The folks who made your new computer must have decided you'd learn faster if you figured out everything for yourself.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


A simple manual for your new PC or Mac, Part 1

Dec. 27, 2009

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2009, The Post-Standard

   Toasters come with instruction manuals. So do lamps. But did who ever heard of a helpful instruction manual for a PC or Mac?
   The folks who made your new computer must have decided you'd learn faster if you figured out everything for yourself. So this week and next I'm striking a blow for computerocracy by supplying the missing manuals -- this week, on the hardware in your PC or Mac, and next week, the software.
   HOOKING IT UP. The thing with three prongs is, of course, the cord that normally plugs into your wall socket. But plug it in instead to a switched power outlet -- Big Lots sells 'em for a few bucks -- and switch the outlet off when you're not using the computer. This helps keep spyware at bay.
   THE SCREEN. If you're used to poking the old kind of screen with your finger, don't do it to your gorgeous flat panel. It's made out of soft plastic. And keep it looking beautiful longer by running a "blank screen" screen saver. You'll find one named something like that in the screen saver options.
   THE KEYBOARD. If you don't like the keyboard, you're not stuck with it. Any keyboard made in the last 10 years will work on any PC or Mac. (I've got a keyboard that's an oldie but goodie, and I keep it handy for times when my patience runs out with the plasticky keyboards on modern computers.)
   THE MOUSE. See what I just said about keyboards? Same-same for the mouse. Toss it if you don't like it. But here's a special brighten-your-day note for new Mac owners: That strange no-button mouse that you got actually has left and right "buttons." Just press the left and right areas at the front of the mouse. It does even more, too, which we'll check out next week.
   CABLES. Everything that plugs into a computer (except for the screen) uses something called USB. Be careful. USB cables plug in only one way. Don't force them. If you need a new cable, Radio Shack and Best Buy sell them.
   TABLE. What's "table" got to do with your computer? Plenty. It needs a steady surface, whether it's a desktop computer or a laptop. A small table or solid desk will work, as long as nothing wobbles. A wobbly computer can give your files the shakes.
   SURGE PROTECTOR. This is a device that's supposed to stop surges in the power to your house. Trouble is, the only "surges" these days are lightning hits, which can send millions of volts into the wiring and melt the inside of a surge protector. So skip the surge protector and get the following item instead.
   UPS. This means "uninterruptible power supply." It's a small plastic box with a battery. It's connected to your house current and your computer plugs into the UPS, which runs your computer off the battery while it's being charged by the house current. It's a perfect surge protector because your computer is never connected to the main power, but it's also great for keeping your computer running during a brief (20 minutes or so) brownout.
   Next week: A software manual for modern times.