Hassle Free PC: Squash CD and Printer Annoyances

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I'm the world's biggest cheapskate: I hate wasting anything, even a little bit of space on a 50-cent CD. And throwing away a perfectly good late-20th-century printer? I wouldn't dream of it. My quest for new ways to save a buck led me to the following tips, tools, and time-savers.

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

The Fix: I was in the same boat, with videos ranging from small 8MB files to some that approach 300MB. For quickly burning a single CD, I would drag and drop files onto Nero's explorer window and watch the sliding bar to stay under the 700MB limit. Roxio's Easy Media Creator works similarly; read about both in "Nero and Roxio Put New Spin on Traditional Disc-Burning Suites." But if I wanted to burn many 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 much better way to fill 'em up. It's a cool, free utility that examines all the files I've chosen to burn and figures out how to combine them to make the most of each CD, DVD, or Zip disk. Grab a copy of SizeMe. Here's how I use it: Click Scan new directory in the right 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 onto your burning software. If you're using XP to burn CDs, first create a new folder in Windows Explorer, drag and drop the SizeMe CD icon into the new folder, and then burn as usual (by dragging files onto your CD-ROM drive icon). Click here to see SizeMe in action.

I have a more intuitive tool for burning big files onto CDs. Picasa 2, Google's free image management software, has a spiffy little backup feature. It's easy to use, it can burn to a CD or a DVD (or even an external drive), and it fills up each disk automatically. From Picasa's Tools menu, choose Backup Pictures, and select New Set (you'll be prompted for the type of backup media you want to use). Choose a name for your backup set, the backup type, and the file types to include; click Create; and then click Burn.

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

The Fix: Windows is doing its job--but a little too diligently. Use Microsoft's free TweakUI to fix the hassle. From TweakUI's taskbar and Start menu item, uncheck Enable balloon tips, and you won't get the alert anymore.

The Hassle: I have a nine-year-old HP laser printer that 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 is, 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. It costs just $10, and my equipment's grip is back.

Tool of the Month: Free Taskbar Replacement

I'm using the free version of ObjectDock to give my desktop a little pizzazz and to make reaching my favorite apps and tools easier. It's Mac-like (don't worry, I'm not switching), with animated buttons and icons; plenty more are available on the ObjectDock site. Adding your programs is a snap: 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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