Archive for July, 1997

Tropical Computing

Monday, July 7th, 1997

(This column first appeared in the July 7, 1997 issue of The Peddie Report
(The Peddie Report used to be The PC Graphics Report))

I was driving around my new neighborhood a week or so ago, looking at the sand and cactus around me, and for some reason I started thinking about panoramic viewing software. That led me to wonder what had ever happened to Eric Gullichsen, who a couple of years ago had demo’d the first such software I had seen on a PC, and whom I’d known when he was a VR guy, first at Autodesk and then when he co-founded Sense8.

That night when I read my latest issue of The Peddie Report (TPR), much to my surprise I found an item about dear old Eric. It appears he is now living on the island of Tonga in the South Pacific, doling out domain names to folks far and near. I wonder if he still lives on a houseboat like he used to in Sausalito.

Anyhow, what really caught my eye in that article was the following editorial comment from my colleagues at TPR:

Obviously, the reality of living in a tropical paradise outweighs the notion of trying to access one via a desktop computer. We truly hope that this is one technology trend that catches on. Our bags are packed, and we’re just waiting for Microsoft to buy us out. We have an Internet strategy for goodness sake. Cut us a check, and we’re out of here. JPA Tahiti. Hmmm, has a nice ring to it.

Well, my friends, it is a trend and I will be bold enough to try and take at least some credit for starting it. Why? Because as I write this, I am looking out my glass doors at the palm trees in front of my house, swaying in the ocean breeze. You see, two weeks ago, my family and I moved from the hinterlands of
tax-free New Hampshire to the Caribbean island of Bonaire (http://www.infobonaire.com), and we plan on living here indefinitely. And best of all, it didn’t require being bought out by Microsoft to make this move.

Technology made me do it
I (with the permission of my wife) had decided to move somewhere … anywhere at all (other than New England), as long as it ended the stagnation I had started to feel. The option of where to move was limited to places with which we were reasonably familiar and comfortable, the local scuba diving had to be good, and Microsoft couldn’t have an office there (spoils the neighborhood, especially if you’re a Microsoft critic like myself). Most important, whatever location we chose, it had to have viable Internet service readily available, so I could continue my writing career and communicate with editors and others.

As luck would have it, Bonaire gained an ISP in February; my wife and I liked the people and the island; and Bonaire had world-class diving. Poof. Here we are.

The vision of virtuality
Okay, enough background information. One of the oft-admired qualities of the Net is that it enables telecommuting and remote communication. What the visionaries who promote these Net capabilities fail to take into account is the reality of connections and culture other than those of the U.S.

While a Caribbean island might be a somewhat extreme case compared with the business Meccas of Europe, the U.S. and the Pacific Rim, it can be used as an example to underscore the fact that not all places are as compatible with the future as one might otherwise think. This is especially true if your benchmark is the warped perspective that Net computing in the U.S. offers.

Let me provide some basic Bonaire statistics to help put my subsequent comments in perspective:

Government Democratic, part of the Netherlands Antilles, which are part of the Netherlands
Size 112 square miles (one-third of which is a national park and uninhabited)
Location About 50 miles north of Venezuela, 30 miles east of Curacao, and about 80 miles
east of Aruba
Population Approximately 15,000
Primary
industries
Recreational tourism (diving, watersports), rice processing, salt (from the ocean), oil transshipment port
Electrical
power
127 volts (on a good day), 50 Hz
Postal
system
Slow – 2-3 weeks from the U.S., longer to the U.S.
Retail
commerce
Stores open 9-10 am to noon and 2 pm to 4-5 pm weekdays; most are closed weekends
Average
income
$250-700/month, depending on type of unskilled or semi-skilled job
Cost
of living
A gallon of (almost) fresh milk is $6. Housing is expensive (compared to New Hampshire), as are utilities (compared to everywhere but New Hampshire)
Languages Dutch, Papiamentu (a Creole-like language), Spanish, and English

Bonaire statistics
With current first-hand experience of a not so unusual Caribbean island in mind, let’s take a look at some Net and other computing perceptions:

General computing perception Island reality
Internet access is
basically free
You won’t find any $19.95 unlimited access here. Costs run around $5/hour for a 28.8 Kbps modem connection, and faster connections simply are not available.
Everyone has at least 28.8
Kbps access to the Internet
Well … being able to connect at 28.8 Kbps with a modem at the ISP’s, and being able to get 28.8 Kbps data transfers via the Net are two very different things, as I’ve discovered. My effective throughput to/from the Internet is closer to 9,600 to 14.4 Kbps. Makes it pretty painful (and expensive) downloading those “small” 5 Mbyte sample and software files from websites.
Internet backbone
bandwidth will double every (pick a unit of time)
So? The laws on Bonaire forbid anyone but the local telephone monopoly to have satellite transmission capabilities, and the size of the data pipe to Bonaire is limited due to technical and cost reasons.
Sure, we can do real-time
audio/video/whatever over a standard Internet connection
Not at an effective rate of 9,600 or 14,400 bps
Efficiency is critical Let me introduce you to the concept of “island time.” Shops are closed between noon and 2 pm. ASAP means whenever someone gets around to it (anywhere from next day to next month, or so). A common joke here is to say you want something immediately — it shows you have a sense of humor because of the absurdity of the request. So, having a slower Internet connection is not a problem culturally (although the cost of prolonged access is).
Anyone can start an
Internet business
Down here, starting a business requires a lot of patience. We applied for all the permits we needed to do Internet consulting, since that’s a wide open market on Bonaire. We need four sets of permits: a business permit (to form the corporation), managing director’s permits (to run the corporation), work permits (to be able to work at our own business), and residence permits (so we can live here while running our business). We applied for the permits in April, and can still expect the government to take another 2-3 months to approve everything, assuming the process goes smoothly (it rarely does). We’re currently on long-term tourist visas, waiting for the wheels of local bureaucracy to turn (not that we mind the wait too much, being where we are).
Computers are cheap and
widely available
Widely available, perhaps, if you’re willing to wait until a properly equipped model is ordered and delivered from the U.S. or the Netherlands.Cheap? No. As a rule of thumb, with import duties, mark-ups, taxes and everything else, buying computers and other office fixtures usually runs about 2-3 times the U.S. retail price. Occasionally you can get a better deal.

Perception vs. reality

Addressing the global community
In a nutshell, what my experience on Bonaire has shown me so far is that Americans (myself included) tend to be rather ignorant of what a “global community” really is. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I could be heard uttering most, if not all, of the same invalid generalizations listed above. But I’ve learned that the rest of the world (Bonaire being only one locale among many) doesn’t always follow America’s pace or direction, and expecting the rest of the world to change to meet U.S. standards is folly. American companies and Internet potentates need to spend more time understanding and addressing global issues in terms of the Internet.

Conclusion
While slow Internet connections and a wildly different culture from the “I want it now, and fast” are the norm in Bonaire (and elsewhere in the tropics), these items are a reasonable price to pay for having an office in a diving paradise — the sun shines every day, there are no stoplights on the entire island and,  because it’s a desert climate, I don’t have a lawn to mow. I can’t think of many better places to put the Internet’s promise of remote connectivity to the test.

I should end with a caution to not bother trying to register domain names here. That process also works on island time. Eric Gullichsen’s Tonga-based automated domain name server may be a better bet.

What’s in an On-Line Name?

Tuesday, July 1st, 1997

(This column first appeared in the July/August 1997 issue of Dive Report)

In my last column, I gave you some tips on getting hooked into the Internet, but cautioned that just picking the first (or largest) Internet Service Provider (ISP) that comes along may not always be the best solution.

One of the most important reasons to carefully consider your choice in ISPs is how it reflects on your image – both as a company and an individual – when communicating with others over the Internet (the main reason for getting on-line in the first place!). It’s likely that at least some, if not most, of the people you’ll be communicating with over the Internet will be quite experienced in Internet usage, and if they think you’re Internet illiterate, you won’t gain their necessary respect.

So, how can the ISP you choose affect your image? It’s all in the name, specifically the “domain” name the ISP uses.

Domains
In pre-Internet times, when someone wanted to contact you remotely, they would either do so via phone, FAX, or regular mail. Your phone and FAX numbers, thanks to the area code, helped identify what part of the country you were, specifically what state (or portion of a state). With a little familiarity, the three digits after the area code could indicate what city, town, or county you were in, with the remaining digits being unique to you. Similarly, with a mailing address, the person communicating with you got a sense of where you were located. Either way, your location presented an image. If you are running a dive shop, and your address indicates you might be in the middle of the desert or on top of a lake-less mountain, there might be some reluctance to deal with you on dive issues, since you don’t appear to understand that diving requires a reasonably accessible body of water nearby. (And before any of you who happen to run dive shops in the desert or on mountain tops jump all over me for my example, think about the scenario from the perspective of a potential customer who’s from out-of-state.)

Likewise, on the Internet, addresses of a specific form are used to contact people and communicate. Your Internet address therefore implies something about you. Note that there are two types of addresses we need to be concerned with here. The first is your e-mail address, and the second is that of your Web site.

We’ll be dealing with e-mail addresses in this issue’s column, and general Web issues in a future issue. In order to understand why your Internet address is important, let’s take a look at how such addresses are structured. A basic e-mail address is structured as follows:

name@organization.something

Much as a country code or area code in a phone number helps route a call to a place where it can be properly handled, an e-mail address uses text for its routing. Unlike a phone number, where the highest level of routing is initiated by the first numbers, in an e-mail address, the stuff at the end is the most important for routing.

In the above example, we have “something” at the end of the address. The something corresponds to what’s called a “top-level domain” or TLD. The most common TLDs are listed in Table 1. Note that all these TLDs are three letters, and indicate nothing about where the address physically terminates (although one might safely guess that a .gov address probably terminates in Washington D.C.).

For people who want their address to indicate where they are in the world there are two-letter TLDs available, keyed to a universal country code. This is shown in Table 2.

So, back to our first sample address. The something is a TLD. The “organization” is what’s called a second level domain, and it usually specifies an actual entity. For example, my e-mail address is jake@strokeofcolor.com. The strokeofcolor implies that my organization is called something similar (in fact, it’s Stroke of Color, Inc.), and the .com implies that Stroke of Color is a company.

That leads us to the final part of the e-mail address. You’ll note that my address and the sample share some punctuation in common, namely the period or “dot” between the second level and top level domains (some folks may even have third level domains in their addresses), and the “at” (“@”) symbol before the domain information and after the “name“. All the stuff before the “@” symbol is a local address (much like the final 4 or 5 digits of your phone number), while all the stuff after the “@” symbol is the information on how to get to the local address (much like the country code, area code, and city prefix in a phone number).

Another example, this one using the country TLDs, would be wrw@ced.nashua.nh.us, which is a guy named Walter Warren at the Center for Economic Development (CED) in Nashua, New Hampshire, in the U.S.

Simple, right?

Natural Selection
There’s a term we use in Internet speak that’s also used in diving, and that’s “newbie” – a new user or diver who doesn’t know his or her way around and either
fosters the desire in you to help or avoid them. Diving newbies can usually be identified by the fact that all their gear is brand new and it all matches – a badge of newbie-ism.

Face it, none of us wants to be a designated as a newbie, even though we might be. And, while being a newbie implies inexperience, it’s a lot easier to disguise newbie-ism on the Internet than when diving. That’s because communicating on the Internet, especially via e-mail, is just a natural extension of something we (hopefully) have been doing for some time, which is communicating via the written word, as in letters, ad copy, etc.

So, if the content of e-mail is a natural extension of what we’ve been doing all along on type writers and word processors, then all that’s left to identify us as newbies on the Internet is our e-mail address, hence all the things I’ve written about in this column so far.

Since we now understand how to break down an e-mail address, let’s look at what some sample addresses tell us:

xyz12312@aol.com This person is on America On-Line (a newbie magnet). The fact that his or her name came out as a few letters followed by a number means that the person was unable to come up with a good e-mail name for themselves, another newbie trait.
ImaDiver@compuserve.com Uses CompuServe. Implies a little more experience than an AOL user, and possibly someone who’s had an CompuServe account for a while. Could be a newbie, but may well not be.
DivingParadise@ix.netcom.com A Netcom subscriber. Since Netcom’s a real ISP, implies user is more sophisticated, but still a small shop because he doesn’t have his own domain. Also it implies a small operation, because the name refers to a company instead of an individual at a company.
FredB@divingparadise.com This person works for (or owns) a company that’s Internet-savvy, because it has its own domain name, and the e-mail address identifies an individual at that domain, meaning the company probably has more than one employee.

Okay, I’ll admit I’m biased towards the last option (even though I actually have active AOL, CompuServe, and regular ISP accounts) because it presents well  and provides immediate respect and credibility. Much as a cutsy 800 number (800-DIVERJOE, etc.) implies a commitment to toll-free service, a personalized domain implies a commitment to Internet support by your company.

Getting a domain assigned to you is something you need to work out with your ISP, since they will have to arrange to route messages addressed to your domain. Getting one of the current three letter TLDs requires a $50 annual fee payable to the InterNIC – the agency responsible for domain registrations, with the first two years paid up front. An ISP may also charge you a service fee for setting this up.

Note that proprietary ISPs, like CompuServe, AOL, Prodigy, and the Microsoft Network (MSN) can’t offer you your own domain name.

Next Issue
Since I’ve just about run out of space again, I’ll close this issue’s column with some basic rules for proper self-promotion via an e-mail address:

  • Image and perception count for an awful lot. Avoid AOL, CompuServe, Prodigy, and MSN.
  • If you aren’t quite up to getting your own domain yet, at least pick a user name that indicates who you are and who your company is (i.e. DivingParadise-John@…).
  • If you’re serious about using the Internet for communication and promotion, do it right from the start. Pick a good ISP (local is usually most responsive) and get your company’s name registered as a domain. If the domain name you chose is already in use (check at http://rs.internic.net/cgi-bin/whois, try a country domain (if you provide local service) or modifying your chosen name a little to find a unique domain name. Either way, your own domain name is great for e-mail and for the Web.

In my next column, I’ll cover using e-mail to communicate and promote, and show you some basics about using the World Wide Web. Until then, happy surfing and diving.


Top Level Domain

Use

.com For for commercial, for-profit organizations.
.edu For is for 4-year, degree granting colleges/universities (schools, libraries, and museums should register under country domains, like .us)
.gov For is for United States federal government agencies (state and local governments register should register under country domains).
.mil Reserved for the U.S. military
.net For ISPs (i.e. for network infrastructure machines and organizations).
.org For miscellaneous, usually non-profit, organizations (for use by organizations and individuals that do not clearly fit in any of the above)

Table 1. Current three letter top level domain names. Most descriptions courtesy of the InterNIC.


Country domain Country
.an Netherlands Antilles (Bonaire, Curacao, etc.)
.ca Canada
.de Germany
.it Italy
.ky Cayman Islands
.mx Mexico
.pg Papua New Guinea
.uk or .gb United Kingdom/Great Britain
.us United States

Table 2. A sample of some of the various two-letter country top level domains from around the world.