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Don’t Let The Grinch Ruin Your Christmas! Back Up Those Pictures (And Other Files)

The holidays are the time of year when family and friends gather to celebrate, share good times and create memories.

We love to capture those memories in photos and videos. Many then upload them to Facebook and YouTube and other social media sites for others to view.

(I really don’t like having my picture taken. And holidays are the worst. My mother, for some reason, feels compelled to take the holiday photos while the family is sitting around the table. At least we’ll know what we had to eat each year!  But back to the point …)

1000memories blog estimates that 3,500,000,000 photos (yes, TRILLION) have been taken since cameras were invented in the 19th century. That number continues to skyrocket with the ubiquity of digital cameras and cameras built into our smartphones.

It wasn’t all that long ago that cameras used rolls of film that had to be taken to be developed and made into prints. The negatives and prints served as your original and your backup of your photographs.

With the advent of digital cameras, most pictures are now stored on flash memory cards or on the hard drives of your home computer. Many times there’s only ONE copy of that picture – the one stored on your PC or your camera.

Have you ever stopped to think that losing your precious digital pictures or videos could be one keystroke, mouse-click or failed hard drive away?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m also realistic. Hard drives and flash memory cards fail 100% of the time. People do accidentally hit the delete button on the camera or the computer. When this happens, it could mean that the photograph that captured that one special moment this Christmas is forever lost.

That’s why I strongly encourage you to regularly back up your files.

Let me briefly review some important tips regarding data backup – tips that, if you follow them, can keep the Grinch from ruining your happy holidays.

Why should you back up?

As I stated earlier, the first reason you should back up your files is because computer hard drives fail 100 percent of the time. It’s a matter of WHEN not IF. As one person has said, “There are only two types of hard drives – the ones that have failed and the ones that will fail.”

Hard drives, where all of your files are stored on your computer, contain moving parts. Over time, those moving parts wear out and fail. If it is a catastrophic physical failure, it may be impossible for any files to be recovered from the hard drive.

With the recent surge in virus infections attacking computers, a second reason to back up your files is to protect them from being lost due to a nasty virus infection. Sometimes a virus infection is so bad that the only way to remove it is to permanently erase everything on your hard drive and reinstall the operating system and programs. Without a backup, all of your important files could be forever lost.

Third, performing regular backups allows you to recover a file that was accidentally deleted. We’ve all done it – erased a file or folder from our computer thinking we didn’t need it any longer. Then a day or so later, we realize we do need that file. A good backup allows you to retrieve the last saved version of that file or folder.

Finally, backups protect your files in the event of a natural disaster, fire, or someone stealing your computer. Recently, one of our clients brought in her laptop and had us perform our data backup service. She called us about three weeks later thanking us for backing up her files to DVD because someone had broken into her house and stolen her laptop. Without the backup we performed, she would have forever lost important documents and pictures.

What should you back up?

Although every person uses their computer for different purposes, there are some common things you should regularly back up:

  • Your email addresses – think of how long it would take to gather and re-enter those again
  • Your list of favorite websites stored in your web browser
  • Pictures saved on your computer (typically in the My Pictures folder)
  • All your documents, such as recipes, letters and spreadsheets (typically in the My Documents folder)
  • Your downloaded music files from iTunes (typically in the My Music folder)
  • Financial information from programs like Quicken, Microsoft Money or QuickBooks
  • Family tree information from programs like Family Tree Maker

How should you back up your files?

Backing up your files simply means keeping a copy of them in a separate location in the event of an emergency. It is NOT wise to keep both copies of your files in the same place. It is recommended that you have two backups on two different types of media in two physically different places.

One way to back up your files is to burn them to CD or DVD. Most computers come with a CD/DVD burner installed, as well as software that allows you to copy your files to discs. This method of backup is relatively inexpensive and very reliable. The downside is that it can be time-consuming if you have a large number of files.

Another method of backing up your files is to copy them to an external hard drive. The external hard drive connects to your PC by a USB cable. Then you can manually copy the files from your computer to the external hard drive. You can also purchase and install software that will automate the backup process for you.

If you have a high-speed Internet connection, a good method of backing up your files is to use an online backup service. Your important files are automatically and regularly copied from your computer to their secure servers over the Internet.

Although it’s easy and cheap, do not use USB flash drives (also called thumb drives) as your primary backup device. These devices are not designed for long-term storage.

Don’t wait to think about backing up your computer until it’s too late. I’ve had the unpleasant job of breaking the bad news to clients that we are unable to save any of their files because their hard drive had failed, only to learn that they had not performed any backups.

Ask your trusted computer advisor to protect your important files by setting up a reliable, inexpensive backup solution.

In closing, I would like to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. It has been my pleasure to provide you with practical tips and useful information about computers and technology this past year. I look forward to continuing to do so in 2013.

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How to Save Money on Printing Costs

Inkjet Cartridges

“This printer is costing me a fortune,” Beth bemoaned to me on a recent service call. “Replacing the ink cartridges practically cost more than the printer did, and they don’t last very long. How can I save money on all the printing that I do?”

If you own an inkjet printer, you probably experience the same frustration. Printers are the biggest money pit of owning a computer.

An Interesting Find

The cheaper the printer, the more expensive the ink cartridges report studies by various industry watchdogs. This is due, in part, because many inkjet printers are sold at or below what it costs to manufacture it, with the hopes of making a profit from the sale of replacement ink cartridges.

Cost-Saving Suggestions

While there’s no magic bullet that will save you boatloads of money on your printing, there are a few suggestions to consider that can save you a few dollars throughout the year.

  1. Research the cost of replacement cartridges BEFORE buying a new printer.
  2. Look for an inkjet printer that has individual cartridges for each color, as opposed to having multiple colors in one cartridge. This way you aren’t throwing away a partially used ink cartridge just because one color is empty.
  3. Consider using recycled or remanufactured inkjet cartridges. These can offer a savings of as much as 75%. However, be forewarned that recycled or remanufactured ink cartridges may not work properly with all printers and sometimes do not produce as good a quality as a manufacturer’s ink cartridge. Check the seller’s return policy before buying such cartridges.
  4. Know that most new printers come with skimpy “starter” cartridges. These ink cartridges do not contain as much ink as new cartridges.
  5. Buy high-capacity ink cartridges if you do a lot of printing. While these cartridges are more expensive, the cost per print drops considerably.
  6. Consider buying a laser printer for either of these reasons:

Another one of my clients, Don, found out that his inkjet cartridge had dried up because he hadn’t printed anything in a couple of months. Inkjet cartridges dry up with infrequent use – rendering them useless. If you don’t print frequently, an inexpensive laser printer is the better solution because the toner cartridges don’t dry up.

A second reason to consider buying a laser printer is if you mostly print black and white documents. After the initial purchase, the cost per copy of a laser printer is usually much cheaper than an inkjet printer.

Finally, the easiest way to save money on printing costs is to ask yourself, “Do I really need to print this?”

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9 Tips to Keep Your Computer Running Smoothly

Happy computers = happy people

Wouldn’t you agree that it’s very frustrating when your computer doesn’t work the way it should?  All you want to do is sit down, check your email or Facebook, or enjoy a few minutes playing solitaire – without becoming stressed out by an uncooperative computer.

Your computer is very similar to your car.  It requires regular, basic maintenance to help keep it running smoothly and more error-free.  It’s not a set-it-up and forget-it device like your home DVD player.

While performing regular maintenance on your computer does not mean it will never break or experience problems, it does reduce the chance of a more serious problem occurring and causing you major headaches or expensive repair bills.

Daily Tasks

1)     Back-up your data files.  If you create documents, manage your finances, or store pictures or music on your computer, you should back up your files every day.  This can be done by copying them to a DVD, an external hard drive, or USB flash drive.

2)     Perform virus scans.  Virus infections cause most of the problems people experience with their computers.  Installing a quality antivirus program, such as VIPRE Antivirus, and scanning your computer daily will help keep your computer healthy.

Weekly Tasks

1)     Install updates.  Software manufacturers release updates to fix problems with their software.  You should install Microsoft or Windows updates, Java, Adobe Flash Player, and Adobe Reader updates when you are notified that they are ready to be installed.

Each of these software programs has a distinctive icon or dialog box that will alert you that updates are ready to be installed.  These icons generally appear in the bottom right corner of your screen near the clock.  Download our update guide at http://www.calibre-cs.com/immunize.

2)     Reboot your computer.  If you leave your computer on all the time, you should shut down and restart your computer at least once or twice a week.  This helps clear the memory and allow the computer to operate faster.

Monthly Tasks

1)     Remove junk files.  As you use your computer for browsing the Internet, installing and uninstalling programs, and other tasks, unnecessary files begin to fill up your hard drive.  These files eventually slow down your computer.
The easiest way to remove all these files at one time is to use a free software called CCleaner.  It can be downloaded from http://www.calibre-cs.com/free.

2)     Run disk check.  This process examines the health of your hard disk, detecting and fixing potential problems before they happen.

To run a disk check, click on the Start button and select Run.  In the box, type CMD and click OK.  In the black window that appears, type:  chkdsk c: /f.  Then restart the computer.

3)     Defragment your hard drive.  Each time you use your computer, files get accessed by various programs.  When the program is finished using a particular file, it doesn’t always put it back in the same place it found it.  This causes your computer to run slower.
To run the defragment utility, click on the Start button.  Then choose All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter.  When the program opens, click on Defragment Now.  (See http://www.microsoft.com/atwork/maintenance/speed.aspx#3 for more information.)

Every 6 Months

Computers attract dust, dirt, and animal hair.  This can cause problems, as it clogs up the fans inside your computer and can cause heat to build up and damage the critical components of your computer.

Turn off your computer and unplug it from the power outlet.  Open the computer case and gently blow out any dust with a can of compressed air.  You can also brush off any dust or animal hair from the outside of the case.  You may also want to blow out your keyboard with the compressed air.

Yearly Tasks

If you’re performing the preceding maintenance on your computer, it should run faster and more error-free.  However, it’s always a good idea to have a computer professional perform a more in-depth tune-up once a year.

A quality tune-up service will check all of your computer’s hardware for potential problems, uninstall unnecessary software programs, and clean the registry (something that should NEVER be done by a home user).

Performing these simple maintenance tips on a regular basis will keep your computer healthy and running smoothly.