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August 2003 Archive

Shows  (on this page)
  August 27, 2003   August 20, 2003  August 13, 2003   August 6, 2003   

For a full list of all archived shows, see the Archives page.

August 27, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

In the News

Software called DeCSS can be used to decrypt and copy DVDs. A lower court in California had ruled that blocking Web publishers from posting the software violated their First Amendment rights. However, the California Supreme Court ruled that a Web site could be barred from posting the DVD copying code without infringing on free-speech rights. The trade secret outweighs the First Amendment in this case only. That is, the ruling only applies to the one case. 

On September 25, 2003 there will be a free concert in the South Street Seaport featuring free wireless Internet access. For more information, see 

A number of recording artists don't like the idea that consumers can purchase and download a single song. They want the online digital world to work like the offline world where you are forced to buy an entire album. Among these recording artists are the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madonna, Metallica, Green Day and Linkin Park. 

 Scott Mueller

Our guest was Scott Mueller author of "Upgrading and Repairing PCs -- 15th Anniversary Edition", published by Que. Alfred said he sometimes uses the book as a source for writing his column in Computer Shopper magazine and he has purchased Upgrading and Repairing PCs many times over the years.  

The web site for the book is It lists for $59.99 and, as mentioned on the air, is over 1,500 pages. The book comes with a DVD which includes electronic copies of five or six prior editions. The book is mainly hardware oriented, but does cover some software. Alfred said it is a great source to learn how things inside a computer work. Over the years, 2.5 million copies of the book have been sold. 

The book's web site also has some free videos. Scott tapes his classroom sessions (he was an instructor before writing the book) and sells the tapes on his web site. Alfred was impressed with the video on optical disk drives that showed the laser beam in action. 

Users with older computers are often faced with a choice of upgrading their existing machine vs. buying a new one. Most of the time, Scott recommends that people buy a new machine. Both Scott and Alfred are not big fans of building your own computer from scratch, if for no other reason, then there is no tech support available to you when something doesn't work. It is a great learning experience, but not a way to save money. 

To get prices of various PC components, Scott suggested The book includes a list of vendors that he trusts and recommends.

Hank asked about upgrading a brand name machine vs. a clone. He said clones use industry standard parts whereas brand name machines, sometimes do not. In this respect, Scott says the book also serves as a buyers guide. For example, some Dell models use proprietary components which makes future upgrades difficult, expensive or impossible. 

Scott is finishing up a book called Upgrading and Repairing Laptops. IBM ThinkPads are Scott's favorite brand of laptop computer because IBM is very good about stocking parts for them. Anybody can buy parts for an IBM ThinkPad directly from IBM, even for laptops made years ago. IBM also has the service manuals with a complete parts catalog available for free on their web site. Hank mentioned that a listener is having a hard time getting parts for a Dell laptop that was discontinued only a year ago. Scott said Dell laptops are made by another company in Taiwan and imported and sold under the Dell name. 

 Caller Questions 

James asked about taking one of Scott's classes. Scott teaches Upgrading and Repairing PCs, but the classes are done on-site for companies and not open to the general public. However, he does sell videos of the classes on the book's web site. 

Sarah is a computer novice who accepted an offer from a friend to install the AOL version 9 software on her computer. It was a disaster. Half a day wasted. She should have called AOL, it's their software and their responsibility to make it work. Hank suggested that for AOL software you should wait a bit and hear everyone else's war stories. The upgrades of AOL software often do not go smoothly. She asked how many hours it should take to upgrade AOL software. Hank said that after the software has downloaded to your computer, the installation should only take a few minutes. Michael warned never to rush to install a new version of any software. There are bound to be bugs and problems. 

Leslie asked about buying an HP Media Center PC vs. a regular personal computer. Scott is not a big fan of the media center PCs and prefers having a normal DVD player for playing movies. There will soon be a new generation of media center computers and Alfred has heard they will be a major improvement of the current models.  

Michael is getting error messages about a bad hard disk. Windows ran a check/scan of the disk and it took 12 hours, much longer than these things normally take. Windows did find some bad clusters but reported that it replaced them. At this point he should copy his important files off the hard disk. It also took 36 hours for Windows to check the free space on the hard disk. He now can't even get the desktop to appear. Alfred says it sounds like a failed disk drive. Both Hank and Scott suggested re-installing Windows. 

However, Scott first suggested running a free diagnostic program from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. The Hitachi/IBM Drive Fitness Test (DFT) program can be downloaded from When you run the program it creates a self-booting floppy disk. Restart your computer and run the program from the floppy disk. It checks out your hard drive and verifies its functionality. If the drive is bad, there is no choice but to replace it. If it is good, then re-install Windows. After the show, Scott sent the following explanation of the IBM and Hitachi hard disk relationship: 

Many people are aware that IBM actually invented the hard drive and has always remained one of the leaders in drive technology and manufacturing (See this for more information on IBM drive history and technology). However, in what many people in the industry consider a rather *stunning* move, on January 6, 2003 IBM sold the majority of their Hard Disk Drive operations division to Hitachi and created a new company called Hitachi Global Storage Technologies or HGST (see Looking for IBM hard disk drives).

HGST comprises the hard disk drive operations of both IBM and Hitachi, and is headquartered in the former IBM Storage Technology facilities in San Jose, California. HGST is 70 percent owned by Hitachi, with the remaining shares held by IBM, and under this arrangement IBM has no management involvement. This continues until the end of 2005, at which time Hitachi will assume full ownership of HGST. 

Jerry gets a security warning message every time he opens Outlook and Word. It says "c:/program files/ has macros from Adobe systems. Macros may contain viruses." Word can be configured to warn you every time you open a document that contains macros. This is necessary because macros have, in the past, contained viruses. However, Alfred pointed out that some software, such as that for printing labels, or faxing or scanning, might use macros to tie itself into Word. These macros are beneficial. If you have up-to-date anti-virus software, it should catch any bad macros. Alfred suggested he just ignore the warnings or he can configure Word not to warn him about macros. How you do this varies with different versions of Word, but in general start at the Tools menu item, then look for a macro option and then security settings for the macros. 

Peter has an old laptop that no longer works and wondered if he could use the LCD screen to display the output of another computer. Alfred suggested he look to EarthLCD which sells interface to LCD screens. 

Stu wants to set up photo sharing for a group of people and asked for advice. Hank suggested putting up thumbnail versions of the pictures online to be kind to dial-up users. Alfred said that Ofoto has a good reputation.  

August 20, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

The show was pre-empted this week for fund-raising.

August 13, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

Blaster Worm

The latest problem with Windows is the Blaster worm (also known as MSBlast and Lovsan - different anti-virus companies gave it different names). This is an issue only for computers running Windows XP, 2000, NT4 and Server 2003. It does not effect Windows Me, 98, 98SE or 95.

Trend Micro says that Blaster is not destructive, meaning it does not delete files on your computer. However, the damage potential is rated high. It causes a number of serious problems, among them constant rebooting of an infected Windows XP machine.

Blaster exploits a bug in Windows. The first thing you should do is apply the fix for this bug to Windows. You should do this whether or not you are infected with the Blaster worm/virus. This is a big Windows bug and will, no doubt, be exploited by another virus in the future

Get the bug fix (patch) for Windows

The fix was first released in the middle of July and is available from Windows Update. Usually. The last couple days however, Windows Update has not been responsive, no doubt, due to high demand. You can bypass Windows Update (which by default downloads all the outstanding bug fixes) and get just the fix for this problem. The fix for Windows XP is here, the one for Windows 2000 is here. But be aware that: 

    • For Windows XP, the fix works with both the Home Edition and the Professional Edition and it works with or without SP1.
    • For Windows 2000 the situation is not so simple. The fix is supported with Service Pack 3 (SP3) and SP4. It is not supported with the original Windows 2000 (no service packs or RTM version) and not supported with SP1. Originally, Microsoft said it will install on SP2 but they had not tested with SP2. Later, Microsoft said it does work with service pack 2. 
    • If you apply this bug fix to Windows 2000 machines at SP3, you can later upgrade them to SP4 and not lose the effect of the fix. It is not clear what happens to machines that start at SP2, had the patch applied and then are upgraded to SP3 or SP4. 

If Windows Update has no critical updates for your computer, then you have the necessary fix. You can also check by using the Add/Remove Programs applet in the Control Panel. If there is an entry in the list of installed software labeled with number KB823980, then you have the necessary fix. 

To help network administrators determine which computers on their networks need the bug fix, Microsoft released a program that scans computers and reports if they have this particular fix applied or not. This program can be used by anyone however, even someone with only a single computer. Download it and then run it from a DOS/Command window. The program only reports, it does not install the fix. 

Are you infected?

One obvious symptom is that your computer reboots every minute. According to Trend Micro this will happen with Windows XP, but not with Windows 2000. You will see a window open up that says: "Generic Host Process for Win32 Services has encountered a problem and needs to close. We are sorry for the inconvenience." Then a clock will start counting down from 60 seconds. 

If you run a firewall that protects you from unauthorized outbound transmission (such as ZoneAlarm), then on an infected computer you will see a warning that program msblast.exe wants to access the Internet. Don't allow it to.

A less obvious symptom is that your computer may seem slow, especially your Internet access. This is because Blaster is constantly looking for other computers to infect. It is possible to be infected and not see any obvious symptom. 

To manually check for the Blaster worm/virus:

  • Run Task Manager (an easy way to directly invoke it is with Ctl-Shift-Esc). Select the "Processes" tab. Look for a program called msblast.exe. If its there, you are infected. You can click on the "image name" column to sort it alphabetically. 
  • Look for program MSBLAST.EXE on your computer. It gets installed into the Windows System32 folder, which is usually either C:\Windows\System32 or C:\WINNT\System32. If it's there, you are infected. Later variants of the Blaster worm involve other files in the System32 folder. Look also for Nstask32.exe, Penis32.exe, Winlogin.exe (not to be confused with Winlogon.exe which is OK) or Teekids.exe. 
  • Blaster runs every time your computer starts up. It does this with an entry in the registry which you can look for. From the Start button, select Run and type Regedit. Then navigate to the key
    In the right-hand pane look for "windows auto update" and "msblast.exe". If they are there, you are infected. 

Removing Blaster The Easy Way

You can remove Blaster with your anti-virus program. Simply update your virus definitions (a.k.a. pattern file) as usual and run a full virus scan of your computer. It can also be done with the free W32.Blaster.Worm Removal Tool from Symantec. If you are running Windows XP, be sure to read the section about disabling System Restore. Not doing so can cause the virus to re-appear after it has been removed from your computer. Still another option is the free Housecall service from Trend Micro which runs an online virus scan of your computer. 

Removing Blaster Manually

PC magazine explains how to manually remove the virus: Blasting Blaster By Neil J. Rubenking August 12, 2003. Trend Micro (makers of PC-cillin) also has manual removal instructions. CERT too has instructions for manually recovering from an infection with the Blaster virus/worm. Note however, that the CERT instructions are only for Windows XP and "under some circumstances, these instructions may not completely disable the worm or protect the system from re-infection."

More Information on Blaster

Michael mentioned on the air that Microsoft invited customers (in North America) to call them (from the Wall Street Journal August 13, 2003). The phone number is (866) PC-SAFETY. 

David Perry, of Trend Micro, said on the show that the Blaster worm is worse than Code Red or the Slammer worm because its target audience (a.k.a. infectable universe) is so much larger, over 100 million computers! He pointed out that it is exported through port 135 and warned that you can be infected without having done anything wrong. That is, you don't have to download and run a file or click on the attachment to an email message. It spreads by itself on port 135. Trend Micro makes PC-cillin and has a cleaner utility that can be used to remove the Blaster worm. 

Although a firewall can protect you from the Blaster worm if you block the ports it uses, David warned that doing so would also block Outlooks ability to talk to an Exchange server. He said you would be closing off basic Internet access and are much better off getting the patch. Finally, David warned that there are now three variants of the Blaster worm and that since the source code has been posted on the Internet, we can expect more variants of it in the future. Keep your virus definitions up to date. 

Perhaps the ultimate source is MS03-026: Buffer Overrun in RPC Interface May Allow Code Execution from Microsoft which, among other things, shows how to verify that the patch was installed correctly. They also published Virus Alert About the Blaster Worm and Its Variants and What You Should Know About the Blaster Worm and Its Variants and on August 28th, they had a Blaster Customer Teleconference

Woody Leonhard wrote about the relevant bug in Windows in the August 1, 2003 edition of his Woody's Windows Watch newsletter and followed up on it with an article on the Blaster worm in the August 12th issue. The articles are short and explain how to tell if you have the necessary fix to Windows already installed on your computer. 

The Washington Post published the transcript of a chat about the Blaster worm with Alan Paller, Director of Research for the SANS Institute. 
Cybersecurity: The 'Blaster' Worm August 13, 2003. 

eWeek magazine has many articles on this in their Securing Windows page.

Other Stories In the News

In January 2001, Apple was sued for violating the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act. They promised features for the (at the time) upcoming OS X operating system, that were not delivered. Owners of G3 Macs, who spent $129 for Mac OS X, felt left out in the cold. A conditional settlement of the suit has been reached in which Apple has agreed to refund the purchase price of OS X for G3 users. 
  Apple agrees to some OS X refunds CNET August 13, 2003

Microsoft has cut the price of Office for the Mac from about $500 to $400. There is also a new version that includes Virtual PC which lets you run Windows programs under the Mac OS. The version with Virtual PC is only $100 more than a comparable version without it. This is a big price reduction from the cost of buying Virtual PC stand-alone, back when Connectix was selling it. There is also a student version of Office for $150.
  Microsoft drops Office price, offers new editions August 12, 2003 

Microsoft loses $521 million browser lawsuit August 12, 2003 
Microsoft ordered to pay $521 million Reuters August 11, 2003 

HP just rolled out 158 new products and they will be spending $300 million marketing them. Among the products is a DVD Movie Writer to convert VHS movies to DVD (eWeek story) and a high end printer that uses 8 ink colors and studio grade paper that will sell for under $600. Hank felt this might have a major impact. There is also a laptop with a 17 inch wide screen (but the same vertical dimension as a 15 inch normal screen) that replaces a desktop PC. Joe found this laptop interesting (the screen ratio is  6:9 vs. 4:3). One gripe from Joe was that there really were not 158 new products, that a careful analysis showed there were really only 17 new products.
    HP rolls out 158 new products San Jose Mercury News August 12, 2003
    Is HP the New Apple?  FORTUNE August 12, 2003 by David Kirkpatrick

 Caller Questions 

Tony works for a large pharmaceutical company that was hit very hard today by the Blaster worm. Joe noted that if the automatic update feature in Windows XP was configured to install patches automatically (one of three options) you would have been protected. 

Charles asked if reformatting your hard drive would remove the Blaster worm. Yes, but it is brutal overkill. Not recommended.

Al needed some advice about purchasing a new laptop. He is not computer savvy and wondered if the Dell 600M was a good investment, that is, he was afraid he might be over-spending. While, no one was familiar with that particular model, Alfred warned not to drive yourself crazy with features and options and prices on a new computer. Buyers remorse is fairly common. Joe warned that after you purchase a new computer, don't look at any ads or prices for six months. Also, be aware that a laptop will cost about three times as much as a comparable desktop machine. Michael teaches a class on Defensive Computing which includes a topic on defensively buying a new laptop computer. There are many more decisions that go into purchasing a laptop computer compared to a desktop. 

Daniel has never downloaded any bug fixes (patches) for Windows 2000 and, as a dial-up user, asked for advice. It was suggested that he order the latest service pack on a CD for $10. After installing the service pack, the remaining bug fixes should be small enough in size that a dial-up user can reasonably download them. Service packs for Windows 2000 are cumulative, if you install service pack 4, you do not need to install earlier service packs. However, he said the CD was on back order. In that case, a friend with a high speed Internet connection can download the service pack for him and burn it to a CD. It should be 132 megabytes. 

Bob is running Microsoft Office 2000 Professional and for the last few months, Outlook freezes on splash screen and never starts up. He uninstalled and re-installed Outlook, no change. He uninstalled and re-installed all of Office 2000, no change. Alfred suggested getting rid of the outlook.pst file, the brains behind Outlook. Outlook stores everything (yes everything) in the outlook.pst file. If it goes bad, it can cause problems. Uninstalling Outlook probably does not delete the outlook.pst file. It was suggested to uninstall Outlook, rename the outlook.pst file and then re-install Outlook. He was using Outlook for about a year before the problem occurred. A word to the wise: be sure to backup your outlook.pst file periodically. 

Barry needs to buy a new monitor, but because of his eyesight, he needs to place the monitor five inches from his eye and at a certain angle. It was suggested that he get the largest LCD he can afford, but not the one with the highest resolution (for more on this point see Michael's article on defensively buying a new laptop computer). To make it easy to position the monitor (rather than his moving), he could use an arm designed for LCD monitors. One end attaches to your desk and the other attaches to the back of the monitor. The company LCD Monitor Arms and Arm Systems specializes in them (we have no experience with the company). 

He also asked about getting an LCD screen that he could hold as a book. The obvious solution is a laptop computer, but if reading is the main need, a tablet PC might be more appropriate. He needs a large screen however and you can buy a laptop with larger screens than a tablet PC. Alfred pointed out that some LCD monitors are designed to detach from their base and thus could be held in the exact position he needs to see it well. For this use, a 15 inch LCD should suffice. 

August 6, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

In the News

This is the 19th anniversary of the Personal Computer Radio Show! Sue Keller did our theme music in 1997. More of her ragtime music is available on her web page

Although there is no sales tax on Internet purchases, most states have a use tax. If you buy something out-of-state to avoid paying your local sales tax, you are required to pay taxes anyway (in most states, not all items). For automobiles you pay the use tax when the car is registered in your state. If you buy a computer from California, in Connecticut you are required to pay a use tax when it is brought into the state. Most people are not aware of this.
    Senate Weighs Ban on Net Taxes Proposal would outlaw taxes on Internet access. Medill News Service August 1, 2003
    U.S. Senate committee approves Internet tax ban Reuters July 31, 2003

Opera Software announced that over 10 million copies its Opera web browser have been downloaded from its website so far this year. There is a free and paid ($35) version, the free version has no technical support. Hank asked what support do you now get with Internet Explorer anyway? Joe is a fan of the Opera browser. 
  Opera claims big browser download breakthrough The Inquirer August 6, 2003 

A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project showed that two-thirds of Internet users in the US who copy digital music on-line say they don't care if the music is copyrighted. Six percent of users had no opinion or did not understand copyrights at all. 
  File swappers ignore RIAA threats by August 5, 2003 

The discussion of illegal music downloading by students led to one of backups for college students. No one wants to spend hours writing a paper to have it lost in the depths of a computer problem. Backups should be made to a device that is external to the original computer, be it a floppy disc or a CD you burn yourself. Another good choice is a technology with a dozen names, some of which are USB drives, keychain storage devices, pocket fobs and pen drives. Hank used one of these in place of a floppy disk drive on a recent trip. Alfred said they are reliable, cheap, inexpensive and have no moving parts. Hank added they are fast. Michael discusses these devices in his membership incentive backup class. 

Joe told a horror story of lost data, this one of a thesis. The data was so important the person when to Ontrack in New Jersey and paid a few thousand dollars to get it recovered.

Talking E-Mail System for Dummies

Alfred reviewed Talking E-Mail System for Dummies. It retails for $40 (or so) and is from Voxred International (973-439-0045).

It is a combination of software and hardware designed to make it easy to email a voice message. The product comes with a microphone for recording messages. 

It doesn't do anything that you could not do on your own, but it makes the process easier for people who are not experienced using their computer. You can use Windows Sound Recorder to record your voice and buy your own microphone. The resultant sound file can be sent attached to an email message. This is basically what the product does, the recipient gets an email message with an attached sound file in WMA format.  

On thing it does however is maintain a database of messages you have recorded so you can search for old messages by keyword or date or the person the message was sent to. However, Alfred could not imagine a situation where he would want to send the same message out over and over. 

It also allows you to record telephone conversations and comes with a hockey puck sized telephone-to-computer recorder for this purpose. This raises legal issues however. In some states, such as Maryland, it is illegal to record phone conversations without both parties' knowledge and consent. 

The software requires Windows 98 or later, Internet Explorer 6.0 or later, Windows Media Player 7.0 or later, a sound card and CD-ROM drive. 

There is no documentation on what the sender needs to play the voice messages. However, the fact that messages are recorded in the WMA format has implications. Windows 95, 98 and 98 SE can not play sound files in the WMA format without first downloading Microsoft Media Player version 7 or later. 

The product was recently reviewed in the Baltimore Sun which warned AOL users with versions older than 7 to expect trouble. The article also noted that all AOL users will have to make a couple of changes in their Preference settings before using it.
    Now your e-mail can do the talking by Tamara Holmes August 7, 2003

 Caller Questions 

Several times in the past Joe has suggested doing a clean re-install of Windows every year or so. This typically makes a slow system run must faster and applies especially to Windows 95, 98 and Me. Mitch has only a dial-up Internet connection and asked about getting software updates, not only to Windows but to all the other software he installed. Joe said the amount of Windows updates that need to be downloaded to any version of Windows are too much for a dial-up user and he shouldn't bother. 

The exception to this are service packs which can be purchased on a CD from Microsoft for about $10. However, even after applying the latest service pack there will still be a slew of patches to download. Downloads of bug fixes for Windows 98 will only be available until January 2004, then its tough luck. 

But Mitch knows someone with a broadband connection. Couldn't they just download the updates for him? No. Hank said the downloads for Windows patches are customized to your machine. He suggested taking the machine to the broadband connection and doing the downloads there. 

A much smarter way to manage this problem is to copy the Windows partition when the computer is new or after you've re-installed. This gives you a clean base to fall back to in the future. Partitions can be copied with either disk imaging software such a Drive Image or partitioning software such as Partition Magic.

Gary had a case of buyer's remorse and wondered if he did the right thing buying a Compaq Presario for $1,400. Alfred said he was better off not getting the extended warranty. Hank agreed that for desktops the extended warranty is not needed but that it is needed for laptops. 

For recovering files when Windows won't boot Jim suggested using the Knoppix version of Linux. Unlike almost all other versions of Linux, Knoppix runs completely from a CD-ROM. It can be downloaded for free in standard ISO format and, if you have a CD burner, can be burnt to a bootable CD. You can also purchase a CD for probably less than $10. You can read about using Knoppix as a rescue disc. The down side to this is that the user will likely have to know something about Linux and support for NTFS partitions may be problematical. Also, this does nothing about fixing the problem and is dependent of the files still existing, the file system still being tact and, of course, no physical damage to the hard disk. 

Jim also referred to a program Michael had recently mentioned on the air, CPR from ImagineLan software. CPR can be used for the same purpose, but that is its fallback position. The purpose of CPR is to restore the last backup of critical Windows systems files when Windows fails to boot. This is likely, but not guaranteed, to get Windows bootable again. The backups it can restore are either Restore Points from Windows Me or XP or checkpoints taken by ConfigSafe, another ImagineLan product. There are two versions of CPR.

Clifford is having problems with his microphone and sound recorder. It used to work and he tried two different microphones. Alfred said to make sure the software settings are correct because they sometimes get changed on you without your knowing it. Double click on yellow microphone in the system tray (bottom right corner of the screen, next to the time). In the resulting window make sure nothing is set to mute. Then click on Options, then on Properties. In the Properties window click on the recording radio button and make sure that the microphone is checked in the bottom of the window and click the OK button. You should now be looking at a Recording Control window. These are your input selections. Select the input device you want to use and make sure the Volume is up. If all is well here, then it might be the jack on the computer that is the problem. He is running Windows 98 SE. 

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