December 5, 2006

Kojo Nnamdi "Computer Guy" answers questions

I had the pleasure of being a "Computer Guy" on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi show along with Allison Druin and John Gilroy. We got to answer a number of email questions on the air, but here are some other ones with my answers.

It is of course, good to see answers, but I do this also to point out the sorry state of affairs of the computer industry as this is just way too many problems for every day computer users to have.

How do I print a listing of the files in a directory?

Alternatively, you can still do it from the command line with the following steps. Run the command shell by pressing Windows-R, and entering "cmd" in the popup dialog and click ok. Change to the directory you want to list with the "cd" command (i.e., do something like "cd c:\video"). List the directory and send the output to a text file with the command "dir > listing.txt". This runs the "dir" command and sends the output to the specified text file. Then go back to Windows Explorer, open the newly created "listing.txt" file in notepad or Word or any other text editing program and print from there.

Subject: question for the Computer Guys

I have Verizon DSL service. When I open Internet Explorer to my home page, I get all of these popup boxes saying "Runtime Error." The boxes contain information such as "Object Expected" or "Null Object." and asks if I want to want to debug. Three questions - what causes Runtime Errors? Does debugging fill your computer with spyware? And why is only IE affected by such errors?

If this happens occasionally, it could be due to a temporary problem with the website in question. But if it happens frequently, then it is probably due to some broken plugin for Internet Explorer. That is, you may have installed some software that modified Internet Explorer and did so in a bad way. For IE 7, try Tools->Manage Add-ons->Enable or Disable add-ons, and try disabling stuff. If you are using IE6, try updating to IE7 with Microsoft Update.

Subject: Vista

Hi Guys!

I am one of the few people left on the planet who is still running Windows ME, and have been looking forward to getting a new computer when Vista comes out. Should I buy it right away, or wait to see how it performs?


In general, unless you enjoy living on the "bleeding edge", and the excitement and inevitable problems that go along with it, I recommend waiting a few months after any major technical product is launched. In this case, it probably means waiting until after SP1 (Service Pack 1) comes out to fix the first round of bugs, probably late spring.

Subject: wireless internet security

My home wireless router indicates that I have "security-enabled wireless network (WPA). What's the difference between WPA and WEP wireless security? Is one better/stronger? Is it safe to buy and bank on-line with WPA? Thanks.

WPA is the newer one, and I recommend it over WEP whenever you have the chance.

Subject: Shared Outlook Contact and Calendar Files

Hi, I've paid for a Dell server to be set up running Microsoft Small Business Server software for my small, home-based business. Despite many calls (and lots of paid invoices), cannot share either Contacts or Calendar files from within Outlook. They tried to set up a separate outlook folder, but the server won't default to it, they say, unless we wipe the server and I pay to set the whole thing up all over again. Any advice on how to get these programs to share over a small network of 2-3 desktops, please?

Many thanks,

I'm afraid I don't know how to help you here - but it sounds like whoever you paid to set up the system for you did not do their job properly. If you've tried to get them finish the job and can't get them to do so, then don't pay them and pay someone else to start over. If you already have paid them, then ask for your money back. If they won't, then you've learned a hard lesson about not paying for services before they are completed. Sorry.

Subject: Computer Guys Question

I got a virus on my desktop PC. It was cleaned out but in the process it lost its IP address and now I cant get onto the internet without that, is there a way to restore it? Thanks

I'd start by turning off your cable modem and computer and any other hardware and then turning it all on again (starting with the modem and router and powering up your computer last). If you still can't get it to work, try calling your internet service provider.

Subject: computer guys question

Is there a side-by-side comparison of processors available ... a chart, etc? How do AMD, Pentium HT, and dual processors stack-up? What direction do I go with my next purchase keeping Vista in mind, and knowing that I am now doing more photo and home video work.

There are loads of comparisons out there, but I'm not familiar with any one that I can suggest. Try googling "processor comparison" to get started.

Subject: Transfer audio tape cassette music to PC

Is there an easy way to transfer my old audio tapes to my Windows XP PC so I can hear my music on CD's?

David Pogue discussed this very issue recently, so I suggest reading his description.

Subject: older computers and external hard drives

Help! We have a 6-year old Sony Vaio PC, 60 GB, Pentium 4 processor. We use it for basic applications like word processing, Internet surfing and email. Since we began storing picture and music files the computer has slowed dramatically and now constantly tells us it has no room left on the C drive. I say we need to just buy a new computer so that we can store and manipulate all our digital images and music. Thrifty Hubby says we just need to buy an external hard drive and move our picture and music files there. Please help advise! Our happy marriage may depend on it!

You are both right (how's that for marriage counseling). Buying a new hard drive probably will delay the inevitable, and improve the situation. But using a 6 year old computer for today's pictures and music probably just isn't up to the task. I sure hope you are backing up those valuable pictures and music. Every day. Automatically.

Subject: Firefox

I switched to Firefox because of a corrupted IE6, that wouldn't even start. Tried any number of fixes, including the oxymoronic "Microsoft Help". Downloaded IE7 but the problem lives on. I love Firefox, however now I can't get Windows updates, because surprise, surprise, Updates
will only download thru Internet Explorer. Am I missing a tool feature or preference in Firefox, that will allow a it to talk to Microsoft?

This sounds bad. Your only solution may be to reinstall Windows (and then reinstall your applications). You can do so without affecting your personal data. But definitely back up first to be safe.

Wii @ Home

After all the hype and violence surrounding XBox 360 and PS3 with graphics to die for and matching games, I was thrilled to finally get my hands on the family friendly Wii.

And impressively, it is essentially all it is cracked up to be. The easy-to-learn controller really is easy to learn. Some games, like tennis don't use any buttons at all. The full body motion really does get kids moving and interacting like never before with a video game. But most importantly, it engages the whole family. I can promise you I have never before heard the words "maybe we should get one" from wife before anywhere near the words "video game".

But it isn't all roses. The games seem to use very limited information about body movement. So, in tennis, you can't move the player from side to side - and there seems to be only a single bit of speed. I'm afraid this just won't stay fun for that long. But that's ok as the free intro game - as long as others go deeper.

And the family friendliness is sometimes pretty superficial. "Rayman Raving Rabbids", for instance, is a first-person shooter that trains kids for the worst in videogames - dressed up as cute rabbits with shooting plungers.

And the risk of whacking your sister in the head with a wiimote is real. I caught it happen on video in the first 10 minutes of use. (Fortunately, no one was hurt.)

(Thanks to colleague Bill Pugh and family for hosting the wiiParty.)