Author Archives: Steven

About Steven

Steven Jackson is a web developer based in the North East of England is back to normal

Replacing the faulty disk didn’t quite go to plan, and the RAID array needed a bit of help to be coaxed back into life (think defibrillator), but things have been up for a while now, and the patient seems to be recovering well. Will be keeping things under close observation, but I’m confident enough to reopen the site to new reviews and comments. Hopefully this is the last disk related issue for the foreseeable future, as I think has had more than its fair share recently.

Disk issue with the server

It seems to be the year for disk failures.

The good news is that the RAID array has done its job, no data loss so far, I’ve got completely up to date backups (which I know restore properly), and engineers are looking at the physical server right now.

As a precaution, new reviews, new comments, and the members area have been disabled till the problem has been fully resolved. Don’t want to risk losing anyone’s new contributions if things go horribly wrong. It’s also probable that the server will be offline for a period while hardware is replaced. Fingers crossed the faulty kit will be replaced soon, and we’ll be back to business as usual.

Policy changes on

Things have gotten out of hand with a small number of people who are spending significant parts of their waking time beating each other over the head with basically the same arguments, day in day out.

Things are getting more personal, and the volume of comments is increasing. Enormous amounts of my time are being spent trying to keep things vaguely civil, to the detriment of the rest of the site, and frankly my own quality of life.

The people involved need to accept that they’re never going to convince the people who hold the exact opposite views.

Starting from today, the following policy changes are being made:

There is going to be a very low threshold of toleration for comments that essentially repeat points made elsewhere on the site, especially if those comments are not about your experience with a particular model, but are essentially part of a wider discussion about politics or economics.

Less toleration for unpleasant comments. I’m not going to spend time editing comments that contain unnecessary jibes. Those comments will simply not be posted to the site. People can learn to tone their comments down, rather than having me edit their comments to make them acceptable. New visitors will get a little leeway on this, as they’re less likely to understand where the boundaries lie.

As a general guide, here are some things that examples of things that I consider acceptable/unacceptable:

Acceptable: Posting a single comment about the recent recall of a vehicle by a manufacturer, which hasn’t been mentioned elsewhere on the site

Acceptable: Posting new information about an old recall

Unacceptable: Posting multiple comments about recalls already mentioned elsewhere on the site, which simply repeat information available elsewhere

Acceptable: Posting a single comment about your personal experience with a model to a relevant review, and then following it up with relevant replies. This can include your experience with competing models

Acceptable: Posting multiple comments that address queries raised by other comments about a particular model

Unacceptable: Posting your unsolicited views of a particular model across many reviews

Acceptable: Stating that someone’s views on a car are mistaken, with explanations of why this is the case

Unacceptable: Any comments that directly or implicitly are negative about other contributors to the site. It’s fine to say that someone’s wrong, but not to suggest they are an idiot or a traitor.

Or to put it another way:

I don’t expect to see essentially the same comments being repeated either across different reviews, or within the comments of a single review. We live in an age of search engines, and designed to be easily searchable. No need to repeat arguments ad infinitum.

I expect everyone who participates on to have a sense of respect for the other people who’ve taken the time to add their contributions to the site.

My hope is that these changes will improve the signal to noise ratio of, as well as the general atmosphere, without restricting the subjects that can be discussed.

As usual, complaints or feedback should be addressed to, or added to the blog comments on this site. Please don’t add comments about this to itself.

Steven Jackson, CSDO Media Limited

More disk problems

More disk problems on the web server. It’s currently being rebuilt. Not sure if any data has been lost (last guaranteed backup was Monday). Updates when I know more.

One replacement RAID controller later is back in the land of the living, and appears to have suffered little to no data loss, despite a failure of the RAID controller card. As well as visually inspecting the site and database, I’ve run some comparison scripts against current and backup copies of the database, and the only differences I could spot are ones I’d expect from the passage of time, rather than missing or corrupt data.

Full marks to SoftLayer for dealing with this issue much better than The Planet did when I had a similar issue a few years back.

Apologies to everyone for the outage, and if anyone has lost any reviews or comments, I’m very sorry about that. server problems

The server the site is hosted on is having filesystem problems, and someone is looking at right now.  I’ve got a good full backup (I know it restores OK) from Monday, and managed to save some of the newer reviews first thing this morning, but I’m not hopeful about some of the very recent reviews and comments. I think I’m going to spending the rest of the day rebuilding things once whatever hardware failed is replaced.

Hopefully all will be back to normal later (probably much later) today.

Apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Model year vs year of manufacture on

Since it was created back in 1997, has organised reviews by the year of manufacture of the cars. This made sense for European cars, but not for North American cars, where model year is what matters. The site eventually started collecting model year information, but the site structure did not change, as it was difficult to come up with a consistent structure that would make sense on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’ve been aware for years that North American visitors were confused by the site structure, and I eventually came to the conclusion that it was better for the meaning of a year on to be inconsistent, depending on the region of the review.

For a North American review, the model year (where available) is used in preference to the year of manufacture. This isn’t the case for the rest of the world.

So a list of 2006 BMW 3 Series reviews will contain 2006 model year reviews from North America, and 2006 manufacture year reviews from elsewhere. Not quite the same thing, but for reviews from their own region, it should fit visitor’s assumptions, rather than trying to make them fit the site’s data model. has also had similar changes made, but in that case, model year always takes priority over year of manufacture, regardless of region, as that reflects the way motorcycles are marketed.

My Analysis of Google’s Chrome OS

A couple of days ago, Google announced they’d be releasing a lightweight operating system called Chrome OS in 2010. The Blogosphere has spent the last few days speculating on how Chrome OS will compare to Windows in a head to head fight, and whether it will take significant market share from Microsoft Windows in laptops and desktops. I think that’s missing a lot of the point. For what it’s worth, here’s my uninformed speculation.

  • When it comes to browsers or operating systems, I don’t think Google care very much about market share of particular products, but they do care about the underlying technologies. The  Chrome browser has a relatively small market share, but it has had a disproportionate effect on the direction of browser development as a whole. There’s an arms race in areas such as JavaScript performance and HTML5 support, and the Chrome browser gives Google a tool to use to push the technologies it favours. Sure, Google would like you to use the Chrome browser, but if you choose another modern browser with similar features, such as Firefox 3.5 or Safari 4.0, I think Google still count that as a win. A similar argument also applies to iPhone vs Google Android.
  • A small percentage of marketshare in either browsers or operating systems is still a big number of people. If Chrome OS gets 5% of the operating system market, and Google has say 200 people working on it, I bet that looks like a good investment.
  • I’m often faced with casual computer users with old PC hardware. Windows is running like a dog on their system, and often they don’t have Windows restore media for a clean install. Many of these people just about accessing their email, Facebook and some online shopping, not video editing or photo editing. A web browser is enough for them. Currently their best option is Ubuntu (which is still quite heavyweight for old hardware), or some mini Linux distribution. These do work, but there are always some silly issues that spoil the experience. No doubt Chrome OS will have a cleaner interface, will be faster on old hardware, will be kept up-to-date without the user intervening (like the Chrome browser), and will be very secure. If old hardware is supported, it will be by far the best option for basic web users with old hardware.
  • More and more people have secondary machines in their homes and offices, and while a web browser isn’t the only application they need on their main system, in many cases it’s more than enough on a secondary device, as long as the price reflects the limitations. Michael Arrington’s Crunchpad is a great example of a device that embraces this.
  • In response to Linux netbooks, Microsoft have been selling Windows XP at a big discount to PC manufacturers, and have been quite liberal about the hardware specifications of this hardware. With Windows 7, it appeared that Microsoft wanted to tighten up the restrictions on netbooks, and sell the operating system at less of a discount. Chrome OS gives PC manufacturers a club to beat Microsoft with, and may well force Microsoft to discount Windows 7 for netbooks to a greater extent than they planned. I can’t see Google losing any sleep over this.
  • The ARM compatibility of Chrome OS is a very big deal. ARM SoC (System on a Chip) are very efficient in terms of power, and are also very cheap. Sub £100 ($150) smartbooks (like netbooks, but not Intel based processors) suddenly look realistic. 1Gb of RAM, 4Gb of flash storage,  combined with an ARM chip, is already a very cheap platform, and is only going to get cheaper over time.
  • If you can have a modern fast web browser on very cheap and efficient ARM processor, why not embed them in lots more devices, many of which already contain processors and RAM. Manufacturers could very cheaply add Chrome OS to a TV, a PVR, a games console, or a monitor. Spend an extra £20 ($30) on a monitor or TV and get Google Chrome OS builtin. The Nintendo Wii has an optional Opera browser, which is passable, but hardly a great experience, and it presumably wasn’t cheap to develop. Instead, just add a couple of cheap chips and you get a good web experience from Google, with the added bonus that Google look after all the updates and security.

In summary, I think Google aren’t going for Windows or Mac OS X head on, but just want more machines out there running Google friendly modern browsers at a low cost. In many ways, Chrome OS reminds me of Microsoft’s plans for Windows CE a decade ago. CE never really made much progress beyond Windows Mobile devices, but in this new world where the web browser is king, perhaps Chrome OS will have more success.

iPhone 3G S Thoughts

Upgraded from an iPhone 3G (OS 3.0) a few days ago, which I’d been very pleased with for the whole year I had it. Paid for the 3G S in full, as I wasn’t due an upgrade from O2.

Like many other reviewers, I’m simultaneously impressed and underwhelmed. In the end it looks and feels like an iPhone 3G, but it also comes with some very useful improvements.

The video and camera auto focus are very nice additions. The video is roughly the same quality as a Flip Ultra, although I don’t think the microphone has quite the same range as a Flip (haven’t done a side by side test though). It’s going to do a good job of capturing social or family events, where a proper camcorder would be overkill.

The photos are a big improvement over the 3G (I did a side by side test for comparison purposes); much sharper, and the touch controls for focus/exposure are brilliant.

The speed isn’t a big deal on simple apps, but it’s night and day on 3D or data heavy apps apps. Google Earth, Evernote, and Spotlight are completely transformed. Safari is noticeably faster too.

Often with the 3G, the phone would stutter occasionally as it was presumably running some background task while dealing with your input, and that’s much less frequent on the 3G S.

App load times are much better too – 1/2 to 1/3 of the old time. Obviously you notice this more on the bigger apps. 3D games also run significantly better.

The compass is nice, but so far it’s just a novelty. Hopefully some 3rd party apps will start to make good use of it soon.

Basically, it’s an upgrade for power users, but probably a waste of time for most 3G users (at least at £200-300 for the upgrade). The harder you push the phone, the bigger the difference in performance. Hopefully this will bode well for future apps.

For new contracts, the choice is easy; the 3GS (16Gb or 32Gb) is a much better deal than the 8Gb 3G, despite the 3G’s lower price.