A Guide to Regular Tech Care and maintenance Tasks

Many common computer and tech problems that arise could be avoided with some basic maintenance. Here’s a list of suggested tasks to perform regularly.

As a consultant, I usually instruct people on these things whenever I meet with them – providing a personalized strategy that meets their needs.

Daily

If you use your computer regularly, it’s a good idea to have automated daily backups. In many computers these run every hour to backup any recently created or changed files.

When writing longer articles or books that are time-intensive, consider saving frequently using the Save As feature and give the file a name that includes a revision number such as My Great Book Rev 7. Each new version you save provides a backup of the work done so far allowing you to go back in time to a previous version.

A common and sad problem is when people mistakenly select all, delete, and then save their blank document or presentation by mistake. When you save overtop of an existing file, it will be very difficult to recover it.

Weekly

Computers are usually configured to update their software and operating system automatically. However, these updates sometimes don’t happen. For example, if you use your computer for short periods of time, and otherwise have it turned off completely, then the updates won’t happen. Consider leaving  your computer on overnight once a week.

In addition to operating system updates, there will be updates to Java, Adobe software, Microsoft software such as Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), and others. It may be necessary to manually check for updates to these.

There are utility programs that scan your computer for software, check the versions, then check with the provider to see if a newer version is available, but this requires an additional program. Sometimes it’s easier just to simplify life and do a few things manually.

Monthly

Virus Scan. Some people seem to get computer malware quite frequently. Other people can go for years without getting malware. You’ll want to determine how often you seem to be getting into trouble with malware and scan accordingly. Monthly scanning is a good place to start. A program like Malwarebytes protects in realtime and also can conduct scanning. Some malware will remove antivirus software so make sure your antivirus is still installed and actively protecting your computer. 

Backups. Monthly or perhaps weekly, you may want to check and make sure your backups are running. Be sure the external drive hasn’t become disconnected. Perhaps go through a trial run of restoring a file. Even if you have a cloud synchronized drive (like Dropbox, Box, OneDrive or iCloud) it’s a good idea to have a local backup as well. If a catastrophic failure requires restoring terabytes of data, it will go more quickly with a local drive. Also, if you have huge files to backup, that can take a while to upload those to the cloud given that upload speeds are usually 10% to 20% of  your download speed.

Speed Test. It’s a good idea to check your Internet speed on a realgar basis. A clean ad-free way to do this is to go to Bing.com and search for speed test. You can then use the Bing speed test service.

Hard Drive. Checking your hard drive monthly can help you ensure it isn’t filling up to capacity with data. For each person the frequency of this will be different. If you work with video production, this could be a weekly task. For most people it could be done monthly.

Subscriptions. It’s a good idea to have a spreadsheet where you can keep track of various subscriptions for software and services that may be expiring. This could include antivirus software annual renewals. It could include website hosting and domain registration renewals. Microsoft charges an annual $99 fee for their Office 365 subscription plan. These monthly check-ins are a good reminder of when to expect certain fees to be charged. This is also a good time to check your bank and credit card statements for unexpected charges, and when you see renewals coming up, consider cancelling any services you don’t use. Also, make a note of any discount or free trial periods that may expire. For example, Sirius XM satellite radio has a $5 per month offer. When that expires, you’ll start getting charged $16 per month.  

Yearly

Cloud Data. Once a year, it’s a good idea to download all the data that services have on you. For example, you can download an archive of everything stored in the cloud of companies like Google or Facebook. That way, you’ll have a backup in case their systems go down, get corrupted, or get hacked.

Email Archive. Most email services maintain every email  you’ve ever sent or received. These can go back years. You may want to use an email client to periodically copy those emails to your computer. Perhaps once a year, copy all the emails that are older than one year. These could be saved on  your local hard drive and backed up. This would allow you to delete them from the cloud service. So, if your email account gets hacked, the hackers have limited access to all your personal communications. There have been billions of accounts hacked in recent years. Hackers use that information to contact all your friends with spam and phishing emails. They can also get insights into what services you use, where you bank, where you go on vacation, door codes you may have given to service people, and other details about your life.

Passwords. Managing passwords is something that could be done on a monthly basis, but most people are just too busy to commit to a long list of weekly or monthly tasks. At a minimum, it’s important to review your passwords annually. Make sure you have all your login information recorded either using a password management program, or a password protected spreadsheet, or perhaps a bound book. You’ll want to date every entry in your password list. This lets you know when a password was last changed or updated. Keep all the other account information recorded as well, such as security questions. Consider changing your passwords once a year. This could be as simple as adding a unique number to the end of every password. Be sure to use unique and complex passwords for every service you use.

Continuity Planning. If something happens to you, do you have a plan regarding how you want your data and online services to be managed? Once a year, it’s a good idea to review your various online accounts. Choose one or more people to update, maintain, or shut down those accounts if something happens to you. Have a plan for what becomes of your data. For photos, writings, audio, videos, and other content that you’d like to share with family or others, consider having that information  already stored on an external hard drive, or even better, create a personal blog where you share everything in real-time. Then all your insights, humor, wisdom, and so on can be available on the web needing no additional management to distribute. Whatever you decide to do, it’s a good idea to review those plans each year.

Creating a Windows PE Bootable USB Drive

Windows PE is a light version of Windows that you can startup on just about any computer with many benefits and uses such as:

  • Diagnostics. It’s very handy to have for basic diagnostics on computers that are having issues.
  • Linux Computers. If you have a Dell laptop with Linux OS installed, and the BIOS updates for the computer are only available as Windows .EXE program files, you can startup with Windows PE, install the BIOS updates, and then restart to Linux again.
  • Data Recovery. With a computer that won’t startup because of corrupt system files, you can startup with Windows PE and access the hard drive.

Creating a Windows PE Startup Disk

To create your own bootable Windows PE USB flash drive, follow these instructions.

Install the Windows ADK

Install Windows PE

  1. Start the Deployment and Imaging Tools Environment as an administrator.
  2. Create a working copy of the Windows PE files. Specify either x86, amd64, or arm:
    copype amd64 C:\WinPE_amd64
    
  3. Install Windows PE to the USB flash drive, specifying the drive letter:
    MakeWinPEMedia /UFD C:\WinPE_amd64 F:
    
    Warning
    This command reformats the drive.

Creating a Visual User Interface

The Windows PE boot disk described above starts up to a command prompt. You’ll probably want a familiar user interface. A popular one is FreeCommander.

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Source: Technet.Microsoft.comTechnet.Microsoft.com (12 May 2017)

The Four Quadrants of Technology Service and Support

Summary

Whether in a larger organization or as an independent consultant, many technology service and support professionals find themselves performing a wide variety of tasks relating to their work. This document explores four general areas of specialty within the profession of technology service and support.

The Musician as an Example

The musician in a band who loves to perform at live events and record in the studio, will soon discover that the music business also requires bookkeeping skills, marketing talent, customer service experience, and a variety of other supporting responsibilities. The musician wants to just focus on playing music, and let someone else run the business side of things.

Those who struggle with creative talents may do very well with the organizational skills required to run a business, and visa versa. These characteristics are often referred to as people having right brain or left brain dominance. This is why musicians often have managers. These two activities run somewhat in parallel and require that one be in a different state of mind.

Wearing Two Hats

Creativity is sometimes fostered by external factors such as being more relaxed and not being under deadlines. Maybe this is in the quiet hours late at night or early in the morning. During the day, maybe mid-morning or in the afternoon, you’ll find your mind is more analytical and sharp for administrative tasks, and you’ll spend some time on detailed and focused work. Or, for people who are always in one state of mind or the other, you’ll partner with someone who complements your skills and inclinations.

The Two Mindsets of a Technology Professionals

The life of a technology professional is not that different from the life of an artist or musician. A creative mindset is required to develop solutions and improve workflows or procedures. The creative mindset appears to be easily distracted — taking in lots of information, brainstorming, and easily making new conceptual associations and revelations. For technology professionals, an organized, focused, and analytical mindset is also required — to aggregate data into meaningful and actionable conclusions that help attain desired outcomes. Sometimes a single individual can easily flow between creative/distracted and analytical/focused — adjusting their mindset to suit the current needs. Such people thrive with a diversity of demands placed on them. However, most people find it difficult to ‘change gears’ at will. If they are focused on something, a person interrupting them throws them off track and they may loose their train of thought. Or if they are trying to be creative, and then need to prepare a spreadsheet for a meeting presentation deadline, their creativity will be hindered by the stress and shift of mindset. This is why it’s common in businesses to have some creative people and also some business-minded people who collaborate periodically throughout the week, but mostly stay ‘in the zone’ by maintaining the mindset ideal for their work demands and responsibilities.

Based on the two general mindsets that people may be predisposed to (creative or analytical), it makes sense to consider having at least two groups of technology professionals in a business:

  • Analytical. People who mostly find themselves in an analytical mindset will be well suited for the focused and lengthy step-by-step processes required for setting up hardware. They will also do well focusing on administrative tasks, documentation, inventory tracking, system testing, and researching hardware or software abnormalities. Improving workflows and procedures would be another area that is well suited for the analytical and focused mind.
  • Creative. Those needing to come up with innovative solutions may benefit from having a creative disposition. While some disciplined research is needed, one needs a creative mindset to think of new approaches and solutions. At one level, this may involve meeting with people to assess their needs (consulting), and asking the right questions that will help result in innovations that meet goals. Implementation, oversight, improvement, engagement — these will all require a creative mindset to think through every aspect of a project or initiative. On a more granular level, those providing service desk support also need to be creative when confronted with undocumented user support problems and needs. Sometimes it’s enough to just send someone a link to the document that answers their question, but other times a creative mind is needed to solve problems and document the solutions.

Scheduled or On-Demand Workload

The analytical and creative aspects of technology service and support delivery result in two general categories of work logistics:

  • Scheduled. Those engaged in the creative task of consulting or the somewhat analytical task of administration will have in common the fact that much of their work can be scheduled, and scheduled meetings need not necessarily run long. In most meetings, time is allotted to address an issue, and people get as much done as they can in the allotted time. Then a meeting room needs to be vacated, and they need to go on to their next meeting. The creative consultant will meet with people, and discuss their needs, or set aside time in the schedule to work on special projects. There won’t likely be any interruptions in their day.
  • On-Demand. People who provide desktop support for hardware or service desk support when people have usage questions may find that they are needed on-demand. Fixing problems may require unpredictable amounts of time. Other higher priority support needs may arise, causing other request to be reprioritized. Deadlines are more pressing as users are in need of equipment to get their jobs done. Such work demands can be more stressful.

These two different work dynamics aren’t very compatible. In other words, it’s hard to be a help desk provider of immediate support, while at the same time attending meetings (and being on-time). The person who is 100% focused on the delivery of on-demand support can be much more responsive to people’s needs since they are essentially available at any moment (if the need is sufficient). For desktop support, those who are primarily setting up computers can work at their leisure, and setup computers when it suits someone’s schedule. Only when desktop support requires an immediate on-site support response does it require an interruption to one’s day.

The Four Quadrants of Technology Service and Support

Based on the two common mindsets that people have (creative or analytical), and the two types of workload (scheduled or on-demand), we can easily organize four quadrants of technology service and support as shown below.

  1. Consulting (Creative/Scheduled). The consultant can schedule their week, going from one meeting to the next, with quite focused time set aside for creative solutions development and intentional collaboration. They will mostly rely on a creative mindset with a scheduled workload. Having a scheduled workweek creates windows of uninterrupted times for opening up the creative mind.
  2. Service Desk (Creative/On-Demand). The service desk professional needs to be creative and think fast for quickly getting through various support requests. This isn’t the first tier of help desk employees who just read from flowchart telephone scripts or send people links to documentation. This is the higher tier service desk professional who is coming up with the solutions and writing the documentation. They need to respond with innovation when needs arise.
  3. Administrative (Analytical/Scheduled). The higher calling of any director is to be a creative, inspiring, and motivational visionary who leads their organization toward a better workplace with greater outcomes. That role is one that’s largely creative. However, administrators are serving the larger community by organizing, implementing, overseeing, tracking, improving, testing, coordinating, and other tasks. Then they are tasked with aggregating data into meaningful actionable information. Although some ’emergencies’ arise, the administrator can mostly schedule their workload.
  4. Desktop Support (Analytical/On-Demand). Like the service desk professional, the desktop and hardware support person may be called on to respond quickly when hardware needs arise. When equipment fails, it needs to be repaired or replaced quickly. When a computer fails, in an enterprise environment, generally not much creativity is required to get it working again. It’s simply replaced with another system to minimize downtime. If creative solutions are explored, or research is conducted, that’s done after the person has been given a working computer. One doesn’t make the user wait while solutions are researched. So, for the most part, the desktop support person leverages an analytical mindset to methodically and patiently move through sometimes tedious work. It’s important to be detail oriented and focused. A creative mindset would be a detriment if it caused someone to overlook an important step or forget where they were at in a procedure.

Click the chart below for a larger view.

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Four Quadrant Tools and Skills

The tools and skills required for each of the different areas of work mentioned above are different:

  1. Consulting. The consultant will need experience and training in the areas they are advising on. They will need space in their office for meetings, or regular access to a space where they can meet with people. They may need some project management software and skills. It would help if such a person has had extensive experience in the service desk and desktop support areas so their advice is based on real-world experience.
  2. Service Desk. The ideal service desk solutions developer and creativist will be familiar with the full breadth of support calls that come in. They would be well equipped if they have experience as an entry level help desk employee.
  3. Administrative. The ideal administrator would have a good understanding of consulting, service desk, and desktop support areas. This way they can serve the team effectively from a place of experience and knowledge.
  4. Desktop Support. The desktop support person will need sufficient space for their work and equipment inventory inventory. The more space available for efficient inventory of equipment, the better they can serve the unit.

The service desk person need not have the array of physical hardware tools or experience that the desktop support person has. The desktop support person need not have the knowledge of software that the service desk person has. They will go to different meetings and rely on different support resources. However, if one person is trying to serve all these roles, their need for space and tools should be adjusted accordingly, and they would need to attend all the meetings required for the various roles. The consultant and administrator may be in more meetings, and would be unable to provide on-demand response to support needs.

How the Quadrants Work in Real Life

When small businesses grow to become larger businesses, it’s common for additional people to be hired, allowing categories of work to be assigned to specific people who can specialize in a certain area. The first ‘cell division’ would be to have two employees doing the work previously performed by one person. One of the employees could provide the help desk user support and desktop hardware support. The other employee could work on consulting and administration. This split works well because the mindset and logistics are similar, or at least easier to shift between. When a business grows to the point that they can have four employees, then it might make sense to use the four quadrant system for assigning tasks and responsibilities.

After Hours Support

Administrators and consultants can typically schedule their meetings during normal business hours. Desktop support professionals can usually work on setting up new computers, repairing existing computers, and retiring old computers during regular business hours. However, service desk people should be available after hours, or at least during the hours when support is anticipated. For example, with a college or university, meetings, lectures, and other work is typically done in the evening. So, providing support from 9 to 5 just doesn’t serve the real-world support the needs that exist.

Collaboration is Key

Although the four quadrants emphasize the different roles that technology professionals have, there is a need for collaboration and teamwork across these different specialties. This is important to make sure nothing falls between the cracks, and also helps ensure that each group is interfacing with the next group and handing off projects properly.

Equipment and Setup for Online Collaboration

There are a variety of services and technologies available for online collaboration. For example, Skype offers the ability to have video chat with a group, and also share your screen. Services like Zoom.us, Adobe Connect, BlackBoard Collaborate, and Microsoft Lync have additional tools useful for online conferencing and education. Most of these services perform fairly well with a fast computer and fast internet connection. Here are some suggestions for creating the best experience for an online session using audio and/or video with additional features like screen sharing and multi-user participation.

  1. Network Speed. Regardless of the service used, if the Internet speed is slow, the quality will suffer. With most Internet usage, we receive content (such as watching videos or listening to streaming music), but are not uploading content as frequently. With video conferencing, it’s important that your Internet upload speed (bandwidth) be sufficient.
    • It may be necessary to purchase an Internet service package with more download speed than you feel you need in order to get enough upload speed. Usually, for a typical Internet service package, the upload speed is about 5% to 10% of the download speed. If you have a 50Mbps plan, the upload speed might be 5Mbps.
    • Both people at each end of a one-to-one session will need to have this faster Internet service.
    • With conferences that have many people remotely viewing, such video delivery (one to many) is usually handled by a server so you only need sufficient bandwidth for your own connection.
    • Most services can work with slower connections, but the quality may suffer.
    • The best way to check the quality of your connection is to run a test ahead of time.
  2. Headset. People sometimes use the speakers and built-in microphone on their computer for conferencing. This can result in poor audio. The computer can only do so much to alleviate feedback and background noise. So, the instructor / presenter and individual participants should definitely consider a headset. Or, in a one-to-one session both people should have a headset for the best audio quality.
  3. Group Microphone. For groups sharing a camera, getting the best quality microphone is essential. Having a separate high quality USB microphone can ensure that all participants are properly heard at the other end. Using a USB extension cable is important to ensure that the microphone can be placed in the best location.
  4. Camera Person. From the presenter / instructor perspective, looking at an entire group of people in a room and interacting with them sometimes isn’t that ideal. From a distance it’s hard to tell who is talking. Having a volunteer to work the camera helps. Or, alternatively, if people who are speaking can move forward closer to the camera.
  5. Multi-Camera. For larger groups, a multi-cam session might be helpful. This would require two computers be signed into the session simultaneously where the group is. In large auditoriums, sometimes there will be two microphones where people with questions can stand. This is where you’d want the web cams for a remote participant to see the questioners better. If there are breakout sessions at a conference, a remote participant or leader could engage with different groups.
  6. Fast Computer. While usually the Internet is the bottleneck for video communications, it can really help to have a fast computer.
  7. Quality Camera. Using a 720p or higher resolution webcam can be nice. Some systems may be constrained to using 4:3 image size and lower resolution video image anyway, but if the system supports it, the 16:9 viewing angle can get more people in the shot. If your Internet connection is fast enough, it’s possible to have 720p or higher resolution video.
  8. Independent Camera. Laptop computers, and some all-in-one desktops, have a video camera and microphone built-in. These usually work okay. However, separate components sometimes yield better quality results. Having a separate camera and microphone (rather than a single combined unit) can be nice because sometimes the optimal placement of the microphone will be different than the optimal placement of the camera. The camera may be set back a ways to show an entire group, but the microphone should be closer.
  9. Tech Support. Juggling the above variables requires experience and it’s often a good idea to have a technical support person available to help with setup.
  10. Preliminary Testing. It’s essential to test everything out ahead of time so you can make the adjustments needed for the best quality experience. This sometimes means buying additional equipment.

How to Force Quit a Program on an Apple Mac Computer

The chart below shows how to force quit a program on an Apple Mac computer. There are two primary ways to do this. You can choose Force Quit from the Apple Menu found in the upper left corner. Or, you can press the alt/option + command + esc keys on the keyboard to bring up the Force Quit menu. Click the image for a larger view.

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Apple Mac Force Quit Menu

The Force Quit menu is shown below.

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