Hints & Tips


The aim of this page is to record a few of my hints & tips. It's not meant to be a comprehensive list but should give an idea of the style in which I present solutions and gives me somewhere to record step-by-step instructions for later reference.
Topics covered so far include:-

Backup Using batch files for simple backups
Excel How to create accurate spreadsheets
Explorer Managing your files and getting the best view of them
Internet Explorer Remove browser customisation
Norton AntiVirus Fix for LiveUpdate problems
Outlook Prevent malicious scripts from hi-jacking your system
Synchronise Update two folders with new or newer files from the other folder
Unblock Mail Use Telnet to remove stuck emails
Windows 9.x Fix problems with password caching
Windows NT Enable the dial-up monitor
Windows 2000 Network configuration
Word Setting auto-format options
Zip Drives Disable write-behind caching

To backup the contents of a folder, including any subfolders, to another location, while only copying files that have actually changed, use this command or place in a batch file for reuse.
where <SOURCE> and <DESTINATION> are the paths of source and destination folders respectively. Place quotation marks around the paths if they contain any spaces. Source and destination paths can refer to local drives or network shares, e.g.
        XCOPY "C:\My Documents" \\server\backup\steve /D/E/F/H/I/K
will ensure that the server contains an up-to-date backup of all my documents.
This sample batch file is designed to be called from another batch file and could be used as part of an automated backup strategy:
        Backup.bat        usage    CALL BACKUP <SOURCE> <DESTINATION>


Financial accuracy
Because of the way numbers are stored internally within Excel spreadsheets it is possible for unseen trailing decimals to lead to seemingly inconsistent calculations. This can be avoided by using an option to store numbers to the displayed precision. With an open Excel workbook, select the menu item Tools... Options..., select the Calculation tab and place a tick in the checkbox labelled Precision as displayed.
Watch out for the effects of apparently equivalent calculations. If, for example, you have two columns containing net figures and the VAT payable on those figures, then the total VAT summed from the individual VAT calculations may differ slightly from that obtained by applying VAT to the total of the net figures - in this instance you should use the sum of the individually calculated amounts.


Managing your files
When organising files it is useful to open two separate views and arrange them to use the whole screen. To begin, close or minimise existing windows. Then open two separate explorer views from the My Computer icon on the desktop, the start menu or with the keyboard shortcut +E. Right-click on the clock and select Tile Windows Horizontally. The top window can be used as the source folder and the bottom window to select and create destination folders. Drag and drop files between the two windows, organising the files by project for example, so that it will be easier to locate the work you need in future.
Note that there isn't an obvious tool for creating new folders, but you can create a folder from the File menu or by right clicking on the background of an existing folder and selecting New... Folder.

Viewing the folder tree
Managing your files is much easier if you 'explore' rather than 'open' your folders. To set 'explore' as the default folder view, open the My Computer icon on your desktop, select the menu item Tools... Folder Options... select the File Types tab, scroll down the list of types and select Folder, then click Edit or Advanced, select Explore and click Set Default. Click OK then OK to close the dialog boxes.


Internet Explorer
Remove Browser Customisation

AOL, Freeserve etc. given half a chance, will take the opportunity to "brand" Internet Explorer with their own logos and window titles. If you'd like to reset these to the default settings, close all browser windows, click Start... Run..., enter the following command:-
        rundll32 iedkcs32.dll,Clear
and click OK. N.b. The library entry point appears to be case sensitive so type the word Clear as shown.


Norton AntiVirus
Fix for LiveUpdate problems
LiveUpdate can occasionally fail to fetch updates from Norton's servers despite repeated attempts. To my surprise I found that uninstalling NAV & LiveUpdate, then reinstalling, did not resolve the problem. Trial & error has shown that the problem lies with partially downloaded files remaining in Internet Explorer's cache. To resolve, open Internet Explorer, select Tools... Internet Options, select the General tab and click the Delete files... button in the Temporary Internet files section.


Prevent malicious scripts from hi-jacking your system
Click here to go to the antivirus page for tips on this topic and more.


Synchronise Folders
A similar function to that used for simple backups (shown above) can also be used to ensure that two or more copies of a folder are kept up to date.
        XCOPY <FOLDER1> <FOLDER2> /D/E/F/H/I/K
        XCOPY <FOLDER2> <FOLDER1> /D/E/F/H/I/K
One application for this utility is to quickly update a copy of a project folder onto a Zip disk which can then be used to update another machine. I use this technique to allow me to edit this website from my home or my office, while maintaining an up-to-date backup on the Zip disk.
This sample batch file can be called from another batch file containing a number of entries to mirror different folders:
        Mirror.bat         usage    CALL MIRROR <FOLDER1> <FOLDER2>
Note that the 'newest' file is the one with the most recent timestamp on the file. This system is simple and effective, however it may not work as expected if the clocks in the computers are not reasonably consistent. No attempt is made to look for or resolve conflicts where an original file is modified in two different locations - the one most recently edited will always overwrite any matching file. Also, any file deletions must be manually performed on all copies of the folder.


Unblock Mail
Occasionally a pop3 mailbox (the kind provided by nearly all ISP's) can become blocked by a rogue message, e.g. one that is too large to download in a reasonable time or contains errors that the mail client cannot cope with. In these circumstances you may not be able to retrieve some or all of the messages being sent to you or you may find yourself receiving the same messages over & over again. If your ISP provides a Webmail interface you may be able to identify and remove the problem message via that, otherwise it's time to use Telnet. Open a command window (DOS prompt) and type the following commands (press enter/return after each command) to connect to your ISP's mail server

telnet <pop mail server> 110

e.g. telnet pop.freeserve.net 110

user <username>

e.g. user anyuser.freeserve.com

pass <password>

e.g. pass notmypassword

You should get the reply OK to indicate that the server is now ready. Type list and press return to see a list of the messages on the server and their sizes, like this...

1 35472
2 836
3 67435278
4 174
5 6438
(at 67.5 Mb this one is likely to be the culprit)

The top command can be used to inspect the contents of any message, e.g. top 3 5, will display the message header and the first 5 lines of the third message. This allows you to check the message sender & subject before you delete it. Once you've decided which messages to remove use dele <message no.> to mark individual messages for deletion or xdele <message no.> <message no.>to mark an inclusive range of messages.

The messages marked for deletion are removed when you enter the command quit to close your Telnet session. If you close the command window first then you will have to start over from the beginning.
N.b. The Telnet program doesn't respond to the delete key so type carefully as you cannot correct your mistakes.


Windows 9.x
Fix problems with password caching
If you find Windows won't remember your passwords then the most likely cause is that the system is failing to perform a logon when you start. Another symptom of this problem is displayed if you click the Start button and the second line up reads Log off... rather than Log off <Username>... The most likely cause of this problem is the presence of the following registry value: -
   HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Network\Real Mode Net
If this value is removed Windows should prompt for a username and a password (which you can possibly choose to leave blank) next time you restart. Don't press escape when the logon box appears as this is likely to recreate the problem. There is more information about this problem at the following Microsoft KnowledgeBase Article:-


Windows NT
Dial-up Networking Monitor
Although the Dial-Up Networking panel includes an option to display status lights, the system does not automatically launch the dial-up monitor when you restart the computer. To ensure that dial-up status is always available, create a shortcut to the file
and place it in the All Users startup folder.


Windows 2000
Network Setup
Unlike earlier versions of Windows, the network setup wizard in Windows 2000 does not provide a means for setting a computer description. This can be easily set from a Command Prompt using the command
where "TEXT" is your description enclosed in quotation marks.
Alternatively you can open the Computer Management Control Panel (e.g. right-click on the My Computer icon on the desktop and select Manage), right-click on Computer and select Properties, then enter the description in the resulting dialog box.


AutoFormat Annoyances

To stop Word underlining email/web addresses select the menu item Format... AutoFormat... press Options... then remove the tick from Internet and network paths with hyperlinks. Click OK, then OK to close the dialog boxes.


Zip Drive
Disable Write-Behind Caching

Although nearly all the tweaks suggested by BigFix are useful I've found that enabling write-behind caching often causes problems with removable drives, e.g. Iomega's Zip drive as it is possible for the disk to be removed while there is still data waiting to be written to it. If you've enabled write-behind caching, it can be reset from the Device Manger tab (Hardware tab - Device Manager button for Windows 2000) in the System Control Panel. Find the disk under Disk Drives, double-click on it, then edit the Disk Properties.
N.b. A new version of Iomega's drivers (4.0.2) was released 28/10/2002 and can be downloaded from here:- http://www.iomega.com/software/ioware402pc.html.