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Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro
Tech Support

Friday, March 24, 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.

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




Rob Pegoraro: Hello--and hello again,as the case may be--on this beautiful sunny afternoon. I'd like to say that I'm jacking in wirelessly with a laptop among the cherry blossoms, but nnoooooo, I'm sitting in my usual drab cubicle, from which I can't even see a window. (Sob!)

But enough about my problems; let's get to your computing conundrums instead. And our first question is...


Dupont: Can floppy disks go bad over time? Are recordable CDs a more permanent solution for long-term data-archiving?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, and yes. I have some floppy disks that are still readable from years ago, but others have conked out after just a few months. You're basically playing data roulette with those things. CD-Rs can be a pain to work with (more on that in a few minutes), but they should last for several decades.


Washington DC: Rob - I am thinking about getting the do-it-your self version of Bell Atlantic DSL. Should I? I have read many questionable reviews of BA but the truth is, none of the DSL providers have gotten good reviews!

Rob Pegoraro: After all the horror stories I've gotten from BellAtlantic.net customers (many of whom would probably rather use the word "victims"), I'd say no.

*But* going with another DSL carrier and ISP may involve some fairly hellish waits to get the install done right. It's a bit of a lose-lose situation.

Finally, some DSL providers get very good reviews. Have a look at the DSLReports Web site, and in particular http://www.dslreports.com/gbu - the "good, bad and ugly" listing there. Even the companies with high scores get a little trash talking, but it's not the same as getting hammered by dozens of customers for the same failings.

Good luck!


Alexandria, VA: Maybe you can solve a problem I am having in which I get an error message that says the
program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down. When I click on details, it shows that a page fault occurred in kernel32.dll. I suspect that I need to replace that driver. However, I have two problems. No. 1, I don't know where to get a good copy of kernel32.dll, and second, I don't know how to install it if I had a good copy. Help!?

Rob Pegoraro: Probably best not to tamper with that file--kernel32.dll isn't a driver, it's one of the core system files in Windows, which means you should treat it like the reactor core in a nuke plant. What I do recommend is trying to isolate the problem--do the crashes only happen with one or two programs? If so, look for updates to them. If not, try pruning the number of apps you have running full-time--e.g., do you have a lot of junk in the tray, at the right end of the taskbar?

Sorry that I can't give you more useful advice, but Windows is just like that... (see the next question for a view from the other side of the fence)


DC: I have a Macintosh G3 Blue & White tower with OS 8.5. I have been running Internet Explorer on it for a long time, months. About two weeks ago, running Explorer began to cause the Mac to crash. Seriously. On launch it was bringing up odd blank spaces - spaces with bar-code-looking things - sometimes blanking the entire screen with bar-code things floating around in it. Had to hit the restart button every time. About a week ago it started locking up every time. Every time. Here are the solutions I have tried -in endless combinations!-:

Threw out all prefs except Favorites
Ditched MS Preferences Panels
Ran First Run
Rebuilt desktop
Zapped the PRAM
Reinstalled all fonts
Ran two different disk repair programs
Downloaded and reinstalled the latest version
Cursed and cried and prayed

Nothing. Still crashed. I finally threw away every thing having to do with Explorer -and inadvertently Outlook Express too, contacts and all! But that is another terrible tale of woe.- An odd twist is that the cursed beast at one time ran from the trash! I had forgotten to set my default browser to Netscape Navigator and Sherlock, while searching the Web, launched Explorer even though all versions - 4.1 and 4.5 - were in the trash.

Weird.

I am redesigning my Web site and would like to have Explorer back so that I can test my pages. -I also really liked many of its features - Navigator has its cool stuff but Explorer is really more flexible and navigator friendly. I have a need for them both.- I just cannot put up with the constant crashes.

Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: You've gone through most of the usual Mac debugging rituals. What I'd try, though, would be focusing on Internet Explorer's debris in the Preferences folder. I have had IE "go bad" on me a few times; what I've done to talk it out of its sulk is jump into Preferences and:

* Trash the browser cache (MS Internet Cache, a separate folder from the Explorer folder that IE stores other settings in);

* Inside that Explorer folder, trash History.html and Download Cache.

It's worked most of the time for me. Good luck...


DC: Some web addresses have this little symbol in them: ~ Is there a technical term one would call that symbol when telling another the name of a Web page?

Rob Pegoraro: It's a tilde--often used in Spanish and other languages, but never in English except in Web-speak. It usually indicates some sort of aliased directory on the Web server (to grossly oversimplify Unix file management while, I suspect, still confusing the unitiated)


tina in Falls Church: There is a fix for the kernel 32 problem in the Microsoft knowledge base. I used it and worked great. Found that when I later upgraded to Netscape Communicator 4.0 the fix was no longer needed. Seems my old Netscape caused computer to trip on it's own feet in some multitask situations.

Rob Pegoraro: Hey again - thanks for the tip. This is a good advice.


georgetown: I have read that a document, or letter, or cookie, or whatever that I erase from my files is not really erased, but that it lurks somewhere in the bowels of my hard drive. Is that true? And if so, how can I erase something -an embarrassing letter, for example- so that it is really erased; that is, gone forever? So that not even you geeks could ever recover it?

Rob Pegoraro: That's true. The "delete" command just erases the record of the file in the computer's directory, but the specific arrangement of bits that made up the file stays there until they gradually get overwritten by other files.

What you need is a utility that overwrites the deleted file with a random string of ones and zeroes, usually three times in succession. Have a look at www.pgp.com.


Waldorf, MD: I have a PC running Windows 2000. Back when I was running 98, I used the machine to run an OnStream SCSI backup drive, which I am told will not work with 2000. It has become a real inconvenience not being able to use this particular machine as my backup station. Is there a fix in the works and, if so, when?
--TF

Rob Pegoraro: I'd check with the manufacturer of the backup drive. "Legacy" hardware compatibility is a real bear under Win2000; you may just have to wait for the OnStream folks to issue a new, Win2000-compatible driver.



Capitol Hill, DC: I have a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion system with Windows 95. It was fine until I let a friend's kid play some games on it and he somehow deleted the "Start" icon from the program. This has caused a lot of roundabout work to get into some of the programs and some I haven't been able to access at all. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: As in, deleted the actual Start menu? Number one, keep in touch with this kid, who will be able to make a lot of money with this "skill set."

My somewhat wild guess is that the Registry file somehow got scrambled in some bizarro way. Windows is supposed to back this up (a pair of files, actually, one storing system-wide info and the other storing user-specific info) automatically, with filenames like system.old/user.old or system.001/user.001 (can't remember off the top of my head). Then look for the original registry files, system.dat and user.dat. Rename the backups and replace the current versions with them. WARNING: THIS COULD TOTALLY HOSE YOUR SYSTEM EVEN MORE!

Or you could just reinstall Windows, which is probably what H-P tech support will tell you after you pay long-distance to wait on hold for them.


Largo: Several of us Windows 98 users compared notes, and we are all experiencing similar problems. For example, the task bar continues to display empty buttons after a program is closed. Also, we are seeing programs being terminated for invalid operations more frequently. Are you aware of a problem with a Windows 98 update?

Rob Pegoraro: Not anything specific to Win 98, no. Windows just seems to go bad after a while--like milk in the fridge, but on a less predictable timetable. All I can suggest is the usual tech-support mantra, check for driver updates, try to cut down on how many programs are running at once, reinstall Windows if necessary.

Anybody else in the "room" have experience with these strange symptoms?


Chicago, Illinois: How do you configure the auto-disconnect utility so that when you go off line the modem will disconnect automatically? I frequently leave my e-mail or IE 5.0 and go do something else or just walk away with my Internet connection still live. Not good.

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm, most people I know aren't complaining that their ISP refuses to disconnect them :)

You'd probably have to quit out of your e-mail program--if you're online, it will keep checking for messages every 10 minutes or whatever, which will make your ISP think that you're actually using the service and therefore shouldn't be disconnected. Just running IE won't do that, and after 15 or 20 minutes of inactivity your provider should hang up on you automatically.


Arlington, VA: I would like to get a simple program for copying photos and storing them for later use. Most of all, I want something that I do not have to be a rocket scientist to use. I have both a scanner and a color printer.

Rob Pegoraro: Adobe--yeah, the same people who cooked up the cruelly novice-hostile Photoshop--came out with a program like what you describe, called ActiveShare, not long ago. All it does is simple photo management, and it's a free download (www.activeshare.com).

That's the pitch, at least. I haven't used this, but it's gotten good writeups elsewhere.


Somewhere in the District: I read in theopaper this weekend. I think it was Sunday's NYT that employers track employees computer usage. I've know this for a while but the article focused on software that logs each keystroke. So If i type "my boss is a boob" and then decide he's an ok guy after all and erase it, the software already captured the keystrokes and presumably the tech guys could retrieve that information and it can be used againstme. Do you know what this software is? P.S. My boss is a great guy!!

Rob Pegoraro: I've read several different articles on this sort of thing; there are a number of utilities for employee-snooping. Yes, anything you type can and will be used against you, and you do not have the right to a lawyer.

I can't say this kind of KGB-esque behavior is really a good way to treat one's employees, but, well, there's no shortage of pointy-haired bosses out there.

(My boss isn't pointy-haired, nor does she use this kind of thing. Right? Right? Why are men in suits walking up to my desk...)


College Park: Word for Washington, DC re: BA DSL.
I've been using it for two months and have not had problems at all, except for the lack of a profile -Error 629-, but once that was taken care of, its been excellent!

Rob Pegoraro: A vote for the folks at Bell Atlantic. I've heard from a couple of other happy BA customers as well in e-mail... it's just the dozens of unhappy ones I've heard from that has me a little worried. Caveat emptor, etc.


Washington, DC: There is an ongoing debate - at home, at work, universally. Should one leave the computer and-or monitor running all the time or turn it on and off when not in use? What do the pros-geeks say -and why-? Love ya Rob!!

Rob Pegoraro: It really depends on how the computer acts in sleep mode. If it shuts down as much gear as possible--monitor included--then it won't use up that much juice, and you'll be relieved of having to wait two minutes for it to boot up. But the sleep mode on Windows is really buggy--it really should be named "coma mode," because that's what I've seen it leave computers in half the time. Also, most computers don't turn off their fans in sleep mode. That annoys me, but if the computer's in its own office then who cares?



Silver Sprng, Maryland: Rob I have ghosts again. I have a pentium 2 233 with 64 ram running win 95. A few weeks ago my HP printer driver suddenly got corrupted. I reloaded it and all is well. Now suddenly my microtek scanner driver is acting up. I just logged on and got mcafee's virus clinic and scanned the whole shebang but nothing came up. Why the sudden changes?
-of course I cannot find my scanner driver to reload, but that is another issue..-

Rob Pegoraro: Microtek doesn't have a driver download on its site? That's odd. They should--and that's what I'd look for to cure the strangeness with the scanner.

Another possibility: If you've got both the printer and the scanner daisy-chained through the parallel port, that in itself is a less-than-desirable situation. Again, reloading the driver might restore some peace.

Finally: Let's turn the tables for a second here. I've got a tech-support query of my own, about McAfee. I bought a copy of McAfee's PGP Personal Privacy a while back, but never got the "product code" and password these jerks require for you to download updates. Now I can't get the new, Mac OS 9-compatible 6.5.2 version of PGP. A few phone calls and e-mails have not yet succeeded in prying loose this info from these clowns. Anybody else dealt with this nonsense, and have any advice for how I might go about regaining the use of the software I bought?


jason in Rockville: I have a CD-RW drive and I would love to use it to back up my computer to CDs. Is there an easy way to do this?

Rob Pegoraro: Here's the CD-RW question I alluded to a while back. Yup, CD-RW is an excellent backup medium. It's just that a lot of the software involved is lousy. What you need is a "packet writing" utility--Adaptec's DirectCD is the most popular one--which will let you treat the CD-RW as a big, slow floppy disk: Instead of using a special utility to burn each batch of files, you can drag and drop things onto a regular disc icon. Your machine should (I use this term in an ethical sense, not one of probability) have this utility on it, but if not you should visit www.adaptec.com and investigate further.


washington, dc: I have a Compaq pentium 133 with 100mg ram running WIN98. It doesn't seem to run any faster now then when it had 64mg ram.My question is: are there tweaks that i need to do or is there a max amount of ram you can put in and no longer see a difference due to the processor speed?

Rob Pegoraro: Are you running a lot of programs at once, D.C.? Just running Windows, IE and one or two other programs probably isn't going to push your system to the point where it will have to make massive and noticeable use of hard-disk-based virtual memory to supplement the real thing.



College park: I have a brand-new, top-of-the-line Nokia cell phone with digital and analog capabilities. I'm considering buying a new Mac iBook or Powerbook. Will I be able to connect the laptop and phone to send faxes and browse the Net? Please tell me what I need and where to find it.

Rob Pegoraro: You should be able to, from what I'm seeing at the PowerPage Web site . Have a look at this discussion: http://www.go2mac.com/powerpage/cgi-bin/
ubb/Forum43/HTML/000009.html

It may involve some tinkering, but seems like it's doable.



Washington DC: Is Windows ME going to be another bug fix or will it really blow our socks off?

Rob Pegoraro: More of a bug-fix than anything else, D.C. There will be some useful--and badly-needed--repairs to the innards of the system, some of which borrow work done for Windows 2000. From what I've read and heard so far, these should result in a noticeable improvement in stability.

But it's also going to include a lot of multimedia gewgaws that probably will be ignored by or useless to many users. FYI, the latest word from Microsoft's flacks on this release is that it won't happen until the second half of this year, which in Microsoftspeak can mean anytime between July 1 and Dec. 31.



washington, dc: I have an ATi all in wonder pro video card and I can get video but I cannot get audio when I try to watch t.v. or a movie, however, i can get audio when I play cd with their software

Rob Pegoraro: D.C.: Here's what our multimedia guy, Dan Greenberg, had to say:

Well, the real question here is "what does ATI tech support say?"

But-
Has he made sure to properly cable the ATI card to his audio card using the provided external connections? (If I remember the ATI properly- I don't have one but I've seen it.)

Here's the deal:

The CD playing process and the movie playing process are two totally different beasts. CD audio comes in via an internal hookup from CD-ROM drive directly to the sound card and was installed by the factory before WDC bought the computer.

TV audio comes from an external connection from the ATI to the audio card. Since the ATI was likely installed by the customer and not the factory, its possible it's not plugged correctly.



Boca Raton, Fla: My husband is a die-hard Mac fan. I am on the verge of purchasing a computer notebook but am not convinced that the Apple product line is the way to go. All friends and other family members have non-Apple PC's and there seems to be so much I can't do with the Mac. Either the software isn't available or the upgrade isn't available for the Mac, which is frustrating. I'm in a quandary as to whether I should just go ahead and make the switch to another type -non-Apple-

Rob Pegoraro: I wouldn't look at specific programs so much as the tasks you want to do--and I'd bet that for most garden-variety uses, you'll find at least two or three Mac programs that can match whatever's available on Windows. The big exceptions are games and some small-business software (there's a much wider choice of database apps for Windows).



Cube City: Rob,

I recently purchased a AMD K6-3 system from one of the larger assemblers that advertise in Computer Shopper. It crashes once or twice a day, freezes without accepting any keyboard or mouse input. I have updated the video driver that tech support recommended, with the same result. They now recommend running a selective startup in msconfig, and deselecting various drivers and running the system until it no longer crashes on a regular basis. Besides the almost infinite permutations that this involves, it will not solve my problems in a timely manner, as I have already attempted and am continuing to attempt numerous variations with no success. Any advice? Is the AMD K6-3 flawed? I noticed this company no longer sells it, but still sells the K6-2. Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: Greetings, fellow cube dweller. FYI, AMD's Web site doesn't list the K-6 III as a discontinued product ... but I'm sure they'd rather sell Athlon processors at a higher margin.

Anyway, the problem isn't with the AMD. There's something screwy with the hardware on your computer, and the builder ought to give you a better option than trial-and-error restarting. If they can't, you should ask about getting your money back.


D'oh City, DC: I have two computers with internal Zip drives, one running Win95, the other Win98. Neither will read a disk formatted and used by the other. Iomega recommends disabling the drive in the BIOS and updating the Windows driver. I find it baffling that this should be a problem at all. If burned CDs and floppies work regardless of your system, why should this be an issue with Zips? I have no idea how to update a Zip driver in Windows 95, so I've pretty much given up on that idea. The computers reside on opposite sides of the Atlantic, so the problem I care about right now is being able to access the files on the "European" Win98 Zip disk -the stateside machine has Win95-. Win95 can see that the disk is partially full; but it can't read the files. I tried to use my Mac as a copy machine; didn't work this time. Should I just visit a friend with Win98?

Rob Pegoraro: D'oh is right. Win 98 and 95 can use different filesystems--95 uses something called FAT (File Allocation Table), while 98 uses FAT32, which is more efficient on larger hard drives. But a FAT32 system can still read and write to FAT-formatted disks... I suspect that's not what's at work, and Iomega may be correct. Zip disks do need their own driver to be recognized by the system, unlike floppies and CD-ROM drives.

Updating the driver should be somewhat straightforward: download the new driver from http://www.iomega.com/software/drivers.html (may take a while), run the installer, reboot, pray and, God willing, you should be able to use the Zip disk.

Good luck,

Rob


The 4th Floor: Rob - We don't read your email or record your keystrokes.. but you should really cut down on the visits to NaughtyZoo.com.. :-

Rob Pegoraro: You can't prove nothin'!


Silver Spring again: thanks for earlier answer re; corrupted scanner driver. I will find the driver. my question is what causes these sudden corruptions or changes. One minute everything is fine and the next... Is it the equinox? Sun spots? Is there a healing ceremony to calm these spirits?

Since you brought up mcafee let me tell you
that I went to their site, saw a special for $19.95-followed it through and got blocked by
a page that said I had to use IE and not netscape. I came back in through IE 2 min later and could no longer find the special and the price had gone up $10.00. Must be having sunspots over there too...


Rob Pegoraro: That is *such* a good question, Silver Spring, and I wish I knew the answer. It's true, as computer manufacturers note, that there are a great many moving parts inside the average operating system, and predicting their interactions is difficult. Most of the damage seems to come from poorly written drivers and installers; Windows, in particular, is bad about checking to see if a system component should or should not be replaced or "updated" by a new installer. (Win 2000 takes a big step to fix that, allegedly, and Win Me will include this installer-safeguard component as well).

Re: McAfee. Cute. Real cute. Playing footsie with the customer like that is no way to get repeat business, IMHO.


New York, NY: Rob:

I have a Compaq Presario 1600 series w-a 100 mz processor and 16 MB ram. Needless to say, I want an upgrade, but we only use it primarily for surfing the net, listening to some MP3's and some word processing. I might also play games like Civilization, so I don't need a top of the line video card.

What kind specs should I be looking for? I dont' think I need a top of the line 600 mz machine with 164 MB RAM. If budgeting comes into play, I won't spend more than around $1,000 for the machine plus a monitor.

Thanks!

Rob Pegoraro: You should be able to purchase what you're looking for under $100, NYC. Given the way RAM prices go up and down, you might as well overbuy a little on that now and get 128 megs. But underbuy on processors--look for a fast Celeron or a slow P III or Athlon. [The slowest model in Intel or AMD's high-end processor line is almost always the best value.]

Good luck!


D'oh City, DC: I'm surprised you're still here. Iomega says that downloading their latest driver -which I did- is not going to help; that's just a fancy backup software or something. The Windows drive driver needs to be updated, and they have nothing to do with that.

Rob Pegoraro: Huh? Then what do they call this 4-meg package at http://apps.iomega.com/servlet/dataprocess/
driveraccess?database=steerdown&ID=1000000006? The IomegaWare utility does include some file-management tools, but it also bundles "basic software and system drivers needed to operate your Iomega drive."

If you were having problems with the basic disk drivers in Windows, it seems to me that your bigger problem would be not being able to use the PC at all. But I dunno... am I missing anything here?


Glenelg, MD: How can I remove the icons in the quick start bar at the bottom of my Windows 98 desktop?

Rob Pegoraro: Just a couple more questions here--I'm sure my producer will be giving me the hook about now :)

Go to the Start menu, select Settings, then Taskbar. Then click on "Start Menu Programs," which should let you clean out some of the junk.



Northwest DC: I have a cable modem, and tech support says I have a dynamic IP address. I have read about cable modems making it easy for hackers to enter your computer.

Rob Pegoraro: NW DC, have a look at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/business/A709-2000Feb17.html for our take on this. We're planning to review some of these personal-firewall and security utilities in the next month or so, incidentally.


Rob Pegoraro: And that's all the time we have for today, folks. (There's no way I can compete with Kornheiser and Wilbon in the middle of March Madness!) If I didn't get to your question or you want to follow up on an answer, y'all know where to reach me: rob@twp.com, or our message board.

Cheers,

Rob




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