Top Tips




A couple of bright flashes and loud bangs outside my window recently reminded me that we are rapidly approaching thunderstorm season. Every year I hear terrible tales of woe about PCs, hard drives and modems, fried and frazzled by nearby lightning strikes. Hundreds, possibly thousands of PCs are zapped every year but itís easy to avoid. Firstly do not assume that a storm is too far away to do any damage; they can move at frightening speed. If you hear a storm approaching save your work, shut down the PC and if it sounds like itís going to pass close by play safe, disconnect the phone/modem and power cables and wait for it to move away. Donít rely on sockets and adaptors that purport to have built-in lighting protection; a lightning strike on a phone or power cable outside your home will take out just about every piece of electrical and electronic equipment in the vicinity thatís still plugged in.



The last day of February has been designated 

International RSI Awareness Day. As a former sufferer of Repetitive Strain Injury I can testify to the fact that tapping away at a keyboard for hours on end, day after day really hurts after a while. Painful wrists plagued me on and off for almost 10 years but it disappeared in a little over a week after switching to an ergonomic Ďsplit-fieldí keyboard.Here's a five-point plan to avoid RSI:

  • Take regular breaks

  • Ensure your screen is at eye-level and at a comfortable angle

  • Wriggle your wrists and fingers every half hour and try a padded wrist rest

  • Roll your shoulders and sit up straight once an hour

  • If you suffer from back pain try a foot rest and ergonomic chair

By the way, Iím not sure where all these ĎXXX Daysí come from and I donít think thereís any official co-ordinating body to keep them in check but thereís a daily updated list of notable events at I



I donít know if itís just a coincidence but in the past few weeks I have had to deal with several cases of newish laptops that suddenly slowed down or shut down after an hour or twoís use. After half an hourís rest theyíre usually fine, which means that they are overheating. I suspect this has a lot to do with the new generation of high performance processors being shoehorned into ever-slimmer cases, which leave little or no margin for error when it comes to cooling. Typically the overheating problem goes away when the user gives the ventilation slots a blow through with an ĎAir Dusterí (a tin of compressed gas, readily available form PC suppliers and stationers) and this usually dislodges a fair amount of fluff and hairs. Otherwise it can often be cured by not resting the machine on your lap, but if you must then support it on a tray or a flat board to a allow cooling air to circulate more freely.  



There are two schools of thought about whether or not you should unplug a PC from the mains when working inside. Leaving the PC plugged in, but switched off at the socket will ensure that the case remains connected to earth and therefore better able to disperse a static discharge but if the wall socket has been wrongly wired -- and this is more common that you might suppose -- there is a chance that the mains switch and the power supply could still be live. Modern electronic devices are now very well protected against static discharge so I recommend that you play safe and unplug your computer (and monitor) whenever you remove the lid.




If you have an old PC to get rid of don't just toss it in a skip or try to dispose of it with the household rubbish. Computers and most peripherals contain a cocktail of potentially harmful materials and toxic chemicals that really shouldn't be allowed to get into the environment by being incinerated or dumped in landfill sites. CRT monitors in particular need to be handled carefully and can be really dangerous if dropped. Most local authorities now have collection points for computers and electrical equipment at waste disposal sites and if you can't take it there yourself many councils will arrange to collect bulky items for free or a small charge.




Computers can seriously damage your health! Inappropriate seating is a major contributing factor to back pain. If you are going to be seated in front of your PC for more than an hour or so each day get a proper chair. Purpose designed office chairs, with adjustable height and back support are ideal, and they're not expensive.




Make sure your display screen is at the most comfortable height -- e.g. eye-level and that the brightness and contrast are properly adjusted. If you get a lot of reflections on the screen, from bright lights or windows a clip-on anti-glare screen should help.   Don't sit staring at the screen for hours on end without a break. Stand up from time to time, walk around, maybe do some stretching exercises




Keyboards can cause a lot of problems, especially the cheap ones that come with a lot of PCs these days. Fast typists and those used to mechanical typewriters can find the short, sharp keystrokes of a PC keyboard uncomfortable, it can even lead to painful repetitive strain injury or RSI. If you're going to be doing a lot of typing think about buying an ergonomically shaped keyboard. Wrist support pads can help relieve the strain, though if problems persist you should consult your GP.




If you have poor or failing eyesight computer display screens can be difficult to read. If you find the icons and printing underneath too small to read easily try the 'large' and 'extra large' colour schemes in Display Properties. They're located on the Appearances Tab that you can find by double clicking on the Display icon in Control Panel.  While you are there select the Settings tab and try the 'Larger Fonts' size. You may also find it helpful to change the Desktop Area slider to a lower value, especially if it has been set to a high resolution figure (1024 x 768 pixels, for example) and you are viewing it on a 14 or 15-inch monitor. Most word-processor packages have a 'zoom' facility, to enlarge the size of the text display.


A similar set of options is available from the Accessibility Options icon in Control Panel. Double click the icon to open the window. Select the Display tab, then Settings. The next set of options will enlarge the display, with normal black on white text, or the whole thing can be reversed, with white on black characters. Click on display, then check the Use High Contrast box and confirm the changes by clicking the Apply button. Be patient, it takes a few seconds for the display to change.




Here's an optional cleaning job for those familiar with their PCs. Whilst you have the lid off the system unit unplug and reseat the cables going from the motherboard to the disc drives, and remove and replace expansion cards and memory modules. This prevents a condition known as 'contact creep', where cycling temperatures inside the case cause components and connectors to expand and contract, which in extreme cases can unseat plugs and even cause microchips to rise up out of their sockets.  Remember, no plugs, sockets or connectors on a PC should ever require more than light finger pressure, if you have to force it then it's the wrong socket, or the wrong way around.




You can easily change the font and size of the typeface used by Windows Explorer and icon labelling. It's worth trying if you find it difficult to read, you're using an unusually large or small monitor, or you're simply bored with the default typeface. Right click your mouse on an empty space on the desktop and select Properties, when the Display window appears click on the Appearance tab. In the drop-down menu marked Item, choose Icon. You will then be able to select a new typeface from the Font menu.




If your vision is impaired and you are having problems reading web pages there are a number of things you can do to improve legibility. First try increasing the text size of your browser's display. In Internet Explorer this can be found on the View menu. Switching off coloured backgrounds makes a big difference (even if you have normal sight...), this option is on the IE Tools menu, select Internet Options, then the General tab and click the Accessibility button. You can reduce the clutter on web pages by disabling pictures and graphics, it is controlled from the Advanced Tab in Internet Options, scroll down the list to Multimedia and uncheck 'Show Pictures'. Finally, a lot of web pages have Text-Only versions and these are usually much easier to read.




Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.