Ask Rick Maybury 2013



Ask Rick 258 25/05/13


Fishy Business

I am a member of a fly fishing club and we lease a private lake stocked with trout and a number of very large carp. Unfortunately, the predation of poachers is becoming a real problem. We try to patrol the lake in the evening and at night but some of our members are elderly or live some distance from the lake so our patrols tend to be rather patchy. Is there any way we could monitor the lake from a distance?  The main problem is that there is no mains electricity. I wondered about the feasibility of mounting a motorised web cam on a small island in the middle of the lake and monitor it wirelessly from a distance of a few miles. If so, what equipment would be needed?

Gerald B. Gill, by email


It can be done but it is going to be a challenge. Your options are limited by the lack of power and, presumably, a phone line. Without those two essential ingredients the only way to send live images to a remote location over a distance of more than a few hundred metres is via a 3G/4G mobile broadband connection, assuming that the site isn’t too remote and a good phone signal is available. Professional kit is available but this can be very expensive. There are a handful of simple consumer remote surveillance cameras, with built-in 3G connectivity. Just pop in a pay-as-you-go SIM card and dial up the camera on your smartphone or PC to view the image. They’re not that expensive either and prices start at under £150 ( and The downside is that they are fairly basic fixed cameras with limited alarm and low light capabilities. You will also have to provide a source of power, though a car battery, with a simple solar charging system should suffice.


That leaves putting something together more sophisticated yourselves and if there are any electronics and computer wizards amongst your membership point them towards a couple of DIY projects, using mostly home-built components and a Raspberry Pi computer ( and The alternative is a home brew system using off the shelf parts and this is something that a reasonably competent computer enthusiast could tackle. Basically it involves connecting an IP webcam with remote controlled PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) to a netbook PC equipped with a 3G dongle. It may even be possible to hook it up to a smartphone or 3G-enabled tablet with a bit of fiddling around. Keeping the video link open all of the time would be impractical and expensive so it needs a simple control program, to fire up the system at preset intervals or when the camera’s motion or contact alarm is activated. Everything would have to be housed in secure waterproof enclosures and again, powered by car batteries.



Power Savings?

Like a recent correspondent I also had problems with the battery on my laptop not holding a charge and this was also rectified with a new battery. My question is, what is the difference between a compatible battery priced £16.00 and one advertised on the manufacturer’s website for £47.00?

Caroline Hood, by email


Probably nothing at first but cheaper battery packs tend to contain inferior, lower grade cells – manufacturing rejects or past their sell by date -- and the inevitable decline in battery’s ability to hold a charge will probably occur much sooner than the 3 – 5 years it normally takes.



Video Still A Problem

Having a compact digital camera, which could take both stills and movies seemed ideal, until it came to producing a simple DVD. For years I have been filming school plays with my camcorder then editing and burning a DVD, all within a few hours. This time I filmed a one-hour performance using a Canon digital camera. It gobbled up an entire 32gb memory card, and I could see no easy way to create a DVD. When I consider the added problem of digital still cameras not being able to focus continuously, would it not be more prudent to stick to the trusty camcorder?

E M Peters, by email


Yes it would and attempts to create hybrid devices have been largely unsuccessful. There are a number of good reasons for this, and why video recording on consumer digital still cameras remains a secondary feature, for capturing short clips. Ergonomics is one factor. Still cameras are mostly used two-handed, to aid stability, but this isn’t so important with a camcorder and they can be used one-handed, making it easier to pan or take low level and overhead shots. Still cameras generally have larger image sensor chips with more pixels but this makes it harder to design the type of compact multi-role, high-power zoom and wide-angle lens used on camcorders. There is no good place for a microphone on a still camera that will prevent it picking up handling noises and memory cards do not come close to the recording capacity of tape or hard drives and struggle to cope with the very large amounts of data generated by high definition video recording systems.



Don’t Blame The Cat

Letters and numbers produced on screen do not correspond to the keys on my Sony laptop. This is not true for all keys but many. I have tried troubleshooting via the keyboard icon in Control Panel but get a working normally message. It is possible that the problem has been caused by my cat, who enjoys the noise may by the keys, or is there a virus?

Dr Brian Walker, by email


This is not the sort of thing that viruses normally do and if you are seeing numbers when you press the U, I, O P, J, K L and M keys then you, or the cat, have accidentally pressed the NumLock key and enabled the laptop’s embedded numeric keypad. Press it again to disengage. A ‘Prankware’ program, installed by someone with access to your machine can make keyboards do strange things but the only other possibility is a fault with the keyboard, its connector cable or the controller chip on the motherboard and this will have to be investigated by an engineer.




© R. Maybury 2013 0605

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