The Glory of PrntScrn

Have you ever had an issue with your computer doing something strange, but then really couldn’t properly articulate it to whoever you were trying to ask about it? This is a common problem for a lot of frustrated computer users. When you are not a guru of computer technology, it’s quite difficult to explain what you are seeing to someone who is there. (Face it, ‘the thingy on the left kind of overlapped the thingie on the left that comes up when you do that thing’ only gets you so far!)

Or, how about when your computer has an error message that you want to share with someone, but the error has so much text that it would take a courtroom dictator to be able to write it all down in a reasonable amount of time?

Well, what a lot of people do not realize is that there is actually a built in function in most operating systems that actually makes a savable, printable, email-able picture out of whatever is on your screen. As long as your operating system is still working and hasn’t been completely halted by whatever the problem is, you can take a Screenshot of your screen to share with others. Doing this can save you (and maybe the person who is trying to help,) quite a lot of deliberations later on.

When you take a screen shot, you will see whatever is on your screen at the time of the button being pressed: For instance, here is a screenshot of what I am typing right now:

To make a screen capture (or print screen,) the tactic may vary a little based on your operating system, your keyboard, and the programs installed on your computer. However, if you’re using a windows machine, the procedure will most likely be as follows:

Your keyboard will have a “PrntScrn” button, normally at the top somewhere. Sometimes it will be shared with another key, and may require a function key to be held. When you hit that key, you will not get any form of confirmation or prompt; Instead, it will save the picture to the ‘clipboard.’ The clipboard is a virtual place where a picture or text will temporarily be saved while it waits for you to ‘paste’ it somewhere. You can generally only have one thing on the clipboard at a time.

Now, you will need to open up a program to ‘paste’ the image in to. If you have a preferred photo/image editor, you can paste it in to that. If you’re not sure what to use, then use the program “Paint,” which is located under the Start menu, in “All Programs” and then “Accessories.” One there, you can (depending on the version) either hit the clipboard button to paste it, or go to the ‘edit’ menu and select ‘paste.’ (Or, if you’re a little more keyboard savvy, CTRL+V will do it.)

Once your image is saved, you can do anything you want with it!

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Katy’s Analogies: Hard Drive

I love to make analogies. I can’t help it. I’m a natural at it. Here is my analogy for how a hard drive stores data.

 

Think of your hard drive like a filing cabinet.
Single papers are like the single files on your
computer. Small manila folders are like folders on
your computer. The drawer is like your operating
system, and the slides that move the drawer are like
your file system.
During normal use of your computer, files and data
get jumbled up on your hard drive. You don’t SEE
this, but it’s true. It’s kind of like accidentally
putting your files out of order.
When you defrag your computer, it is like going
through and alphabetizing all your files for easy
access again. It makes it much easier for your
computer to find the files.
Lets say that when you need to access a folder
regularly or you know you’ll have to come back to it
again, you put a sticky-note on a file or folder that
sticks up. Makes it much quicker to get to the file
again, but after a while you have so many sticky
notes that it’s impossible to sort through them.
Those sticky notes are like temporary files on a
computer – They can help websites load faster, but
once you have too many they start slowing things
down. Going through and removing all those sticky
notes is like cleaning up cookies and temporary
files.
Sometimes, after using your drawer over and over and
over again, it will jam up or pop off the slides -
You know all of your files are there in the cabinet,
exactly like they normally are, but you have no way
of getting to them! That drawer is stuck. Sometimes
it happens because you were too rough with the
drawer, or because someone kicked the file cabinet.
Sometimes it just happens. This is similar to what
happens when the file system on your computer becomes
corrupted. All your files are there and in tact, but
you can’t see them and your computer doesn’t do
anything. Sometimes, a professional can come in there
and get that drawer back on its tracks, and
everything is fine without any damaged files. Other
times, it’s just so screwed up that you have to start
from scratch.

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The choice: A Laptop, or a Desktop?

It has been my experience that the majority of the people that go shopping for a computer really aren’t sure what they want. Sometimes, someone has a few ideas (I want it to be fast, I want it to play DVDs, I want to play this game on it…) but more often then not, they are looking for someone to provide the answers.

This is where the importance of where you are shopping gets REALLY important – Generally, places that are commission based or any big-box shop will always aim to sell you the most expensive thing they think you’ll buy. This can result in paying much more for a machine that doesn’t actually do what you want.

The most frequent question we get (and a very important one at that) is probably “Should I get a laptop computer, or should I get a desktop computer?” This is a good question – The two have a lot of similarities that some people are not aware of, while they also have a lot of very important key differences.

The first thing you should ask yourself is “What would I do with a laptop?” Would you take it places with you? Do you want it so you can lay in bed with it at night? Maybe you want one because it takes up less desk space. Or, maybe you don’t think you want one at all, but you friend is telling you that you’ve just gotta get one.

One thing that a lot of people don’t realize, is that (when it comes to software,) laptops are identical to desktops. When it comes down to it, they are both computers, and use the same things. A laptop is a keyboard, a mouse, a monitor, and an operating systems. The same things you buy for your desktop (games, printers, and even external monitors generally) will work on your laptop, as long as it meets the requirements.

The first thing I tell people who aren’t sure what to get is this; Unless you have a specific reason to want a laptop, you are probably going to be happier with a desktop. While most people are concerned that they might regret that decision if they ever want to go on a trip and take their computer with them (or any other assortment of little reasons,) there are some key benefits to owning a desktop computer.

In a standard desktop, just about everything in it is a replaceable part, and the parts can be found just about anywhere. There are very few components in a desktop computer that are not worth replacing (unless, of course, you’re dealing with a ten year old computer or something. Even then, sometimes they are worth fixing.) However, in a laptop, this is generally not the case. While there are a small few standardized parts (the hard drive and the ram,) everything else in a laptop is generally specific to that one model of laptop. This generally means the parts can be considerably more expensive to replace, and sometimes are impossible to find. You can’t just run out to your local shop and pick up a new fan for the interior of your laptop, or grab a new keyboard on the go; You have to find someone to order the parts, and then generally wait a bit and pay a whole lot more.

This fact plays in to the next two facts – For one, laptops are more proned to breaking. This does not at all mean that, if you buy a laptop, it is likely to break. When I say “More proned to breaking,” I mean that (and this is a completely made up statistic, for the record) when one in ten desktops might experience a failure in the first 5 years of use, it’s more likely to be one in five laptops in the first five years of use. There are a few good reasons for this; The first is that a laptop is very compact. To give a laptop the capabilities of a desktop, it needs quite a bit of power. While manufacturers try to make parts for laptops that require less power, they still generate a lot of heat. Combine that with a VERY tight spot and not as much air flow when compared to a desktop, all of the parts inside tend to endure more rugged conditions. Laptops are also subject to more abuse than laptops – While this is often unintentional on the users part, it is certainly a fact. Laptops are getting moved around regularly, which can damage moving parts inside – They have power cords that are often tripped on which can damage DC jacks and other things; When you’re tappa-tappa-tappin’ on that keyboard, you’re ever so slightly wiggling around your internal components.

Laptops are not just more proned to breaking – There’s more to break! As opposed to having a tower, a screen, a keyboard and a monitor all as separate units, a laptop is all of those things in one. If any one thing goes, you don’t have a laptop until it’s fixed. You spill a drink on your keyboard at home, you run out and buy a new one for ten dollars. You spill your evening chianti on your laptop keyboard, and you’re likely out the cost of a new laptop.

Laptops also generally cost more compared to desktops for an equal level of computin’ power. This is because they rely on somewhat specialized parts which cost more to manufacture.

Now, this may seem a little like a smear campaign against laptops – It really isn’t. Laptops are insanely useful; I’m just a firm believer that it isn’t worth the risk unless you have a reason to have one. Laptops allow you to be able to quickly move where you’re working – You have a report due for work at 8PM, and your child has a case of the sniffles and you’ve got to make a run to the doctor – Hey, that’s at least 30 minutes in a waiting room you can work on that report! You work a desk job where you occasionally run out of things to do – Hey, some entertainment! You have to travel for a living? Take your work with you everywhere! Laptops offer you the benefit of a battery, and transportation. But, if your laptop is going to be sitting on your desk all day, is it really worth the potential extra cost?

A lot of people also have some misconceptions about laptops that make them sound more appealing than they really are. Let’s get a few of those out of the way.

1.) A laptop is NOT meant to be used on a lap! Laptops create a lot of heat – They need to be on a hard and solid surface at all times. This means no laps, no beds. While many have done this without a problem, many more have killed their hard drive (or worse) due to overheating and fans clogged with lint and dust.

2.) Laptops can NOT be moved around when on. Even the slightest movement when the laptop is operating increased your chance of hard drive failure; A hard drive is a moving part that spins about about 5200RPM, and has a little head that reads those platters. Something moving that fast is very easy to damage while it’s moving.

3.) Laptops can’t play video games. While you can buy an expensive laptop meant to do such, they’re still not quite as good at it as desktops due to restrictions on the amount of heat they can safely put out. Most laptops also have integrated graphics, which can not play video games. (Some have dedicated graphics, but that normally increases the cost quite a bit.)

The big key to making a decision is to be informed; Be well aware what each thing does and what each thing doesn’t, and have a clear idea of what you want it to do.

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The Fakealert Epidemic

The Fake-Alert Epidemic
Fake anti-viruses (also known as Fake-Alerts, Scare-ware, and Ransom-ware) are an Epidemic – A wide-spread infection which affects many people, and it’s very difficult to avoid. These types of infections are different than all of the viruses in the past, in that anti-virus programs can not stop the majority of them. This means it is up to the user to learn how to be safe without a program watching over them. The first step is learning how they work, so that you know what to avoid.

Fake anti-viruses pretend to be a real program that is installed on a computer, in hopes that you will believe it is part of your computer and do whatever it says. They are normally very ‘in your face,’ which a real anti-virus generally is not. They generally do a pretty good mimicry of real software – sometimes they will be called things like “Microsoft Antivirus” which sounds like it could be part of windows.

PREVENTATIVE MEASURES:

The first thing you should make note of, is what anti-virus programs ARE in your computer. Windows only comes with one thing – Windows defender. If you did not install any anti-virus, and the computer did not come with an anti-virus, then that is most likely the only thing installed. If you’re not very familiar with your computer, you should take some time to figure out what programs normally show up in the lower right-hand corner of your computer. Write them down, and try to keep them in mind. This way, if a program pops up on your screen, you will know if it is something that is normally on your computer or not. Often, these fake anti-virus programs will add a new icon in the lower right hand corner, so it’s good to know what’s normally there and what is out-of-place.

Even though no anti-virus program can catch all of the new fake-alerts, most of them can at least catch some of them. For this reason, it is always a good idea to have an anti-virus program installed on your computer. There are some very good paid anti-virus programs (such as Eset Nod32, Kaspersky, Avira, or GDATA,) but if something like that simply isn’t in your budget, there are also free options. While they’re often not quite as strong as the paid ones, they’re certainly better than nothing, and are often more lightweight and can be good for slower computer. (Right now, Microsoft Security Essentials is one of the best ones available, but others include AVG Free or Avast!.)

The biggest part of prevention is safe web browsing. Safe web browsing is a skill – It takes time to learn what is safe and what is not, and a lot of common sense as well. It’s impossible to explain exactly what safe web browsing is, but the best advice one can offer is; READ EVERYTHING. Always make sure that the thing you’re clicking on is what you meant to click on. Most web browsers display a list in the lower left of the screen when you hold your cursor over a link; Get in the habit of glancing at that and seeing is the URL you’re clicking on sounds like what you mean to click on.

(for instance, if you’re on howtomakealemonpie.com and a link says “click here for instructions on your to make a lemon pie,” you can expect the link at the bottom to be something starting in howtomakealemonpie.com/somethingorother. If it says “howtomakemoneyfast.com,” it’s probably not a safe link and this site probably has some problems.)

Some people are speed-clickers – They like to click on things on a whim. They see a banner suggesting they take an IQ test, they think “Oh, fun!” Terrible idea. Sites like that almost ALWAYS have an alterior motive; They want you to buy something, do something, or click on something. These type of sites are also very vulnerable to security flaws, and are generally unsafe places to be.

Another tip for safe browsing; Nothing on the internet is free. When you search for something like “free cursors,” “free screensavers,” “free games,” the results are the same types of websites that virus-writers go for.

The best thing is to stick to websites you know, and don’t assume everything they link to is safe.

While website ads and things are the most common way to get this type of virus, it certainly isn’t the only way – The biggest source of viruses on the internet is from file-sharing – Websites or utilities that allow you to search for songs / videos to download for your computer. As was already states, nothing on the internet is ‘free.’ There’s always a catch, and in these scenarios, the catch is that ANYONE can upload media to those types of websites – Including virus-writers.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER A FAKE-ALERTs

Fake-Alerts normally appear as a web popup the very first time you see them. By leaving it on your screen, ignoring it, or clicking on it, you allow it to install on your computer. That’s when they become a large problem. If you’re not computer saavy and you know it, your first step should probably be to immediately turn off the computer, Sometimes, the virus programs will not let you; Don’t try to close them or click on them, just pull the plug. This is generally not very healthy for your computer, so you should use a technique like this sparingly.

For those of you who can work your way around a computer a little better, the first thing you’ll want to do is to manually shut down all instances of your browser – You can do this by holding down “CTRL,” “ALT,” and “DELETE.” If you’re on windows XP, from here you can click on your web browser and select “close program.” You may have to click on the ‘processes’ tab, find it in there, right click and select “end process tree.” If you’re in Vista or 7, the steps are the same except that when you first hit CTRL ALT DELETE, you will have to select “Task Manager.”

If you successfully get that all to close, you’re probably ok. You’ll of course want to run a full virus scan on your computer to be sure.

Sometimes, browsers will automatically try to bring back the page you were last on when you re-open them, which will bring the virus back up. If this happens, most browsers have a ‘safe mode’ option you can open them in (through the start menu.) This will not restore tabs.

It’s hard to say if these problems will get better in time – More than likely, legitimate anti-virus programs will be able to figure out how to stop them. Likewise, viruses will keep getting smarter. I wish I knew where things were going from here, but it’s impossible to say.

(and for anyone whose answer is “Linux!” or “MacOS!” Yes. Great idea. At least, until they have a considerable market-share the writers start targeting them instead. It’s only a temporary solution to a greater problem.)

 

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First Post!

Hiya. Welcome to the blog. We hope to make this a semi-frequently updated bundle of neat information regarding the consumer computer market, penned by employees of the store. Check back soon for more details!

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