Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category


Last year I decided to ditch the desktop PC and move to a laptop for day-to-day use.  I’d been using USB hard drives to supplement the 1Tb storage but this meant my laptop was generally tied to the desk.

Anyway I decided (having upgraded to Gigabit Lan) that  Network Attached Storage was the way forward.

After much deliberation I went for Western Digital’s offering, encouraged mainly by the “Cloud Storage”

This is probably the easiest bit of hardware I’ve installed, plug in, install the software then access the drive through a web page to setup sharing and security.

Once setup, you can go to wd2go.com and map the cloud storage on your PC. (There’s also apps for android and iOS to access the drive from your tablet)

Make sure you only use these links when away from your home network though (When at home find the drive through the “network” section of Windows Explorer). Using the cloud service internally will hammer your bandwidth as your data does a lap of the Internet each time you read or write.

To top it off the drive comes with a media server built in, so I can stream all my music and videos through my blu-ray player.

So far I’ve had only one technical hitch. My laptop crashed and when it came back up Windows kept bringing up a password box and telling me I didn’t have permissions to access the directory.

I found loads of people asking the same question on the Internet, but very few answers. Turns out that the way to fix it is to go to Credential Manager in Control Panel, in here I found a Windows Credential for the device, a quick edit to put in the user name and password I set up on the device and everything started working again. 😀

Apart from that, the drive looks good and almost silent (just the occasional HD whir) and is well worth the higher cost over USB storage. The 3Tb option should be enough for most users, but just to be on the safe side I’ve bought another. (Oh and put the drives out of the USB caddies into my old PC to create a Linux server with 4Tb of space… but that’s another story)

One of the things I miss about Outlook since I changed to Thunderbird is the calendar. I also had a handy little app that synced it with Google (handy since I use Android on my tablet and phone) and a gadget at the side of the screen that let me know what was coming my way.

Anyway, not only have I lost Outlook but also the gadget functionality that came with Windows 7.

A bit of searching led me to 8GadgetPack a handy utility that allows you to use gadgets in Windows 8, either directly on the desktop or as part of a sidebar (especially handy now I have 2 monitors and space I can sacrifice to have this stuff always available)

This gave me the ever popular analogue clock which saves me having to squint at the bottom corner of the screen, and a range of gadgets that are similar to the ones that came with windows 7, but the calendar options that come with the initial installation seem limited.

A bit of searching brought me to Windows Live Calendar which will happily sync with calendars that use the iCal format (Windows Live and Google among them).

Install the gadget, go to Google Calendar and click “Share” on the calendar you want to add. On the calendar tab is “Private Address” and two buttons next to it. Click the one that says iCal and paste the URL into the calendar gadget. As easy as that.

I’ve replaced 4 PCs this year, one was beyond redemption, but the other 3 still have some life in them.

The first of these three was converted to Ubuntu about 9 months ago. It’s used by three kids with the average age of 7 and replaces an old Windows PC they used to kill every other week. Nine months on and Ubuntu is still running fine :)

For years I’d been put off by the geekiness of Linux, every time I’ve had an old PC knocking about I’ve given it a go, but quickly backed off.

Ubuntu

 

Big pluses of course are the price tag (free) and the scarcity of viruses compared to Windows. Add to that that it doesn’t seem to slowly strangle itself as nearly every Microsoft operating system does, and you’re on to a winner.

Ubuntu, pretty much works out of the box. I’ve just Installed it on my old laptop (an Acer Aspire 3630) the only thing that didn’t work straight away was the wireless network card, and all that needed was a bit of time searching through the forums for the one command to download and install the drivers.
Ubuntu itself has a simple to use desktop environment that the kids pick up very easily, and anything you could want to install is available in an appstore like interface. Firefox is there from the word go as is a competent office suite, installed VLC media player and that’s pretty much all they need.

Since the kids use the PC mainly for flash games and internet browsing (same as about 90% of the population) they don’t need the all singing all dancing hardware and now there’s two PCs for them to share.

Anyway for the last PC, Ubuntu Server is my next project, see what I can do with it.

Gmail

Gmail

Transferring computers has always been a problematic process, making sure all your data is copied over is probably the biggest issue.

So with a new PC and the resolution to do away with pirated software, it was time to move my e-mails from Outlook to Thunderbird. Seemed like a good idea to start with, I had thought of purchasing office, but the home edition has 3 licences but doesn’t have outlook (probably the part of Office I use most at home) and the version that does have Outlook costs much more and only allows one licence!!!

I tried several solutions from the web to transfer the data but each failed miserably until I came to the Gmail solution. You can access Gmail through IMAP, a protocol available to both Outlook and Thunderbird, so add the account to Outlook, create a folder for my e-mails and drag and drop them across.

Fire up Thunderbird on the new PC and using the same settings the e-mails are now available from the Cloud. Up to you whether you want to copy them across or leave them in Google’s care.

The time had come to retire my old PC, since I predominantly use external storage the time had come to swap the bulky old box for a laptop.

Big selling point for me has always been memory, so the 6Gb stood out amongst the others in this price range which tended to have only 4Gb. Add a 1Tb hard drive, and I have plenty of local storage for those times when I go roaming.

The core i3 processor happily handles anything I throw at it, processing a DVD to XviD on my media server in about 1/3 the time it would take to watch.

I made what I thought was a mistake at the time and bought one with Windows 8, but apart from the quirk of the start screen, this has been relatively trouble free.

One problem I did have, was a 3rd party drive partition software, which screwed up my whole operating system. At this point the One-Touch recovery was no use and I ended up having to format and re-install. The obvious problem with this is that the Lenovo doesn’t come with any disks.

Luckily copies of the Windows 8 disks (remember you buy a licence not the software) are available here-> http://forums.mydigitallife.info/threads/29322-The-Official-Windows-8-Repository and I was able to start from scratch (the activation and licence codes are built into the bios)

Getting back to the laptop itself, it runs silently and the keyboard is responsive and comfortable. Since I’m using it as a desktop, I’d have preferred the VGA, HDMI and network ports to be at the back and the headphone port gets in the way of my mouse, but these are minor problems and common to many laptops.

The big niggle for me however, is the touchpad. It looks good, just a slightly nobbled surface, but unfortunately that makes it difficult to see and use and I seem to be forever activating swipes to switch screens when trying to navigate the desktop.

Despite this, I’m happy with my new purchase and would recommend it to others.

Google Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7

Got a 16gb version of this new tablet last week. I worked on the principle that Google wouldn’t put their name to it if it wasn’t capable of showing their OS at it’s best.

So far everything seems great, design is sleek and all the apps seem to run effortlessly, even using it at work as well as home, I’m getting a couple of days out of the battery (unless I’m streaming movies on it)

GPS apps pick my location up effortlessly even when inside.

So intuitive even my other half has managed to use it with a minimum of swearing.

Very few apps pre-installed, allowing you to customise it to your own tastes very quickly through Google Play.

Using the Chrome browser at home means all my bookmarks are available on my tablet as well.

Cons…
You have to connect to wifi first time, but I couldn’t find the mac address to allow it to bypass the filtering on my router until after I’d got it connected. (after that no problems connecting at home or at work)
No storage expansion slot
Only one camera which is on the screen side, so not much use for taking pictures (or reading barcodes which would be handy at work)

Pros…
Price £159 or £199 depending on the memory
£15 credit on Google play
Ease of use
Battery Life

At first I wasn’t sold with this game, but it’s beginning to grow on me now.

Having joined the PS3 brigade just before Black Ops, I played very little MW2, but I can tell you that this has a very similar feel to the gameplay. I remember huge amounts of MW3 players complaining that Black Ops wasn’t as good and I get the same in reverse from this game, but I think it’s a matter of familiarity more than anything else.

At this point I don’t like the maps, but then I was the same with the DLC for Black Ops until I got used to them, and I’m swiftly getting up to speed with these. I can also see the potential, since the maps seem to have more levels and intricacy to them. Give me a few more hours and I’ll be a lot happier with the game.

The upgrades seem a lot more regimented than with Black Ops, meaning you have to get them in the order you win them rather than choosing your own style from the offset, again something to get used to rather than slagging the game off.

All in all, you like this type of game, you’re going to like this one, but give it time.

Kindle

on November 5, 2011 in Hardware No Comments »

It’s a year since I bought my Kindle, and Amazon have just added an updated version to the family.New Kindle

At first glance, the new cheaper Kindle, looks like a second rate version of the original, take a look at the specs and it’s got less memory, a shorter battery life and it’s lost its keyboard along with the audio capability. Even though the screen is the same size, the proportions of the device make it look smaller.

BUT…

12 months on and I’m still nowhere near the memory limit of the new Kindle, never mind the old one, and since you can retrieve books from Amazon’s Cloud any time you have wifi access, how many books do you actually need with you at any one time?  

The battery life is still more than enough to keep you going (and of course the USB charging makes it pretty travel friendly) and pretty much the only time I use the keyboard is when I open it up, so is the on-screen version going to be any real ball-ache?

As for the audio, any audiobooks or MP3s would quickly chew up the memory and the only time I tried the auto read function the dulcet tones of Stephen Hawking put me off for life.

The only conclusion I can draw is that the old Kindle was actually horrendously over spec, and to be honest the new one isn’t below par either.

The new format makes it lighter and the pages now turn a little faster, a plus on paper, but you’re hardly going to notice either of those things.

All in all, this has still got to be the most cost effective e-book reader, it does exactly what you need it to, without the bells, whistles and price tag of its competitors.

For those of you who want it, the old 3G version is still available, but I still don’t see the need, if you can get a 3G signal chances are you’re not too far from civilisation and a wifi hotspot.

Kindle

on November 22, 2010 in Hardware No Comments »
Whilst moving house I realised how much space all my books actually take up. I’d seen the Kindle advertised on Amazon and decided to take the plunge. I started out using the free application for the PC and was happy with the ease of use, so eventually stumped up the cash for the reader.

I’m glad I did, my first worry was eye strain through reading off a screen, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem since the e-ink isn’t backlit (If you want to read under the bedclothes then you’ll need a torch – although you can get a case with one built in). The screen is nice and clear and you can adjust the font size to suit.

The menus are easy to navigate, and if you want to add books that you’ve got from another source it shows up as a flash drive when you connect it to your PC and happily adds these books to your list.

If you keep using the reader on your PC it will also synch across both platforms so that it will pick up where you left the book on the other device.

There are a few negatives, none of which are a deal-breaker.

To start with, the reader itself has all the personality and charm of a pocket calculator, this is easily (though expensively) fixed with the addition of a leather cover  – available in a variety of colours – which give it the look and feel of a proper book.

I’ve also found that the power switch is in a place where it gets caught when I put it in my coat pocket, if it gets snagged for over 15 seconds the unit reboots. It then goes back to the last bookmark which is where you last came out of the book rather than where you are up to.

The other thing is that by default the Kindle places all your books in the main menu. You can group the books into collections (by author for instance) but this is a manual process and rather time consuming especially if you get a fraction of the way towards the 3,500 books the device can hold.

The books also remain in the same directory on the device, far better, IMO, would be to have the device recognise folders as collections and automatically create them. On the flip side, I’d like it to create folders to match the collections I create and move the books there.

Since the books are DRM protected, you can’t actually lend them out or sell them on like you would a paperback copy (although there are ways round this) which makes me believe that the prices Amazon charges (often the same as a physical book) aren’t entirely fair.

Amazon sells two versions of the Kindle, but for most users the cheaper Wi-Fi version will be enough, the only reason I can see to pay the extra £40 for the 3G connectivity is if you don’t have an internet connection at home.

The Kindle has a battery life of 3 to 4 weeks and charges happily from any USB socket, so it is very travel friendly and is certainly going to take up a lot less of your weight allowance on the plane, although I’m not sure I’d be happy leaving it on the sun lounger whilst I took a quick dip in the pool.

Not all books have been converted over to the Kindle yet, but there is a good selection and especially if you’re into classic literature there are a wealth of books available for free, and it’s always worth checking the site for limited time freebies that are used to advertise various authors.

Arround 30,000 tonnes of batteries are bought in the UK every year, but considering that they contain some of the most environmentally damaging chemicals, only 3% are recycled (the rest goes into landfill!)

New rules mean that soon every retailer that sells more than a pack of batteries a day will have to have a recyling point in store, but manufacturers are pessimistic that the target of 25% recycling by 2012 will be reached.

Undoubtably, point of sale and the visibility of the recycling bins will help, but the size of batteries means that they don’t always make it to the bin (how many of us have batteries lying in a draw that we’re not sure work) never mind getting collected together and taken back to the shop.

With alcaline batteries useing 50 times more power to produce than they ever give out, the better option is to switch to rechargeable, but the problem that I’ve always found is that they discharge over time even if you don’t use them, so by the time you need them you face the wait of a few hours before they’re of any use.

A new product by Duracell gets round this, charged in a normal NiMh charger (and costing around the same price as ordinary rechargeable batteries), Duracell ActiveCharge are capable of holding 80% of it’s charge for a year, meaning that those batteries are ready for use whenever you need them.

I’ve been using these since Christmas, and having a couple of sets for my camera means that it’s ready the moment I need it and I don’t have to plan my trips in advance. When the ones in the camera run out through use, I can be sure that the replacements are ready and it also saves recharging half used batteries just to make sure they’ll last.