What is an Agent?
Monday, January 2, 1995 by Dave Winer.
And welcome to the first issue of DaveNet 95!
First order of business. What went wrong with Dave's tardy agent script that tried to send the first email of 1995?
Who gets the blame for its lateness? Timeliness was its whole reason for existing!
In the footsteps of the chairman of AT&T, as far as our customers are concerned, I am!
And as far as anyone else is concerned, for that matter.
The script did its job perfectly.
It woke up at 12 midnight, did two seconds of initializing, and then generated all the email messages exactly as you saw them.
About ten minutes into the New Year the script told Eudora to upload the messages to well.com's POP mail server.
At that point, MacTCP kicked in, it woke up MacPPP, whose job is to dial the phone, and to keep the basic connection going between my machine and the net.
When I checked back mid-morning on January 1, MacPPP's dialog was in front.
It said: "PPP wait timeout! Waiting on: OK."
I left the modem turned off.
I decided better late than never. I turned the modem on, dialed into The Well, and transferred the messages manually.
For many of you (I got lots of mail on this one) it *was* the first email of 1995. For the others, well, wait till 1996!
(Approximately 30,733,304 more shopping seconds...)
My DaveNet suite of sysop verbs now has a smooth connection to Eudora, Netscape and AnArchie.
It can send email to groups-of-eight, a single back-issue to a single person, or send all back issues to a new subscriber. Automatic backups, etc.
And now the suite maintains a worldwide web site!
Every time I release a new essay, it automatically uploads it to the DaveNet web site, and rewrites the home page to contain a pointer to the new essay. The script even launches NetScape and jumps to the right page to show the new essay to the sysop.
The URL for the DaveNet back-issue web site is:
Check it out! I'm now a webmaster! [Or humble apprentice -- feedback is welcome.]
And I may be one of the more automated webmasters around. Have Mac will travel!
One of the unshipped pieces on UserLand's shelf is a graphic UI designer for script writers called Iowa.
I was so down on the Mac scripting business before the Internet came onto my desktop, I forgot that Iowa was designed to fill a hole that's still there.
Add the Internet to the mix, and it gets more interesting.
Here's a fact that I wasn't aware of. Most of the content development for the web is done on Macintoshes. So it stands to reason that there should be a healthy market for Mac-based tools for designing web content.
Here's what Iowa makes possible -- we can put a beautiful graphic interface on the Internet. Iowa can fit in underneath, alongside and on top of the worldwide web. Over the holidays I got much of that up and running. It's smooth.
Just for fun, I added a new script type to Iowa, a worldwide web url. So now I can add a button to a card that launches Netscape and jumps to the url. I wrote a script that manages a table of cool sites and drops nine random site-buttons into your card. Run the card and click away.
A big door is opening here!
It'll be easy to port Iowa Runtime to Windows, Unix, whatever.
What is an agent?
Is an agent a script? Why can't I write one in C?
Is it a background process? I think so...
I've been using the term as best as I can.
I think the things I'm writing *are* agents, if there actually is such a thing.
To Alan Kay, John Sculley and/or Marc Porat: what is an agent?
This could be interesting...
PS: Thanks to Brian Zisk for letting me use some of his space on magnet.mednet for the DaveNet web site.
PPS: "url" stands for Universal Resource Locator. It's like a file path, something Unix and PC users are intimately familiar with, but Mac users don't see too often (unless they write scripts!). Url is pronounced like the man's name Earl. Your url points to a file. Programs like Netscape eat urls for a living. Feed an url to Netscape and it displays the file in its window. Each web page has hidden urls, every underlined bit of text has an url lurking behind it. Click on the underlined text, and Netscape displays that file. It really is that simple! (It's nothing but text, graphics and urls...)
PPPS: Another little-known fact, the Mosaic phenomenon happened on Next machines! A lot of web servers are running on Next boxes. So while the computer biz was writing Next off as dead, something actually was happening. Steve may have missed a big opportunity, it seems. Maybe it's not too late?
PPPPS: It's party time, comrades! At MacWorld Expo I will be at the following parties: Wired, Mac the Knife, Mac Web. Perhaps others.
PPPPPS: As always, if you aren't interested in this kind of stuff, send me email and I'll happily delete your name from the list. And it's OK to forward it or repost it anywhere you like. The list is expanding -- I'm always happy to add new names. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.