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Category: Technology

Four Ways to Customize a New PC

Just like that fresh new car scent, starting up a brand new Windows PC always puts a smile on my face. It’s untouched and unsullied with pop-ups or slow, laggy performance. After a number of weeks and months, the fresh scent has faded, but I still want to keep smiling when I power on my computer. To prolong my enjoyment of my technology investment, I take the following four steps immediately when I take a new PC out of the box:

I remove most of the preinstalled software applications that come with the new computer.

I’m talking about the included antivirus software, any programs with a 30-day free trial, and any free “system improvement” software that the computer company provided for me. Thanks, but no thanks.

I set up a strong password on my user account.

Something that is more than 12 characters in length, comprised of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Something that is familiar to me, but completely foreign to someone else.

I install Bitdefender antivirus.

It’s well respected in the tech community, regularly updated, and has proven effective for me in preventing any viruses from attacking my PC workstations.

I go to Ninite.com and select my important software applications.

The folks at Ninite are the internet’s secret weapon. Just click on the software you want, run the small application, and everything quietly downloads in the background without any install wizards for me to have to navigate through. It’s ubiquitous in my tech life.

…and I’m off and running with a solid computer setup.

Once that new fresh scent has worn off the new computer, I also proactively do the following:

  • I run the Ninite.exe installer every other week to install any updates to the software I selected above.
  • I run a full scan of Malwarebytes once a month.
  • I save all my files to Dropbox instead of my local user profile.
  • I play all my video files in VLC.

This cuts down on quite a bit of pop-ups, security vulnerabilities, and slowdowns I might experience with a PC computer. Keeps me focused on my work instead of fixing and updating software all the time.

 

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Updating Your Operating System – A Sensible Approach

Mac or PC. Android or iPhone. Doesn’t matter what equipment we use, we’re all going to be receiving notifications in the near future that our device’s operating system has an update. Brand spanking new, shiny, perky; ready for us to install on our equipment simply by clicking or tapping a few buttons.

Before you push that OK button, consider these three suggestions to save yourself some stress.

1 – Back up your important files

The documents, spreadsheets, and presentations you created, photos your took, music you listen to, and videos you captured are invaluable. Whether you use an automatic-uploading cloud-based solution like Dropbox, or a local external USB drive, it’s important to have a copy of your important data located somewhere other than your computer or phone. In case something goes wrong with the OS update, rendering your device difficult or unable to use, you will still have your data available.

Takeaway: If your computer’s hard drive goes south (God forbid) and you need a professional tech to get things working again, we can reinstall your operating system back to a previous stable state, and we can reinstall the software applications on your computer or phone, but we won’t be able to reinstall those important files from your personal or professional life unless you have them backed up somewhere.

2 – Wait

Don’t update your operating system immediately after the company has released it to the public. That’s what us pros do. Here’s a secret we don’t normally share with our clients. We install the newest OS versions on Virtual Machines, which are kind of like dedicated technology sandboxes that don’t affect our “production” machine, so we can test features out and learn about any gotchas or bugs that you, our clients, might encounter. We take the tech bullets for you so your equipment doesn’t get wounded in the early stages of an OS release. Plus, we’ll be able to show you where the new paths are for accessing your programs, or how to change settings, or where your printer is now located.

Takeaway: Patience is a virtue. Let others experience problems with a brand new operating system update instead of taking it on yourself.

3 – Talk with a professional

If you are really itching to get your device updated to the latest and greatest, your tech may have tools to clone your computer, in its current working state, before you upgrade. That way, once things are updated, and you encounter lots of stress from errors and bugs from the new OS, your tech can return things back to the previous state as if nothing had changed before you made the update. Also, if your tech is worth their salt, they may be able to show you a demo of the new operating system, since they most likely have been working with the pre-release beta versions for some time. You could see for yourself what things look like and get an inside peek at what you’ll be contending with once you update your software.

Takeaway: Put your trust in a Tech Sherpa when visiting new territory. They won’t leave you out on a limb.

Bobby Unser, a famous race car driver, once said, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” May your tech life be enjoyable, and less stressful, by taking precautions to ensure your success.

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Essentialism — Keeping Your Device Streamlined

I have a maxim when it comes to maintaining my mobile phone and tablet.Only the apps I use on a frequent basis stay on my phone. Everything else gets deleted* or removed until I need it again. Less software on my device, less icons to have to sort through when finding what I’m looking for.

I don’t need the free Amtrak app on my phone all year, but when my mom is coming up to visit us, I’ll install it again to get immediate updates on her train’s arrival status. Once a month I pay our AT&T phone bill with its free app. When that time of the month arrives, I install it, log in with my account info (memorized, natch), pay with our stored financial info, receive my confirmation text message of payment, and delete the app for another month. One less icon crowding my other catalogue of apps.

By having confidence in your equipment, and realizing that deleting a mobile app doesn’t mean you’ll lose it forever, I believe you’ll gain steps towards utilizing your mobile device for only what is essential.

* Both Apple and Android stores let you re-install apps you purchased in the past without charging you again. Buy once, install over and over again.

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Letter to a Friend from a Tech – Protecting Your Files

Hello Friend,

An auto mechanic sees many cars brought into their repair shop with barely any oil left in the engine, frayed and worn down timing or serpentine belts, and expired or misfiring spark plugs. The car expert knows that negligence under the hood can spell disaster for an engine, costing thousands of dollars in repair for the customer.

Similarly, though not as costly, I encounter many computers with files stored on the desktop or in the My Documents folder. Tons of files, software installers, and downloaded attachments are conveniently scattered all over both Mac and PC computers in various locations. Just like junk mail, magazines, and newspapers quietly stacked up over time in the corner of the kitchen counter, we pay no attention to it. Pretty soon there’s no place to cook a meal.

Here’s my point. Files stored on the desktop or in My Documents are easy to access, but most likely not backed up. And this, dear friend, concerns me. Let’s come back to this in a little while.

Most cars have a 200,000-mile lifespan until things really start breaking down. Just like a car engine, the hard drive inside a computer has a limited lifespan, usually about five to six years, before bad things start to happen. Picture a phonograph record that is played over and over again. Eventually the record needle is going to wear out the grooves of the music, and skips will occur. Some people call me the Space Cowboy, pace Cowboy, pace Cowboy, pace Cowboy, pace Cowboy. (Hopefully by now you get my point.) This is the same concept for computer hard drives. Inside the hard drive, there are little platter discs with tiny “needles” quickly writing and reading your data and software. As time marches on, these needles will eventually start creating tiny skips on the platters where it accessed the data. And that’s when bad things happen.

A customer brings a car into a mechanic shop complaining about herky-jerky motion when accelerating. The mechanic tests things out, runs diagnostics on the engine, discovers the problem, and has to tell the customer their transmission is dead. The customer needs a replacement transmission, so the mechanic orders one from the parts supplier, and installs it in the customer’s car. The customer pays for the parts and labor, and drives away, most likely continuing a pattern of inattentiveness to maintaining their car.

A client brings their desktop computer or laptop into my “repair shop” complaining about lots of system error messages and herky-jerky motion when opening their files. I test things out, run diagnostics on the operating system, discover the problem, and have to tell my client that their hard drive is failing or dead. I’m able to order a replacement hard drive, install it inside the computer, and reinstall the operating system all the software programs. But there’s one important thing I am unable to do for my client.

If the client doesn’t have their pictures, music, videos, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint presentations, and PDF files backed up somewhere, I can’t grab them off the dead or failing hard drive. Lost memories, lost budgets, lost letters, lost information. This has happened to me many times in the past, and the knot in my stomach from the remorse over lost data is awful. I want to help prevent this from happening to you, dear friend. So here’s how we can avoid data loss. It’s a two-step process.

Here’s step one. Create a folder on your desktop. Label it Desktop Files. Drag every file on your desktop into it. And move this file into the place where the rest of your files are located on your computer. For PC users, it would most likely be the My Documents folder. For Mac users, files are divides up into Documents, Music, Movies, Pictures, and Downloads. The object of the game is to create one mega-mega folder where all your personal files, music, pictures, and videos are located.

The final part of step one is to purchase an external USB drive. I’m betting you don’t have more than 200 gigabytes of personal files on your computer,so this is a solid solution. About $65 as I’m currently writing this. You plug this drive into your computer, and copy your mega-mega folder onto it. Might take an hour or so. Go have a cup of coffee or tea with some loved ones. When your mega-mega folder has been successfully copied onto your external drive, disconnect it from your computer and put it in a safe location in your desk drawer, your closet, your kitchen cupboard, anywhere that it won’t be dropped or banged around. This external drive is your insurance policy. Your safe deposit box for your personal files. When SHTF (stuff hits the fan), or a worst-case scenario occurs for your computer, this drive will ensure your memories can be brought back for you to use. Do be aware, though, this won’t be the only time we use this external drive*.

Here’s step two. Create an account on a cloud-based storage provider.Dropbox is the most popular. Box is excellent, too. So is iCloud if you’re a Mac user, and Google Drive if you have a Gmail account. For step two, I’m going to recommend Box, because you get 10 gigabytes of data for free, five times more than what Dropbox gives you for free. Google Drive gives you more gigabytes of data, but also makes you sign up for a Google account, and I’d rather help you with your data security by using your current e-mail account. Most likely you will be able to install a little program from Box that acts as a folder on your desktop that syncs your files on your folder to its storage farm in the cloud. If it’s possible to move your entire mega-mega folder into the Box folder, we’re good to go. If your files, pictures, music, and video take up more than 10 GB of space, we may need to discuss other options**. Once your mega-mega folder is synchronized to Box, let’s go back to that Desktop Files folder you made back in step one. Create a shortcut for it, and drag it to the desktop. Now you are just a double-click away from accessing all your desktop files, and they are securely backed up.

My hopes for you, dear friend, is that your computing experience will be a stressless and enjoyable one. By eliminating the possibility of losing important information, we can take one step closer to a better experience.

– Your friend, the Tech

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