Monday, July 27, 2009


Free technology - the best kind

For ages I'd been stumbling along with my ancient SPV E200 Smartphone. Normally people would add "trusty" in these circumstances but I have chosen not to for a couple of good reasons. Firstly, the button has always been sticky and sometimes unlocking the device would take a little while (or forever if it was Samantha trying to use the phone for a quick game of Solitaire). Secondly, the phone would just lose all signal and you wouldn't know unless you tried to contact someone; after rebooting the phone, you would receive a deluge of texts and voice messages from people trying to find you.

Eventually the second problem finally inconvenienced me enough and I started looking around for a cheap replacement. The E200 and it's predecessor the SPV PC20A (obtained December 2005) were bought 2nd hand from work but I thought it was time for a new (but still cheap) Smartphone. As I was looking at an offer on Expansys a colleague from Seattle had recommended, my neighbour in our cubicle farm said "why didn't you say - I've a spare phone here you can have for nothing." Free technology .... mmmmmm ...

So now I have a lovely HTC TyTn II (Kaiser). Coincidentally all three phones are made by HTC. Sliding tilt screen, keyboard and stylus, 3MP camera and the ability to run current applications! It's funny how this may end up with me spending money on services like Internet access. I'm configured the phone to use wireless networks, both at work and home, so I can surf the Net without a laptop. Websites are now much more mobile-screen-friendly than they were a few years ago when I last dabbled.

As the phone was sans accessories (it WAS free), I've ordered a headphone convertor (jack-to-miniUSB) from some eBayer in Hong Kong. Not the brightest idea considering my appalling track record with sellers from that part of China but I can spare the cost of a pint should it not turn up. Additionally I had to fork out to unlock the phone from Orange so I could use my Virgin SIM (that's the network, not a reference to the unused state of the card). This part went reasonably well and for £13.99, Unique Phones sent me a code to free my phone. The first company used on the Internet - the Unlock Superstore - were TEN pounds cheaper but ineffective in their job; they had to be chased up for a refund too.

So, thanks, James!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Confusing - what to do?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


New PC comes with chocolates

Nice touch is TranquilPC chucking in a couple of chocolate bars when they packaged up the PC I'd bought. Puts you in the right frame of mind before you even switch the box on. Not that there would be much point as I haven't bought the 1TB hard disk to go inside it yet, let alone installed Windows 7.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Tracking my healthy Xbox

I've now got a new UPS tracking number for the return trip. The repaired console was passed back to UPS on Thursday and was back in the UK (via Cologne and Brussels) the next day. After a weekend resting in Barking, the package should reach me on Monday.



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Tuesday, July 14, 2009


We have your Xbox...

Dear John Breakwell,

Xbox Customer Support Service Request ID#: xxxxxxxxxx

Good news, we have received your Xbox console at our Service Center.

You can track the status of your order online by accessing You will also receive an e-mail notification when your repair has been completed.

Register your console Repair your console or check your repair status

Thank you for your patience.



Tracking my sick Xbox

Following the UPS tracking number, I see the console was collected on Friday from Reading as planned, stayed overnight in Barking, then took the weekend to travel to Dusseldorf. Last night, it reached Frankfurt and was signed for at 3:35am this morning! The Xbox repair centre must be a 24x7 operation.

Time to switch over to Xbox support to track it further...


Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Today came so close to being a "Positive Xbox Experience Day"

Today was an "almost" day for Xbox in so many ways.

  1. I was shopping in Comet for an extra Xbox 360 for the bedroom. They had only one Arcade in stock and that was a bundle with Sega Superstars Tennis (+£10 on the unbundled price). I knew from checking online that no shops seemed to have Arcades on their own in stock at a reasonable price so paid the extra for a game I didn't want. Slightly grey cloud appears.

  2. When I got home, I went to to register the new purchase. Strangely, the newly added console showed no "Warranty start" date but did have a "Warranty expiration" of May 17th, 2010 - well short of the expected 12 months. I assume this date is based on when the console is delivered to Comet. Grey cloud darkening.

  3. After pinging one of my colleagues in the US, I called Xbox support and they asked me to email them a scan of the till receipt. Was impressed that I didn't need to post anything. The telephone line was almost clear too so I didn't have to concentrate on what the person was saying too much either. Sunshine filtering through breaks in the cloud.

  4. To test the new console, I plugged it into the TV and had a play with the blades. Having no storage (hard disk or memory card), the console comes with the old interface. I couldn't put the hard disk from my other Xbox onto this one for secret squirrel reasons. Against my better judgement, I dug out the Xbox wireless network adapter and tried to get the console to talk to Xbox Live. I typed in the WEP code but failed to get an IP address from my router; even giving the console a fixed IP address wouldn't get me anywhere. I really hate that adapter. Cloud blocks the sun again.

  5. After putting the new purchase away (no monitor in the bedroom yet), I decided to try out the Tennis game to see if I'd been ripped off. Before I could, the console advised me to install a secret squirrel update which I agreed to. Console locks. Reboot and try to download the update again. Console locks. Maybe there is something wrong with the update? Reboot. Console DIES with lovely flashing red lights. Reconnect all cables and try without hard disk - still dead. Maybe I shouldn't have let the old console see the new addition to the family. Thunderheads appear.

  6. Knowing the drill, I go to the Xbox support website (the telephone lines closed an hour ago) and try to request a repair. I sign in and click on the serial number of the dead console - get prompted to sign in. I try this loop for a few minutes before closing all browse windows and trying again - no joy. Even rebooting made no difference. Ominous purple glow around clouds.

  7. In the end I went to another machine and made the request frem there. The website correctly showed that I was out of normal warranty so I mentioned in the "anything to declare" text box that this was for a three-red-lights warranty repair. Then the form asked for credit card details - hopefully I won't get billed £78.20 for this and have to fight to get a refund afterwards. Nowhere on the receipt does it repeat the text I typed in or state that three-red-lights warranty will be free. The process doesn't fill me with confidence. Heavy rain starts to fall.

  8. The email with the returns instructions only took an hour to arrive - this is good. I've heard form colleagues where the emails never arrived, resulting in delays due to contacting Xbox support on the phone and resubmitting the repair requests. Downpour ends.

  9. Just realised that I had donated the cardboard coffin the last repaired console came back in to some poor soul at work. So now I need to find a sturdy box to send the dead console back in. Distant rumble of thunder.

Fingers crossed that the repair process includes - for the first time - a successful migration of the game licenses. One can only hope.

Strangely, I'm not too angry about all this. Maybe that's partly because I'm not mid-way through a game. The console dying during my recent Fable 2 period would have irked me somewhat.
Sue - now she is going to be SO PISSED OFF when she comes back from her training course in Birmingham to find the Xbox is dead AGAIN. And she'll blame Microsoft - handily, there's a representitive just a few feet away...

Scores on the Doors

Console #1 (purchased) - 12 months (Jan 06 - Jan 07)
Console #2 (replacement) - 10 months (Feb 07 - Nov 07)
Console #3 (replacement) - 20 months (Dec 07 - today)
Console #4 (purchased) - ?? months (today - ??)

It has been pointed out to me that my Xbox is effectively 42 months old so I no longer qualify for a free three-red-lights repair. Joy.



Terminator Salvation

I'm on holiday so it's off to the 11:15am showing of the latest Terminator movie at the Showcase cinema down the road (sorry, Gavin).
The whole building seemed deserted - two staff on the ground floor (one for ticket sales, the other on food and drinks) and no customers to be seen. In screen 11 there must have been only 5 other people watching the film with me - perfect.

The film itself isn't too bad - not an epic sequel in the way T2 followed T1 (or Aliens followed Alien for that matter), but adequate to flesh out more of the Terminator storyline.

Instead of reviewing the plot, I'll list the good/bad points.

  1. Loved the hardware. The Skynet mechs and aircraft look great but some basic physics was ignored - harvester mechs are very heavy and so cannot creep up on ANYONE undetected; if a truck driving past would rattle the windows then a harvester mech is going to make the frames come out.

  2. Every now and then you would see a scene that would be a random encounter in a D&D game. For example, a bunch of hydrobots attack for no good reason except to show off a mech designed for the movie.

  3. Nobody ever bruises, even when they have been used as a club to demolish the scenery.

  4. Terminators fire a vast amount of ammunition and so should be lugging behind them a hopper the size of a Grundon full of bullets.

  5. The CGI for the closeup of the cyborg's face is awesome.

  6. Why does SkyNet have to act like a stereotypical James Bond villain and explain the plot?

  7. How do portable radios work between one person who's inland and another that is at least 500 miles away and underwater? The Transformers sequel did this as well between someone in Giza and the captain of an aircraft carrier who must be at least 100 miles away.

  8. The mute little girl seemed a rip-off of Newt from Aliens.

  9. Reading the wiki, I see that the re-use of phrases and scenes from the earlier movies was a deliberate homage. That's cool.

  10. Medical facilities in a post-apocalyptic world are second to none.

  11. Why is SkyNet's HQ designed and laid out to be used by people?

  12. Arnie!


Monday, July 06, 2009


Braving the phlebotomist

I can't remember the last time I had blood removed from my body - I think it was in the mid 1970s when I was tested for anæmia - so I was not too happy when my doctor asked me to provide some samples as part of a weight-loss plan.

A different doctor had asked me the same thing a year earlier for an inflamed sub-mandibular lymph node but, as I was convinced the lump would disappear on its own, the paperwork disappeared.

This time, although I was convinced that I didn't really need the tests as they would return healthy results, I decided that it would be a good idea to get into practice. I'm sure I will need to provide more blood samples as I get older so best to tackle the fear now rather than later.

Needle-ss to say, the whole experience at the doctor's was nothing like I expected. I barely detected the skin being broken - I wasn't watching, of course - and after a few minutes I was on my way again.

Will I move on to donating blood? Let's not get carried away here...

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Living on the ceiling

Quite pretty, it's a Small Magpie Moth (Eurrhypara hortulata) hiding unsuccessfully on our kitchen ceiling after having flown in through the open window:


Size: Wingspan approximately 25mm.
Distribution: Found throughout most of the UK. Less common in the north of Scotland.
Months seen: June and July.
Habitat: Hedgerows, roadside verges and gardens.
Food: The larvae feed on stinging nettles, mint and bindweed
Special features: The small magpie moth gets its name from the black and white markings on the wings. There are also some orange-yellow patches at the tip of the tail and where the wings meet the body.

The caterpillars remain hidden from predators by feeding inside a rolled up leaf.



This advert is ... unsettling

I'm not sure what this advert is trying to say - although, being it is for Tango, I'll probably never know for sure. Any suggestions?


Friday, July 03, 2009


Buying fresh is soooo expensive

Being a person that enjoys not having to spend as much as he needs to, I'm always on the lookout for bargains in the weekly food shop.
This week was no exception and for £1.29, down from £2.99 because the bag was broken, I picked up 750g of broad beans (in their pods) in Waitrose's Regional Food range - they'd travelled all the way from Titchfield, somewhere in darkest Hampshire betwixt Portsmouth and Southampton.
The contents looked impressive - a big bag of pods waiting to be shucked - but pretty disappointing when you see how little you end up with.

This got me thinking as to how expensive these broad beans were.

The initial full-price product was about £4 a kilo.
As this was 70% waste, the actual beans cost £13.30 a kilo!
My bargain-hunter price of £1.29 was therefore £5.75 a kilo.

Was that any good? After having a browse of the Waitrose web site, I can say "not really".

Standard fresh broad beans, unshucked, in the Essentials range were actually more expensive at £5/kg (or £16.60/kg shucked) so my local produce was way ahead here.

But over to the frozen aisle and a 750g bag of prepared baby broad beans are selling for £1.15 (£1.53/kg), down from the usual price of £2.19 (£2.92/kg).

And the tinned variety? A mighty £1.90/kg.

I didn't realise that buying local, fresh produce cost so much more than the pre-prepared equivalent. And I wasn't even buying Organic!

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