Off-topic, but a useful reminder

From: Yakov Horenstein (
Date: Thu Jun 11 1998 - 12:27:09 EEST

>(Rocky Mountain News; 06/07/98)

>They made us use an ancient computer system at my first newspaper. One
>day, frustrated at the barely readable display, I borrowed a screwdriver,
>took the glare shield off the monitor and peeled off a quarter-inch-thick
>layer of dust that had built up behind it like dryer lint.

>If you want something done right, do it yourself.

>The PC on your desk may belong to your company, but face it, it's your
>problem. I canvassed my team of experts to find out what even novice
>computer users can do to keep their desktop computers running well.

>These are powerful yet simple things, none of which involves opening the
>case of your PC. None should get you into trouble with your company's help
>desk. If you're unsure, or having other problems, call support.

>But first:

>* Back up, back up, back up! That's by far the No. 1 piece of advice. If
>your data is backed up, any bonehead maneuver you do, short of attacking
>your PC with a baseball bat ( / feedback.mpg), can be
>fixed. Take it from one who knows: Don't assume your company has a backup
>strategy. Make your own, even if it's as simple as saving your documents
>on a floppy.

>If you tend to forget, get software that will do it for you. Verify the
>backup - it's an option on most backup software.

>"Relying on an unverified backup is like skydiving without making sure you
>are wearing a parachute," said Philip Smith, president of San
>Francisco-based Data Rescue Services.

>To do this:

>* Organize your data. Do you know where all your programs are saving their
>output? You should. Windows tends to strew files all over the place, but
>you can change the default save settings by choosing Save As and filing
>things in a common folder. Don't forget your calendar program, your
>Quicken, your address book, your Netscape bookmarks. Do it in a way that
>makes sense to you.

>"One strategy is to keep the data from all your programs in either one
>subdirectory, such as My Data, or on one logical drive," Smith said by
>e-mail. "I like to keep mine on Drive D: for Data. Then your backup
>procedure will be a whole lot easier - just back up the data on a regular
>basis. If you organize your data, you may be amazed at how little real
>data you have. A Zip disk may serve to hold all your data."

>* Reboot early and often. If something crashes, reboot from the shutdown
>menu as soon as you can. "Your system becomes unstable after a crash,"
>says Dale Bradley, who treats sick Macs and Wintels at Digital Corral in
>Denver. "It weirds up the RAM."

>Your computer does not need to stay on all night. I routinely turn my PC
>off when I head out the door or whenever applications or the network start
>acting odd.

>Mac users have two handy tricks when storm clouds gather: rebuilding the
>desktop and zapping the PRAM. Rebuild by holding down the command and
>option keys at the end of the startup sequence, just before your Mac
>launches the desktop. This neatens up the database that stores filenames.

>Zap the PRAM by pressing command, option, P and R together right after the
>startup chime. Allow the computer to chime five more times; this clears
>out the internal battery settings that often become corrupted. You'll have
>to re- establish lots of preferences, network and monitor settings
>afterward, so don't do this lightly. It works best when you're getting
>lots of inexplicable Type 11 bombs or problems with connected devices,
>such as your Mac suddenly not talking to the printer or modem.

>* Dump the trash. Temp files, Internet cache files and items in the Trash
>or Recycle Bin pile up fast. To handle this without angst, I recommend
>Quarterdeck's Remove-It 98 or CleanSweep, or CyberMedia's Uninstaller.
>These apps scan your hard disk for detritus. I freed nearly 10.5 megabytes
>of disk space in about three seconds with Remove-It, just by deleting a
>month's worth of Internet cache files.

>* Delete unnecessary applications. This is easy on a Mac, but on Windows,
>which scatters a program's components like buckshot, uninstalling is not
>for the faint of heart.

>But say you've tried Eudora and you don't like it, and there it sits on
>your drive. Uninstall it using the Add / Remove Programs utility in the
>Windows Start Menu, with the uninstaller that quality software includes,
>or with a program like CleanSweep that will compress and archive what you
>delete in case you get overzealous.

>* Use disk tools. You'll find them in the Windows 95 Start menu. ScanDisk
>checks your hard disk for problems and will fix them automatically. Disk
>Defragmenter takes all the scattered bits and bytes and lines them up
>neatly, speeding your PC's performance. The MacOS equivalent, Disk Doctor,
>is included with Norton Utilities, which should be part of every Mac
>user's toolkit.

>When you run defrag in Windows for the first time, invoke the "Show
>Details" window to see what we mean. It's a graphical display of what your
>hard drive looks like, and if you don't bore easily, you can watch as it
>transforms from widely scattered icons into a neat set of disk sectors,
>aligned like floor tiles.

>* Clean your machine. A can of compressed air is a wise investment: Use it
>(gently, and while the machine is cold) to clean the crumbs and dandruff
>from your keyboard, blow the dust from the fan at the back of your CPU and
>clear the air vents atop your monitor. Turn your mouse upside down,
>release the ball from its little prison and clean it, too.

>Wipe the case and monitor screen with a paper towel dampened with water or
>gentle cleaner like Simple Green. "Don't spray Windex on your screen!"
>Bradley warned. The ammonia can strip off the non-glare coating on the

>A handy chart of all these tasks and when to do them can be found at
> In the event of disaster, call Data Rescue at (888) 2-
>DATAGURU. "If you didn't make a backup, give us a call," Smith said. "We
>promise not to say, `We TOLD you so."

>I can hear you complaining already. But if your support folks are like our
>support folks, they are busy handling the day's major disasters. PC users
>need to take care of themselves. If your boss won't pay for a backup
>system, a wrist rest or a surge protector, buy them yourself. It's
>empowering. Besides, it's tax-deductible.

>After all, who will be the loser when your PC crashes, your wrists ache or
>files disappear from a bad sector on your hard drive?

>The more you can do for yourself, the better off you'll be.


>PC tuneup tools

>For every desktop computer in use on this planet, there exist at least
>three experts on computing. Many of them hang out on the Internet,
>expressing opinions to one another.

>Trouble is, most of these opinions are incomprehensible to the average PC
>user. After a few hours of searching the World Wide Web, I was wailing,
>"But how does it WORK?"

>Answers to this wail appeared at the following places:

>* Out in Shawnee Mission, Kan., a great bunch of folks run a Web site
>called No Wonder that exists to answer user questions free through public
>message boards and e-mail. Yep, free. They do Windows, MacOS, Unix, BeOS,
>OS / 2 and HTML. Find them at

>* Ziff-Davis comes through once again with, a compendium of
>tips from ZD magazines such as ( / zdhelp / hpc /
>welcome.html). This searchable site contained exactly what I was looking
>for: step-by-step information about things such as optimizing hard drive
>performance and improving monitor resolution. You can send a question to
>the experts if the answer doesn't already appear on the site.

>* PC Lube and Tune ( / pclt / default.htm): Described as
>a combination service station and convenience store on the Internet, PC
>Lube and Tune answers a range of basic questions about how a computer
>works and how to troubleshoot it.

>Written by a computer science student at Yale University, its references
>to New Haven-area freeway landmarks were balm to the soul of this
>Connecticut transplant.

>* Somewhere in suburban Boston, engineer Charles Kozierok labors for free
>on PC Guide, a really amazing collection of useful information for IBM
>compatible machines. He gets into his share of arcane technical topics -
>hey, he's an MIT engineer! - but the section on preventive maintenance is
>first-rate. Find Charles at / care / index.htm.

>And what about the Mac? Wintel users tired of hearing "Get a Mac!" when
>they recite their woes may take heart: Macs, too, have been known to

>* Apple's support pages include some helpful Basic Troubleshooting tips
>( / te / troubleshooting / ). And Ted Landau is the
>go-to guy at MacFixit ( In between offering
>late-breaking Mac news and helpful links, he plugs his books.

Yakov Horenstein
Milano, Italy

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