computer skills

Computer Skills #1: Back Up Your Data

There is a maxim in the computer support business:
"There are only three main habits you want to develop with your computer:
#1 Back Up Your Data
#2 Back Up Your Data
#3 Back Up Your Data"

Most importantly, data backups are the user's responsibility. This is because it's the user who suffers the consequences of data loss. This is especially important for businesses, even small ones.

"You hear terrifying stats all the time: Up to 10 percent of the world's 700 million computers crash every day; Fifty percent of businesses that lose their data never open their doors again; only 6 percent of Internet users back up daily; 43 percent have lost files at some point. People: there's no good reason for this—especially given the many excellent backup options out there. Online backup services like the excellent SOS Online Backup, Mozy, IDrive, and Norton Online Backup stand ready to protect your data."

It's this way because of the complexity of modern computers. There are simply so many things that can go wrong, and so many different ways to use computers than every computer user has entirely different sets of expectations.

Here are some reasons why people don't back up. PLEASE don't let yourself be one of them. Here is the best article on backing up I have ever read-
The Pirate Backup System: ARR

Backing up your data using the following principles will help you understand what we're doing here:
1) Near-Term- includes: external hard disks, small USB drives, floppy disks/diskettes (less popular now than they once were), NAS (network storage), sometimes including a 'mapped' (a Windows network term) or shared workgroup drive on corporate networks.
2) Archival- used to be a tape drive, but now hard disks are so inexpensive that they are being though of (erroneously) in this way. Archival storage is better thought now to be either 'in the cloud', or on CD/DVD media.
3) Offsite- Not in your physical location. Some shared corporate assets could be considered this way, but most 'in the cloud' services these days are sufficient, as
long as your data needs are less than 60-100GB. These solutions (Sugarsync, Dropbox, Carbonite, Mozy, among others; click here for a 2010 comparison; NOTE: most online backup services have ended unlimited storage plans)
4) Data Portability (also serves as a VERY near term backup, in a sense)

Most modern email clients can be synched very simply to your mobile phone/smartphone. Since most people are using web-based email clients like Yahoo and Gmail (and if you're still using your ISP's email, change quickly; there are too many advantages when using web-based email clients for data portability and many other reasons) then that part is easy.

Using other web-based clients like Dropbox, Instapaper, Evernote and so on provide similar benefits and they will usually have native applications to your platform, be it iPhone/iPod Touch-based, Android-based or even Windows Phone-based.

So backing up and data portability are converging, as with so many other things- into "the cloud". Take advantage of it!

Computer Skills #2: Stay Up-To-Date

Checking that your computer has everything as up-to-date as possible is very recommended. Here are some services that can help:

There is a mythology among many computer users that sounds like one of two things:
1) I don't have time to update, I'm busy doing something else.
2) Something bad will happen to my computer if I update. (This IS possible, but unlikely)

By staying up to date (this is
particularly true of Windows computers), one eliminates MANY holes used by hackers to make your computer into a zombie. There are literally MILLIONS of zombie computers (called botnets) used by organized crime to blackmail businesses and other nefarious deeds.

These organizations take advantage of 4 things:
1) The
Ignorance of most computer users.
2) The Popularity of buggy Windows operating system PCs.
3) The Reluctance of WIndows users to update their OS and other software.
4) A Continuous, High-Speed Broadband Internet connection

Not updating your computer gives these people
even more holes to enter your computer with than they already possess.

Many people will think I am being alarmist when I say such things, as the concept of computer crime is beyond their understanding, much less beyond an idea of what would motivate something like this.

"That may be because Torpig botnet> is designed to avoid detection so people won’t fix up their machines. Indeed, the researchers say the creators of this botnet lived off poorly maintained computers. “Many compromised [PCs] had ancient versions of vulnerable software. If the victims would have updated their systems on a regular basis, they probably would not have been compromised in the first place,” says the lead researcher, Prof. Giovanni Vigna."

Please read the links I provided, if you're not already convinced. If that doesn't convince you, this should.

There are many ways in which computer viruses can get into Windows systems, less if you own a Mac. I have a friend who works in a local Apple Store selling Macs, and he says that many people who buy a new Mac from using Windows previously (known as
Switchers) do so because of virus issues. fficial&client=firefox-a">Google Mac OS X and Viruses and see for yourself.

If you hire me to do computer work for you, I will likely want to put you immediately through a regimen of doing EVERY possible software update.

Do it yourself. It's free, and if you're a Windows user that's ignored software updates for a long time, then you have hours and hours of downloading and installations to do. Save yourself the hourly wage of me doing it, and do it yourself.

Update Applications & Phones, too.
Almost every piece of software will have an update of some kind of another soon enough.

For example, if you own an iPhone, your iOS will need to be update periodically (you can set this in iTunes), as will iTunes itself. Updates to the iOS running on your device, say to upgrade from
version 3 to version 4 is done by having the latest version of iTunes.

"Apps" or the software that runs inside modern smartphones are also updated REALLY regularly. Checking for app updates inside iTunes or other software updaters used for Blackberry/Android platforms once a week should do it. Then synch your device with that software and you'll be all set.

Computer Skills #3: Check The Filesystem

The filesystem is the single most important software component of your computer that can be maintained. Plus, it degrades over time with use. The more use, the more degraded it becomes. Think of the filesystem as the foundation of your computing house.


While it would be disconcerting for the foundation of your house to degrade substantially over short periods of time, this is actually a fact of computing life and one that often forgotten, even by computer technicians.

How Often?
Check yours once a week, or AT LEAST once a month and DEFINITELY
first thing after a crash, power outage or other sudden “bad thing” happens.

Here are basic instructions how:
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Mac OS X.

If you're a user who uses a lot of the computer's resources then you need to pay special attention to this section, as you will need to generally check your filesystem quite a bit more often than someone who is just checking email.

If you catch yourself having thousands of mp3 files or lots of movies downloaded from the internet, then you need to check your more often than just an 'Email and Microsoft Word' user.


Computer Skills #4: Synchronize Data to Mobile Devices like Phones (Music, Photos and Apps) Services

For users of iPhones, Blackberries and Android-based smartphones, it can be critical to ensure your synchronization method is in your awareness.

Many new technologies take advantage of so-called 'over-the-air' synchronization, and others (typically music & photo synching and 'app' updates) need a USB connection if your computer and phone are to maintain the same database of music, photos and apps.

One important point is the installation and uninstallation (but not usually updating) of some apps means you will lose saved data contained within those apps, so be careful when doing that.

Most of the services we talked about in
Step 8 (Customization of Your Computing Environment: Applications) are, however, 'over-the-air' or ‘cloud’ services that sync to a website as well as the OS of your smartphone and computer (Windows or Mac OS X).


Computer Skills #5: Restart Your Computer Before Calling For Help

It's an old maxim, but shutting down your computer when you suspect a problem is in general a good idea. This assumes a backup of your data and the ability to save current work.

Many things on modern computer systems happen in the background, so it's not always obvious what has happened that leads to hangs and various delays, but in general really substantial delays or hangs are caused by network delays.


Computer Skills #6: Personal/Work Software Library & Original Copies

Original Copies
For any computer consultant or help desk to assist with computer problems you when traveling (particularly overseas), one must carry the software disks that came with the computer (preferably copies of those); although many modern Windows PCs have built-in partitions allowing for maintenance and system restore (aka flatten & reload).

If you have software that is critical to your job function, I would advise to carry that software as well.

work, ensure you know what your companies' strategy for your work computer's original software. Often, this is forgotten/overlooked- especially by smaller workgroups & businesses- yet is worth looking into as computer problems can often arise quickly and interrupt workflow.

home, be sure to keep all software located in one place, preferably in a single, small CD case like this one. This means that when you go to travel, you can just throw your software library in with your computer.


Computer Skills #:7 Research On Google When Having Computer Problems

#7 Research On Google
Almost every computer technician is a
Master Google Searcher also, as it's critical to gain an understanding of what is happening with your machine when you have errors, a lack of understanding or confusion. Many tutorials are available for specific software tasks in every application you can dream of. I encourage you to gain some more knowledge about how Google searches work, how to use the in your browser of choice (I recommend FireFox, due to it's extensibility and the Awesomebar).


Computer Skills #8: Customize Your Computing Environment

#8 Customize Your Computing Environment
There are some key concerns addressed by
Peripheral Integration: The modern computer, be it laptop or desktop, a number of devices logically "orbit" that machine. Age Matters a lot here, as older peripherals typically won't work well with newer machines, unless they are high-end.
i. Network- wireless or wired?
ii. Printer
iii. Camera
iv. SmartPhone (addresses, email, calendars & phone numbers)
v. Data Storage (hard disks, USB drives, iPods)
Data Portability: In the modern computing environment, many people expect to be able to have their data with them everywhere- PC, Phone, iPod, Tablet and on the Web in a sort of consistently synchronized "stream".
Applications: There are many options for almost every function, and one must choose, based on the above concerns which will be the primary application to serve:
i. Photo organization
ii. Office documents, spreadsheets and presentations
iii. Calendaring, Email, Contacts

This trend goes
well beyond email, to photos and video as well as typical office documents like spreadsheets, presentations and text documents.

Additionally, online backup services are moving into the data portability space because most of these services operate "
in the cloud".

Some services that work well in this space are:
Google Docs (need Premier account)