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"To know yet to think that one does not know is best; not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty." ‹Lao-Tzu, Chinese philosopher.

Getting Connected: A New User's Guide to the Internet

By Walter C. Schmidt, CPA

Walter Schmidt lives and breathes computers. His love affair for them began in 1965 and has grown more intense as the technology has moved from mainframes to desktop. In this article, Schmidt, in his very personal way, tells you how to get started on the Net so you can reap the benefits such as those described in the other articles appearing in The CPA Journal.

So you want to surf the Net. You want to browse the Web. Well, whether you have just started out online or if you have been visiting the big online services for some time now, you will find the Internet (Net) something new and a bit different. There will be surprises, and not always ones you like. While the larger online services are now providing World Wide Web access, I think you will eventually conclude, as I did, that to realize the full potential of the Net (read commercial value) you must have an account with an Internet service provider. Therein lies many interesting tales and many long hours. Perhaps I can save you some time.

Before You Begin, Some Not So Minor Details

You will need to know a little bit about the communications program you will use. Exactly which communications program you use will depend on many factors, including the type of your computer. You will want to use a program that has certain minimum features, such as Crosstalk, Procomm, Qmodem, Relay Gold, and Smartcom.

Dialing. A way to automate not only the initial dial up, but also the redial process. Yes, the redial process. Many Net providers have peak times during which, busy signals may be common. You want your communications program to do the redialing for you, automatically.

Session Capture. There are many times that you will want to capture‹to store on your own computer‹the data which the Net provider and the Net is sending to you. Like taking a picture or two, or even a movie, of what shows up on your monitor's screen. To do that, your communications program must be able to open a capture buffer, and when you tell it to, save the information to a file, or as it is also called, "save a session file."

DOS Gateway. Sooner or later while you are online you will need to check something that is stored on your system. Logging out, looking for the information, making a note or two, and then logging back into your Net provider is one way to go. The easier way is to have the ability to view a file or even interact with your system while you remain on line, connected to your Net provider. A gateway from your communications program into your operating system comes in real handy.

Now that you have your communications program picked out and understand how it will allow you to do a number of things, you are ready to sign up with a Net provider, almost. Your search for a Net provider should include both national and regional sources, with the information coming from both national online services and local computer clubs. As you will have learned while looking into Net providers and their cost, you can have either a shell account (usually less expensive) or a SLIP/PPP account. A shell account has your computer acting as a terminal "attached" to your Net provider's system, with that system "attached" to the Net. With a SLIP/PPP account your computer actually becomes part of the Net. My advice is also simple. A shell account has no graphics capability, where a SLIP/PPP account does. The very popular World Wide Web, a combination of text, graphics, sound, and Net services, is available through a shell account. But to access it you use LYNX, which is only a text-based application. To get the full graphics of the WWW, a SLIP/PPP account is required.

What is a shell account? In UNIX, the operating system used by the majority of Net providers, that part of the system that you interact with is called a shell. It might be a Bourne shell, a Korn shell, a Visual shell, or any of a number of other shells, including the one that tickles my fancy, the bash or Bourne Again Shell. For the DOS aware, the UNIX shell is similar to the command line (c:\>) in its function.

As to what SLIP/PPP stands for, SLIP stands for serial-line Internet protocol and PPP is point-to-point protocol. Beyond this, you really don't want to know, trust me.

The First Few Days

You are ready to log on. You have set your communications program options for your Net provider's specifications. If there is any question about the settings, use a setup that has become an industry standard. Set your communications package for full-duplex (not half-duplex or what is also called local echo), with the communication parameters set to what is known as 8n1. That is 8 data bits, no parity, and 1 stop bit. You also need to set your baud rate and COM port. But that should be done in conjunction with your modem and communications card (i.e., your serial port).

You are ready now. You have your Net provider's phone number, and know exactly how to log in‹username and password‹for the first time from the information you have obtained from calling your Net provider or reading its advertisement. Make sure you turn your capture buffer on. Some programs might call it saving to an ASCII file, but I call it a necessity.

The information you obtain the first time you log on can be very important and helpful, so you will want to save it. My Net provider gave me information on the phone numbers to use, how to contact its staff‹both online and via voice phone‹the personal information I had just entered in response to online questions, and a few dos and don'ts. More on the dos and don'ts later. With many Net providers, their systems are configured to send you certain new-user information the first time you log on. Not the second or subsequent times, but the first time. By capturing your initial and perhaps first few sessions, you will have a chance to review what you did, what you found, and‹at the least‹the exact information needed to set up your communication program's log-in script.

Your Internet Provider

Once in, you will want to know how to find out more about your Net provider's system. If you are a DOS user, you probably have already ran afoul of the case-sensitive nature of UNIX, the operating system your provider is probably using. In addition to finding as much new user information as you can, maybe even fingering one of the provider staff (see the sidebar for a description of the finger application), you can find out a lot about system commands from the online UNIX help files.

The experienced DOS user will soon find that instead of a directory listing of files, you have a list of the files‹or ls. If you want to find out more about the use of the ls command, just ask your convenient help manual.

To do that, type man ls at the UNIX system prompt. What follows then is a paged, screen-by-screen listing of the online UNIX manual for that command. What you will get is probably a lot more than you want: The UNIX online manuals are very extensive. But it is being paged, and you are capturing the session. Right?

On my Net provider, the staff have taken the pains to customize the online help manuals. They even have made it a menu driven system and added some specific new user information. To access this menu system, all I have to do is type helpme at the UNIX system prompt, and follow the numbers from there. Check with your Net provider and see if they have done something similar. I initially tried variations of the word help, but I never thought of helpme.

The new user information of Dorsai Embassy, my provider, includes its version of a dozen-page document called The Unofficial Guide to the Internet. It includes the following information: phone numbers; Netiquette, or how not to annoy the heck out of your fellow users when writing on the Net [does the word Flame mean anything to you, yet? It will]; making your life a little easier: menu, gopher, and finding things; Ftp to get the program you want; and, a variety of UNIX commands to use with my shell account.

One last thing about your Net provider. In addition to a host name, it also has a host number such as Eventually, and that might be sooner than later, some application configuration is going to ask for that number.

Each provider may have its own USENET newsgroups. At mine, there are over a dozen newsgroups that carry various information about the resources of its system. The one you should frequent first is the xxx.helpdesk, which for me was the dorsai.helpdesk. Start reading what others ask and have answered. Learn to identify those whose answers are worth listening to. Or should that be reading?

UNIX, DOS, and You

Not only does case count in UNIX, but the UNIX end-of-line (EOL) function is different from that in DOS. So what, you might ask. Well, the first time you try to print a UNIX EOL function file in DOS, you will see how it all sort of runs together. Not quite what you had in mind.

The DOS program EDIT does a nice job of fixing this problem. Admittedly, there is a limit to the file size that EDIT can handle, but you will find that, for most of the files that you download, it should work. Just load the file that has the UNIX EOL functions into EDIT, and add a blank line at the top of the file. Then exit EDIT and save the file. Presto! You have now converted the file into something that DOS will handle very easily. Also, there is the UNIX command unix2dos. Want to know how to use it? At the UNIX system prompt type man unix2dos and it will tell you all you need to know.

Internet Applications

Let's start using some of the Net goodies. Every application seems to have something about it that can be set up or configured in some way. In many cases, however, you won't do anything more than use the program as is or make several small changes, such as deciding if your signature (more on that shortly) comes before or after quoted text. Experiment!

Your .Signature. You will want to have a .signature for your e-mail and newsgroup postings. You can use Pico to create it in your home directory, placing in it anything you want. Netiquette dictates not using more than four lines worth. No, it does not matter that others do. 'Nuf said.

Subscribed Newsgroups. Let's say you use Tin (a UNIX program or "client" as it is generally called in the UNIX environment) as your USENET newsgroup reader. In your home directory you will find a file .newsrc. This file interacts with Tin and contains information about those newsgroups to which you have subscribed. On my Net provider, subscribers are enrolled in every newsgroup to begin with--all 4,500. Now, you can go ahead and unsubscribe to each one, one at a time, or... Delete the .newsrc file (rm .newsrc ) right from the start! What will happen the next time you use Tin is that only your Net provider's newsgroups will be subscribed. You can yank in all newsgroups and select just those topics to which you want to subscribe. You can smile happily, knowing that you didn't do what too many of us did the first time we saw many thousands of newsgroups--deleted them, one at a time (ahem, something I was guilty of).

To FTP and Get that File. Eventually you will want to get a file from some other location, perhaps a copy of that new Web browser that you just have to try out. And more likely than not you will be told that you should use the file transfer protocol (ftp) to do just that. That is true enough. But check to see if your Net provider has NcFtp. If so, type NcFtp at the system prompt and see what happens. Why should you use NcFtp instead of ftp? One main reason is all the "housekeeping" that NcFtp does for you. An example: When you go to open a site in order to get a file, you will most probably log in as an anonymous user, using your e-mail address as the password. After a while, you will appreciate any program that automates the anonymous log-in process. NcFtp does just that. It also remembers sites you have previously visited and allows you to open them by typing a simple #1 combination, instead of open ftp.longname.typing_mistake_prone.site.

That File Was Stored Where? Sooner or later, you will want to save the information you obtain from your e-mail or newsgroup reading. To do that, you might save or export the information. But where is it stored? That depends on how you have the particular application configured. But generally, the information will not be saved to your home directory. So watch what the program tells you as it goes to save the information. Or, since you have your capture buffer on.... Pine (another UNIX application) gives you a chance to export the e-mail into a file in your home directory. That can come in very handy as we will see in a little while. It also allows you to manipulate a number of messages, at one time and as a group--something which Tin also allows you to do.

Internet Relay Chat. We all join the Net knowing that we will eventually join in on the Net IRC‹chatting! I will give you what was not given to me, but I really wish had been. It would have saved me quite a bit of time. Here, in relative order, are some of the IRC commands you will need, yes need, to know.

Typing IRC from the system prompt will get you started, then try using the following commands:

* /join #any_name‹On the very first try, just create any room by issuing a join command. Why? So you then can issue some additional commands, right away. And don't forget to start the room name with the pound sign (#).

* /help newuser‹just what it "sounds" like.

* /help‹lists the variety of commands available. At this point, you can also type in the command word and get additional information about that specific command.

* /nick‹Change the name that the rest of the world sees.

* /who *‹Do not forget the asterisk. With it you get a list of who is who just on your channel. Without it you will get a very long list of all those users presently on IRC.

* /flush‹This kills an IRC action. Like when you /who without the asterisk or just wanted to see how long the list would be. By then typing /flush, the listing will stop. There is a slight lag between when you issue the command and when the scrolling stops, so be patient.

* /list‹to see all the existing channels. Do not forget the /flush command, it will come in handy here, too.

* /join #irchelp‹Yes, that is what it is. An IRC channel which is staffed with someone who can help you.

* /topic & Chop‹If you start your own channel, as I suggested you do the first time just to get started, you will be the channel operator, or "chop" of that channel. As a chop you can set the channel's topic. Then anyone who /list the channels, will see that topic. A few last words about bots: Do not use them! Short for robots, they are constructions that will automatically do something. They are not looked upon with much favor, and the use of one can get you barred from an IRC server.

A Word or Two More About SLIP/PPP

If you don't start with a SHELL account, knowing how to access the Net from a SHELL account is not a waste of time. One reason has to do with the SLIP/PPP account setup‹it is harder. I found the knowledge I gained from learning how to set up and use my shell account invaluable when it came to the setup of my SLIP/PPP account. Also, I have found that UNIX software, which can be used with a shell account, is more powerful in many cases than DOS/Windows-based SLIP/PPP software. And in my humble opinion, much more stable.

Notwithstanding, if I had to pick just one type of account‹it would be the SLIP/PPP account. The Web is just not the same under Lynx. But just picking one today, is not a decision I would want to make. The two types of accounts compliment one another. I use my shell account to read my mail and look at my selected newsgroups. I use my SLIP/PPP account for IRC and most ftp downloads.

The End of the Beginning

So now you are armed to attack the Net and not get caught as I did, in some of the more basic traps‹wasting time and losing valuable good karma. And no matter how much you have gained by my experiences, you will have your own. They will be frustrating at times, but in the long run, very rewarding. Learning to use the Net productively and reaping its many benefits requires an investment of time and patience. But you will be glad you invested the time. *

Walter C. Schmidt, CPA, operates his own accounting firm from which he frequently consults on computer-related matters. He is a member of the board of directors and vice president of the Massapequa Chamber of Commerce. A current pro bono project of Schmidt's is the establishment of home pages on the Internet for participating chambers of commerce throughout Nassau County, New York.



E-mail--whether interacting with one individual sending messages to and from each other, or receiving messages that are sent to a mailing list, e-mail is the most common of all activities. A mailing list is just that--a list of users who have subscribed to receive mail relating to a specific topic. Sometimes the users can write to the list and have their own messages sent to everyone. Other times a particular author or group writes the material that is sent out.

USENET Newsgroups--over 18,000 separate Usenet groups exist. Each newsgroup has a main topic or theme. For those already familiar with online services, Usenet is the bulletin board of the Net, with each newsgroup being its own category. Be aware that the content of some newsgroups, the product of those who frequent that newsgroup, might be offensive to some and, in some cases, many.

FTP--file transfer protocol is what the Net calls transferring files from one system, say a location on the Net, to another--by way of your Net provider using a shell account or directly to your own computer if you have a SLIP/PPP account.

Archie--is a program that will allow you to locate that file you are trying to find. There are others, but Archie is the one most usually available.

IRC--Internet relay chat is the electronic meeting hall of the Net. Pick a channel and join in the discussion. And like certain newsgroups, the discussions can be a bit much. Even the names of the channels might offend.

MUD--multiuser dungeons. You have heard of role-playing games? Well meet an offspring, a great-great-great-grandchild so to speak. Others simply call it a black hole into which all your time can disappear. They even say that about IRC. My wife says that about the Net in general. Not a point I can argue.

Telnet--is the way to connect from your Net provider into another computer system or another computer anywhere on the Net. In many cases, computer systems are set up for anonymous or guest log-ins and have a wealth of information ready and waiting for you.

Finger--a utility that will let you find out personal information about a particular user, such as finger walts@dorsai.org.

Gopher--a menu system that allows you to browse the Net, going from one "listing" to another. You can locate information, download files, and even search a library's online card catalog. In fact, when moving through a Gopher menu system, one option you will often be given is to limit the geographic locations of a search. It starts with the world!

WWW--the World Wide Web is Gopher gone state-of-the-art. Graphics, sound, hypertext, and the need to use a SLIP/PPP account and applicable software in order to get all the goodies. The software used is a Web browser and comes in many "flavors." In addition to the Web browsers used by the national online services (they have their own proprietary software), two of the most popular programs are NetScape and Mosaic.

URLs--Uniform or universal, resource locators are shorthand notations for identifying specific Net services, even down to the file level. Most frequently, you will see a WWW site identified by its URL such as (the nonexistent site of) http://www.here.itis.edu/demo/demo.html. In English, that is a hypertext transfer protocol (and that, in English, can mean a WWW site), with a host name of www.here.it.is.edu, and with the location and name of the file for the site being demo/demo.html (HyperText Markup Language). You have to know the URL, not what it means. Other URLs can start with ftp, telnet, and gopher to name a few. You might even use this shorthand to identify a file, such as (the nonexistent file) file://ftp.here.it.is.edu/pub/onelower/getitnow.zip. That would represent the file getitnow.zip, that could be obtained from the ftp site here.it.is.edu, after using the UNIX command cd (change directory) to change directories to /pub/onelower. You probably won't use anything other than http://, and then in connection with opening a WWW site. *



No matter how well you try to avoid it, something you write will eventually offend (to put it politely) someone on the Net. Maybe not right away, although it does happen to new users frequently. But sooner or later, you will do something, say something, or just have your name associated with something that someone feels requires an less-than-positive response. Remember, the Net is not run by any commercial, educational, professional, or other type of organization. It is, in fact, not run by any one group. Since there isn't one boss, there is no single set of rules. Those who care to send outrageous mail, will. And trust me when I tell you there is more than just one of those types. Many more.

The best advice to a flamee (you will know when you have been flamed) is to do nothing! Leave it alone. Count to a very high number. You have either been flamed by someone who was just venting a bit and, having vented once, is satisfied. Or, you have been flamed by someone who likes to flame, a regular flamer if you will.

You see, there is one attribute that most regular flamers share. They feed on your response. Feed them nothing and they will die. It might take a little while, but if you don't respond, they can always find someone else who will. And in doing so, forget all about you. *


* comp.unix.questions--one of the first newsgroups to which I subscribed. So far, almost all my questions have appeared here--having been asked by others, with answers following. And I didn't have to let anyone know how little I knew about UNIX.

* comp.mail.pine--I use Pine and this newsgroup has let me know what I should know, but don't.

* comp.infosystems.www.misc, comp.infosystems.www.providers, comp.infosystems.www.users--World Wide Web newsgroups, everything and then some. Watch as WWW newsgroups continue to evolve.

* rec.humor.funny--Even Groucho didn't smoke his cigar all the time. So take a break and get your daily dose of humor. Also a place to test, on occasion, your use of rot-13.

* ny.general--Do a search for your state and find out what state-specific topics exist.

* news.software.readers--As of this writing, because Tin does not have its own newsgroup (go figure), it is covered here.

* news.newusers.questions--and the answers too.

* news.announce.important--Some of them actually are.

* news.announce.newgroups, news.groups, news.groups.questions--If you like to see what is developing in newsgroups, here are a few places to look, at least for a while.

* news.announce.newusers--including where to find that new user information that you just have to have. Again, by reading what's available here, no one need know exactly how new you are.

* news.answers--There are a number of .answers groups. This group includes the posts from all of them, and includes FAQ files on every topic you can think of.

* alt.best.of.internet, alt.culture.internet, alt.bbs.internet, alt.internet.services--What is the Net and what does it have to offer. *



Function DOS Command UNIX Equivalent

Disk information--availability
of space or space used CHKDSK du

Delete files DEL rm

Move file MOVE mv

Copy file COPY mv

Display file TYPE more, less, cat

Find character string FIND grep

List files in a directory DIR Is

Find a file FIND find

Information concerning commands HELP man

Change the name of a file REN mv

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