AAA Doesn’t Service This Highway: Driving tips for the Internet
Copyright ©1996 Rob Levandowski, all rights reserved
If you’ve been reading my columns for the past two months, you now know what the Internet is, and why you should be interested in it. Perhaps you’ve even gotten your own Internet account by now. If you have, you’ve probably discovered where the “Information Superhighway” analogy breaks down: there’s no AAA for the Internet.
A mere newspaper column can’t replace towing service and Triptiks, but I can tell you about some of my favorite sites on the Internet. I can also tell you about some of the “road hazards” you need to watch out for.
Pay attention to road signs
Sites on the World Wide Web are referred to by addresses called Uniform Resource Locators, or URLs. On the Web, a URL is like a street address. Every destination has a unique URL. Generally, URLs for Web destinations begin “http://“, which is a way of telling your computer that the site is accessed using the HyperText Transfer Protocol.
You may have seen URLs even if you’ve never used the Web. More and more advertisers are using URLs as a way of providing in-depth information at low cost. Many television ads now feature URLs underneath the 800 number listing. Most movie ads in newspapers have URLs that lead to interactive previews. Some television shows even have URLs in their credits. (Do you watch Jeopardy? Their URLishttp://www.sony.com.
The instructions that came with your World Wide Web browsing software should explain how you can go to a specific URL.
Services, next exit
The most useful sites on the Web provide services that you may already be used to. However, the Web often provides a new twist to the old data, often making it much more useful and interesting.
For example, CNNhas their own Web site (http://www.cnn.com). This site makes the concept of an “electronic newspaper” reality. Not only does CNN Interactive carry transcripts of everything that you could see on the CNN cable channels, but it also provides links to more in-depth information. Often, there are sound bites or short movies to accompany the text and still photos. You can submit questions to the various CNN talk shows. There are even archives of older CNN articles. What makes this site most exciting is that you can access all of this whenever you want, however you want. You don’t have to wait for them to show it to you.
There’s also lots of weather information on the Web. The Weather Channel has a site (http://www.weather.com) with local forecasts and weather maps taken from their cable network. They also have transcripts and information from their various educational specials.
However, I like WeatherNet(http://cirrus.sprl.umich.edu/wxnet/index.html) even better. This site offers forecasts, weather graphics, and even raw data from various forecasting companies and government agencies. Amateur meterologists of all skill levels will love this site. Have you ever wondered what those three computer models that Hilton Kaderli keeps mentioning are? You can access them here.
For weather purists, you can even check out the National Weather Service online athttp://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/main.html.
Your tax dollars at work
The U.S. Government has invested a lot of time and effort into the Internet. In this case, it’s been worth the taxes.
Speaking of taxes, the Internal Revenue Service(http://www.irs.gov) is on the Internet. Before you start cringing, no, they are not there to tax Internet usage. However, if you have an Internet account and a laser printer, you may be able to save yourself a few trips to the post office. Virtually every tax-year 1995 IRS form is available online in a format you can print out and use. Various publications and hints are online, too. They’re even working on a way for taxpayers to fill out forms on the Web.
You can also avoid the post office by using the online site of the United States Postal Service(http://www.usps.gov). You can get information, look up Zip+4 Codes, and find out about newly released stamps.
The Library of Congress(http://www.loc.gov) has a lot of information, including links to government resources such as e-mail addresses for Congresspeople and even some special on-line collections.
Of course, the White Houseis also online (http://www.whitehouse.gov). Can take a virtual tour, or send e-mail to the President. You can even listen to Socks the cat.
There are a few Connecticut-specific sites you might find interesting.
The Hartford Courant(http://www.courant.com) carries some articles from the newspaper, along with interesting online feature articles.
WFSB Channel 3 (http://www.wfsb.com) has transcripts of many news shows, information about their programs, and other goodies.
WTICis online as well (http://www.wtic.com).
Can’t find it?
There’s a lot of other stuff out there. Sometimes you wish there was an online Yellow Pages to help you look.
Well, it may not be quite what you meant, but NYNEXhas Online Yellow Pages (http://www.niyp.com). You’ll find all sorts of business telephone listings.
For searching the Web, however, there are several services that operate sort of like Yellow Pages. My favorite is Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com), a site that not only lets you search an index of Web sites, but which has links to other search services as well.
You should also keep in mind that there are criminals on the Internet, too. Just as you need to be careful with some shady door-to-door salesmen or infomercials, you should take care about online business too.
One thing to remember is that anything you transmit over the Internet is inherently insecure. It is possible for a large number of people to intercept your message and possibly read it. So, you should avoid sending things like your credit card number through e-mail, just as you would avoid placing a catalog order on a cordless phone.
Some programs, such as Netscape, offer data encryption to help keep your data safe on the Web. However, keep in mind that virtually any encryption may be broken, given enough time.
More devious are the on-line scams. The pyramid, or Ponzi, scheme has gotten a whole new life online. Just like regular mail pyramids, online pyramids offer you great luck or wealth if you’ll just email some friends… However, pyramid schemes are just as illegal online as they are through normal mail. If you get a chain letter or pyramid scheme letter, report it to your service provider.
Also, be wary of anyone who advertises online about a scheme that sounds too good to be true. It probably is too good to be true. Remember, it is easy to set up a Web site that looks professional and polished. Appearances can be deceiving. If in doubt, contact the Better Business Bureau or Attorney General in the company’s home state before doing buisness with them.
Keep in mind that many laws apply to online activities. For example, in New York state, laws regarding harassment, stalking, indecency, gambling, fraud, and other crimes apply to online activities as strongly as they apply to real life activities. You can be arrested for making online threats in many cases. Remember, even though the virtual world seems like the new frontier, you should behave online just as you would in real life: with decorum and respect for others.
The End of the Road
I hope that this series has encouraged you to explore the Internet for yourself! It’s easy, fun, and informative. An evening spent exploring the Web is far more rewarding and fulfilling than an evening of prime-time television. If you do get online, feel free to drop me an e-mail!
This article was originally published in the January 1996 issue of The Granby Drummer.