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Confessions of a data hoarder  
By J. Carlton Collins, CPA
September 2012

Q: How long should I keep email before deleting it from Outlook?

A: I probably qualify to participate in one of those hoarding shows because I have every email I’ve ever sent or received, dating back more than 20 years (starting with my AOL email accounts). Emails sent or received using a business email address (even personal emails) are generally considered to be the property of the employer; therefore, your question is one of corporate policy, not personal preference. Presented below are a few points regarding the benefits and risks you might consider. Keeping older emails can be beneficial for several reasons, a few examples of which follow:

a. Older email receipts may provide proof of purchase.

b. Older emails may contain documentation of client approvals to perform work.

c. Older emails may provide evidence and documentation proving the validity of a business trip deduction or other expenditure in the event of an IRS audit.

d. Older emails often contain references to phone numbers, email addresses, or people’s names.

e. Older email newsletter articles may serve as a handy reference.

f. The process of deleting emails involves decision-making and can be a time-consuming effort. It might save you more time to simply keep them all.

The risks associated with keeping older emails are minimal, as follows:

a. Unless your older emails contain incriminating information or data, there should not be much risk to keeping them indefinitely for archive purposes.

b. The security settings and permissions needed to protect a few emails are the same for protecting a large volume of emails.

c. Hard disk space is now so affordable that the practice of deleting files to preserve hard disk space is no longer a valid reason for most companies.

d. It does take a little longer to search through 50,000 emails compared with just 500 emails, and it takes much longer to back up a 15-gigabyte PST file compared to a 1-GB PST file; therefore, computer performance is a valid consideration.

The importance of older emails and the points listed above may vary depending on your industry, the nature of your emails, and how your organization uses email. Your organization should weigh the merits of these points to determine which emails, if any, are to be deleted, and to establish a uniform corporate policy for employees to follow. You already know that an email hoarder like me would advise you to keep them all.

Wi-Fi dead spots  
By J. Carlton Collins, CPA
September 2012

Q: Our office has a few dead spots where computers have difficulty accessing the internet through our wireless router. What can we do to solve this problem?

A: I had a similar problem with weak Wi-Fi signals in my office when my desktop computer managed only two (out of five) bars of signal strength. I remembered seeing a YouTube video describing a poor man’s solution for boosting a router’s signal strength using a soda can cut and folded into the shape of a sail. I gave this a try and it worked—this trick boosted my performance from two to three bars. However, I did not stop there. I visited my local hardware store and purchased a 10-by-12-inch piece of aluminum (about $2), folded it into a right angle, positioned it behind my router (as pictured below), and achieved four-and-a-half bars of signal strength at my desktop computer.

Wi-fiAlthough this contraption won’t win any beauty awards, the inexpensive trick worked for me. For those seeking a more professional solution, following are several alternative measures for boosting a Wi-Fi signal:

1. If you have not already done so, relocate your wireless router to a central spot in your office.

2. If you are unable to reposition your wireless router to a central location, you may consider upgrading the device’s antenna to a high-gain antenna for about $5 to $15. Instead of scattering a signal in all directions, this type of antenna focuses the signal in a specific direction, which can result in a signal strength many times more powerful than a scattered signal.

3. Raise your wireless router higher (perhaps on a shelf near the ceiling) so the device’s signal will avoid interference from filing cabinets, metal desks, or other signal-impeding objects.

4. Install a wireless repeater device (priced from $25 to $250) halfway between your wireless router and the dead spot you mentioned, to boost the range of your wireless signal.

5. For a more technical solution, you might consider changing the wireless channel used by your wireless router, particularly if your office is near radio or cell towers that might cause interference. To make this change, log in to your wireless router’s configuration page and locate the option to select a channel (the specific instructions vary depending on the brand of router).

6. Wireless router manufacturers periodically release new firmware updates, and sometimes these improvements can increase performance. To update the firmware, log in to your wireless router’s configuration page and select the Update option.

7. Be aware that today’s wireless-N (802.11n) class routers offer far more performance and greater range than the older a, b, g, and super-g class routers. Wireless-B networks typically operate at 2–5 megabits per second (Mbps). Wireless-G networks usually operate in the 13–23 Mbps range. The average speed for wireless-N routers is about 50 Mbps (although your actual speed will be limited to the speed delivered by your internet service provider). Wireless-N routers are priced from about $40 to $200 (and up), and if you are using an older router, upgrading to a wireless-N router could be your best solution.

Website update  
By J. Carlton Collins, CPA
September 2012

Q: I have been tasked with reviewing and updating our firm’s website content, and I want to go about it as efficiently as possible. Can you help me get started?

A: I find that I can review content better on a printed page with pencil in hand. Adobe Acrobat Standard X ($139) provides the ability to produce a single document containing your entire website. To use this feature, from the Acrobat X menu, select Create, Create PDF from Web Page, and enter the website’s URL (URL is an acronym for uniform resource locator, which is the site’s home page web address) in the URL box. Click the Capture Multiple Levels button, select the Get entire site radio button, and then click Create.

Area view  
By J. Carlton Collins, CPA
September 2012

Q: I am trying to prepare an area chart in Excel 2010 with multiple ranges of data, but no matter which sort order I use, some of the underlying data remains obscured (see below). What is the best way to fix this?

A: It appears that your best solution is to use a line chart instead of an area chart, but assuming an area chart is the chart type you desire, you should change the area chart’s solid fill colors to semitransparent fill colors as follows. Right-click on a data series in your chart and select Format Data Series from the popup menu. Select Fill, Solid fill, and then, from the Fill Color section, select a color from the Color dropdown box and slide the Transparency chevron to 50%. Repeat this procedure for each data area in your chart (selecting a unique fill color each time), then close the dialog box. The result is an area chart in which all data areas are displayed semitransparently, so you can see each data set as shown in the example below.

Cookies in red capes  
By J. Carlton Collins, CPA
September 2012

Q: I found unwanted cookies on my Windows computer that I am unable to delete, and my security program does not detect or delete them either. How can I get rid of these persistent cookies? (Note: To view the cookies on your computer, from the Internet Explorer browser menu, select Tools, Internet Options, Settings (under Browsing history), View files. Sort the list by Name, then scroll to the cookie listings as shown in the example below.)

A: To get rid of cookies that defy deletion, reboot your computer in Safe Mode (see below). You then will be able to delete them. To do this, reboot, then press the F8 key (before the Windows splash screen appears), then select Safe Mode and press the Enter key.

Once the system boots up, log in as an administrator and navigate to the Temporary Internet Files folder as follows:

1. From the Internet Explorer browser, select Tools, Internet Options, Settings (from the Browsing history section) and click the View files button.

2. Sort the content by clicking on the Name column’s title, then scroll to the names that begin with the word cookie.

3. Right-click each unwanted cookie and select Delete from the pop-up menu. Select Yes to confirm deletion.

Further, you may have encountered a super cookie—a more powerful type of cookie that circumvents your browser’s cookie manager and continually replaces some cookies after you delete them. Like regular cookies, most super cookies do not represent a direct computer threat, but they can threaten your privacy. If you encounter a suspicious super cookie, you can eradicate it using the following steps. Because super cookies are associated with Adobe Flash products, start by right-clicking on any YouTube video clip and selecting Global Settings (click the Allow button if prompted). On the Storage tab, click the button labeled Local Storage Settings by Site to display a list of Flash-based super cookies installed on your computer (see below).

Review the list and select the offending super cookie (perhaps one with the same or similar name to the persistent regular cookies you want to delete), then click the Remove button and close the dialog box. Thereafter, the parental super cookie won’t be around to redeposit new cookies in your Temporary Internet Files folder.

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA
September 2012

Q: I am trying to write an IF function in Excel that compares two cells to determine if they are exactly the same, including capitals and lowercase letters, but Excel seems to ignore case when using the IF function. What’s the best way to accomplish this goal?

A: Excel’s functions generally ignore case. Excel sees ABCDEF the same as abcdef, as illustrated by the IF function located in cell C2 (shown below).

Notice above that when Excel’s =IF function is used to compare cells A2 and B2, Excel considers these cells identical and returns the value TRUE. To compare two cells to determine if they are identical, including case, use the EXACT function as demonstrated below.

Notice that when using Excel’s =EXACT function to compare two cells, Excel does not consider these cells identical and returns the value FALSE.

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