After spending far more time than I originally intended, I’ve just released improved search functionality to Carsurvey.org.
New features include:
- Phrase searching (via double or single quotes)
- Engine sizes can now be found, and the system understands that 1.6 and 1.6L (and similar variations) are searches for the same thing
- For reviews: results in key fields, such as manufacturer, model, and engine are now weighted above results in the faults and general comments text. This gives more relevant results for most searches
- Review results are weighted towards the longer reviews
Carsurvey.org now displays the engine details in the lists of reviews on the site. Sounds like a trivial change (and it was in terms of the coding required), but in a classic case of why you should eat your own dog food, I was struggling to find reviews of a 1.6 Vauxhall Zafira on my own website (someone I know bought one recently).
It’s rare that you get to view a site that you work on every day, through the eyes of a normal user, so not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I’ve made some changes to the layout of the pages that list the reviews by model.
I much prefer the new layout (I tested quite a few alternatives), and hopefully regular visitors will like it too.
In the spirit of all the other 2007 lists out there, and to try to make up for my recent lack of posts, this is going to set of eclectic lists of things I should have mentioned during 2007.
Gadgets I liked:
- Nokia N95 – still love it, especially with the v20 firmware, and recent apps such as Google Mobile Maps with GPS support, and the emTube video player. By far the best phone/PDA I’ve ever owned
- Xbox 360 Elite – So many good games this year on the Xbox 360, and since I got a good deal on a new Elite, it was well worth upgrading from my old Premium to get the larger disk and HDMI video output
- Topfield TF5800 PVR with the MyStuff interface – I’ve had this over a year, but it keeps getting better and better. Massively customisable, and it allows the download of recordings, ready for backup onto DVD with no loss of quality
- Nintendo Wii – Just over a year old, overhyped and short of games, but worth it for parties, and the quality games are starting to come. Can someone please do a better Golf game than Tiger Woods 08?
- Fuji F31fd camera – Got this at a bargain price to replace my old Fuji F10. Wonderful picture quality for the size. No compact I’ve seen comes close in less than perfect light. Fuji should stop wasting their time on higher megapixel cameras, and just offer an upgraded F31fd, with added RAW support, SD card slot, image stabilisation, histogram, and exposure bracketing. They could name their price
- Sennheiser HD595 headphones – Not cheap, but so comfortable, and they sound great. By far best headphones I’ve ever owned
- Sennheiser CX300 headphones – Cheap, and sound fantastic for the money. Great for train journeys
- Mac mini (with Core 2) – This has been my main system for almost 6 months, as I’m waiting for a new Mac Pro to be released. I struggle with the 2Gb of RAM, but otherwise, it’s a fantastic desktop system; fast and super quiet. If Apple discontinue the Mac mini in the foreseeable future (as the rumours keep suggesting), without introducing a suitable replacement, they’re completely crazy
- ASUS EEE PC – Don’t own one of these, but a friend does, and I’ve used it quite extensively. Love the price and the build quality. Firefox runs so much better than I thought it would. Release an updated version with a 9 inch screen, integrated bluetooth, and running the Xubuntu version of Hardy Heron, and ASUS will have my order in a heartbeat. A similar device with the lovely form factor of the Palm Foleo would be great too (just don’t copy the Foleo’s crippled software or internal hardware)
- Joytech Tri-link HDMI switch – Affordable, nicely priced, and intelligently designed (with a nice IR extension cable). A painless way to add a couple of extra HDMI ports to my TV
- Lenovo 3000 N200 – Purchased for my Aunt who was looking for a budget laptop. Available with XP (instead of Vista), came with 1Gb DIMM (instead of the usual 2x 512Mb), friendly system restore software (including backup to bootable DVD), and a Pentium Dual Core processor based on Intel’s modern Merom core (basically a slightly cut down Core2Duo). The build quality is better than most Dell’s I’ve experienced, and at £399, it was serious bargain. Added an extra 1Gb DIMM, and you can’t go wrong if you’re looking for a budget laptop.
Games I liked:
- Portal – So clever, so funny, so short
- Super Mario Galaxy – Nearly as inventive as Portal, but much bigger
- Excite Truck – Best Wii game in the first half of 2007. A little too random at times, but plays like Sega Rally crossed with Stunt Car Racer
- Forza Motorsport 2 – A little sterile, but so smooth and realistic. It’s an automotive sandbox, and I’ll be playing it for years. And yes, I do have a chipped Shadow Blue Golf GTI in the game 🙂
- Endless Ocean – The most relaxing game ever invented. Animal Crossing under the sea, without the commitment to keep visiting every day
- BioShock – Love the art and the architecture. The rest of the game is pretty good too
- Sega Rally – Totally unrealistic, but so much fun. A pity that it didn’t seem to get the attention it deserved. Had the great track design that was always a feature of classic Sega coinops
- Project Gotham Racing 4 – Just the right mix of fun and realism. So superficially similar to Forza, yet so different too. Which I prefer depends which day you ask me. Would love them to bring back the Edinburgh track from PGR2 as downloadable content
- Call of Duty 4 – Best multiplayer game of the year. It’s like a tighter, more focussed version of Battlefield 2
- Colin McRae: Dirt – This feels like Project Gotham of rallying to me. A lovely balance between fun and realism. It deserved more praise than it got. Extra bonus points for including the Pikes Peak Hillclimb too
- SEGA Presents: Touch Darts – Bought this in preparation for a stag night I was going on, and it managed to help me appreciate a sport I previously knew almost nothing about. You don’t need to be a darts fan to appreciate this little gem
Software I liked:
- Mac OS X Leopard – Nothing revolutionary, but since Tiger was pretty good, big changes weren’t needed. I love Spaces, Safari 3, Quick Look, and Time Machine
- Safari 3 – Deserves an entry of its own. It’s now my favourite Mac browser (narrowly beating Camino). It seems to leak a little memory, but it’s fast and stable
- Ubuntu – I seriously considered switching from Mac to Ubuntu this year. In the end, Leopard’s polish, and some of Ubuntu’s rough edges put me off, but given a choice between Windows and Ubuntu, Ubuntu wins hands down
- Google Earth – A bigger time sink than Wikipedia, and that’s saying something. Love the new flight sim mode
- TextMate – This has been my main text editor for over two years. I probably don’t even use 10% of its features, but even so, I’ve more than had my money’s worth
- VideoReDo – Although it’s a Windows only program, this powerful MPEG2 editor is fantastic for chopping the ads out of recordings made on my Topfield PVR. The new TVSuite version even authors and burns the DVD for you
- Google Maps on N95 – GPS support, the new My Location feature, and high speed data over HSDPA make this a tremendously useful tool
- emTube – Brilliant YouTube app for S60 phones
- VMware Fusion – Windows, Mac and Linux together on one machine; wonderful. Instead of multiple machines in my office, I can just buy one powerful Mac, and host anything else I need inside VMware Fusion. Brilliant for testing new OS installs too.
- Internet Explorer 7 – Fixes lots of IE6 bugs, but introduces lots of new issues, along with a new and particularly horrid user interface. If it had replaced IE6 more quickly, it would have been better, but for now it’s just another broken browser to support
- Firefox 2 on the Mac – I want to love it, but despite many clean installs, it’s just not as stable as Firefox 1.5 was. I don’t care about new features right now, just please improve the stability
- DRM – Some positive movements this year, but not enough. There’s no future in providing a worse service to paying customers than freeloaders
- Apple’s treatment of its customers – Bricking iPhones, expensive ringtones, no Mac Pro upgrade, no mid range desktop Mac, expensive hardware upgrade pricing (insulting RAM prices etc), censoring legitimate discussions on your support forums. Sort it out, or I may have to reconsider defecting to Ubuntu
- The Sony PS3 – The lack of games, inept handling of the press, loss of backwards compatibility, confusing hardware variations, etc…
- Windows Vista – What were Microsoft doing for 5 years? XP with some extra eye candy shouldn’t have taken so long, and should have worked better. I’m recommending everyone I know to stick with XP, or move to Linux or the Mac. This XP review sums it up very well
- Palm Foleo – The physical form factor was so right, but the crippled internal hardware and software were so wrong. Add in the high price, and Palm were right to can it. Combine the best bits of the Foleo and the EEE PC, and you’d be onto a winner
- Windows Product Activation – I’m happy to pay for a legitimate Windows licence, but I don’t want to be treated like a potential criminal just because I reconfigure my machines more often than is usual. Virtualisation makes this even annoying. I had real trouble getting a single Boot Camp install of Windows XP to validate in both Boot Camp and VMware. One OS install, one physical machine, but I had to fiddle around with mac addresses, and call Microsoft several times to get this working. Not a good experience for a paying customer, who just wants to test websites on Windows (for the benefit of Microsoft’s other customers). And as IE7 isn’t available for Windows 2000, that’s not an option either. Any more problems and I’m moving to Wine