- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2001

By now, I trust, the confetti has been swept up, the fancy clothes put away and people are getting down to work. Inaugurations
are fun things don't get me wrong but there's a time to party and a time to get things done.
So, too, it should be with your new computer/printer/whatever that you may have acquired over the recent holidays. While it's not suggested that you stand before your computer and offer it a speech (although, truth to tell, I have said more than a few words to the box of bolts sitting in front of me), there are some procedures you should consider. Even if the computer has already been in service for a few weeks or a couple of months there's no time like the present to take some important, affirmative steps.
Read the manuals. I've said it before, it bears repeating, and it bears repeating one more time still: The best place to learn about your computer is from the printed manuals that come with it. Now, some companies prepare better manuals than others, to be sure, but there's still no excuse for avoiding these.
You'd be amazed, I think, with what a little research and study can teach you about a computer. Even with the tons of automated help and assistance available on line these days both in terms of interactive items on a computer's hard drive as well as via the Internet the paper resource is invaluable.
If you are unfamiliar with some computer terms, grab a copy of the "Illustrated Computer Dictionary for Dummies, Fourth Edition" from Hungry Minds, Inc. (formerly IDG Books), which retails for $19.99. It's a great guide to the high-tech idiom, and you can use it to translate and explain many of the terms you find. Authors are Dan Gookin and his wife, Sandra Harris Gookin. Dan's excellent "PCs For Dummies," same price and publisher, now in it's seventh edition, is another invaluable primer. Information on both books can be found at www.dummies.com.
Write your own manual. Right now, if you haven't done this already, buy a spiral notebook, a pen you can keep with it and station both by your computer and/or monitor. Every time you encounter a unique situation, make notes of what you find.
For some situations, you might want to grab a screen shot, print out the picture, trim it and paste the picture in your notebook as well. On the Apple Macintosh, under the latest operating systems releases, pressing Command-Shift-3 will capture the whole screen; Command-Shift-4 will let you select a given area.
On the PC, my favorite screen capture program remains the $39.95 SnagIt from TechSmith Corp., East Lansing, Mich. (www.techsmith.com). This program does a lot more than just screen captures you can capture a "scrolling" screen such as a spreadsheet or Web page, and there's a text capture feature that can convert what you grab into text, for example. But for ease of use and reliability in taking a screen picture, I have not found anything better.
All this sounds like a lot of work writing out notes in longhand, taking screen pictures, pasting them in. It is a lot of work, until the next time you encounter a problem, or the need to duplicate an earlier activity.
I learned this the hard way once, when I used the handy-dandy "restore" disks supplied by a PC maker to bring my hiccupping system back to a "factory fresh" state. It worked … except I couldn't get the CD writer to load, nor the internal modem to work, and I think there may have been a couple of other hang-ups. It took two days of phone calls and e-mails with tech support to straighten that out; since then, I try to keep good notes.
Manage your system aggressively. You can decide many of the ways your PC operates on your own. You don't have to accept all the software that came with your system or even any of it, if you don't mind getting inside the contraption and rebuilding it from the ground up.
But you can and should take to heart a suggestion made here last July, and that is to get your mitts on a copy of Start-up Manager from Kiss Software, www.startupmgr.com, in Irvine, Calif. This $19.95 program lets you manage the start-up configuration of a PC, a great way to avoid "lockups" and the like.
You also can save money by changing some default settings. If most of your printing from an inkjet doesn't have to go somewhere, or if the "draft mode" is sufficient in most cases, set your default printing for that resolution, and you'll save money replacing cartridges. Use the highest quality settings for when they're really needed.
These are but a few things you can do to inaugurate a better year of computing. It takes some work, yes, and a little effort, but the payoff will be worth it.
Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talkback live to Mr. Kellner on www.adrenalineradio.com, every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., EST.


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