Spring Cleaning for your Computer

We get asked quite a lot about how to best clean a computer. Here are some tips to help you keep the shine on without damaging the components.

Cleaning Screens

  • Always turn off and unplug your computer before coming at it with any liquid, including cleaning wipes.
  • Cleaning the screen is best done with a dry microfiber cloth. Some computers come with a cleaning cloth, but you can also use window-cleaning cloths found at many stores.
  • If there are spots on the screen that can’t be cleaned with a dry cloth, water is your next best bet–but never clean a screen when it’s hot. Use a light spray on a cloth, never on the screen, and take care that water doesn’t drip or spray into any crevices in the computer or monitor.
  • If water isn’t doing the trick, you can purchase spray or wipes specifically formulated to clean a computer screen. Again, don’t put anything wet on a hot screen, and don’t let liquid get inside the computer or monitor.
  • With any of these methods, be sure not to apply significant force to the screen. It is possible to break screens, so be careful.

Cleaning Keyboards

  • If you are using an external keyboard, unplug it from the computer before cleaning. If you’re cleaning a laptop keyboard unplug and turn off the computer before cleaning the keyboard.
  • Remove crumbs and debris by gently shaking the keyboard upside down over a waste receptacle.
  • For a more thorough de-crumbing you can use a vacuum with a dusting attachment to try to suck out crumbs.
  • Condensed air is also an option for removing debris from keyboards, but it has to be used carefully to avoid blowing things further under the keys.
  • Most computer manufacturers suggest water for cleaning keyboards. Use a damp (not dripping!) cloth.
  • For tougher cleaning jobs, we often use damp (again, not dripping) wipes to clean keyboards. These are not generally recommended by manufacturers, however, so use care.
  • As a last resort for an external keyboard (not part of a laptop, and not a bluetooth (wireless) keyboard) that has stopped working because of a sticky spill, you can run it through the dishwasher. Make sure you securely tape up any USB or other ports, and turn the drying cycle off before you run it through. After taking it out, turn it upside down for at least two days to ensure that it is completely dry before trying it out. No guarantees, but we have seen it work.

Cleaning a Mouse

  • Unplug the mouse from your computer before cleaning.
  • Older, mechanical mice can get a lot of gunk inside them. To clean:
    1. Turn the mouse upside down and twist the retaining plate to remove it.
    2. Turn it right side up to remove the ball. You can wipe the ball with a damp cloth.
    3. Turn the mouse upside down again, and gently scrape off debris from the rollers inside the ball cavity. The trick is to remove the gunk without allowing it to fall into the circuitry of the mouse. As you scrape it off, periodically turn the mouse right side up and shake it out.
    4. When you’re done de-gunking the rollers, reassemble the mouse and test it out. If necessary, take it apart again to finish the job.
  • For optical mice, a damp cloth on the exterior is all that’s needed.

Cleaning the Case

  • Always shut down and unplug your computer before bringing anything damp or wet near it.
  • You can wipe a computer case with a cloth dampened with water, or a commercial wipe.
  • You can use a damp cloth or wipe for the trackpad, but as with all areas on your computer, be careful around the crevices.
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Guarding Against Theft

At this time of year it is important to take precautions against theft of your electronic devices. What can you do limit the chance of theft, and how can you prepare in case the worst happens? Read on.

Don’t Leave Valuables Unattended

It only takes a moment for a computer to be stolen. When you’re working in a public place like the Library, never leave your computer unattended and unlocked, even for a few minutes. Bring it where you’re going, have a friend hold on to it–or better yet, invest in a lock and anchor it securely to an immovable object

Turn on Tracking

On a Mac, System Preferences/iCloud allows you to turn on Find my Mac, which will track your device and allow you to wipe it remotely or play an alarm if it is detected on line. Windows 10 has a “Find My Device” option in Settings/Update & Security, which will show you where your device is. There are other 3rd-party options for different platforms–Prey is one option for Android, Linux, as well as Mac, iOS and Windows.

Know your Serial Number

Your serial number will be helpful for law enforcement if your computer is recovered. Many computers have the serial number printed on the computer or a sticker attached to it; if you don’t have a sticker or can’t read it, search online for how to find it on your computer–or for a Mac just use Apple–>About this Mac. If you need to know the serial number of your Hampshire-owned computer, IT has a record of it.

Know your MAC Address(es)

Your computer has a “Media Access Control” (MAC) address which uniquely identifies it on each network connection it has. For example, there is a MAC address associated with the wireless connection, and a different one associated with its Ethernet connection (if it has one). The MAC address can be used to track the computer if it’s connected to the internet. View instructions for determining the MAC address of many different types of devices. If you need the MAC address of your Hampshire-owned computer, IT has a record of it.

Keep your Files Backed Up

Losing your computer can be devastating, but losing your files can be irrecoverable. Keep your files backed up either on an external drive or on a cloud service. If you use an external drive to backup, always store it separately from your computer–you don’t want it to be stolen with your computer.

What to do if your Computer is Stolen

If your computer is stolen from campus, notify campus police as soon as you realize it; if you’re off campus, call the local police. If it is a Hampshire-owned computer, let the IT Help Desk know. If you have a record of your serial number and MAC addresses, provide them to the police. If you have taken our advice and set up a device tracker, check to see if you can locate your device, and consider other options as allowed by the tracker–for instance, to play an alarm or erase the drive.

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Got Backup?

How devastated would you be if your computer died right now, with no possibility of getting your data off of it? Hard drives and even solid state drives (SSD’s) fail. If you don’t back up your data on a regular basis, make it a priority to get a backup system in place.

If you’ve experienced a data loss due to drive failure, chances are that you’ve got a backup system in place. If you haven’t experienced a data loss, don’t worry, you’ll be a member of the club some day–unless you’re backing up your data on a regular basis.

These days a backup system is pretty painless–you can either back up to an external drive on an automatic basis (Time Machine for Mac or Windows Backup for Windows), or sign up for an online backup system such as Carbonite.

Backup drives are pretty cheap: you can get a terabyte drive for about $60. To make sure you buy one large enough, look at how much space you’re currently using on your computer and buy a drive that holds at least three times that. Once you have a backup plan in place, make sure you use it on a regular basis.

We have backup drives available for purchase through a departmental charge and are happy to help. A 1 Terabyte backup drive (sufficient for the vast majority of users) is $60 and a 2 Terabyte backup drive is $80, and a 3 Terabyte backup is $100. To buy one of these drives contact the IT Helpdesk, give us a departmental charge number, and you can stop by and pick up your drive. If you’d like assistance setting up a backup drive and starting the backup, make an appointment with an IT Tech through the IT Helpdesk at helpdesk@hampshire.edu.

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Clean up that Inbox

Start out the new year with an empty inbox and a fresh quota by moving your old messages into Local Folders in Thunderbird. It’s quick & easy, and it’s so nice not to be looking at 3,000 messages in the inbox!
Email is usually stored on the mail server, which provides secure storage and regular backups, but also has limited storage space–you have a quota of 2.5 GB for email. We suggest that at least once a year you archive old messages into folders that are on your computer, which both declutters your inbox and frees up quota space.
There are a few things to consider before you do this

  • Messages that are archived in Local Folders are only available on the computer they are stored on. If there are messages that you need to access from multiple devices, don’t store them in Local Folders.
  • If you don’t have a backup plan for your computer and your hard drive fails you will lose the messages in Local Folders (along with all the other files on your computer).
  • Local Folders should not be used if your email contains highly sensitive information (see our policy for a description of Level III data) unless your computer is encrypted. If you’re not sure whether it’s encrypted, it probably isn’t.
  • If you use another mail client, like Apple Mail, there is a similar capability, but the terminology and steps will be different. We may be able to help you with this if you can’t figure it out.
  • If you use only WebMail to access your email but still want to use this technique, you could set up Thunderbird just to use as an archival tool. We can help with that.

These instructions are for copying a year’s worth of messages into one folder, but there’s no reason you can’t chunk it into a different time period if you like.

  1. In Thunderbird, click on “Local Folders” in the pane on the left.
  2. From the File Menu select “New Folder.”
  3. Give the folder a name. It’s a good idea to put the year at the beginning of the name, like “2017 Inbox”.
  4. Under “Create as a subfolder of” it should say “Local Folders.”
  5. Click “Create Folder.”
  6. Go up to your inbox, and find the first message from 2017 (or whatever year you’re dealing with), and select it.
  7. Scroll to the last message of 2017, and hold down the shift key while you click on it. You should see the messages in between all highlighted”
  8. From the Message menu select “Move To Local Folders”, and select the folder you just created.
  9. Thunderbird will begin moving the messages. There is a status pane at the bottom of the menu that will report the progress, but you can continue to work on your computer while it does it’s thing.

You can use a similar procedure with the messages in your Sent folder–there are often more messages in Sent than in Inbox because we don’t look at it as often.

There, doesn’t that feel better? Now, if only there were Local Folders for my office…

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Emergency Notification Email Messages

With all of the emergency announcements going out (and more to come, perhaps!), we have received questions about the legitimacy of emails that show they are from “Hampshire College Alert,” with a “Reply-to” and “From” address of Hampshire@getrave.com. Rest assured that these are indeed legitimate email messages, sent through our emergency notification system provider. By using a third-party notification system we can ensure that emergency announcements are delivered even if all campus IT services are unavailable.

Learn more about the Hampshire College Emergency Notification System, including how to update contact information.

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Tech Tip Extra: Mac Users, Stop those High Sierra Offers

If you have been driven crazy by the offers of upgrades to macOS High Sierra, here is my holiday gift to you: hide the upgrade banner, which should turn off the reminders:

  1. Open up the Mac App store.
  2. Click on “Updates.”
  3. Right-click or Control-click (hold down the “Control” key while clicking) on the High Sierra banner image, and select “Hide Update.”

If you eventually decide that you want to install High Sierra, just go to the App Store Featured page and look for it on the right.

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