UnixWorld Online: Technical Library: No. 001

Grappling with the Information Superhighway

Reviewed by Walter Alan Zintz

To help celebrate this first appearance of UnixWorld Magazine on the World Wide Web, I'm starting this month by reviewing books about information applications on the Internet. The first book--immediately following--covers setting up and running information servers and the second book looks at going beyond simple hypermedia in making information more accessible on the net.

Managing Internet Information Services

Book Cover Image (13K)

By Cricket Liu, Jerry Peek, Russ Jones, Bryan Buus, and Adrian Nye; with Greg George, Neophytos Iacovou, Jeff LaCoursiere, Paul Lindner, and Craig Strickland
630 pages. Includes 19 pages of contents; code; diagrams; contacts; bibliography; 34 pages of index
ISBN 1-56592-062-7, paperbound, $29.95

Technical Level: computing--Expert or Wizard, this subject--Novice or User
Information: concepts * *, practice * * *
Readability: textbook * *, reference * * *
Summary: The technical aspects of many Internet information server packages, explained in varying depth.

(Skip to the next review.)

Publisher: O'Reilly & Associates
To order directly from the publisher:

Gopher, World Wide Web, FTP, WAIS and Majordomo servers all get multiple chapters in this book. A lot of smaller information-server tools are covered at suitable length, too. Who would want a book on setting up, using and maintaining all these packages when no one site is likely to put up more than a handful of them? Especially when no book a mortal could lift off the shelf could go very deeply into all these complex packages?

Anyone who finds a package's documentation impenetrable, for starters. For most of these applications there are no other books in print that deal with their installation and administration. Information-server consultants and wannabees may want it as an orientation, a warm-up for the piles of manuals. Analysts should find this book deep enough to be very helpful in deciding which package is technically best for a particular site. And the book's hidden benefit, a brief course in managing information (as distinguished from managing the hardware and software that handle the information), might make the book worthwhile to people who primarily will deal with a server's information content.

When this many authors have a grip on the pencil, you can expect a book that varies in many qualities from one part to another. There are noticeable variations in technical depth here, but that's about the worst of the unevenness. The upside of very plural authorship is here, also--two good chapters on legal factors, which I didn't expect in a book this technical.

My one serious disappointment with this book is the major packages it covers. Frankly, the Internet community is stampeding toward World Wide Web as the information server of choice, and I don't know of anyone planning to set up a Gopher or WAIS server these days. The 10 chapters and 3 appendixes devoted to these waning packages might better have been used to cover Listproc, a mailing-list handler just as important as Majordomo.

In the book's favor, it contains a lot of useful information, and that information is much more accessible here than in the official manuals in most cases. Nor will there be rival books any time soon; I haven't read advance notices or even net rumors of any other books on most of these packages.

Text excerpt:

Gopher 2.x assigns a number of attributes to each file and directory. The default attributes for all items are set in the gopherd.conf file. You can set the name of the organization by changing the Org token, the physical location of the server by setting the Loc and Geog tokens, and the default language by changing the Language token. The gopherd.conf file also contains the server administrator's name and email address, set by the Admin and the AdminEmail tokens, respectively. Here are some sample settings for a fictitious server called ``The Wildlife Organization.''

  Admin: Gopher Park Ranger
  AdminEmail: <gopher@wildlife.ora.com>
  Org: The Wildlife Organization
  Site: New York Wildlife Preserve
  Loc: 100 Elephant Avenue, Buffalo NY, 55405
  Geog: 44 58 48 N 93 15 49 W
  Language: En_US

Main Table of Contents:

Condensed (the full Table of Contents is two levels deeper):
Internet Service Concepts
Introduction to Information Services
Finger-, Inetd-, and Telnet-based Services
Setting Up an FTP Archive
The WU Archive FTP Daemon
Maintaining an FTP Archive
Creating an Internet Database Server with WAIS
Creating WAIS Sources with waisindex
Gopher Introduction
Gopher: Compiling the Server
Gopher: Managing the Server
Gopher: Preparing Information
Gopher: Linking Services Together
Gopher: Incorporating Databases
Gopher: Veronica and Jughead
Gopher+ Forms and Other New Features
Introduction to the World Wide Web
Setting Up a Web Server
Authoring for the Web
Web: Gateways and Forms
Web: Access Control and Security
Introduction to Email Services
Simple Mailing Lists
Automating Mailing Lists with Majordomo
The Majordomo List Owner and Moderator
Firewalls and Information Services
Legal Issues
Protecting Intellectual Property


gopherd Options
Gopher: Client Compilation Options
Gopher Tools and Gateways
Web: More HTML Tags
Web: httpd.conf Directives
Web: srm.conf Directives
Web: access.conf Directives
Web: For More Information
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Challenges in Indexing Electronic Text and Images

Edited by Raya Fidel, Trudi Bellardo Hahn, Edie M. Rasmussen, and Philip J. Smith
306 pages. Includes 2 pages of contents; tables; bibliographies; 8 pages of index
ISBN 0-938734-76-8, hardbound, $39.50

Technical Level: computing--User to Wizard, this subject--Novice to Expert
Information: concepts * * *, practice * *
Readability: textbook * * *, reference * *
Summary: Facing some major gaps in current hypermedia practice

Publisher: Information Today
To order directly from the publisher:

Hypermedia, boolean text searches and the like are marvelous improvements in information access--as important as space between words in text, which was unknown in most medieval writings. But we're not even close to the ultimate in information accessibility with those.

Information retrieval specialists have long realized this, and they frequently think about better ways to access stored information. Some of their better ideas regarding machine-readable information are in the 15 separately-written articles in this book.

There aren't any canned algorithms here. The book's content is divided, roughly equally, into concepts for improving information access and analysis of problem areas still in need of solutions. Both categories deal mostly with matters that most of us have never realized are bottlenecks. For example, how many programmers have given much thought to indexing or searching for pictorial images, by semantic content rather than physical characteristics? The first three articles here evaluate a lot of good ideas, and still make it clear that a lot more thought is needed.

To borrow a buzzword from the suits, this is a book for proactive organizations. Those who only plan to produce smoother hyperlinks and more complex boolean searchers won't need it. But anyone who expects to be on the front edge of the next wave in online information access should read this book at least twice.

Table of Contents

Indexing and Accessing Images
User Types and Queries: Impact on Image Access Systems
Thinking Ambiguously: Organizing Source Materials for Historical Research
Analyzing Art Objects for an Image Database
Indexing of Hypermedia
Designing Hypertexts: Start with an Index
Online Help Systems: A Multimedia Indexing Opportunity
Hypertext and Indexing
Information Structure Management: A Unified Framework for Indexing and Searching in Database, Expert, Information-Retrieval, and Hypermedia Systems
Computer Support Tools for Indexers
Knowledge-Based Systems for Indexing
Computing Support for Indexing at Petroleum Abstracts: Design and Benefits
Computerized Development and Use of the NASA Thesaurus
Machine-Aided Indexing from the Analysis of Natural Language Text
Computerized Tools to Support Document Analysts
Indexing and Retrieval from Full-Text
Automatic Indexing
The Role of Linguistic Analysis in Full-Text Retrieval
Text Based Applications on the Connection Machine
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Copyright © 1995 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Edited by Becca Thomas / Online Editor / UnixWorld Online / beccat@wcmh.com

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Last Modified: Sunday, 10-Sep-95 10:17:17 PDT