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David's diary: September 2009

Katy and I have this afternoon got back from a rather good week in Norfolk with my parents. They'd been promising to take us away for some time after our successful trip to Bruges a few years back and many declined birthday presents, and finally we could agree on a destination. So we rented a nice little cottage near Thetford for a week, using it as a base for cycling, walking and other leisurely pursuits - some with my parents, some not, and variations in between! Probable highlights were visiting Katy's grandma, and a day-trip to Covehithe and Southwold for old time's sake with my mum. The lowlight was having a few weird car troubles towards the end of the week, but a local mechanic gave the car a once-over yesterday evening and declared it fit to drive, and it didn't give any problems at all on today's long journey home. The weather was pretty fantastic all week, happily to say, just a bit of rain one night early in the week - we've been really blessed with the holidays we've had recently! But all that excellent weather meant we got out doing active things every day, which is obviously good, but also means we're pretty shattered (and more than a little saddle-sore) from the cycling in particular...

This week has been moderately hectic I guess. Nothing too huge, but quite a few bits and bobs to catch up with after our week away - some work, some not. The biggest thing was getting the car serviced and MOTed today, with a little trepidation after our experiences last week, but nothing untoward showed up (and the mechanic we saw when we booked our slot had a plausible explanation for the problem) and indeed the only unexpected expense was a blown sidelight bulb. Still all quite a lot of money, so not sure whether we will continue with the main dealer servicing next year, when the costs are likely to be potentially even higher. Cars, eh?

Tweaking a few settings on our desktop PC yesterday, I found one in the BIOS called "smart fan control". Being a bit of a fan-noise fascist, how I had missed this one previously is a bit of a mystery. I can only imagine it was a new setting with a BIOS update carried out a few months back. Anyway, as a result the PC is now whisper quiet for the majority of the time, with only occasional slight extra boosts to the fan speed when required. The only real downside is that it is so quiet it's not always particularly clear whether the PC's even on! Oh, and before all the Mac fans say how their PCs-in-disguise (for that is what they are) are silent anyway, I gather that is at the cost of only using the fan at all when the circuitry is about to melt, which is not the best strategy for system longevity - though given their inclination to snap up whatever tat Steve Jobs is peddling in any given week (including bricking their beloved iPhones with version 3.1 software they were silly enough to trust) perhaps that's not such a problem in practice.

Woohoo, we finally have a properly working central heating programmer. Goodness knows how old the previous one was (though that its warranty expired in 1996 might be a clue) but the one we now have is shiny and more-or-less new and generally much better. Little features like not forgetting everything if there's even a momentary power glitch. Took a couple of attempts to get the right thing though - the first bloke we tried sent the wrong thing, so waiting on a refund for that! Anyway, that means our central heating system is now almost OK - but only almost, since the problem fixed in May seems to have recurred, and we're waiting for the plumber to get back to us to say he's got the new mid-position value in that will hopefully fix it for good.

In other eBay related news (that being where the above central heating programmer came from) I'm still patiently waiting for my new SDHC memory card to arrive from Hong Kong. I know I'm dicing a little by buying from there, but more people are suggesting the dealer is legitimate than not - though I am still sufficiently wary that I have the definitive h2testw ready to go as soon as the card arrives, to check it really is an 8GB Kingston Class 6 as claimed... It's going to effectively double the size of the solid-state disk in my netbook (an unusual feature of the Linux version of Acer Aspire One being that you can seamlessly augment the internal storage via one of the SD slots) so it does need to be reasonably nippy to access! Kingston's SDHC cards aren't the fastest, by all accounts, but for price/performance it should do the business.

Top marks for Bennetts Electrical! Our cordless phone recently partially packed up, with the segments on its display starting to disappear in the manner of the family photo in Back to the Future. We'd tried a useless pile of Panasonic junk from Argos the other day that had to go straight back for multiple failings - particularly its unusable phone-book and ringtones that set off all the local dogs, how the mighty have fallen. Thoroughly fed up with trawling the alternatives, we were resigning ourselves to sticking with manual dialling on the broken phone and relying upon the upstairs one for caller logging. But anyway, eventually we found a phone that had pretty much universally positive reviews and didn't cost too much, specifically a BT Synergy 5100. Bennetts listed it on-line, but not as a store item, but when we passed by there on the off-chance earlier today on the way to Aldershot, the young lady looked it up on the system and determined they did have one in after all - and for a fiver less than anywhere else! So that was a decidedly good start to the day; just a shame about the rest of it...

This episode did make us wonder though why cordless phones are so primitive compared with their mobile brethren. OK, so there is a little subsidy even on pay-as-you-go mobiles, but £20 to £30 gets a really quite sophisticated bit of kit for basic talking, phone-book and text-messaging functionality. Yet the same spent on a cordless phone gets something out of the ark. Yes, there is a bit more intrinsic cost in the cordless phone set-up for the fact that it needs two radio transceivers rather than just the one, but not enough to justify the disparity. In the end we spent about £35, and it seems quite well engineered for that asking price, but it's still only got a relatively rudimentary phone-book (though an order of magnitude better than Panasonic's pathetic effort) and a small but backlit monochromatic display. We can't help feeling that if Nokia, Sony Ericsson or their likes got into home phones, they could make an absolute killing!

The memory card from Hong Kong arrived in today's post, and the h2testw verdict was... good, happily to say! That is to say, it checked out as having the full advertised 8GB capacity, and performed consistently with its Class 6 performance designation. Plugged it into the storage expansion SD slot on the netbook, and it was immediately detected and added to the main internal SSD volume without further intervention. Pretty seamless, huh?

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