Friday, August 24, 2012

Good Things Ahead

    Good news, I got a job!  I will be working for the Geek Squad starting next month.  Which is great, but also has me running in a few hundred different directions.  Getting, and keeping, a job while homeless is a hard thing to do.  I'm trying to make all my preperations, and so I'm afraid the blog has slowed down.  I'm still working on my computer class, and some other posts, but a lot of my time has been taken up going to appointments and planning.  So I'm sorry that I haven't posted anything new for a while, and I'm afraid that's likely to continue until I get settled in to my new routine.  I will add some new material as soon as I can.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Computer Basics - Part 2A - Windows XP

I am currently working on the next part of the Computer Basics class and I have discovered something - the next section is really big.  We are moving on to talking about Windows itself, which covers a lot of ground and a lot of screenshots.  So I am going to break up Part 2, The Operating System, into 2 posts.  Here is the first post (Part 2A) and the second (Part 2B) will follow soon.  To catch up, here are links to the previous 2 parts:

Part 0 - Introduction
Part 1 - Hardware

Part 2 – The Operating System – Windows XP

    The hardware that makes up your computer is the foundation of what you can do. But, it is not something you are going to regularly interact with. It is possible to add new hardware, or upgrade existing, but for the most part you buy it and forget about it. What you will be interacting with is software.
    Generally speaking I break software down into two groups: Programs and Operating Systems. If hardware is the beginning, the bottom of the chain, then Programs are the end of the chain. A program is simply any software that does a specific purpose. You use a web browser program to surf the Internet, a word processing program to type a letter, a music player program to listen to music, and so on. There are so many different kinds of programs that they have their own section.
    First, however, let's talk about the middle of the chain. While you will spend most of your time using different programs, then is another type of software in-between your programs and the hardware of your computer. This is called your Operating System (OS), which you may know by the name of Windows, which is an OS designed by the Microsoft corporation. Apple has its own Mac OS. And real computer geeks might have heard of the Linux OS. These are the big 3 that most people may have used.
    So what is an Operating System, you ask – good question. This is a special program designed to talk to the computer's hardware and manage other programs that run on that hardware. Think of it like the foreman of a factory, or the manager of an office. Workers do the specific jobs, but you need some kind of boss or manager to guide the workers, co-ordinate their efforts, and make sure they have the needed supplies. Programs are the workers, the Operating System is the manager. It's the boss. While you will not spend all your time directly working with your OS, it will influence everything you do on the computer, so you need to understand it. In this section we are going to talk about one OS in particular, Windows XP. All versions of Windows have similar features, and to a degree all OS's are similar as well – so what you learn here will help you to use any other computer.

Starting The Computer
    Let's start at the very beginning, with turning on your computer. Once the computer gets power it goes through what is called the POST, or Power-On Self Test. This is a quick check of the hardware on the computer to make sure that everything is working as expected. You should see the logo of the computer's manufacturer (like the word Dell in big blue letters, or Compaq in orange) for just a second and hear a beep. Most laptops don't beep, but the beep is there to tell you that everything is okay. If you don't see anything on the screen, or if you hear a long series of beeps, something has gone wrong. At this point, since you don't know much about computers (that's why you're reading this, right?) the best thing to do is turn the computer off and go get help.
    Assuming that all goes well, after the company logo the POST is finished. The program to run through the POST is in a chip inside your computer called the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). As the name says, the BIOS is basic, very basic, it pretty much talks in baby-speak. It is not smart enough to run the computer. So it looks for an operating system to hand off control to. Now, your OS, in our case Windows, is running the show. So you should next see the Windows logo – the word Windows with a 4-colored flag.

    At this point one of two things should happen. If you are the only person using the computer, you should go straight to your Desktop. If there are multiple people using the computer, or if you have a password to use your computer, then you should see the User Accounts screen.
    The user accounts screen has the name of each person using the computer (they pick the name so it might be “CoolKid” instead of Johnny), a small picture (randomly selected by Windows, but you can put up your own), and a box to type in a password (if the account has one). Users are good because while each person uses the same Windows program, each person can make changes that only they will see. It separates each account, allowing them to customize the computer without making changes everyone has to live with (after all, a daughter may want everything pink while Dad prefers more somber blue). It also gives them some privacy by letting them save information that the others cannot easily see.
    If you do have more than one user, after you click on your name and type in any password then you will be taken to your Desktop.

Using The Keyboard & Mouse
    Let me back up for a second here. Now that the computer is on and running, you are going to need some way to talk to it and tell it what to do. While it is possible to literally talk to your computer, commanding it with your voice, for the vast majority of us we use the keyboard and mouse. The mouse tends to get the most work, by pointing and clicking, while the keyboard writes letters and does searches. You only need one, most everything can be done with the keyboard one way and the mouse another way. So there are multiple ways to do the same thing. This is true for just about everything the computer can do. So let me talk about how to use the keyboard/mouse combo, and how I type out instructions.
    The mouse is what I use the most, I'm actually a lousy typist for someone who writes so much. Most people I know seem to be the same way, so we'll start with the mouse. The mouse shows up on your screen as a Pointer – in Windows this is a little white arrow by default. As you move the mouse, the pointer moves on the screen. The mouse, the physical one, has two buttons – called the left mouse button and the right mouse button (surprisingly). The left mouse button is usually written as a “click” (from the noise it makes). The right mouse button is written as a “right-click.” In-between the two you might have a mouse wheel, a small vertical wheel used to “scroll” or move the screen up-and-down. This is convenient when you are reading a long document or webpage.
    Using the left mouse button, the “click,” is for when you want to select things or make something happen. Sometimes you have to click twice, real fast, called a “double-click.” The right-click normally brings up a small menu of options, which options you see depends on what you right-click on. So, click or double-click to select/start and right-click to open a menu of options.

The keyboard is for typing, like a letter or an email, and for searching. I'm sure you know what to do with the numbers and letters, but there are some special keys to be aware of.

At the bottom-left and -right of the letter keys are two special keys to remember: the Control (Ctrl) and Alt keys. Instead of clicking with the mouse, you can use the keyboard's letter keys, usually along with either Ctrl or Alt to select an option or start something. This is written by using a plus sign, like: Ctrl + A is the keyboard command to “select all.” To do this, hold down the Ctrl key with one finger, then press the A key with another, then let go of both. It's a lot harder to write than it is to do. Sometimes you will see programs that have commands with underlined words, like a button that says Next. The underlined “N” means that you can press Alt + N to select that button, instead of clicking on it with the mouse. If you are really good at touch-typing, the keyboard may replace the mouse for you, since everything the mouse does the keyboard can also do. I'll mention noteworthy keyboard commands, and the ones I normally use, as we talk about Windows and other programs.
    Now, writing how to use the computer is a little complicated. Using a computer is very visual, you follow what's on the screen, so writing it in words is hard. There are a few common ways to write commands though, ways the I will use and you will see in other books. First, you often have to do several things to use a program or Windows itself – so when typing commands each step is separated by and arrow like this: →. Also, things you should do on the computer are usually written differently from things you need to remember or learn, so I will use this old-style of text (and different color) to write something you need to actually do from now on. So when I write this: click on the Start button → Control Panel → double-click System. That means to left-click, with the mouse, on the Start button (which we'll meet soon), then a menu will open and you will see where it says “Control Panel,” left click on that (if I don't specifically say what to do, left-click – it gets a little tedious typing it out a million times), then another window will open and look for “System” and double-click on that. Again, awkward to read and write, but after you do it or see it a few times it will make perfect sense.

The Desktop
    Now that you know how to use the keyboard and mouse, let's get back to starting your computer. The first place in Windows you will go to, automatically or after clicking on your user name, is called the Desktop. There are several different parts to the Desktop that you need to be familiar with:
    First there is the Wallpaper, this is the image that appears behind everything and takes up most of the screen. The Windows XP default wallpaper is a grassy field, but your company may have put its logo or something else there. The wallpaper is just for show, to give you something nice to look at. It doesn't actually do anything. You can change your wallpaper, putting up a picture of your children or significant other, or just something that looks neat – I'll talk about how later.
    On top of the wallpaper, by default along the left side of the screen, are Icons. An Icon is just a picture, usually with some text below it (it's name), that stands for a program or piece of data on the computer. By default you have icons for My Computer, My Documents and the Recycle Bin on the desktop. You can double-click on the icon to start the related program. An icon normally stands for something, delete the icon and you delete the program or file.

    But there are special icons called Shortcuts that do not stand for anything, instead they point to where something else is located at. A shortcut usually has a little white arrow on it's picture to tell you that this is not a thing, it is just a pointer. If you delete the shortcut, the original will still remain. (we'll talk more about deleting when we talk about files in a bit).


    At the bottom-left of the desktop is the Start button. This is a small button that has the word “Start” and the 4-colored Windows flag.

    Clicking on the Start button will open the Start Menu (who'd have guessed). The Start Menu is where you can find all the programs on the computer and search for things if you can't remember how to find them. You will likely get used to the Start Menu pretty quickly since you will go there often to find things to do. I'll talk more about the Start Menu later since it can do so much.


    Running along the bottom of the desktop, holding the Start button, is a bar called the Taskbar. The taskbar has a few different parts to it. Starting from the left it has the Start button, then...

    Next to that is the Quick Launch area, here are some icons of programs that you can click on once to start. This is good for programs that you use all the time, since they are visible and easy to get to. Odds are Windows put a few things there that you may or may not use very often.
    Next to the quick launch area is the Taskbar itself. Every program the you start should show up on this bar as a button with the name of the program. Since we just started the computer, you won't see anything here (in the picture above you can see I have the computer class I am working on as well as a screenshot/picture open). Keep an eye on it and watch how things show up and go away as you use them.
   On the right-most side is the System Tray, which has some very small icons and the clock. Programs that are “running in the background,” that is, they are doing work but not visible to you, put an icon in the system tray so that you know there are there. And it shows you the clock so you know what time it is.
    That is the desktop. It's pretty, but doesn't really do much. Mostly it is a way to organize things so you can see or find them easily and so you can work as quickly as possible. You don't really work with the desktop. It is used to find and start a program. And when you start a program, you create a window...

Anatomy Of A Window
    Windows is the name of your operating system. Is is also the name of what appears when you start a program. So a lower-case window is a program, while upper-case Windows is the OS. A little confusing I know.
    Most every window has a few common features, which you need to know to find your way around. So let's look at the window that pops-up when you double-click on
My Computer:

    I'll go over each important part, from the top-right counter-clockwise:

The Minimize button will hide the window, it will disappear from the screen. It is still there, and you can make it re-appear by clicking on the Task Bar icon.

The Maximize button will make the window bigger, it will take up the entire screen. This is good since you can see more of what's going on, so usually you will Maximize every window you open. After Maximizing this button will turn into the Restore button. Pressing the Restore button will return the window to it's previous size.

The Close button will close the window and exit the program. This shuts down whatever you were doing and is the usual way to stop working with a program.

The Menu bar is a series of text entries that runs along the top of the screen. The Menu bar has all the different things the program can do. Each program will have a slightly different Menu, but here is where you can find what a program is capable of.
    When you click on an entry in the menu bar it will open a sub-menu. This is a more detailed list of commands. It's hard to talk about a menu bar in general, when we talk about programs and actions I'll mention where in each Menu bar they are located. So if I tell you to go to: File → Open , I mean click on the word “File” in the menu bar and then click on the word “Open” in the sub-menu that pops up (like in the picture to the left).


The Toolbar is another list of commands, like the menu bar, but it has icons (pictures) and does not have every command, just the most common ones. The Toolbar is for convenience, a quick way to find common commands and something for people who think visually instead of in words. The red “x” in the toolbar picture above means Delete, which is the same as pushing the Delete or Backspace keys, same as going to File → Delete, and same as right-clicking and choosing Delete in the menu that pops up. So there are 4 different ways to do the same thing. This abundance of choices is to let you find the way you like (and drive writers and computer teachers like me crazy trying to cover them all).

The Address bar is meant to help you find your way around. It shows where you are either in your own computer or on the internet. Just a visual reminder of what you have open at the moment. Not every program has an Address bar.

The Sidebar is like the Toolbar, a collection of some common commands. You can do everything the Sidebar shows in other ways, it is just a convenience. Personally I find it to be pretty useless, but there is a way to make it better.

If you click on the Toolbar → Folders button , then the Sidebar turns into a tree showing you all the folders and drives and places on your computer. This can be a handy way of seeing where you are, and the view I recommend if you want to keep the Sidebar around.

    Now that you have seen the basic parts of a window, let's move on to talking about something more practical – how things are organized and saved on the computer. To start with, we'll go over Folders...

To be continued in Part 2B 


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Review- Brave

The Homeless Nerd Reviews:

At a glance- animated, for kids but enjoyable for grown-ups too, all about family

What is it? I've seen every Pixar movie so far and I've enjoyed every one of them. So I was looking forward to seeing Brave and finding out if they could continue to make exceptional films. Set in a kind-of medieval Ireland / Scotland, Brave is one of the few Pixar movies that focuses on people (instead of monsters, cars, bugs, fish or robots). So I guess it's not surprising that the story is all about family, and the joys and trials that come with them.
     As a longtime fan of anime (japanese animation) I'm used to the idea that an animated film can have intelligent, mature storylines and not just be kid fluff. Pixar has done a great job of that, creating movies that may be animated but that adults can enjoy right along with the kids. I remember an interview once with one of the creators of Bugs Bunny (think it was Chuck Jones) where he said that they were not trying to make an kids cartoon, they just wanted to make things they (as adults) thought were funny. As a kid I loved that, since most kids cartoons felt like they were talking down to me (GI Joe loses some appeal when you realize that it is impossible to jump out of a helicopter with a parachute and not be killed or maimed). My digression is just to point out that even though this is an animated film, it is not just for kids. As a 30-something year old I enjoyed the movie.

The acting- The vast majority of how we communicate is by body language, so doing an animated film is hard for an actor. You have to sell the role by your mannerisms, inflection and style – and match the character's look and movements created by the animators. I felt that all the voices were superb. As the main character, Princess Merida, actress Kelly Macdonald has a great voice. She is full of fire and determination and youthful rebellion.
     Emma Thompson voices the mother, Queen Elinor, overflowing with prim and proper reserve. Meanwhile her husband, King Fergus, is voiced by Billy Connolly and he steals the show. His voice acting is perfect as the rough and tumble yet loving king/father. He was a joy to listen to. Lastly Julie Waters has a short role as The Witch granting Merida a wish that turns everyone's lives upside-down.
     And though they don't have any speaking parts, Merida's three little brothers are fun and funny to watch. A great job was done by the animators bringing them to life as little hellions.

The story- Teenage rebellion is the heart of the story, with Merida a wild tomboy princess who is constantly butting heads with her prim and proper mother. They have the archetypical mother/daughter conflict. Things come to a head when Merida learns that she is to be married – and she has no say over who her future husband will be. A contest is held with the sons of each clan participating and the winner getting the fair, and fiery, maiden's hand. Merida interferes in the contest, and things rapidly go downhill from there.
     You can't have a proper fantasy fairy-tale without a witch, and here the story takes a bit of an unexpected turn. Normally when dealing with witches/magic a character manages to change themselves, but here instead Merida's wish ends up changing others around her. It is a bit of a break from traditional storytelling, and it works wonderfully. By harming those around her, Merida has to face responsibility and guilt, thinking about other's lives instead of her own. It increases the dramatic tension nicely. Otherwise, there is the usual adventure, misunderstandings, scares, obligatory monster, and eventual reconciliation. Brave is not quite a radically new story, like Wall-E or Finding Nemo, but it is very enjoyable. I think Pixar did another good job, and I look forward to their next film.

My recommendation- I'm sure every mother and daughter will find at least one moment they can relate to, or if you just want some happy warm fuzzy feelings about family, go see this movie.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Updated Computer Class

    Hello all.  Well, both of you who've been following this blog.  I just got done updating the Computer Basics - Hardware section with some pictures.  Right now I'm trying to get the Operating System section done (Part 2) but I have to take a bunch of screenshots (pictures of what you see on the screen) to help illustrate everything.  This is a kinda slow process since I have to type, take the shots, then edit them, then put them into the text, and then go on to the next topic.  But it is coming along, so please stay tuned.  I try to update at least twice a week - though things have been surprisingly hectic recently.