Check Your Connection Speed

By Mr. Modem

Q. Im merging data on an Excel spreadsheet with Word to compile a mailing list, but Im having a heck of a time getting ZIP Codes, that begin with a zero, to print. This is driving me crazy. Can you help?

A. Excel is doing what it normally does in this instance, and thats dropping the leading zero because its assuming that the ZIP Code is an actual number. Since the 1 and the 01 have the same numerical value, Excel thinks its doing you a favor by tidying up and dropping the unnecessary zero digit.

To let Excel know that your ZIP Code column is not comprised of random numbers, but rather ZIP Codes, first highlight the entire column by clicking the letter at the top of the column. Next, click Format > Cells > Number tab.

In the Category section, scroll down and select Special. You will then have the opportunity to select ZIP Code from the Type section. Once you make your selection, click OK. Try your mail merge again and your ZIP Codes will print correctly, with no disappearing digits.

Q. What does PLOKTA mean? A friend was helping me with my computer by sending me text messages and she mentioned PLOKTA. I was too embarrassed to tell her that I had no clue what she was talking about.

A. PLOKTA is a tongue-in-cheek, TextSpeak-based acronym that stands for Press Lots of Keys To Abort. This is the wildly popular, highly ineffective, panic-based technique most of us use when our systems freeze up. Typical usage: "If all else fails, try the PLOKTA method to get your computer to respond."

Q. Is there a way to tell how fast my Internet connection is? It seems really slow. My ISP tells me it's fine, but I would like to check it myself.

A. There are lots of connection speed tests on the Internet, but two that are particularly easy to use are the CNET Bandwidth Speed Test (, and my personal favorite, the Speakeasy Speed Test ( No additional software is required for either test. Keep in mind that connection speeds fluctuate, so record your speed at various times of the day and night over the course of several days to determine your average connection speed.

Once you have established your average, contact your ISP and ask what speeds (uploading and downloading) you should be receiving. ISPs usually frame their insincere speed promises in terms of up to a certain speed, thus allowing themselves plenty of wiggle room. If the speed you're getting is significantly below what your ISP represented, tell them what your test results revealed. Your ISP can then check it out, determine if there is a problem and, if the cyber gods are smiling upon you, resolve it.

Mr. Modem's Sites of the Week:

100 Words You Should Know
The busy-body editors of The American Heritage College Dictionary have compiled a list of 100 words every high school graduate should know. Everything from 'abjure' to 'ziggurat' are on their must know list. (I wonder what high school the American Heritage College people had in mind?)

Abandoned Photos
A collection of more than 450 photos of abandoned structures, including industrial plants, buildings and hospitals, mostly in Russia. Artistically fascinating, in a morbidly depressing kind of way.

Welcome to America
A quirky site that consists of photos of the photographer standing by state welcome signs. (I guess everybody needs a hobby.) Roger Johnson, the aforementioned photographer, has been photographing welcome signs since 1989. Lots of additional interesting information is also presented about each state.

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