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Issue #51: July 13, 2008

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Q: My question concerns cookies.  I have heard that websites can (or might) change the price on items you show an interest in by visiting their sites on a regular basis.  For example, I have had the experience of watching airfares, and the fares increasing when I check them on different days.  Of course, I know that airlines are constantly changing fares, and this may have nothing to do with me and my cookies.

Recently, before searching for airfares I disabled all my cookies.  A couple of sites that search and compare fares said I could not use the site until I enabled cookies.  Other sites did not have that requirement.

– Sue C.
Destin, FL

A: Generally, web cookies are used to personalize and keep track of the state of a session between you and a given website.  The language used by most web sites, HTTP, is basically one-way, from the web site to your computer.  The type of sites you mention need ways to track individual users as they transition from page to page (for example, browsing airline fares then making a purchase).  These sites use cookies as a way to store a small bit of information on your computer, which then gets sent back to the site unchanged, so that of the potentially millions of people hitting the site, it knows which one you are.  This stops you from seeing the air fares someone else has asked for, and is the primary reason that many sites won’t allow you to proceed if cookies are disabled.

Some sellers certainly might change the price of items if they generate a lot of interest.  However, they wouldn’t need to use cookies to do that.  They can gauge interest just by counting the number of times an item’s page gets viewed.  I had such an experience recently with Amazon.com.  I was interested in getting a remote control for my new digital SLR camera.  I browsed it, and even put it in my shopping cart, but I didn’t purchase it.  The next time I went to Amazon, the price was actually lower. 

Q: Whenever I restart or boot my computer, a pop-up appears on the screen stating: “Restarting your computer is required.  The computer must be restarted before updating can continue.  Would you like to restart now?”  If I click “yes”, the pop-up reappears.  If I click “no”, I can proceed.  How do I get rid of this annoying pop-up?

– Rudy L.
Niceville, FL

A: The annoying popup is almost assuredly coming from an Adobe product.  The grammatically questionable “Restarting your computer is required” is (as far as I know) only used by Adobe Systems.  You probably installed an Adobe product (Acrobat Reader, for example) then didn’t allow the computer to reboot when it asked “to complete the installation”.  Now you’ve got a perpetual problem with Adobe Updater, which runs when your computer runs, but which thinks the original installation never successfully completed.  There are a couple of ways to fix this, depending on how adept you are at your computer.  You could try completely uninstalling Adobe products, and re-install them, making sure you reboot when prompted.  Alternatively, you could run MSCONFIG and look for any Adobe startups that launch when your computer boots, and disable them.

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