Ask Google!

GoogleIf you are having problems with a computer application, or a new wireless router, or a printer, or even a cake that won’t rise, type your problem into Google and look at the answers.

I’ve been struggling since Wednesday with a new wireless router. It worked fine for all the computers and phones in the house except my Windows 7 Professional laptop, and despite spending hours on the phone with technicians at Netgear and Dell I fixed it myself by finding the answer in a forum that I found by using Google.

Then I couldn’t get the printer to work, and I used Google to find the answer, which was to delete the printer and then reinstall it.

Then the printer would print the same document over and over again until I took the paper out of the printer. I typed this into Google: “hp laserjet p1102w printer prints multiple copies” and read through the first 3 results, and one of them had an answer. I had to uncheck a box that was ticked in the printer configuration options. Now it works fine. Only one copy.

I have a fair few years experience with computers from my days as a computer programmer. If I have trouble getting things to work, I can imagine how hard it must be for people who have spent their time more productively. And I am always encouraged to see that other people have the same problem as me.

Ask Google! There are people out there who have had the same problem, and others who know the answers and take the time to write them in a blog post or a forum question. If you don’t understand the answer, or the next person in the discussion says it didn’t work, move on to the next result in the Google list. Find one that spells out the steps you have to take in a way you can understand.

Here’s another example. One day a few years ago my husband’s ageing laptop wouldn’t start. I went looking in Google for suggestions. One of them said take the hard drive out and put it in the freezer for a while, then put it back in and try starting it up. We didn’t try that one. Another person had suggested turning the laptop upside down and pressing the power button. We tried that and it worked! The laptop started up normally and we were able to get everything backed up.

Remember what you did so you can undo it if necessary, especially if it tells you to change a setting somewhere. Write it down if you think you may not remember, or keep the page open that has the instructions so you can go back and do it again in reverse it didn’t work. The chances are it won’t matter if you don’t change it back, but it might.

You are not alone.

Microfilm scans can now be downloaded at State Records NSW reading rooms

State Records NSW has microfilmed many of their most popular records, including those concerning immigration, convicts, Colonial Secretary’s correspondence, land, and much, much more. The whole of one wall at the Kingswood Reading Room is covered with shelving for microfilms. Many more records are available on microfiche and aperture cards.

Whereas this saves wear-and-tear on the records themselves, the catch has always been the cost of obtaining copies. Microfilm scanning machines allow you to find the record you want and then pay to have a photocopy. Copies are $1 for an A4 and $2 for an A3, which can run into quite a bit of money.

They are now experimenting with machines that you can download the scanned image to your flash drive instead of printing. I say experimenting because there are few machines available; perhaps that will change. The last time I was out at Kingswood early last week the existing machine in the corner used for taking digital photos of the screen now had a computer connected and had instructions for scanning and downloading images to your flash drive. The instructions were easy to follow and I got some great images.

There was a brand new ScanPro scanner on the desk behind that was still wrapped up. ScanPros are available at the State Library of NSW and are much easier to use, although there is a bit of a learning curve to them. Seeing the announcement from State Records NSW about ‘digital copiers in the reading rooms’ this morning leads me to think that the ScanPro is now ready for action. See http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/news/digital-copiers-in-the-reading-rooms.

If you’ve tried them out let me know what you think!

When disaster strikes do you have a backup?

dreamstimefree_1574304Early last month I wrote about my own backup strategy in my personal blog, little realising that I would soon be put to the test.

On Good Friday, less than 3 weeks after writing about my backups, my laptop would not start. At all. It being a public holiday I couldn’t get any technical support on the phone until the Wednesday, as Tuesday was the Anzac Day holiday. I was told it was the motherboard. I could pay $700 to extend my warranty so that someone would come and fix it in my house for “free”, or I could buy a new one. As the laptop is just on 3 years old, I didn’t see the point in throwing good money at it. It’s my third laptop and they just don’t last longer than 3 years.

And, of course, I had my backups.

I am currently using my netbook (or mini laptop/notebook) while waiting for my new laptop to arrive. I shopped around and eventually ordered a custom-built Dell which has a higher resolution screen than the standard off-the-shelf laptops. I usually only use my netbook for research trips and I regularly synchronise all the documents between it and my laptop, so recent versions of all my documents were already on it.

Backups

I use an online backup service called Mozy that backs up everything I use often without me having to remember to do it, including my Outlook mail file and my family tree databases. My mail file has 10 years of emails from family, friends and clients, and I would hate to lose them. Because my mail file is backed up to Mozy every night, I only lost a few hours worth of emails that had arrived on Good Friday after my backup ran the night before.

Mozy also backs up my family history databases, documents and photos every night, as insurance. I can easily download one or all of the files if I need to. I would hate to have to download 20GB of files at once, but it is very comforting to know they’re there, and to be able to download a single file that you deleted or corrupted by mistake.

I store absolutely critical files that I am constantly working on in Dropbox. Dropbox is a free service that allows you to store up to 2GB of data on the internet and automatically synchronise it with your other computers, or those of friends. I keep PowerPoint presentations and handouts for talks in Dropbox, as well as my thesis, so that there is a backup created automatically as soon as I finish editing and close the file.

I also use two separate external hard drives to back up absolutely everything – my family history research, my client files, my photos, music, and everything else.  I use synchronisation software called GoodSync to keep all these files up to date. I also use GoodSync to keep my netbook synchronised with my laptop.

So all my data is backed up.

What is missing from my netbook, though, is software.

Software

The version of Microsoft Office I use on my netbook does not include Outlook, so I can’t receive or send emails that way. I can receive all new emails by setting Gmail to pick them up for me, but I don’t have access to any of the previous ones. And I have to remember to copy any replies to my own email address, so that they will all be in Outlook when I eventually get it going. Emails are much easier to deal with if they are all in the one place so I can see the history of a conversation.

I have a backup of my accounting database but no software to run it on. I have the software on a CD somewhere but my laptop doesn’t have a CD drive, and even if I were to install it I can’t activate it without my registration key, which is in an old email in Outlook.

You see my problem? I am in limbo until I can run the software.

To make matters worse, I started using my husband’s laptop, which is only a few months old. I copied my email file to it from my backup and set up a new account in Outlook to pick up my emails. I was using Office 2007 and he is using Office 2010, so I had to be sure that I wasn’t going to be able to save my laptop before doing this, as once I was in Office 2010 there was no going back to 2007.

Unfortunately, after a day or two of using his laptop, it starting giving messages about the “imminent failure of the hard drive”. I copied my Outlook mail file back off it, now updated with recent emails, and we backed up everything else just in case. It has now gone off to have a new hard drive installed. It’s still under warranty, which is comforting, but we now have no full size laptop in the house.

So I’ve started playing with trial versions of software. Trial versions give you access to all of the features of the software for a limited time, such as a month or two. A month is long enough for my current crisis! I have downloaded a trial version of Office 2010 to my second netbook, which did not already have any version of Office on it, nearly 700MB. I didn’t want to overwrite the version of Office 2007 that was already on my “first” netbook.

A second netbook, you ask? It’s the original one, that I bought too early, before netbooks had evolved sufficiently to be really useful. It’s got a great high resolution screen and a metal case, but it’s slow because it runs Vista, it gets very hot and the battery only lasts an hour or so. I bought a new onelast early year when the prices had come down and the batteries lasted longer. The old one has been sitting in the cupboard waiting for me to decide what to do with it.

So now I have all my old emails accessible again. I’ve also downloaded a trial version of the latest Quickbooks, my accounting software. I can now see what clients have paid and create new invoices. This will mean that I will have to upgrade my software when I get my new laptop, as I will not be able to go back to the old version. More money!

I’m still struggling a bit with the smaller screen and keyboards on the netbooks but at least I am able to keep working.

Lessons learned

I can’t begin to imagine what a disaster the sudden death of my laptop would have been if I hadn’t had backups of all my data. In the past I had always replaced the old one before it was too late, enabling a controlled transition from the old one to the new one. Not this time!

Here are some lessons I have learned during this ordeal:

  1. If you buy Microsoft Office off the shelf instead of pre-loaded on your computer you can install it on a second, portable device such as a netbook. It’s more expensive but you get two for the price of one. I found this out the day AFTER I ordered my new laptop with Office pre-installed. You may not need Outlook on your netbook, and you will have a problem keeping them in sync if you use it on both computers at once, but it will be there as a backup if you need it.
  2. If you download and install a trial version of Office 2010 on a computer that already has Office 2007 that includes Outlook, it will NOT install Outlook 2010 and it won’t warn you. I learned this from experience on an old laptop that was too unstable to give away when I replaced it and has been sitting in the cupboard. That’s when I went to the old netbook.
  3. Don’t assume that all software you use keeps its files in a place that will be backed up. Some programs keep the data in the same folder as the program, under Program Files, which is not usually backed up automatically. The current version of The Master Genealogist, which I use for my family tree and those of clients, stores its files under My Documents by default, but older versions did not. I have lost my timesheet data because I didn’t check to see where the data was stored.
  4. Make sure you know how to set up your email accounts in a new program in case you can’t go back and look at the old version.
  5. Make sure you know your IDs and passwords to all the websites you use. Most web browsers will remember these for you on that computer, so if you need to start using a different computer you at least need to know your ID so you can ask for your password to be sent to you by email if you can’t remember it.

This blog is usually about research, but I think that backups are so very important that I wanted everyone to learn from my experience.

Backup your data, and have a plan for when you need to use the backups. Sooner or later, your hard drive or something else on your computer will fail.

 

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