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Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

               Since I have received so many inquiries, I will answer many of your questions in this column.   In a recent class one of my lovely ladies asked me a question about using “Microwave” Word which gave us all a bit of a chuckle.  As a retired woman on a fixed income, she had concerns about being able to afford to purchase a word processing program.  There are free programs available online for folks to download.  I directed the class to one of the programs that I have used at www.openoffice.org.

Here are some other question you may have:

Q:  I feel so stupid when people talk about downloading.  What does it mean to download a program?

A:  Simply put, the answer is that to download a program means to copy it and to put it “down” onto your computer.  Conversely, you may take a photo that is already on your computer and upload it to Facebook.

Q:  How do I get out of here?  Frequently students will say, “This is what I need to know…when I’m on this website, how do I get out?”

A:  While we’ve often heard that you shouldn’t answer a question with a question, I’m going to ask you to do just that.  Ask yourself where you want to go next.  What do you want to do now?  Going to the next site will help you to get out of where you’ve been.  For example, let’s say that you are reading a news article online.  You are currently logged onto www.niagara-gazette.com.  If you want to go into your email, you might click on a bookmark or type in the website for your email to get there.  However, if you are finished with your time on the computer, you will click on the X to exit—at the top right hand side of the screen.

Q:  Sometimes when I’m sending an email or creating a new account a strange code will appear with curvy letters and numbers.  What is this?

A:  These codes are for security reasons.  When you see the code, do your best to type it as it appears on the screen in front of you.  Then click continue.  If you typed it correctly, you will be directed to the next page.  If you have typed it incorrectly, Don’t Worry!  You will be prompted to try again.  There is usually a “refresh” button there to help you choose a code that you can read.

These codes are presented in an effort to determine whether you are a real person reading the code.  Computers and password cracking programs cannot read the distorted letters that people can read.  These codes are designed to protect us and our accounts.  Do your best to enter the string of letters.

Q:  What is better, using the mouse or the touchpad?

A:  There is no right or wrong here.  Using one over the other is based on your preference.  However, for those people who have trouble with arthritic pain in their hands and fingers and for those who have difficulty keeping their hands steady, the touchpad can be much easier to control.  Of course, if you are using a desktop computer, you do not have a choice.  Laptops give you the choice of using both.

Q:  What is a blog?

A:  A blog is kind of like an online journal.  An individual or a company may create a blog about a topic.  They will likely update that blog occasionally and sometimes daily.  People may respond to the blog, creating an online discussion.

Q:  I’m thinking about buying a computer.  What should I get?  What’s better, a desktop, laptop, netbook, tablet?  There are so many choices, so I end up not buying anything.  It’s so confusing.

A:  First of all, you may wish to take a friend or family member who can help you decide what to get.  It’s probably best to go to a store that sells lots of computers and has staff to help you buy what is best for you.

Next, decide what you will do with your computer.  Most of us use the computer for searching the Internet, emails and looking at photos.  If you are in this category, you need a basic computer without bells and whistles.  Sometimes older models will be for sale at a cheaper price.  When it comes to electronics, you’re better off paying a few dollars more to buy the newer model.

What kind of computer you purchase should be determined by your needs:

Do you want something portable?  With the exception of a desktop computer, the other options are portable.

  • How big is it?  A laptop with a 15” screen is a good size to see and is not too heavy to carry.  If you go to a 17” screen, it’s great to see but may be a bit too heavy.
  • Will you be able to use a touch screen?  Tablets and other touchscreen devices are great, especially if you already know your way around a computer.  Touch screens tend to be quite sensitive and can cause confusion and frustration for someone who is new to the digital world.  It really depends on the user.

Ask yourself these questions one at a time so it isn’t overwhelming.  With your answers written down, go to the store and the clerks will help you to find the right computer for your needs.  It is NOT necessary to spend a fortune when buying a computer.

Lastly, if you are serious about purchasing a computer, this is a GREAT time to do it.  The best time of the year for buying electronics seems to be August and September—when our children and grandchildren are going back to school.

Kim Tomaszewski is owner of The Net Cracker, a company that teaches basic computer skills to senior citizens in WNY.  If you have a question, need information or have a suggested topic for a future column, please contact Kim at 716-531-0494 or online at info@thenetcracker.com



My Sweet Mary

This week one of my lovely students left us…..transcended this world and is on to her new journey.  Mary was 91 years old and as sharp as any student I’ve had the pleasure of working and playing with on the computer.

Everyday Mary went onto her email to enjoy connections with her family.  They would send all kinds of updates about their lives–announcements about graduations, awards they received, tournaments they were in, weddings, birthday and the list goes on.  During one of the classes she was writing to several grandchildren–starting each email with “My Favorite.”   She explained to me that she told each of them that they were her favorite!  Why?  Because they were ALL her favorite.

Mary is one of the many students who on a daily basis teach me how I should be.  She continued in her elder years to experience life going from one adventure to another.  Her laptop became an important friend as it linked her to so many people in her life.  In addition to loving her family and friends, Mary also loved to read. 

My hat’s off to my sweet Mary and all of my beautiful students.

Thank you all for inspiring me and teaching me how to live!


The Net Cracker Facebook Page

The Net Cracker Facebook Page

Visit The Net Cracker’s Facebook page to read what people have to say about The Net Cracker computer classes.


The Net Cracker at work

The Net Cracker at work

Class at The Duke Senior Center in Niagara Falls, New York

Never Met a Mouse I Liked!

Never Met a Mouse I Liked!


            Most people are not crazy about mice.  So, maybe it’s not too surprising that a computer mouse is a bit of a source of aggravation for some.  During classes, we spend about an hour just working with the mouse.  You have two choices………The mouse controls you OR YOU control the mouse!  Once you’ve conquered the mouse, all of the rest comes more easily.  Trying to learn to use the Internet or email is frustrating if you are constantly struggling with using the mouse.


            There are several mistakes people make while attempting to use a computer mouse.  Some people like to click while they move the mouse.  This results in everything on the page turning blue!  Some like to make big circles with the mouse.  Of course there are always the multiple clickers and the compulsive clickers.  Some like to click with all of their fingers.  While it can be quite humorous learning to use this little mouse, it can also be a bit frustrating.  Many people will announce during class that they ran out of table space!  What to do? 


            First of all, you’ll want to spread your index and middle fingers over the mouse, in a V.  The left side of the mouse is where you want to click most of the time.  When you learn some advanced skills you’ll graduate to using the right mouse click.  Secondly, don’t be afraid to lift the mouse and put it back down to “scoot” it up the screen.  If you need to move the mouse to the left but something (like a laptop) is in your way, pick the mouse up and move it a bit to the right.  Then move it down on your table surface again. 


One of the funniest things I’ve seen in class is when Louise, frustrated by the laptop blocking her from move to the left, lifted the laptop and continued to move to the left underneath the laptop.  Moments like this are why my motto is to Laugh & Learn!  It’s key to learning how to use a computer, or to learn anything for that matter.


            If you have a laptop you have two choices.  You may use a mouse or the touchpad.  This is a preference thing.  Most people usually like one more than the other.  If you have arthritis the mouse may be a greater challenge.  I’ve also had many students who had sore shoulders who have found greater success using the touchpad.  Using the touchpad requires use of a finger rather than the entire arm.  Folks who have a difficult time keeping the mouse still when they click will find the touchpad easier to use.


            I often compare learning to use a computer to learning to drive a vehicle.  Just as we didn’t master driving the first time or even the first ten times we tried to drive, we don’t master the computer that quickly.  Key to getting good with computer skills is PRACTICE!  As the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!”  Sounds simple, but it also very true.  Another comparison that might be considered is the use of the steering wheel—it directs the car where it should go.  If you can’t get the hang of your steering wheel, you’re in trouble.  Same thing could be said about your computer mouse.  The mouse is an essential way to communicate with your computer—in a way, it helps you steer it.


            One last thing about beginners and the mouse or touchpad.  It’s advisable to have the mouse settings customized to slow down the mouse.  It’s also good to make the arrow extra large and black for easy visibility.  Lefties will want to change the mouse  settings to use the it left handed.  If you have a touchpad and are new to using the computer, it may make your life easier if the “tap” option on the touchpad is disabled to prevent accidental clicking. 


Kim Tomaszewski is owner of The Net Cracker, a company that teaches basic computer skills to senior citizens in WNY.  If you have a question, need information or have a suggested topic for a future column, please contact Kim at 716-531-0494 or online at info@thenetcracker.com



Do you have GOOGLE? A lesson for seniors

                                                                                                  Do You have Google?

Often while I’m setting up or breaking down after a class, I will hear my students talk about their computers.

“I have Google. Do you have Google?

Another student will reply, “I have Yahoo and Facebook on my computer.”

I smile and realize that the next class must include another discussion about the Internet and cyberspace. The Internet is such an abstract concept for most of us and especially for those of us who are new to the digital world. When I explain to my senior students that while some of our games are physically on the computer and our anti-virus program is on our computers but that Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other search engines and websites are NOT on our computers, it totally blows their minds.

Just this week a gentleman said to his wife, “When we get our own computer, we will have to get our own email account.”

Confused, his wife asked me if they would be able to use the Yahoo email account I created for them when they get their own laptop. This was a good opportunity for me to reinforce the idea that Yahoo is not on anyone’s computer and that they could access it on any computer as long as they had an Internet connection and the address for Yahoo.

My senior friends are also concerned with deleting their emails and Facebook posts so that they will not use up their computer’s memory. Keeping our email tidy is good to eliminate confusion, but our emails are not taking up space on our computers because they are not physically on our computers.

So what DOES this mean? Think of your computer as a portal that allows you to connect to cyberspace. When you click on your browser, Internet Explorer or maybe Google Chrome, you are being linked to the “World Wide Web.” It is this connection that allows you to see the information available on search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. As long are you know the secret code—the website address—you have access to whatever information is available on the site. For example, if you know the website address for this newspaper (www.niagara-gazette.com) you can type it in at the top of your screen to see it.
Although the concept of connecting to the Internet may be a bit abstract, it can be likened to the same process that takes place with our televisions. When we turn our televisions on to CBS, we will connect to whatever CBS is broadcasting; CBS is not physically on our televisions. When we connect to various television networks, we can watch our favorite shows.

Once we realize that we use a computer to connect to the Internet, the fact that we can access the Internet and email while we are at the local library or on vacation in Florida or Europe will suddenly make sense.

Seniors not sure if they need to use computers

I’ve lived for 78 years without a computer.

Why do I need one now?

 Several years ago my mom called me to ask me a question that she felt was “stupid.”  I reassured her that no question is stupid.  In a timid voice she asked, “What is a FAX machine?”  I explained that a fax machine is a device used in offices to send a photocopy (fax) via the telephone line.  Satisfied with that explanation she again told me she felt embarrassed to ask a second question, “What does email mean?”


After we talked about these terms I thought about our conversation.  Here was my mother, a creative and smart woman who raised four children, and worked part time to help my father, a teacher, support our family.   In her later years the advances in technology had escaped her.  She heard terms like fax and email on television and read them in the newspaper but didn’t understand.  Life was going on all around her, but she felt left out because she wasn’t familiar with the terms everyone else seemed to know.  Eventually, she bought a computer and learned to use email.  She especially enjoyed playing computer games like Slingo and Snood.

 Occasionally, during a free presentation at a senior living facility, a senior will raise a hand to ask, “I’ve lived for 78 years without a computer; why do I need one now?” 

 My answer is, “You don’t.”  You can live without a computer.

 So, why are so many senior citizens learning how to use computers?  It’s actually quite simple.  Computers are one of the most popular tools of modern-day communication.    Our children and grandchildren use electronic devices to chat, text, and send photos, and they want to communicate in this way with family.


During a Facebook class this past year one of my students, Marge, “friended” her granddaughter.  It was quite comical to see her granddaughter’s response to her friend request by the end of class………..”What?  Grandma’s on Facebook!”  We all laughed with Marge when she said, “Hey, Grandma’s HIP!”

 Children and grandchildren everywhere are encouraging their elderly family members to get onboard with technology.  Why?  Because they want their parents and grandparents to be a part of their world, and that means connecting digitally.

 On a daily basis I work with seniors who voice their frustrations about hearing, “For more information on this story, log on to our website.”  Some just shrug their shoulders, while others have decided “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”  Seniors all over WNY and the world are stepping out of their comfort zones and into the digital world.  If you are one of these seniors, check out lessons in your community to learn how to get to the other side of the digital divide.

 So, who should use a computer?  Those who feel isolated without access to the Internet, want to access information and connect with family members.