Category Archives: Informational tips

The type of tips that enable you to better understand your computer and the internet

The Cloud-Explained

You have heard of “the cloud” or maybe “cloud computing.”  Perhaps you’ve wondered what this is and how it affects you.

To begin with, when the Internet was evolving along with networking, diagrams were drawn to show how networks were connected.  Whenever the connection went “off site” (out of the building, basically), this was shown as a cloud on the diagram.  This way the creators of the diagram didn’t have to list all the stuff our there.  Maybe it is a little like the ancient maps that showed the known world and at the edge were the words “here there be dragons.”

The cloud depicts computer resources (hardware and software) that are located somewhere else and available over a network (usually the internet).  To the typical user, the actual location of these services is not important.  The resources could consist of word processing  or financial programs  available only online-meaning the program you are using is located somewhere else and not on your home machine.  Off-site storage is also one of those services.  Many people are now paying a company to remotely store their data.  These services offer convenience and portability.  You can use the services anywhere.  You don’t need the software loaded on your computer.  This means your might be able to use a less-expensive computer to do your work.  But, of course, it’s not free.  So you’ll have to decide if you can benefit from subscribing to these services.

Something to remember–if you are using cloud-based services, you will not be able to do much without an active internet connection.

Security Questions

You have all seen this:  You create an account online and you are asked to enter a password and answer some security questions to be used later if you forget your login credentials.  They offer many standard questions, like “What is your mother’s maiden name” and “What is the name of your favorite pet.”

So what should you do?

First, create a password that is unique and hard to guess.   We’ve addressed this in a previous article.  Stay away from kids’ names and pet names.  As for the security questions, here are several suggestions:

A good security question should:

be easy to remember
have thousands of possible answers
not be something you  would use on social media
be simple one or two word answers
not change over time

If a site lets you make up your own questions, so much the better.

Don’t use things like birthdays, school names, etc.  These are easy for the bad guys to find.

I’ve talked with clients that just make up answers that aren’t true.  This is helpful, as someone who really knows you won’t be able to guess the answer.  Hey–anything to keep your data and identity secure works.  Be careful, though.  If you make up questions, you better remember the answers!

Another tip–if the site allows you to request a password change, they will usually email you. So be sure you give them a current email address.

Computer Upgrading and Recycling

Thinking of a new computer? You can choose to upgrade the computer you have to make it perform a bit better or you can just buy a new machine. The big box stores will usually want to sell you a new computer. This may not be the best for you.

Ways to upgrade: Add memory. Replace your hard drive with a larger one. Clean up any unnecessary programs running in the background. Perhaps add a spiffier video card. Want the latest and greatest? Buy a new computer. Don’t just rely on a salesman in a big store.  Some of these big-box stores have sales staff that know what they are talking about.  Unfortunately, some don’t!  Ask for advice from someone who knows what your needs are.

This brings us to what to do with your old equipment. Throw it away?  Not a good idea. Recycling is available.  Many times computer stores will offer to recycle your old machine.  There are also places, such as Goodwill who accept donations of equipment that is still usable.  Perhaps a local school or charity could put your old computer to good use.  A cautionary note: If you recycle your old hard drive, your old data is still on it. It must be erased (not just “deleted”). An alternative is to destroy the disk with something like a large hammer or take it apart and smash the metal disks inside (a good project for kids who like to take stuff apart).  Too many people don’t realize that they are leaving themselves open to identity theft by leaving data on their hard drive. If you don’t know how to erase the disk, get help from a trusted computer person.

Protecting your Data

In a previous article, we talked about safeguarding your data in case of a problem where your hard drive crashed or you lost files (maybe with the help of grandkids).   You now know to back the data up frequently.  Perhaps you are doing that.

Here’s something that might happen, though—for some reason Windows stops responding.  You try to restart and you get the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death).  Maybe just a black screen that says Windows is missing important files.  You are desperate!  You haven’t recently done data backup.  You need your computer.

You have system restore disks, so you try to use them to get the system up and running.  This might not be a good thing to do.  Many system restore disks will wipe the hard drive before restoring.  This will cause all your programs and data to go away.

Unless you know what you are doing or like living on the edge, it’s best to call a computer professional to see if Windows can be repaired instead of restored.  If you can get the computer working again without losing your stuff, you’ll be a lot happier.

Passwords

Time to talk about that thing you all hear about:  your passwords!  How many times have you heard that you should be changing your passwords regularly?   How about choosing a password that is strong vs. weak?  Choose a place to record them so you won’t forget.  Don’t whine about how many passwords you need to know.  We offer a free program to do just this.  It’s Whisper which you will find under Downloads on our site.

It should go without saying that your password is one of the really important safeguards of your bank account, your email account, your network, etc.  Using something that is easy to remember usually ends up as your name, the word “password,” the numbers “123456” or something equally clever (NOT!)

In general, your password should be 8 or more characters in length.  It’s good to include uppercase as well as lowercase letters.  Adding a number or another character (such as the # or ! or @) makes it even stronger.  Of course, using a password written in a foreign language helps, too.  When trying to hack into accounts, the bad guys frequently launch a “dictionary attack” which just means they try every conceivable word in the dictionary.  This doesn’t take as much time as you may think. They have computers to help them!

 

Computer Security

I’ve been to many clients’ homes where the complaint was that a visitor (perhaps a friend or family member) has been given access to the computer and now it doesn’t work right.  When I look at the user accounts that have been created, there is generally only one user and that is set up as an administrator.  Not only that, the account is not password protected.

The best way to keep the little (or large) gremlins out of your computer is to enable the guest account and let your visitors use that.  Next, password-protect your own account.  If you have more than one person using the computer at home, create a second or third account as needed.  Consider making those account limited accounts—this limits the “damage” that others can do!  Oh—and resist the temptation to give someone else your password just to make them quit nagging you.

Oh—and another thing.  Every computer has an administrator account.  It is not usually visible.  I find that most people have never assigned a password to that account.  This means that someone can log on as the administrator and do anything that they want—change passwords, change system settings, and generally make your life miserable.

Attachments

So you want to share some really neat pictures with family or friends?  How about all that data you just found on the internet that proves you are really related to Julius Caesar?  Most likely you’ll write an email to your friends and then attach whatever it is to the email.

Be careful what you attach.  If you’ve taken a picture with a digital camera, most likely it’s a really big picture.  Use your camera photo-editing software to make the picture smaller.  Some email clients will ask you how large to make the attachment.  Take a minute to consider just how the person who receives the mail will use what you are sending them.

If the recipient is just supposed to look at the picture, then you can resize it to about 3″ x 5″ or so.  Don’t worry about the quality. A photo of that size will display just fine.  A computer only displays a resolution of 72 dpi.  So sharing a picture of higher resolution is a waste of time.

Printing is another matter.  To print a quality picture, it will need to be a much higher quality. In Windows 7 and 8, if you right-click on the picture you wish to send and chose to send it to an email recipient, you’ll be asked what size you want.  Just choose the smaller size to make it faster.

For text, you could copy it and paste it in the mail.  For a lot of text, just attach the document you created.  But think first.  Are you using something like MS Word 7 or later?  Remember that many people can’t read that document. So, first save it as a MS Word 97-2003 document and you will probably make the recipient much happier.

Remember, too—not everyone has a fast internet connection.  Large files can take forever to download if you have a slow (or, heaven forbid, dial-up) connection.