Category Archives: Misc

Interesting things from 2007

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

Random things I like

Smints: Annoying, these are becoming very difficult to find in the shops. Forced to order from the Internet, I had 48 boxes arrive this morning (free delivery if purchased in bulk)

Diet Coke with Lime: Much more pleasant than Cherry or Lemon Coke. Unfortunately it no longer seems to be sold in the UK 🙁

Techmeme: I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s now pretty much the first site I check every morning. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Mini-Techmeme is also high up the bookmarks list on my N95

Forza Motorsport 2: Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, rock solid 60 frames per second, 720p, surround sound, the Nordschleife, Xbox 360 control pad, and traction control and stability control turned off. This is the best racing game ever made

MotoGP: I know F1 is supposed to be getting better, but I watched the F1 race from Indianapolis, and whilst entertaining, it wasn’t a patch on MotoGP. And this is from someone who runs a car website, and has never even ridden a motorbike

Colin McRae: DiRT: The best rally game for years. Not quite up to the standard of Forza 2, but it’s still brilliant fun. Can’t wait to unlock the full Pike’s Peak event, so I can have a go at replicating Climb Dance

Horslips – Dearg Doom: 70s Folk Prog genius. The silver gloves are a great touch…

Reverse Engineering a Pub Quiz

“Which Japanese city was flattened by a bomb called ‘big boy’?”

That was one of the questions in a local pub quiz last night. The correct answer to this question was apparently Nagasaki…

I’m not sure if my team’s correct answer of Hiroshima (Little Boy) or Nagasaki (Fat Man) was awarded any points (it’s only a fun pub quiz, and I resisted the urge to give the quiz master a quick history lesson on the Manhattan Project), but it did get me thinking.

One quick web search later and the source of the error has been revealed. The questions in the pub quiz were taken from that website. As well as five questions on bombs, there was a round of darts questions, which pretty much sealed our fate.

Still, we didn’t come last, and the free Sausage and Chips were very nice 🙂

Book Recommendations

For anyone who is remotely interested in aircraft, pick up these two fantastic books by Jim Winchester:

Concept Aircraft: Prototypes, X-Planes, and Experimental Aircraft – Amazon UK

The World’s Worst Aircraft (From Pioneering Failures to Multimillion Dollar Disasters) – Amazon US

They’re both very affordable, and have loads of entertaining analysis about some of the stranger aircraft to have graced our skies.

Carol Singers

Possible Scrooge warning….

I’ve always loved this time of year (especially all the lights and decorations), but there’s a new trend that’s been annoying me this year – Carol Singers.

Not organised Carol Singers (I have no problem with them, especially as it’s usually for charity), but unaccompanied small children knocking on my door at night, singing a poor rendition of “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, and then looking puzzled when I say thank you and goodnight, and shut the door without giving them the money they’re obviously expecting.

I feel bad about doing this, but I’m not going to be party to encouraging them to knock on stranger’s doors at night, putting themselves at risk, and probably worrying some old people.


As a geek who’s not overly concerned with appearance, clothes shopping has always been a bit of chore for me.

The rise of stores such as Primark has changed that forever. £3 t-shirts that look very similar to £30 or £40 designer t-shirts, £5 dress shirts, and £8 zipup tops etc. Most of the items seem to be as well made as far more expensive items, and current with whatever’s fashionable.

Primark has de-risked clothes shopping for me. If I see something that I like, it’s probably quite stylish, and even if it turns out to be a mistake, or falls to pieces after a few washes (hasn’t happened yet), it’s not a big concern at those prices.

It’s not all perfect though… I do have some worries about how much the workers making the clothes are earning. It’s not something that I’ve looked into, but they can’t be making much putting together £3 t-shirts…

Another issue is how busy the Primark’s stores are. Unless you go just after they open, they’re not the most pleasant place to be, as they’re just too busy.

Despite those issues, I would hate to go back to a time before Primark and its competitors graced the high street.

I’ve even started buying multiples of certain items that look good on me and wash well. A certain £8 zipup top that I liked reappeared in a local store after I thought they’d sold out. I bought three of them (in addition to the one I already had), so when one wears out, I’ll just go in my cupboard and retrieve a new one.

Budvar Lager and Online UK Supermarkets

I’m a bit of a fan of Budvar Lager, but it’s quite difficult to buy it in reasonable quantities anywhere near my home. My local ASDA used to sell it, but I haven’t seen any there for about nine months.

As usual, I did some searching online to see if I could find someone who would sell me Budvar at a reasonable price.

Firstly, all the specialist Internet drinks sites proved to be useless. They’re fine for premium wine and spirits, but the postage for crates of lager is just too much. I don’t want to pay £35 or so for 24 x 330ml bottles of lager. I like Budvar, but not that much. Kronenbourg 1664 is nearly as nice, and is often on offer at my local ASDA.

Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s all claim to offer Budvar online. Below is a brief summary of my experiences with their services:


My first order was with Tesco. They had a good offer on for 24 x 330ml bottles of budvar for £18 each + £5 delivery

First annoyance is that you have to create an account and log in to browse the site. It really puts you off checking out what they have on offer

The site is functional, but is not very pleasant to browse. The text is too small, as are the photos. I wasn’t tempted to browse past the lager section

Delivery slots were hard to get. I had to book over a week in advance. The delivery slots were also two hours long

Despite the above issues, three crates of Budvar turned up as requested. The annoying thing is that they now no longer stock Budvar at all 🙁

Overall marks: 6/10


This felt like a trip back to 1998. Their site (just recently updated) works with Safari, but doesn’t like Camino. I was shown a page suggesting I upgrade to Internet Explorer 4 or higher, or Netscape 4.5 or higher. There was a link to a non-existent page on Netscape’s website. No mention of Firefox etc. This is a disgrace in 2006

Their site in general is comparable to Tesco’s site. ASDA’s navigation is worse, but their product details are better

They do allow you browse (using Safari) without logging in, and they showed Budvar as being available. Once I created an account to place an order, Budvar wasn’t listed

I raised a query about this through their website, which states that they will back to you in 48 hours. It took them roughly two weeks to call me (it was long enough that I can’t be specific about the number of days). The guy I spoke to said that the site you see without logging in is just a demo, and that products shown there might not actually be available

When I asked about why my local store didn’t stock Budvar, and why I couldn’t order it, he suggested filling in a form elsewhere on the ASDA website. Somehow I have my doubts that this would result in me being able to buy Budvar anytime soon

I’ve been bombarded with emails by ASDA since creating an account. Many more than either Tesco or Sainsbury’s. So much so that I’ve asked them to stop sending me emails

Overall marks: 3/10


Sainsbury’s site is nicer to use than either ASDA or Tesco. Bigger text, clearer navigation, no login required to browse the site

They stock 4 x 330ml bottles of Budvar for £3.99, but you save £1 if you buy two packs. So basically it’s £21 for 24 x 330ml bottles. More expensive than Tesco, but at least they still sell it

Delivery was available within two days, and the delivery slot was one hour. Noticeably better than Tesco

As it was pleasant to browse the site, I order some Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream (on offer) and 20 bags of Bacon Wheat Crunchies (not available at my local ASDA)

Everything turned up on time, although I only got 48 bottles of lager, rather than the 80 I ordered. They do warn you that this might happen. The 20 bags of Wheat Crunchies were delivered filling a single carrier bag to capacity 🙂 (they don’t sell multipacks). The lager was in carrier bags with 8 bottle per bag. Surely it would have been easier to deliver two crates as Tesco did?

I’ve just been emailed a £5 voucher for my next order, which will cover the delivery charge. They also offer free delivery between Tuesday and Thursday if you spend more than £70

Overall marks: 8/10


From my admittedly limited experience, Sainsbury definitely seem to have the edge over Tesco in terms of the customer experience, and ASDA have some serious catching up to do

Energy Saving Bulbs

In an effort to be kinder to the environment, I’ve recently gone through my house and replaced all the frequently used bulbs with energy saving CFL bulbs.

It wasn’t difficult, but I did run into a few issues:

  • Many of the light fittings in my house use 60W SES fitting candle bulbs. Most shops I went to only offered 7W energy savers in that shape and fitting, which are supposedly equivalent to 40W bulbs, but in reality are probably a little less powerful (apparently multiplying an energy saving bulb’s power by four gives a more accurate equivalence – 4 x 7W = 28W. That didn’t seem like a good option if I wanted a reasonable amount of light
  • I use a 150W uplighter in my office (spare bedroom), as it gets rather dark on winter afternoons, and I need more than just one 100W bulb to keep me alert and working. No shops I went to sold a suitably powerful energy saving bulb for my uplighter
  • Some of my light fittings don’t have much clearance for bulbs, and normal energy savers are too long to fit
  • CFL bulbs don’t work with normal dimmer switches, and there were a couple of dimmers in my house


  • I found would sell me eight 11W spiral candle bulbs in an SES fitting for £16 + £1.99 delivery. I ordered a pack and I’m very impressed. The price was good, they’re almost as bright as the 60W incandescent bulbs they replaced, and they’re only a fraction larger (I haven’t had a problem fitting them anywhere)
  • BLT Direct have a massive selection of bulbs, and I found solutions to my uplighter and clearance problems here. Their 18W energy saving minispiral bulb is a great replacement for 100W bulbs in tight places. It is a little bigger than an incandescent bulb, but its much shorter than other energy savers I’ve seen. They also sell some seriously powerful energy savers – a 30W Energy Saving Spiral was the perfect solution to my uplighter problem. They even offer an 85W energy saver, should you need to light up a football stadium or similar area (they claim it’s equivalent to a normal 430W bulb)
  • I replaced one of the dimmer switches with a normal switch. Very easy to do (five minutes with a screwdriver). I wasn’t a huge fan of the dimmer switches anyway (they were already fitted when I bought my house)

I’m very pleased with results of the above changes. I’m being a little kinder to the planet, without having to change any of my light fittings, and with little sacrifice in terms of the amount of light in my house.

Perfectly Clear Red Apple Water

Following on from my Coolwater Blackberry Boost post, I’ve got to mention another flavoured water that I can thoroughly recommend – Perfectly Clear Red Apple water from Silver Spring.

No caffeine in this one, but it tastes fantastic when chilled and served with lots of ice. Pretty healthy too as it’s sugar free.

Finally, it’s great value as a 2L bottle only costs 78p at my local ASDA. Way cheaper than a bottle of brandname cola.

Coolwater Blackberry Boost

Just enjoying a bottle of this rather nice beverage.

It’s a still mineral water that tastes vaguely of blackberries (a much underrated fruit in my opinion). So far so good, but it’s also very low in calories, and is fortified with caffeine to help with those long coding sessions.

Purchased at my local ASDA, so I assume it’s available in ASDA branches across the UK.