The message came by e-mail to a computer in the public relations office on the Sam Houston State University campus--a distress signal from a quick-thinking sailor.
"I am a plebe (freshman) midshipman at the U. S. Naval Academy and as part of our training we are required to find obscure facts," read the SOS. "I was wondering if you could tell me what was inscribed on General Sam Houston's ring."
Within a half hour the return message--a literary life raft of sorts--was on its way.
"With assists from Richard Rice of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum on the Sam Houston State University campus and Paul Culp of the Gresham Library, we have determined that it was a one-word motto: 'Honor.' That word is the last word of Marquis James' authoritative biography on Sam Houston, 'The Raven.' Richard said that the ring is in the San Jacinto Battleground museum near Houston, Texas."
At Sam Houston State University these days, the World Wide Web is a real part of the lives of most students and faculty members and a tool that makes the outside world smaller and the Sam Houston State world more visible.
This past week the Sam Houston State home page recorded its half millionth "hit," or contact, of 1997.
"We expect to go over 600,000 (for the year)," said James Stevens, director of computer services. "Next year we expect one million."
Not all of the SHSU Web page contacts are from off campus. In fact, growth in campus use is one of the big reasons for the increasing activity.
This year at homecoming, students elected the queen and king by voting on the Web. Many instructors are posting course materials on the Web. More than 2,200 of SHSU's 12,713 students have their own home pages on the Web.
Stevens said that there are several reasons for the explosion in Web use. These include popularity of the Web in general, more access by dial-in lines and lab workstations, the movement of more functions such as student and faculty directories to the Web, greater use of the Web by professors and greater use of classrooms with Web access.
The Web has become SHSU's "information entrance."
Prospective students can find the same kind of information that was once available only in a catalogue or printed schedule of classes on the university Website. They can even take a virtual tour of campus with a click of their computer mouse. The "tour" includes directions on how to reach campus for a real tour, and contact information for the Admissions Visitor Center.
If you're interested in attending SHSU, you can download an application form from the Web page. One of the next steps is to have students, who can register now by telephone, to register on the Web.
"Our initial philosophy was to provide information about SHSU to external users," said Nancy Sears, the Web page coordinator. "The next level of our plan is to emphasize more our on-campus use. We are expanding the intranet side, and many of the university documents are now available here."
When it comes to communication, Sam Houston State is an active player in a movement that is shrinking the globe.
"We've created a page for international students which provides certain information in their first language," said Sears. "The time lag for dealing with international students via the postal service and/or the expense of long distance telephone calls is minimized dramatically. Students can now print the application out and send it in without having to wait to receive one from us."
A possible next step would be allowing users to apply on-line. This is not done now because state law requires a signature on the application form.
Electronic communication is also playing a big part in the university's Office of Public Relations efforts. SHSU faculty members are referred daily to reporters throughout the world who post questions on a media query service called ProfNet.
Not only the media, but anyone who is interested, has access to news, calendars, a listing of campus experts, campus facts and historical features on the university and General Sam Houston.
The Sam Houston Memorial Museum has its own presentation of extensive information on the intriguing Texas hero, who achieved mighty things militarily with his small Texian army. Even today's U. S. Navy has noticed.
"I really appreciate your help," the fact-finding midshipman replied after receiving the answer to his question. "I'm sure that my upperclass detailers will be impressed when I report back tomorrow. Thanks again."