Saturday, July 12, 2008

Name This Website-35


Today was the first "offical day of the 40th Three Rivers Festival. I found this mystery site earlier this week when they wrote about the Fest. Click here for the answer.

Hot Dog Update



As my wife gathered with friends to watch the TRF parade this morning, I was on a different mission, the first of 5 events I am taking part in, which is a record for me.

I was one of the judges for the 1st Annual Dog & Suds Hot Dog Eating contest. 5 minutes to eat up to 20 dogs and buns. Last month there were three qualifying rounds at Dog & Suds on Lima Road.

Today at noon Shannon White, Executive Director of the Three Rivers Festival along with Big Kess from one of my radio stations, WILD 96.3 hosted the final round of 14.

Here's the results (pardon any spelling errors as I try and decipher the sign in sheet):

14. Kenny Polley ate 4
13. Nick Kuhlhorst ate 5 1/2
12. Paul Kuhlhorst ate 6 1/2
11. Andrew Howard ate 7
10. Brian Dice at 7 1/2
9. Chris Zerler ate 7 3/4
7. Ben Rose ate 8 (tied for 7th)
7. Andrew Shaw also ate 8 (tied for 7th)
6. Flint Cooper Jr. ate 8 1/2
5. Dave Augenstein ate 9 1/2
4. Brandt Douglas ate 11
3. James Shook ate 12.
2. James Keller ate 12 1/8
1. Danny Lothamer ate 14 1/8 hot dogs and buns in 5 minutes!

Top three winners won cash prizes from Dog n Suds!

Stumbling?


So, you have the Stumble! toolbar.

But are you wasting too much time Stumbling?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Name This Website-34


Here's another website by a Fort Wayner. Click here for the answer.

Don't be a Fraidy Cat


Unless you are afraid of fun, you should attend at least one Three River Festival event.

This year, due to my work with Summit City Radio, I will be at the Dog & Suds Hot Dog Eating Contest Saturday to help out. Sponsored by WILD 96.3.

Then Wednesday, ROCK 104 is sponsoring the Three Rivers Federal Credit Union Bedrace, followed by Duke for a Dollar. Friday night, a week from tonight, I'll be back downtown with ROCK 104 for the Local Night at the Event Tent.

Oh and Monday, I'll at the big shin-dig at the City Council Building Parking lot.

Click here to go to the Festival Website
and check out the schedule so you can plan your life for the next 10 days.

Now, regarding fear....

This is from the TopTenz.Net blog.

TOP 10 Crippling Phobia's
July 11, 2008 · Filed Under Bizzare, Food & Drink

Everyone fears something. Whether it’s a child fearing the boogey man (bogyphobia) or even fear of the number 13 (triskadekaphobia). These two seem potentially unfounded fears, though there are real people who are particularly afraid of them. Certainly fears are crippling to the person with the phobia; however, there are also some potentially crippling fears that could halt someone in their tracks on a daily basis. To be included on this list, the reason for the phobia has to be something that a person can encounter every day. Don’t be afraid, read on. And if you have any top 10 lists, please submit them to TopTenz.net

10. Chronophobia

The fear of clocks might easily be overcome; however, the alternate definition of chronophobia is the fear of time. Time surrounds us, it binds us – sorry, Star Wars moment there. If a person were to rid herself of all reminders of time such as clocks that would be one thing. But fear has a way of creeping up on someone. As soon as she thought about the fact that time is slipping away, perhaps their sanity might as well. Photo by Perpetually.

9. Stasibasiphobia

Most people might think that couch potatoes have this fear of standing up and walking. It’s not true; most couch potatoes are just adverse to the idea. However, a person with stasibasiphobia could very well never get anything done in life, unless he was confined to a wheelchair. But what happens if that person is afraid of someone else standing up and walking? Does that mean the phobic must live in isolation in a sitting position for the rest of his life? What a drag!

8. Domatophobia

Most Americans want four walls, three meals a day and a bed to sleep on. Unfortunately, most of those things are on this list as crippling phobias including domatophobia, fear of houses or being in a house. The only logical cure to this phobia would be to live in a cave or some other natural enclosure unless the fear doesn’t extend to apartments or condos. Either way, that’s a portion of the American Dream dashed. Photo by elliterate

7. Decidophobia

You just did it! You just made the decision to continue reading this list, which includes the phobia of making decisions, decidophobia. A person who cannot make a decision is likely to be eternally stuck in a rut. Unless something becomes second nature such as everyday routines, a person could be crippled by the simple decision of what to eat for breakfast. Photo by Garretc.

6. Nyctophobia and Photophobia

For these two fears, they are sides of the same coins like a Yin-Yang symbol – literally. Nyctophobia is the fear of night or darkness, while photophobia is the fear of light. Perhaps the only way to handle these fears is sleeping through the night or through the day, then again turning on all your lights might help a phobic handle the fear of darkness, not necessarily the electricity bill. On the flip side, a photophobic would have to live in the dark for the rest of his life – talk about being white as a sheet. Photo by carbonblack

5. Anthropophobia and Lalophobia

Like No. 6 on our list, these fears could potentially isolate the phobic for life. Anthropophobia is a fear of people while lalophobia is the fear of speaking. Maybe the hermit with domatophobia should get together with the anthropophobic. Nope, that wouldn’t work, because the hermit is still a person. And don’t forget that never being able to speak or be around another person certainly wouldn’t do well for social skills. Photo by SaraMcL.

4. Urophobia

From here on out, this list becomes phobias of functions that humans must do to survive. And that means that the phobias, such as urophobia or the fear of urination, would put a cramp on anyone’s life style. A catheter might be a stop gap measure as long as someone else would agree to change the phobic’s bag. Either way, everyone has to release bodily waste and this fear could make bathrooms a very unpleasant experience no matter where the phobic is. Photo by Phil Dokas.

3. Somniphobia and Clinophobia

While you don’t necessarily have to be clinophobic to be somniphobic, it doesn’t really matter once you realize that going to sleep is never an option anymore! A person with somniphobia fears sleep while a person suffering from clinophobia fears beds. I’m sure a clinophobic could just sleep standing up. However, humans need the REM cycles of sleep to help digest their everyday thoughts and activities. Without sleep, a person could, potentially, slowly go insane due to fatigue and too many screws loose in the noggin. We all have nightmares, but can you imagine having a waking nightmare about going to sleep? Photo by rbatina

2. Phagophobia

And the final piece of our American Dream is having three square meals a day. But what if you had phagophobia, the fear of eating? There are people – in hospitals – who live on liquid diets. But to go without food must be torturous on a daily basis, unless of course, you’re a phagophobic. It must be hard for a phobic like this to go out on a date since he would obviously not ask his date out for dinner. And the holidays must also get awful lonely without the company and great food! Photo by Laura Mary.

1. Anemophobia

Catch your breath, especially if you have anemophobia, the fear of air. A person could be scared every moment of her life. Sure eating, sleeping and all the other fears on this list could cripple people on a daily basis, but not potentially for every moment of your waking life. There are a number of methods to counter phobias, all of which seem like they would fail miserably contingent on how paralyzed a phobic is of air. Outside of living in a bubble with a controlled atmosphere, nothing comes to mind to counter such a phobia. Even a little fresh air to help cleanse the mind wouldn’t help in this case.

by William O’Dell

20 of 50 things


This is from www.marcandangel.com

Self-reliance is a vital key to living a healthy, productive life. To be self-reliant one must master a basic set of skills, more or less making them a jack of all trades. Contrary to what you may have learned in school, a jack of all trades is far more equipped to deal with life than a specialized master of only one.

While not totally comprehensive, here is a list of 50 things everyone should know how to do.


20. Swim – 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Learning to swim might be a good idea.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Name This Website-33


This is the 33rd local weblog that I have featured on this personal blog of mine. I've discovered a few that were quite interesting and hopefully you have too.

Click here for the answer to tonight's mystery site.

Meetings that Matter

One of the great things my current job is I get to control most of my time. 4 days a week I have a sales meeting that lasts between 5 minutes and 20 minutes. However if I have another meeting with a client that has to be at the same time, then I can usually go to the client meeting.

But because of having such an open schedule, I can usually attend most of our company meetings.

The rest of my day is built around my client needs and appointments that I set up. Meetings are a fact of life, yet too many, or those that are too long, are often a productivity killer. For more tips, take a look at this from DLM:

8 Ways to Avoid Unproductive Meetings

Posted: 09 Jul 2008 11:05 AM CDT

Written on 7/09/2008 by Aaron Stannard, editor of Working Smarter.

Have you watched CareerBuilder.com’s hilarious "Donut Jungle" commercial? The one where na├»ve employees are lured with delicious deserts into attending pointless meetings? The commercial is hilarious because it contains a hint of truth: many meetings, especially in larger organizations, are utterly pointless and devoid of usefulness.

The phenomenon of chronic, pointless meetings is also known as the Dilbert Meeting in some circles. Dilbert Meetings happen every day, wasting people's time and patience.

Meetings can be quite productive, but most organizers simply don’t take the steps to guarantee that a meeting will be useful. Here are 8 things you can try to help make your meetings more productive:
  • Have a clear agenda
    What do you want to cover during the meeting and why are you holding it? Do you want to go over new ideas, or perhaps review some old ones? Prepare a clear agenda of things that you want to discuss during the meeting and hand it out in advance.

    Don’t hold meetings just because your department always has biweekly meetings; only hold meetings because you need to and because you have a clear plan of what needs to be said and discussed.

  • Make sure that only attendees are people who need to be present
    Don’t hinder the rest of your organization by dragging everybody into a meeting if only four or five people actually need to be there. If people other than the attendees need to be informed about what was discussed at the meeting then take notes and email it to them afterwards.

  • Establish objectives for the meeting
    Establish clear objectives for what you want to get out of the meeting – the agenda covers what's going to be discussed during the meeting but your objectives cover what the discussion is going to accomplish. Discussion is great, but it’s not productive if it does not have a goal.

    Here’s an example of a good goal for a production meeting for a multi-author blog: we’re meeting today to determine the schedule for all blog posts over the next six months. It clearly states what the discussion should work towards and makes the expectations for the meeting clear.

  • Have the attendees prepare in advance (if necessary)
    If your meeting requires its attendees to present information and plans then you should require them to prepare materials in advance like handouts, PowerPoint presentations, and outlines.

    Do you really want to sit through another meeting where you watch your attendees scrawl unintelligible impromptu graphs on the whiteboard instead of giving you the information in a neatly summarized handout beforehand? No? Then tell your attendees to prepare in advance.

  • Keep it short
    Everybody has something to say – unfortunately there isn’t enough time in the day to listen to all of it. The law of diminishing returns applies to meetings too – the longer a meeting runs past a certain threshold, the less productive each additional minute becomes.

    There are a number of things you can try to keep your meeting brief (time boxing, limited speaking time, etc…) but the most important thing is to do something to keep it short. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as the attendees and organizers of the meeting make a conscious effort to keep things brief.

  • Record key points and decisions
    It’s crucial that key points, ideas, information, and action items are recorded during a meeting – attendees and other people influenced by what’s discussed during the meeting need to be able to go back and review what was discussed and more importantly, what was decided during the meeting.

    Most people record meetings using hand-written outlines, which they often compile into typed notes; others sometimes record the audio of the meeting and use that to produce a written outline after the meeting has concluded. Again, it doesn’t matter what system you use as long as someone records what was discussed and decided during the meeting and distributes those notes to all of the other attendees and interested parties.

  • Create action items and assign them
    The most important part about making a meeting productive is to make the attendees accountable for implementing the decisions rendered during the meeting. The best way to do this is to create "action items," actionable tasks that are assigned to some or all of the attendees.

    Obviously action items must be recorded and distributed along with any notes from the meeting; it's important that you or one of the other attendees record to whom each action item has been assigned and when each action item is due. This kind of public assignment helps hold the attendees accountable for implementing the decisions rendered during a meeting.

  • Report progress and follow-up
    Lastly, you want actively investigate the progress of the meeting's action items and to inform the other attendees of the progress of the action items that all of you agreed upon.

    Post-meeting communication is simply another tool to help keep your meeting attendees accountable for implementing the decisions made during the meeting and it also helps eliminate future, unnecessary "progress meetings."
There are probably millions of other ways to help make meetings more productive, but I think these tips will produce the best return on your investment. If you have any other thoughts on the subject feel free to leave comments below.

-Aaron

19 of 50 Things


This is from www.marcandangel.com

Self-reliance is a vital key to living a healthy, productive life. To be self-reliant one must master a basic set of skills, more or less making them a jack of all trades. Contrary to what you may have learned in school, a jack of all trades is far more equipped to deal with life than a specialized master of only one.

While not totally comprehensive, here is a list of 50 things everyone should know how to do.


19. Perform Basic First Aid – You don’t have to be a doctor, or genius, to properly dress a wound.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Name This Website-32


Getting harder? Click here for the answer.

Better than The Library?

I found it ironic that we spent lots and lots of money expanding our downtown library and many of the branches. Why?

At a time when more and more is available via the internet, we invested in old fashioned brick and steel buildings. Now I realize that there were also tech advances, but I doubt that we spent enough money to provide internet access to those that could not have access it on their own.

Currently each library card holder is allowed one hour per day for whatever they want to do online. Most of the terminals are full when I have stopped in. Including kids that are just playing games. So what happens when we have more people with a need for internet access? I doubt that our current library has the funds to expand to meet the demands of the community.

What this does is create another version of "have's" vs. "have nots". Yes there are cheaper computers out there, but now with inflation, the poor will be poorer.

Enough of my rant, take a look at this from the DLM Blog This is stuff that you don't need a library for, just an internet connection:

15 Awesome Tutorial Websites You Probably Don't Know About

Posted: 07 Jul 2008 10:40 AM CDT

Written on 7/07/2008 by Abhijeet Mukherjee, of Jeet Blog.

If I were forced to choose an aspect of the internet that made it simply indispensable, it would definitely be its availability as a huge learning resource. 20 years ago, who would have thought that one would have easy access to already completed business documents, research papers of world class universities, free encyclopedias and some great books, no matter where he or she is located in the world.

The internet also boasts of accommodating tutorials to absolutely anything. Here are 15 such super-useful sites which aim to provide you with all the tutorials you'd ever need.
  1. How Stuff Works
    How Stuff Works is probably the best known How-to tutorials site. It has has a vast and diverse collection with topics ranging from food, health, computers, etc. One of the best things about this site is that it explains even the toughest tutorial in a very simple and easy to understand language.

  2. YouTube
    Surprised? Well, it shouldn't be if you use YouTube a lot. Yesterday my younger brother bought a new guitar and the very first thing he needed to do was to tune it. So he just logged on, went to youtube.com and searched for "How to tune a guitar". And there you go! He had a nice video explaining the process step-by-step.

  3. eHow
    eHow is another comprehensive tutorials website with detailed instructions on how to do just about anything. Like How Stuff Works, this site also covers a wide range of topics.

  4. About.com's Video Tutorials
    About.com's video tutorial site has a collection of very informative how-to videos and screencasts on topics which include Parenting, Style, Electronics and Gadgets, etc. I found the collection to be very comprehensive and probably better than You Tube's collection of similar videos.

  5. wikiHow
    wikiHow, as it says, is an editable How-to site with 40,100 articles contributed by volunteers from different parts of the world. You're sure to find some nice tutorials here too.

  6. Instructables
    Instructables is a cool Do-It-Yourself site that has an extensive collection of user submitted how-to articles and easy instructions complete with videos and photographs. It's a community driven website where you can submit content, vote and comment on existing content.

  7. Wired's How-To Wiki
    Wired magazine's how-to wiki has some very elaborate and detailed tutorials focussed primarily on topics like Gadgets, Technology and Computers. You can also subscribe to its RSS feed to get them the new how-to articles directly in your feed reader.

  8. PC World's How-to Site
    PC World, one of the best tech journals available, also has a how to site that publishes technology focused tutorials related to various electronic gadgets, hardware and software applications.

  9. VideoJug
    When it comes to how-to video tutorial sites, VideoJug is probably the largest and most comprehensive. It has videos on varied subjects like choosing a new hairstyle, playing golf, installing windows or how to kiss someone passionately.

  10. W3Schools
    W3Schools is a first class web development tutorials website which provides easy reference guides on languages like HTML, XHTML, CSS, PHP and JavaScript. All the tutorials are free and nicely explained through various examples.

  11. NETTUTS And PSDTUTS
    NETTUTS and PSDTUTS are sister sites, in fact blogs, and definitely one of the best online resources on web development and Photoshop skills. NETTUTS explores web development and designing in detail while PSDTUTS provides some world-class Adobe Photoshop tutorials.

  12. 5min
    5min is a video tutorial site with a difference- the videos are short and no more than 5 mins. Like other video sites, this too covers a wide range of topics, however it's yet to take on sites like VideoJug in the online video tutorial space.

  13. SuTree
    Sutree aggregates the best video tutorials from other video sites and covers a variety of topics like softwares, games, pets & animals etc. Like instructables, SuTree is also a community driven website and lets you find videos through tags and subscribe to the RSS feed of the site.

  14. VTC
    Although VTC is not entirely free to use, it does provide some nice tutorials on software and business applications. Out of around 66,000 tutorials, it provides 12,500 for free.

  15. Good Tutorials
    Good Tutorials has a nice collection of graphic design tutorials which it aggregates through various web design sites and blogs. And yes, it's free to use !
So overall, with the exception of VTC, all the other sites are completely free and can certainly fetch you any tutorial you can ever imagine. Hope you enjoy using them. :)

Cheers,

Abhijeet


Now if you really want to read a book or two, click here.

18 of 50 Things


This is from www.marcandangel.com

Self-reliance is a vital key to living a healthy, productive life. To be self-reliant one must master a basic set of skills, more or less making them a jack of all trades. Contrary to what you may have learned in school, a jack of all trades is far more equipped to deal with life than a specialized master of only one.

While not totally comprehensive, here is a list of 50 things everyone should know how to do.


18. Give Driving Directions – Nobody likes driving around in circles. Get this one right the first time.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Name This Website-31


He's Famous! Click here for the answer.

Multi-Tasking

Too busy to bake? Oh no you're not:

Woman Bakes Cookies on Dashboard

In Bedford, New Hampshire, it’s hot, but for one woman (and her co-workers), that’s not always a bad thing! In her small SUV, the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies lingers in the toasty air. They’re almost done. These cookies sit atop the dashboard of Sandi Fontaine’s Rav4 and when the days get hot, she get’s to baking!

“My husband wanted me to run some errands this morning,” said Fontaine. “I said, ‘I can’t. I’m baking cookies.’”

Over three years ago, Fontaine first tried out her car-cookie baking idea. She soon learned that the temperature outside needed to be at least 95 degrees which causes the temperature in the car to rise to a blistering 200 degrees.

bakingcookies.jpg

When the temperature begins to rise, so do the cookies! “Mrs. Fields has nothing on Sandi,” co-worker Brian Champigny said of the cookie coinsurer. The deliciously warm cookies are a great addition to any work day, and with all the talk of energy conservation, what better way than to use solar energy.

When Fontaine’s cookies were finally ready to come out, she headed back outside from her work. “When you open the door to that car,” she said, “it’s like, oh, my God. It’s a wonderful smell.”

This just goes to show you that cookies really are right anytime. It further supports the idea that when life gives you sweltering heat, make chocolate chip cookies!

Games for Lunch


Okay, maybe not for lunch, but as my wife was watching the Bachelor last night, I was at the other end of the house playing the online version of You Don't Know Jack.

17 of 50 Things


This is from www.marcandangel.com

Self-reliance is a vital key to living a healthy, productive life. To be self-reliant one must master a basic set of skills, more or less making them a jack of all trades. Contrary to what you may have learned in school, a jack of all trades is far more equipped to deal with life than a specialized master of only one.

While not totally comprehensive, here is a list of 50 things everyone should know how to do.


17. Handle the Police – Because jail isn’t fun… and neither is Bubba.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Name This Website-30


Here's a pretty cool picture. Click here to go to the site it belongs to.

10 Alternatives to Google

I have moved away from relying on computer based software and am using internet based software. Google is a big provider of many of the services I use, but there are others too.

Check out these suggestions from the DLM Blog:

10 Useful Apps To Reduce Your Dependency On Google Products

Posted: 30 Jun 2008 10:03 AM CDT

Written on 6/30/2008 by Abhijeet Mukherjee, of Jeet Blog.

If you have anything to do with the internet, I'm sure you are aware of the ubiquity and omnipresence of Google. Google's everywhere. It just dominates the internet (not an exaggeration!). Just sit and think about the products or applications that you rely on everyday. You'll find at least one product (if not several) which is directly or indirectly associated with the Google brand.

Google has revolutionized the way we interact on the net and it's a great company, no doubt. However, as a hedge against putting all of my data in one place, I decided to list some apps which help to reduce your heavy dependency on Google products. I say reduce and not remove or eliminate because it is tough to find exact matches on most applications. However, they are worth being familiar with so that you can avoid a crisis situation when you cannot access a Google product for some reason.
  1. Yahoo or Ask.com
    I know you love Google search. But do you know that there are things which Yahoo search can do but Google cannot? Also, recently I came across some more useful features of Yahoo search. Ask.com is another nice search engine with some nice features.

  2. Thunderbird or Outlook
    I don't think any other web based email compares with Gmail. If you are using something else, then immediately set up a POP3 or IMAP account and use it with the desktop clients like Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird.

    I personally prefer Thunderbird because it's open-source and has a nice portable edition which lets you use it through a USB thumb drive.

  3. Zoho
    If you haven't heard about Zoho, it's time to give it a shot. It's an awesome collection of free apps which can easily give Google Docs and Google Notebook a run for their money. I've tried it and highly recommend it.

  4. Flickr
    Flickr is no doubt the most popular photo uploading and sharing site. If you've been using Google Picasa to upload photos then you can shift to Flickr and mark your photos as private if you don't want to share them.

  5. Windows Live Photo Gallery
    Google Picasa also comes with a free desktop version to manage your photo collection. To replace that, you can use Windows Live Photo Gallery, which is equally good and let's you manage your pictures with ease.

  6. 30 Boxes
    The only advantage which Google Calendar has over 30 Boxes is it's Gmail integration. Otherwise 30 boxes is an awesome calendar app which can easily replace GCal.

  7. Bloglines
    Bloglines is a nice web-based RSS reader which was revamped sometime back to include new features and a nice interface. It could prove as a worthy replacement to Google Reader.

  8. FeedDemon
    If you are too addicted to Google Reader and just can't use any other web based feed reader, then consider trying FeedDemon, a desktop based RSS reader which was recently made free to use. It's very popular and easily the best desktop reader available.

  9. Yahoo Alerts
    Yahoo Alerts is a service similar to Google Alerts and helps you stay updated with what's happening in the web world, based on keywords of your choice.

  10. Live Search Maps
    Microsoft Live Search Maps may not be as popular as Google Maps, but it's worth exploring and it's got some very nice features.
As I mentioned, some of these apps are clearly not as good as the Google alternative. However, if you are someone that likes diversity and is uneasy about putting 100% of your online experience with a single company, then checking out a few of these may be in order for you.

I'd love to know what tools and apps you use which can prove as good alternatives to Google products. Let me know in the comments!

Abhijeet

Designing Websites with Free Software.


This Summer, my son Josh as part of his internship, has designed a website using Microsoft Publisher.

A few months earlier my wife had a website designed for her business.

I know a couple of folks that are paid to design sites, but what if you want to venture into that world by yourself? You don't need to pay anything for the software according to Kim Komando.

Click here for her tip and a link.

Or just click here for the link.

16 of 50 Things


This is from www.marcandangel.com

Self-reliance is a vital key to living a healthy, productive life. To be self-reliant one must master a basic set of skills, more or less making them a jack of all trades. Contrary to what you may have learned in school, a jack of all trades is far more equipped to deal with life than a specialized master of only one.

While not totally comprehensive, here is a list of 50 things everyone should know how to do.


16. Travel Light – Bring only the necessities. It’s the cheaper, easier, smarter thing to do.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Name This Website-29


Winding down the Holiday weekend with another local site for you to guess.

Broken Computer?


After screwing up my computer(s) over the years, I learned a couple of things.
Buy the extended warranty. Back up and create restore points.

Also, don't fix what isn't broken.

However, I recently came across this story:


TOP STORY

The DIY guide to PC troubleshooting and repair

Scott Dunn By Scott Dunn

The next time your computer acts up, drop the mouse, put down the phone, and use this troubleshooting checklist to find and fix the problem.

Whether it's a slowdown, some strange behavior, or a total crash, a few basic troubleshooting tricks and tools may be all you need to get your PC back to peak performance.

Do this before you call the repair shop

If it hasn't happened recently, it will soon: something goes wrong with your computer. If you ring up the repair shop or call tech support, the person you talk to probably has less PC experience than you do.

Save your time, trouble, and money by using these dozen tips and tools to ferret out system failures, application crashes, and bizarre Windows behaviors on your own.

Check the obvious. Whether your computer won't start, your browser won't browse, or your word processor won't process, take a deep breath and check the usual suspects — power outages, unplugged or loose cords and cables, or an always-on monitor that somehow got turned off. If everything's properly powered, reboot your PC or restart your modem. This simple step resolves a great number of random glitches.

Ask yourself what has changed about your system. If you recently installed new hardware or software, shut it down. Make sure a program isn't running in the background by checking for its icon in the system tray. If it's there, right-click the icon and choose Exit or Close.

Look for a listing for the program under the Processes tab in Task Manager; press Ctrl+Alt+Delete to open the utility. Or you could simply uninstall the application. If you just updated one of your device drivers, revert to the old one by using Windows' device driver rollback feature. The steps can be found in Microsoft Knowledge Base 283657.

Divide and conquer, part one. To determine whether an auto-start application is the culprit, open the System Configuration utility (a.k.a. "Msconfig") to turn off all startup programs. Press the Windows key and R, type msconfig, and press Enter. Under the General tab, click Selective Startup and uncheck Load Startup Items. Then restart your PC.

If the problem goes away, return to Msconfig, click Normal Startup under the General tab, choose the Startup tab, and enable your autostart programs one at a time until the problem recurs, at which time you've found the source of the trouble.

Vista has its own tool for managing startup programs — Software Explorer, which is part of Windows Defender. Software Explorer is clumsy and not nearly as easy to use as Microsoft's free AutoRuns utility, which works in XP, too.

Strategies and techniques for troubling times

Give System Restore a chance. If your problem appeared recently and the cause is not apparent, System Restore may be able to bring your PC back to a functional state. Choose Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore. Select Restore my computer to an earlier time, click Next, and follow the prompts. For more info on System Restore, see Woody Leonhard's tips in the paid version of the Feb. 16, 2006, issue.

Try a different profile. Log out of your current account and log into a different one. If you don't have any other accounts, create one. An alternative account can come in handy if your current account becomes corrupted. To create one, open Windows' User Accounts Control Panel applet, click Create a new account, and follow the steps. (In Vista, you have to click either Add or remove user accounts or Manage another account before you click Create a new account.)

If the problem doesn't occur in the other account, something is wrong with your profile in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER section of the Registry. You can always use the second profile as your new main account, although you'll have to reinstall some software and redo your custom settings. Still, this is better than having to reinstall Windows.

Choose the Last Known Good. If you're unable to log into Windows at all, press F8 after booting your computer but before Windows starts. On the Windows Advanced Options Menu screen, use the arrow keys to select Last Known Good Configuration and press Enter.

This option reverses the last configuration change made to your computer. If this setting allows Windows to load, your problem may be solved. Last Known Good Configuration can't correct every problem, but like many of these strategies, it's worth a try.

Crack open Safe Mode. Should Last Known Good Configuration fail to put you back in the Windows driver's seat, press F8 on startup again to return to the Windows Advanced Options Menu, but this time select Safe Mode (or Safe Mode with Networking if you need to access the Internet or a network resource).

Unlike Last Known Good Configuration, Safe Mode doesn't fix anything; it simply attempts to start Windows by using a very basic set of drivers. If you can successfully start Windows in Safe Mode, there's a good chance your problem is due to a device driver. You can also use Safe Mode to correct the problem — once you figure out what it is (see the next tip for more).

Enable boot logging. Check Windows' boot logs for information if you suspect the problem is related to a particular device or driver. To enable boot logging, press F8 on startup to open the Windows Advanced Options Menu. Arrow down to Enable Boot Logging and press Enter to start Windows with this feature turned on.

To open the log file, press Win+R, type c:\windows\ntbklog.txt, and press Enter. The boot log adds new information to the bottom of the file, so scroll down to get the latest scoop. Look for lines that indicate one or more drivers didn't load properly.

Boot logging occurs automatically when you use Safe Mode to log into windows, but the resulting log isn't very useful — it shows all the drivers Safe Mode doesn't use, but it doesn't tell you which ones may be causing the problems.

Divide and conquer, part two. If you suspect a driver or other system file is the culprit but haven't yet found the guilty party, isolate the problem by using Msconfig to create custom configurations. But first, a warning: Using Msconfig to temporarily disable Windows services will delete restore points created by System Restore. Try this technique only if System Restore didn't fix the problem and you're sure you won't need any of your existing restore points.

Press Win+R, type msconfig, and press Enter. On the General tab, select Diagnostic startup and click OK. Follow the prompts to restart your system. If the problem is resolved, you can add other system files back in by using the Selective Startup option on the General tab to isolate whether the problem is in System.ini, wini.ini, services, and so on. Once you've narrowed your search down to a specific area, get more granular by using the check boxes under the other Msconfig tabs to turn on specific items (such as individual services).

Get more info from Windows. Some crashes cause your system to reboot automatically. This Windows feature keeps you from seeing helpful information about what might be causing the problem. To prevent automatic restarts after crashes, reboot and press F8 before Windows loads to view the Windows Advanced Options Menu. Use the arrow keys to select Disable automatic restart on system failure.

To turn the feature back on in XP, or to turn it off without restarting your computer, right-click My Computer and choose Properties, Advanced. Under Startup and Recovery, click Settings. Use the checkbox under Automatic Restart to turn the feature on or off.

In Vista, press Start, type SystemPropertiesAdvanced, and press Enter. Click Continue when prompted by User Account Control. Click the Advanced tab and under Startup and Recovery click Settings. Use the checkbox under Automatic Restart to turn the feature on or off.

The next time you have an unscheduled reboot, some text should appear on your screen with information about the error and possibly the name of the file that caused the problem. If necessary, you can do a Web search on that file name to get more information.

For example, Windows might list a component of your system's video drivers as the cause. If so, it may be time to check for a driver update on the Web site of your video card's manufacturer.

Run system file checker. If you believe a Windows file has been overwritten by another program, run the System File Checker to examine your files and replace any problem ones with Microsoft originals. Open a Command Prompt window with Administrator privileges, type sfc /scannow, and press Enter. You may be prompted to insert your Windows install CD to allow System File Checker to retrieve the original file.

Microsoft has published two articles on using this tool, one that refers to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, and another describing how to use it in Vista.

Try a troubleshooter. The adage says: When all else fails, read the directions. Windows Help may miss the mark much of the time, but some of its troubleshooting guides are actually helpful in certain cases. Open the guides by choosing Start, Help and Support. Search for troubleshoot, troubleshooting, and troubleshooter. Do a separate search for each term because you'll get slightly different results each time.

Be persistent, but have an exit strategy

An old friend and talented troubleshooter used to tell me, "When all else fails, poke at it." Sheer determination has helped me solve many computer problems. Try one possible solution after another, but remember to make sure you can undo every "fix" you try so you don't inadvertently make things worse.

For example, when editing the Registry, be sure to use the File, Export command to create a backup of the Registry branch you're about to tweak. Any keys (or branches) you add to the Registry subsequently will not be included in the backup, of course.

Weekend Weirdness





Part 1 is here.

For Part 2, click here. Then spend time outside with friends, like I'm going to do.