142. Practical computer
By Andrew D. Wright
A computer is an Anything Box of near-limitless potential that can be
accessorized to meet the user's needs. And just like in the fashion world,
the right accessory can sometimes make all the difference.
Do you have to carry information to and from different computers? From
postage-stamp size Secure Digital cards to gum-stick size USB flash
drives, large data storage has never been more portable.
Both 2 and 4 GB SD cards and readers are very reasonably priced with
larger capacities available. USB flash drives holding 16 GB priced around
$60 are locally available.
These are just the thing for carrying reports or multimedia files like MP3
audio or DivX/Xvid video files. Stick the player, the video codecs and the
media files on the tiny SD card or USB flash drive and a triple-feature at
the movies can fit in your shirt pocket smaller than a pack of matches.
A USB hub can make using USB devices more convenient. Many computers put
lots of USB ports at the rear of the computer, buried in a forest of
wiring. A multi-port USB hub can sit next to your keyboard where it is
handy to get at. It's a good idea to choose a powered USB hub that can
support more devices and provide electricity for uses like charging up
portable MP3 players. Look for USB 2.0 support for greater speed and be
sure to plug the hub into a USB 2.0 port on your computer.
Speaking of providing electricity, one very practical accessory is an
uninterruptible power supply or UPS. A computer is a complex collection of
sensitive electronic parts that are vulnerable to surges of electrical
current. A good quality UPS will provide advanced surge protection not
only for the electrical socket but also for the telephone line and coaxial
Many UPSs can plug into one of the computer's USB ports to communicate
with the computer and put it into a safe shutdown state automatically in
the event of a power outage that lasts longer than the UPS batteries can
A UPS also serves to smooth out electrical noise and provide a uniform
amount of power without current swings up or down. Computers and all other
sensitive electronic components will last longer with clean, stable power.
Another useful accessory is an external hard drive caddy. Hard drives are
cheaper than ever to purchase and an external enclosure combines the dual
benefits of very large amounts of data storage with ease of use and
portability. An external hard drive can be added or taken off of a
computer in moments and used to provide a place to back up important
information for safekeeping.
These days with more and more people storing all their family movies and
photos on the computer, it's not a bad idea to have a fail-safe copy of
everything somewhere else like in the family's safe deposit box or some
other remote protected location.
Hard drives can crash, computers can be lost in house fires but with an
off-site backup, a domestic data disaster can be turned into a minor
inconvenience. Insurance can buy you a new computer, but those photos of
your child's first birthday or the working draft of your novel are
irreplacable. For less than a hundred dollars for a hard drive and
external enclosure and a few minutes of time now and then, you can have a
Out some place using your laptop as a music player but the tinny laptop
speakers bite? USB-powered speakers can have surprisingly good sound
quality and there's just the one USB cable to plug in.
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Originally published 7 November 2008