Ask Rick 2009 & Houston We Have a Problem 09



Ask Rick 022, 02/02/09


Vocal Support

I have a four-year old Dell PC, running with XP and Office 2000. My typing is slower than my thinking so I would like to try dictating to the computer so it enters into Word. The programs I have seen are expensive and I don't know if they are any good (for my set up). Would they work for me? Is there a freeware solution available? I am retired so money isn't freely available, but I will spend if that is the best way forward.

Paul Hirons, by email


Personally I have never got on with voice recognition software, I concede that it has got a lot better over the years but I’ve never had much luck with it. The programs need to be trained, to get used to your voice. My particular problem is that you have you have to learn to speak at a constant pitch, volume and tempo otherwise they make mistakes. When it happens I get annoyed, my voice changes, which results in even more mistakes and more time wasted correcting them. You also have to work in near silence – no coughing, sneezing or listening to the radio  -- or buy a special microphone headset, which I find uncomfortable for prolonged periods.


Nevertheless, it works for some people and it is obviously a boon for those with physical impairments. However apart from the voice recognition software included with Windows Vista (see Boot Camps 524/5 at, I cannot recommend any free programs. Why not just bite the bullet and learn to type, it only takes a week or two to get reasonably proficient, and since you have the time to spare...



Drive Dangerously

I’m trying to store a Word 2000 document on a USB memory stick, which has 962Mb free space available and has been used successfully for about 12 months. I get an error message that says: 'Directory or file cannot be created'. The document can be saved on a floppy disc or on the C drive. Word documents already on the memory stick can be downloaded but any alterations or additions are not accepted. The memory stick is a basic model and it doesn’t have a write protection switch. Can you suggest a solution?

Alan Barr, by email


Contrary to popular belief solid-state memory devices or flash drives do not last forever. Some manufacturers quote as few as 100,000 read-write cycles, which is not difficult to achieve in a year or so, especially if the device is left plugged into your PC. The USB plugs also have a limited life and I have seen figures that suggest that some drives could fail after as little as 1500 connections, so they’re not to be relied upon for repeated use as storage devices for important data.


However, there’s a good chance that there’s a problem with the drive’s filing system. The quickest way to find out is to save all of the data on the drive and reformat it through Windows Explorer. If it still proves unreliable bin it! It’s not worth trusting important data to a dicky drive, especially now that 2Gb drives can be found selling online for less than a pound.



Oven-Ready TV

We have just acquired a new Panasonic digital TV.  (Replacing our 31-year old Sony, because it was too old to go digital). We have noticed that when we use our microwave oven it causes the picture to break up and

pixilate. The microwave is the other side of a 17-inch stone wall. I wonder if we are doing any damage to the TV or indeed to ourselves?

Sue Waymark, by email


I think it is extremely unlikely that any microwave radiation is escaping from the oven and even if it were it couldn’t penetrate 17-inches of stone but you can put your mind at rest by checking it with a leakage detector. These are readily available online and from high-street stores like Maplin, which sells one for less than £5.00.


The interference is almost certainly caused by the powerful radio-frequency circuitry that generates the microwaves and this shouldn’t be harmful to the TV. It is a little unusual, though and this kind of interference is normally screened by the oven's metal case. Make sure that the mains plug is correctly wired and the wall socket is properly earthed. Otherwise it may be possible to block it by putting a metal object, such as a baking tray, behind the oven. However, in then end the only effective solution is to move the oven or TV further apart, or confine your cooking to the commercial breaks.



Saving Word

Whilst using Microsoft Word, sometimes, without warning, a message appears (delivered by a paperclip with big eyes) on the top right of my screen saying 'Saving the Autorecovery file is postponed for document 1'. It means that I am unable to save (File/Save as/ Save) what I have so far typed in that session. I am then asked  'Do you want to save the changes to Document 1? In despair I just click No to end the session, and lose the text. What am I doing wrong?

Alun Roberts, by email


Ol’ Big Eyes is called ‘Clippit’ by the way, and you can get rid of him (I think it’s a him…) from the Help menu, click ‘Hide the Office Assistant. As always it’s useful to know a bit more about your software, like which version of Word you are using. This is a known issue with Word 97 and if that’s what you are using see this Microsoft Knowledgebase article: Otherwise it can be due to running several instances of Word at the same time, and some Word add-ons, so if you’ve installed any recently, remove them. A corrupt file might also be responsible so temporarily disable Autorecover (Tools > Options > Save tab) and exit Word. Now search for any files in your Documents folder (or wherever you store your Word files), with the extensions: .*.~s, *.; or *.tmp, and send them to the Recycle Bin.




© R. Maybury 2009 1201


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