Researchers must have thorough knowledge of their own computer and all its systems to be effective. They need more than a basic acquaintance with the computer they use, the programs on it, or the programs they will need to install. To build even a bird house, a carpenter may need to know how to use a saw, hammer, glue, paint, and drill, plus issues about the grain of a wood or the weatherability of materials used in the construction. Research, too, requires knowledge of many different areas.

The computer itself, and the different programs needed to conduct research, must be fully understood. The techniques and work-arounds of each system and program must be mastered.

Sometime in the start-up process it is important for researchers to identify and use a computer expert (geek) who knows more about the various parts of the system than they do. No matter how good a researcher may be with computers, expect crashes. Some of the problems will be beyond the ability of the researcher to solve and pre-planning on what to do and who go to save time and energy in a stressful situation.

Keep in mind that when preparing to do intensive research you are not building a system – it is a system of systems. The computer – whatever is in use – is only one system among many. But computers are a basic tool. You will use other tools as well, but the Internet-connected computer is often the research workhorse. In the best of all worlds, researchers have at least two computer systems:
• Research system
• Production system.

Computer systems should be individualized to the needs of the collector. In general, a system with plenty of power and good storage and backup capacity is best, but small organizations and some individuals do quite well with systems that are not top-of-the-line. Inventiveness can make up for a lot of hardware and software minuses.

Generally speaking you will need a system with high speed Internet connections, the ability to burn CDs or DVDs, and a plethora of USB ports where you can connect peripherals.

While many people get by with a single computer, two are even better. In some cases three – one of them being a cheap throw-away clunker to you use when you are concerned you might get viruses – are useful.

For security’s sake, many researchers divide their work between “outside” and “inside” computers.

The “outside” is the one you use to search the Internet and for downloading materials. This is the system designed for heavy lifting. The “inside” one is used for storage of materials and producing reports – and only for that.

Both computers should have the strongest anti-virus program(s) available. (One might have a different anti-virus program than the other so that any chinks in the one on the outside computer will be covered by the strengths of the other anti-virus program on the inside computer. Check around for expert opinion on anti-virus software. Remember, the more popular anti-virus programs may not always be the the most effective for your needs.)

The two computers are loaded with different software, based on their particular use.

The outside research computer should be the citadel of a research system. The ideal outside research computer should have the largest amount of Random Access Memory (RAM) that the budget allows. This may not be critical at first, but as time goes on the computer will slow as RAM fills up. Eventually a shortage of RAM can cause a computer crash – always at the worst moment, it seems – and in time the disk itself may fail.

The outside research system is used to access the Internet and conduct research. For the safety of the operator and the security of any client, this system is set up minimally with security issues in mind. The research system should have an innocuous name like “my computer” or “Joe’s computer” unless you are named Joe. The name of the computer is often set up on its first use and most users do not even remember that their computer has a name that others can read. Too often bureaucrats will name their computer in such a way that that it can be readily identified as a government or company computer by a knowledgeable system operator on any site being visited.

The research computer is set up so that it has all of the programs and capabilities needed to access and download from the Internet. Since others on the Internet may be able to see what you are doing, and what is on your system, you want to only collect with this outside machine and keep what you collect on that outside system for a short a time as possible.

Storage and production should be done on another computer, preferably one that is not, or is seldom, connected to the Internet.

The production system, the inside system, is designed to process the material that was downloaded from the Internet. While it may have limited access to the Internet – usually for sending and reading materials, messages or reports – this machine is never used to collect information from the Internet.

Information collected on the research computer is “airgapped” to the production machine to provide security. Air Gapping is a safer way of moving material from one computer to another. Material to be transferred from the research computer is saved on a disk or thumb drive, and erased later from the research computer. The newly-created disk or thumb drive with the collected information is put in the production machine, run through an anti-virus program, and the information is then transferred to the production machine’s memory. This reduces the possibility of getting bugs and viruses on the production machine. Since the production machine is not connected to the Internet, hackers and snoopers cannot see what is on the production machine or break into it. The airgapped material is then used to create reports.

Since having two computers may be unnecessarily expensive for the type of research being done, there is a way to provide decent security with only one computer. The single computer has minimal programs on it and is used as the research or “outside” computer. When all collection is finished, the computer is cut off from the Internet and a hang-on hard drive with the programs and apps needed for processing the information, storing the data, and writing any reports is attached the computer. All of the analysis work and report-writing is done on the hard drive. The hard drive is removed from the computer before it is can be connected back to the Internet.

In either case – whether using two computers or one computer and a hard drive – it is smart to have a separate hard drive or cloud backup of all work performed.