Ask Rick Maybury 2014



Ask Rick 331 18/10/14


Office Busybody?

As I was saving a Word document, a box popped up which contained extracts from essays, documents, book lists and other previously saved personal material. Apparently from Microsoft, the box asked if the contents could be sent to Microsoft to improve one of their services. I had no idea that Microsoft uses Word to scan documents for interesting or unusual phrases and then is able to harvest them from computers using their programs. How do we know they are not reading private correspondence etc. without our knowledge? Have you come across this before and can the operation be stopped despite our being given a choice to send or not?

Brian Williamson, by email


It does sound quite sinister, and a godsend for conspiracy theorists, but it is actually part of Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program, a supposedly voluntary scheme that is meant to improve the reliability and performance of Office 2010. It collects information about your computer, details of error messages, performance and data flagged up by the spell and grammar checkers, custom dictionary and proofing tools, which explains the blocks of text it wants to analyse. The information it collects is anonymous and cannot identify you or your computer so it seems innocent enough but Microsoft has done itself no favours by enabling this feature by default, and burying the off switch in a place where few users can be expected to find it.  If you do not want to participate click the File tab and under Help click Options then Trust centre. Select Trust Centre Settings then Privacy Options, uncheck Sign up for the Customer Experience Program and click OK. There is more information about the scheme and Microsoft’s Privacy Policy at:


Smart Decisions?

As we all know electricity companies are being obliged to fit meters with Wi-Fi that can be read from outside the property. In our case the meter is in a wooden cupboard only about four metres away from the computer's Wi-Fi connection. Is there any danger of interference between the two, or any security issues? If so would aluminium foil lining for the room side of the cupboard provide adequate insulation?

Gillian Naylor, by email


The Smart Meter roll-out is scheduled to begin in earnest next year and they will be employing a mixture of communication technologies but the majority of them send and receive data using mobile phone networks. In areas where coverage is poor, or non-existent, they can use phone lines, local wireless networks, the home owner’s Wi-Fi network and even the electricity grid. Meters will also link wirelessly with in-home displays and other devices, including smart gas meters, central heating systems and so on. Clearly it is in no one’s interest to install meters that generate or suffer interference from other devices but there are bound to be problems with a project of this magnitude. However, at this very early stage, and with so many variables and uncertainties, the only thing you can do is wait and see, and use that aluminium foil for cooking. In the meantime you can find out more about Smart Meters and what plans your supplier has on the Department of Energy and Climate change Smart Meter guide at: Incidentally it is worth pointing out that it will not be compulsory to have a Smart Meter fitted, though your electricity supplier may insist that your meter is replaced on the grounds that it is faulty, unsafe or outdated.


Android Accident

I have a Sony Xperia Android tablet and somehow deleted photographs from the internal storage. This presumably happened whilst attempting to copy them to the memory card. Is there any way to undelete lost files? In the past I have used Windows programs to restore deleted files; can this be done with Android?

Richard Loates, by email


Yes, and lost or deleted files can be recovered, but only if you act quickly as the memory space they occupy will eventually be overwritten. There are a number of free recovery tools available for Android, though some of them depend on the device being rooted, which can be a tricky procedure and invalidates the warranty. Of the paid-for alternatives I suggest a Windows utility called Wondershare Dr Fone for Android ( The fully licensed version costs around £30, but download the trial version first, which scans your device and lists all of the files that can be recovered. Needless to say prevention is better than cure so get into the habit of backing up important files at the earliest opportunity, either to a PC or cloud storage, and although there is no direct equivalent to the Windows Recycle Bin in Android, there are several apps that can restore accidentally deleted files (but only after the app has been installed); try Dumpster Recycle Bin and RVO Recycle Bin, both free, from Google Play.


Drive Safely

One of your recent replies set me a-wondering. You said that if a laptop battery ran right down whilst the computer was in hibernation mode the data would be safe as it was stored on the hard disc drive. I use a MacBook, which has a solid-state data store. Does the same apply to this kind of storage?

John Battison, by email


Yes, solid state drives (SSDs), like USB sticks, camera and smartphone Flash memory cards are all forms of non-volatile memory, which basically means that stored data is retained, even when there is no source of power. Information will eventually degrade but it is usually a fairly slow process. Longevity is measured in read/write cycles so a lot depends on how much use a memory device gets. Barring misfortune and manufacturing defects the one in your MacBook should be good for a few years. There has been some concern over SSDs failing catastrophically if power is removed suddenly and unexpectedly whilst data is being read or written, but the risk is relatively low on battery powered devices, which continue working and warn you to save your work and shut down safely well before the battery is fully discharged 



© R. Maybury 2014 2909

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