Past newsletters may be viewed at http://editor.actrix.gen.nz/
|Just What Do Modems Do?
Modems are devices that allow computers to "talk" to each
other over a standard telephone line in much the same way humans use a telephone. One
computer uses its modem to dial a phone number. At the other end of the line, another
modem answers the call. The two modems then negotiate or shake hands, that is, they agree
on the format of the data transmission and the transmission speed . After negotiation, the
two computers transmit data back and forth through their respective modems.
|This month I thought
it might be a good idea to try and reduce the complexities of how modems work into
layperson's terms. The better we understand technology, the more at home we tend to be
Firstly, the origin on the word "modem" is pretty telling. It is short for modulator demodulator. You see, computers tend to work with information in digital format, but telephone lines were designed to carry sound waves in analog format. It is the modem's job to turn your computer's digital information into analog "sound waves" (which is why you hear squealing when you pick up your telephone while online) at your end. This is called "modulation." The modem in the computer at the other end of your internet call has the job of turning those sound waves back into a digital format to be used by the computer there. This is called "demodulation."
|As long as your modem is active
(ie, while you are online) it constantly transmits a signal called a "carrier"
because that signal is the means by which information is "carried" across the
phoneline. Modems transmit information by modulating or varying this signal. The carrier
signal is characterised by the number of "pulses," that are transmitted per
second. Each pulse is called a baud. The maximum number of pulses per second that
can be transmitted across phonelines is 1200, so the faster the modem, the more
information (bits) it is able to squeeze into each pulse.
To illustrate: one of the first modems used to access the Net was described as 1200bps. This meant that it was able to transmit 1 bit of information per pulse (therefore 1200 bits per second). 2400bps modems were able to transmit two bits of information per pulse or baud. They were still transmitting at a 1200 baud rate, but doubled the amount of information carried at that speed. 9,600bps modems quadrupled this, and so on as modem technology advanced eventually to 33,600 bps.
At that point the modem manufacturers agreed that the limit of technology had been reached, that modems could never go any faster. Now, however, all of the major manufacturers of modems produce 56,000 bps models, or 56K modems (K being short for kilobit).
|In fact, It would actually be more accurate to
say that modem makers discovered two ways to realise this increase in speed.
Shortly after U.S. Robotics announced their 56K technology, which they dubbed "X2," competitors Rockwell Semiconductor and Lucent Technologies unveiled another method of reaching this speed. This approach, which they named "K56 flex", was not compatible with X2 modems at 56K, and this is where things became crucial. If 56K was the way to go, which system should the Internet universally adopt?
|In 1998 an international
standards committee called the International Telecommunications Union
decided on a hybrid of the two systems, and thankfully, major modem manufacturers agreed
to go along. Hence today we have what is known as V.90 56K modems. What
makes V.90 different and possible is probably too complicated to go into here, but it
assumes that the only aspect of your entire internet connection that needs conversion from
digital to analog is between your computer and your local telephone exchange. Everything
else it treats as digital.
The V.90 system works by digitally encoding downstream data instead of modulating it as analog modems do. The data transfer is asymmetrical meaning that upstream transmissions (mostly keystroke and mouse commands from your computer, which require less bandwidth) continue to flow at the old conventional rates of up to 33,600bps. Only the down stream data transfer takes advantage of the high speed V.90 rates.
My Modem is 56K, Why Do I Never Achieve Download Speeds of more that 5 or 6K?
If you're getting a 6 kilobyte download through a 56K modem, you are doing very well indeed.
The reason for the discrepancy here is that in each of these cases, the K stands for something different. Your modem is 56Kilobits. There are 8 bits in a byte, and 1000 bytes in a kilobyte. What this means is that your modem's maximum download speed (if all conditions are perfect) is 56,000 bits, or 7,000 bytes, or 7 kilobytes. Given the nature of 56K modems (see the article above) a 7K download is technically impossible.
|Why a 56K Modem Does Not Transmit
Data at 56K
Even though you own a V.90 56K modem and Actrix, your ISP, supports V.90 56K modem connections, you will still connect at a slower speed. In fact, you may connect as slow as 24K. There are many reasons for this.
Transmission speed is greatly affected by the quality of the telephone line and how far you are away from your local telephone exchange. In order for a 56K modem to connect at 53K, the telephone signal can only go through one analog to digital (A/D) conversion. If you live too far from the exchange, your service likely goes through more than one A/D conversion and your 56K modem may only connect at 24K or 28K. Funnily enough, I remember spending considerable help desk time with a person who was experiencing terribly slow speeds, but who said he was so close that he could "spit on his local exchange from his study window." You guessed it; he turned out to be too close to the exchange, but that is another story.
Line noise is also a definite speed killer. Faulty, wet or cracked phone lines will produce noise (often inaudible to the human ear) and 56K modems are particularly susceptible. When your modem and ours talk together during initial handshaking, they may agree to communicate at a slower speed so that your connection doesn't drop or stop as a result of noise.
Ironically, the very process of converting data from analog to digital format creates a form of line noise as a by-product that will slow your modem ever so slightly. Therefore it is safe to say that a 56K connection is impossible to achieve with a mere 56K modem.
|What, Exactly, is the
Basically it is a global network exchanging digitised data in such a way that any computer, anywhere, that is equipped with a device called a modem can make a noise like a duck choking on a kazoo. This is called logging on and once you are logged on you can move the pointer of your mouse to a hyperlink and simply by clicking on it, change your pointer to an hourglass. Then you can go to lunch and when you come back, there, on your computer screen, as if by magic, will be at least 14 advertisements related to Beanie Babies (which currently are the foundation of the entire world economy). This entire process takes place in less time than it takes for a sperm whale to give birth to twins.
|Microsoft Vulnerabilities and the
Windows Update Page
This month we are privileged to be able to include the first in a series of articles by one of our customers, Dean Moor. Dean has a long-standing interest in computer security and has graciously agreed to share some of his knowledge.
Always remember - one of the best ways to protect your security online is to change your password on a regular basis. Haven't done that for a while? Do it now. Call our help desk (0800-228749) if you're not sure how. -Ed.
Hi Folks. I have been asked to bring you news of security
programs and issues. Each Month I shall endeavour to assist you in making your Internet
adventures safer and more enjoyable. To start the ball rolling, I am going to tell you
about one of the easiest ways of increasing the security of your Windows Operating System.
|The easiest method is for those running Internet Explorer. All you do is click on the TOOLS menu in Internet Explorer, and select Windows Update. From here you will be taken to a special Microsoft Site which will check for the ActiveX Component that is the centre of this service. If this component is not installed, it will automatically be downloaded and you will be given the choice to install. I strongly recommend that you accept this tool. (If Internet Explorer is not your preferred browser, or if you have an older version without the Tools/Windows Update link, you can still use this method by going here - www.windowsupdate.com) Once installed you will see a new Browser Window pop up, informing you that "Windows Update is customising the product updates..."|
|When this is done you will be presented with a
list of available updates. Pay special attention to the critical updates!
From here, simply choose which you wish to install according to time requirements and preference and click Download. Confirm your choice of updates, read and accept the license agreement, and wait for the updates to download and install. This is when I normally make a coffee, or do the dishes. When you return everything should be installed and you will be informed of any errors. A quick restart (Not always needed) later and... DONE! Couldn't be easier!
|The other method is
to go to the Windows download page for your particular Operating System (www.microsoft.com/windows) and
download and install each update manually. This method is both more time consuming and
recommended for Advance Users due to the fact that all updates are listed, not just the
ones that you may need.
Well, I am sorry to say folks, but I have run out of time and space. I hope this proves helpful to you and I shall return next time with another tip.
|The National Gallery
Just like any any art gallery, this site is quite pleasant for a quiet wander. There are a number of galleries and exhibitions. Sure, the images aren't top, top quality, and, again just like a museum or art gallery, it's reasonably easy to get lost as you wander. Oh well, there are less relaxing ways to get lost.
They're not just the thin, blue line against organised crime: In a small corner of New Zealand, the police are also the thin, blue, URL... In a suburb of New Zealand's capital city of Wellington, the Mongrel Mob rules the criminal roost. But tougher laws and a campaign of information about the gang are helping cut the serious crime they commit. Interesting links to Mongrel Mob information.
While I confess to not being a believer, it's hard to deny that ufos are an interesting phenomenon. The true believer will find all sorts of information, links, purchasing opportunities and so forth at this site.
The Actrix schools promotion is continuing to move along very well. We have offered all schools in new Zealand free internet access and a few other goodies if they participate. If you'd like to know more about the promotion, click here.
|The really pleasing news is that as part of the promotion, we gave away computers, scanners, and printers to five New Zealand schools. I thought I'd share with you some of the feedback we received from one of the schools.|
We are a reasonably small South Otago primary school. Six months ago we took up your School Promotion Package and have been delighted with the service and benefits we have enjoyed. We have basically free internet access for our students and a web site hosted by Actrix. All this is great for student learning as now students can work on selected web sites at home as well as in school. We were even more impressed when last week we received a free P.C. computer, printer and scanner from your company, having won a draw as part of the promotion. I can thoroughly recommend Actrix to any school that is considering changing I.S.P. and would like to thank you for the free hardware.
Dear Mr Ritchie,
|Dear Mr Ritchie,
Thank you for your generous gift. The mouse for the computer looks like something from outer space. It has cool software and we really appreciate it.
Dear Mr Ritchie,
Dear Mr Ritchie,
|Letters to the
Hi there Rob,
I find upon trying to enter secure sites like (e.g.banking) that my I.E. 5.01 is next to useless as it hangs on the second screen forever, whereas my Netscape 4.74 (with 128bit encryption) flies right in. I downloaded the 128bit for I.E. all to no avail. I used to use Outlook express 5.01 but after downloading the security fixes, I started getting blue screen windows exceptions, not funny at all.
I now use Eudora pro adware and Netscape Messenger and
problem solved. I also had the kak worm virus in my mail and my NAV picked it up straight
away and Netscape confined it to my inbox, I couldn't determine which particular e-mail
had it, just that it was in my inbox. Interestingly McAfee 4.0 with sdat 4085 missed it
Thanks for your letter, Peter, a good balance to my perceived Microsoft bias. I haven't had the problems you have had, though. No wonder you're a Netscape Man! -Ed
Hi Thomas, I have never used Opera, but am glad to hear of alternatives to the big players. Is there anyone else using Opera who'd like to comment? -Ed
Murphy's Laws of Computing
It was interesting to read your newsletter. I too use the Netscape "Smart Download" I have found it to be not very smart.
the "Advanced" option is needed to set a path to save a download. But typically,
the download starts BEFORE getting the option to direct the file to a known destination. I
usually download to a Zip disk, virus scan it then install it if it is software I need.
The easiest way around this is to always make a "new folder" on the Zip disk,
leave the path to this, then rename it AFTER completing the download. Not very
"smart" or "advanced".
I was unaware that my particulars were "sucked"
back through the internet with the connivance of this software.
Hi George, As far as I know there isn't a way to remove the smart download yet, though Steve Gibson's Opt Out program (see the article below) may do it. he plans to include a removal for the smart download in his next version of it. You can get the Opt Out program (quite safe) from http://grc.com where you can also find out much more about this sort of thing. -Ed
Thank you for your kind words. Good to hear from Macsters who may be a little neglected around here. Next time I'm driving a Mac I just might check out Sherlock as you suggest. -Ed
Hi I had just recently checked out Steve Gibson's web site
and out of interest went to try out the Zone Labs site to see what this zone alarm was all
Thanks for this, Alan. For those unaware of what Zone Alarm is, it's a free personal firewall that is very easy to download, install and use. In effect, it stealths you when online making you very hard for a hacker to find. Hmmmm, might see if I can get someone to review it for next month. -Ed
|Editorial letters policy: If you'd like to share your thoughts on anything found here in the newsletter, please do email me at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you. I will only publish your letter with your permission, so if you could include that when you write, great! I reserve the right not to publish your letter if I don't want to. -Ed.|
|Norrie's Nerd Words
For those of you who don't yet know me, my name is Norrie the Nerd, and (in my spare time) I am the chief technical guru at Actrix Networks Ltd. I travel the world dispensing technical advice to the rich and famous. You can hear me on Radio Sports each morning! I have an Actrix homepage that includes my bio, my photo album, and guide to html and Actrix user home pages.
Oh, it is so much fun giving away chocolate each month! The following ten people won themselves a Norrie the Nerd chocolate bar last month for visiting my homepage and finding the answer to my question: What was the name of the fifth TellyTubby? The answer was Nerdy Twerdy, of course: Arthur Pengelly, Claire Pascoe, Bev Barbarich, Stuart Clarke, Adam Groenewegen, Margaret Dodds, Esther Zorn (this little sweetheart received no help from her dad), David Johnston, Karin Wiley and Susan Bashford. Well done winners!
I was a little late sending them out this month. It seems some Actrix staff found my hidden stash of bars, but I am pleased to say that I have plenty on hand now, and they are well-hidden.
Big news for me this month is that I have finally started
work on my memoirs. The first two chapters of my life story are now posted at my homepage:
|Why not cruise on over (just
click the underlined link here) to learn about the circumstances of my birth and
childhood. Some people have said they find my story amusing, but I have no idea why.
Perhaps it is their reaction to having been intimidated by my brilliance!
If you'd like to win a Norrie the Nerd chocolate bar, courtesy of Actrix Networks, Ltd, please be among the first ten to email me with the correct answer to my question: What was always falling down? And no, the answer is not my trousers, or my nappy! If you have been to my site and you think you know the answer, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. A fresh choccy Norrie bar could be making its way to your place very soon! Come on, give it a go. You have nothing to lose and only calories to gain!
|Latest Game Server
Last month I announced the arrival of the Actrix Games Servers and I announced that we were working on a games page web interface. We've now decided to run this as a competition with a $500 prize for the best design. The competition has a fairly tight deadline, so you'd best get moving if you want to participate. Please email Jeremy at email@example.com if you would like to know about the rules and conditions of entry.
|The closing date for entries is September 5. Judging will take place on September 7.|
|What's the Story Behind Gen
Occasionally there is confusion amongst users over the subdomains gen and co that appear in Actrix URLs and email addresses, so I thought I'd briefly explain why we have those two subdomains.
Actrix Networks Ltd was New Zealand's first ever Internet Service Provider. We began in 1989. At that time there was a limited number of subdomains available: .ac denoted academic, .mil denoted the military, .govt denoted government, and .gen short for general) included just about everything else. There wasn't yet a .co domain.
Now that there is a .co subdomain, Actrix has appropriately included itself there. We have mapped co to gen so that, in effect. they are virtually interchangeable. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, your email address will appear as @actrix.gen.nz and sometimes as @actrix.co.nz. Either will work as well as the other at any time.
(E)-Vision and Actrix are close neighbours sharing the same building on the corner of Wakefield and Blair Streets in downtown Wellington. (E)-Vision is an organisation administered by a non-profit charitable trust which aims to promote digital media technologies such as the Internet.
They provide, workshops, presentations and exhibitions all aimed at raising awareness of the Internet and digital media in general. They provide training for businesses, schools, community groups, and so forth, offering a wide-ranging schedule of topics and events that would interest most people intent on becoming more :"cyberliterate."
There are a couple of events coming up at (e)-vision which might be of interest.
|Firstly, on 30
August there is an interactive 4 hour seminar called Making the Web Work for You,
which workshops two successful web sites with their developers. The first case study is
led by Mark Wierzbicki, Internet Business Manager with INL who will discuss Stuff, the new
web site from New Zealand's largest media company. The second will be led by Liz Read from
the Office of the Retirement Commissioner and Kate Frykberg of The Web. They will discuss
the Office of the retirement Commissioner's web site and online retirement calculator.
Secondly, there will be a full day workshop called Designing for an Accessible and Diverse Web held on both the 14th and 15th of September. This looks like a great workshop for both designers, and those responsible for managing online content. Topics covered will include HTML4, Developing an Accessible Web, Testing and Tools, Style Sheets, Site Compliancy Issues and much much more!
Why not get in contact with (e)-vision to discuss pricing and maybe a booking?
|Bringing It All Back
Thanks again if you've read this far. It's been a pleasure for Norrie and me to work on yet another Actrix Newsletter. September will see the 12th edition, meaning that the Actrix newsletter is a year old! I'll be thinking about some special celebratory giveaways over the next month. Please don't forget to check out Norrie's home page at www.actrix.gen.nz/users/norrie and maybe you can win yourself some chocolate.
|If you'd like to save this
newsletter in such a way that you can finish reading it at another time, but you don't
want to have to go online again, you don't have to print it out. I know some of you are
regularly doing this, and that is fine by me, but you can also use your browser to save
the newsletter onto your hard drive so that you can open it again without having to
The list below refers to how to do this in Internet Explorer. The process for doing it in Netscape is exactly the same except for some of the buttons to click which have slightly different names.
Make sure the whole newsletter has downloaded then:
1. Click File on the Tool bar.
I'll see you in a month's time.