LC's Computer Maintenance Tips
(A Message for Non-Geeks)
Part 2: Software, Settings, and Tools

PART 1: Hardware
Computer Battery
Beep Codes and Blue Screen
Hard Drives and Connectors
PART 2: Software, Settings, and Tools
System Restore
Backing Up Everything, External Hard Drives

Here I'm going to discuss wisdom I've acquired in order to keep my hard drive operating well and my data secured. I am specifically discussing Windows (XP) but most things probably apply to other Windows operating systems and some to non-Windows, too.

The first is about disk cleanup which I do at least every time I log off my computer. Of course, the easiest tool to use is the Disk Cleanup, but sometimes that doesn't work that well and it can run slow or not run at all. The one on the Dell computer didn't work. In a case like that, uncheck the box for "Compress Old Files" and it should work fine. But there is a faster way to delete junk. Just click "Start." Somewhere in that menu should be a parallelogram with the word "Run." Click that and type in %temp%, then press OK. That will take you to temporary files that can all be safely deleted. If your computer is using any of them, it will just not delete them, or if they are deleted, they will reload. Often, for some reasons, these won't be purged by the Disk Cleanup, and can build up and clog up. Then just right-click on your Recycling Bin and empty it. And be sure to use your Defragmenting tool on a regular basis, depending on how many programs and data you add to your hard drive.

And be sure to set your monitor screen to go black in a certain number of minutes when not being used. You can do that by right-clicking on your desktop, then clicking "Properties" on the menu. Click Screen Saver, then Monitor Power, and set the number of minutes best for you. If you have a tendency to leave your computer on and leave it for long periods, set the monitor to go off after a few minutes.

The System Restore tool is one of the most valuable accessories on your computer. I cannot tell you how many times I have used it to get me quickly out of potentially disastrous situations. I highly recommend that you create a desktop shortcut for it, so it is handy if you need it in an emergency. It is located in Programs/Accessories/System Tools. Just right-click on it, then click "Create Shortcut," and drag the icon to your desktop.

This tool should be used before you make any major changes to your computer, like adding a new program or software. Your system automatically sets up periodic restore points, but you can set your own. One thing I have discovered to my dismay, is that desktop items will not be saved if a restore point wasn't set up automatically before I changed them. Since I am a code writer, most of my work is done on my desktop. If I create my own restore point, then all my work will remain intact. It is easy to do—the tool walks you through the steps.

Incidentally, if you happen to acquire a computer that hasn't been used for a while, be sure to manually re-set the clock. Don't rely on it to sync with internet time because it won't before you re-set it. That created a huge problem for me when I got this other computer. The time was right, but, I had not paid attention to the date, which was stuck on January 1, 2007! I was not able to access hardly anything online. I kept getting security issue warnings. Once I updated the clock, everything worked fine. And as I mentioned in Part 1, if you are finding your clock is doing strange things, your battery may be running down.

I used to think I was the best backer-upper of files. I had a Western Digital external hard drive and I didn't trust it, so I made copies of everything on flash drives which are pretty dependable if you keep them in a safe place. Mine are in a 50-cent plastic storage box from Marc's. Anyways, in less than two years, the hard drive died, and had I not backed up everything on flash drives, I would have lost, for instance, all my original Word docs of my book reviews, about 300 of them (before I converted them to code), but I have in a couple cases needed, for some reason, to go back to the original copy.

Well it pissed me off that that this rather costly hard drive was such a piece of junk. Fortunately, I started reading numerous reviews on Amazon about this particular brand of equipment and its unreliability, which I should have read before I bought it. I uninstalled the software, since that seemed to be the biggest complaint, and was using it strictly for files I chose to save, mostly concerning my website, dragging them directly onto the drive from my desktop. But it still died!

I will never waste money on one again. And don't be sure that if you get a virus, it won't go through to the external hard drive. I actually had a corruption pass from my desktop to a file I had on the drive. The article linked from Malwarebytes at the bottom of this page confirms that this can and does happen. I just don't trust external hard drives at all. Flash drives are cheap, safe, and convenient.

So now, I have four copies of my website. I have three of my Word docs, three of my fancy fonts, of which I've got probably 400—so many that they are not even loaded into my computer font files—I store them in folders. Plus I’ve got three copies of all my original jpegs of my coloring book photos, all my Word docs in progress, my Project Gutenberg stuff, my pictures folder—whew! It seems like I was prepared for anything to go wrong.

Well, not quite, and this episode with my computer being down for over a week made me aware of just how ill-prepared I was. Because, most everybody (I hope) backs up the big stuff—important documents, family photos—that sort of thing. But it was the little stuff that I was missing and that's what bothered me the most. The first thing I did when I got everything up and running was to back up everything.

I had not updated my picture files for a while, so I did that, and put all the contents of my desktop in folders to back them up, too. I do all my web writing on my desktop, since Notepad really doesn't have its own place to save work, so my desktop is covered with projects that have so little done that I had not bothered to back them up. I keep a folder of backgrounds that I had played with on GIMP to use for whatever, plus re-sized book cover images to use on my Home page as book reviews are completed. I hadn't backed them up recently, either. And I had just started a new project, that only had the font embedding and background done. I had none of that saved either. I could have redone it, but code-writing is so time-consuming that I hate to do it twice. Do you see what I mean? Backing up files means backing up everything.

I think what I missed most was my saved websites. On Internet Explorer, at least 8 and before, the "Favorites" are stored on a little Star icon. Click Start, then My Computer, then Local Disk C. (That's your hard drive.) Then open Documents and Settings and open the folder with your name on it, or whoever is the registered owner of the computer. Copy the file to your desktop, then drag and drop it onto your flash drive.

I could have lived without my I.E. Favorites, but it was my Firefox Bookmarks that I really missed, because I have ongoing web project informational sites saved, for instance, Wikipedia lists of Victorian novelists, for my Victorian index and Wikipedia lists of LGBT authors for that index, plus my color-picker, font converters, eBook sources. OMG—what a pain that would have been to reset those, and many I would not have remembered. Some, especially concerning free eBooks took me forever to locate.

With Firefox, Bookmarks are saved a bit differently. In the toolbar, click Bookmarks/Show All Bookmarks/Import and Backup, then Backup (save to desktop). Your Bookmarks can then be dragged to your flash drive. You can import them to Firefox on another computer, but beware, because I believe any existing bookmarks on that computer will be wiped out. I think.

I do not currently have Chrome or Opera, or, of course Safari, but I am sure there is a way, similar to either of these, to back up your favorite websites. I strongly recommend doing it.

Always make sure, after backing up files on an external device, that you disconnect it from your computer. I always disconnect from the internet when I plug in my flash drives. You do not need the internet to transfer internal data!!

Lastly, I have found, through someone's recommendation, an online software program you may purchase that will actually move, not only your files and data, but your entire programs and settings from one computer to another. I have often wondered how to take my Word Program with me, and worried about losing my Picture Manager, a companion to Word which Microsoft no longer offers, but which is an immense time-saver for me in my web work. The program is called PC Mover and can be found on Laplink

I have to admit, I am not paranoid about security as most people are, and by the same token, I have had almost no security issues. I have the paid version of Malwarebytes and they are one of the few companies who still support XP, bless their hearts. I think "malware" is more prevalent than "viruses" these days. The funny thing is, I've never had a virus, yet all these people who are secured to the hilt seem to get them all the time. Hmmm. Marion and I had this conversation last week, and I've had it with others, too.

The story goes that Windows is what everyone targets to infect with viruses, because they hate Bill Gates, or something like that, but my opinion is that Bill Gates himself is developing viruses to infest and spy on his own customers. Microsoft Security means that Microsoft is secure in being able to own their customers by means of manipulation, and to investigate them, possibly and quite probably to sell information to the government. Does that seem outlandish to you? Would you trust anyone that owns 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock?

I'm not saying, by any means, all viruses. I realize there are people who have nothing better to do with their lives than to make other people miserable. Hell, who knows, those people could be contracted out to Microsoft. HA. And I would certainly be surprised if Microsoft wasn't involved in our own government's cyber attacks and spyware.

When I first booted up the computer that was just given to me, before I hooked it up to the internet, I turned off all updates from Microsoft. Open your control panel and make sure it is "Classic View" not "Category View." Open "Automatic Updates" and turn that off. Then go back to your control panel and open "System." Click "Remote Assistance" and disallow both of those.

When I got into the "Add/Remove Programs" I was aghast at the level in which this computer was "secured." I uninstalled the anti-virus program, but the Microsoft updates here were miles long. I cannot operate with a system that is so clogged up with blocks that I feel like I'm swimming through mud. Getting rid of a lot of this freed me up to actually function on this computer. Then I installed an up-to-date version of Malwarebytes and ran a scan. 904 malware objects were detected!!! OMG!! How could this be, with all the security installed on this computer? Well, they were mostly registry and desktop malware (that kept moving around my desktop icons after I had repeatedly arranged them). Well, where do you think registry malware comes from? I suspect, from Microsoft. In all the years I have had computers, I would say I have had less than 40 Malware objects total.

When Microsoft quit supporting XP, I began to get suspicious that "updates" were still loading. One evening, when I was trying to do some work, "The Defender" (a Microsoft product) invaded my computer, and screamed at me that I had 36 viruses and I had to buy this product. It proceeded to turn my desktop upside down, cover it with pop-ups, make horrible noises, then show me a page where I could conveniently sign up to buy their product. I was unable to get rid of this. I was locked in—couldn't even shut my computer down which is probably good. Finally, I started a "system restore," (see above), and got rid of the whole thing. I disallowed all further communications with Microsoft, and have not had a problem since. I know for a fact they have downloaded other harmful objects into my system because I have researched them. When I first got Malwarebytes, a technician went through my whole system (for free), and got rid of iffy junk. I keep my internet unplugged unless I am actually doing work online (because I realize XP supposedly is more vulnerable to attacks), but that may not be true. Malwarebytes does its job and I feel quite secure with them.

And speaking of Malwarebytes, I would have thought this was an early April Fool's joke if it had not come from one of their newsletters, but apparently there is a new malware out called "Ransomware." Here is the article from their website. As mentioned above in the "backing-up" section, they confirm what I said about corruptions being able to leak through to an external hard drive.

How to beat Ransomware: Prevent, don't react

This is why I say back-up, back-up, back-up!! The thugs can't corrupt a file while it's on a safe little flash drive in a plastic storage box from Marc's.

I hope the information on these two pages has been helpful. I strongly recommend that you also do your own research on topics that interest you. I am only an amateur, not an expert, but I have acquired a great deal of computer wisdom in my years of working with them and speaking to others in the know.

Your computer, even an elderly one, can be a long-time faithful companion. Treat it with care and it will reward you.

Return to Part 1: Hardware

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