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Here’s a Tip: PC User Groups Are Great

      Steve BassBy Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group

Members get advice and support from everyday experts like these four folks.

By Steve Bass

From the June 2002 issue of PC World Posted Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Imagine that you have a problem with your PC. (Not particularly difficult, I know.) Now visualize describing your dilemma to an auditorium packed with 300 bright, well-informed, and witty computer professionals and enthusiasts. In no time flat, your problem is solved. That’s a computer user group, folks. These amazing resources were the center of the PC user community in the pre-Web era. They may be less prominent these days, but they’re still alive, kicking, and worthwhile. You’ll find user groups in most cities, and membership usually costs less than $50 per year. To prove just how valuable these groups can be, I rustled up a sampling of PC tips from group members.

Instant System Properties: You needn’t go through a series of cascading menus to open System Properties. > > TIP If you have a Windows keyboard, simply hold down the Windows key and simultaneously press Pause (at top-right of the keyboard) to access information on your PC.

-Roger Griffin, The Users’ Group Network, Granada Hills, California

Jump the print queue: Sometimes you realize that you’ve just sent several documents to your print queue, but the one you sent last is the one you want printed first. > > TIP Double-click the printer icon in your system tray and drag the last document to the top of the list of files in the queue. It will print immediately after the file currently being processed.

-Mean Drake, the Colony Computer User Group, Murrieta, California

How old is that Web page? Have you ever wondered when the Web page you’re visiting was last updated? Here’s a neat Internet Explorer 6 trick for finding out.

> > TIP In IE 6’s Address field, simply type javascript:alert (document.lastModified) and press Enter to see the most recent update’s time and date in a pop-up window.

-Dennis Courtney, the Capitol PC Users Group, Washington, D.C.

Old modems for new broadband: If you’ve switched to a cable-modem, DSL, or other broadband service, your old dial-up modem still has a good use. > > TIP Leave your modem connected to the phone line and attached to the phone. When you want to call a phone number you see on a Web site or in your contact manager, have your modem dial the number with only a few mouse clicks. Windows’ Phone Dialer applet makes this possible.

To open Phone Dialer in Windows 9 x, Me, and 2000, click Start, Programs, Accessories, Communications, Phone Dialer. If it’s not there, open Control Panel, double-click Add/Remove Programs, and choose the Windows Setup tab (Add/Remove Windows Components in Windows 2000). Select Communications, click Details, and check Phone Dialer (you may need your Windows CD-ROM to install it). To place a shortcut to Phone Dialer on Internet Explorer’s Links toolbar, first open IE. (If the Links toolbar isn’t visible, click View, Toolbars and check Links.) Then select Start, Programs, Accessories, Communications, hold down Ctrl, and drag the Phone Dialer icon to the Links toolbar. Now when you want to dial a phone number listed on a Web site, copy the number, select the Phone Dialer shortcut on the Links toolbar, paste the number into Phone Dialer’s “Number to dial” field, and then click Dial. Pick up your phone and click Hang up once the dialing is complete. No more misdials from clumsy fingers or faulty memory.

-Steve Shank, the Golden Gate Computer Society, San Rafael, California

> > TIP It’s good to be grouped: Two great resources for finding a user group in your vicinity are the Association of Personal Computer User Groups and Ash Nallawalla’s list. And no, not all group members are pocket-protected propeller heads. Some members are IT executives and consultants, but many are ordinary folks who just want to get the most out of their PCs. Nearly all groups produce a newsletter, often with member listings (some with phone numbers) in case you need help. Groups frequently hold smaller meetings—called Special Interest Groups—that focus on specific topics. For example, the Pasadena IBM Users Group has Windows, Networking, Visual Basic, and Macromedia SIGs. By the way, that’s the group I’m president of, but don’t let it keep you from joining.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and ran the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at 

Reprinted with permission from the June 2002 issue of PC World.

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