Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 151 30/04/11


Laptop Larceny

Our daughter’s laptop was stolen from her room at university just before Christmas. We have now replaced it, but the police have shown her how easy it is to break into her room. Have you any suggestions how we might best prevent it happening again? If we spray-painted her name on the front would that damage it in any way?

Beverly Cox


There’s a lot she can do but securing your daughter’s room is obviously the first job, and it’s worth her talking to the University authorities about fitting stronger locks. Always keep the laptop out of sight when the room is unoccupied, better still, store it in a lockable cabinet or a small room safe, which sell from around £40. If her room is broken into a simple movement alarm with a loud siren should deter most opportunist thieves.


Most laptops are fitted with a Kensington Lock security socket or ‘K Slot’. This is for a locking device, attached to a steel cable that’s tethered to an immovable object like a radiator, pipework or a heavy desk. They are not infallible though, and the lock can be broken by brute strength but doing so may destroy the laptop, or cause so much damage that’s it’s practically worthless.


There are a number of laptop security applications available. They won’t prevent her laptop being stolen, but they can help in its recovery, scupper attempts to sell it, and protect the data stored on it. However, start by setting a BIOS password (see the manual for details) and this prevents it from booting. A good place to start with the software is a freeware program called Prey (http://goo.gl/zntAY). It’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux and Android operating systems and when remotely triggered it locks down the PC, silently sends an email or SMS with information that can be used to track its whereabouts and if it has a webcam it includes an image of the user. Also have a look at LAlarm (http://goo.gl/2EseB, another free program; this one is activated if the mains cable or a USB drive is removed and as soon as it’s connected to the Internet it sends an email alert and uses the webcam to capture an image. Spray painting the lid has only a minor deterrent effect as replacement case parts are readily available for most models.



Disc Destruction

Occasionally, when I need to destroy a redundant CD, I resort to a few whacks with a hammer. I have just read that a CD can be completely written off with a couple of seconds in a microwave oven. Is this so and is it safe?

John Hart, by email


Microwaving a CD will destroy the disc’s reflective metallic layer but it can also cause arcing inside the oven, which may damage it or shorten its life. It could also release toxic gasses, which you really wouldn’t want anywhere near your food. If you need to destroy discs on a regular basis I suggest getting one of those document shredders with a built in disc muncher. Your hammer method is fine for the odd CD, otherwise you can snip them up with scissors or pruning shears. If you are feeling strong snapping or bending them is very effective and quite satisfying, though it can be a bit messy as some discs shatter, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves and eye protection. Coarse sandpaper, electric drills and grinders make short work of any disc and recordable types will degrade if left in strong sunlight. If you hang them up in the garden on a piece string they make good bird scarers, whilst they’re being erased. 



Pointed Question

I've started to receive a series of disturbing emails where the text is all over the place and each line begins with one, two or three chevrons pointing into the page. It's very annoying, so what can I do to alert senders that there may something wrong with their email setup?

E.D.Coote, by email


Also known as arrows, Thorns, Spikes and Greater-Thans, those chevrons indicate text that has been forwarded from a previous email, or emails. It happens by default in most email programs but I agree it can get a bit untidy, especially if the message in question has been doing the rounds. If you want to stop it occurring on messages sent from your PC, and advise others, if they are using popular email programs like Outlook Express, Windows Mail etc., go to Tools > Options > Send. Under Mail Sending Format click Plain Text Settings and deselect ‘Indent original text with ‘>’ when replying or forwarding’.


You can’t remove the arrows from a received message but you can copy and paste the text into a word processor then use the Search and Replace facility to remove the arrows and save it as a text file or a new message. Otherwise you can use one of a number of freeware utilities that do the job automatically on copied and pasted text. Try EmailStripper  (http://goo.gl/tW7rq) or Strip Mail (http://goo.gl/nVqVk).



Crammed with Spam

I have not used my email for a very long time and when I tried to recently there was just one message in it that said my mailbox was ‘full and over its allowed capacity…, incoming messages can no longer be received, and are being returned to the sender’. This is the one and only mail that there is in the inbox and all other boxes are empty. Can you help?

Lynne Harris, by email


The mailbox referred to in the message is not on your computer, but on your Internet service provider’s (ISP) mail server. This is where your incoming emails are stored until you download them onto your PC, after which they are deleted from the mail server. Since you haven’t been accessing your mailbox it is probably full of Spam. Your ISP’s support department should be able to empty it for you, or you may be able to do it yourself by accessing it through a webmail service like www.mail2web.com.



© R. Maybury 2011 2103


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