Sunday, 30 August 2009

Lost Your Blog?

You had a Blog? I'd been happily running a blog for quite some time, creating it with a Blogger account.  I had a Google acount, an IGoogle page and a GMail address. All was well until I decided to help a friend set up a GMail account.  I thought I'd better set up a new one for myself to make sure I gave accurate advice.  I did that and then I wanted to delete the new GMail address.  I found I could only do that by deleting my Google account.  That's not a problem I thought.  I've only got it for IGoogle.  My Blog is separate from that and it shouldn't affect my other GMail address.  I was, of course, asked whether I really meant to delete my Google account but there was no mention of Blogger so why not.  So I did delete my Google account and then found my Blog had gone and that it could not be recovered.  What a trap for the young, or not so young in my case, players!  The irony was that I had soon re-created a new Google account in the same name and with the same password as before without any difficulty and still had my GMail address and easily re-created my IGoogle page

Your Blog has been removed?  After fruitless hours of searching it was clear that although my Blog page still existed in Google's resources I wasn't going to be given it back.  My Blog had been removed and I wasn't allowed to use my address again.  Most frustrating of all was the run around all the Google so-called help pages gave.  There was no way you could ask a question of a real person and get a simple response.  Reasons given for not enabling the re-creation of one's old account and Blog were pretty feeble.

What to do?  Well a number of sites recommended the pretty obvious solution of creating a new Blog page as close to the old as possible and that was simple enough.  But how could I recover the material on which people who had attended workshops given by me recently might be relying? 

How to recover your material?  At last I found that I could recover almost all of the material from Google caches by using two methods.  The simplest, explained in different blogs of which the Blog Doctor is the easiest to read, merely requires a search through the Google search page for "cache:[your old Blog address]".  You can then copy and save the content of your old blog, although the cache is unlikely to be up-to-date.  The alternative method, which might get you a later copy of some or all of the material is to Google search for all the old Blog address[es] you have and open the cached material.  You could have a separate address for each post and I recovered a more up-to-date version of one or two posts using this alternative.

What next? What to do when you have recovered as much of the material of your old Blog as you can in to Word or Notepad or wherever? Two sites are both helpful about this, EHow and Tips for Bloggers.  Even before I got on to them I had re-created most of my original blog by similar copy and paste methods.

How to avoid a repetition?  Don't delete your Google account is pretty obvious, but it is equally sensible to protect yourself through two recognised techniques, saving a copy of your template and exporting a copy of your blog from which it can later be restored if need be.  The first of these requires you to go to Dashboard, Layout, Edit HTML and Download Full Template and then saving it to a folder of your choice.  The second of these is well explained in Blogger Tips and Tricks.  Ideally you would be wise to do both of these every time you update your blog.

Building Your Own Computer

[These are some notes prepared for people, like myself, without experience of building a computer. They result from my building a computer in New Zealand in the first half of September 2006.]

We all have a fair idea of what a desktop computer is.

There is the metal box [the case] that holds the works. On its front there is a power button to turn it on and sometimes a reset button to close and restart it. And there is usually a slide out thingummy operated by another button that takes a CD or maybe a DVD [the optical drive] and a slot of some sort where we can put a floppy disk [the floppy disk drive].

On the back of the case there are lots of sockets and plugs starting with the power plug and switch. Other sockets, some of which may be duplicated on the front of the case, take a variety of cables. There are Ethernet sockets for cables for joining us to the internet or perhaps a LAN [Local Area Network]. There are USB sockets for cables for connections to a whole range of things, including flash drives for storing things. [USB is short for ‘universal serial bus’, not that that makes anything clearer.] There may be a firewire socket for cables connecting us to things like video cameras. And then there are pinned sockets and cables maybe linking us to our printer and our scanner, if we have one, and our screen [the monitor] and usually our keyboard and mouse, although sometimes some of these things run off USB connections. Then there is another sort of plug connecting us to loudspeakers and microphones of some sort or another.

Inside the case are the things that make it all work. The absolute essentials are the CPU [the central processing unit that is the brains of the whole affair and usually has a heat sink and fan to enable it to be cool enough to work], the motherboard festooned with chips and bits that drive most of the things we use, the power supply unit [PSU], a hard drive that holds all our data, memory cards to deal with the data when it is first entered into the computer, a video card to handle what goes to our monitor, perhaps a modem to connect you to your internet server provider, and the optical and floppy disk drives. There is also a mass of cables and ties and mini-sockets and plugs and usually a case fan to try and keep the whole enclosure at a reasonable temperature.

All of these things, collectively called ‘the hardware’, support or are driven by an operating system, for most of us one form or other of Microsoft Windows. And then there is all the software, called ‘applications’, that makes things work or enables us to do other things with our computer.

If you’ve heard of most or all of the things I’ve mentioned you can probably build your own computer if you really want to do so. First though it pays to think whether an upgrade of various components might do the trick for you. I looked at various articles and decided that was not the answer for me. There is, incidentally, an article in NZ PC World, November 2006, p61, similar to other articles elsewhere, which would help you make that assessment and give you an idea what is involved in installing various parts of your computer.

Why build a new computer? There are lots of reasons including updating essential components, getting to know what makes your computer tick and understanding it better, having what you want and not what someone else has put in the case, having a quieter machine, or having a new challenge.

In my case it was a combination of those. My computer experience dates back to the late 1980’s. For about 16 years I used desktop and laptop computers for my work. Over about the last 12 years I have had three personal desktop computers, the first off the floor from a now defunct New Zealand manufacturer and the latter two built by a friend. There is certainly nothing wrong with the last of these as I am still using it, although it is now running Windows 7 RC1, .

I thought it would be a good idea to be familiar with the newer 64 bit system, which seems likely to replace the 32 bit system that runs most of our current operating systems and programmes. The new generation CPU’s from AMD and Intel, who between them control the market, seemed to be galloping in the 64 bit direction, Microsoft’s later operating systems, Vista and Windows 7, are providing for either 32 or 64 bits and all Apple MAcs are now 64 bits. Don’t ask me to explain exactly what 64 bits means but it affects the code the programmes are written in. Sixty four bits systems process bigger chunks of material and make better use of RAM [random access memory]. Thus 64 bit systems are faster and more stable and what everyone is likely to be using before too long. I wanted a quieter set up than I had as my attempts to make my old computer quieter had only been partially successful. I wanted to understand more about computers and have a new challenge.

Well, what do you do if you do want to build a new computer? I went to the internet and searched high and low, using ‘build computer’ and similar words in Google and other search engines, bought a booklet called PC Upgrade Guide, 2nd Edition, and combed the computer magazines I look at like NZ PC World and the Australian PC User and PC Authority. I looked in the library and book shops to no good effect.

You first need to sort out what you want from your computer. Is it just for basics, or do you want to use it for more complicated things or do you want to play electronic games on it? My objective was to have a mid-range computer with the capacity, with some add-ons, for me to play with old photographs, edit videos and use voice recognition software.

Then you have to choose the components you need to achieve your objective. The CPU is the key to everything else. That is because everything else has to be compatible with it, whether it be the power source, the motherboard or whatever. You really have a choice just between AMD and Intel. My choice, because of what was offering at the time, was an AMD Athlon AM2 CPU. To-day, three years later, your choice depending on your needs and priorities is still between AMD and Intel. I wanted other components to be of good but not top of the range quality.

Here is the list of components I worked from:
• Case, including PSU and case fan, although you can get them separately.
• CPU, including CPU cooling, which you can get separately.
• Motherboard, including various cards and adapters than can be separate.
• Hard Drive
• Memory Modules
• Graphics/Video Card
• Optical/CD-ROM Drive
• Floppy Disk Drive
• Operating system
• Monitor
• Keyboard & Mouse
• Speakers
• Modem.

As I wanted a quiet PC I also researched that side of things carefully and chose components including the case, PSU, CPU, hard drive and video card that scored well for quietness.

In choosing components I found articles and reviews in the Australian PC magazines already mentioned, particularly PC Authority, combined with web reviews of components on sites such as ConsumerReview.Com the most helpful. After I had my list I took the precaution of having it checked for component compatibility.

You can buy your chosen components in all sorts of ways. Once I had my list I looked for a local supplier who could supply everything I wanted and got everything from that one company. That had the advantage its technical adviser also checked my chosen items for compatibility.

When it came to building the computer there was no really good information available. Just by chance NZ PC World, September 2006, p82, had quite a good article on building a new computer. However, like nearly everything I read, it is a bit once over lightly as it assumes knowledge novices just don’t have. However, at the end of the day, that article, one or two articles found on the web, with some excellent material on the AMD Athlon site, combined with some notes of a friend and the material that came with the components, usually for the initiated and not the new chum, were what I relied upon. Most of the material on the web was very out of date. For example, some articles say you need a huge array of tools. I found that apart from an anti-static wrist band all I really needed was one non-magnetic Phillips screw driver. [The article in NZ PC World, November 2006, p61, on upgrading your computer has a reasonably clear guide to installing most of the essential components.]

In a way putting the hardware together was the easy part. I made one minor mistake as a result of unfamiliarity with the input/output fitting plate that goes into the back of the case to take the plugs of the motherboard but otherwise there were no insurmountable difficulties. I did have some difficulty in reading various instructions and names on parts. Even although I had done it once before, I found the placing of the CPU on the motherboard, the most important thing of all, a difficult business. However, it took me just a day and a half to assemble everything and get it going properly.

What I had been far more casual about was checking the compatibility of my printer, keyboard, mouse and essential software, particularly security software, with a 64 bit system as opposed to my old 32 bit system and I got some unpleasant surprises.

My HP printer was incompatible with the 64 bit system but fortunately software making it 64 bit compatible was available for download. My Logitech keyboard and mouse software was incompatible, although they work in the standard basic way. Programmes such as Acronis True Image, which I use for back-ups as well as drive imaging, are compatible. However, Bart's PE Builder is incompatible as was my previous Genie back-up programme.

None of my security software was 64 bit compatible but much is now - September 2009.

Fortunately, most things one commonly uses and needs are compatible with the 64 bit system as for the most part it enables the use of 32 bit software.

Nevertheless if I’d read what appeared in PC Authority, October 2006, p22 or had read more carefully what one or two other reviewers on the web had said I think I would have stuck to a 32 bit version of Windows. If I was starting again to-day I probably would be in two minds. There still seems to be a lack of drivers for the 64 bit system and some software as well as hardware is incompatible with it. However, I suspect that with Vista and soon Windows 7 providing both 32 and 64 bit alternatives things will continue to change as a number of providers both of freeware and commercial products do have changes on hand. Significantly there are no problems with freeware such as Mozilla Thunderbird and Firefox or Open Office or with “essential” software such as Microsoft Office 2003 or 2007.  There can be no doubt 64 bit represents the future and 32 bit the past.  

I found only a few web sites that were of any particular help for 64 bit matters. There are now many more.

My two worst problems, which caused me no end of frustration, had nothing directly to do with building a computer and so are really outside the scope of this note. Windows kept on opening in the Administrator's screen and not my own. No web search gave me even a clue on that one. Indeed I was led down some very useless paths. I at last discovered that I had accidentally cleared a box in the Logon menu in TweekUI, for which there is a 64 bit version available through Neo Smart Technologies, and when I ticked it all was well. The second thing was scarier as I found myself with a totally blank screen and the computer wouldn’t even fire up into boot mode. I’m still not sure what went wrong, but think it was possibly a loose connection in the case as I eventually fixed whatever it was and have had no trouble with my basic set up since.

Would I do it again? Yes, with less anxiety than the first time. Was it worth it? I think so. I have a very quiet computer that seems fast and robust. I know precisely what is in it and I have the satisfaction of knowing I built it.

Addendum: I prepared the bulk of the above notes in September and October 2006. I have now been running my 64 bit set up for about three years. There have been some difficulties unconnected with my build that would not have arisen if I had used a 32 bit version of Windows XP Pro or, more recently, of Windows Vista. Whether there will be the same difficulties with Windows 7 only time will tell.

No User Picture on Start Menu in Windows XP

Others have had this problem and many an answer has been given in the forums. A Google search for "show user picture on start menu" gets the widest range of answers. Surprisingly none of them mention one of the simplest answers of all as I found after hours of search and experiment. The answer lay in ensuring you had activated "Use visual styles on windows and buttons" in System Properties. To check that you have it activated right click on Computer. When the System Properties pane opens left click on the advanced tab and then under "Performance" on the "Settings" box. When the "Performance Options' pane opens left click on the "Visual Effects" tab. If the "Custom" settings have been chosen scroll to the last item in the list and ensure you have clicked on "Use visual styles on windows and buttons" so that it is activated. Your chosen picture in the User Accounts section of the Control Panel will then be shown at the top of the start menu pane.
A different method of getting the same result but losing the benefits of your other custom settings is to go to Desktop Properties and under the appearance tab choose Windows XP style in the "windows and buttons" box.

Anti-Spyware and Freeware


Anti-spyware falls into two broad categories; programmes to prevent the installation of spyware and programmes to identify it and remove it. Some anti-spyware programmes do both.

There is general agreement you should have at least two anti-spyware programmes. There is an excellent overview, which also mentions good anti-spyware programmes, at Anti-spyware Guide.

The following is from a more detailed overview of available anti-spyware software in March 2009 by Consumer Search. However, there are tests noted in the materials mentioned in this post showing some different results.

According to reviewers, Webroot Spy Sweeper (*Est. US$25) and PC Tools Spyware Doctor (*Est. US$30) are the most effective commercial anti-spyware programs. Software developers constantly tweak these programs and issue incremental updates. In some cases, the update enables one program to leapfrog a competitor in spyware detection and removal ability. The downside is that updates are sometimes rushed to market, and often introduce system and software conflicts that didn't exist with the previous version. Recent user reviews are the best gauge of such problems.

For tools designed to prevent the installation of spyware you will almost certainly have Windows Defender, installed with Windows XP and Vista. CNet recently ranked it the best of the freeware programmes. You may have a Security Suite that tackles spyware although none of them are as good as a specialist programme. There are two other free programmes with a good name. Consider Comodo BOClean or Spyware Blaster. Both are reasonably easy to use.

Two of the best tools for preventing as well as identifying and removing spyware have already been identified as PC Tools Spyware Doctor, especially for Vista, and Webroot SpySweeper. Neither is free although a starter edition of the former is free in Google Pack. Sunbelt CounterSpy 2.0 has been placed first by CNet and PCWorld and second by TopTen Reviews in recent reviews and is well worthy of consideration as it is cheaper than the other two.

There seems to be less confidence in the popular free programmes Lavasoft AdAware and SpyBot Search and Destroy, which also has some active protection available in it. They are undoubtedly better than nothing. AdAware is probably the easier to use. The latest versions, AdAware 2008 and SpyBot Search and Destroy 1.6, seems an improvement on recent editions although I have seen no objective test results of them. SUPERAntiSpyware comes with both a free and a commercial version and attracts favourable comments as does Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware 1.26 and although I use both of those I have seen no objective test results. There are other free programmes such as HijackThis that are excellent, but they are for advanced users.

I have personally tried a considerable number of the anti-spyware programmes and quickly junked a number of those that cost money and are sometimes recommended. Some actually deliberately allowed spyware. If you are going to buy a programme get one of those with the greatest support.

The following materials focus on which are the best programmes:
Consumer Search [March 2009]; Top Ten Reviews [for 2009]; 2Spyware [2009]; Best-Anti-spyware-Review [for 2009]; Spyware-Adware-Reviews [Undated].

Prevx 3.0, not mentioned in those materials is the recent choice  of Neil J Rubenking in PC Mag [May 2009].

The latest detailed reviews as at March 2009 are referred to both in Consumer Search and the Anti-spyware Guide.

And for what not to use as at May 2007 see Spyware Warrior.


Here are some sites dedicated to freeware. A web search will produce others. Before you buy software see if there is a free alternative.

Its worth having a look at Secunia's Software Inspector as to the security of your system. They provide a version, Secunia PSI, that can be downloaded on to your machine.

For freeware generally, but the first part relates to security in particular, see

Microsoft only.

Look here if you subscribe to NZ Consumer on line.

Individual choices:

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Do we need a Registry Cleaner?

I've played around with registry cleaners for a long time and believed in them, by and large.  That was until using one, Advanced System Care, required me to do a clean re-install of my Windows XP x64 operating system if I wanted to continue accessing Microsoft updates manually.  [No such problem was caused by ASC on a x32 bit operating system.] That experience made me think twice about them and caused me to do a little research.  To my surprise  I found the cognoscenti were not only divided but that some very knowledgeable commentators were opposed to the use of registry cleaners.  Here is a brief summary of what I found:

BASICALLY ANTIEd Bott ; Leo Notenboom ; Blair, relying on Mark Russinovich and Bill Castner.


BASICALLY PRO: Fred LangaBob Rankin.

IF YOU WANT ONE WHICH IS THE BEST?  For comments and reviews see Steve Bass of PC Advisor, August 2008 ; Top Ten Reviews 2009 ; Mark Anderson ; Neil J Rubenking of PC Mag, August 2004 plus the two sites above which are basically pro and Leo Notenboom's.

My conclusion was that if you are going to use a registry cleaner make sure it is a conservative one like CCleaner's.   Others can have unintended and unexpected side effects.