Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Importance of Backing Up Your Data

Hi again, Benedict here, and I would like to start off this post by asking you to think about something for a moment.

If your computer or smartphone broke down right now, and you could not get any data back from it, how much would you lose?
Family photos? School or work documents and Reports? Your media collection?

Well, your answer should be: Nothing. Simple as that, so let me help you get started. I’ll begin with the simple options, and move on to the more complicated but better prepared ones.

Backing up your digital data is more important than many people realize. If you have a good notebook or phone that serves you well, you would look after it wouldn’t you? I have heard of many cases where people badly damage or wipe their computer only to realize that the only copy of all their very important files and photos were still in it.

Sadly, in such cases, the data is gone forever. It happened to me too, twice. Thankfully, mine was mostly archived data. Imagine if you lost a report or presentation you worked so hard on the day before it was due? That would be a big inconvenience for everyone. For damaged hard drives or solid state drives, you can attempt to get the data off it by sending it for data recovery. Even then, there is no guarantee that they can retrieve all your data, and the cost would be through the roof. (Estimated about $1000 and above) (That is, unless your notebook or hard drive is still covered by warranty.)

You may be wondering, ‘How exactly do I back up my data?’, and no, you are not wrong for thinking that. You see, sometimes the reason why we don’t back up our digital collection and information is because we simply don’t know how to.

What’s the ‘easiest’ way to backup? Do you have a thumb drive or external hard drive? Just copy all your files into it, and remember to update them regularly. It may be easy in this sense, but think about it, when your data collection grows, you will still need to manually keep remembering which files to backup, which you have edited since your last backup, etc. Furthermore, imagine overwriting a file on your backup storage media with an updated one, only to realize that you still needed the original older file.

This could be an acceptable solution for data to be archived (meaning no more edits will be made to it) like family photos. It could also be acceptable if your data collection size is relatively small.

The second better solution is cloud backup. Services like Onedrive, Google Drive and Dropbox all provide the ability to effortlessly synchronize your files across all your computers running the application. Each service provides a small amount of cloud storage for free, but you can also pay a small monthly or yearly fee for a larger storage capacity.

I rely heavily on cloud storage. With it, I no longer have to do any remembering or manual copying or renaming. Any file that I create, move to a different folder, edit, rename, delete or otherwise alter is immediately synchronized across all my machines. Furthermore, the cloud storage provider also keeps a copy of your data backed up in their storage platform, allowing you to access them anywhere where you have an internet connection.

What about smartphones? As mentioned above, there are applications from those online cloud storage providers that will allow you to back up the data in your phone. One example is camera backup: As soon as I snap a picture, and get connected to the internet, that photo is automatically uploaded into the cloud storage and it appears on my computer when I switch it on. Simple and efficient.

Up to this point, I have only been elaborating about file backup. What about your computer, and the entire operating system? Well, yes, the whole operating system can be backed up as well. This is done by creating a ‘System Image’. Windows 7 and Windows 10 both have a Backup and Restore option in the control panel. Windows 8 onward has a File History option in the control panel. You can also use a third party program, like Macrium Reflect Free Edition to take system images for you, on a schedule even. Do note that you will probably need an external hard drive to perform these types of backups.

Windows 7 and Windows 10 both have a Backup and Restore option lets you take system images and even set a schedule for when they should occur. System image backups allow you to restore an operating system to it’s former working state in the event that something goes horribly wrong. (E.g. Computer keeps crashing, or computer virus infection.)

Windows 8 to Windows 10 has a File History option allowing you to back up your files to an external hard drive, while maintaining the revisions that a file has gone through, allowing you to retrieve the older version of a file if you need it.

That’s the gist of this topic for now. Feel free to give me your feedback.

Keeping Your PC Optimized

Hi everyone, Benedict here. Sorry for the inconsistent timings of my posts.

Continuing from where I left off regarding the survey, the next most common feedback I received was how our computers tend to slow down or lag behind after we have had them for a while. In this post, I would like to share with you some steps you can take to improve your computer’s performance. None of these will require 3rd party software programs, as the utilities are already inbuilt into the operating system.

These remedies are generic and while they would help improve your computer’s performance, don’t expect it’s performance to be soaring through the roof. In addition to these steps, I recommend running an Anti-Virus scan with your anti-virus program. There may be times when malicious software or adware installs itself on your computer along with other software you install, and they cause a drop in system performance.

The first is to remove any programs that you do not want or no longer need. To do this, head over to Control Panel > Programs and Features. Yes, you may see quite a number of things there that you may not be familiar with. Run through the list, keep a lookout for those programs that you are familiar with, but no longer use, and uninstall them if you wish to.

Exercise caution in uninstalling an unwanted program. If you are unsure of what that program is, do a quick lookup of it online. My rule of thumb is: If you don’t know what it is, don’t uninstall or change it.

The second step is to clear the “junk” files on your computer, and by that I mean things like temporary files. These files are often left behind by programs when they are run, and can be safely deleted in most instances. (Unless say, it is currently in use.) You can think of temporary files as the construction material, used or unused, that was left behind after constructing a building, instead of being cleared.

To do this, go to the disk cleanup utility from the start menu. If you would like to include the cleaning of unnecessary system related files, right click and run the application as an administrator. After it scans your PC, it will present a list of items that can be cleared, along with a description for each one and the amount of disk space you will free up. The rest is up to your decision.

The third step is to defragment the files on your hard drive. (Do Not perform this step if your computer is using a Solid State Drive.) Allow me to explain how it works.

When you create a new document and save it, it saves to your hard drive as a single contiguous file. As you continue editing it over time and adding or removing information, the document file is broken up into more pieces and saved to different locations on the physical hard disk. (This is usually because there is no room to add the additional data along side the original location of the file as another file could have planted itself there.)

When you want to open that particular document file, the computer has to search for and gather all the pieces, or fragments, of the file all over the hard disk, before consolidating them and opening it in the application. This would be more time consuming. Upon defragmentation, the pieces of that file would be rearrange once again, back into a single contiguous file. Thus when an application wants to open the file, the computer only has to gather the file from one part of the hard disk to retrieve it.

To perform defragmentation, go to the defragment and optimize drives utility from the start menu. To analyse the fragmentation level, select the drive and click the analyse button. To defragment, select the drive, and click the optimize button. (I recommend optimizing the C Drive first, as that will probably give you the greatest performance boost.

The computer boot time for some of you may be slow. This is primarily due to the number of programs that start running as soon as the computer boots up. The large number of programs causes the computer to become slow at startup. For example, sometimes you may encounter pop ups by some programs or utilities on your PC that are actually not necessary, and consume additional resources. Here is how to resolve it.

If you are running Windows 8, 8.1 or 10, open the task manager, go to the ‘Startup’ tab on the top header, then click on the programs that you feel are not necessary on startup, and disable them. If you are running Windows 7 or an operating system older than it, press “Windows Key + R” and type “msconfig” in the dialog box. Click on the startup tab and check the box stating ‘Hide all Microsoft Services’. (Reason being that you don’t want to disable any system startup processes.)

Do note that these steps only prevents the program from automatically starting when you login. You can still launch the program manually from it’s desktop icon or the start menu.

If your computer happens to be quite slow, the above mentioned remedies may also take a while to finish. Give it some time and be patient. If your hard drive is heavily fragmented, I recommend leaving the defragmentation and optimization to run overnight as it could take a long while.

Even after carrying out all these proposed remedies, your computer may still not be as fast as you want it to be. The reasons are numerous. If you are still facing trouble with such issues, feel free to reach out to me at my email: benedictlee21@gmail.com

Advanced method of above mentioned utilities:

If you are like me, curious to see what’s under the hood, or just to make things a little simpler, there are some additional steps you can take to boost your computer’s performance.

Disk Cleanup: Navigate to the paths of the following folders, and manually delete their contents. (Use Ctrl + A to select all files). If these paths do not exist, just ignore them.

C:\temp
C:\Windows\Temp
C:\Users\<Username>\AppData\Local
<username> refers to the name of the user currently logged in.

For the last path, you will need to show hidden files and folders. Go to Control Panel > File Explorer Options (Folder Options for Windows 7 or older) >’ View’ Tab > ‘Show Hidden Files and Folders’ button.

You may notice that there are many files, and that their names are quite gibberish, but that’s not an issue. The computer may inform you that some of the files cannot be deleted, in that case, ignore those files.

Disk Defragmentation: Open the command prompt as an administrator. (Right click, run as administrator.) Type in the following command, within the quotes, :

defrag c:\ /a /u /v” (Analyse C drive only)
defrag c:\ /u /v” (Analyse and Defragment C drive)

Meanings: defrag – command to defragment, C:\ – Specifies the target drive as C drive, /u – show the details of the process as it occurs, /v – show the analysis or defragmentation output in greater detail.

Bonus: Disk Boot Optimization: There is an additional parameter that can be included with the defrag command:

defrag c:\ /b /u /v” (Optimizes the files required for your computer to boot)

The /b parameter tells the computer to optimize mainly the system files required for your computer to boot, so as to improve startup times and overall performance.

System File Checker (SFC): The SFC scans your computer for system files that may have been corrupted, and attempts to repair them. Open the command prompt as an administrator. The command is:

sfc /scannow

The scanning process will take some time. Corrupted files may be the result of the installation of third party software or programs altering system files. Upon completion. the results may state that some files could not be repaired. If your computer previously had no serious performance or working issues, I suggest that you ignore it, but keep a lookout for any unusual system behavior. Many a time these are relatively minor problems that should not have too much impact on your system.

The last (and fast) resort to resolving a really slow system is to refresh or reinstall the operating system from the settings menu in windows 8 onward, or reinstalling the operating system. These should only be used as a last resort and remember to back up all your data before you do it.

Gaining Knowledge and Having Discipline

Let’s get started on the responses. The responses I received covered a wide area of topics ranging from the lack of knowledge of technology on the part of the end user, to the technical problems we may face when using our smart devices, to the health effects of spending to much time on them. Indeed, it’s quite a bit of information to cover, but let’s take it one step at a time.

Having gone through the responses, the first issue I would like to elaborate on is knowledge on the part of the end user. Knowledge is not difficult to obtain today, with the existence of the internet and all the resources it offers. However, it is also equally as important that you use your discretion when sourcing for solutions or help, as some information on the internet is incorrect or outdated.

I have realized that many problems we face today with using technology today may stem from either the lack of knowledge of how to use a software program, or how to troubleshoot a problem. The first thing I would want you to do if you run into such an issue, is to search online for an answer.

There are many forums and discussion threads that explain the problem and list the possible steps that you can take to resolve it. I recommend that you visit several websites or forums instead of just one, so as to be able to get a bigger picture of the problem and its possible solutions. This was the strategy I used to learn how to work with technology and resolve computer related problems from a young age.

It is also important to use your discretion when searching for answers this way. Some solutions or forum threads may recommend downloading an unknown program to help you resolve the issue, or suggest things that just don’t make much sense. In my opinion, steer clear of downloading any ‘recommended’ repair tool, unless you trust the publisher and can obtain it from a trusted source. Use your discretion, and make comparisons. If a proposed solution does not seem to make any sense, ignore it. If it is too difficult for you to understand, do not take the risk. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry.

The second issue I would like to elaborate on is exercising discipline when using technology. A few responses I received were about the distractions caused by social media, gaming, watching too many online videos, or just spending too much time on the computer doing things that are not very useful, or productive, you could say.

Additionally, there could possibly be some negative effects arising from sitting in front of a screen or staring at one for too long. Some of these effects may include a sore back or stiff muscles, hurting your eyes and not getting enough rest for the next day.

In this case, it is all about you and how much effort you put in to it. As an individual, train yourself to have the discipline to manage your time well and limit your time doing unhelpful things online. Think of other things that you can do and learn offline. Spend time with your loved ones and friends. If it seems too difficult for you to pull off? Well, get your parents, friends or peers to help you. It is better to start as early as you can, to avoid it from becoming a habit.

My parents instilled the value of discipline into me from a young age through their household rules. They forbade me from playing any form of online game, even until today. They also limited my television time and screen time. I am very thankful to them for having done that, as today, I know that I am the master over my technology, and not the slave. You should too.

That’s the gist of these topics for the time being. As for you, do not stop learning, even during your holidays. You will surprise yourself with what you can do and even discover your hidden talents.

As always please feel free to contact me regarding any feedback you may have about my posts, or just in general. My personal email is benedictlee21@gmail.com, and my Facebook email is benedict.lee.9250@facebook.com

Thank you for your Responses

Not long ago, I decided to conduct a short survey to help me understand where your areas of concern are with regards to using technology productively. You can still participate in it if you wish to, the link is in my previous post.

First and foremost, I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to everyone who took the time to help me by completing the short survey that I created. Your insights have helped me to learn and discover how I can help you, and I will be elaborating on the general topics covered by your responses and address their issues in my future posts.

Just to give you a brief introduction or recap, my question in the survey was: “What are the factors that you feel are hindering you from using technology (your computer, smart devices, software tools, etc) productively?”

Let me help you understand my viewpoint in setting this question. I would interpret the term ‘Productivity’ as being able to produce the desired results from your work or studies in the time frame that you are given, using the available tools that you have. On the other hand, you could also interpret it as being able to share your knowledge and ideas, or even to finish or level up on an online game. (If you feel that is helpful to you.) Overall, I would consider the term ‘Productive’ as being able to successfully accomplish whatever you set out to do, effectively and within the time constraints you may face.

Having gone through the responses I received, I have decided to place my focus firstly on both the larger areas of concern, as well as those which would give you the most beneficial impact. These I will elaborate in my next post.