technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

By Dr. Gizmo

Originally published in the Syracuse Newspapers and on Syracuse Online.



Thanks for the memory 

We upgraded my wife's computer from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95. It has 8 megabytes of RAM (random-access memory). When we turn the computer on, it rattles away for what seems like an eternity before finally settling down and showing the Windows desktop. We can hear the drive making clicking noises during that period. We had the drive checked out, and it's OK. What else should we check? -- H.A.S., Morrisville

Check your wallet. Your PC needs more memory. Windows 95 works with a lot of temporary files to speed up operations and creates them each time it starts up. When memory is limited, this process takes longer. Windows 95 needs 16 megabytes of RAM to run smoothly and 24 megs to run quickly.


Enhanced CDs aren't "enhanced" on old drives

Another boondoggle, Doc! I bought some new Enhanced CDs and can't get the music tracks to play. My CD-ROM drive has worked fine for years. And I've got Windows 95 -- installed it very easily on my '386 PC. I thought Windows 95 would handle these CDs. -- R.W., Syracuse

It's not Windows 95 that's giving you a headache. It's your CD-ROM drive. Old CD-ROM drives (the kind that would have been sold with a '386 PC) don't know what to do with the additional music tracks on these CD-ROMs. To play everything on an Enhanced CD, the drive must provide what's called multisession capabilities. Older ones were designed before the multisession standard was created.


Do I need a computer? 

I want to buy a computer. I have a large family and could use the computer for word processing, so I could send out eight or nine similar but not identical letters. I also have a large collection of videos, books and records, and I would love to have this in a computer, so I could send the kids and grandkids a list of items they might borrow. But I don't really need a computer; I just want one. Sound familiar?

I'm sending copies of ads from two mail-order discounters, each with complete outfits (computer, printer and so on) for about $1,000. Which is the best buy for me? -- W.C., Fayetteville.

Sounds like what you need is a copying machine, not a computer. If you want to pass out lists of what books and tapes your relatives can borrow, a $1,000 computer is about $9,998 more expensive than writing out a list on a few pieces of paper and then having them copied at the corner store. I also would rethink the idea of using a computer to send out mass mailings to your children and grandchildren, especially if you're thinking of the sort of thing that the junk-mail companies do -- you know, letters that go to everyone on your block and are the same except yours has your own name right in the middle of the text. (The other day I got a computer-generated letter that was addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Gizmo," and once a letter came into Stars that began, "Dear Mr. Magazine.")


Is it hard to change icons in Windows 95? 

In the old Windows, it was very easy to change icons for programs. How can I do that in Windows 95? I can't find a way. -- R.A., via America Online

Right-click on an icon to get the Properties box, then click on "Change Icon."


It's already time to upgrade 

I have recently obtained some CD software that will not operate correctly on my system. My system meets or exceeds all the listed requirements on the software (386SX, 25MHz, 8 megabytes RAM, 1-speed CD-ROM). When running the software (two different titles from two different companies), the sound and the animation will not run at the same time, instead taking turns operating. The mouse is also very slow to respond, taking up to one minute to answer a click.

When I run my DOS-based CDs, I do not encounter this problem. Any suggestions? Thank you for your time and keep up the great column! -- C.K., Cato

A 25MHz '386SX PC seemed fast a few years ago, but it's in the woof-woof category now. Trying to teach this dog new tricks will be hard. The first problem is that Windows 3.1 is not able to run Windows-based CD-ROM programs very quickly. There's nothing that can be done to fix this, short of using a much faster computer. The second problem is that your CD-ROM drive is not fast enough to keep up with modern CD-ROM software. It will work -- but waiting a minute for a mouse click to show up is not a suitable definition of "work."

The best solution -- a new Pentium PC -- may not be affordable. If that's the case, consider upgrading to a plug-in 486 CPU chip, if you can find one that will work in your PC. You'll find ads from the makers of these upgrade chips in the back of PC Magazine. Upgrade to DOS 6.22, also, if you haven't done it already. It's a better DOS in all ways and includes the CD-ROM in the disk cache that comes with DOS 6.22. That will make your single-speed CD-ROM drive act faster in some ways.


It's in the mail 

I need to develop a mailing-label system for my club of 300 members. I want to be able to sort by ZIP code and by other criteria. I don't have a computer but would consider buying one just for this purpose. What do you suggest? We don't have much money. -- L.L.P., DeWitt

The lowest-price Macintosh would do the job. You'll be able to find software to handle mailing lists, and you won't need to worry about learning how to use the computer; Macs are easier to use overall than PCs. Don't buy a fancy computer and don't pay list price or anything close to list price. Shop locally first, but compare mail-order prices, too. Call MacWarehouse at 800-255-6227 for a catalog.


Packard Bell problem 

I bought a Packard Bell computer last August and installed Windows 95. I have written and faxed complaints to Packard Bell five times. I can't run Audio Calendar, can't run WordPerfect tutorials, can't play Hover (which came with Windows 95) and can't show the videos that came with it, either. Can you help? -- H.P., East Branch

The doctor's oft-repeated prescription -- that Packard Bell computers be avoided because of problems with their reliability and the company's customer service -- comes too late to help. The video driver seems to be at fault, and there could be other problems. The computer is not even one year old, so Packard Bell should stand behind its product and fix it. Ask Packard Bell to take it back and get it working properly. Make sure you work through the store where you bought it; it has a stake in customer relations, too.


How to copy files without using floppy disks 

I have to take a lot of files off my old computer to put them on my Pentium. There are about 800 megs of files. The Pentium has a tape backup built in, but my old computer just has a hard drive and a floppy, so unless I buy or borrow a second tape backup drive, so I could swap tapes, I'm stuck. Do you know of any easy way to copy things from one computer to the other? Don't tell me to use floppies. I'd need about 600 of them. -- A.R.H., Syracuse

The doctor does this sort of thing now and then when he's not tending to patients. He knows of two easy ways. The first is cheaper and harder, but has a big advantage over the second. It's called null-modem file transfer. All you need are two modem cables and a null-modem adapter (costing a few dollars at Radio Shack). The modem cables hook up to each computer in the normal way, but plug into each other via the null-modem gadget. (All it does is mate the cables electrically and physically.) Then you use standard telecommunications software to send files from one computer to the other, just as you'd do over a modem connection. You'll need a full weekend to transfer files this way, and you'll have to do a lot of menu-maneuvering.

The second way is easier, but you'll need a special LapLink cable and software. (Alternative programs do this, but not as well; go with LapLink.) You plug the cable into each PC's printer port, run the software, and control everything from an easy-to-follow menu. Transferring 800 megabytes can be done while you're away at work after you set up the software.

What's the advantage of the first method? It can be used between two dissimilar computers -- a PC and a Mac, a Unix computer and an Amiga, and so on. The second method works only with two PCs.


Mac, on the Doubler 

I keep reading about DriveSpace this and that for Windows. Don't forget that there are a lot of Mac users who don't have any idea what you are talking about. Does someone make DriveSpace for Macs? -- P.McC., Syracuse

The standard disk compressor for Macs is Disk Doubler. It's not in the same league as DriveSpace 3, but it works fine.


Leave it on 

You said computer monitors last longer when they are kept on, at a constant temperature. I've been leaving mine on, but turning down the brightness each night before I go to bed. Does this defeat the goal of keeping the temperature even? -- R.S., Solvay

The temperature inside the monitor will drop slightly when it's dark, but not enough to matter. The doctor wonders why you're not using a screen saver that does the same thing as your manual technique. Windows PCs and Macs each have simple screen savers that blank the display.


Getting two programs to use files with the same association 

I have a laptop computer with Windows 95. I have WordPerfect and Actwin2, which each use the same file-name extension -- WPD. When I double-click on a WordPerfect file, Actwin2 starts up instead. I can't seem to change the association so that WordPerfect starts up. What can I do? -- D.W.I., Syracuse

Choose which one you use the most, then reinstall it. It will place its information into the Windows 95 Registry (or Windows 95 will do it by another method) so that WPD files are recognized properly. If this is too much trouble, place a shortcut icon for WordPerfect on the desktop, then drag any WordPerfect WPD file you want to open to that icon.


WFAN? Not a chance 

Listen to the radio, doc. They're tearing you up on Sunday mornings. Why don't you call in and give these Mac fanatics a piece of your mind? -- T.R., Clay

Americans have a right to say what they want. The computer call-in shows serve a good purpose. A few Mac users do seem to read only part of what I write, and that's a shame, especially when they repeat statements that are untrue. But the doctor has a forum already -- one that reaches a much bigger audience. Besides, if some Mac users want to blame the physician for the illness, no amount of oral medicine will help.


Depreciation blues 

We bought our children an Apple IIc computer about 10 years ago because that was the computer they were learning on in school. I'd like to get a modern computer. Is there any market for computers of a decade ago -- any possibility of a trade? We paid $1,700 for the IIc. -- L.V., Cleveland

Old computers, like old refrigerators, are worth only what someone will pay, and that's usually very little. (A 2-year-old PC that is still new and unsold can be bought for $500 or so. A 10-year old Apple II is worth about $50 to $100 to an Apple II enthusiast, but not to anyone else.) I'd donate the Apple IIc to your local school or to BOCES.


Windows on a '286 PC 

You wrote that Windows, Microsoft's graphical user interface for PCs, won't run well on a computer with an 80286 main chip. I'm a computer systems expert, and I've installed Windows 3.0 on a '286 PC without a problem. It had 3 megabytes of memory and a 40-megabyte hard drive. -- R.I., Brooklyn

I'm pleased to hear that you were able to do it. What I actually said was that you couldn't do much with Windows on a '286, and I stand by what I said. Getting such a beast to run and getting it to run well are two different things.


File Manager's dual windows in Explorer on Win 95? 

One thing I got used to in the old version of Windows was File Manager. It made copying from one directory to another very easy, since I could have two File Manager windows open and drag files from one to the other. You keep telling us how great Windows 95 is, but you should point out that the stupid Explorer built into Microsoft's pride and joy won't let you have two file windows open at one time. -- J.P., Syracuse

You're right. And you're wrong. Explorer allows, at most, two simultaneous views; one of them must be a tree view and the other a file-window view. So you can only have one file window. But all you need to do to get more than one file view is to run two instances of Explorer at the same time. Windows 95 lets you do that in one action, if you create a simple batch file. And Windows 95 even includes a version of File Manager for all those diehards, too.


Setting the modem speed: Reach for the sky 

I got a new modem for Christmas. It's a 28.8 modem, which my husband bought because you recommended it. I haven't hooked it up yet because I can't find a setting in my computer or any of my software for 28.8. My choices skip from 19.2 to 38.4 and higher. Do I need different software? My computer is 3 years old -- is that why I don't have a 28.8 setting on it? -- M.L., Liverpool

The doctor has often wished modems would be sold without any reference to particular speeds. They're the computer equivalent of octane ratings, and sometimes all they do is confuse people. Set your software and your computer to the highest speed it supports and leave it there. The 28.8 modem will take care of adjusting the actual speed it runs at.

Generally, the computer and the software running on the computer need to be set from twice to four times the maximum speed of the modem. That allows the modem room to breathe, so to speak. Stuff carried by modern modems is often squeezed in passage, and, when it comes out, this squeezed data is expanded rapidly back to its original size. If the modem is running at 28.8, and the data is expanded to twice its size, the effect is a speed of 57.6. (Speeds are in thousands of bits per second, sometimes erroneously called "baud.")


Floppies will last for years 

How long will a floppy disk last? -- J.L., Syracuse

Probably seven years before the magnetism starts to weaken enough to cause problems. If you have vital information on floppies, copy each one to your hard drive and then back to the floppy (reformatting the floppy as you do this) once every two years or so.


You can get the big picture in a `giffy' 

What are Jiffs, and what am I supposed to do with them? My brother-in-law collects Jiffs he gets from America Online. He says he'll give me Jiffs if I want them. No jokes, please. I know they're not peanut butter. How is anyone supposed to learn this jargon? -- A.W., Syracuse

They're "GIFs," pronounced just as you spelled the word, and they're pictures you can view on your computer. CompuServe, the big online service, created the GIF format years ago, but it's now a universal standard for color graphics that can be viewed on any modern computer (PC, Mac, Amiga and so on). It stands for Graphics Interchange Format.

America Online has many GIFs that can be downloaded -- transferred to your computer across the phone lines.

You need a GIF viewer to see them. If your brother-in-law has the same type of computer you have, he may be able to give you a GIF viewer, too. Most of them are either freeware or shareware and can be given away legally. If he can't supply one, you can get PC and Mac GIF viewers from America Online. You can also find GIF viewers for other computers on the Internet.


Disk compression 1 

I've had DoubleSpace on my drive ever since I upgraded to DOS 6. My brother-in-law uses another method and says it's better. His software compresses the files, not the whole drive. He installed it on my PC, and now I'm able to use both DoubleSpace and the other method. The other software reports that it is compressing my files by an average of 52 percent.

This obviously means that DoubleSpace isn't doing a very good job. You should point this out to readers. -- J.L.W., Syracuse

The doctor will do no such thing. You and your brother-in-law have made life difficult for your PC. DoubleSpace works underneath everything else, so your software file-compression system has no idea that the files it compresses are being placed on a compressed drive. In effect, you're forcing DoubleSpace to try to compress these files further. (It will do this, too, since its method is much more clever than a mere file-compression system.)


Disk compression 2 

I installed DriveSpace on my PC to get more room on my hard drive. It's been working OK. But what PC users need is a DriveSpace for floppy disks! They don't hold enough these days. -- R.L., Mattydale

You can use DriveSpace (or DoubleSpace, the earlier Microsoft disk-compression method) on floppy disks. From MS-DOS, type HELP DRVSPACE (or HELP DBLSPACE) to see how to do it. From Windows 95, choose Start / Programs / Accessories / System Tools / DriveSpace.

Compressed floppy disks work like compressed hard disks. Remember that files already compressed by some other method -- ZIP files, for example -- will not be compressed further by DriveSpace or DoubleSpace. Also keep in mind that the main or root directory of a floppy disk cannot hold more than a few hundred files, even if they are compressed. If you are going to put a lot of small files on a floppy disk, whether it's compressed or not, place them in a folder. Folders can hold any number of files.


Don't bother deleting a file on that hard disk 

I am at my wit's end. As you undoubtedly know, when you delete a file from the hard disk, it continues to lurk in unused sectors on that disk and can be recovered through use of the UNDELETE command in Windows File Manager.

Short of telling me to take an ax to the C drive and throwing out the baby with the bath water, can you advise me how to get rid of such a deleted file? I tried this: Recover the file by using UNDELETE; then move (not copy) the recovered file to an A drive floppy disk; then reformat the floppy to erase the file. Alas, my objective was not realized. The unwanted file somehow remained on some unused portion of the C drive and File Manager UNDELETE indicates it is still recoverable. -- J.W.M., via e-mail

The doctor commends your perseverance while questioning your intent. Files that are deleted under recent versions of MS-DOS (and under older versions of Windows, which lie on top of DOS) are not actually erased until the space they occupy is needed for other files. There is no standard way to get around this.

When you recover a file on your hard drive and move it to a floppy disk, all you are telling DOS to do (via the old version of Windows) is to copy it to the floppy and then delete it from the hard drive. That makes it available for undeletion again. Files that are deleted (yet still available for undeletion) do not take up any extra space on the disk. The space they occupy is unused space, and the instant it is needed, they are permanently erased.

As for the file on the floppy, it may even be available for undeletion, despite what would seem like permanent erasure through the format routine. Formatting a floppy using Quick Format doesn't delete any files; rather, it moves the list of files to a hidden area and puts a blank list in its place. DOS (and the old Windows) can get any file back from such a floppy easily.


Go to the library 

I'm doing a school project on computers. Can you send me information on how the Apple II was designed, how the Mac was designed, how the PC was designed, and which is better? -- J.F., Syracuse

You left out the Cray supercomputer. But the answer is no. That's too big an order. Check your public library for a copy of "The Best of Byte," a new book with reprints from Byte Magazine during the last two decades. It's full of insights, and it's a great place to start your research.


Clean slate 

I've been cleaning my computer screen with Windex, and now I've been told not to do that. Why? Does it harm the glass? (Or is the screen plastic?) -- D.A., Syracuse

You can keep using Windex or any other window cleaner all you want. Just don't use something that is abrasive. Computer know-it-alls probably read somewhere that you shouldn't use a cleaning liquid, but there's a story behind this myth: If the cleaning liquid spills down into the inside of the monitor, between the bevel and the glass, it could cause a problem. So don't spray the glass; spray the cloth, and then wipe the glass. And no, unless you have some sort of extra, plastic anti-glare screen in front of your normal screen, it's glass, not plastic.


Time for a switch 

I wanted to trade in my old PC when I got a new one, but I was told it wasn't worth anything. So now I have two PCs, and I use the old one for letter writing. I've been unplugging the printer from the new PC and hooking it up to the old PC when I want to print out a letter, but this is a lot of bother. Do you know of a place I could buy a used printer, in the $100 range? -- G.P., Liverpool

You don't need another printer. All you need is a switch. For about $12 to $20, you should be able to buy a printer switchbox. (You'll also need a second printer cable if you don't already have two.) By turning the knob from "A" to "B," you switch the printer from one PC to the other.


High-tech piracy 

Is it illegal to copy a computer program? My girlfriend gave me a copy of WordPerfect. She got it from the office, so she can work on her office stuff at home. I think I know the answer, but I never really thought about this before. -- R.A., Syracuse

What you thought about the answer was right. Apart from the moral issue, and skipping the legal aspects entirely -- after all, no one is likely to come and arrest your girlfriend -- I'd like to call your attention to the primary reason a lot of computer software is expensive: The companies who develop software usually only sell it to a small percentage of the people who use it (the rest get it through piracy), so they have to charge more to make the same profit.

People who copy software aren't the only ones to blame. The companies themselves share half the responsibility. If they all placed a $49 limit on the price of a software program, a lot of would-be pirates would go ahead and buy the software instead -- and the companies probably would make more money.



Copyright © 1999, Al Fasoldt.
Portions Copyright © 1984-1999, The Syracuse Newspapers.


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