Gadgets and Gizmos

I’ve just noticed that the “Gadgets” category hasn’t been updated in the last 18 months. l-)

Obviously I’ve bought loads of gizmos since then, so here’s a round up of some of the more interesting ones:

  • Logitech Squeezebox Boom (Wifi Internet Radio)

    I bought this a couple of years ago so that I could listen to live football commentary. It basically operates like any regular bedside radio/alarm clock, except that instead of picking up AM/FM signals it connects wirelessly to the internet and streams live radio channels from all over the world. I usually have it tuned to UK Talk Sport, but occasionally listen to Manchester Radio Online (featuring James Stannage) or podcasts such The Football Ramble or the Hamish and Andy podcasts.
     
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH1 (Digital Camera) & Eye-Fi (Wifi-enabled SD memory card)

    Charlotte recently broke our old digital camera so this is the replacement. We only need a simple point-and-shoot camera and this one does everything we need. The magic part is the Eye-Fi SD card which I bought online recently. As well as acting as a standard camera memory card, it also uploads photos to our computer whenever it’s in range of a wireless network. Everything happens automatically, you just need to switch on the camera. When coupled with Sara’s Google Android phone, it basically provides unlimited memory capacity and ensures the photos are safe as soon as they’re taken.
     
  • Amazon Kindle (Ebook reader)

    I bought this last year when the Australian dollar reached parity with the US dollar and it’s one of my favourite gadgets. The “e-ink” screen is perfect: it’s non-reflective and doesn’t need to be backlit, so you can read it in all lighting conditions without straining your eyes. It’s just the right size, weighs about the same as a regular paperback book and the battery life is remarkable. I use it all the time when flying, which seems to be every couple of weeks at the moment. Since epub format books are so easy to acquire, I doubt I’ll buy many real books in future. I’m currently flicking between Football — Bloody Hell, the Biography of Sir Alex Ferguson and The Art of Deception, the story of arch-hacker Kevin Mitnick.
     
  • Linksys SPA3102 (Voice-over-IP adapter)

    This is another great gadget, allowing us to make dirt cheap international calls via broadband using a standard phone handset. Through the magic of IP-based telephony we even have a permanent real UK in-dial number (0161 354 xxxx), so you can reach us using your free mobile minutes, just like you would any other Manchester number. It’s also great when dealing with useless organisations such as the UK Tax Office, Oldham Council and the estate agent.
     
  • New Computer

    The computer that I built shortly after we arrived in Australia has been upgraded a couple of times since then, but it has been playing up since Christmas — I blame the climate. So last week I bought a few new components and rebuilt it. Here’s the current specification:

    • ASRock P67 Extreme 4 Motherboard — SLI capable, in case I ever need it. Plenty of SATA 6Gb and USB3 ports. (Yes, I’m aware of the Sandy Bridge recall but it’s irrelevant to me, as I’m never going to use the slower SATA 3Gb ports.)
    • Intel Core i5 2500K CPU — the nutter’s choice. Rated at 3.3Ghz officially, mine runs quietly at 4.8Ghz without breaking a sweat. I couldn’t justify getting the 2600K model, this will do for the next three years easily.
    • 8Gb Corsair Vengeance memory — I can’t believe how cheap this stuff is, considering what I’ve paid for memory over the years. I’ll probably get another matched 8Gb soon, so that I can have a huge Ramdisk for the Firefox/Chrome cache and Windows %TEMP% folders.
    • Intel X25-M 80Gb SSD — Although there are newer and faster models available these days, this made a massive difference when I bought it early last year. A larger secondary hard disk drive is still needed for storage, but Windows 7 Ultimate x64 boots up in about 4 seconds now. There’s really no going back once you’ve had a solid state disk.
    • ATI Radeon 5750 1Gb — Again this is nowhere near top of the range nowadays, but it easily handles everything I throw at it. High Definition movies are smooth and games work at 1920×1080 with maximum detail, so I don’t need a $300+ video card.
    • Asus MT276HE 27-inch Widescreen LCD — This is a monster screen, especially as I’m sat only about three feet away from it. Amazing quality, especially considering it was only a few dollars more than the 22- and 24-inch models.

So, what do I need to buy next? 😕

Charlotte’s Playroom

I promised that I’d update the blog more often in 2011, so here’s a quick post to show how we converted our downstairs workshop into a bright playroom for Charlotte. I’ve added a new gallery with about 40 photos showing how the work progressed. :-”

Basically we had a large, unused room under the house which the previous owner used as a workshop for building model ships. There was no internal access, you had to go outside to enter through a separate door. Although it was handy for storage, we weren’t really making good use of it. Inside it was pretty basic: exposed rough brick walls, a cold tiled floor, a big old radiator and a couple of fluorescent strip lights. 🙁

So, because the room is directly below our living room, we came up with the simple idea of cutting a hole in the ceiling and installing a staircase. As with any renovation project, we hit a few snags along the way:

  • Firstly we would need to smash out some horrible 1970s-style built-in cupboards, move some electrical wiring and relocate two radiators. Unfortunately we discovered that 99% of Aussie plumbers and heating companies refuse to touch “hydronic” heating systems like ours — we ended up finding a friendly ex-pat plumber who knew what he was doing, but it still cost us hundreds of dollars. Removing the fitted cupboards also made a bit of a mess of the plaster upstairs.

  • Then we discovered that the joists ran across the room, rather than lengthways along it. This meant that we’d have to cut through several load-bearing beams, requiring additional reinforcement.

  • We also received a couple of ridiculous quotes for the downstairs plastering work — over $2000! We thought we’d struck lucky when we met a plasterer at the local pub who quoted reasonable rates, but he repeatedly failed to turn up for the job. We ended up hiring a guy from Gumtree, who did a really good job.

  • We decided the room should be a colourful and bright place for Charlotte, so we went with the primary colours theme. The blue is bloody blue and the yellow is effing yellow! (I’m not sure they’re called that on the Dulux paint chart.) Paint is stupidly expensive in Australia and, because we wanted the colours to be really bold, it took several coats to get the right finish.

  • After getting a new carpet fitted, we finished off with some quirky light fittings and stripy curtains.

As you can see from the top picture, Charlotte loves it. That said, she still brings all her toys upstairs to make the living room messy, but we’re working on that. :-w

There’s still a bit of work to do: skirting boards, boxing off underneath the stairs and fitting a new front door (we now have two!) but the room is usable so these jobs can wait. We’re going to continue with the living room next, so that we can call this end of the house finished. The other parts (kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms) is going to be a heck of a lot harder. We’ve also realised that our renovation budget is not going to be enough if we have to rely on tradesmen, so I predict we’ll be learning some new skills this year! #:-s