Houston We Have A Problem 137, 15/01/11
A Range of Solutions
I live in an L-shaped house, which has foil
backed wall insulation throughout. If I place the router in one corner (where
my home office is) I cannot get an Internet connection at the farthest point,
in my sitting room 19 metres away. If I
place it in the middle the reception is intermittent throughout the house. I
have a 5-year old Netgear wireless router; do you think it is it worth changing
to another model?
Guy MacNaughton, by email
The house I live in is old with walls up to one
metre thick. There is no mobile phone reception and the Wi-Fi router, a Belkin
model, only works in two rooms. Are there boosters on the market that I can
install to get Wi-Fi throughout the house?
Baron van Tuyll, by email
Switching routers and installing boosters and
extenders often helps but it’s a costly option, location is critical and
there’s no guarantee of success. In really challenging situations like these it
makes more sense to tackle the root cause of the problem, which is the
inefficiency of the antennas used at the router and PC ends of the wireless
connection. Replacing the standard ‘rubber duck’ antennas supplied with most
routers with a high gain or more directional antenna, and mounting it up high
can make a huge difference to coverage and range. Unfortunately there’s not
much you can do about the antennas used by laptop Wi-Fi adaptors as they are
usually inside the case. However, you can easily bypass the built-in Wi-Fi
adaptor and fit an external adaptor that plugs into one of the computer’s USB
ports. The BearExtenderPC is currently the one to beat with a claimed fourfold
increase in range. It clips to the screen surround so its high up and doesn’t get
in the way. It comes with a 2dBi external antenna as standard and there’s an
optional 5dBi omnidirectional antenna for pulling in really weak signals. It
costs around £36, including shipping and is available from http://goo.gl/cz2jf.
Not Helping the Aged
My father is 80 years old and keen to start
surfing the Internet. He has never used a PC or Laptop before. What is the
simplest way for him to get on the Internet? Some have suggested an Apple iPad
or via an XBox 360. What would you recommend? He does not want to use any PC
functions i.e. word processing or email.
Richard Skidmore Leicestershire
A video games console for web browsing is not a
good idea but an iPad or ‘tablet’ PC is certainly an option. However, these devices
have some fairly significant limitations and I think it is a mistake to try and
shield non-PC users from the perceived complexities of learning to use a
computer. These days they are mostly quite civilised and very easy to use.
Eventually your father will want to view web pages that these devices cannot
handle or display properly. I suspect he will quickly become frustrated by the
convolutions of on-screen keyboards and small screens can be difficult to read,
especially for anyone with poor or failing eyesight. In my opinion it’s far
better to get your father started with a basic Windows 7 or Mac PC or laptop
with a proper keyboard and decent sized screen with a range of visibility
options. Teaching him the rudiments of web browsing won’t take long and once he
has mastered that I am sure he will want to try his hand at all of the other
exciting things proper computers can do.
Slowing Down the Tube
I use YouTube etc. to learn classical choral
items such as Bach Cantatas. Is there any way the tempo can be slowed down to
assist my progress?
Stan Jackson, by email
can either record YouTube videos on your PC (try Freecorder, free from http://goo.gl/jLrNA, it also converts recordings
to other formats) then view them with a Media player that has playback speed
controls. Alternatively use a commercial application called Enounce (http://goo.gl/JTNAG), which can control the
playback speed of your browser's Flash player.
Surge or Surgery…
For the past couple of weeks, each time I
switch on my computer, I get a message that says ‘Alert! System Battery Voltage
is low’. After pressing the F1 key, the computer starts normally, and so far I
haven’t noticed any problems. My knowledge of computers is minimal and I worry
that something may soon happen and I shall lose all the accumulated treasures
inside my computer.
Dalbor Sudwell, by email
The data stored on your PC should be perfectly
safe. There are a couple of possibilities; if it is a Dell PC and you are using
the supplied or optional mains surge protector, disconnect it and plug your
computer directly into the mains socket. There was a problem with these devices
that prompted the PC’s BIOS startup program to falsely report that the clock
backup battery on the motherboard was about to expire. If you are not using a
surge protector and the PC is more than three or four years old then it
probably is due to a dead or dying clock backup battery. They are usually quite
cheap and easy to replace but it does entail poking around your PC’s innards so
if you are uncomfortable about performing this sort of minor surgery seek
Some years ago you recommended CCleaner as a
cleaning tool for Windows PCs. Can you suggest a similar program for Macs?
Stephen Terry, by email
There's really no real need for this type of
industrial strength cleaner on a Mac as it doesn’t have the kind of sneaky,
hidden and protected system files that record every website you’ve ever visited.
In any event Mac users are clean living and have nothing to hide, but if you
are feeling paranoid you can wipe log files, caches and browser history using
utilities like OnyX (http://goo.gl/FA2nq) and
Main Menu (http://goo.gl/LaPwg).
© R. Maybury 2011 1212