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I fixed it with a cold, staring gaze

Q One of our workstations is behaving strangely. After the system had been out of the box for about one month, we turned it on one evening and attempted to start an application on a CD-ROM. The system reported that it could not find the program at that location. Further investigation with Windows Explorer revealed that the computer had "given" itself another hard disk - a D: drive that was an exact duplicate of the C: drive. The new phantom drive had "stolen" the CD-ROM's drive letter, and the CD was no longer accessible. Microsoft claims that this is a BIOS problem. The BIOS manufacturer blames Windows, as does the vendor that built the system. What's wrong?

A I've heard of this problem before, but surprisingly, when I called Microsoft's technical support hotline, the representative could not help. I therefore embarked on my own investigation. Based on my experiments, my educated guess is that the culprit is not software but hardware - in particular, the cabling and configuration of your system's IDE interfaces.

Here's what to do. First, make sure that your ATAPI (IDE) CD-ROM drive is on a secondary IDE interface. It should not share the primary IDE interface or cable with the hard drive. Some vendors cut corners by connecting the CD-ROM and hard drive to the same cable: this can bring out latent compatibility problems. It also can create electrical noise that confuses the system. Add a second interface if necessary. Or switch to SCSI, which does not have the compatibility problems of IDE. The next thing to try is to change the IDE cable on the hard drive. Use the shortest length that will reach without binding against the chassis or circuit boards. This will minimise cross talk and radio frequency interference; it will also help if the cable was faulty.

Finally, if the system still exhibits odd behaviour, delete all of the IDE devices in Windows' Device Manager and restart the system. Windows will probe the system and (hopefully) find only devices that really exist.

IE - giving you a stale view of the Web?

QWhen I use Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 to browse the Web, I notice that pages seem to be presented awfully quickly. Sure enough, the browser must be using its cache instead of fetching the pages and images, because the data is often stale and I have to hit refresh frequently to be sure I'm getting the latest information. The problem does not seem to occur when I use Netscape Navigator at home, but I must use Internet Explorer at work due to company policy. How can I keep from having to reload pages?

AMicrosoft's default configuration of Internet Explorer 3.0 checks Web pages for staleness only once per invocation of the program. If you don't quit and re-enter Explorer regularly, you're likely to see stale pages. There are two ways to solve this. The first is, of course, to restart Explorer every so often. The other is to change the caching strategy via a well-hidden setting. Select View/Options, click on the Advanced tab, and press the Settings button in the Temporary Internet Files section of the property sheet. Click the button that tells Explorer to check for an updated version on "every visit to the page". This will alleviate most problems with stale pages.

Spambusters - tracking down the culpritsQOur company recently received a flood of irate e-mail from Internet users who claimed that we were sending them "spam". It turns out that we did not send the messages; the spammer was sending the junk mail through our machine to the rest of the Internet. Is there a way to track down the culprits? How can we prevent them from abusing our equipment and potentially damaging our reputation?

AThis is an important issue and is the subject of a proposed standard on the Internet. (See www.imc.org/draft-gellens-submit.) Like many machines, your mail server was configured to relay mail from any host on the Internet to the rest of the world; in fact, this is the default setting on many e-mail servers.

If your server allows this, a spammer can send just one message to your server, together with a long list of destinations. The server will then generously take on the task of distributing junk mail to the entire world as the spammer hangs up.

Most spammers do their "stealth" relaying at night or on the weekend, when administrators are off-duty.

In most cases, you can find the point of origin of the spam by examining the Received headers.

Unfortunately, you may find that the spam was sent from a "throwaway" account on a major ISP or from a host on an Internet backbone that tolerates spammers.

You can prevent your machines from being used as spam relay points by reconfiguring your mail software. Most Unix mail software vendors have updated their products, and Sendmail 8 cures relaying.

Ask your vendor if it supports Sendmail 8. Software.com has released an update of its drop-in replacement for most major versions of Unix. (See www.software.com/Products/Post.Office/PO31-WhatsNew.html.) Lotus has upgraded its mail transfer agent in Notes to block relaying as well.

If your software cannot be prevented from relaying strangers' messages to the world, it is time to switch software or OSs. No responsible citizen should run software that makes it easy to propagate spam.

Eliminate those upgrade blues

QWe are currently upgrading from Windows 3.11 to Windows NT 4.0 SR3. The BIOS on my Dell Optiplex P166\Gsl is set to turn Num Lock on when the system starts. In Windows 3.11, Windows doesn't change this setting, but in NT, Num Lock is turned off when the operating system loads. I called Microsoft to ask how to keep Num Lock on, and the technical support representative said, "Ahhh . . . good question. I just use the numbers over the letters, and they work." Is there a better answer?

AThere certainly is, but it's buried deep in the NT Registry. Fire up your favourite Registry editor, find the key HKEY_CURRENT_ USER\Control Panel\Keyboard, and set the value InitialKeyboardIndicators to 2 instead of 0 (the default). By setting bits in this word of binary flags (which is of the type REG_SZ), you can change all of the initial "sticky" keys, including Shift Lock and Caps Lock.

Follow-up: Modem connect speed fix

Several readers have written to report that Windows 95 is more likely to display the true modem connect speed (rather than the port speed) if the latest configuration file (usually called an .INF file) has been installed. In most cases, you can find this file on the manufacturer's Web site or on BBS.

You may also add special commands to the modem's initialisation string; for example, I'm told that a "W2" works on many Xircom and Motorola modems.


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