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Monday, July 18, 2005

A moment of hesitation -Part 2

Posted: Mon, 18 Jul 2005 01:02:45 GMT

A moment of hesitation -Part 2

highlight box A related note to the above: Win 98/ME has a known glitch regarding CD-ROM drives. Many CD-ROMS are dual channel IDE (Integrated Device Electronics) devices. Windows has a special setting you need to set in order to accommodate these devices. Try this fix if you experience problems after installing Win 98/ME: Select Start, Settings, and Control Panel; then double-click System. Select the Device Manager tab. Double-click the Hard Disk Controllers branch to expand it, select your IDE controller, and then select Properties. Select the Settings tab. In the Dual IDE Channel Settings box, select Both IDE Channels Enabled, and then click OK (2 times), and restart your computer. That should take care of the problem.

highlight box If you're trying to have Windows find a missing modem, you may speed the process up by going through Control Panel's Modem applet.

highlight box Device Manager is a neat little utility worth exploring further. You can access it either through My Computer (right-click the icon and select Properties) or through the System icon in Control Panel. The System Properties box comes up, and Device Manager is the second tab at the top. Once in, you'll be given a list of hardware categories (floppy drives, network adapters, etc) with plus signs beside each one. Click the plus to see what particular kind of device(s) you have for each category. If a problem with a device exists, Device Manager will open with that category already open, and a warning sign beside the problem device. A circled exclamation point with a yellow background tells you that the device isn't working properly, while a circled X with a red background tells you that the device is totally disabled. To examine a particular device, click on it and choose Properties, or double-click it. You can also configure a device, to an extent, through Device Manager. Going through Properties/Change Setting gives you an Edit option, which allows you to reset values. The idea is to reset devices so that you get the warm fuzzy message, "No devices are conflicting." However, you may not have a clue as to what values to reset; in that case, let Windows do it itself by checking the box named "Use automatic settings." You have to uncheck this box anyway to reset the device, and if you don't know what you're doing, you could make a problem situation much, much worse. One thing all of can use Device Manager for is to learn more about our machines. For example, try clicking on the plus sign beside System Devices. Whee! Look at all those devices; what the hell are they? Scope them out to your heart's content, but do not reconfigure them, or you'll wish you hadn't. Device Manager also reports on how your computer allocates system resources: double-click on Computer to get the Computer Properties dialog box. The radio buttons at the top give you info on your IRQ, I/O, DMA, and memory usage.

highlight box Make Device Manager much more accessible by creating a specialized shortcut. To do so, right-click anywhere on the desktop and select New, Shortcut from the shortcut menu. Once the Create Shortcut Wizard launches, type: C:\WINDOWS\CONTROL.EXE Sysdm.cpl, System,1 in the Command line text box. Then, name the shortcut Device Manager and change the icon to something more suitable if you like. You can then move the Device Manager shortcut to your Start menu for easy accessibility.

highlight box Here's an example of one common task performed by Device Manager: updating your video driver.

  1. Expand (click on the plus) the Display Adaptors Type in Device Manager.
  2. Double-click on the display adaptor name to open the Properties dialog.
  3. Select the Driver tab.
  4. Click the Driver/File Details button to see the driver provider and version number, for your information. Click OK to close.
  5. Go to the video card manufacturer's site (or another Web site that provides drivers) and download the latest driver.
  6. Click the Update Driver (or Change Driver) button.
  7. Click the Next button in the Update Driver wizard.
  8. Click the button that says "Display a list of drivers," then click Next.
  9. Select the Have Disk button.
  10. Browse your hard drive to find the driver you downloaded and install it into your system.
Other driver updates can be done similarly to this one.

highlight box Sometimes Windows fools itself into thinking there are two different pieces of hardware installed when there is only one, such as both a PS/2 and a serial mouse. Go through Device Manager, highlight the one that doesn't exist, and click Remove.

highlight box You can lose any of a number of critical system files to corruption, especially the KERNEL32.DLL file. Sometimes you can run SFC.EXE from the DOS prompt to fix corrupted system files, SFC being Windows' System File Checker. But this doesn't always work. You can also make repairs by extracting the files from their .CAB archives. You'll use the DOS EXTRACT.EXE tool (in the \WINDOWS\COMMANDS folder). Type EXTRACT /? from a DOS window to view the syntax requirements and available options for using this tool. For more detailed information, see Microsoft's Web page "How to Extract Original Compressed Windows Files" at You can also use CabView, one of the Win 95 Power Toys, available from
(remember, the Power Toys only work with Win 95).

highlight box One odd problem occurs when the desktop comes up, then an error message appears saying that you have a Registry problem and you should restart Windows to reinitialize the Registry; you do so, and the message appears again; concurrently, Windows refuses to recognize the A: drive or other, equally maddening side-effects. Straighten out the Registry by going through Control Panel into Add New Hardware, double-clicking that icon, and letting Windows go through its automatic device detection procedure. This should clear out any device confusions and restore existing devices Windows has managed to "misplace," like the supposedly missing A: drive (or D: drive, or sound card, or joystick, or whatever). If this doesn't do it, and your connections are clean and your cables aren't sparking, then you need to delete your current copies of SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT, and replace them either with the nice, fresh copies you made way back when, or with the automatic backups, the DA0 files (see above). Restore the Registry as described earlier.

highlight box The computer locked, you cool-booted (see below) or restarted, and now your icons are gone! You're left with tiny blank boxes and worse, the icons don't start your programs for you. Your links between your shortcuts and your applications somehow trashed themselves (don't ask how) during the lockup. To restore the links, you'll partially reinstall Windows, but won't lose your settings: run SETUP from your Windows CD or floppies, follow the choices until you get to the options "Replace Windows files that are missing or corrupt" or "Copy all files." Choose the "Replace" option, then click Continue. SETUP will run through all of the installed apps, files, and Registry items, and create new links. Go make a sandwich; it'll be done when you get back.

highlight box If your Start Menu is slow or your icons are black (or replaced by the boring plain-vanilla Windows icons) for some reason, it may mean that your "Shelliconcache" file is corrupt and should be deleted. Delete the hidden file C:\WINDOWS\SHELLICONCACHE. It will be recreated the next time you start Windows. Or use the free Refresh Em utility to make the repairs, available from

highlight box .DLL files shared between more than one Windows program can sometimes cause problems. You'll find a bunch of these in the Windows/System folder. Sometimes a program needs an updated version of an older .DLL file so it overwrites the older one in favor of a newer one. These files are supposed to be backwards-compatible (a program using version 2 should work with version 3 also) but sometimes are not; the reverse, sadly, isn't true either (a program needing version 3 will turn up its nose at version 2). The most common scenario is this: You install Program A, run it just fine, then install Program B. Program A suddenly goes belly up, either refusing to run or generating error messages reading "Program A has caused a blah blah fault in module xxxx.dll ..." Usually you can fix this by uninstalling and reinstalling Program A. Its setup program will update the offending .DLL file. Good information on conflicts with .DLLs can be found at and hunting through Microsoft's Knowledge Base located there.

highlight box .DLL files are one of the prime causes of Windows crashes. As stated above, the programs fall all over each other, with older versions replacing newer, more useful, versions and causing all sorts of havoc. If you really want to go on a .DLL hunt, go about it like this: First, back up your system. Go to the desktop and bring up Find, either through the Start menu or by clicking F3. Search your hard drives for *.DLL and make sure you're searching subfolders as well. You'll get a blue million of 'em. (I just did it and found 1255 of the little beasties!) In the results window, select View/Details and click the Name column to sort the files. Hunt through and find all the duplicates. Now right-click each duplicate file, select Properties, and click the Version tab. The file with the higher (more recent) version number should be in the \WINDOWS\SYSTEM folder. If the .DLL with the lower version number is in the app's program folder, use Rename to change its file extension to .D_L. That way, the old version won't load, which will force the program to look in the System folder to find the right .DLL. (None of this applies to the duplicate .DLLs in the SYSTEM folder. Leave those alone.) Now, reboot your PC and load the program that uses the older .DLL. If it runs, it's probably OK, and you can move on to the next duplicate set of .DLLs. (You didn't think this was going to be quick or anything, did you?) After you've completed this drudgery, wait a few weeks to ensure everything works. If it does, then delete all the .D_L files. Too complicated? Get the shareware utility DLL Checker from and let it sort the .DLL files for you. It also performs the same service for .OCX, .VBX, and .VXD files.

highlight box Speaking of obscure .DLLs, you can often get an idea about their identities (along with .EXE, .OCX, and other files) by right-clicking them in Windows Explorer, choosing "Properties," and choosing "Version." This displays the "version resource" within the file, if it has one, and that will tell you the company that wrote the file, the product the file is associated with, and the file's version number. Some info is (sometimes) better than none at all....

highlight box Corrupted Windows configuration files are often guilty of crashing your system. You start your computer and Windows refuses to start at all, instead generating a "Windows protection error" message or some other message informing you that Windows cannot load. This can send your adrenaline rate rising, but actually isn't hard to fix -- if you've created a configuration file backup using your Emergency Recovery Utility as explained earlier. If you haven't, get ready to scrub and reinstall.

highlight box If you're in MS-DOS mode and the computer refuses to recognize your CD drive, Windows may have "remmed out" the line controlling CD recognition from your CONFIG or AUTOEXEC files. Go into Edit mode, bring up either file, and look for a line that looks something like

Delete the REM parts, the "By Win95 Network" part, the dashes, and the extraneous spaces. Also, while you're in CONFIG.SYS, check your LASTDRIVE line. It specifies the highest letter which may be used as a drive letter; the default is E. If your CD drive is given a higher letter than LASTDRIVE allows for, it will tell you that you don't have enough drive letters. Change LASTDRIVE to read F, G, or H instead of E. If your CD driver values are wrong in CONFIG and/or AUTOEXEC, Windows will refuse to accept them. Look above in "Create Startup Disk" for the correct values.

highlight box Speaking of drive letters for your CD-ROM, it's annoying and sometimes troublesome when you install a second hard drive, a removable drive, repartition your C: drive, or what have you, and Windows arbitrarily reassigns your CD-ROM drive a new letter. Make the CD letter stay as it is by right-clicking My Computer, selecting Properties, and selecting Device Manager. Find CD-ROM in the list of peripherals and double-click it. Click the Settings tab. In the "Reserved drive letters" box, change both the "Start drive letter" and "End drive letter" options to your choice of one permanent drive letter. Pick one far enough down in the alphabet so as not to interfere with Windows' method of naming hard drive partitions; anything past "J" should do the trick. Click OK to lock in your choice.

highlight box If you're running an older PC with a Pentium chip made earlier than 1995, your chip may have the infamous "Pentuim bug," which is actually an error in the FPV (Floating Point Unit, integrated coprocessor). The error affects floating point division, causing certain number sets to give false results. Any program using the math coprocessor is vulnerable to this error. Check your chip by opening the Calculator (Start/ Programs/Accessories), going into View and selecting Scientific, and entering the following math problem: 4195835 - (4195835 / 3145727) * 3145727 = . The answer should be 0. If your answer is 256, your chip has the bug. Your best bet here is to either junk the old PC for a newer model or have a pro replace your chip. If neither one of these options appeals to you, check the shareware boards for a program such as, which will disable the FPU and protect your PC from the effects of the bug, though you will lose the use of the math coprocessor. Better to buy a more up-to-date machine.

highlight box Win9x uses a swap file to provide your system with virtual memory, which basically helps get the most mileage out of your system's RAM. The swap file can be found under the file name WIN386.SWP. Sometimes your system or an app creates more than one of these files. You can delete it and save precious MB by going into DOS mode and deleting ALL the copies; Win9x will automatically recreate it -- only one -- when you restart Windows. If you want to save hard disk space, you can force Windows to put the swap file on a second hard drive. Right-click My Computer, choose Properties, click the Performance tab, and click the Virtual Memory button. Check the option button that says "Let me specify my own virtual memory settings," and choose the desired hard drive from the pull-down list. Dont futz with the Minimum or Maximum settings, and DON'T check the "Disable virtual memory" box. When you click OK, a warning box will pop up telling you that trouble could arise from your specifying your own virtual memory settings; ignore it. Restart your system. You can track your swap file usage using System Monitor, a goodie found under Accessories.

highlight box You copied a file from a CD-ROM and now it won't let you delete or edit it: If you copied the file manually, it may have carried its "read-only"attribute along with it. Fix this by selecting the copied file in Windows Explorer, right-clicking the file, selecting Properties from the resulting menu, and disabling the "Read-only" attribute in the box. To do this in DOS mode, you need to use the ATTRIB command: ATTRIB -R FILENAME.

highlight box Marking a file "read-only" makes it harder for users to change it without your permission. Just right-click the file, go into Properties, and check the "Read-only" box. When you open this file under its native application, you'll see it marked as "read-only," and any changes you make cannot be saved. Neither can the file be deleted.

highlight box Want more security? Mark a file as "hidden" in the same Properties dialog box mentioned in the previous tip. That way it doesn't even show up in the file directory. To access a hidden file, you can either opt to display hidden files, as explained elsewhere on this page, or you can open the Open dialog box of the file's native application, navigate your way to the file's exact location, type its exact name, and click Open.

highlight box Just for the sake of completeness, there's a third type of file attribute, called Archive. This is reserved for files made by backup programs.

highlight box A big fat bug in Windows makes notebook computers run slower than intended. If you don't mind editing the Registry, you can fix it and speed your notebook up considerably. In Control Panel, click on system and click on the Performance tab. Under Advanced Settings, click the File System button. In the drop-down list called Typical Role of this Machine, choose Mobile or Docking System. Click OK. Get out of Control Panel and go to Start/Run. Type REGEDIT. (Be damn careful from here on out.) Two settings in your Registry are probably reversed. Search for the following line: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE \ MICROSOFT \ WINDOWS \ CURRENTVERSION \ FS \ TEMPLATES. Highlight the Mobile key in the left-hand pane and check the hexadecimal values in the right-hand pane. NameCache should be set to 51 01 00 00 and PathCache should be 10 00 00 00. If these values are reversed, make the necessary changes and restart.

highlight box CD-ROM audio won't play: Test your system by playing a music CD and listening through the front-panel headphone jack (yes, plug in the headphones). If that works, the drive is OK. Next, run a cable from the headphone jack to the line input of your sound card, then adjust the mixer's line level and master level. If that works, then your sound card is also OK and your problem is likely in the audio-only link between the CD-ROM drive and the sound card. Remember, you can't hear MIDI or .WAV files through the headphones. Sometimes you find that a Windows program has no sound, but a DOS-based program does; a Windows app may have set your volume level to 0 in Control Panel/Multimedia/Audio. Reset it to full. (By the way, you should turn off the system sounds to your PC if you're listening to music: just right-click the yellow Volume Control icon in the System Tray near the clock, choose Open Volume Controls, and put a check in the Mute box under the .WAV or WAVE column. Don't check the Mute All box to the far left, or you won't hear anything.)

highlight box Sound plays but it sounds wonky: Turn off all special effects on the speakers and the software -- you want to start with plain, unadulterated sound. Play a MIDI file and make sure left is left, right is right, and sound quality remains constant as you pan from left to right and back. If that goes OK, play something you know well and bring up the special effects one at a time. You'll find the culprit. What if you have no sound at all? Either your sound card isn't seated properly, your speaker wires aren't connected properly, your volume control is turned way down, or the wrong sound driver is installed in Windows. If Device Manager shows an exclamation mark over your sound driver, it either isn't installed at all or it's the wrong one. Also, go through Control Panel to Multimedia, select Advanced, and make sure "Use audio features" is checked. Wanna get rid of that speaker icon in your system tray? Open Control Panel, double-click on "Multimedia," select the "Audio" tab, uncheck "Show volume control in the taskbar" and click OK.

highlight box Your sound is okay, but your balance is off, and there doesn't seem to be a balance knob.... Actually, Windows does give you a balance control, but it isn't easily located. Go through Start/Programs/Accessories/Multimedia/Volume Control. You'll get a dialog box that will let you adjust the volume and balance of your PC sound, as well as specific .wav files and audio CD's. If it doesn't come up, you'll need to install it from your Windows CD.

highlight box Test your multimedia capability by playing the GOODTIME.AVI file directly off the Windows CD. Watch the lip sync and general motion of Edie Brickell as she sings. Then copy the file to your hard drive and play it again. If it looks and sounds a lot better the second time, your CD drive isn't up to today's multimedia demands.

highlight box The case is hot enough to fry eggs: The internal cooling fan is stuck or broken. Let a tech fix it. 90% of these problems are caused by dirt or pet hair getting sucked into the fan. One preventative measure is to cut a small piece of panty hose and stretch it over the fan duct, then tape it into place. The hose will filter out smoke, dirt, and fur. A computer that runs hot can cause major, major damage to both hardware and stored data. Don't run it until the fan is fixed. One problem with the new, cheapie PCs is that they often have cheap, unreliable fans built in. Less expensive fans use sleeve-bearing motors instead of ball-bearing motors, and the life expectancy of a sleeve bearing is only about 12 months. If you're buying a PC with an Intel chip, make sure it is the "boxed processor," which comes with its own reliable Intel fan.

highlight box You dumped coffee, Coke, or something else sticky and gross all over your keyboard. Many keyboards come with removable keys; after disconnecting the keyboard, you can remove the keys and clean the contacts (and the keys) with alcohol and a swab. An absolute last resort for really, really gunked-up keyboards is to immerse the whole thing in a pan of alcohol. You'll need several bottles, but hey, who told you to slime your keyboard to begin with? Don't use water, it doesn't evaporate as fast as alcohol and it rusts metal components. Remember to use the alcohol-immersion treatment in a well-ventilated room, and let it dry thoroughly before hooking it back up. (Now I've read a letter from a techie who says to use warm water and not alcohol, that alcohol will leave behind a sticky, gummy mess. Hmmmm.)

highlight box The power comes on but the monitor doesn't: Oftentimes the monitor runs separately from the computer. Is it turned on? Are the brightness/contrast switches turned up enough to see the screen? Is the damn thing plugged in? Has the VGA cable worked loose? Perhaps the video card has come loose from its socket; unless you know what you're doing, it's better to let a pro check this. Cheapie power supplies can be a source of trouble, also. A name-brand manufacturer usually, but not always, includes a reliable power source. However, if Fastbuck Freddy is patching together a PC for you, chances are good he'll give you the $14 cheapo rather than the $100 goodie. One thing to try for a bad display is to restart Windows in "Safe Mode," which sets the video display to plain old VGA mode. If it comes up OK, your video adapters or drivers are most likely bad. If it still comes up wonky, you've got a hardware problem.

highlight box Problems with power management? Win 98/ME includes a tool called Power Manager Trouble Shooter (PMTShoot). You'll find PMTSHOOT.EXE in the \TOOLS\MTSUTIL\PMTSHOOT folder of your Windows CD. Simply locate and run the program; it will install itself and restart your machine. It starts itself during the startup process, and will ask you to shut the machine down again using the "Stand By" option. As your machine attempts to put itself into suspended animation, PMTShoot monitors for problems with apps, driver, or devnodes that are causing you to have shutdown or startup problems. Take a look at the log entries inside PMTShoot's main window for more info. To restore your system to its original state, just uninstall the thing.

highlight box Want to really get persnickety? When dealing with memory modules, make sure you're not putting gold-plated SIMMs and DIMMs into tin-plated sockets. The contact with the two dissimilar metals causes corrosion in just a matter of months. Clean the corrosion with contact cleaner, and avoid putting tin and gold together.

highlight box Printer problems can sometimes be solved with the wizard under Start/Help/Troubleshooting/Printing Problems. Your Windows CD includes a more advanced Enhanced Printer Troubleshooter, found under \OTHER\MISC\EPTS\. Double-click it straight from the CD and follow the directions.

highlight box Printer drivers are not nearly the "set and forget" programs we would like. Sometimes you need to play with the printer's settings with various kinds of print output to see which settings work best with which assignment. The most glaring example is text vs. graphic output, but there are plenty of refinements...and plenty of choices to be made. The best advice I can think of is to just play with the settings and see how the results look to you. See your printer manufacturer's Web site for hints.

highlight box The words "technical support" usually evoke a picture of giggling clowns with coke-bottle glasses and pizza smeared all over their "Byte Me" t-shirts, but Microsoft actually has some useful tech information available, though it isn't easy to get through to a real person. By calling 1-800-936-4200, you can hook into their automated support base, and have them fax you a list of articles available about setup issues. Their online support can be accessed at (The old URL,, takes you to the new Web address.) You can access Microsoft's Knowledge Base, a huge compendium of articles addressing the range of Windows information, at You can also access their Troubleshooting Wizards at and find out about the Microsoft product that's causing you trouble. In the case of Windows, you can learn about most of the problems you're likely to encounter. Don't try Microsoft's human support lines unless you want to pay them way too much money for their advice.

highlight box On the topic of technical support, several PC magazines have done large surveys of home and business users asking them to rate the technical support available from their PC vendors. No major surprises here: Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Quantex, IBM and Micron topped out, with Gateway, NEC, and Toshiba getting good to decent reports, and AST, Compaq (!) and our favorite whipping boy Packard Bell bottom-feeding (Packard Bell has withdrawn from the American PC market -- Packard Bell PC owners, scramble over to for the latest info on customer support, warranty honoring, etc.). The surprise for me was that Gateway users had more tech problems than most other buyers, whereas AST buyers had far fewer problems. Not surprisingly, in two surveys Dell PCs rated as the most reliable, with Packard Hell PCs coming in dead last. Dell also cost less to repair than other PCs, with Micron, IBM, and Packard Bell costing the most. Micron, however, rated tops at resolving problems...and where was PB? Dead last. No wonder NEC has pulled them from the shelves. Good riddance.

highlight box The same survey recommended some common-sense actions before making that tech support phone call. When nasty problems arise, try these steps:

  • Reboot your PC. Most problems will vaporize on a restart. Don't ask why.
  • Use your PC's onboard diagnostic tools and programs to fix problems before they blossom into tech nightmares.
  • Make sure the obvious stuff is not causing the problem -- cables properly connected, power is on, etc. "Problems" like these make up the bulk of most tech support calls.

  • Record the details of the problem accurately so the techies will have something more to deal with besides "I dunno, the damn thing won't work." And keep a log of your contacts with tech support -- when you called, who you spoke to, what they recommended, etc.
  • Make sure you have the beastie's model name/number and serial number. Check the back of the main unit. You might have a vendor registration or ID number, so find that, too.
  • Keep a record of all hardware and software installed. You might want to set aside a notebook for just that purpose, and don't forget the itsy screensaver you downloaded last night. Record everything. Don't forget model numbers and version numbers, and don't forget any changes you've made to the system configuration, settings, or drivers. Win 98 users, put the System File Checker's log feature to use by accessing it through Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools/System Information, choosing System File Checker from the Tools menu, clicking on the Settings button and then on the View Log button. The log will tell you exactly which files were added to your computer and which were updated with a newer version.
  • If it's a hardware problem, the tech support guy may ask you to crack it open to check something. Leaving the phone to find screwdrivers and figure out how to pop the hood isn't a good thing. Be prepared beforehand.
  • If you can get online, try checking out the vendor's Web site. There may be a patch or a FAQ that can help. Certainly you should spend some time perusing the FAQ page. You might find the info you need right there, and avoid annoying a tech and straining his/her social skills. While you're onsite, try searching the site for the info you need. (Hint: include your PC's model number in the search string to filter out irrelevant returns.)
  • Some vendor sites maintain user forums, while other user forums can be found on independently maintained sites. Check these out! They may be a pain to wade through, and you're sure to get bogged down in someone's year-old flame war, but they're definitely worth checking. Just remember, everyone who posts isn't an expert, and you can't tell an expert from an idiot through his/her spelling. Lots of techies can't spell worth a damn.
  • You may end up having to deal with tech support through e-mail instead of over the phone. Make sure that you include as much info as you can in your initial e-mail, and if you haven't heard back in 48 hours, it's time to pick up the phone and demand some service.
  • Like everything else, the most convenient time for you is the peak time for them. Midmorning and early/midevening can be almost impossible to get through during; wait till lunchtime or the wee hours if possible. Also, back-to-school and holiday periods are also hectic, as you might imagine.
  • Have your system up and running as best as possible when you call tech support.
  • If you did it, confess. Failure to mention the bottle of YooHoo you spilled into the CD drive will waste your time and the techie's, and won't help you find a solution.
  • You may need to download a patch to fix a problem. Download with care; read the site's download instructions first, and make sure you know how (and where) to install the patch before beginning the download. A good rule of thumb for downloadable patches is, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Why patch something that isn't causing a problem?

highlight box Hey, I lost my serial number! Windows requires the serial number of the program for any reinstalls or restores, as part of Microsoft's ongoing efforts to make it difficult to use our own software...I mean, their efforts to stop people from bootlegging their products. Here's a rough-and-ready workaround provided by a faithful reader: When prompted for the serial number, you just reboot and go into Safe Mode. Access the registry, and write down xxxxx-oem-xxxxxxx-xxxxx in the product ID field. Restart your computer once again and it will not prompt you for a serial number. Hmmm...Vince at 5Star expresses doubt that this works, but he does point out that you can look up the serial number in the Registry.

highlight box Gee, I dropped my floppy disk and it done broke.... Easy to deal with. On a 3.5, rip the metal sliding cover off, insert the disk into your computer, and make a copy of it. Then toss it. For a 5.25 disk that won't turn (does anybody still use these?), take another blank 5.25 disk, use scissors to carefully cut open the top of both diskettes (the part that sticks out of the drive bay), slide both diskettes out of their protective coverings, insert the defective disk into the other disk's jacket, and copy the information from that disk to your hard drive. Then toss both disks. Use the same trick if you spill coffee or soda on the disk. Cut it open, rinse off the magnetic disk under clear water, air dry it (not blow-dry!), and copy it to your hard drive or another disk. This trick can be used on the hard-covered 3.5 disks, too, but you need to pull the disk casing apart carefully with your fingers. Don't cut yourself.

highlight box The mouse pointer moves jerkily across the screen or won't move at all: Most mice don't work well because they are dirty inside. Always use a mouse pad, not a magazine or the tabletop. To clean a mouse, follow the directions provided to expose the ball and rollers. You can wipe off the dust and dirt from the ball with a clean cloth; just make sure the cloth doesn't deposit more fibers on the ball. Clean the mouse rollers with rubbing alcohol and a foam (not cotton) swab. If you're playing an audio CD-ROM, the multimedia player may be causing the mouse pointer to jerk. Use a better player, such as the shareware program CoolEdit. Other problems occur when the mouse is hooked up through the wrong port (most mice use COM1 or 2 -- preferably COM1 -- but a few still operate out of the serial port) or Device Manager has the wrong mouse driver installed. Extensive mouse repair usually isn't worth the money, as a new mouse can be gotten at relatively low cost.

highlight box The joystick won't work: Not much troubleshooting you can do. Assuming your game port is installed correctly, you either have a bad joystick (too much nuking?) or a bad cord. Spend a few bucks and get a new one. Many joysticks have a calibration routine that you should run before taking off after the aliens.

highlight box Having trouble with burned audio CDs playing in stereos? There are several ways to get around this. First, record all of your CDs at the slowest possible speed, 1x. It's damnably slow, but more accurate. Car and home stereo systems are much less tolerant of bit-level errors than CD-ROM drives. Make sure you're using CD-R and not CD-RW discs. Finally, some manufacturers just make poor CDs. The best (and most expensive) CDs are the almost transparent, light aqua ones; just down the ladder are the gold or gold-green ones. The dark blue ones are the cheapest and most likely to break down. The different colorations are due to different manufacturing processes; find out more by reading up on the different types of CDs here.

highlight box To access the Troubleshooting information in Help, go through Help on the command line, click Help Topics, click Contents, and click Troubleshooting. This opens up the Troubleshooting contents list.

highlight box Clean a dirty CD with a soft, lint-free cloth. Don't use any solvents as these can damage the protective layer. Wipe the CD in straight lines from the center hole outward. Scratched CD's can cause read errors or render files unusable. There are CD "repair kits" out there, but be careful that you don't do more damage with these than is already there. A less well-known method of "repairing" scratched CD's is to use toothpaste. Use a soft, lint-free cloth and a small dab of toothpaste to buff the CD scratches, making sure you use straight sweeps from center to edge. Then carefully wipe the CD clean. You should be able to use the disk again. (The experts at Abacus provided this tip; I can't personally vouch for it.) Remember, straight scratches perpendicular to the data path usually don't impair performance, it's the circular scratches that cause the CD to fail. The same tricks that audiophiles use to increase performance from their music CD's should be effective with CD-ROMs as well, including painting the edges green with special markers, using specially formulated liquid preservatives like Optrix, etc. One more thing: the label side of the CD is the most vulnerable to damage, not the shiny side. passes along another tip for scratched CDs: wash with soap and water, let dry, then apply a thin, even coat of ordinary car wax. Let the wax dry, gently buff and glaze it, and it should work. You should know that Geek doesn't stand behind this particular tip; you're on your own for this one. For really damaged disks, try the $35 product GameDoctor -- more info at


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