Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@VM.EPAS.UTORONTO.CA)
Thu, 12 Jan 89 20:00:27 EST
Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 498. Thursday, 12 Jan 1989.
Date: 7 January 1989
From: Itamar Even-Zohar <B10@TAUNIVM>
[The following is a somewhat truncated and reformatted document
about an interesting electronic service intended for IBM VM/CMS
users on EARN, but users on Bitnet and NetNorth should be able to
access it. I have deleted from the end of the document a long
list of commands in the query language and the transcription of a
sample session. Those of you interested in having this
information will be able to get it from the online help system.
Thanks to Itamar Even-Zohar for bringing it to my attention!
ASTRA: A GENERAL DESCRIPTION
CNUCE Institute of CNR
Via S.Maria n.36 I-56100 PISA
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
EARN (European Academic & Research Network) . . . . . . . 4
THE ASTRA SERVICE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
THE ASTRA DATA BASE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
ACCESS TO ASTRA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
THE ASTRA USER GROUP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
SUBMISSION OF DATA TO ASTRA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
APPENDIX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
HOW TO ACCESS EARN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
(THE MAIN FUNCTIONS OF THE QUERY LANGUAGE . . . . . . . 12)
(AN ASTRA SESSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15)
Table of Contents 2
ASTRA (Applications Software and Technical Reports for Academia)
is a joint project between IBM and CNR (the Italian National
Council of Research). The aim is to design and implement a free
European service for distribution of information, software in
public domain and documentation about academic projects in
education and research through EARN (European Academic and
The project started in January 1988 and has 2-year duration. The
first year has been dedicated to the design and implementation of
an experimental service based on prototype software, and to the
collection of enough data to start the service at the beginning
of the second year. During the second year, the service will be
checked and it will be improved according to the suggestions and
the experience gained during its use.
The final version of the service is planned to be available to
all EARN users in January 1990. At the end of the project, the
results (including database, software and documentation) will be
passed on to EARN or CNR, which will then be free to activate a
real life service or to drop it depending on the user demand.
The next section of this publication is dedicated to a brief
description of EARN and of the experimental ASTRA service as
implemented in September 1988 and accessible through EARN
starting from January 1989.
EARN (EUROPEAN ACADEMIC & RESEARCH NETWORK)
EARN is the European Academic and Research Network established in
1984 as a joint academic-IBM initiative and presently managed by
the EARN user association. It is a network based on the use of
IBM NJE protocols and is used for academic and research pursuits
and carries no commercial traffic. It has grown to interconnect
over 600 machines in Europe and, via gateways, more than 2000
machines in the world. It is connected to other networks as
BITNET, ASIANET, etc. through leased lines mainly at 9.6 kbps. In
total more than 500000 users communicate with each other through
EARN. In the Appendix access to EARN is explained. The Network
Job Entry (NJE) protocol was developed for remote job entries
and, for the current standards, it is a fairly simple one. It has
an unusual and powerful facility that lets a document sent from a
computer to be staged through a number of intermediate machines
until it reaches its final destination. This allows a fairly
complex network to be constructed for file transfer, job entry,
and mail, even if the network was not suited to interactive
EARN (European Academic 4 Research Network) 4
THE ASTRA SERVICE _________________
As known, it is possible to exchange messages and/or files with
other users through EARN. Based on this possibility, ASTRA
searches documents in a remote database and obtains results of
queries as number of occurences, list of documents, the documents
themselves, software and documentation of a particular project.
The service allows EARN users to retrieve documents located
either in the ASTRA database at CNUCE or in other databases
located somewhere else but accessible from ASTRA with the same
user interface. The search is performed on the machine where the
database is located and the search time is not charged to the
ASTRA user. In the Appendix a terminal ASTRA session is described
THE ASTRA SERVICE 5
THE ASTRA DATA BASE ___________________
STAIRS/CMS has been chosen, in the creation of the ASTRA
database, mainly for its powerful information retrieval
capabilities. The basic unit of information in the ASTRA database
is the so-called 'bibliographic document', or 'abstract'. For
every research/educational project an abstract has to be prepared
according to the format and rules described in the booklet 'How
to submit data to ASTRA'. The abstract contains information about
the project: title, name and institution of the participants,
project description, HW and SW used, starting date and duration
of the project. It also contains information about all the
products of the project. And, for each product, are included
product description, HW and SW requirements, availability status,
name and address of the authors.
ASTRA provides a central European Data Base of information, about
projects in education and research, and about their products
(software, reports, prototypes, etc) and distributes such
products if they are in machine readable form. Initial data
include information and products about IBM Europe joint projects
with academic institutions. By using the same language, the ASTRA
users can access other data bases, located in either Pisa or
other locations, provided that a suitable interface, for
converting the ASTRA retrieval language to the access language of
the other database, exists. At the present time in Pisa, in
addition to the IBM Europe projects data base (STAR), several
data bases are available, like the CNR patents data base (BREV),
the AEP data base produced by the University of Texas. And
through ASTRA, it is possible to access the CNR projects database
resident in Milan at the CNR institute SIAM. It is planned to
cooperate with other institutions in Europe and USA in order to
include or access other databases.
THE ASTRA DATA BASE 6
ACCESS TO ASTRA _______________
The ASTRA interface is written in REXX language. This makes the
ASTRA service accessible by the EARN users with a virtual machine
in CMS only. In the future it is planned to implement other
interfaces in order to render the service available to all the
To access ASTRA the EARN user has to apply for subscription. This
is done by sending the following message:
'TELL ASTRADB AT ICNUCEVM SUBSCRIBE firstname name'
The user receives the software ASTRA EXEC and a guide manual
file, through EARN. The ASTRA EXEC has to be received by the user
and must be resident in the virtual machine in order to be able
to access ASTRA any time.
Once the software is received, the user has simply to type the
command ASTRA to access the service. After ASTRA is typed the
logo of the ASTRA service appears on the screen. By pressing
ENTER, the ASTRA user interface panel appears and the ASTRA
session may start. The panel is subdivided in 2 horizontal
windows. The upper window lets the user to specify the query, and
the lower one contains all ASTRA messages and results of the
query. First of all the ASTRA user has to select the database
he/she wishes to search, then he/she can specify up to 9 keywords
connected with the operators AND or OR (by pushing the PF6 key
the operators can be switched from AND to OR or vice versa).
Through PF4, the user can enter into a different environment, in
which all the power of the on-line dialog system AQUARIUS of
STAIRS is available for more sophisticated searches. The main
characteristics of AQUARIUS are described in the Appendix. In
this screen the user can interrogate more than one database at
the same time.
After a query is sent, the user receives messages from the
service and results of the query at the bottom part of the
screen, in a time span depending on the traffic of EARN.
According to the results the user may formulate other queries and
obtain other results. The response time for receiving the files
is strictly dependent on the traffic of EARN and may range from a
few seconds to days. Since EARN is based on file exchange the
ASTRA user session cannot be in real time, although the service
is based on interactive software. Response will be given in the
message window. Message window will be refreshed every time the
RETURN or ENTER key is pressed.
ACCESS TO ASTRA 8
THE ASTRA USER GROUP ____________________
The ASTRA service includes the distribution of a newsletter, a
periodic collection of information about the service, to all the
members of the ASTRA user group. Any EARN user can subscribe the
Astra User Group by the command:
'TELL LISTSERV AT ICNUCEVM SUB ASTRA-UG firstname name'
The user can quit the subscription to the ASTRA-UG by the
'TELL LISTSERV AT ICNUCEVM SIGNOFF ASTRA-UG'
ASTRA users may contribute to the newsletter with articles and
THE ASTRA USER GROUP 9
SUBMISSION OF DATA TO ASTRA ___________________________
Academic and Research Institutions may submit data about their
own projects in education and research, provided that results are
in public domain and of interest to the academic world.
To submit data, the provider should prepare the bibliographic
document or abstract in English, according to the format and
rules described in the booklet 'How to submit data to ASTRA',
which can be obtained by mail, or directly via EARN by typing the
'TELL NETSERV AT ICNUCEVM SENDME ASTRA FORM'
In the abstract all kinds of information about the project must
be specified. The abstract and the attached material should be
sent to ASTRA as separate files, by the command:
'SENDFILE filename filetype filemode TO ASTRA AT ICNUCEVM'
ASTRA has the right to accept or reject any data, but has no
responsibility for neither the quality nor the eventual loss of
If project data are not accessed for long time (1-2 year time),
ASTRA may decide to move those data from online to offline
It is responsibility of the provider to send additional data for
updating his/her project or to delete project data from the
The first document of a project to be sent is the bibliographic
document. If the first document is correct, the ASTRA SYSTEM will
send back the acknoledgement, the assigned PROJID, and a listing
of the loaded data. Further files (software and/or reports)
related to a same project should provide the assigned PROJID.
ASTRA receives the files, performs formal checks and, if the
check is successful, performs the required functions, and
acknowledges the provider. In case of error in the format, ASTRA
send the document back to the submitter with indication of the
errors and discards all the attached files.
SUBMISSION OF DATA TO ASTRA 10
The provider may send the bibliographic document and the attached
files also through magnetic tape or diskette, which should be, at
the present time, compatible with the systems PC/DOS or VM/CMS.
An hardcopy of all the material should be attached.
SUBMISSION OF DATA TO ASTRA 11
HOW TO ACCESS EARN __________________
This paragraph is only for not-EARN-users.
a) If your Institution is an EARN node, you have to apply to your
EARN representative to have a virtual machine and become an EARN
b) If your Institution is not an EARN node, but has its own
mainframe, you can apply to the EARN representative of your
country for becoming an EARN node. Afterwards you are in the case
c) If your Institution does not have any mainframe or does not
want to become an EARN node, then you should apply to the EARN
representative of the closest EARN node to your Institution for
obtaining a virtual machine there and a connection to EARN.
THE MAIN FUNCTIONS OF THE QUERY LANGUAGE
The information retrieval facilities of STAIRS/CMS are provided
by an online dialog system called AQUARIUS, which stands for A
QUery And Retrieval Interactive Utility System.
You can compose your investigation on the ASTRA documents Using
the STAIRS/CMS Commands.