You "Ride the Rainbow", you hunt for "Crown Jewels", but do you "Surf the Internet" looking for insulators? This month's column will give you an introduction to the Internet, Electronic Mail, and the World Wide Web. Those are all "buzz words" you probably have heard about, but do you know what they really mean? And how they relate to collecting insulators? In short, this is all about communication and information access.
I'll try and present a simple view of this. The Internet is similar to the telephone system in a lot of ways. First, it is only "infrastructure", and not content. The Internet links thousands of computers all over the world together, just like the telephone links millions of houses together. If you want to place a telephone call to "Joe Collector" you have to know his phone number. Likewise, on the Internet, in order for one computer to talk to another computer, they each need to know each other's "number." Most computers on the Internet are referred to by their name; for instance, my computer at work is called amber8.enet.dec.com. Just like the phone system, something has to translate this name into a number. Luckily on the Internet this is done automatically.
Now that we have the Internet, a system that connects many computers together, we can start sharing information! One of the simplest ways to do this is by sending electronic mail (email). Every user on a computer on the Internet generally has an email address. This is a name that is unique to that specific person. For example, although there may be a number of people who access my computer at work, the email address email@example.com is unique, and will go to only me. You can have multiple email addresses. Since I also have an account with America Online, I have another email address of firstname.lastname@example.org.
Electronic mail allows two or more people on the Internet to send and receive information. This information is private, and can only be read by the person you send it to. In many ways, it is like the United States Postal Service. You can send letters you write on your computer to other people on other computers. Unlike the USPS, these letters are delivered in a matter of minutes, rather than days! The power of email goes beyond sending simple letters. You can send any file of information on your computer to someone else! This can be a formatted document, a photograph, a spreadsheet, or anything!
Now that we are sending information, we can talk about insulators! So, which insulator collectors are online? Hundreds of them! Four NIA board members, five NIA committee members, eight insulator club contacts, and one insulator magazine editor are online. In addition, ICON (Insulator Collectors On the Net) maintains a mailing list with about 150 collectors online. Send me email if you want more information about ICON.
What's happening with email and insulators? Plenty! Some people are sending around "for sale" and "wanted" lists, some are asking for information, and others are sharing information. Just this morning, I emailed a photograph (which was a file on my computer) to Bob Berry to ask his opinion of what it was. By the time I finished writing this article, he confirmed it was a glass suspension insulator. People who are selling insulators report "brisk sales" and often they are sold out in days! And, did I mention it costs nothing to send email? (except for hourly online service charges).
The editor of the NIA newsletter "Drip Points" and the editor of "Crown Jewels" are online. Many people have submitted articles, letters to the editor, and advertisements electronically to these people via email!
What is the World Wide Web? Simply, the World Wide Web is information. This information is distributed all over the world on computers that are linked together by the Internet. Each "page" of information can consist of text, graphics, photographs, as well as sound and video. Your local library is probably part of an "interlibrary network" today. You can go to your local library, and request a book. If that book is not currently available at your library, your library can probably arrange to have that book made available through their interlibrary loan program. Imagine if all the libraries in the world were linked together in this interlibrary program! In some ways, that is what the World Wide Web is! Many of the computers all over the Internet host "libraries"; a collection of "pages" about various subjects. And, all these computers can share this information with all the other computers on the Internet!
Currently, there are about 25 million pages of information cataloged on the World Wide Web. Like a card catalog at a library, some computers on the World Wide Web have a huge searchable database organized by subject. Other computers have incredible databases of every single word contained on all these 25 million pages! You can perform a search by specifying one or more keywords about the subject you are interested in, and they will tell you the pages on the Web that they consider are the most relevant to the subject you are looking for.
What's out on the World Wide Web? Well, practically everything! For the collector, there is information about stamps, coins, bottles, paperweights, marbles and more! And yes, of course, insulators! About 500 of those 25 million pages on the World Wide Web contain information about insulators and related collectibles.
I can't begin to cover all the material on the Web, and this isn't the place to do that. But, let me tell you some of the information about insulators that is out there. Dozens of articles, from hunting for insulators in Germany to the discovery of Wade insulators in Alabama. Book reviews, prices, and full ordering information for glass and porcelain insulator hobby related books. Information and contacts for all insulator clubs. Information about the National Insulator Association, including its bylaws. Photographs; over 125 American glass insulators, 25 foreign glass insulators from 10 different countries, and nearly 100 porcelain insulators covering uniparts, multiparts, foreign and threadless! The largest source of information on insulator "go-withs"; including battery jars and insulators, lightning rod insulators and balls, water bottles and fruit jars, Reddy Kilowatt collectibles, porcelain signs, telephones, Blue Bell paperweights, and even insulators on stamps! Want to find the insulator or bottle show nearest to you? Just click where you live on a map of the US, and you get a show listing ordered by distance from you! Wow!
All of this may seem "out of reach" for many of you, but it isn't! If you have access to a computer at work, chances are it is connected to the Internet. However, many people choose to access the Internet from home. The "big three" online services, America Online, Compuserve, and Prodigy, offer simple solutions to get your computer with a modem connected up to the Internet. These services typically cost about $10/month with some free online time, with hours over that basic rate costing $2-$3/hour. Other companies called Internet Service Providers also give you direct access to the Internet. These services, although a little cheaper than the "big three", require you to be a little more computer literate. They give you more power and flexibility, but you have to do more set-up on your end.
Many companies offer "free trials." Don't be afraid, give it a try! I happen to subscribe to America Online, and if you would like a free trial, I can send you a 3.5" floppy with software for a PC running Windows 3.1 or higher. I don't have any affiliation with AOL nor do I proclaim they are the best online service. I'm just able to provide a floppy to you!.
Check around; others in your area may have other recommendations, or you can ask me! If you get online, be sure to send me mail and say "Hi!" and check out the Insulator Web site! The addresses are on the masthead at the beginning of this article.
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Last updated Sunday, March 17, 1996