Author Archive | John Wilkerson

Basic PC Maintenance (Hardware) – WHS 7

PC maintenance is essential for making sure you have a smooth-running computer. Today on The Wired Homeschool I discuss the necessary hardware maintenance that everyone should be doing to keep their computer healthy.

Please note: before cleaning any part of your computer you should make sure it is turned off and unplugged.

Keyboard and Mouse

The keyboard and mouse are the two components that you touch the most. Each of these items get a lot of grime and gunk from your hands and the environment.

The first thing you want to do with your keyboard is shake it out every two or three weeks. This dislodge dust, staples, food, and anything else that accumulates inside your keyboard. You may also want to use the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner and pass it over the keyboard a few times.

Never wash your keyboard in the dishwasher! There are a lot of stories and anecdotes on the Internet about people washing their keyboards in the dishwasher but this could potentially ruin it.

The mouse doesn’t require as much maintenance as in the past. Older mice have a ball and rollers inside them that needs to be cleaned every once in a while. Now all you need to do is keep the optical sensor clear of dust and dirt.

Monitor

The monitor is the window to your computing world and you’ll want a clear view of the technical landscape as you sit at your desk. Please note: you should never use glass cleaner or any cleaner with ammonia in it to clean your monitor. These cleaners will strip the anti-glare coating from your monitor over time and make it very difficult to view.

Instead you can use a lint-free cloth or paper towel moistened with water to remove fingerprints and dust from the monitor. That’s really all you need. If you have an stubborn fingerprints on your monitor use a cleaner designed for LCD monitors or HD TVs.

Never spray any water or chemical directly on your monitor. You should always apply the cleaner to your cloth before wiping the monitor.

If you have an old CRT monitor you should never stack anything on top of it. This blocks the ventilation slots and can cause your monitor to overheat. LCD monitors have ventilation slots too so make sure those are clear of dust bunnies.

Printer

Printers can get pretty nasty. Laser printers can accumulate toner inside of them, especially if you’re using cheap or refilled toner cartridges (which I highly discourage you from using). Get out the vacuum and gently clean out the inside. Make sure you put your toner cartridge in a box to prevent the light from damaging the imaging drum.

Ink jet printers sometimes need the print heads cleaned. Most printers have the ports built-in to the cartridge itself and don’t require any maintenance other than running the cartridge cleaning utility. If you do have separate inkjet ports you can usually soak them in alcohol or ammonia.

PC Case

Your PC’s case is the most important thing that needs to be kept clean. Dust acts as a insulator and can cook the components inside your computer. You want to be very careful cleaning inside your PC. If you’re uncomfortable with this part. Ask a friend who is a techie to help you.

You’ll want to vacuum out the fans and any ventilation slots. Get that dust out! Be gentle and careful vacuuming the motherboard. You may even want to get an attachment specifically designed for use on a computer for this, possibly even a vacuum cleaner designed for computers.

I do not recommend using compressed air inside your computer’s case. It can shove dust under the components. If you have some fans that vacuuming couldn’t clean, remove them from the case and use the compressed air outside and away from the computer. If you must use compressed air, turn the computer so that any dislodged dust falls out of the computer.

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If you’d like to leave feedback about this or any other episode you can call and leave a voice mail by calling 518-290-0228, send email  to feedback@thewiredhomeschool, or leave a comment on the blog. Follow me on Twitter: @jwilkers. Also follow the podcast on Twitter: @wiredhs. Join the Facebook page over at http://facebook.com/wiredhs

The Wired Homeschool is a proud member of the Tech Podcast Network. For more family-friendly tech podcasts visit techpodcasts.com

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Basic PC Maintenance (Software) – WHS 6

PC maintenance is essential for making sure you have a smooth-running computer. Today on The Wired Homeschool I discuss the necessary software maintenance that everyone should be doing to keep their computer healthy.

Security Updates

Most security updates for your operating system are automatic no matter what platform you;re using (Windows, Apple, Linux) and this is a good thing. However, you should keep an eye out for any “out of cycle) updates that may arise which could require you to download and install a patch.

Not only are your OS updates important but your software that you use with the operating system is important too. Applications like Adobe Reader and Flash, Java, CD/DVD burning software, office productivity tools and more need to be updated. These usually do not come automatically but you can use Mozilla’s online plugin check to make sure the majority of these applications are up to date.

Secunia’s Online Software Inspector is also a great resource for checking for any security updates that may be available for software you’re using (Windows only).

Anti-virus/Spyware

Anti-virus and anti-spyware detecting software is critical for all Windows operating systems. With over 90% of the PC market share they are the largest and most often attacked when it comes to security vulnerabilities. I always recommend that people use Microsoft Security Essentials because it’s free and made my the company that wrote the operating system. It’s not nearly as intrusive as packages from McAfee or Symantec and doesn’t bring your computer to a grinding halt when a scan is in progress. Another great tool is SuperAntiSpyware which will scan and remove any spyware that may be present on your computer. It’s free and easy to use.

While anti-virus software isn’t essential for OS X, I do recommend using it if you interact with a lot of people who have Windows computers. It’s irresponsible to pass along an infected file and using a product likeClamXav will help to prevent you from passing along little nasties to unsuspecting colleagues. CNet has a great list of anti-virus software for the Mac if ClamAV isn’t your cup of tea.

Disk Maintenance and Back-ups

Disk maintenance and backups are important for everyone. These tools will make sure your hard drive is running in top shape and if there is a problem, you’ll be able to recover your data.

Windows comes with a few disk maintenance utilities built-in: chkdsk and defrag. I recommend that you run both of these tools once a month. Another tool you may want to check out is Microsoft’s online repair tool:Fixit.

OS X doesn’t generally require you to be as diligent about disk maintenance. However, there is the built-inDisk Utility that you can run if you’re experiencing problems with your disk.

Backups are important too. I won’t go into too much detail except to say that both Windows and OS X have built-in tools for backing up your data and you should use them regularly. Time Machine for OS X and Microsoft’s Backup (for Windows XPWindows Vista and Windows 7) are the tools you’ll want to use.

I also recommend that you make online backups of your critical data like photos, school records, tax information, important email, etc. To do this you can use any number of automated online backup tools likeMozyCarbonite, or Back Blaze. These are available for a monthly fee.

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If you’d like to leave feedback about this or any other episode you can call and leave a voice mail by calling 518-290-0228, send email  to feedback@thewiredhomeschool, or leave a comment on the blog. Follow me on Twitter: @jwilkers. Also follow the podcast on Twitter: @wiredhs. Join the Facebook page over at http://facebook.com/wiredhs

The Wired Homeschool is a proud member of the Tech Podcast Network. For more family-friendly tech podcasts visit techpodcasts.com

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Feedback – WHS 5

Today’s podcast is a feedback episode. I respond to feedback from listeners and talk a little about subscribing to the podcast and other features of the website.

Links mentioned in the podcast:

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If you’d like to leave feedback about this or any other episode you can call and leave a voice mail by calling 518-290-0228, send email  to feedback@thewiredhomeschool, or leave a comment on the blog. Follow me on Twitter: @jwilkers. Also follow the podcast on Twitter: @wiredhs. Join the Facebook page over at http://facebook.com/wiredhs

The Wired Homeschool is a proud member of the Tech Podcast Network. For more family-friendly tech podcasts visit techpodcasts.com

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Purchasing a New Computer – WHS 4

Purchasing a computer can be confusing. Should it be a Mac or a PC? Laptop or desktop? In this episode of The Wired Homeschool I’ll give you some tips for helping you make the right decision.

Purchasing a computer for your home can be a daunting decision. I hate having to buy new hardware. It’s especially difficult if your computer suffers a catastrophic failure and you need to make a purchase quickly. Hopefully with these tips you’ll be well-armed (or armored) the next time you walk into the big, box store to make a computer purchase.

General or Purpose-built?

The first decision you need to make is whether or not this will be a a general-purpose computer for the whole family or a computer used for a specific purpose like gaming or multi-media production and playback.

If it’s a general-purpose computer the typical computer you find at a store in the $300-$500 range is fine. This type of computer can be used for Internet browsing, office productivity, watching DVDs, email and other general tasks.

If you’re looking for a computer with a specific purpose in mind things get a little trickier. Maybe you want a computer just for Internet use and checking email; a netbook might be the right choice for your. If you want a computer so you can play the latest 3D-accelerated games then you’ll be looking at things like clock speed, graphics cards, RAM for both the main system and the graphics card, and hard drive seek times. In this case the faster the better. Expect to pay at least $1,000 for a basic, modern gaming system.

All of this can be very overwhelming and since technology changes quickly I’m not going to make any specific recommendations. Cnet has a great buying guide that I’m sure will get updated as technology changes.

Desktop or Laptop?

Now that you’ve decided how you want to use your new computer you’ll need to decide what level of portability you need.

Is this a computer for the family room? You’ll want to go with a desktop. Looking for a Windows media extender? A small form factor desktop would be best. Want to be able to take the laptop on field trips or the family vacation? A laptop will be best.

A word of caution: a laptop will increase the cost of your purchase by $300-$500 if you want the same performance as a desktop. I don’t recommend you pay less than $1000 for a laptop if you plan to do video or photo editing. That $500 laptop may look appealing but it’s not really made to edit or watch video. Granted, processors and video technology have improved but you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. You can do that by sticking to major brand names like Dell, Apple, HP and Toshiba. Again, CNet has a great laptop buying guide that you’ll find useful.

Finally, whatever you do, get an extended warranty from the manufacturer not the reseller. WHEN (not if) something goes wrong this will cut out the middle man when it comes to making repairs. You’ll pay about $100 to extend the warranty to 3 years but it’s money well-spent in my opinion.

Mac or PC?

This age-old debate will go on forever. As a general rule of thumb I recommend that you stick with what you’re accustomed to using. You won’t have to purchase new versions of your software and it will make the transition to a new machine much easier.

I will say this: you’ll get the most bang for your buck buying a Mac. Apple offers an educational discount to homeschoolers (check out their education store for details) and they offer the best tutorials for using their products I’ve seen online.

If you’re looking to switch from Windows to Apple then you’ll want to do that before you purchase any digital curriculum so that you’re sure the media will work with your new computer. This is generally not a problem these days but there are still some companies that only produce products for Windows operating systems.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

Purchasing a new computer can be quite daunting. Hopefully I’ve given you a few guidelines to help you with your purchase. When in doubt, ask a knowledgeable person you trust. Sales associates (especially if they’re paid on commission) will always try to up-sell. If you go into a store knowing exactly what you want then you may be able to avoid any hard selling.

One thing I didn’t go into detail about is peripherals like printers and scanners. For the most part what you have should be compatible with a new computer if it was purchased in the last 3-5 years. No guarantees, however. Don’t be surprised if you have to replace that 10-year old scanner.

Finally, I’m going to go out on a limb here and make two specific recommendations for a general purpose family computer (something I don’t normally do). If you’re looking for a Mac and already have a monitor, keyboard and mouse you can reuse go for the Mac Mini. If you’re looking for a suitable Windows desktop computer the Dell Inspiron 580s starting at $599 is a great choice (ask for a educational discount since you’re a homeschooler — it can’t hurt). Both of these computers can be tweaked to your heart’s content but the base configurations are fine for the average family.

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If you’d like to leave feedback about this or any other episode you can call and leave a voice mail by calling 518-290-0228, send email  to feedback@thewiredhomeschool, or leave a comment on the blog. Follow me on Twitter: @jwilkers. Also follow the podcast on Twitter: @wiredhs. Join the Facebook page over at http://facebook.com/wiredhs

The Wired Homeschool is a proud member of the Tech Podcast Network. For more family-friendly tech podcasts visit techpodcasts.com

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Homeschooling and Facebook – WHS 3

In this episode of The Wired Homeschool I discuss the social media websiteFacebook.

Facebook is another social media website homeschoolers can utilize to connect with like-minded home educators.

What is Facebook?

Unlike Twitter, Facebook let’s you interact more with others through chatting and applications. Facebook is all about sharing your information and interests with the world. Security can be applied so that only friends or certain groups of people can see specific information.

How will Facebook benefit my homeschool?

Besides allowing you as a parent to connect with fellow homeschoolers around the world, Facebook will allow your children to connect with other homeschoolers. Your homeschool group could even host their “website” on Facebook. Access can be controlled so that only people in the group can see specific information and limited information is provided to the rest of the Internet.

Is it right for me and my family?

Just like Twitter and any social media or technology that is a decision you will ultimately have to make on your own. Don’t let it intimidate you. However, if you have any doubts, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

How do I get started using Facebook?

I used Jeff Roney‘s free e-book, Marketing with Twitter and Facebook as a guideline for these instructions. If you have a homeschooling product you’re trying to get people excited about then check out Jeff’s tips in this book.

  1. Go to Facebook.com and sign-up
  2. Fill out your profile information
  3. Find friends by searching for their names or email address
  4. Let people know you have a Facebook account so they can connect with you

Where can I get more information about Facebook

Tips and tutorials about Facebook are all over the internet. Here are a few links to get you started:

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If you’d like to leave feedback about this or any other episode you can call and leave a voice mail by calling 518-290-0228, send email  to feedback@thewiredhomeschool, or leave a comment on the blog. Follow me on Twitter: @jwilkers. Also follow the podcast on Twitter: @wiredhs. Join the Facebook page over at http://facebook.com/wiredhs

The Wired Homeschool is a proud member of the Tech Podcast Network. For more family-friendly tech podcasts visit techpodcasts.com

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