Trouble going online
It was working yesterday and now you can't get a connection to check your
e-mails. Or you've never managed to get a connection at all. This
troubleshooting guide should help you trace the problem and be up and
surfing in no time.
Start with the obvious things: Is your modem switched on? Is the power
cable plugged into the power socket? Is the modem linked up correctly to
both your computer and the telephone socket on the wall? It sounds silly but
a huge percentage of problems like this are down, literally, to the cat or the
kids unknowingly pulling a cable out of a socket.
If you have an external modem (a box which sits on or next to your
computer) check to see that the lights on the front of it come on, indicating
that it's at least trying to make a connection. Normally you'll probably only
have just the power-on indicator light shining, when you attempt to connect
to your ISP it should light up like a Christmas tree.
After passing these checks it's time to start checking your software. In
Windows 98/98/ME, double-click the 'My Computer' icon on your desktop
and then double-click the 'Dial Up Networking' icon in there. You should
see an icon representing your connection to your ISP; right-click this and
then left-click Properties on the pop-up menu. Carefully check and then re-
check all the dialogue boxes here to make sure that everything matches
exactly the configuration given to you by your ISP - even an extra full stop
or a space (even a space at the end of your username or password) could be
enough to foul things up. Re-type your password CAREFULLY with the
same mix of upper and lower case as used in the original.
After this, if your connection fails - and particularly if you've achieved
normal connections previously and haven't changed any settings at all (and
can be confident that the kids haven't changed anything either), there are a
number of potential external causes.
First, check that your phone line actually works - pick up the telephone
handset and make sure you have a dial tone.
Next, watch carefully what happens when you try to make a connection and
see if there are any error messages or dialogue boxes popping up.
Unfortunately, such error messages are usually written by geeks, not
humans, so they may not make much sense to you. But try to note down
exactly what they say, if anything - this will be useful evidence if and when
you have to confront your ISP.
Try to make a connection at different times of the day; it's peak-time after 6
pm in the UK when everyone's arriving home from school and work and
trying to get their homework done and check their e-mails, so don't be too
surprised if all lines are busy. Your ISP will have a finite number of modems
waiting to take your call, and if they're all occupied you'll have to wait for
someone else to go offline before you can get online.
Ask around among your friends to see if anyone else uses the same ISP and
is having the same problem - if not, it could be your setup. The problem
could also be your telephone line, it can be worth asking BT or whoever
provides it to check the quality. If you suffer from permanently low
connection speeds at all times of the day, tell the BT engineer that you want
the 'gain' turned up. BT have a legal and contractual obligation only to
provide voice-quality lines - and this minimum quality means you'll be
getting much slower connections than the latest 56k modems can offer.
If nothing can be done about the quality of your lines, check to see if the
new BT ADSL service is available in your local area. It offers always-on
connections 10 times faster than any ordinary modem and, while it's not
cheap, it is an 'all you can eat' service - you pay a fixed monthly amount. If
it's not available, consider ISDN lines instead - the BT Home Highway
service offers this at reasonable rates and, in conjunction with an ISP
offering fixed-price dialup service can be value for money.
4-5 Getting personal
When you fire up your web browser you will probably see the same page
programmed in for you by your ISP. It may be useful - the latest news and
weather, interesting hints and tips, pointers to other useful sites and so on.
Or it could be deadly boring and never change, offering the same (and
sometimes even broken) links to a set of tired and dull sites. It may be so
poor that you now never even pause to look at it, instead clicking on your
Favourites menu to go somewhere else straight away instead.
If there is one page you like to see every time you go online then set it as
your home page. With the page open in Internet Explorer 5 (you can do this
with other browsers too - check the help file for exact details) just click
Tools/Internet Options/General and then click the 'Use Current' button under
the 'Home page' section. That's all there is to it. Now, when you fire up your
web browser it'll automatically open at that page.
There are a couple of alternatives to this methodology; first, you can use one
of the growing number of 'Portal' pages like Yahoo!, Excite or MSN. These
allow you to add news about those things which interest you - fashion, news
from specific countries, show business gossip and so on - as well as other
information. You'll be able to get weather forecasts for your local area
(Yahoo! has more detailed information on this than MSN), the latest
technology news, finance, TV listings and so on.
The second option is to create your own start-up page. You'll find a sample
one at http://www.drkeyboard.com/portal (SUBS: THIS IS CURRENTLY
http://www.drkeyboard.co.uk/words/portal.htm BUT WILL CHANGE BY
MID-AUGUST) which you can download and modify as you wish. To do
this, open the page and, if you're using Internet Explorer 5, click File/Save
As and save the page somewhere you can find it again.
Then, still in IE5, click File/Open, navigate to the saved page and open it.
Now, click the 'Edit…' button. If you have a web page editing program
already installed, it should open with the page in it ready to be changed; if
not, it may open in FrontPage Express or Notepad. If the former is the case,
adding new links is relatively simple - type its name in a spare box, highlight
it, click the 'Hyperlink' button, type the address in and save the page. If it
opens in Notepad and you have no experience of web page editing, you may
find the resulting screen a little intimidating. However, the author of the
page online at Dr Keyboard is open to suggestions and, if enough people
request the addition of a particular site, it could be added - there's a link on
the page to do just this.
Side bar: Setting up email addresses for all the family
This is - usually - a two-step process; first, when you set up your account
with your ISP you'll have an opportunity to set up (then or later) more than
one account; so if your account is email@example.com
you'll also be able to set up firstname.lastname@example.org and so
on. The second step is to set up your e-mail program either to collect all e-
mails sent to email@example.com or, more likely, to have
separate collection of e-mails for each family member. In Outlook Express 5
you can use different 'Identities' to do this - click on File/Identities/Add New
Identity to run the wizard which will guide you through the process of
adding new accounts. Once you've done this you'll choose one account as
the 'default' e-mail identity which opens when you start Outlook Express,
and you can switch to other identities by clicking File/Switch Identity.
6-7 3,2,1… download
When you run the installation CD from your ISP it will automatically install
the two most useful programs you'll need for working online - a web
browser (usually Microsoft's Internet Explorer) and an e-mail program
(usually Outlook Express).
Once you've been surfing for a while, however, you'll discover that you need
a few more programs which probably won't have been installed by default.
The first thing you'll discover when downloading many kinds of files is that
they frequently end with the three letters 'zip'. When you double-click the
file to try to open it, your computer will ask what you want to do with it?
Zipped files, as they're called, have been compressed to take up less room on
the computer which stores them and to reduce the amount of time it takes to
download them. You need to de-compress them to make any use of them,
and for this you can use either WinZip (http://www.winzip.com) or PKZip
(http://www.pkunzip.com). Install either of these programmes - they come
as what's called self-extracting archives and end with .exe which means you
just need to double-click the downloaded file to run it - and they'll
automatically take over the care and unzipping of Zipped files. Double-click
a file ending with '.zip' now and they'll pop up a 'wizard' to guide you
through the installation process.
You'll also find yourself being asked if you want to download various other
programs when you visit other kinds of sites, notably those which use a
piece of animation software called Flash. Sites like this are very good at
pointing you to the site you need to visit to get the viewer you need to see
their content, just follow the links and you'll be guided through the process.
However, there's also a third kind of site where you'll be invited to download
an executable program which, the site will tell you, you need to download to
see their content. These are usually, shall we say, 'risqué' sites and you may
end up downloading a piece of software which apparently does nothing; in
fact, it could be installing a secret 'back door' in your computer which allows
the authors access to your machine without you knowing about it. There's
also a piece of software available which, when you run it, will change the
dial-up mechanism of your computer so that instead of dialling your regular
ISP it's dialling an extremely expensive premium-rate telephone number in a
foreign country - and you only find out when you receive a huge telephone
bill. The good news is that decent anti-virus programmes like those
mentioned above can detect this sort of download and warn you about it.
There are a number of good places to look for interesting software which,
usually, is try-before-you-buy 'Shareware' or, better still, completely free
'freeware'. Start at http://www.tucows.com or http://www.shareware.com.
You'll also find many individuals have gathered together collections of
software useful to various groups of users. In the UK, try
http://www.mercury.org.uk where you'll find many interesting widgets.
Sidebar: Accessing music and video
With faster connection speeds available to many users now, you'll find that
as well as browsing 'static' web pages made up of words and still images,
some sites also offer music and even video content. MP3 is the buzzword
where music's concerned - named after the file format in which the music
arrives (files end with .mp3). For music, start at http://www.mp3.com/
where you'll find not just music to download but also recommendations on
the best software to actually play these files. For video, have a look at sites
like the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/) where you'll be able to watch the news
and other programmes and CNN (http://cnn.com) for international news.
Real TV (http://www.realtv1.com) has an interesting selection of video
footage available and you can even upload your own home movies. As
above, when you arrive at sites like this you'll be pointed to other sites where
you can download the viewer programs you need to see what's going on, just
follow the instructions on your screen. You'll probably end up downloading
QuickTime (http://www.quicktime.com), RealPlayer (http://www.real.com)
or Microsoft's Media Player
(http://www.eu.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia). Or, even more
likely, all three.
8-9 Getting the best out of your savings
The first thing to do when downloading any files from the Internet is to save
them somewhere you'll easily be able to find them again - create a folder
called 'Downloads' on your desktop, for example. It's also useful to create
sub-folders inside this one for each separate program download so you can
give them an easily-remembered name - many have cryptic file names like
u5i43a.zip which won't mean much to you in a few months' time when you
want to re-install it. Which raises another point - although you won't need
this downloaded file to keep running the program, if your computer crashes
and you have to reinstall it you'll save yourself the bother of downloading it
all over again if you've put it somewhere safe.
The same applies to saving pages of information which you want to read
later - put them somewhere you can find them again, perhaps in a folder
underneath your 'Downloads' folder called something like 'Saved web
pages'. This is now a lot simpler using Internet Explorer 5 or 5.5 than it used
to be; with the page you want to save open, just click File/Save as, navigate
to your save folder, give the page a sensible name (they often have silly
names) and save it. To read it again, either navigate your way to the save
folder using Windows Explorer or via My Computer and double-click the
page name to open it, or click File/Open in IE5/IE5.5 and navigate your way
to the page saved on your computer.
You can also have your computer automatically save a page (or series of
pages) to your hard disc at set intervals so it's always available to you. So
you could set it up to have downloaded your favourite newspaper overnight,
for example, so you can read it over breakfast (if you have a computer at the
breakfast table, that is). Just navigate to the page as usual then in IE5/5.5
click Favorites/Add to Favorites and tick the 'Make Available Offline' check
box. Next, click the Customize button to specify a schedule for updating the
page - every day at 6 am, for example.
Sidebar: working offline
When you're actually connected to your ISP and your modem is humming,
you're working online - you are on the line to the Internet. When you're not
connected (which is, presumably, most of the time) you're offline. If you're
doing something like reading those web pages you've saved, you're said to
be working offline. If you're still paying for your to connect to the Internet
(and there are plenty of 'free' offers around now so investigate them) it's to
your advantage to work offline - i.e. to download your e-mails and web
pages, disconnect from your ISP and then work on them while you're not
running up your telephone bill. This is a particularly useful way to deal with
e-mails - and taking time to think about them is no bad thing, it's all too easy
to fire off a hasty reply, the tone of which you'll regret when it's too late. In
OE5, you can make sure that it hangs up the line after checking for new
mails by clicking Tools/Options/Connection and ticking the 'Hang up after
sending and receiving' box. With Internet Explorer 5/5.5, click
Tools/Internet Options/Connections/Settings/Advanced and check the
'Disconnect if idle for…' box, then type in an appropriate number of minutes
- 10 or 20 is about right.
10-11 You’ve got more than mail!
How to send attachments – text and pics.
Once you've mastered the art of sending and receiving e-mails, the next step
is working out how to send something other than just the bare text in your
message. Enter the Attachment, so-called because it's a file - any file
including pictures and programs - which you send 'attached' to your e-mail
If you use Outlook Express, you'll know that you've received an e-mail
attachment by the small paperclip symbol next to the 'From' line in the
messages listing window and a larger paperclip on the grey bar above the
text of the message itself. All you have to do to open it is click this second
paperclip and then either just click the name of the attachment or save it
somewhere and open it from there.
To send an attachment, compose your message as normal and then in
Outlook Express click the paperclip icon on your toolbar or click Insert/File
attachment. Navigate your way to the file you'd like to attach, select it, click
OK and then send your e-mail as normal.
There are a couple of things to be careful of when sending attachments.
First, remember that most viruses these days are transmitted as e-mail
attachments - see the sidebar for details on how to protect yourself and
others from them
Secondly, think about the size of the file you're sending. If you take a picture
with a modern digital camera you may have noticed that it produces pictures
which are apparently huge - much too large to fit onto one computer screen.
This is fine if you're actually going to print the picture out, but if you're
going to e-mail it to some poor victim (a) they won't be able to view it either
and (b) it will be a huge file which will take you ages to send and them ages
to receive - and, if either of you is still paying for your telephone calls to the
internet, cost you a fortune into the bargain.
If your (or scanner if it's a scanned-in photo you're sending) comes with
some picture-editing software, use it to reduce the picture to something like
640x480 pixels in size. Computer screen pictures are made up of tiny dots
called pixels (it's short for Picture Cells), and 640x480 is generally the
smallest size screen anyone uses these days - many are larger, but this size
fits comfortably onto any screen. Also, change its format to JPEG (the file
will end with .jpg). JPEG pictures are compressed to some extent and,
therefore, are smaller and so easier and quicker to e-mail. If you don't have
any software to do this editing you can use the free program Irfan View,
downloadable from http://www.mercury.org.uk.
Viruses are so-called because they are spread from computer to computer
without you really knowing it's happening, in the same way humans transmit
the common cold virus by coughing or sneezing. They can have as
devastating effect on your PC as a bad cold does on you - or worse, deleting
files, trashing your hard disc, even rendering your machine completely
unusable for good.
So before you download any software (or files of any kind for that matter),
make sure you first install an effective anti-virus program; Symantec's
Norton Anti-Virus is very good and you can download a free, trial version
from Both will check e-mails as they arrive and files as you download and
Also, it's a good idea to include a 'Signature' line in your e-mail (click
Tools/Options/Signatures in OE5 to set one up) that says something like
"This e-mail was sent without attachments - if any arrive, please delete them
and notify me." All you have to do then is remember to delete the line when
you do send an attachment so recipients will know whether you've sent them
a virus accidentally
12-13 Chat rooms
Problems and answers that don’t fit any of previous sections
Copy filed already
Applet - Small programme often running inside a browser (Q.V.) window.
ASCII - American Standard Code for Information Interchange, the basic
kind of text which most computers can understand.
PC - Personal Computer
POP3 (instead of POP)
Surf - Browse around the World Wide Web, usually fairly aimlessly. Like
URL - Uniform Resource Locator, an address on the internet such as
WWW or World Wide Web - Invented by Tim Berners-Lee as a way of
sharing basic textual information with his fellow scholars, this is the part of
the Internet you 'surf' using your 'Web browser'.
The Acronym Finder - http://www.acronymfinder.com/
Yahoo's list of anti-acronym pages -
19-23 Listings (as in my copy above)
Personal Portal browser start-up page: http://www.drkeyboard.com/portal
Freeware/Shareware: http://www.tucows.com, http://www.shareware.com,
Video Software: QuickTime (http://www.quicktime.com), RealPlayer
(http://www.real.com) or Microsoft's Media Player
Video Viewing: http://www.bbc.co.uk/, http://cnn.com,
Anti-virus software: http://www.symantec.com, http://antivirus.cai.com/
Acronyms: The Acronym Finder - http://www.acronymfinder.com/
Yahoo's list of anti-acronym pages -
24 Back cover