A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the INTERNET

by - Jim Pellegrini

Prelude -

This document was written at the request of a friend. I decided to formalize it and share the information with anyone who cares. This is by no means the definitive guide to the Internet or it’s services, but it is definitely a worth while place to start to understand the “Net” and it’s role in the Universe....Sounds profound, but in the final analysis, it takes more than it gives... I hope you enjoy this Hitch-Hiker’s guide to the Internet....

Jim.....

What is the Internet?

The Internet was developed by the US government to interconnect all of their computer networks regardless of manufacture of equipment or software. It defines a specific set of rules (called a protocol) for communicating from computer to computer. A computer network is a way of sharing information between computers instead of having the information on all computers that want to use it. This information can be computer data or even a program. The Internet is a way of doing what is know as Wide Area Networking (WAN), in fact it spans World-Wide as we know it today. The word Internet is actually short for Inter-Network. If you think of a network like a highway system, you can say this; highways that go from state to state are called Interstate highways. Networks that have links to other networks are called Inter-Networks. The Internet is a form of an Inter-Network, only it has taken on a life of it’s own. Originally it was a very bland network, designed strictly for the government and later picked up by colleges as a way of linking campus networks and accessing information on computer servers from remote locations. A computer server is similar to a library. It is a central location for information. Simply put, a server is a place to store computer programs and information. Generally people access computer servers through the computer network, not by being directly connected to it. The Internet, also known as the World Wide Web (WWW), or just “The Web” has grown in both size and function through the years. As Personal Computer (PC) prices continue to drop, more folks are purchasing computers for their home (that might be you.) So the exposure to computers and the Web is growing at an incredible rate. In fact it’s hard to keep up, so if your feeling a little behind your not alone, so am I , and everyone else in this game.... Regardless of whether or not you actually own a PC, chances are you have to deal with one either at work or maybe at the local library when searching the automated card-catalog. Oh well ...you just can’t escape! As more people with less computing background start to use computers the need for a more friendly approach was taken up, most notably, by a man named Bill Gates, president of the company Microsoft. He and his team brought us first the program called Windows and then Windows ‘95. Both of these programs are designed to make computers more “User Friendly” ....yea right! ( well they tried. ) Actually if you were around the things in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s computers where allot harder to deal with then, as opposed to now, with Windows and Windows ‘95. Both Windows and Windows '95 use little pictures called Icons to represent programs and that famous sidekick called a mouse with two or three buttons, used to select the program (icon) we want to run.

Getting back to the Internet... The same type of transition has occurred. Originally the Internet was just a bunch of computers that you could connect to and get files and programs from, not very visually oriented or exciting. No graphics, pictures or otherwise, to speak of. More recently it has developed into a very visual place to be. It has graphics that move, in full color, and a variety of any, and all, pictures you can imagine (and I mean ALL!!!) This is a good thing for the most part as we all enjoy the visual stimulation that it provides. Of course you can still connect to other computers and run their programs or even download files for yourself to run on your computer. So the function and reason for the Net hasn’t changed much, just the size, look and feel has.

If we digest the whole concept slowly, we can bring it down to reality and look at it like this; people want information and entertainment. Computers can be a source of both. Given the amount of information in the world, along with the number of people, it would be near impossible to store this on one single computer...so the Internet was born.

How do I use this thing, and what for?

The Internet can be used a source of information as well as entertainment. I will try to approach this as focused as possible, but it’s just not that clear cut. You see the Internet is actually a living thing, that is, it is always changing in size and shape. Some computers are connected to the Internet at all times and others (like ours at home) are connected only when necessary. Let’s look at some typical examples of Internet computers.
Let’s say I wanted to sell you something, one way I could do this is with the Internet. With that, I have a choice of either buying a permanent connection to the Net and advertising the product on my computer or I can pay for space on someone else’s computer and put my information on It. “There is gold in them there hills partner....” to quote a famous phrase, this means that if you, as a consumer and a possible customer, want to, you can use your PC to connect to the Internet to find my WEB site and ultimately my product and/or service and of course, buy...buy...buy. To do this we have to have the proper connections and equipment to make it possible. Now we should discuss the components of the Net, what we need, and what the Net already has waiting for use when we connect.

What We Need :

Hardware:

We need a Personal Computer (PC) that has a modem (data telephone) in it to connect to the Web. We need a phone line for the modem and a subscription to a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) (you want one that charges a flat fee for usage and has a local telephone number. If you travel you may want to get one that has connections in cities other than your own.) The modem is measured in speed relative to how many data units per second it can transmit or receive. These data units are called bits. Therefore, the modem’s speed is measured in bits per second or “bps” this number is usually multiplied by 1000 designated by the word Kilo, which is the metric system name for 1000. They further abbreviate this with a single “k” So the speed of your typical modem might be 56 kbs, which stands for 56000 bits per second. The moral of the story is the more bits per second the modem can transfer, the faster your information will fly back and forth from your computer to the computer on the Internet. Most ISPs have locally accessible numbers. Remember the call the modem makes is billed the same as if it were dialed by us from our regular telephone. It is also worth mentioning that the line will be busy as long as you are on your modem “talking” to the Net. Be sure no one picks up the phone while you are connected or it will probably knock you off of your connection, also if you have call waiting, be sure to dial the deactivate code before dialing the number because the beeps you hear when another call comes in will disrupt your connection. If you plan to be on the Internet allot during regular hours then you may want to get a second line (it costs about $12 a month in most areas.) Once we have the PC, the modem and the phone line, we now have all of the hardware we need. Now it becomes a matter of software.  You might also be able to get DSL service in your area or a cable modem. They all work along the same lines as the modem, except the speeds are much higher. I would recommend DSL over cable, unfortuanately it's only available to you if your phone line is connected directly to the phone company's  Central Office. This is due to the technology used. It's better because it's a dedicated connection. Cable modems share connections with everyone on  the cable run. This method of delivery has a high chance of causing congestion.

Software:

Software is the program or programs that we run on the computer to allow us to use the computer. Without software, the computer has no life, has no meaning and can do absolutely nothing at all! Software for the Internet is broken down into basically two components. One component, called a BROWSER, is used to access the Internet and “browse” the web pages. Web pages are pages put on servers (remote computers) for our information and/or entertainment. Another component is a SEARCH ENGINE. Search engines are used to find the information we are looking for out on the World Wide Web. A good comparison is this; you can put a boat on a ship, but you can’t put a ship on a boat...You can access any search engine from any browser, but you can’t access any browsers from a search engine. Browsers are programs that you run on your PC to get to the Internet, Search engines are used after you are there to search the net for the information or service you are looking for. Some common names for Browsers are Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Some common names for search engines are “Alta Vista” or “Web Crawler”

BROWSERS -

Any browser can be configured to get you to the Web. The only differences between the two mentioned is the way they look and feel to you, also the companies that make them, and the advertisers that pay for the ability to be on the “HOME PAGES” that the browser takes you to when you get connected. A Home Page is usually a page that was created containing both information as well as maybe some advertising and a few “LINKS” to other pages for additional information. A Link is an automated word or series of words that takes you to another Web page on the Internet. When you move the mouse pointer (arrow) over the link and click the left button the browser will try to take you there. Usually links to other pages are either in a different color, may be underlined or in some way made to look different than the rest of the words on the Web page you are browsing. The mouse arrow will usually change to a pointing finger when you place it over a link. You only have to click the left button once to get it to take you to the other page. Clicking the button will start the browser function and the program will try to get the specific page requested. During this time usually some type of ICON (picture) will start to move or spin. This will continue until all of the new data is retrieved. For example on the Netscape browser comets will start to fly in the picture of the "N" in the right corner. When these comets are flying it means that the browser is busy sending or retrieving data from the web. Clicking on the STOP button will interrupt the data transfer and clicking on the “BACK” button at the top of the screen will usually return you to where you came from (you can click it more than once, this will allow you to back up. ) “Why would I choose one browser over the other?” you ask. The reason lies in where you are getting the software from. Most PCs shipping today are shipping with Windows ‘95. Microsoft, the people behind Windows ‘95, created Internet Explorer, so there is a good chance you will get that software with your computer. Heck if it’s “free” why not use it. That’s one reason. On my computer for example, I was shipped both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. I use Netscape primarily because I like the way it looks and also it is the first one I ever used. Allot of times when you get used to something it becomes your favorite just by default. The real question may be “Is one better than the other?”, it’s hard to say, it’s one of those things where you have to try both and choose for yourself which one you like best. They both do the job equally to some degree. Or you can do what I do, use them both. Also, you can change the default home page that your browser starts at to be something more interesting by reading the book that came with the browser and looking for the words Home or Home Page in the book’s index. Sometimes browsers encounter errors when they try to do their job. For a list of common browser error codes visit  http://docs.yahoo.com/docs/writeus/error.html .

So to recap... A Browser is used to browse and display the pages on the World Wide Web (WWW), these pages reside on remote computers called servers and are there to provide us information and/or entertainment and/or services.

SEARCH ENGINES -

Once your connected to the Web, it’s time to get the information you are looking for. That is where Search Engines come in. Search engines use KEY WORDS to search on the Web for pages that have the subject matter you are looking for. Each web page that is commercially designed has an area in it’s design for what is know as Key Words. Key Words are words that you, as someone looking for something, may put into your search. These words narrow down the page list that will be returned when you do a search. The more times the keyword or words appears in a web page, the higher up on the list it will be when the search engine returns with the results of your search. Unless you know the specific Universal Resource Locator (URL) then you have to rely on search engines to find the Web pages for you. “Are all search engines created equal?” you ask...definitely not! In fact they have competitions for the “best and fastest” search engine held at trade shows all the time. The winner of course gets more advertisers interested in it’s home page... On the average you will find that for the most part they will uncover the same pages, but you may find that they sort them differently or search them differently. This may provide you, the “seeker”, with a broader range of results to choose from. Most major home pages will provide you with links to one or more search engines. For a sample of this go to http://www.netscape.com and scroll to the bottom of the page. Click on the Net Search button. This will take you to the net search window. From here you can do an Internet search. By default you will be using the search engine from Yahoo. If you look close you will notice on the side of the main box there are several other engines available, for example HOTBOT / Web Crawler / LOOKSMART...etc.... Clicking on one of these links will take you to the other search engine. Notice all the advertising and fluff...this is what pays the bills. The best way to get comfortable with a favorite search engine is to try several and judge them by the results of the search. One of my favorites is Alta Vista. It can be found at http://www.altavista.com or by visiting my web site and going to the Links page. The address is www.pellegrinifamily.com/ On the Links   page you will find a link to Alta Vista, as well as several other interesting links... Try a practice search when you get a chance. This is called SURFING the Net. Surfing is the practice of going from site to site and generally browsing the Web. It is very similar to channel surfing, only without the sound....Remember to try the same search on two or more different Search Engines and compare the results to see which one you like best.

So to recap again...We have spoken about Browsers and their role in displaying the Web pages and Web Page graphics. As well as Search engines that find the web pages with your specific search criteria or interest.

Beyond the Browsers and Search Engines lies.....

Beyond the browsers and search engines lies the concept of the Web and the ability to DOWNLOAD programs and other web based information. Downloading is the process of retrieving the information from a remote server computer and bringing it to yours. It does this via a process called File Transfer Protocol ( FTP ) A lot of programs are out on the Web for our use. Some are called SHAREWARE and some are called FREEWARE. Shareware is there for the taking...the catch is that usually after a trial period you are expected to either stop using the program or pay for it...I’ll leave that up to your moral judgment. Freeware is just that, FREE. Usually it is a program written out of necessity by someone that really doesn’t need the money. Other times they may ask for a small voluntary contribution... again the choice is yours.

URL - Universal Resource Locators - This is the name given to a location of a specific web site. This can be a registered name with the INTERNIC society or it can just be a web page that you know about. It usually begins with the pre-pend HTTP:// (this tells the server what type of transfer language it will use.) and ends with a “.com” ( short for commercial )or “.edu” ( Short for education ) for example a registered name can look like this http://www.shareware.com, an unregistered web page location can look like this http://www.pellegrinifamily.com/ (My web page) The first one is a registered Internet name and no one else in the world can use that same name. It is registered with the Internic society and belongs to you as long as you keep paying the annual fee. The Internic society is located in the Reston Va. area and is responsible for URLs as well as other aspects of the Internet. The second example is an unregistered (but legal) site that resides on the server computer that belongs to the ISP I subscribe to. I am solely responsible for it’s look and content (that is...me, and my family are responsible...)

Buzz-words ( Glossary )
What does that mean?... or Terms and phrases used by Internet-heads while discussing the Net.  

Term or Abbreviation 

Close definition...

TLA ( Three Letter Acronym. ) A cool way to abbreviate something (had to put this first) This is a must for tech talk...
Bookmark Most Browsers will let you automatically mark your favorite of frequented places as a menu item. This way you can get directly there with a few clicks of the mouse. This is called a bookmark
DNS Domain Name System - This is the system that the Internet uses to map names to actual Internet addresses. For example when you type the name of an Internet site like www.anywhere.com the Domain Name System tries to resolve the name and match it to an Internet address. If it can not match the name by itself then it sends out a request to the next Domain Name System server to see if it can resolve the name. This happens until the name is matched to an Internet address. If no match is found then you will receive a message something like this "Unable to connect to host www.anywhere.com, does not have a DNS entry" If this occurs try it again. If the problem persists then check the name or try again later.
DSL Digital Subscriber Line. Today's technology allows for the transmision of a data signal along with your telephone signal on the same wire pair. Actually this technology has been around for years, but not until recently has it been used in the public network.
Freeware Software that you may download and use for free.
HTML Hyper Text Markup Language - the language used in the construction of Web pages. It happens behind the scenes. 
HTTP Hyper Text Transfer Protocol - the way the Internet transfers the web page data. 
ISP A ‘TLA’ - It Stands for Internet Service Provider...the people that provide you your Internet connection. 
Modem The card in your computer that makes the call to your ISP and connects your computer to the Internet.
Plug-in Helper program for your browser, or PC. Usually functions to enhance the multi-media experience of certain web sites.
Propeller-head A term of endearment given by me to those affectionate computer “geeks” that are responsible for the actual programs we all use. Although that is my alias, I have not the ability to create, as most propellerheads do. 
Shareware Software that you can download from the net for free on a trial basis 
Surfing / Surf the Net Browsing the Internet looking for information or just entertaining sites, or in other words...the process by which we waste countless hours looking for buried treasures on the Net - usually we don’t find them 
TCP/IP Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Program (or Protocol) - The language of the data calls on the Internet.
URL Universal Resource Locator - the name given to the web page representing the server and filename of the Web page. It usually includes the pre-pend http:// and ends with a “.com” (commercial) URLs can be registered names as well as known web pages.
WWW World Wide Web - one name given to the Internet, sometimes referred to as just “the Web”

 

A simple drawing of the Internet would look like nothing more than a series of computers belonging to different organizations all linked together at different speeds. The higher speed connections would belong to the government, schools, Internet Service Providers and commercial services and servers. The lower speed connections would be us, and others like us, that don't want or need to invest in the type of connections that cost allot of money and are difficult to maintain. It might be visualized like the following simple drawing.

For a drawing of the Internet and further explanation click on this link.  

Conclusion -

For all of you Surfers and potential Surfers, I hope you use the net for your pleasure, enjoyment and ability to retrieve information that otherwise would take a lifetime to gather, stay clear of the “Dark Side” It’s a great resource for bringing us all together and sharing in the wealth of information throughout the world. In some small way I hope I have successfully explained something you may have wanted to know. Feel free to share this guide with anyone you wish to, just as long as you don’t make any changes to it, or money from it, if you do... make sure you cut me in... Also feel free to write me with your questions and comments, either on the Internet or technologies in general.... Just remember, be nice.... this guide is Freeware not Shareware...

My email address is jim@jimp.us My web page can be found at http://www.pellegrinifamily.com/

Enjoy the Net...

JIM

 

Last updated 03/27/06