Tuesday 25 December 2012

Goodbye Play, welcome Amazon...

Today's a good day to post, as Amazon are offering the fantastic World of Goo for free today, so if you stumble across this page by accident, it's obviously more likely than being a follower, then do this, get World of Goo for free.

Obviously the Amazon Appstore for Android is not downloadable from Google's 'Play' store, you have to browse to Amazon (.co.uk for me, .com for US etc.) and install it from there, easiest just to googe "Amazon Appstore for Android". Oh you'll also have to allow the installation of Applications from "Unknown Sources" (For Ice Cream Sandwich it's under Settings-> Security -> Unknown Sources) before you install it.

If you have an Amzaon account, just log in and start it, there you go. The vast majority of what's on Play can be found here, often cheaper, and they let you download a free app (one that is normally a paid for app) every day. Sometimes the stuff is useless, but more often than not, something really nice, it's got me hooked, looking daily at what's being offered for free.

My 'You can't win' paradigm still applies, I've had my 'issues' with Amazon, there's a yet to be written up 59" Samsung Plasma buying story that worked out in the end, but did require two rather heated calls to their call centre, that showed up some rather remarkable inadequacies. But that's for another time.

Obviously I plug my blog in comments on other sites, "Yes, I'm hacked off, and I'll spend a few seconds telling all I can about it!". There I receive some responses, and obviously not all are positive. I was however quite struck by a few of them...

There were two of note on the Google Wallet thingy. One chap said my response had a fair few howlers, whilst I was complaining about the quality of e-mail that Google were sending me. However, though I think I said this sort of thing at the end of the blog entry, it's worth repeating, that my e-mails will by default have typos, because I am usually quite annoyed when having these exchanges, and that I am not the one asking for someone's passport!

The other chap wanted to educate me on the use of apostrophes, so I had a look and in the 1000+ words I had blurted out in frustration. It turned out that I had made one singular mistake of that nature. Did make me wonder, what a grammar Nazi, finds a single occurrence, and then posts a message about it? How odd.

Last but not least, that Humax Box, someone was really upset, either an employee, or a fanboi, but a Humax Foxsat HDR fanboi? Seriously? Grief.

The points are worth mentioning, because I found them so amusing. The remote control being sluggish, apparently removing the extra protective packing film on the inner panel (it's part covered by a front flap) solves that problem. Err no it does not, and anyway, my multi-remote will even work through glass (infra-red, so it should!). The Humax remote is, in a word, rubbish.

Never a software update I complained? Because it's a mature product came the answer (with the added argument that it's old and that their new Freeview box is the current device, but I want Freesat, NOT Freeview, Duh?)?! A small part of this argument tis valid, yes it has simply never crashed (though the remote locks up once a month, open, remove batteries, put back in, and it's fine), but it's slow, really slow, and that recording cutting problem.... more on that later, in short 'padding' fixed it, but now the recordings are huge, and there are other issues....

Worst still I hooked up my Sky HD box up in another room, and it did an update, amazing, whole new looking UI, and now it doesn't crash, but does default to a radio chancel when turned off, but £10 a month for recording… nah.

I also noticed that TalkTalk are now giving a Huawei set-top box rather than the Humax one that I heard they were going to provide, or did provide, not sure what happened there. I have a Huawei wireless router modem from TalkTalk, and it needs a resetting every few days.. oh well maybe their satellite box is better?


Sunday 23 December 2012

You can't win.... farewell Google/Outlook Calender Sync

So I continue with this exercise in self-indulgence, for whatever purpose. Oh I must admit, I like typing on that keyboard, the Corsair Vengeance, FYI.
Anyway the message I have today is:-


.. actually forget that, i.e. winning,


I allude to Google shutting down support for calendar sync that I had HAD to use since I went from Apple to Android.

All I want to do is something very very simply:-


..with my PC and phone, for notes, e-mails, calendar, and music (iTunes), that’s it, nothing fancy. Oh and keep it all off-line too, not because the world might end and I'd need this stuff (actually if I did have access to this stuff after an  'internet apocalyptic' event, I wouldn't mind) but because such access does have it advantages, some of which I'll describe.

Now I used to own iPhone 4, and side-graded (it wasn’t quite an upgrade) to a Motorola Atrix, it was ‘ostensibly’ free, had a bigger screen etc.

E-mails, all systems are fine.

E-mails, ok I use both Hotmail (now outlook.com) and Gmail, my PC simply collects the e-mails and put them in my 10+ years old .pst file. On my phone I can use Gmail, works well-ish, and Microsoft poor effort of an Android client. Actually I use Gmail a great deal more. Both receive spam. Outlook.com lets me block senders, Gmail offers the creation of ‘filters’ but if you select more then 25, it decides that you shouldn’t be trying to block that many spammers in one go!

My iPhone used to manage syncing through iTunes quite nicely. But with exorbitant pricing, (still) small screens, and the rather closed nature of the phone, I just can’t go back to Apple and the sync bliss I had with them. On retrospect ‘the closed’ nature is not that much of an issue.

iTunes Sync, all systems are fine.

So in Android land, I bought (before Google banned me from buying, unless I give them my passport) iSyncr, that was a one stop (but slightly awkward) solution to my iTunes sync problem. The gory details of how I tried Songbird, and other programs are for another time, perhaps never, as I’ve forgotten the experiences. I only went through them because NONE would sync PLAYCOUNTS properly. Yes I love PLAYCOUNTS, and want these to sync. iSyncr does the job, so that’s that.

Calendar, used to work, still works, but apparently Google are about to kill it.

I found out in a web news article, about days after the event. My gripe, I like to have things OFFLINE, as well as on-line, just a few things, notes, e-mails and family photos. That’s it, yes, I am a dinosaur, not with the times etc. etc. ad nauseam. But that’s what I want. Why should I have to log into my Google account (yes I use two one for this blog and a few things, and my real named one) just to look at my calendar for the day or week etc? Oddly, Google don’t mind providing this offline on an Android phone, but oh no they hate the idea of anything being kept locally on a PC’s.

I also want to use a separate application, not my browser for my calendars, and Outlooks does it well, I typically have a LOT of tabs open, and don’t want to ‘hunt’ for the calendar tab. Yes I can put a short cut anywhere, desktop, browser bar etc, but then I would be forced to focus away from the tab I was looking at. Yes I use a single browser window, enforced via tabmix plus in Firefox.
So yes, it’s largely about the ‘way’ in which I browse and use a PC, I do not wish to change THIS aspect, I want an integrated application, Outlook provides, or rather ‘provided’ this, but no more it seems, thanks to Google.

Notes, never quite worked, largely gave up.

How to sync offline PC notes to an Android phone? Well if anyone has a simple solution, let me know, because after going thought a dozen so-called solutions, none of them worked. I still takes notes, but I have to resort to copying them manually etc. Poor beyond belief.

In iPhone land, it was bliss, it just copied to and from Outlook, no problems. Now here’s the good one, Google don’t mind you keeping a chunk of e-mails on the phone, offline maps, and even your calendar, but not notes it would seem. The idea is that you log into Gmail and read your notes there, no, not via your Gmail application, obviously, but via your browser.

Evernote offers a PC client, but it’s Android and PC clients, want net access, and have limited caches. They do offer offline access, but at a price so exorbitant, it would be cheaper to buy a data plan and carry on using their ‘free’ client.

Then there’s The Missing Sync, but it costs good money and has no trial version. I’m wary of paying for something that many have commented on as ‘doesn’t work’.

My Phone Explorer comes close, but it doesn’t do e-mails, argh!
Just about every other Android notes solution that I’ve tried, and I’ve tried one too many, simply won’t keep offline notes. I don’t’ mind them ‘being on line’ but I want local off-line access as well, for similar reasons as though I stated for my wanting the calendar offline.

I have used Microsoft One Note, it doesn’t appear to link with Outlook notes, and is cumbersome to use. It represents ‘overkill’ in terms of features, when I want something really simple.
Oh before anyone suggest a Window 8 phone and that OS as a solution. Err I installed Windows 8 on a fresh partition, and well hated it from beginning to end whilst I used it. Enough said. I don’t care much for ‘Oh you’re too set in your ways’ , ‘too stupid to use it’ etc. I just don’t like it, ‘what like you said you didn’t like Android and are now on your third Android phone’. I’m not into cutting my own nose off to spite my face, I go with what I like, which sometimes mean going with something cheaper (much cheaper!) even if you don’t get on with aspects of it, e.g. Google ‘Play’.

Learn to live with the grubby compromises out there...

Gripes aside, note my lack of criticism for the actual phone, the Sony Xperia T, which I am actually quite fond of. Yes I don’t hate all technology, just lots of it, for making life just darn awkward.

Odd thing being my rather appalling customer experience with Sony some year ago, and then again recently. As I said from the outset, YOU CAN’T WIN, and if I stopped buying from all those who have given me poor service, I would have to do without technology altogether. I have to buy from who gives the least worst service, and put up with it. take my mobile phone provider, used to be Orange (Now EE, or everything everywhere, or even Nothing Anywhere as I think thy should be called), for ten years, came down to what I expect will be a £15 repair on a phone, their conduct was so appalling (contradictory and ambiguous to boot), that I just paid off the contract and called it quits. I’ve been with Vectone for a while, pay as you go, it’s cheap especially for international calls and works, though the line quality is usually a bit poor. Their customer service, is just plain dreadful when push comes to shove, but they’ve got some stuff right, so I put up with them, as other providers are either exorbitantly expensive, or just plain worse.

Saturday 1 December 2012

It's been a while...

So, I've been quite, missing, away, etc. for quite some time. I am now back, for my singular follower, no this is not self-effacing humour, there really is just one!

Problem is that I have so many minor pain in the bottom experiences, that to document them all would take an age.

Let's see, today, I had to help the children transplant motherboards (long story, but not topical for this blog, most of the stuff did actually do what it was meant to, even though some of it of idiosyncratic).

Earlier I had to fix our main hallway's gas fire, something worth ranting about, its weird design caused the problem, but it's not exactly 'technology' that this blog is meant to cover.

Corresponding with a person (who appears to have some serious adjustment issues) on eBay who sold me a cheap knock off Scrabble board game, and then sent me some of the most bizarre e-mails I've had in quite some time when I complained. Now those maybe worth posting for sheer entertainment!

Oh the Corsair keyboard, plain heavenly to type on, it's just sublime.

I switched to Ivy bridge Core i5 (4 core) from Clarkdale Core i5, I had intended to go Core i7 (8 Core), but the £100 price difference put me off. Sufficient to say I was stunned by the performance increase, it was unexpected, and having my PC wake up within an instant is just marvellous.

Oh that Humax Foxsat box, more due on that too, yes I found the padding feature, yes it helps, but today it did something bizarre, it recoded 'Ugly Betty' for me instead of what it was mean to record. However there is a theory I came across, other than it containing a malign intelligence that reads my mind and punishes me, that may explains its rather irrational behaviour.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Stuck with the bad : Humax Foxsat-HDR

OK, my next gripe, recording from TV in the digital age. So in the age of VCR, we put a tape in, pressed record and viola, it recorded.

We still have some VHS tapes, namely home videos, many that have been transferred to DVD, and some that haven’t. Yes we still have a VCR to do this with. I gave my Stargate Collection, recorded from Sky Digital, with the breaks painstakingly removed, to a local charity shop some two years ago. They were heavy and bulky, and the picture quality looks awful in the hi-def age. Oh and what a waste of time it was to record them so diligently, what was I on back then?

Anyway, back to today, and here’s my problem, all I want to do is this:-

Watch the odd series pre-recorded on a series link, preferably in HD, and maybe the odd movie once or twice a month.

Keep a series or, shock horror, two, on a hard disk based system.

I don’t want to pay a subscription charge, the free to air stuff is fine thank you.

Not throw endless money at trying to achieve the above.

That is pretty much it.

Cable  TV is not an option, despite living just a few miles from the centre of one of Britain’s largest cities, the road was dug, a cable laid, and then the company putting it in went bust, so whilst people all around us have cable our little pocket doesn’t, thought we do have a gigantic ugly green BT fibre optic broadband box right outside our house. 18Mbits suit us just fine, I am not interested.

So a satellite solution is the only option. To this end I own a Sky HD Box and a Humax Foxsat HDR (500GB) box.

The problem? In a word, both can’t do what I want, I feel like saying they’re both rubbish etc. but that would be how I feel about them, and not really nailing down the why.

So the ‘why’….

Interruption to thread : Oh good grief! I kept the shift key pressed a bit too long thinking of the next word to write and that Sticky keys nonsense started up and locked my keyboard up until I found the tray icon and turned it off, another one of life’s little nuisance thanks to modern technology (Windows 7).

.. anyway, the ‘why’ short version…

The Sky HD box, likes to crash, and you have to pay for the recording feature to work, £10 a month I’ve been lead to believe.  So I’ve no idea yet how a series link will fare on it, as once or twice a week, you turn it on, and it’s dead. Time to unplug and wait a few minutes. It’s a bit better since the more recent firmware updates. Cost was £80 (used).

The Humax box clips recordings that are on series link, at least a quarter, probably more like a third of the episodes I record have their last few minutes missing and few have their start clipped instead. That’s a deal breaker, makes programmes not worth watching. Humax support just ignored my e-mail about it, and yes the firmware is up to date, but it’s 6 months old, so they don’t update often. Cost me £250, and I paid this because the reviews were so glowing, e.g. What HiFi gave it 5 stars no less.

Long (boring) version.

The Sky HD box’s crashing syndrome, I doubt it would be improved upon significantly by having a newer box, when we did have Sky Digital and Sky+ subscriptions, it was much the same story, the boxes (yes some were replaced, Thompson, Amstrad, Pace, had ‘em all in various guises) did like to lock up needing a mains plug pull followed by a good long wait whilst it redetected  channels etc. The recorded media is not organised, other than one large list of recorded programs, that are just ordered chronologically, and that’s it. However until I used the Humax box, I didn’t appreciate what it does very well, which is work very well in every other respect. It’s fast and responsive, hardly any lag ever, and when I had Sky+ many moons back, and I can’t remember it ever cutting off the end of a recording. I did have vague memory of it doing so maybe more than once, but I can’t remember the incident. I know there are millions of Sky customers who are using Sky+ and the series link works all the time, and there are no or very few crashes. Then again people love the Humax box…. It’s me as well, not wanting to pay the fee, and here comes the worst bit, if you decided to stop paying, you can’t watch your recordings anymore! Another big turn off. In the age of people happily paying £45 a month for Sky, I probably look like some form of luddite. Well we had such packages and we ended up with a humongous amount of stuff recorded that we never had the time to watch. So we cancelled it.

Back to the Humax box. It’s difficult to live with. It has one awful remote control, a really turgid user interface and operates in two modes to give you something approaching Sky’s free to air coverage, that are a pain to switch between, normal satellite, where the planner no longer allows series link etc. or go back to setup, and find the option to go back to a limited subset, under the Freesat banner.

Slow to start…

First up it takes an absolute age to ‘BOOT’ up, unless it was already recoding something scheduled, in which case it’s instant. If you feel like eating something in front of the telly and think you’ll watch a few minutes of something, well you won’t. You’ll end up watching the word ‘BOOT’ on its LCD for a while, and will probably have finished a packed of crisp by the time you get a picture.

Slow to use… and that remote…

I've played with a good number of PVR's and this is by the slowest I have ever used. Initially you can't tell if it's the remote control causing the lag, or whether the box is slow. Well it's both. The remote is badly laid out and the rubber keys do need a firm press, the nice looking silver ring used as a directional cursor more so than the rest of the keys. The ‘play’ key for example, which is one that's used quite a lot, is placed in a cluster just above the center to the left. This is frustrating in the extreme, on most PVR’s it is a LARGE key, why they made it so small and placed it in such an awkward to reach place is beyond me, it appears to defy common sense.

So I set up a multi-remote a cheap but functional One 4 All jobby. It was then that I noticed that the unit itself is also slow to respond. At least now I know it’s the unit and I could now stop repeatedly pressing keys harder in hope of a quicker response. You fast forward an ad, and oh no your left pressing the play button repeatedly as it whizzes past, then you rewind. Repeat three times, and you end up spending quarter of the time the das would have taken, so your ahead in terms of time saves, but it’s annoying.

The guide looks fantastic, but is again turgid and slow in use, worse still it buffers key presses, as one makes one too many key presses, it goes way past the target timeframe one was looking for. The media section that keeps the series you record in nice neat folders is quite nice, and not quite as slow, but still no match for the speed of a Sky HD’s episode list.

It chops things, and we’re not talking about your fresh veg…

So you can set up a series link to record all the episodes of a particular series. Nothing new and this is what I bought it for in the first place. It is this feature’s implementation that provably breaks the camel’s back. Almost every other recording it makes is truncated. The end will be missing! Fantastic, so you have an episode of the Big Bang Theory recorded (oops’ I’ve fessed up to one of the two series I have recorded, the 2nd one is much more embarrassing, but not Rules of Engagement or desperate House Wife’s, it’s not THAT bad), the full 20 minutes or so of actual program time after you skip the ads, it didn’t bother recording. It ends a few minutes short, and you don’t get to see the punch line. This is more frustrating still when the following episodes may reference what happened at the end, and one can only make an educated ‘guess’ at what actually happened. Crummy firmware.

One interesting thing is that it has never locked up or crashed, ever. It has twice failed to make a recording at all, i.e. recorded a few minutes and marked the recoding as having had a failure, but that’s it. But any good ‘features’ this box has are largely irrelevant if it can’t even make complete recordings.

The worst thing is that it wasn’t immediately obvious. We had already watched nearly all Big Bang Theory episodes, and just wished to have a collection on the hard drive in HD, so we hadn’t watched them yet. Then I recorded another series that I wished to watch later with my wife. So we had 40 odd episodes recorded, and that’s when it really hit us, that a great many had their ends cut off. After watching about 12 episodes we began to wonder if it was worth watching anymore. We would off course skip to end and see if it’s there in the first place, but really? Oh and then the ultimate kicker, once in a while, it will cut the beginning off, i.e. start recording too late.

Obviously I contacted Humax support (allegedly UK), and had no response. Oh well, so much for customer support. This is clearly not fit for the purpose it was sold, and I am now wondering how much time I will now need to waste in clawing back some money for what has been a very poor investment. I could complain to Richer Sounds about it and see what they have to say, but as its well over 30 days, they are probably within their right not to be interested. Then there’s the manufacturer, who doesn’t even reply to e-mails.

What to do…

Pay Sky…

I am loathed to do this, but assuming I claw back some of the cash by getting rid of the Humax box, I could pay Sky that money, and see how it goes, how often crash leads to an episode, or series of episodes to be missed.

Hope Humax get their finger out…

.. and fix the clipping problem, I can live with the rest.

Out of the box idea, DVD Box-sets…

Forget the whole recording mumbo jumbo, buy them cheap on ebay as boxed sets, eventually, I can wait. I bought seasons 2, 3, 4 (to add to the 1 and 5 I’ve had for years) of Babylon 5 for abour £5 each, bona fide originals.

Only caveat is that it needs to be bit more of a ‘planned’ viewing activity, i.e. get DVD, put in box, watch the copyright messages etc. get to episode selection. Or put on HDD and watch using WD-TV, that then requires WD-TV to be turned on, it scans the hard drive etc. etc. Even the Humax at its worst is more convenient, turn on, wait, wait some more, go to media pick series, select next unwatched episode (with the risk that it won’t have recorded the end of the recording…).

Give up…

Then there’s my friend who makes the point, why bother watching TV at all, one day his argument might just win the day. I have enough unwatched, original DVD’s to last me two years at my current rate of viewing.

Friday 13 July 2012

A new Corsair, and its wandering key.

So the replacement arrived. I opened it. Within seconds, what the!? The sound mute toggle key’s missing! Oh good grief, not again. Closer look, oh there it was lying next to the NumLock key! So I took a photo, and suddenly discovered an appreciation for all those ‘silly’ unboxing videos. Maybe they are not so silly as the process could end up being the only proof that you really did receive an item that wasn’t quite what it was meant to be after you break open the seals and have a look inside. But it takes time, which I would rather not waste even more of.

Click HERE to see the full sized picture.

I picked the key up and pressed into place, and it clicked in firmly. There appears to be no easy way to displace it once it’s in, as it’s one of the non-mechanical keys that are not backlit, and hence not meant to be removable either. Basically their key pressing employee or robot just didn’t push it in hard enough.

So all that was left to do was to pack up the old one and take it the Collect + connected (or not as was the case the last and first time I went down) newsagents around the corner. I know the guys quite well, and they scanned it with their bar code reader, and we waited with baited breath, it’s a bit hit a miss apparently. But it worked, hurrah, no need to bike or car the mile down to the next nearest one.

So very nice of Amazon to provide an ‘in-place’ replacement, the only thing that could go wrong is that they don’t receive the one I sent today, and charge me for it. However all shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I do feel a bit sorry for them, as the postage costs will eat into their retail margin, which is great, but they make a huge amount of money on volume to more than compensate for it. Corsair though really needs to pay attention to their quality assurance, I hope the keyboard lasts, at £95, it better had.