Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

You Say You Want a Resolution

February 2001

By Mike Gould

Welcome to the new, this-time-we-really-mean-it millennium. 2000 was just a warm up for the real thing, now here in all its technical Y2.1K splendor. As a life-long science fiction reader, I can't begin to tell you how disappointed I am. Where's my flying car, moon colony and orbiting hotel?

Oh well, I've still got my super computer, and even if it's a Mac and not a HAL, I guess I should be grateful. So grateful that I hereby resolve to better my relations with said apparatus, by making some New Millennium Resolutions. And so should you.

Promises, promises
That tortured and tenuously-premised intro out of the way, here are some new year's resolutions that will ease your way into the technical vastness of the future. Repeat after me: "This year/millennium, I resolve to get my information technology house in order by learning more, backing up, being vigilant in my anti-virus efforts, and cleaning up my desktop/hard drive".

A Better Handle
The best way to get more out of your computer is to learn its ins and outs in as much depth as you can handle. A lot of people are placed in front of a keyboard and told to make spreadsheets, say. So you get a few lessons, use the templates provided, and manage to crank out your required data and make your deadlines. You learn just enough to do your job and not hurt yourself. Now Excel (what most folks do their rows and columns in) is a vast and weighty application, filled with features, buttons, bells and whistles - enough horsepower to, well, choke a horse and frighten the children. It's no wonder that many are clue-challenged when it comes to shortcuts and advanced features.

So if computer print-outs are your bread and butter, hie thee to a bookstore and pick up a how-to book. Learn the shortcuts, master the hot keys, and increase your skills generally. You will feel more comfortable behind the keyboard, and may even work your way into a promotion. Classes are a good investment; local community colleges offer a vast array of courses, and there are on-line opportunities as well.

So this year, resolve to learn at least one new application, or explore one you know in greater depth.

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged
Let this year be the year you finally manage to get a regular backup strategy working. There are a variety of ways to do this via tape drives, server volumes (if you are on a network), Zip drives or even burning CD ROMs. Probably the easiest way to do this is with a tape drive of some sort, although this can be the most expensive choice. Most tape drives come with software that allows you copy your data to tape on a regular basis, even waking up your computer in the middle of the night for a data dump. The drives can be expensive, but the tapes are fairly cheap and the overall cost per megabyte is quite inexpensive.

I have an old DAT drive that stores up to 4 gigabytes on a $5.00 tape; modern versions of this can hold quite a bit more, at a modest increase in price.

You can also drag your folders over to a Zip or Jaz cartridge on a regular basis, but this is not as efficient as having software do this for you automatically. Whichever means you choose, make sure you test it from time to time: try recovering an archived file from an old tape and see if you can read it. Us support folks can tell you any number of horror stories about people who depended on a system that failed them after a hard drive crash. If both your primary drive and your backup system fail, you are SOL (a technical term meaning, approximately, Simply Out of Luck). This sort of thing is usually left to the IT support people in your company, but if you are a small shop without a regular support person, do it yourself. The software is not that complicated and I guarantee it will save your hide at some point in the future.

And don't leave your tapes or other media in their drives; lock them in a safe, or move them off-site for safe keeping. That way the fire or thief that destroys/steals your computer won't also take your backup.

The Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Virus
Yeah, yeah, I harp on this at least once a year (last time was 7/99, actually; see archived articles at the Web site listed below), but technopaths keep writing viruses and people keep installing them, so it's worth another gentle reminder: INSTALL ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE AND UPDATE IT REGULARLY!

And run it before you do your backups; there is nothing worse than re-infecting yourself from an old virus that you accidentally backed up and restored. This relates back to the back-up advice above: if a virus wipes your hard drive are reduces all your spreadsheets to chad, you're going to want to have a copy of everything in a safe, quarantined environment.

Keep it Clean And maybe this should be the year that you finally clean up your desktop. Learn what the heck those strange icons are that have been littering your desktop since you bought your computer, and nuke the ones you don't need. Don't know how to do that? Refer back to Resolution 1 above and get a beginner's Mac or Windows book. You'll be amazed at how much easier the road goes when you have a map and some driver training.

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