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Making an Internet list, and checking it twice

Over the course of several days, CNET News reporter Daniel Terdiman and his wife discussed and suggested a wide range of sites and Internet tips for his in-laws.

CNET News reporter Daniel Terdiman's in-laws peruse the Internet via a Wi-Fi connection at their mountaintop, off-the-grid house. Daniel Terdiman/CNET Networks

NICE, Calif.--Over the last few days, I spent hours with my wife's parents, Tyler and Donna, helping them adapt to the first Internet connection they've ever had. For them, living on top of a mountain at 4,000 feet, in the middle of a national forest, and entirely off the grid--this has been a big step.

For my wife and I, it's also been a big project, at least in terms of teaching them the basics, and helping them get ready to learn on their own. While their Internet proficiency is still low, they are learning fast, and over time, it should be interesting to see how much progress they make, and how they make it.

Over the few days that we just spent on the mountain with them, these are many of the things (in no particular order) we talked to them about, showed them on their new MacBook, and explained that they might want to investigate in the future:

• Undo/Control-Z. They wanted to know if there was any way to undo a mistake on their computer, and we explained that Control-Z (Command-Z on a Mac) is the way to do that.

• Pandora. They haven't used it yet, but we explained how this free service makes it easy for anyone to create a totally custom Internet radio station based on their musical interests. They asked how Pandora makes money. I couldn't answer that very good question.

• Rotten Tomatoes. We explained that this service is among the very best for crowd-sourced movie reviews.

• IMDB. They watch a lot of movies, and often want to know more about the actors involved. We explained that IMDB is the only site they needed to go to get fully cross-referenced information on actors and filmmakers.

• Skype. For my in-laws, Skype will be key in helping them save money on their cell phone bill. We showed them voice calling and Skype instant messaging.

• iTunes Store. Tyler was looking for a specific song by an artist, and I showed him how he could use the iTunes Store to listen to short clips of artists' songs.

• Downloading photos from digital camera. We recently gave them a Canon PowerShot G2, and now that they have a new MacBook, we showed them how to easily download photos onto the computer.

• iPhoto. After downloading photos, we showed them how to organize the pictures in the Mac's built-in photo management software.

• Printing wirelessly. Now that they have a Wi-Fi network (running on an old AirPort Extreme) I talked to them about setting up wireless printing to their HP DeskJet printer.

• Connecting the Mac to a TV. I bought them the connectors for linking their MacBook to their TV. At first they didn't see the value of doing this, but they eventually saw that as their vision gets worse, a larger screen will make computing easier.

• NeoOffice versus OpenOffice. They've been using OpenOffice on their Windows computer, and we loaded NeoOffice onto their Mac. I haven't used it, but I explained that my research concluded that NeoOffice is better on Macs than OpenOffice.

• Second Life. My wife and I are both longtime Second Life users, and we talked to them about whether they'd want to use the virtual world. However, their download limits (200 megabytes per day) would likely make it difficult for them to use such services.

• PayPal. They hope not to buy very many things over the Internet, but they do understand that having a PayPal account will make it easier for them to do transactions on services like eBay.

• We walked in on them looking at prices for tarps on My reaction was "hide the credit card."

• Facebook. While social networking is likely something they won't deal with for some time, we talked about how many people have used Facebook to connect with friends from past lives.

• Twitter. They have heard a lot about Twitter, and we showed them how the microblogging service is a great way to see what people around the world are thinking about things in near-real-time.

• YouTube. Among other things, I showed Tyler how he could use YouTube to find obscure songs he might be looking for.

• Netflix. We've managed a Netflix account for them (they would pick up the DVDs at their P.O. box) for some time, since they didn't have an Internet connection. Now that they do, they've taken over management of the account. I had high hopes they would be able to watch Netflix streaming movies, but their download limits may prevent them from doing that.

• Google Earth. We showed them Google Earth and used the service to locate their house, a process that took even them some time, given the remote location in which they live.

• Gmail. They are using Gmail for e-mail, and we set them up to be able to send and receive their Gmail messages using the Mac's Mail application.

• Control on PCs/Command on Macs. We explained that anything that uses the control key on a PC (Control-C to copy, or Control-Z to undo) would utilize the command key instead on a Mac.

• Windows Security patches. I uploaded Service Pack 3 and six Windows security patches on their PC.

• They were excited to be able to send messages to the president and to be able to watch his weekly video addresses. They also were happy to be able to easily e-mail many other government officials.

• Instant messaging. We explained that instant messaging is a terrific way to carry on informal conversations, and we discussed some of the etiquette of IM.

• Commenting on Web sites/blogs. We talked at length with them about how comments are implemented on various Web sites and blogs, and how people use them for different purposes.

• Wi-Fi. We set them up with an Apple AirPort Extreme and made it so their new MacBook could be connected to the Internet throughout their house. They were more excited by this than by anything else.

• USB hubs. Tyler wanted to know how to print wirelessly and I explained that he would need to get a USB hub to split the cable coming from his printer.

• Bookmarks. We provided them with a long bookmarked list of Web sites, and showed them how to add new bookmarks so they don't have to type in entire URLs for sites they hope to visit a lot.

• Delicious. We want to see what kinds of sites they are interested in and encouraged them to use to share their discoveries with us.

• Safari versus Firefox. I explained that Firefox is generally considered the best Web browser for the Mac, but told them how to use Safari is they were so inclined.

• Never using Internet Explorer again. I said that because of its many security holes I would never let them use Explorer on their PC again.

• Registering for Web sites. They were interested in why people would provide their e-mail address and/or other information to register for Web sites, and we explained the many reasons people are willing to do it, and why sites want it.

• Adding an AirPort Express to extend the Wi-Fi network's range. We told them that by adding an AirPort Express to their wireless network set up, they could extend the range of their Wi-Fi connectivity to a metal shed near their house. It also happens that that is where my wife and I sleep when we visit during cold months.

• Google News. I showed them Google's clearinghouse for news stories. They didn't seem particularly interested in it, but I'm guessing that will change as they realize the site's utility.

• Using wireless keyboards and mice. If they do decide to connect their Mac to their TV, we explained, they would likely want to add a wireless keyboard and mouse so they could have more freedom of movement in their living room.

• eBay. We explained that this service would be a fantastic way for them to find the kinds of supplies that their local merchants often don't have, or charge too much for.

• iPhone (for the future). We touted our beloved iPhones, and tried to get them excited about the devices as well. This is clearly something for another time.

• Blogrolls. They asked what blogrolls were, and we showed them how many blogs offer lists of other sites they endorse and suggest readers look at.

• Using the trackpad on the Mac instead of a mouse. Having only previously used their desktop PC, they weren't familiar with laptop trackpads. So we spent some time explaining how they work, including how to use two fingers on the MacBook to scroll up and down pages.

• Wikipedia. I had already been touting Wikipedia, but now I explained how anyone can edit any page, and how it is possible to see the entire history of changes for a page.

On June 22, Geek Gestalt will kick off Road Trip 2009. After driving more than 12,000 miles in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last three years, I'll be looking for the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation and more in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and South and North Dakota. If you have a suggestion for someplace to visit, drop me a line. And in the meantime, join the Road Trip 2009 Facebook page and follow my Twitter feed.