Question and answer – flickering screens and creating a website

This week, the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association (ASCCA) answers your questions on the simplest and most complex computer issues: a flickering monitor and how to create a website.

Q. Heather

I have a problem with a new PC: the screen flickers and periodically goes blank. Hope you can help?

A. The problem could be with the monitor’s power supply or the video card in the PC. I suggest that you run the following tests so that you will be able to work out just which unit has the problem.

Test one: put the monitor onto another PC. If the problem is still there, I would suspect the power supply in the monitor has an intermittent fault.

Answer: Get the monitor fixed or get a new one. If your PC is new, it is likely that your monitor is still under warranty. Perhaps check that first!

Test two: if the problem goes away, the fault is most likely the video card in the PC. If this proves to be the problem, change the video card, it’s the cheapest fix.

Q. I am 60 years old and still working. I’d like to learn some details about website building, particularly ecommerce, autoresponders, inserting ’email a friend feature’, customer databases, bulk emails, shopping cart etc. I am prepared to pay some money to learn these, if requested. I live in West Ryde, NSW.

A. Creating a website is a very satisfying project, whether for commercial purposes, for sharing your hobby or your family pictures on a site with a password.

There are a myriad ways to gain the skills required – from using a template from the web to building an interactive site for a club membership database or to sell products or services.

Some computer clubs for seniors have special interest groups for web-builders, but most clubs do not run courses in web design. Some clubs may hold irregular courses in basic html code, so it is worth asking the question. Go to the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association member clubs page at www.seniorcomputing.org/members.html to find clubs near you.

Getting together to solve problems in web-building can be very productive, because often a problem shared is a problem solved. But generally, formal web-building courses are run through TAFE (diplomas and certificates), WEA, CAE or other community colleges and mostly at weekends or evenings. Courses start from basic code editing to complex courses in e-commerce.

Generally a web-hosting service will offer its subscribers a range of code for auto-responders and counters, computer data bases and other features for e-commerce, and you should explore these when researching a suitable web host.

There are many excellent internet sites which provide source code for specific purposes, and tutorials which show you step-by-step how to do it. For example, simply type ‘Auto-responders + tutorials + source code’ into Google, and you will find plenty of leads. You can cut and paste examples into your own work.

There are also many easy to understand and friendly tutorials on html – or xhtml – and cascading style sheets – the building blocks of web design. Templates also abound on the internet. Many of these are available for free and you can also download open source web editors. Look for web editors and templates which provide accessible features and meet the international standards of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Local bookstores such as Dymocks or Angus & Robertson also carry a range of books on these topics.

I personally like the following sites:

www.webaim.org

www.sitepoint.com

www.oswd.org

www.useit.com

Whatever you do, make sure the design is flexible enough to be viewed in a range of font sizes and that colour contrast is adequate. This can easily be achieved by using cascading style sheets to underpin your design.

As you can see, there is no easy answer to learning web design. It is important to have a thorough understanding of the basics of xhtml (the update of html, which is not adequate for building dynamic databases) and cascading style sheets. Your other important resource is time and effort – time to research, experiment and test your designs and effort in self-learning.

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