Gadgets

Self-sabotaging gadgetry

Toshiba L630-14L

This started out as another of my gushing “Isn’t modern technology wonderful?” posts, I’m afraid. It didn’t quite end up that straightforward, for reasons that will become clear if you read on…

Things I like about my new laptop

First, for those who speak geek, some vital statistics:

Intel Core i3-370M 2.4 GHz
4Gb DDR3 RAM
500Gb SATA-150 HDD
and a host of useful goodies including a DVD+-RW drive, 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet and  an HDMI port.

And now, satisfied that it has enough of all of the above numbers to compare favourably with just about any machine under £1000 should you feel the need to compensate for something, let’s talk about real world things.

It is both small and light enough to carry. This was my primary goal. With 22” flatscreens now available for £100 (and good ones for £150), it seems silly to me to carry around a 15 or 16 inch laptop. If you’re going to move it around, 13.3” is surely the way to go, and hook it up to a big screen (and a keyboard if you must) when you’re at your desk.

It has awesome battery life. I managed to watch a 1hr40 DVD and emerge with more than 50% battery remaining; laptops of yore would have collapsed halfway through, wheezing.

It has Windows 7. Those of us with any sense avoided Vista like the plague, sensing (correctly) that not even MS themselves really believed that it was appropriately stable for everyday use. The jump to 7, therefore, was going to be quite the gaping chasm. Tending as humans do to be wary of change, and fond of my nice, comfortable XP-based world, I thought this might be a Bad Thing, but it turns out to be quite the opposite. It’s quick, stable, nice to look at. It has found drivers for everything, automatically. It has networked with a house full of XP machines flawlessly, including finding two printers, seeking out Win7 drivers for them online and installing them.   It plays DVDs natively, fullscreen, without asking 27 silly questions or downloading codecs.  It finds, and connects to, BT Openzone WiFi in motorway service areas, again quicker and more elegantly than XP ever did.

Of course, it would be too good to be true if this had all happened without a hitch. Just when I was beginning to think that Microsoft had written an operating system that was useable by people without a decade’s experience in maintaining temperamental installations of older versions, it bluescreened. Twice. Half a dozen restarts and some judicious googling later, it turned out to be the Synaptics touchpad driver, which had updated itself while I wasn’t looking to a version that conflicted with x64 versions of Windows 7. Yes, the operating system actually downloaded and installed a driver that is widely known to cause a conflict so great it can’t actually complete a boot cycle once it’s installed. Now, if you’re me and you spent your formative years under the hood of 98SE, 2000 and XP, you know how to boot to safe mode, roll back the driver and restore the system to usability. Most people are not, and would have spent a long time on the phone at great expense to someone in Mumbai who would have painstakingly guided them through using the restore media to return the machine to its factory state, whereupon two days later it would have installed the same driver again, to the point where they would eventually have returned the infernal contraption to the point of sale. You’ve come a long way, M$, but there’s still a lot further to go before I’ll consider Windows an operating system usable by  the masses. Fortunately for them, said masses are too terrified to do anything about this, Linux is still massively less user-friendly (and/or just plain intimidating) and Macs are expensive.  Gadgets are great, but if you have to be a gadget freak to use them effectively, they’re missing the point.

Of Mice and Men

Logitech MX 620 Wireless Laser

If I were a feature writer for a technology magazine, I’d write something entitled The Value of Quality HIDs. You see, my readers would already know that a HID is a Human Interface Device, better known to most of us as a mouse or a keyboard, occasionally a trackball or one of those clever digital drawing tablet things I suppose. Regardless, this is really just a longwinded paean to my Logitech MX 620 Laser mouse, which I have had for years and is as close as I have ever encountered to the Platonic Form “Mouse”. It is wireless, and connects to my computer with a tiny USB receiver. It is powered by two AA batteries that I can find in any corner shop should I run out of power, but the chances of this happening are miniscule because the batteries last over a year of daily use and the driver can tell me to the day, hour or minute how much power is left, enabling me to be near a fresh set of batteries when that moment arrives. It tracks with a laser and does so on every surface I have ever presented to it, including but not limited to my desk, the floor and my denim-clad right leg, without so much as skipping. It has forward and back buttons where my thumb rests, reducing the amount of pointless reaching for browser buttons dramatically; I actually miss these when I’m using other peoples’ mice, and have been known to reach for them only to find unresponsive plastic, curse and haul the cursor to the top left of the Firefox frame just to get back where I came from. In short, it does everything a mouse should do, very little that it shouldn’t and has outlived my last two computers.

In a world where we spend hundreds or thousands on computer hardware with astonishing regularity, spare a thought for the humble mouse; it just might make your life a little more comfortable.

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Prague: budget air travel, hostels, gadgets

Malostranksé Náměstí

Budget airline travel is a lot like binge drinking – you end up with a dry mouth, aching head and swear you’ll never do it again…

Budget airline travel is fucking horrible.  My recent travels have been either by rail (InterRailing Italy) or on proper airlines where at least the memory of the glamour of air travel lives on.  This had allowed me to forget just how unpleasant it is to be corralled into a 737 with 250 other people and kept there for two and a half hours at your own expense.  Or to spend over three hours airside in Manchester Airport Terminal 3 because your plane is late.  Or to be penned in to a small glass box in Prague and told nothing about the whereabouts of your plane, which is late, again, subsisting on vending machine fare and shooting angry glances at the screens insisting that your plane left on time when it hasn’t even arrived yet.  I know, I know, it’s cheap and we should put up with it, but if someone offered a “Be treated like a human being” surcharge I’d be at the front of the queue. (more…)