Saturday, October 29, 2011

Acer Aspire One D255E

What's the opposite of an "impulse purchase"? Whatever the phrase is, that's what the buying process for this device was for me. Took me months! Earlier in the year there was an article in PC Pro comparing many Netbooks and this one won. That was just the start.

I then set about looking for alternatives at a better price, but - cutting to the chase - nothing seemed as good. I stood for ages in PC World and Currys playing with netbooks various, and was somewhat underwhelmed. If you get the chance, walk up to a netbook and try running four or five applications at once. Chances are it will fall flat on its face.

Most of them are single core processors, and nearly all have but 1gig of memory. A few years ago their specification would have been thought fabulous, but now they struggle to cope with just the operating system, let alone running a program. (There's an article elsewhere in the blog extolling the virtues of MS-DOS for those who can remember it.)

So, the D255E has a dual core processor. I very nearly bought a single core example once, before the nuances of Acer's name scheme became apparent to me, a mistake I suspect many could have made. It has  1gig of memory and a 250gig hard disk. It has 3 USB ports, N class wifi and a 10.1 inch display. It nominally costs 250 quid, but I decided that 200 was my top limit. Much hard work went into tracking down such a thing, weeks passed but eventually I fluked it - Okobe had red ones for 200 pounds. I'm inclined to think they made a mistake on their web site, because if anything red ones are more than the usual black.

There's no denying, it is a bit slow. It's a 1.5 ghz processor, and the dual core does allow it to multi-task quite happily, but it's no greyhound, Patience is required. Once things are running, they run well, but start up times seem slow.

Having removed all the crapware from the machine, installed Chrome and Firefox and banished IE whence it came, surfing is a totally pleasant experience. And as that's pretty much all I wanted it for, that's fine. But having said that, I have no complaints about how it runs Office, or indeed any of the other apps I've subsequently installed. I can't see it doing video editing, but Picassa works fine for example, as does Google Earth.

The display is very bright and clear as a bell, and it's glossy finish has not caused me problems at all. And once the battery was trained it is genuinely giving me hours of use on a charge. The claim is 8 hours plus, but that must be for doing not-a-lot, I'm getting over 6 hours of normal use, whatever that is...

The wifi range is good, the keyboard is nice to use, the touchpad is responsive, it's light to carry, and looks cute as a button. It gets a little warm on the lap, but nothing to mention, and the fan is quiet. It's great for watching the BBC iPlayer in bed. Speakers aren't that great, well they sound okay but there's little volume, but that's easily fixed with headphones.

If I was to find fault... there's just 1gig of ram, but to install more you have to get your screwdriver out and remove the base... I'm not sure my nerves would take this. Surely a little hatch isn't too much to ask? Or that it should come with 2gig? Because just running a browser the ram usage goes into the red sometimes.

The machine is configured to boot into Android. This is easily bypassed, but I've left it doing this, as the start up time is phenomenal. It feels like just a few seconds from pressing "on" to being able to surf. Catch is, the version of Firefox used in the Android partition is well old, and I can't fathom how (or indeed if) you can update it. And oddly it seems to run very slowly, use it for gmail for example, and it keeps "sticking" as you type your message. There's something not quite right with it all. And there's a small app store to access, but so far I've failed to download anything from it, it just hangs when I try.

But ignoring these minor gripes, I cannot but heartily recommend the D255. I've been using it for a few weeks now and it's performed faultlessly. I attended a long meeting recently, other participants had laptops that they kept having to 'sleep' all the time - me, I just left the Acer on - that battery rocks! As I said before, beware the identical looking single core version, which can be the same price too, confusingly. You may not be as a lucky as me to find one for 200 quid, 240 seems generally to be going rate, but as the opposition catches up with dual cores I expect its price will drop.

Update 2017

Yes, after many years, the Acer is still going, admittedly with only infrequent use these days. It has soldiered on well, and still looks quite new. The battery still gives a reasonable life, and everything still works fine. Software wise, it did start to go slower and slower, until it really got unusable, at which point a complete re-install of Windows sorted it out. Along the way I did try running it using Linux, but this didn't really give me the tools I needed, but it did work okay-ish (see here). I did lose the Android alternative system that the machine came with, no great loss. And then came Windows 10. I took the chance of the free upgrade, which I was surprised I got given that the original system was 7 Starter. BUT, after the upgrade things were not great, it had become very slow, despite the hype that 10 did not need more power than 7.
So... I gritted my teeth and did what I should have done from the very start, upgrade the memory. It came with just 1gig. I had read what was required to upgrade, and when the notebook was new I didn't fancy taking it apart to get the new RAM in, but of course now I wasn't so bothered. And it turned out to be a ten minute job, no problem at all. The worrying bit is prizing the keyboard off and then undoing several key screws, but there's a YouTube video that shows you how to do it. A doddle, and the memory was very cheap. A very worthwhile upgrade and means the machine will run Windows 10 happily. In fact I'm using it this very minute to write this.
So, during it's life Notebooks were in and then out of fashion, but I notice that recently there's been a resurgence in interest in these smaller laptops, this time around as a sort of tablet/laptop hybrid. They are very useful to have around, the number of time I've needed the quick use of a portable device I don't really care about, it's perfect. I now use it mostly to plug in to my car diagnostics, it happily sits on the engine telling me where the latest problem is!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nokia C3-00

However. It may be that my opinion of this phone is somewhat biased because I got it so cheaply. I bought it using Tesco tokens during one of their half price promotions, and ended up paying about 35 quid for it. I think it goes for about 90 quid in 'real life'. £35 - bargain, not sure how I'd feel about the full price...

Anyway, it's been excellent. Its keyboard does not have the quality feel of the Blackberry, nor is its screen so bright and inviting. But as a day-to-day phone it does everything well enough for me.
It copes with my various Gmail accounts very well, though it did take me a while to get to grips with how it works, insert usual moan here about poor documentation. (Aside... many years ago I was involved in rolling out Microsoft Office to a company nearby. Each CD of Office came with a pile - no really, a pile - of books about the various applications. I remember lugging these things about, and in the end there was almost a room full of books. I guess that wasn't very green, but at least you knew where to go to find out how the bloomin' programs worked. Now... well you might get a CD, but probably not. I recently bought a netbook, - it had critical info about how to maximise battery life on its hard disk. Trouble was, it turned out, you had to break one of the rules to get to see that instruction, i.e. switch it on in the first place! Ahem.)

Yes, so, email fine, browsing is okay too, it comes with Opera but runs the Nokia browser well too as you would expect. It handles Facebook and Twitter well, if you like that sort of thing. The screen is clear and bright, but annoyingly goes off too quickly when you're using it, and I can't find a setting to slow it down. However (not unrelated I suspect) battery life is good, I charge once a week on average. It picks up my wifi with ease, though it is a bit slow - but to be fair I personally cannot compare it with any other phone in this respect.

The biggest disappointment is the camera... it's a 2 mega-pixel job, which I assumed would be the same as the 2 mega-pixel camera I had in my old phone, a Nokia 2700. But no, it is much worse - not what I expected for a more expensive phone. It's okay in bright light and not too close to the subject, but anything else, awful.

The MP3 player is perfectly good, and easy to use. I confess I haven't really used the video function, but it works okay, I guess you can't expect too much at this level. There are a few okay games (currently addicted to Block'd) and you can download more free from the OVI app store, like Chess and Reversi.

I've had it 6 months and it's crashed maybe 5 times, recovering with a reboot no trouble. It's not put a foot wrong really, I have no major complaints. Well... just one, you have to hold the phone in just the right place next to your ear or the sound is distant, I've not really noticed this with other phones, the positioning of the speaker and ear seem to critical.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back

Straight away can I declare myself as a huge fan of Peter Gabriel, stretching back to his Genesis days and through his solo career. The man is a genius. Now, I'll try not to be too gushing about this album!
It's taken me a year or so to get around to buying this CD. I guess I was a little disappointed when it came out to discover it was in effect a 'covers' album. I had a quick listen to it on Spotify and it sounded dull, so I didn't exactly rush out to the shops to buy it. Duh.

For some reason I thought about it the other day, and it turned to be cheap as chips to buy, so I ordered it. It arrived. I played it. Dull.

Played it again. Hmmm. Played it again... oh yes... Played it again (etc) - now I LOVE it, can't stop playing it, am humming it constantly - the missus is sick of it!

Just to briefly explain the concept, Peter has persuaded a diverse selection of artists to allow him to record their material in his own inimitable fashion, and they are going to reciprocate by recording one of his songs in the future, hence the title. And the other thing - no guitars or drums. So, this album is dominated by orchestral instruments and arrangements. It sounds fantastic - it is 'lush' - the proper use of the word.

There are songs by David Bowie, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Talking Heads, Elbow, Lou Reed, Randy Newman, Radiohead, Arcade Fire, and, new to me, The Magnetic Fields, Regina Spektor and Bon Iver. They're all interpreted brilliantly, and (because I'm biased!) are all better than the original versions. His version of Elbow's Mirrorball is absolutely fantastic, I could talk about each track... but I did say I wouldn't gush...

Suffice to say that this album is simply wonderful - it's not a driving record, you've got to sit and listen to get it, but if the mood is right this is about as good as it gets. Do yourself a favour and give it a listen... no - don't be an idiot like me, give it several listens... then you'll thank me.

Very highly recommended, 10/10, you could buy it here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Empire of the Clouds : Book Review

This book was a joy for me to read from start to finish. It was a totally impulse purchase, and I would urge you not to be put off by the cover, which makes it look a bit like a Mills and Boon 60s novel... it is far from being that.

It's a non-fiction account of this country's aircraft industry since the second world war, which I know doesn't sound very interesting... but it really is.

Mostly it's interesting because the development of supersonic jet aircraft is fascinating, but also it's interesting to see just what a complete horlicks politicians made of our aircraft industry.

I must admit that I am very interested in aviation, mainly but not entirely military, so an insight into the development of some of my favourite planes was always going to be a winner with me, but actually the book is more about exposing the appalling lack of forethought and plain common sense on the part of our political and commercial leaders over the past half century.
If like me you have little regard for politicians, then I guarantee enjoyment from this book, as it confirms one's worst fears about this strange breed. They clearly have no idea what they're doing.

To summarise, at the end of WW2 this country had a fabulous and diverse aircraft industry, responsible in no small part for winning us the war, and looking ahead to a bright future of export potential and a warm fuzzy feeling of national security.

Today we have... not much to speak of. And the reason for that cannot in any way be laid at the door of the genius designers, the remarkable craftsmen or the brave test pilots involved. No. Politicians screwed it up. Looking back from this position of hindsight, it's easy to see the mistakes they made. Travel forward in time 50 years and look back at recent decision made about the Nimrod, the Eurofighter, the Harrier etc, I very much doubt today's shower will fare any better.

A book then, full of tales of individual bravery and foolishness, of fantastic and flawed designs, of genius and utter incompetence. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chevrolet Spark LT - Fun or just Funny?

The service turned into a longer stay for repairs, and they swapped my Corsa for a similar car by the garage's other dealership, Chevrolet. Now, I'd never paid much attention to Chevys before, except for Camaros. This wasn't a Camaro, sadly, it was called a Spark LT.

My 12 year old son thought it looked great, but I confess I referred to it during my tenure as the 'clown car'.

I must confess to be surprised to discover that the LT is top of the line and the list price of this car is £10.5k. Hmmmm.
Well, I suppose it is quite well equipped. Alloys, fog lights, air-con, adjustable seat belts, sports bumpers (?!) and a lot of stereo.

So, was it any good? It was okay. But the looks. I couldn't quite work out who would buy this car. Certainly not an old gadget like myself, it would be embarrassing. Young people then... but I'm not sure, it's not as appealing as some similarly wacky looking Citroens somehow. There's too much styling... what are those roof rails for? Are the black stripes and flashes helping, really, I mean they're just stickers. The alloys aren't alloy-ee enough.

The interior (again) appealed to my son, and I guess it was quite different. There's a lot of bare metal, but not in the name of austerity so much as style, and in places it worked. Though, quite often reflection from the metal of passing trees would momentarily distract. But it was comfy and modern. The instruments were odd, however, a strange combination of digital and analogue, hard to fathom what you were looking at half the time.

It grew on me after a couple of days I must admit. It wasn't fast but it was perky, it did the job quite well, the cabin was okay to be in, and of course from there you can't see the outside, possibly a blessing. Let's put it like this, it's not a boring car. Which is a good thing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ron Sexsmith - Long Player Late Bloomer

Now, to my shame, I hadn't really taken any notice of Ron here before I saw a recent documentary about him on BBC4. The programme was in fact about the man himself and the making of this album, which I ordered the very next day, so impressed was I.
The saying goes, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, and this really applies to Ron, who just doesn't look the part. What's more, seeing him during the recording process you would never expect him to come up with the stuff he does. Shame on me. He's fantastic.

His singing is great, his song writing is better, he seems like a thoroughly decent chap adrift in a world that expects artists to be extroverts and usually a pain in the arse. He is neither, and that's really appealing. To me anyway
The music on offer here is gentle. It's beautifully produced by a chap who 'got' Ron and made the most of him, Bob Rock. Maybe it's a little too gentle in places, there's very little edge to any of the tunes, though the lyrics are exceptionally interesting.

If you've never listened to Ron, I'd give him a go... I know I got the album weeks ago and it's growing on me each time I play it, always better than the other way around.

Very highly recommended, 9/10, you could buy it here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fasthost "Support" - Laughable!

And of course by putting the word "Support" in quotes in my title, I am indeed, as you'd expect, implying that Support is the very last thing they seem to actually provide.
I've been using Fasthosts for my own and my client's hosting for many a long year now. I've paid them a fair few bob over the years, and I've brought them new customers, in my capacity as a self employed web developer, (see

Up until very recently, this has been a fairly stable and satisfactory symbiotic(ish) relationship, and I've happily sung their praises to anyone who was interested.

But it's all gone Pete Tong recently, because I've had troubles, and with these troubles has come the requirement to contact their Support department. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
I won't bang on, because if you search the web you'll find many examples of annoyed people who've fallen foul of Fasthosts in one way or another, but I can give you a couple of amusing examples, and a little advice.

There are two ways you can approach them, by phone or by email. By phone costs you money, and a great deal of time. Eventually you might get through to someone, but in my experience they will sound a very very long way away. They will be quiet, and there will be an annoying delay on the line, and though I totally admire people who have gained any sort of fluency I another language... I can't help but feel they don't really understand half of what you're telling them. When what you're telling them is technically complex, this can be, ah, problematical.

Then there's email. Email is quicker for you to actually create, but it is eye-wateringly long-winded to get anywhere. They never reply quicker than 24 hours, and often take longer. Their first reply is always just that, a reply, no effort having been made to solve anything. They will ask you for some more information. 24 hours will pass. In my experience, the next response will be from someone who has not actually read your email properly, it will be a knee jerk reaction, and it will probably imply that you are at fault. Reply, 24 hours pass. You might break through the drone wall at this point and get through to someone who actually understands what you want... maybe. They may help at this point, or they may ask for more info. You'll notice that a week has nearly passed. Eventually you might get it sorted, and they might gently apologise.

One example recently, was that when developing pages using ASP, their new hosting was not returning error messages, just a general purpose page which told you nothing. I made a page with an error on it, and called it "deliberate-error.asp" in order that they could see what I was on about. After three days of getting this across to them I received a message from them saying that the page I had given them had an error in it, and perhaps I should fix it myself! Doh!

I tried hard to lay off the sarcasm in my reply, because I reckon it may have been lost completely on this 'support' operative who, I imagine, was "not from round here".

I am currently locked out of my account, because when I log on I'm told that a transaction I instigated (I didn't) has failed due to a problem with the payment (it's a free option and is trying to take a payment of exactly £0.00). It says I should either update my payment method (I can't as it won't let me in to do so) or Cancel. When I click Cancel a message comes up saying it's "Unable To Cancel". Checkmate.

The support phone call I made about this suggested I should email in for support, as they didn't understand what I meant. I emailed in four days ago and am yet to get a response worth having.

Advice. Only ring them if it's not your own phone bill and you've nothing worth doing for an hour or so. If you email them, try and tell them absolutely everything about your account, including FTP details and password, cos that will save you at least one 24 hour cycle. Never type too much in the email to support as they clearly stop reading after the first sentence.

Finally, probably, use 1&1 for you hosting.

Fasthosts, as my teenage son would say : "Epic Fail!"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Arriva - Please Keep Your Distance

Last week I was merrily rattling along in my car on the old school run, all was right with the world, I was in quite a good mood (for me). I was doing about 50mph along a straight bit of road in excellent visibility, when from a side road emerged a coach. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing the driver didn't even look in my direction, and he certainly ignored the Give Way sign staring him in the face.

He pulled straight out in front of me, causing me to brake violently. His smoking pile of junk then proceeded to accelerate at snails pace, belching toxic smoke, onward towards his next victim no doubt.
I avoided running right up the back of him by a few feet, and as I pulled back from him I glanced up at the neon display on the rear of this abomination. I was close enough to read through the grime, "62". For verily there is only one bus goes down this particular road, and it is indeed the 62.

But there was more... the 62 disappeared and a message came up in its place. I approached closer to read it, ironically.

My good mood shattered, I was stuck behind this flickering message for quite a long while, long enough for me to mull over some thoughts about this sign.

First and foremost of course, I heartily wished I could comply with this instruction, and keep a distance so great I would never have to see it again.

Secondly, just exactly what is "Your Distance", i.e. my distance, and what if my distance was about a foot... would that be okay? I suspect not.

Thirdly, which sad sack of bones sat down in his or her office at the Arriva HQ and thought to themselves, what on earth can we do now we've got these dot matrix signs for the bus numbers? Shall we flash up interesting info, like the time? (no! then they'd know we're running late!) or maybe a happy message like "Have a nice day" or "Sorry our antiquated piece of crap is holding you up"... No.

No... then inspiration came... "KEEP YOUR DISTANCE"... that's what we'll say to them. Ha ha!

Arriva, do us all a favour and just say "62" on your sign. That's all we really need to know. Thanks for the advise about the distance thing, but really, just a "62" will do.