Internet Public Access Guide
Author: Phil Hughes
Publisher: SSC ISBN: 0-916151-70-0
Reviewer: Morgan Hall
My daughter just celebrated her 14th birthday. With some trepidation, I asked the fatal question: “What would you like for your birthday?”
The answer was something I've been dreading for some time. “Dad, I'd like an Internet account.”
What do you say or do when the tiny waif that met you with smiles and hugs when you came home from work is turning into a beautiful and self-assured young lady? How can you guide and support a young person taking their first steps into the world without smothering them and insulating them from the experiences that they need to grow and prosper?
Then, by lucky coincidence, I was offered the chance to review The Internet Public Access Guide by Phil Hughes, a 64-page booklet containing what I hoped would be the basics she would need to know. This, then, is the basic viewpoint of this review: a concerned dad hoping to pass essential information to his child.
Information is the basic reason for the existence of any book of this sort. Accurate, concise, and relevant information. An author faces the opposing tasks of packing the greatest possible amount of information into a page of text and, at the same time, making it interesting and readable. Phil Hughes succeeds remarkably well at this difficult task. Don't expect in-depth discussions, careful examinations of every possible switch and combination of parameters to commands, or discussions of efficiency. You won't find them here. Instead, you'll find the basics that a beginner needs in order to start exploring the Internet. In short, you'll find the very information that I was looking for.
The first four chapters of this booklet are used to establish a foundation. They explain how the booklet, itself, is organized and what it contains, explain what the Internet is, define how the booklet uses terms and typography, and finally give a very rudimentary survival guide to Unix. I'm impressed. I've seen many complete books on beginning Unix that are less useful. It's not complete, and not meant to be. As the absolute minimum for setting a beginner down at a Unix system it's very sparse, but it is the absolute basics.
Chapter 5 covers the basics of electronic mail and the ELM mailer. Here the author takes what may be the wisest course and avoids the arguments over what editor to use. Unfortunately, this also leaves perhaps the largest information hole in the entire booklet (I'd be happy with a minimum vi survival guide as it's almost always available). However, criticism aside, this chapter alone may be worth the purchase of the booklet.
Chapter 6 discusses usenet news and news readers. The information on the TIN and TRN news readers is well organized, concise, and well thought-out. Here's a chapter that the novice will thumb through time after time.
Chapter 7 talks about remote system access with emphasis on telnet and ftp. The discussion of telnet is extremely informative (and after 15 years as a net junkie, I picked up a few points!). This chapter shows the reader how to use anonymous ftp, explains how to move around the local directory hierarchy, the remote hierarchy, and the difference between text and binary file transfers. Again—it's the basics. It's the stuff that the beginner absolutely must learn. The `r' programs are conspicuous by their absence (rlogin is mentioned in passing). The author showed considerable wisdom here, as it's very easy to tell just a bit more about more, and more, and more...
Chapter 8 introduces the network-wide services that are available. The reader is shown how gopher, archie, veronica, www, and wais can help him or her. Other services such as MUDs and IRC are alluded to.
Chapter 9 discusses downloading from a host computer to a home machine (a PC is assumed). It's short, sweet, and perhaps unnecessary for some users while too sparse for others. I can't argue with the author's judgment call that it must be mentioned, but here is also an area that can expand out of control.
The entire booklet is well-written and not intimidating. For a reader who is intelligent, curious, and experimental, it's just about the right amount of information to get them going on their own. The major deficiency is the lack of some sort of text editing survival guide.
My review copy now has a pink bow around it. Along with a text file that explains a little vi, it will be presented to my daughter at her birthday party tonight. I've made the arrangements for her account, and resigned myself to the fact that it will be harder to get time on my own system in the future...