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Friday, 18 November 2011

Why is it so hard to buy extra RAM?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I managed to buy a PC with only half the RAM I'd intended, following some carelessness by PC World and a lack of checking by myself. I decided to buy the missing 2GB of memory using the £80 refund PC World gave me.

First, I opened up my PC to look at the memory slots. There were two, one of them empty. I carefully took out the RAM board to look for a product code or something that would let me order a new one. As has happened every time I've tried this in the past, all I could find were several very long numbers, which might mean something to the manufacturer, but certainly don't mean anything to me. I carefully made a note of what the RAM looked like, put it back in, and booted up my PC. (With a quick check in case it now thought it had 0GB.)

Why the manufacturers make it so hard to order more of their product is beyond me. Maybe not enough PC owners get round to installing extra RAM, or maybe they are actually providing all the information I need, but I'm just too ignorant to work out what they're telling me.


Onto Lenovo's web site; surely they would be able to tell me what RAM to order. No, they mentioned the H420, but I couldn't find a spec for it. A colleague mentioned Crucial, who list loads of PCs and the memory they need. They had several Lenovos, but not mine. That's what comes of buying a new model, I guess. Then I read about a free program you could download that tells you all the intimate details of your machine. I won't give you its name, because their web site managed to trick me into downloading and installing a completely different program, which also changed my default search engine in all three browsers I've got installed, as well as insinuating itself via unwanted toolbars and start up settings. It goes by the name of iLivid, and I've been seeing tempting download ads for it all over the place recently. That might just be ad servers spotting I've got a cookie from it though. uLivid would be a better name for it. I thought I'd managed to get rid of it last week, but I found today that it had got back into IE9. The icing on the cake was that the program I was looking for claimed it was getting incorrect values from Lenovo, and couldn't really be sure what RAM I needed. I uninstalled that too.

While reading up furiously about the different types of RAM available (including the bizarre discovery that 10600 and 10700 mean the same thing, because it's actually 10666 but vendors round it up or down in case the '666' puts people off), I came across a company called Orca based in Surrey. They also had a memory checker facility, which couldn't tell me about my model (although I see it now can), but which did offer me the chance to e-mail for help. I told them my model number and hoped for the best.

It was a Saturday, so I was more than a little surprised to get a reply at 16.45 telling me exactly what I needed to know, and even pointing me into their on-line catalogue where I could order the new RAM. It turned up earlier this week, and is now sitting comfortably inside its slot, working just fine.

Now that's service!

And just for the record, the Lenovo H420 takes 240-Pin DDR3 DIMM PC3-10600 (1333MHz).

Yes at the Apollo

Down to Hammersmith Apollo last night to see Yes in concert. The last time I saw them it was on their 90125 tour, so quite a while ago now. Three of the band must be in their sixties, and their lead singer has been replaced by a more youthful version, but the magic was definitely still there.

Going to see a band that came to fame in the early 1970's is an odd experience: the fans are largely the same people who went to their concerts forty years ago. I'm in my fifties, but I was far from the oldest there. And what a white, aging, middle-class audience we made. As I was in Circle, row S, for the first time ever I decided to take my long distance glasses with me. I needed them too.

The Apollo is enormous, but Yes seemed to have sold it out. There was an empty seat in front of me (and I would like to thank whatever virus or mechanical defect made that possible), but otherwise the place looked chock full. I hadn't been there since a Hawkwind concert in the mid-eighties, when it still the Hammersmith Odeon, though I've seen it on telly since, of course.

The music was excellent, with the performances seeming to get better and better as the show progressed. A third to a half of it was off their latest album, 'Fly from Here'. I'm a dedicated Yes fan, but even I have to admit that much of their studio output over the last 25 years or so has been very disappointing. 'Fly from Here' is a real gem though, and all the better for being so unexpected.

When I first got to know Yes, in 1976, I started to hunt down their albums in record shops. I had no idea what they'd produced, and for a couple of years I could still come across albums I hadn't heard of. Nowadays when I discover a group or artist I like, I google them and immediately learn their entire discography. Chances are they're on Spotify, so I can straight away start listening to them too.

It is so easy to consume music now, but some part of the thrill of discovery is gone forever.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

We welcome our 4000th visitor

Sometime today this blog clocked up its 4000th page view. (Not that I've been checking every day for the last week.) Given that I started The Wrong Side of 50 in June 2009, I'm obviously not setting the internet on fire yet, and over a third of my hits came from the death threat story. Still, I feel I can give myself a gentle pat on the back for sticking at it this long.

And thanks also to everyone who's visited here. From the page stats Google gives me, a lot of you are just trying to find technical fixes, but that's okay, as one of my main reasons for starting this blog was to post knowledge I wished I could find somewhere else.

Speaking of the stats, can anyone explain what happened on October 28? The day before I got 6 visits, the day after a more typical 2. But on the 28th itself there were suddenly 104 visits. And Russia shows up as the most popular source of visitors. (I have a picture of some poor Russian Nexus S owner trying to connect their phone to Windows XP, returning over and over again to my site, trying to make sense of my notes.)

I've averaged a post every couple of weeks, though I have been a bit better in the last couple of months. I shall try to keep up the pace, or even increase it, and maybe I can get to 8000 visits before I hit my 55th birthday.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A Farewell to Windows XP

After nearly a decade of using Windows XP, I've finally moved to a more up to date operating system. I am now the proudish owner of a Lenovo H420 running Windows 7 Home.

The excitement of a new computer is always soon tempered by the realisation of how many programs need installing on it, as well as the long slog of getting all your settings correct, and the other long slog of rooting out all the unwanted rubbish that the manufacturer thought you might like. I bought it on a Saturday, but wasn't happy with it until Sunday the following week. (Not that I spent eight solid days on it, mind.)

Mostly it went very smoothly. In the case of Google Chrome, it was almost effortless: as soon as I enabled Chrome Sync, it transferred all my previous settings, and even installed my chosen set of plug-ins. Python was a less happy experience, when I discovered that the last of my essential libraries wasn't available in 64 bit form, and so had to uninstall all the others and start again with the 32 bit versions. I had similar incompatibilities with 64 bit Eclipse and Java. That, though, wasn't my fault, as the Java download page doesn't offer you a choice, and merrily installs the 32 bit version.

By last Sunday most of my treasured functionality was available again; I just had to add a folder to my $PATH variable. I brought up the System section in the control panel, and got two shocks. Incredibly, the editor for environment variables is still the cramped, rubbishy little box it was in the nineties:

How hard would it be to give us a proper dialog for entering these values? Instead you have to type in a list of semicolon-separated folder names, nearly all of which start with 'C:\Program Files' so you quickly get lost if you try scrolling through it. Unbelievable. Contrast that with the improvements made to the 'Extract All' option for zip files: Windows XP brings up a three pane wizard, while Windows 7 sensibly combines these three into a single screen. I cannot believe nobody at Microsoft finds this editor annoying. Maybe it's legacy code that Steve Ballmer wrote, and everyone's too scared to change it.

That was my first shock. The other came when I happened to glance at the installed memory figure. 2.00GB? The PC I ordered had 4GB. And what's this? A Celeron processor, where I thought I had bought an i3 core. Yes, I had managed to come away from PC World with the wrong computer. I'd reserved a £350 Lenovo H420 on their web site, then gone to collect it. They'd given me the £270 version instead. The receipt was okay though!

The details were there to see on the box, but I'd been too busy opening it. And the Intel Inside sticker on the front of the PC did say 'Celeron'. But I put 'desktop' PCs on the floor, so the sticker ended up conveniently situated at carpet level.

PC World offered to wipe the PC I had and give me the correct model. However, as they'd proved incapable of getting the correct box out of their back room I decided against handing over a computer full of my personal details in the hope that they might remember to clean the disc before they sold it on. Also, after all the work I'd put in getting the PC up and running, I was in no mood to go back to square one. In the end I settled for a refund of the difference in price. The main reason for buying the computer in the first place was to get some more speed, and this machine seems fast enough.

Here's some advice for PC World at Clifton Moor, York: when someone comes to pick up reserved goods, wipe the goods through your barcode scanner, not the reservation paperwork. As to Lenovo, given that a naming system that brings forth such memorable gems as 'H420' allows for 26000 possibilities, maybe you could try not giving two different computers the same model number. As for me, I've learned the importance of reading the label before opening the box.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

How to Stop AutoHotkey from sticking the Shift Key

AutoHotkey is an excellent little program I've mentioned before that lets you define keyboard shortcuts and automatic corrections to your typing. I set it up so that typing Ctrl + Shift + F12 would insert the current date as a text string. Then, when I open my day book (formerly a Word document, now in the Google cloud), I can quickly insert the heading for today. That worked fine. Then I decided to improve it, so that it would start by moving to the end of the document, and also add a newline at the end. Now, not so good. Sure, it moved to the end, and it inserted the correct text. However, afterwards my PC acted as thought the control and shift keys were being held stuck down.

I could clear the problem by actually pressing the keys myself, but this was hardly an elegant solution. After a bit of research I believe that this is an AutoHotkey bug. I present this workaround:

SendMode Input

; - Insert Date Time stamp
   KeyWait, Shift
   KeyWait, Ctrl
   FormatTime, xx,, dddd d MMMM yyyy
   Send ^{End}%xx%{Enter}

That fixed it for me. Now I just need it to put the date into bold italic.