History of IEEE Toronto Electronic Services
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Good things (may) happen when one attends or volunteers for IEEE events. In 1989 I volunteered for the conference committee of the IEEE Toronto 1990 "Industrial Conference & Exhibition" (June 19-21, 1990). I was a member of the Technical Program Committee, I read all the papers in my area of expertise, I refereed them, and I chaired three technical sessions. Besides getting first hand exposure to a lot of good papers and practical engineering work, I met, among others, three important men:
- Bob Hanna, current chair of IEEE Toronto, a great & inspiring volunteer
- An anonymous conference participant who gave me a business lead that resulted in more than six man-years of consulting (thank you, whoever you are)
- Kenneth Osmond, a practitioner who presented a paper on multitasking applications in real-time process controls.
I could write a lot on the impact that all three men would have on me, but I will concentrate on Ken Osmond. During a social break, while discussing IEEE Toronto, I mentioned that I felt that IEEE Toronto should go digital and provide at least a BBS (Bulletin Board System) for its members. I said that the BBS would be a gateway to some form of wider network communication, something like UUCP (UNIX-to-UNIX-CoPy) and eventually, in time, would become a node of the Internet. Ken asked me what was the obstacle to the implementation. I explained that I had tried a couple of Coherent-based systems, but that it required more time and resources than I had. Coherent was a UNIX-like, bare bones, operating system available for US $ 99. I had experience of using UNIX e-mail via UUCP in my job since 1979. However, these were VAX & PDP computers in a corporate setting, with competent and dedicated systems administrators. I also knew the benefits of USENET newsgroups, in those days used mainly for serious technical communications. Ken immediately volunteered to solve all problems that I described. He would help locating a new inexpensive PC, he would set it up in his company premises, providing a dedicated phone line, and be the de-facto system administrator. This was the birth of IEEE Toronto Electronic Services. By the Fall of 1990, our BBS was operational.
We were naive. We tried to address all aspects of Electronic Services: connectivity, service provision, contents, etc. Over the next seven years, we evolved with technology and with business wisdom. Our hardware was located in different premises in different points in time, three private homes and three offices. We run under Coherent, under a dedicated DOS BBS, and under BSD UNIX. Over the seven years, we had three different system administrators. Eventually, Ken Osmond became too busy on the job front and passed the baton to Marco Auday. Marco emphasized robustness and reliability. In turn he too became too busy and Ross Tucker took over the BBS.
At this point, the Internet had become stable and affordable. I had been on the Internet since late 1987 and provided my account as the channel of communication between IEEE Headquarter and IEEE Toronto. Whenever I received an IEEE related e-mail message, I would print it and fax it to the applicable IEEE volunteer in Toronto. At the same time, we used usenet news to advertise our events to the general membership, mainly via three newsgroups: tor.ieee, ut.engineering.general, and ut.engineering.seminars. Usenet was beginning to be widely used by our younger members. On February 19, 1998, I run at The Fields Institute four talks that were advertised only via usenet news:
- Professor I.B. Turksen (University of Toronto) "Fuzzy Logic and Control Fuzzy information granularity and systems modelling"
- M. Dudzic, P.Eng. (Dofasco) "Comments on the application of fuzzy logic in the steel industry"
- Dr. C.A. Naranjo (University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Science Centre) Dr. B. Sproule (University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Science Centre) Examples of applications of fuzzy logic to clinical pharmacology"
- Professor V.J. Davidson (University of Guelph) "Fuzzy techniques in food processing"
Between eighty and one hundred persons attended, depending on the talk. The talks were definitely good, presented by real experts in their field. However, they were advertised only via usenet and in the last seven days. The room was full. These talks were better attended than other talks advertised in the old fashion way of mailing a printed newsletter.
We finally applied to our IEEE volunteer work the common sense that we normally apply in business: if a service exists commercially, is economically affordable & reliable, there is no point in duplicating it. We realized that we should not offer connectivity and service provision. There was no point in acquiring and maintaining hardware that would become obsolete in three years. Moreover, being a volunteer organization we had been changing our access phone number every time we changed volunteer system administrator.
In 1998 we decided to locate our presence directly on the Internet, using a commercial service provider, concentrating our efforts only on contents. A further change happened in 2003, when we moved our web site to the IEEE Entity Web Hosting service.
At http://toronto.ieee.ca you can find the current service.
Lots could be said over these fifteen years of Electronic Services,
technical descriptions of modem problems, self-rebooting problems,
attempted hacker attacks, etc. It was a good learning experience for all
of the involved volunteers. It was a great volunteer experience. Thank
Bruno Di Stefano