I know you’re not always happy with your PC, so here are three fixes to some of the annoyances you’ve sent to me.
Louder. No, Quieter
The Annoyance: I have lots of MP3s I’ve ripped onto my hard drive from CDs. Nothing seems to play at the same volume level. When I play Copeland’s “Fanfare,” it’s loud enough to make the dog jump, yet all of Dave Brubeck’s music is way too soft.
The Fix: When you use Windows Media Player to burn music into a CD, the trick is to adjust–or normalize–the sound level as you’re burning the MP3s to the CD. Do that from the Burn menu by enabling Apply volume level across tracks on the CD. Normalization doesn’t work in WMP when you’re ripping MP3s from a CD to disk. Unfathomable, I know, but it’s Microsoft’s party. So use FairStars CD Ripper to do the job. The freebie does its job, normalizes the cuts, and handles plenty of file formats, including WAV, MP3, WMA, and more obscure ones, such as APE and VQF.
The hassle is what to do with all the music you’ve already ripped. Microsoft’s WMP ﬁxes the problem by normalizing the volume as you play the music. Look under View, Enhancements, Crossfading, and turn on Auto Volume Leveling.
Unfortunately, this trick works only when you’re playing the music in WMP. But there’s a way to permanently normalize all your cuts. Download MP3Gain, a free–and very cool–utility that analyzes and normalizes the sound levels of MP3 files that you feed to it. Check out the FAQ; you have to send MP3 files to MP3Gain for it to do its work.
Need a Quick Print? Just Right-Click
The Annoyance: I’m in Windows Explorer and found the file I need to print. Isn’t it silly to have to double-click the file to open the application and then find the Print command–just to print the file?
The Fix: You’re right, there is a better way to do it, but the designers at the Redmond Empire don’t make it obvious. The fastest way to print a document, no matter what the application, is to let Windows Explorer do the deed. Right-click the file and select Print. Explorer will open the program that’s associated with the file extension and send the document to the printer. Explorer’s neat and tidy, too, closing the app when it’s done.
Leave My Freakin’ Icons Alone
The Annoyance: I like a messy desktop, okay? I don’t care if I haven’t used some of the icons for years. And no, I don’t want you to clean it up for me, thank you very much. Now how do I turn the freakin’ thing off? [Actual note from Judy Bass. --Steve]
The Fix: Yes, dear. Right-click on the desktop, select Properties, choose the Desktop tab, and click Customize Desktop. Uncheck “Run Desktop Wizard every 60 days” to disable the wizard, then click OK twice. (I’ll get to the lawn tomorrow. –Steve)
Product of the Week: Super Security for Your PC
Say you have sensitive corporate files on your notebook and want to lock it down so the files are absolutely, unequivocally unavailable to even the smartest hacker.
Ordinarily I’d recommend encrypting the files, but I have something more flexible–and tons more powerful. GT SecuriKey Pro for Windows keeps your info–heck, your entire computer–safe from prying eyes. It’s a special USB gizmo that acts like a car key. Often called a dongle (though never in mixed company), once you configure it, only someone with a keyed-to-your-PC’s security key can even boot your computer.
My doctor is using it on his file server — he’s afraid someone might break into the office and grab all the PCs. He’s thrilled because if a thief does take it, the server’s just a hunk of metal. Now I need to convince my financial guy to do it (hello, John?), buy one for my CPA (yoo-hoo, George?), and advise my banker to plug one in (you reading this, Bill?).
The software that comes with the device lets you dictate what happens when you remove the key: It can lock your PC; put it in standby mode; or simply block Internet access. SecuriKey also prevents hackers from booting your system into Safe Mode and then taking it over. If others need to have access to your system, you can make specific files and folders off limits to some users; for home users, limiting your offspring’s access to the Internet, instant messaging, or practically any application is child’s play. SecuriKey works with XP and Vista; there’s also a Mac version. The downside is it’s not cheap: A two-key set is $130.
[This post is excerpted from Steve's TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up--it's delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it's free.]