Date: Mon, 8 Jan 1996 20:08:14 -0500
From: Bob Rankin 
To: Multiple recipients of list TOURBUS 
Subject: TOURBUS - Jan 09 1996 - Alta Vista, Baby!

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Move over, Lycos!  There's a new kid on the block and he's bigger, better
and faster than you.

Oh, by the way... this is Bob.  Patrick and I switched days *again* due to
the LISTSERV problem last week.  Just for the record, we tried to send out
a Tuesday post last week, but LISTSERV was frozen solid and we had to use
the 6000-amp TOURBUS battery to jump start it.  Everything appears to be
working now, but there's a massive snowstorm assaulting the eastern US, so
I hope this Bus makes it through...

Patrick will be with you every Thursday now, but he did want me to make one
very important announcement:

--> Due to the overwhelming demand (six people - all Yankees no doubt),
--> Patrick has created a SOUTHERN WORD OF THE DAY archive on the Web!
--> Check it out at

Webis Caninus

And just one more little thing - remember that crack Patrick made about
my face in the last issue?  Little does he know, I am actually a Shetland
Sheepdog.  You can see my face and decide for yourself whether or not it
poses a risk to society.  (Go to and click
on the sketch to see the "real" me.)

Alta Vista, Finally

Alta Vista is a tres cool Internet search tool developed by Digital.  This
newcomer to the field boasts a database of over 16,000,000 web pages and
some 13,000 Usenet newsgroups.  Just feed it a search word or two and
Alta Vista hits you with the results before you can lift your finger
from the mouse button.

According to Digital, "ALTA VISTA is the result of a research project
started in the summer of 1995 at Digital's Research Laboratories in Palo
Alto, California.  By combining a fast Web crawler with scalable indexing
software, the team was able to build a large index of over 16,000,000 pages.

Since announcing the site about three weeks ago, they are handling over two
million requests per day using some high-powered hardware and software
developed by researchers at Digital.

One-Stop Shopping

The really nice thing about Alta Vista is that it can query both the Web
and Usenet newsgroups.  And my testing shows that it finds 5 TO 10 TIMES
the number of hits that Lycos, InfoSeek or WebCrawler can muster.

And the Lycos home page STILL says they are "10X larger" than any other
web searcher almost a month after Alta Vista's arrival - Oops.  I got a
kick out of the fact that Webcrawler and InfoSeek didn't even know about
Alta Vista when I ran queries there!

Some other notable features of Alta Vista are:

  * Boolean searching with AND, OR, NOT and NEAR operators
  * Case-sensitive and quoted-string searching
  * Ability to search on portions of a URL

And though this is not advertised, it appears that Alta Vista will do a
Usenet search if your Web search comes up empty.  That's really slick.

Attach Drool Bibs Securely, Please

In case you're interested in the technical details, the Alta Vista system
consists of 5 networked computers.  (Rumors that a squirrel-powered
generator supplies power to the site could not be substantiated.)

 * The AlphaStation 250 4/266, (with 4 GB disk and 196 MB memory) handles
   all the HTTP traffic to the site, running a multi-threaded Web server.

 * The AlphaServer 8400 5/300, (with 210 GB RAID disk, 4 GB memory, 8
   processors), the largest machine built by Digital, builds the index
   using pages sent by Scooter.  It currently serves a Web index of 30 GB,
   but most requests take under a second.

 * Scooter is a DEC 3000 Model 900 (30 GB of RAID disk, 1GB memory).  The
   "super-spider" runs from this machine, fetching pages from the Web and
   sending them to the Web Indexer.

 * Two additional computers, sporting 37 GB of disk and 350 MB of memory
   handle the Usenet spool and indexing for the system.

If you don't know a gigabyte from a garden burger, let me translate the
preceding information for you from the original Geek:

"YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOoooooowwww!  This is one hot little number."
It makes the 486 on your desk look like the "+" key on one of those cheap
solar-powered calculators.  Roughly speaking, this getup has about 400
times the capacity of the lump of plastic and silicon that graces my desk.
But hey, I've got got a nice blue "INTERNAUT" bumper sticker on mine!

Squealing Off The Lot

Let's take this baby for a test drive and show off what it can do.  I ran
a simple query on "TOURBUS" at four different search sites and found the
number of hits varied widely:

  --> Alta Vista=800+, Lycos=186, Infoseek=70, WebCrawler=24

Not bad, but can this thing find any hits on "snarch" (the funniest word
in the English language)?  Sure enough, there are two:

  - Evelyn Snarch, BA'33, McGill University
  - Law Firm "Snarch & Allen", Vancouver BC

The other guys were positively Snarch-less.  OK, here's one more that
illustrates several of the fancy features in one shot...  Let's say
we want to find all the web pages that contain "Boardwatch Magazine"
but are NOT resident on the Boardwatch web site.  Kind of a "who's
talking" scan.

  Try: "Boardwatch Magazine" AND NOT

Tick, tick, tick... three seconds later we have another 800 hits.
And just in case you're wondering how many web pages contain the word
"the" - Alta Vista authoritatively answers: "about 10,000,000".

Sky So Blue

This kind of technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we
deal with information.  We're on the brink of being able to make the
sum total of written human knowledge available and searchable by ordinary
schmucks.  (Gee, I hope that's not a cuss word anywhere.)

The mere fact that you are reading this means you have a tremendous
advantage over your friends and colleagues who are not "wired".  Access
to scientific data, government records, and historical documents;
recipes, art, news, and the collective wit and wisdom of the online
community empowers you in a way you can probably not begin to imagine.

Make it a personal goal to start realizing that potential this year!

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