Home Computer Communication Primer

Careful – the technology changes faster than I can update this page!

Let The Buyer Beware

The technology is changing rapidly.  It is certainly changing faster than I can maintain this page.  There is no industry in the history of the world that is changing more rapidly than Voice - Data - Video.  Have no doubt that these are integrating rapidly and by the time you read this, even more advances in this area will be made.  Steven Sherman was 20 years ahead of his time when he founded the Vodavi Corporation.

Another Caveat

This industry is changing so fast that I believe no one has a good handle on where it is going.  The RV person is ahead of the curve here since he is mobile and the concept is mobility.  People who are not mobile do not understand the ramifications of being mobile.  If you are here, maybe you understand.

Wi-Fi is great for convenience.  The RV parks are installing it.  The truck stops are.  Kinko’s is.  Starbucks and Borders are.  It is everywhere.  You pay either a daily or a monthly rate.  The rate is high: $6 per day or $30 per month.  To each place!  You will no longer have to decide which ISP you will pay.  You will also have to determine which locations you will pay.

The two-way satellite companies will not do voice well because of the time delay but they are high-speed and I think are able to be cheaper than Wi-Fi when they get in place.

Equipment Choices

Here are my recommendations.  To each his own here.


I have always worked with computers.  I would feel naked without one.  I have invested a good portion of my life learning and using computers.  My PC is never far from me.  You do not want a desktop as it is not portable and most software wants to connect to the Internet these days.  These also take floor and desk space.  With a laptop, you can attach a keyboard, mouse, and video.  If you do this, you cannot tell it from a desktop.  If you do this, you still have the portability of the laptop.

If you do not have a PC, it is unlikely that you need one.  So think about this carefully.  You will invest about $2,000 in the machine and associated software.  If you are into computers, buy an IBM-compatible such as Gateway or Dell.  If you are not at all interested but feel the need, buy a Macintosh.  This is not a recommendation for Apple – I just recognized that there are people who have no interest in knowing anything at all and still want a computer.

If you want to keep money records and banking and whatever, buy the laptop.

Do not be talked into a laptop just because everyone else has one.


If all you want is email, buy a Pocket-Mail device and sign up for their service.  Then you can use any payphone to send and receive your mail and you have an 800-access number to do so.

There are devices more complicated than Pocketmail but then again you are not likely to get help from your fellow travelers if so.


This is a rather expensive way to talk on the Inter-Net available anywhere in North America.  Direcway will not sell directly to an RV.  It has contracted with a sepatate company, MotoSat, to do this.  The cost of that unit is $4,000+.  Some DirecWay licensees have made a surveyor tripod mounting and sell the unit for about $300.  This is in addition to the DirecWay service cost of $60 per month.  And In addition to their modem/dish cost of $600.

The service is OK but uplink is slow and downloading files will downgrade all communications.  They have a built-in firewall and accelerator.

In general, anything is better than Hughesnet both in perforamance and expense but if ou need it, you need it.


I know nothing about this. It is a combination Satellite TV and Internet. The least I have seen this sell for is $2,500.

Cell Phone

You can connect your cell phone directly to your laptop.  Be very careful here on your selection of services and choice of phone.  AT&T sells an "AirCard" to connect your PC to the Internet.  In the next couple of years any PC will be able to connect using such a device.

Local Area Network (LAN)

Corporations have had LANs for a few decades.  This permitted security and integrity for them.  Now that wireless is available, LANs have moved into the public enterprise area.

Borders, Starbucks, and other coffee houses have LANs.  Most charge an hourly rate.  Thousand Trails is opting into this area.  Properly done, these are good profit centers for them.  For you this means hourly, daily, or hourly rates.  The advantage is that you need not look for a telephone plug and a dial-up number to call your ISP.  You do not need an ISP – the LAN becomes your ISP.  You can still log onto AOL, MSN, or Juno but you do not need to.


Libraries can give you all of the Internet access that you can use but you use their computer so your email is readable but not storable on your machine.  If your library has WiFi then you can use your own computer.

Be careful here.  Some libraries do not have a proxy server to restict your access to bad sites.  The definition of bad is nebulous.  THe Yuma aZ library has you install a proxy server in your own machine.  This is great except that you must remove this program to work properly elsewhere!  I do not know how many PCs I have found this program on and had to remove it.  And the diagnostic you get is not indicitive of the problem and most people do not read the instruction sheet that they get that tells them that they must do this.

FedEx Kinko’s

Kinko’s has LAN access through the red cables that plug into the jack on your PC that looks like a telephone jack but is bigger.  Your laptop may or may not have such a jack.  If not and you want one, use a PCM/CIA LAN card.  You may also use the telephone modem connector if you do not have a LAN jack or you are a coward.

Be aware that Kinko’s is now pushing Wi-Fi and many offices support the wired connections as legacy only. They want you to pay.  Reasonable.


Most laptops have PCM/CIA ports (little slots) on one side that accept credit-card sized devices.  There are several devices from portable hard drives to modem connectors that use these ports.


This is new and growing rapidly.  The latest device in this area is a high-speed wireless LAN (Local Area Network) modem.  This device fits into the PCM/CIA slot and has a fat end containing a radio antenna.  Newer laptops are coming with this device built-in.  The world is going wireless.  For this you will pay.  You need to buy the interface card.  You need to pay for use of the LAN.  The interface may be a USB plug in place of the PCM/CIA.

Internet Cafes

These are not so popular in this country.  They are much more common in Europe. They shall become popular but as wireless and not as rooms full of old computers.

Computer Software

You only need software if you have a computer.

Microsoft Streets and Trips

Microsoft Streets and Trips is a hard to use program (scrolling the mouse causes the map to resize rather than move with the mouse) but serves the purpose for trip layouts.  If you connect online, it will update highway information.

Office Suite

I like the Microsoft Office Suite.  I also have the Word Perfect/Corel Suite but I hate it.  A friend of mine once referred to the “Ugly Duckling” syndrome.  This means that whatever you start with, you like forever.  Maybe.  Shoot.  Some people even like Macintoshes.

Media Management

There are many of these.  I like the Halo Company’s picture editor.  Microsoft used it for a while.  Now it is gone.

A picture editor comes with any scanner product.  Some of these are ok.  Some are good.  Some are almost useless. 

I put Adobe Photoshop in the latter category.  I have made computers my life.  I have seen and written many products.  I consider myself an expert in this area.  My pet peeves are people who want to keep computers to themselves.  There were many such people in the 60’s.  Job security was an issue before there were sufficient college degrees in Computer Science.  Now we have people who want to force the world into non-obvious, non-intuitive ways of performing work.  This is sort of like being employed by a boss who wants you to your left hand for everything.  Some of us are left-handed.  The rest find it an unreasonable requirement but may need the money. 

Adobe products are sort of like this.  The Adobe PDF files are sort of like online FAX files.  I consider FAX a legacy device for converting files into graphics and transmitting them across a telephone line.  The best you have is a picture of your original document.  A PDF file is the same.  You need a special Adobe picture editor to display the file.  Scrolling the file can drive you nuts since each page break clears the screen and you must carefully scroll back a line at a time to see a partial page.  Stupid.  If there is a way around this, it is not obvious and if a setting controls it, the setting should be the default.  I do not search for irrational settings often.

Back to Photo Shop.  They actually have college classes in using this abomination.  Strangely enough, it needs a college class to figure it out.  It does not work in any manner that you can figure out by yourself.  A hint: the TAB key turns off the obnoxious windows (thanks, Gary).  I could go on forever but do not pay money for this product.  If it comes with your scanner, practice until you get used to it or buy something else.  If you are lucky enough to get a good product with your scanner, use it.


If you want to use an organizer suite, mail me and I shall send you a trial copy of mine.  One of these may have come with your scanner or other software.  These are usually ok.  Make sure that you are able to produce a CD with the organization material in a format that you do not need the proprietary organizer software to view it.

Online access

If you do not have a PC, it is unlikely that you need to worry about this.

If you have a PC or otherwise do online banking, you will need Internet access.

ALL libraries have Internet access.

Most Kinko’s have Internet access.

Having Internet access is not the same as going online with your PC.  If you have your own PC, you can use AOL, Outlook, Eudora, or any of various mail-handling software programs to maintain and organize your mail.  It is stored on your PC. 

If you have Internet access at a library or even your own PC, this mail is maintained on the website of your choice: Yahoo, Hotmail, email, Juno, AOL, etc.

If you use MSN Money or Quicken, your accounts are maintained on your PC.  If you go to your bank website, you can see you account online.  It will be available online.  You may download it to your PC but this will not remove it from online.

Internet Service Provider (ISP)

ISP’s are your normal access to the Internet from a PC.  When you sign up with your ISP, you are given at least one logon name and password.  You are also given a list of access phone numbers.  You call one of these numbers to connect to you ISP and your ISP gives you access to the Internet.

Because you are mobile, you will need to know how to obtain access numbers for each place you go.  You can save time by using the ISP-800 number.  They charge extra for this type of access by the minute.

Each ISP has its own game for dealing with access numbers.  Microsoft Windows has a dialup mechanism that provides you with fairly easily configured origin and destination numbers.  For some reason, none of the ISP’s prefer to use this facility and each thinks their game is better.

If you want access from the most places and have the easiest configuration process, use AOL.  Just remember to add a new location (with your choice of indicative names) for each new phone line you use.  Editing you old software location for each new number is at best confusing. At worst, you will have strange results as your new location has different dialing rules than your previous.

If you buy my description of a Macintosh as a toy version of a real PC, think of AOL as a toy version of an ISP.  That is, AOL is intended for people who have no interest in learning about connections or computers.

The phone line you are using may have a prefix, such as ‘9’, to get an outside dial tone.  Make sure this is included in the number dialed.  You software configuration game should show you the final number to be dialed.  Replay the game until you see a number that works.  You can test this by using a phone and dialing the number.  If it answers with a squawk, you did it correctly.  Anything else and you have to replay the game.

Some of the easier choices of ISP’s with many numbers are MSN, Earthlink, AOL, or Juno ($10).  If you choose a local ISP, your access numbers will be local: you will always have access problems or a large bill.  Most RV parks have their telephone lines restricted so that you cannot make long distance calls.  If you make such a call, inform the park that you did so and suggest that they restrict the line.


Juno has a free service as long as you restrict your access.  They do not have as many access numbers as AOL or MSN.  The full service costs $10 per month but that does not improve your access.  I have a Juno account in the event I cannot use my AOL account for some reason.


I tried this for a short time.  I found their customer service non-existent.  Mail filing was impossible.  If they support POP3, I could not figure out how.  They do have access numbers almost everywhere.  MSN has an access number in Benson, AZ.  AOL does not.  I do not know where the other MSN numbers are but they must be catching up if they have numbers where AOL does not.


Once upon a time I used an ISP that was bought by another company.  Earthlink bought that company.  Even though I now had Earthlink access, I could not use the Earthlink access numbers.  And they were not increasing the old numbers.  I resented that other Earthlink customers could call from places that I could not.  I paid the same money.  I called support to complain enough times with no results.  I switched to AOL.


AOL has everything.  They have a large list of access numbers.  They have an email processor.  They have built-in protection from various problems.  They have a window that I hate.  It is always there and must be used to process your email.  This is a problem because the normal methods of restricting spam are not available.  The stupid window and the SPAM are primary reasons for not using AOL.  There is no way to use a commercial email handler, such as Outlook, with AOL.

For legacy reasons, I have AOL.  If I were to start over, I do not think I would do so. 


The spam-rules for AOL are such that once you start getting spam, it will not go away and will get worse fast.  The AOL mail rules are less than helpful.

In other words, only your friends should know your AOL logon.  Never, not even once, go to a chat room.  Never, not even once, click on an advertisement.  Anyplace to which you go, knows who you are.  It is up to them what they do about it.  Your banks and similar companies with protect your name.  Others will sell your name.

For AOL again, obtain a second logon name (you are permitted 7 names per account) and specify that this new logon can receive NO mail.  With this logon, you can go to chat rooms and advertisement sites.  While you are there, you can pass out your normal logon -- although I would only do so in secure site pages (padlock/key closed on the bottom of the page).

Also never enter any of the fields in the AOL ‘profile’ menu.  A search throughout AOL for profile fields will list your logon no matter what you enter.  This gives the bad guys your name and you will get SPAM.

If you start getting SPAM or just for your sanity, open a Yahoo or Juno or Hotmail or …, email account.  They are free, accessible anywhere, and have SPAM filters.  Pass this address out as your email address and stop giving out your AOL logon.  Set the AOL mail preferences to only accept email from specified family and friends.  I have a list of about 10 people.  You now have a separate advantage over standard AOL email.

Once upon a time the AOL stupid window was a good idea.  This was before Windows became dominant.  Then the AOL email filing cabinet was great.  Now it is a real loser.  If you have an outside email account, you can retrieve your email using POP3.  You cannot do this with AOL.  If AOL decides to clean out your mailbox, you cannot get it back.  Last week AOL decided to clean out all of my dialing locations.  One for each RV park and family location.  All gone: now each place I go that I had already been, I have to set up the number list again.

The AOL Stupid Desktop Window

Unless you have a MAC, you are required to have the stupid desktop window.  I do not think AOL understands how much of a bother this window is.  They have gone to great lengths to make it prettier and use more transfer time and customization seems to be increasing.  Stupid.

For those of you with any brains at all, I have a suggestion: minimize the AOL window as soon as you are finished logging on.  Then click the Netscape or Internet Explorer (Big, Blue, Lower-case letter ‘e’ with a ring around it) ICON to get to the Internet.  This will open a new window that does nothing except permit you to see the Internet pages you want.  AOL does not frame it.  It does not have funny buttons unique to AOL.  You get to use the Internet just like the rest of the world.  You can open as many of these windows as you want and move them around and resize them and enjoy life outside the box.  You can then click the AOL button to get your AOL email and other things that you may want to do.  In other words, by clicking the little ‘e’ you can have it all!

Buddy List/AIM

You can also use the Buddy list outside the AOL window.  This is called AIM and replaces the Microsoft Messenger.  This is great if you sometimes use other services to access the Internet.  The Buddy list in the AOL window only works when you have AOL active.  The AIM window is available anytime you are connected to AOL, another ISP, or a network.

POP3/SMTP Access

This is not available to AOL.  If you use AOL for your email, skip this section.  If you use AOL but get your mail elsewhere, this section is useful.

Most online access, such as Yahoo and Juno, provide a special port for you to examine and download your email to your PC.  If you do not have this access, your email will always be online but not on your computer.  Microsoft Outlook and other email programs have a configuration wizard to setup a POP3/SMTP connection for each of these sights.  You will still need your ISP.  The POP3 access only is a pipeline to your mailbox so that you can download and send email.

This is important since you do not want to spend a long time connected when you are on the road.  It is expensive and rude to do so.

Many places that provided POP3 access for everyone now charge for it.  This is because you are bypassing the ads on their web pages and this is how they make their money.  No money, no service.

Hosting Your Site

If you have gotten to the point where you want your own web site, you have a lot of work to do.  But it can be fairly simple
You need five things and all five can be easily obtained.

  1. A Host
  2. A Registrar
  3. A Name
  4. An HTML Editor
  5. A transfer program

The first three are easy.    All registrar sites will help you find a name.  Many hosting sites are also registrars. And most hosting sites will help you find a name.  I use www.1sthostweb.com  for both my registrar and my host.  This company provides a myriad of hosting tools that make life easy for you.  And if you,, like me, use them for both hosting and registering, the hosting fee is waived.  You still have to pay the registration fee.

There are many editer programs around.  Most are things you pay for.  I use the Netscape Composer.  It is free but sort of difficult to find as the latest versions of Netscape no longer supply a copy of the composer.  ANother good HTML editor is 1stPage.  You can Google search this as I am too lazy to add another link.  Do not confuse this with Microsoft Frontpage or Microsoft Publisher.  Miscrosoft is attempting to make everything over to its way of thinking.  Sort of like Walt Disney does to fairy tales.  They are pretty and make for funny cartoons but they miss the point of the original fairy tale.  Microsoft sort of misses the point of the Internet being for everybody and are slanting things such that only their products work.

You need a name.  The host tool set can help you find a name.  They want you to find a name as they only get money if you have a named website.  There are no unnamed web sites.

In any case, a good editor keeps you from having to know the details of what you are generating.  You should not have to know how a typewriter works to type a document.  Same is true for web pages.

And lastly, you need a way to get your created web to the hostting site.  I use the Internet Explorer.  Use the Windows Web Page Publishing wizardf to set this up.  It is as easy as any other copy from one folder to anther.  You host will give you the address that you need to transfer files to your site.  You need this web address to give to the wizard.  Insteat of 'html:', the address wil probably start with 'ftp:'


I like this company because their support staff apparently does not sleep and their toolset is unbelievable.

Their toolset has file transfer programs.  They have statistics, they have mail service.

Mail service

You may have your own mail addresses.  You may want to use your site address for mail service.  I do.  It saves a lot of headached that exist with sites like AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail.  Yes, I have mail at all three of these but I use prioimarily my own site.

Echo Verification

1stHosting uses an echo program.  The first time someone sends you a message, this program echos back a message.  If the sender replies properly, the original message and all subsequent messages are placed in your in basket.  No response and the message disappears after a week on the waiting queue.  You can review the waiting queue and pretend you got a response or just delete the entry.  The echo program that 1stHostWeb uses is called Box Trapper.  I like it.

SPAM Filtering

In addition to an echo program, you can have a SPAM filter.  The 1stWebHost filter is called Spam Assassin.  This is a program that uses multiple analysis tols to give each email a numeric score.  The higher the score, the more likely the email is to be SPAM.  Until the echo program I used this and it works quite well.  With Spam Assassin at 1stWebHost you have the choice of chainging the heading to indicate SPAM or deleting the email if it exceeds a specific score.  I used both and the mails that passed through had a header warning me how likely it was that the message was SPAM.


1stWebHost encourages you to use both programs.  You will not be happy with the results and 1stWebHost will not correct their eroneous processing.  I have spent many emails to support asking them to make the programs compatible but they do not understand English very well.  I have given up trying.

Here is the problem.  If you use them both, the results of Spam Assasin are hidden from Box Trapper.  This means that Spam Assisin may determine that an email is SPAM and give it a high scroe and fill the email header with all sorts of information that it has done so.  Box Trapper ignores this information so it treats the Spam as any other email and puts it on the response queue.

If you go to the response queue and open the email (there is an option to do this), you will immediately see that Spam Asssassin has marked it as Spam.  Since it has hidden this information from Box Trapper, you have wasted your time using Spam Assiassin.

So I end up with a couple of hundred emails in my mail queue every day that are marked as Spam by Spam Assassin but are in my BOx Trapper queue with no indication that Spam Assassin has marked them.  There is nothing I can do about these except to delete them from the queue or wait for the queue to wrap a week and then they drop off. 

In other words, use program or the other, if you use both you defeat the purpose of Spam Assassin and just get frustrated opening queued messages and finding out then that they are Spam..  And ignore the BOx Trapper header saying you should use both, you will just get upset with humanity in general.

Do you really want a PC?

If you are thinking about getting a PC, consider the dollar cost:

Then there is the time cost:

All of this may be prohibitive unless you really want to learn about PCs.

There are a few simple choices here:

You really want to think about this.  The dollar investment is substantial.  The time investment is substantial.  The learning effort is substantial. 

There are a large number of self-proclaimed computer experts out there who will be overjoyed to expound upon any level of misinformation they can.  These people remind me of the aphorism: “Those of you who think you know everything make it difficult for those of us who do”.

The learning is not difficult but there is a large quantity to learn.  Any child can do it: children do it easily.  Remember that the primary job of a child is to learn.  They are very good at it.  They have tremendous innovative skills.  If you have a granddaughter or niece, have her teach you.

This dialog is not sufficiently large to teach you any of what you need to know.  Just remember that any adult who claims to know everything doesn’t.

Suggestions?  Questions?  Comments?  Push Home/eMail above.
Written:  2003  Updated:  July 16, 2004   Back To Top