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Navigating Usenet with nn

How do you dive right in? As mentioned, on some systems, it's all done through menus -- you just keep choosing from a list of choices until you get to the newsgroup you want and then hit the "read" command. On Unix systems, however, you will have to use a "newsreader" program. Two of the more common ones are known as rn (for "read news") and nn (for "no news" -- because it's supposed to be simpler to use).

For beginners, nn may be the better choice because it works with menus -- you get a list of articles in a given newsgroup and then you choose which ones you want to see. To try it out, connect to your host system and, at the command line, type

nn news.announce.newusers

and hit enter. After a few seconds, you should see something like this:

Newsgroup: news.announce.newusers                  Articles: 22 of 22/1 NEW

a Gene Spafford   776  Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
b Gene Spafford   362  A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community
c Gene Spafford   387  Emily Postnews Answers Your Questions on Netiquette
d Gene Spafford   101  Hints on writing style for Usenet
e Gene Spafford    74  Introduction to news.announce
f Gene Spafford   367  USENET Software: History and Sources
g Gene Spafford   353  What is Usenet?
h taylor          241  A Guide to Social Newsgroups and Mailing Lists
i Gene Spafford   585  Alternative Newsgroup Hierarchies, Part I
j Gene Spafford   455  Alternative Newsgroup Hierarchies, Part II
k David C Lawrenc 151  How to Create a New Newsgroup
l Gene Spafford   106  How to Get Information about Networks
m Gene Spafford   888  List of Active Newsgroups
n Gene Spafford   504  List of Moderators
o Gene Spafford  1051  Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists, Part I
p Gene Spafford  1123  Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists, Part II
q Gene Spafford  1193  Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists, Part III
r Jonathan Kamens 644  How to become a USENET site
s Jonathan Kamen 1344  List of Periodic Informational Postings, Part I

-- 15:52 -- SELECT -- help:? -----Top 85%-----
Explanatory postings for new users. (Moderated)

Obviously, this is a good newsgroup to begin your exploration of Usenet! Here's what all this means: The first letter on each line is the letter you type to read that particular "article" (it makes sense that a "newsgroup" would have "articles"). Next comes the name of the person who wrote that article, followed by its length, in lines, and what the article is about. At the bottom, you see the local time at your access site, what you're doing right now (i.e., SELECTing articles), which key to hit for some help (the ? key) and how many of the articles in the newsgroup you can see on this screen. The "(moderated)" means the newsgroup has a "moderator" who is the only one who can directly post messages to it. This is generally limited to groups such as this, which contain articles of basic information, or for digests, which are basically online magazines (more on them in a bit).

Say you're particularly interested in what "Emily Postnews" (see section Dear Emily Postnews) has to say about proper etiquette on Usenet. Hit your c key (lower case!), and the line will light up. If you want to read something else, hit the key that corresponds to it. And if you want to see what's on the next page of articles, hit return or your space bar.

But you're impatient to get going, and you want to read that article now. The command for that in nn is a capital Z. Hit it and you'll see something like this:

Gene Spafford: Emily Postnews Answers Your Questions on Netiquette
Original-author: brad@looking.on.ca (Brad Templeton)
Archive-name: emily-postnews/part1
Last-change: 30 Nov 91 by brad@looking.on.ca (Brad Templeton)

**NOTE: this is intended to be satirical.  If you do not recognize
it as such, consult a doctor or professional comedian.  The
recommendations in this article should recognized for what
they are -- admonitions about what NOT to do.

"Dear Emily Postnews"

Emily Postnews, foremost authority on proper net behaviour,
gives her advice on how to act on the net.


Dear Miss Postnews: How long should my signature be? -- verbose@noisy

A: Dear Verbose: Please try and make your signature as long as you
-- 09:57 --.announce.newusers-- LAST --help:?--Top 4%--

The first few lines are the message's header, similar to the header you get in e-mail messages. Then comes the beginning of the message. The last line tells you the time again, the newsgroup name (or part of it, anyway), the position in your message stack that this message occupies, how to get help, and how much of the message is on screen. If you want to keep reading this message, just hit your space bar (not your enter key!) for the next screen and so on until done. When done, you'll be returned to the newsgroup menu. For now hit Q (upper case this time), which quits you out of nn and returns you to your host system's command line.

To get a look at another interesting newsgroup, type

nn comp.risks

and hit enter. This newsgroup is another moderated group, this time a digest of all the funny and frightening ways computers and the people who run and use them can go wrong. Again, you read articles by selecting their letters. If you're in the middle of an article and decide you want to go onto the next one, hit your n key.

Now it's time to look for some newsgroups that might be of particular interest to you. Unix host systems that have nn use a program called nngrep (ever get the feeling Unix was not entirely written in English?) that lets you scan newsgroups. Exit nn and at your host system's command line, type

nngrep word

where word is the subject you're interested in. If you use a Macintosh computer, you might try

nngrep mac

You'll get something that looks like this:


Note that some of these obviously have something to do with Macintoshes while some obviously do not; nngrep is not a perfect system. If you want to get a list of ALL the newsgroups available on your host system, type

nngrep -a |more
nngrep -a |pg

and hit enter (which one to use depends on the Unix used on your host system; if one doesn't do anything, try the other). You don't absolutely need the |more or |pg, but if you don't include it, the list will keep scrolling, rather than pausing every 24 lines. If you are in nn, hitting a capital Y will bring up a similar list.

Typing `nn newsgroup' for every newsgroup can get awfully tiring after awhile. When you use nn, your host system looks in a file called `.newsrc'. This is basically a list of every newsgroup on the host system along with notations on which groups and articles you have read (all maintained by the computer). You can also use this file to create a "reading list" that brings up each newsgroup to which you want to "subscribe." To try it out, type


without any newsgroup name, and hit enter.

Unfortunately, you will start out with a `.newsrc' file that has you "subscribed" to every single newsgroup on your host system! To delete a newsgroup from your reading list, type a capital U while its menu is on the screen. The computer will ask you if you're sure you want to "unsubscribe." If you then hit a Y, you'll be unsubscribed and put in the next group.

With many host systems carrying thousands of newsgroups, this will take you forever.

Fortunately, there are a couple of easier ways to do this. Both involve calling up your `.newsrc' file in a word or text processor. In a `.newsrc' file, each newsgroup takes up one line, consisting of the group's name, an exclamation point or a colon and a range of numbers.

Newsgroups with a colon are ones to which you are subscribed; those followed by an exclamation point are "un-subscribed." To start with a clean slate, then, you have to change all those colons to exclamation points. If you know some UNIX, it's a one-liner, just type:

tr ':' '!' < .newsrc > temprc

and you're done. Without the tr command you must use a text editor.

If you know how to use emacs or vi, call up the `.newsrc' file (you might want to make a copy of `.newsrc' first, just in case), and use the search-and-replace function to make the change.

If you're not comfortable with these text processors, you can download the `.newsrc' file, make the changes on your own computer and then upload the revised file. Before you download the file, however, you should do a couple of things. One is to type

cp .newsrc temprc

and hit enter. You will actually download this temprc file (note the name does not start with a period -- some computers, such as those using MS-DOS, do not allow file names starting with periods). After you download the file, open it in your favorite word processor and use its search-and-replace function to change the exclamation points to colons. Be careful not to change anything else! Save the document in ASCII or text format. Dial back into your host system. At the command line, type

cp temprc temprc1

and hit enter. This new file will serve as your backup `.newsrc' file just in case something goes wrong. Upload the temprc file from your computer. This will overwrite the Unix system's old temprc file. Now type

cp temprc .newsrc

and hit enter. You now have a clean slate to start creating a reading list.

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