Monday, December 13, 2004

Avoid Online Holiday Scams

SBC has posted these updated warnings for holiday scams. Stay smart and don't fall prey to any online tricks this year:

Identity Theft.

Thieves are able to "steal" another person's identity by illegally obtaining sensitive personal information such as credit card or Social Security numbers, often from discarded credit card statements, utility bills or personal checks.

Also known as "spoofing" or "carding," Phishing is a new, but fast-growing form of Internet fraud. Online scammers "fish" for consumers' financial information and password data by sending consumers e-mails that appear to be from well known companies. The e-mails often contain links taking consumers to Web pages that have been disguised to look nearly identical to legitimate companies' sites.

"Do-Not-Call" List Scam.
This scam involves a call from a person claiming to be a state official or member of a consumer advocacy group who asks consumers if they would like to be included in the state or federal do-not-call list. The caller then asks for personal information, like Social Security or bank account numbers, explaining that it is required for enrollment in the registry.

809 Area Code Scam.
This ongoing scam encourages consumers to respond to e-mails, pages or voice mail messages from a phone number with an 809, 284 or 876 area code to claim prizes or receive information regarding a family member. Consumers who return the calls — often to the Caribbean, Canada or other countries — are often charged extremely expensive international calling rates.

Internet Threats.
Consumers should be wary of a variety of Internet threats, from destructive Internet worms and viruses, to online auction scams, money transferring schemes, and more. SBC companies offer in-depth information about existing and emerging online problems affecting adults as well as children.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Best anti-virus & spyware protection

At today they listed the top 100 products of 2004. Clients worred about computer viruses and spyware, especially those with children, take note. The best program in this category is not Norton or McAfee, its:

Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security 2005
Best antihacker software

Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security 2005
Let's be clear: Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security
2005 is the best Internet protection bundle currently
on the market--period. It includes first-rate antivirus,
firewall, antispam, and spyware-blocking tools, plus
a host of extra security features--all for about $20
less than comparable roducts F-Secure Internet Security,
ZoneAlarm Internet Security, McAfee Internet Security,
nd Symantec Internet Security.


Take a look, both for peace of mind and to save the cost of a service call to repair your system, or to wipe out your entire computer and start over. The first of the year is a good time to gain control of the necessary responsiblity of protecting your computer investment.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Holiday Gift Guide

One great thing about computers is they provide us with lots of nifty gift ideas for the holidays.

If you need stocking stuffers for the family, here are some tips for the most-wanted items:

Digital cameras @ $100 to $400
USB Jump Drive, backup memory sticks @ $19 to $60
Charger for rechargable batteries
More memory for desktop or laptop computers
MP3 players to listen to downloaded music @ $100
Computer games from Scrabble to Madden NFL, all under $50
Blank CD's
Combo printer under $150
A year's subscription to The Wall Street Journal online @ $79

Office Max has an online catalog, free shipping for orders over $50 and gift ideas ranging from a keychain-sized AM/FM radio for $7.00 to elegant pen sets, CD's, DVD's, games, laptop computers, and DVD players and recorders.

Don't forget, you can shop online and still patronize your local retailer. Most shops have a web site, and where I live in Glenview, I can purchase anything from unique Irish imports at Irish Connoisseur to books from Alibi and The Bookstall in Winnetka.

Many charities also allow contributions via the web. It's not too late to make a donation for 2004

Thursday, November 18, 2004

A Necessary Precaution

At a business meeting tonight, sitting across from some wonderful people, I was thinking about the power of networking and the reliance on person-to-person communication even in today's fast paced world. Computers emulate this human life form with the electronic version of neighborhood chats, friends helping friends, and people learning from each other.

Much has been written about Windows SP2, and I've posted a few related articles here is my blog. Common wisdom is that the Microsoft patch is essential for all XP users, but that some precautions are required.

What does this mean for you?
Read what your neighbors are saying at or

A recent survey compiled by, with over 3,000 site visitors who own WinXP and have installed Service Pack 2 on their machines led to these results:

" ... Service Pack 2 is an important upgrade with many desirable features, especially for the security-minded. If you follow Microsoft's installation guidelines and check the lists of known conflicts in advance, you'll probably get through the experience unscathed -- or at worst have to overcome only mildly irritating conflicts.

Percentage survey respondents who installed SP2: 62%
Percentage of those who had no problems: 74%
Percentage who reported mild problems: 10.3%
Moderate problems: 9%
Severe problems: 4%
Most common problem: Malfunctioning software
Favorite new feature in SP2: Pop-up blocking
Least favorite: New security features that conflict with 3rd-party security software ",aid,117990,pg,2,00.asp

So if you have a problem you'll be in the minority, but check the sites listed above for solutions to common problems. Most problems I've seen at Computer Clarity are firewall conflicts or Norton being disabled by Microsoft. Both are fairly easy to resolve with a little research.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Music Downloads & Spyware

One reason to avoid the "free" music download sites, like Kazaa and Limewire, is because you're almost certain to be plagued with spyware on your computer if you use those sites to download. When you agree to the license to use their software for free, you are also agreeing to let companies plant information on your computer, and even use your computer for their own purposes.

Legitimate alternatives are being launched all the time. Here's a brief update on two.

1. Best Buy, the retailer, advertises Napster subscriptions at only $16.99. This includes a two month subscription and ten prepaid downloads. Offering over one million tracks of music, and additional prepaid download cards, it may be the holiday solution for a teenager and the end of spyware on your computer.

You can help your teenager avoid illegal music copying, and teach them to use their downloads for good music they really want, instead of downloading megabytes of junk just because they think it is free. Free has a price.

2. Dell Computer Corp. reports that calls for tech support have increased dramatically because spyware makes computers inoperable. While they are not responsible for spyware, they have been advising customers to download solutions, such as the AdAware and SpyBot products used and recommended by Computer Clarity.

Dell has now become a partere in an Internet safety organization. Take a look at the Internet Education Foundation at for video tutorials and tips to prevent spyware.

Why does Dell care? In the last 18 months, their tech support calls related to spyware have jumped from 2% to 20%. That illustrates how the magnitutde of spyware has reached outrageous proportions, and why large vendors of hardware, software, and high speed connections are beginning to offer assistance to users.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Basic E-Mail Savvy

If you found your way here, you're already web savvy. Are your e-mail skills also up-to-date?

Here are the basics a good computer user should master. How do you rate?

Can you forward?
In the top toolbar of your e-mail program, you should see a button to allow you to forward a message from one person to another. When you receive a forwarded message you will see FWD in the subject line. That should be a tip for you to read below the sender's message to see what he or she forwarded.

Can you reply without clutter?
When you click 'reply' to a message and type in your comments, you don't have to re-send the person's original note back to them. It's efficient to clean it up a bit, by highlighting their text and deleting. But leave a fragment of their message so they know what you're replying to. If the message said there is a meeting Monday at 7 p.m. followed by an agenda and directions, you could leave just the day and time showing, and reply something like "Thanks, I'll see you at the meeting."

Can you open attachments?
The easist way is to double-click on an attachment. If your computer has the same program the sender used, such as Excel or Word, it should open right up. If you have trouble, try a right-click instead of a double click. Choose Save As and save the file to your computer. Then open the program you want to use to view the file, click File / Open and you will see the document.

Can you copy and paste?
Many people know how to right-click after highlighting a passage of text, for example in Word, and then choosing Cut, Copy or Paste from the right-click pop-up menu. But you may need practice to get comfortable using Copy & Paste across different programs. For example, you can highlight, right-click and choose Copy while in a paragraph of an e-mail. Then, you can compose a new e-mail to someone else, right-click and choose Paste to send that paragraph on. You can also copy a passage from a web site into a Word document, from Excel to Word, from Excel to e-mail.... Well, you get the idea.

Spammer tricks to avoid
Nasty people with too much time on their hands love to send junk mail, also known as spam. To avoid problems, don't open messages if you don't recognize the sender or subject. At least, try just doing a print preview rather than actually opening a suspicioiuis e-mail, and NEVER open attachments you aren't expecting and know you can trust.

Spammers fill the messages with words having nothing to do with the subject line, because they know spam filters look for a percentage of goofy works such as Viagra, Rolex, etc. They fill the message with normal next like flowers, autos, banana, newspaper, tree, oxygen, etc. Don't waste time on the nonsense, just delete.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Act! Users: Upgrade with caution

As a fan of Act! Contact Management software for over ten years, it pains me to say this, but I don't recommend upgrading to Act! 2005 without careful consideration.

New users to Act! can begin with this new version and work happily for years. In fact if you haven't taken a look at Act!, there's no reason to keep waiting. Outlook doesn't do a fraction of the tasks helping you manage people, time and projects.

But for upgrading users, Act!, now owned by Best Software, has gone through a full make-over, written in MySQL, a structured query language program. The result is the entire program is slower -- slower to open, slower to run. Little things like look-ups went from speedy to poky and display the results in a list so you need to take another step to choose a record.

An important consideration for you is the conversion from earlier versions does not go smoothly, especially for custom fields and custom layouts. Plan on a day or more to complete the migration if your database is highly customized.

For upgraders, there are a few features that are improved: Notes & History are separated, so easier to search. Groups are more useful and flexible. But slower operating speed, difficulty converting AND the fact that you can't go back to the old version are reasons to take a pass on the upgrade.

If I can be of help, you know where to reach me.

Friday, September 17, 2004

XP SP-2 - The Full Story

There is a tremendously informative article on the issues surrounding the Windows XP upgrade. It's far more comprehensive than anything I could have put together. It's from Dennis Faas, editor of, a trusted source.

Read on...

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

XP SP-2 Update

As an update to my 8/23 blog, I recommended this strategy to minimize the destruction caused by the Microsoft update.

1. Turn off "automatic update" to prevent Microsoft from updating your computer to SP-2. Right click on My Computer, choose Properties, and review the options under the automatic updates tab.

2. Run software to remove spyware to clean existing problems. Many of the security improvements in SP-2 are intended to block spyware, but can't protect you from malicious programs that are already running on your computer. AdAware and SpyBot are most recommended. You can get them free at or It's very important that you keep spyware off your computer.

3. Do full backups. Don't wait to be surprised by problems that occur with your data files.

4. Back up your Windows Registry, by clicking Start / Run and typing regedit and then choose File / Export and name the file regbkup so you can restore it if needed.

5. Make frequent use of Windows System Restore to set restore points. You'll find this under Start / Programs / Accessories / System Tools

6. Download patches from vendors whose products won't work right after the Microsoft update. Among the known problems are conflicts with Norton products, some AOL features, FTP, and SBC Global DSL. Learn more at

PC Magazine ( reports the focus of SP2's increased security, as well as the cause of most problems is the new Windows Firewall, which replaced Windows XP's Internet Connection Firewall (ICF).

When you run firewall software, you have to be prepared to learn how to approve or block incoming and outgoing activity over the Internet and manage the process to allow exceptions for the programs you want to access the web, such as IM or FTP. Keep in mind, though, that making a broad exception to allow programs to run on your computer and online will defeat the purpose of the security. When in doubt, I recommend you do not allow a program to access the web, and see if you can still function well online. If your access to something vital is blocked, then change the rule to allow access. Learn more about firewalls at

Stay safe online,

Helen Gallagher

Monday, August 23, 2004

Windows XP SP-2 update risks

Since Microsoft has announced the major patch, Service Pack 2, for Windows XP, users are scrambling to understand whether the security improvements are worth the trouble to obtain.

Users of Windows 98 and Windows ME are happily unaffected by this change.

SP-2 is a 'fix' for flaws in Windows XP. It is so major, it's almost like getting a new copy of Windows. But it requires disk space and memory to run. It requires a huge amount of disk space, and a long time to download. For people using dial-up, it might be more effective to order the CD from Microsoft.

Microsoft recommends turning on Windows Update and letting it download a little bit of the program every day. That eases the burden on their download servers more than it helps us, but it is probably a good idea. Also, remember to use System Restore frequently to set a restore point so you at least have a chance of undoing the changes if you run into trouble.

Disk space
You'd think Microsoft was profiting from the sale of hard drives, with their expansive need for disk space to download the patch. Their web site suggests you need almost one gigabyte (1 GB) of disk space free on Windows XP Home and 1.5 GB on XP Professional. This is for the service pack itself, working space, space for files it will delete and room to keep track of what it's doing.

The rewards
The patch is intended to fix the security flaws in the Microsoft operating system and in Internet Explorer. These products are vulnerable to hackers and have cost corporations millions of dollars to set defenses, buy redundant protection, and clean up from hacker attacks. Companies have put significant pressure on Microsoft to do something about the weaknesses in its program, and this is their solution.

Oddly, as users we won't see much of the benefit of this increased security, but we will be frustrated by it when it hinders something we used to do just fine before this alledgely helpful 'fix.'

The risks
Some vendors, such as SBC Global, are already aware of conflicts caused by the Microsoft patch and have a work-around. So now this necessitates visiting their web site and downloading the patch that will keep your DSL connection working. Many other vendors will be tagging along, cleaning up the mess left behind by the Microsoft upgrade.

Because of the firewall feature, users of Internet games, Instant Messaging and even ETrust and Norton Anti-Virus may run into trouble. It's interesting that Microsoft has added it's own anti-virus program in the service pack, thereby effectively disabling the anti-virus software we bought from other vendors. In most cases the solution just requires telling the new Microsoft firewall to open a port allowing these programs to send data out from your computer, but it sure is annoying to have this forced on us by Microsoft.

Just as when we first moved to Windows XP, there are some programs and devices that won't work with the upgrade. And, with the unfriendly firewall, you'll be surprised by the intrusion of it's messages every time you want to access the Internet. Like a new puppy, the program can be trained to know what "out" means, so you just need to exercise patience along with your mouse finger when the messages appear. Bear in mind, for a firewall to be effective, you can't ruthlessly say "yes" to everything, or you'll be defeating the purpose of the protection.

Well, there will be more news on this as pioneers report all the problems they discover with the patch. Stay current by reading CNet at or PC Magazine at, and check back here for more articles soon.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Laptop or desktop?

One advantage to this blog is the ability for me to address questions I'm frequently asked. At least once a week, I advise clients and colleagues on the merits of choosing a laptop over a desktop computer.

A laptop, now often called a "notebook" offers the obvious advantage of small size and portability. But it's never easy to have data in two places instead of one, so adding a laptop to a desktop environment requires some discipline to copy or synchronize files across both computers.

A fully loaded laptop, often called a desktop replacement, has either a docking station, or an array of ports on the sides and back. This allows you to keep peripheral devices plugged in and always available, such as a full size monitor, printer, and network connection.

Of course, portability becomes a drag if you do that, since you have to unplug everything to head out the door. So ultra-portable notebooks become a highly coveted choice and often a more cost effective purchase in the long run. After all, we're measuring productivity when we invest in office equipment.

The lightest computers, from Sony, Sharp, Dell and IBM weigh under three pounds, but do so by skipping the essential places to plug in various devices, usually lack a floppy disk, and often have an external CD or DVD . Now you know why they are so light!

Evaluate the purchase of a new computer by comparing these components:

screen size
hard disk capacity
battery life
available options to support:
floppy drive, CD, printer port, network, wireless, USB devices
sound quality if that's important in your work
cost of extended warranty

Every new computer has a warranty and most system failures happen early on. Yet laptops are delicate, have specialized parts and are harder to repair. The extended warranty almost always pays for itself, so consider it, even if it adds 10% to the original cost of the computer.

Don't' spend $3,000 on a new computer, though, thinking it's your dream machine. Buy the best computer that's in your price range, and don't expect it to still operate at peak performance in three years It will be obsolete, but you'll still love it.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Adding comments here?

Several people have asked about posting comments after viewing my web log. If you don't wish to register at with a user name and password, in order to post a comment for all to see, you are welcome to e-mail me, any time, at


If you want to try the blog experience yourself, to share your thoughts with colleagues and family, just sign up at and give it a try. The steps are easy to follow, and it's a good learning experience.


Helen Gallagher

Organize Bookmarks & Favorites

Here's a little tutorial, by popular request, to organize and track web sites you visit, so you can view them again. The topic arises every time I see a client write down a web address on a Post-it note and struggle to keep track of that sticky little note.

Wouldn't it be better to let the computer keep track of web sites you visit, in one well organized file?

Here's how...
In Netscape, you create a "bookmark." In Internet Explorer it's called a "favorite."

1. Depending on your browser, click Bookmarks or Favorites to add a site so you can access it again without typing in the address each time. You now have the web address listed in a file instead of on a scrap of paper, so we're off to a good start.

2. Take a moment to look through the Bookmark or Favorites folder and you'll see you can manage or organize them into folders. Instead of a long string of web addresses, you can create categories that make sense to you, such as: Reference, Travel, Investments, Sports, etc.

3. When you do back-ups of your data, you can also back up this file, as it grows in importance to you, just like you back up your e-mail address book. (You do, don't you???) In fact, by saving your bookmark file, you create a live file of hyperlinks you can use as a directory of your most-used web pages.

  • In the Netscape's Bookmark folder, click Tools / Export and save the file in your desired folder.
  • In Internet Explorer, click File / Import & Export and choose the Favorites folder. Save the resulting file as .html (hypertext markup language) and you'll be able to open it as a file from your backups or on your computer, and click the live links to go to desired web pages.
This is a good exercise if you want to learn more about your computer, where to save files, and how to open them. More importantly, though, it provides a neat example of how effective use of the computer saves you considerable time, makes your online experience more efficient, and cuts a level of clutter from your desk. Questions? Let me know at

Monday, July 26, 2004

Top Tech Secrets

The question I'm asked most often is "How do you keep your computer safe? What's your secret?"

Well, it's not a secret any more. Here's what I do to keep Computer Clarity systems running well and the steps I recommend for clients:

  1. Backup the registry and use Registry Mechanic to fix problems early
  2. Run System Restore to create a safe backup point every week
  3. Run nightly backups, stored away from the computer
  4. Run msconfig to eliminate unwanted programs residing in memory
  5. Search the Microsoft Knowledge Base for specific problems
  6. Know how to load drivers
  7. Keep vigilant with anti-virus software, firewall and spyware prevention.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The dark side of 'personal' computing

As more people gravitate to computers and the web, I'm pleased to see how hard people work at learning how to treat the computer right and take good care of it. But, I'm spending most of my Summer helping people get rid of viruses, Trojan horses and spyware.

In fact, states that almost one-third of computer users in the U.S. have been hit by a virus or hacker in the past two years. When I clean up malicious programs, clients are often surprised to learn they have inadvertently given permission to outsiders to use their computer, slowing it to a crawl, exhausting memory, and risking safety of your data.

Read more at or search some of the Internet news sites like Cnet's excellent industry news at, or Those most affected by this are using music download software and/or instant messaging services, which leave a back door open for people to tap into your computer.

Spyware is capable of tracking your Web browsing and reporting information to third-party companies who sell the information to others. Removing it can also be destructive to some components of Windows.

... From "Virginia Watson unwittingly authorized a company she'd never heard of to install software that would help turn her computer into part of a brand-new network.

The software, from Brilliant Digital Entertainment, came with the popular Kazaa file-swapping program. But the 65-year-old Massachusetts resident--who has a law degree--didn't read Kazaa's 2,644-word "terms of service" contract, which stated that Brilliant might tap the "unused computing power and storage space" of Watson's computer."

The man who owns Brilliant is quite clever. In fact the sentence structure in his license agreement has been analyzed for complexity, and found to be more complex than the U.S. tax code. And keep in mind the "free" software is targeted mostly to teenagers.

Prevention methods include vigorous use of anti-virus, firewall, AdAware and Spybot programs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Technology throws a fit

Yesterday, the venerable Chicago Tribune was unable to print thousands of newspapers due to a 'glitch.' The computer upgrade they ran over the weekend performed well in testing, but not in production. So newspaper delivery fellows all over Chicago were delivering a partial edition Monday and replacing it with a fuller Tuesday paper.

But, people tolerate it. It's just a computer crash, a glitch, nothing serious. Not a city-wide power failure, which would have been much worse, in July's heat.

Also yesterday, I was half naked on the doctor's examination table, hooked up to the EKG probes, when the EKG machine ran out of paper. The nurse added more, and the machine made up for it by eating too much paper, creating a paper jam during my routine physical. Good thing they had already taken my blood pressure.

Later I sauntered into the pharmacy asking for the prescription my doctor faxed over from her computer during my exam. No order from the doctor. Shopped around, read some magazines, asked again. "No. Nothing from your doctor. We have no faxes."

Uh! Wait! It's .... a paper jam!

Think about all the ways technology has become commonplace, and be glad for the days when technology does it's job well. Remember, it's not the end of the world when you can't print an envelope, your Internet connection goes down, or your computer freezes. Just roll with it and be glad for all the stuff in the world that does work! And be glad you're not naked on an examination table hooked up to nine electrodes when the paper jam occurs.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Can you manage your e-mail?

Why do we read e-mail all day long? Because we can.

It doesn’t mean it is efficient or a good use of your time. Would you run to the mailbox every five minutes to see if the mail carrier has added anything? Would you stop everything and read each piece of mail? Well, maybe I’d better say “Should you?”

When e-mail was a novelty and a secret pleasure of the techno-savvy we all used to check it a couple times a day, via dial-up and stare in amazement that someone sent us something. Now, with always-on, high-speed Internet connections, we’ve grown into a habit of checking e-mail too often. The instant connectivity may be more an interruption and drain on our concentration than a necessity.

Depending on the nature of your communications, try to check e-mail just at specific times of day, or limit yourself to three sessions. See if that is more efficient for you: To spend 15 minutes reading and replying, instead of 15 different interruptions throughout the day. Think about whether you really need to have your e-mail follow you around via radio frequencies to arrive at your PDA or cell phone.

One outgrowth of the overly informal, instant nature of e-mail has been poor writing style. Bad grammar, lack of punctuation, and overly casual comments are not good communication. My rule: If you wouldn’t sign your name to it as a memo, don’t send it as an e-mail.

Handling is the problem
By definition, shouldn’t the Inbox be only for new messages you haven’t read or responded to? Does the Inbox tray on your desk hold the hundreds of messages and files you’ve already read and dealt with?

If something takes less than two minutes, do it right away. Then move the message from the Inbox – either delete or drag to a folder if you need to keep it.

Make folders that parallel the organization of your paper files - by person, by project, by topic. If you conduct a fair number of online transactions it is helpful to create a folder for registrations, receipts, etc. and purge that once the transactions are completed. Okay, that’s one time when you might want to actually print something – to have a receipt.

File and retrieve
Use e-mail folders in your e-mail program, not paper. Printing e-mails just means you have two places to look when you want them and two things to throw away later. The odds are much better that you’ll find them in the computer because of built-in search capabilities.

Sorting options
1. Sort messages in your existing folders by date, sender, subject and can usually find what you need.

2. Your e-mail program has an edit /find or tools / search function, allowing you to search for a word, a date, sender

3. The ultimate solution is a program like Enfish that indexes your documents, including e-mail messages, so you can quickly search by keyword. You can find anything with Enfish (

Backing up
If your e-mail is important, and you have folders with needed historical project or reference information, be sure you are backing up your e-mail when you back up your other data. You do back up your data, don’t you? If you don’t know where your e-mail resides, look in the Preference settings and see the folder location for the mail storage.


When you delete messages from your inbox, remember they just go to the trash folder – which is garbage. Depending on the critical nature of your messages, you can set the trash folder to empty on exiting from the program, or you can empty it weekly.

Adopt even two or three of these suggestions to keep from drowning in e-mail, and add more productive minutes to your days.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Protect any port in a storm

Surge Protectors …
Protecting any port in a storm

April showers bring May flowers, but summer storms just bring brown-outs and power failures.

Be sure you have a working surge protector for your computer and peripherals.

Plugging your computer, printer, fax and radio into that multi-outlet strip at your desk is not just for convenience. That “power strip” might seem like a handy giant extension cord, but if it’s a good one, it’s also a true surge protector, protecting your investment in computer equipment.

Surge protectors prevent your equipment from getting fried, either from a lightning hit to your building, or a surge of power through the lines when there is a problem elsewhere on the electrical grid.

A good surge protector will have an indicator light to show that it is turned on. The best have two lights (usually green and orange) to indicate that the unit is in good working order.

Good working order? What does that mean? How do surge protectors go “bad”?

If a surge protector does its job and stops a large surge, it could get fried when it protects the equipment you have connected to it. (Sort of like a bike helmet – when it protects you once in a crash, it is vulnerable, and should be replaced.)

The next time a surge hits, it cannot provide protection, and your computer could get fried instead of the surge protector. Surge protectors are built to work this way.

When the light no longer is on, it is time to buy a new surge protector. The amount of surge that a protector can absorb is rated in units called "joules" (a unit of electrical measure). A bigger number is better. A safe minimum would be a unit rated at 300 joules.

So, protect your large investment in computer equipment with a small investment of $15 to $50 on a good surge protector.

Lastly, don’t confuse a surge protector with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) or battery backup device. Those products are intended to support your computer system on battery for a very limited time, just long enough for you to save your work and shut down the computer. They are priced from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the amount of time they keep your computer on “life support.”

E-mail me with any questions at or visit for more articles.

More power to you!

Does your web site work?

How to judge your site for success:


Can your site be found? Keep visible with search engine listings and catalog listings such as Open Directory Project or Galaxy and Yahoo.

Know where your hits are coming from and whether they are brining you business. Any good web host offers free statistics on visits to your site. If your host does not, consider

Nobody reads the same old magazine issue month after month. If you expect frequent visitors to your site, you have to update the content regularly. Be sure you offer valued information such as resources and tips, and don’t inadvertently invite people to click away.

Be honest. Is your site worth reading? Should someone invest ten or fifteen minutes in what you have posted? Your site should be well organized and match the needs of your desired audience. If marketing is your goal, have a way of gathering information about users – offer a survey, invite them to join a mailing list for newsletters or tell you what their needs are.

Pay attention to appropriate use of graphics, colors, and images but remember the needs of a wide audience. Keep text in a legible font and color. Use mouseover tags on graphics for those who choose to view your site as text, and for people with special visual needs. Visit the site of Dr. Jakob Nielsen, web guru for more web design and usability resources, at

Healthy mouse habits

One of my favorite computer writers, Jim Coates of The Chicago Tribune, recently curtailed his career as a journalist and computer expert after being diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). While he’s on the mend, he’s changed his working habits to prevent further aggravation of the delicate hand and wrist nerves. His illness serves as a warning to all about proper posture while using the computer.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a repetitive motion injury, not limited to computer users. In many industries, assembly line workers, machine operators and parts handlers have been susceptible to this problem for many years. With the prevalence of the computer and the mouse as a pointing device, the numbers of incidence of CTS injury has skyrocketed.

According to the medical abstract at, pressure on the median nerve in the wrist can cause pain, numbness and tingling in the hand, wrist or fingers. Check the related links at the end of this article for more, including stress solutions and ergonomic alternative to the traditional mouse and keyboard devices.

As one who uses the computer all day every day, one tip I can offer is to alter your mouse usage. I joke that I’ve become “ambi-moustrous” because I use the mouse with either hand. I’ve trained myself to use the left hand and arm for the mouse at one computer, and use a touchpad mouse on another. The touchpad mouse looks remarkably like a miniature Etch-a-Sketch toy. It stays in one place, does not need a mousepad underneath, and responds to a touch or sweep of the fingertip for quick movement.

If you experiment and add variety to your mousing habits, you’ll save wear and tear on your irreplaceable muscles and nerves.

Seven steps to conquer e-mail

1. Control the interruptions
Real mail once arrives once a day, so resist the urge, with an always-on connection to check mail every two minutes. It’s an interruption you should avoid, unless your business requires it.

2. Handle mail once
Like real clutter-buster's advise us, handle each piece of mail only once. That means: act on it, delete it, or put it away. Newer mail programs allow you to label message by status and priority.

3. Use folders
Save time by using folders to keep the items you need, without stuffing the inbox with hundreds of messages. Use Edit / Find to search the folders.

4. Set up filters
Use filters to weed out the trash. Read the Help file in your mail program to learn more.

5. Create templates
If your e-mail program allows you to create templates, use them.
They’ll save time for those responses that require the same or similar information on a regular basis.

6. Cut, Copy, Paste
One of the most powerful features of today’s operating systems
is the ability to cut and paste information to transfer from one document to another. Save the typing time. Copy from other documents and paste into e-mail.

7. Make use of the Delete key
Nothing can free up your inbox more than deleting email
you don’t want. Hitting the delete key or delete button is the
best way to dump data.

USB Jump Drives

Backing up your data on floppy disks? Move ahead to the 21st century by purchasing a USB Jump Drive, also called a Flash drive.

These keychain-sized drives have a capacity of 64 MB, 128 MB, 256 MB or even 512 MB, which is half a gigabyte (GB) of removable storage.

Where to buy: Common brands, such as Lexar and Belkin are available at major retailers like Circuit City, Best Buy, and my personal favorite: Office Max. They are often half-price after rebates, so watch the ads in the Sunday paper and get one for yourself soon.

How to use:
In a Windows XP computer, just plug the device into the USB drive. It will be instantly recognized and will have the next available drive letter. If your hard drive is C:, and your CD or DVD is D:, it will likely be the E: drive. Drag any files to the USB for safe backup or to use anywhere else.

What's a Blog?

From the town crier, to the wanted posters nailed to a saloon wall in the Old West, we've come a long way. Newspapers and magazines are supplanted by online communication. E-mail, web sites, instant messaging, and now blogs, all provide a way to communicate with people in a virtual space.

A blog, or web log, is a chronological database of entries made by a host, that's me. The audience, that's you... is invited to read the material and post questions and comments.

Give it a try and see if you like it.

Helen Gallagher
Computer Clarity
Bridging the great divide between people and technology

All contents copyright by Helen Gallagher, Computer Clarity