Nearly three years after the posting of my first Computer Skills Report Card, an update seems in order. I'm still learning, of course, and expect to add more updates on the way. But I'm satisfied with my average grade.
1) Never be without a laptop. Mine crashed last December--almost certainly because of a frayed adapter cord frying the hard drive. I thought to replace it with a Kindle Fire for online work and library computers for typing my work. But libraries close early and are closed on Sundays. My production schedule suffered.
2) Find a model and operating system that are right for you. This is my second Dell Latitude D630, a used model purchased for just under $200. The last model came with XP, no longer supported by Dell. With a little negotiation, I got the computer shop to install Windows 7--and to replace the Open Office software, which I'd used before and hated, with 'Kingsoft'--an effective clone of the Windows office/student program.
3) Choose the web browser that's right for you. On the advice of two trusted people, I replaced the web browser provided--switching from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome. Bing just doesn't work for me--I'm a Google kind of dude.
1) Watch your step on line, especially with Twitter. Now, Twitter is a significant part of my online platform. But Facebook has its dangers too. After two virus infections, I've made it second nature to avoid any links sent by strangers: especially those beginning 'OMG, I LMAO when I saw this. Did you write it?' But all other links sent by strangers can be dangerous--even those thanking you for following them and sending a link, they maintain, to their work.
2) Watch your emails carefully too. I receive numerous emails from strangers with headlines geared to lure me in: Please confirm this notification of your winning of 1 million dollars...Confirmation of your order...But I also receive emails in the names of friends whose computers have been hacked: Help, my dear friend, I'm stranded in the bowels of Tuscatonia, after being mugged and raped...I've learned to delete, unopened, any email from anyone whose name I do not know--or whose name I do know but don't trust in this context.
3) Library computers do have their uses. Once a week I use a secure library computer to open links I do keep, but which I'm not 100% sure of.
4) Split the online labors to reduce the risk. I use my Kindle Fire for about half of my online work. Important though the Fire is, I need the laptop for my work. So in this way I hope to better my odds.
5) BACK UP ALL WRITING ON FLASH DRIVES, AS WELL AS THE HARD DRIVE. AND DON'T CARRY ALL THE FLASH DRIVES WITH YOU. Last December, when my laptop crashed, I lost an entire novel that I'd just completed. Luckily, I found an ancient second draft on a flash drive from the year before.
1) Matters of form and format: More important than some think and yet essential to master. Take my Seattle blog, for instance. If I want to steer traffic to it, I might type in the address as:
The problem with that is that readers must either cut and paste the address or retype it. Most readers will pass on the pleasure because it involves too much work. BUT:
There is a line for matters of form: font, type size, Bold, Italics, etc. And this line includes the word Link. When I click on this button, I can place the blog address--which will then appear as a clickable link, involving no effort at all:
See the difference? No less important is learning how to insert photos properly on Facebook, Twitter--and even in a blog itself.
2) Superior editing tools: Things have certainly changed since the old days, when I'd have to retype an entire manuscript if I changed the main character's name...or I'd have to change pagination if I added or subtracted a page. Now, with Find and Replace I can change a name in seconds. Pagination's reset automatically. I have Spell Check and sometimes annoying grammar checks as well. (Yes, thank you, I want the sentence to be incomplete!).
3) The groovy this and groovy that: Scarcely a day passes that I don't learn some brand new way to stop being such a damned dodo. I'll learn my computer footwork is still too slow and receive new suggestions: how to work, for instance, with an edited draft from a friend...how to make better use of windows...how to better organize my files.
You get the idea. I am growing daily. But none of this would mean that much if not for my learning the following too:
Expanding our awareness of the power at our fingertips is the key to real success. And we need to do this daily, especially if we're over thirty years of age. Or just maybe I ought to say twenty. I worked with a young man of twenty who embodies the new spirit. Married to his smart phone, he was seldom without the phone in his left hand. If you mentioned a film or a book that he'd never heard of, he'd never ask for further information--he'd find out for himself. If he heard a song playing that he didn't know, an app on his phone would inform him.
I find myself channeling his spirit these days. After reading a Rolling Stone piece about Queen, I developed a passionate interest in the band and Freddie Mercury. I began investigating, starting off on Google, then clicking on other links. Wait, I'd heard of YouTube, but had never used it...A few clicks later I was watching a Live performance by Queen. Another click brought me to the last tape of Freddie Mercury, weeks before his death--skeletal, but still singing at full power.
I've found maps for my move to Seattle, showing neighborhoods and apartment rent rates. I've learned to research my writing more effectively: a new car for my hero...the gift box in which his new gun might arrive...
Gotta go now--back to school!