I’ve got one silly question that not even the SBC Yahoo support staff for my e-mail account knows.

How come when I send e-mail to myself to test my account it does not come back to my mailbox?

Does that e-mail float in cyberspace? I used to send to myself as a test in the past when I had a Prodigy.net account.

– Mike Biko

Your test messages are not floating in cyberspace, Mr. B., but rather they’ve almost certainly been exiled to your junk mail folder. A common scam among junk e-mail boiler rooms is to use a person’s own e-mail address as the return address on their sales pitches and other schemes.

Accordingly, many junk mail filters sniff out this self-addressed stuff and automatically sweep it off into a junk mail folder.

Open the e-mail trash folder and you’ll find those test messages languishing along with the Liberian oil deal pitches, denture offers and links to exotic dancer sites.

Whenever a Web site requires an e-mail address my Windows XP computer’s Auto Complete gives several options: One is my old e-mail address and another one is an e-mail typo. I’ve searched the registry and files and have come up with some references that I’ve eliminated, but it persists.

How can I locate these erroneous quick fills? I know you can help.

– Richard Tolzman

Guess what, Mr. T.? Your confidence in me knowing the answer here is misplaced. Because Windows writes the information you want to change in a highly encrypted form, I cannot help you fix bad listings in this list of user names and passwords.

Windows collects this information as users log on to various Web sites and provide user names and passwords.

Think for a moment and you will appreciate that the data is encrypted, because otherwise your sensitive sign-on information could be stolen by any mope with access to your computer. All is not lost, however. I can show you how to delete everything in the current list. This will let you go back and fill stuff in correctly the second time around.

Look for the Tools choice at the top of the Microsoft Internet Explorer display and then select Internet Options in the drop-down menu. In the box with tabbed menus this summons, open the tab called Content and you will find an Auto Complete button. Click on it and you will be given the option of clearing all user names and/or all passwords. Also available are boxes to switch off remembering the names of Web pages visited in the past and to stop offering information to fill in forms.

The information for filling in forms is added by creating an entry for yourself in the Windows address book, which is part of the Outlook Express e-mail software in Windows.

With any luck, you will find it relatively easy to clear out all of your current information and then start over again to fix the bad information now on your machine.

If you’re curious, you can find the encrypted information by going to Start and Run and typing in regedit to open the Windows Registry Editor. You will get a list of “keys” that are folders and subfolders holding all of the registry settings.

Here is the key address for the password forms: HKEY-CURRENT-USER 1/4Software 1/4Microsoft 1/4Internet Explorer 1/4IntelliForms 1/4SPW

When you open that SPW folder your sign-on data will appear as encrypted gibberish.

Before doing this, however, read the next question.

You wisely have advised backing up the Windows system registry before tampering with it and you explained how to do the backups.

Let’s say I backed it up and then screwed it up.

Can a messed-up registry be restored? If so, how does one perform the restore? In other words, what about the rest of the story?

– Bill Underwood

Before the rest of the story, let’s consider what they call the back story.

The Windows registry is a huge collection of files and folders filled with all of the settings and variables that make the operating system do its stuff as users customize their own computers. Messing with the registry can be considered the third rail of computer tweaking, because even a small error can cause damaging changes to the computer.

That’s why it is so important to make a copy of the registry in its current working state before messing around under the hood.

As I said above, to find the registry click on Start and then Run and type in regedit in the line that appears. This will open up the registry editor, which consists of a pane on the left holding the name of each folder and subfolder and a pane on the right showing whatever is in the folder currently selected.

The top headings in this outline are for major categories called keys and are listed along the lines of “HKEY-CLASSES-ROOT.” Click open an HKEY category and a subfolder will open below as in the one I described to find the form filling settings in the item above.

By clicking on individual items, a user often is allowed to type in some key data, such as on or off, or yes or no, or numbers for a setting or even a few words in whatever language is being used.

But before you make any changes you should click on File in the registry editor’s menu and then pick Export. This will create an icon on the desktop named Registry Editor.

And now for the rest of the story, Mr. U.

To restore the registry and remove your changes you, just give that icon a click. The registry editor will write the settings that work over the ones you messed up.

(Contact Jim Coates via e-mail at jcoatestribune.com or via snail mail at the Chicago Tribune, Room 400, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60611. Questions can be answered only through this column. Add your point of view at chicagotribune.com/askjim.)

(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at http://www.chicagotribune.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-12-14-05 0623EST

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