The Importance of the Internet to the EAAE


Marcel Vlastuin (NL)

Introduction
In this article I shall try to describe briefly the possibilities of the Internet and what the EAAE can do with it. In Garching the use of an electronic network was mentioned.

During that conference the Compuserve network and the Internet were discussed, Compuserve as being more user-friendly and therefore advisable, Internet as more complex but more important in the world of astronomy. My opinion is that if we have to make a choice, it should be the Internet on account of its state-of-the art developments.

The main problem is the accessibility for individual people on the Internet in the countries with participants in the EAAE. I can only speak for my own country and accessibility in the Netherlands is very good.


The Internet
First of all you should know what the Internet is about. It is the largest computer network in the world. It is a collection of computers, cables and people connected together. It has been in existence since 1985. Technically speaking, the computers are connected by using the TCP/IP protocol. In this way any type of computer can get in touch with any other computer. And because people use these computers, these people can get in touch with each other very easily. In doing so you get a community which could be described as a 'global village'.

There is no 'Big Boss' and therefore it is free of charge. You only have to pay for the connection with the big computer, which is connected to the Internet. This is called a provider. That could be a computer at a university but it also could be a computer at a commercial company. Since universities are everywhere, every country has its own provider. Hence there are lots of students on the Internet, most of them men. We, as teachers, can go on the Internet by using the commercial providers as well. In the last year that development has become more significant. In the Netherlands you can find more than twenty commercial providers, which offer a connection for about 15 ECU a month, with full access to the Internet.


Access
All you need is a computer that is fast enough (386SX or faster, or a Macintosh), and a modem (a 14k4 fax modem is advisable). The software is very easily to get and not expensive. Most of it is freeware or shareware. You can download it, using modem software, or you can get it by paying for the floppy disks and their postage. I must admit that the installation of modem and software can be a disaster for a non-experienced user, but I think it is worth the effort. And besides, a good commercial provider gives good support.

If you have access with SLIP or PPP on the Internet, you really should. With SLIP or PPP you become a part of the Internet with the great advantage of having all its tools at your disposal. SLIP and PPP are protocols that can be used between the computer of the provider and your own computer.


Tools
Once you are on the net you can use several tools. A tool is a piece of software that helps you:

--to find specific information; or
--to connect you with other hosts (= computers) and users (= people).

It is like surfing: you can very easily go in any direction you want. Within two seconds you go from Germany to Chile and from Egypt to Canada. That is what is called 'surfing the Internet'.

Within 10 seconds you can get a file (= program or text) on your own hard disk; no matter where it comes from - Norway or Japan - the method is the same. You only have to read and understand a little bit of English.

When you talk with other persons, be friendly to them! Emoticons such as :-) and :-( are part of the world of 'Cyberspace'. I'll briefly explain the tools.

- Electronic mail (E-mail)
E-mail is the most important tool on the Internet. Everybody on theInternet has an address. My address, vlastuin@bart.nl, consists of my name, the @-symbol (which stands for 'at'), the name of my provider (= bART) and the country symbol. For example, Richard West has for an address rwest@eso.org (Richard West at ESO, organisation), and our editor is known as reichen@obs.unige.ch (Michael Reichen, working at the Observatory (obs) of the University of Geneva (unige) in Switzerland).

You don't have to be on the Internet to have an E-mail address and that is a very great advantage. So, even from within Compuserve you can mail to participants in the Internet and vice versa.

Apart from sending mail, you can attach a single file to it. You send the message and the file to the post-box of that person and when he opens it he will receive the message including the file somewhere on his hard disk.

By using E-mail you can also request a host to do something for you which you cannot do yourself. For example, you can ask the host to make to a tool perform for you. After a while you will receive an E-mail with the output of that tool as its contents. In this way you have more or less 'full access' to the Internet.

- Whois
This is a very simple tool. You can request information about (Who) a person or a host (is) by just mentioning its E-mail or host address. (The host addresses mentioned in the example above are bart.nl, eso.org and obs.unige.ch).

- Finger and Netfind
With these tools you can try to find an E-mail or a host address from an Internet user or a host.

- Telnet
With this tool you can access an other host by using the disk operating system of the host. In most cases, you will use the disk operating system UNIX. This is the old-fashioned way of using the Internet. With Telnet you access the host with your own computer as a terminal; then you only use the characters of your keyboard and the Enter-key to communicate.

- Newsgroups
Newsgroups are used to start discussions and spread around information, depending on the kind of newsgroup. It should be seen as a way to leave behind and acquire articles on a certain topic. The information is gathered in the newsgroup itself. Examples of newsgroups are: sci.astro (the science newsgroup for astronomy), sci.astro.hubble (the science newsgroup for processing Hubble Space Telescope data), rec.audio.car (the recreation newsgroup for discussions of automobile audio systems), and alt.fan.frank-zappa (the alternative newsgroup for fans of the musician/composer Frank Zappa). When you have a specific problem you can try one or several newsgroups to solve it, sometimes just by reading the articles in the newsgroup and sometimes by writing a new one. Other participants of the newsgroup will help you if they can.

There is not yet a newsgroup associated with astronomy and education, so we could create one. Why shouldn't we call it alt.astro.edu (the alternative newsgroup for astronomy education)?

- File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
This tool is used to transfer files between a host and your computer. With FTP you can access a host by its address. Very often this can be done anonymously; in other cases you need a password. After making a connection you can wander around in its directories and transfer files in both directions; depending on the sort of connection (anonymous or not).

- Archie
Archie is a searching tool for finding somewhere on the Internet a file of which the name is known by the user. After finding the file, as requested, it can be downloaded with FTP, which is used by the Archie tool.

- Internet Relay Chat (IRC)
This is the chatbox, so to speak. Once you have opened the tool, several thousand channels can be opened or joined by you. For example, you could open or join the channel #eaae. When others do the same, you can communicate with each other using that channel. Any text you type will be displayed on the monitor of the other users and vice versa. In this way you could arrange a meeting or open a discussion. The only problem is that all users must join the channel at the same time. To organise this, arrangements should be made among the members of the EAAE.

- Gopher, Veronica and Wais
These three tools are to be used for searching information on the Internet by the use of menus and keywords. I won't explain them because they are used in the next tool which is the most sophisticated of them all: the World Wide Web. I only use Gopher, Veronica and Wais within this so-called World Wide Web. I have no experience with any of these three tools used separately.

- World Wide Web (WWW or W3)
You need a SLIP or PPP connection for this tool. If you don't have one, then the tools Gopher, Veronica and Wais are necessary for you.

Using WWW is the most natural way of approaching the Internet. You need not know anything about the Internet. For entering the WWW you need a browser (= viewer) to scan the WWW pages. The browsers most used are supplied by Netscape or Mosaic. Millions and millions of WWW pages with information and so on can be obtained with these browsers on the screen of your monitor. Other information on a certain topic is hyperlinked to other WWW pages. A hyperlink is a link to the address of a WWW page other than the page currently on your screen. Every WWW page has an address, called a URL. Just by using your mouse and a single click on a hyperlink phrase you will get a new WWW page on the screen with the information you expected according the previous WWW page. A single WWW page can hyperlink more than hundred other pages; no matter what 'place and time' (according to Vincent Icke).

That is not all. You can hyperlink for a picture, a movie, a sound or a file that you want to download on your own hard disk. Hyperlinking for a picture will get you that picture on your screen. The same applies to a movie or a sound, if you have a sound card in your computer. From a WWW-page it is also possible:

--to perform an Archie search;
--to e-mail a person;
--to finger an E-mail address;
--to retrieve the contents of a Newsgroup; or
--to Telnet to an other host.

In short: the 'Cybersky' is the limit with WWW. The possibilities are dazzling. Every user or host can create a home page, which is the WWW page that welcomes you. Even you can make your own home page. Very easily. So, the EAAE can do the same and can offer a lot of information (text, pictures, movies and sounds) for teachers, students or other interested people on its own WWW pages. With a simple change in the text of a WWW page an other home page of an EAAE member can be hyperlinked. As you will understand, WWW is changing and improving day by day.

- Internet Phone (Iphone)
Iphone - which is quite new - makes it possible to make phone calls at local rates with other Internet users by using a fast computer (486DX at 50 MHz) with sound card, and a microphone plugged into it. It works pretty well when the Internet is not too crowded. Iphone makes use of the IRC network.


Marcel Vlastuin is a teacher at Dalton Scholengemeenschap, Aronskelkweg 1, 2555 GA Den Haag, The Netherlands


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