Houston We Have a Problem 10



Houston We Have a Problem 122, 18/09/10


Pack Mentality

I have just bought a new laptop with a Lithium-Ion battery pack. It will be used at home, plugged into the mains, for 90 percent of the time. I have seen conflicting views on websites as to whether the battery should be removed or left on board in these circumstances.  What is your advice? 

Allan Smith, by email


Personally I would leave the battery in place. It won’t make much difference to the battery’s life expectancy as virtually all chargers are designed to stop charging once the pack has reached 100 percent capacity. Improvements are in the pipeline but the majority of Lithium Ion batteries degrade from the day they are made and their ability to hold a charge drops by as much as 30 percent after only two years. Battery packs typically last 3 to 5 years, whether or not they are being used, but by that time many laptops have developed expensive faults, run out of disc space or been replaced.  But even if a laptop is used extensively on battery power, most battery packs can only withstand 300 – 500 full charge/discharge cycles. Incidentally, these are all good reasons not to buy a spare pack, unless you are going to use it.


Nevertheless there are a few simple things that you can do to improve your battery’s chances of lasting the course. The first one is to regularly run the battery down to the point where you start seeing warning messages about only having a few minutes of power left and to save your work. Doing this every two or three weeks gives the cells in the battery some exercise and can help to keep them in good condition. Avoid high temperatures; leaving your laptop in a car on a sunny day, for example is a bad idea. Also stop your laptop overheating by making sure that the fan exhaust and air vents are unobstructed. Finally, don’t let the battery run flat. If you are not going to use your PC for a while – several weeks say -- fully charge the battery then remove it from the machine. One last thought leaving the battery pack in place could prevent data loss in the event of a power cut as it acts like an uninterruptible power supply.



PDF Puzzle

Could you tell me how to convert files created in Microsoft Publisher and Corel Draw into PDF format? I use these programs at various times and need to send my work to a commercial printer. They always ask for files in PDF but it’s not listed on any of my program’s 'Save As' menus.

Ron Holmes, by email


PDF or portable document format was developed by Adobe as a means of viewing and exchanging illustrated documents over the web and on a wide range of devices that use different applications and operating systems. It’s a proprietary format, distantly related to PostScript (also from Adobe, a powerful industry standard page description language used in the printing and publishing industry). Until fairly recently the only easy way to create pdfs was to install a commercial program called Adobe Acrobat but now there are a number of freeware alternatives, including PDFCreator (http://tinyurl.com/3xqbgwe). However, you won’t find pdf on the Save As menu. Instead go to the Print menu on your chosen application where PDF Creator shows up on the list of installed printers; simply send the document you want to turn into a pdf to this virtual printer.



Don’t Trip Up Buying a Laptop

On my many trips to USA I am tempted to buy my first laptop for use there and at home.  Are there any pitfalls to consider before doing this I wonder?   

Albert Hill, by email


Yes, and my first and only piece of advice is don’t do it! It is unlikely you will save any money; these days US prices are not significantly lower than the UK. There’s a chance it will cost you even more than you expected if upon your return Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise decide that you need to pay VAT and import duty. It will almost certainly have a US keyboard, so you’ll have to fiddle around if you want to use the £ and @ signs and it’s a very long way to go if, for any reason, you need to take it back to the shop.



Raising the Bar

How can I get a bar or a dot over a digit in order to indicate a recurring figure? 

Joseph B. Fox, by email


It sounds like a simple enough request but in fact this is quite difficult to achieve; it also depends which word processor or application you are using. If you are using Word my preferred method is to type the two characters (i.e. 2 _ or 2 .) highlight the dot or bar and use the character spacing controls on the Format  > Font menu to raise the dot or bar above the character using the Position control (typically by the font size, so if you are using 10 pt characters, raise the dot or bar by 10pt). Next, highlight both characters and use the Spacing control to condense the dot or bar and character; try 3pt on a 10 pt character. The only problem with this technique is that the hybrid character increases the spacing on the line it is on. If this is a problem your best bet is to use Word’s Field Code or Equation Editor methods and there’s a reasonably easy to follow tutorial at: http://tinyurl.com/2um9f8g.



Lock Up Mystery

Recently my new mobile phone, PC and Sky+ box completely locked up. The only way I could find to get them working again was to unplug and reconnect the PC, take the battery out of the phone and wait for an engineer to come and fix the Sky box. What causes this to happen?

Kim Mulley, by email


It was almost certainly just a coincidence and you have just been unlucky. All of the devices you mention use microprocessors – much like the one in your PC -- and when there’s a glitch in a program or operating system it freezes. Temporarily removing the power reboots the system and all is usually well once again, though it sounds as though there may have been a more serious fault with the Sky receiver.


The only thing I can think of that might make it happen on three devices at the same time is a surge or ‘spike’ on the mains supply (assuming the phone was plugged into its charger, or the PC). These can be caused by nearby lighting strikes, line switching at the power station or substation and occasionally, by large appliances in the home, such as central heating systems and freezers switching on and off.




© R. Maybury 2010 2108


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