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Access Microsoft KB Articles Quickly

If you’ve been using Windows for a while, chances are you’ve run into problems at some point and have been directed to Microsoft’s Knowledge Base articles.  Here’s two ways to access a specific article, so long as you have the number:

Copy and paste this URL into your address bar, but don’t hit enter yet:

After the “=” sign, type the number of the KB article you want to access, then hit enter.  If the number is correct, you will be brought right to it.

If you use IE, go to Start > Run and type regedit.  Navigate to the following key in the registry:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\SearchUrl

Add a key named “KB”.  In the right pane, double click “Default” and paste this in the value:

Open up IE, type KB 123456, and you will be brought to that particular KB article.

(Originally published on

Simple Search In XP

If you use the Windows XP search function enough, you’ve probably come to dislike the way it’s set up.  Windows 2000 had a much simpler search interface that didn’t involve clicking around on menus or having to deal with the little dog avatar.

If you don’t already have this installed, download and install TweakUI.  This tool gives you access to all sorts of options for XP that aren’t available by default in the user interface (or are, but have a convoluted way of getting to them).

Once installed, Click on the “Explorer” menu on the left side, and in the “Settings” panel, check the option that says “Use Classic Search in Explorer”.  Hit OK and you’re done!

You can either click on the search function on the Start menu, or press the key combination Windows key + F.

(Originally published on

Remove AVG’s “Scanned By” Message in Emails

If you’re an AVG user, you have probably noticed that at the bottom of your emails, you can see a “Scanned By AVG” message appended to the bottom of your emails.

To stop that message from being attached, go into the AVG Control Center.  Double click on “E-Mail” Scanner.  Click “Configure”.  Uncheck “Certify Mail” under both incoming and outgoing mail.

Your email from this point on will no longer show the “Scanned By AVG” message at the bottom.

(Originally published on

Copy Error Messages Instead of Retyping

While this is a simple enough tip, not everyone is always familiar with keyboard shortcuts and what you can and can’t highlight.

So, when you come across an error message dialog in Windows, take your mouse and highlight the text, press CTRL+C to copy the text, open up notepad, Word, or any other text editor, and press CTRL+V to paste the text.

This is especially handy for error messages that include strings of numbers and letters, but are important for diagnosing the issue–it eliminates the issue typos so you can show others exactly what the error message displayed.

(Originally published on

Do It Yourself or Outsource It?

There’s a certain pride that comes along with Do-It-Yourself projects. You build them from the ground up, nurture them, and put them out for the world (or your workplace) to see. On the other end of the spectrum we have outsourcing. The word itself leaves a bad taste in your mouth considering all of the less than stellar decisions that have been made by companies simply to save a buck. You may have read about or experienced the result of these decisions in the course of your travels through the world of technology.

The idea here to quash some of the negative connotations of going to 3rd party vendors and online services, which can take care of some of your specific needs. Sometimes it’s a good idea, and sometimes not, but this should give you a better indication of what to look for when deciding on which is the best direction to pursue for your specific idea or need.

What Can Online Services Offer?

Online services can offer a great variety of things. Website hosting, email hosting, media hosting (images, flash video, etc), server/website uptime monitoring/alerting, collaboration, communication, media transcription, blog hosting, wiki hosting, web design, logo design, publishing, e-commerce, mobile communication, and image manipulation are just the tip of the iceberg for the kinds of services (both small and large) that you may find on the World Wide Web.

Sounds enticing, right? At first glance, it sure does. However, there are some things to consider before taking a dive into online services or simply resolving to do it yourself instead.

Do You Have the Skills to Do It Yourself?

Many techies have not only one good skill, but a whole toolbox full of them. That, however, does not automatically mean they are an expert in all things tech. That would be like being an expert of the mating rituals of every single living organism in the South American rain forests. It’s just too big of a topic for a single individual to know every tiny detail about. The world of tech is a very large place, and sometimes, people forget how massive it really is. Even though this is the case, you probably still do a lot more work inside of your skill area rather than outside of it.

On the other hand, you can always learn the skills that would be needed. The only downside is time and expertise. I mention expertise because for the first few times you try to put these newly acquired skills to use, you really have no idea what you’re doing even if you think you do. You won’t know all the ins and outs of setting things up, doing preventative maintenance, securing them from unauthorized access, plus a number of other odds n’ ends including all the quirky issues that tend to come up that aren’t in the instruction manual. This can often lead to unstable software environments and long periods of downtime when something goes awry.

In any case, in terms of skills, you really can go either way here. For instance, I like to program and work on webpages. I have learned and honed those skills over time and I quite enjoy projects that allow me to put those technical skills to use. However, having the skills needed doesn’t always mean you will have the time to actually learn the additional skills needed or to do it yourself. This brings us to our next point…

Do You Have the Time to Do It Yourself?

In the world of wanting things “now, now, now”, time is a finite resource. Do you have the time to build, test, customize, and maintain it yourself? This is where most online services win out–you can have something viable up and running, often times, well under an hour, or at most, a day or two. All the heavy lifting has been done for you.

Then again, the service you choose may not be exactly what you’re looking for. Perhaps you’re looking for a specific feature that the service doesn’t provide. Maybe another service does. Maybe another service is flexible enough to accommodate small customizations.

Either way, hunting down the best service for the job or even building it yourself will take up some of your time. On occasion, you may throw up your hands after investigating service after service only to find that you really do just have to bite the bullet and build it yourself, or settle for a service that does most of what you want, but not everything.

The key is figuring out how much time you can allot for researching the options that are available, then implementing one of those options (or leaving some wiggle room for two if the first doesn’t work). It might be a good idea to establish some sort of cutoff date for the research and trying out various options since some people tend to get caught up in trying to force something to work, rather than shelving it and going on to another option.

Do You Have Enough Money For It?

Which is less expensive? Making use of an existing service, customizing a pre-built package, or building from scratch? This is where you will have to do some serious comparisons. Depending on what exactly you’re trying to do, any one of the options you have could end up being more or less expensive. It’s not usually very consistent, and is best taken on a case-by-case basis in order to get the most value for your buck.

Software licenses can sometimes get quite expensive. Sometimes it’s worth it to make that investment. Other times, it’s not. That’s where the monthly or yearly fee for using online services come in. This is especially handy if you only plan on using the software/service/feature for a short period of time. Even though it’s nice to own things outright, it’s not always cost effective.

Do You Want to Handle the Responsibility When it Breaks?

When something breaks in the world of tech, you usually have to do a mad scramble to diagnose the problem. Once it’s diagnosed, you realize that only half the battle is won. Next comes the part where you (try) to fix it. This whole process can take anywhere between a few minutes and several weeks depending on large number of factors.

Some people have no problem handling something when it breaks. Personally, I simply see it as a problem (and sometimes challenging one) that needs to be solved. Yet, there are always those few times when you bang your head against the wall and wish it was somebody else’s problem to deal with.

With utilizing an outside service, you aren’t necessarily responsible for all the nitty gritty technical details. This is especially useful if you’re dealing with something outside of your area of expertise. While it is nice for somebody else to be responsible for fixing the problem, on the other hand, that means you have little control over what exactly happens through the course of normal operation.

What this means is that you don’t often have control over upgrades, upgrade cycles, scheduled or unscheduled downtime, customizations, or when the service shuts down or goes out of business. Since the world of Web 2.0 is fairly volatile, there’s no telling what can sometimes happen–services tend to pop up and disappear left and right; often without a lot of advance warning. This isn’t meant to scare you off–it’s simply just one of those things to keep in the back of your mind when utilizing online services. In my personal experience, none of the services I have employed and am currently employing have vanished under my feet. But if the service does disappear, there are most likely several alternatives that you can turn to in a pinch.

The Last Word

There are many more things to consider when looking at a Do-It-Yourself project versus making use of a 3rd-party service, but these four points hit the largest and most significant factors to consider.

To get you started on your quest, should you like to actually see what is available in terms of online services, here’s a few lists (and listings of lists) that may prove to be a useful starting point for seeing what’s available. Remember, there’s much more out there than what is listed here…all you need to do is search for it.

(Originally published on

How to Clog Up Your PC in 10 Easy Steps

Computing habits often have an effect on how well your computer runs. If you’re aware of what can hurt your computer’s performance, you can save yourself some aggravation by cutting down the time you have to wait for software to load or Windows to boot. Here are ten ways to get your computer to run slower than molasses on a cold day in September.

1) Install Every Anti-Spyware and Anti-Virus Application You Can Find

If one is good, several have to be better, right? Some people think so. If you’re one of those people, this could be a very good reason why it takes forever to start the computer, open up your browser, or open up a Word document.

So, trim the fat. All you really need is one firewall, one anti-virus package, and a couple anti-spyware applications (the kind that don’t hog resources, such as adaware, spybot, and hijackthis).

2) Install Every Widget You Can Find

Widgets are cool. They can tell you the weather, they can tell you CPU utilization, they can display pictures of your family and friends, or they can even show you a map. But after a while, they tend to add up if you start to have a fair number of them all running at the same time (and especially if you have so many installed that you don’t really know what they’re for anymore), it’s time to get rid of a few.

3) Have All Your Programs Run at Startup

It’s convenient to have everything load up when Windows starts. After all, you use Real Player, QuickTime, MSN, Y!, AIM, Steam, Office, and many more programs all the time. Unfortunately, you have to make 3 trips for coffee by the time you can actually see and use your desktop.

All the little icons you see in the system tray in the lower right near the clock load at startup. You can either go to Start > Run > and type “msconfig” (without quotes) and go to the “Startup” tab. Once there, stretch out the file patch. That should give a good hint as to what each program is. If you’re still stumped, do a Google search for the filename.

If a program still boots with Windows after taking it out of msconfig, or hunt around in each program’s settings or preferences to turn off the option “automatically start when Windows starts” (or words to that effect).

4) Visit Every Known Warez and Pornography Site on the Internet (Especially Without Protection)

Nothing wrong with downloading some *cough* free stuff, right?

Chances are good that these sites are infested with viruses, trojans, spyware, malware, and whatever else these guys can dream up. Your weakness for sites with these free goodies is your loss and their gain. Especially if you have no firewall, AV software, or spyware utilities installed (although, note Step #1 about overdoing it). It’s even more embarrassing when the neighborhood teenage techie tells you what caused the problems. Moral of the story? Be careful about wandering around in the Internet’s red light and underground districts.

5) Install Every Piece of Shareware and Freeware You Can Find

Lots of people have software on their PCs to do all sorts of things. Some have many pieces of software that do the same thing. All these pieces of software confuse and confound your poor PC.

When you’re no longer using a piece of software; uninstall it. Especially if you have other applications that do the same thing. Most programs come with an uninstaller that appears in the Start > Programs menu next to the program’s shortcut. If not, you can always go into the Control Panel and go to Add/Remove Programs (or Programs and Features in Windows Vista). Having too many odd-ball programs installed tends to clog up the works (and even some choice well-known ones do as well).

6) Instead of Using Bookmarks/Favorites, Leave 90 Tabs Open

I was actually guilty of this one. Any page I wanted to reference that I recently visited, I left open in a browser tab to go back to later. As a result, my browser took about 2 trips of coffee to open.

Organize your favorites using folders and sub-folders, name the bookmarks according to what makes sense to you, and not what the title of the webpage says, and close tabs when you’re done with them. Your browser will then happily load up within a few seconds, which will be especially beneficial on slower Internet connections.

7) Put as Many Files and Folders on the Desktop as You Can

Some people store their pictures of their pets, their MP3s, or even their downloads right on their desktop. Pretty soon that adds up to be quite a lot of data (several gigs worth in many cases).

The first thing your PC tries to do when it finally boots up is load the desktop, and that means everything on it. As you can imagine, going through a large number of files (especially if they’re large) will increase the amount of time it takes for everything to fully load.

So, make use of the Windows file system, shortcuts, and possibly folders to group some of those shortcuts together (Audio, Video, Graphics, Games, Chat, etc.). Remember, you can also create shortcuts of almost anything by right clicking on the file or folder > “Send To” menu > “Desktop”. That will create a shortcut icon on the desktop.

8) Never Empty Your Recycle Bin

Out of sight, out of mind right? Once you delete a file, it just disappears into some black hole never to be seen again. Not quite. When deleted, most files end up in the Recycle Bin, and while there are files there, they still take up disk space. So it’s good to empty it every once in a while by right clicking on the Recycle Bin icon > Empty Trash.

9) Never Delete Your Temporary Files

Temporary files are just that–temporary. These are files that are created through the course of normal operations on your PC, but most of the time, just get left behind after a program is done using them. So, it’s good to clean them out every so often since the accumulation of them tends to clog up the works a bit.

To get rid of them, go into “My Computer” and right click on your C drive and click “Properties”. Click “Disk Cleanup”. This can take anywhere between 10 seconds and 30 minutes to load, depending on how many of these files are kicking around and if you addressed some of the previous steps for clogging up your computer.

Once loaded, you can check anything with the word “temporary” in it, as well as “Office Setup Files”, and “Recycle Bin” (yes, you can empty the recycle bin more than one way). It’s best to leave the other items unchecked unless you know what they are. A quick Google search will most likely reveal what they are.

10) Never Defrag Your Hard Drive

Over time when more and more files get saved to a drive, they get split up into different pieces, so instead of a nice mosaic floor, you end up with a bunch of jumbled puzzle pieces that your computer needs to figure out how to put back together for the files you want.

This is where defragging comes in. It reorganizes all those loose pieces and puts them all back together in sequential order, helping to speed up access time, thus making your computer run a bit better.

You can run the Windows Defrag utility about once a month (or more frequently if you have a lot of disk activity) in Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. There are many other ways and pieces of software to defrag a drive, so this is by no means the best or fastest method–just the most easily accessible.

The Thrilling Conclusion

By avoiding these situations and doing a little preventative maintenance, your PC will be feel much better and will seem much more responsive. All of these steps are relatively simple, and if they don’t seem so, just try going through the motions at least once–I’m sure it will “click”. Unclogging your PC can be as much fun as clogging it.

(Originally published on

Which ATi Drivers Support What?

There’s been a little bit of confusion over some of ATi/AMD’s Catalyst drivers and what each one supports, so I’ll go over them here in the blog briefly.

Catalyst 5.11 is one of the older “safe” driver sets, and one of the last to come with the ATi Control Panel, rather than the .NET Catalyst Control Center (CCC) that has to be loaded in the system tray at startup (or loaded manually) in order to have access to the video card’s settings.  The CCC is the only interface available with Catalyst 6.1 and newer.  Catalyst 5.11 does not support X1900 series cards.

Catalyst 6.1 does not support X1800 or X1900 series cards.

Catalyst 6.2 is the last driver set to support Windows 2000.  So, if you’re running Windows 2000 and an ATi card, you are stuck at this version.  Just watch out if you purchase newer ATi cards in the future–some of them may not be supported under this Catalyst version.

Full support for Radeon 7xxx, 8xxx, and 9xxx cards ceased after Catalyst 6.5.  Some of the more prevalent cards are still supported up through the most recent release of Catalyst 6.10, which includes Radeon 9800’s, 9700’s, 9600’s, 9650’s, 9550’s, and 9500’s.  These are the cards that are NOT supported after Catalyst 6.5: Radeon 9250’s, 9200’s, 9000’s, 8500’s, 7500’s, 7200’s, and 7000’s.  The same applies to all ATi All-In-Wonder equivalents.

Catalyst 6.7 introduced Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR) support for CrossFire-enabled configurations running with Direct3D applications/games.  Certain specific applications/games that do not work with AFR are not supported.

The X1950 Pro is not currently supported by any publicly available Catalyst driver set, so you will need to use the specific drivers provided on CD that comes with the video card, or download them here:

(Originally published on a now-defunct blog)

Convert OGG files to MP3s

It appears that there was some confusion over the mention I made of free OGG files and how to convert them to regular MP3s in the PC Mechanic Newsletter #162.  I tried to be as brief, yet as informative as possible, so I’ll go into OGG files and the conversion process in more detail.

Basically, OGG files are an alternative audio format, much like FLAC files.  They are meant to offer a different method of compression to bring you better sound quality while maintaining a relatively small filesize (which comes out to be about the same size as an MP3 in this case).

OGG is an open source, free, and unpatented audio format in the public domain and is freely available for commercial or noncommercial use.  So, you can use it anywhere, anytime, and for any purpose, which is one of the reasons why it has been utilized by Wikipedia.

The full name of the audio compression project is called “Ogg Vorbis”, and you can take a look at the official website here:

The overall project not only relates to audio, but video as well.  So, feel free to browse the FAQs and other links and downloads they have available.

Now, for the fun part: OGG files are not widely supported, especially in this era of MP3 players.  Many people who have MP3 players are usually restricted to a proprietary Apple file formats (M4A or M4P), or proprietary Windows formats (WMV), or other well-known, but oddball audio formats, such as MP4 or AIFF.  However, most MP3 players have one thing in common: they all can play MP3 files.  MP3 files, in this case, are the lowest common denominator because nearly every audio device can use them, they can be reasonably small files (2-10MB depending on length and quality), and they have no built-in copyright management or Digital Rights Management (DMA) capabilities.  This is while many listeners like them, and why companies developed and continue to release proprietary audio formats supporting DMA protection schemes.

Long story short, OGG files aren’t always supported, and since most people prefer MP3 files for portability and usability and whatnot, I thought I’d offer a tip on how to convert the OGG files found on Wikipedia’s sound section (sounds and music in the public domain–free for you and me) to MP3s.  If you simply want to listen to these OGG audio files, Winamp, VLC, Windows Media Player, and a number of other up-to-date media players will be able to handle them.

The tool I like to use for most of my audio projects is called Goldwave, and I stumbled across it a number of years ago when I pressed the limitations of Windows 98’s Sound Recorder.  This tool is simply a preference of mine because it has been able to handle lots of different formats.  Now, if you are an audio professional in the studio…this tool probably isn’t for you because there are some technical limitations, which I have been slowing learning about.  But for the purposes of this file conversion, it works fine.

Goldwave is a shareware application, and is limited by 150 commands per session (a copy and a paste counts as two commands), but for the batch conversion, it falls well within that limitation.  If you want to try to find a freeware tool that will do the same thing, feel free to email me or make a comment in the blog here because I wasn’t able to locate a freeware audio tool for this specific purpose.

So, without further ado, here’s the step-by-step instructions:

Open up Goldwave and go to File > Batch Processing.

Click on the “Convert” tab.

Tick the checkbox labeled “convert files to this format”, select “MPEG Audio (*.MP3)” from the first dropdown menu.

For the second dropdown menu, I’d suggest selecting “Layer-3 ACM, 44100Hz, 192 kbps, joint stereo”.  This is the quality at which the MP3 will be saved.

Next, click either “Add Files” or “Add Folder” on the upper right-hand side of the window to add individual OGG files or a folder of OGG files.  Once you hit “Begin” the conversion process will start, and depending on the number of files you’re converting, you might have time to either grab a snack or take a trip to the mall.  By default, these new MP3 files will be stored in the directory(ies) where you have the OGG files stored.

Once the conversion process is complete, you can either delete the OGG files, or try the conversion process again with different audio quality settings if you’re not happy with the MP3s that came out.  Once you’re satisfied, you will no longer need the OGG files.

And that’s about it.  Happy listening!

(Originally published on a now-defunct blog)