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Technology Today  September 2005
by Robert Sanborn

Planning a trip with your computer? If it is the laptop variety, you pretty much have everything under control as long as you have your power cables with you. But moving your desktop computer can be a pain at times. The good news is that nearly all the plug in connections on the computer like the monitor, printer, network connection, and sometimes the modem, just have one connector plug that fits the socket. The keyboard and mouse can be different but usually they are color coded and if not, on a tower style system, the keyboard is always the top left and the mouse the top right. Speakers can be a pain at times but nearly all manufacturers use a green socket for the green plug of the speakers. Modems often have two connectors but they are often marked line and phone and you always use the line connection for the cable coming from either the wall or surge unit that hopefully you put between your wall phone connector and the computer.  

This year it seems like most power problems I am seeing are related to power supplies getting cooked but you know, last year it was mostly the modem getting fried when the power surge came in from the telephone line. Of course, if you have seen the new movie version of “War of the Worlds”, you find a new problem called EMP or ElectroMagnetic Pulse. A pulse of electromagnetic energy capable of disrupting computers, networks, and many other forms of telecommunication equipment. Do a Google search and you will find all sorts of interesting definitions for this problem but basically, it truly cooks your computer completely. Good but scary movie. 

But getting back to the move, take a closer look at your computer case, especially the back of it and see how much dust and other debris has accumulated there. You can bet that if you see much on the outside, there will be three times as much accumulation on the inside and that can’t be that good for the computer. The four evils for your computer’s health are dust, carpeting, smoking, and pets. If you hit three out of the four, it might be time to do a cleaning job. To clean up the outside, take a slightly damp cloth or heavy duty paper towel and just wipe up the dust and grime, and please, make sure the computer is unplugged from the power supply. If you like, you can vacuum the outside of the case but if you are going to put the nozzle on the fans, make sure they don’t spin as you could ruin the bearings on them.  For cleaning the inside of the computer, It can get involved and of course I can do that for you, but here are some web sites you can look at: 






These are five sites that give you some idea of what to do. What not to do is to use a vacuum cleaner as it does build a huge amount of static electricity that can easily damage a part. A couple of tips is that I do it outside so when I do use that can of compressed air to blow things around, it doesn’t go into the rest of the house.  

So, how often should you have the inside of your computer cleaned? Naturally, it depends. How many of the four evils do you have above. Dust, Carpeting, Smoking, and Pets. Is your computer sitting on the floor or on a desk which is preferable. If you look at the fan on the back of the power supply and it looks clogged up, then by all means, get it cleaned quickly because, as I mentioned, what you see on the outside could be a fraction of what has accumulated inside. What that dust does is to block the airflow and allow heat to build up and that will shorten the life of your computer components.  

Short Takes 

Got an email from SanDisk, the number one maker of digital camera memory cards telling me that traveling with a digital flash memory card is pretty easy these days. First of all, airport scanners have no effect on the memory cards or the pictures stored on them. However, water can. They suggest drying out the card for several days before using a card if you dump it in the pool or lake. My advise is that if you get chlorine (from a swimming pool) on it or salt, say from ocean water, rinse it real quick with clear water and then dry it out and get the pictures off of it as soon as you can. Don’t put the card back into a camera because if it is going to short something out, I would rather it short a $10 memory card reader than your camera. They also advise not to dry it with a hot air hair dryer as the card does have a temperature range to watch out for with an upper limit of 140 degrees which means, don’t leave it inside a car on a hot sunny day. 

Another tip from SanDisk was to make sure your camera battery has plenty of power left over if you use it to transfer your pictures to your computer. The camera will not get power through the USB cable while you transfer pictures so make sure the battery has enough juice.  If you do loose your pictures or can’t get them from the camera, there are software packages out there that can read a card and sometimes recover those pictures, even if you have formatted the card. 

Finally, when buying more memory cards for those high megapixel cameras, look to get the higher speed cards. I am seeing a lot of no name cards that are really slow. I was really surprised when on a trip recently, I ran out of my high speed cards and started to use the older cards I had and how much slower it took them to record a picture. One card was nearly five times slower before the camera told me it was ready to take another picture.  That card is heading back to the bottom of the pile. 

Email Woes 

Wow, has the level of junk mail gone through the roof or what ! It seems that someone spoofed one of my email accounts and boy did I get flooded. I have a personal web site so that when I take a big trip, I can put together a travelogue for some of my family when it takes too much trouble to cart slides and prints around the country. You can see it at http://www.thesanborns.com/. So, how did the spammer get my email domain name.  A couple of ways comes to mind. The first is that they use web crawler software to search every web site out there for email addresses. If they don’t get one they also just hang onto the domain name. The second is that they use infected computers to get address books and listings. What happened to me was probably the first so the spammer flooded the world with a virus infested email using the return address of sales@thesanborns.com. Now “Sales” is not a user name that has ever existed on that domain but wow, in one day, I got over 300 messages that had bounced back to “sales” at my web site to the point that I put a rule in Outlook to immediately kill any message that comes into “sales”. Naturally most of those messages were from automated systems detecting a virus and sending me back a notice that I had shipped them a virus in an email. Of course, neither I nor my computer did such a thing but you know, so many systems do that and all that does is to add more junk mail to the mess.  

But one thing I did notice as I investigated this was that Outlook (and not Outlook Express), does a much better job of cleaning out junk mail. In testing this out over the past couple of years, I had created a junk mail account to use whenever I run into a web site that says I must register in order to see their content. Right. More junk mail and so that is why I did that. Just for kicks, I look at that junk mail account every month or so and am amazed at the hundreds of junk mail that it accumulates.  

But back to my point that even by setting up filters in Outlook Express, it still doesn’t seem to catch things as well as does Outlook which comes as part of the Microsoft Office Package. Outlook without any settings at all does a very good job of catching the spam junk and dumping it into the Junk-Email folder. With the rules folder, you can even ask it to look for words in the body of a message and act on them. So, what do you do if it gets to be too much of a problem? Easy, dump the account and get a new email address, or in this case, get two. One for you, and one for junk. Do you really need Starbucks, Quicken, Microsoft, Dell, HP, or some spyware outfit and anyone else sending mail to your real mail account? Of course not, 99% of the time it is junk anyways so don’t give out your real account name. If your ISP provider doesn’t want you to have more than one name, go to Yahoo and setup an account there. 

Neat Tools 

Found a new USB Card reader that I am actually using. From Mobile Edge, the 12 in one unit not only reads nearly every kind of memory card under the sun but also has three more USB 2.0 ports that you can plug into it   Nice, compact, stylish, and works great. $40 directly from http://www.mobileedge.com//items.asp?cid=7&scid=7&pid=38.  

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com




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