Chromebook away

I keep on checking, hopeful it'll be fixed
As I posted previously, my Chromebook (which I use for most of my day-to-day computing) is sick. It's back with Lenovo for a warranty repair to the power button, which no longer works. I think it's a simple mechanical issue, but I think I'll be without it for a bit. As I've been doing most of my writing on it recently, I feel like I've had a part of me cut off. It also meant that I couldn't work on one of the projects I'm trying to finish while I was away with work earlier in the week, as the firewall frowns on a lot of the Google services.

Fortunately, it happened in the last month of the warranty, not a week after.

Great Customer Service

Great experience with Amazon customer service today. My Chromebook has developed a fault with its power button two weeks before it's out of the warranty (phew, at least it was before). The button seems to have failed mechanically (the Chromebook is working otherwise). This wouldn't be an issue except it means that I will struggle with some of the ChromeOS reset commands if it ever hangs (and that's happened maybe twice after updates in the last three years of using these devices).

I bought it through Amazon from a third party. Anyway, I decided to try Amazon's customer service, who got all the details, contacted the third party, put me through to them. They then said it would have to be the manufacturer's warranty and gave me the details to address it. The Amazon rep, Mauro, was on the chat system in parallel and called and connected to Lenovo, who have now arranged an uplift for repair. It was a very smooth experience and Mauro definitely was a great example of customer service (and I rated his assessment as such).

I know Amazon has a bad reputation for parts of how it addresses its workforce, but from a customer perspective, the experience was really impressive and helpful. And now I need to plan the powerwash of the Chromebook...

Chromebooks and Hangouts and Gaming

Lenovo N23 Yoga Chromebook in all its modes
Most of my gaming these days is either done at conventions or over Google Hangouts (where I'm playing in two extended campaigns[1] with friends I met at conventions).

We had a lot of shenanigans with this week's Esoterrorists session, with a period where people couldn't hear each other. We eventually resolved it (or rather it may have resolved itself at Hangouts end) but before we reached that point at least two of us changed machines.

I tried my Chromebook (a Lenovo Yoga N23 which runs on a quad-core ARM processor) with some trepidation. My old Chromebook (a Lenovo N22) had really struggled, but it seems that the beefier processor and jump of system RAM to 4GB does the trick. It was probably better than my MacBook (although that has an excuse being over 10 years old).

The Chromebook is definitely hitting 80% of what I do on a computer. I'd have a Mac in preference, but I'm not rocking Apple money at the moment, especially after the pound/dollar depreciation following the Brexit vote. I definitely recommend this machine if you'd like a convertible with a decent screen, good battery life and a great keyboard.

29 March 2019

[1] The Esoterrorists (Worldbreaker) and The One Ring (Darkening of Mirkwood)

Stepping off the Upgrade Cycle

Stepping off the upgrade cycle

I love technology, and I’ve had a long love of Apple products. My computer through university (and this was bought at the time that 286 Intel processors were state of the art) was an Atari ST, whose entire operating system (TOS) mimicked the graphic user interface of Apple’s System 7. I only had an ST because the price of Apple devices was somewhat eye-wincing.

When I graduated, I managed to convince the financial director in the first company I worked for to include Apple computers in the company interest-free computer loan scheme and soon after I had my very first computer, an Apple PowerBook 190cs, rocking a 68040 processor and a gorgeous keyboard and style. 3 years later, I had a desktop to match it - a Performa 6400 mini-tower. I’ve loved these devices and carried out up the cycle, upgrading every 3 to 4 years.

iOS came along, and initially I ignored it as there was no way that I was going to get a contract with O2, and my first device was an iPhone 3GS. From then on, I was on the two year cycle; 4S, 5S, 6S.

Today I stepped off that cycle. Unlike the older iPhones, the 6S doesn’t feel sluggish. This reflects on Apple’s superb silicon chip design. I looked at the iPhone 8 (which arguably could have been the 7S) but decided that I couldn’t justify the contract costs (nearly £60 per month if you pay through the contract for the device). I could get an iPhone 7 for around the price of my existing contract, but that isn’t that different to my 6S. Or I could go SIM only and triple my data allowance for £14. I took the 12 month SIM-only.

The money saved will go towards replacing the iMac that died last year, or perhaps the iPad update I’m hankering after. I’m not leaving Apple or losing my passion, but the 20% hit on the pound to dollar thanks to the Brexit vote hurts and affects these decisions…


Extortion, pure and simple

Once upon a time, I started to get interested in graphics and design to support work that I was doing to produce material for the Traveller RPG. I started on the slippery slope with a scanner and a copy of Adobe Photoshop. I’ve a feeling it was version 4 or some-such. I also picked up Adobe Illustrator, which was used very heavily in producing graphics for the starship designs in the BITS book Power Projection. Over the years, I upgraded these, and I added a full copy of Adobe Acrobat to support PDF preparation, and for a while used Adobe Go-Live for web design (until it was killed off).

Adobe used to have a reasonably open upgrade policy; so long as you were within three versions or so of the current software release, you qualified for the upgrade price. As I was a more occasional user, I tended to upgrade every 3 years or so, which used to cost ~£400-£600 depending on what I updated and how long it had been since the last upgrade which tended to influence Adobe’s costs.

Eventually, I jumped to the Creative Studio to get access to Adobe InDesign as well, diving in at CS2. I played around with dropping Photoshop for first of all Acorn (really nice and I do use it) and then Pixelmator (never really had the time to play with this), but stuck with it - especially after I got some great actions for building planets. I could never find a replacement for Illustrator that I liked, and had ended up with CS because neither Swift Publisher or iCalamus had been robust enough for layout.

Jumped to CS4 because changes to OS X needed it, and then found myself upgrading  within eighteen months to CS5.5 because Adobe said that when CS6 was released CS4 would not be eligible to upgrade. A month after I did, they reversed the decision, and also added an option to buy CS5.5 and get CS6 in a few months time. Frankly, I was not impressed and felt that I’d been played as a fool.

Adobe then moved to the subscription system with Creative Cloud but I’ve never jumped. A single application costs £17 per month (so £200 per year) and the full  CC package costs around £500 per year. As a comparator, the entire Microsoft Office Suite (which I use a lot more - and I guess has a lot more users) is around £70 for the year. I can’t justify these costs, not for casual use. I’m not a business.

When OS X 10.11 El Capitan came out, parts of Illustrator broke (the eye-dropper tool produces regular crashes) with CS5.5. Now, I could upgrade to CS6 (but that’ll be somewhere in the £300-£500 range (based on previous checks) but there’s no guarantee that it will survive the next OS X update.

Instead, I picked up Serif’s Affinity Designer, a newly built from the ground drawing and design program which is seriously aiming to be an ‘Illustrator-killer’. It’s faster and more stable, and probably has 90% or more of the functions I could ever want. It’s also £40 with free updates through the Mac App Store. They’ve also released Affinity Photo, which is a Photoshop replacement. Both will read PS and AI files, and output PSD, EPS, PDF and all the rest. They also use the same file format. The price? £40.

What I’m most excited about is Affinity Publisher, as Serif have a good reputation for their DTP package. This is due next year. They’ve said the first release won’t generate Creative Studio compatible files, but it is on the route map. The price is also planned as £40.

I think that slowly, Adobe are going to lose me as a customer. It was only £500 every 2-3 years, but it’ll be zero, because they decided to price people like me out from their software. As it stands, I only need InDesign and Acrobat (and I can replace the latter easily).

18 November 2015


Initial Thoughts on iOS 9

I don’t do the public betas of iOS or OS X, as I prefer the guarantee of a better level of stability (although, it has to be said that Photos and iTunes under Yosemite are really good at causing a kernel panic through the NVIDIA graphics chip and taking my iMac out). As a result, I’ve been watching news and comments articles on iOS 9 with interest.

I finally got to try it today, as – surprisingly – I was able to download the installers on all on our iOS devices from about 90 minutes after the update went live. This is fantastic compared to previous launches when the servers have been so busy that it has taken me the best part of 24 hours to get the download.

Installation was smooth on our iPad 2, iPad mini, iPhone 5s and iPhone 6. The old iPad 1 is long past updates but fine for movies and some internet.

First impressions - the new system font, San Francisco, feels more rounded than Helvetica Nueue, but I like the style. In honesty, three hours in it feels the norm. The introduction of a ‘Back to App’ option when you drop to another app is great. The introduction of Ad Blockers seems great, but unfortunately can’t be used on the iPads as they aren’t 64 bit CPUs which the architecture is built around. The backlight adjustments for ambient light seem more aggressive. I’m not certain in the new app switcher screen, but I’m glad it lost the contacts material. It feels quicker, but this could be psychological.

Be interesting to see how this develops.

16 September 2015