Monday, 24 May 2010

new pc

ibm-pc-5150

I got a new laptop last week. An exciting moment, for someone who loves gadgets, but after a week of using it, is it any good?

I have to confess, as far as PC’s are concerned I’m not their number one fan. That all goes back to the old days of computers. When my Spectrum got old and pointless, it was replaced with a CBM Amiga A500, which at the time was about a million years ahead of the PC in terms of usability and hardware specification. Amiga’s had a palette of over 4000 colours, had stereo sound (sort of), and a multi-tasking operating system. By the Amiga 1200, this had improved significantly, and was streets ahead of Windows 3.1.

Ah, Windows 3.1. What a badly written, unusable, pointless pile of old trollop that was. Microsoft daren’t make it any good because Apple kept taking them to court over any remote similarity to their Mac operating system. I was forced to use it at university, when actually it was easier to ignore it altogether and use the command line interface of MS-DOS.

Of course, things improved. Windows 95 was OK, if unreliable, as was 98. Windows ME was more reliable, but a bit dull. Then came Windows XP, which was big, clunky, but reliable and usable. By then, my Amiga was using up garage space, and Windows had taken over in my life, begrudgingly. In fact, a couple of years ago I discovered Linux, and have been using this in preference.

However, time moves on. In our house, there are 3 PC’s. One is an elderly desktop that runs Ubuntu Linux. One is an even older laptop, that is held together with string and runs Xubuntu Linux – just. The third runs XP, and Kubuntu Linux. They are all old, slow and barely keeping up, so it was obvious that they had to go and be replaced. Therefore, last Monday, off to PC world I went, spent an hour looking at PC’s, and came home with a spanky-new Dell laptop. With Windows 7.

Now, Windows 7 is something that’s passed me by a little bit. All I really know about it, is that the TV adverts are stupidly irritating (“I’m a PC, and I’m out of time”, “I’m a PC, and my work here is done”, “I’m a PC, and I need a swift punch in the face”). I’ve not seen it, not used it, not bothered with it. But, here’s the thing. It’s excellent.

Ok, it’s still a Microsoft operating system, so it insists on updating itself at the most inopportune moments, as well as constantly popping up warnings every time you want to do something. It’s the Labour party of the computing world, it wants to manage your entire life. It knows best. But asides from that, it’s so much better. It boots up far more quickly than XP, although it’s still quite new so we’ll see how long that lasts. It looks excellent, nothing like Windows in fact. It’s far easier to pick up than it ever was. I’m a big fan of the dock at the top of the screen, all the main programs I use are stored there as opposed to in a menu somewhere. Mind you, that’s a straight Mac rip-off, and I’m amazed they’ve been allowed to keep it in!

In short, it’s actually usable. So, I’ve put off installing Linux for now. I’ve even kept with Internet Explorer for now, because it’s actually quite good. The Windows Live Writer is included, and I’m using it to write the blog today. Yes, it really does come with rather nifty blog writing software. Whether it’s any good, well we’ll see when I hit ‘Publish’!

So, finally, let me recommend two pieces of software you’ll need  to finish the Windows 7 experience. Firstly, there’s no Outlook Express for your e-mails, so you’ll be needing Mozilla Thunderbird. Easy to use, works the same, totally free. Secondly, you will want a music player. ITunes works, Windows Media Player is included and is ok, but you really, really need to look up ‘Spotify’. It’ll play your old back catalogue of MP3 files on your hard disk, but it basically lets you – legally – stream music from online, and the range of bands and artists signed up to it is huge. The free version has adverts, if you don’t want that it’s a fiver a month, and to use it on your mobile it’s a tenner a month. Have a look, while I go and enjoy the glorious weather!

http://www.mozillamessaging.com/en-GB/thunderbird/

http://www.spotify.com/uk/new-user/

Monday, 10 May 2010

Interesting times

image: Daily Mail

It's been a bizarre week or two. Probably the most interesting election campaign I can remember, right up to the exit polls coming out at 10pm on 6th May. Utter disbelief, that after all the polls in the previous weeks, it looked like - and indeed, was correct - that we would end up with less seats than before. Even though we increased our share of the vote.

So, we are into hung-parliament territory. I believe this is a huge moment for British politics, and after all the scandal of recent times, it has presented a great opportunity for the MP's to grow up and act like adults, for a change. However, I have to say that I didn't see Liberal-Tory discussions coming.

I'm a Liberal Democrat party member, and have been for years, so I know full well that most Liberals would naturally want an alliance with Labour, they are very uneasy about teaming up with the Tories. But I've been thinking about this for a day or two, and I reckon this might suit me very well.

Whilst I remain a Lib-Dem member and supporter, I'm probably slightly right of centre, whilst the party are left of centre. This has often presented me with the odd dilemma. For example, I'm not a particular fan of European matters, whilst the Lib-Dems are staunchly pro-Europe. I've got a harder opinion of matters such as capital punishment; I'd have few complaints about bringing it back, whilst most Liberals would be horrified about this.

I do, however, stick with the Lib-Dems, because from experience, they have always been far more tolerant of differing opinions than the other parties, probably because everything is debated properly. So, if a policy makes the manifesto, I know that the party members at the conference had a democratic debate on it. I like that. I've also long held the view that although I'm not pro-European, I'd rather be represented by a party that wants to be there, than a party that exists to make it difficult.

Therefore, if the Lib-Dems make a coalition with the Tories, it may, strangely, more reflect my brand of politics. With one huge, enormous, universe-sized caveat. And that's parliamentary reform. The Tories are opposed to it, but I'm afraid any deal must at the very least, promise a referendum on this subject, primarily involving a change to our discredited, unfair voting system. This is why I came to the Lib-Dems in the first place. It's just not acceptable that a party that obtains a quarter of the vote, only gets 57 seats out of 649. Asides from the Lib-Dems, other parties have reason to want a change. UKIP got 4 times the number of votes - nearly 1,000,000 - than the Green party. Even the hateful BNP got more votes than the Greens. Seats in the commons: UKIP = 0, BNP = 0, Greens = 1. Crazy.

Check out some other results. Harrogate and Knaresborough, the Lib-Dem candidate came second with 44% of the vote, whereas in Hull North, Diana Johnson won with 39% of the vote. 13,000 Labour votes = win, 23,000 Liberal votes = lose. That's not fair. Not in my book. And that's not counting the 4,000 Tory votes in Hull North, that count for nothing at all.

That's why I want a voting system that means every vote counts, that's why I want Nick Clegg to insist on making this a part of a deal with whichever party, and that's why I'll continue to support the Lib-Dems.

And I promise to lay off the politics in the next blog entry!