Cybernaut 

Be home for Christmas

It’s a bummer being away from home for the Christmas holidays. I know, because after this year I’ll have missed it five out of six years. In some families, with hordes of children, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, your absence might barely register. In my small family, I represent about 25 per cent of the whole brood, so the empty chair is definitely an issue.

Unfortunately my mom is somewhat of a Luddite – all attempts to wire her into the late 20 th /early21st century with a computer and the Internet have so far failed. Still, I’m hopeful that maybe by next Christmas, if I don’t have a plane ticket, I’ll be able to see her face to face.

Instant Messaging technology is not new, but it is greatly improved. Most of the mainstream IM clients like Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger, AIM, DKMessenger and iChat now allow live video and audio, and with camera and microphone sets starting at under $60, the technology is widely accessible.

It really doesn’t matter what IM client you use, but it does help when you and the people you want to talk to are using the same system – it’s not always a technical requirement, but it helps.

For a look at what’s available, visit www.downloads.com, click on the Internet subdirectory and select Chat. Most of the mainstream messenger services are available through this site.

You can also find this list at www.tucows.com.

Both sites, good to bookmark, will recognize what kind of computer and operating system you’re running, making it easier to find what you’re looking for.

If you have the right hardware and software, and can talk your mom into buying a computer, you’ll never miss another Christmas again.

Google goes big

Attempting to define the Internet is like trying to describe the universe and everything in it, past, present and future, in a hundred words or less. It’s just so utterly massive in its scope, thanks to the decentralized nature of the network, and it’s getting bigger every single day.

Gone are the days when Internet Providers had to explain the Web by suggesting that you could use e-mail to keep in touch with your best friend in Japan, or a Web browser to help your child research a project on dinosaurs. By now the Internet has become such a ubiquitous tool in so many lives that we couldn’t live or work without it. In fact, people are already forgetting what they used to do before the Internet became mainstream.

But somehow, between the birth of the technology and current times, the original concept of the Internet as an open venue to allow the free exchange of ideas and information for the betterment of all humanity has been lost. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology tried to reclaim a little of that original purpose recently when it started to publish entire courses and materials online, free of copyright. Other museums, archives and institutions have done the same in their own quiet way – the quantity of quality information that is out there is truly astonishing.

But leave it to Google to go one step further. Although it looked as if the popular search engine was on the road to becoming a purely commercial venture with its first public offering of shares, a shift to focused advertising, and the offering of e-mail services, it seems that Google is still committed to the Web’s original purpose.

Last week Google announced plans to create a global virtual library that would be free to all. So far the libraries at the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford, along with the New York Public Library, have agreed to be part of the project that involves digitizing millions of books and putting them online. Copyright on all the books has expired and they are now in the public domain, or the publishers’ have granted permission to make them available online.

Not only will this move make rare works widely available to researchers in one easy-to-browse location, it will also serve to protect those books through the ages – a digital backup of rare editions for which there may be only a few remaining copies.

The Internet Archive (www.archive.org) already catalogues tens of thousands of books, as well as multimedia files collected from six countries. The Google project promises to be much larger, including a lot of the same books and information, but you should also visit the Online Archive to get an idea why this is an incredible concept. Want live recordings of the Grateful Dead from the early 1970’s? Sheet music from Mozart? A Shakespeare play? A silent movie from the ’20s?

If the copyright is expired or the writers or artists give their permission, then you can find almost anything in the Archive.

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