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Seniors Guide to the Internet

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What is the Internet?

The Internet, also known as “the net,” is a worldwide computer network system in which users at any one computer can get data from any other computer. The original aim was to create a network that would allow users of a computer at one university to communicate with computers at other universities. A side benefit of this design was that, because the information is sent along different routes that always change, the Internet could continue to function even if parts of it were destroyed in the event of a military attack or another disaster. Luckily, we’ve never had to test if it works.

The Know It Guy

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Today, the Internet is self-sustaining and is used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The most widely used part of the Internet is called the World Wide Web (“the Web”). On the web, you have access to billions of pages of information. Web browsing is done with a software program called a web browser (catchy name!). Currently, the most popular web browsers are Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome. By the way, all of these browsers are absolutely free. Depending on your connection speed, browsers can support such advanced features as animation, video, sound, and music.

How Do I Connect to the Internet?

The best type of connection to the Internet is a broadband connection. It offers the highest transmission speed, which is essential if you want the best Internet experience. Cable and DSL services both provide broadband speeds. Cable provides speed twice that of DSL, but DSL is more secure.

Broadband service provides high-speed data transmission. It also allows more content to be carried through the transmission pathway. Broadband provides access to the highest quality Internet services: streaming media, Internet phone, gaming, and interactive services. Many of these services require the transfer of large amounts of data that may not be technically feasible with telephone dial-up service. Today, broadband service is necessary to access the full range of services and opportunities that the Internet can offer. Broadband service is always on. It does not block telephone lines, and there is no need to disconnect from the Internet network when not in use.

Wireless broadband, also known as “Wi-Fi,” is the ability to connect to the Internet without wires or cables. The most common way of accessing wireless broadband is via a wireless router attached to an ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) modem.

1. Using a cable modem

A cable modem is a device that connects your computer to the Internet via a local cable TV line so you can send and receive data at high speeds, also referred to as broadband speeds. Cable modems are usually included as part of the cable access service.

a. Sign up with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), usually your local cable TV company. The cable company will dispatch a field technician to come to your home to install a cable modem.

b. The technician will connect a cable from a cable TV jack to the cable modem.

c. Then, the technician will connect an “Ethernet” cable from the cable modem to the “Ethernet” port on your computer. “Ethernet” is the most popular type of local area network (LAN) technology.

d. Power on the cable modem and computer.

e. A cable connection is less secure than other broadband connections, such as DSL, because you share your cable connection with others in your community. Also, the cable connection is always on. The Windows Firewall will help prevent intruders from accessing your computer.

f. Open your Internet browser to begin browsing the Internet.

2. Using a DSL modem

A Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) uses technology that provides digital data transmission over a local telephone network’s wires. DSL does not interfere with the use of your standard telephone service. Once you log on to your DSL service, it will stay on until you shut down or restart your computer.

a. Subscribe to a high-speed, or broadband, DSL service. A technician will connect a modem to your phone line. This connection allows the DSL signal to be received by the modem and transmitted to your computer.

b. The other end of the cable will be connected to your computer.

c. Power on the DSL modem and computer.

d. Open your Internet browser to begin browsing the Internet.

3. Using a Router (hardware firewall)

A hardware firewall is a device connected to the Internet and your cable or DSL modem, protecting your computer from dangerous intruders. In other words, your computer is connected to the router (hardware firewall) instead of your cable or DSL modem.

The best protection available from Internet attacks is a hardware firewall. They are inexpensive, so I strongly recommend installing one. Broadband routers serve as powerful hardware firewalls. They should be considered an important part of your system and network set-up, especially for anyone with a broadband connection.

A router is a device that provides access to the Internet for multiple computers, printers, and other devices. It typically includes four or more Ethernet ports for wired connections to desktop and laptop computers. They can also be configured to transmit signals for wireless (“Wi-Fi”) devices.

A router acts as a firewall by masking your computer’s true internet address from the outside world. Only those web pages that you specifically request are allowed to pass through the router to your computer. Data that you did not request is blocked, which helps to keep your system safe from intruders. Think of it as your front door with that little peephole. Somebody knocks, and you look through the peephole to see who it is. If it’s your friend who you invited over, you open the door and let him in (“Wassup dude!”). If it’s someone who’s arriving uninvited, they are turned away. (I wonder if a router would block my mother-in-law).

4. Standard telephone line modem

Not recommended at all. The slowest of all Internet connections. It will not deliver the full potential of what the Internet has to offer.

What’s a Link?

Certain words or phrases appear in the text of a different color on all websites than the rest and sometimes also underlined. When you point to one of these words or phrases by clicking your mouse’s left button, you will be transferred to the page that is associated with this word or phrase. These are called hyperlinks or links. Sometimes there are buttons, images, or portions of images that can be “clicked.” If you move the pointer over a spot on a website and the pointer changes into a hand, this indicates that you can click on it and be transferred to another site.

What’s a Web Browser?
Microsoft Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer is the most widely used web browser. That isn’t because it’s the best (which it isn’t). It’s because it comes already installed with every Windows version, and most people don’t bother to change it. Internet Explorer version 7.0 suffered more malware attacks than any other browser. Internet Explorer uses a technology known as ActiveX Controls, making it extremely vulnerable to attacks.

An ActiveX control is a web-based program using certain Microsoft technologies. They are controversial because they are downloaded automatically and executed by the web browser. This is the major reason that Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, which do not support ActiveX controls, are more secure browsers. Besides, Internet Explorer has page rendering problems that cause some web pages to display incorrectly. Performance is faster in the most recent version (9.0) than in past versions but is still slower than the other browsers. Keep Internet Explorer installed on your computer (certain Microsoft services, like Windows Update, require Internet Explorer to function correctly) but use Firefox or Chrome.

Mozilla Firefox:

Firefox keeps you more secure when you’re browsing the web, protecting against spyware, worms, and viruses. As mentioned earlier, it does not support ActiveX controls because ActiveX controls are vulnerable to viruses and spyware. Firefox delivers easier navigation, including those who are visually or motor-impaired. Firefox is the first browser to meet U.S. federal government requirements that software is easily accessible to users with physical impairments.

You can select new controls for your toolbars and change the look of your browser with themes. You can also install hundreds of free extensions to add features such as ad-blocking, extended tab controls, pop-up blockers, text resizers, and password managers. Firefox is my favorite web browser.

Google Chrome:

The Google Chrome web browser is the third most popular browser used today, right behind Internet Explorer (#1) and Firefox (#2).

a. Chrome is designed to be fast. It’s quick to start up, loads web pages quickly, and runs web applications fast.

b. Chrome’s browser window is streamlined, clean, and simple.

c. Chrome also includes features that are designed for ease of use. For example, you can search and navigate from the same box and arrange tabs however you wish.

d. Chrome is designed to keep you secure on the web with built-in malware protection and automatic updates to ensure the browser is current with the latest security updates and more.

e. Chrome has many useful features built in, including translation in the browser, extensions, themes, and more.

Chrome is an excellent web browser. I highly recommend it.

Bookmarks and Favorites

Internet Explorer calls them “favorites” (just to be different from everybody else). Favorites are links to your favorite websites that you wish to save for future use. Creating a favorite in Internet Explorer can be done several in different ways.

1. Right-click on a blank portion of the page and click “Add to Favorites.”

2. Browse to the website you wish to add to your Favorites. At the top of the browser window, click “Favorites.” Click “Add to Favorites.”

When one of these steps has been completed, an “Add Favorite” window will appear, and then you can add your favorite to your favorites list. You can even create different folders (highly recommended) for your Favorites.

Firefox and Chrome:

Creating bookmarks in Firefox and Chrome are similar and can also be done in several different ways.

1. In the address bar, there is a star on the right side. If you click on it, you can bookmark the page.

2. Right-click on a blank portion of the page you wish to bookmark and click “Bookmark This Page” or press Ctrl + D. This only applies to Firefox.

3. Browse to the website you wish to bookmark. At the top of the browser window, click “Bookmarks.” Click “Bookmark This Page.” This only applies to Firefox.

When these steps have been completed, an “Add Bookmark” window will appear. Specify the location where you want to save the bookmark. To create a new folder, click the “New Folder” button. I use many folders such as Shopping, Music, Movies, Computers, Finance, Health, Food, Travel, etc., on my browser. I have over 3,000 bookmarks, and I can quickly and easily find any one of them (I know – I should get a life!).

What’s a Search Engine?

A search engine is a computer program that searches documents, specifically on the World Wide Web, for a specified word or words and provides links to these documents to where they can be found.


There are literally hundreds of search engines on the internet. However, there is only one that I use and that you will ever need...Google. Most other search engines operate similarly but are not as sophisticated or efficient as Google. Google is a crawler-based search engine, meaning that it has software designed to “crawl” the information on the Internet and add it to its database. Google has the best reputation for relevant and thorough search results. Google’s home page is clean and simple. There is more than one option on Google’s home page.

Search topics include:
  • Web – The default search engine.
  • Images – Searches for images, graphics, photos, or drawings.
  • Video – Searches for video files on the Internet.
  • News – Searches for information gathered from thousands of news sources worldwide.
  • Maps – An interactive map tool featuring driving directions.
  • Shopping – Searches for products for sale online.
More – Additional search tools including:

Books – If you’re looking for the text from a specific book, type in the name of the book (in quotes), or if you’re looking for books about a particular subject, type in “books about xxx.” Google will return results that can contain content in the book itself or offer links to Book Results at the top of the search page.

Discussions – Searches for information, opinions, and recommendations from user groups.

Blogs, Recipes, Patents, Flights, and more.

“I’m Feeling Lucky” – This button takes you instantly to the first search result returned for any query. For instance, if I type in peanut butter, I go straight to the Wikipedia entry for peanut butter. It’s basically a shortcut so that you can bypass the search engine results page.

There’s even a Google Accessible Web Search for the Visually Impaired.
How to Google Search

Go to Enter a word, multiple words, or a phrase and hit “enter.” Google will come up with results that contain the words in the search bar. Google doesn’t care about capitalization and will even suggest correct spellings of words or phrases. Google excludes common words such as “the” and “is,” and since Google returns results that include all of the words you enter, there’s no need to include the word “and,” as in “milk and cookies.” You can just enter “milk cookies” (without the quotation marks).

If you want to look for websites that contain “milk” or “cookies,” you can use “OR” as in “milk or cookies.” If you’re searching for the exact phrase, you will enter “milk and cookies,” including the quotation marks.

Try to be as specific as possible – instead of “cars,” try “Chevrolet Impala.” If you’re searching for an exact phrase, type in “give me liberty or give me death” with quotation marks, for example. Google will search for the entire phrase just how it appears in between the quotes.

You can also exclude unwanted results if you want to narrow down your searches, place “NOT” in front of words you want to avoid. For example, if you’re searching for information about The Three Stooges but don’t want any articles about Shemp, you would search for “three stooges NOT sheep” (nyuck-nyuck!).

Other Google Tools

Google Calculator – Use Google’s calculator by just typing in whatever calculation you’d like in the search bar. For example: a “gallon in pints” or 112.3 + 55.6. Google Definitions – There are two ways to get definitions from Google. If you type “define: asteroid” (with the colon), you’ll get a page full of definitions. If you type “define asteroid” (without the colon), you’ll get a list of websites that contain definitions of the word.

Google Catalogs – Search online catalogs.
  • Google Finance – Business info, news, and interactive charts.
  • Other search shortcuts:
  • Phone number:(enter name and location) – “phonebook: John Smith NJ.”
  • Movie:(search for showtimes – enter title and zip code) – “movie:Matrix 08902”
  • Stocks:(get a stock quote) – “stocks:IBM”
  • Weather:(get local weather – enter zip code) – “weather:08902”
What is Webmail?

Webmail is a term for web-based email accounts. These are usually free email accounts that are operated from a website. Examples include Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Windows Live Mail, and AOL Mail. Webmail allows users to access their emails as long as they can access an Internet connection and a web browser. Gmail, by Google, has many advanced features, but most webmail providers have similar features. With that in mind, the following webmail features are limited to Gmail:

Registration for Gmail is free to anyone who signs up on the Google website.

Approximately two gigabytes of email storage is available to all users, and the amount of storage increases over time. Rather than organizing messages only by date, received Gmail groups messages by subject name and groups them as Conversations. Also, you can assign labels to any message, creating cross-connected groups of messages.

Gmail always uses an HTTPS connection.

The standard way to access your Gmail account is with your web browser. However, you can view your Gmail messages on your computer’s regular email program.

Gmail has a very aggressive spam blocking system.

Gmail gives you access to Google’s chat network, which lets you send and receive instant messages with friends and family.

Is it Safe to Shop Online?

Shopping on the Internet has never been easier or safer if you just follow a few simple safety rules. The vast majority of online vendors are reputable and secure. If you don’t feel comfortable with a vendor, just take your business elsewhere. Also, you can shop whenever you feel like it. Can’t sleep? Where else could you have a cup of tea and shop in your pajamas?

Here are a few tips to help make your online shopping experience free of headaches:

Do not visit shady-looking websites. You’ll know them when you see them. For example, would you shop at “Uncle Bruno’s Fell Off the Truck Discount House of Electronics”?

Shop from reputable companies only.

It’s safe to use your credit card to pay for purchases online at any store as long as when you check out, you see a picture of a lock in the lower-left or right corner of your browser. This means that the transaction is secure. If you don’t see this lock — DO NOT CONTINUE WITH THE PURCHASE! The lock is not just a picture. Click on it to see details of the site’s security. This is important because some fraudulent websites will imitate the lock icon of your browser.

It’s also a good idea to use the same credit card for all of your online shopping. If there is ever a problem, all you have to do is cancel that one card. It is actually safer to shop online with a credit card than at a real store. Here’s why: when you use your credit card at a secure site and you see the little lock in the lower corner, it means that your credit card information is scrambled and sent to the store using potent encryption.

Encryption is the process of scrambling information to make it unreadable.
Think about what happens when you use your credit card at an actual store:
You give your credit card to a stranger.

They scan it or enter the number into a computer, and it may be displayed on a screen for all to see.

You sign the receipt with your credit card number on it, and then there is a paper copy lying around.

Pretty scary, huh?

Web browsers make comparison shopping simple. Use a different tab on your browser for each store. Then you can easily switch back and forth to compare similar items. Be aware of shipping charges. They can be different for every vendor. Very often, you can even find free shipping. The search for bargains is part of the fun! DO NOT GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION LIKE SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS, BANK ACCOUNT NUMBERS, OR CREDIT CARD NUMBERS (unless you’re making a secure purchase) ON THE INTERNET!

Always, always, always use a credit card to pay for your purchases! Never, never, never use a debit card! If there’s a problem with a debit card purchase, you can kiss that money goodbye! It’s a good idea to use the same credit card for all online purchases and not use that particular card for anything else. That way, you’ll always know where to look if there’s a problem. Never allow direct transfers of funds from your checking or savings accounts unless an escrow service is involved.

eBay and Online Auctions

What is eBay? Simply put, eBay is the largest online auction. eBay is a safe online marketplace where anyone can buy and sell goods and services. Sellers pay a small fee plus a percentage to eBay. Buyers use eBay free of charge. There are rules and penalties in place to protect users from anyone who abuses the system.

Some facts about eBay:
eBay is international.
The variety and quantity of items are staggering. There are more than 16 million items for sale.

Items can be sold at an auction (buyers bid against each other) or at a fixed price. You can purchase an item without bidding if it is marked “Buy It Now.” The sellers decide how they want to sell an item.

eBay runs various applications to reduce electronic dishonesty.
There is a full-time staff dedicated to promoting fairness and impartiality.

There is a system called “feedback” used to protect both buyers and sellers. Usually, the more dependable buyers and sellers will have more positive feedback than negative. Also, the more successful transactions a seller has, the more likely it is to be reputable.

eBay offers a professional escrow payment service called PayPal to ensure safe payment between parties. See the section on PayPal for more information.

A Safety Guide to eBay

Always carefully read the auction’s details before placing a bid to make sure you know exactly what you’re bidding on.

Guidelines and things to be aware of:
Payment method

Shipping and handling costs. Some sellers deliberately list an expensive item for a low price to fool the new buyer. Overpriced shipping and handling charges are where they make up the difference. This trick is within eBay policy.

When item will be shipped
Other costs or conditions

For clothing, make sure to note the size, color, fabric, or damage, especially if the item is marked “used” or “vintage”. If there is anything you are not sure of, get more information from the eBay seller before you bid. You can do that by clicking “Ask seller a question”. For a comprehensive list of what can or cannot be listed on eBay, visit the “prohibited items” page. Remember, if the item is confiscated by customs, you are not entitled to a refund. Leave positive feedback whenever you are satisfied with the transaction. Always think hard before leaving negative feedback. Feedback is forever!

Don’t engage in bidding wars. Bidding wars are only good for the seller. New eBay users often get caught up in bidding wars because they have yet to learn when to keep bidding and stop. An experienced user will often outbid the novices by mere pennies a seconds before the auction closes. You need to show restraint and patience and bid near the end of the auction. There is a legitimate trick calling “sniping.” Sniping is the practice of bidding in the last few seconds of an auction to prevent other bidders from outbidding you. Many smart bidders simply bid the maximum amount they are willing to spend on an item and don´t worry about it. You can snipe manually, but experienced bidders use automatic sniping software. One such free program is Prospector Lite. Don’t bid over your head. Bidding can become addictive. Be aware of how much money you can afford to spend.


PayPal is a popular payment service owned by eBay and is used for online purchasing. 95% of eBay purchases are paid by PayPal. PayPal allows buyers to send money to sellers using their email addresses. The parties involved in the transaction NEVER see each other’s credit card or bank information. PayPal acts as the middleman to hold the money. Many safeguards and procedures allow buyers and sellers to trust PayPal with their credit card and bank information. PayPal keeps that information secret.

A PayPal account’s only requirements are a valid email address and a valid credit card or bank account. PayPal is free for buyers. Once a buyer sets up a PayPal account, it costs nothing to send money to other PayPal users. The funds can be withdrawn from the user’s credit card or directly from a bank account. Pop Quiz: Which method would you use? Find the answer below. If you want to shop on eBay, you must have a PayPal account because most eBay sellers choose PayPal as their chosen method for taking payments. Since eBay owns PayPal, eBay has a stake in keeping PayPal stable and reliable.

A Safety Guide to PayPal
  • PayPal has designed its system, so errors and fraud are kept to a bare minimum.
  • PayPal guarantees 100% protection against unauthorized payments from your account.
  • Every transaction is confirmed by email.
  • eBay purchases can be insured up to $1,000 through PayPal.

NEVER allow PayPal to transfer funds directly from your bank account as a method of payment. Even though the transaction itself is secure, it will be challenging to get your bank to void the transaction if you have a problem with the purchased item. ALWAYS have PayPal use the credit card you signed up with as the method of payment. It is much easier to have your credit card company dispute a charge.

Is it Safe to Bank Online?

Online banking is more popular than ever. It’s available from any Internet connection, 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week. You can even pay your bills online, which is actually more secure than paper bills. Paper bills list your account numbers and other financial information that could be used for illegal activities. With no paper statements available, only someone with access to your online bank account can access that personal information.

Most shopping and banking websites use a transmission method called Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, or HTTPS. The regular HTTP method is normally used for day-to-day web browsing. Just like online shopping, HTTPS adds data encryption.

You can tell if HTTPS is active in two ways:

1. There will be a locked padlock at the bottom of your web browser, usually on the right side.

2. The web address of a secure website will begin with “https://” instead of “HTTP://.”

Stealing information that is encrypted at the level currently used by most banks and shops is virtually impossible. Those geeks you see in the movies hacking into the Pentagon while sipping Red Bull and eating Hot Pockets don’t exist in the real world.

Besides, online banking uses passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) that you create. Your PIN must be entered every time you make a transaction, and you can change your PIN whenever you want. Any transaction that you would undertake in person at your bank can complete online with at least the same level of security, maybe more. Any transaction except for the withdrawal of cash. But who knows what’s next? Maybe engineers will someday find a way to teleport cash to your CD (“Cash Delivery?”) drive.

Can I Share My Photos Online?

You can post your photos to several photo-sharing sites for free. Posting photos to the web is a good solution if you have many photos or share your photos with many people. Flickr is the most popular photo-sharing site. Flickr is owned by Yahoo and offers a limited free account and a Pro account. When you have a free Flickr account, you can upload two videos and 300MB worth of photos each calendar month.

The Pro account costs $24.95 a year and features:

  • Unlimited photo uploads (20MB per photo)
  • Unlimited video uploads (500MB per video)
  • Unlimited storage
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Archiving of high-resolution original images

Photobucket is another free service for photo sharing online. You can store unlimited photos and up to 500 videos in your account. Share your photos and videos by email with family and friends. Follow the albums of the people you know, and get notified whenever they add new stuff. Create prints, mugs, and other customizable gifts.

Another option for sharing your photos online is built into a program called Picasa, free from Google and is called a Web Album. Picasa is also a superior program for organizing all of your photos. Picasa is free to download, and Picasa Web Albums provides one gigabyte of free storage, equivalent to 4,000 large photos. With Picasa, you can easily publish your photos online. You can create private online photo albums to share with friends and family or public albums for the world to see.

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