De-clutter your computer world

Cluttered computer station
Organized chaos

I am not asking you to throw away all your computers and other electronic devices, but isn’t it time to start syncing things into time-saving steps? Below are a few tips, tricks and shortcuts to help bring most of your digital devices to a more productive level.

Re-assign some of those unused function keys.

You see them every time you sit down to work with your computer, but how often do you actually use them. In a recent article, we discussed what they did and let’s face it, how many of those functions do you remember? It’s time to start using them for things you actually do. Here’s how;

  • Go to Netflix, Facebook, Twitter or wherever you frequently go then highlight and copy the address in the address bar of your browser.
  • Close or minimize your browser then ‘right click’ on the desktop and choose New à shortcut and paste the link in the box provided – then click Next.
  • Now, right-click on the newly created icon and choose ‘properties’ from the drop down menu.
  • On the dialog box that appears, select the “Web Document” tab and click in the “Shortcut Key” box then press the function key you would like to use for this application, such as the F7 key.
  • Now, to go to Twitter, simply press the F7 key on your keyboard.

Continue assigning various shortcuts to function keys. Remember to avoid using the F1 and F5 keys if possible. F1 is reserved for ‘help’ while F5 is reserved for refreshing your screen.

If you want to get rid of or hide all these newly created icons, simply create a folder on your desktop or somewhere else and move them to that folder.

Cross-posting on social media

Gone is the time when you had to post your comments, threads, resumes, blogs and everything else on social media sites one at a time. We are in an ever-growing social media world creating and maintaining our digital profiles whether it be for personal or business reasons.

Through a collection of different  apps to choose from, you can cross-post on multiple sites at the same time. TweetDeck, Buffer, HootSuite and IFTTT are some of the more popular examples of social media management applications that can do this for you. A simple Google search will list a larger selection of these apps and instructions on how to use them effectively.

Managing email, spam and newsletters

Even I have to admit to sometimes being overwhelmed with unwanted clutter in my email. Of all my accounts, only one has no clutter save for the daily email newsletters from http://www.codeacademy.com, which I want.

As I mentioned in a previous article, the best way to avoid all these spam emails and newsletters is to set up a ‘dummy’ email account. When you are visiting a site that asks for your email address, simply type in the dummy account, not your primary.

However, if it’s too late for that step, then try some online tools to help eliminate some of the daily clutter. Unroll.me is a great tool to help you unsubscribe from multiple newsletters with a single click . It also offers an option to combine your subscription into a daily digest email so you just receive one email per day instead of dozens. Currently, Unroll.me works with Outlook, Hotmail, MSN, Windows Live, Gmail, Google Apps, Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail and iCloud.

Managing time for emails is an issue within itself. Reading and replying to each one can be a daunting task if you simply go down the list in chronological order.  Start by spending some time to see the time of day your email is busiest. Do you get more emails between 2-3 p.m. as opposed to 4-5 p.m.?  Try to schedule just two times a day on email rather than every 10 minutes. Pick the two times per day your email is most active and set aside 30 minutes or so at those two times.

Read through all your new emails and respond to the simple ones first, then tackle the ones that may require more research or a lengthy response. You can also create a folder in your email program and call it ‘pending’, to address the more difficult emails. This will unclutter your inbox while giving these emails a priority so they can be addressed later, in the meantime, your email is more organized and your work day will be more effective.

Summary

There are as many solutions as there are problems when it comes to our digital life, making use of ‘free’ or ‘pay-for’ tools is a great way to start.

What to ask repair centers when your PC crashes

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Computer repair center cautions.

Who do you trust with your beloved computer and all the data residing on it? It’s a question most of us take for granted as we drop off our computer at the local repair shop. Photo’s, legal documents and passwords are just a few of the things that we store on our computer thinking it is safely tucked away. Once the computer leaves your possession and is placed in a shop, how do you know all is safe?

Below is a list of important questions along with the expected answers you should receive when shopping for a repair center. If you are not comfortable with the answers your getting from a local computer repair shop or individual, you should consider other places.

How much do you charge per hour or service?

Most respectable computer repair centers will charge either by the hour or by task, depending on the issue. The hourly rate should range between $50 – $75 ‘depending on where you live.’ Too high of a price may mean that you are being overcharged and too low may mean that the repairman may not know what he is doing or he may be planning on billing for an excessive amount of hours.

Some services will be billed by “bench hours,” meaning, how many hours the computer is actually on the work bench whether attended or unattended. Expect to pay for unattended hours when your computer is using electricity and bench space while a program is being installed or updated.

Other services will be billed by  “product,” meaning, they charge a flat fee for installing a new video card or power supply.

How many billable hours will this take to repair?

The last thing you want to do is pay $60 hour for nine hours of labor, totaling $540 to repair a computer that can be replaced for three or four hundred dollars. This is where cost vs. reward comes into play. Is it worth it to fix the computer or just purchase a new one?

You should expect to hear from the repairman, “I can’t be totally sure, but these types of repairs in the past have cost an average of (x) dollars to repair. We can certainly call you if we see the cost is going to exceed the value of the computer.”

Don’t be alarmed if the technician can’t give you an exact amount over the phone, some computer problems may seem similar but are very different in reality.

Do you have a minimum charge?

Not all computer problems require nine hours on the work bench. If your issue takes only 15 minutes to repair, you may be slapped with a minimum bench time.

You should expect to hear “yes, we have a one billable hour minimum.” On part replacements, it is also common to have a flat rate for installing new hardware.

Will there be any additional charges?

While some companies stifle you with hidden fees, this simple question should clear the air. No one wants to get a quote only to find out the actual cost is much higher.

What you should expect to hear; “No. If it looks like it is going to cost more than we quoted, you will receive a phone call notifying you of the added expense and an explanation as to why.” At this point you may choose to go forward with the extra repairs or simply pick up your computer as-is.

Do you guarantee your work?

Guarantee’s and warrantees are a given in today’s society, but are they worth anything? Ask the repairman the conditions of the guarantee, if they fix the problem and it returns, what will they offer? If their response is “uhm or I’m not sure,” then try another repairman. No one wants to pay for repairs and have the same issue again two weeks later. This does not apply to all issues, for example; viruses. You may have your computer completely cleaned of all viruses and three days later be infected again.

You should expect to hear; “Yes, for most repairs we guarantee our labor and/or parts for 30 to 90 days.” Most hardware comes with a one year warranty from the manufacturer in conjunction with the local shops warranty. When replacing or upgrading parts, make sure you get new, not used if you want a warranty.

Anytime you have hardware or software programs installed on your computer, make sure you get the box, CD and literature for the product when you pick up your computer. Usually software will have a CD Key that you may need to register the product later.

Will you save my files?

Your computer is an assembly of parts that in most cases can be easily replaced. The digital items such as photo’s of your dog, video’s of your child’s first steps, legal documents and spreadsheets with your usernames and passwords are what’s really important to most of us.

The answer you should expect is; “yes, if they are retrievable.”

This also happens to fall under one of those items that are listed as a flat rate in most cases. Expect to have to pay $x per gigabyte of data retrieved. Most places will charge a flat rate of about $85 for the first gigabyte and $20 for each additional gigabyte. If your primary goal is to retrieve data from a dead hard drive, expect to send the drive to a professional lab. Generally, local computer stores do not have the ability to do this level of work. Professionals can most often retrieve data even if the drive has been formatted two or three times.

Summary:

When shopping for a computer repair center, do not hesitate to ask questions. Ask about certifications, knowledge level of the technicians and years of service. This is your computer and your sensitive data. Most often, your best option is to take it to a shop as opposed to a local guru’s house. On the reverse of that, some techies that work from home after their day job, are real brainiac’s and some are want-to-be’s, so beware.

Linux vs. Windows vs. Mac

Move over Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X, Linux is gaining ground with speed and stability. In past articles, we have primarily dealt with the two mainstream operating systems (OS), but there is another that is dominating the world – Linux.

What is Linux

Linux is, in simplest terms, an operating system just as are Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. It’s the software on a computer that enables the computer operator to interact between applications (software) and hardware. Many people are inclined to think that Windows is the standard while Mac OS X and Linux are rogue operating systems. Quite the contrary. Windows is a DOS (Disk Operating System) based OS while Mac and Linux are based on the very first OS – Unix.

Actually, there are number of OS’s that you may install on your home computer. A quick list of the other more popular ones are; Solaris Sun by Oracle, Free BSD, Chrome, Android, Os2 / Os2 Warp, React OS, AtheOS, SkyOS, and Free DOS. Only Mac and Windows use TV ads to promote their product, yet Linux is gaining a lot of market-share considering it has only word-of-mouth advertising.

As an operating system, Linux is developed collaboratively, meaning that its development and ongoing support is not the responsibility of one company, but rather all of them collectively. Companies participating in the Linux community share research and development costs with their partners and competitors. This would be the equivalent of Microsoft and Apple sharing technology, resources, and cost. We all know that doesn’t happen and probably never will.

Linux OS is comprised of two parts, the Kernel (code that makes up the core OS) and the GUI, (Graphical User Input.) There are only a handful of Kernels, but the GUI that makes the distribution (a combination of Kernel and GUI) are plentiful. The most popular are Mint, Ubuntu, Red Hat, Suse and Debian.

Where is Linux

Linux has grown remarkably since its first release in 1991, powering everything from the New York Stock Exchange to mobile phones to supercomputers and consumer devices such as smart refrigerators and washing machines. Linux began as a server OS and has become useful in desktop and laptop systems, gaining popularity with leaps and bounds.

Windows and OS X are predominantly found on personal computers, but Linux’s adaptability to work well on “wristwatches to supercomputers” gives the OS an edge over the other two. Quite simply put, most of the web pages that you visit each day are hosted by Linux servers, not Windows or Mac. Linux can also be installed at the factory when you purchase a new personal computer / laptop online from places such as Dell Computers.

Surprisingly, even Windows 10 contains binaries identical to the binaries running on an Ubuntu platform. (Binaries are the core function code found imbedded in the OS.)

Cost

Since Linux is an open operating system built by the masses, it costs nothing to the end user. That’s right, FREE. Unlike the bloated priced Microsoft Windows or Mac computers, Linux is free to download and install on as many computers as you like and there is no registration or activation required. Just to set things straight, I like Mac computers. After all they are Unix based like Linux, but the cost of purchasing a Mac is just too much for me. While the Linux distributions may be free, the biggest cost associated with Linux is the learning curve. The time a company devotes to training its employees on a new OS is often more than they are willing to pay at this time.

Final thoughts

The advantage of Linux over Windows is Linux is more stable and virtually virus free. It’s also much faster at starting up, running applications and shutting down. With Linux, there is no “blue screen of death” as associated with Windows. The list of major advantages could go on for pages, but you get the gist of it.

In my professional opinion, anyone wanting to migrate over to Linux should start with either Mint or Ubuntu. These seem to be the most Windows-like and user friendly of the more than 100 distributions I have worked with. If you would like more information, please email me at pailwriter@outlook.com.