Tech Q and A: An Analog Guy in a Digital World

Every other week or so, tries to solve your most vexing technology-related problems. Send your questions to and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.

An Analog Guy in a Digital World

Q: I have three questions that I've not heard addressed in all the digital-analog madness, and I'm counting on you to enlighten America!

They're related, and involve the small handheld TVs that have become popular for viewing sports events, etc., while enjoying a nice afternoon at the park, or (more importantly) serving as an emergency backup when the main power (and cable, and rooftop satellite dishes) goes down during bad weather — inevitably, just as the tornado sirens are going off in my neighborhood, or when any storm is at its worst!

1) Are all these handheld TVs now (as of Feb. 9) worthless junk? Mine is a two-year-old 4-inch flat-screen and was an upper-end system ($250.00) when I bought it.

2) Is anyone making a BATTERY-POWERED converter that will allow you to have digital service for the handheld TVs in the event of power failures?

3) Many emergency radios have a "TV Channel" for sound. Will these "analog radios" be obsolete for the new digital TV sound? That would be another problem, since the TV stations generally provide better "play by play" updates of severe storms than radio stations provide.

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A: The answers to the first two questions are "No" and "Yes," respectively. The answer to the third is the same as my answer to the "boxers-or-briefs" question: "Depends <grin>."

The good news is that somebody finally came up with a battery-powered converter, the Winegard RCDT09A. You can find the details here. And it's eligible for a government digital-converter coupon.

The bad news is that it takes six D-cell batteries (I know!) and they only give you 18 hours of viewing pleasure — your mileage may vary, slightly lower in California.

Worse, the battery pack is sold separately, and the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is, according to reviews, nearly worthless.

So you take the Winegard, the optional battery pack, your handheld TV, a little duct tape ...

As far as the analog radio question goes, it will depend if there's a place to plug in an external TV antenna/converter box. You know, the one that's now duct taped to your handheld TV? The emergency radio won't be able to pick up digital TV audio.

Kickin' It Old School

Q: I was rummaging through some old equipment and I came across an old NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) video-game console. Thinking about reliving some 8-bit glory, I tried to plug it into a new LCD display. To my dismay, there are no coaxial antenna connections anymore.

With the TV broadcast conversion to digital format, there may never be another TV with the coax or rabbit-ear connections. Even if they do, the digital tuner won't sync up to the analog CH3/CH4 of any TV-using system prior to the PlayStation One.

There are plenty of devices out there to help with the digital-to-analog conversion for TV broadcasts. Is there a corollary analog-to-digital device to convert old CH3/CH4 video and audio to RCA digital?

A: Your NES box must be one of the real early, top-loader models that didn't have a composite output — that is, video on a yellow RCA-style connector and audio on the red and white RCA connectors — and has only has "RF" output on a single coaxial, cable-TV-type connector.

Do you have an old VCR lying around? You can use it to convert (or "demodulate") the RF signal to composite audio and video. Run the RF signal from the NES into the TV In connector on the VCR and then run the yellow/red/white connectors from the VCR to the new TV.

It also turns out that a lot of digital converter boxes being sold right now have this very feature built in, but you have to make sure of two things: The box has to have an RF input, and it has to have "analog pass-through" circuitry inside.

Be careful, because even though most boxes have RF inputs, many of them will take only digital signals and you'd have to take those back to the store.

The upside? You can get $40 back from the government for the converter box by applying here — but you'd better hurry, because the government may be running out of rebate coupons.

[Update: As of Tues., Jan. 6, the digital-converter coupon program has run out of money; there is a waiting list for new coupons, which will be issued one by one as older coupons fail to be redeemed.]

Takin' Out the Trash

Q: Occasionally and apparently randomly, the contents of "My Recent Documents" in the Start Menu are erased. I am using Windows XP Pro with Service Pack 2 on a Dell computer.

A: "My Recent Documents" in the Start Menu is nothing more than the 10 most recent entries in a directory containing links to, well, your recent documents. The physical location of this directory is C:Documents and SettingsYourNameRecent — or the equivalent on your system.

There are several programs on the market which are useful for cleaning up all the temporary files that Windows leaves lying around. My favorite is Ccleaner and can be downloaded here. The procedure here is to clean out all the junk before you run a complete malware scan so that it takes less time to run — since it doesn't have to scan all the junk.

I've often wondered why the anti-malware writers don't build the function right into their scanners — but I digress. Perhaps one of them finally did.

Anyway, it sounds like you have one of these "cleaner" programs running on your system, set to run at scheduled times. Among the junk it cleans is the contents of the "Recent Documents" folder.

The aforementioned Ccleaner has an option you can set so that "Recent Documents" is ignored. Perhaps yours has a similar feature.

Another Case of Missing Icons

Q: How can I get missing icons like "Battery Power Available" and "My Wireless Connection" back? They do not show up any more at the bottom right side of my screen, and yet they were never turned off. Do I need to reload Windows XP?

A: That area at the bottom right of your screen is called the "System Tray" Generally, each program that has a System Tray icon has a control, somewhere, to turn the feature on and off.

For example, Start —> Control Panel —> Performance and Maintenance —> Power Options will get you to a dialogue box where you can turn the battery power icon on and off. Select the "Advanced" tab and you'll see "Always show icon on taskbar" which is either checked or unchecked.

Start —> Control Panel —> Network and Internet Connections —> Network Connections gets you to a screen which shows all your various and sundry connections. Right-click on the "Wireless Network Connection" icon and choose "Properties." That box will have a checkbox for "Show icon in notification area when connected."

If these are checked and you're still not seeing the icons, right-click on the "Start" button and then choose "Properties." On the "Taskbar" tab, choose "Customize." This will show you each taskbar icon, past and present, and a "Behavior" for each one. Your behavioral choices are "Hide when inactive," "Always hide" and "Always show." Your problem might be there.

Be Careful With Whom You Associate

Q: Over time I have saved many e-mails that contained very beautiful scenery pictures as PowerPoint files. I viewed one on a recent Tuesday, but the following day I went to view another one and they all had changed into something I can't open. Did I do something wrong or change a setting? Help — I don't want to lose these pictures.

A: Sounds like your file associations got changed somehow. In English, this means that Windows looks at the letters behind the final "dot" in the complete filename and uses the information to determine the file type.

For example, "filename.DOC" is a Word document, whereas "presentation.PPT" is a PowerPoint file. Windows then uses a table to know which program to use to open that type of file.

Fellow Nerd Ben Wiper, up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, pointed me to the most likely culprit. Did you install OpenOffice (or upgrade to the most recent version) some time on Tuesday? Perhaps as part of a Java upgrade?

If so, the program associated with the .PPT file type has been changed from Microsoft PowerPoint to OpenOffice Impress. OpenOffice is known to hang (or take a very long time) when opening a file containing a large embedded image. The bug is documented here.

The problem is solved in Windows Explorer. Open it by pressing and holding the Windows key (just to the left of the spacebar, with the four-colored flag - you hardly ever use it) and typing the letter "e." Pull down "Tools" and chose "File Options" (or "Folder Options").

Click on the "File Types" tab, and then scroll down until you see "PPT." They're in alphabetical order, so you'll have to scroll about two thirds of the way down.

Highlight it by clicking it once, and then click on the "Change" button. Scroll down in the new window until you see "Microsoft Office PowerPoint," select it, and click on "OK," click on it again in the first window, and you should be good to go.

Guy R. Briggs is a member of the Nerds On Site international IT service team and is based in Los Angeles.

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