Ask Rick Maybury 2012



Ask Rick 236 22/12/12


The Value of Pi

I think there is a need to get my grandson out of his bedroom! Please can you tell me if there are any firms who make computer operated, working model kits that can be programmed by an intelligent teenager?I seem to remember that schools built models that pupils could operate from a computer, from simple traffic light sequencers, to powered buggies etc.

Geoff Purves, by email


I wouldn’t necessarily bank on getting your grandson out of the bedroom, but if you are looking for a way to expand his knowledge of computing, learn programming and discover the multitude of things computers can do, aside from blasting aliens and twittering, then look no further than the British designed Raspberry Pi (


It’s a low-cost (under £30), bare-bones computer that encourages users to create and experiment with software and applications. It is reminiscent of the 1980’s BBC Computer Literacy Project, which spawned the BBC Micro and introduced a generation of school kids to computing. Many of them went on to become successful innovators and entrepreneurs, and ironically, quite a few creators of alien-blasting computer games.


Raspberry Pi is highly adaptable, with a rapidly growing range of peripherals and add-ons that allow it to connect to devices and development tools. These include Lego Education WeDo construction sets, which can be used to build working models, vehicles, robots and so on, but it’s greatest asset is the huge international community of users, sharing ideas and providing the kind of support and encouragement that schools may not be able supply, due to financial constraints or a lack of inspired and tech savvy teachers. 



DVD Code Breaker

I have a two year old Advent laptop, running Windows 7, which until recently has performed faultlessly. The problem I have now is that the DVD drive suddenly stopped working. When I click on the drive in Windows Explorer it says that Windows cannot load the driver and mentions ‘Code 39’. Following earlier advice in your column I tried a cleaning disc and managed to work out how to uninstall and update the driver from Device Manager but it still refuses to work. Any ideas?

Angela Hewlett, by email


Well done for eliminating the two commonest causes of CD/DVD problems, however the Code 39 error message points to a fairly specific, and surprisingly common Registry glitch but it is easily rectified. The Windows Registry is a vast collection of System files, responsible for configuring a PC’s hardware and software, so please don’t try this if you are a complete novice, nervous, or very unlucky with computers.


First create a System Restore point  (Start > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore) then go to Search or Run on the Start menu and type ‘regedit’. This opens the Registry Editor, navigate to the following Registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\Current



In the right hand pane look for entries labelled UpperFilters and LowerFilters, plus any with .bak extensions. Right click on each one in turn and click Delete. Close Regedit, reboot and hopefully the DVD drive will be working once again, though you may find that some programs that use the drive may have to be reinstalled.      



Tablet Turns Back Time

I have just purchased a Nexus 7 tablet and on the whole I am very pleased with it but I have one major gripe. It has been a return to the bad old days with a flood of Spam messages. On my home PC I stemmed the flow, first by installing a spam filter and now with Windows Live Mail. I have looked, so far in vain, to find an effective and preferably free spam filter in the Google Play store, but the user reviews are not encouraging. Do you have any recommendations?

Keith Smith, by email


Try MailWasher, it’s a free Spam Filter that uses a large database to identify and zap dodgy messages while they are still on the server, so they never get anywhere near your PC. It also learns to identify craftily composed messages that can slip through the net. Sadly recent releases of Mailwasher Free for the PC have become a bit unwieldy but Firetrust is trialling a fresh new Android version and so far it looks very promising. If you would like to give it a test run sign up for the beta test by going to There is also a trial for an iOS version that runs on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch but Apple make it quite difficult to participate in beta tests and to install it you have to know your device’s UDID number. This involves a fair amount of faffing around but if you want to go ahead there are more details and signup instructions at:



Spaced Out Netbook

Where do I go from here now that my Asus Eee PC netbook is running out of space on its C: drive. I'm forever getting flagged to say that I need to remove unnecessary applications and files, but I only use four programs: Chrome, Picasa, Adobe Reader and AVG. I regularly defrag and compress the drive but I suspect that XP and its regular updates are eating up the free space. Can you point me towards a new netbook or tablet, but please, not into the Apple camp.

Noel Fay, by email


One easy way to give your Eee PC a new lease of life is to plug a high capacity SD memory card into the slot, and with 32Gb cards selling for under £20 it is a lot cheaper than a new netbook. Just leave the programs where they are but move your photos and data files to the card. It is also possible to upgrade the solid-state drive (SSD) on most Eee PC models, though this can cost more cost more than it is worth. If you are handy with a soldering iron there several articles on the web showing how to fit extra storage capacity inside the case. The guide on the Bit-Tech site, for example (, uses the module from a flash drive.



© R. Maybury 2012 0312


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