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"WORKING THE NET"

By Art Glick


What to Expect

(Originally Published in August, 1996)

If you have not yet realized it, the development of the Internet has signaled the end of the Industrial Age and the beginning of the Computer Age of human civilization.

Almost at once, virtually the sum total of human knowledge and understanding has become instantly available to anyone with a typical personal computer. Even in sparsely populated Greenbrier County alone, almost 500 users have been added just since the beginning of the year.

Though still in its infancy, the Internet has the potential to involve itself in every facet of our daily life. It has the capacity to enrich our lives in ways yet to be imagined. It makes available to the masses what was once the province of only the aristocracy.

Mastering the Intenet requires only the most basic computer skills, as evidenced by its widest use among the youngest segments of our population. This and future columns will attempt to address certain techniques designed to streamline the process of using the Internet. I will also try to point the reader in the direction of the most intriguing places to visit.

But, first some basic considerations must be addressed. If you are accessing the Internet via WVNET (or almost any other provider), the software that you have been given runs under the Windows operating system. BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE, YOU MUST MASTER THE BASICS OF WINDOWS. Otherwise, you can expect to encounter much frustration and wasted time.

There are many ways that you can go about developing a familiarity with the ways that Windows operates, and as your reward, you will find yourself proficient at almost all Windows software applications, since they all basically share the same "user interface" or method of use.

A wide variety of third party instructional books and video tapes are available selling in the $20 to $30 range. If you're the type that needs a disciplined environment along with an instructor to which to address your questions, you are encouraged to enroll in a course on Windows, which I believe is being offered by GCCC.

Regardless, the best thing that any novice Windows 3.1 user can do is read through any manuals supplied with their systems. Then, in lieu of any third party instructional materials, the user should click on the word "HELP" when Windows starts the Program Manager (as most Windows 3.1 installations do automatically). Click on "Windows Tutorial" and make a real effort to read and understand the information that displays on the screen.

Have patience and go through each little section of the tutorial carefully. Even if you think that you know how to use the mouse, run through that section of the tutorial first. If you've been using Windows for even a short time, some of the information will seem obvious, but even experienced users will find little tidbits of useful information.

Once you're done with the tutorial, see if your computer was supplied with any type of printed manual or on-line tutorial for Windows' File Manager or some equivalent housekeeping program. You'll need the features of some type of housekeeping utility so you can manage your hard drive. File Manager can be found in the Main program group in your Windows 3.1 Program Manager. It has no online tutorial but does offer an indexed help file, which can still be very useful for novice users.

Okay, so you feel that you've mastered Windows and now you want to know how to make your Internet experience a more pleasing one. You want to know why you get messages about "Instability with Network Applications" on your little standalone PC, or why you get messages saying you can only "Start One Copy of the Application at a time", when you don't even seem to have any copies of the application running.

There are literally hundreds of little known tricks that can make your life on the net easier. Unfortunately, most have recently been (or are only now being) discovered. Ray Moore, a GMS graduate and fellow Webmaster now working in Florida has a saying, "If it's documented, it's out of date".

Future columns will try to document the most time-effective of these tips, such as upgrading Netscape, managing downloads, reducing network overhead and searching more effectively. Your questions care of this newspaper are welcomed, and if the need presents itself, this column can address other issues such as installing the Internet software for the first time, getting a new modem to work with your Internet software, creating your own home page or using real time audio and video.

If you're a WVNET user, you have been supplied with photocopied manuals for Netscape and Eudora. Please take the time to read these very basic documents. Netscape is the program used to "browse" the Internet, or "World Wide Web" (it's most significant subset). Eudora is the program dedicated to sending and receiving electronic mail (or e-mail), and the next column will recount an interesting West Virginia connection to how the program was named.

Finally, as promised, this week's favorite site is nasa.gov, which of course should be preceded by the ubiquitous http://www. when typing it into your browser.

The main feature of the Internet is its active links. Encompassing an incredible wealth of information related to astronomy and the space program, NASA's main Internet site offers links to many other very interesting places, both within and outside the government organization.

There is a wide variety of pictures, audio and video, and in a future column, I will show you how easy it is to download these for your own enjoyment without cluttering up your hard drive as well as how to use e-mail to share them with others.

It was thanks to nasa.gov, that I recently saw the most remarkable thing I have ever seen in the sky. Some of you may remember the ill-fated Italian Tethered Satellite experiment during a shuttle mission last winter. On the second attempt the full 12 miles of tether was unrolled only to have it snap, flying off into space.

Upon a visit to nasa.gov, I discovered "Naked Eye Viewing Tables" for the satellite as well as a listing on how to sight it from Lewisburg, West Virginia! I wish I knew who to thank for getting Nasa to add us to this listing. Orbiting objects can easily be spotted at dawn and dusk as they catch and reflect sunlight to the earthbound viewer, but most appear only as a slowly moving star sized dot.

The tethered satellite drifted for only a few days before burning up in the atmosphere, but early one a brisk morning late last winter I gazed south to see the tether move slowly across the sky, fully extended and twice the diameter of the full moon in length! It was truly an eerie and remarkable site.

Providing its orbit passes close enough at just the right time, you can view the Space Shuttle at dusk and dawn, and NASA posts viewing tables for this as well. Unfortunately, the main Shuttle viewing table does not list Lewisburg as did the one for the tether, but I did manage to find an obscure NASA server that does list Lewisburg, and in a future column prior to the next mission, I will list the URL for this site.


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