Giving the Geekling a Computer

Geek Culture

We recently gave the Pup a computer of her very own.  We had previously given her a hand-me-down, which subsequently died, but this was special.  A geek-friend of mine recently built some PCs as part of a project at work (Core Duo, 4 gigs of RAM, 250 gigs of storage, not bad for a freebie).  When the project finished, he was told he could do what he wanted with them.  Not needing yet another PC, the friend offered it to our daughter for Christmas.  We happily took the offer and added in a new monitor, keyboard, mouse, OS package, and software for good measure.  But, alas, all was not perfect in the Shire.  We quickly ran into a number of concerns.  I thought the ways in which we addressed these concerns would be of use to others, and might evoke a few good comments.

The Internet

One of the first questions I was asked when I told people that I had given the Pup a computer of her own… in her own room… where no one can see what she’s doing…  I’ve heard lots of stories about net-nanny programs breaking down, and letting some kids get to sites that they shouldn’t have access to, and not letting them get access to sites to which they should have access.  I know that our network at work has a professional-grade security software that has problems with both of those issues.  The fact of the matter is, until our mechanical overlords assume full control and force us all to keep our metadata fully up-to-date at all times, net-nanny programs will always fail at least some of the time.  We make them wait until they’re 16 to drive, there really ought to be an age they have to be before they can use the internet and e-mail.

My solution: make her computer a stand-alone.  There is no physical connection between her machine and our DSL modem.  That’s it.  I left IE on her machine because she may want to do projects that require building web pages for school.  No problem with that.  So the only machine in the apartment with an internet connection is the one in the living room which she can’t be on without being in full view of us at all times.

Quick note to the people who design the Windows Operating System: not everyone wants to hook their machine up to the Internet.  Make it easier for us to set up a machine with an OS that will not be convinced that we do not want to connect to the internet.  Some of us more responsible parents may get fed up and turn to Linux…

(Semi-)Serious Software

The grand-geeks kicked in with some help on this matter to help us defray costs.  Having the family all kick in on one, ginormous gift has its merits.  They bought for the Pup Encore’s Middle School Advantage which includes Science, History, Math, English, Foreign Language, and Mavis Typing.

Fun Software

While action games are all fine and fun, we opted for a sim: Microsoft’s Zoo Tycoon.  The Pup loves it because she loves anything to do with animals (how unusual), taking care of them when they’re sick, seeing the baby animals born, and they sometimes break loose and attack people.  We like it because it allows her to develop all the skills associated with complex sims: macro-management, detail-checking, report-generation, etc.  Update: Since Christmas, MS has come out with Zoo Tycoon 2.

Setting a Password

Just like duct tape and the Force, there’s a light-side and a dark-side to the Pup having her very own machine.  We quickly learned that she was staying up past her bedtime playing Zoo Tycoon.  My low-tech solution?  Set a windows password and don’t tell her what it is.  Now she can’t even boot up the machine without our help.  Ha-hah!  Victory is ours… for now…

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