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Among top tips for computing: Back up your data

In 20 years of writing this column, more than 1,000 of these gems have left my fingertips and ended up in your brain cells in one form or another. In those two decades, we have learned much. I thought I would share the best information in this week's space.

Things I have learned as a columnist:

If your e-mail box is anywhere near its quota, don't say anything remotely disparaging about an Apple product. Newspapers get fewer letters if you suggest using cats as skeet than if you criticize an iBook.

That said, if you want a music player, quick futzing around and buy an iPod.

I still miss my Zeos 486 computer with 16 megs of RAM. I really thought I had died and gone to heaven with that thing. It ran Windows 3.1 with fierce speed and looked good doing it. I hot-rodded that thing more than my '66 Volkswagen.

RAM is RAM. Don't pay more for the fancy brand names. Get the speed you need and buy the cheapest stuff.

Buy the most RAM your motherboard can hold, especially if your computer is current. Memory is cheap when it is current.

If you're thinking of buying a computer, look into the various manufacturers' outlet stores and use widely available coupons. Check the prices; you may save a lot of money.

If you are buying a laptop, get the higher resolution screen.

Don't buy extended warranties.

Hard drives will fail. Back up your data. That goes double for music and photos. You will want these some day.

Before you buy anything, check eBay. Add in the shipping costs. Then barter with the seller.

Ted Williams was the best hitter in baseball. Ever.

Don't lay your laptop down on a bed, carpet or sofa (or any soft surface) while it is running. It will overheat and die because the fan will not work any more.

More than 25 percent of Windows PCs in the United States don't have current anti-virus products installed. Guess what: Companies give the product away free and it is still not being used. I am basically giving up.

Invest in a $5 can of compressed air and blow out your computer twice a year (while it is turned off) and you may not have to hire me to replace your power supply later. Make it monthly if you own a cat.

It's not the price of the printer, it's the price of the ink that kills you. If you are still using an inkjet printer to print black and white, you are just getting slaughtered at the altar of HP.

Windows is pretty amazing when it works. Windows 7 is even more so.

An Apple laptop is close to a work of art.

If you are still using a mouse with a ball in it, for heaven's sake, spend $10 and get an optical mouse.

Don't do a live demo of the Internet's power in front of an auditorium of school children without installing 15 porn filters.

James Derk owns CyberDads, a computer-repair firm. E-mail him at jim@cyberdads.com.