Ask Rick 2009 & Houston We Have a Problem 09



Ask Rick 037, 27/03/09


Taking the Flac

I have recently downloaded some music from the web but they are 'flac' files. Can you advise of an easy method of converting these tracks to mp3?

Ken Webster


Flac or Free Lossless Audio Codec is an up and coming audio format. It works like mp3 in that it reduces or compresses the size of audio files, to make them more manageable and easy to store or send over the Internet, but unlike mp3 it does so without any loss of quality. As the name implies it's free, open source and non-proprietary; there are no patents or big business interests stifling its development and distribution and it's generating a lot of interest. Everyone from Pearl Jam to Sir Paul McCartney are releasing albums in flac format so expect to see, and hear, a lot more of it in the future.


A growing number of portable devices and most media player programs support the format, or can be persuaded to do so by downloading a suitable codec, so file conversion should only be necessary if you want to burn an audio CD or listen to the tracks on a non-flac compatible mp3 player. In that case you have several options, the most flexible solution is to download a conversion program. I suggest Switch Sound File Converter (, which is free, and can convert from and to just about every audio format there is. Otherwise, you can do it online through websites like Media-Convert (, which is also free and covers most popular media formats.


A Question of Size

How can I increase the print size in received emails? Sometimes the print is so small it is illegible. I do not have this problem with web browsing (I have discovered the zoom function -- Ctrl key and the + key.

Noel Milchem, by email


I know what you mean and some people seem to use the smallest font available when composing emails; maybe they think they get there quicker, or it saves electricity... Who knows but if it is just emails the simplest thing to do is go to the message window's View menu, select Text Size then Larger or Largest. If it is still too small to read then fire up the Windows Screen Magnifier. In XP you'll find it by going to Start > Programs > Accessories > Accessibility Wizard. In Vista it's Start > Programs > Accessories > Ease of Access.



Making the Rules

How can I set my Outlook Express so I receive only from persons in my Address Book?

Ron Cochran, by email


It's easy enough to do this using the Outlook Express 'Rules' facility but it's a bit of a blunt instrument and you may miss or delete legitimate messages. To set it up go to Tools > Message Rules > Mail and click the New button. In box 1 tick the item 'Where the From line contains people' and in box 3 click the underlined link 'contains people'. Click the Address Book button select everyone you want to be included in the Rule. If there's a lot of entries hold down the Ctrl key and select them one by one, if it's all of them hold down the Shift key and press the down cursor arrow key. When that's done click the From button to copy the entries into the Rule Addresses box then click OK and OK.


You should now be back on the Message Rules configuration window and you can either automatically delete messages from people you do not know or quarantine them and peruse them at your leisure. In box 2 just select 'Delete it' if it's the former, or Move to a specified folder, if you want to keep them. If you do that you'll open the Move dialogue box; click the New Folder button, give it a name and click OK, then OK to exit Rules setup. 


A less drastic way of controlling Spam is to use a Filter program and I can thoroughly recommend MailWasher, which is free, and very effective. You'll find a link to the download at:



External Drive Prevents Boot-Up

I have just increased the data storage capacity of my XP SP2 desktop computer by adding a 640Gb external hard drive. The installation was straightforward, but there is a problem with starting and restarting the computer. Unless the new drive is unplugged from its USB socket, the computer hangs almost immediately (I do not have this problem with another external drive).


Plugging in the drive once the boot up has got beyond the critical point works OK, but it's a nuisance and I would prefer not to have to do it every time I need to start up or reboot. Can you help?

Howard Davies, by email


This is a BIOS issue, which for irregular readers is the Basic Input Output System program that tests and configures the computer before loading Windows. It could be one of several things. Usually it's due to a BIOS option that enables the USB ports at boot up, so you can use a USB mouse and keyboard, or it could be the boot order. This is when the BIOS has finished its checks it searches the drives connected to the PC in sequence, looking for the boot files and operating system (Windows). If the USB ports are the first in line, and there's a drive present with no boot information on it then the boot sequence may hang.


Launch the BIOS or 'Setup' program (see your user manual for details). Check the Boot Order and make sure that your main hard drive it at the top of the list. If it is then look for an option called USB Legacy Support - it's usually listed under Integrated peripherals or  -- and disable it. 


Another possibility is the BIOS may simply not be able to handle the new drive, in which case it may be possible update it from the manufacturer's website, though this can be a tricky operation and not for novices or the squeamish...





© R. Maybury 2009 0303


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