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Friday, September 4, 2009

Troubleshooting Your Internet Headaches (Part 3: Email)

Many of us are familiar with the difficulty of getting our precious email messages.  Whether you have gotten an error, or the email message was cut off, or perhaps embedded pictures didn't load, it's all frustrating, and there's a good chance that you had similar difficulties like those at some point in your internet browsing experience.  I, too, had experiences of extreme difficulty in getting my email to open properly.  However, like previous blogs of mine have mentioned, if you are willing to have patience, and a cool-headed approach to the problem, you will be able to overcome most obstacles in this area.

There are many different interfaces to read, write, and send your email to your friends and loved ones.  like Hotmail, Yahoo, even Gmail.  And then there are those of us who prefer having a software client email program like Outlook, Outlook Express, AOL, and others.  Many times do I get the familiar question "Why can't I open my email?"  Well, the reason can be many depending on how you are accessing your email whether through a web-based service like Hotmail, Yahoo, even Gmail, or through a more traditional client software program like Microsoft Outlook, Eudora, or even AOL's own software program.  Whatever interface you use, it's important to know how to approach each type.  First, if it's a web-based service email like Hotmail, Yahoo, etc, you'll want to follow standard internet troubleshooting as covered by my two previous blogs on this topic, Part 1, and Part 2.  And second, if you are using an email client program, you'll want to read on further about what tips to consider when dealing with a problem accessing your email.

1) Settings - Commonly, the problem lies with settings in an email client program.  Just like a web browser, if the settings are too high, you're going to have problems, but you don't the security settings too low either.  Also, making sure you have the SMTP and POP3 fields properly configured is another trick.  If these aren't set EXACTLY as they should be, you're not going to get far with your emails. On rare occasion, these settings can change, so always check with your ISP or your email provider to make sure your settings aren't in need of tuning.

2) Firewalls - Yep, these can be full of problems on their own, but add an email client to the mix, and you can bet you'll run into some issues.  The best advice on this is to make sure your firewall is configured to allow your email client to connect with both inbound and outbound connections, and since most POP3 email setups use ports 110 and 25, there shouldn't be much of a problem, unless you are using Gmail in your client program, which the ports are 995 and 465.  If ever your client program stops processing inbound (or outbound) messages, this is a good place to start.

3) Your Internet Connection - I know, pretty obvious, right?  Remember what I said about the obvious, sometimes it's overlooked, because it is obvious.  Always check to make sure your internet connection is active.  If it's not, do the internet troubleshooting as described in Part One, and if still unsuccessful, it may be time to contact your ISP for more assistance.

4) REBOOT! - Again, always let this be your FIRST and LAST step.  Sometimes, it can be the client program itself that is not working, and a simple restart, or a cold boot can resolve the issue. Never underestimate the power of the reboot/cold boot process.

5) Anti-Virus - It is true that these programs can be helpful in either cleaning an infected file or computer system, or even prevent one.  However, in my experience, I have found that sometimes (not often, though) programs like these can cause more issues with email than what they solve.  Additionally, an email that doesn't show through means two things, one is that the email might be infected with a virus, and your Anti-Virus software won't allow it to be viewed, or two is that the settings for the Anti-Virus are so sensitive that any file is considered a virus, even if it's a false positive.  Always be sure you are using the latest Anti-virus definitions and updates, and if you are still having problems, try resetting the software back to defaults.  If still unsuccessful, there may be a problem with the email message itself.

Programs like AOL have their own internal mechanisms for retrieving email, chatting, and internet browsing.  If your standard internet troubleshooting hasn't worked, it may become necessary to call the technical support line.  There's not a lot I can tell you about programs like these where your email isn't showing, except that there are ways to resolve the problem, but none are generally available since AOL is proprietary software (meaning no "one size fits all" troubleshooting method can be applied).  Furthermore, AOL technical support reps usually know about tricks that can be used on the software that most other techs do not know about.

Have a comment?  Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog?  Email me at  And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer.  :)  Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Troubleshooting Your Internet Headaches (Part 2: Internet Browsers)

Have you ever come across a situation where a website or a page on the web doesn't load like it should?  Do you frequently ask (to anyone and no one in particular) "Why is this page not loading?" or you get the page to load, but pictures, text, and other aspects are missing from the page?  Ever wonder why a page might take seemingly forever to load, even though you've visited that site many times before with little to no difficulty?  If you have tried my tips from the previous blog and are still calling technical support constantly, you'll want to read further to see if any of it applies to you.

There have been many occasions where I've been asked to help a friend or a family member in getting their web pages to load properly, or to print something successfully.  Many times, it is something really simple, and often overlooked, even by a lot of techs.    The following are just some of the many useful tricks that we techs use in our arsenal of troubleshooting an internet problem, and more specifically websites, pages, and other internet sites.  You're going to hear this a lot from me, but please do not attempt to perform these tips if you are unsure of how to do so safely.  Always ask for assistance from a trained technical and professional source if you have any sort of doubt.  While some of these tips are simple, it's still a good idea to use your best judgment.

It is worth mentioning that I use both Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox internet browsers, but for the purposes of this blog, I am going to use Microsoft Internet Explorer as a basis for my examples.  Please refer to your browsers help file for information on your browsers' equivalents.  These tips can be helpful when dealing with issues connecting to a website, page, or trying to print a page from the internet.

1) Temporary Internet Files (or cache) - This is set up by your browser as a place to briefly store files related to your internet browsing on your hard drive, usually in a folder already set up by the browser when it was installed.  It will store things like pictures, text, and other graphics files that are used by web pages.  The reason the short-term storage exists is for the sole purpose that the website or page can access the graphics and text from a local source rather than being downloaded every single time you visit that page.  Deleting these files will help clear up the storage.  Remember, this is only temporary storage, and as such, it will only use the amount of space you specify.  Even more restrictive is the fact that once that space limit is reached, it will go no further in downloading the files to your temp storage.  Deleting these files have a plus and a negative consequence.  The plus side is that the site or page you were attempting to connect to may finally be accessible.  However, sites that you may have visited before may need to re-download the files necessary for view from a local source, which can take time, depending on your internet connection speed.  To delete these files on Internet Explorer v6 and up, go to Tools, then click Internet Options.  In the General tab, there should be a middle section entitled "Browsing History" or something similar.  This section will have two buttons (three on some versions) that say "Delete..." and "Settings".  The settings will allow you to specify the location of the folder on your hard drive where these files are stored, and will let you allot the limit which these files can be saved, usually in MB (that's MegaBytes, not Megabits or Mb!).  Some programs are available to help you delete these files automatically, and on a set schedule so you don't have to remind yourself to do it.  I recommend deleting these files at least once every other week, or on a weekly basis.  As for the settings, this is up to you, but remember my original blog about general tips with this particular subject.  The larger the limit, the more time it will take to load.  Setting your browser's internet cache to "Every Visit to the Page" is also very helpful.

2) Browser Settings - I know, this is probably another one of those tips that gets repeated on every site's FAQ page or troubleshooting section.  Though, it is true, browser settings can either help or hurt a situation depending on what settings are enabled.  Some of the common settings are Java, JavaScript, Cookies, ActiveX, and SSL (Secure Socket Layer, and no, I don't know what that means in detail).  Make sure these settings are enabled to view most web pages.  Again, the default settings are generally recommended, and will allow you to view most websites without a problem.  If you are using custom settings, and having some difficulty loading internet websites, web pages, etc, it may become necessary to reset your browser's settings to default, and try again.  Security settings can also play a big part.  For Internet Explorer users, this is on the Security tab under Tools, Internet Options.  Again, if the security setting is too high, it will not let you view web pages unless you have put them under the Trusted Section.  Likewise, a site in the "Restricted Sites" section will not be accessible, or at the least most of the site will be restricted.

3) Your Internet Connection - Sometimes general internet troubleshooting is the answer.  Often times, when I'm having a problem with a specific web site, page, or something else, I'll perform troubleshooting as though my internet connection was not working like it was supposed to.  Refer to my last blog about general internet troubleshooting tips.

4) Firewalls, Routers, and Proxy Servers - Although unlikely, sometimes a firewall or a router can be the source of your trouble when viewing a website or page.  Again, like your browser itself, if the settings are custom set too high, or too low, you may eventually run into problems.  For the most part, the default settings will be enough.  Most routers have a built-in function to allow you to block access to specific websites, or websites with certain keywords.  Refer to your router documentation for information on how to access these settings.  Firewalls are not necessarily the problem, since all they do is direct traffic (inbound and outbound connections) on your local computer.  Hardware firewalls are sometimes an issue, but honestly I am not familiar with how they operate, so it's best to refer to the manufacturer, your documentation, etc for help on determining if your hardware firewall is a possible issue.  Proxy servers are a lot like firewalls, except that they are usually the business equivalent of parental control programs.  They can direct traffic, but also limit what sites can be viewed, what sites are restricted (mostly to specific users), and what sites are absolutely off limits!  For this reason, proxy servers SHOULD NOT be tampered with.

5) RESTART! - I know, it's an overused tip, but important, and relevant nonetheless.  I don't necessarily mean restart your computer, but that too is an option that I would recommend.  What I mean is to restart your internet browser.  On occasion, I have had to restart my internet browser in order to view a particular web page.  I'm not entirely sure as to why, but I think it may have to do with the cookies being used for that particular web page, or it could be that the files (graphics, text, etc) needed to be downloaded again.  Whatever the reason may be, it's still a good idea to restart.

6) Your ISP - Although rare, it has been confirmed that there are ISPs (Internet Service Providers) who block specific websites for various reasons.  Some are obvious, like known hacker websites, or it could be the threat of a virus-infected page.  Even more rare is to come across an ISP that has blocked a site for content reasons.  Still, if this is the case, you may or may not be able to view the page, and there's not much you can do about it, either.  If you're looking for a tip here, there is none to be told.  All I can say is that if there is a website that, despite your best efforts, can't be viewed on your computer, try a different computer, and if still unsuccessful, try a different computer on a different ISP. 

7) Have You Updated Your Browser Lately? -  Some websites require that you have the latest version of your browser in order to access the website you are trying to view.  In some cases, your browser may not be compatible at all to view the page content.  So you have two options depending on your situation, and what the website you are viewing requires.  Your first option is to upgrade your browser to its latest version.  Some of the popular ones are Microsoft/Windows Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, & Safari (MAC users).  A second option is to use an alternate browser.  My personal recommendation is to have at least two internet browsers installed on your computer.  One for general viewing, and the other for specific websites that you enjoy to visit.  This way, no matter what, you have a compatible browser to use for viewing any web page.

8) Cookies - This is related to an earlier point about browser settings.  Specifically, a site may not be loading or running like normal, because of a problem with its downloaded cookie (the little file that contains instructions for a specific site or page, including your preferences on said sites, login info, etc).  Deleting all cookies is probably not a good idea, so instead try to locate the specific cookie that contains information about the site you are having difficulty with.  If still unsuccessful, then I would suggest deleting them all, in case there may be a conflict of some sort.  A word of caution, if you do delete either the single cookie file, or all of them, you will lose pertinent data related to your website visits.

There are probably more tips that I can go into, but I won't simply for the reason that those tips can impact your computer's ability to communicate with an internet service, and vice-versa.  Always seek the advice of a trained service professional who has the tools, resources, and experience to guide you through more complex tips that I am not able to discuss here. 

I know this blog has been shorter than my others, but I am confident this is all you need in order to maintain your internet connection.  On a related note, there should never be a situation where you would need to reinstall your internet browser.  As long as you follow the tips and tricks that I provide, you should have very little (if any) difficulty in viewing any website, page, or other service on the world wide web.

Have a comment?  Suggestion? A topic you'd like to have discussed on my blog?  Email me at  And if I don't know the answer, I'll post up information on who to ask, where to go, or what to do to get your answer.  :)  Until then, have a great day, and I hope you've enjoyed reading my computer tips so far!