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Five More Annoying PC Annoyances

by Steve Bass, author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition
03/29/2005

When I wrote PC Annoyances, I thought I'd soon run out of annoyances to fix. Ha! No sooner had the book landed in bookstores than I was barraged with email from--who else?--PC World and O'Reilly readers, tossing me more annoyances to handle.

That led to the second edition of PC Annoyances. I've added 160 more annoyances--and fixes--to the new book. (You can grab a copy at www.oreilly.com/catalog/pcannoy2.)

It didn't take long (nothing does with computers, right?) for readers to send another batch of irritating problems. So, for your reading pleasure, here are yet more annoyances. (These are actual annoyances contributed by annoyed PC World and O'Reilly readers.)

1. Speed up Adobe Acrobat Reader

The Annoyance: I use Adobe's Reader 6 to read Acrobat PDF files, and it takes aeons to load on my already slow PC. Isn't there a way to speed it up?

The Fix: There's a quick-and-dirty fix that will make the Reader fly onto your screen. It's a free tool--Adobe Reader SpeedUp--that removes many of the add-ins the Reader ordinarily loads and few of us need. Get the tool at the TNK-BootBlock site.

Kill Some Time: The guy's (almost) a marketing genius. He's been covered all over the internet. Too bad he doesn't have an area code on his truck, eh? snurl.com/plumbtruck.

2. SP2 says "Reboot now"

The Annoyance: OK, so I have Automatic Updates set to Automatic in Windows XP. But no matter what I'm doing, this last upgrade keeps smacking a message in the middle of my screen asking if I want to reboot now or wait until later. It's happening every ten minutes and driving me nuts, and no, I can't turn off this alert.

The Fix: Unpleasant as it is, when Microsoft has an update it considers critical for you to install, Automatic Updates slams an icon in your system tray. That's its not-so-subtle way of informing you that upgrades are available to download and install. But here's the rub: on these oh-so-very-critical updates, Windows wants you to reboot your system once the installation is complete. And like a pouty three-year-old, it doesn't care what you're in the middle of doing.

So when you click on the icon in the system tray and choose either Express Install or Custom Install in the dialog that appears, you're stuck. XP will keep reminding you to reboot until you're so aggravated that you throw in the towel, close all your open apps, and reboot.

My recommendation? Wait till the end of the day before clicking on the icon and agreeing to take the update.

Kill Some Time: How about reminiscing back to the time before web bugs, spam, and, well, the internet. Remember "NYC's Bozo Show," "Wonderama," and "The Felix the Cat Show"? (Didn't think I was that old, eh?): www.tvparty.com/lostny2.html.

3. Unfreeze Windows XP

Related Reading

PC Annoyances
By Steve Bass

The Annoyance: You're happy because your recent upgrade to Windows XP Service Pack 2 went like a breeze. But all of a sudden, your system freezes.

The Fix: I know, you want me to tell you why XP crashed and how to prevent it from happening. You could try switching to a Mac or waiting for me to write a 1,600 page-tome (neither of which I suspect will happen). In the meantime, here's a quick way to get yourself out of the jam. Even though Windows XP is locked up solid, chances are good you can still open Task Manager by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del. In Task Manager, click on the Processes tab, choose Explorer.exe, and click on End Process. Then select File -> New Task (Run), type explorer, and click on OK. No harm if it doesn't work; nifty rescue if it does.

Kill Some Time: The best I could do on Escape, a tough and deeply annoying game, was 9 seconds. I could probably do better with my eyes closed. You'll find out right away that bumping the black frame ends the game.

4. AOL idle Terminator

The Annoyance: I've about had it with America Online. Even if I'm downloading a big file, I have to respond to that pesky "You have been idle" warning. Hey, AOL, I'm not idling!

The Fix: You need the Terminator. And no, it's not the California governor. It's a tool that keeps your AOL connection cooking past the 46-minute envelope allowed by AOL. And it doesn't matter whether you're downloading a humongous file or just sitting and, yes, idling. The program's free to try and costs a mere $5 if you keep it.

Kill Some Time: I'm often accused of offering links that are too cerebral. That, of course, just ain't true. Witness Squares2, a cool mouse-clicking Flash game. The trick is to pass the cursor over just the black squares, never the red ones. (Warning: lower your PC's volume.)

5. Importing DVD presentations in PowerPoint

The Annoyance: I'm well experienced with PowerPoint and can import most everything--except DVD videos. I've been hunting high and low for a way to do it; is there a trick I'm missing?

The Fix: You can call off the dogs. The trick is to spend $99 for Visible Light OnStage DVD for PowerPoint. The handy utility adds itself to PowerPoint, and with it you can import DVDs to your heart's content. For details--and a trial version--visit snipurl.com/visiblelight.

Kill Some Time: You know what happens when you get to a web page that no longer exists, right? You get a 404 error. Here's a 404 that's a huge waste of time and will keep you busy past at least one deadline: www.ukpaganlinks.co.uk/404.htm.


In March 2005, O'Reilly Media, Inc., released PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition.

Steve Bass is a longtime popular staff writer at PC World magazine and founded the Pasadena IBM Users Group.


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