Computer Dictionary for the Common Man – #1

This week, I want to introduce a new series to my  blog.   I call it “Computer Dictionary for the Common Man”.  This series  will attempt to take unintelligible computer terms and break them down into something the common man can understand.  I will be publishing “Computer Dictionary for the Common Man” periodically but it will not be an every week article.  I’ll use it to mix things up a bit.

The word for this week is BIOS.  BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System.  When you push the power button on your computer, it doesn’t just start.  Something has to control the startup process (or initiate the hardware components).  This is what BIOS does.  It is a small piece of system code that runs when you hit the power button.  This code initializes and tests each part of the computer (i.e., the memory, the hard drive, the video, etc).  Once they are initialized, the Operating System then takes over the control of the hardware.

Back up your data or lose it!

One of the things that I encounter the most when working on a client’s computer, is that they either don’t know where their data is or they’ve not backed it up recently.  Unfortunately, it’s usually when they’ve lost a hard drive or have some pretty nefarious malware and their data is irretrievable.  I recommend that all computer users devise some computer backup scenario, and use it frequently.  Here are three different scenarios that can be implemented:

  • Most new computer systems come with a vendor provided backup solution.  This can be used to completely backup your data.  Unfortunately, this is not a free option.  But then again, what price do you place on your data?
  • You can sign up with a data backup service that will back up your data.  One such service is Carbonite (  Carbonite is also a paid solution.  Those users fortunate enough to have an Apple product have access to the iCloud which automatically backs up your device.
  • Finally, you can purchase an external hard drive and backup your data there.  This is the option I use and you can purchase a 3 TB (terrabyte) hard drive that connects to your network for a small investment these days.  Some drives even come with software to automatically backup your computer on a periodic basis.

The thing to remember about all of these scenarios, is that you need to know where your data is.  I have a folder on my computer in which I keep all data.  I also configure all programs I use to automatically put the files in this folder.

If you need assistance setting up a backup solution, contact the Good Egg for help.  And remember, eiather back up your data or lose it.

Using the Cloud to Backup your Computer

The Cloud is quickly becoming the wave of the future.  It’s great for sharing files and pictures with friends and family.  Something new that is showing up is backing up your computer to the Cloud.  But, is this really safe?  Yes and no.  The Cloud is basically a Server on someone’s network and as such, is open to theft and attack.  The technologies available these days make these Servers more secure, but technology changes every day.  The hackers learn new tricks and figure out new ways to break into the Servers.  There is also the issue with unhappy employees stealing data.

My recommendation if your going to back your data up to the Cloud?  Don’t backup anything that will have account information or other personal information in it, such as your Social Security number.  If you want to back up your photos or your iTunes music so that you don’t have to redownload it, by all means go ahead.  Just be cognizant on what you are actually putting on the Cloud!

Help! My computer is running slow!!!

One of the most common questions I get asked is “Why is my computer running so slow?”.  There are any number of reasons why it’s slow, but let me give you my basic troubleshooting tasks that I perform.  First, I look at the age of the PC/Laptop and the number of apps the user is trying to run. A Pentium 4 with Office 2007, Quicken 2009, Adobe Acrobat Standard and other apps running is going to run slow.  A hardware upgrade is needed at this point.

If the PC/Laptop is relatively new (less than 2 years old), there are a couple of things I look for. First, I check to see if the Hard Drive needs to be Defragged. To Defrag your computer, open My Computer or Windows Explorer. Right click on C: and then click on Properties. Next click on Tools and Defragment Now. Click Analyze to determine if a Defrag is needed. If one is needed, click on Defrag and this will start the process. Defragmentation can take several hours so be patient and let it run.

If Defrag is not needed or doesn’t seem to speed up the PC/Laptop, I run a tool to clean the PC/Laptop. One tool I recommend is CCleaner by Piriform. If can be downloaded from this link. Over time, removing and adding software, improper shutdowns and just general problems can cause the Registry and other Windows Operating files to get cluttered. CCleaner examines these files and removes the clutter.

If the prior steps don’t work, I run MSCONFIG and look to see what is running at PC/Laptop startup. To do this, Click Start or hit the Windows key on your keyboard. Next click Run and then type msconfig (not case sensitive) and then hit enter. You want to examine the Startup tab and see what’s running.

Be careful editing this file. If you are not confident editing it, let the Professionals edit it.

Your goal here is to look for programs that are running at Startup that you don’t need to run. For instance, if you are happy with your version of Adobe Reader, you may want to turn off AdobeUpdater by unchecking it’s box. This will prevent if from running at Startup.

The final thing I look for is Spyware. There are numerous tools out there to check for Spyware but the key thing to remember is these tools should be run in SAFE Mode. I will devote my next blog to running Spyware tools so I’ll not cover that here.

Some final thoughts on slow running PC – try to be cognizant of when the slowness is occurring. Is it only occurring when you start your web browser? Is it slow when the PC/Laptop starts up? Is it slow when you run your mail program? Some things to think about as your troubleshooting slow pc’s are: Is the Internet in general slow that day? Is your ISP having issues? Is your virus protection processing a scan at the time of the slowness (our laptop at Church was running slow on Sunday mornings during service. It turns out that the AntiVirus program was running weekly scans during Service. I quickly turned that off ).  Also, there may be Hardware issues that are causing the slowness (failing hard drive, overheating CPU).  These should be ruled out before the troubleshooting tasks listed above.

Troubleshooting a slow PC/Laptop is a time consuming process so don’t expect a quick fix on this. If your not PC literate, you may want to turn this over to the Professionals but it will cost you some money. You might want to consider reimaging your PC/Laptop. It may work out better in the long run.

Microsoft Excel – Column headings are number instead of letters.

I found a cool problem/fix yesterday with Microsoft Excel.  A user called complaining that in Excel, his Column Headings were numbers instead of letters.  Normally, columns are identified by Letters (A, B, C, etc) and rows are identified by numbers (1, 2, 3, etc).  His spreadsheet had numbers for both the column and the row.  He had done the usual things, restart Excel, restart the PC and nothing seemed to work.  To resolve this, once inside Excel, click on Tools / Options /General  and then uncheck R1C1 Reference Style.

Tips to avoid getting Spyware, Viruses or other Malware.

By far, the most common place to pick up Spyware, Viruses or other Malware is from the Internet.  I thought I would put together a few tips to help you avoid these unwanted pests.

  • When running a search on Google, Yahoo or some of the other search engines, you can actually see the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) link that the results are pointing to.  Look at this link BEFORE clicking on the link.  If it’s going to some obscure location (like or ), you should probably steer clear of this link – would you trust the information they are providing any way?
  • Avoid links to foreign countries, especially third world countries.  The W3C standards list possible extensions for every kind of website in the world.  Besides the obivous extenstions of .com, .net, and .org (which are meant to be US only extensions), each country has their own extension (yes, there is a .us), .ru – is for Russia, .it is Italy, etc.  Stay away from the sites in third world countries – they spell trouble.
  • If you are on a “always on” connection (DSL, Cable Modem, etc), install a firewall.  Zone Alarm makes a great firewall that is free and is easy to install.  If you are running a home network, you will probably want to look at a different product but for 1 or 2 computers, Zone Alarm is the way to go.  There are other firewalls out there that do as good or better of a job but some are more intrusive with pop-ups than Zone Alarm.
  • Don’t open an email from someone you don’t know.  If you have reading pane turned on, turn it off.  Especially avoid emails from those reaching out to you to help them in their time of trouble.
  • When you click on a link, the link is displayed in both the URL Address Lookup and the status bar at the bottom of the window.  If they don’t match – you should probably run – especially if they are pointing to totally different locations.
  • If you get a pop-up on your desktop that informs you your computer is infected, Don’t Click Here!  That is how several different pieces of Malware install to your computer.  Use only reputable Malware detection tools.
  • Don’t install anything unless you know that is exactly what you want.  Several “free” sites install their product plus a bunch of other apps.  The Hotbar (smilies you can put in your email) is an example of freeware that can be installed that is Malware.  Hotbar spreads like wildfire 🙂 .

Windows XP – How to apply custom folder settings to all folders.

Did you ever get a folder setup the way you like and want all folders to look the same? 

 In Windows XP, you can make all folders look the same as the folder you’ve customized.  Once you get the folder setup like you want it, click on Tools and then click on Folder Options .  Once there,  click on the View tab and then click  on Apply to All Folders

 Windows XP Folder Settings