Top 10 Lies, Rumors, Myths And Hard Truths About The Internet
The President and Congress passed laws about the Internet. Every talk, magazine and news show has done a feature on it. It's even the Topic of the Week on sit-coms and dramas such as Picket Fences. It's either the greatest development of the century or the most useless, depending on who is talking.Here are the Top 10 Topics you should know about this year:1. Soon you will be able to get local and long distance phone, news, shopping, cable TV, and the Internet all from a single provider.Absolutely true.In the upstate New York town of Elmira, Time-Warner is providing Internet access to its cable customers. In addition to a zillion television stations, subscribers can get their local news, access to local politicians, and, with the use of a special cable-linked modem that is significantly faster than the usual phone-based modem, go on-line.AT&T recently announced that it will provide full, unlimited Internet and Web access for about $20 a month to its subscribers. It is also moving to compete with local phone companies and has been reported to be in the process of becoming a cable provider. If a company currently provides cable, phone, or Internet service, it is no trouble at all to add the others and offer them to customers for only a few dollars more. It is possible that we will see this fully implemented within the next decade-or even sooner. (See the section below on video phones and you'll understand why these companies are rushing to get into the Internet act.)2. They're coming out with a $500 box to hook you up to the Internet.True, but so what?You can buy a car for $8,000 or less but it won't compare or compete with a Rolls Royce or a Ferrari, With a car, you may not need to go 200 mph or 0 to 60 in under five seconds. You may choose not to have a CD player or air conditioning. If it gets you from here to there and back, you'll be happy.However, when you are on the Internet, unless you restrict yourself to email and only one or two news groups, you will need lots of speed to load and display graphic Web pages. You will need a high-resolution screen to display the three-dimensional VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) Web pages. You'll need both the speed and the resolution for pages that contain Java (a special programming language) applets. (Java programs are embedded in the Web page and actually run on your computer. With Java, you can use a program on the Web without having to buy it or load it on your computer). And, to fully benefit from your on-line connection, you also need a sound card and speakers. Finally, what will you do without a hard disk to store data and programs or a diskette or CD-ROM drive to load new programs?With the latest Pentium processor chips costing several hundred dollars, it would seem logical that no $500 machine -- even if it used your TV for its monitor -- could provide the power you need for state-of-the-art Internet connections.Here are some realistic prices for getting on the Internet and the Web:Allow $2,000 (plus or minus) for a reasonable computer system. It should have as fast a Pentium chip and as large a hard drive as you can afford. Do not settle for less than a 28,800 baud fax/modem -- the number is an indicator of speed. The monitor should be Super VGA. Most important, get 16 megabytes of RAM (Random Access Memory) memory; with less, some programs won't run and others will be slow, while more RAM will make very little difference. (The hard disk stores programs and the RAM is where they run.) The system should be multimedia: it should contain a CD-ROM drive, a sound card, and speakers; make sure there is a microphone connection. You should get Windows 95 and lots of software pre-loaded as part of the bundle. You will probably buy at least $1.000 worth of software and as much of hardware in the next six months to a year.If you still have the confidence to buy a Mac, you should be able to get corresponding items in your system.Your Internet subscription should cost about $20 to $30 per month for unlimited access and include a personal Web page. Of course you need a phone line.If you don't already have a good printer or a scanner, you might consider one of the new breed of machines that combines a fax with a scanner, modem, and laser printer, all of which can be operated from your computer. They are priced in the $400 to $600 range. If you are "into" graphics, you might consider a color ink-jet printer, also in the $400 to $600 range. Be sure to get one like the Canon 610, which has 720 by 720 dpi (dots per inch) resolution and separate ink cartridges for each color ink (black, red, blue, and yellow, only with slightly different names).3.Right now, the World Wide Web is so good, you have to be on-line.ROTFL. That's an acronym used in email and new groups that means: Rolling On The Floor Laughing. Consider: there are a great many Web pages devoted to what's in Paul's refrigerator, what Nancy's cat ate today, and why you should send all your money to Harry.Many of the business Web pages are merely versions of their catalogs. There are pages that no longer exist by the time you find them, pages that won't load and may freeze your computer, pages that are dead ends with no links anywhere, pages with fifty graphics that take hours to load and display, boring pages, and disgusting pages, among others. Many personal pages and quite a few commercial pages are very poorly coded.There is a great deal of value on the Web, and much of the good stuff will make your life happier and easier. Still, you can live without it. If you have no need for email (your son is in college across the country), if there are no news groups you want to follow (you are an avid fan of Monty Python), if there is nothing you want to research (your daughter has a paper due on Brazil), you can get along without the Internet or the Web.On the other hand, there are providers that give unlimited access to the Internet and the Web for under $20 a month (plus local phone costs) and even offer you a personal Web page at no more than $5 extra. If you already have a Mac or a PC running Windows (any kind from 3.1 on) and a modem, you're sure to get your money's worth from the Internet.On the other other hand, don't expect all the hype to be true. When you see Web pages load instantly during demos on your favorite talk show, remember: they are using ISDN or T1 phone lines that would cost you a great deal. The same pages may take minutes to load on your home system. And don't expect much from full-motion video, Java applets, VRML, or sound files (music or speech). Right now, they are just gimmicks and some of the presentations are quite juvenile. The people creating them are just now learning their trade.4. Your young child can easily find pornography and directions for making a bomb on the Internet, and there is nothing you can do about that.Arrgh! Anything available on the Internet is available without it.Would you leave a young child unsupervised in a room of delicate antiques? There are programs that run "in the background" while your child is on the Internet and will block out anything you want him or her to miss. If your computer does not yet have such a program, your child would have to actively seek most of the "bad" stuff. By the time your child is teen-aged, if he or she wants to see "dirty pictures" or find out how to build a bomb, they're going to do so with or without a computer.In an experiment to see what teens actually were doing with porn on the Internet, this writer followed the alt.binary.erotic.anime news group for several days. In news group lingo, alt means a group is unmoderated -- nobody checks what is sent back and forth. Binary means a graphic image on computer. It is hoped you already know what erotic means. Anime refers to a form of cartooning and animation that started in Japan.For the first few days, the images posted to the news group were mostly Disney-type characters in sexy clothes and poses. Perhaps one or two were meant to be a certain bunny or a certain mouse engaging in a reasonably normal act of sex, but one would have to strain to see the implications of the pose.Finally, an actual example of a teen's idea of porn came across: it was made from a photo that had been scanned into a computer, touched up, and posted. The photo was of the fuselage of a World War Two airplane on which the crew had painted a cartoonish pin-up "girl" in uniform with her bosom exposed. Hmmmm.Almost all the sexually oriented information and graphics on the Internet and the Web come from and go to adults. The children who seek such material are those who will do so under any circumstance. There are some children who are "approached" by email or while on a chat line but, while such occurrences are hateful, if you have trained your child about avoiding such situations on the street, he or she will have no problem dealing with them on-line.If you have not yet talked to your child about those situations, do so now. Your child may have a friend with a computer and an Internet account.5. You can have a video phone connection to anywhere in the world for the price of a local phone call.Absolutely true. Of course you will need a top-of-the-line Pentium computer equipped with a Super VGA graphic monitor, a sound card, microphone, speakers, and special software in addition to your modem, phone line and Internet connection. So will the person at the other end.You can call anywhere in the world for the cost of a local phone call. The video may be a bit jumpy and some of the software allows only one end of the connection to speak at any time. Still, many companies maintain such a connection full-time between their offices here in the US and those in Europe and elsewhere.Expect this feature to cost several hundred dollars additional.6. With search engines such as Yahoo, WebCrawler, and Lycos, you can research and find information on anything.Absolutely wrong.These services maintain Web pages on which you can enter one or more words; they will then try to find all the Web sites that have that word. They'll also try to find ftp (File Transfer Protocol) and gopher sites; those are Internet sites from which you can download data and programs direct to your computer for later viewing or processing. For example, you can search for the word "Netscape," follow the search link to Netscape's page, and download a copy of Netscape Navigator Web Browser to use for free for ninety days.You can find quite a bit, but these search engines face several problems. First, as with all search engines, you have to know how to phrase your search questions. If you search for King Arthur, you'll get all Kings, including Martin Luther Jr., and all Arthurs, including Chester A. The engines return about ten sites per screen, so it may take lots of screens till you find one you want.The services make their database from summary statements sent in by the Web page owners or from the text on the page. When you search for Merlin's student, you'll get the Web page address of every college student named Arthur. If the Web page owner doesn't send in a summary and the service hasn't found it yet, neither will you.As long as you are prepared to be both disappointed and frustrated, the best use of such search engines is to find updates to computer programs, contact with companies for product information, ordering, and customer support -- no more "hold, please" on the phone.The Web plus these search engines may never replace books. This writer wanted to look up Graduate schools offering Ph.D. programs in his son's field. First, the search site. Go through five pages of possible sites to find the correct one. Load the home page of that site. Enter the level.(Load next page: 30 seconds to a minute.) Enter the field. (Load next page.) Enter the geographic locations. (Load next page.) Pick first school. (Load next page.) Sequence through several pages for that school. Back to home page -- not the page with the list of schools with that specialty and the correct locations. Repeat for next school.Given what my time is worth and that I might want to do this again at some other time, think how much easier it would be to buy a book and flip through it.The flip side: when my son came home last week, he asked me to look up an organization a friend had recommended. A quick two-minute search got me to a page located on a computer in London which informed us that the group was actually a cult and to be avoided.7. You need your own Web page ...... like you need that proverbial hole in your head.Suppose you had to write three or four pages about yourself. You are allowed to put in any of your personal photos and the addresses of anyone or any company you find interesting. The phone company will put a note next to your name that you will send a copy of this work to anyone who wants it. Those people can write or call you to give their opinions. You have to pay $5 more per month on your phone bill for this privilege.You really need this service, right?Well, you actually might. One couple, as reported in The New York Times, first used their page to give directions to their wedding and their house . They then added pictures from the wedding and then from their honeymoon. Writers can put up their work-in-progress for comments.It may be fun and perhaps useful to have a Web page, but it's not necessary or important. Because it comes bundled with many Internet subscriptions -- or at very little added cost -- you might as well take it and play around with it. Right now, it's the status symbol of the 90s. You will end up with a very crowded business card if you include home, office and fax numbers, your email address, and your Web page address.While it is fairly simple, you will have to learn to add HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) code, which tells browsers how to display your page. Unfortunately, you don't really have control over how your page will look. Each brand of browser interprets HTML differently and each person on the Internet can choose the size of their browser window, as well as the fonts, backgrounds, and colors used.8. With digital cameras and video connections, you won't need regular cameras anymore.Digital cameras are quite expensive, especially in relation to their quality: poor. The best cost close to $1,000. For much less, you can buy a good regular film camera and a color scanner. Reasonably good color scanners are in the $300 to $500 range. Good cameras are less than that.After you scan in a picture, you can save it on your computer in one of a variety of formats and mount it on your Web page. While many Web browsers can read and display a variety of formats, the so-called gif format is the one they all can handle. You can also attach the digitized photo image file to your email and send it to a friend or relative who can then display it on their computer.By the way, unless you are using the scans for professional printing, you will rarely go over 150 dpi, especially if you intend to mount them on the Web. Your printer won't be able to handle much more, even if it has 600 or better dpi capabilities, and your hard drive will get filled up really fast..There are gizmos such as the Minolta Snappy that connect to your computer at one end and a video source (a VCR, video camera, or your TV) and capture a still to a computer file. The quality here is much better and depends, to a great extent, on the quality of your video source.9. It doesn't cost much to be on-line.Well, we said that didn't we? Oh, you mean for a commercial account and a commercial Web page. That's different.Basic unlimited commercial accounts can cost 50% more or better -- if you can get unlimited usage. Web space can run $20 or more per month. That doesn't seem so bad. It isn't, unless you want a successful Web page.To be successful, you'll want to have forms for visitors to fill out which will be stored, manipulated, and possibly followed up by your provider's computer. (You don't want to become your own provider.) You'll need someone to program your page. That costs. And if you want people to come back to your page many times, you need that someone to maintain and change your page frequently. You'll register your page with all the major search engines. That's free. Lots of people visit your site, send forms to you, and download information. That costs. Your basic Web page charges include a small amount of "traffic," but you'll pay extra as more people visit. There's more at this end, but you now have the idea. Your basic charges could grow to $50, $100, $300 per month -- maybe more -- depending on maintenance and traffic. There's also an annual charge for a "domain" name: instead of email@example.com, you would have rpi.com as your company domain, firstname.lastname@example.org for an email address, and www.rpi.com for your Web page.You will then discover that having a Web page from which customers can get product information. Order, and get service, you need two more things. First, you need to have something to give your visitor for free just for visiting. The movie Batman Returns gave visitors downloadable poster art and games to play, among other things.Next, you need to add the Web page information to all your advertising material. Further, you need extra advertising material to get that information out. That costs.Go to the next section for more on this topic.10. Every major company has a Web page where you can get information, order products and services, and get help when the product breaks down. Even the smallest business can make a fortune on the Web.Most major corporations do have a Web site. Some are very good; most are merely fair. It's disheartening, but the fact is a major company must have a Web presence. Fortunately, in terms of the budget of such large companies, the expense is minimal and the possible benefits huge. Handling complaints and updates via the Web is significantly less expensive than traditional methods and most customers will be better served and happier.None of that is necessarily true for smaller companies. Certainly every company should have an Internet presence, but perhaps not a Web site. Your provider should offer autoresponders, mailbots, and other automated services; if it doesn't, it's time for a new provider.You can get a lot of benefits by taking part in news groups and mailing lists; you might even start one of your own. Some of them will be like joining a professional organization. You might join others because they relate to personal interests and hobbies, but people will get to know you and your company. Don't forget: blatant advertising in a news group or mailing list is considered very bad manners and can get you kicked out of the group. Always read a group's FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions.CONCLUSIONShould you be on the Web? Yes: it's relatively inexpensive and there certainly will be enough there to make it worthwhile for both the individual and companies, both large and small. Right now, it's very much like when phones first came out. Not everything works. Not everybody is reachable. Service can be terrible and support nonexistent. But if you were suddenly transported back to that time, would you sign up to get one of those new-fangled things? Most of you would.