laptops

How much will internet connectivity cost me?

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 | communication, laptops | 2 Comments

Internet connectivity requires a line and an internet service provider (ISP).  Your internet cost is determined by how much you pay for these two items.  The hole in your pocket is further determined by the volume of data you download from the internet.

The rental of a slow dial-up line is lower than that of a broadband connection, but you pay for the time you are online.  Since you pay for the amount of data you use with a faster broadband connection, you may very well find that the higher line rental is offset by what you save on the data download cost.

A great variety of package deals are available from ISPs and you must shop around to find the option that suits your needs and your pocket.  In some cases the ISP may include the cost of the data line, which means that you only have to focus on one cost item.

The ISP options differ in terms of the level of service offered to you.  A package may have a cap – this means you are allowed to download data to a maximum level, say 3 gigabytes.  For this you pay a fixed monthly amount.  If you exceed this allowance, you pay an additional fee, based on the amount of data you download.

It may be best for you to start off with a package with a low cap – this would be the cheapest option.  Once you’ve used the internet for a while you will be able to determine your pattern of usage.  If you need more than your cap, carefully calculate what the additional cost is, how often you are likely to exceed the cap, and if it would be cheaper to upgrade to a package with a higher cap.

Keep in mind that some packages lock you into a contract for a fixed period, typically twenty-four months.

After this long explanation, back to the question: What will internet connectivity cost you?  There is no simple answer to this question.  The cost to you as an individual is determined by the package you negotiate with an ISP and the volume of data you wish to download from the internet.

If you can’t afford internet connectivity right now, you may be able to plug in at school to access the worldwide web.

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How can I achieve internet connectivity?

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 | communication, laptops | Comments Off

Internet connectivity means that you are connected – through your laptop – to the vast worldwide web of information, known as the internet.

The internet is a collection of computers all over the world, interconnected to form a massive network.  These computers are from different manufacturers, use different operating software and are run by people in different countries.  Communication between these disparate systems can only happen if the machines speak the same “language” – this is made possible through a set of common software standards known as protocols.  These protocols allow you to view web pages, send and receive emails and transfer files between computers.

In order for such communication to take place you need two things:

  • a line which connects the computers and over which data can be transmitted
  • an internet service provider (ISP) who manages the protocols and makes it possible for you to send and receive data.

Think of an analogy. If you want fresh water in your home, you need a pipe.  A plumber can be employed to lay the pipe and install a tap in your home.  But you also need someone to source the water, clean it and pipe it to your home – in most cases it will be the local authority

Like the water pipe, you need a data transmission line.  The options available are:

  • dial-up line (telephone line) – this is the slowest option
  • broadband landline – a faster option, but still dependent on physical connections, such as ADSL
  • mobile connectivity such as 3G or HSDPA.

You also need an ISP.  This is a company who will collect a fee from you for managing the protocols, making sure you are routed to the correct destination on the internet.  The ISP may also provide you with one or more email addresses and space on the web, depending on the package you purchase.  In the same way as some local authorities may also offer a plumbing service to lay water pipes to your home, some ISPs may act as one-stop shops by offering you internet connectivity, including both protocol management and the use of a line.

You have achieved internet connectivity when you’ve negotiated the rental of a line and obtained the services of an ISP.  Once you are able to access the internet, you will know for sure that you are connected.

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How can I protect private information on my laptop?

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 | laptops, security | Comments Off

How do you protect private documents such as your payslips, or test papers for your class, when you are at school?  Most likely you will lock them away in your briefcase.  If you have a combination lock you will set a secret code.  As an extra security measure you won’t leave the briefcase unattended when you leave the class – one never knows what learners could get up to.

You can protect private information on your laptop in the same way.  Private email correspondence, test and examination papers, mark sheets and report cards of learners are private matters which you would want to protect.

Don’t leave your laptop switched on when it is unattended – this is the same as leaving a document lying on your desk when you leave the room.  If you need to leave it switched on, ensure that you activate a password. 

A password is like the combination code on a lock.  Various layers of passwords are available to prevent unauthorized access to your machine.  One password can prevent a person to log on; another one can be used to prevent a person going into a particular programme or folder on your hard disk.

Some laptops have a fingerprint reader mechanism.  A reader reads your fingerprints, stores them and then expects you to swipe your finger each time you want to access your machine.  Since your fingerprints are unique, this is a foolproof security mechanism.

Never give your password to anyone you do not trust implicitly.  Keep it secret in the same way you would safeguard the PIN code of your bank account.  Do not write your password on the computer, or on its case, and don’t choose a very obvious one.

Some teachers prefer to keep highly confidential files on a data stick that they carry on a string around the neck.  These sticks can also be password protected.

The best way to protect your data is to make sure that your computer and storage devices never fall into the wrong hands.  If you take reasonable care, your electronic documents will enjoy greater safety than any paper document you may wish to protect.

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If I insure my laptop, which risks must I consider?

Sunday, May 10th, 2009 | laptops, security | Comments Off

Insurance companies calculate insurance premiums on the basis of risk – the higher the risk, the higher the premium.  You can bring your premiums down by excluding some of the risks – those that you believe to be minimal or not relevant to your situation.

What are the risks that you must think about? 

The greatest risk you probably face is theft.  We live in a crime ridden society.  A great advantage of a laptop is its portability – this also makes it vulnerable.  A thief could carry a laptop away with ease.   Since there is a market for laptops they are quickly converted into cash.  If you think you will frequently carry your laptop around with you, or leave it unattended, theft should be the number one risk to include in an insurance policy.  Of course, theft is also a high risk to the insurance company – be prepared that this may account for a big portion of the insurance premium.

You are at risk of losing the machine.  You may forget it on the bus or in the coffee shop.  This risk is also related to the frequency with which you will take the laptop outside of your home or place of employment. 

A smaller risk is that you will accidentally damage it.  You may drop it, or someone may knock it off the table.  What is the likelihood that this may happen?  Are you accident prone by nature?  If you use it in your classroom there is always the danger of a clumsy child bumping against it.

Household insurance policies often cover fire and water damage risks.  If you live in an informal settlement, these may be high risk items – in other cases you may conclude that fire and flooding are unlikely to happen in your home.  But keep in mind that dropping a cup of coffee on your laptop also constitutes water damage – how likely is it that this will happen to you?

If you insure your laptop against all of these risks, expect a heavy insurance premium.  But if you are sure that you can take personal responsibility for some of these risks, you may be able to settle for a more affordable premium, while still being secure against the most likely risks you are facing.

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What can I do when my laptop runs out of memory?

Saturday, May 9th, 2009 | laptops, Maintenance | 2 Comments

When it is suggested to you that your laptop is running out of memory, it could mean one of two things:

  • you need more random access memory (RAM)
  • you need a hard disk with more storage space.

You may be in need of more RAM if you’ve acquired programmes which demand more processing power than is currently on your laptop.  This does not happen very often.  It is only very specialized software, or perhaps new versions of existing programmes on your machine, that would require additional RAM.

The good news is that RAM is relatively inexpensive.  It is also quick and easy to add more RAM to your laptop.

If the need for more memory relates to the hard disk, you have several choices:

  • create space by removing unused files and defrag your hard disk
  • acquire an external hard drive, which you can plug into your laptop
  • upgrade the hard disk. 

When you purchase a new laptop, it likely has enough hard disk capacity for your needs.  But when you create many files, and load many pictures, music videos or movies on the disk, you may find that you need more space. 

Now you have to decide which option would be the best for you.  Files used only occasionally could be stored on removable disks or data sticks.  If you require quick access, an external hard drive could be the solution.  But if you don’t want the bother to cart other storage media with you, upgrading the hard disk would be the answer to the problem.

When a hard disk is upgraded, the old one is removed and replaced by a new one.

Just as you would only trust a brain surgeon with poking around in your brain, you are advised to let only experts replace the hard drive, or add RAM, to your laptop.

Expanding the memory of your computer is a simple matter – if only it were that easy to expand our human memories!

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What is “defragging”?

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009 | laptops, Maintenance | 5 Comments

Defragging is short for defragmenting – the even shorter word defrag is sometimes used.  It refers to a process of rearranging fragments of data files on your laptop’s hard disk.

The reason for defragging is best explained by means of an analogy.  Picture a thick book which does not fit into one drawer – you have to use your imagination and think of a very, very thick book!  The only way you can store the book is by taking it to pieces and storing the pages in several drawers.  This may solve your storage problem, but creates a problem when you need to retrieve information from the book.  The more fragmented the book, the more difficult and time consuming it would be to find information.  Your problem will worsen if you store several books in this way in your house.

Your laptop stores files in a similar way.  Data is stored in chunks – also called clusters – on the hard disk.  If a file is larger than a chunk, it is stored in several chunks, wherever empty ones are found on the disk.  As the number of files and chunks increase, it becomes more difficult for your machine to locate and reassemble data files when you want to work with them.

The process of defragging rearranges the chunks of data on the hard disk so that they are near to each other and this makes retrieval easier.  The result of defragging is that it speeds up data access time; data storage space on the hard disk is also used more efficiently.

If your laptop has a hard disk with a large storage capacity, and you do not have many big files, defragging is not very important.  If you never defrag you will still be able to work and you may not even notice that your machine is slowing down.

To be on the safe side, it is recommended that you defrag your hard disk on a regular basis – some people do it weekly or monthly.  Defragging is a fairly simple procedure and the facility to do so is likely available as part of your operating software.

When you feel that the performance of your machine is dropping, don’t fall to pieces – just defrag.  It may very well solve your problem.

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How can computer facitities at my school help me?

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009 | laptops, training | Comments Off

You are in a fortunate position if you are teaching at a school where computers are available for teaching and learning.  The computer facility in your school can be a great help to you to learn how to use your laptop, and also to get optimal use from it.

Many teachers are hesitant to hook up with the experts at school.  Don’t feel intimidated by your peers when they appear to have more technical knowledge than you – learn from them as much as you can.  The brief fable of the Boy and the Nettles contains a powerful message for you.

A boy was stung by a nettle.  He ran home and said to his mother: “Although it hurts me very much, I only touched it gently.” 

“That was just why it stung you,” said his mother.  “The next time you touch a nettle, grasp it boldly, and it will be soft as silk to your hand, and not in the least hurt you.” 

The moral of the story: whatever you do, do with all your might. Don’t be half-hearted.

If your school has computers, use all the opportunities that this may present to you.

Training: Make use of any training opportunities that are arranged by the school, or offered to the school by training institutions.

Printing: If you can’t afford a printer, take your printing to school and print what you need on the school’s printer.

Internet: If you don’t have an internet connection of your own, use the facilities at school.  You can download material you need and save it for later use.

Vendors: Hardware and software vendors often do presentations or demonstrations at your school.  View these sessions as learning opportunities.  At times they may even allow you to use their products as part of their licence agreements with the school.

Your school could be a valuable source of encouragement and help to you while you are coming to grips with your laptop.  Don’t be like the boy with the nettle: grab the opportunity firmly with both hands.

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How can I succeed in using computer based training?

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009 | laptops, training | Comments Off

It is likely that some form of computer based training (CBT) is already available to you.  Your laptop may be preloaded with some CBT material, or you may receive a set of CDs or DVDs, or you may be given access a course on the internet.

If this is the only – or the main – way in which you could learn how to use your laptop as a productivity tool and a teaching tool, you are encouraged to come to grips with CBT as soon as possible.  There are positive steps you could take to achieve this.

Find someone who could teach you the basics of the laptop – this form of tuition is called face-to-face training.  Enrol in a training initiative of your education department – if it is available – or find a commercial course.  Alternatively, ask a colleague or friend to help you, or even ask a child for assistance.  Read your laptop’s manual from cover to cover.  Learn as much as you can until you are comfortable to perform basic operations.

If you are using CBT software loaded on your machine, or a DVD, you need to learn how to navigate – move around – your system so that you can find the material.  If the CBT material is on the internet, ensure that you know how to surf the net before you start with your course.  Discuss your requirements with the person who is providing face-to-face training.

You need certain qualities to make successful use of CBT:

Motivation:  Continually remind yourself of the reason why you are using CBT material.  Set goals for yourself and work towards achieving them.

Determination:  If you have a stubborn streak about you, it may serve you well in this instance.  “Give up” must not be in your vocabulary.

Self-discipline:  Since there is no lesson schedules imposed upon you by others, you will have to be a self starter.  You decide when you will engage with CBT material.  Flexibility is a big advantage of CBT, but it also poses a danger – it is only by disciplining yourself to stick to your own schedule that that you will be able to make a success of this mode of learning.  If you’ve tried self-study methods in the past, and did not succeed, you have a problem – you will have to work extra hard at cultivating self-discipline.

A last bit of advice on this topic: ensure that you have a person – a buddy or a mentor – who is available and willing to assist you when you get stuck.

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Should I rely on the supplier of my laptop to teach me how to use it?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 | laptops | 1 Comment

The extent to which you should rely on the supplier of your laptop for training depends on two things:

  • the nature of the supplier
  • the package that you purchased.

Some suppliers may have programmes in place where they provide basic training to teachers obtaining laptops from them.  When you purchase your laptop, you must enquire about the availability of training opportunities.

Many vendors are mere box-droppers; they sell you a computer and once you’ve taken the box and they have their money that is the end of the transaction.  In all fairness to these dealers, they do not profess to be more than computer sales outlets.  This is something that you have to keep in mind when you select a laptop dealer.

Hardware vendors usually know their product range very well, and even if they don’t provide formal training, they are a good source of information if you have any hardware – and even software – related questions.

Where training is provided, be aware of the fact that it would be generic training – it would probably not be geared towards teachers.  If you make use of such training, you may want to supplement it with some training that will show you how you, as a teacher, can use your laptop in the best way.

Choose a reputable dealer to supply your laptop.  That does not necessarily mean you must stick to the big, established companies.  There are many smaller ones who are giving excellent service.  In fact, you are more likely to get some training thrown into the bargain from a smaller outfit.  But be careful of the fly-by-night establishments, those vendors who suddenly appear from nowhere and make grand promises.  First check their references.  Ask around.  Get some feedback from other teachers before you select a dealer.

Should you rely solely on the supplier of your laptop to teach you how to use your machine?  No.  The dealer may make a contribution, but should not be viewed as your primary source of training.

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How can I protect my laptop against a virus?

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 | laptops, security | 2 Comments

The best way to protect yourself against a biological virus is to stay away from it – avoid contact with anyone or anything that could possibly transmit a virus to you.

The same principle applies to a computer virus.  You cannot pick up a virus on your laptop if you put your machine next to an infected one.  But you can catch a virus if you communicate with an infected machine.  This can happen over the internet, through an email message, or by means of a data stick or disk that has been infected by another computer.

One of the common ways in which viruses are transferred is through attachments of emails.  If you do not know the source of an email, or if it seems suspect, delete it from your system without opening the attachment.

Don’t use a data stick or disk unless you have confidence that the previous user of the disk is not infected by viruses.  You can never be sure, but always view unknown sources of data with suspicion.

Whereas the first way to protect your laptop against a virus would be to stay away from potentially infected sources, this is often not enough.  You also need some preventative medicine – in the same way as you would go for an anti-virus injection to boost your body’s immunity. 

Anti-virus software products are available to protect your laptop in case you come in contact with a malevolent virus.  Such software may be included in the purchase of your laptop – ask the dealer if this is the case.  If not, make sure that you acquire anti-virus software for your laptop.  Check whether your school or school district has an agreement with a supplier of anti-virus software that may make it possible for you to use it at no cost.  Otherwise, invest in an anti-virus programme.

Don’t forget that anti-virus programmes must be updated on a regular basis.  It is similar to biological viruses – new strains develop all the time and that is why you must get anti-virus booster injections.  New computer viruses are developed on an ongoing basis and virus fighters incorporate antidotes in the anti-virus software programmes.  To benefit from these updates, you have to update your system regularly.  Your licence usually allows you to load these updates from the internet.

Keep your laptop safe – protect it against viruses.

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