from The Oxford Magazine, Eighth Week, Trinity Term, 1996, pp.5-6.



I have always had difficulty with time, and it slips through my fingers every time I try and get a grasp on it. Recently I realised I had got behind the times again when an indignant E-mail arrived, demanding to know where my page on the World-Wide-Web was, with the latest thoughts of Lucas on display for comment and criticism. I saw that I must locate myself in Cyber-space. Practical considerations apart, there were conceptual advantages. I have often bewailed the fact that, though being a philosopher, I am often in two minds at once, I have not, hitherto, been able to be in two places at once. This tedious limitation I may be able to surmount, once I have made myself at home in the weird and wonderful world of the web.

The Women's First Eight indignantly rejected my account of my initial exploration of Oxford College home pages, which seemed to me to be largely composed of College athletics teams with pictures and weights: their faces, indeed, were matters properly in the public domain, but to reveal their weights would be a gross invasion of their private space. I myself have every reason to conceal my face as well as my weight. In any case I do not aspire to graphics. My vanity was different; I had a talk, ``Turn Over the Page'', in which I responded to the many critics of one of my favourite arguments, who seemed to me not to have read what I had said, but to have fired off objections without noticing that I had anticipated them and answered them. So I report the steps taken by one whose ambition was a lowly one, suited to an elderly don with a strong distaste for Windows and possessing only a serial communications port, but with an urge to make his wares electronically available to anyone who might be interested. Experts will deplore the low level of sophistication, and will give much more high-powered advice, much as my modern language colleagues, when I say I am going to Ruritania, and would like to be pointed towards a useful phrase book, tell me that in order to understand Ruritanian, I need to read the great twelth-century epics of the battles against the Tartars, and would find a recent book on Glagolitic syntax very helpful. They are right; but time is short and wits are slow, and I only need to be able to ask from which platform will the train for Minsk depart itself. One day I may be able to construct my own graphics and go surfing; but for the present one step enough for me.

The precondition is to get sabilised. The old vax is reaching the end of its shelf life, and is to be phased out in favour of Sable, a more up-to-date, user-unfriendly system. If you are on vax, you need to send an E-mail to Advisory, asking them to send you a form, or alternatively you can write to OUCS, 13 Banbury Road, or telephone (2 73239), or call there in person (if you go in person take a couple of formatted disks and some loose change: they often have useful software available, and it is worth buying their Getting Started with Unix, The Pine Mail Utility on Unix Machines, Introduction to Internet Services, and An Introduction to HTML). Sable is case-conscious and very choosy about passwords. JRLucas was a moderately capital fellow, but now is cut down to minuscule size. You are assigned a temporary password to begin with, but must change it for one of your own choosing, which is more difficult than in the days of vax. You can no longer have your mother-in-law's maiden name or car registration number as your password, but are guided to having an assemblage of £s, $s and %s. I often have to make two or three attempts to identify myself to sable's satisfaction, sometimes being quite unable to tell why my earlier spells had failed to work. The prompts and commands are different too. So let me pretend that my password is Mert1274£Coll (in what follows, I shall put the letters to be typed as if they had been typed on a typewriter, and italicise those that need to be altered to fit each reader's particular case; there are three other keys needed: the Control, usually marked Ctrl, and here indicated by {Ctrl}; the Break, usually marked Scroll Lock Break, but on some keyboards Pause Break, and here indicated by {Break}; and Enter, sometimes so marked, but often the paragraph return, shown with an arrow, <---| [printer can you use the same sign as in Angelology, 2nd Week, HT91, p.13], and here indicated by {Enter}; the Control is always pressed in conjunction with something else; in this case either Control together with Break, or control together with the right-hand square bracket: these will be indicated by {Ctrl}+{Break} and {Ctrl}+]; apart from these, the typewritten entries should be pressed successively, in response to the message on the screen, which will be shown a large black type face [printer, I am using HELV 10 and 12], though not all that is written on the screen is reproduced here---only that to which a response is required).

From DOS I started as I used to with vax, and typed

kermit {Enter}

and the dialogue began

MS-Kermit> c {Enter} {Ctrl}+{break} {Enter}

Welcome to Oxford University Gandalf Network

This is subscriber T35A7MER on StarMaster node 3

which service : sable{Enter}

then fairly rapidly the next two prompts show:

login: jrlucas{Enter}

Password: Mert1274£Coll{Enter}

after some information, in my case mostly about my previous unsuccessful attempts to establish contact, the sable prompt shows


It is easy to be lost in sable, but by typing to the prompt

sable% help{Enter}

information is made available. The most important thing to know at first is that to log out you must to the prompt

sable% actually type logout{Enter}

(and not just the lo {Enter}, which worked with vax)

in order to ensure that no malefactor gets hold of your line, and starts making mayhem in your name.

Instructions are obtainable for setting oneself up in cyberspace;

sable% lynx{Enter}

The key instructions are to use a special subdirectory called public_html (now automatically provided), in which to put the files I wanted to make available to the public, and to insert an instruction that they should be freely accessible. In that subdirectory I wanted to put my ``Turn Over the Page'', which was in a file called turn.doc. The files that can be sent to Sable need to be unformatted ASCII files, but with some special instructions, given in An Introduction to HTML (available in the OUCS shop @ 50p.) keyed in so that Web Browsers can read it comfortably: so I keyed in the new symbols (mostly <P> to mark new paragraphs) and saved it on a floppy disk in drive a:, as an unformatted file with line breaks at the end of each line (as if it had been typed on a typewriter) under the name turn.asc. The drill for conveying such a file to Sable is exactly the same as for vax. But, I was further instructed, before sending the files I wanted to show to the world, it would be a courtesy to send an index file, so that, as thoughts proliferate, browsers can quickly see what is on offer. Rather tiresomely, the approved name is index.html, and four letter extensions are tabu with my word processor. So I called it index.htm, and listed two files for the present, together with my addresses, telephone numbers, fax numbers and E-mail address. These I sent to Sable. Having established contact with Sable, I needed first to change myself into the subdirectory public_html, then to move my files and index into it, and finally to give an instruction to be open to all callers. The dialogue went

sable% cd public_html{Enter}

sable% kermit {Enter}

The screen then showed a message:
C-Kermit 5A(189), 30 June 93, DEC OSF/1
Type ? or HELP for help

C-Kermit> server {Enter}

Entering server mode . . . Use BYE or FINISH to end server mode.


To which I responded

{Ctrl}+] c (no {Enter})

MS-Kermit> send a:turn.asc{Enter}

The screen gave details of the process of sending the file from my PC to the bowels of the University's Sable. When it was complete, I sent another work, referenc.asc, a useful list of references that others might like to have. I could have sent it differently, so as to have had a different name in my public_html subdirectory, but actually sent it in exactly the same way

MS-Kermit> send a:referenc.asc{Enter}

For index.htm, however, I tried a new way.

MS-Kermit> send{Enter}

whereupon I was asked what file I wanted to send, and what it was to be called when it arrived. This gave me the opportunity of having four letters after the full stop.



after the index had safely arrived

MS-Kermit> finish{Enter}

MS-Kermit> c{Enter}

C-Kermit server done

C-Kermit> ex{Enter}

which brought me back to the sable prompt, where I checked that my files had arrived in the subdirectory

sable% ls{Enter}

which showed

index.html referenc.asc turn.asc

I now renamed referenc.asc

sable% mv referenc.asc references{Enter}

This might not have been a good idea, but since I was allowed up to 255 characters to name a file, and did not need an extension, I thought I might as well be as transparent as possible.

I still needed to permit others to read my files in this subdirectory, with what is called the (chmod) command.

sable% chmod a+r ~/public_html/index.html{Enter}

sable% chmod a+r ~/public_html/turn.asc{Enter}

sable% chmod a+r ~/public_html/references{Enter}

All that was then required was add my name to the Oxford list of Web people.

sable% lynx{Enter}

and followed instructions as a would-be personal Web person. After that marathon, I logged out,

sable% logout{Enter}

with a certain sense of happy irony at having used my computer to make available my argument that Turing machines (idealised computers) can never completely simulate the human mind to the World-Wide-Web on

I am indebted to Beth Crutch, Dave Miles and David Hastings of OUCS for much help in answering queries and checking this article.










Also two earlier articles in The Oxford Magazine

Angelology, 2HT91, pp.13-15

Some More Spells, 8HT92, pp.8-9