BOOT CAMP 186 (02/08//01)




Here's five more must-have PC gadgets and accessories. This week the emphasis is on protection and survival, and making your PC seem just a little bit friendlier and easier to use…



Now that PCs are talking to a wide range of portable devices, like camcorders, digital still cameras and MP3 personal stereos the idea of scrabbling around the back of the computer trying to locate a socket in amongst the tangle of cables seems slightly absurd. A Patch Bay, which fits into a vacant CD-ROM drive bay brings all of the important audio, video and data connections (stereo audio, microphone, composite & S-Video, FireWire and USB) around to the front of the PC.

Keene Electronics, 01332 830551,



UPS, from £50

A UPS or uninterruptible power supply is arguably one of the most boring PC peripherals imaginable, until the day the warning bleeper goes off and it saves your PC from a potentially catastrophic power failure. If the mains is cut off when your PC is writing data to the hard disc, even it's only for a second, there is a very real possibility that it could become irretrievably corrupted and if you rely on it for your work or business you know what that could mean! A UPS connects between your PC and the mains socket, (UPS cards that fit inside the PC case are also available). Inside there's a battery that keeps the PC running from a few minutes to several hours – depending on its capacity – giving you time to save data and safely shut it down; some models will even do that for you automatically. Most UPS also filter the mains supply and protect your machine against damaging surges and spikes. If you value your PC and the data stored on it you can't afford not to have one! Most PC accessory dealers




PCs are like some people and they can get really grouchy in hot weather. If you have been experiencing more frequent crashes, go-slows and lock-ups, and it's one of those two or three days each year we laughably refer to as summer then there is a chance your PC is getting a bit hot under the collar. If it's still loosing its cool after you've made sure that the fans are working and ventilation grilles are unobstructed you could try fitting an extra fan. Many types are available including heavy-duty ones for the CPU (central processor unit), auxiliary fans that fit into spare CD-ROM drive bays and exhaust blowers that screw into blanked off expansion port panels on the back of the case. Most of them only take a few minutes to install and should provide instant relief to your overheated system. Most PC accessory dealers




CD-ROMs are remarkably resilient but over time and especially on frequently handled ones, like your Windows installation disc, they can become scratched or scuffed. When it happens you will probably see an error message to the effect that data on the disc may be corrupted, or the PC cannot read from the drive, usually when you are loading a file or driver, or three quarters of the way through installing a program or Windows. Provided the scratches are not too deep most damaged discs can be recovered with a specially formulated polish. CD polishing kits developed for audio CDs work equally well on CD-ROMs and even DVDs and PC game discs. It's a small price to pay if it means you can continue to use a piece of software that might cost several hundred pounds to replace! Audio and hi-fi dealers




Let's not get too serious about computers, always remember what the wag in the press department of General Motors once said, in response to a comment by Bill Gates comparing the PC and motoring industries. (According to Gates: 'If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving twenty-five dollar cars that got one-thousand miles to the gallon.").


The GM press statement said:


If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.

Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you would have to buy a new car.

Occasionally, your car would die on the freeway for no reason, and you would just accept this, restart, and drive on.

Occasionally, executing a manoeuvre such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but would only run on five percent of the roads.

The oil, water, temperature, and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single "general car fault" warning light.

New seats would force everyone to have the same size butt.

The airbag system would say "Are you sure?" before going off.

Occasionally for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.


Every time G.M. introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.


You would press the "start" button to shut off the engine.


Which is a roundabout way of saying PCs don't have to be cold and unfriendly. Go on; have a bit of fun with yours. Personalise it, attach dangly things, cover it with stickers and my own personal favourite – fit a custom badge!PC badges:


Next week – picture and pixels





American slang for posterior



Video signal formats. Composite video contains picture brightness, colour and synchronisation information mixed together whilst S-Video 'Separates' the brightness and colour components, preventing them from interacting resulting in a sharper picture  


FIREWIRE (also IEEE 1394 and iLink)

High-speed serial data connection system used on some high end PCs and laptops used for demanding video and graphics applications




Speaking of personalising your PC… This tip won’t stop the dreaded 'Blue Screen of Death' (the error message that heralds a major system crash) from appearing, but you can change the colour and make it a more restful shade.


Use Notepad to open the System.ini file in the Windows folder. Scroll down to the section that starts '[386enh] and at the end type the following two lines, paying attention to the spacing, capitalisation and spelling:




Now you need to add a number or letter (hexadecimal code) after the equals signs for the background and text colours, the choices are: 0 for black, 1 blue, 2 green, 3 cyan, 4 red, 5 magenta, 6 yellow, 7 white, 8 grey, 9 bright blue, A bright green, B bright cyan, C bright red, D bright magenta, E bright yellow, F bright white, and here's hoping you never see the fruits of your handiwork…

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