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The Computer Corner

COMPUTERS

By Charles Miller

A friend of mine told me a joke that made me laugh out loud: All automobiles today are equipped with emergency flashers (also known as I-can-park-anywhere-I-wanta-park lights), but that was not the joke. The joke was that someone asked their mechanic, “Did you fix my flashers, and do they work now?” The answer was, “Yes, no, yes, no, yes, no, yes, no, yes, no, yes, no….”

That answer is perfectly correct for the question, “Is the Internet working now?” The reason for this is that the Internet uses and has always used a “best-effort” approach for connections. Best-effort describes a network system in which there is no continuing connection and no guarantee that connections can be made or that data is delivered. Depending on current traffic loads, latency, and packet loss, your Internet connectivity is constantly being broken and reconnected. On, off, on, off, on, off, on, off.

The Internet works exactly the same way as the post office, which also uses best-effort delivery. The delivery of mail is not scheduled in advance. Sometimes it is delayed or lost, and the sender is not informed if a letter has been delivered successfully or not. But in spite of this, most mail actually does get delivered.

The Internet’s implementation of best-effort was built into the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) in such a way so that lost or corrupted connections attempt to self-correct. When data packets are lost or a connection is broken, your computer, tablet, or smartphone will automatically attempt to re-establish the connection and automatically resend any lost data packets. This can actually be happening every minute but is something the user rarely notices.

When your connection to the Internet fails—and yours does fail hundreds or thousands of times every day—it usually self-corrects in a matter of seconds. It is when the connection is not able to self-correct quickly that the user notices the outage. The point of failure could be your computer, tablet, or phone. Or it could be your Local Area Network inside your house. If your problem is not inside your house, then your Internet Service Provider (ISP) might be having problems. Finally, and most commonly, the problem is found to be further down the line of the connection, in California or Chicago or London or Tokyo.

Far too many people wrongly rush to blame their ISP for all Internet connectivity issues. This leads to a lot of frustration on both sides because many outages are not local. This is why it is so important for all Internet users to learn some basic troubleshooting.

Search online for “how to use trace route” (without the quotes) to find hundreds of websites, tutorials, and videos explaining how to determine the location of a connection failure. Learn how to do this test. If you do this, you can expect to have a better online experience than the people who just complain without knowing where their problem is.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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