I’ll be the first to agree that the title for
this article is a descriptive but boring headline for
those ubiquitous computing-related frustrations and
outbursts that, under other circumstances, might be
the basis for an insanity plea...or at least result
in a 72-hour psychiatric observation commitment. My
wife, a psychologist, quipped that modern computing
remained “C to the Fifth.” “You need
to plead the fifth,” she said, “to avoid
admitting to what you said and did in front of your
child during your computing-induced crisis blackout.”
We’ve been spoiled by computer hardware and operating
systems that are far more capable and reliable than
those of even five years ago. However, there’s
one drawback - we’re more likely to overlook mundane
computer system upgrades and maintenance that keep our
systems healthy, user-friendly, and fast rather than
degenerating into C3 ( Crashes, Chaos, and Crisis).
Not being content to reflect merely upon my own computing
shortcomings, I did a thoroughly unscientific survey
of three or four users and one computer store owner.
Here are some thoughts about some minor and not so minor
computing irritations that sap our productivity. Some
of these can be corrected with a simple change in a
system setting. Others require inexpensive hardware
Caution: Some of the system tweaks
can cause operating system or hardware damage if you
don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t
try them at home unless you know what you’re doing,
have kept a good full system backup, and have the technical
ability to get any errant system back on track! If you’re
not sure, then ask an experienced computer technician
to do them, if he or she believes them to be appropriate.
1. My computer runs too slowly:
A. Defragment your hard disk using the basic Microsoft
Windows defragmenter found under Start, accessories,
system tools, disk defragmenter. Hard disk
file fragmentation (remember that?) still causes major
degradation of system performance over time, no matter
how fast your processor. In fact, defragmenting your
hard disk will improve overall computer performance
more than upgrading your processor and system board.
Microsoft’s defragmenting program is inefficient,
though. Try a Diskeeper download.
B. Check your Control Panel, System, Hardware,
disk drives, to be sure that your hard disks
are running in UDMA mode rather than the old, slow PIO
mode. PIO is very slow compared to UDMA file access
modes. If your hard disk doesn’t have even basic
UDMA capabilities, then replace the hard disk. It’s
probably old enough to cause reliability concerns.
C. Add RAM if your Windows 2000 or XP system does
not have at least 512 megabytes. If possible, replace
the DRAM complete with matched memory modules that are
certified to be at least as fast the fastest Front Side
Bus (FSB) speed of the system board and processor. (Here’s
a paradox: fast DDR400 PC3200 memory is often less expensive
than older, slower memory! Memory rated for a higher
speed will work at lower FSB speeds and have an extra
margin of reliability to boot.) There’s no way
to work around an inadequate amount of DDR memory except
to add more memory and it’s the single best way
to improve the performance of an underequipped system.
If your system board uses a chipset that provides “dual
channel” memory capability, be sure to
install the DDR memory sticks only in the designated
paired slots. Check your system board manual for installation
instructions and diagrams.
D. Be sure that your system BIOS is properly set for
optimum performance. Do this only if you are both experienced
at BIOS setup and also have the manual for your system
board immediately available. If you make a mistake,
your system may not boot and you’ll need to refer
to the system board manual for instructions about how
to clear the BIOS and reset it to the defaults. Your
system board BIOS controls the speed of every important
system component. For example, you can set DDR memory
timing and voltage (hint - raising the DDR memory voltage
from 2.5V to 2.6V is usually safe and typically allows
the memory to run noticeably faster - do this at your
own risk, though - no guarantees). Your BIOS will probably
have a user-selectable high performance option. Even
that is not optimum but a good first start toward tweaking.
The newest nVidia nForce4 Ultra and nForce4 SLI chipsets
for the high performance AMD 64-bit Athlon64 processors
contain a software program that automatically adjusts
the processor and system board setup for the best possible
performance and reliability.
E. Swap the CPU and DDR memory for the fastest versions
that your computer can handle. Most computers have system
boards that can use processors and memory that are faster
than what you already have installed. For example, the
ASUS A7N8X-E system board installed in my daughter’s
computer had an older and relatively inefficient Athlon
1800 and 266MB DDR memory installed. It was neither
difficult nor time-consuming to swap out that old CPU
and DDR memory for a 2800+ Athlon XP and 512 MB of high
performance low latency PC2700 (DDR333) memory. You
can do this, with a modicum of hardware knowledge, in
about 7-8 minutes and the performance improvement was
dramatic. The cost for a 2800+ Athlon XP CPU and 512
MB of matching memory was about $176. Check the Web
site of your computer or system board manufacturer to
see what upgraded processors are usable on your system
and whether a BIOS upgrade is necessary. Most manufacturers
now provide relatively easy and automated BIOS upgrades,
but again, do this ONLY if you are experienced, know
what you’re doing, and follow all directions exactly.
Be sure that you make a backup of the prior BIOS to
a floppy disk in case you need to revert.
F. Reduce the color depth of your video card from
32 bit (16.7 million colors) to 32,768 or 65,536 colors.
You’ll never notice the difference on your monitor
unless you’re doing professional graphics. Right
click on any part of the Windows desktop, choose properties,
and then settings.
G. Use a different anti-virus solution. Anti-virus
operations are critical but really drain computing system
performance. Not all anti-virus solutions are created
equal. After I experienced a problem with Norton 2005,
I uninstalled the entire program, which includes many
hidden modules, and tried both Panda Anti-Virus and
Grisoft AVG anti-virus, two of several competing products
recommended on the Microsoft security Web site. Both
of these are just as efficient as Norton at catching
all common infections, but places a noticeably lighter
overall load upon my system. I saw a nearly 10 percent
documented performance gain after I uninstalled the
Norton products and installed Grisoft. Your mileage,
of course, may vary.
H. Many Windows programs load services and other program
snippets into memory where they remain whenever your
system is turned on. Just about every software vendor
seems to believe that your experience with their product
will be unsatisfactory unless you load these “services.”
Often, they’re not only unnecessary but suck up
DRAM memory and overall system performance. Even though
some install icons on the lower right side of the task
bar where you can unload or exit them, many “services”
can be found only by more minute examination. In Windows
XP, go to Windows Task Manager (hold down Control-
Alt-Delete) and select the Processes tab. That
will show you which software is loaded and how much
memory and CPU capacity it absorbs. You can test selective
service shut-down (pun intended) by trying to end various
processes on a one-time to see what difference they
will make. Some but not all processes either will not
shut down or cannot be safely shut down and attempting
to exit these processes will result in an error message.
Other critical processes such as Explorer or svchost
will exit but will immediately cause a harmless system
shutdown. Definitely keep some notes when you start
this testing process. To adjust which services load
on start-up, go to the Start menu, administrative
tools, services option. You can then see which
services load automatically. Be very careful about changing
the start-up status of any basic system services, because
you may affect system stability and usability. Be sure
that you first test any proposed service alteration
by first testing the change in Task Manager,
processes, exit process. As with BIOS setup,
don’t try this at home unless you know what you’re
doing, have kept a good full system backup, and have
the technical ability to get any errant system back
2. My printer takes too much time on long documents
I have transitioned to a digital law office where
paper has been banished wherever possible and PDF files
used as the primary file system and the expensive photocopier
is hardly used at all. One result was that slow printing
of large PDF files used to be a tremendous irritation
and productivity drain until I implemented the steps
A. Microsoft’s print spooler has always been
a drain upon desktop computer performance. Even the
print spooler in Windows XP seems to suck up nearly
all available CPU cycles, even on very fast high end
systems. Even with a top-end 64-bit Athlon 3500+ system,
a Gigabyte of DDR400 memory and a 25 ppm HP LaserJet
2300 printer, printing a lengthy PDF file directly from
my computer to a directly attached LJ2300 is glacially
slow, on the order of “Waiting for Godot”.
It was so slow that I considered spending over $1,000
for a faster printer. I then discovered much better,
and far less expensive, solutions.
B. You can change the priority of your printer in
control panel, printers, (choose printer to
be adjusted), then menu item printer, properties, advanced,
priority. Give your printer a higher priority
if documents are printing out too slowly or a lower
priority if printing essentially disables your computer
from doing other useful work simultaneously.
C. Try printing through your network. Many networks
are better suited to printing than your Windows system.
Novell NetWare, even eight- and nine-year-old versions,
is significantly faster. In order to print using your
network, you’ll need to attach a printer to your
network in a manner that allows the printer to be recognized
as a network element. In order to do this, you’ll
need an inexpensive device called a “print server.”
I use the Edimax print servers purchased for about $60
each from www.zipzoomfly.com. These are small, unobtrusive,
and easy to set up. My LJ 2300 printer is still in my
office and used only by me, but I now print directly
through my Novell network. I can start a 300 or 400
page long print job of a PDF discovery file and not
worry about anything except running out of paper.
Edimax 3 port Print Server
D. Get a modern printer. You’d be surprised
how many law offices are still using slow inkjet printers
for printing everything rather than only color output
when needed. As a result, their cost per page is more
than you might imagine. A modern laser printer costs
perhaps $650 and prints both standard output and Postscript
at up to 25 pages per minute at a relatively low cost
per page. This is particularly important as you move
toward a digital filing system where all documents are
stored in electronic form and printed out only when
copies are needed. You’ll need color output from
time to time, particularly for digital photos and exhibits
(you are doing these, aren’t you?). A fast four
cartridge USB color printer such as the HP Business
DeskJet 1100 costs under $250 and gives excellent and
fast multi-page color output at a reasonable cost per
page. I attached both a LaserJet 2300 BW printer and
a Business DeskJet 1100 to my own desktop computer and
found that I was definitely more productive as I moved
toward digital law office.
LaserJet 2300 and Business Inkjet 1100 Printers
3. Backing up data is expensive and unreliable.
You need to back up your data every day. If you don’t,
then you’re flirting with disaster and malpractice.
Unfortunately, traditional backup tape drives are expensive,
slow, and relatively low in capacity, certainly not
matching the capacity of most modern hard disk. You
need to do a total backup daily, not an incremental
backup, each evening as you leave for home. Now that
most recording keeping is computerized, major data loss
is the equivalent of a fire. There is a less expensive
and much less irritating way to back up your data. Use
a portable USB 2.0 hard disk and run the backup program
included in both Windows 2000 and Windows XP Professional.
These work with both local and networked hard disks.
The cost will be perhaps 20-40 percent of a tape drive
solution while providing much greater capacity and speed,
with far less hassle and difficulty. You can even get
backup systems that fit in your shirt pocket and require
no separate power supply. Many computer stores sell
tiny USB enclosures into which you simply insert a standard
2.5" notebook computer hard disk of your choice.
I use a 60 MB Toshiba with a 16 MB buffer for best performance.
Power is drawn from the USB port. Total cost per system
is under $180.
60 GB USB Pocket Hard Disk (without USB cable)
3. Clean up your hard disk
An amazing number of junk files accumulate on your
hard disk over time, particularly old temporary Internet
and cache files. When I recently cleaned up my own hard
disk, I found hundreds of unnecessary Internet cookies
and other clutter and thousands of cache files. In Internet
Explorer, go to these menu items, tools, Internet
Options, general, Temporary Internet files, also History.
Selectively delete “cookies” - hint, if
you clear all of them, you’ll experience problems
re-entering and using many sites. Delete all old temporary
files. Retain only a few days in history and, if you
have broadband Internet service such as DSL or cable,
then set the amount of local hard disk storage for Internet
files as low as possible. Retaining already used Internet
files is a vestige of slow modem days and seriously
clutters your computer.
You should also try to eliminate all unnecessary duplicate
files. Doing so not only reduces hard disk clutter but
also makes it easier to find the latest version of whatever
you need. Download a duplicate file finding utility.
I use LD.EXE, a DOS utility that also works across my
network and checks by name, file size, and content.
Finding a particular file can be a real hassle, particularly
if you try to use the file find utility shipped with
Windows. It does work but there are much better. Google
now ships a really fast utility that searches your local
hard disk and E-mail. It’s free and the initial
security holes will likely be remedied by TECHSHOW.
dtSearch is a commercial text searching product that
indexes both local and network hard disks and allows
“fuzzy” and synonym searching. This is a
very powerful and useful product, particularly when
you are not sure exactly what you’re searching
for. You can get a trial version at www.dtsearch.com.
4. My voice recognition is not worth the hassle
Voice recognition software always seems to be the
next big thing in law office automation yet rarely satisfies.
I have found several fixes that, while not inexpensive,
work extremely well and finally fulfill the unrequited
promise of voice dictation. Dragon Naturally Speaking
8 works extremely well, even with only a minimal amount
of voice training. The program allows you to create
voice commands that include a great deal of text which
retains its original formatting, a major benefit that
eluded other major programs such as IBM ViaVoice. For
example, you can use the voice term “Jones caption”
and bring up the complete caption, then position your
cursor and use the voice command “standard rear
end discovery” to fill in most of the rest of
your document. First, I would definitely upgrade to
Dragon 8. However, the analog Andrea mike that ships
with Dragon 8 is not the best for highest accuracy.
I substituted a Plantronics DSP-500 digital signal processing
USB headset ($69.00 from zipzoomfly.com) and it works
faster and more accurately. ViaVoice Pro shipped with
a Plantronics DSP headset, at least when IBM was still
selling it directly, and the DSP processing definitely
helped accuracy. The only problem seems to be Dragon
8 sometimes cannot easily adjust the DSP headset volume,
unlike ViaVoice. For best results, I would urge a change-over
to a DSP headset. That seems particularly true given
that the slightly lower end Plantronics 100 and 300
series should still be available for $30 - $50 retail.
DSP definitely seems faster and more accurate than analog
conversion through the sound chip.
Plantronics DSP-500 USB headset
5. General Security
A. Run a firewall program. Most comprehensive
utility program suites now ship with workable firewall
programs and they’re relatively easy to use once
properly configured. However, if you find that you’re
having periodic odd problems with Internet or network
access, it’s probably a mis-configured firewall
program. Uninstall and then re-install it, checking
for correct configuration. Windows XP Service Pack 2
includes a software firewall and other security enhancements.
There is no good reason to run both a hardware firewall
and a software firewall. I prefer to use a basic Internet
hardware router for all high speed Internet access and
enable the hardware firewall built into these routers.
Routers now cost about $60 or so. Be sure to change
the default password, though! It’s usually published
on the vendor’s Internet site.
B. Enable address translation and access controls
on any Internet routers. Most law offices now
access the Internet through an office network that connects
in turn to DSL or another broadband method of Internet
access. Connecting a network to the Internet requires
hardware called a router, which may be supplied by your
Internet Service Provider or which you might purchase
on your own. In either case, almost all routers - even
the least expensive - now provide for address translation
and access controls, method of hiding your actual Internet
address from prying eyes and reducing your vulnerability
to hacking. Contact your Internet Service Provider’s
technical support for assistance in configuring your
router to provide the best balance of security and ease
C. Avoid for now any wireless networking or
Internet sharing of any sort - these are inherently
insecure because of a fundamental flaw in the WEP encryption
scheme used with current Wireless Internet versions.
Worse, the intrusions will be undetectable and easy
to accomplish using free Wireless hacking software readily
available on the Internet. New wireless networking hardware
based upon the 802.11i standard should start showing
up in the next several months and should be far more
secure. Until then, avoid prying eyes.
D. Use Windows Update to download improved
versions of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express.
Many computers are still running version 5 of these
programs. Upgrading is free and easy. If you don’t
like Internet Explorer and Outlook Express, then try
the public freeware Mozilla browser. It’s fast,
stable, and includes all major Internet services and
E. Use Windows Update to get the latest Service
Pack for your operating system. Service Packs,
which are periodic comprehensive updates and corrective
software, tend to solve a lot of annoying Windows problems.
F. Use Windows Update to install critical
security fixes to your operating system. Windows
contains many vulnerabilities, most of which are exploited
by hackers from time to time. This is now a common problem
for law offices but fixes are free and easy to install.
G. Add industrial grade surge protection for
every piece of hardware connected in any way to your
network. Modern processors are so fast in part
because the processor’s transistors are built
to extremely small dimensions. It doesn’t take
much of a static jolt to bridge a .13 micron gap and
ruin the processor. Replace surge protectors whenever
the indicator light no longer shines brightly. Use surge
protectors rated for the highest Joule rating that you
can find. Nothing is as annoying as a fried system.
H. Use uninterruptible power supplies on every
network file server, without question, and on every
desktop computer that accesses a database program such
as your accounting, time and billing and litigation
support applications. Even a momentarily power
blip that causes the reboot of a network file server
or desktop computer running a database can result in
major data loss and enough damage to render a database
unusable. And, be sure that the UPS battery is still
working. These deteriorate over time.
6. Scanning’s a Drag - Literally
If you’re moving away from paper and toward
a digital law office, then you need to scan your documents
quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, most inexpensive
scanners do this so poorly as to become “shelf-ware”
rather than hardware. I’ve found that the best
approach is for each lawyer and clerical staff to have
their own “convenience” scanner and to scan
on the spot. The best that I’ve found is the Fujitsu
fx5110, which costs about $500 list price and scans
directly into Adobe Acrobat. The Fujitsu comes with
a licensed copy of Acrobat Standard version and has
a lot of neat features like auto color detection, auto
page straightening, double-sided scanning, 15 to 30
page per minute scanning rate, and automatic blank page
rejection. However, if you want to use programs other
than Acrobat or scan large quantities of documents,
such as discovery, then you’ll need another scanner.
I personally like the Xerox 252 and 262 heavy duty scanners
for these heavier demands.
Fujitsu ScanSnap 5110
Joe Kashi is an attorney and litigator
living in Soldotna, Alaska, who is active in the Law
Practice Management Section and a technology editor
for Law Practice Today. He has written regularly
on legal technology for the Law Practice Management
Section, Law Office Computing magazine and other publications
since 1990. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees
from MIT in 1973 and his J.D. from Georgetown University
in 1976, and is admitted to practice in Alaska, Pennsylvania,
the Ninth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court.