Everyone has that friend, relative or co-worker that is their go-to when it comes to computers. Whether they be the IT person at your school, a Silicon-Valley startup techie or if they just smart enough to know how to program your remote, you have someone that you always call. That person is always happy to help, you hate to bug them but you get flustered by your tech and do not know what to do. If you only knew these 8 things you would have the confidence to troubleshoot your roadblocks and move on with your work. You could still invite your favorite techie out for tea and talk about something other than your tech problems because you have got it down. Read on for an explanation and a chance to learn how to do these initially scary but simple things. They are listed in no particular order and the list is not necessarily complete but will get you well on your way to troubleshooting your own problems like a pro.
I have also included some readily available articles and videos to checkout in case you need more info or the visual. A simple search will return the same videos but there are literally dozens of examples online. Don’t worry about which one is the best, just find what you need to get you over your tech hurdle.
1. How to add a printer on a Mac.
For all of the things that I have learned in my many years supporting tech none of them prove more valuable than dealing with printers. It seems the one appliance that confounds and frustrates most people. They are simple enough machines and most have an LED screen that tells what exactly needs to be done but they still cause trouble. Paper jams are often the culprit and running out of paper is also a frequent cause of trouble. I remember one day when I was working with a student 1-on-1 that needed help and we kept getting interrupted because there was a paper jam or had run out of paper. I would get up and go back and fix it and it happened again and again. It may have been a special day of paper jams, I may have had too much coffee or not enough but I was feeling extra perturbed by the issue and my students’ lack of problem-solving skill during this session. All of my degrees were being channeled into a paper jam instead of helping a struggling student and so I grabbed the paper tray and a ream of paper and walked around to each desk asking and showing the kids how to load the paper. It took me 10 precious minutes to get around the class but once I did I never had to worry about the simple printer troubleshooting again. I repeated this in each of my classes and it was smooth sailing afterwards. If only I had the revelation sooner I could have empowered my students to solve their own simple tech issues and been able to focus on things that were deserving of my attention. Teach someone to fish and they’ll eat forever, right? Sometimes we forget how simple it can be.
Most of the printer problems can be solved pretty easily if we check the same few areas. My words of wisdom would be to check to see if there is paper, read the LED screen, and don’t hit print again if it didn’t print. The techie’s secret solution when a document will not print is to delete the printer and to re-add it. It seems like it wouldn’t work or be an effective solution but for whatever reason the connection has failed and re-adding it allows for a fresh connection and hopefully error free printing. If you knew how to do that then you could handle 95% of the printing issues that you would come across. If none of those steps resolved your issue then you could call your techie to check the networking or failing parts.
2. How to update basic software on a Mac. How to update flash.
I will often come to help someone with their computer and their screen is littered with notifications about software updates. I will mention it and they always respond with “I don’t have the time,” or “I am afraid it will break my computer,” so they never hit update. Meanwhile they have every security hole exposed, adware has invaded and their computer is running slower or they cannot use a feature they heard about on the news. More often than not the issue I came to resolve is fixed with a software update. Updates can be scary and they do occasionally break a feature, so there is some reason for the fear. Major OS changes upgrades can be tricky especially when using special 3rd party software but you can always ask your techie or search the internet for issues with that update before doing it. Once you have decided that you will do it, set aside time at night when you are not using it for it to run its updates and be confident that you are doing the right thing. At that point hitting install is not a big deal because the worrisome part has been taken care of and you can follow the on-screen instructions.
The other update that is crippling when not done is Adobe Flash. There are still so many sites that rely on it, especially in education, that it is hard to ignore. HTML5 is taking over the internet but Flash has its roots dug deep in the fun animations of the internet. Most of the time I would say to just load the site in the Chrome browser but sometimes you need that Flash site outside of Chrome because that site doesn’t work in Chrome. In those cases you need to update and although it is frustrating to have to close down all browser windows, the performance is worth it. There is usually one update a month so this is even more annoying than the others but necessary. Especially before a presentation you will want to have your computer in tip top shape. One trick is to run the Mozilla Plugin Check to see what else might be out of date. If you keep your software up to date and restart your computer once a week you will likely have a smooth running machine.
3. How to backup your phone to your computer.
For the 99.3% of you that have a smartphone, it is a great idea; no a must that you backup your phone. Your phone is likely the one device that fully represents your likes and loves. It has your contacts, email and your calendar of course but more importantly it has your music and photos. All of the apps that you have downloaded so you can do everything on the go are included as well. Backing up your phone preserves all of those things as they are configured. In most cases you can make a backup, smash your current phone into pieces, plugin your new one and be back to the same point in time without a hiccup. I recommend skipping that second step but it is nice to know that you won’t lose everything if disaster strikes and takes your phone as a casualty, while showing the kids your old double-dutch moves on the playground. You can rest assured all your data is safe.
You might think that you can live without your apps and your email and calendar are already online (please tell me they are!) so it is not that big of a deal. Some might also balk at worrying about the photos since they may just be silly or already saved somewhere in email or elsewhere online. The one thing about not backing up your phone that is most crippling, in my experience, is losing contacts. If you are like me, you have every person that you have ever called or has called you saved on your phone simply because you can. Without a backup you have a few possibilities once they are lost:
1) Look through your Rolodex, your saved post-its and business cards and re-enter the countless folks by hand.
2) Start remembering who you know, how you know them, if they should they make your coveted list again and where you can find their info.
3) Panic because you can’t remember anyone’s phone numbers.
4) Start over fresh because the important people will eventually call you again.
It is a horrible feeling not being able to get in touch with anyone. I assure you will make only that mistake once. Now that you have been warned and you fully agree with the need to backup your phone, save yourself the agony by once a week plugging your phone into your computer and following the prompts. Most phones have software that allows for syncing between your computer and/or the cloud so install it and follow the steps. iPhones automatically try to sync with iTunes so that makes it easy if you have one. If you have another smartphone it likely has software to help with this process. If you have a flip phone or your doubt your phone’s intelligence then you may want to make sure you have your Rolodex updated and your Polaroid refills. 🙂
4. How to setup an email signature in Gmail and Apple Mail.
The art of the email signature has greatly improved in recent years. Initially we only shared our contact info but now we have quotes, sales pitches, legal disclaimers and good old-fashioned line drawings. There is plenty of untapped power lying in that little portion at the bottom of every email we send. How do we get to the place where we can wield our new found power?
1. Click on gear and selecting settings.
2. On the first tab, General, scroll down to the signature settings.
3. Type your contact info and anything else you want to share with each email.
4. Scroll down and hit Save Changes.
in Apple Mail,
1. Click Mail in the top left corner of the screen.
2. Select Preferences.
3. Choose the Signatures tab.
4. Click the + button.
5. Type your contact info and anything else you want to share with each email.
6. Drag your newly created signature to all email addresses you want use it with.
5. How to setup a vacation responder in Gmail.
The vacation responder is less popular than the signature but a good thing to know. It obviously responds to emails if you can’t or shouldn’t; when you are on vacation for example. That is nice because you still get all the emails and folks know you are not available to deal with whatever pressing matter they are pressing. You can also set it ahead of time so you don’t forget when you truly have checked out for vacation.
There are some other uses that can be of great help. There is usually an email setup to receive applications for admission or requests from the office. The vacation responder can be used to send an automatic reply thanking them for their submission and letting them know you will contact them with a request for info later. It can used as an auto-responder for lunch orders or yearbook submissions. It can be an auto-responder for anything you want. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and by the number of emails you have access to use. It can also be done in Apple Mail using Rules but it is a bit more involved and would be a good 1-on-1 tutorial for you and your techie.
1. Click on gear and selecting settings.
2. On the first tab, General, scroll down to the vacation responder settings.
3. Select the button for Vacation Responder on.
4. Choose the first date and last date (if needed).
5. Enter the subject and message that your recipients will receive.
6. Scroll down and hit Save Changes.
6. How to backup your files using Crashplan, Backblaze and Time Machine.
We have already discussed backing up your phone to your computer in case of disaster but what would you do if the computer housing your phone backup also was toast? You stand to lose far more if your computer went as it has all the contents of your phone but all of your files of every variety, your software and then some. You are already spooked by the possibility of losing your phone data so you are ready to make the backup of your computer your next priority. Great! There are many ways to backup your computer and the possibilities are endless (maybe another post some day) but the greater lesson is that you do it often and you have a solid strategy. The best example of this I have heard came from one of the folks from Backblaze at a conference. I doubt he was the originator of the concept but I give them at least this credit.
You should have
3 copies in
2 locations with
1 of those being off site.
In simpler terms you have your data on your computer, a copy on a backup drive at the same location and another copy somewhere else in case both of those are destroyed. The on site copy should be a bootable clone of your data so your techie can replace your entire computer without you losing a file, program or anything if your hard drive ever fails. The off site copy should be a cloud version so it is accessible from anywhere and retrievable on another computer if necessary.
A third copy may seem like overkill but imagine your computer and backup are in your bag or your room and they were lost, stolen or burnt. That would be a lot of data gone in a matter of seconds. With a copy off site you at least can regain a good portion of your data if not all. If you are not a fan of the cloud, suspicious or have the digital version of nephophobia you can rest assured that there are reputable companies out there that can serve as your third copy for a small monthly or yearly fee. I wouldn’t just rely on the cloud but is a convenient supplementary solution. Backblaze is great and I personally love Crashplan so just pick one and implement. Both tools can be downloaded from their websites and once installed will handle the rest. You can always refine how they behave but most of the time they are set it and forget it.
If you have a Mac and an external drive then you can take advantage of Time Machine and its ability to make an exact clone of your hard drive and go back in time to retrieve singular files. This is incredibly useful for finding versions of a file or if you just can’t hit undo enough. There are solutions for a PC that you can dig for but for a Mac it is hard to beat Time Machine. If you must SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner would be close behind it.
No matter what you use, decide on your 3-2-1 solution and save yourself the agony of losing everything.
7. How to mirror your screen when using a projector.
The projector is the other antiquated device right behind the printer and the fax machine that is a must for techies to support but causes most of the issues. With the rise of large smart tvs projectors may lose out some of the market but, until the price comes down, the tvs cannot compete. Projectors are still very useful and being installed all over because teachers can show things instead of just talking about them. Projectors are even more handy as integrated with interactive whiteboards. With their heavy use there is still one problem that comes up all the time, “the projector is not showing what is on my screen.” This happens because the display “mirroring” is not enabled. Unfortunately, mirroring is not the default display option. Computers now have the ability to extend the desktop over many screens, like when you see one image displayed across 6 screens at the big box entertainment appliance stores. The programmers must feel that we all have 6 screens at our disposal but since we mostly use one we need to be able to turn mirroring on.
Steps to enable mirroring on a Mac:
1. Click the Apple Menu in the top left of your screen.
2. Click System Preferences.
3. Click on Displays.
4. Click on Arrangement.
5. Click on Turn on Mirroring.
8. Don’t leave a cd/DVD in the drive if not using it.
The jury may be out on this in regard to fact or myth but there is some very sound logic in not leaving discs in your drive when not using them. The warning has always come at the risk of damaging the disc but consider the effect on the computer itself. A computer constantly tries to load a disc in its drive to make it accessible. Think about times where you are transferring data to a disc or playing a dvd. You can hear the disc start to spin and then stop. It starts to spin to access the data and then stops when it realizes it is not being used. It keeps checking to make sure the needed data is active and therefore is constantly starting and stopping. Even if the disc is fine, the disc drive and battery are being taxed. This is even more precarious when a laptop is being carried. The disc could be unseated making the inevitable ejection difficult or at least you have moving parts inside a computer-on-the-move. New computers are built to sense when they are moving so they put at rest all parts and protect itself against data loss. Even hard drives have moved away from a moving-parts design. Hard drives became faster and more reliable without the moving parts of older drives. With all that in mind reduce the amount of moving parts when there is no need. Take the disc out of the computer when not in use and your computer and disc will be so much happier.
Hopefully you are not overwhelmed by the amount of information. You have made it this far and you are all the wiser. Pick one of these and master it before moving onto the next and it will not seem such a daunting task. The more you can do yourself, the more confident you will be in solving future problems. You will have sharpened your system of approach to your tech hurdles and more easily arrive at a solution. Ya you!
Now go make backups of everything and don’t forget to start your computer once a week and all your tech will behave as it should. Have fun!!