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Business Management for Horse Owners - Computer Services

Expert Lawrence Yerkes CCP/CDP,ICSE,ICDBA,MCP

Questions (For answers, scroll down or click on question)
 



What computer software can you recommend for my pre-teen children that they will enjoy and I can feel good about?

What books can you recommend for someone like me with little or no background in computers?

What's the best computer system to buy to use for my horse business? (I also want to use it for personal use
.)

How important is backing up my computer data, how often should I do it, and what's the best procedure(s)?

What's the best service to use to access the Internet from my computer?

What's available for receiving live weather updates both locally and throughout the world on my computer?

What can I do to protect myself against Year 2000 (Y2K) problems that may effect me and/or my computer?  [Note: This was written prior to 2000]
 

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Questions and Answers

Q: What computer software can you recommend for my pre-teen children that they will enjoy and I can feel good about?

A: My family and I have personally tried and tested a wide variety of pre-teen software.  While there may be individual software standouts among the manufacturers, you can't go wrong with any of the award-winning titles offered by Humongous Entertainment.    

 

Q: What books can you recommend for someone like me with little or no background in computers?

A: You've ask a great question and, fortunately, Equerry.com is directly addressing your needs through the experienced recommendations of Jill Hassler (who's been where you're coming from) presented in the Equerry Bookstore (from where you can order books on-line -- note that more entries are planned).

Q: What's the best computer system to buy to use for my horse business? (I also want to use it for personal use.)

A: One should try to get the most (size/speed/capacity) in features that you can afford.

Here's the current "standard" configuration (PC99) according to Microsoft/Intel: 300MHz Pentium, DVD (in place of a CD-ROM), Sound (100% Sound Blaster compatible), MPEG capable, 32MB or memory (RAM) is an absolute bare minimum, at least 64 MB is recommended (especially Windows 98); Windows 2000 needs at least 64 MB, realistically you should have 128 MB or more, for optimum performance), and a 17in monitor (15in minimum).

Keep in mind that this is now a minimum standard -- newer computer chips and components are continually being made available, each faster than its predecessor. (For instance, 700MHz and higher Pentium III processors are now readily available, with a series of new versions of ever increasing speed and options being readied for market. CDROM's are now 40X or more, but they are rapidly being replaced by higher capacity, and now inexpensive, DVD units).

And in addition, make sure that:

the processor (CPU -- the brains of the computer system) is upgradeable to one with a faster speed (i.e., a 600MHz Pentium, or whatever is installed, is not the highest it can go) and at this point it should be a Pentium III or equivalent. Note: the newer Pentium processors will have internal speeds above 800MHz (how fast it thinks), soon reaching 1000MHz (1GHz) or above; plus, the mother board (the main board the CPU connects and talks to) and the Pentium, should have a data transfer speed of 133MHz (how fast it talks to others).  CAUTION: There is a lot of confusion with Pentiums and motherboards, since there are several versions of each speed of Pentium (for example, the 600Mhz Pentium III comes in a 100MHz data transfer speed (how fast it talks to motherboard), 133MHz with 512K Cache [600B], and 133MHz with faster 256K [600EB] (works best with newest Intel 133MHz motherboards.);

it has at least a 9-Gigabyte(GB) hard drive (preferably 13GB or more) with the capability to add another drive if needed, i.e., extra bays); 

it has a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port (in addition to standard serial/parallel ports); 

it has a 3D video card that is AGP (4x) compatible (and at lease 8MB of video memory, but preferably, 16MB or 32MB of video memory  [yes, on the video adapter in addition to your regular system memory (RAM)] if you are planning on running graphics/design programs or games, with the option to add more).  Most of the newer cards also have DVD hardware built-in so that with a DVD ROM player (see next paragraph) you can view DVD videos and movies without overtaxing your computer;

you demand a DVD ROM player instead of a CD-ROM so that you can read the newer DVD versions that are beginning to appear, replacing the CD-ROM (DVD's hold 7 or more times the information of a CD-ROM).  This will also allow you, with additional software or hardware, to view the new DVD videos and movies that are rapidly replacing VHS tape. The DVD drive unit should be at least 6X (don't confuse this with CD-ROM designations) or faster (8X, 10X or higher) .  [DVD's cost the vendor only about $50 more than a 32X CD-ROM];

and you can add more system memory (RAM) if you desire.  [Try to include as much memory (at least 64MB, preferably 128MB or more) as your budget will allow, especially if you want to be able to run several sophisticated programs at once (i.e.,  word processor, Internet browser, spreadsheet, graphics design, publishing, games, etc.)]

Other options depend on your requirements. For example, if you are musically oriented, you might want to invest in a Wavetable add-on or replacement to your sound card that reproduces close to the actual sound of instruments (and allows 128 or more simultaneous sounds or 'voices').   However, make sure you retain "Sound Blaster" compatibility.  Most will want to include a 56K V.90 modem.   Where possible, choose a PCI version of an adapter over an ISA version.

If you plan on copying and/or creating your own CD's, consider a CDR-W (ability to read/write and re-write CD's (depending on type of CD blanks you use).  They are an excellent way to create backups and archive valuable data, holding over 650 MB of data per CD.  NOTE: Newer versions are also coming out that include the ability to also read DVD's -- like getting three drives in one: CD-ROM reader, CD writer, DVD-ROM reader. (Though priced a little higher (in the $200-$300 range), they are an excellent value, saving you from having to buy a separate DVD drive and the resultant technical problems with having two CD readers.)

If you don't already have an adequate printer, you will inevitably require a new one.  There are a variety of options.  But you can not go wrong, for general purposes, with a color ink jet printer by HP or Epson.  (Best buys are usually versions in the $200 - $400 range.)

If you are more interested in something you can carry around, consider the portable/notebook computer, but be prepared to spend more for corresponding features and have more frequency of repair.  (A long-term warranty and/or maintenance contract is especially recommended for notebooks.)

Once you make a purchase, there will always be a newer system on the horizon that will outperform anything you just obtained.   Such is the nature of technological advancement, but you can maximize the useful life of your system if you follow the above guidelines. 

Good online sources of computer system to begin with are: Dell,  Compaq  and  IBM
 

Q: How important is backing up my computer data, how often should I do it, and what's the best procedure(s)?

A: Backing up is extremely important!!! I can't stress firmly enough how critical it is to have proper backup procedures at your place of business and at home. If I can make you paranoid about not backing up, I will feel satisfied in instilling the proper importance and urgency of backups.

Backups should be done on a regular basis commensurate with the frequency that your data changes and its cost to reproduce. The easiest way at this time is to have a tape backup unit and use several sets of tapes (at least 5 sets) which you rotate on a daily or at least weekly basis. If your volume of data is small, then you may be able to get by with using diskettes. However, if it involves too much effort, the tendency will be to skip backups. With a tape (or similar mass backup facility) you just pop in the tape, start up the backup software and walk away until finished. At least once a month, make an additional backup (another disk/tape set) that you store permanently.

It is important to make sure that you keep backup copies at another site, away from where your computer is located. I have had clients who have had their computers stolen and even their several-ton safes ripped up, carried out and forced open -- their backup tapes/disk stolen and/or damaged by rain/snow/mud/rocks. If the computer is at your place of business, then either you or someone responsible should store the copy at home (assuming not same location) or at a safe deposit box. If the computer you are backing up is at your home, then store at your place of business, safe deposit box, or another secure place with people you trust. Off site means just what it says -- as far away as practical from the same property on which is the computer is located.

If you don't have a lot of data that frequently changes, make a weekly tape backup and then do intermittent backups on diskette of the data that changes using a compression utility such as PKZip. (However, handling and storage requirements are the same for diskettes as with tape).

Make sure that if you ever do have to restore data from your backups -- it will work. Test your restore capability by picking several files on your backup and then trying to restore them. If not, in an emergency, you may find that all your backup efforts have been in vain because the restore doesn't work (this happens much more frequently than I care to think about).

You can rotate your tapes/diskettes using at least 5 backup sets, but never repeat a backup on the same tape. Inevitably, there will be a time, usually the worst possible time for you, that the last backup will be bad (data bad, tape/disk damaged/demagnetized/worn) and you will need to resort to the previous backup -- if you have been using the same tape/disk set each time, then you're stuck. Which brings to mind another point, make sure your backup interval (time between backups) is small enough so that if you have to restore, and the last backup has bad data or is damaged, you are able to use a prior backup without having to spend too much money, time and effort to replace what was lost in between. Assuming the restore goes okay with using an earlier backup, you will then have to manually input all the changes made since the last good backup. If you back up frequently, the interval will be short and this will not be a big hardship.

Keep in mind that from my experience and observation there is a 99% chance that you WILL eventually experience problems that can only be minimized with a good backup procedure.. The frustration, time and money saved, by establishing proper backup procedures now, in a future crisis will most likely be your own!

 

Q: What's the best service to use to access the Internet from my computer?

A: The best generic answer is: the fastest, most reliable service you can find at the lowest cost. However, there are a lot of options.

Cable is currently the fastest option for most homes and at-home businesses.  Your cable TV provider is usually the source of this service, in conjunction with a nationwide Internet services provider (ISP), such as @Home.   It is much faster than a standard telephone modem.  It uses the same line that carries your TV signals, but requires a cable 'modem' to connect with your computer,  plus a network card installed in your computer.  The equipment is usually provided and installed for an installation charge of approx $100 - $300, plus the monthly access charge of approx $40/50 dollars (over and above the cost of you cable TV service).  Costs are usually 2/3 times the connection charges for telephone access, but cabel provides at least 10 times the speed (a better buy).  If you don't have access to cable service, then...

Assuming that your computer has (or will have) a modem -- for individual use, either America Online (AOL), Prodigy or a local Internet service provider (ISP) is best. Whatever you do, make sure that the number you will be dialing into is a local call (i.e., no toll calls). Make sure they support at least a 33.6 baud (V.34+) modem connection, preferably 56K baud (V.90).

Most ISP's in the USA charge around $20 per month, which gives you unlimited connection time, World Wide Web (WWW) access, lets you set up you own home page, allows you to send/received e-mail, transfer files (FTP), access news groups, chats, etc.

Services providers such as AOL and Prodigy provide a lot of special features/services. However, with your local ISP you can get similar benefits, and usually faster access, more flexibility in types of browsers, etc., plus local telephone support that is usually more quickly accessible and personable.

I would try a local ISP first, if available and just pay by month if neither you nor anybody you know is familiar with their quality of service. Once you are comfortable with them, then an annual service plan is usually more economical, if offered. One of the best sources to find an ISP closest to you is "The List", which is found on the Internet. The address is: http://thelist.internet.com. If you do a lot of traveling, then stick with AOL or larger ISP's (such as Mindscape) that provide local dialup access points throughout the country and even worldwide.

There are other methods to access the Internet. The local cable companies are starting to provide Internet access (usually faster than what a modem provides.)  Also, there are more expensive options that are more appropriate for heavy business use and about which we won't go into here -- your local ISP should be able to help you.

 

Q: What's available for receiving live weather updates both locally and throughout the world on my computer?

Here are some web locations that may be of interest/use to you for obtaining the latest weather, conditions, live camera views, software and related information:

Weather Cams (stationary cameras broadcasting regularly updated snapshots of views from different positions):
http://cirrus.sprl.umich.edu/wxnet/wxcam.html

For example, Philadelphia Cam views:
http://www.atl.external.lmco.com/philaview/philaview.html
http://colossus.netwatchinc.com/templates/default.asp?Site=peco

Interactive Weather Information Network (U.S. National Weather Service):"
http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/main.html
http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/graphicsversion/bigmain.html
Local (by state via national map): http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/iwdspg1.html
free trial auto. weather update software: http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/emwin2/index.htm

A good weather update program (easy; free trail; requires Internet access):
http://www.design2graphics.com/html/software/Weather1.html 

Coastal Reports, Tides, Nautical/Aeronautical Charts:
http://www.nos.noaa.gov/

General weather links pages:
Underground: http://www.wunderground.com/
UCAR: http://www.ucar.edu/wx.html
Excite: http://excite.netscape.com/directory/news/weather/
other: http://www.nxdc.com/weather/
 

 

Q: What can I do to protect myself against Year 2000 (Y2K) problems that may effect me and/or my computer?  [Note: Though this was posted prior to Y2K, and minimal, if any, relevance at this point, we include here as part of our archive.]

A: A lot has been and will continue to be talked about Year 2000 (Y2K) problems, specifically with regards to computers. Here's a summary of a recent article* and some additional thoughts of my own that hopefully will give you incite in addressing your own computer situation -- so that you are properly prepared and confident in facing the new millennium.

What actions should be taken to protect my family and myself?

First, it's important to realize that most of the major Y2K concerns are with regard to large corporate and governmental computer systems. One of the problems is that some of the hardware system clocks may not reset properly. However, the main problem is that many programmers, to conserve precious and expensive resources in the earlier systems, stored dates with only a 2-year digit -- assuming '19' as the first two digits of the year. Many of these legacy systems have continued to be used and now require major efforts and expense to reprogram and/or redefine the data so that the correct year is properly identified.

By the way, you don't have to worry about not being able to pay your taxes. The IRS is already certified Year 2000 compliant. Most U.S. government agencies, as well as major U.S. banking/financial and corporate organizations, have been working to solve these problems for years and are reasonably close to meeting the deadline with their systems. They may experience minor glitches, but for the most part there should be minimal disruptions.

This is not the case in the rest of the world. Russia and Italy are examples, recently appearing in the news, of governments that will not be ready for Year 2000.

The other major area is the machinery and circuits that control communications, power and scheduling. They will not correctly set themselves when the date changes to 01/01/2000 (reverting instead to 01/01/1900 or some other built-in default number).

In the U.S., news services and some state and local agencies are issuing alerts for people to prepare for being without services, such as food, water, electricity and heat for up to three days while their support systems are properly reset, tested and restarted. (Some are recommending having enough supplies to be self sufficient for up to a week.) There may be little or no disruptions, but it's best to prepare for the worst case occurring during this time in the winter season.

What actions should be taken with regard to my PC computer?

Fortunately, other than some inconveniences, the impact will be minimal on the hardware itself. If Y2K compliant, then the hardware will function properly. If not Y2K compliant, when the internal clock of the computer flips to the next year it will most likely flip to either 1900 or 1980 (the birth year of the PC). To fix, all you have to do is manually change the system date so that it is correct and you will then be good for another century. (Note: Windows NT, with Service Pack 3 or later, automatically compensates for this type of error.)

The biggest impact on your PC systems will involve the application software that you run, especially spreadsheets and financial reporting systems -- any place where dates are used for comparison and calculations. If not entered and/or stored as at least 4 digit years, you may get unpredictable and erroneous results. The best defense for these problems is to contact the developer of the software to determine compliancy and whether there are work-arounds, fixes and/or updates to the software that are available.

You can also use utilities such as Symantec's Norton 2000 that test your computer's BIOS and scan files for potential Y2K data problems. (
Contact us for more specifics.)

Here are some vendor links that can provide more detailed Y2K information about their respective products:
Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com/year2000/
Apple: http://www.apple.com/about/year2000/index.html
Lotus: www.lotus.com (click "Search" and search for "1-2-3 2000", etc.)
Corel: https://livewire.corel.com/cfscripts/y2k/productlist.cfm
Novell: http://www.novell.com/year2000/

For a lighter view of the Y2K issue (cartoon): http://foxnews.com/views/hiers/images/041798.gif

If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact me.
We provide Year 2000 [and beyond!] consulting services and would welcome the opportunity to work with you to alleviate any concerns and minimize any potential problems.

Looking forward to enjoying a great start to the year 2000 that with proper planning will yield minimal problems and tremendous opportunities in the months and years beyond.

*Reference article: "Window Manager: You can spot and fix some of your PC's year-2000 problems", Brian Livingston, InfoWorld, 2/8/99. *Reference article: "Window Manager: You can spot and fix some of your PC's year-2000 problems", Brian Livingston, InfoWorld, 2/8/99.



 

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