Welcome to the first article in the new “Tom’s Tech Tips” series, written by Trilogy Monarch Dunes member Tom Wallace.  Almost all of our community members use home computers, so this informative series will cover a variety of computer topics, including purchasing a computer, protecting computer hardware and software, commonly used hardware and programs, social networks, spam, and much more.  The tips will range from novice to intermediate level.  But don’t let intermediate level scare you.  That just means installing or using hardware/software may require (free) telephone tech support.

This first issue of “Tom’s Tech Tips” will start at the very beginning with a walk through the process of selecting, hooking up, and protecting your home computer. Feel free to post comments at the end of the article with questions or suggestions for future tech topics.

Purchasing a Home Computer
Apple vs PC:
  Apple computers are generally easier to use for the computer novice, and are less prone to virus attacks.  But they are more expensive, and much less versatile than PC’s. Apple has 10% of market, PC’s have 90%, so these Tech Notes will mostly apply to PC’s, not to Apples.

Which computer do you need?  There are hundreds of articles on the net that cover this topic, so you might want to hop on a friend’s computer or use a computer at your club house to do some initial online research.  You can also talk to the salesmen at computer stores such as Best Buy, Office Depot, Fry’s, etc., as they have a good deal of knowledge about purchasing a computer.  Get a computer that will do what you want it to do, with a little room for growth.  Don’t skimp on hard drive storage, speed, or memory.  But don’t think “If I spend more on my computer, I won’t have to replace it as often.”  THAT IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE.  Any computer (no matter how expensive) will be obsolete in four to five years, tops.

Hooking Up Your Home Computer
Most stores will help you set your computer up; some even give classes in the use of your new computer.    Find out what kind of support is offered before you buy.  Most manufacturers will help you by telephone or chat (if you have access to another computer).  Chat is an immediate text message exchange on the computer.  Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) will help you set up your internet/WIFI connections.

Protecting Your Hardware
Always use a UPS (uninterruptable power supply) for your computer.  There is a chance (fortunately small) that a power failure will destroy all information on your hard drive, including your operating system.  Costco has a 1000 Watt UPS for approx $100 that will run most home computer systems for 20-30 minutes or more when (not if) power fails.  This gives you time to close files and programs.  Plug your computer, monitor, and external hard drives into the power-protection outlets (NOT THE SURGE-PROTECTION ONLY outlets!!).  I even have my router (in the closet in another room) plugged into one.  DO NOT PLUG your laser printer into the UPS.  (Even plugged into a separate wall outlet, my printer’s heater turn-on power surge causes the UPS to activate for part of a second.)

Protecting Your Software
When you buy your computer, ALSO BUY a good Internet security program.  This is especially important for Windows PC’s.  DO NOT USE A FREE ANTI-VIRUS PROGRAM, as you will get what you pay for!  New computers may come with McAfee, but I have been very happy with Norton 360.  I have used it for years on several computers, and I have never had a problem with viruses, trojans, worms, etc.  (Although Norton occasionally warns me to leave a site I’m visiting, because it’s trying to attack my computer.)  Norton’s “Identity Safe” remembers usernames and passwords for websites, and address/credit card information for online orders.

Selecting a Browser
A browser is the program that displays web pages while you “surf” the Internet.  There are four main browsers:  Internet Explorer(Microsoft), Safari(Apple), Firefox(Mozilla), and Chrome(Google).

I recommend Google Chrome (currently the most popular browser) for the Trilogy websites (MyTrilogyLife.com, MyEncanterraLife.com, and MyArdienteLife.com).  Chrome is similar to Internet Explorer, and shares many of its features.  Norton Identity Safe works with it, and its bookmarks toolbar is similar to the I.E. favorites toolbar.  Most browser enhancements work with Chrome (except “The Ant” video capture program).

I would also suggest installing all four major browsers.  All are free, and when you have trouble viewing a website with one browser, you can try the other browsers. Once you’ve installed several browsers, you should use Safari to set the default browser to the one you use most often.  (Safari is the only browser that lets you easily change the default browser to any installed browser.)  The default browser opens when any Internet shortcut is double-clicked, no matter which browser created it.

Safely Using Your Home Computer

  • Security Level: Keep your windows (or security program) firewall set to at least the “medium” security level (which is usually the default).  In the Windows Internet Explorer browser, you can do this by clicking the gearwheel (upper right), clicking “Internet Options”, and then selecting “Security” to change the security level.
  • Free Programs:  Be very alert if you download “Free” programs from sites that are not highly rated by Amazon, cnet, PC magazines, etc.  You may also get invisible “gifts” that you really didn’t want.  Definitely do not download anything before you install a GOOD (purchased) computer security program.  When you download a free or paid program, feel free to DECLINE some or all of the “added free extras”.  They will clutter up your computer, and may cause other problems.  PAY ATTENTION to warnings you get when your security program tells you there is a problem with a pending download.  Don’t blindly click “load anyway”.  Exception:  If I request a download from a  (reputable) site that has an invalid security certificate, I usually load it.
  • Spam:  If you use the Internet a lot, download free software, or access any “educational” sites, you will get spam.  Most security programs have automatic spam filters that will trap spam, if you process the messages properly.
  • Automatic Spam Filters:  Most are similar, but here I’ll describe the spam filter for Gmail.  First of all, don’t open any email without reading the header first.  If it’s spam, DO NOT OPEN IT OR DELETE IT!  Instead, click “Report as spam”.  This will put the message in the spam folder and adjust the automatic spam filter so that similar messages will be trapped later.  Periodically inspect the spam folder, and “UNSPAM” any messages that aren’t spam (this will also adjust the spam filter). Gmail automatically deletes spam messages after 30 days, but you can delete them manually.  Just be sure to check the headers before deleting them!
  • Internet Banking (bill paying, etc.): Be aware that there have been security lapses with these services.  But, the banks generally monitor your purchases, and will even prevent you from losing money when you report bogus charges.  Paying bills online saves money (postage) and a lot of time.  The only problems I’ve had with banking have been (probably) due to someone I purchased from (restaurant, etc) sharing my card number with thieves.  B of A called me and asked if I had purchased tickets to Scotland. (I hadn’t.)  When you travel abroad, it’s a good idea to notify your bank where and when, so they won’t decline foreign charges.
  • Social Network Issues:  Facebook and Google have some privacy problems, but I feel that these are overblown by the media.  A general rule is to “tighten up” privacy settings (most can be changed by the user), but it’s best not to post information you want to keep secret.  One Facebook rule:  if you get a request to “befriend” the friends of your friends, you shouldn’t click it.  You’ll then get (many) messages like “Joe Schmoe has changed a picture on his Facebook page”.  (And you have no idea who Joe is!)
  • Replacing Keyboards:  Keyboards, believe it or not, don’t work well when you spill wine, water, or coffee on them.  (I’ve killed 4 of them.)  When (not if) you replace your keyboard, shop around.  You can get a good keyboard for $15-$25, but can (needlessly) pay over $100.

Tom will continue to share his computer expertise throughout the year in his “Tom’s Tech Tips” series.