Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Topics that span the breath of computing concepts - from security to privacy to the definition of computing terms and practices.

9 ways your account can be compromised, even with a super-strong password.

Strong passwords are important, but they don't protect you from everything. I'll look at other ways that your account can be compromised.

Are Mac's inherently safer?

Are computer users getting smarter?

In general, people are becoming better informed, but what's happening is that more and more people are using more and more technology.

Are password safes secure?

Utilities that remember and enter passwords for you are helpful and convenient, but are they secure? When used properly: absolutely.

Can I delete these Earthlink Setup files?

Earthlink is an internet service provider, so you shouldn't have files unless you are an Earthlink customer. I'll give you a safe way to remove those files.

Can I tell if a keylogger has been installed on the machine I share?

Sharing a computer comes with a lot of potential privacy and security issues. If you don't trust the person you share with, you shouldn't be sharing.

Can I transfer my software to my new machine?

Can World of Warcraft be installed and run on a tablet?

The user interface in World of Warcraft is highly configured for Windows and a PC environment. The display and tools may be difficult to convert to tablet format.

Can my computer be hacked if it is turned off?

Hacking a turned-off computer requires a few mistakes on your part. It's unlikely, but possible.

Could a technician discover my browsing history from seven years ago?

A technician certainly could stumble across this. But if they're looking at deleted files and that's not part of what they're trying to recover? To me, that's unethical.

Digital Signatures: what are they, and how do they protect me?

Digital Signatures use public key cryptography to validate both message sender and message contents. Digital Signatures rely on simple concepts you should know, built on top of very complex mathematics you don't need to worry about.

Do I have to keep buying new computers?

With the evolution of technology, the practical reality is that a new computer is required periodically. I'll look at why and how often.

Do I need to be online to perform anti-malware scans or backups?

An internet connection is not required for anti-malware scans and backups, but it is required to keep your software up-to-date.

Do all these software updates take up more and more disk space?

Keeping up-to-date is an important part of staying safe. Sometimes that means disk space is slowly used for more and more updates. And sometimes not.

Do ebook copy protection schemes work?

When publishing an ebook for sale, it's natural to want to retain control over distribution. Sadly many techniques simply add barriers to purchasers.

Does installing lots of programs destabilize my computer?

Don't worry about it. Install the software that you're going to use and use your computer the way you want to use it!

How can I do dictation on my computer using my voice recorder?

It's tempting to want to record speech on the road and then automatically transcribe it to your PC. The technology's not there, but alternatives exist.

How can I keep data on my laptop secure?

Laptops are portable, convenient and easily lost. When lost, all the data could easily be available to the finder. Encryption is the answer.

How can I make an income working online?

Making money online sounds like a wonderful opportunity. It is. It's also a lot of work, if you have the personality for it.

How can I password protect my documents?

Keeping information private on your computer is harder than you might think. Some obvious solutions aren't as secure as we might like.

How can I prevent a Word document from being copied or printed?

It's not possible to completely prevent files from being copied or printed, although you can make it more difficult. I'll look at why.

How can I securely delete everything except the operating system on a machine?

Before giving away a machine or returning a loaner it's important to remove personal information from it. That's both harder and easier than you think.

How can I send and receive FAXes using my PC?

How can I share files without allowing people to modify or delete them?

I can come up with three different approaches to solving this problem. The first is to use your website.

How can I sign a digital document without needing to print it?

If you get a digital document requiring your actual signature you can avoid paper, but signing a digital document electronically may have issues.

How do I "image" a hard drive?

We'll look at reasons why imaging a hard drive isn't the best approach, and other options you have.

How do I clean up after someone's broken into my computer?

The news is grim if someone's broken into your computer, but there are steps to take to prevent it from happening again.

How do I confirm that a file has been copied correctly?

In the long run, I wouldn't really worry. Trying to verify that the file is copied correctly takes more time than simply keeping regular backups.

How do I convert an audio file to a midi file?

Audio files contain actual sound recording while MIDI files are a type of computer program. Converting audio to midi is a nearly impossible task.

How do I convert wpg files?

To convert wpg files you'll need a graphics program that can understand Word Perfect graphics files.

How do I copy VHS tapes to my computer or DVD?

Copying VHS tapes to a DVD or your computer and from there to a DVD, is not that difficult, with the proper bits and pieces.

How do I deal with a photo that is it too large, visually?

These days, digital camera often take pictures that are much larger than our computer screen's resolution. I'll review some techniques to deal with that.

How do I diagnose a machine that won't boot reliably?

Diagnosing a machine remotely with very little information is impossible. It might be time for a local technician.

How do I figure out what kind of file I have - without the file extension?

Normally, we use file extensions to identify a file's type. Without that, the next step is to look at the file's first few bytes or 'signature'.

How do I fix "The instruction at -- referenced memory at --. The memory could not be read."?

That's not enough information for an answer, so we'll look at the other types of information that should accompany a general question such as this.

How do I fix this problem uninstalling Microsoft Office 2010 (Beta)?

Installing Beta software comes with real risks, including the inability to uninstall. Often there are few options unless you've prepared beforehand.

How do I get multiple tracks on a CD full of audio?

If you want to have separate tracks for audio playback, you have to break it up into several separate mp3 files.

How do I get people to stop asking me to fix their computers?

Once your friends become used to your providing technical support and assistance it can be difficult if your situation changes. I'll offer some ideas.

How do I get un-banned from a site?

If you've been permanently banned from a site there might be ways around it. But there's really only one correct approach.

How do I get video files I burn to CD to play in a specified order?

Setting an order for videos to play on a CD can be done easily. I'll look at several things you may want to do when converting old videos.

How do I install software from CD to a computer that has no CD drive?

A computer with no CD drive still needs to have software installed on it. It can often be done through your USB drive.

How do I keep my information on a shared computer private?

When using a shared computer it's often easy for others to see your data or history. If you must use a shared computer, you need to protect yourself.

How do I keep people from seeing possibly private things on my shared computer?

Sharing a computer is common, but it's fraught with issues. It's all too easy to expose your private information by accident if you share a computer.

How do I keep using a program past its free trial period?

Trial software packages use various techniques to enforce the trial period. There's one sure way to keep using software after the period has expired.

How do I know if these update notifications are legitimate?

Update notifications come at various times and in various ways. I'll look at how to best determine which are legit, and what to do if you suspect not.

How do I make a photo's file smaller and take up less space on disk?

Digital photographs can result in quite large files, taking up space and becoming difficult to share. I'll look at making those picture files smaller.

How do I make a small photo larger?

It's not at all uncommon to come across a photo on the web and want to make it larger. It's possible, but the results can be blurry, at best.

How do I manage a large number of client workstations?

Managing the configuration of a large number of computers can be daunting. There are solutions for management but it's not something I'm familiar with.

How do I put my business on the web?

Every business should have some kind of presence on the web, but it's not always obvious how to start. I share a couple of ideas.

How do I read a message that flies by too quickly on my screen?

How do I remove my personal information from a machine before giving it away?

Recent news reports show that much personal information is simply and unknowingly given away when old computers are discarded. I'll look at what to do.

How do I retrieve pictures from a machine that won't boot?

If I were in your shoes, I would open the box, take out the hard drive, and put it in an external USB enclosure.

How do I save a large amount of information across multiple DVDs?

You have 16 gigabytes of data and 4.7 gigabyte DVDs. I'll look at the various approaches to splitting that data across multiple discs.

How do I set up my computer - simply?

If you don't want to spend a lot of time tweaking an elaborate setup, I present a basic, simpler, and quicker set of instructions to setup your computer.

How do I share a copy of an application with a friend?

It's tempting to try to email a copy of an application to a friend so you can share data. Unfortunately it's probably wrong, and it won't work simply.

How do I tell if this software is a good deal?

With so many products being offered how do you tell what's good? We'll look at some of the things I did in a recent bit of research.

How do I uninstall this unwanted browser I got installing something else?

The first defense in unwanted downloads is to prevent them from installing in the first place. If they do download, you may need to take some extra steps to get your system cleaned up.

How do I use iTunes music in my videos?

iTunes is a great source for music to listen to, but there are technical and perhaps legal hurdles to use it for anything else.

How do PCs and Macs differ? And which is best?

Both of these operating systems are great and I don't want to argue which is better, but I'm willing to discuss how computers operate and some of the differences.

How do bad software companies stay in business?

With so much bad software on the market its amazing that the companies stay in business. It's not about technology, it's all about economics.

How do you ask a question when you don't even know the right words to use?

New words and concepts come along at a frightening pace and we're all somehow expected to know what words to use to ask for help. Here are some ideas.

How does a digital product sell out?

The concept of a digital product selling out is a little difficult to comprehend, until you factor in two other things: marketing and support materials.

How much of my data can be subpoenaed?

Much of the data that we own can be examined by others and it's important to understand both the possibilities and alternatives.

How much of what you cover is applicable to Macs?

Ask Leo! has a lot of questions that are applicable to Macs as well as PCs. My strength is in PCs, however, and that's the majority of the questions that I answer.

How should I backup my music library?

How should I protect myself when other people use my computer?

Allowing others to use your computer is risky, at best, but as this story shows, can lead to some serious and potentially expensive ramifications.

How should I set up my computer? (Part I)

In previous articles I discussed the process I used to select a new computer for myself. Next, we'll step through configuring my new machine.

How should I set up my computer? (Part II)

In my first article on setting up my new computer I walked through some of the basic actions I took to get my new machine configured. The saga continues!

How should I set up my computer? (Part III)

In this third in a series of articles covering my new computer's setup, we continue by making additional tweaks to the operating system and utilities.

How should I set up my computer? (Part IV)

In this fourth in a series of articles covering my new computer's setup, we continue by making adjustments to Microsoft Office and by using Tweak UI.

How should I set up my computer? (Part VI)

In this sixth in a series of articles covering my new computer's setup, we continue by making final adjustments to my computer and installing lots of software.

How should I set up my computer? (Part VII)

In this seventh and final article in a series of articles covering my new computer's setup, we continue by making a few final adjustments.

How should I store my travel pictures while I'm away?

Travel pictures are a valuable keepsake that you don't want to lose. On a long trip you'll want to take extra steps to store those travel pictures.

I keep getting SVCHOST failures. Why?

When reporting a failure it's important to include all the relevant information. We'll outline some of the basics that help get your question answered.

I thought I deleted these files, how were they recovered?

Files may be gone, but frequently they're not forgotten. Depending on the scenario, files you thought were deleted might be easily recovered.

If I don't save my Excel work, can the data still be recovered after I close?

There are several processes running on your computer that may be saving copies of data in various places on your machine. They are not easy to recover!

Is copyright still an issue if something's not available anywhere?

Copyright is a complex topic, but the practical implications are often very simple. I'll look at availability and copyright and more.

Is deleting a file and emptying my recycle bin enough?

Deleted files might be easily recovered unless you take additional steps to ensure that they're not. I'll look at why and what to do.

Is it safe to buy software on EBay?

Software on EBay is often deeply discounted and very lucrative. The problem is that those deep discounts sometimes indicate issues to be wary of.

Is it safe to delete this file?

Looking for large files when running out of disk space makes sense. We look at the steps to determine whether a file, such as a .dat file, is important.

Is it safe to let Quicken remember my online banking information?

Using Quicken with online banking is secure if your computer itself is secure and you practice safe computing practices.

Is my FTP program secure?

Your FTP program may or may not be secure. The real insecurity comes from the FTP protocol itself. I'll look at why, and what the alternatives are.

Is the internet shutting down?

Urban legends and hoaxes can spread like fire on the internet. Here are some clues that you might follow to determine if the email you received is true or not.

Is there a way to save two copies of a file in two places at once?

Saving two copies of a file in different locations can be done... but it's pretty tricky!

Is there an age or gender component to being comfortable with technology?

Many people are not comfortable with technology. Judging their lack of knowledge and experience through stereotypes is not a good idea!

Is there technology that would allow a file to be opened only once?

I'm not aware of any technology that will do what you're asking; and in all honesty, I wouldn't trust any technology that did.

My computers keep dying. Is it me?

Sometimes it's easy to feel almost cursed if computer after computer you deal with has problems. It's often not you at all, but rather the environment.

My machine won't finish booting. What do I do?

Ultimately, I'm concerned that you may end up needing to see a technician who can take a look at the machine hands on.

Secure Delete: what is it, and do I need it?

Secure Delete is a way to make sure that when you delete a file it cannot be recovered. Understanding Secure Delete is important to protect sensitive data properly.

Shockwave keeps crashing. What can I do to fix it?

Shockwave isn't really used as much as Flash. You might be able to just get rid of it.

Should I let my son just focus on coding in school?

Coding is not just about coding. To function well in the work world, a student also needs to learn the many other skills taught at school. Yes, there are a few things I would have done differently.

Should I really go paperless?

Going paperless can be scary and can seem overwhelming even. It's less difficult than you think, and can improve the safety of your documents as well as significantly reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with them.

Someone has stolen my email address can you help?

We'll use one person's situation as a lesson in what not to do, and turn that around into a some steps and advice to keep your account and stay safe.

Someone used my credit card on-line illegally. What recourse do I have?

Identify theft is a growing problem. Using someone else's credit card illegally is the most common problem. There's not a lot you can do - except prevent it.

Someone's created an account in my name, what are my options to stop them?

It's easy to create an account in someone else's name and harass people. It's not so easy to track or punish the offenders, but it can be done.

Virtual Machines - What Are They?

Because I use a VM to present in webinars, I figured that it'd be a good time to demonstrate what they are and why they're so cool.

What are .BAK files?

.BAK files are often left by file editing programs as backups of the previous version of a file. I'll look at how it works and touch on its history.

What are XML documents?

XML is a specification for structuring data in a file. Exactly what data, and what it might be used for, is not part of that specification.

What are cabinet files?

Cabinet files are container files often used to distribute software. What to do with left over cabinet files after setup is done isn't always clear.

What difference does multiple-overwrite delete really make?

Deleted files may be recoverable. Overwriting data makes it impossible for common tools and multiple overwrites make it impossible for any.

What do you install first?

I recently had to rebuild my Window Vista laptop after a hard disk failure. Here's what I installed, and in the order that I installed it.

What does "Beta" mean?

"Beta" traditionally refers to software that isn't finished but made available for pre-completion testing and feedback. It also means that using that software entails risk.

What does "Notification of Limited Account Access" mean?

"Limited Account Access" is a common phrase you'll find in many phishing scams. Occasionally, though, it's a legitimate notification from PayPal.

What file format do I want for my pictures; RAW, JPG, both or something else?

For the most part, if you're mostly interested in snapshots and easy-to-share, easy-to-send pictures, JPEG's fine. You'll never notice the difference.

What image format should I use?

There are a wide variety of image file formats around. I'll take a look at the most common, how they differ conceptually, and what they're good for.

What is Adobe AIR?

Adobe AIR may appear on your machine if you install software that requires it. AIR is another library of functionality used by several applications.

What is Software Escrow?

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is the latest buzzword for something that we've been doing for a long time: using applications that live on the web instead of our PCs.

What's Bluetooth?

What's OEM software? Is it safe to buy?

OEM Software is heavily advertised, often in spam, at prices much cheaper than retail. The problem is that OEM software is often illegal.

What's a "live" CD? And why would I want one?

Live CDs are self-contained operating systems on a single bootable CD, DVD, or USB device. They're handy when your machine runs into trouble.

What's a "single point of failure", and why do I need to know?

What's a Captcha?

You've probably seen Captcha's and not even realized it. Captcha's are used frequently to make sure that systems aren't gamed or spammed by machines.

What's a Noob?

It's just a fact of life that we all have to start somewhere. A Noob is someone at the beginning.

What's a good portable PDF reader?

What's an "instance"?

In casual computing the term instance frequently signifies one of multiple copies of the same running program.

What's an MD5 Signature?

What's so special about "32"?

32, like 16 before it and 64 to follow, is special simply because computers think in powers of 2, as does Windows itself.

What's the difference between RAW and JPG image formats?

Many digital cameras can save in either a “raw” or “jpg” format. I'll look at the difference between the two and offer guidelines on which to use.

What's the difference between a sandbox and a virtual machine?

Sandboxes and virtual machines share some characteristics, but they are fundamentally different technologies. I'll look at both from a high level.

Where are canceled or failed downloads stored?

Windows deletes partial files from failed downloads, but it may not be entirely erased from your system. If that is a concern, you will need to take an extra step.

Where can I get a PSP downgrade?

Where did all these Windows Photo Gallery pictures come from?

When your own photos are all mixed up with internet images, it's time to do some organizing on your computer. Typically, 'My Pictures' is the place to store these.

Who should I believe?

With different support resources offering frequently conflicting advice, how do you decide who's right? Which tech support resource do you believe?

Why am I asked about putting a lot of things on the clipboard? And what's a clipboard?

A message saying you have lots of things on the clipboard is common and nothing to worry about. It's simply managing the information you have copied into memory.

Why are there so many of this particular model of machine on the refurbished market?

Refurbished machines can be a good deal, but you are increasing your risk and should take a couple of steps to protect yourself.

Why can't I copy/paste out of a PDF document?

PDF format is an excellent way to share documents knowing that they'll display the same regardless of where viewed. You can do more, sometimes.

Why didn't my backup program restore everything?

Backups are an important necessity. Making sure your backups are configured properly and backing up what you expect is equally important.

Why do I have "Apple Software Update" on my PC? And can I get rid of it?

Getting rid of Apple files and folders on your computer may be tricky; and you might find you need that update.

Why do my pictures sometimes show upside down when I email them?

Computers determine orientation in different ways. It's very likely that your picture is natively upside down!

Why does a scan of a simple text document result in such a large file?

Scanned documents can result in a large graphics file that is too large to email. Scan settings allow you to change the DPI to something more useful.

Why does it take so long to download Apple software to my PC?

Updates for iTunes or Safari are often large files and that could be causing the long download times.

Why does my PC restart itself when trying to boot off of a Linux Ubuntu CD?

The Ubuntu distribution Linux is a capable and popular operating system that supports many hardware configurations. Many, though, may not mean all.

Why is my PDF so large compared to the original?

It's possible that a PDF created from a document may be larger, perhaps much larger, than the original. I'll look at a few reasons why this might be.

Why is this download flagged as malware?

Sometimes, good software can be flagged as malicious... because it's been turned malicious! Pay attention to the source to make sure that you are getting the real thing.

Why is using Paypal to purchase at a conference or open market such a bad idea?

Paypal is a fast and convenient way to pay someone from your computer. Using Paypal elsewhere, on someone else's computer, can be very, very dangerous.

Why isn't the time on my computer the same as that on my self-synchronizing watch?

Time settings on electronic devices should be able to sync accurately, but for some reason, they don't. All I can say is I feel your pain!

Why shouldn't I use TAB characters in my source files?

Why will opening one document sometimes open more than one?

It is common for applications to re-open all the files that were left open the last time the program was closed. Sometimes, this can be a bit disconcerting!

Will I have to start paying for Hotmail and Messenger?

Will deleting history free up space?

Deleting history to free up space depends on what kind of history you are talking about. But it probably won't be much space.

Will the new iPad3 have Adobe Flash?

Adobe Flash is a popular program for many websites, but it's slowly being replaced by HTML5, so features are becoming available on devices that do not use Flash. Here's what I expect Apple to do.