Category Archives: Computers

COVER YOUR PRODUCTIVE TUSH!

The View from Universal Studios as it was In 2003.

Looking at that pic, I can see how camera technology has advanced in sixteen years. It’s fuzzy! But, I digress.

When I say cover your productive tush, I mean have a plan for when your hard drive crashes, your computer gets dropped into an outhouse, somebody steals your laptop, you know, all that stuff that you read about ruining writers’ projects. Because, you know, there are things you can do. And to prove it, I shall tell you what some of those things are.

First, Back Up Everything!

There are a couple of ways to do backups. I use both of them. The first, older way is simply to buy an external hard disk and  plug it into your computer. Then, no matter what OS you use, you will find a handy-dandy backup routine already built in! Wowzers! I use Windows, and I’ve had excellent luck simply letting Windows decide what to back up. But, it’s up to you, you can decide what you do or don’t want backed up. If you do these backups regularly (Windows lets you do it on a continuous basis in the background) you will always have a copy of the latest saved version of every one of your files. So, after the dog eats your work, you buy a new laptop, plug in the external drive, and recover it all.

What is a backup, you say?

A backup is just a copy of a computer file (or a lot of them.) That’s it. It’s usually possible to use the backup copy directly, without even “recovering” it, but if you do that, you’re defeating the purpose of having an extra copy. So, first thing to do to recover from a disaster is to always make backups as  you go along.

The second way to make a backup is to use “Cloud Storage.” You probably don’t know that “the cloud” is just a term techies made up to indicate that the exact location of the data isn’t necessarily known, but it’s out there. (Technically, it may not even all be in one place, but it looks like it is.) Quite a few places will give you a certain amount of “cloud storage” for free. A big novel, I’m talking a humongous work, something to make War and Peace look like a pamphlet, is still an amazingly small computer file. Many, if not all, of these free cloud storage services will automatically back up your stuff to the cloud, and, again, you can tell the service what to back up. If you subscribe to Office 365, you get a terabyte of storage included. A terabyte is enough to store most of the Library of Congress’s contents on. No kidding. You only get at the most something like 50 gigabytes (probably a lot less) for free, but it will still be more than you’ll ever need to keep your projects on. If you use Windows with OneDrive (that’s what they call their cloud storage) you just keep everything in a folder by that name on your local drive, and whatever is in there is automatically backed up when  you connect to the Internet. Since I do subscribe to Office 365, I don’t have much experience with other cloud backup schemes, but I’m told that they are similar. Use whatever service you like (Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.) but use one of them and use it all the time!

Save Your Work All the Time!

Yes, I said All the Time! I use Word. (In the old days, I was a WordPerfect user, but once everything went GUI (look it up) I switched because it is simple and easy. And, Word works on Mac and PC, and is free on handheld devices, so what the heck, huh?) Word includes the ability, if you use OneDrive at least, to continuously backup your document (book, silly) as you type. By using Word and OneDrive (and I’m sure there are other ways to accomplish the same thing) I always have a backup copy of my project, no matter what happens. Worst case scenario is that I lose a few lines of text. Seriously, that’s the worst that could happen. Barring that, Word can be set up save the document you are in at intervals as short as one minute. Could you afford to lose a minute’s work? Probably. Keep your project on a cloud drive, save as often as you can, and boy, howdy, you can’t lose your precious files if you want to.

(Okay, you could delete them.)

There you go: back-up your work, either to an external hard drive or to the cloud, and save your work as often as possible. You can take a few minutes just once to set all of that up, then you’ll never have to think about it again. Until disaster strikes, when you’ll be congratulating yourself for being smart enough to have done that.

Good writing, fellow scribes!

Tech Support

So, WordPress directed me to Tumblr support, who in turn directed me to WordPress support. Reminds me of Dell and Microsoft back in my days as a systems guy. Just want to say thanks for the cheap joke, folks!

SPYWARE AND STUFF

In a spirit of helpfulness and public duty, I want to mention three products which I use to keep my computers free of headache. No, wise guy, not one of them is from Apple.

First, it’s easy to pick up a load of spyware. Spyware is just cookies that have enough program in them to track where you’ve been on the Internet and what you’ve done there. Potentially, this includes recording your keystrokes and sending them off to someone else. Maybe not too awful even at that, unless those keystrokes happen to be the password to your online bank account. Hmmm. Even absent that sort of malice, these little devils can be nasty. That’s because they must send data back to wherever they came from in order to do their jobs. If you get enough of them, that can add up to a lot of data. I had a laptop get so infected that it would barely function until I cleaned all of the spyware off. I used Spy Hunter, from Enigma Software to do the job. $30 a year for 3 computers, and worth every penny.

If you use Windows you should get Windows Defender, or the Windows Live Essentials download, all of which is free. The price is right and it will take care of most common viruses. If you do nothing else to protect yourself, do this. Just search for it on your computer, and if you don’t see it, go to Microsoft.com and you’ll find it there. If you don’t have it, get it.

Defender is good for common viruses, but sometimes you get some sort of nasty thing that Defender can’t remove. Not often, to be fair, but I got one once that redirected every single web page I tried to visit, downloaded tons of advertising videos for things I had no interest in, and generally made it impossible to use my computer normally. For that, and similar baddies, I use Malware Bytes. Malwarebytes (It actually shows up as all one word like that) got rid of that nasty and has been silently seeking out new ones, and sometimes finding them, in the background ever since. It’s $25 per year for 3 computers and well worth the investment.

Finally, and you don’t have to do this but it makes your computing experience more fun, I use a program called System Mechanic from Iolo to keep things in trim. It does things like defragment the registry, recover memory, defragment your hard drive, optimize your Internet connections and much more. It’s $40, but that’s not a subscription, it’s the price, for as many PCs as you have at home. (They have business versions as well.) Again, well worth it, and you only pay once. It updates periodically at no extra charge.

There you go. My recommendations. There are other programs that probably work as well, although for the price it’s hard to beat Defender. No reason not to use that, but use another as well. On my home PC I use Defender, System Mechanic, and Malware Bytes, and I have zero problems.

 

WINDOWS 8! WOO-HOO! or is that boo-hoo?

I upgraded to Windows 8 because I was stupid last winter and actually downloaded a virus. Seems I had just shipped something via FexEx when the scam email arrived. Man, will I never learn, huh? The one great thing Windows 8 did for me is cure every problem I made for myself, save the one with unopenable .jpg files. But all I had to do was save each one with a new name in a new location and they too were cured.

Windows 8 looks exactly like Windows7 except that it runs a bit faster on a desktop. Yes, faster! Isn’t that something? Microsoft actually made an OS faster? Will wonders never cease? It’s been fine, actually, and I would be willing to buy a computer with it installed. Especially now that I know the way around the biggest Windows 8 nuisance of them all. I refer to the execrable “Start.” You find it right where the start menu button is on Windows 7, although it’s invisible until you hover over it. (You also get special menus by pointing at a corner or swiping down a side.) You can actually get something not unlike the old Windows Explorer, categorized and in alphabetical order, once you figure out how to find it. (Right click on “start” and choose “all programs.”) I can live with that difference. In fact, I like the search function that lets you find an app or program easily. The problem with Windows 8 is that there is no way provided by the standard interface to make Explorer (your desktop) the default place that the machine boots up to. That’s probably great in a tablet, because you don’t want to use the Desktop app much anyway, but a desktop needs restarted at intervals for, you know, McAfee updates, RealPlayer updates, Flash updates, even some Windows updates (but not so much so far with Windows 8.) After the update, there you are, staring at Start. Okay, you click the Desktop (or tap it) and up it comes, but it’s irritating.

So, here’s what you do. I found this on Extreme Tech. The article also tells you how to shut down without going through Start for six or so layers. Okay, you press the Trademark key and I at the same time. Just click Power and choose your option. But the real improvement for me came when I created a scheduled task (search “schedule” in Start to find that app) and made it activate at login. Then for the action, I specified “explorer.” Boy, howdy, it now comes up into the Desktop with no further prompting, even if some process reboots it for reasons of its own. So, yeah, just this once (at least) woo-hoo!

S.

WINDOWS 8

Before I begin I want to ask that if you hate Microsoft products, and I know some claim that they do, don’t try to comment that fact here. I’m not defending Microsoft as being wonderful. But I’m writing about an operating system that’s available for 90 day evaluation. For the record I use Linux some, but not for regular office work because it’s just inconvenient compared to what the guys in Redmond publish. Also Apple makes fine computers but I’ve never seen one do anything that a Windows machine won’t do for at least the past ten years, and frankly Apple charges too much for their stuff. So if you’re a Linux lover or an Apple Aficionado, then more power to you. But if you comment snarky things about Microsoft here I’ll just mark ’em as spam. ‘Kay?

I decided to try Windows 8 after I accidentally downloaded a nasty trojan (for the first and only time in my life.) Sure, I got rid of the thing, but my Windows 7 box has never been quite right since. Some icons look faded out, some images don’t open correctly (unless I copy them to a new location first) and it has some annoying glitches that I’ve never noticed on my other Windows 7 box that I use at work. First I downloaded the preview version of Windows 8. That was enough, really, to let me test all my applications. Every single thing that I own that runs on Windows 7 runs on Windows 8, except for Chrome. Compatibility issues, in other words, total virtually zero, zilch, nada, niente, and none. Good, huh? I didn’t write anything much about that version because it was a beta both in form and appearance. It took a while to install and it frankly looks sort of like that old car you had in high school that you kept starting to fix up but never finished. It works okay, but the body filler and primer just aren’t that sexy!

That’s why when I found out I could get a 90-day working copy of Windows 8 Enterprise I went ahead and installed it on the same partition where I’d had the preview. (I’ll just spend the forty bucks to upgrade Windows 7 when it’s released in October and wipe the partition I’m using for the test.) It not only looks better, it also works better.

To begin with it took twenty minutes to install once I had the CD created. With the download,  burn, install and configuration it was about 50 minutes from clicking the link to using the program. That has to be some sort of contemporary record for Microsoft. It boots quickly, too. If you’re familiar with the Windows 7 bootloader then you know how it works. I have my system defaulting to Windows 7, but of course it’s easy to change that if you need to. The only difference, if you haven’t seen it, is that the Windows 8 bootloader uses a new, spare graphics format rather than the text-based format you’re used to. In fact all of Windows 8, including IE 10, uses spare graphics that really just disappear into the background. As the OS configures itself it shows a quick tutorial on how to use Windows 8. Here it is in words:

Point your mouse pointer to a corner. If you have a touchscreen, touch a corner. Which corner? Try one and find out. The right upper and lower do the same thing. The left side corners are different. That’s all you need to know. Honest. I don’t think it ever repeats, either, although I imagine if you dig around you can find the subroutine and show it again and again.

Windows 8 by default boots up to Start. Start has exactly the same things in it as does the old Start Menu, but it’s all arranged in a bunch of rectangles (which I believe are supposed to look like, you know, actual windows) that you click or touch to open. If you’ve used a tablet or smartphone you know how that works. Most programs open the desktop to operate, although that’s because most programs were written for an earlier version of Windows. Some things don’t open the desktop at all, and there’s no reason any program would need to other than compatibility. IE 10 looks like IE 9 but with, uh, no real changes. Still, Microsoft says it’s better in some way, it does what I need it to do, so I’m okay with it. I use Chrome normally but to date there is no Chrome written for Windows 8. I suspect that there will be by October 26th.

Windows 8 loves Facebook. No kidding, it’s a default window in Start. That’s not true of Twitter, but when you get down to it you add icons to Start the same way you add icons to the desktop (I’m assuming you know how to do that) so it’s no big deal. Okay, right-click the application, choose “Pin to Start” and there you are. At the bottom right hand corner is a small (-) that, when you click it, lets you see everything that’s on your computer. Anything you see that you want to put out to Start, there’s your chance. (Just above the (-) the lower right corner does the same thing as the upper right corner: settings and such things.) Settings? Does that sound like Control Panel? Well, that’s what it is. There is no option to put it back to the old style as there used to be, at least not one that I’ve found yet. I use Google, and you can certainly pin Google to Start, but by default you’d never know there ever existed such a thing. Bing, Baby, Bing. Well, you don’t have to use it, but it’s there.

The desktop includes a default taskbar icon for Windows Explorer, if you just need to look at things the old fashioned way.

Windows 8 is, I guess you could say, native cloud. That is, it expects to find things out on the Internet somewhere. Going along with that idea is Office 2013, which manipulates files directly from the Microsoft SkyDrive, which is in reality 7 gigabytes of free storage that Microsoft lets you use, expandable for a fee. I use SkyDrive to back up my work files, and have since it was introduced. It automatically syncs with a directory (SkyDrive) in my libraries on Windows 7 or 8. You can use Windows and Office locally, of course, but it’s no longer the default behavior.

So that’s about it. Microsoft is hoping that it catches on in phones and tablets, and I suppose it would be good for them if it did. I do know that having my files available wherever I go is handy as heck, and Windows 8 plus Office 13 make that a default situation. So, good, I guess. If, however, you don’t need, like, or want to use cloud computing, then honestly I can’t see any reason to upgrade to Windows 8. In fact I’m able to use SkyDrive from Windows 7, so I’m not sure that anyone with a working copy of that OS needs to consider upgrading at this time. I mean, Windows 8 is nice and all, but really, for a desktop, it can only do so much for you. On a new system, though, might as well go for it.

Unless, like me, you were dumb enough to mess up your OS with a virus. Then I think the upgrade will be worth it.

(My installation disk for Windows 7 is Third Party (Dell) and it won’t let me install it over itself as an upgrade. Bummer!)

Oh, yes, and I should mention that I also use SkyDrive with my Android Tab. (It even works on IPads.)

Steve

Computer Too Slow?

I know that some of my readers will just say, “well, duh!”, but I want to report how I got my old laptop back to fighting trim. It was getting so slow as to make me cry about it, but now it’s as good as new. In effect I added roughly 3GB of memory. How? Easy.

Windows uses something called “paging” to treat a disk drive like it was memory. That’s what slows down computers when more and more stuff gets piled on. A disk takes a lot longer to access than memory, so really what’s happening is that you’re waiting for the dratted disk to operate. Very frustrating.

Now consider those popular flash memory drives, or thumb drives some call them. For ten bucks I got a 4GB one. They are really memory, but Windows treats them like a disk.

Back to paging. Windows uses a file, called “pagefile.sys” to store the temporary stuff that goes into memory. You can tell Windows where to put that file. In fact, even if you use all hard disks, it’s better to have pagefile.sys on some disk that Windows doesn’t live on. But, what if you put it on the virtual disk drive of the flash memory? Now you have Windows thinking it’s using a disk drive, but really it’s using memory!

Shazaam!

To say my computer is running faster is a severe understatement. The old thing only holds 2GB of physical memory inside, but you can plug in as much as you want through the USB port. So now it has 5GB of memory, and it acts like it.

So, if you have an old, tired Windows box that could use extra memory, just move your page file to a flash drive instead of a hard drive. You’ll be amazed.

How can you tell if your computer would benefit?

Watch your hard drive activity light. Is it on almost all the time? Does it flash at odd moments even when you’re not doing anything with your computer? If so, you probably are experiencing “excessive paging.”

How can you move your page file (pagefile.sys?)

You could look it up on the Internet, or just write me and I’ll either send you the directions, or send you a link to a web site where they have good directions. Do tell me which version of Windows you’re using.

I won’t charge you a dime, either. How’s that for an Internet Special?