Written by David Tebbutt, Director 05/90 - scanned

May I start with an apology to those who don't want to join a Mensa electronic conference. You see, we've had quite a bit of interest, so we thought it best to get one going. And that's really my theme this month. I promise to return to issues of more general interest starting with my next column.

I really appreciated the letters, electronic mail and faxes which followed my last article on setting up a Mensa electronic conference. Those who were already members of CIX (the one I use) were enthusiastic. Those who weren't members of CIX suggested that a free `bulletin board' service might be a better way to proceed. The issues seem to boil down to cost versus quality of service.

A free bulletin board is exactly that. It costs nothing to join and nothing to be connected to it, although you usually have a daily time ration which you must not exceed. The reason is that most of these free boards are run as a hobby on a single telephone line. When asked 'why bother?' the operator told me that it was the computing equivalent of sitting in his front room watching the goings-on in the street outside. Instead, he sits in front of a terminal and watches the messages being put into his system.

One Mensa member, Andrew Denny, suggests that Mensa might like to set up a bulletin board system of its own. He suggests that this can be done for around £1,500 although someone would presumably need to look after it. Another Mensa member, Pat Crabb, already runs a bulletin hoard which he calls HALFWITS.

Pat has suggested that we try out his system and see how we get on. I have put instructions for doing this below. You can dial up between noon and midnight weekdays, and 24 hours at weekends. While interest is low, his single line shouldn't be a problem but as it builds up you will repeatedly get the engaged tone. This is the point at which I think we'd need to consider a commercial system. We can discuss the matter on-line.

The bulletin board is aptly named because, like a physical bulletin board, everyone can see everyone else's public messages. To save confusion, the electronic version is divided into a number of different areas, according to content. Ours is section `M', for Mensa. We can't stop the public getting in and adding their own two penn'orth, so Pat has offered to broadcast Mensa-only material to all known Mensa members on the system. He's done it through another part of the system called `Mail'. This is just like regular mail. You write a letter and post it directly to the person you want to read it. The only other person who might see it is Pat in his role of system operator.

His way of broadcasting mail to all Mensa members, without anyone else seeing, is to get you to send it to IVAN, his pseudonym. Providing you all indicate that you are Mensa members when you first join, Pat will be able to find you and forward these secret messages. So, all you Mensa members who want to try electronic conferencing at no charge other than your telephone bill, get dialling. If you want to write to me, I'm registered on HALFWITS in my own name.

As well as public conferencing, electronic mail and pseudo-private conferencing, you will also find other special interest conferences, puzzles and programs which you can download to your computer. It doesn't matter what machine you have and providing your modem can run at 1200 or 2400 baud, you'll be able to get into HALFWITS. We'll carry on this discussion there. If you want to contact me on CIX, I use the name TEBBO. And if you want to contact me on Telecom Gold, I am 83:JNL242. My thanks again to all who contacted me, and especially to Pat Crabb who has enabled us to get this project off the ground.

Connecting to HALFWITS bulletin board system:

1. Set your modem to 8 data bits, I stop bit and no parity.

2. Dial 0272 340310 and wait for carrier detect on your modem. Now it's a case of responding to HALFWITS' questions:

3. Answer the first question about your monitor - answer None if in doubt.

4. When asked for your name, type NEW.

5. Choose R to register as a new user.

6. Read the rules.

7. Provide your name, address (make Mensa the last word of your address), computer, telephone number and password as each is requested.

8. Choose your level of ANSI compatibility (1, if in doubt). All this information is now saved for future reference.

9. When the bulletin list appears, press Q to skip over them. The HALFWITS system would normally go into the mail system at this point but, since you won't have any, it moves on to the `New User Help Information'. Capture the information which allows for future reference. It tells you all you need to know about finding your way round HALFWITS.

10. When the BBS Command Summary appears, press L to list the `sub-bulletin-boards'. Three of these are aimed at Mensa members:

M Ivan's conferences: this is `our' one

N Tests of intelligence: exactly what it says

O Crossed Lines-Exchange: an information exchange.

11. Press M to get into `our' conference

12. Press S to scan message titles, or R to read the messages.

13. Press G to leave the system.

14. Hang up.

Stop press: I have just received letters from two men who, unknown to me, had already pioneered the idea of free Mensa bulletin boards. John Pelan was the first Mensa member to set one up and you can dial his board in Dublin (0001) 302970 (24 furs) or (0001) 832714 (9pm to 9am).

Perhaps because of the Dublin telephone number, the venture did not attract Mensa members in quite the volume John had hoped. His work did, however, inspire John Warman to set up a conference on his local bulletin board, called K-Wood. This one is in Oxfordshire and you may connect to it on (0608) 83458.