Welcome to our all-new column, Growing Up Online.
Welcome to our all-new column, Growing Up Online. As parents of kids of all ages, we know how important it is to keep them safe on the web, and keep ourselves informed. Throughout the year, writer Carolyn Jabs will give tips on Internet safety, as well as ideas on how to save money (like those in this month's article), how to blog, raising readers in a digital age and much more. With her vast amount of computer-savvy information, you're sure to be one high-tech parent.
Saving is a great American virtue that is often rediscovered after the excesses of the holidays. In its finest form, saving doesn't mean depriving yourself or your family of what you want, much less need. Instead, it means comparing long-term and short-term goals to decide which matter most.
Sometimes an increase in efficiency makes it possible to get what you want both today and tomorrow. In many households, interactive technology is part of that kind of solution, saving families both time and money. On the other hand, technology itself can be a big investment. Fortunately there are ways to trim costs. The savings that follow may seem small, but taken together they do add up.
Take control for free. Any family with kids under 16 needs parental controls on the computer. If you've procrastinated because of the expense in money and time, you no longer have any excuses. The Parental Control software developed by AOL is now available free at http://daol.aol.com/parentalcontrols. This is an easy-to-use program with a proven track record that lets parents determine which websites children can visit, who they can IM or e-mail and how long they can be online.
Buy cheap ink. The cartridges for printers are expensive. In fact, many companies almost give away printers expecting to profit from cartridge sales. Cartridges can be refilled with squeeze bottles of ink available at the office supply store, but the job is messy and the results are uneven. Instead, buy recycled cartridges from reputable websites such as www.1-inkjet.com or www.4inkjets.com where prices are about half of the price of brand name supplies.
Print what you need. How many times has someone in your family printed material from a website and then thrown out half the pages because they included irrelevant information? To end this wasteful habit, teach your kids this trick: Highlight the wanted material by holding down the left mouse button. After pressing "print", look through the menu for "selection" and mark that option. When you print, only the marked material will show up on the page.
Make a sloppy copy. Much of what gets printed on the family computer isn't meant for the ages, so there's no need to use the quality print setting. Check your control panel or manual for a setting called "draft" or "poor". Use it for less important printing projects.Also save paper that's printed on onlyone side so the second side can be used for sloppy copies.
Have a blast. To avoid unnecessary repair bills, invest $5 in a can of compressed air and use it to blast dust out of the fan at the back of your processor as well as other openings. Dust contributes to heat build-up, which is one of the biggest reasons components fail. And pay attention to the keyboard.
Use the compressed air to get rid of particles between the keys and an antibacterial wipe to eliminate germs on key surfaces.
Slay the vampires. Many electronic devices use transformers, those little black boxes between the wall outlet and the device. Most people don't realize these boxes continue to use power even when the device is "off." The only way to stop these so-called energy vampires is to unplug them.
Better yet, plug several components into a power strip that can be turned off when the devices aren't in use. In addition to the household computer, consider this strategy for cell phones, DVD players, video game systems and other interactive appliances.
Shop with the stars. If you need to buy new equipment, look for devices that carry the Energy Star label, which means the device includes energy-saving technology. The EPA's Energy Star website (www.energystar.gov) is a great resource for valuable tips about saving energy in other ways too.
Hibernate whenever possible. You probably lecture your kids about turning off lights when they aren't in use, so be sure your computer does the same thing.
In hibernation or sleep mode, the computer will use a fraction of the energy it does when it's fully operational. Apple computers and Windows' new operating system, Vista, hibernate by default. If you are running an older version of Windows, go to "Start" and then "Control Panel." Under "Performance and Maintenance," open "Power Options." Set it so the monitor shuts down after about 15 minutes and the system hibernates after an hour of not being used.
Finally, no article about saving with technology would be complete without a reminder that data itself should be saved often, and in more than one place. Few things rival the heartache of realizing that a project that took hours or even days to complete is gone and can't be retrieved. Teach even young children to press "save" often, especially when they are doing school projects.
Fortunately, back-up is easier now that USB flash drives are cheap and readily available. Many schools actually require kids to have these mini devices so they can carry projects back and forth from school to home.
But remember that flash drives are vulnerable precisely because they are inexpensive and portable. Projects that matter should also be saved on a hard drive, and the hard drive itself should be backed up periodically either to an online storage service or to a USB device stored in a safe place away from the computer.