Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

My file is missing! Using a desktop Search tool

There have been occasions when I was not paying attention, and I saved (and/or downloaded) a file to some location I didn’t intend. What’s worse, I wasn’t watching closely enough to notice what and where that location was, and the file was effectively gone. Of course, my misplaced file wasn’t really gone … I just had to find it again. That’s when a desktop Search tool comes to my rescue. Sometimes, though, the search comes up ’empty’, and that’s what I want to address today.

Tip of the day: Find that file by using the proper search tool, properly. Windows comes with a built-in search tool, and there are “better” tools available (usually as free downloads) as well. But let’s start with the tool you already have. Windows Search is located in your Start menu (Start >Search) and is the magnifying glass icon. If you cannot see a Search/magnifying glass: right-click on a blank area of your taskbar and select Properties. Now click the Start Menu tab and click on the “Customize” button and select the Advanced tab. Scroll down and place a check in the box marked “Search”, as shown below.


Launch the Search tool and click on the “All files and folders” option in the “What do you want to search for?” area, and then — and here’s the trick — click on the “more advanced options” down arrow, and place a check in the top three checkboxes. search2.jpgThere are several “hidden” folders in the Windows filing system and it’s possible your file was moved into one of these (particularly downloaded emails) and if that happened, it will not show up in a “normal” search. Selecting the subfolders option ensures that your search is as thorough as possible. Now enter the file name and click the “Search” button and enjoy the cute antics of the animated ‘search puppy’.

Bonus tip of the day: Often, I cannot remember the exact, or complete, name of the file, and that’s when the use of the wildcard symbol becomes very useful. Windows uses the “*” to represent “any”.

Let’s say, for sake of example, that I found a neat picture of a rose on the Internet (not copyrighted, of course!) and downloaded it. The actual file name is “DSCredrose16.jpg”, and being the incredible complex and super-busy human that I am … I download it to someplace other than where I expected. Searching for “rose.jpg”, in this case, produced no results (sometimes it will). If I use wildcards, I don’t have to worry about an exact match. Typing in “*rose*.jpg” (no quotes) will find it, because I told the search to ‘match’ any letters before the characters r-o-s-e and any characters after them as well, and to show me only pictures.
If I’m not certain the picture was a JPEG, and that it might be a GIFF, or a TIFF, or a PNG, or a Photoshop picture (.psd), or a bitmap (.bmp) …I substitute a wildcard for .jpg, like this: “*rose*.*”. If I type *.* into the search for box, I will get a list of every file on my machine — because I told it to ‘match’ every file name, and every file type.

Today’s free link(s): If you want a faster/better/more capable desktop search tool than the one built into Windows (and if you spend a lot of time searching for files on your machines, you may), the top three downloads are Microsoft’s Windows Desktop Search, Google Desktop search, and Copernic. I must warn you that there are some privacy and security issues revolving around Google Desktop that may or may not remain valid — the debate still lingers. I can also tell you that Copernic is the geek’s choice.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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July 23, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, missing files, PC, searching, tech, wildcards, Windows, XP | 3 Comments

More answers for IE 7

My recent article on tweaking IE 7 and using Security Zones has prompted several reader questions whose answers are worth posting here. So today there will not be my usual Tip of the day, but instead there will be several Q’s and their A’s. If for some reason you missed the original article and would like to get up to speed, click here.

Q. Can’t add a site to Trusted Zone, Why are my options “greyed out”?
A. The person who sent me this question did not specify if they were experiencing this at home, or at work, which can have different causes. If you are on your personal machine at home, the most likely cause for having any Settings or Options choices greyed out (unavailable) is that you are running in User mode. You need to be running as an Administrator to make changes to Windows’ behavior. Log out of your current session by clicking on Start >Log Off and switch to a user account with administrator privilege. Now your menu choices will not be greyed out and you can make your changes. When you’re finished, log off and return to your normal user account.
If you’re at work and using the company’s machine, it is likely that there are policies in place that prevent employees from making these kinds of changes. If you have a legitimate change (that will “help improve your productivity”) that you’d like to have made, submit a request to your IT department.
**Also, some types of malware will modify your Trusted Sites zone (adding poisoned, or junk sites such as a bogus lottery) and then change a setting in your Registry which blocks — greys outs — your ability to go in and remove them. Use anti-spyware programs to scan your machine and remove the infection. In this case, I would start with the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool.

Q. How do I remove a site from a Zone?
 A. You can remove a site from any Zone by navigating to the Security tab of Internet Options as shown in the prior article, click on the zone you want to edit, and then click on the site you want to remove, as shown below.
Now click on the “Remove” button.
Actually, the fella who sent me this question was referring specifically to the Restricted Sites zone. He either really doesn’t trust Microsoft, or is trying purposely to load his machine with malware…either way, I would think twice before removing sites from the Restricted Sites zone!

Q. What should I do with these security warnings?
A. IE displays several types of warnings — suspected phishing, ActiveX, prevented download, open site in your Trusted Zone, et al — and so the answer depends on which warning you are getting…and what you’re doing when you get them.
If you are being warned that the site you’re looking at is a “suspected” Phishing site, then by all means do NOT enter any personal information! As these sites often also try to install trojan horses and malware downloaders, close down your browser and run a full antispyware sweep. Not all “suspected” sites are truly Phishing sites, sometimes mistakes happen, but in this day and age, it’s better to err on the side of caution.
ActiveX is a tool (a bit like Java) that usually is used for good purposes, more often than not actually (Microsoft Update uses ActiveX, and that’s something you definately want enabled), but in keeping with the thought expressed immediately above, you should decide on a case-by-case basis. If you can see and do everything you want to on a site without installing the ActiveX control, why install it?
Preventing unwanted downloads is a very good thing, so I strongly advice you: do not turn this warning feature off. Just click on the yellow bar and select “download this software” when you are downloading code. In fact, I believe this advice can be applied to all of IE’s warnings. We are living in a world where the Internet is relatively unpoliced, and so while it is irritating, it is safer (and wiser) to live with these warnings that to have our identity stolen and used to commit crimes, or have our PCs turned into a spambot.

Today’s free link: if you suspect a site is fraudulent and/or being used to “phish” for your personal information, and IE hasn’t flagged it as such — but you’re suspicious anyway — download McAfee’s free Site Advisor. This IE “plug in” will give you a valuable ‘second opinion’…and is updated more often than IE is.

Copyright � 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

July 21, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, IE 7, networking, PC, security, security zones, Vista, Windows, XP | 9 Comments

NTFS security conclusion–file sharing and Permissions

You’ve just shared your My Music folder on your personal desktop, you try to open it from your laptop, and you see “Access Denied”. You are told to “contact the administrator.” Life just gets better and better.


So what do you do? Turn Simple File Sharing back on?

Tip of the day: Share what you want to share by understanding (and using) Permissions. In yesterday’s article I pointed out that Simple File Sharing “shares” (makes available) everything with everyone, and suggested to you that you should turn it off for better data security. I then showed you how to open a folder’s (or file’s) Properties and ‘share’ it manually, which allows you specific control over each ‘resource’ on your network. When everything goes as it should, that is all you need to do and you have easy access to your ‘shared’ files. Sometimes things don’t go as we think they should [surprise!] and the reason usually is we’ve bumped into built-in Windows folder permissions which are denying us as an “unauthorized user”. Let’s take another look at the Sharing tab of my My Music folder.
The options available here offer a clue as to what is happening: you can make your folders “private”, which as you may guess is very restrictive; you can “share” (as shown) which is somewhat restricted (it is essentially “read only”); or, you can open things up and also “allow change” (this adds the “write” permission). But to really do what most of us want to do with our ‘shares’ (full access and full control), Windows wants us to drag them into the Shared Documents folder — even though the poorly worded description doesn’t sound like that’s what will happen.
The My Documents folder (and all of its subfolders — such as My Music) is “private” (the most restricted) by default…and here is where the problems occurs. This can get real confusing, real quick!

Windows XP’s NTFS has 5 “levels” of permission settings that it assigns to folders. If you are the type who would like a detailed technical explaination, you can read the Microsoft Knowledge article here.

To resolve Access Denied errors, you can troubleshoot the permissions in the “parent” folders (those ‘above’ the file/folder you’re trying to share), or you can use the workaround. The workaround is simple — just create a new folder for sharing. Right-click on a blank area of your desktop and select “New” and then “folder”. Give the new folder a name like ‘Sharing’. Now right-click on it and select Sharing and Security, and click on the Sharing tab. Now place a check (select) in both the “share this folder” and “allow changes” checkboxes.

Because this new folder has not “inherited” any restrictions, you will be able to fully access any of its contents from your networked computers. Now you can use the Move to, or the Copy to, (or, drag-and-drop) tools to fill your new ‘share’ with those items you want to have available.

If you continue to have access troubles that these methods do not resolve, you can always turn Simple File Sharing back on, though I don’t recommend it, or consult a friendly tech support type–like myself (Aplus Computer Aid) for instance.

Today’s free link: If you haven’t already peeked into your neighbor’s backyard (from space) using Google Earth, or otherwise explored our planet with the wonder of satellite images yet, give yourself a treat and do so. Download the GE Viewer and then type in the name or address of the spot you want to see, and Google Earth will ‘fly’ you there. Very cool.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

July 20, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, converting to NTFS, file system, how to, network shares, networking, PC, permissions, security, Simple File Sharing, tech, Windows, XP | 1 Comment

Controlling your network, NTFS security part 3

Today I am going to conclude (I think) this series with an overview of using NTFS to establish greater security for your data on networked machines, and greater control over what is and what isn’t shared with others. A few simple adjustments will enhance your security whether you have a home network, or just a single computer connected to the Internet.
(Click here to read part 1, and here to read part 2)

Tip of the day: [for users of Windows 2000, XP Pro, XP Media Center Edition] Gain control by turning off Simple File Sharing and using NTFS permissions. I want to start out by demonstrating how to turn off the default method Windows uses to make files available to other devices (known as “Simple File Sharing”), which is a valid move to make even if your PC is not connected [“networked”] with any other machines at this time — because the “Internet” is one big network and if you use it, you’re connected. Simple File Sharing makes everything available to everyone.

Begin by opening any folder, My Documents, whatever, and look in the top menu bar, and select Tools. Now click on the bottom choice — “Folder Options”. Select the View tab.

Deselect (uncheck) the bottom option “Use simple file sharing (Recommended)”. I understand that word “recommended” might throw you, and make you hesitate. In reply, the answer is, times have changed. Today we must be more cautious. However, realize that you can reinstall Simple File Sharing simply by ‘checking’ it again at any time.

Those of you who do not have a small network at home are done for today — class is dismissed –but if you do have machines that share a printer and/or files, keep reading to learn how to re-establish communications.

First, decide what it is you wish to share, and then decide with whom, because NTFS allows for almost total control over the what/who/when/where and how of “resource” sharing on your network. I will use my My Music folder for my demonstration, but the same steps are applied to anything you wish to make available, whether it’s a device like a printer or DVD burner, or a single file.
mm.jpgHere is the familiar My Music folder’s icon. To begin “sharing” access, right-click on it and select “Sharing and Security” option. Click on the Sharing tab.

Place a check in the box labeled “Share this folder on the network” and either accept the “share name” (not the same as renaming) Windows gives it, or create your own name, and then click “Apply” and then “OK”.
Now the icon has changed to show that this folder is now being shared to other users and computers, and it will appear in the Network Neighborbood area of all the machines on your network. Go to another PC, open Network Neighborhood (or, “My Network Places”), double-click on it and it will look and function as if it were actually a part of that computer’s files. This allows you to play songs on one machine while they are actually stored on another (so you don’t have to have copies stored on each machine — wasting hard drive space).

I’m out of time, so tune in again tomorrow for a discussion on Permissions.

Today’s free link: Sorry folks, I’ve run out of time today.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

July 19, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, converting to NTFS, file system, how to, network shares, networking, PC, permissions, security, Simple File Sharing, tech, Windows, XP | 12 Comments

Encryption: say no to data theft, NTFS security part 2

If your laptop is stolen, will the thief be able to read your vital statistics and personal info? They will if you haven’t used encryption. They’ll have your passwords as well. Do you keep any confidential business files on your computer — like some doctors and Veteran’s Affairs employees do?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s article (if not visible below, click here), Windows has the ability to encrypt your stored data if you are using the NTFS file system, as well as controlling access from networked computers. Enabling encryption is easy, and acts invisibly to the user (you) — and by that I mean your files will look like they always do, but to an “unauthorized user” they will look like a garbled alphabet soup of nonsensical gibberish.

Tip of the day: Encrypt your My Documents folder for top-notch security. To encrypt files and/or folders in Windows you must be using the NTFS file system, which most of you will already have on your machines (use the link above to read how to check, and convert to NTFS if neccessary). There are a few different ways to use encryption; you can encrypt individual files; you can encrypt entire folders and, by default, their subfolders; and, you can encrypt your hard drive (of import for laptop owners). The process for the first two are the same, while the third requires a different method.

The simplest method to provide encryption to your personal data is to encrypt the My Documents folder, which I will use for purposes of demonstration — as I mentioned, doing so will encrypt all the files inside and also encrypt the contents of any subfolders. Start by right-clicking on the My Documents folder and selecting Properties…accessing the folder may be as simple as clicking the Start button or finding its icon on your desktop or you may have to click Start >My Computer >Local drive C:, depending on your settings and preferences. When the My Documents folder’s Properties window opens, click on the “Advanced” button.
As you can see, my My Documents is set to “compressed”, but is not encrypted yet. Compression is another feature of NTFS that was very, very much sought-after in the days before giant hard drives (back then, we hadn’t heard of digital ID Theft) and is a method that uses an algorithm to shrink file sizes. You cannot, however, use encryption and compression at the same time, and today the value of the former far outweighs the latter. Fortunately, switching from one to the other requires no effort on your part, simply select “Encrypt contents to secure data” and the rest is automatic. Now click “OK”, and then “Apply”. Whenever you encrypt a folder, you will be asked if you want to apply encryption to just that folder, or all the files and subfiles and folders; you want the latter, which is the default.
That’s it. You’re done. Your documents are now safe from “unauthorized” eyes.

That is true, unless the person trying to access your data has their hands on your machine and is able to ‘crack’ your User password (you have given your User Account a password, haven’t you?) which may be the case if your laptop is stolen. To prevent data loss in that type of a situation, you want to encrypt your whole startup process and password protect it…which in essence encrypts your whole hard drive. To do so, click Start >Run and then type in “syskey” (no quotes). Now click on the “Update” button.
Select the top radio button, “Password Startup” and enter a good, strong password. Then enter it again for confirmation. Be sure to write down your password and keep it in a safe place — should you ever forget it, it is not an easy task for even an experienced tech to get you back in to your machine.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss NTFS network “permissions” which allow you control of your network.

A final thought: I think it only fair to tell you (what you may have already guessed/know) that a very knowledgable Evil Doer, if they have physical access to your machine, can often get around whatever security you have in place. The hacker expression is, “if I can touch it, I own it.” So please don’t be careless with your, or your company’s, vital data.

Today’s free link: most of you already know that the World Wide Web is a wonderfully rich resource for researching information, but did you also know it is an excellent resource for digital images? Need a picture of the Golden Gate bridge to put into your child’s homework assignment? The place to start looking is Google Images.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, converting to NTFS, encrypting files, file system, how to, PC, security, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | 4 Comments

Convert to NTFS for greater security, part 1

To unlock all the security abilities in Windows XP, you need to be using NTFS. I will not bore you with a lengthy discourse on the technical aspects of the ways your computer reads and writes data, nor will I debate the advantages of one type over the other. I will simply say that Microsoft recommends NTFS, and if you use it you will have options and abilities enabled that you simply don’t with FAT — such as folder encryption and control over what does and does not get shared on your network.

Fortunately for you, Dear Reader, you probably already have your hard drive formatted with the NTFS file system, and those of you running Vista almost certainly have. Today I will show you how to verify if you already are using NTFS and, if you’re not, how to convert your filing system in one simple and painless step. Tommorow I will tell you how to take advantage of the security abilities inherent to NTFS and make your PC safer and your data more secure.

(Warning: the conversion process described below is NOT reversible — not easily anyway — and should you have personal reasons for using FAT32, such as your machine is set to dual-boot with Windows 98, do not do this. For most users this is a highly recommended action, though. As usual, I remind you that a full system backup is a very good thing to have.)

Tip of the day: Verify your file system and start using NTFS. As I mentioned, you may already be using the NTFS file system, and checking to see if that’s the case is easy. Double-click My Computer (which may be accessable by clicking the Start button, or on your desktop) and right-clicking on the icon for your Local disk (usually C:\) and selecting Properties.
A window like the one above will open, and toward the top it says “File system:” If it reads like my example does, you need not read any further today — but I invite you to return tomorrow to learn how to put NTFS to work for you. If it reads “File system:  FAT32” then I suggest you take the following steps to convert your hard drive to NTFS:
1) Open the Command Prompt. Start >Programs >Accessories >Command prompt.
2) Type in (without the quotes) “convert c: /fs:ntfs”, and hit Enter. [Please note that if you are converting a drive other than the C: drive, substitute the appropriate drive letter into the command.]
3) Tune in again tomorrow, and relax for the rest of today. We’re done for now.

Today’s free link: Thinking of upgrading your computer’s RAM? Use this free tool to scan your machine to see what upgrading options are available, and get recommendations to help you start your shopping process. Crucial memory advisor scan.

To jump to Part 2, click here.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

July 17, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, converting to NTFS, file system, how to, PC, security, tech, Windows, XP | Leave a comment

“My Taskbar disappeared” and other simple tweaks (updated)

Some of the support calls I deal with remind me that some of the simplest of  ‘glitches’ (the easiest to fix) can be quite frustrating to a computer user when you do not understand what is going on — like the call I get every so often, “my Start button is gone and I can’t shut down my PC!” I mean, that sounds pretty troubling, doesn’t it? Start button: gone. Yikes. What happened? Somehow, the “Auto-hide the taskbar” feature has been turned on. Move your cursor to the bottom edge of your screen and the familiar Start button and clock will reappear (if it doesn’t, hit Ctrl+Esc, or try moving your cursor to the top, and each side, your taskbar may have “jumped” to one of those edges).

Tip of the day: Set your Taskbar to the way you like it, and then lock it down. To get started, we need to get into the Start Menu and Taskbar Properties options menu. To do so, right-click on any open part (darker blue) of the Taskbar and select Properties.

Now you will see the options we can ‘tweak’. Please note that I have the top one, “Lock the taskbar”, selected. You want to uncheck this while you make your changes, and then when you have everything set to your liking, lock it again. While we’re here, make sure “Auto-hide” is deselected, and the taskbar is unlocked.

By selecting and deselecting the checkboxes you tell Windows how you want the taskbar to behave.
Auto-hide will, well, “hide” the bar after you move to another task — the idea being to give you more screen “real estate” for what you’re currently doing. Hovering your cursor over where it should be will cause it to un-hide. Personally, I don’t like this feature, and would rather keep my eye on the clock than gain a half-inch or so of screen. (This feature has been the source of many inter-office practical jokes, which we tech support types don’t find funny at all.)
Keep the taskar on top of other windows is very similar, but its purpose is the opposite. Selecting this will prevent (or try to prevent) programs that launch in “Full-screen mode” from covering up the taskbar. If you’re a clockwatcher, select this one.
Group similar taskbar buttons changes the default behavior of opening a tab/button for each program you have running in the middle area of the bar. Say for instance you have several (let’s say three) Excel spreadsheets open; with this feature activated, instead of having three buttons labeled “Excel” — which can cause you to run short of taskbar real estate — you will see one, labeled “3 Excel”. Clicking on the tab/button will open a menu naming the three documents.
Show Quick Launch will activate the Quick Launch area of the taskbar. That’s on the left side, just to the immediate right of the Start button. These are ‘single-click’ shortcuts for launching your favorite programs. To remove icons for programs you never actually use; right-click on them and select Delete (you are removing a shortcut, not the program itself). To add a program to this area, right-click on its icon and drag it into the Quick Launch area (taskbar must be unlocked), let go, and select “Create shortcut here”. Quick Launch — especially if Auto-hide is deactivated, and Keep on top is activated — keeps you from having to minimize all your open windows just so you can see your desktop.
Show the clock allows you to turn on or off the digital clock on the far right side. Though, I cannot imagine why you’d want to do that…(I kid.)
Hide inactive icons refers to those icons next to the clock, an area known as the “System Tray”. The system tray shows you (some of) the programs running “in the background” on your PC. Activating this option makes the icons for programs that have ‘gone idle’ disappear, giving you more taskbar real estate. To see them again, just click on the little “<” button.

But wait! We’re not done! Did you know that the taskbar doesn’t have to be on the bottom? You can move it to the top, to simulate the “Mac experience” if you prefer. Or you can move it to either side. To do so, unlock it and place your cursor on a blank space (on the taskbar) and click-and-drag it to the top and let go. If you like it there, and some people do, lock it again. If you don’t, simply drag it back to the bottom.

If you still don’t see the taskbar, you may have ‘squashed’ it to zero height. Move your cursor to the very bottom edge of your screen (you may have to try all the edges) until it changes to up-and-down pointing arrows — click and “drag” upwards until the bar reappears.
Also, you can give yourself more taskbar real estate by expanding it to a bigger size. By default the taskbar is one “row” high, but you can make it two rows, or three rows high. One of the advantages of doing so is the clock changes from time-only to time+date+day-of-the-week…which some people (like yours truly) find convenient.

To finish up the job, click “Apply” and then “OK”, and please remember to “Lock the taskbar” when you’ve got things ‘tweaked’ to your liking.

Today’s free link: You may have looked at my icons and wondered what some of the programs shown are. I am not going to go through and list them all, but I will tell you about the orange ball: it’s Novatix’s Cyberhawk, a free hueristic anti-malware program I run on all my machines
[update 09/08/07
: Cyberhawk was purchased by PC Tools and is now called “Threatfire“.] From their website: “…Traditional antivirus solutions cannot protect you until after they’ve discovered a new threat and produced a signature to counter it. Cyberhawk ThreatFire is different. It does not rely on signatures, but instead constantly analyzes your computer’s behavior to detect and block any malicious activity.”

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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July 16, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, System Tray, Taskbar, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , | 73 Comments