The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology


Dr. David Fitzpatrick

OK, folks, it's time to get wired! No, no, no, not "that" way. I mean computers. It's time to get a computer, if you don't already have one. If you do have one, it's probably time to think about getting it upgraded. In my experience, slightly less than half of the students who find their way into my Experimental classes have their own computers (and less than that can use them effectively). A bit more than half have access to a computer through work or such. As we stand only six years from the twenty-first century, that is simply not good enough. By the time college students are in their junior year, they should own their own computers.

I know, I can hear the chorus now, "I don't need a computer," "I'm not going on to graduate school," "I can't afford it now," etc., etc., etc. If very bad comes to even worse, you can go out and buy a second- hand IBM 386 for around $300. They want more if it comes with a lot of pre-loaded software, but you can still probably talk them down a bit (unless they give you the original disks, the software isn't really yours). On the other hand, you can probably come up with a decent new system for less than you think. I've seen 486 systems priced around $800. (In case you wonder why I am touting IBMs, it is because this is an IBM campus, from mainframe to desktop.)

If you go for a new computer, the minimum you should get is about what we have in the stat. lab: a 486, 33 MHz motherboard with 8 megs of RAM memory. Put a single floppy disk drive on it and install a 500 meg. (the smallest they make now) hard drive, and you have your minimal system. You can live with a paper white monitor, but the extra $100 you spend on the color monitor could save you a lot of eye strain in the future. For another $50, you can add a 14,400 fax/modem, which, for reasons that I will go into in a moment, I strongly recommend. Your operating system should be DOS 6.22 (which your dealer will probably put on for nothing). To this you add Windows or Windows for Workgroups 3.1, and you are set. Yes, there is a reason I am not mentioning Windows "95," but this is a family newsletter.

If you have a bit more to spend, get a 486DX-2, 66 MHz board and put 16 megs of RAM on it. Get either an 850 meg. hard-drive, or go all the way to 1 gigabyte. Again, add the 14,400 fax/modem. If there is still money in your pocket, you can add multimedia (CD ROM and sound) to it. If you add the same operating system, this will set you back around $1300. You can do it; be creative. Call up uncles, cousins, aunts, etc. and trade in future Christmas, birthday and other possible future gifts. Mortgage your graduation presents; there are all sorts of possibilities!

I did not mention a printer, because you can live without one for a time. The printers in the stat. lab can be set to near-letter quality and will do a good job. You merely have to save your word processor documents in something the lab computers can read, and you are all set. A word of caution: If you take disks back and forth from home to school, check them for viruses at BOTH ends of the line! I also did not mention a 28,8 baud modem. They are too expensive now, and there are too few places where you can actually connect at that speed. In a year, both of the above will change. If you want to do something more grandiose, I strongly suggest you consult the Department's technician, Joe Huddleston.

"OK," you say, "Now tell me WHY I should spend all of this money on a computer." For a junior-level student about to embark on his/her upper-division courses in psychology, there is a single word, WORDPROCESSING. The 400-level courses are rather paper-intensive and every advantage you can give yourself helps. Most modern word- processors come with built-in spell and grammar-checkers. That means you can concentrate on organization and content, knowing that those two mechanical problems can be whipped into line later. Even if you are not a good typist to begin with, a word-processor will improve what ever you start with. Electronic typing is inherently much faster than mechanical typing. If you decide to add a paragraph to a typed paper, this may necessitate re-typing several pages. In contrast, the word-processor allows you to add the paragraph wherever you wish and the electronic text adjusts itself. By the time you get to 304, where we make you revise or add to things, the computer will definitely pay for itself!

But there are more important reasons for getting a computer, beyond word processing. Even if you are not going on, two courses well worth taking are PSY 414 and PSY 429 (Analysis of Variance and Multiple Regression and Correlation). Drs. Weiss and Tate have both developed software, for use with these courses, that allow you to do calculations that used to take days, or even months, to carry out. In the past, they have made copies of the programs available to students taking their courses. Spreadsheets, as well, will allow you to do many of the calculations associated with these courses. Also, the campus has site licenses for a number of small statistics packs like "MYSTAT," for example. So, you can add serious number-crunching to your reasons for having a computer.

Another reason for having that computer (with a 14.4 k-baud modem plugged into it), is that there are on-line resources, at CSULA, that you can have just by dialing a phone number. You can get lots of library access, excluding anything that is copyrighted, such as PSYCH. Info. You can access the card-catalog of the JFK library, "Er," "Ah," "Cough," "Choke," "Never mind!" You can also access the card- catalogs of other CSU and UC campuses which, when coupled with inter-library loan, can be very helpful. There are several big, powerful statpacks out there for your use, including: "SPSS," "SYSTAT," and others. Be warned, they are as user-friendly as a great-white shark crossed with a pit-bull. Also, there are bulletin-board resources out there for use by classes. Dr. Roffe teaches his entire graduate Abnormal course using a bulletin-board. The class meets face-to-face only once to get passwords. Some of the rest of us are about to incorporate this resource into our curriculum.

The final reason for a computer is probably the most important in the long run, and that is Internet. The entire resources of Internet are available, free, to any member of the campus community who has a login name and a password (which can be had for the asking). Internet is an international network of computers that literally spans the globe. The only two countries that are still closed to it seem to be Cuba (I could be wrong about that), and North Korea. The amount and variety of information is so incredibly vast that no single person knows exactly how much there is at any one given moment.

There are a large number of resources available on Internet; here are a few examples. E-mail is one of the most popular. All you need is a friend's e-mail address (mostly a linked set of computer names), and you can drop them a line any time you wish. This is free, or at worst the price of a local call to campus. I have regular conversations with friends and former students all over the country. Then there are mailing lists; when you subscribe to a mailing list, information about a specific topic is automatically posted to your e-mail address. This can be a bit dangerous. If you take a two-week vacation, you may discover that your account is swamped with several hundred (or thousand) postings. Newsgroups (Usenet) are a similar thing, except that you use a reader to connect you to a particular group and read whatever other people have posted there. You can just read, called "lurking," reply to a person by e-mail, or post to the group itself for all to read. Think before you post; the entire world is reading what you wrote! FTP allows you to go to remote sites and download all sorts of software. Some of it is good, some isn't. Some is free and some you are supposed to pay for, if you like it (some people actually do). Gopher is a menu driven information provider. With Gopher, you can go all over the world. searching for information on a variety of topics. The American Psychological Association has a Gopher; guess what kind of information you can pick up there? The World Health Organization also has Gopher; the information you can pick up there can be downright depressing.

World Wide Web (WWW) is similar to Gopher. If you have a text-based brouser (like Lynx), you browse the web in hypertext format. Hypertext will present you with a paragraph of information with several words in the paragraph highlighted on your screen. You can arrow to any of those words, press the right arrow, and be connected to another page of information which is related to the highlighted word. It is very easy to get to an interesting site, and then not be able to remember how to get back to it.

If you have a graphics browser, like Netscape, you can browse the web in style (high browse you might say). Netscape allows you to connect directly to Internet without going through a UNIX server on campus. You can download graphics and sound, and it is all point and click, just like Windows. Some of the things are very interesting. I found a site where I can download scanned images of the brain (OK, so that may not interest everybody). I also found the images of the campus at the University of Beijing to be interesting, as well as beautiful. One great psychology resource is at; if it's not there it may not be psychology. Your very own Psychology Department will soon have its own web page as well.

The point of all of this, is that Internet is currently the largest, most highly connected body of information in the world, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Access to it, and similar networks already in existence, or still to be set up, is about to become the hallmark of an educated person. Higher education is, and always has been, a process of giving you tools to get and use knowledge. Internet, and its future offspring, is the greatest of all of these tools. If you can't reach that tool, your education has been incomplete. Don't let this happen to you.

We are moving, I deeply fear, into a much more hostile world. One where the line between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, informed and uninformed, is going to be much more starkly drawn than at any time since the Middle Ages. Most of us will only be modestly successful in changing the amount of money we have. Certainly, few people from a modest background will have the opportunity to become rich (where rich is not having to think about how many millions of dollars you lost or made in the market that day). The difference will be education and information. The rich, both corporate and individual, have always hired information and the education to find and use that information. Make sure you are one of the ones who gets hired.

And it all starts with a small investment for a computer and the investment of enough time to use it effectively. Don't tell me you can't afford a computer. I say you can't afford to be without one!


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