A PBS mind in an MTV world. Anonymous

Friday, July 13, 2007

Simple Computer Maintenance

We use computers on a daily basis and like automobiles or other machines they need to be maintained regularly for optimal performance. This is a handy guide for Microsoft Windows XP users. By no means is this exhaustive, just some things I follow to keep my machine healthy and updated. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. Granted, some of the older Windows machines and operating systems may not benefit from the suggestions, but it's worth a try. If you need more help on this or other topics, go to Wikipedia or use any search engine, preferably Google. If you have other ideas, be sure to drop a line.

Here, then, are some steps to follow:

1. Space Management: Hard disks prices have fallen considerably over the past few years and you should have a fairly large hard drive. Nevertheless, as we add more and more multi-media content such as movies, MP3s or pictures, our machines get sluggish. Consider partitioning. In my case, I have a 160 GB hard drive partitioned into 2 drives (60 GB primary C partition and 100 GB D secondary). The way to do it is to put the operating system and program files (from installing software) on the C partition and use the D partition for all data. This also makes recovery easier should your machine die (more on that topic later). You only have to do this once or twice when you rebuild your machine or upgrade your operating system. It's well worth the effort.

Another thing to do is to organize your files into logical folders, so it becomes easier to search for your stuff. This also helps later on when you want to only selectively scan folders for viruses and such. By all means use an external hard drive if you have one.

2. Memory and RAM Management: Today's machines typically come with at least 512 MB of RAM, more commonly 1 GB. Nothing kills performance like a low RAM, so add as much as the configuration of your machine can handle or your pocketbook allows.

Associated with this issue of RAM is virtual memory. This is typically a multiple of your memory. To manage this, go to My Computer -> Properties (right click for this) -> Advanced -> Performance -> Settings -> Advanced -> Virtual Memory. Choose Custom. To avoid defragmentation, simply set the minimum and maximum the same. In my case, I've set both to 4095 MB.

3. Disk Management: As you add more and more files to your computer, the way the computer stores the files becomes more inefficient (larger files are spread all over the hard drive) leading to fragmentation and hence slower performance. Use Windows XP's built-in Disk Defragmenter. Go to Settings -> Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management. Click on Disk Defragmenter and follow instructions. Ensure that you are not doing this while working, because it can take 6-10 hours depending on the extent of fragmentation or amount of data. By the way, I do this once a month.

Another useful tip is to compress the files on a regular basis to save space. Go to My Computer -> C: drive (or another drive) -> Properties (right click) -> Click on Disk Cleanup. Ensure that "Compress drive to save disk space" check-box is checked. Again, do this when you are not going to use your computer for a few hours.

4. Security (protection): As we surf the web for all sorts of reasons, we've got to protect our computers from spyware, viruses, malware, worms, hacking and what not. Some simple things to do are:

  • Avoid all web browser toolbars. Some of the providers use this for tracking and also inadvertently employ Trojan horses. More about safe browsing in the next post.
  • Ensure Windows firewall is on. Check this at Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Windows Firewall.
  • Install AdAware, Spybot, Norton AntiVirus (check the exact version and name), ZoneAlarm and PestPatrol (now called CA Anti-Spyware). And, of course, ensure that you run them periodically. There is not a single best product for eliminating all viruses and spyware. Run a combination of them to be secure.
  • Do get CCleaner and learn how to use it. It's one of the best tools out there for keeping your machine clean and also to recover space. As an example, I used it on my nephews' machine and recovered 6 GB hard drive from a machine that was almost full, and of course sped up the machine considerably.
If you have partitioned your disks properly (or organized your data logically), you can exclude the data folders and save some time in the process.

5. Backup and Recovery: This step requires a little bit of experience working with Windows XP, but nevertheless important enough if you need to use your computer for a long time. Of course, if you are already use Ubuntu or another Linux distribution, you are way ahead of the game.

Do not use Windows XP's System Restore. Although somewhat easier to use, it needlessly chews up your hard drive. Use instead something like Norton Ghost, which is superior and has a somewhat steeper learning curve. For brevity's sake, I'm leaving out all the details. You will not regret it.

6. Automatic Updates: Turn off Automatic Updates on your machine. Instead go to Windows Update periodically and download the necessary updates. Use caution though, because you will be updating all kinds of crap. Always use the Custom update option and only update the ones you absolutely need.

7. Startup Services Management: Please refer to CNET or Arstechnica for better suggestions and techniques.

8. Power Management: Do your little to save the environment by shutting down your computer when not in use. Alternately, you can set your computer to hibernate mode so that you can quickly power up your computer without having to reboot.

That's all for now. Be safe and happy computing!

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Trip -- Epilogue

The month-long trip was a terrific experience and I am very happy to have undertaken it. Although the dates on the posts are the actual dates when the travel occurred, in reality I wrote about the trip after my return to San Francisco. I had made notes everyday and these notes I transferred to the blog.

This is an attempt at turning my personal encounters into words and some pictures, and if you found it interesting, so much the better. In fact, I've learned more writing this blog using Wikipedia and Wikitravel websites as references. First and foremost, I'll remember the people I met on my trip. They came in many shapes, sizes, colors and age groups; all were interesting in their own ways. One regret I've is that I wasn't able to undertake this with a companion. As you can well imagine, describing about travel is similar to describing a great meal you had at a restaurant. How do you describe the sights and smells? I guess, you just had to be there.

If you have any comments, go ahead and leave them on the blog itself. As for the friends I made on the trip who may read this blog, good times, good times. I hope we cross paths in the future. Take care.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Seoul -- Day 5 - Annyeng-yo haseyo!

I woke up early (5.30 am), freshened up and returned Matthias' alarm clock I'd borrowed. Just before my departure, I exchanged goodbyes with a few of the house mates and left with my trusty backpack carrying some good memories and leaving behind some good friends. Within a few minutes the bus arrived and with a heavy heart I left Seoul. Man it was such an experience.

The flights onward to San Francisco were fairly uneventful, but with a good book and my trusty iPod the journey came to an end. As soon as I landed in San Francisco, I got to see fat people again! Nowhere in Asia did I find anyone as obese as Americans. Oh well, home at last.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Seoul -- Day 4 -- DMZ

This was my last full day in Seoul, and also the penultimate day of my month-long backpacking tour. The previous night, I had made arrangements with Mrs. Kim to take a guided tour (48,000 won) to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) 50 km north of Seoul. I had an early breakfast and waited for the pickup at 8.30 am. FYI, there are many tour companies that offer this service. Most will have common pickup points in Seoul.

For those that are not aware, the DMZ was constructed along the 38th parallel as a result of World War II and is barely 50 km from Seoul, dividing Korea into North (capital Pyongyang) and South (capital Seoul). The 38th parallel became the de facto border for the Cold War. Almost a million N Korean soldiers are stationed along the DMZ, ready for any eventuality. So, it's easy to imagine the tension that S Koreans undergo on a daily basis. In fact, yesterday, when Matthias and I hiked up to Seoul Tower, we heard sirens blaring around 1.30 pm and all traffic nearby came to a standstill. This was apparently part of the drill S Koreans go through on a regular basis to prepare for a possible invasion by N Korea.

We drove in the van northbound for an hour and in the meanwhile, the guide gave us a good background and answered any questions we had. The drive to the DMZ passed through desolate areas, where little or no economic activity takes place. Mind you, this is one of the most dangerous places on earth today. Needless to say, security was extremely tight especially exacerbated by the recent nuclear bomb trials in N Korea. We arrived at Panmunjeom, where we all switched to official tour buses and had our passports checked. Incidentally, no private vehicles are allowed inside the DMZ. Once inside the DMZ, camera use is strictly controlled.

The highlight of the tour was the entry into the 3rd incursion tunnel discovered on October 17, 1978. There are four such incursion tunnels dug by N Korea, the last one discovered on March 3, 1990. You can enter the tunnels only with a hardhat, and believe me, you really need it. The tunnels are barely 2 meters high (6'8"), bored through solid granite and not always smooth. Visitors get to walk 350 meters through the tunnel and the feeling is indescribable. Very scary and claustrophobic. You see markers indicating places where dynamite was used to blast through granite and in some places the granite is painted over to look like coal. Scary.

Once out of the tunnel, there is a 10 minute propaganda film that's extremely amateurish and crappy. I did not enjoy that at all. Visitors are given a chance to overlook the DMZ at the Dora Observatory and perchance view the wildlife in the DMZ, it having become a haven for wildlife, because no man has set foot in it over the past 50 years. Unfortunately, the smog made it worthless to look through the binoculars or take pictures. The final part of the conducted tour is a visit to the Dorasan train station still undergoing construction. Should the two Koreas reunite, this will become the final station in S Korea to Pyongyang. All pretty tragic. Strangely though, I recalled the elegiac tune in Team America: World Police called "I'm so ronery".

Around 3.30 pm we returned to central Seoul for an impromptu jewelery "shopping" for the tourists. Boring! I returned to the guest house and met Matthias again. After a little rest, we left for another walk through the city, this time to the Dongdaemun market for window shopping and to get a feel for the nighttime activities. The market is huge and very well organized. Each alley had its own specialty such as food, jewelery, meat, seafood, eateries, shoes and utensils. We tried some street food similar to egg foo yung. It was interesting. Later we found a sports bar and grill that advertised chicken (restaurant featuring chicken are rare) and had dinner. We had a bucketful of fried chicken (Korean style) and lots of beer (14,000 won). We enjoyed it. It was, alas, time to return to the guest house and bid goodbye to Seoul. Annyeng-yo haseyo (goodbye)!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Seoul -- Day 3 -- Seoul Searching!

Over breakfast, I met Matthias (Germany) and we decided to explore parts of the city together. He is a painter and has been living in Hanoi for the past three years. It was nice meeting him, since I was able to practice my rusty German. We reached Seoul Station subway and tackled the "Namsan and Seoul Tower Walk" recommended by Lonely Planet. The directions were excellent and we were able to easily reach Seoul Tower. The entire walk was steep and uphill all the way. Unfortunately, the polluted air and the hot weather made the walk all the more strenuous. There was very little breeze and each step made for labored breathing. Along the way, we saw various statues of Korean heroes and a weird mini zoo. I haven't seen a more pathetic zoo in my life. Sad.

After reaching almost half-way up the 480 meter ascent, we decided to take the cable car instead to the peak (5,000 won round trip). Under better weather conditions, we'd have gladly climbed the stairs. We arrived at the peak, where there are a television tower, gift shops and an observation deck. There is a museum for special exhibits as well. You do get a panoramic view of the city, but the smog made the use of the observation deck useless. We stopped for lunch half-way up the peak and had a so-so bibimbap. On the whole, a walk I could've done without.

There was still plenty of sunlight and we decided to check out Namhansanseong (South Han Mountain Fortress) and the adjoining provincial park. From the description, it sounded really interesting. It is located 25 km southeast of Seoul and reachable by subway Line 8 to Namhansanseong station. Its history dates back to 672 AD, when it protected Korea from the Chinese. From Seoul Station it took us almost an hour to reach our destination, having to change 3 times. The directions said we could take any bus in the direction of the fortress. So we took a local small bus and were way off course. We lost valuable time and by the time we reached the entrance to the park on foot, it was getting dark. The park itself is beautiful and has an old-worldly charm to it. Plenty of active Koreans in matched fitness clothing were returning from their hike. If I were to live in Seoul, I would visit this park as often as I could.

Just for kicks, we tried reflexology or zone therapy. Normally you go to a reflexologist, who rubs the soles of your feet in specific patterns. But here, in the park, you simulate that by walking on stones laid in specific patterns. Some stones are sharp, while some are round. I walked barefoot on the stones for a couple of minutes, but couldn't bear it. Somehow, it felt different (relaxing? I can't say).

For my part, I wish we had arrived at the park in time, because everyone we talked to had enjoyed the hike immensely. We aborted our hike and took the subway back to the guest house, because I had to meet Mrs. Kim at 8.00 pm. In the meanwhile, we stopped for excellent pastries and coffee (it's not easy to find a coffee shop in Seoul). I met with Mrs. Kim and made arrangements for a guided tour to the DMZ the following day. After a brief rest, Matthias and I dined at a local restaurant (samgyeopsal with pork). The food was excellent and it cost 12,000 won. What we realized was that local restaurants carry only one kind of meat, beef, pork or chicken. If you can't read or understand Korean, all you can hope for is that you recognize the food by the pictures on display. You place the order in whatever language you can English, German or French or Japanese and pray that they understand what you wanted. It doesn't matter really, because it's an adventure anyway. Well, if you want a wider choice and an English menu, go to a more expensive restaurant. This time around, Matthias was the one inducted into the strange world of soju. Yeah!

Back in the guest house, we met Charles (Singapore) and a new guy, Greg (Australia). We drank more beer and soju and had to call it an early night, because of my trip to DMZ the next day. Incidentally, I had to borrow Matthias' alarm clock; I had none, and I had to wake up early. Vielen Dank Matthias!