Computing section

This section is about some of my computing interests.  It covers some information about my own computers (this seems obligatory on personal websites), and things I do with computers, such as authoring websites, fighting with Windows, and dabbling with Linux.

Helping other people

Fixing and securing computers is probably the thing I'm asked most about.  I can fix computers, though many are in a complete shambles before the owner asks for help, and it's a complete nightmare to try and restore their computer to a reliable condition, instead of wiping everything off and starting afresh (which entails it's own headaches).  Not to mention that they soon return it to that decrepit state.  And I can't secure a computer for someone who undoes all the security and ignores all the advice that they're given, and nor can anybody else (keeping a computer system secure is an on-going process by the people that're using it).  For these sorts of reasons I'm loathe to offer repair services to the general public, as they'll blame you when they break their own computers (again), whether that be offering “how to do so” guides on the internet, or actually repairing computer for complete strangers.  Not to mention that it's often a mammoth task to unravel the mess.

Personal computers are unreliable machines, and require maintenence by their owners.  Their users really need to learn what they're doing (what the process involves), as well as how to use their computer (how their computer does it), about how and why internet nutcases try and wreak havoc on all and sundry, and what to expect.  The best help I can give people is to encourage them to help themselves.  You've got yourself a fancy computer, you should learn about it—it's an interactive toy, not a passive device that you just sit and watch (like the television), you're not going to get much joy out of it unless you do interact with it.  In this section I'll touch upon some of those issues, but only in an introductory way.  You'll need to apply that knowledge to your own situation, customising it to suit, and finding the specific information about what you have from those that supplied it.

Newcomers to internetting

From time to time I assist people learning to use their computers, and the thing I seem to have to keep on repeating myself about is advising them about using the internet (how to do so, and safety concerns), so here's my primer to using the internet.  It's going to be the same information that I'd give anyone that asks me about it directly, so you may as well read it here.  As it's a “primer” it only briefly explains the concepts, outlining what they are, it doesn't give lots of specific details about using particular applications to do the things it outlines.  Your applications come with their own guides, you need to read them to learn about your own software's abilities.  And the more you learn, the better you're able to use them (many people only use a small potential of their software's abilities, and do a lot of manual work that the computer should be automating for them).

Progressing from just typing documents

Another thing I'm often asked about is to provide help with word processing.  Typically this involves explaining how to use an expensive and much-too-complicated program (for the work being done) as an electronic typewriter (which a word processor is not).  Usually these programs have their own help guides, which I strongly recommend you look at—they'll give you specific help geared towards using that program.  One related thing that I will provide is a guide to desktop publishing, which is about how to do the job properly, if you have suitable tools.  It's applicable to any decent DTP program.  Again, it's a guide to the process, not a ready-reckoner for using a specific tool.  And, of course, learning to touch type is a great benefit.

WWW publishing

Occasionally I'm asked to help someone making a website.  Often they think this is a simple task of typing something and putting on a webserver.  But there's a lot more to it than that, certainly so if you want to do it succesfully (create pages that work for other people, and can be found by people looking for the information you've written about).  A number of years ago I gave a short lecture on authoring webpages, and wrote some notes to go along with it.  I've published the notes here, and they should give you an understanding of what's involved.  You should come to realise that this isn't a five-minute job, and that asking someone else to do it for you also involves quite a lot of work (for you and them), though it's worth that extra effort to do to properly.

My own dalliances with webhosting has involved using my ISP's webservers, some of which were quite awful to use—no user-customisation options at all, or just a few, and certainly not enough control for proper webserving.  Running webservers on my own machines, which really pointed out just what I was missing from other hosting services, and currently using a dedicated webhosting service for this website (which hasn't been without its own problems—customising the webserver for my old website was fraught with some serious annoyances).

Changing operating systems

For many people changing the OS is simply due to buying a new computer, and the new one came with something different.  You may have gone from Amiga to Mac, DOS to Windows, Windows to Linux, or simply updated to a newer version of the same OS.  Some of those changes are expensive (buying a new computer), some are free (installing Linux).  Changing OSs will mean you have to learn a new way of doing things, you may no-longer be able to do some of the things you used to, and there will be new things to learn.  This isn't just about the programs you use, but also the hardware (e.g. your ten year old printer and scanner mightn't be supported any more on newer operating systems).

It's becoming cool and trendy to play with Linux (it used to be the exclusive practice of computer obsessed geeks).  And now people completely unfamiliar with it are reading suggestions to use Linux instead of Windows, usually for reasons of security against attacks from the internet, and for those who've grown sick of fighting with Windows, and you can download and install it for free.

I changed over, because I was sick of Windows, and I'd used much better systems before it.  With Linux, I'd found a current alternative that was a definite improvement.

Ancient computing

Back when I was young, personal computers didn't exist.  Computers were big machines that filled rooms, and you sent jobs to them on computer punch cards, then waited to get results sent back to you on print-outs.

Miscellaneous information

Whether it's better to leave a computer running, or turn it off, and electrical safety while fiddling with your computer.

Replacing the CMOS/BIOS battery in an Asus F3JC latop.