Tech – for Everyone

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

Some Of My Icons Vanished*

A very upset person called my shop convinced that their machine had been “hacked”, probably had “spyware”, and they wanted me to “fix it”.

There was nothing terribly unusual about that, but their answer to one of my basic questions was unusual– what is happening that makes you think your machine has been hacked?
A: “When I turned on my machine, several of my icons were gone.”

That answer (and a few others) told me that, yes, my client’s machine had been altered, but not by a hacker unusedor spyware infection. Their machine had been altered by a “helpful” Windows feature called the Desktop Cleanup Wizard.

The Desktop Cleanup feature keeps track of your usage of the icons on your desktop and periodically (every 60 days) offers to remove the icons you have not recently used. Sometimes it will run when you aren’t looking.. which is what happened to my caller.

The icons are not deleted, they are moved to a folder and you can put them back on the desktop if you want. The folder is C:\Documents and Settings\UserName\Desktop\Unused Desktop Shortcuts.
It will also place a shortcut to that folder on your Desktop, as shown.

Tip of the day: Turn off the automatic aspect of the Disk Cleanup tool, and avoid those pop-up balloons and “missing” icons.
1. Right-click a blank spot on the desktop, and then click Properties to open the Display Properties dialog box, click the Desktop tab.
2. Click Customize desktop to open the Desktop Items dialog box.
3. Click to clear the Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days check box.
Click OK twice to close the dialog boxes.
unchk

* To run the Wizard manually, click Clean Desktop Now on the Desktop Items dialog box. You can perform a manual cleanup at any time, even if you have disabled the wizard.

Today’s free download: Stickies for Windows lets you put yellow sticky notes on your Windows desktop, much like the popular Mac OS application. It is very simple and very customizable. (Far better than the Vista Sidebar widget.)

* This question has come up twice this week, so I decided to repost this article. It first appeared 8/25/08.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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October 8, 2009 Posted by | computers, how to, Microsoft, PC, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My CD-ROM Is Gone. Help!

How To Get Windows To See Optical Drives Again

CDROM Q: Paul I need your help. Yesterday I put a CD in my computer nothing happened. It has been working fine, and usually it will just start playing the first song. I put in a different disk and again nothing. I opened My computer and there was no icon for the DVD. Just icons for the Floppy A:, Local disk and no CD player. It just vanished! I rebooted and that didn’t help. What happened? How do I get my CD player back?

A: The exact steps required will depend on the cause of the issue, so the following answers are ‘generic’, and may not apply to your particular situation.

1) In Windows XP and older have a reputation for “losing” optical drives (but I have seen it occur in Vista) after uninstalling disc burning software — such as Roxio or Nero. Sometimes.. after installing; but usually it is an uninstall failing to work properly, which leaves incorrect values in your Registry.
Sometimes, though less frequently, a Windows Update, or other software change can cause this as well.

Sometimes Microsoft gets it right:
If this is you — you have uninstalled Roxio, say — the solution is to visit Microsoft Help & Support and click the “Fix It” button. (I have written about using the built in troubleshooter before, see Microsoft “One-click” Fixes)

The appropriate Fix it page/button is found here. One click should do it!

———————————

2) If that doesn’t resolve the issue, you can next try restoring your system to a prior (working) state by using System Restore. Please read How To Use System Restore To Fix Windows for instructions.

3) If that doesn’t help, or isn’t appropriate..
Open your computer’s case and check to make sure the power wires, and the ribbon cable are firmly connected to the back of the drive and to the motherboard — they may have become loose or disconnected.

No? Then open your Device Manager. Right-click on “My Computer” and select “Properties”. In Vista, click on Device Manager in the left column; in XP, click on the “Hardware” tab, and then click the “Device Manager” button.

In Device Manager, find “Optical drives” on the list, and expand the category by clicking once on the “+” sign. You should now see the device and a yellow triangle – which is telling you there’s an error.

Right click on the device’s name, and click “Uninstall” from the menu which opens. Answer “Yes”, you want to do that. Then restart (aka “reboot”) your machine. Windows should “find” a “new” CD-ROM and install it for you, thus restoring functionality.

4) If these steps fail, there is something else going on (maybe malware) and I recommend you contact a knowledgeable repair tech.. such as myself (shameless plug).

Today’s free link: KidsEmail.org. Along with ZooBah, something to consider when your child wants their own e-mail address.

Today’s free download: GOM Player is a free multimedia player with popular video and audio codecs built-in. GOM Player supports file formats such as AVI, DAT, MPEG, DivX, XviD, WMV, ASF. Users don’t have to install codecs separately. GOM Player is capable of playing incomplete or damaged AVI files by skipping the damaged frames. It can also play locked or partially downloaded files.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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May 4, 2009 Posted by | computers, device drivers, hardware, how to, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

My Homework Is Missing!*

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’, or otherwise produces unhelpful results, 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.

search.jpg

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.

Adv_Search There 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.

Bonus bonus tip: Last night I was able to play Hero when my sister called begging me to help her “find” my niece’s homework assignment. Normal Search techniques were only showing very old (early) versions of the project, and so they were scared that all their hours of hard work had vanished.

If you look just below the “Look in: Local Hard Drives” drop-down, you will see in bold “When was it modified?” This allows you to search by date (or date ranges). I used this to limit the search to just yesterday’s activity. I quickly found the missing school project– it had been Saved to a browser’s obscure “Temp” folder (because it had been e-mailed, and she had “Opened” it instead of “Save”-ing a copy to her Desktop).

Today’s free link(s): If you want a faster/better/more capable desktop search tool than the one built into Windows XP (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 — that debate still lingers. I can also tell you that Copernic is the geek’s choice.

* Original post: 7/26/07

Copyright © 2007-8. Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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September 25, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, e-mail, file system, how to, missing files, PC, searching, tech, wildcards, Windows | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Where Did My Icons Go?

A very upset person called my shop convinced that their machine had been “hacked”, probably had “spyware”, and they wanted me to “fix it”.

There was nothing terribly unusual about that, but their answer to one of my basic questions was unusual– what is happening that makes you think your machine has been hacked?
A: “When I turned on my machine, several of my icons were gone.”

That answer (and a few others) told me that, yes, my client’s machine had been altered, but not by a hacker unusedor spyware infection. Their machine had been altered by a “helpful” Windows feature called the Desktop Cleanup Wizard.

The Desktop Cleanup feature keeps track of your usage of the icons on your desktop and periodically (every 60 days) offers to remove the icons you have not recently used. Sometimes it will run when you aren’t looking.. which is what happened to my caller.

The icons are not deleted, they are moved to a folder and you can put them back on the desktop if you want. The folder is C:\Documents and Settings\UserName\Desktop\Unused Desktop Shortcuts.
It will also place a shortcut to that folder on your Desktop, as shown.

Tip of the day: Turn off the automatic aspect of the Disk Cleanup tool, and avoid those pop-up balloons and “missing” icons.
1. Right-click a blank spot on the desktop, and then click Properties to open the Display Properties dialog box, click the Desktop tab.
2. Click Customize desktop to open the Desktop Items dialog box.
3. Click to clear the Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days check box.
Click OK twice to close the dialog boxes.
unchk

* To run the Wizard manually, click Clean Desktop Now on the Desktop Items dialog box. You can perform a manual cleanup at any time, even if you have disabled the wizard.

Today’s free link: lets you put yellow sticky notes on your Windows desktop, much like the popular Mac OS application. It is very simple and very customizable. (Far better than the Vista Sidebar widget.)

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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August 25, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, missing files, PC, software, tech, tweaks, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tips for better searching in XP*

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’, or otherwise produces unhelpful results, 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.

search.jpg

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.

Adv_Search There 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 XP (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 — that debate still lingers. I can also tell you that Copernic is the geek’s choice.

* Original post: 7/26/07

Copyright © 2007-8. Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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August 8, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, PC, searching, tech, wildcards, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Restore Bookmarks in Firefox– quick tip

Earlier this week I posted a “quick tip” on restoring your Internet Explorer “Favorites” (everybody else calls them ‘bookmarks’), and quite naturally and predictably I received a question asking how do you do that in Firefox — the world’s most popular “alternative” Web browser.
So, here goes.

Like IE, Firefox’s Bookmarks are a list of URL’s saved into a file (localstore.rdf) that can be “imported”, “exported” to other browsers, or Saved as a comma-separated-values file (.csv) or HTML file. This file can become corrupted, or deleted, and your Bookmarks will no longer appear. To restore your “favorite” websites to your Bookmarks..

Method 1: (Firefox 2)
1) Close any instances of Firefox (hereafter referred to as “FF”) you have open/running and then launch FF in Safe Mode by clicking Start> Mozilla Firefox> Mozilla Firefox (Safe Mode).

2) In the dialogue box, select (check) “Reset Toolbars and Controls.
2
and click the “Make Changes and Restart” button.

3) Close FF and then start it (aka “launch”/”open”) again in normal mode.

That’s it. You’re done. You should now see your bookmarks.
If you don’t…

Method 2: (Firefox 2) FF automatically generates a backup copy of your localstore.rdf, and you can “import” this copy into your Bookmarks.
1) press Ctrl+Shft+B (or select “Organize Bookmarks” under the Bookmarks menu).

2) In the new window, select File> Import, and then “From File”.

3) In the Open file search window, you need to “drill down” to
C:\Documents and Settings\user*\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles…where you’ll see a ‘dot default’ folder.
3

4) Open that folder, and then open the “Bookmark Backups” folder. Select the most recent one, and click the “Open” button.

Firefox 3: the new version of FF is “Firefox 3”, and it makes restoring the backup easier.
1) press Ctrl+Shft+B (or select “Organize Bookmarks” under the Bookmarks menu), and click the “Import and Backup” button.
4

2) Select “Restore” and choose the top date and hit “Enter”, and then “OK”.

Today’s free link: Today I’m putting it out to you, Dear Reader. I have provided over 300 links to free tools and great websites (so far) and I’m wondering.. is there a favorite of yours, and you haven’t seen it posted here yet?
Let me know– in a Comment — an item you think should appear here.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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July 12, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, Firefox, how to, missing files, PC, software, tech, troubleshooting | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

IE’s Favorites are missing– quick tip

Bookmarks (called “Favorites” in Internet Explorer) make returning to our favorite Websites an easy task, and I — for one — rely on mine. The other day I got a call from someone whose Favorites had disappeared. Quite naturally, I think, they wanted to get them back, and came to me for aid.

An important thing to understand is that Favorites and Bookmarks are shortcuts.. just like the icons on your Desktop are shortcuts to programs (.exe’s) located in your c:\Program Files folder.
Your Favorites are simply a list of shortcuts to URL’s, and when you click on the gold star Favorites icon, this list is displayed. You can “export” this list to other browsers, a comma-separated-values (.csv) file, or a HTML file.. And you can add and delete items from this list as your heart desires.

Tip of the day IE is a integral component to Windows, and Windows stores your custom configurations in your User Account– your Desktop icons, Theme, Settings, etc.. Windows allows for multiple users, and each person who uses the machine should have their own user account– it also has some built-in accounts, like Administrator, and Guest.

If your Favorites is empty, and not displaying any shortcuts, the first thing you should check is that you’re logged into your User Account. Click the Start button, and then choose “Log off” (or “Switch User”, depending) and verify that you are indeed logged into your user profile (and not Guest or Admin..).

If this is not the issue, navigate to the folder that contains the shortcuts list– this is called “Favorites”, and it’s located in your User folder. In XP, your User folder is in the Documents and Setting folder, so your path is c:\Documents and Settings\User*.
In Vista, it’s c:\Users\user.
Fav's

Open the Favorites folder and see if your bookmarks are there. If they’re not, well, something’s happened to them somehow, and this might be a cause for concern (has a hacker been playing on your machine?) or it might not.
To restore the shortcuts, you can “import” a .csv, or .html ‘export’ you made earlier (hint, hint).. or copy the contents from a backup copy of your Favorites folder (which, because you follow my advice, you have on CD/DVD and another drive).

Or, you have never exported and haven’t backed up your files and folders.. (ahem), well, here is where you can try System Restore to revert your computer to an earlier date. System Restore does not restore deleted files, but it does store User Account information, and so you may have luck this way.
My article on using System Restore is here.

Today’s free link: PowerISO is a powerful CD/DVD image file processing tool, which allows you to open, extract, create, edit, burn, compress, encrypt, split and convert ISO files, and mount these files with internal virtual drive. It can process almost all CD-ROM image files including ISO and BIN.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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July 8, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, IE 7, missing files, PC, software, System Restore, tech, troubleshooting, Windows | , , , , , , , | 14 Comments