Winchester Waitrose

Just come back from the new Winchester Waitrose. Upsides are:

  • Large; decent selection of food.

  • Looks like usual upscale Waitrose food quality.

  • Pleasant, well-turned out, professional staff (Sainsbury’s Winchester, I’m looking at you here).

  • Clean and well-presented store (once again, a glance in Sainsbury’s direction).

Downsides:

  • It’s too far out of town. OK, it probably isn’t if you have a car, I admit. I’m in the minority by avoiding one for cost reasons (which might cause one to question why I choose to shop at Waitrose, so it probably works for most of their customers). But, for me, it is a trek. I’ll probably be trying out Waitrose Deliver to see if that might help.

  • Poor range at fresh bread counter.

veryPC AT20

I recently bought a veryPC AT20 as a more powerful replacement for an aging Debian-hacked NSLU2 that I had serving up files, doing backups, and other such tasks. I thought I’d do a quick review in case it’s of value to anyone considering a machine from veryPC (at the time of writing, it seems to be no longer for sale, although the veryPC AT10 looks similar).

I particularly wanted something more meaty than my NSLU2 so I could do full-disk encryption, fully-encrypted offsite backups, so it seemed ideal. The variation I ordered has:

  • Dual-Core Intel(R) Atom(TM) CPU 330 (1.6GHz)

  • 1GB RAM

  • 1TB Western Digital “GreenPower” Hard Drive

  • Intel 82945G/GZ Integrated Graphics

  • Onboard audio, 6 USB 2.0 ports, a serial port, a parallel port

  • Integrated 100MB Ethernet

  • RaLink RT2561/RT61 802.11g PCI Wireless Card

  • DVD-RW drive

(total approximately £370)

Very PC seem fairly reputable, and their customer service was adequate, if not outstanding (they didn’t keep me up-to-date on my order until I emailed them, at which point they interrupted me by calling, they didn’t always respond to sales enquiry emails, and were coy about their returns policy). Nevertheless, they do offer a 3-year warranty as standard, which shows confidence in their products.

Nevertheless, the PC arrived fairly promptly (~5 days), and appears to be robustly built: whilst compact, the case is very solid and feels strong. The whole machine exudes a feeling of high build quality, and is mostly constructed from metal rather than cheap plastic. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

at20

The machine came shipped with Ubuntu (Desktop) pre-installed, although I rapidly reinstalled it with the Ubuntu Server (a wise decision anyway, since VeryPC forgot to include information on the default username and password!). As such, every piece of hardware works well with the exception of the wi-fi card, which, using the default driver, suffered from frequent drop-outs (a problem I’ve had before with the RaLink cards under Linux). Replacing the standard driver with a ndiswrapper verison (more information here and here) resolved this. Channels 12 and 13 also don’t seem to work correctly with this driver, so the wi-fi network has to run on another channel.

The main disappointment was the noise generated by the machine. To be fair, VeryPC described it as ‘ultra quiet’, and with other noisy items on (e.g. a modern laptop with the fan spinning), you won’t hear it. However, in an otherwise silent room, you definitely will - and you don’t have to get close to it either. I haven’t done any formal tests, but if you want a completely silent machine, this is not the one for you. If you can tolerate a small amount of fan noise in very quiet environments, it should be OK.

Another minor point: the machine has an external power supply brick (like a laptop). VeryPC didn’t make this clear, but you should factor it in if you’re considering buying one.

Otherwise, though, I’m fairly satisfied. It does what it says on the tin, I’ve had no reliability problems whatsoever (save for the wi-fi card issues mentioned above), and the machine is running 24h a day and doing a solid job. So kudos to veryPC for putting together a good bit of kit.

Dialling Problems with Vodafone 3G on Windows

As I’ve written about before, I use a combination of Vodafone 3G and the AT&T Network Client on Windows to access my corporate VPN. Recently, I’ve been seeing this error a lot when ‘dialling’ the 3G network (I connect it via the Windows dialler, rather than the Vodafone client):

This morning, I figured out what it was that was causing the problem. AT&T was open when I was dialling, and had the modem selected in the ‘Cellular’ tab (which I don’t normally use):

error2

I hypothesise that it’s got a lock on the modem when this is selected (even if the ‘Cellular’ tab is not selected). Quitting the AT&T client appears to allow the connection to be created. You can then restart it and connect to the VPN in the normal way (using ‘existing internet connection’).

Hope this helps someone.

Vodafone 3G - Position Your Card Right!

I’ve written before about how poor the Vodafone 3G Mobile Connect client is, and the alternative in Windows. However, it’s also worth mentioning that the card itself is far from perfect. It is very sensitive to the position of the SIM Card - having it off by even a few millimetres can mean it doesn’t connect, and it’s not always obvious what is wrong. The crucial thing is to have it poking out of the top, but only by half a millimetre or so. Don’t push it in all the way! This photo shows what it should look like:

Vodafone SIM Card Position

It’s a shame Vodafone themselves don’t bother making this clear. This wasted about an hour of my time when  I first got the card.

Frost / Slumdog / Nixon

Been to see two films in almost as few days recently. Slumdog Millionaire was entertaining; perhaps not the classic it could have been - I think it lacked a little clarity in storytelling - but still great. Frost/Nixon was more compelling, certainly for me: I was not expecting Frank Langella’s performance as Nixon to be as good as it was - in the end, it perhaps beat Anthony Hopkins’s classic performance from Nixon. Watch out for Oliver Platt’s wonderful performance-within-a-performance imitation of Nixon.

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