Clean your computer, inside and out

Q: Can you point me to good encryption software for a Windows 7 PC? I need to protect my personal financial files that I will create using Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, etc.) — Jarvis A.

A: Well, it gets complicated. For a long time a program — a free one at that — called TruCrypt was easily the best thing out there. But the folks who created and updated it stopped working on the project and because of that labeled it unsafe. I still use it since — far as I know — the encryption hasn’t been broken and I don’t have a lot to hide. But I can’t recommend it since it seems wrong to recommend that readers use a program that is considered by some to be unsafe.

Now there’s a program from Microsoft that’s good. But it can only be used with Windows 7 Ultimate or Enterprise. So I won’t recommend it. That leaves me with recommending a commercial encryption program from Symantec. I’ve linked the site below:

The downside is that it is $85. But the upside is that if you have trouble you are using the commercial product, you can get help from the manufacturer. I have never used it and most often only recommend something I’ve tried. But that’s why the long answer, explaining why I feel bound to recommend something other than the free product I use.

Q: In your comment to the man who wondered if he could use only an iPad for email and web browsing, you didn’t mention the possibility of using a Bluetooth keyboard for typing. My wife and I like our Windows computers for home use, especially because of the 27-inch size of our monitors and the ability to have multiple programs running simultaneously. However, on trips we take only our Kindle Fire HDX and a Bluetooth keyboard. It’s much lighter than even a light laptop and charger, and with the Bluetooth keyboard my wife can easily write long travelogue emails for our friends. For browsing, the Fire’s Silk browser works very well and we also use Google Chrome. — Jim Colvin

A: Hi Jim, I’ve thought about that with my wife’s iPad. The iPad is small and light and the battery life is really excellent. But since I sometimes need to write while on a trip I’ve thought about an external keypad for the iPad. Maybe I should think about that again. My thinking up to now has been that by adding the keyboard I’ve taken away some of the advantages of traveling light. After all, my wife’s Mac notebook computer is very thin and light. So it’s about as easy to take that rather than carrying a keyboard along with an iPad. But maybe I’m wrong. Your note will cause me to at least consider whether I ought to change how we do things.

Q: Just today, I read with pleasure your column on hackers’ telephone calls. My question to you is how do you get rid of “sponsored ads” on Google? I don’t know how to delete them even though I Googled to see if others knew the answer. — Arlene

A: They are going to be difficult to get rid of — maybe impossible — since Google charges the advertiser for placing them. So they don’t make it easy to deep-six them. I’ll paste in a link that may offer some help: It won’t get rid of all of the pop-up ads, but it will make things better.

I come to you as a hypocrite. Today’s topic is reducing the clutter and confusion inside your computer. And yet I am — at home, back here in the real world — the king of clutter.

I’m such a pig that my wife wants me to move my desk out of the home office since she can’t stand my mess. And downstairs in the room I devote to ham radio — that’s where my wife wants me to relocate — the floor is so littered with boxes, gadgets and cables that you have to hop, not walk, when in that room.

But hypocrite or not, I can guide you through a decluttering and cleaning process that will speed up your computer as well as make it less likely that it will crash and burn. So let’s get started.

First use the tools that are on hand

Windows comes with some free programs that help clean up the mess. The way to reach these tools varies slightly based on the version of Windows you are using. But you’ll find the tools in a folder called System Tools. In Windows 7, for instance, System Tools can be reached by clicking the Start button, clicking on All Programs, then opening the Accessories folder.

You’ll see two small programs that will automatically help get rid of some clutter and neaten up how things are stored. One is called Disk Cleanup and the other is Disk Defragmenter. Simply click them open and they’ll run automatically.

Now add a powerful tool

Think of the Windows System Registry as the world’s smarter executive secretary. It keeps track of all the changes you make in software and hardware. After making changes on a daily basis that secretary can go a little crazy and lose track of things. There’s a terrific free program called CCleaner that will set things straight in the Registry and some other places as well. You’ll find it here:

You’ll also notice that there are for-pay versions. Since the company doesn’t offer technical support with the free version you may find that paying the $25 is worthwhile. Free or for-pay, that’s up to you. But, while the program is really easy to use, some of my readers have complained that — for first-time users — it’s not intuitive. So be sure to read the instructions for using it here:

Once you have installed either the free or for-pay version, just run it following the instructions you faithfully read. I think you’ll find that this program is both powerful and effective — I sure can’t say the same for some of its competitors, including a few that sell for big bucks.

Throw away the junk

Over time you have accumulated a lot of programs that you no longer use and stockpiled music you don’t listen to and videos you don’t watch. Install the unused programs and remove the other clutter that you never use.

Now let’s get our hands dirty

We’ve done some good work so far. But now that we have cleaned out the virtual clutter and dirt we need to tackle the real thing — actual dirt.

A desktop computer, even in the cleanest of homes, soon collects a layer of dust on the circuit boards. That’s because the cooling fan circulates air through the machine pulling in dust that sticks around. So — about once every six months — it’s smart to open up the computer and blow out the dust. You can get canisters of compressed air at most computer and camera stores. Just be sure to read the computer manual — either the paper version or one you find online at the manufacturer’s website — to learn how to open the case. And once inside, ground yourself against static electricity by touching the side of the computer … a jolt of that can ruin electronic components.

Here’s why removing the dust is a big deal. It blankets the circuit board and — like the blanket on your bed — holds in heat. That heat can destroy the components on the circuit board. While you have the case open also check to make sure the exhaust vent for the cooling fan is free of dust.

If you have a laptop or tablet taking the thing apart is much more difficult. Luckily the dust doesn’t build up as quickly as it does with a desktop computer with its big fan. So I recommend that you avoid this job or get a computer tech to do it for you.

I see

You’ll see better with a clean screen. But cleaning a computer monitor has some risks. So spend some time reading these instructions before starting: By the way since your TV is just a big monitor the same techniques can be used to clean it.

Don’t you feel better now that your computer is clean inside and out? You will notice that this cleaning will perk up the machine’s performance. I feel good about all this. Maybe this whole thing will inspire me to clean up some of my own clutter — but probably not.