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Computing With Bifocals
by Nancy Carroll Gravley

A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....

More On Mac Chess, Parental Computers, And What Are Cookies?
January 26th, 2000

The last two columns of Computing With Bifocals have generated a number of letters for readers. The column about playing chess prompted two that contained additional information for the chess player/addict.

Brian Flaherty wrote to recommend a site called the Free Internet Chess Server. This site offers the opportunity to play chess against other people live on the net. Mac users can play using the "Power ICS" client. I don't really know what that is, but if someone is computer sophisticated enough to play interactive chess then they will be able to search the internet for an explanation of this. I quote Brian: "It's still command-line based at its heart (the client essentially puts a face on a telnet text stream), but it's worth the effort to get involved in for any chess addict."

Larry King wrote to identify some good chess related internet sites. He notes that "--other than special, often temporary stores (e.g., at a major tournament)--it is often hard to find a good choice of chess materials in the regular computer/software stores.  Chess sales seems to me to have become a net-based activity, just as playing has largely become.  It's sad in some ways; for many, the fun is the noise, the kibitzers, the sarcastic sneer ("You're still playing ... that?").  But it multiplies the logistical ease of playing (not driving across town or across the state), the accessibility, variety and range of opposition at any player's level--and the availability and currency of knowledge (latest refutations, etc.)." Larry provides information for those just starting out as well as experienced players. His recommendations follow.

Starting sites is as good as any, covering just about every aspect: games, history, personalities, software.  It is not specifically Mac, but includes Mac resources as well, and describes them accurately.

Game collections has a huge number of games by opening, by player, by tournament, etc. in multiple formats, notably PGN (portable game notation, the standard offered by each proprietary program in addition to its own, "better" system), and CB (Chess Base, the standard in PC databases--though to this Mac user the powerful user interface, common to its PC and Mac incarnations, is a horror of surreal fussiness).  Fortunately, ExaChess reads either format and, in converting to its own, substantially compresses the files as well.  (It also eliminates duplicate games, which are a problem with most large public databases.)

Software lists Macintosh chess software, and makes some subtle points about what one needs for what use.  (MacChess, for example, has multiple language-specific versions.  Then, 68K Mac users need a version 2.5.1, PowerMac/G3/G4 users benefit from the latest version, 5.01, while for operation under Exachess, 4.0 is essential.)

By the way, SigmaChess Lite, which your article and this site reference, is gorgeous and ambitious, but (my impression, for what it's worth) not as mature or comfortable for the average player as, say, MacChess, or Crafty (under ExaChess).

Chess Database

Exachess is at  Both free and priced versions are downloaded, the latter via an unadvertised directory address and code sent after purchase.    The free version is quite capable and for many users may be all that they need.  The site also connects to downloads for chess-playing engines (MacChess, Crafty, Gnu, and ZZZZZZ) that are compatible with it.

There are a number of other sites with sometimes surprising material, most of them labors of love with no commercial tie-in.  The Exeter Chess Club (England), with its vast set of learning and improvement tools, is a great example at

Getting Your Parents On A Computer

The column on ways to encourage your parents to become computer literate generated a lot of letters and comments. Several people appreciated the thoughts about why it is so difficult to interest their parents in the first place. One writer told me about his mother and her reaction to receiving a computer for Christmas. She really almost took the computer as an insult to her intelligence saying things like, "all of my friends are doing things on their computers that I can still do by myself." She perceived her use of the computer as some sort of crutch. This writer agreed that he made the typical mistake of overloading his parents with too much information the first night. He also made an excellent suggestion that had not occurred to me because my parents live in a newer townhome. He warns that "you should check out your parents homes and see just how 'computer ready' they are. Since my folks home was built about 35 years ago, only a few electrical outlets are even grounded!"

Another writer, a woman in her 70's, noted that the information about the font size options is really important. She also wanted to encourage people to just get out there and do it. She noted that in no time all using the internet becomes a piece of cake. She uses her internet connections to visit gardens all other the world.

Yet another writer wanted me to remind people to be sure their parents understand that almost every action on a computer is "fixable." He told me about the lady who thought she had destroyed the entire internet when her computer crashed. Speaking from personal experience - I went to visit my parents last weekend to see how they were doing with the computer and how I could help. Well guess what? My father had managed to totally corrupt his file system. He doesn't know how he did it. I don't know how he did it, but the bottom line is that my son knows how to fix it and get it back up and working [Editor's Note: He's a smart kid].

I have one more recommendation that may help get your parents involved with the computer. How about free internet connections. I discovered two sites that offer completely free internet connection and e-mail, in return for banner advertising, while looking for an inexpensive provider for my parents. Remember my motto - free is good. I am in no way endorsing either of these sites. I have no experience with either other than selecting one for my parents to try out. However it may well be worth your while to investigate them. Once your parents are more computer literate they may choose to purchase a service, but this seems to me to be a great way to start out. Both sites have a number that you can call to sign up and have a disk sent to you, or of course, you can register on the internet. The first is Access the Net and is available for both Macintosh and those other kind of computers. The web site is: and the phone number is 802-878-1674. The second one is offered by K-mart and can be found at, or you can call 1-888-945-9255 to have a CD mailed to you. It is not currently available for Mac users.

Got Milk?

Switching gears, I want to talk a little about something called Cookies. If you have used the internet much you have probably seen references to cookies or been asked by a little screen when you went to a new web page whether you wanted to receive or not allow cookies. It is kind of hard to answer that question when you don't know what they are. After four years, I finally decided to try and find out.

Cookies are short pieces of data used by web servers to help identify web users. The popular concepts and rumors about what a cookie can do has reached almost mythical proportions and frightening users. Rumors describe them as programs that can scan your hard drive and gather information about you including: passwords, credit card numbers, and a list of the software on your computer. None of this is close to the truth. A cookie is a short piece of data, not code, which is sent from a web server to a web browser when that browser visits the server's site. The cookie is stored on the user's machine, but it is not an executable program and cannot do anything to your machine. This explains why, when I visit a site where I have previously signed up, the site knows it is me when I come back again. No files are destroyed or compromised by cookies, but if you are concerned about being identified or about having your web browsing traced through the use of a cookie, set your browser to not accept cookies or use one of the new cookie blocking packages. Note that blocking all cookies prevents some online services from working. Also, preventing your browser from accepting cookies does not make you an anonymous user, it just makes it more difficult to track your usage.

You can prevent any cookies from being sent to your system using the browser options. In Internet Explorer 4.0, choose the View, Internet Options command, click the Advanced tab and click the Disable All Cookie Use option. In Netscape 4.x, choose the Edit pulldown menu, choose Preferences, click on Advanced and click the Do Not Accept Cookies option. After that, no cookies will be stored on your system. You will need to turn cookies back on if you want to use any online services that require them. You can also choose the option to prompt you before accepting a cookie, but at many sites you will find yourself continually clicking on the warning dialog box.

If you are using earlier versions of Netscape or Internet Explorer, you can require that the browser warn you before accepting a cookie, but it cannot block all cookies. At a busy shopping site, acknowledging all the warnings can get really tedious.

You can read much more about this subject, as well as information about commercial software packages designed to prevent cookies by reviewing Information Bulletin I-034,published by the Department of Energy site where I obtained the information used in this overview. The web address is:

If you have any tips, suggestions, or other comments about this, or any other Mac topics, send them to me so that I can share them with other readers.

Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.

Post your comments below.
Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.

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