San Francisco Peninsula Computer Club logo

Return to Home page
Return to Newsletter page

 Vol. 18  No. 4 Supporting PC Platforms May-June 2002 Newsletter:. 2002

CONTENTS

Internet Café: vacation computer?

Writing Inside and Out

Computing  Factoids

Registry Care and Feeding

What is Old is New Again

Final bytes

Schedule

Internet Café: vacation computer?
By Bob Wallace

 Getting away from it all used to mean dragging along some part of our day-to-day appliances to keep in touch with the world while away from home, or having them sitting at our favorite vacation spot awaiting our arrival. Such may not be the case any longer when it comes to computers to fetch our e-mail messages during vacation, depending on where one goes for vacation. 

This is one of the things learned during our recent visit to The Netherlands and England over the last ten days of April and first couple of days in May. E-mail users can gain access to the Internet at Internet Cafés in a handful of cities in England (London was the first such), and two cities in The Netherlands. In addition, some hotels now make one or more computers available to guests, in some instances requiring assistance from hotel staff to get logged on first. 

(Using your own computer over their telephone lines is another subject. In several instances, room phones have an extra plug available for connecting one’s portable computer to the phone line, but doing that means having software that allows for using one or more numbers to gain the outside phone line, and maybe the ability to include one or more characters to allow time for the outside line to be made available to your software for dialing purposes. Check the software you would normally use before deciding to take your portable computer along for your vacation.) 

Going into the Internet after returning home on May 2 found the easy.com web site without a problem, and then a click on their easyInternetCafé fetched a page of locations in each country. Going to one page will bring up a map showing the location of each site within the city. For Amsterdam, the map also included a landmark to look for (in this instance, the Munt Tower), a second spot to give an additional reference point (Rembrandt Plaza). And for Amsterdam tourists, if tram routes are not included, they could easily be incorporated. Frequently, two or more tram routes use the same part of a given street in Amsterdam. 

Once you get to the Internet Café, you may  be surprised at the number of computers available, as was the case with your editor while in Amsterdam. A quick look at the room figured that perhaps 200-250 computers were available there.  Checking via the Internet after getting home by way of easy.com’s web site shows that the first Internet Café in Amsterdam (and the first outside England for easy.com) has 400 computers available. The problem for me was having all the information in Dutch, on the one hand, no one around that might have been able to answer any questions about using their computers,  and a limited time to use a computer, had there been sufficient time at that moment (we were filling time between two appointments at museums that day). 

Next problem for these cafés is finding anyone who can explain how to use their computer system, and how to get tied to your regular e-mail server. For sure, how to get tied to your e-mail server without having all your new messages sent to a computer you’re paying for the use of!  Aside from instructions in Dutch in the Amsterdam office, our hotel in ‘s-Hertegenbosch (known locally as Den Bosch) needing desk people to log users on and off, and the office clerk in London not knowing how to use their computers to send one or more messages once they had been written. 

Not all of this should be blamed on the office or the help. In this instance, your editor should have done his homework before deciding to plunk down the euro in Amsterdam, or the pound in London. Next check to be made is the local ISP to see if they have any capability to post messages while away from one’s home computer. As a practical matter, there is no good reason to jump into another e-mail account that then requires checking two or more ISPs each day to find messages addressed to you. 

The problem suggested here has already been resolved by e-mail message to support@rcn.com and a reply back that details how one goes about getting into RCN’s server when away from your home computer, whether that be desktop or portable, or both. At the remote computer, at your vacation location, get on a computer, open the browser (they suggest IE, but this should work with any browser), go to http://webmail.rcn.com, log in with name and password, then post your outgoing messages. At the same time, any new messages will be sent to that computer, wherever in the world you happen to be, but will not be removed from the RCN server (in my specific case; your ISP may be different) unless deleted by the user at that console. You will still be able to get those same messages from the server to your home computer (or computer at work, depending on your specific situation) when you get back home. 

Note that this specific arrangement will only work for RCN subscribers. Your specific ISP may have different arrangements for using an Internet Café at some exotic location around the world, allowing you to access your 
e-mail account once you gain access to that remote computer. Best advice is to check before leaving home. One piece of advice your editor should have thought about before leaving for Amsterdam on April 20. Next thing is to remember this advice for the next time we’re out of town, provided we’re able to locate an Internet Café at our destination. 



Writing Inside and Out
By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group 

I have a comfy spot on both sides of the fence. I get the pleasure of writing for a magazine that’s big enough for me not to worry that I’ll say something dumb. PC World provides tons of background support--first, second, and technical editors, copy editors, fact checkers, and even attorneys. 

At the other end of the spectrum are user group newsletters. Writing in PIBMUG is more freewheeling. I can write about any topic, something that strikes me on the spur of the moment. (PCW wants a four month stack of story topics.) And unlike PC World, I don’t have anyone watching my language, fretting over (and often removing) my voice, and roping me into a set amount of space. PC World’s Home Office column is roughly 650 words, less the "Where to Buy," the spot where I supply details so the reader can get in touch with the companies I write about. 

The 650 limit is a killer. If you do any writing, you know it’s more difficult to write short, especially if you have to cram in humor, content, product justification and examples, one or two links, and the essential takeaway. The rule--and you’ll see this in practically all computing magazines--is giving the reader something to do after finishing the column. I got lucky when they asked me to do the Home Office online version. 

All the leftover material from the print edition -- and there’s always plenty  -- found a new home. 

One other thing you might take for granted in a user group newsletter is the size of the article. When I put the Prompt together, I choose from countless articles, worrying about content but not size. For instance, you’ll find "The Plain Truth about Casual Software Piracy" on page six. It’s long but compelling reading, and something you’d never see in a commercial magazine. 

Many of you don’t enjoy writing, yet need to do it for work. So I thought I’d supply a few tips, things that will help make you sound better in letters, e-mail, and reports. (BTW, you’re right -- this is the takeaway...) 

** Talk into print: When I write, I try to take what I imagine I’d say to you and put it into words. I do it by quickly typing what I think, trying not to filter anything. (Filtering--or editing--comes later when I look over what I wrote.) 

** Write like you talk: You’ve probably noticed that I use lots of contractions -- for instance, you’ll, we’ve, let’s. It’s pretty casual and the way I speak. My guess is many of you do the same. I can visualize Joe Bohannon saying, "well, sure, but I’m not going to do that." And that’s the point--that’s exactly how he sounds and it’d sound ideal in print. Get the idea? 

** Write short sentences. I think readers have an easier time digesting short chunks of info. They’ll also be more inclined to read--and understand--what you say. If you can’t do it, write longer sentences and later, when you review your work, divide the long sentences into two or three short ones. 

** Write short paragraphs: They’re the toughest thing for me to plow through. One trick is to stop every  five, six, or seven sentences, take a breath, and start another paragraph. 

** Be active: For the longest time I couldn’t figure out passive from active voice. Once I had it, writing became easier. If no one’s taking responsibility, it’s passive. "Mistakes were made" is passive. "We all made a few mistakes," is an active voice. It’s almost impossible to write in the passive voice if you follow the next bullet. 

** Stay first: I write from the first person. It’s always my viewpoint (yeah, I know, it’s always about me). And that’s the tone you oughta consider using. The reason is I can visualize you when I write and you can see me while you’re reading. 

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check PCW's current edition at www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at www.pcworld.com/bass_letter. 



Computing  Factoids

There are unrelated things I pick up in e-mail that are terrific -- but not long enough for an article. Here are two of them. 

Complied by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group 

Hard Drive Repair Conundrum 
A PIBMUG member was struggling with a faulty hard drive. An Ontrack product manager provided an answer. 

Question:  I have a question about getting rid of data on a hard disk. I have read  articles about reformatting and assorted software that gets rid of your  data. However, I had a hard disk crash and must return the old disk to the  system vendor in order to have my credit card credited for the cost of the  new one they sent me (under warranty). 
I do not want them or the OEM to be  able to recover that data.  With the disk not working, how do I get rid of  the data?  If I hold magnets around it, will that work? Should I drop it in  a boiling pot of chicken soup?  Your advice would be appreciated. 

Smart-ass Answer: Chicken soup may work provided you remove all the fat, chicken feet, and carrots (strangely enough, celery and onions can stay). 

More realistically, I have to admit I’m stumped. Lemme call in some experts from Ontrack, the hard drive recovery company. Mark? Any ideas? --Steve 

Ontrack’s Response

The magnet idea isn’t going to work unless you’ve got some incredibly strong magnets laying around.  A degaussing unit strong enough to erase the platters of a hard drive would generate a field that would damage other magnetic media within several yards.  Also it would erase the servo-patterns on the drive used to control the movement of the read/write head, so it would certainly ruin the drive. We’ve requested ideas from the real experts,  our  clean  room technicians. 

They had a few solutions, but nothing simple. You could see if an authorized shop (like a disk recovery shop who has authority to break a drive seal without voiding the warranty) would take on a special job (for a fee) to open the drive and degauss the platters. 

You could request to review the warranty policy from your HDD manufacturer and see if they have a policy for protecting data that may be on a warranty returned drive. 

Trust the HDD manufacturer to destroy the platters as part of the end-of-life of a returned drive. --Mark 

Better Backups 

After using tapes and zip drives for backups, I finally decided to just back up to another hard drive. To simplify the process, I installed two mobile mounts and connected the IDE cables so that the upper mount or drawer is an IDE1 master and the lower drawer is an IDE2 Master. I purchased two drives of the same capacity.  Both are jumpered as masters.  The original is in the upper drawer, and the backup will be placed in the lower drawer. 

I use "Drive Copy" which with installation generates a 3.5" floppy "Drive Copy" boot disk. The boot disk is used to start the copy process.  Make certain that your two hard drives are labeled such that you will copy from the original to the backup, and not from the backup to the original. 

Remove the backup and set it aside for that sad day when the original fails or is infected with a virus. The reason that I like this approach is that if the original drive fails, I can just power down and remove it from the drawer and insert and boot the backup, which is already jumpered as a master drive, and you are immediately up and running. Whereas if you were using a tape you have the problem of trying to salvage the original from the tape, hoping that it works. The same is true of Zip disks. 

I will usually start the backup when I go to bed and it is done in the morning. The cost of a second hard drive is probably cheaper than a tape drive or Zip drive and the cost of the tapes and zip disks just add even more cost. 
--Clifford Ford (kb6ia@earthlink.net) 

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check PCW's current edition at www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at www.pcworld.com/bass_letter. 


Registry Care and Feeding
By Judy Oliphant 

It's okay to try this at home, but I must warn you here and now, this may be the most important thing you do next to coming monthly to our PC user group meetings. 

Let's face it, folks, our registry is the essential part of Windows  --  a big complex database that stores all the config settings for all your software and hardware in hierarchical form-like file folders on your hard drive. You don't often need to deal with them or the registry for that matter. Because Windows built in tools work in the background to make sure it stays together in tip-top shape. 

But because the Registry is so huge, and a foreign object to most of us, let's explore it  so it's not so foreign.. 

Take a sip of that wine now and breathe ever so carefully and count to ten. We're going to explore where no one has gone before. Ah, ready, set, make sure that your tray tables are in the upright position and we're ready to explore this foreign territory called the Registry. 

Because the registry is so huge and complicated, it can develop problems, troubles, like bring your PC to a grinding halt. That will cause any of us to open up the closest window and shove the PC out the window. 

We don't want you to do that, take that breath now, let it out slowly, relax. 

To most of us the Registry is this dark mysterious place. This month we're hopefully going to make you feel better about doing some housework on your PC so you can keep your registry healthy. 

All versions of Windows automatically create a backup copy of the Registry each time you start up your PC, but keeping an additional backup provides extra insurance. Of course, you can't restore the changes you haven't backed up yet, which means you should make backups frequently. 

Where have we heard that before?  There are several ways to back up your Registry. 

Use Windows’   built-in registry tool. Windows 98 and Me include a utility called Register Checker. When you boot your PC, Registry Checker scans for problems. If it can't fix them, it restores the most recent Registry backup. If you keep your PC running all the time, it's a good practice to reboot the computer daily so Registry Checker can do its thing. You can also run Registry checker manually, especially making a system change that won't require you to reboot. To do this: start, programs, accessories, system tool, system information, open tools menu and click registry check. 

If you have broadband or cable/dsl internet connections you will find that tweaking the Windows Registry is almost always necessary for getting maximum data speed. Two very helpful sites to check for Windows Registry information on dsl reports: www.dslreports.com/tweaks, select rwin in the jump-to topic drop down list box, and speed guide www.speedguide/net/cablemodems/cable_modem/cable_registry.sthml  The easiest way to make changes to the Registry is with the reg.file. Such files are downloadable from some of the sites mentioned above. Double clicking a reg file immediately incorporates the changes in your existing registry. Make sure you have a backup first before trying this. Always a good thing to do is to make a backup. Don't PC Compute without a backup. You will be sorry if you don't. 



What is Old is New Again
DSL Service
By Judy Oliphant 

You can't tell where you're going until you know where you have been, so they tell us all, who ever is "they" is so very right. I can remember not too long ago where this writer was delighted when I was connecting to a BBS. For those of you who still remember, Bob Wallace, our President, and I use to run a Bulletin Board and I started out on a 8088 computer with a 40-meg hard drive and a 24/96 modem. Man, I had it all, or so I thought. But the best is yet to come. 

I remember the day that I got my second phone line in. So I can safely say I do know where I have been; the journey has been great, from a 8088 computer, to a 386 to a 486 to a P 300 500, from a 56K modem to DSL. Little did any of us know back when 24/96 modem was a good thing to have where we would be now. And where we will go from DSL is anyone's guess. Surely not mine. I am still getting adjusted to blinking modem lights where I had none before. And be able to talk while surfing the net unheard of back when Bob and I were concerned about 
sponsoring echomail. 

If you have not guessed by now folks, the DSL serviced has arrived here in my home and before any of you ask me, yes, I love it, and no I can't see myself going back to Dial-up any more. After the hassles that I have had with Earthlink, anything was better than what I had before. And this is wonderful. Earthlink put me into a loop of nowhere over $21.95 for one month's service which I had paid for, have a canceled check, but their records and mine did not match. The matter just got worse and I got madder and madder as the weeks went on, and I could still not connect, and it turned into a screaming match and I was not winning either. They had the last word, so they thought  --  a registered letter came to me from a collection agency. That was it! 

And I thought I only got bad service at Home Depot well this was it. The boxing gloves went on and I was ready to set the record straight and clear my credit rating. After a few choice words to their customer service department that I am very proud of btw and some email messages Earthlink and I parted not as friends but with me getting the last laugh. They sent me a letter telling me they were sorry for all the confusion and sending me a check for $47.95 two months service. It's during one of these screaming matches with Earthlink that Pac Bell called me and offered me DSL. After a go around with Earthlink I was ready for anything. Pac Bell could tell by the tone of my voice that I was not happy. BTW Earthlink is also offering DSL and can not deliver to their customers on the set date and time they have told their customers. That is no surprise at all after what I had been through with Earthlink. 

Even before I got my DSL I talked to some good friends of mine that encouraged me to purchase a LinkSys router. www.linksys.com is the url,  in case any of you are interested. The router has four ports and works with the DSL modem that Pac Bell sent out to me. After hearing a story by one of my friends of when he went to close down a machine, someone had logged onto his system. He told me, Judy, protect your backside; get that router. Be that be a lesson to any of you that are thinking about getting DSL. Get yourself a router and run a firewall as well. I run Zone Alarm Pro as well. Linksys and Zone Alarm have teamed up together. 

The ease of surfing the net is so enjoyable with DSL and the fact that it is always on. SBC is offering first 3 months 19.95 after the 3rd month it is 49.95, they also supply you with all the cables and the modem that you will need. 

Happy Surfing! 



Final bytes
By Bob Wallace 

Editing this specific issue of the newsletter gets a bit dicey, given that we just returned from a full week in The Netherlands on a floral designer and floral student odyssey designed to give both a look at this decade’s Floriade between Amsterdam and Haarlem, Kukenhof Gardens, the Rijks and Van Gogh museums, then travel down to ‘s-Hertegenbosch (more usually known as Den Bosch) for some classroom work by the floral folks. 

Add to this the fact that the National Hockey League is into serious playoff mode at the moment, including the local favorite, San Jose Sharks, facing off against the Colorado Avalanche in the second round. It’s good to know this information about the Sharks and Colorado at this juncture, but while traveling about in The Netherlands and England, it was almost impossible to get any  U.S. sports news, despite having CNN’s television news going on in hotel room and lobby space. The only hockey news noted during these intervals was the "crawl" at the bottom of the screen that infrequently provided the information that was so desired -- this game ended up with one team winning in regulation, another game going into overtime, the occasional shutout, nothing but bits and pieces where sitting around the house would have meant spending several hours in front of the television watching the games, not hearing about them well after the fact. In some cases, we were having breakfast in the hotel while the third period was being played at home! 

As you will surely note just behind this column, we are finally going to get our genealogy update from Chris Havnar. One thing or another has precluded Chris getting back to us since first asking her to provide an update earlier in the year. With the 1930 Census information released at the start of April, one question we’ll be looking for an answer to is how long before us average genealogy people can get back into the National Archives in San Bruno without the need for an appointment?  Several drives by their office at the beginning of April found: Monday, April 1: average number of cars in the parking lots. Thursday, April 4: all parking lots nearly full. Oh well, that gives good reason for finding an alternative location to look at microfilm of one thing or another, a full-blown version of the Ontario 1871 Census from Canada to locate one’s long-departed relatives from that era. The LDS Family History Center in Menlo Park should not be near as busy as is the National Archives office. Now to find some time for getting down there in between work and hockey! 


Schedule
May 9:  Genealogy Update with 
 Chris Havnar 

June 13:  Internet Café usage with 
 Bob Wallace

Return to Home page
Return to Newsletter page