Computer Users' Group

January 21, 2009

 

Computer Basics

 

Modern computers are generally either desktop or laptop. Hand-held are not considered here. They include the same parts but are arranged differently. Each has a case and in the case of the desktop, that usually includes the power supply that takes the 115 volt input and converts it to the working voltages of the computer. That function in a laptop is provided by the “brick” that acts as the system power supply. Then they each have a printed circuit card called the “main board” or the “mother board”. On it are mounted and electrically connected, the circuit elements of the computer. Those consist of the processor (computer chip made either by Intel or AMD), the support devices usually referred to as the “chip set” which includes devices that connect to all of the peripheral equipment. Then there is the memory in which information is stored and accessed while the computer is on but does not retain anything when it is off . Storage of information is provided by the hard drive that retains what is written to it when the power is off and can be erased and re-written many times and by a CD or DVD drive that can read information from disks and may also write information to disks. In the case of the laptop there is also a monitor and a keyboard that are external to the desktop.

 

External connections are made through several standard connection types. The Desktop requires a 15 pin monitor connector in order to connect a computer monitor for viewing. In the laptop, the monitor is built-in but most still have a monitor connector for displaying on an external monitor either to extend what’s on the laptop monitor or to duplicate it (clone). Another connector is used to connect a printer to the computer that is usually referred to as the parallel printer port. There is also a newer connector called a Universal Serial Bus Connector (USB Port) that can connect many types of ancillary equipment to the computer. Most also have a network connector that can connect to an existing network. There may also be a connector called a PS2 for connecting a mouse but many mice use the USB port or are wireless or optical.

 

That much constitutes the hardware but the hardware is useless without something to tell it what to do. That part is called the software and there are many parts to it. Unseen and often unknown is the system BIOS or Built In Operating System. (Or Basic Input Output System). That resides in permanent memory and provides some of the basic system needs. It’s required to load the true operating system that is usually found on the hard drive. That operating system is usually some form of Windows and most commonly is Windows XP. The operating system is the software that controls how everything on the computer works. It includes drivers that interface with all of the internal and peripheral devices, controls the Graphical User Interface (GUI) that is the icons on the desktop that perform their designated function when clicked on, manages all other computer functions including interfacing with any applications (programs) that are running. In that respect, most programs running in Windows rely on Windows to provide for most of the functions that can be performed such as saving and printing. Thus, an understanding of what can be done by Windows is necessary to realize the full potential of the computer. There are also Toolbars that can be added to allow the direct entry of commands. Some are part of Windows and others that are created by third parties can be added such as the Google or Yahoo search toolbars.

 

System BIOS. You can access the system BIOS by pressing the key indicated on the startup page when you start your computer. Usually that’s F2. It has to be pressed before the Operating System loads and works best if it is repeatedly pressed instead of just held down. Instructions are provided that tell you what keys are required to move about and see everything that can be controlled. It’s seldom necessary to change anything unless you are having problems. One area that you might have to use is the Boot Order. When your system won’t start and you’ve created a Disaster Recovery CD you will want to change the boot order to boot from the CD player before the hard drive. Then when you start up you’ll start from the recovery CD and hopefully be in a position to correct whatever your problem is. It doesn’t hurt to see what the BIOS contains but make sure after you’ve looked through everything you click on EXIT without saving changes just to be safe.

 

Operating System: There are many but the most common is Windows of one version or another. The latest is Windows Vista but the most common one is Windows XP. The program starts with a page showing Icons that represents applications that you can run and locations that you can visit. One such Icon represents My Computer which is the top location that will allow you to “drill down” to see everything that your computer holds. One such item is Drive C which is the main hard drive that stores all of the information and applications used by the computer. You can click on any folder in drive C to open it and see what it contains and click on any folder thus displayed to see what’s there until there are no more folders to open. When you open a folder in which you’d like to create a sub-folder, click on FILE/NEW and select FOLDER and then enter the folder name that you want. The folder My Documents and it’s sub-folders is where you should save your documents.. Choose My Documents, select the appropriate sub-folder and create the folder that you want. You can create a folder called FTW and move all of your FamilyTreeMaker files there and choose that as the location for FTM to save future files. My Documents is located as follows: From My Computer click on Drive C, Documents and Settings, Your Name and My Documents. There usually is a shortcut to My Documents in the left hand pane. Most anything done on the computer requires the OS in one way or another thus many applications (programs) have common ways of getting about. We’ll open Internet Explorer (IE) to see what the menus hold. Across the top of the page on what is called the Menu Bar there are functions that the application can perform. In this case we have File, Edit, View, Favorites, Tools and Help. I can’t emphasize enough that you should check these out in any new program you use just to see what the program can do. Each of these functions has a Drop Down menu that shows what can be done. Note also that most functions have a keyboard shortcut that you can use instead of the mouse. If we click on File, the drop down menu appears and if we just slide the cursor across the toolbar we see each drop down menu in order. We won’t discuss each item but will select a few to talk about and some are unique to Browsers so we’ll discuss them there. Under File we find Open that allows you select a file that you can open in your Browser, generally a file with an extension of HTM or HTML. Other applications support other file types such as DOC or TXT or JPG. Next we find Edit but only if you have a program to edit it with. And then we come to Save and Save as. Save saves a file that you already have named and saved where as Save As requires a name for a file and a location in which to save it in order to save it. Choose the name that you want and the folder in which you want to save it. You are in charge! Don’t let Bill Gates decide how to name your files and where to put them. Save As will be invoked even if you enter Save to save an un-named file. If you do a Save As to a file with a name that already exists, it will say that the file already exists and ask if you want to overwrite it. If you open a file, edit it and then Save it, it will automatically overwrite the original. If you are not sure that you are thrilled with how you changed the file, you can select Save As and give it a new name thus creating a second edition of the original. Next in line are Page Setup, Print and Print Preview. Page Setup lets you determine the paper size and orientation of how you want it printed. While it may seem appropriate after setting it up to print it, there are cases where going to Print Preview will save time, paper and ink. One example is printing something from the Internet. Some web sites require a page of credits before the actual page is printed and sometimes a third page. With Print Preview you can see what you get and select to print only the page that you want. Once you’ve chosen the page(s) to print, you can click on the print icon without reverting back to the menu. Next in line on the Menu Bar is Edit and the first thing on the list, although grayed out is Cut. It will become active when you select something and if you then select Cut (CTRL-X)the selection will be deleted from the page but retained on the Clipboard so that it can be pasted into a different location either in that document or another. Copy (CTRL-C)is similar except it doesn’t remove the selection from its present location and Paste (CTRL-V) places the cut or copied selection from the clipboard into the present cursor location. Next is View and the first item is Toolbars which tells you what toolbars are active; check or uncheck them to suit your needs. If you’re not sure what each bar is, click on the name and watch it appear or disappear. Refresh re-loads the page you are viewing and Text Size lets you adjust the size of the text. You can accomplish the same with CTRL-Scroll Wheel or CTRL-+ or -. Source lets you see the HTML code that makes up the page that you are viewing and Full Screen removes the headers at the top of the page so you can see more of the page you want. F11 will toggle the Full Screen mode on and off.

 

The next two items, Favorites and Tools are IE unique so the last Item is Help. While the data contained in the help file here is unique to IE, the general layout is common to help in other applications. There is generally an Index that you can select to see what Help covers. It’s useful to use the index especially if you are not quite sure what your difficulty would be called. You may get an idea. Otherwise, choose Search and enter what it is that you need help on. Try rephrasing it until you get the result that you want.

 

Browsers: There are several browsers in use, the most popular being Internet Explorer and Firefox.

Both now have tabbed browsing that lets you easily navigate among sites that you are viewing. Each requires you to enter an address (Universal Resource Locator [URL]) in the Address Bar. That can be done automatically by clicking on a properly formatted Hyperlink. HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is the language that the World Wide Web uses and Browsers open and read such data when the file the URL points to ends in HTM or HTML. (Pastfinders initial file is index.htm.) In IE you can save the URL of a file you would like to return to by going to Favorites and clicking on Add to Favorites. You can click on Favorites and navigate down the list of sites you’ve saved and select one to return to at any time. In Firefox, they are saved as Bookmarks but the process is the same. To print a file you are viewing in either one, refer to the previous section and try Print Preview before printing. You can also save a page to view later by going to Save As and selecting a name and place to save it. If it has links to other sites, you will have to be on line to make them work . Both IE and Firefox have Add-ons that you can download and that will save the page you are viewing as well as some of the linked pages. In IE it’s WinHTTrack and in Firefox it’s Scrapbook. Both IE and Firefox have Phishing Filters that warn you that the site you are going to may not be what it says it is. And both can block images from 3rd party sites that may lead to Spam. And both have Pop-up blockers that can eliminate most annoying pop-ups. You’ll find access to these items under Tools on the Menu Bar. In addition, you’ll find Internet Options where you can set up how you want your Browser to work. Here you can set the levels of Security and Privacy that you want, Content that sets the level of censorship you want to employ, Connections sets how to connect to the Internet, Programs sets what programs to use for mail and newsgroups, and an Advanced tab that lets you tailor the program to your needs. Go ahead and change something–you can always change it back.

 

Email Programs: Outlook Express and Thunderbird are popular email programs but Yahoo mail and Google’s gmail are also popular. In OE, going across the menu bar are File, Edit, View, Tools, Message and Help. Under File we find New, Open, Save as, Save Attachment, Save as Stationery, Folder, Import, Export, Switch Identity, Identities, Properties, Exit and Log Off Identity, and Exit. We’ll cover the most important. New lets you create a new mail message or newsgroup message, a new folder or a new contact. Open opens the selected folder in a new window. Save as Stationery allows you to create you own stationery and then save it to use on all or selected messages that you send. Import and Export allow you to exchange settings and contacts with other programs. Switch Identities allows more than one account and switches among them while Identities allows you to create, modify or delete accounts. Under Edit we find Copy, Select All, Find, Move to Folder, Copy to Folder, Delete, Empty Deleted Items Folder, Mark as Read, Mark as Unread and Mark All Read. They are all pretty explanatory. Select All selects all of the entries in the folder that is open. A good way to select all and then delete them. Find searches everything for what you request among all folders or just the selected folder while Find Next moves among located items that you searched for. People search is for finding people in your address book. Move or Copy to Folder copies or moves the selected item(s) to the folder that you designate. Mark as Read or Unread or Mark All Read reverses the condition of the item(s) (turns bolding on or off). View is next on the Menu Bar and it’s pretty straight forward. In order the items are Current View, Sort By, Columns, Layout, Blocked Images, Message in HTML, Text Size, Encoding, Previous Message, Next, Go to Folder, Expand, Collapse, Stop and Refresh. The first four items handle how you want your email page to look and the order in which messages are sorted. The only other item that’s very useful is the Text Size where you can change the size of the text in the message that you are viewing. The default settings are probably the best but feel free to change whatever you want. Next on the menu bar is Tools which has Send and Receive, Synchronize All, Address Book, Add Sender to Address Book, Message Rules, Newsgroups, Accounts and Options. In Send and Receive you can just send, just receive or both. I’ve never used Synchronize All. Address Book merely opens it while Add Sender adds the sender of the selected email to your address book; do that for senders that you want to receive mail from so your Spam filter won’t delete it. Message Rules lets you automatically move mail into the proper folder. You choose a criteria and mail that meets it goes into the specified folder. First, right click on Inbox and then click on New Folder and give it a name. Do that for all of the different types of email that you want to sort such as Pastfinders, the IRS, Obama, etc. Once you have the folders, go to Message Rules and choose how to sort your mail and where to put it. Accounts is where you set up one or more accounts in accordance with instructions from your provider. Options is jam packed with things that you can choose to make your email work the way you want. Go through all 10 tabs to see what you can do; under send there’s a box checked that says Include Message in Reply. I would uncheck that unless you really want to tell the sender what they sent. Last on the tool bar is Message which allows you the create a new message or one using pre-made stationery or your own stationery.

 

Thunderbird has much the same items arranged and named differently but they perform the same function. Under Tools, Account Settings, click on Server Settings and check the box Fetch Headers Only and you won’t have to download messages that may be harmful.

 

The Wayback Machine: Our daughter called me one day looking for a copy of a diary that Dotty’s GGGrandfather wrote about his cross country round trip by rail in 1889 and she wanted to use it to surprise Dotty for Christmas. We had it posted on our web site at one time but had to take it down to post something else and I was unable to find a copy on the computer. So I went to The Wayback Machine. You can get it here http://www.archive.org/index.php. I entered the URL (http://home.cfl.rr.com/rdill) of our site and got a listing of 21 dates when our home page had been saved and I could click on any one to see the entire contents of the site. It has not been archived since Aug. 2, 2005, however. You can also search by entering a search term but you’ll be overwhelmed unless you find a way to limit it. Pastfinders site is here: http://www.rootsweb.com/~flpslc .

 

There were some questions asked during the meeting.

Question: I get emails with dozens of previous addresses and all I want is to be able to see or print the message itself.

Answer: There are a couple of ways. One is to click on forward and the message becomes editable and you can then swipe across everything that you don't want and then press delete. If you want to print it you can then send it to yourself. You should go through that every time you forward a message so that your recipients don't have to wade through all of that junk. The second approach would be to just swipe across the part that you want to save or print and then then copy it to notepad or just click on Print and then Print Selection.

 

Question: Text in messages is so small I can't always read it. Can I make it larger?

Answer: One thing that you can do is to go to Start/ All Program/ Accessories and slide over to Accessibility. There you'll find Magnifier that will enlarge any text that you move the cursor over.

 

Question: When I take a digital photo and save it to my computer and open it in Paint, it is always about 20 inches wide and I want smaller pictures so that I can edit them.

Answer: Reduce the resolution that the camera uses. If it's not numbered but is labeled Best, Better, Good and Fair try taking a picture at each setting to see what pleases you. Best is usually for images that will be enlarged and uses up more memory than necessary.