Q: I can't be the only person with this problem, as I've seen other folks on the bus twisting their headphone jacks around in circles. I use my Rio...

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Q: I can’t be the only person with this problem, as I’ve seen other folks on the bus twisting their headphone jacks around in circles. I use my Rio Karma MP3 player all the time — on the bus, walking to work and while walking at lunchtime. My problem comes from this overuse or constant use. The on/off switch gave out several months ago. So now I have to dock it to turn it on, and change it to sleep mode to turn it off. I can live with this. But now the headphone jack is turning balky. I have to have the jack in a certain depth, at a certain angle to get full stereo reception. I’ve called all the local computer repair shops to no avail and I contacted Rio. Does no one repair these toys?


— Iris Williams, Woodinville


A: The best indicator of how long a device “should” last is the warranty the manufacturer is willing to provide. I, too, have a Rio and the warranty on it is only three months. If you’re going to make heavy use of the device, it’s probably worthwhile to buy the extended warranty offered by some stores. Of course, you have to do that at the time of purchase.


You may be able to get the company to fix your player, but without a warranty it may be expensive. It’s likely a better move to apply that money toward a new device, which is why you don’t see repair shops around for these things.


Q: I am running Windows 98 on a 6-year-old Dell Dimension XPS R400. I have a TBS Montego II PCI Audio sound card with Altec Lansing speakers and sub-woofer. Recently, my sound has degraded to the point that it is barely audible, even when the volume control is turned up all the way. I also use earphones, with which the volume control continues to work just fine. Given these facts, do you think the trouble is with the speakers and/or sub-woofer rather than the sound card or driver?


— Bob Smith


A: For starters, the problem is almost certainly not with the driver, particularly since everything works fine with your headphones. Likewise, because your headphones are working fine, the sound card is off the list of most likely suspects.


The most likely culprits are the speakers and the connections between the speakers and the sound card.


I’d suggest you borrow speakers from a friend and try them with your current setup. (After, of course, making sure all your connections are sound.) If everything works fine, you’ll know you need a new set of speakers. If the problem remains you’ll have to troubleshoot the connections back toward the sound card, hoping that the connector on the sound card itself isn’t the problem. If it is, you’ll need a new sound card.


Q: I often get e-mails with pictures, sometimes in the actual e-mail, sometimes as an attachment. However, sometimes all I see is the “frame” of the picture with a small red x in the upper left-hand corner. Is that because of something in Outlook Express or is it something that the sender does (or doesn’t do)?


— James Johnson, Tigard, Ore.


A: Yes, Outlook Express is almost certainly blocking those images from appearing. And when it does so, you get a little box with a red X in the corner.


Check this: Go to Tools in the Outlook Express menu bar and select Options. In the dialog box that pops up, click on the Security tab. See if there’s a check in the box next to “Block images and other external content in HTML e-mail.” By default, that box is checked. And it’s a good idea to leave it checked unless there’s something you really want to see and you trust the source of your e-mails. Also, click on the Read tab and see if the box is checked next to “Read all messages in plain text.” Again, unless you have a specific need to see the images it’s safest to have that box checked.


Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.