Tag Archives: computers

Laptop, Tablet, or Desktop? Google Docs or Office 365? Which technology is best for high school and college?

What’s best for school, a laptop, tablet, or PC?

Heading back to school always feels like a fresh start. And like a new set of clothes, getting a new device just makes you feel good.

But for high school and college students, freshmen especially, the choice of technology can really impact academic performance. The wrong choice can make school difficult or, worse, become an excuse not to do well.

Into the start of the 2016-17 school year, I thought it’s time for an update from previous posts here on the topic. The technologies haven’t changed much, but there are more options — and most importantly, more affordable ones.

Here for previous posts on the best technology for school:
College bound: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac?
The Best Computers for College: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac pt 2

What has changed significantly, though, is the “cloud.” Continue reading

The Best Computers for College: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac? pt 2

Choosing technology, especially deciding between laptops, desktop, and tablets is not getting any easier.

The reason: they’re getting to be all the same! 

In my post a year ago, College bound: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac?, I analyzed the best bet for your college computer purchase. I hoped that students and parents would weigh carefully between laptops, tablets and desktops, as each has specific advantages and disadvantages. I measured price, utility, usefulness, and durability. Given the number of readers on that post, I’m hoping it has led to one or two more informed purchases. Continue reading

Do your grades Spring forward or Fall back?

clocks_MH900430829Beware the Daylight Saving! Sleep, rhythms and grades

My wife has long held a theory that life gets more difficult for students when the clock changes every November. The early sunset makes it dark and dreary, and the change itself messes up our daily rhythms and internal clocks. Well, it’s true. Check this out:

End of Daylight Saving Time can mean headaches for some

For some, the end of Daylight Saving Time means an extra hour of sleep. But for others it can mean a headache. Doctors say the time change can cause cluster headaches that can last as long as eight weeks.  The portion of the brain that triggers these headaches also controls your body’s rhythms.  Slight changes can throw off the rhythm, which can also happen when you switch time zones.

Yeah. Researchers have now also affirmed that join pain can predict the weather (How Your Knees Can Predict the Weather: Granny was right: Scientists find link between achy joints and the forecast) and that intuition is rational and often works (Moms know best: Doctors say ‘mother’s intuition’ is real).

Human beings, it seems, weren’t invented along with Edison’s light bulb or Al Gore’s internet. We’ve been experiencing and adapting to time, weather, seasons for, well, for a long time.

With the end of Daylight Saving (here for the Book of Knowledge, I mean, Wikipedia, entry; oh, and it’s “saving” not “savings”), we’re moving the clock back to the “normal” time that is supposedly lined up with the path of the sun. Actually, time itself isn’t made up by humans, but we need some way to measure it, thus sundials and clocks. High noon literally means when the sun is at it’s highest point in the sky, so that means that high noon is different across time zones. High noon here in Washington, DC, isn’t the same as high noon in, say, West Virginia, even though both are in the same time zone, both showing 12:00 noon at the same time.

Time zones were created by the railroad industry in order to coordinate train schedules across places with different actual times. So these, essentially, arbitrary “zones” were created so that passengers and shippers could know that the 5:00 am train from New York that arrives in Chicago at 7:00 pm New York actually took 14 hours, even though it arrived at Chicago at 6:00 Chicago time. Confusing enough? The point is that it’s all made up.

We could leave the clocks alone, but in order to interact with different places, we kinda need to know what time it is there. I think we should all just be on the same time, but that would mean that, if morning in New York is 5am, then morning in London would be a midnight, which would mean we’d have to change midnight in London to Noon. People would still get up when it’s light, or go partying when it’s dark, whether that’s 4:00, 16:00 or whatever. Instead, every local time follows the sun, with morning being morning by and midnight at midnight on the clock.

The reason for it is that humans need sleep. And when we mess with sleep, well, bad things happen.


Sleep is a fundamental part of those “cycles” of life that we experience on this planet. We go around the sun every time the earth spins 365 and a quarter times. And during every one of those spins of the earth we experience a certain amount of sunlight. Since the beginning, human beings have followed these natural, physical patterns of the earth and sun. A fundamental interaction to it is sleep.

Then along comes Thomas Edison and his light bulb. Now we can get more than a flickering flame to light our streets and homes, and we can remake the natural clock of the earth. A cost of this defiance of time, is sleep, and it can really mess with people. Please check out this site from the NIH: Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep, which explains the importance of sleep, its rhythms and cycles and some of the harm in messing with it.

Sleep and Grades

I write all this to remind our students that sleep matters, and sleep can make or break your grades. Adults are always telling kids to “get some sleep,” and kids are always rebelling against that advice and staying up late. So many of the students in our program tells us about sleep issues: have too much home work to do, can’t get off the computer, and then falling asleep over homework or in class.

Sorry, kids, the science is working against you on this one. Electronics mess up your sleep cycles, the “need to text” or Tweet misplaces your priorities and cuts into your productivity. There are a thousand websites with advice on this, but please know you are impacted by your choices. Just this week, here’s another warning about how electronics can destroy a child’s sleep

Pediatricians Set Limits on Screen Time: The American Academy of Pediatrics’ New Guidelines on Children’s Use of Internet, TV, Cellphones, Videogames

Parents should ban electronic media during mealtimes and after bedtime as part of a comprehensive “family media use plan,” according to new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The influential new guidelines are being spurred by a growing recognition of kids’ nearly round-the-clock media consumption, which includes everything from television to texting and social media. “Excessive media use is associated with obesity, poor school performance, aggression and lack of sleep,” said Marjorie Hogan, co-author of the new policy and a pediatrician.

It may seem like parental nannying, but are you sure it’s not hurting your grades?  Yes, sleep does matter. Please be aware of your habits and needs, and please do what you can to make them match.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Forecast cloudy


Alright, I did it. I moved to the cloud. All of my working files now float upon the ether.

In my case it’s Skydrive with 75 gig for documents and photos. I have 25 gig personal and another 50 gig for business. I haven’t moved my music collection there yet, although that’s probably going soon, although with 90 gig of music, I’m not sure I want to pay for it.

Meanwhile, my desktop has a 1.5 Terrabyte drive, which is standard these days. So why am I on the cloud?

It’s all about syncing and sharing

I can now access all the same data on my phone, my laptop, my tablet, and my desktop. I no longer have to go running to the one file that’s on one machine. Moreover, from the Cloud I can choose to share anything with anyone. No more clogging up emails with huge attachments, no more flash drives that I’ll just lose. This is cool stuff.explorer-skydrive_screenshot

I use Skydrive because it integrates seamlessly with my Windows explorer, which I use to manage all my documents. You can see in this screenshot how my Window Explorer program treats Skydrive as if it was just another folder in my computer. I can move, copy, open, search, etc., all the regular functions

Do note the bottom indicator, “available online only” — for that’s the risk we take by riding the Cloud. More on that in a moment.

Cloud storage is NOT a backup system (for that see Carbonite, among others). With Cloud storage, such as Skydrive, if you delete a file on one device, it will delete across all devices, since you are actually managing files on Skydrive and not your local machine. However, Skydrive puts all deleted items into the Recycle Bin in order to retrieve it if you need a deleted file back.  If you are using Win 8, FileHistory will backup your Skydrive files automatically. Be sure to enable this function.

Offline issues

If you know you will be offline, you can download your Skydrive files easily from the skydrive.com site. Click the files or directories you want, and right click and select “download.” Multiple files will be placed into a single zip archive which you can put wherever you want. If you have regular, automated backups, you can always access those files through the backup system if you can’t get online. These solutions are hardly ever needed.

Working, open files are actually managed on the local machine, so if you know you will need a large file where you won’t have good internet access, just open it on your machine and take it with you. You will work with a cached version, and it will sync properly when you’re back online. What I do is open the files I know I will need and go from there.

Other Systems

Applie has iCloud, Google has its Drive, and there are other 3rd party solutions, such as DropBox (see here for comparison and here for Microsoft’s comparison). My preference, when using a Windows machine or MS Office on another operating system, is to stick to the Microsoft products, as they always integrate better with Office and the core Windows functions.

Will you ride the Cloud, too?

I’m afraid you will, if eventually. You probably are already up there with your cell phone to one degree or another, or if you use Kindle, Amazon, or Netflix. Netflix is essentially cloud management of movies, and it works beautifully so long as you keep up your account. As I wrote earlier about software makers pushing users from ownership to rental, the same thing is happening with the Cloud. It’s not a bad thing — the advantages are overwhelming, especially as we all start to use more and different devices for the same things (emails, photos, documents, etc.). But it will cost. Most Cloud services give away a good amount of initial storage, say 5 or 10 gig (Skydrive gave 25gig to Win 8 users), but you will need more, and it will cost.

Be ready for it, that’s all I can say. I don’t see the need to sync all my music across all devices, so I just move my playlists to the Cloud and keep the bulk of what I don’t usually listen to on m desktop and backups. Xbox, btw, has excellent sharing features across devices of locally stored music. I haven’t figured it out yet, but it’s worth a look.

While the Cloud is here, don’t short PC hard drive makers such as Seagate (all time stock high) yet. PC and laptop sales are down, but they’re not going away. And, somebody’s got to store all the Cloud data on huge machines that Seagate will make. The Cloud means more data storage not less, more functionality, not less.

As always, let me know your questions and thoughts.

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Bundle this! Bloatware, viruses and other computer pests

computer-sick_MH900141055Don’t want it, never asked for it, and it’s bugging down my machine… except, oops, I didn’t uncheck that little click box…

At our student support service, we spend an awful lot of time cleaning up computers that are virus-ridden and otherwise so slow as to drive kids just to walk away from them or compel parents to give up and buy another computer. By definition, anything that runs on your computer that you 1) don’t want; 2) don’t need … is a virus.  Do you know what’s running on your computer?

A malicious virus will hijack or destroy your computer, but by my definition a program you don’t want and didn’t ask for is a virus. Happens all the time. If you are in better control of your machine, that dreaded “circle of death,” your computer’s groan and moan that too much is going on at once, can largely be avoided.

Two very common programs are a common source of these viruses, and, yes, I will call them what they are, viruses: Java and Flash, brought to you by two monster tech companies, Oracle and Adobe. Here, try out this little poll to see if you have been victimized by these punks:

When updating Java or Flash on my computer I inadvertantly installed

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Here’s how it works:

Flash Player downloader screen shot. All set, or are you sure about that?
Note how the Google “free” toolbar offer is pre-selected. Not ethical, and user beware.









Did you unclick the already checked check box? Hmmm… Okay, repeat after me:

“I [state your name], will never again NOT UNCHECK the little already-checked box that installs third-party programs when updating or installing programs that I want.”

See here for more on this, truly, unethical practice by these major companies: Java scam: How Oracle and Ask profit from sneaky add-ons: Every time users update Java, traps in the program try to trick them into installing useless toolbars and add-ons.  And, of course, if Oracle and Adobe do it, so do others. Just about every little downloaded program follows this ugly practice. All you can do is BE CAREFUL and stick to your oath not to accept anything without unclicking the check boxes.

Cure worse than the disease?

So, if a virus is a program that does things we don’t want, don’t need, and make us lose control of our computers, what, then, are those programs that are supposed to defend us from these dangers themselves dangers?  Nortan, McAfee, AVG, etc., act themselves like viruses, taking over our computers at random, slowing everything down, and just getting in our way.

Equally obnoxious are the bloatware programs that come with Windows laptops and PCs from sellers such as HP, Sony, Acer, Samsung, and so on. These makers try to “add value” to their Windows machines by pre-loading them with various programs, especially those from our friends, the anti-virus viruses. I once restored a Windows 7 computer to original “factory” state and couldn’t believe how slow it became, because all those programs I had deleted were running again. Jeez.

So what’s running on my machine?

All you know is that the damned thing is slower than when you first got it. Without expertise, it’s hard to really know what’s happening, but there are a few easy tricks you can pull to speed things up. Try these:

  • Control your startup programs
    Win 8 Task Manager. Notice how I have most startup programs disabled. I have Adobe reader enabled because I use it all the time.
    Win 8 Task Manager. Notice how I have most startup programs disabled. I have Adobe reader enabled because I use it all the time.
    • Win 7: type into the “Run” section above the start button: msconfig.sys
    • this will bring up “System Configuration” window
    • select the “Startup” tab
    • these are the programs that are set to load automatically when you boot up your computer.
      • most new program installations set themselves to start automatically, which you do not need
      • if you need the program, great, but usually you can get all the functions by running the program occasionally instead of loading it at startup every time.
    • Programs usually have a “settings” tab that includes “Run program at startup”  De-select this unless you really want that program every time you run your computer.
    • Win 8 makes it easier to control. Search and select “Task Manager” and you will find the “Start” tab there now with a list of all the programs that are set to run.
  • Manual updates
    • programs such as Flash and Java want to update themselves.
    • I always select “manual” update so that I know what is happening on my machine and to keep these programs from re-setting themselves to run at startup.
  • for the expert: “Processes”
    • In addition to startup programs are “processes” that run automatically.
    • Knowing which processes are valid, which are needed, and which are unnecessary is more complicated than just keeping a program from starting up. Here’s a quick article on Win 7 processes.

Some programs that are really helpful for resolving problems include:

  • Malwarebytes
    • Download it for free and you can run occasionally, always, or only when you are concerned about something.
    • It’s a very lightweight, easy to use and powerful program.
    • It will find ads, malware, and some bloatware from legitimate program installations. You can pick and choose what you want it to destroy.
  • Sophos Anti-Rootkit
    • I found this program recently when trying to clean a student computer. Nothing else could find the problem, which was an imbedded “root” virus.

Catching a cold

When you really get in trouble and your machine has a virus or has been hijacked by span operators (here for Has Your Computer Been Hijacked?”) you need to get busy.  Again, going back to our definition of a virus, when your machine is doing something that you don’t want, you have a virus. In my experience, the Windows Defender program along with the Windows firewall is sufficient to protect Win 7 and Win 8 machines. (XP has more vulnerabilities). If you want the extra defense, go with the commercial anti-virus programs — which I don’t like.

If you do have a virus, you need to get busy:

  • Most anti-virus software will identify and remove the virus.
  • System Restore: Win 7 and Win 8 machines can be reset to an earlier date:
    • be sure to have “Create a restore point” option on
    • go to “restore to earlier date” to put your Windows operating system back to where it was before your problem started.
    • System restore will not delete any user files, only new programs and other system settings that have been changed since the Restore date.
    • you will need to run Windows Updates again after you have restored to an earlier date (which can take a while, 1-2 hrs sometimes).

Not Catching a Cold

Above all most viruses and bloatware get on your machine because you clicked on something. Here are some ways to avoid it:

  • Browser protection
    • use default security settings in Internet Explorer, including Active-X filtering
      • If the website doesn’t load, use another browser
    • Use different browsers for different purposes and sites
    • Mozilla has an excellent protective addon called NoScript, which lets you choose the “scripts,” or commands that a website runs, one by one. If you are browsing a “dangerous” (ahem) website, USE THIS PROGRAM.
    • All browsers have vulnerabilities, so BE CAREFUL!
  • DONT’ JUST CLICK on email links or program downloads.

    Microsoft's phishing symptoms page offers this example of a fake link to entice user clicks. Note how the name of the link is different from the actual link. BE CAREFUL!!
    Microsoft’s phishing symptoms page offers this example of a fake link to entice user clicks. Note how the name of the link is different from the actual link. BE CAREFUL!!
  • Hover your mouse over or right click the link to see what the real location of the link is. “Phishing” scams pose links as a legitimate website but have a link to a different site that can run malicsious scripts on your simple click.


Apple has largely avoided these problems by containing its operating system and browser to its own rules. But that makes the Apple OS expensive and limited in functionality. Microsoft is very, very aware of these problems, which is a big part of the new system, Windows 8. The older systems, XP and Win 7, are easily compromised by legitimate vendors of equipment and programs, which the Win 8 “app” style avoids. You can now add all these programs as apps without compromising your entire operating system.

Above all, be aware!  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you are having trouble with your machines. You can’t get done what you need to do if your tools are working!

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.