Tech – for Everyone

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

The View menu and more reader questions

Today I will answer a few reader questions in the (hopefully) now familiar “Q’s and their A’s” format.

Q: How do I get my computer to show thumbnails of my pictures?
A: The small previews of the pictures stored on your hard drive are called “thumbnails”, and they make browsing your photo collection much easier. If for some reason your PC is displaying only a file name — like DSC0000345.jpg (how helpful is that?), or a generic icon, like thisicon1.JPG, you need to change (or restore) the folder’s View setting to “Thumbnails”. Click on View in the menu bar (or hit Alt+V).

menuv.JPG

Now click on “Thumbnails”. That’s it. Now you will see small versions of your pictures, and browsing for the one you’re looking for will go a lot smoother.
While you are here, you might want to try the other View options and get a feel for what they look like. I set my machines to display the “Details” view, as I find the extra information useful (I am, after all, a geek), but you may find it too ‘cluttered’, and prefer the Tiles or Icons view.

Q: Do I have to buy a new computer to get a new version of Windows?
A: No. Newer versions of Windows can be purchased as Install CDs (or in the case of Vista, DVDs). These can (often) be purchased in “Upgrade” versions, which will modify your existing version. If you are considering upgrading to Vista, I seriously and strenuously recommend that you DO buy it (already installed) on a new computer, and do not upgrade from XP — and use the Easy Files and Settings Transfer Wizard to move your ‘stuff’ to the new machine. If you are considering this upgrade, please read this article, and please don’t until you have run the Vista Upgrade Advisor tool.

Q: Can I use a thumb drive while in Safe Mode?
A: Typically, no. Safe Mode is a very limited version of the operating system used for troubleshooting and recovery purposes, and all non-essential drivers and services (and startup programs) are disabled. This reduces the variables and makes diagnosing the problem.. less complicated (I almost said, “easier”).
You really should not be in Safe Mode… unless you’re fixing something. If your computer has become so unstable that the only way you can use it is in Safe Mode and you don’t know how to fix it, and System Restore has not resolved your trouble, contact a tech support person — such as myself…

Today’s free link: I have always been interested in astronomy (what, a geek likes Star Trek? No!) and galaxies and stars and comets. I have previously posted Celestia here ( a free program for amatuer astronomers) and also Google Earth. Google Earth lets you view distant stars and galaxies by using its “Sky” feature.
But if you really want a good collection of Hubble telescope and other astronomy images, an excellent resource can be found at Sky-map.org.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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September 29, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, device drivers, file system, how to, PC, Safe Mode, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | Leave a comment

In the days before PnP

Occasionally Plug and Play doesn’t work as it should. Sometimes.. you might think it doesn’t work — period. What amazes me, is that it works at all. To those of us who were working on computers “back in the day”, before there was PnP, the idea that you could just plug in a new device and it would work seemed like a Utopian fantasy.

Plug and Play was introduced in Windows with the release of Windows 95 (so we are going back a ways), and was a big selling point. To those of us who built PCs, it seemed an answer to our prayers. Unfortunately, PCs and PC component manufacturers were in a period somewhat akin to the Wild West. Everyone was doing their own thing. There wasn’t much in the way of compliance “standardization”, though people began to try.

We tech-types quickly dubbed Plug and Play “Plug and pray“… and usually our prayers weren’t answered; the new device wouldn’t work, and we’d resort to manual installation methods to try to ‘force’ the thing to function.
This process required the trial-and-error positioning of tiny metal “jumpers“, manually assigning (non-conflicting) IRQs and DMAs, and manually configuring the (software) drivers (anyone remember memory address ranges?)… which would cause some mysterious conflict, and not work… so we’d undo all our work and change one little thing, and try again… which wouldn’t work, and we’d start over again. And again. And again.

Sound cards were the worst, and often would simply refuse to work properly even after several days of labor, trying every possible combination of variables. (A brief aside: it was a common “joke” in my community to refer customers who wanted sound cards installed to competitors [because of our “backlog”] because it was always a money-losing proposition.)

PnP has, painfully and in fits-and-starts, evolved — thanks in large part to the common adoption and use of Standards — into (what we old dogs know is) an amazing ability. It has been a very long time since I’ve installed/plugged in a new device and it did not self-install.
Even more amazing to me is how often this occurs without even having to load device drivers from an Install CD. Windows now automatically goes online and finds, and installs, the drivers. It is, indeed, the “miracle” we tech-types were praying for a decade ago.

For those odd occasions when PnP doesn’t work, I have written several troubleshooting tips. Click here to go directly to the most relevant post, or click on the words “Plug and Play” in my Tag Cloud to read all the PnP-related postings.

Today’s free link: Play music from your thumb drive. If you read my thumb drive article, or are already familiar with Portable Apps, you know about programs-on-a-stick. Add the ability to play music with the portable music player, VLC Media Player Portable.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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September 28, 2007 Posted by | computers, hardware, PC, Plug and Play, tech, Windows | 1 Comment

What programs should be in Task Manager?

Today’s article comes from a question I’ve been asked a couple of times recently, which was, “what should be showing (as running) when I open Task Manager?”

(A brief aside: this demonstrates a little something about human nature; what they were really asking me was, “how do I look at this list and detect something that should not be there?” They were concerned about malware [viruses and spyware], which was why they had opened Task Manager!)

Tip of the day: Understand and use the Task Manager.
Task Manager is the tool which shows what programs are running, which Users are running them, how much resources (CPU and RAM) the programs are using up, and is the place where you can terminate “Not responding” problem programs.

To open Task Manager and see what is going on on your PC, right-click on a blank area on your Task Bar and select (click) “Task Manager”; or give your machine the “three-fingered salute” — hit the Ctrl+Alt+Del keys. (Ctrl+Shift+Esc in Vista/Win7)

By default Task Manager opens to the Applications tab, which shows “foreground” programs that you’ve launched (these are the ‘big’ programs which will open windows, and appear as tabs on your Task Bar.. such as Word and IE). When you have a “frozen” program that will not close, let you type, or do anything else, open TM and select (click on) the program which says “Not responding” and then click the “End Task” button.

endtsk.JPG

A small window will open telling you that this program is not responding (yes.. I know. That’s why I opened TM..); click “End Now”. This attempts to force the misbehaving (“stuck”) program to close, and you can then re-open it and resume working… in essence rebooting the program.

To return to the original question, it must be understood that all the programs which are running are not listed on the Applications tab. There are ‘mini-programs’ (applets) and Services, and processes going on, in the “background”, at all times on your machine that are necessary for smooth functioning, but don’t demand any attention from the User (you) — such as the print spooler, or the automatic updating function of your antivirus. Microsoft calls these “processes” and you can see them listed on the Processes tab.
processes.JPG

The first time someone looks at this (typically), they are surprised by 1) how many things are listed, and 2) the words make no sense. On my little testbed machine, which only has a few programs installed, I have (at this moment) 38 processes running; on my Vista Swiss Army knife computer, which has many dozens of programs and games installed, I often have as many as 60 processes running. (Note: this list isn’t “fixed”, it changes as you open and close things.)
This brings us to the question: how can you look at that strange list and tell which one of those things is a keylogger or trojan horse or virus?

The short answer is, with practice and experience, you can learn to recognize the file names of the various applications and services and get a better understanding of the list, but… do you really want to? If you do, I suggest you Google the name exactly as it appears — this will tell you the program and what it does.
If you do not want to spend your time doing this learning, you can still look for some indications ofbackdoors“, whether your machine is being remotely monitored, and other malware, by simply checking the User column — the only names which should appear here are: your User Account (which may be “Administrator”), SYSTEM, LOCAL SERVICE, or NETWORK SERVICE. Anything else can be a good indicator that something’s not right.
Click on the User tab: you should only see yourself listed here.
user1.JPG

This is only a brief and incomplete primer on Task Manager, and on combating malware. I readily admit that. But it gives you an idea of where to start. Today’s free program link is a more informative and helpful version of Task Manager, that will translate those arcane-looking names into a more easy-to-understand format– which will help you identify things that shouldn’t be there.

Today’s free link: Security Task Manager. From site: “Security Task Manager displays detailed information about all running processes (applications, DLL’s, BHO’s and services). For each Windows process, it improves on Windows Task Manager, providing: file name and directory path, security risk rating, description,..”

[update: another free tool for analyzing your running services id the MBSA, to find out more on the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, click here.]

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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September 27, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, security, Task Manager, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | 22 Comments

Halo 3 and greed

I play games on my PC. If the statistics are to be believed, you do too. I have an overclocked SLI “rig” for playing my FPSs and Sims. If you understood that sentence, you’re a gamer — if you were impressed, you may be “hard-core”.
I am not a HCG (hard-core gamer), but I keep my eye on things in the world of video games, and so I can say that Microsoft has done an underhanded, greedy, and short-sighted thing with its extremely popular Halo series of games…IMHO.

I don’t play Halo, never once, but my nephew is a big fan. Recently he used his birthday money to buy Halo to put on the PC they got for Christmas last year. He and his friends had played Halo to death, so he really wanted to buy Halo 2. That was his mission: Get Halo 2.
When he got to the store he discovered that Halo 2 is “Vista only” (his PC is XP) and, extremely disappointed, he settled for Halo instead.

I want you to understand something: there is nothing about Halo 2 that requires Vista except greed. No special video requirements. No special scripting. Nothing. Microsoft simply wants to sell more copies of Vista, and so they wrote a call into the install file of Halo 2 that prevents the install unless the response is “=Vista”.
Quite naturally, I received an email from said nephew asking me if I would install Vista on his PC.

This is marketing blackmail, and the fact that Microsoft did it — never mind that I would never recommend installing Vista over a perfectly functioning XP — lowered my opinion of the computing giant greatly. It irked me so deeply, that I considered advising my nephew to run a crack to bypass the install call.
But that goes against my scrupples, and I had to tell my nephew he was out of luck — no Halo 2.

Now amid much fanfare and hoopla, Halo 3 is released. You have probably seen the “news” of this release in the newspaper and on your local news. Halo fans are ecstatic! Halo 3 has been very eagerly awaited. But guess what? Microsoft wants to sell more Xbox 360s.
So guess what? Halo 3 only plays on the Xbox.

My nephew knows what he wants for Christmas this year. But he’s not going to get it. Santa (me, and my family) will never be blackmailed into buying a Xbox. I advise you not to be blackmailed either.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul, All rights reserved

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September 26, 2007 Posted by | computers, Gaming, PC, tech, Uncategorized, Windows | 7 Comments

Adding Firewire to your machine

Adding new capability to your PC is called “upgrading”, and today I am going to tell you how easy it is to upgrade your machine to include Firewire capability. This “transfer technology” is faster than USB and can be a real benefit to those of you who own digital camcorders, or are thinking of transferring your VHS video tapes onto DVDs, or are otherwise working with digital video.

First of all, what is Firewire (aka 1394)? Firewire is, in essence, a wire (cable, actually). It looks and feels and acts very much like your quite familiar USB cabling— it is so similar looking that they changed the shape of the plug so you can tell them apart. The USB is rectangular, and the Firewire has an angular extension on one end.
  
The main difference between the two data transfer technologies is speed: the original USB speed is 12 Mbps and the original Firewire is 400 Mbps, the newer “2.0” standards (which you really should have by now) is 480 and 800 million bits per second, respectively.
So, if you have large data blocks to transfer — such as video — from one device to another, Firewire 800 is the way to go.

Tip of the day:If your machine did not come with a Firewire port, or if it did but it is the older Firewire 400 type, upgrade your system by adding a PCI expansion card to your PC.

The photo above shows a two-port Firewire PCI card. These expansion cards come in a variety of flavors; some offer more ports, or “combo” ports like 2 USB + 2 Firewire. They are very affordable: the simple 2 port shown above can be found for $18.

Installing an expansion card is not difficult but if you’re not inclined to try it yourself, a Tech Support and/or Repair person (like myself) will not charge you much to put it in for you. It is a simple matter of inserting it into a white slot on the motherboard.
1) Load the device drivers: It may seem counter-intuitive to run the Install CD before the device is actually in the PC, but this is the usual method. Insert the CD that came with your card and follow the wizard. This will install the Plug-and-Play device drivers for your new device.

2) Prepare your PC: The next step is to completely power-down, and unplug your computer from the wall outlet. Now open your computer’s case; typically there’s two small screws holding your side panel in place.
Lay your PC on its side so that the motherboard is down at the bottom, and you can see all the slots and components.
[Attention: Do not reach inside the case unless you are wearing an antistatic wristband, or until you have touched a bare metal section of the case’s frame. A very, very small dose of static electricity can ruin electrical components inside a computer.]
Find an open (white) PCI slot, and remove the corresponding metal tab from the back of the case. This will open up an outlet for the faceplate of the expansion card.

3) Install the card: Gently, but firmly, insert the card into the open slot. You want to use enough force to fully “seat” the card into the slot.

4) Validate your install: Plug your PC back into the electrical outlet and power up your machine. Windows will launch, and it will detect your new hardware. A small dialogue window will open down by your clock that tells you that Windows is installing your New Hardware.

Unless there is some glitch, you are done. You can start using your new device. If Windows does NOT detect the new card, insert the Install CD and go through the wizard again.
If this still fails to install your new card, it is likely that the card itself is not fully inserted into the slot — power-down and really push it in this time. Repeat step 4. If this fails (and this is unlikely), read my troubleshooting article here.

Laptop owners: For those of you who want to add this capability to your notebook PCs, the steps are very similar — except you won’t be using a PCI expansion card. You will want to purchase a Firewire PCMCIA card, such as the one shown here.

Today’s free link: Teen Chat Decoder. From site: “This free Teen Chat Acronym Decoder lets you ‘Crack The Secret Code’ your teen uses online, in Chat Rooms, online chats, Instant Messages, & Text Messages. This is an awesome software for parents because it gives you an inside look into your teenagers online life.”

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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September 25, 2007 Posted by | add device, advice, computers, device drivers, hardware, how to, kids and the Internet, PC, Plug and Play, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | 27 Comments

Customize your Send To menu

A handy time-saver is the Send To feature, found in the right-click menu (called the “context menu”). By using the Send To command, you can quickly send a file to different locations such as a ‘zipped’ folder, another person using e-mail, or the My Documents folder.

This image shows the default places you can send your file in Windows XP: compressed file, desktop, mail recipient, My Documents, and 3½” floppy disk.

You can remove Send To destinations you never use — such as the floppy drive if your machine doesn’t have one (most newer PCs don’t) — or add destinations you use frequently, in a few simple steps.

Tip of the day: Take control of your menus. This process is much like adding/removing shortcuts from your Start Up folder, which I’ve discussed in this prior article.
First, we need to open the Send To folder, which is a “hidden” folder inside your Documents and Settings folder (to read my article on hiding/unhiding folders, click here). Open your Run dialogue by hitting Windows key+R, or Start >Run, and type in “sendto” (no quotes).

Here you see the Send To shortcuts which appear on your right-click submenu. To remove an item you never use, just drag it to your Recycle bin (I have already deleted the floppy drive).

I frequently send files to a folder on another computer on my network, and for purposes of example I am going to demonstrate adding that to my Send To menu — but this method can be adapted for any location you’d like to send files. [update 10/1/07: this can method can also include a printer.]
Right-click on any blank area in the Send To window and select (click) New, then Shortcut.

Now the Create Shortcut Wizard opens. We need to browse to our new destination so click on the browse button. To choose a destination, click on it and then click OK. To find my folder on the other computer, I ‘drilled down’ by expanding the plus signs until I could see my folder.
Now complete the Wizard by clicking OK, Next, Finish. Now my new shortcut appears in my Send To window.

Now all I have to do to send a file from this machine to my ‘storage’ machine is right-click on it…

and select “downloads on P3”.

Today’s free link: Today, some fun: Knight Online is an extremely popular online fantasy game. From site: “Knight Online is the critically acclaimed medieval fantasy MMORPG developed by Mgame and Noah System. Since its introduction in Korea several years ago, Knight Online has thrilled millions of players in over 80 countries. Players choose between El Moradian Humans and Karusian Tuareks, adventuring as rogues, warriors, mages, and priests.”

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. 

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September 24, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | Leave a comment

It’s good to be digital

We here at Tech–for Everyone Headquarters have been enjoying digital television for a week now, and I must say that I am glad we’ve finally joined the late 20th Century. I must say the recent technological advances may just spur the Powers That Be to break down and join the 21st Century and go “flat panel” and “Hi Def”. Wouldn’t that be something?

Loyal Friends and true of this blog will remember from last Friday’s article that I was looking for a solution to the question of what is going to happen to all of us — who have the ‘old school’ analog televisions — when the broadcasters stop transmitting analog signals (in 2009). And also, what about us folks who want to receive the digital signals, they’re already transmitting, now.
You will remember that the answer is to buy a new TV (with a digital “tuner” built in) or a set-top “box”. And an antenna. You will also remember that I could not find any evidence of the existence of set-top tuners, and that I invited my readers to help me out if they knew of any. Nobody did.
Because of that fact it appears that by 2009, every American is simply going to have to buy a new TV (with a digital “tuner” built in) and throw their current TVs in the landfill, or sign up with Comcast, DirectTV, or DishNetwork and pay for what we have been receiving for free all these many years.
Tip of the day: So, if you want to get rich, build a set-top digital “tuner” and sell it for $25-$35.. you’ll sell millions of them! I just cannot believe no one’s done this yet (that I can see).

We here at T4E H.Q. decided — like so many of us have — to sign up for a “bundle” of services; voice, video, and Internet, which is supposed to “save” us money, and the digital video we happened to go for was satellite. We now have 200 channels, and for a short trial-period we also get some of the “premium” movie channels. As I said, we’ve had this for a week now, and I can honestly say it is “good”.

There are a lot of benefits to “going digital” in our television broadcasts, not all of which mean a great deal to you and me. Things like “frequency allocations” and “limited spectrum blah blah blah” just doesn’t affect our daily lives.
But what does (to some small degree, anyway) is that the digital signal can carry much more information. What this means is our picture can be at a much higher resolution and our “color depth” can be greater. These things mean a sharper, brighter, and more colorful “viewing experience” (read, “picture”). I have found that this improvement is quite noticeable even on our old, analog TVs. Our picture has “pop” to it now.

Of course, to really step into the 21st Century, and get the most out of our digital signal, we really do need a television set that is capable of displaying the increased “rows” of resolution (called “1080i”) and giving us “Hi Def”. (And, take the digital-analog conversions out of the equation.)
Many of you have already made this purchase. The (typical) set no longer costs $6,000, [Do I really need say it? My first car cost me $600?] and are actually available for under a thousand now. And Christmas is coming up before too long…

And like so many of you have already, or probably will before too long, I have entered into the world of HDTV comparison shopping. A world of confusing jargon and too many choices — do we want plasma? LCD? DLP? And how about “viewing angles” and “artifacts” and “true blacks”?

I tell you, it just ain’t like the old days anymore. It used to be that you would go into the store and say, “I want a Zenith (or whatever brand you were loyal to), and I want the biggest one you got.”
No. Those days are gone, and gone forever.

And so, Dear Reader, I will go forth, and I will shop. I will research and explore. I will analyze the competing technologies and compare their features and benefits. From time-to-time, I will report my results and findings here… and maybe you will find my results helpful and time-saving. Maybe, Santa is thinking of a HDTV for your house too?

Today’s free link: today’s link is an alternative to Skype which, most of you know, is a program that allows you to place phone calls from your computer. Skpe also allows you to video chat with your friends and family (who have webcams and Skype), however the video component is not the greatest. If you do a lot of video chatting, or video “conferencing” and aren’t really satisfied with Skype as your free solution, try SightSpeed instead.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul, All Rights Reserved

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September 22, 2007 Posted by | advice, hardware, HDTV, shopping for, tech | Leave a comment