It's Time for Spring Cleaning

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

March/April 2003

Most computer users are happy that their computers run at all and are willing to tolerate crashes, slow program load times and Internet slowdowns. This month I will introduce jobs that will make your computing safe and happy.

Your Hardware

You need to clean your mouse, keyboard and computer case. To clean your mouse, unscrew the bottom of the mouse by turning in the direction of the arrows. Take out the ball and clean with alcohol. Use a Q-tip to clean the rollers inside the mouse. If your mouse is really grungy you may need to use a dull instrument to scrape off debris.

Your keyboard needs to be cleaned from all the chips, coffee and Jolt spills. Actually, you need to clean it regularly to get rid of dust and grime. Every so often, I turn my keyboard upside down and shake it. This seems to get some of the junk out of the keys. If it has been a long time, or if there is more gunk under the keys get an aerosol can of compressed air (sold at all office supply and computer stores) and spray sideways around the keys. Then turn over the keyboard and shake. To clean the keys, try alcohol on a clean cotton cloth.

Cleaning your computer case is a bit more complicated. It is not difficult, but if you are worried, ask a friend who has done it to help out. First, after shutting down the computer, you need to open the computer case. Every computer case varies but usually there are finger pulls on the sides or bottom to slide the metal case off the rest of the box. You will probably find a big mess of dust inside. Take a can of compressed air and start by cleaning out the parts that have access to the outside air. This will include vents and fans. Blow the dust out, not in. Then start working with the insides. Spray compressed air so that the dust blows outside the case. You may also gently shake the case to dislodge any debris under the circuit boards or in the crevices. Finally, clean your screen with a soft anti-static cloth. Also use your compressed air to clean out your printer. You will be amazed at how much stuff accumulates in the printer.

Your Hard Drive

NOTE: All instructions below refer to Windows 2000 unless otherwise noted. If you have a different version, and my instructions do not work, use the Help menu.

Windows comes with programs called ScanDisk and CheckDisk that search your hard drive for any problems and repair bad areas if they can. The best way to do this on most Windows operating systems is to click My Computer on the desktop and then right-click the C-Drive (the designation for most hard drives) and click on Properties. Next click on the Tools tab. Click "error checking." There are two options. Click both. This may take some time, so be patient.

NOTE: On Windows 95 and 98 your process might be different. Go to Start Help and type in ScanDisk and follow instructions printed there. On most Windows operating systems (95, 98, 2000, XP) you can click Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools to get to these programs.

On the same tool tab you can "defrag" the hard drive. When files are saved, the computer attempts to save the pieces in the largest open space. Sometimes pieces are saved all over the hard drive. When you use this file the hard drive has to find all the pieces, which can take some time. Disk Defrag will locate and put the pieces together on the hard drive to speed up your computer operation.

You should create a Windows Startup Disk. If your computer or hard drive has a problem and you cannot load the Windows operating system, you can use your startup disk to start your computer. To create this disk, on Windows 95/98:

1. Insert a blank floppy disk into the floppy disk drive.
2. Click Start, point to Settings, and click Control Panel.
3. Double-click Add/Remove Programs.
4. Click the Startup Disk tab, and then click Create Disk. Click OK when prompted

On Windows 2000, Click Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Backup. Then create an Emergency Boot Disk following the instructions.

On Windows XP:

1. Insert a blank floppy disk into the floppy disk drive.
2. Click Start, and then click My Computer.
3. Right-click the A drive icon, and then click Format.
4. Check "Create an MS-DOS startup disk," and then click Start.
5. Follow any prompts.

You should back up your hard drive often (at least once a week). Windows operating systems come with a Backup routine. Go to Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Backup and follow the instructions. It is advisable to back up your computer onto CDs, DVDs or an external hard drive. The first and last are very cost effective and may be your best choices.

Experts recommend that you have at least 20% of your hard drive empty. To determine this, go to the desktop, double click My Computer and highlight the hard drive icon. The information should be displayed in the left panel. You can also highlight the hard drive icon, right click and select Properties from the menu. If you are below 20% you should delete unneeded files. To do so, double click My Computer on the Desktop, double click the hard drive icon and organize the files by size by first clicking the View menu at the top of the screen, then Details. To organize the files in size order, click "size" on the top of that screen. For folders, you will need to open the folder and then order by size. Remove any of the larger files that are no longer useful. You will be amazed at how much space you will regain.

You should also remove all "temp" files on a regular basis as they take up space on your hard drive. Click Start -> Find (or Search) -> Files or Folders -> Named *.tmp -> Pull down the Edit menu -> Select All -> press the delete key on your keyboard and click yes. If any files cannot be deleted, skip them and delete groups of files or one at a time. While you are at it, clean out your recycle bin by going to the desktop, double click the recycle bin icon, click file, and then click Empty Recycle Bin.

Happy Cleaning!

Copyright, 2002, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.