Category - Computers & Tech

Apple iPad

An OLD article! From 2010.

Let me make it clear right from the start: I am a Windows fan, and Bill Gates is one of my heroes. I would never use anything other than Windows (and there are a lot of sound technical reasons for that). I deliberately avoid buying Apple products: my MP3 player is a Creative Zen, and my smartphone is an HTC Touch HD running Windows Mobile.

However, whenever Apple releases a new product I have to admit that on the surface it looks highly desirable. I think this is how the iPhone took off – it costs a bloody fortune and has (or had) several technical limitations when it was released (i.e. ringtone customisation/cannot use mp3 files for ringtones, no video recording, limited Flash support when browsing, etc.)… but it still took off because it looks great and was hyped on that strength.

The same is true of the MacBook Air. It looks gorgeous, and if its performance were in any way related to its looks it would currently be running for office, and be a dead cert for next US President. But it has upgrade limitations, restricted connectivity, bloody expensive with a tiny hard drive, and you can’t replace the battery.

And as far as the iPod goes, Apple’s bad record with non-user replaceable batteries and DRM-protected (originally, anyway) files is well known. But it looks great.

The keyword in all that is ‘looks’. Apple has appearance down to a fine art.

Yesterday, the iPad was announced. It is a tablet computer and… yes, it looks absolutely beautiful!
Steve Jobs And The iPad
But based on previous Apple performance issues, does it really achieve anything new?

This story in the Daily Mail highlights some of the drawbacks which are actually rather serious:

  • It cannot run more than one application at a time – so you can’t fire up a wordprocessor, then switch to a browser. One has to be shut down and the other started, and vice versa
  • It has no camera (of any kind)
  • It can’t handle Flash – so browsing is extremely limited
  • It uses a touchscreen keyboard – but Apple will sell a proper keyboard for $70!
  • It has no card slots or USB ports – but surprise, surprise! It has an iPod port. So you can pay out more money for an adapter if you want to connect non-Apple peripherals to it via the iPod port
  • iPad owners will only be able to download apps from the Apple Store – yet it is being touted as “the most innovative product in the world of netbooks”
  • The display is not HD-ready and the 4:3 format means widescreen will have a bar at the top and bottom
  • It will cost $499 (or £308) in the US – but no British price has been announced. I’ll lay odds it will be around £500 or even more over here.

Critics are labelling it as an oversized iPhone, and the web is already awash with virals poking fun at its limitations.

I’ve included a couple of YouTube movies below – I warn you, they’re parodies involving Hitler’s Response to the iPad, so don’t watch them if that is likely to offend you. Oh, and there’s a lot of bad language.


But I agree that the iPad is likely to be successful – even though it probably shouldn’t be.

In-car Video Camera

This is a very old article. Cameras have come a long way since I wrote it. However, I still haven’t found one I am completely happy with.

EDIT: I have updated the VholdR links below – the website is now under the Contour name and the old website no longer exists. Sorry for any confusion.

VholdR Contour HD 1080p Action CamcorderI think I mentioned in a previous post that I had tried various camera systems in my car. The last one was a 550 line bullet cam – great video, but a real pain with the cables (plus the separate recorder: I started with an Archos hard disk unit, then experimented with a SanDisk V-mate memory card recorder).

I saw this in one of my computer magazines last month. It’s the VholdR Contour HD 1080p (actually, the one in the magazine was the 720p, but I did a bit of reading first).

It is a full-HD camera, and it records directly to a micro SD memory card. At full HD (1080p) a 16GB card will hold around 4 hours of video (it comes with a 2GB card), and it also has several resolutions – various 1080p sizes, 720p (so a 16GB card will hold 8 hours of footage), and WVGA (16 hours on a single card). It is battery operated, so no cables to worry about.

Windscreen MountIt is tiny… it just about sits in the palm of your hand. There is a range of accessories – the one I have been waiting for is the windscreen mount (and it came while I was writing this). My car is in the garage for a recurring fault today so I haven’t been able to try the mount properly yet, but it is extremely solid (made of metal and plastic). I’m also waiting for a 16GB card to arrive.

VholdR (now under the Contour name) – the company which makes the camera – is based in the USA and specialises in extreme sports. The Contour is designed to be wearable – it is supplied with several mounts allowing you to fit it to your helmet or goggles if you are skiing, skydiving, or bike-riding. You can also get a handlebar mount – and one which I like a lot is a waterproof mount so you can take underwater videos!

If you have a look at the VholdR (Contour) website you can see the quality of the footage it takes. There are lots of videos taken by extreme sports enthusiasts (and people who aren’t so extreme – when I used to go skiing I did scarier stuff than that by accident). Seriously, though, you can see how useful it is being able to wear something so small which delivers such high quality. You can also download VholdR’s own software for editing the video.. It isn’t cheap – not in the UK, anyway. The 1080p costs £350 everywhere! The 720p is £250. The official UK distributor is Madison. However, if you look around – and if you don’t mind ordering from overseas eBay sellers – the 1080p only costs $330 (which currently converts to £205). I suggest Easy Does It Customs (in Pittsburgh, PA). EDIT: They don’t list on eBay anymore. Google for “Contour HD” and you’ll find it for as little as £119 in the UK now (as of July 2012) – or the Plus version with GPS at around £300.. .

Windows 7 And HP 1220C Printer

When I first installed RC1, I had a few problems getting my HP Deskjet 1220C to run. The drivers wouldn’t install from disk.

Windows 7: Deskjet 1220C Installed

Windows 7: Deskjet 1220C Installed

After reading some complete rubbish about how this printer isn’t supported – some of it on Microsoft’s own forums by people it elevates to MVP – I discovered that it IS supported.

Windows 7 will automatically install 1220C drivers when you plug in/turn on the printer. You do not need any extra software or drivers for the 1220c. Support is built right in to Windows 7.

The graphic here shows the 1220C installed and ready to go on my clean install of the commercial version of Windows 7 Ultimate. I can assure you it is printing perfectly.

It never ceases to amaze me how much bad information gets spread on the Internet. People say something, defend it, then evidence arises that totally contradicts their original statement… and they still defend it! You really do wonder what planet they are on sometimes.

Anyone listening to the idiot who claimed the 1220C wasn’t supported – and who also defended that claim vehemently – could have gone out and spent another £100+ on a printer unnecessarily.

EDIT 2/12/09: I’m getting a lot of hits for this post – I’d be interested to hear from people about whether it helped them or not. Did you get your printer working after reading this? What problems had you had which made you search for it? You can use the contact form .

EDIT 08/07/2010: I’m still getting a lot of hits for this post. I should also point out that when I installed the commercial version of Windows 7 Ultimate, my printer worked perfectly first time. Any problems I had with RC1 seem to have been specifically to do with RC1, and not Windows itself.

Windows 7 And HP G4010 Scanner

I thought I’d added this, but I can’t find it. I’ve commented recently about the Windows 7 drivers (or lack thereof) for my new HP Scanjet G4010 , and how I got round the problem by using W7’s XP Mode.

I was angry that HP had apparently programmed the installer not to work on anything other than Vista or earlier, but had told me via Tech Support that W7 drivers would be released once W7 was itself released. Well, on the day W7 was released I checked HP’s site and it had definitely been updated. There was a link to ‘how to get W7 drivers’ but nothing downloadable at the end of it, and nothing of any use from a technical perspective.

I can’t remember what made me do it – or even what it was exactly that I did – but without downloading anything at all, the drivers now install. The scanner works under W7.

On the one hand, I am happy. But I don’t like how HP did this, or what they apparently did to unlock the installer. I mean, what DID they do? I didn’t authorise any download, but something obviously got through.

EDIT 06/11/2009: I’m noticing a few hits for this. If this post helps anyone, could you drop me a line using the Contact Form to let me know?

One thing I will point out is that although the scanner works, the toolbox which contains the OCR software doesn’t. However, take a look at this link for SimpleOCR – a freeware OCR program.

I’m waiting for my copy of W7 Ultimate to arrive, and when it does I’ll be doing a clean install on my Vista partition. If anyone is having trouble with their G4010 scanner, I will check out what I do for them and post back here.

EDIT 13/11/09: I’m still getting hits for this. Note that the HP website says that the G4010 is definitely on the list referred to by the following:

The following list of scanners already have, or will soon have, full software support for Microsoft Windows 7. The Microsoft Windows 7 solution can be found either in the CD shipped with the scanner or at the HP support web site (…


EDIT 21/11/09: Just to point out that mine has stopped working even under Virtual XP. My PC just tells me the scanner isn’t connected or there is a problem. If you connect it under W7 you are likely to get a Blue Screen.


EDIT 2/12/09: Let me also clarify that SimpleOCR does not magically make the scanner work under Windows 7. The G4010 does not have W7 drivers, yet. Period. I mentioned SimpleOCR because it DID work for me whilst the scanner was functioning under Virtual XP. Seeing as it doesn’t anymore, SimpleOCR is just a separate piece of software.

EDIT 19/1/2010: There is an updated post detailing a possible workaround here .

EDIT 28/02/2010: For anyone too lazy to search properly, drivers are now available and mentioned in this post .

EDIT 21/06/2010: This post is proving very popular. Someone just found it on the search term “how to use ocr in hp g4010 scanners”. It’s easy – if you have installed the W7 drivers from HP which I linked to above.

Make sure the scanner is turned on and connected, open the HP Solution Center, then click “Scan Document”. You can then select from a list of different file types from TIF, through PDF and email, RTF and Word, all the way down to lowly WordPad. Then click “scan”. The rest is self-explanatory.

Sat Navs and The USS Enterprise

I’ve noticed a new and worrying trend amongst certain drivers as I’m travelling around each day, involving sat nav devices.

The manual for TomTom sat navs is quite clear on how and where to mount the unit, and why.

Tom Tom Sat Nav ManualI am seeing more and more people with these things mounted right in the middle of the windscreen – presumably so they don’t have to move their heads to look at it. Only last night I was behind a woman in a black Mini Cooper and the sat nav was mounted right in the vertical centre of the windscreen and considerably to the right side of the rearview mirror.

The problem is that it always seems to be a certain kind of person – a development, if you like, of the chavs and boyracers. I guess the boys like to think they’re riding around the universe in Fireball XL-5 or something. Not sure what the girls do it for (I won’t say anything about navigational ability here).

Joking aside, it’s only a matter of time before someone has an accident and it is lack of visibility that has contributed. The girl I saw last night – and she is one of several this week – flew through a 20mph zone at well above the limit, and zoomed around a corner at traffic lights in typical try-to-rip-the-steering-wheel-off-and-do-it-on-two-wheels chav-like style.

Windows 7: XP Mode Update

A few months ago I bought a new scanner – an HP G4010. At this time I was using Vista Ultimate (64-bit).

Windows 7 is still unreleased, so anyone installing it needs to be aware that it isn’t yet the full package – and that is especially true of drivers. There are few third party W7 drivers available at the moment – Hewlett Packard informed me that a W7 driver for the G4010  is on the way, but it isn’t available yet.

Now, so far I’ve not had a problem with many drivers or other software. Most of the Vista stuff installs and runs perfectly on W7 , with a few exceptions (but betas are often available). One piece of software I am very annoyed with is Raxco’s PerfectDisk 2008 . Unlike most software, this one is deliberately programmed only to install under Vista so even if it worked under W7 (which is quite possible, since W7 is based on Vista anyway), it is deliberately prevented from installing. In other words, you are forced to upgrade – and I consider that to be a rip-off, even if upgrading is only $19.99.

I was a little annoyed to find that HP’s installer for the G4010 also wouldn’t run at all. No error – it is just deliberately prevented from running on anything other than XP or Vista . I’ve since had a fiddle with W7 and it appears that the drivers wouldn’t work even if they would install, so I’ll have to wait until the full W7 release before HP releases specific drivers.

But this is where W7’s XP Mode comes into its own. The XP drivers install perfectly on the Virtual Machine and the scanner is up and running again. So for the time being, if I need to scan or do OCR, I can do it in Virtual XP and immediately switch to W7 to use the files produced.

Windows 7 is fast and extremely versatile.

Windows 7: XP Mode Rocks!

EDIT 18/6/2012: This article was written in 2009, and the spec for my machine then was fairly decent. Now, it’s pathetically out-dated. I am just spec’ing up a new machine which I intend to build during the next month or so.

I’ve been using the evaluation version of Windows 7 and I’ve got to say it is incredibly stable, based on my own experiences. But I’ve just installed the XP Mode functionality, and I’m blown away.

One piece of software I regret losing (unless I use my old XP system) is Flash MX . I had regularly upgraded my version of Flash, but when Adobe took over Macromedia , it simply became impossible to justify the cost. In keeping with Adobe’s pricing policy, I would have had to hand over close to £400, 4 pints of blood, and probably both kidneys in order to upgrade any further. And when Vista came along, Flash MX ceased to work.

But anyway, I was aware of the so-called ‘XP Mode’ that Windows 7 was going to contain. So I downloaded and installed the necessary files from Microsoft’s site. Installation was very quick – this is something I have noticed with Windows 7 : it is very fast compared with Vista.

Flash MX installed first time and it works like a dream. XP Mode obviously isn’t as fast as plain old XP on a dedicated machine (it is a virtual machine), but it is perfectly usable.

You need to have a decent spec for your PC to get the best out of it. Mine’s running a quad core processor with 4GB RAM, and has a 8800 GTS video card – but as long as your processor can handle VT functionality you should be OK.

Microsoft was doing a special offer until recently, where you could pre-order Windows 7 Professional for £99.99. The email they sent me suggested Windows 7 Ultimate would only be available to OEM builders. However, it turns out that you can pre-order Ultimate for £199.99 or delivery October 22. I’ve put my order in already – I’m glad I missed that special offer deadline, as I was going to pre-order the Pro version.

In Europe, Windows 7 is shipping without Internet Explorer – the E version – and there’s also a version without Windows Media Player – the N version. Bloody stupid EU!

I want a PC I can use, not one I can boast about having Linux on to my idiot mates.

EDIT 30/09/2009: I’ve noticed a few people searching for the preorder deadline . Microsoft did offer a special price if you preordered before a certain date, but this expired in early August. I missed it myself, but I am glad I did – the offer was only for the basic and professional editions, as I was given to believe that the Ultimate edition would only be available to system builders. It turns out you WILL be able to buy the Ultimate edition.

I have preordered mine, and it is due for delivery on or after 22 October 2009 (the release date). You can preorder the other versions too (click here for the Microsft order page (out of date) or here for the (cheaper) Amazon page (out of date)) – but not with any special pricing that I am aware of. The Ultimate edition is priced at just under £200.

EDIT 18/4/2011: Just for completeness, I am using XP mode on my Windows 7 Ultimate system (and have been since Windows 7 was launched) and it is incredible.

Sending Fax Via Skype – Be Careful!

Skype LogoOK. So I switched my phone provider from BT to Virgin and, as a result, I do not have an extension upstairs. I needed to send a fax urgently from my PC so I started looking around for something which would let me do it.

Initially I tried using a DECT transmitter to get a signal upstairs, and although it worked fine for sending the fax it would simply not ring the phones on any incoming call. So I had to do away with it, even though it was really a great piece of kit… on paper, anyway.

The fact I hadn’t got a fax system was eating me up, so I thought that there simply must be something for Skype . Surprisingly little, as it happens – at least if you are thinking free or cheap.

I found something called PamFax. Looks the business, and I just needed to send another fax so I fired it up. The pay-as-you-go option costs something like € 0.14 per page (allegedly – see below), charged to your Skype account, and that’s not too bad… are you ready for this?

I scanned in my document, and after PamFax refusing to send it because it couldn’t count the number of pages in the PDF file I’d created, I downloaded some freeware which converts PDF to DOC files. So I fired up Word 2007 and tried again.

I was informed that the number I was sending the fax to (an 0870 number) was “either slow or a mobile/business number” so the cost was “adjusted slightly”.

My heart spontaneously began beating again when I realised there was a “cancel” button… but it had stopped shortly after I read ” the new charge will be €33.43 “.

Yep. The price was going to jump from 14 cents up to nearly 34 Euros – 240 times the original price . No excuse for this whatsoever and it is a total rip-off – I can call that 0870 landline number from Skype for a standard rate, and fax using a normal fax system for the same rate on a landline.

PamFax is going to be saying hello to Mr Recycle Bin later tonight. I thought I’d found something decent, but I was sadly mistaken – don’t fall for this and be aware of it if you install PamFax .

Now, if it kills me I’m going to figure out how to use my smartphone as a modem.

EDIT: As it happens, PamFax and Mr Recycle Bin didn’t get on too well (it wouldn’t uninstall cleanly). I had to get rid of most of it by editing the Registry directly. Pile of garbage, it is.

EDIT 02/05/2010: Just for the record, I installed Sky HD in an upstairs room and part of the agreement is that I have to have it connected to a phone line for the first 12 months (I don’t have an issue with that – the only problem was: NO PHONE LINE UPSTAIRS).

Now, it would cost close to £100 to have an extension fitted, so I returned to the idea of the DECT transmitter sold by Maplin . This time, though, instead of connecting the downstairs phone to the base unit, I just used a splitter on the main socket and plugged the phone into one side and the DECT unit to the other. It works perfectly, so I have a phone line I can use for faxes near my PC now.

EDIT 29/12/2011: I noticed someone found this page using “can you use PamFax to send a fax to an 0870 number”. In summary, yes you can – but when I tried it, it tried to bill me €33.43. That’s over £30 (or nearly $50) for a single page in my case (at current exchange rates).

Take my advice, DO NOT USE PAMFAX – IT IS A RIP-OFF. You would not know how much it was billing you unless you sat and watched every fax it sent. And £30 per page is criminal.

Cordless Soldering Iron

Iroda Solderpro 120 Cordless Soldering IronAfter my irritation at having to queue in Maplin the other night, I went back today and bought that cordless soldering iron I was after.

The Iroda Solderpro 120 runs on butane gas. I’ve installed an extension cable in my car so I can run an inverter, and the terminals I used to connect it to the battery were just too bulky (a lot of metal in them) for my normal soldering irons to be able to cope with – they just couldn’t heat the metal up enough for the solder to form a pool and stick. For the record, I couldn’t even crimp the damned things properly, they’re that big.

This little tool is well up to the job. It charges up with butane very quickly and easily, and you don’t need any of those daft attachments to lose in the bottom of the tool box. It ignites immediately, and is ready to use in seconds. You can adjust the temperature with a small slider, so the tool actually rates at between 30-125W depending on the setting of this.

It is extremely well-built. It has a nice solid feel to it – reassuring when you’re effectively holding a bomb in your hand! You can also get attachments which turn it into a cutting tool for plastics, a tool for repairing jewellery, and so on. It operates as a pinpoint blow-torch if you take the tip off.

It made short work of fixing those badly crimped cables. They’re now well and truly soldered to the terminal rings.

Maplin also stock lower power versions – the Solderpro 50 and Solderpro 70. I’m seriously thinking of getting one of each of these as the convenience of not having a cable trailing and being able to solder in more comfortable situations is very appealing. I do quite a bit of soldering on computers and other electronic/electrical equipment and having to be close to a power outlet has always been a bit of a nuisance.

Iroda Solderpro 70 and Solderpro 50If you’re looking for a soldering iron and always thought – as I did – that cordless ones were pretty pathetic (some of them are), then this is really worth looking into.