31 December 2006

NET11 - Module 2: Email, Lists, Newsgroups & Chat

1. What information about a user's email, the origin of a message, and the path it took, can you glean from an email message?
An email address is in the format 'username'@'domain' and there are a few things we can learn from this. Firstly, the domain is the mail server address and can tell us the name and type of organisation the email address belongs to, for example .edu for an educational facility or .com for a commercial entity. In many cases you can extract this part of the email address and type it into the address bar of a web browser to learn more about the organisation as in many cases there will be a web site using the same domain.

The username component of the email address can sometimes provide a clue as to the context of the message. The use of a particular email address will usually be based on the situation in which it is used - for example for personal communications with friends I use my personal email address (username is based on my name or nickname), for business/work I use a business email address (username is an alias - "sales" or "info").

Examining a sender's email address can sometimes provide an indication as to whether the email is legitimate or spam. Spammers often use automated software to generate a 'from' address using random words and letters in an attempt to bypass spam filters, these can usually be quite easily detected when compared to 'legitimate' email addresses.

2. In what cases would you find it useful to use the 'cc', 'bcc' and 'reply all' functions of email?
In the case of 'cc' (carbon copy) I would find it useful where I wanted to send the same information to a group of people - for example, the minutes of a meeting at work. The 'reply all' function would be useful if I received such an email and wished to pass along further information to the same group of recipients. I would find 'bcc' (blind carbon copy) useful where my message was addressed to one particular person, but I wanted another person to see the message discreetly without the original recipient knowing - such as a communication with a client that I want my boss to see. Another common use of 'bcc' is the sharing of jokes and funny stories to all one's friends without letting them all see each other's email addresses, hiding the email addresses in this case is more a case of etiquette than discretion.

3. In what ways can you ensure that an attachment you send will be easily opened by the receiver?
Well the obvious answer is to ASK the person you intend to send the file to, since you cannot assume they run exactly the same platform/software setup. This isn't always possible though of course, so it is a good idea to be aware of the more popular file formats - RTF, PDF, JPG etc and use these in preference to more specialised formats.

Worth mentioning here is that some file formats such as PDF have only become popular because of the distribution of freely available file "viewers". PDF was a format developed by Adobe, who offer free download of the Adobe Acrobat Reader (they also made the format available for use in other programs). Microsoft have also released viewers for applications in their Office Suite, however these do not seem to enjoy the same popularity as PDF - possibly due to the ongoing development and changes of the DOC format.

4. What sorts of filters or rules do you have set up, and for what purpose?
One of the primary purposes for sorting mail with filters and rules is to aid in retrieval of information. With the quantity of information exchanged by email it is not possible to memorise everything, it is more effective to categorise information and know where and how it can be retrieved.

I have several email accounts which are used for different purposes - business, work, study, personal interests. I have all my mail forwarded to my account with Gmail which, as a web based email service offers greater convenience to me. I have several rules set up in Gmail to apply various labels to items of mail. For example, messages to my work address are labelled with the name of the company I work for, messages from a particular client are labelled with that client's name.

Another tool I use with my email is applying a flag (in Gmail it is a star) to specific messages where follow-up action is required. I can pull up a list of all my "starred" messages like a "to do" list and "un-star" them when I have completed the required task.

5. How have you organised the folder structure of your email and why?
As mentioned above, I use Gmail which has its own method for storing mail without using folders, mail can be categorised with labels and is retrieved through filtered searches. One advantage to this method over using folders is it is possible to assign more than one label to a message if it fits into more than one category.

Over time I have used several email clients - Pegasus, Eudora, Outlook, Outlook Express, where I used folders similarly to how I now use labels with Gmail. One of the reasons I switched to a webmail system is the number of occasions I have lost email archives due to a software or hardware failure. With Gmail my archives are stored on the web and accessed from any computer (I also have a backup in Outlook - just in case Gmail breaks!)

There are two main concerns with using a web based email service. Firstly is the risk of identity theft, if some nasty person guesses my password, logs in and "steals" my account. Regular, obscure password changes help guard against that. Secondly is the possibility that the service provider may experience technical problems or go out of business (I'm taking a calculated risk with Gmail!)

There are pros and cons with both types of email access but I think the important thing is to be aware of these and have a contingency plan.

1. What are the pros and cons of email lists versus discussion boards?
Of the two my greater preference is for discussion boards. My main gripe with email lists is the format - whether I subscribe to receive posts individually or compiled in a daily digest, opening each email to read the contents is tiresome; and might be particularly so for anyone who processes a high volume of incoming mail each day.

On the other hand, an email message is more of a "keeper" if it contains something important or useful, it can be filed or labelled for later retrieval.

Threads in an email lists have a greater tendency to lose continuity, since there is a lot of screen switching as each email post is opened to be read. Additionally poor quoting and short replies to a thread sometimes make little sense, particularly if you've started reading the thread halfway.

On the other hand, the discussion board displays all the posts on a single page (or sometimes if the thread is long, multiple hyperlinked pages); it is easier to locate the first post in a thread and scroll down the screen to read through its entire contents.

Email lists (particularly moderated ones) seem to have a tendency to remain more on topic than discussion boards. I think this has a lot to do with the format - emails versus posts on a web page. Email lists seem to be a lot more specialised whereas discussion boards cover a broader area, and individual threads seem more prone to posts that are off-topic.

2. Are there certain kinds of communication or purposes more suited to one than the other?
Where the content is useful, relevant to work or studies and well-moderated to exclude junk mail I think mailing lists are a good way of disseminating information and keeping up to date with changes in an industry or study.

Discussion boards, particularly busy ones are more suited to less formal communication - brainstorming, and open discussion. The format is more conducive to conversation.

These have many similarities to email lists, in fact with many of the lists and newsgroups I encountered it was difficult to see the difference - particularly since both are now commonly accessed via the web as well as the traditional mail and news reader clients.

When searching through the newsgroups for topics that interested me it was offputting to encounter so much spam and junk. I finally joined a group that had very restricted access - I had to apply to join by telling a little about myself and my reasons for being there. I was accepted, and this was my first post:
From: "Liss"
To: "Messy Mamas"
Subject: Girl from Oz
Date: Mon, 08 Jan 2007 04:54:03 -0000
Message-ID: <1168232043.051078.238440@11g2000cwr.googlegroups.com>
User-Agent: G2/1.0
X-HTTP-UserAgent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv: Gecko/20061206 Firefox/,gzip(gfe),gzip(gfe)
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"

Hi my name is Liss and I'm from Australia. This looks like a lovely, friendly, chatty place and I look forward to getting to know the other members here.

As it says in my bio I'm 37 years of age, married to Herman and not a mommy (we say "mummy" in Australia). I work from home for an internet provider company and I am also studying part time at university. I am very interested in all things internet, and one of the reasons I joined this newsgroup was to help meet a requirement for the course I'm currently doing. Our task was to learn more about how newsgroups work, by joining a group that interested us personally.

I am probably not the most well organised housewife in the world. Where I fall down most is planning and shopping for meals. I never seem to remember to write a list and as a result my pantry is crammed full of canned tuna, tomatoes and crackers. Hopefully some of the other girls here will be able to give me some tips :-)

Best wishes,

The group I joined "Messy Mamas" is part of Googlegroups and is a group of housewives (mostly from the US) trying to bring order to their homes! I also subscribed to some other groups including aus.culture.true-blue and aus.tv. These last two use the traditional hierarchical form of address in their name.

Googlegroups has introduced some good features to newsgroups; one of these is in the threading of posts, there is a flag that lets you know if the subject has changed (it is still part of the same thread but has branched off to a related topic).

I subscribed to many newsgroups in my early days on the internet, over ten years ago. I have since graduated to forums and instant messaging, and think of newsgroups as "old hat" - but I like the way Googlegroups has "webified" them.

I've used ICQ off and on for many years. It is a very useful tool at work, particularly where telecommuting is involved. It can be tempting to carry on chatting and gets counter-productive sometimes, so I tend not to use it a great deal.

I've added a few NET11 students to my chat list and had a chat with Melissa G on the weekend. One thing we commented on was the practice of using nicknames - made it difficult to know who you were chatting to (my nickname is "mejane"). One of the main reasons I use a nickname is for privacy, only people I choose to tell know who I am.

I participated in a WebCT chat also and it was quite pleasant to chat to the other students and our tutor about the course and other things - it broke the ice.

As a communication tool online chat definitely has its uses. As a means to disseminate information it is probably not as effective, due to its informal nature.

This form of chat is reminiscent of Telnet in that it is command line based, it doesn't have the same "bells and whistles" and intuitive interface of other chat clients like ICQ or Messenger. It has fewer tools also - for example there is no contact list management. IRC, like Telnet is an important internet application but rather a relic of the past in terms of client use.

2 December 2006

NET11 - Module 1: Telnet, FTP & Internet Tools

I am familiar with telnet from managing web sites hosted on a Linux/Apache server platform. Not only is it useful for performing various file management functions, it is also a very quick way to make small changes to web pages - directly on the server instead of transferring files back and forth between server and client. To do this I use a simple little text editor tool residing on the server called Pico. The telnet client I have used in the past is called Putty, but for the purposes of this exercise I used Windows' built-in client.

Compared to search on a web page, the command interface of telnet is more awkward to navigate, and the appearance is less 'friendly', but the server response time seems faster. It was fascinating to watch the Star Wars 'movie' over telnet, probably the most creative use of telnet and ascii I have encountered.

FTP - File Transfer Protocol
My favourite client at the moment is Filezilla. The thing I have always liked about windows-based FTP clients is their similarity to Windows Explorer and the ability to 'drag and drop' files. The default set up for most FTP clients is to display local files on one side of the window and remote files on the other side, making it very easy to compare folder contents and files.

Internet Tools
I began with a traceroute from All Net Tools, a server based in the United States which reached Curtin in 18 hops in an average of 305.55ms.

Results from US server 18 hops; average 305.55ms

I then performed a traceroute from an Indonesian server which reached the Curtin server in 23 hops with an average of 445ms.

I compared these results with a traceroute performed from my own internet connection in Queensland and reached the Curtin server in 14 hops, and an average of 110ms. The best result overall was a trace from the Telstra server, reaching Curtin in 13 hops in an average of 43.98ms.

Results from Telstra server 13 hops; 43.98ms

What do my results tell me? My connection and the Telstra server are both located in Australia, yet Telstra reached the Curtin server at more than twice the speed. From the international tests, although Indonesia is geographically closer to Australia than the United States, it produced a slower result indicating that geographical location is not a decisive factor in traceroute results. Telstra is the largest network in Australia and is the backbone to many smaller networks including my internet provider, so it is possible the size of a network influences traceroute results.

I then used the Windows built-in Ping utility to contact webct.curtin.edu.au as suggested in the exercise. Request timed out! I tried pinging curtin.edu.au and and had a better result, the average round trip time was 110ms (same as my traceroute). I am aware that some servers block ping to prevent DOS (denial of service) attacks; this could be what is occurring with the WebCT server.