Tech – for Everyone

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

200

Today marks the 200th original posting of Tech–for Everyone. I have posted links to over 200 free downloads, and brought you tips, advice, and computing answers six days per week. I hope to continue being of service well into the future.

I invite you to click on the “About Tech Paul” link, in the upper right-hand corner, if you have not already done so. This series is available as an RSS feed. If you’re not sure what that is, or why that’s “cool”, click here.

I would like to remind readers that you can submit questions to me (the email address here at T4E Headquarters is tech4everyone (at) gmail.com), and if I think it is the type of question whose answer will benefit everyone, I will post it in a “Reader questions answered” article.

I would also like to point out that this site is completely search-able, and the advice, tips, tricks, and answers — as well as the downloads — from past articles can be found with a couple of different tools. One method is the Search box. Say you have questions about a Norton product: type “Norton” into the search box, and every article that contains the word ‘Norton’ will be displayed (by date).
The second main tool is the Tag Cloud. “Tags” are topic categories. Some of my tags are quite broad — such as “Windows” — and a click here will produce a (very) long series of articles, as almost all my postings contain this tag. But others are much more specific, such as “removing updates”. You will see the tags I have added to each article at the bottom of each post. If you click on one of these tags, you will see a list of other blogs and what they’ve written in this category. This is a good way to find more information on your topic.
Past article titles can also be found in the Archives.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading Tech–for Everyone so far, and that you have either bookmarked (or “Add to Favorites”) me, or subscribed to my feed. With God’s help, I will be here for a very long while to come.

Today’s free link: Sometimes our media players need a little help to play certain file types. This is done by adding “codecs“. A good package of codecs for Vista can be found here.
***Please note:If you are visiting a website, and want to see a video there, and the site tells you that you download a “special codec”, or ActiveX control, or “the latest version of Windows Media Player” to view the video, and the site you’re on is an “adult” site, do not click the link, and navigate away from that page as quickly as possible. Then start a vigorous program of antivirus and anti-spyware scanning. You have stumbled across (or been lured to) a malicious website.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

February 21, 2008 Posted by | computers, RSS, tech, Windows | 1 Comment

Troubleshooting with the Help and Support tool

In yesterday’s article, Windows’ built-in Help Desk, I reminded folks of the largely over-looked troubleshooting and How To tool built into Windows — Help and Support — and told you that today I would show you how to troubleshoot hardware and software issue using it. So here goes.

Let’s assume (for example purposes) that for some mysterious reason your computer no longer makes any sounds. If you double-click on a music file, Media Player looks like it’s playing, but you hear nada, zero, ziltch. Yesterday, it played Chopin’s Concerto #56 perfectly, but today you get a big fat cup full o’ nothing. You have, my friend, what we in the Biz call “a sound problem”.

To help resolve this problem, and get your MP3’s “bumpin” again, launch the Help and Support tool by clicking Start >Help and Support.
hs_welcome.jpg
You could follow yesterday’s advice and enter “no sound” in the Search Help textbox, but today we’re going to leave that method as our “fallback position” and instead click directly on the “? Troubleshooting” icon/link… because, we got trouble, and we need to shoot it.

Scroll down until you see the category that applies to your particular issue, in our example that is the “hardware and drivers” category. Device issues are often driver issues, and so it is good to make note of the first option (you may need to come back to it), but the second option most closely resembles our hypothetical issue.. so we’ll click on it; “Troubleshoot sound problems”.
trb1.jpg
The Help and Support tool will ask you a series of questions to help narrow down the different possibilities: answer them as closely to the actual symptoms as you can. In this case, Help and Support wants to know do we hear anything at all; so it asks, silence? or, garbled static noise hissing?
trb2.jpg
Let’s continue to play along as if I hear nothing at all, so I select the top choice — “I can’t hear sound from my computer”.

Here’s the results.
trb3.jpg
And guess what, folks? This is (basically) the same series of steps I would take if you contacted me for my help at my online support business. My only argument with the bullet-points listed here is that the first one — going into Device Manager — should be listed last. There’s no sense messing with device drivers if it turns out that your kitten has playfully pulled the speaker wire out of the back of your machine!
(I have described Basic Troubleshooting Procedure here before: Question 1: Does it have power/is it turned on? Question 2: Is it plugged in/connected?..)

Other than that small critique, following the steps listed here will resolve the vast majority of “sound problems”, and doing it yourself will not only make you feel smart but save you money as well.
And remember, this was only one sample example. Help and Support covers an amazing range of questions. Just yesterday, I used the Help feature of Word to remind myself of the keyboard shortcuts for using those funny-looking foreign alphabet letters… You know the ones.. those letters with the little circle, or Tilda, over them (Ctrl+Shift+@, letter)?
Sure, there will be times when Help and Support’s troubleshooting steps do not resolve your issue (such as if our hypothetical sound card had up and died on us) and you can then “expand your search”.. rephrase your search keywords..or, contact a live Support person.
When you do call, your using H&S and trying the steps there, will also have saved you money; because you can tell the Tech, “I have checked the wires and the power.. and the Mute button and Volume control. Device Manager is not showing any yellow exclamation points or question marks. Help!” Saves time.

Today’s free link: If you work with digital movies on your PC, and find yourself frustrated with formats and High Def, Dr. DivX is the best free tool around.. or, so I’ve heard from sources I trust. I haven’t tried video editing yet, and I’m not eager to start. (People who know how to edit home movies, and make them look ‘professional’, suddenly become quite popular.)

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 20, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows | , , , | Leave a comment

Windows’ built-in Help Desk

Did you know that you have your very own Tech Support/Answer Man (..ahem, pardon me. Answer Person) living inside your Windows PC? 

One of the most useful Windows tools and services is also the most over-looked, ignored, and misunderstood. This tool can help you solve technical issues and/or show you how to do things.. and it’s free. (We here at Tech–for Everyone [me, myself, and I] are big fans of anyone who combines the concepts “useful” and “no charge”.) I am referring, generally, to the “Help” finder (the little search window) in Microsoft programs (such as Word and Excel); and specifically to the machine (operating system), the troubleshooting tool called “Help and Support“.
This red-headed stepchild of Windows tools should be the first place you go when your speakers stop working.. or you cannot remember how to set your “homepage” to the Wall Street Journal. You access it from the Start button–
vistahs.jpg

(in XP…)
xphs.jpg
And in most programs (“applications”) the Help can be found in the upper-right, as in this example using Internet Explorer..
iehelp.jpg

Vista’s Help and Support welcome window looks different than the “Pick a task”-oriented welcome page in XP and older versions, and I think the changes are to our advantage.
hs_welcome.jpg

When looking for answers and solutions, the Search tool is often your best bet. Remember that searches use keywords to try to produce relevant results (machines cannot, yet, understand what you’re trying to say, but they can make matches to words and letters and symbols) so don’t type in too complex a sentence.

Let me demonstrate with a simple example: let’s say that I want to add Word to the icons down by my Start button (the “Quick Launch” area). I don’t type in “how do I put Word down by my Start button?” That will produce results using the keywords “Word” plus “start”. What I want to do is “add (a) program” to my “Quick Launch” (or, “Taskbar”). Right? So I use those keywords.
ql1.jpg
This produced 30 ‘matches’, and by looking down the list I find that the third one down is the most likely to have my answer. So I click on that link and see what I get.
ql2.jpg
The pictures show me I’m on the right track, and sure enough, the first link is almost an exact match to what I am trying to do.. with the “how do I” understood. I click on “To add a program to the Quick Launch toolbar” and expand the answer.
result.jpg
And there you go. I have run long for today– but tomorrow I will return to this topic and demonstrate how to use Help and Support to troubleshoot hardware and software problems.. such as if your sound stops working.

Today’s free link: The Microsoft WindowsHelp website is all about help and How To. Find tutorials, guides, and answers.. direct from the folks who wrote the software.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 19, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows | , , , | Leave a comment

Cyber-crime news

Nowadays, all you need to do is plug in a digital picture frame, and you lose your life savings.
Sound unbelievable? Guess again.

* Regular readers of this series should know that the hackers and viruses/malware of today aren’t about ego, or twisted maliciousness, but are all about profit — namely getting your money. It is cyber-crime, and you are the target. Your computer is their weapon.
* Regular readers will know that phishers send spam e-mails which contain links to fraudulent, malware-laden websites in the hopes that you will enter your account password so they can steal your identity (and drain your funds); and they know that merely visiting this site will “drive-by downloadspyware (such as a keylogger) onto you machine, which will eventually report your logins… or anything else you type, like, your credit card number. [note: in April 2007, Google reported that it had found “hundreds of thousands” of webpages serving up malware.]
* Regular readers know that these hackers use trojan horses (a type of worm) to install a backdoor on your machine and turn it into a zombie (aka “bot”, short for ‘robot’) under their control [ http://techpaul.wordpress.com/2007/06/14/the-fbi-and-operation-bot-roast/ ] which they then use, however they like, as part of their botnet. Typically, they use your machine to send spam and copies of the trojan horse (to make their network of bots larger) itself.

All very depressing stuff.

But what you may not already know, Dear Reader, is that these cyber-criminals are always looking for new ways to infect your machine, for the uses mentioned above, (okay; you might have figured that, though) and the method they’re trying for is through the use of USB devices. So that, when we plug in our thumb-drive it infects our machine.. and any other machine we plug  it into. The bad guys know that antivirus tools don’t scan USB storage devices before they’re opened (“accessed”).
Because of this fact, I am very leery of thumb-drive give-aways (free gifts) and generally decline to reach into the bowl.

A security nightmare come true:
What if the virus writers and cyber-criminals could get in cahoots with the device manufacturers (or, someone who works there) and pre-install their malware onto brand-new devices? Well, you would go to your local MegaGigaMart* and buy a new device, open the box (or ‘blister pak’), plug it in, and bingo!, you’re identity is stolen, fraud is committed in your name, your accounts are drained.. and your life is ruined. And consider this, folks– darned near everything is made in China.
If that isn’t scary enough, what if the malware was undetectable? What if it could shut down all known antivirus programs? Don’t laugh: it’s real.

There are, right now, digital picture frames (which connect via USB) coming from the (Chinese) factory with a trojan horse pre-installed (and a while back, a few iPods were infected at the factory). This trojan seems to be — for now — limiting itself to stealing online gaming identities, but displays the fierce anti-removal characteristics of truly advanced malware. If it can be programmed to steal gaming identities (do I need to say it?) in version 1.0, who knows what 2.0 will be designed to steal?
Scary, scary (and depressing) stuff.

Today’s free link: For more details on the digital picture frame infection, please read Deborah Gage’s article; “Trojan Horse probing defenses– New virus is smart, aggressive and blocks antivirus protection at will“, published in the San Fransisco Chronicle, Friday, Feb. 15th. 2008. Business Section.

* Beware of “Hillary video” e-mail. (Source= Symantec) Spammers are taking advantage of the election season to send a poisoned link (it downloads a trojan) in an e-mail promising a video of an interview with Hillary Clinton. For details, click here.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 16, 2008 Posted by | advice, anti-spyware, antivirus, computers, hardware, PC, Phishing, security, tech, Windows | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Update blue screens/reader question

Sometimes the things we do to help our computer can actually make it unhappy, such as when a Windows Update proves incompatible with our installed software/hardware (or doesn’t install itself properly) and it causes “blue screens”.

Q: An Update is causing BSOD’s, what do I do?
A: From time to time a Microsoft security Update will not be compatible with the software and/or device drivers on your machine and the instability will trigger the Blue Screen Of Death (for more on BSOD’s and what to do, see “When good computers go bad“). First, reboot– twice. This will resolve partial installs. If it’s a problem with the Update, usually, Microsoft will repair this and issue a new Update … eventually. In the meantime, remove the Update (If you’re not sure which Update is the perp, remove the most recent ones) by going to Add/Remove Programs in your Control Panel. (Start >Settings >Control Panel >Add/Remove Programs) Now look to the top area and place a check (select) in the “Show updates” checkbox. Now you will be able to see the list of installed Updates.
add1.jpg
Click on the Update you want to remove, and click on the Remove button.
*If the blue screen won’t let you get to your Desktop, boot into Safe Mode to perform the steps above.

You can also use System Restore to revert back to a point before the Update was installed, and this will resolve the blue screen. However, Windows Update will prompt you download and Install the Update again.. or do it for you automatically at the next cycle. To tell Windows Update to ignore that particular update — and to stop it from trying to install it each cycle — you must “hide” the update.
Microsoft shows the common method here, but generally you visit Windows Update, select “View available updates”, and right-click (on the one you want to stop) and select “Hide this update”.

Updating your machine (no matter the brand) is a vital part of protecting yourself (and your “identity”) and Microsoft (Apple also) is ready to help you get your Updating troubles resolved. All technical support for Update is free: if you need it, use it!

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 15, 2008 Posted by | advice, BSOD, computers, how to, PC, removing Updates, System Restore, tech, Windows | , , | Leave a comment

Vista PnP issues/reader drivers questions

It has been  a while since I’ve done a “reader questions answered” segment (and reminded you, Dear Reader that you can post questions to me), but I’m hoping that you’ll remember the “Q’s and their A’s” format.

Q: Vista won’t recognize my new device. What’s wrong with my PnP?
A: Vista is actually quite good (in my opinion, the best yet) at automatically installing new devices with the use of PnP (Plug and Play). That said, a fair portion of the calls I receive at my online Tech Support business are troubleshooting PnP failures.
There are standard procedures for getting devices installed, when it doesn’t happen automatically for one reason or another, which I have outlined here before. Review the How To’s by clicking on this link: https://techpaul.wordpress.com/2007/07/11/adding-a-device-when-plug-and-play-doesnt-work-pt-1/ I advise reading all three parts, and the Comments as well (and read about USB Host controllers).
If you have tried these methods without success, there may be some “ClassID framework” missing which needs to get installed before Vista can ‘see’ your device, and you will need the help of Tech Support– I would not be averse to getting it direct from Microsoft; and, while you have them on the line…

You can avoid some headaches by making sure the device you want to buy is “Vista Compatible”. Vista is rather recalcitrant at accepting 3rd-party drivers that have not received Microsofts’ stamp of approval (not undergone Microsoft laboratory testing). This is to ensure that the webcam (for example) you want is going to work, and not “mess up your machine”. Visit the Vista Hardware Compatibility List, and sort by category to find approved (tested) makes and models, and purchase one from the list.

Q: I bought a gateway with Vista Home Premium, but need to convert back to XP Pro. I have a friend who is technically sound, but (they) said it would be hard to get all the drivers loaded to work right. Do you know where I can get all the drivers to make XP work on my Gateway that is less than a year old?
A: If you “must” convert back to XP Pro, you will indeed need to acquire some “for XP” drivers for some of your hardware/devices (XP will have some drivers already). Make a list of all your devices (Device Manager is a good place to start) and look on the Internet to make sure there’s XP drivers available. Then Install XP.

Use Device Manager to find which devices need drivers (yellow ?’s, and red Xs).
You will then go to the manufacturer’s website and download the XP driver. (You should not use the “Update driver” feature, as XP drivers are ‘old’.) Again, I refer you to the article link above.
A tool like Sandra Lite can help determine the make/model of your devices if you’re unsure of the manufacturer (such as the motherboard chipset).
You will have to do this on a case-by-case basis (there is no driver ‘one-stop-shop’) for those devices not covered by the XP install itself…but that shouldn’t be too, too many.

When you’re done, make a good backup… preferably with a “disk imaging” program.

Today’s free link: I use Sandra Lite quite a bit when troubleshooting distant machines. The benchmarking tool gives a very complete system profile, including the make/model of installed devices. It is often the only way I can determine the motherboard chipset. A word of caution: do not elect to make the scan results public, or “share them for further analysis”.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 14, 2008 Posted by | add device, advice, computers, device drivers, hardware, how to, PC, Plug and Play, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , | Leave a comment

I am doing an on-site job today, and so I must re-post a prior article. This article describes how to get more out of IE 7. It appeared  1/2/08–

Once again, I am reminded that the simple things often make the best topics. I showed my screen to a client during a support session, and they asked me “how do you do that?”

I didn’t know what they meant, and was startled to learn that what they wanted to know was how did I have Internet Explorer “pre-set” to several of my mailboxes, and Google’s search page. To be more specific — they didn’t know about tabbed browsing, and weren’t real sure what Favorites were either.

Tip of the day: Stop repeating yourself, get the hang of IE 7’s features. New to IE (but not to Firefox, Opera, Netscape, and others) is a feature called “tabbed browsing” which allows you to open multiple websites within a single window, and quickly switch back-and-forth between them. In this screenshot you can see how my IE usually appears.

ie-tabs.jpg

As you can see, I typically have five “tabs” open: my Google home page, an online dictionary, Tech–for Everyone, Hotmail (now “Windows Live Hotmail”), and my ISP’s home page. When I shut down at night, I click IE’s red “X” — the big red one in the upper-right corner –and am presented with the window (You may see “You are about to close multiple tabs. Do you..?” Click on the “Show Options” link.) shown below.

opentabs.jpg

and I select (check) “Open these tabs the next time I use Internet Explorer”. This option allows me to skip having to open five tabs and navigating to each of my regular websites each morning.

To open a new tab, and this works in every browser I’m familiar with, hit ctrl+T. Depending on your Settings selection (under “Tabs” in Internet Options) this new tab will open to your current Home Page, or to a “blank page”, as shown below.

blankie.jpg

Now I can type “http://www.mychoiceofsite.com” (no quotes) into the browser bar, and there I am. Or I can click on the gold star for my list of Favorites, and launch (open) a site from there.

“Favorites” is Microsoft’s word for “bookmarks”, and in the world of PC’s the two words are interchangeable. If I stumble across a particularly interesting and/or useful Website that I know I will be returning to frequently, I can “bookmark it” by clicking on the green + on-top-of-the-gold-star icon and select “Add to Favorites” (or hit Ctrl+D). My mailboxes, my favorite tech websites, Google, and an online dictionary are in my Favorites list, so I can launch (open) them with a click — which saves on my typing.

To close a tab, simply click on its “x”; which is not red but grey. The tab must be “active” (selected) to be closed.

tabs.jpg

Now set your Tabs options to keep all your browsing in one instance of IE (instead of opening another IE, a new tab will open). In the upper right corner, click on the “Tools” menu and select “Internet Options”. Look down to the Tabs area and click on the Settings button.

tabs2.jpg

Now select the radio buttons to change “in a new window” to “in a new tab”, as shown below.

tabs3.jpg

Today’s free link: (You knew this was coming … right?) An application that has gained quite a name for itself is the “alternative” browser called Firefox. If you haven’t tried this powerful, free program, nor learned about its nifty “Add ons”, I suggest you give it a test drive now. Click here to download Firefox and then click the Tools menu and then Add ons. I suggest you start with NoScript and AdBlock Plus, and then explore the vast assortment.

Why? Because Firefox is not as (globally) popular as IE, it is less targeted by hackers. (When I recommend Firefox now, I am recommending Beta 3. I do not recommend using Firefox 2)

Copyright 2007-2008 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 13, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, IE 7, PC, searching, tech, Windows | , , , , | Leave a comment