Behavioral experts say that one of the best ways to drop a bad habit is to replace it with a new good habit. If you have a computer that constantly acts up, you probably need to develop a few good tech habits.
Don’t worry. Giving up bad tech habits is a lot easier than trying to abstain from ice cream. These five good tech habits will save you money and make you much more productive.
1. Fix common computer problems yourself.
Most computer problems aren’t catastrophic and you can fix them yourself. Upgrading to fancier software or shopping around for a new computer will cost you time and money. Instead, see what you can do with the old mare. Buying and installing extra RAM often fixes the dreaded Blue Screen of Death and other performance problems. Check what kind of memory your computer takes with the free scanner found at www.komando.com/coolsites/index.aspx?id=12831.
Cleaning out the clutter on your hard drive is another easy solution. Three free programs will do the trick. Grab PC Decrapifier to remove trial programs and bloatware in a snap, then open up Duplicate Cleaner and CCleaner to clear out duplicate files and fix errors in your Windows registry.
2. Don’t fall for tech rip-offs.
When you do have to buy a new computer or other piece of tech gear, watch out for the booby traps that lurk in the retail tech jungle. They’ll turn you upside down and shake the money out of your pockets.
Extended warranties, for example, can add hundreds of dollars to the price of your purchase. They’re usually bad investments unless you’re buying an expensive laptop that’s vital to a clumsy student or a small business.
You’ll also save money by buying extra RAM and hard-drive upgrades and installing them yourself instead of ordering them from the manufacturer. Other rip-offs are buying expensive cables, getting the wrong GPS and picking the wrong cellular connection for your tablet. Click here to learn more about these: www.komando.com/columns/ index.aspx?id=14115.
3. Use hard-to-guess passwords.
Far too many computer and gadget users don’t bother to create passwords and leave their home wireless networks open for others to use. Or else they come up with passwords that are easy to hack, such as “password” and “123456.”
They’re just asking for trouble from hackers, scammers and maybe even the police. If your neighbor uses your wireless network for something illegal, the authorities will question you first.
The trick to passwords is striking a balance between security and convenience. You want it strong and long enough to repel the bad guys. But you also don’t want to spend 4 minutes tapping out a cryptic code everytime you need to use it.
The best password is at least eight characters long and contains a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. I have a nifty trick for creating unbreakable passwords that are also easy to remember.
Start by thinking of a phrase or a song lyric that has meaning for you. Then replace some of the letters with symbols and numbers. A “to” in your phrase can become a 2, for example. An “S” can be a dollar sign. Mix up some of your letters so they’re upper and lower case. I go over this easy method in more detail in this tip: www.komando.com/tips/index.aspx?id=1503.
4. Be security conscious.
There are thousands of strains of viruses, worms and other malware circulating on the Internet. Running up-to-date security software on your computer is a top priority.
An unprotected Windows computer can pick up a file-erasing, information-stealing bug in less than a minute.
Macs aren’t immune to viruses, either, as last year’s outbreak of the Flashback Trojan proved. That monster wreaked havoc on more than 600,000 Macs.
Every computer you own should have an antivirus program, firewall and antispyware program. If you’re missing one or more of these, head over to my Security Center to download excellent free security programs: www.komando.com/securitycenter.
Another huge threat is security holes in Java, a programming language Web browsers use to run interactive content. When a vulnerable version of Java is active in a Web browser, visiting a compromised website is all it takes for crooks to sneak malware on to your computer.
In most cases, you won’t even know your computer is compromised until it’s too late. To stay safe, stop using Java — or stay on top of the upgrades and use Java a lot more guardedly. Click here to learn more: www.komando.com/columns/index.aspx?id=13939. To learn more about viruses and how they work, check out this security tip: www.komando.com/tips/index.aspx?id=14041.
5. Back up your computer.
Data loss isn’t a question of if; it’s a question of when. Your treasured photos, songs, financial information, art projects and business presentations are on there. Can you afford to lose all that? Paying a technician to recover information from a failed hard drive will cost you a bundle.
Having an up-to-date backup is so much simpler and easier. Backing up to an external drive is better than nothing. But external hard drives fail, too, and can be stolen.
Use a system that backs up to the cloud so it’s safe from fire, theft and flood. You also want your backup made automatically. For both, I recommend an advertiser on my national radio show, Carbonite. After my external drive died eight years ago, I signed up for Carbonite, and this was before they were an advertiser. I’ve been a customer since.
Bonus habit: Save early, save often
A program crash can happen at any time, and all the work you’ve put into a file could be lost.
That’s why it’s important to save your work frequent- ly.
When you’re in the groove, it’s hard to break away to click the program’s Save icon.
Instead, get in the habit of frequently hitting the keyboard shortcut CTRL + s (CMD + s on Macs).
That command will save your file in any program, and it takes only a fraction of a second.
Kim Komando hosts the nation’s largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com.