Jewish World Review July 10, 2003 / 10 Tamuz, 5763

Washing laptop; security for your PC — don't be had; needing an AirCard to surf | (KRT) Q. With the laptop screen so flexible, if I clean it will I mess up anything inside the screen?

_Joe Thomas

A. Have you ever noticed that whenever you buy any new thing, be it a chair, a TV set or a set of golf clubs, you'll be advised to clean it only with lukewarm, mildly soapy water and clean, cotton cloth? Well, add laptop screens to the list, Mr. T.

But, by all means, be careful not to get any water in the keyboard, which can wreak havoc.

Laptop screens are amazing devices that, in essence, consist of millions of transistors that are arranged like a screen door, but with microscopic squares called pixels.

The computer's graphics card sends signals into that mass of transistors to order each pixel to take on a desired color. This creates both the content on the screen and its color, but the transistors can glow only very dimly. So behind the laptop screen are three or four low-voltage, long-life lamps that shine light through the screen to make everything vivid and colorful.

Breaking the lamps would be catastrophic. But they are well-guarded behind the screen, which itself is covered in a sheet of protective plastic. So cleaning this protective layer with mild soapy water is safe. But water in the keyboard is the devil's own work and must be avoided as you do your window washing above.

Q. I have a question about what type or level of security you recommend for my home PC. I purchased a Dell desktop several months ago. It runs Windows XP, and I use a dial-up connection with EarthLink.

When I purchased the computer, it came with a free 90-day trial of McAfee security, which included its Privacy Service, Personal Firewall Plus and Virus Scan Online. There was a display that shows a separate index reading for my overall security - anti-virus, anti-hacker and anti-spam.

Now that I need to purchase a security service for my set, it all seems so overwhelming, and I am confused about what is really needed. Anti-virus? Personal firewall? All of it? And do you recommend McAfee or Norton (or any other system)?

_Jim DeHoff

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A. Here's what I do, Mr. D. On the computer with a telephone modem that I use at my house, I just grin and bear it and reach for the F4 key every time the McAfee and Norton nag screens flare up pitching all those confusing subscription offers. You will find that if you tap the F4 key while holding down the Alt key, the first of those nag screens will go away. Tap it again and the next one will leave. Repeat as needed.

After years of controversy and criticism from experts that my ideas are irresponsible and even dangerous, I continue to balk at the unremitting pressure from America's two anti-virus powerhouses to sell yearly subscriptions to all people who paid just for their basic protection.

Your XP operating system has a built-in firewall that can be set to deflect any unlikely attacks from hackers. You can rest assured that if any major virus were to hit you machine, the entry-level versions of the McAfee software on your computer probably will detect its presence. You then can go to their Web site and look for a fix or decide to sign up for a subscription.

Chances are excellent that this never will happen, but if it does you can get help at either or

Since your dial-up account is with EarthLink, you already have pretty good spam filters and pop-up-ad-stopping software from that Internet service provider.

If you want to set the firewall in Windows XP, which I think is going a tad overboard, here is the drill:

Go to the Network Places icon and give it a right-click. Pick Properties in the pop-up box. This brings up a window with icons for all the possible Internet connections on your computer - dial-up, Ethernet and IEEE 1394. Highlight the dial-up icon and click the Advanced tab on the next display. This summons a command that lets you switch the firewall software on or off to stop or limit any outsider from gaining access to your computer unless you want them to.

The Windows XP Internet Connection Firewall, or ICF, permits e-mail and Web surfing but stops all efforts by those outside the firewall to gain access to your computer, as hackers must do to cause their mischief. This means, by the way, that you can't very well use controversial peer-to-peer file-swapping services like Grokster or Kazaa because "peers" must access your computer from outside the firewall and will be stopped unless you shut the barrier down by reversing those set-up steps.

Those steps, and a common sense approach to never open an e-mail attachment unless you know who sent it and what it is, are ample precautions for the vast bulk of computer users.

Q. If I buy a laptop with 802.11b embedded, do I still need an AirCard to surf the T-Mobile network? I see T-Mobile sells an AirCard for something like $299. I am a newbie when it comes to Wi-Fi.

_David Kluth

A. Believe me, Mr. K., a lot of folks - myself included - find the varieties of wireless Internet access pretty confusing right now.

But the new laptops, such as your sleek Gateway 200X, built around Intel's Centrino motherboards have right in their circuitry the needed receivers for short-range wireless high-speed Internet access through 802.11b radio protocols.

Products like the T-Mobile AirCard 750 you asked about are different from Wi-Fi because they simply act as wireless modems to permit dial-up access to the Internet by way of digital cellular phone networks. This happens at speeds around 56,000 bits per second, much slower than Wi-Fi's nearly 1.5 megabits-per-second capability. Sprint's competing digital cellular laptop modem product is called Merlin.

With these devices, one can get online at dial-up speeds while riding in a taxicab, sitting on a park bench or just about any other place where one can use a cell phone.

By contrast, Wi-Fi, or 802.11b, accesses high-speed Internet through equipment located only on the premises of service providers called hot spots.

Like AirCard and Merlin cellular modems, add-on Wi-Fi cards slip into a laptop's PC Card slot for the most part and include little antennae to pick up the radio signals that circulate Internet access. Leading makers of these include Linksys, D-Link and Netgear.

Your Centrino laptop, of course, doesn't need such a card for Wi-Fi. If you wanted the universal cell modem dial-up, however, you would need a card like Merlin or AirCard.

Getting back to Wi-Fi, T-Mobile leads the 802.11b and, now, 802.11g movements with hot spot deals at Starbucks, Kinko's and elsewhere. Competing providers include Boingo and Wayport with deals at other places including hotels, airports and even some schools.

A service charge is required to get the password that lets one log on securely at each provider's hot spots, but all will talk to any 801.11b card, including the one in your notebook.

A list of most available hot spots by ZIP code can be found at Cnet's fascinating Internet site (

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James Coates is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Let us know what you think of rthis column by clicking here.


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06/25/03: How to get rid of porn spam; Windows XP dictionary?; Windows ME system can no longer find the Internet with Windows applications
06/25/03: NT flashes "at least one service/driver failed during system startup"; automatically converting .doc and .xls files to .dat; transfers to XP not as vexing as they may seem
06/19/03: Can't open Zip files; RealPlayer won't play .avi files; step-by-step process to "burn" digital images
06/18/03: Restore missing Word task bars in a normal way; computer was zapped, how to fix it; spell check won't upgrade

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