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Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro
Tech Support Friday

Friday, January 28, 2000, at 1 p.m. EST

Is your computer making your life difficult? Again? Do you not feel like waiting on hold to talk to the manufacturer's tech support? Take your question to the Fast Forward staff instead! It's a repeat engagement of "Tech Support Friday," in which Rob Pegoraro takes your queries, scrambles madly to get answers to them from the collective Fast Forward brain trust and replies within mere minutes. Bring your questions to Friday's discussion, or submit them here ahead of time.

You can continue the discussion among yourselves on the new Fast Forward message board.

Rob Pegoraro: Hello again and welcome back to our monthly descent into everybody's *favorite* aspect of computing--what to do when things don't work. This is your chance to plead for help, curse the companies that have not provided it, and offer tips to your fellow computing victims.

If, that is, your computer is working at all, of course. Let's go to the first question!

Arlington, VA: Rob,

Two questions: First, I need to replace the toner cartridge on my HP IIIP LaserJet printer. They have them for $90 at Microcenter and Staples. You have a Web Site resource that might have a better price?
Second, I recently have been recording digital music on my computer using real audio. Can you discuss the merits of the different formats -MP3, real, wave-, the different software -real audio, windows media player, tbs montego, etc-, and different portable players -RIO, etc-.

Rob Pegoraro: 1) I'd bet you can beat that price with a little shopping around online (provided that you don't need that cartridge like, today). Try buy.com and onvia.com, for instance.

2) For sharing that music, MP3 is the way to go. There are MP3 player programs for nearly every computer that's been invented, which is enough to outweigh whatever advantages the other formats might have in sound fidelity or compression. Haven't tried too many of the MP3 players myself, but were I buying one I'd look at the Rio 500 and the Nomad II.

Severn, MD: I recently switched from Netscape v. 4.5 to IE 5.0 because I started to get memory conflicts somehow generated using Netscape. I am generally satisfied, but cannot locate any "print preview" function in IE 5.0. The help files and Microsoft's web site are also silent when searched. Does Internet Explorer really lack a print preview function?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm using that on this computer and, yup, it doesn't seem to have that anywhere. That's dumb; the programmers need to talk to the Mac guys at Microsoft, who added a terrific print-preview function to IE 4.5.

Alexandria, VA: I'm a longtime Mac user and I'm happy with my PowerMac. Problem is, I'm having such a hard time finding ADB devices now that Apple has gone USB Candy Blue. Any suggestions short of shelling out money for a iMac or G3 that is really more than I need right now?

Rob Pegoraro: The problem you're looking at is there isn't much of a market for ADB (Apple Desktop Bus, how mice and keyboards used to connect to Macs) gadgets these days. What're you looking for, though? I still ADB keyboards and rodents in the catalogs. More specialized things might be harder to come by. Have you checked out eBay?

Toowoomba Australia: One of my CD Rom Drives has a capacity of 427MB. I've used 427MB and there is no free space, but I seem to be able to add to the Clipart in the program on that Drive. Why is this? Can I cause a "crash" to occur?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm only taking this query because "Toowoomba" uses the letter "o" so many times...

Not sure what exactly is happening here, but my guess is that Windows Explorer or File Mangler, I mean, Manager, is confused by this disk. If you can copy over new files and then used them afterwards, there is something to be said for letting sleeping dogs lie--if there really isn't enough space available, the recording program will tell you that immediately.

Springfield, VA: I have a Compaq 300Mhz running Win95. It came with 2 USB ports that worked fine with a video camera and a printer. When I plugged in an External Modem the system told me the USB port needed upgrading. WIN 98 will not load correctly on this PC. So 2 questions. Are USBs already changing? Are there some Pentium IIs that don't work well with WIN98? I tried reformatting the hard drive and starting from scratch and I still had lots of problems with 98. I finally restored from the Manufacturers CD to 95 and gave up.

Rob Pegoraro: Welcome to computing hell... the USB standard hasn't changed a whit in years, certainly not since you would have been able to buy a 300 MHz P II box. The problem here is Win 98, or, more exactly, Microsoft, which shipped a version of Win 95 labeled "With USB Support" that does not, in fact, support most USB devices, as you've found. Win 98 *should* install on your machine--it's not like it's really picky about hardware in the way that NT is. But if it won't load on a bare hard drive... good Lord, I have no clue what's going wrong there.

In the near term: I'd ship the modem back to the manufacturer and ask for your money back.

Hyattsville, MD: I'm trying to set up a dial-up Internet connection on my girlfriend's computer, but I can't seem to get a dial tone. I've tested the phone from the same jack, and it works fine. She has an internal modem, the driver has been installed, the connections snap in properly, I've tried different phone cords, and I've gone through this procedure on plenty of other PCs, but I can't figure this one out! Help! Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: And speaking of computing hell... does the software recognize the modem? That is, does it show up in the usual Win 95/98 control panels? It could be defective hardware in the modem itself. What's the manufacturer say? (Besides, I'm going to take a wild guess here, "reinstall the drivers, then reinstall Windows if that doesn't work either.")

Washington, DC: Hi Rob. I live in a Starpower-wired building in the District and was considering getting a cable modem, but I have a few questions. Are people able to see what's on my iMac through the modem -- are they some kind of security risk? Why does Starpower say the modem can be no further than 5 feet from where it enters your apartment? For me, that would mean setting up the computer in front of my front door, kinda inconvenient. And for your average user who just wants to surf and get e-mail, is a cable modem really cost effective? Thanks so much!

Rob Pegoraro: Lessee here...

1) Macs are, in general, not particularly vulnerable to hacking because most Internet providers won't even pass AppleTalk traffic over their networks (this is the native networking protocol on Macs). Ergo, there's no way to talk directly to the operating system; all you can do is talk to Internet programs from outside. The other reason is, there's no command line you can issue instructions to remotely, as you can with Windows and Unix machines. Still, though, you're wise to turn off AppleTalk in the Chooser (you don't usually need this at home anyway).

FYI, that next Friday's www.worthit column will list a site where you can test your computer's vulnerability.

2) Five feet? I have no idea. That sounds bogus. The coax cable your TV uses has no such distance restriction, nor does Ethernet. Are Starpower's installers lazy? What do they say?

3) If you're already paying for a second line, a cable modem or DSL is an incredible bargain. If not, it's still cheap, considering what you get, but you should consider how much time you're online, as you'll basically be doubling or tripling your existing Internet costs. The biggest advantage, for me, is not so much the speed as the fact that it's always there.

Arlington: re: portable music carriers

In addition to the Rio and its ilk, a good choice is MiniDisc. It's incredibly versatile and it's quite easy to record your downloaded MP3's or any other format onto MiniDisc simply using your soundcard's output. Plus you can use it as a digital -i.e. random access with versatile editing capability- replacement for tape cassettes and the ability to simply copy onto disc means virtually unlimited capacity which you can't get from Rio.

Rob Pegoraro: A vote for MiniDisc from Arlington... the one problem with this, IMHO, is that these things still cost too much. Why is Sony still charging $200 and up for a portable MD player? Do these guys want to get steamrollered by CD-Rs and MP3s?

Waytoocold, Maine: Ok..so I purchase a copy og Lotus AMI Pro 3.1 -a great word-processor- from someone on one of these Internet auction sites. I run the installation program only to discover that disk 7 -out of 8- is bad. To make a long story short...I ran scan disk and fixed the disk to the point where I can do a minimal install, but if I try to do a full install, my machine crashes. Other than living with the minimal install or pressing for a refund, do you have any thoughts on what I can do, since Lotus no longer supports this product?

Rob Pegoraro: I think you're hosed, Waytoocold. Ask the seller if they ever made a copy of the disks (as software publishers used to tell everybody to do before installing anything, waybackwhen). The only other option would be to ask around a local computer-user group to see if anybody has a copy of the missing disk to loan you.

Springfield, VA:
Hi, Rob, Thanks for taking the time to do this!

My two Macs no longer read floppy disks reliably. The Umax C600 -Performa 6400 clone- can usually read disks, but gives disk errors when I try to copy files to or from disks. The LCII cannot read disks at all; when I stick a disk in, I get a dialog saying that the disk cannot be read and gives me the option to format or eject the disk. I know the test disks are OK, as I can use them in Macs at school. When they started doing this several months ago, we stopped using the drives altogether -because it appeared that they were eating the disks-, but we need to use the drives now. Any ideas? Thanks for your help.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm not surprised that the floppy drive on an LC II (1991-vintage machine) is toast, but that Umax ought to be doing better. You could buy a new mechanism--the connectors inside are pretty much standard. But that's kinda silly to do for the LC; the drive (maybe $50?) will cost more than the whole computer's worth.

If you do have one other Mac with a working floppy drive, you could use LocalTalk to wire the printers together and get the files in that way. Or you could just e-mail the files over, if these two machines have some kind of online access on them.

You might want to have a look at the Low End Mac site (http://www.lowendmac.com), which is all about the care and feeding of Macs getting on in years.

Suitland, MD: OK, here's one for you that I'm too embarrassed to ask the techno-geeks at work, since I should only be using the internet for work-related things. How do I set my preferences in Netscape so I can click on a link to e-mail somebody and it will work? It usually says something about having to set my mail preferences, but I don't know where to find that? Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: What kind of e-mail program does your office use, Suitland? Bureaucracies have this odd affinity for non-standard, unnecessarily complicated programs--Lotus Notes, Microsoft Mail, cc:Mail, etc.--which don't always tie in that well to other programs.

If, for some reason, your office has Done The Right Thing and adopted an Internet-standard setup, you should be able to configure Netscape to use your office's outgoing mail (SMTP) server--but somebody will need to give you that info, most likely one of the systems people. (Bribery?) Select Preferences from the Edit menu, then click on, I think, Mail and Newsgroups. Then select "Mail Servers" and enter that info.

Washington, DC: Rob:
I downloaded the most recent version of Netscape -4.7?- and imported my old address book. Now, when I try to access the address book, I get an error message that says "insufficient disk space." Do you know what I did wrong? I have alloted a huge amount for my disk cache, and I have over 270Mb of free space on the hard disk.

Rob Pegoraro: Sounds like your browser has gone whacko on you, D.C. Maybe try resetting Netscape's disk cache down to 5 mb or so... that might talk it out of its sulk. The more painful alternative: Copy the address-book file on to a disk, then uninstall and reinstall Netscape.

You might also give defragmenting the disk a shot, although I have no idea why this should make a real difference. It's just one of those things you do to appease the computing gods.

Alexandria, VA: How do I delete E-mail without viewing the contents. Using win98 and outlook 5 IE

Rob Pegoraro: What you need to do is turn off the preview mode in OE. Go the Tools menu, select "Options," click on the "Read" tab, and uncheck "mark selected messages read." If you're worried about getting a virus in your incoming e-mail, though, you should make sure you've got the latest version of OE.

Or you could switch to another mail program, one that isn't so tightly tied into the rest of the operating system and isn't so gung-ho about executing random incoming content. That's my vote.

Washington, DC: Starpower girl again...I will definitely ask Starpower reps why they are so lazy -hee hee- but in seriousness, that seemed odd to me, too. They do note on the web site -rcn.com- that additional jack work would mean a more expensive installation -- hey, it's not my fault that my cable enters my apartment through a closet.

Rob Pegoraro: The other question you might want to ask is, do they have the same restriction on wiring up a TV? In my experience, cable companies have no problem at all with draping that white coax line throughout apartments--around door frames, along baseboards, whatever. So it shouldn't be that different for computer access. Good luck!

Onerudder, OK: Hi! I want to set up a home network, and I've been intrigued by these kits that let you do so by installing a card and plugging both computers into your phone-line. How effective are networks of this kind? And I am likely to be disappointed by the speed of such a system? Is an ethernet setup out of the realm of a home user?

Rob Pegoraro: Ethernet isn't outside the reach of a home user, as long as you either have Cat 5 wiring in the walls or don't mind a lot of cable snaking throughout the house. (Incidentally, many thanks to all the readers who e-mailed to suggest places where I could buy white Ethernet cable after my DSL column ran...)

The home-network kits that we've tried all worked reasonably well, but never as fast as the box specs would suggest. But the speeds we did get, up to 700 kbps, would be fast enough to share most home-level broadband connections. You'll need either a free PCI slot, USB port or parallel port on each computer you want to connect; if you've got a choice, go with USB or PCI.

Falls Church, VA: You talk about cursing companies. But who do I curse for Windows problems? Microsoft, the obvious wisdom; my computer manufacturer -HP-, who says that I should address Windows problems to it; or the retailer -Best Buy-, who set up the machine; or myself, for doing too little or too much tinkering?

Rob Pegoraro: I'd blame Microsoft first. This *is* the wealthiest corporation in the history of the world; it's not like they can't afford to fix their own mistakes. But H-P is also being a jerk with this "don't blame us" crap. I mean, who decided to put Windows on their computer? And if Best Buy screwed up the machine during the install, then it's their fault too.

It is *not* your fault, though. At the very least, the computer and the operating system ought to be a little more fault-tolerant. These are devices that usually *require* tinkering to keep working properly, so you shouldn't be punished for doing so.

Arlington VA: I just got a new compaq computer. However, when I use my parallel port for both my external zip drive and my printer, neither one work. The printer smudges lines and words. I tried contacting HP and Iomega but no answers were forthcoming. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: Arrgghhh, parallel ports are the worst. In general, hooking up two devices to one printer port is asking for trouble. Take the Zip drive back and exchange it for a USB model, which will transfer files faster anyway. (Or, if the printer is what you just bought, see if it came with a USB connector, and use that instead.) But don't waste your time trying to kludge a solution together; this is just obsolete technology that will work in a mediocre manner at best.

Alexandria, VA: Just before the end of the year I downloaded an update package for Windows from their site and, as part of it, Outlook Express 5. My friends were not surprised when all my old folders disappeared and I am still in the process of understanding how to find them and convert their .file extensions so I can bring them back into the program. And hotmail won't let me use the pop function through there, they're taking "no new clients," it's a pay service now. I'm told it's typically Microsoft not to warn you its update will destroy old paths. Should I haunt the message boards before I download even "critical" updates?

Rob Pegoraro: That's funny, I don't recall Microsoft sending us a press release about shutting down that part of Hotmail to free access. We'll have somebody give them a call about that.

As for the update-or-not question, you're in a tough spot. Critical updates are called that because they usually fix major security holes. You don't want to leave those open. The best solution, which isn't that good at all, is to back up your crucial data before installing this. An updater should not--ever!--trash your data, but sometimes it does. I don't think this is out of malice, just insufficient testing and poor programming.

Suitland, MD: You are right, oh great one. My large bureaucracy, in its great wisdom, has recently converted from cc:mail to Lotus Notes, both on your list of complicated programs.

I did check under Preferences, Mail..., Mail Servers and it did seem to have stuff in there that made sense.

Ah well, off to bribe the technical help . . .

Rob Pegoraro: Bring beer. Notes can be set up to use standard Internet protocols, but it's up to each office.

(And thank you for the salutation, which can't possibly be why I'm answering the question so quickly...)

Rockville, MD: I am in the market for a printer, maybe an all in one. can you suggest a site for buying tips?

Rob Pegoraro: Try computers.com and zdnet.com (a partner of washingtonpost.com, incidentally) for general reviews of these gizmos. If you plan to keep this around for a while, get one with a USB connection. The parallel port is on the way out.

FYI, I recently bought one such gadget, Epson's Stylus Scan 2000. The Mac software for the scanner half of it is junk, but there's a new version on the way; in the meantime, the print output looks great. Scanning is fine, although it makes a bit of a racket while doing that.

Rob Pegoraro: And that's all the time we have for today, folks. Thanks to one and all for showing up; if I missed your questions or if you've got a follow-up, you can reach me at rob@twp.com, or post a note on our message board. Take care...

- R

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