick, and more reliable. This is done by keeping your packets short. This will also be appreciated by your fellow packeteers. Large packets may disrupt the connections of others using the network. This is an ideal time to talk about using distant BBS's with care.

A large majority of BBS's in Wisconsin are similar. Note that they are networked together, and messages from one are forwarded to another, if they are for ALLUSA, ALLWI, or DIST9 distribution. So it makes no sense to list all of the messages with the L command, because you will probably see the same messages on your local BBS. A much better option would be to use the [email protected] command.

Let's say you are on a BBS with the call-sign if KB9ALN. Send the command [email protected] and you will get messages that originate from that BBS only, instead of the same messages that can be read at your local BBS.

Other "DX-BBS" hints:

1) Send the BBS the "XS" command. This sends one line at a time, and makes for shorter, more reliable packets.

2) Use the "X" command if you are very familiar with the style of BBS that you are on. This will give you a shorter command line.

3) Use a variation of the X command to limit the number of lines that the BBS will send before pausing to ask you if you want more. X10 will tell the BBS to send 10 lines before asking you if you want more.

NEVER tell a distant BBS to send a listing Continuously. This will probably kill your connection, and it may disrupt other traffic on the network. Keep this information in mind when you use the network. We will show practical examples of how to use this information in our next installment of "Using the Wisconsin Network".

On to Part 5 - Starting a Network journey - a mythical journey from Green Bay to Milwaukee

Back to Part 3 -  Node "Broadcasts" and route quality

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