Look for the obvious in fixing a computer that's lost its sound



Recently, you responded to a writer who had problems with no sound on the computer. Having experienced the same issue, I think you should remind readers that there is also the old-fashioned dial on some computers that can be accidentally turned and will mute the sound. After I'd gone through a series of steps, this was finally pointed out to me, and I felt rather foolish having missed the obvious. But it was a lesson learned.

- Ray Silverman

I winced when I read your note, because I had quoted the splendid tech support advice of Sherlock Holmes, which was to look for things so obvious that they get overlooked when one has a problem that defies solution. You know, things such as making sure the thing is plugged in.

I outlined the basic steps to take with any computer problem, such as checking the wires in the back to make sure they are correctly placed and fully inserted.

I also described how to go to the Windows XP Sounds and Audio Devices Control Panel after clicking Start to make sure that all possible volume controls were being displayed. A lot of folks overlook the fact that Windows conceals some volume options by default.

In short, I told her to look everywhere she hadn't looked before because it seemed too obvious.

But I overlooked the most obvious of all sound problems: Some computers, particularly laptops, have volume dials that can be cranked down to zero.

I should be required to write the following quote from Holmes many many times on the blackboard:

"When you have eliminated the possibilities, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

I have Windows XP and would like to type onto documents from Adobe PDF files. I can read these files, but I cannot type anything into them, as I can with other documents. Also, how can I check to make sure I have call-waiting disabled or enabled on the telephone modem I use for Internet access?

- Walter Brzeski

PDF, or Portable Document Format files, which were created by Adobe Systems almost as far back as when Bill Gates' teeth were still in braces, are designed to give the creator wide latitude over what a recipient can do with them.

Although there now are cheaper programs that can create PDF documents, most PDFs circulating on the Internet come from folks well-heeled enough to own Adobe's Acrobat program, which creates files and lets the user alter other PDFs. Acrobat Standard costs $299, and Acrobat Professional goes for $449.

Those high prices are why the rest of us get to read these ever more common documents using the Adobe Reader program that is free and that works either as a stand-alone program or as a plug-in that works automatically when one finds a PDF file while using a Web browser.

The free Reader is now in version 7.0.8, and Adobe puts heavy pressure on nearly everybody who uses the Web for researching anything from Barbie doll prices to bioethics to make frequent updates.

And most of us quickly discover that the reason that establishment outfits like to distribute stuff as PDFs is that they can control what recipients can do with the data they offer.

A PDF can be made as a form where a user can fill in blanks from the keyboard but make no other additions. Or it may be a closed document that one can only read.

Happily, Adobe Reader allows most recipients of PDFs to use a Select tool to paint bits of text from documents and then copy and paste them into a word processor, where the user can add, alter or subtract as desired on the user's own computer.

Another Select tool, with a camera icon, lets users draw a square around any part of a page or around any image and create a copy in the computer's memory for pasting into word processors or other programs.

As to making PDF files less expensive than Acrobat, there are programs such as ABBYY PDF Transformer Pro for $79 at www.abbyy.com.

As to that second and oft-asked question about setting the call-waiting to stop phone modems from hanging up when a call comes in, the fix can be found by clicking on Start and then Control Panel and selecting the Phone and Modem icon in the next display. Creating a new rule under the Dialing Rules tab lets one switch call-waiting on or off.

Jim Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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