Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting computer advice

(Another Internet column for my former newspaper, The Lawton Constitution).

My first computer was a Commodore 64 that my sister gave me when she bought her first IBM computer.
It sat on my desk for months because I had never used a personal computer before, and I assumed that I would not be smart enough to figure out how to put it together and make it run. I finally worked up the courage to hook up the cables and components.
I discovered I could get the thing to run. I then discovered that playing with it was fun, and started attending the meetings of the local Commodore users group.
My point is I didn't always write a computer column. Everyone has to start somewhere, and even people who know quite a bit about computers can learn more.
The Internet is a great place to learn about computers, whether you are a novice who barely knows what a "mouse" is or a sophisticated techie who puts together his own distributions of Linux as a hobby.
People who don't know much about computers and need help with basic tasks while running Windows programs should look at the Computer Lady site run by Elizabeth Boston at She offers two free e-mail newsletters, "Ask the Computer Lady" and "Computer Lady Lessons."
More sophisticated users are the target audience for Lifehacker (, a blog that concentrates on offering computer advice but also provides tips on many other topics, including diet and personal finance. Much of its advice can be used by anyone, but its detailed tutorials on Linux are aimed at computer nerds.
The blog makes good use of article tags. Visitors can browse the archives for a specific topic, and can subscribe to all posts about a particular interest. For example, you can follow all the posts about cell phones.
Most computer advice sites fall somewhere between these two. They are aimed at people who already know something about computers but are not experts.
Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal is a genuine expert, but he makes a conscious effort to write for ordinary computer users. His columns and advice appear in the Journal, but all of his articles, and the articles written by a sidekick named Katherine Boehret, are available free on the Internet at
If you are planning to buy a desktop computer, laptop computer or digital camera, I suggest checking out Mossberg's buyer's guide.
All Things Digital frequently has articles about useful Web sites; currently the site has articles about an online college guide and a site for home buyers.
Lately, I'm convinced one of the best things about The New York Times ( is the free "Circuits" e-mail. Last week's issue had a great article, "Low-Tech Fixes for High-Tech Problems" by Paul Boutin. Google it to find out how to make credit card swipes work, how to keep your cellphone battery from losing its charge so quickly, what to do if you drop a cell phone in the toilet, and so on.
Mediamaster shutting down. One of my favorite music sites, MediaMaster (, is closing down.
The site allowed users to upload music files and then play them from any computer with an Internet connection. No date was announced for the shutdown, but I assume it will be gone soon.
"It was a good time, but not good enough to make a business from in the current world," the owners said.
MediaMaster's blog suggests that music fans try or I'll take a look at those sites soon and write about them here.
Jazz sites. I'm a big jazz fan, but I have had trouble finding jazz Web sites that would inspire me to pay a repeat visit.
Beckey Bright of the Wall Street Journal, however, has found some good jazz blogs for her column, "Blog Watch." Rifftides ( is written by author Doug Ramsey. Do The Math ( is written by Ethan Iverson of the group, The Bad Plus. Straight No Chaser ( by Jeffrey Siegel also seems to cover the jazz scene well. I've added all three blogs to my Google Reader subscriptions (
The Wall Street Journal is a paid Web site, but "Blog Watch" apparently is included among the free content (

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