Reach Out And Chat With Someone

By Stephen M. Pribut

How would you like to talk to your friends, family or colleagues over the Internet with digital quality sound and picture? Unfortunately, that canít be done yet. While remote control robotics is a developing field and some form of unreliable Internet telephone is available, it is just not yet in a pleasant enough form to use. The over-hyped Internet phone calls are not even of telephone quality yet. Most users have only a 28,800 modem connection to the Internet. An ISDN connection or a T1 line would offer better results for Internet telephone and Video-conferencing. Through slower connections, many people have used CuSeeMe software which only gives a crude video image and no sound.

 

Microsoft has recently released conferencing software called "Microsoft NetMeeting" which might set the standard for the near future. It includes audio, a whiteboard drawing tablet, text based chat, application sharing and file transfer. The quality of the audio varies greatly depending on your connection speed. A brief test and a survey of users revealed that most found the text chat to be more user friendly. This software is available for free at http://www.microsoft.com/. It is not yet used by many people and only runs under Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems.

 

IRC (Internet Relay Chat) on the other hand is widely used and appropriate for todayís bandwidth. This is the Internetís chat area. Chat is a means of live text based communication. The program that created the IRC Network was initially written by Jarkko Oikarinen of Finland in 1988. He did not expect it to become a major international means of communicating. There are several different networks that are used for IRC. The most popular is called EFNET. One of the friendliest is called DalNet. Talking is done within channels that you may join. These channels are virtual meeting rooms. There is usually a common thread or topic of discussion which is evident from the title of the channel. At any given time on an IRC server there are over 3,000 channels available. A new channel may be formed instantly by a simple command: "/JOIN #footfixing". This would create a new channel named "footfixing".

  

One connects to the IRC system by using "client software" that accesses a server in an IRC network. As the Internet is an aggregation of computers and networks that are inter-linked, so is the IRC network. The IRC network is a subset of the Internet, usually having several servers connected with hundreds of subsystems linking to them. At any given time there may be 5,000 to 15,000 users connected. After signing on you may want to visit an introductory channel such as #irchelp. If you become captivated by what you find, ultimately you may want to visit #ircaddicts.

 

There are many potential uses for live on-line chat. It could be used to talk to colleagues or friends. IRC could be used for on-line teaching, consultations, business conferences, board meetings, or planning sessions. With the use of an ISP (Internet Service Provider) talk can really be cheap. Channels can have a limitless variety of themes. When you enter a channel you may see individuals with an "@" in front of their nickname. These are channel operators or ops. They may perform various special channel functions. This includes the setting of the title or topic for the channel, kicking out unruly users, banning someone from joining the channel and setting a variety of channel modes. These modes include making a channel secret, invitation only, accessible only by password, and to restrict speech in a channel to those with operator status or those given "voice" status by an operator.

 

Connecting to IRC can be done through most types of Internet connection. The large commercial providers now allow chats outside of their proprietary systems. However, using a smaller ISP is the most reasonably priced way to use the Internet. There are several available client programs to access IRC. The most popular one for the PC is mIRC (http://www.mirc.co.uk/index.html) for Windows 95 or 3.1 and Ircle (http://www.xs4all.nl/~ircle/) for the Mac. These may be tried for free and are available as shareware at an extremely low cost. Private chats can be set up which may even be encrypted. The software may be customized in many ways. You may have the software watch for a specific user to appear online and then to notify you by playing a specific sound file. With a little cleverness a script can even be devised to "page" you if you are near your computer.

 

Some helpful commands include:

/LIST - will give a list of available channels.

/WHOIS { nickname } - gives information about someone.

/JOIN #{channelname} - joins a channel or creates channel if it doesnít exist.

/IGNORE { nickname } - ignores an annoying user.

/HELP {topic} - gives help on the topic requested.

/PART - leaves the channel.

/AWAY - marks you as being away.

 

 

One of the potential ways to use IRC includes consulting with colleagues. This could be done by setting up your own channel by typing: "/Join #PodSports". This would immediately create the named channel. Your colleagues could then easily join the channel. By sending them information via IRC using a menu selection to send files you can share lab work, written reports, and chart information. Scanned photographs or x-rays could also be shared. There are firms that will convert your negatives into disk readable files. Some will even allow you to pick up the processed film using the Internet. You could then easily discuss your case with a convenient online consultation.

 

Helpful Links On IRC include:

The IRC FAQ

Undernet IRC FAQ 

mIRC

Ircle

I hope to see you on IRC soon.

 

from APMA News - November 1996