Houston We Have a Problem 11

  

 

Ask Rick 155 28/05/11

 

Watching Brief

Our daughter and her family are moving to Hong Kong for a two-year stay and my wife and I will be able to visit them four times each year for up to a month at a time. I would like to set up an Internet web camera so that I can keep an eye on our home whilst we are away via my laptop. I have researched various systems, however one suggests that I need a new more powerful router, which they can supply. I already have broadband from Sky and would like to know why I need this other router and the implications of switching over from my existing router.

Ken J. via email

 

It sounds like a con. There’s no such thing as a more powerful router and my guess is that they just want to sell you more kit and probably tie you into an expensive broadband contract. In fact many remote CCTV surveillance systems are a waste of money and unless the camera is being monitored around the clock, otherwise how will you know if your property is safe? You would be better off with a network-enabled digital video recorder (DVR), and these work with any broadband router with a standard RJ45 LAN socket (which is most of them), and virtually any ISP.

 

The majority of DVRs have inputs for at least four cameras or channels, which are constantly recorded on a hard drive. Depending on the size of the drive, recording mode and quality they can store a month or more of video before the oldest recordings are overwritten. Live images from the cameras can be remotely monitored over the Internet, however, the really useful features are motion detection and email or SMS alerts. If unexpected movement is detected on any of the cameras the DVR flags the recording so it can be easily found, and it sends you a still image of whatever triggered the alert as an email attachment or an SMS message. You can then log onto the DVR and see what is happening, or replay the flagged recording and decide what action to take. Network DVRs sell from around £200, there’s a very good selection on ebay, and  of course specialist security companies.

 

 

Garden Glare

I should like to be able to use my laptop in the garden. However the high light levels reflect on to the screen so that it is difficult to read and see details on web pages. Angling the screen downwards is helpful but inconvenient. Are the computer adverts cheating?

Chris B.Cadman, by email

 

Heaven forbid that an advert might mislead, but you may notice that you rarely, if ever, see the screen in photos of people using laptops outdoors… With very few exceptions LCD screens are pretty much unreadable in bright sunlight so if you must use your laptop outside the only options are to sit in the shade or fit a sun shield, but be warned, they’re not pretty (http://goo.gl/4nKf3). For the record one of the laptops that can be used outdoors includes the OLPC XO (One Laptop Per Child), which has a clever dual-mode screen that switches from colour to greyscale when lit from the front by the sun or strong ambient lighting.

 

 

Living in the Slow Lane

Much has been written about broadband download speeds but I find the biggest problem is dropout. Are the two connected? If I were to switch to another ISP would there be any change?  A near neighbour of mine uses a cable service and reports no dropout at all. If word got around and there was a mass exodus to cable would the dropouts start again or is fibre optic cable less prone to this problem?

Allen Carter, by email

 

Broadband speed or bandwidth and dropped connections are connected but it’s not a simple correlation. Speed mainly depends on the distance between your home and the telephone exchange, the equipment installed at the exchange, how many other people in your immediate area share this equipment (the contention ratio), your modem and not forgetting the broadband contract you have with your ISP.

 

Dropped connections are often due to poor phone line quality. Noise and crackles on the line, which can be due to badly installed extension sockets or moisture getting into the junction boxes outside your home. This can upset the modem and make it reset the connection. If it happens frequently the equipment at the exchange may slow down your broadband speed in an attempt to fix the problem. Switching to another ISP wouldn’t necessarily change anything, as you will still be using the same copper wires between your home and the exchange. The first thing to do is check the line; try an automated BT Quiet line test (dial 17070 and select option 2).  An occasional click or crackle isn’t necessarily a cause for concern but if you hear significant noise on the line ask BT to investigate. Cable broadband services tend not to suffer in this way, and they generally have much higher contention ratios but speeds may still drop at peak times or if a lot of users in your area are streaming media or downloading large files. 

 

 

Sideways Solution

Is it possible to display two websites side by side? I am learning French and it would be useful to have, say, the translation option on Google open alongside French websites so that I can quickly and easily check the meaning of words and phrases.

Gill Locking, by email

 

Yes it is, just open a second browser window and navigate to your chosen page. Adjust the width of the two browser windows so they occupy approximately half the screen width then left click and hold on the title bars at the top to position the windows alongside each other. If the narrow display causes problems increase the width and reduce the height then stack the two windows on top of one another.

 

 

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© R. Maybury 2011 0905

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