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New Year's Tips From TechTalk


By Baratunde R. Thurston

This is it! The semester is almost over. A few weeks away from the classrooms, and we will be in a new year. Often this time of year, amidst the green and red storefronts, blinking lights and egg nog, people take a moment to reflect on the past year and make lofty promises of dos and don'ts for the next. Well, why should everyone else have all the fun?

I have some suggestions for New Year's resolutions that I think all computer users should make. I have grouped them into five sections and hope that they, if followed, will make us all better computer users.

The first category is, no surprise here: e-mail. As evidenced by the temporary slowdown in e-mail performance last week, we Harvard folk just love our electronic mail. In order to ensure continued benefits from this medium, a few common sense tactics should be adopted.

Avoid chain letters and spam. Chain letters demand that you forward them to some number of people, threatening horrendous consequences if you do not.

You would think that at this institution of higher learning, people would know not to do something just because someone tells them too. But the persistence of chain mail proves this to be incorrect. It might also help your resolution if you knew that sending chain mail is against HASCS policy.

Continuing on the theme of common sense e-mail use. Please resolve to pay attention when replying to group e-mail messages. I know most of us have seen some message intended for one person broadcast over an entire mailing list. This is needlessly wasteful.

Next to e-mail, the most common legal activity on campus is probably writing papers. I find the best rule is first to get the necessary reading done, then write an outline. After that, it's just a matter of filling it in and citing your sources. But all this moot if you don't save!!

Save to the hard disk. Save to a floppy. Just to be sure, copy the file into your fas account. Next to bad commercials, there really is nothing worse than losing a paper.

The next set of resolutions deals with your own computer. Too often, people think of their computers as tools. It's better to treat your computer like a member of the family. As such, you should treat it with respect and care.

This means don't physically abuse it by banging the keyboard or slamming the mouse when it doesn't work. There is also a positive care aspect which involves keeping your computer physically and digitally clean. For a few dollars, you can purchase a can of compressed air and use it to blow dust out of your disk drives and keyboard.

You can use utilities such as Microsoft's ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter for your IBM-compatible machine or Norton Utilities for your Macintosh. These programs consolidate data on a disk and can improve the speed of your system.

You may want to go a step further and invest in backup hardware such as a Zip drive. Lastly, resolve to install an anti-virus program. They are freely available on the Harvard network and can save you much pain.

This fourth section deals with computer games. Play them, but use moderation. Some of you will return in the New Year with superfast systems and install Quake 2 and never be heard from again, especially in class.

This is not good.

Playing games can be fun and even good for you, but it can also ruin your grade point average, increase your chances of repetitive strain injury and make you numb to senseless violence. Set some limits and remember that your parents did not send you here to see how many times you could blast your roommate with a rocket launcher or win Solitaire.

The last category is none other than this column. Resolve to keep reading and enjoying it. If you have comments or suggestions for future topics, send e-mail to

--Baratunde R. Thurston '99 is the Claverly Hall user assistant for HASCS, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Computer Society's Computer@Harvard and a Crimson editor. He has never kept a New Year's resolution.

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