Tag Archives: Personal computer

I’m a PC guy…should I buy a MAC?

I’m a PC guy.  Really.  I spend a lot of time on PCs.  I know how they work, how to keep them virus free, running fast, and I know all the shortcut keys so working with PCs is effortless for me.

More importantly they are cheap – my current machine came with a dual-core 2.7 GHz 64-bit CPU, Windows 7, a 1TB hard drive and 4Gb of RAM and cost just $220.  No screen, but they did throw in a mouse and a keyboard.

I’ve looked at Apple machines in the past and, while they look great, they just seem too expensive for what you get.  As a case in point a Mac Mini (the poor man’s Mac) configured to the above spec comes to $1,147!   And actually that is only a 750GB drive.

It just doesn’t seem to make sense.  And yet I keep bumping into people who are technically savvy and wouldn’t consider owning anything else.  In a conversation this week one such person said “I could never understand why people spent so much money on Apple machines, until I owned one.” and that started me thinking about a similar experience I had with motorcycles.

Case #1 – BMW vs Jap Bikes

Back in the mid-90’s I spent a huge amount of my life riding motorcycles.  I commuted into central London every day (80 mile round trip), instructed at the weekends and spent vacations riding to the south of France.   A typical year would see me rack up a minimum of 30,000 miles, and often much more.

Initially I bought nothing but Japanese motorcycles.  They were lighter, cheaper, faster and more available than BMWs and I really couldn’t understand why anyone would “spend all that money for a badge“.   But I found myself replacing my Japanese machines about every 6-9 months because they were just plain worn out and starting to become unreliable.

A work friend convinced me a try a used BMW by pointing out that he had used his trusty R80 for years and had no problems with it at all.  In the end I dropped  £2,200 on a used K75 with 25,000 miles on it, which was more than I had ever paid for a Japanese machine at any mileage.

At first it felt a little strange to ride because things were not where I expected them to be.   The indicators operated completely differently to anything else I had ridden and were downright confusing at first, and then there was the torque reaction from the shaft drive to contend with.  But it didn’t take too long for everything to feel completely normal and, dare I say it, even more logical.

I rode that bike everywhere and it was as reliable as a hammer.  After 18 months of trouble-free riding I had to sell the bike because I was leaving for the U.S.   I had put 50,000 trouble-free miles on it and it still looked great and ran the same as the day I bought it.   Selling a Japanese bike with 75,000 miles on it would have been a complete non-starter, and yet I was able to sell my little K75 for £2,000 – only £200 less than I paid for it after all of those miles.  

Case #2 – Harley vs The Rest

I know a number of people who swear by Harley Davidson motorcycles and would never consider owning anything else.  But most of those people have also never ridden anything else because that would be heresy!  I have ridden Harley’s on several occasions. My considered opinion is that they look nice but steer like a cow on roller skates and vibrate enough to make male owners sterile.

So the big question for me is…are Apple computers like BMWs or Harley’s?


Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it, Technology

Not doing this when searching? It’s like watching ads on your DVR.

Since the DVR arrived we almost never watch live TV.  In fact, on the rare occasions when I do, I still zipping through the ads and can’t understand why the fast fast-forward button has stopped working.  When I catch myself watching ads needlessly I curse and wonder if, one day nearer my death, I’ll regret all those wasted moments.

And yet I recently discovered that 90% of people are wasting time searching the Internet because they don’t know one very simple trick.  In fact, analysis suggests that people who know this trick are, on average, 12% faster than other people using when searching the web.

So…here it is.  On any web page pressing Ctrl-F will bring up a search box where you can type in a word and immediately jump to that on the page.  Go ahead, try it now to look for the word amazing…I’ll wait.

Not only does this magic key work on ALL web browsers, but also in office tools, PDF files, and pretty much anywhere else where there is text to be searched.

And there are many other keys that can save you a lot of time too and, since I’m on a roll, I’ll throw a few of my favorites in here:

  • Ctrl-Z = Undo.   This works even in places where no undo button exists.  I can’t tell you how many times this baby has saved me.
  • Ctrl-A = Select All.  The next time you need to select everything in a document or web page, just make sure your cursor is in the text you need and use this.
  • Ctrl-P = Print.  I think that one is self explanatory but, again, it works in many places where no print button exists.

Using just these four simple keystrokes will save you hours.  The only question now is what are you going to do with all that free time?

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Technology

Oh $*@! – Recovering Deleted Files from your PC

Summary Difficulty Rating Time to complete
Restoring files that have accidentally been deleted, even after the recycle bin has been emptied.   5 minutes.

Oh-no-Second: Def:  The span of time it takes to realize you did something dumb.

Sooner or later you are going to hit the delete button on a file and immediately realize that you shouldn’t have done that.

When that happens the first thing you should do is DON’T PANIC!

Recycle Bin to the rescue!

Lucky for you enough people have done this that Microsoft introduced the Recycle Bin back in the days of Windows 95.  If you delete a file you can recover it quickly and easily by doing the following:

  • Open the Recycle Bin by double-clicking on the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop.
  • Find the file you want to recover and click to highlight it.
  • From the top menu choose File and then Restore.
  • The file is now back on your computer in its original place.

However there are times when the recycle bin is not used.  These include certain types of removable storage, files that were too large for the recycle bin, files deleted by programs or if you have set up the recycle bin to be bypassed. You can also empty the recycle bin (I usually do that before running a large virus scan) and then realize that there was a file you wanted to keep in there.

What if it’s not in the recycle bin?

Fortunately PCs store files as a data and pointers – think of it as a a filing cabinet with index cards that tell you where to find things.  Normally when a file is deleted all that really happened is that the index card was removed – but the data is still there.  Eventually that area of the disk will get reused but, if we are quick, we can put the index card back and all is well.

There are many programs available to recover files but the one that I like to use is  Recuva by Piriform (the same folks that created CCleaner).  I like this because it is both free and simple to use.

When you start Recuva you are presented with a “wizard” that asks two simple questions.

  1. What type of file are you trying to get back?
  2. Where was the file?

Recuva will then scan the disk for files that match your description, check which ones can be recovered and present you with a list of files ready for restore.


To show how it works I deleted some photo, emptied the recycle bin and then ran Recuva.  Here are the results.




Good luck!


Filed under Free Software, PC Problems?, Windows

Before Disaster Strikes – Simple Backup Strategies

If you don’t have a backup then your PC is a ticking time-bomb.  

When I get called because a PC has died the first question I always ask is “Do you have a backup?”

In most cases the is no, which often means that years of accumulated family photos, videos, financial records and music downloads are gone forever.
Remember – photos aren’t kept in shoe boxes anymore!
So, before you pick up the phone in a panic let’s get your PC backed up.

Creating a backup – which type!
For IT professionals failure to create a backup is grounds for dismissal – and with good reason.  Creating a backup is the #1 thing you can do to protect yourself.
Creating a backup is easy and cheap to do, but you need to decide which method of backup is best for you.  There are two main options – an external USB drive or Cloud backup.

External USB Drive
Summary Difficulty Rating Time to complete
Install an external USB drive as a backup device   20 minutes + backup time (hours)

:  USB drives are cheap, fast and can be setup by anyone in minutes.  They are also great for moving data to other machines – such as when you buy a new machine and want to transfer your data, or take some files to another place.

:  External drives are in the same place as your main PC, which means that should you have a fire, flood, theft or other disaster then everything is gone and you are back to square one.

Buying a drive
The good news is that USB disk drives are amazingly cheap these days.  I have seen 2 Terabytes (2,000 GB) for around $80.  For the vast majority of PC users that is way more disk space than you are going to need for some time.
My general rule is that I buy at least double the disk space currently in use.  In my case that is about 1TB.  This is more than enough for a full backup, plus lots of ‘incremental backups‘.  If you are in doubt then buy a 1TB drive, which should be more than enough for more PC users.
I prefer USB powered drives because they are totally portable, can’t accidentally be left turned off, and I have fewer wires to get tangled.  Just be sure to plug it into the PC directly to ensure it has enough power.

Installation requires nothing more than plugging the new drive into the USB port, plugging in the power (if necessary) and following the instructions on the screen.  No tools are necessary, you won’t have to open up the PC, and if you can plug-in a toaster then you have the necessary skills to do this.   Once installed they can back up even the most bloated drive in a few hours.
Most USB drives are pre-installed with software that will automatically back up your important files on a regular schedule. Set up the schedule to back up your files at least once per week, and if you turn off your PC when not in use, remember to schedule the backup for when the PC is actually on.  It won’t work otherwise.  Once set up – forget it!

Note: not all external drives automatically back up for you, some need you to run a program or push a button on the drive to start the backup.  If you are not sure then the Maxtor One Touch family can schedule regular backups.

Cloud (Internet) Backup
Summary Difficulty Rating Time to complete
Setting up a cloud based backup   20 minutes + backup time (weeks)

Backing up files to “the cloud” has several advantages – the most important of which is that all of your important files are stored away from your house.  Should disaster strike then you can always get your data back.
Other advantages are that you don’t have to worry about running out of disk space, and you can get access to your files anywhere there is an internet connection.
Finally, cloud backups are always up to date.  The software automatically recognizes when files have been added or changed and will back them up the next time your PC is not being used.

Recurring Cost:  Unlike purchasing an external USB drive, cloud solutions have to be paid for every year.
Speed:  When I installed Carbonite on my PC it took about three weeks for the initial backup to complete.  However, now that the initial backup has finished keeps up without any problem.

Personally I use Carbonite which I have found to work well.  Another popular option is Mozy.  But these are certainly not the only ones around.
Installing Carbonite is easy – download the software and select automatic setup.  The software will take care of the rest.
Carbonite also have a nice iPhone application which I have used to get access to files I needed on the road and email them to myself.  Nice.

What do I do?
Personally…I have both types of backup.
I have a 1TB USB powered external drive (“USB powered” avoids additional wires and it things a lot more portable) and a cloud based solution.
I use the 1TB drive periodically, but the cloud solution is my real backup.

This is fine for the occasional use (say a file was accidentally deleted), but I do have concerns about what is going to happen should I every have a major failure and need to get the data back.  Waiting another three weeks to download everything would be painful – hence the 1TB external drive.
Too much?  I don’t think you can have too many backups if you want to keep your data safe.
If you read this far you probably realize that a backup is a good idea.  So I am now going to ask you to do one thing.  If you don’t already have one DO IT NOW!  Yes, I mean, before you close the browser and forget.  Here are a couple of links to get you going:
In the next installment I’ll talk about setting up an anti-virus that won’t expire and won’t cost you a penny.


Filed under PC Problems?, Windows

The Technology Jihad

There is a religious war being raged at this very moment in our homes, and in our pockets. It is a little quieter than your average war – for the most part, no-one is losing limbs to IEDs – but it is a war none-the-less.

These crusades are being fought between two main factions:

  • Those that wish to control the technology in your lives – “The Empire”, and the 800lb Gorilla in that camp is Apple.
  • Those that want technology to be free to create in new and innovative ways, without a single overlord ruling everything – “The Rebel Alliance”. The Rebels are supported by companies like Google, and by a group of loosely organized technical wizards (Jedi).

The Empire has jammed people into the box-car of conformity using slick user interfaces and the promise that you will be safer if you use their products.  As part of this they make sure that you can’t “harm yourself” by taking away features that they deem unsuitable for you (e.g. Flash video), and giving you just enough functionality that you won’t feel overwhelmed.  In a nutshell, they offer a sanitized computing experience for the masses.

This sanitation of experience is something that we seem to have adopted universally as a society.  Blogs such as Free Range Kids, show us just how much we dumb down things for our children’s protection, so perhaps we have no-one to blame but ourselves if we end up being controlled and manipulated.

But it was not always so.  Once upon a time people thought for themselves, and Apple fought on the side of good.  But Apple became corrupted by the money that is made by locking people in, and have since been consumed by the dark side.  Now they attempt to drive conformity to the Apple way wherever possible – Very interesting considering that Apple once used the slogan “Think different” and had a famous ad campaign using Orwell’s 1984 to represent the need to break the mold.  This was back in the days when the Apple still had color in its logo.

The safe, and easy-to-use, Apple products become the “Golden Handcuff” that locks you in. Once they have you, their marketing machine uses the power of the Dark Side to make sure you spend the maximum amount of money on your initial purchase, and yet still feel compelled to upgrade when the next version hits the shelves.  For example, where is the USB port on the iPad (still not there in version 2)?  And why can I tether my iPhone to my Netbook, but not to an iPad?  Obviously they want you to buy the more expensive 3G model and sign up for another monthly data plan – because recurring revenue is really where it’s at. The Force can have a powerful effect on the weak minded.

The Rebels, in contrast, are trying to create a world where you are free to use technology as you see fit. These Jedi use their amazing ability to manipulate technology (The Force) to create incredible software and then they give it away for free! But, along with great power, comes great responsibility.  Creating such an open system allows a vast array of software to be produced, but without a standard look and feel.  As a result these products often provide state-of-the-art capabilities, but are too confusing for novices to use.

The Rebel Alliance has pushed Linux as an alternative to Windows, and Android (based on Linux) as an alternative to the iPhone.  These are technically sound solutions, and the open nature of these ensures that there are plenty of apps available, many of which are free.  Unfortunately they can’t seem to get their act together and work as a team. The most successful Linux desktop (Ubuntu) is gaining ground with end-users by providing an easy to use, user interface.  But the hard-core Linux folks claim it is only for beginners (it is not) and seem to want to stick with ‘the old ways’ of using Linux just for servers.

This fragmentation of the user interface is making it difficult for Linux to gain widespread adoption. It also makes support difficult because the only way to make sure that a solution works in all instances is to go beneath the GUI – and that can mean support answers sometimes involve manually typing in commands like sudo mv /var/lib/dpkg/info/libopenal1.* /tmp”– seriously, can you imagine your mother doing that?

At the moment Linux is viable as a home computer platform only as long as you have someone slightly geeky who will take your calls. I have been slowly converting people in my neighborhood to Linux – not because I wanted to, but because they have problems with their computers and never seem to have their original OS disks.  Buying Windows is expensive so I usually leave them with a machine happily running Ubuntu, Firefox and Open Office.  So far I have converted about half a dozen people, all without complaint – but there is only so much I can do in my role as part of The Resistance!

The Rebel Alliance have had better luck penetrating the mobile phone market, and Android phones now outsell the iPhone. This makes sense in a market that has not yet created a standard look and feel.  And perhaps, The Rebels can use this platform to open a chink in the armor of the desktop space, and make some real inroads in the future.

I believe in the open source movement – I really do.  I feel as though they have justice on their side, and I use so much open source software now that the thought of actually buying software sends a shiver down my spine.

But the Rebel Alliance are vastly outnumbered by the hoards of Luddites who just want their devices to work and, in the process, are happy to fork over money for software that they could easily have gotten for free if they had known better.

The war is on, and the future is uncertain.  But, to paraphrase Ben Franklin “Those who give up Freedom for Security, deserve neither.”

Choose wisely, and may The Force be with you.


Filed under Life - or something like it, Technology, The Human Condition