Tuesday 1 January 2008
links for 2008-01-01
Scroll down to the list of “consolidated versions” and click on the latest to get the complete set of regulations for importing plant material into the EU. Many pages, tiny text.
Monday 7 January 2008
toy important piece of office equipment
For the last eighteen months or so, I’ve been talking about replacing my laptop. I currently use a Dell Inspiron 8500 (Intel Pentium 4m 2.0 GHz processor, 512MB RAM, 40GB HDD, 15.4″ screen, ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 graphics card, DVD/CD-RW, Win XP SP2) which has proven to be a rugged, capable and reliable machine with hardly any issues. However, I am now finding that it struggles to cope when I’m using applications like Outlook, Excel, Word and Skype all at the same time (which I frequently do when talking to colleagues and clients internationally and looking up information at the same time). In addition, in spite of regular housekeeping, the hard drive is worryingly close to capacity. So it is time for a new machine.
As I have only a single laptop which I use for both business and pleasure (it is property of my company, so it is a business tool primarily), it has to be very much a maid-of-all-work. It needs to be of desktop-replacement calibre (I have no desktop) but also needs to be reasonably portable (I take it abroad several times a year and cart it to clients). I also expect it to have a similar lifespan to my current machine which is five years old and is going into “semi-retirement” to become a spare machine for my company in case of disaster and also be available for Hels to use for domestic purposes. I hope the new machine will be my main equipment for at least three years, possibly five years and then become a useful item around the house.
So I’ve thought about what I want and came up with the following list:
- dual core processor, at least 2.2 GHz
- at least 2 GB RAM, preferably more for future-proofing
- a reasonably good graphics card to cope with the domestic side of the remit
- 160 GB hard drive at least, perhaps larger
- 15.4″ screen. I considered 17″ screen machines but I’m not sure I want to lug about something that big
- 802.11a/b/g/n capability
- secondary battery – not vital, but definitely considered a bonus.
I’ve ummed and arred about the OS and have decided to brave Vista (in the Vista Business flavour), in spite of SP1 not being out yet. I figure that SP1 will be due soon (I had been holding out for it, but can hold out no more) and that will hopefully iron out the bulk of the bugs in the original release.
I also want to upgrade to MS Office 2007 Professional and need a new carry case (probably a backpack type to spare my shoulder a little). The budget is £1700 including all of the above, delivery to my office (or local collection), VAT and three year next-business-day on-site hardware support. This last item is important – the one time my current Dell did fail me, an engineer was with me within 24 hours to fix the problem. As my business relies on this one machine, I value that highly.
Given my good experience with Dell, I have begun my search there. My shortlist currently consists of these four machines:
- Latitude D830 – Intel Duo T7700, nVidia Quatro NVS 140M, 4.0 GB RAM, 160 GB HDD, DVD+/- RW, 802.11 a/g/n, bluetooth, 9 cell main battery, 6 cell secondary, 15.4″ WXGA 1280 x 800 display – £1297 + delivery and VAT, OS, software, warranty and backpack included.
- Vostro 1500 NB – Intel Duo T7500, nVidia GeForce 8600M GT, 4.0 GB RAM, 250 GB HDD, DVD+/- RW, 802.11 a/b/g, bluetooth, 9 cell main battery, no secondary battery, 15.4″ WSXGA+ 1680 x 1050 display – £1297 + delivery and VAT, including all the extras.
- XPS M1530 – Intel Duo T7700, nVidia GeForce 8600M GT, 4.0 GB RAM, 250 GB HDD, DVD+/- RW, no modem, 802.11 a/b/g/n, bluetooth, 9 cell primary battery, no seconary battery, built in camera and fingerprint reader, 15.4″ WXGA 1280 x 800 display – £1523 + delivery and VAT, including all the extras. Over budget.
- Precision M4300 – Intel Duo T7700, nVidia Quatro FX 360M, 4.0 GB RAM, 160 GB HDD, DVD +/- RW, 802.11 a/g/n, bluetooth, 9 cell primary battery, 6 cell seconary battery, 15.4″ WSXGA+ 1680 x 1050 display – £1367 + delivery and VAT including all the extras.
I’ve also had a quick look at other ranges. The Lenovo ThinkPad T61 is nice, but too costly. The Sony BX range looks good, but only takes up to 2GB RAM. Fujitsu have some nice offerings. Neither the Fujitsu or Sony offerings come with extended NBD on-site warranty.
Any comments or suggestions? I’m currently tending to favour the Precision machine, although the graphics card is not a strong point. I hear that the 9 cell battery sticks out the side of the Vostro and looks odd and that the whole machine is glossy black and gets grubby (I need to look fairly smart). And, no, I’ll not be buying a Mac.
Tuesday 8 January 2008
links for 2008-01-08
37signals thread on laptop cases, with loadsalinks.
Wednesday 9 January 2008
Dell Precision M4300 – ordered today.
I’ve taken the good advice given and will purchase Office 2007 elsewhere. I will also shop around for a case, not because I think that Dell cases are expensive (actually, they tend to be rather cheap) but because I want something different, possibly a messenger-style bag. More on that in due course.
Wednesday 16 January 2008
Evil BBC picture editor – still at large?
Thursday 17 January 2008
In the course of my work, I’m expected to have an understanding of the following statement contained in an urgent information release issued today by the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate:
On 20th January 2008 the use of HMRC’s Harmonised data set becomes mandatory. Based on advice from colleagues in HMRC the following guidance is given on the action to take if a Quarantine Release Certificate is not available for a consignment of plant health controlled goods: As the use of the QRC is being delayed, for the interim period traders importing plant health controlled goods will need to declare the EU Document Code N851 allocated to the Plant Health Phytosanitary Certificate (rather than UK Document Code 9115) and a Document Reference that includes Licence Type PHC (rather than Licence Type QRC) at the item level of the Harmonised SAD. Section 8 of JCCC (07) 29 in the following link ITSW: Automatic Licence Verification (ALV) for HMI and PHSI provides more information. As an example, a consignment of plant health controlled goods with a Plant Health Phytosanitary Certificate issued in Ecuador would have a Document reference declared on the Import SAD something like ECPHC123456 (EC being the country code for Ecuador, PHC relating to the licence type for the Plant Health Phytosanitary certificate and 123456 being the number of the phytosanitary certificate covering that consignment).
SAD? No. Confused? You bet.
Friday 18 January 2008
More on the new laptop
Well, I can’t say things are running smoothly at the moment.
The good news:
- It turned up in a timely fashion
- It is as speciified
- My MS Office Pro 2007 also turned up promptly, reduced by £150 for having a smashed case (the innards are licence sticker are all intact)
- It’s all very pretty
- I’ve transferred all my Office files from the old machine to the new one, albeit with a bit of poking about.
Now the bad news:
- Re-installing all the software is going to take ages. Why Vista comes with a package that only transfers files and settings and not the actual program files, I do not know.
- My new computer refuses stubbornly to talk to my HP LaserJet 1150. My HP PSC 2110 it has no problems with (at least with printing, I’ve not tried scanning yet). I haven’t tried to get them to talk wirelessly yet – one thing at a time.
Expect more updates on this as I go along.
I now have the laptop successfully talking to both printers via the wireless network and it only took me three and half hours to achieve. Here are the solutions I employed (neither of which are described in official documentation):
- To get the HP LaserJet 1150 to talk to the laptop via a USB cable (which is a prerequisite of getting them to talk to each other via the wireless network) I located file INFCACHE.1 in C:\windows\inf.
Then right click, select Properties->Security->Edit and give your account full control.
Delete INFCACHE.1 (or rename it INFCACHE.1.BAK if you are nervous about doing that sort of thing).
Reboot your PC (as one forum contributor commented, surely Vista was supposed to have put an end to this sort of thing?).
Plug in your printer and Bob’s your mum’s brother. This solution came from the Microsoft forums.
- To get the printers working over the wireless network (assuming your laptop is already talking to your router) via a Belkin F1UP0001 wireless USB printer hub, I used a combination of this document and something I noticed when trawling through the Belkin print server web management tool.
The first thing you will notice is that the Belkin XP software and drivers do not work with Vista at all and they don’t have an up-to-date driver on their site. Consequently, there will be no port available for your printer.
Once you’ve installed your printers via USB, go to Control Panel and open the printer folder for your printer.
Right click on your printer (the one that is Printer 1 on your print server) and select Run As Administrator->Properties.
Select the Ports->Add Port.
Ensure that “Standard TCP/IP Port” is selected and then click New Port->Next.
Enter the IP address of your F1UP0001 in the dialogue box and click Next.
Windows will attempt to detect the print server and will fail – this is normal.
Ensure that “Standard – Generic Network Card” is selected and click Next.
Windows will then complete the installation. You will notice that your printer has a new port in the list of the available ports and this is the one you should select for your printer.
Now repeat this process for the printer that is Printer 2 on your hub. This will create two identical ports. But for this port you must make one additional alteration after you have completed all the above stages.
Right click on your printer (the one that is Printer 2 on your print server) and select Run As Administrator->Properties.
Select the Ports tab. Highlight the second port that you created (the one that you allocated to Printer 2) and hit Configure Port. Change the Port Number under Raw Settings to 9101 and save the settings. It turns out that Printer 2 uses a different port to Printer 1.
Once again, Bob is your relative.
I’ve now got to find out what has happened to my Skype chat archives and get them installed. Skype itself is working and my new PC is happy to talk to my headset.
Still to achieve:
- install AVG, Feedreader, Outlook Express (I’ve always used OE for my private email to keep it completely separate from work stuff), Homesite 5.5, Filezilla, HMRC Employer software, PDFCreator, iTunes, PaintShopPro and GRICdial.
- on the hardware side, I have to see if the laptop will talk to my camera and to the Buffalo DriveStation external harddrive.
The transfer of Skype chat history is relatively straight-forward. Just follow the instructions here. The target directory is AppData/Skype.
And who knew that Outlook Express was dead? All hail Windows Mail. The transfer was simple and automatic, although I’d like to have known a bit more about it in advance.
FeedReader wasn’t quite so easy. Thankfully I only have a small number of feeds as I had to migrate them manually. But I’ve consolidated the list a little and taken the opportunity to upgrade to the latest release of FeedReader, which seems much improved.
AVG is waiting on a licence upgrade so that both old and new laptops are covered.
FileZilla also had to have settings migrated manually, but that wasn’t too onerous. This has also seen a signifcant upgrade.
Still working my way through the installation of all the things I like to be just so. This morning I’ve got the del.icio.us toolbar, PDF Creator (although it warns that there are compatibility issues with Vista that are going to be fixed in a future release) and Paint Shop Pro 7, all of which went smoothly. Are we there yet? (Answer: no, but we’re getting there).
I’ve not had so much time to dedicate to this today. My main discovery is that the HP PSC 2110 that I thought had installed wonderfully is only partially supported by Vista. “Advanced features” are not supported. Such advanced features include (wait for it) scanning and printing multiple copies of documents. So it looks like I’m in the market for a new multifunction machine, preferably one that will work wirelessly so that I don’t have to hook up to do scanning. Any suggestions?
On the multifunction machine front, I rather like the look of the Canon PIXMA MP600R. Anyone used/using one of these machines?
Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that my LaserJet 1150 will only print multiple copies of anything if the collate function is switched off. I will try and find a workaround for this, but honestly…
(LATER) Easily fixed by going to Control Panel->Printers->LaserJet 1150->Run As Administrator->Properties->Device Properties and when you get there, scroll all the way down and disable both Job Storage and Mopier Mode.
No, I don’t know either, but I read it in a forum and it works. OK?
Saturday 19 January 2008
On laptop cases and bags
A few days ago, I linked (via del.icio.us) this post about laptop cases and bags. I then spent literally days trawling back and forth through the list of links that it contains, as well as several that it doesn’t.
I had originally said that I would prefer to get a backpack-style bag for my new laptop. However, having pondered it a little more and looked at the available options, I decided to explore messenger-style bags instead. The reason for this is that I wanted something that looked quite stylish, that would be comfortable and that would be easy to use “on the hoof”. I spend a fair bit of time at trade shows and exhibitions – it’s difficult to talk to someone whilst standing or walking and reach into a backpack to find a notepad, business card, brochure or whatever. A messenger style bag seems to overcome this.
In the end I came up with a shortlist of four.
- Kensington Contour Terrain Notebook Messenger. Actually ticks all the functionality boxes but it’s just too widely available and not really “down wiv da kidz” enough. It has been given some really good recommendations though, so might be worth investigating if you want a bag in a hurry and want something you could pick up in a local pc store.
- The Dreadful Embarrassment by Crumpler. Evidently, all the cool kids have bags by Crumpler, although a few bag purists now say that they are (to quote one that I read) “mass produced crap”. Checking out the spec did suggest that this would fulfil most of the requirements listed above (including holding my 15.4″ laptop and the sundry crap the I lug around) and the build quality seemed quite robust according to most reviewers. But the lack of a handle on the top of the bag (meaning you always have to wear it over your shoulder and can’t convert it to a hand carried bag for crowded environments, such as trains, planes and narrow doorways) and the fact that *all* the cool kids have one already rather put me off.
- A Freitag messenger bag coupled with a suitable sleeve (probably the highly-acclaimed Waterfield). Oh god, these are unspeakably cool. I liked these because they were utterly individual (each and every bag is unique) and because they are made of recycled materials, namely old car seat belts, bicycle inner-tubes and the tarpaulins from the side of lorry trailers. I particularly loved the F-Cut concept where you could design your own bespoke bag from whatever lorry tarpaulin they currently have in stock. Incredible. But they somehow seem just too cool and not really suitable for a business environment. The price was also a factor. So, yes, Hels talked me out of this. Maybe if I was a cool kid in the city, this would be great. But I’m not that cool, I’m not a kid and the burghers of Ruralville wouldn’t really *get* it.
- The Spire Endo. Not the bag that every kid has. Insanely practical. Smart styling. Has that important grab handle. Gets rave reviews for build quality and comfort. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. Be warned though – UK distributors (the very few that there are) are still only offering the 2007 edition of this bag. If you want the 2008 version, which I consider to be superior, you must order from the US site and then get delivery within the US to a friend or relative that won’t steal it from you. I needed it quickly for various convoluted reasons and my preferred choice of black was out of stock, so I’ve gone for the blue with black piping. I had it sent on to a colleague in California who has arranged for it to be shipped (in with a consignment of plants, hence the hurry!) to me here. All things being equal, it (and the plants) will be ready for me to collect at Heathrow on Monday night or Tuesday morning. Customer service is excellent (I had a problem getting their server to process my credit card, but it was all dealt with quickly) and they ship via UPS who I have always found to be reliable.
When the bag arrives, I’ll give you a full review. It’s going to have a baptism of fire as I’m off to Germany later this week for the biggest trade show in the business.
Monday 21 January 2008
M, not A
I’ve been accepted as a full member, sorry, Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Which now means that I’m an MCIM, not ACIM.
I’ll not be rushing out to have my business cards changed.
Not that boring
Apparently, this blog has turned boring in 2008 (so says my wife). It seems that posts about my new laptop and bag are not exciting enough (my new phone will be delivered tomorrow, so there’ll be another subject to discuss! And my laptop case (along with the plants) have been delayed and will not arrive until Friday, which means I won’t get my hands on them until Monday).
So, in a probably futile attempt to change the subject and make reading more interesting, here’s a recipe (serves two):
- 1 whole fresh squid, cleaned and prepared into tentacles (separated), wings (cut into strips) and mantle (cut into rings). See here for a good step-by-step guide to cleaning and preparing squid if you haven’t done it before – it’s not that difficult. You should look for a squid that will yield around 225g/8oz of useable flesh. Our local Morrisons has an excellent fish counter and is our preferred source, but you might know a better place near to you.
- 1 pepper (capsicum for our overseas friends) – I used yellow, but red would do. Cut into small pieces.
- 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 12 or so baby plum tomatoes, halved
- juice of half a lime
- 1 head of pak choi, divided to individual leaves
- 275g/10oz pack of fresh (not dried) fine egg noodles. If you only have dried, prepare them as normal but drain them from the water when they are not-quite done
- Olive oil, black pepper, salt
- Heat a wok over a high heat and add about two or three teaspoons of olive oil.
- Throw in the pepper and squid. Toss about until the squid is just beginning to “catch” on the pan.
- Add the chilli and lime juice. Toss for another minute or so.
- Add the tomatoes and noodles. Keep tossing in the pan or else the noodles will burn. Reduce the heat a little if necessary.
- For the last thirty seconds or so, place the pak choi on top of the pan just so that it wilts a little (not too much – you really just want it warmed through without becoming soggy).
- Season and serve.
Low fat, healthy, tasty. And not too expensive either (we got our squid for three, er, quid).
Wednesday 23 January 2008
I know a small boy who is two years old today. He’s currently sitting and watching the Miffy DVDs that Mummy and Daddy bought him for today.
Unfortunately, someone gave him a cold as a present. Looks like Mummy and Daddy might have to buy a packet of tissues for him too.
Thursday 24 January 2008
Here are a couple of stories for people who like pro-biotic yogurts:
Activia maker to be sued for false advertising – no clinical proof that pro-biotics do you any good, according to the suit.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Yakult should be investigated by the government health authorities because it could kill you.
Graybo says: Eat more mushy peas.
Wednesday 30 January 2008
links for 2008-01-30
Seriously good traditional Dutch pancakes in this Leiden landmark restaurant.
You don’t say…
Thursday 31 January 2008
links for 2008-01-31
Joe the Digger needs a new (used) engine. The bullet holes are not a problem, though – he wants to keep them