Today's Computers: Simple Enough for a 4-Year-Old...but you can't make heads or tails of them, so go get a 4-year-old

Computers are still too complicated to use. That was what Bill Gates had to say in a recent interview. I have to agree with him. Not long ago, Brother Mark and I were returning a van to a local couple, Nancy and Roland, friends of the monastery. We had borrowed their van to haul samples from our Cloister Shop to sell at a local parish. Nancy greeted us at the door and invited us in serving us some good, fresh squeezed Florida orange juice. Nancy does a lot of pro-life work in her parish. She recently had gotten a new $500 HP computer to help her in this work. Their son helped them set it up. Along with the computer came a all in one printer, fax, scanner and copy machine. Nancy, not being very computer savvy, had yet to set up this printer. I told her I would take a look at it.

I turned on the HP computer and many screens popped up to greet me, some asking me to set up different things – Norton Antivirus, A Spam Blocking Program, Windows XP Updater, and some type of specialized HP organizational window. Since I was here to install a printer, I just cancelled and closed everything. The printer was immediately recognized by Windows XP and I was prompted to install the new device. Knowing nothing about this printer I decided to cancel that, also. Next I looked at this all-in-one thick printer manual. Oops, the first step was to turn off the computer and unplug all cables including the power to the printer. So I shut everything down and unplugged it. Now the computer could be turned back on to install the printer software found on the included CDrom. Next, I was instructed to turn the computer back off again. I was told to plug the printer back in and wait 5 minutes for it to warm up. When that was done the computer could be turned back on once again. The USB cable from the printer could now be plugged into the computer and that was it. Of course, Nancy would have to read that thick fat manual to figure out how to use this all-in-one printer. This whole ordeal was a far cry from the "easy" plug-and-play Windows promised upon first coming out. It was more like "plug-and-stay" around while you try to figure out what to do next.

Now I must admit I felt sorry for Nancy having to close all those windows every time she turned on her computer. So I decided to do something about it. The first thing I did was go to Start>Programs>Startup and pull anything I found there to the Desktop. This way these programs wouldn’t automatically run at startup. One could always click on the desktop icon later to run them. (Another way to do this would be to go to Start>Run and type msconfig. Click on the "Startup" tab. If you uncheck any program listed it will not run at startup.) Next, I had to take care of the programs that did need to be set up like Norton and Windows Updater. With all that done, now her computer software was happy! She could start up the computer with the normal desktop screen to greet her.

As Bill Gates said, computers are far too complicated for people still. Another issue that I thought about when working on Nancy’s computer was how anyone can survive using a dialup Internet connection these days. So many programs want to connect to the Internet for updates. Norton Antivirus alone needs to download new virus definitions at least once a week. Then, Windows XP constantly has critical patches that need to be downloaded – some of which can be very large files! And almost every other program wants to connect to the Internet to look for updates. Sometimes even logging off AOL doesn’t work. Why? A screen comes up saying rather vaguely something about updating AOL files on your computer. If you are using a dialup you may have to walk away while AOL does its thing before letting you sign off.

Microsoft is trying to make computers a little more friendly. For example, Microsoft Office Assistant automatically provides Help topics and tips on tasks you perform as you work — before you even ask a question. For example, when you write a letter in Microsoft Word, the Assistant can automatically display topics for helping you create and format a letter. Microsoft’s idea is to allow people to work with a more intelligent computer – one that can guess what they are trying to do and help them do it. Another avenue of help is that Windows XP can allow a remote computer to take control of it. So it is possible for a person on another computer to take over your computer from a distance to help – hopefully!

Until the day of more intelligent computers, people like Nancy will be bewildered by computer setups and software asking questions. However, if you are in the same boat, no need to feel you are on your one. There are free and paid sites of experts who can help online. PC Magazine highlights some of them at pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1544192,00.asp.

I’m currently looking at Microsoft Word Assistant. I changed it from the paper clip animated image to the dog. Although the dog isn’t helping me very much at present, his expressions sure can be amusing. Now if I can only get him to compose Register articles for me…

As cloning seems to be in the forefront of the news lately, lets look at some sites that explore this issue.

If you missed the latest news, scientists in South Korea have made clones. See the Catholic World News articles on it at cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=27629 and cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=27805.

"Reflections on Cloning" by the Pontifical Academy for Life at vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdlife/documents/rc_pa_acdlife_doc_30091997_clon_en.html gives the historical, biological, and ethical dimensions of this issue.

"On Human Cloning" by Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family aims to set out some aspects of cloning to inform the general public at ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PCFCLONE.HTM.

"Human Cloning" by Roberto Colombo of the Pontifical Academy for Life is taken from the L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Holy See, at ewtn.com/library/PROLIFE/CLONEPT1.HTM.

The USCCB has a Cloning/Cloning Legislation link page at usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/cloning/index.htm that covers a wide variety of articles including "The Myth of ‘Therapeutic Cloning’."

Other articles on this issue can be found in my online directory at monksofadoration.org/cloningx.html.

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org