28 pieces of computing advice that stand the test of time

Encrypt sensitive stuff

Encrypt any file you wouldn't want to share with a thief, including email. My program of choice: TrueCrypt. But don't bother to encrypt the entire drive. Just create a TrueCrypt volume and keep your sensitive files there.

Label your power bricks

Every time you buy a new device, you wind up with a new power adapter. They collect under desks, behind PCs, and in boxes in the closet. It's almost as if they're breeding. It’s easy to lose track of which one goes to which device, and it’s possible to harm your gear by using the wrong power cable. So the first thing you should do after buying new gear is to label the power brick, permanently pairing it with the right device.

Hide those cables

The tangled mess of cables and wires under your desk will only get worse and worse—and you won’t realize how much it bugs you until you finally clean it all up. You can bundle groups of wires by running them through toilet paper tubes, or binding them with pipe cleaners or small bands of Velcro, and then use binder clips to tie the bundled wires to the underside of your desk, or any place where they’re out of sight.

Stay wired when you want to connect

Wired ethernet will always be faster and more reliable than wireless networking. If you regularly do something (for work or play) on your home computer that relies on a constant Web connection, you may be better off using a wired Internet connection. Wired connections are capable of far faster data speeds and are simply not subject to the many factors that can disrupt a wireless connection.

Put your router in the middle

Position your wireless router as close as you can to the center of your home. This action can help ensure that all the wireless devices in your home are within range of the access point. You’ll also find that the signals coming from your router are more likely to reach their destination if the antenna is elevated off the floor a few feet.

Stop thieves

People store gigabytes of vital information on their portable devices, yet they rarely think about protecting their devices from theft. One of the best things you can do is to install a GPS-enabled antitheft program on your laptop, tablet, or phone. If your device goes missing, the software will lock the OS, report the device's location to you via GPS, and in some cases even capture and send some photos of the thief.

Investigate crashes

If your PC seems to crash frequently, the Windows Reliability Monitor (Control Panel > System and Security > Action Center > Reliability Monitor) can help isolate the cause. The utility keeps track of all hardware and software crashes and warnings, organizing them by date. By clicking on one, you can see the full details of what happened.

For gamers: Update your drivers

Confirm whether you have the latest drivers for your PC's graphics and sound hardware. Game developers create their titles using the latest features and functionality in graphics cards. If you’re using older drivers, your graphics card might not be up to the task of rendering the game properly on screen.

Take a screenshot

Save a screenshot (or snap a photo and save it to Evernote) of every weird problem or crash you see. Having an image can help immensely if the problem becomes chronic and you need assistance in fixing it.

Use two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication simply means that logging in to a given service requires two separate forms of authentication: something you know (such as a password) and something you own, typically your smartphone. For example, you can enable two-factor authentication for your Gmail account. Doing so will require you to have your smartphone nearby every time you try to log in to your account so that the service can send you a unique alphanumeric code via SMS, but the arrangement makes it much more difficult for hackers to break into your account.

Change your router's default SSID

The easiest thing you can do to improve the security of your wireless network is to change both the login and the password for your router to unique alphanumeric phrases that only you know. Since finding the default login and password for almost every router on the market is child's play online, leaving your router at the defaults allows anyone to gain access to the wireless network in your home or small business.

Shun 'Free Public Wi-Fi'

The 'Free Public Wi-Fi' network you might see listed on your Windows laptop when you're in various public places is the result of an old Windows XP bug that causes the OS to set up an ad hoc data-sharing network for connected PCs if it can't connect to a trusted wireless network automatically.

Connecting to this type of device-to-device ad hoc network rarely poses any immediate danger, but it won't get you onto the Web, either. And malicious users could spy on the connection and steal valuable information from you.

Say no to cookies

Enable the Do Not Track feature on your browser. This feature will send a message to the websites you visit that it is not okay for them to install cookies in your browser that will record your movements around the Web. Unless you want that to happen, of course.

The best tip of all: Take a break

Every so often, take an electronic sabbatical. Go 24 hours without looking at a screen. It's good for your eyes, and it reduces the chance of burnout. It also reminds you of how powerful personal computers of all shapes and sizes have become—and that thought alone might make everyone a little more tolerant and patient when problems arise.

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