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Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro
Tech Support Friday

Friday, November 5, 1999, at 1 p.m.

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 took your queries, scrambled madly to get answers to them from the collective Fast Forward brain trust and replied within mere minutes.





Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon, good afternoon, good afternoon... sorry about the delay. A few technical problems at my own end.

Anyway: On with the show!


Falls Church, VA: Good column this am. What do those error messages mean? I have looked in a variety of places to find exactly what an illegal operation is with no luck. Do I need to know? Is ignorance bliss? Is it caused by something I did? Can I prevent doing this " illegal" thing?

Rob Pegoraro: "Illegal operation," Falls Church, usually means the program stepped where it shouldn't have; the operating system then shuts it down to keep it from trampling on memory other programs would need. The only way to avoid it is to get programmers to ship bug-free software, unfortunately, and to keep on top of their bug-fix releases in the meantime.


Bethesda, MD: How can I eliminate the audio output and subsequent modem connection noise during log-on to the internet? I have followed Aptiva's help guidelines as well as those of Windows on how to configure an installed modem without success. When is it suitable to consider upgrading RAM. My system has 64MB SDRAM expandable to 256MB.
Your advice is greatly appreciated.
Mike

Rob Pegoraro: Mike, Annoying, huh? Go to control panels, open modems, and you should be able to set the volume to zero. (Why even have it on at all? I have no idea, except some people may enjoy that sound.) 64 megs of RAM is enough for most use, but if your system is pausing and stuttering a lot for unexplained reasons, you might want to add more, up to 96.


Fredericksburg, VA: I am trying to use PC-to-Phone calling. However, I am unable to hear the person on the other end, and they can't hear me. However, I hear the phone ring, and I can tell when the other person picks up through the service, but nothing is heard. I am on a network, and it has a firewall. I believe this is causing the problem. The answer to be able to use this service is to try to open UDP ports 51200, 51201, and TCP port 51210.
The company says "In case you want to allow the ports only for Dialpad. Open them for the
4.2.48.XX subnet." Can I do this? and how? Thanks...

Rob Pegoraro: Ack! You need to talk to the people that administer your company's firewall. I plead ignorance on how to make this work; the answer is going to depend largely on how things are set up now with the office network.


Alexandria VA: Viruses--it seems I can't get enough of them. The most current one is a Word Macro virus which has infected a document that I use daily and no one seems to know how to get rid of it. The only way I've been able to use the document is to go to Tools and then Options and then disable the Macro virus protection. I'm then able to use-update the document. I always feel a littel squirrely about opening the document for fear of further infection -hasn't happened yet- and would like to simply get rid of the virus. Any ideas?

Rob Pegoraro: You're sorta screwed there, Alexandria. Try this: Save the document as either a Rich Text Format (.rtf) document or save it in a really old Word format, like Word for Windows 2.0 (those versions didn't support macros as much as Word does today). Then you'll have to disinfect your system, which usually entails throwing out Word's normal.dot template file. I.e., say goodbye to every customized setting you changed in Word.

This is one of the things I don't like about Word...


Alexandria, Va.: Mac OS9 -- shall I upgrade or pass? I've read what it has to offer and just wasn't impressed enough to rush out and get it. Am I wrong to think this way?

Rob Pegoraro: OS 9 isn't the big advance that Mac OS 8 was. After a few weeks of using it, I can tell you that I haven't touched Multiple Users since doing the review (I'm the only person on this Mac), the Keychain isn't of much use until it can store Web-site passwords automagically (Apple says this is coming) and Software Update has been invisible (no bug-fixes to download yet). There are some improvements to the speech recognition, however, that make it a lot more useful than before. My computer seems as stable as before.

Hmm, that doesn't sound like $80 worth of improvements, but YMMV.


Arlington, VA: I have a IBM thinkpad. Less than a year old. When navigating around the desktop or opening up programs and files it moves very slow. I have a P2 chip. Someone suggested it has nothing to do with the cpu but rather with the screen, which is active matrix. His theory is that the processor is doing its job. It's the screen that's dragging its feet. Any thoughts?

Rob Pegoraro: You're getting some bogus advice, Arlington. The screen has nothing, zero, zip, nada to do with performance; an active-matrix display is the fastest kind you can get on laptops. How much memory do you have installed on the ThinkPad? If it's 32 megs, you gotta upgrade, like, now.


Washington, DC: Backup memory. I'm having serious memory shortage -down to a little over 200 megs-. Naturally I intend to add memory quite soon. But I am also interested in moving a lot of dead weight files that I want to save but don't use. I see zip drives and jaz drives advertised. Recommendations.

Rob Pegoraro: Are you looking for a backup device to copy files over to for safekeeping? If so, a Zip disk, Jaz disk or CD-RW drive will work fine. If you just need more working space, you need a second hard drive or a bigger hard drive.

Short-term fix: Open up the Add/Remove Programs control panel and start uninstalling things. It actually does work reasonably often these days, although it's still far from elegant or "fun" to use. But *don't* start throwing out junk from inside the Windows directory, OK?


Hobbs, NM: I have a Dell Dimension 200 pentium and I can only get to 3 or 4 Web sites very slowly and then no more. the little moniter screens at the bottom -Win 95- just remain blank. If I reboot I may get 3 or 4 more web sites, then no more-computer does not freeze, just can't get any Web sites-. I used the machine for about a year with no trouble before this started happening.

I also am using a Compaq 5204 presario and there are some web sites that say-this page annot be displayed, hit refresh button. Any ideas.

Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Tell me more, Hobbs. What kind of browser are you using? Are you connecting with AOL or another Internet provider?

As a short-term fix, you might try uninstalling your browser (well, if it's Netscape; if it's IE you kinda can't) and then reinstalling it.


Herndon, VA: I bought a joystick and have installed correctly-it is recognized by Win 98-. However I cannot make it operate. I have windows 98 with 48MB Ram. Help

Rob Pegoraro: I think I need a little more info here, Herndon. The system specifications don't sound wrong; maybe there is a problem with whatever software drivers the joystick uses (in which case, check the manufacturer's site for updated software) or it could be with whatever game you want to use the joystick with.

Does this sound familiar to anybody out there?


Fairfax VA: Re: Thur column on cookies. Article did not spellout how to delete them? What harm can I do if I dump them? Are there some cookies that are vital to proper running of my system? If I dump them will not the senders replace them. How can I control the receipt of new,unwanted cookies? I have Win98,and IE4. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: You mean Leslie Walker's column, right? Anyway, *none* of those cookies are vital to running your system; throwing them all out just means you'd have to log in manually at sites like the N.Y. Times that require registration but normally store that registration info in the cookie file.

IE's cookies should be stored in a folder called "Cookies"--use the Find command to search for that. In it you should see a ton of little text files, usually with the Web site's name at the end of the name.

To manage cookies, you're best off downloading a utility do that--IE for Windows doesn't give you much control. See http://www.epic.org/privacy/tools.html for links to some of these utilities.


Arlington, VA: Our alumni group wants to maintain a directory of member email addresses on our website.

How do we "hide" email addresses from spam companies?

Rob Pegoraro: The low-tech solution is to list the addresses as plain text, but with an extra character or two in each address so address-collecting software used by spammers will read the wrong info. So, for instance, user@foo.com would be listed as "Zuser@foo.com" or "user ~ foo.com" or "user@fooZ.com."

The high-tech solution is password-protect the address list so that only alumni-club members can look at it. Downside there is that graduates who aren't club members will be shut out.


Silver Spring, Md: My computer is continually freezing up. The arrow is either powerrless or becomes an hourglass -and remains so- or becomes a Roman numeral 1.

Rob Pegoraro: That's not good, clearly. What sort of computer? Mac, Win 3.1, Win 95? What programs are open when this happens?


Silver Spring, Md: I have been using a Word 97 One Step at a Time learning program for some time. The last two times I tried using the program and clicked the "enter"as directed and everything just froze. I even had difficulty in exiting and closing down. Well, I am having these problems in other situations as waell.

Rob Pegoraro: First question, Silver Spring: Have you learned enough of Word 97 to not need this program? Then uninstall it. (In other words: "Doc, it hurts when I do this." "Well don't do that then.")

But if it's happening in other programs... that's more of a problem. Uninstalling everything on the system will fix things, yes, but it might cut down on the usefulness of the computer. Next time this happens, hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and see if Windows lists the program as "stalled" or "not responding." If so, click the "end task" button. That won't fix any underlying problems, but it should get you out of that particular jam.


Washington, DC: Rob,
Rather than a question, I'd like to offer an observation about the reliability of Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft should pay attention to what the Palm Pilot folks are doing. While the Palm Pilot's capabilities aren't anywhere near those of Windows, the Palm, and its cousin, the Visor, is easy to use, fast, and rarely crashes. -And it can do perform lots of different functions.- When The Palm does crash, a simple press of the reset button gets you going again.

I'm a long-time Windows user, and pretty proficient, too, but I have to say that when it comes to reliability Windows gets a D.

Computer users want --not to mention, need-- an operating system that is reliable and doesn't eat data for lunch.

Rob Pegoraro: Your observation is noted and agreed with. A fairer comparison to Windows, however, might be an operating system like Linux or the Be OS, which also rarely crash but try to cover the same range of functions and hardware as Windows.



Silver Spring, Md: Re freezing arrow. Tne computer is Windows 98. it freezes in many situations. Sometimes I inadvertently click an icon only once instead of the required twice and it freezes. It just indiscsrimnately freezes. It is also very difficult to shut down, insisting that something is still functioning when it is not.

Rob Pegoraro: Oh. This sounds worse. I would check a few things: 1) When it's refusing to shut down, hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and see what it says is running. You might have some older software running in the background that doesn't play nice with Win 98. 2) Do the usual preventive maintenance--run your antivirus software, run scandisk, use the disk defragmenter included in Win 98 (it should be in the Accessories folder off the Start menu, but I'm not sure--I'm sitting in front of a Windows NT box right now).

3) If all that fails, you might be better off backing up your data and then reinstalling Win 98. That will be a colossal pain in the butt, but sometimes it's the only language that computers understand.


Silver Spring, MD: well rob what if I were to tell you that I bought a gateway computer with a built in internal modem and I do the control panel volume shutoff thing and it still makes noises?

Rob Pegoraro: Then I'd tell you that Gateway needs to do a better job with this! Our Windows guru Daniel Greenberg suggests a couple of things:

1) Go to Control Panels, click on Device Manager, and see if there aren't two modems listed as being installed.

2) Download the latest, greatest modem drivers from Gateway's Web site.

3) Go back into Control Panels/Device Manager, select the modem icon, and hit the delete key. Say "yes" when Windows asks if you want to remove it. Then reboot; Windows should recognize the modem and ask for the drivers you just downloaded.

Or, I suppose, you could just turn down the volume on the external speakers whenever you connect...


Mclean, VA: I bought a network starter kit, inserted the network cards, hub, created shares, followed instructions and contacted tech support and still cannot network my computers. Is there something a first time networker should know that I am doing wrong.

Rob Pegoraro: This is regular Ethernet, not any of the home-neworking kits that run over phone lines, power lines or wirelessly. So: This means things get that much more complicated. If you got everything installed without weird error messages or system alerts, the question would be whether you have file sharing turned on and set up right. If it is enabled, you should see a hand icon underneath each drive letter in My Computer. Do you see that?


Silver Spring, Md: What does the se after Windows 98 stand for?

Rob Pegoraro: Second Edition. It's a bundle of bug-fixes that you can get for free from Microsoft's site, plus updates to Win 98's support for USB and FireWire (1394) peripherals and an Internet Connection Sharing feature for houses that want to share one Internet link among multiple computers. Said our reviewer, Alan Kay, back in June: "If Windows works fine now, leave well enough alone."


Daniel Greenberg, Fast Forward Freelancer: Just to be clear about the Modem speaker, it's "Control Panel, System, Device Manager"

Rob Pegoraro: Got that, Silver Spring?


Reston, VA: Rob, I have a pentium PC that I use only for word processing -Windows 95-Word 97-and e-mail. I have one financial Excel spreadsheet. It seems to me that none of these would run afoul of the Y2K bug, but I'm not sure, being a 'user' rather than a techie. Is there any action I need to take so as not to lose any files or the ability to operate my PC when 2000 arrives? I recently saw an Office Depot ad for a Y2K Survival s-w kit, which started me thinking about this.

Rob Pegoraro: If that Y2K Survival Kit contains even a single package of beef jerky, I'd avoid it. We did an article on Y2K issues at home a while back (we should probably revisit this between now and 12/31), which we have online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/tech/septpullout/clue.htm . Bottom line: You're fine, although I'd check to see that you don't have any two-digit-date-dependent formulas in that spreadsheet. Also see Microsoft's Y2K site: www.microsoft.com/y2k.


Mclean, VA: Concerning Networking, I see only my computer in each of the computers -C:-. I don't see any other drives or computers.

Rob Pegoraro: Is there a hand icon under C:? Also, what do you see in Network Neighborhood? (No, that icon actually does something in certain conditions...)


Silver Spring, MD: WEll its me with the gateway modem problem
THe sound does not come OUT of the speakers so turning them down does nothing. Perhaps the only way to turn it off is to fool with the actual modem itself?
I have tried everything

Rob Pegoraro: Ugh. We're about out of time here, but tell ya what: E-mail me at rob@twp.com and we'll see what advice the collective FFWD brain trust might have. Ditto for our home-networker.

And thanks to all of you for showing up with your computing conundrums. We'll be back in two weeks at 1 p.m. on Nov. 19, when the topic will be shopping for home computers. See you then!

- Rob


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