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  • John Bell

Tech Sense January 2024: Late Holiday Shopping

Late Holiday Shopping

            Ok, so this could be for those late shoppers looking for technology stocking stuffers or it could be for those that are looking for things to purchase to enhance your gifts after the holidays are over.  Each of these gifts should be practical, useful, and reasonably affordable.


USB Thumb Drives

            Frequently people ask me how to back up files to protect them in case of hard drive failure.  The best answer is to copy them onto a USB.  I don’t always trust the cloud. I have lost cloud-stored files several times in the past. So, I also make periodic backups to thumb drives and external hard drives.  Thumb drives (sometimes called flash drives) are inexpensively purchasable in sizes from 32 gigabytes (32 billion bytes of data) to 512 gigabytes.  Once you have a thumb drive simply copy the Documents, Pictures, Music, and Downloads folders and your most important files will all be saved.  If you use the “Public” folder for sharing, you can also copy the same folders for the C:\Users\Public folder.

            Another way to use a thumb drive is to carry your music with you in your car.  Make sure the thumb drive stores less than or equal to 32 gigabytes and fill the drive with your favorite music.  Most cars less than 15 years old will play music from the thumb drive when inserted into the radio.  Each thumb drive is like carrying 45 CDs with you in your car.  Look for the owners-manual online to find the instructions for your car.


USB Hard Drives to Lots of Data

            I do work on my computers and sometimes I find the need to copy entire hard drives either to preserve them by creating an exact duplicate of the drive contents or to create complete backups of the data stored on the drives.  For these jobs, I use an external hard drive that connects using a USB connector allowing me to make complete copies of the computer I am working on.  It also provides a lot of space to store bulky data like video collections.


USB Add-Ons

            Most laptop computers available no longer come with Optical Drives for DVD or Blue ray discs.  I still need the occasional optical disk to install old software that isn’t available on the Internet.  I normally have at least one USB based optical drive to allow me to install the software or watch videos I own or play music on CD’s that I record for the car.  A USB Optical drive can make a good gift for some of us. 

            Recently I have run into the same issue where laptops do not include a network plug.  They can only use Wi-Fi.  Frequently I find the need to use an Ethernet connection, even if it is just for speed.  USB based network adapters are inexpensive and typically support gigabit speeds.  A great gift for a frequent traveler.  Some even come with built in USB hubs and display connectors to connect to another monitor.

            A USB hub is a device that allows attachment of multiple USB devices to the same hub.  Some hubs even include a plug to provide power to power other devices connected to the hub.  A perfect gift for the computer user that doesn’t have enough USB plugs on the computer.


Sharing Photos

            This Fall my wife and I scanned over 4,200 family photographs that have been handed down over a period of over 100 years.  This took us an hour or two a few nights each week for a few weeks. We plan to send these to our families over the holidays by sending USB flash drives in the mail.  Believe it or not this is much easier than downloading this amount of data over the Internet.

            We have been scanning photos occasionally for years, but only a few at a time.  When we agreed to tackle the project to scan thousands of photos, I realized we didn’t have the right equipment to get the job done in a timely fashion.  I decided to purchase a high-speed scanner from Epson.  This new scanner easily scanned both sides of 36 photos in less than a minute and performed some basic corrections.  Using some face recognition software, we were also able to identify many of the people found in the photos.

            In the past, I have done smaller groups of photo scans using my flatbed scanners. I loaded these images into electronic photo frames and gave the loaded frames as gifts.  These might show shared vacations or collections of family members as they grew up from babies to adults. 

            This story leads to several potential gift ideas:  send photos, framing is nice but even putting a couple into holiday cards is good.  Send electronic photo frames with memorable scenes.  Send videos on a flash drive to share special events.  On the higher end, buy a scanner as a gift for those that would be inclined to share their photos.  Most people don’t have thousands of photos to share but if they do, a high-speed scanner can make this practical.


USB Cables

            One last suggestion, between USB-A (common USB-A 3.x (blue interior), USB-B (mostly printers), mini-B (smaller devices and older phones), micro-B (old phones and chargers), USB-C (where the world is moving), Apple’s lightning cable (dying) and several less common and mostly dead variants almost everyone can use extra USB adapters and cables at various lengths.


Happy New Year

            So, it turns out, all of my gift suggestions were USB related.  That was not my intention when I started out.  Still, I hope these were good ideas, especially the cords.  I hope everyone had a great 2023.  It was certainly better than the last few years with COVID.  I wish you all a Happy 2024 and if I missed it a Merry Holiday Seaon!

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