Look what I found in my loft: a 9-year old netbook

I splashed out a week or two ago, and bought a Samsung NC10 netbook – a bargain at under £300, and it runs Windows 7 really well.

Impressed with the size and utility of the thing, I recalled a forerunner of the netbook, so went rooting around in my “box of old technology that it pretty much useless but cost money so I can’t ever throw it away”, in the loft.

I came across an old laptop that in its time was known as a “sub-notebook”: we got two of these machines courtesy of Sony, to demonstrate Exchange 2000, specifically the Conferencing Server version, at a big partner event in Birmingham. It was, to date, the biggest audience I’ve ever stood in front of, at about 1,400 people. I had a few minutes to demo the still-in-beta Exchange 2000, and would be doing it jointly with the host for the conference, Jonathan Ross (gulp).

Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server – aka “Jasper”

I’m now struggling to remember when this was, but since Exchange 2000 released in November 2000 (as discovered by the very useful Microsoft Support Lifecycle page), I reckon it must have been early/mid-2000, which would mean the little Vaio has to be at least 8 or 9 years old.

Sony Vaio PCG-C1XN

The two Vaios we had were great – well, great for the time anyway, although even then they were very functionally compromised even when new. The one thing you could say about the machine was it was small, and cool.

vaioCertainly not fast – a 266MHz Celeron CPU (a cut down Pentium II, in essence, for our younger readers), 64Mb of RAM and a 6.4Gb hard disk.

The machines originally came with Windows 98, but we decided to put Windows 2000 on them for the demo; subsequently, I upgraded it to Windows XP and it’s probably a bit too much for the little mite. Suffice to say, it won’t be getting any further along the Windows evolutionary scale.

Other features of note were the webcam (one of – if not the – first laptops to come with one built in, which was the reason we wanted them for the Conferencing demo). A single USB port, FireWire (or iLink as Sony insisted on calling it), a PCMCIA slot, infra-red (you don’t get that any more now, do you?) and a dongle which had composite-video and VGA, complete the mix.

So for our demo we had to install an early Wifi network (it might have been the very first 802.11b from Compaq, costing hundreds of pounds for the router and at least £100 per PCMCIA card). All of this for 8 minutes of Woss-y glory, swept away in the sands of time.

Sony never did ask for it back – I hung onto one, and Steve kept the other. I bet he’s still got it somewhere too.

Dust the old girl off

Enough of this misty eyed nonsense. Amazingly, on plugging the machine in and powering up (apart from my going into the BIOS and setting the clock), it started to resume from hibernate – and dropped me back into the logon prompt for WinXP. I had some head scratching to do, to remember the password – but when I logged in, it was the first time for 6 years and 3 months.

P1010112

 P1010113

Surprisingly, the Vaio is about the same thickness as my Samsung, so it doesn’t look quite as archaic as you might expect a 9-year old laptop to.

It could even be called a “Netbook”, except there’s no networking on the thing – certainly no wireless, and even dial-up would have required an old modem like the Xircom PCMCIA card I literally just found in my office drawer.

Probably the biggest difference is the price when new. Adjusting for inflation and taking into account what the Vaio would have originally cost, it’s probably nearer £3,000 than the £300 for my NC10.

That’s Moore’s law for ya.

Little pleasures in troubled times

Bar Craft Waiter's Friend Corkscrew

It’s funny how sometimes the little things can give you the most tactile pleasures. An example is one little device I picked up post-Christmas – we were in town trawling round the “sales” and the only thing I really wanted to find was a good Waiter’s Friend. This one came from John Lewis and cost the princely sum of £2.90, yet it is the best corkscrew I’ve ever used, it feels great (quite heavy, nice & grippy, solid) and looks good too. What a bargain.

I’m finding out things about Windows 7 every day, that have that same sense of quiet satisfaction about them – you know, you just smile to yourself and are pleased about them. I started using Windows 7 on my work PC about a week ago, and it’s just brilliant

See what Apple fan Don Reisinger over at ZDNet has to say about it.

Steve posted some more hot key tips last week, and the one I love the most is the Magnifier (key Win & + or Win & –) – it’s a bit like a cross between the magnifier that’s part of Intellipoint and the old Magnify “accessibility” function in Windows XP.

Some people use magnifiers because they have to in order to see, or because they’re doing something that requires particular precision (like aligning items or editing pictures). I think Magnify utilities should be mandatory for anyone doing a demo to more than a handful of people – it drives me crazy the number of times I’ll see someone running a laptop at some absurdly high resolution on a projector that isn’t capable of displaying it, and even if it was, you’d need to be 3ft away from it to be able to read anything.

I ranted about magnifying before, a couple of years ago.

Win+ will bring up the magnifier UI in Windows 7…

image

If you select another window from the little options palette, it turns into an semi-opaque magnifying glass.  If you minimise the little window, you can still imageuse Win+ and Win- to zoom in and out with nothing overlaying the display. And, for best of all for some demos, change the view to “Lens” and you’ll get an Intellipoint-style rectangle that zooms whatever is under the mouse, but leaves the rest of the screen as normal. The difference here is that it supports the Aero effects (unlike Intellipoint) and it allows animations of whatever is happening at the cursor (like menu flyouts, highlights etc) to carry on within the magnified area, unlike some magnifiers which just take a bitmap snapshot and zoom it in.

image

The new car smell in Windows 7 is a deep and rich, lustrous odour. And it’s still got months of finessing and development left to go. I can hardly wait.

Windows 7 tips & tricks, and Media Center tuner drivers

The Channel 9 guy loves Windows 7!I put Windows 7 Beta 1 on my home PC the other day (as a dual boot config with Vista x64) to see what it was like; I was very pleasantly surprised, with the exception of the fact that Media Center – much as it looks nicer – didn’t work out of the box with my Hauppauge Nova-T USB 2 tuner box that I use to record stuff on Media Center.



I have to admit to not using MC as the primary telly. I know some who do, but it hasn’t – yet – passed the “wife” test. So we have Sky HD in the main room for most TV, though I’ve sneaked an XBox in there with wireless connection to the home network, and it happily picks up stuff that the main PC records… sometimes unexpectedly.


Hats off to Hauppauge for their almost peerless support forums, and to “Mr X” for his enthusiastic sponsorship of the forums. There were posts late last week on their forums saying that the Nova-T tuner was blue-screening Windows 7; he said he’d try to get a driver up and running for download early this week, and sure enough it’s there and all is now well.


Today, I took the plunge and installed Windows 7 on my Lenovo Thinkpad X61 work PC – so far, so good – everything works, everything works well…


I came across ex-pat Brit and now Seattle-ite, Tim Sneath’s blog earlier today – it has some great tips for what Windows 7 beta is already doing for the end user experience. Reading the list might sound trivial, but reading it on a Win7 machine (which appears to run more smoothly and quicker than anyone might expect), it’s hard to stop the smile spreading across the face…


If you’re going to experiment with Win7, definitely check out Tim’s blog. Some great tips & tricks up there already, and hopefully more to come.

Top ten things for to do in 2009

It seems this time of year brings out the soothsayer in lots of IT journalists and analysts, if the volume of “ten things to do” articles is anything to go by.

Mary-Jo Foley posted a couple of weeks ago on what she thought Microsoft might/should do this year.

Don Reisinger over at CNet gives his 5 predictions for home technology this year (no real surprises).

But, the funniest predictions article I’ve read in a while comes from Infoworld, regarding what Apple needs to do in 2009. Mitch Wagner compares Steve Jobs to Willy Wonka…

And that’s the real reason Steve Jobs didn’t attend Macworld this year. He hinted he skipped it for health reasons. But the real reason is that he’s on an overseas excursion, looking for Oompa Loompas he can replace Apple’s employees with.

Priceless 🙂

Is Blu-ray really “all that”?

I made the decision to wait until the HD-DVD/Blu-ray format war had been resolved before deciding to give the winner a try. In the interim, about 18 months ago I picked up a new DVD player for about £120, which had HDMI support, did a decent job of upscaling DVDs to higher definition, and (the real reason for buying it), was a writer too.


Looking at CNet, Don Reisinger wrote recently on the various merits or pratfalls of moving to the new format. Now, the cost of players is starting to get to the £100-150 ballpark (instead of the crazy early-adopter £1000-odd mark), but the media is still a good bit more expensive – taking the Dark Knight example that Don talked about, the Blu-ray version commands a £3-4 premium in most outlets … is it worth the difference? My TV “only” does 720p or 1080i resolutions (the 1080i is scaled to fit the 720-line display), and I’m not sure I’d really notice all that much difference over an upscaled DVD. Predictions are that Blu-ray will overtake DVD in about 2012: maybe in the next couple of years, the price of media will have to change – perhaps the studios should even put out Blu-ray content at a lower price than DVDs, if they really want to drive adoption.


Thinking back to other media changeovers, there are relatively few which have succeeded, and lots that went by the wayside. Remember 8-track tape? Or Digital Compact Cassette? Even DAT failed as a consumer option, and MiniDisc went the way of the Dodo when eclipsed by MP3 players.


What marks a successful change of media in almost every instance, isn’t just better quality or size or whatever – it’s a difference in the way of using the media. When CDs first started appearing in the mid-80s, sure the sound quality was better (as much as could be determined on a cheap HiFi anyway), but the random-access nature was probably its best feature – the ability to jump straight to a track without spooling through tape or having to hoick the stylus off an LP, especially combined with remote control, made arguably the biggest difference.


MP3 (and all the variants) succeeded because it was now possible to have your entire music collection a few button presses away – no need to even switch the CDs. iTunes has arguably changed the way people buy music altogether, choosing single tracks rather than whole albums.


Blu-ray or any successor to DVD is probably only going to succeed if it changes the game somewhere else, other than being “better”. Distributing movies online seems one way of doing it, at least if you believe the commentators who tell us so. The trouble with that approach is that as quality improves, the sheer size of the downloads is going to get ungainly – even with multi-megabit internet connections, a 1080p encoded film is surely going to be 15Gb or more, and will take an age to download.


Maybe the business model for the future would be to sell Blu-ray players which also have huge hard disks that can legally cache all the contents of the media disc – that way you could buy a film on Blu-ray, take it home and add it to the library. Thereafter, you’d be able to watch anything you’ve previously bought without needing to fetch the original disc and load it up – would that be a reason enough for people to switch from DVD?


More pertinently, would the studios allow it to happen?

How to wash your car properly

Another post from the “Random Stuff” category. Just over a year ago, I wrote on how to cook the perfect fillet steak, and amusingly, it’s by far the most-read post on this blog – by a factor of more than two…


So here’s another one for the New Year, and it’s about one of those ordinary jobs which some of us don’t do often enough, and others do it to a point of obsession: I’m talking about washing the motor.


P1000458 - Copy


There are few things more bonding between a man and his car than giving it a good clean. I mean, you get to see all the lines up close and from angles you wouldn’t normally spend any time looking at. I know it might sound a bit sad, but hand-washing the car gives you a rare chance to check out there aren’t problems with it up close – stone chips, maybe, kerbed alloys, unexplained dings etc.



Uber-petrolhead Jay Leno apparently likes to plonk a chair in the middle of his garage and enjoy looking at his extensive collection, with a glass of wine. I can totally see where he’s coming from, though kneeling in a puddle next to your own Pride & Joy is probably the nearest most mortals will get to Jay’s experience.


So, here are my own tips for car washing, culled from many car owners’ forums discussions on detailing, waxing, washing etc. It might sound like something that’s in the realm of the bleedin’ obvious, but a few of these tips made a big difference to me in time, effort and end result.


Firstly, some do’s & don’ts…



  • Don’t use an automatic car wash – the jetwash might be OK if your car is really filthy, but unless you dry the car off quickly, you’ll leave more muck still on than the jet will lift off. You need to be careful using a high-pressure jet anyway (either domestic or professional) on seals and other delicate areas.

    And don’t even go near a rotating-brush car wash unless you really don’t care about scratching the car to bits.


I know a guy who took his estate car through the car wash and when the up-and-over brush got to the back of the car, it ripped his rear wiper off. Then proceeded to batter the roof and bonnet with the wiper that was now embedded in the brush… ba-da-ba-da-ba-daaa… all the way through its return to the front. Cost his insurance company a fortune to put right.


I’ve heard of the same thing happen with car aerials that people forgot to remove, and the aerial stayed wrapped in the brush, only to knock dents all over the next customer’s car…



  • Get a big pack of microfibre cloths – Costco do 30-packs for about £12, and it’s a worthy investment. I’d recommend using microfibre mitts for the actual washing too; more of that in a minute.

  • DO NOT use washing up liquid. It contains salt and is bad for your paintwork, which will end up with a dull finish.

  • DO use a decent car shampoo – you could go crazy and spend a fortune, but I’ve been happy with standard Halfords car wash, and the 5L bottle lasted for years. Maybe when it runs out I’ll try something else, as recommended by AutoExpress.

  • DO NOT use a sponge. They just trap all the muck that you take off the car and redistribute it elsewhere, and if you get grit trapped in the sponge, you run the risk of scoring the paintwork.

    Kent 2in1 Wash MittInstead of a sponge, try using microfibre wash mitts – the good ones will have an elastic cuff to keep it on your hand, and will be dry-lined so you can plunge your hand into a bucket of hot (or freezing cold) water and not get wet.

  • Don’t bother with chamois leathers – they’re often either too dry or too wet to be really effective, and you spend the whole time wringing them out. I find a couple of microfibre cloths are every bit as good.

  • Don’t use abrasive (acidic) alloy wheel cleaners – use the same process to clean your alloys that you’d use for the rest of the car, although you might want to give the wheels a going over with a soft brush first (I have a brush that was originally sold as for the bodywork, but have only ever used on the wheels).

  • If you have what are referred to as “bonded contaminants” (like tar or tree sap), use a clay bar like Meguiars Quik Clay to remove them. This contains a bar (like a small bar of soap), which is rubbed on the paintwork and will lift pretty much anything stuck to the surface without scratching or damaging the paint itself. You simply spray on the “detailing spray” as lubricant then gently rub the clay bar back and forward – it’s almost like magic. I tend to use it after washing if I notice something stuck to the paint, but also go over the whole car once a year to lift other gunk and restore the finish, before giving it a good wax. Here’s a video of Meguiars and Jay Leno talking about the clay bar.

  • Don’t scrimp on the wax; a few years ago a well-known cleaning products company made a thing that you were supposed to just attach to the end of a hosepipe and it cleaned and waxed the car “in a Flash”. Unsurprisingly, it seems to no longer be available… guess the results weren’t quite as expected…

    Anyway, I use two different waxes depending on the car – Meguiars NXT Tech Wax on darker cars, and for my red car, use Bilt Hamber Auto Balm – it really brings up the colour beautifully. Both are easy to apply and make a huge difference to the finish.

  • You might want to invest in some good glass cleaner – Meguiars or Rainex would do the trick, though Windolene might be just as effective – though I’m not sure Windolene’s dilute Sodium Hydroxide and Polyacrylic Acid would be a good thing for the rubber seals around the windows…

Finally, here’s my technique… what you’ll need:



  • 2 x dry, clean, microfibre cloths

  • 2 x dry, clean, microfibre wash mitts

  • 1 x bucket of hot, soapy water

  • 1 x bucket of cold, clean water

  • 1 x soft bristled brush

Start with one wash mitt and the hot water – working from the top of the car down to the bottom of the windows, apply evenly (not slopping too much water around if you can help it). After each panel, dunk the mitt into your cold water bucket and wring it out; you’ll be amazed how quickly that water gets dirty. The key here is that we want to take the muck off the car, not simply spread it around – rinsing the mitt regularly helps enormously.


After doing the roof, glass and mirrors, clean the bonnet/front end, the boot and then the doors. Basically, do the dirtiest bits last (usually along the door sills or the very bottom of the car below the boot). Clean the wheels using the same soapy water and the brush.


Empty both the remnants of the soapy water and the now-murky “clean” water bucket and rinse the buckets. Fill one with cold, clean water and gradually splash it all over the car to wash away any residue of the soapy water.


Take the other (dry) mitt and go over the whole car, drying it off – don’t worry too much about leaving streaks: the point here is to lift off the majority of the remaining water. Once you’ve done that, go over the whole car with one of the microfibre cloths and take the rest of the water off. Finally, take the remaining MF cloth and polish up the windows and go over the bodywork to ensure a streak-free finish.


This whole process probably takes 30 minutes, though it will obviously vary depending on the size and degree of filth of your car. It’s best to do this when the car’s not in direct sunlight and it’s not too warm – otherwise you’ll get evaporation to contend with, and all manner of streaks will appear before you finished even the first step of washing the car.



Right, that’s that. I’m off to get my anorak off…