Waste of space

I'm the world's biggest cheapskate: I hate wast­ing anything, even the smallest bit of space on a blank CD. And throwing away a perfectly good late-20th-century printer?

I wouldn't dream of it. My never-ending quest for ways to save a few bucks led me to the following tips, tools and timesavers.

The Hassle: I have a huge collection of videos and images and want to burn some of them to CD to share with a friend. I can never seem to fill the discs to the maximum capacity. Any ideas?

The Fix: I was in the same boat, with videos ranging from small 8MB files to some that approach 300MB. When quickly burning a single CD, I would drag-and-drop files on to Nero's explorer window and watch the sliding bar stay under the 700MB limit.

Roxio's Easy Media Creator works in a similar fashion. But if I wanted to burn a large number of files that collectively exceed the size of one CD, I had to remove files from the list manually for the best fit.

I've found a better way to fill them up. It's a cool, free utility that examines all the files I've chosen to burn and figures out how to make the most of each CD or DVD. Get SizeMe at http://lars.werner.no/wordpress/?page_id=2 or from the Cover DVD of the July 2006 issue of PC World.

To use the pro­gram, click "Scan new directory" in the right-hand panel and select the files you want to burn. The program then creates little CD icons in the middle panel. Drag-and-drop those icons on to your burning software. If you're using XP to burn CDs, first create a folder in Windows Explorer, drag-and-drop the SizeMe CD icon into the folder, then burn as usual by dragging files on to your CD-ROM drive icon.

I have a more intuitive tool for burning big files on to CDs. Picasa 2.0 (www.picasa.com or off the Cover DVD of the July 2006 issue of PC World), Google's free image-management software, has a great little backup feature. It's easy to use, can burn to a CD, a DVD, or an external drive, and it fills up each disc automatically. From Picasa's Tools menu, choose Backup Picture-New Set. You'll be asked which type of backup media you want to use. Choose a name for your set, the backup type and the file extensions to include; click Create, then Burn.

The Hassle: My laptop has a Wi-Fi card but the wireless con­nection is often flaky. When I lose con­nectivity moment­arily, I get a pop-up from the system tray that says "Wireless Network Connection is not connected".

The Fix: Windows is doing its job too diligently. Use the free TweakUI, which is included as one of Microsoft's PowerToys - go to www.microsoft.com and search for Power Toys - to fix the hassle. From TweakUI's taskbar and Start menu item, uncheck Enable balloon tips - you won't get the alert any more.

The Hassle: My nine-year-old laser printer often jams. It seems the rollers aren't gripping the paper. Should I upgrade?

The Fix: Upgrade? Ha! My laser printer isn't as old as yours, but its rubber rollers used to be as smooth as I'm guessing yours are. I sprayed the rollers on my printer - and fax machine - with a Rubber Roller Rejuvenator Can (see www.fixyourownprinter.com). Shipping costs take it up to $US22, but my equipment's got a grip again.

Free taskbar replacement

I'm using the free version of ObjectDock (www.stardock.com/products/objectdock or off the Cover DVD of the July 2006 issue of PC World) to give my desktop a little pizzazz and to make reaching my favourite apps and tools easier. It's Mac-style, with animated buttons and icons (a picture is available here) - plus plenty more goodies are available on the ObjectDock site. Adding programs is simple: just drag-and-drop an icon from XP's Start menu. You can configure ObjectDock's size and location and kill some time trying out assorted skins.

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