Houston We Have a Problem 10



Houston We Have A Problem 134, 11/12/10


Unfortunate Events

I have Windows XP. If I go to Event Viewer in Control Panel and click Applications I get a long list of titles. Of the 2300 items listed 70 have a red star against them (obviously warning signs), while a smaller number have a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark. What are these trouble spots? Is there any way I can avoid them and could they be slowing my computer down?

Leslie McDonald, by email


No, and no, in fact stay away from the Event Viewer unless you want to give yourself the heebie-jeebies. Event Viewer’s job is to log the behind the scenes goings-on in your computer, when programs are opened and closed, changes are made to System files and the Registry and so on. Those warning symbols are mostly insignificant and nothing to worry about. Minor problems occur all of the time but Windows is usually pretty good at sorting them out, in fact you probably didn’t notice anything when the warnings were flagged up. Maybe a program didn’t launch on the first click or a file that needed to be written to the hard drive failed or ended up in a queue. There may have been a momentary delay, a sluggish menu or keyboard response but it’s usually over in a second or two whilst the Event Viewer records these temporary glitches. If there’s a more persistent problem an expert may be able to spot a pattern in the logs that can help to track down the fault but for the most part they can be safely ignored. This is a good time as any to remind you of the golden rules of computer maintenance: don’t look for trouble and if it ‘aint broke don’t fix it!


3G for Wi-Fi iPad? 

I bought an iPad without a 3G card as I mistakenly thought that I would be able to get Wi-Fi when I am on my travels. Now I find that the hotels I stay in only have Wi-Fi in the lobby. Is there an add-on 3G device that I can purchase?

Marion Witton, by email


Yes you can and the simplest solution so far is to use a Novatel MiFi, now available from most major mobile phone companies. It’s a small gadget, about the size of a smart phone and it combines the functions of a 3G dongle and wireless router. Basically it creates your own personal wireless hotspot (which other users can also share, with your permission of course), linking to the Internet through the dongle and connecting to your iPad via Wi-Fi. Prices start at around £40, depending on tariff or contract.   


Dangle your Dongle

I have an Internet connection in my house in Spain via a Vodafone 3G dongle. Two thousand yards away from my house I can pick up 3G but in my house I only get the slower GPRS service. Is there anything I can do to improve the connection?

Andrew Sturton, by email


Given the distances involved there may not be much you can do. Devices called GSM Repeaters are available that purport to boost the signal in poor reception areas (there are plenty on ebay selling for around £70 upwards) but these tend to be locked to a particular network, and not all of them work with 3G. There are also legal implications and In the UK at least only mobile phone operators are allowed to install them (see Ofcom at: http://goo.gl/cF0qtfor more information). The situation in Spain may well be different. You could try connecting the dongle to a USB extension cable. Using it in an upstairs room or even dangling it out of the window might make a difference but be aware that the maximum length of cable you can use is 5 metres. Some dongles can be more slightly sensitive than others, but switching makes can be a costly business and you run up against the problem of unlocking a new dongle to operate on your network, nevertheless it’s worth asking your immediate neighbours if they have more success on other networks or makes of dongle.


Laptop or Desktop?

I have a seven year-old desktop PC. Every so often and the mouse seems to have a mind of its own, despite cleaning the ball and wheels. The whole thing is slow so I am thinking about replacing it. Is there any advantage in getting a desktop PC these days, instead of a laptop? All of the laptops I have looked at seem to have much better specification than my computer, and they take up less space. So why not get a laptop instead of a desktop?

Andrew Critcher, by email


By the sound of it you’ve had your money’s worth and seven years is a good age for a PC but you have been out of the loop for a while and things have moved on since you last bought a computer. Laptops are no longer the poor relation when it comes to price versus performance comparisons. However, the basic differences remain. The key advantage of a laptop is portability and the ability to function independently of a mains power supply. Desktop PCs on the other hand are the more flexible option with space inside the case for expansion cards and extra hard drives. They are also easier and cheaper to upgrade and repair and you have a much greater choice over peripherals like monitors, keyboards and sound systems. 


Only you can decide which style of PC best suits your needs but whichever way you go, expect a few surprises, but don’t worry, they are mostly good. Computers are a lot easier to use nowadays and far more reliable. Nevertheless, be warned that some of your existing programs and applications may no longer work under Windows 7. You may also have problems with older peripherals, like printers and scanners as some manufacturers do not bother producing W7 drivers for hardware that is more than four or five years old.


Off the Grid

Can you tell me how to print gridlines on Spreadsheets when using OpenOffice? I've gone through the Properties menu when the printer box comes up but no luck.

Jean Collard, by email


No problem, just go to Format > Page, select the Sheet tab and in the Print section select Grid.



© R. Maybury 2010 0811


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