How to Prevent Computer
by Bill Adler, Jr.
Read about what you can do
Suggested websites for free technical support
What's an article about preventing computer problems doing on a book packager's web site anyway?
Well, the answer is short and sweet: Writers rely on computers and when computers aren't reliable, then writers don't work and the world suffers. So I thought it would be worthwhile passing along some tricks for preventing computer catastrophes, including the dread loss of data, and the not-so-fun, "Fatal Error" (and related error) message. Microsoft Windows is an inherently unreliable operating system, prone to crashes, and prone to being an accessory to data destruction.
Before I begin, let me mention that these tricks only work for the PC/Windows world. You Apple people --bless you all-- are on your own.
Trick Number 1
Make it easy to back up your data. I don't mean, "copy your data to a CD." Any backup you have to accomplish manually, or even semi-manually, won't get done on the day you need it most. When I say back up your data, I mean "backup your data invisibly and reliably."
There's only one good way to back up data, and that's off-site. I use a service called Connected Backup (www.connected.com), which backs up all my data to a remote computer somewhere in North America every night. Even if our house was hit by a lightning bolt and exploded, my hard work would be safe. (There are other off-site backup companies, but none that make it as easy to backup your data.) What I like about using Connected Backup is that I don't have to do anything: My data is backed up every night while I sleep. The data is encrypted before it leaves my machine. Connected Backup also keeps the last 30 days worth of data changes, too, which means that I can retrieve the better version of chapter 8 of my novel that I wrote a week ago, and overwrote last night. You can also retrieve your data from any computer that has Internet access.
If you don't use an off-site backup service, get one. It's inexpensive, and gives you near perfect protection. Be sure you verify that your data is actually being backed up by checking the program's log every now and then. Don't assume that the backup software knows where you keep all your important files; you may need to manually select certain files to be backed up.
Figuring out where your data files are may take a little sleuthing. For instance, Outlook puts its data in this folder: c:\windows\local settings\application data\microsoft\outlook\. Eudora, a popular email program, breaks its data files into many different files. Your document files may be in a folder called My Documents -- or they may not. Your Quicken files will be somewhere else entirely: It definitely pays to know where your data is.
Trick Number 2
Use GoBack. What's GoBack? GoBack (www.goback.com) is a software product that lets you revert you entire hard drive to a previous state. If you install some "bad" software (you know what I mean), you can just go back in time to before the software was installed. A lot of software programs think that they are the only important program on your computer, and act accordingly.
GoBack is also useful for those occasions when you inadvertently overwrite a good version of a document with a bad version.
GoBack lets you undo damage created by a corrupted Windows Registry, computer virus, damaged file allocation table, and more. GoBack's most useful feature may be it's ability to let you boot your computer, when Windows just refuses to work for some strange, unknown reason. You don't even need a boot disk (how many people even have one?) -- just press the space bar when you see the GoBack screen, and your computer will be up and running.
GoBack can be used for all those occasions when you say "Oops."
Trick Number 3
Install, run and update your anti-virus software. If you think you're immune from a computer virus because you don't open attachments, you're wrong. Even if you absolutely sure that you won't do anything stupid when it comes to computer viruses, can you say the same thing about everyone who might access your computer? Besides, it's it simply a good idea to eradicate computer viruses as they appear, instead of have the virus lay dormant on your computer?
There are several good anti-virus programs available. Which one you choose is up to you. (I use Norton Anti-Virus.) Just keep the software up-to-date, so it recognizes viruses as they arrive. Most programs update themselves automatically.
While you're running your anti-virus software, strongly consider a firewall. There are several good ones, including ZoneAlarm, which is free at www.zonelabs.com. Firewalls help keep hackers from probing your computer, but they can do much more, too: ZoneAlarm, for instance, also prevents data from leaving your computer without your permission; it also quarantines attachments that might contain viruses.
Trick Number 4
Back up your data locally. I know that trick number 1 says to back up your data on a remote machine, but you should also back up your important files nearby. Don't let Murphy's Law strike: Two backups are a minimum. Backing up at home or the office doesn't have to be a painful experience; in fact, the best backups are the ones that happen in the background.
The media you back up to should be large enough to include all your data. I don't like using Zip disks because I can't get all my data on one disk. I know myself, and I know that if I have to start playing disk roulette, I'm not going to do the back. Instead, I use an external hard drive, connected to my computer through its USB port. Every night while I sleep my data is backed up to that drive. The program I use is called Second Copy, but there are other good ones, too, including SafetyNet. (What I especially like about Second Copy is that it may be the only program for sale that doesn't combine its name into a single word with a uppercase letter in the middle.) What you're looking for is a program that will automatically back up your data, so you don't have to make any effort. The only difficult part of this is specifying what data to back up. A lot of backup programs try to figure out where your data is for you, but I've found that the software misses a lot, so you have to do this part yourself.
Some backup programs back up your entire hard drive. If you use one of those programs, you don't need to worry about locating your data files.
As for backing up on CD-Rs. Forget it. It's not that reliable, and you end up making coasters as often as you get your data backed up.
Trick Number 5
Perform system updates and disk maintenance. Many anti-virus programs are part of larger disk utility suites. (Don't ask why these programs are called "suites" -- I have no idea.) These programs include disk defragmentation, registry checkers, file integrality checkers, and more. Take a few minutes to learn how to run your disk maintenance programs and use them. Actually, most of these programs can run automatically while you sleep, if you set them to do their work at night.
Windows has a feature called Windows Update. It's on your Start menu. Updating Windows is painless, and worth doing. This way you have the most current version of your operating system, as well as any new features that the geniuses at Microsoft think you should have. (Translation: They fixed the bug in the operating system, finally.)
Trick Number 6
Don't install major programs on a Friday. If you need to talk with somebody in tech support (and good luck with that), you may have a very unhappy weekend. If you don't take my advice, install software on a Friday, and something goes wrong, use Trick Number 2: GoBack, and try installing the program again on Monday.
Good Places for Free Tech Support
Microsoft Outlook problems:
General Windows problems:
www.annoyances.org (Windows Annoyances is one of the best sites on the Net!)
General computer problems:
Capitol PC User's Group: http://www.cpcug.org
CNET forums: www.help.com
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/simplycomputers2 (Great email list with over 4,300 members -- the biggest of its kind on YahooGroups)
Computer viruses and security
Scan your computer online: http://housecall.trendmicro.com
http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/ (Norton Antivirus)
Firewall protection: www.zonelabs.com
https://grc.com/intro.htm (Scan your computer for vulnerabilities)
Connecting to the Internet
Bill Adler's essay on spam: http://www.adlerbooks.com/spamessay.htm
What You Can do About Junk Faxes and Spam
Junk faxes and junk email (spam) are a scourge, a plague. Until Congress passed a law banning unsolicited commercial faxes, people's fax machines were overwhelmed with junk faxes. No only a relative handful of outlaw companies continue to send out junk faxes, in violation of the law.
Junk email is an entirely different problem. Spammers slow down the internet, use up storage space on computers, perpetuate fraud, steal money, and make it generally hard to use email for legitimate purposes. Spam often involves theft of service and computer trespass. In the wake of September 11th, the Internet has become an even more important resource, and to the degree that spammers harm the Net, they are acting to hurt us all. Spam is not only a drain on our economy, but it plays into the hands of those who would do America and other nations harm.
Spam affects different people differently. Disabled people often have more difficulty manually deleting spam; sight impaired people who rely on pagers and other text-messaging devices find that spam interferes with their ability to communicate.
Anyone who uses email or wireless text devices for emergency purposes is adversely affected by spam.
Have you received a fax advertisement? If so, you can report that illegal activity to the Federal Communications Commission. Send a copy of the fax along with 1) your contact information, 2) the date the fax was received, and 3) the telephone number to which the fax was sent to:
Consumer Information Bureau Federal Communications Commission 445 Twelfth Street, SW Washington, DC 20554
In your letter tell the FCC " I did not invite or give permission for the sender to send me this fax," and "I am requesting that the FCC take appropriate action against the sender."
Be sure to mark on the envelope "TCPA COMPLAINT - UNSOLICITED FAX"
The FCC levies fines against companies that send junk faxes. There's more information about dealing with unsolicited junk faxes at http://www.junkfaxes.org.
If you receive a junk fax, you are entitled to damages of $500 - $1,500 per fax. Many people have successfully sued junk faxers in small claims court. Junkfaxes.org has more information on how to sue junk faxers.
Junk email can be forwarded to the appropriate government agency, especially if the spam involves fraud, misrepresentation or stock fraud. Here are the agencies to which you can forward your junk email. In addition to these agencies, you can also report spam that may involve illegal activity to your state's attorney general. (When you do, be sure to include the header information):
email@example.com [especially forged email]
firstname.lastname@example.org [chains letters, mail money]
email@example.com [general. fraud]
firstname.lastname@example.org [medical scams]
email@example.com [claims of great earnings]
firstname.lastname@example.org [investment/stock scams]
email@example.com [spam originating in Hong Kong]
What else can you do about spam? Write to your Congressional and state representatives: Let them know that you want laws with teeth to stop spam. For instance, any commercial email that uses a false return address should result in heavy fines for the sender. Junk email, and especially pornography, sent to minors should result in jail time. Laws won't stop spam, but strong laws will slow it down.
You can also forward junk email to the "Abuse Department" at the sender's ISP. This address is usually firstname.lastname@example.org. In the case of spam originating from an America Online account, the address is email@example.com. Reputable internet services providers hate spam as much as you do: Read how to format your spam complaint here.
Who's who among spammers? If you're curious about which ISPs knowingly allow spammer to use this system, visit The Spamhaus Project. To read more about the legal aspects of spam, visit the SpamCon Foundation.
"[Spammers] have come to court not
because their freedom of speech is threatened but because their profits are; to
dress up their complaints in First Amendment garb demeans the principles for
which the First Amendment stands." --US Federal Judge Stanley Sporkin
Tired of telemarketers? Then you should comment about the proposed rules curtailing telemarketing. Among other things, these news rules would establish a national do-no-call database. Read what about the new Federal Trade Regulations regarding telemarketing. The FTC wants your opinion!
You can do something about spam by clicking on the graphic below which will bring you to spam.abuse.net.
Or by joining the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email:
Now that you've solved your
computer problems, learn to fly an airplane! (Seriously: Bill
Adler's a pilot, and you can become one, too.)
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