Don Edrington - PC Columnist for The Californian & San Diego's North County Times - Specializing in Help to Seniors Who Are New to Computers
Specializing in Help to Seniors Who Are New to Computers
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Counter-Top Juke Box  Vintage Pop,
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Blank
Box with a Red X Where a Picture Is Supposed to Be

A number of readers have asked why email they send and/or receive containing pictures often arrives with blank boxes containing a red X instead of the pictures. There are many reasons for this; here are the main ones:

If the email is one of those cute greeting cards or inspirational messages that has an animated graphic with each paragraph, it was professionally prepared as an HTML document that should look the same to anyone who receives it.

However, not all email programs are completely compatible with all others, and each has a different way of handling pictures - especially when it comes to forwarding a picture-bearing email to someone else. If you are an AOL or CompuServe user, and you use your FORWARD button to send the letter on to others using AOL or CS, there's a good chance the pictures will arrive intact.

If you forward the same letter to users of other services, however, the pictures may or may not arrive intact. If, instead of clicking your Forward button, you use Edit > Select All to highlight the entire contents of the letter and then use Edit > Copy to copy everything, followed by using Edit > Paste to put the contents into a new, blank outgoing email, the pictures are more likely to arrive without problems.

Pasting everything into a new letter also works well with other email clients, such as Outlook Express.

Another way to help insure that the pictures arrive is to send an image-bearing letter as an attachment to a new, outgoing letter. Juno and Hotmail do this automatically when you click the FORWARD button. When clicking FORWARD in Yahoo Mail you will be given the choice of sending the letter as "in-line text" or as an "attachment." Choose the latter if the email contains pictures.

Outlook Express, however, offers no such choice when its FORWARD button is clicked - but clicking on Message will display a Forward As Attachment option.

If the pictures you are sending are not an integral part of the messages (as in a greeting card) it's better to send them as attachments. Outlook Express offers an Insert > Picture option and an Attach (paper clip icon) option that lets you browse to a picture (or any other kind of file). If you choose Insert, the picture will arrive positioned in the message wherever your cursor was when making the choice. If you choose Attach, the picture will not only arrive as an attachment, it will also show up at the bottom of the text message (at least, when received by another Outlook Express user).

Another thing that can cause enclosed or attached pictures to be dropped along the way is the file size limitation of the recipient's ISP. However, this has become less of a problem since Hotmail and Yahoo increased their mail storage limitation to 100 times what they were before, along with increasing the file sizes they accept. Others are now doing likewise to compete with Google's free 2 GB of Gmail storage.




Computer Tutor Don Columns for 2005

Don Edrington's Columns for: 2006 &  2007 & 2008

The Californian          North County Times

Please Send Comments or Questions to: ComputerTutorTeam@gmail.com


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Dec 26

Microsoft Publisher

Dec 25

Printing Multiple Photos on a Single Page
Making Text Flow Around a Picture
Resizing Pictures on a Word Processing Page

Dec 18

Having Fun with an MP3 Player
Using 2 Monitors with a Desktop PC

Dec 12

Various Ways of Posting Your Photos Online
Adding Text to a Photo

Dec 11

Overcoming SPAM (Unsolicited Junk Email)
How We Get on Spam Lists

Dec 5

Digital Photo Management Made Easy - Part 2

Dec 4

Digital Photo Management Made Easy - Part 1

Nov 28

Understanding Filename Extensions (.BMP, .DOC, XLS., etc.)

Nov 27

Wireless Network Security Questions
Images & Attachments Being Blocked in Outlook Express

Nov 21

Improving Legibility of LCD Flat Screen Monitors
Windows Accessibility Options for Users with Disabilities

Nov 20

Moving an Address Book from Outlook Express
    to Outlook & Vice Versa
Downloading & Playing Songs from this Site's
    Music Pages

Nov 14

iPods & Other Portable MP3 Players

Nov 13

Basics of Various Digital Music Formats
Creating Your Own WAV Files

Nov 7

Drawing Tools in your Word Processor
Using WordArt

Nov 6

Printing Photo Thumbnails
More on Printing Out One's Medical History
Feeback on VoIP
Entering Keywords into a Search Engine

Oct 31

Some Info on VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)
Free PC-PC Voice Communications

Oct 30

More on Maintaining a Digital Medical History

Oct 24

Using an MSWord Table for a Simple Database
Handy Advanced Feature of Excel
Avoid What Can Be an Embarrassing Error

Oct 23

Reducing the File Size of a Photo
OCR (optical character recognition) for Tables
Medical History Print-out

Oct 17

Data Storage Options

Oct 16

Handling Files that Won't Open

Oct 10

Mailing Labels & Envelopes with MSWord & Excel
Handling Zip Codes in Excel (or any spreadsheet)

Oct 9

Doing Mailing Labels & Envelopes with MSWorks

Oct 3

Getting Started with PowerPoint
Free PowerPoint View Available

Oct 2

Use MSCONFIG for Managing your Startup Programs

Sep 26

Inserting 'Small-Character' Fractions: ¼, ½, ¾
Using WinXP's 'System Restore" Function

Sep 25

Some Thoughts on Having Your Own Web Site

Sep 19

Downloading 'Open Office'
Downloading Various Types of Programs

Sep 18

Arranging Files in a Folder
Your Desktop Is Also a Folder, & Can Be Viewed as Such

Sep 12

Your Clipboard Contents Can Be Stolen by a Web Site
'Pasting Multiple Times' Explained

Sep 11

Free 'Open Office' Suite in Use by Mass. State Govt.
Bypassing a Popup Blocker
'Taking a Picture' of an Error Message

Sep 5

The Good & the Evil Face of the Internet
Parental Controls?

Sep 4

Dealing with Internet Threats
Viruses, Spyware, Hacker Attacks

Aug 29

Playing Downloaded Songs Continuously
Cell Outlines Disappeared in MSWord Tables
No Numeric Keypads on Notebook PCs???

Aug 28

Incuding Graphics on Avery Labels
Label-Editing Tools in MSWord TABLE Menu
"Magnifying Glass" Icon in Various Programs

Aug 22

No Sound from PC's Speakers
Missing Speaker Icon
Please Use BCCs (Blind Carbon Copies)

Aug 21

"Type-In" vs "Write-In" Forms
Copying Text & Graphics from PDF Files
Low Cost PDF Creation Program

Aug 15

Finding "NORMAL.DOT"
"Find" & "Replace" Commands
Another MSWord Problem

Aug 14

More on "Straightening Photos"
Cropping Saves Money on Expensive Ink
Sharing of Photos Online with Google's Free "Hello"

Aug 8

Cryptic Error Messages on the Internet
Restoring Default Internet Settings Helps
Restoring MSWord Default Settings
Prune Unused Icons from Word Toolbar
Changing Word's Default Font
Making Automatic Backups in Word

Aug 7

Straightening a Poorly Aligned Photo
Photo-Editing with Picasa2

Aug 1

Karen's Power Tools
Amazing Free Software

July 31

Using "StripMail"
Using "Quick Launch"
"Irfanview" Can Add Text to a Photo
More Uses for Ctrl+Z (Undo)

July 25

Phishing Emails Arriving Frequently
Keylogging Also on the Rise
Pleased with Most Online Customer Service -
    But Not with AOL

July 24

Legitimate & Useful Free Programs Available
Some "Anti-Spyware" Products - Really Spyware
Some Freeware Programs Getting Harder to Find

July 18

Telling Your Scanner What to Do
Easy Steps to Follow
Do It With Many Different Programs

July 17

Yellow Stickie Notes - a Wonderfully Handy Tool!
Stickies Don't Have to Be Yellow
Two Different Versions of Stickie Notes

July 11

Moving Address Book Between Email Programs
What Is a CSV File?
Address Book Moving Help for AOL Users
Reducing Sizes of Pictures to Be Attached to Email

July 10

Error Message Displayed on Computer Startup
Many Different Reasons for Such Errors
Problem May Be in Windows Registry
    (Edit at Your Own Risk)

July 4

Easy Way to Attach a File to an Email
Get to Know "Windows Explorer"
    (NOT the same as "Internet Explorer")

July 3

Email - Normal Screen View, Tiny Printout
Changing Font & Oject Size with Screen Resolution
Changing Font Size in MSWord to Any You Want
No Need Being Online to Write Email in AOL or OE

June 27

Keeping Things Organized on Today's Hard Drives
Put SubFolders Inside Other Folders
Create Shortcuts that Point to Important Folders
Use Underscore to Make an Item List First (_Item)

June 26

A Little About Browser Functions
What Are 'Cookies'
Use Your 'Refresh' Button
Covering Your Web Site Tracks

June 20

Compatibility Issues Between Word Processors
Which Word Processor Is "Best?"
Using RTF (Rich Text Formatting)

June 13

Creating a Simple HTML File to Use in an Email
Free Program: "1st Page 2000"*
    *(Not the Same as "Front Page")

June 12

Putting a Self-Calculating Invoice Form in an Email
Using the "Sigma" S "AutoSum" Command

June 6

Lining Up Columns in an Email
Use MSWord to Create an HTML File

June 5

Netscape 8.0 - Another Point of View
Which Media Player to Use?

May 30

Netscape 8.0 Browser Worth Considering
How to Download a File to a PC Not Connected
How to "Straighten" a "Leaning" Photo
Which Firewall to Use?

May 29

New Mydoom Virus!
Digital Image Formats: BMP vs JPG (JPEG/JPE)
JPG Is a "Lossy" Format - BMP Is Not Lossy
GIFs Used Mainly for Web Drawings & Animations

May 23

Which Files Can Be Safely Deleted?
Having File Name Extensions Showing Is Essential
Difference Between "Deleting" and "Uninstalling"

May 22

What Does "File Tagging" Mean?
Change Those Cryptic File Names
Saving Pictures as JPGs and BMPs

May 16

Is Your PC Slowing Down?
Clear Up Your Disk Fragmentation
Useful Free Program: "EasyClean"
"Belarc Advisor" - Another Useful Freebie

May 15

Differences Between a Database & a Spreadsheet
Creating a Formula in a Database
Database Filters
Using a Database's "Form" View

May 9

Balancing Your Checkbook with a Spreadsheet
"Formula" Amount Vs a "Typed-In" Amount
Using a Spreadsheet's "Editing Field"

May 8

Fixing Problems with the ENTER Key
"W32.Sober" - A New Worm to Be on Aware Of
Be Careful of Files with a ".ZIP" Extension

May 2

Easier Way to Launch Favorite Programs
Use You Taskbar's "Quick Launch" Area

May 1

Questions Often Asked by PC Newcomers
What Are "Hard" and "Floppy" Disks?
Why Do I Get "Low Memory" Messages?
Should I Upgrade or by Buy a New PC?

Apr 25

Fixing a CD Drawer that Would Not Open
PC Looking for a Printer which Is No Longer in Use?
Another Hardware Fix that Works in Many Instances
Older Hardware Cheaper to Replace than to Repair

Apr 24

Could Hardly Wait to Install my First Mouse
Using a Window's Upper Right Corner's 3 Buttons
Sometimes It's Easier to Use the Keyboard

Apr 18

Internet Minefield - Getting a Virus - Spam
Being Infected with Adware & Spyware
Can You Trust Anything That's Free?
I Use Norton Anti-Virus, but...

Apr 17

Evolution of Artwork Preparation for Printing
Camera-Ready Art or "Printer" Ready Art?

Apr 11

Animated Graphic as a Desktop Background
Screen Saver from Your Favorite Pictures

Apr 10

Saving Files Directly to Floppy Disks (Risky)
Flash Memory Drives & External Hard Drives
Free Online File Storage
Incremental File Names

Apr 4

Items Out of Order in Alphabetized Lists
Why Do Deleted Items Still Show in a List?

Apr 3

PC Terminology Sometimes Confusing
Best "Suite" Value for Many Home PC Users

Mar 28

New Internet Threat: "Pharming"
Using "Signatures" in Email
Inserting Long Phrases with One or Two Keystrokes

Mar 27

All-in-One Printing/Scanning/Faxing vs Stand-Alone Devices
OCR (optical character recognition)

Mar 21

Communicating with IMs (Instant Messages)
IMs Can Be Transmitted as Audio, as well as Text
So Which IM Service Is Best?

Mar 20

"Web-Based" Email vs Mail Saved on Your PC
Gmail Saved Online & Can Also be Copied to OE Inbox
Now AOL Email Can Also be Copied to OE Inbox

Mar 14

Brief History of Email
Which Email Service Is Best?
Using Your Name with a Different Email Service

Mar 13

Filing Your Income Tax Forms Online
Asking for an Extension
Be Careful What You Click On

Mar 7

Printing Maps & Directions from an Online Service
Monitor View of Ink Supply May Not Be Accurate
Don't Depend on Directions from One Map Program

Mar 6

Malformatted Text with Long & Short Lines
Adding CRs to Put White Space Between Paragraphs
What Do All Those Strange Symbols Mean?

Feb 28

When Your Printer Prints Too Much
Printing Just a Selection from a Page
Using a Programmable 4-Button Optical Mouse

Feb 27

Using TABS in Your Word Processing
Setting TABS with Your Horizontal Ruler

Feb 21

MSWord Problems & Their Fix
Doing Windows with Your Keyboard (instead of your mouse)

Feb 20

Deleting Unneeded Duplicate Files & Folders
Alternative Way to Delete Files & Clear Drive Space

Feb 14

Leave Your PC On or Off?
Firewalls Not Designed to Stop Viruses or Spyware
More RAM - Cheap & Effective

Feb 13

Limitations of Various Graphics Programs
Using the "Clone" Tool
More on Backing Up & Moving Outlook Express Files
Finding and/or Moving Your Outlook Express Folder

Feb 7

More Fonts than You Know What to Do With?
Certain Fonts Should NOT Be Deleted
Recipient May Not See a Fancy Font You Use
Exchanging Fonts with a Friend

Feb 6

Updated "Picasa" Free from Google
PhotoShop Elements
Editing Animated GIFs
Newer Anti-Spyware Programs

Jan 31

Inserting a Picture into a Valentine Letter
Use "Text Boxes" as Movable Frames for Pictures
Inserting a Picture into an Email
Inserting Animated Graphics into an Email

Jan 30

Plain & Fancy Formatting in Outlook Express
Free Online Spell-Checker

Jan 24

Drag & Drop Just About Anything

Jan 23

Microsoft's New Anti-Spyware Program
My Favorite Free Anti-Spyware Programs

Jan 17

How to Crop a Picture
How to Resize a Picture

Jan 16

The Basics of JPG (aka JPEG & JPE)

Jan 10

Understanding CYMK & RGB
3 Colors in a Cartridge vs 3 Separate Cartridges
Cheap Paper Actually Better than Kodak's
Editing for Better Pictures & Cheaper Printing

Jan 9

Digital Cameras & Megapixels
Optical Zoom vs Digital Zoom
Printers Are Cheap, but Ink Is Expensive

Jan 3

AT&T "CallVantage" Not Working
Backing Up Various Types of Email

Jan 2

Backing Up Outlook Express Email

Dec 26

Top of Page

Microsoft Publisher

I've written about how adding pictures to an MSWord document can turn it into an attractive newsletter. DTP (desktop publishing) of magazines and newspapers, on the other hand, is done with heavy-duty programs such as QuarkXpress, which can cost over $600.

However, those who design newsletters and brochures for small businesses, clubs, community organizations, and churches, will find all the text and graphics tools they need in Microsoft Publisher, which sells for about $80.

Publisher comes with a number of "wizards" that ease a user into creating layouts for greeting cards, postcards, business cards, and various types of publications. The program also has templates for creating cards that will be folded in various ways, making it easy to independently design each surface that will be seen after folding.

If your newsletter is to be printed on a standard 8.5x11-inch sheet, I'd suggest clicking the Blank Page icon. To add text to the page, click on the blue A in the vertical tool box, whereupon your cursor will become a small cross that lets you draw a "text box."

Use the word processing toolbar to choose fonts and to format their colors and styles. Text boxes can be reshaped to accommodate your typing, and can be moved around on your page as needed. If you plan a traditional 3-column newsletter, each column will be a separate text box; but text can be made to flow seamlessly from one box to another.

Pictures can be placed on a page, and do NOT have to be inside text boxes (as they do in MSWord) in order to be moved around. Click on Insert>Picture File, and browse to the target graphic. Images can be resized by grabbing any corner and adjusting as you see fit. To maintain a picture's aspect ratio, hold down Shift while adjusting its size.

If you depress Alt when grabbing a corner, you can rotate the image to a different angle. By clicking the toolbar's Rotate icon, you can choose Clockwise or Counter-clockwise and type in the exact number of degrees you want an image rotated

If you place a picture on top of any text, the typing will rearrange itself to flow around the picture. However, you can click the "Bring to Front" or "Send to Back" icons to change the order of selected overlapping items.

To crop a picture (remove excess material surrounding the main subject) go to Format>Crop Picture, whereupon clicking on an image's corner will change your cursor in a "double-scissors" icon. If you've clicked the upper left corner, pushing the "crop" icon toward the center of the picture will cut away material from the top and left edges. Moving in from other corners crops two other edges accordingly.

Publisher also comes with lots of clipart images, along with the Drawing and WordArt capabilities found in MSWord. I could give many more pointers on using the program, but it is very intuitive and marvelously easy to use.

Dec 25

Top of Page

Printing Multiple Photos on a Single Page

I've been asked how to print a group of snapshots on a standard letter-size sheet of paper. The easiest way is to use your word processor to create a blank page, followed by inserting photos into it. By placing each photo in a "text box," they can be moved around on the page to your liking.

In MSWord, go to Insert > Text Box. In recent versions of Word, a box will appear with gray edges. If you click any edge, the box will change size and display a blinking cursor in its upper left corner. In older Word versions, going to Insert > Text Box will turn your cursor into a small cross, with which you can draw a box of the approximate size and shape needed to hold a photo. Then click inside the box.

Now that you have a box containing a blinking cursor, go to Insert > Picture > From File, and browse to a desired photo. Double-click it to insert it into the box. At this point you may have to fine-tune the box's shape to accommodate the enclosed picture's size. Grab any edge or corner to reshape it.

To move a box, click on any edge. When your cursor changes to a four-arrow pointer you can move the box and its enclosed picture around on the page.

Repeat the above steps for each additional photo you want on the page.

If you now choose to print the page, each text box will show up as a frame around its picture. To make a frame invisible, click on it and go to Format > Text Box > Colors & Lines > Line > Color and choose "No Line."

Why are these frames called "text boxes?" It's because text can be typed into a box and formatted using your standard Word toolbar, whereupon the box can be moved to anywhere on a Word page. This is often done if the page is an advertisement of some kind, which would benefit from having key phrases enlarged and displayed as colorful attention-getters.

This also applies to any kind of a document into which you might want to place a picture and have the body text flow around it.

Making Text Flow Around a Picture

Choose an insertion point in an existing document where you would like a picture (or some special text, or both) to appear. Use the above steps to put the moveable box where you want it. Doing this, however, will cause the box to cover some of your text. To make the text flow around it, click on the box and go to Format > Text Box > Layout and choose from the miniature illustrations of various types of text flow.

Resizing a Picture on a Word Processing Page

Getting back to placing multiple pictures on a blank page, an image can be resized by simply clicking on a corner and moving your mouse accordingly. Dragging an image's corner will maintain its aspect ratio, while clicking on an edge will cause the image to be distorted as it is adjusted.

Be aware that image-bearing word processing pages tend to have very large file sizes, and may not be suitable for sending as e-mail attachments. But they print beautifully.

Dec 18

Top of Page

Having Fun with an MP3 Player

After years of collecting and playing free music on my computer, I finally bought an MP3 player. Since the advent of the pricey iPod, I decided to wait until one could be had for about $100, and settled on a Samsung YP-F1X. The device is about the size and shape of a man's thumb, with five buttons and a three-line monochrome LCD.

Also included are a voice recorder and an FM radio. I realize something this small with such tiny buttons is not for everyone, but I must say I am delighted with mine. The sound quality is remarkable, and up to 120 songs can be loaded into the 512 MB of flash memory. Larger capacity units are available for more money, but using my PC to swap play lists is so easy that I expect it will be quite a while before I buy bigger.

The player has a belt clip and a neck strap; however, I find carrying it in my shirt pocket works best. Songs are played in alphabetical order, but you can edit their names when copying them into the player, thus rearranging them to your liking. After the player is shut down, it automatically picks up where you left off when turned back on. Beyond that, you can skip around in your play list without too much difficulty.

MP3, WMA, ASF, and Ogg music files are playable. Music CDs can be easily ripped to one of these formats with Windows Media Player 10, and you can convert WAV files to WMAs or MP3s very easily. The earbuds that come with the unit work fine, but I have other headsets I prefer when listening at home. Also, feeding the output into amplified external speakers produces some amazing sound.

Besides music, I have lots of MP3 files of old radio shows and stand-up comedians, which make a long drive a little more tolerable. A headphone jack splitter (available at Radio Shack and other electronics stores) means two people can be listening to the same player. Earbuds, unlike cover-the-ear headphones, don't keep you from hearing traffic and other external sounds.

The battery is built-in and goes for 8-9 hours between charges. I honestly don't know what happens when the battery eventually dies in three or four years, but I expect price drops on these devices will make buying a new player the logical choice.

My Desktop PC Has Two Monitors

Another recent purchase was a video card with two monitor connectors, along with a second flat-screen monitor. I had a technician install the card.

Why two monitors? Well, if you are dragging and dropping text from, say, one MSWord document into another, you can have each page on a separate screen and the mouse pointer moves seamlessly from one monitor to the other.

If you have a wide spreadsheet that keeps you scrolling left and right, it can be spread over the two screens so that horizontal scrolling isn't needed.

Also, I sometimes use large sticky notes, a free program which I stick on the second monitor, leaving the main one uncluttered.

If you ever decide on having a second monitor you will quickly find many uses for it.

Dec 12

Top of Page

Posting Your Photos Online

When I recently mentioned "ignoring online offers" to help manage my digital photos, one reader wrote to say he has been very pleased with www.kodak.com's free EasyShare service, which lets him display his pictures online so that others can see them. He said that posting 99 photos was quick and easy, and that Kodak helped send email to all those whom he wanted to see the pictures.

So I signed up for the service. I'm curious to see if the email contacts whose names I supplied (my own extra email names) will end up on any advertising lists.

Like most free services, EasyShare is loaded with items its purveyors hope you will buy along the way, such as glossy prints of the photos. However, it is possible to just use the free service, whereby one's pictures are posted as a "slide show."

I would have preferred a "thumbnail" option, which would let viewers pick and choose which photos to enlarge, rather than expect them to go through the whole slide presentation. However, I suppose posting the photos in small groups would make it easier on a viewer.

A competitive free service is www.dotPhoto.com, which also lets you post videos for others to see. Both services let you add MP3 music to their slide shows.

My preferred way of displaying photos online is to use my own Web site. Most ISPs nowadays let their subscribers have a free site, where they can display their photos, text, music, and videos. Also, you can display the photos so visitors can see them individually, rather than having to work their way through a slide show. Go to your ISP's home page and look for information on "Free Web Sites."

Adding Text to a Photo

I've been asked about adding text to a photo. Windows' "Paint" program (Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint) lets you do this by clicking the "A" icon, followed by typing in your text. The typing will appear in a "text box," which can be reshaped and moved to where you want it on the picture.

If you scroll over the text, a box will open that lets you choose another font and/or size. Left-clicking a shade in the color toolbar will make the text appear in that color.

In Irfanview (free from www.irfanview.com) lettering can be added to a picture by drawing a text box of the approximate size and shape desired with your mouse pointer, followed by clicking Edit > Insert Text into Selection, and typing in your words.

Before clicking OK, click the "Choose Font" button and make your choice. Clicking the "Append Date" button will insert the current date into the text box. The same is true for adding the current Time and/or Copyright symbol. If you click "Text is Transparent," the area around the text will be clear so that the picture shows through.

Other options in Windows Paint under "Image" are "Flip" and "Rotate, " along with "Stretch & Skew. " The latter lets you resize a picture and/or "skew" it into a different shape.

Dec 11

Top of Page

Overcoming SPAM (Unsolicited Junk Email)

Barry Elkin asks if there is any way to block unsolicited email promoting "investment tips" and the like. Well, after years of offering little or no help in dealing with spam, ISPs and Web-based email services have become pro-active in trying to protect their subscribers.

Hotmail was once suspected of actually encouraging spam so that subscribers' mailboxes would fill up quickly and nudge them toward buying additional storage space from Microsoft. However, since Google's Gmail service began offering 2.5 gigabytes of free space, Hotmail, Yahoo, AIM, and others have also increased theirs along with taking some meaningful anti-spam steps.

Most have begun putting suspicious emails into a folder named Junk or Spam or Bulk, where subscribers can delete them with just a few clicks.

So why don't the services just delete the garbage to begin with? Well, there is no way to be 100% sure if any given email is spam or if it's legitimate. I find two or three valid emails in my Junk folders each month, along with a few scams in my inbox. However, these are easily dealt with.

Many services let you block messages from specific email addresses; but this rarely stops professional spammers, since they used "spoofed" return addresses and never use the same one twice. Some email clients, such as Outlook Express, let you create a "white list inbox" of acceptable addresses, whereupon mail from others can be put into a special folder, deleted, or dealt with as you prefer.

The only foolproof way I know of stopping spam dead in its tracks is to change your email address. Yes, I realize that if you've had a long-standing name/address of, say, JohnQDoe@xyz.com, you are reluctant to give it up. However, JohnQDoe@gmail.com (or @ another free service) might be available. Gmail can even be configured to pass messages on to an Outlook Express account, giving you the best of both systems.

How We Get on Spam Lists

How do spammers get our addresses in the first place? Well, if you've ever received a "forwarded" email with lots of "carbon copy" addresses displayed, it means all those addresses (including yours) have been seen by many different people along the way. Always use BCCs (blind carbon copies)! More information on sending BCCs here.

If you've ever used your email address when posting something in a Web site's "Guest Book," you've made it available to automated address-harvesters who roam the Web looking for new victims. The same is true for email addresses that show up in chat rooms, blogs, or other types of forums. If you conduct any business transactions online, legitimate companies will keep your address from being passed around. However, many phony sites are set up just to collect names and addresses.

Giving your address to someone offering "free screensavers" or "free smilies" or asking you to participate in a "free survey" is a quick way to get it added to one or more spam lists.

However, the free services listed on my site (www.pcdon.com) have been tried and proven over many years.

Dec 5

Top of Page

Digital Photo Management Made Easy - Part 2

When the photo has been cropped and/or resized the way you want it, go to File > Save As and name it - you can keep the existing name, or type a new one. In the "Save as Type" field, choose JPG for any picture you plan to email or post on a Web site. In fact, JPG has become the most popular format for snapshots and family photos. More about the other formats later.

Irfanview doesn't have the huge arsenal of editing tools found in programs like PhotoShop or PaintShopPro, but it does have some useful ones.

If a photo is too dark or too light or needs some color correction, click on Image>Enhance Colors. Here you'll find sliding scales for increasing or decreasing Brightness and Contrast, along with scales for adding and subtracting RGB colors. You'll also see two reduced images - one to show the original coloring and one to show the changes taking place as you edit.

If, after clicking OK, you're not pleased with the end result, use Edit>Undo to revert to the original image.

You'll find several other useful options under Image, such as Rotate, Flip, Sharpen, and Convert to Negative or Gray Scale. Under Image>Effects you'll find some avant-garde treatments such as Emboss, Oil Paint, and Explosion.

If you plan on doing a lot of edits on a particular image, I'd recommend saving it as a BMP, rather than as a JPG, while you edit. Re-edits on a JPG tend to diminish resolution quality with each subsequent Save. BMPs, conversely, maintain resolution quality with multiple Saves. Save the picture as a JPG when you're sure you will do no more editing on it, and keep the BMP version on hand, just in case.

If file size is a major consideration, a JPG can have its byte count adjusted with a slide bar which appears when doing File>Save As>(filename).JPG. Experiment to see how small you can make a JPG and still maintain a presentable final result.

In addition to manipulating JPG options, the physical size of a picture obviously affects its final byte count. If you have trouble emailing, say, an 8x10-inch image, how about reducing it to 4x6 - or something in between? Use cropping and/or resizing to get the size and aspect ratio you want.

As for printing, if you're using a "photo printer" dedicated to outputting standard sizes such as 3x5 or 4x6, crop and resize before you print. Otherwise you can waste a lot of ink printing out acres of, say, the grass and sky which surround a tiny subject in the middle of the picture.

Irfanview also works beautifully with desktop scanners. Use File>Select Twain Source to make your PC communicate with your scanner, and File>Acquire to do the scanning.

Using Your "PrintScreen" Key

To capture something seen on your Desktop, press PrtScr (the PrintScreen key), followed by opening Irfanview and clicking the Paste Icon. Crop and Save As, to preserve the image, along with using any of the editing steps explained above.

Dec 4

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Digital Photo Management Made Easy - Part 1

I've been getting dozens of questions about storing, editing, and sharing digital photos. Well, there are dozens of ways of doing these things; but I'll just describe the easy methods I use.

For starters, I ignore all the online promotions from Kodak and others who offer to help us do these things for a nominal fee. With WinXP, no special software is needed to get photos from your digital camera onto your hard drive. For pre-WinXP users, a CD always comes with a digital camera which make your PC and camera work together.

Although some cameras connect directly to a PC for transferring photos, most use a tiny flash memory card, which you remove from the camera and connect to your PC via an adapter into a USB port. I have two cameras, each using a different shaped flash card, so I bought an adaptor that accepts four different sizes.

When a photo-laden card is connected to your PC, the pictures normally begin showing up on your screen via an image-editing program, which then invites you to copy them onto your hard drive - usually into your "My Pictures" folder by simply dragging and dropping them.

Well, I use seven different image-editors for various tasks, but prefer one particular program for opening, cropping, and resizing photos. Irfanview is completely free from www.irfanview.com. As you download it, click YES when asked if you want it to be the default program for opening your bitmap images (JPG, BMP, TIF, etc.). Then, whenever a photo's filename or icon is double-clicked, it will open in Irfanview.

Since digital photos tend to be fairly large, they may not fit completely in the Irfanview window. Click the toolbar "minus sign" to reduce the view size. Each click makes the view 10 percent smaller.

To make the photo physically smaller in size, click Image>Resize/Resample. Here you'll find many options, such as HALF, which makes the photo 1/4 its original size (half as high and half as wide). Or you can reduce it by a chosen percentage, say, 75% to make it 3/4 of the original. You can also designate an exact height or width in pixels or inches.

This is also where you choose the DPI (dots per inch) for the image resolution. 300 DPI works well for images to be output on an inkjet printer. However, if the image will just be viewed on a screen, 96 DPI is fine for most LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors with 72 DPI being suitable for older CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors.

Now you may want to "crop" the photo, i.e. select the important area, and eliminate the extraneous background which can quickly empty your expensive inkjet cartridges.

With your left mouse-button held down, use the arrow pointer to draw a box around the area you want to keep. Release the mouse-button to fix the dashed outline in place. Finally, click the toolbar scissors followed by clicking the "clipboard paste" icon to complete the cropping.

Nov 28

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Understanding Filename Extensions

One of the fundamentals of today's PCs is that all filenames have an extension that tells us something about the file. For instance, .TXT means the file is a "plain text" document, while .PDF is a Portable Document File which is usually opened with Acrobat Reader. Many extensions apply to files created by one particular program, such as .XLS, which means the file was created with Excel.

Some extensions have become so associated with a particular program that finding them used with another program seems strange. We normally assume that a .DOC file is a Microsoft Word document, but there was a time when WordPerfect also used the extension. Furthermore, Windows comes with a program called Wordpad, which, in some versions of Windows, appends .DOC to its filenames.

Image files with extensions such as .JPG, .BMP, and .GIF can be created in different graphics programs, such as Adobe PhotoShop or Windows Paint, and opened with almost any other bitmap editor.

Most extensions consist of three characters, but some may have two or four, such as .AI (Adobe Illustrator) and .HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), with the latter being able to use .HTM as a viable alternative.

Generally speaking, you cannot arbitrarily change a filename's extension without corrupting the file. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For instance, .HTML can be changed to .HTM, and vice versa, without affecting the file. Variations of .JPG include .JPEG and .JPE, which are usually interchangeable, but you may have to experiment. The same applies to .TIF and .TIFF.

There was a time when AOL used .RTX as the extension for its HTML files; and this can usually be changed to .HTM or .HTML with no problems.

Also, it's not uncommon to run across an HTML file saved with a .TXT extension. This is because HTML files actually do consist entirely of "plain text" and are converted into the colorful Web pages we see by what the various "plain text commands" cause to happen in a browser such as Internet Explorer or Firefox, as well as in HTML-based email. If you do encounter a .TXT file that is full strange-looking code, manually changing .TXT to .HTM will usually make it legible.

Speaking of which, any filename can be edited by right-clicking it and choosing RENAME from the popup menu.

Those who do image-editing learn early on that .BMP and .TIF files tend to be very large, and can be converted to much smaller .JPG files with minimal loss of resolution quality. However, manually changing an extension will NOT work - a file must be opened with an image-editor and converted to a format such as JPG by using "File>Save As" (or "File>Export As" in some programs).

However, it is possible for a filename extension to be mysteriously changed, and can then be very difficult to fix. When this happened to Thomas Johnson recently, he found a Web site devoted to reinstating corrupted filename extensions: www.dougknox.com/xp/file_assoc.htm

Nov 27

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Wireless Network Security Questions

Tom Boyd wrote to ask about security issues in regard to using a wireless network in one's home, saying he has heard that a neighbor could access your computer. Yes, going wireless increases the risk of others being able to get into your network; however, there are many security measures that can be used to protect yourself.

One method is the encryption of sensitive data, such as financial transactions with your bank or an online vendor, most of whom now have reliable protection systems in place. These establishments all have Privacy and Security links on their sites - usually at the bottom of their Home Page - that explain these how these systems work. If in doubt, call or write to those with whom you would exchange critical data.

Mary and I do all our banking and most of our shopping online, and never have any problems

Also available for home-based wireless networks are programs that scan your system for potential security leaks. Such a program, Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, is freely downloadable from the MS site, or you can find a link on my site.

Also, everyone needs a firewall, whether your PC is wired or wireless. I prefer the free one from ZoneAlarm (which has a link on this site's Home Page) to the one that comes with Windows Service Pack 2, which I disabled. Some users prefer a mechanical firewall, such as the Belkin 4-Port Router, which can be found at any computer store.

For those who connect wirelessly to "hot spots" in hotels, airports and other places, I received an ad today for a $12.95 handheld device which claims to help locate the best location for reliable connectivity in these areas: www.serif.co.uk/sop2/showOffer.asp?AMC=WIFE113

Regarding security, we all need an onboard anti-virus program, and one or more anti-spyware programs to clear out the unwanted cookies we pick up when visiting certain Web sites. Beyond that, common sense tells us not to click on pop-ups saying we are the millionth visitor to a site and have won a valuable prize. Also, clicking on links for "free screensavers" and "free emoticons" - where you have to give your email address to download the freebies - is a sure way to get on multiple spam lists.

Even using IMs (instant messages) can make you vulnerable to receiving malware, if you click on a link someone sends you. An IM used to be considered safe because you are normally corresponding with a friend whom you trust. Now, however, hackers have ways of accessing an IM and making it look as though a link came from your friend. You can't be too careful.

Images & Other Attachments Being Blocked in Outlook Express

Jan Sperla wrote to say she can't see pictures or other attachments sent her via email since installing McAfee AntiVirus. This can be fixed in Outlook Express by going to Tools>Options>Security, where a number of email restrictions can be enabled or disabled. Experiment to see which choices work best for you.

Nov 21

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Maximizing the Visibility of LCD Flat Screen Monitors

After some recent eye surgery I found my eyes tiring quickly when using the computer, so I decided to replace my 15-inch flat screen monitor with a larger one. Well, unlike the heavy CRT monitors we used for years, which looked sharp at any screen setting, LCD monitors are designed to be used at one specific resolution, and tend to look mushy at other settings.

However, Windows XP has a way to fix this.

To change the resolution of any monitor, right-click a blank area of your Desktop and choose Properties. Next click Settings and look for a horizontal slide-bar with a number below it. 800x600 is the setting used on most CRT monitors, but LCD monitors use higher settings, meaning more things can be seen on the screen, which will be smaller, but will be sharp and crisp.

Moving the slide-bar to the left will lower screen settings, displaying larger but fewer items. Conversely, sliding it to the right will increase settings, showing more but smaller items.

If you choose a flat screen setting other than the one recommended, WinXP will let you fix the resulting fuzziness with a feature called ClearType.

Back on the Desktop do a right-click and choose Properties. Select Appearance, click the "Effects" button, and click ClearType. Also, checkmark "Use the following method to smooth edges of screen fonts." In the drop-down box, select ClearType and click OK. Finally, click Apply > OK to exit this window.

Next, go to Microsoft's ClearType site: www.microsoft.com/typography/ClearTypeInfo.mspx. Follow the simple steps there to improve your text display.

If you want larger text in various applications, here are some tips:

In your browser, click View > Text Size, and choose a setting. In Netscape and Firefox this works with most text, however in Internet Explorer it seems to work with about half of the text you encounter. Nonetheless, View > Text Size works fine in Outlook Express. If you have a mouse with a center wheel, rolling it while pressing Ctrl has the same effect as using View > Text Size.

This also applies to MSWord, which otherwise suggests you go to View>Zoom to choose a Text Size percentage. Or you can drag the Zoom/percentage window onto your Toolbar by going to Tools > Customize and clicking Tools > View and grabbing Zoom from the Commands list.

Windows Accessibility Options for Users with Disabilities

Folks with severe vision problems, or with other physical limitations, can use Windows Accessibility options. Go to Start > Programs > Accessibility > Accessibility Wizard. Here you will find all kinds of monitor settings and keyboard adjustments that will help in many different ways. Older versions of Windows may not have the Accessibility Wizard, but will still list the various options.

A quick way to improve the legibility of text found on Web sites or in email that has low contrast against its background is to simply scroll over it with your mouse.

If you receive email with tiny text, click Reply. You can then scroll over it and choose a larger number from the Toolbar Size menu.

Nov 20

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Moving an Address Book from Outlook to Outlook Express & Vice Versa

A number of Outlook users have asked how to copy their Address Book into Outlook Express, while a number of OE users have asked how to copy theirs into Outlook. Import/Export options can be found in both programs under File.

As an example, an OE user would click File>Export>Address Book. A box will appear with the phrase "Text File (Comma Separated Values). Click this phrase and then click Export. Next click Browse to choose Desktop or a specific folder into which your data will be stored. When you see "Save exported file as:" type a filename such as ADDRESSES.CSV into the blank field, followed by clicking Next.

You can type in any filename you want, but it MUST have the extension .csv (capital letters optional).

Then you will be asked to select the fields you wish to export, such as Name and Email Address. Finally, click Finish to see a message saying "Address Book export process has completed."

To copy this data into Outlook, launch the program and click File>Import/Export. In the box that appears choose "Import from another program or file" and click Next.

When you see "Select file type to import from:" choose "Comma Separated Values (Windows)" and click Next. When you see "File to import:" click Browse to locate the CSV file you created. Select it and click Next. When you see "Select destination folder:" choose Contacts and click Next. You will then see "The following actions will be performed:" followed by an "Import" message describing the action. Finally, click Finish for the action to take place.

The above instructions are for copying names and addresses from OE 6 into Outlook 2000, and may vary slightly when using other versions of these programs. The steps for copying Outlook "Contacts" into an OE Address Book are also similar to the above.

Downloading & Playing Songs from this Site's Music Pages

Since mentioning a collection of downloadable Christmas music on my Web site, some folks have written to say they have problems playing and/or downloading the songs. These problems are often caused by using a program other than Windows Media Player (such as RealPlayer or QuickTime). The default player for WinXP users is Windows Media Player 10, while Windows Media Player 9 works with earlier versions of Windows. The programs can be freely downloaded from www.download.com or www.microsoft.com.

With Windows Media Player installed, a single left-click on any of my site's songs will cause the song to play. To copy a song to your own hard drive, right-click it and choose "Save Target As," whereupon clicking "Save" will cause it to be copied into your "My Music" folder, which is inside your "My Documents" folder. Henceforth, left-clicking the downloaded song will make it play via Windows Media Player.

If you do have other media players on your hard drive, you may find that one appears when you click a music file. This can be fixed by right-clicking the file, left-clicking "Open with:" and choosing Windows Media Player. Also, click "Choose Program" and checkmark "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file."

Nov 14

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iPods & Other Portable MP3 Players

With the huge success of all versions of Apple's iPod, one would think choosing a portable media player and obtaining content to go with it should be fairly simple. Good luck.

For young people who want the latest in pop rock, 99-cent iTunes played on any iPod would probably fill the bill. For those of us who find iPods a little pricey and who like finding free music online, choosing a player becomes more complicated.

There are so many MP3 players available (literally dozens) that adequately describing them here is impossible. However, I can offer some tips that might make choosing one a little easier.

They come in three main types; hard-drive based, CD-based, and flash memory based, the latter being recommended for strenuous activities that might cause a hard drive or CD to skip. Storage capacities range from 32 megabytes to multiple gigabytes.

Some are powered by a single AA or AAA replaceable battery, while others use a non-replaceable built-in rechargeable battery. Screen display sizes and their legibility are all over the place and can only be judged by seeing them in person. Likewise, the controls for choosing a song or an album or a music genre, along with the On, Off, and Play controls vary from real simple to unbelievably complex.

Probably the most confusing issue is which music formats a player recognizes. Although the devices are called "MP3 players," most also play WMA, ATRAC3, OGG, and AAC files. Many play WAV files; and for those that don't your WAVs can be converted to WMAs with Windows Media Player 10 (which comes with WinXP).

Some include a built-in voice recorder and/or an FM radio, while some of the very newest include screens for displaying movies and other video content.

Some players may come bundled with ties to an online music store (iPod/iTunes) or subscription music service, which lets you buy music at discount prices when you pay a monthly or annual membership fee.

Personally, I would avoid any service bearing the names "Real" or "Rhapsody." A reader told me last week he got a credit card bill for a collection of "rap" tunes that did not order from RealAudio/Rhapsody, and had difficulty getting his card credited. He added, "I'm 62 years old - why would I be ordering rap songs?"

I would also advise against buying an MP3 player as a gift, unless the recipient has said exactly what he/she wants. There are way too many variables to be out-guessing what someone might appreciate in a portable media player.

As for choosing one for yourself, there are dozens of reviews on www.pcworld.com, www.cnet.com, www.amazon.com, and on all the various consumer electronic sites.

If you buy one online, be sure you understand the vendor's return policy. Some charge a hefty "restocking fee" while others have no extra charges for exchanging one kind for another. Many refuse to accept any return that does not have all its original packaging.

Also, many vendors now buy and sell used players.

Nov 13

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An Overview of Digital Music Formats

When the Walkman first appeared in 1979 I envisioned a day when songs would be sold by sending signals over phone lines that would be recorded onto blank cassettes, thus cutting a music store's inventory costs. Who could have imagined they would one day be downloaded onto a computer or a credit-card-sized audio player?

However, not all digital music is created equal and it helps to have a basic understanding of the various kinds. Among the earliest forms was the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). These are sounds that are played directly into a computer via an electronic keyboard or synthesizer. As such, MIDIs are computer files which can only be played back on a computer. You can burn MIDI files onto a CD, but they won't be recognized by a conventional CD player.

WAV (Waveform Audio) files came into being with the introduction of Windows, and were first used for "You've Got Mail" and other brief voice or musical messages. They have since become a popular format for converting tracks of music CDs, records, and cassettes into digital audio files. WAVs can be played on many, but not all, of the iPods and their competitors, as well as on some of the newer CD players.

Other popular audio formats are MP3, WMA, and ASF. Again, not all formats play on all portable players, and more about this will be explained tomorrow. Hundreds of PC-compatible "big band swing era" WAVs and MP3s are freely available on my site, along with a sizeable collection of Christmas music (www.pcdon.com/page90.html).

Creating Your Own WAV Files

Back to WAV files, you can create your own, using Windows' built-in "Sound Recorder." The utility is located in different places in various versions of Windows, so it's best to go to Start > Find/Search > Files & Folders and type "sound recorder" into the "Name" field.

When the Recorder icon appears, drag it onto your Desktop. Double-clicking it will bring up a miniature "recording panel" with buttons for Record, Play, Stop, etc. With a microphone plugged into to your computer's "Mic" jack, you can create a new voice file by going to File>New. Next, click "Record" (the round red button) and speak into the microphone.

To end the recording, click Stop (the square black button). To save your file, go to File>Save As and give it a name.

To hear your WAV, go to File>Open, choose the target file and click "Play." Click "Stop" to end the playback at any time. You can jump to the beginning of a sound file by clicking the "double left-arrow" button, or to its end by clicking the "double right-arrow" button.

To learn how to edit WAVs, go to your Sound Recorder's "Help" menu.

Finally, WAVs can be attached to outgoing emails or placed on a Web site. With Outlook Express you can even embed a WAV directly into an email, so that it plays when the message is opened. After creatubg a new message, click Format>Background>Sound, and browse to the target WAV.

Nov 7

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Drawing Tools in your Word Processor

Although word processors are not usually thought of as "graphics programs" they do have some helpful drawing tools. In MSWord, go to View>Toolbars>Drawing. In WordPerfect, go to Insert > Graphics > Draw Picture. In MSWorks, go to Insert > Picture > New Drawing.

The way these tools work varies considerably among the different programs, and are best learned by experimenting and consulting their Help files.

Here's a brief sampling of what can be done in MSWord. On the Drawing Toolbar, click the rectangle or the oval to draw a corresponding shape in whatever size you want. Click on AutoShapes to find a collection of popular templates, including a heart, a happy face, and all kinds of stars and arrows.

Click the Pen tool to choose an outline color and click the Paint Bucket for a fill color. Click the Lines icon to choose the thickness of a line or outline, and on the Dash icon if you want the line broken.

Click the Shadowed Box to add a shadow, or the 3-D icon to add perspective to a rectangle. Click the Rotate icon and then grab a shape's corner "handle" to manually rotate it.

If you want two or more objects to move as one unit, click each of them while pressing Shift. Then go to Draw > Group. If you want to flip the combined objects, go to Draw > Rotate or Flip. If you want to align them on their centers or along a particular edge, go to Draw Align or Distribute. The latter option puts equal spaces between objects.

If you have overlapping objects and want to change their order, click on an object and go to Draw > Order.

These tools are no substitute for a full-featured drawing program such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw, but they are easy to use and come in handy for a quick and simple illustration.

Another handy tool is WordArt. As its name suggests, you can do artistic things with a word or a phrase. Go to Insert > Picture > WordArt. For MSWorks users, a box will appear reading YOUR TEXT HERE. The regular word processing toolbar will be replaced with a new one that lets you edit the WordArt "drawing."

Click on "Plain Text" and a drop-down window will show a variety of shapes, such as a waving banner, an arch, and a "stop sign" octagon. Click on a design and your phrase will conform to its shape, whereupon you can edit the drawing by giving it, say, a shadow or a 3-D look.

MSWord users will be presented with a "WordArt Gallery" from which a number of colorful pre-designed templates can be chosen. Click OK and a floating WordArt toolbar will give you even more options. WordPerfect users have similar options with TextArt.

MSWord also has some photo-editing tools. Click on an image and a toolbar icon will let you crop the picture, along with letting you adjust its lightness, darkness, and contrast. Again, experimenting and using Help is the best way to learn.

Nov 6

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Printing Photo Thumbnails

Judy Fallon called to ask how to do a printout of the thumbnail views of the photos in her WinXP "My Pictures" folder. (One of WinXP's handiest features, by the way, is having a thumbnail view of all your bitmap images: JPGs, GIFs, etc.). I told Judy, regrettably, that I knew of no way to print pages of these thumbnails. She replied that she once knew how, but had lost the instructions.

So I suggested something that I find myself suggesting more and more these days: Go to your favorite search engine (I like Google) and type in some keywords related to your question, such as "print windows xp thumbnails." The next day, Judy sent me the following email:

"Hey, you really helped me out and I appreciate it! Regarding the thumbnail question, it's EASY! I searched all over Help in XP, and in my 'Dummies' book and just couldn't find it. After you told me I could ask a regular question in Google, I went and did it. I got my answer immediately and have since printed out all my thumbnails! Whoopee, I am a happy girl! What I was interested in was the 'contact sheet' printout. Here is the page with details on how to do it: www.windowsmarketplace.com/Content.aspx?ctId=47). Many thanks again for your help!"

More on Printing Out One's Medical History

I continue to get feedback regarding my suggestions about printing several copies of one's medical history and prescription drug information.

Patricia Breedlove wrote: "I put my records into a spreadsheet, in which I have a column for Prescriptions, where I enter their costs. I also have a column for Location, in which I put my driving mileage. And I have a column for Comments, where I can enter prescription numbers, doctor's name, purpose of medication, and any other pertinent info applying to other entries, such as dentist, eye doctor or other specialist.

"The Comments column can be on a second page that some might not want to print. But they would have valuable income tax info readily available at tax time. I have also printed out part of this spreadsheet to include in my tax return when there were unusually high expenditures that might trigger an audit."

Feeback on VoIP

Regarding my recent comments on VoIP (the low-cost alternative to regular land-line telephones), I heard from several people with replies ranging from: "I have a system that works great" to "VoIP is not for everyone. Here are some things you need to know before signing up." I have posted these messages on my site.

Entering Keywords into a Search Engine

Getting back to asking questions via a search engine, many "forums," "bulletin boards" and "SIGs" (special interest groups) exist on all kinds of subjects, where people ask questions, post replies and have free-for-all discussions that often produce a wealth of valuable information.

You would also be surprised how often a PC question will refer you to a page on my site (www.pcdon.com). For instance, ask a question about defrag or scandisk or keyboard symbol shortcuts.

Oct 31

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Looking Back on VoIP a Year Later

It was just a year ago that I wrote about VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and said I had signed up for ATT's "CallVantage" service. Well, it did not work and cost me considerably by the time I cancelled and returned all their equipment - and noticed that shortly thereafter the product was no longer advertised around here.

However, VoIP apparently works for someone somewhere, since many companies are now advertising it, and Vonage - the first in this field - has been at it for quite a while. If it works for you, tell me and I'll write about it here.

The basic idea of VoIP is that voice communication can be channeled through cable networks faster and less expensively than via phone lines, thus making it possible to offer consumers lower phone rates. There are other perks, such as asking for any area code you want, regardless of your location. You can also take your desk phone with you and connect it to a distant computer, whereupon it would perform just as it does at home.

VoIP ads are everywhere, and the lists of benefits are long and impressive. However, there are some things they seldom, if ever, mention. With ATT's system, I never had a call that didn't have voice drop-outs of 10 to 30 seconds. Callers and I had to continually repeat what we had just said. I assume this has been fixed - but keep it in mind.

Another issue is lack of connectivity to any 911 services. I assume this will eventually be fixed, but ask before you sign up. Also, VoIP is totally dependent on your cable service. If it is down, so is your phone service. Keeping at least one regular phone line - and/or a cell phone - is worth considering.

In any case, computer-aided voice communications is not all that new. Four years ago I was using a free service called DialPad, which let me use a microphone, along with my PC's speakers, to call long distance numbers at no cost. However, the technology was new and the voice quality was unreliable. Recently, however, Yahoo bought DialPad and converted to a for-pay VoIP service.

Free PC-PC Voice Communications

Nonetheless, free voice communications via your computer do exist. The various free IM (instant message) services have been offering voice communications for some time now. However, it only works between users who are signed up with the same service. All AOL and Compuserve users have built-in IM capabilities, and anyone can sign up for free AIM (AOL Instant Messaging). Microsoft, ICQ, and Yahoo have similar competitive services, but most IMers use AOL/AIM.

Some of the above IM services even offer free A/V (audio/video) Messaging, if each correspondent has a PC camera installed. (But wouldn't this mean being expected to shave and comb one's hair?) I'm happy with voice only.

Space here does not allow for tutorials on the above features, but clicking on your Buddy List's "Help" icon can get you all kinds of information.

Oct 30

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More on Maintaining a Digital Copy of Your Medical Records

My recent suggestion of a creating a computer print-out of one's surgical history, medications, and drugs to which he/she is allergic, drew a lot of response. One reader suggested copying the file to a USB flash memory drive, which could be attached to a key chain and kept within easy reach.

When I said I have a copy of my Medical History page on my web site, several people asked how this might be formatted so that not just anyone could access it. More on that later.

To begin with, I chose MSWord to create a page showing my name, age, and phone numbers, along with names and numbers of those whom I would want contacted in an emergency. I did not include my home address, social security number, or medical insurance information, since doing so could make identity theft easier if the document should fall into malevolent hands.

I then listed the names and phone numbers of my family physician and dentist.

Next I typed in a list of my current meds, and used the TAB key to create a column showing their prescribed dosages and when taken.

Then I listed the drugs to which I'm allergic in bold, red text.

Finally, I listed all the surgeries I've had, along with the names of the doctors who attended me and in which hospitals.

I carry a few print-outs in my car's glove compartment as well as in my wallet, while others are kept on a shelf near my PC. Mary, of course, keeps a few copies in her purse. Any time something new needs to be added (I recently had cataract surgery) we update the page, and dispose of all previous copies.

As one reader suggested, the Word file can be saved on a flash drive. It can also be saved there as a plain text file, in the unlikely event a medical office's computer might not have Word or a Word-compatible program with which to open it.

As for placing the document on a web site and creating a "secret" way of accessing it, I've explained this on my site. However, you don't need a web site to maintain a copy online.

If you have a web-based email account, simply send yourself a letter with the document attached. No matter where we are nowadays, we can always access web-stored mail, along with any attachments. Gmail, for instance, offers 2.5 gigabytes of free storage space. AIM mail offers 2 gigabytes, and is easier to use than Gmail.

You could even put the document directly into the body of an email, and not bother with an attachment. This, however, would increase the chances of the information being casually seen by others for whom it may not have been intended.

A friend told me she also scans all her hospital records and adds these to her file. If you have any suggestions, the North County Times has a "Comments" box on my archives page at www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/10/30/news/columnists/computer_tutor_don/21_09_5110_29_05.txt.

Oct 24

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Using an MSWord Table for a Simple Database

I've explained recently how to use Excel to list names and addresses that would be formatted for mailing labels and envelopes with MSWord. If you prefer, Word's "Table" function can be used instead of Excel, meaning it can all be done in Word.

Open a new, blank Word page and go to Table > Insert Table. Choose 6 Columns and the approximate number of rows you think you'll need. (This can be adjusted later.) Type First Name, Last Name, etc,. into the top six cells, and fill in the name/address data accordingly.

To alphabetize your data, go to Table > Sort. Choose Column 2 > Text>Ascending. This will sort everything by Last Name. (Be sure to checkmark "My List Has a Header Row.")

You can also opt for a "landscape" layout (to widen the columns) but this really isn't necessary. Data that doesn't fit into a cell on one line "wordwraps" itself to as many lines as are needed. Sorting these columns will still be as per the first character(s) in any cell.

Use File > Save As to save the table with a name such as "Mailing-List.doc."

To format the data for printing on labels or envelopes, use File > New to start another blank Word page. Go to Letters & Mailings > Envelopes & Labels, and follow the prompts for preparing labels (30 up on Avery #8160/#5160 stock) or envelopes, with or without a Return Address. Illustrated instructions are available at www.pcdon.com/page25.html.

When printing envelopes, the layout template assumes the standard #10 variety. Other sizes can be chosen by clicking Options. If you have an odd-sized greeting card envelope, choose Custom and type in its dimensions.

Getting back to Excel, if you have a name list that includes first and last names in a single cell, they can be separated into two columns using the following steps:

Let's say your list has cells with names such Mary Jones and Bob Smith in Column A, but you want a Last Name column for Jones and Smith, with the first names in their own column.

Highlight Column A and go to Insert > Column to create a blank Column B. With column A still selected, choose Data > Text to Columns and follow a wizard for separating the names into two columns. Start by choosing Delimited, clicking Next, and choosing "Space" as the delimiter. Clicking Finish will divide all names into a First Name column and a Last Name column.

This works fine if all names are simply two words separated by a space. Names that include a middle initial and/or a title are more of a challenge. However, the wizard has lots of options that are worth exploring.

Easy Way to Avoid What Can Be an Embarrassing Error

One final thought about envelopes - how about using the "window" type to avoid stuffing the Smith letter into an envelope addressed to Jones? I've been doing this with my Christmas letters for years.

Oct 23

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Reducing the File Size of a Photo

Lynn Harper wrote: "How do I reduce a 2 MB JPG to a few hundred KB? I don't want to resize it; just make the file size smaller so it can be emailed more easily."

Well, it's helpful to understand why digital photos are usually saved in the JPG format to begin with. There are file size choices that range from very small to very large (lower to higher quality resolution). Surprisingly, going from a high bit count to a lower bit count often results in an image that shows little or no discernable difference in quality.

Various image-editing programs have different ways of letting you adjust the bit count, but my favorite is Irfanview, which is a free download from www.irfanview.com. Open a picture in Irfanview, go to File > Save As, and choose JPG from the "Save As Type" list. A sliding "Save Quality: Best to Lowest" bar will appear that displays a percentage number as it is moved.

Experiment with different percentages to see how small you can make the file, yet maintain an acceptable image.

IMPORTANT: be sure to change the file name with each attempt (such as photo1.jpg, photo2.jpg, photo3.jpg, etc.). Always retain a copy of the original image with its name unchanged. If the original's file size is reduced and saved with the same name it can NOT be returned to its previous status.

Another reader wrote to say she has an 8-page print-out of an Excel spreadsheet that needs editing; but she no longer has the PC on which it was created, nor a backup disk of any kind.

OCR (Optical Character Recognition)

The solution is to scan the pages with an OCR (optical character recognition) program. Many scanners come with OCR software nowadays, while stand-alone programs sell for about $50. I'd suggest a Google search for "Free or Low Cost OCR."

A scanner basically takes a "picture" of a page of text; but an OCR program is needed to convert all the little dots into text that can be edited. The quality of the conversion is largely dependent upon the sharpness and clarity of the original print. A page with thumb prints, pencil notations, or which was not aligned parallel to the edges of the scanner, can require a lot of proofreading and manual editing.

Today's quality OCR programs not only convert typewritten sheets into editable text, they can even line up the columns in a spreadsheet or database.

Medical History Print-out

One of the first things I did with a computer years ago was create a page showing my complete medical history, along with any current medications I might be taking, and drugs to which I was allergic. Thus, in the event of an emergency or going to a new doctor's office, I could hand the staffers up-to-date information about my health. You'd be surprised at how often I've heard, "Wow! This is great. I wish all our patients would hand us one of these!"

Now I even have the info posted at on my web site, where it can easily be found in case I'm ever in a situation where I need it and don't have a copy with me.

Oct 17

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Data Storage Options

My first computer in 1977 saved its data to audio cassettes, using a portable recorder. It was a tediously slow and unreliable system. When a 5.25" floppy disk drive became available for $500 it held 360 KB of data and made backing up my files much easier. This was eventually replaced by a 3.5" drive along with disks that held 1.44 MB of data. When CD burners became available, I felt I was in backup heaven with all the data I could put on a disc.

Now I do my main backing up on a 120 GB external hard drive and use 256 MB USB flash memory drives for moving smaller amounts of data from one PC to another. These devices, which are also known as thumb drives or memory sticks, have no moving parts and use simple drag-and-drop commands to copy files to an from them. I still use my CD-burning drive to play music discs, but haven't burned a CD in ages.

Much of what I back up is written material, such as these columns, along with some funny stories about growing up in Hollywood during the 1940s and 1950s. Nowadays I also back up text as e-mail files, using Google's 2.5 GB free online storage. Other Web-based services, such as Yahoo and AIM, offer similar storage options.

Much of what I write ends up on my Web site, which is yet another backup. Speaking of which, I recently signed up for a Google ad service that provides me with a little income - about the same amount my Web site costs me each month. If you've thought about having your own Web site, but object to the advertising placed on your pages by the various "free" services - some of which contains colorful animations - you might be interested in Google's plan.

You can opt for small text-only ads and choose where, if, and how they will appear on a page. The ad contents are based on the content of your pages and tend to be complementary and non-intrusive. Any ad that is clicked on by a visitor credits you with a small stipend.

As for the contents of a personal Web site, family photos are among the most obvious choices; but how about the story of your life? There was a time when the limitations of a typewriter and one's typing skills made writing somewhat difficult for the average person. Then how would they publish a typewritten bio? Well, vanity book publishers have been around for a long time; but with today's computers, word processors, printers, and various online services - including blogs and podcasting - you, too, can write the great American novel - or whatever you want.

Back to flash memory drives, their ease of use also comes with certain risks. If others have access to your PC, copying your files can be unnervingly easy. I have information on my site about a free downloadable program that lets you lock your USB ports so no one has access but you. More information here: Block the Bad Guys.

Oct 16

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Handling Files that Won't Open

Dave Silvestri asks how to alter a "read only" file so it can be opened and viewed. Well, a file can be made "read only" by right-clicking its icon and checking its pertinent "Attributes" box. The reason for doing this is to keep the file from being edited by others who might open it. It has nothing to do with keeping a file from being opened in the first place. This usually happens because the user does not have a program that matches the particular file.

I hear from folks every day who can't open files received as e-mail attachments. Often, their filenames have extensions such as WPS, PDF, WPD, or ZIP. The programs normally used for opening these files are MSWorks, Adobe Reader, WordPerfect, and WinZip, respectively.

Does this mean having to buy more programs? Not usually; workarounds abound.

For instance, users of the WordPerfect or MSWorks word processors often receive documents created in MSWord (with a .DOC extension) which refuse to open when double-clicked. However, one can launch WP or Works and go to File>Open and then look for "Word (.DOC)" in the "Files of Type" list near the bottom left of the page. MSWord users can likewise open WP and Works files by clicking the corresponding file type in this area.

The same is true for opening files created with Excel, Quattro, or the MSWorks spreadsheet in each others' programs.

Unfortunately, this doesn't always work because of version changes in the various programs over the years.

However, you could ask whoever created a problem word processing file to save it as a "Rich Text Format" file (with an .RTF extension), which is normally compatible with all word processors.

A file with a .ZIP extension is one that has been compressed (zipped) to make it smaller for uploading and downloading. WinXP users have built-in unzipping software which automatically decompresses a double-clicked file. Pre-WinXP users can download WinZip from Download.com, where Acrobat Reader can be found for opening .PDF (Portable Document files). WinZip is shareware, and Reader is free.

Be advised, though, not to open any .ZIP file you are not expecting - it is a format frequently used by virus writers to disguise an infected file.

If a spreadsheet file cannot be opened by your spreadsheet program, you might try opening it as a .TXT file, whereupon data in columns might be displayed as tabbed text entries. This can work well for simple worksheets, such as a list of names and addresses, but generally doesn't help much with files that contain math calculations.

Speaking of ".TXT," you can manually change the extension of an uncooperative word processing or spreadsheet file to .TXT, which will let you open it as Notepad plain text file. What you will see is a combination of some legible text mixed in with lots of meaningless hieroglyphics. Depending on the complexity of the document, you may or may not find the pieces of legible text useful. It's worth a try.

Oct 10

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Doing Mailing Labels and Envelopes with MSWord & Excel (Illustrated Instructions HERE)

I explained recently how to create mailing labels and envelopes with MSWorks. Here's how it's done with MSWord.

In some versions, a helpful "wizard" can be found by clicking Tools > Letters & Mailings > Mail Merge Wizard.

With MSWord it's best to use Excel as the "database" of names and addresses, while Word will format the actual printouts.

Excel, technically, is a spreadsheet program - but works fine as a database if you use the top row as a "header row." Type: First Name, Last Name, Street Address, City, State, and Zip into the top row's first six cells.

Now go to File > Save As, and name your database, say, "Family Addresses.XLS," whereupon it will be saved in your "My Documents" folder. You can alphabetize the data by last name by clicking Data > Sort > Last Name > Ascending.

If you want a hard copy of the database, it's best to use File > Page Layout > Landscape for printing.

Be aware that the font used in Excel has nothing to do with the one to be used on the actual labels or envelopes. Choosing a font for printing is where Word comes in.

Launch Word and use File>Save As to name the file, say, "Family Addresses.DOC." Click on Tools and you'll see a menu item called "Envelopes & Labels." Don't go there! Rather, click on Mail Merge > Create, and choose "Envelopes & Labels."

Let's start with labels. Click on "Active Window" and then click Get Data > Open Data Source. This should take you to your "My Documents" folder - but you probably won't see your Excel file listed. This is because Word looks for files ending with a ".DOC" extension. Click on "Files of Type" and choose "MSExcel *.XLS" (or "All Files").

Double-click your Excel Address List's icon. You'll get some prompts about "using the entire spreadsheet" and "setting up your main document." You'll eventually arrive at choosing a specific label. The Avery 5160/laser and 8160/inkjet are the most popular, with 30 labels per sheet.

Next you'll see an enlarged, blank label, where you'll be asked to insert the "Merge Fields." Click "First Name," press the spacebar and click "Last Name." Press ENTER to start the next line and fill in the other fields accordingly.

Feed the names into this file by clicking Merge to New Document > All Records. Next click Merge. Finally, go to Edit > Select All and choose the font, style, and color you want.

Using File > Print Preview will display how the first page of completed labels will look. Pressing PageDown will show subsequent pages.

Formatting envelopes is similar to the above, but you'll also be given the opportunity to insert a Return Address.

Regarding MSWorks...

Some versions of MSWorks have replaced its older word processing application with MSWord. Users of these versions can combine the MSWorks instructions I gave yesterday with the ones shown above to simplify the job.

Regarding Zip Codes...

Zip codes in an Excel sheet can be problematical, since any beginning with zeros will have the zeros removed in the print-out. You can circumvent this by selecting the Zip Code column and doing Format > Cell > Number > Text.

Illustrated instructions for all the above can be found at www.pcdon.com/page25.html.

Oct 9

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Creating Mailing Labels and Envelopes with MSWorks (Illustrated Instructions HERE)

Creating mailling labels and envelopes for multiple recipients is done with two programs; a "database," which lists the recipients' names and addresses, and a "word processing," program, which is used to format the actual print-outs.

MSOffice users normally use Excel for their database and MSWord for the formatting.

MSWorks users have a Database utility for their listings, and use the Word Processing application (or MSWord) for the formatting.

What is a database? It's an organized cross-reference listing of various types of information. The database used by most of us is a collection of names, addresses, and phone numbers.

MSWorks users will choose its "Database" utility to list the information, while its "Word Processing" application will be used for the formatting (newer versions of MSWorks use MSWord for its word processing). Some versions of MSWorks offer a step-by-step "wizard" to get you started. The following mini-tutorial applies to all versions of Works.

Create your list of names and addresses in Works by choosing its "Database" utility, which asks you to create column headings called "Fields." Overtype "Field1" with something like "FirstName." Click on ADD and "Field2" will appear, over which you would type "LastName." After typing your "Field" Headings, click on Exit or Done.

Now go to File > Save As, and name the file, say, "Holiday Name List." By default, the file will normally be saved in your "My Documents" folder. However, you can designate any folder you want. Works will add the extension ".WDB" to the database filename.

Now comes the hard part; typing in all the names, addresses, and etc. Alphabetize your data by going to Records>Sort Records, and following the prompts.

Now we'll format the printing of the labels or envelopes. Go to File > New > Word Processor (or launch MSWord if you have it). Use File > Save As to name the file, say, "Envelope Printing Template." Works will add the extension ".WPS" to the filename (Word will append ".DOC").

Next go to Tools > Labels (or Tools > Envelopes) where a rather intimidating multiple-choice window will appear; but don't let it scare you. Just click NEXT.

For labels, choose Avery #8160 for inkjet printing or #5160 for laser printing. Click NEXT two more times.

A window will open to display any databases you have created. Choose "Holiday Name List.WDB." (or Holiday Name List.DOC). Now, if you plan to print a label or envelope for every name on the list, keep clicking NEXT until you arrive at "Label Layout" or "Envelope Layout."

Here you'll click "Add Field" and "New Line" until you get a layout that displays "First & Last Name" on the top line, "Street Address" on the second line, and "City, State, Zip" on the third line. Using an additional line for "Apt." (or whatever) is optional.

Additional formatting options, such as font styles and colors, are available by clicking "Advanced." Go to File>Print Preview, to see just how your print-out will look.

Oct 3

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Getting Started with PowerPoint

A friend just told me her third-grader son has been told to include a PowerPoint presentation along with a science project assignment due at the end of the semester. Does this tell you PowerPoint is not that hard to master?

The program comes with all versions of MSOffice, but goes unused by many because they don't understand how it works. Well, PowerPoint was designed to create and display "slide shows," which can include pictures and text. Beyond that, animations, sound, and other special effects can easily be added.

A line of text, for instance, can be made to appear one word or one letter at a time. Items can be made to slide in from one edge of the screen, or they can appear as a "venetian blind" effect. These are just a couple of examples.

If you've never seen a PP presentation, I've put a couple on my home page which can be easily downloaded and played. One contains some beautiful pictures with accompanying text, while the other is an impressive collection of photos taken of Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

If you don't have MSOffice, a free PowerPoint viewer can be downloaded from www.microsoft.com. (The viewer allows for the viewing of PP presentations, but has no tools for editing slide shows.) However, WordPerfect Office comes with Presentations, a PP-compatible program.

PowerPoint filenames end with .PPS or .PPT. "PPS" means PowerPoint Show, indicating the presentation will run when double-clicked, whereas "PPT" means the file will open in the editing mode.

Most presentations are designed to display each slide for a certain number of seconds before moving on to the next. Some change slides when your left-button mouse is pressed. A right-click will normally display a menu with options for ending the presentation or rerunning it. Pressing ESC will usually end a slide show.

You can change a presentation file from its "run" to "edit" mode by manually changing the PPS extension to PPT. (Right-click the filename and choose Rename.)

As for creating your own presentation, space here does not allow a full tutorial, but here are some tips to get you started. After launching PowerPoint, click on "AutoContent Wizard" to be led through a series of prompts that should have you up and running in no time. However, I prefer clicking "Blank Presentation" and building one from scratch.

Or use a template with a collection of suggested layouts. Dark bars represent text boxes, cartoon faces represent picture boxes, while other boxes represent bulleted lists and graphs. You can click on a text box and type in a message, which can be edited in much the same way you edit word processing documents.

The toolbar "Insert" menu includes options for various types of objects. Once you have created a slide with a message, the real fun begins. Mouse-select some text and click Slide Show > Custom Animation. Next click "Entry Animation & Sound" and choose one of the special effects.

Finally, click Slide Show > View Show (or press F5). Your screen will go blank and wait for a mouse click to start the show. After the animated text does its thing, click twice to return to editing.

Oct 2

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Use MSCONFIG to Manage Your Startup Programs

Although I've written previously about using MSCONFIG to improve PC performance by keeping unneeded programs from running in the background, I continue to get questions about the utility. The following is a more comprehensive explanation of what it's all about.

Today's computers are designed to do many different things at the same time; however, having multiple programs open at once means each runs more slowly. Worse yet, if programs not in use are running, the ones you are using are slowed even more.

What might such a program be? Well, a good example is RealPlayer. This media player is needed to hear songs whose file names have .RA or .RAM extensions. However, the player is designed to start running the moment you turn on your PC - whether you plan to use it or not. Windows Media Player, conversely, is not so-rigged.

Other examples are AOL, and AIM. Why have them running when they are not being used? Turn them on when you need them.

So are there any programs that should start when one's computer is turned on? Well, if you are on a network of any kind, your firewall should always be in place; and if you go online regularly, your anti-virus program should be running. Icons for these utilities are normally displayed in your System Tray - near the digital clock - as are AOL and AIM icons. However, not all background-running programs show up there. This is why you have MSCONFIG in Win98, WinME, and WinXP.

Go to Start>Run, type MSCONFIG (or msconfig) and click OK. Click the Startup tab to see a list of cryptically-named programs with a check box next to each. By horizontally adjusting the "Command" and "Location" dividers, you can read more about each file, such as "Norton" or "Symantec" likely indicating anti-virus tools.

Most of us don't need more than a few of these items turned on, and they are usually the top four or five entries. In any case, unchecking an item does NOT delete the program; you are simply telling it not to start running when your computer starts. Furthermore, any unchecked item can be re-enabled at any time.

If totally confused about what to have turned on and off, turn everything off except the very top item. Reboot your computer and look at your System Tray. If icons normally seen there (such as your anti-virus program) are missing, return to MSCONFIG and checkmark the second item on the list. Repeat this process as needed.

Also be on the alert for any changes in how your PC is behaving. If something seems wrong and you suspect a disabled startup item my be the reason, experiment by re-enabling others one by one.

And do not assume that this is a one-time ritual. Software authors have sneaky ways of adding auto-startups to this list. For instance, I recently downloaded the latest version of Acrobat Reader, and found that Adobe had placed "Reader-Quick-Startup" on the list, despite the fact that I use Reader no more than once a week.

These instructions can be found on my web site with a helpful illustration by clicking here.

Sep 26

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Using Small-Character Fractions
(½ instead of 1/2)

Mitchell Psenner wrote to ask if there is a way of typing a fraction such as 5/8 so it will be displayed with a small 5 over a small 8.

Well, MSWord users learn early on that 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 are automatically converted to a small-characterr format (¼, ½, and ¾;) the moment they are typed; but other fractions are not.

However, a number of other small-character fractions are available with a font named MS Reference Specialty, which most Windows users have nowadays. (I can email you the font if you don't have it.)

To access this font (and other special-character fonts) MSWord users can click on Insert>Symbol. However, MSWord newcomers are often perplexed by the default font that appears, "Symbol," which contains the Greek alphabet, along with some specialty graphics. Simply click the drop-down arrow to the right of "Font:" to find the alphabet you want.

With programs other than MSWord, such as your e-mail client, special characters can be found by clicking Start>Run and typing in charmap (character map). After using the "Font" drop-down menu to find the one you want, click on the target character. Then click the Select button. Mouse-select the character that appears and then click the Copy button. Back in your document, do Edit>Paste (or Ctrl+V) to insert the special symbol.

On the subject of special characters, Ginny Abushanab wrote that she had deleted her "Wingdings" fonts since she thought she would never use them, but then discovered they contained some symbols she could use. (I've emailed Ginny replacements.)

Most Windows PCs have fonts such as Wingdings, Webdings, and Dixieland, that provide a variety of special symbols such as happy faces, flags, and arrows. One way to check them out is to click Start>Run, type FONTS, and take a look.

Getting back to MSWord's changing the format of certain fractions, you can reverse the transformation by simply clicking your toolbar's UNDO icon (bent left arrow) or by doing Ctrl+Z.

If you want to permanently defeat this feature, go to Tools>AutoCorrect>AutoFormat and UNcheck the "Fraction Characters" box.

While there, you may want to defeat some other AutoCorrect features, such as "Capitalize first letter of a sentence." Since names like eBay and iPod have become commonplace, some sentence structure rules don't always apply nowadays.

Under AutoFormat As You Type, look at things such as Automatic Numbered and Bulleted Lists. Having these items checked means that when you type something like, say, the number 1, followed by tab, pressing ENTER at the end of a paragraph will begin the next paragraph with a 2 and a tabbed space - whether you want it or not.

Again, you can undo this with Ctrl+Z, but many of us prefer to have these features disabled in MSWord.

Speaking of reversing things, one of the most useful features of WinXP is the ability to reset your system to an earlier date, in case you find yourself in an unfixable error situation. Click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore and follow the prompts.

Sep 25

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Some Thoughts on Having Your Own Web Site

I was called recently by a local Yellow Pages representative who asked how often I use their book to look things up. I told her I honestly couldn't remember when I last picked up the book - I find everything online.

When I started my small business in 1960, the Yellow Pages were my chief source of new customers, and remained so for the next 40 years. Nowadays, however, having a Web address is essential for business; but more and more individuals and families are putting up their own sites.

Why? Well, for starters, it's just plain fun, with posting family photos being one of the most obvious joys. Instead of e-mailing them to far-flung friends and family, let them log onto your site and take a look - from where they can also be easily downloaded.

Not surprisingly, the explosive growth of the Internet has meant creating a site with a unique name is becoming increasingly difficult. If you've ever thought about having your own distinctive "dot com" name, you can go to www.whois.com to see if it's available. As you might expect, availability of name combinations such as Mary and Jones are hard to come by, but there are other choices.

Originally, the COM appendage meant "commercial" and NET suggested "network," although there are no rules about which you can use. Other appendages that do have some rules include GOV, EDU, and ORG. Since domain names are getting snapped up so rapidly nowadays, newer extensions such as BIZ and INFO have been made available. However, COM is the overwhelming first choice of businesses, with NET being an acceptable second. Seeing BIZ on a company name has been found to discourage prospective visitors.

If you do decide to register a unique name, nothing says you have to actually create a site to go with it. You can save it for whenever you are ready, as I am doing with donedrington.com. I chose pcdon.com for my active site, since it is easier to type into a URL field.

If you don't mind having someone else's ads on your site, there are a number of "free home page" services, such as those which may be provided by your own ISP. They will offer templates with colorful layouts designed for clubs, churches, hobby groups, and businesses. Some templates may be restrictive regarding where you can place a picture or text, while others are more flexible and may even let you do some HTML-editing on the page.

One of the main challenges is finding someone who will do a good job at a fair price - and who will guarantee their work. I could tell you some horror stories about miscommunications between webmasters and clients.

Well, I've known Barbara Quanbeck for a number of years and have implicit faith in her ethics and her work. No, she didn't do my website, but it was she who nagged me into learning some HTML so I could create this one.

However, if you have thought about having a site that is exclusively yours, write me at the above email address, or call (949) 646-8615.

Sep 19

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Downloading Open Office

Regarding Open Office, the free productivity suite I recently mentioned, a few readers have mentioned problems downloading the application from www.openoffice.org. Here are some tips that might help. For starters, it is a large package that can take several hours to download via phone lines, but which can take less than 15 minutes via cable - or a CD can be ordered from the site.

At the moment two Open Office suites are available; an older "stable" version, and a newer "beta" version with advanced features, which the authors encourage using, along with sending them feedback if any problems are encountered. I opted for the latter, and it has been working just fine.

The downloaded file has a .ZIP extension, which generates a SETUP.EXE file when double-clicked. Double-clicking this file takes you smoothly through the rest of the suite's installation.

Tips on Downloading Various Types of Programs

Speaking of downloading programs, I get a lot of questions on whether one should click RUN or SAVE when these options appear. Well, deciding which to choose is easier if you have a basic understanding of downloaded programs in general. Some are very small and consist of a single file, whereas many programs consist of multiple files which, when installed, end up in various places on your hard drive.

When you choose SAVE, a "setup" file is placed on your hard drive, which is usually a compressed version of the finished program and which is generally used just once (to install the actual program). Back when hard drives were small it made sense to delete these setup files once they had created the finished program. With today's huge drives, some prefer to keep these files on board in case something goes wrong and a program needs to be reinstalled.

The RUN option means the setup file will decompress itself into the working files of the desired program and place them on your HD, but will NOT install a copy of itself. In the case of a small, single file program, RUN will launch the program so that you can use it online. A good example of this type of program is StripMail, which, when run, will rearrange the text in a malformatted email you might receive (you know - with long and short lines and all the little "pointy" symbols). StripMail is No. 8 on the list of Free Programs & Services found on my Home Page (www.pcdon.com).

Another RUN/SAVE consideration is your Internet connection. Folks with telephone dial-up might prefer to SAVE a setup file rather than endure another lengthy download if the program should fail.

Another issue could be the program's price. Most downloads I recommend are totally free - however, over the years a few have become "for sale" items. Having the program's setup file on hand could save money if it ever needs to be reinstalled.

Another issue could be that an updated program is less desirable than its predecessor. A case in point is the Yellow Stickies program listed on my home page. I prefer the original which uses "plain text" to the newer "HTML" version. When I downloaded the "new improved" program it overwrote my older one, and the program's author had dropped the original from his site. However, since I still had the setup file I downloaded years ago, going back to the older version was no problem - and I make both versions available on my site. (Yellow Stickies is No. 10 on the list of Free Programs.)

Sep 18

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Arranging Files in a Folder

A number of readers have asked if there is a way to have files listed in the order by which they were put into a folder, and subsequently rearranged like the icons on one's Desktop. Well, in addition to being arranged alphabetically, files in any folder can be listed by Size or Type, along with about three dozen other sorting criteria.

Open any folder with a double-click, and then click on View>Arrange Icons By, whereupon you will normally find choices of Name, Size, Type, and Modified. You can also go to View > Choose Details, and find many more sorting options. By default, files are sorted alphabetically by Name. However I prefer listing them by Type.

This means that a given folder will list any sub-folders it contains first, followed by groups of similar files. For instance, a folder holding an assortment of images will have all the BMPs, JPGs, and TIFs in their own groups. If you are looking for an image named, say, Avocados, and can't remember which graphic format it was saved in, going to View > Arrange Icons By > Name will list all the A files first, regardless of their type.

If you aren't sure of a picture's name or format, but recall that it was edited recently, choosing Modified will list the most recently edited files first. Under View > Choose Details, you can add Date Created to the list (or have it replace Modified) if that would be helpful.

To display the sort criteria's Headers and Columns, click on View > Details. If you want to reverse the sort order (Z to A, Oldest to Newest, etc.) simply click a Header. Clicking it again will return the order to its default setting (A to Z, etc.). Click View > List if you want to eliminate the columns and return to a simple alphabetized view.

As for rearranging the icons on your Desktop, you can drag and drop them anywhere you like. You can also right-click the Desktop and choose Arrange Icons By to see options similar to those mentioned above. However, I would suggest not choosing Auto Arrange, since this rearranges them according to a default Windows plan and locks them into place. If Auto Arrange is checked, click to UNcheck it.

Your Desktop Is a Folder

Actually, the Desktop is just another folder, but with certain features not found in other folders (such as being able to drag and drop icons to locations of your choice). If you would like to see your Desktop displayed like all other folders (along with the continued ability to see it in its regular Desktop view) you can create a Shortcut which will do just that.

First find your Desktop folder by going to Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders and typing in desktop. WinXP users will normally find more than one folder so named, and will have to double-click each to see which has all the icons seen on their Desktop. Right-click the target folder and choose Send To>Desktop (create shortcut), whereupon an icon named Desktop will appear on your Desktop.

Sep 12

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Your Clipboard Contents Can Be Stolen by a Web Site

I recently learned that any text resident on your Windows Clipboard can be easily stolen when you are online. In case you're not familiar with the "Clipboard," this might be a good time to review the fundamentals of CUT, COPY and PASTE.

Whenever you copy anything, such as a bit of text or a whole file, the data will be held in an area of memory called the Clipboard, where it waits to be "pasted" somewhere. The data will normally remain on the Clipboard until it is replaced with something else you copy.

Try this simple experiment: open a word processing file and double-click a word. Then do Edit>Copy to place the word on the invisible Clipboard. Now click somewhere else on the page and do Edit>Paste. The copied word will appear wherever you've placed the cursor. Then do Edit>Paste in some other places, which will cause the chosen word will appear each time.

Next, start a new e-mail and do Edit>Paste to see the word appear. Finally, launch a completely different program, such as Excel or Notepad, and do Edit>Paste again. Until you Edit>Copy something new, or restart the computer, the selected word will continue to be available for pasting.

All the above also applies to doing Edit>Cut. Yes, there are some exceptions to these rules, such as MSWord allowing the copying of multiple phrases, which can then be chosen selectively for pasting - but we'll talk more about the exceptions another time.

As for what I learned recently, if you go online with something sensitive on your Clipboard (such as a password) the data can be copied by a nefarious webmaster. But would anyone actually go online with a password on his Clipboard? Well, I do it all the time.

I do business on a number of Web sites which only allow access after I enter a password. So, rather than type it in, I simply copy it from a master list and paste it in. Well, I have no fear of a password being stolen by a site that requires it in the first place - but what about all those other sites I subsequently visit - with the P/W still on my clipboard? Nowadays I quickly remove the clipboard's content as soon as I've used it. How? Simply copy something meaningless, such as a single character or a blank space.

If you would like to see how easy it is for something from your Clipboard to be placed on a web site, just select and copy some text (such as this sentence or a part of it) and click Friendly Canadian Site.

In the examples above I used Copy, Cut, and Paste from the Edit menu seen on most toolbars. However, right-clicking a selected phrase will bring up Cut and Copy as clickable options, whereupon placing the cursor just about anywhere with a right-click will display a Paste option.

Some folks prefer the keyboard shortcuts of Ctrl+X=Cut (think scissors), Ctrl+C=Copy, and Ctrl+V=Paste. Why "V" for paste - well, its location on your keyboard right after X and C makes using it convenient - and some say it's a proofreader's "down arrow" pointing to an insertion point in the text.

Sep 11

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Free Open Office Suite

I just read that the state government of Massachusetts is switching from Microsoft Office to the free Open Office suite (available at www.openoffice.org). The suite's component parts were created to be fully Microsoft Office compatible. I normally write this column with MSWord, but today am using the OO word processor.

I have a number of reasons for being interested in this suite. For instance, the office productivity suite on this particular computer is MSWorks 8.0, whose spreadsheet utility may or may not be able to open an Excel file (depending on how complex the Excel file is). However, the OO spreadsheet was designed to be fully compatible with Excel (as well as with MSWorks, Quattro, and Lotus 1-2-3).

No version of MSWorks has a presentation program, such as PowerPoint, but OpenOffice does. Yes, a free PowerPoint viewer can be downloaded from Microsoft.com, but OpenOffice lets you create and edit presentations.

Using the word processor, I've discovered a number of features which Word has and which OO does not have. Conversely, however, OO has a number of handy tricks not available in Word. The comparisons are way too many to fully list here, but I'll mention some of the major ones from time to time.

Popup-Blocking Toolbars

Have you downloaded a toolbar yet, that blocks popup ads? Google was the first to offer such a freebie, and is the one I prefer. Now they are available from MSN, Yahoo, and several others, along with a number of handy features, many of which are customizable. They work well at blocking most of the annoying large popups that appear while surfing the Net, but sometimes block popups you need to see when accessing certain "store" sites, such as Amazon. When told you can't access a particular page because of a popup blocker, hold down CTRL while clicking the link.

With so many of these add-on toolbars available, it's easy to unintentionally end up with several, all of which take away from the viewable area on your monitor. Uninstall the ones you don't want by going to My Computer > Control Panel > Add Remove Programs.

Take a 'Picture' of an Error Message

I get a lot of calls from folks who say error messages appear on their screens, which can be bypassed by clicking IGNORE or CANCEL, but which come back over and over again. When I ask what the message says, the caller often can't remember the exact wording. Well, you can "take a picture" of those error messages.

The next time such a message appears, hold down your ALT key and tap your PrtScr (Print Screen) key. Although nothing will seem to have happened, a "copy" of the error message was made and is waiting to be "pasted" somewhere, such as into a bitmap-editing program. I open Irfanview and click the PASTE icon.

You can also use Windows Paint, by going to Start > Run, typing pbrush, and clicking OK. Then go to Edit > Paste to make the error message appear.

Finally, go to File > Save As in order to save the file as a JPG, which you can email to us with a questions if you'd like.

Sep 5

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The Good & Evil Face of the Internet

As the digital universe of instantaneous communications expands at mind-numbing rates, so do the dangers of being victimized in new and different ways. I just read about a couple of Web sites that sell information, such as cell phone call records, which suspicious spouses can buy to check on whom their significant others have been calling. The sites claim everything they do is legal (I wonder) but appear willing to sell the information to anyone who wants to buy; which means a spiteful neighbor or disgruntled employee could be learning things about you which might prefer them not to know.

How might one keep this from happening? I don't know, but would suggest asking your phone companies about their privacy policies.

Online Personal Ads

Among the best and worst things about online communications are the ways in which we can meet and get acquainted with new people. The "I am seeking M/F, etc." services are everywhere and, for a fee, offer to introduce you to your ideal soulmate. I assume these services do careful screening to keep predators from finding potential victims. However, throw-caution-to-the-winds chat rooms are also everywhere, meaning aging lechers can pose as youthful millionaires who will treat you like the lady you are and give you the things you deserve - if you will just give him your address.

I could tell you about some chat room romances that have worked out beautifully; but I can also tell you some horror stories that would curl your toes. I assume that most adults have the good sense to avoid dangerous situations, but impressionable children are among the most active users of IM (instant message) services. And these kids often know much more about computers than their elders, thus making it fairly easy to be doing things online the parents might not approve of.

Parental Controls

Another issue of parental concern is the easy access to porn. Yes, there are all kinds of "parental control" services available, and if anyone knows of one that works I will write about it here. The fact remains, however, that finding porn online is much easier than you probably imagine; and if you have your home computer under careful watch, you really can't be sure what your kids are seeing on their friends' computers.

When I was a kid, finding risqué pictures or racy reading material was not easy to do. However, in today's world of string bikinis and Desperate Housewives, there is little that kids haven't already seen, read, or heard about. My suggestion, therefore, is to spend time talking to your offspring about these things and letting them know your views on the moral issues involved. Then be prepared for "All my friends are looking at those sites, so why shouldn't I?"

Yes, this is a computer column, and I'm not a preacher. However, I believe one of the most important things a parent can ask a son is: "Just because you saw people doing things on an x-rated video, is this something you would want your sister doing?"

Sep 4

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Dealing with Internet Threats

As Internet threats such as viruses, spyware, and hacker attacks proliferate, I continue to receive more and more queries as to what is the best protection. And answering these questions has become increasingly complex as more and more companies offer various kinds of protection packages. To further complicate matters, some scammers will try to sell you "anti-spyware" programs, which are actually spyware.

I could write volumes on these matters, but with limited space here will confine my answers to the products I personally use. Do they work? Well, Mary and I literally live on the Internet and rarely have a security problem of any kind.

First, let's briefly define the main threats. Viruses are malicious programs which can cause your computer serious problems and/or copy names from your email address book for the purposes of sending out spam - often using your name as a return address.

Spyware/adware, in its least offensive form, can be small text files placed on your PC by various Web sites you visit. At its worst, it can spy on your personal data and send sensitive information to crooks such as identity thieves.

Hacker attacks can be attempts by tech-savvy malcontents to take remote control of your computer and cause you all kinds of problems.

The best defense against all of the above is learning as much as you can about these threats and being very, very careful of what you do online. Beyond that, there are various products which help defend against specific threats.

Everyone who goes on the Internet should have an onboard anti-virus program. There are many to choose from, including an excellent free one listed on my home page. However, we have purchased Norton/Symantec annually, ever since it first became available. Such a program alerts you if an incoming email bears a virus and if you click on a dangerous, booby-trapped web address.

I also do regular online virus scans with TrendMicro HouseCall, a free service listed on my home page.

Why do I scan with TrendMicro when I already have Norton? Well, no anti-virus program can guarantee 100% protection, since virus-authors are busy creating new infections every day - and it can understandably take an anti-virus company a few days to create and distribute a cure.

The protection needed to thwart hackers is called a firewall, and WinXP users have one that came with Service Pack 2. However, I have this feature turned OFF, since I prefer a free firewall called ZoneAlarm; a program which gives my PC way more control over access from outsiders.

Finally, we use AdAware and Spybot Search & Destroy, two freebies which scan for and remove spyware, and which are also listed (along with ZoneAlarm) on the Home Page of this site.

Aug 29

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Playing Downloaded Songs Continuously

George Emmert wrote say he enjoys the swing era songs he downloads from my site (Don's Music Pages) but asks if there is a way to have them play continually, rather than one at a time. Yes - create a folder by right-clicking your Desktop and choosing New>Folder. Name it, and drag your favorite songs (usually found in your My Documents\My Music folder) into it.

Next, open Windows Media Player 10 by double-clicking any song. If some other media player opens instead, close it. Then activate WMP-10 by right-clicking any song and using the "Open With" option. With WMP-10 open, do Ctrl+A to Select ALL the songs in your folder, whereupon you can drag them in the open area of WMP-10 just below "Now Playing List" where they will line up alphabetically.

Double-click any song, whereupon they will all play sequentially from that point on. To have them play randomly, click "Now Playing List" and choose from the various "Shuffle" options. A "Shuffle" symbol also appears near the "Minutes/Seconds Played" digits in the lower right corner of the player.

Create Custom Play Lists

You can also create a variety of "Play Lists" and jump from one to another with simple clicks. WMP-10's options are way too many to itemize here, but are well documented under "Help," which is found by clicking the little "down" arrow in the upper right corner of the player.

Playing Continuously in Earlier Versions of Windows

Users of pre-Version-10 WMP can find instructions for continuous playing on this page at Playing Downloaded Music Continuously in Windows Media Player 9.

Cell Outlines Have Disappeared when Using MSWord Tables

Nancy Hillard wrote to say she is using an MSWord template to print some Avery labels; but that the outlines of the labels have disappeared. This can be fixed by going to Table>Show/Hide Gridlines.

One of Avery's handiest label types is its die-cut Business Cards, which come ten to a sheet. Yes, having a commercial printshop produce cards in the hundreds is more cost-effective - but in these times of frequently changing phone numbers, area codes, zip codes, and e-mail addresses, printing a few at a time often makes more sense. In addition to standard matte white cards (#AVE08374) Avery also makes them in a glossy white, and several colors.

Using an Avery template in MSWord, design one card and then copy and paste it into the other nine cells (card blanks). However, if the cards will be printed for, say, ten employees, they could be edited to reflect each recipient's personal information. Microsoft.com even has complete "dummy" cards designed in several stylish business and personal formats, which can be downloaded and adjusted to one's own preferences.

No Numeric Keypads on Laptop/Notebook Computers?

Don Stillman wrote to say with his desktop PC he can create special symbols by holding down ALT while pressing keys on his numeric keypad - however his new laptop has no numeric keypad. Well, laptops do have such a keypad, which overlays some regular keys on the right side of the keyboard, and which are identified on the bottom edges of these keys. To activate them, simply hold down the key labeled "Fn."

Aug 28

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Incuding Graphics with Text when Printing Avery Labels

Cherry Daniel asks if there is a way to include clipart with the text she will be printing on some Avery labels, using MSWord tp do the layouts. Yes - but first let's talk about the blank labels. Most questions I receive are about how to create mailing labels for multiple recipients; and my Web site contains illustrated instructions for performing this task. (www.pcdon.com/page25.html)

Cherry's labels will be used to identify some of her daughter's school supplies, and Avery's wide selection of sizes and styles can be found in any office supply store. MSWord templates for these labels can be found at both Microsoft.com and Avery.com, with the former offering sample text layouts and the latter supplying blank templates.

Here's another place where Avery labels are available for free and easy downloading: (www.meritline.com/mercddvdavla.html)

I prefer these non-Microsoft sites, since Microsoft sometimes makes downloading templates a complex ritual that often requires the downloading other programs as well.

Certain Label-Editing Tools Are Under MSWord's TABLE Menu

The blank templates are based on MSWord's "Tables" feature, which allows each label to be treated as a separate Word document, complete with adjustable paragraph and margin settings. As for adding clipart, simply put you cursor about where you want the graphic to appear and go to Insert > Text Box. Older versions of Word let you draw a box with a tiny "cross" cursor, while newer versions insert a pre-shaped box which can be clicked on and resized as desired.

Next, place your cursor inside the box, go to Insert > Picture > From File, and browse to your graphic's location, whereupon inserting it can be done with a double-click. Yes, the graphic can be inserted without placing it in a text box, but doing so makes it difficult to re-position. The text box, however, can be placed anywhere you want.

In any case, once you get one label completed (with text and grapics) simply copy the whole layout (Ctrl+C) and paste it into the other label cells with Ctrl+V.

The box's thin black border can be hidden by clicking it and going to Format > Text Box > Colors & Lines > Color, and choosing No Line. Many other graphic options can also be found under Insert > Picture.

Other Useful Freebies...

Speaking of graphics, Marshall Byer wrote to correct my having said Irfanview can only rotate pictures in 90-degree increments. Going to Image > Custom Rotation lets you type in any number of degrees you want. Marshall also pointed out that OpenOffice's (www.OpenOffice.org) free word processor has an option for creating PDF files under File > Export as PDF. Thanks, Marshall!

Using ZOOM (Magnifying Glass Icon) in Various Programs

Regarding my recently mentioning a "magnifying glass" in PDF files, a reader said using it made things larger on his screen; but they printed out at the original size. Right - "zoom" features in any program only magnify the screen view, not the print-out. Beyond that, a PDF file is not meant to be editable by a recipient anyway - unless he wants to copy and paste its component parts into a word processing document, such as MSWord.

The reader also said he could not find the "I" icon I described for copying text, but found a "T" icon instead. Yes, earlier versions of Acrobat Reader used a "T" icon; however, Versions 7.0 (and later) use the "I" icon. Adobe Reader 7.0 is freely downloadable from Download.com.

Aug 22

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No Sound from a Computer's Speakers

I hear quite regularly from readers who say their computers' speakers have stopped working. Well, if you have checked to make sure the speakers are properly connected to the PC, that their power switch is on, that their volume control is up, and that they are getting power from a plugged-in AC adaptor or a set of viable batteries, here's what to do next:

Double-click the speaker-horn icon in your System Tray (near the digital clock). This will display volume adjustments for five sound devices. Be sure that none has its Mute button checked and that the volume lever on each is at least half way up. If none of these steps produce sound, try playing a music file and look for the volume control on your Media Player. Make sure it is not set to zero.

If you still have no sound, it could be your audio card. Simultaneously press your keyboard's Windows-Start key and Pause/Break key to display System Properties. Click Hardware > Device Manager, and click the plus sign (+_ to the left of Sound, Video & Game Controllers. If any of the listed devices displays a yellow exclamation point, right-click it and choose Uninstall (or Delete). Finally, restart your computer.

If a sound device has somehow malfunctioned, the above procedure may fix it. If so, you will get a message saying "New hardware has been found & Windows is trying to reinstall it." No guarantee this will work, but I have seen it work many, many times.

If this procedure fails and you still see a yellow marker on the device's icon, you may have to install a replacement. Sound cards can be easily purchased and user installed in most desktop PCs. Laptops need to be taken to a technician. If you are unfamiliar with opening a tower and replacing parts, have a technician handle the situation.

Missing Speaker Icon

If your Speaker icon is missing from your System Tray altogether, you can get it back as follows: Win95/98 users should click Start > Settings > Control Panel > Multimedia > Audio. Be sure the marker labeled "Show Volume Control on the Taskbar" is checked. WinME/XP users will click Start > Control Panel > Sounds & Multimedia and click on Sounds or Volume. Again, check the "Show Volume Control on the Taskbar" marker.

Please Use BCCs (Blind Carbon Copies)

I continue to get email from well-meaning folks who forward a funny story or an inspirational message that has already been forwarded several times, picking up a collection of others' email addresses along the way. One of the surest ways to get your address on a spam list is have it in a CC (Carbon Copy) field that gets forwarded multiple times. No, your friends would never give your address to a spammer, but with that many copies of it floating around, you can't be sure who sees it.

The solution? Always use the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field, which most email programs make easy to find. This means each recipient will see only his or her name on the email you send.

How to Find the BCC Field in Outlook Express

Outlook Express users should start an outgoing email, and click on View > All Headers to display the BCC filed. This is a one-time fix. From then on the BCC field will always be displayed. AOL users can find detailed instructions on this page.

Aug 21

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"Type-In" vs "Write-In" Forms

Susan Morse wrote to say when she downloads a form, such as from the DMV, she can fill it in by hand - but wonders if there is a way to copy it so that she can type in the requested information using her computer and a program such as MSWord.

Well, some forms - such as Turbo Tax - are designed to be filled in via your PC as the pages appear on your screen. However, there is no practical way do what Susan has asked. I would suggest asking if an on-screen "type-in" version of the DMV form is available. More and more official forms and documents are being made available in this format.

"PDF" Files

I've been asked how to copy text and graphics from a PDF file into an MSWord document. First, let's define "PDF" - a "Portable Document File" is one that can be opened and read with Adobe Acrobat Reader, a free program available at www.download.com. Because of compatibility issues among various word processing and email programs, the PDF format was designed so it can be read by anyone, anywhere.

However, the steps for copying parts of a PDF document are different than those used in most other programs. To begin with, the default cursor is a little hand that moves the pages up and down, but which cannot be used to select anything.

Nonetheless, clicking the letter "I" on the PDF toolbar turns the cursor into the traditional "I-beam" selection tool used in all text-editing programs. Select your desired text, right-click the selection, and a message saying, "Copy to Clipboard" will appear. Click the message and use Edit>Paste (or Ctrl+V or right-click>Paste) to insert the text anywhere on an MSWord page, where it will appear with the same formatting it had in the PDF file. When pasted into WordPerfect or an e-mail, however, the formatting may come out differently.

To copy a graphic, click the toolbar's Camera "Snapshot" icon and your cursor becomes a little cross with which you can draw a rectangle around the target image. Upon releasing your left mouse button, the "Copy to Clipboard" message will appear, again meaning you can paste it anywhere on an MSWord page.

You can also use the Snapshot cursor to crop an area of text, whereupon it will be treated like a graphic - meaning you can paste it into Word, but it will not be in a text-editable form. As for an outgoing email, I can find no way paste in an image directly from a PDF file.

As for creating PDF files, Adobe Acrobat is the original and most used program. However, it lists at $450, although Amazon.com advertises it for $384. I've been told that Zeon DocuCom PDF Gold, from www.pdfwizard.com, does a good job (although I've never personally used the product) and normally costs $50. I just learned it is currently being sold for $39 through September 30.

Aug 15

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Finding "NORMAL.DOT"

Bob Birk wrote to say he could not find normal.dot (the file which, when deleted, will recreate itself and fix many MSWord problems ). Well, the trick to finding this file, after going to Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders, is to click on Advanced Options and be sure that Search System Folders and Subfolders are checked, along with Search Hidden Files & Folders.

Also, the "Look In:" field should be set to your main hard drive - usually Local Disk (C:) - rather than to an individual folder (such as "My Documents"). If you do want to confine your search to a specific folder, I suggest right-clicking it and choosing "Search" from the pop-up menu. Or you can open the folder with a double-click and then click the "magnifying glass" search icon.

Other options under Start > Search/Find are "Pictures, Music, or Video" and "Documents (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.)." If you are looking for a picture named, say, "Fireworks" and can't remember if it was a JPG or GIF, typing the word into the "Pictures" field is supposed to speed up the search. However, my experience has been that typing it into "All Files & Folders" actually works faster.

"Find" & "Replace" Commands

Finding a word or phrase on a Web page or in most documents can easily be done by using Ctrl+F and typing in the sought text. When seeking text in a document (such as an MSWord file) a "Replace" tab will display a field into which replacement text can be typed. If, for instance, you have a lengthy document referring frequently to Mary Smith, who has recently married and become Mary Brown, you can type her previous name into the "Find:" field and her new one into the "Replace With:" field. Click "Replace All" and the whole document will be immediately updated.

Ctrl+H will bring up a Find & Replace dialog box that's even easier to use than the Ctrl+F version.

Another MSWord Problem

Victor Sommer wrote to say an MSWord document he once created, and subsequently deleted, keeps showing up in place of a blank page each time he launches the program.

Here's what usually causes this phenomenon. Each time you opt for a new, blank page in Word, it will have a temporary default name such as "Document1." As soon as you give the file a name of your choice (by going to "Save" or "Save As") the new name will replace "Document1," which will return to its status of being the default name of subsequent new documents.

However, if you neglect give "Document1" a new name and click "Yes" when asked if you want to save it with its current name, your text-bearing "Document1" will now become your default opening page when clicking "New" in Word - no matter how many times you delete it.

The fix is to exit Word and delete the normal.dot file (where Word's settings, including those for its default blank page, are stored.) as explained above. The next time Word is launched everything will be back to normal.

Aug 14

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More on "Straightening Photos"

I recently described Picasa2's tool for "straightening" misaligned photos. Microsoft's "Picture It!" has a similar tool that works in a rather unique way. Under Format, click on Straighten Picture. Then choose a line, such as the edge of a door, which you want "upright" instead of "leaning." Click one end of the line, followed by clicking its other end, and the photo will immediately realign itself.

An alternative of way doing this is to click Rotate>Custom, whereupon you can click an up-arrow which will cause the picture to rotate clockwise in one degree increments. Clicking the corresponding down-arrow will rotate the image counter-clockwise. You can also type in an estimated number of clockwise degrees, press Enter, and fine-tune the result with individual clicks.

With the photo now realigned, click on the Crop tool and draw a rectangle with your left mouse-button held down. Clicking Done will leave only the cropped area displayed, whereupon choosing "Save a Copy As" will let you name the edited image, while leaving the original intact.

When you use Picasa2's straightening tool, the picture is automatically cropped. To do your own cropping, click Crop>Manual to draw a rectangle as described above, followed by clicking Apply to remove the discarded areas. Alternatively, you can click one of three standard photo sizes (4x6, 5x7, or 8x10) for automatic resizing.

My preferred program for cropping, however, is Irfanview. When a picture is opened in Irfanview, you can immediately draw a rectangle of around the area you want to save. Click the Scissors icon to Cut the cropped area, followed by clicking the Paste icon to reinstate the cropped area while discarding the unwanted material.

My reason for explaining these steps in Irfanview and Picasa2 is that the programs are totally free. MS-Picture-It! can be purchased, but often comes packaged with new computers nowadays.

Cropping Saves Money on Expensive Ink Cartridges

My reason for emphasizing "cropping" is that the concept is often new to folks who have spent a lifetime taking snapshots and having them developed and printed "as is." However, if you choose to print your own digital photos you quickly learn that an awful lot of expensive ink can be used printing all that excess sky, lawn, and other extraneous material surrounding the actual subject of the photo.

Instantaneous Sharing of Photos Online with Google's Free "Hello"

As for sharing digital photos with others, nowadays everyone now knows how to send them as email attachments. But they can also be sent via the various IM (instant message) services. AIM users, for instance, can click on People>Send File to a Buddy.

However, Google has created a free service called "Hello," which makes the instantaneous sending of photos amazingly simple. "Hello" also includes the normal real-time chat capabilities of other IM services. Picasa2 and Hello can be freely downloaded from www.google.com. Irfanview can be found on my site (www.pcdon.com) or at www.download.com.

Aug 8

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Cryptic Error Messages When on the Internet

I receive a lot of questions about error messages that appear when surfing the Internet. There are way too many variables to be explained here, but here's an easy way to fix many of those problems. Double-click your Internet Explorer icon, and go to Tools > Internet Options > Advanced > Restore Defaults. The default settings are mostly "medium" in terms privacy and security. Changing them to "high" offers more protection from questionable sites, while choosing "low" means you should be extra cautious in your browsing.

MSWord Problems Fixed by Restoring Default Settings

Restoring the default settings of MSWord will usually fix any problems that may develop with the program. Word's settings are stored in a file named normal.dot. Delete this file, and the next time you launch Word it will recreate the file with all the original settings. Use Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders to find normal.dot. If more than one copy is shown, delete all of them.

Prune Unused Icons from Word Toolbar

Speaking of Word, its default toolbar has way more icons displayed than most folks ever use. This makes it harder to find the ones you do use. You can remove the seldom used icons by clicking Tools > Customize, and dragging them into the dialog box that appears.

Conversely, you can drag icons from the dialog box onto your toolbar. One I use constantly is the Horizontal Ruler icon, which toggles the ruler off and on when clicked. The icon can be found by clicking Commands > View.

Changing Word's Default Font

The default font in Word has always been 12 pt. Times New Roman. If you would prefer another, click on Format > Font, make your choice (font name, style, and size) and then click the Default button in the lower left corner of the dialog box. (My preferred default font is 10 pt. Verdana, as you see in this newsletter.)

Making Automatic Backups in Word

Anyone who uses Word for important documents should have automatic backups in place by going to Tools > Options > Save and checking "Always Create Backup Copy." "Save AutoRecover Info Every __ Minutes" should also be checked. The former option creates a backup of the document currently in use every time you click the "disk" icon on your toolbar (or by doing File>Save or Ctrl+S).

Each time you do this, everything entered up to that point is saved with the filename you gave the document. Also, saving frequently helps protect you from losing your file due to a computer malfunction or to your accidentally deleting it. The "AutoRecover" option is an additional security tool which may be able to recover most of your document in case you have neglected to do frequent saves. Inside your My Documents folder look for a filename that begins with "~$" and which has Word's ".doc" extension.

If you create a lot of Word documents, it's nice being able to see the nine most recent ones when you click File. Go to Tools > Options > General, and enter "9" in the "Recently Used File List."

"AutoCorrect" Problems

Word has a lot of "AutoCorrect" features that can drive you crazy. For instance, if you begin a paragraph by hitting your "dash/hyphen" key thee or more times, a solid line will stretch across the page. However, doing an immediate Undo (Ctrl+Z) will remove the line.

Aug 7

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Straightening a Poorly Aligned Photo

Bow Porter wrote to ask if Irfanview (my favorite image viewer/editor) is able to "straighten" photos taken with a camera held at an angle. No, Irfanview is capable only of rotating pictures in 90 degree increments. However, Picasa2 has a marvelous "straightening" tool.

The program is free from Google.com, and is one I recommend for anyone with a large collection of digital photos. However, Picasa2's command structure tends to be rather complicated, and the Help files do little to make things easier. Therefore, here's a step-by-step guide on how to straighten a photo with Picasa2.

Picasa2 Needs Some Time to "Index" All Your Photos

In order to work properly, however, Picasa2 should be installed a few hours before its first use. This is because it "indexes" all your pictures, much like Google indexes files on the Internet.

Upon launching Picasa2, you should see a collection of "Thumbnails" of the images in your "My Photos" folder. The left side of your screen will list all the various folders Picasa2 has found which contain pictures, with "My Photos" normally marked as the album currently being viewed.

Use the Thumbnail's vertical scroll bar to find the target picture. If it's not in the "My Pictures" folder (which is found inside your "My Documents" folder), place it there before launching Picassa2. Yes, you can browse to find pictures in other folders, but Picasa2 is easier to use if the target images are placed inside "My Pictures."

Clicking a Thumbnail will copy it into the Picture Tray in the lower left of the window. Double-clicking this icon will display a larger view of the picture, along with a list of editing options shown on the left. Choosing Basic Fixes > Straighten will overlay the photo with a grid for helping realign it. A button on a sliding scale under the picture lets you realign the picture with amazing ease and accuracy.

Straightening a Picture Causes Some of the Outside Edge Material to Be Lost

Therefore, if you plan on cropping a photo it's best to realign it first.

Clicking Apply will create a straightened version of the photo, while leaving the original in place. You then need to click File > Save a Copy, whereupon the edited photo will be given the same name as the original, with a "1" added to the name (such as photo1.jpg).

Further edits and saves would create copies thus incrementally named (photo2.jpg, photo3.jpg, etc.) all of which will be stored in folder currently in use (again - this is usually your My Photos folder).

Experiment with the Other Editing Options

Many other editing options are available while the picture is displayed. Most are self-prompting, and best learned by experimentation. No matter how you edit a photo, however, the original always remains untouched. This means you don't ever have to worry about spoiling an original.

This is just the tip of the Picasa2 iceberg. The program has way more features than I could ever describe here - however, I will explain how to use some of the more complex protocols in future columns.

Will Older Programs Run on Windows XP?

Dick Zajic wrote to ask if programs he purchased for his older Win98 computer will run on a new WinXP computer. Well, all of my older applications work just fine with WinXP, including CorelDraw-5, which is a pre-Win95 program.

Problems with upgrading to WinXP are usually found among peripherals, such as printers and scanners. In most cases, however, these problems are easily remedied by going to the manufacturers' Web sites and downloading WinXP drivers for the various devices.

Aug 1

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Karen's Power Tools

If you have ever wanted to print a list of your computer's files and folders, Windows provides no easy way to do it. However, a free program called Directory Printer is available from Karen's Power Tools at www.karenware.com. The program lets you print a simple alphabetical listing, or a list that also displays other information such as that shown under a folder's View>Details option.

Karen Kenworthy has created a number of really useful programs which can be freely downloaded from her site. If you would like to see what all the characters of a particular font look like, in a variety of different sizes, her Font Explorer lets you do just that.

Registry Pruner is a program that will clean up your Windows Registry in ways that would normally require the services of a computer technician. Registry Ripper will let you extract portions of the Registry, and save them to a file.

Karen's Calculator is infinitely better than the one that comes with Windows. What, you didn't know Windows has a calculator? Go to Start > Run, type in calc, and click OK. Go to View > Standard/ Scientific to switch between two different kinds. What makes Karen's better? Well, for starters, the function keys have large, legible type.

Karen's Cookie Viewer lets you examine the "cookies" that have been left on your computer by the various Web sites you visit, and lets you selectively delete them. Yes, you can delete all cookies by launching Internet Explorer and clicking Tools > Internet Options > Delete Cookies. However, you may want to leave certain cookies in place - such as those holding login information to various Web-based email services.

Zone Manager lets you create Desktop Shortcuts to International Time Zones, so you can see what time it is in other parts of the world. You can even create and edit your own custom time zones, as well as synchronize your computer's clock to an ultra-precise Internet time server.

Show Stopper will let you shutdown, power off, reboot, log off, suspend or hibernate, all from a Desktop Shortcut - quicker and easier than going through the Start > Turn Off Computer ritual.

Countdown Timer II will keep you from forgetting important appointments, while Once-A-Day II, will automatically perform tasks when Windows starts or a user logs on each day.

Window Watcher will let you see the hidden programs that may be running on your computer, while Snooper will track where and when other programs might be running.

Version Browser lets you view and print the "Version" information stored inside your Windows programs and files, while Computer Profiler will let you view much of your PC's other hidden information.

Drive Info lets you view information about the various disk drives which may be attached to your computer, while Disk Slack Checker lets you see how much of your disk space is being wasted. Alarm Clock will let you use your PC as just that.

Karen also offers a few free programs which are somewhat more geared toward technicians.

Using "StripMail"

Norma Barton wrote to ask how to download "StripMail" from my web site so it can be activated from an icon on her Taskbar. Stripmail.exe strips away the pointy symbols (>) often seen in forwarded e-mails, along with fixing the malformatted "long and short lines of text" found in such forwards.

When StripMail is double-clicked at www.pcdon.com (free item #10), a dialogue box will ask if you want to "Run" or "Save" the program. Choosing the former will activate the program and take you through its format-fixing steps. Choosing the latter will display a box asking where you want the program saved on your computer. You can accept the default location (usually your Desktop) or select any folder you prefer.

Henceforth, double-clicking the downloaded filename will run the program. If the file has been saved inside a folder, you can place a shortcut on your Desktop by right-clicking the filename and choosing Send To Desktop (Create Shortcut). The Desktop icon can then be placed in your Start menu by dragging it onto your Start button. You can likewise drag it into the Quick Launch area of your Taskbar.

Using "Quick Launch"

To place an icon in "Quick Launch" try dragging it onto the left end of your Taskbar near the Start button. If it doesn't stay, right-click the Taskbar, choose Toolbars > Quick Launch, and try again.

When an icon is dragged to Start or QuickLaunch, the Shortcut is "copied," leaving the original on the Desktop, from where it can be deleted if you wish. In fact, deleting a Shortcut NEVER affects the underlying program, which, if you want to remove it, should be uninstalled via Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs or by using the program's own Uninstall icon, if it has one.

Using "Irfanview" to Add Text to a Photo

Speaking of useful software, I've written previously about "Irfanview," my favorite program for opening and editing images. It also is great for adding text to a photo. Open a picture with Irfanview and use the arrow pointer to draw a rectangle where you would like the text added. Click Edit > Insert Text Into The Selection, and follow the prompts for choosing a font, style and color.

Be sure "Text Is Transparent" is checked if you want the photo to show through the lettering. (This option can be confusing, since the text will actually be opaque while the area around the letters is clear.) If you are not pleased with the end result, simply do Ctrl+Z (Edit>Undo) and the text will vanish.

Many image editors have "Add Text" options; but they all work differently. I've explained the steps in Irfanview only because the program is free to everyone (item #16 on my site).

Another Use for "Ctrl+Z"

Speaking of "Undo" (Ctrl+Z), most users quickly learn it will reverse the most recent "edit" in various programs, such as in one's word processor. In some programs, such as MSWord, multiple Undos are allowed, whereupon Ctrl+Y can be used to Redo the last Undo.

Also, if you drag an icon into the Recycle Bin (or into any other folder) and then change your mind, Ctrl+Z will immediately reverse the action.

July 25

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Be On Guard Against PHISHING Scams

I received an email this morning saying I need to "update my eBay account" or it will be closed. I just have to click on the enclosed link and type my personal data into an online form. Yeah, right.

I receive similar messages about once a week, claiming to be from Amazon.com, Bank of America, PayPal, and others. These are classic "phishing" scams which crooks use to steal one's identity. Be on guard. Legitimate businesses do NOT send clients e-mails asking them to type in sensitive information. If in doubt, phone or visit the business in person.

Identity theft is on the increase as crooks find more ways to con people into supplying private information. I've heard there are now phony online employment agencies that gather data from job seekers, steal their identities, close the site, and open another one under a different name before the victims realize what's happened.

Keylogging Also on the Rise

Keylogging copies your typing and sends the data to the crook who stuck you with the spyware in the first place - usually by getting you to download an email attachment or clicking on an "interesting-looking link." Naturally, the thief hopes to find your name, social security number, and other data with which to steal your identity.

This is why we need full-time anti-virus software from companies who also provide regular updates. We've always had good service from Norton/Symantec, but also like AVG's free software and updates. AVG's link can be found on my site - where you can also find a story about my identity being stolen in 1961 when I left a credit card in a gas station.

Does all this electronic thievery mean we should be afraid of purchasing things online, where we are often required to type in sensitive data? Well, over the years we've spent thousands online, and have never had a theft problem. We deal with well known businesses who use encrypting to keep customers' data secure, and who have a reputation for reliable service.

We've also enjoyed substantial savings online, where price comparisons are easy to obtain, and where charges such as sales tax and shipping (if any) can be determined in advance. Figure in the savings of not having to drive from one mall to another, and you can see why we do 90% of our holiday gift shopping online.

Pleased with Most Online Customer Service - But Not with AOL

We have even been surprised at how returns have been handled. Mary recently ordered a kitchen device from Amazon that arrived minus two parts. When she called Customer Service they offered to send a replacement order that day, saying she could return the defective package after receiving the new one.

Having said all that, however, Mary watches our credit card and bank statements like a hawk. The only major vendor to give us problems has been AOL, who seems to think 'cancel' is a synonym for 'renew.' Only after using 'terminate,' along with notifying our bank and credit card company of the cancellation, did they stop sending messages thanking us for our renewal.

July 24

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Legitimate & Useful Free Programs Available

One of the best things about the Internet is being able to find valuable tools and services for free; but that's also one its most dangerous aspects. Spyware and adware have become so pervasive they are nearly impossible to avoid altogether; but you can take preventive and curative action.

Start by ignoring popups which "warn" that your computer may be infected and which offer to check it "for free." If you accept such an offer you'll be told infections were found and that for $29.99 (or more) you can download a program which will remove the malware and protect you from future attacks.

I also avoid ads that offer a "free scan of your computer to see if contains any registry errors or other problems." Yes, you will be told that errors were found and that they can be fixed by buying their product or service. Again, plenty of free tools are available to fix such problems.

Some Who Claim Their Products Are Anti-Spyware Are Actually Spyware

Many of these offers are from adware/spyware perpetrators who do, in fact, try to remove existing malware - only to install their own. Yes, there are a few who offer legitimate anti-malware services for little or no money, but they don't promote themselves with scare tactics or deceptive advertising. A number of free ones, which have proven themselves over several years, are listed on the home page of this site.

Many Legitimate Free Programs

TrendMicro HouseCall has long offered an excellent free online virus scan, and has recently begun to include searches for spy and adware in the service. I have bee very pleased with the results.

So how does anyone make money by giving away such services? Well, most have other products for sale, and offer "free home and personal use" services as a means of getting people to look at their non-free items. Does this mean the freebies are defective in some way? All I can say is the ones on my site have been time-tested and are ones I personally use on a regular basis.

Some Freeware Getting Harder to Find

However, I must acknowledge a recent change many of these providers have adopted. Whereas the freebies used to be easy to find, some are now nearly impossible to locate - and the paths to their links are sprinkled with all kinds of "for sale" items.

Well, I have no problem with merchants selling their wares - but my mission here is to find free and low-cost items for readers of these columns and newsletters. Therefore, links on my site will take you directly to the "free download page" of vendors who have made their freebies difficult to find.

One such vendor is GriSoft.com, who offers a free anti-virus program called AVG. I used to have AVG listed on my site, but removed it after hearing they no longer offered a free version. Nor could I find it when I entered their site. However, a reader said he has been using the program and getting free updates for the past few years.

So after an exhaustive search, I again found the free AVG page, and have reinstated its link on my site. We have been testing it at home and feel very comfortable with its performance.

Also, the link to a marvelously informative service called Spyware Warrior, which lists legitimate and many not-so-legitimate "anti-spyware services" can be found here. (http://spywarewarrior.com/)

July 18

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Telling Your Scanner What to Do

A reader called to say that when she presses the "Scan to Printer" button on her scanner the resulting printout is so large it requires multiple sheets of paper. She added that when she clicks "Scan to Email" the photo is often rejected as being too large an attachment. I offered to teach her how to reduce the picture's size once she sees it displayed on her monitor; but she said she never sees it there because the buttons on her scanner do everything automatically.

Well, there are dozens of different scanners available, including the all-in-one printer/copier/fax models; and they all have various button options. Furthermore, they come with many different image-editing programs, whose command structures vary widely. There is no way I could possibly explain all these variables here, but I can offer some easy tips that work in most situations.

There was a time when the only button on a scanner was its power switch, and when options for using the scanner were found in a separately-purchased program such as Adobe PhotoShop. Although my scanner has various function buttons, I prefer to use an image-editing program to tell the scanner what to do. Here's how it can be done with Windows Paint, a program that comes with all versions of Windows.

Follow These Easy Steps

Turn on your scanner and put your picture in position, but do NOT press any buttons that will automatically scan the photo and send it somewhere. Rather, launch Windows Paint by clicking Start> Programs >Accessories > Paint, wherein you will find some picture-editing tools and a color bar.

Click on File > From Scanner or Camera. A dialogue box will open, inviting you to choose the kind of picture to be scanned (color, gray scale, black and white, etc.). Although these dialogue boxes vary from one scanner to another, most will have a PREVIEW button and a SCAN button.

Choosing PREVIEW will display your picture with a dotted line rectangle around it, whose edges can be adjusted to select just the part of the picture you want scanned. For instance, a child and a puppy on a lawn could have all the extraneous grass and sky left out, leaving a smaller picture that would use less ink when printed, and which could be easily sent as an email attachment.

Click SCAN to scan the cropped selection and display it on your monitor. Then go to File > Print Preview to see how it would look centered on a sheet of 8.5x11 inch paper. Click on PRINT to send the image to your printer.

After closing Print Preview, you can click File > Send if you want to attach the picture to an outgoing email. If you want to resize the picture, go to Image > Stretch/Skew, and type in the percentage of increase or decrease you would like under Stretch. If you want to edit the image further, experiment with the various Toolbar and Menu options. Using Edit > Undo (Ctrl+Z) can immediately fix any mistakes.

Admittedly, Windows Paint is a bare-bones image-editing program, and is very limited on sophisticated features. Other programs can be used to do all the above, including MSWord and WordPerfect. The program I always use for accessing my scanner is Irfanview, a free program available at www.download.com.

July 17

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Yellow Stickie Notes

Among the most essential tools in my bag of handy tricks is a "Yellow Stickie Notes" program. It's the PC version of those stickies we use for scribbling notes which then get stuck somewhere for later referral. The program is fast, easy to use, and can be freely downloaded from my Home Page (Item #16).

Here's how it works: Let's say you're on the phone and are given an address you want to jot down. Click the "Stickies" icon on your Taskbar and type the info into the blank note that appears. If you find some important text online, highlight it and do Ctrl+C to COPY it. Then use Ctrl+V to PASTE the text onto a Stickie. All this can normally be done in less time than it takes to find a pencil and paper.

The note can be moved to anywhere on the your screen, and will stay there even if you reboot your computer without first saving it. In fact, I rarely do "Save As" on Stickies, since they are usually for temporary storage of notes that will soon be copied into a more permanent file.

Yes, you could launch your word processor and type or paste notes into a blank page - but you can create several Stickies in less time than it takes for MSWord or WordPerfect to open.

If you do want to give a Stickie a file name, you can right-click its header and choose Save As, whereupon you can save it as a Stickie file with an ".sti" extension or as a Notepad file with a ".txt" extension.

When a blank Stickie first appears, it is small, but it expands as data is typed or pasted into it. Furthermore, you can grab an edge and widen a Stickie to suit yourself. As for relocating a Stickie, you can move it beyond any edge of your Desktop so that just part of it shows. Also, multiple Stickies can be overlapped and rearranged as needed.

Stickies Don't Have to Be Yellow

Although we usually think of Stickies as being yellow, you can choose any color you want. You can also make it semi-transparent so that overlapped items show through one another.

One of my favorite uses for a Stickie is to convert HTML into plain text. If you find a Web page article you'd like to save, it will often have blocks of advertising in and around it. However, when copied and pasted onto a Stickie all the extraneous stuff will be left off (depending on which version you use - see the next paragraph).

Two Different Versions of Stickies

The Stickies program I've used for several years was recently upgraded from "plain black text" to a version which includes colored fonts with special formatting. I have both versions available on my site with an explanation of the pros and cons of each.

The program does have one weakness you need to be aware of. If you delete a Stickie note, it does NOT go into the Recycle Bin; it's gone forever. However, saving it as a ".TXT" file precludes this problem.

July 11

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Moving Your Address Book from One Email Program to Another

I continue to receive questions about copying one's email Address Book (Contact List) from one program to another, or onto a different computer. Outlook Express users can go to File>Export>Address Book and follow the prompts to create a CSV (comma separated values) file, whose data can be copied into another program. It can also be copied onto another computer via removable media or as an email attachment.

If your current program doesn't have a File>Export feature, you can create a blank email and then use your Address Book options to place the list of names into the COPY TO field, where they will normally be separated by commas. Next, click inside the field and do Ctrl+A to Select All the names, followed by Ctrl+C to Copy them.

Now use Ctrl+V to Paste the names into a text document, from where they can be copied into other email programs, using the various programs' "Add Contact" procedures. The text document can be saved as a CSV file.

What Is a CSV File?

Well, Address Books are often created in a spreadsheet, where data such as First Name, Last Name, Email Address, etc. are entered into columns of cells. If the Address Book needs to be copied it is often more practical to copy it as a text document, where commas substitute for the column cells in a spreadsheet.

If the data then needs to be pasted into a different spreadsheet, simply click inside a cell and do Edit> Paste, whereupon everything should be arranged as it was originally found. If the pasted data doesn't line up properly, use Edit>Paste Special (Unformatted Text).

When saving a CSV file, go to File>Save As and see if ".CSV" is available in the "Save as Type" list. If not, using ".TXT" will do, whereupon the ".TXT" extension can be changed to ".CSV" if the target program requires it.

If your program separates email addresses with semicolons, rather than commas, the former can be converted to the latter in a text document by highlighting the list and doing Ctrl+F. This will bring up a Find & Replace dialogue box, where the punctuation symbols can be entered accordingly. Finally, click Replace All to make the change.

Address Book Moving Help for AOL Users

AOL users never used to have Export options, but now they can use Communicator, an add-on that makes exporting data to another email program relatively easy. The program can be downloaded from communicator.aol.com.

Reducing Sizes of Pictures to Be Attached to Email

Speaking of email, Al Roller expressed surprise at my not suggesting folks use the "Make Pictures Smaller" option that appears when attaching images in some programs. Good point. This helps insure the attachments will not exceed the "file size" limitations of some email programs and that the pictures upload and download more quickly.

I never use this option, however, since I prefer to do my own cropping and sizing of pictures. Furthermore, it makes me uneasy to think the pictures will be changed in ways over which I have no control. Detailed instructions on cropping and resizing images can be found at www.pcdon.com/page20.html.

July 10

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Error Message Displayed on Computer Startup

I hear from a lot of folks who say an error message appears each time they turn on their computer. They also say clicking "Cancel" bypasses the message for the moment; but they would like to know how to remove the message forever. Well, the reasons for these messages are many and varied. Here are some possible fixes:

If the message pertains to a program you once installed, but later deleted, it could mean the program was not completely removed. Reinstall the program and go to Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs and follow the prompts to "uninstall" it. Or look for an "Uninstall" option inside the program's main folder under "Program Files."

It's important to understand that clicking on a program's icon and hitting DELETE only removes that particular file. If the icon is a "shortcut" to a file (usually identified by a bent arrow in its lower left corner) hitting DELETE only removes the shortcut and leaves the underlying file in place. Most programs are made up of many scattered files, and can only be removed using "Uninstall."

If the error message gives no clue regarding its origin, go to Start > Run, type in msconfig, and click OK. Click the Startup tab and look at the items with checkmarks. These are "startup shortcuts" to programs, telling them to begin running in the background whenever you start your PC. The only ones that should normally be checked are your anti-virus and firewall programs, along with one or two you might use frequently and want to have running continuously. Anything pertaining to systray should also be left checked.

Most others are just wasting system resources and slowing down your computer. If one of them happens to be a shortcut to the file generating the error message, unchecking it here will usually fix the problem.

If the message still appears, try the TrendMicro anti-virus/anti-spyware program listed on my Home Page. In fact, I recommend using this and the other free anti-spyware programs shown there at least once a week.

Problem May Be in Windows Registry - Edit at Your Own Risk

If the message still appears, you can look for key words in the Windows Registry and delete any references to them you might find. Going to Start > Run, and typing regedit will put you in the Registry Editor, where doing Ctrl+F will display a Find box into which you can type a target word or phrase. If it appears, remove the entry with your DELETE key. Then repeat Ctrl+F, since the words may appear in multiple places. Click YES when asked about Saving the Changes.

Be aware that the Registry is an area usually best left to technicians, since mistakes made there can seriously mess up your computer. Never enter the Registry without first backing it up, instructions for which can be found at www.pcdon.com.

If all the above fails, try typing the error message into a search engine such as Google. This may very well lead to some Internet Message Boards where others have discussed the problem and, hopefully, posted a cure for it.

Getting back to msconfig, unchecking an item there is no guarantee it will stay unchecked forever. Many programs have sneaky ways of getting these items checked and running in the background as before. QuickTime and RealPlayer are such programs, and this is why I uninstall them altogether.

July 4

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Easy Way to Attach a File to an Email

Myrtle Housman wrote to say she has trouble finding pictures she wants to attach to outgoing emails. Well, learning to "browse" to a desired file (picture, document, musical selection, etc.) can take some practice; however, there is another "attach" method that many find easier to do:

Locate the target file's icon BEFORE writing the email, right-click it, and choose Send To > Mail Recipient. This will open your email program with the file already attached to a blank letter. If you want to attach multiple files, hold down Ctrl while clicking the desired items. Finally, write your message and send the email.

If you can't find the desired file to begin with, click on Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders, and type in the file's name. When it appears, follow the above steps. If you don't know the file's exact name, type in a partial name. If it's a text document, you can type something distinctive into the "A Word or Phrase in the File" box.

Get to Know "Windows Explorer"

Many target items are found in one's "My Documents" folder; but using "Windows Explorer" (which is not the same as "Internet Explorer") can show where everything is filed.

First, it's important to understand that most things on your hard drive are either a "folder" or a "file." Folders are normally identified by a "yellow folder" icon, while the files inside the folders are identified by a variety of different icons, such as MSWord's blue "W" and your Recycle Bin's "waste basket" image.

If you right-click your Start button and choose "Explore" a double-paned window will appear, displaying a collection of "folder" icons in the left pane, with "Desktop" at the top. Next will be a list of disk/disc drives, with "C" indicating your PC's main hard drive.

If the C icon is not visible, click the plus sign (+) next to "My Computer." If the C icon appears with a plus sign, clicking it will display a collection of yellow folders under it. A minus sign means the subfolders are hidden within the C folder.

Notice that many of the folders displayed also have plus signs, which means they contain other still folders. Clicking a folder's plus sign will display more folders nested therein. Clicking a minus sign will collapse subfolders back into their parent folder.

However, no "files" will ever be displayed in the left pane; they will always appear in the right pane when their left-pane folder is double-clicked. If doing so doesn't display files in the right pane, click "Show All Files."

So what's the advantage to seeing all our files and folders displayed in this double-paned window? Well, one is being able to easily move items from one location to another. Most visible items can be "dragged and dropped" from their current locations into any visible folder. Exceptions are certain "system" or "program" files and folders, which should be left alone.

Becoming familiar with Windows Explorer can give you all kinds of useful controls over your files and folders.

July 3

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Email - Normal Screen View, Tiny Printout

Vern Fowke wrote to ask why some emails received via Outlook Express print out in very tiny type, even though his screen text is a legible size. Well, oddly enough, OE's print-out sizes are controlled in Internet Explorer, wherein clicking on View > Text Size will display five font-height options.

These same settings are used to adjust the size of text seen on web pages in Internet Explorer; yet they don't always work. Why? It depends on how the webmaster designed the page. If he/she used CSS (cascading style sheets) the font sizes will remain the same, no matter what setting the reader chooses.

However, the View > Text Size choices in the Netscape and Firefox browsers actually do change font sizes created with CSS. This can be a big help to visually impaired web surfers.

Changing Size of Fonts & Ojects with Screen Resolution

You can also adjust your monitor to make everything larger or smaller by changing its basic display settings. Most older monitors have a default setting of 800x600, while most newer ones - especially flat screen units - are set at 1024x768. Right-click your Desktop and choose Properties. Then click on Settings, where you will find a horizontal slide-button with your current settings shown under it. Moving the button to the left will make text and objects larger, while sliding it to the right will decrease all sizes. If you change the default settings on a flat screen, however, you may have to do some fine-tuning with the unit's built-in control tools.

Another legibility problem with emails and Web pages can be low contrast between text and background colors. This can be easily overcome by simply mouse-selecting (highlighting) the hard-to-read text. Printing a low-contrast Web page normally fixes the problem automatically by omitting background colors (which also saves on ink).

Changing Size of Font in Word Processing to Anything You Want

Speaking of text sizes, some programs let you choose sizes that are not listed in the drop-down menus on their toolbars. MSWord, for instance, doesn't offer odd-numbered sizes such as 13 or 15 points. However, you can select, say, 14, highlight the number, type in the size you prefer, and press Enter. You can even choose half-sizes, such as 13.5.

Doing so will change the size of the font on your screen, as well as in the actual print-out. However, if you would like just the screen view of your text to be larger, without changing the print-out size, you can click on Zoom and choose 200%. What - that's way too large? OK, highlight 100% and type in the percentage of increase you would like, say, 115%. I do this all the time.

You Don't Need to Be Online to Compose Email in AOL or Outlook Express

Getting back to emails, I've found that many AOL users think they have to be online in order to write one. Nope; just click on Write, compose your letter, and then get online to send it. For dial-up users this can avoid getting disconnected in the middle of writing a letter.

The same applies to Outlook Express users, who have the additional advantage of being able to do File > Save periodically to save a letter-in-progress in the Drafts folder. Better yet, do Ctrl+S.

June 27

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Keeping Things Organized on Today's Huge Hard Drives

As hard drives have gotten larger in recent years, it has become increasingly important to have one's folders arranged in ways that make things easy to find. Windows tries to be helpful by providing a catch-all folder named My Documents, which contains other folders such as My Pictures and My Music. That's a good start, but let's look into creating your own folders and using strategically placed Shortcuts to make them easy to find.

Whenever you File > Save a document created with a word processing program, it automatically gets stored in My Documents. Well, if you are the only one who uses the computer and/or if you don't create a lot of written files, this is probably adequate. However, if Mom, Dad, Bobby, and Judy all use the PC, they might each want a separate folder inside My Documents.

Put SubFolders Inside Other Folders

Open My Documents, click File > New>Folder and name the new addition(s). The next time Judy writes a school paper, her personal folder will appear when she double-clicks the My Documents icon that appears with a File>Save command.

Yes, WinXP users can pre-establish different personal areas in a PC, each with its own Desktop, and default folders. However, individual users will still benefit from having subfolders inside their My Documents folder, such as, say, My Diary, Book Report, Favorite Recipes, etc. Business-related folders might include Purchase Orders, New Clients, Job Bids, etc.

If you receive a snapshot attached to an email, using File > Save will automatically place the photo in your My Pictures folder. This folder can also contain subfolders which you create and name. If you download a song from my music pages by right-clicking a title and choosing Save Target As, it will automatically end up in My Music - another obvious place for creating special subfolders.

All the above-described subfolders are inside My Documents; but you can create a folder directly on your Desktop by right-clicking any open space, choosing New > Folder, and giving it a name.

If you collect pictures from various Web sites, you can simply drag them directly into this folder, which you might have named, say, Internet Images. However, if the desired picture is a link of some kind (as evidenced by your cursor changing to a pointing finger) you will need to use the traditional Save Picture As command.

Create Shortcuts that Point to Important Folders

Doing so, however, will choose My Pictures as the default folder. Nonetheless, you can put a Shortcut inside My Pictures which will take you directly to Internet Images. Here's how:

Right-click Internet Images and choose Send To > Desktop (Create Shortcut). An icon named Shortcut To Internet Images will appear on your Desktop. Simply drag it into your My Pictures folder, where it will be seen whenever File > Save is used to store a picture of any kind.

June 26

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A Little About Browser Functions

I've received a lot of "browser" questions recently, which I'll answer here. A browser's main purpose is to display information found on the Internet in a readable way on your monitor. The one most folks use is Internet Explorer, since it comes bundled with all versions of Windows. Netscape, FireFox, and others can be freely obtained at www.download.com.

One thing a browser does is save copies of visited Web pages in a folder named "Temporary Internet Files." This helps make subsequent views of those pages occur faster, since they load from your hard drive, rather than from their Web locations. This feature can have a downside, however.

The 'Refresh' Button

For instance, when I recently mentioned a useful freebie on my home page, a reader called to say he could not find the item. However, when I suggested he click his "Refresh" button, the item immediately appeared. He had unknowingly been looking at a page stored on his PC from an earlier visit. This situation can be avoided with IE by clicking on Tools > Internet Options > Settings, and choosing "Check for newer versions of stored pages: Automatically."

Not Leaving a Trail

Some folks prefer that others not see where they've been on the Web and want stored pages deleted after each session. Under Tools>Internet Options you can cover your tracks by clicking "Delete Files," "Delete Cookies," and "Clear History."

'Cookies'

"Cookies" are small text files placed on our computers while visiting various Web sites. They are, ostensibly, supposed to help the webmaster/merchants "enrich" our future visits. Cookies are also used to store user ID and password settings on some Web e-mail services, meaning we don't have to type them in each time. Delete the cookies, and expect to do extra typing when next accessing your Web e-mail.

Recently, cookies also appear to be used in placing "adware" and "spyware" on our PCs. However, anti-spyware programs such as Ad-Aware and Spybot can kill such files. Look for free versions of these programs at www.download.com.

Your Temporary Internet Files folder may also contain items such as songs, which you might want to keep. To find the folder, go to Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders and type "Temporary Internet Files."

WinXP users usually have multiple folders so-named, and will have to double-click each to see which has the desired files. When you find it, right-click the folder and choose Send To > Desktop (Create Shortcut). Use the Shortcut when accessing the folder in the future.

Songs you find there will usually have a WAV, WMA, MID, or MP3 filename extension, and can be dragged onto your Desktop or into a folder of your choice. If you see these songs scattered throughout the folder, go to View > Arrange Icons By > Type, to group them together.

Under Tools > Internet Options you will also find various Privacy and Security options. When set to "High" you may find access to certain sites denied, while choosing "Low" may subject you to unwelcome hazards. "Medium" works best in most cases. Also, going to Advanced > Restore Defaults will usually fix most problems.

June 20

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Compatibility Issues Between Word Processors

Jim Horn called to say he had written a manuscript with the word processor in MSWorks, and asked if it could be converted to WordPerfect, which came with his new PC. Well, let's look at compatibility issues among various programs.

There was a time when dozens of word processors existed, with most being mutually incompatible. With the advent of Windows, however, nearly all but MSWord, WordPerfect, Ami/WordPro, and the word processor in MSWorks fell into obsolescence. In fact, IBM/Lotus Ami/WordPro has all but vanished, while MSWord has become the de facto word processor for most of the world.

Which Word Processor Is Best?

Does this mean MSWord is the "best" word processor? Well, many WP devotees insist their program is better in numerous ways, and has lost usership to Microsoft only because of the latter's marketing strengths. I've been an MSWord user since 1987 and can attest to its various versions being somewhat unstable and needing to be reinstalled periodically.

In any case, it's not always the best product that comes out on top. Remember the Sony Betamax?

Getting back to Jim's question, I suggested he open his ".WPS" Works document on the older PC, then go to File > Save As and choose Rich Text Format (*.RTF) from the "Save As Type" list. He then burned this RTF file onto a CD and copied the file into his new PC's "My Documents" folder, whereupon he launched WordPerfect and brought up a blank page. Finally, he went to File > Open, chose ".RTF" from the "File Type" list, and opened his document.

"RTF" is a "universally compatible" format which can be opened in most word processing programs, as well as being used to "File > Save As" a document which you might send to someone who has a different word processor than yours.

However, since Jim plans to continue working on his manuscript with WordPerfect, he saves each new edit by going to File > Save As, and accepting WP's default ".WPD" option (listed under "Type Of File").

Beyond this, MSWord, Ami/WordPro and WP have "File Type" options for reading and saving in one another's formats. The older MSWorks program has less compatibility options, as does WordPad, the no-frills application packaged with recent versions of Windows.

Compatibility Issues Among Variuous Versons of the Same Word Processor Speaking of incompatibility, not all versions of the same program can read each other's files. For instance, MSWord 6.0 cannot normally read files created in MSWord 97 or later, unless such documents were specifically Saved as 6.0-compatible files.

Since word processing is one of the main uses of modern computers, it's not surprising that most new PCs come packaged with such a program - usually as part of a "suite," such as MSOffice, WordPerfect Office, or MSWorks. Since MSOffice and MSWord are the world's most used, they command a pretty high price. MSWorks and WordPerfect are much cheaper; the former since it is a "slimmed down" version of MSOffice, and the latter because it is trying to regain lost market share.

However, OpenOffice continues to be a free suite that can be downloaded from www.openoffice.org.

June 13

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Creating a Simple HTML File to Use in an Email

I recently mentioned that HTML files (Web pages) can be created with MSWord or Excel by going to File > Save As and choosing "Web Page (*.HTML)" in the "Save as Type:" box. This "Save As" feature is also available in MSPublisher and PowerPoint, which means these programs can be used to create HTML files for, say, one's own Home Page or to place inside an outgoing email.

So how do these programs compare with the likes of Front Page or Dreamweaver, which are dedicated Web page creation applications?

Well, in its basic form, a Web page is simply a plain text document with "tags" inserted to change the formatting (appearance) of the text. For instance, preceding a phrase with <B> says to make the following text Bold, while inserting </B> says to End Bold formatting.

Other tags indicate where an image is to appear or will provide a link (hyperlink) to another place online. Since all this information is written as plain text, Web pages can be created in Notepad.

However, "helper" programs can be useful is in designing things like tables, where text and pictures might be aligned in special ways.

One can create a business form, for instance, by manually typing all the information that says where a column begins and how wide it is, along with where a given row ends and another begins. In MSWord, however, you can go to Table > Insert Table (or Draw Table) and adjust Table specifications on-screen with your mouse. When saved as an HTML file, all the on-screen mouse work is converted to plain text HTML instructions, which will display the Table in a browser or an email.

So did I use any of the above-mentioned programs to create the dozens of pages on my Web site?

Free Program Called "1st Page 2000" (Not the Same as "Front Page")

Nope. I use a free program called "1st Page 2000." The programs mentioned above are WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) products, which let you build a Web page much like you create a DTP (desktop publishing) page, i.e.; arranging "text boxes" and "image boxes" on a sheet with your mouse.

1st Page (not to be confused with Microsoft's Front Page) uses color coding and various shortcuts to make writing one's own HTML easy. This means my HTML is concise and precise, where a program like MSWord will insert numerous lines of superfluous coding to create the same page.

If you are thinking, "What's the difference, since it all looks the same in a browser?" bear in mind that Web pages take time to materialize online - and the more unneeded redundancy there is, the longer a page takes to appear. Front Page does a better job of minimizing surplus coding than does MSWord, but neither can compete with 1st Page for author-controlled fine-tuning.

Nonetheless, if your HTML-creation needs are just an occasional form to appear in an email, programs like MSWord and Excel will do very nicely.

June 12

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Putting a Self-Calculating Form (such as an Invoice) in an Email

I recently explained how to place properly-aligned columns of text and numbers in an e-mail by creating an invoice in MSWord and saving it as an HTML file, which could be copied and pasted into an outgoing message. But my sample invoice required the sender to do math calculations separately. Here's how to have the form do its own math:

Excel makes it easy to create an invoice (or a statement, or a purchase order, etc.) which has built-in math capabilities. Here's a simple example. If you are selling, say, 10 widgets at $5.95 each, create a blank spreadsheet (worksheet) and type QUANTITY in Cell A1, DESCRIPTION in B1, PRICE in C1, and TOTAL in D1.

In Cell A2 type 10, in B2 type WIDGETS, and type 5.95 in C2. In D2 type this formula: =(A2*C2). The asterisk means "times" or "multiply by." Pressing Enter will cause 59.50 to immediately replace the formula in the cell. However, the formula will still be displayed above in the worksheet's "editing field."

Repeat the QUANTITY, DESCRIPTION, and PRICE steps to place additional items on the invoice. For their TOTALS, however, simply grab the little black square in cell D2 and pull down through the target cells below. Pulling the black square means: "COPY and PASTE this cell's FORMULA into the target cells, adjusting the formula's parameters as it goes. For instance, an entry of 10 dingbats at $9.00 each would automatically show 90.00 in the TOTAL column.

Using the "Sigma" AutoSum Command: S

To get the accumulated totals of all entries, place your cursor in the cell below the last TOTAL and click the S in your toolbar. In the example above (two entries) the formula =SUM(D2:D3) would appear. When you press Enter, the grand total off 149.50 would appear. The SIGMA/SUM formula tells the spreadsheet to look at adjacent in-line cells for numeric values, and if it finds any to put their SUM in the chosen cell.

If the program's "adjacent cells" assumption is mistaken in any way, the "=SUM" formula can be corrected in the "editing field."

Now let's say that sales tax of 8% needs to be added to your grand total in Cell D4. In D5 type the formula =.08*D4. Press Enter and 11.96 will appear. In the cell below, use SIGMA/SUM to get the "grand total" plus the "tax" sum. If the "=SUM" formula tries to add ALL the cell values above, simply correct the formula in the editing field.

To experienced users, all the above is basic "Spreadsheet 101." What they may not realize, however, is that the file can be saved in HTML (hypertext markup language) by going to File > Save As and choosing "Save the document as a Web Page (*.html)."

Once the file has been saved with an HTML (or HTM) extension, Ctrl+A can be used to Select ALL, and Ctrl+C to COPY the document, whereupon Ctrl+V can be used to PASTE it all into a blank, outgoing email - complete with all columns properly aligned.

June 6

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Lining Up Columns in an Email

Annette Chaffee wrote to say she needs to send emails with columns of numbers, but can't get the columns to line up properly.

Well, numeric columns can easily be established in word processing documents by using Tab settings; but not all email programs have Tab options. Furthermore, those that do will only make column-alignment look right to the recipient if he or she is using the same email program and is also using the same fonts and styles used by the sender.

If you want to email, say, an invoice listing several items and prices, along with a total at the bottom, the traditional approach is to use a word processor or spreadsheet and then attach the document to an outgoing email.

However, There Is a Way to Do It

Nonetheless, if putting the invoice directly into an email would be more practical, there is a way of making columns line up properly - create the invoice as an HTML file.

What - you don't know how to do HTML coding and don't want to buy a program like Front Page or Dreamweaver that does most of the work for you?

MSWord to the Rescue!

Well, MSWord can create things like simple HTML forms very nicely, and let you copy and paste them into a blank email. Here's how:

Let's say you want to create an invoice with columns for showing Quantity, Description, Unit Price, and Total.

Click on View > Ruler to establish a horizontal ruler on which you can set your Left and Right Tabs. "Quantity" will need a Right Tab, since numbers should be right-aligned. Click the little "L" (Left Tab marker) at the left end of the ruler until it becomes a backwards L, which means Right Tab marker.

Now click anywhere on the ruler to establish the right edge of the Quantity column. Then return to the "backward L" symbol at the left end of the ruler and click it back to being a normal L, followed by clicking where you want the left edge of your Description column to begin.

Use the above procedures to establish the right edges of the "Price" and "Total" columns, and you're ready to fill in the data for a sale of, say, ten widgets at $5.95 each.

Use the TAB Key to Jump from One Column to Another

Pressing your TAB key at the beginning of the invoice's first line will cause your cursor to jump to the right edge of the Quantity column. When you type "10" the digits will be right-aligned to this edge. Press TAB again and type a description of the merchandise, which will be left-aligned in its column.

Following these steps will right-align the Price (5.95) and the Total (59.95). Repeat for each item and put the accumulated total at the bottom of the invoice (along with items such as tax, shipping, or whatever).

In a future lesson I'll explain how to make the invoice do the arithmetic. In this example, the math needs to be done separately.

Now for the coup de grace; Go to File > Save As, and save the document as a Web Page (*.html), which is an option of the "Save as Type" box at the bottom of the document. (For instance, name the file something like Jones Invoice.html.)

Now go to Edit > Select All (or do Ctrl+A), followed by going to Edit > Copy (or by doing Ctrl+C).

Finally, click inside a blank email and do Edit > Paste (or Ctrl+V).

This will copy and paste everything into your outgoing email, which will arrive with properly aligned columns on the receiving end (unless the recipient refuses to accept HTML-formatted email, in which case your text could be all over the place).

June 5

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Netscape 8.0 - Another Point of View

When I wrote recently about Netscape 8.0 having some useful features, Karen Colterman mentioned that a Washington Post article had been critical of the browser and asked for my reaction. Well, the writer pointed out a number non-standard page views which take some getting used to, and felt that the program used the worst, rather than the best, features of rivals Mozilla and Internet Explorer.

I agree that, cosmetically, the interface could be easier to navigate with more standardized buttons and menu settings; but the ability to switch between the IE and Mozilla browser engines is something I personally find enormously helpful.

Having used the program for a couple of weeks, however, I must acknowledge that it tends to slow down noticeably when several Web pages are open at once. Hopefully, AOL/Netscape will fix this. Meanwhile, the Washington Post's comments can be seen here.

Which Media Player to Use?

Dorothy Fife wrote that when she plays the songs on my downloadable music page, some try to open with QuickTime or RealPlayer, while she would prefer they all open in Windows Media Player. OK, there are lots of media players available and different folks have different reasons for preferring different ones. However, here's what I do:

I use Windows Media Player, and uninstall any others that might have found their way into my system. Why? Well, WMP can play all my media files (except "Real" songs, or occasional Web-based videos that only open in QuickTime). In other words, WMP handles 95% of my media files.

Furthermore, Windows-based PCs come with WMP built in. Beyond that, updated versions can be freely obtained from Microsoft.com or Download.com.

RealPlayer, on the other hand, not only plays RealAudio songs, it accommodates popular music formats such as WAV and MP3 that work on WMP.

So isn't RealPlayer a better choice, since it handles more formats than WMP? Yes, if cost is not a factor. Although "free trial versions" of RealPlayer can be found, you are eventually required to buy or rent the program. WMP is always free.

As for QuickTime, there is a free version that compares favorably to WMP; but it insists on starting at boot-up and running in the background whether you plan on using it or not. RealPlayer does the same thing - and I do NOT need any more files running in the background, slowing down my PC. WMP only runs when I need it.

So how can you make all your media files work with just one player? Well, uninstalling all but WMP will resolve this in one fell swoop. Beyond that, WinXP users can right-click on any media file (including WMV or MPG) and choose "Open With:" Next click "Always Use the Selected Program to Open this Kind of File," followed by selecting the media player of your choice.

Finally, how do other players get on our computers to begin with? This often happens when you find a song that is "free to download" - as long as you "download a particular player to go with it."

May 30

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Netscape 8.0 Browser Has Some Features Worth Considering

In the early days of the World Wide Web, Netscape Navigator had about 80% of the browser market and sold for $60. When Microsoft began to bundle Internet Explorer with Windows - at no extra charge - the market share percentages shifted in favor of the latter. Netscape then also became free, but never quite made a comeback.

However, Netscape 8.0, which debuted last week, has some features worth considering. For folks concerned about Internet Explorer's ongoing battle with security issues, the new Netscape is built on the Mozilla/Firefox browser engine. But here's the real kicker; it also has the IE engine built-in, with an option to switch browsers on the fly.

So if Mozilla is better than IE, what's the advantage of having IE as a switchable alternative?

Well, not all Web pages are created equal. Certain HTML codes will display pages beautifully in one browser, but make them weird-looking in another. Since most WWW surfers use IE (or the AOL browser, which is based on IE) many Web designers - including myself - had gotten used to creating pages for IE and paying little attention to other browsers.

Best of Both Worlds

Netscape 8.0 gives you the best of both worlds - browse with the Mozilla engine, but switch temporarily to IE if a page looks strange.

Another neat NS 8.0 feature is that it tabs visited Web pages and keeps them open for you, making subsequent navigation among them fast and easy. For more information, take a tour of the program at www.netscape.net. I did, and have been very pleased with what I found.

How Does One Download a File to a PC Not Connected & Online?

Peter Jarman asked how to download Picasa2, Google's free image-management program, to a computer not connected to the Internet. Well, many downloadable freebies will fit on a 3.5" floppy, while larger ones can usually be copied to a CD or a USB flash-memory disk. After downloading the file with an Internet-connected PC, copy it to a moveable disk which will then be inserted into the target PC.

Speaking of Picasa2, it is a must for anyone with lots of photos on his/her PC and who wants to easily display them for various editing or file-management tasks. It's great at finding unneeded duplicates, for instance.

How to "Straighten" a "Leaning" Photo

One of my favorite features is "Straighten," which lets you realign photos shot at an angle to an upright position. The "Crop" tool lets you crop a photo to a standard size/ratio such as 3x5 or 4x6 inches before printing it. Also available are easy-to-use Brightness and Contrast tools, along with other color-enhancement effects such as converting a photo to grayscale, sepia tone, or stark black and white.

Which Firewall to Use?

Anna Bleasoe asked which firewall I prefer for home PC use, and if having more than one creates conflicts. Well, by now all WinXP users have installed SP2, which comes with a turned-on firewall. I turned mine off at Control Panel > Security Center > Windows Firewall, and continue using ZoneAlarm, the freebie from www.zonelabs.com whose options I much prefer.

May 29

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New Mydoom Virus!

A new variant of the Mydoom virus has been unleashed, and it’s more deadly than ever. Be on the lookout for an email which will carry an attachment and may appear to be from your own ISP (Internet Service Provider).

Many of these messages have been seen in the past 48 hours. Watch for subject lines like “Account Alert,” “Mail Transaction Failed,” “Security Measures,” “Email Account Suspension,” or other "official looking message" that appears to be from your email service.

For more information on this new Mydoom variant, visit the Symantec/Norton site at: http://www.sarc.com/avcenter/venc/data/w32.mydoom.bu@mm.html

Digital Image Formats: BMP vs JPG (JPEG/JPE)

Lynn Harper asked me to amplify on my recent mention of BMP and JPG image formats.

BMP (bit map picture) was the original digital image format for Windows, and is still widely in use. However, BMPs tend to be space hogs that upload and download very slowly.

JPG (joint photographic expert group) is a file-compression system that discards some of a picture's data while producing an image whose quality is close to that of a BMP. Although there are many other image formats (TIF, PNG, GIF and etc) JPG has become the de facto standard for digital photography and Web pages.

However, the JPG format has a potential weakness that needs to be understood by anyone who does photo-editing. Each time you go to File>Save, and choose JPG, some of the picture's data is removed and its file size reduced accordingly. Editing the resulting image again and doing another Save further reduces data and file size.

JPG Is a "Lossy" Format

Therefore, a picture saved and resaved multiple times can end up looking pretty mushy. Furthermore, JPG is a "lossy" format, which means discarded data cannot be retrieved.

This problem can be circumvented by editing only the original photo and giving each new save a different file name. Many of us, however, do some editing, save the work, and then decide to edit the editing, along with doing another save.

BMP Is Not Lossy

I avoid this problem by saving all my work-in-progress in the BMP format, which never loses any data. Yes, BMPs are large; but in today's world of huge hard drives and speedy processors this is seldom a problem. However, before sending a picture via e-mail or uploading it to a Web site, I do File>Save As and choose JPG.

In most File>Save situations, the JPG compression ratio is pre-set to discard about 20% of an image's data. High-end programs, such as Adobe PhotoShop, let you choose your own compression ratio.

Understanding DPI (Dots per Inch)

Another thing you can choose is a picture's DPI. Generally speaking, the higher the DPI, the better the picture will look, with 300 being an acceptable minimum for most personal snapshots. However, a picture's "print-out DPI" should not be confused with its "screen-resolution DPI," since most monitors can't display more than about 100 DPI anyway.

Since most of my photos go on Web pages or are sent as e-mail attachments, saving them at more than 100 DPI just increases their size without improving their appearance. When I know an e-mail recipient intends to print an attached photo, however, I first save it at a higher DPI.

GIFs Used Mainly for Web Drawings & Animations

Another picture format that is used extensively on the Internet is GIF (graphic image file). However, GIFs are capable of displaying only 256 colors. Nonetheless, they have two distinct advantages; they can have transparent areas and/or they can be created as animations. Most of the animated cartoons seen on Web and e-mail pages are GIFs. Special software is needed for editing animations, however, and trying to without such tools can kill a graphic's movements.

May 23

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Which Files Can Be Safely Deleted?

A number of readers who downloaded EasyClean, a free program I recently mentioned, called to ask which "duplicate files" could be safely deleted. Well, generally speaking, "program" or "system" files should be left alone, while what you do with "personal" files is your choice. So how does one know the difference?

Personal files include those you create, such as word processing documents, along with your digital photos and any music or video files you may have downloaded. It's not uncommon nowadays to have multiple copies of your favorite photo or song stored in different places on your hard drive. After making backups on other media, such as a CD or floppy, you can delete the spares.

Most "program" or "system" files tend to be unique and unlikely to show up on a "duplicate" list. When duplicates are listed, however, they should NOT be deleted, since some programs have copies of the same file in different locations.

It's also helpful to be familiar with certain "program" filename types, such as those ending in .DLL (dynamic link library). Others have extensions such as .SYS (system), .COM (command), or .EXE (executable) appended to their names.

Having File Name Extensions Showing Is Essential

If you don't see these "dot+3-letter" extensions on your filenames, WinXP users can double-click any folder and go to Tools > Folder Options > View and uncheck "Hide Extensions for Known File Types." Pre-XP users will find this choice under View > Options > View.

If you have files with extensions you are unsure of, a comprehensively described list can be found here.

If you delete a file you later discover should not have been, it can be retrieved from the Recycle Bin (if you have not already emptied it) by double-clicking the Bin, right-clicking the file and choosing Restore. If you suspect you have deleted something in error - but are not sure what - you can restore everything in the Bin by going to Edit > Select All, followed by clicking File > Restore.

Difference Between "Deleting" and "Uninstalling"

Speaking of "deleting," unwanted "programs" cannot be deleted - they must be "uninstalled." Many come with an "uninstall.exe." file, which can be found by going to Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders, and typing in the program's name. If the target program has such a file, it will appear and can be double-clicked to begin the uninstallation process. Otherwise, go to Control Panel > Add & Remove Programs, click the target program's name and choose "Remove" or "Change/Remove."

Programs (aka Applications) are made up of many files, which might be spread all over one's hard drive. Deleting any of these files may disable the program, but will not cause it to be completely uninstalled. If you have tried to delete, say, Incredimail, and subsequently find an "Incredimail error message" each time your PC starts, simply reinstall the program and then uninstall it as explained above.

Adware and spyware programs, not surprisingly, make themselves difficult to find and uninstall. However, help can usually be found by typing something like "UNINSTALL HOTBAR" into a search engine, whereupon discussion boards regarding the problem can be found - often with detailed removal instructions.

May 22

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What Does "File Tagging" Mean?

Bob Dickey wrote to say a recent Associated Press article described "tagging" as a new, improved way of keeping track of one's personal files. However, Bob continued, he couldn't make sense of the explanation.

Well, my research found that "tagging" means storing one's personal files in a "database" which can later be searched by typing key words into a "Find" box. I also found there are companies ready to sell you this type of service or program.

With such a program, "tagged" vacation snapshots named, say, "Mom at Washington Monument" or "Family at Lincoln Memorial" could later be found by typing "monument" (or any other word in the titles) into a Search box.

However, Windows comes some with comprehensive Search tools of its own. Also, free programs, such as Google Desktop Search, make this even easier to do. Let's take a look.

Change Those Cryptic File Names

In order for photos or media files to be easily found, they must have meaningful names. Digital camera pictures usually have not-so-helpful names such as "IMG-1000.JPG." Downloadable songs sometimes have equally cryptic filenames.

These files can be easily renamed by right-clicking their labels and choosing "Rename."

You can also open a photo with a bitmap-editor (such as Windows Paint) and go to File > Save As, whereupon you can give the picture a name of your choice. Using this method creates a copy of the photo with its new name, while retaining the master with its original name. Copies of songs opened via Windows Media Player can be likewise renamed.

As for personal files subsequently being "easy to find," going to Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders, offers some pretty powerful options. If you have, say, photos of your Aunt Martha, some MSWord documents about Aunt Martha, and a Web site article about Martha Stewart, typing MARTHA into the Search box should find all Martha-bearing filenames.

You can also use "Word or Phrase in the File" box to find items that might not have "Martha" in the title, but which may have the name in the body of the text. Also, be sure the "Look In" field is set to "Local Hard Drive C," rather than to an individual folder. If you do want to look in a particular folder, right-click it, choose "Search," and type in the target text.

In addition to meaningfully-named "files," personal "folders" with distinctive names also make things easier. For instance, you can right-click your Desktop and choose New > Folder, after which you could name it, say, "Vacation Pictures." Open the folder with a double-click and go to File > New > Folder, followed by naming the newest folder, say, "Washington DC." Additional folders can be created and named accordingly, whereupon image files can be dragged into them.

Later on, searching for "White House" would access the corresponding folder, where all the pertinent images could be found.

Saving Pictures as JPGs and BMPs

One caution about using File > Save As on JPG images: Each subsequent "save" of a JPG diminishes its quality by about 20%, meaning one saved a dozen times might look pretty mushy. Saving all but the last one as a BMP can circumvent this problem.

May 16

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Is Your PC Slowing Down?

One of the complaints I hear most often is that a computer has become unbearably slow. Well, there are a number of things that can cause this. Among the main culprits are programs that run in the background whenever you turn on your PC. Go to Start>Run, type msconfig, click OK, and then choose the Startup tab.

Finally, deselect all the unnecessary programs and click OK. More information can be found on my site.

Another culprit is hard disk "fragmenting." When new files are added to a disk (as a result of being downloaded, installed from a CD, or being user-created) they normally line up sequentially, in an orderly manner. However, when files are deleted or moved vacant spaces begin to appear on the hard drive. Over time, this kind of fragmentation impairs a computer's ability to access files.

Disk Fragmentation

Windows comes with a built-in utility called Defrag, which can be found by double-clicking My Computer, right-clicking the C Drive, and choosing Properties>Tools. ScanDdisk for Win98 or ChkDsk for WinXP can also be found under Tools. These utilities should be run at least monthly.

EasyClean

Other things that can slow down a PC are conflicts in the Registry, which is something I seldom mention since it is an area best left to technicians. Nonetheless, a free program called EasyClean can get rid of Registry conflicts, along with performing a variety of other useful maintenance tasks.

Jim Franke, of Advantech Technologies, sent me a link to the program's creator, www.ToniArts.com. You can download EasyCleaner from here: EClea2_0.zip.

One of EasyClean's most useful features is being able to display all duplicate files on your computer in a way that lets you quickly delete those which aren't needed. I was frankly amazed at how many surplus files I have.

Jim also sent a link to Belarc Advisor, a free program that analyzes and lists all hardware and software installed on your computer in meticulous detail. It even lists serial numbers and activation codes, along with Microsoft's installed "hot fixes."

Belarc Advisor can be found here: www.Belarc.com.

More Useful Free Stuff

Spyware and adware are becoming more prevalent every day and have become a major source of computer slow-downs. Free anti-spyware programs such as Ad-Aware and Spybot S&D can also be found on my site, along with free scanning and removal of viruses by TrendMicro and Panda Software.

Other free utilities are StripMail (for realigning malformatted text) along with Irfanview (my favorite program for viewing, cropping, resizing, and color-adjusting images).

Also available are Yellow Stickies, along with Font Explorer (for seeing in advance how fonts appear in different sizes) and Directory Printer (for printing a list of files inside a folder).

Yes, it's best to be very suspicious of anything available online that claims to be "free." However, those I recommend have had their integrity established over a number of years.

May 15

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Spreadsheets & Databases

A good deal of what I know about computers has come from readers of this column. As a recent example, I answered Ted Lohry's question regarding how to configure the MSWorks spreadsheet to balance a checkbook.

Shortly thereafter, Ted called to tell me he had found an easier way, using the MSWorks Database utility. Before explaining this, however, let's look at the differences between a "spreadsheet" and "database."

Both are made up of grids whose "cells" are referenced by their column and row names. In a spreadsheet Columns are normally identified as A, B, and C, while Rows are named 1, 2, 3, etc.

A database's columns are called "Fields" and each has a specific name (such as "City" or "State"). Rows are referred to "Records," which are normally numbered 1, 2, and 3, as in a spreadsheet.

Creating a Formula in a Database

Ted created a database whose Fields are named Date, Description, Deposit, Withdrwl, and Balance. He then clicked on the cell below Balance and typed in this formula: =Deposit-Withdrwl+Balance. When he presses Enter, the sum of any values found in Record #1 (under Deposit and Withdrwl) are added to the current Balance.

If Ted's first transaction is, say, a Deposit of 500.00 (with nothing under Withdrwl) the result of 500.00 would automatically appear in the Balance field. Subsequent deposits and withdrawals would generate an updated balance each time Enter is pressed. This is easier than having to "drag" the Balance formula forward each time, as we did with a spreadsheet.

Database Filters

Among other handy things the MSWorks Database program can do, is generate a mailing list based on very specific criteria. A business, for instance, might have a customer database with information such as, say, Gender, Age, Number of Children, and Hobbies, along with the usual Name, Address, and Phone fields.

Such a database could generate a mailing list aimed at, say, mothers between the ages of 18 and 35, who play tennis and who live in a specific area code.

This is done by clicking on Tools > Filters, whereupon you choose a field and apply attributes such as: "Is equal to," "Is not equal to," "Is greater than," "Is less than," "Contains," "Does not contain," etc.

By the way, Excel can be made to perform as a database (even though it is technically a spreadsheet program) by typing "Field" headings into the top row, clicking on each heading, and going to Data > Filter > AutoFilter, whereupon a down-arrow will invite you to choose the applicable filter for that column/field.

Using a Database's "Form" View

Getting back to the MSWorks Database program, typing in new records can be made easier by clicking on View > Form. The "Form" view causes the Fields to be laid out sort of like Rolodex cards, which tend to be easier to navigate and edit than are the cells of a grid.

The layout of the Form can be fine-tuned by going to View>Form Design, whereupon entries can be, say, limited to a certain number of characters.

May 9

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Balancing Your Checkbook with a Spreadsheet

Ted Lohry wrote to ask how to configure his MSWorks Spreadsheet program to display a current bank balance, once he had created columns for Date, Description, Deposit, Withdrawal, and Balance.

This can be done by typing those headings into cells A1 through E1 and typing a beginning deposit into C2. Next click E2 and type this formula: =C2-D2.

This means your first Balance will be a result of adding any amount in C2 (Deposit) and subtracting any amount found in D2 (Withdrawal). If you enter, say, 500.00 in C2, 500.00 will show up in E2 (Balance) when you type in the formula and press ENTER.

Let's say the following day you type 100.00 into D3 (remember, D is the Withdrawal column) you would expect your balance in E3 to be 400.00. You make this happen by typing the following formula in E3 and pressing ENTER: =C3-D3+E2.

This says to make the following things happen in E3: add any amount found in C3 (remember, C is the Deposit column), subtract any amount found in D3 (Withdrawal), and add the result to the previous Balance (500.00 in E2).

Right; adding -100.00 (negative 100.00) to 500.00 displays 400.00 as the new Balance.

Do We Need to Type in a Formula Each Time?

Does this mean we have to type in a formula for each new transaction? Nope. From now on it's easy.

Try typing random amounts into your Deposit and Withdrawal cells, and then do the following after each entry: Click the cell containing the previous current Balance. Grab the little black square in the lower right corner of that cell and pull it downward. Your adjusted balance will appear in the cell below.

The little black square seen on any clicked cell means "Copy and Paste the contents of this cell into whichever adjacent cell the black square is dragged toward." In fact, if you type your name into any cell and drag its little square in any direction, your name will be appear in all the target cells.

Why Doesn't The Amount in a Cell Get Copied into the Target Cell?

Shouldn't 400.00 (the contents of E3) still be 400.00 when "the cell's contents" are copied and pasted into the cell below? Not in this case - and here's why:

"Formula" Amount Vs a "Typed-In" Amount

The actual "content" of E3 is a "formula," which produced 400.00. Therefore, it's the "formula" which is copied and pasted - and the components of a formula are adjusted incrementally to match the intended purpose of the copied formula (ie: updating the balance with each transaction).

Look at the "Editing Field," Where Formulas Can Be Entered and/or Changed

A cell's formula will always be displayed in the "Editing Field" above the spreadsheet, while the amount it generates will be shown in the actual cell. If the cell contains a "typed in" number (rather than one created by a formula) the same number will appear in the editing field.

You will also discover that "100.00" typed into a cell will become "100" when you press Enter. Your "number" columns need to be formatted by highlighting them and going to Format>Number>Number and choosing "two decimal place" styling. (Excel users will find these options under Format>Cells>Number>Number.) Here you will also find formatting options for your Date column.

Programs like Quicken and MSMoney are basically expanded spreadsheets that are designed to help balance your checkbook, along with doing a number of other bookeeping chores.

May 8

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Why Does Pressing ENTER Make Cursor Move Down Too Many Spaces?

Art Olson wrote to say when he presses "Enter" in MSWord his cursor jumps several spaces before beginning a new line, and that he can find no way to fix the problem.

In most text editing programs, pressing "Enter" ends one paragraph and begins another by making the cursor move down a single line. In MSWord, however, one can change the distance between paragraphs by going to Format > Paragraph > Spacing, where "Before" and "After" attributes can be found.

Here one can choose the amount of blank space that will appear before and after paragraphs. Choosing, say, "After:18" will make the cursor jump 18 "points" before starting another line.

Older versions of MSWorks have similar options, but use "fractions of line height" rather than "points."

Most of us separate paragraphs by simply pressing Enter twice. In certain publishing situations, however, an editor may want no white space between paragraphs, thus making it possible for him/her to create the space by adjusting these "Before" and "After" options.

Art's problem can be solved by simply returning these settings to "Auto" or zero.

The problem of the "Enter" key causing the cursor to move down more than one line can also occur in other situations, such as in text which has been copied from a Web page and pasted into an outgoing email. If you try to edit the text, it's not uncommon for the cursor to jump two lines when "Enter" is pressed. This can be overcome by holding down "Shift" while you press "Enter."

In Outlook Express, choosing Format > Plain Text will eliminate the problem altogether, since it is a function of the underlying HTML coding. However, Plain Text cannot be modified with different font styles and colors.

Using Shift+Enter (aka a "Soft" Return) can also be important if you prefer "justified text" in your writing, i.e.: text that has evenly aligned left and right edges. In some versions of MSWord, pressing Enter (aka a "Hard" Return) can cause text in the last line of a paragraph to spread clear to the right edge, even if it contains only two or three words. A "Soft" Return will keep this from happening.

New Worm to Be on the Watch For

A new Worm called W32.Sober appeared this past week and is spreading rapidly. Beware of emails with Subject Lines like "Re: Your Password" or "Re: Your Email Was Blocked," along with attachments bearing names such as "our_secret.zip" or "mail_info.zip."

Meaning of Filename Extension ".ZIP"

In case you are not familiar with the "zip" filename extension, it is normally appended to a file which has been "compressed" (zipped) for faster uploading and downloading. However, the "zip" extension is often used on files containing viruses, worms, or other malware.

Unless you are expecting an email with a zipped attachment, and are sure about what it contains, delete it immediately.

Since we are being assaulted with so much malware nowadays, it's easy to become victimized before reading about the latest threats in a weekly newspaper column. Therefore, I've begun sending email alerts to anyone who asks for them.

May 2

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Easier Way to Launch Favorite Programs

If you still get into your favorite programs via the hand/eye coordination game of Start>Programs>Whatever, you might want to consider a faster and easier way of doing it. Go ahead and use StartPrograms to find the application's "launch" file; only this time right-click it and choose "Send to Desktop (Create Shortcut)."

A new icon will appear on your Desktop bearing the program's name along with a "shortcut arrow" in its lower left corner. Double-click the icon to launch the program.

If you do this with lots of programs, your Desktop can become cluttered, making it difficult to find the one you want. This can be fixed by putting the icons into a special folder, where they can be listed alphabetically (or in other ways). Right-click your Desktop, choose NewFolder, type in a name, and drag the icons into it.

After opening the folder with a double-click, use the View menu to list the icons by whatever arrangement you find most helpful.

Use You Taskbar's "Quick Launch" Area

If you find that double-clicking the folder, followed by double-clicking an icon, is too time-consuming, you might prefer having the icons in the "Quick Launch" area of your Taskbar. Try dragging an icon onto the left end of your Taskbar near the Start button. If it doesn't stay there, right-click the Taskbar and choose Toolbars > Quick Launch, and try again.

Do the same with your other frequently accessed icons, and you will discover that three or four of them will be displayed near your Start button. The others will be out of view, but can be seen by clicking the "»" symbol, at the right of the icons on display.

The advantages to having your favorite shortcuts here is that they can be launched with a single-click, and that the "Quick Launch" area is always accessible, no matter how many open files may be hiding your Desktop folders.

Although there is no View menu to help rearrange the icons, they can be moved manually to any position you prefer. You will also notice that an icon dragged onto your Taskbar is "copied" there, leaving the original in place, which can then be deleted without affecting the Quick Launch icons.

Because I normally have many odd tasks on my Desktop at once (editing a photo, calculating a spreadsheet, writing this column, etc.). I find it helpful to see my Desktop displayed as a "regular yellow folder" with all its icons displayed accordingly. Believe it or not, your "Desktop" really is a folder, and can be displayed as such by doing the following:

Go to Start > Search > Files & Folders and type desktop. Be sure that System, Hidden, and Sub-folders are checked under "More Advanced Options." If you find more than one "Desktop" folder double-click each to see which holds your Desktop icons.

Right-click it and choose "Send to Desktop." It may seem odd to have a Desktop Shortcut on your Desktop, but the folder's contents can be displayed like those of other folders, including WinXP's "Thumbnail" views of your image files.

May 1

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Questions Often Asked by Computer Newbies

Despite the fact computers have been around for over 25 years, I still get lots of questions such as "What's the difference between a 'hard' and a 'floppy' disk?" and "Why is there no 'B-Drive?" Well, here's a neophyte's overview:

What Are "Hard" and "Floppy" Disks?

Most early desktop computers had their operating systems on a paper-clad 5-1/4-inch disk made of thin plastic, which was inserted into an "A-drive" to get the machine up and running. When a second drive was added, it became the "B-drive" and double-disk PCs were the norm for several years, during which time 3-1/2-inch floppies with stiff plastic cases replaced the older paper-clad disks.

Eventually, a high-capacity disk made of thicker plastic was invented that would be built permanently into a computer. Not surprisingly, this unit became known as the "C-drive" or the "hard drive" or simply the "hard disk."

Well, the C-drive was able to do most things previously done with two floppies, so one of them was eliminated, leaving us with "A" and "C." Eventually other types of drives where added, such as Zip, CD, and DVD; and have since been designated with letters from "D" forward, with no particular uniformity of nomenclature. Beyond that, the floppy disk is fast becoming obsolete, meaning most new PCs' drive designations begin with "C."

Why Do I Get "Low Memory" Messages?

Another frequent question is "Why do I get messages saying I am low on memory, when I have a huge hard drive with lots of unused space?"

Well, "memory" refers to RAM (random access memory) which is the amount of "electronic work space" you have, wherein your computer does all its chores. Most new computers need 512 megabytes of RAM in order to perform efficiently, and I recently bought one with 1024MB. Yes, you can get by on 286MG; but that's where you're likely to see "low memory" messages.

Just be aware that the amount of RAM you have and the amount of disk storage space you have are two different things.

RAM has become relatively inexpensive, and can be added to many computers currently in use. Doing so will improve a PC's performance noticeably. Although the chips can be user-installed, I prefer to pay a technician a few bucks to do mine.

Should I Upgrade or by Buy a New PC?

However, if you're weighing the cost of other upgrades, such as a larger hard drive or a CD-burner, you might be better off putting the money into a new computer.

One thing to consider about a new PC is that it will have several USB-2 ports, whereas your older model may have one or two USB-1.1 ports. Why does this matter? Well, early computers used a variety of connection protocols that required several different kinds of cables. The Universal Serial Bus became a means of using the same type of cable on many different peripherals.

Apr 25

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Quick Fix for a CD Drawer that Would Not Open

My CD player/burner's drawer refused to open recently, so I poked a straightened paper clip into the tiny hole alongside it to release the mechanism. After the drawer opened I took a can of compressed air and aimed it into the open unit, which blew out a goodly collection of dust and lint. It works fine now.

I've also used canned air to clean floppy disk drives that had begun to malfunction. In fact, this is a great way to clean the innards of your PC tower (if opening the case does not void your warranty). Your keyboard can usually be cleaned by simply turning it over and giving it a good shake; however, the air spray will do an even better job.

Is Your PC Looking for a Printer which Is No Longer in Use?

If a printer doesn't work, and you've checked all the cables and connections, try this: instead of clicking the printer icon on your toolbar, click on File>Print. This will bring up a dialog box that should display then name of your printer near the top. Click the down-arrow alongside the name to see if other printers are also listed. You may find your current printer's name on the list, and discover the one shown by default is a printer that may have once been used, but which is no longer connected.

If so, click Start > Settings > Control Panel (or My Computer > Control Panel) and click Printers/Faxes. Right-click any not currently in use and choose Delete.

Another Hardware Fix that Works in Many Instances

Sometimes a peripheral which stops working, such as a printer or scanner, can be reactivated by pressing your Windows 'flag' key and Pause/Break key simultaneously, which will display System Properties. Click Hardware > Device Manager and look for your peripheral on the list that appears. Click the plus sign (+) to its left and look for a yellow exclamation mark, which would indicate a malfunction.

Right-click the device and choose Uninstall.

Finally, restart your computer. If all goes well, you'll see a message saying that new hardware has been found and that Windows is trying to install it. This may solve your problem.

If not, find the CD that came with the device and reinstall its 'drivers' (the software that lets your PC and peripheral communicate with each other). If you can't find the CD, most manufacturers have downloadable drivers on their Web sites.

Older Hardware May Be Cheaper to Replace than to Repair

If you have an older peripheral that still malfunctions after all the above, give some thought to buying a new one, which is usually cheaper than paying someone to fix an old one nowadays. Furthermore, a new printer will usually be faster and do sharper printing than your older one.

Speaking of things not working, error messages you get while on the Web, or while using your e-mail program, can often be fixed by getting into Internet Explorer and clicking Tools > Internet Options > Advanced > Restore Defaults. Clicking on Privacy and setting the slide-bar at Medium may also help.

Netscape and Mozilla users can find similar options by clicking Edit > Preferences > Privacy & Security.

Finally, for keyboard hang-ups, pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL will let you reboot and refresh your system.

Apr 24

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Could Hardly Wait to Install my First Mouse

When I bought my first mouse in 1989 (for $80) I was surprised to discover I had nothing on my computer that worked with a mouse. Apple products had been mouse-activated for several years; but mouse-compatible programs for the PC were just starting to appear.

Now, of course, it's hard to imagine how we'd get along without one. Here are some tips to make your mousing even more productive:

If you need to select a single word in a text file, just double-click it. To select a line of text, place your pointer to the left of the line and do a left-click. To select multiple lines, point to the left of the first line and pull the mouse down the page while depressing its left button.

To select (highlight) an entire open document, right-click a blank area and choose Select All.

To move a highlighted word or phrase to another part of a page, point into the selection. When the cursor becomes a left-leaning arrow, use your left button to drag the selection to another location.

If you do a lot of cutting and/or copying of text, highlight a phrase and right-click it. Next choose Cut or Copy from the popup menu. If the text is to then be pasted somewhere else - even into another document - right-click the insertion point and choose Paste.

Using a Window's Upper Right Corner's 3 Buttons

Although the three buttons in the upper right corner of an open file are basic Computers 101, I find many are confused about their options. Well, the X closes a file, while the "dash" minimizes a file, meaning it is still open but out of view. However, clicking the file's button on your Taskbar will restore its previous display.

When the middle button displays two overlapping squares, it means the file's window is filling your screen's entire area and cannot be moved or resized. Clicking the squares changes them to a single square while making the file's window smaller, whereupon it can be resized by grabbing its edges or corners and/or can be moved by grabbing its top title bar. Click the square to make the window again fill your screen.

If you have multiple files open and want to close one that may be hidden behind others, right-click its Taskbar button, and choose Close.

These rules are just the tip of the mouse-iceberg, and, like most rules, do have their exceptions; but you'll find them for yourself.

Sometimes It's Easier to Use the Keyboard

Occasionally, keyboard commands work better than their mouse equivalents. If you need to select, say, many long paragraphs you may find stopping the cursor where you want it to nearly impossible.

Instead, click the beginning of the target area and press your Shift key. While pressing Shift, use your Page Down key and keyboard Arrows to select exactly the area you want.

In a multiple-choice box displaying, say, Back, Next, and Cancel, whichever option has the dark outline can be activated by pressing Enter.

Apr 18

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The Internet Mine Field

As we continue to hear more about threats to our security on the Internet, the various tools with which to defend ourselves can be equally confounding. One of the most important tools, however, is common sense - avoid dangerous situations in the first place.

Getting a Virus

The way we are most likely to get a virus is by opening an infected email attachment. Do not open any attachments you are not expecting, no matter how "legitimate" the subject line of the email may appear to be.

Being Infected with Adware & Spyware

The most likely sources of spyware or adware are the links that advertise things like "Free Screensavers" or "Free Email Smileys (Emoticons)" or which shout "Your PC May Be Infected! Click for Free Analysis & Repair!" This type of "service" often places its own spyware on your PC, while deleting spyware of competitors.

Most ads for "Freebies" are likewise booby-trapped to place adware or spyware on your PC. If the "Free Whatever" asks for your email address, it's a safe bet you will also end up on a spam list.

Can You Trust Anything That's Free?

Yes, there are many legitimate freebies available - I have several on this site - but you won't find them in pop-up ads while surfing the net. These tools and services have been recommended by trustworthy friends and/or found in reliable industry newsletters and have been personally tested by yours truly.

Identity Theft

The most common way of having your identity stolen is by responding to emails claiming to be from your bank or some other entity which says you must "update your personal information to avoid having your account closed." Some even warn that your personal information must be updated to keep it safe from identity theft!

If you respond, it's like inviting a burglar to install a security system in your house.

Spam

Beyond these dangers, there is the never-ending parade of annoying spam that continues to plague us, despite the anti-spam law passed by congress last year. Let's look at some ways of dealing with such junk mail.

Outlook and Outlook Express users have "Message Rules" that can presumably block mail from undesirable addresses - but professional spammers never use the same address twice. Once you are on a spammer's list, there is literally no way to get off of it. The only real defense is create a new email address and be very picky about whom you show it to.

Nonetheless, one spammer found an Outlook Express address of mine (which I can't abandon for business reasons) and has been sending me 10 to 12 spurious emails a day. So I created a "white list" (safe list) of names from whom I expect messages, and have these messages sent to a folder named "Friends." Consequently, mail I am expecting goes into this folder, while the spammer's junk goes to my regular Inbox, which I periodically empty en masse.

If mail comes in from a friend whom I forgot to put on the safe list, it goes to the Inbox, where it can be easily identified and moved to my "Friends" folder by dragging and dropping it.

Here's how to set this up; open Outlook Express, right-click Inbox, and choose New Folder. Name the folder something like, say, "Buddies" and click OK.

Next click on Tools > Message Rules > Mail > New.

For Condition #1 choose "Where the From line contains people," and choose "Move it to the Specified Folder" for Condition #2, followed by clicking "Buddies" as the Specified Folder.

Finally, click the "Contains People" link and follow the prompts to list all your buddies, family members, or business acquaintances from whom you expect mail at this address.

No, this won't stop the spam, but will make it easier to delete in one fell swoop.

There are all kinds of "Anti-Spam" programs for sale online; but, personally, but I have never found the need to buy one.

I Use Norton Anti-Virus, but...

Regarding buying software, I have always liked Norton's Anti-Virus, but avoid its "Internet Security" package because there are tools listed on my Web site that do the same thing for free, and which are much less complicated to use.

My experience with various Norton "Tools" packages has been that they work well for technicians, but often create more problems than they solve for the average home PC user. However, salespeople get a bigger commission when they sell you the more expensive "Tools" package, and will be quick to suggest that buying just the anti-virus program is not a good idea.

Apr 17

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Evolution of Artwork Preparation for Printing

As a means of helping readers discover more productive ways of using their PCs, I'd like to tell you about some of the ways I use mine. Over the years of owning a small business, I frequently needed advertising flyers printed. I would prepare the artwork by hand, using a typewriter where small text was required. At a local printshop, the art and typing would be photographically copied to create a printing plate.

If the flyer was to be in multiple colors, I had to prepare a unique page for each color, since each had to be printed separately. If typewritten or hand-lettered text would not be suitable, I'd have the printshop prepare text for me using a "photo compositor" or "typesetting" machine, which would then need to be cut and pasted into my artwork.

Camea-Ready Artwork at Your Finger Tips

The evolution of the computer has made it possible for one to do all these things at his or her own desk, so that the artwork one carries to the printshop is "camera-ready," having been printed with a an inkjet or laser printer on good quality paper.

But why carry printed sheets to the shop? Nowadays they all have computers compatible with yours, so all you need do is take them a disk bearing the artwork files. Better yet, just email them the pertinent files, meaning you never have to leave your desk.

What - you say you need to see a proof to make sure everything will come out right? Fine, send or bring them the files and have them make a proof while you wait. However, if it's a shop with whom you've done business over a period of time, these things can usually be handled via phone, fax, IMs, and/or email with minimum risk.

Print Your Own, or Have It Done Outside?

If only a few flyers are needed, it may be more practical to print them yourself - but the cost of ink cartridges can make it more economical to have a big job outsourced to a printshop or copy center.

Using Screen Shots

Speaking of preparing artwork, the dozens of fonts available nowadays makes preparing text fairly easy. But what about pictures? There are so many different graphics-editing programs nowadays that offering tips here is difficult because of their many inconsistencies. Nonetheless, some tips are easier to apply than others - such as making "screen shots."

Let's say you've found a graphic online that refuses to be copied when you right-click it and choose "Save Picture As." Well, you can press your PrtScr (Print Screen) key, which will copy everything on your screen to Windows' "invisible clipboard." Next launch Windows "Paint" by going to Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint. Finally, click Edit>Paste to display your screen shot and make it editable with Paint's various tools.

If you have multiple Web pages or other items displayed on your screen, holding down ALT while pressing PrtScr will cause only the forward-most screen item to be copied to the clipboard. The screen shot can then be pasted into any image-editing or word-processing page.

PS: Windows "Paint" is mentioned here only because all Windows users have this program. Use any other image-editor you prefer. I use Irfanview for most screen shot work.

Apr 11

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Saving an Animated Graphic to Use as a Desktop Background

A reader asked how A reader told me he'd received an email displaying an image of a flowing waterfall and asked if he could use it as a desktop background.

Yes, just about any graphic can be used for a background; but in this case, the image would first have to be copied from the email onto one's hard drive by right-clicking it and choosing Save Picture As. You can accept the default name and location for the image or type in a new name and/or browse to a different folder.

Next, right-click an open area on your Desktop, choose Properties>Desktop. Here you will find an assortment of Backgrounds ready to use. To add your favorite picture to the list, click "Browse" and navigate to the target image. Double-click the graphic to place it on your Desktop, and then click the "Position" down-arrow to have it Tiled, Centered, or Stretched.

Animated GIFs

Animated images are ".GIF" files, which are usually drawings of some kind; but they should not be confused with "Flash" or "Java" animations often seen on Web pages. However, all kinds of free animated GIFs can be found on the Internet, by typing something like "animated gif" into any search engine. You can also narrow down a search by typing something more specific, such as "animated puppy gif."

If you find one you like, right-click it and use "Save Picture As," as explained above. Easier yet, just drag the image onto your Desktop or into a preferred folder. Then it can be inserted into an outgoing email, if desired.

While in the Desktop Properties area, find other background options under Themes and Appearance, along with various Screen Saver choices. This is also where you find Screen Resolution and Color options. Most new computers and monitors come with Color set at 32-bit, along with Screen Resolution at 800x600 or 1024x768. Slide the horizontal lever to the left for lower resolution (which displays larger text and objects) or to the right for higher resolution, which displays more, but smaller, text and objects on your screen.

Make a Screen Saver from Your Favorite Pictures

Getting back to pictures, WinXP users can have a slideshow of their favorites, by clicking Screen Saver and choosing "My Pictures Slideshow." Put your favorites into your "My Pictures" folder, which is inside your "My Documents" folder. Drag images you don't want displayed into another folder.

What other folder? Well, inside your "My Pictures" folder you can go to File>New>Folder, or you can right-click your Desktop and choose New>Folder, followed by typing in a name.

Renaming a File or Folder

If you want to change the name of a folder or of a file, right-click its icon and choose Rename, whereupon the existing name will become editable.

Reshaping Open Folders or File Windows on Your Desktop

As for dragging files from one folder to another, both folders need to be visible. If a folder is too big, grab any edge or corner to reshape it. Then move it by grabbing its upper edge blue bar. If the folder completely fills the screen, make it moveable by clicking the overlapping squares icon in its upper right corner.

Apr 10

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Saving Files Directly to Floppy Disks

A reader asked how to save his documents directly onto 3-1/2" disks, because his hard drive is running out of space. Since new computers come with huge hard drives nowadays, this is a question I rarely hear anymore; but here's how it's done:

Within any program, the normal procedure is to click on File>Save As, give the file a name, and choose a storage folder, with "My Documents" being the usual default. However, you can click the down-arrow alongside the "Save In" field and choose 3-1/2" Floppy (A:). Subsequent "Saves" will then go to the floppy disk automatically.

Floppy Disks Not 100% Stable

Historically, the downside of bypassing one's hard drive (C:) and putting files only on 3-1/2" disks is that floppies can become corrupted and inaccessible. Important files should always be stored in at least two separate places. If the backup disc is a CD, then the above "Save As" procedure is unlikely to work. The file would first be saved on your hard drive, and then copied to a CD (or DVD) with your "burning" software.

Flash Memory Drives (aka Thumb Drives)

In recent years, flash drives have become a viable alternative to floppies and CDs. Just plug one into any USB port and it will be identified under "My Computer" as something like Removable Disk (E:).

External Hard Drives

My favorite means of backing up files has become an external 120 GB hard drive that also plugs into a USB port. One advantage of using a USB-connected drive is that it can be likewise connected to another computer for transferring data quickly and easily to the other PC. My Maxtor unit also came with software for making a "mirror-image" of my PC's entire hard disk, which can be used in case of a major crash which could require a total replacement of the drive.

Nowadays there is yet another option for backing up files; store them online.

Google has expanded its one gigabyte of free email storage to two gigs, and says it may offer even more space in the future. If you're writing a book, for instance, simply email yourself a copy of each update via Gmail - either as plain text within the email itself, or as a word-processing attachment. The data will remain available on Google's servers until you decide to delete it.

Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and others are also offering lots of free storage space nowadays; so your backup options have really become quite remarkable.

Unfortunately, like most everything else on the Internet, good tools and services can be put to nefarious uses. I just received a press release from a company that sells "outgoing email monitoring" software to businesses that complain that employees are stealing intellectual property by simply emailing it to themselves.

Incremental File Names

Getting back to creating documents, I can't overemphasize the importance of using incrementally-named backup files as you go (such as MyStory1.doc, MyStory2.doc, etc.). After writing a few pages, click File>Save As, and change the name accordingly. This can be major data recovery insurance in many ways.

Apr 4

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Items Out of Order in Alphabetized Lists

Have you ever sorted (alphabetized) a list of names, only to have, say, "Wagner" come to the top while all the other names are in proper order? What usually causes this is an unnoticed blank space preceding the errant name.

In computer-sorted lists a blank space always comes first, followed by punctuation symbols, and then by numbers, with alpha characters coming in last. This is worth knowing in case you do want to place a out-of-order item at the top of a sorted list. In a list of cities you could put, say, Oceanside first by typing an underscore at the beginning of the name.

Should you need two certain items at the head of a list, you can precede Item 1 with two underscores, followed by Item 2 with a single underscore.

Why an underscore? Well, in most programs it comes up first among punctuation symbols. I use underscores frequently when organizing files and folders.

Sorting Files & Folders

If you have files and folders inside another folder, Windows always lists the folders first (in alphabetical order) followed by the files, which may or may not be listed alphabetically. The reason for this is that you can choose to have files organized in other ways.

Inside any folder, click on View > Arrange Icons By. Then choose Name, Size, Type, or Date Modified.

If you want all these headings listed in separate columns, go to View and choose Details. This will display the files in columns titled Name, Size, Type, and Date Modified, while listing them alphabetically under Name.

If you want to see the files listed chronologically by their "Modified" dates, click Date Modified, which will organize them from the most recent modification to the oldest. Clicking Date Modified again will show them in reverse order. Clicking Name will return the files to A-Z order; clicking Name again will show them from Z to A.

If you need other options, such as Date Created, click on View > Choose Details.

Why Do Deleted Items Still Show in a List?

Another question I often hear is "Why does a file I've deleted continue to show up when I click on Start > Recent Documents?"

This happens because the filenames shown are displayed on a FIFO (first in, first out) basis. In other words, when a file is accessed or created its name goes to the top of the list, while the filename at the bottom gets bumped off. The fact that a file has been deleted does not remove its name from the list or from continuing in this ritural.

Unexpect Result of "Pasting"

Another mystery is why something which has been "copied" doesn't always "paste" the way it's expected to. For instance, if you COPY a list of names in an MSWord document and want to PASTE the names into an Excel file, a small rectangle may appear labeled "MSWord Picture." This means the names will be inserted as "an object" that cannot be edited.

This can be circumvented by choosing Edit>PASTE SPECIAL, which will offer the choice of pasting in the list as "Unformatted Text" or as "Formatted HTML Text."

Apr 3

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Computer Terminology Sometimes Confusing

My newspaper columns have been around for over 10 years, and have always displayed my phone number. Why? Well, as computer technology continues to move relentlessly forward, its terminology continues to expand faster than we can keep up with it. Thus, questions sent via email are often difficult to answer because of the writer's not being sure of which words to use.

Furthermore, Microsoft's insistence on giving different products similar names often adds to the confusion. Some examples are: Outlook and Outlook Express, Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer, as well as MSWord and MSWorks. Let's start with Internet Explorer, which is a "browser" designed to let us view sites that exist on the WWW (World-Wide Web) or "Internet." Windows Explorer is a program designed to help us manage the files and folders on our own computers.

Outlook Express is an email program that comes with Internet Explorer, which, in turn, comes with all versions of Windows. Outlook is a time-management and calendar program, that also has an email function, and which is generally used by businesses rather than by home PC users - and which must be purchased.

MSWord is the word-processing program that has always come with MSOffice, a "suite" of programs that includes Excel and PowerPoint, and which may include other programs such as Access and/or Outlook, depending on which version of MSOffice you buy. Most MSOffice programs can also be purchased as stand-alone products.

MSWorks might be called a "slimmed-down version of MSOffice" and has always been considerably less expensive. The component applications of MSWorks have changed over the years, making the overall program somewhat difficult to describe in much detail. But here's an overview:

MSWorks has always contained word processing, spreadsheet, and database capabilities, along with a calendar and a few other little goodies. However, unlike the stand-alone components of MSOffice, these features have always been part of one master program and unavailable as separate items - that is, until recently, when some versions of MSWorks have substituted MSWord for its previously built-in word processor.

Best "Suite" Value for Many Home PC Users

In fact, for the average home user, I think MSWorks 2005 (with MSWord) is a better value than MSOffice in many ways. It already contains the world's most popular word processor, and its spreadsheet utility compares favorably to MSOffice's Excel for the kind of work most of us use a spreadsheet for. I bought it recently for $70.

As for the MSWorks database utility, there is no equivalent program in MSOffice. Yes, the more expensive "Professional" versions of MSOffice contain Access; but Access is a super-heavy-duty database management program that practically requires a college degree in order to use it.

The MSWorks database, on the other hand, is marvelously easy to use for creating name, address, and phone number lists that can be cross-referenced in many different ways (several of which I have described in detail on my Web site).

What? You say you can't find them there? Well, that's just another reason for phoning me, whereupon I cannot only steer you to the pertinent information, I can often give you additional pointers, as well.

Mar 28

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New Internet Threat: "Pharming"

Most PC users are familiar with "phishing" - emails that say some entity such as "your bank" is updating its customer files and needs you to fill in personal information, such as your social security or credit card numbers. A more recent threat is referred to as "pharming" and involves the use of programs called Trojans that can trick you into going to a "spoofed" site. For instance, if you type amazon.com into your browser's URL field, you may be directed to a crook's site that has sneaked the word amazon into his Web address.

Likewise, if it detects the word bank the Trojan may launch a pop-up box requesting your user name and password information, which is then sent to the crooks. Because "pharming" requires little or no initiation from the user (as in phishing) and usually strikes when you assume you are on a legitimate site, it can deceive even experienced users.

I've received press releases from "anti-phishing/pharming" software vendors, and will send them to anyone who asks. However, I believe one's best defense is constant vigilance regarding the sites you visit (or are directed or redirected to) and the things you click on.

Using "Signatures" in Email

If you create emails into which you would like to insert certain specific phrases on an ongoing basis, Outlook Express users can go to Tools > Options and click Signatures > New. Then type your text into the "Edit Signature" box. You can create multiple signatures and click on the appropriate one for a particular email.

If your text is indeed a closing "signature" you want included with all outgoing messages, check the box next to "Add signatures to all outgoing messages."

AOL users will find a "Signatures" button in the lower right corner of an outgoing email, whereupon options similar to the above can be found.

Inserting Long Phrases with One or Two Keystrokes

Speaking of entering entire phrases with one or two mouse clicks, MSWord users have "AutoCorrect" at their disposal. Let's say you need to use the phrase North County Times periodically in your Word documents. Go to Tools > AutoCorrect and type nct into the Replace: field. Then type North County Times into the With: field. Finally, click on the Add and OK buttons.

Henceforth, whenever you type nct, followed by a blank space or a punctuation mark - or by pressing Enter - the full phrase will replace the "code."

Furthermore, this feature is not limited to short phrases. You can type, say, your name, address, and phone number on three separate lines, and then use your initials to print out the entire phrase for you. The phrase can be in plain text or it can be formatted with special fonts and/or special alignment, such as centered on your page.

There is one limitation to choosing a "code" for your phrase, however: it can't be any combination of letters that spell a normal word. If Bob A. Thomas chose his initials for a code, he would then never be able to type, say, "baseball bat" without his special phrase replacing the second word.

Mar 27

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All-in-One Printing/Scanning/Faxing vs Stand-Alone Devices

A question I hear frequently is, "Should I buy an all-in-one device that does printing, scanning, and faxing - or should I buy individual devices?" Well, there was a time when all-in-one devices had a poor reputation for reliability; but I hear that they are now better-built and generally quite dependable.

The pros for such a device are: 1) they take up less desk space, and 2) they give you less cables and different software programs to deal with. They may also cost less than buying individual devices.

The cons are: 1) if one feature malfunctions and the device needs to go in for repair you will be without the other features as well, and 2) the operating commands tend to be more complicated than those of individual devices.

Also, if you hear of, say, a new printer better suited to your needs, you may be reluctant to buy it when you already have one built-in. If the printer you have is a stand-alone unit, however, you may be able to sell it when you buy a new one. Personally, I prefer individual peripherals that meet my specific requirements.

Speaking of which, peripherals have become more sophisticated. Scanners used to just scan an image and ask which graphic format you want it saved in. Now they offer options for attaching the scan to an outgoing email. A couple of AOL users have complained that their units only offer to attach scans to Outlook Express email.

Well, there are dozens of scanners, each with its own set of options, and I have no way of being familiar with all of them. Generally speaking, however, a scanner that offers to work with OE will also have options for AOL email. I would press F1 or click on Help to learn about these choices.

Editing Text You Have Scanned

A scanner question I hear a lot is: "I scanned a newspaper article and see it on my monitor; but how can I edit the text?"

What a Scanner Actually Does

Well, let's examine just what "scanning" really means. Your monitor displays text and images as a collection of tiny dots, while your printer places these items on paper as a collection of even tinier dots. Since your PC outputs everything in "dots" it's only natural that your scanner would convert what it sees into dots as well.

Therefore, a newspaper article is just a "picture of a bunch of dots" to a scanner.

OCR (Optical Character Recognition)

However, programs have been written that can look at these dots and convert them into editable text. Such software is called OCR (optical character recognition) and may have come bundled with your scanner. If not, you can purchase stand-alone OCR programs.

How can you tell if your scanner's software includes OCR? Once again, click on Help. Beyond that, when you are about to scan something, look at your options for something like "OCR" or "Text." Choosing such an option usually asks what word processor you would like the editable text to appear in.

Mar 21

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Using IMs (Instant Messages) to Enrich Your PC Experience

Nowadays all computer owners are familiar with email - but have you tried using IMs (instant messages)? Today's young people tend to use IMs extensively, but I've found their elders often to be unfamiliar with the concept of using computers to hold live two-way conversations.

Subscribers to AOL and Compuserve have instant message tools built into their systems. Windows also comes with an IM system known as Windows Messenger. Beyond these systems, anyone can sign up with a number of different free IM services, with AIM (AOL Instant Message) being the most used. Here's an overview of how they work:

If you have a friend with whom you would like to have real-time conversations, you would both sign up with the same service. A small window called a "Buddy List" will appear on your screen, that shows your friend's "screen name" along with any others you have added to the list. Their names will appear in light gray when they are not currently online with your chosen system. However, when one of them logs on, his or her name will darken, at which time you can initiate a conversation by double-clicking the name.

A little box will then appear, into which you type a message. Click the Send button and your buddy will receive the message in a box into which he or she can type and send a reply. Furthermore, your buddy can be anyplace in the world, i.e.: you can have unlimited free long distance communication with anyone, anywhere.

IMs Can Be Transmitted as Audio, as well as Text

For many years IMs were restricted to typed conversations; but now they have audio capabilities that work using your computer's speaker output and microphone input devices. I've found that using a headset with an attached microphone works best.

So Which IM Service Is Best?

Well, they all work about the same; so the question has more to do with which service your correspondents are using - and the answer to this is usually AOL/AIM. Since AOL has such a large user base; and since Compuserve, Netscape, and AIM users have complete compatibility with AOL instant messaging, AIM is the service used by most non-AOL/CS/Netscape members.

This means if you sign up with AIM (www.aim.com) you have instant compatibility with all AOL/CS/Netscape users. If you choose, say, Yahoo Instant Message, your friends would also need to sign up with Yahoo. However, there is a free service called Trillian (www.ceruleanstudios.com) which offers inter-connectiblity with all IM systems.

You can also have multiple IMs going simultaneously, and can even create a "private chat room" into which you invite any number of buddies.

As with everything else concerning the Internet, however, IMing has its share of potential problems. For one, you can be harassed by someone who sends annoying or threatening messages. In fact, it's possible for predators to type in random names, in hopes of finding a victim. This is why all services come with privacy options that let you decide who can and who can't access your name. Be on guard at all times.

Mar 20

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All PC Users Have Internet Explorer & Outlook Express - But...

Last time I mentioned that all Windows-based computers come with Internet Explorer and Outlook Express, along with the fact that most ISPs expect their subscribers to use IE for accessing the Web and OE for sending and receiving email. However, many choose to use alternative products, which can be freely downloaded. Let's look at some of these options.

OE & AOL Mail Messages Saved to Users' PCs

I like the way Outlook Express lets me create and organize special folders for saving received mail on my computer, along with its easy-to-use "Find" feature for locating stored messages. However, there is no easy way to access my saved mail from a different computer, unless I buy a program like "Go To My PC."

AOL email can also be saved in user-created folders; but there is a "Keep as New" button for messages you would like kept on the AOL server.

"Web-Based" Email Messages Saved Online

Most other email services are "Web-based," meaning messages you have read will remain on providers' servers until you delete them. The historic down-side to Web-based mail was the limited amount of space you could use for free. However, since Google began offering 1,000 MB of user storage, Hotmail, Yahoo, and others have increased their allowable storage space as well.

One of the chief advantages of Web-based email is that your messages can be accessed from any computer, anywhere. Most providers also let you create personal folders on their servers, although they may not be as versatile as the OE or AOL folders on your own computer.

Gmail Saved Online, But Can Also be Copied to OE Inbox

One of the things I like best about Google's Gmail is that I can have the best of both worlds, by having incoming messages copied to my OE inbox.

AOL has recently begun giving its subscribers a means of using OE for email, if desired. Details on using OE with AOL can be found here. Gmail users can get information on doing this at www.gmail.com

Netscape offers a free Web-based email service, along with an optional interface that closely resembles OE, including a "preview pane" that displays all or part of an incoming message whose subject line is clicked.

This Netscape interface also has "filtering" options similar to those included in Outlook and OE, which let users segregate incoming messages, based on words or phrases found in various parts of the email. However, these filters (message rules) are of little value in detecting spam, since spammers have developed an infinite number of tricks to circumvent them.

Reliable Way to Stop Spam

Speaking of spam, many ISPs are now trying very hard to minimize the amount that gets through their systems. Beyond that, there are many anti-spam programs advertised online. However, I still find the best way to stop junk mail is to change my email address periodically, and to be very picky about whom I give the new one to.

Mar 14

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Various Types of Email Programs

A reader called to say he scanned a magazine article he wanted to share with a friend, but when he clicked his scanner's "Send as Email Attachment" button nothing happened. Well, the caller was an AOL email user, and his scanner software wanted to attach the file to an Outlook Express email.

Let's take a closer look.

Brief History of Email

When desktop PCs first appeared in the late 1970s, they were basically glorified calculators that knew nothing of "email" or the "Internet." Within a few years, however, the World Wide Web was created, which allowed computers to contact other computers via telephone lines routed through something called an ISP (Internet Service Provider). This provided the groundwork for electronic mail (email, e-mail, Email, E-mail) which various entrepreneurs began developing in different ways.

25 years later we still have a variety of email systems with varying degrees of compatibility. The good news is that all email programs continue to be free (except for the cost of signing up with an ISP - and Juno even lets you sign up for free with its basic plan).

So Which Service Is Best?

Well, "best" means different things to different users. Outlook Express, which will work with almost any ISP, is an integral part of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer. Thus, all PC users have Outlook Express on their computer - whether they use it or not.

Most ISPs are basically doorways to the Internet, which usually expect subscribers to use Outlook Express for email and to surf the web with Internet Explorer.

AOL, however, is an ISP that provides members with a proprietary browser, dozens of other proprietary features, and an email service vastly different from Outlook Express. Those who have never used any ISP other than AOL often assume everybody else's browser and email system look and work just like theirs. They generally have no idea that their machines came with Outoook Express and Internet Explorer built-in, not to mention the capability of downloading other browsers and/or email systems.

The above also applies to Compuserve, which is a subsidiary of AOL.

Then there are the free "web-based" email services, such as Hotmail, Yahoo, Juno, and Gmail. Netscape (also a subsidiary of AOL) actually has two types of email plans, one of which closely resembles Outlook Express.

So why would anyone sign up with, say, Gmail if he is already using AOL or Outlook Express? Well, there can be many reasons, but I'll just mention a couple. If you are getting lots of spam at your current email address, you can create a new account and just tell certain friends and family about it. In other words, try to keep the address away from spammers who are anxious to add new names to their lists.

Yes, most ISPs let you have more than one email name/address. However, if you are, say, JohnQSmith@xyz.com and would like to continue using the JohnQSmith name, you could see if JohnQSmith@yahoo.com is available. If not, try JohnQSmith@hotmail.com, JohnQSmith@juno.com, JohnQSmith@netscape.net or JohnQSmith@gmail.com (among others).

Getting back to the caller whose scanner was looking for Outlook Express, I'll explain more about these kinds of options next time.

Mar 13

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Doing Your Income Taxes Online

With the mid-April tax deadline not too far off, you might want to consider filling in your own federal and state forms online. We've used www.turbotax.com for years and have found it easy to understand (if there is anything about income taxes that can actually be called understandable) with prices ranging from about $20 to $60 for basic forms.

We used to buy the CD each year, but now prefer to do it online. Turbo Tax leads you through the whole process step-by-step, and saves what you have completed online, in case you have to log off before completing the job. There is no extra charge for doing it all in multiple sessions; and you don't pay until ready to print the forms or to file electronically.

Asking for an Extension

If needed, you can download Form 4868 and ask for a three-month extension, though it must be submitted with a check if you think you will end up owing money. You can even ask for a second extension, if desired.

If your tax situation is such that you still need an accountant, he or she will be very grateful to receive your data as a computer file rather than a shoebox-full of paper receipts and scribbled notes.

If you want to contact the IRS for free tax information, go to www.irs.gov, where you can find a free online tax filing service similar to Turbo Tax. However, I would doubt that the free IRS service is as diligent about explaining deductions and other money-saving options. In any case, be sure to type in "irs.gov." If you type in "irs.com" or "irs.net" you will land on commercial sites with services to sell you.

Speaking of which, I am finding that sites I used to visit for various free goods or services are increasingly using tricks to lure one into purchase situations. I have no problem with merchants wanting to make a profit on their Web sites, but I resent being sucked into sales pitches in which I have no interest. Yesterday I went to www.microsoft.com to download the latest version of Windows Media Player, which has always been included with Windows operating systems. I've done this in the past with no problems, but yesterday found myself being asked if I wanted to pay for songs from Microsoft's music store on a monthly or annual basis.

I immediately exited the site and went to www.download.com, from where I downloaded the program with no problems. However, even download.com sprinkles the path to free downloads with a variety of sales pitches.

Just be careful what you click on.

A trick used by many dubious sites nowadays is to create dummy pages containing words or phrases often used in Web searches. For instance, if you type "free music" into a Web search field, you will be shown links to dozens of sites that have lots of things to sell you, but little or no free music.

However, there is a lot of free music on this site.

Mar 7

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Printed Map Difficult to Read

When I wrote recently that I preferred Google's new Map Service http://maps.google.com over the ones I had previously used, a reader wrote to say she agreed that the screen display was excellent, but that when she printed the map on paper it was splotchy and hard to read. Well, I tried to duplicate her problem, but couldn't. Even after printing several maps in an assortment of zoom settings, I still found the tiniest street name easy to read.

Here Are the Things that Usually Cause Bad Prints:

Misaligned print-heads, ink cartridges that are near empty or which may have dried up due to non-usage, and/or using porous paper not meant for inkjet printing. Most inkjet printers come with software that helps you realign print-heads, with instructions in the owner's manual.

Another factor can be using discount off-brand inks. However, if anyone can tell me of a low-priced brand that prints well, I will mention it here.

Monitor View of Ink Supply May Not Be Accurate

A screen display may say your inkjet cartridges have plenty of ink, but long periods of non-use can may the ink unusable.

As for paper, stock that is designed for inkjet printers varies in price considerably. Lower priced paper is usually fine for text printouts, while expensive papers have varying degrees of smoothness and/or shininess to give your photos their best appearance. Paper labeled for fax machines or typewriters generally don't give good results with inkjet printing, while laser-print papers may or may not work well.

Another print quality factor can be the DPI (dots per inch) resolution used, with 300 DPI being suitable for most work. Lower DPIs may use less ink and can be fine for rough drafts, while higher DPIs printed on high-gloss paper can often be mistaken for traditional prints processed from film negatives.

Don't Depend on Directions from a Single Map Program

Getting back to online map programs, I have used them often for trip-planning and have learned a few tricks for saving time, ink, and aggravation. Turn-by-turn driving directions are a part of all programs, but the directions can vary wildly among different programs. I recently plotted a map to my dentist's new office and was amazed by some of the directions that were offered. One list of turns had me driving on a toll-road while others displayed surface street alternatives.

One list even said to go 1/2 mile on a nearby street and then make a U-turn. I have no clue as to how this stupid instruction was inserted; but I have learned to check the directions of at least three different programs before planning a trip. (Other programs include MapQuest and Switchboard.)

Another ink-saving trick I use is to print out only part of a map page, rather than the whole Web page with all its ads. Furthermore, I print the map in black and white, to save on expensive colored inks. As for the driving directions, I print them small when driving with a partner who reads them to me. When driving alone I use very large print.

Mar 6

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Malformatted Text with Long & Short Lines

Gordon Gibson wrote to say he copied a news story from the Web and pasted it into MSWord so he could enlarge the font and do some other editing. The end result, however, was an assortment of long and short lines which did not "word wrap" properly.

This occurs when a CR (carriage return) is arbitrarily inserted into text.

(CR: an old typewriter term meaning the "carriage" is "returned" in order to begin a new line.) Well, lines typed in word processing programs continue automatically until you hit ENTER (or RETURN on a Mac) whereupon a CR is inserted, which ends the paragraph - and the definition of a "computer paragraph" is any text which ends with a CR (even if it is just one sentence or one word).

Two CRs are generally entered when one wants to insert a blank line between paragraphs in a document.

So why have CRs been randomly inserted into Gordon's text? Well, there are many possible reasons, but what often happens is that text copied from one format to another - or between different email clients - has CRs inserted to make it fit within certain margin limitations. All Gordon has to do is eliminate the CRs to have proper word-wrapping throughout the document.

Here's how: do Ctrl+H to launch a "Find & Replace" window. Type ^p - a "carat" (Shift+6) and a lower-case p - into the "Find" box and type a blank space into the "Replace With" box. (^p is Microsoft code for paragraph end or CR.) Finally, click on Replace All.

But wait - if it's a long document, wouldn't doing the above eliminate all the double-CRs used to put blank lines between paragraphs?

Yes, it would; and I could give you a "Find & Replace" formula for circumventing this problem. However, using a free program called StripMail does the whole thing in less time than it would take you to type in the formula. Furthermore, StripMail also removes all the pointy ">" symbols that often accompany those arbitrary CRs.

Adding CRs to Put White Space Between Paragraphs

Nonetheless, being familiar with ^p means you can also add CRs to a document whose paragraphs are not separated by blank lines. Simply type ^p into the "Find" box and ^p^p into the "Replace With" box. If you would like each paragraph indented, simply type ^p^p^t into the "Replace With" box. "^t" is the code for TAB.

An MSWord Mystery - What Do All Those Strange Symbols Mean?

Speaking of codes, I frequently get calls from MSWord users, who say some strange symbols have appeared in their documents, including a hyphen between each word. This can be fixed by going to Tools > Options > View and UNchecking all the items under "Formatting Marks." These symbols are sometimes required in certain proof-reading situations, but are rarely employed by the average computer user.

Another MSWord Mystery

"I have a picture in my document, which shows up fine on my monitor, but which does not appear when output from my printer." This can be fixed by going to Tools > Options > View > Print > Include with Document, and making sure that "Drawing Object" is checked.

Links to StripMail and other free utilities can be found on my Home Page at www.pcdon.com.

Feb 28

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When Your Printer Prints More Than You Expect

Several readers have complained that when they go to print a Web page a number of unwanted additional pages are often printed as well. This is not uncommon when one clicks the toolbar Printer icon, instead of going to File>Print, which brings up a dialogue box that offers a number of printing options, including "Selection" and "Pages_."

Choosing "Selection" will print only whatever part of the Web page (or other type of document) you have selected (highlighted). Clicking "Pages_" will allow you to choose the actual pages you want printed, such as, say, "1, 2, 5, 6." Typing "1-6" will print pages 1 through 6, while typing "6" will print only page 6.

Not all Web pages have the same width, and some are too wide for a standard sheet of 8.5x11 paper. You can often work around this by going to File>Print Preview, and reducing the width of the page elements so they will fit. In Internet Explorer look for the default setting of 75%, where other size options can also be found. In Netscape or Firefox look for "Shrink to Fit" along with other width choices.

If shrinking the text would make it difficult to read, you might prefer to print the page "sideways" by going to File>Page Setup>Landscape. Another method of dealing with barely legible text is to copy and paste it into your word processor or into your email program, whereupon you can change the text size, font, style, and/or color in any way you choose.

For PC newbies, simply mouse-select the text to be modified (or press Ctrl+A to select ALL text) and then do Ctrl+C to COPY it. Launch a blank word processor or email page and do Ctrl+V to PASTE the text into it, whereupon you can edit it in any way you want.

Outlook Express Can Be Handier than MSWord for Editing Text

I find Outlook Express to be great for editing hard-to-read text. For one thing, it launches much faster than my word processor. Also, if someone sends me a fancy email in an exotic font on a low-contrast background, I simply click Forward, edit the text to suit my eyes, and then send it to myself.

Although I often mention keyboard shortcuts here such as Ctrl+C for Copy (as opposed to going to Edit>Copy> I rarely use them myself, preferring instead to use mouse clicks whenever possible. In nearly every text-editing situation where an item from the Edit menu might be used (Copy, Cut, Paste, Select All, etc.) the same choices can be displayed by clicking your mouse's right-button, whereupon left-clicking the desired option will execute the command.

Card-carrying Mouse-aholic

I've been a confirmed mouse-aholic since the little rodents first appeared, and find these mouse-maneuvers to be easy and efficient. Additional shortcuts became available when I purchased a Microsoft programmable 4-button Optical Wheel Mouse, with #3 fixed to Undo and #4 fixed to Paste, while pushing on the scroll wheel Copies whatever is highlighted - three things I do in abundance. However, a newer version of this mouse (so-called "5-button") has turned out to be a real dud, since they put the two extra buttons on the same side (making each one smaller and harder to activate). So I'm still using my older "4-button" version.

Feb 27

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Using TABS in Word Processing

A number of readers have asked how to adjust Tab settings in their word-processing programs to create columns of items that are other than left-aligned.

Well, all default Tab settings are left-aligned at 1/2 inch, meaning each time you strike the Tab key, your cursor moves 1/2 inch to the right. However, you can override these settings and create your own.

Let's say you have a menu of items with a brief description followed by a price, and that you would like the prices to line up on their right edges. In MSWord you can go to Format>Tabs and choose to have the numbers right-align at, say, five inches from the left margin. This will let you type a description and then hit your TAB key, whereupon any price you insert will be right-aligned.

Each time you press ENTER to begin another line, these Tab settings will be carried forward. When your menu is completed and you want to return to the default settings, go to Format>Tabs and click Clear All.

These options are also found in WordPerfect under Format>Line>Tab Set. Older versions of MSWorks (that don't include MSWord) have these options under Format>Tabs.

Setting TABS on Your Ruler

Another way to set Tabs is to use your program's Horizontal Ruler. If you don't see the Ruler in MSWord, click View>Ruler, whereupon a tiny "L" will be displayed at its left end. This means "Left Tab" and when the "L" is clicked it will change into symbols for Right, Center and Decimal Tab, among others.

Using the above-described "menu" as an example, you would click on the "Right Tab" setting and then click "5" on the Ruler.

One of the handiest features of this kind of setting is that the tabbed items can be easily moved left or right after being set. Simply mouse-highlight all lines in the menu and drag any Tab marker displayed on the Ruler. Don't drag it off the Ruler, or the settings will be lost. Also, be aware that if nothing is highlighted, the Tab settings will change only in whichever line the cursor currently resides.

Setting multiple Tabs (as in prices for, say, Small and Large sizes) is equally easy. Establish them in the first line and they will be carried forward to each subsequent line by hitting ENTER.

Other options found under Format>Tabs are "Leaders," such as dots or dashes that automatically lead from one item to another. No more pecking away at the "period" key, as we did on a typewriter.

Even more advanced settings can be created by adjusting the three movable Tab markers seen on the Ruler's left end, such as a "hanging indent" whose first line of a paragraph begins near the left margin, while subsequent lines begin, say, a half inch to the right. It pays to experiment with these markers.

Google's New Map & Driving Directions Feature

I've been using www.mapquest.com for maps and driving directions for ages - but find the new maps.google.com to be better in many, many ways. Try it - you'll like it!

Feb 21

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Microsoft Word Problems

MSWord user Professor Larry W. Cohen wrote to say "Save" had disappeared from his "File" menu, and asked how to retrieve it. He added that the problem existed in only some of his Word documents.

Well, MSWord toolbar icons and menu items can be easily added or removed by going to Tools>Customize. Dragging an item from the toolbar (including from an open menu list) anywhere into the Customize dialogue box will remove it. Conversely, you can drag any icon onto the toolbar or into a menu list from the Customize box.

In theory, any such changes should apply to all of your MSWord documents; but MSWord has been known to become unstable and to occasionally need all its defaults reset. These defaults are stored in a file called normal.dot. Here's the fix:

Make sure that MSWord is NOT open, and then go to Start > Find/Search > Files & Folders and type in normal.dot. Highlight each normal.dot entry found and hit your Delete key.

When Word is next launched and does not find this file, it will rebuild it and put all your toolbar and menu displays back to their original settings.

If you have ever encountered an error message in MSWord asking if you want to return to a previous normal.dot setting, it is best to exit the program and follow the above instructions. If you don't, the error message will haunt you until you do.

The downside of restoring MSWord's defaults is that any favorite toolbar changes previously made will be gone and need to be redone. For instance, I use the "Binoculars" icon instead of going to Edit>Find or doing Ctrl+F. I also like to toggle my Horizontal Ruler off and on with the Ruler icon. Neither of these icons appears in Word's default toolbar.

Things Normally Done with a Mouse Can Be Done with Your Keyboard

Professor Cohen also said he sometimes prefers to use his keyboard instead of his mouse. Well, all Windows mouse functions can be done with keyboard shortcuts - and they work in all programs - not just MSWord.

In the "search" example above, pressing the "Windows" key (flag symbol) is the same as mouse-clicking Start.

The keyboard "arrow" keys can then be used to navigate to Search or Find. Pressing ENTER will then activate the command. Also, pressing ENTER is the same as mouse-clicking any button displayed with a dark outline, when offered choices such as, say, Previous, Next, or Exit.

"Function Key" commands include F1 for Help and Alt+F4 for closing a file or program or for shutting down the computer. F7 activates a spell-checker, while SHIFT+F7 will bring up a Thesaurus in many programs

You can also activate menu items with your ALT key. For instance, ALT+F or ALT+E will open the File or Edit menu, whereupon an item can be chosen with your "down arrow" key and activated with ENTER. However, ALT+O opens the Format list - notice the underlined o in Format.

Feb 20

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Clearing Out Duplicate Files

I wrote recently about how Picasa (free from www.google.com) makes it easy to find and delete unneeded duplications of image files. Well, several readers have asked how to do this with other file types.

OK, let's assume you have created a number of MSWord files over time and have put them into different folders, and that you may have duplicated some of the files along the way.

Here's what I do: go to Start > Search/Find > Files & Folders, and type *.doc in the Search field. The asterisk (*) is a "wild card" that will search for all files bearing the doc extension. Be sure the "Look In" box shows "Drive C" (rather than just "document folders").

When the searching stops, all your doc files will be there; but not in any particular order. Click on View>Details and then click Name. This will sort them from A to Z. An additional click on "Name" reverses the order. Either way, all files with the same name will be grouped together, allowing for easy deletion of duplicates.

However, identically named files are not necessarily equal - but also being the same size means they probably are. If in doubt, open each with a double-click and compare.

If you don't see the kilobyte sizes listed, go to View > Choose Details, and click Size. The traditional way to remove unwanted copies is to highlight their names and tap your Delete key, or click the big red X in your toolbar. However, I use another method, since "deleted" files are not necesarily immediately eradicated, even after emptying your Trash Can. Their names are altered and they may continue to take up drive space for a while.

Alternate Way to Delete Files & Free Up Hard Drive Space

I create an empty folder (right-click Desktop, New>Folder) and drag all duplicated files into it. The first file with a given name will stay in the folder, while each identically named file will be greeted with "This folder already contains a file by this name. Do you want this file to replace it?" (or words to that effect) Click "Yes to all" to eliminate all but one of each unique filename.

Your search may also find multiple folders with the same names. You can use the above procedure to eliminate duplicate folders, along with all their files (once you have determined each folder's contents are actually identical).

If your search finds files that appear to be updates of a previous file - and you just want to keep the most recent update - click on Date to list items by Date Modified. Speaking of searches, an easy way to find the meaning of computer terms and acronyms is to go to Google and type define: followed by a blank space and the target word or phrase. CDRW, for instance, displays "CompactDisc ReWriteable" along with a description of what a re-writable CD can do.

An additional Google feature may or may not please you - typing in your phone number could display your home address and show its location on a map. More information on this here.

Feb 14

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Leave Your PC On or Off?

Al Henegar called to ask if his computer needs to be left on in order for certain scheduled tasks to run automatically at night. When I said yes, Al asked if it’s better to have one’s PC on all the time or just when it is being used.

Well, all PCs need to be restarted periodically to clear out bits and pieces of things that tend to accumulate in RAM (random access memory) and which can slow down one’s system. Beyond that, it makes little difference whether a computer is left on continuously or switched off and on as needed. Having said that, however, it’s essential nowadays to have your machine protected by a reliable firewall –- especially if your PC is connected to a cable network.

Firewalls are available as both hardware and software devices, and are designed to block unauthorized access to your PC. If you have Win XP Service Pack 2, for instance, you have a software firewall which is turned on by default. I prefer ZoneAlarm, however, free from zonelabs.com. As for hardware firewalls, there are many available and can be found reviewed on sites such as cnet.com and pcworld.com. Belkin firewall routers are always highly rated.

Firewalls Not Designed to Stop Viruses or Spyware

Bear in mind that firewalls are neither anti-virus nor anti-spyware tools. However, many software companies now market packages that contain a number of maintenance and protection tools, with Norton SystemWorks probably being the best-known.

Personally, I like Norton Anti-Virus, but prefer to use a variety of free tools for the other tasks (all of which have links on my home page).

Getting back to leaving one’s PC on all night, I’d suggest turning off your CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors, since they can be real electricity hogs.

Another thing to bear in mind is that any protection software running continuously in the background is using system resources and can slow down your PC. The best fix for this is having lots of RAM, with 512 MB being a minimum. Doubling this to 1024 MB will speed things up considerably.

More RAM - Cheap & Effective

RAM is cheap nowadays and often can be installed by the user (with links to instructions on my site). However, I prefer to pay a technician to do the job, since I will be using it for many years and feel his fee is a worthy investment. Older PCs may not accommodate extra RAM, and a tech can also help you decide whether it is more cost effective to upgrade your machine or buy a new one.

Other ways to keep your computer humming at its top performance are by periodically running ScanDisk (pre-WinXP), ChkDsk (WinXP), Defrag, and Disk Cleanup. Disk Cleanup can be found by clicking Start>My Computer, followed by right-clicking Local Disk C, and choosing Properties. Finally, click the Tools tab to find the other maintenance utilities and follow their simple instructions.

Feb 13

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Limitations of Various Graphics Programs

Regarding some graphics programs I recently mentioned, Marie Anne Lorenzini wrote to say she couldn’t find a way to lighten a photo’s background in Irfanview, and Al Roller said the “red-eye correction” feature in Picasa2 doesn’t work very well.

Well, all graphics programs have certain strengths and weaknesses. Irfanview, as its name suggests, is mainly an image “viewer,” while Picasa2 is mainly an “image organization tool.”

Neither program has extensive bitmap-editing features, such as those found in very full-featured programs such as Adobe PhotoShop, PhotoShop Elements, Corel PhotoPaint, and Paint Shop Pro. In these programs, the “red-eye correction” tool does its job with extreme precision, while their “dodge” and “burn” tools allow you to lighten and darken selected areas of a photo.

There is no way I can give a detailed tutorial on programs like, say, PhotoShop Elements, but I can offer some tips to get you going. Let’s start with the “clone” tool, which copies one area of an image onto a different area. Here’s an example:

Using the "Clone" Tool

Let’s say you have a snapshot of a two children wrestling on a park’s lawn. However, a third child appears behind them, and you just want to see your two in the picture. Let’s further assume that grass is the main background seen in the shot.

With your clone tool you simply press ALT and click on an open area of grass. Next, “clone” some of the grassy area over the third person until he disappears. If this sounds complicated, you will be surprised to learn how easy it actually is. All comprehensive image-editors have a clone tool. I’ll give more photo-editing tips in the future.

Another Way to Back UP and/or Move Outlook Express Files

Last month I explained how to copy Outlook Express files onto a separate disc for backing-up and/or moving to a new PC. However, the fact that all OE files and folders are compressed into “.DBX” files seems to confuse a lot of folks. Here’s another method that may be less confusing:

Right-click your Desktop, choose New>Folder and name it Inbox. Repeat this procedure for each of the folders in Outlook Express. Now get into your main “Outlook Express” folder, whereupon you can drag all your messages from their individual folders into the new ones you just created. Finally, just drag these folders onto your other media (with a flash memory “thumb” drive being the quickest and easiest device to use).

The individual messages can then be dragged from the disc into the corresponding folders on a new computer.

Finding and/or Moving Your Outlook Express Folder

If you can’t locate your Outlook Express folder, go to Run > Search/Find > Files & Folders and type in: Outlook Express. You’ll see that it’s nested deep within a collection of folders with very cryptic names. If you would like quicker access to it in the future, right-click it and choose Send To > Desktop (Create Shortcut).

You can also choose a new location for this folder from within OE by going to Tools > Options > Maintenance and clicking on Store Folder. In the dialogue box that appears, type in a new location, such as, say, c:\Outlook Express.

Feb 7

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More Fonts than You Know What to Do With?

If you've ever designed a greeting card on your computer, you may have been overwhelmed by the number of font choices available. There was a time when we were lucky to have a dozen or so fonts, but now it's not uncommon to have 100s - some of which may look nearly identical, and others that are just plain ugly. Well, you can delete those you are sure you'll never use - however, it's safer to move them to a separate folder, just in case you change your mind.

Although many programs offer a miniature view of certain font characters, Windows offers no easy way to view an entire font in a larger size. However, "Font Explorer" is a wonderful program available free from www.karenware.com that lets you view all your fonts in any size you want.

Certain Fonts Should NOT Be Deleted

As for moving or deleting fonts, certain ones are required by Windows and should not be touched. Go to Start>Run, type in FONTS and click OK to display the contents of your c:\windows\fonts folder. Those marked with a red "a" are hands-off "system" fonts. Other fonts best left alone are Arial, Times New Roman, Courier New, Verdana, and Comic Sans MS, simply because they are used on so many Web pages and in other computer-created documents.

Recipient May Not See a Fancy Font You Use

Bear in mind that a font used on a Web page or in a received email will only be seen in its original form if you have the same font on your computer (unless it was incorporated into a graphic). This also means that using a sexy font in a Valentine email you send may show up as Arial or Times (or some other default) if your recipient's computer doesn't have the same font.

To create a folder for unwanted fonts, right-click your Desktop and choose New>Folder. Name it something like Fonts2. Now you can drag items from your regular Fonts folder into this new one - and reverse the procedure with any you might decide to put back.

If you have an older PC with a small hard drive, eliminating fonts is a good way to pick up additional storage space. However, I would store any deleted fonts on floppies or CDs, just in case.

When I was in the graphic arts business I needed every font I could get hold of, since there was no accounting for what a customer might want. Nowadays, however, two or three dozen favorites are all I need.

Exchanging Fonts with a Friend?

You can also send and receive fonts as email attachments.

Drag the desired font onto your Desktop. Right-click it and choose Send To>Mail Recipient, whereupon your email program will create a new message with the font attached.

If you are wondering why "Send To" was not executed while inside the Fonts folder - well, a font cannot be copied nor will the "Send To" command work therein. However, you can drag a font to your Desktop, where it can be handled like most any other file. Drag it back into the Fonts folder, when finished.

Feb 6

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Updated "Picasa" Picture Management Program Free from Google

Picasa, the free image management program has been recently upgraded and is available at www.google.com. What I like most about Picassa2 is its ability organize and display thumbnail views of all folders containing images. I've collected thousands of pictures over the years, and created many folders to hold them. Some of these folders have been copied and saved multiple times, meaning I have lots and lots of unnecessary duplications.

When Picass2 displays a folder named, say, "July Beach Pics" seven times (each with 50 snapshots) I know I can safely delete five folders and leave one each of the others on my PC hard drive and on my external backup drive.

The program also has many photo-editing features found in other graphics applications, such as contrast and brightness options and "red-eye" correction. However, if you are serious about doing image-editing you might want to consider the 30-day free trial of PhotoShop Elements. Adobe PhotoShop has long been the program of choice for professionals; but its high price ($649) and complex features have kept it from being of much interest to the average family photographer.

PhotoShop Elements

PSE, however, is a slimmed-down version of PhotoShop that sells for less than $100 and whose editing options are somewhat fewer and generally less-complicated. Nonetheless, it has all the editing features I could ever imagine using. Information on the trial download can be found here: www.adobe.com/products/tryadobe/main.jsp#product=39.

I wrote recently about the GIF image format, which you might be using in a valentine card, since it was designed for simple drawings - including animated images. Unlike the JPG "photo" format, which can contain millions of colors, GIFs are limited to 256. The simplicity of GIF drawings often makes them easily edited by beginning computer users. However, editing animated GIFs requires special software and some learning time, since animations are made up of several frames. If you try to edit an animation with, say, Windows Paint, you will end up with a non-moving version of the first frame.

Editing Animated GIFs

However, a site called www.gifworks.com makes it possible to freely edit animated graphics (or any not-too-large GIF image) while online. I often use the service for resizing an animation. Go to the GifWorks Welcome screen, click File>File Open, and use the "Browse" button to find the target image. Click "Upload Image" to display the drawing with its dimensions shown. Now, click Edit>Resize/Crop>Resize, type in your preferred dimensions and click OK. Finally, right-click the edited image and choose File>Save Picture As, and give it a name and location (or accept the defaults offered).

Newer Anti-Spyware Programs

I've been asked my opinion on new anti-spyware programs being offered by Norton, ZoneLabs, MacAfee, and various ISPs such as AOL. Considering the barrage of new spyware threats we face, it's not surprising that established companies want to capitalize on the anti-spyware business, at about $30 per program. I have no way of testing them all, but have come to trust certain free products I use (listed on my Home Page) and see no reason to buy anything else at the moment.

Jan 31

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Inserting a Picture into a Valentine Letter

With Valentine's Day approaching, you might be thinking of putting a photo or other type of graphic into a message to your sweetheart. If you've ever used a "greeting card" program, you may already know how to do this. Nonetheless, here's an overview of inserting pictures into a word processing page or an email.

Use "Text Boxes" as Movable Frames for Pictures

Let's say you have written a love letter with your favorite word processor, and would like to insert a picture. Choose an insertion point by clicking anywhere in the letter, followed by clicking Insert>Text Box. In MSWord, draw a rectangle the approximate size and shape of the target graphic with your left mouse key held down. Then go to Insert>Picture>From File and browse to the target image. Double-click it to place it in the Text Box.

In MSWorks and WordPerfect a pre-drawn Text Box will appear, which can be manipulated with commands similar to the following ones used in MSWord.

The graphic and its frame (Text Box) can be re-shaped by grabbing any edge or corner and adjusting it to your liking. The framed image can also be moved to any location on your page. In MSWord the framed graphic will be covering the text, but the text can be made to flow around the picture by clicking the frame and going to Format>Text Box, whereupon several options will appear, including Color & Lines>Line>No Line, in case you want the frame invisible.

If you want to snail-mail a bunch of photos to someone, use Text Boxes to place several on a page. Why are these frames called "Text" Boxes? Well, you can type in a label for each image, which will move right along with the picture. The typing can be formatted with the same toolbar you use for regular body text.

Inserting a Picture into an Email

As for inserting pictures into an email, AOL users can right-click in the body of an outgoing message and choose Insert>Image, while Outlook Express users can click on Insert>File Attachment, followed by browsing to the target picture. Messages sent between different kinds of email clients may also have "attached" pictures show up as "inserted" on the recipient's end. Beyond this, pictures inserted into emails have less "alignment" options than those inserted into word processing documents.

For email programs not mentioned here, look for "inserting images" under "Help."

Inserting Animated Graphics into an Email

Animated "GIF" files can also be inserted into an email. Although the graphic may appear immobile when inserted, it will move when seen by the recipient. If in doubt, send yourself a copy of the email. Animated GIFs can be found via any Internet search engine. Type something like Free Animations or Animated GIF into the Search field. You can add words like Valentine or Cupid to narrow down the search. Not all GIFs are animated - but you will know when you see them.

The GIF image format was created mainly for simple drawings, and is often used for Web graphics because of its small file size.

Jan 30

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Formatting Outlook Express Email

Outlook Express user Jerry Mills wrote to say he always uses his font-formatting toolbar when he begins a new email - but when he clicks "Reply" on certain incoming messages the toolbar has disappeared.

I told Jerry to click on Tools>Options>Send and make sure that "Reply to messages using format in which sent" is NOT checked, and to see that "Mail Sending Format: HTML" IS checked. I also suggested he go to Tools>Options>Read and see that "Read all messages in plain text" is NOT checked.

A handy feature of Outlook Express I often use is its "Plain Text" option. Have you ever copied text from a Web page into, say, an MSWord document and found it was hard to edit because of its underlying HTML code? For instance, trying to edit the spelling in an email address may launch your email program, or trying to edit a Web page link causes your PC to try accessing the site?

Well, just paste the text into a blank OE page and click on Format>Plain Text. All the underlined blue text will change to plain black. Then copy and paste the text back into your word processor.

OE for AOL & Compuserve Users

I can already hear AOL and Compuserve users saying, "But I don't have Outlook Express." Actually, all PC users have OE because it comes with Windows. Those who sign up with AOL are automatically steered into using AOL email and the AOL browser. However, the OE icon can normally be found in the Start menu - and once AOL users are connected to the Internet they can minimize the AOL browser and click on their Desktop's lower case blue "e" Internet Explorer icon (or any alternative browser they may prefer, such as Firefox).

Why would an AOL user want to use a different browser? Well, there can be many reasons; but here is one. If you go to a downloadable music site, such as mine, AOL wants to provide the music via its WinAmp media player, which offers very few playing options. With IE the music can be played via Windows Media Player, which has many more useful features.

AOL users who download a picture from the Internet often find the graphic has an ART extension, which is recognized by very few image-editing programs. Other browsers let you download images in their original universally-recognized formats, such as JPG or GIF.

However, AOL users can defeat the ART extension by going to Settings>Internet Properties>AOL Browser, and clicking "Never Compress Graphics." (All the above AOL options apply to Compuserve.)

Spell-Checking Issues

One weakness of OE is that it has no spell-checker of its own, and uses the MSOffice spell-checker. Those without an MSOffice program have no spell-checking in OE. However, http://spellcheck.net is a free online spell-checker that is extremely fast and powerful in its alternative spelling suggestions.

The site also provides a full-blown thesaurus and dictionary, along with conversions for items such as liters to gallons and miles to kilometers. It even does translating between a number of different languages.

Jan 24

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Drag & Drop Just About Anything

Marilyn Gramwall prepared some mailing labels for a church group by using MSWord Tables to lay out a sheet of 30 standard Avery #5160 labels per page, and then typed in the names and addresses label by label. When she asked if there was an easier way to do this, I referred her to the illustrated instructions on my Web site, whereby names and addresses are stored in a database and then formatted for printing in a word processing file.

When Marilyn asked if she would have to retype all the information into the database, I said no - she could simply drag and drop everything. Let me explain.

One of the most fundamental functions of Windows and Mac computers is the ability to "drag" just about anything from one location and "drop" it into another. Here are some examples:

Type a sentence into a blank page of your word processor or email program. Next, double-click any word in the sentence to select it. As you point into the darkened selection, watch your cursor change from an I-beam into an arrow. When it does, depress your left mouse button and drag the selected word to somewhere else. As you move your cursor, you may notice that the arrow has a tiny rectangle attached to its tail, meaning that it is "carrying something." Finally, drop the selection by releasing the left mouse button.

Next, type a few short paragraphs. Mouse-select any sentence and drag it to somewhere else in the paragraph - or into another paragraph. You can even select one or more paragraphs to be moved. Better yet, you can move text from one page onto another page or even into another document. Here's how:

Type some text into a word processing page and then launch a new blank email page. Resize the pages, if necessary, so they can be positioned side-by-side on your screen. Now see how easy it is to drag text from one program's page into another's. This is how Marilyn moved her names and addresses into the appropriate cells of a database page.

"Drag and drop" is also the way to move files from one folder to another. Right-click your Desktop and choose New>Folder. Name the folder, and then drag files from any other folder into the new one. Multiple contiguous files can be "lassoed" and dragged all at once. Non-contiguous files can be clicked individually while holding down CTRL, to move several at once. You can also drag one or more folders into another folder.

To see all your folders, right-click START and choose Explore. Click the various "plus" signs to display nested folders. Double-click any folder to display the files and folders it may contain - then drag and drop items as desired.

You can also drag photos into an outgoing email, rather than using the "Insert" or "Attach" commands - or drag them into an open image-editor, rather than using the File>Open command.

Jan 23

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Microsoft Anti-Spyware Debuts

Microsoft has finally come out with anti-spyware, which can be found at www.microsoft.com, and whose link has already been sent to many WinXP users. When I tried the program last night it found one malicious file on my PC. However, when I subsequently ran two other anti-spyware programs, they found two and seven more files, respectively.

Does this mean we cannot have too many anti-spyware programs? Well, I have yet to learn of a single program that finds all spyware; but there are many programs who claim to be "anti-spyware," which, in fact, plant spying and/or advertising files of their own, while perhaps deleting some placed by others.

Spyware and adware have become so omnipresent on the Internet that fighting them off has become an industry of its own. At its worst, spyware can steal things such as credit card information and passwords, while its least intrusive mission may be making notes about your personal interests or buying habits. So whom do you trust?

It's an ongoing battle, whose rules of engagement constantly change. For the moment, I trust "Ad-Aware" and "Spybot Search & Destroy," along with the new Microsoft program. A friend of mine says she likes "SpySweeper," which costs $29.95. "Ad-Aware" and "Spybot Search & Destroy" are free. So is the Microsoft program - for now - but several MS-watchers suspect it will be so for only about six months.

I have also heard that some ISPs offer their subscribers anti-spyware services, but have had no personal experience with this. Regarding other self-proclaimed anti-spyware programs, I have no absolute proof of their merits pro or con, but rely on information gleaned from the many PC-industry newsletters I read.

The new Microsoft program differs from Spybot and Ad-Aware in that it can be installed to run continuously, thus presumably warding off spyware when it arrives, whereas the others scan your PC upon request. Having the Microsoft program run in the background, however, may slow down your computer, and is of yet unproven advantage over scanning upon request.

Unlike viruses, some of which can do immediate damage, most spyware files rely on time factors to do their deeds. People who never shop online with a credit card or who don't keep sensitive data on their hard drives are in less jeopardy than those of us who do. Mary and I literally live on the Internet, yet remain unscathed by spyware and viruses because of constant vigilance and by avoiding the obvious pitfalls.

Obvious pitfalls? Well, the Internet abounds with offers of "FREE" and there are indeed many freebies which are totally legitimate. I have many on my Web site. However, most "free offers" (such as screensavers and electronic gadgets) lead followers down the primrose path to spyware, starting with asking for your email address. Yes, legitimate businesses will ask for your email address, but will also provide a privacy statement regarding its use. Youngsters, of course, are particularly vulnerable to "free" offers.

Other pitfalls are clicking dubious links that offer things like, say, "nude pictures of famous stars" or "not for the faint of heart." JPG images can be booby-trapped with a virus - so be cautious about what you download.

Jan 17

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How to Crop a Picture

One of the advantages of using a digital camera is being able to edit your shots in all kinds of creative ways. Obvious edits might be, say, removing a blemish from someone's portrait or filling in someone's bald spot. Beyond cosmetic editing, you can make pictures darker or lighter or change their contrast levels. You can even superimpose an object from one picture onto another, or change a trio of friends into a duo if you decide you no longer like one of them.

The first edit most of us learn is cropping, i.e. eliminating all but the most essential part of a photo. Image-editing programs often come with phonebook-sized manuals that explain how to turn simple snapshots into works of art worthy of upscale gallery exhibits. The best I can offer here are some beginning tips.

Dozens of image-editing programs exist, each with its own set of tools and command structures - but I will only be specific about Paint and Irfanview, since they are available to all users of Windows-based PCs. The former is found at Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint, while the latter is free from www.irfanview.com. Let's start with Paint.

Paint, as its name suggests, was designed more for "painting" a picture than for editing a photo. But it still has some useful photo-editing features. Let's say you have a cute shot of a laughing child, and would like to eliminate most of the extraneous background. Launch Paint, then click File>Open, which should take you to your My Pictures folder. Double-click the target photo.

Click on the rectangular "crop" tool in the upper right corner of the toolbar. Now hold down your left mouse button and draw a rectangle around the photo's subject, leaving just the amount of background you want. Then click Edit>Copy to copy your selection to the "invisible Windows clipboard."

Now click File>New to create space for your cropping. Answer NO when asked if you want to save the previous picture. Click Edit>Paste to display your cropped picture. Finally, go to File>Save As to give your cropped picture a name.

Doing the above with Irfanview is faster and easier. As before, use File>Open and double-click the target photo, which will automatically be in the "cropping" mode when displayed. Draw your rectangle and click the Toolbar Scissors, which will make the cropping disappear. Next click the Toolbar "Paste" icon to make your cropped picture replace the original. As always, use File>Save As to name the finished job. Your original will remain unchanged.

How to Resize a Picture

To re-size a picture in Paint, click Image>Stretch & Skew and choose your new dimensions. In Irfanview click Image>Resize/Resample.

Irfanview will also let you do some basic color enhancement by clicking Image>Enhance Colors. Paint has no such feature, but will let you change colors on a bit by bit (pixel by pixel) basis, and will also let you add text to a picture.

This is just the tip of the photo-editing iceberg, and you probably have software which will do lots of more sophisticated things.

Jan 16

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The Basics of JPG (aka JPEG & JPE)

If you have handled digital images, you have found that most have file names with a JPG extension, meaning they were created using "Joint Photographic Experts Group" formatting. There are many other formats, with extensions such as BMP, GIF, and TIF, each with distinctive features best left to image-editing professionals. If you have used any image-editing software, you have seen that "File>Save As" lets you name an image and also choose an image-format, with the default normally being JPG.

What you may not have noticed is that some editing programs offer various JPG "compression ratios." The original image format for Windows-based computers was BMP (bitmap picture) and is still used for very high resolution graphics. However, BMPs have huge file sizes which can take forever to upload and download or to materialize on a Web page.

The JPG format, however, removes some information from a bitmap graphic, which reduces its file size but which may leave the image looking very much like the original. The default ratio used by most image-editing software is 80%, meaning 20% of the picture's information was deleted.

Some programs offer various ratio choices, meaning that, say, 50% will result in an image that is not as sharp and crisp as the original but which will be a much smaller computer file. Only you can determine which resolution/size ratio works best in each case. With today's high-speed PCs and huge hard drives, you may prefer store all your images as BMPs and only convert them to JPGs for emailing or displaying on a Web site.

To digital photography newcomers, the term "editing" may have little meaning; don't you just take a snapshot and print it out?

Well, photo-editing used to done in a darkroom by persons who had lots of special training - and today's professional digital-editing is done by highly skilled persons who use sophisticated, expensive programs such as Adobe Photo Shop. However, we amateurs can do some fairly fancy editing of our own.

For starters, all digital cameras, scanners, and printers come with image-editing programs, and Windows has one of its own named Paint. Beyond all this, third-party programs are available from free to moderately-priced. I never go a day without using Irfanview, a free program from www.irfanview.com.

Obviously, a tutorial on using these dozens of different programs can't be given here, but something that applies to all needs to be learned up front. If you plan on editing a JPG, you should first make a copy of it, using a different filename. Why? JPG is a "lossy" format, which means deleted information can NOT be restored. Maintaining an un-edited original is essential, in case you are not pleased with an edited version and want to start over.

A wise practice in file-editing is to periodically save your work with an incremental filename (pic1.jpg, pic2.jpg, etc.). Each JPG "save" may reduce its quality, however, so make your "saves" few and far between, when possible.

Jan 10

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More Economical to Do Your Own Printing or to Have It Done Elsewhere?

Regarding the cost of printing photos with an inkjet printer, my friend Barbara Quanbeck tells me she just prints out a few for instant gratification, but takes others on a CD to Wal-Mart, whose printing charges are less than the cost of using her own ink cartridges.

Understanding CYMK & RGB

Inkjet printers have come a long way in their ability to reproduce colors that rival the continuous-tone gradients produced by conventional film and darkroom methods. However, it's helpful to know that most inkjet printing is done with four basic colors, known as CYMK (cyan, yellow, magenta and black) and that three basic colors, RGB (red, green and blue), are used to generate images seen on a computer screen.

This is why a finished photo print may not look quite the same on paper as it does on your monitor.

Other factors that affect print quality are the type of paper used and the fill-level of your ink cartridges. If one of your cartridge colors gets low your printer may continue to produce, but the results won't be the same as with full cartridges.

3 Colors in One Cartridge vs 3 Separate Cartridges

Also, some printers use cartridges that contain C, Y, and M in one unit, which means if you print, say, lots of "blue sky" pictures you may run out of cyan way ahead of the other colors. But you still have to buy a whole new cartridge, even though you have plenty of yellow and magenta left. Other printers use separate cartridges for each color.

Cheap Paper Actually Better than Kodak's

As for paper, professional photographer Dennis Fugnetti says he only used Kodak during the decades he spent using film and darkroom techniques, but now buys Kirkland paper at Costco, which he says is better and cheaper than Kodak's best glossy paper for inkjet printing.

As for printers, the ones that produce only 4x6 prints have become very popular with those who prefer a traditional size print that fits comfortably into a traditional photo album. For those of us who enjoy editing our snapshots, a full size printer gives us many more options.

Editing Photos for Better Pictures & Cheaper Printing

For instance, if I get an action shot of a pooch snagging a Frisbee in mid-air, I prefer not to use a lot of ink printing the acres of lawn that may appear in the background. So I crop the picture to show just what I want, which may end up being a 3x4 instead of a 4x6. In addition to saving ink, a cropped picture can be uploaded and downloaded faster when emailed. In fact, some email systems have file-size limitations which can keep a larger photo from being sent or received.

By the way, it's not just a photo's print dimensions that determine its file size; the image format used in creating the picture is a huge factor, with "JPG" being the most popular. JPG file compression, however, has one down side - it is a "lossy" process, which means discarded information cannot be retrieved. Working with this technology will be explained in detail next time.

Jan 9

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Digital Cameras & Megapixels

As digital cameras and ink jet printers proliferate, those of us who grew up taking 35mm film to a photo shop for processing need to look at snapshot-sharing in a new way. For those who have yet to buy a digital camera, there are vast amounts of information on Web sites like pcworld.com on how to choose the one best for you. The most I can do here is offer a few definitions and some basic tips.

Optical Zoom vs Digital Zoom

A camera's number of "megapixels" pertains mainly to how large a photo can be printed with good resolution. A 2MP camera may produce sharp 4x6 prints, but hi-res 8x10s may need at least a 4MP camera. You also need to understand the difference between optical zoom and digital zoom. 2x optical zoom means a camera's telephoto lens can enlarge a subject to twice its size, whereas using digital zoom would mean the object's size is increased by adding pixels to the photo's DPI (dots per inch) count.

Digital enlarging always degrades an image's resolution, and whether the end result is acceptable can only be determined by experimenting. Just be aware that a salesperson may try to tell you that a 3x digital zoom is the same as 3x optical zoom. It's not. In fact you can do your own digital zooming with image-editing software on your computer, and I see no advantage in buying a camera with digital zooming.

One of the main advantages of a digital camera is that we don't have to pay to have a number of photos printed (a whole roll of film) only to discover that most are not worth keeping. We can pick and choose as we go and only print the good shots.

But how does doing your own printing compare in price and quality with the way it's done with film? Well, the quality of today's inkjet printers and the inks they use can make telling the difference between the old and new methods nearly impossible.

Printers Are Cheap, but Ink Is Expensive

However, the cost of digital printing is another matter. Inkjet printer manufacturers sell their machines at very low profit margins, knowing their real profits will come from the expensive ink cartridges that need constant replacing. Yes, you can shop around for cheaper cartridges, but may find the resulting prints to be of lower quality and/or may fade faster than name-brand inks. The expensive inks are also more resistant to thumb prints and coffee stains.

Many of us who grew up on 4x6 prints tend to think this is the natural order of things and that 4x6s are what a printer should produce. Many such printers now exist, including ones that let you bypass your computer by plugging your camera or flash memory card directly into the printer. However, these printer's limit your editing options and fill each 4x6 with expensive ink.

I prefer to edit my photos in ways that minimize the amount of ink used on, say, extraneous backgrounds.

Jan 3

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Had to Give Up on AT&T's so-called "CallVantage"

I don't enjoy writing about things that don't work, but I feel duty-bound to warn readers about AT&T CallVantage, the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) which is supposed to save subscribers money. I have spent countless hours with AT&T's tech support people along with spending lots of money on cell phone calls, since CallVantage has yet to work reliably. Furthermore, when I asked to have the VoIP canceled and my former service restored, I was told I would have to wait 14 days. I'm still hoping to hear from someone for whom CallVantage is actually working.

Making Backups of Messages in Various Email Systems

I wrote recently about transferring one's Outlook Express email account from an old computer to a new one. However, users of Web-based email, such as Hotmail, can access their messages from any computer with an Internet connection. Go to www.hotmail.com, look for the email icon, and input your user ID and password. Outlook Express users can do likewise to find new mail from someone else's computer, by typing in their ISP's URL and clicking its email icon.

I also explained how to back up Outlook Express messages on an external drive. Web-based email remains backed up on your provider's server until you delete it or until you exceed your provider's storage limit. Here's how to back it up on your PC's drive or an external drive.

If your opened email displays "File" you can click it and go to "Save As" and give it a name and storage location. Outlook Express messages can be dragged onto your Desktop or into a folder, whereupon they will be stored as files with an .EML extension (as opposed to the cryptic .DBX extension with which they are saved in Outlook Express's system folder). The .EML files can then be copied to an external drive, such as a "flash memory" stick.

Netscape offers Web-based email similar to that of Hotmail and Yahoo, but also offers a version similar to Outlook Express, which displays a preview screen, and which will let you "File>Save As" messages with an .EML extension. Any .EML message can be opened on any Windows-based PC, since it is a format of Outlook Express, which is part of Internet Explorer, which is part of Windows. These messages can be saved as .HTML or .TXT files. The former will retain all special formatting, while the latter will convert the message to simple text.

AOL users can open .EML messages, even if they normally do everything with the AOL browser and AOL email. They can also access their AOL mail from a non-AOL computer by going to www.aol.com and clicking the email icon, whereupon "File>Save As" will be available to make copies of messages in HTML or plain text.

The one universal way to save any type of email message is to COPY and PASTE it into a word processing or Notepad file. Ctrl+A will select ALL of the message, Ctrl+C will COPY the selection, and Ctrl+V will PASTE it into any text-editing file.

Jan 2

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Backing Up Outlook Express Messages

Bill Karn called and asked how to back up his Outlook Express email messages. There are several ways - here's the easiest way:

By default, incoming Outlook Express messages land in a folder named “Inbox“ while a copy of each outgoing message is kept in the “Sent Items" folder. Deleted messages are sent to the “Deleted Items“ folder, where they remain until permanently removed by the user. Beyond this, you can create all the personal folders and sub-folders you want.

However, unlike the traditional yellow Desktop folders (such as "My Documents") Outlook Express folders and their contents are compressed into cryptic files that have a .DBX extension, and are kept in a yellow folder named "Outlook Express," which is buried several layers deep within several nested folders.

Here's how to find this folder and back it up:

Go to Start>Search>All Files & Folders>and type Outlook Express into the "File Name" box. Click on Search. Watch for a yellow folder named Outlook Express. Ignore any other items that may have a similar name.

Right-click the folder and choose COPY. Right-click a blank spot on your Desktop and choose PASTE. A yellow folder named Outlook Express will appear, which will be an exact duplicate of the one used by your Outlook Express email program.

OK, you now have duplicate copies of all your Outlook Express messages; but these backups would be of little value if your hard drive crashed. You need to put a copy on another disk - or onto your new computer if you want the messages to be available in the new PC's Outlook Express program.

Using a USB Flash Memory Stick Makes It Easy

Historically, backed up files have been kept on floppy disks or CDs. What's easier nowadays is to put them on a flash memory stick that plugs into a USB port. With the flash drive in place, double-click My Computer so that the drive's icon shows. Now drag your backup Outlook Express folder onto the icon.

Yes, you could have dragged the folder directly from the Search window onto the flash drive icon - but I've found that folks tend to get confused if the Search window overlaps and hides the My Computer window (or vice versa).

Here's the fix for that issue: almost any window can be resized by mouse-grabbing one of its edges or corners and adjusting as needed. If the window is filling your entire screen, click the "overlapping squares" icon in the upper right corner. This will allow you to resize the window and then move it by grabbing the blue bar along its top edge.

To copy your Outlook Express backup into a new computer's Outlook Express program, plug the flash drive into the new PC and use Start>Search to find the new Outlook Express folder. Right-click the memory stick's Outlook Express folder and choose COPY. Right-click the new PC's Outlook Express folder and choose PASTE. A message will appear saying this folder contains files named INBOX.DBX, etc., and ask if you want to replace them. Click "Yes to All."

AT&T CallVantage Still Not Working

I recently talked about having AT&T’s “Callvantage” cable phone service installed and how we couldn’t get it to work properly. It has been over two weeks, and it’s still not doing the job, despite the best efforts of some very nice tech support people. I would love to hear from someone for whom this service is actually working.

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