I find Time magazine's recent naming of YOU as the person of the year to be quite apropos. Consider the fact that YOU can create a funny home video with your digital camera and post it on YouTube the same day to be seen by friends and family around the world. You can create a podcast commentary on any subject, post it on a Web site, and have it copied by folks to their iPods within hours.
If you find the idea of creating your own Web site intimidating, you can have space on MySpace or Friendster immediately and for free, where you can post photos, videos, stories, and blogs. As an example, check out my page at
The following are among the most popular Social Networking sites (in terms of membership size):
As a musician, you can create a music video and have it seen and heard by millions without an agent or a professional producer. Sites that let you upload items for free are popping up everywhere. The following are just three of the many "upload your own video" sites now available: (The sites listed above also let you upload your own videos and pictures.)
You can also post your picture and profile on all the Social Networking sites, in hopes of meeting new friends or a Mr. or Ms. Right. Sadly, you can also be conned by online scammers and predators of all kinds. However, scams have been around since long before computers, and using common sense has always been the best means of protection.
Using Your PC with Two Monitors
Speaking of PCs, they say laptop sales now exceed those of desktop models, as many users prefer the convenience and portability of the notebook variety. A really cool feature of most laptops is a port to a second monitor, which can be placed alongside the unit's main monitor and used as an extension of it. Your mouse will move seamlessly from one to the other, which means a wide spreadsheet can be manipulated without constant sideways scrolling. I use two monitors when working on a Web page. I edit the code on one screen and view the results on the other. Writing a book is also easier when you can have multiple pages fully open and in view at the same time.
After connecting the second monitor, right-click your Desktop and choose Properties. Two monitor icons will appear under Settings, which can be indicated Primary and Secondary when clicking the Identify button. Here screen resolution for each can be set. Pressing F1 will bring up detailed instructions.
Desktop PC owners can have a second monitor port installed in their computers by hardware technician.
Using USB-Connected Headphones, Microphones, and Speakers
The tiny built-in speakers that come with most laptops can be pretty anemic, but good external speakers or a headset can produce very impressive sound. All computers come with a traditional 1/8-inch stereo port for headphones and speakers, but USB-connected headphones and speakers can be even more impressive, since USB ports don't pick up all the RF signals inside a computer which can adversely affect traditional audio output ports. I use a combination headset and microphone made by Plantronics, and couldn't be more pleased with the way they work.
Furthermore, using a headset/microphone combo is the ideal way to take advantage of all the free PC-to-PC telephone options nowadays.
Comparing Internet Explorer 7 to Internet Explorer 6
Internet Explorer 7 has been out for a while now, but many users find it confusing and have asked how to return to Version 6. Well, Microsoft used to make returning to an earlier version of IE nearly impossible, but has now made returning to IE6 quite simple. Go to Start>Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs and click on Internet Explorer 7. After following the prompts to uninstall the program, Internet Explorer 6 will automatically be restored.
Before you do this, however, you might want to consider a very cool feature of IE7. In the lower right corner of the browser window you will see a mini magnifying glass bearing a plus sign, followed by "100%" and a tiny down-arrow. Clicking the magnifier symbol will increase the size of text and images on the page to 125 percent of normal. Another click will enlarge everything to 150 percent.
If you click the tiny down arrow, a chart will appear which lets you choose text and image enlargements up to 400 percent, as well as reductions to 50 percent. Yes, IE6 was always able to enlarge and reduce text sizes, but image sizes always stayed at 100 percent. Admittedly, enlarged digital images are less than razor-sharp, but can still be useful to folks with visual limitations.
Another helpful feature of IE7 is "tabbed browsing," which means multiple web pages will be opened in a separate window - each with its own tab. (This has long been a feature of Firefox, and I'm glad to see that Microsoft finally realized the importance of this function.)
Among various complaints about IE7, the "Home" icon and the "Tools" options seem to have vanished. Well, they are now shown on an additional toolbar row along with "Page" options, which include "Send Page by Email." The "Favorites" folder is now indicated by a Gold Star on the additional row, along with a Gold Star and Plus Sign, which means "Add to Favorites."
Also on the additional row you will find the "Help" question-mark symbol and the "Full-Screen" symbol. If you click "Full-Screen" you can return to normal view (or exit the page) by pointing to the screen's top edge, whereupon the "overlapping squares" and "X"symbols can be seen.
Regarding text sizes, Bob Fulton called to say he had trouble reading Outlook Express email because of a tiny font that could not be changed with any of OE's font options. Bob fixed this, however, by going to View>Font Size in Internet Explorer 6 and changing the size.
A number of folks have called to say they've heard that their free AVG anti-virus service is being discontinued. Well,
Grisoft.com will no longer offer Version 7.1, but has replaced it with Version 7.5, which is free for home use. I've used Grisoft AVG for years, and find the service to be excellent.
I also used the free ZoneAlarm Firewall for years, but have found the firewall in WinXP Security Pack 2 to be adequate. ZoneAlarm has a number of fairly complex options, which can be useful if you read all the instructions and learn how to use them. If you don't, the program can block certain activities that you might not want blocked. Most of us are better off relying on the firewall in SP2 or by using a "mechanical firewall," such as a network router.
Speaking of safety, I used Norton's "Anti-Virus" for years, but always avoided its "Internet Security" package because many of the features are either unnecessary or easily replaced by various free programs.
Creating and Mailing a "Family Newsletter" A number of readers have been asking for pointers on creating and mailing a Family Newsletter. I've been doing this for years with MSWord, and design the letter so that the mailing address shows through the opening of a standard #10 window-envelope. This precludes the embarrassment of accidentally placing a letter meant for the Smiths into an envelope addressed to the Browns.
Sending the same message to multiple recipients normally comes under Mail Merge, whereupon names and addresses are collected from a database and inserted into a form letter to give the appearance of everything having been typed all at once. All word processing programs have merging tools, which are found under Tools>MailMerge, along with detailed instructions available under Help. (You can also access Help by pressing your F1 key.)
I prefer a homemade procedure, however, which works well with a Holiday Mailing List of, say, a few dozen friends and family. I start by typing the names and addresses just as they would appear on an envelope, with the Recipient Name on the top line and the Street Address on the second line, along with City, State, and Zip Code on the third line.
After typing a name and address, I press Enter twice before typing the next recipient's data. Here's an example of two entries:
Bob & Alice Watson
1234 Evergreen Lane
Fallbrook, CA 92028
The Layton Family
2020 Alden St.
Anaheim, CA 92801
These entries will later be copied and pasted into the Holiday Newsletter one at a time, and will be aligned to show through a window-envelope's opening.
This informal layout permits flexibility in how one enters the data. For instance, the top line could read "Bob & Mary Smith & Family" or "Bob, Mary, Jen & Billy Smith" or "The Smith Family" or, simply, "The Smiths."
As for the letter itself, you need to begin it low enough on the page for the name and address to show through the window. The best way to determine this is to experiment — print the top half of a few trial letters to find the exact settings needed.
Photos and/or clipart can be interspersed throughout the text by using Insert>Picture>From File, and browsing to the graphic of your choice. This will insert the image with its upper left corner at the location of your cursor. However, these steps will not allow you to move the picture around the page.
You can make the picture moveable by first going to Insert>Text Box. Depending on your version of MSWord, this command will either display a rectangle with a flashing cursor inside, or it will turn your cursor into a tiny cross with which you can draw a rectangle of the approximate size and shape of the picture.
Now click inside the box and go to Insert>Picture>From File. Browse to the wanted image and double-click it. When the image is inside the Text Box you can grab any edge of the box and slide it around the page to wherever you want. The picture will move with it.
If you double-click any edge of the Text Box, a set of options will appear which allow you to change the box in various ways. For instance, you can make the box outline invisible by going to Format>Text Box>Colors & Lines>Line>Color>No Line.
You can also use the Layout options to cause text to flow around the picture or to go behind it or in front of it.
If you double-click a picture, a set of options will appear which allow you to format the image in various ways. It pays to experiment with these commands.
Add Names and Addresses to the Newsletters
As for combining the names and addresses with the actual letter, you can do it with one pass through the printer, or with two passes. (The latter means first printing the body of the letter, and then printing the names and addresses in a second pass).
To accomplish everything in a single pass, do the following: Open your newsletter document so that the space for the name and address is accessible. Then open the page containing all the names and addresses alongside of the main document. If necessary, reshape these documents by grabbing their corners or edges as needed to get them aligned side by side.
Now it becomes simply a matter of selecting and copying (with Ctrl+C) a name and address, followed by pasting it (with Ctrl+V) into the newsletter. Now go to File>Save As, and rename the newsletter with something that corresponds to the recipient's name (such as NewsletterToLayton.doc).
Repeat this procedure until you have one newsletter complete with a name and address for each recipient.
Alternatively, you could print all the newsletters with the name and address space left blank. Then you can come back and print the names and addresses with a second pass.
Obviously, 2-pass printing would be very inefficient if there were thousands of newsletters to be done. But for doing just a few, I find doing it with two passes just about as practical as using one pass.
An additional option is to type an opening greeting just below each name/address entry, as it might best suit any particular recipients. For instance, a greeting could read, "Hi there, Smith family," or "Ho, ho, ho to the Hoboken Clan."
MSOffice users can also do original artwork on a page by clicking View>Toolbars>Drawing and choosing from a variety of design tools, complete with many pre-drawn objects. Choosing View>Toolbars>Wordart lets you turn simple text phrases into stylish, colorful designs.
Printing Mailing Labels & Envelopes with MSWorks, MSWord, & Excel
An illustrated page of the following instructions can be seenhere.
A number of readers have asked how to create printed mailing labels and envelopes. Outputting printed labels and/or envelopes is done via two programs; a "database," which lists the recipients' names and addresses, and a "word processing program," which formats the actual print-outs of the labels and envelopes.
MSOffice users normally use Excel for their database and MSWord for the formatting. However, MSWorks users have a built-in Database for organizing their names and addresses, while using the the MSWorks Word Processor to format the print-outs. (Some newer versions of MSWorks use MSWord instead of the older MSWorks Word Processor.)
What is a database? It's a cross-reference of various types of information. The database used by most of us is a collection of items such as names, addresses, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers.
You create a list of names and addresses in MSWorks by choosing its "Database" utility, which generates column headings called "Fields." Overtype "Field1" with something like "FirstName." Click ADD and "Field2" will appear, over which you can type "LastName." After typing your City, State, and Zip Code field headers, click EXIT or DONE.
Now go to File>Save As, and name the file, say, "Holiday Database." By default, the file normally goes to your "My Documents" folder. Works will add the extension ".WDB" to the database filename.
Now comes the big job; typing in all the names and addresses. You can alphabetize this data by going to Records>Sort Records, and following the prompts.
Next 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, "Holiday Print Template." MSWorks will add the extension ".WPS" to the filename. (MSWord 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. Choose Avery #8160 labels 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 Database.wdb" (or Holiday Database.doc). 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 template that displays "FirstName and LastName" on the top line, "StreetAddress" on the second line, and "City, State, Zip" on the third line. Using a fourth line for "Apt." or "Space No." is optional.
Additional layout options, such as font styles and colors, are available by clicking "Advanced." Finally, go to File>Print Preview, to see just how your print-out will look.
MSOffice users will create their database with Excel, which uses the word "Columns" instead of "Fields," and "Rows" instead of "Records." Begin by typing FirstName, LastName, StreetAddress, City, State and Zip into the top row's first six cells.
After you've filled in all the names and addresses, launch MSWord and go to Tools>Mail Merge>Create>Envelopes & Labels, and follow the prompts.
I've been asked about the differences between JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) photos and GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) photos.
The JPG image format has become the de facto world standard for copying images from a digital camera onto a computer's hard drive, and is the most-used format for displaying photos on the Internet.
Earlier image formats, such as RAW, TIF, and BMP, generated huge file sizes that took up lots of disk space and which were difficult to transmit as email attachments.
Admittedly, large file sizes were more of an issue back when disk drives were small and getting online was usually done via slow telephone dial-up connections. Nonetheless, folks still have various reasons for wanting to reduce the file sizes of their photos and other images.
JPG images have smaller file sizes because of "compression," which usually discards about 20% of the color information in a photo. This information tends to be redundant, and the 80% left over is normally adequate to be visually pleasing to the eye.
However, if you open a previously-saved JPG and then save it again, the new image's file size will be about 80% of the first 80%. Subsequent opening and saving of a compressed file will continue to discard information to where the final image may look mushy and out of focus. Once information is removed from a JPG there is no way to restore it.
Nonetheless, this problem can be circumvented by maintaining your JPG at its original "digital camera file size." If you want to edit the picture, open it in an image-editing program, go to File>Save As, and give it a new name. The original will then be set aside as you work on the copy. If you subsequently decide to open the copied image for more editing, do File>Save As, and give it yet another name. Using incremental names, such as Bob-1.jpg and Bob-2.jpg makes this easy to do.
You can also opt to save subsequent copies of an image at a "Save Quality" of 100%, or at any percentage of your choice. In Irfanview (free from www.Irfanview.com) this feature pops up in a dialogue box when you do File>Save As.
Another option under File>Save As is "Save As Type," where you can choose a non-compressible format, such as BMP or TIF. You can edit BMPs and TIFs without fear of losing any of their color information. Finally, re-save the edited file as a JPG.
You could also choose the GIF format; but photos limited to 256 colors are usually less satisfying than JPGs that can contain millions of colors. However, there is still a place for 256-color images on the Internet. Most of the cartoons and other simple graphics seen online are GIF files, including most of the cute animated ones.
Regarding "compression," many types of files can be reduced in size, and subsequently restored to their original state. This is often called "zipping" and "unzipping;" but such is not the case with JPG compression.
Regarding the Latest Versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox
I've heard from numbers of readers who had upgraded from Internet Explorer 6 to Internet Explorer 7, and from some who had replaced Firefox 1.5 with Firefox 2. They all said they preferred the earlier versions and asked how to get them back.
Well, any existing version of Firefox can be uninstalled using the Add/Remove Programs within Control Panel, whereupon another version can be downloaded from www.mozilla.org. Microsoft, however, has historically made returning to an earlier IE version nearly impossible. Therefor it came as a pleasant surprise to learn that one can ditch IE-7 and return to IE-6 by simply going to Start>Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs and uninstalling IE-7, upon which IE-6 will be automatically restored.
Alternatively, you can restore IE-6 going to Start>All Programs>Accessories>System>System Restore.
Follow the prompts to see "Return My Computer to an Earlier Time" and a calendar which lets you choose a date that occurred before IE-7 was installed. Timing is critical, however, because this feature only lets you go back a week or so.
Pros and Cons of Firefox
I recently explained why I prefer certain Firefox features to features in Internet Explorer. However, a significant downside to Firefox (all versions) is its tendency to hang up and necessitate rebooting periodically. This is why I use both Firefox and IE - I can use the special features of Firefox without having to reboot quite as often.
Pros and Cons of Different Media Players
Another question readers have been asking is: Which media player is best? Well, Windows Media Player 10 comes with WinXP, and plays most of the popular music formats, such as MP3, WMA, WAV, and MID. It also plays WMVs, AVIs, and MPGs, along with several other video formats.
Some audio/video formats require different media players. RealPlayer is needed for playing RA and RAM tunes. However, it also plays formats compatible with Windows Media Player. RealPlayer is free, but downloading it means signing up for all kinds of promos to upgrade to a paid version. Personally, I avoid "Real" products and stick to media compatible with WMP.
Videos with the MOV extension require QuickTime. Like RealPlayer, QT also plays items compatible with Windows Media Player. Again, however, I try to avoid music or movies that require anything but WMP. I find WMP (version 10 and the newer version 11) to be more versatile and easier to use.
Instructions on how to download the songs are there, as well.
A frequent complaint I hear is that a user of WMP will find that his or her songs and videos have suddenly begun to open in RealPlayer or QuickTime, which can often lead to a variety of problems.
This occurs when one finds a song or video online that can only be opened in RealPlayer or QuickTime. You'll be asked if you want to download the free player, whereupon clicking OK will lead you to a prompt that invites you click another OK to switch all your media files to the downloaded player.
To re-associate your media files with WMA, right-click an item and then click Open With. Next click Choose Program>Windows Media Player. Finally, click Always use the selected program to open this kind of file.
From then on, double-clicking that type of song will open it in Windows Media Player.
Browsing with Different Browsers
Regarding my recent comparison of browsers, I heard from readers who had upgraded from Internet Explorer 6 to version 7, and from some who had replaced Firefox 1.5 with version 2. They all said they preferred the earlier versions and asked how to get them back.
Well, any existing version of Firefox can be uninstalled via Add/Remove Programs within Control Panel, whereupon another version can be downloaded from www.mozilla.org.
Microsoft, however, makes returning to an earlier IE version nearly impossible. Nonetheless, IE-6 can be restored by going to Start>All Programs>Accessories>System>System Restore. Follow the prompts to see "Return My Computer to an Earlier Time" and a calendar which lets you choose to a date that occurred before installing IE-7. Timing is critical, however, since this feature only lets you go back a week or so.
I recently explained why I prefer certain Firefox features to features in IE. However, a significant downside to Firefox (all versions) is its tendency to hang up and necessitate rebooting periodically. This is why I use both Firefox and IE - not needing to reboot quite as often.
Another question readers have been asking is: Which media player is best? Well, Windows Media Player 10 comes with WinXP, and plays most of the popular music formats, such as MP3, WMA, WAV, and MID. It also plays WMVs, AVIs, and MPGs, along with several other video formats.
Some audio/video formats require different media players. RealPlayer is needed for playing RA and RAM tunes. However, it also plays formats compatible with Windows Media Player. RealPlayer is free, but downloading it means signing up for all kinds of promos to upgrade to a paid version. Personally, I avoid "Real" products and stick to media compatible with WMP.
Videos with the MOV extension require QuickTime. Like RealPlayer, QT also plays items compatible with Windows Media Player. Again, however, I try to avoid music or movies that require anything but WMP. I find WMP (version 10 and the newer version 11) to be more versatile and easier to use.
For instance, WMP will play all the vintage songs on my site, including the traditional seasonal standards I put there every year at this time. Instructions on how to download the songs are there, as well.
A frequent complaint I hear is that a user of WMP will find that his or her songs and videos have suddenly begun to open in RealPlayer or QuickTime, which can often lead to a variety of problems. This occurs when one finds a song or video online that can only be opened in RP or QT. You'll be asked if you want to download the free player, where upon clicking OK will lead you to a prompt that invites you click another OK to switch all your media files to the downloaded player.
To re-associate your media files with Windows Media Player, right-click an item and then click Open With. Next click Choose Program>Windows Media Player. Finally click "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file."
A number of folks have been asking which browser I recommend. Let's start by explaining just what a browser is and what it does.
The original Internet was created to have phone-line connectivity among various institutions such as universities and governmental offices around the country. These lines carried plain text messages only, and the software needed to send and receive the messages was relatively simple.
In the early 1990s, some far-sighted entrepreneurs added something called the World Wide Web to the Internet, whereby files containing graphics, audio and video could also be transmitted. However, a new kind of interface was needed to send, receive and read these files, as well as being able to browse the Web and look at different sites.
Early browsers, such as Mosaic and Netscape, were available for sale as computer users became interested in exploring the new Web. When Microsoft began including Internet Explorer free with Windows, other browsers became free as well.
At about the same time, AOL added a browser to its interface, meaning that its members had Web access without needing to use their built-in Internet Explorer browser.
In fact, AOL users were often unaware that other browsers existed, or even that a browser was part of their AOL package.
With the advent of cable access, the Web began to grow exponentially, causing users to become more interested in how various browsers compared to one another. Some entrepreneurs went so far as to develop an open-source browser called Mozilla, upon which other browsers were built, such as Firefox and a revamped Netscape.
So which one is best? Well, because Internet Explorer is the most used, it's the one continually under attack from malicious hackers — which is why Microsoft keeps sending us patches and service packs. Firefox has fewer security issues, so many find it preferable.
Space here doesn't allow for a side-by-side comparison of all the various browser differences, but I can tell you what I like. I use Firefox for most things, but switch to Internet Explorer for watching videos on CNN News, because Firefox needs a special plug-in for CNN videos. I really like the way Firefox lets me store all my various email account passwords so I don't have to keep typing them in. However, this feature is of questionable value if others have access to your PC.
Both Internet Explorer and Firefox came out with new versions recently: Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2. I tried both and prefer Internet Explorer 6 and Firefox 1.5. Only you can decide which works best for your needs. I'm waiting till the newer versions are further debugged.
Finally, I have to point out that both versions of Firefox are somewhat unstable, in that they hang up and stop working after several uses during a given computer session. In fact, it's not uncommon to have to use CTRL+ALT+DEL to break out of a hang-up and reboot your computer. If this were an issue with just one computer I would say it's a one-PC problem. However, we have found this to be an issue on five different computers we have used recently.
This column has never been intended as a review of particular companies, but my recent experience with two of them needs to be shared with other computer users. After weeks of research on the latest high-end computers, I decided that an Alienware had everything I wanted in a new PC.
However, its console is about twice as big and heavy as the average computer tower. So I asked for a two-year on-site extended warranty.
The computer performed beautifully for five weeks and suddenly died. No problem, I thought - my warranty will have a technician here in a day or two to replace what appeared to be a dead power supply. However, when I called for service, I was told that "on-site" didn't necessarily mean someone would come to the house, and that a technician would talk me through some steps that might lead to fixing the problem myself.
This tech then told me to open the case and follow his instructions. I mentioned having always been told that opening a computer's case would nullify its warranty. Not a problem, he assured me, and spent more than two hours telling me to disconnect and reconnect several of the machine's internal components. He finally said that the computer would have to be sent to Florida, where they would fix the problem and return it to me in two weeks.
I said this was totally unacceptable and that if they didn't send someone to the house within two days, I would return the computer and buy one locally. They said the 30-day return period” had expired and I had no choice but to do as they said.
Alienware Reneging on its Warranty
I said this was reneging on their warranty and that I would expect a full refund. However, before returning the computer, I had the problem of getting my personal files off of a hard drive that couldn't be booted.
So I called
MakeItWork.com and explained the situation. They had a technician at my house the next morning who cleared the hard drive and then asked if I wanted the dead power supply replaced - she had one in her company car. If Alienware had done this, the issue would have then been resolved and over with. But they didn't, and I had already bought another computer.
MakeItWork.com, the company has technicians covering the coastal communities of Southern California from Santa Barbara to San Diego.
Stephanie Concepcion was mine, and I've never had more professional service in my three decades of owning computers. I couldn't have been more pleased, and I recommend the company to anyone who needs a computer technician to make a house call.
Note: Alienware finally gave us a full refund on Dec. 2, 2006. The refund did not cover the cost of having MakeItWork come to the house or of shipping the computer back to Miami, but it's nice to be out from under a computer whose "on-site warranty" was totally worthless.
A reader has asked why an animated graphic no longer moves after
he's copied it to his computer. Well, since these animations are often
used in email greeting cards, this might be a good time to learn how
An "animated GIF" is a series of pictures in which each successive
image has something move slightly from its previous position, as has
been done in the movies for decades. When a complete strip is viewed
on your monitor, each successive image replaces the previous one, thus
giving the illusion of, say, a snowman doffing his hat.
If you try to edit an animated GIF without the proper editing tools,
you will most likely cause it to become a static image.
I won't try to explain here the complex steps involved in creating an
animation, but I can tell you how to copy one into an email to ensure
that its recipient sees the miniature motion picture.
First, it's important to understand that GIFs are not the same as more
recent and more sophisticated animations, such as those created with
"Flash." GIFs can be easily copied and pasted, while Flash movies
GIF files were designed to do their little dances on web pages or in
HTML-based emails (which includes nearly all emails nowadays). If you see
one you like, right-click it and choose Save Picture As (or Save Image
As). The graphic's filename (such as Frosty.gif) will appear, along
with a suggested location (usually your My Pictures folder). When you
click Save or OK, a copy of Frosty doffing his hat will be placed on
your hard drive.
If you then want to put Frosty into an outgoing email, Outlook
Express will let you click Insert>File Attachment, whereupon you will
browse to the file and double-click it. AOL mail has a similar option,
or you can just drag the filename directly into the body of the
email. Other email programs have similar "Insert" options — or you
can "Attach" the graphics, using the "Paper Clip" button.
However, you may not see the graphic moving at that point. But it does
move when the recipient opens the email. You can prove this by first
sending the email to yourself.
Back to the reader's question — he pasted an animated GIF into Irfanview
(the free image-editing program from
www.irfanview.com) and says that it wouldn't move. Well,
some image-editors (such as Irfanview) will show GIFs in motion, while
others (such as Windows Paint) will not. So what went wrong?
Well, rather than list the various wrong ways to put Frosty into
Irfanview, here are some correct ways: Right-click Frosty.gif, choose
Open With, and click on Irfanview from the list of image-editing programs
If you use Irfanview as your default program for opening images, as I do, then simply
double-clicking Frosty.gif will do the job.
Alternatively, you can launch Irfanview, go to File>Open, and browse to the
target image. Once you have a graphic displayed, you can drag a different
picture's filename directly onto the existing image, whereupon the dragged image will replace
Converting CSV (Comma Separated Values) into a Useful Database
Al Roller called to say he had a roster of retired military personnel
that he wanted to use as a mailing list for a newsletter. Each
person's data was enclosed in quotation marks and was listed by "Last
Name", "First Name", "Rank", "Branch of Service", "Street Address",
"City", "State", and "Zip", with commas separating the quoted items.
However, everything had been entered in random order, and Al needed to
have the data formatted into a grid of rows and columns that could be
sorted by Last Name or by other criteria he might prefer.
All the data had been typed into a plain text Notepad file. We used
MSWord to reformat the text and then fed it into an Excel spreadsheet.
I gave Al the following instructions over the phone:
Click into the original list and do Ctrl+A (Select All). Next use
Ctrl+C to Copy everything. Then click inside a blank MSWord page, and
use Ctrl+V to Paste in all the data
First we needed to get rid of all the quotation marks. I said to use
Ctrl+H to bring up a Find & Replace box. Type a quotation mark (")
into the Find field, and leave the Replace With field empty. Finally,
Al clicked Replace All, and all the quotation marks vanished.
Next, we needed to replace each comma with a Tab setting. This is
because Excel recognizes the Tab as a delimiter which will place each
tabbed item into a separate column cell. However, manually deleting
each comma and then pressing the Tab key would be a monstrously
time-consuming job. Instead, we used Microsoft's code for Tab, which
is the "carat" symbol (Shift+6) followed by a lower case t (^t).
Using a capital T won't work.
Again, Al did Ctrl+H. He then typed a comma into the Find field. In
the Replace With field he typed: ^t. Upon clicking Replace All, all
the commas disappeared, and each "tabbed" item shifted to its right,
just as if someone had pressed the Tab key. The end result appeared to
be a hopeless mess of garbled text which could never be properly
aligned or sorted. Keep reading.
Well, I told Al to use Ctrl+A to Select All of the text on his MSWord
page, and then to use Ctrl+C to Copy it. Then I had him launch a blank
Excel spreadsheet. Finally Al clicked inside the upper left cell (A1)
and did Ctrl+V to Paste in all the copied text. Voila - every tabbed
phrase jumped into its own cell with all the rows and columns in
Often such a Name & Address list will have been typed with all the
data stacked vertically by pressing Enter after each item. In order to
convert an Enter-separated list into a Tab-separated list, use the
above instructions, but type ^p (Shift+6 and a lower-case p, which is
Microsoft's code for a Paragraph break) into the Find box. Then type
^t into the Replace With box, as before.
Gloria McCaffrey wrote about a free anti-spyware program called SpywareBlaster from
JavaCoolSoftware.com, with which I am favorably impressed. Two other free programs are Defender from
and Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition 1.06 from
I have used Ad-Aware for years and have always recommended it.
However, getting it for free has recently become an issue.
A number of "free" programs, including SpywareBlaster, are actually "shareware," and depend on donations from satisfied users to keep their creators going. Well, it appears that donations to Ad-Aware have been low, so they have put two buttons on Download.com: "Download Now" and "Buy Now." The latter asks for $26.95. (Personally, I feel it's worth the donation.)
A New and Clever "Screen Shot" Program
Jack Bulloch wrote about a nifty freebie called Snippy from
www.bhelpuri.net/snippy. It lets you draw a freehand box around anything on a Web page, whereupon the enclosed item (text and/or images) can be copied and pasted into a word-processing or email page. (Simple instructions for using the tool are on my home page.)
Bruce Dunne wrote to say that his favorite service for sharing photos online is
Shutterfly.com because it's easy to use and does not require a viewer to register. He said his favorite site for printing photos is
Winkflash.com because it is much less expensive than Costco and most photo-processing services.
Converting an Image in an MSWord Document into a JPG
Gordon Collinson asked if there is a way to convert a photo he received in an MSWord document into a JPG image. Well, the picture can be copied and pasted into an image-editing program, but the quality may or may not be acceptable. If you want to try it, however, right-click the picture and choose Copy. Then open your image-editing program and do Edit>Paste (or Paste as New Image or Paste as New Document).
However, pressing one's PrtScrn (PrintScreen) key will copy whatever is on the screen onto the invisible Windows Clipboard, whereupon it can be pasted into an image editor and have the exact same appearance as the original. The image can then be cropped, to eliminate all the surrounding Destop that was also captured in the screen shot.
This works great for a picture that will be attached to an email or posted on a Web page. However, an inkjet printout may be less satisfying because it will have the same DPI (dots per inch) that your monitor has. This could be anywhere from about 72 to 96 DPI. A decent inkjet print-out should have at least 300 DPI.
Yes, most image editors will let you choose a different DPI before printing, but this works best with large pictures that will be reduced before going to the printer. In any case, if you have a JPG that you want to email to someone, sending it as a picture-bearing MSWord document is a very inefficient method. MSWord files are much larger than an equivalently sized JPG. This means that they take up more disk space, are clumsy and slow at being emailed, and give you the problems described above. Just attach a copy of the JPG to an email.
Being Asked for a Password When Signing On to a Site
As social networking sites continue to proliferate, users are being asked to sign up by providing an email address and a password.
However, this does not mean giving them the same password you use for your actual email. Create a different password for each particular site.
AOL has become an interesting anomaly in the history of personal computing. It was not the first "online database service," but it was the first to fully take advantage of a new thing called the "Internet " in the mid-1990s. It even provided a built-in browser, while users of most other services had to buy Netscape Navigator if they wanted to visit the World Wide Web. Later, Microsoft's free Internet Explorer caused Netscape to become free as well. AOL then bought Netscape, but did little to make it a particularly desirable product.
Nonetheless, AOL grew to become the world's largest ISP and its offer of a free trial period usually came with a new PC, along with free-trial disks being available just about everywhere imaginable. In fact, many who never used any service but AOL came to assume that everybody else had the exact same online experience they did. The fact that IE and Outlook Express came included with their computers and that most other ISPs charged much less than AOL somehow escaped their notice.
However, AOL's business model was built on telephone dial-up connections, and when most users began switching to cable or DSL, AOL's market share dropped precipitously. Their most recent attempt to catch up has been to offer AOL free to users who have a high-speed connection, but to continue charging dial-up customers the same presumptuous rate as before.
I accepted their high-speed free offer and am very pleased with the results. But what's the advantage, since I already have a browser and email service I'm happy with? Well, AOL does have access to some videos not available on other services, and I opted for "AOL en Español" so I could keep up with my Spanish. If others find some advantage to the new free AOL, I'd love to hear about it.
One of the main advantages to having a computer nowadays is being able to touch up your digital photos. The problem is that there are many different image-editing programs, and some of the editing procedures can be incredibly complicated. Those who edit photos for a living usually take an intensive college-level course in Adobe Photoshop, the $600 program used by most professionals.
However, the two most popular programs for non-professionals seem to be Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel Paint Shop Pro - both priced under $100. So I plan on giving a series of easy-to-follow tips for using these programs in this column, along with putting more detailed examples on my Web site.
Nonetheless, if you use a different image-editor that several others are also using, let me know and I will try to also post tips here that can be used in those programs.
Two free image-editing programs that all photo buffs should download are Picasa2 from
www.google.com and Irfanview from
www.irfanview.com. They each have some wonderfully helpful features that will enhance your photo management experience significantly. I'll be giving details in future columns.
A reader said she created a "tent card" in Windows Paint, in which an
image would appear on both halves of an 8.5x11 sheet of paper when it
was folded and set on a table. However, she had trouble getting the
images centered properly on the page.
The problem is that Paint's page layout options are awkward and
difficult to manage. Therefore, I suggested placing the images on a
word processing page, where they could be centered precisely and
easily. Here's how:
Assuming you have two images - one right-side-up and one upside-down
- open a blank page in MSWord, WordPerfect, or in a recent version of
Then click Insert>Text Box. Depending on the version of your word
processor, a box will appear on the page or your cursor will change to
a tiny cross, with which you can draw a box. Next, draw the box - or
reshape the box that appeared - to the approximate size and shape
needed to contain one of the images.
Click on the box and use Edit>Copy, followed by Edit>Paste to place a
second box on the page. Next, click inside a box, go to
Insert>Picture>From File and browse to the target image. Do likewise
to place the other image in the second box. Now you can fine-tune the
boxes to make them just slightly larger than their contained images.
You can even change the size of an image by grabbing a corner and
adjusting as desired.
Finally, you'll want to delete each box's thin black border. In
MSWord, click the box and go to Format>Text Box>Colors & Lines>Line>No
Line. In WordPerfect, right-click the box, click Border/Fill, and
click the "blank border" space. MSWorks Text Boxes have no borders.
The Pleasures & Perils of Using IMs (instant messages)
One might assume that all computer users know what an IM (instant message) is, but I've met many folks who've had no experience with them at all. Simply put, it's a real-time online conversation between two people accomplished by typing messages back and forth. Nowadays, IMs can also include audio and/or video, depending on the accessory equipment users have.
Furthermore, IMs are free — meaning no-cost conversations with someone across the street or across the country. In fact, Mary and I often use IMs to send data back and forth between computers in the same room.
What some users may not be aware of, however, is that IM conversations can be saved, and often are — and not always with both users' consent. Therefore, it's prudent to never say anything in an IM (or in an email) that you wouldn't want to see in print someday.
Can IMs be used as evidence in court?
I'm no legal eagle, but I would doubt it, since the messages can be edited by either participant to read any way he or she might want. Nonetheless, even the hint of impropriety in a message can come back to haunt you later.
In any case, some folks save IMs thinking they might be used as an argument in a dispute someday. Well, for whatever reason, here's how they can be saved:
Saving an IM
Usually, an open IM will have a File>Save, or File>Save As option which can be used to save the conversation as a text file (.TXT) or as an HTML file (.HTM). AOL sometimes uses RTX, which is basically the same as HTML.
Alternatively, you can click inside an open conversation and do Ctrl+A (Select All) and Ctrl+C (Copy), whereupon you can use Ctrl+V to Paste the copied text into a text-editing page of some kind or into an email. Finally, use Ctrl+S (Save) or File>Save As to name and save the conversation. (I've done IMing with people all over the world, and can't imagine being without such a service.)
IM capabilities have always come with AOL, where one can type Buddy List into the Go line to create a list of potential correspondents. Non-AOL users can sign up with any number of other free services, of which AIM (AOL Instant Message at
(www.aim.com) is the most popular. Others include MSN, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, Netscape Messenger, and Google's Hello. Many social networking sites, such as MySpace, also have internal IM services which can be used between members.
AIM has automatic compatibility with AOL and CompuServe users, while Trillian
(www.ceruleanstudios.com) claims to be compatible with all IM services.
It's also possible to create a "private chat room" wherein invitees can visit without fear of strangers entering the room or eavesdropping on conversations. See your IM service's Help areas for details.
Free Long Distance Voice Conversations
The best thing about these services, in my humble opinion, is being able to have free audio conversations. You can do this by plugging a microphone into your sound card's Mic input and listening to your PC's speakers. However, plugging in a headset with a built-in microphone will yield much more satisfying results. See your IM service's Help section for specifics.
Be aware, however, that hackers have ways of using IMs to perpetrate scams. DO NOT click on any links that may suddenly appear in an IM, and DO NOT accept invitations to IM with someone you don't know.
I recently mentioned signing up with www.myspace.com/donedrington
so I could learn what happens there and why the site is so popular. First, let me tell you about my previous experience with social networking.
In the late '90s I joined a "writers' board" on AOL, where authors of short stories and poems could post their creative efforts, and comment on the postings of others, who in return might comment on theirs. Although the board was never intended as a "get acquainted" service, many of the writers did get acquainted, and some of the relationships evolved into real-life romances.
Well, in those days all the corresponding was done with the written word - no pictures, no drawings, and certainly no videos. MySpace, on the other hand, encourages people to get acquainted using all of these things. You start by filling out a questionnaire that creates an online profile, which includes any mug shot you may choose to upload. You are then given a "space" where you can post more photos and/or writings, such as a personal blog.
Other users see these things and can then post comments on your photos and/or add something to your blog. Each such response is accompanied by a thumbnail of the responder's photo, which gives you a miniature view of the person's appearance.
The real frosting on the cake, however, is the access to all kinds of layout templates, which let users create some amazingly colorful and eye-dazzling pages. Some use animated graphics and/or a "conveyor belt" slide show of their photos. Many pages look like they were created by special-effects designers at DreamWorks or Pixar Studios.
All of the above is completely free and there seems to be no limit to how many things can be put into a user's space. It's free, of course, because of an endless stream of ads that goes along the top of each page. Be aware that spending any time on MySpace nets a goodly collection of "adware cookies." These can be subsequently removed by clicking on Start>Control Panel>Internet Options>Delete Cookies.
I assume everyone knows the site was designed with young people in mind, but a few mature users have signed up as well. However, the clickable list of years in which one graduated from high school only goes back to 1950.
Another feature is a "Search" field, into which you can type a person's real name or his or her user name. (Mine is pcdon.) This can be used to look for a specific person's space, or you can type in, say, "Beverly" and see the pages of all users with that name. Another option is "Keep my space private," which allows only user-invited persons to see it.
If you choose to just browse all the public pages, you may see some pretty wild stuff, including a few pictures posted by Playboy-wannabees. However, any image can be marked as "inappropriate," in which case it might be removed - but I doubt this happens very often.
Who's Teaching Whom?
Historically, adults have taught children who grew up to teach still other children. Contemporary computer knowledge, however, often moves in the opposite direction. When Grandpa buys a PC he might ask a grandson to teach him how to use it. The teen will probably accommodate, if he's not too busy ogling pics of scantily-clad and provocatively-posed females on MySpace or watching strippers on DailyMotion.
It's not my intent to be an alarmist about the exploding social networking phenomenon, but rather to suggest that anyone wanting to know what's going on - and what's coming off - should consider checking out some of the groups. Most allow visitors to look around, but one needs to sign up to get the inside scoop.
If you feel uncomfortable joining an online group that caters to teens and twenty-somethings, you can pretend to be a hip young hottie when you post your personal profile — which is one of the chief dangers of using these sites; people are not always who they claim to be. You've undoubtedly heard some of the horror stories.
Rather than banning youngsters from these sites, I'd recommend checking them out and talking to your kid about being the one who sets a good example for others. Having controls on a home PC won't keep kids from these sites when their friends have free access.
In any case, if you decide to sign up disguised as a teen, be sure to use the worst imaginable spelling and grammar, like udderwise aint nobdy gonna beleive u. To its credit, MySpace does have a "Safety Tips" page, which offers some sensible advice.
I don't take a position on what consenting adults do in private, but I do worry about lonely people — of any age — who can be duped into dangerous situations by a smooth-talking conniver who is out to steal their identity, or worse. On the other hand, social networking can be a great way for a shy, introverted person to make new friends — if he or she uses common sense and keeps informed about the potential dangers. I have met some wonderful and amazing people online, whom I never would have met otherwise.
Print Your Own Photos or Have Them Printed Elsewhere?
Digital camera users are quick to learn that taking hundreds — or even thousands — of snapshots can be done at practically no cost. The real cost is in turning them into prints. Even with discount ink cartridges, having pictures printed by services such as FedEx Kinko or Costco can be cheaper than doing your own. It pays to compare.
However, using an outside service can add driving expenses to the total price. Well, you can save transportation costs by emailing your digital files to the various photo processors, who can then send the prints to you via US mail or a parcel service.
Another option is the do-it-yourself kiosks popping up in places like Target and your local drug store. You simply insert your camera's memory card into a slot and then choose the photos you want printed from an on-screen display. Many also have a scanner for digitizing conventional prints and a CD drawer for copying files from a disc. It can all be done while you wait.
As for emailing photos as attachments, all email programs have a paper-clip icon and/or an Attach button, which let you browse to the target photo(s). However, it's easier to find your pictures first (usually in your My Pictures folder) and right-click them, followed by choosing
Send To>Email Recipient. If you're sending multiple photos, hold down Ctrl while left-clicking each. Then right-click the selection and follow the "Send To" drill. Limiting attachments to about six per email should work just fine.
Displaying Your Photos Online
I've been asked what's the best way to display one's photos online so they can be seen by friends and family around the world. To me, the ideal way is to have your own Web site. Although most ISPs offer subscribers free sites, along with help and templates for setting them up, many users are intimidated by the thought of dealing with HTML and other aspects of maintaining a personal home page.
Well, companies like Kodak have long been promoting "family photo" sites that allow you to simply upload the pictures and let them handle all the high-tech details. Their hope in offering such free services is that you will end up buying glossy prints, leather-bound albums, and other goodies from them.
Nowadays, however, the Internet is awash in sites that invite you to upload photos, videos, artwork, and text messages of all kinds.
Any teenager can tell you how this is done with MySpace.com. The dozens of other "social networking" sites are too numerous to be listed here, but can be easily found by typing phrases like "free photo sites" or "how to upload my videos" into Google's Find box Google.com.
I believe the best I've found so far is Flickr.com, where the main thrust appears to be displaying personal photos in a more or less traditional "postage stamp" view, whereupon a clicked thumbnail will display the full-sized picture. If someone knows of a better site, let me know and I'll be glad to tell about it here.
Have you ever tried getting a replacement battery for a cell phone? You were
very likely told the battery is no longer in stock and that the phone itself
is basically obsolete. This is what we heard at four local cell phone
stores, along with being shown all the latest razzle-dazzle features on the
newest phones, and asked which one we wanted to buy.
Well, Mary typed the phone's name and model number into Google and was lead to
where the battery was listed along with an
online order form. The battery arrived in two days and we took it to one of
the local phone stores to ask if they would install it. They not only did
the replacement at no charge, they thanked us for letting them dispose of
the old battery as per EPA regulations.
My Favorite 5-Button Mouse - Trying to Find Another
A similar situation regards a mouse I bought a few years ago. The Microsoft
5-button Optical IntelliMouse is the absolute best I've ever used, but could
find it nowhere when I wanted another to use with a newly purchased PC. All
the stores we went to said the item had been discontinued. So I bought one
of the "new, improved" models, and found it to be nearly worthless compared
to the older model.
The one I like has two conventional buttons and a scroll wheel, which when
pressed, becomes a third button. The remaining two buttons are one each on
the mouse's left and right edges. I've programmed the extra buttons to do
Copy (Ctrl+C), Undo (Ctrl+Z), and Paste (Ctrl+V). However, they can be
programmed to execute many other commands, if prefered. The "new, improved"
models have two tiny buttons on the left edge and none on the right - an
abysmally poor design.
Again, Mary typed the mouse's description into Google and was lead to
Amazon.com, who had the mouse listed at a discounted price. We ordered
three, and received them from
TigerDirect.com a few days later.
I am again a very, very happy mouseketeer.
Bought a New Alienware Computer
The new computer I mentioned was also bought online. Because of the
resource-intensive ways in which I use a PC, I wanted the latest Intel Core
2 Extreme chips, along with 2 GB of RAM. I also wanted the best cooling
system that could be found and a medium-priced graphics card. Finally, I
wanted a machine that did NOT come with pre-installed anti-virus software or
lots of vendor-chosen programs. I prefer choosing my own.
Mary spent many hours researching these criteria, and decided on an
Alienware Area 51 7500 that sells for about $2,000, without a monitor.
(Alienware, by the way, was recently acquired by Dell.)
If I were to name a downside to the machine, it would be its large size and
weight. However, the exotic cabinet design looks like something out of Star
Wars. The various models can be found at Alienware.com. By the way, we did
not choose it for its space age looks, but for its cool-running,
high-capacity, multi-tasking capabilities.
Last time I wrote about using Google's "define:" feature to find a definition for "durst," and was told there is no such word in English. Well, at www.dictionary.com, I learned that the word is the preterit and past participle of "dare" in archaic English. Just more evidence that it pays to check multiple sources of information on the Web. And www.dictionary.com is a very useful free site.
Using MSWord with a Foreign Language
Speaking of languages, Brian Handly wrote to mention that MSWord has some very useful options for creating documents other languages.
Go to Start>Programs>Microsoft Office>Microsoft Office Tools>Microsoft Office Language Settings. Next, click the Enabled Languages tab. In the Available Languages box, select the one you want to enable, and click Add.
If you don't see your chosen language, or if you see "Limited Support" next to a language, you may need to install additional tools, which will be on your MSOffice CD.
In most European languages, a spell-checker will also be installed, along with options for using the language's special characters. Furthermore, two icons will appear in your System Tray near the digital clock - one for English and one for the other language. Clicking an icon will switch from one language to the other.
You can then switch between spell-checkers by clicking on Tools>Language>Set Language. For additional information on using foreign languages in MSWord, click on Help or press F1.
Over the years I've done a lot of typing in Spanish, since I used to teach an Adult Beginner's Course for Palomar College. This was back before word processing programs had tools for making this easy. My trick was to simply type all the special Spanish characters - such as the accented vowels and inverted question mark - at the top of a page, and then copy and paste them as needed throughout the document.
The special characters can be found in MSWord by clicking Insert>Symbol, and choosing Normal Text for your font. Over time, I built my own collection of AutoCorrect words that made the job even easier. For instance, since terms like nino and manana and camion are not normal English words, I used AutoCorrect to make them automatically change to niño, mañana, and camión, as I typed them. Here's how it's done:
Once you have created some distinctive words, such as, say, señorita, go to Tools>AutoCorrect and type senorita into the Replace: box. Then paste señorita into the With: box. Finally, click Add and OK.
More About Special Symbols: Ñ Ú á ç ñ ó õ ü ¼ ½ ¾ ¡
Not all programs have MSWord's Insert>Symbol feature, but all the special characters and symbols can be found by going to Start>Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Character Map. Alternatively, you can go to Start>Run, type in charmap, and click OK.
Some folks prefer to enter special symbols with keyboard entries. For instance the cents symbol (¢) can be created by holding down Alt while typing 0162 on your numeric keypad. (Typing 0162 on the number keys along the top of the keyboard will not work.)
A complete list of these, and other, special symbol key combinations can be found on my site at
A friend called to ask if I knew the meaning of "durst," a word he found in an old nursery rhyme. I went to
Google.com, typed in define: durst, and was told no such word exists in English, but asked if I wanted to check other languages. I clicked YES, was told it's a German word, and was shown a lengthy definition in Deutsch, a language I don't speak.
Nonetheless, I highlighted the definition, copied it with Ctrl+C, and went to Google's Language Tools, pasted it into the Translation box with Ctrl+V, and clicked German to English. The result: "durst" is German for "thirst," and the lengthy definition was a medical discourse on the effects of thirst and dehydration.
Well, this didn't explain how my friend happened to see the word in a Mother Goose rhyme. When I asked him to read me the exact quote out of the book he had found, he said he'd loaned it to someone and couldn't give me the exact words. However, all this is explained in the Sept 25 letter below.
Finding Long-Lost Friend via the Internet
Also last week, I got a call from someone I hadn't seen in 40 years. Back then Alfredo Quintero's job was maintaining a giant computer which occupied the entire basement of a local bank. I had mentioned this
1960s-era behemoth on my site, along with Alfredo's name. Well, a daughter in San Francisco had typed his name into Google.com and ran across the story. She called her dad in Miami, and he phoned me to say how excited he was at seeing his story on the Internet. What was really exciting, of course, was being in touch with each other again after 40 years.
Why do I mention these things? Well, they are just a few examples of the amazing things we can do nowadays with computers. Of course, not everything we see online necessarily pleases us. I've also mentioned on my site being an amateur magician in my teens and how a
divorcee tried to seduce me into revealing my secrets. However, my allegiance to "The Magician's Code" kept my lips sealed.
The Magician's Code
Well, my Web Stats service told me someone had read this story, but also mentioned a video on YouTube.com regarding the "Code." So I went to take a look. To my amazement, a professional stage illusionist had made a series of videos showing how a number of famous tricks, such as sawing a woman in half, were done. The videos were full-blown stage shows, complete with fireworks and glamorous assistants. He not only broke the code, he totally buried it with these professionally-made videos. I can't help but wonder why.
Speaking of YouTube.com, it is the current leader of the "upload your own homemade videos" sites. Others are
Stickam.com and DailyMotion.com. The apparently "very liberal rules" regarding what can be uploaded have gone in some rather bizarre directions. Although most uploads are "silly home video" stuff, movie companies are posting "trailers" to theatrical movies, and porn sites have begun posting "teasers" to their hardcore URLs.
Admittedly, to access the more "adult" videos one has to click a link attesting to the viewer being 18 or over. How hard do you suppose this is to do? Knowing what their kids are seeing online is becoming an even bigger challenge than ever to parents.
I'm no authority on "parental control" systems, but KFI's tech guru Leo Laporte speaks enthusiastically about the Iboss (www.iphantom.com) a $90 device which he claims gives parents control over their kids' Internet access.
Inserting Page Numbers into a Word Processing Document
I've been asked how to add page numbering to MSWord documents. Well, first it's helpful to be familiar with "headers" and "footers" on a word-processing page. These are areas that are repeated from one page to the next without having to be retyped. Typically, a header contains the name of the document and can include items such as the author's name and/or chapter number.
Page numbers usually go in the footer, but can be placed in the header if preferred. Unlike other header/footer text, page numbers change automatically from page to page.
To insert regular page numbering, go to Insert>Page Numbers, where you will find options for placing the numbers at the top or bottom, along with choosing left, right, or center alignment. I find it easiest to accept the default of "bottom, right side" and then fine-tune these options later.
Items in a header or footer appear in light gray as you work in the body of a document. If you go to File>Print Preview, everything will appear in black, or whatever colors you have chosen. Click "Close" to return to your working view of the document.
To fine-tune your page numbering, double-clicking any of the gray numbers will change them to black while your body text changes to gray. A small "header/footer toolbar" will appear to help you with the editing. To get back into your main text, simply double-click anywhere in the body of the letter.
On the Page Numbering Toolbar The third icon from the left is for "formatting page numbers." Here you will find options for choosing numbering styles, such as 1, 2, 3, or I, II, III, or A, B, C, along with choices for the location of these characters. To change the font, size, or color of these characters use your regular Word toolbar.
The sixth icon offers options for alternating page numbers between the left and right sides, for those who will have their documents printed on both sides of a page.
A problem that often occurs with headers and footers is that they look fine on one's screen, but are partially cut off when being printed. This is because most printers can't print clear to the edges of a sheet of paper, and leave a blank area all the way around. However, the depth of this blank area varies from one printer to another.
The fix is to go to File>Page Setup>Margins and adjust the "From Edge" settings as needed. Experiment, if necessary.
Once you have established a header and a footer in a document, you may find that one or the other is not needed and try to delete it. It's much easier to delete the unwanted text and leave the footer or header in place, since they will not show up in a print-out anyway.
Page Numbering in WordPerfect is done by clicking Format>Page Numbering. Then, from the "Position" box, choose a position for the page numbers. Finally, from the "Page Numbering Format" box, choose a format for the page numbers.
Pictures, Attachments, or Senders Blocked in Outlook Express
A number of Outlook Express users have written to ask why mail from certain senders goes directly into their Deleted Items (Trash) Folder. This is because their names had been placed on the readers' "Blocked Senders" list.
OE users can block mail from a particular email address by clicking on an unwanted message and then clicking Message>Block Sender. Sadly, it's not uncommon for users to accidentally block friends with these steps. However, friends' names can be removed from this list by clicking Tools>Message Rules>Blocked Senders List, and deleting those you do NOT want blocked.
The tools for blocking a particular sender were created to help fend off unwanted spam. However, it tends to be an impotent rule, since spammers rarely use the same return address twice. Their money is made when prospects click a link in an email, which leads to a Web site where the usual bill of fare is drugs and/or pornography.
If you click "Remove Me from Mailing List," all you do is confirm your address's validity, which means you will receive even more spam. However, a "Remove Me" link from legitimate businesses will normally halt future advertising emails.
Also, creating a "White List" can ensure that only mail from correspondents you put on the list will go to a specified folder. OE users can click Tools>Message Rules>Mail and choose Where the From line contains people in the Conditions box, and Move it to Specified Folder in the Actions box. Finally, in the Rule Description box click Contains People and insert the email addresses of friends and others you wish to hear from. Then click Specified Folder and create a new folder named White List (or Safe List, or whatever you prefer).
This will not stop spam from going to your Inbox. It simply means that periodic deleting of messages in the Inbox will not affect mail from folks on your favored list.
OE Users Unable to See Pictures in Email or Open Attachments
Another frequent complaint from OE users is that they can't open attachments or see pictures in their email. This can usually be fixed by going to Tools>Options>Security and Unchecking the Do Not Allow Attachments and Block Images options.
Remember, however, that most viruses are received as email attachments; so do not open any you are not expecting. Most virus-bearing files have an extension of EXE, ZIP, or PIF. However, even MSWord DOC files can be carry a virus.
Also, do NOT depend on your anti-virus software to catch all incoming threats. There is usually a 3 or 4-day lag between a new virus being distributed and the time it takes anti-virus companies to detect it and send clients updated protection.
One of the hottest phrases in today's computer world is "Social Networking,"
which can infer many different things. The chores 20th century PCs were
expected to perform had mainly to do with processing business data, and
relatively little to do with personal communications.
However, the advent of chat rooms, instant messages, personal blogs, and the
ability to share music, photos, and videos online has turned the PC into a
"social club" of global proportions. Any teenager can tell you all about
MySpace.com, but many — perhaps most — of
their elders have only a vague idea of what it's all about.
Well, in its simplest terms, MySpace is a social networking site that
invites members to post a personal profile and a photo, along with telling
about one's favorite music, movies, and books, et al. There is also a space
labeled "Who I'd Like to Meet," wherein you can describe someone with whom
you would like to communicate. In other words, MySpace can be used as a free
Although the site is aimed at young people, anyone can become a member. I
just did, and will explain later how I intend to use my space on MySpace.
I know from personal experience there are many single seniors who have not
discovered the benefits — and the hazards — of joining a site whose main
purpose is to help people get acquainted. There are dozens of such sites,
most of which specialize in a particular type of activity, such as traveling
or doing genealogical searches for ancestors.
The best way to find such a site is to have one recommended by a friend
who's had experience with it and who can offer a beginner helpful advice.
Beyond that, typing in a search phrase such as, say, "Senior Social Network
Classic Movies" at Google.com can get you started.
Be advised, however, that someone on the other end of an IM or email
message may not be who or what he or she claims to be. You've heard the
horror stories of online predators pretending to be a friendly teen looking
for other friendly teens. Con artists who begin by asking for your address
and phone number, or who claim they need money for a terminally ill child,
are all over the Web, unfortunately.
Nonetheless, if anyone would care to recommend a site with a good
reputation, I'd be glad to mention it here.
I can't offer the name of a Web site I've had personal recent experience
with, but I do receive press releases about new sites every day. One that
came today seems to have merit.
Pearl Harbor Survivor Project
The Pearl Harbor Survivor Project is a site where folks are invited to post
their memories of December 7, 1941. Records of those who died at Pearl
Harbor exist, but no records were made of the survivors. The site appears to
be an opportunity to create a historical record of survivors and their loved
ones that does not currently exist.
A reader wrote to ask if I had any lighthouse "clipart" drawings. Another said he wanted to save a cartoon attached to an email he'd received, but didn't know how to do so.
Well, there was a time when most clipart came on a disk, or could be purchased from commercial "art" sites. However, I have 100s of drawings, paintings, and photos on my site, most of which were obtained by going to Google.com, clicking Images, and typing in a search phrase.
If you're looking for, say, a drawing of the Lincoln Memorial (rather than a photo) try adding the term GIF to your search phrase. GIF is an image format that is often used for Web page and email graphics. GIF is also used for creating most of the cute animations found online and in emails.
A Web page or email image can usually be copied to your PC by right-clicking it and choosing Save Picture As. Accept the graphic's name — or type in a new one — click OK, and a copy will be sent to your My Pictures folder (or you can choose any location you prefer, including your Desktop).
Alternatively, you can right-click an image and choose Copy, whereupon you can right-click into an open word processing page or an outbound email and choose Paste. You can even use Edit>Paste to put the image on a "canvas" in Windows Paint or Irfanview for subsequent editing.
If a Web page graphic won't respond to a right-click, you can still copy it by pressing your PrtScrn (Print Screen) key, opening an image-editor and choosing Edit>Paste. Or you can right-click into an open word processing page and choose Paste. Either action will paste in an image of everything currently on your Desktop.
I do this all the time with Irfanview (free from Irfanview.com) since the pasted graphic can immediately be cropped by mouse-drawing a rectangle around it and choosing Edit>Cut. It can then be immediately pasted back in as a new graphic with Edit>Paste, and resized to any dimensions I prefer with Image>Resize.
Speaking of image-editing, TV celeb Katie Couric was in the news recently because someone criticized a photo which made her appear slimmer than she actually is. Well, my point is that anyone with a PC can edit any digital photo with a comprehensive image-editing program, such as Adobe PhotoShop or Corel Paint Shop Pro.
Corel Paint Shop Pro is usually available as a free 30-day trial at
When I started work at the Fallbrook Enterprise in the mid-1990s, I was handed a photo of a group of Special Ed students receiving certificates. One boy was absent that day, but was photographed later on the steps where his peers had stood the day before.
When I suggested to Enterprise Editor Betty Johnston digitally integrating the boy into the first photo so he would appear to be standing with the others, she replied, "Don't you dare! What if he had been out doing something illegal when the first shot was taken, and then tried to use the newspaper photo as an alibi?" Both pictures were published, and I learned a valuable lesson in photo-journalistic ethics.
Speaking of ethics, copying an image from a web page is a violation of the image owner's copyright, unless the owner has specifically given permission to do so. Admittedly, this is a law that is broken thousands — perhaps millions — of times every day, and one which is not very high on a law enforcement agency's priority list.
Nonetheless, it's something a computer user should be aware of. For my part, I place a disclaimer on my pages that display copied graphics, along with a statement that such graphics will be removed if and when a copyright owner so requests.
Moving Outlook Express "DBX" Files to a New Computer
I recently referred to Outlook Express DBX files and their ability to be moved from one computer to another. However, a number of readers have asked for specific details.
Unlike Web-based email, such as Microsoft's Hotmail and Google's Gmail, whose messages are maintained somewhere in cyberspace, Outlook Express messages are stored on a user's own hard drive. In addition to being listed inside the various OE folders, such as Inbox, Outbox, and Sent Items, all messages in a given folder are compressed into a single file bearing the folder's name, along with an extension of .dbx.
Thus, there is an encrypted file somewhere on your computer named Inbox.dbx that is comprised of the contents of your Outlook Express Inbox.
So where does one find Inbox.dbx, Outbox.dbx, Sent Items.dbx, and the others? They are in a regular yellow Windows folder named "Outlook Express." However, this folder is nested deep within several other folders, most of which have cryptic names. I have no idea why Microsoft made this folder so hard to find and its DBX contents so difficult to understand.
Nonetheless, they can be copied from their location on one computer into the Outlook Express program on another, by following these steps:
On the older computer go to Start>Search>All Files & Folders (or Start>Find>Files & Folders on Win98 computers) and type outlook express into the Name field. Your PC may contain more than one folder with this name, so double-click each that appears to see what's in it. When you've found the right folder, it can be copied onto another disk or onto a flash drive. The easiest method is to drag the yellow folder onto a USB flash drive that would show up in your My Computer folder with a designation such as Drive E or, perhaps, Drive F.
Next insert the flash drive into a USB port on your new computer and drag the Outlook Express folder onto its Desktop. Double-click the folder so that all its DBX files are displayed.
Now repeat the Search steps used on the old computer to find the corresponding Outlook Express folder on the new one. When it appears in the Found area, right-click it and choose Send To>Desktop (Create Shortcut).
When the Shortcut appears on your Desktop you can move all the DBX files from the moved Outlook Express folder into the new one, by dragging them into this Shortcut. You will be warned that Inbox.dbx already exists in the folder and be asked if you want to overwrite it.
If you have not yet begun to use OE on the new computer, click Yes.
If you have, however, you will want to rename the old DBX files to something like, say, Inbox-Old.dbx and Outbox-Old.dbx before dragging them into the new folder.
When you have completed all these steps, you will have two Inboxes displayed in Outlook Express on the new computer: Inbox and Inbox-old.
If anything goes wrong, you can go back to the old PC and start over. None of the above steps will delete anything you want saved.
The actual path to the DBX folders on either computer can be found from within Outlook Express by clicking Tools>Options>Maintenance>Store Folder.
More answers to email questions can be found HERE.
latest free productivity application is an online word
processing program named Writely. Why would anyone need a free word
processor when Windows comes with one called Wordpad, not to mention the
fact that most PC users also have MSWord?
Collaboration. If two or more people need to work on a given document, they
can all access it without needing an in-house network (assuming each
participant has an Internet connection). The document remains on Google's
server, and is only downloaded if and when any of the collaborators decides
to do so.
Wordpad — Windows' Built-in No-Frills Word Processor
Speaking of Wordpad, some folks prefer it to MSWord or WordPerfect simply
because it's a smaller, less complicated program. However, it does have some
notable limitations, such as no built-in spell-checker.
Notepad — Handy Program for Brief Notes
Another word processor that comes with Windows is Notepad, a plain text
program that only displays one size of black type on a white background. The
default font is rather ugly, but you can choose another by clicking
Format>Font. Notepad is handy for entering quick notes that don't need
"ReadMe" files are usually written in Notepad, and, despite its simplicity,
it is often used for creating HTML Web pages. To launch Wordpad or Notepad,
click Start>All Programst>Accessories, and choose your program. If you use
the programs frequently, you can create a Desktop Shortcut by right-clicking
the Wordpad or Notepad icon and choosing Send Tot>Desktop (Create Shortcut).
Back to Writely, it is can save files in DOC, RTF, and PDF formats, with PDF
being compatible with Acrobat Reader. Files can also be saved as HTML
documents, but I'd recommend using 1stPage 2006, a dedicated HTML-editing
program that is totally free. In fact, 1stPage is what I've used to create
all the pages on this site. Free downloading info can be found
A number of other utilities can be found under
Start>All Programst>Accessories, such as an On-Screen
Calculator and Paint, the Windows no-frills image-editor and painting program.
For Those Who Prefer Typing to Mousing...
You can go to Start>Run, type in a program's name, and press
Enter to activate it.
For instance, pressing your keyboard's Windows key (with the flag icon)
will bring up the Start Menu, whereupon pressing R will display the Run box.
Type in notepad and press Enter to launch the program. You can bring up the
Calculator by typing calc or MSWord by typing winword.
This kind of keyboarding fixed a reader's problem recently when he said his
mouse had stopped working. He replaced it with another mouse, but the
problem remained. I suggested trying System Restore.
So he pressed his Windows key, used his keyboard Down Arrow to reach All
Programs, pressed Enter, and continued using the Arrow keys to reach
Accessoriest>System Toolst>System Restore. He then pressed Enter, and set a
Restore Date, along with pressing N when prompted to go to the Next screen.
The Left Arrow key let him choose a previous date on the Restore Calendar,
and voila — his mouse came back to life.
Pressing Alt+F4 will exit any program, and subsequent Alt+F4 clicks will
take you through an orderly shut-down of the computer.
Jo Ann Bolinger asked how to back up copies of her Yahoo email messages
on a floppy disk, and I've had similar questions from readers using other
services. Here are some things to take into consideration:
There was a time when Web-based email services provided relatively little
storage space on their servers, and would bounce incoming messages that
exceeded the limit. They would then tell subscribers they could have more
storage for an annual fee. Google changed all that when they began offering
2.5 GB of free storage, and caused Yahoo, Hotmail, Netscape, AIM, and others
to offer similar benefits.
Since Yahoo will store Jo Ann's mail forever (as long as the account remains
active) saving copies on a disk may be less of an imperative than it might
have been in years past. Nonetheless, individual Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail
messages can be saved by clicking File>Save As, naming the message, choosing
a location for it, and using either a "plain text" TXT or a "Web page" HTML
extension for it.
If TXT is chosen, a copy of the entire Web page on which the message appears
will be saved, with images and/or special formatting removed. Choosing HTML
will save the Web page complete with all its animated graphics, links, and
any other colorful advertising displays.
My preferred method of saving important messages stored on remote servers,
however, is to copy and paste only the actual message onto a word processing
page, and ignore all the Web site's advertising. Simply mouse-select the
important text, right-click the selection, and choose COPY. Then,
right-click into an open text document and choose PASTE. You can then save
the text document as a separate file, or you can stack your messages so that
many are saved in a single document.
You can, of course, stack received messages in one document and copies of
sent messages in another and/or create documents containing only mail from a
particular friend or business contact. Such backup options are limited only
by one's imagination.
If such a document becomes so large that finding a particular message is
difficult, you can use Ctrl+F to generate a FIND box, and then type in a
target word or phrase.
Regarding the File>Save As options explained above, they don't exist in
Netscape or AIM Web mail, but using COPY and PASTE works just fine.
Users of Outlook Express have much simpler backup options, since individual
messages can be dragged into a folder on one's Desktop. Web-based messages
cannot be thus manipulated, however they can be forwarded to your Outlook
You say you don't have an Outlook Express account? Well, Outlook Express
comes with all versions of Windows, so all you have to do is check with your
ISP to have it activated. Furthermore, Outlook Express messages are pure
mail, with no third-party advertising included.
Back to Jo Ann's question of putting backups on other media, traditional
dragging and dropping of the email files can be used in most cases.
More options for backing up email, along with information on how to move Outlook
Express to a new computer, can be found HERE.
If you're thinking of buying a new computer, you certainly have some major
decisions to consider these days. Do you want a Macintosh or a Windows PC?
If the latter, which brand and what kind of CPU (central processing unit)
would be best for you? Should you buy a Windows XP machine now or wait for
Microsoft's "Vista" operating system, which was supposed to be out this
fall, but which may not appear until well after the first of next year?
Many technicians claim the Mac has always been better than any Windows
machine. So why has Mac held only about 5% of the market for the past two
decades, while nearly everyone else uses Windows? There are many reasons,
but the main one has always been price - with Macs often selling for
hundreds of dollars more than a "similarly-equipped" Windows PC.
Nowadays Mac pricing is closer to its Windows competition, with some models that
can run both the Mac and Windows operating systems. Programs called Bootcamp
and Parallels can be installed on certain Macs to make such dual-booting
possible. More details available on my site.
Intel's Pentium processors have been the standard for Windows since the
early 1990s. The last of the Pentiums - the P4 and Pentium-D - are being
phased out in favor of Intel's "Core Duo," "Core 2 Duo," and the "Core 2
Extreme." The "Core" chips run faster and cooler than any of their Pentium
predecessors. All the above will be able to handle Vista when it arrives, as
long as the PC has at least 1GB of RAM and 80GB of hard drive space.
Choosing a graphics card can also be confusing, with expensive models being
preferred by gamers who insist on high-speed animations and by folks who do
lots of video editing. For routine email and word processing chores, most
of us get by nicely with medium priced cards.
Dell has been the best-selling PC for several years, because of quality
components and reliable support service. Lately, however, I've heard many
complaints about Dell's phone support. I suspect their recent recall of over
four million laptop batteries has adversely affected the whole company.
Since Macs and Windows-based computers now cost about the same, what other
factors should one consider? Well, Mac enthusiasts point out that their
machines continue to be free from most Internet threats, such as viruses and
spyware. However, I've stuck with Windows because it's what most people use.
Also, not all programs written for the PC are available for Macs - and
Mac-compatible software has historically been more expensive. Since most
people use Windows, it's generally easier to find a friend or neighbor who
has a similar machine, and Windows user groups are everywhere. However, if
Macs are used in one's school or workplace, it makes sense to use one at
home. If a student plans on becoming a graphics animator for the movies,
Macs are still the machine of choice.
Jim Mulvihill asked if I could recommend an easy-to-use database program to
replace one he's used for 15 years.
Well, the most-used DB program comes with Microsoft Works, which also
contains a spreadsheet application and a word processor. MsWorks 2006 lists
for $99.95, but may be less for students at a college bookstore. However,
I've seen MSWorks 8.0 at Amazon.com
for $34.95. I use MSWorks 7.0, and see no reason to upgrade for now.
Although Excel is technically a spreadsheet program, it, too, works well for
many database needs. MSWord's "Table" utility can also be used as a small
DB. MSAccess is a large and expensive DB program used by big corporations or
anyone needing a heavy-duty "relational" application.
For beginning users it's helpful to have an overview of what the term
"database" means. Simply put, it's is an alphabetical listing of items,
along with information about them. Outlook is a popular "Contact
Management/Calendar" DB program with email capabilities.
The DB used by most of us is a simple list of names, addresses, and phone
numbers, along with, perhaps, email addresses, and fax or cell numbers.
Many folks create a database for their music collection, so it can be
cross-referenced by, say, Genre, Album, Song, Artist, and Date Recorded.
To build a contact list for family members launch Works and choose Database.
You will then be invited to create column headings called "Fields," wherein
you will overtype "Field1" with, say, "FirstName." Click on Add and "Field2"
will appear, over which you could type "LastName." After typing in all your
"Field" Headings, click Exit or Done.
Now go to File>Save As, and name the file, say, Family-Address-List. The
file will normally be placed in your My Documents folder and Works will add
the extension .WDB to the file's name.
Now comes the hard part; typing in all the names, addresses, and any other
data you want listed. There are two ways of doing this. Choose whichever you
1. Do your typing directly into the grid you have just created. Pressing
Enter after each entry will move your cursor to the cell below the one just
completed. Use your mouse or arrow keys to go to other cells.
2. Click on View>Form. A "rolodex-type-card" will appear, into which you
will type the items needed for each "Record." Follow the on-screen prompts
to move from one Record to the next. You can return to the "grid" view by
If the data already exists in another Windows-based database, spreadsheet, or word processing document,
you can copy and paste it into the Works DB, or - better yet - drag and drop it.
You can also customize the Form by clicking View>Form Design and creating
your own "easy-to-type-into" layout.
Back on the grid, if you've typed in your data following no particular
order, you can alphabetize any Field by clicking its header and going to
Record>Sort Records. Many "filtering" options are available for, say,
grouping all addresses that are in the same zip code. You can do likewise
with matching area codes, or all residents of a particular city.
Donna Cummings wrote to ask what "Rich Text Format" means. Simply put, RTF
is a format that is compatible with all windows-based word processing
programs. If, for instance, one saves an MSWord document with an extension
of .rtf instead of .doc, users of WordPerfect or the older MSWorks word
processor, or even of the defunct IBM-Lotus Ami word processor, will be able
to open the file without needing a "text conversion filter."
RTF has also become an output option for text scanned with OCR (optical
character recognition). Ray Pickel called to say he was having problems
scanning a multi-page black and white text document. When I asked if he
wanted the scan to produce plain "pictures" of the pages, or pages that
could be edited with word processing, he said it didn't matter. "Then go for
the pictures," I suggested, for a smaller, easier-to-manage file.
I then asked Ray to list the on-screen options he saw as he began the
scanning process. He mentioned being asked if he wanted RTF, PDF, HTML, or a
Text Image. However, not being familiar with the terms meant, he
tried the first three, which did not produce the "plain printed pages" he
Well, they are OCR outputs that can be subsequently edited with a word
processor, a PDF program, or an HTML (Web page) editor, respectively. "Text
Image" means a "plain picture" of a typewritten or printed page. This is
what Ray wanted.
Optical Character Recognition Options
Nowadays there are dozens of scanners, each with its own scanning software,
which may or may not include OCR capabilities. All I can offer here is an
overview of the subject.
A scanner only takes a "picture" of what's on a sheet of paper and
reproduces it as collection of tiny dots which, hopefully, look like the
original document. If the original is, say, a newspaper clipping or a
typewritten letter that we would like to change in some way, an OCR program
is needed to convert these dots into a computer font that a word processing
program will recognize.
Rarely does an OCR program produce an output that is 100% true to the
original text. An S, for instance, might look like an 8, or a G like a C.
Careful spell-checking is almost always required. It's also important for a
page to be lined up at perfect right angles to the scanner's edges. A slight
angle can distort lettering in ways that make OCR conversion very difficult.
Naturally, documents free of pencil scribblings, finger smudges and coffee
stains are likely to come out better. If your scanner didn't come with OCR
software, programs such as TextBridge can be purchased separately. I would
check reviews at Cnet.com and
PCWorld.com before buying one.
For reproducing photos, scanners usually offer a choice of various formats,
such as JPG or TIF. For most users, JPG is the best all-round choice.
I recently mentioned that a manuscript written with MSWord will often have
to be converted to PDF before a book-printing company will accept it.
Although MSWord is the world's most-used word processor, it is not the most
stable. WordPerfect is said by many experts to be a better program in
several ways and recent versions even have a built-in PDF conversion
feature. My reason for writing more frequently about MSWord is the volume of
questions I get regarding the program. I seldom hear a WP question.
A PDF (portable document file) has the advantage of being equally well
suited for being displayed legibly on a computer screen or for creating
properly-formatted pages for inkjet printing or for a commercially printed
book. Companies who can afford Adobe Acrobat have traditionally used this
expensive program to do Word-to-PDF conversions, while many of my readers tell of
successful results with PDF995, NitroPDF, and Primo PDF.
The free OpenOffice Suite also does PDF. The URLs to these programs can
be found on my home page.
PDF has also become the de facto standard for legal and government forms
that can be downloaded, printed, and filled in manually. However, I get
frequent calls from folks who see such a form on their monitor and wonder
why they can't type directly into its blank spaces. Well, documents that can
be typed into, such as a 1040 from TurboTax, are not PDFs - they are
created with an entirely different type of programming that allows them to be
filled in directly on one's computer.
A number of readers have asked if a PDF can be converted to a Word file.
Well, I see PDF-to-Word programs advertised online, but have never tried
one. Nonetheless, individual sections of a PDF can be copied and pasted into
any word processor.
To copy some text, click on the "I-beam" Select tool, and then mouse-select
a block of text. A message will appear that your selection has been "Copied
to the Clipboard." Now you can paste it into your word processing page (or
into an email) and reformat it, if desired.
To copy an image, click on the "Camera Snapshot Tool" and draw a box around
whatever you want to copy. Again, a "Copied to the Clipboard" message will
tell you the selection can then be pasted to a location of your choice.
A unique feature of the Snapshot tool is that you are not restricted to
copying an image. You can also copy a block of text. However, such a text
block would be treated as an image when pasted somewhere, meaning you could
not edit the text. Any text pasted after being selected with the I-beam
tool, however, is fully editable.
After explaining recently how to insert an image-bearing Text Box into an
MSWord document (so the picture can be moved at will on the page) Arnold
Tubis asked how to remove the box's outline. This is done by clicking on any
edge of the box and going to Format>Text Box>Colors & Lines>Line, and
choosing No Line. Alternatively, you can choose a color for the line, as
well as choosing a style, such as dashed, double-line, and/or specify a line
A wide number of color and texture options are also available for filling a Text Box with various background effects.
Flowing Text Around, Behind, & in Front of a Text Box
Other Text Box formatting options are clicking on Layout and choosing to
have text flow around the box, or to flow around its left or right side. You
can even opt to have text flow over the face of the boxed image or behind it.
Some Image-Editing Options in MSWord
Clicking the picture inside a Text Box, followed by clicking Format>Picture,
will display many similar editing options for the image. Furthermore, an
image-editing toolbar will appear with additional choices, such as adjusting
contrast and brightness levels, cropping the picture and/or converting it to
a gray scale or black and white image. You can even choose to convert it to
a "watermark," which will appear in light gray behind your typing.
Personally, I prefer to do cropping and resizing with Irfanview (free from
www.irfanview.com) before placing the
picture on a Word page. However,
proportional resizing can be done on an inserted picture by simply grabbing
any corner and adjusting it with your mouse. Distorted resizing can be done
by mouse-adjusting an edge of an image.
Drawing Tools in MSWord
Beyond all this, Word also has an assortment of drawing tools that can be
helpful for desktop publishing jobs. Click on View>Toolbars>Drawing to
display a toolbar with options for drawing rectangles, circles, and other
geometric shapes, along with special shapes, such as odd-sized arrows, a
heart, and even a happy face. Rectangles can even be displayed as
3-dimensional objects, or with drop-shadows. Furthermore, any selected shape
can be rotated by clicking the Rotate tool and then grabbing and revolving
any of the object's corners.
If all the above MSWord graphic features weren't enough, you can click
View>Toolbars>WordArt, and find tools for creating colorful stylized
headlines or short specialized phrases. WordArt creations can also be
resized and/or reshaped by mouse-grabbing and adjusting an one's corner.
Furthermore, a WordArt object can be moved to any location anywhere on a page.
WordPerfect has a similar feature called TextArt.
Given the above image-handling options, one might assume that MSWord makes a
reasonably good desktop publishing program for creating newsletters, church
bulletins, and small posters. However, Word's page-layout functions tend to
be rather unstable, thus making the above options reliable mostly on pages
that have fairly simple layouts. MSPublisher is a better choice for fancier
For those who might be writing and formatting a book with MSWord, most
publishers and commercial printers will only accept the document if it has been
converted to a PDF (personal document file).
A number of visually challenged readers have asked for suggestions on
enlarging text on their monitors. Ken Perkins says he can enlarge his typing
in MSWord to a legible size, but he can no longer distinguish the toolbar
icons, which never change size. Well, the toolbar items can be enlarged.
Right-click your Desktop and choose Properties>Appearance. The "Font Size"
option box will let you choose Normal, Large, or Extra Large. "Normal" is
the default, while the others will enlarge text sizes on your Desktop, as
well as in many other areas of Windows.
Desktop icons can also have their sizes changed in the Properties>Appearance
area by clicking Advanced>Item, and choosing "Icon." Here you can also
choose a more legible icon font, if desired.
Regarding browser and email text sizes, Internet Explorer and Outlook
Express have "View>Text Size" options, but neither is very reliable. These
options in the Firefox browser and Thunderbird email, however, work
Another frequent question is: "How can I enlarge the tiny text that comes
with some emails?" The easiest way is to mouse-select the text and click your
Reply button, which will display the message in an editable mode. Now you can choose
another font size, style and/or color, which may help its legibility.
Another way of handling illegible text found in emails and Web pages is to
simply highlight it, and then copy and paste it into a word-processing page,
where it can then be edited to suit your needs. Alternatively, you can paste
it into a new, out-going email, in which it can be likewise edited. Send
the email to yourself if you want to keep a copy on file.
For those who have other disability issues, Windows offers a number of
Accessibility Options, which can be found by going to
Start>Programs>Accessories>Accessibility and using the "Accessibility
Wizard." This wizard leads one through a variety of special-need options,
including "Sticky Keys" for folks who have trouble pressing two keys
simultaneously. With this feature activated, pressing two keys in sequence
(such as CTRL and C) executes the Copy command. Other keyboard options are
audible clicks to let a limited-vision user know certain commands have been
executed. An on-screen "Magnifying Glass" is also available.
Ken Perkins also said he is very pleased with a commercial
legibility-enhancement program named Zoom Text from
a free trial-version can be downloaded. Ken said he is also looking forward
to their soon-to-be-released enhanced keyboard for visually-impaired users.
An alternative to using MSWord to edit pasted text is Notepad, which can be
activated at Start>Programs>Accessories>Notepad. Notepad is a "plain text"
editor that only allows black text in one font and size. However, you can
change the font and/or size by clicking Format>Font.
Regarding my recent mention of the discount ink cartridges sold by
in Oceanside, I received nearly a dozen emails from
readers who enthusiastically said they've been satisfied customers for
several years. Their number is (760) 722-8236.
Inserting Text & an Image into a MSWord "Text Box"
Al Nuwer called to ask how to insert a "text box" containing both text and
an image into an MSWord document. First it's helpful to understand the
function of an MSWord Text Box.
An image can be inserted into a Word file by clicking where you want the
graphic to appear, and then by clicking Insert>Picture>From File, followed
by browsing to the target picture. The image will then be treated just like
any other alpha/numeric character, moving left or right with the deletion or
addition of characters on either side. The picture can NOT be moved
manually, nor can text be made to flow around it.
To accomplish these tasks, a Text Box is needed, which can be moved at will.
Any text or image inside the Box will move with it.
In MSWord (version 2000 and earlier) when you click Insert>Text Box your
cursor will change to a small cross, with which you can draw a rectangle of
approximately the size and shape of the graphic which will be placed inside
it. The exact shape and location of the Text Box is unimportant, since it
can be reshaped and/or moved at will.
In WordXP, and later, clicking Insert>Text Box will create a large "canvas"
that says, "Create your drawing here."
Well, drawing on this canvas will be explained at another time. For now,
clicking outside of the canvas will remove it and cause a small, square Text
Box to replace it.
Once you have a Text Box, you can click inside it and then go to
Insert>Picture. When the picture appears inside the Text Box, it may or may
not fit properly. However, both the Text Box and its picture can be resized
by grabbing any edge or corner and adjusting as needed.
Well, Al had gotten this far without a problem, but said he could find no
way to type anything into the Text Box. This can be done by clicking the
picture, and then clicking the Center button on the Word Toolbar. With the
Picture horizontally centered, your cursor can be placed to its upper left
corner or to its lower right corner, whereupon you can begin typing.
Typing in the upper left corner will push the image to the right and down as
far as needed to make room for the text. To type below the picture, click
the lower right, press Enter and start typing. To make typing flow around
the picture, click it and then click Format>Picture>Layout. Or - you could
click the Text Layout button on the Format Picture Toolbar that appears.
An even easier way to flow text around a picture is to do the typing in the
Text Box before using the Insert>Picture steps. Then place your cursor in
the text and insert the image. Also, clicking the box and doing Format>Text
Box will give more layout options.
Since ink-jet cartridges are so expensive, I've posted suggestions from
readers here that have brought mixed opinions on how well the discount inks
worked. However, a letter from David Freeman seems worth checking out. David
says he's been successfully using Epson 900N refills from Barcode Printers
at 3365 Mission Ave. in Oceanside for over six years. They can be reached at
(760) 722-8236 or at InkjetCartridge.com.
I'd love to hear comments from others.
Carol Oakley says she receives email attachments with a PPS extension, but
cannot open the files. These are PowerPoint Show files, which require
MSPowerPoint in order to display them. In lieu of this program, a free
PowerPoint viewer can be downloaded from
Microsoft.com If a file has a PPT
extension, it means the presentation can be edited with PowerPoint. To view
the show, you can manually change the extension to PPS by right-clicking it
and choosing Rename.
Emailing a Colorful Newsletter with Fancy Type
Al Roller writes a newsletter for retired military officers in North County,
using MSPublisher. The newsletter is very colorful and well-written, but
Publisher files are not easy to send via email. Al's solution has been to
convert the one-page letter to a JPG image, which can be emailed; but he
asks if there is a better way.
One solution is to convert the Publisher file to a PDF (portable document
file) that can be opened by everyone with Acrobat Reader, a free program
However, the program normally used to convert files to PDF
is Adobe Acrobat, which costs about $500. Well, Nitro PDF is a competitive
product available from Amazon.com
for $80 and Primo PDF is a free program available at
I've heard good reports about both these programs, but cannot speak from personal experience.
Of course, colorful newsletters are often created with HTML, but here's why
many prefer converting MSWord or MSPublisher to PDF. Fancy newsletters often
contain fancy fonts. However, using HTML, these type styles will only be
displayed if the email recipient's PC has the same fonts. Also, some
readers like being able to change the text size in a newsletter. Some HTML
newsletters can be adjusted and others can't. PDF text size is always adjustable.
...Just the Anti-Virus Program - Not the Whole "Suite"
I recently said that buying just the "anti-virus" program offered by various
software companies can be more practical than buying their "Internet
Security" packages. The extra features often duplicate tools you already
own, such as the WinXP SP2 firewall, or they include various utilities which can
be found for free (such as Ad-Aware anti-spyware, mentioned above). Furthermore,
having several different "protection" programs running at once can slow down your PC.
As identity-theft scams proliferate, so do programs that claim to protect us
from them. Well, if I ever find myself believing I just won a lottery I
never entered or that a Nigerian widow wants to share her millions with me,
I'll give up using a computer. You can check my site to learn more about
these scams and to see samples of the fraudulent emails you're likely to
One of the predicaments of Internet security is the plethora of similar
products being sold to protect us from the same thing. Also, products once
designed to do one job, such as keep our machines safe from viruses, are now
being "upgraded" to eliminate spyware or to deal with identity theft scams,
among other things. One of the worst problems is "anti-spyware" software,
which actually IS spyware. I wish I could name one product that would be
best for everyone, but that would be like suggesting everyone would be happy
with, say, a Chrysler 300.
Nonetheless, I can offer a few guidelines. Let's start with spyware - if
you surf the Internet, you have it on your computer - it's literally
unavoidable. Historically, no one product has ever guaranteed to find and
remove all it, but a free program called Ad-Aware has worked well for me for
many years. However, the free version has become difficult to find -
probably because asking users to donate a nominal fee to support the program
hasn't worked too well.
Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition 1.06 can still be found at
www.download.com, along with several
similarly-named programs, such as Ad-Ware and Adaware, most of which offer a
"free download," but which charge you to remove any spyware they claim to
find. When you see Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition 1.06 click the
Download button and ignore the Buy Now button.
Highest Rated For Sale Anti-Spyware Program
If you're ready to purchase a trustworthy and effective program for
$29.99, Spy Sweeper from
www.webroot.com comes highly recommended by many
computer publications and technology reviewers. You can run it full-time to
stop spyware wherever it's encountered, or have it scan and clean your hard
drive on demand. Ad-Aware does scanning on demand, but is not designed to
intercept adware/spyware as it arrives.
Most adware/spyware gets sent to your PC when you visit various Web sites
(never from mine, by the way) and can be removed by emptying your Temporary
Internet Files folder(s). More insidious spyware, which often exploits your
personal credit information, is gotten by clicking on links such as Click
Here to "Claim Your Free Laptop," or to "See Your Fave Celeb Nude." Even
though you are a cautious adult, an adventurous youngster on your PC can get
you into problems you never knew existed.
You can become infected by a virus when clicking on a suspicious link, but
most viruses come in the form of an email attachment. Open the attached
file, and you start having problems - maybe not instantly, but sooner or
later. Some viruses steal your email address book and use the names as
"return addresses" on various spam scams they send out. Other viruses can
cripple your PC or shut it down completely.
Again, no single anti-virus program can guarantee 100% protection from all
threats. The best defense is to not click on anything you are not sure of.
As for which anti-virus program I use, I had Norton for years but am
currently quite happy with AVG, a free program whose link can be found
If you do prefer Norton - or some other name brand - I suggest buying just
their anti-virus software. I explain why in the next column (above).
Have you ever worked on a lengthy MSWord document and thought it would
be helpful to see two different parts of the file at once? If so, click on
Window>Split and move the horizontal bar that appears to the middle of your
page. Do a left click, and each half of the page will have its own set of scroll
This means you can, for instance, be editing the first paragraph of the
document in the top view and scroll to the last paragraph in the bottom
view. Whenever you want to return to a single view, just drag the
horizontal bar off the page.
View Two or More Pages at Once
If you need to work on two different documents at the same time, open
them separately and be sure they are in the "Restore" (floating) view so your
Desktop can be seen around the edges of the open pages. If the Desktop
can't be seen, click the "overlapping squares" button in the upper-right
corner of the page.
With both documents floating, you can reshape them by grabbing any
corner or edge of a page. Also, each page can be moved by grabbing its upper blue
bar, thus making it possible to put one page alongside the other, or have
them stacked vertically.
Drag & Drop Copying
If your current task involves copying data from one document to another,
you can mouse-select a block of text and do Ctrl+C to copy it, click into
the other document, and do Ctrl+V to paste it there. You can also simply
drag selected data from one document to the other, whereupon it will
disappear from one page as it appears on the other. You can also drag it in a
"copy mode" by pressing Ctrl as you drag. This leaves the original data in
place as it is copied onto the other page.
Furthermore, you can do this with different types of files. For
instance, you could be doing some calculating in Excel, and copying the results
into a letter you are writing in Word. However, transferring data between two
different kinds of programs can require an additional step.
Using "Edit>Paste Special"
For instance, if you copy a spreadsheet cell containing the number 12,
and then do Ctrl V into a Word page, your pasted 12 may have a box around
it. This can be circumvented in Word by clicking Edit>Paste Special, and
choosing Unformatted Text.
In fact, "Edit>Paste Special" is used frequently in spreadsheets. For
instance, if the above-mentioned 12 was the result of a calculation, and
you want to copy this result into another cell, doing a traditional Ctrl+C
and Ctrl+V will give you a wrong answer. Rather, click into the target cell
and do Edit>Paste Special and choose Values Only.
Sometimes when you copy a large block of data and then use Ctrl+V to
paste it into a regular word-processing page, it will be pasted in as a
"picture," with no way to edit it. Again, using Paste Special will let you paste it
in as the block of text it originally was.
Regarding my recent columns on Internet security, firewalls were not
mentioned. Here's what's important: WinXP Service Pack 2 came with a
firewall, which is turned ON by default. This keeps hackers from accessing
your computer through various vulnerabilities in Windows and Internet
Explorer. However, it does not keep malware you may have picked up (by
clicking on dubious Web sites or opening dangerous email attachments) from
"phoning home" to their creators' sites.
For years I've used the free firewall from www.zonelabs.com, which gives me
control over data traveling in both directions by asking what I will and
will not allow to cross the barrier.
Lately, however, ZoneAlarm has been encouraging users to "upgrade to an
improved service," which is really not needed and which can create conflicts
with the WinXP SP2 firewall. Personally, I believe the average WinXP user
has enough protection with the SP2 firewall, and should disable ZoneAlarm
unless he or she studies the program carefully and learns how to use it
Prepare to Be Amazed
Just when you think there's nothing left on the Web you haven't already seen
or heard, you find something that literally knocks your socks off.
Pandora.com is an online music service that lets users create their own
genre-based radio stations. You start by naming a favorite song or artist,
whereupon a relevant selection will begin playing. You are asked to give
your station a name, along with being invited to say you do or don't like
the piece being played.
You are then invited to add names of other songs or artists at any time.
Once you've approved two or three selections, the service begins looking for
similar music by other performers, puts them on the Play List, and continues
to ask for your yes or no on each one.
I went to the site assuming it was for younger users who would be choosing
the latest rock hits, but was surprised by the breadth of its repertoire. I
fancy a number of romantic country hits from the 1960s, so began by typing
in "Ray Price" and "Patsy Cline." In short order I was hearing songs by Kris
Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, and many other artists from that era.
You are not limited to creating a single station. I'm also a fan of romantic
Latino music, so I created another station by typing in "Julio Iglesias" and
"Rocio Durcal," which prompted the site to feed me songs by Celia Cruz and
the Trio Los Panchos.
The service only works with a high-speed connection and it lets you choose
between a paid or a free subscription. The only difference is that ads are
displayed on the free version. However, you really don't see the ads if you
are busy multitasking on other projects in the foreground. The sound quality
is awesome, and the music is non-stop with no commercials.
There is no easy way to copy the music being played, but CDs are available
for purchase, as is a distribution system for having music in every room in
Last time I mentioned adware/spyware being a source of computer slow-down. This type of malware usually comes to you via "cookies" picked up while visiting certain Web sites.
Cookies are small text files that record your visits and tell the site owner something about your activities, such as what areas of the sites you looked at. Cookies are also used by some Web services (such as Yahoo Mail) to record your password and give you the option of not having to type it in every time.
These cookies are stored in a folder named Temporary Internet Files, which can be found by clicking Start>Search/Find/Files & Folders and typing in the name. If you access the folder often, as I do, when it is found right-click it and choose Send To>Desktop (Create Shortcut). Henceforth you'll be able to access the folder by double-clicking the Desktop icon.
Once inside the folder, you can selectively delete individual cookies. However, I usually delete all of them once a day.
Cookies placed by legitimate "name brand" sites are benign and do no harm; but cookies from dubious sites may contain malware which can try to access your personal information and do malicious things with it. This is the reason for running Defender and Ad-Aware, free programs that seek out and delete such files.
I've also heard good reports about SpySweeper, a $30 program from
www.webroot.com, which many claim is more thorough than the free programs.
Another cause of computer slow-down can be age. Pre-WinXP computers often show signs of sluggish behavior after three or four years, and can have their performance improved by simply reinstalling the operating system from the Windows CD that came with the PC.
Minor sources of slow-down can be long sessions of multi-tasking between reboots (restarting the PC). Rebooting frequently refreshes memory caches that help keep tasks moving along smoothly.
Another minor slow-down issue is the Prefetch cache filling up. Click on Start>Run, and type in prefetch to see items you've recently accessed, and which ostensibly will start faster when fetched to run again. Deleting them all actually speeds things up.
ScreenSavers Can Slow Down a PC
Other minor slow-down items can be your Desktop Wallpaper, Screensavers, and animated icons, which use system resources. I use a solid color Desktop, which goes dark after 10 minutes of non-use, rather than displaying animated graphics. These settings are found by right-clicking your Desktop and choosing Properties.
Random Access Memory
If there is one thing that will do more to increase a computer's speed than anything else, it's adding more RAM (random access memory). Many computers in recent years were sold with 256MB of RAM. Doubling this to 512MB will make a noticeable difference. Moving up to a full gigabyte can be even more impressive. Check your owner's manual to find your PC's RAM limitations.
The question I'm asked most frequently is, "How can I speed up my PC, which
has gotten much slower over time?" Although I have detailed instructions on
my site, several readers have asked to have them posted here.
One of the main things that slows down a PC is having unnecessary programs
running in the background. They drain resources and slow down the programs
you want to use. The culprits can be found by clicking Start>Run, typing
msconfig, clicking OK, and then clicking on the Startup tab that appears.
Here you will find a list of programs with check boxes. Many, if not most,
will have a checkmark, indicating the programs have been told to start
running when your computer is turned on. Why? Well, the theory is that
having them running constantly means you will save a few seconds of "startup
time" if you decided to use them. This is like having your car parked with
the engine running all day so you can save a few seconds when you decide to
Some of the usual suspects in this list are AOL, RealPlayer, AIM, Adobe
Reader, and MSMsgs (Microsoft Messenger). Unchecking these items does not
delete anything, it simply tells them not to run until you want them to.
Your onboard anti-virus program, however, should be on all the time for
maximum protection. The only other program I have checked is Yellow Stickies
because I use it so often and because it is a small program that uses few
If you uncheck a program and later decide you do want it run at startup
time, repeat the above steps and recheck the item.
Defragmenting Your Hard Disk
Another thing that can slow down a PC is disk fragmentation. Data added to
a hard drive is usually done sequentially, which makes it easier to find
later on. However, when files are moved around or deleted the disk becomes
fragmented. This can be fixed by clicking Start>My Computer,
right-clicking Local Disk C:, and choosing Properties.
Click on the Tools tab and you will find Defragment. Click this option and
follow the simple prompts.
Check Disk & ScanDisk
Also under Tools you will find Check Now (in WinXP) or ScanDisk in earlier
versions of Windows. On pre-WinXP computers, ScanDisk should be run before
running Defrag. Check Now can be run at any time in WinXP. Check Now (a.k.a.
ChkDsk) and ScanDisk both examine your hard drive for disk errors, and are
usually able to fix any problems they find.
Another option under Properties is Disk Cleanup, which should be run along
with Defrag and ChkDsk.
Spyware Will Slow Down a Computer
Another source of computer slow-down is spyware, which is usually acquired
by visiting dubious Web sights. Defender is a free anti-spyware program
available at www.microsoft.com. I prefer
Ad-Aware, a free program whose link
is on my site. Many folks use both programs, since no one program can
guarantee to find all malware all the time. However, both programs have free
updates that constantly look for the latest threats.
Life on the Internet continues to become more hazardous. I recently
mentioned some sites that feature short, funny videos. Because of their
brevity it's not uncommon to find yourself clicking rapidly to play one
right after another. However, the more you click, the more frequently ads
appear between — or as part of — the videos. Many of these ads can be
misleading and designed to trick you into signing up for "services" you
don't need and which are hard to get rid of once you have accepted them.
Such "services" include "speeding up your PC," "stopping spam," "cleaning
your registry," "removing spyware," and "blocking pop-ups," among many
others. You will also be told you are the "Winner of the Hour" and should
"Click Here" to receive your "Free Laptop/iPod/etc."
Multi-Level Pyramid Schemes
The "Free Gift" ads are basically multi-level marketing schemes, in which
you actually can receive merchandise if you first sell something to a number
The "Anti-Adware/Spyware" promos are almost always programs that remove
other companies' malware and install their own, and then hold your PC
hostage for getting rid of it — at a price.
Most of the "Speed Up Your PC" offers want to sell you "services" that can
be accomplished with tools already on your PC, such as Disk Cleanup,
Defrag, ScanDisk/ChkDsk, and MSConfig. Instructions for using these
tools are on my site, or you can click on Start>Help & Support to find
information. Disabling your screensaver and other animated features can also
help, since they use system resources.
Other utilities can be found at www.karenware.com.
Karen Kenworthy has created a number of useful PowerTools that can be downloaded without charge.
Spam Getting Worse
As for spam (unsolicited email) there is more of it than ever, and the
volume increases daily. Although email services ignored the problem for
years, most are now making a concerted effort to catch it and place it in a
"junk" folder from which it can be easily deleted. You can also create a
"white list" of people from whom you want to receive email, and have all
other messages deleted or sent to a special folder.
Also be careful about signing up for anything that asks for an email
use your address. Even the reputable companies, however, are increasingly
adding "services" they hope you'll agree to by not deselecting certain
checked-off items listed in small print. I've recently encountered
situations where both Microsoft and Adobe have tried to add things I don't
want to a download that I did want. Read the fine print!
A "throw-away" email address can also be helpful. For instance, I use
DonEdrington with hotmail.com when signing up for things I'm not quite sure of.
Since none of my personal correspondents use this address, I know anything
sent there is something I likely don't want — and I access the account about once
a week just to delete everything.
Some of the Internet scams currently circulating hearken back to the 1960s
when they were perpetrated via regular US mail. One scam targeted businesses
with phony invoices for relatively small amounts the crook hoped a busy
office manager would pay without bothering to check their validity. Now
I'm receiving phony invoices via email.
Another email scam is a notice that purports to be from a bank or credit
card company that says your purchase of (various items) has been approved,
and that ($450, more or less) has been withdrawn from your account. A
footnote says if you wish to dispute this transaction you can do so by
clicking a link. Clicking it, of course, will take you to a spoofed site
which asks for all kinds of personal information, which the crook can use to
steal your identity.
Be Wary of "Surveys"
Crooks are also getting smarter about placing links that many respond to,
since they have an air of legitimacy. Most are simple Yes or No "surveys,"
such as "Do you think the US should attack Iran's nuclear facilities?" By
clicking either choice, you will very likely download a destructive virus,
or some insidious spyware.
What to Do if a Suspicious Download Message Appears
If a Suspicious Download Message Appears on your screen,
It's Best to Disconnect Your Internet Connection or Just Turn Off
the PC Immediately! Just exiting the site will not stop the download!
As for turning off your computer without going through the prescribed
"Shut Down Ritual," no harm occurs if it's done once in a while. Much more harm
can occur if you allow a virus to be downloaded.
A favorite ploy of spyware installers is to pose as "anti-spyware" software,
which offers to scan your computer for free. This is like a burglar offering
to install a burglar alarm system in your home. Legitimate free anti-spyware
and anti-virus programs can be found on my site. Others I would view with
suspicion, unless you have some very convincing evidence that they are
Are There Strings to Free Software I Recommend?
You may be wondering how legitimate companies can afford to offer free
programs. Well, Grisoft AVG
lets you download a free "home version" of its
anti-virus software, in hopes that you will eventually buy its "enterprise
version." I use the free version and am very satisfied with it. Trend Micro
used to have a similar policy, but eventually became so restrictive with the
free version that I removed its link from my site.
Other programs, such as Ad-Aware, Irfanview, and 1st Page 2006
(anti-spyware, image viewer/editor, and website creation program,
respectively), were created by persons who, for reasons of their own,
decided to make their products free to the public. Links to these, and many
other legitimate free programs, are available on my site.
"Spell-Correcting" Occuring After Spell-Checker Is Turned Off
A reader called to say he had turned off all the automatic spell-checking
options in MSWord (Tools>Options>Spelling) so that his text would not be
flagged when he typed documents in German. He complained, however, that
certain German words were being changed to English words with similar
Well, this is a function of MSWord's AutoCorrect feature, and can be turned
off by going to Tools>AutoCorrect>AutoCorrect and UNchecking "Replace Text
As You Type." This area contains a number of frequently misspelled English
words, and fixes them as you type. For many, this can be a very useful
One of the handiest features of Windows XP is being able to see a
"thumbnail" view of all your images. However, this does not apply to the
Desktop, where an image is represented by an icon which has to be
double-clicked in order to see the graphic. Well, you can fix this by
creating a "folder" view of your Desktop.
Actually, the Desktop is a folder just like all the others on your hard
drive, and can be found listed within Windows Explorer. In fact, WinXP
allows multiple users to each have his or her own Desktop, whose folder can
be located by going to Start>Search>All Files & Folders, and typing desktop
into the Name field.
If multiple folders named "Desktop" appear, double-click each one to see
which contains your collection of icons. When found, right-click it and
choose "Send To Desktop (Create Shortcut)," whereupon an icon labeled
"Desktop" will appear on your Desktop.
Desktop on the Desktop
This may sound strange, but it works. When double-clicked, the Desktop icon
will display an open folder with everything on your Desktop arranged
alphabetically. By clicking on View>Thumbnails, any images on your Desktop
will be displayed in a thumbnail view.
Also, all your Desktop icons can be arranged in a variety of ways, just as
can icons in your other folders. For instance, I prefer my icons to be
arranged by "type," which separates all the picture, music, and document
files, etc., into their own little groups. This is done by clicking on
View>Arrange Icons By>Type.
Another View option is Details, which displays information such as a file's
Name, Size, and Date Revised. You can also designate your own set of
criteria for Details by clicking on View>Choose Details.
When examining the displayed Details, you can rearrange them in alpha or
numeric order by clicking a column heading. For instance, clicking Size
would arrange all the files from the smallest to the largest. Clicking Size
again will reverse the order.
Using Quick Launch
If your Desktop has become so cluttered you can't find a particular icon,
you can click Search in the toolbar and type in its name or partial name.
However, you can also do this without opening your Desktop's "Desktop icon."
Simply right-click it and choose Search.
If your Desktop is so cluttered you have trouble finding your newly-created
Desktop icon, drag it into the Quick Launch area of your Taskbar when you do
If you don't have Quick Launch (which is indicated by a right-pointing
double-chevron symbol) create it by right-clicking your Taskbar and choosing
Toolbars>Quick Launch. Then drag your most-accessed Desktop icons into it,
after which they can be activated by a single click.
Dragging an icon into Quick Launch creates a "shortcut copy" and leaves the
original in place on the Desktop. If the Desktop icon itself is a shortcut
(showing a small bent arrow) it can be safely deleted after the Quick Launch
version is created.
Normally, three Quick Launch icons will show on your Taskbar, with the
others being accessible by clicking the double-chevron.
Bob Whitegiver called to ask if there is a way to print a multi-page
document in reverse order, so that the last page would be at the bottom of a
printed stack while page 1 would be on top. Yes; rather than click on the
printer icon in the program's toolbar, click File>Print to display a
dialogue box with many printing options.
For instance, you can choose to print just the first four pages of a 12-page
document by typing 1-4 in the Page Range>Pages box. You can also select
individual pages by separating them with commas (such as 1,3,5,7). There are
also options for printing multiple copies of a multi-page document and then
collating the results so that sheets with the same page number are grouped
You can also choose options for the quality of paper and/or the quality of
print-out preferred. These options vary slightly among different programs
and printers, but they are definitely worth checking out.
Outlook Express Users Can't Open Attachments
Several Outlook Express users have called to say they are unable to open
attachments they receive from friends. This can be fixed by clicking on
Tools>Options>Security and UNchecking "Do Not Allow Attachments...That Could
Potentially Be a Virus." Just be careful about what you do open.
Dell Accepting Obsolete PC Gear
If you, like I, have a closet full of obsolete PCs and accessories, you'll
be glad to know that Dell Computer has arranged with Goodwill Industries to
accept used computer gear at 24 San Diego County Goodwill locations. Details
are available at 1-888-4-GOODWILL or 1-866-48REUSE (73873).
I believe these toll-free
numbers will also give you information about other locations around the country.
Putting Your Videos on the Internet
Do you sometimes get the feeling we're living in an age of entertainment
overdose, what with TV, movies, iPods, and the Internet in general? Well, if
you can handle even more couch potato crush, the latest fad is
do-it-yourself videos, which are popping up all over the Web. These videos
range in length from a few seconds to a couple of hours, with most being
less than ten minutes.
has a seemingly endless supply of home-grown shenanigans that
resemble America's Funniest Home Videos gone mad, complete with instructions
on how to submit your own little gems.
on the other hand, offers MTV music videos along with
vintage full-length movies and cartoons. I found a collection of Mr. Magoo
goodies I haven't seen since the 1960s. MetaCafe.com
seems to specialize in tantalizing teasers of bikini-clad supermodels.
Google displays its content in relatively low resolution, but offers to sell
you the movies and videos on high resolution CDs.
Do-It-Yourself Tech Gadget Videos
Employing a different slant on do-it-yourself shooting,
viewers to send in videos in which they demonstrate their favorite hi-tech
gadgets. They are also asked to submit videos on the digital devices they
most detest, complete with illustrated details on why the gadgets deserve
Viewing much of the above is basically free, with most material being
subsidized by on-screen advertising. However, be prepared for ads that
momentarily hide what you're viewing with pitches like, "Do You Want to Stop
Receiving Spam?" Clicking YES can bring you more spam.
Dorothy Sprague wrote to ask how to display photos on her PC as a slideshow.
Well, this can be done with many programs, including one that comes with
WinXP. Open a folder containing photos, right-click any picture's filename,
click Open With, and choose Windows Photo & Fax Viewer, whereupon the
clicked photo will appear in the center of your screen.
Click the Monitor icon in the toolbar and a Play, Pause, Forward, Back, and
Exit button will appear in your monitor's upper right corner. Also, clicking
any picture will advance the display to the next slide, while pressing ESC
will end the show.
Irfanview users need only launch the program and open any photo, whereupon
clickable Left and Right toolbar arrows will appear, which provide a
sequential display of the folder's pictures. Irfanview is a great image-viewer/editor and is free from www.irfanview.com. (I use Irfanview constantly and
can't imagine handling image files without it.)
Picasa2 users can click on Tools>Options>Slideshow to begin a presentation,
and can even choose MP3 music files to play along with it. For instructions
in using other image-editing programs, click Help and type SLIDESHOW into
the Find box. Picasa2 is available at picasa.google.com/download.
WinXP users can also create a Screen Saver Slideshow by right-clicking
their Desktop, choosing Properties, and clicking Screen Saver. Click the
down-arrow to find the My Pictures Slideshow option, along with various
Many Various "Photo-Sharing" Services Available
For making pictures available to remote viewers, there are many free
"photo-sharing" services that invite us to post snapshots on their Web
sites, which then make them accessible to anyone to whom you send a link.
Some display thumbnails of each photo so you can pick and choose those you
may wish to enlarge, copy and/or print, while others offer only a sequential
view, meaning you are expected to click through an entire gallery to see if
there is something you like. Not surprisingly, these services are free
because of all the advertising that accompanies your pictures.
However, a new photo-sharing site by Google lets Gmail users post albums of
photos with no apparent advertising in view. The site includes Picasa2
software that lets users edit their photos, as well as display them.
To many digital camera users, the whole concept of image-editing can be a
unique challenge which was never offered with traditional film photography.
Programs are available that allow us to edit our photos in ways limited only
by our imaginations. These programs, however, have tools that range from
wonderfully simple to frustratingly complex. How can we learn to use them?
Well, North San Diego County residents can sign up for classes conducted by Al Roller
at MiraCosta College. Space here doesn't allow for itemizing their
schedules, but information is available at Classroom 3201 on the Oceanside
Campus, or by calling (760) 795-6820. Al is a long-time resident who
specializes in teaching senior citizens.
Donald Wilson has asked if there is a way to password-protect personal
documents without buying an expensive encryption program. Well, MSWord and
Excel have password options. Within an open document, click File>Save As,
and then click Tools>General Options, where you'll find a box for entering a
password to "open" the document in the future, along with a second password
option which would be needed to "modify" the file.
If the purpose of these passwords is to keep a document from prying eyes,
you might consider disguising the document's file type by deleting its
3-letter extension. Removing .DOC from an MSWord filename, for instance,
changes its familiar "Blue W" icon into a generic one which tends to conceal
the file's program of origin.
A filename thus altered, when double-clicked, will normally generate an
error message asking what program should be used to open it. An MSWord file,
oddly enough, will still open in its usual way. In fact, you can create your
own extensions for Word or Excel files, and they will still open normally.
An exception to the rule would be changing .doc to .txt, since .txt is a
universal extension that can be used temporarily to make nearly any file
People Falling Victim to Many Kinds of Internet Scams
I've heard a number of horror stories recently about people being taken in
by scams and/or having their computers crashed by a virus of some kind.
Links to free anti-virus and anti-spyware software are available on my site,
but the best protection is to avoid malware in the first place.
Do NOT respond to anything that pops up and says, "You Have Won a Free
iPod/PC/X-Box/whatever; Just Click Here!" At the very least, you will be
asked for your email address, which will be added to various spam lists. At
worst, clicking a tempting-looking link can download an executable virus to
Do NOT reply to any unsolicited "job offer" which asks you to fill out an
"employment application." Same dangers as above, in addition to very likely being an identity-theft scam.
Do NOT respond to any email that purports to be from your bank or a company
such as eBay or PayPal, and which asks you to "verify" or "update" your
personal account information. These are identity-theft scams, which often
look like legitimate requests from reliable institutions. They are not!
Do NOT reply to any email that says someone is ready to buy something you
may have listed on eBay or elsewhere. This is just another identity-theft
Do NOT open any email attachments you are not expecting. This is still the
most common means of activating a virus which can do terrible things to you
and your PC.
Also beware of "Anti-Spyware" ads that offer "A Free Scan of Your PC." After
the scan you will be told you have spyware, which will be removed after you
pay $30-$40 for the "service." Many such schemers also refuse to remove
their "nag ads" until you pay their fee, even if you don't want the
Legitimate free services can be found on this site'sHome Page.
In 1978 the first major application created for desktop PCs was a spreadsheet
program named VisiCalc, which was later overtaken by Lotus 1-2-3.
Many spreadsheet programs have come and gone since.
Nowadays, however, Excel is number one, with WordPerfect's Quattro Pro and the MSWorks
Spreadsheet following behind.
Since nearly everyone has a spreadsheet program nowadays, it may seem
strange that Google is offering a free one online. However, it does have
some interesting advantages, mainly that it can be accessed by multiple
users in remote locations. Furthermore, once a file has been named, it is
automatically saved after each editing change.
Google Spreadsheet Handy in Business, But What About Home Users?
This is great for multi-office businesses, but probably of little value to
the average home PC user - many of whom don't know what to do with the spreadsheet program they
Well, a spreadsheet was designed mainly to deal with mathematical
issues, such as budgeting and financial forecasting. Many programs, such as Quicken
and TurboTax, are basically advanced-feature spreadsheets. Beyond that, almost any kind of
"personal calculating question" can be solved by entering the data into your
spreadsheet program, along with using its various formula capabilities.
Let the Spreadsheet Do Most of the Grunt Work
Modern spreadsheets do much of the repetitious work for you. Here's a simple example, using a
no-frills profit and loss sheet:
Launch a blank spreadsheet, and type January into Cell B1. Press ENTER and
then click on the tiny black square in the lower right corner of the January
cell. Now drag it to the right and watch the rest of the months fill in
Now type Income into Cell A2 and then type in some typical dollar amounts
into the cells below the months. Next type Expenses into Cell A3, followed
by some typical amounts in the row under the Income numbers. To better see
how all this works, make a couple of the "expense" amounts higher than the
"income" amounts. Finally, type Profit/Loss into Cell A4.
To calculate January's profit or loss, type this formula into Cell B4:
=SUM(B2-B3). Press ENTER and watch the calculated amount appear.
Well, typing this formula probably seems like a lot of work - but now things get
easy. Grab the tiny square in Cell B4, drag it to the right and watch all
the other month's P/L amounts fill in, with negative amounts being preceded
by a minus sign.
For adding a column of numbers you don't even type a formula. Click the
"total" cell under the numbers and then click your toolbar's Greek "sigma"
symbol, followed by pressing ENTER.
To multiply numbers such as those found in, say, Cells B7, C7 and
F7 click into any cell where you want the answer, type =(B7*C7*F7) and press ENTER.
The asterisk is the "times" symbol in a spreadsheet, while a forward slash
is the "divided by" symbol.
Thus, to divide a number in, say, H2 by a number
in K6 you would type =(H2/K6) into any cell and press ENTER.
If you've completed solving a mathematical question and later find that any
of the entered amounts have changed, simply overtype the old number with the
new one and press ENTER to get the corrected total.
The "Month" rule explained above also applies to typing in the name of a day, or a number prededed by a text phrase. For instance, type in, say, Tuesday, and drag the black square in any direction
(left, right, up or down). If you type in, say, Item 5, dragging the little square will fill in
multiples of five (such as, Item 5, Item 10, Item 15, etc.).
This is just the tiniest tip of the spreadsheet iceberg, but should help get
you started using one of the most valuable tools on your PC.
A number of readers have asked how to copy their "Favorites" from an old PC
to a new one. Well, it helps to understand what a "Favorite" (a.k.a.
Bookmark) actually is; it's a "Shortcut to a URL" (uniform resource locator,
i.e., Web site address or specific location on a computer).
If you right-click any entry listed under Favorites (or Bookmarks) and then click
Properties, the complete URL will be displayed, such as
http://www.google.com. (My Shortcut to this URL is simply Google.) You,
too, can right-click any Shortcut and use Rename to give it a moniker you
Shortcuts on your Desktop are usually links to a file or folder on your
PC's hard drive (such as its My Documents folder) but you can put links to
favorite Web sites there as well, or to any special folder you choose to
To copy existing Favorites onto a new computer: click
Start>Search/Find>Files & Folders and type favorites into the "Name" field.
Click Search, and then double-click each folder that appears so you can examine its
contents. Any link-bearing folder can then be dragged onto a USB flash
memory stick. (Such a flash drive's icon will be found inside the My Computer folder.)
USB (Universal Serial Bus) Ports, Hubs, & Flash Drives
You could drag the folder(s) onto a 3.5" floppy, but new PCs rarely have a
floppy drive. However, all recent-vintage PCs have USB ports, and flash
drive sticks are available everywhere. Also available are USB hubs which
turn one port into many. If you buy a hub for a new computer, be sure it's
labeled USB 2.0, which transmits data much faster than older "USB 1" hubs.
Flash memory sticks (thumb drives) and external USB-connected hard drives
continue to go up in storage capacity and down in price, and have become the
easiest way to copy personal files from one computer to another. Application
programs still need to be installed from their original CDs, although tools
for moving everything (programs, email, personal settings, etc.) can be
found at www.laplink.com.
Thoughts About Buing a New Computer
If you're in the market for a new PC, Microsoft's ongoing delays in
releasing "Vista" is not making it an easy decision. Should you wait till
next year to buy a PC with Vista, or buy a WinXP model now and then buy a
Vista upgrade? Is Vista going to be enough of an improvement over XP to make
any difference? I hear lots of pros and cons.
In fact, I'm thinking of getting a new computer and know it will need at
least an 800 MHz CPU (central processing unit) and a DirectX-9-capable
graphics processor. It will need at least 512 MB of RAM, but I prefer 2 GB,
which will insure its being more than ready for Vista, whenever it arrives.
As for which brand, we've had success with Dell desktops and Toshiba laptops.
In any case, we'll be doing lots of online research before making a decision.
Fixing Docs with Malformatted Text & those >>> Symbols
I recently mentioned StripMail, a free program that fixes malformatted
email with variable line lengths and ">" symbols. Setting aside the pointy
marks for the moment, let's discuss why the lines of text are so uneven.
Those of us who learned to type on vintage Underwoods and Coronas had to do
a "carriage return" at the end of each line to move down and begin another
line. Computers, however, let us type continuously with automatic "word-wrapping"
taking us from one line to the next. Pressing Enter is the equivalent of a
CR (carriage return) and only needs to be done when ending one paragraph and
However, it's not uncommon for PC-neophyte seniors to put a CR (by pressing
Enter) at the end of each line, just as they did on their trusty
typewriters. Later, if the message is copied to another PC which uses a
different document width, all those CRs will cause the text to break in odd
places. Without such arbitrary CRs, however, text will word-wrap to fit smoothly into
documents of any width.
Another way CRs can get planted is with a few email systems that force
all text to conform to a now-antiquated "pre-determined number of characters
to a line" format. These systems also insert arbitrary CRs, along with
placing a ">" at the beginning of each forced line break. StripMail can
correct all this.
Using Your Spell-Checker & Thesaurus
Another advantage of writing with a PC is that most programs come with
Spell-Checkers, although the tools appear to go largely unused. MSWord, by
default, has Check Spelling As You Type and Check Grammar As You Type
turned on, which causes a red squiggly to appear under suspected
misspellings and a green squiggly under suspected grammatical errors.
I like the spell-checking, but turn off the Grammar-Checker by deselecting
it under Tools>Options>Spelling & Grammar. You can also defeat "As You Type"
spell-checking and proof the document at any time by pressing the ABC icon
in the toolbar, or by pressing F7. To proof a particular word or phrase,
mouse-select it do ABC or F7.
Right-clicking a flagged word will bring up some suggested corrections, or
you can click ADD to add a word to the dictionary. Do this with names of
people, places or technical terms not included in the default dictionary.
A number of commonly misspelled words, such as "dont" will be changed to
"don't" automatically. These words can be found under Tools>AutoCorrect,
where you can add or delete problematical words to suit yourself.
Outlook Express, oddly, has no spell-checker of its own, but uses the one
that comes with MSWord or MSOffice. When OE uses these Spell-Checkers, it
will not correct as you type, but has other choices available under
Tools>Options>Spelling. Google's Gmail and AOL email have built-in
Highlighting a word and pressing Shift+F7 in MSWord brings up a Thesaurus,
which is pretty comprehensive.
I recently explained how to use your PC for voice recording. Well, portable
digital recorders are also available. I bought an Olympus WS-320M unit that is also
an MP3/WMA flash drive player with one gigabyte of storage capacity. (Larger
capacity units are also available.)
Like most digital music players it is quite small, but performs beautifully.
In addition to a stereo earphone output, it also has a built-in monaural
speaker. It even has an input that will accommodate a stereo microphone
The built-in microphone works fine for voice recording, but is very
sensitive to one's hands on the device. I overcame this with a combination
headset/microphone, and may buy a unidirectional mike that would pick up
even less background sounds.
I find navigating the device to be wonderfully easy, going from listening to
podcasts downloaded from online radio stations to playing favorite MP3s
downloaded from my music pages. (I'm too cheap to subscribe to any online music services.)
Switching between playing and recording is also remarkably easy.
Attached to a PC via a USB cable, the device shows up under My Computer as
an additional disk drive, with five ready-made folders in which you can
save your recorded voice files. A sixth folder named Music will hold hundreds of MP3 and WMA files. Just drag and drop them from your PC's music folder(s). Files can be deleted via your PC or with the unit's built-in Erase command. It couldn't be much easier.
The recorder/player is powered by a single AAA alkaline battery, which can be
easily replaced when needed.
We bought the Olympus online from www.amazon.com for $164 (a substantially
discounted price) and received next-day shipping.
Where Are My Email Messages Stored?
A number of readers have said they are confused about whether their saved
email messages are on their own computer or on a remote server somewhere.
Well, the Internet has become so ubiquitous in our lives and so easily
available via high-speed connections that we can sometimes lose track of
where we are.
Generally speaking, all Web-based email services, such as Hotmail and
Gmail, let users create and use folders at the services' locations. AOL does
this, but also makes it easy for members to create PFCs (personal filing
cabinets) on their own computers. Beyond this, however, users can create
folders on their own PCs and copy messages into them by going to File>Save
As, and giving the messages a name. You can also choose between saving
messages as plain text, with a .txt extension, or as fully formatted files
with an .htm (or .html) extension.
Outlook Express Messages Saved in 2 Different Ways
Outlook Express is an email client that expects you to keep saved
messages on your own computer, and which starts you off with a few
pre-established folders, such as Inbox and Sent Items. Once an OE message is
downloaded, it is off the ISP's server and onto your PC, although you may be
able to make arrangements with the ISP to retain copies of your messages.
Outlook Express DBX Files
OE messages are not only saved on your computer in their original format, copies
of the messages are periodically compressed into DBX files, which can be
copied onto other media for additional security. If you are unfamiliar with DBX files, they are explained here.
Has a long-winded caller ever caused you to wish your other phone would ring so you could say, "Sorry, I have to answer the other phone?" Well, your computer can produce just such a sound. One of the audio files that comes with Windows is called phone.wav and can be found by clicking Start>Search/Find>Files & Folders and typing in phone.wav. Right-click the file and choose Send To>Desktop (Create Shortcut). Henceforth, any time you double-click this Desktop icon a very convincing phone ring will be heard.
If you are unfamiliar with "WAVs," many of the beeps, dings, and other PC sounds you hear (including the opening Windows glissando) are WAV files. Most of these files are in a folder named Media and include a couple of other ring tones named ringin.wav and ringout.wav.
With a microphone connected to your PC, you can also create your own WAV files using the built-in Windows "Sound Recorder." Go to Start>Programs>Accessories, and click on Entertainment or Multimedia. Next, click Sound Recorder, where you will find a Red Record button and a Black Stop button, along with Fast Forward and Rewind symbols on the Record/Playback panel.
To record your voice, click File>New. Then click the round red Record button and start talking, singing, or whatever. When finished, click the rectangular Stop button. To hear your recording click the left-pointing Rewind symbol and then click the right-pointing Play symbol. Finally, click File>Save As and give your audio file a name, which will automatically have a .wav extension.
Recording Longer WAVs
The Sound Recorder has a built-in limitation of 60 seconds. However, you can record longer WAVs by clicking File>New, clicking the Record button and letting the device record 60 seconds of silence. Then do File>Save As, and name the silent file something like blank.wav.
To increase recording time, go to Edit>Insert File, and click on the newly created blank.wav. This will increase the maximum recording time by 60 seconds. You can repeat this step for each additional minute you want.
The above steps will create a soundless WAV with a length of your choice, which can be recorded over by launching Sound Recorder and going to File>Open>blank.wav. After you "re-record" this file, go to File>Save As and give it a different name. This will preserve your blank wav for future use.
Easier Way to Record
If you record voice files frequently, it will be easier if you use a headset with a built-in microphone. You can also create a shortcut to Sound Recorder by right-clicking it and using Send To>Desktop (Create Shortcut).
You can attach voice files to any outgoing email, but Outlook Express users can include sound files without having them listed as an "attachment." After clicking Create Mail, click Format>Background>Sound, whereupon you can insert an audio file of your choice. The audio will begin when the recipient opens the email.
Many of the full-length vocal/orchestral songs on my site are also WAVs and can be downloaded to any PC.
More PC Tips can be found at www.pcdon.com, where archives of all these
newsletters from 2003, 2004, and 2005 can be
found, along with Downloadable
As long as you're using a computer, have you ever thought about writing a book? If you
have an urge to write, today's technology makes it easier than ever. In
fact, I have trouble imagining how books got written with just a typewriter,
much less with the quill pens that preceded them.
Computers Make Writing Easy
Uncertain about spelling and/or grammar? Today's word processing programs
include help for both, and professional editors can be easily found online.
As for making copies of your writings, paper may seem old-fashioned in this
digital age; but if you want to be sure your writing can be read decades
from now, paper may be an alternative worth considering. When desktop PCs
were new, I wrote lots of stuff that got saved on audio cassette tape and on
5.25-inch floppy disks. Try to find a PC now that can read those retro
devices. Happily, I also made paper copies. Will computers 25 or 50 years
from now be able to read our CD, flash drive, or DVD backups?
Saving Your Writing with Incremental File Name Changes
Well, for the moment, we still need to do digital backups of any writing we
deem important. If the document is lengthy, using incremental file name
changes is essential. In other words, after you've added a few paragraphs
(or a few pages) to a file named, say, MyStory-1.doc, you should do
File>Save As and change the name to MyStory-2.doc.
At some poit you might end up saving, say, MyStory-9.doc, with eight
separate incrementally-named files saved along the way. Why is this useful?
Well, let's look at what can happen if the periodic saves bear the same
name. A sudden power outage could zap the whole file. However, with multiple
saves, if 9 got zapped you would still have 1 through 8 to fall back
Another scenario: during, say, version 4 you decide to delete a paragraph
you wrote in version 2. While working on the 8th version, you decide to reinsert
that paragraph. Well, a simple copy and paste would solve the problem.
Without the incremental saves you'd have to retype the paragraph.
Store Backups in Different Places
It goes without saying that really important stuff should be saved on more
than one storage device. Imagine having all your files on a single PC that
suddenly crashes, gets stolen, or is destroyed in a fire. Well, you can keep
backup devices in your car or in a safe deposit box - but how about just
emailing copies to yourself and leaving them on the server?
Most of the web-based email services, such as Gmail, AIM, Hotmail,
Netscape, and Yahoo offer two gigs or more of free storage.
Fixing Mal-Formatted Email
Speaking of email, if you receive messages that have weird line lengths,
odd text spacing and a bunch of those little pointy symbols (>>>) a free program called StripMail can be
downloaded from my site. You can download the
instructions, as well.
MP3 technology has certainly changed the way many of us listen to music.
Although we may tend to associate digital music with pop rock being listened
to via portable earbuds, there are other ways to enjoy a music collection.
For instance, I play mine through my car stereo by connecting my player to
an adaptor, which slides into the car's cassette player. I've seen these at
stores for about $30, but bought a Cody ca-747 CD/MP3 cassette adapter at
Amazon.com for $12.99.
I always take an MP3 player on my daily bike rides, but use a different
"player" for background music when working at the PC. It's an older laptop
that I copy my favorite music onto and keep near my work computer.
Why not just play the music on the work computer or on my MP3 player?
Well, playing music on a computer uses resources, which can slow down
whatever else I'm doing (such as editing a photo, drawing a picture,
answering email, and talking to a friend via IM, all while writing a column
in MSWord). As for the MP3 player, it's incompatible with some of my music
files (such as WAVs and MIDIs). Furthermore, full length symphonies can fill
up an MP3 device pretty quickly.
Beyond all the above, the laptop is connected to the Internet, which makes a
variety of online radio stations available. Another bonus - the laptop can
be connected to a regular home stereo system - again, without putting a
strain on my work PC.
Digital Photography for Not-Quite-Digital Seniors
When I began this column a dozen years ago, most retirement-age people had
no interest in computers and would tell me they got along without them just
fine all their lives. However, many are now buying a PC so they can process
their own digital photos, along with exchanging the photos with their
grandkids (who often teach the elders how to do these things).
I have friends who own a PC for business purposes, but who have been handing
their digital camera to a grandson after taking some pictures. He copies the
files to his PC and makes his grandparents a CD filled with their snapshots. By
way of showing them how they could do this on their own, I asked them to
bring their camera when we recently met at a restaurant for dinner. I
brought my laptop PC.
I removed the memory card from their camera, plugged it into my laptop via a
USB adapter, and instantly showed them all the photos they had recently
taken. Then I used the camera to take some snapshots and a video of them,
which I also displayed immediately on my laptop. Had it not been for the
constraints of the restaurant, I could have showed them how I usually crop
and touch up the shots as soon as I see them on the PC.
If you have a computer peripheral that is malfunctioning, such as a keyboard
or a mouse or a monitor, the thing to do first is check their connections.
Even if they appear to be securely in place, disconnecting and reconnecting
them can often solve the problem. If this doesn't work, replace the device
with a borrowed one to see what happens.
If the substitute item also doesn't work, the problem is likely with your
computer. If it does work, yours may need to be repaired or replaced.
Generally speaking, peripherals such as a keyboard or a mouse are cheaper to
replace than to repair.
If the malfunctioning device is a printer or a scanner, reinstalling its
drivers by inserting the CD that came with it will often do the job. Some
devices, such as a sound or video card, can often be revived by
"uninstalling" them from Device Manager, and restarting the computer.
Go to Start>Control Panel>System>Hardware>Device Manager. Click the plus
sign (+) next to the device category and then right-click the specific
device in the list that appears. Choose Uninstall, and answer Yes when asked
if you are sure you want to do this. Finally, restart the computer,
whereupon you will see a message saying new hardware has been found and
Windows is trying to install it. No guarantee this will work - but it often
Printers and scanners are also listed under Start>Control Panel, where you
may find that more than one of a kind is listed - such as a printer that
used to be connected to your PC, but which has been disconnected.
Right-click the icon(s) for any such devices delete them.
The main reason a mouse malfunctions is dust and pet hairs interfering with
the ball. You can open its compartment and clean it; but I'd recommend
buying an optical or laser mouse with no moving parts that collect such
Dust is often the villain in a malfunctioning keyboard. Turning it over and
shaking it vigorously gets rid of most of it, but using a compressed air
spray-can is even better. Using compressed air on the interior of a PC's
tower a couple of times a year can also be enormously helpful in maintaining
its health. However, check your warranty restrictions before opening a
If none of the above gets an out-of-warranty printer or scanner working
properly, it will usually be cheaper to buy a new one than get the old one
repaired. Printers have become very inexpensive, since the manufacturers
make more money on ink cartridges (and hope you'll buy their brand).
As for cheaper generic cartridges or using ink refill kits, I'd like to hear
from anyone who has had satisfactory results. My experience has been that
refilling is messy and unreliable, and that the ink in some cheaper
cartridges tends to fade prematurely. But, admittedly, I do very little
printing anymore - most of what I create ends up on my web site.
A number of readers have asked how songs they download from my site's
vintage music pages
can be played continuously on their computers. Well,
Windows Media Player makes this easy, and it comes with all versions of
Windows. Here's how it's done in Windows Media Player 10:
To launch WMP, go to Start>Programs>Windows Media Player. Alternatively, you
can right-click any music file and use the "Open With" option.
Downloaded music files (MP3, WMA, WAV, MID, ASF, WAV, etc.) are normally stored
in your My Music folder, which is inside your My Documents folder.
With WMP-10 open, click on Library. Right-click My Playlists and choose New.
An area named New Playlist will be displayed into which you can drag your
favorites from the My Music folder. Finally, click the down-arrow next to
New Playlist and choose Name Playlist As, followed by typing in a name.
You may have to move the Player and/or the My Music folder so they can both
be seen for the dragging and dropping. To make this easier, the player
and/or the folder can be reshaped by grabbing any edge or corner and
adjusting as needed. Dragging songs into the player actually creates
shortcuts to the files, leaving the actual songs unmoved.
If the music doesn't start automatically, click the Play button, whereupon
the first song in the Playlist will begin (unless another song is currently
highlighted). The songs will be listed alphabetically, but any song can be
moved to another location by clicking it and then clicking the Up or Down
Arrow at the top of the player.
Clicking the red X will display Delete options for a selected song or for
the whole Playlist.
If you want the songs to play in random order, click the double-arrow
Shuffle button at the bottom of the player. Another click will return to
the Playlist order displayed on-screen, while double-clicking any song will
cause it to start immediately.
These are just a few of the things that can be done with the Windows Media
Player. Others include picking up Internet radio stations and displaying
online or DVD videos.
Windows Media Player 10 can also be used for "burning" music files onto a CD, as well as
"ripping" songs from a music CD and converting them to WMA or MP3 files,
which can then be copied to an digital music player. Rip and burn options are listed
in the player's header. If you need help, press F1 on your keyboard.
Many Media Players Available
Yes, there are other media players available, including QuickTime, Winamp,
RealPlayer, MusicMatch Jukebox, and iTunes. Some web site videos will only
play via QuickTime and some music files will only work in RealPlayer.
However, installing these other players often leads to "file association"
conflicts which may prevent you from downloading songs from various music
sites, including mine.
Another thing I dislike about other players is that they insert themselves
into the "MSConfig Startup List," meaning they start running when you turn
on your PC. Personally, I use the Windows Media Player exclusively, and
choose to ignore media files that require a different player.
Problems with Software that Comes with a Digital Camera
Francisco Saenz wrote to say he installed the software that came with a
Kodak digital camera, and that all his previous photos are now displayed via
this program, complete with a Kodak logo and various Kodak-specific
"sharing" options. He asks what will happen to his photos if he uninstalls
Nothing will happen to them. The software affects how the photos are
displayed when viewed via the Kodak program, but does not change the actual
WinXP comes with the Windows Picture & Fax Viewer built in, and no other
software need be installed to view one's photos. However, it is not uncommon
for software that comes with the purchase of a digital camera to steer
buyers toward various schemes designed to encourage the purchase of various
"photo sharing" services.
Also, software that comes with printers and scanners nowadays is
increasingly loaded with a variety of "buy more stuff" options. MP3 players
are also likely to come with software that directs one toward a specific
online "music for sale" site, such as Napster or iTunes.
Personally, I just install the drivers that come with a printer or a
scanner, and ignore all the sales pitches. And I never install any software
that comes with a digital camera.
The first thing such software tries to do is switch your "file associations"
to the camera manufacturer's programs. For instance, the JPG photo format
works with all image-editing software, but will always be "associated" with
one particular program on your PC. Which one? Well, it is always the Windows
Picture & Fax Viewer on a new PC, which means that when you double-click a
photo's file name it will open in this program.
However, when installing software from Kodak, Adobe, or others, you will be
asked if you'd like to change the JPG file association to their program.
Many users don't really understand the question and just click Yes
meaning that henceforth a double-click will open a photo in the vendor's
program, which will include all the "buy now" options.
If this has happened to you, and you'd prefer to choose your own program,
right-click on any JPG filename and choose Open With. Next click Choose
Program, followed by clicking your program of choice (I prefer Irfanview).
Finally click on Always use the selected program to open this kind of
Irfanview Is Free and Easy to Use
The reason I prefer Irfanview (free from
www.irfanview.com) is that it's the
easiest and quickest I've found for cropping and resizing pictures. If you
use Irfanview, you can have all your image extensions (JPG, BMP, GIF, TIF,
PNG, etc.) switched to the program by going to Options>Set File
However, doing so does NOT keep you from opening your photos in any other
image-editor you may have. For instance, I use Adobe PhotoShop Elements and
Corel Paint Shop Pro because they have editing tools not available in
Simply launch your program of choice, go to File>Open, and browse to find
the desired photo.
One of the main joys of digital photography is the ability to "touch up"
one's pictures in all kinds of ways. What used to be done by darkroom and
spray-gun specialists, is now done by PC users with programs like Adobe
PhotoShop and Corel Paint Shop Pro. The former has always been the choice of
graphics professionals, and costs about $600. PhotoShop Elements, a slimmed
down version, cost about $100. I like Corel Paint Shop Pro, which costs
about $80, and can be downloaded from
There's no way I can describe all the touch-up tricks available in so many
different programs, but I can give you a few tips to get you started
enhancing your digital photos.
Simple Brightness and Contrast adjustments can fix over/under-exposed
pictures with a few mouse clicks, while the Dodge and Burn tools can lighten
or darken areas you select.
Clone, Smudge, Straighten - & Lots More
The "clone" tool is one I use constantly. It lets you choose an area of a
photo and then "clone" it onto another location. A facial blemish, for
instance, can be hidden by simply cloning a clear spot over it. Or -
visualize snapping a child at play on a park lawn just as a stranger walks
into the shot. You can make the stranger disappear with cloned grass, trees,
and sky. It's amazingly easy.
Another handy item is the "smudge" or "smear" tool. If, for instance, some
of your cloned grass appears a little different than the area it was copied
into, you can "smudge" dissimilar edges into a smooth, natural-looking
An alternative means of cloning is to use a "selection" tool to outline an
area in a photo, whereupon it can be copied and pasted into other locations
with traditional Ctrl+C (copy) and Ctrl+V (paste) commands.
Choosing Ctrl+X (scissors) will cut the selected area out of the picture,
leaving the "canvas" color showing through. This is handy if you want to,
say, remove a distracting background from around someone's portrait,
whereupon a "paint bucket" tool can be used to fill the cut-out area with a
solid color or a texture of some kind.
All image-editors have tools for rotating mal-aligned pictures, but Corel
PSP has a super-easy "Straightening" tool. After clicking the tool, you draw
a straight line along, say, the edge of a building. Click on the line and
the picture rotates to where the building is at a right angle to the
How do you find these tools, along with details on how to use them? All of
these programs come with extensive Help menus, including a Search box into
which you can type the name of a tool, command, or effect you're seeking.
Many also have built-in tutorials, with additional instructions being
For serious students of image-editing, ROP and evening courses in Adobe
PhotoShop can be found in many high schools and community colleges. But the
average snapshot-taker can also become a formidable touch-up artist with a
TYPING EMAILS AND/OR REGULAR LETTERS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS...
A reader called to say she had sent an email to the editor, but that it had
been returned with a request to change it from all capital letters to upper
and lower case. She asked if this could be done without having to retype the
whole letter. Yes, in MSWord you can mouse-select the text and press
Shift+F3 to change it from ALL CAPS to all lower case to traditional
sentences that begin with a capital letter.
When I asked why she had written the letter in all caps she replied that it
had become a habit because many of her friends are elderly and she thought
doing so made her messages easier for them to read.
Well, all caps actually makes a letter harder to read, besides giving the
impression that the writer is shouting. For maximum legibility, simply
choose a larger font size and choose one that is easy on the eyes. My
favorite is Verdana.
Establishing a Favorite Font as Your Default
If you would like to establish a particular font as your default for all
word processing, click Format>Font. In MSWord choose your font, size and
style, and click the Default button. In WordPerfect make your choices, click
Settings and choose "...default for all documents."
While you're in the Format>Font area, look at options for stylized
characters, such as Superscript and Subscript for, say, chemical formulas.
Outlined letters can be effective for large headlines, while Embossed or
Engraved characters are nice on invitations and announcements.
Character Spacing will allow you to increase or decrease spaces between
letters, while Kerning will allow you to fine-tune spaces between extra
Choosing a Font Size Not on Menu
Regarding font sizes, MSWord and WordPerfect allow you to choose sizes not
listed in their drop-down menus. Just type the point-number you want into
the Size window and press Enter.
Inserting Images in a Word Processing Document
If you want to insert an image into a word processing page you can click on
Insert>Picture>From File, whereupon you can browse to the picture's folder
and double-click its file name. This will place the picture at your cursor's
current location and treat it like just another text character (in terms of
moving left or right as other text is added or deleted). In order to move
the picture around the page at your discretion you must first place it in a
Click Insert>Text Box, whereupon a rectangle will appear on your page or you
will be able to draw a rectangle with the tiny "cross" cursor that appears.
Then click inside the Text Box rectangle, go to Insert>Picture, and choose
A Text Box can be moved anywhere on a page and it will carry the enclosed
graphic with it. They can also be reshaped by grabbing any edge or corner
and moving them as needed.
By default, the Text Box will print as a black border, but can be made
invisible by clicking it and choosing Format>Text Box>Colors &
Lines>Line>Color>No Line. The enclosed picture can be fine-tuned in a number
of ways by double-clicking it and using the image-editing toolbar that
What's the Difference Between "Vector" & "Raster" Graphics?
Charlotte Pidgeon wrote to ask what program is needed to draw some
relatively simple geometric shapes to be filled with various colors. I
replied that professional designers use "vector drawing programs" such as Adobe
Illustrator or Corel Draw (my favorite) and that MSWord comes with some simple
drawing tools built-in.
Most computer graphics fall into two main categories: "vector" and "raster."
Raster graphics are also referred to as "bitmap" images, such as the JPG format used
for photos, wherein thousands of tiny "bits" (squares) are "mapped" on your
screen to give the illusion of continuous tone gradients.
Vector graphics tend to be geometric shapes generated by creating and
connecting straight lines and curves which can be filled with various
colors. In MSWord, clicking View>Toolbars>Drawing will display a toolbar
dislaying a square, a circle, and a menu titled AutoShapes which offers
additional polygons such as stars, arrows, triangles, and etc.
Clicking the circle icon lets you create ovals of various sizes and
proportions while the square icon does likewise with rectangles. You can
also give the shapes a drop shadow or a 3-dimensional look. Clicking the paint bucket
icon displays a palette of colors which can be "poured" into the shapes you
MSWord, along with other MSOffice programs, also has a WordArt toolbar for
turning words and phrases into eye-catching vector drawings. In WordPerfect
a similar utility is called TextArt.
Creating Professional 3-Dimensional Drawings
For professional architectural 3D drawings, various CAD (computer aided drafting)
and CAM (computer aided mechanical-drawing) programs are used, while Adobe Illustrator
and Corel Draw have some very sophisticated 3D tools available.
Design Your Own 3D Building
If you'd like to try your hand at architectural 3D drawing - such as designing a house or
other structure - Google Sketchup is a free program that has some amazingly
comprehensive CAD-like tools. Get it at www.google.com.
The program (which is till in beta) comes with some very intuitive and well-illustrated
examples to get you started on your first architectural adventure.
More about Raster & Vector
Isn't it true that raster/bitmap programs also have "drawing" tools? Yes,
they do; and the differences between the algorithms used to create
vector-generated or rasterized graphics are usually of little concern to
someone who just wants to create, say, a green shamrock, a red stop sign, or a yellow
triangle. Nonetheless, it's helpful to be familiar with the basic concepts of the two methods.
Some graphics are a combination of "vector drawing" and "raster painting"
techniques. For instance, draw a rectangle in MSWord and click the paint
bucket. Look for Fill Effects>Gradient. Here you can choose two colors, such
as red and blue, and blend them into a graduated rainbow-effect of red,
purple, and blue. Choosing "Texture" will display a collection of fill
effects such as marble, burlap, and various woodgrains.
It can be argued that vector drawings end up being bitmap images anyway,
since they are made up of tiny pixels when seen on your screen, and printed
out as thousands of tiny dots on paper. True - but if you need to edit a
vector graphic, doing so with a "drawing" program is easier and more practical.
Telephone tech support - or lack thereof - is something about which I hear
lots of complaints nowadays (aside from trying to understand an Euro/Asian
variation of English). Most complaints have one common theme: after spending
a fruitless hour on the phone, you are told it's not their problem - it's a
Microsoft/Dell/Windows/modem/you-name-it problem - ie: "I can't figure it
out so I'll blame the problem on someone else."
Oddly, very few are willing to say, "I don't know the answer, but will
connect you with someone who has more experience in this area."
The fix? You need to ask for another technician or a supervisor. If this
results in another sluff-off, hang up and call again - you rarely get the
same person twice. I've had to make as many as a dozen calls before reaching
someone who knew the answer to a particular question.
The core problem is that technology is escalating faster than qualified
phone support people can be found to keep up with it. Furthermore, "an
expert who knows everything about computers" does not exist. The field is
way too broad and too fragmented for anyone to be proficient in anything but
certain select areas.
My main thrust in this newsletter has always been toward helping novices learn
the fundamentals of Windows and of using popular Windows-based software.
Mary and I get many calls a day, most regarding questions we can answer
quickly and efficiently. When we get a query for which we don't have an
answer, we usually say we'll try to find one and send it via email. Some
questions are so far beyond our sphere of knowledge, that all we can say is,
"We don't know," and try to steer the caller to a person, company, or Web
site that might have a solution.
Put the Search Engines to Work for You
When I began this column over a decade ago there was no Google or much of
anything in the way of free online help. Now there are hundreds - perhaps
thousands - of sites with free help areas. How can they be free?
Advertising, naturally. Yes, some ads are devious bait-and-switch schemes, but they are
generally easy to spot and avoid.
There are also zillions of online "forums" or "message boards" where people
exchange information by posting questions and answers and sharing their experiences
with one another, usually on a particular subject
When Mary and I get questions we can't immediately answer we go to a search engine
and type in key words regarding the query. This often leads to a Q&A forum
or a technical Web site with the answer.
If it's a Microsoft-specific
question we go www.microsoft.com
and type knowledge base into the search box,
along with which version of Windows we're using. The site also has templates,
tutorials and "wizards" for products such as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.
Of course, the fact that something appears on the Internet doesn't
necessarily make it true. However, with so many different information sources
available, there are plenty of opportunities for cross-referencing your data.
As more computer users buy updated models, what to do with the old ones has
become a major issue in many homes and offices. Donating them to a charity
or a friend can take the storage problem off your hands, but clearing
personal data off the hard drive needs to be considered. Although deleting
files in the conventional way may appear to remove data completely, much of
the "deleted" material can be recovered with special software.
Free programs such as Erase and KillDisk can thoroughly clean your HD, and
are available from www.download.com and
Both programs come with extensive instructions.
Some folks opt to destroy their old HDs with a hammer or by drilling holes
in them. Computer parts can, of course, be hidden in dumpsters which are
picked up by automated collection trucks; but adding such hazardous waste to
local land fills will surely come back to haunt us some day. Most disposal
companies have procedures for collecting and recycling computer gear. Call
yours for details.
Another option for an old hard disk is to install it in your new PC and use
it as a second drive. Doing so is usually fairly simple (if the hard drive
is mounted on a PCI card) or it can be done
by a technician for a nominal fee. This also handles the issue of getting
your old data onto your new computer.
Recovering Deleted Files
Regarding the recovery of deleted data, several programs are available at
Type "undelete" into the search box for customer reviews
of various programs. performance. Since I've never had to recover deleted
files, I can't give a personal recommendation; but I have posted links to
some informative PC World "undelete" articles on my home page.
As for donating an old PC, it has become increasingly difficult to find a
willing recipient, since prices on new ones continue to decline along with
providing more speed, memory, and hard drive space than earlier models did.
Computer Call-In Radio Shows
Another source of PC information for Southern Californians is a pair of
weekend radio broadcasts. Saturdays and Sundays, from noon to 2PM on KNX,
Jeff Levy has a call-in show that caters mostly to newer users with
beginner-type questions. From 11AM to 2PM, Leo Laporte on KFI handles more
Listeners beyond the reach of these radio stations can tune in the shows via
the Internet. For Leo, go to
www.kfi640.com and click on Listen Live...Right
Now>Click Here to Launch the KFI Stream. For Jeff, go to
www.knx1070.com, click ListenAnyTime or ListenNow.
A variety of podcasts are available from both gentlemen, which can be
downloaded and played back at your convenience - on your computer or on any
MP3 player. One of the advantages to listening to a podcast rather than a
live show is that you can do an instant re-play of anything you want to hear
more than once. Also, you can keep the MP3 files archived for future
playbacks. I usually listen to podcasts when I'm bike-riding around my local
I just received an email purported to be from eBay, which claimed it had a
message from a member who said, "If the item you listed is still for sale,
I'm online and can pay you now," with a link to click for completing the
transaction. This, of course, was just another identity theft scam, by which
the crook hopes you will supply personal data with which he can empty your
A more common variation purports to be from your bank, which says, "Due to
fraudulent attempts to access customers' accounts, we need you to update
your personal information, etc.)." Another variation notifies you that "You
have won an International Sweepstakes" of some kind.
Probably the oldest and still most prevalent con game is the "Nigerian scam," in
which a widow/son/daughter of a prominent Nigerian/Kuwaiti politician tells
you the person died suddenly and wanted to leave all his wealth to "a good
Christian/philanthropist who would use the money for godly purposes."
You Need a Firewall + Anti-Virus Software + Anti-Spyware Scanning
As the Internet gets bigger, it becomes more useful every day. However, it
also becomes more dangerous as the bad guys find new ways to infect your PC
with all kinds of malware. You need a firewall to keep out hackers and an
onboard anti-virus program to intercept infections of various kinds. Some
depend on a router to be a mechanical firewall that keeps hackers at bay;
but I prefer ZoneAlarm, which also monitors attempts by software on my PC to
access the Internet.
What software? Well, programs like RealPlayer, Crescendo, iTunes, QuickTime, and
MusicMatch Jukebox constantly try to access their
own web sites so they can sell you various things, such as software upgrades
and/or music files (such as those which only work on "Real" media players).
As for "spyware" and "adware," it's everywhere on the Internet nowadays; and
if you do any surfing at all, you need to use a program like Ad-Aware every
day to look for and remove the insidious stuff. ZoneAlarm, Ad-Aware, and
AVG Anti-Virus are free programs whose links can be found on my home page.
Windows Defender is an onboard anti-spyware program which is free from
Personally, I prefer daily scanning with Ad-Aware to having Defender running
full time in the background. Why? Well, every program that runs in the
background uses system resources and ends to slow down your computer. This
can mean balancing a trade-off between ongoing malware-scanning against
doing it manually.
The biggest source of viruses continues to be clicking on unrequested email
attachments, while the main source of spyware is clicking on dubious
"get-your-free-smilies-here" and other "you-must-have-this-goodie"
links that one encounters online.
"Cookies" are placed on your hard drive by most commercial sites nowadays.
They can be removed by opening Internet Explorer and clicking Tools>Internet
Speaking of IE - despite constant security updates, hackers keep finding
vulnerabilities that can give them access to one's PC. Consequently, many
users prefer the Firefox browser, free from www.mozilla.org.
Last time I explained connecting a tape or record player to a PC for the
purpose of converting songs into digital music files, along with using a
"ripping" program such as Roxio Easy Media Creator 8 or
Nero 6.0 Ultra Edition.
When ready to rip, play the LP or tape and click the red Record button on your
program's control panel. With a CD burner, you can go directly to a disc if
you want to save an entire LP or tape without changing anything. Doing so,
however, passes over the advantages of transferring first to hard drive and
later to CD.
If an LP suffers from snaps, crackles, and pops you can eliminate them via
software. If a cassette has a song you'd rather not copy to disc, you can
easily delete unwanted tracks. All this, and more, is possible if you copy
the source material to your hard drive first.
If the copied material is one large file, you can split it into multiple
files before burning to CD. Each file will be a separate track on the CD.
The Track Tracker in DAK's Wave MP3 Editor Pro, available from
www.dak2000.com makes this easy.
If your source material is on a CD, WinXP users can use Windows Media Player
10 to convert standard CDA (CD Audio) tracks to WMA (Windows Media Audio) or
MP3 and WMA files can be burned to a CD-R disc, but they can't be played
back on all CD players. They can be played via the CD drive in any computer,
but most older boom boxes, car stereos, and table-top CD players don't
recognize digital files. When buying a new CD player, be sure to see if it
is digital music compatible.
There are many other types of digital music files, such as ASF and WAV, but
not all portable audio players recognize all types of files. However, one
format can be changed to another with programs such as Audacity, which is
free from www.audacity.com.
The vast array of digital music players and the software with which they can
be played, copied, and edited is way too large and complex to be explained
here in any detail. Nonetheless, a basic understanding of MP3 technology can
What Is an MP3?
Simply put, an MP3 is a digitized version of sound that was originally
recorded as analog audio. The digital version can then be edited by removing
material that is perceived to be too high or too low for the human ear to
hear. The more material that is removed, the smaller the resulting computer
file and the less space it takes up on a hard drive or in flash memory.
The "bit rate" at which files are transferred is another factor in sound
quality - the higher the better.
Purists will argue that anything removed from the analog material leaves a
sound of diminished quality - however, most cannot tell an MP3 from the
original when played via quality hardware.
With the growing popularity of MP3 players, a lot of folks have been asking
how to convert their old vinyl LPs and audio cassettes into digital music
files. Most PCs nowadays come with sound cards that include a "line-in" jack
into which an 1/8" stereo "line-out" plug from your cassette or LP record
player can be inserted. The cable normally has two RCA plugs at one end, for
the left and right stereo output ports from your phonograph or cassette player, with
a single stereo mini-plug at the other.
Not all sound cards have a line-in port, but they all have a "mic"
(microphone) input jack. However, using the mic input for anything but a
microphone can distort the sound badly. If your sound card doesn't have a
line-in port, a new card will be needed. Some come with two line-in ports,
in case you want a cassette player and an LP player connected to your
computer at the same time.
Sound cards are relatively inexpensive and can be easily installed in most
desktop towers. Yes, there are expensive cards available that are often
preferred by gamers who want to play special sound effects to their best
advantage, and by media enthusiasts who use their PCs in home theater
Sound card ports are normally color-coded, with blue indicating line-in, red
meaning mic input, and green for your stereo speakers output.
If your LP music source will be a stand-alone turntable you will need to
feed the signal into an amplifier before sending it to your PC's line-in
port. If your record player has a built-in amplifier, the two RCA line-out
plugs can be used directly. Cassette players always have a built-in
amplifier, but sometimes use a single stereo mini-port for speaker output.
If so, your cassette player to PC cable will need a stereo mini-plug on each
In addition to the above hardware, you will need software that converts the
analog sounds generated by your tapes and LPs into digital sound that is
recognized by iPods and other MP3 players. Roxio Easy Media Creator 8 and
Nero 6.0 Ultra Edition appear to be the most popular commercial products.
Another option is the upgrade version of MusicMatch Jukebox, available at
When connecting your hardware devices it's best to have them turned OFF,
with any volume control knobs or levers set to very low. Before turning on
the devices, double-click the speaker icon near the digital clock in your
Taskbar. This will display a line-in volume control, with which you will
monitor the sound signals coming from your analog players.
Once you've launched your software, you'll be ready to turn on your record
or cassette player and start converting analog to digital music. Just as you
did when recording music onto audio tapes, you will want to keep the level
indicator as high as possible without its frequently jumping into the red
If you're new to digital cameras, some of the terminology can be pretty
confusing. However, if you type digital photography into a search engine
countless articles can be found that give very comprehensive explanations.
In the meantime, here are some basics that should help simplify things.
Digital images are made of tiny dots called pixels (picture elements). On
paper, 300 DPI (dots per inch) is adequate for printing the average
snapshot. Photography prepared for glossy magazines requires 600 DPI and
higher. The higher the number, the more an image appears to have "continuous
tone" color gradients.
An image seen on your PC monitor, however, will only display about 72 to 96
DPI. Since most photo-editing programs let you choose the DPI you prefer,
less than 100 is fine for screen views, while 300+ should be used for
prints. Check your printer manual to learn its DPI options.
"View" Size vs "Print" Size
Speaking of "screen" view, it's important to understand that the size you
see on your monitor and the actual print size may be two different things.
Screen views can be enlarged if you want to edit an image, say, one pixel at
a time, or reduced if you want to place multiple pictures on a single page.
Another reason for reducing the screen view of an image is that many cameras
produce such large photos that they often need to be reduced to about 25% just to
fit on your monitor. This happens to be a weak point of
Windows Paint, which will let you enlarge a picture's screen view to 800%,
but it has no setting below 100 percent. My favorite editor for
enlarging or reducing both the screen and actual print views is Irfanview.
(Free from www.irfanview.com.
Measure in Pixels, Centimeters, or Inches
Picture dimensions are normally measured in pixels, however most
photo-editors let you set measurements in centimeters or inches, as well.
These choices are often found under Image and under File>Print.
Another number that can be confusing is how many "megapixels" a camera is
capable of. Simply put, a larger MP number means a print will have higher
pixel resolution and prints can be very large. I have a 6 MP Canon, but most
of my work could be handled just as well with a 3 MP camera.
Optical Zoom vs Digital Zoom
Another important number refers to zoom capabilities. "6x optical zoom"
means your camera's lens is capable of enlarging an image to six times its
normal size. However, "2x digital zoom" means an image can be doubled by
software that "guesses" at the colors of pixels needed to fill in the
enlargement. If zooming is important, go by the "optical" number rather than
the "digital" number.
Again, look these things up online for more complete explanations. Sites
such as www.pcworld.com and
www.cnet.com not only give price
comparisons of cameras and accessories, they print user reviews of most items - both good
As for image-editing programs, there are dozens and they can be confusing to
use. However, they all come with extensive "Help" options and various kinds of tutorials.
For those to whom digital cameras are new, you may be surprised to learn you
no longer need a photo service to produce your prints, nor do you need a
darkroom technician to crop or touch them up. You can do it all yourself.
However, it helps to be familiar with some of the terminology. Digital
images are called "bitmaps" because a collection of tiny colored squares
called bits are mathematically mapped on your screen to create an image.
JPG, GIF, and BMP are "bitmap formats" which create the images, using
Many folks use small "photo printers" that automatically produce a 3x5 or
4x6 paper print, much like you used to get from a photo processing service.
However, these printers offer very little in the way of "editing" features
and their output is pretty much "what you see with your camera is what you
get on paper."
Full Size Printer Offers More Options
I prefer using a desktop printer that will output any size I specify, and
even print multiple pictures on a single sheet. I also prefer to "edit" my
pictures before sending them to a printer.
Photo-editing includes things like making a picture lighter or darker,
having more or less contrast, and changing the image size to anything you
want. You can also remove unwanted things from a photo as well as put things
into it that were never actually there.
Dozens of Image-Editing Programs in Use
All printers, scanners, and digital cameras come with some basic editing
software, so you may have several programs on your computer. Since there are
so many, I can't give tips on using them all. However, all PCs come with
Windows Paint; so I will explain some of its most-used features here.
Some Basics of Windows Paint
Launch the program by clicking Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint. Clicking
File>Open will normally take you to your My Pictures folder, where you can
double-click a target image to display it on the Paint "canvas."
The average digital photo is too large to be printed on a sheet of standard
paper, so reducing its size is often the first thing you'll do. Click on
Image>Stretch/Skew and type a percentage into the Height and Width "Stretch"
fields. I find that 25 or 30 percent works well with most digital photos. If
the new size doesn't look right, do Edit>Undo (Ctrl+Z) to return to the
However, if you like what you see, click File>Save As and give the edited
photo a new name. If you want to crop part of a photo in order to, say,
remove extraneous background around a subject, use the Select tool (top
right icon) to draw a box around the subject. Then click Edit>Cut and
Edit>Paste to put the cropped selection in place.
When ready to print, click File>Print Preview to see a miniature of how your
picture will look on paper. Use File>Page Setup to adjust margins and choose
Paint, as its name implies, is more of a "painting" program than a
photo-editor, but the above features can be useful.
Joe Francis called to say when he tried to email an AVI video, taken with
his digital camera, the file could not be sent. Well, AVI files are often
too large for many email systems, so I suggested converting it to a smaller
WMV file with Windows Movie Maker, a program that comes with WinXP. Joe
wrote to say this worked perfectly.
Most of today's digital cameras come with video capabilities, and produce
high-resolution AVI movies that play beautifully on your PC via the Windows
Media Player. These files can be edited in many ways with WMM, which
includes options for reducing file sizes significantly.
Upon launching WMM you will see a "Story Board" displaying a number of blank
frames. Under 1 - Capture Video there are options for importing a file
from your My Videos folder or importing a file directly from your camera. A
file you select will then appear as a "thumbnail still" of its opening
To simply convert the AVI file to a WMV file, drag the thumbnail into the
first box of the Story Board and click on File>Save Movie As, whereupon you
will see a number of options, such as saving it to your computer's hard
drive or to a CD. You will also see options for saving it with a reduced
file size, and be admonished that doing so will reduce the resolution
quality of the video. Choosing a very small file size may also reduce the
screen view to a quarter of the original size.
You can experiment with these options to see which gives you an acceptable
balance of smaller file size versus a somewhat diminished viewing quality.
Each successive save will automatically produce a sequentially numbered file
name, which leaves your original unchanged.
Getting back to the Story Board, use the various frames to insert titles,
other video clips, or any number of features that might enhance the finished
product. WMM is loaded with a variety of prompts and "wizards" to make
editing easy and intuitive. The finished WMV file will play in Windows Media
Player, as well as in most other media players and in most portable video
Speaking of media players, I periodically get calls saying the "swing era"
songs found on my site don't download and play as they once did. The problem
is always the same - the user has unknowingly been switched to something
other than the Windows Media Player, which comes with new PCs.
There are many media players available, each with its own quirks about
downloading and playing files. RealPlayer is the sneakiest, since it is a
"free download" which will play most types of audio and video files - for a
while. Then you'll get a notice that RealPlayer needs to be updated to
continue working - for a fee.
Reinstate Windows Media Player by right-clicking a song and going to Open
With>Choose Program, choosing Windows Media Player, and then clicking
Always Use the Selected Program to Open this Kind of File.
I've been asked if it's possible to change the appearance of one's various
Desktop icons. Yes, many of these icons have alternative designs that can be
found by doing a right-click and choosing Properties>Change Icon. To change
a yellow folder's appearance, go to Properties>Customize>Change Icon.
WinXP users have an additional choice for folder icons by placing an image
file inside the folder and clicking Choose Picture under Customize.
Beyond these choices, it's possible to make your own personalized icons, by
clicking Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint to launch Windows Paint.
Next, click Image>Attributes and create a "canvas" of 32x32 pixels. This will produce a white icon-size square. However, painting a design this small
can be difficult, so enlarge the view by clicking on View>Zoom>Large Size.
Now comes the fun...
Use the drawing tools at the left and the colors at the
bottom of your work area to create your design. If you want to, say, put
your initials in red on a yellow background, do this:
Left-click the yellow of your choice and then click the toolbar Paint
Bucket. Click inside the white square and it will fill with yellow.
Now click on red, and then click the Straight Line tool (shown at a
45-degree angle) to begin painting your initials. Choose the Pencil to
color one pixel at a time.
If you have "straight" initials, such as FTE, the drawing will be easy.
Curved letters are more challenging; but this is where you get to experiment
and test your creativity. If you want to UNDO anything, Paint allows you to
Edit>Undo (or Ctrl+Z) your three most recent edits.
Finally, click File>Save As, give the drawing a name, and choose BMP under
"Files of Type." The drawing will normally be saved in your My Documents
folder, where you can right-click it, choose Rename, and change the BMP
extension to ICO.
A Better & Easier Way...
An even better way to change a BMP file to an ICO file is to open the BMP in
Irfanview (free from www.irfanview.com) and choose "ICO - Windows Icon" in the "Save As Type" box, when you do File>Save As.
To replace an existing icon with your newly-created one, right-click the
target, choose Properties>Change Icon, and navigate to your new creation.
It's also possible to convert an existing image, such as a favorite photo,
to an icon. Open the JPG in Irfanview and crop a small portion of it (such
as someone's face) by drawing a square around it with your left mouse-button
held down. Next, click the toolbar Scissors to Cut the selection, followed
by clicking the toolbar Clipboard to replace the original photo with the
small cropped portion.
Next, click Image>Resize and set the Height and Width to 32 pixels each.
If this distorts the image, choose 32 for the largest dimension (H or W) and
leave the other as is. Finally, go to File>Save As, give the icon a name,
and choose ICO (Icon) as the file type.
All kinds of icons can be found online. Just type FREE ICONS into
Google and Click on "Images."
Here are a few sample icons, along with a simple example of making a multi-color
"ABC" icon - the small image is the actual 32x32 icon, while the large image is
how it looked while I was creating it in Windows Paint.
A number of people have asked how to alphabetize their "Favorites" in
Internet Explorer or AOL. These are links to favorite sites that users
create while visiting a Web page by clicking Favorites>Add to Favorites.
These links are called "Bookmarks" on Netscape and Firefox, where creating
them is done via Bookmarks>Bookmark this Page. Well, both of these areas
have "Manage Favorites/Bookmarks" options.
However, I think these options are more complex than necessary. "Favorites"
and "Bookmarks" are nothing more than folders containing a list of links. I
create folders by right-clicking my Desktop and choosing New>Folder, which I
name something like "News Publications" or "PC Tech Sites."
The next time I find a site of interest I simply drag its IE icon (the small
blue "e" with a "Saturn ring") onto the appropriate folder's icon. I do
likewise with any symbol preceding http:// in other browsers. Doing so
inserts a site's "shortcut link" into the target folder.
However, the "name" of a site may not be quite the same as its Web site
address. For instance, the North County Times home page URL (universal
resource locater) is http://www.nctimes.com. However, the page's "name" is
North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News -
NCTimes.com - Californian.com, which is what's listed inside a folder I
Change the Name of a Favorite or Bookmark to Anything You Want
If you find this name a little lengthy, you can right-click it, choose
Rename, and change it to, say, NCTimes or My Newspaper. Changing a Web
page's name in your own folder does NOT affect its underlying URL, which can
be displayed by right-clicking the name, and choosing Properties.
Under Properties, you can also click "Change Icon" and choose another which
you prefer. (I'll explain how to make your own icons next time.)
I hear frequently from folks who have older Win98 computers and who want to
know if they should upgrade them to WinXP, or just buy a new WinXP machine.
Well, since the days when Win98 PCs were the newest and best choices
available, prices have come down and features have increased. Upgrading a
Win98 PC to WinXP has become akin to putting a new Caddy engine in an aging
The average user can now buy a desktop PC with 512 MB of RAM, a 160GB hard
drive, and a 17-inch flat screen monitor for about $700. Naturally, a
salesman will want to run up the price with special programs and other
additional features. Doing research on sites such as
can make your buying decisions more well-informed. Check for
"user reviews" on these sites.
Gamers who want super high speed graphics and booming sound will pay more
for special video and audio cards. If you want to continue using your old
monitor, you'll save some money.
Those who put lots of music and/or digital photos on their machines may want
larger hard drives, although external drives have become quite inexpensive.
Doubling the RAM to a full gigabyte will improve any kind of a system.
Lou Muñoz asked how to print an email's actual message without all the
extraneous text. The easiest way is to mouse-select just the message and
Others have asked how to forward an email without all the extras. Well,
once you've clicked Forward, all the email's text becomes editable. Simply
delete the unwanted part. The same applies to clicking Reply. Be aware, however,
that if you try to delete text when email is in the "read" mode, you will delete
the whole letter.
You can also opt to copy and paste email messages into a word processing
page, whereby an unlimited number of emails can be saved as a single file,
making for easy referencing later. Use Ctrl+F to subsequently Find a
pertinent name, date, event, or whatever on the page. Naturally, such a page
can also be spell-checked and/or edited.
A number of folks using Yellow Stickies have written to say how useful it
is. Joanne Goodwin even told me about a feature of which I was unaware -
making Stickies appear at various times as "event reminders." Right-click
the top bar of such a Stickie and choose Sleep For, whereupon all kinds of
timer options will appear. Choosing Set Alarm will make an existing Stickie
bounce around at a specified time to get your attention.
In fact, right-clicking the top bar will list many Stickie options, too
numerous to mention here. Multiple Stickies can also be copied and pasted
into an MSWord file, as described above for multiple emails.
Using MSWord "Scraps"
Another kind of "stickie" is the "Document Scrap" feature of MSWord. While
using Word, mouse-select any text and drag it onto your Desktop, where it
can be later double-clicked to open as a new Word document.
Speaking of "dragging text," a selected block (such as a paragraph) can be
easily moved from one location on a page to another. This also works in most
email programs. In fact, text can be dragged from one document to
another - even if the other was created with a different program - as long
as both are visible on the Desktop.
If a particular open document is hiding other open files, reshape it by
mouse-grabbing any edge or corner. If you can't do this, it means the page
has been maximized to fill the screen. Click the "overlapping squares"
button in the upper right of the page to fix this.
Does "Dragging" Something "Move" It or "Copy" It?
When text blocks are dragged from one place to another, they are physically
moved. When dragged from MSWord onto your Desktop to create a Scrap, the
text is copied, leaving the original in place. To otherwise copy selected
text, hold down CTRL while dragging. Alternatively, you can right-click the
selection, do Ctrl+C to Copy, and then do Ctrl+V to Paste it wherever.
Jerry Peterson called to say his hard drive keeps running for a while after
exiting Web pages using Internet Explorer. I suggested trying the free
Firefox browser to see if this might help. Jerry called back to say doing so
fixed the problem, and that he found many features in Firefox he likes
better than in IE. Firefox is available at
Will Pressing the "Print Screen" Print What's on the Screen?
A reader called to say he had centered a Web page on his Desktop, turned his printer on, and pressed his PrtScrn (Print Screen) key, whereupon nothing happened. He mentioned that doing this on an older computer always generated a print-out of his screen display.
Right - before the advent of Windows, when computers did mostly text, the PrtScrn key actually did print whatever was on the screen. Nowadays, this key copies the screen display onto the "invisible Windows clipboard," where it waits to be pasted somewhere.
If multiple items are on your Desktop, holding down Alt while pressing PrtScrn will copy only the most forward item. Then you can open, say, MSWord and Paste the copy onto a blank page with Ctrl+V or by clicking Edit>Paste Special>Device Independent Bitmap, since the copied display has been converted to a bitmap. Finally, MSWord's Print command will send the image to your printer.
Alternatively, you can paste the image into a graphics editor, such as Windows Paint, where it can be edited like any other picture. When pasted into such an editor, the image will be full size. When pasted into a word processing page, however, the image will be shrunk to fit within its margins. I always paste into Irfanview (free from
www.irfanview.com) since this is the easiest program I know of for working with images.
As for Web pages, they can be printed directly from Internet Explorer, using File>Print. By using File> Print Preview, you can see if the page will fit on standard paper. By choosing File>Page Setup>Landscape, the page will be printed "sideways," in case it's too wide for a normal "portrait" (upright) print.
If you use Firefox or Netscape, you can opt for File>Page Setup>Shrink to Fit, whereupon a Web page will be made smaller. However, doing so can make small type difficult to read.
Aerial View of Your House, Neighborhood, City, & Property Values
Speaking of Web pages, there is one that will display an aerial photo of your house, along with its estimated appraisal price. Another click will give a comprehensive description of the house (square footage, number of rooms, etc.) and tell when it was built. Zillow.com www.zillow.com
is where you'll find this free information, along with similar data on all the houses in your neighborhood - or just about anywhere.
A Word about Podcasts & Podcasting
Although iPods are generally associated with youngsters listening to pop music, they and other MP3 players are now being used to hear news stories, along with many other types of audio content. These "podcasts" can be downloaded from many different Web sites and copied onto your player, whereupon they can be listened to while, say, commuting to and from work. Much of this content can be found at www.podcastdirectory.com.
Video podcasting is also available for those who have portable video players, mean non-driving commuters can have visual content to help pass the time.
Probably the most remarkable thing about podcasting is that anyone can now create his/her own "radio or video show," put it on a Web site, and have it seen or heard anywhere in the world. More about this soon.
Regarding a recent question about putting programs on a flash drive, PC
Instructor Carl Von Papp (Bellevue Community College, Bellevue, WA)
wrote to say he is using a number of programs that
come preinstalled on these devices via a new technology called U3. U3 drives
not only come with built-in software, they allow one to plug the device into
any WinXP or Win2000 computer, use the program, and retain all files on the
portable device while leaving no trace of activity on the host computer.
Although U3 is in its infancy, forecasters can see the day when a hotel room
will include an inexpensive PC on which guests can use their own portable
software, and take all the resulting data with them.
Several applications are already available on U3 drives, including the
Mozilla Firefox Browser. Microsoft has not yet made any of its programs thus
available, but OpenOffice - the open source productivity suite which
contains MSOffice-compatible programs - can be downloaded free from
www.openoffice.org, and is available on
1-GB U3 drives at about $70-$90.
OpenOffice is a huge program that requires lots of hard drive space, which
makes having it on a flash drive even more attractive. A lighter weight
MSOffice-compatible program is ThinkFree, available at
For more information on this type of hardware and software, type U3 into
any search engine.
Unwanted Names Being Added to OE Address Books
A number of Outlook Express users have asked why email addresses keep being
added to their address books when they never put them there. Well, a default
OE setting says "Automatically Put People I Reply To in My Address Book."
This can be deselected under Tools>Options>Send.
Creating a "White List" in Outlook Express
Others have asked how to create a "White List" in OE, that will only accept
mail from names on the list. First you must create a "white list folder," by
right-clicking Inbox, choosing New Folder, and giving it a name. You could
call it Friends or anything you want. (I named mine _White List, with
the underscore making it sure it is always at the top of my list of
Next, go to Tools>Message Rules>Mail. Click New, and under "1- Select
Conditions for Your Rule" choose "Where From Line Contains People."
Under "2 - Select Actions for Your Rule" choose "Move to the Specified
Folder." Under "3 - Rule Description" click the "Contains People" link,
whereupon you will be allowed to type in all the desireable email
addresses. Click the "Specified" link to choose your white list folder.
Following the above steps, you could make "2 - Select Actions for Your Rule"
delete all incoming mail not on the white list. This would eliminate the
spam, but could also delete legitimated mail from persons or businesses who
were overlooked when creating the white list. For instance, I get annual
reminders from TurboTax about doing my 1040, which I find very useful.
Instead, I let all non-white-list mail go to my regular Inbox, which I
review periodically and from whence I can zap all the bad stuff at once.
Several readers have asked if there is a way to file their digital photos in
an order other than alphabetical. They've noticed that icons on their
Desktops can be rearranged any order they want, and ask how to do this in
Well, perhaps the upcoming new version of Windows will let us do this; but
for now items will always be listed alphabetically. However, you can edit
file names to make them appear in any order you prefer, by preceding the
actual name with numbers.
For instance if you want Able, Baker, and Charlie to be listed as Baker, Charlie, and Able, change their names to, say, 1-Baker, 2-Charlie, and 3-Able. If your list contains hundreds of names, using three-digit numbers such, as 001 and 002, is recommended.
Most computer sorting systems put numbers ahead of alpha characters, and
certain punctuation marks ahead of numbers. My favorite way of bringing any
file name to the top of a sorted list is to precede the name with one or
more underscores. Thus, _Zebra will appear ahead of Able and __Charlie
will precede both of them.
Changing the Name of a File or Folder
Any file name can be edited by right-clicking it and choosing Rename.
However, I prefer doing a single left-click on a name, waiting a second or
two, and doing another left-click.
Speaking of alphabetizing, there are several "Sort Protocols" used by
computer systems. A column of items in a spreadsheet, for instance, can be
sorted many different ways. The default is "General," which uses the Symbol,
Numeral, Alpha character method described above.
However, a column can be pre-formatted to sort by Text, by Number, or by
Date, as well as by several other criteria. Highlight a column by clicking
on its alpha-header, and go to Format>Number or Format>Cell>Number,
whereupon these options will appear.
Choosing the correct protocol is important when you want to sort, say, phone
numbers or numeric parts-nomenclature as text rather than numbers.
Sorting Lists in MSWord
To alphabetize a listing of items in MSWord, place your cursor at the
beginning of the list and go to Table>Sort, whereupon Text, Number, and Date
will be your sort options.
For sorting just part of a column, mouse-select it and do as above.
An interesting "sorting problem" I've heard described many times is in
regard to a name such as Wagner insisting on being at the head of a list,
rather than with the other W-names. In each case, an unnoticed blank space
had been inserted before the rogue name, meaning it would always come first
in any list.
How to Create a Folder
Back to the question of arranging lists of all the digital photos we put on
our hard drives these days, creating folders for various groups is
essential. A folder can be created on your Desktop by right-clicking a blank
area and choosing New>Folder. Creating a folder inside another folder is
done by clicking File>New>Folder.
Folders can be named in many ways, including by date, to make them easier to
find later on.
A complaint I'm hearing from several readers is: "I keep getting a message
saying I'm low on memory; yet my hard disk is less than 1/3 full."
Well, it's important to understand that "memory" and "hard disk storage
space" are two different things.
RAM (random access memory) is like an invisible workshop that comes into
existence when a computer is turned on, and is where we do all our actual
"computing." This workshop vanishes when the PC is turned off, which means
we have to save our work to a physical device such as a hard disk, or the
work vanishes too.
In recent years, the amount of RAM installed on new PCs has averaged about
256 megabytes. However, most can have this increased, with 512 MB being a
minimum for efficient use of WinXP.
Sometimes a "low memory" message will advise adding "more memory or hard
disk space," since your hard disk can hold certain data normally held in
RAM. However, accessing RAM is infinitely faster than accessing a disk.
How much RAM do you need?
Well, it's generally agreed you can't have too
much; so installing all your PC will hold can't hurt.
To see how much RAM your PC has, open any folder and click on Help > About
Windows, where "Physical Memory Available to Windows:" will show the amount
in kilobytes. 256 MB, for instance, will appear as 262,144 KB.
RAM chips are ostensibly "user installable," but I prefer having a
technician do it. It's not all that expensive, and increasing RAM can
improve your PC's speed and performance more than any other single fix.
To see if you have any RAM chip slots available, "Belarc Advisor" is a free
program that displays the entire infrastructure of your computer system.
Download it from www.belarc.com.
Can You Put a Program on a Flash Memory Drive?
Since writing recently about the proliferation of "flash memory" drives, a
number of folks have asked if they can be used to hold programs, since their
hard drives are close to being full.
Well, that depends on which program one has in mind. Large applications,
such as a word processor, consist of many files spread all over one's hard
drive. However, many smaller utilities are single-file programs which could
fit on a flash drive.
When installing such a program, it will look for the "Program Files" folder
on your hard disk. You'll have to redirect it to your flash drive when the
option appears during installation.
Seeing How Much Hard Drive Space You Have Available
To see how much free hard drive space you have, open My Computer, and
right-click Local Disk C. Clicking on Properties>General will display a
pie-chart which shows the used and free space. Doing likewise on any
other installed hard drives will show their disk usage as well.
While in this area, click on Tools to display Disk Checking &
Defragmenting options. These utilities should be run often to keep your
computer operating smoothly. We do these tasks daily - once a week should
suffice for must users. Run Disk Cleanup while you're in this area, as well.
As computer hard drives get larger and hold more data, finding things can
become a challenge. If you know the exact name of the file or folder you're
seeking, using Start > Search/Find > All Files & Folders, and typing in the name
usually does it. If it doesn't, check to be sure the "Look In:" field shows
"Local Drive C," rather than a particular folder. If your PC has multiple
drives, set "Look In:" to search them all. Also, be sure "Search Subfolders"
is checked under "More Advanced Options."
Choosing a Search option such as Pictures or Documents can speed things up
by narrowing the effort down to a particular file type. Indicating a time
frame under "When Was It Modified?" can also speed up a search.
If you're unsure of a file's name, such as one like "IMG1011.JPG" assigned
to a photo by your digital camera, choosing a time frame along with typing
JPG into the "All or Part of a File Name" will narrow things down to a few
pictures. WinXP users can then click View>Thumbnail to find the desired
In fact, using part of a file name often works better than typing in a whole
name. For instance, if you're seeking a file named Massachusetts,
misspelling the name can defeat the search. However, typing in MASS (or mass) will
find it. If this is an MSWord document, you could narrow the search by
typing mass*.doc. The asterisk is a "wild card" that substitutes for the
You could also limit the search to MSWord files by clicking More Advanced
Options>Type of File>Microsoft Word Document.
If you think a file is inside a particular folder, you can right-click the
folder and choose Search. Within a document you can find a word or phrase by
clicking Edit>Find, or by doing Ctrl+F, and typing in the characters. This
also works on Web pages.
Finding & Replacing Words & Phrases
Many text processing programs also have a "Find & Replace" option.
If, for instance, you have a lengthy MSWord file in which Jane Doe is mentioned
often, and later learn that her name is actually Jayne Doe, go to Edit>Replace
(or do Ctrl+H) and type Jane into the "Find" box. Then type
Jayne into the "Replace With" box and click "Replace All."
However, use caution with "Replace All." Changing John Black's last name to
Block, for instance, could change words like "blackboard" to "Blockboard."
Replacing "John Black" with "John Block" would preclude this problem.
When all else fails in locating a text document, use the "Word or Phrase in
the File"" option, under Start>Search>Files, etc. Type in a distinctive word,
and all files containing that word will be found. A common word like, say,
"building" could bring up dozens of files. However, if the file you're
seeking mentions the Empire State Building, typing in the whole phrase - or
just Empire - should narrow the search down considerably.
Other options to finding things on your PC are Google's Desktop Search and
Picasa2, which can be freely downloaded at
One of the handiest tools you'll ever use is the "Yellow Stickies"
application, which lets you create notes that can be placed anywhere for
quick and easy referral. Double-clicking a Desktop icon creates a small
yellow "stickie," which will expand as needed to accommodate whatever you
type into it. The note can then be reshaped and/or moved to any convenient
Unlike other documents you create, stickies do not need to be saved with a
file name - they will remain intact until you delete them, even after
restarting your PC. Although they are yellow by default, you can choose any
color you prefer, along with overlapping multiple stickies to conserve
space. Besides typing your own notes, text can be copied and pasted into
stickies from other sources.
The program comes in two versions: "Plain Text"
Here's how they differ: The former always displays text in a single font
style with no special formatting. The latter will import fonts in various
sizes, colors, and styles when copied from another source. I prefer using
Plain Text. Here's why:
If you find an interesting article on the Web and decide to copy and paste
it into, say, an email, it's not uncommon for all kinds of extraneous stuff
(advertising, links to other sites, etc.) to be carried along with the
pasting. It can then be a major chore to delete the unwanted material.
Pasting it all into a non-HTML stickie, however, produces plain text that
can be easily dealt with.
Stickies do have one downside; when deleted, they do NOT go into your
Recycle Bin, from whence they could be later recovered. However, if a
stickie is important enough to be saved with a file name, it can be
converted to a "Notepad" document and saved with a TXT extension.
(It can also be saved as a "Stickie" file with an STI extension.)
Both versions of Stickies are a free downolad from
More about "Plain Text"
Speaking of plain text, I often hear from MSWord users, who say their
documents have somehow gotten messed up with weird formatting they can't
seem to straighten out. Well, the easiest fix is to click File > Save As,
rename the document, and choose "Plain Text" in the "Save As Type" field.
Then close the document, click File>Open, and choose "Text Files" in the
"Files of Type" field, whereupon the file's new name will be visible for
The document can then be saved with the traditional DOC extension. This will
fix the mal-formatting problem, but will also return any special specially
formatted text to MSWord's default font, along with undoing any other
special formatting you may have done. If this is an issue, you will still
have your previously named document intact.
Beyond all this, MSWord has a history of being easily corrupted, to where
its default settings need to be restored. This can be done by exiting the
program and deleting a file named NORMAL.DOT (which can be found by going to
Start>Search/Find). The next time MSWord is launched, it will create a new
NORMAL.DOT file with all the original settings.
A number of readers have questioned the meaning of the "ZIP" extension on
files they download, along with expressing concern about a message saying
"Your files are being extracted."
"Zip" refers to "compressing" files so they use less disk space and can be
uploaded and downloaded faster. A ZIP extension means that one or more files
have been shrunk to a single "zipped" file, which will need to be "unzipped"
(decompressed) before its contents can be used. (This is like removing
moisture from "dehydrated foods," so their containers can be smaller and
lighter, but which need water replaced to be useable.)
In WinXP a zipped file can be decompressed by double-clicking it, whereupon
you may see "Your files are being extracted." With earlier versions of
Windows a program such as WinZip is needed (available from
The unzipped contents of a zipped download may be a single file, or a group
of files (like an assortment of songs), or a collection of files which will
be combined into a working program when the "setup.exe" file is run.
Although we usually think of a zipped file as something we download, we can
compress our own files. For instance, I just squeezed an 894KB MSWord file
down to 115KB, meaning the zipped file's size is about 13% of the original.
I could have just as easily selected a group of files, or a folder full of
files, and done the same.
Here's how: right-click the selected file(s) and choose Send To>Compressed
(zipped) Folder. To later open the zipped folder and return the contents to
their previous state, simply double-click it.
Nowadays with huge hard drives and high-speed online connections, we rarely
think about shrinking files. Nonetheless, if you want to back up some data
on a floppy disk or a CD, you'll get a lot more on it by first zipping the
Some files are normally compressed to begin with, and don't lend themselves
well to being zipped, such as JPG images. (More about this can be found on
my Web site.) In any case, zipping files in no way hurts them because it's
all done with copies of the files. In fact, zipping files to conserve disk
space does just the opposite if you leave the zipped and original files on
the same disk.
As for downloading zipped files, be aware that malicious hackers often use
them to carry deadly viruses. Do NOT open an email attachment with a ZIP
extension unless you are expecting it and are absolutely sure of its origin.
Filling Out Forms with Your Computer
A reader called to say she scanned some government forms (using Optical
Character Recognition) into MSWord, but could not get the scanned pages to
line up properly for typing in her name and address, etc.
Right, this doesn't work. However, most forms are now available as downloads
that are designed to be filled in on a PC. For instance free tax forms are
available at www.irs.gov, where you can type
in a brief description of the needed form.
Be careful, though. Typing in www.irs.com
will take you to a commercial web site that has services to sell you. Personally,
I prefer www.turbotax.com.
I've used TurboTax for years and have found their services quite comprehensive
and easy to use.
I've been getting questions about "flash memory" devices lately, including
"what is the correct name for these things?" Well, the jury still seems to
be out on that. The picture storage "wafer" used in your digital camera
might be called a "Compact Memory Card" or a "MultiMedia Card." A
thumb-sized file storage device that plugs into a PC's USB port may be
called a Thumb Drive or a Memory Stick.
Although some technical differences may exist among these devices, they all
serve the same purpose - they are file storage media, as are a hard drive,
a floppy disk, a compact disc, or a DVD. However, flash memory devices have
no mechanical parts - they use "non-volatile" memory that retains data even
after power is removed.
Flash Memory Replacing Hard Drives
Many MP3 players now use flash memory instead of the miniature hard drives
found in the original iPod.
When flash memory sticks first appeared, their maximum storage capacity was
about 256 MG. Now they are available with 2 GB, and are predicted to soon
have 16 GB of storage.
Do we really need such ultra-high capacity devices? Well, back when most
computer files were alpha/numeric documents of some kind, a typical large
hard drive seemed adequate to last the rest of our lives. But digital
cameras and downloadable music have changed all that. And if you think your
camera's JPGs use up a lot of disk space, take a look at your videos' file
As for thumb drives, they have become the ideal way to copy files from an
old computer to a new one. Stick one into a USB port of the older PC, drag
and drop the files onto it; then stick it into the new PC and reverse the
USB (Universal Serial Bus) Ports - Types 1 and 2
However, your older PC may have USB-1 ports, which are slower than the USB-2
ports now in use. Very old PCs may have no USB ports, wherein transferring
files can be a challenge. The tools available at
www.laplink.com are worth considering.
Regarding massive file storage, external hard drives are available with up
to 300 GB for less than $300. My 160 GB Maxtor has been serving my needs
beautifully for over two years.
A reader called to say she would like her JPGs to go directly from her
camera's memory card to her external HD, but they automatically go into the
My Pictures folder on her C drive. Well, all data transfer programs give you
the option of choosing which folder and/or drive you'd like to use. Look for
a box that says "Save In:" and choose your destination from the Windows
Explorer view that appears when the down-arrow is clicked.
Most external HD owners save their original JPGs on the C drive, and put backups on the
other one. This is because storing files of any kind on a single disk means
they could all be lost if the disk dies. Putting copies of important files
on a third medium, such as CD, provides even more security against data
I explained below (in the Feb. 26 article) why some email services put suspected
spam in a special "trash" folder, rather than deleting it. Why don't they just delete it? Try
to visualize your letter carrier looking at each envelope addressed to you, and being expected
to know which one to put in your mailbox and which is unwanted, whereupon he would destroy
the ones he thinks you don't want.
In my Yahoo account about half of what arrives each day is junk - or, worse yet, is infected with a virus.
However, Yahoo succeeds in putting about 98% of this into my "bulk" folder, where I can quickly review it and take appropriate action. But two or three
"suspicious" items each week are actually legitimate mail. Had Yahoo deleted
them, I could have suffered some serious business consequences.
All the above also applies to my Hotmail, AIM, and Gmail accounts.
Legitimate mass emails, such as requested newsletters, always contain a "No
More Mail" option. However, replying to such an option in junk mail simply
tells the spammer your address is valid, whereupon you're likely to receive
even more garbage.
Does Anybody Want SPAM?
Why do they keep sending spam if nobody wants it? Well, one man's spam might
be another man's source of cheap Viagra - and it only takes a tiny
percentage of replies to make a profit for the spammer. Bear in mind that
sending out millions of emails is practically free.
The only sure method of keeping spam away is to change your email
address - or to create a "White List" which only accepts messages from
people on the list.
Creating a "Black List" of addresses from which won't accept mail doesn't
help, because spammers rarely use the same spoofed return-address twice. Nor
does black-listing messages containing certain words help. There are dozens
of ways to spell V1agr@, along with making the words into graphics, which
text scanners can't read.
However, switching to a new email address (screen name) does little good if
you allow it to be used in CC (carbon copy) boxes of "cute story" emails
that are endlessly forwarded to one group of people after another - which
means your name/address can end up in the hands of hundreds of people along
the way. If only one of them is a spammer looking for new victims, you could
end up on dozens of new lists.
Always hide your name by using BCCs (blind carbon copies). If unsure of
how to do this, my site has a complete set of instructions, along with
pointers on creating a White List.
Avoid Losing Email You Are Currently Composing
Another email complaint I hear is, "Half way through typing a message my
Internet connection glitched and everything was lost. Is there a way to
In Outlook Express you can press Ctrl+S periodically, which
will save everything written up to that point in the Drafts folder. Most
other email programs have a "Save as Draft" button, which can be likewise
clicked periodically. However, the most reliable way to avoid losing work is
to create it with your word processor and then copy and paste it into an
If these symbols are then copied and pasted into another program, such as
Notepad or an email message, their special appearance will be maintained.
If, however, you begin with a program other than Word, the symbols can be
found in the Windows Character Map by going to Start>Run and typing in charmap
(character map), where you
will also find the British Pound and Japanese Yen symbols, along with many
special punctuation characters, including the M-dash.
The M-dash is the wide dash (—) that is sometimes used
instead of a semi-colon (;). In MSWord, these items can be found by clicking
Regarding MSWord, a number of readers have asked how to overcome its
capitalizing the first letter of a sentence, even if you don't want it
capitalized (as in iPod, eBay, iTunes, etc.). Go to Tools>AutoCorrect
Options>AutoCorrect and deselect the appropriate option. "Auto-corrections"
can also be undone as they occur, if you simply do Ctrl+Z (Edit>Undo)
immediately after the auto-correction happens. For instance, if you type
three or more hyphens in a row and press ENTER, the dashes will turn into a
line going clear across the page. Ctrl+Z will instantly change it back to
the hyphens you typed.
Keeping a Copy of Email You Send
A Yahoo email user called to say he accidentally sent a lengthy message to
the wrong recipient, and asked if there was any way of retrieving it so he
wouldn't have to re-type it. Well, Yahoo Email has a Sent folder, in
which a copy of all sent messages are stored, as do most email programs. In
many programs saving a sent copy is the default option, while in others you have
to choose the option. Unless you have a reason for not wanting others who
may use your PC to see messages you've sent, I'd suggest having this option
ON at all times.
Dealing with SPAM
Another Yahoo email user wrote to complain that his Bulk folder gets
filled with a fresh supply of spam every day and asked if there is a way of
blocking the unwanted junk mail. Well, despite a federal law against sending
unsolicited email, the practice flourishes and is getting worse all the
time. Some estimates say spam is over 2/3 of all mail sent.
So Yahoo, Hotmail, and many other email services have made a concerted
effort to weed out spam and put it into a subscriber's Bulk or Trash or
Junk folder. Why don't they just delete it? Well, they have no 100%
foolproof way of knowing which message is spam and which is isn't - and
they don't want to accidentally delete a legitimate message you want to see.
I recently explained using Tab settings to line up text and numbers vertically
in MSWord. This can also be done by using "Word Tables." Go to Table>Insert>Table,
and type in the number of columns and rows you want. Click OK to create
the Table, and then place your cursor inside any cell where you wish to
Each cell can have its contents aligned independently, with the default being
Left. To make numbers line up on their right edges, click the Right icon in
Word's toolbar. To align an entire column Left, Right, or Center,
mouse-select the column and then click the appropriate toolbar icon.
One of the advantages of using Tables rather than Tabs to establish columns
is that you are not limited as to how much data can be typed into a cell.
If, for example, a cell contains a lengthy description of an item, the text
will "word-wrap" to as many lines as needed. Furthermore, the width of a
column can be changed by selecting it and then mouse-grabbing its left or
right edge and moving it accordingly.
Column heights are established by the size of the font chosen. Beyond that,
cell widths and/or heights can be set by going to Table>Table Properties. If
you'd like more space above or below typed-in data, click on
Format>Paragraph and change the settings in Before and/or After.
If you wish to arrange your rows alphabetically, click on Table>Sort, where
several sorting options will be found, including the use of a "Header Row"
which will remain on top as rows are alphabetized.
The vertical and horizontal lines seen on your table will show up when
printing the page. However, the lines can be removed by going to
Format>Borders & Shading>Borders and choosing None; or you can opt for lines
of different colors and styles. If you choose None for Borders, gray grid
lines will appear instead, but will NOT show up in a print-out.
Cell background colors can be chosen under Format>Borders &
Shading>Borders>Shading. Mouse-selecting columns or rows will make the color
apply to all selected.
If you create a Table and later decide you would prefer the columns
separated by, say, commas, you can click Table>Convert>Table to Text and
choose from various text break options. Conversely, if you have some
comma-separated rows and columns, you can turn them into a Table by
selecting all and going to Table>Convert>Text to Table.
One of the most frequent complaints I hear nowadays describes an error
message that appears when a computer is turned on, and which can be bypassed
by clicking its X or Cancel button, but which continues to appear with each
restart. A similar complaint describes an icon which has appeared on the
user's Desktop and which cannot be deleted.
These are indications of spyware or other malware that has infected one's
computer, usually by clicking on some kind of a "Try This Free" offer found
on a Web site. There are legitimate free anti-spyware programs, such as
those found on my site, but the Web abounds with "bait and switch" offers,
as well as malware which can read your personal files and/or take over your
computer. Persistent error messages and undeletable icons are indications of
Using the Windows Registry
The good news is that these germs can usually be found and deleted from the
Windows Registry. There are rules for backing up and editing the Registry
that are too long and complex to be explained here; however, removing
malware is a straightforward process that is easy to do.
Click on Start>Run, type regedit, and click OK. This opens the
Registry Editor, an area normally best left to Windows technicians, but where a
careful novice can find and remove unwanted files.
Click Edit>Find (or do Ctrl+F) and type in the name of the unwanted file
or program. A partial name of the program is often all that's needed, such as MONSTER or
REWARDS. Click Find Now and wait for an instance of the target word to be
displayed. There many be several folders or files so named.
Right-click on the icon to the left of a found instance and choose Delete.
When asked if you are sure, click Yes. Continue going to Edit>Find until
there are no more instances of the name to be found. Finally, exit the
Registry Editor and restart the computer.
In the unlikely event you deleted something shouldn't have been, a
previously created Registry Backup will restore it. Windows XP users can do
the job with System Restore, found under Start>All
If you're not using WinXP, you really should be. With the prices of new PCs
at record lows, it's hardly worthwhile putting up with all the limitations
of previous versions.
If you still feel uneasy about getting into REGEDIT, give me a call. I've
walked dozens of readers through these steps over the years.
If You Still See References to the Unwanted Item
Deleting an unwanted program doesn't always stop it from bugging you,
however. There may still be a "startup" command looking for it under
Microsoft Configuration. Click on Start>Run, type in msconfig, and click OK.
Click the Startup tab and look for the offending file name. UNcheck it, and
Windows will no longer be looking for it when the PC starts.
While in this area, UNcheck all the other unnecessary items you see listed.
If uncertain about what to uncheck, I have illustrated instructions here:
Google recently came out with some email features I find very useful. One
is called "Vacation Responder," which lets you create an auto-response that
goes to everyone who sends a message to your Gmail account. The message is
created under "Settings" and can be changed and/or removed whenever desired.
Gmail now also lets you establish filters (similar to those in Outlook and
Outlook Express) with which you can establish a "white list" that will
accept email only from people you know. Or you can have messages containing
certain objectionable words go directly into the trash.
Multi-Language Spell Checking
Gmail also has spell-checking. The checker highlights words suspected of
being misspelled (but does not offer corrections, as in MSWord, WordPerfect,
or AOL Mail). However, it lets you check spelling in more than 30 languages.
Another Language Translation Feature
The Google Toolbar has a new feature that will translate most
of the words on a Web page into a language of your choice, whenever you
place your cursor over a target word. I chose Spanish because I do a lot of
correspondence in the language.
When creating documents in another language, however, one of the main issues
can be inserting its special characters (such as the upside down question
mark in Spanish). In MSWord, these special characters are under
Insert>Symbol, where you will also find a number of other symbols not
available on your keyboard, such as the "cents" sign (¢)
and the "degrees" sign (°).
Ann Marie Lorenzini called to ask where to find the "Insert" feature in
Outlook Express. Well, OE has no such option, but Windows comes with a
"Character Map," which can be accessed by clicking Start>Run and typing
charmap. Click OK and all the special symbols will be shown, complete with
how they appear in different fonts on your PC.
If your CHARMAP displays "Character Set: Unicode" you will see an optional
ALT key method of generating each symbol.
For instance, ALT+0162 will
generate the "cents" sign (¢). However, this only works when using the numbers
in your keyboard's "keypad" - the numbers across the top will NOT work.
If you like using the ALT key method,
a page on my Web site displays all the
codes together, rather than on the "per symbol" basis found in CHARMAP. On
the same page you'll also find all the keyboard shortcuts, such as Ctrl+C
for Copy and Ctrl+S for Save.
If you plan on typing an entire document in another language, it can be made
easier by placing a collection of its special characters temporarily at the
beginning of each page, whereupon you can copy and paste the characters
without having to use CHARMAP or without memorizing any ALT+number
For instance, when I create an email in Spanish, it begins with normal
keyboard characters. When finished, I use Ctrl+C to copy each accented vowel
from my symbol list
and use Ctrl+V to paste them into places where their unaccented equivalents were typed.
Ellen Nagy asks if there is a font that will let her enter numbers so the
decimal points will align properly in a column. Well, yes, there are such
fonts - but using them would defeat one of the main advantages of having a
With vintage mono-spaced typewriters, column alignment was achieved by
tapping the space bar to get numbers to line up on their right edges - or on
their decimal points, if prefered. Nowadays our PCs can do this
Let's say you are creating a menu that lists some items, their colors, and
their prices. You would like to be able to type an item's description, press
TAB and type the color, and press TAB again to enter the price.
Click Tab Settings Right Onto Your Ruler
In MSWord, tabs can be set by clicking them onto the horizontal ruler. (If
you don't see it, click View>Ruler.) The tiny L at the ruler's left end
tells you the tabs will be LEFT aligned. Click the L twice to change to a
RIGHT alignment of the prices.
Additional clicks on the L will display markers for CENTER and DECIMAL
alignment, along with some others.
Once you have established a line with your desired tab settings, each
subsequent ENTER will begin a new line with the same settings. If you later
decide a tab should have been a little further to the left or right, you can
grab it and move it accordingly. Everything aligned to this tab will move
along with the tab.
However - and this is critical - only mouse-selected lines (paragraphs) will
follow the tab adjustment. If no paragraphs are selected, only the paragraph
the cursor is in at the moment will follow the tab.
Here's a simple example of Left and Right Tab Alignment:
Authentic Registered Doohickey
If you prefer typing in your tab settings (using inches and decimal fractions
of an inch) go to Format>Tabs, where you will also find options for
On some menus, the distances between items in the various columns can
be so great it becomes difficult for one's eye to match them up. So you
connect them with dots or dashes of some kind, which are called leaders.
With a typewriter, leaders were inserted by tapping endlessly on one's
period or hyphen key. The PC can include them as part of its Format>Tabs settings.
These options can be found in WordPerfect under Format>Line>Tab Set, while
MSWorks has them under Format>Tabs.
If you still prefer to line up columns the old fashioned way,
is the same font used on older typewriters.
...while "OCR" and "Lucida Console" are somewhat narrower mono-spaced fonts.
Free Program for Creating PDF Files
I recently mentioned that Adobe Acrobat, the program generally used for
creating PDF files, costs about $500. Carl Von Papp and Al Nuwer both wrote to
say they use PDF995, a free program from
www.pdf995.com, which easily converts MSWord documents to PDF (portable document format).
Carl Johnson asked how to copy the Desktop "background" from a friend's
computer so he could use it on his own. Well, a list of Desktop "wallpaper"
images can be found by right-clicking the Desktop and choosing
Properties>Desktop, with the one currently in use being highlighted. Click
any of the others to display a thumbnail view of how it would look on your
Desktop. Click OK to replace your current wallpaper with any you might
On WinXP computers these pictures are stored in a folder named Wallpaper.
Any of these images can be copied onto another disk or sent as an email
attachment to a friend. Furthermore, your choice of a Desktop background is
not restricted to the images in this folder. Got a favorite family photo you
would rather use? Place a copy of it in the Wallpaper folder, and it will appear
on the list.
On pre-WinXP computers, wallpaper pics are usually kept in the Windows
However, the picture can be anywhere on your hard drive. Clicking the Browse
button will take you to your My Pictures folder. If it's not there, continue
browsing to wherever it is.
If the image you select is too small to cover your Desktop you can click
Position and choose Stretch, Tile, or Center.
You can even choose an animated GIF image, if you can handle seeing a
non-stop winking smiley (or whatever) as you work. My personal Desktop
Background choice is None with a black screen.
Several Other Background/Wallpaper Options
While in this "Display Properties" area, you can also choose from a number
of "Themes" which will change your Desktop Wallpaper and its icons, along
with customizing certain other graphics to match the selected theme.
Still another way of dealing with these "visual" items is to click the
Appearance tab and do some experimenting.
Regarding the WinXP "Wallpaper" folder, you may have more than one of them,
depending on how your PC is configured. However, they can all be found by
clicking Start>Search>All Files & Folders, and typing wallpaper into the
File Name field. Also, click "More Advanced Options" and be sure that
"System Folders" and "Subfolders" have checkmarks.
If more than one Wallpaper folder is found, right-click each and choose Send
To>Desktop (Create Shortcut). You can place a favorite photo into any or all
of these folders by dragging and dropping, or by right-clicking the
picture's icon and choosing Copy. Then right-click the target folder (or its
Shortcut) and choose Paste.
Speaking of Desktop Shortcuts, they are usually identified by a tiny bent
arrow in their lower left corner. If you delete a Shortcut, the file or
folder to which it points will remain intact. Likewise, dragging a Shortcut
onto another disk will NOT copy the underlying file or folder to the disk - just a copy
of the Shortcut icon.
However, double-clicking a Desktop Shortcut will display the contents of its
target folder and let you drag or paste items into it (or out of it) via the Shortcut.
This column frequently mentions filename extensions (such as DOC and JPG). Yet many tell me they see no such appendages attached to their files' names. WinXP users can fix this by double-clicking any folder and going to Tools>Folder Options>View and UNchecking "Hide Extensions for Known File Types." Pre-WinXP users find this under View>Options>View.
These extensions have meaning and should NOT be hidden. Here are some examples: EXE/executable file, TXT/plain text file, BMP/bitmap picture, XLS/Excel spreadsheet and PPS/PowerPoint show. A link to a full list of file-name extensions and their meanings are on my home page.
In fact, PC terminology is one of the biggest obstacles to answering questions I receive via email, and why I always post my phone number here.
I could write a book filled with questions such as: "I clicked on a program, but it's too wide for my printer. How do I fix it?"
A Few PC Terminology Definitions
Worse yet, new terminology seems to appear on a nearly daily basis. Here are a few definitions PC neophytes should learn upfront. A PC's hard drive is a fixed disk made of material more rigid than the "floppy" plastic used on older, removable disks. It was named "C" back when most PCs had two slots ("A" and "B") for removable floppies.
Items on a hard drive (or any type of disk/disc) are either a file or a folder, the latter being recognized by its "yellow folder" icon. Folders contain files and/or other folders, which can contain still other files and folders. Some "system folders" have a different icon, such as the waste basket that designates the "recycle" folder.
Folders do not need file-name extensions. However, if a file's name extension is altered, the file will not perform properly. There are a very few exceptions to this rule, and are explained on my home page.
So, is a "program" a "file"?
Well, a program (aka an "application") can consist of a single file, or it can be a huge collection of files and folders that work together to perform specific tasks. For example, ssstars.scr is a one-file program that generates the "Stars" screen saver. Excel.exe, conversely, is composed of many files and folders, which can do calculations from simple checkbook balancing to plotting the trajectory of a satellite.
Downloading from the Internet - Should You SAVE or RUN?
When you "download a program" via the Internet, you are usually downloading a "setup" file (often named setup.exe) that, when double-clicked, "executes" itself into the application you had in mind. Some setup files have a .zip extension, which must be "unzipped" (decompressed) into the item or items you wanted to download. WinXP has a built-in unzipping program, so this usually happens automatically. Users of pre-XP versions of Windows need a "Zip/Unzip" program such WinZip, available at www.download.com.
Often, after clicking DOWNLOAD, you are asked if you want to RUN or SAVE the file. Choosing RUN will execute the setup file, and create the program you want to use. Clicking SAVE will copy the setup file to your hard drive, where it waits for you to execute it (install the program) with a double-click.
Since word processing continues to be one the most used features of a PC,
it's helpful to know something about the various available programs. In the
1980s WordPerfect was the most-used program, but MSWord has since become
number one in business and personal use. Is this because Word is better?
Well, many experts insist WP has always been better, but we all know it's
not necessarily the best product that stays on top. Remember the Betamax?
In any case, there is a definite advantage to using the program most others
use, when it comes to editing and file sharing.
Making MSWord Easier to Use
The first thing I suggest to new Word users is to eliminate about 2/3 of
their toolbar icons, since they are rarely used. Doing so gives you an extra
line or two of white space for viewing a document onscreen. Click on
Tools>Customize to display a dialogue box which lists all toolbar options.
Then drag the seldom used icons into it.
For instance, I rarely insert an Excel spreadsheet into a Word doc, so I
don't need the "Green X" icon living in my toolbar. If needed, I go to
Insert>File and browse to the item I want inserted. Any icon you remove can
easily be reinstalled by dragging it from the Customize dialogue box back
onto your toolbar.
If you'd like a more legible default font than Times New Roman, go to
Format>Font and choose Verdana (or whatever you prefer) in a size your eyes
find comfortable. Click the "Default" button to lock it in.
For even better onscreen legibility, go to View>Zoom and type a percentage
greater than 100 that suits your eyes. Keep in mind that "Zoom" enlargements
only affect your screen view - a bigger font must be selected for larger
text in a print-out.
Default margins in Word are 1.25 inches. Margin widths can be changed by
clicking File>Page Setup, This is also where you can change paper sizes or
pick an envelope size, as well as switch from a Portrait (upright) layout to
a Landscape (wide) layout.
If you prefer seeing more text and less margin on a page in progress, go to
View>Normal. Choosing View>Print Layout will show the edges of your paper,
along with your current margins and a break between pages. Switching between
these views and two others (Web Layout and Outline) can also be done by
clicking the four tiny icons in the lower left of a Word page.
Go to File>Print Preview to see a miniature view of how your finished pages
will appear when printed.
The horizontal ruler at the top of a Word window is handy for setting tabs
and margins, but the vertical one is rarely used. Eliminate it by clicking
Tools>Options>View and UNchecking Vertical Ruler.
Clicking on File in most programs will display a list of the four most
recently edited documents. Word will display up to nine, after making your
choice at Tools>Options>General>Recently Used File List.
I've received a number of questions about emailing newsletters. Many say
their letter was created with MSWord and sent as an email attachment, but
not all recipients could open it. They ask if there is one program all
recipients can open.
Well, everyone can open an HTML document - because we all have a browser -
and we can all open an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, since Adobe Reader is a free
program. As for MSWord, it has become the world's de facto word processor,
since most PC users have it. Furthermore, WordPerfect users can open most
MSWord docs, by clicking File>Open and choosing MSWord under "File Type."
Another trick available to newsletter-writers using a word processor is to
save the document as a "Rich Text Format" file with an RTF extension. RTF is
compatible with all Windows-based word processers, including older ones such
as Ami Pro and early MSWorks programs.
Most professionally-prepared newsletters nowadays are created as HTML
files - in other words, as a Web page - and they are usually created with
an HTML editor such as MS Front Page or DreamWeaver.
However, an MSWord document can be saved as an HTML file by simply clicking
File>Save As, and choosing "Web Page *.HTM" under "Save As Type." The
on-screen appearance of the document doesn't change, but its file name will
now end in .HTM (or .HTML) rather than .DOC. Then, when you click the file's
HTML icon (which is normally inside your My Documents folder) it will launch
your browser and display your letter as a Web page.
Now that you've turned your newsletter into an HTML file, there is no need
to send it as an attachment. Since nearly all email programs are based on
HTML, you can paste your letter directly into an outgoing message. Use
Edit>Select All and Edit>Copy to capture your Web page letter, and
Edit>Paste to put it into an outbound email.
Creating PDF Files
So if everyone can create and open an HTML file, why are so many documents
created as PDF (Portable Document Format) files?
Well, some documents need to be printable as standard 8.5x11-inch pages, and
HTML doesn't lend itself as well to this as does Adobe Acrobat. You've
undoubtedly noticed that some Web pages are wider than your screen and
require constant left/right scrolling. Also, many Web pages are much longer
than the 11 inches of standard paper.
Yes, Web pages can be constrained to standard paper sizes, but PDF documents
are built that way from the ground up. You'll notice that most official
government documents found online nowadays are PDF files.
However, Adobe Acrobat - the program most used to create PDF files - costs
about $500. Free or shareware PDF creators can be found online, including
Open Office (www.openoffice.org) but
I can't personally vouch for their reliabilty at being fully compatible with
Adobe Reader (free from www.download.com).
As for MSWord, do I use it for this newsletter? Yes, I compose the newsletter
in Word, but I do the HTML formatting with a free program called 1st Page 2000.
If you'd like a copy of this program, please call or email me. (949) 646-8615
There was a time when we bought a typewriter for typing, a phone for
communicating, a phonograph for playing music, and a tape machine for
recording our voices. Now we can do all the above with a PC and a peripheral
We also bought a still camera for snapshots and a video camera for making
movies. Now most digital cameras also take videos. Furthermore, current PCs
come with Windows Movie Maker, a program which lets you edit your videos in
remarkably easy and creative ways.
Digital camera videos are stored on flash memory cards, right along with
your JPG still shots. Most have filenames with an extension of AVI, MPG, or
WMV, and end up in your My Videos folder (which is inside My Documents).
With the folder open and displaying your video files, you can click on
Start > Programs > Windows Movie Maker, whereupon you can drag a video onto a
"story board" which appears.
Alternatively, you can launch Windows Movie Maker, go to
File > New Project, and browse to the
target video. You can even "capture" a file directly from a connected camera
or other storage device.
When the opening scene of your video appears, it can be played by
double-clicking its thumbnail. You can pause the action and cut the video
wherever you want, so that pieces can be deleted, rearranged, or edited in
You can add titles to a video, along with choosing from a number of scene
transitions, such as "disolve" or "venetian blind" effects. You can also add
music with any MP3s you have on hand. The various editing effects are
explained with easy-to-follow on-screen instructions.
Have You Entered the World of Blogging?
Another thing catching on with home computerists is "blogging." "Blog" is a
contraction of "web log" and is an update of the "message board" concept
which has been around for years. A blog is begun when someone posts a
message regarding a particular subject, such as a political opinion or a
news story of some kind. Others can then post a reply and/or add more
information on the subject. As more bloggers add their thoughts, a blog can
become quite lengthy and the possible source of inspiration for other blogs
Naturally, the fact that something is posted on a blog does not necessarily
mean it is true or accurate. Nonetheless, I've noticed that CNN frequently
refers to "news blogs" for updates on late-breaking an fast-moving stories.
To find blogs on your favorite subject, or to create one of your own, simply
type blogs into the Find box of any search engine.
Barry Elkin has an
interesting one on biblical prophecy and how it relates to current events
regarding Russia, Iran, Israel, and the Middle East in general. You can see Barry's
blog here: http://360.yahoo.com/bar_elk.
Another growing trend is the creation of "podcasts," which are simply MP3
audio recordings made by those who would rather speak their messages than
It doesn't take a new digital camera owner long to realize that snapping
photos has become basically free, except for the cost of printing. With a
high-capacity flash memory card and rechargeable batteries, you can fill
your computer's My Pictures folder with thousands of snapshots in no time
With default names like IMG_00001.JPG, seeing them listed under View>Name
soon becomes virtually meaningless. Fortuneately, WinXP provides
View>Thumbnails in all folders, which makes dragging the images into other
folders you may create for them quick and painless.
Let's say you have a folder full of snapshots taken during the winter
holidays, and would like to separate them into folders with names like
Thanksgiving 2005, etc. Well, when copying photos to your computer, they normally
go into the My Pictures folder inside your My Documents
folder, which is listed in your Start Menu.
While in My Pictures, click on File>New>Folder. A yellow icon will appear at
the very bottom of the list, named New Folder, which can be renamed by
simply overtyping its default name. The next time you access My Pictures,
all newly-created folders will appear alphabetically at the top of your file
list. Now you can drag and drop your photos' thumbnails into these folders.
Multiple photos can be dragged collectively by pressing CTRL while clicking
the thumbnails. If the target images are contiguous, hold down SHIFT while
clicking the first and last ones. This will select them, along with all pictures
If your new folders are out of view, the selection being dragged can be
pushed upwards until they scroll into view. However, an easier method is to
create some new folders on your Desktop, where they can be displayed alongside
your open My Pictures folder. Right-click your Desktop, and choose
New>Folder. These folders can later be dragged into the My Pictures folder.
Create Your Own Folders
Better yet, create your own "My Pictures" folders on the Desktop and leave
them there, with names like, say, Mom's Snapshots or Dad's Photos. Inside
these folders, others can be created with names like, say, Christmas at
Aunt Polly's, which can contain still other folders with names like
Aunt Polly's New Puppy.
The options for creating and placing new folders are virtually unlimited.
Since storing all your snapshots is so cheap and easy, the temptation to save
every single one is pretty strong. However, deleting all the blurry,
out-of-focus, and otherwise bad shots right up front will make subsequent
storage chores easier.
Naturally, you'll want to give all the best photos meaningful names, which
is done by right-clicking an existing name and choosing Rename. Finding
particular photos later will be much easier if you include dates in the
names, such as, say, 12-2005 Aunt Polly's. (You can't use "12/2005"
because certain keyboard symbols - such as the slash - are disallowed in file and folder names.)
The biggest expense with digital photos is printing them. Your ink
cartridges will go farther if you crop and resize photos.
My recent mention of a file being "permanently deleted" because it was
"overwritten by other data" refers to the fact that Windows folders cannot
contain two files with the same name. For instance, let's say you have saved
a Word document named MyStory.doc in your My Documents folder, and that you
later write another story, but give it the same filename. If you try to
place it in your My Documents folder you'll get a message saying that
"MyStory.doc already exists," and ask if you want to replace the older file
with the newer one. If you click YES, the new file will "overwrite" the
older one, thus destroying it.
Yes, it may still be possible to resurrect an overwritten file, but it usually
takes a skilled "data recovery" technician to do it.
Overwriting, however, can be put to good use if you want to get rid of
duplicate files which may be hogging valuable disk space. I, for instance,
have a bad habit of saving favorite MP3s in multiple folders and then losing
track of where I put them. So I periodically do the following:
Right-click the Desktop, choose New>Folder, and name it, say, "All MP3s."
Next go to Start>Search/Find>Files & Folders and type in ".MP3." Click
Search and all the MP3s on your PC will begin to appear. When the search
ends, go to Edit > Select All. Now drag the selected items (all your MP3s)
into the newly created folder.
Let's say you have "AmericaTheBeautiful.mp3" in five different folders.
When dragged onto your new icon, one copy will go into the folder with no
problem. As each of the others arrive, you'll see a "This file already
exists" message and be asked if you want each new arrival to overwrite the
one in the folder. If you click "Yes to All," you'll end up with just one of
this particular MP3, and recover some disk space.
Problems can arise, however, if you have recordings by, say, two different
groups singing America the Beautiful, but whose MP3s were given the same
filename. If you think this might happen, do NOT click "Yes to All" when
asked about overwriting. Rather, look carefully at each MP3's description
and choose YES or NO based on information such as "file size" and "date
created." Later, rename one or both of the MP3s with a more descriptive
title, such as including the performers' names, etc.
Rename a file by right-clicking it, choosing Rename, and typing in whatever
you want (as long as you keep the same extension, such as MP3).
As for the rule about "No Multiple Files with the Same Name" being allowed
in a given folder, there are exceptions, the most significant being the
"Temporary Internet Files" folder. However, this is not a folder the average
person uses for storage, anyway.
Outlook Express allows multiple messages with the same name (Subject Line
text) in its folders; but if you drag these emails in a folder on your
Desktop, you'll get the "overwrite" message.
A reader wrote to ask if there is a way to make sure that email messages she deletes cannot be "undeleted" by someone. Well, let's look at the basics of file deletion.
On Windows PCs, the usual approach is to click on a file name and press your DELETE key (or click the red X on its folder's toolbar, or right-click the file name and choose Delete, or drag the file's icon into the Recycle Bin).
Any of these will place the file in the Recycle Bin, where it will remain until you right-click it and choose "Empty Recycle Bin." Alternatively, you can double-click the Bin and delete any individual item it contains by following any of the steps above.
The purpose of the Recycle Bin is to let you recover a "deleted" file, in case you deleted it by mistake, or if you decide you want if back for whatever reason. Right-click a "deleted" file and choose "Restore."
Emptying the Bin ostensibly deletes its contents from your hard drive permanently. Well, not quite. It alters the files' names and hides them, but may not completely remove them until they are eventually "overwritten" by other data.
In fact, "undelete programs" can be purchased that may restore a file - if it's used quickly enough. Beyond that, a "data recovery" service may be able to resurrect most or all of the files on a hard drive that has been "wiped clean" by reformatting.
Getting back to the reader's question about email, deleting Outlook Express messages works a little differently. OE also has a "Deleted Items" folder, from which messages can be restored with a right-click and choosing "move to folder." Choosing "Delete," however, pretty much destroys an "EML" message.
Still, the message will continue to exist in an encrypted ".DBX" file.
My suggestion to anyone concerned about email privacy is to use one of the free web-based services, such as Gmail or AIM. Your messages are stored on their servers, rather than on your own PC (unless you deliberately save them on your hard drive as well). People with access to your PC cannot read your messages on a remote server (unless, of course, they have your user ID and password).
Back on your own PC, you could save web-based email on a floppy disk or a flash memory drive. If the removable media is called, say, Drive D, you could save an open message by clicking on File > Save as, and typing something such as "D: Message-1.TXT" or "D: Message-1.HTM." The former would save the file as a plain text message, and the latter as an HTML file.
The above two methods, however, would also save all the advertising that may have been included with your email. A better method is to mouse-select your actual message and make a copy by right-clicking the selection and choosing COPY. Then open your favorite text editor and Edit>Paste the message, followed by File>Save, as described above.
A question I hear almost daily is, "Which anti-virus software is best?" Well, I
don't know if there is a "best" program; but the ideal way to protect your
computer is to not to get a virus in the first place.
Most viruses are gotten by opening an infected email attachment; so don't
open any attachment you aren't expecting, even if it's from a friend. Virus
writers have ways of stealing address books (with a virus) and sending the
virus to more people using stolen addresses as "return addresses." If in
doubt, write or call your friend before opening anything suspicious.
Clicking certain links online can give you a virus; so avoid things like
"Click here to see (favorite celebrity) nude."
Although I can't promise that any one program is better than another, here
are the ones I've used for years. I annually renew Norton Anti-Virus, which
includes receiving periodic updates for a year and performing a full-system
virus search once a week. I buy only Norton's "anti-virus" software, and NOT
their "Internet Security" package. Why? Because the other tools, such as
anti-spyware and a firewall, are available for free, with links listed on my
home page (www.pcdon.com).
The firewall I use is from www.zonelabs.com,
and I have turned off the
firewall that comes with Service Pack 2. ZoneAlarm gives me much more
control over protection from hackers.
I also occasionally use the free virus scan/removal tools from Trend Micro
and/or Panda Software. Why would I do a virus scan from others when I have
Norton already installed? Well, one of the reasons viruses spread so easily
is the lag time between when a new germ is launched and when the AV people
learn about it and start working on a fix.
As for "spyware," most of it comes in the form of "cookies," which are
placed on your hard drive when visiting certain Web sites. Cookies from
retailers, such as Amazon, are small text files, which, ostensibly, make
future visits "easier" since they hold information about your previous
visits and buying habits.
Cookies are also used by Web-based email services (such as Hotmail) to hold
your ID and password, in case you prefer not having to type them in with
each log-on. Frequent deletion of cookies may get rid of most spyware, but
be prepared to re-type those IDs and PWs. To delete cookies in Internet
Explorer, go to Tools > Internet Options > General > Delete Cookies.
Beyond cookie removal, I use AdAware daily to scan for and remove spyware.
If some spyware goes undetected - and I suspect that some may - none has
ever harmed my system in the years I have been using the Internet. Be
suspicious, however, of offers for a "Free Spyware Scan," that tell you
malware was found and can be removed for a price (usually $30-$40). Some
install their own spyware while removing that of others.
A reader called to say he connected his new digital camera to his WinXP
computer, but couldn't find the downloaded pictures in his "My Pictures"
folder. Here's how we found them:
I told him to go to Start>Search>Files & Folders and to type .JPG (or .jpg)
into the "All or Part of Filename" box. When he clicked the Search button, all .JPG
files on his computer began appearing in a list. (Most digital cameras generate JPG-type
image files by default.)
Then I said to click on View>Details to show which folder a picture is in,
along with the date it was placed (or "modified") into the PC. Next he
clicked on Date Modified to arrange the filenames by the most recent date to
the oldest. (If you see them listed "oldest to newest," another click on
Date Modified will reverse the order.)
When I asked if any of the most recently dated JPGs were among the missing
ones, he double-clicked one and said, "Eureka!" He also saw which folder the
pictures had gone into, so he could move them into "My Pictures" - or he could
create his own folder by right-clicking his Desktop and choosing New>Folder,
and giving it a name.
Backing Up Outlook Express Emails
Charles Monica called to ask the easiest way to back up all the messages in
his Outlook Express folders onto an external disk. Well, I'll describe two
methods and let you decide which is easier.
1. Create a Desktop folder (as explained above) for each OE folder you want to
back up. Then open OE and simply drag and drop the .eml files from their
various folders (Inbox, Sent Items, etc.) into their corresponding Desktop
You can select all emails in a folder by clicking the first one, holding
down Shift, and clicking the last one. This will allow you to drag them en
masse. Or you can pick and choose individual messages by holding down Ctrl
while clicking. For only a few files, just drag them one at a time.
The above steps do not physically MOVE the emails; rather, they COPY the
messages, meaning you end up with the original plus a copy of each.
Finally, drag and drop your filled folders onto other media, such as a CD, a
flash memory drive, or an external hard drive, where - again - they will
be copied rather than physically moved. You can delete the Desktop folders
when you are sure they have been successfully copied to one or more storage
2. With the other backup method, you will copy all the
Outlook Express DBX files onto other media.
Well, Outlook Express conserves disk space by
periodically "compressing" your emails. This means your OE Inbox folder,
and all its messages, will be squeezed into a single file named
Inbox.dbx, which takes up much less disk space. Thus, many more messages can
be stored on a CD or flash drive.
DBX files, however, appear as pure gibberish unless they are reinstalled
into an existing Outlook Express program's main folder, whereupon they are "decompressed"
and restored to legible .eml files.
Doug Hathaway called to ask why an MSWord document does not print anything
enclosed in a "text box," nor any other graphic on a page. The fix is to
click Tools>Options>Print, and be sure that "Drawing Objects" (under
"Include with Document") has a checkmark.
Strange Symbols Appearing in an MSWord Document
Others have asked why they see strange characters in their Word documents,
such as a dash between each word, or a paragraph symbol each time they press
Enter. This is fixed by going to Tools>Options>View, and UNchecking
everything under "Formatting Marks" (which editors sometimes require with
Getting Help from MSWord You Might Not Want
The questions I hear most regarding Word, however, are why the program often
does strange things not asked for. For instance, if you type six or more
dashes (hyphens) in a row and press Enter, a line will appear that goes
clear across your page. Do this with "equal signs" and a double-line goes
across the page.
Either of the above can be undone with Edit>Undo, whereupon the original
number of symbols typed will appear as desired. Beyond that, these
"AutoCorrect" behaviors can be defeated altogether, as will be explained
Another AutoCorrect feature kicks in if you type, say, the numeral 1 (or the
letter A) followed by pressing Tab and doing some typing. When you finish a
paragraph by pressing Enter, the numeral 2 (or the letter B) will appear on
a new line and tab the cursor over to align itself under the paragraph just
typed. Subsequent Enters will begin new paragraphs with correspondingly
You can defeat these automatic functions by going to Tools>AutoCorrect
Options. Under AutoFormat As You Type>Apply As You Type, UNcheck "Border
Lines" to keep hyphens and equal signs from becoming page-width lines.
In this same area, UNcheck Automatic Bulleted Lists and Automatic Numbered
Lists to stop unwanted sequential numbering of paragraphs. To solidify this
fix, you also need to UNcheck Automatic Bulleted Lists under AutoFormat.
If you DO want numbered or bulleted paragraphs with "hanging indents" you
can go to Format>Bullets & Numbering, where several stylish ways of creating
such lists can be found and easily applied.
Getting Useful Help from MSWord's AutoCorrect Functions
If the above examples suggest that Word's AutoCorrect features are there
mainly to complicate things, there are actually some very helpful functions
Also found in this area are a Replace and a With box, into which you can
type your own auto-corrections, including substituting a multi-word phrase
for a few letters. For instance, nct can be told to automatically become
North County Times, while manana can be changed to mañana.
My First Editor Thought I Would Run Out of Things to Write About
When I began writing this column for the Fallbrook Enterprise in 1994 the
first one was rather lengthy, and my editor suggested making them shorter so
I wouldn't run out of things to write about. Well, in those days there were
no PDAs, MP3 players, Game Boys, or wireless tablet computers - nor had the
World Wide Web come into being, along with new ways to communicate, such as using
blogs and podcasts. Cell phones were new, the size of WWII
walkie-talkies, and only worked in limited metropolitan areas.
Obviously, I can't cover all these diverse things here, not to mention all
the new devices which appear almost daily. For instance, I just read that
Nikon has come up with Wi-Fi digital cameras - meaning one would not need
to connect a camera, or its flash memory card, to a wireless computer -
which would eliminate the danger of forgetting to remove the card from the
PC and reinserting it in the camera for the next photo session (which I have
So I'll just continue to squeeze as many answers to readers' questions as I
can into these columns, most of which come from new users who are still
learning the basics of using a PC. My phone number will continue to be
shown, as well.
Dave Silvestri has asked why he can open some of the email attachments he
receives, but not others. Dave also asks how a friend can read a spreadsheet
he sent him when he does not have Excel or any other spreadsheet program.
Well, the answer to both questions requires a recipient to have the program
with which the attachment was created, or a compatible program. All the main
word processing and spreadsheet programs have "import/export filters" which
make files created in competitive programs compatible. Look for a match
listed under Save as Type or Files of Type under File>Save As or
Free "File Readers" from Microsoft
Beyond that, "file readers" for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are available
from www.microsoft.com. These free programs
allow you to read, but not
create or edit, various word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation files.
All these files have 3-letter extensions that tell us what they are about,
such as .DOC for Word documents and .PPS for PowerPoint presentations.
However, for reasons I've never understood, Microsoft has these extensions
hidden on new PCs. WinXP users can double-click any folder (such as My
Documents) and go to Tools>FolderOptions>View, and UNcheck the item that
says Hide Extensions for Known File Types. This choice can be found on
pre-XP versions by going to View>Options>View.
Recent Norton Anti-Virus Issues
Another important issue is anti-virus software, and Norton/Symantec has been
the best-selling vendor for many years. However, several readers have
written about problems renewing their annual Norton AV subscriptions.
Well, as viruses have become more sophisticated, the AV people have to be
ever alert at creating new protection measures, and sometimes things can get
complicated. PC World has written about Norton's problems, along with some
recommended solutions. A copy of the article can be seen here: