Article 7: Stress and Time Management

 Hi everyone, this week the Modern Nerd is going to tackle the concept of sanity as a college student. I may need a bigger boat, but let’s look at what the average college student has to deal with on a weekly basis.

There are many things that I didn’t anticipate about going to college. Homework, classes, projects, dealing with roommates, sports, friends, dating, parties, group projects, reading, studying, cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc. etc., the list goes on for about half a mile. My philosophy is that college doesn’t teach you the specific things you need to learn, that’s just the side effect. College shows you what it’s really like to be a real person. We all meet this challenge with varying degrees of success. But there are several key tricks that you can use to stay ahead, and technology is a great tool to give you a helping hand.

That was today? OH $%*&…

The number one thing you can do is plan. There is a reason that there are 500 clichés about planning, so I’ll do you the favor of not throwing another one at you. What I will recommend is to use a calendar.

Everyone has a calendar on their computer, their email accounts, and their smartphones. The trouble is using it. Putting everything on your calendar saves time, stress, and aggravation over lost time. If you have an easy way to create your own schedule in your pocket, you should use it. If the calendar that you have isn’t working for you, try your App store. There are many others that have different layouts and features that may help you out. If you plan ahead for large projects and schedule some time where you can get work done, you can also schedule the next time that it’s time to de-stress and grab a pint at the pub.

How to Bend but not Break

The key is flexibility. Planning is great, and once you take into account all of the things you have to do over the course of a normal day, you need some flex time. If you plan your schedule out so rigorously that every single second is booked, that schedule won’t last long. Things just have a tendency to come up.

So be flexible. Have a few hours that you can use for whatever you need. I had a system back when I was a freshman, and it failed. Miserably. But the key thing is to realize that having a system isn’t the problem, you just need to try a new system. Keep trying new and different things, because you can only find out how well something works after you test it.

..I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

The last thing that I advise is not skimping on your sleep. It’s tempting to think that all—nighters might be the solution to your problems, and I’ll admit that I’ve had to pull a few myself. But all the sugar and caffeine in the world is not a substitute for 6 hours of shuteye. It’s a fact that the human body can be trained to go without sleep for an extended period of time, but it lowers your reflexes, alertness, and even your IQ until you sleep. Whenever you need a few more hours here or there, the one thing that you can’t cut out is the rack time.

And if all else fails, don’t forget to take a break every once in a while. Playing a game or reading a book for an hour will help you clear your head and you’ll be more productive.


This topic is a departure from my earlier entries, and I don’t have any special tech gear for you this week. But when it was suggested to me, I thought that it was worth talking about. I didn’t have the easiest time adjusting to planning everything out myself, but I have come up with a schedule kept on my iPhone that I think works for me, and if you are getting into college, I hope you find something that works for you.

As I said, this topic was suggested to me. If you have a specific topic that you think is worth exploring, I’d be happy to oblige if I think I can add something meaningful. Send me an email with your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer

Article 6: Data Backup and Storage


The Modern Nerd is back again, this time preventing you from hearing two words you hope never go together when talking about your computer: Data Loss.

What do you mean, it’s gone?!?!

We store things digitally now. Computers hold our documents, school papers, reports, spreadsheets, emails, photos, everything. This makes for one tempting target the next time Murphy wants to strike. Just starting to write this entry is making me question the last time things on my desktop were backed up. If you only have your files in one location, you are very much at risk of losing them all. Hard drives have a lifespan, just like any other piece of equipment. It doesn’t matter how much or how little care you take of it, it will break eventually. There is one simple way to make sure that this doesn’t affect you for more than a few days, and that is to back up your data. There are several really cool ways to go about this, so let’s dive right in.

From the Department of Redundancy Department

How many places are your files stored? It’s a simple question that you should know the answer to right off the top of your head. If the answer is one, then I am here to help. Storing things off of your main working drive is the best way to ensure that you’re protected. We can do this online or offline and we’ll look at the storage options you have available offline first.

Viruses and power surges can’t reach a removable hard drive that you keep in the box under your desk in case the worst should happen. Buying an external hard drive with 1 TB (1024 GB) of storage space will cost you about $100. This should be ample space to store your music and important documents and pictures. Storage drives just keep getting bigger, and cheaper. One of my favorite websites of all time is If you haven’t heard of it, check it out. It’s like a computer toy store. They have fantastic service, great prices, and unbelievable shipping. Backing up your data with one of these drives is as simple as plugging in the USB port and the power cable, and you instantly have a flash drive on steroids.

Images vs. Files, or How to Rebuild Rome

When you decide how to store your important files off of your main working computer, you have a couple of decisions to make. The obvious ones like how much storage you want, how much money you need to spend, and where to buy are simple enough. But once you get into it, you’ll need to decide if you want to make a system image, or just take the bits and pieces that you know you can’t lose and back them up.

A system image is pretty much what the name implies. It is an exact copy of your operating system, all of the files included in it, your programs, everything. It is stored to a removable hard drive, and if you ever need to restore your computer to working order after something has gone awry, it will copy everything over exactly as it was when you backed up. When you make a system image, you can’t choose what files or programs to keep, you just keep all of them. This makes it the simplest option if you don’t want to spend a lot of time sorting through your stuff, but it’s not for everyone. Currently system image backup is available for Windows and Mac. The particulars vary, but the ideas are the same.

If you decide to just keep your files, you’ll have to start over with a fresh operating system and reinstall the programs you want if something goes wrong. Some people, including myself, prefer this method because you can pick and choose only what you want. You won’t have to let something you thought was a good idea to install 3 years ago take up space on your hard drive now.

Storing it in the Clouds

A relatively new concept that major companies are jumping on is Cloud storage, or giving you some space on their servers to put documents and the like. Google, Microsoft, and a whole host of smaller private companies are offering cheap, sometimes even free, storage online that can be accessed from anywhere.

There are several obvious benefits to these, but some not so obvious drawbacks. You can take a working hard drive with you anywhere and access it from any computer or smartphone, which makes it ideal for someone who works from multiple different locations to keep a storage drive online. You’ll never lose your data or forget to bring it with you.

However, it is not ideal for backing up your entire hard drive, for a couple of reasons. If you want more than around 5 GB of storage, you’ll probably have to pay a service fee per month. You also have no control of that data once it leaves your machine. A storage service would not ever willingly give away your data, but the number of times that it is copied from server to server opens the door for identity theft if their data is ever compromised. It would be a good idea to keep important personal information in as few online places as possible, just to be safe.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter so much which road you choose to take, but the important thing is to make a decision about your storage options. With the amount of time and money and effort invested in your computer and what you keep on it, it’s worth protecting it to the best of your ability. As always, I hope I have given you something to think about. Never be afraid to ask a professional if you ever need advice. Thanks for reading.

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer


Article 5: DVD Digital Copies


In the Modern Nerd’s fifth installment, I want to have a look at something that is fairly new in home video, the digital copy. We’ll look at the newer DVD packs, which are sold with a digital copy, and how you can make backups of your older DVD’s using free, intuitive, open source software.


Aren’t all DVD’s Digital?


It’s true, analog media hasn’t been produced since the days of the VCR. However, the industry is fully aware that the home DVD player is not the only place that consumers want to watch their movies. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops provide mobile entertainment for those on the go, whether you are stuck on a train or a plane, or making your road trip just a little bit more awesome. I looked at streaming options to your smartphone in my last entry, so check it out if you want some more information. The digital copy is the official answer to movies on your computer, and I’m happy to say that they’ve made it really easy. If you buy a copy of a new movie on blu-ray you can very easily go to the manufacturer’s site with the code that is included in your purchase, and choose your download. Be sure that the case specifically says "includes Digital Copy" if this is a feature you want to take advantage of. 


Putting the Files on your Devices


The DRM (Digital Rights Management) or the security of these files is still very important. With so much controversy on the internet about piracy, you can rest easy when you get the digital copies of your movies. The files are security-coded to your iTunes account if you choose to download to iTunes, or your Windows Media Player if that is your player of choice. If you have any Apple products you want to download your movies to, then iTunes would be the way to go. If you have different devices, then my best advice would be to head over to Google. Digital copies are very much compatible with other devices, but there is no all-encompassing program that I could point you to with any certainty. The Android marketplace has specialized apps that will play DRM-protected files downloaded for digital copies, based on the studio that published them. If laptops are more your speed for portability, then you have the option to download your movies to up to five different computers to be included in your library with iTunes. File sizes can be quite large, on the order of 1 to 2 gigabytes and up, so make sure that you have the hard drive space to store them if you want to start building your Digital Copy library.

Converting Your Older Movies

Unfortunately digital copies are not available for all of your movies, especially the older DVD’s in your collection.  So naturally, we’ll have to get a little creative. So let’s look at some software that will do the job for you, Handbrake. Handbrake is free, open source software that is available for both PC and Mac. It has a lot of really cool features, including the ability to crop video, choose your file format, and alter the size of your converted videos using the bitrate adjustment. The GUI (Graphical User Interface) makes it easy for newer users to jump right into the action. For the seasoned computer veteran, there is also a CLI (Command Line Interface) to input your commands.

This makes the program ideal for converting those older DVD’s to be played on all of your devices. I personally enjoyed getting The Hunt for Red October onto my iPhone for a long road trip. Just two points to note about Handbrake: This program will not remove digital copy protection from your DVD’s, and currently it does not support Blu-ray discs. For more information, and a link to download Handbrake, you should check out the Wikipedia article by the same title.

As more and more options become available to play your digital movie collection, it’s important to remember that buying DVD’s has not yet become obsolete. Hope you guys enjoyed, and I’ll be back next week.

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer




Article 4: Smartphones: The Digital Swiss Army Knife

Today, The Modern Nerd is going to look at one of my favorite things; what you can do to make your technology do more for you.

A word that has come into being very recently is App. Thank you, Steve Jobs. Applications have been around since the early days of computers, but now we can fit them into our pockets. Major companies are all releasing their own app, so we can stay in touch with so many different things. Banking, stocks, search engines, music, social networking, email, photos, and so much more can all be accessed from your phone.

My focus today is making connections, so let’s look at some of the specific apps that you can download to help your technologies work together. I’m going to focus on remote file access, remote controllers and remote video.

Where the *?#% is the remote?

Forget it. You officially don’t need it any more. You have a smartphone. Believe it or not, FIOS TV, DirecTV, and Xfinity TV all offer apps, for free, that will allow you to control your cablebox from your touchscreen. So if you just can’t find the remote or if you want to enact a hostile takeover of the television, here’s your tool to do it. Cable boxes aren’t the only things to get apps though. New televisions equipped with wifi are offering this same feature, allowing for a seamless transition between turning up the volume to changing the channel. If you are going all out and modernizing, Logitech offers an infrared repeater setup that interfaces with smartphones or tablets that allows for full control of all of your devices with no remotes needed at all. If all you want to do is have an extra remote for free, head over to your app store. Please note that these apps work with wifi, not with infrared. So you don’t need to point them at the TV, just have a wireless signal.

Oh crap, it’s on my computer at home…

Also in the category of remotes, let’s talk about computer remotes. There are several app suites that allow for keyboard and mouse emulation. Jumi was one of the first, but the program I run on my desktop is Splashtop. These programs connect to a server program that runs in the background on your desktop or laptop computer, and you don’t even have to be on the same local network to access your computer. You’ll need to download both the server program to your desktop and the app. The app will probably cost you in the neighborhood of five dollars. You can grab files sitting on your desktop and email them to yourself, or even run a video player or game. These apps use the processing power of your computer and export the video and audio straight to your smartphone. So there’s no more worrying if you forgot to print something or can’t access a file, just fire up your remote and send it over.

Road Trip Reinvented: Streaming your Video

Whether you have a ton of movies on your computer that you’ve made yourself or you have utilized your computer’s DVD player to make digital copies of your movie collection, movies and shows in digital format is becoming the norm. There are several premium networks that allow for movies and show to be streamed to your devices, but let’s look at how you can do it yourself using files already stored on your computer and your smartphone.

The app you want to look for is Air Video. You can set up a server program on your desktop and specify the folders you want to stream videos from. From there, finding your computer with the app will require just a few minutes of setup. You can opt to turn on the remote access option, which allows you to stream video over a data connection. This feature is still in beta, but works pretty well with a good cellular signal. The nicest feature that I have found with Air Video is their live conversion option. If you have files that are not in the correct mp4 format, you can just convert on the fly and still watch all of your media.

The only thing that you have to watch out for is the data usage, streaming large amounts of movies over your data connection can use up all of your data if you don’t have a large plan.

As of this posting, Air Video is exclusive to the Apple App Store. If you are on a Droid platform, then you can still steam movies out to your phone, but you’ll first need to convert them to the proper format. There are several good converter programs online, but if you really want a good one you’ll end up paying around twenty dollars.

And so much more…

I can really only scratch the surface of what is possible to do with a smartphone in just one entry, but these are several cool features that can add a large bit of functionality to your device. Even if you can’t stream lots of data over cellular, using wifi is a great way to add the full functionality of a laptop without having to carry the laptop around with you. The neatest thing about apps becoming commonplace is our ability to do anything with them, so I hope I’ve given you a few more ideas to think about. Good luck guys, hope you enjoyed.


Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer

Article 3: The Blue Screen of Death

 Hi guys, it’s Aaron back again with The Modern Nerd. If you are relatively new to the realm of computer maintenance, you may not be familiar with the term blue screen of death. If you’re more of a veteran, then it’s one of the most dreaded things that can ever appear on your Windows screen. We’ll have a look at the various things that can cause this, and more importantly how we can get rid of it.

Blue Screen of What?

Most times when there is a “serious” problem, an individual program can be stopped, shut down, etc. using administrative tools. Check out my Frozen! article for more information on that one. These normal errors are in the software. The blue screen of death pokes its ugly head out when you have errors in your hardware. Ugh.

Windows finds an error in how something is communicating on a hardware level, and quits. All that appears on your screen is a blue background, with white text, telling you that you can start panicking. Yikes. The BSOD is also known as a stop error, meaning your operating system has stopped completely. The only way to get rid of it is to restart or turn off the computer, and even then that won’t fix everything.

So let’s look at the underlying causes and how we can restore peace and order to our machines. If you would like some more technical terminology thrown around, I highly recommend checking out the Wikipedia article of the Blue Screen of Death, there’s some cool history there.

The Next Step

The only way to restart your computer is manually. Once your Windows comes back up, you should check to see what, if anything was lost. And with very few exceptions, if your data wasn’t saved, it’s gone. You’ll need to check over your drivers and hardware to see where the problem is, and what can be done.

New Hardware

One likely cause of this error is new hardware. Did you recently install a new hard drive, graphics card, network card, etc.? If so, you’re problem lies in the drivers. (Driver: Piece of software that is like hardware to computer language) Make sure you installed the correct support software. This means you have to know whether your computer is running a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system, what version of Windows you have, and what the model number of your hardware is. Windows 7 does a fairly decent job of automating the process, but it doesn’t work every time and you’ll need to do some of the work yourself. A great place to get this information is in your Control Panel >> System. There you can find system architecture, version, RAM and processor speeds, all sorts of goodies. Reputable hardware manufacturers offer great online support, just head over to their website, choose your options, and download your driver software. If your equipment came with an installation CD or DVD, that might not be the most up-to-date software. Always download from the site if you can.

Is it plugged in?

If you can’t get Windows back up, or updating all of your drivers didn’t solve the problem, then you should next check for physical installation problems. Sometimes if you put a new card into your computer yourself, it’s easy to overlook something small like forgetting to clip things in or letting some wire contact something it shouldn’t. If a hard drive isn’t plugged in right or your card is not seated perfectly in an expansion slot, this could be causing a short in your computer, detected by Windows, which then shuts down to protect all of your hardware and files. Make sure that your new tech is seated properly and that no wires are crossed where they shouldn’t be.

BIOS: The Brain’s Language Center

If you don’t know what your system BIOS is, or when it was last updated, this could be causing a problem that isn’t always easy to spot. BIOS stands for the Basic Input Output System in the motherboard. When you first turn on your system you may be able to catch a glimpse of the BIOS version that you are running. Because there is a chance that messing around with your BIOS could damage your computer, I will advise you to be extremely careful. If at any point you think that this might be over your head, consult a pro.

But if you can follow most intuitive computer processes, updating this yourself is not so hard. You will need to know who made your computer’s motherboard. If you bought your system as a total package like most people, this is easy. You can head over to the manufacturer’s website and look up downloads for BIOS updates. If the version listed online and the version you are running is not the same, you should update. Downloading and running this update is no different from updating your drivers, but you should be sure to close all of your other programs and give this process your full and undivided attention.

This update will ensure that your newer hardware and an older computer can communicate without causing operating system errors.

If All Else Fails…

If you’ve tried all of these things and have nothing to show for it, or if your computer just goes straight to the BSOD without even starting up, it’s time to call for reinforcements. However, these few steps should alleviate the problem. 90% of the time. If a piece of hardware inside your machine has died on you, you may need professional help to determine what it is and how much it will cost.

I hope this gives you a good start on a direction to take, instead of screaming and panicking. But just yelling a little but can relieve stress, so I won’t advise against that. Good luck guys, hope you enjoyed.


Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer

Article 2: Solid State Drives

Welcome back to The Modern Nerd.
Doing computer improvements can be a fun and rewarding puzzle, and the challenge is not as daunting as you might think. Let’s look at one of the latest products available at the consumer level, the Solid State Drive, or SSD.

It’s new, and new is better right?

Solid state drives are new technology, available in new PC’s and separately from hardware suppliers. But what are they? And will you benefit from installing one? Let’s explore the subject a little further. The first thing you should look at is your computer as a total package. Are you trying to infuse new life into a 10 year old machine? It’s been my experience that without a processor and memory capable of handling the increased speed, you won’t see much difference, so your money would be better spent elsewhere.

But if your machine is relatively new, has a dual core or better processor and more than 2 GB of RAM then an SSD might be the performance boost you are looking for. Without getting super-technical I’ll say that SSD’s access information stored on your hard drive about 5 times faster than a traditional hard drive. They don’t have any mechanical parts or spinning pieces so accessing data from them is fast and efficient. They have the same input/output system as HDD’s (abbreviation for Hard Drive Disk) so conversions are fairly simple. The drawback is in their price right now.

Getting an internal drive will cost around $100 as a starter price. The higher capacity variants can get expensive quickly. If you try to replace your 500 GB HDD with a 500 GB SSD, you could be looking at an $800 price tag. For that price you could get a new computer with some spare cash left over.

So why upgrade at all?

Operating systems run lightning fast on an SSD. I personally recently upgraded my desktop machine to store the vast majority of my data on my old HDD, and run all of my main programs and Windows 7 on the SSD. My personal SSD is 120 GB, and cost around $140. The HDD I store files on is 750 GB. When you have a desktop, installing more drives is much easier, but certain larger laptops have multiple drive bays for installing supplemental drives. 

So, if you are going to REPLACE your standard hard drive, you will sacrifice storage capacity. If you use your laptop for primarily work and internet access, and don’t want to store a lot of music or files on it, you will fall in love with an SSD immediately. Everything you bring up will be super-fast, and your laptop will immediately become more power-efficient.

You can shut down and start up operating systems running from a solid-state in only a few seconds, compared to the minute and a half that it usually takes to get going, and a solid state will do wonders to get rid of that 2 minutes in between seeing your desktop screen to being able to use your computer due to the programs that start up and run in the background. So in summary, you can’t use a solid state to put lipstick on a pig. At some point you’ll have to replace your old laptop. However, if you have a newer laptop or desktop, and you want a performance booster, an SSD will be a purchase you will not regret.

Setting up this drive is a large project, so look out for my blog where I’ll break it all down for you. But if you are going to take it on sooner rather than later, remember one of the cardinal rules of computer maintenance. Back up your data. If you screw anything up, you can restore it without any permanent losses.  

I hope this gives you some more insights on the possibility of turning up the speed on your machine. If you have any questions, your local tech support guys are there to help you. Check out the rest of the blogs on our site, and happy upgrading. 


Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer

Article 1: Frozen!

Oh Crap, It’s Frozen!

Hey, it happens. Usually it’s not really your fault. Programs lock up, freeze, and stop working right. This is usually dependent on how hard you are taxing the resources of your computer, and how many things are running at once. But this basic introduction to everyday troubleshooting should help you avoid making that dreaded call to tech support. We nerds hate that call just as much as you do, if not more. So let’s walk through what could be wrong with it and the easy fixes.

Restarting your Computer

Once you are forced to call tech support, the number one thing they always tell you to do is restart your machine. But what the heck is the point of that? The answer lies in how the computer functions on a basic level. All computers have some form of memory storage, and some form of active memory, the RAM (Random Access Memory). If a program is malfunctioning, we want to figure out where the problem is. The problem with that is we can’t decipher millions of lines of code to find out where one function is not executing properly. That is a job for the software engineers and coders. So we narrow down the possibilities by looking at the possible areas where the problem could exist.

The active memory doesn’t store anything. As soon as power is cut to the computer, it is wiped clean. And if your program won’t load properly, starting from scratch tells us if it was an anomaly, or if there is a problem with your installation on the storage drive. So just simply restart it, being sure to save your work if you can, and 50% of your problems will magically disappear.

You may not need to fully restart your computer to see the same results though. Sure that is the most effective way to start your troubleshooting, but it also can be time consuming. So consider utilizing your Task Manager in Windows, or your Activity Monitor on OSX to get rid of the program’s runtime within your operating system.

The Windows Task Manager

Back in the early days of Windows, CTRL-ALT-DEL was the magic kill switch for your computer. If you couldn’t get any response from anything, pressing this key combination would restart windows without disrupting power to the computer. Now you can access an Administrator level tool by using this simple key combination from anywhere.

Ending programs from this window is a good way to get back to a working state. I could spend a whole blog on this utility, and I may in the future, but now just take note if the different tabs available to you for different functions.

The Activity Monitor in Mac OSX

This utility functions almost the same way as the Windows task manager. You can control many different utilities of the operating system from here, especially killing a program that is hanging and causing an endless rainbow wheel. There isn’t the same magic button combination that gets you there, but searching for Activity Monitor in the Finder or in your Utilities folder will get you there.

When All Else Fails – Hard-boot It

This last and final step will help you out if you can get no response from anything, and even telling it to restart gets you nowhere. Without having to unplug the tower of a desktop of remove the battery of a laptop, you can issue a power command by pressing and holding the power button until it shuts off. I would like to emphasize that this should be a last resort, as this can mess with your Windows/OSX settings if something doesn’t save properly.

If restarting your computer doesn’t fix the problem, then you probably have an installation problem. Reinstalling your program would be the next step, but don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you think that something might be over your head.

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer


Article 0: About this Category


Hi. My name is Aaron Krick. I am an engineering student, a rugby player, martial artist, and I am a computer nerd.

The word has taken a whole new meaning since an entire generation has matured in the age of the personal computer. As I commute from school on a normal day, I am able to write this blog, while listening to music and checking up on when the next practice for Drexel’s rugby team is. Being a nerd now means that you can take any two pieces of technology and make them work together. When it comes right down to it, that is what technology should do for you. Make connections to make your everyday life easier.

People who can fix computers have become as indispensable as a mechanic or a hair stylist. Your hair will always grow, your car will always need another inspection, and your computer will eventually break down for one reason or another. I personally have been working with (and playing games on) computers since grade school. Growing up with the evolution of operating systems from Windows 95 to the latest iPhone has given me a fairly broad perspective on how everything fits together.

I am hoping to share some of that knowledge I have gained from almost no practical training, no formal classes outside of the standard high school computer proficiency and typing classes (most of which I spent playing games because I knew all of the material beforehand anyway). The world has become digital, connected, and a lot smaller.

Because I don’t have any formal training, and since this is primarily my hobby, I will endeavor to spell everything out in plain English. You don’t need to know how to code your own programs to make the most out of your expensive devices. Sure that helps, but that will be beyond the scope of my blog entries. 

If you can gain a basic understanding of your operating systems and their capabilities, you’ll be able to apply that with ease to everyday troubleshooting situations.Before long you’ll be so proficient, people will be asking for your help fixing their computer, which will not seem like such a daunting task any more. Like any mastery process, starting small and building on your skills is the way to go.
So stay a while, and listen.

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer