Skip to main content
Lenovo thinkpad X200 batteries

Lenovo Thinkpad X200 laptop battery woes

Regular readers will know that I now use a Lenovo X200 for most of my computing needs. It has Libreboot installed and I run Trisquel 7 GNU linux on the laptop. This laptop is perfect for linux, all of the hardware including the updated Atheros wifi adaptor have open source & free drivers available & the machine is truly 100% my own.

The laptop itself is still fairly powerful for an older laptop with an Intel® Core™2 Duo CPU P8600 @ 2.40GHz dual core processor and upgraded ram to 4GB it really is a good mobile workhorse. I only paid £50 for the laptop in September & I installed 4GB of ram I had in my desk drawer from an old Macbook upgrade. I also updated the Intel wifi board to an Atheros to allow me to run Trisquel.

The laptop was in great condition when I bought it used, considering it was 6 years old. I did a full refurb myself & stripped it down to clean and restore it. One annoying thing was that the installed battery seemed to be the original & after a lot of charging cycles it was lucky to run for 40 minutes on battery. I decided to hold off upgrading the battery and carried the power cord with me when feasible.Lenovo thinkpad X200 batteries

Original Thinkpad x200 5200mah battery
Original Thinkpad x200 5200mah battery

Last month however the original Lenovo battery finally died. The battery light on the x200 was flashing orange and as soon as I unplugged the power adapter the laptop would power down instantly. I hit the forums & read that this is common with older batteries in the thinkpad’s. Apparently they have a fuse in them & when a cell starts to die, varying the voltage across them, the fuse burns out and shorts the battery. This seemed to be the case so I hit the Internet to weigh up my options.

An original 5200mah battery manufactured by lenovo was coming in at around £70. This didn’t seem like a great option considering I only paid £50 for the laptop. I was adamant that I didn’t want to buy a used battery as the history of the battery & the life remaining is such an unknown, but I definitely wasn’t going to spend so much on an original Lenovo battery.

I found various sellers on eBay & amazon & decided to opt for a higher capacity 7800mah battery. These have a larger form factor & stick out of the back of the laptop, but apparently they can run the X200 for an extended period of time, so I thought it would be a good option. The battery was also cheap at £23 including delivery.

On receipt of the battery it was quite obvious that it was a cheap & nasty product. It had a small crack in the flimsy plastic case, the locking button was stiff and the copper pins of the battery looked like a dog had been chewing them.

I tested the battery to see if this was just cosmetic, but when plugging the battery in i found that they battery would run the laptop, but would not charge & wasn’t even being detected by the X200 charging circuits. For all intents & purposes, the laptop didn’t know a battery was present & also couldn’t give any indication of charge levels or discharge rates.

Thinpad X200 7800mah battery
Thinpad X200 7800mah battery
7800mah mashed battery terminals
7800mah mashed battery terminals

I contacted the seller who must have known this is a common problem as he refunded the order, without question or return. I was disappointed but relieved to have the refund.

I then decided to head to Amazon. I was determined to find a cheaper third-party battery & decided to look for an item which was held in Amazon stock & dispatched by them. This way, if any problems arose I would be dealing with amazon for a return and not a third-party seller.

I found the battery supplied by a company called TPE. Another third-party brand I had never heard of, but a brand none the less. They had a website & lots of safety certification. They also seemed to have positive reviews so I decided to order from them. This battery was a 5200mah battery which was the same spec as the original Lenovo. I decided to go for this one as I prefer the flush fitting of the standard battery over the extended life battery I tried previously.

7800mah mashed battery terminals
7800mah mashed battery terminals

The TPE X200 battery came within a week and again cost me £23. This one was 100% better. Nicely packaged, perfect anti-static, decent quality casing & stickers & the copper pins where perfect. I plugged it into the X200 and instantly I was running off battery. It was 78% charged and the X200 on trisquel was showing 3 hours of battery life remaining.

Modern lithium-ion batteries are less prone to memory effect than older laptop batteries but I always run new batteries in nicely. It’s a habit now. So I ran on battery until it was critically low & then gave it a full charge. I’ve got to say, I have no complaints with the battery. After a few full cycles it’s holding excellent charge & giving me almost 4 hours without using any specific power tweaks on Trisquel.

This TPE battery seems comparable in quality to the original Lenovo battery & I would highly recommend you have a search on Amazon if you need to update or replace yours.

The X200 takes battery part number FRU P/N 42T4647 or ASM P/N 42T4537 as standard so search for those part numbers if you want to replace your original X200 5200mah battery.

Front veiw on my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging

iPod 5th Generation SSD Upgrade with iFlash and Sandisk SD cards

I love my old school technology. While I love all the new developments in tech, I’m still one of these people who wont replace something which is perfectly good just to upgrade to the latest model. My 5th Generation iPod is no exception. I bought this iPod in 2006 from the Apple store in San Francisco. It was my first new Apple device & I opted for the special U2 edition, not because I particularly like U2, but because I loved the black with red click wheel.

This iPod has seen heavy usage since the day I bought it. It has travelled with me around the world, still in its original Belkin hard case & it has never EVER failed me.

I had to replace the battery a few years back as it was holding less & less charge, but apart from that it just keeps going. I think the Wolfson DAC in this generation iPod offers the greatest sound output from any of the Apple music players before or since. It knocks the socks off even my iPhone 6 and all of my previous iPhones.

From the iPhone 3G onwards I’ve been tempted to switch my music to the iPhone only but I have various gripes with that. Firstly, it has limited storage space & is quite a clunky experience. I don’t like streaming as it relies on Connectivity, which eats battery, its useless for international travel and generally gives an interrupted user experience. Secondly, I find myself constantly interrupted by push notifications, calls, texts & distractions. Walking around a city in my own world listening to my extensive music library used to be my way of disconnecting and chilling out. Since using smart phones this is less & less viable.

So I’ve switched back to the iPod. My problem now is since using iTunes match, my entire library is now of a higher bitrate. My music is mostly now in 256kbps AAC. My MP3 collection used to be predominately 160kbps or 192kbps which was pretty normal in mid to late 2000’s. Couple that with my ever-growing library & I’ve found myself needing to be selective about the music I carry on the iPod. I hate that! If I think of a tune I would like to listen to on the go, I like to have it to hand. I therefore decided to upgrade the old iPod, not by replacing it, but by enhancing it.




I researched putting in an SSD and doing an iPod SSD upgrade, which seemed a good prospect, but not very flexible. I then looked at the possibility of using SD or Compact Flash cards to expand the memory & stumbled across the iFlash website & boards. iFlash make boards which allow you to swap out the internal ZIF hard drive on the iPod 5th Gen and replace it with a small PCB supporting SD cards. You have the option of a board supporting one card, a dual SD board or a quad board. To future proof I went for the quad board meaning I could expand it easily in the future.

iFlash Quad back view with 2 x Sandisk 64GB SDXC cards ready to go for iPod SSD upgrade
iFlash Quad back view with 2 x Sandisk 64GB SDXC cards ready to go for iPod SSD upgrade
iFlash Quad front view with 2 x Sandisk 64GB SDXC cards ready to go.
iFlash Quad front view with 2 x Sandisk 64GB SDXC cards ready to go.

The iFlash essentially replaces your hard drive with a board running SD cards which acts as a virtual HDD using JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) mode allowing you to mix and match SD cards to create one large volume. I ordered the iFlash Quad & two fresh Sandisk Ultra Micro SDXC Class 10 cards. Both cards are 64GB giving me a combined 128GB of flash storage in the old iPod. Compared to the standard 30GB this is a massive improvement, & I can add some more SD cards in the future if needs be.

iPod opening tools. Tweezers, Small screwdriver & iPod opening tool (soft tool or spudger)
iPod opening tools. Tweezers, Small screwdriver & iPod opening tool (soft tool or spudger)

I used the iFixit tear down guide to dismantle my iPod, bearing in mind that I’ve stripped it down in the past to replace the battery. Dismantling is fairly easy, I’d recommend an iPod opening soft tool to open the case. The back cover is metal but the front is plastic so you don’t want to damage the clips or the casing. Make sure to turn the iPod off and use the lock switch to lock the iPod before starting. I find it best to insert the removal tool in the case gap on each side and run it the full length a few times to pop the clips open. I don’t lever it at all, the simple back and forth sliding is normally enough. One is pops open, don’t just pull it apart as the battery ribbon cable needs to be removed. I use a small pair of tweezers to lift up the brown ribbon latch a few mm. Go really easy with this, it only needs to raise slightly to release the cable. Once the cable is removed you can open the case like a book, leaving the other ribbon untouched.

The next thing you need to do is flip the hard drive 180 degrees towards the bottom edge of the case to expose the ZIF cable & connector. You then need to lightly flip-up the black connector at the HDD end, it doesn’t lift up, it flips up through 90 degrees or so to release the cable.. Once that is lifted you can slowly ease the ribbon cable out.

iPod 5th Gen Hard Drive removed
iPod 5th Gen Hard Drive removed

Next you need to take your iFlash board & insert your SD cards. In my case I inserted both 64GB cards into slow 1 & 2. Make sure you have removed all of the grey HDD bumpers, I found an extra little bumper at the bottom edge which had to come out to seat the iFlash properly. Slip the HDD ribbon into the ZIF connector on the iFlash and close the lock bar. It works exactly the same as the one you just opened on your HDD. I used tweezers again to make sure the ribbon was fully seated int he connector, be careful not to kink the ribbon. Light pressure only. You can then seat the iFlash and stick one of the supplied sticky pads to the chipset to keep it snug when the case is closed.

iFlash quad with SD cards inserted & ready to go
iFlash quad with SD cards inserted & ready to go
iFlash Quad replaces HDD and sites neatly inside the case.
iFlash Quad replaces HDD and sites neatly inside the case.

Before clipping the case back together, reinsert the battery ribbon and click the lock shut. Place the top case onto the bottom case but don’t clip the case back together yet. First plug your iPod into your computer and check that you can restore it with iTunes and that it boots up & reports your new storage capacity both in iTunes and on the iPod in the settings menu. Once you are happy & have restored the iPod using iTunes, clip back together & enjoy.

iPod switched on after iFlash installed, showing recovery required screen
iPod switched on after iFlash installed, showing recovery required screen
my iPod is now 128GB thanks to iFlash
my iPod is now 128GB thanks to iFlash

So far I’m loving this mod. Battery life is much improved as the iFlash doesn’t have a platter to move like the old HDD. Also I found syncing to be much faster, song seeking much faster and the ability to sync my entire library in 256kbps AAC means vastly improved audio quality. Better clarity and less fuzz.

New capacity on my 5th Gen iPod is 128GB
New capacity on my 5th Gen iPod is 128GB

This mod should be do-able by most competent DIY-ers and hardware hackers. Just be careful when releasing cable release latches, the plastic is now 10 years old in mine & no doubt more brittle with age. Take your time with these parts, treat it as if it where precious. No force, just patience.

I now have a smart phone killer in the mobile music battle. I expect this iPod will keep travelling the world with me for many years. I’m also looking onto running an even higher capacity battery, but right now I can just run it off my Anker PowerCore 20100 power bank if required.

Below is a picture of my upgraded iPod & my original packaging. This is now 10 years old (was 10 in June this year) and I still treasure it like the day I bought it.

Front view of my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging
Front view of my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging
Back view of my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging
Back view of my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging

If you have carried out any hardware hacks on old iPod do let me know & as always if you need help, just ask me in the comments.

Turn Off iCloud Music Library

iPhone storage full when using iCloud music *fix*

I’ve been having major issues with my iPhone 6 running out of storage capacity. I have a modest amount of apps installed on the iPhone & I have the 16GB version of the iPhone 6. I was constantly receiving the storage almost full banner on my iPhone and even when looking at the storage & iCloud usage in settings I couldn’t figure out what was taking up all the space. This tutorial will also apply to iPad as it’s an iOS issue and not an iPhone specific issue. Works well if you keep receiving the message “iphone storage full” and you use iTunes match or iCloud Music Library

I first tried deleting old apps and app data. This helped a little. I then deleted all of the music off my device which freed up some space but not a great deal. Next I opened the Battery Doctor app and ran the clean up scripts included, which clean out old cache and orphaned files. Again, this gave me a few extra MB but nothing noticeable.

The final thing I tried was to disable iCloud music under settings > music. As soon as I returned to check the storage space available I could see I had quite a bit more free. I checked back 5 minutes later and I had gone from almost full to 2GB free. It would seem that the caching of music on the iPhone with iTunes match is very inefficient on smaller devices. I see the benefit of caching music files for quicker retrieval & a reduction in cellular usage, but on smaller devices this really doesn’t help and I do wish they would include a way to disable caching, or a cache time-out.

If you use an Apple iPhone or iPad along with iTunes match/iCloud music I would advise giving this trick a go. Turn off iCloud music and watch your free space return. I now do this on a regular basis to free up space & delete the cache. It has really helped me free up space & made my 16GB iPhone much more useable.

If you are having the same issue please do let me know. I would love to hear your own fixes for storage issues on smaller iOS devices. iTunes match & iCloud music library seem very under-optimised in iOS 9 & I do hope they invest some more time & effort into improving this, especially on 16GB devices which I assume they will phase out in future iPhone & iPad models.

 

iCloud Music Library Enabled

Turn Off iCloud Music Library
Turn Off iCloud Music Library
iCloud Music Library toggled off
iCloud Music Library toggled off
Almost 2GB free space on iPhone. Previously it was as low as 200MB free
Almost 2GB free space on iPhone. Previously it was as low as 200MB free
Firefox ends support for OSX 10.7

Can’t update Firefox on OSX 10.7 Mountain Lion – Mozilla ends Firefox support

This evening I was greeted with a message from my trusty firefox installation that OSX 10.7 (Mountain Lion) is no longer supported and as such won’t receive any future updates. This contradicts the message over on the Firefox support site which states that support will continue to August 2016. I, like many people still run an old iMac. This machine is fast (faster than my brother in laws brand new iMac running OSX El Capitan) in real life even though the hardware is in no way a match.

I’ve tried all new versions of OSX on this machine and the last fast version to work is OSX Mountain Lion. I cannot replace a machine due to bloaty software and I in particular hate it when an OS gets bloaty. OS’s should be light & fast and allow each user to customise the system with software based on their needs. I don’t like all the new & faddy features to be baked into the OS. It’s harder to tweak and generally performs badly.

Firefox ends support for OSX 10.7
Firefox ends support for OSX 10.7

Chrome recently ended support for 10.7 so I switched to using Firefox solely on this machine. It would now appear that Mozilla have brought forward ending support for older versions of OSX and in turn ended support for people wanting to run older hardware.

I run older hardware because ethically I can’t justify replacing a perfectly serviceable machine. I don’t like planned or forced obsolescence. It feels like Apple are forcing people’s hands more and more with bloated ios updates and slow software. The hardware is still fine but the software cripples it.

I’m disappointed that Mozilla would also end support, especially as the open source community is made up of a lot of people with lower spec hardware, especially in the developing world. I refuse to update working hardware with software which will make it slow & useless. As an example, I currently have Dreamweaver, Firefox with 12 tabs, Mac Mail, iTunes, Illustrator, Photoshop & trillian running on my machine, with plenty of power to spare.

Current Memory usage on OSX 10.7
Current Memory usage on OSX 10.7
Current CPU usage on OSX 10.7
Current CPU usage on OSX 10.7

If you have hit this snag with Firefox you can opt for the Extended support release to buy some time, or start looking for another browser. Many open source projects are based on Firefox so it might be time to look into those. I use various firefox derivatives on my Trisquel Linux machine so I’ll start to investigate this further.

Firefox Ending support for 10.7 early and extended support release
Firefox Ending support for 10.7 early and extended support release

If anyone from Mozilla reads this, I would love it if you could extend support for older versions of OSX. I’m pretty sure you will get lots of requests for this & many more people will just run out of date & insecure browsers.

Really disappointing.

Apple Macbook repaired & working

Apple Macbook Pro water damage – fixed

If any of you guys follow me on social media you will be aware that a few weeks back we had a disaster in our household. I brought a cup of tea to my wife while she was working in bed, and as I handed it to her I dripped a few drops on her Apple Macbook pro. We quickly dried it off and thought no more of it. It worked all morning & she closed the Macbook when we went out for lunch.

On our return the Macbook refused to startup. On pressing the power button it would make the startup chime, the grey apple screen would appear with the apple logo and then with a click of the hard drive the machine would shut down. This happened every time we tried to boot the laptop. The liquid had done damage. I inspected the Macbook where the drops had landed, mainly around the top right of the keyboard & the power button. I couldn’t see any signs of moisture at all. I suspected a fried logic board but refused to give up on the machine & testing.

I decided to lay it keyboard down on a towel and let it dry out for 12 hours. This did nothing. I then tried sitting the laptop in the sunlight to dry even further. Again nothing. I even pondered a huge bag or rice, but it seemed overkill for a few drops of tea. I thought long & hard how a few drops of liquid could have made it past the keyboard & backlight & down to the logic board. It was almost impossible due to the low amount of drips on the keyboard. At this point I decided that it must be a faulty keyboard or power button. As the laptop would boot a little surely the logic board must be OK.

I then tried booting the laptop holding the command key. It booted without issue, but as soon as I released the key it would shutdown. The shutdown was exactly the same as when you force shutdown the Macbook by holding the power button for 4 seconds. Eureka! It must be a short in the power button circuit. Probably due to the sugar content in the tea or corrosion caused by the moisture.

Macbook with bottom plate removed
Macbook with bottom plate removed
Hard drive removed
Hard drive removed
Power button location
Power button location
Power Button Location
Power Button Location
Power button ribbon sliced & lifted with spudger
Power button ribbon sliced & lifted with spudger

Next I opened up the Macbook, pulling out the radio board, battery, Superdrive and other bits getting in the way. I revealed the power button and noticed that the power button is part of the keyboard assembly and runs on a ribbon to the rest of the keyboard circuitry. As the keyboard was fried I decided to take a knife and slice off the ribbon for the power button. Surely if the short was in the button itself this would isolate it & allow the machine to boot. It didn’t. No big deal, the keyboard was thought to be faulty anyway so next I decided to disconnect the keyboard ribbon cable from the logic board, isolating the keyboard. As soon as I did this & reassembled the Macbook booted & worked perfectly. Due to the fact that I had disconnected the power button I had to start the Macbook up by shorting the power pads on the logic board. I did this with a screwdriver. I then replaced the bottom cover and had a fully working Macbook, without a keyboard & power button.

The power button wasn’t an issue as the Macbook always uses sleep as opposed to a cold shutdown. I plugged in an external keyboard and the Macbook was once again functional. What a result. We had gone from a destroyed Macbook to one with an obviously faulty internal keyboard. I enquired locally with Mac repair specialists who quoted between £200-£300 to replace the keyboard. Ridiculous prices, so I headed over to eBay and ordered a brand new official apple Macbook pro keyboard & brand new backlight for £24 delivered. The keyboard arrived next day and I set to work dismantling the Macbook. It’s a complicated laptop to dismantle, but only because of the sheer number of steps & screws involved. The keyboard assembly alone is held in by about 80 tiny little screws.

Water damaged Macbook Pro ready to tear down
Water damaged Macbook Pro ready to tear down

To disassemble you need to remove the bottom cover, followed by the battery. I then removed the hard drive mount, the superdrive & radio board, followed by the logic board fan, ribbon cables & logic board. There are model specific tear-downs over on ifixit so check those out for your model.

Macbook with logic board removed & keyboard backlight removed, ready to reomve keyboard. Note all of those little screws
Macbook with logic board removed & keyboard backlight removed, ready to reomve keyboard. Note all of those little screws

Removing the old keyboard & fitting the new one is time-consuming & fiddly, but not overly difficult. The hardest & most scary part for me was refitting the ribbon cable for the keyboard. It’s hard to get it seated properly, so I used a bit of sticky tape on the ribbon to create a tab, allowing me to pull the cable home in the bracket without kinking or bending it. Reassembly is the opposite of disassembly. When disassembling I’d advise that you keep components & their screws together so you know which screw belongs to which part. For the logic board screws I laid them out on a piece of card board in the same pattern as they came out of the logic board (see above picture), that way I could quickly see which hole to put them back into.

Once reassembled the MacBook worked perfectly. It had a brand new keyboard & backlight, which was all new & matte finished (the old one had gone shiny). This fix is well worth it if you think you have water damaged your MacBook, at least try disconnecting the keyboard to rule it out. If it boots, you can work with an external keyboard until you get around to replacing it. The Apple Macbook in question is 4 years old but perfectly good & used heavily, so this fix was a lifesaver. What’s more I managed to save a perfectly good bit of tech & a load of money in the process.

 

Apple Macbook repaired & working
Apple Macbook repaired & working
iOS 5.1.1 lock screen

iPad 2 downgraded from iOS 9 to iOS 5.1.1 – So much Faster

I bought my iPad 2 back when it was first released. I bought it on release date back in March 2011. I remember driving a 150 mile round trip from my new home in Cornwall to Exeter to visit the apple store and pick one up. On arrival, the only iPad 2 left in stock was the most expensive 64GB version with GSM cellular built-in. I really wanted a 3G version so I could use it anywhere so I jumped at the chance and paid the hefty £659 price tag. I loved the iPad 2 when it came out. I loved reading books on it, working & writing on the go. Browsing the net on a big screen anywhere & watching media on it. I really did fall in love with this device. Over the years as it has become older & with each iOS update the iPad 2 has gone from being a speedy device for all of my mobile computing to a sluggish and painful device to use. In my opinion, Apple should have stopped supporting the iPad 2 at iOS 7. They need to make better efforts for apps to support older version of iOS. But they won’t. This is perfectly useable tech & it seems so wasteful that software can make useful hardware obsolete.

In a perfect world, devices that apple deem end of life should have the option of easily selecting any older version of iOS depending on a users needs. On iOS 9 my iPad 2 went really unloved. I wouldn’t turn it on for weeks on end as it was too slow for even basic web browsing. If apple had any sense they would allow downgrading on older devices as standard. I guess it’s a good way of making us keep upgrading. But I couldn’t live with the fact that this machine which was ludicrously fast only a few years ago was no obsolete.

Up until iOS 8 I was a fanatical jailbreaker. I had the ATV 2 jailbroken & running XBMC, I had my iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS jailbroken along with my iPad 2. I liked being able to run homebrew tweaks & software, especially XBMC/Kodi. I’m glad I used to jailbreak as it got me thinking about downgrading. I have all of my old SHSH blobs backed up so I looked at older versions of iOS. Due to the changes made in the way apple sign ipsw’s post iOS 5.1.1 it looked increasingly difficult to downgrade to iOS 6,7 or 8. I therefore decided to go for 5.1.1 which looked like the most straight forward thing to do.

redsn0w downgrade screen
redsn0w downgrade screen

Luckily redsn0w supports downgrading of the iPad 2 easily so long as you have SHSH blobs for iOS 5.1.1 and any version of iOS 4. I downloaded the correct iOS 5.1.1 ipsw and also a 4.3.5 ipsw and let redsn0w retrieve my SHSH blobs from cydia and start the restore. The restore itself was painless, let redsn0w do it’s thing, throw the iPad 2 into DFU mode and let it restore first to iOS 4.3.5 and then to 5.1.1.

Second iPad 2 home screen on iOS 5.1.1
Second iPad 2 home screen on iOS 5.1.1
First iPad 2 home screen on iOS 5.1.1
First iPad 2 home screen on iOS 5.1.1
iOS 5.1.1 lock screen on iPad 2
iOS 5.1.1 lock screen on iPad 2
Settings page with About tab
Settings page with About tab

A word of warning, a few apps will not run at all on iOS 5.1.1, most notably Instagram and BBC iPlayer.  For other apps an older version will install but I’ve found all the apps I need, to work in one version or another, including Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, Plex etc.

The next step for me was to head back to redsn0w and jailbreak. The jailbreak for iOS 5.1.1 is so simple. It’s known as Rocky Racoon and takes a matter of minutes. Once installed & cydia was setup, I added the Kodi iOS repository to my list of sources and installed Kodi.

Kodi 15.2 Isengard splash screen on iOS 5.1.1
Kodi 15.2 Isengard splash screen on iOS 5.1.1
Main kodi menu with touch screen friendly skin
Main kodi menu with touch screen friendly skin
A quick look at my TV library
A quick look at my TV library

This iPad 2 now has a new lease of life. It’s so fast. I will admit it takes a little getting used to after using iOS 9, but it’s so fast it’s worth it to resurrect your old tech. Kodi works a dream on this thing, with incredible battery life it’s the best portable media centre by far. The fact mine has 64GB of storage means I can keep loads of media locally on the iPad and playback using Kodi. The facebook app is an older version but so much better. The content is concise and not cluttered like modern facebook.

Safari is super fast & I’ve installed Adblock via Cydia to block ads iPad wide, not just in Safari. This means no annoying ads in videos. All in all I’m really impressed. I also love the fact that I can now airplay any video to my Kodi media centre running on the Raspberry Pi. The latest iterations of iOS changed airplay encryption & broke airplay to Kodi for everything but Audio. However on 5.1.1 I can airplay any video, meaning I can use safari based TV catchup services such as Quest TV and airplay the video to my Kodi media centre. I can also airplay the video from the YouTube app which is a huge bonus.

All in all I’d say this is the best decision I’ve made for the iPad 2. Whilst I do lose some functionality, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. The difference in speed is incredible and it’s now a device I use daily again. If you have one I would recommend running a backup and trying this, you can always restore back to the latest version if you aren’t happy. I for one will be sticking with iOS 5.1.1 on legacy devices.

And Finally the working My Subscriptions page with working thumbnails

Kodi YouTube plugin broken – *FIX*

Recently Bromix, the developer of the awesome YouTube addon for Kodi decided to quit the project & concentrate on other things. This quickly lead to the addon breaking, days after he announced he was leaving the project. As yet nobody has taken up the reigns on this plugin. Over the past few days the plugin has been broken, with the My Subscriptions tab breaking and thumbnails failing to load. If you use this addon like me you will rely heavily on the My Subscriptions tab. I subscribe to a lot of YouTube channels & tend to watch this in the evening with my wife over watching traditional TV. The My Subscriptions tab essentially brings together all of the latest videos (in order) from every youtuber you subscribe to.

It would appear that since Bromix has left, there are issues with api keys. The initial fix was to generate your own keys and hack together the plugin to get it working. More recently, the awesome Raspberry Rabbit has taken up where Bromix left off and started adding his hacks into a zip, which can be installed from kodi.

Raspberry Rabbit is putting his fixes up on YouTube and as of Feb 23rd, I’m using his mod & everything is working as it should. Today he has added a bunch more of generated API keys into his zip, so this should work in the interim until a more elegant fix is implemented. I’m going to look into this myself as I didn’t realise how much I rely on the YouTube kodi plugin until the past week.

If you want to grab the latest Raspberry Rabbit version, head over to his github page at https://github.com/rasberryrabbit or download the addon itself directly from https://github.com/rasberryrabbit/plugin.video.youtube/archive/master.zip

If you are interested in getting this working there is a lot of chatter over on the Kodi forums so go & check them out at http://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=200735&page=218




Steps I used to get this working.

1. Go to your kodi profile folder, go into addon data and delete your youtube folder
2. Download the Youtube Master version linked to above
3. In kodi, go to video addons > Get More > use the … button to go back two folder levels and install from zip
4. Select the Youtube Master zip downloaded above & let install
5. Open your new YouTube addon via Video Addons and click sign in.
6. Authenticate twice with the codes shown over at https://youtube.com/activate
7. Enjoy your working version of YouTube for Kodi.

If you run into any issues let me know, I’ll update this post as things change. Like I said, I use this addon daily so I’ll always be up to date on the latest developments until it becomes stable again.

The initial YouTube sign in screen on Kodi
The initial YouTube sign in screen
Once signed in, this is the main YouTube addon screen in kodi
Once signed in, this is the main YouTube addon screen
And Finally the working My Subscriptions page with working thumbnails in kodi
And Finally the working My Subscriptions page with working thumbnails
Twitter

Twitter, hatred & the Stephen Fry vigilantes

I’ve been using Twitter since the very early days. I started using the service in early 2007 as a young Web Developer & recent Web Development graduate living in Manchester. At the time I was preparing to go back to University to study a Computer Science masters degree with a strong emphasis on the internet and social computing. Back then the huge buzzword was The Semantic Web. Basically an internet made up of user curated & generated content. Twitter even influenced my Masters thesis & I studied it in-depth. I also built an academic social network in the process incorporating social media and virtual learning environments.

Twitter was great in these early days. I actually remember having Conversations with some of my favourite people who happen to be in the celebrity arena. Those included Jonathan Ross, Robert Llewellyn and Stephen Fry. It was so good to pick their brains and interact in a positive way. I agree with Stephen’s latest blog post where he compares early twitter to swimming in a beautiful tropical ocean and soaking in all of the beauty & goodness. Nowadays it is a cesspool of hatred, trolling and self-righteousness.

People feel both the desire & right to berate anybody in the public eye if something they say or do offends them. They even feel the need to get involved in something that doesn’t require their input. The thing with the BAFTA’s was a joke, banter between two friends which seemed to offend many people. They took to twitter to direct their rage at Stephen without thinking that they are attacking a person directly. This is a man who has publicly acknowledged a lifelong battle with depression and bi-polar. Yet people feel they have the right to vent their frustrations directly at him. If you have a complaint, you put it in writing to BAFTA or the BBC.

You wouldn’t feel the compulsion to call him on the phone to vent your anger, or to email or write to him. This is because this would take time & you would feel some sort of social conscience. You would think objectively and realise it wasn’t worth a complaint. You would also have time to see Stephen Backstage laughing & joking with the woman & friend he was supposed to have offended, Jenny Beavan. With twitter, a few taps of your smartphone in a moment of rage & you have corresponded with your intended target. No time for reflection, no time for context and no debate with like-minded people. This is bullying of the highest order.

The holier than thou attitude of modern social media users is astonishing. Imagine, for one second, if everything you did in your place of work was filmed & broadcast to the world. Just think about that, I’m sure you have said & done things which would annoy almost all minority groups. Someone will always find a reason to be offended.

It’s the real-time witch hunt mentality which is scary. People spout such hate at people from the relative safety of the internet. A twitter handle is much like any other personal contact information such as a phone number, email address or postal address. Your comments are directed straight to that person. Some of them will be read & some of them can have profound effects on a persons mental state.

Imagine if every time you did something which could be deemed offensive in your daily life you were attacked by complete strangers. People calling for an apology, or for you to be sacked or shamed. It would be awful. We all have told a joke which maybe a little close to the bone, we all have said something which could be classed as not very politically correct, but amongst friends & colleagues it can be dealt with & very often laughed off. We are all only human & when put on the spot or under great pressure we all can say the wrong thing. This instant reaction is leading to the sanitizing of all personal opinion. Free speech is dead in an online world.





Far worse than the comments of someone like Jeremy Clarkson, Stephen Fry or any other person in the public eye is the public reaction & instant crucifixion of people. You see it daily on twitter, users are militant and without remorse. This is the modern twitter & I don’t really want to be a part of that. The early twitter was like nirvana. Users would share intimate parts of their daily lives, twit-pic’s and anecdotes like they where talking to their friends. It was a progressive & friendly platform. We used to text in our updates, hence the character limit. It was known as micro blogging as you would say something meaningful in very few characters. It was a joy. Now it is a churn of corporate interest, advertising, teenage angst & hatred. It feels disjointed & overcrowded. People share absolute drivel & it has largely replaced the person to person text message. Conversations played out in public for the world to see.

It has lost its essence and with the adoption by the masses it has suffered irreparable damage. Stephen Fry was one of the original tweeters. He was a joy to interact with and we got a real glimpse into his life. Now the haters, the vain, the teenagers and the morons have chased away our father figure and taken away the soul of the service. In a way I hope he doesn’t reactivate his account. I’m sure the original twitter users will move onto another service. As soon as the people migrated from Facebook to Twitter it was ruined. I just hope we experience that wonderful openness of original twitter again.

Twitter
Twitter
Apple Devices I own

Apple Error 53 & tech repairability

I’ve been considering this for a long time but over recent weeks the ability to repair my own technology has become far more important to me. Only a few weeks back, I was unfortunate enough to splash a few drops of coffee onto the keyboard of our Macbook Pro. We cleaned it off & thought nothing more of it until later in the day, when the machine failed to switch on. This was such a stressful thing to happen. The Macbook is 4 years old but is still in great condition & used constantly. It doesn’t warrant an upgrade.

I looked online & the tear down guides & forum posts looked complex. By all accounts, the liquid had fried the logic board and it was toast. I enquired about repair which was starting at many hundreds of £££. I then considered a refurbished machine which would have been £500+ for the exact same laptop (age & spec). I then snapped back into my old ways & started troubleshooting.

Out came the screwdrivers & apart came the unibody. After carefully removing the keyboard ribbon cable & starting the laptop using the diagnostic power pads on the logic board, I was surprised to see it boot up. I plugged in an external keyboard and the Macbook was fine. This instantly pointed to a faulty keyboard. As the power button and keyboard are on the same circuit it would appear that the liquid had bridged the power circuits permanently and that’s why it wouldn’t power up. It was like permanently holding the power button down.

I headed over to eBay & a new keyboard & backlight was only £24.99 delivered. This was for a brand new, official apple replacement. I bought the keyboard & the next day installed it in the Macbook. The dismantling was tedious, over 100 screws most of which are tiny. But I installed the keyboard, reassembled the machine & it’s now better than it was before. Brand new, grippy matte keyboard and backlight.

Apple Devices I own
Apple Devices I own

This is why the ability to repair an item is so important. The laptop would have been scrap, like I’m sure many are, for the sake of a simple replacement keyboard & a bit of labour. Without this I would have been unable to replace the laptop due to cost & would have likely gone into debt to acquire a new one.

I’m not one to throw things away, technology lasts a lot longer in my household than it does in most. I had an original Xbox 360 for 10+ years which became a Frankenstein of a machine, most components repaired or replaced. The same with my old iMac which is my main machine. In fact I’ve always been like this.

The fact that technology is now being crippled by software updates is worrying. Apple have essentially ruined my old iPad 2 with iOS 9. It’s slow & laggy and the ability to downgrade to a useful iOS has been removed. This is forced obsoletion. This week in the news we are learning that Error 53, caused by the replacement or damage of the home button/finger print scanner in modern iPhones, essentially causes the handsets to brick on update. This is wrong. Apple say this is a security measure, but surely the software should disable the fingerprint scanning capability and not the whole handset. I’m sure people would still be angry about this but at least they could use a pass code and still use their phone.

This sounds less like security & more like apple clamping down on unauthorised repair of their products. Everyone will know that apple repairs are far more expensive than a local repair shop, or even self repair. I’m glad to see this is being investigated legally, as it sets a dangerous precedent for us as consumers of technology. If an item we own can be made redundant by a software update, surely that can be classed as criminal damage. At the very least it can be classed as a perfectly usable product not being fit for purpose.

Can you imagine if your car needed repair & you took it to a normal mechanic (not affiliated with the manufacturer) only to find your car had become a useless hunk of junk. I for one pay more for Apple Products than I did for my car so this analogy is not that far out.

This corporate control of devices after purchase needs to stop. I’ve always been a hardware hacker, I like to see what technology can be pushed to do. The way I see it, when I buy hardware, I want to be in charge of what I can do with it.

For this very reason, I’m now actively seeking out repairable tech. Companies like Fairphone are challenging the corporate attitude to closed systems. They offer an easily repairable smart phone & will supply all the parts & help required. They are also ethical & transparent. This pleases me greatly. Smart phones are expensive. If anyone told you 15 years ago that you would spend £600+ on a mobile phone you would have laughed, but here we are. Convergence of technology means we rely on them more than ever & so pay the high price tags. Surely that means that if we are so invested, we should be able to at least attempt repair.

Fairphone 2 - Fully repairable & open
Fairphone 2 – Fully repairable & open

If you have any views on this I would love to hear from you. I’ll do a full write up of the Macbook repair & diagnostics as soon as possible.

Ubuntu Login Screen on X200

Thinkpad X200 + Libreboot + Trisquel = Back to my roots

It’s been a few years since I got my Computer Science Masters degree. In that time I’ve had less & less free time to concentrate on my own projects. This is mainly due to the fact that I’m running my own business (web-based but not overly technical) and concentrating on making enough money to pay the rent & bills. I’ve also been clearing off all the student debt which helped me achieve two degrees. In that time I’ve mostly had my main machine which is an early 2009 iMac. It’s a great spec machine & allows me to get all my daily work done. As it’s my development machine however, I can’t really test out new OS’s and generally fool around with computers like I used to.

I’ve been looking at getting a new machine for a while & I’ve been playing a lot with the Raspberry Pi collection I have. After stumbling across a few blog posts about cheap Linux laptops, I kept seeing the Lenovo X200 thinkpad mentioned. I then came across Richard Stallmans website (I admire that guy but haven’t checked out his website in a while) and realised that he uses a ThinkPad with Libreboot and Trisquel. This is the free (libre) software foundation’s attempt to rid a machine of all non free software, right down to the bios. I headed over to the Libreboot website and found the Ministry of Freedom website. They sell X200 laptops, ready to go with the bios changed to Libreboot and the OS installed is Trisquel.

I’m never shy of a challenge, I don’t think I’ve every owned a piece of hardware that I haven’t hacked, so rather than pay for a turn-key libreboot machine I’ve decided to learn this myself & do the conversion.

To start with I needed a machine. I headed to various websites & the generally guide price for the laptop was around £120-£180. I next headed to eBay and found a glut of ex-corporate machines being sold off. I managed to bag one in great condition for £50 delivered. The X200 came next day and I’m really impressed. The body of the laptop is like a powder coated alloy, with plastic components. Having only used Apple products for a few years, it felt a little less robust but still very well-built. It’s a compact 12″ laptop and the keyboard is amazing.

Thinpad X200 ready for Libreboot & trisquel
Thinpad X200 ready for Libreboot & trisquel

I set to work removing all of the manufactures and IT department stickers. I hate generic laptop stickers. After I had removed a plethora of Intel & MS stickers it was time to disinfect and clean the laptop.

On first boot I saw that the previous owner had formatted the drive & put a fresh copy of windows 7 on there for me. That had to go. I still don’t have my new SOIC16 clip to do the libreboot flash, so until then I’m stuck with a standard bios. No matter, I can still install Trisquel and get to grips with it before flashing the bios. The bios is more of a free software principle than an out & out necessity.

Trisquel was a breeze to install, I downloaded an image from their website, copied it to a flash drive & booted from the flash drive. You can run this as a live CD to test before you install, but I wanted to get it installed & start playing (the bonus of this laptop not being my main dev machine). It only took around 15 minutes to install, encrypt my hard drive & home folder & be presented with my new Gnome desktop.

I was dubious about the performance of a 6-year-old laptop, but I have to say this thing running Linux is rapid. So much quicker than I could ever have hoped for. I even found 4GB of RAM in the back of my desk drawer which I’d removed from my wife’s Macbook when upgrading. It was a better spec of ram than that installed but RAM is generally backwards compatible if it’s the same spec & form factor. I now have 4GB of ram and the machine is a peach. I’m writing this post on my new laptop, sipping a coffee and enjoying the freedom of this absolute bargain workhorse.

I have big plans for this machine, the SOIC16 clip will allow me to flash the bios with libreboot, the current battery is original and only holds 50% of its design charge (which is still over 2 hours). I plan to get a high-capacity 7800Mah battery from eBay and hopefully hit 8-10 hours on a charge. I also need to install all my own stickers to the lid and generally get to know Linux again.

Ubuntu Login Screen on X200
Ubuntu Login Screen on X200

I’m surprised how much computing power you can now get for £50. I can make a start on so many projects now. I’ll keep you up to date with the progress of this Librboot/Trisquel project.

I’ll leave you with the specs of this little beast & some pictures. I’d advise all of you interested in tech to try a project like this. Having a machine you aren’t afraid to break gives you so much freedom to learn. I’m really excited at that prospect.

Processor : 2x Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo CPU P8600 @ 2.40GHz
Memory : 3941MB (2936MB used)
-Display-
Resolution : 1280×800 pixels
OpenGL Renderer : Mesa DRI Mobile Intel® GM45 Express Chipset
X11 Vendor : The X.Org Foundation
-Multimedia-
Audio Adapter : HDA-Intel – HDA Intel

System Load Graph
System Load Graph
My Social Media Account

The dangers of Social Media – An end to productivity

You are going to think I’m being a complete dick with this post, but stick with it. I’m not saying that I’m not guilty of any of the points made (I am), just highlighting them in a way that makes you think.

I have been planning this post for a long time & researching these issues for many years. Back in 2008/2009 I based my Masters thesis around social media & it’s uses in a virtual learning environment. After writing 30,000 words & creating my own Social Media platform I realised the many benefits of Social Media when used within a specific context (in this case to enhance University learning). Although I did uncover many drawbacks which at the time (when Twitter was almost new & Facebook very basic) didn’t seem too grand.

Roll on 7 years & social media has become an everyday part of our lives. I for one used to love Twitter, to be able to interact with your peers & the people you looked upto. It used to be a great place, a place of enlightenment and learning. Now it has gone the way of many great tools & become the place to air your dirty laundry or advertise your latest product.

My Social Media Account
My Social Media Account

Social Media seems to be intertwined with daily life in 2015. It creates anxiety when people don’t have access to it. Conversations which used to be between friends at face to face meetings or over an instant messaging conversation/email/text/call are now conducted in the public arena. People are putting their entire life on display & it’s creating some interesting issues for society.

Instagram is a platform I used to enjoy. To see interesting things my friends had found, nice sunsets & new additions to well-known places. Now it’s the preserve of the narcissist & the self editors. We use it to present our best selves, perfectly edited & staged to make it look like our lives are perfect & wonderful. This may be all well & good, but when you are living your daily life (which tends not to be some amazing daily adventure) and you are bombarded with images of great restaurants, beautiful cityscapes, 1st class travel, gorgeous people wearing fabulous clothes, it does tend to make you feel a little inferior. This self editing has led to a climate of jealousy & insecurity. It’s plain to see with our young adults who try to always present themselves immaculately for every occasion. Roll back to when I was 16 and I had no money, grunge inspired jumpers with holes in & the best friendship group you could imagine. We also went on adventures & have such epic stories to talk about to this day.

This insecurity can manifest itself in many ways & I myself (who should know better) have even experienced it. Perhaps you feel you should have a better job, your car is a bit crappy, all of your friends & peers are doing well while maybe you are having a tough time. Rather than bringing people together, social media is breaking people apart. A sort of competitive instinct has developed where you aim to show you are doing better than your peers, simply by getting better instagrams, showing flashier venues or nicer vistas. It’s all fake.

It’s the same story with Facebook. People use that not as a social media platform to keep up with close friends, but as a platform to vent their political/social/personal desires & frustrations. Every time I go on Facebook to check if I’ve had a message from one of my friends (I have friends dotted around the globe) I find myself looking on with sheer disbelief. People are either having intimate exchanges (between partners) in public instead of between themselves, or they are venting their latest political or personal vendetta and sometimes generally being bigoted and racist. It’s a completely pointless platform now. Facebook is the platform I hate most. They hide content from people I actually know & show me conversations between someone I know & someone I don’t. POINTLESS! They also introduced that idiotic share button, so everyone’s feed is now full of pointless crap. They have made it so people don’t use the internet, they just use Facebook. One finely tuned propaganda & marketing machine. Oh, and they censor posts (You can’t type the word Tsu for example, because you may be linking to the social media network tsu.co which pays users for the advertising they see). Unethical.

Next we have twitter. This used to be the preserve of the more techie & learned people. This was actually shown in a statistic but I can’t lay my hands on it right now (google “twitter users better educated” and you will see loads of studies). Essentially a study was carried out and University graduates tended to favour twitter over Facebook. Now twitter has become an advertising mecca for brands & self promotion. The interesting tweets get lost amongst the constant crap. Even if you trim your following list you still have promoted tweets to contend with. AD blocking cuts through them but it’s not the platform it used to be. Remember back in the day when you could text status updates to your twitter timeline? I bet few people remember that.

The social media landscape is now endless. Snapchat, Beme, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr and many more. All of them promoting insecurity & a luxurious, perfect life beyond our reach. Living everyday feeling inferior is a bad place to be. A life lived in the hope of one day living your dream life is a life wasted. Every day is precious & every day helps you build towards your own future, a future mostly dictated by the actions of right now.

I have found myself bowing to the pressure of Social Media. In my earlier posts you can read all about my attempts to live a more photogenic lifestyle (let’s just say it didn’t end well). This weekend I made a big change to stem this ridiculous digital ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’. I switched of the internet. More specifically I switched off all of my social media & notifications on my iPhone. I didn’t look at it once. My phone remained silent & to one side throughout all of Friday evening while we watched Children in need on the TV. We had fun, we cried, we ate rubbish food & donated. We actually had a really nice evening. I kept this up throughout Saturday & it was bliss. We got load of things done at home and had loads of time to spare. I’d advise you all to step away from your Social Media accounts during a set time each week. It’s called a blackout amongst the people who do it. Try an evening, and then a whole day, then who knows. It’s so liberating.

I’m not saying it’s all bad, but it is addictive, very addictive. It destroys your productivity too. I used to spend so much time reading content on the internet. Well written content from tech industry folks who I respected. I had a huge list of blogs & sites I’d go to for information. Nowadays, I tend to click only the links that are distributed on twitter. It’s bizarre and unhealthy. The internet was a great place before social media. Before baby scan pictures & your pets (I love your children & your pets, but it’s just not that interesting to the world all the time) the internet was filled with insightful writing & thought-provoking ideas. Now it’s an adword infested, self promoting pain in the arse which saps more time than I care to admit.

If you turn off your social media notifications on your smartphone & don’t open your accounts on your computer I guarantee it will give you anxiety. If I ask you to turn off your phone completely while we have a conversation, you will find a million reasons why you need to be reachable via phone. You don’t, if it’s an emergency (which it rarely ever is), someone knows where you are & can find you. I find the Smartphone has ruined old-fashioned face to face conversations with your friends. Checking your phone whilst taking to someone is like saying “I’m interested what you have to say, so long as a better offer doesn’t come up on my phone, so I’ll be checking that now and then to see if anyone more interesting is speaking to me”. The Smartphone infuriates me. It’s become such a vital part of daily life but such a burden in the process.

I’m guilty of most of the things I’ve talked about, but I’m working hard to take back my time & my social relationships with people. I’d rather meet you face to face for a proper catch up that I’ll remember, and I’d rather be interested in hearing all of your stories directly. I hate the “Oh, I saw you did that on FB/Twitter/other pointless platform” response. It kills conversation dead.

This is just the start of a series of posts I’m going to do on cutting the cord with social media. I’ve still not covered click-baiting, armchair activism, bullying & all the other wonderful things that Social Media easily allows. I’m not trying to suggest it’s all bad, it’s just becoming noisy. It’s less of a useful tool & more of a way to keep us distracted & entertained. As this isn’t an academic paper & I’m sure most people have stopped reading by now, I’ll leave it at that. I’d love to hear your comments on this though.

Servicing my Fiat Panda

Being Frugal – Servicing your car & fixing your car

Long time readers of my blog will know that I’ve been on a mission to save money & generally live a more frugal life. For a while life became very extravagant & very expensive. I’ve only just managed to correct a lot of the financial mistakes made during a foolish & stressful part of my life & I’m always looking at ways to save money.

A little over 3 years ago my beloved Land Rover developed a gearbox fault. It cost a lot of money to have repaired & the repair failed, so I ended up selling it for next to nothing. I then bought a sporty Mini Cooper S which cost me a fortune & after 6 months I sold it to buy a Mercedes estate. This cost even more money to run & maintain and after less than 18 months of owning 3 separate cars I was at a point that I could no longer afford to run a car (silly financial decisions & lots of expensive repairs). It was at this point we sold the Mercedes & used the money to start paying off debt. This would be the beginning of paying off almost £20k in unsecured debts.

We lived without a car for months & it was a great time. It was very sobering. For our trips to Scotland every couple of months we would rent a cheap city car & hit the road. We did this for a while & while not having a car suited us, it wasn’t practical with the family commitments we have. So in September 2014 we bought the blue peril (or The Tardis, depending on who you ask). It’s a 10-year-old Fiat Panda, it was a single lady owner car & only had 22k miles on the clock when we bought it. It was a great deal & cost the same amount for the whole car as we paid for the Land Rover gearbox fix. It’s cheap to tax & insure & generally cheap to run. It does 56MPG and costs us nothing in fuel. It’s a big difference to the big cars I’m used to but it’s honest, affordable & we own it outright.

When we got the Fiat Panda it had no service history. This is usually a gamble but as it was such low mileage and by the feel of the gearstick had never left third gear it seemed like a good gamble. When we got it, it needed new brakes and an oil change. That was it. The brakes cost £220 and an oil change cost £80. I wanted to do the work myself but didn’t have time at all. This year however the time came around to service the car & I was determined to do it.

The benefits of doing your own service are both financial & personal. The sense of achievement is great & you get to know your car so much more. I was also able to source my own parts & oil and got great items really cheap. The oil is a real high spec Shell fully synthetic and I know the job will have been done properly.

To buy 5 litres of oil (I only needed 2.8), oil filter, air filter, sump plug hex key, oil drain pan and an oil filter removal tool costs just over £30. Remember for an oil change alone the year before I paid over £80. £50 saved already & next time it will be even cheaper as I only need another 1 litre of oil and the filters. I now have the tools for life.

Servicing my Fiat Panda
Servicing my Fiat Panda

It’s usually very straightforward to service a car. A haynes manual is a must & reading over the process a few times will mean you know what to do when the time comes.

I jacked up the car & put it up on stands I had made from large bricks. I then laid down some card board & climbed under to see what I was working with. The oil filter had been overtightened and took a good 20 minutes to free, soaking it in WD40 and tapping gently to release any rust in the seal seemed to free it. I only loosened off the oil filter, ensuring no oil came out and then moved onto the sump plug. This had been seriously overtightened by the previous mechanic using an air gun. The torque wrench settings for the sump plug are very light and should be done by hand to avoid over tightening. I had to soak the plug in WD40 & penetrating oil & it took nearly an hour to get the plug out using the hex key & lightly tapping it with a hammer to free. I didn’t want to use a breaker bar as putting too much torque in may have deformed the small sump. Job done the oil drained into the pan I had bought and I left it for 30 mins to have a brew & a swear.

When the oil had stopped draining it was simply a matter of screwing in the new oil filter, screwing in the sump plug & refilling with lovely fresh oil. I added 2 litres & then topped up to just below the max line on the dipstick. I then changed the air filter which took about 30 seconds.

The car is now running beautifully and I saved myself a small fortune on labour for what is (and will be next time) a very straightforward bit of motor maintenance. I’ll be doing this now every 6 months or 6000 miles.

I hadn’t serviced my own car in around 10 years. Back then I had an old mini and no money so I would do everything with that car. I think I had convinced myself over the years that my time wasn’t worth giving up to do the work, or it was easier to let a mechanic do the job, but it’s really not the case. Being frugal & having a car is hard to combine, but by carrying out these simple tasks you can save a small fortune. I even saved enough money to treat myself to a new book.

Being frugal is definitely a state of mind. When I was lay under that car struggling to get that overtightened plug out I could have easily given up and paid a professional to do the work, but now I know for next time everything isn’t overtightened & I can complete the task in 25 mins.

I have since swapped out all the wipers for Bosch ones (really nice wipers) and I intend to flush the coolant & change the spark plugs next month.

I implore you to go a grab a Haynes manual & don’t be afraid to get stuck in. The tools you buy are an investment & once you have done it you will have developed some great skills & be able to save money for life. I wish I had done this earlier. I’ve spent thousands in servicing and repair’s I could have done myself.

This little car is such a statement of intent for me. It’s small & cheap, really classless but I can afford it & it’s mine. I don’t have sleepless nights & I don’t worry about how I will afford to run it. I’ll get another Land Rover one day, I’m an enthusiast & love them, but this little Blue Peril is going nowhere.

The selection of Sim cards used for my conrwall rural mobile phone test

Rural Internet Access – Cornwall

All of my social media followers will now know I’ve taken a short lease on a converted church in Cornwall & plan to relax & research for the foreseeable future until completing my move to Amsterdam. This downtime is needed to really become an expert in my field again, over the past 24 months of downsizing & paying off debt all of my own personal development went out of the window. This time will put that right.

The first stumbling block I had when moving to Cornwall was perhaps the biggest, internet access. We live in between the villages of St Blazey & Lostwithiel on the south coast of Mid Cornwall. Coming from a major metropolitan area & back to Cornwall meant giving up any notion of 4G and hopefully falling back on 3G. That was a no go with my GiffGaff sim as the O2 coverage in my new house was 2G (gprs) only. And that was too slow to even send iMessage over. I therefore started ordering sim cards from all of the major mobile phone providers in the uk. This would prove to be a bigger challenge than I expected.

The first one to arrive was an EE sim. The coverage checker showed low coverage, but our property is near to 3 EE towers so I thought I would give it a go. No signal indoors and barely any outdoors. Certainly no data to speak of. Rubbish!

Before I go any further I need to set the scene in the new property. It’s a converted church from 1840. It has walls made of granite which are almost a metre thick. Couple that with the fact we are in a valley & things don’t look great.

The next sim I tried was a sim from 3. Again, their coverage checker said no coverage but what the hell, it’s worth a go. I tried outside and got a signal but nothing substantial and very weak. No signal indoors. Booooo!

The next sim up was a Virgin Media sim. At this point I ordered everything I could. Again, no signal.

The last sim I tried was a Vodafone sim. Vodafone are a company I’ve never used & I’ve always thought they are overpriced. Their coverage checker did show coverage & even said 4G coverage within 3 months. Great I thought. I bought the sim & topped up. Nothing. GPRS 2G signal only with zero throughput. This is where things got interesting. I got onto Vodafone support online & they said I had used all of my data. They reckoned I’d used all 500MB in 20 minutes over a non functioning gprs connection. Complete nonsense. We went through all of the scripted rubbish for over an hour in which time the agent kept contradicting themselves. Saying my internet wouldn’t work without the apn settings being correct, which they where, then saying I’d used all my data, which I hadn’t. Never did get that refund & I would advise everyone to be cautious dealing with them. I certainly won’t consider them in the future.

So I was left with my trusty GiffGaff sim on the O2 network, limited to GPRS only. I did find that forcing my iPhone 6 to only use 2G or 3G did allow some date transfer, but it took 5 minutes to send an iMessage.

The selection of Sim cards used for my conrwall rural mobile phone test
The selection of Sim cards used for my conrwall rural mobile phone test

I find it ridiculous that this is still the case in 2015 Britain. I can travel in all directions upto 4 miles before I get 3G & most of the time I only have a shaky gprs connection. The lack of rollout in rural areas has never really affected me until moving back to Cornwall but I can see it being a massive barrier to digital economy access for rural residents.

Luckily at home (thanks to the Superfast Cornwall initiative) I now have a solid BT Fibre connection at 38Mbps, but outside and around my home I have nothing but voice and limited gprs. Hopefully things will get better as O2 have a 98% coverage commitment and have access to 800Mhz and 900Mhz frequencies which allow for lower throughput but better range & building penetration. We will wait & see. Until then I will be constantly nagging O2 to upgrade my local masts.

UPDATE: 26th October 2015

Overnight, 3G & 4G where activated on my local mast. I now have 4G signal in my home and 3G signal for a mile or so around it. Thank you so much O2 for undertaking this much-needed work. And please keep working to get more & more rural residents & businesses connected. It is vital that people have easy access to the internet & the digital economy. Not to mention the boosts to a tourist area like this if people can use maps, review sites, social media and more to research and self promote the area.

4G with GiffGaff as of 26th October 2015
4G with GiffGaff as of 26th October 2015
GiffGaff Rural 4G Speedtest
GiffGaff Rural 4G Speedtest

Beme codes for sale – really?

It has come to my attention over the last few days that demand for Beme is outstripping supply. The Beme codes system is all well and good to act as a kind of soft launch for an app but the fact that so many sites, Twitter accounts & Twitter users are either duping users or selling codes is a cause for concern. 

If you search on Twitter you will find so many people requesting money for codes. You will also find websites offering to generate a code for you. These are bogus and they are purely a click baiting scheme to get you to fill out forms and click ads, making the fraudsters money and leaving you without a code. 

I don’t agree with the codes launch thing. It’s great for building hype but it’s getting a little sinister now people are paying money or filling out fraudulent surveys and ad clicks in the hope of getting into Beme. This is not social and it could tarnish people’s first experience of what promises to be a great social platform. I hope these fraudsters and scammers come to Casey Neistats attention and they can remove the core system altogether. I currently have my username reserved but with another 94 days to wait I think the buzz will have passed by the time I get in and I’ll end up staying on snapchat with all my friends.