Category: Other/Misc

Power Issues And Computers

Power Issues And Computers

While all electronic devices are subject to power issues, computers are much more sensitive to them than other devices. That’s why it’s important to understand these issues, and protect your computer from them.

There are several different types of power issues that can happen. Here is a list, what they are, and how they affect your computer.

  1. Power Surge
    1. What is it?
      A short term increase in voltage. Usually caused by faulty generators, air conditioners, and other devices.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      Power surges typically will not harm a computer with a healthy power supply but if the computer’s power supply is weak or damaged by previous electrical issues, a power surge could cause it to fail.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      A good surge protector or an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS).
  2. Power Spike/Impulse
    1. What is it?
      Similar to a Power Surge, but with a much more dramatic increase in voltage. Typically caused by lightning but can also happen when the power comes back on after a power outage.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      A Power Spike can cause catastrophic damage to your computer, or any electronic device. Many people turn their computers off during a storm to protect it. But that doesn’t protect your computer from Power Spikes because your computer is still connected to the electrical grid and so the power spike has a path to get to your computer unless you have proper protection.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      You can shut your computer down and unplug it from the electricity but you also have to unplug any cable that goes to your computer that is connected to a device that is plugged into an A/C plug. This includes printers, powered USB hubs, external hard drives, etc. A better way is to have a good surge protector or a UPS.
  3. Power Outage
    1. What is it?
      When the power goes completely out. Could last for a fraction of a second, or for hours or even days in extreme cases.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      What a sudden loss of power does to a computer depends greatly on what the computer was doing at the time of the power loss. If you were editing a Word document, for example, you could lose the contents of that document. If the computer was in the middle of writing to the hard drive when the power loss occurs, it can cause corruption on the hard drive, but this is rare.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      On computers with healthy power supplies and healthy hard drives, the chances of a power loss causing a problem are very slim. The only way to protect your computer is by using an UPS.
  4. Power Sag/Brown Out
    1. What is it?
      This is a short term decrease in voltage usually caused by high-demand on the electrical grid. These are rare here in central Texas but are more common in other parts of the country.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      It can cause your computer to freeze, crash, or act weird. It can cause loss or corruption of data. It also reduces the lifespan of some electrical components like power supplies, hard drives, etc.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      The only protection is a UPS.
  5. Noisy or Dirty Power
    1. What is it?
      Faulty generators, switches, nearby radio transmitters, and similar devices can cause power to contain “electrical noise” and interference.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      It can shorten the life of your computer and cause it to act weird, suddenly shut off or reboot, or cause it to freeze or crash.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      The only protection is a UPS.

As you can see from the list above, there are quite a few power related issues that can have an effect on computers and those effects can be catastrophic.

How you should protect a particular computer from these issues depends on what type of computer it is and how critical the computer is to you. First, if the computer is a laptop, then all you need is a good surge protector. That’s because a laptop has a built-in battery and so it’s not susceptible to power outages (assuming the battery isn’t defective and has a charge).

If the computer is an All-In-One or a desktop, then ask yourself what effect it would have on your life or your business if the given computer wasn’t working for a day or two. Would that be an inconvenience or would it be a big problem?

If it would be an inconvenience, then get a good surge protector that provides at least 2000 joules of protection and comes with an insurance policy for connected equipment. Don’t rely on these cheapo power strips that say they have surge protection. Their surge protection is usually not very good.

If it would be a big problem to be without a given computer for a day or two (or more), then we recommend getting a UPS. Not just any UPS. The first thing you should look for is a UPS that connects to your computer with a USB cable. This is important because when there is a power outage, your UPS can tell your computer to shut down. This prevents the computer from experiencing a sudden loss of power in the event of a power outage that lasts more than a few minutes. The other feature to look for in a UPS is the voltage. How much voltage you need depends on how much power your computer uses. This can be hard to determine. For the average computer, 550 VA should be fine. For a computer that is more powerful, you’ll need more voltage. For them, a minimum of 650VA is recommended.

When you connect a computer to a UPS, be aware that the UPS has two different types of outlets. On one side of the UPS are outlets that only have surge protection. The other side has ports that will be supported by the battery in the UPS. The computer itself and your monitor should be plugged into the battery backup outlets while all other devices should be plugged into the surge protection only outlets.

When you have a computer that is protected by a UPS that has been properly set up, you don’t have to worry about your computer. If there is a storm, the surge protection will protect it. If there is a power outage, the UPS will keep the computer from losing power and will tell the computer to shut down if the power outage lasts more than a minute or two. The only thing you have to do is remember to turn the computer back on after the power comes back on. You may be wondering why everyone doesn’t have a UPS. Two reasons. One is many people never heard of them. The other reason is that they aren’t cheap. A good surge protector is around $30. A good UPS is $80 or more.

If you are interested in getting a UPS on any of your computers, give us a call. We can install them for you and make sure they are installed and configured properly. We can even purchase the UPS for you.

And, by the way, we recommend that you have all electric devices plugged into good surge protectors. This includes TV’s, sound systems, DVD players, DVR’s, cordless phones, cell phone/tablet/laptop chargers, and so forth.

Send a Fax Over the Internet

Send a Fax Over the Internet

Even though faxing is dying a slow death thanks to email and cloud storage, many companies haven’t converted over yet and are still using faxes. So sometimes, you need to fax something to a company. Most of us have All-In-One printers that can fax, but not all of us have phone lines that can be used to do the faxing. There are electronic fax services on the internet like  But they cost money. If you send and receive a lot of faxes, those services are very good. But most of us only send a few faxes a year, so services like that are not cost effective. Many of us have all-in-one printers that are capable of faxing, but not all of us do. And even if you do, there are often long distance fees because the fax number is out of town and not a toll free number.

What if there was a way you could fax over the internet that was free? Well, there is! The only drawback is that whatever you want to fax must already be in electronic format, not paper form. If you have a Word document or PDF file or something like that, it’s ready to go. If not, you’ll have to scan the document you want to scan so that it is stored on the computer.

Once the document you want to scan is stored on the computer, just go to, fill out the header information, click on choose file to select the file you want to fax and you are done. And it was all free!

Note that there are some limitations. Your fax can’t be more than 3 pages long (not including the cover) and you can only send up to five free faxes a day.

Slash Versus Slash

Slash Versus Slash

I was going to say that there are two kinds of slashes in the world; Forward slashes and back slashes. But then there is the guitarist from the rock group “Guns N’ Roses” that goes by the name Slash. So, when it comes to Windows computers, there are two types of slashes.

A forward slash, usually referred to as a slash, looks like this: /

A backslash looks like this:

On most keyboards you can type a slash by hitting the key just to the left of the right-hand shift key and you can type a backslash by hitting the key just above the enter key.

Both have different uses. If you use the wrong one, it won’t work in most cases.

The forward slash, of course, is a punctuation mark in the English language used primarily as a way to abbreviate. For example, instead of writing without you can write w/o.  Instead of writing “She went with Sam.”, You can write “She went w/Sam.” And so forth.

A forward slash is used in bowling to denote a spare.

A forward slash is often used to denote an argument to a program. For example, if you wanted to run a chkdsk command,  you might use add the ‘/f’ argument to the command to tell chkdsk to automatically fix any errors it found. The resulting command would be: chkdsk /f

Forward slashes are generally used in website addresses. For example: Note the forward slashes after http and another forward slash after .com. Forward slashes are often used in dates like 12/25/2010. It’s often used as a division operator. So if you wanted to write 100 divided by 25 equals 4, you could write: 100/25=4.

By the way, here is something you probably didn’t know. Ignoring http://, did you know that everything before the first ‘/’ in a website address is not case sensitive and everything after the first ‘/’ is case sensitive. In the example we gave above, the part after the first slash is “?page_id=549”. If you changed the case of any of those letters, it wouldn’t work. But by the same token, if you entered WWW.CT-CP.COM in all caps, it would work.

Forward slashes are used as the division operator instead of ÷ because ÷ is too much like the plus sign(+).  So 10 ÷ 2 = 5 would be written 10 / 2 = 5.

There are other uses of the forward slash character, but you get the idea.

Uses of backslashes are much less common.

Backslashes are generally used in Windows as a separator. For example: C:Program gives you the exact location to run a game called Tetris. This designation tells you it’s on the C drive. On the C drive, it’s under Program Files and then under a folder called Tetris. And the name of the program that actually runs the game is tetris.exe.

Backslashes are often used as an escape character. An escape character tells the computer to treat the next character exactly as written. For example, if you wanted to do a search for all any files on your computer that contained words that start with the word ‘fire’, you might do a search for ‘fire*’. In this example, the asterisk is a wildcard and has a special meaning. But what if you wanted to search for something that actually had an asterisk in it? If you put an asterisk, it would think you wanted it to be a wildcard. To get around that, you precede it with a backslash. That tells the computer to treat it as an asterisk, not as a wildcard operator.

The other common uses for backslashes are in referring to other computers on a Windows network. For example, if I have several computers in my home or business, each computer has a name. You can name a computer whatever you want as long as there are no other computers on the same network with the same name. You can access information on another computer on the same network by prefacing the name of the computer with two backslashes.

So if I am using PC1 and there is another computer called PC2 on the network, I can access information on PC2 by using the name \PC2. Of course, in order for this to really work, all of the security has to allow it. You can refer to a folder or file on a network computer. If PC2 had a file called grocerylist.doc located at c:usersfrankdocuments, you could directly open that file by opening \PC2usersfrankdocumentsgrocerylist.doc. If PC2 has a printer called Printer1, I can print to it by printing to \PC2Printer1.

Other operating systems like Unix use the forward slash and backslash in different ways from Windows, but we only addressed Windows in this article.

I hope this article didn’t make you want to slash your wrists.



Will Computers Be Like Toasters?

Will Computers Be Like Toasters?

Are computers becoming just another appliance like a toaster? Some people think that’s where we are headed. Here’s why. Computers are becoming more and more portable as evidenced by the ipad, netbooks, and laptops. The trend is to store all data on the internet in the so called “Cloud”.

Once you have all of your data in the cloud, the only thing left on your computer are is the software. Some software is available on the internet and doesn’t have to be installed on your computer. For example, using Google Docs, you can edit a Word or Excel file right there online. You don’t have to have Word or Excel installed on your computer.

If we ever get to a point where all of your data and all of your software can be on the internet and doesn’t have to be installed on your computer, then the computer really will be an appliance. If it breaks, go get a new one. Just like you would if your toaster broke.

Today, only the most basic of software is available online. If all you do is email, surf the web, edit Word documents and work with Excel spreadsheets that are not too complicated, then you might be ready for it. However, most people need more than that. Until the vast majority of software is available as online applications, the computer will still be somewhat complicated to set up, use, and maintain.

However, when we do get to the point where all of your data and software is online, computers will be cheap to purchase, easy to set up, require very little maintenance, and can easily be replaced.

Printer Not Printing?

Printer Not Printing?

Occasionally your printer may stop printing and refuse to print anything else. This is often because a print job has gotten stuck in the printer queue. There is a way to clear a stuck print job in Windows, but sometimes it requires a reboot which is silly if you just want to clear a print job.

There is, however, a free utility program called Stalled Printer Repair that will fix this problem for you. Just download it; run it; and click “Purge Print Jobs” and you’re done!

Here’s the link:



Compression is a process by which a piece of data is encoded in such a way that it will take up less space when stored. Once compressed, it must be uncompressed before that piece of data can be used.

Let me give you a very simplified example. You already know that a computer stores information in binary format. That is ones and zeros. So let’s say you had the following information:


The data above consists of 50 bits or digits. Is there a shorthand way to write this that takes up less space? Yes there is. Anytime a particular digit is repeated more than two times in a row, you could write it in a different way. For example, since the only valid digits are ones and zeros, any other digit could specify the number of times to repeat the next digit. So if you had six zeros (000000), you could write it 60 meaning six zeros. Writing it that way takes 2 bits instead of 6. If you used this convention to write the above number, you would get:


That only takes up 26 bits. That’s a savings up 24 bits. And that’s compression.

That is a very simple example of compression. The compression used on computers is more complex than that, but you get the idea.

Compression is pretty common place in the computer world. It’s used to reduce the size of something so that it can be transferred over the internet (or, God forbid, over a phone line) faster and also so that it takes up less space when stored. It’s also a form of encryption, although its goal is not security.

Years ago when hard drives weren’t all that big and they were expensive, you could compress your whole hard drive to save space. But there was a price to pay. Every time read from the hard drive, that data has to be decompressed and every time you write to the hard drive, that data has to be compressed. That slows things down. But with today’s large, inexpensive hard drives, there’s no reason to even consider compressing a hard drive.

Some files cannot be compressed because they are, in effect, already compressed or the format of the file is just not condusive to compression. One example is the jpg format, often pronounced jpeg. This is a method for storing images. Most digital cameras product pictures in the jpeg format. One of the great things about jpeg files is that their native storage format is already compressed. You can try to compress it further, but you want get much, if any savings in size. In fact, due to the overhead of compression, you’ll probably make it bigger.

Zip files are compressed, but they have the additional advantage that you can group more than one file into the compressed file. Windows can handle zip files, but it calls them compressed folders. If you have multiple files you want to store together, you can put them in a zip file (compressed folder). You can then store them somewhere and since they are compressed, they will take up less space. You can transfer or transport them as well. When you are ready to use them, you must decompress them.

If you want to create a zip file in Windows, just select the file, or files, you want to put in the zip file, then right-click on them and choose “Send To” and then choose “Compressed (zipped) folder”. It will create the file and then let you choose a name. To open a zip file, just double click it.

By the way, Zip files (compressed folders) are not the only way to compress data on a computer. But Zip files are the only ones supported by Windows. If you want to use one of the other ones, then you will need additional software.

Some of the more popular formats used today include RAR and 7z. If you want to create RAR files, check out WinRAR ( WinRAR also works on zip files, but it’s not free.

For the 7z format, check out 7-Zip ( 7-Zip not only works on 7z files, but also works on Zip and RAR files. This is the utility I use most. It works great and the best part is, it’s free!

Most residential computer uses, however, don’t need anything more than what’s built-in to Windows.

Accessibility Options in Windows

Accessibility Options in Windows

Windows has a group of features called Accessibility Options. These are Windows options that can be set to help people who physical impairments that make it hard to use a computer. People who are def or hard of hearing, are blind or have limited eyesight, or people who have difficulty using the keyboard or mouse. If you or someone you know falls into any of these categories, windows has special features that can help you better use a computer.

There are actually quite a few accessibility options. Too many to go over in detail in this article. But here is a description of some of the more popular accessibility options.

It’s like a big rectangular magnifying glass that you move around the screen with your mouse. It magnifies anything in the box to the power you set. 200% by default.

High Contrast
For people with impaired vision, you can use a high contrast color scheme to make things easier to see. High contrast color schemes increase the legibility by heightening screen contrast with alternative color combinations. Some of these schemes also make things on the screen bigger.

Visual Notifications
By default, Windows uses a lot of sounds to notify you of what’s going on. But if your hearing isn’t very good, Visual Notifications allows you to have visual notifications in addition to audible notifications. You can choose what you what notifications you want it to give you visually.

This is a text-to-speech program that basically reads what on the screen to you.

Speech Recognition
If you have trouble using a mouse or keyboard, Speech Recognition allows you to speak commands to your computer. You’ll need to have a microphone connected to your computer for this to work.

Filter Keys
if you tend to hold keys on the keyboard down too long or press it several times when you intended to only press it once, then you probably often get more than one character of the key you pressed. If so, then you might want to enable Filter Keys which will ignore keystrokes that occur in rapid succession.

Sticky Keys
Windows has quite a few keyboard combinations where you have to press multiple keys at the same time. For example, Control-Alt-Delete. When Sticky Keys is enabled, you don’t have to press them all at the same time. You can press them one at a time. So, if Sticky Keys was turned on, you could press and release control, then press and release Alt, then press and release Delete.

Mouse Keys
If you do OK using the keyboard, but have trouble with the mouse you can enable mouse keys which lets you use the arrow keys to move the pointer.

Note that XP doesn’t have all of the options described above, but Vista and Windows 7 do.

This list above is a very small portion of the many accessibility options in Windows.

For detailed information on all of the accessibility options in Windows XP, go to:

For Vista, go to:

For Windows 7, go to:

An Idle Computer

An Idle Computer

What Good is an Idle Computer?

With the recent green push, some people feel you should shut your computer down when you aren’t using it. Or you can put it in hibernation or sleep (For more information about hibernation and sleep, see our recent newsletter article on our website). Although it’s a good thing to try and save electricity, you also have to be smart about it.

When  you are using your computer, you want it to be at its best so you can do what you need to do efficiently. You don’t want your computer doing maintenance tasks while you are trying to use it because it slows you down. You want your computer to do it’s maintenance tasks when you aren’t using it. That’s why you should not shut your computer down, put it into hibernation, or put it to sleep when you aren’t using it.

You can have windows turn off your monitor after a certain amount of time to try and save electricity. If you have Vista or Windows 7,  you can have them shut down other components of the computer to save electricity. Setting these settings will allow your computer to do the maintenance it needs to do when you aren’t using it, but will still save some electricity.

Typical maintenance tasks that your computer might do when  you aren’t using it include, but are not limited to, update security software, scan computer for infections, backup, defrag, and more. There are, however, other additional tasks you can have your computer perform. How would you like to have your computer fight cancer and other diseases like AIDS, MD, and more? Or perhaps you would like your computer to look for E.T.? You can have your computer do all of these things and more through the use of distributed computing.

The idea behind distributed computing is instead of using one big expensive computer to process data, why not break the data up into little pieces and have a lot of less expensive computers each process a small piece of the data. Your computer can be one of these computers and it’s free and easy to do.

It all started with the SETI@Home project at Berkeley. Back in 1999, they created a screen saver that would kick in when you weren’t using your computer. This screen saver would process data for the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute. Since then, the software used for this has evolved way past a simple screen saver. The software is now called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing).

Now there are lots of projects, in addition to SETI@Home, that you can have your computer work on. And you don’t have to limit it to one project. You can work on lots of them. I started with SETI@Home back in 1999. I still have my computers do some work for that project, but most of my computers concentrate on projects from World Community Grid. Why? Because their projects save lives. They are the ones with the projects that help fight Cancer, AIDS and other diseases.  Their projects help people.

Yes, using  your computer for distributed computing does use a little more electricity. But isn’t it worth it to help save lives? And if you have a friend or family member who has died from Cancer, or is fighting cancer right now, why wouldn’t you want to join in the fight?

If you want to use your computer to help with these projects, here’s how.

First, go to download and install BOINC. Now run BOINC. It will give you the option to attach to projects like World Community Grid or SETI@Home. You’ll create logins for each project as well. You can configure BOINC to run all the time, or only when your computer is idle.

If you need help with BOINC, we will be glad to help you with it remotely at no charge. Here are some websites with more information to references in this article:

World Community Grid

How to Create PDF Files

How to Create PDF Files

PDF doesn’t stand for Pretty Darn Fun. It stands for Portable Document Format. A document in this format will have .pdf on the end of it. This format was created by Adobe in 1993. When  you download a book, manual, or other document from the internet, it is often in PDF format. Some forms are also in PDF format.

If you want to view a PDF document, you need the free Adobe Reader which can be downloaded and installed from Most computers already have this installed.

What we wanted to address in this article was how to create a PDF file. If you want to create a fancy PDF file that contains a form other special functionality, you would have to purchase Adobe Acrobat which is very expensive. The standard version of Acrobat currently lists for $299, but if you have a previous version, you can upgrade for $99.

However, if you just want to take a document you have created in Word, Publisher, or some other program and create a PDF version of it, you don’t need Acrobat. And the best part is you can create it for free.

You may be wondering why you would want to create a PDF of your document. Why not just send your document? Good question. There are several reasons why. To answer this, let’s use the example of a Word document. Let’s say you have Word 2007. If you send a Word 2007 file to someone, it may turn out that they don’t have Word, or they may have an older version of Word. So that person would not be able to view the document. But everyone has Adobe Reader. So if you converted it to PDF format, they would be able to open and view your document.

Another reason is that if you sent someone your Word document, if they have Word they can open it and change it. If you want to make sure the document can’t be modified, then you might want to convert it to PDF before you send it.

So, here’s how to convert your document to PDF.

If you have Office 2007, you can download a free add-in from Microsoft that lets you save  your documents as PDF files. You can download and install that by using the link below:

If you have an older version of Office, or if you want to create a PDF file from a different program, you can still do it pretty easily and for free.

Go to and download the free CutePDF Writer and install it on your computer. Once it has been installed, it creates a virtual printer. Then, all you have to do is open up your document in the program you created it in. Then print the document, but instead of printing to your default printer, change the printer you are printing to so it prints to the CutePDF virtual printer. When you print to the CutePDF printer, it will prompt you for a file name and location for your PDF file. It will then create the PDF file for you so that you can then send it out via email.

CutePDF is not the only utility like this that is free. Another popular one is pdf995 which you can get at

Google Voice

Google Voice

Sometime in the next few weeks, Google will be releasing a new service called Google Voice. It’s a free service that many people may find very useful.

Here’s how it works. When you sign up, you get your own special Google phone number. This is a real phone number that people can call. If you move, your Google phone number stays the same. But unlike a regular phone number, this one is powerful.

Unlike your standard phone line you get from your local phone company, this phone number comes with voice mail and has a lot of features. Here are just a few of the features.

You can have your voice mail e-mailed to your or sent as a text message to your phone in addition to being able to call a phone number and get your voice mail messages with any phone.

You can set your Google phone number up so that when anyone calls it, every phone you have will ring and you can answer the call at any of these phones. Or you can set it up so that when a certain person calls, it only rings at home, but when a different person calls, it will ring on your home phone and your cell phone.

Here’s an example of that. You could set it up so that if a call comes in from your parents house, it would ring at all of your phones (home, cell, work). At the same time, you could set it up so that if an acquaintance calls, it just rings at home or goes straight to voice mail.

What I like best about this is how you could handle solicitation calls. I could put all of the people I know into Google Voice and specify which phones will ring when they call. I could then specify that when anyone else calls, it goes straight to voice mail. This won’t eliminate solicitation calls, but should dramatically reduce them.

Another cool feature is call screening. With the traditional answering machine, you could screen calls by listening as a caller left a message. You can still do that with Google Voice, but you can do more too. You can specify that anyone who calls who is not in your address book must record their name the first time they call. That recording will then be played to you so you will know who is calling and if their caller id is blocked or not. If they don’t record their name, their call doesn’t get through.

When you block a call, the caller will get a message that sounds like the phone company message notifying them that the number is no longer in service.

People can even send text messages to your Google phone number. You can have text messages sent to your Google phone number sent to your cell phone.

The list of features goes on and on. For more information, take a look at


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