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Secrets of Computer Geeks

  • Remem­ber that com­put­ers are total­ly lit­er­al — if you ask the PC to find the file jobs.doc, it won’t find the file jobs.txt. If you ask for jobs.*, it’ll find both of them. And if you’re using a Unix sys­tem, look­ing for jobs.txt won’t find the file if it’s real­ly named Jobs.txt. On a Mac, using Spot­light, you prob­a­bly don’t need to wor­ry — just type in jobs and you’ll find every file with “jobs” or “Jobs” in the title, as long as you saved it in the prop­er fold­ers (doc­u­ments, down­loads, the desk­top, music, pic­tures, or videos, gen­er­al­ly).
  • Nobody knows every­thing. Any­body who claims he does is lying. Some peo­ple know a lot about some par­tic­u­lar thing, but they’re going to need help with some­thing at some point. Don’t feel bad about need­ing help or addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion when your com­put­er is act­ing weird or you can’t get it to do some­thing you need to do. Don’t feel embar­rassed, and don’t let any tech sup­port per­son get away with being con­de­scend­ing. Acknowl­edge your lim­its, work to sur­pass them when nec­es­sary by learn­ing new things, and ask for help when you need it.
  • Be will­ing to learn new things. To be hon­est, I have not found it use­ful to try to learn any­thing tech­ni­cal until I have a con­crete moti­va­tion rather than a vague “I’d like to know more about that some day.” That isn’t true of every­one, but I find it’s true of many peo­ple. Had I sim­ply sat down to learn HTML, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t know it to this day. Because I need­ed to do some­thing spe­cif­ic at work that used HTML, I found it very easy to learn it quick­ly. If you want to learn about data­bas­es, find a use­ful pur­pose for know­ing about them—perhaps you could vol­un­teer to cre­ate a data­base to meet a need of an orga­ni­za­tion with which you’re involved?
  • Don’t mess with things you don’t under­stand. For exam­ple, if you don’t know how to get to the Win­dows Reg­istry, you prob­a­bly don’t have any busi­ness mess­ing with it. Yes, there’s a time to learn about it, but it’s best if you learn about such things after you’ve done a back­up, when you don’t have any kind of time lim­it for get­ting the sys­tem work­ing again if things do go wrong, when you have access to some­one who can fix it if things go total­ly toes up, and ide­al­ly when you have anoth­er work­ing com­put­er on hand so you can research any errors that occur.
  • Plan for prob­lems. Just like you check the oil reg­u­lar­ly in your car, do reg­u­lar back­ups of those files that would be most dif­fi­cult or impos­si­ble to replace if you had a prob­lem. Make mul­ti­ple back­ups, in fact — keep at least one copy at home and one copy off-site, for instance, in the cloud or at your office. I use a cloud back­up ser­vice, Crash­Plan, as well as an exter­nal hard dri­ve. I also copy vital doc­u­ments to Drop­box, and my phone auto­mat­i­cal­ly saves all my pho­tos to Drop­box and iCloud.
  • Let’s talk about phones. If you have an iPhone, use iCloud! Seri­ous­ly — there’s no excuse for not doing so. It’s a no-brain­er. It’ll back up your con­tacts and cal­en­dars auto­mat­i­cal­ly. Then for your pho­tos and back­ing up the rest of your phone stuff, you get 5GB of space free, and addi­tion­al space is $0.99/month for 20GB! Seri­ous­ly, how is that not won­der­ful, for a turn it on and for­get it back­up sys­tem?
  • If you have an Android phone, you need anti-mal­ware soft­ware on your phone, and sev­er­al of them come inte­grat­ed with back­up sys­tems now. I’m not in touch with which ones are doing that now, unfor­tu­nate­ly, because I don’t have an Android phone any­more. But please, please, get and use legit­i­mate secu­ri­ty soft­ware for your Android phone. Stick with down­load­ing soft­ware from the Google Play Store and Ama­zon App Store, but know that bad guys have got­ten stuff onto the Play Store in the past and like­ly will do so again.
  • Win­dows machines crash. The oper­at­ing sys­tem gets cor­rupt­ed. Just expect it. I rebuild the oper­at­ing sys­tem on our PCs at least every six months or so. No, you don’t need to rein­stall Win­dows every time you have any lit­tle prob­lem, but hav­ing return­ing to a clean slate peri­od­i­cal­ly is nice.
  • As beau­ti­ful­ly sta­ble as Macs are, their hard dri­ves can fail just like the hard dri­ves on any oth­er com­put­er can fail. It’s a fact of like. And some­times oth­er things hap­pen — you drop your Mac­Book down a full flight of stairs at school, or your hus­band spills a bot­tle of wine into your beloved Mac­Book Air. (Both real sce­nar­ios from cus­tomers with whom I’ve spo­ken.) You need to plan for poten­tial dis­as­ters, too, and the way you do that is, again, redun­dant back­ups. Crash­Plan works on Macs, too. And for your local back­up, Time Machine is built in to OS X, mak­ing back­ups incred­i­bly easy as long as you have an exter­nal dri­ve. Get one — they’re cheap. Or if you don’t want to both­er plug­ging some­thing in, go for a nice Time Cap­sule.
  • When things go wrong, note the exact error mes­sage and what you were doing at the time. Be total­ly hon­est with any sup­port per­son with whom you speak. If it hap­pened once, say so. If it hap­pened that way three times, say that. If you got dif­fer­ent error mes­sages each time, give the per­son the exact error mes­sages (which you have, because you wrote them down, right?) It’ll help you get bet­ter sup­port.
  • Google is your friend, but you need to know what to search for. That error mes­sage you wrote down is one thing to search for, to see if some­body else has had the same prob­lem in the past and fig­ured out how to fix it.
  • Peo­ple who are snarky when you ask intel­li­gent, appro­pri­ate ques­tions are prob­a­bly inse­cure in their own knowl­edge or posi­tion. When I worked in admin­is­tra­tion, I found that some MIS peo­ple were just plain nasty at times when asked per­fect­ly rea­son­able ques­tions, and some of them would just toss off a non-answer full of jar­gon rather than admit­ting that they didn’t know some­thing. Those peo­ple were a large part of the rea­son that I did learn about com­put­ers. I found that peo­ple who real­ly do know their stuff sel­dom mind shar­ing infor­ma­tion with those who gen­uine­ly want­ed to learn­ing about their areas of exper­tise.