Internet Hints and Tips

"In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn."

-- Tarzan, "Son of Man"

 

See also: AARP Gide to Internet

Bookmark Liberally --  You'll never find it again.
 

The Web is a maze, and not all resources are well-labeled.  Some are mis-labeled.  The links you followed to reach that site may change.  Bookmark not only content, but also lists of links.  People who found Good Stuff are likely to find more Good Stuff. Lists of links by a sane individual are much more reliable than search engines.

Use Your "Back" Button And History List

Every browser has a "back" button to retrace your step ( like leaving a trail of bread crumbs ).
If you found one neat item down that path, whoever linked you to it may know of others -- so backtrack and mark the trail.
 
The "History" button lists sites you forgot to bookmark recently.  Your browser may also have a drop-down "History" command with a mch longer list, which you can set to go back years. The disk space required is negligible.

Save Content --  It may not be there when you come back

A large percentage of Web pages are gone after a year or less, or they've moved with no forwarding address.  The majority of people aren't happy with their current Internet provider, and change within a year. Newspapers and magazine sites typically change their free articles every few days or weeks. Usenet articles expire in about 3 days.
 
Don't worry, you won't fill up your large hard drive, unless you buy large games or other bloatware.  A 2-gig space on your hard drive can hold about 1,000 books the size of a large dictionary -- such as the facts needed to defend your position, whatever it is.

Be Careful HOW You Save Content.

If you just hit File / Save in your browser, you only get the top page, without pictures.  You won't even know where you got it.  If you want the page in its original form with logos and whatnot, either print it out or do an Edit Page and save to a separate directory.
 
Watch out for tricky formats.  Your browser may have a plugin for YoYo 6.0,  but six months from now will you know how to read that file ?
 
Most text on the Web is in ".HTML" files, which is what you get when you File / Save. You can't read these in your word processor, most likely. You can usually just double-click on the saved file to view it in your Web browser ( which doesn't need to be online ).
 
If you need to use Web text in your word processor, cut-and paste it from your Web browser.

If you collect stray facts here and there, cut-and-paste them into a clipping file in your word processor. That way you can always keyword-search your entire pile of clippings using just the Start / Find feature of Windows, even if you have no idea where you put it.  This is a very useful alternative to being organized, since you can always go back and organize your stuff in oh, say, 50 years.

A Web browser will normally not save Web pages along with their images, diagrams or whatever. . To do that, load the desired Web page into your browser's built-in page editor, which CAN save pictures with text. Normally you can only save one Web page at a time -- if you also want the pages it links to, you have to save those separately. That can be gotten around with search assistant software ( see below ).

You're Our Eye In The Sky

Whenever you find a really great site, let your linkmaster know. After you lose prize fine link, you can come back here and find it.
 
Meanwhile, other skeptics can swarm all over your finds and everything they knew, finding nooks and crannies in the Web you never knew existed.
 
 Together we CAN "drink from a firehose", i.e. deal with the vast ocean of information and blaze trails through the hype.
 
Pass addresses around in email.  Better still, post your own collection on your own page, so we can link to it.  That's the name of the game, cross-linking sanity --  and stirring up interest in topics you happen to think need skepticism.

Watch Out For Trolls

You will occasionally see statements so idiotic that you just HAVE to respond to them.  These are called trolls, as in trolling for responses.  This is similar to talk TV, which is why you migrated to the computer.

Remember That Most Skepticism Isn't Labeled As Such

One way to preserve and nurture your sanity is to locate semi-reliable news and information sources.  Rarest of all are sightings of objective journalists who aren't told what to write.

Don't Dismiss Ineptly Designed Websites

What you see is not necessarily what you get when designing a web page, even with visual tools.  The internal language of Web pages, is still awkward and breaks easily.  Hence the occasional godawful colors, mangled paragraphs etc.  What's important is whether the poster knows his or her content, not whether he/she knows Web foibles.

Reverse Searching

When you find a really neat site, you can sometimes  'reverse search' to find sites discriminating enough to link to it  --  then rummage those collector sites for their OTHER neat finds.  Your favorite search engine may allow you to type in a Web address, to find other sites mentioning that Web address.
 
Be aware though that no search engine can cover the entire Web, and some do a better job than others.
 
It takes months for a search engine to traverse most of the Web, and it may miss some of the Web-hosting systems.  Search engines also vary in their depth-of-search.  Search engines index  the top page of each website they encounter, but typically  don't scan the sub-pages beneath.

Search Assistant Software, Whackers, and Monitors

If you do a lot of Web searching, or want to do thorough searches, consider assistive software.
 
A search assistant submits your query to multiple search engines simultaneously, typica;lly an entire category of search engines.  It merges the results into a browse-able list, getting rid of duplicates and SOME of the ads.
 
A 'whacking' utility downloads collections of Web pages for you, and has it ready when you want to look at it.  Some can also monitor a list of sites, alerting you to any changes.  You can schedule downloads  to run at off-peak  times.  This saved you time and connect charges.  If you have an unlimited-use  Internet account ( which typically costs $7 per month more ), you can let these utilities run for hours.
 
Such tools include Symantec's Internet Fast Find, Blue Squirrel's Web Seeker and Web Whacker, Quarterdeck Web Compass, and FirstFloor Smart Bookmarks (which is old but works ).  All of the above products are somewhat quirky.  By the time you read this there may be better ones.  Check the product reviews at http://www.pcworld.com, which also tells you where to get the product and/or trial versions, and whether there are freeware alternatives.  ( Don't try EVERY piece of shareware out there, since it may not install completely, and can mess up Windows with memory-eating drivers, buggy DLLs and such ).  The same is true of browsers  --  install plug-ins only as you need them.  Any site that needs a plug-in will generally have a link to it.
 
If you read high-volume newsgroups, consider a newsreader with flake-filtering capabilities, such as Forte Agent.  If you subscribe to public mailing lists, consider a flake-filtering mailer such as Eudora Pro.
 
You can set the filters to flush buzz phrases  like "hot", "win", "be your own", "own your own", "barely legal,  white supremacist lingo, or resident flake i.d's.

Don't Underestinate Ad-Supported Sites

Don't assume that you have to spend money to get good reading matter.  Many ad-supported sites are large and well-equipped.   Advertisers don't care whether you're staring at a TV set or staring at a monitor.  The difference is, you can pick which stories to read.  Sites such as CNN and PBS carry a great deal of supplemental information, and links to related stories.  You'll find such sites  listed here under "News" and "Publications".

Use Your Online Public Library

Ask if your local public library provides online information services.  Many libraries subscribe to commercial business and other information services, which are only available to library cardholders for copyright reasons.  You may find you can rummage ABI Business Information, or search  back-issues of various magazines and so on.

Use the Electronic News-Stand

The ENS carries sample issues of a great many magazines and news-papers (which happen to be the current issues ).    This is particularly useful for checking out garbled versions of a story, or are looking for factual pubs to subscribe to.

Get What You Want Through Positive Feedback

When you see something you like online, say so.  The person who put it there may have more.  Since few people take time to write a note, your feedback may be the only input that person gets.
You don't want rational people saying "What's the use -- nobody's out there."  Once people realize there are others out there with critical faculties, they go looking for them, which is a Very Good Thing, exceeded only by a dues-paying member.

'Sweep' For Content

You don't have to read everything as you come to it, and keep doing that until the trail peters out. That's tiring, and makes it harder to budget your time.
 
Instead, you can range about like a bloodhound looking for trails, and just bookmark several interesting items on the way past.  Some days you may feel like reading what you've marked.  Other days you may feel like exploring, or follow a side trail,  Always leave a 'trail of breadcrubmbs' with bookmarks.
 
The trick is to be loosely organized, like the Web itself.  Surfing is best done with the mind and body relaxed, open to the tingles of skepticism that accompany meetings of minds, however dissimilar.  This is called "Zen in the art of wading through BS", which illustrates the last point, namely humor.  Those who are deadly serious about irrational beliefs are welcomed to stress themselves out -- hopefully we'll outlive them.
 
 
 Participation Tips

 
Keep Your Eye On The Reader

The online public is rarely swayed by epic battles with extremists.  Nobody stops to watch a fight or a pissing contest on the information highway, except perhaps a few dimwits. Most people use their flake filters, or nuke degenerate threads and start a new one.  Godwin's Rule states that a discussion is considered dead whenever sonebody gets called a Nazi, because it's downhill from there. Such threads continue to serve as roach hotels.
 
A few people root for the big egos, but you win by holding the reader's interest, by speaking to the reader who's actually receptive, not the idiot who isn't.  Most readers don't care who wins.  They're hoping for something that will stimulate them more than repetitive orthodoxy.
 
Some readers like material that makes them think.  They collect it, they link to it on their websites, they discuss it on various forums.  This is the readership that propagates rationality, the target audience and the seedbed of skepticism.  Tune to THAT audience when you read or write, and tune out the wasteland.  The popular culture is not rational as a whole, but has some respect for rationally courteous people, especially when dealing with issues that make sense only in the light of reason.  The skeptic develops the patience of a teacher, to avoid going nuts.
 
The mere presence of skeptics in a forum conveys the certainty that valid ideas need not be popular, and never have been.  That one fact  has value to people who value their own individuality.  Yet quiet confidence in rationality, and the quiet detachment of rationality, are perhaps best taught by example.

Develop A Thick Skin

Those who tarry long in cyberspace end up not giving a hoot what other people think -- or for that matter whether they think.  They develop a certain fearlessness about rejection:  "That's what I think, take it or leave it  --  or change my mind with some semblance of a fact."  That's not specific to skeptics --  other netizens get used to not thinking alike.  Skepticism is more accepted in cyberspace than elsewhere, due to the vastly larger crocks that punctuate the landscape.  Sacred cows often end up dinner.  The Net as a whole is somewhat ill-mannered, particularly Usenet, which provides a degree of  cover for blunt skepticism.  You can get away with more of it, though I wouldn't set up a debunking outpost on the white supremacy newsgroups. 
 
You can also get away with long, factual  posts  -- just put a twist in there, an occasional nugget, maybe a juicy quote.  At the bottom of every cereal box should be a Zinger.

Don't let anyone tell you that thorough factual analysis is inappropriate or uncool, even though it makes the arm-wavers nervous.  Net norms are a myth, and totally unenforceable.  We skeptics have as much right to the Net as anybody else.  There are far worse things than skeptics such as spammers.



"Only with those who are different can we truly belong.
--  Little Man Tate


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