December 10, 2009

By Karen Kenworthy


I love living and working in the secluded Power Tools workshop. Even this time of year, when the leaves have long gone, the view of the woods from my back window is beautiful. All sorts of furry and feathered creatures visit me throughout the day and into the night. Yes, it's increasingly close to town, but it's still quiet enough out here that you can hear yourself think.

But living on the edge of civilization has some disadvantages. For one, it can be hard to find a good ramp onto the high-speed information superhighway. Sadly, most nearby data paths snake through elaborate digital traffic circles, or "roundabouts", connecting one sleepy rural binary road to another.

Worse yet, these local routes to the Internet open and close more often than lanes of the highways city folk drive from home to their glass-walled offices. As small ISPs (Internet Service Providers) come and go, I've resorted to everything from dialup via modem, ISDN, fractional T1, to DSL, to stay connected to the modern world.

My New Connection

So I wasn't too surprised when, about a month ago, I received notice from my ISP that they'd be pulling out of my area effective December 1st. I knew this drill all too well: Spend a few days searching the web and quizzing friends, looking for anyone willing to connect my workshop to the Internet, sign an agreement for their service, buy whatever equipment they require, then wait and pray.

Fortunately, strangely round coaxial cables of a major cable TV company had recently reached the secluded Power Tools workshop. Among their tasty offerings were something called "Business Internet". It promised to be faster and cheaper than my old DSL service. And they were confident my data would be flowing over their funny-looking wires in plenty of time to meet my December 1st deadline.

Amazingly, thanks to the cable company's two very knowledgeable and helpful installers, the new Internet connection came alive just as smoothly as promised. Because the cable company wouldn't "route" my personal range of IP addresses, I did have to make several changes to my local network. But two friends stepped in to help with the network configuration changes. In just a couple of hours the whole job was done.

Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

Good Old LAN Monitor

Once my helpful crew left, everything seemed to be working well. But in the world of computers, it never hurts to check, and double-check. So I decided to reconnect with an old friend, my LAN Monitor.

As long-time readers may remember, this little program provides lots of information about a computer's connection to the outside world. It starts by listing all of a computer's "Network Adapters" -- special circuits computers use to talk to one another.

These adapters are sometimes called "NICs" (Network Interface Cards), because they used to reside on separate "cards", or circuit boards, attached to a computer's main "motherboard". Today the network adapter is often built into the motherboard itself. But wherever its chips and wires are found, the LAN Monitor determines and displays more than a dozen important adapter facts.

For example, the LAN Monitor can tell you the "Speed" of the network adapter -- the fastest rate that data can move through the circuit. It will show all "IP Addresses" (those funny numbers, like, that uniquely identify your computer throughout the Internet) assigned to each adapter. It even lets you know whether the adapter is in working order and enabled.

One of my favorite LAN Manager tricks is its ability to show all of your computer's connections across the local network, and around the world. It knows each remote computer's IP address, and often discovers the remote computer's name (if it has one), and the type of data traveling between your computer and its remote digital pen pal (web pages, e-mail, local network disk traffic, etc.)

These tidbits were interesting. But my network adapter hadn't changed recently. Right now I wanted to check the health of my new Internet connection. For that, I asked LAN Monitor to show "Traffic" information.

This display includes the number of bytes of data my computer has sent and received. It also reveals the number of errors that have occurred while processing that data. Traffic statistics even include the adapter's incoming and outgoing "load factor", or percent of its maximum speed that's actually being used.

To help me better understand my computer's habits, the LAN Monitor breaks traffic data into four time periods. The first period shows the amount of data sent and received, error detected, and load factor during the last 30 seconds. These numbers help me spot sudden bursts of activity.

The program also displays traffic statistics for the last 5 minutes, the last hour, and since Windows started. These bigger numbers show longer-term trends in data flow and errors, both in and out of my machine.

Speed Check

Thanks to recent suggestions by some clever and helpful readers, I can now learn some other very important information about my new Internet connection. The newest LAN Monitor reports the speed of data flowing into and out of a computer, and the rate errors are occurring in each direction.

Like the raw traffic volume information, these data and error rates are divided into four time periods: the last 30 seconds, last 5 minutes, last hour, and since Windows started.

Putting it all together, the new LAN Monitor reveals the number of bytes per second that have left the computer in the last 30 seconds. It shows the number of bytes per minute that have been received during the last 5 minutes. It discloses the number of errors per hour that have been detected during the last hour, or since Windows started. And a whole lot more ...

By themselves, these statistics don't tell me the maximum speed of my new Internet connection. They only show the actual data and error rates during a particular period of time.

Normally these real-life rates will be noticeably lower than the theoretical maximum rates.

However, during heavy Internet usage, actual numbers should come pretty close to reaching the maximum possible rates. In my case, while downloading a file containing a little over 400 million bytes, the incoming data rate reported by the new LAN Monitor was just over two-thirds of the rate advertised by my cable company.

That's not exactly what I hoped for. But, considering the vagaries of computers, the Internet, and advertising, it's not too surprising. Considering this rate is still almost eight times faster than my old DSL connection, and the fact that I really have no alternatives, I have to say I'm pretty pleased. :)


Before we go, I hope you'll forgive a short personal note. Thanks to two wonderful brothers, and their more than wonderful wives, I've been blessed with eleven nieces and nephews. And, in case you're wondering, these near- dozen young people are the perfect kids you always knew existed somewhere.

One of my nephews, a tall, bright kid with an easy smile, will be heading off to college next fall. But as his last year of high school began a few months ago, he and the rest of our family received some hard news. A small lump on Patrick's neck was diagnosed as a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Surgery, and rounds of radiation therapy, seem to have destroyed the tumor. But they also destroyed his hopes of playing a final season for his school's football team.

The way he handled this challenge inspired Patrick's coaches and fellow teammates. One coach was so impressed by Patrick's spirit that he nominated Patrick for an award. You can read the coach's moving account of this time in Patrick's life here:

While there, you'll have an opportunity to click a button indicating that "Patrick Inspires Me". Please give him your vote if you feel led to do so.

And take a few minutes to check out the stories of the other fine young men nominated for this award. I'm sure all are deservedly loved by their parents and grandparents. And a very few may have earned the hardest and highest prize, the love and respect of a loving aunt. :)

Until we meet again, I hope you are happy and healthy. And if you are curious about your LAN or Internet connection, download your copy of my LAN Monitor program here:

As always, the program is free for personal/home use. And you can download its complete Visual Basic source code too!

You can also get the latest version of every Power Tool on a shiny CD. These include three bonus Power Tools, not available anywhere else. The source code of every Power Tool, every issue of my newsletter, and some articles I wrote for Windows Magazine, are also on the CD. And owning the CD grants you a license to use my Power Tools at work.

Best of all, buying a CD is the easiest way to support the web site, Karen's Power Tools, and this newsletter. To find out more, visit:

Until we meet again, if you see a fast-moving blur on the 'net that looks like me, be sure to wave and say "Hi!"

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