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in Berkeley / San Francisco CA

(510) 725-9432

joel@personalcomputerlessons.net

COMPUTER TIPS
Don't Turn Your Computer Off

Many people turn their computers off when they're not using them. This is one of the worst things you can do to your computer, and one of the best ways to destroy it. The problem arises not from repeatedly turning your computer OFF, but from repeatedly turning it back ON. When your computer is off, its internal parts cool down. Turning it on sends a hot blast of electrical current rushing through its delicate circuitry.

Consider the analogy of a simple incandescent light bulb. When you turn it on, a hot blast of electrical current rushes through its fragile filament. These repeated hot blasts of electricity shock the filament, damaging and destroying it. Ever notice how frequently light bulbs tend to 'burn out' when you simply flip the switch to turn them on?

The same principle applies to your computer (and to all electronic devices, including your smartphone). Leaving it on keeps its internal parts at a steady, comfortable temperature. Yes, your electric bill may increase by a few cents. But the upside is that your computer can last forever and run much smoother, with far fewer problems.

So don't turn your computer off ... simply leave it on or choose sleep, hibernate, or standby mode, and restart it regularly to help optimize its performance (restarting does not cause the problems associated with turning it off and leaving it off for extended periods).

 

Use Your Forearms To Give Your Wrists And Hands A Rest

As you're typing on your computer keyboard or using your mouse, are your forearms supported? They should be. The muscles in the forearms are much larger and stronger than those in the wrists, hands, and fingers. One of the main reasons people develop carpal tunnel syndrome and other wrist & hand problems is that they don't make use of the large muscles in their forearms when using their computers.

If you have the space to do so, try resting your forearms on a flat surface while typing and mousing. (And if you don't have the space to do so, try re-positioning your computer and mouse - or your chair - so that you do.) This simple adjustment takes the stress and pressure away from your wrists, hands, and fingers, distributing the load more evenly and appropriately.

 

Be Nice To Your Computer, And It'll Be Nice To You

Many people get upset at their computers. They yell at them, say disparaging things to them, curse at them, and even hit them.

This might sound silly to some, but computers have feelings, too. Just like you. They don't respond favorably or positively to mistreatment. (Do you? Does anyone or anything?)

Be nice to your computer. Give it words of encouragement. Handle it gently. Treat it the way you'd like to be treated. The nicer you are to your computer, the smoother it'll run and the nicer it'll be to you.

 

Some Of The Best Free Software

Many of the best computer programs are free. Here are some of my favorites ...
- Audacity: Simple and precise sound recording & editing
- Avast: Anti-Virus Free Edition: Outstanding virus detection & protection
- Dropbox: Synchronizes files on all your computers and mobile devices
- FileZilla: Easy and intuitive FTP (file transfer protocol) for your website's file uploads & downloads
- Gmail: Google's email is fast, clean, powerful, flexible, versatile, customizable, and more secure than others
- Google Calendar: Convenient online scheduling that's accessible on your computer, phone, & tablet

- Google Drive: Google gives you 15GB of its superb cloud-based storage with every Google account

- Malwarebytes: Helps protect against malware (malicious software) that can invade & harm your devices

... try some of these and see what you think.

Does It Make Sense To Upgrade Or Replace Your Present Computer?

Many of my clients have computers that are a few years young and running a bit slowly or having other issues, and they ask me whether upgrading their present computer or replacing it with a new one might be an appropriate solution.

The question of whether to upgrade or replace (or do neither) is very much an individual one, and is dependent upon a number of factors. If your budget is such that money is not an issue, then why not purchase a new computer if you're so inclined? Of course, most of us don't have the luxury of simply buying new computers whenever the fancy strikes us, so we may wish to make do with what we have, and try to determine whether it can be improved via other means. Which might not be such a bad thing.

Purchasing a new computer doesn't guarantee that you won't have the same issues you're having with your present computer. A new computer can run slowly, can contract viruses and other malicious software, can have other hardware and software problems, and basically can have all of the same types of issues that your present computer might have. In fact, many newer computers have more difficulties than those they replace.

Upgrading your present computer (with additional RAM (random access memory), a higher-capacity hard disk drive (HDD) or solid state drive (SSD), etc.) often results in a significant improvement in the computer's performance and behavior. Of these, the best and most cost-effective is usually a RAM upgrade. Providing your computer's operating system and other software with more memory (or room) in which to work can greatly improve computer performance. RAM is typically inexpensive to purchase, and very easy to install.

In many cases, upgrading is not even necessary. Computer performance can often be improved simply by running good diagnostic & maintenance software, which can help detect and correct problems. Some of the best diagnostic & maintenance software is free. If you use a PC (that is, a computer that has Microsoft Windows), I recommend Glary Utilities. Another handy tool for improving your PC's performance and behavior is Windows System Restore, which allows you to safely and easily return your Windows operating system to a previous configuration; this utility is also free, as it's included with Windows.

So you might wish to consider your options before rushing out to purchase that shiny new computer.

 

The Apple iPad: Is It Worth The Price?

NO!

(Okay, that's a bit strong, but it's only because this one's just too easy. Perhaps I should explain ...)

Apple makes a number of fine products, including the iPad, iPhone, iPod, iMac, and several versions of the MacBook. They're all very well-made, high-quality devices (considering what they cost, they should be).

And that's the problem: they're all overpriced. Apple knows this, of course ... it's part of Apple's standard marketing strategy & philosophy. Apple understands there are bazillions of loyal Apple fans who'll buy - regardless of price - practically anything with the name 'Apple' on it (largely because of the perceived Apple 'coolness factor'). So Apple brings out a product, deliberately leaves out some important features, and sells it for more than it's worth. Once the market is pretty well saturated, a few features are added, the next version of the same product is introduced, and the process is repeated.

Let's use the iPhone and iPad as examples. There are several important features that Apple leaves out, and that are readily available in Android phones and tablets. Of course, in keeping with Apple's way of doing things, it knows it can sell bazillions of overpriced iPhones and iPads without these features, so why include them?

Both the iPhone and the iPad are more expensive than they should be. To reiterate, they're excellent products, as any good smartphone or tablet should be. And that's just about it. You can ignore the hype about Apple (iOS) apps being better or more abundant than Android apps. There are bazillions of great apps for virtually every computer and computer-related device. And, as with most things, it's not the number of available apps that counts, it's their quality and usefulness. (Although the truth is that there are far more - and better - apps available for Android than for iOS).

So if you don't mind paying a hefty premium for the 'coolness' factor, pick up an iPad, iPhone, iPod, or Apple computer. It's like paying a BMW or Mercedes price for a Honda or Toyota, but at least you'll have a good product. (Am I implying that vehicles from BMW and Mercedes are overpriced? Uh, that's a whole separate discussion.)

Syncing Outlook

Seems as though practically everyone wants to synchronize Microsoft Outlook with their email, calendar, and contacts. And they think it should be easy to do (and they're right: it should be easy). But unless you use Microsoft Exchange Server, which is quite expensive ($700 and up), syncing Outlook can be very problematical (and even syncing using Exchange Server has its issues).

 

To synchronize properly, there are bazillions of settings that must be precisely correct, including incoming and outgoing mail servers, port numbers, security settings ... the list goes on. These settings are subject to many variables, and are not always readily available. And even if every setting is perfect, syncing still may not work properly.

It shouldn't be that difficult. But there are many companies involved, each with its own preferences, priorities, and protocols. They could choose to work together, but of course that's too simple and obvious a solution.

"I'd like to sync Outlook on my iPhone, iPad, Mac, home PC, work computer, and Android devices. There must be an easy way to do this." Uh, sure.

If you must (or prefer to) use Outlook, please understand that synchronization issues commonly occur, and that it's not necessarily your fault, or your computer's fault, or anybody's fault (well, except maybe Microsoft's). In some instances the problems can be easy to resolve, while in others they can be quite difficult. Many devices and accounts simply won't permit you to synchronize with Outlook.

 

If you're open to other solutions for synchronizing your email, calendar, and contacts, consider Google's Gmail and the Google Calendar. For offline email and calendar access, Google provides Offline Gmail & Calendar, providing you with full access to your Google Gmail and Calendar even when you're not connected to the Internet. On a Mac, the Apple iCal syncs flawlessly with the Google Calendar. Sure, these may not be your ideal solutions, but they work beautifully, you can share calendars and schedules with others and do many of the things you can do using Outlook, and oh, yes ... they're free and easy!

 

Mobile Hotspots

A mobile hotspot provides you with an easy way to use your laptop computers or other portable devices (such as tablets) to wirelessly connect to the Internet when you're 'on the road' (that is, in your car, away from home, work, or other locations where you might not have access to an Internet connection). You can use a mobile hotspot to connect your device to the Internet by activating the mobile hotspot feature on your smartphone. A mobile hotspot typically allows between five and eight devices to connect to the Internet.

Monthly fees for mobile hotspot service (which is provided through your cell phone service provider) vary depending upon the amount of data usage included in the plan. If you're not sure how much you need, I recommend starting at a low level; most people don't even reach 1GB (one gigabyte, which is one billion bytes) of data transfer per month on their mobile devices (data transfer is really just a simple way of measuring Internet access).


Apple iPhone or Google Android Phone?

When choosing a smartphone, the two main choices are Apple iPhones and Google Android phones (Android is simply the name of Google's mobile operating system, just as iOS is the name of Apple's mobile operating system) from various manufacturers, including Samsung, HTC, and Motorola, among others. Other smartphone options include Blackberry and Windows Mobile phones, neither of which are good choices for most users, primarily because their operating systems aren't nearly as sophisticated, impressive, and user-friendly, and because they can't compete in the app market with Apple and Android.

So, which to choose, and why? I prefer Android phones for multiple reasons, but iPhones are also very good products, and you might prefer them over Android phones. Keep in mind that one of the biggest smartphone buzzwords (and advantages) is 'apps', and both iPhones and Android phones have bazillions of available apps, many of which are absolutely free ... take a good look at both platforms, & you'll find that both have far more excellent apps than you'll likely ever need or use.