Ask How-To Geek: Why You Should Never Vacuum Your PC, Converting Books for the Kindle, and Controlling Multiple Computers with One Keyboard

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You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers. Today we take a look at why you should never vacuum your dusty PC, how covert books to read on the Kindle, and how to control multiple computers with one keyboard and mouse.

Cleaning Out Your Dusty PC sans Vacuum Cleaner

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Dear How-To Geek,

I’ve heard from more than one person that it’s a bad idea to vacuum out the inside of your PC… but why? I’d like to get to the bottom of things before I accidently destroy my computer.

Sincerely,

Dusty in Delaware

Dear Dusty,

It’s bad to clean the inside of your computer with a vacuum cleaner because vacuuming creates a large static build up that could (and most likely will) discharge into the sensitive electronics inside your computer case. There are specialized vacuum cleaners designed for cleaning out computers and electronic equipment but given the limited amount of use a single user would get from such a purchase it’s not a very wise one—they start at $300+ and can easily break the $1000 price barrier.

What we’d recommend doing is taking your computer case into a well ventilated area (outside on a sunny day or in your garage is a great place), grounding the case to protect against static discharge (although the risk here is very very low) and using compressed air to clean the dust off. If you’re using an air compressor (as opposed to just a can of compressed air from the computer store) make sure to start a good 24″ or so away from the case and work your way in closer. You want to use just enough air pressure to blast the dust off the surfaces and out of the case without overdoing it and pushing dust into even more difficult to remove places.

One important thing to consider: compressed air (from a compressor, not a can) contains minute amounts of water vapor. Although we’ve never actually heard of this happening to anyone it is (however remote the chance) possible to blow moisture into the connectors on your mother board and damage it if you were to boot it immediately afterwards. This is in the range of lightening-strike remote, however. None the less to be extra cautious we would recommend that you leave the computer off and in a warm dry location for a few hours after you give it a good air-compressor cleaning to allow any residual moisture (if it’s even there to begin with) to evaporate. This borders on paranoid caution, mind you, but better safe than sorry.

Converting Books for the Kindle

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Dear How-To Geek,

I need to be able to convert ePub books into AZW books so that I can read them on my Kindle. How can I do this? Also, is there an easy way to remove DRM from ePub and AZW documents? Thanks!

Sincerely,

Formats, Conversions, and DRM, Oh my!

Dear Formats,

There are applications out there that will convert documents into AZW format. They’re usually quite specialized (such as just converting one particular format like PDF to AZW) and often not particular effective. That’s not a problem though! Kindles read the MOBI format quite nicely and it’s very easy to convert to the MOBI format. We’d suggest downloading a copy of the excellent open source application Calibre and using that to manage all your non-Amazon purchases on your Kindle. From within Calibre you can convert from many formats into MOBI (including from ePub to MOBI).

As for stripping DRM from ePub and AZW books, it’s a royal pain in the ass. ePub encryption schemes vary quite widely from publisher to publisher and AZW DRM stripping used to be just a moderate pain in the ass but is now a huge pain in the ass thanks to Amazon’s institution of per-book keys (instead of using universal keys). Decrypting and stripping the DRM is pretty much a case-by-case basis and not worth the effort unless you’re trying to strip the DRM off a book to use on another device and you can’t find a copy of it from the “usual sources”, if you will. Sorry there isn’t an easy solution! DRM is an enormous pain.

Controlling Multiple Computers via One Keyboard and Mouse

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Dear How-To Geek,

I have my desktop with Windows 7 and 2 monitors. I would like to setup another rig right next to it, and install Ubuntu on it. I would then like to use a KVM switch and/or software, and be able to hotswap operate either OS on both monitors, or Windows on one and Ubuntu on the other. How can I achieve this one keyboard, one mouse, dual machine nirvana?

Sincerely,

Attempting Omnicontrol in Omaha

Dear Omnicontrol,

You’re in luck. This is one of those geek moments where a perfectly elegant, robust, and free solution exists. You need a copy of Synergy. Synergy is an awesome application that allows you to control multiple machines using a single keyboard and mouse input. One of your machines acts as the server and the rest of the machines act as clients. It’s quite snappy and a solution well loved by geeks of all stripes. It’s free, open source, and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines.


Have a burning question? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to get you an answer!

 

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.