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Tips, Tweaks & Tidbits

Hoaxes, Viruses, and Urban Legends
Many times people will forward you e-mail that asks you to send an e-mail to a child sick with cancer, or that Bill Gates will send you money if you forward an e-mail, or that a restaurant chain will give you a free meal if you print an e-mail, or that someone has been found in a bathtub packed in ice and missing a kidney. These are all hoaxes or urban legends. Bill Gates will not send you money, period. Restaurants will not give you free food. Many times the sick kid is now 45 years old and wants people to quit sending e-mail. Check out all such e-mails before forwarding them. The first place I always turn is Snopes.com.

Finding a Cheap ISP
An ISP is your Internet Service Provider, such as AOL, Bell South, or any number of others. Most people still use dial-up connections through their phone line rather than faster options such as DSL or cable-modem. Why? Because it's cheaper and they aren't on the Internet enough to justify the expense. AOL, for example, charges $23.00 per month for their dial-up service. Most of your major ISPs are more expensive than lesser known ones. For basic dial-up connection, it is not necessary to pay more than $10.00 per month. This website can help you find an ISP that suits your needs, whatever they may be. Because of the Spam problem, most limit the number of e-mails you can send at one time. Some are as few as 10, but most to 20 or 25. 

Buying Software
There is plenty of commercial software available which can be found at Walmart, Office Max, Office Depot, or one of many other retail outlets or Internet sites. For particularly expensive programs, such as the Microsoft Office Suite or WordPerfect Office Suite or Windows XP I have had good luck using E-Bay. E-Bay has sellers that will sell you discounted software. I have bought what is called OEM software. OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. This is how I bought WordPerfect Office Suite 10. I paid about $50 for it. OEM software ships with a piece of “equipment” such as a headset or speakers or some other small, insignificant hardware. The reason for this is to meet the legal requirements of the software license. The only drawback I've ever heard to OEM software is that sometimes manufacturers give you a version of the software that is slightly disabled and therefore not as fully functional as the “off the shelf” product. Just be aware of this and check it out before you buy. My version of WordPerfect was fully functional and all the updates worked with it.

One other problem that you can run into when buying software online is “pirated” software. If you find a $600 product on sale for $60, make absolutely certain that it comes from a reputable site. Recently people have started burning copies of CDs they purchase and selling the copies for very low prices. Usually if you get a Spam message advertising cheap software it is probably not legitimate.

Buying a Computer
Buying a computer is a technical matter as much as buying a car. You have to decide what you want the car to do, how much you have to spend, and what features you require. The computer is the same way. Unlike cars, computer technology doubles in speed every 18 months (Moore's Law). The average computer, if it is used much, lasts 3-5 years before it becomes more cost-efficient to replace it rather than to repair it if it breaks or has simply become near-obsolete. Because the technology changes so quickly, it is not my advice to buy an terribly expensive computer. In a few months that computer will be on the shelves for half the price it was originally and you won't be able to sell yours for that amount. So, for the cost-conscious shopper I suggest looking at the top-of-the-line models, then stepping back and looking at what used to be the top-of-the-line models six months ago and ask, “is it worth the price difference?” Having said that, it is also worth noting that prices are coming down all the time, and that there are places to buy used and refurbished computers that may suit your need. If you have a technically oriented person in the family, you can even build one from parts you bought off the shelf or off the Internet.

One of the more expensive elements of a computer is the computer's silicon chip. The chip may be one of three major types: Pentium, Celeron, or Athalon. These chips are made by two major manufacturers: Intel and AMD (Advanced Micro Devices).

Pentium chips are manufactured by Intel and are usually the more expensive but they also “do” more than some of the others chips. Intel also makes the Celeron chip, which is a slightly less functional chip in some regards than the Pentium chip. This, however, is not a problem unless you want to do some very, very technical work that requires the advanced functions of a Pentium chip, such as using a CAD program that requires the advanced math micro-processing features. If you don't know what CAD is, then you don't need the Pentium. The Pentium chip is an industry standard and occasionally you find software or hardware that does not function quite right with other chips, but those experiences are fewer and fewer so don't let that scare you into paying extra for a Pentium. One way to think about it is that Pentium chips are the “do everything” chips and Celeron chips are the “do 99% of everything” chips. Unless you need the 1%, don't worry about it. The pre-built computer you buy at the store has been designed for the chip that it has so it will work just fine.

AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) is Intel's chief competitor. Their products are virtually the same in function to the Intel chips, but usually cost a little less.

As to what chip is the “fastest”, well that depends. Yes, you can determine which chip is fastest, but depending upon how the computer system is designed, a faster chip may not be faster once it is in the computer! There simply is no easy way to determine which computer design is fastest so I urge you to simply go by the numbers on the computer. They will likely be close enough to reality that it won't matter.

RAM (Random Access Memory)
This is the memory that is active only while the computer is on. Simply put, the more the merrier! I urge you to buy as much as you feel you can afford. RAM is an important part of making a computer “fast” in real use. One of the two complaints I hear most is that “my computer is so slow.” It will be faster, especially when running games and working with picture editing, if you have lots of RAM.

Video Card Memory
In addition to RAM, you will have a video card in your computer. These cards come with memory on them and some you can add memory to. Again, I strongly urge you to get a very large video card. This will make things like games run so much better than they otherwise might. As games become more and more sophisticated and realistic looking, they take up more and more memory. A slow game is no fun to play. This will also help in handling other video-demanding operations, such as scanning and editing pictures. Bigger is better and the more the merrier. You will likely keep your computer longer and be happier if you have lots of RAM and a big Video Card.

Hard Disk Capacity
Hard disks are where your data is stored. Most computers come with only one, but you can easily and cheaply add a second one or replace the first one if it gets too small. Prices on these have plummeted over the years so they are a bargain even coming off the shelf at a local retail outlet. You can order even cheaper ones over the Internet. If you plan to download or copy a lot of music, pictures, or load lots of games, then disk size probably will not be a problem for you. Most computers come with 40 gigabytes of disk space or more these days.

With the availability of Digital connections and Cable connections to the Internet, it may seem strange that most people still use a comparatively slow dial-up connection to surf the net. The reason for this is simply “need.” Digital and Cable connections cost more than dial-up access and most people don't want to spend the money for something they don't use that much. Dial-up is available for $10 per month and more companies keep getting into the action. Recently Walmart and Netscape have both started offering $9.95 connections and there are oodles of lesser or unknown companies that do the same. See my notes above on finding and ISP. So, unless you are going to network your computer or need some other special connection, what comes with the computer will likely be sufficient. You can always upgrade if you change your mind.

Monitors have come down in price drastically from a few years ago. The reason is that newer and more expensive monitors are being developed. The large, bulky monitors are now very cheap while the slim, flat-panel displays are expensive. The flat-panels are very good but the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) still don't function quite as well as the old bulky ones for certain tasks, like very close-up editing of pictures. For everything else the difference is negligible. Cost will determine which you decide to buy. If I had the money, I would get a flat-panel simply because it takes up less room. Laptops come with flat-panel LCD screens and they do everything I want them to do, even when editing pictures.

CD-Rom/DVD Player
Every computer today comes with a CD player and now they come with CD/DVD players. Usually the player will also write CDs, but check to make sure. You can get players that write DVDs, too, but expect to pay more for that. Unless you just want to copy your DVDs, or need it to back up your disk, I would not stress out over a DVD writer. They are simply more money than they are probably worth for the average person.

Pre-Installed Software
Your computer will come with some pre-installed software. The software will be of two basic types: fully functional and trialware. Trialware is only good for a limited time, unless you buy it. Usually the time limit is 30 days. Alternately, the program may work but only have limited features until you buy it. My laptop came with a version of Quicken which is free, but I cannot install my old Quicken data, I can only create a new database for my banking records! I thought that was rather strange.

It is almost expected that a computer will come with some fully functioning software programs, such as a word-processor, a spreadsheet program, an Internet browser, and e-mail reader at the very least. What you don't realize is that when you buy your computer, you are paying for all such software, including the operating system, which is likely Windows XP at this time. Accordingly, Microsoft has started putting a lite version of its famous Microsoft Office Suite onto computers. This is known as Microsoft Works. It is a scaled down version of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. If you are accustomed to using these products then you will be dissatisfied with Works. So, if you buy a cheaper computer but still have to spend a couple of hundred dollars to get the software you want, the computer is probably not cheaper for you.

Cookies are harmless bits of information that is placed on your computer when you visit most every website in the world. These are typically used to track your visitation to the site by the site's owner and to hold a small amount of information such as a password. But there are occasions when you would prefer to know what cookies are being set on your computer. It's rather eye-opening the number that are out there. A web page may have a number of advertisers and they want to set a cookie too. If you want to see what is being set you can force the computer to show you and ask for your approval to set the cookie.

In Internet Explorer go to Internet Tools and set cookies to "Prompt"
1. Start Internet Explorer
2. Tools
3. Internet Options
4. Privacy
5. Advanced
6. Override automatic cookie handling
7. check Prompt

This will allow you to know what cookies are being set on your computer and you can avoid things like "ad" cookies.  Some sites require that you permit cookies otherwise they won't work or work entirely correctly.

Helpful Features
Shortcut keys
You can copy, cut, paste, and undo with a few simple keystrokes left over from the days of DOS.
When you select your text, to copy use Ctrl+C, to cut use Ctrl+X, to paste use Ctrl+V, to undo what you just did, use Ctrl+Z.

To more quickly move from one word to another, hold down the Ctrl key and hit the right or left arrow key to move either right or left. To go from one paragraph to another, hold down the Ctrl key and hit the up or down arrow key to go to the previous or next paragraph.

To select text in a document most people us their mouse, but there is another way. By holding down the Shift key and then using one of the arrow keys to go up, down, right, or left you will be able to select text from the point where your cursor rests. You can combine it with the Ctrl key and select whole words or paragraphs at a time.
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