Computer Tips

Make Your Recovery Discs

Most new computer systems from the major manufacturers do not include any installation or restore media for the operating system and software that came pre-installed. They rely on a hard drive-based image recovery system. If you screw up that data or your hard drive crashes, then you're out of luck.

It is up to you to make your own restore set using the utility tools that came with the computer. You will find them in your Start Menu or the computer itself will pop-up a reminder for you to make them (especially during the first few times the system is used). You will need to provide your own blank media, which can vary from 1 to a dozen or more CD-R's to one or more DVD's (do not use re-writables). Read the documentation that came with the computer for more information or contact us for assistance.

You can also try contacting the manufacturer's technical support staff to see if you can order a full recovery set for your computer. There may be a charge or other conditions involved (such as being within the warranty period).

Protect your PC from Power Surges

Is your computer and other expensive electronics adequately protected from power surges, brown-outs and power outages? Surge protection is important to have all year long, but is especially so during stormy summer months. You can minimize the risk by taking some precautions.

Both Jackson Electric Cooperative and Black River Falls Municipal Utilities offer "whole-house" surge protection products, which is one solution to consider.

Power outages seem to occur more frequently in our rural area than in the big cities, so battery backup units (UPS) are equally important.

A few tips:

  • Don't daisy-chain surge strips or UPS units.
  • Extension cords should be avoided.
  • Test outlets for proper grounding. Many UPS units and surge protectors can tell you whether an outlet is grounded or not.
  • Laser printers typically draw too much power for UPS units and should be plugged into 'surge only' outlets or to a surge protector only.
  • Cable, DSL and telephone lines need protection too.
  • When unplugging your computers and electronics during a storm:
    1. Shut-down the computers and turn everything off.
    2. Unplug all power, telephone and cable lines at the wall jacks. Don't forget the cables going into your cable or DSL modem.
    3. Networked PC's, printers and other devices also need to be unplugged.
    4. Satellite and antenna cables should also be unplugged.
  • Use a portable, battery-powered radio for weather reports during storms, not a TV connected to satellite or cable.
  • If your equipment trips a circuit breaker or blows a fuse, don't replace it with a higher-rated one. Hire an electrician to find and fix the problem instead.

Need help deciding what kind of power and surge protection you should have? Just ask us!

If you have a substantial amount of electronics and computer gear, you may want to talk to your insurance agent to ensure that this expensive equipment is covered by your homeowner's or renter's insurance, including coverage of damage caused by power surges and storms.

Flash Drives and USB Hard Drives on Windows 98

Flash drives have become this generation's floppy disk, but not everyone has a newer PC to use them and drivers for Windows 98 can be hard to find (or not even available at all). If you're perfectly happy with your old Win98 system, why would you want to spend $500 or more on a new computer just so you can use a $20 flash drive?

Instead.. try these Generic USB Mass Storage Drivers for Windows 98 and get your flash drives, external hard drives, even some MP3 players and cameras connecting to your "vintage" Windows.

A couple of usage tips:

  • Follow the installation instructions.. to the letter; including rebooting after installation — and before trying to connect a device.
  • The first time you connect a device, Windows 98 will run through the "New Hardware Found" wizard. Go ahead and choose to install the drivers, but un-check all search locations as you don't need to "search" for them (the generic drivers were copied over to where they belong already and Windows will have no trouble locating them).

Remember: Do not just unplug a connected USB storage device while Windows (any version) is running! Use the "Safely Remove Hardware" icon in your system tray (the icons by your clock) to "stop" the device first. Alternatively, if you're going to be shutting down the computer anyway, you can just wait to disconnect the device until after it powers off. This includes not only hard drives and flash drives, but also MP3 players and cameras, as those are simply storage devices as far as Windows is concerned.

Read before you click!

Clicking without reading what you're clicking on can get you into loads of trouble, especially with phishing web sites and email, infested or bogus web sites, and malware. But that's not all — legitimate software and web sites can also sneak stuff past you or trick you into choosing something you really didn't want. Some examples:

Updates for Apple's Quicktime and iTunes software for Windows often try to sneak an install of Apple's Safari web browser by you unless you uncheck that option during installation. Just say no to Safari and get Firefox instead for a reliable and secure alternative to Internet Explorer.

Whenever AVG, Avast, or other free antivirus programs have major updates, they tend to bombard their users with "upgrade" notices that can be misleading or difficult to understand. This often leads to confusion over whether they continue to offer their free versions and how to upgrade that instead of "upgrading" to their paid product. Read these notices carefully, or just go to their web site and download the latest version of the free product yourself.

Adobe continues to try to bundle Google toolbar, Norton security scan, and other software with their free Adobe Reader, Flash and Shockwave software. Be sure to uncheck this unwanted software when presented with the option to do so.

Many other applications also try to piggyback installations of potentially unwanted software when it installs; always read before you click and investigate available 'custom' installation options before committing to an install.

The first thing many people do when they run into trouble is to "google" for a fix. Unfortunately, there are a lot of malicious sites that buy advertising space on Google and other search engines. Be extra careful when searching for terms such as "antivirus", "adaware", "spyware" and "spybot"; and never click on a "sponsored link" when searching for those, or related, terms. If in doubt, please ask us before you do anything.

Using Mozilla Firefox as your web browser, with Adblock and other addons, can hide these sponsored links so you don't have to worry about them.