MARCH 2008


Getting Your Priorities Right

Hi Rick, when you set a digital camera to Aperture Priority mode (in this case Fuji E900) is the aperture set automatically?

Joe Busuttil, Malta


A. Most mid-range and high-end cameras (digital and film) have an assortment of exposure modes and most of them are fairly self explanatory (i.e. ‘Twilight’, ‘Landscape’, ‘Cloudy’ and so on), but Aperture Priority and its stablemate Shutter Priority mode can be a bit confusing. So let’s take a quick look at what they do, and what they’re good for.


Aperture Priority lets you adjust the aperture, also known as the iris, whilst the camera takes control of the shutter. The iris is the gizmo behind the lens that opens or closes to allow more or less light through to the image sensor. Opening the iris too wide would result in over exposure, and conversely making it too small would make the picture too dark, so to make sure this doesn’t happen, the camera sets the optimum shutter speed. If it thinks the iris is too big it compensates with a very fast shutter speed. Similarly, if the iris is open too far it selects a slower shutter speed, to allow more light through.


Setting the Aperture manually allows you to control the depth of field, which is basically the area in front of the camera lens where everything will be in focus, which for the sake of simplicity we’ll divide up into the far background, the middle ground and close to the camera, the foreground. For instance, you might want to have your subject stand out against a blurry background, in which case you would choose a wide aperture, whereas a narrow aperture would put the background in sharp focus, to make it stand out but objects in the middle ground and foreground will be less sharp.


Shutter Priority works the other way around. You manually control the shutter speed and leave the camera to figure out the best aperture or iris setting. It works well for things like races, where you want to emphasise the effect of speed and movement, by blurring the subject, or if you pan with the subject, blur the background.



XP Stop Signal

Hello Rick, can you help with a Startup problem? My Windows XP SP2 computer starts and loads up to the full desktop window with icons then goes blank with a small window saying No Signal. I press F8 and then reboot and after two more attempts it will load. Once loaded there are no further problems. I have tried System Restore and also msconfig. I had a look at Device Manager but then I get lost.

Geoff Inwood


A. I suspect the ‘No Signal’ message is actually coming from your monitor, rather than Windows, and it is usually an indication of a problem with the video adaptor, it’s driver or, very occasionally, the monitor itself. The first thing to do check and reseat both ends of the cable connecting the PC to the monitor. Next, make sure you are not using an unsupported resolution for your monitor – try changing it in Display Properties (right-click desktop and select Properties) and see what happens. Still no good, then update your video driver. If you don’t know the make and model offhand open Device Manager again and it will be displayed under Video Adaptors – pop along to the manufacturer’s website and download the latest version for your operating system. If the problem persists whip off the PC’s lid and reseat the adaptor card (assuming the adaptor is not integrated with the motherboard. If it is, or the No Signal message continues then try a new video card.



Broadband Limits -- If the Cap Fits…

Hello Rick, some ISPs impose monthly download limits, and the cost of exceeding these can be quite high. Are you aware of any shareware or freeware utilities which keep a track of the number of bytes downloaded during each internet session, ideally adding them together so that one may determine one's internet download totals?

Mike Wade


A. My first piece of advice to you is to shop around and find yourself a broadband deal that doesn’t impose a ‘cap’ on your downloads. Ask your existing ISP, you might be pleasantly surprised at how cheap it is to upgrade, after all they don’t want to lose your business.


A year or so ago capped packages might have made sense for some low demand users, but now, with so many very competitive deals available it is unlikely that you would save any money, and as you have pointed out, you risk of exceeding your limit and running up a large bill. Even if you never considered yourself the sort of person who would download music and video from the web, I bet you will after playing around with the BBC iPlayer (the subject of a series of articles for my Daily Telegraph Boot Camp columns).


Anyway, if you decided to stay with a capped deal then a little freeware utility called Netmeter is what you are looking for, and you’ll find a link to it on the software page of my PCTopTips website



Wilful Wireless

Hi Rick, I am hoping you can once again help us with a problem.  We have a desktop and Acer laptop linked by a Lynksys router, which works fine together. We are connected by Virgin Media Cable to their modem. The operating system is Windows XP.  Yesterday we bought a Packard Bell laptop with Vista Home Premium. When we tried to connect to the Internet it asked for the security passkey but would not accept it. We have tried different versions - capitals etc. but no go. Our present system works well so we know the password is correct. Can you help us add this new laptop?

Pat Day


A. Been there, seen it, done it, got the tee-shirt… I have wasted hours of my life chasing down problems like this, and although I can’t rule out the possibility of a hardware of software fault, I’m willing to bet 50 pee that everything is working just fine, it’s just one of PC networking and wi-fi’s funny little ways. When it happens to me now I have learned that the best thing to do is switch everything off, and I mean everything, including the router, modem all PCs and laptops in the vicinity, and if you have any other wireless devices, in the house, switch those off too. Now you can carry out a staged reboot, working your way forward through the chain starting with the modem, then the router, followed by the new laptop, which should now log on, then you can proceed to the other PCs.



Jerky Scroll Mouse

Hi Rick, I have just spent half a day doing a repair install of XP Home and SP2 plus all the MS updates, AVG and Zone Alarm, which the reinstall seemed to mess up. I now find that scrolling in almost any program is very jerky and the page moves up and down in chunks like a wave rolling down the page.  I have auto scrolling and smooth scrolling enabled on Firefox.  I seem to recall that you have advised someone else on this problem in the past…

David Thomson


A. It does sound familiar and the usual cause of a significant change in behaviour, and not just a twitchy moue, it could be anything from no sound to a loss of USB functionality, is almost always down to missing or corrupted drivers. Normally the driver cache on a Repair Install is left alone, but who knows what goes on under the bonnet when you carry out such a major reinstallation job. If you can track down the manufacturer it’s worth visiting the manufacturer’s website and download the latest version, otherwise try deleting the installed driver from Device Manager and a fresh copy should be reinstalled following a reboot.



Touchy Cursor

Hi Rick, I have had my Advent laptop since 2001 and it has given sterling service.  Recently the power socket became detached from the motherboard (a common problem I understand) and attempts to repair it weren't successful. I sourced an inexpensive, identical model second hand that had a faulty hard-drive. It was obvious that the ‘new’ machine was in physically better shape than the original, and since swapping motherboards would involve complete disassembly I simply fitted my old hard-drive and RAM module into the replacement laptop.


The computer now boots up no problem, and charges okay - which means I've solved the original problem, but I find after 15 minutes or so of use I get a window pop up that tells me that Windows has detected an additional pointing device and is disabling part of the touch pad’. The machine then goes on to randomly move the pointer around closing open applications.


I don't have any additional pointing devices or mice plugged in and my original laptop didn't do this. I can only think it must be something to do with hardware the previous owner of the laptop had used. I can't boot up the hard drive that came with the machine, so I can't look on there for any drivers to remove, and I can't understand where the bug is hiding - could it be buried somewhere in the RAM chip from the original machine? If so, how can I stop it?

Glen Anderson,


A. That is an odd one but since you have replaced the hard drive it can’t be a driver problem. My best guess is the touch pad or its controller chip (on the motherboard) is faulty, or there’s something off happening in the BIOS. You should be able to tell if it’s the touch pad by replacing it with the one from your old PC, if the error message persists check the BIOS and look for any settings associated with the touch pad, or an external mouse, and see what happens when you change them. Failing that then I’m afraid the only thing left is the motherboard, so dig out the screwdrivers…



Belligerent Broadband

Hi Rick, I have just switched from dial-up to ADSL broadband. According to the icon in the system tray I am getting a download speed of 7.1 – 7.4 Mb/sec, so that seems to be OK. The problem is that I keep losing my connection.  Sometimes it may be after ten to twenty minutes and sometimes after a couple of hours. I thought that with broadband I should remain connected all the time. My ISP has told me to uncheck ‘Disconnect if idle for XX minutes’ and ‘Disconnect when connection may no longer be needed’ in the Advanced Dial Up window, but I had already done that and it doesn’t make any difference. Do you have any suggestions please?

Peter Watson.


A. I’ve dealt with this before but questions like this are a recurring theme so it doesn’t hurt to return to the subject every so often. Your broadband connection should be on all of the time. The items your ISP told you to check are certainly a possibility when migrating from dial-up to broadband, but disconnection is more likely to occur at regular intervals, which means the problem is probably due to something external to the PC.


Unfortunately there are rather a lot of possibilities but you should be able to track it down by a process of elimination. The number one cause of intermittent connection is a poor quality or noisy line, which can also be due to living too far from the exchange. It’s less likely in your case as you are getting a decent download speed and if you are comfortably within 6km of your local exchange then we can probably rule that out. The next step is to carry out an automated Line check, this is a bit rough and ready but it should highlight any serious problems. It’s also worth just listening to the line, if you hear a lot of hiss and crackles then there may be something wrong. Often it’s something simple, like water ingress in a junction box outside your house or up the telephone pole.


If al that checks out see how many other devices are connected to the line, and if there’s more than 3 or 4 extension phones and things like fax machines, sky boxes and so on, disconnect them one at a time. You should also check the microfilters, an easy way to do that is buy a new one and exchange it, one at a time with the others in use. Finally, note when the disconnection occurs, does it coincide with other large appliances in the home switching on or off – central heating boilers, fridges, freezers and so on? If so they may be generating ‘spikes’ which are carried by the mains so you should isolate the computer and modem/router using a mains spike suppression adaptor.



Printer Pranged?

My wife recently bought a new Acer laptop with Windows Vista as the operating system. She   had problems with our old HP Printer, which was subsequently replaced with an HP Photosmart C4100.


All was well for a few weeks but since then the printer fails to print. Printing from the web was not possible and then all attempted printing produced nothing. I have uninstalled and reinstalled the printer software but to no avail. I have checked your Boot Camp Archives but there is no reference to the problem. Could the Vista operating system be responsible?

Trevor Cates


A. I know it is tempting to blame Windows for everything that goes wrong but just occasionally the problem is much simpler, and so obvious that you forget to check it. So before you do anything else let’s try a spot of troubleshooting. Make sure the printer is switched on, properly connected, there are no warning lights or error messages showing, check the ink cartridges are correctly installed, swap the printer cable for a known good one and if it still won’t work, try installing the printer on another computer. If possible try installing another printer on the Acer laptop.


As far as I’m aware there are no known issues with this model and Vista so once you have established that the PC and printer are working properly you can pop along to the HP support website and download and install the most up to date drivers and utilities for Vista. They’re dated early 2007, which also suggests there hasn’t been any serious compatibility problems to date. Finally, on the same download page there’s a HP Printer diagnostic utility, I suggest that you download that and see what that has to say.



Holiday Bookings

Hi Rick, we run a small office with three networked PCs using Windows XP. We are expanding our self-catering holiday lettings from one small property to three and therefore from four bed spaces to fourteen. There is potential to increase in size again in the future to twenty bed spaces.


Is there some software that we can use to run our bookings and keep track of who is arriving when and whether they have paid the full amount by the due date etc?

Geoff Norman


A. I have to confess this is not an area I know much about, other than as a consumer on the other end of hotel booking systems, and I could tell you a few stories about that. However, I recall a similar question coming up several years ago in a now defunct column that I used to edit for the Daily Telegraph, called Over 2 You, where readers solved each other’s problems and some of the replies in a thread that began in O2Y 025 may prove useful. Otherwise it’s Google to the rescue and the search terms ‘holiday booking software’ threw up a number of useful looking packaged from the likes of Zebra, 247 Booking and Roeville, to name just a few. If you are on a tight budget try changing  ‘software’ to ‘freeware’. Either way there’s a ton of software out there, but I’m afraid it’s up to you to do the legwork and work out which one is best for you.


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