Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Cure A Finicky CD/DVD Drive

Reader Asks Why Their Drive Sometimes Reads Discs, And Sometimes Doesn’t — And, Is There A Fix?

Q:Paul, I have an older computer that has started to give me some trouble and I am wondering if it is time to start shopping for a new PC. I am hoping you can give me some advice.

Courtesy of

Lately it has started ignoring discs when I put them in my CD burner. It can play some and not others. I am not sure why. I have checked, and Windows says I have the right device driver. Is there something else I should check? I don’t really want to have to buy a new computer right now. Thx.

A: Dear reader,
Though you say that your computer is “older”, I doubt that this issue will require you to dump your computer for a new one. Please read to the end.
(Folks, it is standard to – when you ask for help – provide basic information about your computer: make/model and operating system are good for starters.)

There are a few different reasons why an optical drive (CD/DVD) might fail to read (or write) a disc. Discs do ‘fade’ and go bad with age, and sometimes they come from the manufacturer with a defect. Sometimes, the drive won’t like certain formats.. or brand names (maybe preferring CD-R’s to +R’s, say), just to name a few. Usually using a different disc or brand of discs will resolve that, should it occur.

You also want to do as this reader did and open Device Manager and make sure your drive is functioning, and its driver is up-to-date. (My How To article on that is here.)

You may have a drive which is failing, and needs to be replaced. Doing so is neither very expensive, nor impossibly difficult, but you may want to hire a tech to do it for you.

However, I think in this case the most likely cause for the finicky behavior is simply that the lens has become a bit dirty and/or dusty, and needs a cleaning. Though you can buy items advertised as especially for such a job, the easiest way to clean your optical drive is to open the tray, and blow it out with a can of compressed air. (Now you know, folks, why geeks always have those cans.. dust is a real enemy of PC’s.)

[addenda: a reader added this good tip to try before replacing a drive.. or computer. “I find that, sometimes, it’s simply just that the connectors have worked a bit loose or oxidized over the years and all that is needed is to yank out the connectors and pushing them in again several times. Oh yeah, it may be a good idea to shutdown and switch off the mains before working inside your PC but without unplugging the cable from the wall outlet.”]

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.

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April 1, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech, troubleshooting | , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

General advice for purchasing a new digital camera*

I have been receiving e-mails here at Tech–for Everyone that have been regarding my recent article about the fella who went traveling, and for the first time left his 35mm gear at home. (He only carried a digital camera.)

These e-mails have been asking me which digital camera it was. The reason they wrote is, they want to buy the same one. I had very carefully avoided naming a specific make or model of digital camera, as (believe it or not) I am not in the business of promoting sales.

But I understand perfectly why people want some advice when it comes to buying a digital camera. There is a whole gaggle of them to choose from– an overwhelming variety.. and when you start shopping, it’s easy to become confused by the jargon.
A “mega” pixel is better than an ordinary, everyday “pixel”.. right? (You bet it is. It contains more vitamins and minerals.)

A long, long, time ago I wrote a three-part advice series on buying a new computer, and today I am going to reiterate a bit of advice from there– when buying a digital camera, you have to hold it in your hands. The “right” camera for you will just, well, “feel right”. If you keep accidentally pushing a button, or put your thumb right on the viewer screen.. that’s not good.

Tip of the day: General advice for purchasing a new digital camera.

* Optical zoom is better than digital zoom. Make sure that the “zoom” feature of your camera is handled by a moving lens. Digital zooming is okay in very small amounts, but the way it works will cause funny-looking “pixilation” when really put to work.
* You want image stabilization. Image stabilization is in my opinion simply a “must have”; fortunately, almost every manufacturer provides it. I won’t spend time, here, describing the different types. If you’re curious, click the link.
* The Megapixel. Folks, there is a lot of confusion regarding the camera jargon word “megapixel”. A higher megapixel number does not necessarily equate with “sharper image” or “clearer picture“.. in fact, they usually have nothing to do with each other.
Megapixels refers to the image (data) size and determines how big an enlargement you can make before you start to experience distortions (think of it as being a bit like film sizes). If the largest prints you ever make are 5 x 7, a three-to-four Megapixel camera is all you need. A 10 Megapixel camera is overkill for the vast majority of uses, and it will simply fill your memory card faster, with fewer shots. (But, you can make poster-size prints.)
* LCD “viewfinder”. I think it is important to have a manual viewfinder, as well as the LCD screen.. but that is personal opinion. In terms of LCD, the two factors to consider are placement and size. It should be big enough that you can see what it is showing when you hold the camera away from your body, and, it should be positioned on the camera in such a way as to not cause you to hold your hand in a funny/odd way so that you can see it.
Important: The LCD screen not only needs to be large enough to see, but it needs to be bright enough that you can see the preview when you’re outdoors in sunshine. If the image looks kind of dim in the store…
* And I’d like to repeat, your camera should just feel right in your hand.
* Don’t buy features you won’t use. If you are not a photography buff, and don’t want to memorize a 200-page owners manual, then you don’t want to buy a D-SLR; you want a “point-and-shoot”, (You won’t impress anybody with it anyway) and you don’t need 24 “settings” if you’re only going to use one. Right? Right.

Today’s free link: If you are like the fella I mentioned in the original articles, and like to read reviews and technical specs, or if you just want more information about digital photography (maybe it’s your hobby), check out

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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November 24, 2008 Posted by | advice, Digital camera, shopping for, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments