Check it out – Check it off

This week, “Check It Out – Check It Off” tackles the way that companies – and individuals – can improve their use of computers.

Three experts provide nine ideas about technology for a user-friendly 2009.

Dan Colby is president of Pinstripe Inc., a tech consulting firm that specializes in its “S3 Methodology” – or Standardize, Stabilize & Simplify to make companies more efficient and secure.

Denise Garbacz is a Web strategist and president of FastForward Marketing, which helps companies boost Web and customer exposure.

Philip Ciccarello is director of information technology at the Charlotte Regional Partnership.

Get your online skills in line

Certain online tools help people make connections not possible on the civic group circuit. LinkedIn is a professional networking tool that sorts members by location, profession or other interests. Facebook is a social networking tool to share views and friends for get-togethers, politics, education, business … these aren't just “young people” sites. Garbacz

ACTION 1: Go to and start an account (free). Find five people who have a common business, education or personal interest.

ACTION 2: Go to and join (free). Set up your profile. Find at least two groups that match your alma mater, a hobby or other interest. (Use care in what you post for the sake of privacy.)

By the way, says Garbacz, remember to set up your free Web account, too. Read and respond to stories there. Make friends with the e-medium.

Talk cheap

Garbacz's sister lives in London and it doesn't cost a dime to call through Skype. This is a “chat online” service that can call anywhere in the world for free if you do it through your computer. Garbacz

ACTION 3: Go to and learn about how this service could work for you.

Back up data

People put a lot of data on their computers, much of it one-of-a-kind material and if lost, it is lost for good. There are two backup choices. First, an on-site external hard drive. A thumb drive can cost just $5. A great option may be an iPod – a hefty amount of material could go on a 120GB iPod Classic.

Second, consider an off-site backup service for irreplaceable or high-value information. Some services are free for a small amount of space. Charges may start when a “restore” is needed. Remote backup services can be searched on the Internet (try “remote computer backup”). Colby's personal favorite is at $49 a year. Colby

ACTION 5: Create and enact a back-up plan and set-up reminders to use it.

Get smart. Rethink the way a computer is used. Leave that bulky laptop at the office with a smart phone, so in the palm of your hand there is instant e-mail, contacts, custom apps, GPS and, most important, the Internet. Ciccarello

ACTION 6: Learn about smart phone from your mobile phone carrier, or educate yourself from popular tech review Web sites such as C-Net or

Stop data re-entries

Entering the same data in multiple places is a time-waster. Some scenarios are simple, like synchronizing an Outlook contact list to a mobile phone. Others are more complicated. Often, a software solution already exists, but keep in mind that the company that made the programs may not know about connectors or be able to write a custom integration. Colby

ACTION 7: Make a note anytime you enter the same piece of information in two different places. Google for an answer. For example, if you need to synchronize your mobile, then search for “mobile synch.” If it's more complicated, you may need to consult a pro.

Toughen passwords

People use passwords to guard data. No password is 100 percent unbreakable. Try “pass phrases,” easier to remember and harder to hack. Pass phrases use actual words together whenever possible. For instance, a pop music fan may choose the phrase “Break up the concrete” (The Pretenders, 2008, BTW). You'll see pass phrases increasingly instead of passwords as home and business technology improves. Change passwords or phrases routinely, too. Colby

ACTION 8: Use pass phrases if your system allows it and set up a once-a-month password change reminder.

Improve your access. “Remote access” builds bridges between a user and a machine, or several machines, while those computers are safely somewhere else. There are solutions for everyone. Ciccarello

ACTION 9: Corporate users: talk to your systems admin. Home users: check out Or check, which takes collaboration a step further by syncing up computers, phones and other devices.