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More favorite computer and Internet things

More things I like and use. The first article is here: Favorite Internet and computer things.

A Notebook Computer

Until this year I had never owned a notebook computer. But now that I do, I understand and appreciate the benefits of portability. When combined with a wireless network, I can sit anywhere in my house and do any sort of computing that I want. The backyard deck and front porch are possibilities, too. Even if the computer was to be totally deskbound, a notebook computer is still nice for its small size.

Today you can get serviceable notebook computers for under $1,000, and if you spend a little more than that you can get a really nice computer with a lot of memory and disk storage capacity, and a nice high-resolution screen for easy viewing. For accessories, I recommend a carry case if you’ll be traveling. I find a traditional mouse much easier to use than the touch pads built into most notebook computers, so a mouse is nice to have. At work I have a docking station and a stand for mine, so each morning I “snap” my computer into its stand, and immediately it’s connected to my office network and other devices, including a full-size keyboard and mouse.

An External Disk Drive

An external hard disk drive is a device about the size of a book that sits on the desk alongside your desktop or notebook computer. It connects to your computer through USB or fire wire connection. Models available today hold from 100 GB up to 300 GB or maybe even more. A 200 GB model can be purchased for under $200.

What’s so important about this type of drive? Backup. Backup. Did I say backup? I find that most people in their homes — and many people even in their offices — don’t have a reasonable level of backup protection for their data. An external drive can easily provide that. Combined with the backup software that might be included with the external drive — or by using a program like NTI Shadow that I use — the external drive can make automatic backups. In the case of NTI Shadow, as I save a file to my computer’s regular internal disk drive, the software also saves it to the external drive. I have the Shadow software configured to keep several generations of my files so I can find old versions if I mistakenly mangle a file and don’t realize it right away.

The portability of the external drive is important, too. You can move it from computer to computer. Or, if you realize something bad is about to happen — say a hurricane or tornado — you can grab it and run.

In the past backup protection like this was usually provided by tape. Today, hard disk drive storage is so inexpensive, and so much more convenient, that these external drives have largely replaced tape for this type of personal backup.

PGP and Whole Disk Encryption

PGP, standing for Pretty Good Privacy, is a method for encrypting data. Whole Disk Encryption is a program sold by PGP Corporation that encrypts all the data on a computer’s disk drive. Many companies have recently implemented a policy that all notebook computers will have their disks encrypted in this way. I have done this to my notebook computer.

What this means is if that someone were to obtain my computer, they would not be able to use the data stored on it. Even if they removed the disk drive and installed it in another computer, they would not be able to use the data. This gives me a lot of peace of mind. I often read news stories that a computer belonging to an employee of (insert name of well-known corporation) was (stolen, lost, misplaced) and it contained records for thousands of (employees, patients, customers). With whole-disk encryption, I do not have to worry about this embarrassment and liability.

Picasa

Picasa is photo management software from Google. It’s free and works very well. I recommend considering it for your digital photos.

Google Analytics

In the past month Google made available a service called Google Analytics. This service provides comprehensive analysis of the traffic a web site receives. To use it you install some Google-supplied html code in your web pages. Then you use the Google Analytics web site to view information about the traffic your web site has received. It’s amazing to me that a service this comprehensive can be offered at no charge.

HTML-kit

HTML-kit is a free html editing program with many features. I recommend it if you want to write html by hand, the old-fashioned way. It’s available for download at http://www.chami.com/html-kit. Optional registration gives extra features such as a table editor.

Copernic Desktop Search

In a recent article Favorite Internet and Computer Things I mentioned how I read many newspapers and magazines in their online versions. I also save many articles using the “Save as ‘Web archive, single file'” feature of Internet Explorer, or sometimes by creating pdf files. (It’s important to save articles, as many publications restrict access to them after some time. For the New York Times, for example, articles disappear behind a “paywall” after seven days.)

The problem, then, becomes how to search through these articles that I’ve saved. I had been using the generally very good Google Desktop Search, but it didn’t index and search the web archive files. Google Desktop Search does, however, allow other to write plug-ins to extend its features, and there were some available to search web archive files. Try as I might, I couldn’t get them to work.

I became aware of and downloaded the free Copernic Desktop Search. It, with a little configuration, indexes and searches web archive files very well. It’s free, and works so nicely that I may investigate purchasing one of their personal or professional versions, which look to offer some promising technology for general Internet searching.

I was able to configure Copernic Desktop search to index all the source code to the computer programs I write, which is a valuable capability.

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