Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2003 / 23 Kislev, 5764


Losing cookies clears way back to healthy site; echo when computer runs machine-generated voice; more

By James Coates

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | (KRT) Q. All of a sudden my HP running Windows XP will not let me get to one of my regularly visited sites, an online vitamin store. I get the following error message: "Microsoft VBScript runtime error `800a01f4' Variable is undefined: `vstrLinkshareId' /shophome.asp, line 117" I tried the Microsoft Knowledge Base without luck. Can you help?

Mikey Itchibelli@hotmail.com

A. It looks like one of the cookie files that your favorite vitamin seller has placed on your computer's hard drive is doing something to create an error every time the browser attempts to access the online store's database. At the company's end, your account probably is sending a message to stop searching for product lists before ordering the Web site to start searching for the lists. This glitch, according to Microsoft's update services, can cause that error message

So you need to get a different pill pusher or work out why the cookies are acting up. I checked the site repeatedly and found it working fine on my machines.

First, you'll want to delete the cookies the store placed on your computer. You could order all cookies removed from your machine, but that will mean you'll have to go back through the processes of signing on manually to all of your Web accounts, and that you'll miss features like targeted advertising from Web sites that you want to see.

The easiest way to find your cookie files in all flavors of Windows is to use the Start/Search tool and use the search term cookies to scan your C: drive. You will find individual cookie folders for all users on the computer, and when you open them you will find the cookie files is alphabetical order.

Find your virtual vitamin vendor and remove its cookies. When you go back on the Web site, it will ask you to go through its registration process, and let's hope it creates a new cookie that doesn't trigger that Visual Basic Script error you encounter.

If it frightens you, as it does many folks when they first see the large number of cookie files that Web sites place on visitors' hard drives, you quickly can delete all cookies by clicking on the Tools/Internet Options command in the browser and look for the Delete Cookies box.

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Q. I like to listen to books on CD while walking or using the treadmill. However, the skipping is quite annoying. A friend suggested an MP3 player, and after doing a lot of research on the various players I am still at a loss as to how much memory is needed to download an entire book (or transfer from CD to an MP3 player via my PC). The specifications for each model refer only to music tracks and not the spoken word. I downloaded the instruction manuals for the Rio Cali 128 megabyte and 256 mb players and still have no idea what to buy.

Kathy Tuite, Chicago

A. It's this simple, Ms. T.: a megabyte per minute for storing audio files. So a 128 mb music player holds a minimum of 2 hours worth of tunes, and a 256 mb player can handle 4 hours. If you can stay on a treadmill long enough to run even the 128 mb device dry of music, you'll be fitter and trimmer than before. Companies like Audible (www.audible.com) that sell books recorded into computer files offer voice files that are far more compressed than music files can be squeezed.

According to operators of the Audible.com Web service, spoken-word books can be squashed to the extent that a 128 mb player could play up to a whopping 40 hours using Audible's most powerful and lowest-quality sound files. It will play more than 16 hours of better-quality files from Audible.

The idea with recorded books is that you keep them on a hard drive or a CD at the same 1-minute-per-megabyte format as other MP3s, and then use special compression software to temporarily move them to portable devices.

I should add that most of the folks I know who use computer devices to listen to music and books favor the far larger devices pioneered by Apple's iPod, which start at $300 and hold a whopping 10 gigabytes of data, good for more than 40 times the data a 256 mb device can hold. I'd suggest that you check out Audible.com for file-size details as well as a listing of compatible MP3 sound players.

Let me add that although the megabyte-per-minute estimate is a realistic minimum for music files, it also is true that most files today are compressed tighter, and so you'll get more, sometimes a lot more, storage on any device.

Q. I run Windows ME on a 2-year-old AMD Athlon Gateway computer, and I started to get an echo whenever I listen to a machine-generated voice on the computer. It does not seem to do it when I play a music CD. I downloaded an upgrade to Media Player around that time but not sure that they are connected. Would it be worthwhile to upgrade to XP Home? I've heard many pros and cons on this topic.

George Rigert @msn.com

A. Your sound problem has nothing to do with the ME operating system. So until you encounter something you really want to do but cannot do with ME, there is no reason to switch.

As to those echoes, I'm all but positive that your problem is a little gremlin named Microsoft Sam, who is the default computer-generated voice built into Windows XP and used by a great many of the so-called TTS (text to speech) programs such as the one you are using on that ME machine. The idea is to let a user type text into a program and then have the computer read it in a machine-generated voice. Microsoft Sam is a blatant copy of the voice originally built into the Amiga line of computers, and the echo was included to make it abundantly clear that there was a robot speaking. Although nobody is going to be fooled by any computer voice, most of us find we prefer the upfront robot to some bogus, girlish-sounding speech or other caricature.

The way to deep-six Microsoft Sam is to acquire such dedicated text-to-speech software as the various voice-recognition programs or to buy a set of voices that can be added to a computer. You don't say what TTS software you are using, but I'd suggest you check it out to see if there are alternative voices offered. This is easier in Windows XP than in ME because XP includes an available speech-recognition module that will add other voices to the computer.

I would add that upgrading from Microsoft Sam to some echo-free voice is not exactly the best reason ever cited for moving up to Windows XP.

Anticipating questions from XP owners, let me add as well that the way to add voice recognition to XP is to go to the Regional Settings Control Panel that is reached by clicking on Start/Control Panel.

Anticipating folks in the Macintosh world, I also would add that Apple has been building a wide variety of TTS voices into its operating systems for more than a decade, while Microsoft, with the introduction of XP, finally offered lonesome Microsoft Sam.

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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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