More on Computer Maintenance
When I described recently how running "ScanDisk" and "Defrag" can help maintain a PC's peak performance, I mentioned that the programs may shut down prematurely if they haven't been run in a long time. This can be avoided by first terminating various programs which may be running in the background. Pressing Ctrl, Alt, and Delete simultaneously will bring up a menu which lists these programs. Click on each individually, except "Explorer," followed by clicking "End Task." "Explorer" should be the only name left when you exit the menu.
Temporarily disabling your screen saver and anti-virus program will also help. The latter normally has an icon near the Taskbar clock. Right-click it and choose whatever "turn-off" option is offered. Screen savers can be turned off by right-clicking the Desktop and choosing Properties, Screen Saver, None.
To initiate ScanDisk or Defrag, the manual says to go to Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and choose Disk Defragmenter or ScanDisk. Alternatively, you can double-click My Computer, right-click the "C" drive icon, and choose Properties, Tools.
However, I find it easier to go to Start, Run and type in SCANDISK or DEFRAG. You only need to type the names once. Subsequent uses of Start/Run allow you to click a "down arrow" which displays all previous commands that have been entered. Choose the one you want and click OK.
ScanDisk and Defrag can also be scheduled to run automatically. Double-clicking the "Task Scheduler" icon, which normally appears near your Taskbar clock, will bring up these options. If you don't find this icon, double-click "My Computer" and choose "Scheduled Tasks." I have mine set to run weekly at 4:00 AM.
Under "Scheduled Tasks" you'll also find "Maintenance Disk Cleanup" which suggests various types of files you might want removed. By choosing "Temporary Files," "Temporary Internet Files" or "Recycle Bin," you'll delete the files in those folders. However, I always leave "Recycle Bin" off this list.
I prefer being able to enter the bin and check out all the files to see if any should be returned to where they were before. You can do this by double-clicking the Recycle Bin, clicking on a file and going to File, Restore.
As for those "temporary" files, "Temporary Internet Files" are copies of items recently accessed from the 'net and placed on your hard drive. The theory is that you may want to re-access them, which can be done more quickly from your hard drive. These files are in a limited-number "cache," which continually dumps older files as new ones are added. Thus, deleting them does little to free up hard drive space, since the cache will fill up again anyway.
"Temporary Files" can be found in a folder named "Temp" which is inside your "Windows" folder. These are files which are created in the background when using certain heavy-duty programs such as MSWord. Their names normally have a .TMP extension, and often begin with a tilde (~). Moreover, they don't always get placed in the Windows\Temp folder.
To find these misplaced files, go to Start, Find and type in *.TMP. The asterisk is a "wild card" which, in this case, will find all files with a .TMP extension. By typing ~* into the Find box, all files beginning with a tilde will be displayed. These files can all be deleted, since they are no longer needed and just take up hard drive space.
"Downloaded Program Files" is another option for removal. These are normally "setup" files which were downloaded and used to create certain programs, such as "WinZip" or "Acrobat Reader" or "Netscape Navigator."
Once a particular program has been created, its "setup" file is no longer needed. However, if you have enough hard drive space you might want to consider keeping these setup files on hand, just in case any of their programs get damaged and need to be reinstalled. "Disk Cleanup" can also be accessed by double-clicking My Computer, right-clicking the "C" drive icon and choosing Properties.
Using Your Various "Appearance" Options
I get asked periodically if it's better to leave one's computer on all the time or to turn it on and off with each use. Well, I only turn mine off if I expect to be gone all day, although I have the monitor set to go off after so many minutes of non-use. Win98+ lets you set the number of minutes, along with setting a time for the hard drive to shut down after a period of non-use.
Right-click a vacant spot on your Desktop and choose Properties. Click the Screen Saver tab. You'll see two buttons labeled "Settings." The top one offers various options for adjusting whichever screen saver you choose. The bottom one lets you set the time lapse before your monitor and your hard drive shut down after a period of non-use. The "Standby" option is intended to conserve batteries for portable computers when they're not in use.
For a more comprehensive explanation of how these features work, go to Start, Help and type in "standby" under the Index tab.
When you've right-clicked the Desktop and gotten into Properties, you'll find several other tabs, each with its own collection of sometimes bewildering options. "Background," for instance lets you change the appearance of your Desktop, while "Appearance" lets you choose all kinds of different color combinations for your Desktop and other areas.
It's fun to experiment with the different choices under "Appearance" - but if you end up with colors you don't like, click on "Scheme" and scroll down to "Windows Standard" to get back to your original settings. You'll also find "Windows Large" and "Windows Extra Large" for those who might benefit from larger images on their screens.
Speaking of image sizes, if you click on the "Settings" tab you'll find "Screen Area" with a sliding button that goes from small numbers on the left to large numbers on the right. The lowest setting of 640x480 is recommended for older, low-resolution monitors as well as for those who want everything larger on their screen. 800x600 has long been the recommended setting for modern 15" monitors. However, with 17" and larger monitors now having dropped to reasonable prices, settings like 1024x768 and higher are becoming quite common. The higher numbers make images smaller, but you get more information on the screen. Experiment to see what suits you best.
While in "Settings" choosing "High Color 16-bit" gives most of us all the colors we'll ever need, while "True Color 32-bit" is used by professional photographers to get super high quality resolution for glossy magazines, etc.
Under the "Effects" tab you can choose animated icons and other special features. However, these cute goodies use system resources and can slow down your computer's performance. Screen savers, likewise, can be entertaining, but I always choose "None" for the same reason.
I find the "Background" tab to be of interest to most home computerists. This is where you choose a background for your Desktop, which can be a photograph or some other graphic you happen to like. Let's say you've scanned a favorite photo or taken a picture with your digital camera. When the photo appears on your screen, click on "File" and choose "Save As." Name the photo and choose a graphic format for it, such as .JPG or .BMP. Make sure that the photo is saved in your C:\Windows folder.
If you've chosen .BMP, the photo's name will automatically appear when you scroll down the list of "Wallpaper" files. For .JPG and other graphic formats, click on "Browse" to find your image.
Under "Display" you'll find "Center," "Tile" and "Stretch." The latter will expand your graphic to fill the screen, whereas "Center" will place it in the middle. "Tile" is used for filling the screen with smaller images in a "postage stamp" pattern.
All the above tips work with Win98+, however Win95 users are limited to using .BMP files for "Wallpaper" and "stretching" an image is not an option unless you also happen to have Windows Plus on your computer.
Sometimes Size Does Matter + Scandisk & Defrag Tips
A reader wrote to say that when she tried to download a
photo attached to an email, she got a "not enough memory"
message. She went on to say she deleted several large files
to make room, but still had the problem.
It's not uncommon for newer PC users to confuse "memory"
with "available disk space." Most new computers have at
least 20 gigabytes of hard drive space, which is generally
adequate for average PC usage. "Memory," however, refers to
RAM (random access memory, also known as DRAM or SDRAM)
and the minimum found in most PCs is 64 megabytes, with 128+
recommended for superior performance. Computers with 32 MBs
or less can have trouble handling large graphic files and with
running multiple applications simultaneously.
Additional memory can be added at most computer stores,
or you can do it yourself by ordering upgrades from
http://www.crucial.com/, the leading supplier of RAM chips.
Another thing that can slow down performance is having lots
of "startup" applications running in the background. Win98+
users can go to Start, Run, type MSCONFIG, and click OK.
Click the Startup tab to see the list. Unchecking an item
does NOT delete the application; it merely removes a
shortcut that tells it to begin running at startup. System
Tray, Task Monitor, Scan Registry, and PowerReg
Scheduler are the only items many of us need at startup.
If you have doubts about the others, remove them
individually and reboot to see if they seem to be missed.
They can be restored by re-checking their boxes.
Another way to improve performance is to adjust the
memory cache used for tracking of files and folders. Right-
click My Computer and choose Properties. Click the
Performance tab. Under Advanced Settings click File
System. Click the "Typical Use For This Computer" down
arrow. The default is Desktop Computer. Change this to
Network Server. Make sure that the Read-Ahead
optimization pointer is set all the way to the right
on "Full." Click OK.
While in System Properties, click Virtual Memory. Windows
uses something called a "Swap File" to exchange information
between RAM and your hard drive. Windows continually
changes the size of this file as you work. These changes take
time and use system resources. Click "Let me specify my own
virtual memory settings" and set both the Minimum and
Maximum size of the Swap File to about 3 times the amount
of your PC's RAM. For a PC with 64 MB, set the Minimum and
Maximum sizes to 200 MB. Click OK. You'll be warned that
your system may not work properly - but it will work fine.
Two other essentials for maintaining top performance are
running ScanDisk and Defrag periodically. Go to Start, Run
and type SCANDISK, where you'll find Standard and
Thorough. Choose the latter and be sure "Automatically
Fix Errors" is checked. When finished, go to Start, Run
and type DEFRAG.
Scandisk can repair all kinds of errors you don't even know
exist and Defrag will "defragment" your hard drive. Over
time, as data is added to and removed from the hard drive,
gaps are left in places where items have been deleted.
"Defragmenting" realigns all the files and eliminates the
gaps, making the hard drive more quickly and efficiently
If these programs haven't been run in a long time (or never
run at all) they may very likely stop running and display
error messages. There are several ways to circumvent these
hangups, but I've found the easiest method is to run
ScanDisk in the DOS mode. After doing this, running
Defrag as described above should be no problem.
Go to Start, Shutdown, Re-start in MS-DOS mode.
Press Enter. At the "C:\Windows" prompt, type SCANDISK
and press Enter. Scandisk will check out the first five items
displayed, and ask you if you want the sixth item scanned.
Choose Yes. This scan could take an hour or so. When
completed, exit ScanDisk, type Exit and press Enter to
return to Windows, where you will be able to run Defrag
with no problems.
By the way, I've shown SCANDISK and DEFRAG in caps
for emphasis only. Typing scandisk or defrag works just fine.
Having Fun with Instant Messages
If you're not using IMs (instant messages) you're missing half the fun of owning a computer. In case you're unfamiliar with the concept, you and your friends simply sign up with one of the free IM services and then type your messages back and forth whenever you're both online.
AOL and CompuServe have this feature built-in, while anyone can sign up for services like
MSN Messenger Service,
Once you've got a system in place, a "Buddy List" window will appear on your screen whenever you're online - and, if one of your IM buddies also happens to be online, his or her name will appear in the window. Double-click the name and start chatting.
What you have, in effect, is a long-distance visit where you use typing instead of talking. It's fun, easy and it's totally free. It's basically a two-person "chat room," but you can also invite other buddies to join in, making it a multiple-person private chat room.
Microsoft's version of this feature is called
MSN Messenger Service.
Yahoo's is called
is yet another service, and AOL has an advanced IM service called
AIM for IMing with buddies on other ISPs. But I must warn you - once you get started IMing, it can be very addictive.
AOL RAISING PRICES
Speaking of AOL, I guess everyone has heard that they are raising their membership fee next month and that Juno and NetZero have combined to offer an ISP that offers 40 free hours a month (with endless pop-up banners) and a banner-free service for $9.95 a month. Since I already had a free Juno e-mail account, I tried out the new service and found it to be useable, albeit somewhat awkward to navigate through all the banner ads.
Something I often get asked is why I don't mention "virus warnings" in this newsletter. Well, I receive warnings of the "latest viruses" and of "congress's attempt to tax e-mail" in my mailbox every day, along with appeals to help all kinds of "charitable causes." Each email also admonishes me to forward the message to everyone in my address book.
Since many of these emails are based on "urban legends" while others are just plain fraudulent, I choose not to forward them. Warnings about real virus threats can be found in all the news media nowadays, and the word spreads very quickly.
A recent hoax that duped many people was a warning that a file named "sulfnbk.exe" had been sent to them via email and placed in their C:\Windows\Command folder. They were told that this was a vicious virus that would wipe out their hard drives on June 1st unless it was deleted. The truth is that the file is part of Windows and should not be deleted. However, it's a file that's not accessed often by Windows and its being deleted may never be noticed.
If you did delete the file, it can be restored by reinstalling your Windows operating system from its CD. If you don't have the CD, you can email me for a copy of the deleted file. I guess we should thank this particular demented hoaxter for not suckering us into deleting a really critical file.
More on Faxing and Saving Files
My recent columns on faxing from one's PC and on saving e-mail as it's created generated lots of responses. When I said my pre-Win95 version of WinFax died with Y2K, one reader thought I'd meant that the program no longer existed. To the contrary, WinFax Pro is alive and well and owned by Symantec, the people who produce Norton anti-virus software and other well-known utilities.
However, 32Bit-Fax, the shareware program I've been using, works beautifully and does everything I need faxing software to do.
Some folks asked whatever happened to Microsoft Fax, which came with Win95. The program, in my opinion, was very complicated and cumbersome and I was not surprised when it was omitted from Win98+. One thing it did was offer a variety of cleverly-designed cover pages. However, I find that a cover page generally just wastes time, ink, and paper, unless there is some very compelling reason for using it.
With e-mail having become so ubiquitous in recent years, many businesses find it more practical to attach a document to an outgoing letter, rather than faxing it. What are the advantages? Well, an e-mail attachment can be printed by the recipient in its original, high DPI (dots per inch) resolution, rather than in the 200 DPI to which faxes are limited. It can also be printed in color. If the document is to be sent a long way off, there is no extra charge for e-mailing it, whereas long-distance charges apply to faxing. A received e-mail attachment can often be computer-edited, whereas a fax can only be marked up with white-out and writing tools.
The disadvantage of an e-mailed attachment is that the recipient often doesn't know when it arrives, whereas a fax can normally be spotted the moment it comes out of the office fax machine. Speaking of which, faxes can also be received directly on one's PC, with the right software. I prefer this method because my inkjet printer produces a sharper printout than does my antique fax machine which uses the old, curly, heat-sensitive paper.
As for a recipient being able to open, read, and possibly edit a document attached to an e-mail, it's helpful to have the same software in which the file was created. In recent years, this has become MSWord, since most offices have it and use it. Furthermore, Word can open most documents created with other programs, such as Lotus WordPro and WordPerfect, including those created with DOS versions such as WP 5.1. Beyond that, exchanging MSWord files between PCs and Macs is usually not a problem.
Another advantage of Word can be its ability to display graphics, which an e-mail recipient might otherwise not be able to open. For instance, I create illustrated price sheets for my business, using Corel Draw. However, very few of my clients have this program, nor do many have Adobe Illustrator, which can also open Corel Draw files. So I simply copy and paste the desired sheet onto a blank Word page. Admittedly, doing so causes the Word file to be quite large; but it does the job and reproduces my drawings just as I created them.
When I offered suggestions recently for saving e-mail as it was being created, several readers wrote to say that their e-mail programs did not lose a letter in the works when the phone connection was suddenly dropped. Very true; many services have designed their programs to stay intact whenever a phone connection is lost, and allow the user to continue composing offline. Outlook Express, AOL and CompuServe are especially good about this.
However, making it a habit to name a file when you first begin it, and to continue saving it frequently, is the cheapest and most reliable insurance you can buy to keep the document from getting lost. Using the "Automatic Backup" feature, which comes with most programs, can make your document even more secure. Finally, the best insurance of all is to periodically rename your document incrementally, as in "my-story-1.doc," "my-story-2.doc," and "my-story-3.doc." Keep all previous files on hand until you're positive the last one is the way you want it. I can't tell you how many times this system as saved my writing from unforeseen disasters of one kind or another.
Joining or Starting a Computer Club + Documenting a Medical History with your PC
Have you ever thought about using your computer to prepare a list of medications you might be taking? I've been doing this for years, along with listing a history of my lifetime surgical procedures. Also included, in large bold print, are the drugs to which I'm allergic.
After moving to a different city last year, I had to find a new ophthalmologist, dentist and GP. They were all pleasantly surprised when I handed them an up-to-date printout of these items. This list also came in handy recently when I had a severe reaction to a new antibiotic and had to call 911. It made the ER staff's job a lot easier, since I wasn't in condition to be filling out forms or even answering questions all that coherently.
When I got home I quickly added that antibiotic to my "not to be taken" list and made a new printout. In fact, I keep a few printouts hanging on fridge, just to be sure I have one handy at all times.
Preparing a personal medical information sheet can easily be done with any word processor, spreadsheet or database program. I use MSWord and set tab stops for the names of my prescribed meds, their quantities and schedules for being taken. As for the medical procedure history, I include the dates along with the names of the surgeons. Well, not all of them. I don't remember who took out my tonsils when I was nine.
Speaking of printouts, I find my printer is being used less and less. For instance, 90% of my correspondence is done via e-mail, faxes being sent directly from my PC or with IMs (instant messages). When I prepare artwork for flyers to be handed out at a computer club meeting, I make a disk copy of the file to take to Kinkos, or, I'll send the artwork to them in advance as an e-mail attachment. If I need new business cards or stationery, it's done the same way.
Speaking of computer clubs, joining one is a great way to meet other PC users from whom you can learn more about using your hardware and software. Let me tell you a little about one such club.
Back in 1989 I placed a small ad in the then Fallbrook Enterprise which read, "Fallbrook needs a computer club. Anyone interested in helping me form one can call Don at 728-4606." Well, I got about a dozen calls and we got together and talked about how and where club meetings might be held. The first were held in the homes of some volunteers, with the times and locations being displayed in the Enterprise's "Town Crier" section.
I began to distribute a one-page newsletter, along with arranging for speakers to give presentations at the meetings. Over time, we found various "conference room" locations in which to hold the meetings, as the attendance grew to several dozen and the newsletter grew to four pages. The whole thing became way too big for me to handle since I still had a business to run in Orange County, so a number of dedicated people set up a more formal organization and elected board members to handle different responsibilities (all on a volunteer basis).
I'd love to credit all the hard-working people who've made the Fallbrook PC Users Group what it is today, but you can learn more about them by asking for one of their newsletters, which has grown to 32 pages. The newsletter's editor, Guenter Schott, has turned it into a veritable gold mine of useful information, which I can hardly wait to read each month.
A relatively new phenomenon is computer clubs being formed in mobile home communities, with meetings being held in the parks' recreation halls. I've been giving no-charge presentations at many of them recently, and have enjoyed meeting a lot of wonderful people who are doing a great job helping themselves and others learn more about the exciting world of computing.
Sending Faxes from Your Computer
When modems first appeared in the late 1970s, they were add-on peripherals that had no faxing capabilities. When fax modems appeared shortly thereafter, they were a boon to those of us who create a lot of computer documents that need to be faxed. With fax machines costing $800 and up in those days, being able to fax directly from one's computer was a very attractive option.
Now, however, with relatively inexpensive desktop devices that can scan, copy, print and even send e-mail, the faxing of documents directly from the applications in which they were created seems to be on the decline. In fact, many PC users I talk to are surprised to hear their modems even have faxing capabilities.
If you create documents with a word processor or a spreadsheet utility or a drawing program, for instance, you probably output the finished product with a laser or inkjet printer, and then fax the page(s) with your desktop fax machine (which could be part of the printer if you use one of the multipurpose devices). I find it more practical to type a letter with my word processor and then fax it directly to the intended recipient without making a printout (unless I need a hard copy as a backup).
Yes, I do have a fax machine; one of the $800 relics that uses the old-style curly, heat sensitive paper. I use it mainly for incoming faxes, or for outgoing faxes of items that weren't created on my computer. However, I accept incoming faxes on this machine or on my PC, depending on which is most practical in a particular situation.
If the idea of sending and receiving faxes with your computer appeals to you, how does one go about doing it? Well, modems normally come with faxing software, which may have been installed when the modem's drivers were installed. Check your modem's manual. It should tell you how to setup and use the fax software.
You can also buy separate faxing software. WinFax appears to be the most popular and has been around for a long time. I bought WinFax back in the Windows 3.0 days and was pleased to see that it continued to work with Win95 and Win98. However, the program fell victim to Y2K and died on January 1 of last year.
However, one of my readers sent me a URL for downloading a shareware fax program that works beautifully and which I have been using ever since. It's called 32bitFax and can be downloaded from http://www.electrasoft.com/32bf.htm.
However, as a matter of curiosity, I went to CNet's web site this morning to see if they had any freeware of shareware fax programs and was pleasantly surprised to see that several were listed. The URL for this page is pretty long, but here it is. You should be able to click the blue link to bring up the web page. http://aolsvccomp.cnet.com/downloads/1,10150,0-10000-103-0-1-7,00.html?tag=srch&qt=fax+software&cn=&ca=10000
or...you can log on to
and type "fax software" into the Search box.
I'll be downloading and testing at least one of the free programs listed on this site and will report on it/them in a future column. In the meantime, if anyone has questions on using fax software, I'll be glad to offer any help I can via phone or e-mail. Be aware, however, that the various programs have many different features and tend to work quite a bit differently from one to another, and I don't pretend to know all of their ins and outs.
Here's another example of how I fax directly from my home computer. I design advertising flyers, price brochures, and other artwork for my business using Corel Draw and other graphic programs. As the art is prepared on my PC, I fax proofs to my Art Director at my screen printing business in another city.
Doing it this way has yet another advantage. Since my PC and fax machine are on two separate phone lines, the latter's line is free to accept incoming faxes while I'm sending others out on my computer's line.
Saving Email as You Create It
A complaint I hear frequently is that of having an online connection dropped while one is composing an email and that there seems to be no way to retrieve what has been written. The solution to this problem reminds me of the old election-day admonition to "vote early and vote often." The trick here is to "save early and save often." Unfortunately, the means of saving e-mail that's being written online varies dramatically from one email service to another.
Let's begin with Outlook Express. The first point to be made is that OE can be launched, and email can be composed without going online. In other words, don't log on to your ISP until the letter is complete and ready to send. This precludes losing the letter as a result of being bounced offline in the middle of writing it.
Unfortunately, it's still possible to be kicked offline even as you are sending the email, which can also result in its being terminally lost. However, if you have taken the precaution of saving the email with a filename, it can always be recovered. Do this: launch Outlook Express, and choose New Message. When the blank email form is displayed, fill in the To: and Subject: lines, along with CC: and/or BCC: if wanted. Then type the first few words of your message.
Now click on File, Save As: and type in a filename for the letter. Choose .EML as the file type. The letter will now be saved in the My Documents folder. Continue typing, and periodically do another File, Save As:, making sure the same filename is used. When told the file already exists and asked if you want to replace it, click Yes.
Doing a final File, Save As: just before sending the email will assure you of having a backup copy. If, for any reason, the letter is lost in transmission, simply double-click My Documents and then double-click the letter's ".EML" icon. This will launch OE and put your letter in place, waiting for the command to send it.
Doing the above in AOL or CompuServe is somewhat different. Begin a new e-mail in the usual way, and then do File, Save As:. You can create the letter either offline or online. Give the letter a filename and choose a place to save it. I prefer the Desktop because it's easy to find things there. The e-mail will be saved with a .TXT or .RTX extension, depending on which version of AOL/CS you're using.
If your email somehow gets lost, launch AOL or CompuServe and go to File, Open:. Browse your way to the saved file and double-click it. This will open the file as a text document, which you'll then need to Copy and Paste into a new, blank, outgoing e-mail box before being able to send it.
To save an outgoing e-mail in Netscape, do this: Launch Netscape and start a new, blank message, using Ctrl+M. Begin creating your letter (online or offline) and then go to File, Save As, File. Give it a filename and choose HTM for the extension. Again, I recommend saving it on the Desktop.
Continue composing your letter, pausing periodically to do File, Save, or Ctrl+S. If your Netscape letter gets lost in transmission, simply locate it on your Desktop and double-click it. Having been saved with an .HTM extension means a double-click will launch Netscape (assuming it's your default browser, which it normally would be if you are using it to send email). The file would then appear as a text document, which would need to be copied and pasted into a new Netscape email.
Saving Hotmail, Yahoo, Eudora and Juno letters offer still other adventures. But we're out of space. However, the way to always be sure of having a backup copy of your email is to compose it in your favorite word processor, and then copy and paste it into an outgoing email.