Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 153 14/05/11


Back To Basics

I have just bought a Packard Bell netbook PC. It came with Windows 7 Starter Edition, but I hadn’t realised just how basic it was. I have tried in vain to change the background wallpaper, something I have been able to do on every Windows PC I have ever owned, and that includes a Windows CE pocket PC, but it seems that it cannot be done. Is there a solution?

F Kelly, by email


Windows 7 Starter Edition has been customised for netbooks and the features that have been left out mostly don’t work properly or they slow down these low-powered machines, but omitting the facility to customise the desktop is inexplicable and just plain mean. Fortunately there’s a simple fix in the shape of a little freeware utility called Starter Wallpaper Changer (http://goo.gl/AbCaa), which lets you substitute any .jpg image on your computer for the fixed background image. For the record other things you don’t get with this version are the fancy Aero graphics, you can’t switch users without logging off, there’s no multi-monitor support, no DVD playback (easily fixed by installing the free VLC Media Player http://goo.gl/xUGDs), it’s also minus Media Centre and remote media streaming, there’s no domain support for business users and no XP compatibility mode.



Mangled Memory

I keep a 2Gb memory stick plugged in to my PC to back up files, but it has suddenly ceased to be recognized by the PC and appears to have died. Is there any way of recovering the data on it?

John Goslin, by email


Possibly, but you should know that memory sticks are not a reliable back-up medium, especially for irreplaceable data. They have finite lives and usually rated for a minimum 100,000 read/write cycles. That sounds a lot and it’s not usually a problem for simple tasks, like transferring folders and files from one PC to another and so on. However, in high-demand applications like data backup, where data is being constantly written and erased there is an increased risk of failure. You might be lucky and your files could still be intact if the drive’s index is corrupted, in which case I suggest a freeware utility called PC Inspector File Recovery (http://goo.gl/bEtbC). If that shows the drive to be completely unreadable a specialist company may be able to do something with it but it could prove to be rather expensive.



Battery Insecurity

After going through an airport security scanner, my fully charged netbook had its battery completely drained. Since then it does not appear to hold its charge for nearly as long as it did before. Do you think that the scanner is responsible? And if so, how worried should I be about any further damage being done?

Cassius Chanides, by email


There is no mechanism that I am aware of whereby the very low doses of X-Ray radiation from airport scanners can drain, let alone harm rechargeable batteries. There is also no evidence that they damage laptops, digital cameras, camcorders, MP3 players, flash memories, hard drives, CDs or DVDs. More likely explanations are that the battery was flat to begin with, the laptop was on or in standby mode or the battery was simply at the end of its useful life. That’s not to say there are no risks to digital media in airport security. Hard drives may, theoretically, be affected by the electromagnetic fields produced by metal detectors and I’ve even heard of ultra cautious travellers avoiding putting their PCs on the very end of scanner machine conveyor belts where there may be a large drive motor.



No So Strong Desire?

I have a HTC Desire smart phone and battery life is poor; with light usage it lasts approximately 6 to 8 hours. HTC’s advice was to switch off various apps but that defeats the object of purchasing the phone. HTC doesn’t supply a stronger battery, so could a non-HTC battery be used, without damaging the phone?

R. Sandison, by email


First try some simple steps that can dramatically improve battery life, like switching off Wi-Fi, until you actually need it. Also uninstall any apps that you don’t use, disable ones that constantly seek data, like Weather, Wireless Network Positioning Service, and increase the update or refresh times on apps for Facebook, email etc. Avoid moving or live wallpapers and reduce screen brightness and volume.


Hopefully you carried out the initial 3-hour charge before using the phone for the first time? This is important as it conditions the battery to hold a full charge. If you didn’t carry out this step you may be able to perk it up by re-calibrating the battery so that it accepts a deeper charge, and this trick works with many phones and battery powered gadgets.


To do that run the battery flat, switch the phone on again and wait for it to turn off. Remove the battery for 20 seconds, refit but leave the phone switched off then charge to full and leave for an extra hour. Run it flat again, turn on and charge for at least 8 hours, disconnect from the charger, switch off, reconnect the charger and charge for an hour. Disconnect the charger, switch on then after two minutes switch off and recharge for an hour.  



Camcorder to DVD

I have a Panasonic HM-TA1 camcorder and I have tried loading the recordings onto a DVD but they won’t show on my DVD player. Is there a program I can use to do this? My computer runs Windows 7.

Tony Holder, by email


Yes there is but it’s worth saying that this style of camcorder is geared towards creating and sharing or uploading videos to the web and that’s reflected in the supplied software. It’s not a problem, though. This model records in MPEG-4 format, which is pretty much the standard these days, but as you’ve discovered simply copying the recordings to a blank DVD doesn’t work. That’s because video DVDs use the MPEG-2 format, and the files have to be organised in a highly structured way in order for a player to process them. To do that you’ll need an application like Roxio Creator, Nero Video or DVD Creator, which all include easy to use editing facilities, so you can chop out the wonky bits, make fancy looking titles and menus and burn a DVD that plays on any DVD player. If you shop around you should be able to find them selling online for under £40.00.



© R. Maybury 2011 2504


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