Bits & Bytes of Info

 

The Bug Report

The only Bug that's good for your computer!

A Publication of the Greater South Bay PC Users Group

Volume 16 Number 14

February 1999

 

Bits & Bytes of Info

Web Walk

Software Library News

Computer Understanding

Tips For Windows 95 And 98

E-Mail Etiquette

Stopping Spam: More Important Than You Might Think

New Year Resolution

Net Phone Calls

Internet Talk

 

 

Bits & Bytes of Info

By William A. Parradee, GSBUG, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

Internet Explorer 4.0 (IE4) causes problems for many users. Some problems are due to users not completely understanding how to configure and use it. IE4 itself is also a part of the problem.

Microsoft has their own private newsgroups to help IE4 users. You often need an expert to use their newsgroups. I am not an expert user of IE4! And I often fail to access Microsoft on the Internet due to password problems. As a result, I have not been viewing Microsoft's own newsgroups.

Where to Get Help with IE4

Two newsgroups relating to IE4 can be accessed easily with most Internet Service Providers (ISP). They are microsoft.public.inetexplorer.ie4 and microsoft.public.

inetexplorer.ie4.outlookexpress. Often the answers to another user's problems solve yours. If not, write about your problem, concisely if possible. Pass it to the newsgroup the next time you connect with your ISP. Then watch that newsgroup for replies, many from genuine experts.

A Sampling of IE4 Problems

Below, I will relay some IE4 problems with suggested solutions from some of those experts. I have not tried most of these things so I cannot vouch for their effectiveness. Perhaps some replies are not from experts.

Font Widths and Sizes in OE

For e-mail and newsgroup messages, OE has one fixed-width font and one proportional font. These fonts and their default size can be changed as I will detail in a moment. Proportional fonts are sometimes hard to read due to narrow characters jammed together. Certain information, lists, and simple figures made of keyboard characters do not look right in such fonts; often they cannot be viewed as more than a jumble. Or the sender has used a fixed-width font, yet OE displays it as a proportional font.

To quickly view such a message in your fixed-width font, press Control + F3. The message source information will be included at the top. Below is another more permanent way; some of it does not make sense but this is a Windows 95 program.

Changing OE Default Fonts

While using OE, choose Tools, Options, select the Read tab, then Fonts. In the Proportional Font box, enter the name of a Fixed-Width font -- that's right, a Fixed-width font in the Proportional font box. Now the messages will be displayed in a fixed-width font. Those keyboard "graphics" will look good. Lists of file names with their dates and sizes will line up properly. Many of us will find it easier to read plain text too.

While on that font screen reached above, you can choose Size and change it. Make it larger so you can sit farther from the screen, or smaller so the original lines do not wrap around which makes it harder to read. You can also select font sets for other languages - maybe (that choice is grayed out on my machine).

Drag and Drop From IE4

You can drag and drop text and other things from IE4 to Wordpad and many other Windows 95 programs. To do it, view a web page in IE4 either online or off, highlight what you want (press Control + A to select all of it). Right click in the highlighted area, keep the button down and drag it to Wordpad or another Windows program and release the mouse button. This does not work with Notepad though.

For Notepad press Control + C after selecting what you want. Open Notepad and press Control + V. If there is other text in Notepad, you may want to click on a desired spot for the new material. Actually, this method works for nearly all Windows programs.

IE4 History Folder

The History folder keeps track of the Web sites you have visited for the last 20 days by default. The time can be changed to fewer or more days. The maximum setting is 999 days. The History folder uses little space because it saves only the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) address, not its contents. URL is another way to say Web site or page.

To change the number of days history is saved, start IE4. Choose View, Options, and the Navigation tab. Change the number of days and click OK to save the change.

IE4 Cannot Read Some Temporary Internet Files

I often use Windows Explorer to help IE4 view Temporary Internet Files off line. When I select a file and press Enter, IE4 will open it and usually include any graphics.

Two days ago, IE4 refused to open a few of those files. It suggested going online to get them. I could see the file names and their sizes; they were there.

I used PowerDesk 98 to go to the Temporary Internet Files folder. Power Desk viewed the Temporary Internet Files folder contents as four separate folders. Once I located one of the "lost" files I could immediately open and view it.

 

 

Web Walk

By Tom Tucknott, GSBUG, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

Located at www.palosverdes.com/helpcorp/ is a local non-profit organization that provides elder law aid on a number of various topics. It's name is H.E.L.P. Corp (Health and Elder Law Programs) and its' site contains easy to understand information on health care planning; Medicare; Medi-cal; power of attorney; living wills; probate; wills; and tax issues. H.E.L.P. provides independent, non-commercial information and advice and does not prepare legal documents, represent clients, sell financial products, or seek or accept referral fees. The information is delivered via newsletter articles, papers, and notebooks, included at the site.

H.E.L.P. also offers a free newsletter, a no charge series of five lectures, separate group presentations, and personal consultations. The newsletter can be obtained by e-mailing your name and address at the site. Each issue contains a wealth of elder law information, class and seminar schedules, and references to other helpful sources. The classes are held at the H.E.L.P. office at 1404 Cravens Avenue in downtown Torrance. The topics are Elder Law, Medical care, Estate Planning, Medi-cal, and Long Term Care Insurance. The H.E.L.P. site is a very useful elder law site and will certainly be of assistance to you.

I had a bad month with personal stuff so my computer hobby Software Library News suffered. It is income tax filing time.

 

 

Software Library News

By Bob Hudak

E-Mail: rsh532@aol.com

Web: http://members.tripod.com/BobHudak

 

 

 

I have a great tax preparing program in the library called TaxAct98. It is on three disks. The program is free. It runs under Win 95-98. It has 80 forms, schedules and worksheets. Printing is graphical so the return looks just like the government forms. It works using a Q & A interview to gather the necessary information necessary to complete the tax forms. You can skip this, if you like, and just bring up the form you need and fill in the blanks. The program has built in help. It automatically calculates as you work so you can see how much you owe or amount to be refunded on the top of the page. And it has an audit feature that looks for missing info. This is a best FREE program I have seen. Of course they have other services that they hope to sell you, like electronic filing for $7.95. State versions are also available for $12.95. You have to do it, so you might as well do it on the computer. Pick up a copy at the library table or call me for special pickup.

We talked about providing some of our shareware programs on CD. The programs are getting to be so large that it is hard to put them on disks. If we put a CD writer in our new club computer, I can make up CD's with some of the bigger programs on them. I might be able to add a special request for you. A custom made CD - What do you think of the idea? Would you be willing to pay $10 for one? Let me or any board member know. Send e-mail. Iíd like to have an idea whether you think itís worthwhile before spending funds and time.

The board decided to keep the WinChip 225 computer to use in club SIGs, library work and as a test bed for new programs and hardware. To get it up and working, we need a monitor and a modem. Weíre looking for donations. Do you have a 15" monitor in your way after buying that 17" job? The club would be glad to put it to work. How about a 28.8 modem? Call me for a free pickup.

I have several programs that need to be reviewed. Remember that if you do a review that is published in our newsletter, you get to keep the program. Come over to the library table and look at what is available. We have: Guitar Songs from eMedia, Photo Gallery and PhotoSuite II from MGI, Lost & Found from Power Quest, Street Wizard from Adept Computer Solutions, and Yeah Write from Word Place. Come on, pick one up and write about your experience using it. Liz will publish your report along with your picture and put it on the web for all the world to see. Doesn't that sound like fun? A number of members bought a copy of In Defense. The club did not receive a review copy so it would be great for someone to do a review on this program. Remember, "someone else" died. So now it is up to you!

 

 

Computer Understanding

By John Sellers, GSBUG, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

I received this offer in my e-mail for three months schooling via the internet with different courses that will help me to understand computer technology:

Three Months Free at ZDU, Going Once, Going Twice

"Thousands of you have already taken advantage of our exclusive Owner's Club member offer for three free months at ZD University. There are classes for everyone, from building your own PC, to Internet Marketing, to learning a new operating system or desktop application. Don't pass it up.

http://www.intel.com/home/club/learning.htm?iid=mail+oc012599&

All that is necessary is to join (free) the Intel User's group."

 

 

Tips For Windows 95 And 98

Submitted by John Sullivan, GSBUG, Inc.

Each business day, "TipWorld" will send you a free tip-of-the-day in your email. TipWorld is a service of PC World magazine; you can go to their website at www.tipworld.com and check off as many subjects as you want to receive a tip about. (Be sure to remove the checkmark from the box at the bottom that says "TipWorld occasionally likes to inform our subscribers of special deals," etc., unless you like getting notices like that.)

Here's a few samples of what you'll get:

WINDOWS 95

Ditch Those Lingering Apps

R. Norman asks, "How do you delete a program name from the Add/Remove Programs list once the program has been removed?"

It's annoying, isn't it? Often, programs you've already removed from your system still appear in the Install/Uninstall list of the Add/Remove Programs Properties dialog box.

If you have the Tweak UI PowerToy, cleaning out this list involves nothing more than a few quick clicks. You can download this handy utility from Microsoft:

http://www.microsoft.com/windows95/info/powertoys.htm

Open the Control Panel, double-click Tweak UI, and click the Add/Remove tab. Select an item you want to remove from the list, click the Remove button, then click Yes to confirm. Repeat these steps until all unwanted items are off the list, then click OK to close Tweak UI.

Now Thatís a Lotta Qs

In previous tips, we've discussed Microsoft's Knowledge Base, a searchable library of hundreds of technical support documents. We've also mentioned that as long as you know the article number you're looking for, you can request it via e-mail. The problem is, in order to find the number of the document you're looking for, you have to search Microsoft Support Online--which involves giving them all sorts of personal information (registration) and dealing with a frequently slow server.

If you want to avoid these holdups, download the 44-page text file of Windows 95 Knowledge Base articles. Load the file into your word processor, search through the article titles from there, and then request the article(s) you need via e-mail. (Once you know the article number you want, you can send an e-mail to mshelp@microsoft.com with the article ID number--such as Q183121--in the subject line. To order multiple articles, list them all in the subject line, separating each with a comma and then a space.) No online support necessary!

Point your Web browser to ftp://ftp.microsoft.com and navigate your way to Peropsys/Win95/KB. Download INDEX.TXT to your location of choice (for example, if you have Internet Explorer 4.0, right-mouse-click the link, select Save Target As, and follow the steps to complete the download). The resulting file contains a list of Q-numbers and titles for articles relating to Windows 95. Happy reading!

A special thanks to M. Lee for suggesting this tip!

A reader, S. Bergesch, points out that you can also request a more general index (Windows 95 plus other Microsoft products) via e-mail. Address an e-mail to mshelp@microsoft.com, type Index in the subject line, and send it off. Then keep an eye on your in-box for the index. (Microsoft claims to process all e-mail requests "within minutes of receipt." We received our reply in 11 minutes.)

WINDOWS 98

Give your Desktop Icons a Makeover

Subscriber J. P. writes, "How do you change the My Computer icon and other icons on the desktop (other than by using Desktop Themes)? I only seem to be able to change shortcut icons."

You can change the icons for specific desktop icons--namely, My Computer, My Documents, Network Neighborhood and the Recycle Bin (full or empty)ófrom the Effects tab of the Display Properties dialog box. (If you used Microsoft Plus! for Windows 95, you may remember that this option was available from the Plus! tab of the same dialog box.)

To open the Display Properties dialog box, open the Control Panel and double-click Display; or right-mouse-click the desktop and select Properties. Click the Effects tab, select the icon you'd like to change, and click the Change Icon button. Select a new icon, click OK, then repeat these steps for each icon that you want to change. When you're finished, click OK to apply the changes to your desktop.

Note: If you don't see an icon you like in the Change Icon dialog boxófor example, you won't see any choices for My Documents--click the Browse button, navigate your way to another icon file (such as Windows\System\Shell32.dll or Windows\System\Pifmgr.dll), select an icon, click Open, then click OK.

Yank The Plug on Shutdown Lock-Ups

A reader, S., offers the following tip (also documented by Microsoft):

"Some hardware devices are not compatible with the way that 98 just 'yanks the plug' when it shuts down your system and may cause a system lock-up, forcing you to do a cold boot. One work-around for this problem is to disable the fast shutdown mode.

Select Start, Run, type msconfig and click OK. On the General tab, click the Advanced button, select Disable Fast Shutdown, and click OK twice. Restart your system, and the next time you shut down, your troubles may be solved. I have found that by disabling the fast shutdown, you really don't lose much speed at all--not even half a second. Hope this helps some of you out there."

According to Microsoft, another common cause of these shutdown lock-ups is a damaged Exit Windows sound file. To determine whether or not this file is causing the problem, disable it.

Inside the Control Panel, double-click Sounds to open the Sounds Properties dialog box. In the list under Events, select Exit Windows. Click the down arrow under Sound, select None, then click OK. (Alternatively, you could turn your sound scheme off altogether by selecting No Sounds in the list of Schemes.)

Now try shutting down Windows 98. If the problem is gone, leave the Exit Windows sound disabled, or use the Sounds dialog box to select a new sound. (A third option is to try reinstalling the sound that was causing the problem.)

Dr. Who?

Have you been experiencing system faults? Before you call a Windows 98 support technician, call Dr. Watson. Dr. Watson is a troubleshooting utility that takes system snapshots of the present state of your system that may be able to help solve a problem.

Select Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Information. In the System Information window, select Tools, Dr. Watson. Click the Dr. Watson icon that appears in the tray of your Taskbar, select Dr. Watson, and wait as this utility generates a system snapshot, resulting in (you hope) a diagnosis of the problem.

(Tip: To view nine tabs-worth of details captured by the snapshot, select View, Advanced View.) Name and save the log file. You now have a great resource for that support technician you're about to call.

A nice feature of this utility is that it takes a snapshot automatically when a system fault occurs. But--Dr. Watson has to be running in order to take a snapshot.

To be sure that Dr. Watson is running all the time, place a shortcut to Windows\Drwatson.exe in your Startup folder (likely in C:\WINDOWS\Start Menu\Programs\StartUp). From now on, this utility will load whenever Windows 98 starts.

 

E-Mail Etiquette

By Stephanie Nordlinger

From User Friendly - The Journal of the LA Computer Society, 9/98

 

Whenever society changes, its social rules need to change and do change. E-mail has come upon most of us very suddenly. We handle it more or less instinctively, probably without a lot of thought. But as a recipient of too many e-mails a day (but not nearly the number received by those in many jobs), I am beginning to have strong feelings about it which I thought I would share with you.

First, be considerate. Just because itís easy doesn't mean that it's right. I refer to the tendency to send e-mail to 10 or 25 or more recipients when you would never write so many people at once about the same thing. Please remember that everyone's time is limited. You are probably not their only correspondent. They may only want to spend a few minutes or an hour on their e-mail each day. Say what needs to be said succinctly - no more, no less. Don't send more than one or two e-mails to the same person on the same day without a very good reason. Promptly honor requests to be taken off of your e-mail mailing list(s).

Second, generally do not ask your reader to go up on the Web or read a long attachment to understand what you are referring to or want. This imposes on his or her limited time. People who receive a hundred e-mails a day often sort them by what is said in the first three lines. The long ones go to the bottom of the In Box.

Do not attach a file if you can extract or condense its meaning into a sentence or a paragraph in your message. Your reader may not be able to read attachments in his or her browser; often another program (perhaps a large one like MS Word or Corel Wordperfect) has to be opened to see them. The user may not even have a program that will read them. It's less time-consuming for the sender to rewrite an outgoing message than for a dozen recipients to pull up secondary programs to read attachments. Forwarded HTML attachments may be unreadable even by those who have software that sometimes reads the HTML format.

Be clear. Unlike face-to-face or even telephone conversations, e-mail provides little opportunity for the recipient to say, "I'm sorry, I didn't understand that." It is important to be clear. This means avoiding pronouns that have no clear reference, e.g., "I think this is a good idea" referring to an attachment or previous e-mail. It means editing your e-mail before it is sent. If you have spell-checking capability, use it. But that isn't enough. Look at the words and the sentence structure. Are you expressing your ideas in the clearest, most forceful way? Have you included garbage words or abbreviations or excessive punctuation that will annoy and distract the reader? If so, cut them out!

If you change topic, please change the Subject line, which should communicate something meaningful. "No subject" or the wrong subject is useless when one is reviewing a list of e-mails. Too cute a subject line may get your message deleted without it being opened.

Don't feel that you have to answer every e-mail. Some people are compulsive about answering every scrap of e-mail. All conversations and correspondence should end at some point. Answer what needs answering, but just save or delete the others. Do answer promptly to say that you can't answer substantively until later. Say when you expect to be able to get to it.

If you need a fast response, use the telephone! While some people are on line almost continuously, most of us pick up our e-mail only once a day more or less, depending on what else we are doing. If you use e-mail to announce a coming event, be sure that the date and time of the event are in your main message and not just in the attachment. I recently went back to view an attachment to an e-mail I had received several days before only to learn that the event had already occurred.

It is prudent to assume that all e-mail is potentially public - another reason for good editing. These rules are only your Editor's views on applying the Golden Rule or its obverse (Do to others as you would have them do to you) to e-mail. They aren't the final word. If you have ideas, send them to us for possible publication.

 

Stopping Spam: More Important Than You Might Think

By Ken Fermoyle

A Ken's Korner Book Review

Most of us know by now that Spam isn't just a Hormel canned meat product. Today, "spam" also means any kind of unrequested, unwanted email or newsgroup article sent in bulk over the Internet. Some people merely regard it as a nuisance. Unfortunately, Internet spam is much more than that.

Spam is not something we can eliminate simply by clicking on "delete." It poses a serious problem for the cyberspace community, one we should all recognize and work to combat. The best weapon I've found so far is a new book, "Stopping Spam," from O'Reilly & Associates (www.oreilly.com).

Authors Alan Schwartz and Simson Garfinkel have done an excellent job of explaining how and why spam is a major headache. More important, they describe practical ways in which individuals and organizations can use to combat this insidious menace.

"Spam messages waste the Internet's two most precious resources: the bandwidth of long-distance communication links and the time of network administrators who keep the Internet working from day to day. Spam also wastes the time of countless computer users around the planet." They point out further that spammers increasingly use fraud and computer abuse to deliver their messages.

They also present disturbing figures on the amount of spam jamming the Net today, and warn that the volume is increasing. The reason? Spam is probably the lowest-cost form of advertising available-to the spammer, that is. Unfortunately, it costs everyone else far more than most of us realize.

One especially interesting chapter explains how messages are sent across the Internet, possibly the best and most detailed explanation of the process I've read to date. It also covers the methods spammers use to "harvest" email addresses and exploit the system in other ways.

The most valuable sections of the book, however, are the strategies Schwartz and Garfinkel offer to help stop the flow of spam. Some of their solutions are technical; some are political. They tell how to use filtering and active responses to foil spammers, plus how to track down and respond to spam sources. Tools and information on web sites, programs and documents mentioned in the book are referenced in an 8-page appendix.

All in all, this is a valuable book on an important subject. Well written, it includes technical material explained in such a way that you don't need a degree in computer science to get the message, but neither is it "Spam for Dummies." It will repay the thoughtful reader big dividends in useful information. I recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about spam and Internet messaging in general. Users Groups should consider adding it to their libraries.

Stopping Spam, By Alan Schwartz & Simson Garfinkel, 1st Edition,

October 1998. 204 pages, $19.95

OíReilly & Associates, Cambridge, MA Phone: (617)354-5800/(800)775-7731

Sebastopol, CA Phone: (707)829-0515/(800)998-9938

Email orders: order@oreilly.com

Copyright 1998, Ken Fermoyle, Fermoyle Publications. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint contact kfermoyle@earthlink.net

 

New Year Resolution

By Susan Ives

From PC Alamode, 12/98

The main factor in the quality of any digital image, whether printed or displayed on a screen, is resolution, or the number of pixels used to create the image. Whether you view your photographs on a computer screen or print them out, the images are composed of small dots called picture elements - pixels. More and smaller pixels add detail and sharpen edges.

There are numerous ways to express the resolution of an image. Cameras can describe their optical resolution by their dimensions in pixels (for example, 1152x864 or 480x640) or by the total number of pixels they are able to capture (for example, 1 million.) Both of these are objective standards, arrived at by counting the number of photosensors embedded in the camera. A third way of describing resolution, by the size of the photorealistic output, is more subjective. When Kodak says that its DC220 can create a 5"x7" photorealistic picture, it is a matter of individual judgement how realistic that photo really is. The final way that digital cameras measure their resolution is by their file size (for example, a file size of 5.7mb) which, in my opinion, is not terribly useful. Monitor resolution is typically measured by the height and width in pixels: the first number is the horizontal measurement, the second the vertical.

To complicate matters, scanners and printers measure resolution in dots per inch (dpi) or pixels per inch (ppi); they mean the same thing. Monitor resolution is approximately 72dpi. Consumer-grade printers can range from a low of about 150 dpi to a high of about 1200dpi.

To further confuse you, cameras and scanners might also list an interpreted (also called interpolated) resolution. Some cameras and scanners can add extra pixels not captured by the hardware by inserting them based on the colors of the neighboring pixels. In your buying decision, the optical resolution, an absolute count of the number of the image sensor's photosites, is the only number you should pay attention to. Interpreted resolution is marketing hype. Interpolation can also be accomplished by image editing software, a better solution.

Digital cameras are generally divided into three classes, depending on their resolution:

VGA

VGA cameras produce 640x 480-pixel (or lower) images, a little over 300,000 pixels per image. Low-cost VGA cameras are fine for images you view on-screen, such as pictures sent via e-mail , posted to a Web site or used in a Powerpoint presentation, but the images will "pixelate" if you try to print them and larger than 3" x 5".

XGA

With a resolution of 1024 by 768 (about 800,000 pixels), XGA images are excellent for on-screen work, will print an acceptable picture up to about 5" x 7".

Megapixel

Megapixel cameras capture images that contain more than one million pixels. Used with a special photo printer and coated paper, a megapixel camera produces snapshot-size prints nearly indistinguishable from 35mm prints and can be acceptably enlarged to about 8"xl0".

To put this in perspective, your television set has a resolution of 320 x 525, or a total of 168,000 pixels. The human eye has a resolution of 11,000 x 11,000, or 120 million pixels. A color slide has about 20 million pixels.

But the resolution of your camera is only half the story. The ultimate size and resolution of your picture will depend on how it is going to be used. Results will vary depending on whether your output device is a computer monitor or a printer. How big can you make a photograph before it starts breaking down?

The formula for converting pixels into inches is to divide the number of pixels by the resolution of the output device. Computer monitor resolution averages at about 72 pixels (or dots) per inch. Let's say you buy a digital camera that has a resolution of 640x480. If you e-mail a photo to a friend for on-screen viewing or post it to a web page, the size of the photo will be: Width:†† 640 pixels / 72 ppi = 8.88"

††††††††††† Height:480 pixels / 72 ppi = 6.66"

Now let's assume that your friend wants to print this picture. Our editor prints the magazine at a resolution of 300 dpi, so we'll start with that:

††††††††††† Width:640 pixels / 300 ppi = 2.13"

††††††††††† Height: 480 pixels / 300 ppi = 1.6"

In other words, the higher the resolution of the output device, the smaller the photograph that can be reproduced without compromising on quality.

The calculation for scanning a photograph is a variation of this formula. If you know that you will need a 3" x 5" photograph for a catalog, and that you will print the catalog at 600 dpi, you will multiply the number of inches times the dots or pixels per inch (ppi) of your printer: ††††††††† Width:3" x 600 ppi = 1800 pixels

††††††††††† Height:5" x 600 ppi = 3000 pixels

If you try to stretch this image to make it larger in a word processing or desktop publishing program, you will still have the same number of pixels spread out over a larger area. To make an image larger or smaller for a particular output device, it must be resized in a photo-editing program. This interpolation can only take you so far; in my experience, you can interpolate a picture to make it about 20% larger. After that, the degradation becomes obvious.

 

Net Phone Calls

Possible and Promising, Not Always a Piece of Cake

By Ken Fermoyle

From The Journal of the Los Angeles Computer Society, 8/98

 

Have you tried making a phone call over the Internet yet? It's been possible, if not always a piece of cake, for more than two years. I became mildly interested in the spring of 1997, then got really into it while researching several articles for PC World, Newsweek and Micro Times. I'd like to share what Iíve learned.

First, you should learn the difference between conventional and Internet telephony. Conventional telephone networks use circuit switching. When a call is placed and answered, a circuit opens. The circuit remains open as long as the call lasts, so that line is tied up during that time.

Internet telephony employs packet switching, which breaks up data into small packets which comingle on the same line. Packets contains identifiers, address of where it came from and where it is going, so they can be sorted, routed and reassembled at the delivery point. When a packet is lost or corrupted by line noise, a duplicate packet is sent.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Internet telephony has come a long way since its birth in 1996. Experts differ, however, on whether it's destined to be a child prodigy, or a communications stepchild, stunted by politics and efforts of the giant telephone companies (telcos). Other problems include current Internet bandwidth restrictions and lack of product compatibility.

Software-only products allowed hard-core users to make the first free long-distance Internet phone calls. I used Vocal Tec's Internet Phone software for my first Net calls in early 1997. It was a free download and easy to install, but results were so-so. Making sure we all had current copies of the software and setting a mutually agreeable time to be online required mucho e-mail. Time delays were a nuisance and sound quality ranged from fair to barely intelligible at times. I couldn't see any viable business use for the technology at the time, and personal calls were cheap enough in off-hours or on weekends so that Net phoning wasn't worth the hassle.

Improved software and new hardware available solve many of the earlier problems. I acquired samples to check their effectiveness.

The Hardware Varies

The hardware I checked included Internet PhoneJACK, Info Talk and Aplio Phone, all different but representative of currently available Net phone equipment. Software used included the latest version of VocalTec's Internet Phone, Microsoft's Net Meeting and IDT's Net2Phone. These were not objective, scientific tests, understand; just quick, subjective trials to see how the results compared with my earlier software-only Net phone calls and those I make every day using conventional phone service.

PhoneJACK is a Plug-and-Play DSP (digital signal processing) card that plugs into an ISA slot (half or full). It works alongside, but independently of, existing sound cards. It doesn't need a modem, and doesn't use a precious IRQ. It does include an RJ-11 POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) port, RJ-12 headset port and 3.5 mm connections for microphone and speaker. Its hardware-based compression technology reduces delay and CPU load on your system.

You can connect a standard phone to the PhoneJACK card and enjoy sound not too different from conventional phones. It's ideal if there is another PhoneJACK on the other end of the call, but that's not necessary. Even if the other party is only using such software as NetMeeting or Net2Phone, both parties benefit from PhoneJACK's better sound.

InfoTalk and Aplio/Phone, Net telephony devices from InnoMedia and Aplio, Inc., differ markedly from PhoneJACK in that they do not require a PC. Both plug in between a conventional phone and POTS wall outlet, serving as a mini-gateway to the Net.

They have two drawbacks. They use proprietary technologies, so parties on both ends of a call must use the same products. An InfoTalk phone cannot talk to an Aplio/Phone, or to any other IP [Internet Protocol] Telephony device. Also, making a call is not as simple as just dialing a number. That's just the beginning.

After you dial and the call is answered, with InfoTalk, you tell the other party you want to make this an Internet call. Either party can then press the pound (#) key to initiate the Internet connection. When the connection is established, you can begin the conversation.

With Aplio/Phone, after making connection, either party can press the "APLIO" button on the device to switch the call from the long-distance carrier to the Internet. Both parties then hang up; in about 45 seconds, the phones ring and callers can converse as usual. Only they're doing it on the Internet, not with AT&T's or MCI's meter running.

So that's the current state of the art. The three approaches - software only, DSP cards and standalone devices - have drawbacks, but I lean toward the PhoneJACK as the best solution for my purposes at this point. All hardware IP Telephony products have one thing in common, however. They're pricey, from about $200 to $300, compared to standard phone instruments that now go for as low as $20. How many long-distance calls will it take to amortize the cost of a Net phone, especially if you have to supply the devices to some of the people you call regularly?

Various Standards A Problem

The lack of interoperability looms as an immediate threat to IP Telephony. It reminds me of the bad old days (late 1970s, early 1980s) of proprietary operating systems, including CP/M and DOS. Microcomputers could not talk to each other any more than an InfoTalk can to an Aplio/Phone. It wasn't until standardized operating systems came along that micros began selling in respectable quantities.

I doubt that lack of standards will continue too long, however. Some corporations already use their WANs (Wide Area Networks) for communications via TCP/IP using the new Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). The audio quality has been likened to that of cell phones, which is good enough for this purpose. And the savings in this context can be significant.

We also have the H.323 standard, which defines a common set of compression/ decompression algorithms. Pushed by such biggies as Intel and Microsoft, H.323 is gradually being accepted by IP Telephony vendors. Its champions say it will do for Internet telephony what SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) has done for email.

On the debit side is the full-court press by the giant telcos to stifle development of Internet telephony, considering the big political guns they can bring to the task. They claim that if Net phone calls were subject to the same fees as they are, there would be little or no savings.

That remains to be seen. It might be true for large companies with enough telephony volume to get rates of a few cents per minute from the telcos, but probably not for individual and small businesses.

Summing up, most experts believe that the future of Internet telephony looks promising. I predict many of us will be making at least some of our phone calls over the Net within two to three years.

Ken Fermoyle, columnist. Fermoyle Publications, Woodland Hills, CA 91364-3005. Newsletters, Editorial Services, Graphics & Web Design

 

 

Internet Talk

By Frank Chao, GSBUG, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

Hello. This is the seventh in a series of articles about matters relevant to the Internet. These articles are based on the comments and questions that we get from GSBUG members, so please feel free to contact me by any of the means that are listed at the end of this article.

Los Angeles Free-Net Improvements

The Los Angeles Free-Net is getting better and better. They just bought modem cards to upgrade their entire system to 56 KB per second by means of the V.90 protocol. All phone lines will be upgraded in two to three months. They hired a full-time system administrator two months ago. If you are not a member yet, now is the time to get an account in order to access the vast resources of the Internet. If you are already a member, now is the time to buy a 56KBps/V.90 modem. Remember, any modem that you buy has to say "V.90" on the box that it came in. The Los Angeles Free-Net does not support "X2", "K56Plus" or "K56Flex". These older 56KBps technologies are now obsolete so please be careful when you buy a modem.

New 56Kbps Phone Number for the Los Angeles Free-Net

The 310-660-6032 phone number of the Los Angeles Free-Net will be discontinued on February 19, 1998. The new numbers are located at http://www.lafn.org/admin/ gardena.html. These new numbers were necessitated by the conversion to 56K lines. Contact me if you require assistance in converting to these new numbers.

Web Development SIG

The Web Development SIG will continue to meet on the third Wednesday of each month. We will continue creating and modifying personal home pages for GSBUG members. The most popular site for these activities is at http://members.tripod.com. Herman Krouse showed me this free site about two years ago and I now have the pleasure of introducing this site to other GSBUG members.

Members Web Page Registry

Herman and I are in the process of creating a Web page called "Members Web Page Registry" at the GSBUG Web site. By the end of this month, it will be located at members_web_pages.htm. If you have a personal Web page and are willing to let us mention it, please let me know it's "URL" and provide me with a one sentence description of it.

A Web Page of Membersí Favorite Web Sites

I and Herman Krouse also wish ot start a Web page of links to membersí favorite Web sites. This site will be at http://www.lafn.org/ccommunity/gsbug/favorite_sites.htm. Let me know which sites you recommend for this page of pages.

Some Comments About NetZero

NetZero, the totally free ISP, is as amazing as ever. It's support for Real Audio, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), AOL Instant Messenger, and other technologies, that the Los Angeles Free-Net does not support, makes it a good backup ISP for Los Angeles Free-Net members. Note that I said "backup".

NetZero does not appear to be shipping it's free installation CD-ROM to those who request it from their Web site. I do not know what their problem is. To learn more about NetZero, go to http://www.netzero.net

A Word of Caution for NetZero Users

If you are using NetZero for Internet access, don't touch the "NetZero" icon in the Windows 95 or 98, "Dial Up Networking" folder. If you do anything to this icon, you could really mess things up. Also dial up by double clicking on the "NetZero" sunburst icon on your computer's "desktop". Never attempt to dial using the "NetZero" icon in your "Dial Up Networking" folder.

Reliability and Availability of Internet Access

In order to have reliable dial-up Internet access, you need to either have one super-reliable full-service ISP (like Earthlink) or you need to have accounts on two or more of the lower cost

ISPs. The best combination of ISPs for the latter strategy is to have accounts on both the Los Angeles Free-Net and NetZero. However, having two or more ISPs requires that you take steps to avoid conflicts. In order to learn about the various strategies, see http://www.lafn.org/webconnect/multiple.txt

Newsgroups

Newsgroups are a great way to keep abreast of just about any subject matter. One great way for you to access newsgroups is the Web site at: http://www.dejanews.com. Try it--you will like it.

Changing the Phone Number for a "Dial Up Networking" Icon

The most commonly asked question regarding Windows 95 and 98's "Dial Up Networking" is how to change the phone number that is dialed by a specific "Dial Up Networking" icon. If you are a Los Angeles Free-Net member, you will probably have a "Dial Up Networking" icon that is called "LAFN" or "Los Angeles Free-Net". To change the phone number that this icon dials, please see http://www.lafn.org/webconnect/ change_DUN.htm. This Web page describes how to make a temporary change and how to make a permanent change.

Can't Find the Box to Type in Your URL in IE4?

One of the most common tech support questions regarding "Internet Explorer 4" is the location for typing in a "URL". If you only see a single row of icons at the top of your IE4 window, click on the icon that looks like a box within a box and you will end up in the "not full screen" mode. Click on "View" on the topmost pull-down menu. Then click on "Toolbars". Now make sure that "Address bar" has a checkmark to the left of it. If it does not have a checkmark to the left of it, click on "Address bar". The "Address bar" is the lowest toolbar. If you do not see a white field for typing in a URL, double click on "Address" and a white field will appear.

Help For The "Special Needs Center"

I need help with maintaining the "Special Needs Center" of the Los Angeles Free-Net. This Web page contains links to Web sites of interest to the special needs of people with handicaps/physical disabilities. It is located at http://www.lafn.org/medical/special_ needs/

IRS Web Site Has On-line Filing of Tax Returns

The IRS now has on-line filing of 1998 1040 tax returns at their Web site at http://www.irs.ustreas.gov. Their system is called "e-file". I will provide more information about this system next month.

Yet Another Los Angeles Free-Net Training Session

The Los Angeles Free-Net will hold yet another free training session in Tarzana on March 7, 1999. For information, see the top of http://www.lafn.org/webconnect/ or contact me.

Investing and the Internet

The Internet is a great resource for investors. Many stock brokers offer discounts to clients who trade by means of their Web sites. To find out more about this, see the Financial Center of the Los Angeles Free-Net at http://www.lafn.org/ww24/ financial. page.htm

The KFWB Web Site

The best source of local news for the Los Angeles area is the KFWB Web site at http://kfwb.com. It has news as original content and links to any subject pertaining to the Los Angeles area.

A Review of Basics

There are two basic ways for you to connect your computer to the Internet. The original, older method is for your computer to perform "terminal emulation". The newer, more modern way is for your computer to perform "PPP dialup". Your computer is performing "terminal emulation" when you use "Hyperterminal" for Windows 95 and 98 or "Procomm" for Windows 3.1 or DOS or "Terminal" for Windows 3.1. Your computer is performing a "PPP dialup" when you run "Dial Up Networking" for Windows 95 and 98 or "Shiva Dialer" for Windows 3.1 or "Trumpet Winsock" for Windows 3.1 or "Microsoft Dialer" for Internet Explorer for Windows 3.1

To see the World Wide Web in itís full graphical, artistic glory, your computer needs to use "PPP dialup". To see text screens, your computer would perform "terminal emulation". If you have an original IBM "PC", an 8088 also known as an XT, or a 80286, you will have to connect to the Internet using "terminal emulation". If you have a 486 or a Pentium, you can connect to the Internet using either "terminal emulation" or "PPP dialup".

If you have any questions or problems, please contact Herman Krouse or myself. I can be contacted by one of the following methods:

1. Page me by phoning 800-516-3104 and leave a voice message.

2. Send me e-mail at ac602@lafn.org

3. Send me "snail" US Postal Service mail at Frank Chao, PO Box 6930, Torrance, CA 90504-6930.