When TVs first came out they where considered a luxury, an expensive toy. However as they became more ingrained into society the TV became something found in most homes and as prices came down many homes began having multiple TVs. Today if you tell someone you have 3 or 4 TVs in your home they do not think twice about it.
We are right now seeing that evolution today with the computer. For a long time even having one computer in the home was something to turn someone’s head but to claim you had two or three people would think you are nuts. However today with prices on computers falling and the home PC becoming more than something to browse the internet the use of multiple computers in the home is not only feasible but in my opinion a good idea.
One of the biggest issues I run into when dealing with issues on home PCs is the head of the house complaining about others using the PC and messing it up. While some of this is obviously just not wanting to admit to screwing something up or just not know there is some truth to this. Different people use PCs in different ways and sometimes those different ways can come into conflict. For example a home work PC that has mission critical data on it for a business project and kids that like to use Facebook. The result almost every time is a PC that gets some form of malware that slows down the PC or in extreme cases crashing it all together, not only cutting down Facebook time but making work on the PC hard to do.
Now the solution that many use is to ban others from their PC but then they give in as they realize that others in the home enjoy using the PC as well. You see the internet and the use of a PC is not just about business anymore. The truth is the TV, music and movie industry fear the PC community as it has changed the way entertainment is handle for family members. The home PC has become the true entertainment workhorse. Think about it, with a home PC you can, browser the internet, getting news, weather, sports, hobby information, email, voice chat, video chat, watch TV shows, movies, listen to music, play games, look at family photos, make home movies, study family history, seek out medical advice, get help from a support group and more. Not quite as limited as a TV is it?
However for the same reason that we have multi TVs in our homes, we need sometimes multiple computers. After all not everyone likes the same kind of entertainment and that means not everyone uses their computer to do the same things. However in the case of a computer there are other considerations as well. A machine that can do basic web browsing will not be as good at gaming as one designed to do it. Also a gaming machine might not be the best choice for someone doing deep genealogy.
With this in mind multiple PCs in the home suddenly do not sound like a bad idea. Recent developments in Windows and networking hardware have made it easy to link the entire family together to share common resources such as printers and internet, so making to move to a second, third or more PCs in the home is now easy.
To give an example in my home we have six computers and are about to add a 7th. I have a machine that is for work, that means it is just for writing this blog, working on sound files, doing email for my business, billing, book keeping and so on. No games, no kids, no nothing but work. My second machine is a pure toy for me, a gaming computer. It is built very different from my work computer and has a very different purpose. My wife has her own machine, she loves to mess with family photos and play music. My daughter has her own PC, a laptop since she likes to take it with her to school, using it for photography and Facebook. For our 7 year old son I took an old laptop, gave it a little TLC and now he has his own computer than can be put away when he gets grounded for doing something wrong. He likes to play a few simple games and the computer gives us an emergency spare for basic internet access. The 6th PC in my home is a different kind of work PC, it is my test platform for hardware and software. It is always up and down, never know if it is working from day to day as I go through hardware on it. The 7th PC we are working on is a multi-media PC that will hook to the big screen. This will replace our DVD player giving us Blue Ray as well as letting us use services like Hulu and Netflix for instant video watching from online streaming.
Now in fairness I am the exception as far as the number of PCs I use but the concept works for all families. A good basic, low cost cookie cutter PC can give a family a solid basic web browsing computer. For younger kids you can pick up older full PCs or even laptops for really low costs and yet give them a great tool to learn from while they play. If the kids like gaming you will spend a bit more for the gaming PC but you might be surprised how inexpensive that these have become. Gaming BTW is not just for one or two people in the family. We have found many games that let the family play together and actually gives a great family game night.
Now I know the next thing people are going to say, that’s a lot of money. You would be surprised at how little there is in buying multiple computers for the home. One solid method of putting multiple computers in the home is the inheritance method. Basically what this means is as the person with the most computing needs gets a new PC the older one is cleaned up and given to some else in the family. Also realize that computers have a much longer life than some people realize if they are repurposed. This means changing how the PC is used. For example an old computer that is even slow on the internet could still have a use for young children games which are easy on PC hardware or even turned into a jukebox with all your CDs stored on it. There is no reason a PC that is well made should not see a useful life of 5 years or more.
Another option is to learn to be a computing DIYer. Building your own PC is a great way to learn more about your computer as well as to save some cost. Which is a great hint to the series we are beginning on the show this week, Build A PC 2011.
This is the perfect time of year to begin looking at putting a second PC or more in your home. Tax Return season is a time of year we typically make these kinds of purchases so consider this options. However would you like some more incentive, what if I could tell you this could save you money? Many PC users have begun doing away with a monthly cable or TV bill, the reason why? Well it is simply they can get better programming options online today. Using Hulu or Netflix you can get a lot of programming choices, plus your computer can play DVDs or Blu-Ray if you got one with the player. Both Hulu and Netflix combine monthly for the premium services come to less than $20 a month, much cheaper than cable to DirecTV. How about reducing your phone bill? Using Skype you can get buy at much lower rates including world wide unlimited calling for $20 a month, show me a regular phone company that can beat that.
Multiple PCs in the home are fast becoming a reality and even a need as the kids need the PC for homework while Dad wants to check stocks and Mom needs to upload some family photos for the grandparents. Is it time your family looks at getting that second PC?
For those that missed the show from last week, I announced that I would be taking this week off. We have family in for the long weekend and I will be relaxing with them. That means instead of the large blog entry you will get this quick note.
That’s okay though because perhaps you, the faithful should take a weekend off as well and spend it with family. To often we get get so caught up in our work or hobbies we forget what is really important. S I encourage you all, call up your best friend or set some time aside for the wife and kids. Turn off the computer, unplug the internet and watch a movie the old fashioned way, in a theater without the internet.
I hope you all have a great week and find some fun outside of the technology we all enjoy. Be ready for next week however as we begin our annual Build a PC series as well as get ready for a month of Antec. The DIY King is celebrating 25 years in this industry and we will over 4 weeks review products, interview Scott Richards and maybe even a give-away or two. Plus of course we will always have times for your phone calls and emails.
Until next week…
You know I get asked a lot about software to help protect your kids on the internet. I understand this, the internet is like the wild west open and untamed. We want to protect our kids, give them a chance for their innocence to last just a little longer. However we also want to protect ourselves. Many of the websites that cater to adult material or illegal downloads also are the homes for some pretty nasty malware infections.
My general rules for dealing with protecting our kids are pretty well known to people that have listened over the years but let me put them out there again.
- Put computers in community areas of the home.
It is was to often that I see parents putting a computer for the kids in their bedroom. While we want to trust our kids and think the best of them they are in the end kids and this invites the misuse of the computer. I am not talking about just going to adult sites, I am referring to staying up all night playing WoW or chatting on Facebook with their friends that also have PCs in their bedrooms. Put the PC out where the family is.
- No Internet When Mom and Dad are not home. Letting your kid run around on the internet with you not around is the same as dropping them off in down town Chicago with $100 and tell them you will see them later. The chances for doing something wrong go up a 100 fold with kids when left unattended. This rule, applied with rule one results in kids not feeling they have the chance to sneak in that quick peak. It also means their time on the internet can be controlled. This is really easy to do, especially with new computers. Parental control tools are built right into Windows Vista and Windows 7 to let you limit time and access on the computer.
- Show an active interest in the kids internet activities. Do not use the internet as a baby sitter, rather use it as a way to bond with your kids, it really can work that way. Ask my kids of some of their fondest memories growing up and they all come back to a weekend we spent all 4 of us playing a Star Wars game together on a bunch of computers I had in the house. The time was amazing with all of us chasing each other around the game map. They teamed up to find Dad and his sniper nest. Mine are not the only experiences that bare this out. Doug has a man cave for him and boys in their home. They play video games together and talk about computers. He is right there in the room with them, set so he can see all they do. Wil Wheaton from Star Trek fame has even expressed these views in the keynote addresses he has given at the PAX Convention. In one speech he talked about how games allowed him and his son to be on equal ground and talking about tough life stuff while gaming was easier. However this is not just about games, show an interest in Facebook, have the kids show you how to make your own account and then friend them, a great way to see what they are up to on Facebook. Show interest in their computing and you will gain an insight into what your kids are doing.
These are the three rules I have over the years built from my experiences. However sometimes they are hard to implement. I mean we all work hard as adults and our time at home might be limited but the kids need access for school. Perhaps our home is small and we do not have room for the computer in the living area. There are reasons that sometimes these rules just cannot work, what do you do then? Well commercial products have always left me with a bad taste in my mouth. They seem to easy to by pass. However as silly as it sounds I have found something for free that works really well. Let me introduce you to OpenDNS.
When you computer access the internet it takes the website name you have given and looks it up in a directory to find the actual IP address of the site. This directory is called a Domain Name Server, or DNS. This is usually provided for you by your ISP however the one they provide is wide open, meaning all of the internet is there all the time.
Open DNS offers an alternative to using your ISP’s DNS system. This server allows you to set various levels of security on it to block websites you do not want your family to go to. The security is basically a content filtering system that can be customized or can use presets ranging from nothing blocked to blocking adult sites, illegal activity, social sites, video sites and so on.
The filtering is easy to do and the explanations simple to understand. In fact the settings are good enough that they are not just good for home but for small businesses as well that want to control the web content the employees can access.
Now sometimes these types of filters will block a site we want access to but that borders on questionable with the criteria the blockers are using. OpenDNS offers the ability to create a Whitelist of sites, sites that will bypass the blocker.
The control for all of this is done on their website, OpenDNS.com and is protected by a password you assign. This means no one can change these settings unless you want them to. For parents or employers this means you might want to limit who knows this password.
There are three levels of OpenDNS that you can use. For homes and small businesses the free version should be enough. The two version with costs associated basically up the number of specific sites you can block or free and offer more indepth reporting. That’s right reporting. The service allows you to see how many times people tried to go to sites that where not appropriate and verify they have been blocked. The services has an added side benefit, it also blocks phishing sites and many of the sites that are guilty of putting malware on system.
My family has been using OpenDNS since January 1 for purposes of testing. For the first 4 weeks I did not tell anyone in the family that I had engaged the filters for adult and illegal material. Good news for me, after 4 weeks no one even noticed that the filter was on. This tells me that no one in the family was going anywhere bad , always good to know. Looking at the reports however I saw in 4 weeks time almost 50 sites blocked. I discounted the sites I knew I had tried for testing purposes in that number. These where ads trying to run from legitimate sites that where being blocked by the service.
My family is still using OpenDNS today and I see no reason to take it off. All of our games and websites we like to go to work perfect and our internet has not had any issues with using an alternate DNS system. The service is free, which is great plus it is effective and simple to use. Instructions for setting this up for your home or small business are on the site. I am so impressed with this service and it’s ease of use that I have added a link on my blog and a new category, Computer Ed’s Must Use.
For family and small business this is a must have!
There is a truth in the world of home computer users that we are scared to face, we have become a bunch of hoarders. Yes I mean hoarders and not packrats, those people that cannot walk in their homes because of all the junk they keep. The same can be found on many home users PCs today. Programs that are years old that have not been used since the day they where downloaded. How about family pictures that are special memories, so special that no one has seen them in the last 3 years and in fact the events they where taken of have been long forgotten. Please do not get me started on music, that thing we all love to listen to and yet we have music on our hard drives that we have not taken the time to play since the day we ripped or in some peoples case pirated them. I could go one but you get the idea and the people that do this, most of us, know who you are!
Much as the tobacco industry created an artificial addiction by introducing extra chemicals so did the computer industry create an addiction to drive space over the years. You hear it everyday when you speak to a lot of “enthusiasts”, the most addicted of us all. They talk about the benefits of large storage and the need for more by using RAIDs. They claim they need this space and fill it, clamor for more and complain about bloated software.
The time has come gentle readers and listeners for an intervention!
For me the realization I was a hoarder came when I was testing SSD drives for the first time. I went into the review prepared to hate SSDs because they are so small and cost so much. I needed my space after all, my music, pictures and games needed room to grow. However the SSD forced me to sit down and take a serious look at what I put on my computer. It did not take long for me to realize that I was keeping a lot of stuff I never use.
For example I have a ton of family pictures and photos I have taken for reviews and websites. All told close to 5000 pictures, that’s a lot of photos. Combined these take up close to 4 Gigs of space. However going through them I quickly realized that about 30% of them where things I would never need again after I had used them. Another large group where duplicates. In a matter of about 2 hours work I weeded that number down to 1500 pictures and less than 2 Gigs of space. But looking closer I realized that I had not even bothers to look at most of these pictures in YEARS! Why was I keeping them? Well the reason we all know is just pure sentiment and there is nothing wrong with that but did they need to take up my HD space?
I next turn to music, I have a large CD collection but I no longer use the CDs because, well it makes more sense to just have them all on my computer, or does it? From 38 Special to ZZ Top I have music from over 300 groups and a total of 32K PLUS of songs! That is almost 80 gigs of music. Lisa and I sat down and thought about what we listen to and when, we quickly realized that less than 1% of the music gets actually listened to. Now this is all legal music we own, the CDs stored safely away in water tight boxes. Do not get me started on the people with their massive pirate libraries.
I could on talking about gamers who keep games forever and never play them or various other programs that get downloaded, people grow bored with yet leave on their system and so on, but you get the idea I am sure. We have become hoarders of space.
Even if we do not suffer from hoarding the mentality still infects many of us. Walk up to someone and talk about buying a new computer and tell them you want a 250 gig HD and they will think you are nuts, telling you how you NEED a bigger HD. Do you, really? One of my clients is an author and works for a local tourism bureau, he has more word files on his computer than any person I have ever seen and his photo library makes my pictures look like a kids scrap book. Yet with all that activity, office suites, internet usage and literally thousands of pictures he can fit it all in less than 45 gig. Or there is the day trader I do work for that uses his computer 40 hours a week, is constantly doing research and is full of excel spreadsheets that he has from the research he has done. Yet with all this work everyday on his PC he uses less than 30 gig total.
The point I am trying to make is that for a lot of people the larger HDs are not nearly as important as the industry and the “enthusiasts” want us to believe.
What does this mean for consumers? Actually very little at the point of purchase. Sorry folks but the off the shelf PC comes loaded with big HDs and really no other options. For the DIYer or upgrader however it means SSDs are really something you need to look at. Sure they cost a bit more and have less space but they are also a very nice performance boost over traditional HDs.
Another benefit of this knowledge is a better understanding of the concept of cloud computing. Now this is just a overview of what it is but the concept that you can use the online world for access to data is a basic tenant of the concept of cloud computing. With places like Facebook letting you store your pics online, Pandora giving you the customized music selection you want and Netflix letting you stream movies without having to store them the ability to keep our HDs empty and still access what we want has never been better. Add to this the fact that Microsoft and Google now let you have solid home use office applications for free with no real installs and the data store online, you can see the days of the big storage capacity in a home are numbered.
So the next time someone gets excited about their new massive hard drive or complains about how software is bloated today, just look at them with pity, they are likely in need of an intervention.