NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, November 2011
This and That
By Elizabeth B. Wright,
Member, Computer Club of Oklahoma City
July 2011 issue, CCOKC eMonitor

wright599new(at)sbcglobal.net (click to email author)

Remember the play “Six Degrees of Separation?” It was also a movie. The title has become a common catch-phrase, but it doesn’t really get the respect it is due. The theory is that all of us are connected to everyone in the world by only six steps. I know Pete, Pete knows Pierre, Pierre knows a high powered British politician, the HPBP knows a member of the British Royal Family, the Royal is related to and knows the English Monarch. So following this line, there are only four people separating me from knowing British Monarch. Of course my chances of meeting her are non-existent, but that isn’t the point. The lesson here is that so much of what we do is influenced by this factor. Pyramid schemes are doomed to failure because of it. Ideas are lost because of it. Tell one person about your fantastic theory for curing some horrible disease and the next thing you know it has been patented by someone you never heard of. This is also why you keep getting the same junk email from so many different people.

So how can we apply this to our computers? If you are like most of us, we use our computers for the more simple tasks of word processing, connecting to the internet, some bookkeeping (banking software, etc.), graphics – mostly photographs, and other simplified work. But we all run into trouble now and again. A big “for instance.” I booted up my computer this morning to work on this article. And for the first time in my 20 some years of owning a computer it failed to boot the hard drives properly. I could not access much of my data. Nothing to do but shut it down, fortunately it went through the proper procedure for that, and turn it back on. It came back in its normal configuration. Go figure. Hopefully this will never happen again, but only time will tell.

Back to the subject at hand. There are 6° separating us from useful computer skills:

1. Computer hardware

2. Operating system

3. Computer skills

4. Purchasing software

5. Software training

6. Computer competence

#1, Whether you bought a computer completely assembled or built it yourself, the first step requires knowing what is inside the case. You don’t necessarily have to completely understand how it all works, but you should at least be familiar with the names of the parts in order to use some of the helpful information found in the manuals and other books as well as on the internet.

Second step, and possibly the most frustrating, is getting to know the operating system. This is the software that is like the fuel that runs the engine of your car. Without it, you ain’t goin’ no place. In the early years of computers there were no operating systems (often referred to as OS.) And only those people who really, really wanted to learn about computers mastered the necessary skills to do so. Now the two main choices to get us over that hurdle are Microsoft Windows machines and Apple Macs. Both require an OS to make them do our bidding. The more you learn about the OS the easier other tasks will become. Computer clubs and community colleges are places to look for help in this area.

For item #3, learning basic computer skills gets you started, honing those skills keeps you moving forward. This step is somewhat a combination of learning about the OS and learning to use software as in step #5. Some kind of training is usually necessary and can be gotten from the previously mentioned clubs and classes, but also from a REALLY patient friend or relative who will spend endless hours helping you learn this most foreign of foreign languages. Of course you can always slog your way through it on your own, but what fun is that?

#4, Purchasing software depends on what you want the computer to do for you. Most home/small office users buy programs for personal finances, word processing, spreadsheets and graphics. People who need to make the computer pay for itself and also support them buy, in addition to those, the more sophisticated software for databases and intense graphical work. And there are also “Gamers,” but they are different from most of us.

#5, Software Training is a bit less daunting than computer skill training in that much of it consists of following certain steps to accomplish a given task. But of course, it isn’t really easy. You must be willing to set aside preconceived notions of how things ought to work and live with how the programmers mandated them to work. But there are classes, books, online training, computer clubs and friends to help out in this step too.

The final step, Computer Competence, is the goal line in our 6° hypothesis. There are four steps between your purchase of the hardware and competence/confidence in using it. If you don’t get the cart before the horse in those four steps you will be much happier in your computer world.

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