Learning Computers: Enjoying Your Computer


  1. The Beginning: Opening introduction to the series
  2. Browsers: What are they? How to make them a safer door to Web.
  3. Search Engines: The Good, Bad and Ugly. Understanding search results.
  4. Malware and Virus: What is Malware? – What is a Virus? What is the difference in their types? How to avoid them. How to know if you are infected. How to remove them.
  5. Phishing: Signs of phishing, phishing emails, phishing sites
  6. Computer Optimization: Why is my computer slow? What can I do about it?
  7. Improving Your Email Experience
  8. Enjoying Your Computer: Social Media. Entertaining Activities. Educational Activities (you are here)

Welcome to the final article in this series. I have enjoyed writing it and my biggest hope is that it lays a foundation offun understanding your computer, allowing you to keep it running fast and more importantly enjoying it safely. My goal from the start was to encourage individuals to be safer while surfing and feeling comfortable about using their computers. To enable them to discover the incredible options they offer. I am passionate about this topic because there is really a wealth of information on the internet and the computer itself can be used for fun and interests.

In my rounds of fixing computers, I am always amazed at how many of my customers really don’t use the computer for much more than email, playing solitaire and visiting a couple of social sites. It’s not like I don’t do that, I’m saying don’t stop there. Maybe they are not aware of what is available or in some cases; they are intimidated by stories of viruses or being ripped off on shopping sites or even having their credit cards stolen, etc.

There are many who seem to proudly state, “you won’t see me buying something on Ebay”. While not denying their right to do as they wish, I feel using the tips shown in the previous articles of this series, will allow them to do it safely. I will be covering some of the things available to everyone that owns a computer, tablet or smartphone.

The first topic, commonly called Social Media, is one I wanted to address first and then only briefly because I believe most of you are already using one or more of them.

Social Media

Social Media

Most people have already been exposed to sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Myspace and Google+ and they are only a part of what we collectively call Social Media. If you have not already tried them, you will find that people are ready and willing to share just about anything. As long as you do not reveal private information, it really is a great way to stay in touch with old and new friends on a scope we would never have believed. Having the ability to share meaningful events in your life has never been easier. However, when you know you really can’t look at another ________ photo. (Insert your choice of cat, dog, baby) I would like you to imagine this…

SIGNSImagine walking the halls of the Louvre, or even visiting the Vatican on Monday. Then on Tuesday, strolling the streets in Dublin, Ireland followed by a quick trip to Bangkok later that day. All that is doable with a keyboard, mouse and monitor.


Imagine shopping online does not mean your choices are limited to Amazon, or EBay. Just for fun or real interest, shop the finest stores in the world; most big name stores are more than happy to let you browse their online stores such as Harrods’s, Niemen Marcus and many more. You never know when you might need a $2500 shophandbag. How about a $255 box of chocolates. Not something I need but it is nice to know what is available.

Imagine being able to brush up on some skills from the comfort of your home? Most of us know that some accredited learn onlineuniversities offer classes online with fees far less than on-campus rates. However would you believe that many of these same universities offer a ton of quality education available on the internet for the grand total of “free”? Additionally, sites like Youtube.com offer videos on just about every “how to” topic you can imagine.

forumsImagine the argument from friends and relatives when you start expressing your latest passion on religion or politics. Usually taboo topics but not on the internet. Join a forum, give your views, and learn from others.

Imagine any topic you want and someone somewhere has a blog about it. The wealth of information at your fingertips is unprecedented; need help troubleshooting your computer or just want to discuss some tech topics? Try a computer forum like Dave’s Computer Tips. It is a great example of people sharing their knowledge and helping you learn about your computer.

Topics from sports to movie reviews, as well as daily news to magazines, are all there for the taking. I will be covering all these online experiences in this post.


PINATAUsing my computer is like smacking a Piñata; it is full of wonderful things. If you followed the previous posts in this series, you now have every reason to be safe while you are surfing. A computer is also a tool that works quite well without the internet. You do not have to be online to experience the power of your computer. The number and types of programs available to you is almost unlimited.

Imagine discovering or refining your talent. Would you like to be an artist, play music, create videos, quilt, or finally achieve your diet goals, there are several programs available to help you do just that. In fact, there are programs for learning your family’s history, designing or fixing your house, repairing your car, and the list goes on. I think now is the time to stop imagining and show you exactly what I am talking about.

Travel

Google Earth has opened the world to everyone with a monitor and access to the internet. You can literally visit your old neighborhood, walk the streets of Madrid, or zoom in to the Grand Canyon. In fact, just about all the natural wonders of the world are viewable in Google Earth, many displayed in special guided tours. In addition, people who live or travel to these places are encouraged to take photos. This gives you access to millions of detailed photographs.

GE

New: Right now Google Earth is providing its Pro version. This version used to cost companies hundreds of dollars and now you may download a copy free.  I will be providing a separate post soon covering some of the awesome features of this program.

Check out Cities and Towns Online. In addition, many cities have their own webpage that allows you to learn a little about their history, demographics and what they currently offer. Some even have live webcams.  Your company has just decided to move you from New York to its Monroe Wisconsin office. Using the cities webpage can be helpful when making a decision, but being able to take a virtual tour of the town can seal the deal.

Museums

Not every museum can afford to maintain a website that allows you to explore the museum online but some of the great ones do just that. I will be providing brief descriptions and links to each museum listed but please don’t stop there, there are literally thousands more. Art, History, Geography, Entertainment, Anthropology, and many more are available for the cost of a mouse click.

Google Art Project

gap
This section is about museums but because many of the museums employ the “Google Art Project” I thought I would include it here. Using this feature, masterpieces from several museums can be viewed in super high resolution as high as seven billion pixels! As of April 2012 over 30,000 artworks from 151 museums all over the world are viewable online.  In addition they use the same technology “Street View” for several museums.  This feature allows you to walk through the museums in a Virtual Reality mode.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

metThe Met is a good example of what is available free to anybody with a computer and internet connection. The Website offers several options beginning with Exhibitions Past, Present and Future. You may view the exhibition in detail and many offer featured videos and audio guides. If you couldn’t make it to the last Van Gogh exhibition, do it with your computer! They offer online collections, which even includes items no longer on display at the physical museum. View beautiful John Singer Sargent or Rembrandt paintings or take a close look at some Remington bronzes.

The Louvre

Louvre

The Louvre offers amazing virtual tours. Walk the halls of the Rotonde Goulon, click on highlighted objects to get a description and view an enlarged photo of the exhibit. Online visitors can access the basic information displayed on labels accompanying works in the museum. Many have authoritative commentary and analysis by the curators and staff. You may perform advanced searches of over 35,000 works of art, 140,000 works on paper by 4500 artists. Granted, I would love to go in person but believe me if you love art you will love the online collections.

The British Museum

British Museum

At one time, England was the largest empire in the world. Their museum reflects this. Online tours of Africa, Americas, Asia, of course Britain and many more, each with descriptions and viewable artifacts. View Galleries containing hundreds of thousands of objects.  The British Museum site will keep you occupied for a long time

Smithsonian (Seriously Amazing)

Smithsonian
bbcover
The Smithsonian is incredibly large in size, collections and diversity. They offer 138 million artifacts, works of art and specimens, all viewable online. Nine million digital records available online through the Collection Research Center.

Read any of the thousands of books they offer online or tryout the new Smithsonian X3D beta. View artifacts and exploration sites in 3D. Be one of the first to offer them input on the beta version.

Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum

The Google Art Project helps the museum offer super high-resolution images of some of their masterpieces. The Tokyo National Museum has hundreds of online images.

Museum of Modern Art

MoMO
Into Modern Art? The MoMA offers over 58,000 works online from almost 10,000 artists.

Shopping

It might seem a little strange putting shopping as an activity but 50% of Americans have shopped online more than once.  Reasons why people shop SHOPPINGonline: Time Saving, Easy to compare prices, more Variety, Cheaper Prices, less Taxes, No Crowd, Spend less on Gas. (Source Invesp),  Most of my shopping is computer related but I think looking at the wares of stores like Harrods, Macy’s and others hearkens back to that feeling of windows shopping, where you know you really aren’t going to purchase anything but wish you could. No harm looking as they say. I have added shopping as one of the things you can do with a computer because there really are great finds on the internet, and while the higher end of some departments stores are beyond the reach of many of us, the internet deals are not. There is nothing like winning the bid for that 82 Corvette “rear emblem” that has been out of production for 30 years or buying that phone case from Amazon for 2.99 with free shipping.

Let’s face it, not everyone lives where there are department stores and being able to shop online while sitting in a comfortable chair is certainly a plus.

Harrods

harrods
Harrods, classified as an upmarket department store with 330 distinct departments is available to shop online. As an example of their diversity, they even have an Egyptian style clothing department. While they probably have competitive prices on some items, I think it is just cool to see what a $2000.00 bikini looks like.

Ebay

ebay
If you are from planet earth, you have bought something from ebay or know someone who has. I have mentioned before that, some people feel intimidated bidding online but several items on ebay are no more difficult to purchase than using the ‘buy it now” option. In the comparison below I am not promoting ebay as much as showing the average user that there are indeed savings to be had on online shopping sites.

For this post I have just researched two items at random from three stores; Office Max, Walmart and Ebay. Shipping was free for all items. Item #1 HP 950XL Ink Cartridge. (OM= $36.00) (WM = $32.40) (EB = $23.99), Item #2 Cannon Rebel EOS SL1 with 18/55mm lens (OM= $499.00) (WM = $499.40) (EB = $437.99). I think the prices speak for themselves and you are as protected as buying from your local store and in most cases, you save the sales tax.

This is similar to many of the almost endless online shopping sites. Many sites offer “online only” offers and deals can and are made online.

Forums

forums

Forums are online discussion sites that make up a very large part of the internet.  Some sites have more that 100 million posts. That is a lot of communication. I will be listing only one or two forums for each category because there are literately thousands and thousands of them. I do not claim the forums listed are the best but just examples of what is available to you.

Political

political parties

Political Forum.com If you are into espousing political beliefs and want an ear, Political Forum.com is a good place to start. They have open forums on Political Opinions and Beliefs, Humor & Satire, (which I am sure is needed), Religion and Philosophy and Conspiracy Theories from JFK to the moon landings. Registration is required but other than that you are free to offend.

Religious

religious
Religions can always be touchy subjects, but nonetheless, individuals have deep religious beliefs and having a safe place to go and share them is what Religious Forums.com is all about.  It is a friendly forum to discuss all religions in a friendly surround. Their tagline is: “Discuss, Compare and Debate Religions in our online community.”

Computer

dct
There are hundreds of computer forums; most are there to provide a venue to discuss computer and electronic related topics. Some like Dave’sComputer tips.com, Bleeping Computers.com and PCPitstop.com offer tips and advice as well. Make sure you are on a valid site that is really offering you a forum to discuss and research your issues and not a pitch site that offer little more than items to buy.

Sports

SPORTS

I don’t know of a collegiate or professional sport that does not have several forums dedicated to their fans. From the Yankees, to the CubsWoman’s Soccer  to the Men’s Rugby, or ND to USC you name it there is a forum for it. Instead of posting an endless list of forums use a good search engine and find your favorites.  I’m sure you notice that USC was not linked, I couldn’t force myself to do it.

News/Magazines

news
Today we are fortunate enough to have numerous online news outlets. Newspapers still have a place in today’s culture but really can’t compete with TV and the Web. Real-time news just can’t happen in ink. You can however live in the moment online. Most big named news sites update every few minutes and most are available to you free. Once again, instead of Life, Forbes, NatGeolisting a ton of online news sites just search for your favorite news source online.

For longer in depth articles, magazines have always been the choice. There are many available on the Web like National Geographic, Forbes and Life  (with some of the best vintage photos around). Give them and other a try.

flipboard I would like to point out my new favorite source for Magazines and that is Flipboard.  Flipboard calls itself “Your Personal Magazine” but in my opinion, it is much more than that. If you have not yet experienced it, I encourage you to try it out. My next post will feature the magazines available for Flipboard and how to “find, follow and flip stories that change your world”

Education

education sitesToday, we are fortunate enough to have online access to some of the best Universities in the world. Thousands of people pay for online educations and achieve full degrees.  Most of these same Universities offer several online classes free. Outside of registering for a class there are no obligations of any kind financial or otherwise. Are there any good reasons for not taking advantage of the free online courses offered by the three sites listed in this post?

Three of the more popular websites are Kahn Academy, Coursera and edX.  All three offer several levels of education. Some are strictly learn on your own schedule, and others have assigned submission times.

Are there any good reasons for not taking advantage of the free online courses offered by the three sites listed in this post? If there is, I would like to know what they are. I will use the information provided on their site for the many good reasons there are for using them.

The courses run from an hour to 15 weeks or more. Some of the more in depth classes expect and require you to devote up to eight hours a week.

About 3000 courses are available on Coursera  and EdXalone.grad

An incredible list of Partnered Universities and Institutions.

Discover a course and sign up (that simple)

Learn on your own schedule. (Videos, lectures, quizzes, connect with fellow learners and instructors.)

Finish your course anonymously or receive formal recognition for your accomplishment with the optional Verified Certificate.

The topics range from Humanities, to Mathematics, learn programming from Johns Hopkins University or the University of Michigan or Enhancing your Career and Employ-ability Skills for the University of London.

In fact, I am taking several Programming classes now. I just cannot stress how impressed I am to have this kind of information and opportunity available free of any charge.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom. We tackle math, science, computer programming, history, art history, economics, and more. Our math missions guide learners from kindergarten to calculus using state-of-the-art, adaptive technology that identifies strengths and learning gaps. We’ve also partnered with institutions like NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and MIT to offer specialized content.

edX

At edX, they believe in the highest quality education, both online and in the classroom. EdX was created for students and institutions that seek to transform themselves through cutting-edge technologies, innovative pedagogy, and rigorous courses.

Through their partners, they present the best of higher education online, offering opportunity to anyone who wants to achieve, thrive, and grow.

The edX platform is available as open source. By conducting and publishing significant research on how students learn, they hope to empower and inspire educators around the world and promote success in learning. EdX is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is governed by MIT and Harvard.

Coursera

Coursera is perhaps the biggest of the three shown here, they claim to provide universal access to the world’s best education. Looking at some the partnered Universities I have no doubt they do. They offer peer assessments, a technique has been shown in many studies to result in accurate feedback for the learner and a valuable learning experience for the grader.

They provide immediate feedback to concepts a learner did not understand. They offer randomized versions of the same assignment to a learn can re-study and re-attempt until they master it.

Software

 

Adobe

van gogh

EXPRESS YOURSELF

I mentioned before that you do not have to be online to experience the power of your computer. Software developers offer a host of programs that help the hobbyist enhance their skills with dedicated software. Programs from Adobe, including Photoshop, In Design, Illustrator or their Creative cloud Plan that includes everything needed to get an aspiring artist up and running with very high quality tools.

Corel

Corel Products offer basically the same level of quality but are not as widely know as Adobe. Corel does have a very unique program called Corel Painter that lets the user make paintings from scratch, using a template, modifying a classic or create a beautiful drawing from your personal photo collection. Both companies offer a monthly subscription rate that makes if affordable for everyone. Both also offer 30 days free trials of their products so get the creative juices flowing and try one out.

GenealogyFamily tree

Family Tree Maker is one of the more widely known products but there are several, each with special features that might appeal to you. When used in conjunction with Ancestry. com you can follow your family’s history back hundreds of years.  Many people are surprised to find that the quote “we are all separated by only six degrees of separation” is real.

Without listing all the available software that will help you with your favorite hobby, rest assured that there is Bible Study software, Knitting and Quilting software and host of DIY programs.

Summary

I know many of you have already experienced some of the opportunities offered both on the web and with software. To be honest, I thought I knew more than I did before I started doing some research for this post. To me, that just shows how vast the internet is, how many things are available and how many are free.

Everyone’s taste is different and that is why you will more likely find me in a museum than in a political forum, learning programming before looking up my family’s history, the fact is, it is all there for the taking.

We all take a lot for granted.  For example, I grew up on the east coast rooting for the NY Giants and loved watching them practice and reading about them in the paper, when their defensive coordinator Tom Landry, headed up the Dallas Cowboys I switched my allegiance, only to find out that any news about the Dallas Cowboys in Bridgeport CT. was nonexistent. Today, you may follow the Louisville MudRats (if there was such a team) right from home.  Knowing that some farm girl living in a small Iowa town can visit the Louvre or design automobiles from home takes some the bad taste of the internet away for me. Yes we have Trojans, Worms and Viruses, scammers and spammers,  but with a little care using the proper tools, you have no limitations.

I finish up hoping you take advantage of what is available and that if you find something new you will let us know.

Jim

About the Author

Jim Canfield

My interest in computers was a natural transition from all things electronics. I was hooked after building my first Heathkit computer around 1976, which evolved into a TSR80 and a long list of Windows computers. My first full blown program was a graphics program which started my career path in graphic design and IT work for 40 years. I now run a small computer repair and service company focused on helping veterans and retirees in our area with computer and software training classes.

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