Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Catching Up

August 2007

By Mike Gould

I have read that one of the secrets of "truly effective people" is supposed to be little five-minute chores you can do when you have a few free moments. For many business folks, August is a slow month, firmly packed with chunks of spare time. So instead of idly surfing the web, why not catch up on some of those pesky computer chores you've been putting off all year?

Clean up your Desktop
See all those files littering your screen? If you put your ear up to the monitor you will hear them all yelling "Put me away! It's cold and exposed out here in the full glare of the fluorescents; I want to be in a nice warm folder somewhere." Cleanliness, if not next to godliness, is at least in the same gated neighborhood and should be encouraged when doing computer behaviors. An appropriately filed, uh, file, is easier to find, update, and back up.

And remember that you might get run over by a truck at any time, leaving some other poor schmo to take over your computer and the contents therein. Give him or her a break and leave things where they can be found.

Clean up your Desktop
We're talking your meatspace desktop here, that sea of papers, coffee cups and peanut shells you call home. Papers, like icons, want to live in nice cozy folders, nestled in neatly named folder hangers in a file cabinet somewhere. Once you have shoveled out your desk so that you can actually see its surface, give it a dose of cleanser and clean up all those coffee rings, stray potato chips and, in my case, memory chips. I try to do this once a year, whether it needs it or not. And what better time than the doldrums of August?

All that dust settling around your computer? That is nothing compared to all the dust that has already been sucked into the computer, especially if it is sitting on the floor. Dust is a natural predator of computers: it coats the parts of the electronics that are desperately trying to stay cool (your RAM, the CPU which is running the show, and your drives) and acts as an insulating blanket. Hot, dusty components die quicker than clean and cool ones, so have your support person unhook your computer, drag it out in the back yard, and have at it with a can of condensed air.

Same for that crusty pile of finger goo you call a keyboard. A backyard blast of air, and a q-tip dipped in Windex and gently rubbed across the keys can do wonders for maintaining the morale of your fingers. If the keys are starting to stick, run the keyboard through your dishwasher. (Be sure to disconnect it from the computer, though - safety first! And don't try this with a laptop). Put it in the top drawer of the washer (empty - you don't want to be running dinner debris through your keys), face down, and give it a quick bath, no soap, no drying cycle. Let it dry face down for a couple of days and it should work just fine. There are more detailed instructions for this on the Web.

Change your passwords
As the IT folks at the U of M never cease to nag us, you should change your passwords on a regular basis. Pick something complicated that you can remember, like the first words to your very most favorite song, with some typographical symbols tossed in:

1t'sAsmallW0rldaFtera11 or somesuch. Your IT person will be delighted to remind you how to do this.

Back up and test your backups
Right now, yes, right this minute, would be a great time to back up your important files and settings. And then, test the backup. Dig out some of those old CDs you made last year and make sure you can still read them. Have backups on (gag) floppies? Copy them back to your hard drive and burn them en masse to CD or DVD. This might be an ideal job for that intern you hired for the summer, the one who is always fooling with her/his iPod.

Edit Your Email
Here's a good one: when was the last time you went back and threw out all that crap in your inbox? All those .gif and .pdf spams in your attachments folder? And how about all those people you don't know who are littering your address book? Trash 'em, after making a complete backup, of course. Then, once you are tidied up, do a backup again so you have a clean copy to recover from should things go awry in September.

Make sure all your patches are up to date
Hopefully, you are already doing this as a daily chore. But it never hurts to initiate a query of Apple or Microsoft to make sure you have the latest security patches installed. Ditto for anti-virus updates. Consider upgrading various pieces of your software. I don't think I would advise updating to Vista, unless you have a burning need to be very patient, but definitely upgrade to Internet Explorer 7 if you are on a PC. If you are a graphic artist or photographer you should update to Photoshop CS3; it is well worth the cost.

Clean up your database
Another good task for that summer intern: clean up the listing of all your old customers who have died, moved away, or simply stopped buying things from you. An email to an old customer might be worth a shot, noting their lack of activity with you and inquiring if they would like to be removed from your listings. This might spark a sale, or at least remind them that you are still there for them.

Shop for a new system
Sooner or later you will need more stuff, so this might be a good time to start visiting the websites of your local computer stores. This isn't just a good idea, it's the law. Moore's law, actually, which says that stuff gets cheaper every year so you might as well stay up to date.

Have a good summer!

Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of, and welcomes comments addressed to

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