Friday, December 3, 2010

Instant Communication

A nice application to put on your computer is a program called Skype. (Other competitors are Yahoo Messenger.)

With Skype, you can talk to anyone on a computer who also has Skype, or you can call them via Skype, and it only costs 4 cents a minute or so.

But as long as the people you are commicating with have skype, and a camera on their computer (either embedded or one you've purchased) you can watch and talk to each other at the same time.

This is called "instant messaging." You type a message to your friend, who can type a response to you. Some people like to use "text messaging" language, like How R U for how are you, but if you're a decent typist, I recommend typing out all your words. Let's keep some standards!

Go to to check out this application.

there are some things you need to beware of with Yahoo Messenger. I'll talk about that in my next post.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Virus and anti-spyware

If you plan to do any kind of work on the web, it is necessary for you to put anti-virus and anti-spyware on your computer.

Unfortunately the world is full of dishonest people who spend all their time thinking of ways to steal money from others.

You can buy programs, such as Norton Anti-Virus Software or Macafee, or you can download free ones. The one I use is Cloud Panda.

Even with these anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, you must be very careful about what kind of websites you visit and what kind of emails you open. (I will write more fully about dangerous emails in my next post.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Which software package to use?

It used to be, many years ago, that when you bought a computer, it was much more expensive than it is now, and one reason is because it came fully loaded with software. For the PC, it was Microsoft Word, Excel and, I think, Power Point. Now, if you wnat that type of software, you have to buy it. (Every computer comes with a text program, which allows you to type things, but it is like kindergarten typing compared to what you can do with a word processing program like Word or Word Perfect.

If you don't want to spend money on those programs, you can download Open Office. ( It gives you a word processor, a spreadsheet program (so you can do your budget or keep your books), a paint program so that you can do illustrations, and so on. It's totally free, but it would be nice if you'd make a donation (via PayPal or credit card - I'll explain what these are later) of $10 or so or more, just to thank them for their hard work!

The Open Office word processor is relatively sophisticated, but if you intend to publish books or write research papers, I myself prefer Microsoft Word. Word Perfect has never been my favorite program, although I can use it...

But if you are trying to kit out your computer as inexpensively as possible, Open Office is the way to go.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Flash drives and external hard drives

I will probably preface all of my posts with "it used to be." Computers these days have gotten so much smaller than they used to be, and memory has become that much cheaper. It used to be you'd get the bear minimum of memory to play with, and would have to expand your memory each time you wanted to play new game. Now, computers as a matter of course have so much memory - both memory to run programs and storage space (two different things) that the average computer user never has to buy more.

But you do need to buy at least one flash drive, and if I were you, an external hard drive.

These days, an external hard drive is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, costs only about $40, and has as much storage space as the hard drive inside your computer.

You want this, because you want to back up all your files onto this external hard drive. (You don't need to back up your applications or system, you will have the installation discs for these, or the appropriate code to download it from the internet). But you should backup all your files on a daily or weekly basis, and this is very easy with an external hard drive. (There are also internet based backup systems, such as Carbonite, but they costs about $200 a year. If you have the discipline to remember to back up things yourself, you don't need to go to that expense.)

But you must have some back up system. Harddrives do go bad, unfortunately, or someone steals your computer, or some kid sticks a peanut butter sandwich into it and fries it...all sorts of things.

The flash drive replaces the old 3.5 inch discs that used to act as portable storage between computers. They are also inexpensive, and have lots of memory. You'll want at least one of these. (They are also called thumb drives or memory sticks. Despite the name, they aren't "drives" - just storage memory.)

Beware Emails That Look Real

My mail provider is Yahoo allows you to create an email account for free. A lot of providers do this - your own ISP (Internet Service Provide), for example Bresnan Cable, if you are out of Cheyenne, Wyoming, may give you an email address ending in

Recently I've been getting a lot of emails that purport to come from Yahoo. Below is the gist of what these emails say:
Yahoo! Administrative Notice
Sunday, November 28, 2010 8:27 PM
Add sender to Contacts
Yahoo! account holder:

When you set up and use Yahoo! account, you agreed to abide by Yahoo! Terms of Service. According to the terms of service, when Yahoo! notices that you have violated our Terms of Service, or spirit, or your behavior and inconsistency with the terms of the content or spirit of the time (or Other similar situations), we have the right to close your account or otherwise prohibit you to use your account.

Recently, we found that you violated the terms of service. Please read the Terms of Service again, know what behavior will be treated as a breach of the terms in this way before we stop you from using your account. You are therefore required to verify your account information manually after clicking the REPLY button or your account will be suspended for security reasons.

Name: ...................................
ID: .....................................
Password: ...............................
Country: ................................

We will again check your account. If then we believe that the way you use the account is in violation of the terms of service, we may end your account without prior notice.

Yahoo! Account Services

When you get something like this, chances are very good that it's a fraud. Note that the whole text is ungrammatical. That's a clue (well it has been in the past - these days with everything being outsourced to non-native English speaking countries, who knows???) that the email is not genuine.

But more importantly, look at the email address from which this piece of mail came:

That's what's called a "spoof" address. Yahoo owns the url,, so any email that comes to you is going to come from, NOT or any combination thereof.

Whenevery you receive an email that tells you your account may be suspended unless you send them your credit card number, or your password, whether is from Yahoo services, or Paypal, or your credit card company, or what have you, chances are 99% certain that it's a scam.

Look at the URL that is the "reply-to" address, and if it has extraneous words or symbols, that's your proof.

Unfortunately, people are trying to steal your password or other information all the time, using a variety of means. Some are so blatant and obvious as to be laughable, but others are insidious and can fool you if you're not careful.

So - be careful at all times!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mark All Your Cords

If you're reading this blog, chances are you've already got your computer up and running, and are only now facing problems - either with the applications on the computer like Word and Excel, or in your journeys around the World Wide Web.

But I'm a chronologist and I'm going to start at the very beginning.

These days, computers are very easy to set up. All the cords come with color-coordinated tips. You just match the appropriate color at the back of the computer tower. These days, for PCs anyway, it seems like everything plugs in at the back of the tower.

Run out of USB ports? You used to be able to buy keyboards that had a USB port in which to plug in your mouse. Now you can purchase "hubs". You stick one end into the USB port on your computer, and you now have five or six more USB receptacles. (The same as all the plug ins on an extension cord.) Depending on what you're using your computer for you might not need all those receptacles, but it's nice to have if you play games, have flash drives, external hard drives or DVD drivers, and so on.

However, that's for the future. Right now I want to talk about your cords. Depending on how old your computer is -and some people have computers that are pretty old and yet work just fine for their purposes, you might not even have USB ports - those are a "relatively" new thing.

If you look at the cord for your keyboard, for example - if you have a PC - chances are the tip of it, color coded purple, is not a USB port (a very small, rectangular plug in) but rather a small, circular plug in. That's the way all peripherals used to plug in to the computer.

There are so many cords - your power cord from the monitor, your power cord from the tower, the power cord from the speakers, and power cord from the printer (if you have one) that you will want to plug them all into a surge protecter.

And nothing is more annoying than bending down into the cubbyhole of your desk, peerig at the surge protector hidden behind the desk, trying to figure out which power cord goes to which piece of equipment.

The solution? Take some white out, or other non-corrosive marking tool, perhaps different colored types of tape. Place a bit of tape at the top of the cord, so you know what color you're looking for, and a piece of color halfway down the cord or at the bottom, to aid you in tracking down the right power cord.

Also, try to keep your cords with a straight shot to the plug in, rather than having them tangled together. Twist ties help with this.

You may need to identify your cords only once a year...but when it comes time to do it, it will sure make things easier if you have them marked appropriately.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

*I* Tell the *Computer* What To Do!

I have been working with computers for over 20 years, and what irritates me about the current crop of operating systems is how restrictive they are. The Macs many years ago could be figured out intuitiviely, and there was always a "quick and dirty" fix you could implement. No longer. For many years the Mac's operating system has been as restrictive as their imitator, Windows, was, and continues to become.

For example, you buy a digital camera, and you install the applications that come with it to your hard drive. Forever afterward, whenever you hook up your camera in order to download pictures, you'll get a dialog box that says, "What do you want to do" and it will give you a list of things to do, including downloading photos into a folder which you will never be able to find again.

I don't like the computer doing things like that. I tell the computer where I want my photos downloaded.

So I close out of the dialog box, open up the camera's memory, and copy over the pictures manually into the folders that I desire.

(The existance of the My Documents folder, into which every document you create ends up, also annoys me. I don't need that. You don't need that. You create your own folders for your documents, and instead of your document defaulting to My Documents when you save it, you should be able to tell the computer where you want to place it.

Well, this is a bit of a rant and all will become clear very shortly, as how to download photos onto your computer is one of the first topics I'll cover.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Tips and notes on how to work with computers. A little bit about the Mac, but more about PCs with XP...and a bit about Vista.

I have a Sony Vaio running XP, and a Dell Dimension 4600 with a Topaz S 24 inch monitor. My dad has a Dell running Vista, my mom has a Dell running XP. My aunt has a Mac and a Lenovo running Vista, and since she has no idea how to do things with comoputers, I'm always helping her with the simplest of things.

My mom also has difficulty with computers. She's 70. (As is my Aunt.) So I am often asked questions of a really basic nature.

I intend to answer those questions here as well. My posts won't deal with complex things like how to do DOS or Linux, but simply how to use your ocmpouter to surf the web safely, use applications like Word and Excel or Open Office's suite of applications, how to use Windows Movie Maker, and so on.

If you have a computer question, email me at I don't guarantee to be able to answer it - I may well have to ask the question myself at one of the websites that offer computer help, and then share that answer here - but one way or another, I hope that this blog will be of use to the novice computer user, whether you are young or old.