Q: From time to time I write letters to newspapers. When inserting my name into a search engine, links to some of those letters show up...

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Q: From time to time I write letters to newspapers. When inserting my name into a search engine, links to some of those letters show up; others do not. How does that work?

D.J. Weiss, Bellingham

A: Search engines work in mysterious ways. Among other methods, they employ software “crawlers” to prowl the Web sites on the Internet to collect and index data.

Some Web sites — especially commercial ones — submit material to search engines for indexing.

If you have your own Web site, you’ll soon find yourself receiving offers from businesses that help Web site owners get their site indexed and “prioritized” with Web search engines.

So … I can’t give you a clear answer as to why some letters show up and others don’t.

Q: In a recent column you told a reader about a “program compatibility assistant” available with Windows Vista. How do we get to that, and would it apply to hardware? For example, I just bought a new computer with Vista Home Premium and now find that my Lexmark X6170 all-in-one printer won’t work with it, and I have been unsuccessful in trying to download drivers from Lexmark’s Web site. Any suggestions short of buying a new printer?

Lee Woodard

A: The Program Compatibility Assistant pops up automatically when you try to run an older program that has compatibility issues. The assistant notifies you if there is a problem and offers to fix it the next time you run the program. If the compatibility issue is serious or can’t be fixed, the Program Compatibility Assistant will either warn you or block the program from running, and it will then check online for solutions.

As for your printer, I just checked the Lexmark site and it does have Vista drivers available for that printer. If you’re having a problem downloading them, contact its webmaster.

Q: I thought I saw in one of your columns that a person should make sure his or her IP address is hidden and how to do it. I never thought much about it until I went onto a site recently, and it said my IP address was visible and listed it on the screen. It was a recipe site, but the screen that said my address was visible and it wanted to sell me a protection for it. Is there something I can do to hide it myself and make sure this never happens again?


A: Chances are you don’t have a problem. Unless you’re paying your Internet service provider for a static IP address — and there isn’t much reason to do that if you aren’t hosting your own Web sites on your computer — you’re likely getting assigned a dynamic IP address. If that’s the case, each time you log on you’re likely to be using a different IP address selected from a pool of addresses leased by your ISP.

If you are using a static IP address, you can employ a proxy server that will effectively shield your IP address from identification.

Q: My server is prodigy.net.mx by Telmex. For some while, the server quits 30 minutes after logging on. This means that I must repeatedly log on (at a cost of 15 cents on each occasion). People I know using the same server have the same problem. Telmex says I have a line problem. I believe Telmex has software that limits its server time in order to increase its revenue. What do you think?

John Whiley

A: It is tempting to think someone is conspiring to deceptively squeeze more money out of us. But it’s more likely that, as your ISP claims, you have a line problem. Dial-up connections are very sensitive to any instability in the line and you may have data problems even if you never notice a problem with your voice communications.

That said, I haven’t heard of an ISP imposing a charge for each time you connect. You may want to look into signing up with a different ISP.

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.