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Computers

Internet access from & to McMaster

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From McMaster

Computers within McMaster are connected through a local network. McMaster's local network connects to the Internet through a service run by CIS. By default, no computer on McMaster's local network has access to the Internet. Individual computers are allowed access only upon bureaucratic request. The lab's general-purpose computers have access to the Internet, the experimental ones do not.

From home

To connect to the Internet you will need an Internet service provider (ISP). One connection to the Internet can service several computers simultaneously, even a telephone connection, if you have an appropriate router.

Some ISPs are more reliable than others. There is no way to measure the reliability of an ISP but it is possible to look for attitudes and structures that encourage problems. Here are some things to consider:

  • Some ISPs deny access to web pages based on their content. We know a high-school biology teacher whose school board's Internet service would not allow her to read any pages discussing the sexual reproduction of the fruit fly. Content filtering is a "feature" to avoid.

  • Many ISPs filter e-mail for spam based on their content. With such a service you may be spared pornographic offers like, "John, I just found a box of old plumbing fittings that I can give you for free but they aren't sorted by size or sex and they're a little rusty, so you'll need to clean them up before screwing them together." Since john, free, sex and screwing are in the same sentence, such a message could easily be to be identified through a content-analysis as spam. It is one thing for an ISP to flag messages as looking like spam but it is quite another thing for the ISP to throw them away. (NB: Whatever ISP you use at home, you might want to use UnivMail for your e-mail. Among its other benefits, UnivMail provides sensible tools to filter spam.)

  • ISPs offer a standardized service that is based on adherence to formal Internet standards. To the extent that an ISP does not concern itself with formal standards, you are likely to have problems. A reasonable indicator of the technical care or carelessness of a company that sells web services might be its own web page. To see whether a web page has valid code or is riddled with errors, go to <http://validator.w3.org/>, enter the URL in the first box and click on the button next to it.

  • The most reliable servers on the Internet are run on some form of unix (e.g., AIX, BSD, Linux, MacOSX, Solaris). Windows-based services are likely to be less reliable than unix-based services. To determine the operating system of an ISP, enter its URL in <www.netcraft.com/?host>.

  • A local ISP will usually be faster than a distant one. A national service can be convenient when travelling with a laptop but is likely to be slower than a local service and will offer no advantage from an Internet café.

Cable and ADSL (often called DSL) are the most common high-speed services. Cable service comes through the wire that carries cable television; ADSL comes through ordinary telephone lines. Cable ought to be faster but its speed can vary greatly, depending upon how the cable company has configured its operation. The speed of ADSL will depend on the length and noise of the telephone wires between your house and Bell Canada's equipment. You have no choice of cable company but any company can provide ADSL service. (ADSL service is independent of your telephone service: the ADSL service pays Bell Canada for the use of their lines.)

Either cable or ADSL will require a special modem. These modems have become standardized, so it may make more sense to buy one from a discount house than to pay a monthly rental. If you buy one, you might consider searching for a model that (a) is not installed inside your computer but stands alone, (b) connects to an ethernet port rather than a USB port, (c) can serve as a router, thus allowing several computers to share one Internet connection, and (d) does not require special software to configure it as a router but will allow itself to be configured from a web browser.

McMaster's virtual private network

Many computers at McMaster require access from McMaster's private local-area network on campus. To connect to these computers from home, you need to go through a special computer on campus that will connect you to the campus network as though you were a part of it. You will then be joined to McMaster through a virtual private network (VPN). From a Macintosh this connection is easy to set up. First you will need an account with UTS (see "Obtaining a Login Account" on www.mcmaster.ca/uts/network/vpn/). After you have one, you can set up two different ways to connect, using the Macintosh's built-in tools or using a tool by Cisco that McMaster provides. Here is a comparison:

Operating system>
  • Simpler to use
  • Less secure
  • Slower connections outside McMaster
  • Connects Google Scholar to McMaster's libraries
Cisco/McMaster
  • More awkward to use
  • More secure
  • Faster connections outside McMaster
  • Does not connect Google Scholar to McMaster's libraries
For instructions on the former, search for "VPN" in the Mac's Help menu. UTS provide instructions for the latter.

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