Archive for October, 2008

Down the Tubes 4: Desktop Customization

We’re a society that is built on customization. We love to customize our cars, personalize our stuff, and write our names all over everything. Your computer can be an extension of your style, as well, beyond putting stickers on your laptop or changing your desktop to a really awesome wallpaper. This is where desktop customization comes in, allowing you to add features to your computer to make it truly yours. Hard-core desktop customizers use programs that change every bit of their GUI, or graphical user interface (your desktop), down to the exact font of toolbar menus, but for beginning desktop customizers, it’s a good idea to stay simple. These programs will give a little extra kick to your PC without weighing you down.

RocketDock (
PC owners, ever wanted a really neat dock like Macs have? Rocket Dock gives you that functionality for PC, so you can say goodbye to the cumbersome Start menu. The dock functions exactly like the Mac version (it even has skins that look exactly like a Mac dock). You can add programs or executable files to the dock, and they’ll be right at your pointer when you need them. I’m a desktop minimalist, and I hate having a bunch of stupid icons cluttering up my desktop, so Rocket Dock has been a great problem solver for me! Rocket Dock is fully customizable, and it has so many possibilities for features that it might replace the task bar altogether!

Stickies (
If you’re a compulsive list-maker like I am, you’ll really appreciate Stickies for PC. The program, made by Zhorn Software in the UK, allows the user to make virtual “Sticky Notes” that live on the desktop of the computer. I use them as punchlists for papers I’m working on (especially thesis!), to-do lists for the week, or as pop-up reminders.
Stickies stay on top of your other windows, as if they are real sticky notes. You can also choose to have them stay “stuck” on the desktop as well. A really neat feature of Stickies is that they can be transferred to other people over a network. I don’t know any friends who use this program, but it would be neat to send notes to others. The notes themselves are totally customizable, with changing fonts and background colors.

Serious Samurize (
Serious Samurize is a really neat tool for PC that allows you to see all sorts of information about your computer. It can act as a clock, a memory counter, a battery signal, a fan speed sensor, and has so many other uses for keeping your computer’s functionality in check. In the edit function, you add modules that will tell you all of the information you need to know, down to how many kilobytes you have free on your hard drive. It has a lot of other functions that I haven’t figured out yet, but it has been a very useful tool for me. It is also fully personalized, since you make it from scratch, so it will look however you want it to.


Leave a Comment

Down the Tubes 3: The Death of Kumar

Last week was quite possibly the worst week of my thesis-writing life. On Monday, midway through a ten page update, Kumar, my five year old hard drive, departed from this world. Panicked, I called my networking and computer guru friend Jake, and brought my seriously limping computer to his place, where he confirmed the tell-tale thumping that signaled a broken hard drive reader arm.

Like most of my thesis-writing peers, I find my computer to be an essential part of my life. It has all of my research and all of my progress on it, all of my pictures, Firefox bookmarks, and my music. Fortunately, I’m not (much) of an idiot, and had been backing up my work periodically on an external hard drive (aptly named “Harold”). However, there were those ten precious pages that I’d written, and I was not about to give those up.

When a computer hard drive dies, not all is lost. You can take it to a store like Computers, Etc. off of North Peters Road in Knoxville, and have them run data retrieval on it. Basically, they’ll hook your dead drive up to a new one and try to image, or copy, all of your data onto that new drive. Think of it as taking down your hard drive’s last words before it passes on to the vast Valhalla of computer hardware. Mine struggled in its death throes for a day and a half before it croaked, but I did get my ten pages of thesis back, plus a brand new hard drive (called Kumar II) installed and ready to go. I did have to pay about two hundred fifty dollars for it, but it was worth that peace of mind, if not the parental loan.
Because computers aren’t meant for the long haul, after four or five years they can begin to break down. There are some actions you can take to minimize the massive headache that comes when your computer inevitably dies (usually in the middle of a very important paper).

1.  Back up constantly. Get an external hard drive and back up all of your data to it once a week, or if you’re totally obsessed like I am, once a day. For particularly important documents (like thesis) get a USB/flash drive and save to it often. If I’d been saving like I should have been, I wouldn’t have paid the extra for data retrieval to get my ten pages back.

2.  Keep your computer as healthy as possible. Run virus checks, get a good spyware checker, and defragment periodically. If the finer bits of computer health are confounding, buy your favorite computer guru a massive coffee and see if they’ll help you out. Keeping your computer well-managed will prolong its life.

3.  Shut your computer down correctly. I know, this shouldn’t be this obvious, but it’s so tempting to just hit the big fat power button to turn it off. Not only can you corrupt files you’d been working on, but it can mess with a very important computer component called your .dll library, and even delete important bits from it. Believe me, you don’t want that to happen. So go through the extra five seconds to shut your computer down the right way.

With any luck, you won’t have to go through the ordeal I did. Take care of your computer, and take care of your work, and it’ll make the agonizing death of your hard drive a bit easier to deal with.

Leave a Comment