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Published 18-Jul-2002

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  Up to scratch  

How much improvement is needed to our phone lines before they're "up to scratch"? Well, how's this for a record slow connection speed.

On the morning of July 6th, webDotWiz connected to the 'Net. "This connection seems a bit slower than usual", mused he. Hovering the mouse over the little computer icons that appear in the system tray at the bottom right of the screen, webDotWiz was alarmed to find that his connection had a speed of 4800 bits per second. That's right, 4800. Usually a speed of 31200 is seen, sometimes it's only 28800. webDotWiz's modem didn't thank much of that 4800 speed and, within a couple of minutes, it decided to disconnect.

How far back in time do we have to go to see modem speeds as low as 4800? A look back at the history of modems may shed some light. In 1984, modems were capable of a speed of 9600. By 1991, manufacturers were selling 14400 modems and in 1994, modems were capable of 28800. In 1996, 56k modems became available. A speed of 4800 for an Internet connection, then, belongs to the dinosaur-age of modem technology.

Modem history also puts in context the 19200 speed standard that the Minister of Communications proudly announced some months ago. Allowing for the speed at which technology is moving, it's taken that an Internet year is about three months of ordinary time. So our standard for Internet connection speed is approximately 25 years out of date.

  Internet Explorer versions  

Installing and having the latest version of any piece of software is an exciting experience, especially when it's free. But don't rush out to install the latest version of Internet Explorer (version 6) before considering your version of Windows will run it.

For the sake of stability, webDotWiz recommends the following. For Windows 95, use Internet Explorer version 5.01. Windows 98/98SE users can feel safe with IE version 5.5. Windows XP users should have IE6 running happily.

For each of the above, ensure you check the Windows Update site for the latest versions. There have been numerous patches and updates from Microsoft, some updates solving security issues. In particular, if you make payments on the Net, check your version of IE has the highest available setting for encryption so your credit card and personal details are handled at the highest level of security.

  Le Tour  

Apart from the old master, Erik Zabel, the Australian sprinters have made the sprint competition an Australian event in this year's Tour de France. For those who've heard Erik's comments, he's not sure which Australian to cover - one minute it's Robbie McEwen, then it's Stuart O'Grady on his wheel, and, suddenly, young Baden Cooke from Benalla is there to attack his throne.

Later this week the riders enter the mountains and the sprinters will have other worries until the last few days of the third week when the race returns to the flat.

SBS TV will have a live broadcast of two mountain stages this year: on Friday July 19th and Sunday July 21st, both at 10pm. Assuming sunny weather, watch for a while just to get a taste of the spectacular scenery. Then SBS will cover the last stage on Sunday July 28th into Paris and the finish along the Champs Elysee.

  Free wordprocessors  

webWiz has previously mentioned StarOffice and AbiWord which are both free MS Office-compatible products. StarOffice is made up of a wordprocessor, spreadsheet, presentation application and image application. Although it's free, the download of 75Mb is not practical across a dialup line. StarOffice has been offered on some of the monthly computer magazine cover CDs so watch out for it there.

If your needs are only for a MS Word compatible wordprocessor, AbiWord is a good choice. It's possible to download it with a dialup connection. The one drawback with AbiWord is that it only saves and reads documents in rich text format (i.e., file type RTF). MS Word can quite happily read this format but you need to ask people sending you MS Word documents to save them in RTF format so you can read and edit them in AbiWord.

Another free MS Office compatible suite is the Solution602 PC Suite 2001, made up, as you'd expect, of a wordprocessor, spreadsheet, image application and photo album manager. At a 13.8Mb download size, it's quite large for a dialup line. Once again, keep an eye out for it being available on a magazine cover CD.


Searching for information on the 'Net can vary from utter frustration to complete joy. This week there are a few more search engines for particular searching tasks and some guidelines to help you. For those researching resources and information, bear in mind that much of this material won't be picked up by the well-known engines. That's why specialised tools such as OAister have been developed. OAister, for example, gives you access to 275,000 records in digital collections held by institutions around the world.

Keep an eye on viruses and possible viruses by regularly visiting Housecall Antivirus or subscribe to their free newsletter.

The trainsim community was very excited when a Union Pacific "Big Boy" steam loco model was released (another of many hundreds of free models). This locomotive was the biggest steam loco in the world at the time (300 tonnes in weight, 6300hp rating, 80mph top speed). It's remembered in railway history for its working on the famous Sherman Hill to bring coal loads from Cheyenne.

Multimap gives free access to maps worldwide. Apart from those times when you're travelling, now you can easily inform friends, especially those overseas, to where you're located. For example, a map showing Rushworth extends east-west from Benalla to Bendigo and north-south from Nathalia to Seymour. For greater detail, there's a zoom facility.