Here's a sample size of The Internet, Rip VanWinkle. Now what?
July 17, 2010 4:00 PM   Subscribe

You used computers extensively in the era of the ddial, but never got on the Internet. Someone gives you just a few hours of Internet access for your aging PC. What do you have to do and see?

My dad was really into computers in the Amiga/Atari ST era. In fact, he was rockin' an Amiga 2000 until last month when it finally died.

But, right before the Internet became popular, I went to college (with my 1200 bps modem) and he moved to the middle of nowhere. I sent him an XP machine a few years ago, but, being unconnected to the Internet, it's gotten no updates.

He has a phone because I sent him a disposable Virgin mobile phone. Now Virgin has a cool little Internet access dongle and I'm thinking of sending it to him. I can't afford to constantly recharge it, though.

1) Is this cruel/worth it?
- I want to send him pictures, email, etc. rather than sending him data DVDs of pictures every few months and let him update his own NetFlix queue rather than going over it on the phone with me
- Could just a "dose" of the Internet make him depressed once it runs out? Or is there a way to make this experience awesome without withdrawl?

2) Security/virus stuff
- I'm going to ask a friend of his to sneakernet XP service pack 3, but I'm worried that a direct connection sans firewall might just make it explode with viruses/malware or spend all his bandwidth just updating software (AVG, VLP, handbrake, random software we've installed for him as well as questionable software he may have received from local friends with warez connections). What can I do to keep him safe or jump start the updating? Is there something I can mail with the dongle to prep/safeguard? Or is this a trainwreck waiting to happen?

3) "Street" savvy stuff
He's a bright guy who could scam anyone on the streets of LA, but he's never seen a phishing scam or a banner ad. How do I prep him for the HUGE variety of things he could encounter. (He doesn't have a credit card, so I'm not worried about anything but destroying his computer.)

4) If I get through #1-4, where do I guide him to?
Watching hi-res videos will immediately eat all his minutes/bandwidth, but Flickr, ebay, wikipedia... What is "can't miss" tourism on The Internet? He's an artist, cult movie buff, tattoo artist and has a goofy/"Jackass" sense of. I've set up a Flickr account for him of all the pics he's sent me on CD, a blog of the writings he's sent me, but I want to show off this "Internet place" that I spend all my time in. What's awesome that doesn't require all the backstory?
posted by Gucky to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The investment in the dongle seems a bit silly if neither you nor your dad are going to recharge it. It sounds like you think he'd really enjoy having a real full-time connection to the internet, so I'd look at a reasonable way to provide that. If you can't afford it entirely, perhaps he can pay some of the costs? Is there no DSL or cable available in his area? There's always satellite. Perhaps he can ask others around him if they have an internet connection and how they get it. You could always rig him up a wi-fi cantenna to connect to a neighbor in exchange for sharing part of the cost.
posted by zachlipton at 4:21 PM on July 17, 2010

Response by poster: He's on a farm in the middle of nowhere. He has no phone line -- only a mobile.

He only has 2 neighbors anywhere near, they don't have cable, let alone Internet.

I might recharge it for his birthday, etc. if he'd get something out of it, but I won't be able to foot the bill on a, say, monthly basis.

I'm not worried about the one-time cost if I think there's something cool in it for him.
posted by Gucky at 4:59 PM on July 17, 2010

What is "can't miss" tourism on The Internet?

Um, metafilter?
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:08 PM on July 17, 2010

Does he even wanna get on the innertubes?
posted by goblinbox at 5:21 PM on July 17, 2010

Response by poster: Does he even wanna get on the innertubes?
Yep. There are enough things that people have told him about on das internet that he finds intriguing. Also email and pictures of his granddaughter, etc.
posted by Gucky at 5:23 PM on July 17, 2010

Tell him to use loband if/when he gets it.
posted by gregr at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2010

Show him this:
The Oracle of Bacon
Harvard on iTunes U

and don't worry if he doesn't get it
posted by LonnieK at 6:02 PM on July 17, 2010

Jeez, that sounds like a security problem about to happen. And it has nothing to do with what websites he visits - if he isn't firewalled, then he's going to get probed by lots of compromised systems on whatever network he is on. Without up-to-date security software, it could be a matter of minutes before the probes figure out where he has holes, and his system gets compromised.
posted by WestCoaster at 6:33 PM on July 17, 2010

How about satellite internet?
posted by JayRwv at 6:36 PM on July 17, 2010

Seconding satellite internet.

The problem with XP boxes being attacked over the internet is easily resolved by putting a router between the PC and your internet connection. Also, I'm not sure how mobile internet works, but don't you typically not get a public internet address? I think you're fine putting it online and doing all the automatic updates.
posted by empath at 7:43 PM on July 17, 2010

If you're going to show him Mefi, I'd stick to Ask. It's more practical and understandable -- I'm not sure how impressed someone would be with the blue if they don't even know what a blog is.

N-thing Wikipedia.

Google Maps views of a few famous places (Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, Pyramids). Seeing tourists on the observation deck of the Empire State Building astounded me when it first debuted.

Google Street View, preferably of his hometown (if available).

Movie buff? Then IMDB, for sure.

Maybe Craigslist.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:54 PM on July 17, 2010

Definitely find his house on google maps..
posted by wayland at 10:38 PM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

There may well be a wireless ISP where he is. Not wireless as in cell phone, but wireless as in wifi, just with directional antennas or one of many similar systems. Finding them can be hard sometimes, though.

Approximately where is he located?
posted by wierdo at 1:12 AM on July 18, 2010

MetaFilter definitely rules the roost in terms of mind-expandingness per bandwidth.

After that, maybe the Internet Movie Database.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:57 AM on July 18, 2010

Best answer: Since I read this question yesterday the thought of having a taste of the incredibly wide world that is opened to one via the internet and then losing it sounds quite awful to me. I might not be the best data point seeing that I'm probably 3-4 decades younger than your father, but since I keep thinking about it I feel compelled to answer. Part of it is just my gut reaction and the other part is an experience I've had with a senior in a similar situation.

I recently helped my boyfriend's grandmother (in her late 70s) get fully set up to get online. She has a rather quiet, isolated life in a remote area and is taking care of her husband who has been ill for many years. Watching her kind of "wake up" to the world she's been hearing about for so long was really quite neat, and the experience has really broadened her perspective-- even on what I find to be a very torturous dial-up situation. To take that away from her now, and close her world back up when she knows what she's missing, would seem to me to be really unkind.

If there's any way at all, I think you should try to find a solution that takes care of the security problem and allows him continued access. The sites recommended above also sound like a great start to me.

There are "software for seniors" portal-type applications, and though I can't recommend one in particular, they sound like they might be interesting and could save you some telephone training time.
posted by mireille at 9:12 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sneakernet SP3. Verify the firewall is on and get your patches done. You can disable file and print sharing if you're paranoid, but the firewall by default only allows these from the local subnet, so a conficker packet from the outside won't infect him. SP3 + Conficker patch is pretty much all he needs to get online and do an automatic update.

AVG, VLP, handbrake, random software we've installed for him as well as questionable software he may have received from local friends with warez connections

Once he's online get Microsoft Security Essentials. AVG really is second class software. Then update his flash, acrobat reader (if he has it), and java.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:07 PM on July 18, 2010

Response by poster: Approximately where is he located?
Batavia, New York is the nearest town -- an hour and change outside of Buffalo.

However, he's on a farm off a dirt road and the ride to Batavia's about 30-45 minutes.
posted by Gucky at 2:09 PM on July 23, 2010

These folks are located in Batavia. WISPs often cover areas pretty far out of their home area, much farther than 30-45 minutes travel time, anyway. (one guy I know who is in the business has service in most of four counties in Arkansas) If they don't serve his area, they might know of a competitor who does.

It's worth a shot, anyway. Satellite is very much a last resort.
posted by wierdo at 2:36 PM on July 23, 2010

Response by poster: To take that away from her now, and close her world back up when she knows what she's missing, would seem to me to be really unkind.

Yep. Not doing it until I can find a monthly option. Thanks everyone.
posted by Gucky at 9:09 PM on July 30, 2010

Response by poster: Just a follow up. Bought him a prepaid smart phone (virgin has unlimited data cheap). Phone unconnected to the computer is a lot safer. He gets to try things in the safety of apps.
posted by Gucky at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2011

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