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MAY 08

29/05/08

Risky Round Robins

Hi Rick, a friend of ours has sent an email to us and a group of other friends with a request to ‘pass it on’ to even more friends. In this case the message seems bona fide and is about knowing how to check for symptoms of a stroke. However we seem to recall you may have counselled against this sort of Round Robin email for fear of hidden malware in the message. Have you any advice to give on this subject?

Colin Burbidge

 

A. The trouble with Round Robins, mass mailings and forwarded emails is that you have no idea of their origin, even if they came to you from a trusted friend or colleague they can still contain something nasty. Sadly these days all emails have to be treated with suspicion. Fortunately malware and viruses can only exist in attachments or get into your PC through links to websites. Popular email client programs, like OE and Windows Mail won’t open attachments without you clicking on them but accidents can still happen so it is important to have a security program that scans-incoming email. Most do, including the excellent and soon to be updated AVG.

 

Incidentally, a lot of people have been asking if AVG is stopping the free version. I’m pleased to say it isn’t and although users AVG users are receiving annoying pop-ups inviting them to upgrade to the paid-for AVG 8, you can ignore them. Simply go to http://free.grisoft.com/ and under Free basic protection click the Get it now button and scroll down to the bottom of the comparison chart and click ‘Continue to free AVG download. Click Continue to AVG Free download, then Download now. The site is currently very busy and it may take a while, or several attempts at peak periods, the download is around 46Mb so it’s a good idea to do it early morning or late at night. When the download has finished click to open the program and follow the prompts to install the new version and if necesarry, uninstall older versions of AVG. 

 

25/05/08

Freezing and Striping

Hello Rick, I have been meaning to contact you for months, to thank you very much for one of your tips. I am an OAP with, luckily, a computer consultant son. I have a PC with Windows XP Pro and memory in the 100's GB bracket. Not long before last Christmas, it stopped working and the diagnosis was hard disk failure. I then learned rapidly from my son Peter that I had a 'striped' hard disk set-up, which meant basically that recovering data, was virtually impossible.

 

You guessed it my back-ups were way behind (my interest is principally genealogy). Reading your piece in the then current Daily Telegraph, I suddenly saw your remark about putting the disk in the freezer!  I rang Peter straight away and whilst he thought he'd heard something like it before, it wasn't something that came to mind. Anyway, he gave it a go and IT WORKED! So all the data I thought I'd lost was recovered, thanks to your article and I'm eternally grateful.

 

Since then, Peter has rebuilt my PC completely, with what he considers a more reliable make of HD and importantly, he's installed a 'mirrored pair', so much less memory than before, but still loads more than I use and crucially, a lot safer.

 

I'm sorry to run on, but may I ask a couple of questions? How does freezing work? We think it's probably by causing some sort of dimension change? Whilst it is obviously done to maximise memory capacity and cost, I wonder how many lay people know of 'striping' and might not necessarily be happy about it?           

Allan Greinig.

 

A. Weird but true, and as you have proved, that Top Tip, which involves  popping a dead hard drive into a sealed plastic bag and then into a freezer for couple of hours can sometimes get it working long enough to retrieve data. I have seen numerous explanations as to how it works and I go along with the theory that freezing causes worn bearings to contract, realigning the platters and allowing data to be read.  

 

I don’t’ think most PC owners need to worry about disk striping. It’s a technique used on machines with multiple drives, in a so-called RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Discs) setup where data blocks are spread across several HDD partitions, which obviously makes it hard to access data is one of the drives fails.

 

22/05/08

Vertical Lines in Word

In MS Word I was able, years ago, to put a thick sideline in the LH margin of several lines of text to draw attention to them. How do I do this now, please?

Graham Sasse

 

A. This is something I've covered in the Word Tops section and there are actually several methods. You can use the Draw function (click Line tool on Drawing toolbar) or set up column dividers but these methods only work in Print or Web layout Views. To create a line that you can see in any View you can use Tab Stops. Here’s how; highlight the block of text you want to put a line in front of then click and drag the left tab stop a few millimetres to the right, to indent the block of text. Now go to Format > Tabs and in the Tab Stop box enter 0 (increase if you want to indent the line), under Alignment select Bar, click the Set button, then OK and it’s done.

 

19/05/08

SSIDs and Passphrases

Hi Rick, I have successfully set up a network for my desktop and laptop but I am not sure if the new SSID should be alphanumeric and the same length as the default set by the manufacture of the ADSL Router (8 spaces long). For WPA PSK security should the passphrase be alpha characters only with a length of say 20 characters? I assume that the SSID and passphrase do not need to be Hexadecimal in either case and if I set up a passphrase I do not need to set up a ‘key’ as well.

Raymond Payne.

 

A. The SSID or Server Side Identity is simply the name of your wi-fi router, so you can tell it apart from the others that may be in the vicinity. It’s not compulsory to change the default, but if where you live is anything like my neighbourhood, there are at least half a dozen SKY, Netgear and Belkin routers in range, and changing the SSID is the only way of telling my router apart from everyone else’s. It’s not a security feature as such but as a basic precaution I wouldn’t use anything that can identify you personally, or your house; any word or name that you can identify with is okay.

 

The simple rule of thumb for WEP and WPA passwords and passphrases is the longer and less easily guessable the better. It depends on the design of the router but on some models entering the passphrase generates the key, on others the password or passphrase is the key, either way avoid the all too common pitfalls of using names of family members or pets, unless they’re spelt backwards, in fact avoid words altogether as they can be cracked by anyone with the time and inclination using so-called ‘brute force’ and dictionary techniques. A long key containing a mixture of random letters and numbers and maybe a few punctuation marks or symbols  – if you system allows – is virtually uncrackable by any conventional means, Clearly it’s not something you can easily remember, though it’s not something you need every day, but write it down and keep it safe somewhere, just in case. If you do lose or forget it then it’s not the end of the world as most routers can be returned to factory defaults using a hidden reset switch.

 

15/05/08

Partial Programs

Hi Rick, I am a complete dummy as far as computers go so please make it simple. My question is, I appear to have lost half of my ‘All Programs’ list, so I have lost access to a number of applications. Are you able to tell me why this has happened and how I can fix it?  I Use Windows XP.

Bob Fidler

 

A. It’s not unknown for the whole list to vanish, but I can’t recall just half the list disappearing, which makes me wonder if it’s just a simple configuration problem. In its default state the All Programs list is set to scroll, and as you add software to your PC they appear to drop off the list, but if you hover your mouse pointer over the tiny arrow at the bottom, the list scrolls down. Personally I don’t like this layout and if it is just a case of the list getting too long to see in its entirety I strong suggest you change it to a side-by-side display. Here’s how, right click on an empty part of the Taskbar, select Properties then the Start Manu tab.  Now click the Customize button then select the Advanced tab. Scroll down the Start Menu Items list until you get to Scroll Programs, uncheck the box, then click OK, and OK to exit all boxes and see what happens.

 

If by some chance this doesn’t help you out my next suggestion is to try a System Restore, to a date when it was working properly. To do that go to Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore and click Restore My PC to an earlier time and follow he prompts. I am hoping the top half of the All Programs List is visible, if not you can get to it through Help & Support on the Start Menu, click Performance and Maintenance > Using System Restore > Run System Restore Wizard.

 

My final suggestion is to reset the Windows graphic interface by re-registering the Shell32.dll. It’s quite easy, and safe, but don’t do it unless you have set a new Restore Point (see previous) and backed up all of your irreplaceable data. When that’s done go to Run on the Start menu and type the following: ‘regsvr32 /i shell32.dll’ (without the quotes, and click OK.

 

12/05/08

Restoration Comedy

Hi Rick, I have just started to suffer from a problem that you may have covered before. I have attempted to get a solution on line without any success. There appears to be quite a lot of us suffering with the problem, and many have given up trying to solve it.  The problem is that I can no longer restore to a previous time, although there are many dates to restore to. I get the message that Your System cannot be Restored, no changes have been made. I am using XP home edition.

Ron Whitby  

 

A. System Restore is normally pretty reliable but a couple of things can upset it, and in the number one spot is our old friend Norton. If you have any Norton products installed on your PC see this Symantec Support item for some guidance. If you are operating a Norton-free PC then here’s something else to try. One or more Restore Points (RPs) may be corrupt so disable System Restore and this will delete all stored RPs, reboot then re-enable it. You can do this from System Properties (Winkey + Break then System Restore tab). Unfortunately there’s no way to tell which, if any RPs are corrupt, so it’s all or nothing and I realise that’s not much help if you want to use SR to fix a fault, but that, as they say, is Sodds Law…

 

08/05/08

Running into the Buffers

Hi Rick, I wonder if you can allay some concerns. When I view videos etc. on the web, I see messages such as ‘downloading’ and ‘buffering’. I assume these go into some file or other on my PC and as such will eventually take up significant space. Question, can I delete these files -- if so where do I find them, and how do I do it?

Dave Chester

 

A. Buffering is a way to overcome the problems of a slow or intermittent Internet connection when downloading ‘streamed’ multimedia files. Unless you have a super fast and ultra-reliable connection any breaks in the data stream cause the picture or playback to stutter, or stop altogether. To prevent that happening the data is downloaded into a temporary file on your PC’s hard disc drive and once it has reached a preset level, 25% of the whole download, say, playback begins and even if there are subsequent interruptions, the reservoir of data in the buffer ensure continuous playback.

 

Temporary files are stored all over the place, there’s a big Temporary Files folder in Windows and web browsers also have them. The data they contain can be automatically deleted when Windows or the program concerned is shut down, or when you, the user, does it manually. Multimedia downloads almost always end up in your browsers Temp files folders and in Internet Explorer you can control how they are handled, and delete them by going to Tools > Internet Options, select the General tab and click the Settings button under Browsing History. In Firefox go to Tools > Clear Private Data.   

 

05/05/08

A Bit of a Poser

Hi Rick, I have noticed a number of files, mainly in graphic folders where I store pictures, with the extension .PP2 – I cannot open them and looking on Google is not very illuminating. Do you know what they are, where they have come from and if they are harmful or not?

Colin Baker

 

A. I think you can be reasonably sure these files are not dangerous, but how and where they came from is another matter. As far as I am aware only two programs use the .pp2 file extension and they are Ping Plotter, a sophisticated networking tool, and Poser 3D. This is a 3D design suite, for creating realistic looking human faces and figures, which ties in with the fact that they’re stored in your graphics folders. PP2 files are used for storing ‘Poser Props’, which are things like hair and clothing and accessories. However, this is not the sort of program you are likely to find on the average PC. Poser 3D is mainly aimed at graphic artists, games designers, and it’s not cheap either, selling for around £150, so it’s unlikely that you would forget having it or using it in the past. Perhaps someone else with access to your PC has been using it?  

 

01/05/08

Manual Override

Hi Rick, I downloaded an electronic manual in ISO format. The instructions told me to use a program called MagicDisk to run it. The instructions created a Virtual drive as J:\ .  drive J:\ is one of my used USB ports. How do I change the virtual port to some other letter eg. Z:\ (which I should never need)

Mike Wattis

 

A. ISO is a specialist data format; it’s a kind of ‘wrapper’ for all of the files needed to create a CD. In other words, if you wanted to create a manual on a CD then this is what you need to do it, and MagicDisk is the program you use to burn the disc. I suspect that you either do not have a CD/DVD writer drive on your PC, or MagicDIsk wasn’t configured properly, and it is trying to create a ‘virtual’ disc by commandeering a previously used drive letter.

 

If you want to put the manual on a CD, and you have a suitable drive then go back and check MagicDisk’s option or setup menu and point it towards your burner’s drive letter, otherwise go back to the website and this time download the pdf or text/doc version of the manual.

 

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