Online, you will find fun, news, information, games, software programs, data files, a way to keep in touch toll-free with your long distance friends and family, pen-pals, advice, chat, dating, hobbies, employment help, education, technical support, everything you could possibly imagine, and more!
A modem connects your computer to other computers through your telephone line. If you have not purchased a modem, now is the time and prices are reasonable. If one came bundled inside your computer, it might be all you need - although many bundled modems are 2400 bps - too slow for many of the newer applications available.
I suggest buying a new external modem because it is easy to install and easy to monitor. Do not buy a used modem unless it is exactly what you want. Don't accept a hand-me-down modem unless it comes with the instruction manual and the donors assistance. For beginners, I recommend the US Robotics Sportster 14.4 kbps because it is fast, reliable, and inexpensive (about $115).
When you shop for your modem, remember that you must connect it to your computer. For this you will need a special cable. Consider buying a modem package that includes a cable and communication software matched to your computer type. These packages include step-by-step instructions for successful installation. They also come with a phone number to call if you need to speak with an expert.
Your communications software is as important as the modem and cable. This software lets your computer control the modem. It also is the viewer through which you will look at the online services you call. Even if it is ugly, start with the software that comes with your modem. As you gain experience, you can try different programs.
Next, install the communication software by following the instructions in the installation section of the software manual. Part of the installation is to identify your modem by make and model number. Most programs let you select your modem from a list organized by brand and model. The software automatically configures the modem for you. If your modem is not in the list, call the manufacturer for advice and be prepared to read the modem manual. If your communications software does not have this feature, consider buying a different program.
The configuration process creates an initialization string, which is the series of commands your computer gives to your modem when you start the program. As you gain experience, you can fine-tune these command codes to get more from your modem. That can wait. You are eager to get online.
When you call an online service, keep in mind that anyone else picking up an extension in your house might interrupt your modem calls, causing you to get disconnected. Also, the service known as Call Waiting will interrupt a modem session. You should disable Call Waiting by adding *70 in front of the phone number you are dialing. Call waiting will automatically reset itself after you hang up. Serious modem junkies install a second telephone line.
You will probably find that your telecommunications software defaults to an ANSI setting. This is what most BBSs expect. Other choices are TTY and VT100. Most computers on the Internet want a terminal emulation of VT100. If you connect to a computer where you need to emulate VT100 and you don't have that choice, try VT102 or ANSI terminal emulation.
The local echo option in your telecommunications software should be set to OFF. If it's on when you call, you will see double letters on the screen lliikkee tthhiiss. Set line feeds to OFF. Most online services add line feeds for you. If you see only one line at a time and the incoming text overwrites the line on the screen, then you will have to set the line feeds to ON.
Compression: A modem with compression technology can receive data faster than its nominal rated speed. Always try to set the serial port speed faster than the modem speed. If your software has an auto-baud option, be sure to turn it off if your modem uses V.42 or V.42bis. If you don't turn it off, you will not get the advantage of this throughput. You don't need to know what V.42 or V.42bis means in order to install your modem. Serial port issues are one of the tougher issues to resolve, so that patient and experienced friend or relative will come in handy.
Flow Control: Flow control paces the data sent from your computer to your modem. There are two types of flow control, and you must choose one or the other. The first is software flow control known as XON/XOFF. Software flow control is part of your communications software. The second (much preferred) type of flow control is hardware flow control (RTS/CTS), which is part of your modem. Modern modems faster than 9600 kbps support hardware flow control. Try hardware flow control first. If it does not work on your system, resort to software flow control.
If your modem fails to connect, first try another service. Don't reconfigure your system immediately. It might be something on their side of the link. Don't be surprised if you get a busy signal. Like all roadways, the information highway has rush hour too. Try a different service and eventually the first one will open up.
Rely on another's experience, whether it is your friend or relative, or the friendly voice on the technical support line. (Hint: call the tech support number for the communications software before you call the modem makers tech support line.) Once you get past the initial setup, you should be able to leave your software settings alone.
When the service asks for your name, type in all the requested information. You will be asked to choose a password. Be sure to record that password, as you will need it every time you call. It's also a good idea to use a different one at each location you call and keep your password secret. Although it is rare that someone hacks into an online account by guessing a password, it is wise to be cautious. Combinations of letters and numbers with breaks, like DSA#2A or 54?Q[ would be the toughest passwords to guess. Don't use any combination of your name or a simple word in the dictionary for a password. They are very easy to guess.
Some BBSs let you use an alias, or handle, instead of your real name. Consider your handle carefully because that will be the first impression other callers have of you. The handle Brutus might be perceived differently than Wizard or BoyToy. Some people opt to stick with their real name, or a real-sounding name that isn't actually theirs, like Bob or Jane. Of course you can change your handle at every place you call, or pick one you really like and take it with you. Cyberspace - the hype word describing anything online, can be a small world, and you are bound to run into someone you have talked/typed to before.
Some services allow you to log in as a guest so you can look around before registering. You cannot hurt the service accidentally, so feel free to explore all of the options. The systems operator (Sysop) may spend a lot of time using the same computer that runs the Service, so they may be nearby when you call. The Sysop has the ability to see most things you do while online. Much of the time a Sysop is busy doing other things (like earning a living).
If a Sysop senses that you are having trouble, they may pull you into chat. When this happens, the service changes into a two-way conversation screen. If you see this - do not be alarmed. Usually the Sysop is trying to help you! Some Sysops will make a quick phone call to you a few days after your initial sign-on to verify you are who you say you are and that you are at the phone number you gave them. This is because many people log in under several names on the same BBS, stealing time from other users.
BBSs and Online Services have help systems. Try to read some of these before asking questions. Always read all email sent to you. Email that sits in your mail box takes up space on your Sysop's hard drive. If the system allows, delete your old messages when they are no longer needed.
Post messages correctly. Ask for assistance in public. Questions relating to personal information in your account should be directed to the Sysop as private email. It is important to learn the difference between public and private messages, as you might not want everyone to see your personal notes.
Do not feel obligated to respond to every message you see. People who use BBSs are much like people anywhere. Most are nice, some are rude. If you see a message you don't like, consider ignoring it. Some people use BBSs as a graffiti wall and leave offensive messages to bait arguments. Sometimes it is appropriate to respond, and other times it is appropriate to hit the enter key to move on to the next message.
Chat is a popular feature on BBSs having multiple phone lines with simultaneous callers. On the Internet, chat is accessible from IRC (Internet Relay Chat). Many BBSs sponsor chat lounges where callers can hang out and get to know each other. Many callers find friends and romance in these places. But be aware that not everyone who uses a modem wants to make new friends, so don't be pushy. Some people like the safe distance. Unwanted advances are no less offensive online than off.
Don't be a lounge lizard! Logging into a chat board with the handle "Lonely Guy" and hitting on every female around is not going to make a good impression. If the Sysop is of the gender you prefer, and you approach them with a line like "what are you wearing?" your stay at that BBS may be short lived. Remember that there are real people behind those keyboards, and they may not be what you envision. It's not impossible that "Sexy Legs", who has been flirting madly with you all week turns out to be your boss's wife, your daughters third grade teacher, or your pastors son.
Don't TYPE A LONG MESSAGE IN UPPER CASE LETTERING. It is hard to read. It should only be done on a few words at a time for emphasis. In chat areas, the use of upper case is considered shouting.
Try to contribute to the BBSs you use. Upload files, leave informative or entertaining messages, or donate a small amount of money to your favorite BBS. Some BBSs charge monthly or annual fees, because running a BBS and providing specialized information can be very expensive.
Before you can download (copy a file from the service) or upload (copy a file to the service from your computer), you have to choose a transfer protocol. Your communications software will support several built-in protocols, many of which are old-fashioned. To transfer a file, the computers at each end must use identical protocols. Follow the prompts to choose from the list of protocols available to you on the service, then set your communication software to match. The standard protocol to use is Zmodem. Nearly every service and every piece of communication software uses it. If your communication software doesn't support Zmodem, get new software!
File Management: Always check for viruses before you execute any files you have downloaded (or get from a network or floppy disk). Most bulletin boards will have virus checkers available for download. One very good virus checker for DOS, Windows or OS/2 is McAfee's Scan. It is available from McAfee's BBS at (408) 988-4004. (www.mcafee.com) Macintosh users will want to buy a copy of SAM from Symantec (www.symantec.com).
So there you are, quickly making friends in every corner of the country, and a few from other continents. You've discovered Usenet groups, conferences and forums, those little corners at BBSs and Online Services set aside for specific topics ranging from politics, to herbal pest control in the garden, to the quality of food at the local restaurants.
Now that you have an email address, You've given it out to all your friends and relatives across the country. It's very exciting to post (write a message) your opinion in a debate and get a few responses. But some of the really popular conferences gather more than a thousand posts a week. It can become difficult to keep up with all the activity and all the private email you will soon be getting. This is why programmers invented offline readers.
Offline readers come in all shapes and sizes. Theres freeware such as the Silly Little Mail Reader, and ample shareware like Viper and Blue Wave. It's time to buy a pizza for that patient and experienced friend or relative...
Going online is so much fun, it's easy to get addicted. Your getting-started problems will soon progress to other problems like perhaps a burning feeling in your eyes from too many hours staring at a monitor, or the pain in your wrists from too much typing. Despite that, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
Joseph Magdalena is a musician and Sysop of Black Tie Records (www.wco.com/~blacktie), promoting independent musical artists.
Pages 19 -21 had ads for IBBS West, Construction Bid Source, Launch Point, Spiderweb (www.spiderweb.com), and StreetNet (www.streetnet.com).
Not everyone who buys a modem plans to write a Web Page. The first steps into cyberspace are usually taken on a quest for information. Where you end up often depends on what you find along the way.
Altruistic organizations are discovering the benefits of fast and cheap dissemination of information provided by online technology. Soon to be unleashed in the Bay Area will be a totally free online service from the San Francisco Bay Guardian (www.sfbayguardian.com), a weekly alternative newspaper. While still in late "beta" testing, The Guardian Online has devoted space for a large collection of community groups to spread their views, recruit new members, and network.
Amnesty International, (www.amnesty.org) the world wide human rights organization has taken connectivity to new levels. Since Amnesty is essentially a letter writing organization, the need to get information to its 1.1 million members around the world is crucial. The use of email has made this faster and cheaper than ever.
Amnesty's Urgent Action program relies on quick responses to help resolve hot spots of abuse. When an Urgent Action is ready to leave the office in London - it goes out to thousands of subscribers to the program who are committed to writing letters within the timelines included with each Urgent Action. Often the pressure of thousands of letters from around the world can result in better treatment or release of individuals being detained, harassed, or tortured for their beliefs or non-violent expressions.
Before email, much time and energy was spent in copying, stuffing envelopes, stamping, and dragging thousands of copies to the post office. Days were lost while the Urgent Action information was travelling to mail-boxes around the world. Now, when the course of action is determined, it's a matter of minutes to transmit the information to the list of email subscribers. Within hours of the first transmission, letters from every corner of the globe can be in the mail. In some cases, the letters to world leaders can be sent via email, although these cases are still few and far between.
This online medium we play with has the ability to do powerful work. In my earliest days with a 2400 baud modem and a hand-me-down XT, I ventured into the Tiger Team BBS, a Buddhism BBS based in Oakland, 510-NNN-NNNN. While still clueless about how to send email, I was an active poster in the conferences and newsgroups.
At a recent Amnesty meeting, I was handed an appeal for medical supplies being collected for Bosnia. I opted to post the plea in the Peacework conference. Not yet familiar with the concept of an offline reader, I used my entire daily allotment of time detailing the medical wish list for Bosnia. Weeks passed, the collection deadline passed, I heard nothing.
One day, many weeks later, I logged on to find email from a name I had never seen before. A man across the country had read my request for medical supplies on a BBS in Boston, and happened to mention it to a friend who was a Doctor in Florida. It seems that the Doctor was inspired to take our wish list to all of the hospitals in his county. My new, New Englander friend wanted me to know that because of my post, 32 crates of medical supplies had been sent. He wrote "Tonight, for the first time ever, I bow to my computer. Not to the machine itself, but the web of connectedness that it represents."
Then, it occurred to me, this was just the one person who took the time to write back. I was hooked. I'm happy to report that Tiger Team has since given me my own Amnesty International Conference and more daily time.
On the other side of the information highway is CompuMentor (www.CompuMentor.org), the San Francisco based organization whose focus is to help non-profit organizations become more computer literate. CompuMentor recruits volunteers in the Bay Area to offer tech support and information to non-profits. Another CompuMentor service is to collect donated software, much of it coming from reviewers, which the manufacturers rarely want back. The software is offered to non-profit organizations for a nominal processing fee.
In an effort to help more non-profit organizations get their information online, CompuMentor has several publications such as "The Care and Feeding of Online Networks for Nonprofits" and "Developing Online Networks of Nonprofits". These can guide an organization from the earliest stages of planning, to maintaining or upgrading an existing system.
A lot of volunteers at grassroots organizations rely on donated computer equipment. The XT or 286 collecting dust in your garage will garner a tax deduction worth more than you can get for it at a garage sale. To someone who has never owned a computer, the world at 2400 baud on a monochrome monitor can be mesmerizing.
(This is no longer supported by Stanford, but it was neat while it lasted.)
Subscribers use the filtering system through email. Anyone can subscribe by sending a structured message to email@example.com, or using the form on the web at http://sift.stanford.edu. Your message is a series of commands to the automated service. For instance, by sending the following message you would receive every 5 days excerpts of all Usenet news messages about online information services.
To: firstname.lastname@example.orgThe body of each message must include a command to the service. You can put more than one command in a message, but each must start on a new line with no leading spaces. If a command is too long for one line, continue on the next line, starting with a space or a tab. The system ignores the subject field and the case (upper and lower) of the letters in the message body.
subscribe online information services
The service addresses mail to the return address on your request message, which your email system attaches automatically. Be sure to send requests from your own account. You can refine your search profile using the commands TYPE, LINES, PERIOD, EXPIRE, and THRESHOLD. Table 1 (below) lists their acceptable values. Suppose you request, for the next 200 days, the first 10 lines of articles related to "food recipe" but not "fish" (using a boolean search). Send this message:
To: email@example.comFor the next 200 days you will find recipes in your email. The articles will be limited to 10 lines, which is enough to give you a flavor. When you want an entire article, use the GET command.
subscribe food recipe not fish
To: firstname.lastname@example.orgYou can retrieve several articles in one message. For example:
To: email@example.comBest results occur when you learn to tune the search profile to separate the wheat from the chaff. Stanford's filter engine can help you refine your profile using message templates.
get misc.activism.progressive.11965 ca.politics.38420
When you like an article you read, notify the filter service with the commands FEEDBACK and LIKE. The service will use that article as a template for refining your profile. FEEDBACK identifies the subscription profile and LIKE identifies the template article. For example, this message says that article news.announce. conferences.3670 should be a template for subscription 1:
To: firstname.lastname@example.orgThe service conducts two types of search: Boolean keyword and weighted text. You can manually tune your profile with the commands TYPE and THRESHOLD. Experiment - If you don't like the results, you can change settings easily with the UPDATE command.
feedback 1 like news.announce.conferences.3670
A boolean search compares the list of keywords in your profile to the content of articles. Those matching are forwarded to you. For example, the profile "travel hawaii" in the boolean mode matches articles that contain both words "travel" and "hawaii." Both words must be present in each forwarded article but the proximity or frequency of these words is not considered. You can also use the boolean "not" operator to exclude keywords.
For example, if you want to read about underwater fishing from any sources except the newsgroups named alt, use the profile "underwater fishing not alt."
The weighted text search is more refined. Your profile lists a number of words and a threshold number. The search engine calculates a score based on the frequency of these words in the article. If that score is higher than the threshold number in your profile, you receive that article. You control the amount of chaff you receive by setting the threshold. Be careful! Set it too high, and you'll eliminate much of the wheat, too. Set it too low and your in-tray could be inundated with garbage. Rather than wait a day, you can test your threshold setting immediately by using the SEARCH command.
search information filtering threshold 54
update 3 period 1 threshold 45
The Stanford Newsfilter service is on the worldwide web. You can find it at: http://sift.stanford.edu. There you can fill out filter requests using a form on the Web page. Some related papers on information filtering technique are available by anonymous ftp at: ftp://db.stanford.edu/pub/yan/1994. The Stanford library offers a companion filter for computer science technical reports (email@example.com), and a search server at http://elib.stanford.edu.
Option, Value, Function
CANCEL, SID, End a subscription
END, Marks end of the command, negates your signature
EXPIRE, in days, Subscription duration (default 9999)
FEEDBACK, SID, Refine search profile, use with LIKE
GET, article ID, Retrieve entire article
HELP, , Call the fire brigade
LIKE, article ID, Identify template article for search
LINES, 1 to 60, Excerpt length (default 20)
LIST, , Lists all subscriptions
PERIOD, in days, Search frequency (default 1)
PROFILE, keywords, Modifies profile keywords, follows UPDATE
SEARCH, profile, Do one search of recent news
SUBSCRIBE, profile, Create a filter request, (use options)
THRESHOLD, 1-100, Minimum relevancy score (default 60)
TYPE, weighted boolean, Search technique (default boolean "and")
UNSUBSCRIBE, , Delete all profiles
UPDATE, SID, Modify profile
Annette Loudon is a young Australian who uses her space on the Internet to ask tough, controversial, and thought-provoking questions of those creating tomorrow's virtual realities. This is an edited excerpt from her past writings. Her current web page is at: www.construct.net/who/bio_annette.html.
Dear "Virtual Reality" and "Information Superhighway" hype-merchants,
I'm writing to express my concerns about new technologies - things both exciting and worrisome. Over-hyped new technologies, such as "Virtual Reality" and the "Information Superhighway," attract many people seeking amusement. I hope these people get to explore the many positive aspects of these new technologies, rather than use them to perpetuate problems plaguing traditional reality.
Words reflect the world and the world creates words. Words have been sculpted into literature by writers since their conception. Publishing houses around the world distribute words to people.
On the Internet, words signify existence. Those particularly masterful with words can become famous in their own little section of the 'net. There is no longer a need for publishers, so the filter mechanism is removed. Now anyone's words can enjoy the broad circulation formerly reserved for politicians, big companies and pop-stars.
The monolithic institutions dominating the communications industry will become merely one voice among a worldful. The one-way model of "we talk, you listen and do what we say" is being replaced rapidly by direct lines of negotiation among individuals and large institutions.
People and groups can empower themselves by taking advantage of this amazingly cheap networking and distribution tool. Where once minority groups found it difficult to be heard, there are now forums in which they can communicate with others who share their beliefs, and disseminate information about their situation around the globe.
Is virtual rape a virtual crime? Should it be? Should people be encouraged to explore their dark psyches in environments where no physical damage is done? Because no physical damage is done does this mean that no harm is done?
Critical theorists have begun to understand and criticize the social problems perpetuated by mass media. Will virtual reality fall into the same horrid void?
Multiple User Dungeons and Dragons is a popular pastime on campus. Players can be found in any lab at almost any hour. I know a great many who go without food and sleep for ridiculous lengths of time due to their complete engrossment in the MUDD session.
The MUDD interface is a constant stream of ASCII text, announcing changes in the characters' situations, and exchanges of dialogue. Imagine the effect when such games use a high-tech, immersive environment where you see, hear and smell the virtual world.
Pages 24-30 had listings of thousands of BBSs and web sites - and ads for The Coalition of Parental Support (www.copss.org), Tiger Team (http://www.wenet.net/~csangha), and UNIROM (www.unirom.com).
Pages 31 and 32 had full-page ads for the WCO Internet Service.
End of Issue 28. Go back, or to
Issue 29, or to
Mark's home page.