Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 160 02/07/11


Random Thoughts

I organise a small monthly charity lottery for my club, which has around 350 members. I have used the random number function in Microsoft Office Excel 2007 to generate the winning numbers but wonder if it truly generates numbers randomly? If I have made modifications to an entry on the member list for instance, that number is selected frequently. Is this an appropriate program or would another free or low cost alternative give wider scope?

Ron Fuller, by email


Excel 2003 onwards uses a random number generator that passes the stringent Diehard tests for randomness, developed by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), so those lucky winners are just that, or they are buying more tickets.


Even so, it still only qualifies as a pseudo random number as it is generated in a predictable way by a mathematical formula. If you want a number that’s truly random it has to be based on something that is totally unpredictable, such as the decay of radioactive materials. In practice this is quite hard to organise without a lot of expensive equipment but fortunately www.random.org has done all the hard work for you. It uses atmospheric noise from a radio receiver as the trigger source. All you have to do is fill in the boxes for the maximum and minimum number and click the generate button.



Outfoxed by Update

I have recently upgraded to Firefox version 4 but I have found it not to be as good as Firefox 3. Is there any way that I can get version 3 back on my computer?

Frederick White, by email


I wonder if you have been a little hasty in your condemnation of Firefox 4. It’s true that some things have been moved or hidden from view but there are a lot of new and useful features plus it is more secure and I think that once you get to know it, you may even grow to like it. If you still want to go back you can find earlier versions of Firefox, and hundreds of other popular applications at: www.oldversion.com.


Home Hub Hookup

I am thinking of buying the latest Apple iPad. At the moment I have a PC running on Windows Vista connected wirelessly to a BT Home Hub. Not being very technology savvy could you advise if this would be compatible with an iPad and if so is it easy to set up?

I. F. Smith by email


There shouldn’t be any problems. The first time you connect the iPad to your Home Hub you’ll be asked to enter the router’s encryption password or key – this should be in the documentation that came with it -- and thereafter the iPad will log on automatically every time it is on and within range.



Lost Skype Snaps

I have taken several pictures of our Granddaughter in Australia whilst using Skype to talk to our son on our Windows 7 PC. However after I have finished and closed down Skype I cannot find the file containing these photos. Could you advise?

Graham Read, by email


They don’t make it easy but the default location for Skype webcam images in Windows 7 and Vista is C:\Users\<yourname>\AppData\Roaming\Skype\Pctures. In Windows XP look in C\:Documents and Settings\<yourname>\Application Data\Skype\Pictures.  



Defrag Dilemma

I am used to defragmenting disk drives, however a PC cleaner program I have installed is advocating defragging the Registry. Is this a separate operation to defragmenting disc drives?  If so will it have a significant effect on performance?

P J Grigg, by email


In the olden days, on Windows 95 and 98 PCs, information stored on hard drives could become progressively disorganised or fragmented. Defragging the drive every few months helped to reorganise the data and could occasionally perk up a sluggish computer by speeding up the transfer of data to and from the drive. Nowadays most PC’s use the more efficient NTFS filing system and defragging is rarely necessary, maybe once a year on a very well used machine, though it’s unlikely to have a noticeable effect on performance. The Registry is a huge database of Windows and program settings. It’s constantly updated and can get a bit cluttered, but in practice it has little or no impact on performance. Defragging the Registry is largely pointless, as are most Registry Cleaners, so unless you are seeing error messages that specifically relate to the Registry I recommend that you leave well alone.



Security Lapse

I have a Belkin N1 wireless modem router, which works fine for me and I don't need any security to use it with either my desktop or laptop. However, I cannot set it up so that it can be used with another family laptop because there’s no wireless security code and plugging another laptop directly into the modem seriously upsets the system. I have tried updating the router on the Belkin site but to no avail. I would welcome your advice as to whether this model has this facility.

Den Wilde, by email


Never leave a wireless router unsecured, even if you are not using a Wi-Fi connection, anyone within range could tap into your Internet connection and possibly access files stored on your computer. To be fair it’s mostly the fault of manufacturers who sell wireless routers with the encryption disabled but it’s all there in the instructions. In case you’ve lost yours the procedure for this model, and most others, is enable encryption in the routers setup menu, which you access through a web browser on a PC connected directly to the router by a LAN cable. In the browser’s address box type the router’s IP address, which on this model should be Hit Return and the web configuration logon box appears. By default there is no password so just click Submit and select Wireless Security from the left hand panel. If your PC is reasonably up to date -- Windows XP SP3 or later -- use WPA2 encryption. Simply create your pre-shared key (PSK) or password and enter it in the box. Click Apply Changes and exit the router setup. When you connect to the router through your laptop you’ll be asked to enter the PSK and that’s all there is to it. If you can’t get WPA2 encryption to work, possibly because your laptop is missing some updates, then try WEP encryption. It is a little less secure but fine for most home users.



© R. Maybury 2011 1306


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