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April 2007

As ever, I am most grateful to all readers for their steady stream of questions, worries and criticisms.  Please keep them coming – – and I will do my best to keep on replying, and solving the problems you present.  This month, I thought it might be worth sharing one or two of the most regular points that have cropped up recently.  It’s mostly Microsoft stuff, I’m afraid – sorry to Mac users. 

First, Autotext; this is an excellent little device.  Using it, you can pre-type paragraphs, phrases, or names which you use frequently and then insert them anywhere with a few keystrokes.

Just type the text you want to save, then select it (that is, highlight it by holding down the Shift key and pressing the left or right arrows as appropriate) and press Alt+F3.

The Create AutoText dialog box will appear.  Type in a short name for the text in the box (the first couple of words will do, or something more descriptive, like ”standard Disclaimer” or “home address”, perhaps) and click OK.

Suppose you live in Little Ditchling under Milkwood.  Once it’s in AutoText, when you next type “Little”, you will notice that a magic box will appear offering to insert the full name for you; just press Enter (also called Return) to accept the offer.  Or ignore it, if you are typing some other name.

While we are discussing Word, do you know how to force it to start a new page, even if you haven’t filled the old one?  The wrong way to do it is to keep pressing Return until a new page starts.  Don’t do it, because if you add some lines to the preceding text, everything on the next page will move down as well.

The right thing to do is simply to press Ctrl+Enter at the end of the text and it will always move onto a nice fresh new page at that point, whatever you do to the preceding stuff.  Much neater.

Finally, I am regularly asked how to wipe a computer clean before disposing of it.  

It may be full of sensitive information – bank details and so forth – or just bits and pieces that are no one else’s damn business.  If you delete it in the normal way, all it does is mark that bit of the memory as being available for re-use – and anyone with the right software can retrieve all the “deleted” stuff.  It’s not difficult, and the police have often put a fraudster (or worse) behind bars using evidence from recovered files that the scoundrel believed were long gone. 

There is commercial software that claims to wipe it clean, but most experts don’t trust it.  The truth is that when you dispose of a computer, easily the best thing to do is to physically remove the hard drive.  They are not big (the size of a small paperback) and they are easy to remove once you’ve taken the side off (unplug it first, obviously).  Or ask a geeky friend to do it for you.

Then you can simply keep it secure, just as you might do with old bank statements.  When you are sure you won’t need it again, merely take a sledgehammer and smash it to bits, just as you would shred those statements.

This is good exercise and also has the benefit of helping you to work out any of the frustrations that have built up whilst using the thing.  It’s all very therapeutic, and destroys data beautifully