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Buster's guide to the Internet

This page was written around 1999, in the relatively early days of the internet. If you are impressed by this site, or it make you feel like an internet dullard, you really should get into the 21st century. Rest assured, it can't be that hard 'cos I've figured it out. In the spirit of sharing which is the internet, below is a roundup of the stuff I learned when starting my website.

If you want a more professional, easier to read and more amusing version than mine, I'd recommend the latest version of the Rough Guide to the Internet. It explains the internet very simply, and has collected links to the most useful (and useless!) sites on the internet. You can even buy it online here, for under $10.

The Internet explained
What's it for?
Website Ownership
Creating your own pages

So what is the internet?

If you are reading this, your computer is connected via a phone line to a computer server somewhere. A server is just a computer with a permanent phone line connection. The chances are your computer is connected to the server via a modem (which makes dialling noises when you connect) or, if you're at work, perhaps via a LAN (Local Area Network). There are millions of other people around the world with similar connections. The internet is the result of a simple and standardised way of connecting all of these links. The key bits to the internet are IP addresses, domain names, and an internet browser.

An IP Address (Internet Protocol) looks something like this: "". You might have seen a few if you surf the net. If you are connected to the internet now, you can find out your IP address by pressing the Windows start buttom, then selecting "Run" and typing 'winipcfg'. A domain name looks like this "http://www.buster.ch". The http bit stands for hypertext transfer protocol, which defines the language in which the internet works. The rest is the domain name. When a domain name is registered, the domain name is linked with an IP address, so Buster.ch, for example, is always to be found at IP address

The third thing you need to surf the internet is a browser. That's the software you have running to see this screen now. Chances are its either Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. The browser is a programme which reads files written in html, or "hypertext markup language", the language of the internet. More about html later. The world wide web works by connecting two servers via these domain names/IP addresses. So, if you type in a domain name in your browser whilst connected to your server, the server is found where the domain name (and IP address) is located, no matter where that server might be located on the globe. Then the magic starts - the file on the server at the exact address you specified (e.g. "www.buster.co.uk/webmaster.htm) are 'downloaded' from the server - a copy is sent from the remote server, via your server, to your computer. Because you have a browser which can read html, you see the plain English written here and not the programming language. These files are usually called webpages.

Hang on a minute. Does that mean all the files I've read from the internet are stored on my PC?

Well, nearly. Most browsers store the downloaded files in a temporary folder (usually C:/Windows/Temporary Internet Files/) but the browser is set up to delete the files after a while. This storage is called caching. You can change how long these files are kept - Under my Internet Explorer its under "Tools > Internet Options > General > History. In Netscape its in "Edit > Preferences > Navigator > History". So, if you've been surfing something you shouldn't have, you might want to change these settings or delete the temporary files. How do you think they caught Gary Glitter collecting child porn?

Another thing about these temporary files - your PC stores these files to speed things up, too. Sometimes, if you connect to a page you recently looked at, your browser goes to the cached copy of the file on your computer which is much quicker. If you press the refresh button on your browser, you will be connected to the internet copy - useful if you want the latest version of the webpage.

A word about internet speed.

Html files tend to be quite small. This page, with all its text, will be about 25kb. That's a lot smaller than the usual excel or word documents you work with. No matter how old your computer is, it will be able to display this in a fraction of a nano second. So don't tell me you need a new computer because your downloads take too long! Your computer is not the problem - Chances are, its either your modem or your internet service provider (or ISP).

Your modem is rated in Kilobites/seconds (a 'bite' is a unit of information). Typical modem values were 28 or 56 Kb/s. I have an ADSL connection at home which is about 300 Kb/s. At work we have a high performance LAN which is up to 10 Mb/s. If your modem is slow, consider an upgrade to ADSL - chances are, if you pay for a local phone connection to connect to the internet, the new modem will pay for itself in next-to-no-time. And you won't have to wait so long for downloads.

Your problem might be your internet service provider. When you, and a few hundred other people in your area, use the same provider to connect to the internet, you are all connecting via the same server. You are then trying to connect to other servers via the same bit of cable. The ability of that cable to transport information is called bandwidth - consider this to be a pipeline, where the thicker the pipeline is, the higher the bandwidth. Although the majority of service providers have pretty good bandwidth, at peak times of day they will get overloaded, and the whole system slows down. It also doesn't help if, at the other end, you're trying to connect to a site which hundreds of other people are also trying to access, or if that site has poor bandwidth. Try again at other times of the day to see if things improve (e.g. when North America is asleep). If you still have problems, despite a fast modem, you might be using a service provider with poor bandwidth. Ask them what the connection is and consider changing to another. The competition for your cash is fierce out there.

So what does the internet do?

Well, you really are behind the times, aren't you? The internet has been presented as a myriad of things, some of which it might be, some of which it definitely isn't. In my opinion, it is several things but most of all an important source of information, some of it useful, some of it less so, some of it utter tripe. If you have a hobby, an interest, or just want some general information, you can find it on the web. If you really are lost, click here to go to the Rough guide to the Internet. It'll give you some idea of what's available. I use the internet to read news, to find information, to plan trips, to find out what's on at the movies, to do my banking, to buy books and biking bits and presents, to place phone calls, and to video-conference with my parents. And of course to keep the world at large (or the very small bit of it that comes to this site) informed of what I'm up to. And I'm only skimming the surface. Some of the links I use to do these things are listed here.

So you can place phone calls over the net?

If you'd heard you could place phone calls over the internet, I bet you've assumed that it is either science-fiction, or really crap quality, right? Well, no actually. All you need to place an internet phone call is a sound card, a set of speakers, a microphone, and connection to the internet. If you thought it would cost ya, you'd be wrong again. Although a lot of companies are trying to get you to pay for these calls, you don't have to (other than the usual cost to connect to the internet). Try www.skype.com. You have to download a small application, but once you've done this and registered, you can call around the world for the price of your internet connection, or perhaps marginally more. The sound quality is surprisingly good. If you have family in Australia (or halfway around the world from wherever you happen to be!) and plan to use this alot, I would recommend investing in a fast modem ($50), and a headset ($20).

What about video-conferencing?

This works too. In addition to the headset and internet connection, you'll need a webcam. These cost from about $50. Most come with some form of software, usually Microsoft Netmeeting. Once you've got it up and running, its quite intuitive and simple to use. Obviously, it works best if whoever you are calling also has a camera, so ask Aunt Maud in Adelaide to also get one. Once connected to the internet, you'll need to find out your IP address. I have found the simplest way of doing this is to use an instant message programme like ICQ. Download ICQ here and register. From ICQ, you can find your IP address but you can also register friends and relatives so that ICQ will tell you when they are online. That way, you don't need to place a phone call to Aunt Maud first to say "Lets video-conference"! ICQ tells you that Aunt Maud is online and you request a video conference with her. If she accepts, Netmeeting will start up and Aunt Maud's ugly, smiling mug and grating voice will be instantly displayed. Great for parties!

Is the internet secure?

Good question. And I'm hardly qualified to answer it. But nevertheless, in my opinion it's as secure, if not better, than other mediums. I personally use the 'net to do my banking and I have sent my credit card details over the net to buy stuff. I've never had a problem with an internet trasaction, but I do have issues every now and then in 'normal', non-web use such as double billings to my credit card. The latest browsers feature 128 bit encryption which is, I'm told, as safe as houses. If you're worried about sending your card details over the net which is, in theory, very well protected, you should also be are really careful about using your card in public - never let a waiter take your card away from your table, and never leave your wallet unattended at work. You get my point?

Web Site Ownership

You quite like the idea of owning "www.wanker.com", then? Or perhaps you want to be able to tell your mates to email you at "tosser@bugger.it"? Or perhaps you just want a small website to display some news or recent photos? Well, you've come to the right place.

So how do I get started?

You need a website for one. Most internet service providers throw in some web space as part of the deal, so you can use this allocation to start your own page. Useful for small personal websites or hobby pages, but you have to take the domain name they give you (usually something like "www.yourprovider.com/YourName/"). If you want to own your own domain name, you'll need to buy one. Prices vary from country to country, but you can pick up an unregistered .com domain name from about $10. You pay this fee every year. Of course, this assumes the name isn't already owned - you can pay millions for hot .com addresses - the sky really is the limit. One point - you can own a .com or a .net or whatever regardless or where you live, or where your server is. It really doesn't matter. The only limitation is that some countries might want a local mailing address when registering your ownership. If you've decided you want a particular domain name, a good place to start is www.whois.co.uk or www.speednames.com. You can find out if it's available, and also register it online. If you want a domain name from an unusual country (i.e. anything other than .com, .net, .org, or .co.uk), you'll have to find the website for local registrations. Just go to a search engine at type "domain name Zaire" or whatever.

Once you own a domain name, you (and only you!) can use all the web names you can think of starting with that name. So if you were lucky enough to own "www.sexy.com", you also own "www.sexy.com/YesIam" or "www.sexy.com/UR2". You can also have any email address that you want in the form "someone@sexy.com". Once you've bought it, you will always own this domain name unless you choose not to pay the annual fee or if you decide to sell the domain name. Of course, you do not own "www.sexy.co.uk" or "www.sexy.net", so if you're thinking of starting an enterprise on the net, you probably want to find a name which is available in a number of countries. And another thing - if you're thinking of speculating about web names, like buying "www.easymoney.com", there are some limitations. If the name is a trademark, or a recognised company name, you can be accused of "cyber squatting" and you will have to surrender the name. However, it is possible to buy generic names like, say "www.medicines.com" or "www.cars.com" in the hope that someone in the future will buy it off you for millions. Most decent bets for such million dollar names have long since been snapped up.

Once you own a domain name, you need to find a server to sit your stuff on. I use HostPoint in Swtzerland which costs about $5 per month. Unless you own a server, you'll need to rent some space too. There are a number of companies who will offer this service - which is called web hosting. Once you have a server, you need to link your domain name with that server, so that your browser (and everyone else's, for that matter!) knows where to go when you type in your domain name. This is a one-off exercise: you usually need to enter a server name and IP address for your domain when you register (or activate) the domain name. Your server administrator will provide you with the server name and IP address for the server.Once your website is registered, and up and running, you will probably want to set up a few email addresses. The way I have arranged this is that email to my website is automatically forwarded to my current email address. Your server administrator can do this for you. You could also retrieve your mail directly from the server, if you have a webmail facility on the server you have chosen (just ask the administrator). So, if you were thinking that you could save the money you spend with your internet service provider, think again! Because you still need to connect to the internet to get access to your server, you will probably still be best off doing so via your internet service provider.

Creating your own web pages.

To create a website, you need to create web pages. These are written in html, the language of the internet. Before you switch off, this really is quite easy. You don't actually need to programme in html, because there is web publishing software available which does the hard work for you. Netscape Communicator comes with a package called Netscape Composer, for example. Other popular programmes include Microsoft's Front Page or, my favourite, Macromedia's Dreamweaver. These programmes work using a graphical interface into which you type your text, add pictures, tables, etc., and the programme translates this into html. When you save the file, your html editor saves your pretty pages in html code. Of course, if you are really hard-core, you can choose to do things the hard way and programme directly in html - all you need is a text editor. If you want to see what htlm looks like, you can do it right now. If you are using Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, right mouse click on this page and then select 'view source'.

If you get into the whole website thing, it helps to know a bit about how html works. The html goodies site has some great tutorials if you are interested. Actually, the tutorials are not just about html, but include general advice on website design. If you search the net, you can find some other good information about web design.

Lets assume you really want to get a website together, and you've registered a domain or arranged some server space from your internet service provider. Then you've found an html editor and created a few basic pages. Great. Trouble is, these pages are located on your computer, so no-one in the outside world can read them. What you need to do next is to send these pages to your server, called 'uploading'. Because the server is always linked to the internet (is part of the internet), once you've uploaded the pages, everyone with an internet connection can read them! To upload, you need an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) programme. I use one nested in Dreamweaver, but you can get any number of good FTP programmes for free from sites like www.download.com. A lot of computers come with an FTP programme pre-loaded. You'll also need to know the server name or IP address from your server administrator and possibly a user name and password, too.

A word of warning - the internet can be read by anyone anywhere in the World. Don't put personal information onto your website which you would not want the whole world to know. For example, I wouldn't put your home address on a page, or anything like personal financial information, passwords, etc. You might not even want to put your name on it.

A bit about Dreamweaver

I use Dreamweaver to create webpages because it is very easy to use and comes with excellent 'help' pages. Dreamweaver works a bit like powerpoint: You add text, pictures, tables, links or whatever to a page in Dreamweaver, and Dreamweaver changes your instructions into html. It really is that simple once you've tried it out a bit. To get some basic instructions, you might want to think about buying a "Dreamweaver for Dummies" book which is useful when you're starting out. To use Dreamweaver properly, you first set up a 'site', which is what I did to create these pages. Dreamweaver remembers all the links within the site, so that if you change a page name or file name, all the links are automatically updated. Another great feature is an inbuilt FTP programme in Dreamweaver - it includes a synchronise feature which checks that all files on the server are the most up-to-date versions. Dreamweaver has also automated some common dynamic features (like rollovers - where the image changes as you roll your mouse over it) which takes a lot of the spade work out of the programming. They even add some javascript (more about this later) to your pages to make them look really cutting-edge, and are adding extra features all the time.

A word about pictures.

Remember the bit up top about download speed? Well, you might have gone out and bought a fancy, fast new modem, but the rest of the world hasn't. There are still people out there with slow modems who won't appreciate having to wait ages to download your page. They just won't wait around. One sure-fire way to make your download slow is to make the content big. Now, you could type until your fingers bleed in html and it would still make a reasonably small file, but once you start adding pictures, file sizes expand exponentially. A typical html page is about 15 to 25 Kb. A typical 100 X 200 picture, when optimised for the web, will be about the same size. In other words, if you add one small picture to the webpage, you will double the download time. And that's assuming the picture is optimal! Obviously, pictures are what make the net interesting (might be the sole reason for your website), so you will need some.

Before you post pictures, though do consider the following:

1. Picture size. A 200x400 pixel picture is four times the size of a 100x200 picture. At 72 dpi these are about 3" X 6" or 1 1/2 " X 3" on your screen. Make your picture as small as possible without loosing the effect of your stunning photo of Aunt Maud's new hat. If you really must have a huge picture, consider using a thumbnail. This a small copy of the same photo (say 60X80). Put the thumbnail on your webpage and link it to another page containing the full version, so that your audience can choose if they want to download the larger picture.

2. Cut down the picture. If you have a scorcher of a picture which is 80% sky, trim the photo. That way, you can cut the file size and just show what you really wanted to show all along!

3. File Type. There are two main types of picture formats: gif and jpg. These use different algorithms to compress the data in your picture, so each one works best in different situations. In general, save your pictures in gif format if they have large blocks of clearly defined colours, like large bold text. Use jpg for complicated changes of colours, as found in a typical photograph. Another feature with jpg is that you can choose the quality when you save it (on a scale of 1 to 10). I have found that 4 is probably the best compromise between quality and file size. If you're not sure which format is best, save your picture in both formats and see which one has the smallest file size and looks the best.

4. Optimise your resolution. You will need a picture editor to trim, edit and manipulate pictures (more about that later), so you're going to be able to alter the picture resolution. Your screen displays at 72 dpi (dots per inch), so saving files for the internet at a higher resolution is pointless. If your image is 200dpi, and you display it at 72dpi, it is nine times larger than it needs to be!

5. Colours. Most photo manipulation software allows you to select how many colours you want. Sometimes, you can remove most colours, without visibly effecting the picture, and then save to a much smaller file size (especially with gifs). Please note though, that you will only see what your monitor displays - if you are working with pictures you should change your monitor settings to true colour, or else you might not see the changes which other people will see.

For picture editing, I use Photoshop, which is the holy grail of photo manipulation. It has a great 'save for web' feature which allows you to view the photo is several versions and qualities to see which offers the best compromise of file size to visual effect. However, it costs a bundle so you'll probably be fine with the Windows photo editor. The important features are ability to trim or crop, change the resolution, change the numbers of colours and to save in jpg of gif format, which the photo editor can do. If you want to get a more advanced programme, "Jasc paintshop pro" comes recommended. Another useful bit of software to have is "Webgraphics Optimizer Professional" which allows you to preview the effects of different file formats or colour settings. You can find all this stuff at download.com.To get my photos into digital format, I have a scanner with 300dpi scanning resolution, which is more than adequate for the internet. I also have a digital camera and can takes shots directly in a digital format, which again offers a fine resolution for the internet. Once I have scanned or downloaded the pictures from the camera, I go through the steps above to make the photos as small as possible. You can also just copy the pictures off the internet if you find some nice stuff - this is particularly relevant for logos, artwork and clipart. In case you don't know how, just right mouse click on a picture and select 'Save picure as' or 'Save image as'.Note: When you upload your webpages to the server, you will have to upload the picture files as well! The files are displayed in the webpage, but they also need to reside on the same server to work. Otherwise, a nasty grey blob with a question mark will appear in the place of Aunt Maud's mug shot.

A bit about screen resolution.

Another think to think about when creating web pages is your screen resolution. My screen at work is set a 1024 by 768. I have a 19" monitor at home set to 1280 x 1024. Your screen is set at . Many people still have their screens set to 800 x 600 (I like to think I have better eyesight than most people - maybe not for much longer). These numbers are just the number of dots on your monitor (e.g. 800 across by 600 down). When you put your website together, it's important to remember that these different settings exist, and to design your site for one setting. This site is designed for 1024 x 768. Why is that important? Well if you've just spent time carefully arranging items on a page so that it looks good to you, you want it to look good for others too, don't you? If you fit everything onto a 1024 by 768 page, people with 800 by 600 might have to use a long scroll bar to see your webpage, whilst those with 1280 by 1024 might have an ugly empty expanse on one side. Or worse still, the pictures or menus you have carefully lined up aren't aligned at all on Aunt Maud's screen! To get around this, once you've designed your site, check that your pages look OK at other settings. You can do this either by changing your screen resolution (Control Panel > Display > Settings), or by asking some friends to check your site by looking at it and surfing around - known as 'beta testing'. If your friends are willing to help, this is the best solution as they will probably have different browsers and colour settings too, and will spend some time checking links, spellchecking, etc. so the whole site will be checked.

Advanced stuff

Remember how I said that html was the language of the internet? Well that was a lie. Actually, it's a half-truth: html was the original language of the internet, but there are others now. The problem with html is that it is static - nothing can move or change on an html page and you cannot have interactivity. Original html couldn't even display pictures until someone found a way to get around this (then they changed the language so that it could). So, although html itself evolves, it still hasn't got all the features that everyone could want. Because of this, other programmes were introduced with extra bells and whistles on, such as javascript. If you've found a page where stuff moves or flashes, the chances are its done with Javascript (the menu on this page, for example). All this has a couple of implications:

1. Because html evolves, if your browser is old, it won't have see all the features of the latest versions of html. You should keep you browser up-to-date by downloading an upgrade periodically. They are free. I prefer Internet Explorer but Netscape Navigator is fine, too.

2. If you are posting webpages, you should know that some people (morons!) will have old browser versions, so if you have fancy html or javascript, they might not see the page as you intended. Or at all. I have tended to ignore this audience with my site, but then I'm not making a living from it. If you plan to, provide an alternative page for people with bygone browsers.

3. Netscape and Internet Explorer use different versions of html. Nothing really to worry about, but because html evolves, and the new browser releases appear at different times, they have slightly different standards. If you are making your own webpages, its useful to check the pages in both browsers before you release them to make sure they look OK in both.

Javascript can be included within the html programming, using certain protocols (you can see it in the source code for this page). If you want to programme Javascript, it is pretty complicated and you should probably buy a self-help guide like on of the 'Dummies' series. Luckily, you don't have to: there are loads of scripts on the web which are available for free. You can just cut-and-paste them off the web and use them in your own pages. That's how I got the fancy menu thing. Some good scripts are available at dynamicdrive.com or at Javascripts.com, which also has excellent javascript tutorials. Javascript is by no means alone. Perl, for example, is typically used for database applications such as web-based shops. There are also loads of add-ons for webpages like flash (which creates the fancy movies you see on the real cutting edge websites), ActiveX, Fireworks, Java Applets, well as limitless add-ons for sounds files, movies files and so on.

OK, I've got my site together, but how will people know about it?

You need to tell 'em. Of course, if you just have a simple personal page, you might be satisfied with emailing all your friends and family and telling them it exists. A more sophisticated way is to register your site with search engines. If you have a favourite search engine, they usually feature registration facilities. There are other sites which will register your site in several search engines (for free!) in one go. Check the rough guides advice to find them.Your site will also register with some search engines automatically, based on the content of the site. Some search engines search the page title, some search the text of the page, and others search what is called the meta tags of the webpage. Meta tags are bits of code hidden in the html of the webpage. They include keywords and a description of the content of the site. If you hunt around in the source code for the header of this page, you'll see the meta names mention 'heidelberg', 'mountain biking' and other such garbage. Once you've registered with search engines, there are various websites where you can check how successfully your site is placed. Check the Rough Guides pages to find out how.

And Finally... some tips and tricks.

You've registered your domain, created some pages, optimised the graphics and downloaded the whole shebang onto a server. Then you registered your site with some search engines and started to get visitors. Wahey! But how do you know anyone is actually stopping by? Apart from random emails you will get (believe me!), a more scientific method to monitor traffic to your site is to insert a 'hit counter'. Mine is from Link Exchange although there are many others on offer (for free) on the web. Look around! If you get a lot of hits, you can, in theory, earn cash from directing traffic from your site to other online businesses. As you can tell from my hit counter, I'm not there yet so have no advise to offer. Another useful tool to run is netmechanic. This site checks your webpages against a number of criteria, like download speed, broken links, search engine response and so on and will give your site a rating. You can use this information to improve your site and it's presence on the web. Netmechanic is not alone - there are a number of similar sites out there on the web.

Favicon's: If you are running IE 5+ and you bookmark my webpage, you'll notice a small picture of me like the one here, instead of the usual IE logo under your favourites. You might have seen this with other webpages already. This is a favicon. Visit www.favicon.com to find out how they work. Well, I hope you found some of this enlightening or at least informative. If you have any questions, email me (see contacts above) and I'll try to answer them. Good luck with your web endeavours!


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