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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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Homeschooling and Twitter – WHS 2

In this episode of The Wired Homeschool I will discuss the micro-blogging tool Twitter.

Twitter is one of the many social media tools that homeschoolers can use in the home school to not only connect with other homeschoolers but also learn about other homeschooling opportunities.

Your children can use it to keep in touch with friends while on vacation or other kids they met at camp or a conference.

If you lead a homeschooling group or co-op, use it to update your homeschool group with up-to-date information or just to keep them appraised of any progress concerning upcoming events.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that allows users to communicate with one another through 140 characters messages. You can send a message to everyone on Twitter, to an individual, or message privately between another user and yourself.

Twitter is self-described as:

Twitter is a real-time information network powered by people all around the world that lets you share and discover what’s happening now.

Twitter asks “what’s happening” and makes the answer spread across the globe to millions, immediately.

 

“What’s Happening” is at the core of this social media service.

People share news, current events, and even details about their personal lives on Twitter. Think of it as a snap-shot of your day in 140 characters. Some people take a lot of snap-shots while others are content to post once or twice a day (or week). You can use it any way you choose. Keep in touch with friends and acquaintances or advertise your latest blog, website, or homeschooling products.

Is it right for me and my family?

Ultimately, that is a decision you have to make on your own. If you are uncomfortable sharing information online than Twitter is not for you you. If you find that you don’t have time for any extra “noise” in your already crowded and hectic day then Twitter is not for you.

How do I get started using Twitter?

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. Sign up for an account at Twitter.com – This is pretty obvious. You need an account to participate.
  2. Download and install a client to send and receive updates on your computer and/or phone – You can do this via the website but most people use software for convenience. TweetdeckSeesmic andHootSuite are some great options.
  3. Find someone to follow – Add your friends and family. You can search for other people at Twitter’s website or TweepSearch.
  4. Start ‘Tweeting’ – Let the world know your there. People will find you and most people you follow will follow you back.

Where do I go from here?

The sky’s the limit! This episode isn’t meant to be an instructional podcast about Twitter, just a general overview. If you’re looking for more information about Twitter and tips on using it check out the following resources:

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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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