Category Archives: Misc.

The Traveler’s Notebook Accessories List

The pile of accessories I pack for my notebook isn’t as big as it used to be. Unfortunately, it’s still easy for it to be as heavy and bulky as the notebook itself.

Specifically, my current travel notebook is a newish (purchased December 2011) Lenovo ThinkPad X120e, with an 11-inch display.

At three and a third pounds (with the 6-cell higher-capacity battery) and 0.6 to 1.14 inches thick (it’s wedge shaped), my X120e is admittedly not as svelte as an Apple Mac Air or sundry Windows-oriented “ultrabooks.” But it’s portable enough — and the sale price was “svelte,” letting me get a current machine when I needed a new one, while saving some cash for the ultrabook I really want.

To take advantage of this portability, you want to streamline the amount of additional gear you bring along with you. In theory, you can get by with just the AC power supply; in reality, you’re still going to want enough to be prepared for various situations.

Deciding What to Pack

What I take depends. If I’m just going to be out at around, say, planning to work at a library or a meeting, I only take the bare minimum. If I’m going on a several-day non-business trip, or a non-trade-show business trip, I’ll typically add a few more things. If I’m going to a trade show, there’s yet a few more items I’ll toss in.

Similarly, if I’m also packing a digital camera, there may be one or two more things I’ll take, over and above accessories for the camera.

There’s also sundry accessories for my iPhone and iPad, some of which are also useful with my notebook and/or camera, or vice versa.

Stuff I’m Happily No Longer Packing

I’ve been a tech-toting traveler for enough decades that a fair amount of accessories are no longer relevant. Things I no longer take (but still have) include:

  • External floppy drive
  • PCMCIA cards and adapters
  • External phone modem, phone line tester/protector, and 10+ foot phone wire.

And if I really go back in time, things like “acoustic coupler” for modem (which I still have, although haven’t used in eons).

Accessories for Day Trips

For a short, during-the-day outing, the most important thing is to make sure that you can keep your devices powered.

According to the folks at Lenovo, the high-capacity battery should be good for up to 7.5 hours, but I’ve found that 3 to 5 hours is more realistic. If I’m not sure how much work I’ll be doing, I may grab the power supply. Lenovo’s power brick is modest in size, but the brick-to-wall-outlet wire is, of course, thick and bulky, about the same as the power brick.

When I’m organized enough, I instead pack my Targus Premium Charger, which has the AC prongs right in the power brick. The Targus also has a mini USB charging cable, which I find useful. Just make sure you bring along the correct power tip.

Targus Notebook Accessories

Depending on how much other stuff I’m packing, I’ll also throw in a power strip.

Since I’ve got an iPhone and iPad, I like keeping one of my spare iOS dock/USB data/charging cables in my notebook sleeve case — they don’t take up any extra space or weight, and I don’t usually carry one around with my phone. (Apple’s are $19.95 each, but you can easily find third-party ones for less than half that price.)

I also have an ergonomic wrist pad packed — one with each computer sleeve or carry bag. Using it keeps my hand from hurting when I type (which is most of what I do on the computer). If you need something like this, I recommend you have several — one at your desk, one with each tech travel kit.

Gear for Longer Trips

For longer trips, my list also includes:

  • Power strip
  • Standard USB cables (preferably 1 to 3 feet long).
  • USB multi-jack or hydra connector with A and B standard, mini and micro connectors, plus any less-standard ones used by my digital cameras, Bluetooth headsets, etc.
  • USB hub: Look for a small four-port hub with a 2-6″ cable.
  • Flash drives and media: a few flash drives, ~2-4GB, and an SD card or two, like 4 or 8 GB or even 16. With 16+ GB cards going for under a buck a gigabyte, it can’t hurt to have an empty one with you.
  • USB card reader: My notebook has an SD card reader, but not everybody’s do; somebody may want to borrow one, or I may need it to move stuff, or use it with somebody else’s readerless system.
  • Small rechargeable power pack: This is useful if I need to charge up a headset, camera, or my iPhone without having access to AC power. The small ones won’t power an notebook, but are great for when I need to walk-and-charge.
  • Stuff I might bring, or am considering adding:
  • USB mini-mouse.
  • Automobile “cigarette lighter” USB charger
  • Wifi Hotspot, for broadband sharing. I’m still looking into these (I recently did a big non-review article). I don’t travel enough to justify a regular contract, but it’s worth considering. There are also WiFi hotspot rental companies, around $15/day — a bargain for international trips!
  • Video adapters (HDMI adapters from USB, VGA, mini-HDMI, etc.), if you’re planning to do a presentation, or even thinking of watching video from your computer on your hotel room’s TV.
  • Ethernet cable, for when there’s no (or not good) WiFi available, but there are Ethernet ports. I’ll probably never need it — except the one time I don’t bring one.
  • Power outlet tester.


Additional Accessories for Multi-Day Trade Shows

My ThinkPad doesn’t include a CD/DVD drive — but a lot of companies still put their press release and other show news on disks. Bringing one lets me read them if I’ve got an article to write, or lets me start consolidating the content before I get home. USB-powered external optical drives are small and highly affordable — and they’re handy for some software installs or burning backup disks on machines that don’t have an optical drive.

I also might consider bringing my CardScan business card scanner, although at about the bulk of a paperback book, it’s a hard call. (I need to look at card-scanning apps for my iPhone.)

Summary: The computer needs fewer accessories than ever. But it’s still not hard to have a pile of cables and accessories as big or bigger than the notebook. Good luck!

 

 

Travel accessories for your smartphone, tablet

Travel Accessories for Smart Phones and TabletsJust because travel tech accessories are getting smaller, it doesn’t mean that you want to take all of them with you.

There are hundreds — maybe even thousands — of potentially useful smartphone and tablet accessories on the market, ranging from camera lens adapters to beach speakers. However, there are a few that I believe are necessary for a short trip.

My recommendations are based on the iPhone and iPad. Depending on what you have, you may be looking at different vendors or models, but I believe the underlying suggestions remain valid.

Travel demands accessories above-and-beyond those you may be using at your office or home, such as:

  • Bluetooth keyboard
  • Screen protector, like a ZAGG invisibleSHIELD
  • Cover or case, like an Apple SmartCover (for the iPad), or an OtterBox or LifeProof case for your iPhone.
  • Headset, wired or Bluetooth (or both).

Minimum Kit, For All Occasions

Here’s what’s in my standard iPad kit. Total cost: less than $100.

  • iPad-class AC adapter

Remember, the iPad needs 10 watts — twice what the iPhone’s tiny AC adapter or a powered USB port provides. So you need to bring this, whether it’s Apple’s or a third-party one. There are even some two-port 15 watt ones, like the Innergie mMini Combo 15W AC (Wall) Duo USB Charging Kit. (I also suggest carrying an iPhone AC charger as well.)

The adaptor you bring on your trip preferably should be a spare, to keep in your travel kit, so you can leave your regular one(s) at the office/home.

  • Docking/USB power/data cable(s)

While you can buy these iOS cables in most computer/tech/office supply stores, and even many convenience stores, you should bring one. Or even two or three. (Third-party cables are available for less than half of Apple’s own $19.95 ones.)

  • Media/USB transfer/connection adapters

If your devices don’t have SD slots or USB ports — Apple i-devices have neither, of course — bring adapters. At minimum, get Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit. Apple’s own iPad Camera Connection Kit consists of two adapters, or dongles: the SD Card Reader and the Camera Connector. The iPad still doesn’t have an SD slot; this lets you move photos from a camera’s SD card. The kit also includes a USB adapter — however, since the iOS dock port doesn’t provide as much power as a standard USB 2.0 “powered port,” there’s no guarantee that other USB peripherals — or, for that matter, other card readers — will work.

  • Credit Card payment-taker

The Square Credit Card Reader (plus its free app) is small — about one square inch by 1/3 inch — and provides an easy way to take credit card payments via your iPhone. It’s not only good for selling home-business crafts or yard sale items, but also makes it easier to split the check in a group. You don’t even need the Reader, but using just the app costs a tad more.

  • Accessory pouch

These things are small, and easily lost. Whether it’s a ziplock bag or something else, make it easier to keep track of them.

For Longer/More Involved Trips

Other things to consider bringing include:

  • Rechargeable power pack

There no shortage of ones that will recharge a smartphone one to three times, but only some can deliver the power to recharge an iPad or other 10-watt device. Innergie, Radio Shack and Targus all offer ones that can, albeit not necessarily a full charge.

  • Automobile USB charging adapter

If you’ve got an iPad or other tablet, make sure you get one that provides the right amount of power.

  • Mobile broadband hotspot (and service contract)

If your tablet doesn’t have its own broadband and contract (e.g., with AT&T, Sprint, Verizon…), and you don’t want to simply up your smartphone data plan to allow tethering, a mobile hotspot will let your tablet be online when there’s no WiFi nearby.

  • Video connectors

Connectors like an Apple Digital AV Adapter and an Apple VGA adapter are helpful for watching iPad content on a larger TV, doing presentations, etc.

You’ll probably find some more stuff that you want, of course. (Feel free to let me know what I’m missing!)

 

 

Why you should always pack a power strip with your notebook/tablet

There are many accessories that are useful for traveling with your notebook or tablet. Here’s a must have: a power strip.

Here’s some reasons why:

1.) Sharing versus hogging

With more and more people carrying notebooks, tablets, and other device, power outlets at airport gate waiting areas, and other places like meeting rooms, are increasingly already “full up” from people already camped out using or recharging.

Yes, many airport gates now offer “charging areas” with AC outlets and USB charging ports — but these, too, may be in use.

Having a power strip means you can ask someone if you can share the outlet — and even offer to let somebody else also plug in.

And if you have managed to get the last free outlet, this lets you share with newcomers, rather than have to determine whether you’ve got enough juice to let somebody else have a turn.

2.) Multiplying/centralizing available outlet(s)

Hotel rooms often don’t have enough outlets for your notebook plus your phone charger and maybe one or two additional devices. Or not enough by the desk area where you want to work. Having a power strip avoids scattering your recharging devices around the room, including risking them being in the bathroom (near water, never a good idea).

3.) Going the distance

Notebook AC cables may be five to ten feet long — but sometimes the outlet you want is just a little too far away. Even a short cable on a power strip can make the difference.

4.) Accessing hard-to-get-to outlets

In hotel rooms — but also some offices, libraries and other spaces — the only available outlet is often in a hard-to-reach place. Some are positioned in a way that’s difficult to plug chargers where the AC prongs are right on the power brick. Or the other things already plugged in may not leave the right shape of room for your device’s power adapter. The power strip’s cord, even if short, should make it easier to plug things in.

5.) Charging USB devices

Not all power strips include USB charging ports, but some do. This can often be helpful. If they do, it will be a standard-power one — 5 watts, enough for a smartphone, Bluetooth headset, etc — but won’t be enough for an iPad (which needs 10 watts) or presumably most other larger tablets.

Recommended Power Strips

If you’re seriously strapped for space, you can just get a three-in-one outlet adapter, but I recommend a power strip instead.

My favorite power strips are from Monster’s Outlets To Go line – they’re compact, with the power cord wrapping around the strip and plugging into one of the outlets.

If you want a USB port, check out the Outlets to Go 3 USB , which has three outlets plus a 5-watt USB charging port.

Otherwise, consider the four-outlet Outlets to Go , or the more compact three-outlet one.

The cord length on the 4-outlet Outlets to Go is eleven inches.

Important note, Monster’s Outlets to Go are just power strips. They don’t include any surge protection. If that’s a concern, look for something else, of course.

 

 

Stocking a few spare tech parts, what and why

Stocking a few spare tech parts, what and why If you use a computer as part of your daily work or personal life — and you probably do — then you know that they often run into minor problems.

Some can be fixed quickly and easily by simply re-booting the machine, or by doing software stuff. (I covered these in the post “Basic Quick Fixes for Troubled Gear.”)

Some of these fixes are best left to an IT professional or somebody else with experience in fixing computers — in particular, anything that involves opening up the case. Not only can this be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, but you can also create additional problems if you aren’t careful.

But there’s a lot that you, a coworker, family member or friend can do if you have the right part on hand.

And since many of these problems occur when it’s not convenient to go out and buy the part — you may be on deadline and can’t take the two hours. Or the weather may be abysmal. Or it may be midnight or a holiday when the stores you want are closed. As for going online, you may not be able to wait for delivery — and the problem you’re facing might mean you can’t get online, anyways.

I’ve found it’s best to have a few spares and other things on hand.

The best — and certainly most extreme — “spare part” is another complete computer, of course. Of course, that’s not always an option. Luckily, a remarkably small set of things will solve many common problems.

The Basics: Peripherals and Cables

Here’s my recommended starter list:

  • Keyboard

All it takes to ruin a keyboard is a little dirt or spilled coffee — even one bad key can keep you from working comfortably.

Because keyboards aren’t all exactly alike, get one that’s the same as the one you use. For example, I use a Microsoft “ergonomic” keyboard, which has the keys angled — I can use a “regular” keyboard, but it’s much less comfortable. (Make sure that it has the right type of plug as your current keyboard, e.g., USB, PS/2, Bluetooth wireless.)

  • Monitor

When you buy your next monitor, save your old one if it still works.

  • Mouse (or other pointing device)

Like keyboards, make sure you have a spare like what you use. For example, I use a trackball. I could use a mouse if I had to, but I’m comfortable with my trackball. And, if you use one, a mousepad.

  • Headset (if you normally use one)
  • Main cables

Your computer’s power cable or video cable aren’t likely to fail, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

  • Other cables

I keep several spare cables around, including a printer cable, an Ethernet cable, and a few USB cables (there’s several types of USB jacks, make sure you’ve got the right bunch).

  • Any other ergonomic accessories you use, like wrist pads.

Extra-Credit Suggestions

Even if your computer has a built-in optical CD/DVD drive, having an external USB-powered one can’t hurt — there’s other good reasons to have one anyway.

A handful of cable adapters, including “gender-menders” and type-to-type adapters, e.g., 9-to-15 pin VGA, and a VGA/HDMI adapter.

If you’re comfortable and confident, a spare hard drive may be useful — along with an external USB hard drive adapter/chassis.

Depending on how old the computer is (some of your friends and family still have a few that are five, ten, or more years old, I guarantee), you may also want a USB floppy drive.

My list isn’t that long, you’ll notice.

I’m not saying you should rush out and buy all this stuff — other than the keyboard, if you don’t have a spare already. But keep your eyes open at yard sales (see my post, “Yard Sales: A Good Place for Tech Bargains“) and other places. Used/yard-sale prices for keyboards and mice are usually one to five bucks — if friends don’t have some to give away. Smaller (19″ and under) , classic-format flatscreens should be ten bucks or less — or free. (You should be able to get a good CRT for free, but flatscreens are less bulky to store, of course.)

And put as much of these in a box, label it carefully — and remember where you put it all.

Sooner or later, you’ll thank me for this advice.

 

 

Should your next laptop have a solid state hard drive?

Now that you can get solid state hard drives (SSDs) on most laptops, it might be timely to consider purchasing one. These drives are somewhat of a misnomer: there is no rotating media, unlike the vast majority of hard drives that you have used since your first PC. Instead, they contain a bank of memory chips, like the ones used in PC memory (RAM). They have two issues: the capacity of the hard drive is generally less than the traditional disk. While it’s rare to find a laptop that has less than a 350 GB hard drive, it’s unusual to find SSDs with more than 256 GB of capacity. They also cost more money too.

In June, Apple announced new MacBooks with SSD options: previously, they were only available in the MacBook Air models. Here is an example from Apple’s website showing the options available and the SSD will cost you at least $200 extra):

Apple MacBook Pro hard drive options
Apple SSD Options

They are also available as options from Dell and other PC makers. Here is a screenshot from the Dell ordering website where you can see you’ll end up paying up to $230 extra for the SSD:

Dell.com Lattitude hard drive options

Dell SSD Options

So given that you will pay more for less storage, why bother? One big reason is performance. Your websites will load a lot faster. You can switch from one window to another in an instant. If you are doing tasks such as video or photo editing, you will notice that your computer works much faster when it has to save or read your files. To get an idea of the various manufacturers’ price/performance, check out AnandTech’s benchmarking page here.

You can also get a better-performing hard drive for less money than an SSD. On the screenshots above, you can see Dell offers a 7200 rpm drive for less than the SSD. This number refers to the speed of the rotation of the drive: traditional drives usually operate at 5400 rpm.

You can also buy a laptop with the smallest traditional rotating media and replace it with an after-market SSD too, if you are handy enough and patient enough to re-install the apps and operating system.

So, should you take the SSD plunge? If your storage needs are modest, or if you can offload your biggest files to an external drive, and if you want the lightest laptop and don’t mind spending the extra dough, then yes. Figure on spending at least $900 to $1,200 for current SSD-enabled laptops. If you need more than 128 GB of storage or are price-sensitive, then wait and stick with traditional rotating media for now.

 

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Silver Lining: Small-Business Owners Suggest Economic Optimism During Tough Economic Times

A silver lining for small businessesHere’s something that might seem counterintuitive, given all the economic bad news that small-business owners have to wade through in these times: small-business owners aresaying that the future’s looking bright and looking up.

That’s what became clear in a June 2012 in a survey of more than 1,000 small-business respondents. Of them, 76% said they are optimistic about their company’s growth for the remainder of the year. Other interesting numbers from the survey include:

  • Fewer than 7% said the opposite of “expected growth,” that they thought conditions for their business would decline by the end of 2012.
  • About 17% of the small-business owners said that the November U.S. Presidential election would further determine how they feel about a positive or not-so-positive future for their shops.

But that’s not all. The survey also reveals a correlation between the age of the business owner and the level of optimism. The younger the respondent, the more likely he or she is positive about the future. Let’s dig into those numbers.

Youthful Optimism: Digging Deeper into the Small-Business Owner’s Mindset

The survey, conducted by j2 Global — a provider of cloud services, such as e-fax, virtual phones, and e-mail — indicated that while a majority of respondents are optimistic about the months to come, those under 32 years old were the most confident of the lot.

The tally: 85% of the Millennial generation’s respondents said that they expected their business to grow. The numbers then dipped a bit as the answers came from older owners.

  • 81% of those between 33 and 47 years said they felt optimistic about their business.
  • 71% ranging from 48–66 years were positive about business growth.
  • 64% of owners over 67 were feeling bullish about the future of their work.

“I think younger business owners are in a group maybe more tailored to the current economy and current world,” said Mike Pugh, vice president, marketing of j2 Global. “Maybe they adopted mobile devices and models that allow them to be more nimble. They may have less infrastructure and overhead, with what they do based on the cloud-based solutions that are out there.

“Another part of it is what I like to say is the sheer optimism of youth,” Pugh continued, referring to youth especially during tough economic times. “They have been through this on a shorter timespan, and the older generation: they’ve been through more. They’ve been through this before. Maybe they fell less heartened about taking it on another time.”

Social Media as Growth Promoter: New Opportunities for the ‘Nimble’

One of the reasons the youngest cohort is the most positive might be that the business world is shifting away from brick and mortar to online and interconnected.

According to j2 Global’s survey, one in three owners say their marketing strategy is now completely social-media centered. And 26% say social media takes up half or more of their marketing-strategy time.

And then there’s the effect of mobile-device technology.

No longer shackled to a desk in some back office, mobile-minded small-business owners may be saving up to 370 million hours of time per year by going mobile with location-non-dependent apps.

Indeed, the survey says that 38% of small-business owners use five or more mobile applications to keep their operations running well.

“Nimble is the word that comes to my mind,” said Pugh. “My opinion about these mobile-based businesses is they have the flexibility to start up, to wind down, to change and to restart faster. An older capital-intense business has to raise money, get a facility, buy equipment. Your ability to change your mind is pretty slim.”

And so, when it comes to optimism, Pugh said: “The key word is nimbleness, and that compresses all these timeframes, and it makes for more opportunities to change. And with that, you can change the rules.”

 

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Just Say No to App Overload

Just Say No to App OverloadIt started innocently enough. The first one was free. So you tried it. And you liked it. And you wanted more. So you went back, this time handing over $1.99. It was good, but it could have been better, so you tried one for $6.99.

Before you knew it, your smartphone began to resemble a sort of third-rate strip mall, a hodgepodge of how to speak Thai, how to win at poker, how to properly carve a turkey. Your reliance on applications didn’t pass unnoticed, but you began making excuses, saying you were just downloading them for a friend.

As an app-aholic, downloading apps began to affect your life negatively in the following ways: You were recklessly wasting precious megabytes on your phone, you were spending more than any man should on ‘80s arcade games, and you were leading an all-around disorganized mobile existence that was affecting your work performance.

Don’t give up, though. There is help, and it only takes three or four steps to bring order back to your iPhone or Android device. Read on to find out how to restore organization to your smartphone’s applications.

Cut Ties With the Past 

That Bubblewrap app certainly provided you with hours of mindless fun, but that was three years ago. It’s time to let go of the past and move on. Delete it. It’s simply doing you no good on page 8 of your apps screen.

Call it tough love, but it’s a good idea to habitually go through your apps and get rid of ones that no longer provide any meaningful function. If you haven’t used an app in six months, cut it loose. If you find you need it again, you can always reinstall it on your phone without having to pay for it again.

There’s a Folder for That

The iPhone and Android devices have a super handy feature that allows you to group similar apps into a folder. This greatly reduces the overall clutter and sprawl that got you into this predicament in the first place, and it helps you quickly locate an app when you need it instead of having to scroll through numerous pages.

With the iPhone, simply touch one of the apps you’d like to add to a folder, wait for it to shake and then place it on top of another similar app and both will be added to the new folder. Simple as that, and each folder can hold 12 apps on the iPhone. Using this system, all of your apps could fit on just one screen.

Edit Before You Get It

Don’t be afraid to edit your app purchases before you make them, the same way you would weigh the pros and cons before buying anything. Sure, they’re cheap enough to buy on a whim, but so is malt liquor. Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

If you’re confident the app will make communicating with co-workers or customers better, then go for it. If you think it might be good for only one or two uses, hold off.

It’s easy for life and work to get a bit messy every now and again. An easy way to begin regaining some order can simply start with your smartphone.

As far as restoring order to the garage, well, you’re on your own.

 

MozyHome

 

UPS update: What’s new, what to remember

There are several products every computer owner should have, to protect their hardware, software, and data. On the software side, this includes anti-virus/anti-malware, a firewall, and other security software.

On the hardware side, a UPS — Uninterruptible Power Supply — to protect against power glitches and outages.

(And a backup, in case something does happen.)

UPS update: What's new, what to rememberProblems with electric power can do everything from scramble the data on your hard drive or interfere with current work to causing your hardware to wear out faster — or even destroy key components instantly.

And even in the best locations, the quality of electrical power is subject to events that can send bad power to your computer. It doesn’t have to be a lightning strike; big-motor gear like an air conditioner, or other devices, on the same circuit, can reduce the power or send noise down the line. Or something can cause the circuit breaker to trip, resulting in zero power to the outlet.

A UPS includes a surge protector to guard against “bad” power — surges, spikes, and noise. And it also includes a battery, allowing the UPS to provide power (“run time”) to your computer even when not enough, or none, is coming in.

In general, small office/home office (SOHO) UPSs are intended to let your gear keep working throughout brief power interruptions of a few seconds or less, and give you the time to close files and shut down the computer in an orderly fashion if there’s a longer power outage (minutes to hours). (A UPS may then keep your cable modem and router going for an hour or more — or it may not. But it’s not good for the UPS battery to be drained all the way down.)

Buying the Right UPS

For desktop/SOHO users, UPSs are available for anywhere from $50 to $200.

UPSs come in several main “topologies” (types), and also vary in two dimensions of capacity.

To vastly oversimplify, for SOHO users, the types of UPSs available are Standby, Line-Interactive, and On-Line.

A Standby UPS, a.k.a. Off-Line UPS, switches over the battery only when the wall current voltage falls below a certain level or goes out completely. This is the least expensive type of UPS, it’s what most people get.

A Line-Interactive UPS can supplement low power levels from the battery.
Affordable; a good choice.

An On-Line UPS is the most expensive — and best — type of UPS, always providing clean power at the right voltage level. Good if your power is subject to lots of interruptions, micro-outages, sags, or surges and spikes.

For most SOHOs in places where daily power quality is good, a Line-Interactive UPS should be sufficient.

In addition to “type,” to buy the right UPS, you need to:

  • Know how much power all the devices you want to provide backup power to would use, for example your a desktop, a flatscreen, cable modem, and home router. Many UPSs will detect if you are plugging in more devices than the battery can power and will refuse to work – so you won’t have the illusion you’re protected when you’re not.
  • Know how long you want device(s) to run.

Once purchased and installed, a UPS for home or office needs close to no upkeep — but there are few important things to know and do.

Taking Good Care of Your UPS

  1. Test the UPS. Once the battery is charged up, plug in a desk lamp or a radio, turn it on, and (gently) remove the UPS power cable from the wall outlet. Does the lamp or radio stay on? Now test again with the computer gear you intend to plug into the UPS.
  2. Make sure the UPS is well ventilated. Like any electrical device, a UPS gives off heat. Don’t leave paper next to it, make sure it can get good air flow.
  3. Label the UPS with when you bought it.
  4. If it includes USB monitoring software, consider using it. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never done this — so far.)

UPS batteries typically are good for two to four years. They don’t just fail all at once; over time — and the more your UPS is asked to provide its backup power — they’ll have less capacity (run time) — be able to power gear for even fewer minutes. You may be able to get third-party replacement batteries for a good price, but shop cautiously!

UPSs themselves should be replaced — there’s no standard answer, but the consensus is somewhere between five and seven years. Mark your long-term calendar! (And update the UPS label — and your calendar — when you replace the battery.)

Buying a good UPS or replacing the battery every few years translates to about a dollar a week. The cost of a problem — lost productivity or replacing hardware — for even one event during this time frame would be many, many times that — and the likelihood of at least one such event is high. So don’t be a misplaced optimist — go get that UPS today!

 

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Reminder, basic quick fixes for troubled gear

Reminder, basic quick fixes for troubled gearEven the best of computers and other electronic gear hiccups occasionally. You want to save your electronics, but you don’t want to throw good money after bad with expensive new parts or paid support. Before you junk that old gear, here are some tips for spending ten or twenty minutes addressing the issue before asking yourself the “repair or replace” question.

While there’s a lot that we as end users can’t or shouldn’t do — or even attempt — to fix them, there’s still often a fair number of things we can try, and problem we can fix or otherwise make go away.

This isn’t new to computers. If you’re old enough and have lived in cold climates, you may remember hearing your car fail to start, instead making an odd clicking sound — which, if you were knowledgeable and lucky — could be fixed quickly with a few whacks of a hammer, wrench or other solid object. How? If the problem was that the solenoid (relay switch) on the starter motor had frozen stuck, whacking it often unstuck it. (For dramatic effect when helping a friend, you would tell them to turn the key before you strike.)

With electronics, physical force is rarely the solution. Instead, there’s other things to try — obvious things in theory, but easy to lose track of if you haven’t had to do it to a given device lately.

1.) Check the power, power cord, and power switches.

Is the power cord fully plugged in at both ends? For example, the router in my home office is placed such that it’s easy to unseat the power cord and not notice — which in turn whacks wireless connectivity.

Is the wall outlet on? Some are connected to light switches; it’s easy to forget this. Check by plugging in a radio or light or something.

Are all the power switches on the device on? Many computers, printers, and displays have a power rocker-switch in the back, where it isn’t visible. This includes many computers that have a front-side on switch.

Ditto for any intermediary UPSs, surge protectors or power strips — are they plugged in and powered on? Again, check using a light or radio or some other device.

2.) Check the fuses. (More common with stereo and home theater gear.)

This may involve opening up the chassis — don’t do this if you don’t know how to do it safely! And make sure you use the correct fuse to replace one that you think has blown.

3.) For battery-powered devices, check the battery.

If you have a spare that you know has a charge, try that. If you can recharge the battery, try that.

Also, if you can, take the battery out and look at the battery contacts. If they’ve become corroded (typically from a leaky battery), for example, have green or white powdery gunk on them, clean the contact off (carefully).

4.) Check all the non-power cables.

It’s easy for a cable to have come loose — or be damaged. Unplug and replug them. If everything was previously working, the odds are low that a cable has gone bad, but keep this possibility in mind if other fixes don’t work. And sometimes it’s one of the connectors.

5.) Power device(s) off, wait 30 seconds, and reboot.

This works astonishingly often. As my friend and colleague Michael Dortch said years ago, “If rebooting fixes it, it wasn’t a problem.”

6.) For Windows devices, try booting to SAFE MODE.

Sometimes you need to reboot several times, first two or three times to Safe Mode, and then one or two times to regular mode. From SAFE MODE, you may then want to try rolling back to a previous RESTORE POINT.

Here are some other quick tips that I have found helpful:

  • For devices with a backup battery you can access, check, and if possible and necessary, replace.
  • For devices with a BIOS, boot to the BIOS, and check the configuration.
  • For computers, if it boots but you can’t use it, try a spare keyboard and mouse, if you have any (which you ought to).
  • For WiFi problems, if there’s a physical switch on your device, check that. Either way, also check the settings in the BIOS.
  • Leave the device alone for an hour or two.

And of course, invest the money or effort to have a professional look at it. Often, like with cars, it will work fine when you try to demonstrate the problem to somebody else.

 

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Making your important info available to you online

We’ve all got personal information that we don’t carry around with us but regularly or occasionally need to find. Often it’s also information we are concerned that we don’t lose, e.g., in the event of a computer crash, house or office fire or theft, etc.

For example:

  • A copy of our driver’s license, passport, or other identification documents
  • Copies of credit cards
  • Passwords for key online accounts, including account numbers for financial ones
  • Key personal documents, like Power of Attorney documents (our own, or one giving us PoA), Health Care Directives and Proxies, wills, marriage license, etc.
  • Medical history, including current prescriptions, health insurance, and list of physicians
  • Inventory list of computer, camera, phone and other gear, including serial numbers
  • Software license keys
  • Travel itineraries.
  • Photos of yourself, family members, pets.

Some of this information is important but not “sensitive” — meaning that when you need it, you need it, but if somebody else were to get hold of it, no big deal. My guess is that software license keys might fall into the “less sensitive” arena. But even where information isn’t inherently sensitive, it might lead to some other aspect of your work or personal life being compromised, through savvy “social engineering” (phishing or other personal identity attacks). Some file types allow themselves to be individually password protected, such as PDF and ZIP files (depending on the tool being used to create it).

Secure Your Important Information OnlineOnce digitized, it’s possible to put this on your smartphone, tablet, or on a USB flash drive on your keyring — carefully protected, of course, by an encryption tool like TrueCrypt or 1Password. But this assumes you have the device or your keyring with you — which, depending on circumstances, may not be the case.

Fortunately, with the ever-greater accessibility of the Internet, you can park one or more copies online, often at no cost.

Two quick tips, first:

  1. Include an inventory document of what documents/information you’ve put together.
  2. Make a list of where you do end up parking copies — so when the master set of information gets updated, you can propagate the new version to all the places you’ve parked copies.

Ways and Places to Park Your Data and Documents Online

  1. Email them to yourself. Leave them in your INBOX, or in a mail folder that you can get to from web browser. This requires remembering your email password, but that’s the one you’re most likely to remember.Caution: If you use a mobile device or notebook to check your email, include encryption on the attached document(s), and/or other safeguards, like requiring the email password for each session.
  2. Park them in a password-protected directory in your web site.
  3. And don’t forget the directory name or password. Consider putting a hint in a file that you can find to bootstrap you in.
  4. Park them in a password-protected directory on your cloud storage space. (Again, be sure you’ve encrypted the actual files, individually, as well).
  5. If you have set up remote access to your computer, meaning you can access it from another computer, tablet or smartphone, e.g., using a remote desktop tool like GoToMyPC or LogMeIn.
  6. Send them to a friend or family member (again, as encrypted attached files) — pick someone who’s online often enough that they’re likely to respond quickly to a “Please send me those files ASAP” request.

And I’m sure there are lots of other places, ranging from social 2.0 accounts to “online safety deposit boxes.” Do a web search for “online safety deposit boxes,” for example, and, in addition to ones intended for your own immediate use, you’ll find ones designed to provide access only in the event of your death.

One final suggestion: Even if you do park the data online, you might still want to carry a password-protected encrypted copy with you — for those times when you’ve got your wallet, smartphone or keychain, but don’t have Internet access.

 

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