Q: I am getting kind of jumpy about security with my new DSL connection.
A: During the disco decade, computer users would stare at a green screen that was cabled to a huge computer down the hall; you were always on.
Today, many home users are electing to tap into the Internet with digital subscriber lines, or DSL. Much as it was the 1970s, you are always on. The bad news is that this makes you more vulnerable to scoundrels trying to break into your machine.
You can create a "firewall" between your computer and the outside world to protect yourself. One hardware solution, BeadleNet Soho 2000, runs about $400, a tad high for many home users.
In fact, most of us can get by with a software solution. You can pay $39.95 for a product from Network Ice Corp. called Black Ice Defender (www.networkice.com). Another product (from Steve Gibson, who earned a reputation years ago with a product that helped your hard drive called Spin Rite) is a software scanner called ShieldsUp that shows you where you are vulnerable (www.grc.com/shieldsup).
Q: I use Outlook Express for e-mail. I am embarrassed because every time I hit the return twice, the darn program switches to a comic bold typeface.
A: Years ago, computer nerds (like me) would be content to send messages back and forth all day with a simple e-mail program developed with Unix called Elm.
Elm evolved into something called Pine, a mildly entertaining acronym that stands for "Pine Is Not Elm." Nobody cared about fancy fonts in the Wild West days of the Internet.
Today, companies are trying to make good old text-based e-mail look like a laser-printed document--with fonts, letterhead, even spell correction. But why add spell correction in Microsoft's Outlook Express when they had a jim-dandy spell-correction program in their popular word processor, Word?
To solve your problem, let's uncouple Outlook Express from Word. Go to Compose Message, then Tools, and uncheck Spelling. Then remove any fancy stationery: Go to Tools and then Stationery and return to Arial, regular, 9 point. You will be back to the original settings.
Q: I have a Pentium processor running Windows 95 with a 2-gigabyte hard drive. All of a sudden, the hard drive starts to run for no apparent reason. What's up?
A: Readers know there are two kinds of memory inside a typical computer: RAM and the hard drive. The analogy I normally use is that the RAM is the working space on your desk and the hard drive is the file cabinet. When your computer runs out of space on the desk (RAM), it appropriates space in the file cabinet (hard drive). This is called virtual memory, because it acts like RAM.
When initially installed, Windows 95 will automatically guess what size to make the virtual memory. What seems to be happening is that the size of the virtual memory is so small that the operating system is repeatedly going back to the hard drive. This is like going back and forth from the desk to the file cabinet.
The old rule of thumb used to be the size of virtual memory was three times the amount of RAM. That worked fine when machines had 8 megabytes of RAM. You may have to manually increase the size of the virtual memory to make it reach into the hard drive fewer times. Go to Start, then Settings, Control Panel. Choose System, then the Performance tab, and select Virtual Memory and adjust the size.
John Gilroy of Item Inc. is heard on WAMU-FM radio's "The Computer Guys" at 1 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month. Send your questions to him in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.