Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 10, 1994

Hopkins in Cyberspace
By Mike Field

Anyone who has attempted to maneuver around the Internet via
JHUniverse or a similar gopher program for more than a day or
two has most likely made an important discovery: it doesn't
always work.
    You're sitting at your desk grappling with a thorny
research problem, and you suddenly realize that you're
missing an important piece of information: what it takes to
make a hurricane.
    Knowing that help is at your fingertips, you switch on
your computer. Using the gopher icon if you have an Apple
computer or an IBM-compatible with Windows, or typing in
gopher at the DOS prompt (or using your modem to dial
(410)516-6666 if you're not tied into a computer network),
you connect with JHUniverse, The Johns Hopkins University's
gateway to the Internet.
    From the top menu, you click your computer's mouse or
hit enter at #4-Into the Internet!, then #9-Internet Hunt,
Encyclopedia, Index (U. of Alabama), then #6-The Interdex_An
Internet Subject Index. Here you will find an extensive
listing of Internet resources by subject matter, everything
from Aero\Astronautics to Weather. 
    You move down the list to #24-Drink (What kind of
hurricane did you think we were after here?) then to
#17-Hurricane. You hit return (or click your mouse) and sit
back and wait patiently for the recipe to the drink that made
New Orleans famous. Your computer says connecting for a
moment, then--disaster!--your screen goes blank except for a
little error message that pops up in the center.
    Error messages are inevitable, say computer experts
familiar with the Internet, because the Net is only as
reliable as its weakest components. Lines break, computers
break down (or are turned off) and frequently, addresses used
to access information are incorrect. Below is a short list of
some of the more common error messages you might see while
navigating the Net. Knowing what those messages mean can save
you time and grief by giving you a clue as to what went
    Unknown--One of the most common errors in sending e-mail
or using file transfer protocol (ftp) is the unknown address.
Often, it involves an address that has been incorrectly
keystroked into the computer. Recheck the address; if
possible, use the IP number in lieu of the word combination.
    Timed out--This indicates that the connection was
initiated and the computer at the other end failed to
respond, or that it did respond but put you on "hold." This
could be due to excessive volume, or the computer at the
other end crashed. If your receive a timed out message, try
    Unreachable--This indicates a network problem beyond
your control. The computer tried to reach its destination,
but was unable, probably because a portion of the network is
down. Try again later, but be prepared for it to take some
time for the problem to be fixed.
    Refused--Your computer successfully reached its
destination, but the computer at the other end refused to
allow the connection. Many computers are "down" for a short
period every day for file maintenance and routine repairs.
Sometimes, the service offered at that computer has been
canceled. Try back later. If the message persists, contact
the remote computer hosts by telephone, if possible, and
    Not Responding--Similar to timed out, but for another
kind of communications protocol, not responding indicates
that the request was sent out, but nothing came back. As with
timed out, try back later. If the problem persists, have
someone try the same procedure from another machine at
another site--the problem could be with your transmission
    For the most part, the Internet works amazingly well,
considering it is nothing less than a vast and somewhat
amorphous collection of thousands of machines at sites all
over the world. An occasional error message shouldn't put you
off. In most cases, it means that you'll need to try again.
When you succeed it's almost always worth the effort.
    Incidentally, a hurricane requires an ounce of lemon
juice, four ounces of Hawaiian Punch and an equal amount of
dark rum. Happy researching.

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage