Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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March 2005, Week 3 -- Self Help

   Do you have problems? Do you go to bed at night worrying about the speed of your central processor or whether you have insufficient memory at this time?  Well so do we. And here's what to do about it:

   Let's face it: our most common reader question has to do with why the blankety-blank box isn't doing do what it's supposed to and where can they get a bigger hammer to fix it. The answer, if not quite blowing in the wind, is in fact "out there."

Easiest and cheapest fix

   The program won't start. Or you can't open some file. Or you've made a mistake and would like it to go away. Maybe some program has corrupted your system. Fortunately, hidden deep inside every copy of Windows XP is a time machine. It's called "System Restore." It will take you back to a golden age -- before there were taxes and atonal music.

   For PCs, click on "Start," then "All Programs," "Accessories," "System Tools," and finally: "System Restore." The System Restore screen will offer you the opportunity to choose the date you want to go back to. Don't go too far back or you may become disoriented. Pick a date just before the point when you think the problem started and go there. You won't lose any files you saved. Works for us.

Pay as you go

   Sometimes you need professional help. Luckily for you, it's available. On the downside, it's not free. Think of it as paying a mechanic to fix your car. Here are some places to go:

-- PlumChoice is, well, a plum choice. They charge $23 for every 15 minutes. We admit it's not cheap, but as they say down in the trenches: "You get what you pay for." (Actually, what they say down in the trenches, when it's printable, is "Remember: this equipment was supplied by the low bidder." But that's another story.)

   Plum Choice will remove spyware, fix email and software problems, printer problems, install home and office networks, remove viruses and even handle the notorious "Windows' blue screen of death." They often go beyond just fixing the problem and teach you how to do it yourself if it happens again. They provide a check list on what to do to protect your computer from spyware and similar intrusions. They also suggested what kind of protective software to buy. A note on this: every spyware removal program will tend to find different spies; there is no perfect protection software.

   They will fix problems in either PCs or Macs, but they often need to take remote control of your computer to do it. This makes some people nervous. You can do a couple of things to make yourself feel at ease. For one, you can watch the screen while their technicians are manipulating your computer. If you feel they are prying you can stop the process with a mouse click. For another, you can use a program like "Folder Lock," that we wrote about last week. You can find that at It locks files and folders with password control. Frankly, even though paranoids sometimes really do have enemies, we wouldn't get too worried about this one.

   Plum Choice uses remote control software from Citrix. You may wonder why they use remote control at all, and the answer is simple: It is very difficult to tell what's wrong with a computer from a customer's description. In fact, it's often impossible. The person calling rarely knows how or where to check their "device manager" to see if the settings are correct and hardly ever knows how to find or change the system "BIOS." Ignorance may be bliss, but it wastes a lot of time.

-- Tech 24 handles Windows problems only and covers a big range of those, for both software and hardware. They charge $30 for the first half hour. They got CNET's editor's choice award back in 2002.

-- A free service is offered at This is kind of an over-all user group, covering Windows, Mac and Linux problems.You can submit or answer questions submitted by other users. Kind of a techie pot-luck dinner.

   The web site is divided into five sections, one of which is for "Novices." This in turn is divided into sections for "Buying a new computer," "the Internet" and "digital music" -- a tough area for novices. The other main sections cover "forums," which are like user groups, "drivers," and "how-to's," like how to install Linux on a partition.

-- You can get live repair at They charge $12.50 per "incident" or $99 for a whole year's worth of questions. They also use remote comtrol software to get right in there and operate on your computer's secret parts. (The scars will never show.) They deal only with Windows, versions 95 and higher, and specialize primarily in Microsoft Office products.

-- The freaks at have gone to the islands or taken up some other line of work but they still maintain a free forum where you can submit your questions and get some answers. Just click on "freebies" on their web site.

Readers can search several years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at and Joy Schwabach at

copyright 2005 Universal Press Syndicate