Houston We Have a Problem… 006 14/10/06


Swedish Kitchen to Spanish Patios

I have a picture of my two granddaughters standing side-by-side dressed in Spanish gypsy costumes but with an English Ikea-style kitchen as a background! Is it possible to ‘lift’ the image of the two girls and superimpose it on a more suitable background such as a picture of a Spanish patio?

Eddie Baglietto, Gibraltar


A. It certainly is and you will need a decent photo-editing program; I suggest a novice-friendly application like PaintShop Pro, Adobe PhotoShop Elements or Ulead PhotoImpact. Some of these programs have automated ‘wizards’ for extracting people or objects from pictures but the results can be variable and it’s often easier to do it manually.


Basically all you have to do is use a selection ‘tool’ to define the edges of the subjects then copy and paste the selection into your second picture. The two images are blended by ‘feathering’, ‘cloning’ or ‘airbrushing’ the edges. Adjusting the brightness and contrast levels will help to match the lighting conditions.


None of these techniques are difficult to master but to do a really convincing job takes practice and fair amount of patience. One final tip, never work on your original images, then it won’t matter if make a mistake or need to use them again.



Wi-Fi Security On The Move

I wish to use a laptop with a wireless connection to access the Internet in hotels, airports, etc. How can I secure my data and VOIP telephone conversations from eavesdroppers?

Tony Collins, by email


A. Your VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) Internet phone calls should be encrypted -- check with your provider -- if so they will be reasonably private but your PC and the data it contains is definitely at risk when you log onto a wireless ‘hotspot’. Normally you have to switch off your Wi-Fi connection’s encryption system, which could leave it wide open so here are a few tips that should keep you out of trouble. Switch off File Sharing on your PC before you set out and if you have to temporarily disable your antivirus and firewall software in order to log on make sure you switch them on again once the connection is up and running. Monitor the data flowing in and out of your PC through the connection or networking utility and be sure to keep your wits about you and be aware of anyone close by acting suspiciously. Protect your PC by keeping it in your possession at all times, enable the BIOS password and encrypt any private, personal or sensitive data stored on the hard drive.



Mute Movies

When capturing analogue video in Windows Movie Maker from my Sony Hi8 camcorder, using a standard audio and video cables plugged into the capture card, I get a picture but no sound. Why is my PC not picking up the audio as well? I've checked the connections and options in the video capture wizard but cannot work out what is going wrong.

Mark Bickerdike, Hitchin


A. First check that your camcorder is actually recording sound, and playing it back by connecting it directly to your TV, preferably using the same leads that you use with your PC setup. If that’s okay then the fault must lie with the capture card, its driver software or Windows Movie Maker. The latter probably all right since it is recording video but it wouldn’t hurt to uninstall it and download the latest version from Microsoft. When you make your recording check that the audio level slider is set to the left (Audio from Video).  If it still doesn’t work remove the capture card and uninstall any programs that came with it. Check the manufacturer’s website to see if there’s any updated software, reinstall the card, reload the software and try again. If the soundtrack is still mute then the chances are the capture card is faulty.



Lack of Support Forces Upgrade

I am running Windows ME. Microsoft Update informs me that since July Windows 95, 98 and ME are no longer supported. It would seem that I can download XP SP2 for free. I have had Windows ME since March 2001 and it has given me no problems. I would be grateful for any comments.

Alwyn Williams, by email


A. Sadly Microsoft is not that generous and I am afraid that you have misunderstood the offer on the Windows 98 update page (it is badly worded). This is for Windows XP Service Pack 2, which is a free upgrade for Windows XP.


Just because Microsoft has withdrawn support for Windows ME doesn’t mean your computer will suddenly stop working and nowadays it’s much less of a target for virus writers and hackers. Provided you have a firewall and keep your anti-virus software updated it should soldier on until your hardware expires, and there’s plenty of help and support for ME users on the web if you do run into trouble.


In any case I don’t think upgrading to XP would be a good idea, your PC may well be too slow or underpowered, and operating system upgrades rarely go smoothly, unless you wipe your hard drive and start over.


Your PC is getting on a bit, though -- 5 years is quite a good age  -- so make sure your backups are up to date, and it wouldn’t hurt to start thinking about its eventual replacement.






© R. Maybury 2006 0210


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