Be and maintenance

As you may recall, I swapped my ISP to Be recently. They’re still providing the same download speed as before – 4.5Mbps, which isn’t as good as the 24Mbps they suggested i might get but much better than Zen’s 1Mbps. I’m starting to get annoyed by Be’s “planned outages”. Since I’ve taken the service on the 19th May, there have been three planned outages of the services, lasting several hours, during which they’ve conducted “necessary maintenance”. I don’t recall BT every having to do any maintenance on the exchange before, so quite what Be’s doing, I don’t know. But it’s starting to irritate.

£20 to unlock a phone

It wasn’t £35 – it was £20 to get my phone unlocked.

Thanks to the helpful people who pointed out that there are plenty of free ways to unlock the phone that are available on the Internet. Unfortunately, I have a Nokia 6630 (I say unfortunately advisedly) which so far appears to be uncrackable. Nokia won’t even tell the network providers how to unlock the phones – they have to write off to Nokia and get a code sent back to them that’s specific to the phone being unlocked. So it’s £20 or an unusable phone, unfortunately. Still, given that’s less than a month’s line rental, I’m perfectly happy to pay up to be shot of Orange.

The end is in sight.

Living in fear of the iMac

My iMac wouldn’t start up yesterday. Well, first it just turned itself off while I was in the middle of something. Then it wouldn’t start up again – most of the time, I got nothing other than a glowing light when I pressed the On button; sometimes I got as far as the Apple logo.

I’d had the mysterious shutdown happen to me before, but this was the first time it wouldn’t restart afterwards. All things being equal, I figured it was a hardware problem, particularly once I found the iMac wouldn’t even boot into Target disk mode when connected via FireWire to my PowerBook. So I unplugged all the peripherals. Nothing. Final resort: I took out the extra 1GB of RAM I’d installed the first day I got the iMac.

Hooray! It worked. The iMac booted just fine.

I would then have tried to get Crucial, the company from which I bought the memory, to exchange it, but it was 8am and no one was in yet. So I waited and carried on using the iMac.

I tell you something: don’t even think about using a new Intel Mac without boosting the memory beyond 512MB because it’s unusable otherwise. A complete dog.

Anyway, deciding there was no way I could work in a glacier, I took a risk and decided to put the RAM chip back in. This time though, I swapped it with the chip that Apple had included in the first slot.

The results:

  1. The iMac works just fine again and is actually usable
  2. It seems a little/a lot faster than it did before the whole disaster occurred. Maybe the Crucial memory is faster than the Apple memory and it’s being used by the system for most operations, rather than the Apple memory.
  3. I’m mystified about what caused the freeze. Maybe the iMac had overheated and all that moving the iMac around, unscrewing the memory hatch, etc, cooled it down a bit. Or maybe one of the chips wasn’t quite seated properly and when I swapped the chips, I seated them correctly.
  4. I’m now working in constant fear my iMac is going to have another hiccup. After that incident with Linux a week ago, my backup strategy is becoming meticulous.

Be wary of the PowerBook battery

I bought my laptop about three years ago. It’s a PowerBook G4 12“. There have been things wrong with it since day one, including an odd tendency to crash at random intervals, no matter what operating system I’m using, if I happen to have moved it recently – obviously a useful feature in a laptop.

However, it’s been getting worse. The ”7“ key keeps falling off; there’s some great big black marks on the wrist-rests, either caused by fused toner cartridge or by the G4 superheating its outer coating to the point where it starts to carbonise. The battery life has also dropped off, and until a couple of days had dropped to about an hour and half during normal usage and less than 40 minutes if I’m playing a DivX. I had bought an extra battery at the same time as the laptop, but about a year ago it started to refuse charge.

Miraculously, though, I tried charging it again yesterday and it works just fine. I’ve now gone from under 40 minutes of battery life to over three hours. The moral of this story, then, is always to buy a spare battery, but to avoid using it until your main battery has gone pear-shaped. And also, never trust Apple to produce a battery that has any kind of longevity in everyday use.

UPDATE: Incidentally, finally having battery power again meant I was able to test the Notebook feature of Word 2004, which allows you to type notes as Word records via your Mac’s microphone. It’s actually pretty good. The quality was fine, the file didn’t get too large and you’re able to play back the audio at (almost) the corresponding points to your typing. I’ll be using that feature again, I think.

ISPs: How much for how much?

I switched ISPs a couple of weeks ago. I was using Zen but now I’ve migrated to Be. The whole process was surpisingly simple and I lost Internet access for all of about 15 minutes.
I would have stayed with Zen since they were reliable and competent, which really carries weight in the world of Internet access. But they were charging me £29.99 a month for uncapped 1Mbps Internet access. I could have gone to their capped 4Mbps service, but the cheaper option had a limit of about 2K or something while the reasonable option (50GB per month) is about £35. So I decided that while they were good, they weren’t that good and migrated to Be.
So far, Be have been pretty good. I had an outage on the first day, but since then they’ve been fine. But Be’s selling point is they’re an ADSL2+ service – they advertise with the tag of “£24 per month for 24Mbps”. It’s uncapped (hooray!), but there is a “fair use” policy (aka “If we want to cut you off for any reason, we will and there’s nothing you can do about it.”) There’s also a tiny bit of small print – you won’t necessarily get 24Mbps since the exact speed depends on your distance from your telephone exchange.
I’ve checked around a bit and no one I know who uses Be has ever got more than 5Mbps or so. I’m getting 4.7Mbps now, which is a hell of a lot less than 24Mbps, but much better than the 1Mbps I was getting with Zen.
Nevertheless, I have a question: If it’s £24 per month for 24Mbps, since I’m getting 4.7Mbps, can I pay £4.70 per month instead?

Cursed Linux

Nearly killed my new iMac last weekend. I’d just got everything running nicely, including Windows, when I had a ‘bright’ idea. “Why don’t I install Linux onto that extra partition I reserved for it.

Bad idea.

Bloody Gentoo wiped the partition map and I spent about 48 hours having to recover everything. I got everything back but that was a pain in the arse in spade.

So my new resolution is this: never have anything to do with Linux unless it’s going to be installed in a virtualised environment that can’t do anything bad. I’ve never yet had a good experience with Linux and somehow I don’t see that changing…

New iMac’s arrived

My new iMac Dual Core arrived yesterday. My old iMac was about three and a half years old and lacking modern features that were actually forcing me to turn down work, so it was about time for an upgrade: I’ll be handing my old one over to my sister, so at least it’s going to a good home.

There has, of course, been a lot of fuss about being able to install Windows XP on the new iMacs, with many asking the not entirely invalid question, “Who would want to do that?” Well, I would. In fact, I’m going to try to get Linux running on it as well. Why? Because I have to write about Macs, Windows and Linux. Take two computers into my front room? No, I just want to triple boot and go…

SCHWIF2004 beta available

I’ve finally released the beta of the next version of SCHWIF2004, my handy utility for creating complex HTML messages in Entourage. There’s a few improvements:

  • Added support for background images referenced using attributes in the body tag or in stylesheets
  • Fixed a problem with Exchange server address books following previous Entourage update
  • Improved the documentation slightly
  • Added a warning for pre OS X 10.3 users

Grab it over at the SCHWIF2004 page.