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October 2003 Archive

Shows  (on this page)
  October 29, 2003  October 22, 2003  October 15, 2003  October 8, 2003  October 1, 2003  

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

October 29, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

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

October 22, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

Our guest was Steve Bass, a writer for PC World magazine, who has just authored a new book called PC Annoyances from O'Reilly. See the file downloads from the book. 

One topic we discussed was a service that provides short URLs that represent longer URLs. For example, the URL for the web page of the book on is quite long. Instead of remembering it, you can go to Steve tried a couple of these services and preferred snipurl. The problem with these services is that may go out of business and leave you with useless URLs. Another site offering short URLs is

Steve also mentioned fighting telemarketers. In his PC World column he wrote about Telezapper, a gadget that emits a beep on your phone that blocks telemarketers. See Hot Gifts for a Cool Home Office.

There is also a web site by K. Alan Carlton that claims it does what Telezapper does - but for free.

Joe mentioned that Mr. Murphy of Murphy's Law won an Ig Nobel Prize. It is commonly known as "If anything can go wrong, it will". NewScientist covered this on October 3rd: Murphy's Law honoured - 50 years late. The late Edward A. Murphy, along with John Paul Stapp and George Nichols jointly came up with this law in 1949. They said: "If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, someone will do it".

A listener emailed us with a problem - when they printed web pages, the text on the right hand side was chopped off. One solution is to print in Landscape mode rather than the normal Portrait mode. This can be changed by adjusting the printer properties.  

Microsoft just released an "update rollup" for Windows XP (a.k.a. security rollup). In English, this is a bunch of bug fixes (patches) rolled up into a single package. There are no new bug fixes in this package which as 22 fixes altogether. The rollup has all the XP specific security patches from Service Pack 1 (released in November 2001) up to September 10, 2003. It also includes some Service Pack 1 components and other non security fixes. There are no bug fixes for IE, Outlook, Outlook Express, or Office included. 

If you regularly run Windows Update, you don't need to do anything. If you use any version of Windows other than XP, this does not apply to you. Whether or not you have Service Pack 1 installed on your Windows XP computer, this does apply to you. 

The "update rollup" is a 9 megabyte file that you can download from this web page. After downloading, it uncompresses itself to 52 megabytes. 

This a great thing for dial-up users who have a friend with broadband. The nine megabyte file can be easily burned to a CD or copied to a USB keychain storage device for distribution. It can also be useful if you need to update multiple XP computers. Read more about this from Microsoft.  

If you have patch problems, you can now call Microsoft at (866) 727-2338 for free. 

On a separate note, see Microsoft Windows Security Bulletin Summary for October, 2003 for the bunch of bug fixes released October 15, 2003. 

October 15, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

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

A listener emailed asking for the Microsoft web page where you can download all the patches/fixes/updates for Windows 98/SE. It is: 

Microsoft has a Knowledge Base article on manually downloading bug fixes, but it does not describe Windows 98. 
   HOW TO: Download Windows Updates and Drivers from the Windows Update Catalog

October 8, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

There is yet another bug fix from Microsoft. This time for Internet Explorer. Time to run Windows Update again. This bug fix is their second attempt at fixing the same problem. 
New Internet Explorer Patch Plugs Serious Security Holes
  eWeek October 4, 2003 
What You Should Know About Microsoft Security Bulletin MS03-040 (828750) Security Update for Microsoft Internet Explorer October 3, 2003
Microsoft fixes broken patch October 6, 2003 CNET

USB confusion. To start in the beginning, a USB 2.0 device can be plugged into a USB 1.1 port. However, it will operate at the slower 1.1 speed. Likewise any 1.1 device will run fine if plugged into a 2.0 port (it runs however at the slower 1.1 speed). Thus a 1.1 device might be said to be 2.0 compliant if the intention was to confuse. Then there are keychain storage devices that are said to be USB 2.0 but when plugged in to a 2.0 port, run much slower than the 480 Mbps speed. Flash ram just can't go that fast. 
USB Gadgets May Not Work Fast As Claims
from the AP. October 3, 2003. USB 2.0 actually encompasses three speeds: the original USB speed of 1.5 Mbps; 12 Mbps (USB 1.1) and 480 Mbps. Some manufacturers have confused consumers by using the USB 2.0 label for products that don't necessarily support its fastest data transfer rates. Some devices, such as keyboards, only need the 1.5 Mbps data rate to work.  

Microsoft tweaks Explorer to address ruling  October 7, 2003 CNET 

There is a copy protection scheme for audio CDs from BMG that depends on the auto-play feature in Windows. This feature can be disabled on a one-time basis by hitting the shift key when you insert a CD into the computer. Thus, the shift key lets you get around the copy protection. 
Shift key breaks CD copy locks October 7, 2003 CNET
Student faces suit over key to CD locks October 9, 2003 CNET

Cooling your Pentium 4 with water? 
Steam age tech takes heat off chips
October 8, 2003, CNET One of the key discoveries in steam engine technology was that multiple small pipes in the boiler extracted heat far more efficiently than a single pipe. Now Cooligy is applying a similar idea to cooling high-performance chips, and a quadrupling in heat-shifting performance is promised. 

 Listener Letters

A recent caller had a problem with Google and the whois web site. Joe said it sounded like a virus and after researching it more found an exact match. It was the worm known as Delude (sometimes called the 2hosts1 worm).  Both Trend Micro and Symantec have free utilities that can remove the worm from your computer. There was also an article on it in the Village Voice: 
Trojan XL
How to Get the Malicious Delude Program Out of Your Computer by Brendan I. Koerner The Village Voice October 15, 2003

This brings up the broader question of dealing with viruses and worms. How do you get a virus off your system and know it's really gone. The first step is to insure your anti-virus program has the latest virus definitions. Then tell it run a full scan. This reads every file on your computer looking for viruses. It should also check the boot sector and MBR. In addition, it can't hurt to get a second opinion; all anti-virus software is not the same. Joe runs Norton anti-virus and uses the online Housecall utility from Trend Micro every now and then to do a full system scan. 

A recent caller had a Windows XP computer that would not start up (boot). It was suggested that he start with his Windows XP CD and first do a Repair type of installation. This is really a re-install. If this does not work (and Joe and Hank have never had it work for them), then they suggested doing a Recovery type of installation followed by a Repair. The idea here is to re-load Windows but keep your applications and data unchanged. One down side is that all the bug fixes need to be re-applied to Windows. Be careful when doing this to provide the correct name for your computer. Should you provide a new name, you will run into problems later. 

As to the question of whether to upgrade Windows or do a clean install, it was pointed out that a clean install means you need drivers for all your hardware. Michael has an article on this on his web site. 

A listener emailed us asking for advice on keeping other people from using his computer. An excellent approach is to set a BIOS password. 

The BIOS (Basic Input Output System) is a program in your computer that can not be forgotten. It is stored on a chip, not on the hard disk. It is what displays the first things you see when the computer is turned on, before Windows starts up. It finds the hard disk and the RAM in your computer and then transfers control over to Windows so it can boot. 

There are many configuration settings that determine how the BIOS works in your computer. These settings are saved in a CMOS memory and a battery is used to keep them in this CMOS memory when the computer is off and unplugged. They are sometimes called BIOS settings or CMOS settings. 

One of these settings is a password. When set, you must provide the password before the BIOS will pass control to Windows. One advantage of a BIOS level password is that it works with all versions of Windows, even those that don't support their own passwords. Without the BIOS password, you can't get into Windows, even if you know the Windows password. The BIOS comes first. 

One problem is that the way you get into the BIOS setup routine varies. A well designed computer will provide instructions when it's first turned on as to which key on the keyboard to hit to invoke the BIOS setup program where you can provide the password. Many computers, however, hide this information. You can try to hit the Escape key to see the full BIOS messages which should include a message about which key invokes the setup program. There is no standard key, it might be F10, insert, delete or something else. 

This scheme is pretty good, but not foolproof. To get around a BIOS password you have to open the computer and force it to lose all the BIOS settings. One way is to remove the battery that powers the CMOS chip for about 15 minutes. If you can't remove the battery, then try to short it out. Alfred pointed out that some new motherboards don't have a battery that you can see. Without the motherboard manual, there is no obvious way to get rid of the BIOS settings. If you use BIOS passwords, try to download the motherboard manual from the web site of the PC vendor. 

 Caller Questions 

John asked about buying a new PDA with built in WiFi capability. He was warned that many WiFi hotspots, such as those at Starbucks, are not free to the public, you have to subscribe to them. Many pocket PCs, such as the Compaq iPaq, have a slot that can accept a WiFi adapter card. Hank recommended the Handspring Treo which is both a cellphone and a PDA. Upgrading an older PDA to add WiFi capability was thought to be not as good as buying a new unit. Also, be aware that some PDAs are wireless using cellphone based dialup access rather than WiFi based access.  

Melvin had to reinstall Windows 98 and now his computer is only displaying 16 colors. This is because the video driver for the video card needs to be installed. It is not an issue with the monitor. The video driver can be obtained either from the original software CDs that came with the machine or by downloading it from the computer vendor's web site. 

Ever since the August blackout, Griff can't get his monitor to turn on at all. The power indicator light never even comes on. He tried plugging it in to a different outlet. He tried a new power cord. Alfred said it was dead. Stevie noted that after the blackout a number of monitors died. When power comes back after a blackout, there is a big power surge and that likely killed the monitor. It is possible that renters or homeowners insurance might cover it.

As for buying a new replacement CRT, Alfred said they are all pretty much the same. His only advice was to not buy the cheapest model. Hank advised to buy a monitor locally because their shipping costs are often high. Alfred pointed out that monitors are likely to  suffer damage in shipping. They are the only piece of computer equipment that he always buys locally, never mail order.  

Kyle is running Windows XP and finds that every picture opens up in PhotoShop rather than the simple photo viewer in the OS. The good news is that this is easy to fix. The bad news is that there are a number of steps, too many for us to recall off the top of our heads. In Windows XP and 2000, start Windows Explorer, then do Tools -> Folder Options -> File types.  

A caller asked about a spell checking dictionary for Spanish. She is running Windows 98 and Word 6.0. After the show, Joe found there are many available and suggested these searches. He has never tested any of them. 

The last caller had a computer that often would not boot. The error was Operating System Not Found. The advice was that the next time it booted he should backup up all his important files. Of course, everyone should do this all the time. Also, he should run scandisk the next time it booted because the hard disk may be starting to fail. Another idea is to run the Drive Fitness Test that was mentioned on the show recently. It can check your hard disk from a boot floppy disk. Hank suggested a Recovery type re-install of Windows XP. As for copying files off the machine, it was pointed out that you can access a Zip drive from DOS when Windows can't boot up. Michael offers a backup class as a membership incentive for WBAI. 

October 1, 2003 Show     RETURN TO TOP

There is a known bug in Internet Explorer that Microsoft has not issued a fix for. They admitted to knowing of the bug on September 8, 2003. This bug is very similar to one they issued a fix for on August 20, 2003. That fix did not fully fix the problem which effects IE 5.01, 5.5 and 6.0. The nature of the bug is that an attacker can silently install and run a malicious program your PC if you visit an infected web page. The temporary work-around to protect yourself is to turn off ActiveX in Internet Explorer. Another option is to use a different web browser. Windows Update is used by Microsoft to distribute bug fixes and it depends on ActiveX. A paradox. One exploit of this bug results in a file called surferbar.dll being installed on your computer. 

Symantec purchased PowerQuest. 
Symantec buys storage software maker September 24, 2003. CNET
Fred Langa on Drive Image 7 (he didn't like it) July 3, 2003 in the Langa List newsletter 

Congress Defunds Controversial 'Total Information' Program September 26, 2003 by  

SBC and Yahoo have lowered the price of DSL to $27 a month. Hank said he was offered $20 a month for DSL from AT&T. The service is fairly slow for DSL, 384 kbps. Still, it is much faster than to 50 kbps of dial-up. Here in New York City, Verizon offers DSL service for $35 a month, but as a sign-up bonus, the cost is only $30 a month for the first three months. 
SBC Yahoo DSL cuts prices again September 30, 2003, CNET

U.S. limits work visas The New York Times October 2, 2003
L1s Slip Past H-1B Curbs eWeek January 6, 2003
H1-B cap no big issue for IT firms
from India Times October 1, 2003 
H-1B cap deadline passes, but debate might not be over ComputerWorld October 3, 2003 

Yet another security bug. This one is in Microsoft's Direct X software and was found by eEye. If you play a MIDI sound file, it could allow a hacker's program to run on your PC and delete your files. You can get hit with this problem just by visiting a booby-trapped Web site or opening an HTML e-mail message. This is yet another buffer overflow problem. Microsoft does not consider the fix for this problem to be critical. It will not be downloaded as part of the automatic windows update feature. 
Fixing dangerous MIDI files
PC World September 23, 2003 
Unchecked Buffer in DirectX Could Enable System Compromise

Last week a caller asked about a Windows 2000 computer that could not boot up. Joe found an excellent article on the subject. 

Also last week, a caller asked about the new AMD 64 bit chips. Microsoft has two versions of Windows XP for 64 bit processors. They already had one version for Intel's 64 bit Itanium chips and they just released a beta version of XP for the 64 bit AMD chips. There is also a version of Windows 2003 server for 64 bit processors. The AMD chip is better suited for personal computers (as opposed to servers) because it handles current 32 bit software better. The 64 bit versions of Windows will be very limited in the hardware they support because drivers will have to be 64 bit also. Interested hardware vendors will have to re-write their drivers if they want their hardware to run on a 64 bit version of Windows. 
Microsoft hops on the 64-bit bus from CNet September 23, 2003. 

The topic of media players going out to the web to find information about an audio CD you are playing came up last week. See the recap of the September 24, 2003 show more an update on this topic. Hank suggested WinAmp as a program that does not do this. 

Hank had a gripe on Nero version 6. He knows someone who typed in the key wrong, mistaking a B for an 8 (or something along those lines). Despite the mistake the product installed. However, when he went to run it, there was a message that his demo version had expired. It was not a demo version. 

 Installing Software

The most common way to break a perfectly functioning computer is to install new software. 

Hank warned that when he installed Nero 6.0, it wiped out files from a competing program, Easy CD Creator, with no warning. 

The installation of patches (bug fixes) from Microsoft qualifies as installing new software and is thus risky. 

Michael recommended as a general strategy not to install a lot of software at once. He felt that you are best installing a single program at a time and living with it on your computer for a while before installing any other software. This way, if it causes problems, the suspect is obvious. 

Windows Media Player 9.0 can be downloaded from Microsoft using Windows Update. Hank did this and found that he didn't like the program. Lo and behold, there is no way to uninstall it. Worse still, you are not told or warned that it is un-installable at the time you install it. A word to the wise, before installing any software, research the un-install procedure. 

If you are willing to endure the effort, the best protection from new software is to copy the entire Windows OS partition using products such as Ghost, Drive Image and/or Partition Magic. 

Before installing new software check the resources it needs to insure it is compatible with your computer. Perhaps the first thing to check is that it is supported with your version of Windows. It is not uncommon for software written for older versions of Windows not to work correctly when run under newer versions of Windows. 

Find out from other people, their experiences with the software. Assorted web sites can be used for this such as, and

If you like to tinker and play with the latest and greatest software fine. However, never install a new version of software on a computer that you care about. If keeping your computer alive and well is important to you, then it's better to let other people find the inevitable bugs and glitches in new software. 

To prepare for potential problems, it is best to make some backups before installing new software. Copying an entire partition with disk imaging software (Ghost, Drive Image) is the best backup, but it is usually not a trivial undertaking. Other relatively extreme measures are having a second computer system or a second hard disk. Stevie just bought a 120 GB hard disk on sale at Staples for only $80 which Michael called a phenomenal price. 

Still another option is software such as GoBack. It runs all the time and keeps track of every update to the hard disk. GoBack lets you rollback everything and everything that was changed on your computer and thus is great way to back out newly installed software. Even Michael, who is not a fan of GoBack, admitted that this is a great use for the product. 

Hank warned that you sometimes have to disable GoBack, such as before doing a massive database update. The performance penalty GoBack inflicts on your computer for duplicating every hard disk update is prohibitive in this case. 

If you are running Windows XP or Me, be sure to use the System Restore feature to make a backup before installing new software. System Restore backs up a whole host of Windows system files. Should new software cause a problem, you can uninstall it and then restore the Restore Point you took just before installing the software. 

To back out the installation of Windows Media Player 9.0 Hank did a partial re-install of Windows XP. If you havea Windows OS CD, there is a repair option early in the installation process. Hank used this to install the original version of Windows XP on top of his current version. This got rid of Media Player 9.0 and left his applications and data files untouched. The only down side was that he then had to re-apply every patch (bug fix) ever made for Windows XP. 73 bug fixes in all. 

Michael pointed up another issue with this method, most people with a computer running Windows XP do not get an OS CD. Instead many vendors include recovery CDs which can not be used to repair Windows in the fashion Hank described. Hank said that HP and Compaq do include a Windows XP CD. 

 Caller Questions 

Steve is having printing problems, his machine often prints too many pages. Michael suggested that when using Internet Explorer he first check the Print Preview feature to see how many physical pages a single web page will take to print. Hank suggested that rather than printing an entire document, he select the section he wants to print and just print the selected section. Both these suggestions should save on ink and paper. 

Bill asked about Windows vs. the Mac OS. Hank called the number of patches (bug fixes) for Windows XP outrageous. This is less of an issue with Macs. He noted that at one point the AOL software also could not be un-installed. 

Elizabeth is using iTunes on a Mac OS X for recording audio, mostly voice. She can't tell the difference between recordings made with an internal and external microphone. The built-in microphone one is working well, so she asked if she needs an external one. She was told to expect better quality from an external microphone. 

Hank said that as a general rule external microphones are of higher quality, but the difference might not be noticeable with simple voice recordings as opposed to music. Also an external microphone might offer better stereo and allows you to adjust its placement. Internal microphones might pick up fan noise from inside the computer. Stevie, our engineer, said if ain't broke don't fix it. Also, the quality of recording is just as dependent on the software as the hardware. There is quite a lot of tweaking available in software recording programs. 

John has GoBack and thinks its a lifesaver. However, it noted that it could not rollback one Spyware program called Xuputer. (verify) He wants to be protected from any and all bad software (viruses, worms, Spyware, etc) and to that end is considering using GoBack to rollback his computer every day. That is, every morning his computer would be in exactly the same state as it was the day before and the day before that. He would save any files, email messages on a second hard disk that GoBack was not tracking. 

There used to be two versions of GoBack and this might have been a feature in only the Deluxe version. Now this is a single version of GoBack. Hank confirmed after the show that GoBack can monitor one hard disk and ignore another one.

Hank said that depending on how much updating is done on the computer, it might be faster to use Ghost, Drive Image, Partition Magic or similar software to restore the entire Windows partition. His point is that GoBack imposes a performance penalty as it duplicates every write to the hard disk. On some computers, the performance degradation is noticeable, on others it is not. 

Update: After the show, Michael thought of a product called Deep Freeze that exists for this sole purpose. It is used in places such as computer labs at schools to roll back the machines every night to a known good, fixed state. 

Joe called to follow-up on a previous call. He said that iMacs from a few years ago could not have their RAM upgraded. The memory chips were soldered onto the motherboard. 

Jim has a Wallstreet Mac notebook with a bad power supply and he needs to get files off the machine. Hank restrained himself and did not scold Jim to backup, backup, backup. It's too late anyway, but listeners should take this as a word to the wise. Jim was thinking of taking out the hard disk, putting it an external case and hooking it up to another Mac. 

Hank suggested that the cost to replace the power supply might not be too much and he should look into it. Tekserve on 23rd Street in Manhattan is a reliable Mac store that Joe and Hank recommend often. Another company Hank recommends for repairing computers is 4G Data Services on Fulton Street. 

As for the hard disk, Hank said most laptops use 2.5 inch form factor disks. It should be possible to buy an external case for the disk and then hook it up to another Mac, using either the USB or FireWire ports. 

Update: After the show, a listener (thanks Eddie) wrote to say that Apple had a recall on the G3 Wallstreet power adapters. He took advantage of it himself. They will replace the rectangular power adapter with a newer round "yo-yo" power adapter for free if your power adapter meets certain requirements. Details are here.  

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