Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 179 12/11/11


Power Corrupts

Successive governments, including the present one, have dithered over how to replace old power stations and cannot grasp the fact that reliance on inefficient wind power is misguided.  So, given that, in the not too distant future, there will be power cuts because of Britain's inability to provide enough power. Is there any way to protect computers from damage to their hard drives when an outage occurs?

R.M. Stephens, by email


This is not the best place to discuss Britain’s energy policies but on the broader question of damage and data loss through power cuts, which are thankfully still quite rare, there is simple remedy. It’s called an Uninterruptible Power Supply or UPS. This is basically a box containing a rechargeable battery and a mains power inverter that cuts automatically in to provide power to your PC if the mains supply fails. They are not expensive and prices start at around £30 to £40, though cheaper models normally only have the capacity to power a desktop computer and monitor for a few minutes. However, this should be long enough for you to save any open files and safely shut down the computer. Most recent UPS do this automatically, so it doesn’t matter if you are away from your PC when the outage occurs. Higher capacity models can keep a computer going for an hour or more, so you can continue working. A UPS also provides extra protection against spikes and surges on the mains supply, and because laptops are battery powered they have their own built-in UPS.


Missing Padlock

For years we have been told to we can confirm the security of websites by checking that the address begins https and that there is a padlock symbol in the bottom (right-hand) corner of the browser window. The padlock no longer appears on my PC. Is this due to a change to the industry standard or because of the latest upgrade to Firefox?

Stewart Keating, by email


The padlock symbol on the status bar at the bottom of the Firefox browser screen actually disappeared several versions ago. It was replaced by a more wide-ranging security check but to view it you have to left click on the site’s Favicon, the small icon immediately to the left of the web address. Secure sites, starting with https show a locked padlock symbol to confirm that the connection is encrypted and if you click the More Information button you will see detailed information about the site’s security, including whether or not it stores cookies and passwords.



Postcode Problem

When ordering on line and entering my postcode it says that it is incorrect. Can you tell me why this is and what I can do about it?

M Golding, by email


Go to the Royal Mail Postcode Finder web page at: http://goo.gl/Ea4su. Enter your details (house number, street, town etc.) and check that the postcode it returns matches the one that you have been using. If it does, and it’s a new property then it is likely that the databases used by the online companies haven’t been updated recently, so you will have to be patient, or try ordering by phone. Another possibility is that you have been wrongly assigned a business, rather than a residential postcode. Some companies won’t deliver to business addresses and it is flagged up as incorrect. Royal Mail should be able put this right and there’s an email link to its address maintenance department at http://goo.gl/RdLy8.



Stop Russian About

Together with his wife my technophobe neighbour will shortly be travelling along the entire length of the Trans Siberian railway. In order to get the most up to date and useful information he has made the decision to ditch the guidebooks and take a device of some sort to access the Internet and online guides and he has asked for my advice. The train company has told him that there is no wi-fi on the train and mobile coverage is patchy and likely to be poor quality. He steadfastly refuses to have a smart phone, so I am at a loss as to what to suggest. Any ideas?

Lee Jones, by email


It would be unrealistic to expect to connect to the Internet by any means, other than a very expensive satellite phone, on a journey of this type. The sporadic mobile phone coverage in larger towns and cities should be okay for voice calls but roaming charges are very high and it’s unlikely it will be good enough for mobile broadband. There may be occasional wi-fi hotspot in hotels, hostels and Internet cafes along the way, and he might get lucky, so it wouldn’t hurt to pack a netbook, but I would tell him to leave the 21st century behind on this trip, take the guide books, relax and enjoy the adventure.



Awkward Anti Virus

I recently bought an Acer laptop, which has a McAfee security software pre loaded for a trial period.  I do not want to subscribe and prefer to install a free security program, like AVG or Microsoft Security Essentials. When I tried to delete McAfee and install AVG, on another computer, some years ago I had a lot of problems.  Is there a simple and safe way to do this?

Frank Mullery, by email


As protection against malware attack some security programs are designed to be deliberately difficult to reconfigure or uninstall. In the case of McAfee, all you need is the specially written uninstaller program, which you can download from: http://goo.gl/k7tu



Stroppy Floppy

I have a lot of important Word documents saved on an old laptop, but the floppy drive no longer works. It doesn't have any USB ports and is not Internet connected. Is there any way of retrieving my files?

Sam Jones, by email


If your old laptop has a LAN or Ethernet socket you should be able to access the drive on another PC by networking them together through a router. Failing that remove the drive from the laptop and pop it into a hard drive caddy or reader. Models designed for 2.5-inch IDE laptop drives cost from around £10.00 online. Plug it into a USB socket on your PC and you will be able to copy files from the laptop drive to your computer.



© R. Maybury 2011 2410


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