Easy Tech Tips for my Mom and Dad (and everyone else)

As someone who spends most of his waking hours attached to computers, I’m the guy in the family that everyone goes to for tech support and advice. My parents have been using computers for years, but like many others run into roadblocks on a regular basis. I’ve decided to start publishing my family and friend’s computer questions, along with my answers from now on.

While some of their questions may seem relatively basic, I think their experiences and frustrations with technology are very common. I live in San Francisco and the majority of my friends work in technology. A lot of them have degrees from technical schools and have worked for the biggest names in tech. But they still run into problems when it comes to buying and using mobile technology.

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^^^Dad and Mom^^^

My mother is a writer who works from home. My father is in commercial construction in the San Francisco Bay Area. She uses an iMac as her main computer to write manuscripts, stay in touch with our relatives and watch movies. He uses whatever PC that’s provided to him at various job sites. Sometimes it’s a notebook, sometimes it’s a desktop. He’s typically shared other family member’s computers over the years.

I recently gave them two notebooks, an HP Pavilion dv4t for my father and an HP Pavilion dv3z for my mother. This is the first computer my father’s ever had all to himself. This is the first PC my mother’s ever used for more than a couple of hours. The last non-Mac she used for any amount of time was a room-sized IBM computer while at Bank of America several years ago.

I may even be able to get them to guest blog here so we can get more perspectives on the site.

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The first question and answer in this series is from my mother, who’s visiting my brother and nephews in Atlanta. We had the following email exchange:

Mom: “Could you please let me know if a music application is on this laptop or give me the address of a free music website?  I need to work on my book tonight and Sunday and, since your brother is working, I can’t go to a library or cafe.  So, with my earphones, I’d like to drown out the kids’ video game noises while i write.  Would appreciate your advice.”

—–

Me: Visit www.pandora.com and you can listen to all the music you want. You can type in the names of your favorite artists or songs and Pandora will create custom stations that play only the music you like. It won’t always play the exact song you’re looking for, but will learn your tastes over time. You can create an account, which lets you save your radio stations so you can play them from any computer.

You can tell Pandora which songs you like and dislike by clicking on the thumbs-up or thumbs-down symbols. You can also skip songs that you don’t like, but you can only skip about half a dozen songs per station per hour. If you find yourself up against this limit, just create a new station.  For example, if you skip too many songs on a station called you’ve set up based on the keyword “Starship,” just create a station called “Jefferson Starship” if you want to listen to similar music.

You don’t get to keep the music on your HP notebook, which means you won’t be able to listen to music on the flight home though. If you want to keep a particular song or album, just click on the menu button that’s below the name of the song that’s playing. You can buy songs through Amazon.com, which is easy because you already have an account there. Or you can buy through iTunes using your Apple ID.

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There are other services out there, but I think you’ll like Pandora because it’s easy to navigate and it has just about every popular song/artist that you can think of.

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Mom: I just registered onto Pandora.  Nice.  Easy to use.  I typed in a favorite song, Tango by Kenny G, and I got a station with similar Spanish jazzy music.  Wow, cool.

Your nephew is sitting right next to me, playing a really loud game on your brother’s iPhone, and the sounds are muffled.  Wish I had Pandora when I was raising you and your brother.  Thanks again for suggesting it so I could focus better on my writing tomorrow. Hmmm, I can also use this at home to smother dog barks and neighborhood noises.  

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