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Past newsletters may be viewed at http://editor.actrix.gen.nz/
This newsletter has been produced to help you get the most out of the Internet and to keep you, as an Actrix customer, informed of developments and services within the company.
Questions and comments about the newsletter can be emailed to editor@actrix.co.nz
Other inquiries should be emailed to support@actrix.co.nz

Introducing Actrix Customer Support

Walid Harach

The Actrix Customer Support team are, perhaps, the most important interface between Actrix as a company and you, our customer community, so I thought it might be appropriate to write a small article about how it all works. Knowing the mechanisms and procedures yourself might also help you make the most of the contact you have with those at the support desk.

A customer support person for an Internet Service provider has to be a jack of all trades and few realise just how demanding the position is. Such a wide variety of skills are needed, and so Actrix chooses its support staff very carefully. They have to be knowledgeable, experienced, skilled at technical triage when several things are causing problems at once, and above all capable communicators. They have to be organised, patient and careful thinkers and problem solvers.

We have at least seven full-time staff and four part-timers all from a wide variety of cultural and professional backgrounds. They range from young people who seem to have been born with a silver modem in their mouths to older people who have human resource experience in other industries. Some have been raised on MacIntosh computers and swear by everything Apple. Some eat, sleep and drink Microsoft products. We have some software tweakers and fiddlers, who have experimented with every nook and cranny of every Windows application. Some are the sorts of people who just have to pull a machine apart and re-assemble it. Some have degrees in computer science, humanities, commerce and/or teaching. Some love Netscape and some prefer Pegasus Mail. They all have a few things in common, however: an almost mystical appreciation for computers, bounding enthusiasm for the Internet, and, above all, a real love of interacting with and helping Actrix people.

Perhaps that last sentence captures the single most pleasant thing about working in Actrix Customer Support. When you are answering phones all day you get to interact with an incredible variety of people, from elderly grandmothers bravely trying to learn how to share email with their grandkids to knowledgeable technicians in government departments who need to keep their networks alive so that the government doesn't topple.

When things aren't madly busy there is time for a little conversation and telephone friendships can develop with regular callers. Sometimes a person at the help desk can truly learn from a customer as well as being able to help them, and this feeling of community can be a real job plus. Lastly there is the challenge and satisfaction of getting to the bottom of a problem and solving it.

So how does it all work? Generally, during the day, there are four customer support staff working, each with their own computer and online toolbox. Calls are put through from reception unless the reception phones are all busy in which case they come straight through to the support room and are answered according to whose phone is free. If you've already made a call that day about the same problem we try to put you back with the person who helped you earlier. That saves time and double work as he or she will have a better understanding of what's been going wrong and what's already been done. When your call is answered, the support person will introduce themselves. It's always a good idea to remember the name so that you can ask for them again if you need to call a second time.

The person who answers your call will do his or her best to help you. Most of the time the problems are variations on common themes, and the answers to a few probing questions will quickly indicate what probably needs to be adjusted or checked. That's why it is really important for you the customer to pay attention to error messages you may be receiving from your computer and to note exactly when they appear, or what you are doing when they come up, so that you can give accurate information to the support person straight away.

Jeremy Fairbrass

If you think about it, you will see that there are many, many variables involved in establishing and maintaining an internet connection. There's your modem and software, Actrix's modems and software, and then there's the phonelines between wherever you are in New Zealand, and Actrix's equipment in Wellington. These phonelines can be the real wildcards, as you may well imagine. We have little control over them, or knowledge about why they may be misbehaving at any given time. Hence it is important to ascertain just where and when the problem is occurring as quickly as possible.

If the support person comes across something unfamiliar, or that doesn't seem to be fitting the pattern, they may ask you to hold while they discuss it with someone else who may have experienced it before.

He or she may even ask to put you through to someone else with specialist knowledge in a certain area. This is done in your interests, of course, to get to the heart of your problem more quickly. Callers with MacIntosh problems will have noticed this, as may have users of out-of-date platforms such as Windows 3.1.

Support staff have tools at their disposal to help them diagnose your problem. They can see whether you're online, which line you're coming in on, your present I.P. address, and they can access a log of your authentication attempts to check why your password doesn't seem to be working (watch that capslock key!). Mostly, though, they use their knowledge of what is supposed to happen, and which erroneous settings or phone numbers tend to cause which patterns of faulty computer behaviour. Support staff also have a database of each customer's account status where they can gain information to help you understand your invoices, the status of your payments, your time online and so forth.

After they have hung up from a call, the support person will enter some brief notes into the database as to what the problem was and what they did to fix it so that a helpful customer history can be built up that might shed light on a future or recurring problem. The trick is to get this done meaningfully before the next call comes through. Certain problems take time to solve and may need the help the mail or web technician, and the support person will often find himself juggling a variety of tasks being halfway through working on one problem with one of these people and still answering calls in between. Sure, this can be stressful, but at Actrix we try to make this more of a challenge than a frustration.

What do we do between calls? Well, we certainly don't have our feet up on the desk. On weekdays there is generally a steady stream of calls. Actrix is presently growing at an incredible rate and many of these new sign-ups are handled by support staff over the phone, so there is often little time between calls. What time there is is usually spent discussing problems, answering e-mail enquiries, proof-reading promotional material and completing other miscellaneous Actrix tasks.

"I was born with a photographic memory. But I ran out of film whan I was four."
      - Norrie
Our aim is to answer e-mail enquiries within half an hour, and this is mostly but not always possible. Usually there is one person in charge of checking for support email. He or she will apportion it out to the rest of the support staff to answer between calls. Again, where possible, it will be given to the person who has already been dealing with you to avoid work repetition. One thing you, the customer, can do to help here is to leave previous emails included when you reply so that your support person has the details at their fingertips, without having to look them up again. Not all of our support team are blessed with photographic memories.
I hope I've been able to provide you with some idea of what goes on when you either call or email Actrix Customer Support. I've also included a few things you can do to speed up and help the process yourself: remembering the name of the person who has been helping you, keeping an accurate record of where and when error messages are received, and quoting previous emails in full when replying.

Support is free to all Actrix customers. You can call us toll free on 0800-228749, or email us at support@actrix.co.nz. We really do enjoy the customer contact.

 

More on Outlook Express

In case you're wondering, I really don't have any connection to Microsoft. I've been featuring Outlook Express lately for two main reasons. Firstly, I believe it is an ideal e-mail program. Secondly, Microsoft marketing tactics aside, it simply is the e-mail program that the vast majority of my readers use.

This month I thought I'd briefly mention the benefits of Outlook Express 5's Message Rules. You can use this feature of Outlook Express 5 to apply sorting rules to your incoming e-mail. This is especially handy for people who share Outlook Express on the same computer with someone else, or for couples, families or businesses where multiple mailboxes are held under the same account. Rules can be created to sort mail into different folders as it arrives if you don't want to have all your mail lumped and dumped together into your inbox.

I'm not going to laboriously explain every detail as I believe most things Internet are best learned by doing and experimenting rather than by relying solely on written instructions, but I do encourage you to experiment. Just remember what you've done so that you can undo it if things go badly awry.

To make good use of Message Rules, you should first create the folders that you want the incoming email to be sorted into. To do this, right-click on Local Folders and select New Folder in the grey box that pops up. Give the folder a name such as "Bob's Mail," or simply "Bob." The folder you have made will now appear under the list of local folders along with your Inbox, Outbox, Sent Items folder and so forth.

To create Message Rules:
  1. Click Tools, then Message Rules.
  2. On the right-hand side of the Message Rules box that appears, click New.
  3. Select a condition for your rule, such as When the From line contains people.
  4. Select an action for your rule such as Move it to the specified folder.
  5. In the Rule Description field click he underlined condition (in this case it will be contains people) and add the email address you'd like to sort in the box that pops up.
  6. In the Rule Description field, click the underlined action (in this case it will be move it to the specified folder) and select from the list the destination folder.
  7. Click OK to close the open dialogue boxes and if all has gone well Outlook Express will now sort your mail into the selected folders.

You can use this same process to add more rules or to modify existing ones.



A couple of notes in conclusion:

The process above will only work for Outlook Express 5 which is the latest version. There is a similar though less powerful feature called Inbox Assistant under the Tools menu in Outlook Express 4.

If you would like Outlook Express 5 you can go about getting it free in two ways. Firstly, the version of Internet Explorer 5 which you can download from our web site (within Customer Services) will also update your Outlook Express to version 5.

Secondly, you can download Outlook Express 5 alone from the Windows Update Page.

Computer Terms

These were sent to me by Milton, one of my regular callers and they were so good that I just had to share. I know some of you will identify with them

State-of-the-art
Any computer you can't afford.
Obsolete
Any computer you own.
Microsecond
The time it takes for your state-of-the-art computer to become obsolete.
GUI
What your keyboard becomes after spilling your coffee on it.
Keyboard
The standard way to generate computer errors.
Mouse
An advanced input device to make computer errors easier to generate.
Floppy
The state of your wallet after purchasing a computer.
Portable Computer
A device invented to force businesspersons to work at home, on vacation, and on business trips.
Disk Crash
A typical computer response to any critical deadline.
System Update
A quick method of crashing ALL of your software.


Joseph's Jargon

This month I thought I'd deal with a few terms to do with Chat as well as some of the common abbreviations and symbols.

Chat: A method of talking live with others over the internet by typing messages on your keyboard. You can actually carry on a conversation in "real time". This can be helpful when you are wanting help on a program or operating system question. It can be a fun way to meet and exchange ideas with people that you would never have met in person.

ICQ: Stands for "I Seek You." A program that can keep track of which of your friends are online and which allows you to chat, and send messages or files to them while surfing the net.

IRC: Internet Relay Chat. A text based chat system that has been around since the early days of the internet. It is still popular.

Shouting: TYPING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS IS CONSIDERED SHOUTING IN ONLINE COMMUNICATIONS. Avoid this unless you really mean to shout. If you really mean to shout, do it out loud; it feels much better.

BTW: Abbreviation for "By The Way."
AFK: Abbreviation for "Away From Keyboard."
AFAIK: Abbreviation for "As far as I know"
LOL: Abbreviation for "Laughing Out Loud"
ROTFL: Abbreviation for "Rolling on the Floor Laughing"
IMO: Abbreviation for "Im My Opinion"
IMHO: Abbreviation for "In my Humble Opinion."

Emoticon: A cute sideways face created by using special characters on the keyboard. Emoticons are used to express emotions without words. For example:

:-) this "smiley" indicates, "I'm joking, or I'm happy about what I'm writing.

;-) this winking face is a slightly cheekier version of the smiley.

:-( This sad face expresses grief or, "I'm sulking". If these make no sense, turn your head sideways and look again. :-)

     - Joseph

Digital Camera Deals from

 

Digital cameras are by far the most fun and convenient way of capturing your personal images for display on your homepage or for sending to friends or relatives across the internet. If you're in business, digital cameras are ideal for enhancing your web presence by capturing pictures of your products for electronic display.

They operate like an ordinary camera except that they depend on a certain amount of memory rather than a film. When the memory is full of images you simply download them to your pc, edit them if necessary with your imaging software and then use them as you would any other digital image. Downloading the images frees up the memory again, so you never have to buy film.

This month I want to again highlight two special deals for you on behalf of Forcetech Computers in Wellington. The first is the Mustek Gsmart 350 (pictured above).

This might be ideal for your first digital camera but it still has loads of good features such as

  • a built in flash,
  • a USB interface for quick downloading,
  • 1Mb upgradable memory that stores 12 images,
  • images can be displayed on your pc or tv/video,
  • It runs on batteries but uses power from your pc while downloading,
  • shutter speed 1/10 to 1/100,000.

This camera normally sells for $439, but is on special for Actrix customers this month for a cash payment of $399.00 including GST.

The Mustek MDC-800 USB Digital Camera comes with lots more features which I'll list in greater detail.

  • 1012 x 768 pixels high image resolution,
  • 850K pixel CCD,
  • Colour LCD display for real time editing,
  • USB interface for quick downloading,
  • Built-in flash with redeye reduction,
  • 4Mb upgradable memory, stores 12 images high, 30 images std, 60 images economy,
  • display on PC or tv/video,
  • PAL/NTSC video playback,
  • Shutter speed 1/10 to 1/100,000,
  • comes with its own power pack.

Normally $749 this camera is on special to Actrix customers for a cash payment of $699 including GST.

Both deals include all required software (including imaging), cables, batteries/powerpack and free delivery to your door.

You can find out more about both of these cameras at www.mustek.com.tw. To order, phone Force Technologies on 0800 536723 (fax: 0800 836723) or email gordon@forcetech.co.nz.

Actrix Product Focus - SeniorNet

SeniorNet is the name chosen for an organisation that started in San Francisco with the aim of investigating whether or not new technologies and communications media could enhance the lifestyles of senior citizens.

The community based groups that emerged were known as learning centres where seniors (you must be 55 to join) could meet together to learn about and gain experience with computers. These learning centres have spread and grown since the project started in 1986. New Zealand became the first non-American country to have a SeniorNet learning centre when the Wellington branch opened in 1992. A second centre was opened in Nelson in 1993 and today there are 27 SeniorNet learning centres existing throughout New Zealand, all operating as charitable organisations and run by dedicated and unpaid committees. Their courses cover such things as computer basics, general software such as word-processors and spreadsheets, and the internet.

If you'd like to know more about SeniorNet and how to join or assist, you could visit their New Zealand web page at www.seniornet.org.nz. You can also contact them free by phone on 0800 SENIORNET.

Actrix has a couple of plans designed especially for SeniorNet members and restricted to them alone.

Prices and Features are as follows:

Senior One
  • $27 (incl GST) advance payment per quarter (3 months)
  • 60 free hours per quarter (90 per hour after that)
  • Free 20 hour bonus with the first payment.
Senior Two
  • $51 (incl GST) advance payment per quarter (3 months)
  • 120 free hours per quarter (90 per hour after that)
  • Free 40 hour bonus with the first payment.

 

Ferreting Out a Good Web Search
By Jeremy Fairbrass
If you're ever wanting to search for a particular topic or keyword on the internet, the normal process would be to point your web browser at the web site of one of the main "search engines", such as www.altavista.com or www.excite.com, and enter in the keywords and wait for the results to appear. However if you do this a lot you'll probably find it to be somewhat tedious, as you have to wait for maybe a minute or longer for the results to display, and the results page will usually have various other graphics and text  that you also have to wait for. What's more, usually there will be only 10 results per page, so if you want to view the next group of 10 results you have to wait for the next page to load, with all of its extra graphics and text and so on. Wouldn't it be much easier to have just one page with all of the results on it, nicely grouped together with no additional text or graphics in the way?

There is an answer to this problem! It lies with something called WebFerret. WebFerret is a free program that takes all the hassles out of searching. Because it's a separate program itself, you don't have to use your web browser and a search engine's web site to do the searching. You just enter in the keyword(s) and WebFerret does the searching for you. But the biggest advantage by far, is the fact that WebFerret doesn't just search with one search engine. It simultaneously searches multiple engines (currently it uses nine)   including AltaVista, Excite and Yahoo!. It then displays the results in a big list for you. When you double-click on a result, WebFerret automatically opens your web browser and goes straight to that web page.

Another huge advantage is the use of "filters" within WebFerret. WebFerret can automatically filter out any and all search results that contain any swear words or any pornography-related keywords. These filters can be switched on or off, but can be password-protected which means you can switch them on and then prevent them from being switched off by anyone else who doesn't know the password (e.g. your kids).

WebFerret is a free program, but you can pay to buy its souped-up version, WebFerretPRO, which has the advantage of searching a vast number of additional search engines. Surf on over to www.ferretsoft.com to download WebFerret. Also check out WebFerret's cousins, AuctionFerret, InfoFerret, FileFerret, EmailFerret, PhoneFerret, NewsFerret, and IRCFerret - all of which are free and all of which have a PRO version for sale also.

- Jeremy                
 

 

Norrie's Nerd Words

Mfn snurgll, mmmchosmmklate smnfinsch.

Do you know what that was? That was me talking with my mouth full of chocolate fish. And why is my mouth full of chocolate fish? Because I didn't receive any February challenge that was worth its salt at all! So I ate this month's prize myself! I suspect it is because by now people have realised just how brilliant and knowledgeable I am.

It is true, my intellect is impregnable (it has never once been pregged) but many don't see my softer side, my humble, marshmallow heart, the little boy inside of me that cries out for recognition, the child within who still talks with his mouth full.

But I am beginning to digress and wallow.

Should I up the stakes a little?

If you can stump me on a technical, internet related matter, not only will I send you a six-pack of chocolate fish, but I'll also try and talk Rob into giving you a $10 credit on your Actrix account. Anything at all that's internet-related. The only proviso is that you have to know the answer yourself. Send your challenges to me at norrie@actrix.co.nz.

Bringing It All Back Home

And so we come to the end of another Actrix newsletter. I really hope that there has been something here that you found interesting or that helped you get a little more out of the internet.

I have enjoyed the feedback over the last few months immensely, even from those who took issue with some of the opinions expressed. A lot of people asked for more information about trojan horses which featured in last month's issue, and it was a little disquieting to receive a number of calls and emails from people who discovered they had a trojan server on their computers, or who reported being port-scanned, one or two were even scanned by Actrix users.

So perhaps it would be good to finish on a warning or two. There is no need to panic, but please do download the latest security updates for your browser, and be careful about opening attachments. Please also be aware that Actrix will not tolerate its customers making unethical contact with someone else's computer. It will result in de-activation of your account. You know who you are, so have some decency and cut it out.

Next month I plan to feature how to make and publish your own personal or business website, and I hope to include a number of helpful articles to get you started. If I can shake Norrie out of that admirable shroud of dramatic pathos, he should have his little site up for you to see by then too.

Until next month enjoy your time on the internet. Please do email me at editor@actrix.co.nz if you have comments, criticisms, questions or if you have something you'd like me to research and write on.

Yours,

Rob Zorn
Editor