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.
Past newsletters may be viewed at
Newsletters are now archived by article at
Questions and comments about the newsletter can be emailed to
Other inquiries should be emailed to


Hello and welcome to the January/February issue of the Actrix newsletter. As you can probably see by now I have made some changes. Over the last few months I have received some excellent suggestions about layout, and with Actrix's new colours and general format, it seemed a good time for some changes anyway.

Firstly a little housekeeping. I have titled this the January/February issue for the sake of transition. As the newsletters are published near the end of the month, it seems more sensible to have them named after the following month. This means that next month's newsletter will be published late February as usual, and titled March 2001.

Secondly you'll notice that the newsletters now come in frames. This means, if you click a topic over in the left-hand frame, it will automatically rise to the top of this, the right-hand frame. You may have to wait for both frames to fully load before you try this.

So, if you're not sure how frames work, you may need to keep a couple of things in mind. Because your browser now has two frames to deal with (each a separate document) you will need to rely more on your right mouse button. If you need to refresh or reload one frame only, right-click in the desired frame and left-click on Refresh or Reload Frame. If you would like to print either frame, right-click in the desired frame and left-click on Print.

If you're using a Macintosh, do the following:

To refresh a frame, click on the frame you want and hold the button down, a menu will pop up. Click Reload or Refresh. There are several other options one of which is Open frame in new window.

To print with a Mac, click the frame you want, to make it active.
You can then either select Print from the Tool bar of the browser or from the file menu.

To access this newsletter without the left-hand frame, click here.

Lastly, all newsletter articles, from this newsletter and from past newsletters, are now archived separately at This means that if you would like to print just one article, rather than the whole newsletter, you can go there, click the desired article in the left-hand frame, and print it from the right hand frame using your mouse's right-click feature as explained above. Please feel free to check this archive out, especially if something net-related has been troubling you or interests you. Perhaps it's been covered in past newsletters.


More On Newsgroups

Last month, you may recall, we looked briefly at Usenet, what it was, how it works, and how you can subscribe to a newsgroup using Outlook Express. This month I thought I'd write a little more about Usenet etiquette, or "netiquette," explain some of the terminology and briefly review Free Agent, an easily available "newsreader" program.

Let's assume that you have chosen a newsgroup to which you would like to subscribe. The first thing you should not do is post a message. What you should do is lurk for a while. Lurking just means reading a newsgroup but not posting to it. It is a good idea to read messages daily for a week or so to get a feel for the sorts of things that are expected and acceptable. You'll get a good idea of who the main characters in the newsgroup are, and what sort of things annoy those who are already members. You are about to join a community, and it is only fair and sensible that you learn how to interact with that community first.

One way you can do this is by reading the group's FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). Someone will usually post the group's FAQ reasonably often, or else they will post the URL (web address) of where you can find it. If the FAQ isn't immediately apparent, your first post to the newsgroup might be a brief introduction of yourself, and then a request for the group's FAQ. Someone will know where it is. They'll usually welcome you and point you in the right direction. A newsgroup's FAQ will usually contain the answers to commonly asked questions, too - and this is specifically designed to stop "newbies" coming onto the list and asking the same old questions that have been discussed over and over already.

When you feel ready, find an article that you think you could add to or comment on, select it in your newsreader and then use the "Reply to Group" function to post a message to the whole group. Your message is referred to as a post. A series of posts, replies and further added posts is called a thread. Your newsreader will usually sort posts out into threads for you, and it is always a good idea, if you haven't been there long, to look at previous posts in a thread to see what has already been covered.

Some newsgroups are moderated. This means that there is a "moderator" or someone who reads and gives their okay to a post before it is allowed into the newsgroup. A moderator may screen out offensive posts, or he or she might just filter out off-topic posts. Most news groups aren't moderated, however.

Newsgroups, unfortunately, are often targets for Spam (unsolicited advertising). You may feel tempted to advertise your services or product on a newsgroup, but this is a real no-no! Even if what you have to sell is directly related to the topic of discussion, any self-promotion on a newsgroup will probably be counter-productive for you.

Some newsgroups have what are called digests. This refers to a large e-mail that is sent out to those who request it on a regular basis containing all the latest posts. It's convenient if you read a newsgroup but rarely post to it. If you'd like to know whether your newsgroup has an e-mailed digest, simply ask politely and someone will will tell you, and point you in the right direction if there is such a facility.

Your newsreader will also allow you to reply to an individual's post off-list. This means that your reply will go to them as an e-mail and will not get sent to the whole newsgroup. This is a great way to meet people with similar interests, and is reasonably safe as long as you don't give out personal details. One thing you should never do is allow what someone has sent you privately to be posted to the list for all to see, even if it is innocent. If you feel the whole group would benefit from a private post, you should always get the other person's permission first, and state that you have done so when posting what they wrote to the group.

Lastly, be aware that with newsgroups, things are not always as they seem. Some regulars in the newsgroup will occasionally have alter-egos or other personas. Some access the newsgroup under other names, and even have arguments with themselves on-list. Perhaps, too, they just feel like insulting someone and don't want to do it under their own name. The bottom line is, don't take newsgroups too seriously. Remember, anyone can post to a newsgroup, and they may or may not be who they say they are, and what they say may or may not be true. Use your common sense and enjoy yourself. If someone insults you, it's best to ignore it, shake your head and shrug it off.

Free Agent

Free Agent is a free newsreader program that provides a lot more functionality than Outlook Express. Outlook Express is a good e-mail program that contains a newsreader. Free Agent is designed as a newsreader that contains e-mail functionality. As expected, therefore, it has a number of newsreader features and benefits that Outlook Express doesn't have.

You can download Free Agent (for Windows) in New Zealand from (it's about the sixth newsreader down the list).  It is just over a Megabyte in size, so the download is not a lengthy one. The program is completely free for personal use, though you will be invited to download and purchase the big brother non-free version, simply called Agent. Unless you're a super news-nut, you won't need the full version.

Free Agent is easy to install and use. The picture below shows all the configuration needed for any Actrix customer (please use your own e-mail details) and this dialogue box comes up during installation.

As soon as you're installed, Free Agent downloads a list of the thousands of newsgroups available for subscription. Simply double-click the chosen group to subscribe.

Once the program is installed, it displays a screen split into three boxes. the top-left box contains a list of all groups, new groups or subscribed groups (it rotates through these three lists as you click the box heading. The top-right box contains a list of all the newsgroup headers (title, author, date, number of lines, etc) in red (messages you have read turn black). Double-click a header to download the whole message into the bottom window. What is new in the message will appear in black, while what has already been published as part of the thread will be in blue, so you can easily tell them apart. These colours  and the window layout can be changed under the Options menu.

Like all or most newsreaders, Free Agent will only download message headers to your machine, in the interests of saving your disk space. If you double-click a header, Free Agent will download the whole message from the news server for you. With Free Agent you can look through the headers and choose multiple messages. Once you've done that, click the "Get Marked Message Bodies" button to download all selected messages all at once.

There are a whole host of other features and functions that come with Free Agent making it a much better newsreader than Outlook Express. Why not download it and give it a try?


A Night at the Opera

www.opera.comThough we hear a lot about Microsoft Explorer and Netscape Navigator, Opera is the latest browser that seems to be making a name for itself. It claims to excel the main browsers (Explorer and Navigator) by being smaller, faster, simpler, more secure, and more state of the art.

I'm probably not that able to comment on Opera being more secure, and I'm not quite sure why they make that claim. However, it is no doubt true that because the browser is less well known, it is less likely to attract the would-be hackers who would seek to exploit any vulnerabilities it might have. They're usually more interested in exploiting browsers that are most commonly used. What is good about Opera is that it gives you little warnings if it notices anything odd or suspicious about the cookies a site may be trying to place on your hard drive. That's pretty smart. The other browsers simply allow you to turn cookie acceptance on or off. They don't seem to make any effort to investigate cookies before they accept them. You can find out more about cookies here.

While I like the browser and will continue to use it sometimes, the claim to being "state of the art" is doubtful. Version 4.02 doesn't recognize "alt" tags (the bits of html code which make those yellow boxes pop up when your mouse hovers over images) and it really struggles with transparent gifs. Opera have released 5.02 recently, and these problems may have been fixed in later versions.

Opera's claim to be faster than Explorer or Netscape is an interesting one. Firstly, the speed at which a browser can travel around the Internet is dependent mostly on the behaviour and busy-ness of the various servers and "upsrtream providers" that it has to negotiate through, and, of course, the amount of available bandwidth. No matter how good a browser is, it has no control over these things. However, it is true that Opera does seem to zip along very fast in comparison to Explorer, and that's why I have decided to stick with it for general browsing.

The Opera BrowserWhy would this be? My guess is that Opera's apparent speed is related to its simplicity. The big boy browsers (Explorer and Navigator) are so big and unweildy that they tend to drive like slow buses with bad suspensions sometimes. The full Java-enabled version of Opera is around 10 megabytes in total size, which is much, much, much smaller than the big boys. It doesn't need to be as big because it doesn't try to do as much. It also doesn't seem to like multi-tasking (meaning it can only do one thing at a time) so perhaps Opera is faster because it just gets on with the job of finding the requested server and loading the page.  

Opera comes with a tidy little e-mail program that can handle multiple accounts, and a very rudimentary newsreader, and these seem to work fine, if you're into a "no-frills" approach. The only thing I didn't like about the e-mail program was that it doesn't report very well. Outlook Express will pop up a box for you showing exactly where the program is at in terms of checking your e-mail. It will then give you a list of any problems it encountered. With Opera, you tell it to check your e-mail, and if something goes wrong, you just don't hear back. Also, the e-mail program is hard to find. It took me ages, but there it was, under the "View/Hotlist" menu for some reason.

Obviously, it is the browser that makes Opera attractive. It can be a bit like Netscape sometimes (downloading the whole page into its memory before displaying it, so you have to wait for a while before you can see whether you really want to be at that page). However, it is very good at telling you what it is doing while it is doing it. Along the bottom of the browser there is a series of tiny windows (see picture).

Opera's handy little windows

These little wndows reveal that I am requesting the home page at, that Opera has been attempting to receive this page for four seconds, that I am connected to that site at a rate of 2.8 kilobytes per second, that it has downloaded 11 kilobytes of data so far, that it has downloaded zero out of eight images that exist on the page, and that it has downloaded 100% of the page's text. That's pretty cool, and makes browsing more interesting. Knowledge is power, and it feels good to know what's going on. You're also able to see that your browser is working and making progress. With Navigator, and especially with Explorer, it's often hard to tell just what they think they are supposed to be doing.

Free bubbly to be won!To sum up, Opera gets my stamp of approval, and I think it might be the rising star program to watch. The problem is that if you really want it permanently, you have to pay for it. The version I used was 4.01. I downloaded it from a free CD that came with NET magazine, and it will expire in 30 days. Opera 5.02 has now been released, and the site claims it is free to download. However, the free version has forced advertising, which means that advertisements are pumped down the line to you while you are surfing. This would be an annoyance, and would eat some of your surfing bandwidth. If you would like to register your version for $39 US (too pricy for most Kiwis) the advertising shuts off. I can see Opera's dilemma. They have to get revenue from somewhere, but the fact is that advertising or $85NZ price tags are not going to help their product's rise.

If you'd like to give Opera a try, surf on over to Don't be tempted by the 2 Meg non-Java version. Java is now a fact of Internet life, and a lot of sites won't work well without it. The Java enabled version is just under 10 Megabytes in size, and may take a while to download, but I suspect you'll find it worth it.

If there are experienced Opera users out there (I know there are some) who'd like to contribute or comment, please feel free to e-mail me at    

If you'd like to read past articles comparing Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Explorer, try the following links: and


Due to sickness and circumstances beyond his control, Dean Moor was unable to provide this month's "Hacking 101" instalment. Dean has been providing an interesting series on how hackers work, what they do, and how to be a little better prepared. If you'd like to see Dean's past articles, click the link below and look up "Hacking" in the index.

In the meantime, we look forward to Dean's next article in the following issue.


Why Isn't My Page Loading?
(Using trace-route to find where traffic has stopped)

You probably have some idea of what happens when you click on a link requesting a web page. Your request goes to the Actrix name server which tells it whereabouts on the web the page you want is, and what route to take to get that page for you. Your request then goes through a series of servers until it gets to either Netgate or the Southern Cross cable which are the main gates in and out of New Zealand for Internet traffic if you're not using a satellite.

From there your request goes through more servers on the other side of the world until it reaches where the page is stored. The information you request is sent back to you through the same route. Each of these server links is called a hop.

msdos icon)If you're  online you can use your MSDOS prompt (Windows 95/98) or Command Prompt (Windows 2000) to do what is called a trace-route. A trace-route shows you every hop between your machine and the page you have requested. This will help you see where a request is slowing down or timing out. (This doesn't apply to Macintoshes, unfortunately because they don't have DOS prompts, but there are several programs around such as Mac TCP Watcher, IPNet Monitor and Whatroute which can be installed.)

The easiest way to get to your command prompt is to Click Start, and then Run. Type "Command" (no quotes) into the Run window and hit enter. This should bring up a black box and your cursor should be blinking next to what is called a DOS prompt, looking something like C:\WINDOWS\. If you were having trouble reaching the page, for example, you would type the following command at the DOS Prompt:

tracert <Enter>   [Note "tracert, and not "traceroute."]

A minute or so might pass until the job was complete, but eventually, something like the following would be returned to you:

trace route results

Here you can see that there are 18 hops between my machine and the Yahoo page. You can also see how many milliseconds each hop took. Firstly, about half a second (524 milliseconds) elapses as my machine connects with (which is Actrix). I then get routed through a couple of servers. Hops numbers 4 and 5 show me getting out through Netgate. Half a second later I am arriving at over in the States.  It seems I have to muck around at for a few seconds (I have no idea why) before I reach the global centre in Dallas (Hop 14). Four more hops and I finally reach Yahoo.

Now this is a trace-route that worked. If I was having trouble getting the Yahoo page, the chances are that somewhere along the line I would receive the server name and then the words "Request timed out." This indicates that some server somewhere is not able to find the next server in the chain. This will be where the problem is occurring and why I can't get the page.

So who's at fault? Well, when you consider the amount of servers and hops involved, it is easy to see that things can go wrong in all sorts of different places. If you are getting as far as Netgate or the Southern Cross Cable, then it is not your ISP, but routing overseas, over which an ISP has no control (which is why no ISP will guarantee you traffic outside of New Zealand). If you can reach your ISP (usually Hop 1) and the problem occurs before Netgate or the Southern Cross Cable) then your ISP has a routing problem which may or may not be their fault (but at least they are able to do something about it). If you're not even reaching your ISP, then some disaster has occurred or, more likely, local conditions (your modem or your local phone exchange) are preventing your requests getting even that far.

msdos icon)If you want to contact our support crew about a problem getting a page, it is always helpful if you can do your own trace route first, and then tell them about it over the phone. A trace from your own machine gives the best and most accurate results. If you'd like to copy and paste the results of your trace route into an e-mail, you can do this by clicking the little DOS prompt icon (top right corner of the Dos Prompt box pictured above) and then clicking Edit/Mark in the box that drops down. This will allow you to drag your mouse over the trace route text that you want to copy. Once selected, press Enter to load the text into your computer's memory. Right-click and paste this into an email (or press Ctrl-V) with a description of your problem.

If you'd like to know more about what happens behind the scenes when you request a web page or e-mail, try this article: What Happens When I Click Connect?


A Little Levity

You are a PC addict if...          

You just tried to enter your password on the

You call your son's beeper to let him know it's
time to eat. He e-mails you back from his bed-
room, "What's for dinner?"

Your daughter sells Girl Scout Cookies via her
web site.

You chat several times a day with a stranger
from South Africa, but you haven't spoken
with your next door neighbour for 12 months.

Your grandmother clogs up your e-mail inbox
asking you to send her a JPEG file of your
newborn so she can create a screen saver.

You hear most of your jokes via e-mail instead
of in person.

You get an extra phone line so you can get
phone calls.

You turn off your PC and get this awful feeling,
as if you just pulled the plug on a loved one.

You get up in the morning and go online before
getting your coffee.

You wake up at 4 AM, to go to the bathroom
and check your e-mail on your way back to bed.

- Life before the Computer...          

An application was for employment,
A program was a TV show,
A cursor used profanity,
A keyboard was a piano!

Memory was something that you lost with age,
A CD was a bank account!
And if you had a broken disk,
It would hurt when you found out!

Compress was something you did to garbage,
Not something you did to a file,
And if you unzipped anything in public,
You'd be in jail for a while!

Log on was adding wood to a fire,
Hard drive was a long trip on the road,
A mouse pad was where a mouse lived,
And a backup happened to your commode!

Cut- you did with a pocket knife,
Paste- you did with glue,
A web was a spider's home,
And a virus was the flu!

I guess I'll stick to my pad and paper,
And the memory in my head,
I hear nobody's been killed in a computer crash,
But when it happens they wish they were dead


Norrie's Web Page!Norrie the Nerd's Kids' Competition Winners

Last month, you may recall, Norrie had an excess of Christmas Actrix chocolate bars to give away. All anyone under the age of 14 had to do was write in and briefly share what they had learned from the Internet to win one. There were a good number of entrants, but not as many as usual, which meant a few Actrix staff ended up with the surplus bars in their stockings. Kids' responses are below.

Hi Norrie

I am 1 and a half years old and when my Dad was in East Timor from May to Nov this year, my Mum would log onto the Army website and there I would find pictures of my Dad. It made me smile to see his face. I would also email to him on the computer that they used over in Tilomar, East Timor which was where he was based. Even though I am only 1 and half I knew what Mum was doing when she would sit me on her knee, just before I went to bed at night to log on to see my Dad.

Have a nice Christmas

Jarred Russell

The following are the thoughts of Oliver Dearnley who is 8. He's quite happy for his views to be published (spelling mistakes and all). His mum (me) is the Actrix customer.

Over to him...

I Lernt how to make cool pichers by morphing pichers and to emil.

And now the 12 year old cynic Daniel would like his say (and a choccy bar!)...

I use the internet quite a bit and I have learnt the following things:

1) 99.99% of all sites are advertisements disguised as something else
2)if you want to find anything without having a specific adress it will take a minimum of 2 years
3)going to new sites is extremely slow
4)the search engines ignore what you say you want just about all the time
5)you have to be careful or you could end up getting viruses without knowing it

And now some good stuff about the internet.

1)you can find just about anything if you have enough time (and more importantly a virus protection)
2)Altavista is the best search engine (also google is pretty good)

PS: Please do not be offended as I learnt most of this stuff before using actrix.

Hi Norrie the Nerd.

I have learnt how to search for things from search nz.
I have learnt how to find websites.
I also found out how e-mails work.
And last but not least I have done about 10 school projects on the computer.

Bye Bye Norrie.

Cristina White.
( I'm 10 years old )




To Norrie

I am not sure that the choccy bar comp is able to be entered by e-mail but no mail is sent tomorrow so this is my last chance to get in before I go on holiday.... I have learned lotsa stuff off the internet. My homework information is all off the internet. At school we learnt about marionettes and I got my information off there and was the same with my famous person project. I have learnt also about things that have happened around the world from our homepage. Such things are latest updates on the Election and also, about the submarine (Can't think of it's name but it happened in September-October months...)

And that's about it ...... apart from stuff like the latest brand of clothing.... Cosmetics etc.

Merry Christmas,

Emily Lankshear.

Hi Norrie

My name is Mike Williamson and I am 12 years old.I have learnt heaps of stuff from the internet. E-Mail and online games are my favourite. I have also used ICQ to talk to friends from around the world, ranging from Brazil to Canada and America. I'm making a big contribution to the Counter-Strike gaming society too as I review skins and models for the weapons in it. My name in CS is -=Killer=-.  Merry X-Mas everyone!!!
See Ya!


Safer Surfing with the Kids.

There are a number of content control programs around such as NetNanny, Cyber Patrol and Surf Watch. They work in different ways, and none are by any means foolproof. They also usually cost money in the end. You can find web addresses for these programs on the Actrix Links page. The Net has a bad name in some ways, and a lot of people fear that pornography or bomb-making instructions are going to jump out at your children the minute they log on. It really isn't that bad, but here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:

Safe Surfing with the Kids!1. I don't recommend internet-capable computers being hidden away in bedrooms or remote corners of the house. Put them somewhere central where you, and everyone else, can see what's going on.

2. Surf with your kids. Learn with them (and probably from them).

3. Kids are smart. If they don't know how to find nasty things and hide where they've been online, one of their friends at school almost certainly does. Don't give them your password and untick the "Remember Password" box on your dialup networking connection. Our help desk can help you with that if needed (0800-228749).

Next month: How can you check where the kids have been?

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For remote users with a Palm Pilot, Notebook or PC, Maximizer can operate each database independent of the main site. The remote databases and main site can be synchronized with uploads and downloads as required, usually at least daily. This is ideal for a remote and mobile sales force.

For more information, or for an obligation free Quote, or a Trial CD version of Maximizer contact Force Technology Ltd by telephone: 0800 536 723, by fax: 0800 836 723, by email: or on our web site: . Maximizer ( has always helped people to manage customer information to their best advantage.


Interesting Sites (Click the images to access the sites)

Please note: Actrix supplies links to these sites for your interest and possible use. We cannot endorse or take any responsibility for their contents.

The Book of Cliches

The Book of Clichés

Convince yourself of something in times of trouble by repeating appropriate clichés over and over to yourself. This site provides an almost limitless supply.

The Dialectizer

The Dialectizer

Try this one out for fun. It will translate any web site into a number of comic dialects including Elmer Fudd, Redneck, Jive, Cockney,  and Swedish Chef!

Click this link for a reasonably balanced Christian site that offers clean jokes, brain teasers, political and educational opinion, discussion forums and a whole lot more. 

Urban Legends

Urban Legends Reference Page

Ever wanted somewhere to check on the truth of all those weird stories you've heard? This site has the lot, and has made an effort to either prove or disprove each one. (PGR)

not a bird, not a plane!


While I would probably easily qualify for membership in the Sceptics' Society, I have to admit to enjoying sites like this one. It's well designed and interesting. Much less of a waste of time than most UFO sites..

The way I see it, within 10 years most of us will be doing just about all of our shopping on the Net. We might as well prepare ourselves, and this is a great place to start.



Bringing it All Back Home

So that's it for another month. I hope you have enjoyed the newsletter and benefited from it in some way. I would be particularly interested in hearing feedback about the new layout and whether or not you found it helpful, easy to use, etc.

I would encourage you, too, to have a look at the "Archive by Article" site, especially if you're new to Actrix, or to the newsletters. There really is a wealth of information there, most of it written with people new to computers in mind. Just click on this link:

A couple of people have asked lately if they can have the newsletter announcements sent to them even though they are not strictly Actrix customers. This is fine by me and I have started a separate list of such people to notify. However, they do need to ask me themselves by e-mailing me at In the interests of avoiding any spammish connotations, I don't want to send anything to anyone unsolicited.

Lastly, I am always open for your suggestions for topics. I am happy to publish your letters, too, if there is something you would like to share with the Actrix community.


Rob Zorn
Editor - Actrix Newsletter