An occasional report from cyberspace
Campus network users may want to consider adding a new title to the reference section of their bookshelves: "email@example.com."
The beefy, new book contains just about everything you ever wanted to know about computing and networking on campus -- and then some. Published last November by the UI's Computing and Communications Services Office, the guide was created by CCSO staff members to help the campus community make optimal use of the university's computing services and opportunities. The book replaces the handbook "Computing for Students and Everyone Else," which had been issued annually for several years.
"Whereas the earlier book was aimed heavily at students, the new book addresses the computing needs of faculty, staff and students alike," said Joan Alster, a senior research programmer at CCSO who oversaw the final stages of the book's editing. The book's primary authors were Jolee West and Lynn Ward; others contributing to the project included Ed DeWan, and Jay Geistlinger, Tim Offenstein, Dawn Owens-Nicholson and Greg Shields.
The new version of the guide is divided into two parts. Alster said the first part includes 15 chapters that describe "the wealth of computing resources available across campus," with topics ranging from how to get connected to the campus network to computing resources for instructors. There's even a section on "netiquette" that includes useful tips for "newbies" and old-timers alike, as well as a translation of various "emoticons" -- those little faces created with ASCII characters to convey tone and emotion in casual e-mail communications.
The second section of the book comprises 16 "how to" chapters that provide instructions for carrying out specific computing tasks. Included are chapters on dialing up to the campus network, using the Eudora and Pine e-mail packages, basic UNIX and using the online student/staff directory.
Copies of "firstname.lastname@example.org" can be purchased for $7.95 at campus and local bookstores, as well as at the CCSO Resource Center, 1420 Digital Computer Lab.
While previous editions of the computing guide were distributed free, Alster said the cost of printing the current book is several times that of printing earlier versions, and staff costs associated with its production were higher as well. Therefore, she said, CCSO needed to recover a portion of those costs.
"I think people will find the $7.95 to be money well spent," Alster said. "Even though I read the book many times during its production, I know I will never remember all the information contained in it. I am, however, finding the book to be a valuable resource that I consult often."
For those unable or unwilling to make the expenditure, an electronic version of the guide also is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.uiuc.edu/ccso/computing. Alster said each online chapter is an Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file that can be viewed by most newer Web browsers or a separate Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Because the world of computing and networking changes so fast and so frequently, Alster acknowledged that efforts to produce a comprehensive and current guide were a challenge, to say the least.
"It is very hard to keep such a book up to date," she said. "In fact, the day it came out, I realized that a couple of things had already changed. While some changes can be major, many are minor, so the book continues to be useful even if some of the details change.
"However," she noted, "even the 'minor' changes (for instance, those associated with new versions of software that replace those described in the book) can present problems for new computer users trying to follow step-by-step instructions given in the book. When computer screens or responses differ from those described, readers may feel they're doing something wrong."
CCSO plans to update the Web version of the book more frequently than the printed version. Chapters that have changed online since the last printed version will be flagged, along with the date of changes, so people can easily spot sections that have been revised.
"Because information changes so rapidly, we are trying to evaluate whether we should keep providing a printed version of the book at all," Alster said. Feedback about that -- as well as all other aspects of the book -- are welcome, she added.
"While we were very aware of what CCSO has to offer, we realized that no matter how hard we tried to be all-inclusive, we would undoubtedly miss some useful computing resources or services available on campus. We did the best we could, though, and we hope that if there are omissions, people will tell us, so we can add the information to future versions of the book.
Comments and suggestions may be passed along to the editors by returning the feedback form that appears in the printed version of the book, or by sending e-mail to email@example.com.
Free Internet connection is going the way of the free lunch, at least for many in East Central Illinois who have relied on Prairienet as their no-cost gateway to the Internet.
Based in the UI's Graduate School of Library and Information Services, Prairienet has served as the area's "freenet" since 1993, providing a range of Internet services to community users. But faced with growing demands for service and a lack of adequate user support, Prairienet officials last month announced that the network would have to begin charging a membership fee.
Starting this month, individual users will be required to pay a $45 annual fee; households, $65. However, Martin Wolske, Prairienet's systems administrator, noted that individuals with low or fixed incomes may qualify for special programs that provide services for a minimal fee of up to $15 annually, or even free. Area schoolchildren, as well as those who contribute volunteer labor, also may still qualify for free access.
Karen Fletcher, Prairienet's content development coordinator, said the network's 400 active content providers will be asked to contribute "suggested donations." Fletcher said Prairienet's content providers represent "the full spectrum of community life" -- from businesses, religious organizations, libraries, and municipal and county governments to hobby and sports clubs, community services and charities, and health-care providers.
Previously, Prairienet users were encouraged to make voluntary annual contributions of $35 to offset costs of operating the network. But, according to Leigh Estabrook, dean of GLIS, only 20 to 30 percent of Prairienet's 13,500 members had volunteered financial support in the past. And with annual expenses of between $150,000 and $200,000, that level of donation just wasn't cutting it. Last year, the network ran a deficit of more than $58,000, which had to be covered by the university.
The UI already provides certain resources to the community network, including Internet connectivity, facilities, and some staff support and modems. However, Prairienet is responsible for a number of other expenses, such as the salaries of a 3 1/2-person staff, equipment, telephone lines and other telecommunications charges.
Despite the need to begin charging for service, Estabrook said Prairienet is not straying far from its original goals.
"Prairienet is a community network committed to making community information available and accessible to all, regardless of income and regardless of technological knowledge," she said. "For many people, the problems of access are not monetary, but fear of, or difficulty in, using technology.
"The membership fee will allow us to stabilize our funding and commit resources to outreach and community learning, rather than having to spend valuable human resources on fund-raising."
Addressing concerns that the new fee structure may drive some users away, Estabrook said, "I believe we will lose no more than 50 percent of our users -- and these will be people who have 'graduated' to regular Internet service providers, and who may still use Prairienet through their Web connections.
"We set the fee at a rate to eliminate our deficit within one to two years," she added. "If, after that, our fee is higher than needed, we will reduce it."
Meanwhile, individuals who have donated to Prairienet within the past year, won't be billed until 12 months from the date of their last contribution. Those who haven't contributed recently probably can expect to be billed within a couple of weeks.
Prairienet membership fees -- payable by check or credit card -- may be mailed to the UI Foundation, Harker Hall, 1305 W. Green St., Urbana, IL 61801. Payments should include Prairienet's account number (3-0-33413 UIFoundation), as well as a documentation form available online on the network under 'go register' or 'go renew' from any "Your Choice==>" prompt.
For more information, call 244-1962, noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or on Prairinet, type 'go membership.'