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Monday, 26 October 2009

Windows 7, it's here

Well, launch day for Windows 7 was 22 October 2009 & I can see that my copy (yes, I have purchased a legitimate copy of Windows 7 Professional) was posted in time to arrive on the launch day.
Sure enough I arrived home to find the package in my house on the day of launch - I'm pretty impressed that the release was co-ordinated well enough to deliver on the release day. Happy so far.

So, what shall I do with it? Well, first try is an old 80Gb SATA (that's SATA not SATA II) drive in my htpc. Boot off DVD, 20 mins of churning and it's there. Impresed twice now, no having to manually reboot several time, good progress info but nothing on screen saying "your install will complete in 28 minutes" for 2 hours. Nice.

Does it work though. Well, yes. My sound card & wireless card have not been picked up but everything else is functional, even the graphics card gets a driver first time out.

Installing the wireless card proves a trial - largely because I've forgotten a trick - I have a netgear WPN111 and the smartwizard makes light work of installation unless you cancel it the first time, oops, yes I did just that & now it opens & closes and does nothing else. So I have to rely on the built in Windows wireless config - so after half a dozen reboots and having to enter the same information repeatedly the settings finally stick. There must be an easier way of getting wireless config sorted but it's certainly not unique to Windows 7. Luckily the sound card installs no problems.

It's only then that I remember to check for driver updates from the motherboard manufacturer (I'm using a Gigabyte GA-MA78GPM-DS2H which in theory is a great board but was dropped pretty quickly, probably because Gigabyte got sick of me raising queries about why their BIOS randomly forgets or ignores settings). To my surprise there are some updates so they get loaded on too. No problems so far. Still impressed.

Windows Update is busily doing it's thing & is painless.

Boot times are acceptable especially given that boot times on Vista were measured in geological ages & I've got an old SATA drive in use (which I later discover has a problem and occasionally decides to have a rest) & is certainly on a par with XP Professional which my HTPC install has been using.

Sleep mode is something else. I have no idea why but XP sleep always goes via the BIOS loading screens first whilst Windows 7 sleep goes direct from pressing the power button to the login screen, massive restart saving. I'm happy with that especially having recently discovered that this machine uses 4.1 watts in sleep, 3.8 in standby and 3.8 turned off - that was a surprise that my machine is off but it's using the same level of power as hibernate whilst sleep uses an irrelevant amount more considering the benefit. A bit of research (with my friend google) discovers that the PSU always takes power to enable facilities such as WOL (wake on lan - that nice idea that doesn't work with wireless cards for some reason). I use a UPS so having the machine in sleep mode is pretty safe.

I've changed the config to log me straight into the desktop (security freaks please run screaming around the room now) - much more practical for a HTPC which the wife might try to use that having a password on a box that might not have a keyboard attach. Going straight to desktop is a little weird in Windows 7 because it does a lot of loading of services and whatnot after login to reduce start time so sometimes it does loads of disk churning before showing the desktop when bypassing the password which would ordinarily not show while you peck away at the keyboard.

Why am I installing Windows 7 on my HTPC? I've spent something like a year (or is it two?) trying to get a "perfect" setup or at least something that I can live with. I don't have Media Centre on XP but I do on Vista and it's rubbish, it's can't play HD, it can't do this, it can't do that and it doesn't play this format or that one etc Yuk Yuk Yuk. So I've tested all the freely available media centre products I could lay my hands on and iMedian which came with my Silverstone GD01 (great case, far too big but I have a passive CPU cooler & only using one of the internal fans with the guard removed so pretty quiet). iMedian was probably a student's final year project to demonstrate how to make a difficult to use system. The best product out there is MediaPortal. It has everything and does everything but takes quite a lot of configuration and has endless options. Great product and fully working but just when I'm happy the next version appears with no upgrade path.......and Windows 7 is coming so let's wait and try MediaPortal on Windows 7 for a kicks.

If you are still reading you will be interested to know that I started typing this as soon as I commenced a reinstall on my machine using a Hitatchi 1TB SATA II drive & I've got this far and Windows 7 is sitting at the desktop ready to use with me having only had to configure half a dozen simple steps the hardest of which was rekeying the product key - so install time < 30 minutes. A reinstall already surely not? Yes, I've spent a few hours this weekend and two solid evenings tinkering with Windows 7 and I'm happy that it works, all my questions answered and it's stable. All files formats I need work (I've had to use Divx Converter to convert my MKV files to DIVX but that was no big deal).

Windows 7 is awesome - Microsoft you have got it right, well done, I think I'm going to add this to the list of Microsoft successes (the other two are Visio and SQL Server so it seems to me that this is the first one that Microsoft have actually developed for themselves).

So what's converted me. Well Windows 7 installs easily. Everything I have tried works. Unlike on Vista, file operations happen in the near future - I don't think they are as good as XP was still and certainly pathetic compared to Linux but not painful. Sleep is great and happens when expected, I've had one hiccup on resume but that hasn't repeated since the piles of updates have been downloaded.

Windows Media Centre for Windows 7 is excellent, it picked up my TV card (hauppage wintv-hvr-3000) with no problems, loaded up the satellite channels, gives me a TV guide. Adding My Movies makes movies a pleasure to access and adding Divx resolves the only file format problem I encountered. TV recording within 5 minutes of original install. My iMon remote and front panel work perfectly too which is miles better than I every managed with MediaPortal.

All in all Windows 7 is very impressive and is going into service tonight.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Taking one's life into one's hands

I have not made much effort to make "social comment" as such but today I thought a gripe was due.

Last night I cycled between Wivelsfield Green and Burgess Hill. It is dark out there, really dark, virtually no street lights, not a whole lot of traffic and just bike lights. To add to the collection my rucksack has reflective strips on the straps.

Clearly, I am not going to be as visible as a car but hardly invisible so why is it that some drivers persist in driving at you with full beam on. Do they thing that whilst it might blind another driver it won't blind a cyclist? Is it just because a cyclist cannot retaliate with his own full beam. Oh no, my suspicion is that both inconsiderate and stupid drivers are out there at night as well as during the day.

Well I feel better for that so if you are one of those drivers, please try thinking about what you are doing.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Abstract Rose


Here is a second version of my earlier abstract rose picture - this again was taken with a Fuji S602 zoom and is off a rose which was growing in the garden of my last house and was taken using natural light coming in through the patio doors.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Alex's Fourth Birthday

Alex's 4th birthday has come and gone - we had a party with a horde of 3 to 5 year olds on Sunday where the rampaged around the house in packs creating havoc for a few hours, we didn't need to organise anything, just let them run wild, huge success. The party food is worth a note - Alex had some cocktail sausages, well, Alex had most of the cocktail sausages and nothing else, just a big plate of sausages. Clyde had some tuna sandwiches, shame he can't do the plate thing yet.

Tuesday was the birthday day complete with a trip to the Brighton Sea Life Centre by train. A fantastic time had by all, even feeding the big turtle and having a trip to Nandos on the way home. I took Alex and Ewan on the train home and they did yet more playing and present opening on arrival of grand parents with Ewan staying overnight.

Now I need a rest.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Sunday

Woken up early by an all too sprightly Alex who wants to play with me - in fact he's built his hot wheels track and to show me attached it to a tape measure and towed the whole lot into the bedroom, obviously only waking me up in the process.

I think he's on something, after breakfast there is lots of bouncing around the lounge and making a car out of my carrymat (why it has become a car I don't know), unfortunately the mind your drink (pineapple juice) warning failed as somehow the car managed to shoot him out of its window (?), off of the settee, across the nest of tables and into a heap on the floor, along with said drink soaking him and everything else in the process. Lovely aroma of pineapple wafting around the lounge now.

Then we went swimming, had to purchase some new goggles because the plastic between the lenses had broken on his original Speedo ones but the new Zoggs ones are all in one moulded plastic and fit much better which has been a boost for what can be done around water, hence, swimming was a huge success with lots of swimming on his own, still with arm bands and mad splashing but followed by lots of jumping in (he now knows that a belly flop hurts) and going down the slide and leaping through the waterfall.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Butlins - a holiday?

Well we are back from 4 days spent in Butlins, Bognor Regis.

As adults without babysitters the entertainment is a little limited but for Alex (almost 4 years old) the place is fabulous. There is the swimming pool - not much space for swimming but it has a good selection of slides for all ages (I had to try them all out) & a wave machine to make things more interesting and we went every day, a soft play centre (children running around in packs for many hours) and the fairground rides along with a number of pay for activities (far too many of those actually) such as the Formula K go-kart racing (expensive but fun, shame no bumping is allowed), the electric motorbike / quad bike ride (still no bumping but all the driving can be done by a 3 year old) and there is even dodgems (yes dodgems, it used to be called bumper cars when I was a young visitor but bumping gets you thrown off now). There are also loads of fruit machines & video games - all to be paid for and dragging a 3 year old away from them can be hard work.

Then there is the entertainment, perhaps a tots disco (how loud?) or watching a fairy tale acted out by people or puppets. There were acrobats - I'm sure we will be seeing Alex doing more stunts on his bike soon following their example and the highlight of the week has been the Skyline Gang :
6 characters having fun with music and dancing, involving the children, oh yes, and the adults, he he he. Alex was completely taken with them; bright, colourful, funny (What do you call a nut with a cold? A cashew!), interactive and some great eye contact with the kids - even ad-libbing where the audience participation was more participative than expected. I have seen some live artists who were not as enjoyable to watch (both Meat Loaf and Paul McCartney spring to mind, sorry you guys you need to brush up your acts).

Accomodation is clean & comfortable and ideal for the short break and the on site restaurant selection worked well with plenty of healthy options available (if you felt the need) - Alex who doesn't like pizza did pretty well at the each as much as you like pizza place (was Pizza Hut, now Papa Johns).

Well worth the trip and in a couple more years Alex won't tire himself out so easily so he will be able to take part in many more of the activities that are planned throughout the day. My only worry is will he accept the idea that the Skyline Gang aren't the same people if it is still running......

I know, it is Butlins but for a short break it is brilliant value if you get some offers (their standard pricing makes me think their marketing department are trying to make the resort look exclusive, perhaps they are paid too much because it ain't working). We'll be back.