Halfords Fails, Local Bike Shop Wins

A while ago, Sam acquired a bike.  It was abandoned where she was working, so she managed to track down the person who’d left it, and bought it from them.  It’s a Claud Butler hybrid.  This was a while ago, but we’ve only just got around to trying to get it fixed up for use.  I’d had a go myself, but wasn’t confident of making it safe.

Along with getting Sam’s bike serviced, we wanted to buy a bike for me.  There would be limited fun to be had in Sam having a bike if I couldn’t come along too.  We’d popped into the local bike shop to have a look, but they had a rather limited range – plenty of options if you wanted a Land Rover branded bike, but very little else.  Halfords had a good range to look at, and were open at nice convenient times.  So we booked the bike in to be serviced and fixed up.

I spent a fair bit of time looking at their bikes, and reading up online.  I spent some time chatting to one of the staff who seemed quite knowledgeable, and settled on their Carrera Vulcan Disc 08.  I was planning on ordering it as soon as we knew Sam’s bike was fixed up and working, just in case there were any nasty surprises there.

The service was booked in for Monday, so we took it along on Monday evening, to collect on Tuesday evening.  When we arrived on Tuesday, it hadn’t even made it to the back room – it was still sitting with the front wheel removed, on the shop floor.  The staff there couldn’t tell us why it hadn’t been done, just that they’d probably run short of time.  A bit annoying that we hadn’t been told, but we’d hardly gone far out of our way, so it didn’t matter too much.  They said it would definitely be done the next day, so we could pop back in then.  We said that was ok, but we’d probably leave it until the weekend.

We decided to go and collect it on Friday evening.  This time, they didn’t know if it had been done or not, only that the wheel wasn’t on, so it probably hadn’t.  We said we’d come back the next day.

This afternoon, back we went again, and it still hadn’t been looked at.  So this time, we took the bike back, put it in the back of the car, and took it to the local bike shop in the town centre.  They’ll service it quicker and cheaper.  That means they get to sell me a new bike too.

I went for the Land Rover G4 – it’s a hardtail mountain bike, with front and rear disc brakes.  It has Shimano gears, and a SunTour fork, which is the sort of thing that seems to mean something to people who actually know about bikes.  I have a helmet and gloves, and a cable lock.  I’ve just ordered a handlebar mount to attach my torch (LED Lenser Police Tech Focus) to it.  Now I just need to find a nice soft surface somewhere so it won’t hurt too much when we have our first try of cycling in many years.

Me, Statistically Speaking

Came across Daytum when I spotted the awesome and deity-like Merlin playing with it. Fancied a go myself, so sent a request to access the beta version.

Everything you need to know about my everyday comings and goings in handy bite-sized chunks. From how much time I spend at the gym to exactly how much time in my day I spend squeeing over DCI Hunt. Fab.

Upgrading My Camera Kit

Once we sold our house, and had a bit of money to spare, I wanted to upgrade my camera kit.  I had a Nikon D40, with the kit 18-55 lens, along with a 55-200 VR lens.  Together, they could handle most things, but there were a few problems:

  • I often missed shots because I had the wrong lens on the camera.  Things that move often do so, or fly away, before you’ve had time to change lenses.  Also, if I had the wrong lens on the camera for a shot, I’d often just not take the shot rather than stop in the street swapping lenses around.
  • Although I was generally impressed with the D40 for the low price, it’s not especially speedy, especially with RAW files.
  • 6 megapixels.  Plenty for most things I want to do, but doesn’t leave a lot of spare for cropping.
  • Lighting is very limited with the built-in flash.  I could add an off-camera flash to the D40, but only by adding a controller, or an SB-800 to act as a controller alongside another flash.  Both options are expensive.

I also had a Canon G9, and had taken to carrying and using it more often than the D40, but it was far too slow to use for everything.

My solution was this kit:

  • Nikon D90
  • Nikon 18-200 VR lens
  • Nikon SB-600 flash

So far, it’s done everything I’d hoped and more.  I don’t carry the G9 now, but Sam uses it.  The old Ixus she was using has found a new home.

The Camera

The camera itself is much more of a step-up from the D40 than I’d expected.  It’s quite a bit faster in taking pictures, but seems to make a really big difference in focusing speed, too.  It’s the first camera I’ve used where I get the best results by just letting it look after the focusing all on its own, even letting it choose the focus points to use.  It just gets shots the D40 couldn’t get.

The image quality is great, as you’d expect.  The performance at higher ISO is much better.  RAW files that Aperture wouldn’t open were a problem, but Apple fixed that one in an update.  Handling is very good, and it feels nicely solid.  The metering seems accurate, so I just leave it to get on with it.

The Lens

No more losing shots because I have the wrong lens on the camera – now I only have one lens.  There are obviously image quality trade-offs to get so much zoom range in a single lens, but nothing that’s been too noticeable to me so far.  Being able to go from moderately wide to moderately telephoto in a second is very liberating.  I love being able to grab the camera and take a photo without having to worry about whether I have to take it apart and change lenses first.

The Flash

I’ve never used anything but on-camera built-in flash before.  I’ve been reading Strobist for a while, though, and it starts to get to you.  The SB-600 seemed a better deal than the SB-800, especially as Jessops did it for £50 less when bought with the D90.  I’ve not done enough experimenting with it to give much opinion yet, but I’m impressed so far.

Once everything is set up in the first place, taking a shot with off-camera lighting is very easy:

  • Pull camera and flash from my bag.
  • Switch on the flash, and attach its little ‘foot’ if it needs to stand upright.
  • Point the flash where I want it.
  • Switch on the camera, and press the button to pop up the built-in flash (it uses this to talk to the SB-600).
  • Take pictures.

The camera and flash between them look after everything else.

The Kit

It’s a neat kit.  In total, about the same size as the D40 kit with two lenses, but can do much more.  It’s probably a bit heavier.  It all fits in a nice small Lowepro shoulder bag, so I carry it everywhere.  I’m tempted to add another flash – maybe an SB-800 next, so I can do two-flash setups – but I’m not in a great hurry for that.  Maybe in time for the trip to London that I seem to have been persuaded to go on.

Buying Drives at Staples

I decided I wanted a new external USB drive to go with my Mac, to use for Time Machine backups.  We already had two LaCie drives, and liked them a lot, so figured another 500Gb one would do nicely.

When we came to look at them in our local Staples (in Exeter), I spotted another option – a 500Gb Buffalo NAS drive.  It would hang directly on the network, available to both of us without having to worry about which machine is switched on at the time.  I figured it was worth the extra.  We’d copy the data from Sam’s current external drive to the NAS, and I’d have the current drive for my backups.

It was an opened pack, but only because it was the display box (they keep empty boxes on display, and get a fresh one from the warehouse).  When we started it up, though, I couldn’t connect to it from my Mac.  After a few attempts, including connecting direct to it’s IP address by SMB and HTTP, I installed the diagnostic software on Sam’s PC.  It was in ‘engineering mode’, which meant it had failed to boot from the hard drive.  This wasn’t looking good, but it seemed worth reinstalling the drive firmware, so I gave that a go.

It worked.

The drive was around half full.

Of someone else’s data.

Including photos of a lady I assume was his wife.

Wearing no clothes.

Oh dear.

On the plus side, though, he had good taste in music, and a good collection on the drive.  Unfortunately, it died again before I could copy any of it off, and never came back to life.

Back to Staples the next day, and spoke to the manager.  He was very helpful and apologetic.  He also offered a very reasonable explanation of how it was likely to have happened.  He assured me that any returned products go back to the manufacturers, but the manufacturers sometimes send them back saying no fault was found.  I’m guessing 95% of returned NAS boxes get sent back because someone buys it without knowing what it really is, plugs it into their network, then can’t understand why it doesn’t just appear in My Computer like a USB drive would.

That was the only NAS they had in stock, so I suggested that if they’d be willing to do a good deal on a USB drive, I’d be happy to take that instead.  He offered me a reasonably nice deal to make up for the inconvenience, then after we’d agreed on that, added a nice little refund to my card to the deal because I’d been so good about the whole thing.

We left the store with a 1Tb USB drive from Western Digital, and still happy to deal with Staples.

Switching to Mac Part 3: The Unboxing

This post is part of a series of posts about switching to a Mac – here are links to all the posts:

Apple I’ll start by saying there are no photos here, and no videos.  Sorry.  I’m sure that’s been done plenty of times before.

I’ve unboxed a pretty good share of new PCs from various makes.  It’s mostly a pleasant enough experience, though there’s usually that big chunk of time at the end removing all the crapware that’s been preinstalled for your convenience.

So, how is opening an iMac different?

Well, the box was quite well designed, with the introductory bits sitting neatly at the top, so you get to them before the computer, but that’s not too unusual.  I was a bit puzzled by one of the little CD-sized packages, which turned out to be a plain black microfibre polishing cloth, with a small embossed Apple logo.  A simple extra, but nice.  Gives you a little message up front that you’ll be wanting to look after this machine, and care for it, rather than just agreeing to lots of EULAs.

The machine itself was heavy.  Especially considering that at the moment, it’s just sitting on a folding table that wobbles rather more than I’d like.  The power cable plugs neatly into the back, and has a ring around it that fits flushly with the back of the machine, to make it look more like a hard-wired cable.  There are a few other sockets, but nothing else was needed to get it going, as my keyboard and mouse were wireless, and it has WiFi built in.

On powering on, the machine seemed to know it should have a wireless keyboard and mouse.  It displayed a couple of diagrams, showing me where to put the batteries in my mouse, and how to switch it on.  Once I’d done that, it found the mouse, and a ‘next’ button appeared.  It found the keyboard without much trouble, though I don’t think it actually explained where to put the batteries and find the power button in that case.  It wasn’t difficult.

I told it what account to set up, and confirmed that I didn’t have another Mac to migrate from, and I was pretty much done.  There are apps preinstalled that I may never use, but it isn’t full of demo versions and crap nobody would ever want.

The main impression I had on having it all set up and running at home, after seeing it in the store, was that it was big.  It didn’t look small in the store, but in our living room, it really looks big.  I guess it’s not long ago that 24″ would have been a pretty impressive size for a TV set for a family to watch from the other side of the room.  Now I’m sitting at a screen that size to work and play.

The odd thing is that if anything, I seem to have more desk space spare than when I was using a small notebook PC.  It’s a big screen, but a small footprint on the desk.  The keyboard is tiny, and when I’m not using them, the keyboard and mouse can both sit on top of the ‘foot’ the machine stands on.  It’s all very neat.

I’ll continue soon with more thoughts on how I’ve settled in to using a Mac after I’d had a bit more time to get used to it.