Three computer things to learn if you don't know what to learn

I think people should learn computer things learn things that are immediately useful to them. If you generally want to learn computers but there isn't a specific thing you need to do, I recommend starting with the following things.

  • Editing text
  • Copying files between computers
  • Reading and writing email

Text editor

If you haven't heard of text editors, you may be used to word processors instead.

With a word processor, we edit the styled, rendered content. The word processor saves this in a format that we don't see. For example, we might edit a web page in LibreOffice Writer and save it as HTML.

When we "edit text" or use a "text editor", we are editing the raw, unrendered code. We are separating the editing from the rendering.

A word processor stores information in a relatively complex file format with all of the style information and whatnot. Editing the file requires relatively complex and specialized software. Plain text files are simpler, and more editing tools have been written for them, so they are easier to adapt to specific purposes.

I suggest one of the following three approaches to text editors

All of these three approaches are just fine for editing text, so here is how you choose among them.

  1. If you know people who use text editors, use the text editor that is most popular among them.
  2. If you don't know anyone, use the first one that you figure out how to install.

Then just start using the text editor for any long texts that you write.

Copying files between computers

Decades-old file transfer software is still far easier than modern web things. Rent or otherwise obtain access to a server running the secure shell daemon (sshd). This is pretty much any virtual private server that you can rent today running any operating system other than Windows.

Then install a Secure Copy Protocol (SCP) client, an SSH File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) client, or the program rsync.

Here are a few specific options

Once you have something like this set up, use it to send and receive files.

Reading and writing email

Fast and powerful email tools are relatively annoying to set up because emails take up lots of space and your email accounts need to be configured. To start, I suggest installing a new mail user agent (MUA). Here are some options.

  • mutt
  • pine/alpine
  • mh/nmh

I recommend using mutt because that one is relatively easy to set up. (I use mutt because it was easy to set up even though I think I would otherwise prefer any of the others.)

I will eventually write up directions for configuring mutt. Emailing me will make this happen sooner.