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“Get a Personal Trainer for Your Computer!”©









































































































































COMPUTER TIP #1:  YOUR COMPUTER ISN’T AN ELEVATOR! We all know that, human nature being what it is, we still punch the elevator “up” or “down” button, even though it’s already lit when we arrive.  No one knows why, we just do.  And, if the elevator door doesn’t close immediately, we’ll still repeatedly hit the “close” button again and again, even though we know in our heart and brain that it’s doing absolutely nothing to speed up the process.  Maybe it just gives us something to do while we’re waiting...However, this is NOT the right thing to do when your computer is slow in responding to your commands.  Repeatedly pressing a key like the <enter> or <start> or <esc> key in an attempt to speed up your computer’s operation may likely have the opposite effect:  It could lock up the computer, requiring a cold re-boot, possibly losing whatever you’re working on.  Even worse, a partial installation of a program may corrupt your computer’s operating system, maybe even paralyze it permanently.  This is because, each time you command your computer to do something, it stores that command in a “queue,” or line, much like the checkout line at your supermarket, awaiting the completion of the previous command before moving on to the next, kind of like waiting at  the next-in-line queue at the bank.  Repeatedly pressing the key may well result in a “beep” indicating that the end of the queue has been reached, and effectively locking up your computer.  Just wait, however long it takes, until your computer informs you that it can or can’t complete the task (See, “Never Stop In The Middle Of An Install” #9 below).


COMPUTER TIP #2: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS: I know this sounds self-evident and extremely basic, but keep in mind that software companies often want to slip things past you.  They have cross deals and links with other companies to promote their software.  Most software, especially freeware, often comes bundled with toolbars, trialware, even malware that you probably don’t need or want on your computer.  More now than ever before, at least these companies allow you to check or uncheck boxes or icons to prevent loading unwanted software.  But this means that you do have to READ the installation screens, instead of just blindly clicking the NEXT button at the bottom.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.  Think about it:  If all you had to do was click on the “download” button and then “finish” or “install” you’d be done.  But all of those other “next” screens usually exist to get you to add or buy something additional which you probably don’t want.  You may not want another browser (Chrome) or toolbar (AVG/McAfee Safe Search) or a trial version for the paid software.  So, figure out what they’re selling or giving you and opt out if you don’t want it.  On the other hand, you may also discover that there are tips for installation of the software that will save you the trouble of uninstalling and re-installing correctly if you discover that the downloaded software adversely effects your system. 

COMPUTER TIP #3: LISTEN TO YOUR COMPUTER! Noisy fans, clicking or other strange noises from your disk drives, constantly blinking hard drive lights, and other such anomalies are indications that things are not quite right with your computer.  Don’t ignore these symptoms.  That would be kind of like ignoring the “Check Engine” light in your car.  Pay particular attention to your hard drives, which generally tend to fail either early in their use (due to manufacturing defects) or late in their life (due to usage), but ordinarily not gradually over time.  NOTE:  In the future, drives with moving parts may become replaced with solid state drives (“SSDs”).  Made of electronics, much like large flash drives, SSDs may last longer, have more shock resistance (important for laptops), use less power, generate less heat and take up less space than traditional hard drives.  They’re becoming available right now, but so far they haven’t been proven to be as long-lasting in everyday computers, which stop and go often, as opposed to servers, where they run continuously.   However, this problem should be resolved eventually. Click HERE for more.

COMPUTER TIP #4: KNOW YOUR VERSION OF YOUR O/S [ALL LICENSES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL]I know, for most of you it’s difficult  enough for you to remember just the name of your operating system (Windows 98, XP, 2000, Vista, 8, etc.)  But, unfortunately, there’s more to it.  Lately, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of confusion caused by users who don’t know that there are material differences between the VERSIONS of each operating system.  For example, many people may have an OEM version of their operating system pre-installed on their Dell or HP computer (probably without any disk, only a sticker on the side or back of the machine).  Since this type of O/S is tied directly to the motherboard of the machine on which it was installed, it cannot be transferred to another machine.  To do this, you must have purchased the Retail version of the O/S (which usually comes with an actual disk).  Same thing for networking between computers - different versions of the O/S require different “permissions”.  Yes, we can all blame Microsoft for it’s ridiculously complex licensing scheme (as many as eight different versions for an O/S).  Moreover, with Windows 8, you have Win 8 and the WinRT versions (RT doesn’t run Windows apps) which run differently.  the  On the other hand, as a consumer, you should be aware that the great deal you got on your computer probably included a (cheaper) OEM version of the O/S with limitations.  You’ll also discover that, with the OEM version, you probably cannot get help from Microsoft, which will refer you back to the computer manufacturer for assistance. To find this information, you can refer to the Microsoft sticker which should be somewhere on the case of your computer; also, if you right-click on the “My Computer” icon and then left-click on Properties, the resulting window should show you not only the operating system information, but also the latest edition of the Service Pack that has been installed, which is also important in resolving problems when you call for technical support.

COMPUTER TIP #5: WHEN YOUR MACHINE LOCKS UP: First try to save everything you’re been working on.  If the mouse doesn’t work, then try using the keyboard (Alt + F for the File Menu, then the down arrow key to Save or Exit).  Then, COLD reboot - that is, completely power down the machine then wait 30 seconds before re-starting.  You should always do this before calling us for professional help.  Why 30 seconds?  You’re waiting for the residual and static electricity to drain from the boards and components, otherwise you may not really be cold rebooting the machine.  Remember how you can blow out a candle, but still light it even a few seconds later by holding a flame to the smoke trail?  (If you don’t, watch this video.) The same thing can happen with a static electric trail on a computer.  You don’t want to “WARM” reboot it, but you want to wait for a “cold” reboot, when you know that the software, caches and components are clear.  If your computer case is open, you may observe that the lights on the mother board actually take quite a few seconds to go out after the machine is switched off.

COMPUTER TIP #6: WHEN YOUR NETWORK GOES DOWN: Same as above, but power down (BUT do NOT RESET) all of the hardware, including the computers, routers, hubs, switches, printers, etc.  Wait 30 seconds, then start the cable or DSL modem, then router, then computer and each peripheral.  You should always do this before calling us for professional help.

COMPUTER TIP #7: IF YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION STOPS WORKING: First, check the cable/dsl/telephone modem and see if the signal is coming in through the modem itself (i.e. it may not be your computer that’s the problem).  If the DSL or the Cable light is not flashing, the cable modem is not getting a signal.  Turn off the power, leave it off for 30 seconds, then turn it on again and wait for a solid light.  If this doesn’t work, hold a pointed object (pen, paperclip) in the “reset” button (usually on the back of the modem for about 15 seconds and then, at the same time, turn off the power.  Wait 30 seconds and turn the cable modem on.  If you cannot get a signal, the problem may be your service provider (Comcast, Verizon, etc.), and you should call their help line to resolve the issue.  Once you have a solid light, cold boot your computer and the internet connection should now work.  You should always do this before calling for professional help.

COMPUTER TIP #8: DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY CONNECT HARDWARE FIRST unless instructed to do so when installing new hardware.  Especially USB connected hardware, such as printers and routers.  Usually, you should insert the CD or DVD, follow the instructions, then connect the printer to the computer only when instructed.  To do so otherwise may create additional problems and your printer or other hardware may not work properly.  ON A RELATED NOTE: When replacing hardware (i.e. printers, video or sound cards, modems, etc.), it’s usually a good idea to remove the old hardware and drivers first, to avoid possible software “conflicts”.


COMPUTER TIP #9: NEVER STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INSTALL: Turning off your machine in the middle of an install, especially a download, can irreparably corrupt your machine!  It may seem that your AOL download or HP installation disk is stopped and may be “hanging” but it may not be.  (You may check your hard drive light to see if it’s flashing, meaning it’s doing something.)  It is far better to wait - even overnight - for your machine to give you an actual error message (and a choice of solutions) than to “assume” that the machine is doing nothing and shut it off.  Just WAIT!! (Corollary to this is not to turn off your computer (or even pull your laptop power plug out) while it is shutting down or starting up.  This can also seriously damage your computer’s software to the point that it MAY not re-start again properly or at all.)


COMPUTER TIP #10: TRY TO RUN SCANS FROM SAFE MODE; DISABLING SYSTEM RESTORE; DELETE FILES; DISCONNECT FROM THE NETWORK:  Although this isn’t always true, generally your scans for spyware and viruses will run faster, remove more threats and generally be more effective if you run them from Windows Safe Mode (if the anti-virus or anti-malware software even lets you).  Click the F8 key during boot up and select Safe Mode With Networking, then run the scan from the Safe Mode Desktop.  If you can it’ll be more effective, particularly eliminating files which could not be deleted because they were being used by the operating system when fully booted. You may also have to disable (and then later re-enable) System Restore (right click on My Computer) in case some infected files are in the restore section of your drive.  So, it’s a good idea to try and go back first to solve any problems you’re having with your computer. Going back to an earlier restore point won’t normally repair a virus problem. Also, it saves lots of scanning time to first clean up your drive, removing temp, cached and deleted files, rather than waste time scanning files you’re going to delete anyway.  Finally, if your computer is on a network, don’t forget to DISCONNECT the infected machine from the network when the virus is discovered and before cleaning the viruses, otherwise they may migrate to the other computers on the network.

COMPUTER TIP #11: PASSWORD ADVICE:  This discussion became so lengthy that we had to establish a separate page to contain all of the advice, so please click HERE.

COMPUTER TIP #12: UNINSTALLING UPDATES:  Program and Operating System Updates which adversely affect your system can usually be uninstalled using the Add and Remove Programs dialogue.  But removing a Service Pack is much more difficult - the entire program (or even suite, such as MS Office) must be completely removed and then reinstalled.  MAKE SURE you have the original media available if you choose to remove a Service Pack, or you may have no operating system or program at all when you’re finished. Also, unless you have operation problems or become aware of a security issue, there’s generally no need to update individual drivers, and may actually cause problems where there were previously none.  If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it (see below).

COMPUTER TIP #13: IF YOUR WIRELESS INTERNET DOESN’T CONNECT IN YOUR HOTEL ROOM:  Lots of people report problems with this.  Most newer computer operating systems (i.e. Win 7, 8 and 10) connect automatically now, making it much easier.  Click once on the Wireless Network Connection icon on the right of the task bar, then select your hotel network from the top of the pop-up menu, check “Start This Connection Automatically,” and enter a password, if one is required. For Vista, go to Start Menu>Control Panel>Network andInternet>Network & SharingCeter>Connect to a Network, then select your hotel network, click Connect, then Connect Anyway, Save This Network, Start this Connection Automatically, enter any password required, then Close.  If this doesn’t work, the problem is usually with the hotel’s network being overloaded or your computer holding an old connection.  Sometimes you can fix the problem by simply “repairing” the connection.  To do this, right-click on the Networking icon on the right side of your task bar (it looks like two  or your computer holding an old connection. monitors hooked together), then select the name of your hotel network and click Disconnect, then wait ten seconds and click Connect.  This will do several things, including renewing your IP address, clearing your ARP cache, and turning your wireless NIC on and off.  If this doesn’t work at first, try rebooting or, if your O/S allows it “repair” at startup. If this fails to work, or you can’t find the repair item, do it manually:  Go to Start, then Run and at the prompt type “CMD” (“command”).  You’ll be brought to a black DOS screen.  At the flashing cursor, type “ipconfig /release” (with the space after ipconfig).  You’ll see messages indicating that the settings have been released.  When that’s done, type “ipconfig /renew” and you should see the settings become reset.  Type “exit” then press the enter key to get out of the command screen and you should be set, although you may have to reboot to complete the reset. If not, call the hotel’s tech support, they may have to get you to the router’s login (often or 1:8000).  If you’re having trouble with a wireless network at home or in the office, click HERE for some ideas about how to correct those problems.

To hack a hotel network instead of paying a charge for connecting, and also to solve the problem above, you can do this:  [Windows]  Open Network and sharing Center, then right-click Change Adapter Settings and right-click on your Wi-Fi (NIC) card and click Properties.  Then click Configure, go to Advanced and scroll down to Locally Administered Address.  Select Value, then type 12 random  numbers from 0 to f (e.g. 004543cc0b1f), then save and click out.   [Mac]  Open Terminal and type sudo ifconfig en1 11addr 00:aa:bb:cc:dd:ee. Press Enter, then type in your Apple password.  Then reconnect to the (hotel) Wi-Fi .  You’ll be seen as a new device, with new free Wi-Fi.  You can change the numbers between the colons any number of times to create new identities on the Wi-Fi system.

If you just can’t get it to work, you can always look for other ways to internet access via free wi-fi.  Aside from a trip to a nearby McDonald’s or Starbucks, there’s your local library.  Or Yelp! or Google locations of nearby coffee bars, restaurants, truck stops, campgrounds, shops or government offices that may have free Wi-Fi.  Check The Wi-Fi Hotspot Directory for additional locations, including free hot spots where providers like Bright House, Time Warner and Xfinity allow each other’s customers to sign on the other’s network via the Cable WiFi Project.  If your phone and service allow it, you could also tether your phone and use it as an antenna (see FAQ #87), although it’s slower.  INTERESTING FACT:  Did you know that Wikipedia Nearby (under Special Pages) will pull up articles based on your location?  This can be quite handy when you are traveling.


COMPUTER TIP #14: WIRELESS SURFING WARNING:  Sure, it’s a great convenience to use your laptop at hotel, airport and coffee shop “hot spots” to check your e-mail, contact the office or make travel reservations.  But there is a severe downside.  Many of these connections are completely unprotected, or minimally protected with WEP (see Glossary), which can easily be broken by hackers.  This means that anyone else connected to those networks can read your transmissions with very little effort, and use the information later on to hack into your home or business computer(s), possibly causing severe damage.  Now, it’s not my intent to cause a fear of using computers on wireless networks, only to explain how to protect yourself when doing so. First, businesses should usually be using a virtual private network (“VPN”, see the Glossary) for all traffic, so that any interception would yield only a gateway address.  (Check your office site for https (again, see Glossary)).  For personal communications, using an “open” connection (i.e. “free”) on your available list of networks is a serious risk.  For example, if you use webmail (Hotmail, Gmail, etc.), a hacker will have no trouble reading your messages while you are on the network, possibly retrieving internet banking passwords and the like.  Even worse, you may connect to a so-called “rogue” network, one which appears to be legitimate (e.g. “Free Public Internet”) but which can possibly infect your computer or just plain hijack your connection.  Beware of “ad hoc” or “peer to peer” networks, which appear on your available network list as an icon representing connected computers).  Also, use only encrypted websites to transmit data.  Finally, use WPA2 encryption (not WPA, and certainly not 11-yr old WEP, which was broken by hackers years ago) for router encryption.  Unless you really have nothing to lose (you’re a residential customer, don’t access bank or other accounts with passwords, have no financial info on your computer and don’t care who reads your e-mail), my suggestion is to pay the $5 or $10 a day for the private connection offered by the hotel or airport. 

COMPUTER TIP #15: IT’S O.K. TO MAKE MISTAKES, JUST BE CONSISTENT:  We all make mistakes, even more so when operating our computers.  And, eventually, you’ll require professional computer help, either from a help line or a service call.  Here’s a tip from your friendly computer pro:  Nothing makes it harder to correct mistakes than when the client makes the same error in numerous, different (and often quite creative) ways.  This usually means that we have to find and correct each individual way that the user has made the error.  If at all possible, be consistent in the error that you make, even if it’s wrong.  That way, we only have to correct one problem.  For example, if you’re having a problem with an accounting, word processing or spreadsheet program, try to use the same accounts or formulas and save in the same locations consistently; it’ll make it easier to correct if need be.  And keep a paper list of your changes or use the Problem Step Recorder (TIP #101) to keep track and reverse your changes if need be.

COMPUTER TIP #16: TIP FROM THE “IF IT’S NOT BROKEN, DON’T FIX IT” DEPARTMENT: You’ll notice a commonality in the Hoaxes, Security and News pages of this site.  It involves the pressure to upgrade software (such as drivers or web or video software) or to install new software (for example, in order to view certain types of video or graphics on a web page, or to install the “latest version” of, say, AOL (which may not even be compatible with your operating system, which they forget to tell you).  Think twice before doing so:  If everything is working fine on your computer, my recommendation is to leave it alone!  You don’t need to upgrade, no matter what you’re told.  If you’re told to download and install software to view or play a webpage or a file, think twice - - There’s a very strong chance that your download may include malware.  Unless it’s from a major player such as Adobe, Macromedia or the like (you can verify this by going to their Home, then Download pages) you should be aware of the risk.  Rethink how badly you really want to view that web page!  So far as enabling the device driver update feature in Windows 7 and 8, or just updating drivers when Windows notifies you that they’re available, you can look at it two ways:  First, If Microsoft updates the drivers, they may be more compatible with the operating system.  Of course, they may also be stripped down drivers without the full features of the vendor’s driver (like for all-in-one printers).  I just install and leave things be unless there’s a malfunction.  Moreover, you should be aware that updating some third-party (non-Microsoft) drivers can cause your computer to demand re-activation of your operating system because Windows Product Activation (“WPA”) detects hardware changes and thinks you’ve illegally transferred the operating system to a new (second) computer.   Finally, those software programs (Secunia is probably the best) that continuously automatically scan and update your software may not always be good for you:   Later software versions aren’t always better, as they may not contain older features you’ve come to rely on, and some patches or updates cause worse problems than those they purport to correct.  Moreover, some updates may not work with older operating systems (AOL was famous for this) and they may not tell you.  For example, you may be installing an upgrade on your Windows XP system that only works with Vista.  Also, alpha, beta or experimental software releases may not work properly.  And the recent trend by hardware manufacturers  in developing “universal” drivers, where one driver package supports a wide range of hardware versions can cause their own hardware problems. My personal advice:  With the exception of anti-virus, anti-malware, Flash and Java which should always be updated to block malicious code, decide whether you want to update various software programs (including Office) and if you decide it’s necessary, then do it manually.

COMPUTER TIP #17: HOW DO I CLEAN AN LCD MONITOR: Cleaning the glass on a CRT monitor is easy - just spray with glass cleaner!  But an LCD monitor is a different animal - it’s usually covered with plastic.  You don’t want to use any abrasive cleaner, nor do you want to use any cleaner with ammonia or any harsh chemical because it may fog or scratch the plastic coating.  You can purchase special cleaners, but it’s really not necessary, because a light mixture of ordinary soap and water will do the trick and not result any damage to the surface of the monitor.  I use the same cleaner in the spray bottle that I use for my glasses, spraying it on a cloth, not directly on the monitor screen.  Also, never use paper towels or even tissues to clean the monitor because they may cause scratching:  Use a soft cloth, such as microfiber.  RELATED - REMOVING SCRATCHES: Proven - magic erasers, ordinary erasers, headlight cleaners.  Not so much - toothpaste, baking soda, coconut oil, corn starch, petroleum jelly, banana peal, powdered cleansers.  Finally, when cleaning any parts of the computer, remember to suck out any debris with a vacuum rather than blasting it inside the computer, keyboard or monitor, where it can coat the components, resulting in heat and (if wet by cleaning spray) a short on the circuit board.

COMPUTER TIP #18: DON’T LEAVE EXTERNAL DRIVES ALWAYS ON:  If you’ve purchased a USB or SATA external hard drive to back up your computer files on a periodic basis, it’s a good idea to turn them off between backups.  Even better, unplug the power plugs as well; the transformer boxes to the power cords aren’t usually very high-end and, with continuous use, can degrade to the point where it won’t send sufficient power to the drive case when you turn it on.  It’s almost impossible and quite expensive to find an exact replacement for the transformer box, cord and connector without replacing the entire external drive unit, so play it safe and just unplug the entire device completely unless you’re using it to create a backup.  Unlike the components inside of your computer, external drive boards have a limited life which is much shorter than your computer’s motherboard.  If you really require continuous backups, consider either installing the backup hard drive internally into the computer or going to a RAID configuration, both of which are built for long term continuous usage.  And I don’t recommend the use of flash drives for anything other than the occasional data transfer, as such drives can be notoriously unreliable, failing without warning.  Forget any type of magnetic disks (floppies), as they degrade even faster.

COMPUTER TIP #19: BEWARE POWER PROBLEMS WITH USB:  With more and more devices (keyboards, mice, scanners, cameras, printers) connecting through the USB port, and the demise of serial, PS2 and parallel ports, there has been greater use of USB hubs to increase the number of USB connections, particularly on older computers.  Unfortunately, there can be some loss of power to the USB device from a hub, as opposed to a connection directly to the computer.  If your device does not install or is not recognized when installed through a USB hub, try disconnecting and installing directly to the computer.  If you have a Type 1 USB connection, make sure you have an electrically powered hub, as opposed to one that gets its power only from the computer itself.  Also, the USB ports on the front of your computer are also wired and not “direct” to the main board (into a card slot), so it will may be slower or non-responsive.  If the device doesn’t install either way, you can always install a Type 2 USB card directly into a PCI slot on your computer, which would add a number of additional USB ports directly from the main board.

COMPUTER TIP #20: MY PRINTER STOPPED PRINTING, WHAT CAN I DO?  This only applies to injket printers: Before bringing it in for service, you should check a couple of things:  First, many (but not all) printers can refuse to print at all even if only one of the print cartridges is empty.  You may have one of those.  If the lights are on, meaning there is power to the printer, you may want to insert new cartridges, it may do the trick.  If you haven’t used the printer in a while, the print heads may be clogged.  To solve this, remove the cartridges and hold the (usually copper) print head for 15 seconds against a folded paper towel soaked in very hot water.  (Watch out not to get the ink on you, your clothes or any surfaces.)  Also, some of the printer “toolboxes” have a utility to blow out the printer head (e.g. HP Photosmart Toolbox>Maintenance>Clean Cartridge.) Use this as well.  This may loosen any clogs.  If the power lights are off on the printer, physically disconnect the power and printer cables, leave off for 15 minutes or more, then reconnect and see if the machine cycles on again.  Also, don’t forget to clear the queue (select “cancel all print jobs”) before fixing, or you may print out 100 pages of waiting print jobs from your multiple attempts to print before the repair!  If it’s checked, uncheck the “use printer offline” option; this protective option is initiated if your printer stops because of a paper jam.  If your printer is printing, but gibberish, remove then reinstall the correct driver.  If these tricks don’t work, then bring in the printer for service.  [Laser printers, because they have fusers, drums, more circuit boards and the like, should always be brought to a professional for service.]  Inkjet printers are basically give-aways, the true cost made up on the replacement ink cartridges, so unfortunately it’s usually less expensive to replace the printer than repair it.

COMPUTER TIP #21: WHERE IS THE “ANY” KEY ON MY COMPUTER?  Believe it or not, we are asked this quite often.  Of course there is no “any” key; you can just press “any key” on the keyboard.  But, just for the sake of humor, here’s what it might look like:

COMPUTER TIP #22: A NOTE ABOUT PRINTERS AND SURGE PROTECTION:  While it’s O.K. to plug an inkjet printer into a surge protector, you should never plug your LASER printer into a surge protector or UPS.  THE REASON:  Laserjets run a repeated heating cycle, drawing current every minute or so, spiking and then going back down again.  Your surge and UPS have specific current ratings and usually a circuit breaker as well.  The repeated fluctuation can not only trip your breaker and crash your system, depending on the amount of equipment connected into the multi-outlets and the power rating, but the constant adjustment to the protection circuits can also cause tremendous wear to your printer, shortening its life.  THEREFORE:  Plug your laser printer directly into the wall outlet and not your power adaptor.  If possible, try and connect it to a different circuit than the computer itself, although in homes this often isn’t possible.

COMPUTER TIP #23: WHAT IS SYSTEM RESTORE AND WHAT DOES IT DO? System Restore is a very useful feature on many versions of Windows.  (The glossary definition states where it can be found if you have this feature.)  It is also, however, one of the most misunderstood features in Windows.  The original intention of this feature was to correct  or “roll back” a corrupt installation of software, updates, drivers and the like.  It is used to “restore” the “system” to a previous restore “point” that is either automatically or manually set.  System means the “system state,” which includes the registry, COM+ Class Registration database, boot files and certain specific additional file types.  [Click HERE for a list of all files, which includes many .exe and .dll file extensions.]  But it by no means restores ALL of your files, only a core set of system and application files.  It is not a BACKUP of your computer!  Click HERE to learn about true backups.  Most important, it does not monitor changes to your personal data files or programs, such as documents, e-mail, pictures, graphics, internet favorites, cookies, or the like.  For example, the My Documents file is not backed up.  Nor are data files or programs which may be resident on your desktop.  So, if your system has a problem and can be restored to a previous point, the data files and programs will still be current, and will not be restored to an earlier version such as the date of the restore point.  For a discussion about operating the System Restore Utility by Microsoft, click HERE.  As a practical matter, System Restore shouldn’t be used very often, it at all, as it may make it all but impossible to make further repairs to the operating system after it has been used.  Usually, it’s best to use it only after other repair methods have failed, and just before taking the drastic action of wiping the disk and reinstalling everything again.  If it doesn’t work, however, you can always go back to your original state.

COMPUTER TIP #24: I CAN RECEIVE EMAIL, BUT SUDDENLY I CAN’T SEND IT.  WHAT’S WRONG? This is becoming a common problem, as more and more ISPs are blocking Port 25 of its subscribers computers.  Ports are an important part of email communication:  To communicate, computers need to know not only the server name (e.g. but also the Port (e.g. 25), kind of like dialing into a large company on the main telephone line (e.g. (941)302-2000), but having to specify a numbered extension (e.g. 1212) in order to be connected to the person you seek.  If your party moves extensions, or the extension is pulled from the wall jack, your message won’t get delivered.   Similarly, when your ISP changes the mail port, your email will not be delivered either. There was an excellent reason for this:  A few years ago, it was discovered that hundreds of millions of spam emails were being transmitted over Port 25 each day.   So many of the ISPs changed their Outgoing Mail Server to stop the spam.  Many, such as Comcast, have switched to Port 587.  Verizon, Port 1025.  Others use Port 2525.  Often, you receive no notice from your ISP, but if you call tech support, they’ll tell you what to do.  Resetting the port is relatively easy:  In your email program, go to the Internet E-mail Settings window, to the Advanced tab, and change the port number within the Outgoing Server (SMTP) box.  Also, don’t forget to go to the Outgoing Server tab and check the box that says “My Outgoing Server (SMTP) Requires Authentication” as well.  Save and exit all windows and you should be good to go.  [Further information, click HERE and HERE.]  Aside from this problem, the most common cause for this type of sending error is that the e-mail address you are using is incorrect:  Either it contains an improper character (i.e. a “+”, or “=”, or “\” or something like that) or a space, or else the address is no longer valid because the recipient has possibly changed providers.  This type of problem is usually the sender’s fault - erase the mail from your Outbox, or copy it to the Draft box then correct the e-mail address.

COMPUTER TIP #25: WHAT TO DO IF YOU SPILL SOMETHING ON YOUR COMPUTER: This includes spilling a drink on your computer, dropping it in a puddle, even having it rained on.  The first thing to remember is NOT TO TURN IT ON.  If it is on, turn it off IMMEDIATELY.  You don’t want to restart the computer until it is completely dry.  If it’s a desktop, it’s usually easier to substitute a new, dry keyboard.  If it’s a laptop, it will require disassembly, drying with a desiccant , cleaning with alcohol and even blow-drying.  There are even special “bags” on the market these days that are sold to wick the moisture from hard drives if they get wet.  Since laptops (like many Apple computers) can be like a Chinese puzzle to disassemble and reassemble, better leave it to the professionals.  If you’re lucky, once everything is dry, it’ll work again.  If not, it could mean that you’ve allowed liquid to bridge the contacts on the main or other circuit boards, drives or the like, shorting the board.  Depending on the circuit, repair could be  prohibitively expensive, replacement a much less expensive option.

COMPUTER TIP #26: ALWAYS TRAVEL WITH YOUR LAPTOP IN ITS CASE.  This point is related to the one immediately above (what to do if your computer gets wet).  Laptops especially must be kept dry.  They’re much more moisture sensitive than you might think.  Even the slightest amount of water on the keyboard or through the air vents on the side or the back of the machine can possibly cause shorts and even permanent damage to the machine.  Don’t use the laptop in the rain.  Don’t take the computer, even to your car, if it’s raining, without enclosing it in a waterproof case or bag.  You’re taking a big risk.  (Also, don’t throw the laptop on any hard surface, like the floor of a car, as it could damage the drive head.  But that’s a separate subject.) 

ALSO, if you’re traveling by airplane, check the search laws (click HERE) regarding laptops and other electronic devices (smart phones, iPads, etc.), which basically allow officers some “reasonable” (though undefined) degree of suspicion to justify examining your laptop (with specialized software) not only for terrorist tendencies (e.g. documents, even a newspaper, written in farsi; your search history), but also anything else that they may find, such as kiddie or adult porn, tax or business records, photos, diaries, drug dealing or the like, in order to provide them with a “digital portrait” of you and your activities.  In 2010, for example, a total of 6,671 travelers, 2,995 of them American citizens had their electronic gear searched. And they can keep your laptop, sometimes for weeks.  Moreover, you can expect this treatment each time you travel afterwards.  In 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Edward R. Korman of N.Y. ruled that the government does not need reasonable suspicion to examine or confiscate a traveler’s electronic devices.  Traveling with the data on your USB drive may not solve the problem - they search that, too.  Perhaps safest is to retrieve your data from the cloud, but remember to professionally erase the data and history before returning to the U.S.

COMPUTER TIP #27: REMEMBER WHERE YOU SAVE FILES IF YOU WANT TO FIND THEM AGAIN: Due to the lack of even basic computer education about file management (i.e. “your computer is basically like a large electronic file cabinet”) on the part of first-time computer users, it’s not surprising that even though users know that they have to “save” their work in order to print, edit or send it later, they still have lots of trouble finding files or downloads when they decide to look for them.  Personally, if I’m going to download a file, particularly if I’m going to look at it once then discard it, I usually select the ‘Save To” option as the “Desktop”.  It’s easy, as Desktop is the very first location on the drop-down menu enabled by the arrow at the right of the “Save In” window.  That way, it’ll be there as soon as I get out of the program or the Web and I know it will be right there, somewhere on my Desktop.  I can look it it, send or print it, the drag it to the Recycle Bin and dump it.  Same for text files and the like:  If you save it to the Desktop, you’ll always know where to look for it, and you can always drop-and-drag it to My Documents or some other destination.

COMPUTER TIP #28: DON’T FORGET ABOUT YOUR CREDIT CARD WARRANTY:  Just because your computer equipment, camera or other hardware dies just after the manufacturer’s warranty expires doesn’t always mean that you’re completely out of luck.  First, check the mfr’s warranty or the seller’s warranty.  And see if you signed up for extended care, for example from Best Buy or AppleCare+. If not, or it’s expired, then don’t forget to check your credit card warranty provisions.  In many cases, if you purchased the product with a credit card, you automatically get the added benefit of an extended warranty, in some cases double the original warranty.   Also, many jurisdictions (Maine, for example) have “implied” warranties that may take precedence over the manufacturer’s warranty, stating that the article must be usable for the purpose intended for the length of time most such articles are useful.  Check HERE for a list of consumer protection offices.  2015 UPDATE: Many stores are getting tricky.  OfficeMax, for example, only provides in-store warranty for 15 days after purchase.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t send the computer back to the manufacturer for repair on your own, shipping and responsibility at your own expense.  If the problem is covered under the manufacturing warranty, it’ll be taken care of.  But if they think it’s not covered, caused by abuse or accident, you may be charged.  If you purchase the additional extended warranty from the store, however, even intentional abuse may still be covered.  Check the extended warranty terms when you purchase it.

COMPUTER TIP #29: WHY CAN’T I INSTALL MY DOWNLOADED PROGRAM?   Lately, I hear this a lot.  When you attempt to install a downloaded program or open a downloaded file, you get a message like “access denied” or “virus risk” or “malware infection”.  It’s probably your anti-virus or anti-spyware program, blocking the file or program.  More and more, to be on the safe side, anti-virus and anti-malware programs block downloads as “riskware” and don’t allow you to access them.  Time was, you could disable the anti-virus spyware from your toolbar and opt to install.  More often, nowadays, you have to either edit your program settings direcly or else do a complete uninstall of your anti-virus software to effect the install.  Sorry.  Or, if it’s not the anti-virus, if you right-click  on the file to install and select “run as administrator” that may solve the problem as well.

COMPUTER TIP #30: DON’T FORGET TO DISABLE CELL PHONE APPS IF YOU’RE LEAVING THE COUNTRY: Traveling outside of the U.S. with your cell phone? BEWARE if you travel internationally with your cellphone!  If you don’t turn off your data apps, like the radios on your Windows mobile devices, they will continue to download & update data, in addition to your high per-call roaming charges. Your bill may be a big surprise, easily topping $1000!   Click HERE for FAQs telling you how to avoid this surprise.  Also, click HERE for other useful airline travel apps.  See below for the proposed rates:

Current and proposed price caps

Mobile use

Current cap

July 2012

July 2013

July 2014

Data - per megabyte


90 cents (81p)

70 cents (63p)

50 cents (45p)

Voice call made - per minute

35 cents (31p)

32 cents (29p)

28 cents (25p)

24 cents (22p)

Voice call received - per minute

11 cents (10p)

11 cents (10p)

10 cents (9p)

10 cents (9p)

Text message

11 cents (10p)

10 cents (9p)

10 cents (9p)

10 cents (9p)

Source: European Commission. All prices exclude VAT.

COMPUTER TIP #31: WHAT TO DO IF YOUR HARDWARE WON’T INSTALL OR STOPS WORKINGFirst, completely uninstall the software for the device.  Either go to the program list and see if it has an “Uninstall” feature or else go to Start>Control Panel>Add and Remove Programs (or Programs and Features if it’s Vista or Win7), then follow the instructions and reboot the computer.  Then, reinstall the software for the device.  If that doesn’t work, go to the website for the manufacturer (say, Linksys, if it’s a router or HP, if it’s the printer) and check to see if you’re using the latest software (it may be called “firmware”) if it’s for a hardware device.  If all else fails, call the help desk for the manufacturer of the device.  They should be trained to solve most issues and, besides, you’ve paid for their support when you purchased the device.  Don’t want to bother with all of this, call a pro for on-site support.

COMPUTER TIP #32: DO I ALWAYS HAVE TO SHUT DOWN MY MONITOR OR PRINTER OR OTHER EQUIPMENT? Some of you may remember many years ago when we were instructed to start up our computers, first with the printer, then the monitor and, finally, the CPU, in order to avoid power surges to the computer when turning on the peripherals.  Shutting off was the reverse order for the same reason.  Of course, due to technological advances in equipment, this is no longer necessary.  Similarly, there’s no need to turn off the LCD monitors, or even the inkjet printers, completely each time you shut down.  They go into sleep mode or else use so little power that you could leave them on for a year and only consume a nickle worth of electricity and cause no damage to the equipment.  I see people all the time shutting down their LCD monitors completely, for instance, even though it will put itself in standby mode automatically.  It’s an unnecessary step.  In the old days it did, in fact, pay to shut off the CRT monitors, since they did not shut down completely, using electricity and generating lots of heat. For more advice on how often to shut down your computer system, click on FAQs HERE.

COMPUTER TIP #33: WHAT DO THE WINDOWS ERROR MESSAGES MEAN?  It’s inevitable that, after you’ve used a Windows computer for a while, you will encounter an error message.  It’s also probable that the message will look like gibberish to you.  Even if you Google the message number (yes, we pros do that all the time), the answer might still be incomprehensible to you, or you might not have the confidence to attempt the fix.  In that case, call for professional computer help.  However, a few guidelines may be helpful toward understanding the issue:  (1) “Stop” messages means that Windows has literally stopped (as if you need Microsoft to tell you that!).  They generally look like this: “STOP 0x0000000A.” The hexadecimal numbers may be in parenthesis, and if you’re lucky, it may give you a somewhat cryptic English message as well, e.g. “DEVICE_QUEUE_NOT_BUSY.”  Since most of these messages deal with hardware issues, if you’ve just installed a hardware driver, try rolling it back, it may well solve the problem.  Or, if you know how, remove the cover and check to be sure that all of the hardware cables are in securely.  Also, error code 8007005 generally means that the Windows installer can’t work with a file that it needs, as well as similar messages for codes 0x1900101-0x20017, -0x30018, 0x2004 and others, which may all be encountered when installing software or O/Ss.  (2) System Error Codes, which are numbered from 0 through 15999, cover just about everything in the O/S.  For example, “ERROR_REVISION_MISMATCH 1306(0x51A)” means that two revision levels of software are incompatible.  A listing of these error codes and their meaning can be found HERE.  Or Google them.  This is difficult stuff, but at least now you know what the messages mean.

COMPUTER TIP #34: WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I’M NOT GOING TO USE MY COMPUTER FOR A WHILE?  Unplug it.  What’s “a while”? I’m talking if you’re going to be gone more than a week or so.  If you’re taking a two week cruise, leaving Florida until next season or the like.   Why?  Computers are designed to be used.  If you don’t use them for some period, but leave them plugged in, they may not work perfectly when you return.  There could have been power surges, failed updates, other issues.  The hardware may require you to pull out cards or cables and re-seat them.  More often, if you completely unplug the computer, these things tend to happen less.

COMPUTER TIP #35: IS THERE ANY WAY TO GET AROUND THOSE ANNOYING CELL PHONE MENUS? You know, when you call someone and you get a long menu even after hearing the answering machine message of the person you called.  You already know what to do.  Do you have to suffer through the menu every time?  Not if you know the code to jump past it.  At the moment the codes are as follows:  For Verizon and Cingular, press * ; For Sprint, press 1; and for TMobile, press #.  

COMPUTER TIP #36: USE WI-FI AND BLUETOOTH TO CONNECT TO THE INTERNET.  If you’re not in range of your own wireless network, you can still connect your laptop to the Internet if you know how.  Obviously, if there’s a Wi-Fi hotspot nearby (say, a Starbucks), you can use that.  Or if you have a smart phone that also acts as its own hotspot, you’re set.  But did you know that you can also use your cell phone, if it’s Bluetooth enabled (as most are) to connect to the Internet?  Since the phone company discourages this, make sure it’s ”enabled” (it already is if you’re using a Bluetooth earbud or the like), then pair it with your laptop, and you’re ready to go!  2011 Update:  But BEWARE - you may not be able to do this any more or at least not on a regular basis.  This is because of the carriers’ crack-down on cell phone “tethering.”  Using your cell phone to beat paying cell phone data charges to connect to the Internet via your phone isn’t popular with the carriers, which are monitoring such usage, but you may still get away with it once in a while.  For a detailed discussion of “tethering” click HERE.

COMPUTER TIP #37: HOW DO I DECIDE BETWEEN PAID AND FREE SOFTWARE?  For years, I’ve advocated the use of certain free software where I believe that it is equal to or better than paid software.  For example, I believe from experience that AVG anti-virus software is equal to or better than most of the paid software on the market; in fact, because it takes up far less system resources than, say, Norton or McAfee, your computer will actually perform better. AVG finds the new viruses about as fast as the other software, and that’s what counts.  Starting with Windows 7, Microsoft has built in several software utilities which may obviate the need to look elsewhere for paid programs to perform certain tasks.  [For more, see Microsoft Desktop Security.] Which ones?  Anti-Virus - Microsoft Security Essentials.  Some like it, some don’t.  Still, I use AVG; I think it offers more, catches more (rootkits, malware).   Defragmenter - Starting with Win 7, Windows automatically defragments once a week by default, and can be customized.  Backup - works much better than previous versions and has several useful options. Disk partitioning - the built in partition manager performs many basic tasks easily.  Firewall - it’s only incoming, but it prevents intrusions, and can also be somewhat customizable.  Thankfully, there is no registry cleaner in Win 7, and that, to me, is a good thing:  Registry cleaners often don’t do very much (although on earlier versions of Windows they may have been somewhat more necessary), and can seriously (possibly irreparably, if you haven’t backed up the registry) mess up your computer.  Instead, find out what the registry fix is and apply it, or hire a professional to solve the problem.  Most “registry cleaners” (which show up on virtually every search for software downloads) goad you into running a free scan, then finds tons of “errors” to correct, demanding payment for the software to “correct” those errors.  Most of those errors, particularly in earlier versions of Windows, are orphaned files and registry entries from incompletely deleted software, which might or might not speed up your system and probably won’t hurt it.  To me, that’s just “scareware”  (for more, see SPYWARE).  The features discussed above are already included in Windows 7, and they may be more than sufficient for ordinary residential users.  If you have a business, however, you may require much more protection (e.g. outgoing firewalls, better anti-virus protection, more partitioning capabilities) and you may have to spring for specific paid programs for those purposes.  But, for the average home user, Windows 7 & 8 provide more than adequate protection if you’re so inclined.

COMPUTER TIP #38: WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT MY PRINTER PAPER AND INK?  Not all paper is created equal.  How your printed page looks has a lot to do with the paper you use.  For example, photo quality paper (especially metallic photo paper) will display graphics and photos far better than even good quality paper, because the ink will bleed perceptibly and cause a lack of “color separation” (colors may overlap each other) when applied to lesser quality paper.  Poorer quality recycled paper may absorb more moisture and cause it to jam, particularly when fed through vertical-feed printers because it is more porous than higher clay content paper, thus it wicks in moisture.  So what do you look for when purchasing paper?  First of all the weight.  20 pound (20#) is fairly normal for copy paper, but 22 & 24 pound (24#) is slightly heavier, better for reports and correspondence.  Above that is “cover grade” paper, but be sure that your printer can physically handle papers over a certain thickness.  Read the manual or check on the Internet at the manufacturer’s website.  Also, check the “brightness” of the paper.  Brightness is rated between 1 and 100, 100 being the brightest.  Copy paper is about 80 to 90, while photo and high grade paper are between 90 and 100.  Even a small difference, say between 94 and 96, can make a visible difference.  Don’t be fooled by manufacturer’s descriptions such as BrightWhite or UltraBrite, they’re meaningless. And don’t be fooled by the “European” scale, which goes higher than 100.  You might want to keep two grades of paper around, one for junk copying (say off the Internet) and another for business or correspondence.  So far as INK, you’ll always be safe using your OEM’s ink.  But, since it can cost more, many folks purchase refilled cartridges.  So long as they’re not refilled more than three to six times each (depending on the cartridge, ask your refiller), and are done by someone knowledgeable (or you follow directions if you do it yourself), you should be O.K.  A Consumer Reports article noted that ink can cost $10,000 a gallon, so savings are really important.  Personally, I’ve had bad luck with color separation and color consistency with refilled cartridges, and therefore the 25% savings isn’t worth it.  But if you’re not using the printer for printing business brochures or photographs, and only print the occasional web page at home, it may not matter as much, particularly if you don’t print very often and the cartridges tend to dry out and become useless anyway.  Reviews by “The Inkjet Investigation” agree with my view, reporting that the cheaper inks didn’t perform as well as OEM inks, as they fade faster, and may have nozzle or cartridge failure issues that negate the bargain prices.  Other ways to save money on printing:  Use recycled paper (but not for photos or graphics, they’ll “bleed”; print only what you require (print a “selection,” rather than printing “all” pages in the file; print in grayscale or in fast draft mode or reset the dpi to 90 or 150  (but beware that, even if you don’t print in color, those cartridges can dry out, and any one of them failing may prevent the printer from printing at all; I suggest that, once a week, you print a full color web page to keep color cartridges active; if your printer has a duplexer, print on both the front and back of pages, or use one side then re-insert for the other if you don’t.  Don’t turn off your inkjet printer, as startup can start a “cleaning cycle” that wastes ink.  If you use lots of ink and don’t want to spring for a laserjet printer (which doesn’t waste ink during the startup cycle), try the Epson no-cartridge printers which can be a little more expensive but have tanks that can hold the equivalent of 20 cartridge sets, almost a two year supply.  Aside from the cost, apparently U.S. citizens are making progress - A 2010 report by the DoE says that 63.5% of paper consumed was recycled, and that while ten years ago, citizens used 700 lbs of paper a year and paper made up 34% of landfills, by 2009 paper made up only 28.2% of landfills. That’s progress!  TO CLEAR A PRINT QUEU: Most of know how to clear a print queu by clicking on Start, then Devices and Printers, then the printer’s icon, then See What’s Printing, then highlight the print job causing the problem and clicking cancel.  But sometimes that doesn’t work.  You could try bulk deletion of printing jobs from the print spooler itself.  In the Run window, type services and then click View Local Services to open the Windows Services Tool, where you scroll down to the Print Spooler, right click it and select Stop from the drop-down menu.  This will absolutely clear all documents in the queu.

COMPUTER TIP #39: IF YOU USE WINDOWS ENCRYPTION, SAVE YOUR CERTIFICATE ELSEWHERE  With the introduction of EFS file encryption in Windows XP, and available in Vista and Win 7 (renamed BitLocker), we’ve seen a problem with file restoration where the hard drive crashes and the user attempts to restore the encrypted data on a new machine.  Please be aware that YOU MUST export your certificate and private key and keep them in a safe external location in order to decrypt the data.  Otherwise, it is likely that the data will remain encrypted forever and be useless to you.  If, for example, your hard drive crashes, you can replace it on the same or a different computer, but your backed up data may not have the key and certificate with it.  A cloned drive may have them, but you will have to go to some time and expense to retrieve them, if it can even be done.  Most of the programs that you can buy rely on the assumption that you can boot your old hard drive (which may be useless if it crashed), brute force (which can take forever and may not work) or master keys (which may not be the keys for your encryption).  The whole purpose of encryption is to prevent someone else from opening your data, so it makes sense.  Just automatically assume your drive will crash someday and keep your keys to the kingdom elsewhere, and you’ll be safe.

COMPUTER TIP #40: HOW CAN I MAKE MY LAPTOP COMPUTER LAST LONGER?  Maybe this should be stated in the converse: What shouldn’t I do to damage my computer.  Computers, especially laptops, are particularly susceptible to three things - power fluctuations, heat and dust.  A good surge protector can take easily care of the first problem.  The others just take some common sense.  For example, despite their name, laptops aren’t made to sit on your lap.  Or your bed, or a pillow or, anything else that will block the ventilation slots on the bottom of the machine.  Doing so will cause the machine to overheat and shut down or at least shorten the life of the laptop.  (That’s why you can by those ventilation “pads” at your computer store.)  Also, it may place the hard drive at a less than horizontal angle, which can also cause undue wear.  The hard drive may also be damaged by moving or walking with the laptop while it is running (some laptops have gyros to prevent this) or failing to assure that the drive has completely “winded down” before shutting the cover or throwing the machine into a briefcase or car.  If it hasn’t stopped spinning, the actuator arm (which searches the drive for data) could scratch the disk, damaging it or rendering it unreadable.  (If you hold a drive in your hand while it is starting up or winding down, you’ll be amazed at the strength of the centrifugal force it exerts.  See Hard Drives.)  If you do leave your laptop plugged in all of the time, using it like a desktop, See FAQs 24, 27 and 28 for information about this.  Also, never expose batteries to extreme temperatures, as they can cause a degradation of its internal chemicals, shortening its life.  Another common issue is the power cord:  Don’t yank the cord, pull it from the connector.  Pulling the cord damages the connector’s pins and the internal attachment to the laptop’s main board.  At the least, it can shorten the re-charging time.  At the most, it will disable the connector, requiring disassembly and soldering, which can be expensive.  Dust can damage a computer by causing it to overheat.  But not just ordinary dust.  Office dust, say from shredders or printers, can easily cause problems.  Vacuum or blow out the air intakes and exhausts frequently.  But never use commercial cleaners, they can cause corrosion.  And be gentle.  Finally, even if you use the laptop as a desktop, shut it down every few days (at least once a week) just to clear out the cache and short term memory, install necessary updates and update other software and drivers.  It may also remove any errors.  And watch what software you install - installing a second anti-virus program in addition to the one already installed on your computer isn’t twice the protection, it’s half the speed.

COMPUTER TIP #41: HOW TO UNINSTALL PROGRAMS PROPERLY.  This may seem like a simple issue, but often it’s not.  For example, many people uninstall their anti-virus programs from the Control Panel before upgrading to a later version.  It’s a good idea.  However, this type of uninstall can leave remnants throughout your system which may block the installation of the newer version of that program or hinder its operation.  That’s a much more difficult problem to correct.  So here’s the best ways to uninstall programs, in decreasing order:  First, when upgrading to a newer version, see what the upgrade tells you.  Read the instructions, or start the upgrade process.  If you don’t get a message telling you to first uninstall the old version, or it tells you that it is uninstalling the old version, or simply says nothing, then just let it install the upgrade.  You can remove the old version later if it isn’t already removed and it’s bothering you.  Second, if you must uninstall first, check to see if your program comes with its own uninstall feature and, if so, use this first.  You can usually find it in a submenu for that program in the program list off of the Start Menu.  Since this type of uninstall is designed by the builder of the software, it will usually remove the most files.  Third, some programs (especially anti-virus programs like Norton and AVG) have their own separate uninstall programs that you can download from their sites if the first way doesn’t work. Fourth, if you’re really good at file management, you might also look in Windows Explorer in the folder for the software and look for an undocumented uninstall.  It will generally appear as an “uninstall.exe” icon that you can just click on.  Fifth: Only if these ways aren’t there or don’t work should you then go to the Control Panel and either Add/Remove Programs (XP) or Programs & Features (Win 7, 8 & Vista) to remove the program.  Sixth and last choice:  Those programs (paid or free) that promise to completely uninstall programs or remnants.  Some work, some don’t (or can cause other unintended problems).  I recommend REVO Uninstaller, but be careful, just use the basics as this program can do a lot.  If none of these things work, there are two final things you can do:  First, have the program professionally removed by manually deleting registry entries or, second, just take the easy way out and install another (different) program that does the same thing.  For example, if you can’t remove AVG Anti-Virus and install or upgrade to a later version, just use Avast Anti-Virus instead.   If you’re just uninstalling a program without upgrading, maybe it’s best to leave it and just remove the desktop shortcut and program entry from the Start Menu or Task Bar.  Unless it’s causing problems with your system or you have a hard disk space problem, sometimes it’s just best to leave it alone.  Most newer computers have more than sufficient disk space, so if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.

COMPUTER TIP #42: ALWAYS DATE EVERYTHING!  It’s a given that most of us make changes to our files, whether they are documents, spreadsheets, plans or anything else.  When we go back to work on a file, we want it to be the most recent one, not an earlier version.  (This becomes even more confusing when multiple users contribute to revisions.)  Now, many times you can look in the directory and find the various versions of the files and their dates, but that takes a little time and knowledge.  It makes life far easier if you simply add the date to the file name each time you save a file.  Example:  “ Smith Letter to IRS 1-12-11”.  (Now that we can add longer file names, there’s really no excuse not to.)  I suppose this has a lot to do with my litigation days, when we had to sort through hundreds of versions of letters by engineers and executives to find out which ones were which, many of them never even sent out.  That took lots of time and cost lots of money.  If it was just saved in a consistent fashion, a lot of the work could have been avoided.  In fact, many offices place a line at the end of every printed document (in very small type) which contains a path which shows not only the date, but the secretary who prepared it and the case or matter involved.  For example:  11/1/11, IRS letter, MaryJM, SECLIT  Try this, I think you’ll find it makes your life easier. 

Moreover, it makes searching much easier - for example, typing “datemodified:2015 medical” in the search box at the upper right corner of the File Explorer window (or Windows Explorer in Win 7) will filter search results to show only files that contain the word “tax” and were last saved in 2013.  Note that the search parameter entered after the colon can be any full or partial date, such that “datemodified:December2015” or “>datemodified:12/1/16” (using > or <) will effectively narrow the filter to all dates before of after the one stated.  For those preferring an easier way just type “datemodified” then use the drop-down calendar.  An in Win 8.1 and Win10, there are date-related shortcuts built in the Search tab of the File Explorer ribbon..

COMPUTER TIP #43: KEEP YOUR COMPUTER CLEAN!  Not just the outside (although jammed drive slots, CD trays and keyboards filled with coffee and bread crumbs can short out your machine.  And cat hair, don’t even get me started.  But the inside as well.  Dust can create heat and heat is detrimental to your machine.  Heat can reduce the life of boards, drives, processors and cards.  In the worst case, it can cause a complete meltdown.  Clean it at least every six months or so (depending on the dust and heat environment your computer is in) and you should be fine.  Use a vacuum to either blow out dust and debris inside the case (never any liquid) and water or lens cleaner with a soft cloth to clean the exterior plastic surfaces, but never any cleaners with abrasives or ammonia.  For more, see Tip #17 about cleaning LCD screens and Tip #25 if you spill something on your keyboard.

COMPUTER TIP #44: WHEN REPLACING HARDWARE, REPLACE EVERYTHINGOften, when replacing a device such as a printer, modem, router, switch or other hardware on your computer system, it may be tempting to simply use the old power cord, network cable and/or other connecting cables.  This recycling really isn’t a good idea for two reasons:  First, the old cable or wire might not be the exact same type necessary for the new device even though it might look the same.  For example, printers have different gauge power cables with different transformer boxes on the line.  Also, many power wires have different amperage transformers on the end or in the middle although they look similar.  Some power plugs are two prong, not three prong (even if they actually connect to the device at the other end), which may be necessary for that device.  And some newer network devices may require an upgraded cable (CAT 5 to 5e or even 6).  Even more important:  It wouldn’t seem so, but cables can go bad! Second, even if the transformers (those little black boxes that plug into the wall, which reduce standard 120 volt house current to a more useable 12 - 18 amps) are correct, they tend to deteriorate or wear or burn out over time, even though the device that they are connected to may still function.  We’ve seen DSL modems and inkjet printers, for example, fail to operate when it was the old power cord and transformer which was partially or completely defective, and not the device itself.  Lesson:  Check the power supply and line and the other connecting cables first, and even if that’s not the problem, replace everything that comes with the replacement device.

COMPUTER TIP #45: WHEN UPDATING SOFTWARE, REMOVE OLD VERSIONSThis is particularly important when you upgrade Internet add-ons, like Java and Flash, where the older versions have vulnerabilities which could allow viruses and intrusions into your computer.  You may not know that you are still loading an older version of the program, but your operating system may still load it, thinking that it always has been associated with that application.  If you remove the older version, this can’t happen.  Also, remember that if you are updating a browser related program (like Flash), you have to update the software for each browser (i.e. Flash for Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) Usually, software is updated for two reasons:  First, to fix bugs, including those that may allow viruses, malware and intrusions into your computer.  Second, to add new features.  If your upgrade clearly falls into the second category (read the instructions or “read me” file), you probably don’t absolutely have to remove the old version.  But it’s still a good “defensive computing” practice to do so.  Why even give the bad guys a chance to infect your computer? It’s usually a best practice to install the update, make sure it works, then go back (Control Panel, Programs) and see if the old version remains, then delete it.

thresholdCOMPUTER TIP #46: TROUBLESHOOTING:  SOLVE THRESHOLD ISSUES FIRST.  Before picking up that help line or bringing in your computer for service, you should always address “threshold” issues first.  That is, before you cross the “threshold” to take your computer out for service, check out these basics:  Do you have power to your computer or monitor or printer?  The plug could be out, the outlet could be bad, the breaker could have been tripped.  If you replaced hardware, did you replace everything (see TIP#44)?  It might not even be a problem with your computer, it may be elsewhere, like your power strip, or power to a hub or switch.  Similarly, check the cables connecting your keyboard, mouse, printer and other peripherals.  If a cable isn’t firmly seated, the computer may not boot completely.  Same for routers, cable modems, switches and hubs.  See if the lights are on, the power plug may be out, maybe from moving the boxes around on your desk or simply kicking it with your foot if it’s underneath.  If your internet is out, check the power and cable connections to your cable/DSL modem and router.  Pull out the power cable then reinsert it.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen these simple problems solved this easily.  You’ll feel really stupid if you have to pay for tech assistance for something this basic.  So check these things first, then call for service.  See also FAQ #79.

COMPUTER TIP #47: TROUBLESHOOTING:  WHAT DID YOU DO LAST?  If your computer or peripheral suddenly stops working, especially when you start it up, every tech will always ask you “what did you do last?”  This is because it will frequently be the cause of the problem.  [This is kind of like thinking about the last place you were at when you lost your car keys, eyeglasses or credit card.]  Did you add or remove hardware?  Did you add or remove software?  This includes Windows and other updates, like your printer or anti-virus.  Did you update your web browser, or add a new add-on or a toolbar?  Did you download a file?  If you did any of these things, try uninstalling or rolling back or disconnecting the last thing you did immediately before the problem to see if this solves the issue.  If not, then continue on and seek help....

COMPUTER TIP #48: CELL PHONE TIPS - BACKUP, LOSS PREVENTION.  Now that cell phones are basically computers, you have to consider the same level of security that you would require of your personal computer.  After all, your cell phone probably has the same, possibly more, of your personal data than your home computer. First, back up your data.  If your phone gets hacked, gets a virus or is stolen, it is not only gone but it can be used against you.  Most phone manufacturers (such as Motorola) or service providers (such as Verizon), whether Android or Apple, have their own built-in apps for this purpose, or you can select from several free and paid apps.  You can back up either to an external drive or to the cloud, your choice.  Second, consider what can happen if your phone is lost or stolen.  Again, there are several apps that make it possible to find your phone.  Apple has a feature on iCloud that you can set up to “Find My iPhone”.  If you set up a passcode lock, it means that a thief shouldn’t be able to access your phone, e-mail, etc.  [In actuality, a pro knows to connect a stolen phone immediately to iTunes and wipe it so Find My iPhone won’t work.]  But, if you’ve merely lost your iPhone in a cab or in your house, it’ll be great.  Same for Android, Google Play has a free option called “Where’s My Droid.” There’s also an app named “Plan B” which actually can remotely be downloaded after the phone’s gone missing, after which it opens itself then automatically sends the phone’s geographic location to your registered g-mail address!  But in order for any of these apps to work you must (1) have your phone powered on (your battery must not have gone dead) and (2) have GPS enabled (how else can it know where it is).  You should do these things immediately after purchasing every smart phone, they’re invaluable. 

Since I’m running a business, I used to have a Blackberry, which allowed me to connect the phone to my home computer via USB cable, then back up everything.  But that brand was the only phone like that, because it was a “business” type phone.  Now I have an Android and, after switching my mail, calendar and contacts to the cloud (gmail), I no longer have to worry about what will happen to the data if my phone gets lost or stolen.  (As a businessman, I may have other concerns about cloud computing privacy, but that’s another story.)  In addition, just to play it safe, I still use the Verizon’s own phone backup, a backup for my text messages to my computer (SMS+ backup app), and Mobile Recovery (which lets you shut your phone off or wipe it remotely if it’s stolen). All free.

COMPUTER TIP #49: HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF WHEN SHOPPING ONLINE.  With the continuing increase in online shopping comes a concurrent increase in scams.  The best way to protect yourself if you are purchasing on line:  First, make sure the web page is secure.  It should have a “HTTPS” designation in the address, or a “locked” icon at the bottom of the page, or a green or yellow bar over the address or the like.  Next, don’t shop when using Wi-Fi connections, public or not.  Your information can easily be stolen over such networks.  Why take the chance?    Also, if you are using a cell phone, make sure that the mobile app looks secure and, if not, don’t use it.  If you have the choice, it’s also better to use a credit card than a debit card, not only because credit cards are more secure, but because you have greater protection if it is stolen.  Because of the relative lack of security for mobile apps, some might have gotten through the vetting process that are not that secure or maybe are even “SMisShing” scams.  If in doubt, wait to use your desktop computer, and check the originating e-mail address or direct link.  Most legitimate vendors won’t ever request your private information via e-mail or text messages, so don’t provide it this way.  Keep your mobile device password protected and also consider the “remote wiping” software if it is lost or stolen, so your important data can’t be found. Update your phone operating system and app software when available, although this is usually done automatically, as the updates often include code to plug security holes that may make your phone vulnerable to hacking. 

COMPUTER TIP #50: HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON COMPUTER PURCHASES.  Scattered throughout these Tips and the Faqs pages are items which can save you money on computer software and hardware purchases.  Summarized:  Buy new items on sale, maybe last year’s model in a box.  Buy refurbished (not used) equipment which has been returned to a real store direct from the manufacturer, with a warranty.  Don’t buy premium cables.  Avoid pricey extended warranties, except perhaps on some laptops.  Get and use decent surge protectors, especially smart power savers that disable standby power on your devices, which can save money on your monthly electric bill.  Purchase, rather than rent, cable modems and routers.  Use freeware like Open Office as often as possible.  Buy a computer with more RAM, but a smaller hard drive, unless you are involved in audio, photo or video editing. Shop online, if you have the patience and knowledge.  Don’t buy lots of spare batteries, as they generally degrade as fast as the ones you are using, but look for the extended life batteries if you power a lot of electronics.  And use common sense:  Think about what you’re doing with the computer or device, then eliminate those features or devices that may be unnecessary, possibly increasing the capabilities of those features or devices that are really important to you.

COMPUTER TIP #51: BEWARE THE TECH SUPPORT CTRL + F5 TRAP!  Not to take away from the many tech support folks that can be informed and helpful, it’s a fact that sometimes telephone tech support can be kinda lazy.  Or not the best trained.  [See FAQ 35] One of the more common suggestions that they can make is that you either delete your browsing history and cookies or press Ctrl + F5 to delete everything, including your caches, so that the program or program setting in question has no past history to go to and has to use only the new settings.  On the surface, I suppose that makes sense.  But they should lead you to the specific settings to delete, rather than taking the easy road and just deleting everything historically saved on your computer.  Why?  My problem is that they do this without any warning about the overall consequences.  You should be aware that once the cookies, history and cache are deleted, you may have to re-enter all of the IDs and passwords for every program and internet account, such as your Google or Yahoo account, on-line banking sign-in pages, other proprietary software or hardware sign-in pages and the like.  And many other important settings for which you have long forgotten the IDs and passwords, may also be erased, as they always auto-enter the information.  If this is suggested, I always tell the tech that I absolutely won’t do it.  They’ll have to find a way to delete the individual item manually or find another way to solve the problem.  Also, I’ve found that even after deleting the history, it only solves the problem one in four times anyway.


COMPUTER TIP #52: TROUBLESHOOTING:  YOUR COMPUTER CAN LIE TO YOU!  It doesn’t do it on purpose.  It really has no choice.  Why?  Your computer is programmed with a finite (limited) number of responses.  So, when something goes awry, it attempts to tell you what’s wrong with the correct message.  But if the correct message isn’t programmed into the system, it tells you what it thinks is closest to the correct response.  Often, if you believe it, you can create more trouble for yourself trying to fix the wrong thing.    Think of your computer as a child:  The first time he (or she) get’s a headache, he tells mom that he’s got “a pain in my head” and mom tells him “that’s called a headache”.  Some time later, he gets his first stomach ache.  Having been educated by mom that a pain in his body is a headache, and not knowing what to call a stomach ache, he now tells her that he has a headache, probably thinking but not saying that it’s a headache “in his stomach”.  If mom listens to the headache description, her treatment won’t work and will probably cause even more problems as she further irritates his already upset stomach.  She’s got to do more independent research before blindly accepting her son’s description of the problem.  Same with computers:  Don’t always accept the description of the problem.  For example, I’ve often seen computers describe an error with Javascript or .Net or Visual C++ when these elements aren’t even installed on the computer.  Repairs to these things will obviously not fix the problem, but will certainly compound the error, making the real issue that much harder to fix.  So what about Googling the error message and listening to a self-described expert or even Microsoft tell you what they would do to make the repair?  While this may prove useful, you should have the same concerns: You can sometimes compound the error because (1) they might not actually have had the identical problem you really do have, (2) they don’t have the benefit of seeing the totality of your computer or (3) (with my apologies) they may not be as good as they say they are.  Many of these problems won’t be revealed, even if you publish a log to tech support, as they may involve software conflicts, virus or malware issues or proprietary program malfunctions.  So what do you do?  Run anti-virus and anti-malware scans first.  Check the program causing the problem, call their tech support, disable any add-ons, maybe uninstall, then reinstall it.  Check the Microsoft database for any known Windows issues.  Then, if the error still exists, get a pro to look at it before you cause any further, possibly irretrievable, damage to the system.

COMPUTER TIP #53: TROUBLESHOOTING:  EVEN IF SETTINGS ARE CORRECT, RESET THEM.  Often, when attempting to repair a software problem, you are directed to check the settings.  You can see that the settings are correct, so you may not reset them.  To the contrary, often erasing the same settings and them putting them in again will solve the problem.  Same with e-mail:  Sometimes setting up a new e-mail account with exactly the same settings as the one which isn’t working will, for some reason, correct the problem.  This doesn’t always work, but quite often it does.  Why?  Sometimes the computer, specifically the registry, has information stored in it that creates a conflict or a discrepancy in how the software operates and “resetting” it changes the registry back to where it is supposed to be.

COMPUTER TIP #54: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO COPY LARGE FILES?  Anyone who has tried to copy large files has probably found that the process often results in incomplete or corrupt results.  Luckily, there are some alternatives out there to help.  Windows operating systems are useful:  First, there’s the Windows command line copy command.  Xcopy, built into most older versions of Windows, will copy large folders and subfolders.  Windows Vista and 7/8 contain robocopy, which is even better.  Each of these copy commands have lots of switches to catch and correct any errors and verify the results.  I like to specify /v (verification) and /n (names, which allows for long names and paths).  If you want stand-alone programs, there are lots, like XXCOPY, that’ll do the trick, usually with even more advanced features.  In most instances, however, I simply take an external drive and move the folders from one drive to the other.  Sometimes, even a flash drive works just fine.  The above is only for those times that a problem arises.

COMPUTER TIP #55: ALWAYS REBOOT AFTER PATCHES, FIXES & UPGRADES.  This should go without saying, but it’s often missed.  Any time you install a patch, fix, upgrade or other software, it’s best to reboot your machine, even if you aren’t asked to do so.  Because Windows services and processes are interdependent, it’s necessary to reboot in order to be sure that the dependency chains are re-established properly.  Besides, it couldn’t hurt.

COMPUTER TIP #56: MAKE SURE YOU UPDATE YOUR FLASH AND JAVA.  I know I’ve said this before elsewhere in the site but, according to a major anti-malware vendor, over the past two years some 78% of all exploits came via Java and Flash add-ons that weren’t properly updated.  You’ve gotta patch this hole.  Go to your Control Panel and select either of these two programs, then go to the tab that requires automatic updating and select it.  And don’t update any other way - there are lots of pop-ups and reminders to update Flash and Java that are in fact malware and links to viruses.  Don’t fall for them.

COMPUTER TIP #57: HOW TO FIX HTTP STATUS CODE ERRORS.  These are the errors you get when you try to get your browser to go to a specific URL (web page) and get a message like “Forbidden:  You don’t have permission to access...”  While it could be that you typed the wrong address, it’s more likely a permissions problem.  Errors can be either on the client side (4xx series of numbers) or server side (5xx series).  Rather than reinvent the wheel, there’s a great summary of these status codes and how to fix them  at the PC Support page.

COMPUTER TIP #58: HOW TO EXTEND THE LIFE OF YOUR WINDOWS XP COMPUTER.  With Microsoft finally discontinuing its support for Windows XP on April 8, 2013, if you absolutely must have either use of that O/S, or programs that will only work with XP (e.g. haven’t been updated to Win 7 or 8), you have a few choices.  (1) Some people are simply removing the XP computer from their network and operating it separately and disconnected from the Internet, so it’s safe and will fulfill regulatory guidelines (e.g. HIPAA, see Laws).  If you must use the internet, use a different browser than Internet Explorer, which is insecure.  (2) Another choice would be to keep the XP system, but set it up as a “VPC” or “Virtual PC,” so you could then operate the entire system virtually through an acceptable newer O/S (simultaneously inside the other, not the same as dual booting, see VPC for more. You could use VMware vCenter Converter (free, for Windows and Linux) or Oracle’s VirtualBox (free and paid) for this. But remember:  If you’re still running the old, maybe original,  XP drive, it is still old and will probably crash long before the new virtual hard drive, so you should probably clone it when you set up the VPC, just in case. (3) If you don’t want to go the VPC or dual-boot route there is a (free trial, $59 thereafter) program, CodeWeaver’s CrossOver Linux, which enables a user to run many popular Windows applications (e.g. MS Office, Internet Explorer 8, Quicken, Photoshop) and even some Windows components (e.g. fonts, games) on Linux,.  (4)  Another possibility would be to upgrade to Win7 Pro, Ultimate or Enterprise editions, all of which support Microsoft’s free “XP Mode so you can set up your XP software to work as it used to, hopefully accepting your old hardware and peripherals.  See BACKUP for more.  Also, FAQ #67, below.  (5) Or, if you’re ready to move on but don’t like Windows 8,  try something completely new, like Linux Zorin, or Linux Mint (particularly Version 16 Petra, with the Cinnamon interface, which looks and acts a lot like XP), which really emulate XP rather well.  (6)  Or even make the move to an Apple for that matter.  But choices (5) and (6) may not preserve your use of  proprietary programs like the previous choices.

COMPUTER TIP #59: USE SYSTEM FILE CHECKER TO REPAIR WINDOWS FILES.  In several other sections (e.g. Baseline #12), I’ve mentioned my general distrust of those all-in-one registry cleaners.  However, with the introduction of Microsoft’s System File Checker in Windows 7 and 8, I believe that this particular utility can be quite useful.  Type “sfc /scannow” from a command prompt (as an Administrator).  It will go through a process and let the operating system repair itself, solving some registry issues along the way.  At least it can’t hurt.

COMPUTER TIP #60: HOW AND HOW NOT TO SET UP A WORD TEMPLATE.  Templates in Microsoft Word can be useful.  You can use them to save the customized format for a document or series of documents without reinventing the wheel each time you create another document.  But you have to create the template correctly, otherwise you may have much bigger problems.  It’s not always simple, but it must be done correctly.  For example, many users choose to simply customize the Word “Normal” template.  Seems easy, but you can lose all of your customization if you install an upgrade (or possibly even an update) which re-sets your normal template with a new blank one.  You’ll use all of your hard work.  Same for taking a formatted document you have created, removing the content and then saving it as a template.  Working backwards will most likely create other problems later on.  It’s also a no-no to base a template on a blank document and then save it in template format.  So what are you supposed to do?  There’s only one correct way to create a template:  Go to the File menu then choose New, then click My Computer in the New Document task pane (or in Word 2003, click My Templates in the Available Templates section), then click Blank Document, then click Template in the Create New section, then O.K.  Another common error - To change the default font in a template, make the necessary changes in the template’s default (Normal) style, then save.  Don’t try changing the font from the Options in the font group on the menu, it just won’t work.  Also, when applying a template, don’t open it as a template, edit it and then save it as a document.  That’s wrong.  You’re supposed to go to File, then New, then My Templates, then select  Template, then click Document in the Create New section, then O.K. and give it a name.  Creating a template from an existing document requires you to select the File tab while the document is open, then click Help, then Options from the drop-down menu, then click Add-Ins in the left pane, then Templates from the Manage dropdown, then Go.  Click Attach, select the existing template, then click Open.  After checking the Automatically Update Document Styles option, click O.K. to save.  Quite simply, you won’t have any problems if you create and use templates properly, but you will if you don’t.

COMPUTER TIP #61: SCRIPT ERRORS GENERALLY + HOW TO FIX JAVASCRIPT VOID (0) ERROR.   A “script” is really just a small program which normally runs within your internet browser.  It runs automatically because it is embedded in the code for a web page, or even an advertisement.  The common purposes for these scripts are to enable dynamic page elements like scrolling through slide shows (i.e. “the top 10 vacation resorts” on CNN), displaying ads, running animation on pages and ads, and other automated functions.  But sometimes a script just doesn’t run correctly, for any number of reasons.  It may cause the web page to hang, crash the browser or become a “runaway” script, which never stops running and constantly prompts the user for action (“continue or stop”).  Many, but not all, scripts include built-in error handling code, but it doesn’t always work even if it exists.  So what do you do about this?  In reality, not much.  Each browser has a setting to manage which scripts are run, so you can disable the individual one causing the problem. [See, e.g. ScriptBlock for Chrome, MS support for Internet Explorer.]  But there are free independent plug-ins which allow you to do this quite well:  Try either NoScript or Ghostery, both of which will let you decide which scripts you can run on your browser and when they can be run.  Now about the Javascript Void (0) error:  Sometimes, when attempting to view a web page, the browser returns a “javascript:void(0)” error and refuses to load the new page.  What is happening is that your browser is showing a “void” operator with a null (“0”) value in a script written to link to the new web page , preventing the browser from loading that new page.  In most cases, this is because the html on the page requiring the running of the Javascript is not written correctly by the developer, or maybe not correctly for each and every browser (i.e. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.).  If so, there’s often nothing much you can do about this.  However, sometimes, it can really be a browser problem.  If so, to correct this, you have several choices:  First, make sure that the browser has enabled Javascript - go to the Menu Bar, then tools>internet options>security>custom level>enable active scripting. Or, try a different browser that may be more code friendly (like Chrome). Update your Java through your Control Panel or directly over the Internet. (Yes, Java and Javascript are not the same thing (click HERE for more), but the Java applet in your Control Panel updates the Runtime in your browser, which may cure the problem.) Make sure any pop-up blockers are disabled. Disable any proxy servers.  Some insist that these problems are caused by computer registry problems and therefore require a registry repair program (see the usual Google clickbait results to “click here for two easy steps to solve the Javascript Void0 error”), but I’ve never seen any of them work.  I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this frustrating problem is rarely, or at least easily, fixable if a different browser doesn’t do the trick.  Of course, if the problem occurs across all browsers, continues over many different pages and lasts for quite some time, it’s a pretty good indication that something else is going on with your computer, possibly requiring professional help to repair.

COMPUTER TIP #62: HOW CAN I PROTECT MY BUSINESS COMPUTER BEYOND ANTIVIRUS & ANTIMALWARE PROGRAMS?  Particularly in an enterprise environment, simple anti-virus, anti-malware and firewall programs may not be sufficient to protect a business from intrusions and infections.  Luckily, in those cases, Windows has even more built-in safeguards.  First, you can design a Software Restriction Policy, which is a part of many of the newer Windows operating systems, usually by running the “gpedit.msc” command.  From there, you can create restrictions or, if they have been added by mistake or malware, completely remove them to a default state where there are none.  An administrator can use this feature to define a list of what is trusted code and what isn’t, providing a flexible way to regulate scripts, executables and ActiveX control that might allow malicious software entry.  Click HERE for the Microsoft article explaining how this works.  In addition, if you have a version of Windows that uses the Active Directory architecture (like MS Server), the Group Policy Objects can be edited to restrict known certain registry keys so that specific malware cannot perform certain actions necessary toward it’s purpose.  For example, you could restrict the registry keys so that the Cryptolocker virus (see Security) would be unable to begin the encryption process, required to propagate it’s malicious purpose.  Click HERE for further explanation from Microsoft.  True, these solutions require administrator knowledge and therefore apply to businesses more than individuals, but it’s good to know that, if it’s really important, there is additional protection, even if you need a sysadmin or expert to set it up.  To secure your e-mail from snooping eyes, click HERE.

COMPUTER TIP #63: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO MAINTAIN MY COMPUTER? This probably should have been one of the first tips, but there already was an entire page on this site dealing with physical and software maintenance of your computer, both preventive and post-problem issues.  Click HERE to go to the Security Baseline page.

COMPUTER TIP #64: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO RUN WINDOWS ON A MAC?  As noted elsewhere on this site, there are three main ways to do this:  (1) Apple’s Boot Camp.  The main advantage is that this program was developed by Apple for Apple and that, since it operates only one O/S at a time, the Boot Camp Assistant makes it smoother and quicker to configure (and no longer requires an external USB drive for the process).  And it’s included in Apple’s El Capitan version of its O/S at no extra charge. However, the primary disadvantage is that you have to reboot the Mac to run Windows each time, which can be quite inconvenient.  (2) Parallels Desktop and (3) VMware Fusion.  These programs utilize Windows Desktop Virtualization to do the job.  But the amount of system resources required to run two operating systems at once, the partitioning of the computer’s hard drive, as well as the greater complexity of installing and operating these systems is a drawback. And it’s not free.  What’s best?  It depends on what you are doing, of course.  Originally, Boot Camp was considered second to the two virtual desktop programs, but later versions have bridged the distance with more features and easier installation, although still partitioning the hard drive.  How well those programs work is directly related to both the power of the computers involved and the versions of each program (VMware 8 is current, as is Parallels 11).  The cost of VMware or Parallels is about $79.99.  And VMware has a useful window making it easier to fine-tune a Windows configuration, which is a plus.

COMPUTER TIP #65: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO PROTECT MY SURFING HABITS ON THE INTERNET?  Throughout this site, there is much discussion about the lack of privacy on the Internet.  The trade-off is convenience vs. less privacy.  The main question for you is “How much privacy do you need for what you’re doing?” For example, we all know that the default settings in Facebook and other social network sites will share everything you do, unless you specifically adjust the privacy settings (and even then you may be still be vulnerable, possibly forever, in many instances).  But generally surfing the Internet doesn’t have much privacy protection either. You already know not to use public Wi-Fi hotspots, as they’re insecure, although a 2016 Kaspersky survey found that 82% of travelers still connect to Wi-Fi when traveling abroad even though they know it’s insecure.   It’s good to know that all of the major browsers offer privacy settings which don’t record (at least on your computer) where you go on the Internet and also reject or delete new cookies from each session.  How to do this?  In Chrome, click on the three-bar icon (upper right corner), then select New Incognito window; in Firefox, select File/New Private Window; in later versions, click on the Forget button to remove browsing history after the fact) and in Internet Explorer, select the Gear icon (upper right), then Safety (or Tools), then InPrivate browsing. And remember:  Privacy mode must always be opened in its own separate tab.  Moreover, if you are signed in using a Public tab, you have to sign in all over again in Private tab mode - it won’t later protect you just because you opened a protected tab.  But this isn’t complete privacy:  Consider that even browser-based privacy modes don’t block the websites you visit from recording your computer’s IP address, which can be used to predict at least some information about you and your surfing habits (at least at that site).  And your ISP will still know every page you visit no matter what.  Also, depending on your hardware, your employer or others on your own network as well.  It’s just your computer that won’t show a record of your browsing history.  As you can see, it’s some protection, not an extreme amount, but possibly enough for many home users. 

As the largest search provider, Google is responsible for the most sharing of personal information over the Internet (Microsoft is becoming a close second, with Win10).  In late 2015, Google rolled out a “Privacy Checkup” whch goes beyond the “about Me” profile page and walks the user through the current privacy settings step-by-step.  This won’t do anything about previous information already shared via Google over the internet, but will cover future information disclosure.  You may have to go to separate web pages to cover all features.  To see Microsoft’s editable privacy settings, click HERE.

Other more powerful alternatives:  (1) Use an alternate search engine like DuckDuckGo (which has the most Google-like browsing features and is used by Tor), StartPage or IXQUICK (that searches via proxy, so that even your IP is hidden) all of which make a point of not tracking their users at all, trapping you in a filter bubble or targeting you with ads. Also, Yippy, which automatically detects and blocks adult content, if that’s a possible issue.  Finally, there’s the Tor anonymous browser, but that’s more difficult to set up and configure.  (2)  Or you could set up a Virtual Private Network (“VPN”, not to be confused with corporate VPNs), which will go between you and every Internet domain you access, so that the websites will see only the VPN’s IP address.  But this is a little complex and, if not set up correctly, can cause other issues.  If you do use this protection, you might also want to consider using it over your cell phone as well (try proXPN), especially if you use it to access secure sites over public Wi-Fi, even if the site connection is encrypted (probably like your bank’s site).  Try using free or low cost VPN services like CyberGhost, ItsHidden, OpenVPN or VyprVPN. Click HERE for more about VPN transmission protocols and see also FAQ #49  for more popular VPN programs as well as FAQ #41  for encryption protection for VPNs.  (3)  Moreover, before doing anything, you might want to check and see who’s actually tracking you.  There are lots of free apps for that, including the Ghostery browser extension.  Also, check the I Shared What? web site to see what you shared over your social network accounts.  For e-mail protection, see the e-mail page of this web site.  (4) In addition, note the other suggestions in the FAQs and Tips sections of this site about protection over the Internet.  For example, make payments using one-time use credit cards or even Bitcoins.  Use e-mail accounts protected from even government snooping. Or set one up for a single use, temporary use, or just for purchases or travel.  And see the discussion in the social networking and privacy pages of the site as well.  Just remember, when you share something on line, it’s never truly private! In the end, of course, it’s up to you to decide how much protection you require, if any, based on the things you do when using the Internet. (5) Finally, don’t forget that, depending on how it was set up, your browser(s) may remember your site passwords, so you should either deselect the “store password” setting or else review them periodically, removing the old ones or ones you don’t want shown.  [See more about this under Windows Credentials Manager.]  If you’ve clicked on the browser’s helpful “Do you want to save this password?” button while signing in to password protected websites, your browser has stored them for future use.  Finding the list varies by browser:  For example, in Firefox, clicking on the Menu (the three horizontal lines), then Options, then Security will provide you with a check box for “Remember passwords for sites” (and exceptions).  In the Google Chrome browser, click on the Menu, then Settings, then Advanced Settings, then the Passwords and Forms/Manage Saved Passwords link (you’ll need a Windows account password to edit or show the passwords).  Last, in Apple Safari, go to Preferences, then Auto-fill and click the Edit button to view the saved passwords.  Internet Explorer is the only browser that won’t let you see your passwords direcly, requiring you to use a third party app like IE PassView.

Eliminating “Ad Trackers”:  Ever wonder how those digital ads follow you around the Internet when you check out a website?  That’s because advertisers often place invisible “trackers” on the site, so that they can collect details about everywhere you go on the Internet and use that data to send ads to your computer, cell phone and even smart TV.  Soon, with the expansion of the IoT, it’ll be much worse.  The process for this is quite complex, a multi-billion dollar industry, involving online advertising networks, data brokers and analytics companies which use your browser cookies and your browsing history to achieve their ends.  But there are apps to help reduce this privacy violation.  They work by installing an add-on on your computer with a list of known web domains that serve trackers or identify their patterns, so that when the site is detected, the app will prevent your browser from loading any elements from them. Ghostery is popular but difficult to set up, as it makes the user manually select the trackers to be blocked and most users won’t be able to identify them.  RedMorph is exactly the opposite, blocking every tracking signal it can detect and then letting the user decide which ones to eliminate. But it often blocks legitimate sites, creating its own problems. Privacy Badger detects third party domains, blocks them only if they are determined to be tracking you.  Disconnect works the same way, but is slightly easier to use.  It all depends on your level of computer expertise and the necessary degree of privacy you require. Click HERE for more about ad tracker blockers, and HERE for more about e-mail trackers.

Content Blocking:  This type of app looks to be the future of privacy features:  A new content-blocking app from Mozilla (“Focus” by Firefox) for iPads and iPhones (available from the Apple Store) lets users selectively block ads and third-party website plug-ins send back information to sites or companies with information about you. If successful, it’ll probably be an Android offering as well.  But if developer protests prevail, it may also follow the path of Peace, a similar app offered on the Apple Store by its own developer after it got far too popular.  In 2015, iOS 9 added built-in features for ad blocking right in the O/S. But maybe the time is ready for this type of app now.  Anyway, keep looking for content blocking apps to become popular.

COMPUTER TIP #66: TROUBLESHOOTING HOME THEATER CONNECTIONS.  In many respects, home theater setups are quite similar to computers.  The most common service call issues that we see is where the client cannot get the television, DVR or other player to display on the screen.  It is much easier to repair this issue if you compare the home theater hardware to the basic input/output system (“BIOS”) in a computer.  That is, signal(s) come into the computer in various ways (over the Internet, through floppy drives or disks, over the telephone line, etc.) and after they are processed through the computer, they are sent out over various devices (a printer, telephone line, the Internet, disks).  Similarly, home theaters accept incoming signals (cable, FIOS, satellite, DVD VHS) and direct those signals to an output (usually the screen).  The most common error that users make which causes a lack of display is that they haven’t selected the correct “input” signal to display on the “output” screen.  In the settings, there is always a menu for “input” which will have a selection for things like antenna, cable, FIOS, DHL, DVD and other devices.  You have to select the correct signal source, then it will be displayed on the screen.  In most instances, this fix will let you see what you’re looking for.  Of course, home theaters are quite complex, so if this doesn’t work, there are a lot more connections and settings to look through.  But this one is a good start.

COMPUTER TIP #67: WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR PHONE BATTERY’S OPERATING LIFE:  The operating life for cell phone batteries has always been an issue.  And, as batteries have been improved, the cell phone operating systems, features and apps have kept step by sucking more power from them.  While there are car chargers, a variety of battery-powered, AC  and even solar chargers available (just check the Internet), you’re not always in a position to use them.  This leaves you with developing a plan for minimizing the power that the cell phone is consuming while it’s being used.  Unfortunately, every brand of phone has the settings in different locations, even if they all use the same version of Android of iOS.  But the settings are there to be tweaked.  First, however, you may try simply erasing the cache stored on the phone by opening the settings, locating and tapping storage and USB, tapping Cached Date, then O.K. and then rebooting the device. (Don’t confuse this with “clearing the system cache,” which can be risy and involves System Recovery.) Here are the main things you can do to increase your time:  (1) Turn off as many “communicative” functions as possible, because they use a lot of juice. These include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and particularly GPS. (2) Some phones, like Samsung, actually have a feature known as “power saving mode” which controls CPU and screen power, and even the “haptic feedback” feature (the vibrations or sounds when you press keys) which use more power.  (3)  Unless you are outdoors, dim the display, as it also uses a lot of power.  (4) Tone down or close power hogging apps.  Just like a computer, your phone has apps that are always on whether or not you are actually using them.  Most phones have settings that will show you how much battery power each open app is using.  Find the ones you don’t need and delete them.  For the rest, either force stop them or change the refresh time.  For example, have the phone check for new e-mail messages every half hour rather than every five minutes.  Apple has released a memo debunking the idea that unused apps drain the iPhone batteries, because most apps are suspended and don’t use system resources when switched away.  They do recommend disabling Background App Refresh, however, as well as going to the Battery Usage section under Settings.  (5)  Review your device functions for your particular phone.  There are lots of things you don’t use, or even understand, for your particular phone.  Like screen mirroring, multi-windows, motion detection, shake alert, smart alert, etc.  They all take up battery power.  (6)  As I said before, make sure you go to the sync settings and extend the time for checking each e-mail account.  (7)  In this regard, the cloud is great for making your documents and graphics available, but it takes a lot of power to stay in touch.  So, if you can reduce your dependency on your Dropbox account, for example, you’ll save battery power.  (8)  Same for your your social media accounts, as constantly checking Facebook will eat up battery power as well.  Control yourself.  (9)  It’s great that cell phones can function as music players or movie viewers, but they’re really not meant to do that.  The batteries just can’t handle the drain.  So the less you use it as a music player, the more battery time you’ll have.  (10)  There are programs that purport to manage your cell phone resources and battery life.  There are lots of them on iTunes and the Google Store.  Try them and see if they’re for you. I’ve tried some here and there and been less than impressed.  But for those of us who are not going to use the manual tweeks discussed here, they are useful.  (11) Android phones using the Marshmallow O/S have a new feature named “Doze,” which, when enabled, can significantly reduce battery drain.  (12)  Also , some phones have a feature known as “adaptive brightness,” which senses the ambient light and adjusts the brightness of your screen accordingly.  But you’re still better off disabling this feature and setting your screen brightness to a consistently better level.  (13) Set your screen “time outs” to a shorter interval, as low as you can tolerate.  (14) Believe it or not, enabled vibrations and haptic feedback (like vibrations when typing) also actually can drain battery life, so disable those features if you don’t care about them.   (15) Using a “lock screen” with enabled notifications won’t require unlocking the phone as often, which may also save battery power.  (16) If you have a phone with Android’s “Do Not Disturb” feature (Android Lollipop and later), it can save battery power if you leave your phone on all night and you don’t have a pressing need for constant notifications. Or turn your phone off at night, believe it or not some of us actually do this.  Also, turn off those widgets like weather and stock notifications or at least extend their check-in periods. And don’t update all of your apps constantly, only those ones you care about, and not nearly as frequently (there are settings for this.)  If you don’t want to cut back on any of these things, it’s time for you to consider either an extended battery, or a second one, or different types of chargers.  For more about this, as well general ideas about how to keep your battery in top shape, go to FAQ #26.

COMPUTER TIP #67: HOW DO I SET UP A VIRTUAL MACHINE?  “Virtual machines,” once the province of the corporate environment, are now becoming mainstream for other computer users.  Whether this is due to the demise of Windows XP or the rise of other operating systems like Android and Linux, or even the ability to use a computer as a sandbox if you’re worried that you may be going to infected sites, many users find it advantageous to use a virtual computer to operate a legacy or different system from a newer or more familiar operating system.  But, easy as it may sound, it’s not.  You’ve got to watch your step, and it takes quite some time to complete.  So how is this done?  First, your computer’s hardware must support virtualization technology.  Most newer computers do, although you may have to make some BIOS or UEFI changes to enable them.  Intel’s VT-X and AMD’s AMD-V technology for hardware based virtualization technology are built in to most modern computers.  Older computers may not have this technology, so you may not be able to get out of the gate.  But if it is supported, your next step is to set up a “virtual machine” that will emulate the machine that you want to use.  There are (free) downloadable programs specifically for this: VirtualBox is available for many platforms, as is VMware vCenter Converter, both of which are referenced in TIP #58, above.  Windows 8/8.1/10 support Microsoft’s Hyper-V technology.  It’s already in your O/S, so it won’t cost you any more. And it’s cross-platform and client-server friendly.  But it’s harder to set up.  The third-party virtualization products may be friendlier and easier to set up, if not a little slower.  If you download the software and follow the instructions, you will be able to create and use a VPC.  But this isn’t for beginners.  Click HERE for a glossary of virtualization terms.

COMPUTER TIP #69: HOW DO I KNOW IF MY MOTHERBOARD IS BAD? Often, your computer just won’t start or won’t start correctly.  You’ve checked your drive and maybe even removed the riser cards, but it’s just not working.  If you’ve eliminated most of the common culprits, it could be that your motherboard is failing or hacapacitor leakings failed.  One of the main hardware items you can (visually) check are the capacitors.  These are the slightly larger cylinders mounted on the board.  You will notice that they have kind of an “X” on the top.  Check to see if any of the tops of the capacitors are rounded rather than flat, and if any type of gel is leaking from the raised portion of the cap. (In the photos at the right, a good one is on the right, a leaking one on the left.) This is not a good thing.  Fcapacitors bulgingortunately, this is a repairable failure and does not require replacement of the entire computer (unless there are other simultaneous hardware failures).  It requires you to take the board or a photo of the cap to your nearest electronics store to find the exact replacement, then a soldering iron to desolder the cap from the board and then replace it with the new one.  Or have them do it at the electronics store if they offer this service.  It’s inexpensive and could save your computer.  And it will really impress your friends.  If you hold on to your computer or any other electronics (e.g. monitor) for any length of time, you can expect some bad caps.

COMPUTER TIP #70: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR CAPTCHA LOOPS.  CAPTCHA  (go to Glossary definition for more) is a useful technique for providers that want to make sure they’re dealing with real people, not bots.  But sometimes real customers get stuck in an endless loop where they enter the verification code and are redirected to the CAPTCHA page without downloading the file.  Because sometimes miscoding for the CAPTCHA can cause problems with some browsers and not others, the simplest fix is to use another browser to enter the verification and go from there.  Most times, even if you have to go through all three major browsers, this will fix the problem.

COMPUTER TIP #71: HOW DO I ERASE MY BROWSER SEARCH HISTORY?  By now we all know that our search history is collected by browsers so that the data can be mined to show your health, interests, shopping habits and the like.  That history can be collected for years, if it’s not erased.  So how do you erase it.  It depends on the browser, and you’ll have to do it separately for each one, and you should do it periodically.  For Google, go to, then log into your Google account.  Click on the gear icon on the top right, choose Settings.  Then you can delete specific items from your search history, or all items, and even turn off search history, so Google won’t save your future searches.  This is also where you can erase all of your audio search communications (“voice search commands”) as well (you knew that was being stored as well, didn’t you?)  In addition, if you want to opt out of ad tracking, go to  For Bing, you can erase your search history at and Yahoo at But Yahoo is the only browser that won’t let you erase old search history.  And, whether you’re using Google, Bing or Yahoo, you can always try a program named “Disconnect Search” either as a plug-in for Chrome or Firefox browsers or Android (sorry, no Apple iOS), or by going directly through the website.  Last choice:  Go to a browser like DuckDuckGo  (or any other private search engine), which doesn’t collect any search history at all, although it doesn’t offer many of the browsing features you may have been accustomed to with the others.  For more, See TIP #65 above.  UPDATE:  In May, 2014, Google reports that it is introducing a new tool for those users who want to disappear from search results, probably to comply with Europe’s court ruling giving users the right to have their tracks deleted.  But, it’s not all that easy:  Using a request form (hidden on the legal page), you must separately list each and every link with your name that you want removed, along with a reason that you believe that the URL in the search results is “irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate”.  Then you have to submit a photo ID (to prevent fraudulent removal requests).  And you have to select the country that the request applies to, since the removal is done by country domain.  The U.S. isn’t listed yet, but will be included.

COMPUTER TIP #72: MAKE SYSTEM REPAIR DISKS: The first thing you should do when you set up your new computer should be to make system backup and repair disks (sometimes called “rescue disks).  Even if you forgot, it’s never too late to do it after that.   In the old days, your computer came with restore media, but that’s not always the case lately.  Now, if your computer came with a DVD to set up the operating system (either from Microsoft or the computer manufacturer), and possibly also other disks for drivers and software, then you’re set.  But if not, the setup files may reside on a separate partition on the hard disk drive, which won’t help you if that drive crashes.  So you’ll have to make your own disks.  Luckily, the current Windows operating systems make this easy.  Windows 8 includes the built-in Recovery Media Creator (“RMC”) tool, which creates a bootable recovery/repair disk onto either a CD/DVD or a flash drive, which contains boot files and a variety of tools to reset or refresh your computer.  It’s easy to use:  Type Win + W from the admin account, then enter “create recovery drive” in the search box, then follow the directions, making your choices.  Windows 7 also has a similar, but not quite as good, utility.  You can get to it by inserting a blank CD/DVD and, while in the admin account, going to start>control panel>system and security>backup and restore, and then clicking on “create a system repair disk,” then following the instructions.  Unfortunately, Windows versions prior to Win 7 (e.g. Vista, XP) did not have these utilities.  There are various freeware versions of utilities for this purpose, but they’re difficult to download and set up if you don’t know how to burn ISO files and create bootable flash drives.  You would be better off going to one of the free websites that provide basic downloadable CD/DVD’s for this purpose.  Try, for example, Ultimate Boot CD or one other many you can Google.  If these don’t work, there are paid system recovery tools that you can obtain that may work even better.  While most of the free and paid system recovery disks work through a Linux boot, it’s not terribly difficult to navigate if you have a little patience and follow the directions.  This, of course, only covers the system recovery/rescue issue.  For backups, which you should also create up front and periodically, click HERE.

COMPUTER TIP #73: WHAT THREE THINGS SHOULD I DO BEFORE USING MY NEW COMPUTER? I probably should have put this up front, but here it is anyway.  There are three things that should routinely be done when you purchase a new computer and set it up for your use.  All are covered in this site.  First, get the junk off.  All adware, spyware, trialware, bloatware and the like should be removed.  You can remove them using the Control Panel, then right-clicking any remaining desktop icons or start menu/task bar items and deleting them.  If you’re not going to pay for MS Office or Norton Anti-Virus after the trial period, you might as well remove them now, as they’re running resident and taking up your memory and affecting performance.  There are programs for this (like “PC Decrapifier”), but I don’t trust them and it’s not very difficult to do it on your own.  Second, create a rescue/boot disk or drive in case your computer fails to boot.  It’s not difficult, but it can really save wiping your computer and starting all over.  See Tip #72, immediately above, for how to do this.  Finally, once you’ve loaded all of the programs, tweaked your settings and installed all your peripheral hardware, make a full backup or even a clone of your hard disk, so you’ll be able to restore everything if it crashes or becomes irretrievably corrupt.  Slick HERE for info about backing up your computer and HERE specifically for Win 10.  I know that all of this seems to be a pain, but when (not if) a serious problem occurs (AnyProtect claims a hard drive crashes every 22 minutes), you’ll be thankful.  Too many people skip this step and kick themselves later.  As a matter of course, when I deliver and set up a new computer, I do this for our clients.  It saves them money and saves me time and effort later.

COMPUTER TIP #74: COMPUTER CLEANING TIPS.  Unfortunately, these are scattered throughout the site, but click HERE for references about how to clean dust, eliminate heat and clean LCD monitors.

COMPUTER TIP #75: WHAT ARE THE COMMON PORTS FOR CELL PHONES?  If you must set up the e-mail on your cell phone manually, there can be some variation depending upon your phone’s manufacturer, the service provider and your server (particularly if it’s a domain server).  But there are some default settings, divided between encrypted and unencrypted connections, that usually work.  They’re set forth in the chart.  And don’t forget that you may have to enable “password authentication” for some e-mail accounts (“auth” used with “unencrypted”).  Look for the box to check, and it’s usually set to “use the same settings as those for logging on”.

COMPUTER TIP #76: ARE THERE CONTACT MANAGEMENT APPS FOR GMAIL?  Especially if you need Outlook-type contact management for business purposes, G-mail’s built in contact management features just don’t do the trick.  Compatible add-on apps, however, will help.  You can try FullContact (previously RainMaker), Contacts+ or Contacts Ultra, all of which are quite good and free or close to.  You can use these apps to import address and contact books, make new contacts, tag, add notes and even import business cards.

COMPUTER TIP #77: HOW TO TURN OFF FAST START UP IF YOU’RE HAVING PROBLEMS IN WIN8.  The Fast Startup feature in Win8 has been known to cause some computers to hang when booting, and also other problems.  To disable this feature, to to Control Panel>Hardware and Sound>Power Options.   Then select “Choose What Power Buttons Do” and uncheck the “Turn On Fast Startup” option.  Depending on your Windows version or setup, you may also have to click on the “Change Settings That Are Currently Unavailable” link to permit this change to take effect.

COMPUTER TIP #78:  USEFUL PHONE TIPS FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL:  Used to be you just used AOL for international travel, as that was the best choice, and settled for the features they offered.  Things have really changed with the introduction of smart cell phones, thousands of apps, and lots of plans to cope with the costs of international travel (see FAQ #63).  If you don’t want to spend the time, money or battery power to stay in touch while traveling, but want your phone available for emergencies, don’t forget to turn off specific features, or else it might cost you a lot even if you don’t use it at all (see TIP#30, 67).  Aside from the device or plan you select, here are some other “common sense” things you should probably do:  Take photos of all of your travel documents (e.g. passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, tickets, rail passes), then store them in an accessible folder in Google Drive, Amazon Cloud, DropBox or some other free cloud service, so that if any of these important documents are lost, stolen or misplaced, you at least have documented proof of their existence and contents.  Similarly, before you depart, you should consider loading a copy of the various touring maps you may need, and save them for “off-line use” as permitted in Google Maps and other apps.  If you can’t access mobile data, GPS or Wi-Fi, or don’t want to pay the high cost, at least this digital information will still be available to you.  Downloading and installing a language translator is a must.  And test it before you leave to see if you’re comfortable with it and that it has all of the features you need.  (See FAQ #78 for these apps.)  Once you’ve arrived, make sure you have Google Goggle’s, the app where you take a photo of a building or landmark and Google identifies it for you (a lot of the time, anyway).  Add all of this to the other stuff you’ve probably already thought about:  Keep your itinerary on a (shared) spreadsheet, updated as you travel; pack extra chargers and/or batteries, suitable for foreign countries (see FAQ#28), and share your photos as you travel using any of the cloud services if you don’t already have one.  This might also be an excellent time to back up your cell phone as well  (See FAQ #6).

COMPUTER TIP #79:  FROM THE “THINK BEFORE YOU JUMP” DEPARTMENT:  When mentoring or speaking with clients about computer repair, I’ve often used the words “threshold issue” (e.g. TIP #46).  It’s a throwback to my lawyer days, when you had to get past certain very basic issues (like statutes of limitation) in order to “cross the threshold” into court.  Similarly, there are such issues when dealing with computers.  For repairs, for example, before even touching the hardware, you’ve got to be sure that there is no warranty that might be voided or, if there is, that it’s been properly waived by the client or considered by yourself.  Once you open the case, you may be out of luck.  Also, you’ve got to be sure that the operating system is valid and registered (usually with a sticker on the machine) so that, if you have to reinstall it (after backing it up, of course), you can do so without further cost.  Consider that Microsoft has made this somewhat difficult as a result of it’s many O/S sales versions, especially the OEM version.  This applies to all installed software as well.  You’ve may even have to verify that the computer belongs to the person requesting service, as it could be stolen or taken in without the owner’s permission.  All of this seems rather basic, but I come across it all the time.  Always think in terms of threshold issues first.  Otherwise you may at the least be wasting your time, and at the most be responsible for lots of time and expense if you have to restore a machine to a usable state.

COMPUTER TIP #80:  HOW DO I RECOVER OR RESET A LOST WINDOWS PASSWORD:  This depends, as usual, on what version of Windows you are using and the type of user account in question.  (1) First, if you are using a domain system in an enterprise, you should seek out your System Administrator, who should have the answer to your problem.  In the more recent versions of Windows, that is Vista, Win7 and Win8, if you have taken advantages of several options during your computer setup, it’s not that difficult.  (2) You could have set up a “password reset disk” (go to Control Panel>User Accounts>Create A Password Reset Disk> and follow the wizard now).  The disk may be a CD/DVD or USB drive and may be used after your sign-in screen fails and provides you with a link.  Good news:  It’s also useable even if you changed your password after you created it.  (3) In later versions like Win8, you were asked to create an on-line Microsoft account when you set up your computer.  If you did this, you can sign in to “Account Settings>Security & Password) on your cell phone or computer and follow the verification procedure to reset your forgotten password.  Didn’t decide to get a MS account? (4) You can start your computer with either a boot disk (if you thought to create one, but I doubt you did if you didn’t feel like making a password reset disk when offered the choice) or the appropriate Windows installation disk (see TIP #4, above).  Use the “Repair Your Computer” option, select “Command Prompt”.  Next, you’ll have to type some commands, so pay attention carefully:  Type “copy C:\windows\system32\sethc.exe c:\” then press Enter on your keyboard.  Next, type “c:\windows\system32\cmd.exe c:\windows\system32\sethc.exe” then press Enter on your keyboard.  (If prompted to overwrite, click “Yes”.)  Reboot.  At the sign-in screen, hit <Shift> 5 times.  It’ll take you to a command prompt again.  Type “net user (your user account; don’t forget to use quotes if it includes spaces between more than one word) (your new password).  For more instruction, click HERE for the PC World article, which also explains the downside of this process.  (5) Don’t have a boot or installation disk, possibly because you bought an OEM system without one?  Try downloading and using an “off-line” (i.e. Linux boot, since you can’t hack Windows while its running) program to force reset the password.  There are several, most techs like Offline NT Password & Registry Editor; I’ve used it and it works.  Otherwise, you’re stuck with the final choice, attempting to unlock passwords in your computer by locating them in the Windows SAM file, which contains those encrypted passwords.  It’s not all that easy, but if you have no choice because you need the data on the computer and therefore can’t wipe and reinstall, you’ll have to do this (or have someone more experienced do it for you).  Most popular program by far is Ophcrack.  But allow time to download the appropriate version, get the tables, copy to a CD/DVD or USB and run it, after reading the Help file to figure it out (I’ve been doing computers for years and it took me a little while to get it right).  The good news is that it’s free; the bad news is that it only cracks passwords up to 14 characters, so if you used anything longer, you’re out of luck.

COMPUTER TIP #81:  HOW TO PURCHASE A DIGITAL CAMERA:  Just like many other areas of this site, what hardware you purchase really depends on what you think you’re going to use it for.  For the majority of users who take “snapshots,” a simple, compact, point-and-shoot digital camera will do the trick.  Camera like Sony CoolPix or Canon PowerShot are generally on sale at the big-box stores for about $125 or so.  They have better specs than even the better cell phone cameras and it’s easier to archive the photos off of them.  (See below for a discussion of features and specifications).  Beyond this, you can purchase cameras which are appropriate for specialized usage, like “superzoom” cameras (speed and zoom if you are taking sports photos) or hi-def digital SLR cameras from Leica and Nikon with interchangeable lenses that duplicate the quality of the old SLR cameras for portraits and detailed images.  But these can cost hundreds of dollars.  So, what do you look for?  First, don’t be swayed by the “megapixel wars”.  Sure, more megapixels isn’t bad (although too much can unnecessarily bulk up the data size for storage and transmission), but that isn’t all that’s important.  Resolution is determined by more than that measurement.  The physical size of the camera lens (the larger the clearer), the size of the electronic sensor (the larger the better), optical vs. digital zoom, and low-light capabilities as well as other features like viewing angle all will contribute to the quality of the resulting photos.  A primary element is the size of the sensor.  It will be tiny in a cell phone (about 4.54 x 3.42mm), larger in a full size camera (as high as 23.6 x 15.6mm).  This is because the sensor is the chip that determines how much light will be used to create an image (much like the “speed” of the film in older film cameras).   Large sensors increase resolution without sacrificing quality.  Smaller ones, like those on cell phones, compensate by  using wider angle lenses.  Unfortunately, you can’t actually see the sensor and it’s not usually discussed in the specs on the packaging.  Moreover, manufacturers make it hard to evaluate sensor size, purposely resorting to meaningless and confusing definitions.  Aside from assuming that the larger the camera, the larger the sensor, you may have to do a little on-line research for specifics.  Click HERE for even more explanation, if you’re interested.  Finally, before you buy, you should read a few reviews, compare, then shop around, as prices and sales can vary quite a bit.  And hands-on testing may reveal that you may not like the view finder on one camera, or placement of the button locations on another may cause you to click when you don’t intend to.  Also make sure that the “extras” like the case, SD memory card, batteries and the like are included and don’t add to the base cost.  To learn more about how a digital camera actually works, click on Digital Cameras.

COMPUTER TIP #82:  HOW TO PURCHASE A DIGITAL TV:  This isn’t as easy to answer as the previous tip about digital cameras.  Once again, as with most things about hardware, what you intend to do with it will influence the nature and cost of the device.  A middle-of-the-road digital TV is still a flat-panel HDTV of a size suitable to you, LCD or LED (maybe plasma for a larger screen) and 1080p (over 720p), 240hz, if you’re watching sports, action or pretty much anything except the news.  And LED & LCD are better in bright rooms, use less energy (if you leave it on all day, a consideration), are available in smaller screen sizes and are better for gaming. Plasma, on the other hand, is better in darkened rooms, because it has deeper black levels, a wider viewing angle and larger (42” is smallest available) screens, better for watching movies.  You still can’t go wrong with this simplification, but there has been quite a bit of evolution recently.  If you’re interested, you might go to 3D TV (active or passive, using different glasses), but most people don’t like it.  Or you can go to Ultra HD or OLED TV, with much higher resolution, and consume less electricity, but at a much higher acquisition cost and limited content availability, although that cost is coming down.  Some manufacturers like Samsung are hyping curved screens as well, claiming that they are more realistic.  But while tests have shown that viewers do get an “immersion” experience when sitting on the sweet spot a few feet back from the middle of the curved screen, others to the side get a less than perfect experience.  Or possibly a “Smart TV,” which can connect to the internet so that you can stream content from free web sites or connect via set-top boxes for current content via ethernet or wireless.  For reference, a 65 in. brand name LED can be purchased for $700, a 4K Ultra HD (with four times the resolution of a 1080p HD) can be as low as $500 for a 55 in Polaroid model  Curved screens are more for now.  See “cutting the cord” at FAQ #46.  You might want to get this feature, although you can always get an add-on device (like Homecast) later that will do the same thing.  See FAQ #44.  For more detail, see TV, Screens,

COMPUTER TIP #83:  HOW TO PRINT WIRELESSLY:  This is an evolving topic.  If and how you can print wirelessly depends upon the age of your printer and the software driver version.  Basically, there are three types of wireless printing:  The first, e-printing, involves setting up a (free) internet account, to which files are sent.  Then, at any other computer, you access the e-mail account, then print the contents.  This may be good for some people, but it’s a little cumbersome.  Next, there are the so-called wireless printers.  They have the little blue “tower” light showing that they can connect wirelessly to print.  But they require that the printer be connected to a home or office network - they cannot print alone.  You must locate the wireless network and join the printer to it as a separate network device.  The newest printers, however, use technology (like HP Wireless Direct) that will allow you to connect directly to a wireless printer without having to connect to a wireless network.  As you can see, the technology has progressed toward the point where users will be able to print directly to a printer from their phone, pad or computer.  But know that you will probably have to install software and probably configure the printer directly on its keypad.  Each printer manufacturer has its own terminology and models, so it’s difficult to discuss anything more specific here.

COMPUTER TIP #84:  MOST SECURE MESSAGING APPS:  Several places in this site discuss secure messaging apps.  In view of the recent explosion of privacy invasions, invited or not, it’s good to know that you can at least attempt to protect yourself from exposing your private thoughts or pictures.  Of course, secure has many levels of meaning.  On the personal level this would refer to more lightweight apps like Snapchat, the most downloaded smartphone app of 2012, which lets users share images or videos that disappear after about 10 seconds, making it appropriate for safely sexting naughty images, mostly by teenagers.  Another popular app is Cyber Dust (a Mark Cuban venture).   There’s also Confide, Frankly and AnsaAnd, after Facebook’s Poke didn’t take off and was shuttered, it acquired Whatsapp and released Slingshot (for Apple) which is different because it requires users to send a return message to the sender in order to unlock the one that was sent. And Apple introduced the disappearing message feature with its iOS 8 on 9/17/14. On the heavyweight side, apps like TextSecure completely bypass traditional SMS completely with their own private messaging service with built-in encryption by default.  Also, Glyph.  And Telegram, developed in a slew of languages by a Russian company which was so confident that its encryption couldn’t be broken that it offered a $200,000 “bug bounty” to anyone who could do so (no one did).  The ever-popular Wickr has been around longest, boasting of its “military grade” encryption and offering a feature that lets the sender control exactly how long a recipient can view a message before its deletion.  But you must be aware that nothing is foolproof,  even when you combine the above with high privacy settings, multifactor authentication, better passwords, even better hardware (like the $629 Blackphone).  But remember that for every security app, there will always be ten hackers trying to break it.  Your best protection is yourself:  Don’t put anything out there that you don’t want stolen.  Like the old carpenter’s advice to “measure twice, cut once”: “Think twice, text once”.  Think about all those supposedly secure nude celebrity photos that appeared on the net in September, 2014.  >>>For a discussion about the most secure e-mail and encrypted messaging apps, click HERE.  >>>For a discussion about how kids (and some adults) use what’s known as Decoy apps to evade detection of senstive material, click HERE.

COMPUTER TIP #85:  HOW TO CONNECT MULTIPLE MONITORS TO A SINGLE COMPUTER:  The first question you have to decide is whether you want to “mirror” or “extend” the desktop.  Mirroring means that you want to work on your computer desktop while displaying the same desktop and your work onto another display, perhaps a large display for an audience.  Extending the desktop means that each monitor will work independently as a single oversize display, useful when you need a large display area to simultaneously work with multiple windows.  In order to use two monitors, you have to have someplace to plug in each monitor.  For a desktop computer, this will require either two separate video cards or a single video card with multiple ports.  (You may also require VGA/DVI adaptors if you have two monitors of the same type, since most dual video cards have one each VGA and DVI port).  Some computers, such as Dells, provide you with “Y” cables (usually VGA type for all three connectors), which split the signal from a single video connection, extending the desktop, but those “Y” cables connect to special video cards for this purpose and they cannot simply be plugged into just any single port video card.  Finally, laptops require only a single video port because the LCD screen functions as the second monitor.  After you have the hardware set up, monitors plugged in to the electric and computers, most newer Windows computer systems will recognize the monitor setup.  If not, right click on the desktop and either go to properties or personalize, then display to view both monitors and adjust the settings from there.  Don’t forget to save when done.

COMPUTER TIP #86:  HOW TO CONNECT A PROJECTOR TO A LAPTOP COMPUTER:  Depending on your versions of the Windows operating system, this should be relatively simple.  While both the laptop and the projector are still turned off,   Then connect a video cable between the VGA port on the laptop (sometimes it’s the USB port) and the port on the projector.  If you are also connecting audio, you should also connect the laptop audio out port to either the projector or other sound device.  Next, plug everything into power receptacles and turn the projector then the computer on.  Finally, in order to sync the laptop and projector, press and hold down the “function” key and (depending on the laptop) usually either the F4, F5, F6 or F7 keys.  You can toggle back and forth to sync and unsync the projector.

COMPUTER TIP #87:  HOW TO GET PORTABLE APPS:  Whether you are a computer tech looking to run diagnostics from a flash drive or a user who desires to use the same app across several devices without installing on each one, there comes a time when you may want to use a “portable” app.  That is, a self-contained program that can be stored on an external drive and run from that location without installation.  This isn’t always possible because installation creates .dll  and other Windows files necessary to run a program on a computer.  If you’re lucky, many programs are available as portable apps from the developer.  Check the site for your specific software program or sites like,, and Lupo for listings of available portable apps.  Beyond this, things get dicey:  The task is to extract installer files and essentially create an .exe file which will simply execute the program without the necessity of installation.  You can tell just by this description that this can be hit-and-miss and could even damage your computer’s operating system if not done properly.  That having been said, you could read the articles in How-to-Geek or about how to create a portable app if you have the inclination and time to do so.

COMPUTER TIP #88:  HOW TO OIL A COMPUTER FAN:  I thought I covered this elsewhere, but couldn’t find it, so here it is again.  Often, one hears noises from inside the computer case.  Humming, clicking, rattling and the like.  Much of the time the problem is related to at least one of the fans inside a desktop case.  There are usually several fans - one fixed to the processor, another in the power supply and at least one to vent hot air through the outside of the case.  Maybe more.  Take off the cover and, after cleaning the dust with a vacuum, check to see that the rotating fan blade isn’t hitting any wires or cables and, if so, remove the offending wires.  In fact, make sure that all wires and cables are secured together and well out of place of all fans.  If the fan is still noisy, then a drop of oil may solve the problem.   First, use the correct type of oil.  Lightweight mechanical oil, like 3-in-1 household oil, will work just fine.  Sewing machine oil, which has high viscosity and holds up well under high heat, is slightly better.  WD-40 is not the right type of fluid for this purpose.  Now, where to put the oil:  Almost all computer fans are of the sleeve bearing (vs. ball bearing) type, which means that the fan shaft is encased in a stationary sleeve (cylinder) which is coated with oil, preventing metal contact and lubricating the fan shaft as it runs.  When the oil runs dry, the metal surfaces make contact, slowing thFan oilinge fan, overheating the computer and making bad noises.   Remove the fan, then peel back the sticker covering the center of the fan blade.  Using a small screwdriver, peel back the “plug” covering the end of the fan shaft.  Add a SINGLE drop of oil where the shaft sticks out of the metal cylinder.  (See photo at right.)  Then replace the cap, sticker and fan and run it for a minute or so.  It’ll probably fix the noisy fan problem.  [The procedure is similar for laptops, but is much more difficult due to the disassembly of the case.  Pads have no fans.]

COMPUTER TIP #89:  THE BASICS: HOW A COMPUTER VIDEO SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM WORKS - A home or business video system requires camera(s), software, a computer and possibly a smart phone.  How does it work? Cameras are installed, cabled and/or wirelessly, joined together in a network collected through a router and sent to a computer.  The computer is loaded with software which collects and records footage from the cameras and makes them available for replay from hard drive storage.  If the cameras have a wireless IP address, either real time viewing or storage can be sent to a smart phone with software for viewing the footage.  All systems work this way.  As always, the cost and complexity of the system will vary with the hardware and, to a lesser extent, the software.  The camera may be very basic (about $60 will get you a fixed computer that will give you results like you see on the TV news of a convenience store robbery, where you can tell it’s a human but with no facial recognition), but may also have additional features like high resolution, infrared, wireless, night vision, pan, tilt or zoom, weather protection and more, each feature at an additional cost.  Basic camera software may include motion detection, compression, storage and other features which will add to the cost.  And a computer for viewing and storing the footage or a cell phone for remote viewing will further add to the overall cost of the system if you don’t already have one or it requires a separate hard disk drive for storage.  Generally, you can purchase a basic system for as little as a couple of hundred dollars (if you already have a sufficient computer) or for several thousand.  An average higher end system would be in the minimum range of $1500-$1750 for three cabled high resolution cameras, software and a basic computer and router.  Construction and configuration, as well as system instruction may also increase the cost.  But you’re not done there.  When purchasing a system, you should also consider the following:  Unless you secure your router and system software with adequate passwords and use a TLS-enabled or other secure encrypted connection, and block the special ports from public access, your security camera is easily hackable and, rather then providing protection, it may leave a gaping security hole, allowing access to your house or private life.  Night vision is important, as breaches occur mostly after dark.  And make sure you can adjust motion detection software (a must to save disk space) so it’s not sensitive to pets, moving tree branches, etc.  This feature works in conjunction with “lag time,” i.e. the time between the movement detection and the recording. The better the camera, the shorter the lag time, which is preferable because it will prevent recording nothing.  And remember that almost no camera, including outdoor ones, are truly waterproof without additional protection.  Playback of stored video with fast forward and slo-mo is going to be quite helpful as well.  Wired cameras are always better; wireless cameras don’t always connect over longer distances and around electronic obstacles, and they’re a faster connection.  Moreover, particularly if they’re on the same  computer system, wireless cameras can slow down your internet connection for other uses as they are a bandwidth hog, especially if you have several running.  If you’re looking to access the system from outside the home or office, make sure you have either a static IP address (at additional cost) or a router that will report any IP changes.  Finally, bad things can always happen, from nibbling outdoor critters to buggy software, so check out the response time for technical support for your hardware.

COMPUTER TIP #90:  HOW TO TAME USER ACCOUNT CONTROL (“UAC”):  Since it’s introduction in Windows Vista, UAC has been the subject of irritation for users.  Intended to protect computers from unauthorized changes, it’s constant reminders have caused many to disable the feature.  As Windows has evolved, the choices for editing UAC have changed as well.  Vista and XP only had an on/off switch, although some third-party vendors like TweakUAC came up with more flexible alternatives (still compatible with current Windows versions).  Vista Business and Ultimate versions offer a little more adjustment, but not easily.  Win7/8 added four levels of notification for UAC, accessible from the Control Panel.  But the Windows UAC settings are across-the-board and not at the program level.  Microsoft does offer the Application Compatibility Toolkit (download), which uses the Task Scheduler to create a task with attributes that can control UAC, but it’s really a arduous process mostly fit for developers.  Your other choice would be to go to third-party software (like ElevatedShortcut or UAC Trust Shortcut), which is somewhat easier, but still requires a little patience.  Based on current reports, UAC will still be around in Win10, so this issue won’t be going away soon.

COMPUTER TIP #91:  RECORDING CDs AND DVDs ON YOUR COMPUTER:  This used to be a more common question before Windows 7 and later versions, because the process of burning disks used to depend on the model and brand of the CD/DVD/Combo drive, which required compatible software (like Nero or Roxio) to create the disks.  I mention this now because a lot of people, particularly those who don’t burn disks very often, don’t realize that special software is no longer required.  Since Windows 7, all you have to do is insert a blank disk into the drive, go to Computers and click on the drive and, once the window opens, drag and drop the files you want to burn, then click on the Burn button.  That’s it.  As I’ve mentioned in other sections of this site (e.g. utilities, anti-virus and anti-malware), Windows has evolved to include many built-in features that used to require special outside programs, and this is one case.

COMPUTER TIP #92:  EARBUD TIPS AND TRICKS:  If you have the type of earbuds which have the button or slide on the main cord (so-called “in-line controls”) you should know that the button can sometimes do more than simply turn the sound up or down or pause. If you have an Apple device, for example, pressing the center (pause) button twice will jump to the next song, three times to jump back a song.  Pressing twice and holding will fast forward through a song, pressing three times and holding will rewind.  If you have an iPhone, pressing and holding the center button will get Siri.  Also, if a call comes in, press the center button once to answer, again to hang up, or hold it until you hear two beeps to send the caller to voicemail.  Finally, you can use the up volume button to take a photo.  Android doesn’t have as many features as Apple (right now, at least), but the phone answering and their versions of Siri are available using the middle button. 

COMPUTER TIP #93:  WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CELL  PHONE GETS WET OR BREAKS:  I’m certain that this is covered elsewhere in several places on this site, but it’s worth updating here.  NEVER turn the phone on. If it’s on, shut it off immediately, then remove the battery immediately.  Wipe it off, inside and out.  Try using a hair driver to dry it out, then put it into either a baggie filled with rice or, more recently, bags that you can get from a computer store that will do the job somewhat better and faster.  Leave it there for a day or two at the least. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live near a mall that has either TekDry or DryBox kiosks, use them, as they claim a 70-80% success rate.  If nothing works, bring it to a phone store for testing.  And next time, if you’re a recurring dowser, buy a waterproof phone, they’re available now. UPDATE:  For the waterproof iPhone 7, still follow these procedures, as well as Apple’s recommendations.  IF YOUR SCREEN CRACKS:  This happens to everyone at times.  Aside from just replacing it (perhaps you have an insurance plan), it’s often better to get it fixed by the manufacturer, as it may costnly slightly less than those third party repair shops, which may not use genuine parts or parts which might render some features of your phone useless, and also might either brick your phone or void any later repairs by Apple or your phone manufacturer.  In any event, make sure to back up your phone, have any passwords ready and even ask nicely, as you may be able to convince your provider that it’s a manufacturing defect.  If it’s minor, put on a screen protector and hope it doesn’t get worlse.

COMPUTER TIP #94:  WHERE DO I FIND THE HISTORY SHORTCUT ON BROWSERS?  Recently, things have changed and it’s harder to find the History in the common browsers.  Here’s how: In Firefox and Chrome, either hit CTRL + H or click the icon with the three horizontal lines and select History. You'll see the most recent history in chronological order. If you want to view more, at the bottom of the list in Firefox click See All History and in Chrome click Older. For Internet Explorer, hit CTRL + H or click the star icon and go to the History tab. In Safari, go to History in the menu bar at the top of the screen.  On an iPhone or iPad using the default Safari browser, tap the bookmark icon next to the address bar - it looks like an open book - and tap History. In the default Android browser, tap the bookmark icon - it looks like a flag with a star - and then tap History.

COMPUTER TIP #95:  USE COMPATIBILITY MODE TO START OLDER PROGRAMS ON NEWER OPERATING SYSTEMS:  Often, issues arise when attempting to install older programs on operating systems later than the one that the software was designed for.  Rather than giving up, you should at least try to install the software in so-called “compatibility mode,”  a feature that tricks the software into believing that it is running on an older platform.  To do this, right-click on the application’s icon and select Properties from the drop-down menu.  Select the Compatibility tab and then check the box labeled “run this program in compatibility mode for [select the O/S]”.  You may have to also check the “run as administrator” box in the Settings section first.  If the program loads, test it thoroughly; it’s possible that not everything will work, or continue to work.  If not, it’s probably because it relies on other software (e.g. .NET) that isn’t an old version, not an easily correctible issue.

COMPUTER TIP #96:  HOW TO ADJUST YOUR FIREWALL SETTINGS:  Throughout this site, you’ve been reminded to check your router and firewall settings.  Unprotected firewall ports are a key way that intruders can hack your system.  And the installation of the legion of IoT products can leave your back door open to hackers (see the “refrigerator hack” discussed in that definition), so it’s a good idea to periodically review your settings to make sure you’re as secure as you probably think you are.  There are two types of firewalls - that included in Windows and that for third-party software and devices like your router.  To see what your Windows firewall is allowing from outside (remember, Windows firewall doesn’t control what is accessed from your computer, only to your computer), go into your Control Panel, then click on Windows Firewall.  In the resulting window, click “Allow a program or feature,” then click Change Settings.  You will see a list of programs that may be allowed to communicate through the Windows firewall.  Click to select or deselect each one.  You may safely deselect them all if you’re worried about security.  That includes Windows Remote Desktop, various third-party remote programs (perhaps tech support installed Citrix to check your computer and never removed it) or even malware.  If it turns out you need the program, it can always be re-enabled.  If you’re really adventurous and want to block specific ports, go to the Advanced settings (left pane) then click on Inbound Rules, then New Rule.  Under Protocols and Ports, select TCP, then the specific local port.  Under the Action window, select Block.  The blocking of ports in your router or other internet device is similar, but you will usually have sign onto the Internet to access the settings (e.g., plus your password) and select ports to edit.  You will not usually see a list of programs associated with the open ports on router settings, so you’ll have to check the port settings with each program individually first (e.g. Quickbooks, ports 80, 8019, 56719).  Remember that port 1080 is always the general internet port, so leave that open.  See also FAQ #67 for more about router security settings.

COMPUTER TIP #97:  EXTERNAL BOOTING WITH UEFI:  For thirty years, we’ve known how to boot from a CD/DVD or flash drive by clicking on a function key (different for each manufacturer’s computer), then navigating to the BIOS screen allowing you to change the boot order.  Now, with the commonality of UEFI, particularly the “Fast Start” feature, you may find that you can’t boot from these devices without some UEFI modification.  As with BIOS, the way to do this depends to some extent on the computer’s manufacturer.  Since  UEFI started with Win 8, follow these instructions:  Go to the Charms Bar, click the Gear Icon (Settings) and click “Change PC Settings”.  On the PC Settings window, select the General category, then, under Advanced Startup, click Restart Now.  On the resulting Choose An Option window, click Troubleshoot and then Advanced Options.  On the resulting Advanced Options window, you should see a UEFI Firmware Settings option, at which you should click on Restart, which will automatically start the built in UEFI Setup Utility.  When it appears, go to the Security tab, then find the check box to disable Secure Boot.  Once this is done, exit out, restart the computer and you should be good to go.  This covers the majority of computers.  But many are different:  They may require the old school way of pressing a function key during boot, or have a special dashboard for this purpose.  Watch your startup screen or check the manufacturer’s website for more information.  For more about the difference between BIOS and UEFI, see FAQ #72.

COMPUTER TIP #98:  TRACKING A CELL PHONE:  Television and movies notwithstanding, you really can’t track a cell phone just by entering the number on a web site.  Not unless you are with law enforcement and have special software or are armed with a court order.  So don’t be fooled by web scams that proclaim “just enter any phone number to pinpoint a cell phone’s exact location...”  Can’t be done.  And for the public, you should be aware (see LAWS) that there are cyberstalking laws that prohibit installing tracker apps on other people’s phones, including spouses.  However, there are legitimate ways of tracking cell phones for other reasons.  Parents tracking young children, locating a lost phone, bosses checking their employees’ whereabouts, even friends keeping track of each other while visiting Disneyland. Keeping track of your contacts is easy.  A free downloadable app called Google Latitude locates their cell phones and displays their locations on a Google Map.  The good news is that you don’t need a GPS-enabled phone to do this (the service can use GPS, WiFi or cell towers to track), the bad news is that each person whose phone number you provide must first agree to be tracked by you, and they can turn it off at any time. [Oops, this app was retired on 8/9/13.  But you can share location using the Google+ app, enabling Location Reporting and Location History, all through Google, click HERE for more.]  Another app is Glympse, through which the phone user installs the apps then sends links to others that might want to track that user.  If you don’t have a smart phone, but just a plain vanilla cell phone (“feature phone”), it’s harder to track.  There is an app named Pintail and another named Prey that can do this for Android phones (not iPhones), but it doesn’t work with every such phone.

COMPUTER TIP #99:  HOW TO USE LEGACY MS WORKS FILES.  One of the most affordable and popular productivity suites ever offered by Microsoft was Microsoft Works.  It was easier to use, although less full-featured than Office, but far less costly.  When Works was discontinued in 2012, users were left with tons of files which might not be readable or editable with current programs, while installing old Works versions might not be possible with newer operating systems. If you have tried installing the old version of Works on your newer operating system, even in compatibility mode, and it just doesn’t work, what to do?  Do not despair, there are programs that will let you access your earlier work (which you can then save in a friendlier format). Microsoft Office 2010 and 2013 and Office 365 will all open Works files directly.  Also, if cost is the issue, free open source programs like LibreOffice and OxygenOffice will do the trick.  If you still encounter problems with particular files, there are free online conversion programs, like Zamzar, DocsPal, and

COMPUTER TIP #100: HOW DO I TRACE E-MAILS AND WEB PAGES TO THEIR ORIGIN?  For more information about this, go to Who’s At The Other End Of The Line.

COMPUTER TIP #101: DON’T FORGET THE “PROBLEM STEPS RECORDER”:  I know I’ve mentioned this neat Microsoft feature within other Tips and FAQs, but it merits it’s own paragraph.  If you know you’re trying to solve a problem, you also know that you’re going to rely on your judgment, information from, information from various blog sites and the like to try and solve the issue.  You are also going to try and remember to undo the fixes that didn’t work so you don’t cause more damage by applying the wrong solution.  Enter Microsoft’s Problem Steps Recorder, which was developed to keep track of your actions.  Try it, you’ll be amazed.  Of course, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll be searching for a rapid fix and won’t bother enabling this feature.  Also, remember the benefit of Microsoft’s Fix it Solution Center, which is a collection of fixes for literally hundreds of common PC problems.  Of course, Microsoft has tons of built-in fixes, those “troubleshooting” buttons you see when a problem occurs, which you should try first.  For more advanced users, there are the Support Diagnostics Platform (“SDP”) and the Microsoft Automated Troubleshooting Service (“MATS”), which are the underlying services used by the Fix It Center.  SDP  collects diagnostic information like registry dta, configuration files and application event logs for MATS to analyze for known issues and patterns.  Click HERE for more.  If none of these provide satisfaction, you can always go the general Web search via Google or the like, by keyword. 

COMPUTER TIP #102: BACK UP YOUR CELL/SMART PHONE:  Because your smart phone is essentially a mini-computer, you should treat it like one and back up the data.  If you don’t, you may permanently lose your pictures, address book and other information.  This discussion primarily pertains to Android phones with Google accounts, but iPhones have similar considerations and settings. How to do this?  There are a few ways, depending on how much you really want to save.  The easiest is to back up to the “cloud”.  On your Android phone, go to Settings, then Accounts & Sync.  Under Accounts, select the box that says Auto-sync Data, then tap on the account (usually a gmail account) you want to sync.  After that, you can turn any or all of the options for customizing your syncing.  Go back to Settings, then Back Up.  This will save all your app data and phone settings (includine Wi-Fi passwords) as well as Contacts, but not Messages or music, pictures or video.  To that, you should use a USB cable, connect to a computer and back up the appropriate data files on your phone or SD card.    Or use the Android File Transfer app you can get online.  Text Messages are another issue requiring a separate app.  Download SMS Backup for this purpose.  Last, so far as the apps, you may not have to copy them, as with a Google account you can select the My Apps from the top left menu, and all of them will be re-installed for you.  If you must have the security of a local backup, download and use something like  ES File Explorer.  All this can be a little work, but it’s worth it. 

COMPUTER TIP #103: IS THERE AN EASY WAY TO FILL OUT WEB FORMS?  Thankfully, there are several apps for this purpose.  First, try Roboform ($9.95, free trial), which is known primarily as a password manager, but as a browser extension and toolbar does several other things as well, although it does require some up-front configuration.  Form Auto Fill ($39.95, free trial) is better (to me) than Roboform, because it installs as a standard Windows program rather than a browser extension, like Roboform.  [Both also manage passwords, although Form Auto Fill doesn’t collect personal data and attempt to match it with web forms].  Browser Form Filler works similar to RoboForm, as a browser extension and toolbar.  A Form Filler is free.  It works by scanning web pages for recurring fields so that you don’t have to type the same thing over and over again.  Finally, Blueberry PDF Form Filler 2, also free, is a great assistance in filling out PDF forms, often used on web pages which don’t accept plain text submissions.  Sure, you can copy the form, open it in Word, fill it out, then save as PDF, but this app makes it much easier.  See this LINK for more.  The new free Acrobat Reader DC will also fill in forms.  Sample some or all of the above, see which one is right for your purposes, then stick with it.  There is some learning curve here so, if you don’t fill in a lot of web forms, it might not be worth it.  But if you do, they can be a great help.

COMPUTER TIP #104: HOW TO PERMANENTLY DELETE FILES IN A CLOUD SERVER - Lots of people are reporting that they think they’ve deleted files from their cloud server, but they keep reappearing.  Obviously, something isn’t being done correctly.  The predominant cause of this is the increased use of cloud storage services like Google Drive, SugarSync, Dropbox, SkyDrive and Amazon Cloud Drive, which generally create a desktop folder on your computer so that you have those drive folders on your hard drive as well. [There may also be folders on your smart phone, iPad and other devices that serve a similar purpose.]  These folders are the links between you and the cloud server and what makes cloud services so simple to use. Changes you make to the files in your desktop folder get synced with your folder on the cloud server.  That’s it!  However, because of this, deleting isn’t quite as simple.  There is a distinction between “deleted” (which is a Windows command that basically “marks” the files to be available for overwriting, leaving them on the drive until that happens) and “permanently deleting” (which immediately overwrites the files with random data in real time).  So the concern is that if you merely delete the files, they may still exist somewhere on your hard drive as a “ghost” or “zombie” file, available for hacking or retrieval.  Worst case scenario would be that your proprietary business data, personal photos or medical records might still be available to a hacker.  If you’re that concerned, you should use a software program like east-tec eraser or the like to be sure that the hardware files are permanently and immediately overwritten.  But wait, isn’t this the same problem with the cloud server?  Yes, it is.  You have to make sure that, when you delete the file there, you don’t merely click “delete” (which will send it to a trash bin for an undetermined period of time), but select the “permanently delete” option which all of these services offer.  Unfortunately, I’m skeptical about this.  Removing from public view isn’t the same thing as deleting.  Ask those celebrities who had their supposedly removed nude photos leaked.  While the file might be deleted from view and not restorable to the account holder, it’s still probably available on multiple servers on the planet, in archived server files and the like.  Nothing’s permanently deleted.  So the rule is to never put something in the cloud that you don’t want found by someone later on.  As I’ve said many times elsewhere, “If it’s on the Internet, it can be hacked”!  [If you really need to retrieve a backed up file for example, even in the cloud, check out Elcomsoft Phone, a ($79) program which claims to recover password protected Apple, Android and Blackberry files, including cloud backups.]

COMPUTER TIP #105: WINDOWS SIGN-IN ISSUES:  These issues have been discussed separately throughout the site, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s address them here in one place.  For those users that are the only ones on their computer, signing-in is unnecessary.  How to remove the sign-in screen in Win8/8.1/10?  Do this:  Open an administrator-level command prompt (Win + X> command prompt (Admin).  At the window type control userpasswords2, then click enter.  When the User Accounts dialog box appears, uncheck the box marked Users must enter a username and password to use this computer, then O.K. to save the change.  Now about more substantial issues:  Because of the say that Microsoft designed the sign in for later Windows versions, sometimes you can’t sign in even thought you’re sure you’re using the correct password.  Sometimes this occurs because Windows offers three sign-in options which are mutually exclusive.  First, (1) there’s the way Microsoft prefers’ you sign in, using a Microsoft Account.  This sort of master access account gives the user privileges to the Microsoft Store, Update, OneDrive, Office 365,, the entire ball of wax.   If you don’t elect that, you can set up a so-called local account (2), which provides local access to user-level files on only that specific PC, but which will not give the user access to any Microsoft online services that require a Microsoft account sign-in.  This dichotomy may often be the source of some sign-in inconsistencies, as a user will still be asked for their Microsoft account when signed in as a local user, but requesting access to a service like Microsoft Updates.  Finally (3), you can set up a four-digit PIN, which can actually provide access to either a Microsoft or a local account, depending on the way it has been set up.  So what do you do when these sign-ins fight each other?  Roll back to the beginning and start over.  One setting at a time.   To roll back the bypass sign-in option, reverse the instructions discussed above, unchecking the dialog box for that option.   To remove the PIN, go to Accounts>Sign-in Options and click the Remove button under the PIN section.  To convert a local account to a Microsoft account, go to Accounts>your account, then click the Connect to a Microsoft account box, setting up a new one if you didn’t have one.  If you had one and the password isn’t working, don’t worry, just click on the option “I forgot my password (though you didn’t)” and follow the instructions to create a new one.  [If you’re an expert, you could go to the Credentials Manager directly (Control Panel>user  Accounts...>Credential Manager) but if you’re not an expert you could brick your machine!]

COMPUTER TIP #106: DISPOSING OF ELECTRONICS:  These days, aside from CRT monitors, which have mercury and other dangerous elements, you can simply toss most electronics like computers, pads and phones, straight into the garbage can.  But sometimes you can make a few bucks off your old technology.  Because of the 92 billion pounds of electronic waste thrown away each year as U.S. consumers trade in their cell phones on the average of every 22 months, serious efforts are under way to dispose of the trash responsibly.  You may have seen the reports on “60 Minutes” showing children in third world countries digging through mountains of electronic trash in search of copper and gold wires and cadmium, all in demand by cell phone manufacturers, a material detriment of their health.  For years there have been electronics resellers which purchase and rebuild electronics, but more recently the larger personal tech companies have joined the group.  Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T have begun trade-in programs for cell phones, offering users credits for their old phones and then selling the old ones internationally.  Best Buy, which teams up with Electronics Recyclers International and Regency Technologies has a drop-off program in its stores for used and unwanted electronics (a few charge a small recycling fee).  Amazon, Apple and Gazelle also offer trade-in programs for cash for many electronics products.  All you have to do is go online and see if your electronics are worth purchasing.  Shipping and payment are easy.

COMPUTER TIP #107: HOW TO START WINDOWS 10 WITHOUT PASSWORD:  This question is asked often by individuals who don’t have multiple computers or identities and no real security concerns. Here’s how:  Press and hold the “Windows” and “R” keys simultaneously.  The “Run” box will appear.  In it, type “netplwiz” (without the parenthesis), then press the “Enter” key.  In the resulting “User Accounts” window, select your account (if you have more than one), then uncheck the box adjacent to the text that says “Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer”.  Click “Apply”.  Then, in the box that will appear, type in your password, then click on the “O.K.” button.  Completely restart the computer.  To go back to this level of security say, if you start a lot of public traveling or nosy visitors, simply reverse the instructions.  See Tip #105 for more.  For how to reset an Apple password, see TIP #116.

COMPUTER TIP #108: USING YOUR OWN WIRELESS ROUTER WITH YOUR ISP ROUTER: We get asked this a lot.  First of all, yes you can do this.  But first, I recommend that you contact your ISP and request an upgraded router, particularly if you’ve had your original one for some time.  It may just do the trick to speed up your system at no additional expense or time on your part.  Most ISPs are happy to do this but, if they’re not, simply tell them that your old one is intermittently malfunctioning.  But if you decide to connect an external router, you may have a few hoops to jump through: If you’re lucky enough to have a router that supports WDS (Wireless Distribution System) you can “bridge” the two routers,” but only if your main or ISP router supports WDS mode.  Although each router brand has slightly different naming for its settings, an excellent tutorial for linking TPLink routers can be found at this LINK.  Basically, you log in to your router’s interface, find and select the “WDS Bridging” option, then disable the DHCP Server (without rebooting the computer), then save the LAN IP to a different IP address but one still in the original router’s subnet, then connect a cable between the LANs on each router, reboot everything and test.  If your router doesn’t support WDS (like most of the Verizon Actiontek routers), read on:   After writing down any custom router settings, reset your ISP router to its default settings, then sign in (probably at the address).  Set a password, then click on My Network>Network Connections>Network (Home/Office)>Settings.  Change the DHCP address by locating the IP Address Distribution, then setting the starting IP address - I use, leaving the end address at  If you want your new, more powerful, router to handle all wireless connections, then disable the wireless in your ISP’s router by clicking Wireless Settings>Basic Security Settings>Wireless Radio Off.   Click Apply to save the settings as often as required, then wait for the router to reset for a minute.  Make sure the Internet is accessible before continuing.  If it is working, set up the “secondary” router:  With your computer turned off, unplug the cable in the ISP router’s LAN port then reconnect it into a LAN port on the secondary router.  [LAN, not WAN, leave the WAN connection as is!]  Boot up your computer, then log into the secondary router’s interface in the same way as you did with the ISP router.  If it’s new, there’s probably a default login and password.  Again, you should usually be able to log in to your secondary router at  Now, you only need to do two things here - First, disable DHCP Server and Second, change the network settings so that the Router’s IP address is with a Subnet Mask of  Then save these changed settings.  Finally, connect your secondary router to your ISP router via a cable between a LAN port on the secondary and a LAN port on the ISP.  Reboot everything.  When this is done, you should be able to log in to either router, the ISP via and the secondary at You can test the connection either through use of by “pinging” each router’s ip address through a run line at “.ping”.  I never said this would be easy, only that it could be done.  Record your steps in case you have to do this a couple of times until it works.

COMPUTER TIP #109: HOW TO BOOT TO SAFE MODE IN WIN 8/10:  For generations of Windows, we’ve been booting into safe mode by clicking on the F8 key on startup.  But that won’t work with later Windows versions, like 8, 8.1 and 10.  That’s because those versions of Windows boot with UEFI, not BIOS (see FAQ #72 for more discussion).  Sometimes you can try booting with F8 or Shift + F8, but the boot process is so fast that is usually doesn’t recognize those keystrokes any more.  So what do you do now?  It depends on whether you can sign in to the O/S or are locked out (perhaps you forgot your password).  If you are actually using Windows, you can use the system configuration tool (i.e. msconfig.exe).  Then go to the boot tab, check the box that says “Safe Boot,” then O.K.  When you restart the computer, it’ll be in safe mode.  At least in Win  and 8.1, if you’re locked out of Windows, you can press the Power button (bottom right of sign in screen), then press and hold the Shift key and click Restart (this also works with the Power button on the Charms bar if you’re already in Windows 8). Then, choose the Troubleshoot Option, then Advanced Options, then Startup Settings, then select F4 or F5, and then reboot.  In Win 8 and 10 you can boot from a System Recovery CD/DVD, but only if you’re already created one.  In both Win 8 and 8.1, (click HERE for Win 10) however, you can use the Recovery Media Creator in the O/S to create a USB system recovery USB flash drive.  Win 10 has a similar procedure. But you’ve got to create these first, before troubles arise.  You don’t get Windows installation disks for later versions of Windows, as they’re keyed to each computer.  There are other, more technical, ways to boot if you’ve forgotten your password, but they involve booting from a Linux distro and running tools to remove or overwrite the old password

COMPUTER TIP #110: HOW TO OPT OUT OF CELL PHONE ADVERTISING:  Cell phone advertising has hit a new high, and the cat-and-mouse game of blocking is escalating.  But you have some control.  Every carrier has its own methods, and not all work perfectly, but there are some generalities that apply: NAI opt-out: You can opt-out of the Network Advertising Initiative (“NAI”)  “Interest-Based Advertising” (“IBA”)  from companies that use HTTP cookies based on your computer browser (predictions based upon your browsing history)  for interest based advertising.  Going to will show you a list of participating companies which are conducting interest-based advertising on your browser and then opt out from advertising by some or all of them.  This, of course, doesn’t mean that you’ll never receive on line advertising, just that delivered to your device via HTTP cookies, not any non-cookie technologies, even from the NAI members which you blocked. Relevant Advertising opt-out:  Most carriers have a setting to opt out of most relevant advertising delivered to your wireless device.  This includes behavioral advertising and other interest-based advertising.  You will still receive advertising,  but it will not be based on anonymous geographic, demographic or other categories that can make advertisements more relevant to your interests.  You usually need only enter your phone number to accomplish this. Individual site opt-out: Most carriers have either a special icon or else an opt-out provision at the bottom of each web page ad for products or services for individually opting out of specific ads.  First party advertising (say, from your carrier, for example if your device is from AT&T) isn’t capable of being opted out.  E-mails and texts:  Normally, you can opt out of text messaging by typing “stop” in reply to any message.  Also, virtually every e-mail ad has an “unsubscribe” link at the close of the mail.  The FTC National Do Not Call Registry at and the comparable state registries may also be some help in limiting unwanted telemarketing calls to that number.  But not from companies where you are a current customer (like your cell phone provider) and possibly companies where you have previously been a customer.  You can also opt out of postal mail solicitations by filling in a form and filing it with your post office.  All of this won’t eliminate everything, but will cut down some on the volume.

COMPUTER TIP #111: WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT GOOGLE’S WATCHING ME?  We all know by now that all of the web browsers are watching our every move, recording our calling, texting, mailing and surfing preferences so that they can build a profile to sell us even more stuff.  You may or may not know that Google collects, for example, a full history of your voice commands (including actual audio recordings), an objective breakdown of your real BFFs, all the stuff the Chrome browser has saved about you (check your Chrome Sync Settings page), how many Gmail conversations you’ve had (check your Google account dashboard), a full history of everywhere you’re been (if you haven’t opted out of location history), a full list of everything you’ve done from any Android device (check this on the Google My Activity Site), a comprehensive collection of every site you’ve visited in Chrome on any device (again, the My Activity page), exactly how many Google searches you’ve made by month (the Dashboard), a running count of how many Android devices you’ve had connected to your account over the years (start with the Dashboard) as well as a running count of how many Android apps you’ve ever installed (the Dashboard), stats on your invitation and acceptance habits (again, the Dashboard), images you’ve stored with Google Photos (Dashboard, again), a full list of your activity in the Google Play Store (MyActivity page), how many YouTube videos you’re watched (Dashboard)  Google, being the largest and most sophisticated browser is, of course, collecting (and selling) the most information about you. 

So it’s a good idea to know how to limit this collection to the maximum extent possible, although you can’t ever stop it completely. However, Google doesn’t make this easy.  Here are some tips:  First, log in to Google with your account name and password.  then go to “” and click on “all time”.  This shows you (and only you, no one else, can see this) a list of all the web pages you have searched.  If you haven’t cleared it ever, it could be years long.   Ignoring the Google scare warning, you can delete any of these pages.  But the catch is that you can only delete them one at a time!  Next, click on the Google menu button on the top left of the window.  This is where you’ll find links to the voice, device, location an YouTube records, where you can also delete items as well.  Again, though, even after the Google scare warning, you can only delete records one day at a time.  Next, you might want to select the option to download a copy of all data that Google has kept on you.  Do this by  clicking “select all” then scrolling down and clicking on “next,” then selecting a .zip file format.  After that you can wait up to several days to receive by e-mail what will probably be a huge data file for your review.  To see what Google has told advertisers about you, while logged in, simply go to any Google service and click on your account icon, then click on “my account,” which will take you to the Account Settings page for that service. On the left of the page, “activity controls” shows you the information by day, and “control your content” will let you download your data.  Moreover, if you click on “ad settings” then scroll down to “manage ad settings” you get some idea of what your Google profile may look like.  If you scroll down and click on “control signed-out ads” you can then turn off “interest-based ads” so Google won’t share your information with their advertisers (see discussion at TIP #110 above).  Aside from using a browser that doesn’t collect information about you (see Duck-Duck-Go, above, at TIP #65), this about the most you can do.  The process is similar for Microsoft browsers.

COMPUTER TIP #112: WHAT TO DO WHEN WINDOWS 10 DOESN’T WORK:  While Windows 10 is pretty good, it is inevitable that it will have some glitches, probably because the (forced) updates will have some conflict which will either cause specific issues or even a complete meltdown.  Here are some tips that may help you recover:

1.  First, Back up your system.  If the corruption is in your C:\Windows folder, your computer could crash and not recover.

2.  Next, make sure your anti-virus software is disabled.  Also, all anti-malware, anti-spyware and the like.  Then reboot.  Sometimes you may have to reboot three or more times to repair an error message.  Don’t know why, it’s just that way.  Don’t give up right away.

3.  If there’s no rush, and if the computer isn’t stalled or bricked, you may try waiting for up to a week for it to magically repair itself.  As you may know, Microsoft quickly discovers when it issues patches or updates that screw up other things on your computer, and they often issue a subsequent patch to fix the problem, usually within a week.  You could just wait and see if this is the case if it’s not a big deal or just doesn’t want to load an update.

4.  If you are having problems with peripherals (i.e. mouse, keyboard, printer) unplug then replug them, possibly into different ports (if they’re USB).  Or test them on another computer to see if it’s the software or the device that’s at fault.  And check the Device Manager to see if there are any red or yellow icons (or entirely missing hardware) for hardware or driver issues.

5.  If you have wireless connectivity problems and rebooting the router, switch and/or modem doesn’t help, you can run NetTrace, but this isn’t for novices.  At (an elevated) command prompt, type “netsh trace start wireless_dbg capture=yes”.  Then, after it runs, type “netsh trace stop”.  You will get a stored report, which you may or may not understand, or which you can send off to Microsoft for interpretation.

6.  Check your hardware:  Chek your hard drive. At a (admin) command line, type “chkdsk /f’” to scan and fix any errors.  Also, check the power supply and the board cables for loose or unseated connections.  Finally, in Win10, there is a built-in Memory Diagnostics Tool (type Memory in search box, then click MDT) that will detect RAM chip problems.  Al of these things can cause problems which manifest themselves in error messages.

7.  Boot in Safe Mode, then go to Start>Settings>Update & Security>Uninstall Updates.  (It’s a little harder with UEFI than it was with the old BIOS, but you can still do it.) Try uninstalling the last update(s) if they’re recent (they’re dated) or the last cumulative update, see if a bad or partially installed update is causing the issue.  Or a manufacturer’s driver update could easily cause the problem, so uninstall that.

8.   If Windows Update keeps trying to install an update with no success, Microsoft has a tool to stop the endless cycle.  Download the Wushowhide tool at KB 3073930, run it (remembering to select Advanced, then uncheck the Apply Repairs Automatically box) before hiding the selected updates.  This may fix error 0x80070020, even if the message for it continues to show when you boot up. NOTE:  The trick to using wushowide is that you have to wait until Windows Update says the upgade/update is ready before you can hide it.

9.  Scan your files.  Run SFC /scannow as an Administrator from a command prompt (WinKey +X; click HERE for switches),  which will repair damaged files with a clean copy from the C:\Windows\System32\dllcache folder.

10.  If that doesn’t work, and you’re technically competent, run DISM [Deployment Image Servicing and Management] (again as an Administrator; click HERE for switches). It’s a little hard to use if you’re not a tech, as it has to be directed to a location to a valid image to repair the files, and the syntax is more complex; you may want to skip this is you’re not good with computers.

11.  Try a Windows Restore Point, if that feature is enabled. In Win10, you must work through the System Restore Wizard. You should have set this up originally, but some points might have been created automatically.  (File History, on the other hand, has to be set up entirely by the user for it to be active, and most users don’t do this unless they’re running an office.)

12.  Check the System Event Log.  Type “eventvwr” at a command line or in the search box.  On the left menu, go to the System Log.  Try to see if there is anything red, yellow or just weird.  Most items, even the red-line “error” ones, aren’t necessarily bad, though. You can look up some explanation for these events on the website.

13.  Refresh the built-in Windows programs, using the Get- AppXPackage.  At the (Admin) command prompt, type “powershell” then Enter.  Copy and pasteGet-AppXPackage -AllUsers | Foreach {Add-AppxPackage -DisableDevelopmentMode -Register "$($_.InstallLocation)\AppXManifest.xml"} into Powershell and then press Enter.  Let it run its course, ignoring any and all error messages, until it returns to the Powershell prompt.  Then X out, reboot and test for results.  Like SFC /scannow, it repairs on its own.

14.  Check the Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del).  Look in the Apps and Processes tab for anything taking up a lot of your system resources and try disabling them one at a time until you find the bad one.  If you find red-lines involving DCOM, they often involve DirectX, the system calls that run multimedia in Windows.  These can be fixed with Microsoft’s Direct X Diagnostic Tool (run from a command line as “dxdiag.exe”) which, by tab, will identify various hardware and driver issues.

15.  Do an in-place upgrade to your current Win10 version   Essentially, you are reinstalling Win10 fresh.  But it has to be the exact same version (e.g. Home, Pro, Enterprise or Education), build and bittedness (i.e. 32 or 64 bit) as the currently installed edition.  If you’re lucky, you made an installable and bootable media when you purchased your computer, but most home users don’t.  Go to Settings>Update & Security>Recovery>Get Started>Reset this PC.  If you can’t back up all of your data (or even if you can), try the first option (“Keep My Files”) first, which will reset the O/S files, re-install the registry and leave your data (but not programs you added later) intact.   If you can’t do this, find another computer, download Win 10 to a USB or CD which you can then use to boot on the original computer and reinstall Win 10.

16.  Do a clean re-install of Windows 10.  This is a complete hard drive wipe and reinstall, you’ll lose everything.  Same procedure as #16 above, but you’ll be starting from scratch using a perfectly clean hard disk drive.

NOTE that, with either the in-place or clean reinstall Win10 options above, it is unnecessary to locate your license number, because it is already embedded in the Windows firmware.  It will always be registered and activated.  You avoid the whole call and re-register thing of old.

17.  No matter what you do, afterward do a disk cleanup and another backup when you’re done, as well as creating a Windows 10 boot disk and even a restore point this time so you’ve got a base to go to if anything happens after that.

This is a pretty comprehensive list, some of which should only be attempted by technically astute users or people with nothing much to lose on their computers, but I believe it covers pretty much everything you could do.  Try some or all of these, it’s quite possible the first few will do the trick.

COMPUTER TIP #113: HOW CAN I CREATE A SMALLER SPACE BETWEEN LINES IN WORD: For some reason, the more recent versons of MS Word make it difficult to obtain a spacing between lines of less than “single,” which is still too much for many people.  Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to get less space between lines than to navigate to the Format>Paragraphs>Indents/Spacing on the Menu Bar or Ribbon (depending on your version of Word), then go to the drop-down box of choices in the Line Spacing field, selecting EXACT and then adjusting the point size in the box to the right until you are satisfied with the results (usually 12 or 14 point).  If this is going to be a consistent requirement, you may want to create a special “Style” in Word for later use.

COMPUTER TIP #114: HOW CAN I DISABLE AUTOMATIC UPDATES IN WINDOWS 10:  We get this question a lot.  Remember, Microsoft doesn’t want you to avoid their forced updates.  The answer may vary, possibly because as it is discovered Microsoft may disable this fix, as it wants to be in control of the update process.  For now, for Win 10 Home customers, it appears that if you set (each of) your connections as metered, updates will be disabled (at least until you make changes which reset the metered selection).  To do this, open Settings, then select Network and Internet, scroll down to Advanced Options and enable the “Set as metered connection” option. Doing this tricks Windows into thinking that it’s a mobile data connection and you will get a message in Windows Updates that says ”Updates are available.  We’ll download updates as soon as you connect to Wi-Fi, or you can download the updates using your data connection (charges may apply)”.  You can always go back and click the download button at your leisure if you decide to download some or all of the updates. This isn’t the same thing as the options in Settings>Advanced Options where you can defer upgrades if the box is checked.  Moreover, Win 10 has other options:  You can select Settings>View Your Update History to view and even uninstall pesky updates that may be causing problems.  And you can even roll back software drivers going to the Windows Device Manager, right-clicking on the device you want to uninstall, then checking the “Delete the driver software” option, then O.K. and  Uninstalling a whole Windows Update is done through Settings>Update & Security>Windows Update>Advanced Options>View Your Update History, then selecting the update and clicking on the link for “Uninstalling Updates”.   If Windows insists on installing a troublesome update despite its removal, download the Wushowhide tool at KB 3073930  and use it as instructed to block specific updates.  For businesses which use the Professional, Enterprise or Education editions of Win 10, the process is a little more complicated and involves the use of the Group Policy Editor., which can be accessed by pressing WinKey + R, then typing gpedit.msc into the Run dialog, then enter. Then navigate in the Local Group Policy Editor window to Computer Configuration>Administrative Templates>Windows Components>Windows Update.  Next, locate and double-click on the the Configure Automatic Updates setting in the right pane and then set it to Enabled along with your preferred setting (i.e. Notify for download and notify for install), saving the change. On some computers, turn off the Upgrade to thye latest version of Windows through Windows Update option. If you go to the Windows Update pane and Check for Updates, your setting should be saved.  (To disable, reverse the process.)  This can also be done with a Registry Hack, as well as disabling the Windows Update system service in the Windows Services Administration Tool, but these may create other problems, so they’re not recommended.

COMPUTER TIP #115: HOW CAN I GET THE SPECS FOR MY VIDEO & SOUND CARD: Run DirectX Diagnostics, a tool introduced way back in Windows for the original purpose of allowing support professionals to answer gaming related questions for Windows customers.  To access it, type dxdiag in a search box or command line and read the information in the tabbed window that results.

COMPUTER TIP #116: HOW TO RESET AN APPLE PASSWORD:  Hold down CMD+R during system startup.  Once OS X Utilities has loaded, in the top bar click "Utilities".  Then click Terminal in the drop-down menu. You now have access to a Unix-like terminal.  In terminal type resetpassword.  Once the dialog has loaded, click "Macintosh HD" as the volume.  Then, choose the user account of the password you wish to change and enter a new password for the user.

COMPUTER TIP #117: WHEN USING APPS, STAY WITHIN THE SAME PLATFORM:  This is just something I’ve noticed when servicing computers the past few years.  If you use apps from one of the two major platforms, either Google or Microsoft, it often helps to be consistent.  Not only because the user interface is more familiar, but also because the program consistency causes fewer conflicts, allows for more features and therefore operates more seamlessly.  So, for example, if you’re a Google type, use the Chrome browser, Google Drive, Google Keep, G-Mail, Photos and the like, while if you’re a Microsoft user, use Bing, One Drive, Outlook Mail and the like.  For exampe, if you use Google Keep, Google’s note taking app, you’ll find it compatible to import from Google Photos, Google’s collaboration abilities, Reminders in Chrome, Google Now dictation and search features using a microphone, Google Docs for saving Notes, and more features existing and to come.  It’ll simplify your life.

COMPUTER TIP #118: IS THERE A WAY TO COPY A LARGE ISO FILE TO A FLASH DRIVE? Sometimes you may download a file to burn a CD/DVD and discover that it is just too large to fit on a single disk.  If there isn’t a separate option to simply download the file directly to a flash drive, the alternative is to copy the ISO file to a flash drive.  However, before you can do this, you can’t just copy the ISO to the drive, particularly if you will want to boot from the flash drive.  Certain things have to be changed on the flash drive, and there are a number of free programs for this purpose.  Rufus is a free tool that will correctly prepare the drive and extract the contents of the ISO file, as well as to make make it bootable.  It doesn’t install on your computer, but it works nicely.  If you’re looking for a program that you can put on your computer, try Bootit.  This is actually a utility from Lexar which “flips” the “Removable Media Bit Setting” of a USB drive, making it appear as a local drive on your PC, rather than as merely removable storage, something which is absolutely necessary if you are looking to partition your USB drive or trying to run your iTunes from the drive.  Running each app is relatively self-explanatory. 

COMPUTER TIP #119: HOW TO REMOVE STUBBORN WINDOW 10 APPS:  By now you may have figured out that Microsoft has made it impossible to remove many Windows 10 apps (especially those in the standard tiles on the desktop) from their operating system.  You can’t just right click on the app and uninstall it, ‘cause Microsoft doesn’t want you to.  However, you can still do this, but it involves using Powershell commands.  You can remove Xbox, Mail, Calendar, Calculator and Store, whether it’s because it’s causing a problem on your computer or simply because you don’t like the clutter of things you’re never going to use.  Type powershell in the Win 10 search box, then the specific command for removing your app.  For example, if you want to get rid of Xbox, you would type Get-AppxPackage *xboxapp* |”Remove-AppxPackage.  The “pipe” character is created with Shift + \.  If you search the internet, there are commands for removing Bing Finance, Sports, News and Weather as well as apps like Solitaire.  If you want these apps back later, there’s a command for that as well.

COMPUTER TIP #120: WAYS TO RECOVER LOST WORD/OFFICE DOCUMENTS:  Everyone experiences a situation where a Word document disappears, gets lost, is edited but not saved.  And everyone wants to find a way to retrieve rather than re-create it.  While it’s often impossible to do so, there are a few tricks you can try.  But note in the following discussion that you can save yourself if you enable certain of these features first, because you can’t do it after the problem arises:  First, try the easiest thing.  Check the Recycle Bin on the off-chance that it got sent there.  Of course, if you have copied the file as part of a data or full backup, you can probably extract at least an older version from the backup file.  Also, you can always try System Restore, if you set it up and have a previous restore point, although this feature isn’t supposed to back up data files and probably won’t have it.  If you’ve enabled auto-save and file-backup in your Office program (Tools>Options>Save>Always Create Backup Copy + check AutoSave box for # of minutes) the file should be saved where you indicated. If Shadow Copies is  part of your operating system, this could work.  But REMEMBER, you can’t reboot or turn off your computer, as the shadow copy will be lost.  It’s only temporary.  If you’ve set up Previous Versions on your operating system, you may find the file there.  Unfortunately, most of the time there tricks don’t work (especially if you haven’t set them up first, anticipating the inevitable failure) but sometimes you do get lucky.

COMPUTER TIP #121: WHAT YOU CAN DO IF BLUETOOTH DOESN’T WORK:  It usually connects fairly well when a Bluetooth device is paired, but sometimes there are problems.  Suggested things to check:  First, check your distance - it only works within 30 feet line-of-site max.  So don’t pace, walk behind walls or put it in your pocket, it’ll reduce reception.  Also, check for other wireless interferences, like IoT appliances, routers, cell phones, NFC devices, etc.  Get away from them, see if the Bluetooth works somewhere else.  And check for other, competing Bluetooth devices, as there are differing standards and profiles which may be stepping on or over your transmission. (See Bluetooth glossary definition for more.) If you have too many Bluetooth connections or different types of connections, this may possibly nix your connection. [If you have time, you may want to update your device’s firmware, erasing unwanted profiles (on Android, click Settings>Bluetooth>gear icon>uncheck “unwanted profiles”)  and clearing the Bluetooth cache [Settings>Application Manager>Bluetooth>Clear Cache]).  Sorry, iOS doesn’t have these adjustments, presently, even some Android devices don’t, as it depends on the manufacturer.  And occasionally some updates to the Android O/S may cause some issues, e.g. Android 4.3, which had a flaw which caused connectivity to fail if the device discovered too many Smart (LE) devices over a period of time.  Finally, check your device - battery power, toggle Bluetooth off and then on, and re-pair it, see if that works. See the Bluetooth definition for more detail.

COMPUTER TIP #122: HOW TO REPAIR WINDOWS SEARCH:  If it seems like the returns to your Windows search queries are out of line, you can try repairing the Windows Search Index.  First, run the Search and Indexing Troubleshooter, built right in to Windows.  In Win7, go to Control Panel>Troubleshooting>System Security.  In Win10, just open Settings and type “fix search”.  If you can’t reach it from there, go to the All Items view in the Control Panel and click Indexing Options>Advanced/Rebuild.  This can sometimes take a little while, but usually works.

COMPUTER TIP #123: WHERE TO FIND AND HOW TO READ SYSTEM LOGS & ERROR REPORTS/WINDOWS RELIABILITY MONITOR:  To find various logs and error reports, right-click on the My Computer, Computer or This PC icon, depending on your Windows version.  Left-click on Manage in the resulting menu. The Computer Management window will appear, with the menu on the right side. Under Computer Management (Local)>Event Viewer>Windows Logs>System you can view, chronologically, the system notifications. Most will be pedestrian (i.e. “Information”), but the ones in yellow and particularly red may be important.  Each will show the source (e.g. Windows Kernel, Windows Update, Power, etc.), and event ID number and a Task Category.  Often the source of the problem is readily identifiable.  For example, if it’s caused by a Windows Update, you can find it and roll it back.  Other items may be more cryptic, but they can be Googled for additional information.  If you are a corporate user, there are paid software programs that do this work for you, the most popular being Splunk, ArcSight and LogRhythm

On a related note, don’t forget to check the Windows Reliability Monitor, which has been around since Win7.  RelMon is a useful tool that can help pinpoint problems that you can only vaguely identify, like error messages such as “Your PC ran into a problem it Couldn’t handle...”.  Type or say “reliability” in the search box, then click View Reliability History.  Its cans your event log and lays out the results by time period.  Double-clicking will show the Problem Detail Report for a given entry.  This information will let you identify and possibly cure the problem.

  • First, use or switch to a local vs. a Microsoft account to log in: There are myriad reasons for switching from a Microsoft account to a local account -- among them, troubleshooting, privacy protection, controlled login in several services. If you log in to Windows with a Microsoft account, Windows keeps track of all sorts of items, logs you in to Microsoft apps like OneDrive, gets Cortana cranking with your history, and generally makes a nuisance of itself. (Of course, if you lose your password, it’s easier to recover if you use the Microsoft login, so maybe keep your credentials, but login with a local account.)
  • Don’t use Cortana.  It keeps data on you. You can’t deactivate it any more (although you can choose to hide it), so just don’t use it.
  • Don’t use Edge ore Internet Explorer.  Instead, choose another browser, like Firefox, which has a built-in “do not track” feature.
  • Don’t use One Drive, which also stores information about you.
  • Don’t use a Microsoft online service account to sign in.  Instead use a local computer account.  Microsoft e-mail like Hotmail or tracks you. (See Point 1, above)
  • Remove Microsoft’s Win10 apps that share your personal data with one another, like Calendar, Mail, Maps and People.  Microsoft doesn’t have any option to uninstall these apps since the Anniversary Update, but third party ones, like CCleaner do the job nicely.
  • Fine tune your Win10 privacy options:  Under Windows sections for Location, Camera, Microphone, Notifications, Account Info, Contacts, Calendar, E-mail, Messaging, Radios and Other Devices, turn the switches off that appear in the Privacy category for each. 
  • Also, under the Privacy and Speech, inking & typing sections, click “Stop getting to know me,” otherwise virtually everything you say, type and write will be captures and analyzed by Microsoft and its pals.
  • Under the Privacy category Feedback & Diagnostics section, set the Feedback Frequency option to Never and also the Diagnostic and Usage Data option to Basic.
  • Turn off your background aps in the Privacy category’s Background Apps section by turning off the switches.
  • Don’t sync. Under  the Accounts section’s Sync Your Settings section, turn off the switch at Sync Settings.
  • It’s also a good idea to deselect Windows Spotlight under Personalization’s Lock Screen section, by choosing either Picture or Slideshow under the Background option.
  • Disable Update Sharing.  Under Update & Security, in the Windows Update section, at Advanced Options then Choose How Updates Are Delivered, it’s a good idea to turn off the switch for Updates From More Than One Place.  This prevents your Win10 system from sharing update files via the Internet through peer to peer distribution.
  • It’s also a good idea to disable device location tracking in the Update & Security category’s Find My Device section.  Click Change and turn it off in the resulting pop-up window, otherwise Microsoft will know where your computer has been.

COMPUTER TIP #125: HOW TO REMOVE THE METADATA FROM YOUR PHOTOS:  Because the metadata you share on your photos (exact geolocation) as well as the metadata you share on your business or other related documents (authors, editors) may violate your privacy concerns, it’s good to know that there’s an easy way to strip the metadata in Windows before sharing. First, you must select the file you wish to sanitize.  You can easily locate it in File Explorer (or its predecessor, Windows Explorer).  When it’s selected, click on Properties, then the Details tab.  After that, click on Remove Properties and Personal Information at the bottom of that tab. The resulting Remove Properties dialog box will provide two options: The first (default) creates a copy of the selected file with all possible properties completely removed.  The second allows you to customize the properties to be deleted without creating a new copy of the file.  You can select All then O.K. to remove all metadata from the file.  That’s it.  [For an example of why you shouldn’t post a photo showing where you live, check out the mishap of Adam Savage of Mythbusters HERE.]

COMPUTER TIP #126: HOW TO DISENGAGE FROM SOCIAL MEDIA:  As people are tiring of spending too much of their time on social media like MySpace, later FaceBook and Twitter, they are asking how to disengage from these apps.  Since it’s the largest, let’s take FaceBook, which has three levels of disengagement.  You can deactivate your account, which puts it on hold in case you want to start up again later.  You can detach yourself, which is also like a suspension.  Or you can actually delete the account.  If you do this, remember the following:  If you’ve used FaceBook to log in to other apps, you will have to go to Settings>Apps in Facebook to get a list of the apps you use to sign in, then go to each and every one and log in to their settings page, finding the option to disconnect from the FaceBook login.  Also, don’t forget to go to FaceBook settings, then “download a copy of your FaceBook data,” which will let you keep a copy of your photos, posts, friends and other data.  Just to be safe, opt out of any FaceBook e-mail notifications, too.



MURPHY’S LAWS OF COMPUTING #4:  When the going gets tough, upgrade.

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