Travel tips, new PC skills, Linux for old hardware

Bob's Tech Talk

Q. What advice can you share for traveling with personal tech devices this summer?

A. Plan ahead for Internet connectivity, storage space and power. Our phones and tablets thrive in environments with speedy internet. When the internet is slow, intermittent or absent altogether, smart devices dumb down fast.

The problem is compounded by several factors. While many places have reasonably good internet, many more places do not, especially in rural areas. Worse, the devices expect the user to know what will happen when the data spigot suddenly turns off.

Long before you depart, simulate life without the cloud by switching the device to Airplane Mode and disconnecting Wi-Fi. Without access to the internet, many apps function differently. The change can be subtle or dramatic. For example, music may disappear, vital documents could become inaccessible, and maps might stop working.

The solution is to make sure each app has the data it needs already downloaded on the phone. Apps have different capabilities, too many to list here. But with a little pre-travel testing, infrequent internet access becomes a mild inconvenience rather than a dumpster fire.

Next up is storage space. Make sure the device has enough free space for your phone’s camera to save your photos and videos.

And finally, make sure you have access to power. Pack extra chargers and cables. If you expect to keep taking photos on long summer days, carry a small external battery. Most phone batteries will not last for an entire day of frequent use.

Q. Where can I take classes to learn about disk reformatting, installing Windows and general troubleshooting for a Windows PC?

A. I would start on YouTube. The quality is all over the place, so it takes some time to find what you’re looking for and a sense of how to weed out the videos with bad advice. But the advantage is you can search for the exact thing you need to do, for example: “format Windows 10 drive.” Despite the uneven catalog, there is plenty of excellent material available.

Another option is a class-oriented site like Udemy. Open an account and try a few previews on different topics. To avoid paying list price for a class, wait for a few days. The courses go on sale all the time. They will probably email you some discount codes within a week. This is a good place to start:, and many more just a search away.

Another handy resource is the searchable database of questions and answers located at

And finally, while this course does not address your specific questions, it can help everyone better understand personal computing: Crash Course Computer Science ( ). Armed with patience and curiosity you can master any computer-related topic online.

Q. I installed Linux Mint 19.1 on an old Toshiba laptop. How do I place shortcut icons on the desktop?

A. What a great way to breathe new life into old hardware! For readers who may not be familiar with Linux, it is a free operating system that runs on most hardware. There are many, many Linux “distributions” suitable for different situations, and its complexity can intimidate first-time users. But for tinkerers and explorers, Linux is a fun playground.

To create a shortcut, right-click on any icon and select “Make Link” from the menu that appears under the mouse pointer. A new icon with a similar name should appear next to the original. Select the new icon, and drag it to the Desktop in the left sidebar (or right-click again, and use the “Move…” command).

An alternate method is to right-click on the desktop itself, and choose “Create Launcher…” Use the resulting window to create any sort of shortcut you prefer, from a terminal command to launching a specific application.

Wander the web

Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:

Travel Advice

Chances are good you have already stumbled on this site. I have even written about it before. But a redesign last year and its continued usefulness make it worth mentioning once again.

Master New Skills

There is no shortage of online courses that cover seemingly every topic. One of the most useful sites I use is The quality of individual courses vary, but overall the quality is above average. While computer-focused technical topics are numerous, other subjects are well represented also.

New Life for Older Hardware

Linux is a free, open source operating system available for practically every hardware design. It requires some technical expertise but there are plenty of helpful tutorials online. One of its best roles is on older PCs which are too slow to run Windows.

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at

Author Bio

A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at