Frequently Asked Questions about RELAY


RELAY FAQ, v 1.0

by: Leanne Phillips, (LEP@PSUARCH), Paul B. Davidson, (ELMO@DRYCAS), Ben Perkins (blp@phoenix.net), Reba Taylor (REBAT@VTVM1), Dov B. Toren (A18@TAUNIVM), and Fred Melssen (U211610@HNYKUN11).

This file is intended to answer many frequently asked questions that we, as operators, have seen far too many times. The answers given here are intended to help the new RELAY user get acclimated to the RELAY system. It is not intended to answer *all* the questions (s)he may have. Proper use of the /HELP command, as well as careful reading of the following files, will provide a more complete education.


Table of Contents:

  1. Where did RELAY come from?
  2. What is RELAY, anyway?
  3. How do I talk to RELAY?
  4. Why do I have to use my real name in my /REGISTER?
  5. Why can't I use whatever RELAY server I want?
  6. Why is there a prime time?
  7. Why is there a limit to the number of people on a channel, or a host?
  8. How do I send a private message to another user, regardless of channel?
  9. What does the <*nick*> symbol mean?
  10. How can I see who is signed on right now?
  11. What does the "-" in the /WHO, /NAMES, /SINCE, etc. lists mean?
  12. What does the "*" in the /WHO, /NAMES, /SINCE etc. lists mean?
  13. What does the "#" in the /WHO, /NAMES, /SINCE etc. lists mean?
  14. What does the "??" mean in the channel column of /WHO?
  15. What is a private channel?
  16. How do I make sure the private channel is empty before I go?
  17. How can I change channels?
  18. How can I see what the topics are on the channels?
  19. How can I change the topic in the topic list?
  20. Why is there a time limit on when the topics can be changed?
  21. What does the <> symbol mean?
  22. How do users become ghosted, and how can they become unghosted?
  23. What does it mean when RELAY says not all RELAY hosts know what my nick is, or what channel I'm on?
  24. Why did RELAY kick me off just then?
  25. Who do I ask about problems with my computer, electronic mail, the editor I use, ftp, or other similar problems?
  26. Why isn't swearing allowed on RELAY?
  27. Why aren't picture execs allowed on RELAY?
  28. Someone is harassing me. What should I do about it?
  29. Can ops watch when they are not on a channel?
  30. What are the differences between the user classes?
  31. How do I become an Operator?
  32. To whom do I talk if I have more questions or problems with RELAY?
  33. What is RELUSR-L and how do I get in on it?

Where did RELAY come from?

In the early 1980's, Henry Nussbacher released CHAT ANALYSIS, a paper warning that if unrestricted chat machine usage and interactive messaging were allowed to continue in their current state, the load on the network would doom BITNET. As a result, efforts to decrease network and CPU loads were begun. In 1985, Jeff Kell, at the University of Tennessee -- Chattanooga, developed RELAY, a distributed messaging program, written in REXX. Over the ensuing years, RELAY's growth exploded. In 1989, Valdis Kletnieks, then at Clarkson University, developed RELAY V2, written in Pascal. Both versions of RELAY were significant improvements over the previous state of the network.

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What is RELAY, anyway?

RELAY is a distributed messaging network, overlaying BITNET/EARN, composed of many linked RELAY host sites. Its purpose is to serve as an Academic Conferencing System, similar in function to a CB radio network. The users may be in many different physical locations, even from different countries. All appear to be talking as if they were sitting next to each other.

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How do I talk to RELAY?

RELAY works on the idea of channels. You may talk directly to the users in your channel, or use RELAY commands to talk to others and to perform specific tasks. The "/" is the command prefix for RELAY. Any message beginning with it is interpreted as a command. All other messages are relayed to every other user in your channel.

Examples:
Direct message, from you to the channel:

VM/CMS Systems:

 TELL RELAY AT CLVM Hi there!

VAX/VMS Systems:

 SEND/NOPROMPT RELAY@CLVM "Hi there!"

or:

 SEND RELAY@CLVM
press return (enter), and type messages at the prompt.

Commands, from you to RELAY: (in this case, the HELP command. This command will provide a listing of all RELAY commands.)

VM/CMS Systems:

 TELL RELAY AT CLVM /HELP

VAX/VMS systems:

 SEND/NOPROMPT RELAY@CLVM "/HELP"

or:

 SEND RELAY@CLVM
press return (enter), and type /HELP at the prompt.

Please note that you cannot send messages to RELAY by E-Mail, Telnet, FTP, or IRC. RELAY is a service that is only accessible to BITNET/EARN interactive users, and at the present time has no Internet access.

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Why do I have to use my real name in my /REGISTER?

RELAY exists in a state of almost constant self-justification. There have been several instances when certain individuals have abused RELAY to the point of losing the privilege of sending interactive messages on BITNET. It is a much easier task to point a finger at individuals who are likely troublemakers, as well as help assign some name recognition to each account if RELAY requires individuals to use their real name in a /REGISTER. In addition, since some universities allow the use of one account by more than one person, forcing each user to /REGISTER with a different name lets operators easily identify the individual who may be having problems, versus the users who are skilled RELAY veterans. It also makes it easier to avoid confusion, as many people share nicknames with other users. Having the /REGISTER information there allows a user to know which is the person with whom conversations have been held, and which is the unknown person.

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Why can't I use whatever RELAY server I want?

One of RELAY's major goals is keep network load to a minimum. To help accomplish this goal, each node on the network is assigned to use the RELAY server most directly linked to it in the network. This is called the node's 'primary' server. At times when network conditions make the primary server unreachable, a 'secondary' server may be used. For a full list of your node's primary and secondary servers, send the /SERVERS command to RELAY. The syntax is:

/SERVERS 

where nodename is the node you need approximated to the nearest host.
Example:
/SERVERS UTKVX3

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Why is there a prime time?

Prime time is yet another way of limiting the amount of traffic on RELAY and the network itself. During the day, the computers of many colleges and universities are severely loaded down by jobs not related to the network in any way. These machines do stay linked to the network and process many files intended for research projects and correspondence. Use of RELAY during certain daytime hours is thus restricted so as not to add to the network and CPU loads, and so as to keep the administrators happy. If you have legitimate conferencing needs during the day, you may apply through the Masterop of your host for the ability to sign on during prime time hours.

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Why is there a limit to the number of people on a channel, or a host?

Again, network considerations force RELAY to place limits on the number of users. RELAY can only help the network by sending out messages in a fashion that is less time consuming to the network itself. If many people are signed on RELAY, and all on the same channel, RELAY's helpfulness to the network is severely limited.

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How do I send a private message to another user, regardless of channel?

RELAY's /MSG command allows you to converse privately with any user on any RELAY channel. To use /MSG, the syntax is:

/MSG [nickname] [message]

Example:

/MSG Ben Hi there, can you help me for a second?

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What does the <*nick*> symbol mean?

If you receive a message from RELAY with a <*nick*> in front of the message, it means that the user has sent you a message using the /MSG command detailed above. No other users saw this message.

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How can I see who is signed on right now?

RELAY provides two basic commands for viewing who is signed on at a given time. They are the /WHO and /NAMES commands. The format and information displayed on each user differs between them, but the syntax for each is the same. The three forms of the commands are as follows:

   /WHO       -  Displays all users signed onto the RELAY network.          
   /WHO *     -  Displays all users on the same channel you occupy.         
   /WHO #     -  Displays all users on channel number #.                    
   

All three forms of /NAMES work in the same manner.

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What does the "-" in the /WHO, /NAMES, /SINCE, etc. lists mean?

If a user (including yourself) has a "-" next to the name, it means that the user is currently using the same host server as you.

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What does the "*" in the /WHO, /NAMES, /SINCE etc. lists mean?

The asterisk indicates that the user is a general Operator. This person can help you and answer questions if you have them.

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What does the "#" in the /WHO, /NAMES, /SINCE etc. lists mean?

The number sign indicates that the user is a Master Operator. These individuals have the responsibility of the maintenance and daily operation of the host servers. They influence the rules that are specific to their server and are involved in handling the more difficult problems. Most RELAY servers disablee the "#" symbols, due to new releases of RELAY. This means that you will see the "*" symbol for operators as well as masteroperators.

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What does the "??" mean in the channel column of /WHO?

If a user is listed as being on channel "??", it means that person is on a private channel. (further description of private channels below)

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What is a private channel?

RELAY has two types of channels. Public channels, 0 - 99, are listed in numerical order. You are able to identify which users are in which channels. Private channels, 100 - 999, are not listed in order. You can not identify which users are in which private channels. Because they are private, it is against RELAY rules and etiquette to change to a private channel unless you are invited to that channel or unless you know that the channel is unoccupied.

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How do I make sure the private channel is empty before I go?

Send a /NAMES command to RELAY, and it will report the status of a private channel (Occupied/Unoccupied). Note that using this command on a public channel will display a list of all users on that channel.

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How can I change channels?

Send the /CHANNEL command.
Example: (you want to go to channel 2)

/CHANNEL 2

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How can I see what the topics are on the channels?

The /TLIST command will show you a list of each channel which has a topic associated with it. Note that private channels will show up with a topic, but the channel number field will be a double question mark.

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How can I change the topic in the topic list?

You may change the topic on your channel by using the /TOPIC command. Note, however, that you should first obtain permission from the other users on the channel before you change the topic. Only one channel topic change is permitted per channel per 5-minute time span.

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Why is there a time limit on when the topics can be changed?

In the past, there was no time limit on how frequently topics could be changed. This could create some situations when people would change the topic back and forth very rapidly, in what we call a 'topic war'. This is detrimental to network load, and thus we have had to limit the number of changes that can occur in time.

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What does the <> symbol mean?

To properly explain this symbol, we must first explain the concept of 'ghosting'. RELAY is a network, in some senses, very much like the BITNET itself. It sends messages around to its individual hosts, informing them of who has signed on and where they are, etc. No network is perfect. RELAY, being a an overlay, is less perfect than most. Occasionally, RELAY will not get the message that a person is signed on, and thus, that person becomes a "ghost". That person may still be able to talk to the channel (s)he is on, but the nickname will be shown to the users in the format shown above. If you see someone's nick bracketed by the "<<" and ">>" symbols, wait to make sure that RELAY isn't correcting the problem itself (which it can do), and then inform the user of the problem.

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How do users become ghosted, and how can they become unghosted?

Users become ghosted in the manner described above. The BEST way to unghost yourself is to signoff your host server then signon again. RELAY contains some internal procedures designed to eliminate ghosts, some of which result in the "*Deghosted User*" sometimes seen in the /NAMES list. Please note that RELAY operators do not have the power to unghost you.

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What does it mean when RELAY says not all RELAY hosts know what my nick is, or what channel I'm on? How do I fix it?

This is a special case of the ghosting problem. RELAY has detected the fact that you are a ghost, but RELAY is unable to correct the situation. Once again, signing off at your RELAY host is the best way to deal with this problem.

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Why did RELAY kick me off just then?

The /BYE or /SIGNOFF commands are the only way that you can actually sign yourself off RELAY. There are, however, quite a few other ways in which you can end up being removed from the system, most of them automatic functions of the RELAY software. Below is a listing of some of the possibilities:

  • Deletion by Operator: This one should not come as a surprise to you when it happens. In most cases, you shall have ample warning from an Operator before he or she actually removes you from RELAY. If such a measure is finally deemed necessary, you shall see a message saying which Operator deleted you and a short reason for it.
  • Removal for Hyperactivity: RELAY is intended for normal chatting and occasional use of the various commands. Sending huge streams of commands, using picture sending programs, or in other ways flooding the system with messages will result in your removal from RELAY with approximately a 15 minute suspension of privileges. RELAY will notify you that you have been removed due to "hyperactivity."
  • Removal for Inactivity: This is one of RELAY's automatic cleanup routines. Because of the host limits (discussed above), users who go for extended periods of time without sending a message or command to RELAY are automatically removed. This helps keep space available for people who wish to actively use the system. The only message you receive from RELAY in this case is a signoff message.
  • Removal due to Network Problems: If the physical network links between you and your RELAY host go down, RELAY will automatically sign you off. You shall most likely receive no notification in this case since RELAY is unable to get messages to you. You shall be able to sign back on as soon as the network links are restored.
  • Removal due to Being Unable to Receive Messages: This category embraces several different possibilities. If RELAY tries to send a message to you and your host system responds to RELAY saying that you are no longer signed on, or that you are not currently receiving messages, RELAY will automatically sign you off. A case where the first could happen would be trying to sign off at one terminal and on at another one, while remaining on RELAY. One case where the second would happen occurs when you issue the command to disable messages to your BITNET address (e.g. VM/CMS - SET MSG OFF, VAX/VMS - SET BROADCAST=NONE). A third possibility is one which generally affects only users on VAX/VMS systems. Using the HOLD SCREEN or PAUSE key for too long, especially during a /WHO list or on a busy channel, can result in the message buffers of your system filling up. When this happens, your system will tell RELAY that you are "not receiving messages temporarily." When RELAY sees this, it will sign you off, just as it did for intentionally going to a non-receiving condition.

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    Who do I ask about problems with my computer, electronic mail, the editor I use, ftp, or other similar problems?

    None of these topics are directly connected with RELAY. Further, many of them vary from system to system. For this reason, RELAY Operators are often unable to help you with questions of this kind. Your local computer center administrators (the people who gave you the account) are usually the ones best suited to answer questions of this nature. Other RELAY users and Operators may be able to help you, but it is not their responsibility to know your individual system and thus their information may not be correct for your local area.

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    Why isn't swearing allowed on RELAY?

    Because of the academic conferencing/usage purpose for RELAY's existence, and because the network administrators for the host servers may monitor any channel at any time, the rules of CREN (one of the governing organizations of BITNET) must be followed at all times. Since swearing is seen as non-academic and degrading, CREN disallows its use over the network.

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    Why aren't picture execs allowed on RELAY?

    Picture execs rapidly send messages to RELAY. This tags the user as being "hyperactive". See the discussion of "hyperactivity" above. Picture execs are not considered to be of academic use and therefore are a breach of the CREN rules.

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    Someone is harassing me. What should I do about it?

    There are a number of answers to this question, and the one which is most appropriate varies from situation to situation. The best first step is generally to firmly inform the person who is bothering you that you do not appreciate it and wish it stopped immediately. If this is done in a polite manner, it is often enough to solve the problem. If the harassment persists, you have two options. The first and easiest recourse is to make use of RELAY's /IGNORE command (e.g. /IGNORE BigJerk). This will block out all RELAY messages from the ignored user, informing him/her of the fact that (s)he has been ignored. The final option involves the intervention of a RELAY Operator. The /GETOP command can be useful in summoning an Operator in this situation. Explain the problem to the Operator who responds and (s)he will try to resolve the problem. Please note that a "console log" (a system generated record of the messages you've sent and received) can be very useful in proving harassment. If you are unsure how to create a console log, ask one of your local computer center consultants.

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    Can ops watch when they are not on a channel?

    The only way for any user, including operators and Master Operators, to see what is happening on another channel is to change to that channel and watch the conversation. Operators can not see private conversations sent with /MSG, nor can they monitor channels where they are not signed on.

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    What are the differences between the user classes?

    When you /REGISTER to RELAY, you get class 2 by default (at some hosts it is class 1). There are five conceptual class levels:

       Class 0 - Banned from RELAY. Any user, whose class is 0, can not use         
                 RELAY.                                                             
       Class 1 - A user who has previously been banned from RELAY and is            
                 currently serving a probationary period.  OR A user whose          
                 /REGISTER remains unconfirmed.  Channel access:  0 - 999.          
       Class 2 - The default class for /REGISTER. Channel access: 0 - 999.          
       Class 3 - A class granted to you by your host's MasterOp or any Op on        
                 your host server who can provide you with that class.              
                 Channel access: full range of negative and positive                
                 channels.                                                          
       Classes 4 - 7 - General Operators, with different privileges according       
                 to class.  Privileges granted at each level are decided by         
                 the Master Op of each host.  Channel access: All channels,         
                 same as in class 3.                                                
       Class 8 - MasterOp. Channel access: All channels as above.                   
       Class 9 - THE Master Operator for the individual server.  This is the        
                 person responsible for the RELAY account and is the /CONTACT       
                 for the RELAY server.                                              
       

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    How do I become an Operator?

    Master Operators are the only people who may grant privileges of Class 4 or higher. General Operators have neither the power nor the authority to make you an op. If there is more than one Master Op at a host, they will confer before giving someone Operator status. The criteria used in choosing is sometimes site-dependent, eg. who may be an op, or how many ops are allowed. If you wish to be considered, you may send e-mail to the person(s) listed in the response to /CONTACT. Be patient and understanding if the answer is no. You may elect to ask again periodically, so you are the first person in mind when it comes time to select a new operator.

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    To whom do I talk if I have more questions or problems with RELAY?

    There are a number of places where you may find answers to other questions. Most simple questions can be answered by any Operator signed onto RELAY at a given time. In cases where the question concerns specific policies of your RELAY host, or if there are no Operators available, you may always send e-mail to your host's Master Operator. You may find the name and address of your MasterOp by sending the /CONTACT command to your host. Your MasterOp is also the person to whom you should appeal in cases where you feel another Operator did not handle a problem fairly. Finally, a wealth of information about RELAY's rules, its history, and its function can be found in the files RELAY RULES, RELAY INFO, and RELAY USEGUIDE. If you wish to join a discussion list for users of RELAY, then you may join RELUSR-L at LISTSERV@NCSUVM.

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    What is RELUSR-L and how do I get in on it?

    RELUSR-L is forum for the discussion of RELAY related matters, carried on through electronic mail. Using a network server known as a LISTSERV, RELUSR-L allows people interested in RELAY to converse with each other, with all mail being distributed from two centralized locations. Subscription records are kept at each of these sites, and LISTSERV insures that each subscriber gets a copy of every mailing to RELUSR-L. The two sites are LISTSERV@UALTAVM and LISTSERV@NCSUVM. Canadian users are served by UALTAVM, while users in other areas are served by NCSUVM. The two sites interact to insure that subscribers at both sites get the same mail. The simplest way to subscribe to the list, or send any other type of command is to send an interactive message to the LISTSERV.

    The syntax for Subscribing is as follows:

    SUBscribe RELUSR-L                                             
       

    Example: (on a VM/CMS system)

    TELL LISTSERV@NCSUVM SUBscribe RELUSR-L Joe Smith                         
       

    This will add the person sending the command to RELUSR-L and tell LISTSERV that his name is Joe Smith. It is important to remember that all commands must be sent to LISTSERV, not RELUSR-L. LISTSERV will generally acknowledge the subscription with an interactive message and then send you mail notifying you that you have been added to the list.

    Once you have subscribed, LISTSERV will forward you a copy of all mail sent over the list. To reply to it or send your own mail, you simply make use of whatever electronic mail facility your system supports, and address the mail to RELUSR-L@NCSUVM (RELUSR-L@UALTAVM for Canadians).

    Please try to post to RELUSR-L only matters of concern to the RELAY community as a whole. If you see a post about 'Link Failures' from Joe Smith and have something to say on that topic, reply to the list. But if Joe just happens to be a friend of yours and you want to ask him how he has been, please ask him privately rather than over the list. This helps to save network bandwidth and also keeps list subscribers from having to sort through posts that don't concern them.

    If you have further questions about RELUSR-L, send mail to Reba Taylor (REBAT@VTVM1). If you have more questions about LISTSERV in general, send the 'INFO REFCARD' command to your nearest LISTSERV.

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