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IRC, MUDs and other things that are more fun than they sound

Many Net systems provide access to a series of interactive services that let you hold live ``chats'' or play online games with people around the world. To find out if your host system offers these, you can ask your system administrator or just try them -- if nothing happens, then your system does not provide them. In general, if you can use telnet and ftp, chances are good you can use these services as well.


This is the Net equivalent of a telephone conversation and requires that both you and the person you want to talk to have access to this function and are online at the same time. To use it, type

talk user@site.name

where that is the e-mail address of the other person. She will see something like this on her screen:

talk: connection requested by yourname@site.name
talk: respond with:  talk yourname@site.name

To start the conversation, she should then type (at her host system's command line):

talk yourname@site.name

where that is your e-mail address. Both of you will then get a top and bottom window on your screen. She will see everything you type in one window; you'll see everything she types in the other. To disconnect, hit control-C.

One note: Public-access sites that use Sun computers sometimes have trouble with the talk program. If talk does not work, try typing


instead. However, the party at the other end will have to have the same program online for the connection to work.

Internet Relay Chat

IRC is a program that lets you hold live keyboard conversations with people around the world. It's a lot like an international CB radio - it even uses ``channels.'' Type something on your computer and it's instantly echoed around the world to whoever happens to be on the same channel with you. You can join in existing public group chats or set up your own. You can even create a private channel for yourself and as few as one or two other people. And just like on a CB radio, you can give yourself a unique ``handle'' or nickname.

IRC currently links host systems in 20 different countries, from Australia to Hong Kong to Israel.

Unfortunately, it's like telnet -- either your site has it or it doesn't. If your host system does have it, Just type


and hit enter. You'll get something like this:

*** Connecting to port 6667 of server world.std.com
*** Welcome to the Internet Relay Network, adamg
*** Your host is world.std.com, running version 2.7.1e+4
*** You have new mail.
*** If you have not already done so, please read the new user
information with +/HELP NEWUSER
*** This server was created Sat Apr 18 1992 at 16:27:02 EDT
*** There are 364 users on 140 servers
*** 45 users have connection to the twilight zone
*** There are 124 channels.
*** I have 1 clients and 3 servers
MOTD - world.std.com Message of the Day -
MOTD - Be careful out there...
MOTD - ->Spike
* End of /MOTD command.

23:13 [1] adamg [Mail: 32] * type /help for help

You are now in channel 0, the ``null'' channel, in which you can look up various help files, but not much else. As you can see, IRC takes over your entire screen. The top of the screen is where messages will appear. The last line is where you type IRC commands and messages. All IRC commands begin with a /. The slash tells the computer you are about to enter a command, rather than a message. To see what channels are available, type


and hit enter. You'll get something like this:

*** Channel    Users  Topic
*** #Money     1      School CA$H (/msg SOS_AID help)
*** #Gone      1      ----->> Gone with the wind!!!  ------>>>>>
*** #mee       1
*** #eclipse   1
*** #hiya      2
*** #saigon    4
*** #screwed   3
*** #z         2
*** #comix     1      LET'S TALK 'BOUT COMIX!!!!!
*** #Drama     1
*** #RayTrace  1      Rendering to Reality and Back
*** #NeXT      1
*** #wicca     4      Mr. Potato Head, R. I. P.
*** #dde^mhe`  1      no'ng chay? mo*? ...ba` con o*iiii
*** #jgm       1
*** #ucd       1
*** #Maine     2
*** #Snuffland 1
*** #p/g!      4
*** #DragonSrv 1

Because IRC allows for a large number of channels, the list might scroll off your screen, so you might want to turn on your computer's screen capture to capture the entire list. Note that the channels always have names, instead of numbers. Each line in the listing tells you the channel name, the number of people currently in it, and whether there's a specific topic for it. To switch to a particular channel, type

/join #channel

where #channel is the channel name and hit enter. Some ``public'' channels actually require an invitation from somebody already on it. To request an invitation, type

/who #channel-name

where channel-name is the name of the channel, and hit enter. Then ask someone with an @ next to their name if you can join in. Note that whenever you enter a channel, you have to include the #. Choose one with a number of users, so you can see IRC in action.

If it's a busy channel, as soon as you join it, the top of your screen will quickly be filled with messages. Each will start with a person's IRC nickname, followed by his message.

It may seem awfully confusing at first. There could be two or three conversations going on at the same time and sometimes the messages will come in so fast you'll wonder how you can read them all.

Eventually, though, you'll get into the rhythm of the channel and things will begin to make more sense. You might even want to add your two cents (in fact, don't be surprised if a message to you shows up on your screen right away; on some channels, newcomers are welcomed immediately). To enter a public message, simply type it on that bottom line (the computer knows it's a message because you haven't started the line with a slash) and hit enter.

Public messages have a user's nickname in brackets, like this:

If you receive a private message from somebody, his name will be between asterisks, like this:


For more information on using IRC, see the IRC command box. You can find discussions about IRC in the @news{alt.irc} newsgroup.


Multiple-User Dimensions or Dungeons (MUDs) take IRC into the DUM realm of fantasy. MUDs are live, role-playing games in which you enter assume a new identity and enter an alternate reality through your keyboard. As you explore this other world, through a series of simple commands (such as ``look,'' ``go'' and ``take''), you'll run across other users, who may engage you in a friendly discussion, enlist your aid in some quest or try to kill you for no apparent reason.

Each MUD has its own personality and creator (or God) who was willing to put in the long hours required to establish the particular MUD's rules, laws of nature and information databases. Some MUDs stress the social aspects of online communications -- users frequently gather online to chat and join together to build new structures or even entire realms. Others are closer to ``Dungeons and Dragons'' and are filled with sorcerers, dragons and evil people out to keep you from completing your quest -- through murder if necessary.

Many MUDs (there are also related games known as MUCKs and MUSEs) require you to apply in advance, through e-mail, for a character name and password. One that lets you look around first, though, is HoloMuck at McGill University in Montreal. The premise of this game is that you arrive in the middle of Tanstaafl, a city on the planet Holo. You have to find a place to live (else you get thrown into the homeless shelter) and then you can begin exploring. Magic is allowed on this world, but only outside the city limits. Get bored with the city and you can roam the rest of the world or even take a trip into orbit (of course, all this takes money; you can either wait for your weekly salary or take a trip to the city casino). Once you become familiar with the city and get your own character, you can even begin erecting your own building (or subway line, or almost anything else).

To connect, telnet to

hobbes.cs.mcgill.ca 5757

When you connect, type

connect guest guest

and hit enter. This connects you to the ``guest'' account, which has a password of ``guest.'' You'll see this:

Your pager beeps twice, indicating no messages.
The Homeless Shelter(#22Rna)
You wake up in the town's Homeless Shelter, where vagrants are put for
protective holding.
Please don't sleep in public places-- there are plenty of
open apartments in Tanstaafl Towers, to the southwest of center.
There is a small sign on the wall here, with helpful information.
Type 'look sign' to read it.
The door is standing open for your return to respectable society.
Simply walk 'out' to the center.

Of course, you want to join respectable society, but first you want to see what that sign says. So you type

look sign

and hit enter, which brings up a list of some basic commands. Then you type


followed by enter, which brings up this:

You slip out the door, and head southeast...
Tanstaafl Center
This is the center of the beautiful town of Tanstaafl.
High Street runs north and south into residential areas, while
Main Street runs east and west into business districts.
SW: is Tanstaafl Towers.
Please claim an apartment... no sleeping in public!
SE: the Public Library offers both information and entertainment.
NW: is the Homeless Shelter, formerly the Town Jail.
NE: is Town Hall, site of several important services, including: Public
Message Board, Bureau of Land Management (with maps and regulations), and
other governmental/ bureaucratic help.
Down: Below a sign marked with both red and blue large letter 'U's, a
staircase leads into an underground subway passage.
(Feel free to 'look' in any direction for more information.)
[Obvious exits: launch, d, nw, se, w, e, n, s, ne, sw]
Instructions for newcomers
Directional signpost
Founders' statue

To see ``Instructions for newcomers'', type

look Instructions for newcomers

and hit enter. You could do the same for ``Directional signpost'' and ``Founders' statue.'' Then type


and enter to get to Tanstaafl Towers, the city housing complex, where you have to claim an apartment (you may have to look around; many will already) be occupied. And now it's off to explore Holo! One command you'll want to keep in mind is ``take.'' Periodically, you'll come across items that, when you take them will confer certain abilities or powers on you. If you type


and enter, you'll get a list of files you can read to learn more about the MUD's commands.

The ``say'' command lets you talk to other players publicly. For example,

say Hey, I'm here!

would be broadcast to everybody else in the room with you. If you want to talk to just one particular person, use ``whisper'' instead of ``say.''

whisper agora Hey, I'm here!

would be heard only by agora. Another way to communicate with somebody regardless of where on the world they are is through your pager. If you suddenly see yours go off while visiting, chances are it's a wizard checking to see if you need any help. To read his message, type


To send him a message, type

page name message

where name is the wizard's name (it'll be in the original message).

Other MUDs and MUCKs may have different commands, but generally use the same basic idea of letting you navigate through relatively simple English commands. Every Friday, Scott Goehring posts a new list of MUDs and related games and their telnet addresses in the newsgroup @news{rec.games.mud.announce}. There are several other mud newsgroups related to specific types of MUDs, including @news{rec.games.mud.social}, @news{rec.games.mud.adventure}, @news{rec.games.mud.tiny}, @news{rec.games.mud.diku} and @news{rec.games.mud.lp}.

When you connect to a MUD, choose your password as carefully as you would one for your host system; alas, there are MUD crackers who enjoy trying to break into other people's MUD accounts. And never, never use the same password as the one you use on your host system!

MUDs can prove highly addicting. ``The jury is still out on whether MUDding is 'just a game' or 'an extension of real life with gamelike qualities','' says Jennifer Smith, an active MUD player who wrote an FAQ on the subject.

She adds one caution: ``You shouldn't do anything that you wouldn't do in real life, even if the world is a fantasy world. The important thing to remember is that it's the fantasy world of possibly hundreds of people, and not just yours in particular. There's a human being on the other side of each and every wire! Always remember that you may meet these other people some day, and they may break your nose. People who treat others badly gradually build up bad reputations and eventually receive the NO FUN Stamp of Disapproval.''

The other Side of the Coin

All is not fun and games on the Net. Like any community, the Net has its share of obnoxious characters who seem to exist only to make your life miserable (you've already met some of them in the chapter on Usenet). There are people who seem to spend a bit more time on the Net than many would find healthy. It also has its criminals. Clifford Stoll writes in ``The Cuckoo's Egg'' how he tracked a team of German hackers who were breaking into U.S. computers and selling the information they found to the Soviets. Robert Morris, a Cornell University student, was convicted of unleashing a ``worm'' program that effectively disabled several thousand computers connected to the Internet.

Of more immediate concern to the average Net user are crackers who seek to find other's passwords to break into Net systems and people who infect programs on ftp sites with viruses.

There is a widely available program known as ``Crack'' that can decipher user passwords composed of words that might be found in a dictionary (this is why you shouldn't use such passwords). Short of that, there are the annoying types who, as mentioned above, take a special thrill in trying to make you miserable. The best advice in dealing with them is to count to 10 and then ignore them -- like juveniles everywhere, most of their fun comes in seeing how upset you can get.

Meanwhile, two Cornell University students pled guilty in 1992 to uploading virus-infected Macintosh programs to ftp sites. If you plan to try out large amounts of software from ftp sites, it might be wise to download or buy a good anti-viral program.

But can law enforcement go too far in seeking out the criminals? The Electronic Frontier Foundation was founded in large part in response to a series of government raids against an alleged gang of hackers. The raids resulted in the near bankruptcy of one game company never alleged to have had anything to do with the hackers, when the government seized its computers and refused to give them back. The case against another alleged participant collapsed in court when his attorney showed the ``proprietary'' and supposedly hacked information he printed in an electronic newsletter was actually available via an 800 number for about $13 -- from the phone company from which that data was taken.

IRC Commands

Note: Hit enter after each command.

@ftable @code

  • /away When you're called away to put out a grease fire in the kitchen, issue this command to let others know you're still connected but just away from your terminal or computer for awhile.

  • /help Brings up a list of commands for which there is a help file. You will get a ``topic:'' prompt. Type in the subject for which you want information and hit enter. Hit enter by itself to exit help.

  • /invite Asks another IRC to join you in a conversation.

  • /invite fleepo #hottub would send a message to fleepo asking him to join you on the #hottub channel. The channel name is optional.

  • /join Use this to switch to or create a particular channel, like this: /join #hottub

    If one of these channels exists and is not a private one, you will enter it. Otherwise, you have just created it. Note you have to use a # as the first character.

  • /list This will give you a list of all available public channels, their topics (if any) and the number of users currently on them. Hidden and private channels are not shown.

  • /m name Send a private message to that user.

  • /mode This lets you determine who can join a channel you've created.

  • /mode #channel +s creates a secret channel.

  • /mode #channel +p makes the channel private

  • /nick This lets you change the name by which others see you.

    /nick fleepo would change your name for the present session to fleepo. People can still use /whois to find your e-mail address. If you try to enter a channel where somebody else is already using that nickname, IRC will ask you to select another name.

  • /query This sets up a private conversation between you and another IRC user. To do this, type /query nickname

    Every message you type after that will go only to that person. If she then types /query nickname where nickname is yours, then you have established a private conversation. To exit this mode, type /query by itself. While in query mode, you and the other person can continue to ``listen'' to the discussion on whatever public channels you were on, although neither of you will be able to respond to any of the messages there.

  • /quit Exit IRC.

  • /signoff Exit IRC.

  • /summon Asks somebody connected to a host system with IRC to join you on IRC. You must use the person's entire e-mail address.

    /summon fleepo@foo.bar.com would send a message to fleepo asking him to start IRC. Usually not a good idea to just summon people unless you know they're already amenable to the idea; otherwise you may wind up annoying them no end. This command does not work on all sites.

  • /topic When you've started a new channel, use this command to let others know what it's about.

    /topic #Amiga would tell people who use /list that your channel is meant for discussing Amiga computers.

  • /who Shows you the e-mail address of people on a particular channel.

    /who #foo would show you the addresses of everybody on channel foo.

    /who by itself shows you every e-mail address for every person on IRC at the time, although be careful: on a busy night you might get a list of 500 names!

  • /whois Use this to get some information about a specific IRC user or to see who is online.

    /whois nickname will give you the e-mail address for the person using that nickname.

    /whois * will list everybody on every channel.

  • /whowas Similar to /whois; gives information for people who recently signed off IRC. @end ftable


    You can find discussions about IRC in the @news{alt.irc} newsgroup. @fyi{A Discussion on Computer Network Conferencing}, by Darren Reed (May, 1992), provides a theoretical background on why conferencing systems such as IRC are a Good Thing. It's available through ftp at @host{nic.ddn.mil} as file rfc/rfc1324.txt.

    For a good overview of the impact on the Internet of the Morris Worm, read @fyi{Virus Highlights Need for Improved Internet Management}, by the U.S. General Accounting Office (June, 1989). You can get a copy via ftp from @host{cert.sei.cmu.edu} in the pub/virus-l/docs directory. It's listed as gao_rpt.

    Clifford Stoll describes how the Internet works and how he tracked a group of KGB-paid German hackers through it, in @fyi{The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage}, Doubleday (1989).

    See also Bruce Sterling's essay (see section ``A Statement of Principle'' by Bruce Sterling).

    @vskip 0pt plus 1filll @flushright ``F: When into a room I plunge, I Sometimes find some VIOLET FUNGI. Then I linger, darkly brooding On the poison they're exuding.''

    ``H: If a 'GOBLIN (HOB) waylays you, Slice him up before he slays you. Nothing makes you look a slob Like running from a HOB'LIN (GOB).''

    ``K: Cobalt's metal, hard and shining; Cobol's wordy and confining; KOBOLDS topple when you strike them; Don't feel bad, it's hard to like them.''

    ``T: One big monster, he called TROLL. He don't rock, and he don't roll; Drink no wine, and smoke no stogies. He just Love To Eat Them Roguies.''

    ``U: There's a U -- a Unicorn! Run right up and rub its horn. Look at all those points you're losing! UMBER HULKS are so confusing.''

    --- The Roguelet's ABC @end flushright