Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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March 2006, Week 3 -- Don't Erase, Replace


hard drive kit 


   There are several new outside enclosures for naked disk drives. This is a good way to deal with a problem we all face when changing computers: What to do with the old drive.


   There are several programs that let you transfer files and applications to a new computer. There are other programs that let you erase the contents of an old drive by shredding the data to the point where no one can reconstruct it. But another way out is to simply remove the hard drive from the old computer and plug it into a new one.
     Holding onto the old hard drive has several advantages, not least of which is that you get to keep all those nice programs and settings you spent so much time putting together. You also don't have to worry about someone else finding all your files someday in a flea market sale. And then there's the leftover space: If you have space left on the old drive, you can still use it if you put that drive into a new container.
     So let's get to the containers: More than one company makes these, and we have some from Azio, Netgear and ADS Tech. The new cases from Azio have been drawing favorable comment because they're aluminum and you don't need a screwdriver to open them up; they're held together by spring clips. The aluminum transfers heat well and helps cool the drive.
     Azio makes three kinds of cases, and they all accept any IDE hard drive, the most common type. The smallest case is for 2.5-inch drives and draws its power directly from a computer through a USB cable. This makes it a nice, portable drive that can be easily carried around and plugged into either a Windows or Mac computer. The two larger cases take 3.5-inch drives and have their own power supply. They also work with Mac or PC and can connect through a USB cable plus FireWire.


   The whole point here is that you can keep our old hard drive and use it by removing it from the old computer and plugging it into one of these cases. You can alos buy new hard drives, which are really cheap now, and turn them into external storage with one of these cases. Prices run only $18 to $40. More info at .



  A Bike Lock for Laptops
 Laptop lock    A reader's fear that someone could snatch his laptop has moved us to repeat some information we covered quite a few years ago. Most laptop computers made today and within the last few years have a socket on one side that fits a cable made by Kensington Technologies. It's called the MicroSaver Notebook Security Cable. There are several varieties, some with a built-in alarm. What you get is a cable that locks into your computer case at one end and just about anything you want at the other end, much like a bicycle lock. The cables sell for $30 and up from; discounters on the Web often have them for less.
  Making Text Easier to Read


Here's a tip for anyone who has difficulty reading the computer screen. If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, you can easily make the text from any e-mail or Web site larger or smaller by turning the wheel up or down. Hold down the control key while you move the mouse wheel and the text will enlarge or shrink; pictures don't change size. This also works with Microsoft Word and Office documents.
If you don't have a scroll mouse, just go up the menu labeled "View" and select "text size." Choose "largest" to enlarge. You get larger text this way using the Internet Explorer browser for the Web, but not as large as you can get using the scroll mouse wheel. Both the Firefox and Opera Web browsers, however, let you enlarge text indefinitely, even if you don't have a scroll mouse.
 A search engine that focuses only on Web sites containing scientific and medical content. We searched on "marshmallow," and got back articles on Marshmallow Root and a few other oddities. This is a good engine for finding lots of science sites.



 Echo Sign A new Web service that facilitates the signing of legally binding contracts. You can send an encrypted contract as an e-mail, which arrives with a bar-coded cover sheet. After printing and signing it, the recipient faxes the contract back to a toll-free number. All documents faxed to that number are permanently stored with status information, telling you, for example, which ones are still awaiting signatures. Storage is free for up to 20 documents, and $13 a month thereafter.




  Perfect Passwords



   "Perfect Passwords" by Mark Burnett; $25 from Syngress Press,
   The book is aimed mainly at businesses, showing you how to protect it from password theft. But the rules are perfectly good for individuals as well. There's a list of "The 500 Worst Passwords of All Time." The list is headed by the sequence "123456"; second worst is "password."
   The appendix has a list of seed words for creating passwords, meant just to stimulate your own password creation. This is followed be a list of randomly generated number and letter groups. You can also get randomly generated passwords by searching on "password generator" at
     The password problem is basically two problems: What to use for a password, and then how to remember the password. The reason many passwords are relatively easy to crack is that they were created to be easy to remember. It's a problem.




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