Category: Computing Skills

What’s inside your computer (INFOGRAPHIC)

Some of you who have a traditional “three-piece” desktop computer system where there is a separate box where all the activity takes place, may refer to this box of your computer setup as the “hard disk” even though it is known as a “system unit”. This is because the hard disk, amongst the other key computing subsystems like the CPU processor and the RAM exists in that box.

This infographic shows what the key parts of your computer are and is based on one of the newer small-form-factor designs that are common in the office and home.

Desktop computer system unit - inside view

What’s inside your computer


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What is my computer’s file-storage system about?

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro convertible notebook at Rydges Hotel Melbourne

How is your data organised on your computer, whether on its main disk or any removable storage connected to it>

A computer always needs to be able to hold programs and data in a non-volatile manner so users can get back to this data when they switch the computer on again. Here this has evolved through different methods and technologies that answered these needs in different ways.

What were these technologies that were available for home computers?

Initially, home-computer users used to have to use audio cassette tapes to store this data. Subsequently, the magnetic diskette, commonly known as the floppy disk due to it being like a piece of card, became the preferred storage method for computers. Typically, the better computer setups would end up with two floppy-disk drives so that two disks can be accessed at once.

USB external hard disk

A USB external hard disk

The early 1980s saw some manufacturers offer high-capacity fixed-disk drives, which were known as “hard disks” as a storage option for computers with this being preferred by business users. These storage devices earned this name as them being seen as an alternative to the old floppy disks.

Subsequently, Sony brought forward the hard-shelled 3.5” “micro-floppy” and this was brought out alongside a similar technology offered by Hitachi and a few other companies. It was to provide a higher-capacity smaller data-storage magnetic disk that was more rugged than the previous designs and appealed to the design of highly-portable computers.

The optical disk, which is based on CD technology, came in to being as an affordable software-distribution and large-data-distribution technology during the mid 1990s. Subsequently, solid-state non-moving flash storage came to fruition from the late 90s as a removable storage medium for digital cameras and PDAs but became more viable for regular computers since the late 2000s.

Since the magnetic disk came on the scene, there was an increased importance placed on organising where the data existed on these storage systems, with an emphasis on such concepts as file systems, volumes and folders or directories. This was because the various magnetic-disk systems were becoming more and more capacious and users needed to know where their data existed. Here, the file system effectively became a hierarchical database for the information you store on your computer and provided a logical relationship between the files and where the bits and bytes that represented them existed on the storage medium.

Desktop computers required the ability for the user to insert and remove any removable media at a moment’s notice but this required the user to be sure that all the data that was written to the medium before they could remove it. This is in contrast to what was required of mainframe and similar computer systems where an operator had to type commands to add the disk to the computer’s file system or remove it from the file system as part of physically attaching and detaching these disks.

This concept changed when Apple brought in the Macintosh computer which used the Sony 3.5” microfloppy disks. Here, they allowed you you to insert removable media in to that computer but required you to “drag it to the Trashcan” before the disk could be removed. Some advanced removable disk types like the Zip disk implemented this kind of removal in the Windows and other operating system by providing what has been described as a “VCR-style” eject routine due to its relationship to how you used an audio or video recorder. Here, you pressed the eject button on the disk drive which would cause all the data to be written back to the disk before the disk came out.

Now the modern computer has at least one hard disk and / or solid-state disk fixed inside it along with USB ports being used for connecting USB-connected hard disks or memory keys. You may also be inserting your camera’s SD card in to an SD-card slot on your laptop computer or in to an SD-card reader module that plugs in to your computer’s USB port if you were downloading digital images and videos. Some of you may even have an optical drive integrated in your computer or connected to it via a USB cable and use this for archiving data or playing CDs and DVDs.

Your operating system’s file manager

Windows 10 File Manager - logical volumes

All the logical volumes available to a computer – representing hard disks with their logical partitions along with removable media

The operating system that runs your computer will have a file manager that allows you to discover and load your files or move, copy, rename and delete files amongst the logical volumes available to your computer. In Windows, this used to be known as File Manager, then became known as Windows Explorer but is now known as File Explorer. The Apple Macintosh describes this file manager simply as Finder.

This used to be a command-line task but since the arrival of the Apple Macintosh, the file manager is represented using a graphical user interface which shows a list of files, folders or logical volumes that you are dealing with.

Clicking on a folder or logical volume will bring up a screen to show you what is in that folder or logical volume. But clicking on a file will cause it to be opened by the default application or, in the case of a program, cause that program to run.

Moving or copying files nowadays is simply a drag-and-drop affair where you drag the files from the source to the destination, but you may have to hold down the Shift key or use the right-hand mouse button to modify a default move or copy action.

As well, the modern file managers have a “two-stage” delete action for files on a hard disk or other fixed storage where they end up in a “holding-bay” folder known as the Trashcan or Recycle Bin when you delete them. This is to allow you to find files that you may have unintentionally deleted. But to fully delete them for good, you have to delete the contents of this “holding-bay” folder, something you can do by right-clicking or Ctrl-clicking on this folder to bring up a context menu and selecting an “Empty” option.

What is my computer’s file storage system about

The logical volume

Most operating systems represent as their storage system every logical volume be it a removable disk or each partition of a hard disk as its own element. It was the only way to work in the early days of computing because each fixed or removable disk didn’t hold much in the way of data and was its own element. As hard disks became more capacious, there was a requirement to partition them or break a single physical hard disk in to multiple logical volumes because the operating systems of the early days couldn’t hold much data per volume. You can also set up some operating systems to present a folder on a NAS or file server available to you over a network to appear as a logical volume, a practice that was important before networks were commonplace and personal-computer operating systems could address network resources directly. All removable media are still represented with one logical volume per disk, card or stick.

Each logical volume would have the ability to be given a volume name and be represented as a distinct icon which is part of a “Devices”, “Volumes” or similar cluster in the file-management system that is part of the operating system. The icon is typically a crude representation of the storage medium that the logical volume exists on.

Windows, harking back to the Microsoft MS-DOS days, would also assign each logical volume a “drive letter” owing to the fact that each disk drive on the original IBM PC was assigned its own letter with A and B reserved for the floppy disk drives.

The Apple Macintosh represented on the right side of the Desktop screen a “disk” icon for each logical volume currently available to the system. But recent iterations of the Macintosh’s operating system provided a setting so that all of the logical volumes that represented the computer’s fixed storage didn’t appear as desktop icons.

The mid 1980s showed up a situation where an operating system had to identify what kind of disk a logical volume was on because hard disks were becoming more viable and a computer could have multiple disks of different kinds. This was also being augmented by the arrival of networks and file servers where you could “pool” your files on a common computer with larger storage, and CD-ROMs in the early 90s being a cheap way to deliver large amounts of software and data. Thanks to the graphical user interface, this was represented via an icon that represented the kind of disk being handled.

How are they represented?

In Windows, each logical volume, whether fixed or removable,is represented in Windows Explorer or File Explorer by an icon in the left hand panel under “This PC” or “Computer” or something similar depending on the version. If you click on this icon, you will see a list of all the logical volumes available to your computer.

On the Macintosh, you would normally have each of these volumes represented by an icon on the right hand side of your desktop, where you would click on that volume to invoke a Finder window to see all of the files in this volume. On the other hand, Finder would represent all of the volumes in a separate left-hand-side pane.

In both cases, each logical volume would be represented at least with its logical volume name and icon. With some systems, if there is a device that can hold removable media like an SD card reader, floppy disk drive or an optical drive, you will see that device listed but greyed out or de-emphasised if there is nothing in it.

Some operating systems like MacOS X may represent a removable volume like an SD card, USB memory key or optical disk with a distinct icon to highlight their removeability. This will typically be an “eject” symbol which you can click to safely remove that volume. Windows even lists the “eject” word in the right-click option menu for all of the volumes that are removable.


The folders that exist on a system disk

All the folders that exist on a hard disk, this time the system disk

The Macintosh and, subsequently, MS-DOS and Amiga brought around the concept of directories or folders as a way of organising data across increasingly-larger data volumes. Here, you could organise the data in to smaller clusters that relate to a common theme or purpose with the ability to create a folder within another folder.

Some operating systems like some versions of the Macintosh operating system allowed you to represent a folder with a graphical icon but this was used mainly by software developers when you installed software on the computer.

But all of the computers typically allocate a special folder on the main logical volume for storing all the programs that you run and, in some cases, even create a temporary folder for keeping data that a program stores on an as-needed basis.

How are they represented

On the graphical-user interface, these were represented as a folder icon that is  a part of how the contents of a logical volume was represented. Clicking on this folder icon will allow you to see the contents of that folder.

What is the main or system disk of your computer?

The Main Disk or System Disk for a Windows computer

The Main Disk or System Disk for a Windows computer

The main disk on your computer, which is a hard disk or fixed solid-state-device, stores all the files that are to do with its operating system and all the applications you run on your computer. Such a disk is listed as C: in Windows or MACINTOSH HD on the Macintosh. It is also described as the system disk or the boot disk because it has the operating system that the computer has to load every time it is started, a process described as the “boot” process.

Where the programs that you run exist

It will also contain the data you create but all of the files needed to run the operating system and the applications will be kept in particular folders. For example, the  “Applications” or “Program Files” is kept aside for the applications and games the user installs, with each application you install creating its own subfolder of that folder. This is while a separate folder like “Windows” or “System” is kept for the operating system’s files. Some operating systems like MacOS may also use another folder for keeping plug-ins, fonts and similar common application resources while others may keep these with the applications / programs folder, usually as a subordinate folder.

Where the Desktop is represented

As well, all the icons and files that you store on the Desktop will be kept on a “Desktop” folder which represents everything that exists there.

The data you have created

But you will also end up with user-data space like “Documents”, “Photos” and the like where you save all of the data you create with your computer’s applications. Your e-mail program may store your emails in that folder or in a separate folder on this same disk.

Some operating systems, most notably Windows and earlier iterations of the Macintosh operating system, even let you create folders on the System Disk that aren’t earmarked for a purpose for you to use as your data folders. This also includes other programs keeping the user-created data in their own folders.

The secondary holding place for deleted files

Then there is the “Trashcan” or “Recycle Bin” folder which is used as a holding space for files you delete should you regret deleting them. When you delete a file from one of your folders on the main disk or other fixed disks in your computer, these files will end up in this “holding space”. Then if you want to remove them permanently, you have to delete them from this folder.

Removable Storage

USB memory key

USB storage device – an example of removable storage

All of the removable storage devices work on a freeform method of organising data across each of their logical volumes because there typically isn’t a requirement to keep certain folders for certain system processes.

This is except for memory cards associated with digital cameras because of the digital photography industry’s desire to implement a “Digital Camera File System”. Here, you have a DCIM folder for all digital-camera images and your camera will keep the pictures and videos you take in a subfolder of that DCIM folder, This was to simplify the searching process for digital images when you used a printer, photo-printing kiosk or electronic picture frame. There is also a MISC directory where DPOF print-order files are stored when you order photos to be printed using your camera’s control surface and either insert the camera card in to you multifunction printer or a photo-printing kiosk.

When you delete a file from removable storage, it is gone for good. As well, you need to make sure that you properly remove memory cards, USB memory keys and similar removable storage because most operating systems won’t write back all of the data changes to that storage device as they occur. Some operating systems like Windows allow you to immediately remove the classic floppy disks but most of them require you to use a “safely remove” or “eject” routine to properly write all the data to the removable medium before you can remove it. The Macintosh even allows you to drag the removable medium to the Trashcan to safely remove it.


The file system that your computer has is one of the key tenets of managing your data on your computer and it is about how your data is organised across multiple storage devices and within these storage devices.

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Windows 10 Start Menu–not your father’s old station wagon

Windows 10 Start Menu

Start Menu in Windows 10 – the pop-up look from Windows 7 with the tiles from Windows 8

Windows 7 and its predecessors had a traditional pop-up start menu with an option to see all the programs or the frequently-used programs on your computer. This was presented in a list rather than a cluster of icons or tiles.

But Windows 8 headed down a totally different path with a dashboard-style layout hat has all of the programs or a user-defined set of programs represented as tiles. This had thrown many computer users off the operating system and caused some unnecessary worry.

The Start Menu

Windows 10 brought back the pop-up Start Menu that looks like a combination of the traditional Start menu and Windows 8’s tile-based look. This includes the famed “Live Tiles” that are always updated with new content thus working like a dashboard.

In the early days of your experience with Windows 10, you can mess around getting that tile-based Start Menu area looking how you want. If you run Windows 10 on a touchscreen laptop or a computer with a touchscreen monitor, this menu style can work just as well for you.

Getting it right!

You can organise your tiles in to groups by dragging them in to the space between two groups to create a group or dragging them in to a group to have them part of that group. This can be done in both the traditional pop-up view and the Tablet Mode view mentioned later on at the end.

Then you can name each group by right-clicking or “dwelling” your finger on the group name then typing in the name you want to give it.

Browsing for that program

Windows 10 Start Menu - All Apps highlighted

Looking for that program – click All Apps on the Start Menu

This will be a situation for those of you who have held out with Windows 7 or its predecessors, where you will be wanting to know where all of your programs have gone even though they aren’t on the Start Menu or Taskbar.

Browsing for that particular program? Click on “All Apps” to see a list of all programs on your computer. Then, click on any of the letters to bring up a list of alphabetical letters. Subsequently, you just need to click on the first letter of the program’s title to be sent straight to a list of the programs beginning with that letter.

You then have two options to have your program readily accessible. One is to “pin” your program to the Taskbar so it is always accessible and this setup may remind you of the station-preset buttons on your car radio. On the other hand, you could “pin” your program to the Start Menu where it will appear as a tile which you shift around until it is in the right place for you.

Tablet Mode

Windows 10 Tablet Mode

How Windows 10 looks when you use Tablet Mode

The Tablet Mode gives you a view that is not dissimilar to how you have operated your Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 computer. It is automatically selected if you detach a keyboard from your detachable-style “2-in-1” tablet or fold over a convertible notebook so the screen becomes a tablet. But you can manually select this mode on any Windows 10 computer.

Windows 10 Notification Menu buttons wiht Tablet Mode highlighted

How to select Tablet Mode manually

As I have said just before, this doesn’t just those of you who work with tablet computers or 2-in-1 devices. You can use it with a laptop or desktop computer and it doesn’t need a touchscreen to benefit from this function. Rather you would use your mouse or trackpad to navigate around the screen and a scroll-enabled mouse earns its keep by allowing you to scroll downwards. In the Notification Menu, you have a button labelled Tablet Mode which you can use to toggle between this mod and the regular Desktop Mode.

I would recommending having your screen in the Tablet mode if you are trying to sort out the Start Menu groups after an upgrade because you can use the whole of your screen’s real estate to do this.

Search Bar

There is an always-visible Search Bar on the Taskbar which you can fill in your search requests for local or Web-hosted resources. This works with Cortana which is the personal digital assistant in the same vein as Siri or Google Now.

Here, ordering a search is as simple as clicking or tapping on the search area and typing in what you are after.


Anyone who has worked with any of Windows’ incarnations will find the Windows 10 Start Menu as something that doesn’t daunt you but allows you to get more out of the operating system.

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The BBC Model B computer returns with a pocket-size vengeance

BBC Model B microcomputer By Soupmeister (Acorn BBC Model B) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

BBC Model B personal computer – the core of an original computer-education project that took place in the UK during the early 1980s


BBC reveals Micro:bit, a programmable PC that fits in your pocket | PC World

Micro:bit : la BBC veut distribuer des nano ordinateurs aux enfants britanniques | (French language / Langue française)

From the horse’s mouth


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Press Release

TouchDevelop Website


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In the early 1980s, the BBC undertook a computer-education project which was based around a series of television programmes along with a specially-commissioned computer. This computer, known as the BBC Model B computer and built by Acorn who were a relatively-new home-computer manufacturer in the UK, was sold to schools so that students can work along with the TV programmes which explored, amongst other things, coding in BASIC and interfacing and controlling other devices.

One feature that the BBC Model B had was an 8-bit user port which was used for directly interfacing digital circuits along with a “game port” typically used for analogue joysticks and knob-style “paddles” but serving as an analogue input. Some of the printed and visual courseware associated with this computer was dedicated to teaching how to use these “real-world” interfaces.

This system was Acorn’s main founding stone and Acorn evolved to become a company who sold RISC-based microprocessors and defined the ARM microarchitecture used in most of today’s smartphones, smart TVs and similar devices.

But Acorn had clawed back to their roots with an ARM-based pocket-sized board computer similar to the Arduino and Raspberry Pi. This computer has been developed in conjunction with the BBC in order to continue on the legacy left by the original BBC Model B computer.

It has 25 LEDs that can be programmed to light up and flash messages, 2 user-programmable buttons and sensors in the form of an accelerometer and compass along with input-output connections for users to connect to other circuits. It uses Bluetooth Smart (BLE) technology to interface with other devices including regular and mobile computer devices. As well, it can connect to a computing device via USB and be programmed via a browser-based software development kit called TouchDevelop which Microsoft worked on.

The TouchDevelop setup uses the Web-based interface along with a choice of programming languages as a way to program the device. It also involves two-stage compilation with the Block Editor script being compiled to turn out C++ code which is then subsequently compiled and linked to turn out machine code to be downloaded and flashed to the BBC Micro Bit.

Like the previous BBC Model B computer, this will be delivered in to UK secondary schools and students will have their own Micro Bit computer so they can learn how to program the Internet Of Everything as part of their computer education.

The goal is to have this computer replicate what the BBC Model B computer had done for British computer education and the success in bringing about a UK-based software industry. Here, they want to have Britain putting a clear foot in the door for Internet Of Things.

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Why do you need to safely remove or eject removeable media?

USB memory key

USB storage device

As you use a computer, you will have to get in to the habit of removing or ejecting external or removeable media safely and in a proper way rather than just unplugging the device or pulling out the card.

What is this about safely removing or ejecting removeable storage?

Mainframe and similar large computer setups required the operating system to logically mount a tape or disk pack after the system operator installed the medium in the appropriate drive. This procedure makes the files on the medium available to the operating system and computer programs

USB external hard disk

USB hard disks are more critical with this procedure

Then when the medium was finished with, the system operator had to logically unmount the disk or tape which forced all files to he written back to the medium and the operating system to deem the files on the medium to be unavailable. This procedure was also simplified when the tape and disk-pack drives used electromechanical readiness detection like sensing when a lid or door was closed or a tape was past the heads to let the host computer know that they had media on board and were ready to work with it. It would then require the operator to logically mount the medium and make it available to the system’s programs, typically by typing a special “mount” command.

Desktop operating systems like MS-DOS did away with this to simplify the operating procedures for most people especially as they were used just by one user compared to the previous mainframe systems that were used by multiple concurrent users. It also allowed the use of low-cost disk and tape systems on these computers.

Here, these operating systems immediately wrote back all file changes to the disk when a file was created, modified or deleted. As well, if a program was after a file, it would perform a directory search to determine if the file was there on that disk and the operating system didn’t cache the removeable medium’s directory structure in to the host’s memory. In a lot of cases, the act of closing the disk drive’s door or inserting a 3.5” floppy disk cause the operating system to start reading the disk’s directory in to memory.

But the Apple Macintosh maintained a similar operating requirement to the larger computer systems where you had to logically remove a floppy disk or CD from the system typically by dragging the disk’s icon to the Trash before the computer ejected the disk. This was facilitated with these computers having floppy drives that implemented electromechanical load-eject mechanisms and no hardware “eject” button ever since the platform was created.

This was carried through with Zip drives and other similar removeable-media drives that used any form of electromechanical load-eject mechanisms. The presence of an eject button on these drives typically worked as a way of telling the operating system about an intent to remove the medium so it is logically unmounted and was also implemented with newer iterations of the MS-DOS / Windows operating system along with driver programs for earlier iterations of that operating system.

Similarly, those of you who have used the MiniDisc format, especially with an MD deck or a music system that has an integrated MD recorder, may notice this taking place when you are recording to these discs. What will happen with these decks is that a message will flash up on the unit’s display screen that it is writing all the changes to the disk when you press the eject button or power off the unit before the disk is available or the unit switches off. This makes sure that all of the recording and editing activity is properly committed to the disk and is intact.

Why was there a need to tell the operating system that you were intending to remove the medium

If removeable media is removed by surprise, there can be problems with the quality of the data that is written to the medium because the operating system and applications think that certain files on the medium are available to be worked with.

This can lead to corrupted files because all the changes to the file being worked on haven’t been written to the medium completely. There are also issues with the files being locked by programs that are writing back the necessary changes so that other programs can’t interfere with this process, and if a program hasn’t released these locks or committed all of the changes, the files may not be available for other programs to work with. In the worst cases, your computer can go in to a headspin if it is working with a file that exists one minute and doesn’t exist the next.

How do you safely remove USB removeable media?

Windows Explorer (File Explorer) eject option

Eject option in Windows Explorer

With a computer, you make sure that you have closed the files you are working on if you were using a program to work with them. Then you perform a safe-removal procedure that is dependent on your operating system.

Macintosh users simply drag the icon representing the removeable storage to the Trash icon at the bottom right of the Desktop screen. Then there will be a message to say that it is safe to remove the medium.

Windows users can do this in two ways. They can open Windows Explorer (File Explorer) or My Computer and right-click on the removeable storage which will be represented as its own drive letter. They then select the “Eject” option to begin safely removing the storage device.

Safely Remove Hardware icon in Notification area

Safely Remove Hardware icon in Notification area

The other method requires you to click on the Notification Area on the Taskbar and right-click on the “Safely Remove Hardware And Eject Media” icon. Here, you are presented with a list of USB storage devices that are connected to your computer. Click on the one you want to remove to begin safely removing it. In some cases, a physical device may represent two or more logical volumes (drive letters) because it has been partitioned as such. Here, you select the physical device’s name to safely remove that device.

Safely Remove Hardware devices list

Devices available to remove

USB-based removeable-media adaptors like floppy-disk drives, Zip drives and memory-card readers have the ability to safely remove a particular medium or the whole device. Here, you can click on the medium to remove the card or disk or click on the physical device name to remove the device before you unplug it.

Safely remove hardware devices list

Two logical devices in one physical device – the one that is written clearly is the one to remove

This is more important with those devices that handle multiple media types like some multi-slot memory-card readers or devices that have a combination of fixed and removeable storage options like some digital cameras and camcorders that have internal storage along with an SD or microSD card slot. In the latter situation, these devices would have fixed storage greyed out while the removeable storage is written in black.

I have prepared a PDF reference sheet about the procedure needed to safely remove your removeable media from your Windows computer. Download and print this and keep it by your computer if you or others need to know how to do this properly.

Android users would go to the Storage menu and select the “Unmount SD Card” option for the SD card or “Unmount Mass Storage” for storage devices connected to their mobile devices via USB “On The Go” connectivity.

Safe to remove notification

It is safe to remove

For other devices like A/V devices that write to an SD card or USB memory key, you would have to go to the device’s menu and select the “Unmount”, “Remove” or, more likely, “Eject” option. This process would be analogous to ejecting a tape, CD or MiniDisc so you can work with another medium.

Of course, powering off the equipment properly such as selecting a logical shutdown option would prepare any media or removeable devices attached to the equipment for safe removal.


Once you know how to properly and safely remove media or detach USB storage devices from your computer or similar device, you can avoid situations which can place your computer’s reliability or the data on that medium at risk.

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Using FreeFileSync to sync media files out to your NAS

You use a regular Windows or Macintosh computer to curate your pictures, music and video files and store these files on your computer’s hard disk. Then you buy a high-capacity network-attached storage device to make these files available on your home network at all times and also as a backup or “offload” measure.

Normally this will require you to use Windows Explorer or Macintosh Finder to copy the files out to the NAS every time you synchronise them out to your NAS. This can be annoying especially if you have made changes to a few of the files or added a handful of files to the collection such as the latest downloaded images or a CD “rip”. Here, you have to answer a file-owerwrite prompt that the operating system puts up every time you write over an existing file as part of a copy process and this can be awkward if you did something like modify your files’ metadata or edited a photo, You could select the “Yes to all” prompts but this runs a slow copy process which transfers redundant data or work through each folder and file manually and find that you hadn’t reflected all the changes you had to reflect..

There is a free open-source application called “FreeFileSync” which automates the process of keeping your files that exist on two locations in sync.  This is available for Windows, Macintosh OS X and Linux and can work with locally-mounted drives or SMB network-shared folders.

Here, you can set up a “there-and-then” sync job or create a sync job affecting certain files and folders on both the source and destination in a particular way. A sync job that you save can affect multiple pairs of files and folders thus avoiding the need to create one job for each folder pair.


FreeFileSync must be downloaded and installed on your computer

You download FreeFileSync from FOSSHub or Download.CNET.COM and install it as you would for downloaded software for your operating system.

Identify on your computer where your media manager software is storing your music, photos and videos.

Media libraries in Windows 8.1

Media libraries in Windows 8.1

In iTunes, this is found under the “Advanced” tab in the Preferences menu. Windows Media Player and Windows Live Photo Gallery use the Pictures and Music or “My Pictures” and “My Music” libraries created by Windows. Other media-management tools may use a particular folder that you set in their options or preferences window as the place for their media library.

CD rip location in Windows Media Player

CD rip location in Windows Media Player

Most audio-based media management tools like iTunes and Windows Media Player typically use the library as their import folder for when you “rip” a CD or purchase music through their online store whereas a lot of photo and video tools may have you create a separate import folder away from your library for images and video you import from your camera or scanner. This then allows you toe edit the images and video before adding it to your library.

Identify and make available the “media” folders that you are using to store your media on your NAS.

A NAS that uses a DLNA media server and an iTunes media server typically references a folder tree like “Media”, “Shared Media”, “Shared Music” or something similar. These are typically at the “Public” SMB mount point and are accessible using SMB/CIFS as well as these media servers.

If your NAS uses one shared media folder, create a sub-folder for the music files, another for the images and home video and another for other video like “download-to-own” content.

Create a media sync job

Setting up FreeFileSync for media syncing

Setting up FreeFileSync for media syncing

These actions are for a Windows computer and most NAS units

  1. Open FreeFileSync
  2. Click ProgramNew
  3. For each root folder representing your media collection kinds,
    a) Drag the root folder representing the media type on your computer to the left file list pane
    b) Drag the destination media folder for the media type on your NAS to the right file-list pane
    c) Click the + symbol to add extra media type pairs to your sync list.
  4. Click the gear icon next to the Synchronize button to determine the kind of synchronisation to take place
    In this case, you will have to select the “Update” option for this job. This effectively contributes new and modified files and folders that exist on the computer to the NAS without deleting any files that have been removed from the computer’s media folder. This is important if you just keep your files on your regular computer just to curate them before adding them to your media collection, or you “shift” older files to your high-capacity NAS to create space for newer files.
  5. Click on the “Update” button to select this option.
  6. Click on the “Save As” option to save this sync job as a file. Give it a name like “MediaSync” or “MediaNAS” to reflect the goal of it syncing your media to the NAS.

Manually running this sync job

Here, you open FreeFileSync, select the name of the “media sync” job and click “Synchronize” to start the sync process.

When to run this

Run the :FreeFileSync” job whenever you have done significant work on your media library like importing new media or editing existing media including the metadata. This can also be done as part of a backup routine before you start off the main data backup on your PC.

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Computers or other devices perform better after a reboot–why this?


Why Rebooting Your Computer Fixes Problems | Lifehacker Australia

My Comments

Why is it that your laptop, tablet or smartphone performs so much better when you restart it? Why is it that some devices implement a watchdog circuit to force them to restart by themselves when they are critically underperforming?

This is typically to make sure the computer is working on a clean slate as regards to its primary storage (RAM – random access memory). Most software, especially if it is poorly written, can take up more of this memory as it is used. But when you close that program, it releases the memory it used. But a lot of recent regular-computer and mobile operating systems encourage the ability to run multiple programs at the same time, with the ability for programs to “sink” in to the background when they are not being used.

If this situation is allowed to get out of control, most operating systems undertake “paging” or “virtual-memory” procedures where they use space on the secondary storage as primary storage. At this point, most computer start to underperform and become devilishly slow. The worst-case situations that come about include programs or the computer simply “freezing” or “locking up” thus becoming unresponsive, a situation commonly described as “hanging”.

Even placing that PC or other device in to a “sleep” or “hibernate” mode or allowing the device to fall to sleep wouldn’t really rectify the problem because these modes cause the device to preserve its current operating state either to the RAM or its secondary storage (hard disk or solid-state drive). This is typically to provide a quick start-up for the device.

But when a computer or device is restarted using the operating system’s restart option or having it then shut down properly before you restart it, this causes all the programs it runs to start on a clean slate. For mobile devices, it may require the user to press the hardware Power button for a long time to bring up a “power-option” menu with the shutdown or restart option or pressing two buttons together for a long time to force a full shutdown or restart of an obstinate device.

You know when this restart has occurred when you see a longer boot time and see the startup screens or other startup graphics appear on your device’s display. You typically will then notice that the device is performing with a bit more “pep” in it. This is because the device is working on a clean slate with fresh “known” data.

A good practice to do in order to keep your computer running smoothly is to have it restart at least once a fortnight. This may be something you have to do when you install or update software. I also see this being more important for laptop users who typically close the lid when they have finished with their machine, causing it to go to a sleep or hibernate mode, or desktop users who turn off the monitor or use the sleep or hibernate modes at the end of a computing session.

This is also a good practice with well-used smartphones and tablets, especially if these devices are being used with poor-quality apps from the app store.

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Len Deighton had set the standard for creating the magnum opus using a computerised word processor


Len Deighton’s Bomber, the first book ever written on a word processor. – Slate Magazine

My Comments

Before the arrival of the word processor, whether in today’s office suites that you can buy for your computer or even the basic text editor programs that came with most operating systems, the creation of a novel or other book required a lot of work.

This work was especially in the form of a continuous cycle of typing and reviewing the chapter drafts for that magnum opus. Len Deighton had a few IBM Selectric “golfball” typewriters which he used to work out his manuscripts and his personal assistant was ending up typing the chapter drafts as part of the review cycle for his novels. But in 1968, Eleanor Handley mentioned about this hard work to an IBM technician who worked under contract to this author to service these workhorses for him.

At that time, IBM had just launched the MT/ST which was a Selectric typewriter that worked alongside a tape drive system so the documents can be stored on reels of magnetic tape. The technician mentioned that IBM had this machine that could help him with this and future magnum opuses. He had leased the machine and the delivery men had to remove his front window so they could hoist it in by crane.

The features and tricks that this device had allowed him to review, insert and substitute text for each of the chapters that existed on each reel of tape. He exploited the “marker codes” that could be placed on the tape so he could locate the passages he was working on and this machine came in to play in him writing “Bomber” which was a novel set in World War II.

These devices evolved from the dedicated word-processing machines that worked alongside electronic or, in some cases, electric typewrites to the dedicated computer programs that you bought for most desktop computer systems from the early to mid 1980s.

With the arrival of the Graphic User Interface in 1984 courtesy of the Apple Macintosh, the ability to turn out copy that was hard to distinguish from published copy became a key feature. Here, the computer could draw out the typeface without the printer needing support for that font. As well, the word-processor became part of integrated “office” computing packages that had this function along with database, spreadsheet, presentation / business graphics and email functionality.

For me, the concept of creating a document from “go to whoa” using a computer’s word-processor software rather than handwriting it was a marked change. Here, the time it took to turn out a polished document was significantly reduced and I realised that I could easily work “from mind to document” without “scratching out” text with a black line or “wedging in” text using the caret symbol.

As for novelists and other authors, the amount of time it took to create copy for the paper or electronic destination was significantly reduced and you were able to make sure that the copy was “how you wanted it”.

Similarly the fact that Len Deighton had the MT/ST equipment at his home was a prediction of things to come in the form of desktop and personal computing which came about 10 years later.

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Assistance Journal–Getting the hang of Skype before your overseas-travelling child flies out

Just last night, I received a Facebook message from a close friend of mine regarding practising with Skype. Here daughter was about to fly out to the UK as part of an exchange-student programme that she enrolled in and she knew that I was able to provide her with computer assistance as required.

Here, I recommended that this close friend and her daughter set up for Skype so they can communicate with each other for free using this tool while she was in the UK. This included using the video-telephony feature so that they can see each other and see the overseas environment that they are in from afar.

This friend had completed Skype sessions with other relatives after setting up this program. Then I exchanged the contact details and integrated her details in my Skype contact list. After a long chat session, I was able to get her familiar with the user interface and have her practise the basic tasks. One of the test runs that was done was for the mother to have her laptop connected to the home network and the daughter’s laptop connected to a 3G modem so as to simulate the arrangement that would be used in the UK.

It is infact a good idea to do a “dry-run” with Skype if someone is heading overseas for a significant amount of time. This is more important if you are not confident with this program or with computers at all or you have set up a new computer or home network.

Similarly if you purchase a Smart TV or video peripheral that has Skype integrated and you then buy the camera accessory, you could use these “dry runs” to get yourself familiar with the Skype implementation in the equipment.

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Do you view or download that picture that you received in your Webmail

A common situation for Webmail users is that when the receive an email with one or more picture attachements in it, they are faced with an option to view or download the image. This is a situation that can perplex some novice computer users when they face these situations.

Viewing an image

When you select the “View” option for that image, you see the image using your Web browser. This can work well with some Web browsers but not with others and can be annoying if the browser that you are using either shows “actual size” only or while the photo is loading.

In some cases, some browsers such as Internet Explorer can provide a user interface for panning and zooming on digital pictures that can be frustrating and unintuitive to some users. It can be good enough if you are viewing small images or viewing an image “at a glance” with a properly-behaving browser.

Downloading an image

When you select the “Download” option, the image will be copied to your computer’s local storage and you are then presented the option to “open” the image or “save” it somewhere else.

If you “open” it, you use your operating system’s default image handler which, for most desktop environments, would be a dedicated image viewer or your image management program.  Some users may find this program’s interface more intuitive because it shows the image at best resolution on the screen yet allows them to use the image handler’s zoom and pan controls to view the detail.

You also have the option to “save” the image to somewhere of your choosing on your computer’s file system to “take it further”. This can be useful for saving it to a USB memory key so you can have it printed by your favourite digital photofinisher or to show on that digital picture frame or TV. Similarly, you could “save” it to your image library as something to “come back to” later; or to view using your DLNA-capable smart TV or video player.

What do you do?

Whether to view or download that image in your Webmail can depend on what you want to do with the image.

If you want to take the image further, it is best to “download” the image and use the “save” option. On the other hand, you can just “view” the image if you are comfortable with how your Web browser shows images or “download” if you find that the image viewer or image management program’s viewing interface does the job better for you.

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