Fogey Friday 16th March

Mar 16, 2012 No Comments by



A weekly round-up of stuff we’ve read in the papers and things we’ve done.  This week; more on the latest iPad, Mashable, Raspberry Pi, Dell, Skype and homelessness



Keep Taking the Tablets


There seems to be no satisfying our appetite for iPads and other, (Android) tablet PCs. Right now, iPads account for nearly 55 per cent of all tablets sold, with Amazon’s Kindle Fire (still not available in the UK, for f***s sake…) taking just under 17 per cent in second spot. Less than two months ago, 2012 sales predictions for tablets was 100 million units, a figure that has already had to be re-appraised upwards by nearly 10 million. TF could try and suggest why the demand for tablets seems insatiable but has a hunch it might be as simple as the lure of toys. Women can never have too many handbags and shoes; men can’t have too many toys, especially those that keeps their restless, fiddling fingers occupied. At least men’s play-things tend to be different rather than versions of the same thing. And we know women buy iPads but check out the rent-a-crowd queues at Apple stores on Friday 16th March (at 8am – those considerate Apple people are opening early) and play ‘spot the woman’.

A postscript to last week’s blurb on the new iPad is that the UK and Europe doesn’t have the much vaunted 4G network that iPad3 can access and never will. Yes, friends, although 4G will arrive in our quaint backwater at some point, the version of 4G we will have will not be compatible with the new iPad, which is designed to only work on 4G networks in the US and Canada. Something to do with chips and hertz and frequencies not all being on the same wavelength. Part of the reason Apple wants to push 4G for the iPad is that, compared with laptops, the iPad has very little internal storage – even the crappiest laptop has more than 64GB of storage, which is all the top-of-the-range iPad has. What Apple needs, therefore, is you to use their iCloud facility and store all your music, photos, videos etc in ‘the cloud’. And to make this a tolerable and satisfying user experience data you have stored in the cloud needs to whizz back and forth to your iPad at breakneck speeds. And it will. In the US and Canada. Let’s all emigrate.


More Cash for Cashmore

Pete is a website that talks in supposedly simple language about all things digital. This is where any similarity between it and Tech Fogey ends. Pete Cashmore started Mashable as a blog from his bedroom in Scotland in 2005 when he was 19. In 2012 he is 26 and his ‘blog’ has grown somewhat. Rumour has it that a sale is in the offing and that Mr Cashmore will live up to his pun-tastic surname by trousering the thick end of $200 million. And he look like a movie star. And has a model-girlfriend. If this post is acquiring a green-ish tinge it’s purely coincidental.


Raspberry Pi

Pi not Pie

The Raspberry Pi is a cheap computer (£22) that looks like it was assembled from bits of old radio and twine. It was developed by a British charity ( to encourage those in short trousers to become enamoured of computer programming. Most of us can press buttons; few of us can write code, the behind-the-scenes gobbledygook that makes computers do what we want them to. That this device is being aimed squarely at children is perhaps understandable if also slightly irritating – as though being post-pubescent represents a barrier to understanding of, or interest in, computer code. TF’s mother claims to be ‘not interested’ in computers or the Internet. We try to explain to her that interest is no more a prerequisite for Internet noodling than the same of internal combustion would be in order to drive a car, which she does, often. But we appreciate that only a fruity raspberry pie would do it for her. The first release of Raspberry Pis sold out in minutes. TF will try and get its hands on one and test the theory that it’s a ‘brats only’ device by giving it to a fiftysomething to see if trying to make it work causes his shrivelling to brain explode.


Gadget Life Laundry

TF spent a slightly chastening Wednesday afternoon at St Mungo’s in East London ( It’s a centre for the homeless and cares for those who, for whatever reason, have fallen through society’s cracks. Their funding has been cut by over 20 percent, which could make them less able to accommodate customers for whom the line between getting by and destitution is very fine indeed. Maybe the staff of Goldman Sachs should spend a few weeks living at St Mungo’s in a life swap exercise. Anyway, St Mungo’s now has to raise more money via charitable donations and make that money work even harder than before. It seems somewhat immoral to us that anyone should profit from a charity but energy companies and many other suppliers do, which makes us then wonder whether it wouldn’t make their reduced income work harder if St Mungo’s had to buy less of the stuff it needs such as tools, furniture, cooking utensils – it’s a long list, just think what you might need to equip a medium-sized hotel. Better to give a saucepan than St Mungo’s has to raise the cash to buy one. TF has a lot of redundant-but-good stuff in the attic, much of it electrical – printers, video player, DVD players, speakers, tuners. We even have a 42-inch plasma display (ranted about in this post) that could find a new home on the wall at St Mungo’s. Except it can’t. TF could sell it to you on ebay but charities aren’t allowed to accept electrical goods because of, you guessed, health & safety legislation. Quite why you can sell a TV but not donate it to a charity will make sense only to some weasely bureaucrat with nothing better to do than create legislation that heaps misery on those who need it least. Tech Fogey senior is retired and would happily spend his free time walking the unfortunate inhabitants of a nearby dog rescue centre. Or rather he would if health & safety didn’t require completion of a long and tedious questionnaire, the like of which he had to complete previously in order to ferry very old people about in his own car for nothing and the like of which my mother had to fill-in just so she could volunteer for the WRVS tea bar at the local hospital. There are only so many times well-meaning, public-spirited seventy-something people will tolerate having to ‘prove’ they’re not a menace to society before they give up and go home. Both parents have now passed this threshold. Big society my arse. But we sort-of digress. Electrical goods need a certificate from an electrical engineer before a charity can touch them. Fortunately, some determined organisations are prepared to jump through this idiotic hoop. Good for them. You can find out who some of them are by going to the London Community Resource Network and then following the many links to national recycle/re-use charities such as Doing a good deed might be more difficult than ever but at least it’s not impossible.


Dell Hell

Crack Attack

TF once teamed up for a media pub quiz, hosted by Intel (who make fat, juicy chips) with a bunch of shy, retiring coves from a tech website called Trusted Reviews. Egged on by yours truly, our happy band cheated so successfully each won the top prize of a Dell Inspiron laptop. Happy days. It’s not the greatest bit of computer kit (the track-pad is especially irritating) but, hey, it was freeee!!!! A few months later we picked it up with one hand while it was closed and, since the casing has all the structural integrity of blancmange, cracked the screen. Not the apex of laptop build quality, then.

Fast forward a wee while and TF is trying to ameliorate its impending mid-life crisis by having guitar lessons with Alistair Pope ( Then circumstance sends Alistair, his missus and their two fur-children to south-west France. Bugger. But Al reckons lessons via Skype will keep us strumming. We’re not so sure. Skype promises free Internet video chat but we’ve found the picture to be somewhat furry and the sound out of synch (mouths move long before sound issues forth). But we’re prepared to give Skype guitar lessons a go, not least because we’ve paid for a whole tranche of tuition in advance. However, TF has actioned a webcam option whereby said camera ‘pans and zooms’, which is to say it follows our face as we move around even a little bit and zooms in on it at seemingly random moments. Fine for a face-to-face chat; less fine for a guitar lesson. Need, therefore, to turn this option off. And here our saga begins.

The option to turn off pan and zoom seems to have disappeared from the settings menu. One of the many joys of Google is that you can type in, say, ‘Dell webcam pan and zoom off’ and up will pop several threads from online discussions people have been having about exactly this issue. One reply even features a screen-grab of the Webcam Central control panel, showing where the option to turn off pan and zoom is. But on TF’s version of the screen, that option isn’t there, it’s just black space. So we gird our loins and prepare to dive into the murkiest depths of hell; Dell customer service.

Before we’ve spoken to a human being we are asked to key in the service code printed on the underside of the laptop. The type is so small as to be virtually unreadable without a magnifying glass. Quite why this should be is a mystery since the underside of most laptops is just swathes of empty space. Perhaps it’s a cunning plan to make old people feel even more decrepit. Then we get to speak to a human who asks us for the same service code and then transfers us – even though we called the number for Technical Support at the beginning, to technical support. Who asks us for the service code again. The laptop is out of warranty but we knew that; we just want a bit of friendly advice, not a full re-build. But before any advice can be dispensed Dell requires us to cough up £69.50. No matter that we were saddled with a crap product of dubious build quality (didn’t feel able to moan because it was freeee!!!!) we now have to pay for that crapness. We laugh heartily and hang up. Moments later Dell calls back and offers their services for the reduced price of £39.50. We laugh again and hang up, again.

Apart from the standard IT department muppet-fix of ‘have you tried turning it off and turning it on again?’ the next port of call for the I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing fraternity is to uninstall and reinstall what appears to be the offending programme. So we go to control panel > add/remove programmes and uninstall Dell Webcam Central, confident that, having the package of installation discs that came with the laptop when new, we will be able easily to reinstall the programme later. Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

Of course, the uninstallation is a breeeeze. And then we slot in the installation disc, find Webcam Central and click to install it. Do I want to save this binary file? Yes, I do. And there it now sits on my C-drive defying all attempts to open and do anything that could masquerade as useful. Dell Webcam Central does not appear on the list of programmes as it did previously even though I know it’s hiding on the C-drive playing peek-a-boo. What a little tease it is.

The upshot is that, via the most tortuous of routes, pan and zoom no longer functions. It’s only taken three hours but at last we can now have a meaningful Skype guitar lesson. But not today. We need to sit down in a quite corner with a cup of tea and a Crunchie.