Reflections of a ModemJunkie

by Leonard Grossman

"H T T P: / /" The characters stare down from giant bill boards, stretch across full page adds in the New York Times. and appear, with seeming significance in t.v. commercials. Radio announcers struggle with pronunciation: "Aitch tee tee pee colon forward slash forward slash . . ." Everyone who is anyone seems to have his or her own Web page. So, after a year and a half of surfing it was time for this ModemJunkie to try his hand at HTML himself.

Actually, its all Mike Scher's fault. It was about a year ago. I was experimenting with my internet service. I had heard there was a way I could upload my old columns to a directory on the server at MCS and the public could use FTP (the File Transfer Protocol) to access and download them. So I played around and uploaded a few. I even announced their existence in a couple of internet newsgroups. No one ever asked me how to get them. I promptly forgot all about it.

Then a few weeks ago I was playing around with a new search tool, AltaVista. Modest though I am, I searched for my own name. There were lots of hits with "Leonard" or "Grossman." But one surprised me. It linked to a site maintained by Mike called "Chicago Internet Attractions." I clicked on the URL (Universal resource locator), http://www.tezcat/web/chi-internet.html, and there was a description of my columns and a highlighted link. I clicked and there appeared a list of the filenames I had uploaded so long ago. I clicked on one and !POW! There on the screen before my eyes was an article I had written three years ago. Mike had taken advantage of the fact that the FTP protocol can be used as a URL and linked like any other web address. (BTW: Lately I've heard "URL" pronounced "yourl." I don't think its much of an improvement over U-R-L, said quickly. What we really need is a short hand for "http://")

Now I could tell my friends to go to Mike's page and click. There was only one problem. Due to a limitation on MCS' server (I don't remember whether it's hardware or software), only 36 simultaneous anonymous FTP requests can be processed ant any one time. With over 8,000 accounts, there are many times when it was impossible to reach the files through that route. I left Mike a note and he suggested I set up access using the HyperText Transfer Protocol (now you know what "http' stands for). With a few suggestions from MCS users -- one even sent me a few lines of HTML (hypertext markup language) which could be used as a template for the index -- I was on my way.

I quickly realized I was actually creating my own web page. I got carried away. I decided to add an introductory paragraph. Then I decided to talk about syslink and CACHE and Nicol. Then I went to Harold Driscoll's page and pirated the language necessary to incorporate the blue ribbon from the Campaign for First Amendment Freedom. (When I did that i didn't know it was being offered to anyone. A few more steps and I was ready to upload the files to the server. I entered the URL in Netscape--NOTHING. A few quick lessons in Unix permissions form helpful MCS regulars and WOW!! My primitive first page appeared, the collected "Reflections of ModemJunkie." Just a simple introduction and a list of file names but it was a start.

The blue ribbon didn't appear but a broken image icon did. (Readers: Is there a name for this??) I clicked on it and it took me to the page sponsored by the groups that have come together to oppose the anti-obscenity provisions of the new telecommunications bill. There, available for download, were several images I could incorporate in my page. A few more steps and the blue ribbon graced my page.

I soon realized that this was just an index, however. Not something worth reading in its own right. But now I was hooked. I began creating a real page- one with links to other places, search tools, news groups, even eventually, a counter that shows how many "hits" my page receives. I got indexed by AltaVista. Search on ModemJunkie and you'll find about 40 references to my stories, with the first 25 words or so of each appearing on the screen. Click and you are reading my past.

Another addiction.. Now I walk around planning pages. But I am not very patient and creating a page takes patience. everything must be right or it won't work. And of course what looks good on my browser (Netscape) may not look so hot in Mosaic. And I am learning about the philosophy of HTML. Should I use a plain text editor or one especially configured for HTML... and if so should it be WYSIWYG or not (reminds me of the old arguments between DOS and Windows). For the time being I am doing it all manually--so that I can learn what I am doing. I suspect I'll be using one of the more advanced editors before long, however.

There are even debates about form. White backgrounds vs undefined, preformatted text vs allowing the text to flow in the document. Even political correctness. It is considered bad form to say "click here" on your page. Arguments about this rage in the newsgroups. There are sites where you can have your page "validated." Mine passed all but the most stringent tests but, in my opening paragraph I indicate that my columns, the "_Reflections_ _of_ _a _Modemjunkie_ are collected _here_." Both "Reflections of a ModemJunkie" and "here" are links to the index page. The validator solemnly informed me that this was bad form. Tough, I say. There are times when convention makes sense and times when it does not.

For the curious, my home page is at Click there! ;-)

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