Archive for the ‘Techie Stuff’ Category

“Have you tried turning it off and restarting it again?”  must be anyone who has worked in computer support’s favourite phrase.    To be fair, if your computer starts behaving oddly, not to mention freezing, that it a great first step to solving things.

virgin train

Virgin Train

But yesterday this was applied to a whole train.   The Virgin train from Glasgow to Euston pulled into Penrith and the ‘train manager’ announced that we would be having a ‘computer reset”.   The engine stopped, the air conditioning stopped, and all the lights went out.   Complete train darkness and silence.   Then everything fired up again, and off we went, 20 minutes late.    Well, almost everything – the power supplies at the seats for laptops never quite made it back on again, but I was not going to ask about it in case the electronics took another fit.

The man running the Shop on the train said that the problem was the alarms in the loos apparently, which all stopped working.   He said in two years of working for Virgin Trains, this was the first time it had happened!

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No we are (er, almost) Two

I have been blogging for almost two years now.    Blog anniversaries raise the question:  do I keep going with this, or is it time to do something else?    Or change the focus?

Well, for better or worse, Bluedog is here for a while yet, but marking the date with a slightly different look.

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Freeview Boxes

Freeview boxes continue to be the most unreliable piece of kit in the house.    

So far:     1 Nokia, 1 Phillips and 3 Daewoo set top boxes have all died within 2 years.   And last night my Matsui DTR3 also died.    Under two years old.    It blew its fuse, and looking inside, it also melted a component on the circuit board, which could have caused a fire.     You can’t turn these things off.

I suppose at around £25, it is clearly designed to be replaced after its life.    But 2 years is a disappointingly short life expectancy for something with no moving parts.   

 Transistor radios go on for ever, so why not set-top boxes?   I blame the manufacturers for not testing the plastic boxes these things are housed in.    I will be adding ventilation holes when the replacement arrives today.

Interestingly, my DAB radio has a tiny cooling fan inside.

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We have become used to CCTV cameras everywhere these days, even although we may not be too happy about them.    Our mobile phone logs into the nearest base station every so many minutes, effectively tracking its location.    As we drive along roads, number plate recognition is used to monitor traffic flows, but increasingly to track criminals.    Our supermarket knows exactly what we buy.    How we choose to live our lives is becoming more and more in the public domain.

But now the government in its Communications Data Bill is proposing that ISPs have available all of our e-mails for the past 12 months as well as how much time we spend online and a record of where we go when online.   

This is really a step too far.    It is exactly equivalent to the government asking the Royal Mail to open, photograph and have available for examination, every piece of mail we receive (or send too).    There should be a massive fuss about this.

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DAB Radio

We have had a DAB radio in our kitchen for a while now, and have been very pleased with it.   I do have to say that our radio listening habits have not changed so very much though, although we do have a couple of favourite stations when there is not a lot on BBC radio stations.    We find early Saturday afternoons a particular radio desert – Radio 4 repeating Any Questions, Radio 3 Early Music Show (which is OK sometimes), Radio 2 with some not very funny comedy.

But I was astonished to find so many stations have completely vanished of the DAB system.    Some we never bothered with, but some we liked, like “The Arrow” from Newcastle – great for Sunday morning when Steve Wright begins to grate a bit, and you really can’t face ‘The Archers’ on R4, or a big political discussion on Radio Scotland.    So what’s going on?    Is Digital Radio not profitable any more then?

I do wonder if digital radio will be taken over by Internet Radio?    You can buy the boxes already seemingly and these work with your WiFi connection.

I am certainly not convinced by the sound quality of most Internet Radio, which can sound as if the programme is coming from under water.    And I am not yet convinced about DAB sound quality either.   

This is getting a bit too technical for me, but I wonder what the professional sound people think is the best way to receive radio?    There is a big choice now:   Satellite, Freeview, FM, DAB or Internet.    And they all broadcast at different times:   whose set of pips are correct these days?

Better stop, or this will end up on Feedback.

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I was asked at the weekend where the nearest cybercafe is, and to be honest, I could not find one in the Perth area.     One had closed down in the town fairly recently.

Now, I know that visitors can get free internet access in Perth and Kinross libraries, but that’s not much use when you need to get online at the weekends.

There has been a huge growth of WiFi hotspots, which is well and good if you have a laptop with you, but totally useless if you don’t.  

So, how can tourists away from home without their computers check their e-mail, book rooms ahead, check opening times, book tickets and find out what’s on – after library hours?    Not so easy.

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Does anyone own a Hayter Harrier 48 with a blade brake clutch?    Mine is in its 5th cutting season and on its 4th clutch.    It is ridiculous.    (For those who don’t know, a blade bake clutch stops the blade immediately, allowing safe emptying of the grass container).

I got the first three under warranty, but have just had to pay £100 odd for a new one, which I fitted myself, despite the folk at Hayter telling me I couldn’t.   Bastards.  

I actually wrote to them about it, because if they designed the thing differently, you could simply replace the friction disc at a fraction of the cost of a ‘complete assembly’ which you have to buy.  

I did get a reply which was really totally useless, and denied that there was a design problem.    I was in at my local Hayter agent last week buying chain saw chain (as you do),  and there was a someone else’s Hatyer 48 on his workbench ……….  having its blade brake clutch replaced.     Case proven m’lud.

Hayter 48s are great mowers though.   They leave a really tidy job, can cope in the damp and can rescue ‘runaway’ lawns.   Shame about Hayter’s attitude.

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Central heating boilers are far too complicated for their own good.   I have three Worcester oil-fired combi boilers, and they do not have a great track record.    The problem is that they are so complicated and need special equipment to set them up safely.    Which means calling out an expensive engineer when things go wrong.

Now, I like to try and get my head round most things, and when this boiler packed up last night (Friday) I thought it was a problem I had watched an expensive engineer mend before.       So this morning, I took the motor assembly off the motorised valve, and found it was not working.    Managed to get a replacement from a plumbers’ merchant in Perth, and fitted it all back together.    Cost of motor £10.02 + VAT.   A callout plus parts would have been round about £100, and it would not have happened until Monday.   I had Canadian visitors arriving today – and the weather has been a raw east wind.

But I really wish that they made things more reliable, and simpler to fix when they break.

And I have finally discovered a brilliant engineer to call out.   He is self-employed, but is off this week setting up water supplies for the Donnington event, or I would have called him in.

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Freeview Boxes

I am seriously unimpressed with the reliability of freeview boxes.    Freeview has been on the go for a while now, and so far we are now on our third.   Our first box, a (not cheap) Nokia died a while back, a second, a Phillips,  can still just operate when it is feeling in the mood to co-operate – literally – on bad days it freezes, and on better days it takes ages to actually do anything, and on good days it works a treat.   

Of three Daewoo DS608P boxes, two are now dead, although just around two years old.   OK, these are cheap and cheerful, but they should still work.    I have been investigating these, and apparently replacing a capacitor (cost £0.95p) can bring them back to life.    You have to replace these every three years apparently.

Time to look out the soldering iron – I’ll keep you posted on this.

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There is a rather worrying list of stuff that you can’t turn off, because there is no OFF switch.   

We all know about standby status on TVs, where the wee red light glows, but when you arise from your sofa you can go and turn the TV off (as you should).     Videos and DVD players have standby modes – well, something runs the clocks on these, so these don’t go off completely.

Freeview boxes cannot be turned off, likewise Modem Routers.    And I wonder how many phone charger (and other) transformers are left plugged in and turned on (guilty on that one).

OK, standby modes don’t use a lot of energy, but add it all up, and it gets a bit worrying.    Most of the problems could be sorted by a simple change of design …………. and a change in behaviour.

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