Internet Primer

Computers World Wide Web Netiquette


Most colleges and universities have computers available to students in labs or in the library. These are often hooked up to the Internet, and there is probably a knowledgeable person nearby to help you log on and answer any questions. If you want to set up your own personal computer system with Internet access, you'll need the following equipment:

  • a computer
  • a modem
  • a telephone line
  • an Internet Service Provider (ISP)



More and more students these days are choosing to purchase their own personal computer. There are many considerations to keep in mind when buying a computer; cost is certainly a big one for most students. You’ll need to decide how important different features, several of which are explained below, are for you and your needs.

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The central processing unit (CPU) is the brain of the computer and its speed determines how fast the computer can process information. The two most important features to notice about the CPU are the type of processor, such as the Pentium processor, and its clock speed. The clock speed is measured in megahertz (MHz). A computer listed as a "300 MHz Pentium II" indicates that the processor is running at 300MHz. These two features determine, in large part, both the speed and the cost of a computer.

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Random access memory (RAM) functions as a computer’s short-term memory, or working storage space. RAM is measured in megabytes (MB, millions of bytes) and is usually expandable. Modern software requires quite a bit of RAM to operate, especially if you want to use more than one software application at a time. An "insufficient memory" message probably means your computer is running out of RAM and you’ll need to close some applications to continue. The amount of RAM on new computers is rapidly expanding, and most sold as of this writing have at least 32 or 64 MB. If you are thinking of buying an older used computer, consider upgrading its RAM to expand its capabilities.

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Hard Disk Drive

The permanent long-term storage area on a computer is the hard disk drive. This is where most of your software applications and documents live. The capacity of modern hard drives is measured in gigabytes (GB, trillions of bytes). Software these days takes up enormous space on hard drives, and if you plan to work with video clips or sound files, you will need an especially large hard disk. You can conserve hard disk space by storing some applications or files on floppy diskettes or tapes, or by compressing files, but many people find this inconvenient. If you are buying a new computer, you probably need at least 2 GB of hard disk storage.

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Floppy Drive and CD-ROM Drive

Most computers sold now have a floppy drive for 3 1/2 inch diskettes. The CD-ROM drive allows you to access data stored on CD-ROMs, which can store the data equivalent of 450 3 1/2 inch diskettes. Since CD-ROMs are read-only, you can’t store your own data on them; you should buy a computer with both floppy and CD- ROM drives.

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A modem is a piece of equipment that changes the information that a computer works with into the kind of information that can be passed over the telephone lines. It is what allows your computer to "talk" to other computers around the world. It can be an external box or an internal card that is placed in the hard drive. Most new computers now come with built-in modems.

To use your modem, you will need a telephone line. You can use your regular telephone line which will cause a busy signal when you are online, or you can get a "dedicated line,"a separate phone line just for Internet access. Universities often have banks of modems accessible through the same number so when you call the university your call will be directed to the next available modem.

Modems come in different speeds. The speed of a modem determines how quickly you can download or access information from the Internet. As of this writing, the most widely used speed is 56K; however, modems are continually getting faster, and there is now the option for high speed connections such as cable modems. If you are on campus, check to see if your dorm room is outfitted with Ethernet port so you can plug directly into the university's network without having to use a dial-up connection.

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Hooking Up to the Internet

Most colleges and universities provide Internet access to their students and faculty at an attractive cost, and if you have access to this you should probably use it. If you need to hook up a computer to the Internet on your own, you must go through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). ISPs are companies that run the computers that enable you to get onto the Net; these computers are called servers. It works like this: when you log on to the Net your modem dials your ISP. When the modem is connected to the ISP, it actually connects to their modem on their computer (the computer at the ISP is called the server). The best- known ISPs are national ones like America Online and Compuserve. But there are many smaller ISPs out there as well.

There are a few considerations to keep in mind in choosing among the many ISPs:

  • Cost—Do they have a flat fee for unlimited Internet time each month, or will they charge you for each minute you are online? Some services have several different plans you can choose from; the best one for you depends on how much time you spend online each month. Be sure to shop around and find an ISP that offers the best rate plan for you.
  • Traffic—Some ISPs get a lot of traffic and it can be difficult to get online (particularly the larger, national companies). Find out the "dial up" number (the number your modem calls to link up) of an ISP and call it at different times during the day to see if it's busy.
  • Service—Some ISPs are courteous and prompt in answering customer questions and complaints; others have trouble in this area. Ask your friends and acquaintances for recommendations of ISPs that have good service.

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Electronic Mail (E-mail)

E-mail is a way of transmitting messages across a phone line to a specified other person's computer. To send or receive e-mail you must have a program called a mail browser (some common ones are Eudora and Microsoft Mail) and an e-mail account. When you send an e-mail to someone, you type in their e-mail address in the space provided. E-mail addresses consist of the individual user's name or identification, the @ symbol, and the name of their server and domain: username@servername.domainname.

After writing your message in the "body" of the e-mail, you can send it. The message is transmitted across phone lines to the recipient server which "sorts" the mail and sends it to the individual's e-mail address.

E-mail is generally somewhat informal and not very lengthy. E-mail can be used for everything from sending out memos, keeping up with friends and relatives, telecommuting, and exchanging documents and files.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about using e-mail:

  • Try to check your mail every day, especially if you belong to a mailing list. It's amazing how quickly your "mailbox" can fill up with messages.
  • Know your netiquette.
  • Don't send anything too confidential or sensitive over e-mail; e-mail is easily accessed by others.
  • Proofread your e-mail before you send it.

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World Wide Web (WWW)

Since 1992, when the World Wide Web was first launched, it has exploded into mainstream culture. For many people, the Internet has become synonymous with the Web. The Web is a gold mine of information for psychology students and faculty, and more is being added every day. As technology becomes more sophisticated, Web sites are starting to feature animation, video, and sound.

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To get to the World Wide Web you have to have a computer program called a Web browser. Some of the more well-known and popular Web browsers are Netscape and Microsoft Internet Explorer. You can purchase a browser from a computer store, get one from your ISP, or download one from the Web itself. To download the latest version of Netscape for academic use, go to Netscape’s Home Page ( Once you are logged on to the Internet, you simply click to open the browser and you are ready to surf the Net.

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Web Addresses

The Web is made up of millions of Web sites (or Web pages). Each Web site has an address, known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator). A typical URL looks like this: This is the address for the McGraw-Hill Web site. To get to any Web site, all you have to do is type in the URL in your Web browser.

You can analyze a Web site address to figure out who it belongs to and what they do.

  • "http" stands for HyperText Transport Protocol; it is the language of the Web.
  • generally you will see "www" which tells the server that we want to get our information from the World Wide Web.
  • the last two parts of the address are called the domain name. The "domain" indicates what kind of site it is. In McGraw-Hill’s case, it is ".com" (pronounced "dot-com"), which stands for "commercial." Other domains you will probably come across include: ".edu" = education, ".org" = organization, and ".gov" = government. When you read the address for a Web site out loud, remember that every "." is pronounced "dot."

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Surfing the Web

A key concept to understand in surfing the Web is "links." Links are highlighted words or images on a Web page that you can click on to go to other pages. Once you find a topic that interests you, it is easy to explore just by clicking on links. Keep in mind that some links will connect you to another page by the same organization; others will take you to another site completely.

A person or organization's Web site usually consists of many pages. The first page you come to when you type in a URL is called the home page. This page usually contains a menu for the entire site and lets you know something about the site's creators and purpose. The home page contains links to other pages within that site, and often to other sites of interest. With most browsers you can go back to a previous link by clicking a button that says "Go Back." You will not get "stuck" someplace you don't want to be, so don't be shy about exploring links.

Web sites can be developed by any person or organization on any topic. The amount of information available on the Web today is staggering and continues to grow. You can utilize the Web for general research, as an educational tool, as a shopping mall, to find a long lost friend, get a new job, or answer most any question you might have; you are limited only by your imagination.

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Search Engines

Now that you have a basic idea of the workings of the WWW, how do you go about finding Web sites that may interest you? A good starting point is to use one of the popular directories on the Web called search engines. A search engine allows you to type in keywords on the topic that you are interested in. It then retrieves any sites that contain that word.

Some of the larger and more popular search engines are:

To use a search engine, type in one of the addresses listed above. When the home page for that site comes up you will notice a "search" box in which you can type a key word or phrase. The search engine will then bring up as a list of sites all the information that it has available on that topic. Sometimes you will need to narrow your search; for example, if you type "psychology," you may have hundreds or thousands of site listings returned. On the other hand, if you are too specific, you may not have any sites returned as a result of your inquiry. This does not necessarily mean that no sites exist.

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Once you find a Web site you will want to return to in the future, you can "bookmark" it. To bookmark a site, go to that site. After it has finished loading, choose "bookmark" from your menu bar and your browser will instantly record the address to that site in your bookmark folder. Anytime you want to return to that site, you simply open the bookmark folder and click on the title of that Web site. Different ISPs offer different methods for bookmarking sites. America Online, for example, uses a system called "favorite places" that works similarly.

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Tips for Using the World Wide Web

  • Be patient. Accessing Web sites can take time, depending on how elaborate the site is, how fast your modem can download the information, and what time of day you might be surfing. You can speed things up a bit by turning off the "auto load image" option in your browser.
  • Keep in mind that "hiccups" can occur in the transfer process. Sometimes the server of the Web site you are trying to reach may be down, there may be a lot of activity on that site, or there may be line noise. Just try again to load the Web site, or try again later. Because the Web is so dynamic, sites and links change every day. You might find some links on Web pages that go nowhere because the link has moved their pages to a new server or address.
  • Remember that while the Web is a great source of information, not everything on it is true. It is up to you to evaluate the information you get from the Web: see the section on Thinking Critically about Psychology Information on the Internet.

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FTP, Gopher, and Telnet

FTP stands for file transfer protocol. FTP sites are software repositories from which you can download shareware software, demos, images, text, sound, and anything else that can be transmitted via the Internet. You can access FTP sites from the Web the same way you would enter any URL (FTP addresses begin with ftp://). Most FTP sites support anonymous FTP, which means that anyone can log on to the site with the user name "anonymous," enter their own e-mail address as the password, then download whatever files interest them. If you download materials from FTP be sure to scan them with antiviral software to be sure they are clean, or you could end up infecting your hard drive with a nasty computer virus.

Before the World Wide Web, gopher was a popular way of storing information on the Internet. Gopher was developed at the University of Minnesota and is named for their mascot. Gopher sites are being retired as their contents are moved onto the Web, but many valuable ones still exist containing psychology-related information. Again, you can enter the URL for a gopher site (usually beginning gopher://) the same way you would for a Web site. You’ll see a text-only menu that you can navigate just like a Web site.

Telnet enables you to log on to another host computer to run one of its computers or to access information from it. You can telnet to other hosts from most Web browsers if you have telnet software configured to work with your browser.

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Mailing Lists

Mailing lists (or listservs) are electronic mailing discussion groups that take place through e-mail. They are groups of people who "get together" online to discuss a specific topic. For psychology students, mailing lists offer a way to participate in lively discussions, stay up on current research, or find out answers to burning questions. There are mailing lists on nearly every topic imaginable. Here's how it works:

  • You find out about a mailing list dealing with a subject you are interested in discussing with others (e.g., choosing your major).
  • In order to get involved in a discussion group, you have to subscribe to it. To subscribe, you send an e-mail to that mailing list's listserv with the word "subscribe" in the subject line and in the main body of the text. Also include your e-mail address.
  • Usually, the listserv will then subscribe you to the list and send you instructions on how to post to the group. Posting means that you send out a comment to the entire mailing list that you have subscribed to.
  • Every time any member posts to the listserv, all the subscribers get that posting as an e-mail message in their mailbox.
  • Once you have subscribed you will begin to receive e-mail messages from the mailing list. Be careful though, some discussion groups have a large following and you may find your mailbox filling up faster than you can read the messages.

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Newsgroups, like mailing lists, are a way of discussing topics over the Internet with other people who share the same interests. However, newsgroups take place on an entirely different "network" called Usenet.

Usenet is composed of thousands of discussion areas called newsgroups. Individual comments that people make to one another on a newsgroup are called articles. You "post an article" when you want to make a comment. The lines of discussion within a newsgroup are called threads. To read the discussions on any newsgroup you must have a software program called a newsreader.

Generally, your ISP will provide you with a newsreader program as part of the software package. When you open the newsreader it should download any new newsgroups that have been added. You can look through the entire list and choose which newsgroups interest you. When you find one of interest, you just open it up and begin reading the articles.

Newsgroup addresses are called hierarchies. Listed below are some of the standard hierarchies with an example of each. There are many other categories, some of which are from foreign countries.

  • alt—groups generally alternative in nature (e.g.,, alt.alien.visitors) bionet - groups discussing biology and biological sciences (e.g., bionet.general, bionet.immunology)
  • comp—groups discussing computer or computer science issues (e.g., comp.infosystems) misc - groups that don't fit into other categories (e.g.,, news - groups about Usenet itself (e.g., news.groups)
  • rec—groups discussing hobbies, sports, music, and art (e.g.,, rec.humor) sci - groups discussing subjects related to science and scientific research (e.g.,, sci.psychology)
  • soc—groups discussing social issues including politics, social programs, etc. (e.g., soc.culture,
  • talk—public debating forums on controversial issues (e.g., talk.abortion, talk.religion)

Before you make a posting to a newsgroup, you may want to lurk for awhile, that is, read the discussion without contributing your own posting. Lurking will give you a sense of the kinds of postings that are appropriate for that newsgroup and what the newsgroup culture is like.

Newsgroups may be frequented by people from all over the world, including some experts in the field. They can be a great source of current information and of community. For example, a person suffering from a relatively rare disorder may not know anyone else with the same problems and concerns on campus or in town, but he or she can frequent a newsgroup specifically for people with that disorder to learn about other peoples' experiences, the latest treatments, and just to commiserate. But, as always, be aware that not everything posted to a newsgroup is necessarily true; you must be a critical thinker.

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Netiquette is simply the etiquette of the Internet. Because no one owns or polices the Internet, it is especially important that all users take responsibility for keeping communications civilized. Remember that the written communications of the Internet cannot convey meanings by voice inflection or body language, and it's easy to be misinterpreted.

Here are some good netiquette principles to keep in mind:

  • Don't assume your correspondents know you are kidding, or being sarcastic, or anything else.
  • Don't be too harsh or judgmental with those you disagree with. Don't use all capital letters; this may be interpreted as SCREAMING. Don't gossip or spread rumors on the Internet. This is a good way to get into trouble. Do proofread your messages before you send them.
  • Do be kind and thoughtful in your correspondence.
  • Do be honest; if you put misinformation onto the Net, it could go to thousands of people.
  • Do reply quickly to your correspondents.
  • Do make messages and postings brief and to the point.

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If you frequent the Net, and in particular newsgroups, you may get "flamed" or see someone else get flamed. Flaming is a hostile response that generally occurs as a result of a disagreement, and is meant to humiliate and upset the target. Often it is a direct personal attack. Just be forewarned and try not to stoop to that level.

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Emoticons are a fun way to express your feelings in electronic communication. They are a series of keystrokes and symbols that make a sideways picture. Emoticons can communicate to your reader that you are joking, disgusted, flirting, or sad--emotions that are otherwise hard to express in typewritten communication. Here are some examples:

  • :-) this is the most common emoticon, known as a "smiley"
  • ;-) here is the smiley, winking
  • :-p here is the smiley, sticking out it's tongue
  • (:^) here is a bald smiley
  • :-( this is a sad smiley

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