The Show Dog Super Site

The Computer

There are a number of good rules for someone starting out with computers and the Internet. The first of these are:

  • Don't take someone's old computer as a free gift.
  • Don't try to upgrade your old 486 (or someone else's)
  • Don't limit yourself to considering only the best known brands.

You may have heard a lot about Dell Computers lately, and their marketing stratagem of making the computer only after the order has been received. This approach has two distinct advantages; first, you get a 'custom' computer, and second the company doesn't have a lot of inventory of completed computers around on the shelves going out of date. You see, computers are like cars. A computer company doesn't manufacture a computer, it 'assembles' it. You probably already know that there are a lot of us computer types who prefer to do our assembly ourselves - just for the fun of it. SO! What you really wants to know about your new computer is who made the parts in it, and what the parts are. But you don't have the knowledge to judge those things yet if you are just starting out, so here's a good basic inexpensive computer which will make your time spent on it a pleasure:


  • A PC not a Mac - unless you know all the limitations of Macs.
  • A Pentium 300 or better
  • A Celeron chip
  • At least 32 meg RAM
  • A 3 Gigabyte hard drive
  • At least a 4 meg graphics card
  • At least a 24x CD ROM
  • A 15" or better monitor (17" is better and 19" is really nice)
  • A 56K X2 V90 modem
  • Sound card and speakers depending on your expected use.
  • A price tag under $900.00 - this system current as of 2/99.
  • Other things to consider: A DVD (Digital Video Drive), Big Sound, Graphics Acceleration and accessories for Advanced computer games, A Printer, A Scanner.

Let's talk about this. When you are comparing prices, remember lots of the catalog computers are listed without the monitor included, so that has to be added to the price. First that's a real system and a real price - my computer store sells this setup. They are a local business and assemble computers on the premesis. They are always completely up to date, and do such a great volume of business that nothing ever sits on the shelf and gets stale. With the prices of computer components falling for the past year, now is the time for real bargains. These young people always have the newest and best components and sell computers for less than the Internet, less than the mail order places, and way less than the "discount" computer store chains. They are hard working and their service is great. The best of all worlds. A note here - I also know lots of computer stores which are local and sell only one or two a week. Their computers are not as described above. The place to locate the kind of business I've been talking about is at a computer show. Go, look around, notice who seems to be doing business with people who know what they are asking for and have a local location as well as their booth at the shows. If I were moving and had to find a new store, that's how I would go about finding it.


The next best deals will be at a discount warehouse store such as "Sam's Club". These will also be current and well configured - these stores only sell the products for which they have a very good demand. These are especially good places to find your printer or scanner. However, these stores are going to be selling Compaqs and Hewlett-Packards, and some of these will be very difficult to add things to or upgrade.


Upgrading

DON'T try to upgrade a 486 or even an early Pentium (586). Trying to upgrade means you are looking for obsolete parts. These parts are not only slow, but they are expensive! Difficult to find, difficult to work with, soon to be discarded because you won't be happy with the result, and a waste of time and money. Been there and done that several times, never satisfactorily.


Likewise don't take such an item as a gift to 'try out' surfing on. The monitor will be dreadful, the modem will be slow and the whole experience excruciating. It WON'T give you a good idea of what surfing the web is all about. Do your try out on a friend's machine or in a computer store with a good monitor. The Internet is all about color, at its very most basic level. You need an up to date monitor and graphics card, or what's the point.


Another advantage of the local store is you can get them to set up all your programs on the computer, including your Internet browser of choice (Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape) and to configure your dial up access to the account you set up above with your ISP (Internet Service Provider). There are certain things you will expect the computer to have. This is a place where the computer shop and the large mail order or chain store computers will differ. Most of the ones from these larger places will come with 'bundled' software, including a stack of CD's you will never so much as put in your machine. These add about a thousand dollars to the price of some computers. When you call a catalog order computer place, try asking what the price of a scanner without the bundled graphics application will cost. You will get a big surprise at how much of the price is due to the bundled software.

The real question is, what kind of programs do you really want or need on your computer, and is the bundled program the one which you would prefer to have as a graphics program, for instance. You can download lots of great software from the Internet as shareware, and these programs are on a try-out basis. They become disabled after a month, or after a certain number of trials, and then if you like one of them, you can purchase it. This is an enormous revolution in software distribution. No more buying an expensive program that you find out you hate after you install it. So, that bundled software, containing lots of stuff you'll never even look at, is likely to cost a whole lot more than buying say, Microsoft Works and Quicken and Paint Shop Pro would amount to. Discuss this with your computer people also. They can put all this in for you. The one thing that will come on your PC for sure is Microsoft Windows. Anything more is a totally variable thing. And remember, that bundled software is not, in any way, free!


Software Issues

  • Windows version: 95B or 98. Your local store will probably be able to still put 95B in for you if you want
  • Graphics. You need a program to handle your photos - the ones you scan in and want to put on your pedigrees and your home page. The pedigrees themselves have to be handled as a graphics file, when you E-mail them to someone inquiring about stud service or a puppy. Paint Shop Pro or Ulead Photo Impact are excellent. The one bundled with your printer isn't going to be much use, though your scanner may have something useful with it. Usually these are 'Lite' versions of better software.
  • Word processing: Microsoft Word - a lite version is in your MS Works. The full version is worth buying, as it checks grammar and spelling, will set up business cards and has templates for everything from fax cover sheets to calendar pages.
  • Your Pedigree program will be found by checking with your friends or on the Internet.
  • Browser: Ideally Netscape 4, alternatively Microsoft Internet Explorer 4. You need someone to deactivate IE if you have Windows 98.
  • Your Tax and bookkeeping program - lite version in Works, ideally Quicken or Turbo Tax.


You will be familiar now with the Justice Department's lawsuit with Microsoft. There are issues here of restraint of trade, but there are much more important ones as well. Privacy. You can research the privacy issue and how many different ways Internet Explorer opens your hard drive to someone out there in internet-land (as opposed to the number of ways Netscape does). Myself, I don't want one individual controlling the Internet and all traffic on it. It's too much power with too much potential for abuse. I see Big Brother sending commands to your computer to take over your house and administer tranquilizers and such. But then, I've an active imagination. Just be aware, as you receive material from the Internet, it can contain information which can alter the way your computer performs. Viruses occur, but are extremely uncommon. There are safe places to download from the Internet, one such is Tucows

http://www.tucows.com/

You can check on such matters on the Internet - most often what purports to be a virus is just a 'virus hoax' which unsuspecting people rush to pass on to their friends. If someone sends you a warning about something like this, go immediately to the US Government's Virus information pages and check it out.


Remember in the summer of 1998, the US Department of Justice wanted Microsoft to release Windows 98 without the IE4 as an obligatory part of the installation. They directed Microsoft to remove IE4. Alas they couldn't do that. We who had been aware of the development already knew why this was. Simply put, IE4 takes over your computer (actually, I have that on the authority of a Microsoft technical support person). Alternative operating systems come with names such as Microsoft NT which your place of business may be using, Sun's Unix ( which is probably what runs your ISP computers, and a hybrid freebie developed cooperatively by groups of nerds communicating over the Internet, which is called Linux (also available for money, marketed by Red Hat Software). It is not quite to the point of being a useful substitute for Windows - and the big problem for any such choice is the availability of the 'applications' which are available to run on the operating system. The vast majority of applications (word processing, graphics, bookkeeping, programs) are written for Windows. And the vast majority is also written for the PC only, not the MAC. That's why the PC is preferable. Ease of use is equivalent between the two. The MAC operating system (their equivalent of Windows) is a bit more stable than Windows, but alas, your favorite programs might not be available for it. Look in a software store for the square footage devoted to Mac software as versus that for PC software. That will give you an idea of what I'm talking about. So we might be very happy with Linux, and we'd all like to have a choice of something besides the notably imperfect Windows, but the real question is, what can we do with it after we've installed it!


Get Set and Go!

Once you have an operating system (Windows), a word processing program, a graphics program, (a bookkeeping program ) and a browser, you're ready to begin. You can add all the rest of the bells and whistles, as you add equipment to your computer - fancy gaming graphics cards, fancy sound systems and so on.


YOU MUST get a surge suppressor which which allows you to plug all your devices into it - computer, monitor, printer, scanner, modem, etc. The best kind sit under your monitor and have individual switches allowing you to turn on and off all of your pieces of equipment from one place. With this you have protected your system and given yourself the ability to turn on the whole shebang with one switch! YOU MUST RUN THE PHONE LINE FOR YOUR MODEM THROUGH THE SURGE SUPPRESSOR. Don't buy a surge suppressor which doesn't have an in/out phone line. (Most of them have them) Have the computer shop people color code the various cables and plug in places on the computer so all you have to do when you get home is connect all the items of the same color, plug the surge suppressor into an outlet, the phone line into the surge suppressor, and turn on the switch on the surge suppressor. Voila! You're in business.


Don't get a separate phone line for your computer (unless you have a critical line which must not be busy). See how much and at what time you use your computer before you go to that expense. It's very likely you won't need a second phone line - or not until you become much more active with the computer. You can get a phone jack splitter and a hunk of phone wire with little plugs at any Walmart type store or other general merchandise store. Likewise, don't go so far as to hard wire a jack until you've settled on where you will have the computer. It may not be where you first think it should be.


BE WARNED! Those give away CD's which offer for 1 month of free service with the big guys - the deal is you get a month free, but if you, like me, don't have a local phone number to call, your 'free' offer is likely to cost you $300.00 or better. They get your credit card number when you sign up for that free service and then YOU HAVE TO CONTACT THEM, AT A SPECIFIC TIME TO UNSUBSCRIBE! We tend to fail to do this, and you'll find ourselves with an ipso facto Internet account, which is automatically being charged to your credit card account. That's how they sucker you in. Then they to shower you with advertising. That's what they make their money on - not your subscription fee, but all that advertising you are bombarded with. They then cut you off frequently even though you have 'unlimited' access, supply you with a browser which can't see half of the content people have put into their sites for your enjoyment, dreadfully slow load times due to the glut of people over underdeveloped infrastructure, and to the concurrent loading of ad after ad after ad, with sound, motion and graphics. All of these make this supposedly 'easy' services burden you with so much unwanted stuff that only those who don't know their alternatives use them. I heard one of the computer TV channels describe it as 'THE DUMMIFICATION' of the Internet. Enough said.


Go Where?

There are loads of sites which give you advice about how to surf the web. Here's one of them:
Folksonline's Helping Hands Page - click on the underlined text to go to their page. Where to click? Well, now that used to be easy, you clicked on the highlighted underlined text, like the Folksonline link. But now there are pages set up without highlighting and underlining. There are also things called image maps - we use them. You can circle a portion of a graphic and set it up as a link. Our Front Page is an image map. If you click on any of the text, it takes you where you should go for that text, but it is really all one big picture. I could have set it up with little pictures instead of text. Small graphics may be used as links to another page or to a larger view of the graphic in the "thumbnail". Where it tells you to click on the thumbnail, it means to click on the small graphic image. Basically at this point in time, the fashionable thing seems to be to make it impossible for you to know where to click! So, that means you have to click everywhere, and don't forget to use the back button at the top of your browser to get back to where you started. Some pages will be new pages - look at your taskbar at the bottom of the screen and see how many browser windows are indicated there. To go from one program or window to another, just cllick on the icon in the task bar. If it is a new browser window that the link opened the back button won't be available, and there will be an icon for the window you came from in the task bar. That sounds a bit confusing, so why don't you just click on the link to the Folksonline pages and get going!


But -- Go Where?

Well, here's one strategy. Do a Search (use the MetaSearches on our Start Page) on your breed. When you find a page you especially like, look for a page of 'Links' on that site, and go see the pages that person thought were good - or who were friends and co-breeders with them. Or, if the page has recieved 'Awards', click on the award logo or link and you will go to the site which has given the awards. Awards are just another way of setting up links, but they have the added advantage of making sure that the awardee puts in a link back to the page of the awarder -- the award itself is a link. Anyway, these should be pages which are a bit more interesting and attractive than the run of the mill. One Award to be sure to follow is that leading to the 'Cool Dog Site of the Day'. This site has many many good links.

Bon Voyage!

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