Don Edrington's  PC Chat   nct-3.gif - 11316 Bytes
PC Chat appears twice weekly in San Diego's North County Times & in Riverside County's The Californian.

Year 2000 aro-left.gif - 1056 Bytes Click Here for Complete Listing of 2000's PC Chats
Year 2001 aro-left.gif - 1056 Bytes Click Here for Complete Listing of 2001's PC Chats
Feb 4, 2001 Managing Email Lists
Feb 6, 2001 Taxes, Amortization & Spreadsheets + Printing Lists of Files & Folders
Feb 11, 2001 Tips & Questions from Readers - Screen Prints - Printing Lists of Files & Folders
Feb 13, 2001 Fixing Those Long & Short Lines in Email + Getting Rid of Those >>> Symbols
Feb 18, 2001 Free Email "Clean-Up" Programs - More Info on Printing File & Folder Lists + Icons on Your Taskbar
Feb 25, 2001 Desktop Icons Can Make Your Tasks Easier + Using Notepad
Feb 27, 2001 Using Your Built-In Calculator + Spreadsheet Tricks
Feb 27
Using Your Built-In Calculator + Spreadsheet Tricks

     One of the handiest functions of a PC can be its built-in Calculator. You can activate it by going to Start, Run and typing in CALC. Once it's on your screen you can enter numbers from the keyboard or by clicking them with your mouse. As for using the Calculator's various function, the plus (+) and minus (-) keys are self-evident and the forward slash (/) means "divided by." The asterisk (*) has always been the multiplication symbol on computers.

     If you use the Calculator as much as I do, it pays to have its icon on your Taskbar, where it can be activated with a single-click. You can find the icon in your Windows folder followed by the name "calc" or "calc.exe." Drag this icon onto your Desktop, where it will become a "shortcut" to the actual Calculator program. Drag the icon onto your Taskbar, where it will always be in view and immediately available. This will leave the Desktop copy in place, which can then be deleted.

     The Calculator has several handy function keys, such as "sqrt" which gives you the square root of a number and "+/-" which converts a positive number to a negative and vice versa. Tips on how to use the other keys can be found by clicking on Help.

     For those who need a "Scientific Calculator," click on View, Scientific.

     To keep the Calculator in view while working with another program, turn the other program into a "floating window" by clicking on the "overlapping squares" button in its upper right corner. The shape of the window can be adjusted by grabbing its corners or edges with your mouse. If this window and the calculator window overlap one another, clicking anywhere on the one to the rear will bring it to the front.

     However, if you need to have your other document fill the screen, click its "maximize" button. The Calculator, complete with whatever calculation you might be in the middle of, will still be displayed on the your Taskbar near the digital clock. A single click will place it on your open document, where grabbing its blue bar at the top will let you move it to whatever location is most convenient for you.

     Let's say you're writing a letter with your word processor and get to a place where you want to say that "five month's rent at $940 per month equals: $__." Do the math with the calculator and then do Ctrl+C to "copy" the result. Get back into your word processor and do Ctrl+V. The answer of 4700 will be "pasted" in where you want it. Yes, of course, it would probably be easier just to type in "4700" - but if you're using long numbers with decimal fractions, copying and pasting the answer is faster and easier.

     For those who need to keep a copy of the numbers that went into a particular calculation, using a spreadsheet is the way to go. Clicking an Excel or Quattro icon on your Taskbar will launch its program and create a blank spreadsheet, waiting for you to punch in the numbers. If you use MSWorks, you'll first need to launch the program and get into its spreadsheet application.

     When you have a blank spreadsheet in view, go to File, Save As and name it something like "Calculations." Use Windows Explorer to find where this "template" file has been saved - probably in the My Documents folder - and right-click it. Choose Create Shortcut and drag the shortcut onto your Desktop, from where it can be dragged onto your Toolbar.

     I keep a spreadsheet like this on hand, which can be used over and over again by deleting each use's previous entries. If your new entries will be something you want to save, go to File, Save As and give the file a different name. This will leave your "Calculations" template in place for subsequent uses.

Feb 25
Desktop Icons Can Make Your Tasks Easier + Using Notepad
Click to see sample Desktop illustration that goes with this article.

     I mentioned recently that I have about three dozen files that I access frequently - and that I have icons to all of them on my Taskbar. There are certain programs I use all the time - such as MSWorks, Word, Excel, Corel Draw and Photopaint, along with several others. Since my Taskbar is always in view, a single click will launch the application I need. (See the attached illustration or see it on my website.)

     Notepad, for instance, is very handy for jotting down memos and other short messages. The "textbook" way of launching Notepad is to click on Start and then go to Programs, Accessories, Notepad. An easier way is to click on Start, Run and then type in NOTEPAD. But double-clicking a Notepad icon on your desktop is easier yet - and easiest of all is single-clicking a Taskbar icon.

     So where do you find a Notepad icon in the first place? Get into Windows Explorer by right-clicking Start, Explore and double-click the yellow "Windows" folder. Look for a file named "Notepad." Its icon will be - guess what - a little notepad. Drag this icon onto your Desktop. Windows 98+ users can then drag a "copy" of it onto their Taskbar, after which the Desktop copy can be deleted.

     Since Notepad is a "no-frills" text editor, it has only one font, size and style and only comes in black. However, you can change the font, style and size by clicking on Edit, Set Font. The first time you use it to write a memo or whatever, you'll want to Save it by going to File, Save As, and typing in a name. If you plan to use one Notepad document repeatedly for adding and deleting various kinds of notes, give it a simple name like, say, "Notes." The file will have ".txt" appended to its name.

     If you plan on creating multiple Notepad documents, then each will need its own name and you'll want to take note of which folder they get saved in. By default, they'll probably be saved in "Windows" or "My Documents" - but you can choose any folder you want - or create a new one just for these documents. The easiest place to create a new folder is on your Desktop. Right-click it and choose New, Folder. Give the folder a name, and files can be easily dragged into it.

     If an icon you place on your Taskbar is a "shortcut" to an "executable" file, say, Excel.exe, clicking it will launch the program. If, however, the icon is for a document, say, one called "Expenses.xls," it will launch the program (in this case, Excel) and open the file. This works great for a document which is used regularly, but which needs constant updating.

     For instance, I keep all the e-mail addresses to which I send this newsletter in a Word document called "Addresses," which has its icon on my Taskbar (a little ©). When anyone asks to be added to the list, a single-click brings up the file for an easy update. To play it safe, I've chosen "Always Create a Backup Copy" by going to Tools, Options, Save within Word.

     But getting back to Taskbar icons - how can one place three dozen on it when there's obviously not that much room. Well, look for the little "sideways chevrons" to the left of a vertical bar on your Taskbar. (See illustration below.) Grab the vertical bar and slide it left and right to see how it changes the view of the various items on your Taskbar. Pull it as far to the right as possible, to see the maximum amount of icons you might have positioned there.

     If you have too many icons for the visible space, click on the "sideways chevron" and a vertical extension of the Taskbar will appear, which will display all the other icons. In the illustration below the "chevron" is to the right of the ©.

     Unwanted icons can always be dragged off the Taskbar onto the Desktop, and then deleted. It's really easy.

Feb 18
More Info on Printing File & Folder Lists + Icons on Your Taskbar
     My recent article on how to get rid of the >> symbols and the "long & short line" formatting in email prompted readers to tell me about three free programs that can fix all that ugly formatting automatically. 

      Dan Rios and Greta Wacker wrote to tell me about "eCleaner" while Ken Rathe recommended "Stripmail" and Nathan Kelly told me about "EmailStripper."  I tried each of them, and they all work quickly, easily and efficiently.  If you'd like to try them, here are their URLs:




    Regarding a recent column on printing out lists of Files and Folders, I'd mentioned that doing it in DOS with the DIR>PRN command works - but that the printout will not be in alphabetical order and that the file names will be truncated to the old pre-Win95 8.3 format. 

    Ken Putnam wrote to say that by adding /ON to the command (DIR>PRN /ON) the list will be sorted alphabetically and that the full Windows file name will be listed in addition to the DOS name.  He went on to say that other "switches" will sort a list as follows: /OD sorts by last change date, /OE sorts by extension, /OA sorts by last access date/time, and /O-x will reverse the sort on any of the above.  Dotty Boyer phoned to give me this same information.

    If you just want to see these directory (folder) listings in DOS, rather than print them out, use CD\{folder-directory name} and type DIR /P.  The /P switch will pause the scrolling of the data at the end of each screen view.

    I had also written that Files and Folders lists could be printed from Windows with a free utility called DirectoryPrinter that Wally Maarsen told me about - and I included the web address in the article.  Much to Wally's embarrassment and mine, the web site could not be accessed the day the column appeared.  However, the site has again become accessible - and I've put the free utility on to make it easier to find and download.

    When Dotty Boyer called, she told also me about an MSWord trick that I wish I'd known about while writing the computer manual I recently completed.  To force a page break - i.e., cause subsequent text to jump to the next page, even though the current page may not have been filled up - I'd always gone to Insert, Break, Page BreakDotty pointed out that the same thing can be done by pressing Ctrl + Enter.  The learning just never ends!

    A number of folks have written to ask how to launch a second program while you're already working on one.  Let's say you're writing a letter with WordPerfect, but need to look up some information in an Excel file.  The text book way is to go to Start, Programs, and click on Excel

    A much easier way is to put icons to all your most-used programs on your Taskbar.  The Taskbar is always in view, and a single click will launch the needed program.  A third or fourth program can be accessed just as easily, in case you need to work with multiple programs simultaneously, as I often do.

    So how do you get an icon onto your Taskbar?  Well, if it's already on your Desktop, just drag it onto the Taskbar.  It will be "copied" onto the Taskbar, leaving the original on the Desktop, which can then be safely deleted.  If it's not on your Desktop, get into Windows Explorer (right-click Start, click Explore) and find the "EXE" file you want, say, "excel.exe," and drag it onto your Desktop.  The actual "executable" file will remain in place, but a "shortcut" to it will be placed on your Desktop.  This shortcut can then be dragged onto your Taskbar.

    Would you believe I have 36 icons on my Taskbar?  It's true - that's how many "important" files I regularly access.

Feb 13
Fixing Those Long & Short Lines in Email + Getting Rid of Those >>> Symbols

     One of the questions I get asked most often is: What can be done about e-mail that arrives with all those pointy ">>" symbols down the left side, along with the text being in a variety of long and short lines.

The reason for the long and short lines is that "Carriage Returns" - hitting the Enter key - are often arbitrarily inserted into the text by various email servers, causing the lines to end in odd places.  As for the "pointy brackets," they often get inserted when email is "forwarded."

    Well, you can't stop this malformatted text from arriving in your mail - but you can reformat it so that it will print out decently.  However, this can't be done efficiently with your e-mail program - you need to use your word processor.  Here's how:

    Mouse-select the text you want to fix and Copy it with Ctrl + C.  Launch a blank word processing page.

    Now go to Edit, Paste Special and choose "Unformatted Text."  The pasted in text will have the same sloppy appearance that it had in the e-mail.  The trick is to use your "Find and Replace" commands to change all this bad formatting to good formatting.  We'll start by getting rid of the ">>" symbols.

    1.  Place your cursor at the beginning of the text.
    2.  Go to Edit, Replace (Ctrl + H).
    3.  In the "Find What" box type:  >
    4.  Leave the "Replace With" box blank.
    5.  Finally, click Replace All and click OK.  All the pointy symbols will be gone.

    Now let's fix those long and short lines:

    6.  Go to Edit, Replace (Ctrl + H).
    7.  In the "Find What" box, type: ^p. This is the "carat" symbol (Shift 6) and a lower case p,
         which is Microsoft's code for a "CR" (Enter).
    8.  In the "Replace With" box type one blank space with your spacebar.
    9.  Now click Replace All - OK.

    This will get rid of all the CRs and cause your text to flow smoothly from left to right.  However, you may find some wide spaces between some of the words in your text.  We'll also fix these with Find and Replace.

    If the wide spots all seem to have the exact same number of blank spaces, say,  each, do this:

    10.  Go to Edit, Replace (Ctrl + H).
    11.  In the "Find What" box, type four blank spaces.
    12.  In the "Replace With" box type one blank space.
    13.  Now click Replace All - OK.

    Okay - the above instructions work fine for a single paragraph of text.  But what if you have several paragraphs, each separated by a blank line?

    Let's start all over again, and preserve the blank lines between the paragraphs.  Begin by repeating steps 1 thru 5 - but skip 6 thru 13 for now.

    A.  Go to Edit, Replace (Ctrl + H).
    B.  In the "Find What" box type: ^p^p.
    C.  In the "Replace With" box type ^p^t.
    D.  Now click Replace All - OK.

    What does all this mean?   Well, ^p means "Paragraph End" (or "CR" or "Enter") and ^t means "Tab."  We're going to use these features to restore the original paragraph spacing.

    Mac users can substitute \p and \t for ^p and ^t, while WordPerfect users can substitute
HRt and Left Tab for ^p and ^t.

    Go to Edit, Replace (Ctrl + H).

E.  In the "Find What" box type: ^p^t.
F.  In the "Replace With" box type ^p^p.
G.  Click Replace All - OK.

    Steps E through G will find the "Tabs" you inserted into the text and convert them to "Enters," thus putting a blank line between each paragraph.

    Now a disclaimer:  The above instructions work MOST of the time in MOST e-mail situations.  If you have trouble with the above, there are other steps you can take - but we're out of space for now.

Feb 11
Tips & Questions from Readers - Screen Prints - Printing Lists of Files & Folders

     I said recently the only way I know of printing lists of your PC's files and folders is to make a "screen print" of the target list and to print out the resulting "bitmap picture."  Wally Maarsen wrote and suggested that I go to and scroll down to "Karen's Power Tools."  This will bring up a "Directory Printer" tool.  I downloaded the free utility and - guess what - it works great.

      Marla Vannice reminded me of another way to print lists of files that I hadn't thought about in years - using the old DOS commands.  Go to Start, Run and type COMMAND.  Click OK and you'll be in DOS, where a black screen will have a prompt that will read: C:\WINDOWS\DESKTOP>

    Type CD\ to get into your hard drive's "C:" (root) folder.  Type DIR/W (directory/wide view) to see a list of your hard drive's Files and FoldersFolders are called Directories in DOS and are enclosed in parentheses to distinguish them from Files.

To print the contents of a particular Directory, type CD\"directory name" and press Enter.  To print the contents of this Directory/Folder, type DIR>PRN and your printer will take over.  Type EXIT <Enter> to return to Windows.

Be aware, however, there are a couple of downsides to DOS file listings.  They will NOT be in alphabetical order, and the file names will be truncated to the old pre-Win95 8.3 character limit.

Billye Fogel wrote to ask if there is a way to change background colors in various Windows views and/or change the size of fonts, to make them easier to see.

Yes, there is - within certain limitations.  You can experiment with these items by right-clicking your Desktop and choosing Properties.  Near the bottom of the Display Properties dialog box that appears you will find Color choice boxes for Text and for the various Display views that are shown.  Click on any of these and choose a Color you like for it.  Make sure the Text Color you choose for each background has adequate contrast.

You can also change the Default Size of the Font, as well as the Font itself.  You'll also find a long list of "Schemes" with a variety of different color combinations, including some "high contrast" and "large size" ones for the visually impaired.

I should mention that I've known people to experiment with these items and end up with a mishmash of nearly illegible color combinations.  When all else fails, click on "Scheme" and choose "Windows Standard" near the bottom of the list.

Beyond these features, folks with visual or other physical limitations can double-click My Computer, Control Panel and choose Accessibility Options.

A simple way to make EVERYTHING on your screen larger is to right-click your Desktop and choose Properties, Settings.  Slide the lever in your Screen Area box from 800x600 to 640x480.

Ray Alexander wrote to say that over time his Desktop has filled up with numerous icons that got there from experimenting with a variety of programs and downloads, and asked about doing a "Desktop Cleanup."

Well, any icon with an arrow in its lower left corner is a "Shortcut" icon and can be safely deleted because the underlying file is normally still in existence, and another Shortcut to it can be created at any time by right-clicking it and choosing Create Shortcut.  Any icon that was downloaded from the Internet as a "Setup" icon can be safely deleted after it's been double-clicked and the desired program has been set up and is working properly.

Finally, your Desktop can be tidied up by simply placing all those icons into a single folder.  Right-click your Desktop and choose New, Folder.  Name the folder, say, "Desktop Icons" and drag them all into it.  Certain "system" icons, however, like My Computer and Recycle Bin can't be put in a folder.

Feb 6
Taxes, Amortization & Spreadsheets + Printing Lists of Files & Folders

    As April 15 approaches, it's time to consider doing your own taxes with a tax preparation program.  I've used TurboTax for years and find that it becomes more comprehensive and easier to use each time.  For those who've kept records with Quicken or QuickBooks all year, the data flows even more easily into TurboTax forms.

    Yes, there are other tax preparation programs, and they can be compared at  However, I can tell you that TurboTax is their top choice.

    I've always used TuboTax's disc software - but now they make it so you can do your taxes online and save money in the bargain.  Log onto and you'll be presented with a choice of using the 1040 "regular" or the 1040 "EZ" form.  

    The federal 1040 costs $19.95 to do online, with the state form costing $9.95.  However, the federal drops to $14.95 if you file before April 1.  Using the EZ form costs $9.95 - or $6.95 if filed before April 1, while the state form is free either way.  In fact, it can all be free if your adjusted gross income is $25,000 or less.  Check it out.

    Just for the record, tax preparation and bookkeeping programs are basically enhanced spreadsheets.  Another thing that spreadsheets are used for is figuring amortization on various types of loans.  MSWorks comes with an easy-to-use amortization "wizard" which makes figuring your principal and interest payments a breeze.  

    Users of Works 4.0+ can get there by going to Task Wizard, Business Management, Mortgage/Loan Analysis.  Works 2000/1 users get there by clicking on Works Spreadsheets, Financial Worksheets, Loan Amortization.  

    In the template that appears, you can type in the amount to be financed, the interest rate and the number of months or years the loan will run for.  A table will show the date each payment is due and how much of each payment goes toward principal and interest.

    Or - you can type in the monthly payment you'd like to make, along with the interest rate, and the table will show how many months it will take to pay off the loan, along with the accumulated interest charges.

    Beyond that, creating your own worksheets to figure sales/cost/profit ratios or adding up hours on time sheets is something anyone can do with Excel or any spreadsheet program.  If you've never created a spreadsheet before, you can download a couple of columns I wrote on the subject last June, by going to

    I often get asked if there is a way to make a printout of the files and/or folders that are listed in the various Windows Explorer views.  The only way I know of doing this is to make a "screen shot" of the listed files and print out the resulting "picture."

    Right-click Start and choose Explore to find the list of files or folders you want to print out.  Press your "Print Screen" button to "Copy" whatever you see on your screen.

    Go to Start, Run and type PBRUSH.  Press Enter to bring up the PaintBrush program.  Click on Edit, Paste.  Finally, use the rectangular "selection" tool to draw a "marquee" around area you want to print.  Go to Edit, Copy.  Doing another Edit, Paste will have your selected image replace the full screen view it had been cut from.  Go to File, Print to print out this "picture" of your list of files.

    You can also bring up a blank page in your favorite word processor and do Edit, Paste to get the image positioned on a regular 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper.  You can also grab any of the eight "handles" around the picture to resize it.

Feb 4
Managing Email Address Books

    I get lots of questions from folks who've changed ISPs and want to know if there's a way to copy their email address book from one online service to another. This is a tough one because different email programs use different methods for storing the addresses and there is very little compatibility among them.

     This is why I don't use any "built-in" address books. I keep my address list in my word processor, and it works with all email programs.

    I send this newsletter to hundreds of people and need an easy, reliable way of organizing the names. Each new email address gets added to a list kept in MSWord - and each is on its own line. To alphabetize this list, I go to Table, Sort, Paragraphs, Text, Ascending.

    For Blind Carbon Copies, the addresses need to be all on one line, with each separated by a comma and a blank space - and then to have the list pasted into a "BCC:" box (or on a "BCC:" line).

    So how do you get these names from each being its on its own line into a single line with commas and spaces in the right places?

    In MSWord or MSWorks, do this: Place your cursor at the beginning of the list and go to Edit, Replace. In the "Find What" box type ^p. In the "Replace With" box type a comma followed by a blank space. Click "Replace All."

    Here's what this means: The "carat" symbol "^" (Shift key + 6) followed by a lower case "p" is Microsoft's code for a "carriage return" i.e., pressing the "Enter" key. (WordPerfect's code for "Enter" is HRt.)

The "Edit, Replace" command (which can also be activated by pressing Ctrl + H) has been told to look for each occurrence of an "Enter" and to replace it with a comma and blank space.

    Finally, mouse-select the names and do Ctrl + C to Copy them. Place your cursor in the "BCC:" box and do Ctrl + V to Paste the names in. Delete the comma and blank space following the final entry. You'll need one email address in the "Send To:" box, and I recommend putting your own address there.

    Back in your word processor, you can return all the addresses to each being on its own line by simply doing Edit, Undo (or Ctrl + Z). If the Undo command doesn't work, do another "Find & Replace" with the entries in the "Find:" and "Replace With:" boxes switched.

    This may seem complicated and intimidating the first time you do it - but it's really very easy and works beautifully. However, the above procedures make no provisions for having a person's actual name associated with its email address.

     Well, you can maintain a second list with both email addresses and personal names listed - or you can put all the data into a spreadsheet such as Excel or the one in MSWorks. With a spreadsheet you can put in additional data, such as phone, cellular, and fax numbers, as well as mailing addresses.

    To insert the addresses into your online email program, just Copy and Paste them from their spreadsheet column into your word processor, where the commas and blank spaces can be inserted as explained above.

    However, after copying data from a spreadsheet column, you may have to use "Edit, Paste Special" and choose "Unformatted Text" to get the addresses into a word processor properly.

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