Leo's Answers #207 – December 1, 2009

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Leo Notenboom


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*** New Articles

Is it safe to just turn off an external USB drive without "safely removing" first?

If I have an external hard drive connected and running (but not being used or accessed through my overt actions) and I get the message "The device ... cannot be stopped right now. Try stopping the device again later.", would be safe to turn off the external drive (assuming it has an on/off switch) and then unplug it from the computer? Or would switching it off be just as risky?


Ultimately turning off the device is pretty much the same as unplugging the USB cable. So, the short answer is no, it's not really a safe alternative.

Unfortunately it does happen sometimes that a USB device appears to be in use and cannot be stopped. I'll walk through some of the approaches you can take to removing the device while minimizing the risk of data loss.

And no, pulling the plug isn't one of them.

Continue reading: Is it safe to just turn off an external USB drive without "safely removing" first?

* * *

Phishing? What's Phishing?

I've received an email from "suspend@msn.net" asking for billing details and threatening the end of my MSN service. Contacting MSN resulted in referral to a support alias, but no answer. Is this a problem, or a forgery?


Phishing is a word you hear a lot in the news these days, and this question question brought it to mind.

You're right to be suspicious: this definitely sounds like a phishing expedition.

Continue reading: Phishing? What's Phishing?

* * *

What is this numeric folder in my SYSTEM32 folder, and why does it have 45 gigabytes of data in it?

Why do I have a 45Gb folder - C:Windowssystem321025 - where no files show up? It is killing my 75Gb disk (only about 5Gb user data).


I don't know why there's 45Gb there, but we'll look at a couple of options that might be hiding whatever's taking up that space from sight.

I'll also look at what that folder, and some similar companion folders, are.

Continue reading: What is this numeric folder in my SYSTEM32 folder, and why does it have 45 gigabytes of data in it?

* * *

Can clicking "Cancel" still mean "Accept" when I get a popup?

My daughter got an offer at a song lyrics website that had a pop-up, and as always she clicked 'cancel' to get rid of it, then it came back that she had accepted the offer because clicking 'cancel' was to accept the offer! Now we are having problems with the computer, especially application hangs. Did we download spyware or adware inadvertently? So how can we remedy the situation? Just an FYI, I cannot believe what tactics some of these websites will go to to gain access to your PC. Shame on them!


Shame on them, indeed.

Yes, I think it's very likely that your daughter - trying to do the right thing - inadvertently allowed spyware onto your machine.

And yes, sometimes a cancel button isn't a cancel button at all.

While it's possible to tell the difference, it's not always easy.

Continue reading: Can clicking "Cancel" still mean "Accept" when I get a popup?

* * *

Can I, or should I, use TrueCrypt for my backups?

Two of your favorite themes are image backup and TrueCrypt. I've not seen you write about the two together. I've bought an eSata 1TB drive and I'm planning to put TrueCrypt on it and then back up my Vista system and files before upgrading to Windows 7. How does that sound to you?


Sounds just fine, but my initial reaction is - why?

Not that there aren't valid reasons for doing do, but by and large it's not something most people need. That being said, it is a good solution for certain scenarios, and I'll look at a couple.

It all does kind of beg a chicken-and-egg type of question: do you backup encrypted files, or do you encrypt the backup?

Continue reading: Can I, or should I, use TrueCrypt for my backups?

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*** Comments

A sampling of some of the comments that have been posted recently on Ask Leo!

* * *

What do I do if my machine didn't include installation or driver disks?

Lee writes:


I plan on updating to Windows 7 (since I qualified for free upgrade), from Vista (new machine). My question is when I upgrade what happens to the recovery partition of my laptop? Does it get upgraded as well or do I just reformat it and free up the space? Other suggestions?


The recovery partition is not a part of Windows, and thus is not affected by your upgrade. You'll be left with a Windows Vista recovery partition on a Windows 7 machine - it's unlikely to work, or do what you want. The problem is that recovery partitions are provided by the manufacturer, not Windows, and there is no standard. In your shoes I would actually repartition the machine to remove the recovery partition and make the space it takes up usable, and after installing Windows 7 take an image backup to use as a recovery point should it ever be needed.



My flash drive suddenly stopped working, how do I recover the data on it?

Mark Jacobs writes:

I lost a flash drive last week. Luckily I only used it for transfers, copying stuff from on computer to another from hoe to work and vice versa. I brought it back to the shop and got a new one as it had a 10 yea guarantee. That's what surprised me. If they are so vulnerable, how can they have a 10 year guarantee? I think the manufacturer realizes that only 1 person out of a hundred actually keeps the receipts. So rule number 1: never keep fewer than 2 (better 3) copies of your data 2:save receipts. 3: If your data is important (almost always the answer is yes) have an off site back up. I use or have used and recommend Drop Box (2gb) GMail (7.3 gb, email in small encrypted files using Truecrypt) Yahoo mail (unlimited or so they promise) If you need more storage than they offer, open another account.

As I said, there's also a wide range of quality in flash memory - so I could see a flash drive lasting 10 years "in normal use". They probably also define "normal use" such that things like dropping your Windows swap file onto the flash drive would probably void said warranty.



Can I, or should I, use TrueCrypt for my backups?

Steve writes:

Three years ago I went on a trip, leaving my Turkish wife at home in Turkey with her family. Her niece dug out a back-up disk of my emails and went through ten years of emails looking for incriminating evidence. Her English is good, but not great. They found three apparently suspicious emails from which my wife went berserk., led on by her mad, fat sister (aka The Mad Cow). I am divorced at age 63 because I did not encrypt non-incriminating, innocent emails from my wife. Go figure.


*** Leo Recommends

Quick and Easy Screen Capture and Annotation

One of the more surprising questions I get fairly often has nothing at all to do with computer problems, Windows configuration or general computing. It's very simple:

"How'd you get that cool tear-off look to your screen captures?"

I use SnagIt.

By the way, this is what they're talking about:

Upper Left corner of a Command Prompt Window

As with any utility like this, I'm certain that there are many alternatives, but I've been using SnagIt for several years now and have been exceptionally pleased with how quick and easy it is to use.

But I had to be convinced.

Continue reading: SnagIt - Quick and Easy Screen Capture and Annotation


Each week I recommend a specific product or resource that I've found valuable and that I think you may as well. What does my recommendation mean?

*** Popular Articles

Open Windows Explorer and ... wait. If you find yourself waiting a long time for Windows Explorer to come up, this might be the article for you.

Why does Windows Explorer take so long to display sometimes?

Why is there such a long delay before Drives & Files appear when double clicking on "My Computer" in Windows XP?

It started after I had to do a deep cleaning of my PC in terms of spyware and used several registry cleaners. Everything seems to run fine and smooth now, but I still have this problem.


This is another of those situations that can actually be caused by many, many different things.

Fortunately, there are a couple of really common causes, so I'll look at those and we can see whether they help you at all.

Continue reading...
Why does Windows Explorer take so long to display sometimes?

*** Thoughts and Comments

Do you live in or near Sydney, Australia or Auckland, New Zealand?

If so, drop me a line ... I'll be visiting your fair cities next year (1/26-30, and 2/9-11 respectively), and am considering a meet-up. I'm curious if any of you would be interested.

I've already found a Starbucks not far from my hotel in Sydney (near Circular Quay), and I note that there are several in Auckland as well. Coffee's on me, for any who might be interested in showing up. Sadly, I won't be in a frame of mind for any on-site computer repair or diagnosis - this is most definitely a vacation, above all else - but I'd love to meet some of my subscribers from down-under.

More details to follow, should there be enough interest.

'till next time...

Leo A. Notenboom

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Posted: December 1, 2009 in: 2009
Shortlink: https://newsletter.askleo.com/3939
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I'm Leo Notenboom and I've been playing with computers since I took a required programming class in 1976. I spent over 18 years as a software engineer at Microsoft, and after "retiring" in 2001 I started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place to help you find answers and become more confident using this amazing technology at our fingertips. More about Leo.