JUMP ON THE NET

Part I

by Mel Martin

If you haven't heard about the phenomenal communications revolution going on, you probably exist on (a) the bottom of the ocean (b) mars or (c) the middle of the Mojave desert. And even if that is, in fact, where you reside, it won't be long before someone will ask you for your e-mail address or web site URL. Every television and radio station, newspaper, many magazines and, most importantly, musicians are to be found everywhere on the vast network of computers known as the Internet. Briefly, the Internet is not a single place or specific location. It is a vast "web" of computers that are interconnected to make one of the most powerful and open ended communications system that mankind has ever seen. The importance of the Internet cannot be underestimated or easily dismissed. It is a communications revolution on the order of the invention of the printing press, the telephone, short wave radio and regular radio and television broadcast networks. Since the advent of desktop publishing, computers have been in the forefront of this revolution and, currently, they still are. In order to have access to the Internet, one needs a computer, a modem and an online service or service provider. Just around the corner are the so-called "Internet boxes" which will sell between $200-$500. These are not readily available as of yet and have not proven their abilities to both navigate and create online. The best "under $500 internet box " is a used computer. Very good and still useful ones are easily available due to the built in obsolescence factor of the computer market. A modern "multimedia" system can be purchased new for $1500 and upwards. Commercial online services such as AOL and Compuserve charge a basic rate of around $9.95 per month for the first five hours and $2.95 per hour after that. All the commercial services have free trial periods of up to fifteen hours. Needless to say, they can become prohibitively expensive if you are going to spend any serious time online. Although these are good starting points, a better choice is to find a reliable Internet service provider in your area, accessible by a local phone call. Since this is an extremely competitive field, it shouldn't be to difficult to find one in your area for $15-30 a month for basically unlimited access time. Both commercial and ISPs provide space for personal and/or business web pages as well. Software is free and can be gotten online as well as the little computer diskettes that just about everyone gets in the mail. (Just erase and reformat them and you won't have to purchase a floppy disk again.)OK. At this point you may be asking why it's important to be online and that is really the point of this article as there are many other articles and books available to guide you through this process. So let's assume, for the moment, that you, like many other musicians, are generally computer literate and outgoing enough to realize that it's very important to market your skills and generally communicate with the rest of the world. This is now as easy as walking to your desktop and opening a few simple and easy to use programs. You can send and receive e-mail which is a major revolution in itself. Even the U.S. Post Office is jumping into this. Electronic mail is a rather straightforward way to send a note, letter, message, file and general info to anyone else on the planet that has e-mail access via a computer. All for the price of a local phone call and included in your provider's regular fee. And it is instantaneous. This can be very profound as I've been regularly communicating with people in Russia, South America, Europe, Canada, China and all over the USA. Personally, I'm far more likely to respond to and e-mail message than a personal letter or even a phone message because I'm at the computer regularly and a reply is a click away. It simply couldn't be a more efficient way to communicate. Newer developments are called Net Phones which require a digital camera or, at least, a microphone. This is clearly where telephonic communications are headed. Newsgroups are the next extension of this type of communicating. They are like a vast number of bulletin boards where people can post opinions, information and resources. The same posts can also be e-mailed to individuals that are also posting in the particular forums. There are so many subjects available that I can't even start to list them here but for saxophone there is {alt.music.saxophone} and {alt.music.woodwinds}. There are groups for other instruments, composers, computing, midi and much, much more. Beware, though, as a kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde mentality seems to take over and normally civilized people tend to lose their inhibitions and engage in what is commonly known as "flaming." The thing is not to post anything that you feel you would not say in a thoughtful way to someone else. Also, remember that these messages are archived and be accessed through search engines such as [Alta Vista] and [DejaNews]. When you find you're temperature rising over a given topic, it is best to write a reply offline, think it through and then send it. On the other hand, if you feel an immediate and direct response is necessary, "flame" away. Another even more spontaneous method of communication is called Internet Relay Chat or IRC. These are virtual "rooms" created for people to interact via their keyboards on a "real time" basis, literally typing in conversation with each other. This can be very useful for subjects that are of great interest as well as support groups.The area that is getting the most press and serious action currently is known as the World Wide Web. It is the first true graphic realization for communication to manifest on the internet since it's inception. The Internet had been mostly a text based communications system, originally, started by the U.S. Government as an alternate communications network in case of warfare where standard modes of communications might be knocked out by nuclear attack. Eventually it became the province of educational and scientific institutions and, in the late 'eighties, the ability to transmit graphics coupled with faster connections, made the Web a remarkable phenomena because it joined the concepts of instantaneous and wide ranging electronic communications with computer publishing. Desktop publishing has been a useful and increasingly inexpensive tool for sometime now thanks to the technical innovations of the Macintosh computer and the incredible marketing forces of Microsoft, Intel and IBM. The home computer market has expanded to the point that for what you once may have spent on a new Volkswagen, you can currently own a computing system that vastly out performs the mainframe systems of only a decade ago. Musicians have been at the forefront of this technology through the use of notation, midi, and real time digital hard disk recording to the point where it as essential to be familiar with some or all of these programs. It has also enabled musicians to design their own brochures, flyers and any other promotional materials. With the advent of the World Wide Web, a musician or group of musicians can publish themselves to, potentially, millions of people around the world. Proportionally, there are more musicians online than their relationship to the real world would dictate. Many music fans "cruise the web" in search of their favorite artists or sites. This has removed the "middle man" system of having to spend lots of dollars on mailings, print and media ads. More to the point, it is a great adjunct to the musician's usual methods of mailing lists, gig promotion, teaching and sending out performing schedules. With these newfound opportunities, anyone can publish themselves alongside Sony, Warner Brothers and any other mega corporation. This is the revolutionary factor that is changing the way musicians work. The other revolutionary factor is that the Internet is a cross platform medium. I create on a Macintosh computer but you can look at and even download to an Intel based machine without so much as a translation.Let's assume that you have taken all of the necessary steps to "jump on the 'net' ". In the back of your mind, you have the idea that there may be more than mere entertainment and/or educational purposes at work here. Well, you're absolutely right. Many businesses, corporations and just plain old folks like you and I understand that showing up is ninety percent of success and since everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't we. There are now a number of software programs available for creating web pages that don't even require knowledge of HTML coding which is the basic programming language of the Internet. Adobe's Page Mill for the Macintosh is what I used to create my web site and it couldn't have been easier. There are also programs out for the PC market as well such as Microsoft's Front Page and, of course, Netscape's Navigator Gold 3.0b4 is available free for all platforms in beta. Beta programs are commonly released by companies for people to use and, basically, check for bugs in return for free use of the program. I will delve more into these programs in future articles. Of course, there will always be purists that say that you should be thoroughly knowledgeable in use of correct HTML code just as many desktop publishers said that people should not use those inexpensive, pre-programmed publishing programs to create published items. To this I say PHOOEY. I don't need to know how to build a car before I can drive it somewhere that I would like to go. I don't need to know all of the details of construction of a musical instrument before I can create beautiful music on it. Sure, if you want to master something, you should learn everything you can about it. But all you need to create a web page or a graphic publication is a sense of what LOOKS good and what works for you. Much of this is common sense and can be found by simply looking around. We are a very visually oriented society and are constantly bombarded by images via television, film and print media. If after all of that you can't figure out what pleases your individual eye then you may need a new set of glasses. So I have a couple of key pieces of advice to musicians that feel that urge to get their web sites up and running is to wait. Take some time, a lot of time to look around, "surf the 'net' " and get to know the ropes, so to speak. Don't even consider a web site until you've absorbed all of the factors that go into making your site personal and successful.The fact is that a web site is not going to make a radical and big difference to your acquisition of fame and wealth. It is simply another marketing tool and, as such, should reflect who you are, what you do, your interests and what makes you fascinating enough for someone to not only visit your site once but to return in order to keep up with what you do. As you look at other sites, take note as to what you like and what you dislike about them. Are they visually appealing? This is primary to an essentially graphic medium. But looks are definitely not enough. Some of the best looking sites are the most vacuous. Sound familiar? Without content, an otherwise gorgeous site can become boring upon the first and, probably last, visit. The element of content must not be underestimated on the web.The goal is to have interested viewers return. These viewers might well include future clients, employers and fans. Text should be succinct and well written. Nobody really wants to sit in front of a computer screen and read a novel or the story of your life. Some of the best sites are the best written. They can be basic in graphics but high in content. The beauty of a web site is that is a non-linear medium, one that you can skip around due to the miracle of [hypertext links]. These are the magical codes that take you from page to page in your own site and to pages on other sites. This is the power of the web. Networking with other web sites is one of the chief way to bring viewers to your site. There are many jazz, music and saxophone links and search engines that will link to your site. This brings you a certain number of "hits" which is what we call a visit by a viewer. If you have interests other than music, include them. This only can make your site more interesting to a wider number of people. You, in turn, can include a number of links on your site that take viewers to other places you find interesting. My bookmark list got so long from "surfing" prior to my putting up my site, that I chose to include most of it on what has become a rather 'legendary" bookmark page. I have had more than one person tell me that they have downloaded the entire page and use it as a jumping off point in order to find points of interest on the web. This makes me feel like all of that surfing wasn't such a humongous waste of time after all.

This is the conclusion that many busy people come to early on in checking out the Internet. There is such an overwhelming amount of information out there and it is growing by leaps and bounds each day. Personally, I don't need ALL of that information pouring into my already overloaded brain. I need to be out in the studio practicing or, even better, out earning some money so I can buy more computer equipment and saxophone reeds. On the other hand, I am a naturally curious individual and I have found the Internet the greatest single resource at my disposal. Any and everything I ever wanted to know is available at the click of a mouse. The communications revolution is definitely underway and I want to be a part of that but I want to contribute to it as well. In my next article, I will try to offer some specific suggestions for setting up a musician's web site. Meanwhile, you can see what I have created by going to melmartin.com.


Jump On The Net Part II

History

In the first installment, I talked about the internet and all of it's many features. The focus of this article will be the advent and growth of the World Wide Web. In order to understand the fantastic developments that have taken place due to the vast networking of computers around the world, we need to look at the development of computers as a graphical tool and the growth of internet technologies, particularly hypertext links. Originally, computing was a fairly cryptic technology that used obscure codes and required operators to understand strange input languages such as Linux, Unix and others. All of these things were inputted by keyboard only. There was no such thing as a mouse, hard drive or much memory. IBM began the computer revolution by developing the PC or personal computer which wrote to cards. It used a basic language called DOS. Eventually, due to heavy financial losses, IBM sold it's operating system to two young men named Bill Gates and Paul Allen who had just started a small company called Microsoft. In a deal that rivals the sale of the island of Manhattan by the indians, Microsoft purchased DOS for $50,000 complete with the rights to unlimited usage. This system, of course, became known as MS-DOS and has been the basis for all IBM style personal computers since. Eventually Microsoft added the Windows operating system on top of MS-DOS which has culminated in Windows 95 and NT operating systems which use a Graphical Users Interface or GUI. These graphical systems were derived from an entirely different kind of computing system which was developed at Stanford University by Xerox-PARC. This early system did use a mouse and a graphical interface that was studied intensely by a group of individuals that eventually became Apple. Their first attempt at a commercial graphical computer was dubbed Lisa and was a commercial failure. Then Apple came out with their Apple II series which was the first serious commercially successful graphical computing system. Ultimately, Apple innovated the Macintosh which has been the overwhelming favorite computing system for graphics as well as audio, music and film and photography. Apple took many of the early developments of the Xerox-PARC system which was a singular operating system and extended them into computers that are still recognized today for their ease of use, plug and play simplicity and superior graphic creative uses. None of this was lost on the fellahs from Microsoft who were actually involved with the early beginnings at Apple. Bill Gates was an early associate of Steve Jobs, the man who spearheaded Apple at that time. Gates clearly saw the benefits of a graphical user interface. Microsoft's development of the Windows system basically borrowed some of what Apple, and before them Xerox-PARC had accomplished and, oddly enough, superimposed Windows on top of the MS-DOS system It has only been with the release of Windows 95 that Microsoft's system has been able to do many of the things that the Mac has always done with ease. Now, all personal computers use a graphical interface because it allows the user to simply use a mouse or a trackball, choose options from pull down menus and point and click. Memory requirements and hard drive sizes have grown as has the speed of processors. This has resulted in growth from use of the basic office programs such as word processing, databases and spreadsheets to a widespread usage of personal publishing, graphics design, music sequencing and notation, painting, film,video and photography software. These, along with the new HTML Web programs, are the basic tools we now use to create pages for the World Wide Web.

The history of the internet precedes the development of the PC. It began as a series of connections or "packets" between some mainframe and mini computers, dating back to the mid 'seventies. It was in the early 'eighties that internet protocols came into being and were developed at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory. The history of this organization can found at their web site http://www.cern.ch/. It was at CERN that the World Wide Web was developed. By 1989, CERN's internet facility was to become the birthplace of the World Wide Web within which Tim Berners-Lee would create the World Wide Web with a truly visionary idea. . He wrote the first Web clients and server and defined the URL, HTTP and HTML specifications on which the web depends while working at CERN in late 1990. It is the use of these codes that makes the Web the functional tool it has become for many people today. URL or Universal Resource Locator is the address of a web site. HTTP or Hypertext Transfer Protocol is the way pages and sites are "linked". This protocol is also used in CD ROM technology. HTML is the programming code used to develop web pages. You can find more about Tim Berners-Lee at his web site

http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/People/Berners-Lee-Bio.html/. Tim is now the Director of the W3 Consortium, an open forum of companies and organizations with the mission to realize the full potential of the Web. He is a Principal Research Scientist at the Laboratory for Computer Science ( LCS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT). There are some very interesting etiquette and style guides available for those not familiar with the particulars of designing a web site. They can be found at http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/Provider/Style/.

All of this background may seem a bit dry, but it is useful to know where the internet and the World Wide Web came from. At this point, let's assume that you have figured out that you wish to construct a web site and have either (a) taught yourself the intricacies of HTML coding, (b) purchased a WYSISWYG page maker and editor or (c) hired someone to design it for you. If your choice was (c) you may not wish to read any further although since it is your site, I think it's important that you hang in there for your own best interests. Designing a site is, to me, similar to conceiving an album project. In other words, it is essentially a non-linear process. Yes, it starts somewhere, does something and ends up somewhere. But in between those events there can be many twists and turns as well as interesting side trips. The beauty of a web site is accomplished through HTTP protocols. It is through the use of these interconnecting links that we are able to construct an intricate and, hopefully, fascinating place to visit. It is also the protocol that links us to other sites on the web thus creating the phenomenon known as "web surfing." If you were trying to read a newspaper or a magazine, you would be able to get a lot of basic information but with HTTP links you can actually go to related topics or source materials directly. It is an understanding of this protocol that gives the creator of a web site a great advantage, that is, if you use it to your benefit.

In creating a web site, you become the author. The first thing you must do is create a title for your site. This will go at the top of your "Home Page" or "Welcome Page." It will be the primary identifier of your site. It will be the first thing that a viewer will see and it will come up in any search engines that your site is registered with. So if it's just about you, simply put your name at the top. If it's about you and what you do put that information in the title. Each piece of information that is important to your site should somehow be included. The title of my site is MEL MARTIN'S JAZZ and SAXOPHONE WEB SITE. I purposely used capital letters and I wished to include the words Jazz and Saxophone because, besides being about me and my projects, it is also about jazz and saxophone and many links to other sites which share the same topics. This way, I became part of a web of sites that shared a common interest, thus reaching a targeted audience. Personally, I think a web site should be as personal as you can possibly make it. It should reflect what you are about as well as who you are. This is what gives it content and interest to others. At this point, it may also be wise to decide how you wish to market and register your site. Most service providers including AOL and Compuserve will allow you, at no extra charge, a certain amount of space on their server for a personal web site. This can be anywhere from five to ten megabytes in size. If you wish to establish your own domain name, you must register it, if no one else has, with the Internic Directory and Database Services. (http://www.internic.net/ ) Formerly, the government paid for this service but Internic now collects a fee. This allows you to use your name in your URL such as http://www.yourname.com. This is what most business sites do and it can be carried from server to server if you must change providers. If, however, you wish to establish yourself as a business site, there is usually a fee for this so you can see that things can get costly. I have found that a personal web site with a simple but direct URL works very well and can convey a certain amount of business information. After all, unless people are paying to advertise on your site or you run a specific business, there is little reason to make it into anything more than a personal site. Also, it depends on how many "hits" you will be getting and the size of your site. I would have to get over five thousand hits a month to qualify as a business site and at five megs I have put everything I could possibly want in the site itself.

The next step is to visualize what you would like your site to look like. We are bombarded everyday with graphical designs from billboards to television to film and newspapers and magazines. If you simply watch anything on television you will notice that they almost never put anything on that doesn't have some sort of appealing background. Some of the most content heavy sites use a simple white background and a few elegant graphic designs to highlight what is essentially text based. There may also be a few small photos included. One benefit of this type of site, aside from it's simplicity of design, is that it takes less time to load into a net browser. Currently, the internet is experiencing a real logjam of traffic and during peak usage hours things can get very slow. No one enjoys sitting and waiting for pages to download so a simple site has benefits. Even with the advent of ISDN and coaxial lines, the net itself is slow because of the vast amount of people coming online each day. But attractive backgrounds create an almost subconscious positive effect on the viewer if used well. In a later article, I will discuss the use of graphics and how to maximize their effectiveness and minimize speed consideration. I have found that there are many elegant and visually appealing backgrounds and they do enhance web pages. Much of this is free on the web and can be found by running searches. On the Bookmarks page of my web site, there is an entire section of web sites that supply these.

The homepage should include a welcoming message and a main menu. Also, an e-mail address is appropriate so people can send you e-mail as most browsers support this feature. It is the links in the main menu that will allow viewers to navigate through your site. This menu should be recreated on every page, top and bottom. If your site is just one or two pages then a menu may not be necessary, although you can create links to places on the same page. A page can be larger than your basic screen size. It is scrollable and this can be used to advantage by allowing your web site to unfold as the viewer scrolls down the page. A photo and/or graphic may be included as well. Most of the new applications allow "drag and drop" placement of graphics or they can be done through the standard "open" dialogues. Each page created should have it's own title followed by the letter.html which identifies each page as a web page. All pages and graphics should be organized in a root folder because ultimately, this is what will be put on your server. If you do not adhere to this, your links will be broken and, of course, things will make no sense. As you think about what you're site should look like, jot down a list of the subjects you wish to include. It may be a good idea to include and education page outlining your work and interest in the educational field. A booking page can be added with thorough information. Of course, biographical information including a discography if appropriate and a list of performances should be included. Also of benefit for viewers is a What's New page so when someone returns to your site they can see what has changed. One of the fun things to do is add a collection of links to other sites of interest. I included little commentaries on many of my links. This also enables you to get reciprocal links from others which is what creates the web. If you are a writer, a collection of your writings adds content. You can add things such as important photos and videos and sound files. The latter items do take up a lot of space and are slow to download but they are worthwhile if you are so inclined to add them and have the ability to work with these files on your computer. All links should be thoroughly tested before putting them on your server. It also helps do some proofreading or have someone else look at it. The use of a good graphics program such as Corel Draw, Photoshop or a shareware utility called Graphic Converter is mandatory. Also, a good scanner can be a very useful item. The price of these has dropped to the $3-500 range. Kinko's offers the use of Power Macs and scanners for around $24 per hour. Text and graphics can be scanned into the computer for further editing and processing. A decent notation program is necessary if you plan to put up any musical pages. This can be anything from the inexpensive Music Time to the master program Finale. Many sequencers also offer notation now. Midi files can also be implemented into your web site. As you can see, there is much that can be done to make a web site fun and interesting. You are only limited by your imagination and, maybe, your pocketbook. Many things are available on the web itself at little or no charge. In my next article, I will talk more in depth about graphics and what needs to be done once your web site is actually up and running.


Jump On The Net

Part III

Time On My Hands

If you have been "surfing the net" per my previous advice, you may have found that there is a wide diversity in the use of graphics, videos and special effects in general. This column will detail some of the benefits and drawbacks of attempting to use graphics, video, audio and some of the other bells and whistles commonly used in web sites. Of course, by the time you read this, the technology will have advanced about as far as the value of your newly purchased multimedia computer system has depreciated which is to say .................... a lot. Each day brings new upgrades to the already widely used graphics and publishing programs that are used to create web pages. However, certain basic principles will always be in place and like universal laws, must be obeyed. In relating graphics to web pages, the most important factor to keep in mind is that size = space = download time. If you have already had experience with graphics and computers you may well understand the demands that they make. High resolution, full page graphics can take several megabytes of space on your hard drive. These are not what we want in a web page as they could take hours to download.

A word concerning modems and speed. People are using a wide variety of connecting schemes to get on the web and an even more dazzling array of choices are around the corner. At one time modems connecting at 1200 bps and 2400 bps were the standard. Using faster chips and higher compression schemes, they have increased in speed considerably. There are still 14.4 modems in use and available but the norm in connections has become the 28.8 modems. These have been recently increased to 33.6 and, in some models, can be upgraded to that speed via downloads from the net or insertion of new chips. At this time, few providers are offering that speed but the practical result is that a 28.8 modem now runs up to speed with more efficiency. True 28.8 connections are sometimes hard to come by. My Supra modem allows me to read actual connection speeds and, although fairly consistent on my service, there are situations where actual connect speeds can be at 26, 24 19.4 and so forth. This depends on the condition of the phone lines, the type of modems that you are connecting with and the speed of the net itself. The internet has become so overwhelmed with new people that there are times of day when it is almost impossible to deal with. These would be the peak business hours when all the office workers are "surfing" on company time. Actually, they may not be just goofing off because there is a lot of business and research done on the net. Recently, the scientific and educational communities have proposed a "new internet" which would be a network just for those communities. The present internet was their realm for a long time and there is a lot of upset about it becoming so commercialized and invaded by all of us "surfers". Also, high speed connections such as T-1, ISDN and coaxial cable are providing extremely fast connections to those that can afford them. They do need to be connected to a server that can handle their speed or there will only be a fast connection to a slow connection. On the way, are faster routing switches, new compression schemes, switching systems and larger pipelines to handle the current and projected increase in internet traffic. For now, let's assume that the "average" user will be working with a 28.8 connection.

One of the neatest pieces of hardware that I have recently purchased is a flatbed scanner. This is where some true "magic" can happen. A scanner allows us to "scan" images directly into the computer where, in the digital realm, we can manipulate them to suit our purposes. Professional publishing scanners can run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars but recently, perfectly adequate scanners have dropped in price to the $300 to $500 range. They also come bundled with the necessary scanning software. Fortunately, our scanning needs for the internet are relatively minimal as the only resolution requirement is 72 X 72 dpi (dots per inch). When you are ready to scan something, the software allows you to automatically match the original colors of the image and set the dpi scan size and other parameters as well. Once in the computer, an image can be opened in a graphics program and adjusted to meet the requirements of the internet.........namely, keep images to a size of no more than 50K. Now this may seem quite a feat when the original file may come in measured in megs. But it is necessary for a number of reasons the main one being download time. On any given page you may have several graphics. Each one must be retrieved from the server where they reside and stored by the browser. This translates into time, our most valuable commodity. Also, while in the graphics program, images can be sharpened, touched up and adjusted for optimum viewing. A scanner can also be used to scan text into the computer which can then be edited. There are programs that can actually separate text from images on a page and vice versa.

There are two primary compression schemes used in web graphics. They are GIF and JPEG formats. The one most used is the GIF format as it is a "lossless" format that works well with smaller graphic files. JPEG can be used to compress more extensive files that require some "loss" in the original graphic to compact them enough for transmission. Another major consideration is the amount of color resolution used. The best option is to go for 8 bit or "256" colors. This provides quicker download time, adequate resolution and will translate without "dithering" to most other computer system as not everyone will be using a computer that can support 16 bit (thousands) and 24 bit (millions) of colors. Frankly, most images look perfectly fine at the 8 bit resolution. The other major consideration is size. No one wants to look at a picture that is too small but the larger the graphic, the more the storage size increases. GIFS can also be run through a process called "transparency" which helps to reduce their size even further. The goal is to reduce major photos to a maximum size of 50K and smaller graphics to 17K. Again, anything that is not directly inputted as text is a graphic. Text that is stylized and features a special design is executed and saved as a graphic and, therefore, subject to our basic rules. Other graphic formats can easily be converted in a modern graphics program such as Photoshop, Photo Deluxe, Corel Draw, Graphic Converter and others. We now have something called "animated GIFS" which allow the graphic to move. It is done much as an animated drawing where several graphics are downloaded in sequence and run together. These are becoming quite common and there are shareware programs that can create them.

Other things common to the newest browsers are called Java Applets which are mini programs which download to a web site and provide more action to the screen. These are activated through "plug ins" which are extensions loaded into your browser. These include Shockwave, Real Audio, Live Audio, Ichat, Quik Time, Talker, Crescendo and others. The amount of plug ins is growing each day and enables browsers to "stream " audio and video, have sites actually "talk", provide various types of animation, monitor "live" broadcasts, do the dishes ...............oops, wishful thinking. Frankly, these are the "bells and whistles" of the net and each plug in is a separate extension or mini program that bloats the size of a browser. It is not uncommon to run Netscape with a memory allocation of 12 megs which won't work too well on a computer that only has 8 megs of memory. Also, the nominal effects of these plug ins are, in many cases, only marginally useful to the viewer and tend to crash the program, particularly the shockwave plug ins. Crescendo is kind of neat in that it allows midi files to be downloaded automatically when the browser encounters them. This could or could not be what you are interested at any given moment. The Real Audio compression system allows large audio files to be downloaded in relatively small sizes. However, you always give something to get something and what gets lost here is the quality. Real audio provides the quality of a very cheesy sounding transistor radio and is not really best used for music. Many radio broadcasts are using this format to stream live programming. The video and audio plug ins allow large files to begin playing prior to complete downloading which is useful, a sort of pseudo-streaming. My advice is to keep your site as simple to run as possible. One new development in wide use on the net is the use of "frames". These are ways of segmenting your screen space so that you can keep a main menu in one frame while providing other things in the other frames. Personally, I find them to be a real nightmare as they don't allow you to register bookmarks from within the frames and they simply use up all of the screen real estate. Many sites have a provision to turn them off. I use that option. Just because these things are available doesn't mean you have to use them all to have an interesting and fun site.

The use of video and audio is something that a musician would be interested in. Video can be captured in digital formats through the use of a "digitizing" board or converter. Many computers don't have these built in and must be added and they can be expensive. However, many computers are branded as AV models and include a type of converter. The more high end the computer, the more high end the digitizing system. I can digitize videos on my Mac 660AV computer, store them and "select" stills from them. It is difficult to ask a person to spend more than a few minutes downloading a video file as they are typically quite large. They should not exceed 2 megs and be smaller if at all possible. This only allows for a minute or so of viewing time so there is a rather short point of diminishing returns. Audio should be digitized at an 8KHz sampling rate for minimum quality of music transmission and these should also be kept under 2 megs. What this all demonstrates is that the web is at a very crude place in it's development compared to television and radio networks that broadcast at a far wider bandwidth. As the technology increases, all of these media will merge. The coming of cable modems may open up a pandora's box networking options that will be utterly dazzling. Web TV is already available at retail outlets and allows the viewer to surf the net while watching television. I'm not sure why someone would want to do this but that's show biz.

All of this must be organized and stored in folders or directories on your hard drive to be uploaded to the server run by your service provider. This is where things get a little technical as if they haven't already. I have provided a diagram relating to the basic distribution system used in web sites.


When graphics are embedded in a web page, a location for the graphic is registered in the page. You can keep photos in one folder, various graphics in another, audio in another and video in yet another. Also, the pages themselves can be stored in a folder. Once this is set, however, if anything is moved from it's folder, the page won't display it so they must be consistently stored. There are site management programs that can make this process simpler and may be worth the additional investment. For those less organized, every thing, including the pages, can be stored in one basic folder which I have found to be a relatively simple method and considerably less confusing. Whichever method you use, be sure that you understand the structure as you will have to adhere to it for the life of your site.

Another point I have found important is to name everything as a unix label. Netscape will recognize any type of labeling. On a Mac you can use separated words such as Mel's GIF. But I have found that other browsers have a problem with this and won't read this type of title properly. So be sure to label in lowercase continuous lettering such as mels.gif. This ensures that other browsers and computer systems will have no problem retrieving your files. It is a good idea, in general, to try your pages on several different browsers. Other than Netscape (currently 3.0) there is Microsoft's Internet Navigator, AOL and NCSA Mosaic. I personally like Mosaic because it has a speech recognition feature so I don't have sit and reads so much. Just open your pages in the open file dialogue and see how they look. Then, once uploaded try them on the net itself to make sure they are coming across as planned

All of this should be considered an ongoing process because once launched, you will want to keep updating and changing your site to lure viewers to return. The use of graphics, video and audio can help you to personalize your site in very important ways. Why should someone want to spend time downloading a video or an audio clip when they can get the whole CD or come and witness a performance? Well, not everyone knows who you are or what you do or resides where they can see you. It can be done with relative ease so why not do it. Of course, real content comes in the information you provide and most of that is in text. But graphics can add style and panache to your site. On of the strong points of the web is that you can publish in color although it is perfectly fine to use black and white graphics as well. There are many resources for various graphics available and these can be found through search engines or on the bookmarks page of my site. It is very nice, but not mandatory to use varying backgrounds for your web pages. Pages can also be adjusted to utilize basic color backgrounds which is the simplest and most consistent approach. This is where your eye will tell you what's going on. If your background is too busy, text maybe unreadable. The color of the text can be contrasted with the background to make it more legible. Use common sense and your experience from viewing other sites to guide you. In my next column, I will focus on content. If you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to send me e-mail or snail mail.


JUMP ON THE NET

Pt. IV

King Content

In my last column I detailed how to incorporate graphics into your web site. Graphics are an important, though not the most important element, that go into making a web site interesting. The goal should be to create a center where information can be freely distributed, that has a welcoming and attractive look and feel and a thoroughly comfortable interface utilizing genuinely useful information. The internet is, in fact, the great information superhighway. By it's unique original nature, most of this information is available for free or nominal charges aside from access costs. At this time, it has become a superhighway lined with an infinite number of billboards. So everyone is vying for attention. What is interesting and unique about this situation is that anyone with access can erect a billboard. That is the good news as well as the bad news. It is necessary to take an attitude that quality and taste will win out. This is true even though you will be online with the same folks who believe that no one ever lost money by underestimating the taste of the general public. Never the less, I feel that it is important to consider packing as much content into your site as possible. Content in the internet world consists of concise and pointedly well written text, strategically placed graphics and photos, interesting and current links to sites of pertinent interest, news features, product announcements, events, archival information, educational information as well as the bells and whistles of animated gifs and audio and video clips. All of this needs to be freely given because this is the way more and more people will be attracted to your site and wish to return often. Take the famous Netscape browser. It is offered for "evaluation" on it's home page. When using it, the default setting is the Netscape Home Page. This page has the most amount of hits of all web sites because the browser is used by 80% of all users. On their home page is much well organized information about the company, it's regular developments, partnerships and many connections to other sites.It's truly a model of a successful commercial web site, yet much is offered for free. That is the spirit of the net. By adhering to this, many individuals are drawn into doing business with them. This concept can work for you whether your site is a commercial or personal site.

This is an important determination to make. If you're business is at a level of organization where you will be selling directly through the internet, then clearly, a commercial site with your own domain name would be the way to go. If, on the other hand, you are a musician who simply wishes to share your own personal information with others and perhaps do some business indirectly, then a web site makes a great calling card/bio and should start out as a personal site. This is a far more cost effective way to go and can be changed later on if necessary. The main point is to devise titles for your pages that will key into the many search engines on the internet. Alta Vista, Web Crawler, Yahoo, Search.com and many others are engines that you will eventually want to register with when your site is up and running. They are the life blood of the internet and will aid in people finding your site. Besides you, others will, hopefully, be interested in many of the same things that are of interest to you. So my suggestion is to begin your web site with an opening paragraph of 100-200 words which concisely describes what you do and who you are. After your title, many of these search engines will take the opening words on your home page and include them in searches. A few words about writing. Most of us are given the tools early on in school to be able to communicate through the art of writing, but few are writers. One of the first things I look for in any web site, e-mail transmission, newsgroup, magazine or book is how well the writer commands the English language, makes coherent points and packs as much information as possible into terse, descriptive sentences. A professional writer is able to add great detail to the basic sentence. If writing is not your cup of tea, then I suggest trying to find someone good at it and either pay or barter with them to come up with some good narrative for your site. Of course, this presumes that you have everything in mind that you wish to include IN ADVANCE. If you are a reasonably good intuitive writer then go on and try your hand at it and then have someone else knowledgeable with good writing techniques go over it with you. Their is a beautiful book on writing available called Write Source 2000 published by D.C. Heath and Company (800)235-3565. It has many fine pointers and examples of not only the art of writing but personal, subject and creative writing. Also included are chapters on thinking, searching, reading, speaking and listening in the service of learning, composing essays, improving reading skills, revising and proofreading, thinking logically and solving problems. These are the kind of skills that writers use regularly. The best sites are the most well written ones. This does not necessarily mean that the writing has to be slick and glib. Actually, the best writers for me are the ones that are able to frame their own viewpoints to maximum effect in an almost conversational manner.

The other pages which will be interactively linked to each other and the home page will also have to be titled and will also come up through some of the search engines. My site includes an education page, a biography (including quotes) and discography page, booking information, an events page, a bookmark page, a sheet music page, and, most importantly, a what's new page that includes all recent additions and features. This allows the return viewer to quickly determine if there is something that they wish check out that they haven't seen before. All of this can be included in a main menu which can be cut and pasted to all pages. Always include a link back to the home page and thoroughly test the anchors and links offline before the site is launched. Also, be sure to include many links for e-mail so that you can be easily reached.

If your main area of interest is, for instance the saxophone, the are many links that feature everything under the sun about that instrument. One good starting place, besides my bookmarks page, is Jason Dumars' International Saxophone Page at http://www.saxophone.org/. From there you will be able to link to many other fine sites of individuals and groups. The same is true of almost any instrument and, for that matter, subject. That is one of the beauties of the net. It is one of the largest resources in the world and is available from a desktop through a modem. In this light, it would be wise to consider your place in all of this.What is it that you can contribute that would be unique and of interest? This may start to sound a bit introspective and "navel contemplative" but is as necessary as considering the way you speak, dress, play, compose and generally present yourself to the world. The actual point I'm getting at is, you, as an individual, may have varying points of interest, but if you can, share your own unique experiences and background, passions, knowledge and artistic sensibilities. Otherwise your site will be an exercise in narcissism that folks may find to be a rather large turnoff. This is the basic advice that I have given to a number of musicians contemplating putting together their own web sites. This is also the best reason to do it yourself because, as you master the medium, you will be able to tightly control the content and evolution of your site. The content will need to evolve because if it is static the energy and attractiveness of it will fizzle.

Once you have gone through all of this and are ready to launch your site, you will have to upload your files to a server using an FTP program such as Fetch or Anarchie for the Mac and Cute FTP or Net Manage for Windows. It is this piece of software that will be your link to your site so learn to use it well. All of my files are uploaded in raw binary format so that they can be accessed by any other type of computer operating system and browser which will download them. This is the basic functionality of web mechanics. Once this is in place, it is time to consider promoting your site. "Build it and they will come" was a saying made famous in the movie Field of Dreams but it ain't necessarily so on the net. A good place to start is the newsgroups. Put together a brief description of your site and put it in a scrapbook type of file then you can cut and paste it into various e-mail and newsgroup postings. Be sure and include your exact site address as it only has to include a very small mistake to not be found. There are several groups for saxophone, woodwinds, flute, clarinet, jazz and other instruments and styles of music that can be found in the rec. and alt. Hierarchies. Just use your newsreader to obtain the full list of newsgroups of which there are thousands. Then spend a little time getting to know the groups, the types of posting typically done and, in particular, learn basic "netiquette". It is really quite a shock to find out how much freedom of speech on the internet works as self discipline. If you've never been involved in a "flame" war, you simply haven't tried hard enough. In general, it's acceptable to let others know about your site if pertinent to that newsgroup. But blatant advertising is frowned upon. It's akin to walking into a room full of strangers and begin to babble loudly about all of things you would like to sell them including many of your rather warped viewpoints. It would probably be a good idea to get involved in some of these forums so that people can get to know you. Include in your signature file, your e-mail and web site address and any info you also wish to include. Some put a witty saying or some other words of wisdom but the fact is that anyone that reads your postings will also see that you have a web site.

The other thing is to send out via e-mail a press release which can be your basic fact sheet. This should be directed at as many search engines and rating sites as possible. Getting ratings is a great way for people to find out about your site as they will be linked. You can also offer a reciprocal link by pasting the logo of the rating site on your home page. There are sites that will send your notice out to other sites. Some of these charge for the service, others are free. You will need to work at this for awhile and it can take six to eight weeks to get registered. Go back after a while and check to see if you are properly listed. Another area is to contact other musicians and friends on the net and request a reciprocal link where you link their site and they yours. This can all be done via e-mail. Finally, simply print up a card with your web site and addresses and hand them directly to people you meet that would be interested. Also, be sure to include this information in all of your stationary and correspondence such as promotional packages. Most of these contacts are available at my web site MEL MARTIN'S JAZZ and SAXOPHONE WEB SITE at http://www.melmartin.com


I received this kind correction from Art Hampton and present it here

Hi Mel,

I love your playing, I used to live about three blocks form Keystone Korner before Todd lost the place, so I got to see you quite a few times.Your web site is one of my favorite places to visit on the web. I especially appreciate your extenisve list of music links. I've spent hours exploring, thanks to your pointers. I also really enjoyed reading your pieces by Getz and Konitz. Two national treasures, imho. Of course I came to criticize. IBM didn't sell dos to Gates and Allen, it was the other way around. IBM was pretty brilliant about the way they put the pc together, using mostly available parts and just hooking it all together. They went to Gary Kildall, the genius who wrote cpm. Gary knew they were coming, but was out of town on the day IBM came to buy cpm. So the IBM guys took a trip to Seattle, and asked Gates and Allen if Microsoft could come up with an operating system. They didn't have one, they'd written a basic for the Altair, which was what put them on the map, but Gates knew the chance of a lifetime when it walked in the door. He bought a dos from Seattle Computing for around $50,000, jazzed it up a bit and made his gazillians by selling it to IBM and then upgrading it. You know the rest of the story. It's not a big deal, but the inaccuracy bothered me as it reflected poorly on the rest of your excellent site.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. For your music, your website, and your wonderful heart. Art Hampton<

>

< Hi Art,

Thanks for the very kind letter and correction. I never said I know as much about the history of computing as I do about music. If it's ok with you I'll put your correction on the same page as my article with full credit of course. I've been travelling and will get to it soon. Hope to meet you someday.
Best Regards,
Mel Martin>

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