Don Edrington's  PC Chat   nct-3.gif
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 Click Here for Complete Listing of 2000's PC Chats
Year 2001 aro-grn.gif Click Here for Complete Listing of 2001's PC Chats
Sep 2, 2001 Blocking Unwanted Email
Sep 6, 2001 Thoughts from Readers on Blocking Unwanted Email
Sep 9, 2001 Surprised to Find Some Viruses + Plus Information on Some Free Programs
Sep 11, 2001 Information on More Free Programs
Sep 15, 2001 Another Virus Problem
Sep 16, 2001 Questions from Readers
Sep 23, 2001 Another Virus Alert
Sep 25, 2001 Using Your PC to Make Patriotic Posters
Sep 30, 2001 Differences Between Freeware & Shareware
Sunday
Sep 30
Differences Between Freeware & Shareware

     Gail Redd recently wrote to ask about the difference between shareware and freeware. The difference is that freeware can be downloaded and used without any payment required, whereas shareware is software that can be downloaded and tested before one is expected to buy it. Many shareware programs have an evaluation period of 30 days, after which the application stops working. In order to reactivate it on a permanent basis, it's necessary to contact the vendor and arrange for payment.

     Other evaluation schemes allow one to download and keep a "no frills" version of a program, with the complete package being available only if purchased. Still other programs are available as shareware for a price, but also available as freeware if you agree to accept the advertising that comes with them. An example is the Eudora e-mail client, which comes in three versions; (1) totally free as a "light" version with minimum capabilities, (2) totally free in the full-featured version that contains built-in ads, and (3) the full-featured paid version for about $50.

     Probably the most-used shareware product of all is WinZip, a program which handles .ZIP and .MIM files for us, among many other useful things. Bill Smith of San Marcos rebuked me when I recently included WinZip in with a list of free programs (even though I mentioned that it is, in fact, shareware). However, to my knowledge, WinZip is the only shareware that allows an unlimited "evaluation" period as long as you continue to "agree" to the fact that it is shareware and that they'd like you to pay for it. Let your conscience be your guide.

     Where does one go to find freeware and shareware? I've found a great source to be www.download.com, where you can find all kinds of programs, including many popular "for sale" products. The site also gives reviews of its various applications and invites those who have used them to send in reviews of their own.

     My most recent free download was a program called KaZaA. This is a "peer-to-peer" utility that lets you exchange files with other PC users on a person-to-person basis. If, for instance, you'd like to find songs by a certain performer, you can type his or her name into a "Seeking Artist" box and then wait to see what happens. Likewise, you can type in a list of songs you might want to share. The program will make the list available to other users on the Web.

     My first test of the program was to type in "Tricia Yearwood." Within a couple of minutes about a dozen of her songs appeared on my monitor. I chose one for downloading and was playing it a few moments later.

     So, is this legal? Well, I'm not a lawyer, but www.download.com assures us these programs (of which there are several) can be downloaded legally and that how they are used has nothing to do with the famous "Napster" controversy. You be the judge.

     Speaking of free downloads, I continue to get a lot of questions about copying items from my Web site at www.pcdon.com. For instance, the US flag I designed for making into a window poster will not be centered on an 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, if printed directly from the site. I recommend right-clicking the flag and choosing COPY from the popup menu. Next create a New, blank page in your favorite word processor. Then go to Edit, Paste to put the graphic in place. The design will then fit without lapping over onto a second page, and it can even be resized by mouse-grabbing one of its corners and adjusting it to your preference.

     In fact, any graphic found on my site can be copied this way, or can be saved as a file by right-clicking it and choosing "Save Picture As." The same holds true for all the songs on my music page where a title can be right-clicked. Choose "Save Target As" to put the song on your hard drive. Or, you can just click any song to hear it played. Enjoy!

Sunday
Sep 25
Using Your PC to Make Patriotic Posters

     I received an email from Mary Wilder over the weekend asking if she could print out an emblem she spotted on my Web site. The picture is an impressive rendition of an eagle with an American flag. Mary wanted to make a patriotic poster to place in her window, but was worried about infringing on copyrighted material. I told her it was all right to copy patriotic symbols, as long as they're not corporate logos of some kind. This one is not.

     Mary's idea gave me another idea. Since so many folks are wanting to display the American flag as a symbol of unity in these critical times, I've put a reproduction of one on my Web page (www.pcdon.com) that's the size of an 8 ½" x 11" sheet of paper. Everyone is welcome to copy it to make his or her own window display.

     Speaking of things freely downloadable, I've been very impressed with Zone Alarm, a "firewall" that I've been using since recently getting hooked up to cable. Firewalls are designed for people whose computers are connected to cable or DSL systems, which are, by their very nature, large networks where others can tap into your computer files if you don't have a way of limiting access to only those you want to have entry capabilities.

     Zone Alarm is free to individual users, but has a $19.95 one-time license fee to business users. The program has selectable security settings, which can be set to notify you when others are trying to access your computer, as well as ask you if you're sure you want to access certain Internet addresses. When you're not at the computer, it can deny access to anyone to whom you've not given special permission.

     Zone Alarm is available at www.download.com which is a service of www.cnet.com, my favorite site for getting reviews and price comparisons of software and hardware.

     Cnet.com also gives a very a favorable review to a shareware program called WinRam Booster Pro. I get calls all the time from folks asking how they can speed up their computers. There are various ways of adding some zest to a PC, including doing ScanDisk and Defrag on a regular basis (to which step-by-step instructions can be found here on this web site.

     Installing additional RAM in your PC will almost always improve speed and performance. 64 megabytes of RAM used to be considered adequate, but nowadays 128 or 256 megs are recommended for most computers.

     According to Cnet, WinRAM Booster Pro allows you to increase your available RAM for any application with one mouse click or automatically whenever you start an application. It works by defragmenting your system memory and the swap file, allowing you to recover RAM from the operating system and applications. The program can be obtained from www.download.com for a free 14-day trial, with $19.95 being asked if you decide to continue using it.

     Another program I've been asked about is Evidence Eliminator. I hadn't heard of the program, so I went to its site at www.evidence-eliminator.com to take a look at its advertising. They charge $149 for this product and I have no doubt that there are some who would consider this a reasonable price if the program does what it claims to do, which is to totally eradicate information about what Web sites one has been to, as well as destroying any traces of old email that one might consider incriminating. They claim that much of the data we think we've deleted from our hard drives can still be recovered by skilled technicians.

     Speaking of "recovery" one of the best features of WinME and the soon-to-be-released WinXP is the ability to "restore" your computer to the condition it was in on a previous date. If things have gotten badly messed up, or if you've lost important data, this utility will let you return to an earlier date where, hopefully, you'll be able to get things back in order.

     However, don't let this "recovery" tool become confused with a "recovery disc" which may have come with your new computer. These discs normally wipe out all your personal data and "restore" your hard drive to the way it was when you bought the computer. However, some recovery discs have options for just replacing certain programs or drivers or other special items, as well as having an option to completely reformat the disc and return it to its original condition.

Sunday
Sep 23
Another Virus Alert

     If you follow computer news at all, you know that another new virus was discovered this past week. W32.Nimda.A@mm is a mass-mailing worm that utilizes a variety of methods to spread itself. Be on the lookout for email with an attachment named “readme.exe.” Delete it as soon as you see it. To learn more about this new worm, log onto any of the anti-virus sites, such as www.symantec.com or www.mcafee.com .

     In general, be suspicious of any attachment that has an .EXE extension, unless it’s something you specifically requested. Filenames ending in .EXE are “executable” files which cause something to happen when double-clicked.

     Other extensions whose filenames have been known to carry viruses are .DOC and .XLS. MS Word documents normally end with .DOC, while Excel files use .XLS. These programs may contain specially written “macros” which can generate viruses. If you use these programs you can take the precaution of going to Tools, Options, Security and clicking the “Macro Security” button. You can choose from High, Medium or Low, with High being recommended nowadays.

     Filenames with the extension .VBS have been proven to be virus carriers and should be deleted unless you’re a trained programmer who knows how to use these files. The Sircam virus that’s currently traveling around has always come with a “double extension” such as .DOC.PIF or .XLS.INI. Now it also arrives with an “underscore” replacing the first “dot” (as in _DOC.PIF).

     The other trademark of the Sircam germ is that the email to which it’s attached always has a line inviting you to look at the attachment. Don’t look at it. Just delete it and notify the sender (who normally has no idea he or she sent it) that you received it. The “sender” will almost always be an Outlook Express user, since this is the program which is used by many of these viruses to propagate themselves to names found in the Address Book.

     I recently became an Outlook Express user when I switched to a cable connection. However, I simply refuse to use the program’s Address Book. I keep my contacts (many hundreds of them, by the way) in an MS Word file, where I put each email address on a separate line. When ready to mail, I mouse-select a bunch of names and COPY them with Ctrl+C. I then click in the Outlook Express' BCC (blind carbon copy) box and do Ctrl+V to PASTE them in.

     When placing email addresses in the Copy or BCC boxes, you’ll be advised that each name should be separated by a comma or a semicolon, followed by a blank space. However, if you paste in names which have been separated in a word processing document by pressing Enter after each entry (as I described above) a semicolon and space will be automatically inserted between each one.

     The first time you go to place email addresses in a new Outlook Express letter as Blind Carbon Copies, you may wonder where the BCC box is. You can display it by going to View, All Headers. After you’ve used it once the BCC box will usually be displayed automatically.

     Speaking of sending out email, I get requests nearly every day to include inspirational messages and/or photos of all kinds with my mailings. Although I have no doubt these requests are well-intentioned and for legitimate causes, I’ve always declined and restricted my newsletter to passing on (hopefully) useful computer information.

     Last week, however, I made an exception when I sent links to a couple of Web pages regarding the tragedies in New York and Washington DC. A number of people wrote back to say they couldn’t access one or the other of the links, and that several got “Java script” errors.

     There can be many reasons for these errors, but most have to do with the user not having an up-to-date browser. I suggested they download the latest version of their favorite browser and click NO if asked about disabling Java scripts.

     Having said that, I must acknowledge that some Java scripts are now said to be capable of propogating viruses. All the more reason to check as many anti-virus sites as you can to learn more about these things. Try www.grisoft.com and www.housecall.antivirus.com as well.

     Users of older computers with little RAM may also have trouble accessing Web pages containing lots of pictures and/or sophisticated graphics. As we’ve all come to learn, new computer technology continues to leap ahead faster than many of us can afford to keep up with.

Sunday
Sep 16
Questions from Readers

     John J. Guzzetta asked how to stop Outlook Express from automatically adding names to his address book.

     By default, OE adds the email address of each person to whom you respond, if you do so by clicking Reply. To defeat this, go to Tools, Options and click on the Send tab. Finally, UNcheck the “Automatically put people I reply to in my Address Book” box.

     Steve Manor asked how he could back up the various folders he’s created in Outlook Express by placing them on a CD.

     Well, the folders one creates within Outook Express (by going to File, New, Folder) become an integral part of the program and can’t be copied directly onto another disk. However, the emails saved inside the folders can be copied.

     Double-click a folder to see its contents. Now you can drag and drop any file shown into another folder. The destination folder can be on your Desktop or on another disk, including a CD if you have a CD-burner configured for dragging and dropping. Any file that is dragged from an OE folder into another folder is automatically “copied” rather than “moved.” The copied file will have an .EML extension and can later be opened within OE whenever it’s double-clicked.

     If you’d prefer to “move” rather than “copy” an email, right-click its icon and make your choice from the popup menu.

     Another way to save an OE email is to have the file open and then click on File, Save As. From there you can choose a destination folder, as well as choose a format for the email; EML, TXT or HTM. EML maintains the message as an OE file, TXT converts the message to a plain text document, and HTM converts the file to a Web page format.

     AOL users can also save an open email by going to File, Save As. Give the file a name and choose a destination folder. AOL 5.0 users’ files will have a .TXT extension, while AOL 6.0 users’ files will have an .RTX extension. However, if you open these files outside of AOL they will be filled with HTML coding that makes them difficult to read.

     To make them legible outside of AOL, change the extension from .TXT or .RTX to .HTM. A filename can be changed by right-clicking it and choosing Rename. However, you’ll get a message saying that changing a filename’s extension might make it unuseable, and asking if you want to continue. In this case, click Yes.

     Another reader said she’d installed and used an email program called IncrediMail, but later decided to delete it. Her question: why does she continue to get a message saying, “IncrediMail.exe is required...” when trying to use her current email program.

     Well, programs which are no longer wanted need to be “uninstalled.” Just deleting a program’s main folder does NOT get rid of all its files, which may be scattered throughout one’s hard drive. Inside a program’s folder you can usually find a file named uninstall.exe or unwise.exe, either of which will uninstall the target program when double-clicked. (Calling the file unwise is just a cute way of trying to discourage you from uninstalling.)

     If you can’t find the uninstall/unwise file for a particular program, double-click My Computer and choose Control Panel. Double-click Add/Remove Programs and look for the target program in the list which will appear. Double-click it, choose Add/Remove and then follow the prompts.

     If, after going through all these steps, you still get a message saying the program is needed, there’s a good chance it’s listed in your “System Tray Startup” menu. Go to Start, Run, and type msconfig. Click the Startup tab and UNcheck any references to the target program.

     You can also go to Start, Find, Files & Folders and look for any occurrence of "IncrediMail." Delete each one you find.

     If all else fails, you can delete references to IncrediMail in the Windows Registry. However, I'm always reluctant to suggest editing the Registry, since this is an area best left to advanced users. In any case, if you simply install (or reinstall) the email program you prefer, it should override any references to previous email clients which may have been installed.

Saturday
Sep 15
Another Virus Problem

     By now we've all heard about the "SirCam" virus which has a way of attaching itself to names found in an Outlook Express address book and sending an email to these names with an a virus-laden attachment. The email's message says "I send you this file for your advice..." along with an invitation to download and open the file.

     Well, the cyber-terrorists have found a new way of sending you this virus. An email you've received can be "replied to" with part of the original message intact. This will be followed by a line reading, "Take a look at the attachment." The presumed "reply" will be forwarded to the original sender with the deadly file attached.

     The devious procedure even has a way of making the subject line of the "reply" correlate to something in the original letter, thus making it appear that someone you know has, in all good faith, replied to your letter and sent you a file that is relative to something you had written.

     I got a "reply" from one of my readers with a file named "news_doc.scr" attached. The subject line referred to something I had said in my last newsletter, so the email appeared to be legitimate. However, I was puzzled by the three-letter extension of the file's name, since "scr" normally stands for "screen saver."

     So I decided to ignore the attachment, with the intention of writing the sender to ask why he would send me a screen saver. To make a long story short, I couldn't find time to write, so I decided to take a look at the attachment since I'd never heard of a file with an "scr" extemsion being dangerous. However, when I clicked on the file I got a message saying "Invalid file format." So I just deleted it and thought nothing more of it.

     That's when strange things began to happen. I suddenly got a message saying, "You have two emails that have not been sent. Would you like to send them now?" At first I clicked NO, since I had no knowledge of any unsent email. However, Outlook Express is somewhat new to me, so when I was asked a second time I clicked YES. That's when I decided to check my "Sent Mail" folder to see if I could figure out what was going on.

     To my surprise, I saw two letters that had a brief excerpt from my last newsletter, followed by, "Take a look at the attachment." To my horror, I could see that the files attached to the two letters had the typical SirCam "double extensions" (such as filename.doc.pif). Well, one of the letters was a reply to me (which was not surprising, since I send myself a copy of each newsletter) but the other was sent to a reader in Japan.

     I immediately emailed him, warning him about the phony "reply" and its vicious attachment. I'm glad to say he wrote back to say he deleted the file.

     By now you might be wondering about the attachment I received named "news_doc.scr" since it didn't have the infamous "double extension." Well, the cyber-vandals have apparently found a way to substitute an underscore for one of the periods (dots). In any case, be very suspicious of any "replies" you receive that invite you to "Take a look at the attachment." Delete the letter and the attachment and advise the "sender" that he or she appears to be a target of the SirCam plague.

     In summary I’ll just say that I used the free service at www.housecall.antivirus.com and took care of the problem. Also, this Free SirCam Worm Removal Tool from Norton/Symantec works very well at cleaning out SirCam. If any viruses are found that can't be "cleaned," however, be careful not to delete any “system” files without making provisions for replacing them.

     Another thing you can do to help protect yourself is to download attachments only onto a 3.5" floppy disk. This should keep the attachment off your hard drive.

Tuesday
Sep 11
Information on More Free Programs

     Well, they talked me into it. When I recently mentioned Nathan Kelly recommending www.mailstart.com as a Web site for accessing email from anywhere, I replied that I'd be reluctant to give them my password, as is required to use the service. However, Jill Scott wrote to say she's used the service to access her email from places around the world, including China and Turkey. Jill also mentioned that attachments can be included with email, and that she is very pleased with the service.

     So I decided to give it a try, and quickly learned that AOL and CompuServe are not supported, because of their non-standard ways of handling email. As it happens, I'm no longer using AOL, since I recently switched to a cable service. My new email address is MrPCChat@mediaone.net.

     In any case, if you type mailstart.com into your browser's URL box, be warned that accidentally typing "startmail.com" will bring up a porn site.

     When I recently mentioned free anti-virus services, several folks wrote to say they've found AVG to be very reliable and easy to use. The service can be found at www.grisoft.com. Several others wrote about being pleased with the "Panda Anti-Virus" which can be freely downloaded at www.pandasoftware.com.

     Another very useful free program is EmailStripper. It can be freely downloaded from www.download.com. This handy utility will fix all that malformatted email which arrives with those >>>> symbols and/or those alternating "long and short" lines of text. Some folks have written to say they were unsure how to use the program. Actually, it couldn't be simpler.

     After downloading and installing the program, its icon will appear on your Desktop (an envelope bearing an S). Double-clicking the icon will open a large box, into which you're invited to place the malformatted text. You get the text by using your mouse to highlight it within an open email. Do Ctrl+X to CUT the selected text. Place your cursor in the open box and do Ctrl+V to PASTE in the text. Next, click Strip It. The text will be instantly reformatted into a clean, neat and pleasingly legible document.

     Next do Ctrl+A to SELECT ALL the reformatted text. Then do Ctrl+C to COPY it. Finally, click back inside the original email message and do Ctrl+V to PASTE it in. Alternatively, you can opt to PASTE the freshly formatted text into a blank word processing page or an outgoing email.

     Regarding another free program, John Reekie wrote to say StarOffice actually costs $39.95. Yes, the program can be bought on a CD for that price, but it's totally free if you download it from www.download.com. Admittedly, one must click on several links to get to the actual download site, as is the case with many programs. You'll be asked which operating system you use and which country you are in, among other things. However, I feel that getting a free office suite is worth the extra clicking.

     I've also been told that WinZip is not really free. Well, that's more a matter of personal philosophy than actual fact. WinZip is a program that "unzips" multiple email attachments, among other things. It's a program that will decode email attachments that arrive with a .ZIP or .MIM extension, and is one we can all use. A free "evaluation" version can be download from www.winzip.com. However, the program is actually "shareware" and you have to click on "I Agree" each time you use it without offering to buy it outright. All you are agreeing to, however, is that you understand it is shareware and that they would like you to pay for it.

Sunday
Sep 9
Surprised to Find Some Viruses + Plus Information on Some Free Programs

     When Jim Berger recently told me about a free anti-virus service available at www.antivirus.com/pc-cillin, I decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. A program on the site called HouseCall.AntiVirus offers you a free online scan of all your files, along with comments on what it finds.


If clicking either of the above links doesn't work,
just copy and paste its web address into the URL line of your browser:

www.antivirus.com/pc-cillin
or
www.housecall.antivirus.com

     To my surprise I found three infected files on my main computer, and one on my laptop. This prompted me to run a check on the 7-year-old PC I keep on hand as a backup. 115 infected files were found on this machine. The thing that surprised me is that none of these computers have ever given any indication of being contaminated and all have been running normally with no visible problems.

     In any case, HouseCall said most of the infected files were "cleanable" and offered to disinfect them. Naturally, I accepted the offer. As for the "uncleanable" files, most could be safely deleted, while others could be replaced with files from another computer.

     The first thing I did, however, was rename each of the "uncleanable" files by removing the last character from the file's three-letter extension, thus making the file unusable. After doing a restart and running a few programs to see if any problems developed (none did) I deleted or replaced the target files. I definitely recommend this site, which can also be accessed at www.housecall.antivirus.com.

     For those who want even more protection from receiving viruses, Nathan Kelly wrote to tell me about www.mailstart.com, a Web site which offers to have all your incoming email go through its filtering service. They offer a free demo, but subscribing to the service costs $10 per year. I haven't tried this service, nor do I expect to, because you have to give them your email address and password. Personally, I don't give my password to anyone I don't know, but nonetheless feel obligated to mention all the anti-virus tips that readers send me. I appreciate their good intentions and hope the tips will all be valid and useful.

     A suggestion for keeping Outlook Express from sending unwanted emails to names on your contact list was sent to me by a number of readers. Since OE has a reputation for being an email program which viruses can infiltrate and then reproduce themselves to be sent to names they find in the address book, this seems like a plausible idea.

     This tip won't prevent you from getting viruses (your anti-virus program should keep this from happening) but it will stop viruses from latching onto your address book and sending themselves to others as email attachments.

     To keep this from happening, create a contact in your OE address book with the name :!0000 with no email address in the details. This "contact" will then show up as the first on your list. If a virus attempts to do a "send all" from your contact list, you'll see an error message that says: "The Message could not be sent. One or more recipients do not have an email address. Please check your Address Book and make sure all the recipients have a valid email address."

     Click on OK and the suspect message will not be sent to anyone, and no changes will have been made to your original contacts list. The offending message may then be automatically stored in your "Drafts" or "Outbox" folder, from whence it can be deleted.

     I continue to hear with increasing frequency that we should all be on guard about free programs that can be downloaded from the Internet. RealPlayer, for instance, has acknowledged that their free media player has come with built-in "spy" software that looks at your PC and sends certain information back to the parent company, which can aid them in deciding what advertising to send you. Other free programs that people have complained about are Bonzai Buddy, Weather Bug, and Gator, although I don't have any specifics on what the complaints are. One critic says that free services should be avoided altogether, because "you get what you pay for."

     However, I've used a number of free programs that have served me very well, and about which I have nothing but good things to say. The virus checker I mentioned at the beginning of this column is an example, as is 1stPage 2000, the program I use for creating pages on this Web site. StarOffice from Sun Microsystems is a full-blown "office suite" that is totally free with no strings attached.

     Another useful freebie is EmailStripper, a handy utility that cleans up malformated email by getting rid of all those >>>>>> symbols and realigns all those "long & short" lines that often appear in an email letter.

     The newsletter I send out is also free, and the number of subscribers continues to grow each week.

     Anyway, I'm always glad to hear readers' opinions on free programs and/or services they've tried. If you'd like to send me yours and/or receive my free newsletter, email me at MrPCChat@mediaone.net.

Thursday
Sep 6
Thoughts from Readers on Blocking Unwanted Email

     When I began using email in 1978, it was a fascinating new concept; faster than US Mail, and cheaper than long-distance phone calls. The excitement of receiving an occasional email in those days was something akin to finding a surprise package on your doorstep each morning.

     Nowadays, however, many PC users approach their in-boxes with trepidation, wondering how many pieces of junk mail they'll have waiting and if some of them have a virus-laden file attached. I mentioned recently that Outlook Express and Hotmail have "block sender" options, but not all email services do. AOL and CompuServe users can use their main screen name to go to Mail, Mail Controls to list senders whose mail they don't want.

    John Raymond Jr. wrote to say he was not satisfied with the answer Hotmail gave him when he asked about canceling his account altogether. The Hotmail people told John he could cancel his account only by not accessing it for a certain period of time. John went on to say that he has about 160 messages backed up there, but opening only one would keep the account active, which he does not want to do.

     Well, since web-based mail services like Hotmail are free, my solution would be to simply open another account under a different user name, and advise all my correspondents of the new name. Even the email services one pays for, like AOL, allow multiple screen names. Carroll J. Jones, Sr. wrote to say his solution to receiving unwanted email was to change ISPs altogether.

    Speaking of changing ISPs, a lot of folks have asked how they can quit AOL but still retain their "Favorites" along with the information in their address books, as well as mail saved in their Filing Cabinets. Sherry Halsey sent me a link to a Web site that claims to show how this can be done. I checked out the site, www.aoleave.com, but found its instructions to be rather complicated, with no guarantee that they will work.

    Here's my solution; I've left AOL in the past (well, the truth is: they kicked me off -- and you can read about that here: "A Funny Thing Happened...") but I still have access to all the above-mentioned information, some of it dating back more than three years. I simply kept the old version of AOL on my hard drive, even though my account was closed. Using the retained AOL program, I couldn't get online, but all my data was accessible just as it had been when the account was active. It still is.

    If you are, or intend to be, an AOL user, here are some things you need to understand. Most ISPs mainly give you access to the Internet and then let you use the browser and email client of your choice. If you've chosen, say, Internet Explorer and Outlook Express, any saved mail or "Favorites" will still be still be accessible if you switch to another ISP. You simply continue to use IE and OE with the new service.

    AOL, however, has its own hybrid browser and email system, as well as a "Filing Cabinet" for retaining old mail. All the data that one saves in these areas goes into a folder named Organize, where it is kept in cryptic files that have no easy way of being accessed. However, if you keep AOL on your hard drive after canceling your service, you can still access all the data just as you had done before. (All this also applies to AOL's clone, CompuServe.)

    How does one cancel an AOL account? Click on "Keyword" and type in "Cancel" or call 888-265-8008. As for canceling CompuServe, the service has been so flaky lately I really have no idea, other than to stop paying for it.

    I want to thank Mas Kamaya and the Tri-City Computer Club for having me as a guest speaker earlier this week. It was a lot of fun and, as usual, I learned several things from the attendees. Jim Berger told me about an inexpensive anti-virus program that's available with a free trial at www.antivirus.com/pc-cillin/. Jim says he's very pleased with the way it works for him. I tried it and agree wholeheartdedly with Jim. The program is also availabe at www.housecall.antivirus.com.

If clicking either of the above links doesn't work, just copy and paste the web address into the URL line of your browser:

www.antivirus.com/pc-cillin
or
www.housecall.antivirus.com

 
Sunday
Sep 2
Blocking Unwanted Email

     A number of people have written to ask if there is any way avoid unsolicited "spam" email. Many have discovered that clicking on a "no more mail" link just seems to generate more of the stuff. Well, I've heard that clicking "unsubscribe" or "remove my name" just tells the spammers that you've actually opened the mail and read far enough to reach the "no more mail" line, and that this just encourages them to keep you on their list as well as passing your name on to others.

     Outlook Express and Hotmail each have a "Block Sender" option, which lets you choose to block incoming mail from a given emailer, but they point out that choosing this option in no way keeps you from receiving junk mail from other spammers, not to mention from the same sender who may simply change his email address or screen name.

     Personally, I don't have a problem with spam mail. I can usually spot it from its subject line and use my delete key accordingly. As an example, a lot of spam has arrived lately with email addresses that begin with "an1" such as "an1acehrdwre@mail.com." I have no idea why so many of them use these three characters at the beginning of their screen names, since it's a dead giveaway.

     Also, if I happen to open a letter that begins with "The following is a result of your feedback form..." it gets instantly deleted. "Your feedback" is merely a phrase that hopes to trick you into thinking it's something you've requested.

     Anyway, one of my long-time readers sent me a referral to a Web site called "http://www.removeyou.com/" which purports to remove your name from lists you don't want to be on. I haven't tried it, and have no idea if it really works. If I wanted to try it, however, I would create a new screen name on one of the free webmail services like Hotmail or Yahoo and send that name to "http://www.removeyou.com/." Then I'd check periodically to see if that name was receiving spam.

     Personally, with all due respect to my reader who is trying to be helpful, I tend to be very suspicious of Web sites that offer to "help" you for free. Yes, there are many Web sites that do let you download legitimately helpful programs, but there are also some very devious scams out there. I recently warned all my AOL newsletter subscribers about receiving email from names such as "yourAOLaccount@..." or "AOLpaymentproblem@..." These letters appear to be from AOL and tell you your credit card somehow failed and that you need to log onto an AOL site where you can update your billing information. The site appears to be a genuine AOL page, complete with admonitions about not giving your password or credit card information to anyone but authorized AOL personnel. It then goes on to ask you to type in this very same information.

     Many people wrote to say thanks for the warning, but others wrote to say they'd been previously taken in by this scam, and told me of some very devastating results. This scam is actually very easy to perpetrate, as the crooks simply get another email account under a different name and put up another phony Web page as soon as the current ones get shut down. Be very careful.

     Speaking of Web sites, I'd like to answer some questions I've received about mine, http://www.pcdon.com/. A number of people have asked if mine is one of the "free" home pages that various Web services and ISPs offer to give you. Well, if you've ever signed on for one of these free services you'll quickly notice that your page or pages contain a lot of colorful ad banners, including animated ones, that advertise things you may or may not approve of. If you've been to my site, however, you've seen that no such advertising appears. Yes, I do mention a computer book I've written, but that's it. No other ads of any kind appear anywhere on the sixty-some pages of the site.

     No, mine is not one of the free sites; it's one I pay for every month, and which I maintain primarily to offer people helpful tips on using their computers. As such, I occasionally receive complaints that the site is not organized as a comprehensive instructional manual, complete with a table of contents and index that would let readers find an immediate answer to any computer-related question they might have.

     If I were independently wealthy and had nothing else to do, I would be delighted to create and maintain such a site. However, this one is maintained at my own expense in what little free time I can find to work on it. In any case, a lot of people write to tell me how much they enjoy it, and that's the real payoff for me.

     By the way, I finally got my free downloadable music page up and running again. It had to be completely reconstructed after I recently changed Web host services. Thanks for your patience as it was being reassembled.

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