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Sun, Sept. 22

Monsoon brings potential for great damage to computers

Q. I have been told to watch out for power surges during the monsoon season. What can I do to protect my computer equipment?

A. The monsoon season has arrived, and you should be aware of what danger that may pose to your expensive computer and other electronic equipment. Lightning strikes, power surges and outages can easily damage your computer and its components, such as printers, scanners, etc. This includes just about everything that is actually connected to your computer.

Even if the lightning or the storm are not nearby, a strike or surge can travel for miles across the power or phone lines. These surges can be very unpredictable, cause expensive damage and even ruin your backup data if it gets into your external hard drive. In addition, your power may go out without warning, thereby erasing all changes to a file since your last "save." An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) will provide surge protection plus sufficient electrical power for several minutes to give you time to save your work and properly shut down your computer.

Even if you feel you don't need a UPS, at a minimum you should purchase a good surge protector. This is generally defined as one costing at least $25. Anything cheaper is little more than an extension cord and will probably not provide you with the necessary protection. You should look for a surge protector with an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) 1449 rating to ensure a reasonable amount of protection. An electrician can also install a whole-house surge protector for you which will offer protection to all the appliances in the house.

For the best protection, shut down all your equipment and remove everything that plugs into the wall when there's lightning anywhere around. That way nothing can get in to cause damage to your equipment. This means all wires between your computer (including its related equipment) and the various outlets (electrical, cable, phone and DSL lines).

Even the smallest power surge can cost you money for repair or replacement of damaged computer parts. This damage is avoidable if you pay attention and disconnect your computer when those monsoon storms start rolling in.

Q. I have a very nice digital camera that takes quality pictures. Yet I've often heard you say in your classes that any photo can be improved in post-processing. Do I really need to spend time working in an image editor to make nice prints? I'd rather spend time out taking pictures.

A. No, you don't have to do anything in post-processing but it does give you a lot more control with how your images look. I agree that today's cameras do a fine job taking nice images, but a little work on your computer afterwards will turn your nice images into really great ones. A child's rendition of chopsticks played on the piano is nice but a skilled pianist can make it sound like it belongs in Carnegie Hall. You can accept the good images your camera gives you or you can put some feeling into it and make improvements with your imaging software.

What we saw when we decided to take a picture is often not quite what our camera gives us. Most modern cameras give good results for focus and exposure but may be lacking in some areas. For instance, we see a lot more detail in the shadows on sunny days than the camera will easily show us at first glance. The detail is usually there; we just need to show it with image-editing software. I love what my shadows/highlights tool does in my computer to dig out the missing detail in the shadows. I've learned that it doesn't do much for burned out highlights, so I try to expose them accurately in camera, knowing that the shadows/highlights tool will greatly improve the shadow detail.

For another example, many times we take an image where the subject is correct but the background is intrusive. Often a bit of darkening and blurring of the background in post-processing will emphasize the subject and de-emphasize that distracting background. The human eye often goes to the lighter parts of the image and that should be your subject. I enjoy taking pictures but take great pleasure in improving them later on my computer.

The Prescott Computer Society (PCS) is a PC-based users group located in Prescott.  We hold several entertaining and educational meetings each month to show you how to get the most out of your computer.  For further information, please visit us at www.PCS4me.com. Email questions for future columns to PCSquestions@gmail.com.

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