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Don Edrington The Senior Computer Tutor

Don Edrington - The Senior Computer Tutor Computer Tutor Don Columns for 2006
Click for columns from: 2005 & 2007 & 2008

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Dec 31 Easy-to-Use Free Program for Digital Camera Users
Irfanview Can Also Be Used to Print Thumbnail Sheets
Dec 24 Time Magazine's Person of the Year - YOU
What This Means to the Average Computer User
Dec 17 Comparing Internet Explorer 7 to Internet Explorer 6
AVG to Continue Providing a Free Anti-Virus Program
Dec 10 Creating & Mailing a "Family Newsletter"
Dec 3 Creating Mailing Labels & Envelopes with MSWorks, MSWord, and Excel
Nov 26 Comparison of JPG and GIF Photos
Nov 19 More About Browsers
Downloading Music from This Site & Others
Nov 12 Browsing with Different Browsers
Which One Is Best?
Nov 5 A Tale of Two Businesses...
One Good and One - well, you decide...
Oct 29 Basics of Animated GIFs
Oct 23 Converting CSV (Comma Separated Values) into a Useful Database
Oct 22 A Number of Helpful Tips from Readers
Oct 16 AOL's Interesting History in Modern Computing
Oct 15 Making a "Tent Card" with Windows Paint & MSWord
Oct 9 Instant Messages
Wonderful Free Service, but Use with Caution
Oct 8 Signing Up with MySpace
Some Personal Experiences with "Social Networking"
Oct 2 Print Your Own Photos or Have Them Printed Elsewhere?
Displaying Your Photos Online
Oct 1 Trying to Replace a Dead Cell Phone Battery
My Favorite 5-Button Mouse - Trying to Find Another
New Alienware Computer
Sept 25 More About Online Dictionaries
Using MSWord with a Foreign Language
Using Special Symbols, such as: Ñ Ú á ç ñ ó õ ü ¼ ½ ¾
Sept 24 Online Dictionaries
Finding a Long-Lost Friend via the Internet
A Little More About "Social Networking" Sites
Sept 18 Inserting Page Numbers into a Word Processing Document
Sept 17 Pictures and/or Attachments Blocked in Outlook Express
Creating a White List to Help Avoid Spam
Sept 11 Social Networking Sites (such as
Pearl Harbor Survivors Project
Sept 10 Copying a Picture from a Web Site or an Email
Sept 4 Moving Outlook Express DBX Files to a New PC
Sept 3 Comparing Features of
MSWord, Wordpad, Notepad, & Google's Writely
August 28 Backing Up Email
Moving Outlook Express to a New Computer
August 27 Some Thoughts on Buying a New Computer
Windows or Macintosh?
August 21 Basics of Database Programs
MSWorks Easiest to Use
August 20 Rich Text Format
Optical Character Recognition Options
August 14 Reasons for Converting an MSWord File to PDF
Alternatives to Adobe Acrobat:
PDF995, NitroPDF, Primo PDF, & OpenOffice Suite
August 13 Removing a Text Box Frame
Flowing Text Around, Behind, & in Front of a Text Box
Some Image-Editing Options in MSWord
Drawing Tools in MSWord
WordArt in MSWord - TextArt in WordPerfect
August 7 Help for Visually-Impaired PC Users
Legibility-Enhancement Program - "Zoom Text"
August 6 Inserting Text & an Image into a MSWord "Text Box"
Formatting Text to Flow Around a Text Box
July 31 Less Expensive Ink-Jet Cartridges
Emailing a Colorful Newsletter with Fancy Type Styles
July 30 Overlapping Internet Security Programs
Highly Rated Free & For Sale Anti-Spyware Programs
July 24 Splitting an MSWord Page for Easier Editing
Using the "Paste Special" Command in Various Places
July 23 Firewalls
Pandora - One of the Most Amazing Sites on the Web
July 17 Dealing with Internet Cookies
Rebooting Periodically Can Be Helpful
Increasing RAM (Random Access Memory)
July 16 When Computers Slow Down
Defragmenting Your Hard Disk
Check Disk & ScanDisk
July 10 Be Careful of What You Click On
Multi-Level Pyramid Schemes
Email Services Getting Better at Filtering Out Spam
July 9 Old US Mail Scam Used in Email
No Charge Software with No Strings
"Spell-Checking" Occuring with Spell-Checker Off
July 3 Thumbnail View of Pctures on the Desktop
Having a "Desktop Icon" on Your Desktop
Using Your Taskbar's "Quick Launch" Area
July 2 Printing a Document in Reverse Order
Outlook Express Users Unable to Open Attachments
Showing Your Personal Videos on the Internet
June 26 Displaying Your Digital Photos as a Slideshow
Screen Saver Slideshow of Your Pictures
June 25 Protecting a Document with a Password
People Falling Victim to Many Kinds of Internet Scams
June 19 The Skinny on Spreadsheets
Google Spreadsheet Helps Business, But What About Home Users?
Let the Spreadsheet Do Most of the Grunt Work for You
June 18 Copying "Favorites" from one PC to Another
USB (Universal Serial Bus) Ports, Hubs, & Flash Drives
Thoughts About Buying a New Computer
June 12 Fixing Docments with Malformatted Text & those >>>> Symbols
Using Your Spell-Checker & Thesaurus
June 11 Recording Your Voice with a Digital Voice Recorder
Where Are My Email Messages Stored?
June 5 Various Computer Sounds
Recording Your Voice with Your PC
June 4 Low-Cost Ink Cartridges
Computers Make Writing Easy
May 29 MP3s Changing the Way We Listen to Music
Digital Photography for Not-Quite-Digital Seniors
May 28 Malfunctioning Hardware Suggestions
May 22 Having Music on Your Computer Play Continuously
"File Association" Issues with Various Media Players
May 21 Questions about a Program that Comes with a Digital Camera
(Personally, I Never Install Software Included with a Digital Camera)
May 14 Darkrooms Replaced by Computers
Clone, Smudge, Straighten - & Lots More
Image-Editing Programs - Built-In Instructions & Tutorials
Establishing a Favorite Font as Your Default in a Word Processor
Inserting Images in a Word Processing Document
May 8 Difference Between "Vector" & "Raster" Graphics
Design Your Own 3D Building
May 7 Problems with Telephone Tech Support
Put the Search Engines to Work for You
May 1 What to Do with Old Computer Gear
Apr 30 Avoiding Identity Theft "Phishing" Scams
Using Firewalls, Anti-Virus Software & Anti-Spyware Scanning
Apr 24 More about Converting LPs and Audio Tapes to MP3s
Apr 23 Converting LPs and Audio Tapes to MP3s
Apr 17 More Information of Digital Photography Basics
"View" Size vs "Print" Size
DPI on your Monitor vs DPI on Paper
Apr 16 Be Your Own Photo Processing Shop
More Info about Using Windows "Paint"
Apr 10 Reducing the Size of Video Files - Windows Movie Maker
Apr 9 Changing Your Desktop Icons - Make Your Own Icons - Finding Free Icons
Apr 3 Alphabetizing (Sorting) Favorites & Bookmarks
Change the Name of a Favorite/Bookmark to Anything You Want
Apr 2 Printing Just the Part of an Email You Want
Using MSWord "Scraps"
Does "Dragging" Something "Move" It or "Copy" It?
Mar 27 Does the "Print Screen" Key Print the Screen?
Aerial View of Your House, & Local Home Appraisals
A Word about Podcasts & Podcasting
Mar 26 U3 - Flash Drives with Built-In Programs
Unwanted Names Added to OE Address Books
Creating a "White List" in Outlook Express
Mar 20 Memory vs Hard Drive Space
Putting a Program on a Flash Memory Drive
Mar 19 Memory vs Hard Drive Space
Putting a Program on a Flash Memory Drive
Mar 13 Finding Things on Your Computer
Finding & Replacing Words & Phrases
Mar 12 Yellow Stickies - "Plain Text" & "HTML"
Advantages of Using "Plain Text"
Mar 6 Fundamentals of "Zipping" and "Unzipping" Files
Filling Out Forms with Your Computer
Mar 5 Information on "Flash Memory" Devices
USB (Universal Serial Bus) Ports - Types 1 and 2
Feb 27 More on Dealing with SPAM
Avoid Losing an Email You Are Composing
Feb 26 More on Non-Keyboard Symbols: ® © ¢ £ ™
Dealing with SPAM
Feb 20 Using MSWord "Tables"
Feb 19 Dealing with Unwanted Icons & Malware Messages
Deleting Unwanted Files from the Windows Registry
Feb 13 Multi-Language Gmail Spell Checking
Another Google Language Translation Feature
Feb 12 Lining Up Text and Numbers in Columns
How to Set Tabs for Column Alignment
Free Program for Creating PDF Files
Feb 6 Choosing a Desktop Background (aka "Wallpaper")
Several Other Background/Wallpaper Options
Feb 5 Importance of Filename Extensions
Downloading from the Internet - Should You SAVE or RUN?
Jan 30 Is There One "Best" Word Processing Program"
A Number of Helpful Tips for Using Microsoft Word
Jan 29 Sending a Newsletter as an Email Attachment
Documents which Can Be Opened by Everyone: HTML & PDF
Jan 23 Today's PC - One Tool, Zillions of Jobs
Have You Entered the World of Blogging?
Jan 22 Virtually Free Photography
Creating Your Own Folders
Jan 16 "Overwriting" Data So It Can't Be "Undeleted"
Jan 15 Deleting Email So It Can't Be "Undeleted"
Jan 9 Best Anti-Virus Software?
Other Security Tools: Firewalls, Anti-SpyWare Programs
Jan 8 Digital Camera's Pictures Can't Be Found
Backing Up Outlook Express Emails
Jan 2 Pictures in an MSWord Document Not Printing
Strange Symbols Appearing in an MSWord Document
Getting Help from MSWord You Might Not Want
Getting Useful Help from MSWord's "AutoCorrect"
Jan 1 "Import/Export Filters" Make Competetive Programs Compatible
Free "Document Readers" from Microsoft
Dec 24

Time Magazine's Person of the Year - YOU

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): (formerly MSN Spaces) (Yahoo! Groups)

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.) I-Report)

A very popular site for storing and displaying photos is:

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.

Dec 17

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, 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.

Dec 10

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.

window envelope with name

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.
Dec 3

Printing Mailing Labels & Envelopes with MSWorks, MSWord, & Excel

An illustrated page of the following instructions can be seen here.

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.
Nov 26

Comparison of JPG and GIF Photos

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 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.
Nov 19

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 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.

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 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

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."
Nov 12

Browsing with Different Browsers

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.
Nov 5


A Tale of Two Businesses

Alienated by Alienware, but Amazed by Alienware Computer

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 Computer

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 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.

As for, 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.
Oct 29

Understanding Animated GIFs Animated Frosty the Snowman

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 they work.
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 cannot.

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 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 which appear.

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 it.
Oct 23

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 proper order.

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.
Oct 22

Another Free Anti-Spyware Program

Gloria McCaffrey wrote about a free anti-spyware program called SpywareBlaster from, 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 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 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 because it's easy to use and does not require a viewer to register. He said his favorite site for printing photos is 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.
Oct 16

AOL's Interesting History in Modern Computing

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 and Irfanview from They each have some wonderfully helpful features that will enhance your photo management experience significantly. I'll be giving details in future columns.
Oct 15

Making a "Tent Card" with Windows Paint & MSWord

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 MSWorks.

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.
Oct 9

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 ( 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 ( 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.
Oct 8

Signing Up with MySpace

I recently mentioned signing up with 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.
Oct 2

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 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

I believe the best I've found so far is, 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.
Oct 1

Trying to Replace a Dead Cell Phone Battery

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, who had the mouse listed at a discounted price. We ordered three, and received them from 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 By the way, we did not choose it for its space age looks, but for its cool-running, high-capacity, multi-tasking capabilities.

sep 25

More About Online Dictionaries

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, 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 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
sep 24

Online Dictionaries

A friend called to ask if I knew the meaning of "durst," a word he found in an old nursery rhyme. I went to, 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 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 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, it is the current leader of the "upload your own homemade videos" sites. Others are and 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 ( a $90 device which he claims gives parents control over their kids' Internet access.
sep 18

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.
sep 17

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.

If you don't see extensions on any of your files, click here for instructions on making them visible.

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.

sep 11

Social Networking

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, 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 "dating service."

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 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.

Go to to post your stories.
sep 10

Copying Pictures on Web Sites or in Email

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, 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 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.
sep 4

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.

sep 3

MSWord, Wordpad, Notepad, Google's Writely's 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 special formatting.

"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 HERE.

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.
Aug 28

Some Thoughts on Buying a New 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 Express account.

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.
Aug 27

Some Thoughts on Buying a New Computer

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.
Aug 21

Basics of Database Programs

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 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 find easiest:

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 clicking View>List.

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.
Aug 20

Rich Text Format

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 was expecting.

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 and 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.
Aug 14

Reasons for Converting MSWord to PDF

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.

Back to PDF - they can be opened by anyone, since Adobe makes Acrobat Reader free and available at or

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.
Aug 13

Removing a Text Box Frame

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 width.

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 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 DTP work.

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).
Aug 7

Help for Visually-Impaired PC Users

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. Here's how:

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 exceptionally well.

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, where 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.
Aug 6

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.
July 31

Less Expensive Ink-Jet Cartridges

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 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 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 from 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 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 receive.
July 30

Overlapping Internet Security Programs

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, 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 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 here.

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).
July 24

Splitting an MSWord Page

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 bars.

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.
July 23


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, 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 effectively.

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. 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 your house.
July 17

Internet Cookies

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.

Harmless Cookies

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, 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.

Reboot Periodically

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.
July 16

When Computers Slow Down

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 drive somewhere.

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 resources.

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 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.
July 10

Be Careful of What You Click On

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 of others.

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 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 address. Reputable companies display a "Privacy Policy" which tells how they 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 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.
July 9

Old US Mail Scams Updated for the Internet

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.

More information about scams and "urban legends" can be found at

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 legitimate.

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 spelling.

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 feature.
July 3

Thumbnail View of Pctures on the Desktop

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 find it.

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.
July 2

Printing a Document in Reverse Order

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 together.

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. 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 their scorn.

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.
June 26

Displaying Digital Photos as a Slideshow

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 (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

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 timing choices.

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.
June 25

Protecting a Document with a Password

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 partially legible.

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 your PC.

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 scam.

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 "service."

Legitimate free services can be found on this site'sHome Page.
June 19

Spreadsheets Basics

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 have.

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 automatically.

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.
June 18

Copying "Favorites" from one PC to Another

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 (My Shortcut to this URL is simply Google.) You, too, can right-click any Shortcut and use Rename to give it a moniker you prefer.

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 create.

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

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.
June 12

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 beginning another.

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 Spell-Checkers.

Highlighting a word and pressing Shift+F7 in MSWord brings up a Thesaurus, which is pretty comprehensive.
June 11

Digital Voice Recorders

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 setup.

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 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.
June 5

Various Computer Sounds

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, where archives of all these newsletters from 2003, 2004, and 2005 can be found, along with Downloadable Music
June 4

How About Writing a Book?

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 on.

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.
May 29

MP3s Changing the Way We Listen to Music

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 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.

You can do the same.

May 28

Malfunctioning Hardware Suggestions

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 does.

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 debris.

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 console.

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.
May 22

Having Music on Your Computer Play Continuously

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.
May 21

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 the program.

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 photos.

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 file.

Irfanview Is Free and Easy to Use

The reason I prefer Irfanview (free from 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 Associations.

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 Irfanview.

Simply launch your program of choice, go to File>Open, and browse to find the desired photo.

May 14

Darkrooms Replaced by Computers

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 blend.

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 horizon.

Built-In Directions

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 available online.

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 little practice.
May 13


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 large characters.

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 "Text Box."

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 your graphic.

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 appears.
May 8

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 create.

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 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.
May 7

Problems with Telephone Tech Support

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 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.

We have found fixes for Dell hardware problems at, and go to and Google's "Froogle" at for price comparisons. is a wonderful "user-created" source of all kinds of useful information.

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.
May 1

What to Do with Old Computer Gear

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 and, respectively. 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 technical questions.

Listeners beyond the reach of these radio stations can tune in the shows via the Internet. For Leo, go to and click on Listen Live...Right Now>Click Here to Launch the KFI Stream. For Jeff, go to, 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 neighborhood.
Apr 30

Identity Theft Scams

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 bank account.

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."

More information about this sort of thing can be found at

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 Options>Delete Cookies.

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
Apr 24

More on Converting Music Collections to MP3s

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 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 files.

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

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 be useful.

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.
Apr 23

Converting LPs & Audio Tapes to MP3s

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 environments.

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 end.

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 zone.
Apr 17

More on Digital Photo Basics

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

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 and not only give price comparisons of cameras and accessories, they print user reviews of most items - both good and bad.

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.
Apr 16

Be Your Own Photo Processing Shop

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 different formulas.

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 original.

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 paper orientation.

Paint, as its name implies, is more of a "painting" program than a photo-editor, but the above features can be useful.
Apr 10

Reducing the Size of Video Files

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 scene.

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 players.

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.
Apr 9

Changing Icons & Making Your Own Icons

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 and choose "ICO - Windows Icon" in the "Save As Type" box, when you do File>Save As.
28 Sample Icons + ABC with an Enlarged View of Layout 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.
Apr 3

Alphabetizing (Sorting) Favorites & Bookmarks

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 However, the page's "name" is North County Times - North San Diego and Southwest Riverside County News - -, which is what's listed inside a folder I made.

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 Chevy.

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 and 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.
Apr 2

Printing Just the Part of an Email You Want

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 click File>Print>Selection>Print.

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
Mar 27

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 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. 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

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.
Mar 26

Flash Drives with Built-In Programs

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, 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 folders.)

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.
Mar 20

Various Methods of Sorting (Alphabetizing) Files

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 other folders.

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.

Pecking Order: Symbols, Numerals, Alpha Characters

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.
Mar 19

How Much Memory & How Much Hard Drive Space?

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 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.
Mar 13

Finding Things on Your Computer

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 image.

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 missing letters.

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
Mar 12

Yellow Stickies

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 location.

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" and "HTML."

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 opening.

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.
Mar 6

Fundamentals of Zipping" and "Unzipping" Files

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 files.

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, where you can type in a brief description of the needed form.

Be careful, though. Typing in will take you to a commercial web site that has services to sell you. Personally, I prefer I've used TurboTax for years and have found their services quite comprehensive and easy to use.
Mar 5

Information on "Flash Memory" Devices

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 sizes.

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 process.

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 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 loss.
Feb 27

More about SPAM

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 prevent this?"

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 outbound email.
Feb 26

More about Symbols Not Found on Your Keyboard: ® © ¢ £ ™

Charlotte Pidgeon wrote to say her husband would like to have the ® (Registered Trademark) symbol appear whenever he types his registered business name. In MSWord, this happens automatically whenever you type (r). Also, typing (tm) will produce the superscript TM symbol, and (c) will produce the circled © Copyright symbol.

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 Insert>Symbol.

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.
Feb 20

Using MSWord "Tables"

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 enter data.

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.
Feb 19

Unwanted Icons or Messages that Can't Be Deleted

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 such malware.

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 Programs>Accessories>System Tools.

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: Using MSCONFIG.
Feb 13

Some Handy New Features Added to Google's Gmail

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 combinations.

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 (áéíóúüñÑ¿¡) and use Ctrl+V to paste them into places where their unaccented equivalents were typed.
Feb 12

Aligning Text and Numbers in Columns

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 computer.

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 automatically.

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:
(L) (R)
Authentic Registered Doohickey Beige 9.50
Hand-painted Widget Multi-colored 120.00

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 "leaders."


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,
space "Courier New" 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, which easily converts MSWord documents to PDF (portable document format).
Feb 6

Choosing a Desktop Background (aka "Wallpaper")

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 prefer.

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 folder.

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.
Feb 5

The Importance of Filename Extensions

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

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.
Jan 30

Is There One "Best" Word Processing Program?

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.
Jan 29

Questions about Emailing Newsletters

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 ( but I can't personally vouch for their reliabilty at being fully compatible with Adobe Reader (free from

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
Jan 23

One Tool - Zillions of Jobs

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 or two.

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 other ways.

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 being created.

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:

Another growing trend is the creation of "podcasts," which are simply MP3 audio recordings made by those who would rather speak their messages than write them.
Jan 22

Virtually Free Photography

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 at all.

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 in between.

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.
Jan 16

Deleting Data by "Overwriting" It

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.
Jan 15

Deleting Email So It Can't Be "Undeleted"

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.
Jan 9

Best Anti-Virus Software?

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 (

The firewall I use is from, 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.
Jan 8

Digital Camera's Pictures Can't Be Found

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 folders.

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 devices.

2. With the other backup method, you will copy all the Outlook Express DBX files onto other media.

What's a .dbx file?

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.
Jan 2

Pictures in an MSWord Document Not Printing

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 manuscript submissions).

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 shortly.

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 sequential characters.

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 available.

Under Tools>AutoCorrect>AutoCorrect you'll find a list of commonly misspelled words along with their correct spellings, which Word will substitute for you if you type in one the listed misspellings. Certain letter and character combinations will generate often-used symbols, such as (c) becoming ©, or (r) becoming ®. Again, Edit>Undo will reverse any unwanted transformations.

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.
Jan 1

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 done).

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 File>Open.

Free "File Readers" from Microsoft

Beyond that, "file readers" for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are available from 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>Folder Options>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:,aid,123396,00.asp.

© - Don Edrington - 2006 - All Rights Reserved

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