SHCC WYSIWYG Article from March 2013

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This article was written by Don VanSyckel, the club president, as a part of "The President's Pen".  This article appeared in the March 2013 WYSIWYG newsletter.

Clean Your PC and Traveling Data

by Don VanSyckel

The PC has a fan in it to move air through to keep the electronics inside at a safe temperature. Anything with a fan needs to be cleaned occasionally. How often occasionally is, depends on the usage of the device, in this case your PC and the environment it's located in.. The main things I can think of in a house with a fan are the forced hot air furnace, the refrigerator, bathroom exhaust fans, kitchen exhaust fans, and the PC. Your vacuum cleaner falls in a whole different category and generally does not have a fan.

You can deal with the other stuff, Iím only discussing the PC. The fan in most PCs blows out but some models blow in. If the fan blows out take the hose attached to your vacuum and carefully clean around the fan opening with the PC on. If any dust gets knocked in the fan will blow it out. If the fan blows in, turn it off before cleaning around the fan. You wouldn't want to blow any stuff you knock loose into the PC.

If you are comfortable opening your PC's case, open it up and take a look. You will probably find several places where dust has collected. If any of these locations are on any grate, fins, or any other type opening, the dust is impeding air flow and preventing something from cooling as designed.

How much dust is in the environment contributes heavily to the dust deposits in your PC. Even in the same room, having the PC sit on the floor next to your desk is different than having the PC on the desk three feet above the floor. Likewise if the PC is in your wood shop with all the saw dust, I'd be cleaning it more often.

Cleaning your PC won't make it run faster or use less power. Cleaning your PC will extend its life and cause the PC to give you fewer problems which translates to a lower cost of ownership.

On another topic, I have been looking for a way to protect my data when I travel. I always take my laptop with me and there's three scenarios I could see happening 1) the laptop is stolen from the car during a stop while driving or at the airport, 2) the laptop is stolen or attacked at the hotel, or 3) I forget the laptop while moving but not in my car.

When you stop for gas or a meal, you're so glad to get out of the car you don't always take all the precautions you should to cover the laptop or put it in the trunk. At the hotel someone could steal the laptop or they could take it, pop the hard disk out, read through it or clone it, and put the laptop back such that you didn't even know it had taken a trip while you were gone. When you're traveling and going from tram to airport, or the shuttle to the rental car, or a hotel shuttle when you are jumping up at a moments notice and gathering up your several bags and leaping in or out of the bus. Loosing the laptop would be bad enough but loosing the data on it could be disastrous.

I have recently become aware of an open source software package named "True Crypt". This software does remarkable things. It will encrypt your data at different levels and with different methods. The methods I leave for you to read about in the True Crypt documentation. The different levels are 1) a bootable disk, 2) a non-bootable disk, and 3) any amount of data on any disk.

When you encrypt a bootable disk you must supply the password before the PC can boot up. This is good if you really want to protect everything. The disk can not be accessed even if you remove the disk and put it in another computer (unless the computer has True Crypt installed and you know the password.)

When you encrypt a non-bootable disk, either an internal disk or a USB external disk, you can see the disk but you can't read anything on it until you mount the disk. Mounting the disk causes the data on the disk to appear on another drive. For instance one USB disk I encrypted appears on drive Y: when I plug it in. Then when I mount it I choose drive E: and the data is available there.

When you encrypt some data on a disk, the software actually makes a file on the disk that you specify the size of. Then the data file is mounted on a drive. I encrypted some data on my laptop. When you want to use the data you simply mount the data file. From there on the data on the drive is used totally normally as you would any data on any drive.

After I used True Crypt for a while I had a thought, if the encrypted disk is like any disk, what about compression. So I turned on Windows file compression and whamo bango, it was done and worked perfectly. I recommend True Crypt to anyone carrying personal data on a laptop or anyone with personal data on their computer at home. Oh, that's just about everyone. Note, please forgive the technical jargon above, whamo bango, possibly I'll explain this in a future column.

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