Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

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Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

Copyright © 1994, 1996 by Kevin Savetz


Hello, world! Welcome to Your Internet Consultant--the FAQs of Life Online. Chances are, if you're new to the Internet or you're just not acronym-adept, you're asking yourself, "What does FAQ mean?" That is a wholly fair and reasonable question. In response to that fair and reasonable question--and future questions, both reasonable and unreasonable--I will try to provide a reasonable answer. So we begin.

I.1. What does FAQ mean?

FAQ is Internet-speak for frequently asked question. A FAQ is one of those questions that is so common, so pervasive that, well, it is asked frequently. Every field has its FAQs: ice skating, parenting, the Internet.

Some folks on the Internet who are experts in their field create lists of FAQs and distribute them. (Actually, they aren't just lists of frequently asked questions; they wouldn't be useful unless they gave the answers, too.) These lists are called FAQ&A lists (FAQ&A means frequently asked questions and answers), FAQ lists, or (to confuse the issue) just FAQs. FAQ is pronounced either as eff aye queue or simply fack. I like the latter pronunciation because it sounds a lot like facts, which is, it is hoped, what they are.

I publish one such list, called the Internet Services FAQ. This is a compilation of about 25 frequently asked questions about the Internet and its services. As a long-time Internet user and writer, I read hundreds of the same questions over and over again as each new user explores the Internet and climbs his or her own learning curve. My FAQ list was to be a few pages long and distributed on the Internet to help new users along.

It became clear to me early on that I needed to be very selective as to what questions could be answered in that FAQ list and how in-depth the answers would be, lest the document become a 600-page book. With so many tools and services on the Internet, and so many great questions to be answered, keeping the FAQ list manageable is an inexact science. I have had to pass up some great questions and delightful answers in the quest for brevity.

One major problem is that most users don't know how to find the answers to their all-too-common questions. Although some of this information is available online, a user must know how to navigate the Net in a variety of ways just to find the smattering of documents that are supposed to help. If the user knew how to navigate the Internet, he or she probably wouldn't need help in the first place.

Well, as you can see, my FAQ list has become a 600-page book.

I.2. Does the world need another Internet book?

This is an important question, especially to me. About fifty new books about the Internet were published in 1993, certainly with dozens more to follow in 1994. The problem is, most of these books try to be everything to everyone. The world certainly does not need another 1,000-page All You Need to Know About the Internet tome. The majority of these books talk about the Internet as if it's a science, but it isn't. The Internet is a living, growing, ever-changing entity. Those books tend to move from start to finish in a methodical fashion: "This is Telnet, here's what you can do with it; this is FTP, here's what you can do with it," and so on.

The world doesn't need any more of those. What people do need, though, is a book that clearly and simply answers the questions they have while exploring the Internet. This book is filled with what people have asked countless times--frequently asked questions.

Admittedly, some of the questions aren't really frequently asked. Some of them are ones that I only wish were asked more often. You can tell those pretty easily: they usually look like "How can I annoy people...?" or something similar. They're my attempt to force-feed the information you need to know, but might not know you need to know.

This book is not geared toward any single type of user. Novices and experienced "Internauts" alike will learn something from this book. If I've done my job, you should be able to come back time and time again for another dose of information, to find the answer to whatever new questions cross your mind.

This book doesn't assume that you have one particular type of Internet access. People connect to the Internet from every conceivable computer system using a variety of access types. You might be using a Sun SparcStation with direct Internet access, or dialing in to a command-line UNIX service from a Macintosh, or sending Internet e-mail from CompuServe with your IBM PC. Readers with (for instance) only electronic mail will still find plenty of useful information herein. When you are ready to venture to new things, you can turn to this book for information on how to get started with the new tools. I hope there is something here for everyone on the Net, using any type of connection.

I.3. What won't this book do for me?

This book is just a stepping stone on the path of exploring the Internet. I hope you will find that it makes your learning process easy and fun. There are a hundred ways that you can access the Internet, however, as well as dozens of programs available for sending e-mail, reading Usenet news, and so on, and they each work differently. This book doesn't try to cover them all. Therefore, reading this book will not excuse you from reading lots of online help or perusing online FAQ lists. It also doesn't excuse you from experimenting or making mistakes. Doing all of those things is part of learning about the Internet.

I.4. How is this book organized?

From where I sit, musing at the computer files--half-written chapters, cryptic notes to myself, and the like--my reaction is to laugh at the assumption that this book is organized.

From where you sit, however, things should be slightly more comprehensible. This book is task-oriented, instead of having lumped together all the functions of each Internet tool. The following chapters are arranged by what you want to do; for instance, getting online, using electronic mail, and understanding Internet culture. Here's a brief overview of the chapters:

I.5. What conventions are used in this book?

Commands that you type are in bold monospace font, and the output from those commands is in monospace font.

Within answers, I often need to point to a file on the Internet or tell how to send electronic mail to perform a certain action, like retrieving a file via e-mail. If I'm explaining where to find a file via anonymous FTP (which, by the way, is covered in Chapter 6, How Can I Find and Use Software?), you'll see a line like this:
This means to use the FTP command to open a connection to, login as "anonymous," and use your e-mail address as the password. Then, Use the cd command to change to the directory /pub/usenet/news.answers/internet-services and get the file called faq.

Note: It's OK if this doesn't make any sense yet. By the way, here's another convention in the book--the note--used for extra-important information, asides, and (sometimes) off-the-topic rambling.

When you need to send electronic mail for a particular reason, this book uses another convention, as follows:

Subject: SEND
Body: send usenet/news.answers/internet-services/faq
This means to use your electronic mail program to send a message to Give your message the subject line SEND. In the body of the message, include the single line send usenet/news.answers/internet-services/faq.

I.6. How was this book done?

This book was written on a Macintosh IIsi 5/80, using Microsoft Word 5.1a, with the exception of Chapters 6 and 7 (while I was trying out another word processor, which I didn't like too much). Other important software included Zterm, MacPPP, and JetPack, a really spiffy shareware game. Each chapter was e-mailed to my editor using a Supra 14.4KBPS modem through my Internet service provider of choice, A2I Communications. Other gadgetry included a Syquest drive, a cheapo CD-ROM drive (used mostly to play audio CDs, naturally) and a Deskwriter 550C printer.

My brain was powered by large doses of caffeine (in the form scalding hot tea consumed from a BMUG user group mug) darkness and rain (I hardly wrote a thing when the weather was nice--prime napping weather) and many, many hot bubble-baths.

I.7. Can I send e-mail to the author?

I know what happens to authors who publish their e-mail addresses in books, and it isn't pretty: they get deluged with electronic mail. Still, I'm telling you my e-mail address right here because once you read this book, you'll know how to find it anyway. :-) It's I do want to hear from you, but please don't be annoyed if I don't reply. The sad truth is that if I sent a personal reply to every e-mail message I received, I wouldn't have time to sleep or do the writing that pays the rent.

I.8. Are we going to make it through the Introduction without a big list of author thank-yous?

No. (Sorry.)

Thanks to Peace Gardiner, who may or may not be my wife by the time this book is published. (Whether she is by then depends on the speed of the gods of publishing and whether she remains as patient with me by the end of this project as she was when I began it.)

Thanks to my mom for always encouraging me in what I do. (Even when she doesn't understand it.) And to my dad, who started my online exploits with an Atari 800 computer and a 300 BPS modem (which, I might add, he still owns.)

Thanks to Daniel Dern for his sage advice.

Profuse thanks to Dave Taylor for his ongoing help during this project.

You'll notice that I didn't write every answer in this book. No one can know it all about the Internet, and I certainly don't claim to. Sometimes I've passed a question (or a set of questions) on to other experts. Thanks to the talented folks who assisted by submitting questions and answers for this book.

Thanks to Mark Graham at Pandora Systems for the nifty PPP account that he gave me in exchange for this plug.

Thank you to Laurie Anderson for "Mister Heartbreak" and to the Indigo Girls for "Rites of Passage."

Thanks to Kinsey, Keyogi, and Arlo for sleeping on my notes, attacking the computer screen at regular intervals and spreading peace, love, and hair throughout my home. Good kitties.

Finally, thank you to the hundreds of Internet folks who have sent me their feedback, frequently asked questions, and frequently answered answers.

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