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A reader's suggestion: Look for a good used computer
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

A reader's suggestion: Look for a good used computer

Nov. 27, 1997

Dr. Gizmo received this from a reader (in two separate letters that have been joined here) and asked permission to share it with all of you. The writer does not want to be identified.

Dear AF and Dr. Gizmo—My condolences to Dr. Gizmo; this seems to be "Bash Dr. Gizmo" week for your letter writers. Personally I like him. In fact I like your whole page in "Stars" and read it first thing every Sunday.

I have a suggestion about the "Cheapskates Guide." There are great buys out there in used computers, from people who are grading up and selling their older models. My own story (briefly) --

1. Commodore-64, with monitor, in 1984-5, with Okidata 9-pin printer, all used, all for $50.00. I even joined CompuServe with this C-64 in late 1980s. No Internet then so no problem about that! I was in graduate school at the time and did all my papers, also wrote two books and other stuff, on this darling, loved it.

2. CompuAdd 286 (IBM clone) with monitor, in early 1990s, used, about $50.00. Modem, $10.00 from a friend. My poor old Okidata broke about that time so I got a Canon Bubble Jet for $150.00; first year they were out. I was able to convert my old Commodore files (on big floppies) to real ASCII and cable them all directly into the new PC as real ASCII files. Neat.

3. Wang 386, with monitor, in 1997, used, $50.00. My son put Windows 3.11 in it for me, with my good old WP 5.1 (tried and true and I prefer it).

4. Added more megs to RAM ($100.00 at computer shop), also got a new 38 modem (knocked down at Wal-Mart for $40.00). I did all this because I deserted CompuServe (after they deserted me; I too have a thing against AOL) and joined Dreamscape, which I heard about from Tony Fong's column in the Oct. 6 Post Standard; when I saw that it is your ISP I said "It must be the best" and chose it. So far, happy with it.

This adds up to $450.00 for about 12-13 years of computing equipment.

My point in all this is that even the poor and struggling can play this game. In the Swap Sheet, classified ads, and even on laundromat bulletin boards there are lots of ads for used computer equipment. From experience, I would suggest certain precautions:

1. Find a friend or brother-in-law or a little child who knows about computers to go with you when you answer the ad.

2. Get the manuals and diskettes that originally came with everything you're buying. If the owner doesn't have them, forget that computer unless you are already good with computers. This includes the manuals and disks for the modem and printer (and try to get these peripherals even if the owner didn't think to include them in the ad) as well as the computer itself and any program like a word processing program or games that are already on the hard drive.

3. Ask the previous owner to help you out and come over to set up the system and show you the ropes, or let you sit down and do it there at their house. Most people are perfectly willing to do this if the computer really works as well as they're telling you. (Do them a favor and remind them to take all their personal stuff off the hard drive before you buy it!)

4. If the previous owner is on an online system, find out what it is because you know your new (to you) computer is already compatible with that system.

5. Try to buy as many peripherals (like a printer and its manual and disks) as you can. For an extra $25.00 you may be able to buy the computer's old printer, for example, but the previous owner may not have thought to include it in the ad.

6. Keep the previous owner's phone no. So you can call if you hit a snag you really can't handle. As an alternative, provide snacks for the friend or relative who knows about computers. Pizza is good; all computer people like pizza. It's traditional.

Not only is this the cheap way to get into the modern world, there are a couple of other advantages:

1. The previous owner has already coped with all the stupid glitches that were there in the computer when he or she got it new, and all the coping programs are already on the c-drive or disks.

2. A lot of other things are on the c-drive, space war games and other essential programs.

I do have a slight criticism about your "Inside the Internet" column this week, and it's funny. You say that a guide to local Internet providers can be found at such and such a web site. However, for those not already online this is fairly useless information! Tony Fong's column of Oct. 6 is the reference they need. I think you also did a column on the local providers but I can't find it right now—

Love your column. Even though you are way ahead of me with W-95, I still find good stuff for me each week. I figure I'll let you and other energetic people work out all the bugs in W-95 and eventually get it when the quality control work is all done. By the way—I accessed the Digital Librarian, thanks to your telling me about that amazing lady, and love it. Fast and no ads!

… (I think) that for the novice (or the ordinary user) a serviceable computer that they can do word processing with and get hooked up to send e-mail and get on the web is enough. A few years ago I taught at BOCES and most of my students (all?) were very far from rich folks. These were adult classes, and they all had children who yearned for computers, like they had at school. And these parents felt really lousy because there was no way they could ever afford one. I talked up the idea of getting used ones but I also realized that they would need help getting started and making sure they were buying the right stuff. But some of them had a relative who helped them, and that was at least a start for them. And their kids.

I read recently about someone somewhere who has started a program to encourage people to donate their old computers that get given to the poor. Or maybe sold for a very small amount, complete with help and instructions. Now that's a really good idea.

Yes, you may certainly put my note on the web if you want; I'd be honored.

Like I said, love your column.

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