Columns and Letters

Columns: Renewal

-by Francene Gillis

The computer craze is on; flyers are jazzed up, and sales and rollback prices are doing all they can to entice consumers into the stores and malls; it is that time of year. Students are returning to school, teachers are thinking about lessons and getting organized, and retailers are smiling because back-to-school is a profitable time. Parents are torn because school means seeing less of the children, but it also means some time to self, and for those young people going away for the first time, September can be very emotional. Our thoughts are with them – especially the freshmen.

September means a regiment, a pattern, a routine. As much as many of us hate to see summer wind down, we are ready to return to schedules and consistency. Summer time is great for a short time, but extended periods with nothing to do can be taxing and draining on an individual, especially when one does not like to passively sit for any given period of time. Most people like to have something to do, to feel useful or have a purpose, and nothingness can have reciprocal negative effects leading sometimes to apathy, sleepiness, and disillusionment. The mind is meant to be kept busy and the body active.

But back to computers, or probably more correctly laptops, notebooks, IPads, Macs, tablets, and cellphones. We have become a world inundated with technology and mobile devices. Laptop computers are practically a staple now for anyone heading off to university, and many senior high students are jumping on the laptop band wagon as a way of getting better prepared for their studies. The Internet today is rich in resources and those very resources can be used to extend learning and interest in all students no matter their preferred learning style. The laptop or tablet is the new desktop, as most people like the advantage of being able to take their computer with them wherever they go. With wireless internet connections cropping up in more and more places, the internet is a click away.

But how does one decide on which computer is best? And if one does already have a computer, how can viruses and other nastiness be avoided?

Now is prime time for buying as retailers are in competitive mode. Weekly and online flyers parade HP, Toshiba, Acer, Samsung, Sony, Dell, Apple, and the list goes on and on. How does a person know which one is best? Is there such a thing as the best? Anyone who has an Apple product will argue that they have the best, but Apples are more expensive, although people who own them claim they have fewer problems. And I would wholeheartedly have to agree with that. There is a learning curve which some may not like, but that is a small price to pay for less technical woes. 

Today many computers have product reviews done by “real people” and those reviews can go a very long way in decision-making because they are done by people who have purchased the computer being considered. Obviously before putting money out, it is advisable to do homework, to check reviews, and to ask around. Also know what the computer will be used for…that makes a difference as well.

Make sure the information is unbiased. If you research HP products on a HP website, the information may be slanted, as would researching Toshiba products on a Toshiba website. It is best to find impartial reviews and to read up on strengths and weaknesses of the various types of laptops of interest. I would do my homework before going out to the stores; salespeople are trained to be very persuasive and to convince you why a product is worth buying. Carefully consider the option of an extended warranty. If a product is that good…should it need a warranty? Salespeople are trained to spot the naïve, gullible, and ignorant people, resulting in people entering a store with a maximum price that they are willing to pay, yet they come out with a bill that is two or three hundred dollars more.

Thinking back on my own tumultuous experience with laptops, I have come a very long way – from massive panic at the appearance of a blue screen – to laughing it off and reformatting everything entirely by myself. I have gone from the ridiculous, astronomical $1500.00 for a laptop, all the way down to one that costs less than $500.00 with basically the same specs. I firmly believe that university students, high school students, and laptops go hand-in-hand, as long as there is still some parental guidance or supervision for high school students at least. Media literacy and media ethics are most important components as well; young people must be taught proper etiquette in using technology as well as the advantages, disadvantages, and dangers. 

If in the market for a laptop, I offer my humble suggestion that you get one with at least a 500 GB hard drive, although 750 would be better if you like to download lots of music and movies. Your hard drive refers to the amount of room you have to store files. Most will probably be interested in a 13 or 15 inch screen, especially if a fair amount of typing is required. Smaller screens come with limitations in relation to keys. 

Make sure to go with an Intel Core processor that is at least an i3 or i5. The processor is the most important component when purchasing – it is the brain of the computer. The more GHz the better, although more is not always needed. I would suggest a processor speed of at least 2.5 GHz, with minimum of 4 GB of ram, being aware that 8 GB is better. And make sure the software comes preloaded or at a good cost, and that an explanation of main usage is discussed.

When purchasing a computer or laptop, ask for a hard or physical copy of the recovery disks; many businesses today seem to prefer to go with digital keys, leaving customers with more problems than enough. Having to send a computer out for repair, if not under warranty, can be costly as well as time consuming. Be prepared for the high pressured pitch to buy extended warranties. These are generally not recommended as most manufacturers cover the major issues that might crop up in the first year, unless of course you want complete peace of mind, and have an extra bit of cash to throw around. Warranties vary, so prior to purchase, know what is covered, and for how long.

When purchasing a laptop, buy several flash drives, and/or an external hard drive, not necessarily at the same time. Save, save, save everything. The 8GB and 16GB USB flash drives are reasonably priced for around twenty dollars, with the four being less. The days of 1 and 2 GB are gone as they hold a small amount compared to their opponents. 

Believe me – I learned the hard way the results and ramifications of not backing up or saving files in duplicate locations. It is a MUST for any student, because there is nothing so upsetting in the computer world than losing work that took hours, weeks, and even months to achieve. Backups are a must because most computers are prone to virus, worms, spam, and other infectious woes – all ugly enemies of hard work. With that said, download a free anti-virus program, or purchase one with the computer, and be sure to backup and save all files on a regular, daily or weekly basis. You never know when disaster might hit and a file get lost, corrupted or destroyed.

Laptops are more a necessity today than a luxury, as the information highway is used in all aspects of life including work, education, social networking, keeping in touch, and seeing or speaking to loved ones. They are used for creating, writing, reading, researching, and discovering; for online shopping and selling; for online verification and clarity; for health related information and government offices; for applications and paying bills; for mapping and finding directions; for keeping up on the news and the weather; for bringing principles and concepts alive; for virtual schooling; for taking virtual tours with people who have uploaded videos of their autumn walks and the kaleidoscope of colours found in autumn leaves, and…the list goes on, and on, and on.

Computers and portable laptops are here to stay, and the sooner people can educate themselves and use them the better. Literacy relating to technology is as important as basic literacy in the new millennium. The physical design will undoubtedly change over the years, as more and more applications are created, thus increasing the need to stay educated and up to date, on the technological highway that will not only determine how knowledge is disseminated, but how and why we live our lives as we do. 

Perhaps it is wise to keep in mind that computers are extensions and not the brains or hearts of human beings, that their effectiveness is determined in the way they are used. They are not, and never should be, an entity within themselves – or else we will be reading Alfred Hitchcock stories that…once upon a time…seemed so strange, so peculiar, so supernatural. 

Laptops have many uses, and keeping up with my children while they are away through FaceTime is a godsend. Social media sites like Facebook keep me informed and provide a laugh or two. I can communicate with people on the other side of the world, and listen to music from a multitude of radio stations. Having a laptop allows me to experience the world, its music and song, its art and lessons, speeches and documentaries, and on lonely autumn evenings I can witness fall’s transformation through posts and websites, and I can read up on and find information that might be perked through curiosity. The purchasing of laptops in autumn is a symbol of renewal, and the changing of the seasons.


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The Inverness Oran
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