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Information Superhighway

Information Superhighway
Australian Society of Anaesthetists Newsletter Volume 93, Issue 4, December 1994

All thanks to ‘The West’ for providing this techno-brat with one of the best ASA conferences he has attended. The welcome ceremony took place in a science & technology exposition. Swan lager, Sushi and computer based video images we could step right into. This was an outstanding introduction to the world of ‘Virtual Reality’ first described by William Gibson in 1984 in his book ‘Neuromancer’. The hero steps into ‘Cyberspace’ where abstract concepts of data and process take on a virtual and sometimes deadly reality. ‘Cyberspace’ is described as “A consensual hallucination…a graphic representation of data abstracted from every computer in the human system.” The strange illustration on this page represents a ‘cyberpunk’ hero from the game based on the book.

The embryonic form of the ‘matrix’ that will contain this new frontier is known as Internet. This is a global network of powerful computers in academic institutions connected by land-lines, fibre-optic cables, satellite and micro-wave links. Within this network there are mountains of information on every conceivable subject. The highest peaks of information are found in archives that are set up on every continent. These are largely mirrors of each other to keep satellite traffic to a minimum. Special programs are used to search through these mountains of information (ARCHIE). There is a postal service (EMAIL). There is a News service where you register the topics of information you want to be kept up to date on. A global conference can be organised, run and completed, in the space of 24 hours. The question of ‘cold nuclear fusion’ was debated and resolved on Internet within days of the claim being made public. The network is so vast that there are even specialised programs to help you navigate. They may link you to a data base via Canberra-Norway-England-USA. They may locate the information you want in a Brazilian archive of entomology. From esoterica to erotica, all tastes are catered for.

How easy is it to enter this world? Raise the problem of getting your VCR to record ‘Ren and Stimpy’ while you are at the ASA conference by two orders of magnitude. It is protected by obtuse, arcane and cryptic conventions of protocol. The following list describes the steps I must take to send a program to Sydney.

Dial up Adelaide University. (More about this later.)
Type ‘rlogin ache‘ to connect to the university terminal.
(This is necessary to gain access to Internet.)
Type my login name ‘dsainsbu‘.
Type my password ‘******‘.
Send the program from my PC to my university account.
(Using the ZMODEM protocol, of course!)
Type ‘ftp ftp.su.oz.au‘ to enter the computer in Sydney.
Type ‘anonymous‘ instead of a login name.
Type my account name instead of the password.
Type ‘cd anaes/tmp‘ to change to the directory where I can leave programs.
Type ‘put‘ and the name of the file I want to transfer.
Type ‘quit‘ which gets me back into Adelaide.
Type ‘logout‘ to leave my account.
Type ‘hangup‘ to break my link to the university.
Chew a couple of Gaviscon tablets for my ulcer.

Spell any of this incorrectly and everything stops without explanation. An unpredictable number of the entries are case sensitive. The transfer occurs in less than a second but it took me four weeks to work out how to do it. Why can’t I pick the program from my file list, drop it on an icon for a telephone, choose the destination from a list and get on with my life? I have chosen a reasonably advanced example. It is possible to automate a lot of the steps with macro-type functions. If you have a resident hacker he or she could probably enable you to send EMAIL relatively painlessly.

To enter this fascinating world you will need a computer and a method of connecting it to Internet. The best option is to have a terminal connected directly to the university net. Most of us have to be content with dialling up a telephone connected to a university computer. If you do not have an academic appointment you will need to access Internet via a telephone system run by a third party. Next month I will describe the hardware and software needed to make the connection.

Thanks to Chris Thompson and Andrew Miller for all the correct information in this introduction to Internet. I take responsibility for artistic license (mistakes). Please drop me a line if you want more information on the network that is developing amongst Australian anaesthetists. Feel free to send any comments , questions, articles on reseach or technology for these pages.

Dave Sainsbury

EMAIL: david.sainsbury”AT”adelaide.edu.au  Last Update:02/05/2005


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