Sunday, May 29, 2005

The ongoing debate-To leave the computer on or not?

I get asked the question whether or not it is best to leave the computer on or turn it off when you are not using it.. Asked to me at least once a week and I do not know why I can not find this answer in one of my many TIPS, but nothing that actually makes mention of it. Not that I haven't answered it at least a hundred times. In any case I will put this to rest hopefully once and for all in this blog.

If you are connecting to the internet through a network connection (highspeed, either via broadband-cable connection or ADSL-phone connection), then you are connected all the time. If you are required to dial a phone number then you are on what is known as "dial-up service".

Your computer has antivirus (I hope) and quite probably a few spyware scanners and possibly email "mail washer" type programs running on your computer. These are obviously needed for any of the many internet related products such as email, or surfing the web. When you connect to the internet the connection is established in one of the methods mentioned above. The dial up-obviously you would know when you are connected by the fact that if you picked up the phone, you would probably hear the loud squeal and beeps of the modem communicating with the internet server (your service provider). While you are receiving your email and/or are surfing the web through your web browser (Internet Explorer or other), then you are using the internet. Such programs as MSN messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AOL Messenger also utilize the internet and will in most cases, automatically sign in once it detects the internet or even when you first start your computer. This is usually because the setting has been "defaulted" to start when windows starts, which you can change by entering the programs OPTIONS or sometimes is found under PREFERENCES. This is a very useful thing to know in any program.. It's OPTIONS, since I look at this as being the table of contents to a book, it will show you what the options of the program are, and just what you can do with them. Typically you can view the programs OPTIONS without changing anything by simply clicking on CANCEL when you want to close the window. If you have made any changes, then they will not take place until you click on APPLY or by pressing OK, which will also close the window after making the changes. Therefore you should never feel afraid to open the programs "options" and see what is available to you. This will in many ways, help you understand the inner workings of the program a lot better since you will know what the program is capable of doing.

Now to get to the question of what should you do, leave the computer on or off when you are not using it?

This is actually quite simple I believe. My answer would always be LEAVE IT ON. This is because if it was a computer that I had ever had my hands on, it would be set up with the latest antivirus program, which also has the latest virus definitions. After all, what good is your antivirus program if you have not updated the virus definitions-which is what the program uses to make sure you do not have a virus. Therefore, if your computer is turned off, how can it get those latest updates? It can't-until you turn on the computer, in which case, depending on how your connection to the internet is, these will begin, once it detects the internet. Therefore if you are on a highspeed connection, once your computer is "ON", then it will most likely detect the internet and your antivirus program should check to see if there is a new virus update available. Depending on your program, it will either automatically update (in most cases), or you will be prompted that there is an update available.. Note that this may actually be a "new version' is available or, it might be that there are other WINDOWS UPDATES available, which can easily be confused with your antivirus. In any case, you will want to complete these updates. This is the number one reason why you should be leaving your computer turned on. Now knowing that your computer is best to be left on, there are ways you can OPTIMIZE the power management of your system.
Typically I would set the screen saver to about 14 minutes... This gives me enough time to not be constantly bugged with the screen saver kicking in if I am lost in thought for a few minutes, however is set long enough to save from any potential "burn-in" on the computer monitor. Note that if you are using an LCD monitor, this is really not something you would have to worry about anyway. At the same time, I have the hard drive spin down, usually at the same as when I have the monitor to turn off, which is 45 minutes. I have found this to be a good enough length of time to have the monitor turn off (too soon and it is actually harder on your monitor, turning the power on and off, too long, and you are just wasting electricity), and since your monitor is most likely the main consumer of the power, this is a pretty good length of time to have it shut off.

You can learn more about OPTIMIZING your computer from my TIPS section HERE.

What about STANDBY and HIBERNATE? Note that when you choose STANDBY that it saves everything just as it is, to the RAM or MEMORY of your computer and then turns off, however if you move your mouse, press on the keyboard, the computer will come back on. This mode "standby" is good if you want to have your system only come on when there is a scheduled task, such as an antivirus scan, however it will be missing out on the obvious available updates since it is actually turned off and not monitoring the internet.. That is, if you are not using a dial up connection. These people on a dial-up pretty much have no choice but to have their computer "on" when they go to connect to the internet, and therefore, unless you like waiting for your computer to boot up, I suggest leaving it on as well, that is, unless you only use your computer once every other day.. Not like most, that will check mail at least twice a day, in which case I would definitely be leaving the computer powered on.

Now, if you do not have a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) I highly suggest you purchase one, since it will set you back less then $60 (Canadian) and can save the life of your computer, it is like having an insurance policy for your computer. Since all UPS's have some sort of "lightening insurance policy", if your equipment was actually shocked after a lightening or other electrical short, your equipment is protected by whatever policy your unit has. APC, which in my opinion, holds the top spot in UPS technology has one that would see all the parts reimbursed up to $15 or $20 thousand dollars.. Well worth it wouldn't you say?

So, to sum things up..

Yes, I would leave your computer turned on and NO, I would not be using STANDBY or HIBERNATE. What is hibernate? It is the same as STANDBY only everything that is running is saved to a file on the hard drive before the system is shut off. In HIBERNATE, the computer WILL NOT turn itself on for any scheduled task such as a virus scan, however when you turn the power switch to on, you will notice how fast your computer boots up.. Because it never really had to boot up, it simply reads the hibernate file and reloads things just as they were when you turned the power off. Note that this is a good mode to be in on most laptops if you want to save on battery power or if you are busy re-charging. But be aware when using either STANDBY or HIBERNATE, that your computer is not rebooting and in some cases, after installing certain programs, they may prompt you to restart and choosing STANDBY or HIBERNATE is not restarting your computer.

When I have told people that it is best to leave your computer on, it is not uncommon that your computer (usually running windows xp) may not actually be restarted for weeks at a time, since there was never a need to restart it. However, this can also lead to some problems of their own. This happens when certain spyware may get in to your system and or a change since a new program you have installed has taken place, but because it never required the computer to be restarted nor did it prompt you to restart, that you actually will not see the changes until you restart.. Which as I mentioned, may not be for a few weeks. At that time, when you do restart and something doesn't load properly, or you are unsure of what has happened, realize that this may be because of the resulting download you did a few weeks earlier.. I make this statement since quite often lately, I have seen types of spyware get in to a computer but will not take hold until the computer is restarted, at which time, the "start up folder" or "windows prefetch" now has the start up file and things can get ugly.. It is for this reason that I have made mention to all that I speak to on this topic, that regardless of any prompts, if you haven't had to restart your computer for any other reason, get in to the habit of restarting it occasionally, knowing that there could be this sort of spyware taking hold of your computer.

On the topic of restarting the computer, this may happen after you get the latest virus update, or spyware update. When prompted to restart, be sure to go and complete another "live update" of the virus definitions or do a new scan of the spyware program, since you have recently downloaded and installed the latest updates, there may be more to come but could not be installed until the first set of updates was installed. You should always continue to run the updates until you see the prompt telling you that you are "up to date". In some cases, you will have a file date or version number showing you this information which you can then cross-reference from the manufacturers website.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

New Ad-aware available

Ad-aware just recently released an update to verion 1.06 so if you have not already done so, you can get it from the SOFTWARE/SUPPORT area of my website here

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

3167 questions answered so far!

After my last question I responded to through my volunteering with allexperts.com I happened to get a nice comment and noticed that I had answered 3167 questions since I started volunteering my services a number of years ago. Doing some quick math, I realized that if I were to answer only 1 question a day, I would have been doing this for over 8 years! That is, if you were to look at the evolution of the internet, that would put it back in the very early days. Wow, how time flys!

Monday, May 16, 2005

New version of Spyware Blaster available

If you have been using your Spyware Blaster correctly and have clicked to check on updates, you should have been prompted that there is a new version available and you have already updated. If not, please be sure to do so. As always, you can get the latest version HERE.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Did you know that I accept virtually all forms of credit and Interac?

It came to my attention today, after I was asked if I accepted credit cards when I was with a client and I said Yes and they were a little surprised I think, or maybe it was how easy I made it seem. This is because I just went over to the computer, went to my home page and clicked on the "donate" button. Since papal is providing the service, you do not pay any fees for this, it is the receiver that pays.. But that is where papal has been pretty good in the costs, in order to make it fair to the home/small business users. If you haven't already signed up for a paypal account (which doesn't cost you anything), then I might suggest it. It is pretty much using your interac card for everything, well now paypal makes it easy to use whatever form of payment you choose. Of course if you don't want to sign up with them and want to use your credit card you can do that as well. As always, I love to be able to use the latest modern technology to make our day to day tasks just a little bit easier, or at least more fun to do! After all, what could be more fun then Donating --to my cause.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

How Powerful is Your Blog?

I recently read this post through Yahoo News. It certainly makes me feel good to know I live in Canada. Oh, but wait, the internet is world-wide and anyone can read this..hmmm maybe I should think before I write! Well maybe that is a smart move, but then not all blogs are there to make sense.. it all depends on who is reading. Since you have the ability to choose which blogs you wish to read via RSS then you should have the freedom of speech, but to what extent? This is going to be something you see more and more of in the news-just watch!

If this is one way to "lower the borders" and allow people from all corners of the Earth discuss what issues really matter.. to them, to those close to them, and to those that their words affect, whomever might be reading them. Since you post it to a blog, you must realize that EVERYONE has the same chance to read it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Visions of Computer Consulting in the future

As a Computer Consultant, I am often found spending time lighting a candle at both ends. Fortunately for me, my entire working life has been working, at times, very long hours or for days on end without a day off. Sure, working for yourself gives you plenty of time, some might say, to schedule time off. This is not always the case, but maybe it should be. Burn-out is most certainly something to watch out for in any occupation since even doing the same thing over and over again can cause similar stress. Like any good business, they say you should have a good business plan, some might have a 3 year or 5 year plan and some may even go 20 years or more. Since electronics themselves are marketed for about 3 months before a new product is in the making, doesn't give a lot of time for rest in between. That goes for any training by means of reading up on the new technology, to actually using it and then when it breaks, know what to look for to fix it. Fortunately when it comes to the physical hardware, that seems to be getting more modular. For example, when a CPU goes bye-bye it usually means replacing the CPU Cooler as well, since these are in many cases a warranted item (even though you probably won't be using the warranty since it usually costs more to ship it, insured, etc the one-way as you have to do) when the replacement is no longer available since they stopped making PIII-500mhz CPU's... Which means you are going to be replacing the mainboard as well... Good news there is that the average mainboard is relatively cheap, considering they now have 3d graphics and 5 channel digital sound, network card all built in. Once you do this however, you find that you will also need the newer memory "DDR" stuff since your old board had the SDRAM (pc100/133). But this is what I deal with TODAY... Tomorrow it will be something else.

This goes on all over the world... There are computer consultants helping remove viruses, install a new wireless network, set up an office with new computers, printers, etc. On and on, technology pushes forward, and there are these people that are trying to soften the blow when it comes to learning the new ways. This means teaching and/or training as well. Many consultants find themselves in "waves" of work, where they might be fixing viruses like crazy for what seems like an eternity, and then all of a sudden there is this dead time where there are no computer problems, or so it seems.. Quiet time when you actually feel guilty that the phone hasn't been ringing and you wonder if it is still working. Then if you are anything like me, you will realize this is just another "calm before the storm"... A time when you should probably be either taking a break and getting some fresh air by climbing the nearest mountain geocaching or out catching the grandfather of the local fishing hole. Maybe traveling.. But how far can you go? When there are computer problems, it is like being a doctor sometimes, where you are on call 24 hours a day. Of course that is entirely up to the individual doing the work. No, I am not alone out there, I know this... And I often wonder if there is ever a way that one could vision a time where, like in a time-share situation, you spend a period of time, whether it is a week or two, at a local destination, which is a complete working office, work-bench, set up just like other consultants as like myself may have. Since much of your work is off-site, a lot of it is now being done remotely using active desktop/server software, the future looks to be even more connected. Virtually every item will have an IP address and can be controlled remotely. Gates mentioned how vehicles should have the technology in them to prevent them from crashing in to each other and other objects. I look at this and think how this should be a priority. With the current price of a gps, knowing that all new cars have a computer diagnostics terminal on them now, why not add the necessary "computer" to each car.. Much like onstar does now, or how you can have a professionally installed remote car starter/alarm that will do things like adjust the temperature of the car and will tell you remotely. Heck, that has been around for a while.. So why isn't it in more vehicles? Why isn't it in all vehicles? If the electronics industry is pretty much controlled by supply and demand, why not have it so the demand is high..

So what of the visions of remote office? As I see it right now, people want to be able to use their computer whenever they want, for whatever they want and any down-time should be when they know they are not going to be using it, such as when they go on vacation, or maybe just as small of a time as when they are sleeping.. Depending on the type of work that needs to be done to the computer--if only every computer was like the new refrigerators that will send out a service call when it detects a problem... Where is the person that is going to repair the problem? Does it really matter who repairs it? Of course it does--that is part of the reason you are doing what it is you are doing--because the work you are doing is the kind of work your client was looking for-when it can be done almost seamless by swapping that computer component or entire computer without any down time is a wonderful thing-so what is it worth? Where does the cost factor in to all of this? You can factor time in to it, but since you are your own boss, time becomes the number one factor-just how many computers/clients can you help in a 24 hour period. Then you look to the future and wonder how can you keep up with the pace. That is when you must focus on other areas of the business, which may be as little as scheduling in a one hour walk in the park every day. I know of some that work from their home, who get up routinely each and every day and get dressed as they would if they were going to work outside their home, have their routine meal (I won't say breakfast, since this might actually be the dinner hour for those 9 to 5 people if the time was 6pm when you are leaving for work). Only to drive to the nearest coffee shop for their morning coffee, or take that walk around the block. The fact that you take the time in a routine way, on a daily basis, working from your home can still keep your mind focused that you still have a job to do. Distractions can be good however, it is up to you how you handle your time! One thing I am learning each and every day however, is that no matter what it is you are doing, you should be enjoying it, otherwise you will find yourself only getting frustrated in the end.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Just a note to say things are going good

I recently received an email from a client stating that there was nothing wrong, but wanted to let me know that she was keeping up on the antivirus/spyware issues by reading my tips and blogs. It is nice to get email like this, believe me, I don't see enough of it and it can get pretty frustrating dealing with some issues that are all too common on more then one occasion. Thanks for the quick note (June), it is nice to get an "atta boy" every once in a while!