The Whole Internet User's Guide
by Ed Kral
O'Reilly and Associates Sebastopol, California
370 pages, paper, Cdn $33.75
By David W. McFadden
The Internet is being trumpeted as a great global network of information
superhighways, destined to bring about a brave new era of universal
peace and understanding, a sort of Pax Electronica for the twenty-first
But dah-ling, it's sooooo time-consuming!
What's that line about sailboats?-owning one is like having a bottomless
pit you have to keep topped up with money. Being on the Internet
is a lot like that, except you have to fill that bottomless pit
not with money but with time.
Even the most serious researcher has to have iron discipline on
the Internet, or he/she ends up becoming a professional goof-off
artist. You need to know the names of the moons of Uranus, so you
log in, find you have 147 pieces of e-mail from all around the world,
and by the time you've replied to a few items, downloaded a few
other items, reformatted them, and faxed them off to some friends
not on the Internet, it's four in the morning and you still haven't
got the names of those damn moons. It might have been better just
to have made a little call to the public library.
As for me, I'm not what you do call a professional researcher. In
fact I'm an unlikely person to be interested in the Internet in
the first place. Here's how it happened.
'Way back in the eighties, a fresh bright young with-it English
teacher, Trevor Owen by name, asked me to be a "writer in electronic
residence" for the kids in his creative-writing class at Riverside
Collegiate Institute in Toronto. The kids would write little stories
and poems on the school computers and they would come up on the
screen of my computer at home. I'd read them and send back my comments.
All I needed was a modem. So I went out and bought one and worked
with the kids for a year. It was fun, but it was exhausting, and
when it was over I put my modem away in storage.
Then last year, Trevor contacted me again. He was no longer teaching,
he had an office in the computer department at York University and
had become a fulltime visionary, busy developing computer networks
for high schools in Canada and flying off to conferences around
This time he asked me to get the modem out of storage and get involved
in a program similar to the one at Riverside,but this time it was
to involve high schools across Canada. The program had a name, W.I.E.R.,
which stood for Writers in Electronic Residence, had received some
financial support from Trans-Canada Pipelines and involved poets,
novelists and playwrights and so on like Susan Musgrave, Katherine
Govier, Rick Salutin, Myra Kostash, Daniel David Moses, Pat Lane,
George Elliott Clarke, Marilyn Bowering
all members of that
tribe of writers who had long ago quit their day jobs but still
couldn't live off their royalties.
And as an added inducement Trevor was offering each of us a full
Internet account on the big computer at York University.
Something clicked, and this time I knew when my stint with WIER
was over I wouldn't be putting my modem back in storage. In fact
I ran out to my neighbourhood Toronto Computer Book store and plunked
down $29.95 for a copy of The Whole Internet User's Guide and
Catalog by Ed Krol, and started reading about Usenet, Listserv,
FTP, FAQs, Gopher, Archie, WWW, Telnet, WAIS, VERONICA, JANET, Project
Gutenberg, Smiles, NICOLAS, and so on.
Pretty soon I'd downloaded a massive list of Listserv mailing lists,
thousands of them, and, carefully following the directions in the
book, began subscribing to everything that looked interesting.
For a few weeks I was deliriously reading and contributing to all
these mailing lists and doing very little of anything else, such
as sleeping. Then came the terrible task of trying to figure out
which lists were dispensible and painfully unsubscribing from them.
I finally got it down to about three. That's about as many as any
one can really handle at any one time. As for the others, whenever
you're inspired to do so you can dip into the archives via FTP and
find out what's been going on in your absence. There's no quality
control on these lists, to be truthful: one week they're vitally
interesting, and then they go off in a tangent that is deadly dull.
The aforementioned User's Guide is good. It's based on the
Unix operating system, which is okay by me because that's the system
the York account uses as well. But it's easily understandable for
those who aren't on a Unix system.
Many other books on the Internet have been published since the Krol
book, but all you really need is one that covers the basics and
gets you started. Then all the information you need (and that's
a classic understatement to be sure) can be found on the Internet.
WIER is supported by The Writer's Development Trust as well as TCP.
David McFadden is a Toronto-based writer.
Published in Sources 33, Winter 1993/1994
Sources, 489 College
Street, Suite 201, Toronto, ON M6G 1L9.
Phone: (416) 964-7799 FAX: (416) 964-8763
Include yourself in Sources
Mailing Lists and
Media Names & Numbers
Names & Numbers