Propellerhead Tips 05





Are you tired of all those boring little icons on your desktop? Then do something about it! You can easily create your own custom icons in Windows using ordinary picture files or graphics created using the Paint program. You could have the pictures of the family or pets representing your programs (no jokes about using a photo of the mother in law to represent the word processor please...), or design your own from scratch. The image can be any size - Windows will automatically adjust the size and shape -- but it must be in the Bitmap (extension .bmp) format. Most paint and graphics program have a 'Save As' facility that will convert picture files from other file types into .bmp format. Once that's done open Windows Explorer, find the picture file and click once into the name field to highlight it, then wait a second and click again to insert a cursor so it can be renamed. Change the file extension from .bmp to .ico, and hit return. Now go to the Desktop and right-click on the icon you want to change and select Properties. On the Shortcut tab you should see a 'Change Icon' button, (you can't normally change the icon on Windows applications) click it and use the Browse button to find your icon picture file, press OK and it's done. .




If you do a lot of travelling with a laptop, organiser or smart mobile phone here’s a useful tip that could get you out of all sorts of trouble. Before you go create a document listing important phone numbers and contacts that could be useful in an emergency, such as the travel company, friends and relatives, travel insurance and credit card company. You could also include things like your passport number, credit card numbers and so on but it would be very unwise to list them as such. Instead disguise them as phone numbers and as a further precaution reverse the order of the digits, so they’ll be useless to anyone who might see them. Once you’ve finished store the file on your PC, phone or organiser and give it an innocuous name. Finally, just before you leave send the file to yourself in the form of an email, so even if your gear is lost or stolen you can still retrieve the information from an Internet café or a colleague’s PC, using a web mail server like (just don’t forger your email address and password).




When you are out of the office, whether it’s just for a few hours or a week’s holiday, it’s useful to be able to reply to incoming emails to let people know you are away, and you will reply to their message when you get back. This facility is available in Outlook Express but it only works if the PC in question has an always-on Internet connection (or is connected to a network) and it has to be on with OE running for it to work.


Begin by creating your reply message, something like ‘I am out of the office until Tuesday etc…’. Click the New Mail button, type in your message and go to File > Save As, give the message a name and save it in a folder where you will be able to find it. Step two, go to Tools > Message Rules > Mail, click the New button and in the first box select 'For All Messages'. In the second box choose 'Reply With Message' and in the third box click on the underlined Message and direct it to your reply email. Click OK and it's ready to run, just remember to leave OE running




Most of the settings that determine how Windows and most of the programs on your PC look and operate are contained in a huge System file called the Registry. From here it is possible to do all kinds of interesting things to the way Windows works but the Registry is definitely off limits to newcomers and beginners. Even small changes can have catastrophic results but there is a way to safely fiddle with Registry settings and that’s to use a free Microsoft utility called Tweak UI (UI stands for ‘user Interface’ by the way). Tweak UI is part of Microsoft’s PowerToys suite of programs, they’re unsupported so if anything goes wrong you are on your own but they’ve been around for yonks and problems have been very few and far between. There’s not enough room to list everything it can do but if you’ve ever want to fine-tune your mouse, take control of Windows Explorer, get rid of Balloon Tips, eradicate shortcut arrows, change your Logon preferences and much more then give it a try. Click here for Tweak UI for Windows XP, and here for Windows 95, 98, SE, ME, NT and 2000.




For reasons best known to Microsoft Windows Explorer in XP opens showing the My Documents folder, or some other equally pointless location. Nine times out of ten what you want it to do is show the contents of your C: drive, so here’s the way to make it do just that. Right-click on the Windows Explorer icon or shortcut that you use most often (you can do it to all the others as well) and click Properties. In the Target box you should add the following  ‘switches’ to the end of the command line:  /n,/e,c: and these will tell Windows Explorer to open in the root of your C: drive. If you are using another drive or want it to open somewhere else just change the c: at the end. To save you the effort of typing it in (and if you do be careful about the space in front of ‘/n’ and the two commas), just copy and paste the following command into the Target box:


%SystemRoot%explorer.exe /n,/e,c:




This quick and simple tip lets you customise your XP computer with your own eye-catching screensaver, using images you’ve stored on your PC. To set it up right-click onto an empty part of the desktop and select Properties from the drop-down menu then click the Screensaver tab. Scroll down the list and click My Pictures Slideshow and it will sequence through all of the pictures stored in the folder. If you like you can switch to another folder simply by clicking the Settings button and this window also lets you adjust the Dwell time, the size of the images and the transition effect.




If you need to create a document or newsletter it is sometimes useful to be able to drop in blocks of text to test the layout. Word has a little known facility built in, called Random Word that will do just that. Just type ‘=rand(0)’ (without the quotes) into an empty space in a document and Word instantly generates three paragraphs of ‘The quick brown fox…..’. But there’s more, by dropping a couple of number into the bracket you can control the number of sentences and paragraphs, so for example the command =rand(5,5) generates five paragraphs, each made up of 5 sentences,




Ever been driven crazy by the Windows Solitaire game?  Here’s a quick and simple cheat that gets you out of a corner and lets you win every time. All you have to do is press and hold Ctrl _ Alt + Shift then click on the top card and you will then find you can select the cards on the stack one at a time.





If you are using Windows XP that here’s a little curiosity to while away 5 minutes and 24 seconds. Hidden deep inside an XP system folder is quite a jolly little ambient techno music track that on most PCs is never be heard, even if it is then it’s the only once, as background entertainment during XP installation. The track has no name and we don’t know who composed it (though Brian Eno was responsible for earlier Windows ditties) but you can find it by going to: C:\WINDOWS\system32\oobe\images and seek out a file called ‘Title.wma’ or  ‘Windows welcome music.wma’; double click the icon and it will open in your chosen media player.




Smile, you’re on Google! Visit Google Earth at and prepare to loose all sense of time as spend the next several hours zooming in and flying over towns cities and natural wonders, you might even spot you own home. Google Earth is a stunning collaboration between aerial and satellite imagery and the PC. Visit the site, download the free viewer program (Windows XP only at the moment) and zoom in to any point on the Earth’s surface. In place resolution is down to a metre or less so you can see people, cars, trees but the best bit is the ‘Tilt’ and ‘Rotation’ angle controls that gives the impression of a low-level fly-by in 3D. There’s some strange sights to be seen as well, like the oddly blanked out White House roof, and a definite lack of alien craft in Area 51, and while you’re on the West Coast don’t miss the chance to fly through the Grand Canyon it’s brilliant!


Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.