Terror HC
Looking at technology in the best way possible.

Make Those Batteries Roll!

June 5th, 2014

brLoad testing a battery will give a good indication of its true value for a given application. Batteries used to supply power for high current demand applications like flashlights, digital cameras, and other current-hungry devices should be load tested at or near their operating current level. The actual operating current level can be checked and matched with a fixed resistive load; however, in many applications this is not easy.

A good average resistive load for AA batteries in high current applications is a 1.5-ohm, 5-watt resistor. (See Fig. 1.) This load can be a single 1.5-ohm resistor or ten 15-ohm, 1/2-watt resistors in parallel. For less power-hungry applications, a 10-ohm resistor will do for comparing one brand to another. Lighter load applications may be tested with a resistive load near the value offered by the battery-operated device.

The resistor value is easy to determine. Measure the operating current and plug the value into Ohm’s law formula–E/I. The resistor’s power requirement is determined by multiplying E x I. However, for the majority of battery comparisons, the 1.5-ohm and the 10-ohm loads will give the raw data necessary to determine which battery to use in a given application.

Keeping Track Of Time

Loading the battery is the easy part of the process; however, keeping track of the voltage versus time can be a real problem. A voltmeter, digital preferred, connected across the battery will indicate the voltage, but it will not give out an alert when the critical discharge voltage occurs.

Even while life testing batteries at the high current-discharge level, it can take over an hour to reach the critical discharge voltage. Keeping a constant watch on a voltmeter(s) for an hour is not easy, especially if an hour of constant attention is just not possible. Here’s where our electronic hobby gives us a leg up on everyone else-we can design and build our own voltage monitor.

We’ll Do It This Way

The 339 quad comparator is a very handy little IC that’s inexpensive, widely available, user friendly, and just what we need for our voltage-monitoring job. Inside the 339 IC are four independent voltage comparators, which are designed to operate from a single power supply. The output of each comparator, see Fig. 2B, is an open collector NPN transistor. A simplified comparator circuit is shown in Fig. 2A, with the negative input connecting to a reference voltage and the positive input tied to the battery under test.

Here’s how the comparator circuit in Fig. 2A operates as a voltage monitor. As long as the voltage at pin #5 is more positive than the reference voltage at pin #4, the LED will remain dark. When the battery voltage has barely fallen below the reference voltage, the LED turns on indicating the critical discharge voltage has just occurred. Now, are we to watch an LED in place of a meter? NO! NO! This is only the BASIC circuit that will be used in our full-blown monitor circuit-have some patience, please.

A Single Battery Monitor

A single battery monitoring circuit is shown in Fig. 3. A single comparator is used to monitor the battery voltage, just as in our previous circuit, with the addition of a regulated reference voltage source and an audible alert sounder. R2 sets the discharge reference voltage, which is kept constant by the 7809 voltage regulator IC. The LED and the piezo sounder remain off until the test battery voltage drops below the pre-set reference voltage. At that time, the LED and sounder turn on.

Comparing two different brands of batteries at a time can be easily accomplished by doubling the circuit in Fig. 3, with the following exceptions. The reference pot, R2, and the 7809 regulator IC need not be added for the second monitor circuit. Connect the negative input of the second comparator to pin #4 of the comparator in Fig. 3. CAUTION! Connect all unused 339 inputs to ground. If they’re left unattached, bad things can happen to your circuit.

A load box, see Fig. 4, can make it easier for life testing batteries at different load currents. Three different switch positions allow for load currents of 1-amp, .15-amp, and .068-.0123 amps. The actual resistor values may be selected for special testing currents or load applications. It is very important to keep the internal resistance of the load box as low as possible. Use large wire (#16) and pick a selector switch that is a high-current (15-amp), low-loss type. Two load boxes are required when using the dual comparator circuit.

Why not use all four of the comparators in the 339 and build a quad battery life tester? Why not, indeed? Take a gander at the circuit in Fig. 5 and that’s what you will see. Granted, with all of the battery brands available, there is no reason not to investigate as many as we can and become better educated on what is the best battery buy.

Each of the positive inputs of the 339 comparator connects to a battery under discharge testing. The reference voltage is set for all batteries for the same discharge voltage level with R5. Testing four batteries also takes four load boxes or load resistors. Always be sure that the electrical connections to the battery are solid and without ohmage loss. Invest in good metal battery holders, and if necessary apply light pressure at the terminal ends with a heavy-duty rubber band. It’s an easy task to check for resistive losses by connecting a digital voltmeter, set on the lowest voltage range, across the battery to terminal junction and across the closed switch contacts on the load box while the circuit is in the discharge state.

If more than a few millivolts are present across any of the contact junctions, check the connections and be sure they are clean and solid. Any large error here can make one battery look much better than it actually is and give it a false edge over the other batteries.

Quad Tester

Now, let’s take a closer look at the quad-monitoring circuit in Fig. 5 and see how it operates. As previously stated, the 339′s positive inputs go to the positive terminals on the test batteries. The negative terminal of each test battery goes to circuit ground. The output of each comparator is connected to the input of a NAND gate, which inverts the low output signal to a high. This high output turns on the LED and sends a positive output voltage through a 1N914 diode to an on/off switch. On the other side of each of the on/off switches is a piezo sounder that gives out an audible tone when any one of the batteries drops below the pre-set lower voltage limit. The pooped-out battery can be identified by which LED is on and that corresponding switch can be turned off, silencing the sounder until the next battery failure occurs.

The electronic testing equipment is just a part of what is needed to come to a sound decision on which battery is the best value. Keeping accurate track of the discharge time of each battery is a must for a meaningful outcome. Also if a noname, low cost, battery does exceptionally well in the life test, then repeat the test. If the results are similar, go buy the batteries and take advantage of your electronic expertise.

Avoiding The 21st Century By Hating Computers

May 20th, 2014

hcOf course, our eight-year-old minds thought she was an old lady and, maybe, even a little off her rocker. Well, guess what, Mrs. McKissick? It’s true! This wonder you were describing has arrived. It is called the personal computer, and at the ripe old age of thirty-eight, I have finally decided that “if you can’t beat ‘em…join ‘em.”

My PC is the fourth in our household. My needs had to follow our four-years-old’s yearning to play her Barble and Blue’s Clues’ games, even though Daddy was home at night laying claim to his own Compaq Presario 4880-Series P-II 400. Hers was our third investment, a Pentium 120. However, It didn’t take long to figure out that Daddy’s computer is faster; so she manages to commandeer his quite often, nevertheless.

Of course, we have the standard ongoing race for the “best In the house” between my husband and my teenage son’s technological hardware. They claim that it isn’t a power war, but I’ve noticed that whenever one of them gets more megabytes of RAM, the other must immediately run out and get more, too! With my son’s new job at Domino’s and his careful spending habits, he has won momentarily with his AMD-K7 800, which was the fastest (without refrigeration) on the market for one whole week.

I still have one question: “With all this modern technology in the house, why is it so hard for Mommy to be blessed with using one?”

“Honey? May I use the computer to type a letter?” I asked the back of my husband’s head.

“Sure…in a minute. Let me finish this first,” he said. To a computer junkie, a minute could be hours, days, or–if you’re lucky–the next time nature calls!

Iced tea helps.

“Darling pie?” I turned to my son. “Can I type a letter on your computer real quick?”

“Gee, Mom. I don’t think my computer does that anymore. I had to remove the software to make room for my ‘Super-Duper-Crazy-Driver-Space-Racing’ game.”

I turned then to my four-year-old daughter, “Baby-doll? Can Mommy use your computer, just for a minute?”

This is almost always met with tears and whining (hers, not mine),. which makes me lose my train of thought completely, rendering it utterly impossible to even begin the task at hand.

“I Just want to type a simple letter!” I said to the backs of three heads in my living room. I would have considered myself lucky to have received even a grunt in reply from any of them.

Dinner time was another issue. I am a firm believer in the whole family sitting down together for at least one meal a day to study each other’s faces and, maybe, even have a little light conversation. Of course, if the dinner is really good, there is not much conversation anyway since all mouths are full.

With computers in the house, delivering the exciting message, “Dinner’s readyl,” can receive the following popular replies:

Husband: “In a minutel”

Teenager: “But I’m the farthest I’ve ever got!” Four-year-old: “Whaaaaa I”

One evening, after staring at three cold, thirty-minute-old, well-balanced meals, I was forced Into retaliation. I pretended to give their dinner to the dogs. It was really just some leftover scraps “disguised” by being placed on our good dinner plates.

“If you guys don’t want my dinner, the dogs would love to have it.” I promptly set two of the plates out the door,

This offensive tactic brought forth looks of horror and disbelief from my “computer nerds.” Now, they come right away (almost) when they are called for dinner.

I am finally the proud owner of my own personal computer made up of cast-off portions from the others. I call it a “mutt” series, and that is fine with me. Now, I can type a plain, old-fashioned letter to “Grandma Moses” any time I like!

I’ve set mine up In a different room from the rest and can actually have a little peace and quiet with out explosions, singing, or car wrecks for background ambiance. Of course, my family members walk by the open doorway (I’m on the route to the bathroom) and laugh and point at me occasionally. “Can you imagine, a mother playing computer!”

My four-year-old asks, “Mommy? Can I play your computer now?”

“Mommy’s computer doesn’t play games,” I reply. “It just makes words.” (Guilt, guilt, guilt.) The best part is when I hear, “I’m hungry. When is dinner going to be ready?” I smile as I answer, “In a minute!”

One extremely important tip to remember: When people ask if you have an e-mail address, quickly answer “NO!” and try to have a vague look in your eye. I made the mistake early on of giving my prized address out to a couple of friends. Now when I check my messages, I have no less than fifty “you’ve got-mails” awaiting me. Let’s not even mention being In the middle of scheduling an airline flight, only to have “Hil Whatcha doin?” flash on your screen via instant messaging. It is a frightening experience. I could easily become a nightly prisoner to this rolling chair if I’m not careful. I may have to learn to sleep upright and arrange to have food thrown at me for nourishment.

It reminds me of my former answering machine. The last time ours hit the floor, it broke. I was actually relived to be able to throw the thing away. I no longer come home to a blinking light nagging me to return Aunt Jewel’s or Cousin Alberta’s call (you realize, of course, that once they’ve left a message you are surely nabbed).

I must say this for computers: It keeps my family off the streets at night, In regard to that subject–like computers–sometimes ignorance can be bliss.

Benchmarking Video Cards – The Details

May 7th, 2014

vgaA more comprehensive set of video benchmarks is available from a company with the unlikely name of MadOnion. Previously called FutureMark, this vendor produces a professional-level set of DirectX 8-based video benchmarks called the 3DMark200l Benchmark. A free copy similar to the one we use is available for downloading from FutureMark’s Web site (www.futuremark.com), if you have the time. It’s a 40-MB file, so even with a broadband Internet connection it takes a while to download. The Professional version of 3DMark200l adds a few features, like the Result Browser that enables you to examine several cards’ results sideby-side.

The 3DMark2001 Benchmark does have a frame-rate test. In fact, it has several, with “demo” games of varying complexity programmed to simulate a variety of gaming scenarios. The benchmark also automatically captures rendered images from the video card during the testing. A set of reference images is included, so you can compare the captured images with the reference images and check for artifacts and aliasing, as well as color anomalies.

In fact, the 3DMark2001 Benchmark performs 20 different tests, and can be set to run once, continuously, or a specified number of times.

A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL

Of the three cards we tested, two have chipsets from Nvidia. In the past year, a number of popular chipset and video card vendors have gone belly up. Diamond Multimedia was acquired by S3 (now SONICblue) and, while still in business, is out of the video card market. 3dfx, which once had a good share of the market with its Voodoo cards, bought STB, and then went under itself.

Matrox Graphics is still in business, as is ATI Technologies. Both of these are Canadian companies, with ATI having the greater share of the market. Right now, Matrox builds its own cards using only its own chipsets. ATI supplies many of the video chipsets used in laptops, but until recently reserved its RAGE and RADEON desktop chipsets for its own branded products. The company has recently announced that it will start to supply video chipsets to other vendors, hoping to eat into some of Nvidia’s popularity in the OEM market.

Nvidia doesn’t actually produce video cards, only the chipsets for them. The very latest video chipset from this vendor is its GeForce3. At the moment, however, GeForce3 cards are hard to come by, and expensive when you can find them. The GeForce3 chipset builds on the GeForce2′s hardware handling of transform and lighting (T&L) by providing programmable vertex shading and pixel shading. By allowing a software developer to determine, from within the application, exactly how this will take place, the GeForce3 promises to deliver outstanding performance and even more realistic 3D graphics. In fact, Microsoft has selected the GeForce3 chipset to provide the graphics in its upcoming XBox game console.

The downside of the GeForce3 is that software has to be specifically written to take advantage of these new features. Otherwise, the performance is pretty much along the level of the less expensive GeForce2 Ultra. Most games written to take advantage of the GeForce3 won’t be out for several months. Given Nvidia’s past history, it’s likely that by that time, a newer version of the GeForce3 will be available. That’s why we tested cards with the more affordable GeForce2 chipset.

INEXPENSIVE IS NICE

The GeForce2 chipset actually comes in three versions, each providing a higher degree of performance. At the entry level is the GeForce2 MX. This is designed for less expensive video cards, but still offers hardware T&L and the GeForce2 architecture. A step up in performance is the GeForce2 GTS. At the top of the line is the GeForce2 Ultra.

One entry-level card, using the GeForce2 MX chipset, is the $99 MagicVideo 3DMX from I/OMagic. This vendor has a large presence at retail–with products ranging from a high-end MP3 jukebox to CD-RW and DVD drives. We had some initial problem with the 3DMX, simply because it did not come with DirectX 8 drivers, which the 3DMark2001 benchmark requires to run. After downloading the Nvidia reference drivers from Nvidia’s Web site, we were up and running.

For the very reasonable price, the MagicVideo 3DMX is a pretty basic card. It has only a DB-15 VGA output. While it does come with 32 MB of video RAM, this memory is SDRAM, rather than the faster DDR RAM. There’s also no DVD player included, though the one that came with our DVD drive worked just fine.

At the same time, the MagicVideo performed very nicely, both on the 3DMark200l tests as well as when actually playing real games. It doesn’t have some of the fancy features that the other cards we tested offer, but for the price, it’s a great way to upgrade a video card that’s a year or two old.

PLAY IT TO THE MAX

On the other side of the performance and feature scale is the Hercules 3D Prophet II Ultra. As this is written, the price on the card is still around $400, but as more GeForce3 cards become widely available, you can expect the price to drop precipitously. Hercules was one of the first companies to produce a graphics card for then new IBM PC. Over the years, the company fell into financial difficulty and eventually went belly up. Canadian card vendor Guillemot bough the rights to the name, and relaunched Hercules with a line of new products to great success.

The most obvious feature of the Hercules 3D Prophet Ultra is the GeForce2 Ultra chipset, which has a fan mounted on the RAMDAC to keep it at a comfortable operating temperature. That’s especially necessary, as the card comes with a utility called 3D Tweak that lets you overclock the chip for increased performance. Performance is hardly sluggish to start with, as the Ultra has a core clock speed of 259 MHz compared to the 150-MHz speed of the GeForce2 MX. Also included on the 3D Prophet Ultra is 64 MB of fast DDR RAM.

At this price level, you expect a premium card, and the 3D Prophet Ultra delivers. It has outputs for VGA (a standard DB-15 connector), DVI (the digital video interface that some flat-panel LCD displays use), as well as an S-Video output. Hercules even includes a copy of PowerDVD for playing DVD discs (if your PC has a DVD drive.)

If you’re an avid game player, looking for a game-oriented upgrade but not yet ready to spring for the GeForce3, take a close look at the Hercules 3D Prophet Ultra.

IT’S IN THERE

The third member of our trio is from ATI Technologies and uses that vendor’s newest RADEON chipset. The RADEON is very similar in features and performance to Nvidia’s GeForce2 chipset, and the RADEON ALL-IN-WONDER fell somewhat between the MX and Ultra-based cards in much of our formal testing, though with 32 MB of fast DDR RAM, it provided excellent game play on real-world games.

Where the $299 card really shines, however, is in the video features it provides. The name that ATI uses–ALLIN-WONDER–is appropriate. For starters, the card provides a multitude of video inputs and outputs, including S-Video and composite, as well as video capture and audio I/Os. All of these are available on an extension cable as well, so you don’t have to hunt around on your PC’s rear panel to make use of the card’s features. A standard DB-15 VGA is not offered. Instead, an adapter is included that connects to the DVI jack to provide analog output to a standard monitor. This works just fine.

Also central to the card is a cable-ready TV tuner. Attach an external antenna or connect it to your cable outlet, and you are ready to surf through any unscrambled channels on your cable system. The software that is included with the ALL-IN-WONDER really lets you get use out of the card’s features. This bundle includes an interactive program guide that you can update weekly over the Internet, and automatic recording software that turns the ALL-IN-WONDER into a personal digital recorder. There’s also software to perform video capture and editing, as well as a copy of ATI’s DVD Player.

PLENTY TO CHOOSE FROM

If none of the above cards strike your fancy, there are plenty of others to choose from. Nvidia-based cards are available from other vendors including ELSA, VisionTek, and Creative Labs. Matrox has cards with its own chipset, and ATI offers more basic cards, including the RADEON VE. Whatever your budget constraints, you are sure to find a choice that will let you enjoy many of the benefits this newest generation of video cards has to offer.

Building A Shortwave Converter

March 30th, 2014

bascThe converter circuit consists of a Hartley oscillator and a mixer. In this circuit, the frequency of the incoming signal is combined with the signal from the oscillator in the mixer. The signals are heterodyned, and an intermediate frequency is produced. For example, if the incoming signal was 6600 kHz and the oscillator was set at 5000 kHz, the intermediate frequencies would be 1600 and 11600. The lower frequency intermediate signal would now be in the frequency range for any AM radio to receive. Using this method, any high-frequency signal can convert to a lower frequency. If the AM radio was tuned to 1600 kHz, it would pick up the 1600 kHz intermediate frequency and reject the other.

The oscillator was designed around a FET transistor, Q1. A field-effect transistor was used instead of a bipolar, because the high impedance permits the design of a high-frequency stable oscillator. A Hartley oscillator was used in this converter and can be recognized by its tapped coil. The resonating capacitor (C1) was placed in parallel with the entire coil winding. The frequency of oscillation is approximately 3.5-9 MHz and is determined by the tuning coil (L1) and the 150-pF capacitor (C1).

The mixer is essentially a common emitter amplifier with a gain of three. Resistors R4 and R5 provide voltage-divider bias. Oscillator and input signals are fed in to the base of the transistor (Q1), where they are heterodyned. The intermediate frequencies are fed to the transmitting antenna and received by the AM radio.

Construction. In order to save money In constructed the circuit on a piece of perfboard, inserting 22-gauge wire in the holes to form wire paths for the components. Then, soldered the components to the wires. In many ways this form of construction resembles a printed circuit board with surface-mount components.

The coil was wound around a 2-inch long by 5/16-inch in diameter core with an adjustable ferrite slug. Around the coil form were wound 20 turns of 22-gauge enamel wire tapped 10 turns from the top. To remove the enamel from the wire, sandpaper was used. While you may not be able to obtain a coil form with these exact dimensions, oscillator performance won’t be severely affected. Coils up to 3/8-inch in diameter were used with 30-gauge wire. Good sources for these coils are grab bags, old TVs, radios, and even computer monitars. The transmitting antenna was made up of approximately six Inches of 22-gauge wire. The circuit was then mounted In an Inexpensive plastic card file box. which can be obtained for about $1.50. Though a subminiature phone Jack was used In the prototype circuit to connect the receiving antenna and the ground, it’s optional. It was only used to make these items easier to transport when the converter was moved.

Operation. To operate the converter, connect the Earth ground to a cold-water pipe, radiator, or other suitable ground. String out about 20-30 feet of wire across the floor to form an antenna. Any type of wire can be used for an antenna. I used 20 feet of speaker wire. A good antenna and ground are required to obtain maximum performance. Place the transmitting antenna next to the AM radio you wish to use and set the tuner to a place where no stations are broadcasting. This can be any place on the standard broadcast band. Usually, there are no stations at either end of the band. Adjust the tuning coil until a station comes in. That’s all there is to it.

Conclusion. You can receive stations from approximately 120- to the 31-meter band. Reception is best at night. Usually, the later into the night, the better the reception.

Listening to short-wave radio broadcasts (SWLing, if you’re sawy) is a hobby enjoyed by millions around the globe. Tuning in to a distant station, or DXing, is one of the more popular pastimes of listeners. The actual task of tuning in the stations from far-off lands on a portable radio takes practice and patience. Broadcasts are heard anywhere between 1700 kHz and 30 MHz. Reception of the signals relies heavily on environmental factors, such as temperature, amount of sunspot activity, and any sources of Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI). Heralded as a source of alternative media, short-wave radio offers music and discussion from all across the spectrum. Many stations program English broadcasts that are specifically targeted to North American audiences. A good source of radio station information is (ironically) the Internet. Check out Mare’s Short-Wave Frequency List Of Broadcasts (http://Detroit.freenet.org/mare/S WBCSkeds.html) for a comprehensive list organized into world regions and the various station s that offer English broadcasts. Another site to consider when starting out is DXing.com (www.dxing.com). Here, visitors will find all sorts of useful information pertaining to DXing and scanners.

Utility-stations, or utes, are transmitters operating in a near-jamming manner. These utes can range from government users, private users such as contractors, or just your typical ignorant transmitter operator who has no tact. Devoted SWLs consider the practice of overbearing a viable station rude and in some extreme cases, unlawful. Yet, some listeners try to intentionally monitor the utes instead of the “Official” short-wave stations. You never know what or who you might here between 1700 kHz and 30 MHz.

One of the challenges of the DXing hobby is receiving QSLs. QSLs get their name from the golden days of radiotelegraph operators, when QSL was code for “I confirm.” Now, QSLs are tokens of acknowledgment from short-wave stations. Listeners, who are fortunate enough to tune in a distant station, can often send in a report to the station and receive a traditional postcard or certificate QSL in return. Most reports state the time the station was heard in UTC, the quality of the signal, some details on what they heard in order to verify they were actually listening, and comments or criticism. Die-hard radio operators still use a system known as SINPO. This stands for Strength of signal, interference, atmospheric Noise, and Overall signal quality. Each factor is rated on a scale from one to five–a SINPO of 55555 being the highest possible rating. The AM/Short-Wave Converter should provide a good introduction to the band.

Oh, The Internet

March 21st, 2014

ogiAlthough there are conflicting theories regarding the actual date the Internet was invented, October 29, 1969 is most commonly referenced as the birthday of the Internet. This first network component grew out of funding by the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), later named the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to develop a communications system among government and academic computer research laboratories.

In 1985, the National Science Foundation (NSF) created NSFNET, a series of networks that would facilitate research and education communications. Based on ARPANET protocols, the NSFNET was responsible for the creation of a national backbone service that was provided free of charge to any U.S. research and educational institution. Regional networks were simultaneously constructed to link individual institutions with the national backbone service.

As people began to realize the potential of this network, NSFNET grew rapidly and new software applications were created to make access easier. Corporations like Sprint and MCI began to build their own networks, which they linked to NSFNET. Today, commercial firms and other regional network providers have taken over most of the operation of the Internet, and the National Science Foundation has withdrawn from the backbone industry.

The Internet wasn’t always a vast mecca of Web sites and business advertisements. It was originally designed for electronic mail, file transfer using ftp (file transfer protocol), bulletin boards, and newsgroups. The World Wide Web, which is one component of the Internet, enables simple navigation of Web sites through a graphical interface. During the 1990s, people started using Web sites to advertise and to create a new form of business–e-commerce. Today, the “Web” is the most important part of the Internet.

Although some may picture the Internet as a force unto itself lurking somewhere in the vast reaches of cyberspace, the reality is not nearly as intriguing. Simply put, the Internet is an interconnected network of computers. It’s not just any network, though. It is The Network to beat all others, and it’s growing larger and more complex by the second. This super-network is based on a common addressing system called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Transmission Control Protocol splits large files into numerous small files, or packets, and assigns each with sequencing and addressing information. Upon arrival at their final destination, the packets are reassembled into their original file. Internet Protocol consists of a hierarchical addressing system that controls the routing of these packets.

COMMON TERMS

For people who were not born with a silver mouse in one hand, it is easy to confuse certain terms and products with the Internet itself. In fact, it is not beyond many “experienced” cyber-travelers to misunderstand how particular aspects of the Internet fit together. Before you hook up your modem and connect with the rest of the world, it is important to understand the basic facets of the Net. The more you know about it, the smoother your ride and the clearer your vision will be of where you want to go. Here are some common internet terms and a brief description of each.

* Internet Service Provider: An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is not the Internet. It is a company that provides access to the Internet, like an on-ramp leads to a highway. For most ISPs, there is a monthly fee ranging from $9.00-$20.00, and for this we get access to the Internet. There are innumerable companies that provide Internet access. Some include major telecommunications firms like AT&T, or local telephone companies. A company such as Earthlink, which provides just online access, not telephone service, can also connect you to the Internet. One of the faster ways to surf the Web is through your local cable company, which provides access over cable lines (much faster link than telephone connections). Whichever you choose, just remember that your ISP is not the Internet–just the door that will take you inside the Web.

* Online Service Provider: An online service provider, which offers much more than just access to the Internet, is like an ISP but with a kick. AOL (America Online) is one such example. AOL provides proprietary content like games, access to sports, news and research and chat rooms. These little extras are meant to be used with the online service and are usually not available to the general users of the Internet.

* Web Browser: Like a vehicle on a superhighway, the browser is the transmission that propels us on our journey throughout the Web. For your computer to view the information and documents found on the Internet, you first need to load a browser. While various navigational tools are available, the two most popular are Netscape Navigator (Netscape Communications), and Internet Explorer (Microsoft Corporation). Both enable the Web surfer to view Web pages, and both support Java (high level programming language developed by Sun Microsystems), JavaScript, (a simple programming language developed by Netscape to enable Web authors and designers to create interactive sites), and Active X. Browsers can be downloaded free on the Internet and are provided free of charge by ISPs.

* Search Engines: No, we’re not talking about V-8s, but just one more helpful tool to make life on the Web easier. A search engine consists of software that was created to help people seeking information find what they need. Similar to the card catalogue in your local library, but infinitely faster, search engines make it possible to find information on virtually any topic–instantaneously. Some of the most popular search engines include Excite, HotBot, Yahoo, AltaVista, and Google.

* E-mail: The most common use, and main source of mystery regarding the Internet, is in the Internet application of Electronic mail, better known as e-mail. When pressing that send button, have you ever wondered where your letter is going before it reaches your Aunt Mildred? According to Kathy Hendershot, President of Virtual Impax.com, E-mail is “…an application, something we do online. When you address an e-mail, it’s a lot like addressing a snail-mail letter. It works like this: Your e-mail is sent out via the computer that is connected to the Internet. The ISP sees the information as a message for someone at another computer by looking at the second part of the email. This is the @yourdomain. com part. The computer in your office or home can call the computer where your mail server lives and ask it to “deliver” your new email.”The route that your e-mail takes is similar to a road map; there are hundreds of paths and just as many roadblocks. Just like you may encounter a detour on the way to work, your e -mail can run across a cyber-block and be forced to go a different way. For a quick way to find out the path your messages took before reaching your inbox, go to the “File” tab, click on “Properties” and then “Details”. This will show you exactly where your email has been.

* Web Sites: Have you ever wondered where your Web site “lives”? Don’t be embarrassed; you are not alone. Web sites reside in servers–a computer that “serves” files. Each server has its own IP address, an identifier for a computer or device on a TCP/IP network. For example, if your IP address is 209.15.41.225, the numbers 209.15 stand for the network to which it is connected. The last numbers act as a secondary address–kind of like a “back door.” Some servers are so busy that they have 3-4 “other doors.” A domain name is an easy way for people to remember IP addresses. It is much easier to remember www.yourdomain.com than it is to remember 209.15. 41.225. When you type in a domain name at the top of your computer screen, look at the bottom of your browser and you will see it searching for the IP address.

THE WEB AWAITS YOU

When you understand all the components of the Internet, this virtual land becomes a much more user-friendly place. Although this knowledge isn’t necessary to surf the Net, those who take the time to learn will find that the Web becomes much less mysterious and a lot more fun.