Handbook: Heartwarming Introduction

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  1. Hey, Ma
  2. On to Dad
  3. Random access page-turner
  4. Sister
  5. My Sweetie
  6. Who calls?
  7. Brother
  8. Dad discovers bookmarks
  9. My sister, my search
  10. Ma and ftp
  11. Brotherly morass
  12. Pages you can write on
  13. Speaking of goats

Hey, Ma

Hey, Ma. I got a new job. I'm no longer the night manager at Lothario's House of Horrors in the Tenderloin. I'm writing a book about the Internet.

Good for you, Tooey. Isn't that the same organization James Bond works for?

Close, Ma, but no. This is information highway stuff, not a spy thriller. It's a handbook for a software program called Netscape so when you turn on your computer something more intelligent happens than flying toasters.

But last visit you were so proud to show us your flying toasters.

I know, Ma, but we've all got to grow. Netscape is real. It brings information from computers around the world to your screen.

That's nice.

I mean it, Ma.

Dad and I like the aquarium fish more than the toasters with wings.

Ma, those are screen savers. Netscape brings real information.

Yes, Tooey, I'm sure it does. Why don't you tell your father about it?

On to Dad

Hello, son. Mom told me you're working for the government.

No, not the government, Dad. The Internet got its start in the government; now it's a term used to describe a collection of computers worldwide that are connected in one way or another. It's a network. No one owns the whole thing. It's more a collaboration among all kinds of organizations and people to split the cost and responsibilities of sharing information.

I suppose everyone who wants to can broadcast from their own home television station.

Sort of. Right now you can publish the equivalent of interactive magazine pages. The broadcast of sound and movies is becoming more and more efficient.

We'll need a remote control that can flip through several million stations. And they better not forget the on and off switch.

So I think you and Mom ought to try using Netscape. I can get you connected to the Internet on your computer at home. Then you can browse around to see what interests you.

Don't have much time for the computer these days. Am volunteering at the hospital two days a week and the library one day week. Help out at the USO Wednesday evenings. Play golf. Keep the house up. Take your mother out to dinner. When I need to write something down, I find it easier to pick up a pen.

Just try it, Dad. This isn't a crummy word processor that gives you empty pages and a thick manual. With Netscape, your pages are filled with information on topics you choose. Pages with color pictures and nice text and maybe sounds or movies.

Yes, I know. Computers are the future. Show your mother how it works. She's better than I am. She can make the toasters swim with the colored fish.

Random access page-turner

Here, Ma. I set everything up for you. You're looking at the Netscape home page. To go somewhere, just point the mouse over any colored text and click. You can always come back to where you were by clicking on the Back button in this toolbar or selecting Back from the Go menu. See these words Netscape Handbook? That's the book I'm working on. Try clicking on it. Go on. Just point and click. That's right. Now see the colors moving on this little indicator image. That means the page you clicked on is being transferred from a remote computer to your computer. Same thing with this status bar and these messages in the status area. They are all feedback to tell you how information you requested is coming from a server computer through an Internet connection to your computer.

So I'm on the information highway. This is fun. How come your book is only one page long?

There's more, Ma. You're just looking at the title and the table of contents. Netscape brings you one page at a time. I could have put the whole book in one long scrolling page but it's more efficient to transport documents in smaller chunks. Maybe some people want to read only the fun, folksy part. This way they can click on heartwarming introduction to receive just the section they want rather than the whole book.

I can't wait to read it, but I need to get my glasses. Sometimes I get a headache trying to read on the screen. You wouldn't have a printed copy, would you?

Yeah, I've got a printed copy. Netscape lets you change the size and kind of text you see on screen, yet still I don't like reading long documents on screen. I just want to show you how you can click on certain words that are linked automatically to a new page. Click on any of the highlighted words in the table of contents or index, and you'll see the page that is linked. Netscape works like a television remote control except instead of channels you select pages. It's an automatic, random access page-turner.


Hi Tooey. Ma says you took her for a ride on the information highway.

Yeah, but she wasn't wearing her glasses so she didn't see anything.

She said she had a good time.

I showed her how Netscape software works. It's pretty simple: you run the program while connected to the Internet and you look at pages, some with pictures and art as colorful as any magazine. Links you see on one page help transmit to you related information that's on another page. You just click on colored words or pictures and, zoom, another page, linked to the one you're seeing, comes flying into your computer from the Internet. These interconnected pages are distributed on server computers all over the world and Netscape is the software that brings them to you.

Who makes the pages and, if they're on servers all over the world, who makes the links between the pages?

That's exactly what everyone is trying to figure out. Right now, pages are made by a bunch of Internet geeks who know how to get information inside these server computers. But that's about to change. More and more, pages and their links are going to be personalized so that every individual can find the information they want and publish information for others.

Do you like the people at your company?

So far. They seem cool: intense programmers, torn jeans and t-shirts, working through the night, alternative rock, 3 AM trips to Denny's. I doubt we'll have the same problem as when I contracted for the Pagan Axle Research Center, you know, where their chief of engineering was detained by the county for loudly explaining his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem to a barbershop pole..

My sweetie

Hey, pumpkin-girl. Are you free tonight?

For you, yes.

I was thinking of coming home early from work. Say, nine tonight. You want to come over?

How about if you come here?


Are you going to show me what's interesting on the Internet?

I'd rather drown in a bowl of cabbage soup than disappoint you.

You haven't yet. You know, your Mom called this morning. She asked for you, but I think she wanted to talk to me. She also wanted to know how to find the Internet discussion group about Northern Exposure. I told her about news and newsgroups, the Internet's bulletin board system. For an example, I had her type news:alt.tv.northern-exp in the location field. After reminding her to press the Return key, she got the News window listing all the messages in the newsgroup. To demonstrate an alternative method that can be used to find any newsgroup, I also had her choose Show All Newsgroups from the Options menu, then scroll down to click on the alt.* folder, then click on the alt.tv.* folder, then click on the alt.tv.northern-exp icon. Apparently, she spent the rest of the afternoon reading news messages describing the show's plots, personalities, and demise in more detail than any TV show deserves. She called back an hour ago marveling at the thread that analyzed the parallel between Northern Exposure and Green Acres: city transplant enveloped in rural lore.

My mom is talking about threads? Where did she pick that up?

She wanted to know why the titles of some messages were indented in outline format. I told her the indented items were responses, and responses to responses, to mirror a conversation. I told her a thread is Internet parlance for a conversation and that you could follow a thread by pressing the Next button. Or jump to the next thread by pressing the Thread button. Your mom is on the net.

Who calls?

Ma, Martha told me you called the other morning. You know I'm never awake in the mornings.

Maybe I wanted to talk to Martha. She told me about the alternative newsgroups. Why do they call them alternative?

You don't want to know, Mom.

Oh, I saw all the newsgroups with the strange names. I would never read those.

Me neither. There are plenty of other great alt groups. And there are tons of other categories besides alt. There's rec for recreation, sci for science, biz for business, and hundreds more. Martha said you liked the Northern Exposure messages.

I sent one in myself. I pressed the Post Office button and mailed a letter. It got me wondering: Which newsgroup is your book in? None of the pages in the Northern Exposure newsgroup had nice pictures like your book.

I think you mean the Send button, but hey. My book isn't in a newsgroup. When you looked at my book and then looked at a newsgroup, you were exploring two different areas of the Internet. My book lives in the area that supports excellent pictures and sounds and movies. The newsgroups live in an area that supports easy back-and-forth communication. Maybe one day the areas will merge, but right now the Internet is specialized, not geographically, but according to protocols.

Who calls?

Protocols. Oh, never mind. The Internet brings you different kinds of pages. Some, like the pages of my book, have the characteristics of glossy magazines with clever links. Others, like the newsgroup pages, resemble a community bulletin board posted with everybody's news and opinions. Netscape brings you pages of either kind. You haven't read my manual yet, have you?

Not yet, Tooey. But I will. I promise. Did you know a university professor wrote in to ask who was the Northern Exposure equivalent of Arnold Ziffel? Someone responded the moose, but I think the answer goes deeper than that.




You're writing again.

Yup. Someone's got to explain every arrogant, assaulting acronym the industry has come up with in the last twenty years. Unless you've set up your smtp and nntp servers, are comfortable using telnet, can ftp binhex, gif, and jpeg files, know the url of my http site, and want to read my html pages on www.

You're working with a bunch of sick puppies. You know, the hospital here has got an Internet connection. Should we be using your software?

You bet. I've got Mom reading Web pages and newsgroups. I'm holding off telling her about email because I'm afraid she'll expect me to write to her.

You're too late. She sent me email last night. She has discovered that Netscape is a full-fledged electronic mail application and newsreader program in addition to a Web browser. Now she's asking for a built-in Netscape screen saver.

What? Mom's complaining about features?

Look, you were the one who bought her the computer. I suggested tai chi lessons.

I guess Mom has filled you in then. Netscape software supports a bunch of protocols with a single point-and-click interface. Foremost, there's World Wide Web hypertext support for reading multimedia pages like my handbook. Then there's a built-in Internet newsreader that follows threads and allows you to post your own messages. There is, as Mom pointed out, full email capabilities that let you compose, send, and receive email over the net. Plus, there's a bunch more. You can transport files. Read Gopher menus. Search databases. Run Java applets. Program in JavaScript. Hey, Netscape takes virtually everything on the Internet and presents the information on a page. To view more information, you click on a link, a button, or a menu item. It's almost that simple and is evolving into the jack-of-all-trades Internet application.

Dad discovers bookmarks

Hey, Dad. Check this out.

Whoa. They let you do that?

This page is from the Museum of Modern Art. There's no single "they" in the Internet. The closest thing to a "they" in the Internet is the groundswell of users who voice opinions to those who abuse the frontier spirit of interconnected computers. These scanned museum art pieces are well within the bounds of net etiquette. On the other hand, there's utter abhorrence for the huckster who sends unsolicited advertising.

How can you tell this is from the museum?

See this code in the location field. It's a URL, short for Uniform Resource Locator. Every page has a unique URL that serves as its address. You can usually glean some information by interpreting some of the letters between slashes and periods. This one has a name and organization code org indicating the museum. On other locations, the last couple of letters refer to a country code.

What's the difference between a person's email address and a page's URL address?

Not much. They both designate a location, but are used for different purposes. If you ask Netscape to display an email address, you're going to get a message that there's no page to transmit. Likewise, if you ask Netscape to send mail to a page's URL, the page location has no capacity to receive your mail. See these letters http? That's a protocol for presenting richly formatted, multimedia pages. The protocol news presents pages containing Internet newsgroup messages. Email uses yet another protocol, smtp, that presents information in the context of a personal mailbox rather than a published page.

So how do you remember every address?

Some pages I've got memorized, but Netscape has a bookmark feature that makes memorization unnecessary. Whenever you're looking at a page, you can choose Add Bookmark from the Bookmarks menu to append the title of the page to the Bookmarks menu. Later, you can choose the title to bring the page. At its simplest, the bookmark feature is a menu listing of page titles associated with page URLs. You can open the Bookmarks window to elaborate on your list of bookmarks. In the window you can group bookmarks in folders that correspond to menu headings, create multiple lists, share lists with other people, and otherwise help you keep track of a large number of your favorite pages.

My sister, my search

How long is the handbook?

Too long. People have better things to do than read nonfiction. The holier-than-thou voice of those who believe they are imparting truths gives me the creeps. Man, there are some places in this universe where nothing is the truth. Manual writers need to recognize that even nouns can drip like Salvador Dali's watch.

Are you doing okay, Tooey? You sound a little tired.

The Internet is big, but big unto itself is no worthy grail. Bigness is only an asset if you have proper filters to extract matters of personal importance. Netscape can bring you more pages than you can assimilate in a lifetime. How are you going to spend your hours productively if the lyrics and harmony that enrich your life are obscured with litter and noise? I crave more from my technology than a heartless reference to a mind-numbing expanse.

Maybe you need a little time off. When was the last time you and Martha went away?

We're making plans. I've been searching the net for a sign, an omen, clues to nirvana. I checked under Netscape's Directory and Help menus. That's what people need: a direction to go and roadside attractions.

Links to spirituality? I've looked at all of Netscape's menu items. There's File, Edit, View, Go, Bookmarks, Options, Directory, Window, and Help. They and their button counterparts are tools to interact with the Internet's resources. But tools are only tools. And the links you find in the Directory and Help menus simply bring pages of information supplied by indexers and writers such as yourself. The Internet may become a reservoir of knowledge more profound and nurturing than any modern day library, but get real, Tooey. The net, like many of its nerdish contributors, remains crude and raw and speckle-complected.

I must remember to restrain my dueling enthusiasm and vitriol. Choosing an item from the Directory or Help menu brings a page of information from the Internet. These are only starting points designed to open my eyes to possibilities and opportunities. Sculpting beauty from the mountains of digital detritus will come with time. I think for now I should take your suggestion and call upon Martha to walk with me in the twilight to the ice cream shop around the corner where the youthful scoopers know us well and serve us double scoops for the price of singles.

Ma and ftp

I talked to your sister today. She said you sounded a little sad.

I've always been a little sad, Ma. I've had this wistful look since I was eight years old.

She says you worry too much.

It's what I do best.

You need to have more fun.

Okay, tomorrow I'll have fun. I'll ignore my genetic predisposition to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and let nary an anxious thought trouble me. How's your TV newsgroup doing?

Enough is enough with that Alaska town. I started looking at some different pages. Sometimes when I click on a link, I get this message about a file transfer something.

I can tell you've spent considerable time not reading my handbook, Ma. That's okay, I understand. Instructional books induce catatonia.

I'm sure yours is good.

Don't bet the inheritance on it. Anyway, Netscape supports lots of protocols, which ultimately means different things happen when you click on a link. The protocol for graphical pages, known as World Wide Web pages, is different than the protocol for newsgroup pages. Not only do the pages look a little different, you can see the different protocol name in the location field. Web pages start with the URL code http: whereas news pages start with news:. The protocol for email is different yet. But there's even more.

What's the file transfer protocol do?

The protocol that starts with ftp: is designed to let you transfer files between a remote computer and your computer. When you click on a ftp link, Netscape brings a file to your computer's hard disk. Where some protocols bring pages for viewing in Netscape, ftp brings computer software files that reside independently of the Netscape application. You've heard the phrase "downloading." Well, links to ftp sites perform downloading automatically. It's the way servers on the Internet distribute software. Once you've made a connection to an ftp site, Netscape also gives you the ability to upload files from your computer to the server using either a menu command or by dragging file icons onto the Netscape window.

Brotherly morass

Ma says you lost her trying to describe ftp. She knows it stands for file transport protocol, but whenever she hears about protocols she thinks she's supposed to curtsy the queen of England.

That's why I never bothered to mention Telnet, Gopher, Lynx, Veronica, Archie, and WAIS. Eventually, I'll get around to proxies, socks, and the helper applications. Plus there are the powerful programming extensions such as Java, JavaScript, and plug-ins.

What are those?

Just more peripheral stuff to learn if you want to enter the Internet geekdom. Telnet is an application that lets you access a remote computer and conduct an interactive session. You exchange information by sitting and typing UNIX commands into a blank field. Netscape lets you run Telnet easily, but you have to know what to type to achieve any results.

And it goes down hill from there?

Gopher's another protocol that Netscape supports. Gopher servers offer pages with menus, but they aren't as rich as Web pages. Lynx is a program for browsing among servers but, unlike Netscape, supports only text. Veronica is a program that searches Gopher sites. Archie is a program that searches ftp sites. WAIS is server system specialized for searching databases. Proxies, socks, and the helper applications supplement the Netscape application: they are options that let users adapt to particular computer configurations and software requirements.

Netscape knows how to display most of the information on the Internet, but not everything.

Yeah, for example, viewing software built into Netscape displays images stored in the GIF and JPEG formats. But pages can contain sounds or movies or compressed information that needs to be interpreted by separate applications. Netscape maintains a directory of helper applications that you ought to have on your disk drive. When you click on a link that requires outside help, Netscape makes the helper application automatically run.

Pages you can write on

I noticed some pages have blanks for you to fill in.

That's right, Dad. Pages can contain forms. Forms can accept input and, with the press of a button, transmit the input to an electronic address.

So what you have is a page with a place inside for the user to write email.

Essentially, yes, though forms can take different kinds of input. Forms may contain check boxes, radio buttons, pull-down menus, or selection lists. Sometimes you'll find fields already filled in with suggested text. When you are finished filling out a form, you send it. Usually you just have to press a button because the email address of the recipient is predetermined by the form.

What happens to the form after you send it out to the Internet?

The input gets sent, not the form. The information you entered is transmitted to a mailbox for a person to read or to a computer capable of interpreting, and perhaps responding to, your input. A form that produces an immediate response is common. Such a form requests information that goes back to a server computer, the server interprets the information you've entered on the form, then sends back to you a page with information responding to your request. But not all forms send back mail. Sometimes when you send a form, no response is generated; the page with the form stays on your screen and the fields may revert to their original state.

This whole business of forms sounds like an easy way for an organization to take orders or get customer feedback or disseminate information.

Just like paper forms, electronic forms provide a structure and context for communicating information. When you're communicating to a computer, this can translate to fast and expansive responses. Forms are definitely cool.

I'd like to see a real estate form where you enter in the address of a property for sale and you get back county clerk's records for the house. You know how the realtors alway use flowery language to make a house sound better than it is. Like cute instead of tiny. Like near transportation instead of abutting a truck stop. The glossy brochure that says "located atop a gently sloping hill" might appeal less after an Internet search reveals that the previous occupant's Andean goat plummeted following a faulty misstep.

Speaking of goats

Do you think Netscape and the Internet are important in the grand scheme of things?

Martha. You know what happens when we start talking existentially.

The same as when we play crazy eights. Followed by an uncanny hunger for a mushroom pizza.

Knowledge transfers more deliberately than computer bits. My fondness of the Internet is strongest when I get the sense I've entered someone else's mind. Institutionalized information doesn't appeal to me like the clever, intimate home pages of people expressing a small part of themselves. The Internet lets you publish a portrait of yourself as you choose, a freedom that printed pages or broadcast media can't grant efficiently. Netscape makes the Internet less daunting. Mostly by consolidating the different protocols of electronic information, and also by offering built-in "ìììÄFschool supplies" like bookmark links that let you organize your own repository. The combination of heartfelt content and personalized tools makes a worthwhile contribution. I certainly find the work more rewarding than my primary task in the Tenderloin: coercing intoxicated patrons to refrain from fondling the florescent appendages of a fourteen-foot ceramic Lizzie Borden.

Remember when we visited the little farm in Tilden park and you talked to the Saint Albans goat?

Everyone needs on occasion to look to a higher power for guidance. Scholarly minutia doesn't excite me and the spiritual path seems incomplete without weekly TV listings. Youth provided me with artful distractions until my liver cried uncle. I still see eidetic wisps fluid in the blue of sky. Over-torqued visionaries spout Internet glories, but only the lonely write sensible instructions on the use of the heart. That goat studied me unblinkingly. She knew all she needed.

You asked her, "How shall I proceed?"

She requested that I first feed her a choice morsel of corn, which I did. Then her wise eyes answered, "I am goat who knows what I need to know. You are something much uglier and should proceed with modesty."

We fed her more corn and walked among the live oak.

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