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WebsiteCompass Your Guide to Understanding and Using the Internet
 


FAQ's: Miscellaneous
 

       
 

What is the difference between a web server and an ISP?

What's the difference between a web page, a website and a home page?

What is an MP3 and how does it work?

What does shouting in an online chat room mean?

What’s the difference between shareware and freeware?

What does “404 Not Found” mean when searching for a website?

What does "FTP" mean?

What does the "http://" stand for in a web address?

I attempted to access a website but received a "403 Forbidden" error message. What does this mean?

What do the letters at the end of a web address mean?

Sometimes when I attempt to download a music file off the Internet, Windows Media Player intercepts the file and begins to play it. I am trying to save the file, not listen to it immediately on my player. Any suggestions?

My music player does not play music immediately when I hit the "play" button but rather says it is "buffering." What is "buffering?"

I'm thinking of getting a digital camera this spring. I've heard that "megapixels" refer to the quality of a photo taken by a digital camera. What are megapixels?

I am new to the Internet and I keep seeing "LOL" on email messages and in a chat room I like to visit. What does this mean?

When I'm shopping online I see a lot of sites that take payments via PayPal. What does this mean?

I've heard that shopping on the Internet is tax free. Is this true?

Okay, I have read all about Newsgroups. Now how do I actually find one that sounds interesting to me?

What is the difference between the Internet and the Web – or is there a difference?

I've seen the term "keyword" when referring to a website. What does this mean?

Are Web addresses and email addresses case sensitive?

I hope Dr. Webbie can help settle a dispute my coworker and I are having. I say JPEG is the best format to send a graphic through email and he thinks itıs TIFF. Who is right?

I am a little fearful of giving out my credit card number online. How do I know if the site I am on is secure and that no one is going to steal my information?

I know when someone types LOL in a chatroom that it means "laughing out loud," but what does IMHO mean?

I was hoping to find a specific photo on the Internet for a paper I was writing. After searching through hundreds of sites, I found plenty of information about my subject, but could not find a photo. Is there a way to search the Web for photos?

I am looking for the oldest game on PC … the old ping pong or paddle game. Where can I find it? You know, the one where a ball bounces back and forth across your screen and you control a paddle with your mouse.

What is audio-sta.exe? Some websites tell me I need this in order to open the page.

I keep hearing the word "spyware." What is it?

How do you recognize and remove spyware from your computer?

What is “virtual memory?”

When using Windows Update how do I choose which system patches to install and what’s the criterion to make the decision? Seems like I would need to install all of them.

When using Windows Update how do I choose which system patches to install and what’s the criterion to make the decision? Seems like I would need to install all of them.

I signed up for an online account at my bank and have a password and a PIN to access my account. When I signed-up, they also asked me to create a “secret question” that I could answer. Why did I need to give them a “secret question?”

How do I make a photo that I put on my PC from my digital camera smaller? I want to send it to a friend but don’t want to bog down his email because he has a slow Internet connection.

Can websites find personal information about me when I just visit their site and don’t sign up for anything?

What is the difference between a “web server” and an ISP?

I want to hook-up a new printer to my PC. Do I need to remove my old one first?

My CD’s are skipping when I play them on my computer. I’ve cleaned my player and checked my CDs for scratches. Do you have any other suggestions?

I keep hearing the term "cloud computing" but I'm a little foggy on what it means. Can you explain it in simple terms?

Is following someone on Twitter the same as "friending" someone on other social networking sites?

What's this about a new Facebook "Send" button on webpages? What's it for and why would I want to use it?

How many characters should a password have to give you the best security?

I'm still a little wary of shopping online. What steps can I take to protect myself from scams?

One of my goals for the New Year is to do a better job of computer maintenance. Could you suggest some tasks for me to do regularly?

I heard that Facebook Places shares your location without your knowledge or consent. Is that true?

 

Q: What is the difference between a web server and an ISP?

A: People frequently get these two confused. A web server is a computer where a website lives. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) is who you use to connect to the Internet. However, there are circumstances when your ISP’s computer is utilized as a web server as well. For example, when you connect to go online, you make your connection to the Internet through your ISP. If your ISP’s homepage is your start page, your ISP acts as a web server by sending you the homepage information stored on its server. When you go to another web address, you then access a different web server which sends you information found on that requested web page.

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Q: What's the difference between a web page, a website and a home page?

A: A web page refers to a single document or page of information on the Web. It can include images, sounds, database information, etcetera and can link to other web pages. A website is a collection of related web pages (although is could just be one page) that reside on a single web server. A home page is the main or first page of a website. It is also referred to as an "index page" or a "welcome page." The home page usually introduces the visitor to the site's content and has links to other main pages of the website.

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Q: I've heard a lot of talk about MP3. What is it and how does it work?

A:MP3 is short for "MPEG Audio Layer 3." It is a file format for compressing and storing digital audio files.

MP3 gives you near CD-quality sound and requires roughly 1MB (megabyte) for every minute of sound. Normal music CDs, on the other hand, require about 11MB for every minute. This means that a single song in MP3 format usually only takes up between 3 to 5MB of space.

MP3 files are based on how the human brain perceives sound. Not all of the sound we hear is perceived by the brain. For example, most people can't hear sounds above 16 kHz, so the encoder strips out any sounds above a preset threshold level. By taking away the sounds you can't hear, the encoder creates a file that sounds almost the same but is dramatically smaller.

An MP3 file can also contain information about itself in a "tag." Tags can contain things like the artist's name, the album name, the song's lyrics, the genre and more.

Controversy has resulted from this technology, however, as some record companies and musicians have sought to protect their copyrighted materials from being copied by consumers for free. Other musical artists, on the other hand, have used MP3 technology to sell songs directly to the public - bypassing record labels and retail stores. Similarly, consumers are able to bypass retail record stores and download songs onto their computer or CD-ROM drive to create personalized CDs.

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Q: Someone told me that I was shouting while in an online chat room. What does this mean?

A: TYPING IN ALL CAPS IS CONSIDERED SHOUTING or flaming and should only be used when you want to get someone’s attention in a very “loud” manner. Using ALL CAPS on a regular basis within a chat room is considered “poor netiquette”, i.e. impolite.

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Q: What’s the difference between shareware and freeware?

A: Shareware is software you can download from the Internet for a price. Many times there is a trial period before you are asked to pay for the software. Freeware is software you can download from the Internet at no charge.

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Q: What does “404 Not Found” mean when searching for a website?

A: The "404 Not Found" error message is a common problem experienced by web surfers. This error message means that the web page you've just tried to access no longer exists. The document may have been deleted, moved to a different server, or even been renamed. Don't give up right away when you see this message. You may have simply typed in the address incorrectly. Delete the address, type it in again and hit ENTER. If this doesn't work, try trimming the end portions of the address. For example, if the desired page is http://www.websitecompass.com/404errors/example, try typing only www.websitecompass.com/404errors/. Your desired website or at least a link to that site may appear.

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Q: What does "FTP" mean?

A: FTP is the acronym for "File Transfer Protocol." Using this protocol is a very common method used to upload and download files from the Internet. This is especially true when sending files that are pretty large. Here's an example of how this works:

A friend of yours has a very large file she wants to give to you. It's too big to send as an attachment via email, so she places the file on an FTP site. (You'll know you are being directed to an FTP site when it shows "ftp://" at the beginning of the web address rather than "http://".) Once she gives you the password to access the information located on the FTP site, you can go into the site and grab the file.

Today, most downloads of common files (i.e. software downloads, etc.) take place using a web browser, so "FTPing" is not as popular as it was a few years ago. Transferring large amounts of data using FTP is quite common in the business world, however.

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Q: What does the "http://" stand for in a web address?

A: The first section of a web address tells your web browser what type of language (also known as protocol) it should use. The abbreviation "http" stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. It's the most common protocol used on the World Wide Web. Once your browser knows the type of language to use, it needs to know where to go to retrieve the information. That's the function of the remaining sections of the web address.

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Q: I attempted to access a website but received a "403 Forbidden" error message. What does this mean?

A: This means you've attempted to access a page that is not intended to be open to the public. Universities or corporations often times have restricted web pages that are intended only for employees, for instance. If you believe the web page you've attempted to access is supposed to be open to the general public, email the site's webmaster to ask about the problem.

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Q:What do the letters at the end of a web address mean?

A: These suffixes are also known as "zones." These zone names help to identify which category of the Internet an organization belongs. The following is a listing of some of the more common zone names and the corresponding types of organizations:

.edu - educational institution
.com - commercial business
.net - organization involved in the infrastructure of the Internet
.gov - governmental institution
.org - non-profit organization
.mil - branch of the military
.info - informational website
.biz - business website
.ws - website (general)

In recent years, the distinction between organizations using these zones have become vague. For instance, many commercial businesses as well as non-profit organizations use .net. Also, many non-profits use .net in addition to .org.

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Q: Sometimes when I attempt to download a music file off the Internet, Windows Media Player intercepts the file and begins to play it. I am trying to save the file, not listen to it immediately on my player. Any suggestions?

A: This is a pretty common problem. A simple way around this is to right-click the link to the music file when you are saving it and select "Save Target As" from the resulting drop down menu. The "Save As" dialog box will appear and allow you to rename and store the file into the folder you choose. This "saving" procedure should prevent the music file from automatically opening and playing.

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Q: My music player does not play music immediately when I hit the "play" button but rather says it is "buffering." What is "buffering?"

A: Your audio player is actually collecting a few seconds of audio before it starts to play so that it can provide uninterrupted music. The buffer, an area of memory that a software (or hardware) program uses to provide an interruption free, constant flow of data, "fuses together" information so that it seems uninterrupted. Thus, if a brief interruption ("hiccup") occurs in your Internet connection, the buffer compensates for it so you won't notice the interruption.

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Q: I'm thinking of getting a digital camera this spring. I've heard that "megapixels" refer to the quality of a photo taken by a digital camera. What are megapixels?

A: You have heard correctly. "Megapixels" do correlate directly with the resolution quality of photographs taken with a digital camera. When shopping for a digital camera, the box will usually provide information related to megapixels. Mega refers to millions and pixels are tiny dots - so the megapixel number refers to the total number of pixels. The higher the number of pixels, the better the quality of the photograph. Megapixels are calculated by taking the horizontal resolution and multiplying it by the vertical resolution. So, for example, if a camera shows a resolution of 1,000 pixels x 1,000 pixels, it produces an image of one megapixel. Note: When downloading photos taken on a digital camera, remember to save them to a lower resolution before forwarding them to friends as email attachments. Saving these files into smaller sized attachments will make it easier for your friends to open them.

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Q: I am new to the Internet (just retired!) and I keep seeing "LOL" on email messages and in a chat room I like to visit. What does this mean?

A: LOL is one of dozens of abbreviations used on the Internet. It is short for Laughing Out Loud. A complete list of abbreviations used by Internet users were featured in the Summer 2001 edition of Website Compass.

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Q: When I'm shopping online I see a lot of sites that take payments via PayPal. What does this mean?

A: PayPal enables any business or consumer with an email address to securely, conveniently, and cost-effectively send and receive payments online. Their network utilizes the existing financial infrastructure of bank accounts and credit cards to provide a global, real-time payment option. Paypal is ideal for small businesses, online merchants, individuals and others not currently suited for traditional payment mechanisms.

The rapidly growing acceptance of PayPal has made it the leading payment network for online auction websites, including eBay. It is also being used at other e-commerce sites, for the sale of goods such as electronics and household items, the sale of services such as web design and travel, and the sale of digital content. Offline businesses, including lawyers, contractors and physicians, have increasingly begun to receive payments online through the system. PayPal's service, which lets users send payments for free, can be used from PCs or Web-enabled mobile phones.

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Q: I've heard that shopping on the Internet is tax free. Is this true?

A: There is no Federal Sales Tax on purchases made either through traditional means or through the Internet...yet. And while the only time you may be charged Sales Tax on the Internet is when you make a purchase from a company located in the same state in which you live, you are technically liable to pay a use tax that requires you to send in to the state the amount you would have paid if you had bought the item locally. For more information about the Use Tax, visit with your CPA.

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Q: Okay, I have read all about Newsgroups. Now how do I actually find one that sounds interesting to me?

A: Topics among Newsgroups can vary from a wide range of subjects to some very, very specific topics. Understanding the titles the groups give themselves is half the battle when selecting the right group for you.

Some newsgroup names contain a few abbreviated words (usually), and are separated by periods. The longer the name, usually the more specific the topic of the group. Keep in mind that the words are typically in order of hierarchy from general to more specific. A few examples of some major newsgroup hierarchies include comp (computing), rec (recreation and hobbies), and misc (for groups that fall outside the other categories).

For example, one newsgroup devoted to discussing recreation vehicles is rec.rvs, while another group focusing on puzzle games for Macintosh computers is comp.sys.mac.games.puzzle.

One simple way to search for groups that match your interests is by going to www.Groups.Google.com. Check the "Browse A Complete List of Groups" section or use the Usenet Google Search, a newsgroup topic search engine. Once you find the names of groups you'd like to try, write them down.

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Q: What is the difference between the Internet and the Web – or is there a difference?

A: This is a very good question, as the two are often confused with each other‚and, yes, there is a difference. Actually, the World Wide Web - as big as it sounds - is really just a portion of the Internet.

Beginning its emergence in the early 90's, the Web is now by far the most interesting and exciting portion of the Internet. Why? Because it resembles the types of visual media we are most familiar with. But the Internet is also made up of email and the global newsgroup system called Usenet, and neither of these really have anything to do with the Web.

In short, the Internet is websites, email and Usenet groups. The Web is made up of all the websites found on the Internet.

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Q: Are Web addresses and email addresses case sensitive?

A: Basically the beginning part of a Web address, the domain name (i.e. http://www.WebsiteCompass.com), is not case sensitive. Whether it's all caps, all lower case, or a combination of the two, your browser will take you to the right website as long as you have spelled it correctly. However, if you are linking to a particular file or page on a website - depending on what kind of server the website is hosted on - you will need make sure the rest of the address is entered correctly (i.e. http://www.websitecompass.com/DrWebbie/Hello.htm) or it may not be found by the server. email addresses are not case sensitive and can be typed in uppercase or lowercase.

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Q: I hope Dr. Webbie can help settle a dispute my coworker and I are having. I say JPEG is the best format to send a graphic through email and he thinks it's TIFF. Who is right?

A: Well, like everything, it depends on how it is going to be used. However, generally speaking, sending attachments containing graphics in the JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) format will probably be a sender's and the recipient's best bet, as it is the most universally readable format.

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Q: I am a little fearful of giving out my credit card number online. How do I know if the site I am on is secure and that no one is going to steal my information?

A: First off, there is no fail-proof way to avoid credit card theft. If someone wants to cheat or steal badly enough, they will probably find a way to do it. But keep in mind, that same person can also steal your credit card number at the local department store or restaurant when you use your card there, too. From that perspective, the Internet may in fact be safer than traditional shopping.

To know the web page you are on is secure (virtually impossible for an outsider to view), first check to see if there is a small, closed padlock at the bottom left-hand corner of the web page. This means the information you send on this page is secure. You can also check by looking at the web address bar. It should be showing an https, rather than the normal http (the "s" means "secure").

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Q: I know when someone types LOL in a chatroom that it means "laughing out loud," but what does IMHO mean?

A: In My Humble Opinion.

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Q: I was hoping to find a specific photo on the Internet for a paper I was writing. After searching through hundreds of sites, I found plenty of information about my subject, but could not find a photo. Is there a way to search the Web for photos?

A: Your best bet is to try PicSearch. While it isn't comprehensive, it is a great place to start. You'll find their website at http://www.picsearch.com. One other place to try is Google.com. Just select "Images" at the top of their page for your search rather than "Web."

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Q: I am looking for the oldest game on PC … the old ping pong or paddle game. Where can I find it? You know, the one where a ball bounces back and forth across your screen and you control a paddle with your mouse.

A: The game you are referring to is known as "Pong." If you are looking for a standalone Pong application, visit www.download.com and do a search for "pong." However, if you are looking for a version you can play while online, type "pong -ping" into a search engine and numerous Pong related sites will be listed. The "-ping" is to exclude "ping pong" sites (except for advertisers paying to be shown for certain keywords) from being listed in your search results.

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Q: What is audio-sta.exe? Some websites tell me I need this in order to open the page.

A: Audiosta.exe is actually Voyetra's AudioStation software. Most likely, the pages you were trying to open were Internet radio or audio related. To get AudioStation, visit Voyetra's website, http://www.voyetra.com/site/products/ ump3/free_download.asp, and download the demo version of AudioStation to see if it fixes the problem. If you already have AudioStation installed, you may try reinstalling your computerıs original sound drivers.

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Q: I keep hearing the word "spyware." What is it?

A: Spyware is software that secretly gathers information through a user's Internet connection. It is typically bundled as a hidden component of certain freeware or shareware programs downloaded from the Internet. Once the spyware is installed, it monitors user Internet activity and then transmits that information to someone else.

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Q: How do you recognize and remove spyware from your computer?

A: With the rise of spyware, there are many utilities and programs available that will analyze and rid your computer of them. Go to http://www. download.com and perform a search for "spyware." You'll be presented with a list of spyware removal programs, most of which are free.

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Q: What is “virtual memory?”

A: Virtual memory is the method by which your computer uses free hard disk space to simulate system memory. When all of your computer’s RAM is being used by your system and other programs at the same time, the computer will swap data to the hard drive and back to expand its effective memory capability. The only ways of increasing the virtual memory of your computer are to free up existing hard drive space or to install a larger or secondary hard drive.

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Q: When using Windows Update how do I choose which system patches to install and what’s the criterion to make the decision? Seems like I would need to install all of them.

A: You should usually install “critical updates” such as certain Security Bulletins to help protect your computer from possible threats and problems. The “recommended updates” are ones that Microsoft suggests for customers to consider if they want them, or if they meet their needs. And, depending on your situation, some of the other updates only add functions to your operating system that you may or may not want. You’ll need to read over the description of each item and decide if it’s right for you and your computer.

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Q: I signed up for an online account at my bank and have a password and a PIN to access my account. When I signed-up, they also asked me to create a “secret question” that I could answer. Why did I need to give them a “secret question?”

A: In the event that you lose or forget your password and/or PIN (which happens more than most of us would like to admit), you’ll need to answer this “secret question” when trying to get back into your account. Needless to say, the bank does not want to give your password and PIN to a crook. By answering the “secret question” when talking to the bank representative, it provides the identity confirmation the bank needs to give you the requested information. As identity theft is on the rise, this is a good precautionary policy that your financial institution has in place.

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Q: Please tell me how to make a photo that I put on my PC from my digital camera smaller. I want to send it to a friend but don’t want to bog down his email because he has a slow Internet connection. What should I do?

A: Well, it sounds like you already know that big images take a long time to download. So before you email your image file, you will need to reduce both the resolution and the size of the image.

Digital photos are made up of tiny dots called “pixels.” Resolution is a measurement of the number of pixels in a digital image. The higher the resolution, the more pixels, thus more data and the larger the file. This means if you take two images of the same dimensions in inches and one is 300 ppi (pixels-per-inch), and the other is 72 ppi, the 300 ppi image will have seventeen more times the detail because it has that many more pixels (72 x 72 = 5,184 vs. 300 x 300 = 90,000). When you lower the resolution, you will lose these extra pixels, and the file size will decrease as well.

For email, you will want to set the resolution to 72 ppi (pixels per inch). (300 ppi is great for printing photos, but when you’re only sending them through email for someone to look at on-screen, 72 ppi is the best choice.) You can set the height and width of the image to almost anything you want, but smaller is usually better. A good size to shoot for is around 450 pixels by 600 pixels.

If you already have image editing software on your computer, you can use its “resize,” “resample,” or “image size” command to decrease the size and resolution of your photo. A couple of the most popular photo editors are Microsoft’s Picture It! and Adobe’s Photoshop Elements. If you don’t have such software (most scanners and digital cameras come bundled with photo-retouching software these days, so be sure to double check) then you can use the following website to shrink your photos:
1. In your Web browser, go to http://www.resize2mail.com/
2. Follow the “3 Easy Steps” to upload and resize your image.
3. Follow the instructions on how to save the resized photo back to your hard drive.
4. Your resized copy of your photo is now ready to email!

Another option for Windows XP users is to use the built-in Send Pictures by email feature:
1. Open My Computer and navigate to the folder containing the pictures you wish to email.
2. In the toolbar at the top of My Computer, make sure Search and Folders are not selected so you can see the tasks panel to the left of the files list.
3. Select the group of files that you wish to email.
4. In the tasks panel, click on email the selected items under File and Folder Tasks. The Send Pictures by email dialog box will appear.
5. Select Make all my pictures smaller.
6. Click Show more options...
7. Choose a size for your pictures. Small is suitable for most purposes and will give you the best reduction in file size. If you know your recipient has a fast Internet connection you may want to choose Medium or Large.
8. Click OK.
9. A status bar appears as Windows resizes the files, then a new message is opened in your default mail program with your pictures attached.
11. Fill in the subject, email address, and body of your message.
12. Click the Send/Receive button to send your message(s).

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Q: Can websites find personal information about me when I just visit their site and don’t sign up for anything?

A: Every computer that accesses the Internet is assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address—a unique set of numbers that identifies a networked system so that it may communicate via Internet protocols. Depending on your Internet connection, you may have a dynamic (temporary) or static (permanent) IP address. If you use a dial-up modem, you most likely have a “dynamic” IP address. Every time you make an Internet connection you are probably using a different IP address assigned from your ISP. However, if your modem uses an “always on” connection, your IP address may likely be “static” and assigned to your specific machine.

Almost everything you do while on the Internet has your IP address encoded within the request. Most websites track the IP address of every site visitor to determine repeat visitors and other statistics.

While getting some personal info about you through your IP address is possible, it is of lesser concern. Users of “static” IP addresses are at a higher risk for attack from hackers because their address is the same every time. This allows the hackers to easily target that specific user. To safeguard yourself, you can make your computer “invisible” by installing a personal firewall program which prevents access to your system via your IP address.

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Q: What is the difference between a “web server” and an ISP?

A: People frequently get these two confused. A web server is a computer where a website lives. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) is who you use to connect to the Internet. However, there are circumstances when your ISP’s computer is utilized as a web server as well.

For example, when you connect to go online, you make your connection to the Internet through your ISP. If your ISP’s homepage is your start page, your ISP acts as a web server by sending you the homepage information stored on its server. When you go to another web address, you then access a different web server which sends you information found on that requested web page.

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Q: I want to hook-up a new printer to my PC. Do I need to remove my old one first?

A: Not necessarily. If you have enough ports on your computer or if your printers are on your home network, Windows supports multiple printers on the same computer.

If you want to remove the old printer as an option, click your cursor arrow on the “Start” button, then on “Control Panel,” and “Printers and Other Hardware.” Your “Printers and Other Hardware” screen will open up. Click on “View installed printers or fax printers.” Select the icon for your old printer by clicking on it and then click on the “Delete this printer” from the list of printer tasks on the left side of the window. Your old printer will be removed. If your new printer is “Plug and Play,” connecting it and turning it on will add its drivers to your PC.

If you have multiple printers installed and the printer you want to use as your default printer isn’t selected, just right-click the one you want set as your default printer and select “Set as Default” from the resulting menu.

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My CD’s are skipping when I play them on my computer. I’ve cleaned my player and checked my CDs for scratches. Do you have any other suggestions?

A: There’s a good chance that your discs are dirty. To properly clean them, use rubbing alcohol or even soap and water. Be sure to never rub around in circles when cleaning. Always rub from the label outward.

When checking for scratches, be sure to inspect the label side. Finding scratches on this side may mean that the disc is useless. If you have a burner, it’s time to burn a new copy.

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I keep hearing the term "cloud computing" but I'm a little foggy on what it means. Can you explain it in simple terms?

A: Cloud computing is another way of saying Internet-based or Web-based computing. In this model, applications are stored at a provider location rather than being housed on your computer. One example of cloud computing that you probably already use is Web-based email. Your mail is accessed and stored online, rather than on your home system, but you use your home system to view it.

More and more cloud computing applications are becoming available for document and graphics development, photo storage, video and audio editing, and more.

The benefits of cloud computing include being able to access data from anywhere, anytime. You can use multiple devices (e.g. your home computer, your work computer, and a mobile device) to get to the same information. You also don't have to worry about having a large amount of storage space since data is stored with the provider. And if something happens to one of your devices, you don't lose that data.

Cloud computing can become problematic if you can't connect to the Internet or if the service becomes temporarily unavailable. But as technology advances, these problems are becoming less common.

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Is following someone on Twitter the same as "friending" someone on other social networking sites?

A: Yes and no. Yes, in that when you follow someone on Twitter, their posts or "tweets" become visible in your feed (which is called a "timeline" in Twitter). However, no, in that you don't need to get someone's approval to follow them and when you do follow them, they may not follow you back. That's why you may see someone who has 500 followers but is only following 300 people.

Unlike other social media applications, those who don't follow you on Twitter can still see your posts because they are public.

If you prefer to approve others before they can follow you and have your posts only visible to those who do follow you, you can "protect" your profile. If you do this, you still have the option of not following those who follow you.

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What's this about a new Facebook "Send" button on webpages? What's it for and why would I want to use it?

A: The Send button is a brand new option that some webpages may choose to start displaying alongside the now familiar Facebook "Like" button; however, it's not yet widely available. Here's how it will work: When you see a page of interest to some of your Facebook friends, you'll be able to click the Send button to send a link to those friends. This is a more private and selective option than using the Like button, which makes your preferences public and visible to all your Facebook friends.

A good example of how you might use the Send button is in planning a vacation with your family. Say you find a great hotel deal online. You would click the Send button on that hotel or travel page, and in the message screen select which family members you want to receive it. (Or, if you have Family set up as a Facebook group, you could just select that group.) It's similar to using email to send a link by copying the URL and pasting it into the email message, but with the Facebook Send button, you never have to leave the page you want to share.

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How many characters should a password have to give you the best security?

A: Historically, experts have recommended that a strong password have at least eight characters, but the advice being given now is to have at least 12. Some sites limit the number of characters you use, but you should use as many as you can, 12 or more whenever possible. For the best security, you should also use characters, such as @, &, and # in your passwords, along with numbers and both upper and lowercase letters.

Use combinations, such as "mFtOYi5L2cTf&," that don't spell words found in the dictionary. Afraid you won't remember such a crazy combination? Look again: This password represents the sentence: "My favorite time of year is spring, love to see the flowers grow," which is more easily remembered.

Conventional wisdom still applies when it comes to using a different password for each account, and changing your passwords every 90 days.

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I'm still a little wary of shopping online. What steps can I take to protect myself from scams?

A: There are a number of ways you can be a smart online shopper. First, make sure you do your shopping from a secure computer, such as your home computer, and use updated security software. If you must make purchases while out and about, only connect to Wi-Fi connections you trust, such as the one at your local coffee shop. Stick with sites you are familiar with, such as Amazon.com, or the online version of your favorite store, like Target.com. Use a credit card, rather than a debit card. When it's time to enter your card information, check for "https" (the "s" stands for "secure") in the URL, rather than just "http," and the locked padlock symbol in the URL field, or at the bottom of your screen. Always use strong passwords (see previous question) to prevent your online accounts from being broken into. Finally, check your credit card statements frequently to ensure there has been no fraudulent activity on your account.

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One of my goals for the New Year is to do a better job of computer maintenance. Could you suggest some tasks for me to do regularly?

A: Begin 2011 with a practical plan for computer maintenance, then resolve to stick with it. Once you develop a routine, you'll be able to avoid the big computer problems by staying on top of the little ones.

Make sure your plan covers the essential tasks including:
• Doing regular data backup
• Defragging your hard drive
• Updating your antivirus and spyware software
• Installing a firewall
• Updating and installing patches to your operating system
• Regularly deleting your trash bin, temporary files, and any other files you no longer need

You may also want to make a New Year's resolution to digitize important financial documents and family photos and store them offsite for protection in case of a natural disaster like flooding. Find out if a local provider offers remote online backup, since these automatic services are often the most convenient option.

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I heard that Facebook Places shares your location without your knowledge or consent. Is that true?

A: No, that is not true. Let's start with a definition. Places is a Facebook mobile application that allows you to see where your friends are and share your physical location. You can check in to nearby Places to tell your friends where you are, tag your friends in the Places you visit, and view comments your friends have made about the Places you visit.

You control and own all of the information you contribute to Facebook,
including your Places information. You decide how and with whom you share, and your location is never automatically shared.

To adjust your Places settings in Facebook:
• Go to the "Customize settings" section of your main privacy settings.
• Select the drop-down box next to "Places I check in to" and select one of the four recommended settings: Everyone, Friends and Networks, Friends of Friends, or Friends Only.
• Alternatively, you can make the locations you check in to visible
to or hidden from specific people by clicking "Customize."

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