Why it's called Computer Life

Computer Life column for March 13, 1999
by

Richard Gordon


In late 1996, during negotiations about the start of this column, my editors and I discussed its name.

I suggested something like "Poor Richard's Computer" or "Web Walker." But, no, they decided on "Computer Life" to reflect how much computers have crept into all our lives.

This week, I got e-mail from a friend who is about to accompany her husband on a business trip to Europe. She told me they were expecting a five-hour layover in Amsterdam--too long a time to loiter at the airport in a city they've never visited.

She posted a question on a travel newsgroup--the Internet's electronic bulletin board system--and did some Web surfing. After one evening's work, she had an itinerary for a quick visit.

I recently chatted with a colleague about upgrading the computer his family uses. He wants a computer that has enough oomph to let him try computer banking and run music, MIDI, graphics, and gaming software. "The prices keep dropping. Is now a good time to buy?", he asked. I suggested he wait a couple of weeks then look. The introduction of Intel's Pentium III chip is bound to drive down the price of some very cool systems with Pentium II and AMD K6 chips.

Word processing has changed the ways so many of us write and work. Even my 74-year-old father swears by--instead of at--his word processing program. It's e-mail, attaching documents, and decoding documents others send him that drive him nuts.

It's time for our representative soccer team to collect fees from players' families for the just-completed indoor season and the upcoming spring season. Since every player played in a different number of indoor matches, Microsoft Word's "Mail Merge" made it easy to customize each bill and its "Formula" function automatically calculated the totals.

Like most Americans, I have too much credit card debt. So my trusty computer and I worked out a repayment scheme that should leave me debt-free--well, nearly debt-free--in a mere 50 months. I used a loan calculator I found on the Web and a spreadsheet program to help me plan.

Because I took a morning off from work to finish up my taxes, my boss stopped by to chat about the merits of the two leading tax prep packages as she prepared to do her family's taxes this weekend.

My son adds ".com" to names in casual bantering. I've learned to answer to "daddy.com."

Saturday morning cartoons are often replaced by computer games--until it's time for bowling or soccer or whatever.

Speaking of bowling, all his league scores are in a spreadsheet so he can see what his average is, was, and could be.

And how many hundreds of dollars have I now spent at amazon.com after reading book reviews in the Sunday papers?

You get the point. We may not use our computers to control the lights in our homes--yet, but a lot of us use the silicon beast in the spare bedroom for just about everything else.

And if you do have an idea for a catchier name for this column, drop me a note.

Tip of the week

Where's my Netscape?

If you recently bought an Apple iMac and if you want to use Netscape's Communicator software for your Internet activities, you may have been surprised to find that the version installed on your iMac is missing some pieces.

Here's what happened: Apple and Microsoft reached a compromise. Microsoft agreed to make future releases of its popular Office suite of software have the same look and feel on a Macintosh as on a Windows system. In return, Apple agreed to pre-install only a limited version of Netscape on some of its computers.

If you are a Mac user who wants a full version of Netscape, dig around on your system CD and you will probably find an outdated--but full--version of Netscape that you can install. Alternatively, see if your ISP will give or sell you a full copy or just download a copy from Netscape's Web site (www.netscape.com).


Copyright © 1999, The News Journal Company

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Richard Gordon helps support faculty, staff and student computing at the University of Delaware. E-mail questions, comments or suggestions to richard@inet.net, or write him at The News Journal, Box 15505, Wilmington, DE 19850. Although each note cannot be answered individually, reader comments and questions will often be incorporated in future columns.