Houston We Have
a Problem… 001 (09/09/06)
Flying with a
be visiting the US next week on business and I am concerned the safety of
my laptop if there is another terrorist alert. Is there anything I can do to
safeguard my computer if I can’t take it with me as cabin baggage?
Michael Daley, Chelmsford
A. Unfortunately we are going to have to
learn to live with the constantly changing security regimes at airports. If
possible avoid taking your laptop. If it ends up in the hold there’s a chance
you won’t see it again, or at least, not in one piece. Packing it in a sturdy
case will improve its chances but assume that it will be examined and roughly
handled so any critical data should be encrypted and backed up on removable
Laptops can be
hired at most major airports or maybe your business contacts can provide you
with a PC? The files and programs you need can be transported on recordable CD
or DVD, which you can keep with you, but again make sure any important data is
encrypted. Flash drives and memory cards are another convenient way to carry
files and they fit easily in a pocket or wallet. Don’t forget you can also copy
computer files to MP3 players and the memory cards used in organisers and
You could leave
everything at home? Upload any data you’ll need to your personal web space or a
secure online storage service, or set up your PC for remote access. This
facility is built into Windows XP and in third-party applications like Laplink Everywhere.
Focus On Pixels
I want to
replace my 2-megapixel pocket digital camera with something a little more
sophisticated. What features should I
look for, and what is the acceptable number of pixels these days?
Chris Howe, by
A. Most new budget and mid-range models have
image sensors with between 5 and 8 million pixels. That’s plenty for
non-professional use, delivering crisp images than can be cropped or enlarged
without serious loss of quality. The other critical component is the lens, and
the simple rule of thumb is bigger is better. The pop-out zooms used on a lot
of compact models sacrifice performance for convenience so if you are serious
about quality and flexibility an SLR type digital camera is the best option.
The rest is mostly froth; some features and gadgets can be useful but the
secret to taking great pictures is knowing where to point your camera, and when
to press the shutter button, and no amount of technology can do that for you!
LCD or Plasma?
I’m thinking of
buying a large screen TV, which is best, plasma or LCD?
A. A couple of years ago I would have said
plasma, but nowadays there’s very little to choose between the two
technologies. LCDs are marginally better in brightly lit surroundings but
cheaper or older models can suffer from image ’lag’, making fast-moving objects
look blurry. Inch for inch plasmas are still marginally cheaper than LCDs,
high-end models usually have better colour accuracy and a wider contrast range
but it’s all highly subjective and in the end the best judges of quality are
your own eyes.
I need to
replace my aging PC; should I wait for Windows Vista or will Windows XP
continue for the foreseeable future?
A. Vista won’t be ready until January 2007 at
the earliest so don’t wait, but you should get a PC that is Vista ‘Premium
Ready’; see the Microsoft
web site for details. XP is going to be around for a few years yet; it’s
stable and reliable, which is more than you can say for new and usually buggy
operating systems, especially in the first year or so after launch. Vista has
some novel features and it looks very pretty, but I see no compelling reason to
switch until there are applications that do something you want, and with a
Premium Ready PC you’ll be ready for when that happens.
Cassettes to CD
I would like to copy my collection of cassette tapes to
Compact Disc before they become unplayable. I understand I can create audio CDs
on my computer, though I have never actually tried it, but what extra equipment
and software will I need to do the job?
Michael Porter, by email
A. It’s really easy, you will need a stereo minijack cable -- widely
available from computer and hi-fi stores -- to connect your cassette player’s
headphone or ‘line’ output to your PC’s line audio input. You will also need an
audio recorder and editing program and I recommend Audacity,
which is free, and Windows Media Player (version 10 or above), which may
already be on your PC, if not you can download free it from Microsoft.
Once the tape
player is connected to the PC set Audacity to record (use Line Input) and
playback your tapes one at a time. After each recording you can remove any hiss
clicks with Audacity’s editing tools. Export the finished recordings as ‘wav’
files to a folder on your PC then use the ‘Burn’ to audio CD feature in Windows
Media Player to compile your recordings and record them to a blank CD.
R. Maybury 2006 2808