Archive for the ‘Maintenance’ Category

Back up your important files now!

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

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My recent posts on password management are just one thing I discuss as often as I can. The second is backing up your files. We all have important files (pictures, documents, music) which would be tragic if they were lost. Make another copy of them now.

The simplest thing you can do is go out and buy a hard drive. Warehouse clubs and online retailers will generally provide you the best deals. Plug it into your system and install whatever software comes with the drive to assist you with backing up your files. I generally don’t recommend using this software, but it’s better than nothing.

With more experience, you can get other software which will do the job better. If you have a Mac with a recent operating system, just turn on Time Machine and stop fretting. For a PC, it’s not that simple. I’ve used Cobian Backup, SyncBack, and SyncToy as my solutions depending upon the situation. Cobian is best for a computer which has the backup drive connected to it all the time. Cobian is very configurable, powerful, and free. The downside is the author is getting tired and has put it up for sale. I don’t know how long it will remain this excellent and free product. SyncToy is from Microsoft and free. It’s quick and simple and gets the job done. I usually set it up for “backup on demand” situations whereas Cobian works in the background. There are three versions of SyncBack; one free and two pay versions. The pay versions have much more configurability in what not to back up compared to the free one. They also work well if you don’t leave the hard drive connected all the time and it gets a new drive letter the next time you plug it in.

If you buy software (like SyncBack Pro) and a hard drive, you shouldn’t be out much more than about $150 (depending upon the size if hard drive you get). If a hard drive fails, you’re out all your important files. You could send your drive to a data recovery service, but that will cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars to recover everything and there are no promises there.

Once you get a backup solution in place, be sure to use it regularly (daily is a good option). A client of mine had a hard drive fail recently. She said she had her backup drive but hadn’t used it in a long time. Weeks or months of data are gone. Don’t let this happen to you.

Outlook Express’s 2GB problem

Monday, July 11th, 2011

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I had a visit with a client today who used Outlook Express and it wouldn’t gather her e-mail. She knew it was there as she could go to the mail service’s web site and see it. She just preferred Outlook Express. I can’t say I blame her as I normally recommend using a program on your computer to read your e-mail (and there are certainly worse programs out there than Outlook Express).

The error which was given was “unknown” with a code of 0x800c0133. Not very informative (like most error codes). After a quick search, I discovered the problem could be caused by a corrupt mailbox file. I went to the location of the data files in an attempt to follow a method of repair I saw online when I discovered the true problem: The “In Box” data file was just under 2GB in size. Knowing Microsoft would have never imagined Outlook Express using a file so large, it’s probably hard-coded to choke when it finds one.

My options were simple. I could delete the data file or figure out a way to shrink it. The compress function in Outlook Express didn’t work. I couldn’t even view the In Box from within Outlook Express. In my case, my client wasn’t concerned about the past e-mails so deletion wasn’t a big deal. However, this won’t work for everyone and I began my search for a free utility to perform the job. Unfortunately, I didn’t find one.

There is a great site out there for anyone who uses or maintains Outlook Express: oehelp.com. From there you can grab utilities to help out with several problems however the ones which could be used to extract important e-mails weren’t free. In the past, I’ve used insideoe.com for assistance. It has a great deal of help, tips, and advice. However, both sites haven’t been updated in a great while. This doesn’t surprise me much as Microsoft basically abandoned support of Outlook Express when Windows Vista was introduced (let’s not forget Windows Mail which came with Vista which was basically replaced with Windows Live Mail a short time later). I imagine all support (whether from Microsoft or someone else) eventually going away with time as Outlook Express has been well and thoroughly replaced.

Now, if you’re looking to move away from what Microsoft offers, I strongly recommend Mozilla Thunderbird. I’ve been using it myself on my PC for quite some time. It’s a very capable e-mail program with many options out of the box and huge quantity of free add-ons. It might seem a little quirky to some, but I’ve found it to be significantly better then the Microsoft offerings (I even game Windows Live Mail a chance for nearly a year before giving up on it).

What to do with that old computer

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

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You’ve made the decision to replace your computer with a newer, better, faster, cooler computer. What do you do with the old one?

Back in the day when upgrading was option, it was a simple matter to upgrade one component this month and a different component the next. Eventually, you had a new computer, but it was as if nothing changed. This couldn’t be kept up as the industry found better ways of doing things which required new hardware which was not compatible with the old. Basically, it got to the point where to upgrade one thing required a whole new computer around it.

What are your choices for dealing with the old computer? If it’s old enough or abused enough, you may just want to discard it. Check your local dump for details (thankfully my local dump allows e-waste to be dropped off at no charge; they have a specific location at the dump site just for e-waste).

What if it’s not too old? Options include erasing everything on it and reinstalling just as it was when you got it so you could sell it or give it away. The potential problems are two-fold. First, you need to make sure you have another copy of your data and you need to make sure you’ve completely erased everything so the next person doesn’t have access to your personal files. Secondly, do you have the original install discs? On many computers (HP and Compaq in particular, but other brands as well) you hit a particular key on the keyboard when you first power up the computer and it takes you to a special setup routine which can do the erase and reinstall procedure for you (note that the erase done here isn’t a secure one, but should be good enough for most people).

Another common option (and one I’ve done myself a few times) is to repurpose the computer for some other task. How about a central calendar? If your old computer is a Mac, you have one built in. For a PC, you could use Mozilla Thunderbird with the Lightning plugin. Alternatively you could set up a web browser to point to a Google Calendar that you’ve created.

If the computer is small enough, you could put it in your kitchen to run a recipe database. You can run a software title on your computer or, my favorite, just look up recipes on the internet.

Many more options are available to get the most out of your old computer. Experiment with Linux, make a personal file and print server, build your own Digital Video Recorder (DVR). The possibilities are nearly endless.

Should I get a new computer?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

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I get this question often enough from people who have computers they consider old or slow. The question then becomes where should you put your money?

Many times, the older and slower equipment is fine and just needs a bit of software tweaking. I’ve had amazing performance increases from just changing the anti-malware software that’s on the computer. Some computers, however, need to have everything wiped and reinstalled from scratch to bring them back to their original glory and speed. Part of the problem is finding all the software that was originally installed so it can be put back. Then there’s the time to do it (it typically takes me between two and four hours to backup, erase, and reinstall a computer running Windows, depending upon what needs to be put back when I’m done). This is usually where the money question usually ends up.

Because of how long it takes me to do the job (believe me, I’m not lollygagging around either, I’m just focused on YOUR computer while I do it), if the computer is five years-old, it may be your money is better spent on a new computer instead. New PCs running Windows can be had for $400 or so for something half-way decent. The last couple I customized through Dell were around $700, but had some extras the clients needed as well as some additional software.

What do you do with the old when you’re done? I think I’ll wait until my next blog entry to answer that one. So many possibilities.

Upgrading isn’t always a smooth process

Monday, June 13th, 2011

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Sorry for the lack of posting recently, but I’ve become so busy with real-life issues I’d allowed this to lapse. I’ll endeavor to put this at a higher priority.

Back in September my primary computer, an iMac G5, decided to call it quits. Suffice it to say that it succumbed to a problem endemic to that model. Last month I was able to replace it with an all new, just recently announced, iMac with a 2.5GHz Core i5 processor. Nice machine, even if it is the base model (considering my previous Mac, it was a big jump). I connected the old Mac’s hard drive externally so when I got to the appropriate part of the setup process, I could have it import everything. It seemed to work as I’d been able to access all the files I expected to be there.

I noticed a deficiency today. I was going to update my address book with data I’d originally put in iCal. However, the one calendar I needed for this didn’t have anything in it other than what I’d put in since I got the new Mac. Naturally, I freaked out. I thought I’d put this somewhere else and looked, but didn’t find. I pulled out the old Mac’s drive and found the calendar file and tried to import but got an error that it couldn’t be read. At this point, I’m about to pull what’s left of my hair out at this point.

Deep breath. I open the file in a text editor to find that there is readable data. I assume iCal just gave up too quickly so I try reading with other applications. I try to import the file onto my PC running Thunderbird with Lightning but it doesn’t appear to import (although no error messages are produced). I was able to import into a Google calendar, though. I take an export from that and try to import into iCal only to find that it can’t read THAT file either. I might as well shave my head at this point.

I use Google to search for references to the error message that iCal gave me. I found a discussion which basically seems to bemoan the fact of this being an issue with iCal on Snow Leopard not being able to import from a Tiger calendar. Several workarounds are mentioned with reference to at least one third-party software product. The workaround I attempted was to import the calendar onto another computer in my house running Leopard. This was successful. I then export from this and am able to successfully import onto my new computer. What a pain, but at least I can continue working.

Just so this might show up in a relevant search, the error message I got from iCal was: iCal can’t read this calendar file. No events have been added to your iCal calendar.