THE USENET AND THE HITCHHICKERS GUIDE TO THE KNOWN GALAXY
- or -
PART I (ST NEWS VOLUME 6 ISSUE 2) REVISITED
by Stefan Posthuma
Every morning when I walk into the office of SPC, I sit down at
my console terminal, log in and start a program called 'nn'. This
program gives me access to the about 80 Megabytes of Network News
that is stored somewhere on the 1.2 Gigabytes hard disk of the
main host in our little network.
The Network News is a part of the Usenet or Internet. This is
a global network that has thousands and thousands of computers
connected to it at thousands of sites, ranging from individual
users to big companies like IBM and Microsoft. (And Atari for
This Network News is a collection of articles of which there are
thousands being sent every day by a LOT of people. If I post
(send) a message, it is sent to the central machine for Holland
in Amsterdam. This machine collects all the messages from all
machines in Holland that are attached to the Usenet. Every hour
or so, this machine sends its collected messages to a lot of
machines abroad, typically to every central machine in every
country that is in the network.
At night, our computer calls the one in Amsterdam and collects
all the messages that have arrived there during the day. They are
then processed and divided into groups and formatted etc. The
next morning, they will be waiting for me, ready to be read.
Now every night, a couple of thousand messages come in, and it
is of course impossible for me to read them all. So they are
divided into groups, each group discussing a certain subject.
Groups are divided into sub-groups and so on. Take for example
the group 'alt'. Alt contains all 'alternative' things, things
that do not have to relate to computers. So there is an 'alt.tv'
subgroup that deals with TV. This one is subdivided into groups
like 'alt.tv.simpsons' and 'alt.tv.twin-peaks'. The latter being
at the top of my list of groups to read, it is very interesting
to see what people have to say about this remarkable program.
But it goes a lot further. I mean there is an 'alt.sex' group,
and even an 'alt.sex.bestiality' where people actually discuss
the sexual attractions of ponies and other animals. And how
about 'alt.satanism' or 'alt.evil'?
There are also more serious groups, about religion, philosophy
and of course computer things. Groups about C programming,
modems, printers, X windows, networks etc. etc. The 'comp' group
is one of the biggest around. So if I have problem getting my TCP
sockets to work, I post a message to 'comp.networks.tcpip' and a
few dozen to a few thousand people (depending on the popularity
of the newsgroup) will read it and one of them will surely have
It is a great way to reach a lot of people with the same
interests, it was originally intended for computer topics, but it
has stretched way beyond that.
Another part of the Network is the Email facilities. Using a
program like 'elm', (ELectronic Mail) I can send personal
messages to people that are 'on the net'. So if there is a person
called 'godzilla' and he is on a machine called 'nirvana' and
that machine is on a network called 'dreamscape' in the USA, his
address would be: 'firstname.lastname@example.org'. So I can type
any message and send it to him. It will then travel to Amsterdam,
be queued there and sent to a central machine in the US. This
machine will then send it to the dreamscape network where the
mailhost will then route it to the machine nirvana and the local
mailer there would put it in godzilla's mailbox. Godzilla reads
my message and replies to me. (email@example.com) The whole process
will take no more than one or two days. If I mail to people in
Holland, I have a reply the same day.
Now you are probably wondering why the hell the Hitchhickers
Guide is in the title of this article.
Well, recently the group 'alt.fan.douglas-adams' has been
created. In this group, people chat about the absurd books that
Mr. Adams has written and one of them had the idea to create a
kind of Hitch Hickers Guide to Earth or something. It will be a
database filled with descriptions of things to be found on Earth.
Descriptions of people, things, countries, religions, whatever. I
could submit messages about Holland, Amsterdam, the Coffeeshops,
Windmills, Dykes, whatever! There is already lots of people
interested, and it is expected that this database will grow to be
at least a couple of Megabytes. Ideally, you could request any
subject and the Guide would give you a description.
They have devised a way of submitting entries for this real
Guide, and they want as many people to contribute as possible. So
if you think you can describe something in an interesting and/or
funny way, feel free to do so and send them to me. I will see to
it that they get sent to the right person on the Usenet. Of
course if you have access to the Usenet you can check it out for
Entries have to be in a certain format, it will follow at the
end of this article.
So get writing, think up funny entries and send them to me!!
Here follows the orginial sample format specification as posted
on the Net some time ago:
%d date (in yyyymmdd format)
%x xrefs (unlimited number)
%i index (unlimited number)
%e Entry beginning
This is a sample entry.
%t Entry end.
%t Title: Should not wrap around an 80-column screen, if
possible. This is the subject title of the entry.
Names should be put in last, first middle fashion.
%s Summary: Should not wrap around an 80-column screen, if
possible. This is just a short one-liner about the
entry, without going into too much detail.
%a Author: Your name, in straight first-middle-last fashion.
%d Date: The date you wrote the article. The fashion is
yyyymmdd, so December 25, 1991 should be written
19911225. Single-digit numbers should be filled
out with zeros. July 4, 1991 would be 19910704,
%x XRefs: Cross references. Your entry can contain any
number of logical cross references. Each should be
on a separate line starting with the %x marker.
These lines should contain the names of ACTUAL
%i Indexes: These are names by which the Title might also be
known. Your entry may contain any number of these,
so long as each is on a separate line marked by
the %i marker. For entries on people, indexes that
definitely should be included are their full names
in first-middle-last format, their first-last
names, their last-first names, and so on.
%e Entry markers:
These indicate the beginning and ends of the
entries. These markers should occupy a single line
by themselves. Everything after the first e% is
the entry, and the entry is ended by another %e on
a separate line.
For readability, space consideration and technical reasons, the
editors of the Guide ask that your entries be written in a
Tabulation: The beginning of every paragraph should start with
a 5 space tab, and not just a tab character.
There should be an extra blank line between
paragraphs, but NOT after the final paragraph,
which should be followed by the %ed.
Lists: If, for some reason, you find a list necessary for
your entry, it should be space in from the left 10
characters, and begin with a number, followed by a
")". Thus, the 3rd entry in a list would begin:
3) This is the third part of the list.
If, for some reason, your list goes to 1000, do
NOT add commas in the number. Also, there should
be a blank line just before the first list entry,
as seen in the example above.
Underlining: Things that should be underlined (like book names)
should be preceded by an underscore (_) and the
ended with an underscore, but there should NOT be
underscores between words. Thus, the name of The
HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy would be written
as _The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy_, and NOT
Hyphenation: Words should NOT be hyphenated at the end of a
line. If it doesn't fit, just move the whole thing
to the next line.
Final notes: That about covers it for now. Note that this is
Alpha version 1x10 to the negative Googolplexplex
(yes, that's a real number). Until later, don't
forget your towel!
Editorial note: We assume that this Guide, as it is across-the-
computers-on-Unix-and-all-that-stuff, will have a lot more chance
of success than Alex' one we did in the previous issue. Sorry
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.