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Low Cost, Fresh Start

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In the new year, many of us will carefully consider new purchases. Prices, particularly for new technology, will drop. Still, this may not be the best time to go on a spending spree. Not to worry. “Not new” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stuck with the “same old.” A bit of forethought and judicious tweaking can give you that fresh new feeling sans splurging.

Clean Your PC

Recall one truism about computers: It’s the software, not the hardware. You don’t have to buy new hardware since even a three-year-old computer will do a great job running your usual set of programs. Simple upgrades, such as a bit more RAM memory or a larger hard disk, can do wonders. It’s the software and how it’s setup that largely determines your user experience.

Over time, a computer accumulates a lot of cruft (from installing and uninstalling software) that slows it down. Cleaning out these debris will improve performance, and often make an old computer feel as zippy as a brand new box. You can even try installing a newer, faster operating system such as Linux, but for now I’ll resist getting up on my open source soapbox and stick to advice for Windows.

There used to be a time when reformatting a Windows setup was sheer torture. While it still takes  considerable effort, two things now make this much easier. One is the availability of large, detachable USB hard disks for backup. You no longer have to shuffle multiple CDs, simply plug in the USB hard disk and Windows treats it like any other drive. With lower hard disk prices, it isn’t expensive to get one that is as large as (or even larger) than your currently installed hard disk. This takes care of your storage/space requirements. After finishing your Windows re-installation, you can continue using the detachable hard drive for conveniently moving data around, backups, and even for storing critical data that you can then conveniently lock away in a fireproof safe.

The second advantage is Microsoft’s “Files and Settings Transfer” (FaST) tool, which has been available since XP came out. You may or may not want to save your current settings, but if you do, this tool makes it easier to backup your custom settings along with your data.

Simply search on the FaST Wizard to find several guides on how to use the tool. Two things to watch out for: Make sure you make copies of all your data, particularly those files that you may have stored outside the default My Documents folder. It’s also best to use the same version of the FaST wizard software for both backing up and restoring. One way to do this is to make a copy of the FaST program on a USB flash drive.

Clean Your Phone

It’s not just computers that could benefit from a bit of spring cleaning. Today’s upscale mobile phones also tend to accumulate cruft that slow them down. You can have bits and pieces of programs littered all over the phone’s memory, duplicate numbers or simply too many old SMS messages that you never deleted.

Most modern phones will allow you to save your settings to a configuration file that you can copy to a memory card or even a computer. Nearly all will have software that will allow you to backup at least your “Contacts” and “Calendar” directly onto a computer.

Syncing your phone with a computer will allow you to reset your phone to the original factory settings and restore your data. Also, while your Contacts and Calendar data are on a computer, you may want to edit them there. This is far more convenient than editing info directly on the phone. Another advantage of going through this exercise is that you will now have a backup of your data in reserve should you inadvertently lose your phone or wish to easily transfer data to a new one.

Clean Your Car

Aside from refreshing your computer and phone, you may also want to do something about your ride. Hopefully you haven’t skipped regular oil changes. But aside from an ordinary car wash, a mini-makeover may be a good idea.

After a tuneup and a check of other mechanicals, tires and such, a good detailing job can do wonders for the feel of your wheels. Various auto-detailing shops will have their own trade secrets. I spotted a bottle of vanilla extract at my friend’s shop, and it wasn’t for his wife’s baking business. Rather, he says it enhances that “fresh from the showroom” scent for German cars.

Lest we get too engaged with our gadgets and forget, there’s also the opportunity for refreshing relationships. If you want to give a fabulous bouquet but are too busy to browse a flower shop, you can always do it the techie way by browsing www.islandrose.net. You can order well in advance (with a sharp discount) and still have the flowers delivered exactly on Valentine’s or any other day of the year. Happy refreshing!

Print ed: 01/09


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