Merry Christmas – 2009

By | December 15, 2009
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In the Computers newsletter this month:

  • How to turn off an annoying feature of Windows XP
  • Useful email tips
  • Is Windows 7 broken?
  • Four small Christmas presents

Merry Christmas

I know we’re not quite there yet but by the next newsletter I write, it’ll be the New Year.

And you know what comes with Christmas (apart from that James Bond film on TV for the umpteenth time): Goodwill, yes, peace, well, round here at least and – presents.

So in a moment I have four small presents for you. You don’t even have to promise not to open them until the 25th.

But first, a handy tip to stop Windows making a mess of your desktop, the rumour that Windows 7 is, well, broken and a quick tip for emails.

Desktop auto-tidy – an annoying little feature of Windows XP

Windows has a nasty habit of trying to do things for you.  And although that sounds very helpful, it can be a right pain in the neck when you don’t know what it’s done.  Like someone tidying away the jar of tea that you always keep on the kitchen worktop.

The Desktop auto-tidy feature is almost exactly like that – it decides that there are icons on your desktop that you haven’t used for a while so you clearly don’t want them.  And it tidies them up into folder called “Unused desktop icons”.  Which can leave you hunting around for what you know was there yesterday.

It’s not too hard, once you know, to double click on that folder to find the icons inside it, then click and drag them back to the desktop. But it is annoying.

Luckily you can turn this feature off.  Here’s how:

  1. Right click on a blank bit of desktop and select properties
  2. Click on the Desktop tab at the top
  3. Click on Customise desktop
  4. Click on “Run desktop cleanup” to un-tick it
  5. And click on Apply

That’s it – you’ll no longer get Windows trying to tidy up after you!

Emails: Flags, exclamations marks and so on

Occasionally, you’ll see an email with an exclamation mark next to it – or a little arrow pointing downwards.

It’s a feature of Outlook Express & Windows Mail/Live Mail (and some other email programs) that lets you tell the person getting the email how important it is… or at least how important you think it is!

The exclamation mark means urgent and the arrow pointing downwards means not urgent.

Here’s how to do it yourself:

When you create an email (it doesn’t matter whether you’ve just created it and haven’t typed anything yet or whether you’ve finished and are ready to send it), look for the button marked “Priority”, just next to the “Attach” button.  It has an exclamation mark and an arrow on it.  Click it once and it’ll mark your email as High Priority – which means it’ll have an exclamation mark next to it.  Click it again and it’ll mark it as low priority, with the arrow.  Click it again and it’ll go back to normal.  Choose whichever you want and then send the email as normal.
In Windows Live Mail, look for the Priority heading next to “Check names”
and click on either “High” or “Low” to set the priority, then send
the email as normal.)

Then when the person you’re sending it to gets it, the little symbol will be shown just to the side of the email – the same place it shows a paperclip if there’s an attachment.

One more email tip – if you’ve got an email you want to come back to later on and you want it to stand out so you remember, click just to the left of the email in the list, underneath the little flag.  It puts a red flag next to the email so it stands out.  Click on the flag again to get rid of it once you’ve gone back to it.

Is Windows 7 broken?

The newspapers have been talking about something called the “blue (or black) screen of death” – and saying that Windows 7 keeps crashing because of it.

Newspapers often write stories about new things on computer without really understanding what’s going on – and this is one of those times.

The original “blue screen of death” happened on Windows PCs before Windows XP.  You’d be happily using it and it would suddenly crash and you’d get a blue screen with some confusing gobbledegook on.  Anything you were working on that you hadn’t saved would be lost.  As you can imagine, it was really quite frustrating.

What’s happened now was that some people (on any kind of Windows, not just Windows 7) have found that when they start up their computer, they get a plain black screen and it won’t do anything.  One company (Prevx) claimed it was due to a Windows Update that Microsoft had put out.

Some newspapers promptly wrote stories saying that Windows 7 didn’t work properly and describing the problem as the black screen of death – ignoring the fact that most people’s computers are still working fine and that it’s not just Windows 7 that has the problem.

Since then, Microsoft checked the Update that Prevx claimed was the problem and Prevx tried it again as well – and found that actually it’s nothing to do with the update.  It was just coincidence that it happened to them just after they’d got that update.

Prevx have brought out a “patch” to fix the problem (see here though they admit the patch doesn’t always fix the problem.

So what is causing it?  No-one seems entirely sure, but it seems to happen if you get a particular virus or other internet nasty and you have one of a particular number of security programs.  When the security program sorts out the virus, it leaves you with the black screen problem.  Amusingly, Prevx’s security software is one of the ones that causes it.  So much for blaming Microsoft!

My recommendation is make sure your security program is up to date and
if this happens to you, use the above patch.

Christmas Present – four ebooks

Here you are – four ebooks.  I should come clean – they’re not anything at all to do with computers.  They’re all old books that are out of print or hard to find and that I’ve found interesting in one way or another.

Anyway, you can read more about each one, download them and (if you like) print them out from here:

(By the way, I won’t be leaving them up there permanently, so if you’re interested best get them now)

I hope you find at least one or two of them as interesting as I did!

Have a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic New Year.



Tim Wakeling

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