Power, Safety & Comfort



Character Building For A Fivrr

You’ll know you’ve made it to triple A-List status when you get to make a guest appearance on The Simpsons, Family Guy or Futurama but the waiting list is apparently quite long so most of us will never make it. Not to worry, there is a way to get a taste of what it might be like by having an artist draw you, or your family as your favourite cartoon characters, and prices start at just £3.00. It’s all thanks to a US website called Fivrr, which is populated by all sorts of talented people, including graphic artists, animators, writers, actors, voice-over artists, models plus hundreds of other skills, all willing to sell you their service, with a starting price of only $5.00. The standard is amazingly high and for a character drawing all you have to do is send them a photo, and the $5.00 by PayPal and in many cases you’ll get the finished image emailed back to you within 24 hours. For a little extra they can customise the drawing, add extra figures, logos, backgrounds and so on. You can frame it, use it as an avatar or icon for your games or social media, give one as a present, or pretend that you’re a personal friend of Matt Groening…



Relax, Or Else…

Or else you will probably go mad, or blind, or both. The fact is we all spend far too much time staring at our screens and the simple fact is, it’s not good for you. The general advice is to take a break every so often, but hours can pass without you realising so what you need is a gentle nudge, to stop what you are doing, stretch your arms and legs, have a cup of tea or coffee, go for a pee… you get the idea. Here’s a simple way to get your PC to do the nudging, it’s a free Open Source utility called Pause4Relax, and at intervals of your choosing the screen goes dark (semi transparent), with the message ‘It’s time to relax’. It’s up to you to decide how long the break is, and there is the option to ‘skip’ the break and add 5, 10 or 15 minutes to the next interval. There’s an optional audible alert, progress bar to show time remaining, and it’s very light on resources, it’s portable and you don’t even have to install it, though you can set it to start automatically with Windows. You can feel those shoulders starting to stiffen, so what are you waiting for?



Sounds Relaxing

If you are back to work and feeling stressed after all of the festivities there here’s a nifty little freeware called Sound Valley. It runs in the background, playing a series of restful, nature-themed soundscapes that include singing birds, wind blowing through the trees, a stream in the forest, rain and thunder, and the seaside, in the night or during the day. It is very subtle, though it is highly configurable and you can wind it up, or suppress loud sounds, but at normal listening levels you’ll be so relaxed that the only danger is you’ll drop off… Even the control panel is discrete, and this lets you set a sleep timer and reminder it’s semi transparent and takes up very little screen space, or system resources.



Crap Zapper

New computers are great, apart from one thing, they come stuffed full of pre-installed crapware. They’re all the ‘free’ trial programs, promotions, limited time offers and utilities installed by the manufacturer or retailer and they can be a real pain, with a constant stream of popups, reminders and requests for your credit card details. Getting rid of them can be a real pain, and some of them just won’t go away without a fight. So here’s what you do. As soon as you’ve unpacked your new PC, set up Windows and your Internet connection, download and install a freeware utility called SlimComputer. You decide how aggressive, or conservative it is, which pre-installed programs end up in the bin, and which ones are disabled (just in case you change you mind). Not only will your new PC have more room, it should also run a little faster, and without all that unnecessary stuff hogging your resources it may even be a bit more reliable.



Simple Shutdowns and Timed Tasks

From the things-you-didn’t-know-you-needed-but-now-can’t-do-without department comes a small freeware program called KS Shutdown. The name says it all, well, almost all, because in addition to automatically turning your computer off a time of your choosing, it can also be set to send it to sleep, restart, lock the screen or carry out a preset action, like download a file or play media. All in all a really useful little program, very easy to use and hardly any bother as it can be set to run in the background and get on with its tasks with a minimum of fuss and bother. Well worth the price of a 10 second download.



IE Best Of The Battery Bashers

Here’s a handy tip for laptop users. Switching to a different browser could give you an extra 20 minutes of battery running time. The intrepid whitecoats at Lifehacker have been putting the most popular browsers to the test, but this time it wasn’t speed or performance they were concerned with, but power drain. And guess what came out on top? None other than clanky old Internet Explorer. The test, which used a standard battery test program, pitched IE against Chrome, Firefox and Opera on a laptop with a new installation of Windows 7 and was repeated three times to iron out any inconsistencies. Top of the pile was IE9 with an average running time of 104 minutes, Opera came in second with 100 minutes, Firefox managed 92 minutes but Chrome ran the machine dry in just 85 minutes. Obviously results will vary from machine to machine but if your battery light is blinking, and you need to squeeze a few more minutes browsing, then switching to IE could just give you the extra juice your looking for.



Site For Sore Eyes

Here’s something for all of you out there going goggle-eyed staring at the screen in front of you. It’s called Eyes Relax and it’s designed to help you avoid eyestrain by reminding you to take a short break at regular intervals. These can be long or short breaks and you decide what appears on the screen, it can remain blank, a single colour, or your favourite restful image. It’s very flexible, allowing you to specify independent short and long breaks, there’s a choice of notification sounds and even a password-protected parent mode that can be used to force your little mites to take a break from gaming, social networking or whatever else it is they get up to in the bedroom with the computer…



Drain Brain

Until someone invents a better battery we’re stuck with the curse of the laptops running for a fraction of the time claimed in the specs, and it’s all downhill from the day you first start using it. When you’re running close to empty the traditional power meter is no use, all it tells is very roughly how much time you have left, and on some machines it is very rough indeed. What you really need is some way of telling what applications are sucking up all of your precious juice. Presenting the PwrDrain Gadget it shows, in real time via a nifty analogue meter display, the current power drain on your battery, so you can quickly tell which program or application is killing the battery. Just watch the needle go up and down as you switch on Wi-Fi, vary the screen brightness or plug and unplug your USB sticks and very soon you’ll have your machine fine-tuned to give you the longest possible running times.



Time On Your Hands

Unless you happen to be a Time Lord, then like the rest of us, time is a mysteriously slippery substance that you never seem to have enough of, and have no idea where it all goes. Normally there’s not much you can do about it but you can take charge when you are in front of your PC with a little utility called TimeSheet. You’ve probably already figured out what it does from the name but if you’re feeling a little slow today, essentially it logs everything your do on your computer. Everything from opening an applications and creating documents to playing Solitaire. This is especially useful for those where time is money and indeed anyone who needs to bill for the hour, or day, or are just curious about how they spent their day. It can create reports and spreadsheets, and it’s really easy to use, which means more time for you and less time spent working out how much time you’ve spent doing stuff, if you see what I mean…



Assault On Battery

Laptop manufacturers are notoriously optimistic when it comes to battery running times, and as you know, battery capacity declines rapidly after just a few months use. So just how accurate are those battery meters? Not very is the simple answer and if you really want to know how bad it can be then download and install this little freeware utility, called Battery Eater. This puts your notebook or laptop battery a very thorough workout. It disables all power-saving options and puts it under the sort of load that it’s rarely going to have to endure in real life, but it’s a very good way of determining the minimum running time. Once completed the program provides you with a set of benchmarks so you can keep track of your battery’s performance and hopefully, provide you with a timely warning that it’s time to get a replacement.



Stretch and Go

How long have you been sat in front of your PC screen? If you are anything like me you’ll have no idea, it could be minutes, hours, or days, time just flashes by, but you’ll know all about it when you stand up… You really need to take a break every now and again, if only to have a stretch, grab a coffee and give your eyes and fingers a rest, but who is going to prod you into action? Big Stretch RSI Reminder, that’s who. This simple to use little freeware program can be set to flash up a message at pre-set intervals, maybe a little something you’ve put together like ‘Hey dummy, get up and walk about for five minutes’, or some handy tips on how to avoid repetitive strain injury (RSI). The alert can be non-intrusive balloon window  -- or intrusive – slap bang in the middle of the screen, and there’s an option to disable the alerts when the PC is idle.



Timely Remote Switch Off

Let’s suppose that you are in the middle of a monster download, and you have to go out. You have two choices, you can leave your PC running and switch it off when you get back, which probably isn’t a problem if you’re only going to be out for a short while. Or, you can stop the download and restart it when you return. Neither scenario is terribly attractive but now there’s a third option. Install a freeware utility called  Airytec Switch Off and you can set it to automatically shut down or hibernate your computer at a preset time, when the CPU is idle and the download has finished, or here’s the clever bit, shut it down remotely from another PC on the network, over the Internet, or from your cellphone. It runs from the System tray, either as an installed application or a non-installed portable app and it works happily on all versions of Windows from XP onwards. It’s small too; the full install download is just 187kb.



Sonar Saver

I am a big fan of applications that make clever and unusual use of a PC’s hardware and Sonar Power Manager definitely ticks my boxes. It’s basically a way of putting your laptop into a low power/power save mode when you are not using it, and the way it does that it is to use a form of Sonar. That’s right, it’s based on the technique submarines use to detect the presence of underwater obstacles and other vessels. Your laptop’s speakers send out a hopefully inaudible tone and if there’s anything in front of the screen moving around  – i.e. you working – the sound is bounced reflected and picked up by the computer’s microphone. It’s really easy to use and simple to configuration as it sends out a series of tones to establish the so-called ‘presence threshold’. It definitely works, but… Not all laptop speakers can handle ultrasonic tones. Two out of the three we tried it with weren’t able when meant that they emitted a rather annoying whine that you may find difficult to live with…



Be Good To Your Battery

And with a name like Battery Care, how can you afford to ignore this little freeware application that tells you things about your laptop battery that you never thought to ask. It keeps a running check on your battery’s condition by recording charge/discharge cycles and a specially written algorithm works out when a full discharge is needed, to keep it in tip-top condition. Based on what it learns about your battery the program calculates running time left and such things as life expectancy, power consumption and even the name of the manufacturer. If you like it can optimise your power management settings and it can also help to configure such things as Vista’s Aero graphics and other power hungry services. Finally, as an added bonus it displays CPU temperature.



Eye Saver

Remember what your mum used to say about watching too much telly, and how it will give you ‘square eyes’ (for those of us who remember pre-widescreen TVs)? Well, the modern equivalent must surely be the danger of developing 1280 x 1024 eyes, from staring too long at a computer monitor. So here, for all you mums out there, and indeed anyone concerned about PC-induced eye-strain, is a little program that reminds, or forces you, to take a break from the computer screen. It’s called Eyes Relax and in addition to an easily configurable timer, you can set it to show a Balloon Tip, coloured blank screen, an image of your choice and there’s a Parent mode, which is password protected and enforces the screen break. It’s free, highly configurable and at just 932kb the download should only take a few moments on a broadband connection.



Peace and Tranquillity from your PC

If you’re a New Ageist, or simply stressed out, then here’s something that might interest you. It’s called Tranquillity and the simplest way to describe it is to think of it as a really sophisticated screensaver, but with the emphasis on sound, rather than images. The acoustic ‘environments’ can be configured to suit your karma and company, and programmed and customized to run at particular times or when the mood takes you. You may find that a busy morning will be easier to bear with the sounds of a mockingbird in the background, or you may prefer to listen to the ocean, or spend ‘A day in the woods’. Don’t knock it, it’s actually quite restful and makes a very pleasant change from the usual assortment of background noises we have to put up with in our daily lives.



Trust Me, I’m in the WOT…

Remember the ‘Circle of Trust’ in Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers? Don’t worry if you haven’t seen those movies, but that was the first thing I thought of when I came across the Web of Trust or WOT. It’s all a bit cheesy, but the principle is sound. WOT is a Firefox and Internet Explorer add-on that tells you at a glance if a site you are about to visit contains anything suspicious or dangerous. Sites are graded with a colour coded traffic lights, green for okay, amber for caution and red for danger and these appear alongside the site when you do a search using Google or any of the popular Search Engines. WOT has rated almost 20 million sites and it’s kept up to date with member feedback, so nothing should slip through the net. If you are concerned about the safety on the net then give it a test run. It’s all free and I’m pleased to report that all of our associated sites get a bright green light!



What Have You Been Doing Today?

I am utterly convinced there is something wrong with the space-time continuum and that an hour actually only lasts around 40 minutes. At the end of the day I’m left with the nagging question, where did it all go? Well, now you can find out, with a free Open Source utility called Personal Task Manager . It is a time-tracking tool and it looks just like the Windows Task Manager. It lists what you and your PC have been up to throughout the day, creating log and summary files, so you can look back over the past week and see how much time you’ve spent really working, taking lunch, or drinking cups of coffee. Come to think of it, it’s also just the job for suspicious bosses – I would check that it hasn’t already been installed on your office PC…



Who’s The Boss? You Are, Instantly…

Work you dog!  If you are a slave to your PC it’s time to take back control, or at least, control how your PC controls you, as it were… Let me explain, This little program, called Instant Boss is basically a timer that you program to tell you take breaks at pre-determined intervals. You can also program how long the break lasts, and how many times each day it happens. At the appointed time a little message pops up on the screen, accompanied by the sound of a cup of tea being poured and you can click the Take a Break button, and the break timer starts. There’s also ‘Work a Little Longer’ and ‘Skip the Break’ buttons. At the end of a break you will be told in no uncertain terms to ‘get back to work’! Now, do as you are told, install this program!



Take Solace in Good Health

If you have health problems, and especially if you do a lot of travelling, you may be concerned about what would happen if you were to become ill whilst on holiday or a business trip. Here’s something that could give you some peace of mind. It’s called Solace, and it’s a free PHM or Personal Health Manager program. It’s a set of forms that you fill in with all of your vital statistics and health details, medications you are taking, allergies, details of any chronic conditions or diseases, surgical history, physical condition, diagnostic reports (EKG, MRI etc.), and if you like, details of your will, power of attorney, directives in case of death etc.


The information is encrypted, password protected and stored securely on your PC. There’s an option to print it all out so you can keep your records with you or, for an annual fee of $19.95 it can be uploaded to a secure web server where, with your permission and passwords it can be viewed by any doctor or medical practitioner with a web connection, should you become ill when you are away from home.



Recharge Your PED

A PED, in case you didn’t know, is aircraft industry jargon for a Passenger Electronic Device, in other words MP3 players, cellphones and organisers. As anyone who has travelled long haul knows, one of the worst things that can happen is your MP3 player battery running out, just as they bring round the first drinks trolley. A small company in California, called Inflight Power has come up with a neat widget that provides you with a useable source of power from the audio jack in your aircraft seat. Just plug it in, wind up the volume on the seat socket and connect your PED to the charger’s USB socket.


It’s pretty slow and charging takes around three times longer than using the USB socket on a PC, but it could be enough to get your MP3 player back up and running for a couple of hours. It works on all types of seat, including cattle class in aircraft, and audio-equipped seats in coaches and trains. In case you were wondering how it works, the device uses a circuit called a charge-pump, which basically uses a capacitor to store the energy in the audio signal – typically peaking at a around 1.5 volts. Over time it adds up all the pulses of energy and converts them to a steady 5 volt DC supply, the same as you get from a USB socket



Travels With My Laptop

It’s that time of year again but just remember that more laptops get lost or die on holiday than at any other time. Sun, sea and sand are amongst your computers worst enemies, so don’t take yours on the beach – you won’t be able to see the screen anyway -- and here’s a few more timely tips to make sure your laptop comes back from holiday safe and sound.


Pack it carefully in a padded bag, and surround that with more padding. Laptops bags are not necessarily a good idea as they prove a tempting target for thieves but in any case never leave the bag containing your laptop unattended. Make sure you have suitable power and modem adaptors and cables for the places you will be visiting, pack a LAN cable as well. If you are going to be relying on a WI-Fi connection practice before you go and make sure you know how to log on to hotspots and access points. Make a note of your ISP’s phone number, just in case…


Before you go backup anything on your laptop that you do not want to lose. Also carry some extra backup with you in the form of large capacity USB flash drive, and keep this separate from the computer at all times, in case you lose one or the other. In some countries customs and security like to see the machine boot up, so leave enough battery power otherwise they’ll have you rooting around for your mains adaptor.


If you are flying long-haul charge your battery when you can. You never know when you’ll get your next chance; there are usually plenty of power outlets in departure lounges. An extra battery is a worthwhile investment if you are going to be doing a lot of travelling, and check with your airline to see if there are any in-seat power adaptors on your flight, and the type of connector they use.



Going on Strike…

Although it hasn’t rained for the best part of a month, I have it on good authority that next week we are all going to get wet. Assuming this crazy weather isn’t too far out of kilter, April showers mean thunderstorms. At around this time of year, for as long as I can remember, I get a succession of emails from people who’s computers and modems have been fried by lightning strikes. There is no cure and in many cases the PC’s a write off and data is lost.


It doesn’t have to be a direct hit, a strike on a nearby power or phone cable is all that’s needed. You might think you are protected because you live in a city or town, the power cables are buried and phone poles all have lightning conductors or you have a surge protector fitted to your power cable. Wrong! Lightning strikes are several tens of millions of volts and a hit on the pole outside your house and puny little anti-surge devices are not going to protect your PC. The only sure way to do that is when a storm is overhead or nearby is to unplug your computer from the mains and disconnect the modem or network cable and wait for it to pass, which usually only takes a few minutes. 



Don’t Just Sit There!

If you are anything like me, sat sitting staring at a keyboard and monitor all day long then sooner or later you are going to suffer from stiffness, aches in the back and neck and probably end up being quite unfit. It doesn’t have to be that way and all you need is a little prompting to do a few stretches every so often, but somehow you never get around to it. What you need is Exercise Minder, it’s a freeware program and at preset intervals it pops up next to the system tray with some simple exercises for you to follow, and useful tips, to keep you moving and hydrated. You can set it to remind you as often as you like, and the pop-up include simple animations, showing you what bits to move, and where to put them. Now, jump to it, hup two three…



Save a Tree With Your PC

Here’s something to think about, if everyone who owned a PC remembered to switch it off when they finished using it, it would save more than 30 billion kilowatt-hours of energy. We all want to do our part to reduce carbon emissions and although an individual PC doesn’t use a lot of energy, multiply it by the several hundred million that are in daily use and it starts to become very significant.


Windows XP has some useful energy-saving tools but this small, free application, called LocalCooling takes it several stages further and shows you how by tweaking your PC’s power settings you can actually save energy, reduce costs and most importantly, help reduce the emissions that are contributing to global warming.


LocalCooling automatically optimises your PC’s power consumption and shows, in terms we can all understand, how many trees and gallons of oil the savings represent. You are also invited to join the LocalCooling Community. Their aim to get 100 million users on board and prevent more than 300 billion kg of CO2 emissions and save over 1.8 billion gallons of oil per year. 



How much Power does your PC Use?

The short answer is it depends. However, one way to get a fair idea of how much electricity your PC uses, and its contributing to global warming, is to consult the Journey Systems Power Supply Calculator. It works by adding up the individual power consumption figures for all of the components in your PC, from the CPU to the CD or DVD drive. The site makes it very clear that the final figure -- designed to help PC builders work out the sort of power supply they will need -- is a theoretical maximum figure and unlikely ever to happen in normal use but it is a useful guide, and if you add it to the power consumption of your monitor you should be able to work out roughly how much your PC is costing your to run.



Computer Keep-Fit

Sitting staring at a computer monitor all day is bad news, health-wise, but if you just can’t spare the time to get down the gym then take a break and try a few simple exercises. Here’s a couple of websites to get you started. Deskercize from the University of California Human Resources and Benefits department has a particularly imaginative selection. ‘Firm your Fanny’ and ‘Seventh Inning Reach and Stretch’ sound quite interesting and fellow workers will treat you with new respect after seeing you doing a ‘Ready for Fight’ workout.


If that sounds a bit too much like hard work then head over to Desktop Yoga with Ellen Serber, and she will take you through a series of exercises to alleviate the strain of working at a computer and help you to avoid Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Apparently it can set you up for a calmer, happier, more productive day, Just don’t fall asleep…



Better Battery Display for Laptops

You may remember a few days ago we looked at laptop batteries, and how to prolong their active lives by maintaining at least 40 to 50% charge. In practice keeping tabs on a battery pack’s state of charge can be quite difficult. You have to ‘hover’ the mouse over the Windows battery meter in the System Tray, and the proprietary battery meters supplied with some laptops vary from quite good to awful. This one, called Power Meter Plus takes all the guesswork out of it. The meter is displayed as clear bargraph on the right or left side of the screen, and it gradually appears, as the charge drops, so it’s difficult to ignore. When the battery is charging the meter gradually fades and disappears as the battery reaches full capacity.



Prolong the Life of your Laptop Battery

Laptop batteries have been in the news recently, thanks to some unfortunate design or manufacturing flaws over at Dell, or Sony (who make the allegedly self-destructive cells). However, for the most part these unsung heroes of portable computing lead rather dull and uneventful lives, until they start to wear out. Unfortunately this is a fact of life and the Lithium Ion (Li-ion) battery packs used in most laptops, and pretty well all portable electronic devices these days, start to deteriorate from the day they roll off the production line, almost regardless of how many times they are charged.


They’re expensive to replace so it makes sense to look after them and the number one Li-Ion killer is heat. For example a Li-ion pack, correctly charged, stored and used at a chilly 0 degrees centigrade loses only 2% of its capacity in the first year and 6% in year two. At a comfy 25 degrees year 1 losses amount to a modest 4 % but leap to 20% in the second year.


Deep discharging (i.e. constantly running the battery flat) also shortens their lives and as few as 100 deep charge/discharge cycles can reduce a Li-ion pack’s capacity by as much as 75.


In short the best you can expect is a lifespan of 3 to 5 years, after which the reduction in capacity will make the battery virtually useless. If you want your batteries to reach retirement age then keep them cool -- don’t store them in cars in summer, for example -- and try to maintain a constant charge of 40 to 50%. If you have a spare swap it regularly with your other battery, and when not in use keep it topped up and store it in the fridge (but not the freezer, and warm to room temperature before using). If you need to buy a new battery take note of the manufacturing date, and avoid old stock.



Watts The Point -- Save the Planet!

Global warming, energy shortages, pollution; these are difficult times for the planet, so how much is your PC and laptop contributing to the problem and how much do they cost to run?


You might be surprised. A typical desktop machine and LCD monitor consumes around 300 watts, so if used for 10 hours a day that would set you back in the region of £10 a month or around £120 a year. That probably doesn’t sound too bad but if you are using a CRT monitor you can easily add another fiver a month to the cost. In fact it’s worth chucking it out as switching to an LCD, which has around half the power consumption, can pay for itself in around 3 to 5 years in saved energy costs alone.


Laptops are quite frugal compared to desktops and assuming that you power and charge it from your home supply an average laptop, used for five hours a day will consume around £20 to £30’s worth of electricity a year.


Of course switching your machine off when it’s not in use is always a good idea, though too many on/off cycles throughout the day can reduce the life of some components. There are savings to be had by configuring your PC’s power profile to shut down hard drives and the monitor after a period of inactivity, that fits in with your working patterns.


If you are curious about which appliances in your home are racking up the bills then why not invest in a wattage meter?



Wi-Fi Travel Tips

You’re probably gearing up for the summer holidays and if you are taking your laptop with you, to try out those exotic foreign hotspots -- and I mean the wireless kind -- then here’s a few things to bear in mind.


Don’t let your defences down, make sure your Firewall is up and running whenever you’re connected (though you may need to switch it off temporarily to make the connection in the first place, just remember to switch it back on). The same goes for your anti-virus protection that should go on holiday with you, and check that it’s up to date if you don’t use your laptop very often. Switch off file sharing, you really don’t want to be sharing your personal and private data with people you don’t know and enable all of your PC’s password protection options, including the one in the BIOS.


Keep your wits about you, be aware of people close by acting suspiciously, laptops are really easy to pinch, it only take a second or two’s lack of concentration and if there’s any sensitive data on your laptop’s hard drive, encrypt it.



SHINE A LIGHT, from Gavin Hatherell
Most computers are usually hidden under a desk, in the dark, so quickly plugging cables in or out at the back means grabbing a torch to see what you are doing. My tip is to use a spare USB socket on the back, and permanently plug in one of those LED lights that come on the end of a bendy wand. They are designed for laptops, to illuminate the keyboard, but work just as well to shine a little in the dark! Just leave it on all the time.




A couple of bright flashes and loud bangs outside my window recently reminded me that we are rapidly approaching thunderstorm season. Every year I hear terrible tales of woe about PCs, hard drives and modems, fried and frazzled by nearby lightning strikes. Hundreds, possibly thousands of PCs are zapped every year but it’s easy to avoid. Firstly do not assume that a storm is too far away to do any damage; they can move at frightening speed. If you hear a storm approaching save your work, shut down the PC and if it sounds like it’s going to pass close by play safe, disconnect the phone/modem and power cables and wait for it to move away. Don’t rely on sockets and adaptors that purport to have built-in lighting protection; a lightning strike on a phone or power cable outside your home will take out just about every piece of electrical and electronic equipment in the vicinity that’s still plugged in.




The last day of February has been designated 

International RSI Awareness Day. As a former sufferer of Repetitive Strain Injury I can testify to the fact that tapping away at a keyboard for hours on end, day after day really hurts after a while. Painful wrists plagued me on and off for almost 10 years but it disappeared in a little over a week after switching to an ergonomic ‘split-field’ keyboard.Here's a five-point plan to avoid RSI:

  • Take regular breaks

  • Ensure your screen is at eye-level and at a comfortable angle

  • Wriggle your wrists and fingers every half hour and try a padded wrist rest

  • Roll your shoulders and sit up straight once an hour

  • If you suffer from back pain try a foot rest and ergonomic chair

By the way, I’m not sure where all these ‘XXX Days’ come from and I don’t think there’s any official co-ordinating body to keep them in check but there’s a daily updated list of notable events at earthcalendar.com. I




I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence but in the past few weeks I have had to deal with several cases of newish laptops that suddenly slowed down or shut down after an hour or two’s use. After half an hour’s rest they’re usually fine, which means that they are overheating. I suspect this has a lot to do with the new generation of high performance processors being shoehorned into ever-slimmer cases, which leave little or no margin for error when it comes to cooling. Typically the overheating problem goes away when the user gives the ventilation slots a blow through with an ‘Air Duster’ (a tin of compressed gas, readily available form PC suppliers and stationers) and this usually dislodges a fair amount of fluff and hairs. Otherwise it can often be cured by not resting the machine on your lap, but if you must then support it on a tray or a flat board to a allow cooling air to circulate more freely.  




There are two schools of thought about whether or not you should unplug a PC from the mains when working inside. Leaving the PC plugged in, but switched off at the socket will ensure that the case remains connected to earth and therefore better able to disperse a static discharge but if the wall socket has been wrongly wired -- and this is more common that you might suppose -- there is a chance that the mains switch and the power supply could still be live. Modern electronic devices are now very well protected against static discharge so I recommend that you play safe and unplug your computer (and monitor) whenever you remove the lid.




If you have an old PC to get rid of don't just toss it in a skip or try to dispose of it with the household rubbish. Computers and most peripherals contain a cocktail of potentially harmful materials and toxic chemicals that really shouldn't be allowed to get into the environment by being incinerated or dumped in landfill sites. CRT monitors in particular need to be handled carefully and can be really dangerous if dropped. Most local authorities now have collection points for computers and electrical equipment at waste disposal sites and if you can't take it there yourself many councils will arrange to collect bulky items for free or a small charge.




Computers can seriously damage your health! Inappropriate seating is a major contributing factor to back pain. If you are going to be seated in front of your PC for more than an hour or so each day get a proper chair. Purpose designed office chairs, with adjustable height and back support are ideal, and they're not expensive.




Make sure your display screen is at the most comfortable height -- e.g. eye-level and that the brightness and contrast are properly adjusted. If you get a lot of reflections on the screen, from bright lights or windows a clip-on anti-glare screen should help.   Don't sit staring at the screen for hours on end without a break. Stand up from time to time, walk around, maybe do some stretching exercises




Keyboards can cause a lot of problems, especially the cheap ones that come with a lot of PCs these days. Fast typists and those used to mechanical typewriters can find the short, sharp keystrokes of a PC keyboard uncomfortable, it can even lead to painful repetitive strain injury or RSI. If you're going to be doing a lot of typing think about buying an ergonomically shaped keyboard. Wrist support pads can help relieve the strain, though if problems persist you should consult your GP.




If you have poor or failing eyesight computer display screens can be difficult to read. If you find the icons and printing underneath too small to read easily try the 'large' and 'extra large' colour schemes in Display Properties. They're located on the Appearances Tab that you can find by double clicking on the Display icon in Control Panel.  While you are there select the Settings tab and try the 'Larger Fonts' size. You may also find it helpful to change the Desktop Area slider to a lower value, especially if it has been set to a high resolution figure (1024 x 768 pixels, for example) and you are viewing it on a 14 or 15-inch monitor. Most word-processor packages have a 'zoom' facility, to enlarge the size of the text display.


A similar set of options is available from the Accessibility Options icon in Control Panel. Double click the icon to open the window. Select the Display tab, then Settings. The next set of options will enlarge the display, with normal black on white text, or the whole thing can be reversed, with white on black characters. Click on display, then check the Use High Contrast box and confirm the changes by clicking the Apply button. Be patient, it takes a few seconds for the display to change.




Here's an optional cleaning job for those familiar with their PCs. Whilst you have the lid off the system unit unplug and reseat the cables going from the motherboard to the disc drives, and remove and replace expansion cards and memory modules. This prevents a condition known as 'contact creep', where cycling temperatures inside the case cause components and connectors to expand and contract, which in extreme cases can unseat plugs and even cause microchips to rise up out of their sockets.  Remember, no plugs, sockets or connectors on a PC should ever require more than light finger pressure, if you have to force it then it's the wrong socket, or the wrong way around.




You can easily change the font and size of the typeface used by Windows Explorer and icon labelling. It's worth trying if you find it difficult to read, you're using an unusually large or small monitor, or you're simply bored with the default typeface. Right click your mouse on an empty space on the desktop and select Properties, when the Display window appears click on the Appearance tab. In the drop-down menu marked Item, choose Icon. You will then be able to select a new typeface from the Font menu.




If your vision is impaired and you are having problems reading web pages there are a number of things you can do to improve legibility. First try increasing the text size of your browser's display. In Internet Explorer this can be found on the View menu. Switching off coloured backgrounds makes a big difference (even if you have normal sight...), this option is on the IE Tools menu, select Internet Options, then the General tab and click the Accessibility button. You can reduce the clutter on web pages by disabling pictures and graphics, it is controlled from the Advanced Tab in Internet Options, scroll down the list to Multimedia and uncheck 'Show Pictures'. Finally, a lot of web pages have Text-Only versions and these are usually much easier to read.

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