Like a packrat, I save bits and pieces from old computers even when there is no real good reason to believe I will ever need them. One of the PCI cards I salvaged from an old computer is a parallel port adapter. I suppose someone wanted to run two printers from one computer and needed an extra port. The actual history of it escapes me. But I know where it is now. One of my clients bought a new computer and was dismayed to find that he couldn’t plug in his printer because the new computer did not have a built-in parallel port. He called in a panic to ask what to do. Should he return the computer?

Not to worry, I assured him. This old card will solve his problems. Of course I could have suggested that the store where he bought his computer should have thrown in a free printer with USB connections, but why bother? He likes his old printer and so be it.

This minor incident raises the more general question of what to recommend to clients who are in the process of becoming computer literate. My closet and file cabinets are full of obsolete parts and software that were once valued objects. At this time I routinely turn down gifts of large screen CRT monitors that not too long ago were better than what architects had for their professional use.

My client had not consulted with me about buying a new computer or any peripherals. If he had, would it have been better to suggest that he trash his old printer? As I write this, I am wearing a new Casio G-Shock 200 meter diving watch. My old one lasted for about six years when its battery started to fail. Installing a new battery with seals and pressure testing would cost $46.00. My new watch has solar power, automatic atom clock adjustment, and a better band. It cost $48 on eBay. So I gave my old one to my grandson. That hurts because the generation I belong to was brought up by parents who had been scarred by the great depression. My folks would have been appalled at the idea of discarding anything that was still useful. Lessons like that are hard to overcome. My shop still has bins and bottles full of sorted screws, nails, and other potentially useful things.

The main difference is that nails my grandfather might have used are still functional today. However, in my electronics closet I have a Sparq 1 gig removable media drive which will likely never be used again. It sits next to a salvaged 8 inch floppy drive. (BTW, my client’s new computer did not have a floppy drive either).

Also in storage I have 35 mm slides that anyone can read and Apple ][ floppies that no one can read. How long do you think your images on CD will be accessible?

What do you tell seniors on a fixed budget who want to become computer literate and need to buy things? The only reasonable thing I can suggest is to get someone else’s castoff equipment. It will most likely be more powerful than they will ever need and with luck it might be free. Upgrades can come later when the client gets more familiarity with what is available.

Of course, that seldom happens because they buy things first and then ask for help.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]pack rat, packrat[/tags]