West Coast Online - Issue 30 - page 19 greenbar.gif

TCP Tips

(By Scott Shultis)

Many problems with computers either on or off the Internet have quick and easy solutions. Many errors, connection problems, and general protection faults can be fixed by closing all applications and turning the computer off, waiting 10 seconds, and turning it back on. This can be especially important for people who leave their computer on all the time. Also, this is the only way to fully reset internal modems.

Internet software can be difficult to install - even for the experienced computer user. Simple configuration errors can prevent reliable connections. Modem initialization strings are a good starting point. Some Internet software packages include incorrect modem initialization strings.

Usually, the factory default settings work best for Internet connections, allowing a modem init string of ATZ, which simply resets the modem to the default state. Most modems use the AT&F or AT&Fn (n being the numbers 0, 1, or 2 ) to set the modem to the factory defaults. Consult your modem book in the AT command list for the &F commands.

Make sure to completely fill in the configuration information from your ISP. One number, letter, or colon out of place can preclude a successful connection. Password Authentication Protocol or PAP is another stumbling block. If the ISP doesn't require PAP and you enter PAP information, or vice-versa, the connection won't work.

In the middle of setting up Internet software, cables are often overlooked. Phone lines, modem cables, even having the modem turned on, are things people often forget.

Invalid login errors, (or link dead errors for Mac users) are usually caused by either an incorrect login name or password. On most systems, passwords are case sensitive if the caps lock key is - on, it isn't going to work. Finally, if someone in the house or office is using (or even picks up) the same phone line, the connection will be lost.

Internet travelers will often see "Host not available" messages from their web browsing software. This is usually the equivalent of a WWW busy signal, and often happens when you start up the browser. The default home page (which you can change in most browsers) is the browser publisher's page. Each time someone starts that browser, anywhere in the world, they connect to the same web page. To fix this, simply go to another web page.

If any web page works, the problem is just busy signals, and not a problem with your computer or your ISP. The freeware version of Eudora has a problem that occurs occasionally - the program stops working while sending a message. These steps may start Eudora working again: First clear the outbox. If you need to save the message in the outbox, move it to another folder. Then, you need to receive a message. If you do not get lots of email,have someone send you some. Once Eudora has received the mail, it resets and you can send your original message.

Random disconnections are another nuisance and have a number of causes. The most common cause is a noisy phone line. This can be difficult to fix. Check that other phones or answering machines on the line are not interfering, or call your phone company. Also, some modems are better at handling line noise than others.

Another reason for random disconnects can be the tone produced by call waiting when an incoming call comes in causes an immediate disconnection. You can prevent this by adding *70, (include the comma) in front of the phone number used to dial your ISP.

Finally, many software packages have idle timeout settings that automatically hang up after periods of inactivity. If the idle timeout is set too short, when the time goes by without a key press or a mouse click, the software disconnects.


Page 19 had ads for GTEK (www.gtek.com), and SonomaNet (www.sonoma.net).




Netscape Escape Tips

(By Gina Faber)

The WWW sprouted from the ideas of Tim Berners-Lee, less than 8 years ago. The design of the WWW language was inspired from several fundamental principles:

First, Web content should be interconnected and networked through the use of "hypertext" (links and anchors). Second, the content should be readable on multiple platforms (very small to large). Third, the content should be renderable through both text and graphical programs without losing significant information. Finally, the content should be compact, to make low-bandwidth situations tolerable.

These principles resulted in a language known as HyperText Markup Language (HTML). HTML is a logical markup language; that is, instead of indicating that certain text be "centered, size 24 font", it is marked as a logical entity: a "header". Each browser implementation interprets or "renders" the header using fonts, styles, and spacings available.

Physical vs. Logical

The scramble to implement more "physical" markup features into browsers (like inline images, and tables) has overturned the original principles over the last year or so. Web-authors demand more and more control over physical layout. Despite purists intentions to "keep it simple", these demands have resulted in numerous additions to the HTML language (HTML 3.0), as well as non-standard HTML "extensions" by one browser company: Netscape.

Web pages which take advantage of "Netscapisms " (non-standard HTML tags), and HTML 3.0 extensions (not implemented in HTML 2.0 browsers), have the potential to be very impressive when viewed from Netscape browsers. However, such pages can look broken or unintelligible when viewed with standard HTML browsers in the WWW viewing market. This duality in the WWW page population has left many WWW authors scratching their heads. Their goal is to reach the largest possible audience, but they don't want to sacrifice the ability to create impressive, carefully crafted presentations. We all want to have our cake and eat it too!

Survival Skills

The debate over logical vs. physical description styles will continue to be the subject of (vigorous) HTML standards committee discussions. In the meantime, here are some hints on how to use some of the "advanced" HTML features while retaining at least some visibility on common denominator HTML 2.0 browsers.

The tips below are aimed toward achieving similar effects to the elite and non-standard HTML tags; and to minimize degradation under bare-bones HTML 2.0 browsers. The tips below are intended for those with some familiarity with HTML and Netscape enhancements. As with all writings about the fast-paced online world, these hints will probably have a short shelf-life:

1) Use ascii characters to control spacing, e.g., "*", to control spacing within cells, in place of the CELLPADDING and WIDTH Table Netscape extensions attributes.
For example, instead of <TABLE CELLPADDING="10" BORDER>, use:

<TABLE>
<TR> <TD>*****</TD> </TR>
<TR> <TD>item1</TD> </TR>
<TR> <TD>item2</TD> </TR>
<TR> <TD>*****</TD> </TR>
</TABLE>

2) Use extra TDs instead of border width. Add extra <TD></TD> pairs in appropriate places to artificially widen the border of a table, as an alternative to using the CELLSPACING and (BORDER=) Netscape attributes.

3) Use a header style with CAPTION for spacing. When a table-ignorant browser encounters a table, you can prevent the table's caption from running into the rest of the table's content by surrounding the body of the CAPTION with a Hn tag. For example:

<TABLE>
<CAPTION><H2>The Periodic Table </H2> ....

4) Use <BR>s where carriage returns should go. Another way to prevent table cell contents from running into each other when viewed in a table-ignorant browser is to insert <BR>, line breaks, at the end of each row. For example:

<TR>
<TD>oranges</TD>
<TD>cherries</TD>
<TD>pineapples</TD> <BR>
</TR>

5) Array your table headers vertically, and use bold. When possible, put table headers (<TH>) in the first column (instead of in the first row) of a table. Used in conjunction with the <BR>s recommended above, a table may retain some of its form in table-ignorant browsers. Along the same lines, you may wish to redundantly surround <TH> cell contents with <B> </B>, bold style, to distinguish these headers from the row's contents.

6) Be careful about font sizing. Netscape offers the ability to influence the size of any number of characters, independent of their logical significance through the <FONT> tag. Most browsers skip such formatting commands. However, do not depend upon the spacing produced by the use of such tags.

7) Use alternatives to <CENTER>. Used widely since its introduction by Netscape, the non-standard <CENTER> tag has some HTML standard equivalents. Use these whenever possible to retain forward compatibility:

<P ALIGN=CENTER> stuff </P>
<H1 ALIGN=CENTER> heading </H1>

8) Use horizontal rule magic freely. The Netscape horizontal rule attributes, WIDTH, SIZE, ALIGN, and NOSHADE, hardly have an effect on most pages. Except for wildly exaggerated exceptions, most uses of HR magic will downgrade gracefully.

9) Use LOWSRC to avoid Inline JPEGs. One non-standard, but useful attribute of the IMG command introduced by Netscape is the LOWSRC attribute. To retain viewability across inline-GIF capable browsers, but still provide (typically smaller) JPEG format images to browsers capable of rendering them, use a GIF for the primary content, with the smaller JPEG equivalent as the temporary. As always, don't forget the ALT text for use by text-based browsers (or those running with graphics off for speed). E.g.:

<IMG SRC="baby.gif" LOWSRC= "baby.jpg" ALT="baby picture">

10) Try the "ignore me" test. Well-behaved HTML browsers are supposed to "ignore" tags that they are not equipped to render. Use this fact to "test" what your pages may look like in stricter conditions. For example, on a copy of a web page, remove all table tags (leaving the surrounding content alone) to preview what the page would look like in a table-less browser.

After trying these tips, the best way to check that your pages will not "break", is to try them in common denominator (non-Netscape) HTML 2.0 browsers. A link for further exploration of HTML style and Netscape-specific tags is at: www.hwg.org/resources/html/style.html.

Gina Faber is the WebMaster at OneEarth WWW Publishing, an Internet consulting firm offerings WWW site hosting and design services.


Page 20 had ads for DSP Communications (www.dsp.net), and the Megamedia Corporation (www.megamedia.com).




Domain Names

(By Scott Shultis)

A domain name is the text that follows the @ character in an Internet email address. Domain names can be registered for any business, group, agency, or individual. An Internet Domain Name is an authorized text representation of a numeric Internet Protocol address - the unique identifier of every destination on the Internet. Who authorizes domain names? The Internic (www.internic.net) is the agency that handles domain name routing (among other things) on the Internet.

Domain name registrations are free from the Internic. However, to qualify to submit a domain name, you must have a working domain name server (machine) a place (machine) for the domain name to be pointed to, and a destination (machine) that processes incoming messages or web page requests. For these reasons, most domain name registrations are handled by Internet Service Providers. ISPs can register domain names with Internic and install that domain name in their host tables so that it "works".

Q&A

What do the suffixes mean and which can I have?
Here are the suffix categories:

How long can a domain name be? A name is 24 characters maximum, plus the suffix. Keep in mind, long domain names are more difficult to type. Also keep in mind, many of the shortest (1, 2, 3, or 4-letter) domain names are already taken.

If I point a domain name at one ISP and then move to another, can the domain name move with me? Yes, domain names can be transferred. The new ISP should send a modify message to Internic to place the change. (Many ISPs charge a fee for this service.)

How do I find out if my choice for a domain name is available? If you are using the Unix shell, you can type whois domainname.com (using the desired domain name) and press return. Internic will respond with a record of registration if the domain name is in use, or NO MATCH if it is available.
For Windows PPP users, a shareware program is available on the Net named winwhois.zip. This program does a whois check from Windows while you are connected via PPP or SLIP.

What if I find that a large company name is not registered? Can I register it?
Yes, you can register it, but if the name is trademarked and the trademark owner requests the domain name, it will be taken from you and given to the trademark holder. A recent example is the case of a french fry equipment maker registering the frys.com domain name. Although Fry's Electronics ignored the opportunity to register the frys.com domain name for many years after domain name registration became popular, as soon as the french-fry company registered it, Fry's filed a lawsuit against the company and the ISP holding the domain name. Rather than fight the might of Fry's, the french fry company and the ISP released their claim to the domain name. (Update: the company ended up not releasing the name, and Fry's used money and lawyers to take the name by 'legal' force.)

Do I have to have an Internet account to register a domain name? No. Some ISP's will register a domain name for you and leave it pointed to their name servers until you decide what to do with it.

Can I have more than one domain name? No, Internic is registering only one domain name per business, group, or organization. (Update: When the Internic started charging $100 per domain name [now $70], this one-per-customer rule vanished!)

How long does domain registration take?Registration can take anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks. Improvements at Internic are shortening the process, but there is a large backlog of requests. (Update: When the Internic started charging per domain name, processing time went down an order of magnitude.)

How does a domain name allow me to get mail to my Internet account? A domain name points to a server. If you don't have your own server, your ISP points the name to their server. Then, they set up routing so your mail will be forwarded to your current email address at your provider.

Can domain names have spaces, or special characters? No, because many of the special characters (!@#$%^&*) are used for Internet mail routing they are not allowed in domain names. The domain name cannot start with a number. Also, spaces are not allowed. Domain names may contain letters, numbers, hyphens, and underscores.

If I get a domain name at my ISP, can I use it for my web page? Yes, if your web page originates at the server to which the domain name points. Contact your ISP for more information.


The bottom of page 21 had ads for Hot City Networking (www.hotcity.com), Spiderweb Communications (www.spiderweb.com), and the Advocates for Self-Government (www.self-gov.org).




The "Hankies"

(By Hank Volpe)

The"Hankies" originally appeared in BIBMUG.TXT,
the newsletter of the Buffalo IBM-PC User Group.

Once again, friends, it's time to cross the barriers of space, time, good taste, and politically correct review processes. Unlike the meaningless industry awards given by computer magazines and trade shows, the Hankie represents an achievement beyond compare. Most authors who have received Hankies have been astonished, with comments ranging from "thank you, but my nose is not running" to "God, I've finally made the big-time".

The Hankies spotlight the software authors who help keep the BBSs alive and running: the shareware authors of America. Shareware and shareware authors go unheralded by most of the mainstream press. The reasons aren't clear to me. It could be due to lack of advertising, lack of publicity, or lack of really good, exotic, and expensive parties for reviewers. In any case, it's a shame, for many of the best software products you can find are shareware.

Some of the past winners of this award speak to that fact: Qmodem, Procomm, Telix, PKZIP, Hard Disk Manager, Auto Menu, Mahjongg, Vacation Planner, Funnels. These and others are great examples of shareware. Although some packages have worked their way into the commercial market, they started on BBSs. They were downloaded, used, and registered by people like you and me. The excellence they exhibit explain how the Hankies got started.

Now, before we go any further, you must understand that the selection and voting process for such a prestigious award must always be above reproach and founded on high moral grounds. Each year, as the operator of a BBS, I receive thousands of files. Out of this group, I search for the best file, disk, video, and communication program. Games and educational software are also important on my list (for I have two Nintendo-addicted rug rats who need constant guidance and distraction from the evils of MTV).

After the review process comes a lengthy trial period during which the software is run through its paces. I check to make sure the program is well-written, well-documented, and well-supported. I've also been known to like poorly written stuff if it looks pretty neat!

With all that in mind, I select the finalists, make myself a really strong cup of coffee, and ask my wife what she thinks. As we all know, that is the safest way to make sure you have not made an error. My motto is, "If it works for the President, it works for me!" So now, without further ado, the winners:

Best Disk Utility

We all need to make quick, accurate disk copies. Disk Copy Fast (distributed as DCF***.ZIP) is a one-pass diskette duplication utility which copies 1.44 Mb, 1.2 Mb, 720 Kb, or 360 Kb diskettes.

Bench tests (assuming you aren't switching disks in and out of your machine) show that Disk Copy Fast will format and duplicate a disk up to 57% faster than any other DOS utility. According to the author, Chang Ping Lee, the speed increase is accomplished by precision timing without sacrificing compatibility. Lee states that "Every single read, write, or format is done by strictly following the industry standards, no compromise!"

In one pass, Disk Copy Fast performs three DOS commands: FORMAT, DISKCOPY, and DISKCOMP. Designed for both the occasional user and a mass-production environment, it makes extensive use of Hot Keys and includes many command-line switches.

The program speeds up disk duplication by loading as much of the original disk into memory as possible. If memory is insufficient, the program automatically buffers data to your hard drive. If you shy away from switches and command lines, you can use a friendly pull-down window environment.

Disk Copy Fast comes with documentation and registration information. Those who register receive a copy of Disk Fast Plus, a utility that contains extra features and customization for hot keys. If you need to make backup disks, especially for archive purposes, try Disk Copy Fast.

Best File Utility

Do you need more disk space? The ZIP'R utility, when used with PKZIP, ARJ, or LHA, automatically compresses multiple-file programs or directories into a single file. ZIP'R (distributed as ZIPR**.ZIP) is a safe, DOS-compatible method of getting more space from a hard drive. ZIP'R offers disk compression and expansion by working with your favorite archiver.

As you know, there are commercial compression programs available. How ever, some have bizarre side effects or refuse to work in certain environments. For example, none of the commercially available space compression products will run on a Novell Network file server. File servers always need more space. In addition, none of the commercial on-the-fly compression/expansion utilities possess compression algorithms that approach what PKZIP, LHA, and ARJ offer.

When a program is executed, ZIP'R expands the desired directory and executes the requested program. While your program is running, ZIP'R swaps itself to disk or EMS memory (keeping only a 2.5k TSR hook behind). When you exit the program, ZIP'R automatically re-compresses the directory, saving any changes to the archive.

ZIP'R does not offer the on-the-fly compression that commercial programs do. There will be a slight delay when starting or ending programs (while your programs are being expanded or compressed).

However, as you know, there are many files on your hard drive that you do not use every day. ZIP'R reclaims that valuable real estate. While testing, I compressed my entire hard drive with quite startling results. Treating the files in every subdirectory as one file, ZIP'R reduced my overall storage requirements by nearly 53% with PKZ-204G and 52% with ARJ. Effectively, I've doubled my disk storage capacity.

ZIP'R works well under Desqview, Windows, and other multitaskers, but you can run into serious problems if multiple windows (processing threads) are compressing and extracting the same data. For these special situations (and for use on a network), use the network version called ZIP'M. This version has features to place limits on simultaneous access while compressing or expanding. If you need space, and on-the-fly compressors make you nervous or don't work because of a compatibility problem, try ZIP'R and your favorite file compressor.


Best Hardware Utility

This is my favorite category! I'm an engineer by profession and computer programming is my hobby. For me, hardware is the most exciting part about computers - next to talking to the hardware. (Of course, the worst part is when the hardware talks back!) The last few years have produced dramatic breakthroughs in video display adapters, modems, and hard drives. With each improvement comes the unenviable task of installation. I have witnessed first-hand the frustration of men who can send rockets to Mars but can't install a serial port.

Even for the seasoned professional, installing or adding a hard drive from scratch can bring tears to the eyes. The documentation makes it all so simple. After all, you just need to answer a few simple questions: What's the drive type? How many cylinders? How many heads? What are the sector counts? Heck, what's a sector? All these values are stored in your computer's CMOS memory. What happens when the battery goes dead or the memory gets corrupted?

The winner of the best hardware utility can solve these hard disk configuration problems for you if you are using an IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) hard disk drive.
IDE Identify, (distributed as IDEID***.ZIP) gives information on all IDE hard drives attached to your system. It shows head, cylinder, and sector counts for CMOS setup parameters. Unlike other utilities, your IDE hard drive needs only to be properly connected to your PC. Even if the drive has not been prepared (including CMOS parameters), IDE Identify gives you all the proper values to enter into your system's CMOS memory.

IDE Identify is Freeware (no registration fee required), and is distributed by Micro House International. If you have an IDE controller and drive, this file is a must for your utility collection!

Best Video Utility

On the whole, I love my supercharged, super-slick, all-function, "wundermachine" - that is, until I do a chkdsk *.* /f/v. At that moment, I feel as if I'm watching the end of a cheap cable movie, where the credits are rolling by at such breakneck speed that you cannot possibly read even one entry. Of course, I know I can filter the output via "more", or redirect it to a file to view later. But who has time for these things? If you feel like I do, you will appreciate the winner of the best video award: SCROLLit.

SCROLLit, (distributed as SCRLIT**.ZIP) is a screen scrollback buffer utility. It lets you scroll back, in full color, through lines of text that have scrolled off the screen. SCROLLit includes such features as searching, block-writing, 43/50 line mode, and XMS/EMS support. It uses compression to squeeze more than twice the number of lines into available buffer space. SCROLLit is Desqview-aware and only takes 9K of memory as a TSR.

To activate SCROLLit, press the Scroll-lock key. (Someone finally did use the Scroll-lock key for something). While in SCROLLit, you can mark blocks of the buffer and send those blocks to a printer or file.

SCROLLit would be "the perfect" video utility if it wasn't distributed as "annoyware". Annoyware is shareware that starts with an annoying commercial, making the unregistered version hard to use inside an AUTOEXEC.BAT file.

As a shareware author myself, I have nothing against an author enticing people to register. However, I urge authors to consider using a carrot instead of a brick. Nevertheless, as I said earlier, the Hankies are firmly rooted in high moral principles, and SCROLLit deserves your attention and more, regardless of the "political views" of the Awards Committee. Once you start using it, you'll register it for sure.


Best Communication Utility

Entering all the numbers from the phone book of your previous communication program has got to be the worst thing about installing a new comm program. Wouldn't it be great if a neat, easy-to-use utility could do it for you? The Hankie award for best communications utility goes to FONDIR (distributed as FONDIR**.ZIP). FONDIR saves hours of data entry into communication program phonebooks.

FONDIR reads a list of phone numbers, such as a BBS list, and creates a communications program dialing directory. It's fast, and supports more than twenty communication programs. FONDIR handles long distance, local, and metro EMS dial conversions, modem speed adjustments, and transfer protocol selections. It can directly import or export phone numbers from BBS phone number lists. FONDIR lets your fingers take a break.


Best Games/Educational Software

A general achievement award goes to Apogee software. Apogee makes some of the most entertaining and graphically sophisticated game software. Most Apogee games are distributed in this form: #1NAME.ZIP. The #1 identifies the program as the first of a multipart game. Usually, the #1 part is shareware, while other number versions are mailed to you after you register the program.

As parents know, finding effective educational software that can be con figured for your child's developmental level is tough. You should test such software to check that your child understands it. Shareware offers a try-before-you-buy opportunity.

Many educational games revolve around the old "drill and practice" approach. If you're looking for something a bit different, try Apogee's Math Rescue (distributed as #1MATH.ZIP). Depending on the game level (and the age of your child), you can configure Math Rescue to present up to 100 new word/math problems, including multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.

Math Rescue has fifteen worlds to explore, with each requiring a bit of hand-eye coordination and math skill in order to advance. There are three levels, including one perfect for preschoolers because it doesn't require any math in order to play. Math Rescue has excellent graphics, it's easy to play, and lacks a timer. Without time limits, a preschooler feels quite comfortable both playing and learning from Math Rescue. This is a great game for your child.


Hankie Award Considerations

As a Hankie winner, each software author receives my gratitude for writing programs that have saved me time, helped me solve a difficult problem, or made me laugh a bit. If you're interested in any of these programs, check your BBS or online service for them. If you use shareware regularly, please take the time to register each program with the author. This keeps the shareware concept viable for all of us.

Hank Volpe, PO Box 43214, Baltimore, MD, 21236,
www.modemdoctor.com.


Page 22 had ads for San Francisco Reservations (www.hotelres.com), and StreetNet (www.streetnet.com).

Page 23 had ads for GUI 'N DA HOOD (www.dnai.com/~gui), Construction Bid Source, and The Libertarian Party (www.libertarian.org).


End of page 23. Go back or go to page 24 or to Mark's home page.