Editor’s Comments

By William LaMartin, Editor, Tampa PC Users Group


As is usual, when there is empty space to fill in the newsletter, you are subjected to hearing about what I have been doing lately with my computer. This month I can write about a slight redesign of the TPCUG web site, writing a Visual Basic Program to teach a bird to speak, some interesting web sites, and, if room permits, some Microsoft Access and bulk mail topics.

Web site redesign For some time, I have felt that our TPCUG site http://www.canx.com/tpcug/ needed a face lift. It was beginning to look a little dowdy, so I selected a new photo of Tampa and modified the top 25% of the page. I also selected new background music for those who said they were getting a bit tired of Pachabel’s Canon. And on many of the other pages I put at the top of the page some quick links to other parts of our site. That way one doesn’t have to always go back to the main page to find the link to somewhere else at the site. I also made other minor changes throughout the site to make the pages look a little more consistent—nothing like a theme—just trying to make them look like they belonged together.

Unfortunately, when you make changes to a web page, it probably won’t look the way you want on all browsers at all font settings and screen resolutions. I have received feedback from members regarding this problem and made changes to the layout to try and make it display better in the situations they described. If there are still problems with the display on your system, let me know. It looks fine on mine.

Visual Basic & Birds Some time back Larry Anders wrote a review of a program designed to teach your bird to speak. Well, we now have a new cockatiel in the house, and that came to my mind. But why should I buy someone else’s program (although it was very cheap), when I could write my own in Visual Basic. That is the way that I have learned VB over the years—writing programs to solve problems that I encounter—not by simply studying the VB manual (back when they actually provided you with hard copy manuals).

The result is a fairly polished little program that allows you to record sounds up to 15 seconds in length, save them, and then play them for the bird to listen to a selected number of repetitions. You may record as many sounds as you like and select as many repetitions for play back as you like. I typically select 120 repetitions, since that gives the bird 30 minutes to listen to me saying something like "Hello....... Hello..... Hello..... Hello, Bird".

What I got from this exercise is a better understanding of the Visual Basic Multimedia control, which I had had no interest in using before. What the bird gets out of this, we will have to wait and see. Contact me if you are interested in the program.

TerraServer and HouseCall Online Virus Checking Each month in the newsletter I list the new and interesting sites I have come across since the previous newsletter. This month I have two real good ones: Microsoft TerraServer and HouseCall.

Microsoft TerraServer is at http://terraserver.microsoft.com. This is a site containing what is called the "largest database in the world". It contains satellite photos of many different locations on earth. Not every place is photographed, but all of Florida is. The photo of Tampa was taken in 1995. See if you can find your house. Look at famous locations around the world. Their photo of West Palm Beach is shown on page 5.

Reading ZDNet about the latest virus scare in late July led me to the most interesting site--HouseCall, a site that checks your computer for viruses while you are online. You have to be using either Microsoft IE or Netscape Navigator and not mind either an ActiveX component or a Java applet being downloaded and run on your computer (you have to trust Trend Micro). These programs scan that portion of your computer's hard drive designated by you for viruses, including CIH variants (which the ZDNet article was about). By doing this from the Internet, this removes the worry about whether the user's PC is already infected (some viruses apparently attach themselves to the virus checking program).

The site's URL is http://housecall.antivirus.com. It will take it a few minutes to load since it is setting up the Java applet or ActiveX component. The site has a certificate and is also recommended by ZDNet, so I suppose it is safe. It had better be since I used it with no ill effects so far. In fact, it found that some of my old Word documents were infected with the Word Concept virus. I had such a problem one or two years back. Apparently I didn't get everything cleaned up then (it is not a very bad virus, and , if I am not mistaken, Word 97 actually detects it and removes it--I just hadn't opened these files with this newer version of Word).

After finding a file that is infected, the program with your permission will attempt to remove the virus. If that is not successful, it will give you the opportunity to delete the file then and there. It cleaned up all my Word Concept infected documents.

Microsoft Access and MySoftware’s MyMail List I continue to encounter people who need help with fairly large databases they want to extract information from to then use with bulk mail. In a typical procedure, I first import the database into Access, then using queries, retain only the fields needed and do any manipulations required of the data like combining house number, street name and apartment number into one field. One could then use this data for a mailing, but if you want to get the best bulk mail rates, you will need to CASS (a postal term) certify the list. That is where a program like MyMail List comes in. It is a specialized database program for mail management. It also comes with an extra CD (for a fee) that has the most current postal address information. After importing the modified database into MyMail List, you then do an address check using this CD. When you are finished (3.5 hours for 61,000 names), you have a CASS certified list. Now you can select the whole list or any subset of this list using a filter (e.g. voted in last election field is True for a database of voters), and MyMail List will print the mailing labels in the correct order and prepare the necessary forms for bulk mail. It is a bit more complicated than this, but you get the idea. u