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Computer Care: Behold the wonders of the Web

POSTED: February 4, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Did you know that Finley Stephens of Weston, Mo., lays claim to the largest ball of string (not twine) at 19 feet in diameter, weighing 3,712 pounds?

How about the fact that it would take about 80,000 years to travel to the nearest star in Alpha Centauri with the technology that we have today? Australian shepherds don't come from down under but originate from Colorado. Really?

Yes. I didn't know those facts, either, but I found them quickly (with multiple sources) on the Internet.

Many of my clients tell me all they need their computers for is email, and they don't know what else they can do with them. I often sleep but five hours a night because I get caught up in Internet searches.

Much of my computing knowledge I've learned from websites. I read news stories online, watch missed TV shows, do comparative research for products I want to buy, find programs for my computer and apps for my cellphone, learn how to repair things that I break and sell things that I no longer need.

I have booked vacations, sold cars and artwork and bought cameras and laptops, all online. Most of the electronics I need for my computer business are purchased online at better prices than I can get locally, even considering the shipping costs.

My point is that if all you use your computer for is email, then you need to take your mouse out for a ride. There is a world out there just waiting for you to explore.

Too often I hear excuses like, "I am too old to learn," or "I don't know how." Well, bunk. (Synonym I found online for a more aromatic term I usually use.)

When I was a kid, the only research I had access to was the World Book Encyclopedia. Each year, my parents would buy the annual supplement and I was thrilled. It was nice, but limited, and it cost a small fortune.

By comparison, today the Internet is huge and it is free, aside from your connection fees. The information is literally available at our fingertips and is enormous, almost infinite.

You don't need any special knowledge, only a desire to know or want something. Just ask Google a question. Speak like you would to a friend. Type your query in question form. Don't worry about grammar or using caps.

If I want recipes with broccoli, but without cheese, that's what I would type: I would ask, "What are broccoli recipes without cheese?" (without quotes).

Have a hankering to understand Einstein? Type, "Explain the Theory of Relativity."

You will get pages of hits to your queries; the first few on the first page will usually answer your question. Avoid responses that say "ad," as they are paid-for responses and will steer you astray to the sponsors' product pages.

Look at a few pages and save them as bookmarks or favorites, depending on what your browser calls them.

Shop online. Do comparisons between products and stores and read what shoppers say about what you want to buy. If you buy online, you can have your purchase shipped or pick it up at local stores like Target, Sears and Wal-Mart, to name a few.

Use snopes.com to dispel those email rumors we all get. (Bill Gates will give you $50 if you forward this column.)

Feeling bad? Look up your symptoms online. Did your doctor prescribe some new medications for you? See what you shouldn't mix with them on the pharmaceutical's website.

Discover which foods are antioxidant-rich or low in fat.

Aside from Google, I like ask.com, howto.com and youtube.com. You'll find that many queries will refer you to these three sites often.

You Tube is great if you need to know how to do things like fix a leaky toilet, change your car's water pump, refill your inkjet cartridges or install RAM in your computer. If you are a DIY enthusiast and a visual learner, you will like their videos. Watch, pause and rewind them. Bookmark the videos and watch them again.

Are you tired of the bar scene? Internet dating has increased over the years. Approximately 5 million singles use online dating services worth about $4 billion worldwide. (Yes, these statistics come from the Internet.)

If you have a webcam, download and install Skype, a free video-conferencing application. You will truly enjoy chatting with your dates or your out-of-town children and be able to see them at the same time. Welcome to the 21st century.

The Internet works. My wife and I met online back when the information superhighway was but a dirt road. We have watched the Web and our marriage grow for almost 20 years, although I do believe Teressa knows more trivia than Google.

If all you go online for is email, live dangerously. Go look up something. You can't break your computer — not like that, anyway. You don't need a Ph.D. or any special knowledge. The latter is what you'll gain.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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