To The Letter, Shelley MacDonald, Owner


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Why doesn't MS Word do what I want it to do?

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Troubleshooting a Printing Issue (Windows®)

Many issues can occur when printing with any application. The causes of these issues vary. The following procedures will help resolve general printing issues that may occur.

The most common cause of printing issues involves conflicts between the program and printer driver, which acts as a translator between the printer and the application. Verify that the driver for your printer is up to date. Contact the printer manufacturer for the latest driver for the printer in use. Most manufacturers offer these updated drivers as a free download from their web site. [Taken from] To read complete article, click here.

CD/DVD Is Not Recognized (Windows® 2000/XP)

Many times, after inserting a disc into the CD or DVD drive, the disc is not recognized by that drive. CD-read and DVD-read issues can be caused by many sources. Perform the procedures presented in this General Computer Advice article when troubleshooting CD-read and DVD-read issues. [Taken from] To read complete article, click here.

What is Spyware?

Spyware is software on your computer that covertly gathers information, usually for advertising purposes. Usually you don’t know you have spyware on your computer until
you start having problems with pop-up windows. I’d never experienced spyware personally
until this past Christmas. My computer would launch Internet Explorer and go to a smiley
face icon window or an American online dating site, even though I wasn’t searching the
web. I closed the windows, went on my merry way, and the next day when I tried to go to
a specifi c website that I had bookmarked, the browser window came up with a suspicious
“this site can’t be found” page, and instead showed me some advertising. My browser
had been “hijacked.”

Removing spyware is very tricky, even for experienced users like me! I went through
four different free spyware scanning software packages until I found one that worked (it
was Ad-Aware available from If your computer is badly affected, you
sometimes have to actually have the hard drive reformatted to wipe it out (I was lucky and
didn’t require this).

Solutions? There are no easy answers, but I can make a few general recommendations.
Don’t download software from the internet from unreliable sources. If a window repeatedly
pops up while you’re surfi ng and you can’t seem to make it go away, and the only choice
is to click “YES” to download something, remember that you can always close a browser
window using the keystrokes ALT+F4. Also, Windows XP (as compared to Windows 2000
or earlier versions) does a better job of screening out spyware. So does a router. [And
Macs don’t really have this problem.] If you think you have spyware on your computer, you’ll probably have to hire a computer professional to help you. I can recommend a few great guys in Vancouver. :) [Thanks to Jean-François here in Montreal for online references.]

What is an e-fax?

An e-fax is an electronic fax machine. Basically when you send a fax using a regular fax machine, it takes a picture of each page and transmits the picture to the destination machine. This is, of course, an oversimplification, but you get the idea. With an e-fax account, this “picture” of the fax arrives in my email in-box instead of on my fax machine.

What are computer viruses and how do they work?

Computer viruses are similar to biological viruses: a computer virus passes from computer to computer while a biological virus passes from person to person. Here’s a very basic explanation of how a virus works. Let’s imagine a desk clerk coming to work every day to his office. He finds a stack of papers with a list of tasks which he must fulfill during his working day. He takes the top paper from the stack, reads the instructions, follows them carefully, then throws “used” papers into waste basket. Suppose a bad guy sneaks into the office and inserts a paper into the stack with his own task which goes like this: “Copy this paper two times and put the copies into your neighbours’ stacks.”

What will the desk clerk do? He will copy this paper twice, destroy the original one and continue to the next paper in the stack, i.e. go on working as usual. What will his neighbours do, being as careful workers as he is, when they find a new task? They’ll do the same thing as the first one did: copy the paper twice and give it to other desk clerks. Altogether we have four copies of the paper already, and the paper will continue to be copied and transferred to other people.

This is approximately the scenario with a computer virus, but imagine programs instead of papers, and computers instead of clerks. Computer viruses do not appear by themselves – they are created by real people (hackers) who send them to information exchange networks or toss them onto the computers of their acquaintances. Viruses cannot sneak onto your computer by themselves: they can be hiding on a disk, or you can accidentally download them from files on the internet. Most commonly, these days, viruses arrive attached to emails.

I can recommend three ways to help protect your computer from “catching a virus”:

  1. Buy virus protection software like Norton AntiVirus, and enable the “Automatic Live Update” feature so that it automatically downloads the newest virus protection definitions without interrupting you.
  2. Once you’ve purchased a good virus protection package, this second warning will probably not apply to you … but if you get an email that contains an attachment that is an “executable” file (one that ends in .exe, .com, or .vbs) DO NOT open or double-click the attachment. Delete the email message and then empty the trash. If you get an email attachment that is in Microsoft Word (.doc), Excel (.xls), or Acrobat (.pdf) – then these are probably OK. But if you get an email with an attachment from someone you don’t know, my advice is to delete it.
  3. DO NOT download files from the internet if you aren’t sure they are safe. Software purchased on CD and disks is likely to be virus-free as is software downloaded from well-known sites (Symantec, Microsoft, Adobe). But something called “realtimeclock” is probably not safe. Use common sense.

I have one final thing to say that may seem counterintuitive. If you get an email warning you about a virus, it’s probably a HOAX. I don’t really know why this is, but people like to worry others by forwarding these warnings and they usually turn out to be false. To verify, go to and in the Search window, type the name of the virus warning. It’ll tell you if it’s a hoax or not. Please don’t delete bits on your computer unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

What are your favourite website bookmarks that you use all the time?

I use the internet for both personal and commercial banking almost every day. I know lots of people are nervous about doing banking online but I even filed my tax return online (and then the $ was in my account 5 days later).

I never use a paper phone book any more. Instead I visit for both residential and business listings.

I use the net for movie listings and movie reviews (especially Movie Review Query Engine).

I listen to CBC radio online and check TV listings on site. And I check the weather (every day!) to plan my stress level and running schedule at The Weather Network.

Finally, I arrange for my couriers online (VIP for within Vancouver, and FedEx for everywhere else). I also check postal rates at Canada Post when I need to send packages.

© 2008, To The Letter
Last updated December 9, 2008