January 15, 2010

Backup Follow-up…

Information Level: Basic

Have you backed up your valuable digital data yet? One thing I am sure of: backup is easier than recovery. So, here are a few more tips on how you can properly back up your date.

  • The Minimum: You have a flash drive with a second copy of all the files you would weep and babble incoherently for if your computer suddenly exploded.
  • The Ideal: You have your essential files backed up on a flash drive, as well as a scheduled daily or weekly backup of all your personal data to an external hard drive/online backup service. Also, you have an image of your hard drive taken within the last year, which backs up your operating system and programs. If your hard drive dies in this situation, by restoring your image & backup data you can be working again within hours of having a new drive installed.

Aim for the ideal backup, don’t fall below the minimum. Even the lightest computer user of you would be irked if you lost all your favorites/bookmarks, so back them up.

The options:

Scheduled local backup – set up a regular automatic backup to your local external hard drive with either the built-in Windows Backup or a free backup utility. I recommend Cobian Backup, used with great success by a number of my clients.
Cost: $50-$150 for external hard drive. Time: 1/2 hour to set up backup, automatic after that.
Advantages: Set it up once, then don’t worry. No recurrent costs.
Disadvantages: Only backs up data – Operating system (Windows) and your programs (Word, Quicken, TurboTax, etc.) are not backed up, so keep your original disks handy and/or image your whole drive.

Scheduled online backup – if you have a decent internet connection, and don’t want to bother with an external hard drive, an internet backup service may be for you. Mozy and Carbonite are good options, and with Mozy, you can get 2 gigabytes of backup space free – plus an extra 512 megabyets with this link, or by using coupon code 2YBJY1 (click “Products,” then “Mozy home backup,” then “Learn more” under “2 GB of 100% free backup space” on the left). Use those 2.5 gigs to try out online backup, and if you are a light computer user, that might be all you need to backup your favorites and documents.
Cost: $0-$60 per year. Time: 1/2 hour to set up backup, automatic after that.
Advantages: Set it up once, then don’t worry. Your data is encrypted and accessible anywhere with an internet connection.
Disadvantages: Only backs up data – Operating system (Windows) and your programs (Word, Quicken, TurboTax, etc.) are not backed up, so keep your original disks handy and/or image your whole drive. Requires internet connection to backup.

Disk imaging
– Imaging is the ultimate form of backing up, copying *everything* on your hard drive to an external drive image file. If something goes wrong on your computer, restoring the image file returns the PC to the exact state it was in when you made the image. Acronis & Drive Image XML both do a great job. Acronis is commercial software, but with its step-by-step interface and scheduling options, it’s well worth the price. Drive Image XML is free for personal use, and can do almost everything Acronis can, plus the handy ability to image your operating system hard drive while you are using it (you don’t have to turn off your computer and boot to a CD to image your computer).
Cost: $50-$150 for external hard drive, $0-$50 for software. Time: 1/2-2 hours to image drive.
Advantages:  Everything is backed up when a drive is imaged – programs and data. No recurrent costs.
Disadvantages: Requires more space and time than data backup.

Whether you run a small business, or just use your computer for browsing the Web, be safe and backup your data. If you would like personal advice for your situation, as always, let me know.

January 5, 2010

Free Download: Wallpaper

Martial Wallpaper – A little reminder as you go through the day

K.W.I.C – Having No Way As Way:


Click thumbnail above to view,
right-click chosen resolution below and select “Save as” or “Save link as” to save:

800 x 600
1024 x 768
1280 x 768 (widescreen)
1600 x 1200

Bruce Lee’s Phases of Jeet Kune Do Learning:

JKD Phases

Click thumbnail above to view,
right-click chosen resolution below and select “Save as” or “Save link as” to save:

800 x 600
1024 x 768
1280 x 768 (widescreen)
1600 x 1200

December 20, 2009

New Site up, new firewall recomendation, and Word errors fixed…

Information Level: Basic/Intermediate

In The Short List I recommended Sunbelt Personal Firewall (free version) as my firewall of choice. I have since discovered two problems with it: 1. It presents a nag screen every once in a while, asking you to upgrade to the paid version, and 2. It does not work with Windows Vista (don’t know about 7). PC Tools Firewall Plus has neither of these drawbacks, and is still effective and light on system resources.

If you only use your computer at home, behind a broadband router that has a built-in firewall, the Windows firewall is good enough for you. However, if you use your computer at public/campus Wi-Fi hotspots or the like, you should install PC Tools Firewall Plus, or another third-party software firewall that monitors traffic both ways.

I do not recommend ZoneAlarm, Norton, or McAfee – All can be major resource hogs, and while they are all pretty good at protecting your computer, making your computer less useful kinda defeats the purpose.

Do you get an error message when you start up Microsoft Word? Most weird Word errors are caused by a corrupted template file called “normal.dot.” It loads when word starts, and if something is wrong with it… you get an error. Fortunately, if you simply delete this file Word will create a new and un-corrupted one. For versions of Word through 2003 it is located in:
C:\Documents and Settings\ (Your Username) \Application Data\Microsoft\Templates
Navigate to this folder with hidden files visible and delete “normal.dot” then restart Word…
Or simply download and run wordfix-normal.bat.

Finally, if you are reading this through a syndicated feed, you may not have seen theTechRelay.com lately. Have a look, it has gotten a major face lift, and I’d love to hear what you think.

December 5, 2009

The Short List – Must-have Software for Windows…

Information Level: Basic

All good, all free. Everyone running Windows should try out this software. Period.

Keep Secure:

Stay Tuned up:

  • Advanced SystemCare Free – Best allround tune up (be sure to un-check “start with windows” in the options after you install it).
  • Revo Uninstaller – For completely removing software you don’t want.
  • Defraggler – Defragment your hard drive every month, and use this.

Now get stuff done:

  • Firefox – Faster and more secure web browser than Internet Explorer
  • Thunderbird – Faster and more secure email client than Outlook/Outlook Express
  • OpenOffice.org – A full office suite for starving students and frugal businesses alike
  • Paint.NET – Great image editor, for all your picture-cropping-and-red-eye-removing needs.
  • Google Earth – See Earth from above (not to mention the Moon and Mars)!
  • VLC media player – Not flashy, but it can play almost anything… even corrupted or incomplete media files.
  • Sumatra PDF or Foxit Reader – Both are way faster and, again, more secure than the standard Adobe Reader.
  • CDBurnerXP – Great free CD and DVD burner.
  • 7-Zip – Open pretty much any compressed file you come across online.

There is, of course, lot more great free software out there, but I would call this a good baseline selection.

What must-have free software do you use?

November 16, 2009

AntiVirus – Now you (and I) really have no excuse…

Information Level: Basic

Well, I am impressed. The latest entry in to the realm of free (as in beer) antivirus software, Panda Cloud Antivirus, is closer to the Platonic Ideal of AV-ness than any I have seen before. Here’s why:

1. It works – PC World said in August that it was “the best app at blocking known malware,” and I can confirm it fulfills this essential function well.
2. It does not bog-down your PC in the process of doing it’s job. This is my main problem with antivirus software… and why as often as not I have had the bad habit of not running AV on my personal computer (I know, shame on me). But Cloud Antivirus has a diminutive >16mb ram footprint. Even I can live with that.
3. How it manages to do both 1 and 2 is darn clever. In a nutshell, all the serious antivirus processing and updating is done on Panda’s servers, they stream the latest signatures hashes to your client in real-time while collecting information on the latest threats from clients all over the world. Distributed intellegence comes to antivirus.
4. Oh, and it has a very simple and easy to use user interface. You won’t be able to accidentally disable your internet connection with it.

It WORKS, your PC still WORKS, it’s EASY to use, and it’s FREE. This makes Cloud Antivirus my new provisional favorite AV software, and the one I’ll be installing & recommending to my clients.

So, what are you waiting for… Go get it!