Q: My computer keeps shutting down and must restart several times a day. The shutting down and restarting takes forever. It is Windows 7 using Firefox. I know it is almost done but so am I. Help!
– Joan H., Port Saint Lucie, Florida
A: I suppose that I will spare you the lecture on the wisdom of trying to continue running a Windows 7 implementation, Joan. I’ve beaten that dead horse so often in recent issues that I’m afraid I’m going to start getting nasty emails from the ASPCA.
When an otherwise viable computer shuts down unexpectedly, in the majority of cases the problem can be traced to the hardware, rather than anything in the Operating System. When it happens repeatedly, it becomes almost a certainty. I believe the reason your computer is shutting down is that it is overheating, and is protecting itself from damage. The reason that it “takes forever” to restart is that it is not a graceful, controlled shutdown of Windows. That means open files weren’t closed, indexes weren’t properly updated, services weren’t gracefully stopped, and much more. Basically, all of the housekeeping tasks that Windows does when you click Start->Shutdown were skipped. When Windows next boots, it needs to clean things up before it can run smoothly. Aside from the inconvenience to you, Windows doesn’t like being shut down in this manner because there is a real potential of damaging vital system files. Consider yourself lucky that it has been successfully recovering all these times.
So, what’s causing the overheating? More than likely the inside of this rather old computer has become caked with dust over time, and is no longer properly dissipating heat. It’s also possible that one or more cooling fans have failed. For desktop-type PCs, it’s usually a simple matter to open the case and vacuum-out accumulated dust (being careful not to static-zap anything in the process. Laptops are a little trickier, and may require the assistance of a professional.
Q: I am hoping to convert my VHS tapes to digital form. I have an old VCR that will play the tapes beautifully to the TV. They don't seem to have lost quality over the years, but I know that they will eventually. I want to store the files either on an external hard drive or thumb drives. I bought a dongle to connect the VCR to the USB port of my computer but the resulting video is black and white and poor quality. What equipment and editing software do you recommend for archiving home videos?
– Candy W., Niceville
A: As I’ve said since the foundation of this column, I don’t do endorsements of specific products. Suffice it to say that there are scads of hardware and software options available to accomplish this, ranging in price from under $10 to hundreds of dollars. For the hardware, you can expect the quality of the results to be commensurate with the price. For the software, the higher the price, the more features it will have, but in general, the quality will be the same in all cases.
Since you say that the image looks good when observed on a TV, then the problem must lie in the digitization. Even digitizing hardware of higher quality can yield poor results if there is an issue with the unit’s driver, or if the software settings are mis-configured.
The type of digitizer board you described should come with a hardware interface driver and/or some low-end video processing application. One or the other will provide some level of user adjustment to the incoming video, similar to those you’d find on a TV, such as brightness, contrast, color level, and tint. Make sure your settings aren’t the source of the problem. Finally, check your interface between the VCR and digitizer board. Video can be sent over cable in several ways, from simple, single-cable composite, to multi-cable component video that splits the signal onto three separate cables. Make sure you are using good quality cables that are not damaged, and ensure the video type that you’re sending from the VCR matches the input on your digitizer board.
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