Every other week or so, FOXNews.com tries to solve your most vexing technology-related problems. Send your questions to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.
So much to talk about this week!
In addition to the regular gamut of tech questions, I'm including a State of the DTV Conversion Report (which will probably be a regular feature until June), some reader feedback, a glaring mistake (I'm sometimes wrong, but very seldom in doubt!) and even some kudos!
And don't forget to set your clocks forward this weekend. Yup, it's that time again — unless you live in Arizona, where they show a bit more sanity than the rest of us when it comes to time of day.
In a related daylight savings time note, see the feedback section.
The Work Is Display for Mortal Stakes (apologies to Robert Frost)
Q: Do you know of a fix to prevent my desktop from resizing itself? After my computer has been on for a while, a small window comes up saying "one moment please" and the desktop resizes itself to very small fonts and icons, etc. If I am on a Web page, the same happens.
I then right-click the desktop, select properties and reset the desktop to the correct font, background, colors, etc. ( I prefer Windows Classic). After about 15 minutes, the same thing happens again.
I have Windows XP Pro with SP3. Is there a way to lock my settings so they won't revert back?
A: I wrestled with this very problem for one of my clients! He had purchased refurbished and reimaged units coming off-lease.
The original equipment manufacturer had added a custom program to the Windows XP Pro restore image, which loaded itself into memory at startup and optimized the screen size to the monitor.
No matter how my client tweaked his display settings, they reverted back to optimum monitor settings (read: "small fonts and icons") as soon as he logged out. Sounds like you have a similar situation.
I am assuming that your PC is not part of a corporate network, where some power-hungry, Type-A, control-freak, network administrator has locked the settings. In that case, all bets are off.
You need a tool to show you everything that loads when you start Windows. The one I carry to each and every service call is called HijackThis.
As you can probably infer from the name, it was originally developed to combat browser hijacking, but has become an invaluable resource for combating all sorts of malware infestations. You can download a copy from the Trend Micro Web site.
First, let me emphasize that this is a serious tool, and if you start disabling startup files willy-nilly you can do some serious damage to your system.
That said, download, install and run HJT. It shows you a list of everything that runs at startup and logon. You might want to run it with the logfile option, so you will know what it your system looked like before you started tinkering.
HJT entries are coded according to what they do and what part of the startup process actually launches them. "O17" is a domain hijack, "R2" is a changed registry key, "F1" is a changed initialization file value, etc.
You will be looking for an entry that has something related to video in the name ("VGA," for example) plus something related to resetting ("set" or "reset" or "change," as examples). It may have the manufacturer's name in the directory name ("C:Program FilesHewlett-PackardSharedprogramName.exe," for example).
When you find a candidate, use your favorite search engine to find out if the program is legitimate. In the example above, put "programName.exe" in the search bar. Hits from sites like www.processlibrary.com and www.file.net will give you information about the file, including what size it ought to be.
While you're looking for the culprit in your video issue, also be suspicious of any entry where the owner is listed as "unknown."
You can safely remove any entry with the notation "(file missing)," since it can't start that program anyway. Removal is accomplished by checking the box at the front of the entry line and clicking the "Fix checked" button.
You can remove multiple items with one button click, but you have to rescan after each fix.
After you have found and removed the offending program, you will be able to tweak your display settings to your heart's content, secure in the knowledge that Windows will remember them in the way that Microsoft intended.
Yes, a Router Setup Is Always Better
Q: I'm using Verizon broadband and it is working great. This is the first time I have had a computer at home — it is an HP laptop, and I told Best Buy that I wanted to take it home, turn it on and have it work. It did, but my question is: How safe is it from a hacking standpoint, etc., and is a router setup better?
A: Verizon offers broadband in two or three different flavors. I'm assuming you live in one of the 28 states where Verizon offers "wire line service" — that is, you can buy your plain old telephone service (POTS) from them.
In all of these states, Verizon is rolling out its FTTP service (called FiOS). This means that copper wire has been — or will soon be — replaced by Fiber To The Premises. Not only voice, but also Internet and TV can now be delivered directly to your home on a slender piece of glass fiber, about the diameter of a human hair.
This means you're either getting "Verizon broadband" on glass fiber — in which case you already have a wireless router — or on regular copper, using a technology called DSL.
If it's DSL, you may or may not already have a router. It depends on the DSL modem. If you're connecting wirelessly, you probably do. If you use a cable to connect to the DSL modem, you probably don't.
To tell for sure, open a command prompt. Hold the Windows key (the one with the little flag on it, just to the left of the spacebar) and type the letter "R". In the "Run" dialog box that opens, type "cmd" and click on "OK". In the Command window that opens, type "ipconfig" and press "Enter".
It will show you information about your connection that won't make a lot of sense, but you're looking for a line that reads "IP Address". If the number that follows starts with "192," then you're safely behind a router.
If not, then I would recommend you go back to the store where you bought the computer and get a Wi-Fi router. In addition to the added security, you will also get the convenience of wireless networking.
Q: I have been a Firefox user for a few years, and now prefer it to Internet Explorer. Starting about 2 weeks ago, I began getting an error message of incorrect e-mail/password whenever I tried to log into my Hotmail account through Firefox.
I tried resetting my password and searching the help section, but did not find anything useful to me. On a whim, I tried to log in using IE7. It worked.
Now I can only get into my Hotmail account using IE. What caused this to happen? Will I be able to go back to using Firefox?
A: This could be a couple of things. A conspiracy by Microsoft to discourage Firefox users is probably not among them.
There is a problem, officially reported to Mozilla on Feb. 1, about a login failure using when Firefox. Two conditions: (1) it happens only for "@msn.com" e-mail addresses, and (2) it allows you to log in on the second attempt.
The bug report can be found at https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=415310
If this is the problem you're having, the workaround is to bookmark the page you're redirected to for the second login attempt, and go there first. Unless, of course, you like typing your password twice.
If that's not your problem, then the first thing I'd be suspicious of is plug-ins. Start Firefox in "safe mode" (which, in theory, disables all the plug-ins), clear the browser cache (Tools —> Options —> Privacy —> Private Data) and see if you can log in.
If that works, close Firefox, restart it in regular mode, and then disable the plug-ins, one at a time, until you can log in to Hotmail. The last plug-in you turn off will be the one that's causing your problem.
If it were me, I'd start with the Silverlight plug-in — which would explain a recent problem involving a Microsoft site.
The problem you're describing may have been recently solved. In the bug report noted above, there is a test e-mail address. I tried it with Firefox 3.0.6 installed on Hukey Pukey, my venerable old Windows XP laptop, and it worked just fine. But I don't have the Silverlight plug-in.
State of the DTV Conversion
According to John Eggerton at Multichannel News, the DTV conversion effort hasn't been perfect:
The early analog-cutoff of 421 TV stations on Feb. 17 has gone relative smoothly, according to most reports. That was not the case, though, for at least one Missouri man, according to KARE-TV Minneapolis-ST. Paul.
The station reports that a 70-year-old Joplin man was arrested and charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm after shooting his TV set. Responding to a report of shots being fired, the station reported, the police found the man angry that he had both lost his cable and had been unable to get his new DTV converter box to work.
According to the man's wife, he had been drinking.
The DTV conversion may drive a lot of us to drink. Might be the only thing we thank it for.
Speaking of the DTV conversion, Linda B. writes,
Just a note — we're using the MAKE magazine antenna and it works great!!
See Tech Q & A, Feb. 3, 2009: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,486968,00.html
In response to my statement that I didn't know why Unix keeps time as it does, Wilbur D. tells us:
Unix was developed by AT&T to run the telephone equipment (which needs to be time synchronized). Hence, the system that was being controlled spanned all of the time zones.
If you make a phone call from L.A. to Paris, all of the computers that route your call are in all of those time zones. The computers at each end need to coordinate times for the length of the call for billing purposes (plus other reasons).
Keeping track of time the human way is complex because of time zones and the fact that different states and nations change to daylight savings time on different days. If a government changes the daylight savings rules, new software would need to be installed before the first transition to daylight savings took place.
Also, remember at that time the computers were less powerful than they are today. AT&T took the easy way (and least error-prone way) by counting the seconds in GMT.
Now, all of the time synchronization required for keeping the telephone system working is easy and not computationally difficult. Instead, Unix has a set of programs to convert the Unix time to human time and vice versa.
If there is an error in the conversion program, it only affect the human reading it and the person might be able to catch the error. However, the telephone system would not be affected by the error in the conversion program.
For you IT trivia buffs, Unix started life on a DEC PDP-7, shortly after Bell Labs dropped out of the Multics project. Originally suggested by Brian Kernighan, the name "Unix" was "a treacherous pun" on the Multics name.
I had about 50 of you point out an error in the last installment, including Rob K., who wrote:
In your most recent tech article, you posted this line:
"Or you could just run Vista, which only comes in a 64-bit version."
This is incorrect, as I have 2 computers that have 32-bit Vista installations running on them. Also, my Ultimate Edition disc came with both 32-bit Vista as well as 64-bit Vista.
Also, Gary H. who wrote:
I read with interest your response to the question of 32-bit vs. 64-bit, and find exception with a majority of your answers.
First and most glaringly, your final statement is 100 percent incorrect. The entire Windows Vista product line does in fact come in both 32- and 64-bit versions, and there is excellent driver support for the 64-bit version of this OS.
Well, guys, y'got me there! Vista was the first Microsoft OS where the 32-bit and 64-bit editions were issued simultaneously. Even though the 64-bit version has an excellent 32-bit emulation (called Windows on Windows 64, or WOW64), it is still a separate version from 32-bit Vista.
Thanks to all, too numerous to mention, who pointed out the error.
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