The GCN Lab on configuration, wireless surfers and monitors

John Breeden II

The GCN Lab devotes a great deal of time and energy throughout the year to developing and conducting independent product reviews. Everything from enterprise-level servers and network appliances to new desktop and notebooks PCs are rated for suitability in government.
Lab director John Breeden II also fields plenty of questions from our readers. Here are some of the questions the lab has received in recent weeks.

Letters to AskTheLab@gcn.com

WALLACE from London: I am a U.S. federal employee. My group works to support several diplomatic and trade missions in Europe and we try to get GCN over here as much as possible. I had an odd situation a little while ago. Someone we support but who is not on an official computer network needed more memory in his PC. We installed the memory but then the sound stopped working, which is bad since this person needs to videoconference. Anyway, we got the problem fixed but she was offline for an entire day. Is there any way to prevent something like this happening in the future?

BREEDEN: Thanks for taking the time to write to us. I know London has been going through some rough times lately. At least I may be able to help with your computer problem.

If you are going around from computer to computer at different locations, you might want to consider a good configuration program, sort of like what the boot menu on Windows offers except one that actually works.

The best one that we have seen in the lab is Norton GoBack from Symantec Corp. It sells for $50 in the U.S. for a single user, though the price might be different in England.

What GoBack does is to record what is going on within a system and then if something goes wrong, you can roll back all the software to the last time that everything was working correctly. The farther back you want the program to track, the more disk space it takes up, though this is really the only disadvantage.

I'm not sure if this would have worked in your case with the additional hardware that was added, but it sounds like something in the software got messed up and GoBack might have been able to fix this. It certainly would have if you removed the new memory.

It sounds as if you go around and work at different places. If you have a set group of people you support, you could install GoBack on all their systems and it might prevent future headaches. If that won't work, perhaps you could try installing GoBack and letting it record system settings before you do any work with a system'one that is functioning properly anyway. It might take more time for routine things, but could save you from major failures.

BILL from Seattle: I work in a small state office in Seattle. We recently put in 802.11b wireless in our office. Now I notice people at a park across the street surfing the Web from a bench there. It's not possible for them to be using our Internet connection is it?

BREEDEN: It's not only possible, it's pretty darn likely, unless you saw them there before you installed WiFi. Especially with 802.11b, the signal can travel for a long distance. In our GCN Lab roundup tests, we found some signals that were able to travel over 100 feet. You won't get the best connectivity at that distance, but it is possible.

You should buy a Digital Hotspotter from Canary Wireless. It is a tiny device for about $60 that can detect all wireless networks in the area. Take it over to the park and see if your network is usable there. You might also look on the side of your building for war chalk. These are odd little symbols that tell people that an open network is available for use.

If your network does work in the park, then you should take steps to protect your network. At the very least you should cloak the Service Set Identifier (SSID) and add password protection. A good step for your situation is to configure the access point to not accept any signals less than 5 Mbps in strength. That way your office should still be able to connect, but people way out in the park can't.

And I don't want to sound like a curmudgeon. Everyone should be able to access the Web. But letting unauthorized people use an open node on your network is asking for trouble.

SALLY from Florida: I know the water is supposed to be blue and beautiful down here, but my monitor won't display normal colors. This is a new 19-inch CRT from [NEC USA Inc.] called the FP955. I got it for under $100, but when I try to display things on it, they come out looking blue on my old system. I almost want to go back to my little 15-inch monitor. Can you help me get rid of the blues?

BREEDEN: Since you have a new CRT that you just attached to your system, there are a couple of things that might be causing your difficulty. Old CRTs sometimes have problems like this when one color channel starts to become too dominant, or more likely, when other channels start to fail. But a new monitor should not do this.

First, make sure you have installed the drivers that came with the monitor. These used to ship on a floppy disk but are probably on CD now, even in the cheap-CRT market. If your computer still has the drivers for your old monitor, that may be causing the display to look a bit off.

Second, check the refresh rate. If you right-click on your desktop you can bring up the display properties menu. Clicking on the advanced tab can bring you to the adapter pane, which should show you the refresh rate. Make sure this is not set higher than the monitor's range can handle. For a CRT of this quality, it should probably be in the 60 hertz to 75 hertz range. If it is set higher than that, you might be throwing off the color scheme.

Finally, you need to degauss CRTs from time to time. There is normally a button right on the front of the system that can be pressed to do this, or you can select it from the list of options when you press the monitor's menu button. Sometimes it is represented by an upside down U with a line through it, like a 'no' symbol over a magnet. The Earth has natural magnetic fields and magnetic charges from those fields can build up inside your monitor, causing a loss of color accuracy.

I once fixed a monitor at adepartment store when the staff could not read sales information on the screen. All I did was show them how to degauss it, whereupon it worked fine. This normally happens on older monitors that have been turned on for weeks or months on end, but it could be the problem. Most monitors today automatically degauss themselves, and LCDs don't build up harmful magnetic energy.

If none of that works, then the monitor you got might simply be bad. Hopefully, you can still return it.

LINDA from Washington: Microsoft Outlook must think I am a neat freak. When I go into my e-mail, it places each one into little folder boxes that indicate when the mail was received. I have to go into the folder and click on the plus sign to see the e-mail. Organizing each of my e-mails into individual folders is not only not helpful, but takes me three times as long to answer mail.

BREEDEN: You have your e-mail set to group by field. This can be very helpful if you get a lot of e-mail or if you are looking for a specific e-mail from a certain person. It only really works however when you group the 'From' field.

If you have the standard Outlook view, you can right-click on 'From,' 'Subject' or 'Received' and then select 'group by field.' It will then put all your e-mails together according to that field.

For example, when I do that, I can quickly see that I have received 108 e-mails from my editor over the last three months, all of which were read. I have also received five e-mails from a public-relations firm, none of which have been read (I will try to get to them).

If you group by fields other than 'From,' there is a chance you won't see a match. Grouping by subject, for instance, would require two e-mails to have exactly the same subject line to be put in the same box.

To set Outlook back to normal, you need to click on the floating box above the sorted mail. If you are sorting by subject, for example, a small box that says 'Subject' will be above those boxes. Right-click there. Select 'Don't group by this field' and things should return to normal. It is possible to group by multiple fields. In this case you have to right-click on each and every floating box and cancel the sorting that way.

Have a burning technology question? Send your query to AskTheLab@gcn.com.

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