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Making the most of your computer mistakes

 By Robin Marshall

We’ve all done something we knew we shouldn’t have and kicked ourselves afterwards – especially where a computer is concerned.

So on this topic we’ve outlined the top nine things people do – often repeatedly – that they will probably regret.

1. Not saving your work- After throwing your heart and soul into a wonderful, earth-shattering manuscript, or fiddling for hours on a tricky word processing or desktop publishing format, your PC crashes, and your work is gone. Forever. All because you didn’t save it.

Forgetting to save regularly will usually mean losing it all. Saving, in most programs, is as simple as hitting the Ctrl key and the S at the same time. Some programs will do an automatic save at intervals you specify, but it’s safest to save it yourself.

2. Forgetting where you saved your work- Ditto the above, up to the part where it crashes. This time, you’ve diligently saved your precious file and, once finished, closed it. But on going back to it several days later, you can’t find it! Where has it gone?

Depending on your operating system, it could be in a default area, such as My Computer, which is either on your desktop or under your C drive. But if it’s saved under another program or elsewhere you could be in for a hunt to find it. First, using the program you created the file in, check the File menu. At the bottom there might be a list of the last three or four documents you worked on. Or, check your documents menu, under the Start menu. The last 15 documents you used on the computer will be there. You can also do a search for it: Start > Search/Find.

Set up a logical file structure off your C drive to keep files. Call up Windows Explorer (Windows key-E).

Click on the + by My Computer, then click once on the symbol for the C drive. In the right-hand window, right-click once and select New > Folder. It’s best to number these new folders, so your important folders are at the top. Make one for pictures, another for your letters, and so on.

3. Sending huge attachments- Want to be despised by your friends and contacts? Send them pictures in the form of huge email attachments that will take them hours to download.

You probably can’t help doing this sometimes _ especially if you’ve scanned a picture and the software you have automatically saves the image as a bitmap (bmp). These almost always have huge file sizes. To avoid this the easiest solution might be to use another program, such as BmpToGif or Irfan View. To download, do a search for the above names at www.download.com.

4. Never defragging your machine- There is a good reason that programs don’t open as fast for you as they once did. Your machine needs defragging. You should notice a difference in performance after doing this, which will probably take a long time if it has not been done for ages. Go to Start > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. Close all running programs before defragging, especially the virus checker and screen saver: Start > Control Panel > and double-slick on Display to change screen saver settings. Don’t close down Explorer or System Tray. Defrag regularly – say, monthly.

5. Not saving executable files- There are lots of interesting, useful, and, best of all, free, programs out there that you can download from the Internet. But what if you need to reload that handy program because your computer crashes, or the software becomes corrupt? Where did you save it? Did you save it?

Not saving executables – especially large, several-hour downloaded ones – can be a huge waste of time if you need them again. Do yourself a favour and save executables in a safe place, and also rename them to something sensible that you can find again in the future.

6. Falling for every chain letter or virus hoax you receive- Just because it appears in your inbox it does not mean it is true. Do your homework before you forward chain letters, virus hoaxes, and money- making scams to everyone you’ve ever met. To check something out go to VMyths.com.

If you receive a hoax, resist the urge to tell the sender they’re an idiot – either do nothing and delete it, or send a gentle reminder to them to be sure that the email is not a hoax before they pass it on.

7. Not backing up- Yes, it’s boring, yes, it’s time-consuming. But backing up is important.

Among the most important things to back up are your browser bookmarks or favourites, your email address book, and your letters and financial information.

If you don’t have an external backup device this can be hard, but not impossible. You can’t fit much on one floppy disk, so if this is your only method of backup use it wisely and label carefully. You can also upload files for backup by using a service such as www. webwizards.net/useful/wbfs.htm. v Remember though that these services are not infallible.

8. Not updating your antivirus definitions - If you don’t keep them up to date, they won’t protect you from viruses. Check your documentation for information on how to update virus definitions. You should also set your virus scanner to check all incoming email for viruses.

9. Opening virus-ridden email attachments- Go on. Resist the temptation to open every attachment you receive in your email until you have checked it out. Just because it was sent to you by someone you know, it doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Files most at risk of being viral are those ending in . exe and .pif. Other types of files, including Word documents (. doc) can also contain macro viruses.

If you receive a file you’re unsure about from anyone, mail them back and ask them what it is. If they don’t reply, it’s bound to be a virus and they are too embarrassed to talk to you.

First published in Farmnews 13 October 2001

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