Now you know

Whether you want to solve computer problems yourself or enlist the help of someone more technical, you’ll save time and minimize frustration if you know how to do a few simple things.

I’m here to help!

Turn off your computer

That sounds simple and generally it is.

Click on Start | Power | Shut down

That’s all there is to it most days. Sometimes, though, computers don’t start up properly or shut down fully, and you might need to shut down manually.

To do this, press and hold the power button on the computer.

Press and hold that power button like you mean it. You need to hold it down until you hear the computer shut off, and sometimes that can take as long as 15 seconds.

If a technician tells you to disconnect the computer completely from its power source, you need to unplug it from the electrical outlet.

If the computer is a laptop, you also need to remove the battery (unplug from the outlet first!) to stop all electrical current from flowing.

Reboot your router or your modem

You are going to have to do this at some time in your life. Persistent issues with connecting to the Internet require rebooting your router and/or modem as part of the troubleshooting process.

Even if you call your Internet Service Provider for help, you’re going to have to reboot something some day.

Here’s the deal. “Reboot” simply means restart the device. There are geeky ways to do this, but I’ll just cover the easy way here.

First, identify the thing you want to reboot. The router and modem might be two different pieces of equipment, or they might be all one device. Locate your router and or modem. Now, locate the power cord that connects that device to an electrical outlet.

When you’re ready to reboot the device, unplug the power cord. 

(You don’t have to crawl around on the floor; unplugging either end has the same effect. It’s almost always easier to unplug the end of the power cord that connects to the device rather than to the electrical outlet.)

Hold that cord in your hand, count to 30, and then plug it back in. Wait a couple of minutes for the device to come back to life and see if that fixed your problem.

If it didn’t, you can contact your service provider confident in the knowledge that you’ll know how to do this when they ask you to.

Because they will ask you.

Know what operating system your computer is running

Maybe you want to use Google to find a solution to whatever computer glitch is troubling you, or maybe you want someone to help you. One of the things you should know is what operating system you’re running.

The easiest way to find this on a Windows computer:

  • Press the Windows key and the R key simultaneously (WinKey+R)
  • Type winver in the field next to “Open”
  • Press the Enter key

This will open a new window with the information you need. (See this article for other ways.

If you’re using a Mac:

  • Click on the Apple icon in the top left corner of your screen
  • Click on About This Mac

This will open a window with the information. (See this article for more.)

Are you a little more comfortable with your computer skills?

We still need passwords

In a world where you unlock your car by pressing a button, it seems ironic that you need a password for just about everything else.

But you do.

Passwords are not going away any time soon. Even using a password manager doesn’t make them go away. It just hides them.

If you change your email password, you need to change it everywhere.

I often get calls from people who changed their email password “on the computer” and then could not get email on their phones or tablets.

Here’s the thing:

  • You’re not changing the password on your computer. You’re using your computer to change the password that’s kept in a secure area on your email provider’s server.

You’re going to use that same user name/email address and password to access your email from every device. Everything has to match.

Once you change it online, change the settings for your email apps on your phones and tablets, and if you’re using an email program on your computer, change it there.

If you don’t do that, you’re not going to get your email.

Your Microsoft Account password is important. So is your Microsoft Account email address.

If you’re using Windows 10 or Windows 8, you are probably signing into your computer with a Microsoft Account.

A Microsoft account is an email address and password you use to sign in to your computer, and to access other Microsoft products like Office Online, Office 365, OneDrive, Skype, and even to access the Microsoft Store.

It’s the Microsoft version of an Apple ID.

You can use any email address for your Microsoft account. It’s critical to make sure the email address you’re using is one you still have access to. If you forget your password, Microsoft will send a reset link to the address on file.

If you originally used a Telus email and then switched your service to Shaw, you won’t have access to that Telus email.  

If you used a business email address to set up that account and you leave that company, or, if you just started using a different email for any reason, you should update your Microsoft account.

If you don’t do that and you forget your password, you won’t have access to your account or to your computer.

This page will step you through the things you can do. Click on the Set up and manage your Microsoft Account link to make changes.

A browser page will open and might prompt you to sign into your account.

Click on Your Info to change how your name appears when you sign in and to upload a nice profile picture instead of the grey head thing.

Click on Change the email for your Microsoft account to add another email address and remove ones you do not use.

Whatever you do, please be sure to write down the email and password for your Microsoft account. And write down what it’s for.

And don’t forget to use the new information to sign in to your computer, OneDrive, Skype, and Office365 on all your devices.

Take control of your settings

We do not have to accept the default settings for most programs. We can take control of those settings and make our computing lives a lot easier.

Microsoft Edge is still a terrible browser

Microsoft introduced the Edge browser with Windows 10, intending it to be a replacement for the slow, unsafe, ugly Internet Explorer. I’m all for replacing Internet Explorer with something faster, safer and prettier.

For instance, Firefox. Or even Chrome.

But no. Microsoft introduced another clunky, ugly browser, and they made it extremely tedious to change anything about it. As Windows 10 improved with each new release, Edge was dragged along kicking and screaming.

It’s still a clunky, ugly, annoying piece of software. For instance, there’s this question from a long-time reader:

"With the recent uploading of the Creators version of Windows 10, it appears that Internet Explorer has finally become unusable.

"I am plugging my nose, and getting used to Edge. (Do not like Chrome, too many Google things out there as it is)  I was able to set Castanet as my Home Page on startup, but if I wish to go back to that from a browsing session, the home page goes to MSN.

"How can I rid myself of the MSN pushiness?"

It's ridiculously complicated. This usually works:

  • Open Edge
  • Click on the three dots in the top right-hand corner
  • Click on Settings
  • Scroll down and click on View advanced settings
  • Make sure Show home button is set to On
  • In the dropdown box under that, select A specific page
  • In the box below that, type (or paste in!) the URL you want.
  • Click on the floppy disk icon to the right of that box to save your changes

Outlook suggestions are not always welcome

Another long-time reader has an issue with Outlook:

"When I start a new outgoing email in Outlook, I start to type in the recipients address, but after just a letter or two, a multitude of "possible" addresses pop up. The one I was intending to SEND to is usually there somewhere but there are a lot more listed and I'd like to figure out where they came from and how to get them OUT of my Outlook.They actually look like SPAM/HUNTING email addresses used by spammers to "spray" the internet with their crap.

"Is there a way to restrict these "helpful hint" addresses to ONLY my Outlook address book?"

The addresses you see in that dropdown box don't come from the Outlook address book. They come from the Auto-Complete list that Outlook builds from addresses you've used.

I knew how to delete one or more of those Auto-Complete entries, but in researching the answer further I also learned that you can turn off that feature completely! Awesome!

To delete one or more entries:

  • Type characters into the To: field. A list of names/email addresses appears.
  • When you see an entry you want to delete, hover your mouse or use the keyboard arrow keys to select it
  • Press the DELete key, or click on the X

(Most email programs will let you do this. One exception is Thunderbird, which only gets that information from its address book. So, delete the entry (or correct it) there, and it will appear correctly when you start typing the address.)

To turn off Auto-Complete … completely:

  • Click on File | Options | Mail
  • In the Send Messages section, clear the check mark from the box for Use Auto-complete list to…
  • Click on OK

If you want to clear the list out and start over (or clear the list out and leave the feature turned off!):

  • Click on File | Options | Mail
  • In the Send Messages section, click on Empty Auto-Complete list
  • Click on Yes

What settings or programs would you like to control? Send email to [email protected] and I’ll try to help.


No New Year's resolutions

I do not like New Year’s resolutions. This is not a column about New Year’s resolutions. This is a column about things you can do to help you get along with your computer.

I do like that.

Back up your stuff

If something happened to your computer, is there anything on it you would miss? Sometimes the answer is “No.”

Most of the time, though, the answer is “Yes!”

Maybe you have photos you wouldn’t want to lose. Maybe you have email or email addresses that are important. It could be anything. Whatever it is, if it’s important, you need a copy, and that copy needs to be stored some place besides your computer.

I have good news for you. Backups used to be hard, or at the very least, tedious. But now it’s easy and reasonably inexpensive to back up your stuff.

There are different kinds of backups. You can make this task as complicated as you like. But if you like it simple, my advice is to get yourself a Western Digital My Passport external hard drive.

Open the package, connect the drive to your computer, and then install the backup program that comes with that hard drive.

Please note that simply purchasing the hard drive and connecting it to your computer will not accomplish your backup. You need to install the program, do the first backup, and schedule subsequent backups so you don’t have to remember to do backups.

Keep your critical programs up to date

Customers and readers often ask me how to stop those annoying reminders to update things. The answer is:

  • “Update things. Then, things will stop reminding you to update them.”

99.99 per cent of the time, those updates are not there simply to annoy us. They are there for security reasons and for performance reasons. It makes no sense to say, “I don’t do updates because if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Whatever it is, it IS broken. If it wasn’t broken, there wouldn’t be an update waiting for you.

Always do updates for:

  • Your antivirus/antimalware programs.
  • Java. If you’re not using Java, uninstall it. If it’s installed, keep it up to date.
  • Windows
  • Microsoft Office
  • Your browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari)

You might as well update iTunes when it asks, too, because it’s relentless. If I didn’t need iTunes, I would uninstall it simply to keep it from nagging me about updates.

Write down your passwords, and write down what they’re for.

Passwords are not going away, no matter how much we complain about them. Keep track of them.

Are you using any of these: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/306499? You need a better way.

One way is to create and use a system for this, as explained here. Another way is to use a password manager. This article reviews the most popular ones.

And there’s the old-school method of writing down the user name, the password, and what it’s for as explained in this column.

What would make your life easier? Send email to [email protected] and I’ll try to help.

More Getting Along With Your Computer articles

About the Author

The Technology Shaman, Cate Eales, has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible, and fun for over 30 years.

Cate lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric. She owns and operates Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile computer business providing on-site service for home and small business customers.

Cate is here to help you and your home or business computer get along.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with comments, suggestions, or questions.

Computer Care Kelowna

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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