Archive for the ‘Gadgets’ Category


Sunday, July 19th, 2009

I bought a bike!


And a bike helmet…


Am I not, as Jools Holland famously once said, a groovy fakir?

I’ve wanted a folding bike for a while – it’ll be good for commuting, and will extend my in-London geocaching range significantly :-) – not to mention being a handy gadget to keep in the caravan. I did some research and found the one pictured above on this website – followed by some more research after a chum of PF’s advised us to look at some more options. We did, and I still ended up ordering the one in the picture.

I’m hoping it arrives in time for New Wine :-)


Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Just a quick blog tonight chums, I’m heading to the pub in a minute or two :-)

My old chum Tizzle, whom I’ve not seen for years and years, is visiting Southampton, so we’re meeting up for a pint or eight. Back in the days when you had to pass a Morse code exam to get a ham radio licence, I was an examiner and Tizzle was the Chief Examiner for Hampshire, so we saw quite a bit of each other.

Those test sessions were fun – for us, at least, probably less so for the people being tested. We’d start by sending them a passage of morse, which they’d have to write down with fewer than four errors, then we’d give them a written test piece which they’d have to send back. We never liked failing people, and always did the best we could to help them relax so they were at their best.

Particularly frustrating were some of the people we had to fail for errors in receiving: a word with a missing letter counted as an error, and remember you’re only allowed four: if someone handed in a piece with five errors, one of which was “my name is Ste-e”, we’d have to fail them – all because they hadn’t checked their work.

It was brilliant when someone was really nervous and we could pass them though :-)

Anyway…off t’pub. See you later chums!

Interesting Times

Friday, February 27th, 2009

That was an interesting evening.

I’ve been to Hospital Radio: The first thing different to normal was that m’colleague Rockin’ Rob wasn’t there, being himself a bit under the weather (and according to our chum Doo Ron Ron, who spoke to him on the phone, he does sound rough!). Normally that wouldn’t matter…it just means that I choose the music unassisted, which means we play some decent stuff (i.e. from before Rob was born!).

Tonight I had the additional challenge of studio five – from where Thursday Magazine is normally thrust upon the world – turning up its toes and dying – specifically a low voltage power supply that died every fifteen minutes. Luckily – or so I thought at the time – I noticed in time and decamped to studio one just before the programme started.

Now studio one has had its share of problems in its sixteen year life: Being the preferred studio of someone who never tidied up after themselves was one, the radiator never working was another: In comparison the fact that it was thought for a while to be haunted was a minor thing (and useful when we needed a phantom power supply…hee hee, technical joke there!). It’s now about to become the home of Southampton Area Talking Newspaper, and has already been customised for their use – which means:
– the controls for turntable one are labelled “TAPE”
– the controls for turntable two are labelled “CD”
– turntable one doesn’t work anyway (or at least, it only works on the left stereo channel)
– CD one has to be cobbled into the desk because its controls have been stolen by a cassette player
– the computer needed some…ahem…modification before it would work properly.

And at ten o’clock I said “…and here is the news”, pressed the button, and nothing happened. Nada. What we call “dead air” (and yes Rob, I DID try to use the NEW news channel!).

I don’t think it went too badly really. And I’ve recorded the whole thing for m’chum Mallers who’s in hospital at the moment…Neil, look out for a CD winging it’s way your way :-)


Screen Test

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

I told you that I treated myself – with the gadget money my Mum gave me for Christmas – to a new gadget. It was the TomTom One Traffic, and one day I’ll do a review of that for you, and tell you why I moved to a standalone satnav unit, as opposed to running the TomTom software on a PDA as I’ve always done before.

But today I want to tell you about the screen protector I bought for it. It’s basically a piece of clear sticky-backed plastic, cut to size, that you stick on the screen to protect it from scratches and dirty finger marks. I bought it from that great emporium of all things top quality, eBay, so I was expecting good things.

Well, it was cut to the right size.

To be fair, it’s pretty sticky as well: The main problem – apart from the difficulty of getting all the air bubbles out – is that they’ve put a tab in one corner which is supposed to help with lowering the protector on to the screen. The trouble is, the tab sticks to the protector like…umm…a very sticky thing, and so far I’ve only got it half off, leaving an unsightly mess in the middle of the screen.

That’ll teach me to buy cheap. I think I’ll abandon it and lash a few quid on a decent one.

A Festival of Incompetence

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Don’t get the wrong idea from the title…I’ve had a brilliant New Year weekend. It included…but was not restricted to…

  • Buying a new gadget (technically I bought it with my gadget money my Luvvly Mum gave me, so it was her Christmas present to me)
  • Lunch at a restaurant I’d never been to before (although Purple Fred had)
  • A whacking good evening out to celebrate the Lady Sally-J’s birthday
  • Lunch out with Jenny, to celebrate her being down in t’South for t’weekend
  • Learning to play Poker with Purple Fred (we blame the fact that she beat me on my miunderstanding of how she read the rules to me :-) )
  • A little light caching, finding two rather nice caches:
    Not another Pointless Micro Protest Cache
    A Traditional Cache for Christmas

…and of course loads of time with the lovely lady Purple Fred!

The festival started when we tried to book our overseas holiday for later in the year…luckily PF did the phoning – I’d have given up long before the end, told them to stuff their useless holiday and their useless website and their useless staff, and we’d have ended up going to a B&B in Weston-Super-Mare instead. But she persevered with their useless telephone people and now we’re off to Lanzarote in May!

The second bit of incompetence comes from the traffic division of Hampshire Constabulary: I knew there’d be trouble getting home from Purple Fred’s house because Southampton FC were playing at the Gasworks Ground, and for some strange reason Northam Bridge is always closed to traffic when the footie turns out: Still and all, I got to the approach road and the “Bridge Closure” warning signs were turned off, so I guessed everyone was all clear, and proceeded.

And sat in the middle of the bridge for twenty minutes while miserable Saints supporters, and cheerful MU supporters, streamed past. Once I finally got moving, the traffic lights at the other side of the bridge were red, but a policeman was waving us all on…until we stopped at the pelican crossing a hundred yards further on, where the lights were also red. A WPC ran up and waved us on, but they should’ve had someone there all along, or turned the pelican lights off. There’s a camera on those lights…if I had my picture taken I shan’t be pleased.

So, two bits of Police muppetry so far – turning off the warning sign and not patrolling the pelican crossing. But they’d saved the best till last: careful Police planning meant that all traffic was approaching Charlotte Place Roundabout from every direction – and staying there gridlocked, because they didn’t have any officers on duty there.

And this morning I had to walk to the station and missed the 06:30 train, because First Bus are, as I may have mentioned before, sh*te.

The Skype’s the Limit

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

I’ve discovered Skype.

Well, I haven’t just discovered it – along with the rest of the computer-literate world I’ve known about it for ages. But I’ve only just started using it, partly because it’s a gadget and partly because someone I talk to a lot has it, and it can save us both some wad. Unfortunately I only know two people on Skype, and there isn’t much chance of my second-most-called person using it, or it could save me even more!

Persuading the laptop to accept a connection to my Bluetooth headset for Skype purposes was an adventure best left with the veil over it…suffice to say it works now so that’s OK :-)

Anyway…’tis the season to be Merry and Jolly, and to celebrate whatever your particular faith or social group celebrate at this time. Whatever you do, do it joyfully, and have a very happy Christmas.

Track ‘n Trace

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

The organisation I work for often has the need to send secure packages.

We’ve tried various means, including a couple of public carriers who are government-approved for the purpose, but we’ve never been totally happy about the trackability being suitable for the security level we want. Then today, someone suggested GPS tracking: there’s a device consisting of a GPS connected to a mobile-phone-like device that you put in your parcel, and whenever you want to know where it is, you send a text message to the phone, and it replies to tell you where it is (or where it was when it last had a GPS signal).

We know the technology works, we’ve used it on a few geocaching events to track a mobile cache: but the whole idea started us thinking of possible upgrades…

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a TomTom-type device that you could fit to a parcel? As well as helping the delivery driver find where he was going, it could keep an eye on time (“You call this express delivery? We should’ve been there by now!”), and avoid those delivery errors (“Not here you numpty, next door!”).

There’s got to be a business venture there…

A Boatie Shop for Boatie People

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

I need a gas changeover switch for the caravan…one of these in fact.

The manufacturer’s website shows that one of the local stockists is a boatie enthusiasts’ shop not far from me, so after a little light geocaching yesterday, Diet Buddy and I called in there on the way home. There was some initial confusion caused by there being two shops with the same name, a hundred yards apart, but we soon found what appeared to be the right place.

We scoured the shelves, and in particular the gas fittings department, without success, and in the end I asked a spotty young assistant: he’d never heard of the item I was looking for and went to ask the manager, who gave his opinion from the other end of the shop.

“No, we don’t stock them, and we never will: We had the rep in trying to get us to stock them just the other week, and I told him, I did: That sort of thing’s alright for them caravanners, where a small gas leak soon blows away, but on a boat it just settles in the bilges and BOOOOOM!!!”.

I was about to tell him that it was all right because I wanted it for a caravan anyway, but the look in his eye made me think he’d probably hurl us from his shop on the grounds that he didn’t want our sort around there. So we bought a small D-shackle, just to reinforce the impression that we were boatie people, and left rather quickly.

As you can see from the link up there, my local Calor Gas shop seems to stock them, so I’ll give them a try soon.

The only other thing to add is that the geocaching started with a maintenance visit to one of my caches, and then we went on to find Durley Mill: It’s a lovely cache, and Rob…you’ve got to get Sally-J to do this one before the mud dries up…oops, I mean before the Autumn colours fade!


Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

My extra rams have arrived – they came at the weekend – so hopefully TechnoBuddy will be squeezing them into the laptop for me during this week. I’ve no idea why they’ll solve the problem, I guess it’s something to do with the ewe ess bee ports.

Sorry about that.

The only other thing I can really comment on today is that the cold is progressing nicely, having now grown one of those whole-body-shaking coughs that makes you feel like your head is going to explode. Luckily the Benylin Day-and-Night I mentioned yesterday is doing what it says on the packet, and keeping the worst of it under control.

The Baileys is helping, too :-)

Digital Bits

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Thanks to everyone who’s commented on my rants of the last few days :-)

I solved the Maplins problem by going to the branch on Waterloo Bridge the next morning: it’s on one of my walking routes to the office anyway, it opens at eight o’clock and the staff all know what they’re talking about :-) . The King, in his comment, suggested “…or buy online…”. That’s what I normally do, but I wanted the caravan gadget (of which more shortly) in time for this weekend. Anyway, the staff were friendly and helpful and I bought the four items I wanted without trouble.

The caravan-related object was a USB stick to turn my laptop into a digital TV – it seemed the cheapest and least-hassle method to get a TV in the caravan. It works, too…I shan’t be trying it in the caravan until tomorrow, but connected to the rooftop aerial at home it gets loads of digital TV and radio signals. The picture does freeze occasionally – my technical advisor tells me I need more rams, so I’m off to the livestock market on Sunday. Goodness knows where I’m going to keep them, but there y’go…

There’s also the puzzle of why as soon as I try to watch Sky News, the software crashes. TechnoBuddy reckons there’s some sort of good-taste filter.

Owner’s Manual

Monday, November 10th, 2008

I went to Mungo’s Caravan Shop on Saturday afternoon for the technical run-through on my new caravan. This is where one of Mungo’s service engineers demonstrates all the technobits on the caravan, partly to show the new owner how things work and partly so that it’s proven that at the time the new owner took delivery everything WAS working.

Although I’ve been a caravanner for years, I’ve never used a caravan this new, so things like hot water and showers were all a bit of a new experience for me…at least in a caravan. But I now know all about water storage heating, cassette loos, extractor fans and all the other stuff it comes with. It’s also got an oven, and although he showed me how it worked, the use of such an implement is still a bit of a closed book to me :-)

And speaking of books, I’ve now got a box file full of instruction manuals: instructions for the loo, the water heater, the central heating, the oven, hob and fridge…although as I commented at the time, when you get a five-page instruction manual for the TV aerial, it’s time to question somebody’s sanity :-)


Sunday, November 9th, 2008

This should restore your faith in human nature just a little bit.

Also restorative was yesterday’s trip to Mungo’s Towbar Sorting Out Shop, where they sorted my towbar-related problem related here in less time than it took me to browse round their shop…and wouldn’t charge me anything for having done it. So if you’re in the Southampton area and have a towbar-related problem, I can thoroughly recommend Towbar Services of Pavilion Close, Fair Oak…lovely people :-)

E-Bay Gum

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Yes, I know I’ve used that as a title for a blog about E-bay before…

Can anyone resolve a little E-bay related mystery for me? I bid on an item last night which had six days left to run: it was a cheeky low bid, but a bid nonetheless. But when I checked at lunchtime today, MyEbay informed me that I wasn’t bidding on any items – and I couldn’t find any trace of the item in the “for sale” lists. I’m guessing that the seller withdrew the item – any other guesses?

And on a related subject, anyone know where I can get a small electric generaton, about 1 kva? Petrol will do, if it’s been converted to propane so much the better. Oh, and cheap of course ;-)

Kit Review

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

I promised you a few weeks ago, when I bought my hydration bladder, that I’d let you all know what I thought of it. Those of you who don’t know what a hydration bladder is could check one out here – this is the one I ordered, although they seem to have sent me the next size up.

Anyway, the point of the thing is that you fill the bladder with water, and it then slides into a sepcial inside pocket on the rucksack: The tube comes out through a rainproof hole in the side of the pack, and clips onto the shoulder strap, where it’s available to suck water from all day, without stopping or taking the pack off. When I first bought it, Rockin’ Rob – who’d already tried one – advised “advice of a most important nature would read “always use a flavoured liquid??? – it disguises the decidedly plastic taste of such a device.”. So needless to say, I tried it first with good old Lake District tap water, to see what happened.

I like it – it was a good investment. I stayed with water all week, and didn’t notice any plasticky taste or anything, and the usefulness of being able to sip a little and often was really good. The pipe doesn’t flap around and get in the way, and the only problem I had was when I forgot to fill it one morning and ran out of water halfway back to the car from Dow Crag.

In short, well recommended.


Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

They say – or at least P. T. Barnum said – there’s one born every minute. But on this occasion I don’t mean that sort of sucker.

In an effort to not leave cachepedition planning to the last minute – remember I mentioned that? – I’ve been doing on-line shopping. Yesterday I bought a new battery for the laptop, to avoid having to spend evenings within six feet of a mains socket: today I ordered something more obviously caching-related. One of these, in fact. My luvvly new rucksack, which I bought to celebrate finding my 1000th cache, has a sepcial pocket for a hydration bladder1, so it’s time I had one. I’ll report back when I’ve tried it out :-)

1 aka “posh water bottle”


Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

I bought a tumble drier today.

I know that’s not the sort of thing that most people do on holiday, but then most people don’t spend their two-week summer break working on a volunteer medical team, so we’re starting from a rather odd base line. We bought a washing machine for the medical centre last year, so this year we decided that a tumble drier would be a useful addition – so m’colleague Annie and I, after surfing t’internet, headed for Currys in Yeovil.

For reference, should anyone need the information in the future, an Indesit IS70C tumble drier is exactly the right size to go in the back of a Gruntmobile.

I also headed back to the cache I failed to find the other day, this time armed with the clue. I found the plot OK, and plenty of evidence that either people or animals had been digging there, but no cache. Ah well, there’ll be others :-) .


Monday, July 21st, 2008

Today’s New Wine preparation tasks were:

  • Checking water on Grunty (washer bottles and radiator)
  • Checking oil on Grunty (engine and transmission)
  • Checking tyre pressures on Grunty (I did the caravan at the weekend and I’ll do it again before going on Friday)
  • Putting driving docs (licence, insurance, MOT and V5) in the holiday file

Not many people do this latter, and I’m a bit surprised: The reason I do it is that if I had a contact with the Police on the way down (which could just mean someone reversing into me in a car park), I’d have to produce my driving docs at a Police station within nine days. If I didn’t have them with me, I’d have to come all the way home just to find them. So it’d be madness not to have them with me :-)

I’ve also made the list of things that have to be packed in the gadget box. Now I just need to find a big enough box.


Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

My mobile phone has started doing something odd.

Last night I sent Jenny a text message: It said “You have email – I’ll phone you tomorrow evening to check you’re happy with it”. At 10:26 last night, she replied “Yup, just got it, thanks”.

Then again at 10:29, she replied “Yup, just got it, thanks”. And at 10:45 and at 04:46 this morning. While I’m always pleased to hear from Jenny, the same message four times is a bit odd.

It isn’t only Jenny – one of my other texting chums sends repeat messages as well. Any of you techy geniusses got any ideas?

Power Slide

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

I said “Either the battery is significantly better than the original, even when it was new, or I’ve mongoosed the battery meter.”

I think I’ve mongoosed the battery meter…it was reading 100% right up to the moment it went flat. Of course that might sort itself out after a few charge/discharge cycles, and even so it’s got a life that’s conservatively ten times its predecessor, so that ain’t bad is it?

And in a comment on the same post, Jane asked “Does it do it any harm putting it on to charge when it’s not completly down?”. It shouldn’t do any harm – it’s a Lithium Ion battery and they’re not supposed to have any memory effect, so mine will get charged up overnight every night, whether it needs it or not – although it’s got to be good practice to discharge it completely to flat every so often and give it a full discharge/charge cycle.

Any techy bods care to contribute?


Monday, June 16th, 2008

I wrote a while ago about my little problem with battery going flat on the good PDA.

Mel’s suggestion improved things slightly but battery life became less and less: it reached the point when I’d take it off charge when I got up, use it as an MP3 player on the train, and the battery would be totally dead by Clapham Junction. That was when I gave up and ordered a new battery from those lovely folks at iPaqRepair (thanks to Chris T for suggesting them!).

I fitted and charged the battery on Saturday. So far it’s done blogging and net surfing, 3 hours MP3 playing and some low-level diary stuff. And the charge meter is still on 100%.

Either the battery is significantly better than the original, even when it was new, or I’ve mongoosed the battery meter.

Shoot the Messenger

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

MSN Messenger is a bit rubbish, isn’t it?

I was chatting to a chum in that medium last night, and unbeknown to both of us, only half of our messages were getting through: under any circumstances that’s pretty confusing, but last night it caused misunderstandings which made my interlocutor quite upset before we got it sorted out.

It’s especially annoying because it’s unnecessary. For years I’ve been using a bit of ham radio software called UI-View, which includes in its functions a sort of “MSN Messenger over the radio” system. It has an error-checking system so the computer at each end knows if any messages haven’t got through.

Let’s say I was having a conversation with Rockin’ Rob: I send him a 5-line message, and line 3 fails to get through. MSN Messenger would display that like this:

Important stuff for next cachepedition:
– Gadgets
– Food
– Beer

Neither of us knows that Rob is one item short of a full list…to coin a phrase.

UI-View would display:

Important stuff for next cachepedition:
– Gadgets
– Food
– Beer

Not only does Rob know there’s a line missing, but my computer knows that line 3 hasn’t been received, and keeps sending it until Rob’s screen correctly shows:

Important stuff for next cachepedition:
– Gadgets
– Sally-J’s favourite chocolate
– Food
– Beer

You can see how important that missing line might be.

If basic, but useful, error trapping like that can work on a narrow bandwidth radio channel shared between dozens of users, why can’t it be made to work on the internet?