From Then to Now: The Post Office

September 15, 2009 at 12:02 pm (Internet surfing) (, , )

The Internet has become a vital resource for information throughout the world. This simply shows how fast our world is changing, considering the Internet was unheard of 20 years ago. Communication is one of the most prominent uses of Internet services and computers today, and we’ve come so far from our earliest records of communication. The following posts will share some of our greatest events in the history of communication, and compare it to our high-tech, high-speed transfer of information today. Here is a look at a well known establishment that enabled and revolutionized communication, how it started, and where it is today.

The Post Office

Then: The very first postal service was in China in 900 BC and was for government use. The Romans established their first post office in 14 AD.

In the US, the first post office was in Boston, starting in 1639.  Of course, the Pony Express is a well known early mail delivery system, which began in 1861. In 1918, scheduled airmail began.

Now: The US Post Office launched its Internet site in 1994. The Internet continues to play a significant role in the post offices. On their website, you can report a change of address, track packages as they are being shipped, create personalized stamped envelopes, and print postage labels, or shipping supplies, and look up shipping information.

Email and business websites have eliminated the need for countless items at one time handled solely by the Post Office. Personal letters to friends, billing statements, reciepts, newsletters, and catalogs are often only transferred online. Many companies encourage their customers to do most of their business online to avoid the abundant use of paper and save the cost of postage.

A recent article stated that this drop in mail volume has  strongly effected the US Postal Services. Staff was cut by 25,000 this year alone, routes are being dropped and combined, and the price of postage was raised in efforts to cover losses. Competitors like UPS and FedEx handle many shipping items once handled by the USPS. The economy has also caused a major drop in advertising by mail, which is another major factor in the reduced mail volume.

Even after the economy bounces back, mail volume is not expected to increase. In the near future, some small town post offices and branch offices may close, and delivery may reduce to 5 days a week.

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Top 25 Uses for the Internet

August 19, 2009 at 2:00 pm (broadband, Internet surfing) (, , , )

This is part two of my last post, where I explained why I oppose the spending of stimulus money to get broadband to rural areas. I realized that I made an assumption that is not always true–I assumed that by rural they mean country folk like me, who live over 10 miles from a city. People like us have to drive half an hour or more to get to work and wouldn’t dream of getting pizza delivered, much less Internet services like dsl or cable all the way to our house.

I realized yesterday that rural also means small mountian-side or desert towns and villages that are over 50 miles from a real city. In these cases, there are actual businesses, not just individuals, that don’t have good (or any) Internet access, and that could sure use some help.

From what I’ve been reading, there are multiple references made to individuals who have no access to broadband, and, while my sympathies are with them (don’t forget, that includes me!), I don’t think the government should be buying them broadband Internet!

My main reason for opposing spending our scarce government money (that will eventually be coming out of our pockets) for broadband access to rural areas is because I don’t think most individuals need it badly enough to justify spending billions of dollars.

In my last post I began my research on the primary uses for the Internet. It seems that social networking is the most popular activity, if you look at the most popular websites. But let’s take this a step further.

The last post did not include websites that were search engines, because their purpose is too broad. About half of the top websites were search engines, including the ones we all know and love: Google, Yahoo, Windows Live (now Bing) and MSN. Yesterday I researched the most popular searches to find out more about our online audience.

Google provides a list of the top ten search terms for each year, and top 100 searches for each day, up to today. I began to gather the top searched topic of every day in the month of July to see if I could find a consensus or group them in categories. I am not in the least impressed with us Google-searchers. After the first ten entries of celebrity gossip and who was shot to death that day, I lost interest—and my appetite! If you’re curious, check out Google Hot Trends for all the latest, tasteless gossip. Back to our discussion!

Here is a list from infoplease.com, based on information collected by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (they’re at it again!), of what people do most online. I took great pains in figuring out how to make a chart and loading it here. Hope you enjoy!

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The list was actually much longer, but I decided to show you at least the top 25, only because I had to go that far down to find some uses for the Internet that is clearly work-related. In my opinion, the first 22 are usually not business/work/job related, but many of them can be. Email, for example, is the top activity, and could be both work or pleasure related.

My conclusion, we online users as a whole use the Internet for fun, news (both educational and *ahem* pointless, but interesting), and research. I’m not surprised. And you probably aren’t either.

Here’s one last thought. Look at that list again. Only 3 of those activities usually require a broadband connection (as opposed to dial-up) because of the heavy streaming/real time activity needed to run effectively. So why spend billions of dollars on broadband? There’s a reason why telephone and Internet companies haven’t done it already–it costs too much money to be worthwhile.

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Dial-up vs. DSL

July 10, 2009 at 12:45 pm (Dial up, DSL) (, , , , , , , )

If you are interested in switching to DSL Internet services, you may be curious to know what DSL is all about and how it compares to dial-up. For the purpose of this comparison, we will assume that by DSL, we are talking about ADSL, the typical DSL connection available that uses a phone line to connect. Here are a few of the basics.

For starters, dial-up and DSL both connect using your land line phone line. Simply put, a dial-up modem converts the analog communication your phone line uses into digital information needed for your computer. The same thing happens on your phone company’s end. Their modem converts the from digital to analog so it can travel on the phone lines. DSL, on the other hand, uses the same wires that your analog phone line used and bypasses the digital-analog-digital conversion dial-up must use.

Therefore, DSL transmits information much faster than dial-up, and works at a higher frequency (higher than can be detected by the human ear), and by doing so, it does not effect the analog communication (phone conversations, etc.) on those same lines.

The most obvious difference, other than the speed, is the price. The total monthly cost of dial-up is between 10 and 20 dollars a month with little or no additional fees including set up or equipment fees. DSL has a monthly fee somewhere between 20-100 dollars a month (based on speed desired and location), not including the price of equipment, installation, and other fees such as repair plans, technical support, or contract fees.

Most computers have a dial-up modem already installed on the computer, so there aren’t typically many equipment costs associated with dial-up. Other than a land line and a phone cord, that is the extent of the “equipment” and “installation” costs for dial-up.

Availability and transportability are two categories where dial-up exceeds DSL. Connecting to the internet with most dial-up services is available to any computer that has a land line phone. It is not confined to the home where the DSL modem is installed.

DSL is only available in very limited areas. DSL is rarely available in rural areas because they are too far from the phone company’s central office. The choices of connection speeds on DSL could cut in half based solely on your locations. Often, a few hundred feet means the difference of DSL or no DSL for suburban homes.

DSL and dial-up can be provided both by your phone company or through your phone company. While you can set up nearly any dial-up service with any analog phone service, DSL is usually only available with your phone company or a DSL company that partners with your phone company.

Many phone companies will not let any other DSL company use their phone lines, so this could even further limit or prevent you from getting DSL. If they do, further problems can occur in the process of communication during the activation period and the resolving of technical issues. Even with no complications, DSL usually takes at least several days to set up.

Dial-up has a very simple set up procedure that takes about half an hour or less (unless you are mailed a setup CD, which is often not necessary). Since it is so simple to set up, you can easily move the connection, set up multiple connections, and take your service with you when you travel or move. Rarely does your phone company need to be involved or even notified, other than to make sure your access number is a local call.

DSL is a fast, dedicated connection for those who require it for gaming, downloading, and streaming of videos, etc. Dial-up excels in price, availability, and simplicity for people who need to save money or don’t have many other options.

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Is Dial-up Fast Enough for You?

July 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm (Dial up, DSL, Internet surfing) (, , , , , , , )

Although dial-up Internet services were quite popular a few decades ago, some believe dial-up has become thing of the past. However, there are still many thousands who use dial-up as their primary home Internet connection today. Every day, there are people considering starting a new dial-up account, either to save money or because no other affordable option is available. Here’s an in-depth look at what dial-up should be capable of and some of the factors that effect a dial-up connection speed.

Let’s start with basic web-surfing. How long is it going to take to load a web page on dial-up? Although dial-up and dial-up modems have only improved in quality, websites as a whole have greatly increased their use of multimedia layouts, including video and audio features. This has resulted in dial-up Internet services loading webpages more slowly overall than they did even five years ago.

However, there are also ways that technology has made webpages easier to load using compression technology, etc. There are ISP’s, software programs, and even certain browsers offer tools that can effectually speed your browsing time. Some websites load parts of their page (like backgrounds and images) separately so that you don’t have to wait for the whole page to load before you can begin using it. Other sites, such as gmail.com, allow you to load the site in a simpler layout for faster loading on dial-up. All of these factors affect your loading time. Here are a few examples to give you an estimate for some familiar pages :

  • Google.com has a very simple layout with mostly white space and very few images. On a dial up connection speed, this page should load in about 5-7 seconds.

  • Yahoo.com, even with its busy home page loads in a user-friendly 35-45 seconds on dial-up.

  • CNN.com has many columns, headings, and images. Using a dial up connection, the home page should load in about 3 minutes.

These times are estimated based on a 56K dial up connection, with the consideration that no one ever connects at 56 kbps. Even the best connection will establish at about 50 kbps and often closer to 48, due to technology and legal restrictions. There are other several factors that can effect your connection speed. If you have an older modem or a poor phone connection, you’re actual speed could be closer to 28 kbps or less. You will notice the difference much more on downloads than on loading webpages.

How fast are downloads on dial-up? Small downloads are usually not a problem. A song, for example, is typically about 3 MB in a compressed format, which is what MP3 players and cellphones use. If you download a 3 MB file on a 56K dial up connection, it take about 8-10 minutes, or on a 28K connection, 15 or 20 minutes.

The latest version of Firefox, 3.5, is 7.6 MB, which would download in just over 20 minutes on a 56K connection, or about 45 minutes on a 28K connection. It is possible that your connection speed changes while you’re connected. Intermittent noises on the phone line can slow your connection speed or even cause it to drop. If you already have a slower connection due to poor phone lines (because you live some distance from the phone company’s central office, or you have aged phone lines with static or humming), you may need to make several attempts to download programs that are longer than 2 hours.

Suppose you want to download a large program, like an anti-virus program. The latest version the free AVG 8.5 is 63.1 MB. On a 56K dial-up connection, that would take over 3 hours, or nearly 6 hours on a 28K connection. Since most ISP’s have a maximum 4 hour disconnect, you will probably not be able to download anything larger than 40 MB on a 28 kbps connection. This same file would download in about a half hour on DSL. If you have dial-up and require an occasional large download, go to your local library or coffee shop with free wireless and download the file to a disk or flash drive. Then install it on your home computer when you get home.

Dial-up is not for everyone. Those who require fast connections for real time streaming that is necessary for watching videos and playing online games should look for a broadband connection. For those who just want to surf web pages, play small flash games, check email, and do some online banking, dial up will be sufficient. It might be slower, but unless you plan on being online all the time, the money you’ll save will be worth the wait.

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Tips for Buying a Dial-up Modem

July 1, 2009 at 11:52 am (Dial up) (, , , , , )

If you are planning to buy a new dial-up modem, you may feel a little overwhelmed at the large variety of modems available. You could just have a technician install a modem for you, and while this would certainly be the easiest route, it’s definitely more expensive. These tips will help you buy a modem that best suits your Internet services and make you a little more knowledgeable about modems in general.

Don’t buy a used modem. First of all, there’s no way to know if its actually going to work, and secondly, it could be missing installation instructions or a necessary driver software CD. Also, if the modem doesn’t work or is not compatible, it would be too much trouble to return it. A new modem may be more expensive, but you have more assurance that it has the latest technology and is less likely to malfunction any time soon.

Be sure it’s actually a dial-up modem. Nearly all types of Internet services require that you have a modem, but there’s a big difference between them. If you buy anything that is not a dial-up modem, it’s not going to connect to dial-up. Most modems will have “Dial-up” “Cable” or “DSL” in their name, but if you don’t know for sure, check the description before you grab it off the shelf.

Be sure it’s compatible to your computer. What version of Windows do you have on your computer? Or do you have a Mac computer? Is it a desktop or a laptop? Make sure you will be able to install the modem on the computer. You can buy external modems that are compatible with nearly all computers. They may be more expensive, but very helpful if you need the modem for more than one computer.

Consider your installation procedure. Is it an external or internal modem? If you have a laptop, installing a modem inside it would be very difficult. Even on a desktop, installing an internal modem would not be recommended for novice computer users. An external modem is simple to install, and only requires you to plug in the modem to a USB port on the outside of the computer, and maybe run a CD. Even a beginner can install an external modem. Also, an external modem can easily be moved if you switch computers frequently or use dial-up while traveling (e.g., college students who make weekend and holiday trips home can take their modem with them). 

Consider extra features. Some cheaper modems may not have the features you need for your dial-up plan. For example, if you want to add an Internet Call-waiting feature to your dial-up plan, you must first have a V.92 modem. You may want to have a V.92 modem anyway because it has the latest technology that could nearly double your Internet connection speed.

Consider the cost. There may still be some brands that offer the same features, but cost less than others. If they all have the features you need, save money and get the less expensive modem! You may also find that some stores have the same product for a cheaper price than others. Of course, the Internet is a very popular place to find the latest gadgets at a great price. If you decide to buy online, be sure to consider shipping time and costs, and check the company’s return policy.

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Dial-up Modem Gone Bad: Fix or Buy?

July 1, 2009 at 11:44 am (Dial up) (, , , , )

Dial-up Internet services depend on a number of things to work properly: The Internet service provider, the access number, the phone company, the phone line to your house, the jack, splitter, surge protector, phone cord, and computer in the house, and of course, the dial-up modem. Unfortunately, the dial-up modem can often be the culprit and not be so easy to detect. Modems, like cars and other technology, can begin causing problems or cease working entirely without warning.

There are several possible reasons your modem would not work properly, or at all.

  1. Your modem is not installed correctly or the software is malfunctioning.
  2. Your modem needs to be updated with new driver software.
  3. Your modem is out-of-date or its software is corrupted.

Here are some solutions to fixing or replacing your modem (and how to decide which is needed), should any of these scenarios be the cause dial-up connection errors or frequent disconnects.

Reinstalling your modem. You may simply need to reinstall your modem. If you have a newer version of Windows, i.e., XP or Vista, you can usually reinstall your modem quite easily. First, open your Control Panel, then “Phone and Modem Options”. Then click on the Modems tab and select your modem from the list, “The following modems are installed” and click Remove. Then restart your computer. Windows will detect your modem and either install it on its own, or a “Found New Hardware” Wizard will appear and guide you through the installation.

Some modems cannot be reinstalled without a driver CD, so this should only be done if you are sure that this is the original modem that came with the computer and that you were not provided with a modem driver CD upon purchasing your computer. If you bought your modem separately, you probably have the drivers CD. Keep this handy as you will need it again when you reinstall your modem.

Suppose you are not sure if you had a driver CD. You may decide to try a reinstall anyway because it does not cost you any money and could be the quickest way to fix your modem. Be forewarned that your modem may not reinstall correctly and you could worsen the situation during re-installation. On the other hand, if it wasn’t working anyway, you have little to lose as you can always buy another modem.

Updating your modem software. You may wish to update your modem software if you have an older computer or if you have successfully reinstalled your modem and you still have problems dialing up to the Internet.

You may have difficulty with this step if you are not familiar with computer technology. In order to update your modem software, you must first know what type of modem you have. Your modem name is listed in the same place where you remove your modem for a reinstall (see above). You may also have this information with your computer’s manual (providing the modem came with your computer) or your modem’s manual.

Once you know what make and model you have, you can browse online for your modem website to download any software updates for your modem. You may also need to download the original drivers for your modem if you tried previously to reinstall you modem and can’t get it to reinstall properly. You may need to see a local technician for help with this step.

Buying a new modem. Unfortunately, sometimes your modem cannot be repaired because it is too out of date to accept upgrades or the software is too corrupted to be repaired. This is typically the case if the above two steps don’t work or you have an older computer. This can be a good thing. Newer modems are more reliable, not too expensive (usually $20-50, as compared to $50-150 for broadband equipment), and may help you get faster speeds due to newer technology.

In any of these scenarios, you may be better off to buy a new modem anyway. It could even save you money if you have to take your computer to a technician. Why pay more to fix an old modem?

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How to Check Your Computer for a Dial-up Modem

July 1, 2009 at 11:29 am (Dial up) (, , , , , )

If you’re interested in getting dial-up Internet services, you may be in for a surprise. Many computers are now being sold without dial-up modems. You may want to be sure your modem is installed before you sign up for Internet service to avoid having problems once you’re paying for Internet services. There are two ways to check for a dial-up modem, and it will be helpful to check both areas.

First, check your tower for a modem. From the back of the computer, look for a port that looks just like the phone jack in the wall. You need to have a regular phone cord to test whether the ports are for dial-up or broadband. There are three possibilities:

  1. You see a port, but it looks slightly bigger and your phone cord doesn’t fit tightly inside. This is your Ethernet port. It is for the cables you need for a broadband connection. This is not a modem. Look for another port.
  2. You see two ports side by side. One should read “line” or show the outline of a phone port. The other reads “phone” or shows a picture of a telephone. This is your dial-up modem! For your dial-up connection, plug a phone cord from the jack in the wall into the “line” port. If you want a telephone beside your computer, plug its phone cord into the “phone” port in the back of the computer.

  3. You see one telephone port and your phone cord fits in it. This is your dial-up modem! If you want to hook up a telephone as well, you will need a splitter in the phone jack in the wall and two phone cords: one going to the computer and the other to the telephone.

If you have no telephone ports, you will need to buy a dial-up modem that connects to a USB port. If you do have a modem, you must check whether your computer acknowledges that it is properly installed.

  1. Open your control panel.

  2. Open your modem options. Depending on your version of Windows, it may be called “Modems” or “Phone and Modem Options”. You may need to look under “Printers and Other Hardware” if you are using XP or Vista and you are currently in category view.

  3. Click on the “Modems” tab.

  4. You will see, “The following modems are installed:” and a white box listing whatever modems are or have been installed on your computer.

  5. Under the heading “Attached to”, does it say “COM” and a number? This means your computer recognizes that you have a modem installed. Does it say “not present”? This means that your modem is corrupted or not installed correctly. This will need to be resolved before you can connect to the Internet.

If you detect that you have a modem both physically installed in the tower and registering as installed in your computer, you are ready to order dial-up Internet. Although you are not guaranteed that you have a working modem, as other minor issues can occur, these steps indicate that you will most likely have no problems connecting. Your dial-up service technicians should be able to help you if there are further problems.

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How to Find the Best Dial-up ISP

June 10, 2009 at 2:33 pm (Dial up) (, , )

Dial-up internet services are about the same connection speed regardless of which company is providing the service. Although some ISP’s offer accelerators, the connection speed still typically range from 20-50 kbps (kilobits per second) as a result of 1) the quality of the phone line, 2) the distance of the phone line source and the house, and 3) the type/quality of the dial-up modem.

Therefore, choosing a dial-up provider is important not because one is faster than another, but because the customer service, payment methods, terms of service, and other important features vary greatly from one company to another.

You’ve probably heard of several larger companies who provide dial up internet, like AOL, Earthlink, and Netzero. These companies have become a household name commonly associated with dial up, but they are not the only dial up providers. It would be easy to find and sign up for Internet service with these companies, but you could be making a mistake. Many larger dial up ISP’s have sent their customer service to outsourced call centers in order to save money. Some of them require you to sign up for a contract. Some charge fees for technical support or cancellation. You have to consider multiple factors when choosing the best Internet service, and this will take some research.

Fortunately, some of this research has been done for you. There are several websites that list the top rated dial-up providers, including the lesser known ISP’s who are more concerned about doing you a favor than making a lot of money. Here three websites who show the facts for a variety of Internet services:

Of all the prominent ISP comparison websites, these have a wide selection, quality up-to-date information, and easy navigation.

These sites show all the basics at a glance—price, ratings, features, and special offers. They also link to reviews, which can be very handy when weighing your options. Wouldn’t you want to know what company has the happiest customers? What did an actual customer say about the ISP that interests you? Keep in mind that solitary negative (especially heated and derogatory) reviews could be an isolated situation that bears no relevance to the average user.

Another benefit of using an ISP comparison website is that most companies offer a discount to new customers, and these websites often directly link to that site’s promotional web page for easy sign up. You will not only find a satisfactory ISP, but you will also save money!

Choosing the best ISP may be a process of trial and error. These websites will help make the best choice the first time. They also provide some information about dial-up and Internet service in general if this is your first time choosing your own company.

There are many companies who sell dial-up, and just because everyone you know has Earthlink or you grew up on AOL doesn’t mean you have to be one of their customers too. Take advantage of a competitive market and find the service that’s best for you.

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Dictionary of Call Center Terms

June 1, 2009 at 5:33 pm (Call Center life, Dial up) (, )

I am a Customer Service Representative. That is the pretty title for call center person. A lot of people don’t understand why I like my job, and I assume that if the management, quality of training, and flexibility was anything like most call centers, I would hate my job. But I love it. Sure, there are days I really just want to go home, but who doesn’t deal with that?

For your entertaining pleasure, I have decided to share some call center moments with you. In addition to providing Internet services, my call center is designed for the extreme necessity of guiding technologically-challenged computer users to navigate through the tedious process of setting up a dial up connection or tech support. Here is the Dictionary of Call Center terms, important keywords and phrases I have learned as a CSR:

Big Blue E. (n.) This is what you click on twice really fast to bring up webpages. Also known as, Internet Explorer icon.

Box. (n.) Any given piece of computer hardware. The big box on the floor is the tower, the little box could be  a modem, a router, or something that has nothing to do with the computer.

Computer-Saavy. (adj.) A measurement of technological skill. Typically after the word “not” to describe the obvious.

Extension. (n.) Any number given to you by a csr, regardless of how long the number is or what he or she said it was for. Are known to never work, and it is the call center’s fault.

Foxfire. (n.) The other browser. Other common names are, Firefox, Mozilla Firefox, etc.

Internet. (n.) Anything pertaining to the world wide web. Ex: “My Internet broke.” or, “I would like to buy the Internet.”

Mobile phone. (n.) Could mean a cell phone. Or possibly a cordless phone. Either way, dial up is expected to connect while using this device.

Little Pictures with words under it. (n.) Aka, icons. You click on them twice.

Main Screen, or Main Picture.  (n.) Also known as desktop. The page that you see when all the other windows are closed.

Microsoft. (n.) A perfectly logical answer to “What version of Windows do you have on your computer?”

Right click. (v.) To left click repeatedly and never get the expected result.

Thingy.  (n.) Anything and everything for which you don’t know the word.

TV.  (n.) Another name for computer.

Write “click”. (n.) A possible reaction to the command over to the phone to right-click.

Ah… good times.

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