Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year Resolutions

New Year Eve London 2008  (Fireworks)Image by T@H!R - طاھر via Flickr
As I write this the New Year is almost upon us. Now is the time we normally make our New Year resolutions. What will yours be and will any of them have anything to do with computers? Well. they should! Here is my shortlist of resolutions we should all have for 2010:

  1. Back up your files! If your computer crashes, your hard disk fails, your pc gets a bad dose of viruses or if your laptop gets stolen, will you ever get your files back? Only if you back them up.
  2. Keep your computer secure - if you own a pc that runs Microsoft Windows XP/Vista or 7 then you need up-to-date security software.
  3. Be better organised - that one applies especially to me!
These are my top tips for your pc - related resolutions for 2010. I have a host of others but if you focus on these three and do them well you will avoid a whole bunch of problems in the year ahead.

To give yourself every chance of success, plan ahead. Taking each one in turn, lets look at some ways of making a success of them.

  1. Backing up your files.
Computers start off with what seems infinite storage - gigabytes of space. Very soon though we find ourselves filling up all that space with photographs, videos and documents. Computers also seem to fill up lots of it with temporary files, especially if we browse the internet a lot. Before we get to that dreaded warning message saying that we have ‘insufficient space’ we need to plan ahead. Even if you have just a few documents, if you were to lose them would it matter? If the answer is yes, you need to back them up before that happens.

So, what are the options?

i)                Back up to a second, external hard disk. Portable ones now come in good sizes for less than £50.

ii)        Back up to CD-ROM (DVD or Blu-Ray) - most computers come with a CD drive. If its has CD-RW or DVD-RW on it you can use it to backup your files to blank discs.

iii)        Back up to USB flash drives - these are small, very portable, come in good sizes (I recommend 8GB or bigger) and cost @ £20.

iv)        Online storage - you can get at least 2GB for free from several places - I recommend www.humyo.com, http://www.getdropbox.com/ and www.skydrive.live.com

v)                For photos and video you can use sites like www.picasaweb.google.com and www.www.flickr.com/ to store your images and videos for free.

I recommend combination of all of these and use them myself. However, I do recommend that you get an external hard drive to completely back up your hard disk as an emergency backup that you can use to completely restore everything in one go if the worst happens.

If you go to http://www.downloadsquad.com/2008/09/05/5-free-apps-to-clone-your-hard-drive/ you will find 5 free apps for doing this and tips you can use to do it the right way. The benefit of doing this is that you caned a restore a lot quicker than the normal way most folk do it if disaster strikes - reinstalling Windows, all their software (if they can find the discs and serial numbers) and then all their files (documents, photos, videos etc). Believe me that can take days! Cloning your drive means it can all take just a few hours. Much better and far less stressful.

  1. Computer security
Sadly the world is full of people who, mainly for criminal gain, want nothing more than for you to have an insecure computer so they can take it over, steal your passwords for online accounts (especially bank accounts), and hopefully steal your identity. Why make it easy for them... why not make it impossible? So, how to do this and do it for free? Here’s how:

i)        Go to www.download.com and click on the link for “Security Software” under “Categories” (its on the left scroll down a bit). This will take you to a page of free apps you can download to protect your computer. I recommend http://download.cnet.com/avast-home-edition-free/3000-2239_4-10019223.html, http://download.cnet.com/Avira-AntiVir-Personal-Free-Antivirus/3000-2239_4-10322935.html and http://download.cnet.com/malwarebytes-anti-malware/3000-8022_4-10804572.html to start off with. Choose one of the first two (either Avast or AntiVir) and the last one.

ii)         Use Firefox and ditch Internet Explorer. Go to www.mozilla.com/firefox/ and download the latest version. Its more secure than IE. Once installed, be sure to download add-ons. You need to go to the ‘Tools’ menu and once there click on the ‘Browse all add-ons’ link. I recommend WOT from https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3456 and NoScript from https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/722 as starters.

iii)        Email security - I’ve said it many times before but its worth saying again. Never ever click on links in emails that claim to be from your bank! Your bank or financial institution will never ask you to click on a link in an email to re-enter your password etc for your account. Only criminals do that.

Also, if you get an email claiming to be from someone (even proclaiming themselves to be a Christian) and they want your help to distribute money (usually millions!) to good causes, I can guarantee t a total lie! Just delete them. Never believe the heart-rending tale they spin about some good person having died and not leaving a will etc.

In addition, if you get one of those annoying chain-letter type emails just bin them too. They are a waste of bandwidth, time and may well include viruses etc. Just delete them.

Other hoaxes include sob stories asking fro prayer and asking you to forward the email to everyone in your address book - they are a scam and you should just bin them. If you want to bother checking them out go here: http://uk.trendmicro.com/uk/threats/enterprise/glossary/s/scams-and-shams/index.php

Finally, when sending emails do not put everyone’s email address into the ‘send to’ box. Put just one address there (the main person you are sending it to) and then put everyone else’s into the bcc box (blind copy). This way you will avoid sending everyone’s email address to everyone else. Think of it like this... would like someone who writes to someone whom you don’t know tell that person your address? Thought not but so many of us do that with emails. Just because you know someone doesn’t mean they want everyone you to know know them too. That’s what Facebook is for!

  1. Becoming better organised!
We all wish we were and how many of us have read any number of books claiming to help us to this? We all know it would be good to be better organised, but somehow we never seem to get around to it. Well, here is how I am intending (hoping!) to go about this year.

i)        To start with I am going to delete files I no longer need when I have finished with them. So often we keep everything on our computers, thinking that we have unlimited space and that we never know when we might need it again. Truth is, 90% of what we have on our computers will never be needed again, ever! Trust me on this... I use computers and the internet everyday (too much of the time, if I am being honest) and I save everything. Over the years (18 years and counting) I have saved so many files and yet 99% of them I have never opened again!

ii)        Printing - I am going to print things off the internet or in emails only if I really need a hard copy. Most things we can safely delete after we have finished with and if we need to keep them, well just keep the email or downloaded document. If you back up (see above) then you will have a copy for safety anyway and you can forget about printing a copy off.

iii)        Databases - these are great for storing information that might otherwise get lost on our computers. I am going to use one to keep track of everything in one place. I am actually writing this in one, strange as that might seem. Its an application called MacJournal and is a sort of ‘freeform’ database. I can store documents, web links etc in it and do a search for anything in it. I’ll let you know how I get on. For those of you who don’t have a Mac, there are alternatives - try Bitlets 2.2.3.16 from http://www.softpedia.com/get/Office-tools/Text-editors/Bitlets.shtml and Remlap KnowledgeBase 2.21 from http://download.cnet.com/Remlap-KnowledgeBase/3000-2074_4-10443935.html?tag=mncol

So, I hope that these tips will help you make and keep your computer-related New Year Resolutions. Now something for a bit f fun, a quote or two on the topic of New Year Resolutions:

“The man who will not execute his resolutions when they are fresh upon him can have no hope from them afterwards; they will be dissipated, lost and perish in the hurry and scurry of the world, or sunk in the slough of indolence” Marie Edgeworth

“Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right”. Oprah Winfrey

“He who breaks a resolution is a weakling; He who makes one is a fool.” F.M. Knowles

Take care and every blessing in 2010.



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