Ask Rick Maybury 2013



Ask Rick 247 09/03/13


The Heart of the Problem

We have had a desktop computer for many years, but I have recently bought a laptop and at the moment am only using it to play games. I would like to connect it to the Internet while away from home by using Wi-Fi but I have a pacemaker and am wary at any side effects this may cause.

Clive Delamore, by email


You should really address this type of question to your consultant or cardiologist but the fact is you are being constantly exposed to a very wide range of radio frequency signals, many of them a great deal more powerful than the relatively weak emissions from laptops and wireless routers. Pacemakers are designed to operate in this kind of environment, which includes the all-enveloping sea of RF radiation coming from mobile phones and base stations, emergency and public service two-way radios, television and radio transmissions, cab offices, wireless hotspots – even those in hospitals -- and countless other sources. Nevertheless there are plenty of reports of pacemaker users who claim that they have been affected by wireless signals so you shouldn’t take chances and adhere to the ‘6-inch’ rule, issued by a number of organisations, including the British Heart Foundation ( and manufacturers of Wi-Fi products, like Apple, This basically says you shouldn’t put any wireless or electrical device, or strong magnets closer than 15cm or 6-inches to your pacemaker, but again, I must stress that you should talk to an expert.



Virtually Impossible?

A friend has just purchased a Windows 8 laptop, but cannot now afford to purchase updated versions of all the software she uses. I know that W7 had a facility called Virtual PC, whereby you could partition your hard-drive and load an alternative operating system but I can’t find out if this is available in W8. Is there a Virtual PC solution for W8? Following on from this, can you access data files on partitions other than the one that you have booted-up from?

Colin Smith. By email


New versions of Windows often cause problems with older applications but this time around there have been fewer casualties. Before your friend gets too involved with Virtual PCs and partitions she should check the Windows Compatibility centre (, which has a large and growing database of products and where available, links to patches and upgrades.


In the end, though, running an older version of Windows on her PC may be the only solution, but a Virtual Machine (VM) and partitioning or multi-booting are two quite different things. A VM is a PC simulation program that runs inside Windows, in which you can install another version of Windows. In other words it is a PC within a PC. Multi-booting involves dividing the hard drive into two or more partitions, creating one or more virtual drives, and installing a second copy of Windows, or any other supported operating system, on the new partition. All you have to do is select which system boots up immediately after switch on. In both cases the alternative operating system should be able to read and write data stored elsewhere on the host drive.


On balance, and if there is sufficient free space on a hard drive, multi booting is usually the simpler option and there are some easy to follow instructions at: Windows Virtual PC has been replaced by Hyper-V in W8 ( and there are several third party alternatives but VMs can be quite tricky to set up and are probably best avoided by novices looking for an easy life.



Root of the Problem

My wife cannot access the Google Play Store on her new Kindle Fire HD. I have found ways of rectifying this but it seems to involve serious brain surgery with warnings of potentially fatal mistakes, Should I risk it, or is there a foolproof answer for amateurs?

Jim Bolton, by email


Although the Kindle Fire HD uses a version of the Android operating system, first and foremost it is an Amazon product and therefore designed for downloading e-books, media and apps from Amazon’s online store. You have to override Amazon’s customisations to get it to behave like a regular Android tablet and this involves taking control of the operating system in a process known as rooting. Provided you follow the instructions it is a relatively straightforward and safe procedure. The real problem is that invalidates the warranty, so if anything goes wrong you are on your own. The other point to bear in mind is that some Android apps won’t work on the Kindle Fire because of differences in the display and operating system and restrictions imposed by Google. There are plenty of online guides to rooting the Fire HD, I suggest that look at a few of them (this one on CNET is a good place to start and decide if it is something you can tackle, and are prepared to take the risk, otherwise, start saving for a unfettered Android tablet.   



Seeing The Light

A major plus of my now defunct Amstrad E-mailer was its warning light signalling the arrival of a message. A laptop can't tell me this, and because I only use it for emailing, this entails the inconvenience of switching it on each day to see whether any of the two or three messages I get in a month has arrived. Is there any way of utilising any of the five warning lights on my computer to alert me an email?

John Goulding, by email


Sadly not, though there are several gadgets that flash a light or change colour when a message has been received but the PC has to be on all the time and running email software. However, this is one of the things that tablet PCs and smartphones do really well. Most models can operate in a low power mode for several days, and sometimes a week or more between charges, and sound an audible alert or flash an LED when there is an incoming message. Tablets also boot up much faster than PCs, in some cases taking less than 30 seconds.




© R. Maybury 2013 1802

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