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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 4 Issue 7July 2010
In This Issue
"Automatic" doesn't mean what you think
Staples reduces its "ink rewards" from $3 to $2 per cartridge starting July 1, 2010
Microsoft discontinues its Bing cashback program on July 30, 2010
Watch out for the word "automatic," especially when it relates to anything involving your computer. Here's my advice on how to handle this tricky concept.

"Automatic" doesn't mean what you think

It's perfectly understandable, not at all surprising, even endearing and full of hope. Unfortunately, it can be wishful thinking and sometimes it's quite misleading. I can't tell you how often a client will ask me if something on the computer is "automatic," and I have to explain that it's usually not that simple.

What it usually means
When it comes to computers, "automatic" typically means that some action or process should occur without the need for you to do anything, assuming the proper conditions are in place.

For example:
  • When you turn on your computer, many programs will be run before the computer is ready for you to start using it, including antivirus software, firewall software, and other behind-the-scenes services that enable your keyboard, mouse, printer, and internet connection to work.
  • If you leave your computer on and just walk away, after a certain amount of time your screen saver may start, or your computer may "go to sleep" to save power.
  • At a prearranged time of day on certain days of the week, your antivirus scanner, backup software, or software update program may start.
  • When daylight savings starts or ends, depending on your timezone settings your computer's clock may "spring forward" or "fall back."
What it doesn't mean
"Automatic" sounds great, but because computers aren't perfect, there are a number of potential catches:
  • Unreliable: The given action may never occur, or not occur every time it should.
  • Imperfect: If the given action starts, it may simply fail to do its job.
  • Poorly configured: The given action may do something different than what you wanted.
  • Silent: You may not see any indication if it worked, or if any of these problems occurred.
More examples
  • "My online backup service runs automatically all the time, right?" Probably, assuming that the software is installed properly, your account with the company is in good standing, your internet connection is working, your computer is on, the software is not backing up more data than your account can hold, and that it's backing up what you want and skipping what you don't want.
  • "My external backup drive comes with 'automatic' backup software, so it will always work, right?" Such backup software is very easy to use because it assumes you only want to back up certain folders. If any of your important data is located in any other folders (which is quite likely), that data won't be backed up at all, but you won't discover this until it's too late.
  • "My antivirus software will automatically scan my computer for viruses, right?" Many antivirus programs are set to do their full scans every day at noon by default. This doesn't work for everyone. I had a client who only turned her computer on between 10 and 11 p.m. after the kids were in bed, so a noontime scan would never be able to run. Another client was always in the middle of his work at noon, so moving that scan (which made his computer sluggish) to the evening made his workday much more productive.
A better way to look at it
I often find that "scheduled" is a better word than "automatic." For example, "your backup is scheduled for 5 p.m. every day, assuming that the computer isn't off, your external backup drive is plugged in, there's enough room on the backup drive, and some other unforeseen glitch doesn't prevent it from running altogether."

Where to go from here
  • Question anything that says (or implies) that it's "automatic." Don't just trust that everything will work as you hope it will. Be a nosy, pushy consumer.
  • If some "automatic" process is important to you, learn more about it, how to help make sure it occurs, and how to confirm later not only that it ran, but also that it ran correctly.
  • In particular, avoid backup software that does not let you specify what does and doesn't get backed up.
If you know someone who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!
Staples reduces its "ink rewards" from $3 to $2 per cartridge starting July 1, 2010

Starting July 1, when you bring your ink or toner cartridges to any Staples store for recycling, the amount they will credit towards your Staples Rewards account will be reduced from $3 to $2 per cartridge.

The other elements of the "ink rewards" program haven't changed:
  • You can still recycle up to 10 ink or toner cartridges per calendar month and earn rewards. (If you spend $1,000 or more at Staples in a calendar year, you automatically get upgraded to Premier status, which lets you earn ink rewards on up to 20 cartridges per month through the end of that year.)
  • If you bring in more than 10 cartridges in a given month (20 for Premier members), they'll still recycle them, but you won't earn rewards on the excess cartridges.
  • Staples will send you an ink rewards coupon (separate from any other Rewards coupons) a few weeks after the end of the month you recycled the cartridges.
  • There are no brand restrictions. They accept any brand of ink or toner cartridge.
See http://www.staplesrewardscenter.com for details.
Microsoft discontinues its Bing cashback program on July 30, 2010

Microsoft has announced that the last day to earn cash back on Bing purchases will be July 30, 2010. To encourage redemptions, starting July 31, Microsoft will waive the minimum $5 payout. The Bing cashback system will remain active through July 30, 2011.

My most consistent experience with this program has been to get 8% back on all purchases I've made on eBay for fixed-price items ("Buy It Now") purchased using my Paypal account.

See http://www.bing.com/cashback and http://www.bing.com/shopping/pages/faq.aspx?scope=cashback for details.
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2010 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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