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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 12 - Dealing With Internet Problems

The other day, I was having trouble connecting to a Web site and collecting my e-mail. If it had been either one of those problems by itself, I would have continued to curse out the particular services involved, but the fact that it was both at the same time made me suspicious.

I tried another Web site, and then another, and I had trouble getting to any of them. I hung up my connection, and dialed it again...and had the same problem.

I tried a different Internet connection entirely, and then had no problems collecting e-mail or connecting to sites.

Just as an experiment, I tried a different access number for my usually dependable primary Internet service, in a different location. (That's a luxury of living in a major metropolitan area; most services have more than one location here.) That worked fine, too. So the problem was that particular dial-up "node" (physical location with several telephone numbers).

Now that I have "cable modem" (there's got to be a better name for that!) I've had outages that rebooting the modem didn't fix. Sometimes a call to the cable company is greeted by a recording saying there's an outage in the area; more often, a tech support rep tells me it's the fault of my not-supported-and-you-really-should-be-paying-for-one-service-for-each-of-your-computers router. When I check with friends with the same service, I discover it's an outage in my area.

Sometimes, my computer itself turns out to be the problem. Rebooting is the answer.

Sometimes it really is the router, or a combination of several of the reasons above.

There is so much involved in even the simplest of tasks on the Internet. Few connections go directly from Point A to Point D, or even in a straight line of A-B-C-D. A-P-C-V-M-D is more likely. When you have a problem, it could be the service that's providing the content (Web site or e-mail), or it could be the service that's providing your connection, or the physical connection in your house, or even your computer.

There's just so much a technical support representative on the other end of a telephone call can do for you if the problem is in your home or office.

One Internet content service used to tell me to reinstall Windows when I was having trouble with its system. I did that twice before I caught on: By the time I had reinstalled Windows, several hours had elapsed and the problem had gone away. But it kept me busy and out of Tech Support's hair. (I learned I had been hoodwinked when I finally logged on and saw other messages from content managers saying, "Boy, that was some outage we had.")

A few weeks ago, the cable TV reception in our family room was terrible. We called the cable company, and eventually took the box back for another — and the problem persisted. The company promised to send a technician, but not for another two weeks. On a hunch, I decided to trace the cable's route from our TV to wherever. All the connections seemed tight in the garage, but then I looked behind the TV cabinet.

Our pet rabbit had chewed the cable down to a single wire. I replaced the cable, and our reception was restored. (And, no, rabbit ears are no substitute.)

Sometimes, on the Internet, the solution is as simple as going away and doing something else for awhile: Visiting another site, shutting down and sorting stamps, or running an errand.

Buddy, do you have a spare ISP? Sounds like a lament for the 00s, but, seriously, do you have a spare Internet Service Provider, another way to get onto the Internet?

Even the most dependable services have outages from time to time. Although they may not last very long, if they're at a time when you need to be on the Internet — that auction lot you really want is closing, there's a chat you must attend, or this is your only free ten minutes until much later — a back-up ISP can be important.

There are a number of free services that don't have a lot of bells and whistles, but will do the job if your primary ISP isn't available. It's even possible to check your e-mail on one service while dialed into another: America Online, for example, has a Web site where you can do that.

AOL, by the way, is my back-up ISP.

Like many collectors, I've been offering on the online auctions a handful of lots fairly regularly. I'm pretty good about sending the winners a message as soon as the auctions end, and most of them confirm receipt of those messages, but not all.

Most of the time, the person just sends me the check in the regular mail, but in the mean time, I don't know if he or she received my initial message.

This seems to me a violation of "netiquette" — good manners on the Internet. How much time does it take to click on the "reply" button and say, "Thanks — Checking coming?"

About 50,000 people belong to the American Philatelic Society and about the same number subscribe to the largest publication, Linn's Stamp News. There's some overlap between the two groups, and some stamp collectors who are in neither group but subscribe to other publications or belong to other societies.

We call these people members of Organized Philately, but all indications are there are tens of thousands of others who don't subscribe, don't belong, and can't be counted. You may be one of them.

This is not to say that anyone who doesn't belong to a stamp society or subscribe to a philatelic publication is disorganized! It's just that they are not part of a stamp organization. A significant number of stamp collectors on the Internet aren't. The trick, for those of us who believe in stamp societies and stamp publications, is how to recruit these non-affiliate philatelists.

One way, is to include a short ad for the APS or another organization in the descriptions for your auction lots. eBay and the other online auctioneers allow you to include HTML (display programming) code in your write-ups. Here's an example:

<A HREF="http://www.stamps.org"><img src="http://www.virtualstampclub.com/lloydpics/APSjoin.gif" WIDTH="75" HEIGHT="125" ALIGN="RIGHT"></A>

You can see the results at the right here. The code is placed at the very beginning of my auction lot descriptions. If the viewer clicks on the illustration, it will take him or her to the APS Web site. It will show up at the top right of my listings; to put it at the top left, I would change ALIGN="RIGHT" to ALIGN="LEFT."

By changing the A HREF destination, you can take the viewer to a page describing the benefits of your favorite stamp organization or, as I do, directly to an application for membership.

"img src" stands for "image source," and simply tells where the picture that will be show can be found. Please feel free to use the APS logo stored here on The Virtual Stamp Club site.

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