Sunday, November 22, 2009

Protect your digital files - looking after computer equipment

Strategies need to be in place in societies to protect their computer equipment. Some points to consider:

Implement a policy ensuring that all computer equipment is turned off when not in use, particularly at the end of the day.

Ensure that there are procedures for turning off equipment correctly.

After shutting down equipment, turn off the power point.

It is adisable to unplug computers and other electrical equipment when not in use.

Cover computers and scanners to protect them from dust.

Never have liquids near computers.

Ensure that computer and other cords are kept out of the way of people
* OH&S - people can trip over cords
* a dislodged cord can result in computer or other equipment turning off

Keep up to date with all government regulations

Ensure that equipment is safe
* Check that power cords are not frayed
* Check that power cords are not tangled
* Check that not too many appliances are plugged into a powerboard (might overload system)
* Do not 'piggy-back' double adaptors
* Check that indicators for maximum loads for power boards are visible
* Electrical appliances should be checked for safety each year
* There are firms that test and tag electrical equipment
* Local Councils may be able to provide advice on checking electrical appliances

Power surge devices are available to protect equipment and the power supply

Some power boards include surge protection

Universal power supply devices are available if computers need to be left on for periods of time. The time that they operate during a power cut is limited but for short disruptions to supply they can be useful.

As with telephones, turn off computers during electical storms

Ensure that the building is safe
* Security sytem installed
* Security sytem turned on when building is unoccupied
* Have an arrangement with neighbours to keep an eye on the property and provide them with names of members to contact if anything suspicious occurs
* Ensure that correct and up to date fire extinguishers are available for use
* Ensure that members know how to use equipment
* Contact local fire department for an assessment and information about fire prevention procedures
* A local fire brigade member may be prepared to speak to society members about fire prevention and safety
* Ensure gutters and roofs are kept clear of leaves and other debris to avoid water intrusion and/or threat of fire from embers if in a bushfire prone area

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Protect your digital files - back up your computer (2)

To back up computer files, the files on the computer need to be selected and then copied or sent or dragged to a back-up device.

It is therefore necessary to organise your computer so that the files are in logical folders. You can then easily choose the items that require backing up.

If regularly backing up all the files on the computer it may be easier if all folders are kept in an over-riding folder labelled Data. The Data file would then be copied to the back-up device and stored in a folder noting the date the back-up occurred - for instance Jan 2009, Feb 2009.

Your back up plan may be to back up all files once a year and to have regular back-ups of files that are altered or added to such as databases, scanned images etc. If the database files are kept in a folder labelled Databases and the images are in folders stored in a folder labelled Scanned Images it is easy to select just these folders.

Programs such as some databases (DB/TextWorks), some audio files (Audacity files) etc may consist of a number of files making up the whole. Make sure that you are aware of the components so that if you are copying these files you copy all of the required parts.

Nine files ending in .acf, .btx, .dbo, .dbr, .dbs, .ixl, .occ, .sdo and .tba are needed to form a DB/TextWorks database - for example museum.acf, museum.btx etc. You would need to select all of these files to back up the database.

Backed up files can be stored on another computer but, in some cases, they may only work on that computer if the program that created the files is also installed on the computer.

Programs, such as databases, may also have options to export all or some of the database records or to dump the contents of the database into a file. If there is limited storage on the back-up device this can be a quick way of backing up records. It would also be advisable to have a back-up of the data structure, forms, search screens and record skeletons so that, if necessary, a database can be reconstructed.

Back-ups should be kept on more than one device with at least one device kept off site.

Keep several copies of back-ups before deleting or over riding earlier copies. Number the back-ups by date or numerically - 1, 2, 3, 4 - etc. but make sure it is clear which is the latest version, After a time earlier folders can be replaced by a current one.

At the History Victoria Support Group Seminar Day on Saturday 21 November options were discussed for storing data or computer back-ups off site.
  • Another organisation, such as a local library or neighbouring society, using the same database program may be prepared to keep a copy of your societies, database files on their computer with their database files.
  • Another organisation may be prepared to store your off site back-up copies. It was suggested that, if the contents of the computer were backed up once a year onto a device such as a pocket drive, the device could be stored at the premises of another organisation for twelve months and replaced each year with the latest back-up. Formal agreement with signed forms outlining the conditions would need to be made. Eastern Regional Libraries is prepared to trial such a project. Other libraries may also agree to such an arrangement. Back-ups, especially of regularly used files, new image scans etc, would still need to be made and kept safely between each annual back-up.
  • Word documents can be stored on Google docs or other online word processor. Google docs is also an option to consider if a number of people are working on a project. Versions of documents can be put online and viewed and edited only by those granted permission to access the documents.
  • Files, provided that they are not too large, can be stored as attachments to emails using online email accounts such as Hotmail, Gmail etc. If an email account was set up specifically for this purpose exported database files can regularly be uploaded. Be aware of the size restrictions for attachments. If a file is too large work out how to export the file in sections. Remember that online email accounts may require someone accessing the account regularly to keep the account alive.
  • Include part of your database records in an database. Victorian Local History Database is a database of information items in collections of RHSV affiliated societies not involved in other regional database projects.
  • Include low resolution images in an image sharing project such as Picture Victoria / Picture Australia.
  • Flickr is another option for the online sharing / storage of images.
  • LibraryThing provides an option for cataloguing book collections.

Protect your digital files - back up your computer (1)

A frequently asked question when visiting societies is how to back up computer files.

Much time is spent on computer projects - scanning images, creating databases, preparing publications and displays plus general office files relating to the operation of the society. Backing up these files regularly is important. Computers do not last forever and and there are many ways that data can be lost.

Back up copies should be kept of programs, database files, scanned images, audio and video files, word documents, spreadsheets, electronic copies of newsletters and other publications etc.

Societies should prepare a back up plan at the time they purchase a computer.

Technically backing up is easy to do. The number of devices available to do this has increased and prices are decreasing.

External hard drives hold huge amounts of data and are inexpensive to purchase. A recent check of the Officeworks website showed 1 TB external hard drives available for $149. Other sizes available were 750 GB, 1.5 TB and 2 TB. These devices connect to the computer via a USB port.

Pocket hard drives were also available - 320 GB, 400 GB, 500 GB - at prices between $99 and $129.

USB drives come in a variety of sizes - 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB, 8 GB, 16 GB. The smaller storage sizes vary in price from $10 to $25.

Most computers now have the ability to burn cd-roms and/or dvds which can be another convenient way of storing back-ups on a read only disk or on a rewritable disk.

Other devices that might be used in societies are zip drives, back-up tapes and in some cases, on older computers, floppy disks.

A word of caution: purchase the type of device that will fulfill your back up requirements. Just because a device holds huge quantities of data does not mean that it is the best purchase option. The stability and reliability of some of the larger devices has been questioned.

All of these devices, like computers, can fail. It is therefore essential to
  • use more than one device for backing up
  • keep at least one back-up copy off site

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New operating systems and Windows XP

Most of us have been successfully running programs on Windows XP as the operating systems for many years. Many of us plan to continue to do so. However some people need to or want to upgrade their computers and operating systems.

Three years ago Vista arrived and those who purchased new computers or upgraded discovered that many of their programs no longer worked. In some cases when new versions of programs were installed on Vista the basic program worked but some features disappeared. The Help in DB/TextWorks is one example as Microsoft has decided to no longer support the code on which this feature is based.

If problems occur using Vista to run older programs it may be possible to do so by utilising the XP Compatibility feature in Vista after downloading Microsoft Virtual PC.

The following articles outline the procedure.
Running Windows XP inside of Windows Vista -

Running Programs with XP Compatability in Vista -

Windows XP Compatibility Mode in Windows Vista -

Now Windows 7 is available.

Some versions of Windows 7 also include XP compatibility.

A search in Google for 'windows 7 xp compatibility' provides many posts including the following:
Revealing XP Mode for Windows 7 -

10 reasons why Microsoft's XP Mode is a Big Deal -

An important point to note is that additional memory is required to sussessfully run XP Mode within Windows 7 - at least 2 GB RAM (one reviewer recommended 4 GB).

Additional advice from the PC Rescue website:
Four Reasons to Wait Before Upgrading to Windows 7 -