Volume Control Mystery

Question: The volume control that has always been on my task bar, no longer shows up when I turn on my computer. I have gone to sound device and it is checked to be it the task bar. I tried unchecking it, apply, the checking it again, the apply. It will show up then. But when I turn off my computer the turn it back on, it is gone. I am running Windows XP. Thank you for any help you can give me.

Answer: It’s amazing. This just happened to me. I was as perplexed about this problem as you were. So I tried it and I did exactly as you did. But in my case, it worked. I was able to anchor it to my task bar again. The only thing I did extra was to restart my computer immediately after. I have dealt with similar problems throughout my career with mysterious re-occurrences. I also noticed that whenever I fixed the problem, and did not restart the computer immediately, the problem was prone to come back. Try restarting, and if the problem comes back, we’ll explore it further.

How Did I Get Spyware?

Spyware is a phenomenon of the Internet and it is protected by legal contracts that you agreed upon. Why would you agree on something so horrible? Easy. Remember the song in Mary Poppins “Just a spoon full of sugar, makes the medicine go down, the medicine go down?” Here is how you agreed to spyware.

If you are like most people, concerned with things like the weather, you might be enticed to download a small weather program that attaches itself to the bottom right hand corner of your computer screen, known as the “system tray.” This program informs you of the exact temperature and the possibility of rain in your area. In addition, this program is absolutely free. Or, is it?

When you downloaded your new personal weather channel, you were presented with a legal contract that you had to agree to obey before you were allowed to install the “free” program. Most of these agreements are long and convoluted. In order to read the entire agreement you might need a law degree or spend hours reading it in order to understand what it is actually saying. Therefore, most people just skip actually reading it.

The installation process does not know if you read it or not. As long as you clicked the button “I agree”, the installation continues. That is where we humans lose the battle against the marketing giants. The agreement we glossed over or completely ignored spelled out exactly how they are going to stick it to us.

First, they explain that in order to offset the cost of production for your display of the temperature, they must provide you with ads from their sponsors. That is, someone paid big money for you to see their pop-up ad. And, as they say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”, because you are actually paying for your free weather channel via pop-ups.

In summary, if you are truly lost without that free program that predicts rain and if you are willing to endure those endless pop-ups, I would suggest you get up off your seat and look out your window. Go outside and put your hand out. If it gets wet, it’s raining. If you feel like you need a jacket, it’s cold. If your hat gets blown away, it’s windy. Not only that, it is pop-up free and you don’t need a lawyer to interpret any lengthy contracts.

Beware! some disreputable web sites have pop-up ads that advertise “free monitor”, “free dinner”, “you might be infected with spyware”, etc. and ask you to “Click Here for Yes” or “Click Here for No”. Both of these options have the same link. Why would it have the same link? Because even by clicking “No”, you are enabling the spyware to be installed in your computer.

How do I get rid of Spyware?

Once you have spyware, it can be difficult to do any real work on your computer. You might even be crippled to the extent that your computer will not be able to respond as it is busy processing all the pop-ups. Remember the earlier example of you driving in your car and being unable to get to work due to all the interruptions; the same is true of your computer not being able to perform the tasks you want due to all the pop-up interruptions it is receiving. The best solution is always prevention.

Prevention can best be achieved by not installing “free” programs. However, the assistance of an expert is always a good idea since spyware can also be installed accidentally. One program I recommend is AVG Internet Security It is very easy to use, and very inexpensive.

What Is Spyware?

Spyware is a kind of program that is created by some marketing companies to keep track of your Internet surfing trends. Why would they care, you ask? Well, imagine having your own personal shopping agent that follows you around the city throughout the day, noting everything you do, everything you buy, and even everything you window-shop. The information the agent collected is relayed to companies that want your business.

As you begin your next day, your shopping agent is now armed with the information collected on the previous day. The shopping agent will now go out of their way to show you advertisements that closely resemble your likes and needs. More specifically, say you were driving around town the previous day looking for a new car. Along the way you stopped for lunch at the local Mexican restaurant, “El Taco Grande.” After your tasty lunch you passed by a pawnshop and saw a guitar on the window. You did not stop, but your agent noted your interest anyway.

The next morning as soon as you pulled out of your driveway, a taxi cut you off with a roof ad that stated “Follow me and test drive a new Hybrid-Off-Roader.” You had to honk your horn repeatedly to make him move out of your way. Not long after you persuaded the taxi ad to move out of your way, a flyer landed on your windshield with a coupon for “Buy one get one free burrito” at the nearest Mexican restaurant. You had to pull off the road to remove the “coupon” that was blocking your view.

Once you were back on the road, a group of teenagers flagged you down to entice you to attend their yard sale where they featured a used 12-string guitar. At this rate, you never get to work because of all these interruptions. This is the job of Spyware — to report on your Internet surfing trends and then bombard you with pop-up ads in hopes of getting your business. But it’s annoying as heck.

Where is My Email Going?

Question:
Dear Juan, I have Windows XP and have Norton Internet Security. I can’t get e-mail from two separate people but they can get mine. Could it be a conflict with the security or something else? Thanks for the help.

Answer:
C., There are several things that come to mind when I read you question. Immediately I am tempted to go through all the possibilities that are too many to explore in a quick question answer session. However, I would like to take you trough some troubleshooting techniques that might help you find the answer.

First, look at the obvious. Did you recently change email addresses and fail to update your two friends. When they reply to your messages, do the messages still fail to arrive?

Then, look at the not so obvious. Did you set up email rules that accidentally delete your friends’ messages? Do you have a super sensitive spam blocker? Are your friends getting Undeliverable messages from their email service? If they are, what does the message say? One thing about failed email is that it will bounce back if no one receives it.

Finally, take appropriate action to fix the problem. Go down the list and eliminate each possible roadblock. Start by the first question and do not continue until you have answered it adequately. Make sure they have the right spelling, etc. If you suspect your security software, turn it off for a few minutes and test your theory.

Wild About Widgets

I cleaned out my desk today and found a basic calculator. Not a fancy scientific calculator or one with a graphing function, just a regular calculator. I gave it away. Why? Well, I just don’t need one anymore.

There is one on my dashboard. A “dashboard” on a Mac is found in the “dock.” The dock is the bar usually found at the bottom of the screen that launches various applications. The dashboard is represented by a round, black gauge icon. Click it and it darkens the screen and reveals a display of all kinds of useful devices known as widgets.

The standard configuration is an analog clock, a calendar, a 5-day weather report for the city of your choice, and a calculator. To the lower left is a plus sign (+) that allows you to choose from several more widgets, for example, a dictionary/thesaurus, flight tracker, address book, a unit converter and a game or two.

On a PC, you can access a calculator by going under the file menu and locating it under applications. On a Mac, you can customize the tools (widgets) of your choice and have them ready for use in one click. It’s very convenient. It’s kind of like pulling an opaque shade down over your screen so you don?t lose track of what you?re working on and are able to reference something quickly.

If you are writing a report and are looking for the perfect word, simply click on the dashboard icon and your thesaurus is ready at hand. Widgets are useful and, evidently, collectable. A search of Mac.com reveals a library of well over a thousand of these widgets from which to choose. There are restaurant locators – just enter a zip code, recipe of the day widgets, stock reports, sports team reports, anything you could desire.

A friend of mine told me he has a Maxim Magazine model of the day widget. There is a widget for everyone indeed. While I haven’t downloaded any additional widgets from the website, I did add a new one to my dashboard today.

Curious about my other widget options, I clicked the plus sign and it revealed a widget labeled “translation.” As many of the sources I use to catalog images at work are in foreign languages, the translation widget is a great helper. I can type in text in a foreign language (German, Dutch, French, Spanish, etc) and it will give me a translation in English (or a language of my choice). It’s fast, much faster than looking each word up in a foreign language dictionary or even going to a translation website. It is like altavista.com’s Babel Fish, except it is ready at hand and doesn’t require a trip to a separate website.

The one caveat of using widgets such as weather reports, stock reports, flight trackers and any of the other widgets that require an up-to-the-minute reading is that you must be connected to the Internet. This does not pose a major problem to most, but if you happen to be out of wireless range or disconnected from the Internet, you will not be able to get a reading on these particular widgets.

It is fun to be able to select from a vast library of widgets to customize your dashboard. I’ve discovered that you can learn quite a bit about a person by their choice in widgets. In fact, widgets are, in this way, a lot like iTunes library lists – a topic to be explored in the near future.