Category Archives: Deerfield Valley News Column

Spiced Ham.

Who doesn’t love SPAM? Originally produced by Hormel in 1937, the loveable lunch meat travelled with our soldiers into WWII and beyond, winning the war and living on as ‘Hawaiian Steak’ to this day. Why, even still, if you find the means to travel to Hawaii, you will find it on the menu at McDonalds and indeed as ‘SPAM musubi’ at even the finest (well, maybe not the finest) Hawaiian restaurants. Mmmm, SPAM. There’s even a SPAM museum. It’s in Austin (Minnesota, not Texas), and they’ll tell you all about the great pork-ish goodness. And I personally feel that spam.com is one of the best websites out there, no kidding. You should really check it out. But what about the OTHER spam?

Other spam? Like New Jersey’s Taylor Ham, which predated Hormel’s offering by nearly thirty years? Ah yes, life in the days before SPAM. Or maybe you’re thinking about ‘Treet’, SPAM’s evil, cheaper twin?

More likely I am just talking about junk mail, or more specifically junk email. Spam is the scourge, a canker, a true menace, nay, a POX upon us all! It is, with no exaggeration, the worst thing about having internet connectivity. All of the other things out there that may be unsavory or just not quite what I feel like looking at just yet, might be there, but I have to try and find them to an extent, unless my fiends send it to me, which is a LOT like spam. Spam just shows up, unannounced, asking me all sorts of rude personal questions about what I’d like to see larger and how soon. It’s horrible, truly, just how pervasive it is, far worse than the simple flyers and junk mail and even the old school Ed McMahon trying to sell me a magazine schtick (I really didn’t need another year of ‘GRIT’ magazine, but it IS Ed McMahon).

So what to do? If your email address is already receiving spam, well, there’s not a lot you can do. There is no ‘do-not-call’ list for your inbox and there probably won’t be for some time. The worst truth is, that the spam is your fault.

Boooo. Hissss. Sorry, but it is. Remember that time you visited a website about those adorable little dolls you like so much and to get to the article you wanted to read, you had to ‘register’? You gave them a real email address didn’t you? Because you’re a good person, and believe in the decency of others. I believe in the decency of others too, if I can see them with my own eyes, but that’s about as far as it goes. The internet? Nobody’s policing it very well and honesty is by no means a virtue out there. There’s no ‘editor’ and there’s no censor. It’s all you. So make up a fake email address. I do it all the time. Any time that I want something out there, be it information or a link to a file or something that they put just beyond my reach and ask me to ‘register’, I throw them an email address that doesn’t even exist. If the registration requires a valid email address, then I have an email address through yahoo that is junk specific. The only time it gets checked is immediately after i click that register button, and that’s it. Any free email account will do for this, gmail, hotmail, yahoo, etc; they’re all just fine.

Your own email address, the one that you give to family and friends? That’s sacred, no sharing. I go so far as to recommend three email addresses at the minimum for any web faring fellow. One for friends and family, one for internet shopping/online lifestyle, and one for junk. This way, you have one that you check everyday, as it’s likely to contain information you might actually WANT to read. The shopping one is separate, because, like it or not, the people you shop with are going to send you emails, and probably sell your email address to someone else so that they can do the same. But you don’t have to look too closely at this one, unless it’s christmas day and Amazon’s two day shipping takes seven days. By online lifestyle, I’m referring to internet networking sites such as facebook and myspace which send you constant updates that are redundant and ridiculous. The junk one is obvious, we’ll just leave it alone.

But wait Mister Dix, I have a business email address and it’s already getting pummeled with junk mail, what do I do? – Sally, Sandusky, OH

Well Sally, nice to hear from you, there’s plenty that you can do. Filters are the best defense available to everyone. Junk mail filters in Outlook and Outlook Express specifically can be set up to push junk mail around based upon obvious words, phrases and senders. Adding them is a must and it might be tedious to setup, but the drastic reduction in wasted time checking email can be well enjoyed. Mac Mail does a particularly good job of ‘learning’ your junk mail habits and is quite frankly, the best program to receive email in. This isn’t just a Mac fan-boy speaking, it really is remarkable how well it filters once you’ve taught it to respond based upon the messages you receive. Another fine thing that may be available to you is server-side filtering. If you have a website and an associated email, then your host can tell you about this, but essentially, we hosts can block a whole slew of blacklisted IP addresses, reducing dramatically the number of useless emails in the inbox. Another quick tip is this. NEVER OPT-OUT! If you receive an email saying ‘click here to remove yourself from our mailing list’ DO NOT CLICK HERE. That just lets them know that you are alive and received the transmission. Best to just lay low and hope they go away.

Spam accounts for nearly 80% of all emails worldwide and salt makes up over 8% of SPAM’s mass.

I’d repeat that, but you can just go back and read it again for effect if you’d like. The truth is, it might be time to toss that old email address and start fresh, with some new knowledge under you caps and toques. A clean slate is not as hard as it may seem either. A simple email to the people that you care to hear from informing them of your new address is all it takes, and you’ve got that friends and family thing all set up. Save that slightly tarnished one for shopping and the like for now. This way, we can prevent some of that idiocy from ever coming your way.

Home Theatre Fun.

I love my home theatre. It’s nothing terribly fancy, I don’t even have a shiny new LCD/Plasma/HiDef Television, but I do have an excellent surround sound setup and a great picture. I love it most because I really don’t care to go out to the movies these days. The convenience is the biggest feature of it all to me. The pause button probably being the strongest of these virtues. Have to go to the bathroom? PAUSE. Need a snack? PAUSE. Phone call? PAUSE.

Nothing against movie theatres, but i like to be at home whenever i can, cozy on my couch with my wife and dog, enjoying life and entertainment on my terms. Maybe if we had one of those movie houses where you could get a beer and a panini, that would be nice. I’ve always liked combination venues and fantasized that i might own a bowling alley/laundromat/pub. Or maybe an oil change/diner where your car gets routine service while you eat eggs, that sort of thing. But alas, such is not in my local realm.

So I have always invested in some components to make viewing at home more enjoyable, and It’s becoming more and more popular as well. Netflix makes DVD rentals a cinch, without late fees and a huge selection. You just sign up, pay them a monthly fee and create a rental queue online. They send you the first movie in your queue, and when you send it back, you get the next one. The closest warehouse is in White River, so the turnaround is excellent. I joined Netflix way back in 1999 thinking that they were onto something even then. Living in a trailer in Whitingham with my brother at the time, and having a ridiculously nice home theatre system was a pleasure. The ‘White Trash Palace’ we called it. Finding DVDs locally was near impossible and buying movies seems silly when you generally watch them only once.

Netflix has taken it a step further as of recent and made movies instantly downloadable for viewing on your computer or to a nifty little box that connects to your television. The selection is not as broad on this format as they are still working out licensing with the hundreds of companies controlling movies these days, but it’s coming along nicely and if you have high speed internet, it’s a fantastic option to be sure.

My wife and I don’t care for commercial television either, the key word there being commercial. I like plenty of the programming, but can’t be bothered with the constant ‘buy me’ interruptions that somehow are MUCH louder than the show that I was just appreciating. So we get entire seasons of episodal television on DVD. Sure we may be a season behind whatever it is people are talking about at the water cooler, but how many water coolers are there in Southern Vermont anyway? The only real pitfall to this is how hard it is to shut off a show like 24 or Heroes, knowing that the next episode is a click away, but it’s 2 a.m. and morning is approaching fast. Somehow we manage.

Anyway, the real issue that I wanted to quickly touch on is for those of you spending money on LCDs and Plasmas. There’s some confusion as to what to buy and why for a lot of people and I’d like to try and clear it up and simplify a bit.

Firstly, LCD vs. Plasma. Plasma equals better contrast and better off-axis viewing. (If you sit off to the side of the TV it will look better). LCD equals thinner, lighter and increasingly cheaper per diagonal inch. Parity is being realized between the two in regards to contrast, but my rule of thumb on that for today is easy. 42″ or smaller, go LCD. Larger? Go Plasma.

Secondly, 720p, 1080i, 1080p. Resolution is king. The key to understanding this is simple enough, the higher number is better. The ‘p’ is for progressive, the ‘i’ is for interlaced. Don’t buy the ‘i’ as it’s a faltering standard that nobody cares about. Between the 720p and 1080p there is a huge difference, but you won’t see it. Care to know why? It’s because Blu-Ray and Sony Playstation 3 are the only major formats that currently support it. DirecTV HD? 720p. DVDs? 720p. So why buy 1080p? Because it is gaining steam and all of the providers, be it satellite, cable, or otherwise WANT to broadcast in 1080p and will as soon as the bandwidth is available. The price difference is getting more negligible by the day. And if you’re into computer gaming and have a decent video card in your computer, you can hook it directly to the 1080p screen and it most certainly will look glorious. If you’ve seen those ‘Planet Earth’ documentaries (David Attenborough narrates them better than Sigourney Weaver by the way), they are absolutely STUNNING on blu-ray and really a must buy if you have the gear.

There are plenty of other sub-topics involving home theatre and really, just talking to a geek can help you to decide what you need and what will suit your space. As with everything technological, the prices drop constantly and pulling the trigger on this kind of stuff with the holiday incentives makes it a little easier to get into a great system for less. No matter what, I consider it a reasonable investment to put a few extra dollars into enjoying your time at home. In fact i highly recommend it, stay home and have a weekly family movie night with beer and panini.

I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC.

Mac, PC, what’s the difference?

Let’s bring it back to where this column belongs shall we? Back to basics. Operating Systems. Sounds exciting I know, but bear with me, I’m sure that I’ll be able to make an obscure reference at some point that at least makes you grin for a moment.

The operating system is the core software of your computer. Be it Vista, XP, Mac OSX, Linux, or GEOS on the Commodore 64, your machine has an OS and it needs to be your friend. It is quite literally the way in which the computer interprets and handles information, the language if you will, that your computer speaks most fluently. There are pros and cons to them all of course and right now is perhaps one of the more difficult times in personal computing history in terms of deciding which to make friends with.

I’m a Mac and I’m a PC. Really, I am both. I have been a Mac user since the very beginning, but I am on a PC every day as well. This serves me particularly well considering my current profession of course but there are a multitude of reasons for my dual citizenship. I am not one of those adamant people who will tell you that one is better than the other or to get this one or that. I try and evaluate each individual and help them to make that choice for themselves. That said, my first computer was an Apple IIe and I’m quite sure that it is still in my parent’s attic, just waiting for the day when I get the urge to dust it of an fire up LOGO to draw little boxes on the screen, or maybe Wizardry, in which i attack orcs and the like. Some years ago, Apple began their life and dramatically increased their presence by making their computers available to schools at a huge discount. They optimized them for education by working directly with software developers in that field, so it stands to reason that many of my generations first computer experiences were on Apples. For the generation previous, your first hands on was far more likely in the business realm, where a little company called International Business Machines was making itself known as the foremost provider for enterprise computing needs. Incidentally, IBM was actually founded in the late 1800’s making tabulating machines or calculators as they are better known. When Apple launched their Mac line of computers in 1984, they were the first computer commercially available that used a mouse and a GUI or Graphical User Interface instead of a Command Line Interface. Command Line requires at the very least a fundamental knowledge of the code used in the system, whereas GUI allowed point and click simplicity to thrive. Without going too deep into history, we can say at least that Macs were targeted at the home user, educational and creative professional markets. They had early agreements with the graphics and audio software developers that helped them to remain the most prevalent computing force in those fields to this day. And from their inception, they have always antagonized PC users, first with their Big Brother Ads of 1984 and still evidenced by the current ad campaign.

PCs however held fast to their plan to offer more choice, lower cost and more business oriented software, retaining the strongest market share by far. In reality, while the ads make it sound as though their is a healthy competition going on, the truth is that Mac computers make up only 3.5% of the world market, but that is a slanted number to be sure and if we evaluate their share in American homes it increases dramatically. Regardless, that very fact is one of the best reasons to buy a Mac instead of a PC. Viruses and Malware plague PCs, and their hefty market share make them prime targets. No hacker wants to create a virus that at it’s greatest and most unrealistic potential only affects 3.5% of the market, so they target the big guy, the PC operating systems. When people say that Macs don’t get viruses, it’s not entirely true, but the threat is so minimal as to be non-existent.

Software wise, many people assume that things are as they always were and that a Mac is for play and a PC is for business, but this is no longer the case. In fact the parity between the two is only increasing. Many graphic artists use PC’s exclusively and many businesses run Macs from stem to stern. So what do I recommend to someone buying a computer today? It depends entirely upon your answers to a few simple questions. What are you used to? What are your needs? What do you want most?

To clarify a bit, if you are new to computing and want little more than email, internet and to share pictures of your children in the tub (Mom, please stop sending that around…), I generally recommend a Mac because of their intuitive operating system and out of the box software package that makes it incredibly easy to do just that. But if you’ve been using a PC for the past few years at work and it’s time for you to get a computer at home, then perhaps a PC is a better way, you’ll save money for one and Vista has a fine complement of software for pictures, video, audio and home entertainment. A Mac system costs more than a PC, that’s true. Very true indeed, but that ‘bling’ factor is there as is the lack of need to spend more on maintenance and virus software.

You’ll notice I said ‘Vista’ there. Some of you may have heard of it, and most of you probably heard that it’s horrible. It’s not, it’s fantastic. It really is, unless (and this is a big unless) you are using legacy software and need to keep running it. If you have an old printer that has somehow kept plugging along for five years, it probably won’t work with your new vista box, and if you’ve been using software for over ten years as some of my own family has, then the transition will require your geek relative to do a lot more work to make sure that you can still read the files that you created over time. Overall though, for home computing, Vista is excellent, and it’s built in software rivals that of Apple in a lot of ways. There were a multitude of problems initially, but the recent update has made Vista much more stable and compatible.

One more note is for the gamers out there. Let’s say that you’re 32 and running a computer store and you still like to go home and kill orcs and the like. Well, if that is indeed the case, then you need a PC. It’s not that Macs don’t play games, of course they do, but if you’re a ‘gamer’ then you’ll need a custom built PC or at least something beyond the computers available at Wal-Mart. Many games are being released on both platforms, but ALL of the best games are available on PC.

So what’s the difference? Not much, but what do i know anyway? I use my Mac for work and my PC for play, so I am hardly the stereotypical user. But if you are thinking about getting a computer, ask around, ask your friends and relatives, or ask a geek what they think. It really depends on your needs.

Colby Dix is the co-owner of Vermont Geeks and his 70 Warlock awaits the Lich King…

Computer Security For The Online Shopper

Computer Security For The Internet Shopper.

So we’ve all heard about how dangerous the internet is and how much everyone wants to steal your identity, right? I don’t know why they’d want my identity, how many people are insane enough to want to live in the woods and have five jobs anyway? But when we speak of that in particular, ‘identity theft’, we’re talking about someone stealing your personal information for malicious purposes. Namely a credit card number or password that gets them access to say, your bank account, or in the case of the great TJ Maxx scandal of last year, 45.7 million cardmember’s information was compromised. That’s no joke, 45.7 million people.

So what do we do? First relax. A lot of fuss has been made, and for legitimate reasons, but that doesn’t mean that the computer is any less safe than shopping at your local market. The safest way to shop online is still with a credit card. In the event that something does go wrong, you are protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. When it has been determined that your credit was used without authorization, you are only responsible for the first $50 in charges. You are rarely asked to pay this charge. But for those of us who like to shop online, and I am certainly among you, the most important thing to look for when shopping is a secure website. This is made obvious by the inclusion of https:// in front of it’s address instead of the http:// found everywhere else. Sometimes you’ll find that the https:// does not show up until the site is actually asking for information and that’s just fine, so long as it shows up before you hit the send button. It is also evidenced in most browsers by a lock symbol. In Safari on a mac, it’s in the upper right corner, in Firefox, it’s on the lower right corner, and in the newest version of Explorer it’s right in the address bar, which goes so far as to turn green if the page is secure. Many sites say that they are secure, but unless it has that ‘s’ for security after http, they’re lying. Tell them I said so and don’t even think about giving them a credit card number much less an email address that they will invariably send emails to advertising how much bigger all of your parts can be.

Beyond the ‘s’, what else can you do? Sign up for an account with Paypal or Google Checkout. They are both widely accepted, trusted, and free. They offer excellent security in that the vendor never even sees your credit information, just a payment to their account. That’s secure. What else? Let’s make that horrific junk email slow down a bit by creating a purchasing email address. Using a free email address from Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail is a great way to add security. Just sign up for an extra one that is NOT the email you use for friends and such. Use it to sign up for coupon codes, offers and the like. You can still check them for payments specifically or for the coupons you may have just received that will save you $1.23 on that lifetime supply of toast you’ve been thinking about.

So let’s take it further, shall we? Research the site before buying anything. I’m not saying call all of your friends and get their opinions, but I rather like websites that are rated by real people, that made real purchases. Where can we find this information? Well, here’s a shopping tip for you. Use Google. ‘Google Product Search’ to be specific. Search for any old item you may want to purchase on google, and then hit the ‘shopping’ link at the top of the page. You’ll notice that the merchants that come up in the results have seller ratings. That’s just good common sense to spend the extra dollar with the vendor that has 3000+ positive remarks instead of the 4 people who said that ‘Carl seemed okay…’ at the competitor. There are lots of other places to research your purchasing; www.cnet.com has excellent product reviews and vendor reviews. Once I bought my wife a camera at Circuit City, but not before going over to the computer section to look up the camera’s review on cnet. True story. But that’s not security, that’s just educated shopping, which is about as secure as it gets.

And so we end this weeks column feeling safer and happy in our consumerism. Just remember to never give out your social security number and tell them as little information as possible. They don’t really need to know what color your shorts are do they?

Colby Dix is the co-owner of Vermont Geeks and buys far too many things online.

Definition and Simplification p.2

Are you ever confused with the difference between the internet and your email, your modem and your router, your USB and your tire iron? Does the notion of unplugging everything form your computer and then plugging it all back in the right place seem like a daunting task? Then this, the second of two installments of Vermont Geek Speak is for you.

In an effort to educate and to gain a few extra restful nights of sleep for myself and my clients, I offer a simplified handful of terms to help you describe what’s really going on if there is a problem with your computer. Not a glossary per se, but a helpful list to differentiate between the more commonly confused items or terminology relating to an average user experience.

Part 2 – The Network and Internet.

Network is a grossly overused and misunderstood term. In truth, ‘network’ can refer to any number of things but in this instance generally refers to interconnected computers. Most of you probably do not have a network at home, even though you may have multiple computers. A fair number of you certainly have one at work where information is freely shared between various workstations and a printer in the front office that is magically able to print out documents from any terminal. This is the greatest strength of networking, communication between several computers. It also saves greatly on business costs when a printer is shared and when files are easily backed up on the network. But the network isn’t just for the office anymore. No sir. No.

One of the simplest ways to create a network is with a Wireless Router. A WiFi router connects both wired and wireless computers and is most often used to distribute a single internet connection between computers. A quick side note, ‘WiFi’ is a meaningless trade name, but is as ubiquitous as Kleenex or Q-tips when referring to wireless internet. By setting up shared folders on a computer connected to the router, you can effectively create a simple network at home for backing up files, sharing music, photos, printers, etc;

The most commonly shared resource is of course the internet. The internet is another commonly misused term, as it is derived from ‘INTERnational NETwork’. It is indeed a global network connecting millions of people and their computers to the world wide web. The world wide web is actually a combination of multiple protocols including http, ftp, telnet and others. More simply, it’s where the websites are. Websites are stored on computers called ‘servers’ scattered all over the globe. A server is a computer dedicated to hosting information or running programs for a number of clients. In the case of the WWW, you are the client that they are serving when you check your email, google ‘rhubarb crisp recipe’, or get AAPL stock quotes. To view the internet you use a web browser. A browser is software based, the most common being Internet Explorer by Microsoft, but we prefer Mozilla Firefox by far for it’s speed and it’s security. On a mac? Then you likely use Safari for your browsing.

As we delve further into acronyms and botched phonetics, let’s take a step back into the home user’s setup. There is another piece in between the internet and your computer or router isn’t there? Ah yes, it’s the Modem (MOdulation-DEModulation). This trusty little device that hates lightning is what interprets those squealing noises that you hear when using a dial up connection. Whether you are using cable, DSL or dial up, the result is the same: The modem is to computer as the telephone is to human. (A little SAT prep help there, you can thank me later…)

So, in order of outside to in, there is the internet or world wide web, a slew of computers out there, which we commonly access via phone or cable using a modem. That modem can connect to a router, which distributes the information to multiple computers, for your enjoyment or dismay if the Sox lost last night. You view this information using a browser. If you are not wireless, or don’t have a router, and are using high speed internet, the cable that you use to connect your computer is called an ethernet cable. It uses a RJ-45 connector, closely related to RJ-11 or your household phone jack, only wider. RJ = ‘Registered Jack’ by the way. If you are still using dial up by force or by choice, a standard phone line ties directly to the modem inside your computer.

So that’s the big stuff. We don’t need to go into POP, PPP, PHP, Proxies, Packets or Ports, but you’re welcome to email and ask questions about terms that are relevant to you. One of the biggest confusions comes from where the speed is or isn’t happening. Quite often a customer will say that their computer is slow, and indeed it may be, but many times they are referring to their internet connection. If your computer opens and closes Word documents with ease, but takes five minutes to display the Vermont Geeks website, then your internet connection is slow, not the computer itself. Stay tuned for more interesting topics with less of this ridiculous jargon that surrounds me in my daily life, and don’t forget to shut off the computer and go outside for a while.

Colby Dix can be reached at colby@vermontgeeks.com, and his home network shares well with everyone.

Definition and Simplification

Are you ever confused with the difference between the internet and your email, your modem and your router, your USB and your tire iron? Does the notion of unplugging everything form your computer and then plugging it all back in the right place seem like a daunting task? Then these next installments of Vermont Geek Speak are for you.

In an effort to educate and to gain a few extra restful nights of sleep for myself and my clients, I offer a simplified handful of terms to help you describe what’s really going on if there is a problem with your computer. Not a glossary per se, but a helpful list to differentiate between the more commonly confused items or terminology relating to an average user experience.

Part 1 – The Computer.

Whether you are running Mac or PC, all computers have the same basic working bits. Let’s begin with a rundown of the components and their functions. The word ‘computer’ can refer to either a laptop or a desktop. Let us focus on the desktop model for the most part even though it’s under and not on top of the desk. In this case, the computer is the big box that all of the cables plug into. It houses a myriad of essential parts and handles all of the operations of the system. If you want to be technical, it’s called a ‘system unit’ but nobody says that. Feel free and call it the ‘tower’ instead, that’s understandable and visually representative of the unit. Many refer to the entire system as their computer, lumping in the monitor, keyboard and mouse, which is acceptable, but not nearly as concise as you’ll need to be when a problem arises.

Inside of that tower there is a motherboard, also called a logic board, which is best described as ‘the thing that makes everything in there work together’. If you ever look inside of there, it is the largest piece of green silicon that everything is tied into. Connected to it is a processor that handles the math. Computers are in truth little more than a fancy calculator, all that they ‘see’ is 1’s and 0’s, so it’s mathematical abilities are paramount. The faster the processor, the faster it can crunch the numbers. Also attached is RAM, or ‘Random Access Memory’. RAM is probably the least expensive way to improve you computer. It is where the information that the computer needs at hand most urgently is stored and manipulated. A hard disk drive is in there as well. More often simply called the hard drive, it is the primary storage of the computer, housing all of your information, precious data, and embarrassing pictures of your children in the tub. It used to be called ROM for Read Only Memory, but that confused everyone with RAM, so the terminology has changed. This is the piece that needs to be ‘backed up’. Another essential component is the power supply. This box within the box connects with an IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission, for those of you keeping score at home) cable to your wall outlet and translates that power into a useful wattage for the computer to run efficiently. Quite a few other elements can exist in there, including video cards, sound cards, expansion cards, multiple fans, slots, cables and connections, but the common elements are listed above.

The external components of every system include input and output devices. Input devices refer to the mouse and the keyboard, as well as a variety of trackpads, trackballs, webcams, joysticks, or other haptic element. As defined by the word input, these are our direct link to the computer, allowing us to enter information as we see fit. Output is handled more often than not by a monitor, also called a screen. Monitors are usually either CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) or LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). The flat ones are the LCD’s and the deep ones are CRT’s. While CRT’s have excellent contrast and great imaging, the slimmer technology of the LCD is fast overtaking them in modern computing. The desk real estate alone made available by a svelte monitor can be of great benefit, and the ergonomic strain of the light emitted is much less as well. For those of us who spend far too much time looking at a screen, it is of a great advantage to make the switch.

With that, we’ve covered the essentials of your system, and in the next installment, we’ll define the components of the network that work to enable you to have internet access and to share and store files with multiple computers.

Are You Lightning?

Computer damage and data loss from lightning strikes cost the United States nearly $2 billion in annual economic loss, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute. Some of you may have noticed the thunder storms that seem to happen on a near daily basis at this time of year. And as evidenced by our recent workload at ‘The Geeks’ a fair few of you have a story about how lightning has changed you computer’s life. In this, my first contribution of many, I aim to educate and hopefully to help someone out there to avoid the horror of a lightning damaged computer.

The first rule of computers is to BACK THEM UP! Now I know that you’ve all heard this and that you’ve even thought about it at least once, but really, I’m serious, a backup of your data means that even if the computer is a smoking pile of silicon and wiry bits, that all is not lost. Hard drive prices drop constantly and having an external drive to store your data is a no brainer, a USB thumb drive is very cheap insurance for your most important files and it offers not only redundancy, but portability as well.

The next sad truth is that surge protectors are a joke. Well, not all of them, but that $8 cream colored thing that you’ve had since your data was on microfiche isn’t doing ANYTHING to protect you. Investing in a high quality surge protector or UPS battery backup (Uninterruptable Power Supply) may not save you every time, but is an excellent barrier between your computer and that hundred million volt flash. The other really nice thing about these ‘power strips’ is that you can shut down the computer and unplug the whole thing when you know the storm is coming. 

And the most dangerous wire in the house during the lightning storm? The phone line. Hands down. Talking on the telephone is the number one cause of lightning related injuries in the home according to the good people over at NationalGeographic. With that in mind, all of you people that are still using dial-up need to unplug that phone line from your computer. It’s far too easy a conduit into the sensitive innards of that computer case and it too can be run through that fancy new surge protector that you just bought.

Many people, myself included tend to leave their computers on constantly, only shutting it down or restarting when software is installed or if there is a system crash which of course NEVER happens to me (okay, maybe once…). This time of year is the clear exception to that habit. Shutting it down dramatically reduces the risk of data loss. Even just a millisecond blip of power loss can corrupt your open files beyond recognition, so why risk it?

Lightning tends to hit the power supply on your computer first for obvious reasons, but it often moves beyond and rips through the motherboard and video cards as well. And then of course it can also hit the modem as a point of entry via the phone line. Replacing a torched power supply is relatively inexpensive for most modern desktop computers, if i moves on to hit other components, repairs can add up quickly. Needless to say, a quick move to unplug the equipment at the onset of the storm can save hundreds, even thousands. Unplug that shiny new flat screen television that you bought with your tax rebate check too, unless of course you can’t be torn away from ‘American Idol’ or whatever it is that people watch during thunder storms. 

The good news is that Vermont Geeks can help. We have backup solutions and quality surge protectors available, and in the event of catastrophe, we have data recovery services and all of the necessary knowledge to fix your system regardless of the extent of damage. To sum it all up, I’ll leave you with a quote from none other than the lightning playboy himself, Benjamin Franklin. ‘An ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.’ Words of wisdom people, now go unplug something.