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.

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Year 2000 aro-grn.gif - 1188 Bytes Click Here for Complete Listing of 2000's PC Chats
Year 2001 aro-grn.gif - 1188 Bytes Click Here for Complete Listing of 2001's PC Chats
Mar 4, 2001 More Useful Information About Icons
Mar 6, 2001 More About Your Taskbar - "Taskbar" vs "Toolbar" - "Icons" vs "Buttons"
Mar 11, 2001 "Quick-Launch" Icons vs "Startup" Icons
Mar 13, 2001 Mail-Merge with MSWorks + Moving Data Between Spreadsheets & DB Programs
Mar 18, 2001 Information on Musical Files + Formatting Email
Mar 20, 2001 Formatting Page Margins in Email
Mar 25, 2001 Sending Photos with Email
Mar 27, 2001 Using "Thumbnails" + Using Different Versions of MSWorks
Mar 27
Using "Thumbnails" + Using Different Versions of MSWorks
A neat trick that makes graphic files easier to deal with on a PC is to have them appear as "thumbnails" when you view their filenames. A neat trick that makes graphic files easier to deal with on a PC is to have them appear as "thumbnails" when you view their filenames.

Here's how:

From within Windows Explorer right-click on any folder containing graphic images.  Choose Properties, Enable Thumbnails.  Double-click the folder to open it and go to View, Thumbnails.  All the icons in that folder will change to a miniature view of the graphic each one represents.

Hre's a sample of how these thumbnails can appear:

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Speaking of Windows Explorer, Microsoft has done it again.  It's not confusing enough to have two programs named Explorer (Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer) -- we now have a third one: MSN Explorer, which is being promoted as a "personal browser."  Well, I downloaded it to take a look.  What it appears to be is a slimmed down version of MSN (Microsoft Network) which is Microsoft's ISP.  I guess the idea is to show you how much better MSN is than your current ISP, in hopes that you'll switch.  It's cute, but I'm not switching.

A reader wrote to say that when she upgraded her MSWorks from Version 4.0 to Version 2001, the Works word processor she'd used to create so many documents over the years had been replaced by MSWord 2000.  The good news is that the latter is a much more powerful word processor than the one it replaced.  The bad news was that the program with which she created all those older files was no longer there -- so how was she going to be able to use them?

Easy.  Launch Word and go to File, Open.  In the "Files of Type" box look for "Works 4.0 for Windows" and the files will open just fine.  They can then be re-saved as Word 2000 files and/or in their original Works format.

Word 2000's "Files of Type" box also lists many other file formats, including WordPerfect versions that go all the way back to 5.1 for DOS.  Some versions of Word files for the Macintosh can also be found here.  Beyond all this, Word 2000 can open Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 files, even though they are spreadsheets.

However, the "Files of Type" options are not limited to Word.  In Excel, this box lets one open Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro files.  With Corel Draw and Corel PhotoPaint I routinely open files created in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.  It pays to check your various "Files of Type" boxes before giving up on trying to open a document with an unfamiliar extension of the file name.

Getting back to the lady who lost Works 4.0 -- when she installed Works 2001, I pointed out that she could still reinstall her older version.  I've done this and routinely use both versions.  Why would I do this?  Well, I still get lots of questions from people with older versions of Works and need the software to research the answers.

Speaking of file formats, I mentioned recently that JPG photo files are not all the same and can't always be opened by a single image-editing program.  The same holds true for EPS (encapsulated postscript).  If you receive a JPG or an EPS file you can't open -- ask the sender if he or she can convert it to a file type you can open, say, a BMP or a TIF.

One of the problems with bitmap image files is that they are not always compatible between the Macintosh and PC platforms.  However, if you have image-editing software that will handle TIF and EPS files, it's worth noting that when saving a file you'll normally be asked if it's to be saved for Mac or PC.  Be aware, though, that TIF and EPS files tend to be very, very large.
Mar 25
Sending Photos with Email
I continue to get questions from folks regarding problems with email attachments. Most say they've downloaded an attachment, which is often a photograph, but then can't open the file.

As more and more PC users are acquiring scanners and digital cameras, more and more photos are being attached to email letters. The problem is that photos come in several different graphic formats - and not everyone has the software to recognize every format. The various formats can be identified by the three-letter extension on a file name, some of which are JPG, TIF, GIF, PSD, PCX and EPS.

However, there is one format that will be recognized by any computer running any version of Windows: BMP (bitmap picture). Try this: go to Start, Find, Files & Folders and type *.BMP. The asterisk is a "wild card" that will find all files with the .BMP extension. Double-click any file to have it displayed in the Windows PaintBrush program. Some will be photos, while others will be images of "background" patterns.

Repeat the experiment with *.JPG and/or the other extensions to see if you have software that will open them. Scanners and digital cameras always come with an image-editing program, such as Adobe Photo DeLuxe or Corel Photo House. If you have one of these -- or another image-editing program -- it will be launched by double-clicking any file name whose extension it recognizes.

Once you've opened such a program, and brought up a scanned photo or one taken with a digital camera, there will be a point at which you're asked to name the file -- normally with the "Save As:" command.  As you type in a name look for a box that says something like "Save As File Type:." Choose BMP to be sure that the file can be opened by any other Windows user.

Some programs use "Export:" in addition to or instead of "Save As:." Adobe Photo DeLuxe makes it even more complicated to choose something other than its own PDD format.  One must go to"File, Send To, Format, Save As:" in order to choose BMP.

Despite the fact that BMP files can be universally opened and edited by all PC users, JPG has become the most popular format among photo-editing professionals. Why?  JPGs can be "compressed" to make their file sizes smaller while maintaining quality close to their original appearance.  Compressed files can be uploaded and downloaded faster and they take up less disk space.

So why hasn't JPG become the default photo format for Windows?  The problem is that not all JPG files are created equal.  Not only can JPGs be compressed, they can be compressed at different size/quality ratios -- and different image-editing programs use different systems for doing this.  It's not uncommon for me to have to try three different programs before I find one that will open a particular JPG. Then I will very likely convert the JPG to a BMP before e-mailing it to someone else -- unless I'm sure the recipient has the same "JPG-compatible" software I do.

Another popular format for images is GIF. GIFs tend to be smaller in size than other formats and are used extensively on web pages because they materialize faster on the screen. The downside of GIFs is that they are limited to 256 colors, whereas other formats can display literally millions of colors. GIFS are used almost exclusively in the clipart-type drawings seen on the web.

The animated drawings you see on the web are also GIFs and can be downloaded by right-clicking them and choosing "Save Picture/Image As." The trouble is that once you've downloaded the animation it will a non-moving drawing when viewed via most programs.  However, some e-mail programs now let you enclose an animated GIF that can be seen in motion by a recipient using a similar HTML-powered program.  As an example, I've attached a little dancing pencil to this letter.  Let me know if it came out as a moving animation in your e-mail.  Thank you!
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Mar 20
Formatting Page Margins in Email

     I wrote recently about requests to format this newsletter with a wide left margin, for hole-punching purposes. I replied that I knew of no email program that offers this capability.

     However, Marshall Byer wrote to say Juno lets one go to "File, Page Setup" and specify margin widths.  Harry G. Drewry wrote to tell me he does the same thing in Netscape Navigator.

     Anyway, the last time I used Juno - some years ago - it was a plain vanilla email program with no special formatting features.  So I signed up for Juno's free service and was surprised to learn there are actually two ways to create a wide left margin. On the toolbar there is an "Indent" icon, which shifts highlighted paragraphs about 1/2" to the right with each click. There is also an "Unindent" icon for reversing the process.

     This got me curious about other email programs, since the one I normally use - AOL - has neither a page margin nor an indent feature. Here's what I found out: Juno, Netscape Communicator and MS Outlook all have Page Margin and Indent options. Outlook Express, Hotmail, Eudora, and Yahoo Mail have the Indent option, but no page margin settings. Netscape Web Mail has no special formatting features of either kind, but nonetheless will print out email with special margin formatting the way the sender sent it.

     Next I wrote a sample letter in each of the above programs and sent it around to the various services to see if it would arrive with the wide left margin intact. They all worked fine.  Finally, I sent the letter to some AOL addresses and discovered that in Version 6.0 the wide left margin arrived intact, but in Version 5.0 the special formatting was lost and some HTML-coded characters had been inserted into the text.

     The bottom line is that this newsletter will now be sent out with a wide left margin to anyone who asks for it.

     Speaking of AOL 5.0 and 6.0, I still recommend that beginning users stick to the former, since it's easy to use and relatively stable. Version 6.0 still has numerous bugs and, in my humble opinion, is an interesting challenge for advanced users who want to see if they can work around them.

     As an example, if one writes a letter in, say, MSWord and then copies the document with the intent of pasting it into AOL 6.0, approximately every 10th word will butt up against the one following it, which then becomes an editing nightmare to fix. Pasting the same document into AOL 5.0 creates no such problem.

     However, AOL 6.0 is compatible with other up-to-date e-mail programs whose output can now be made to look like mini-web pages, with their HTML formatting capabilities. AOL 5.0 has only "partial" HTML compatibility.

     I realize that many, if not most, email users couldn't care less about "HTML formatting" and would be happy to just send and receive plain black and white text.

     However, the ability to write with different font styles and colors - not to mention enclosing graphics inside a letter - is going to be there whether we care to use it or not. The main problem is: Not all HTML is created equal - and the ways of producing imaginatively designed letters vary considerably from one e-mail program to another. I'll be explaining more about this in upcoming columns.

Mar 18
Information on Musical Files + Formatting Email

     When I wrote recently that I didn't know why MIDIs had to be burned onto a CD as "data" files rather than "musical" files I received explanations from two old friends: Dennis Smith and Carl Von Papp.  They pointed out that MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) files are "binary encoded data" which are played directly into a computer from a digital keyboard, whereas MP3 and WAV files are actual musical sounds recorded with microphones onto a disc.

    Speaking of musical files, several folks have asked if there is a way of making the ones in their computers play continuously, rather than having to click and play each song individually.  I do it with Windows Media Player 7, which can be freely downloaded from:

    I click the Media Library button and then click on New Playlist.  This will create a new folder which you'll be asked to name.  Click OK and your new folder will appear under My Playlists.  Musical files can then be dragged and dropped into the new Playlist folder. 

    I have dozens of free musical files at, which can be freely downloaded.  Getting these files into the Media Player folder is easier if you first create a "holding tank" folder for them.  Right-click your Desktop and choose New, Folder.  Give it a name, and download the files you want into it.  (Right-click any musical file and choose Save Target As or Save Link As.)

    Finally, double-click this folder to open it and do Ctrl+A to Select All.  Grab this selection with your mouse and you can drag all the files into the Playlist folder at once.  Double-click your Playlist icon and all your selections will appear in a Media Player window.  From here songs can be played individually by double-clicking them, or they will play continuously if you click the Play button.  There is also a "Shuffle" icon if you'd like the selections played in a random order.

    Whichever selection is playing will be highlighted as it plays.  Double-click a different selection to stop one and begin another.  If you hear something you don't like, right-click it and choose "Remove from Playlist" or "Remove from Library."  New selections can be dragged into your Playlist folder at any time.

    Another thing I get asked a lot is if I could format this newsletter so that it has a wider margin on the left side.  Lots of folks tell me they save the printouts in a binder and would like to be able to punch holes in the left margin without getting into the text.

    Unfortunately, there is no email program I know of which offers any options on margin widths.

    The solution is to copy this email into a word processing program, where you can format the page margins any way you want.  Highlight the part of the email you want to save and do Ctrl+C to Copy it.  Then begin a new, blank document in your favorite word processor and do Ctrl+V to Paste your selection into it.  Go to File, Page Setup, Margins.

    Speaking of word processing documents, a couple of folks have written to say they tried to make changes to an existing one, but got a message saying the file was "Read Only" and they weren't allowed to save the changes they'd made.  This can be fixed by closing the document and finding its icon in Windows Explorer.  Right-click the icon and choose Properties, General.  UNcheck the Read Only box and you'll be able to edit and save the document as you want.

    Another reader wrote to say he had what appeared to be two icons overlapping each other on his Desktop.  He went on to say that if he tried to delete one, the other would disappear as well.  Yes, it's possible for Desktop icons to overlap one another.  However, they can be easily separated by grabbing the top one and pulling it away from the other.  Finally, right-click the Desktop and choose Line Up Icons to get them all in orderly rows and columns.

Mar 13
Mail-Merge with MSWorks + Moving Data Between Spreadsheets & DB Programs

     Bob Jacobson wrote to ask how to create form letters using the MSWorks word processor. Bob's version of Works is an older one, but the procedure is basically the same as for the latest version in Works 2000. (Works 2001 uses MSWord, which behaves somewhat differently.)

     The idea behind a form letter is simple -- a letter is written which will go to multiple recipients, but which will show individual names and addresses, thus giving each letter a "personalized" appearance.

     The first thing needed is a database, listing the names and addresses of the intended recipients. Other information, such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses, can be included in the database -- but may not necessarily be used in the body of the letter.

     MSWorks has always had a database utility built in, and it's where older versions expect to find the data needed for the form letter. Later versions can read data from a variety of programs, including Excel, Access and Paradox. All versions of MSWorks include a Mail Merge "Wizard," which leads one through a step-by-step creation and filling-in of a form letter. However, it's not that hard to do on your own.

     Create a new MSWorks word processor file and give the document a name by going to Save, As. Next click on Tools, Form Letters. A window will open displaying several tabbed dialog boxes. The one in front will be "Instructions." After reading these simple pointers, click Next. You'll be asked which database you want to use -- in case there are multiple ones from which to choose -- and you'll be asked whether ALL the records (names and addresses) will be used or just the ones you've checked off.

     At some point a list of the "fields" you created (First Name, etc.) will be displayed and you'll be instructed to insert the ones you want at the points where they should appear on the letter. The most obvious is to begin with «First Name» «Last Name» in the heading -- and continue until all the fields are in place.

     However, field locations are not restricted to the "heading" of a letter. For instance, you might have a sentence which reads, "Thanks for your interest, «First Name»." Then Joe, Alice or Lou would replace this field marker as the form letters are printed. Using File, Print Preview will display each letter along with its filled-in data.

     But what do you do if your database was created in a program that an older version of MSWorks can't read? It's done with the old reliable Copy and Paste.

     Copying and Pasting also works for getting data from one spreadsheet into another -- or for getting records from a database program into a spreadsheet -- or vice versa. It can also work for moving data between word processing documents, as well as for transferring it among word processors, spreadsheets and DB programs.

     Spreadsheets and database documents, in their simplest forms, are a grid of columns and rows. The intersecting boxes are called "cells." In DB programs the columns are called "Fields" while the rows are called "Records." In spreadsheets the columns are marked alphabetically (A, B, C) while rows are numbered sequentially, starting with Row 1. The cell in the upper left corner of a spreadsheet is "A1."

     DB programs use "labels" in a header row, which is above the "Record #1" row. You normally name these field headers when you begin building the database, but they can be edited at any time.

     Spreadsheet programs simply use Row #1 for their column headings -- and at some point you'll be asked to check a box reading, "My Spreadsheet Has a Header Row."

     The bottom line is that text data in almost any spreadsheet or database document can he highlighted and then Copied with Ctrl+C. Then place your cursor in the upper left cell of the target DB or SS document and do Ctrl+V to Paste the data into the corresponding cells.

     Keep in mind, however, that if you're copying formulas from one spreadsheet to another the resulting answers may be wrong unless all cell references to the formula are copied as well. Or -- you can convert the answers to "values" by using the "Paste Special, Values Only" option.

Mar 11
"Quick-Launch" Icons vs "Startup" Icons

     Some of this week's mail questioned my suggestions for putting icons on the Win98+ Taskbar, asking if doing so doesn't put too many items in the Windows "Startup" folder, thus slowing down the computer's startup.

     No - the Startup items are clustered near the Taskbar's digital clock, and often include the "horn" icon and an anti-virus icon. This area is called the "System Tray" and, yes, these items start up when your PC is booted and continue to run in the background, which slows down the bootup and uses system resources. However, owners of newer computers with high-speed processors and lots of RAM will probably never notice these effects. In any case, the "shortcut" icons you put in the "Quick Launch" area of your Taskbar have nothing to do with the Startup icons in the "System Tray."


     Speaking of Startup items, many of them really don't need to be launched on bootup, nor do they have to constantly run in the background. One's volume control, virus-scanner and maintenance task scheduler are usually enough - and even the latter two can be left off, only to be activated when needed. Besides the icons seen near the digital clock, other "Startup" programs may be in action, as well.

     To check them out, Win98+ users will go to Start, Run and type in MSCONFIG. Click on the Startup tab and take a look at the checked-off items. I limit mine to ScanRegistry, SystemTray, LoadPowerProfile, and Cal Reminder Shortcut. I also click on the General tab, then click on Advanced and UNcheck Enable Startup Menu. Keep in mind that all these items are actually "shortcuts" to different functions, and that disabling them does not harm the underlying programs. If in doubt, try disabling one Startup item at a time, and reboot to see if you notice any undesirable change in performance. If so, simply recheck the item.

     Win95 users don't have MSCONFIG, and will find their Startup Shortcuts in the C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder. Remove any unwanted Shortcuts from this folder by dragging them onto your Desktop, from where they can be replaced if you're not happy with the results. The first thing I always remove from this folder is the MSOffice Shortcut Bar. It always stays on top of whatever you're doing and often hides things you need to see in your work area.

     One of the exciting things about writing a computer column is that technology never stops. In fact, it moves along so fast that no one can keep up with it all. For instance, I've gotten questions about "burning" CDs and about using Windows ME, but haven't had the hardware and software available for doing the research. I now have CD burning capabilities, and will have Windows Me soon.

     A reader wrote to ask why he couldn't burn the "MIDI" musical files he copied from my web site onto a CD, using Adaptec Easy CD Creator. Here's what I discovered: when the program is launched it displays some startup buttons, which include "Audio" and "Data." "Audio" would appear to be the logical button to click - and it is - for burning "MP3" and "WAV" files. However, "Data" is the button to use for burning "MIDIs." Don't ask me why - but I tried it - and the songs I copied onto the CD play just fine.

     Speaking of burning CDs, as a Windows/ Mac user I've become accustomed to copying files from one disk to another by dragging and dropping them. To do this with a CD, it first has to be formatted. Do this by going to Data, Direct CD using the Adaptec program, and follow the prompts. I'm told this program is the most popular CD management software in use today. In any case, this procedure applies only to CD/RW "rewritable" CD systems.

Mar 6
More About Your Taskbar - "Taskbar" vs "Toolbar" - "Icons" vs "Buttons"

     I wrote recently about putting icons to important files on your Taskbar, in order to make them more easily accessible. Bob Crabtree and Jerry Whitmore wrote to point out that these icons are actually on a section of the Taskbar called the "Quick Launch Toolbar." This area can be made available by right-clicking the Taskbar and choosing Toolbars, Quick Launch.

     Other choices of Taskbar Toolbars are Address, Links and Desktop, which will allow quick access to one's Address Book, Links to Internet sites, and all the icons on one's Desktop. "New Toolbar" will allow you to create even others. What will also always be visible on one's Taskbar are "buttons" to any files that are open.

     So, what's the difference between a Toolbar and a Taskbar?

     Well, in Windows 95/98+, the gray bar at the bottom of the screen is the "Taskbar." The collection of icons that normally appear at the top of a page in an open document is called a "Toolbar." However, it must be pointed out that the information here regarding "Toolbars on the Taskbar" applies only to Win98 and later.

     Then what's the difference between an "icon" and a "button?"

     Well, an icon is normally small and square, and contains a drawing suggestive of the file which will be brought up if it's clicked. Buttons normally contain a word or a phrase which is indicative of what will happen when it's "pushed." Also, buttons are normally shown in an "in" or "out" condition, which will be reversed when clicked.

     For instance, when you're working on a document a button to the file will always be visible on your Taskbar, displayed as being "in." Hit the "minimize" icon on the document -- the "dash" in its upper right corner -- and the file will disappear from the screen. However, its button on the Taskbar will then be in the "out" position, indicating that the document is still open and able to be quickly restored by "pressing the button in."

     The button on the Taskbar will always have the file's name on it - yet only a few letters of the name may be visible. However, letting your pointer rest on the button for a couple of seconds will display the full name, along with the name of the program in which the file was created. Speaking of which, have you noticed that pointing to the Taskbar's digital clock for a couple of seconds will display the current day and date?

     Getting back to your Taskbar's Toolbars, you can create your own by choosing New Toolbar, as mentioned above. Here's where the definitions may seem a little muddled again, because your choice of "New Toolbars" is actually a choice of existing "Folders." Speaking for myself, the only Toolbar I have on my Taskbar other than Quick Launch is Desktop. This is because I always have lots of "currently in use" files on my Desktop - and being able to click this Toolbar gives me an instant alphabetical display of them all.

     Yes, there is a "Desktop" icon always in view on your Taskbar, which looks like a pencil pointing to a piece of paper on a rounded surface. Clicking this icon will take you instantly to your Desktop, while hiding everything else that may be open on your screen.

     There are other things that can be done with your Taskbar, but at some point it may seem like we're trying to crowd too many different functions onto a thin strip at the bottom of the screen. Well, you can widen your Taskbar by grabbing its top edge and pulling upward. Obviously, this will cut down on the available viewing area on your screen. However, you can choose to have the Taskbar completely out of view by going to Start, Settings, Taskbar, and clicking Auto Hide. This will keep the Taskbar out of view until you point to the bottom of your screen, which will bring it back into view until you point away from it.

Mar 4
More Useful Information About Icons

     We've talked recently about using Desktop icons to launch programs and/or to quickly bring up frequently used files. Some readers have said that when they try to move their icons, they snap back to where they were. This can be fixed by right-clicking the Desktop and choosing Arrange Icons. Uncheck AutoArrange, and the icons will be movable. Right-clicking the Desktop and choosing Line Up Icons will fine-tune their row and column alignment.

     Any icon can be safely deleted if it has an arrow in it's lower left corner. The arrow means the icon is a "shortcut" to a file or folder, and deleting it will not affect the item that it "points to." To create a shortcut icon that points to a particular file, right-click the Desktop and choose New, Shortcut. You can then type in the "path" to the target file or click Browse to locate it.

     If you change the name or location of a file that a shortcut icon points to, you can edit the icon by right-clicking it and choosing Properties, Shortcut.

     If you don't care for the appearance of an icon and want to change it, you can right-click it and choose Properties, Change Icon. This will often display an array of other icons from which to choose. If it doesn't, or if you don't like what you see, type C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM\SHELL32.DLL into the "Filename" box to see a whole other collection of icons.

     You can find even more icons by "browsing" your way to a program's folder and clicking its main ".exe" file. For instance, if you browse your way to "winword.exe" you'll find several variations of the familiar MSWord icon. If you're not sure how to find "winword.exe" go to Start, Find, Files & Folders and type it in. You'll be shown the exact path to the file.

     In order to change certain "system" icons, such as My Computer, My Documents or Recycle Bin, right-click your Desktop and choose Properties, Effects.

     If you'd like to make your own icons, I've placed a program called "Icon Studio" on my homepage. Download "ICS.ZIP" to set up and use the program.

     Any icon can be renamed by right-clicking its "label" and choosing Rename. You can rename a "shortcut" icon to anything you want -- but if you want to change the name of an actual "file" icon, you have to retain its filename extension. For instance, it's okay to change an Excel file named "expenses.xls" to "charges.xls" but changing or omitting ".xls" could make the file unreadable.

     You can, however, temporarily change any extension to ".txt" if you can find no other way to open the file. This will display the file as a "text" document which my have portions of it you can read, to help determine what kind of a file it is.

     For instance, if you have a file that ends in ".wpd" that won't open when double-clicked, changing "wpd" to "txt" will show you that it's a WordPerfect file. If you have MSWord or MSWorks, and want to open a WordPerfect file, go to File, Open, and look for WP options in the "Files of Type" box. Be sure you've changed "txt" back to "wpd" for this to work.

     Speaking of "icons," you may see a row of "buttons" next to your digital clock on your Taskbar. You'll undoubtedly recognize your "speaker volume control" button and your "anti-virus" button. Another may be your "scheduled tasks" button. These buttons, when left-clicked or right-clicked, will display options for using them - such as changing the times that Scandisk and Defrag are set to run under "Scheduled Tasks" or temporarily disabling your "Anti-Virus Program." We'll talk more about their "startup" options next time.

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