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03-09-12 Ask Mr. Modem! Weekly Column
by Mr. Modem

Driver's Ed

Q. I hear the term “drivers” used all the time, but I have no idea what it means. Can you help, Mr. M?

A. A device driver, better known by its shorter name “driver,” is software that helps your computer work with its hardware. Your printer needs a driver, as does your system’s sound card, scanner, Miss Daisy, and even your digital camera's PC connection.

Many times, when error messages appear out of thin air, they can be related to driver issues. Most hardware Web sites, such as Hewlett-Packard (, have Support areas where you can download current drivers. Instructions for installing drivers are provided on each site at the download location.

Unless your hardware is experiencing a problem, it is not necessary to update drivers simply because they exist. Remember Mr. Modem's Golden Rule: “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.”

Q. A friend told me that I should be deleting my browser's history because not doing that allows Google to follow me online. Is that true and if so, how do I do it?

A. When you visit Web sites, you leave a trail of information behind which is normal. A Web site knows, for example, what browser you're using, what operating system, the language you have selected, your IP address (which identifies your computer on the Internet), your Internet service provider, what you're wearing, and other fairly innocuous information.

Among the items sites can review is your browsing history through retained links. With the benefit of certain analytical software, an overly intrusive site can check more than 25,000 links per second. Yikes!

The good news is that this information is only available for sites still in your browser's history, so if you clear your browser's history frequently, or configure your browser not to retain any history, as I do -- you will prevent this information from being obtained.

In Internet Explorer, click Tools > Internet Options > General. Under Browsing History, click Settings. Set “Days to keep pages in history” to 0 (zero). In Firefox, click Tools > Options > Privacy. Set “Remember my browsing history for at least” to 0 (zero) days. In Chrome, click the little wrench icon > Tools > Clear Browsing Data.

Q. I'm using Outlook Express and suddenly, I can't find any of my old messages. Where could they have gone? Thanks, Mr. M.

A, The answer to this mystery can be found under Tools > Message Rules > Blocked Senders List while viewing your Inbox. Within the Blocked Senders List it states, “Messages from senders in the list below will automatically be moved to the Deleted Items folder and/or nor displayed.” Bingo! Click the Remove button to remove any addresses of senders from whom email is disappearing.

Any time a message appears asking if you are sure that you want to delete all messages from XYZ sender, click “No,” then immediately visit the Blocked Senders List and remove that sender's address.

Mr. Modem's Sites of the Week
“The best free cultural and educational media on the Web.” Gratuitous hyperbole notwithstanding, this site is a goodie and consists of (among other things), several short videos. Each video is related either to the arts, literature, philosophy, history, or science. There are also free programs such as Language Learning and many other links to interesting and educational material.

Science of Music
Have you ever wondered why some songs are so forgettable, yet others stay in your head and you can’t stop humming them for days on end? Me neither, but this Web site, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, seeks to provide scientific explanations for the art of music. Check out the "Kitchen Sink-O-Pation" and "Dot Mixer" online exhibits.


For plain-English answers to your questions by email, plus great computing and technology tips, subscribe to Mr. Modem’s award-winning WEEKLY newsletter. Subscribe using Promo Code MODEM and receive a free month (four weekly issues!) with your six-month subscription. To view a sample issue or subscribe, visit

Published: Mar 5,2012 18:47
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