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Who Can You Trust?
December 2000

Russell James is Operations Manager at BJ Associates of San Antonio. They are an authorized service center for Toshiba and Sony systems. They are the laptop specialist and also handle system builds and parts for desktops. They can take care of any IBM compatible hardware or software problem that you have.

With the holiday season upon us, it could be time to start thinking about buying that new computer for Christmas. Who should you buy a system from? What kind of system do you want or need? How much should it cost? Who can you get some answers from that you can trust? What can you do if you don't know enough about computers to make an educated decision on what to buy? These are things you might want to keep in mind. Maybe you already have a computer and you just want to learn how to use it more effectively. Maybe you have a problem with how to navigate in Windows or your Word processor. With a little searching and prodding we can help you make a successful purchase or at least have a little more knowledge that you will appreciate after the holidays are over. 

This month I would like to use a suggestion from one of our members for the article. Peggy Huddleston asked about the "gurus" that might be out there trying to separate some of the early learners from their greenbacks. There is a lot of room for unscrupulous people to take advantage of a novice computer user. The possibilities with a computer are seemingly endless and with that there is also a lot to know. I did a search on the Internet for the word computer and came up with over 35,000,000 hits. That is a lot of people trying to sell you something, some of them good honest businesses and some not. The same search on gosanantonio.com  came up with 235 hits. I would think that you could multiply that by ten and be a little closer to the number of people in San Antonio that say they can sell you a computer. 

Where can you go to learn about computers? Who can you trust to give you a straight answer? Start with your friends that have a computer. Take them a batch of cookies and then pump them with questions until the snacks run out. After they get tired of you move on to another friend. Try not to overdo it with any one of them so you can come back and visit sometime. You will learn who knows something about computers and who is just blowing smoke. Try not to stick to one source either, because if you don't have some well-rounded knowledge, then you won't know if someone is credible enough to be answering your questions. A good way to detect credibility is to ask the same questions from source to source, and do not discuss other opinions with the other people. Let them think they are the guru.

Ask around at church for the local wiz kid. Start hanging out at the computer stores. Some of the clerks who work at the local big name stores actually know a little bit about them just from spending so much time around them. Ask a lot of questions and ask for an explanation of the answers if you don't understand them. Take a notepad with you and use it. Get a book about computers from the library or store. The yellow dummy books are actually pretty good. PCs for Dummies will cost you about $18 at one of the local bookstores. The book will tell you what a computer is and take you through how the system works and how to make it work for you. If you don't want to spend the money to buy a book then make a trip to you local library. There is a wealth of knowledge available within the library. Make it into a viscous circle with reading and then lots of questions. Take the answers that you get and look for more information from other sources to enhance your knowledge.

All of the school districts in the area offer continuing education classes. You can take a class that starts at the level of your knowledge. They have classes that will start by teaching you how to turn the computer on. The class that you should start with if you have a very limited knowledge of computers would be How to Buy a Computer: The Basics. This is a three-hour course that will cost you $14. It will take you from defining what you need in a computer to some simple basics about how to operate it. After you have gotten your feet wet with this you can step into Introduction to Personal Computers. This is a three hour a night, 2 night a week, 4 week course that will take you through the same type of information as the shorter course with more in depth study. You will be able to get some hands on experience using a word processor, spreadsheet and database. It is also available during the day as a three-hour a day, 4 days per week, 2-week course. This course will cost you about $95 plus $16 for the book. Once you have taken the beginner courses, (a requirement for most of the advanced courses) you can take a step up to more advanced courses available to build off of what you have already learned.

Another great source of knowledge would be the magazine you are reading. Alamo PC Organization sponsors a variety of classes and Special Interest Groups or SIGs at our Central Park Mall Resource Center. You can get more information on the web from the SIG List or by calling (210) 375-7300. There are classes, computer labs, books and a lot of other people that are probably at the same knowledge level as you to learn with. Class fees are very nominal and the SIGs are free to any member of the Alamo PC Organization. There are classes and SIGs for every level of expertise from the novice to the advanced.

One of the classes that is available is "Senior Comp". These are introductory computer classes that are geared toward the 55+ club. You don't have to be a member to take the courses but you do have to be in the club. Classes include Introduction to Computers I and II, Microsoft Works, and Introduction to Quicken. Tuition is $75 for the first class taken out of this group and $40 for the second or any repeated course. The price will be going up to $50 after the first of January 2001 for the second or repeated courses. The tuition covers all the course materials. More information can be found on the web at seniorcomp.org.. This is a program of the Alamo PC Organization that is dedicated to educating senior citizens about computers and computer technology.

What about those of you that know a little more and you want to learn more without taking some class. How about the Internet? Take a look at seniorcomp. They have a links page with shortcuts to a number of pages on the Internet. There are links to online magazines, senior groups, computer organizations and many other useful sites. The online magazines are great when you want to learn more about a certain computer subject or new product. Most of the sites have a search button that you can use to look through their pages for you area of interest. You can find three or four articles about the same subject with one Google search. There are software and hardware reviews to give you the lowdown on what is available and what problems you can expect to encounter with the new products on the market. This is a chance for you to learn from someone else's experience instead of having to make the mistakes yourself.

Cnet is a mix of retailer, magazine, ezine, and newsgroups. This is actually a very good source of information on the net. They have a wealth of articles about computer technology, hardware, software as well as a tech help section. The tech help section has information on virtually every thing about the computer and computer technology. There are articles about upgrading your computer and articles about the different types of hardware that is available. There are articles that will give you a better understanding of Windows, games, web development, and many of the other software products that are available. Articles about virtually any subject related to the computer.

Another good source of information would be the Newsgroups that are available. Deja.com has a web-based newsgroup with a very large appeal. You have the ability to search the newsgroup postings from their home page for the information that you are looking for. With the amount of people posting to deja, it is hard not to find information on just about any subject. You can also use your newsreader to get to the newsgroups that your ISP subscribes to. 

Outlook Express is the newsreader that comes with Windows 98. You can search through the titles of the groups for some keywords that deal with just about any subject you can think of. There will be a lot of postings from people that have the idea that they know it all. There are also posting from a lot of people that actually know a lot. You will learn very quickly which of the people know what they are talking about and those that don't. Take all of the information that you get from the newsgroups with a grain of salt. You have to be able to verify the source of the information before you can be sure of it. There are a lot of people that spend time in the newsgroups trying to help people and there are also a lot of people there to boost their ego. You will have to learn how to tell the difference between the two.

When you are ready to buy your new system, whom should you buy from? Go back to the friends that have a computer. Who did they buy from and are they satisfied with what they got? As I said before, there are a lot of people that can build you a computer. You need to buy from someone that you can feel comfortable with. Talk to the prospective company and ask a lot of questions. Ask them for references from some of their customers. Ask about the warranty that is included with the purchase. Is the service performed at the business or do they have to send your system out of town to fix it? How long has the company been in business? How long have they been building computers? 

You should not be pressured into buying a computer with a fast sales pitch. Computer prices are falling every day. Whatever you buy today will be obsolete within six months. Since it is obsolete the price will have gone down. The only thing that you will get by waiting on purchasing a computer is a better system for less money than you would have spent. Don't let someone tell you that this deal is too good to pass up. There are good deals out there but be sure to do the research to learn what is available and what you are getting with the deal. If you feel pressured then you should leave that business and move on to one that you feel comfortable with. Don't let someone take advantage of you because you chose not to learn about your subject.

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