Archive | Computer Mistakes

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Computer Question About Laptop Shutting Off Suddenly

Computer student Adam Savage writes with a question about his laptop shutting off suddenly…

Adam wrote:

“I have a sony vaio windows 7. And for some reason, no matter what setting i put my computer on(Sleep, hibernate, lock, log off etc.) it always shuts down by itself.

I have tried changing the setting but nothings seems to work. If i just leave the laptop of within an hour it shuts down. Then upon boot up it says “unsafe shut down, would you like to start safe mode.”

Please help. “

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Tips on How to Use a Search Engine the Right Way

I thought I’d share the following infrographic (Image courtesy of HackCollege) which gives you tips on how to use Google and other search engines more effectively.

The guide has a bunch of good tips, many of which I share in my related video lessons in my Easy Internet course (see links below image).  I do have to mention that I disagree with one part of the information below: they say never to google questions, but that CAN be useful sometimes.

The times you want to type questions into a search engine is when you’re looking for a forum or discussion where someone has asked the same question that you have — you will often find your question has been answered in the discussion! So while they’re right that you don’t need to phrase your searches as questions, it can be helpful sometimes.

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Internet Tips: How to Avoid a Common Web Browsing Mistake

Here is a simple thing to learn but is a big time saver you really need to know about when using the Internet. I see many rookie, and even experienced computer users making this blunder (and remember, I’m not being critical; it’s not your fault if you’re making this computer mistake)

Don’t use a search engine like Google or Bing to search for web pages or web sites if you already know the address! Search engines are like phone books.

A lot of people don’t use them at all anymore, but when woukd you use one? You’d use one to look up a number if you don’t know it, right?

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Why Trusting Your Files to “The Cloud” Could Be a Really Bad Idea

In this article I’m going to help you understand a computer term you’ve probably heard but may not have understood, and give you some advice that will protect you from a computer mistake.

There was a rumor floating around that Facebook was shutting down for good on March 15th of 2011. This is obviously not true (depending on your view of Facebook, that may be good news or it may be bad news).

The rumor most likely started with the fact that the original Yahoo Video shut down for good on that date. I want to use what happened as an example to help you understand a couple of things that are very important and will become more important in the coming months and the next few years.

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How to Back Up Windows or Mac – Video Lesson

In this video lesson I explain the two general methods of backing up your important files, namely incremental backup (a.k.a. versioned backup) and “cloning” backup. I also give specific suggestions about how to do either one or both to protect the important files on your computer. Failing to back up is perhaps the biggest single computer mistake I see people making, and failing to back up correctly and regularly can lead to the loss of time, money and irreplaceable files, which can have devastating consequences. Watch and learn how to protect yourself. Continue Reading →

Don’t Let Heat Damage Ruin Your Computer and Other Electronics

Heat is one of the most damaging things for electronics. People are often not aware of this and are causing their computers and other devices to fail long before their time because they’re not doing what they need to do to keep them cool. You’ve probably noticed that computers typically have fans which you can spinning whenever the computer is running. You may also have noticed that the fans get louder sometimes more than others. Most parts of a computer generate some amount of heat, with certain parts such as the hard drive and the processor generating more than others. The fans are designed to keep the computer from overheating and burning out. Because of this, it’s important to make sure the fans are able to do their job, or you might end up having to replace your computer before its time. A few steps you should take to help keep your computer and other electronics from overheating:
  1. Keep them out of direct sunlight - I often see people who keep their laptop or desktop computer near a window where it’s exposed to direct sunlight for a few or several hours a day. This will, understandably, raise the temperature in the computer above what it’s supposed to be.The internal fans are designed mainly to cool off components from the heat those parts generate themselves, not from external heat sources
  2. Don’t put them on a desk right next to a radiator or over a floor vent – this one is pretty self-explanatory; basically the same idea as keeping them out of direct sunlight
  3. Don’t put your computer in a tight space – this is one I see a lot. People will hide their desktop computer in a cabinet or one of those desks with the internal space for a computer, or perhaps they’ll hide the computer in a cramped space between the desk and the wall. This is a bad idea because this usually will block the vents and trap heat, or trap the heat in the space surrounding the computer, which is just as bad.
  4. Never pile stuff on top of the computer – a couple of things is fine, but don’t go overboard with stuff packed in around or on top of the computer as this can also trap heat and block vents
  5. Avoid using a laptop on a soft surface where the computer sinks into the surface, such as in bed with the laptop resting on the blanket; this will usually mean at least one of the fan vents is blocked, plus the blanket is an insulator (that’s why it keeps you warm, after all) and it will trap the heat in the laptop, causing damage over time. If you like to use the laptop in bed, or while sitting on the couch wrapped up in a blanket, you can still do this, just rest the laptop on a hard flat surface to give it plenty of airflow and to avoid blocking the vents.One great way to do this is by using one of those trays you can buy very inexpensively that have a nice flat surface on the top and a built-in cushion underneath. These help protect the laptop from trapped heat, and have the side benefit of make it more comfortable to work with the laptop by keeping your lap cool and putting the computer at a more comfortable angle and height.
  6. Use a laptop cooling pad whenever possible – this will help save your computer and keeps your legs cool too.  Some of them come with fans, and this is the type I suggest using as it does the best job cooling. Usually these will require you to provide power through a power cord, or more commonly, through the laptop’s USB port. Just as with the internal fans, make sure not to block the fans on the cooling pad with papers or a bedspread or anything similar, or they can’t do their job.
  7. Avoid keeping computers in dusty environments such as on the floor – dust can get inside computers and coat the parts inside and can even block the air vents in extreme cases. If either one of these happens, heat is trapped inside causing damage.It’s also a good idea to use a can of compressed air, which you can pick up pretty much anywhere that they sell electronics, and periodically open up the case and use the compressed air to clear out the dust. Be careful when you do this, however, as touching the electronics inside can cause damage, something I explain in another article.  If you feel more comfortable doing so, consider letting a technician do this for you to prevent accidentally damaging something.

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How to Back Up – Cloning Backup

The following article is another except from Worth’s new book titled “How to Avoid 7 Common & Costly Computer Mistakes – Explained in Plain English” and follows from my previous post where I answered the question “Why Back Up?” and my post where I explained how to back up using incremental backup. In this article I want to explain one general method for how to back up your computer, namely something called “cloning”.  I won’t repeat the many reasons why it is absolutely essential that you back up on a regular basis, but I will give you some recommendations on methods you can use to protect yourself, including information for both Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac computers. First off, let’s define “cloning” backups. Cloning refers to making an exact 100% copy of your computer’s hard drive, typically onto a second internal hard drive, or better, an external hard drive which is left turned off except during the backup process to minimize wear and tear and keep it more reliable. Some people argue that cloning isn’t really a method of backing up, and while I agree the original reason it was developed as an option was probably to make it easier to upgrade to a new hard drive, it also can make a great way to back up your computer. If done correctly, when you clone your computer’s hard drive, the clone should be “bootable”, which is to say, you can start the computer up from that drive in exactly the same way you normally start up with your computer’s main hard drive. The benefit of having a bootable backup copy of your drive is that it minimizes downtime and expense. In some cases, you can start your computer up from the external drive and literally be up and running again in a minute or two. Running your computer off the backup drive in this way is not a long-term solution, but if you’re waiting on a replacement drive or you’re waiting for a computer tech to replace the main drive after it fails you can at least get work done in the mean time and everything will be exactly the way it was as of the last time you cloned the drive. Cloning your drive in this way can also save you money by minimizing the time spent by a technician repairing your Mac or PC.  In many cases the tech can simply take the external hard drive out of the case and put it into the computer in place of a bad hard drive, then put the new replacement drive into the external case. This can take as little as 5-10 minutes to get you back up and running again, as opposed to potentially hours of time with the bill getting bigger by the minute doing it “the old fashioned way” by putting the replacement drive into the computer, installing Windows or Mac OS X, and restoring all the files from the backup and potentially (depending on how you backed up) also reinstalling each and every program such as Microsoft Word, etc. and getting everything manually configured exactly how you had it before. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options to create a hard drive clone like this for Windows. Mac OS X users are fortunate to have more options, but it’s still possible to do on pretty much any computer. I have found a couple of programs that will duplicate your hard drive in this way for Windows, both of which are free (although there are a couple of caveats on this which I’ll explain in a moment). The first program for Windows, which makes these 100% “cloned” copies is something called XXClone.  This is a completely free program which does a great job and which I use myself.  The only problem with this program is that it only works properly with Windows XP, and is unfortunately not compatible with Windows Vista or Windows 7. You can find this program by Googling “XXClone”. Another option for Windows users that does seem to work with all versions of Windows is Seagate DiscWizard (formerly Maxtor MaxBlast).  Discwizard is available for free from Seagate’s website — just Google “Seagate DiscWizard download” to get the link. The one minor hitch to this is that for it to run, it does require at least one of your hard drives to be either a Seagate or Maxtor brand drive (Maxtor was bought by Seagate a while back). This isn’t a really big problem for most people because when you buy your USB drive, you can either buy a Maxtor or Seagate brand, which are pretty easy to find, or go to a local computer store and ask them to put a Maxtor brand hard drive into any USB case for you. These brand drives are also extremely common in computers, so there’s a very good chance you already have one of them as the main internal drive in your PC. I’ve been using Maxtor and more recently Seagate DiscWizard (which is the exact same program with a different name) for years and have tested this out extensively and it seems to have no problems as long as one of the drives is Seagate or Maxtor. On the Apple Mac side of things people have a few options, the main two being something called “SuperDuper!” and another called Carbon Copy Cloner. SuperDuper is inexpensive, CCC is free (but appreciates donations). Both are good programs, but I’ve been using CCC for the better part of a decade now as my main backup program and so it’s what I recommend to my clients. Both programs work in the same basic way, so pretty much anything I say about CCC applies equally to SuperDuper. Unlike Seagate Discwizard on the PC, CCC does not require any specific brand of hard drive, and unlike XXClone — which only works properly with one version of Windows — should work with any modern Mac. If you have an older Mac they also, the last time I checked, keep an older version of CCC available if you need it, but unless your Mac is several years old you should have no problem running the current version of CCC. On either type of computer, the time it takes to complete the backup varies a lot depending on how much you have on your hard drive, and what type of connector (USB, Firewire, eSATA) you use for the external drive. To do a complete backup it can take anywhere from half an hour to several hours in extreme cases (this is only usually going to be the case if you have an extremely large number of big files such as video files). But you can start it and walk away, so it’s not as bad as it sounds. This should be done at least once a month, maybe more frequently if you plan to make a lot of changes to the computer, like installing new software, or updating your system with a major update to Windows or the Mac OS. One of the things I really like about Carbon Copy Cloner (which I believe is also true of SuperDuper, but which unfortunately does not seem to be an option for the Windows programs I’ve mentioned) is that you can actually combine cloning with the other main way to back up your files, known as versioned (or incremental) backup. Basically CCC can give you the best of both worlds.  With this option turned on, it takes a couple of hours to do the first cloned backup, but then after that it can be as quick as 5 minutes. Because of this, I back up my main computer using CCC every single day as the last thing I do.  This way I know I have everything backed up, and it happens quickly and literally as easily as the flick of the power switch on my external drive. As a side note, Windows users who might want the ease of backup enjoyed by Mac owners should keep in mind that all Apple Mac computers can run Windows and it’s possible to do this and have Windows backed up right along with the main Mac OS X files.  There are a lot of other benefits to using Macs, but that’s a topic for another time. If you need more help, take a look at my easy video lesson course on backing up your computer, available for either Mac or Windows computers. In the lessons I show you step by step how to correctly set up use the programs I talk about in the article you just read. To learn more, click one of the following two links:

How to Back Up – Apple Mac

How to Back Up – Windows PC

How to Choose When Buying a Computer

How to choose when buying a computer – is asking “what is the most popular computer” the right question?

(Note: this article was written and sent out to subscribers to my free computer lessons email newsletter on December 12th, 2007)

Around this time of year, it’s common for people to be looking into buying a new computer as a gift or to replace the aging one they’re using.

I thought I’d write an article to give a few tips on how to chose when buying a computer.

First off, I’ve found that a lot of people start thinking about this by asking “what is the most popular computer?” and letting the answer to that decide the question for them. Well, this isn’t necessarily the best idea.

Just because something is popular doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best — for example, fast food restaurants are popular places to go, but I think we all know they don’t serve the best food in the world.

Here’s the thing to remember when thinking about how to chose when buying a computer — you should generally avoid the big brand names.

Yes, this might surprise you, but in my opinion, it’s usually not a good idea to buy from one of the big brand name companies (there’s one exception that I’ll get to in a minute).

Here’s why: dollar for dollar, you’re generally going to get a worse deal than if you go with a reputable “generic” or “white box” store.

A lot of people have low price as the first thing on their list when they’re trying to figure out how to chose when buying a computer. So they go with a cheap brand name and spend a few hundred dollars on it, and they think they’re getting a good deal.

But what they don’t realize is that it’s common for a lot of the big brand companies to sell very out-of-date computers in their lower price ranges, and from what I’ve heard, they also often sell computers with parts they know are bad!

I’m not kidding about this — most of the big computer companies out there, when they sell their least expensive computers, are trying to unload old inventory that’s been collecting dust on their shelves for a long time.

They sell it to you as if it’s new, and maybe it is in the sense of never purchased before, but it’s hardly new in terms of the technology.

And the more disturbing part of this is that from what I’ve heard, those computers often have parts in them that are *known* to be bad parts!

You see, when a chip manufacturer like Intel makes a computer processor (the “brain” of the computer), they test it to make sure it works.

Makes sense, right?

But inevitably, many of them fail these tests. Now you’d think these bad parts would be thrown away, but no — from what I’ve heard, what happens is they still sell them to the big computer companies at a discount, and those companies put them into their computers anyway.

What you can do with a bad processor a lot of the time is set it to run slower, and while it may not be running at full speed, it works well enough to pass the tests.

But the parts are still bad! Sure, they may work OK for a while (maybe just long enough to make it through the warranty period) but they have more little “glitches” and end up breaking down sooner.

So if you can find a reputable local company that sells computers they assemble themselves, you’ll get a well built computer for a lot less because you’re not paying for the brand name.

A family-owned store like that is the only place I’d buy a Windows PC, personally.

So earlier I mentioned there was an exception among the big brand names — if you’ve been reading my newsletter for a while, or know me, you might have already guessed which one it is — Apple.

Apple is the only big brand name computer I personally would buy (I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro). I do this partially because I’ve used a lot of different types of computers over the years, and really don’t enjoy using Windows much. But remember, Macs can run any Windows program as well, so it’s not an either-or situation!

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Weathering the storm — What to Do to Protect Your Computer and Other Electronics From Storms and Other Hazards

As I write this, I’m sitting at Falcon Computers here on the Big Island, using their Internet connection. Those of you who live around here know we had a pretty huge storm on the island yesterday (although some parts of the island were lucky enough not to get it too bad). In my case, the storm was raging directly over my house for about an hour, and I even had two lightning strikes within spitting distance of my house.

As a result of the storm, we had closed roads, power outages, and cable service (including cable Internet service) was shut down for about half the island.

I’m also guessing at least one of the cell phone towers was hit too, because my cell reception was completely gone for well over twelve hours. Keep in mind, like a lot of people these days, my main phone is my cell phone!

And as of about an hour ago, my Internet connection was still down, meaning it was out for over 24 hours, leaving me unable to do any work all of yesterday, and having to hike in here to try to catch up and take care of a few things.

The timing is kind of ironic, just a few days after I wrote an article about the pros and cons of using combined Internet and telephone service packages. One of the downsides I mentioned was how if there’s a storm and your Internet connection goes down, if you have Internet phone service instead of a traditional phone line, then you won’t have phone service either.

Because of this, I recommended sticking with the older more time-tested technology — in this case, a plain old regular phone line.

Well, I should probably listen to my own advice, since my business phone line is an Internet phone number, and not a regular “land line”, and since my cell phone got knocked out by the storm too, I would’ve been completely cut off it I didn’t still have a regular phone line (which I normally only use for faxes).

Fortunately, I did know the best ways to handle protecting my computer and other electronics from being damaged by the storm — in this article I’ll give you a few tips to protect your electronics from being fried during a storm, or during the aftermath.

Some of this you may already know, but there’s a couple of things I’ll mention that many people never think of, which can endanger your computer, TV, and other electronics if you don’t take care of them.

So pretty much everybody knows that it’s a good idea to unplug your computer or TV during a storm. I’ve also talked in a previous article about the importance of using a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply, sometimes called a battery backup) and how this protects your computer and other devices.

Even if you use a UPS or just a surge suppressor (again, a UPS protects you a lot better than a surge suppressor) you should still unplug the UPS or suppressor from the wall just to be sure — both a UPS and a surge suppressor are designed to “take a bullet” for your computer to protect it from a power surge like the ones that can happen from a lightning strike or when the power comes back on after a storm, but it’s still a very good idea to unplug anyway.

But even if you’re doing this (and good job if you are!) here’s what people frequently miss in these situations — electricity, like a damaging power surge, can travel up other types of wires, too.

So if you use a dialup modem still, and you have a phone cord plugged into your computer (or fax machine, satellite TV box, etc.) a power surge can go up that and fry your electronics that way. So you should always unplug the phone cord too.

Also, these power surges can come up the cable line, so I see people unplugging their TV or cable box from the electricity, but they leave the cable TV cable (coaxial cable to use the technical term) plugged in, and this can fry their TV!

Keep in mind, if you use cable Internet service, your cable modem can get fried in the same way, and if your computer is plugged into it (and not hooked up wirelessly in other words) this is a “back door” that a lightning strike or other power surge can use to fry your computer!

So to protect everything in your house, you should always not just unplug from the power, but also the cable (TV or Internet) and any phone cords during a storm. Do that, and you and all of your electronics (computers and otherwise) should weather the storm just fine.

Hope that helps.

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Why You Should Avoid Windows Vista Like the Plague (at least for now) Part 3

In this three-part article I will talk about three big reasons you should avoid “upgrading” to Windows Vista, at least for now. This is part three of three.

I’ve been talking in the first two parts of this series of three article about reasons you want to avoid getting the new Windows Vista. I called it a real turkey, and gave you two good reasons you shouldn’t use it.

In this last in this series of articles, I’m going to give you a third reason that I don’t think you should bother getting Vista, at least for a while.

Reason #3:

All the new features are old features stolen from Mac OS X, and not very well.

Microsoft has a history of stealing ideas and presenting them as their own — all of the basic ideas behind Windows (having information displayed in one or more windows, having a desktop, having a recycle bin or trash can, using a mouse, etc.) were directly taken from the Mac after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (the co-founders of Apple) invited Bill Gates over to show off their new type of computer.

Bill took notes and ran back to Microsoft to copy it, and he’s been doing it ever since.

The new version of Windows — Windows Vista — was supposed to come out years ago, but it got delayed and delayed, and finally was released around the beginning of 2007.

Back in 2004, Apple announced the then-new version of Mac OS X, OS 10.4 or “Tiger” (the “X” in Mac OS X is a Roman numeral 10, not a letter X by the way) at their developers conference.

Early in 2007, some internal emails were leaked from inside Microsoft that revealed that when one high-up employee from Microsoft was at the 2004 Apple Developers Conference, he was taking notes (just like Bill did all those years ago) and he confessed Microsoft had to take a lot of features of OS X from Apple to put into Vista.

He was also worried they wouldn’t be able to do those features as well.

When Vista finally came out (two and a half years later) I remember watching the promotional video that showed off all of the supposedly new features of Vista.

Every single one was clearly a knock-off of features in the 2004 version of Mac OS X, and in my opinion, not very good knock-offs.

In fact, the Microsoft employee who wrote those leaked emails is on record saying that he’d use a Mac himself if he didn’t work for Microsoft.

So why pay for recycled “new features” when they won’t really do that much to improve your computer (and as I mentioned in an earlier email, are likely to slow it down) — it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

I won’t deny that I like Macs better than PCs too — and unlike a lot of people who are big supporters of one and bash the other, I am very familiar with both types of computer, and realize that neither type is perfect — and I honestly think that 99% of the time, you’re better off using a Mac than a Windows PC.

So if you’re going to get a new computer, which you’re better off doing if you’re getting Vista, why not get the real deal instead of the pale imitation?

Just my opinion.

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