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How do I learn more about computers?

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Perhaps this is an odd question or this isn’t the right place to ask it but I have to start somewhere and you might be the best beginning. I’m an old lady but a computer user/lover who knows more than most of the people in my category and what I don’t know, I enjoy researching. Eventually, but not always, I find what I need. I constantly find menus and setting and clicking choices and such that I don’t understand and the regular available manuals just don’t explain. There are probably manuals that do but they would undoubtedly be beyond my capabilities to understand or just TMI.

My question is , how can I find a way to learn more and more without being a professional? I want to learn not the mechanics of the computer – not how to build one for example but how to understand and interpret some of what I see and proceed to use it to my advantage. I don’t know what kind of course, what kind of study would give me that. There must be something.

First of all, I absolutely love your attitude. I truly, truly wish more people were like you.

Unfortunately, while there must be something, there are so many “somethings” that it’s really difficult to know where to send you.

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Back to school

Classes are one option. Depending on where you live, there may be classes in computer basics available at community colleges, libraries, senior centers and more.

The biggest issue I have with classes is that they typically have a fairly fixed agenda and what I’ll call a focused level.

If you’re at a level below what they’re teaching you’ll probably quickly feel lost. If you’re at a level above, you might end up being bored. I think the most important thing you can walk away from a class with is contacts; local contacts that you can later ask questions of.

User groups

Another option is a local computer user group. Now, user groups have been around forever, and they often present a perfect place for people of various skill levels to get together periodically and help each other out.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that computer user groups are only for the “geeky”.  I know of several (some of whom republish some of my articles in their group newsletters) that cater to novice and intermediate adult computer users. And once again, this gives you a community of peers that you can then feel comfortable asking questions of.

Online groups

Online discussion groups and forums are all over the net. Most are topical, meaning that you might easily find a discussion that focuses on a specific technology. It’s not uncommon for me to find answers in groups like that when I’m researching a question that someone has asked.

There are also more general online groups, but they tend to be offshoots of other organizations. I know of open discussion groups on places like Yahoo Groups and Google Groups, as well as areas within organizations like the AARP.

Ask

Questions?The common thread to the options I’ve listed so far is simply this: don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s perhaps the single most important thing that you can do.

And yes, it might take a little legwork to find a venue where you feel safe asking what you might feel are “stupid” questions. Here’s the big, big secret about these so-called stupid questions: for every “stupid” question I answer and publish, a number of people write to say they had the exact same question, but were afraid to ask.

But that’s also why I stress finding the right venue, be it a discussion group online or in person, that you feel comfortable in, or sites like Ask Leo! or others. I wouldn’t ask a lost-password question in a database discussion group, for example, or a Windows question in an Apple forum. But once you find that right place, then absolutely ask away – please!

Books? Not for this

You’ll note that I’ve not mentioned books. In my opinion, books are great when you’re dealing with a specific task you want to accomplish; tasks like backing up, or keeping your computer clean and speedy. But when it comes to the more general level of how things work, or what menus mean, or just why things are the way they are – to me at least – books don’t quite cut it.

There’s no real substitute for just diving in and trying things out, and of course, asking questions along the way.

It’s hard to really break your computer

Lastly, I have to address a surprisingly common fear that I encounter all too often: you cannot break your computer by poking around.

Yes, you can mess up the software on it and get things in quite the state if you really go after it. But that’s all software; none of that actually breaks the computer itself.

And that’s why I always emphasize regular and complete backups. No matter how badly you mess up your computer’s software (and lord knows, I’ve done this myself, I’ve messed it up real good), restoring to the most recent backup undoes all the damage – quickly.

If nothing else, knowing that you have a good backup in place allows you to be a little bit more adventuresome; a little bit more willing to try things out, discover new things and of course, ask questions along the way.

11 comments on “How do I learn more about computers?”

  1. A good source for well explained computer instruction is to type in a topic in the search field of askLeo.com and read all of the articles on the subject. One thing you can learn apart from computer topics is communication skills. I’ve learned a lot from his articles how to explain things in a way others, less knowledgeable in geek-speak, can understand. Believe it or not, that’s also a computer skill. Probably the most important one.

  2. Have always felt that the only “stupid” question is the one you know the answer to. If you don’t know asking the question is the only way to get the answer.

  3. For the needs of this poster, I suggest he buy a copy of The Secret Guide To Computers, by Russ Walter. This really is the one book he should have, because covers everything from computer history to operating systems to application suites, plus a whole lot more in about 700 pages (cost about $25). Russ is in his 32nd edition now, you can order paper or CD, and the cost goes down as you buy new editions. Sorry to sound like an ad, (the usual disclaimers) but check out http://www.angelfire.com/nh/secret/ or Wikipedia.

  4. Hi Leo.
    I am just over 80 years old.
    Have been playing with computer for abt 20 years , low level.
    There is not a week that I don,t read your articles, and always benefit from them.
    Sinds I started using macrium as a backup, I feel much more confident , experimenting
    It saved my BUTT many times,but do things now I would never been game to tackle.
    In my opinion there is no better way for learners to give it a real go.
    Should you download a virus, or stuff up , 20 minutes later, all is back to normal.
    Keep up the good work Leo.
    John Weegan.

  5. General computer info is fairly useless in helping fix problems.
    Specific info is required which can be found by a Google search {just type your question} or use key words in Youtube . There is invariably someone to give advice ..albeit a 14 yo kid sometimes .

  6. Hi leo,
    In addition to the suggestions you have made above, the one thing I would add is consider subscribing regularly to a magazine related to your computer operating system, (I don’t work for one!!). Over the years that monthly magazine with various articles and projects from experts has taught me so much about Windows and now Mac OS. You can copy or cut out ones of interest and build up a library of stuff. You can also direct specific questions to their help pages. Often I have had an issue and thought, ‘now I’m sure I read something about that in the magazine’. When you have finished with them they are great for passing on to a friend or relative, particularly if they struggle with their computers.

  7. Hi Everyone… i’ve been away and just got back to my computer. Thanks for all your input.
    I am an “old lady”…. looking forward to my 89th birthday in August. I have had a computer for many years (and an iPod touch 5, Kindles in many versions, and a smart TV with Fios). My current computer is a custom All in One, Windows 7.
    I have the books. I used to subscribe to PC Magazine but stopped when they changed their format and direction. I have folders of notes and links to all kinds of information and use and refer to it all a lot. Google and i are very good friends and Siri too. Actually, Google Rocks even tho i do use Firefox and Safari sometimes.
    What i want is more than just knowing how to use Win 7 which i am mastering as i go along. I guess i want to be a 25 year old who can go to school and learn how everything works and what the odd words and numbers and symbols mean when i open a menu with soooo many items none of which look like anything i can unscramble. For example, I want to be able to open the StartUp menu and know what is safe to delete and what needs to be there… not because i don’t have room there or because it’s taking too long to start up but because i want to know what it all means.

    Leo’s advice/suggestions are great. I intend to follow through and investigate. Leo has always from way back been my first source of information: i look forward to the newsletter, own his book, got backed up because he is so adamant about backup, etc. Then i go to google. So thanks again. I really appreciate your time and effort in writing. i hope there will be more. If i finally find what i’m looking for, i sure will post it. Onward.

  8. An addendum to my earlier post…Thanks Ed Price… i looked into the Russ Walter book and i will be buying it. It looks like a different kind of computer book and might be helpful and fun too.

  9. Dea and John Weegan, way to go!! I got into computers approximately 20 years ago because my minister was 60 years old and knew more about computers than I did. Within a few years, instead of me asking him for advice, he was asking me. He considers me a computer guru, but I am far from it. As you said, (and it has nothing to do with my name being Leonard!), Leo Notenboom, and Leo Laporte, have helped me on my journey, which is a never ending journey, since we will learn something new every day I hope, especially with real computer gurus to guide us!

  10. It is important to learn about computers safely. Leo’s suggestion of sanitising your computer when research leads to dubious places is very reassuring. Sanitisation is very important and can be done at many levels. I always sanitise to limit impact.

    Three questions on this forum resonate with me and seem very familiar, links included. I could say they Cann even be treated as though I wrote them.

    1. How do I control what sites my child can visit?
    2. Is there software that allows someone to track my emails and texts?
    3. How do I learn more about computers?

    I feel safe on this site, safe to research and learn. I maintain an awareness that my research leads me across dubious links and forums/blogs and I practice sanitisation. It can limit exposure and cross-contamination.

  11. Just this week, I removed 1 Rootkit with ComboFix in the bootloader, 16 Malware in a bootscan with Avast & 9 Trojans with Avast and Malwarebytes from my pc in the Windows’ programs that came with the computer. This is definitely not a hacker, so I’m assuming there must be blackmarket suites for os. Rootkit Revealer found 9 rootkits on this pc & 3 on my newer pc. One of the rootkits came directly from YouTube. At least that solved how my searches were being read & responded to. The PC hard drive data is corrupt, the BIOS program has been corrupted so the clock ground hog day’s the same hour on the same day & anti(bad)ware won’t run scans. The CD driver corrupted so I can’t run a rescue disc a second time nor use DBAN to remove the infections, nor reinstall Windows.

    I can see the learning, over the past 5-6 years, basic html language, obtaining cheap, second hand pc’s & various os to practice corrupting BIOS programs, repeatedly reformat, repartition & set up virtual machines to practice downloading viruses to test their imperviousness to antivirus programs. I’m assuming all manner of spyware, too.

    At Leo’s suggestion of a stand alone software Firewall product, I do recommend personally, Privacyware’s Firewall. I have been able to identify anomoly processes and applications and kill them with the assistance of that program, like the alleged Firefox Maintenance which stopped me from accessing the internet, as well as identify unfamiliar attempts to connect to the internet. It does appear System Recovery is independently rolling back my positive progress, so as Leo says, my computer is no longer mine.

    I’m not taking any action, other than ensuring, or trying to ensure, it does not recur. There is much learning to be had about computers & my experience is a cautionary tale of computer ignorance and online behaviour ignorance. I blame myself for my troubles. I’ve been fortunate to be able to lose my old XP instead of my Windows 7. I tried the Ubuntu 32bit Linux live CD, I liked it, I would have installed it, but it wasn’t compatible with my internet dongle.

    Children learn to use computers in school, they should be taught defensive online behaviour. I could only try to do my best, I Cann do no more.

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