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Past newsletters may be viewed at http://editor.actrix.gen.nz/newsletters/
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

What Happens When I Click Connect?

With this brief article I hope to provide you with some idea of the processes that occur that enable your computer to surf the web or send and receive email. For the network nitpickers, I know that I have oversimplified and left a few things out, but my purpose is to help the layperson understand what some of the little messages mean that they receive whilst dialling in to Actrix or migrating around the Internet.

When you've entered your username and password and clicked Connect your modem takes over and dials out using your phone line just the way that your phone would. The Actrix modems wait to answer your call, and when they do, the fax-like noises that you hear are your modem and our modem "talking" to each other. Each modem squirts information at the other so that they can agree and understand one another in terms of speed/compression compatibility and so forth.
Connecting

As soon as the two modems have agreed that they understand each other, they will connect and that is what has occurred when you hear the fax-like noises go silent. Once that has occurred, our modem hands you over to our primary authentication server, whose name is Shiva. We also have a secondary authentication server named Satva. Shiva will negotiate with your computer's network settings in order to determine that you are who you say you are (a valid Actrix customer who is entitled to Actrix network access). She'll negotiate an acceptable set of network protocols (usually TCP/IP protocols) which, in simple terms, means that a common language is agreed upon.

There are a number of other things Shiva has to establish with your computer before you will be allowed to proceed.

She'll assign you an i.p. address which is a set of four numbers separated by full stops such as 203.96.16.119. The i.p. address you are given will be unique to you on the Internet for that session. Records are kept as to exactly who has whatever i.p. address at any given time, and this is one way that people who misbehave on the Internet can be traced.

Four Lovely Ladies:
[from top to bottom]
Angel, Venus, Ahimsa and Shiva.

Shiva will also assign you the names of our DNS servers (more on these below), the gateways you are to use and so forth. Most of that sort of information is carried with you as you travel the net. It takes a few seconds for all that to be accomplished, and then you are free to go.

Browsing

So you call up your browser such as Netscape or Internet Explorer and you type an address into your address bar, such as www.yahoo.com. Your browser then shoots that request at our DNS (Domain Name) server who replies with the i.p. address of the requested site. This is because computers don't really understand words very well. They work much better with numbers. So if your browser asks for www.yahoo.com, our DNS server would reply with "204.71.200.75" and this is the "address" your browser would then seek to connect to. This process occurs every single time you move from one site to another on the Internet.

Norrie the Nerd and John Vorstermans

Our two chief techies,
Norrie T Nerd and John J Vorstermans

If your browser requests an address that has not been seen before, our Primary DNS server whose name is Tamas will ask you to wait while it connects to other DNS servers around the world to find out how to resolve your request to an i.p. address that your browser's resolver software can use. Once it has done so, our DNS server caches that information, remembering it for the next person who requests it.

You might be interested to know the general route of your internet surfing. No matter where you are in New Zealand you connect to the internet across the Actrix network. You come down (or up if you're a mainlander) to Wellington where the main gateway out is. From here your internet travel goes through to San Jose in California across the Trans-Pacific cable. From San Jose it goes out to the rest of the world.
Email

Email travels in a similar fashion. When you finish typing your email and click the Send button, your email software sends it to the Actrix smtp server (mail.actrix.co.nz). Our smtp server uses the email address of your recipient to determine which server around the world your email is destined for. It finds the i.p. address of that server and asks to be allowed to make a TCP connection to it. The recipient mail server checks a number of things, including whether the intended recipient does exist, whether that person is allowed to accept mail, and so forth. When all this has been done, it grants our mail server the permission to squirt the email through. When our mail server receives confirmation that the destination server has accepted the email, the mail is deleted at this end and it is up to the destination server to correctly store and deliver the email to the intended recipient. It can be staggering to think of how many times each day our mail servers make TCP connections to other mail servers around the world!

Of course the reverse is true for email that comes into Actrix for you. When it has been accepted by our mail server, your email gets stored in a secure file called your "mailbox" until you connect to request it. Your email is given to you by the Daemon program that lives on the mail server. When you connect to it, Daemon talks to the pop (post office protocol) software in your email program. Your pop software tells Daemon who you are and what your password is. Daemon checks that you're not pulling his leg and then delivers your email to your email program. It is then deleted from our server unless your mail program specifically asks for it to remain.

Of course computers don't read words very well. You're probably aware that your email does not travel as words. It travels as numbers (ultimately only as 1s and 0s). Your email program is responsible for turning those numbers back into something that a human could relate to.

Disconnecting

The Actrix POP3 server
(pop.actrix.co.nz)
where your email is stored until
you collect it.

When you click the Disconnect button, your computer sends a stop request to Shiva telling her that you would like to end the session. When she receives that request, Shiva hangs up, effectively terminating your particular session. That's why it's important to disconnect correctly from the Internet.

When you consider all of the above, and I have really, really simplified things, you should have some understanding of just how complicated and sometimes tenuous internet connections are. It is mind-boggling and truly wonderful technology. When you think about it, the speed at which you can connect to a computer on some Barcelona backstreet is amazing. All in all, too, it's surprising that things don't go wrong more often.
Managing your Connection:
By Jeremy Fairbrass

How many times have you begun to download a large file from the internet, and had to wait around at the computer for the download to complete so that you could disconnect? Unfortunately Windows doesn't have any method of automatically disconnecting after a download has finished, and this can be a nuisance when you're on a time-based internet account where every minute counts!

However there are programs available that will disconnect automatically for you - and one such free program is called Connection Manager. Connection Manager has two main features: the first is that it will automatically disconnect you after a pre-selected amount of time. It has a countdown timer that you can set to any period you wish (e.g. 1 hour) and after it has counted down this period, it will hang up your modem. The second feature is that it will automatically disconnect you after a pre-selected window has disappeared. This feature is very useful if you are downloading a file from Internet Explorer or Netscape.

When such a file is being downloaded, the downloading status usually is displayed in a small window on your screen, separate from the main Internet Explorer or Netscape window. And once the download has finished, this small window usually disappears. So you can tell Connection Manager to watch a particular window, and the moment it disappears, Connection Manager will hang up the modem for you!

You can also set both features at once - in which case Connection Manager will disconnect the modem either when the countdown timer reaches 0, or when the pre-selected window disappears - whichever occurs first. So now you can download a large file and not have to wait around for it to finish!

Connection Manager's web site can be found at http://loginov.com/cmanager/ and the program can be downloaded at http://loginov.com/cmanager/ConnectionManager.zip
Joseph's Jargon

Sadly this will be Joseph's last Jargon contribution. Joseph left Actrix on Friday 12 May in order to pursue new and exciting challenges in Perth. In particular his Macintosh skills will be missed.

Binary: Files that contain data in 1's and 0's that is not formatted as ascii. Mostly this term is used to distinguish between ascii file and everything else (because, really, everything stored on a computer is stored as 1's and 0's)

ASCII: Acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, pronounced "ass-key". ASCII is a code that assigns a number to each key on the keyboard. ASCII text does not include special formatting features and therefore can be exchanged and read by most computer systems.

Virus:  An insidious piece of computer code written to damage systems. Viruses can be hidden in executable program files posted online.

Worm: 1. An insidious and usually illegal computer program that is designed to replicate itself over a network for the purpose of causing harm and/or destruction. While a virus is designed to invade a single computer's hard drive, a worm is designed to invade a network. The most infamous worm was created by Robert Tappan Morris in November 1988; it infiltrated over 6,000 network systems around the globe.
2. Acronym for "Write Once Read Many". Used to describe optical disk drives that can only be written once, usually for archival purposes.

Attached file: A file that is embedded into an email message.

DNS: See Domain Name System.

Domain name: The official name of a computer connected to the Internet. Domain names are derived from a hierarchical system, with a host name followed by a top-level domain category. The top-level domain categories are com (for commercial enterprises), org (for non-profit organisations), net (for network services providers), mil (for the military), ac or edu (for academic or educational) and govt (for government).

Domain Name System: (abbreviation: DNS)   A database system which looks up host IP addresses based upon domain names. For example if you ask for "www.thisismyhost.com" it will return "123.45.67.89". Copies of the Domain Name System are distributed through the Internet.

Microsoft Dinner 98

Instructions for Microsoft's New TV Dinner Product:

Borrowed from
http://wallofjokes.te-c.net/Computer_Index.shtml and abridged.

You must first remove the plastic cover. By doing so you agree to accept and honour Microsoft rights to all TV dinners. You may not give anyone else a bite of your dinner (which would constitute an infringement of Microsoft's rights). You may, however, let others smell and look at your dinner and are encouraged to tell them how good it is.

If you have a PC microwave oven, insert the dinner into the oven. Set the oven using these keystrokes: \mstv.dinn.//08.5min@50%heat// Then enter: ms//start.cook_dindin/yummy\|/yum~yum:-)gohot#cookme.

If you have a Mac oven, insert the dinner and press start. The oven will set itself and cook the dinner.

Be forewarned that Microsoft dinners may crash, in which case your oven must be restarted. This is a simple procedure. Remove the dinner from the oven and enter: ms.nodamn.good/tryagain\again/again.rats. This process may have to be repeated. Try unplugging the microwave and then doing a cold reboot. If this doesn't work, contact your hardware vendor.

Dinners are only available from registered outlets, and only the chicken variety is currently produced. If you want another variety, call MicrosoftHelp and they will explain that you really don't want another variety. Microsoft Chicken is all you really need. Microsoft has disclosed plans to discontinue all smaller versions of their chicken dinners. Future releases will only be in the larger family size. Excess chicken may be stored for future use, but must be saved only in Microsoft approved packaging.

Microsoft promises a dessert with every dinner after '98. However, that version has yet to be released. Users have permission to get thrilled in advance. Microsoft dinners may be incompatible with other dinners in the freezer, causing your freezer to self-defrost. This is a feature, not a bug. Your freezer probably should have been defrosted anyway.

Norrie's Free Nerd Words

As usual despite the "please no circulars" signs on my e-mail account, I am still finding my letterbox jammed with soggy unsolicited mail which is advertising a really good deal on something I don't need or want. They all say the same thing, "..spend now and save.".

The crass materialistic advertising which plagues the TV set adopts the same approach. Force feed the masses and some will buckle and buy. Not only do we need perpetual vigilance against the bad taste, but many messages are loaded with subtle non-truths.

At least in my day the messages seemed to have a degree of creative merit as well as believable substance to the deal on offer. The rules nowadays seem plain. If your company is boring, technical, suffering from PR woes put somebody else' music onto pictures of cute animals in the wild and hey presto - a positive profile emerges in the collective grey organs of the sitting targets.

What really really amazes me is the amount of expense some people will go to in order to give something away FREE. Oh really? FREE? Why give it away and why spend a fortune (yes! Real $$$), on the telly and posters and radio and press .

I know somebody who's doing that now! Wow FREE internet. I wonder how they afford it. Is there really such a thing as a free lunch ... then again why would they do it ... gee, I just dunno ... they are so nice offering all the good citizens of NZ something for FREE ... such nice people .. but why .. I wonder ........Hmmmmm

Okay, now that I have the rant out of my system, shall we just look at the issue using common sense?

Obviously there is no such thing as a free lunch. These "free Internet  companies" will be seeking to make money out of the service they supply, and there are a number of ways that they will seek to do this.

Firstly, many companies (not necessarily ISPs) sell the information provided by customers to direct marketing companies. You then end up with unsolicited email, mail and possibly even phone calls. If you're considering signing up with a free ISP, try to get a guarantee from them that they won't be doing this.

Secondly The "free" ISP may well force advertising onto your browser so that part of your computer screen is always taken up with "messages". This advertising will also slow down your browsing and download speeds.

Thirdly, you have to consider the cost of support. None of the "free" ISPs give free support. Instead they have 0900 numbers and charge up to $2.00 per minute for help desk calls, even when the issue you may be trying to sort out was their doing.

Fourthly,  most do not have access to the 0867 network. This means the number you dial in on is subject to line charges of 2c per minute ($1.20 per hour) after 10 hours use per month.

Fifthly, there's the issue of the "free" provider using kick backs from a telephone interconnect agreement to fund their business, thereby keeping your line charges higher than they need to be.

Keep in mind too that there are no ISPs using the advertising funding model that are successful anywhere in the world so far.

Please be assured:

  • Actrix will not sell your personal information to anyone.
  • Actrix will not force advertising onto your browser.
  • Actrix will not charge for access to our help desk.
  • Actrix uses the 0867 numbers so you don't have to pay the 2c per minute charge to line companies.
More on the I Love you Virus

A week or so ago I sent out a general letter to all Actrix customers about the new ILOVEYOU virus. An hour after I had researched the latest information and sent the letter, television news reports informed the world that there were already nine new incarnations of the virus as kids and hackers modified it and unleashed again with new names including: Joke, joke, Fw Joke, kavos puodukui, Very Funny and Mothers Day Order Confirmation. By the time this newsletter is released, there will no doubt be a number of other names.

Rather than simply reproduce the whole letter here, I wanted to highlight one aspect of it - the last paragraph.

It might also be appropriate to conclude by encouraging all Actrix users to be careful and to use common sense when opening any attachments sent to them. A good general rule of thumb is, if you're not sure - delete it. At the Actrix help desk we deal regularly with people who have been infected with various viruses and Trojans, and interesting-sounding attachments are the primary means of transmission. By taking risks with attachments, you potentially harm not only yourself, but also your regular correspondents who often automatically receive the virus from you before anybody even begins to realise what is going on.

This really is something you need to be careful about. There are millions of little .exe programs that float around the Internet, many of them very funny, and some not, but these are the ones in particular to watch for (as well as any that end with a .vbs extension). Opening any attachment with an .exe extension is risky. You are allowing your computer to run the program which may be a disguised virus, or which may have a virus or Trojan hidden within it. You may also want to think about watching what your kids are doing unsupervised on the Net. Considering what they have access to, this is a good idea anyway, but kids often don't have the restraint or caution needed to say, "No" to running an interesting attachment.

At Actrix we do have a cleaner for the ILOVEYOU virus. Please phone us for assistance on 0800-228749 if necessary.

Further Virus Matters to consider:

  • All computers these days ought to be equipped with virus protection programmes such as Norton Anti-Virus or PC-Cillin (there are a host of others) and you should take the time to find out how your program works. They will have help features on their toolbars that explain how they work, and further information will be available at their websites.
  • Virus programs need to be updated regularly, I would suggest monthly at least, and certainly at once every time a new one like ILOVEYOU surfaces. Updating is usually free, and can be done by clicking Update in the file menu of your program while you are online.
  • Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express are particularly prone to emailed viruses. As viruses become more sophisticated, it might be worth considering disabling your preview screen within these programs. Preview screens try to be helpful by displaying the message contents before you have opened the message. Without Outlook 2000, some viruses only need that preview in order to start working. To disable the preview pane, click View on the Toolbar and be sure that "Preview Pane" and "Auto Preview" are not selected.
  • Use common sense. Be aware of which sorts of viruses are hoaxes, educate yourself about what Trojans are and how to spot whether you have one. If you suspect you have a virus, don't open your email program. At Actrix we have put up a filter for the ILOVEYOU virus, and all of its known mutations so far, but there is no safe substitute for vigilance at home. The Internet is a lot of fun, but theses days more and more, it needs to be approached with more than "toy mentality."

I have written on viruses before. Click the links below if you missed the December 1999 or January 2000 issues.

To keep an eye on developments with the ILOVEYOU virus I recommend:

http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/vbs.loveletter.a.html

May the Force be with you.

Force Technology are currently running specials for Actrix customers on Viewsonic LCD display panels.

These state of the art monitors consistently display sharp, brilliant images using up to 75% less space on your desktop. Even text-heavy forms are displayed with eye-pleasing bright, high contrast quality. Force Technology offer a range of four Viewsonic LCD monitors to meet your needs.

All of the VE and VP series have removable bases and are wall mountable! They offer the maximum in flexibility and customisability and are available from Forcetch in 14, 15 and 18 inch sizes.

The page height in Portrait mode makes these monitors the best choice for legal, government and medical organisations, or for anyone else who desires or requires the ability to display entire pages crisply and cleanly.

Forcetech prices for these products are as follows:

Model VP140 $2,249 plus GST
Model VE150 $2,499 plus GST
Model VP151 $4,119 plus GST
Model VP181 $9,485 plus GST.

And this includes delivery to your site.

You can find out more about these monitors at

http://www.viewsonic.com/ by clicking the LCD ViewPanel button.

For more information about other deals on computer hardware, please visit the Force technology website at http://www.forcetech.co.nz/ or email Gordon Johnson at gordon@forcetech.co.nz.

 

Actrix help Desk Position Filled!

Though we are sorry to see Joseph Bartlett leave, we are pleased to welcome Shannon Jacob to our full time support team. Previously Shannon only worked our help desk on the weekends. We are also pleased to welcome Catherine Doran to the team. Catherine will take over from Shannon on the the Saturday and Sunday shifts.

Thanks to all those from our customer base who sent in applications for the position. It was good to meet some of you in person.

As most of you are aware, the Actrix help desk is no longer open 24 hours. It now closes at 1:30 a.m. and opens again at 6:30 a.m.

 

"But what ... is it good for?"
----Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
Snippets of Important Information:

Norrie the Nerd's "How to Homepage" Page! Norrie has produced a homepage mostly dedicated to introducing html and the web-page creation/upload process to interested Actrix users. You can access Norrie's page at http://www.actrix.gen.nz/users/norrie.

Hacking attempts are a no no! Actrix will not tolerate hacking attempts by its users. If we can be sure you are port scanning, attempting unauthorised or unwelcome telnet connections, or whatever else you do for jollies in this area, you will receive one warning. A second attempt will result in your account with Actrix being terminated. End of story. There is just too much of this nasty nonsense going on. I don't care how much fun it is or what personal feelings of inadequacy your power quest is compensating for.

Include your details with payments, please! If you make a payment to Actrix Networks, by cheque, telephone banking, or auto-payment, please remember to include your account number and username with it.  Let us know if you are unsure of your account number. There have been a number of payments made recently that we are unable to credit due to lack of this information. if you've made such a payment and it hasn't been credited, it might be time for you to check with Support.

Editor Out to Lunch! Norrie and I will be taking a two week vacation from 17-31 May. That's why the newsletter is a little early this month, and may be a little late next month. We'll see. If you want to contact me during those two weeks I cannot guarantee a timely response. You may be better off emailing support@actrix.co.nz.

Schools.Promo! The Actrix Schools Promotion continues to go really well. One thing we notice is that some schools are hesitant because they fear there must be a hidden catch. Truly there isn't. We really do give the school an unlimited dialup account or we really will match their existing setup with another IP, and we'll do it free! We really will give participating parents/families a $10 credit on startup, and we really do give 10% of all incoming money under the scheme back to the respective school. If you have children at school and they haven't brought home a notice about the promotion (existing Actrix customers are entitled to participate) then you may want to contact the school and ask why not?

Help Desk Tips! When contacting the Actrix help Desk, either by phone or by email, please be ready to provide as much information as you can so that we can help you more quickly. Try to determine before you call exactly where things go wrong, and exactly what error messages your computer is throwing back at you. Write them down if necessary. It's a good idea, too, to remember the name of the person you were dealing with so that all the old ground won't have to be gone over a second time if you have to call back.

The Actrix News and Links Page is now being updated on a more regular basis. Next time you're at our home page (www.actrix.co.nz) why not have a look.

Things to Remember!

  • Gen and co are interchangeable in your email address.
  • Support and Accounts enquiries should be directed to support@actrix.co.nz/0800-228749.
  • Most information about your account can be found at our web page (www.actrix.co.nz) under Customer Services/View Account Details.

 

      My Back Pages

And so another newsletter comes to a close. Once again I hope you have found it enjoyable and informative. You can contact me at editor@actrix.co.nz if you have any feedback, comments or suggestions though I will be on holiday from 17-31 May catching a bit of R and R.. Please forgive if I do not respond immediately.

Support enquiries should not be directed to me at this address. Please email support@actrix.co.nz. instead. That way you will receive more prompt attention.

See you in a month or so,

Rob Zorn
editor@actrix.co.nz