Ask Rick 2009 & Houston We Have a Problem 09



Ask Rick 050, 11/05/09 & Houston 128 16/05/09


Shortcut to Text Entry

When I used a BBC B computer twenty-five years ago I was able to program the function keys 1 to 9 to be used with either shift or ctrl. I could put into them a whole phrase or sentence so that when these were something repetitive in a document I didn't need to type the whole thing out every time. For instance while transcribing 17th century wills a phrase like 'this is my last Will and Testament' could be inserted with the simple press of shift or ctrl and the appropriate function key. I could have eighteen different choices at a time. Can the function keys on my PC be programmed like this? I am using Word.

Elisabeth Jordan, by email


You can’t reprogram the F keys on a PC, at least not easily as they are allocated specific functions by both Windows and the programs that you are using. However, there is an option in Word to assign a word or phrase to a toolbar button or keyboard shortcut. All you have to do is go to Insert > AutoText > AutoText and select the AutoText tab. To use your example, type in ‘this is my last Will and Testament’ into the Text Entry box and click Add. Exit the box, right click on an empty area of the toolbar and select Customize, then the Commands tab. In the left hand Categories list scroll down to AutoText and in the right hand Commands pane select ‘this is my…’ You can either drag this on to the toolbar and a button will appear, or you can create a keyboard shortcut. To do that click the Keyboard button, select AutoText in the Categories pane, and ‘this is my...’ in the Commands Pane, now press the two keys that you want to use for your shortcut into the ‘Press new shortcut key box’. Try Alt + K, this is usually assigned; if you want to use something else and it is already being used Word will tell you and you can you can choose to reassign it, or try something else.



Down the YouTube

I'm stumped over the problem of downloading YouTube videos to my hard drive. The closest I've got is using a Firefox add-on called 'Downloadhelper'.  It looked quite good, seemed to download the video but would not play it back. Do you have any suggestions
Mike Faulkner, by email


There are many, many solutions but one of the quickest and simplest is a freeware utility called called Tubemaster++. Once it’s installed on your computer it automatically records any streamed video or audio and afterwards you have the opportunity to save the captured videos in the file format of your choice (AVI, MPEG, MP3, MP4, IPod, PSP and more).



Part-Time Surfing

We have good pay as you go broadband in Switzerland for less than £2 per hour. However I have had no luck so far in UK. Otherwise a three-month contract would suit my absences and be more cost effective. I do not wish to use a mobile phone.

William D Hyde, by email


I wouldn’t dismiss mobile broadband out of hand, it is very convenient and flexible and there are some good deals at the moment. You don’t need a mobile phone either, just a small ‘dongle’ that plugs into a USB socket on your laptop or PC. These are either free when you sign up for an payg contract, or around £30 if you opt to just buy data (usually in 1Gb or 10Gb chunks) and 1Gb, which will cost you £10 to £15, is plenty for a month’s worth of emails and moderate web surfing.


Pay as you go broadband is available in the UK but it’s not especially cheap and there can be fairly stiff set-up and exit fees. For a comparison of the services on offer and the costs involved have a look at the no-contract broadband pages on the broadbandchoices website (



Troublesome Tray

I run Windows XP on my PC and recently the DVD tray opens at various times for no apparent reason.  I presume that it is receiving a command to open but from where remains a mystery. It can just be a single opening or a rapid open and close numerous times. It can go through this process at any time and does not appear to be connected with the opening of another programs. 

Ron Elwood, by email


That’s really odd and I am not aware of anything that can make this happen intermittently. You should double check that no other programs are running when it happens by opening Task Manager (Ctrl + Alt + Delete > Applications), if not then my guess is there’s a fault with the eject switch or mechanism on the drive itself.



Unreliable Answer

I was recently researching answering machines on the Internet and came across a comment in a review about one not working properly in a set-up that included a broadband connection. My problem is that messages on my BT Freestyle answering machine are distorted. This made me wonder if there a compatibility issue between some answering machines and broadband when they are sharing the same phone line. My set-up has filters at each device connected to a phone socket

John Birkett, by email


Broadband modems generate high-frequency noise on the line, but this is removed by the ‘low-pass’ Microfilters. Even if the answering machine’s microfilter were removed I can’t see how it would create distortion, or even stop it working properly but I’ve learned to keep an open mind; stranger things happen…


You should be able to find out what’s causing the problem by carrying out a simple experiment. Use your mobile (or get a friend) to call your number several times and leave a message. Try it with the modem on, then off, and with a different microfilter and afterwards compare the recordings. If the distortion remains then the problem clearly lies with the answering machine; if it turns out to be the modem then get your ISP to exchange it, or get a new one.



© R. Maybury 2009 2004

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