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This is the original text of the article "Jumpin' The Net" which appeared in the March 1995 issue of _Parachutist_. [- bcs] –

Skysurfing the 'Net

By Bradley C. Spatz, C-24273 15Jan95 [DRAFT]

You may have heard the phrase "surfing the 'net" which means navigating the vast information resources of the Internet. With all the skydiving information available online, you might just consider surfing the 'net yourself – skysurfing that is.

What's Out There

There's a lot of skydiving information out there on the Internet. I created a central index of information on what's called the World Wide Web (WWW), also known simply as "the Web." Documents on the Web can refer to virtually any kind of information resource on the Internet: Gopher/FTP/TELNET sites, Usenet newsgroups, and of course other Web sites. Examples of what you might find on the WWW site include:

o Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about skydiving
o Airline travel with your rig
o Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs)
o World DZ price list and reviews
o RW manuals
o FAI dive pools
o Skydiving movies and pictures (from jumpers worldwide)
o Worldwide weather information
o Links to other skydiving and general aviation sites

This information comes from sites all over the globe connected to the Internet. So let's talk a little about the Internet and the various information services you can use to get skydiving information.

The Internet

The Internet is the catch-all word used to describe the massive world-wide network of computers. The word "internet" literally means "network of networks" and is composed of thousands of smaller regional networks scattered throughout the planet. On any given day it connects roughly 20 million users in over 50 countries.

In 1969 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded a research and development project to create an experimental communications network called the ARPANET. Many techniques of modern data communications were developed in the ARPANET. So successful was the ARPANET that in 1975 the network was converted to an operational network. By 1983 the communication techniques developing on the ARPANET were adopted as Military Standards (MIL STD). This suite of networking protocols are known as "TCP/IP" and serve as the basis for the Internet today.

In 1983 the term "Internet" came into common usage. The old ARPANET was divided into MILNET, the unclassified portion of the Defense Data Network (DDN), and a new, smaller ARPANET. The term Internet was used to describe the entire network: both MILNET and ARPANET. By 1990 the ARPANET had passed out of existence, but the Internet continued to subsume smaller networks around the globe and continues to grow exponentially today.

Nobody "owns" the Internet. There are companies that help manage different parts of the networks that tie everything together, but there is no single governing body that controls what happens on the Internet. The networks within different countries are funded and managed locally according to local policies. Individuals are responsible for the information they author and make available publicly on the Internet. Via the Internet, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are making information available from their homes, schools, and workplaces.

Having access to the Internet usually means that one has access to a number of basic services: electronic mail, interactive conferences, access to information resources, network news, and the ability to transfer files. It also means that you, as an interested skydiver, have access to specific, up-to-date, and colorful information about your sport.

rec.skydiving and the Usenet

Imagine a conversation carried out over a period of hours and days, as if people were leaving messages and responses on a bulletin board. Or imagine the electronic equivalent of a radio talk show where everybody can put their two cents in and no one is ever on hold.

This is the Usenet, a global meeting place, where people gather to discuss the day's events, keep up with computer trends, or talk about whatever's on their mind. Jumping (pun intended) into a Usenet discussion can be a liberating experience. Nobody knows what you look or sound like, how old you are, or what your background is. You're judged solely on your words, your ability to make a point.

To many people, the Usenet IS the net. In fact, it is often confused with the Internet. But it is a totally separate information system that makes use of the Internet. The Usenet consists of many computers world-wide and moves over 25 megabytes (million characters) a day across the Internet.

Information on the Usenet is hierarchically organized into "newsgroups." There are hierarchies for computers, recreation, science, and all kinds of information. For example, "comp.lang.c" is for the C programming language, and "sci.astro" is the scientific newsgroup for astronomy.

"rec.skydiving" is the newsgroup for skydiving. Information in a newsgroup is stored as individual messages called articles. People from all over the world read and write these articles. A recent discussion (called a "thread") on rec.skydiving centered around ground speed vs. air speed during spotting, instigated by the letter to the editor in the December 1994 _Parachutist_. The articles ranged from mathematical discourses on the physics of airplanes and skydivers in freefall to summaries of personal experiences.

Contributors to rec.skydiving range from whuffos to Pat Works. The discussions can get pretty heated and sometimes long, but everyone has fun. Rec.skydiving is probably the most widely available electronic skydiving forum on the planet.

Electronic mail

Electronic mail or "email" is by far the most popular Internet service. You can reach various manufacturers online via the Parachute Industry Association (PIA) Bulletin Board System (BBS). You can write to jump.shack@pia.com, relative.workshop@pia.com, precision@pia.com, pd@pia.com, uspa@pia.com, cypres@pia.com and stewart.systems@pia.com. You can call the BBS directly at 904-985-0680. For more information, send some email to fred@pia.com.

FTP

FTP refers to both the File Transfer Protocol and the software that implements the protocol. FTP allows you to transfer files over the Internet in a very efficient manner – FTP is the Internet's upload and download program. FTP allows you to transfer literally any type of information stored as file: text, graphics, movies, software, you name it.

To get a file via FTP, you need to know the name of the file and where it is. Many FTP sites offer anonymous service which means anyone can get to the files stored on the site.

For example, the skydiving FTP site is located on the machine skydive.eng.ufl.edu. The files are located in the skydive directory on the site. So to get, say, the world DZ price list, you'd FTP to skydive.eng.ufl.edu, log in as the user "anonymous" (entering your email address as the password as a courtesy to the site maintainers), go to "skydive" directory, and get the file "Prices."

FTP is a very old Internet system and is somewhat hard to use. These days, most people browse FTP sites via the World Wide Web, the most popular Internet system today.

The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web (WWW) is a distributed information system that, among other things, helps users find information on the Internet. The Web is actually a set of documents which refer to each other by "links" – words or phrases in a document that are associated with a unique network information resource or some other Web document.

These documents may reside anywhere in the Internet and are known as "hypermedia" – information that is linked together (hypertext) presented with graphics, movies, and sounds (multimedia). A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is used to specify some piece of information on the Web. The URL for the Skydive! WWW site mentioned above is

http://www.cis.ufl.edu/skydive/

The first part of the URL (before the two slashes) specifies the method of access (http for WWW, ftp, gopher, etc.). The second is typically the address of the computer on which the data or service are located. Further parts may specify the names of files or perhaps the text to search for in a database.

URLs can specify all kinds of information on the Internet. For example, the following URLs specify the skydiving FTP and Gopher sites as well as the Usenet newsgroup rec.skydiving:

ftp://skydive.eng.ufl.edu/skydive/
gopher://jumprun.ehs.uiuc.edu/
news:rec.skydiving

The WWW is a relatively new information system to the Internet. But because it incorporates all the existing services like Usenet news, FTP, and Gopher, the Web is very popular. In December of 1994, the Skydive! site saw more than 14 thousand transactions for various information. And the graphical interface makes it easy to navigate the Internet. When Vice President talks about the Information Super-Hypeway, he's talking about the WWW.

Getting Connected

If your university or company has Internet access, ask your computer coordinator about using the World Wide Web (WWW). Once you get access to the Web, everything else (FTP, Usenet news) will likely follow. Besides, if you're new to the Internet you'll want to start with the WWW anyway.

If you already a member of America Online, Compuserve, or the like, look for their Internet services. This should be pretty easy since the Internet is very popular these days. For example, with Americal Online, from the main menu go to the "Internet Connection."

If you don't have Internet access at work or school don't worry – you can gain access from home. You will need some sort of computer and a modem and the faster the modem the better (9600 bps or more is best). A graphical environment like Microsoft Windows or the Macintosh is preferable.

Selecting an Internet service provider is easy as there are many from which to choose. The big commercial information service outfits like America Online, Compuserve, and Prodigy have pretty good setups but they don't provide WWW access which is really what you want – make sure to ask for it. If they don't know about the WWW or don't offer it, look elsewhere. Trust me. You want WWW.

Most major cities have smaller service providers that can directly connect your Mac or PC to the Internet via your modem using fancy protocols called SLIP and PPP. These providers will supply you with all the necessary software and information you need to get online. To locate a provider, call the Internet's Network Information Center (NIC) at 1-800-444-4345, Monday-Friday, 6:00am-6:00pm (PDT).

If you can't locate a provider that has WWW access, then consider using America Online, Compuserve, or Prodigy, or one of the other big companies. Bug them for WWW access and they'll make it part of their services sooner (AOL is working on WWW).

Netiquette

As with any culture, the culture of the Internet (sometimes called cyberspace) has its rules of good conduct or "netiquette." Like most things, it's best to listen for a while before speaking up. On the Internet, this is called "lurking." Lurk a newsgroup before posting your probable Frequently Asked Question. Look for a FAQ, which is a document most newsgroups collectively write to answer the most common questions, and read it completely before asking any questions. Otherwise you'll come off sounding like a whuffo.

There are many good books on the Internet these days, and some even come with software. Check out your local bookstore and try one out. Learn about the Internet before you speak up. Consider it studying for your driver's license on the Information Super Highway. Beep beep! –

Bradley C. Spatz, C-24273, has been on the Internet for over ten years. When not thinking about computers, he thinks about clean exits, gentle hookups, smooth transitions, and soft openings and landings. You can send him electronic mail at bcs@cis.ufl.edu.

– Portions of this article were derived from:

Entering the World-Wide Web: A Guide to Cyberspace, by Kevin Hughes, Enterprise Integration Technologies, May 1994. Published on the Internet: ftp://ftp.eit.com/pub/web.guide/.

Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet, edition 1.02, by Adam Gaffin. September 1993. Published on the Internet.

TCP/IP Network Administration, by Craig Hunt. O'Rielly & Associates, 1992.

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