March 19, 2012

Jive Five: Five Recommendations For Maintaining Your Windows Computer


Tech Talk: The Dreaded Blue Screen Of Death
I was talking with my sister recently, and somehow our discussion turned to cell phones. She has a new iPhone 4S, and she was gushing about how much she likes her phone. I asked her if she regularly backs it up. I knew that she wasn’t an Apple or iTunes person, and wondered how installing iTunes, and syncing her phone, went. Suddenly there was dead air on the line. Then she said “what?” No one had told her to install iTunes, or that she could back everything up that way.


A 2010 study by Backblaze found that “92% of computer users continue to not do regular backups. Photos, music, financial data, work documents, and more are lost every single day as result of computers not being backed up.”

Last week my computer was acting funny. When I thought about it, I realized that the problem developed over a few weeks. I had switched my Internet service provider (ISP), and had a much faster connection, but when I clicked on a link it was taking over a minute before I could navigate to a website. My cell phone with it’s 3G data plan, was loading websites more quickly than my computer, so I knew that something was wrong.

I’m sure that the average person doesn’t give a lot of thought to how technology works. Like me, I imagine that when you turn on your computer, you just want it to work. We not only want it to start up and work, but we want it to connect to the Internet with no problem, and we want to be able to access our favorite web sites with no hassles.

The technology that we own and use today is incredibly sophisticated. To imagine that many of us carry around a full-featured computer in our pockets, and purses, and that we’re connected to one another 24/7, is incredible. At the same time, because most of our gadgets and electronics do work, and they meet our expectations, we’ve developed a blasé attitude about maintaining the things we’ve worked hard to have.

At this point you might be rolling your eyes, or stifling a yawn. I understand that too, because technology can be boring. I’m a gay geek, so I’m interested in computers and technology. I’m always checking out CNET, Engadget, Ars Technica, Gizmodo, and The Verge. If you’re like my sisters, you turn things on and off, and as long as they work - you’re happy.

I downloaded a bunch of diagnostic tools from various places, to tell me what was wrong with my computer. I thought I’d downloaded a virus, but every malware tool told me otherwise. I found out that I’d set up my new DSL modem incorrectly, which was slowing down my Internet access. I also discovered that something had messed with the partitions on my hard drive, and that all of the windows tools bundled with Windows 7 was unable to fix the problem.

I started getting the blue screen of death once or twice a day, and thought my hard drive was failing. I have a pretty huge music collection that I didn’t want to lose, plus some photos, family photos, and documents that are important. Even though Norton 360 was performing regular backups, I’d never restored files from a back up, and wanted to exercise more control over the files, so I moved them from my computer to an external hard drive.

I found the recovery discs I had burned when I bought the computer, and after I moved all of the personal files from the internal hard drive to the external hard drive, I read how to use the recovery discs to return a computer to the state it was in, when you first purchased it. I followed the directions, and while it took a couple hours, the recovery discs did their job.

Believe it or not, my computer feels zippy and brand new. No more blue screens of death, web surfing is fast, and my computer is running the way it should. I don’t know what I did to mess it up, though I have my suspicions. I like to download applications and programs. I check them out, and if I like them, I keep them. If I don’t like them, and they don’t meet my needs, I un-install them. I un-install most of them, and while running diagnostics, I saw that I had installed and un-installed over100+ programs - and that definitely had an affect on my computer and hard drive.    

Did you know that March 30th 2012, is World Backup Day? An ideal computer data backup plan would utilize an external hard drive, as well as an off site back up. The advantage of backing up all of your files to an external hard drive, is the fact that if your computer fails, or it’s lost or stolen, you will still have all of your music, documents and photos preserved. If you incorporate off site backups, you will ensure that a fire or other catastrophe, won’t wipe out all of your files.

A good off site backup plan does cost money. The way I look at it, the music I have collected for years, and the photos alone, are well worth the $50 a year to protect those files.

The World Back Up Day  website says:

When a hard drive fails, if the data isn't backed up, it's gone. And it's not a question of if your hard drive will fail, it's when.
                               
Many people visualize their computer as a single thing with a big part (like a toaster) when in fact it has a number of different components (like a car). Those components are: the motherboard, the processor (or CPU), the memory (or RAM), the power supply, the optical drives and the hard drive. The hard drive is the part of the computer where all your data is kept.
                               
The hard drive is the component that has the highest likelihood of breaking unexpectedly, and it is the component that causes the most damage when it fails! If the processor fails, a new one can be switched out and the computer will be exactly the same as when you started. On the other hand, if the hard drive breaks, the data will most likely be unrecoverable, unless you're willing to spend an exorbitant amount of money on data recovery.

As we get closer to World Back Up Day, think about formulating a good back up plan that works for you.

I use Microsoft Windows, and the following recommendations are for Windows computers.

1. Make sure that you have anti-virus protection like Norton 360, or McAfee. You can also use a free program like Microsoft’s Security Essentials.
2. Keep your computer's drivers up to date. I use Slim Drivers, which is a free tool. Run the scan every so often to see if your drivers are current.
3. It’s important to keep your software up to date too. I highly recommend Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector. The program runs in the background, and will notify you of vulnerabilities that exist in the software installed in your computer. Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector 2.0 is a stable release, or a Beta release of 3.0. Download the stable release of 2.0 as the 3.0 Beta is a little buggy.
4. Backup! Backup! Backup! Backup your files and computer regularly. There are programs out there that will automate the process, so you don’t even have to think about it. Check out Crashplan, Backblaze, or Carbonite. You can also find coupon codes online for a discount on these services.
5. Backup your smart phone! Whether an iPhone, an Android phone, or a Windows phone, backup your apps and data! Check out this blog post on Gizmodo for the different options available for each platform.
 

straight talk in a queer world.


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