About Computers for Newbies & Everyone Else

November 17, 2015

What Happens to My Files – backup?

Hard Drive graphic from online -

I had a reader give me upsetting news last week.  They said that their computer failed to boot when they started it a few days before and they had a lot of personal and semi-business files there.  What could they do to get them backup?

They had taken it to a computer repair shop in the area who said the hard drive was shot.  Drives usually fail in one of two ways.  The first is that the drive will still be recognized by the computer but cannot be read or written to.  In many cases you may be able to recover data on your own.  The other is if there is actual mechanical damage to the drive which means your only choice is to send it to the pros to retrieve your files or toss it and start over.

I will not get into the ways that you may be able to get your data back as there are a million articles on the internet with almost as many software applications available to help you.  If you want to try it yourself the first thing I would do is to figure out who produced your drive, go to their site and see what they recommend. 

Keep in mind to try and recover the data yourself you must have a working computer and attach the failed drive to that computer.  You will need to purchase an external hard drive enclosed case for around $25 or more to access the drive.  However, that is much less than the possibly many hundreds of dollars you will spend sending it to the drive recovery companies to get your information. 

I will give you Ron’s inexpensive to free way to safeguard your files.  I checked today and I have 32 GB of data which I backup regularly.  This includes columns for the past 15 years, tax returns, songs, a few videos and other types of files.  I have over 70,000 of these files in my collection.  This is a significant number of files when compared to the average user. I back it all up in a couple of locations. 

My two favorite places online to back up my files, with the exception to financial files are Dropbox and  Using those two links to sign up will earn you extra storage space.  The standard space of Dropbox is 2 GB and with you get 15 GB.  They are both similar.  I believe Dropbox is slightly easier to use but Copy provides much more space and offers more options. 

The next place I back up my 32 GB is on a thumb drive.  I found 16 GB USB thumb drives on sale in town the other day for $9.99 and up to 128 GB drive for $35 online.  So the expense is minimal for what it could save you if you lost your files. 

Karenware Replicator main screen

How to back them up comes next and again there are a million ways. I use one very simple backup app called Karenware Replicator.  Karen Kenworthy was a developer who I met online years ago.  She made all of her software available free to all and simple to use.  Karen passed away in 2011 due to complications of diabetes.   I highly recommend Replicator as one of the simplest and effective backup utilities online today.  Download it and try it out.

Here is your warning – backup your files since ALL hard drives will fail at some point, maybe in years, maybe in minutes!

September 17, 2013

Recycle Bin

imageI talked to a young lady recently about how she used her Recycle Bin.  As if you did not know, the Recycle Bin is the trashcan icon on your Windows desktop.  It is usually located on the lower right or upper left corner of the screen.  It displays as empty or full.  When full, whether it has one file in it or one million it will look the same.  

She told me that she uses her recycle bin for storage of files that she may need one day…WHAT? WAIT!  The recycle bin is designed for discarding files, not as a place to keep them.

There are many ways your recycle bin could be emptied. Then you would have no files left.  Consider if your hard drive were to self-destruct and you took it to be repaired. They would not be trying to save your recycle bin but your My Documents folder where all of your files you may one day need should be stored.  I would even unenthusiastically recommend that if you think you may use a file again you should create a folder on your desktop and store those files there.  But your Documents folder is the preferred and safest method for the majority of users.

I also recommend backing up your important documents somewhere.  That way when the inevitable hard drive crash comes you will have the important documents safe somewhere else.  I always recommend Dropbox ( — caps count in that URL and if you use this link you get some extra storage).  That is where I keep all of my backups.  With it being free for up to 2 GB of storage most users will be covered.

Another question I get about deleting items from the Recycle Bin revolve around people needing a file they accidentally deleted.  Oops.

Several things dictate what you should try.  The easiest is if your deleted file is still in your Recycle Bin.  Just open your bin by double clicking on it, search for the file, right click on it and choose, "Restore."  It will reappear in the exact location, i.e. folder it was in when you deleted it.  Done.

However, if you have deleted it by using the, "Empty Recycle Bin" command on your bin, you could have problems getting the file back.  You may be in luck if your Recycle Bin has not been emptied for a long period of time.  There is no specific time and it really depends on how often you use your computer.  Basically when you delete a file it really is not deleted from your computer.  The file is marked so that the computer sees it and it is still on the hard drive.  The mark tells the operating system that if it needs that space on the drive to store something else it is available and can be used.  If the file you need has been used, or rewritten, you may be out of luck.

There is a tool I have used to save my life in these situations many times.  You will not know whether or not you can get it back until you try.  The app is called, "Recuva" and it is found online at  This application is free for the basic model which is probably all you need.

Once you run Recuva your find your file is fully useable.  There are other apps out there like this one, but Recuva has always worked well for me.

July 16, 2013

February 19, 2013

Program Installations with a Twist, Part 1

This column was brought about by a group of us geeks discussing the current Windows operating systems.  Of course, this included the Windows Registry and the way applications are now installed on a Windows based computer.  Basically there was a consensus that we would like to do away with the registry and the way applications are set up.

Windows RegistryFirst, we need a very simple definition of the registry.  The registry is a component of Windows which sets up all hardware, software, and any attached devices in a large database with information about each of those items.  Basically, the registry contains settings for everything on and in your computer.  When you open an application the registry is pinged and all the data pertaining to that app is loaded into the program to help it run quicker and be more stable than in the past. 

Now let’s talk about installations of today’s applications.  Back in the day, a program installed all of its related elements into one folder.  For instance, if you installed a program named, "Double Click anagrams" it would be installed in a folder named something like, "DCAna."  Then when you wanted to delete the program from your computer all you had to do was delete that specific folder and you were done.

Today when you install a program, most often it will install many files for that application in one folder. (C:\Program Files\Program Name) makes some additions to the registry, then adds configuration files, DLL files and other library files all over your hard drive.  When you uninstall these applications using the Windows 7, "Programs and Features" module it attempts to uninstall all of them, but unfortunately sometimes misses some of them.  This creates a problem I had not heard of before but was informed about, "cruft." Crufts are the junk files left behind when an install is not totally successful.   

I think it could be nice to go back to the old days and take the easy way out to delete applications…completely and cleanly. 

In steps, "Portable Applications." I wrote about them over three years ago coming from a different angle.   

Sometimes today when you install a new program, usually one you download, you may have the option of installing it normally or in a portable version.  If you choose to install it as a portable version or get a program specifically designed to be a portable application, you can defeat the "cruft-monster."

Portable apps are entirely autonomous. When you install them, you pick one folder where you want it installed.  Once installed in that location you will find that program and all of its related files in that one, and ONLY ONE folder.  It puts absolutely no files anywhere else on your system and it runs as well as the original file which installed everywhere on your system.  They are completely self-contained which means that 1: you can move the folder to any other location on your computer or copy it to another computer and it works and 2: if you do not like the program, you can delete the folder it is in and it is gone…totally.

We will talk more about portable applications next week.

December 18, 2012

Backing Up

I have mentioned the importance of backing up your important electronic files before.  It really is important if you intend to use those files in the future.  Whether it is your previous tax returns, (done on your computer or the scanned version of your paper copies) emails or documents of any type you need to keep an extra copy.  Today two of the most talked about file types are music and of course all those digital Christmas photos.

The reason to keep copies may be obvious to many of us, but not to others.  The biggest reason you may need a backup is to guarantee that one day, sooner or later, your hard drive will fail.  Hopefully it will survive long enough to grab your files but many times they are totally trashed; nada.  Occasionally you may be able to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars and send your hard drive to professionals to restore some or all of your files.  However, for individuals like you and me it will be very cost prohibitive. 

Recently I received an email from Alicia.  She asked, "I have a new 1 TB external drive.  Do I use the backup software that comes with the drive, or the Windows back up application?"  That is a great question and highlights one great alternative for backing up files.

What can a 1 TB drive hold?  Toshiba, one of my favorite companies, says approximately 17,000 hours of music which is just less than two years of music, non-stop 24 hours a day, 320,000 HD digital photos or about 457 holiday’s worth of photos, 1,000 hours/41 days of home videos (again without sleep) or 250 DVDs of about two hours each.

The price of external drives, like all other electronics is always coming down.  I found an external 1 TB drive for $80 and then a 2 TB drive for less than $120 so the cost is not horrible if you are serious about backups.

Now, let’s go back to Alicia’s question.  I would always use the software that comes with the drive.  It has been tested and proven with the drive you have.  It is most likely made to do just that one thing and do it well, so I say stick with it.  If you prefer the Windows application or any other you are used to, feel free to use that one.  However, it could invalidate your warranty on the drive so you need to check that out first. 

Keep in mind that there are also some great "cloud" storage applications out there.  I heartily recommend Dropbox (, Google Drive (, SkyDrive (, Carbonite ( and many others.  I feel that DropBox and Carbonite are the best to use for automatic backups; however, DropBox has a free version. 

Make sure you backup no matter where you choose to do it. Just do it!

October 23, 2012

Brittany, Octavius and Ubuntu

Filed under: Columns — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Ron @ 4:32 am

My wife and I have a friend, Brittany and one day she and my wife were talking.  Brittany said that she had a broken computer.  Well, then my wife proceeded to tell Brittany what I do for a living, hobby, etc.  Now at this point I have to say Brittany does not read the Daily News Record weekly, listen to WSVA monthly, check out or she would know that I “mess” with computers…as my wife puts it.

Brittany asked if I would take a look at her notebook, Octavius.  I have heard of people naming their computers but this was my first, firsthand experience.  I do not do  repair work any longer since I am too busy with other things in life, but for friends I am always happy to see what I can do to help them out.

I asked a few questions and found the reason it stopped was that her cat walked across her keyboard.  Now, unless her cat understands computers very well I do not know how he/she could have done that.  Basically she got a black screen with text when she turned her computer on.  The largest worry about any computer doing that is that the hard drive is kaput. Not a biggie to replace, but it can be costly.

She also said her notebook was in bad shape.  Once I got it, I really got it.  She had dropped it…down the steps…several times.  The screen was hanging by a piece of plastic along with a few wires. Some of the casing was gone, duct tape functionally decorated it, and a key or two may have been missing; however, she liked it and wanted to see if I could make it work again.

Then Brittany uttered some magical words that made me jump for joy – “It wdwas a Linux computer.”  Also, she kept all of her music, videos, documents, etc. on an external drive.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Ninety-nine percent of the time when a non-geek mentions Linux, they mean that in the past someone has removed Microsoft Windows from a computer and installed Ubuntu (  Since all of her data files were on her external drive she had no worries, as long as her hard drive would boot and run.

10-21-2012 8-29-19 PMI wrote several columns last year about Ubuntu, so if you want to find out more visit my site and check them out.  But for now here is a much abbreviated description of Ubuntu.  It is a great operating system. You can perform 99% of everything you can with Windows.  Some of the best news is it is free, although they do ask for donations.

I checked her system and found that her previous Ubuntu operating system was destroyed but the hard drive was in great shape.  In less than two hours I had it up and running; the Internet, word processing, email and all the other operations working to perfection.  I returned it to her the next day. She and Octavius are now happy, I am sure the cat is ready to try again and life is good!

I would caution Brittany about two things.  The screen is going to go one day…be prepared.  Next, just in case it really was the cat, use the key combination of “Ctrl + Alt + L” and lock it down when you walk away, before your cat saunters across it again.

December 13, 2011

What about SSD vs. HDD?

I recently received an email from a reader asking about SSD compared to HDD.  What the heck are those initials…new government agencies?  Not quite.   They stand for "Solid State Disk" (or Solid State Drive or Solid State Disk drive) and "Hard Disc Drive" respectively.

Opened HDD for viewingThe HDD is the hard drive you are most likely using on your computer.  It is generally made up of platters of metal disks stacked on top of each other.  Information is stored on both sides of the platters magnetically.  There is aHDD stacked Platters slight space between each disk with room for a "head" or magnetic reader on an arm which moves back and forth on both sides of each platter to read and write the magnetic info.  If you are old enough, just picture an old record player and a spindle stacked with records with tone arms between each record.  The major differences are size and the fact that an HDD spins at 7,200 rpm instead of 72 rpm. 

Example SSDBut what about the SSDs?  They are more advanced yet much simpler to explain.  SSD is basically another form of device used to store and retrieve data. Instead of metal platters it uses a solid state memory to hold the information.  A big plus is that there are no moving parts, meaning less battery drain and absolutely no noise.

The reader asked if they should switch to SSD and trash their old HDD.  I say not yet, for several reasons. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of SSDs.

Advantages of SSD:  Applications run through SSD will run much faster.  SSD devices require less power and no heat is produced.  SSD runs silently because it only uses computer chips, not moving parts. Access speed for reading is faster because it doesn’t have a moving part to run around disks looking for places to read or write data.  Mechanical reliability inside the SSD will be higher – mechanical failure wouldn’t happen as often, if ever.  SSD is shock resistant with no moving parts to break when dropped.  It can operate up to a temperature of about 160°F. HDDs are good up to about 110°F.  SDDs are much lighter in weight and smaller in size than HDDs.

Disadvantages of SSD:  Storage space is tiny compared to HDDs.  There is has been research to design and make a 1 Terabyte SSD, but it is not available yet.  1TB HDDs are readily available.  The write/erase cycle for SSD will not last as long. SSDs can supposedly go for a maximum of 100,000 cycles; whereas a regular HD can go for maybe 1-5 million write cycles.  This means performance of the SSD will decrease over time.  The big issue for me is that the price of SSDs is much higher.  The 1TB drive mentioned above is about $150.  However, a 128GB (about 1/8 the storage size of 1TB) SSD costs a little over $200.

I believe in the future all computers will be using SSDs to replace conventional hard drives.  But first prices and storage sizes have to get closer to the current HDD stats in order to be viable.  If you want to see what the future of SSDs will look like, search online for "Ultrabook."

August 2, 2011

May 10, 2011

February 15, 2011

Power of the Broom, Part 4


did not think we would be talking about Ubuntu for yet another week but here we are. I suppose this will be the last one but you folks are the drivers, I am just the tour guide. Keep those emails coming!

Several readers have been reading about Ubuntu and doing some studying. Great job! They have read about being able to install Ubuntu on a USB Thumb Drive and run the system from that drive. Roger wanted to know how it worked and asked if it would be worth getting a thumb drive to try.

imageFirst off, I could not survive in the IT/Tech world without a good portable drive so yes, get one. I have seen them online for about $20 for a 16 GB drive. To give you an idea, the first one I bought years ago was $40 for 512 MB so you currently get much more storage for half the price.

Next, there is a program available for Pen Drives, (same thing- different wording) that says it will enable you to install any Linux operating system on a pen/thumb drive. You are supposed to be able to fully run the “portable” operating system off of the drive, even without a hard drive.

Not to be a party-pooper but I tried installing two different Linux systems on my thumb drive twice and they both failed to function as advertised. I also tried them on different computers and neither would work. Both had different errors. Could it have been my install, possibly? That could be the case, but twice in a row? Tom from Harrisonburg tried, too, and he was only successful when he installed the 64-bit version, which my computer can’t use. Hmm, this apparently needs more research and development.

Now how about booting Ubuntu from a CD? I have done this many times without any problems. So for a CD driven Operating System I say, “Success!” Keep in mind that you cannot write any data to the CD. This means that you will have to save any files you create to your hard drive or a thumb drive. Also, be forewarned, if you make any changes to the OS, like setting your homepage on the Ubuntu Firefox browser it will disappear the next time you start it up.

OK, I believe I am now finished with writing about Ubuntu for a while; however, I will continue using it on my notebook.

SNAGHTML5fafb0One final thought. I have had many readers over the years ask me to create some training videos. I have always put it off with, “Good idea, I will do that one day.” Well that day arrived. I have added a couple of simple, “How to” videos on YouTube. Go to “” and let me know what you think. These are just experimental at this point as I am still learning how it is done.

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