Leo's Answers #247 – September 7, 2010

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Leo Notenboom


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*** New Articles

Why does my computer crash at random times?

I have a dual core lintel, 500gHD, 2gRam and all those goodies on Windows XP. My PC is not quite a year old yet but it recently started to crash, even while just running Word. Antivirus (both) check everything in order. What could possibly be the matter here?


A “crash”, for the purposes of this discussion, includes things like random blue screens, random reboots and just randomly shutting down without warning.

I actually have several articles on crashing randomly, but because this is such a common scenario I want to update my approach a little.

In particular, I find one cause to be the most common.

I’ll look at that, and then review what else might be going on.

Continue reading: Why does my computer crash at random times?

* * *

What’s the difference between an email program and an email account?

I want to change my email program from Hotmail to something else. How to do?


I’m going to use this as an opportunity to clear up a confusion that I see all the time. A lot of folks might not believe me when I say this, but the confusion is surprisingly common.

In short: Hotmail is not an email program.

An email program is not at all the same thing as an email service or an email account.

Time for some definitions.

Continue reading: What’s the difference between an email program and an email account?

* * *

How do you make links?

Within this article of yours that I’m reading you have a few plain text links that are typed in blue letters and underlined. When I click on them I’m taken to the actual hypertext (http:) URL. For example, when I click on the underlined “I have a few myself” and “free Internet Safety eBook” I’m taken to http://store.pugetsoundsoftware.com/ebooks.php and http://med.askleomedia.com/ebooks/InternetSafety.pdf, respectively. How did you change the actual hypertext address to a clickable plain text link?


Time for my favorite answer: it depends.

OK, that’s not may favorite answer, but it certainly is a common one.

It depends on where you’re creating the link: web pages and email and discussion forums are often all different, though typically with the same result.

It also depends on what tools you may or may not be using to create the link.

I’ll look at how links are structured, and how common tools encode them.

Continue reading: How do you make links?

* * *

How do I get my attached drive to show in Windows Explorer?

Is there a LIMIT to the # of hardware units I can attach to my PC? Windows XP seems not to recognize ALL the “drives”. How can I troubleshoot this problem? XP software tells me that the drive I want to attach using “Add Hardware” is “functioning properly” but when I “explore”, the hardware is not listed as attached and therefore is not accessible. What gives?


There’s probably a limit, but a) I have no idea what it is, and b) I’m fairly certain that that’s not the problem here.

It’s frustrating to have a “functioning properly” drive not be accessible – I mean what’s the point of “functioning properly” if you can’t use it?

I’m also not sure exactly why this happens, but it does and I’m sure there are several possible explanations.

I’ll show you the first place I look.

Continue reading: How do I get my attached drive to show in Windows Explorer?

* * *

How do I turn off thumbs.db in Windows 7?

In your article What is thumbs.db, and can I delete it? your fix did not work for me. I am on Windows 7. ‘Do Not Cache Thumbnails’ is not in my View Tab under Folder Options of Windows Explorer. Do you have a fix for Windows 7 for this issue?


Indeed, I do.

How you control thumbs.db has changed in Windows 7.

We’ll take a look at how to turn it off and review what it’s used for.

Continue reading: How do I turn off thumbs.db in Windows 7?

* * *

Is copyright still an issue if something’s not available anywhere?

I want to be able to copy VHS to DVD via my PC. Your site answers all the questions except One. As 99% of my VHS tapes have copyright restrictions. Is there a device I can obtain that will allow me to copy these tapes? As most of these movies are now ‘out of production’ and unobtainable I do not see copyright as an issue.


I’ve been getting a lot of questions about copyright lately, most commonly relating to a lot of confusion around bittorrent.

But as this question shows, copyright issues come up in other forms as well.

Now, I need to be super clear: I’m not a lawyer. Never have been, and I don’t plan to be one. This is not legal advice: use at your own risk, no animals were harmed, some objects may appear smaller, yadda, yadda, yadda.

That being said, what follows is my pretty clear opinion which I believe to be relatively accurate.

Copyright is most definitely an issue.

Continue reading: Is copyright still an issue if something’s not available anywhere?

* * *

How do I deal with one email account on two machines?

I run a desktop PC with Windows XP and also a Laptop with Windows Vista. They both have the same email address as my husband and I share this. When the PC is switched on the emails come into that one, but when the laptop is on, they come into that one if the PC is switched off. Is there any easy way to transfer emails from the laptop to the PC without having to set up a new email address, or sending each individual email to myself?


I get variations of this question a lot.

There are a lot of misunderstandings of exactly what email is, where it lives, and what it means to have an email address. Clearing up some of that should help you understand what’s happening here, and also help you decide how you want to handle it.

Continue reading: How do I deal with one email account on two machines?

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*** Comments

How do I know that this web address is safe?

Jenny G. writes:

I’ve found the WOT (Web of Trust) Firefox plug in very useful, and it’s saved me from some bad sites.

The only problem is that sometimes a really nasty site can be rated with a green symbol in your Google search results. You have hover over the green rating symbol and click through to see the user ratings. Sometimes a site with lots of “red” (danger) ratings still shows up as a “green” (safe) site.

This is actually my biggest concern with validation sites that rely on user feedback for their ratings – they can be gamed so as to provide misleading results.



How do I get 32-bit software to run on 64-bit Windows?

Saetana writes:

I’ve been using 64 bit Windows 7 for several weeks now and, as Leo said, Windows has handled the vast majority of my older 32 bit software just fine. Sometimes I install a program and a popup appears saying “this programme may not have installed properly” and giving me an option to reinstall with recommended settings, I always do this and have had no problems. The only major issue I had was with Wild Tangent games manager, my games wouldn’t finalize installation but, with help from their support team, I finally got it to work. Try right clicking on an application shortcut and selecting “Run as Administrator” for any software that is problematic, I’ve solved a couple of issues like this as well. I heard so many scare stories about 64 bit Windows and old software but I am very happy with mine and I’d say its essential for future-proofing a new PC at least as far as possible.


What for-pay email providers do you recommend?

Reid writes:

I agree with Larry that using your ISP email is a bad idea. My father, brother and others I know have done this, then later got bitten when they switched ISPs, a common occurrence for those looking to save money. They simply lose their email address! They’re novices and don’t know how to salvage their emails, contacts, etc. when moving to another provider — that’s not novice stuff.

And Leo, advising people to use their ISP email breaks Rule #1, Portability, that you just got done describing in the previous paragraph! Sorry, but this is the first time I’ve disagreed with you and have to say, bad advice.

Fair enough, but I still prefer ISP mail (with support) over free email accounts (without). In either case changing providers – be it email or ISP – you lose your email address. The only way to truly get one you can keep forever is to own your own domain.



The most frustrating thing I hear…

Ted writes:

I agree completely with your observation. I was initially surprised when I returned to the office from a long business travel to find that my old Remington electric typewriter had been replaced with a WORD PROCESSOR. The boss thought that I would howl, and when I didn’t he had the IT guys get me a computer –333mb HP!! Since retiring (now almost age 71) I have been using using my computers and resolving whatever problems have arisen. I long ago concluded that computer systems are logical, so I use logic to figure out the problems. My age group considers me an EXPERT! I’m not, of course, but I am able to communicate how to resolve problems — something many IT folks don’t seem to be able to do well. Great observation!

*** Leo Recommends

PDFCreator – Create PDFs from any application that can print.

About 6 months ago, perhaps more, I decided to go as paperless as I could. My prior recommendation of the ScanSnap document scanner was a big part of that and allowed me to empty three drawers of my four-drawer file cabinet, saving documents digitally instead.

Once you’re in the habit of creating PDFs from paper documents, the ease with which PDFs can be used, saved and perhaps most importantly – backed up – becomes readily apparent.

As a result I’ve also cut down on the amount of actual printing I do by changing my default printer to the free PDF Creator virtual printer.

It’s not at all uncommon to want to save something, say a sales receipt from an on-line purchase, by printing it. But it’s rare that you actually need to save it on paper. Instead, I print to the PDF Creator printer which creates a PDF of the printed output that I save on my computer. If I need to actually print it to paper, either now or sometime in the future, I can simply load up that PDF in a viewer such as Acrobat or Foxit, and print to my real printer from there.

Continue reading: PDFCreator – Create PDFs from any application that can print.


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

Ever get a dot-what file? I mean a dot-something where you have no idea what the something means? Things like “.jpg” and such we typically recognize. Both what about those that you don’t?

How do I know which program is used to open a particular type of file?

I saw your article on file associations, but how do you know which file type to associated a program with? When I get an email and click to open the attachment and there is no file association to go with it, how can I possibly know what program should be use?

Ever wonder why most filenames end in a period followed by three characters? Like “.exe” or “.doc”? That part of the file name, known as the extension, tells the operating system what kind of file it is and then from that what program should be used to operate on it. If the operating system doesn’t already know, then you can use that same information to figure it out what program should be used.

Well, usually you can.

Continue reading…
How do I know which program is used to open a particular type of file?

*** Thoughts and Comments

Social media: every so often I remind folks what shows up where.

I Twitter as @askleo for tech and Ask Leo! related stuff. All new articles automatically show up in my Twitter stream, and that stream is replicated to my Facebook fan page.

I also Twitter as @leonot, but that’s more random and not always tech related. When I upload new photos to Flickr a notification goes out here, and this stream is replicated to my personal Facebook page. (To keep it useful I only accept friend requests from people I actually know.)

You’re naturally welcome to follow either twitter stream (they’re both public), and I encourage you to “Like” my fan page on Facebook.

A word of caution.

In recent weeks – perhaps even months – the site’s been receiving an abnormally high number of “spam” comments that are entered by real humans. At this point my techniques for stopping automated comment spam continue to work well, but there’s no thwarting “real” humans entering comments by hand.

The comments are misleading; they look like a user testimonial – something along the lines of “hey, I found this product that helps” along with a link – but of course they’re not a user testimonial at all. There’s at least one product that gets “pitched” once or twice a day like clockwork, from IP addresses that originate overseas in a country known for cheap labor and spam. My able assistants are now deleting all references to this product as each day’s comments are reviewed.

Since we moderate after-the-fact (comments are posted immediately, we take out the trash once a day) it’s possible that you might stumble into one of these spammy comments yourself. In addition, while we’ve certainly identified one spammer and product clearly, that certainly doesn’t mean we’ve caught them all.

The bottom line: treat product recommendations in comments skeptically – and that goes for here on Ask Leo! as well as any website you visit. Comments are just that – comments by random people, and quite often they have an agenda.

I don’t mean that you should disbelieve all comments – far from it. There’s a ton of value being added by honest and knowledgeable readers every day. I love it.

You simply need to be skeptical. Evaluate what you read. Don’t buy or install anything without doing some research first.

In case you’re wondering, there are two reasons I’m not naming names: 1) lawyers (sigh), 2) this isn’t about one product – you need to approach all comment-based product recommendations with a critical eye.

And to those who comment regularly and honestly: I’m truly sorry. It’s an honest shame that your great comments might be tarnished by association because of the despicable actions of comment spammers. I hope this doesn’t dissuade you from continuing to share your thoughts.

’till next week…

Leo A. Notenboom

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Posted: September 7, 2010 in: 2010
Shortlink: https://newsletter.askleo.com/4438
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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.