Tech clinic Q&A

  • Magnifier is intended to provide a minimum level of functionality for users with slight visual impairment. Most users with visual impairments will need a magnification utility program with higher functionality for daily use.
  • Tech clinic Q&A
Date:31 July 2006 Tags:, ,

Password-protected files, hibernating PCs, software for the sight-impaired

Easy on the eyes
I have a relative who is losing his sight. Is there any software or hardware available that could help him to use his computer?

There are two major categories of software available for the vision-impaired: screen magnifiers and screen readers. Screen magnifiers make selected areas of the screen larger, as if the mouse pointer were a magnifying glass. Screen readers convert written text to speech.

Both Microsoft Windows and Apple’s OS X have accessibility tools built into the operating systems, including high-contrast display settings, screen magnifiers, voice-activated controls and text-to-speech functions. But some with disabilities find these tools insufficient and would like options tuned to their specific needs.

“You have to go to third-party applications because (the built-in tools) just aren’t good enough,” says Jay Leventhal, editor of, an online publication of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) that focuses on technology designed for the visually impaired.

When it comes to screen-magnifying software, the one that performed the best in AFB’s tests was ZoomText from Ai Squared. As for screen readers, Leventhal recommends either JAWS from Freedom Scientific or Window-Eyes from GW Micro.

Data security
Is there a way to password protect files in Windows without having to create separate users?

If it’s a file you’ll only occasionally need access to but want to keep protected in the interim, I’d suggest sticking it inside a password-protected, compressed archive folder.

To create one of these folders, simply right click in Windows Explorer (the file browser, not Internet Explorer) and select New Compressed (Zipped) Folder.

Move your files inside the folder; don’t just copy them – you don’t want to leave an unprotected version of your file outside the archive. With the folder open, select File > Add a Password. For some reason, Windows doesn’t password protect any additional files you put in the folder after you select a password, so you’ll have to update the folder’s password each time if you want to keep all the files safeguarded.

I tend to use passworded .zip files instead. Sure, I have to unpack and repack the archives each time I change the files, but the passwords are stored along with the archive rather than in the operating system. So no matter where I leave the archive – on a memory stick or even on a machine running another operating system – I’ll always be able to access the files inside.

If you want even more security, try Truecrypt It’s a free, open-source software package that allows you to create highly secure, encrypted archives that are nigh-on uncrackable.

Power nap
Once and for all: What is the best way to save electricity? Should I turn off my PC when I’m done using it or set it to “hibernate”?

When I called the experts to help us settle this question, I was put in touch with Dave Korn, self-confessed “nerdy numbers guy.”

Korn not only gave me the final word on “Hibernate vs Off”, he said he was “excited to put the myth to rest”. It seems quite a few people have had the very same question.

Your PC has various “sleep levels”. S0 is on; S5 is off. The levels in between – S1 through S4 – denote different degrees of power consumption. S1, for instance, is what happens when you leave your PC alone for a while: the monitor goes to sleep and your hard disc drive spins down.

Each sleep level saves a bit more power. S3 “suspends” the system, keeping a low amount of juice in the machine to power the RAM, making for nearly instant startups. S4’s “hibernation” actually turns the machine off, but saves a snapshot of the RAM’s content to allow you to boot back up to exactly the point where you left off.

Here’s the kicker, though: the power difference between suspend, hibernate and off is negligible. In fact, anytime your PC is plugged in, it is drawing at least a small amount of power. The difference between S3 and S4 can be as low as a watt or two, and the difference between S4 and S5 can be as little as half a watt. In any of these states, however, total power consumption rarely exceeds 3 or 4 watts. At full tilt, a modern PC can draw up to 200 watts.

But what about the power you’d expend starting a computer from a cold boot? Whereas your monitor, CPU and hard drives will use a bit more energy to start up, it’s still a drop in the bucket compared with the energy you’re saving by turning your system off when you aren’t using it.

The moral? Whatever you do – suspend, hibernate or shut down – the power savings aren’t trivial.

Help, my computer is dead!

or is it? Your computer is a highly complex assemblage of parts. The failure of any of those pieces could lead to an overall PC shutdown that looks a lot more catastrophic than it actually is. So, before you toss your PC, you might want to run it through our little test – it might only be mostly dead.

What’s wrong?
I push the power button and nothing happens
*Could be simply a loose power connection on your motherboard.
*Smell something burning? It may be your power supply, but it’s fixable.
*Or, it could be your motherboard that is sizzling, and that means your computer is toast.
*Check connections: Free
*New power supply: R400

What’s wrong?
Power lights come on, but the PC doesn’t boot
*Older PCs store boot data on CMOS RAM powered by the PC’s clock battery. This battery may be loose or dead.
*Your RAM could be misaligned. Check to see if it is seated properly in its slots.
*If you’ve installed new components, you may be straining your power supply.
*New battery: R80
*Check RAM: Free
*Upgrade power supply: R400

What’s wrong?
Machine begins to boot, then fails
*If Windows’ opening screen progress bar repeatedly loops, the OS can’t access your hard drive’s boot sector. Use the Windows CD “recovery” feature.
*If you see the “blue screen of death”, Windows may have encountered an unrecoverable error and must be reinstalled.
*When you hear spinning and clicking, your PC is probably still fine, but your drive is likely dead – if you ever want to see your files again, contact a data recovery specialist.
*Windows recovery: Free
Data loss: Unlikely
*Windows reinstall: Free
Data loss: Probable
*Replacement hard drive: R300 – R2 500
Data loss: Total

What’s wrong?
PC sounds like it’s booting, but I can’t see anything
*No picture could mean a loose or dead graphics processing card.
*No image could signify a dead screen. Ask if you can borrow a monitor from a friend to test before you buy a new one.
*New graphics card: R350 – R4 000
*New screen: R750 – R10 000