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Antelope Valley Microcomputer Users Group
Meeting Schedule - 7:00 p.m.
Third Wednesday of each month
At the Antelope Valley Senior Center
777 West Jackman Street
Lancaster CA. 93539-2942

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Avoid Accidentally Replying To Spammers

If you use Microsoft Outlook, here's a tip that may help eliminate some spam. Unless you check all the setting options in Outlook, you might unknowingly be replying to spammers. How? Select Options from the Tools menu, click on the E-mail Options button, then click on the Tracking Options button. Make sure that Always send a response is not checked. If it is, uncheck it to stop automatically sending e-mail confirmations to spammers. If you have the automatic response selected, you may be unwittingly verifying your e-mail address to spammers. This tip is specific to Outlook 2003, but similar settings should be found in previous versions of Outlook.

Create Start-Up Disks

There are times when you can't boot your system from the hard drive, thanks to either a system problem, a lost password, or the simple fact that the OS hasn't been installed. Windows XP offers a number of options for booting from floppy disks, but you must prepare them before they're needed.

A computer with no operating system installed will usually boot from the Windows XP CD. For that rare system that won't, Microsoft offers downloadable programs to create the necessary set of bootable floppy disks. Navigate to http://support.microsoft.com and search for article 310994. Find the download link for your Win XP version and language. The downloaded program will create six setup disks, which can be used to start your system up and begin installing the OS from a CD in a nonbootable drive.

If something goes wrong with the boot drive, you may be able to recover the system using a bootable floppy disk. Don't just format a disk with the box Create an MS-DOS Startup disk checked; you want to boot Windows XP, not MS-DOS. Start by formatting the disk without checking that box. Then copy the three files Boot.ini, Ntdetect.com, and Ntldr from the root directory of the boot drive (C:\) to the floppy disk. Boot the computer from this disk and verify that Windows XP starts (this may require that you change BIOS settings to boot from a floppy disk). Label the disk clearly and store it in a safe place.

If you ever forget your password, a password reset floppy disk can save the day. This isn't the same as writing down your password and storing it in a safe. The password reset disk lets you reset your password without revealing what the previous password was. The precise technique for creating and using a password reset disk varies by account type and log-on type. Search on password reset disk in the Help and Support applet for details specific to your situation.

Stop Blocking Attachments

Outlook Express 6 can be configured to block any attachments whose extensions are in Internet Explorer 6's list of unsafe file types. (We've even seen new systems that had attachments blocked by default.) If such an attachment arrives, you'll get a message like "Outlook Express removed access to the following unsafe attachments in your mail:".

Specifically, OE 6 blocks attachments having any of these extensions: .asp, .bas, .bat, .chm, .cmd, .com, .exe, .hlp, .hta, .inf, .isp, .js, .jse, .lnk, .msi, .mst, .pcd, .pif, .reg, .scr, .url, .vbe, .vbs, .ws, and .wsh. You can't remove items from this list, as it's hard-coded in the file Shdocvw.dll. Other file types that have the box Confirm open after download checked in Windows Explorer's Edit File Type dialog may also be blocked.

To turn off this feature in Outlook Express, select Options from the Tools menu, click on the Security tab, and uncheck the box that says Do not allow attachments to be saved or opened that could potentially be a virus. Once you click on OK, you should also be able to open attachments that arrived while this feature was on.

Prevent Password Expiration

Windows XP may notify you at log-on that your password will expire in a number of days and ask whether you want to change it now. This behavior can start months after your initial installation of Windows XP. Its purpose is to help enforce password policies in a business environment, but if you don't need that enforcement, it can be very annoying.

To turn off the warning, go to the Control Panel and launch the Administrative Tools. If you happen to be using the Category view, look under Performance and Maintenance. Next, launch the Local Security Policy applet. In the left tree, double-click on Account Policies and then select Password Policy. Find the item titled Maximum Password Age in the right-hand pane and double-click on it. If you set this value to 0, your passwords will never expire.

Outlook & Outlook Express

If you send an e-mail message to more than one or two people, hide the recipient list by using the Blind Copy (Bcc) field. Address the message to yourself, or leave the To: field blank. (Note that some spam filters block e-mail with a blank To: field.) To display the Bcc field, select View, All Headers in Outlook Express, View, Bcc Field in Outlook, and To:, Bcc in Netscape. In Eudora, Bcc is on by default.

Remembering Your Sent E-mail

 I keep a copy of all the important e-mail messages I send, but my memory isn't any better than my bookkeeping, so every now and then I would forget to retain a needed copy. I set my e-mail program to store a copy of all my outgoing mail. In Outlook Express, choose Tools, Options, Send and check Save copy of sent messages in the 'Sent Items' folder. In Outlook, click Tools, Options, Preferences, E-mail Options and check Save copies of messages in Sent Items folder. In Eudora, select Tools, Options, Composing Mail and check Keep copies.

A Cable Calamity

My monitor would occasionally flicker on and off. I would reboot the system, and it would work fine again, only to start flickering after a few hours. Then I checked the cables. Don't think loose cables ever cause problems? I once spent half a day diagnosing my faulty dial-up connection only to discover the telephone line was plugged into the wrong socket on the modem. The same problem can arise with your modem, your scanner, your printer, or any other device that's connected to your PC with a cable. Most cables have two connection-tightening screws, make sure both of them are twisted tightly in place.

Maladjusted Monitors

The colors on my new LCD monitor weren't quite right, and the display didn't look as sharp as I thought it should. I used the device's built-in adjustments, but I still found myself doing a lot of squinting and eye-rubbing. Monitor manufacturers offer little help in fine-tuning a display's settings. I've used DisplayMate, a free utility from DisplayMate Technologies, since 1991. It's great for adjusting sharpness, color, contrast, and dozens of other settings on CRT and LCD monitors. Go to PC World's Downloads for a copy of this program.

Volume That's on the Level

I've ripped lots of MP3s onto my hard drive from my CD music collection. The problem was, some songs sounded so loud that it blasts me out of my chair, while the next song, was way too soft. The trick is to adjust (or normalize) the sound level as you rip the MP3 to disk, a feature found in many audio programs. Once you've taken the audio track from your CD, however, the sound problem is in the player. Microsoft's Windows Media Player normalizes the volume of MP3s as you play them. Click View, Enhancements, Crossfading and Auto Volume Leveling. For a permanent fix, use MP3Gain, a free and very cool utility that analyzes and normalizes the sound levels of each of your MP3 files.

SuperCookies Threaten Privacy

I was upset when I found out Windows Media Player uses unique ID numbers to exchange information about me with Web sites.To turn off the SuperCookie tracking in WMP 7 and later, choose Tools, Options, Privacy. Unselect Allow Internet sites to uniquely identify your Player or Send unique Player ID to content providers, depending on your version, and click OK . To learn more about SuperCookies, go to Richard M. Smith's privacy site. And visit the SuperCookie demo page to watch a SuperCookie in action.

Media Player Turn-Offs

Every time your Windows Media Player tried to access the Internet, your firewall (Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm) will alert you with an annoying dialog box. Even though you gave it permission, it asked me again the next time I used the player. Is it dumb or something? Dumb? No. Smart? Yes. ZoneAlarm was simply doing the job you asked it to do--watching for anything coming into your PC from the Internet as well as all things outbound. You can let Windows Media Player head for the Internet and never bother you again by checking Remember this answer the next time I use this program on ZoneAlarm's Alert before you click Yes. But I recommend against doing so. Windows Media Player is a particularly meddlesome program, eager to help you download album covers when you play MP3s, or to use a unique ID number to report about you to Microsoft's Web site . For your privacy's sake, decide case-by-case whether to let the program access the Internet. If WMP wants to retrieve a video you requested, fine. But if the warning pops up when you're playing a file stored on your system, have ZoneAlarm block it.

Write Files to CD a Few at a Time

When I first used Windows XP instead of a third-party program to burn my CDs, I would open Windows Explorer and select a bunch of files in the right pane. Then I would drop them onto my CD-RW drive icon in the left pane, click the little pop-up that says You have files waiting to be written to the CD, and choose Write these files to CD on the CD Writing Tasks pane. But if I didn't wish to burn the CD immediately--say, because I wanted to add more files later and then burn them all at once--I was out of luck. The Fix. As you drag the first few audio files to the CD icon, ignore that pop-up message (it will go away) and drag in more at your convenience. When you're ready to burn your CD, simply open My Computer, Windows Explorer, or any folder window; right-click your CD-RW drive icon; and choose Write these files to CD. (Alternatively, you can write your files via the CD Writing Tasks pane: Right-click the CD drive icon, select Open, and click Write these files to CD.) If you change your mind before burning the files to disc, open the CD Writing Tasks pane and choose Delete temporary files.

Where's the CD-Drive Speed Rating?

Have you ever wondered what the speed of your cd-rom is? Most now have them written on the face plate, but not all.I found the program I needed in Nero's nifty (and free) Info Tool utility. Info Tool told me everything I wanted to know about my drive, and then some. This freebie reports your optical drive's exact write speeds, the formats it supports, the drivers it's using, and its firmware version.

DSL Modem Blues

You can spend countless hours trying to figure out why your DSL connection couldn't access the Internet. you can test your connection with utility programs, reconfigured your pop-up and ad blocker, fiddled with Windows' TCP/IP settings, and finally give up and called tech support--all to no avail. When you lose your Internet link, start your troubleshooting with a simple 2-minute reboot of your DSL modem (it works for cable modems, too). The mystery is why there isn't a diagnostic tool to tell you when to reset your Internet access device. But eliminating that annoyance will have to wait until next year.

Nix the New Spam Threat

Have you started getting pop-up ads even when you aren't surfing the Net. Messenger Service ads (also called directads) are pop-up messages that blindly shower a range of IP addresses. If you have Windows 98 or Me, don't worry about them. But if you run Windows 2000 or XP without a software firewall, or if you're not attached to a router with a hardware firewall, you may see these ads pop up. The way to stop them until your next reboot is via Windows' Services console. Select Start, Run, type services.msc, and press <Enter>. In the right pane, right-click Messenger and choose Stop. For a permanent solution, download Gibson Research's Shoot the Messenger--a program that is actually designed to eliminate spam from Windows Messenger but that just so happens to block these ads as well.

Don't Let Indexing Services Use Too Much CPU

The Indexing Service, which speeds searches by indexing local files, can get out of hand, consuming 80 to 90 percent of CPU cycles. If your system is sluggish and the hard drive seems to be running continuously, launch the Task Manager, click on the Processes tab, and click on the CPU column head twice to put the CPU hogs at the top. If the Indexing Service, called Cidaemon.exe in this list, is consistently using 80 to 90 percent of your CPU cycles, you may improve performance by shutting it off. Launch Services.msc from the Start menu's Run dialog. Find the Indexing Service and double-click. Click on the Stop button and then set Startup type to Disabled.

Editing the Registry

To apply a tip that involves editing the Registry, first launch Regedit from the Start menu's Run dialog. Use the tree view at the left to navigate to the specified key. Before making any changes, back up the current values; a wrong edit could render your system unbootable. Select Export from the File menu (or from the Registry menu in pre–Win XP systems), and export the key to a REG file; for example, Backup.reg. If the tip involves only changes or deletions, launching the backup file will restore the previous values. If the tip requires adding keys or values, you can remove those manually. You can open the Backup.reg file in Notepad and insert comments about any additions; any line starting with a semicolon is treated as a comment.

With the data backed up, you can now apply the Registry tweak. To delete a key or value, right-click on it and choose Delete. To create a new subkey, right-click on the containing key and choose New | Key. To create a new value of a specified type, right-click in the right-hand pane and choose, for example, New | DWORD value. To change the data for a value, double-click on it and enter the new data.

Slim Down and Speed Up Outlook Express

Outlook Express folders can bulk up faster than Charlize Theron, increasing OE's load time and slowing its performance. But keeping folders trim means more than deleting messages. When you delete a message, it's simply tagged for removal the next time OE performs a process known as compacting. By default, compacting is automated, happening every now and then in the background. But the process takes a while and can slow down your PC's performance at an inopportune time (like when you're writing your fan letter to Charlize Theron). Instead, compact manually. First, go to Tools | Options, click on Maintenance, and remove the check next to Compact messages in the background. Then, once a week, go to File | Folder | Compact All Folders. (If you get an error message, close OE, then open it and try again.)

Keep Your Carbon Copy Outlook Express Lists Private

Maybe you don't want your friends spamming your other friends. Maybe you don't have many friends and don't want anyone to know that. Whatever the reason, when you send a message to multiple recipients, it's a good idea to conceal their e-mail addresses. The To and Cc fields are no use here, but Bcc (blind carbon copy) will do the trick. Open a New Message window and look at the headers. If you see a Bcc field, you're all set; just enter the addresses. If you don't see the Bcc field, click on the View menu and check All Headers.

A message with a blank To field is a red flag for antispam programs: Put your own e-mail address in the To field and recipients' addresses in the Bcc box. Send the message normally, and rest easy: Your mail is on its way, but your distribution list is staying put.

See the Big Picture in Outlook Express

Here's a common Outlook Express complaint: You've inserted a picture into a message, but your recipients don't see it. Here's the simple fix: In the Tools menu, select Options, and then click on the Send tab. Where you see Mail Sending Format, make sure that HTML is selected. Then click on HTML Settings and check Send pictures with messages. Pictures visible, problem solved.


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