Thanks for watching…
This is my last edition of Propellerhead and I would like to say a huge thank you to you all for your support and encouragement over the last year and a bit. It’s been fun but it’s time for me to move on.
Forgive the shameless plug, but you'll find me in the Daily Telegraph on Saturdays and don't forget to visit my Bootlog and PCToptips sites and my new 60's and 70's gadgets website Dustygizmos. I would also like to say thanks to everyone at Shiny Media and wish then all the very best for the future. May all your computer problems be little ones.
Nuclear Website Trawled by Spooks
Within days of its launch anythingradioactive.com,
the world’s first website devoted to the fun side of nuclear ionizing radiation
attracted the attention of a impressive number of government agencies, security
services, research establishments and international regulatory bodies. It is
possible links to articles on how to build an atomic bomb (and how to defuse
one…) may have caught their attention.
In just one day the site logged visitors from the Ministry of Defence, the FBI, British Nuclear Fuels, Porton Down Research, NHS, DHSS and many others who didn’t leave calling cards or used anonymous addresses. Several even made purchases, with ‘Toxic Waste’ mugs, Atomic Head sweets and key rings proving especially popular with the nuclear establishment.
The Anythingradioactive office, which also sells Geiger counters, glowing radioactive ‘uranium’ marbles and Trinitite (fused sand recovered from the test site of the world’s first atomic bomb test) on the web also received a visit in person from the local council Health and Safety department, who gave the site the all-clear.
High Visibility Word Icons
Even those with 20-20 vision can have trouble with the icons in Toolbar
Microsoft Word. They’re pretty small to begin with but they becoming
increasingly indistinct on larger screens at higher resolutions so if you find
your self squinting or switching to precision mouse mode to avoid mis-clicking
then try this simple little tweak.
Right click into an empty part of the toolbar, click Customize then select the Options tab. Under Other check the item ‘Large Icons’ and the toolbar icons will double or even triple in size, depending on your screen settings. Finally click Close to exit the Customize dialogue box. One point to watch out for, this change affects all MS Office programs, so be prepared to see some big icons in Excel, Outlook and so on. Please don’t forget that there are hundreds of Top Tips, links to the best freeware and shareware programs and solutions to your computer problems at www.pctoptips.co.uk
Pirate Websites Double Jeopardy
An investigation, sponsored by Microsoft and carried out by market research company IDC has found that a quarter of the web sites offering counterfeit product keys, key generators and key cracking tools try to infect the visitor’s PC with malware. Over 10 percent of the key generators downloaded form the web and almost 60 percent found on peer- to-peer networks contain malware or other nasties. The malware payloads these files carry -- usually Trojans, Worms and keyloggers are used to harvest data, which may be used in identity theft or fraud.
XP Home Lockup Mystery
Hi Rick, I’m writing you from the Netherlands. I have the most annoying
computer problem ever. Mind you, the Microsoft help desk (bless ‘em) couldn’t
do more than advise me to format my hard-disk and try installing XP Home again.
This is the problem: about every one in three times I start my computer and pressing any key causes my computer to freeze. The mouse cursor freezes and no key on the keyboard works anymore. The strange thing is that all running functions (like downloading etc) continue as if nothing is wrong. It’s driving me mad. The only solution is to hard-reset my computer. Afterwards there’s no problem until the next time I start the computer. Strange aye?
Things I already tried: buying a new keyboard (both Microsoft), changing from normal keyboard input to USB and back, installing the latest drivers for both keyboard and mouse, deep clean my system from spy- ad- and virusware. All in vain. There’s no information stored in the Windows error-log, nor anywhere else. There are no hardware conflicts: everything seems to be working fine. Sure hope you can help.
A. Unpredictable lockups are incredibly difficult to diagnose and I am not surprised by the MS suggestion, it might even do the trick… However, let’s not give up just yet and I’m pleased to say you have done some of the leg-work for me.
The worst case scenario is that there’s a fault on the motherboard, so we’ll treat that as the last resort, before that here’s a list of things you can try. If it happened suddenly try a System Restore to a date before it happened, you might be able to link it to a particular piece of software that you installed at the time. If that doesn’t help start the PC in Safe Mode (press F8 before Windows starts loading) and see if the problem still occurs. If so there may be a driver problem. Restart, type ‘msconfig’ in Run on the Start menu, on the General tab select Selective Startup and uncheck all but one of the items on the list below. Restart and test for the problem.
If it makes no difference reboot, recheck the item and move on to the next one. If at any point the problem disappears select the relevant tab and work your way through the lists, unchecking, rebooting and testing each time until you find the offending item, at which point you should be able to tell what it is, and Google for a solution. If you are still having problems disconnect any peripherals and update your mobo drivers from the manufacturers website. If that doesn’t work open the motherboard BIOS and (check your manual for details) and reset to factory default, if you are an advanced user visit the mobo manufacturer’s website and check to see if there’s any revisions or updates. Still no luck? Then it’s a toss-up between a duff motherboard and an XP reinstall.
Startup Monitor, Freeware
How many programs do you have running on your PC? Probably a lot more than you think and many of them will be installed without your knowledge or permission and run automatically after Windows has finished loading. This little utility called Startup Monitor keeps a watch on new programs and if any of them try to add themselves to the Startup group you will be notified and asked to allow or disable it. The program is tiny, just a few kilobytes and it runs in the background using minimal resources. More great Windows tips, tweaks, hints and freeware can be found at www.pctoptips.co.uk/
Watch This Space
No prizes for guessing what’s at the top of my Christmas wish-list. The CDS-AD66 or ‘Watch MP4 Player 2Gb’ to give it is full name has a 1.5-inch 128 x 128 pixel/250k colour OLED screen, it supports MP3, WMA and MP4 (NVX) video formats and JPEG image files, displays time and date when it’s not showing movies, records, has 5 equaliser modes, super bass and 3D sound. It’s new, so new in fact that we’re not aware of any UK distributors but if you’re interested in becoming one you can contact the wholesalers and buy a sample for $101 or a 5-pack for $95.92 each, and if you do let me know, I want one!
Auto Disconnect in Firefox?
Dear Rick, I have a dialup connection and on the advice of a friend I
have just switched to the Firefox browser as I’m told it is faster and I will
spend less time waiting for pages to appear. The only trouble is, when I close
Firefox, it doesn’t hang up the line like Internet Explorer. Automatic
disconnection still works in Outlook Express, is there some setting in Firefox
I can change to make it work?
A. Sadly not, Auto Disconnect is a Windows function and since Internet Explorer and Outlook are technically part of Windows it’s hardly surprising that both programs make use of it. Firefox, on the other hand, is third-part software and therefore unable to access the internal switches that would make it work. I have seen Firefox add-ons that are supposed to make it work but from all accounts they not very reliable -- unless someone knows different -- so for the moment at least you are going to have to live with it and disconnect manually from the icon in the System Tray.
Notepad Bug In Vista
Here’s an interesting little oddity in Windows that will keep any
conspiracy theorists you know entertained for hours.
Here’s how it works, open Notepad (Start > Programs > Accessories) and type the following ‘bush hid the facts’ (without the quotes). Now go to File > SaveAs, call the file bush.txt, click OK and close Notepad. Run Notepad again and open the file and see what happens. Spooky! Your text message will have been scrambled, turned into foreign characters or little boxes… Now try it with ‘moon pix are fakes’ and the same thing happens, it’s uncanny!
The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted something. In both cases the messages comprise an even number of lower case letters in the form ‘xxxx xxx xxx xxxxx’. This combination of characters just happens to trigger a little known bug in Windows that prevents it from checking short strings of ASCII characters, and it seems to have escaped the attention of the Vista development team because it works in that version of Notepad as well.
Microsoft ‘Giving Away’ Accounting Software
It’s true, apparently, according to MS watcher Dan Richman. Microsoft is planning to give away Office Accounting Express 2007, a bookkeeping program for small businesses and an upgrade of Small Business Accounting 2006. So what’s the catch? Well, it’s an on-line product and you will need to shell out for some of the services, for example payroll services will set you back $169 a year, credit card processing works out at $9.95 a months and you can receive up to 300 credit reports for around $100 per month. The program has all of the usual accounting features, including processing invoices, sales orders, receive payments through credit cards and PayPal, produce reports and so on, and it also has the facility to sell products online through ebay.
Windows 98 Download Monitor
Hi Rick, I am using Windows 98 and my ISP has a 2Gb cap on my broadband
connection, with severe penalties if I exceed the limit. Do you know of any
programs, preferably free, that will keep an eye on my downloads?
A. I hope you were aware of the cap and how restrictive it can be when you signed up. A lot of newcomers to broadband do not realise how easy it is to rack up the gigabytes, even if you don’t go in for a lot of large music or video downloads. If it is causing problems I would start looking around for a better deal, even if your contract has some time to run. The only download monitor I’m aware of that runs under Windows 98 is Tautology Bandwidth Meter, it’s not the prettiest but it is very informative and it keeps logs, so you can keep track of your broadband usage.
Disc Drive Fitness Tester
Has your hard disc drive ever let you down? Could it
be about to do so? There’s no easy way to tell, it could pop its clogs tomorrow
or next week, most likely never but it would be helpful to know in advance if
there are going to be problems.
That’s something you might be able to find out with a freeware application that comes to you from Hitachi Global Storage, called the Drive Fitness Test. It works with SCSI, IDE and SATA types drives and all you need to use it is a floppy drive or CD Writer. Once you have downloaded the file open it and it will create a bootable floppy disc or CD. Restart the PC and allow it to boot from the disc it runs through a barrage of tests, from a quick and simple ‘Exerciser’ to a ‘High Confidence’ test.
Happy Birthday XP
Amidst all the excitement and celebrations of the iPods’ fifth birthday we quite forgot to say many happy returns to Windows XP, which has also just reached the ripe old age of five. The operating system was already well behind schedule when it was finally launched on the 26th of October 2001 -- sounds familiar -- and I recall it being a fairly subdued affair coming as it was just a few weeks after the devastation of 9/11.Five years on and despite its fair share of problems XP has aged quite well and for most users it is a reasonably painless experience, at least compared with earlier versions of Windows, which made moving to the new more stable OS an attractive proposition. It will be interesting to see what sort of impact Windows Vista will be having in 2011…
Laptop Batteries, are they safe?
Hello Rick, the price of laptops has now fallen to the point where I am
seriously considering getting one. I am a bit concerned about the batteries
these things use, are they safe, and what about replacements? Are they like
most consumer products these days, cheap to buy but incredibly expensive when
it comes to replacing the bits that wear out. If they are really expensive what
is the best way to prolong their life and would you advise buying a spare at
the same time as I purchase the laptop? Sorry about all the questions but I’m
new to this. Harriet Smith
A. No problem, we’ve all got to start somewhere. Firstly the safety question, if the tens of millions of laptops now in use around the world only a tiny, tiny handful have suffered from overheated batteries and of that probably fewer than a dozen have burst into flames. Vastly more people have been injured by dropping laptops onto their feet than dodgy batteries.
Replacement batteries are not cheap, typically £70 to £120 in the first year after a machine has been launched but this falls dramatically in years 3 to 5 as third-party manufacturers enter the market. The lithium ion battery packs used by most laptops start to deteriorate from the day they are made so unless you need the extra power on tap -- i.e. you do a lot of long-haul flying -- then you are better off using the one that came with your machine until it needs to be replaced, which is typically after 3 to 5 years of normal use.
Smarter Paint, Freeware
Windows Paint is usually the first
and sometimes the only graphics program many PC owners ever use and to be fair
it does the job, but it is incredibly basic and really not much use for
anything other than very simple editing.
Well if you like Paint but you hanker after something a bit more sophisticated then have a look at a free Open Source picture editor called Paint.net. All of the familiar elements from Paint are there but it adds a whole load of new features, including a very good assortment of special effects, it supports layers, and if you get it wrong there’s an unlimited undo facility. It could be the only picture editor you’ll ever need. Don’t forget there are hundreds more PC tips, tweaks and games to try over at: www.pctoptips.co.uk
Windows Defender Goes Live
After what must have been one of the longest Beta trials in history
Defender has finally been officially released. Defender, which began life
five years ago as Giant AntiSpyware is one of the best malware cleaners around;
it continues to be free to users of Windows XP and it will be included with
Microsoft bought up Giant Software in December 2004 and rebadged the program as Microsoft AntiSpyware; soon after it released the first beta version for XP users and it was renamed Windows Defender in January 2006 when the Beta 2 version was released. Throughout it has looked and performed like a fully functional program with very few problems reported, and whilst the extended beta test has theoretically allowed Microsoft to iron out the bugs, it also excused them from providing support. Being a free program support is still limited but XP and Server 2003 have now been granted 2 free ‘support incidents’. If you are using the Beta 2 release be aware that it will stop working on December 31st.
Persistent Printer Warning
Hi Rick, my XP Home laptop
is driving me nuts. The trouble started when I installed an HP Laserjet
printer, something went wrong and the whole system crashed and I tried
everything but there was nothing left for it but to reinstall Windows. When I
came to reinstalling the printer I couldn’t find the CD so I downloaded the
driver from the HP website. After a bit of a struggle the printer works fine
but now every time I switch on the computer it says the printer isn’t
recognised and that I have to reinstall it properly from the CD. I can’t find anything
about it on the HP website and nothing I’ve tried will make it go away. Please
help before I get really angry with it.
A. I would lay odds on it being due to a printer utility that’s being loaded at start up that’s being confused by a previous aborted installation. Most printers install these things, sometimes they do something useful, like monitor ink levels but more often than not they’re just a waste of space, sap your PCs resources and use your internet connection to send info back to the mothership. Anyhoo, to see if that’s the problem go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘msconfig’ (without the quotes.
Save your Secrets - Freeware
We’ve all got secrets but
one of the worst places to keep them is on your computer. Anyone with access to
your PC can get at the files it contains, even if you’ve set up password
protection there are readily available ways and means to open, extract and read
files without booting Windows, so what can you do?
If you have to keep sensitive information on your PC the only sure way to protect it is to encrypt it. Windows XP Pro has got built-in file encryption but that doesn’t help XP Home users. Here’s something that will, it’s a freeware utility called Cryptainer LE. After installation it creates a secure container or ‘vault’ for your files on the hard drive and any files that are dragged and dropped or copied into it are encrypted, using a strong 128-but key.
IE7 Bug Discovered
Well, it has been out for at least a week… A potential security flaw has been found in newly released Internet Explorer 7, which could allow an attacker to create pop-up ads containing a fake web address, the so-called ‘phishing’ scam that IE7 was supposed to have fixed. The bug was discovered by security analysts Secunia, which has issued an alert. Microsoft has not as yet fixed the security loophole, and it is extremely unlikely that anyone has got around to deploying it yet but IE7 users should be aware that pop-up pages -- a bad thing in any case -- might not be from who they say they are.
Missing Entries on Add/Remove List
Hi Rick, I am using Windows XP Home and in Control Panel, when I go to Add/Remove Programs I have
noticed that the list looks far too short and the Change and Remove buttons are
missing on many of them. I don’t know how or when it happened but does this
mean I can no longer uninstall programs, or is there a fix?
A. I don’t know how it happened either but my guess is a program or its uninstaller utility has corrupted the Registry. It is worth trying System Restore (Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools), see if there’s a Restore Point available before the last time you installed or uninstalled software. Otherwise the only solution is to edit the Registry. It’s not something I would recommend to an absolute novice but provided you take sensible precautions and follow the instructions to the letter it’s not difficult. There’s a step-by-step guide in Microsoft Knowledgebase article 266668