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Technology Know-How For Writers

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Technology Know-How For Writers
Editor - Kevin Oxland
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Digital Gremlins
by Kevin Oxland 2000
We’ve all been there at one time or another. Your computer has crashed and eaten your files. A virus has infiltrated your defences and munched its way onto your hard drive and into your files, or your partner has accidentally deleted your directory to make space.
The sense of loss is unforgettable. All those long hours labouring over your keyboard--wiped out in an instant. There are many causes of lost data, but there is only one guaranteed solution--back-up your files.
This article intends to first show you how to protect your files against potential hostility from the Internet, and then provide you with simple ideas on how you can backup your files. Some of the advice may seem obvious, but many of us still fall foul to the lost files and virus attacks. Often writers worry about the cost of an extra hard drive, or some other fancy device to backup their files, often trying to justify it to a puzzled companion who simply doesn’t understand the writer’s world.
Now, we all know the majority of writers reap diminutive funds, so the suggestions I present here should cost little or no money. I’ve also focussed on the PC, but many of the ideas here could also be applied to the Mac users.
Protecting your PC:
The first thing you need to do is protect your computer from email and Internet bombardment. There is no such thing as a one hundred percent full proof method of doing this, at least not as far as I know. Even if you’re not connected to the internet, your files are at risk from software you install (although unlikely), files given to you by friends and others using your computer. I’ve had the latest anti-virus software on my computer, but still got ransacked by the little mites. Below are several applications you can download for FREE that will help you in protecting your PC.
Anti Virus Applications:
AVG is anti-virus software that works as well as any, in my opinion. This will also hook into your email system if you use something like MS Outlook. It will check all incoming and outgoing messages for viruses and tag them to indicate they have been checked.
You can read about it here and download a free copy. As far as I know, this is PC only.
You’ve all seen them. Those annoying little pop up ads that appear on your screen for no apparent reason. Well this free piece of software will attempt to stop all of that. Link below to read all about it and download your free copy.
Ad-Aware combined with AVG and will give you a formidable barrier against those pesky Internet bugs. AVG will automatically keep your virus database up to date when you go on-line, but Ad-Aware requires you to manually scan your system, which is no bad thing considering what you’re getting out of it.
Spybot is an application that will also scan for spyware, adware, hijackers and other malicious software your computer stealthily harbours. Oh – and it’s free.
A quick word about Email:
Golden Rule:
Never open an email attachment if you do not know what it is, or where it came from. DELETE the email altogether and empty your trash can.
There are two ways of reading email. Web mail, accessed through your web browser and is stored on a server somewhere in cyber world. And email that you collect or download onto your computer using a piece of software like Microsoft Outlook, for example.
Web mail is by far the safest, but it is recommended that you have a high speed Internet connection or it can become frustrating waiting for the mail to be displayed. Web mail is generally free, like Hotmail ( or Yahoo mail ( for examples. You will most likely be subjected to advertisements, but if your connection is fast enough, you’ll get used to them and turn a blind eye.
By using web mail, you almost eradicate the possibility of virus attachments because the service provider takes care of it for you. Also, if you have virus protection on your system then this will act as a second barrier against any that may leak through. I would always recommend a web mail account when signing up for things on-line i.e. non-important things like on-line stores, competitions etc. This way, you can delete or change the account should you get bombarded with junk mail--something we all suffer from at one time or another.
Using Outlook to collect your mail is great. It means all your email and attachments are stored locally, on your hard drive. If you use this, only give out your email address to close friends, family and colleagues to avoid possible threats from email attachments.
Backing up your files:
If you back-up your files then this is the best protection against attacks. If your system is attacked and unrecoverable, then you have all of your important files stored in a safe place away from your hard drive. Once you get your system up and running again, you can simply copy them back onto your computer. It sounds simple doesn’t it? Then why aren’t you doing it?
Here are some simple, inexpensive ways you can back-up your files. Documents are generally very small, unless you have images imbedded into them. For example, an 80,000 word manuscript will be around 1.2meg (approx) if you use MS Word.
Let’s start with a few simple ideas that would cost you nothing at all.
Take them to work:
If you work in an office and you use a computer, why not create a directory for your personal files? I know many people who do this. However, I would ask the boss or the head of the IT department for permission first and make sure your files are scanned for viruses.
To transport them, you could email them to yourself. Or you could use a re-writable CD or USB pen.
If you have a web-site, it is possible to store them there, provided your download limit is not too small. Create a directory with an obscure name that nobody could guess, and for added security, another directory inside that one, again with an odd name. Then FTP (File Transfer Protocol) your important files into it. Now they are safe and are being backed up for you by your web space providers at no extra cost.
To keep the files small and for added security, you could compress them using WINZIP or WINRAR prior to uploading them. Word files compress well and WINRAR and WINZIP will let you embed a password onto the file. Perfect!
You can find WinRar here.
It will uncompress Zip files also – oh and it’s free.
You could setup your own personal group on Yahoo and use their file upload system to backup your files. It won’t cost you anything to do this, just a bit of know how. If you don’t want to do that, simply setup a dummy web email account and send your files as attachments, to it. They’ll stay there forever, but remember to zip and password them prior to sending them there.
Yes, you can use your iPod as an extra drive on your computer. That noisy teenager that lurks in the dark corners of your home will most likely have one of these. I’m sure they won’t mind sharing a small portion of that 20 gig hard drive. However, iPods do vary in size, from 512Mb to 60 Gigabytes. The latter is more than enough and you would probably only use 1% of that.
To set this up, simply connect the iPod to your system via a USB a connection (the cables usually come with the iPod). It will show up as an additional drive on your system. Select it and create a directory in the same way you would if you were creating a directory on your hard drive. Then start copying. It’s as simple as that. If you’re clever, the teenager won’t even notice the space missing, especially if you do it when they’re not looking.
I wouldn’t recommend buying one of these for this reason alone, they can be very expensive. But if you want to combine you music listening activities with your writing, or someone in your family already has one, then there is no reason why you can’t hijack a small portion of it for your files.
USB pen:
Now we get into the realms of spending a little money. But it’s worth it, right? I mean this is your life’s work we’re talking about here, even if your partner doesn’t understand why you type frantically at the keyboard for long hours, with little or no return.
The USB connection is the best thing that happened to computers. You can simply plug something into it, while your PC is switched on, and the majority of the time it’ll auto detect the device, particularly if you’re using Windows XP. There really is no excuse not to back up your files.
USB pens are very cheap these days. I cannot quote prices here because they’re different in all countries, but a small 64Meg pen will most likely store all of your completed manuscripts, and some. Not only that, you can use one to transport files from one computer to another, from work to home for example, without the need to burn a disc.
USB pens come in all guises and you can even find them inside watches these days. They also make great Christmas and birthday gifts! A hint in the right direction should do the trick.
Simple floppy discs
Let’s not forget the simple, inexpensive, but slow floppy discs. I wouldn’t recommend these to anyone. They don’t have much space, they’re unreliable, old technology and you will need lots of them. If you want to transfer several small files, less than 1.38 meg, then they’re fine, but I wouldn’t use them as a backup device. The sooner they leave this earth, the better.
These are far more reliable than floppy discs. They’re relatively cheap, but you do need a CD burner in your PC to use them. Most PC’s these days have DVD and CD burners so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The capacity of a CD is probably more than enough for your files, but I would recommend making several copies if you use this method. Also, use a good brand of CD. It really does make a difference.
Additional internal / external HD:
Now it starts getting a little more expensive. But it’s worth it. I use a Maxtor 120Gig external Hard Drive with a USB connection. These can be a little pricy if you don’t have much excess cash, but it will last you forever and you will never need to use any other backup device.
Having such a device has many other benefits too. If you need to re-install your operating system, for whatever reason, just dump the contents of your existing hard drive onto this and you have a copy of it. Also, you don’t need it switched on all the time so the risk of viruses creeping onto it are almost zero, provided you’ve scanned all your files prior to backing them up. Because it’s USB, it’s portable, so if you’re lucky enough to have multiple computers you can easily move it around.
An additional internal hard drive can also behave in the same way, but they can be prone to viruses. However, if you need to format your main drive where your operating system resides, a second hard drive can usually remain intact, thus keeping your files safe and sound.
Other ideas for baking up your files:
-        Share your files between multiple computers
-        Find a back-up buddy and swap files (remember to zip and password them if you want to keep them private)
-        Send them to your email web-mail account
-        Send them to your work email account
-        Print them
Golden Rule:
Always Back-up your files. Never leave it to chance or you WILL regret it.
That’s pretty much it. You now have no excuses not to back-up your files. It takes little time. You can keep your own schedule, once a day, once a week or once a month – just do it!

Feel free to drop our newest Editor, Kevin Oxland, an email about his column at: