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An Internet Primer - for the Cyberspace Beginner

TAKE ME THERE:
 
    Return to the BBHQ Home Page
   
    Before the Internet - Your Personal Computer
    The Concept of the Internet
    The Internet Service Provider (ISP)
    My Address: The Universal Resource Locator (URL)
    Making it Accessible: The Internet Browser
    Finding URLs
    An Alternative to the Jungle
    Your E-Mail Address
    Wanna' Buy a Cookie?
    What's with Java?
    What's with JavaScript?
    The Dangers of E-Commerce
    Your Own Web Site
    Developing Your Web Pages
    When Something Goes Wrong
    Got a Comment or Question?
 
The table of contents, on the left, will take you to various places on this page. When you're done with one section, you can read on, or scroll back here to the top.

After you finish here, the next logical place to go is the BBHQ Official Tour. This will walk you through virtually all of the features at BBHQ to let you know what is available. You can scan the descriptions, or read them thoroughly and spend as much time as you want.

 

Before The Internet: Your Personal Computer

Let's start with your personal computer (PC). Whether you have an IBM-compatible computer (like a Compaq, Dell, Gateway, or even an IBM) or a Macintosh (from Apple), a desktop, portable or laptop, the concept is the same. You have two types of "things" stored inside your computer: software and data. The data is things like telephone numbers, financial data, letters, and e-mail... all that stuff is data. The software is the computer programs that work with that data. The software makes it easy (in theory) for you to add more data, change the data, delete data, display the data on your screen, and print it on paper. Everything stored on your computer is either data or software. Data and software are stored on your computer as files. A file is a set of data or a computer program. The concept is no more complicated than that.

 

The Concept of the Internet

The Internet was "designed," if that's the right word, to make it easy for people to easily and quickly share data. (It was never designed to be used as it is today; that is one of the things that makes it awkward.) The Internet is actually a series of computers that are capable of communicating with each other (capable of sending data back and forth) using regular telephone lines. In order to perform this communication on your PC, you need three things:

1. A telephone or cable line.
2. Software to perform the communication.
3. A modem or router.

The modem is the translator between your computer and the phone lines. I'm going to get complicated here, but only for a few lines. Your computer works with digital signals; your telephone works with analog signals. All you need to know is that the two are incompatible. So they invented a thing called a modem. (Geekspeak: modem = modulator/demodulator.) The modem takes your computer's digital stuff and translates it to analog signals and sends it down the phone line to a modem at the other end. Then, when you receive data back across the phone lines, the same modem translates the analog phone signals back to digital signals so they can be processed by your computer. That's what a modem does. The modem is a physical thing - a piece of hardware. It is usually inside your computer's main box, and connected to your telephone line.

A router serves esstntially the same purpose, except that, usually, a router can connect to several computers, so that you do not need a modem for each computer on your house or office.

In theory, I should be able to prepare a data file (a letter or any set of data) on my PC, and put it somewhere where you can get to it whenever you want to. If you have to come directly to my computer (via your modem or router) to get the data, I'd have to leave my computer on all day and night waiting for you to come and get it. That's not practical. So, I send my data to another computer and leave it there. That computer is not in my spare bedroom; it is... somewhere else, I dunno. The important thing is that it is turned on 24-hours a day (theoretically), so that you can come and get the data whenever you want to. All I have to do is tell you where on that computer the data is located, and you can get it at your leisure. The ISP is that other computer.

 

The Internet Service Provider (ISP)

This middleman computer performs several important functions. So it has to have an important name. It is called the Internet Service Provider, or ISP. The ISP is the backbone of the Internet. First, it is (in theory) always turned on and available. Second, it is a secure place to store data that you want other people to be able to access. And third, it is your onramp to the Information Superhighway. If you want to be able to access other people's stuff, you can't go directly to their computer. (Well, you can, but that gets messy.) You have to go to the ISP where their data is stored. The only effective way to get to their ISP is by going through your ISP. (It's kind of like a union.) So in fact, the Internet is a series of thousands and thousands of ISPs, all capable of talking to each other.

Nobody owns the Internet; not even Bill Gates or Al Gore. (And no, Al Gore did not invent the Internet.) No company controls or regulates it, not even the IRS. The only coordination lies in the naming conventions for Internet sites (we'll get to that in a moment), and the establishment and maintenance of standards so that all the ISPs can continue to talk to each other. The Internet knows no local or international boundaries. It is not located in any one place. It is worldwide. It is truly an open marketplace and medium for the exchange of information. It is like a huge bulletin board that anyone with access to a computer connected to the Internet can use. You do not have to be a big corporation to be part of the Internet. Unlike television, which is communication in one direction, the Internet allows two-way communication. So anyone with access to a computer can be part of it.

The ISP also serves as a post office for e-mail. When you send an e-mail message, you actually send it to an ISP. The ISP holds the e-mail in its computer until the recipient logs onto the ISP computer and retrieves it.

 

My Address: The Universal Resource Locator (URL)

I said a moment ago that when I got my file ready for you, all I had to do was tell you where it is located. I need to tell you what the file name is, and the name and location of the ISP where I store my data. That can get complicated. To make is a bit less so (but only a bit), I can make up a name for my collection of data. If this is a name that nobody else on the Internet is already using, then all I have to do is tell you this name, and let your ISP find it. That is what the "WWW.NAME.COM" stuff is all about. That is a unique name that identifies a mailbox or location where stuff for a person or an organization is stored. That name is called a Universal Resource Locator (URL). So I make up a name, following the naming rules of the god of the Internet; I pay a a few bucks to register this name so that no one else can use it; and then I can store whatever I want at this address. That is the story behind URLs.

 

Making it Accessible: The Internet Browser

Now, just because I can put this data somewhere where you can get to it doesn't mean that you can do anything with it once you get it. In order to display, print, or use this data, you would have to have the same software on your computer that I used when I created it. That gets messy; but that's essentially how it works. I prepare this data in a format that software on your computer can work with it. That is where the Internet browser comes in. The Internet browser is a computer program (or group of computer programs) that takes data stored on the Internet and displays it on your computer screen. There are a dozen or so Internet browsers in existence today, but two of them account for about 90% of the market. They are Microsoft's Internet Explorer and FireFox. In theory (and much of the time, in practice) it doesn't matter which one you use; you should be able to access any Internet file. But you have to have a browser to display or print stuff on the Internet.

The browser serves as your conduit to the Internet. Every file you access and all the processing that is done goes through your browser. It is becoming an increasingly important part of the Internet picture. Your browser is your personal remote control device for the Internet. And just as you can "program" your VCR remote control to do certain things, you can adjust your browser work the way you want it to.... to a limited degree.

As a simple example, you can tell your browser what page to access when you first load (or access) the browser. You can start with a blank page; or, you can cause www.bbhq.com to come up when you start your browser. Sounds like a winner to me.

On a more arcane level, you can tell your browser to automatically refuse to accept cookies, or to warn you when a cookie comes to your computer, or to accept cookies automatically. (We'll talk about them later, but you can click here to jump the gun and read a brief explanation of cookies.) You may be able to tell your browser whether or not you want to execute Java or JavaScript programs that are a part of pages you access. (Click here for a brief explanation of Java, though we'll get to it later, too.)

The method by which you do that varies from one browser to another. And not all browsers give you that much flexibility. So we can't try to tell you how to make these adjustments on your browser. But if you are using a current version of Firefox (version 3 or higher) or Internet Explorer (version 6 or higher), it should not be difficult to make these adjustments. We recommend that you accept cookies and enable Java and JavaScript hee at BBHQ. Nothing here is going to hurt you.

(We're not positive about this, but we believe that the current versions of Internet Explorer and AOL's browser automatically enable JavaScript; you cannot turn it off.

 

Finding URLs

When you wish to access data on the Internet, you need to know the URL where that data is stored. All by itself, the browser doesn't know. And there are literally millions of URLs. If you know the URL, all you have to do is enter it (type it) into your browser, and let the browser and the ISP find, access, and display it. But if you do not know the URL, it can be a whole lot more complicated. In other words, suppose you want to access a site about baby boomers, but you have forgotten the BBHQ address: www.bbhq.com. Yes, there is a printed "telephone book" of URLs, but it is not very practical, since thousands of URLs are coming into and going out of existence every day. Fortunately there are several online telephone books that you can use to find stuff just the way you would use a regular phone book. The most popular one of these is Google. WWW.GOOGLE.COM is a commercial Internet site that tries to maintain a list of these URLs, and present them in an orderly fashion. That is nearly an impossible task, because of the nature of the Internet, but they try. You can use Google, Yahoo, or one of the other "search engines," as they are called, to find URLs on the Internet. But it is still a jungle out there.

 

An Alternative to the Jungle

Believe it or not, the Internet is a whole lot more orderly than it used to be. It used to be extremely awkward to navigate on the Internet. So much so that "average" users could not effectively work on the Internet. So America Online (AOL), Prodigy, CompuServe, and the Microsoft Network (MSN) each offered an alternative. You can think of these networks as miniature and more orderly Internets.

Unlike the Internet, which no one owns or controls, these networks are commercial entities owned and controlled by private companies. This means that they can control the content and format of the networks. These networks do not use the Internet browsers; they have their own software that runs on your computer and is tied to software on their computer. When you log onto the Internet, all you start with is a blank screen on your browser (unless you configure it differently). But when you log onto AOL (as an example), you get AOL's menu of features. You do not need a search engine to find things; you do not need a URL; you do not even need to know what a URL is. All you have to do is follow the picture-based menus and displays on these networks to access different features. It is very convenient and easy to use. And when the Internet was a real mess, it seemed like it would be much smarter to use one of these services, and not deal with the Internet. And indeed, these networks remain easier to use than the Internet.

But these networks were designed to provide specific services; they were not designed primarily as a communications tool. For example, I cannot prepare a file for you on AOL and have you retrieve it as I can with the Internet. That is not the primary purpose of AOL and the other services.

And if I find something interesting on AOL that I want to refer you to, and you are not a member of AOL, you cannot get to it. Only AOL members can access things on AOL. (However, if I have an AOL account and you do not, we can still exchange e-mail.) So these private networks are, by their nature, restrictive.

And the Internet is getting more organized (or at least less disorganized); so the folks at AOL and the other networks can see the trend. AOL, Prodigy, and MSN now serve as giant ISPs. In addition to offering their own private services, they provide full access to the Internet. So when you log onto AOL, you can use their services, or you can access their Internet browser (which is actually a subset of Microsoft's Internet Explorer), and access any URL on the Internet.

 

Your E-Mail Address

You can send us an Insta-Comment from various places at BBHQ; you do not need to include an e-mail address. You can also visit most areas of our site without having to provide an e-mail address. But if you want a reply from us to an Insta-Comment, or if you want to sign in or take any of the Baby Boomer Qualifying exams, you have to provide an e-mail address. It's the only way we have to respond directly to you.

If you do not have an e-mail address, you can get one for free from Hotmail (www.hotmail.com), Yahoo (www.yahoo.com), or other places on the Internet.

When you provide us with an e-mail address, we keep it in our files. We will respond to every message you send to us. It may take a couple days, but as long as you are not obnoxious or vulgar, we will respond. We may also send you a periodic newsletter. But we will never provide your name or e-mail address to anyone else. We hate spam just as much as you do, and we're just not in that business. There must be a better way to make a living on the Internet. We're looking for it.

When you sign into BBHQ, you can enter up to three schools from which you graduated. This will get you in our online registry. (You may also request that your e-mail address not be included in the registry. This will keep others from seeing your e-mail address.)

When you enter your e-mail address, you have to enter it exactly correctly - close is not close enough. Spelling counts; capitalization does not. Here are some other rules regarding e-mail addresses:

1. You cannot have spaces in your e-mail address.
2. You must have an "at" symbol (@) in your e-mail address - one, and only one.
3. You must have at least one period in your e-mail address. Some e-mail addresses have 2 or more. But the period may not be the first or last character. (If you are a Compuserve customer, replace the comma in your address with a period.) You may not have a comma in your address.
4. You may have certain other special characters, but I would avoid them; they make it confusing for everyone.
5. If you are an AOL customer, your e-mail address is your screen name plus "@AOL.COM." For example: hchicowitz2@aol.com - that's my address.
6. The last 2 or 3 letters following the last period in your address may identify your location. For example: .ca implies Canada, .au implies Australia, and .uk implies the United Kingdom.

When you enter an e-mail address at BBHQ, we'll do some basic checking to ensure that it meets these requirements. But if you misspell part of your e-mail address, your message will get to us, but we can never get a reply back to you. If you do not get a reply back from us within 3-5 days, it's probably because you entered an incorrect e-mail address.

 

Wanna' Buy a Cookie?

Here's another case in which the computer nerds have given a cutsie name to a concept in an attempt to humanize it; but they haven't made it any easier to understand. Actually, a cookie is not difficult.

When I go to Amazon.com, the first screen that pops up has my name on it. How did they do that? How do they know my name? Amazon.com also has a "1-click" feature that allows me to click on a book, CD, or video... and with one click, they charge it to my credit card, order the item for me, and send me an e-mail message confirming the order. All I have to do is click... I don't have to do anything else! How can they do that? The answer lies in a thing called a cookie.

The first time I ordered something from Amazon.com, I gave them my name, address, credit card number, etc. They stored some of this data on their computer. But they put some of it on my computer. In this case, they put my name and a customer number in a special file on my computer. This file is called a cookie. This file is for their use only. Every time I go to Amazon.com, they look on my computer for this special file. If they find it, they know my name and customer number. So they can put my name on the first screen; and when I click on a book, they can use my customer number to identify my address, credit card number, etc. in their files.

A cookie, then, is a file or set of data on your computer that was placed there by an Internet site, and that contains data recorded by that site pertaining to you and your activities at that site.

Here is some other information about cookies:

Not every site you visit places a cookie on your computer.
Most cookies will be deleted by your computer's operating system after a certain date if you do not visit that site by that date. This is to keep old, unused cookies from remaining on your computer.
The cookies take up a very small amount of space on your computer... an insignificant amount of space compared to other files on your computer.
Most browsers will allow you to set a parameter to disallow cookies from being stored to your computer.

So using a cookie provides a mechanism that allows a web site to "personalize" certain things to your desires, patterns or specifications when you access a web site. There are advantages and disadvantages to cookies. We're not going to get into that here. But if you are worried about security of your credit card number, there is little risk through the use of cookies.

We do use cookies... sparingly, at BBHQ. You cannot vote for the BBHQ Online Boomer Top 100 or view lyrics in our Music Room unless you accept cookies. We do not ask for or use credit card information. We do have an association with Amazon.com, though. When you order merchandise through our link to them, they safely store your credit card number. We never get our grubby little paws on it.

 

What is Java and JavaScript?

Here's another case where a cutsie name belies a lot of technical details. And probably, it is of no concern to you. But it may be. So...

Java is a programming language used by computer techies. So is JavaScript. And so is JScript. There are some differences between them, but for our purposes here, I am going to lump them together.

Back in the good old days of the Internet... say, 8-10 years ago, there was only one programming language: Perl. (This is not exactly correct, but it is close enough for our purposes.) Perl is nice, but when you execute a Perl program (usually by clicking a button, but maybe just by accessing a site), all of the processing takes place at the web site. Your powerful computer just sits there and does nothing but display the results of the processing. The web site computer is doing all the heavy work. If traffic is heavy on the web, things slow down, no matter how powerful your computer is or how fast your connection to the web is. The web host computer has to do virtually all of the work. That is a limitation of Perl.

Java (and JavaScript and JScript) are different. These languages work with the browser on your computer to perform some of the processing. So when you execute a Java program, some of the processing may take place at the web site, and some of it may occur on your computer. This is much more efficient, and provides the programmer with a lot more capabilities.

You do not need to have any special computer hardware or software to execute a Java program, except for a browser capable of dealing with Java. In fact, you do not need to know that you are executing a Perl program or a Java program. All you want to do is... do what you want to do. So why do I bother to explain this to you? Because some older browsers do not support Java and JavaScript. And some newer browsers allow you to turn on or off Java and JavaScript capabilities. That means that if you have an old browser, or a new one with Java/JavaScript capability turned off, some of the features of that site will not work for you. The on/off switch for Java/JavaScript makes no sense to me; it just makes life unnecessarily complicated for you. But that, of course, if of little concern to the computer nerds. I leave the Java/JavaScript switch(es) on; I suggest that you do, too.

Here at BBHQ, we use Java in a few places. But many of our pages do employ JavaScript. If you do not have JavaScript enabled (turned on), some things (such as the Sixties Quiz and the Name Game) will not work for you. You must have JavaScript enabled and you must accept cookies in order to vote for the BBHQ Online Boomer Top 100.

(We're not positive about this, but we believe that the current versions of Internet Explorer and AOL's browser automatically enable JavaScript; you cannot turn it off.

 

The "Dangers" of E-Commerce

E-Commerce - buying and selling stuff on the Internet - is rapidly becoming one of the hottest things in our society. It is a terrific way to buy and sell a lot of stuff. You wouldn't want to buy a hot fudge sundae via the Internet. But if you want to buy a specific book, you are not in a big hurry, you can spend time and money getting to and from the bookstore and fighting the hassle there. Or you can buy it from one of several places on the Internet. There is usually a shipping charge, but there is usually no sales tax, and the price is usually as good as or better than at the bookstore. And the online bookstores carry books, music, and related stuff that you would never find in a local bookstore. Seems like a no-brainer to me. I use Amazon.com to buy all my books, CDs, videos, and other gifts.

Many people are hesitant to use the Internet though, for a number of reasons. I am going to try to ease those concerns. First, people are cautious because it is new. That's fine; but ATMs once were new, too. Now, we can hardly live without them. Commerce on the Internet can be just as simple (and will soon be just as indispensable) as an ATM. It is no more scary than using an ATM.

Second, people are hesitant because they do not know or trust the vendor. That's understandable. But Amazon.com is about as reliable as they come. And since you are paying by credit card, if you get ripped off, you can complain to the credit card company. Usually they are very cooperative. But I would not do business with some place that did not appear to be reputable, Internet or otherwise. So if you stick to large, reliable vendors whose name you recognize, you'll be OK.

Finally, many people are hesitant to give out their credit card number over the Internet. This makes no sense to me. Sure, there is a remote possibility that some nerd might be "watching" Internet traffic, and theoretically could steal your credit card number. But the chances of that happening are very small. Many people who will not use the Internet for commerce will nonetheless go to a distant town and give their credit card to an unknown waitress in a strange bar or restaurant - not once, but dozens of times. When you call an airline on the phone to make a reservation, you give the agent your credit card number. Are you aware that some airlines have used prison convicts to process reservations? So where then, is your credit card more safe: flying across the Internet, invisible to virtually everybody; or in the hands of an 18 year-old waitress or a convicted felon? Like I said, the fear makes no sense to me. Hundreds of millions of dollars are transacted on the Internet every day, with virtually no fraud. If there were any significant problem, we'd know about it by now. Put simply: there isn't.

When you buy merchandise through our Merchandise Mart, we send you to PayPal.com to make your payment. PayPal serves as a middleman for us. Software to process your credit card number is too complicated and too expensive for us to use. So... for a small price (which we pay), PayPal handles the credit card (or e-check) transaction. And, if you do not trust us with your credit card number (after all, who are we?), you should trust PayPal. PayPal is a division of eBay, the huge Internet auction site. We have processed thousands of transactions with PayPal with nary a hitch. They are about as reliable as possible.

We also encourage... no, we plead... we beg you to use our link to Amazon.com to buy books, CDs, videos, and other gifts. We make a small commission on sales, and you do not pay any more for whatever you buy. It's a good deal for you, and it helps keep us from going under. We never see your credit card number, and we trust Amazon.com completely. In fact, since we began our association with them over a decade ago, we have told visitors that if they have any problem with Amazon.com to let us know about it and we would intercede. Thousands of visitors have bought stuff through our link - we have too - without a single problem.

So you can hold out if you want, but there is no sense in it. Within a few years, virtually everyone will be doing commerce on the Internet. It is a solid, sure way to buy and sell.

 

Your Own Web Site

So you want your own web site, huh? Why not? In a variation of Andy Worhol's quote: In the future, everyone will have their own Internet web site... for 15 minutes, anyhow.

OK, fine; but how do you get there? As always, there are several ways, depending on your environment, your expertise, and your willingness to sacrifice your present, orderly life and become a computer nerd. There are two different approaches to creating a web site: the AOL way, and the Not-AOL way. We'll explain both.

First Things First: My mentor for web site development, Bruce Gronich at BigNoseBird.com, continually reminds me of the secret of a successful web site: content, content, and content. That means that you have to do some creative work yourself. No mystery here. Web sites do not build themselves. So the first thing you have to resolve after you decide you want a web site is what you want on the web site.

This oversimplifies it a bit, but your web site can contain two things: 1: text (words: essays, stories, rantings, lists, facts, rumors, lies... whatever you want), and 2: graphics - pictures and drawings. You can get some help with the graphics. There are many sites on the Internet that offer free graphic images. You can also scan your photographs into the computer. (Kinkos can also do this for you; so can we, here at BBHQ.) And you can use various software tools to make your own drawings on the computer. But the text... you have to come up with that on your own.

Developing a web site consists of two parts: 1: creating the web pages themselves; and 2: transporting (copying) them to a web server for all the world to see.

The AOL Way

America Online makes it relatively easy for you to do both. You can use their software to help build web page(s) on your computer. America Online also allows you to copy your web pages up to their computer. There is no extra charge for this. Of course, you have to be an AOL member to do so. You can start by pointing your browser here: http://hometown.aol.com They will walk you through the whole process; they make it pretty easy.

The major advantage of AOL's system is that it is "user-friendly." It was designed to allow non-skilled people to do things with the computer - including developing web pages. If you can navigate around AOL, then you can build and publish (copy to the Internet) web pages. Even with no knowledge of web publishing, you can create a web site within 5-10 minutes. Of course, it may not look very fancy, but that's why there are 24 hours in a day. Once you get started, it is easy to do a little more, and a little more, until eventually, you are a full-fledged nerd.

There are, however, several disadvantages to AOL's system:

1. You cannot have your own domain name; i.e.: http://www.yourname.com - you must use AOL's naming convention for your web site. Your web site will be named something like http://members.aol.com/yourscreenname

2. AOL puts some of their own stuff (advertising or promotional material) at the top and/or bottom of the screen. They control the environment; you are just riding on their wave.

3. You cannot use Perl, Java, and other tools that real, live computer nerds use to make their sites look impressive. The interactive features (that allow you to post notes and other stuff) cannot be done within AOL's limitations.

Microsoft offers a similar system to allow you to build a web site. I have not used it, but I understand it's pretty easy. And, except for the hundreds of hours you will spend working on your web site, it's free. You do not have to be a member of AOL or of their service. To learn more, go to the Microsoft Network Home Page, http://www.msn.com and click the "free web page" link.

The Not-AOL Way

If you are not an AOL member (and do not wish to become one), or if you cannot live with the disadvantages and limitations of AOL's system, then it is a little more difficult to build a web site... maybe a lot more difficult. First, you may need software that helps you create web pages. The most popular such software is Microsoft's Front Page. We hate Front Page, but it is widely used, because... because it is Microsoft's. But there are other tools. One of the best is a product called HotDog. You can find HotDog and other tools at www.download.com. Front Page costs about $125; HotDog costs less. But it will take you several hours... maybe several days, to learn how to use those tools effectively.

Perhaps the most popular among the professional web site development tools is Dreamweaver software, by Adobe. It is very slick. We use it for some of our preipheral work not associated with BBHQ. My only complaint about Dreamweaver is that Adobe wants you believe that it is so easy to use that even... a cave man could use it. We have nothing against or for cave men. But Dreamweaver is not easy to use for a non-skilled web developer.

We do not use any of those tools here at BBHQ. The tools merely take text and graphics and construct it so that the web browser will format it as you want it to appear. They construct pages using the guidelines of HTML (HyperText Markup Language). HTML is like a computer programming language. If you know HTML, you do not need to use any of those tools. You may still do so (most techies do), but you do not need to use them. We do not like the tools because they reduce flexibility and, beneath the scenes, they generate an ugly and inefficient product. It may look OK to you, but the coding behind it is ugly.)

Once you have created web pages on your computer, you have to copy them up to a web server, or web host computer. So you have to have one of those. A web hosting service may cost 5-30 dollars a month to rent space on their computer. Geocities.com, the Microsoft Network, and other places offer web hosting for free. But, like AOL, they place ads and other stuff above your page; and they limit the interactive tools you can use. We don't like any of them. Again, they control the environment; you do not. So unless you are willing to accept the clutter, count on spending about $10 a month.

You'll also need software to copy your web pages up to the host computer. Front Page has this capability built into it; so do some, but not all, other packages. We use a product called SmartFTP to copy our files. It is free, and pretty neat. But it is just another piece of software you have to learn how to use.

You'll also have to establish your own domain name. Your domain name might be something like www.yourname.com. You have to make certain that no one else has already taken your name, and you'll have to register your name with the god of the Internet. That'll cost you about $20.

Life is Short

So if it is exhausting you merely to read this, much less contemplate creating your own web site, you have two choices: 1: forget about it; why do you need web site anyhow? 2: have someone else create and maintain it for you. Many people and thousands of businesses do exactly that. They pay some nerd to do all the ugly stuff for them. And, at the risk of sounding self-serving, that is part of what we do here at BBHQ. We can build and maintain a web site for you. We're among the nerdieist of the nerds. Of course, it will cost you.... but what doesn't?

If you would like more information on BBHQ Internet Services, click here.

 

Developing Your Web Pages

There have been many "trends" in the short life of Internet web sites. The trends come and go as fast as clothing fashions. And we think they are just about as important. As someone who has been in the computer business for... more years than I wish to admit, that is a sign that very few people know what they are doing. When I first started, I copied what I thought was a good site... until I realized that the developer of that site was sloppy, lazy, and ignorant. Since then, I have used my instincts...... and 30 years of programming experience.

In the early days (8-10 years ago), people played with fancy backgrounds on web pages. They were easy to do, and looked spiffy... .till people realized that "busy" backgrounds made the text hard to read and distracted from the content. So the fancy backgrounds have pretty much gone away.

Then people used fancy graphics, laden with animation. Little cartoons on the screen... isn't that just the cutest?! It's like the Simpsons on the web! The programmers developed the pages while directly connected to their site, using fast T1 lines. Then they showed them to their friends, also using fast connections to the web. So programmers developed cutsie sites to impress their peers.... sites that took forever to load. Some of those sites are still there, but they are fading fast. From a practical standpoint, they are useless.

Then the world became enamored with frames... a methodology that allows you to divide the screen into several separate sections. You could scroll around one part of the screen without affecting the other sections. But frames took forever to load, and created more problems than they were worth. Few sites use frames any more; we avoid them as much as possible.

One of the things that amused me the most was the concept of a web-based guest book. Visitors could enter their name, location, and general comments about.... whatever onto a page on your site. Other visitors could then browse through the guest book to see what people had written. Somebody developed the methodology to add a guest book to your site without requiring any programming, and viola - guest books began popping up all over the place. One early BBHQ visitor and critic encouraged me to offer a guest book at BBHQ. I wrote back to him, "Now what on earth would I want with one of those?" He had no answer for me, except that "everyone" was doing it. Guest books are for small, personal web sites that people develop for their family and friends. If that is what you have in mind, then a guest book may be a good idea. But not every site should have a guest book.

One of the problems with the hot new features is that different Internet browsers may treat things on your site differently. (Contrary to what you may think, you do not actually create the final page that the visitor will see. What you create is the content and "rules" for presentation of the page. The visitor's browser has the final word on the appearance - and sometimes the content - of your pages.) You may develop and view a page using Internet Explorer, but a visitor using FireFox may see something considerably different. And a Web-TV user... may see something different, too. You may have a new, huge 21-inch monitor, and fill it up with neat stuff that looks terrific on your computer. But most users have smaller monitors that cannot display as much on the screen. You may see something much different that they do. So you can be on the leading edge of technology... and leave many of your visitors behind.

(You'll note that if you are using a "standard" monitor size of 1,020 x 768 pixels, none of our pages at BBHQ requires a left-to-right scroll bar at the bottom of the screen. We think that having to scroll back and forth to view a line of text is annoying.)

Over at BigNoseBird.com, webmaster Bruce Gronich has always advised us to concentrate on content, content, and content. Make it easy to maneuver around the site, and lead with your best stuff you've got on the first screen of the first page.

BBHQ is not technically sophisticated; few flashy graphics. But no one has complained about it being too simple-looking. What they want is more content, more content, and more content. So Bruce must know what he is talking about.

There is always another software package out there designed to help you develop web pages. Here at BBHQ, we are not impressed. We have not worked extensively with Microsoft's Front Page; it's just too time-consuming to learn. And guess what... there is a new version of it out now, too. It can be a fulltime job just keeping up with what's new. Developing and maintaining a dynamic web site is not a trivial matter.

Some of the software packages lead you into using frames; some will create fancy Java applets. We think that's mostly junk. Not that we have all the answers... but we started by writing on paper what we wanted the site to look like and how we wanted it to function. Then we used the development tools necessary to get us what we wanted. We did not allow the technology to dictate the appearance, content and structure of our site. We focused on the technology and the techniques last. Seems like common sense to me. And we never did anything just because we could. We did things because we thought they added something to the site.

So... how do you get from the idea for a web page to the finished web page itself. Our Birth of a Web Page web page explains the fundamental mechanics of creating a web page.

 

When Something Goes Wrong

Boy am I opening up Pandora's box here! Anything can go wrong... and probably will. But I am going to try to tackle some of the most common problems, and try to help you with them.

If some of the lines are jumbled or appear to be missing on a part of a page you load here at BBHQ (or at any other site), that is usually the result of a little communications problem... some birds jumping on the phone line... or something like that. Click the Reload or Refresh button on your browser; that should solve it.

If you cannot hear the hints in the Baby Boomer Qualifying exams or the music in the Music Room, it is because you do not have a speaker or sound card, or because they are not configured properly on your computer. You can e-mail us, and we'll try to help, but this is an issue between you, your computer, your operating system, your browser, and your speakers. All we do at our end is create the basic sound file and make it available to your browser. Everything after that is beyond our control.

If something works one day and does not work the next, or if you get a blank screen or an error message when you try to go to one of our pages, or if there is a little "X" where you think there should be a picture, it's probably our fault. We are constantly changing things at BBHQ, and occasionally, we screw up. Please click the e-mail button and tell us about it. We'll fix it as fast as we can. We're perfectionists here at BBHQ; we want everything to work right.

The same goes for typos and spelling mistakes. For several reasons, we do not use a spell-check on our stuff, and occasionally our fingers slip. So it will irritate us to hear about it, but please bring these to our attention.

And while we're on the subject, spelling is often critical in the Trivia Library and "Name that Tune." When you take one of the Qualifying Exams, we look at each answer when we grade the exam. So we can recognize and overlook typos and spelling mistakes. And for most of you, that sure is a good thing! About two-thirds of you can't even spell "Howdy Doody" correctly. But the scoring programs for our interactive quizzes look for parts of certain key words in each answer. For example, if the answer to a question is "Howdy Doody," we'd probably look for "How" and "dy." If you misspell a word (or a part of a word) that we are not looking for, you'll slide by. In this case, if you entered "Howdie Doody," you'll get it right. But if you have a typo in one of the words we look for, we count it as wrong. If you entered "Howdie Dootie," you'd get it wrong. There are too many possible misspellings (and believe me, we've seen them all) for us to anticipate and accept whatever you might enter. That's just part of the price of progress.

On the other hand, when you enter your e-mail address on one of our forms, be very careful. We can recognize some mistakes. For instance, if your e-mail address is myname@aol.com, and you mistakenly enter mynameaol.com - we'll catch it and tell you that it is wrong, because every e-mail address must have an "@" in it. But if you mistakenly enter miname@aol.com - we don't know that it is wrong, and you will never hear from us. About 5% of the mail we send comes back as undeliverable because the e-mail address is wrong.


This is a "work in progress." We'll be adding more as time permits and your needs dictate.

 

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rev. 11/24/09