Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 178 05/11/11


Current Affairs

I have a problem with my Sony Ericsson phone. I wanted to leave the charger at home and just use my Apple iPad charger, which has USB socket, with phone’s USB charger cable, so I would have fewer gadgets to carry around; but it does not work. The phone thinks it is connected to a computer and asks me if I want to use File Transfer or Phone mode. The battery doesn’t charge, though it does if I connect it to a PC. The iPad charger is supposed to be rated at 10 watts, so there seems to be plenty of power to spare.

G Smith, by email


The problem is your phone is designed to only use the supplied charger, or a powered PC USB socket. Many phones and devices, especially if they are more than two or three years old, use the USB data link to check with the charger or PC to make sure it is capable of supplying the necessary current. However, most plug-in chargers are ‘dumb’ and have no means of communicating with the phone, so it plays safe and charging is disabled. The USB specification was updated in 2007 and many recent phones now have a built in test circuit that automatically checks the charger current to see if it is sufficient, before allowing charging to begin.



Community Chat

We live in a very small village on the West coast of Scotland. A lot of our older residents use computers, but they have limited skills. A community website would be very useful for sharing information and asking for help. Is there any simple software available to set up such a thing? Preferably it would allow any member of the community to submit postings. It also has to be cheap; we never have any money!

Bill Shepard, by email


You can’t get cheaper than free, and the BT Community Web Kit (http://goo.gl/HznwB) is a good place to start. This is a template-based website package that comes with free hosting and email addresses. It’s fairly basic, though, so if you want something a little more flexible and eye catching have a look at the website builder at Voice (http://goo.gl/eW0LF). It’s also free and has lots of useful extras, like picture galleries, online petitions and surveys. An alternative is a blog type format, in which case the best place to start is WordPress (http://goo.gl/dVgl), which is free and very quick to set up, though you may find the rigid layout a tad restricting.



Interfering Neighbours?

Several times a day all of our radios suffer a bout of interference. It lasts for about ten minutes; there is a short burst of a couple of seconds and then a long one. It has been going on for some time and is gradually driving me mad. It also comes through on the portable radio we have in the bathroom, which has no connection to our domestic wiring. Can you think of anything, or anyone that could help?

Peter Scott, by email


Tracking down sources of radio frequency interference or RFI can be quite tricky, especially if it is coming from outside your home. The first thing to do is find out how localised it is, and the easiest way to do that is ask your immediate neighbours to see if they are also affected. If so and it extends more than few houses either side you should report it to the BBC, who are now responsible for investigating complaints of interference. There’s a simple to use online form at: http://goo.gl/fqzWQ


However, given the regularity and the fact that it is only affecting your radios it is more likely to be coming from an electrical appliance in your home, or that of an immediate neighbour. It’s probably caused by something that uses an electric motor, like a fridge freezer or central heating pump. These have interference suppressors but they can and do fail, producing the characteristic initial burst, when the motor starts, followed by the steady RFI whilst the motor is running. If so, the next time it happens switch off suspect appliances to see if it stops. If not ask your neighbours to do the same.



Dongle Danger?

Can I perform financial transactions securely using a 3G dongle?

Ian Dalgleish, by email


If only it were that simple. Far too many people use weak, guessable or the same passwords and PINs for everything. Many are careless and write them down and leave them lying around or store them on their laptops and smart phones, which are vulnerable to loss and theft. Using insecure and shared computers is another common mistake, as is responding to spam and phishing emails, failing to install adequate security software, visiting dubious websites and allowing their PCs to become infected with spyware and keyloggers. 


Assuming that you are not guilty of any of the above then a 3G link is the most secure method of connecting to the Internet. It is highly encrypted and almost impossible for common or garden villains to hack into. Next best is a direct network cable connection between a PC and the broadband router or modem. Wi-Fi connections are the least secure. You should be reasonably safe in your own home, provided you have enabled 128-bit WPA2 encryption on your wireless router, and use a long passkey, but it can be cracked by anyone determined to do so. Using open public or even secured Wi-Fi hotspots for any sort of online dealings is just asking for trouble.


It doesn’t end there, though and although the link between your PC and the financial institution is encrypted you should check to make sure the locked padlock icon is showing on your browser’s status bar, However, your data will be passing through a multitude of transmission systems, nodes and servers any of which could be compromised. Admittedly this takes some doing, but the possibility exists. Then there is the potential for security lapses at the bank’s end, and whilst this is very rare indeed, it has happened.



© R. Maybury 2011 1010


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