Jewish World Review Nov. 10, 2004 / 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Try high-tech paper-clip fix when CD balks; best way to surf , answer personal e-mails, check financials, and chat with friends ... without having a record of my activities recorded on borrowed PC; PPThumbs.ptn icon on every file

By James Coates | (KRT) Q. Jim, I cannot get my CD-ROM drive to open the tray to put a CD in it. Can you tell me what to do?


A. You are a man of few words, Mr. W., but I'll need more than a few to cover this. Several things can be involved when one's CD drive curls up and goes catatonic, which happens way too often.

First try using the software Eject command instead of pushing the button on the front of the CD drive. Click on the My Computer icon and then give a right-click to the icon for the drive. The command list that pops up includes an Eject command to order the drive to open.

If that fails, go find a paper clip and bend it out into a straight length of wire with a small handle. There is a tiny hole in the front of the drive that accepts a paper clip and pushes open the spring that holds the drive closed. It almost certainly will pop open.

A lot of times just doing one of these two things makes a CD drive return to duty, especially if you discard whatever CD was in the tray causing the trouble.

If the drive still doesn't work, right-click on the My Computer icon and select Hardware and then click the Device Manager button. This brings up a list of all the stuff connected to your computer.

Go to the line for your CD-ROM and give a right-click. Select the Uninstall choice. Now reboot your computer. Windows will detect that it has a piece of hardware attached to it that isn't registered in the Device Manager, so the operating system will restore the driver software for the drive. This commonly fixes this issue.

Should all this fail, you will have determined that your drive has a mechanical problem, and then the fix is either to schlep the computer in for repairs or buy an inexpensive CD drive and replace the bad one.

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Q. My company is decent enough to supply me with a laptop to check my e-mail and make presentations. I realize it's completely their property, but seeing as how I travel overnight every week, I do need to keep in touch with my personal world as well.

What is the best way for me to surf the Web, answer personal e-mails, check my financials, and chat with friends ... without having a record of my activities recorded on their PC? Buy a separate hard drive with separate OS? Buy a separate laptop?

Dale Stringer, Chicago

A. First of all, remember that the information technology staff that manages computers at your company could probably ferret out a lot of info about what you have been doing in a personal way no matter what tricks you try. That said, the way to do the stuff you suggest, which is doing personal e-mail and surfing the Web, is to use the tools built in to Microsoft Internet Explorer to erase the history of what you did.

If you get yourself a Web-based e-mail account and then clean up after using the computer every week you will gain a reasonable amount of privacy. I must add that doing what I suggest will slow your machine's response because a lot of the history data is used to quickly display information recently accessed. This includes both the content of favorite Web sites and the cookie files a computer uses to speed up logging in and other activities on many Web sites. Your computer will need to restore all of this stuff each time you finish a cleaning job.

Here's the drill, Mr. S.

Open the browser and click on Tools and then select Internet Options. This calls up a display of menus kept under different tabs that include the tools you want. Open the General tab and order deleted pretty much everything that is offered. Under the heading Temporary Internet Files you can click buttons to delete all cookies and to delete all the files saved on the computer to speed up Web activities. Below that you will find a listing for History. There you can clear the master list of all of the Web sites you have visited since the last cleaning job.

Now click on the Content tab and click the Auto Complete button. The tool this summons lets you clear the list of past places you have supplied passwords and filled out forms with stuff like name and address.

With this stuff cleared and with your personal e-mail stored on the Web site of the provider, your machine will be pretty much the way the company set it in the first place.

The two largest Web e-mail services are Microsoft's at and Yahoo's at

Q. Every folder I open lately has a PPThumbs.ptn icon in it. Nothing comes up if I try to open it. Do you know what is happening?

I bought a new HP Pavilion with Windows XP Home, and recently got my old Visioneer scanner (PaperPort) to work again. Somebody suggested that PP means PaperPort. The darn things are in everything!

Sigrid Riddle

A. Your friend was right on the money by suggesting that the superb ScanSoft PaperPort software used by the Visioneer brand of scanners is the culprit scattering those PPThumbs.ptn files willy-nilly over the hard drives of computers worldwide.

As you found, clicking on these icons accomplishes nothing. They just sit there. Furthermore, if you drag them to the trash can, they'll come back the next time you start up the computer. They are supposed to be hidden from view, but many people's computers are set to display them along with all kinds of other files that either are dangerous to delete or confusing.

The result has been widespread concern that these mystery files are somehow associated with virus schemes or other vandalism that resists getting deleted in this fashion.

The PPThumbs.ptn files are used by the scanning software to display icons showing various documents scanned into the PaperPort system. The best thing to do is to ignore them.

If they really bother you popping up unannounced, you can use a Windows command to make them disappear.

Open the My Computer folder and click on Tools in the toolbar. Pick Folder Options and then open the View tab. There you will find a check box to prevent hidden files from being shown.

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

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