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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: wirdworl.asc

"Wired World" - Maclean's, 94/01/17

Taken from: Maclean's Magazine, January 17, 1994.

                          Cover: Wired World

Canadians  are  crowding  onto  an electronic highway of fast-growing
computer networks.   They  are using  them to make money, do science,
find love, talk dirty and tap vast and varied pools of information.
                           By: Mark Nichols

In  1988,  Phyllis Smoth gave up her job as a political speech writer
after  suffering  a  serious head  injury  in an automobile accident.
Convalescing  in her  Toronto apartment, she began experimenting with
her  personal  computer  and   discovered a realm that she had barely
known  existed - the  seductive and rapidly growing world of computer
networks.   By  now, she  has become a confessed network "junkie."  A
subscriber   to  four  different systems, Smith, 46 and single, often
logs  on  to  a Toronto-based  bulletin board service (BBS) where the
emphasis   is  on  social  contacts.   Other times,  she dials up the
Rockwille, Md.-based  GEnie  network, where she  can  skim through an
electronic  version  of "The New York Times," take part in discussion
groups on subjects ranging from science fiction to Canadian politics,
or  beam electronic messages  - e-mail - to network acquaintances all
over  North America.  "It's really amazing," she says, "to be able to
do  so many things with a computer - to meet people and learn things.
It's changed my life completely."
   Smith is not  the only  person  whose life has been transformed by
computer  networks.   From  modest  beginnings  two  decades ago, the
networks have spread rapidly to form an enormous and intricate global
web.   And  for  the  growing thousands of Canadians who have already
invaded  cyberspace  -  which  is  what computer enthusiasts call the
conceptual  world  that  lies behind  the flickering screens of their
terminals  -  a  once-mysterious  realm has become a part of everyday
life.  Many network users log on to  Internet, a vast super-system of
more  than   40,000  networks  crammed  with  scientific and scholary
information and  thousands  of  discussion  forums.  Because Internet
provides  channels  for  instant  electronic  communication,  it  has
fundamentally altered the way scientists and scholars  do their work.
Other  network  users  are  hooked on meeting people or searching for
romance on locally or regionally  based bulletin boards.  By creating
far-flung "virtual communities" of  people  sharing common interests,
the  networks  are making their influence felt in the business world,
in politics and government, in journalism and in schools.
   They are  also  making  headlines.   In recent months, police have
cracked  down on illegal computer-disseminated pornography in Toronto
and  Winnipeg,  while  Ontario government officials have struggled to
suppress  network  reports   that  violate  the  publication  ban  on
testimony  from  the Karla Homolka manslaughter trial.  At some point
in  the  future,  computer  networks  may  be  absorbed into a larger
electronic  data   system  that  telephone and cable TV companies are
promoting  as  the  information superhighway -  a single, interactive
system linking telephones, television, cable and companies over hair-
thin  fibre-optic  lines.   But  for  now,  computer networks are the
highway - one  jammed with traffic and, to true believers, laden with
long-term   significance.   "In  terms  of  revolutionary  events  in
intellectual history," says Dr. Stephen Wolff, director of networking
at  the  National  Science Foundation, which presides over Internet's
U.S.  backbone  network,  "I  think Internet and computer networks in
general  are  on  a par with the invention of printing.  Never before
has  it   been possible  for  so  many people to communicate directly
through printed messages."
   According  to  Statistics Canada, some 2.4 million Canadian house-
holds - or  23 per cent of the total - now have at least one personal
computer.  Some  experts estimate that half a million of those house-
holds also  have  modems - meaning that that can be connected to net-
works.   Currently,  about  25,000 Canadians use two of the country's
largest networks - Toronto-based CRS Online, and the National Capital
FreeNet in Ottawa.  As well,  hundreds  of thousands of Canadians use
Internet through university or corporate  links, or as subscribers to
commercial services that provide Internet access.  Thousands more are
connected to  such U.S. services  as  Columbus, Ohio-based CompuServe
and America Online, based in Vienna, Va.,  or  to the local BBSs that
have sprung up in most Canadian cities.
   Other Canadians are exploring cyberspace through an interconnected
system  of community-based, free-access networks called FreeNets that
offer  e-mail  facilities,   discussion  forums, sports schedules and
other information.  So far, FreeNets  are  up  and running in Ottawa,
Victoria and Trail, B.C., and  Free-Net  communities  are  organizing
systems in 16 other Canadian cities.
   As  the  computer circuits extend their electronic tendils and the
technology that  runs  them becomes more user-friendly, sophisticated
computer  networks  are  demonstrating  their  power and versatility.

o Like  millions  of  academics  around the world, Louis Taillefer, a
physicist  at Montreal's McGill University, uses Internet to communi-
cate  with  other  scientists.   In 1993, Taillefer collaborated on a
paper  about  superconductivity with  scientists at three other North
American universities.  Because the collaboration took place entirely
over  the computer network, the scientists involved never had a face-
to-face  meeting.   Internet, says Taillefer, "has really changed the
way scientists work.   I send e-mail to people around the world - and
two doors away."

o In  December,  Nigel  Blumenthal,  a  Toronto  business consultant,
celebrated the eight-day Jewish festival of  Hanukkah by organizing a
charity campaign in CompuServe's  religion  section.  As cash contri-
butions  for  Jerusalem's Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital flowed in, candles
were  added  to a computer image of a menorah, the candelabra lighted
nightly at  Hanukkah.  "Once you have a group of people communicating
on-line," says Blumenthal, "a sense of community develops."

o In  November,  computer  networks  became  embroiled  in  a   legal
controversy over the  case of Karla Homolka, who was convicted in St.
Catherines, Ont.,  last  summer  of manslaughter in the deaths of two
teenage girls.  After U.S. newspapers defied a court-ordered publica-
tion ban designed to ensure a fair trial for Homolka's estranged hus-
band, Paul Teale, testimony from her trial also started showing up on
computer  networks.   Ontario justic officials issued stern warnings,
and  most  network and  BBS operators in Ontario responded by closing
down discussion forums carrying  details of the case.  But discussion
of  the  banned  material  was  still  appearing  on  BBSs, including
Toronto's privately run  Magic service, late  in December.   As well,
provincial officials admitted that civil servants  and other users of
an  Ontario government-run computer service could get access to files
containing the   banned   Homolka  material  at  the   University  of
Minnesota.  "It's  a  joke,"  says  Jim  Carroll, a  Toronto computer
consultant.   "As  soon  as  one news group is closed down, the story
shows up somewhere else."

o In  recent  months,  police  in  Toronto  and Winnipeg have swooped
down on BBS operators who were transmitting  pornographic images that
included scenes involving sex with animals and children.  Experts say
that electronic porn is growing in popularity because computer owners
with special software can easily recieve high-quality graphic images.
Some Canadian and U.S. universities have begun  restricting access to
parts of Internet were legal - and illegal - pornographic  images are
avaliable,  often  from  European   sources   with more lenient laws.
"Anybody  with   Internet   access can  get this stuff," says Karsten
Johanasson, who operates a Toronto computer security firm.

   The  fast-expanding  computer  world is dominated by Internet, the
globe-girdling  agglomeration  of  networks  that  links  more than 2
million computers and more than 20 million individual  users in about
60   countries.    Besides  providing  access  to  huge   amounts  of
information  on  virtually   any  subject,  Internet also serves as a
relatively  cheap  communications  system  that  allows academics and
scientists,  business  people  and  other users to  whisk  electronic
messages across the office or around the world.
   The  mega-network  dates  back  to 1969, when the U.S. defence de-
partment,  fighting  the   Cold War, decided to build an experimental
computer network that could survive disruption and support scientific
and  military research in the event of a nuclear attack.  The network
was based on technology known as packet-switching: messages, put into
electronic envelopes, or packets,  are broken up into coded fragments
that  find  their  own way over high-speed phone lines and reassemble
themselves at  their  destinations.   In  1986, the  Washington-based
National Science Foundation (NSF), a U.S. government agency, used the
same  technology  to  link   five  supercomputing  centres across the
country, which in turn acted as hubs  for  regional  networks linking
universities and research institutions.
   With  traffic growing rapidly on the network, a consortium of uni-
versities  and private corporations was formed in 1987 to operate the
Internet  backbone.   Over  time,  other computer networks, including
public  and  commercial  networks in North America and Europe, forged
links  to  parts  of  the  NSFNET,  and  the sprawling giant known as
Internet was born.  Internet is not owned or controlled by any single
organization, but a body called the  Internet  Engineering Task Force
sets standards for the network.
   The  Canadian component of Internet began to take shape during the
mid-1980s  when universities in  British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec
formed  links  with  the  U.S.-based  network.   Then,  in  1990, the
National Research Council  designated  the  University of Toronto and
Toronto-based  IBM Canada to  set up CA*net, which links provincially
run  computer networks  across  the country and  acts as the Canadian
segment of Internet.
   Until three years ago, Internet was virtually the private preserve
of  scientists,  academics  and  university  students.  Now, word has
spread, aided by Washington's promotion  of the  "Net" as a prototype
of a future information highway - President Bill Clinton is the first
U.S.  chief  executive to  have  an  Internet  address.  As a result,
curious private citizens and businesses are crowding onto Internet at
a rate that is doubling its size every year -  and at a time when the
Net may be facing fundamental changes.
   Currently,  the  NSF spends about $24 million each year to operate
Internet's  backbone  network   for   the  U.S. research and academic
communities  and,  in  the process, indirectly subsidizes much of the
other  traffic  in  the system.  But last April, the foundation asked
telecommunications firms  to  submit  proposals spelling out how they
would  operate  parts  of  NSFNET.   Roger Taylor,  a  former  senior
official  at  Ottawa's National Research Council and now an executive
officer  at the  foundation, says "the feeling is that it is time for
government  to get out  of  the  connectivity   business and  let the
private sector take it over.
   Proposals  have poured in from some of the same large corporations
- including  Tele-Communications,  Inc.  of  Denver and Philadelphia-
based  Bell Atlantic  -  that  are  now gearing up to supply American
homes with interactive  systems  to  deliver  movies-on-demand, video
games  and  financial services.   Similar changes may be in store for
CA*net.   A  consortium  of  corporations and educations institutions
called CANARIE (for Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research,
Industry and Education)  has  launched  a  $10-million  upgrading  of
CA*net - with some government support - as part of a two-year,  $115-
million program  to  expand  and  improve Canada's  electronic infra-
   Some  Internet  users fear that if parts of the Net are taken over
by  cable  operators  or  telephone  companies,  Internet's informal,
almost  anarchic  character  might  be  altered.  "The culture of the
network  will  begin to change," says Toronto's Carroll, co-author of
"The  Canadian  Internet  Handbook,"   which  will  be published this
spring.  "It's already beginning to change as cyberpunks and business
users encounter each other on the network."  Discouraged  in the past
from using  Internet,  businesses,  including Canadian firms, are now
finding  reasons  to  do  so.  Despite an informal ban on advertising
over Internet, dozens of computer  and  software companies make their
presence felt on the network by providing free software and technical
information in discussion forums dedicated to their products.
   A  Halifax bookstore  has  already  demonstrated  how  an Internet
connection can bring in new business.   In August, bookseller Roswell
James decided to list the 4,500 volumes stocked by his store, Roswell
Computer Books, which specializes in  computer-related literature, on
the  Nova  Scotia  Technology  Network,  a  system accessible through
Internet.   "We  were  trying to  find a way to serve all of Atlantic
Canada,"  says  James.   "We didn't realize that our listing could be
seen all over the world.   Half  the inquiries that came in were from
overseas."  Since then, James has sold hundreds of books to customers
in the United States, Europe, Australia and Japan.
   Other  firms  are  plugging  into  Internet  to gain access to the
network's   inexpensive   e-mail    system.    According  to  Michael
Strangelove, an Ottawa entrepreneur who launched the monthly Internet
Business  Journal  in May,  thousands  of Canadian businesses now use
Internet and  the   number   will  increase rapidly, "because it's an
extremely low-cost and efficient form of communication."
   Networks  are also starting to change the way journalists work and
the  way  newspapers and  magazines  reach their audiences.  Some re-
porters  have  broken  stories  by analysing data collected by public
institutions.   In  February,  journalist  Parker   Barss  Donham, on
assignment for the Halifax Daily News, used a spreadsheet - a number-
crunching program - on his home computer to discover information that
the  Nova Scotia  government did not want made public.  Starting with
raw data that  gave  the results of tests carried out in unidentified
Nova Scotia  high  schools,  which   he  obtained  under a freedom of
information request, Parker used  his  computer to rank school boards
and determine which of them were performing well or badly.
   Like  a  growing  number  of journalists,  Donham,  who lives near
Sidney, N.S.,  has also begun locating information sources by posting
inquiries in Internet  news groups, where experts in almost any field
can  be  located.   "You just go in and say, 'I'm looking for someone
who knows about whatever  the  subject is,'" says Donham, "and you'll
get quite a few hits."  Last month,  Bill Doskoch, a reporter for the
Regina  Leader-Post,  placed  a  request on  two  commercial computer
networks while working on an article about, appropriately,  the elec-
tronic  revolution  sweeping  the   information  and    entertainment
industries.  "Within three days, I had five replies," says Doskoch.
   In  another  development, electronic versions of such publications
as  The New York Times, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail and a number
of magazines  are  now avaliable to  libraries and businesses through
databases that store issues going back at least five years.  There is
access  to  those  databases through computer networks - for a price.
Typically, a  corporate  subscriber   in Calgary pays at least $120 a
year, as well as on-line charges of around $2 a minute, for Infomart,
which  carries  the texts  of  75 newspapers and magazines, including
Maclean's, and other information.
   Some news  is  avaliable  at a much lower cost.  After 20 U.S. and
Canadian newspapers, including The Hamilton Spectator  and The Ottawa
Citizen,  use  inexpensive, or  free, local computer networks to make
limited  amounts  of  editorial  material  avaliable,  and to promote
themselves  by  encouraging  discussions  of  local issues in network
forums.  Dennis Concordia, the Spectator's  assistant human resources
manager, says that the newspaper's SPEC Link service - which provides
subscribers  with a  selection  of  news  from the daily paper and 30
discussion forums - may become the nucleus of a future Hamilton Free-
Net system.   "We got  into this," says Concordia, "because we didn't
want  to  see  anyone else being  a primary information source in the
   Computer  networks  have  also  begun  to play a role in politics.
During  the run-up  to  the Oct. 25 general election, Jean Chretien's
Liberals  operated a  nationwide  bulletin board to distribute infor-
mation  and  get  feedback  from party  members and campaign workers.
"Canada-wide discussions about campaign issues would get going on the
board," says Reg Alcock, who won the  riding of Winnipeg South in the
election.   Three  years  ago,  the  Liberals' British  Columbia wing
became the first - and so far the only - provincial  party  to set up
a  bulletin  board, which carries news releases and policy papers and
runs  discussion  forums that  are open to the public.  During debate
over the  proposed  Charlottetown   constitutional accord in October,
1992, B.C. Liberal party officials reported  about  40 calls a day on
the BBS.  "You can tell what the hot issues are  because they are the
topics that get hit in the discussion conferences," says Floyd Sully,
a member of the party's executive council.
   Looking further  ahead, some communications experts foresee a time
when  interactive electronic communications will merge and everything
from movies-on-demand  and home shopping services to electronic texts
and network  television  will  be  avaliable  over the same "telecom-
puter,"  or TV-computer set.  "Let  me  make a bold prediction," says
Michael   Binder,  an  assistant  deputy  minister   at  the  federal
department of industry.  "Ten years from now  you  won't know or care
where  your  data  is  coming  from.  The distinction we make between
telephones, television  and computers is going to disappear."  In the
meantime,  the  rapidly  expanding  computer  networks,  by   helping
millions of  users to work, learn and have fun on-line, are providing
a fascinating preview of the electronic future.

A fast and seemless global link

IOTEK, Inc.,  a  Dartmouth,  N.S.,  firm  that specializes in defence
electronics, uses the Internet computer  network to carry on business
around  the   world.  One of the major recent contracts for the firm,
which employs 40 people and does about $4 million worth of business a
year, was to develop a sonar analysis system for the Australian navy.
Modern sonar can locate  and identify vessels by analysing underwater
sound waves.  Jim Hanlon,  IOTEK's  marketing director, says that the
firm uses Internet's e-mail facilities to transmit updates of complex
computer programs to Sydney, Australia - in  minutes.  "The beauty of
e-mail," says Hanlon, "is that it's fast, efficient and seamless."


A  fully  equipped  IBM-type  personal  computer, with a powerful 486
Intel microprocessor, sells for  about $2,000.   Cheaper units can be
bought for about $1,200.  Modems, which connect PCs  to networks  via
telephone lines, start at about $75 and range up to $200  for a high-
speed performer.  As well, network users need communications software
for their computers, such as the Xtalk system, which sells  for about
$95, or ProComm Plus for about $125.

Commercial  networks,  including  U.S.-based  Delphi,  CompuServe and
America Online or CRS Online of Etobicoke, Ont.,  can be  pricey, but
they offer news and financial information, electronic  games, on-line
shopping,   chat  lines,  discussion  forums  and  varying amounts of
Internet  access.   Costs  range  from  CRS Online's $130 annual sub-
scription  fee,  including  two  hours a  day  on-line (some Internet
services  are  extra),  to   CompuServe's  basic $50 membership, with
additional monthly charges starting at $9.

Vancouver  has  about  350  of them, Winnipeg has 135 and Halifax has
about  100.   All  told,  there  are  thousands  of  computer BBSs in
Canada  - mostly small, usually run out of private homes and offering
memberships  free  or  for  as   little  as  $5  a  month.  Many BBSs
specialize in some area of interest - computer technology and sex are
the  popular   topics.   Other,  larger,  commercially  run BBSs have
discussion  forums  catering to different interest groups, as well as
electronic games  and  text files on various subjects.  Some bulletin
boards, like Toronto's Web, give advocacy groups a place to post news
of community and international events.

A  growing number  of  firms specialize in providing subscribers with
access  to  Internet.   For $99  a year, Vancouver's Mindlink! offers
customers one hour of free on-line  time a day (additional time costs
from  $1.08  to  $2.40  an hour).  HookUp Communications of Waterloo,
Ont. - for an annual fee of $300 - provides full Internet access with
50  hours of on-line  time a  month  (additional  time is 50 cents an

Over  the  years,  Internet  has  developed  its own abrasive code of
behavior.   Newcomers are expected to "lurk" silently, learning about
the  system  before  joining news group discussions.  Rather than ask
about the system, neophytes should  consult lists of FAQs (Frequently
Asked Questions).  Network users who  espouse  unpopular positions in
discussions  risk being "flamed"  -  or  subjected  to violent verbal
abouse, often in capital letters.

A new Pacific Rim partnership

Michael Hasinoff,  a  physics  professor at the University of British
Columbia in Vancouver, is involved in a project that typified the way
science   is  done  in  the  computer age.  In an experiment aimed at
testing  theories  about   fundamental   aspects   of  the  universe,
scientists plan to examine the decay of a subatomic particle called a
kaon  next  year  at  the   Laboratory for  High Energy Physics 50 km
outside of Tokyo, Japan.  Currently, scientists in Canada, the United
States and  Japan  are running computer simulations of the experiment
and  transmitting   the  results  to  participants over Internet, the
worldwide  computer  network.   "Without the network," says Hasinoff,
"there  is  no  way we could carry out a project involving scientists
thousands of miles apart."

Making music by computer

In early  1991, Saskatchewan-born folksinger Buffy Saint-Marie worked
at  her  home  on  the  Hawaiian island of Kauai, performing music on
synthesizers  and   other  electronic  instruments.   Converted  into
digital  signals  and  fed  into  a Macintosh computer, the music was
transmitted  via   computer  network  to CB Sound in London, England.
Because  most networks cannot transmit the full richness of the human
voice, Sainte-Marie's singing  was  recorded separately and mailed to
the studio.  Then, the singer flew to  London for the final mixing of
music  and vocals for the  album  Coincidence  and  Likely  Stories -
released in April, 1992.

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