Purchasing a new PC

I just read an article from MSN’s bCentral site, and I wasn’t too shocked at what it said. Although the author offers some good points, I don’t think it covers enough (that’s me). So, I’ve come up with some additional information to share. Since I’m very cynical about PCs and what they’re good for, I’ve come up with the following list of things to look for.

First, ask yourself what you want your PC to do. When you start here, you may discover that the fastest, meanest machine may not be worth the cost. I know people that want to just share e-mail and surf the web once in a while. For them, a WebTV is ideal. Others want to use their PCs for word processing… in other words, buy a dedicated word processor (or better yet, a typewriter). Then there are those that only want to record audio tracks and burn them to CD. Finally, gamers will need to shell out a few more bucks than most general users for increased performance from graphics-intensive PCs. For about $500 less than a new PC, they can purchase a hard-drive mini-studio with CD-R. So, ask yourself what you want to do with a computer and write everything down.

Second, think about compatibility. If you have a group of friends that have Apples and you want to swap files with them regularly, then go with a Mac. On the other hand, if it doesn’t matter what system your friends have (really, it doesn’t nowadays) and you’re more concerned about cost and availability of software, go Windows-based. Finally, if you want to spend all day setting up your PC and programming it every week, consider a base computer and load Linux on it. By the way, OS X, Windows XP, and Linux are all operating systems and (generally) need to be installed in order for you to operate your PC. These should be installed before you take the PC home.

Third, think about reliability and (I can’t emphasize this enough) do your homework!! If you have Internet access, you can easily look up PC reviews. If not, take a trip to the library and read PC Magazine and PC World. Oh, and don’t get sucked into those really good deals.

Finally, consider your budget. A simple computer costs anywhere from $500 to $1,500, base price. Once you start customizing the hardware (that’s the tangible stuff that goes inside the physical box), the PC’s sticker price can double. But beware… the hardware is one thing. You also need software to do the tasks you bought it for. For example, Microsoft Office costs at least $500 (unless you’re a student or teacher) and Adobe PhotoShop is $700. For those of you who don’t need high-end products, less expensive options are available, such as Microsoft Works ($100) and Adobe PhotoShop Elements ($90). And don’t even think about connecting to the Internet without some kind of anti-virus software like Norton AntiVirus ($50) or McAfee VirusScan ($35), and get some kind of firewall (such as those bundled with Norton or McAfee, or a hardware router). When all is said and done, your new PC can easily cost you about $2,000. By the way, I haven’t even started discussing things like a printer, digital camera, or Apple iPod.

Above all, ask someone that you know who is knowledgeable about computers and trustworthy. Don’t ask the neighbor that is always borrowing your power drill, because he or she might want you to purchase a machine that will suit his or her needs when she’s over. Anyone that knows me will know that I can answer some pretty simple questions about PCs, and I also have resources. And unlike some people, I can explain this stuff in English… in other words, feel free to e-mail me with questions.

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Record number of crash fatalities

Last Thursday (December 11), Wisconsin recorded 800 highway crash fatalities for 2003. By this morning, the total number of highway fatalities (809) exceeded 2002’s total highway fatalities (805). Just imagine: 809 people that celebrated the holidays with their families last year won’t be home to celebrate this year. Last year at this time, 772 people died from fatal crashes; if last year is any indication of the rest of this year, more than 840 people won’t be ringing in 2004. Also, Wisconsin has seen a continued increase in highway fatalities over the last three years (764 in 2001, 805 in 2002, and 803 to-date in 2003). We also saw an unusual spike in 2000 (801), which was up from 1999 (744). Drivers need to start driving more safely and take notice of all of the warnings out there (buckle-up, don’t drink and drive, and don’t speed excessively). Otherwise, I’m sure another 800+ people won’t be home for the holidays next year.

So let me put this in perspective… I graduated with about 450 in my high school class. So, almost twice (1.8 x) that many people have died on Wisconsin’s highways this year. Among those, 102 were on motorcycles; 51 were pedestrians, 11 were on bicycles; 9 are unknown. This leaves the bulk of it to drivers (460 drivers, 176 passengers, or 636 inside motor vehicles).

As Secretary Frank Busalacchi states, “We are losing more than 800 people a year. If we had that many people die in airplane crashes, there wouldn’t be a plane flying. People just wouldn’t stand for it. Well, they shouldn’t stand for the 800 uncles, aunts, mothers, dads, brothers and friends who are killed in traffic crashes each year.”

My message is simple: Drive carefully out there, stay sober or give your keys to someone who is, and buckle up. And have a safe holiday so you can continue to celebrate them.

I’ve also found an interesting article on how computers are detrimental to the academic achievements of students in grade school. This just shows that technology does not always belong in the classroom. I’m sure you’ve read my soapbox article, Higher Education Access. Here’s a news article from the San Francisco Chronicle that confirms my fears: Computer illogic. My nieces are smart, creative, and self-motivated. Surprisingly enough (to all of you tech lovers), they have never used a computer. That tells me something about computers and the classroom.

And for you Green Bay Packers fans, here’s some really cool news that truly makes them America’s team. Rather than Brett Favre, Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson, or Ahman Green taking the game ball home, the team gave the ball to a US marine/Packers fan who was injured in Iraq. That’s truly American!

The next soapbox is coming soon. Stay tuned…

Legislatures’ priorities mixed up

Wisconsin’s legislature seems to have its priorities mixed up. While looking through the press releases on The Wheeler Report, I noticed that there are some important issues on the table. The first is clearing snow from roads, which is a common occurrence in Wisconsin during the winter. During the 2003-05 Biennial Budget process, the Legislature denied an increase for highway maintenance; this includes snowplowing, brush clearing, and lane striping. However, it had no problem in increasing highway construction projects expenditures. Assembly Speaker John Gard, one of the representatives that pushed for increased construction spending, called the Wisconsin Department of Transportation irresponsible and complained about the high gas taxes in this state. However, he always seems to forget (or is unaware) that Wisconsin’s DOT provides more services than most other state DOTs, because we have our State Patrol and Motor Vehicles divisions in the agency. Furthermore, we are one of the few state DOTs that do not receive funding from general tax collections. Additionally, our DOT is also paying money to the general fund to help with the school fund in this biennium; and you wonder why we need to “slash” funding for the maintenance program? In addition, there were no increases in business areas of our agency, including State Patrol and Motor Vehicles, due to these payments to the General Fund and so we could continue to keep the highway construction program moving. In fact, rather than maintain the level of public safety and motor vehicle services, 2003 Wisconsin Act 33 (the biennial budget) cut citizen-level positions in both of these DOT divisions. So, if DOT cannot afford to keep maintenance at previous-year levels, Representative Gard should have his name at the top of the blame list.

Second, I am not a Republican, but I am really impressed with two Republican senators’ stand on state funding for the Great Circus Parade. Senator Bob Welch wants to introduce legislation that would require the State to help fund the Circus Parade. However, Senators Michael Ellis and Rob Cowles disagree. Senator Ellis said, “If we have $1.5 million to spend, we ought to spend that to ensure that highways all over Wisconsin are safe throughout the entire winter season before we spend it to save a parade that lasts 10 hours on a summer day in the City of Milwaukee.” Kudos to Ellis and Cowles for realizing where the State’s priorities lie.

Third, as of Monday we’ve hit 793 highway fatalities this year. Last year we reached a 12-year record high of 805. With the snow and the upcoming holidays, we’ll likely break that this year. Just think, we kill more people on the roads every year than gun violence or airplane crashes, yet we rarely think much about it. The press in this area has been really helpful in bringing this issue to the forefront, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

Finally, my new soapbox article is officially here! I’ve also cleaned up My Soapbox page to make it easier to read in most browsers. Coming soon: My New Year resolutions.

iPod article still in progress

Big apologies… I didn’t complete the iPod soapbox. On the plus hand, I have the next soapbox in progress (well, in my mind anyway). On the plus side, the Packers won (by some miracle). Don’t worry, I plan on publishing the iPod article this week, and the next article before the end of the year.

Mozilla’s Firebird Web browser

I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday. Wow, were the stores packed! There are two things I really dislike, the first being shopping for other people, the second is a lot of people getting in my way. But it was fun seeing everyone and being out and about.

I can’t believe it’s already December. I know, I promised to have my iPod soapbox out last month, but I haven’t had time to review it. So, I’m promising to have it up by tomorrow… I’m reviewing it as you read this.

I’ve been playing around with Mozilla’s Firebird as a web browser, and I have to admit that I really like it. It has a built-in pop-up blocker and Google search field, and it’s amazingly fast. Mozilla is an open-source project developed by former pre-AOL Netscape staff. I’m currently looking into using Mozilla Composer for the next lair’s generation. And speaking of open-source software, I’ve added the Sourceforge site to My Links.

Also, TechTV’s Call For Help has a new look. As you probably know, I’m a huge fan of The Screensavers. Leo Laporte hosts Call for Help and co-hosts The Screensavers. I’ve added a link to his site and Call for Help to My Links as well.

Today: Packers vs. Bears: the rivalry continues! Go Packers!!