Technology Update

Just a quick post today as I’m busy, and it’s Wednesday now and I had forgotten I had to write something.

Mobile phone

In case you were wondering, my mobile phone is back. Well, my original mobile phone couldn’t be fixed, but it’s been replaced with an identical one. Except that this one is white (my old one was black), making it my second ever white mobile phone.


My laptop battery has out-gassed (again). I wrote previously about how my (then) three and a half years old laptop battery expanded and needed replacing. Three and a half years on, it has happened again. I could share some photos but it looks exactly the same as previously. At seven years old, it’s not worth replacing the battery so it will have to be plugged in for it to work. But my new desktop has mostly made my laptop redundant.


My surround sound system is around 13 years old now. I was at home last week and I heard a crash which I assumed came from upstairs. A few minutes later I smelt something like burnt matches. A bit of investigating found it came from my subwoofer. Taking it apart found some damage to the capacitors, the board and some insulating substance applied to the surface. Talking to a microelectronics expert, the life expectancy of electrolytic capacitors is around 13 years before they start to overheat so it’s right on trend. If I can replace them, I might be able to get it to work again, but the damage to the board (including some possibly caused by me) looks quite substantive. If I can’t fix it, I’ll be adding a new subwoofer to my Christmas wishlist.



Sometimes I blog some top notch investigative work (if I do say so myself), sometimes I blog about kebabs.

There are two kebab shops near me. These are both the “cheap-take-away-type-of-kebab-with-piles-of-cheap-meat-stuffed-into-cheap-pitta-bread” types of kebab shop.

There’s also a Mediterranean restaurant near me, which features kebabs on its menu. I often forget it does takeaway as it’s more of a restaurant, but it does also do takeaway. Because it’s also a proper restaurant, it’s a much more upmarket place than the two other kebab shops. On a visit to this restaurant kebab shop last year, I was suprised that it served its takeaway kebabs deconstructed with the meat in one container, the salad in another and the bread as a separate roll. As I say I was suprised, but chalked this one up to it being a more upmarket restaurant kind of place.

Recently, one of the two kebab shops was closed for refurbishment for a really long time and it seemed like it would never reopen but it did. Last week I went for the first time since it reopened and it definitely looks better inside than it did. However, the kebab was now served deconstructed.

It now looks much more like the meal from the upmarket restaurant kebab place. The cheap pitta has been replaced with a chunk of bread, the meat is served in a separate tub and the price is probably higher (I can’t remember exactly what it was before). Either way, it’s no longer the same experience of having a kebab. I guess I’ll just have to go to the other kebab shop instead…

But no, that one is also now closed for refurbishment. What if that one decides to go ‘upmarket’? What if that one starts selling deconstructed kebabs? Where am I going to go for my cheap low quality kebabs?


A History of Mobile Phones

Whilst I wait for my mobile phone to be repaired/replaced, I thought I’d look back in a retrospective of all my previous phones.

See the source image
Siemens A50

Siemens A50

I got my first mobile phone on my 15th birthday. Phones didn’t do much more than phone calls/texts in those days, but I do remember it didn’t have Snake which all my Nokia-owning friends were playing [according to wikipedia this phone had Stack Attack and Balloon Shooter]. As with all good phones of that time, it had removable covers meaning you could change the look of your phone depending on how you felt. Whatever happened to removal phone covers?

See the source image
Siemens CX65

Siemens CX65

I won my next phone in a competition on the Siemens website. It probably didn’t get many entrants as in a separate competition I also won the stuffed toy mascots, a dinosaur and a ragged girl doll (these went to a charity shop several years ago). This was my first foray into phones with an unusual input method (in this case a joystick).

See the source image
LG U400

LG U400

My next phone featured a “DJ wheel” as the input method and was also my first slider phone. I can’t remember much about it now other than that the DJ wheel was entirely unnecessary and rather gimmicky.

See the source image
BlackBerry Pearl 8120

BlackBerry Pearl 8120

I had been hearing about BlackBerry phones for a while, but had always considered them too business oriented. I then came across the Pearl 8120 with its unusual double letter keyboard and its input ball (a new feature for BlackBerrys). It took a while to get used to the keyboard, but once used to it, it was much faster than the old style conventional input. I liked this phone so much that I convinced several other friends to also get BlackBerrys (although not all stayed with BlackBerry as long as I did).

BlackBerry Bold 9700

BlackBerry Bold 9700

I then moved onto a full keyboard BlackBerry, the Bold 9700 which was the first BlackBerry to feature an optical touchpad. This was a solid phone and again, after a few days of using the full keyboard, it became instinct to use and far faster than any other input method.

BlackBerry Bold 9900

BlackBerry Bold 9900

This phone was probably the pinnacle of the non-smartphone BlackBerrys. It looked sleek, it ran fast and it had the right size keyboard for fast typing. It didn’t do anything the previous phones couldn’t, but it did it all better. Unfortunately for it (and BlackBerry) the age of the smartphone was rising.

See the source image
BlackBerry Z10

BlackBerry Z10

This was BlackBerry’s first attempt at a smartphone on their own BlackBerry 10 operating system. It also ran (some) Android apps, but this is probably one of my least favourite phones I’ve ever owned (the DJ wheel phone wins that one). This was the first phone I got in white. And probably the last.

See the source image
BlackBerry Priv

BlackBerry Priv

Following the events detailed last week, this is the phone I’m now back to (temporarily) using. It’s got a relatively large screen (for watching videos) and a slide out keyboard (for typing things). The best of both worlds surely? Not really, as I always forget about the slide out keyboard and typing on it never quite feels right. Practice might improve this, but the on-screen keyboard is far more accessible (but still far from perfect).

BlackBerry Key2

BlackBerry Key2

This is my favourite of the recent BlackBerrys (and in my top three phones of all time). This is also the second phone I’ve won in a competition. I was at the launch day party for this phone in London and my number got picked in the prize draw. This phone had the keyboard and it ran Android. The only downside was that having a physical keyboard meant a reduced screen size which isn’t ideal for watching videos. Oh, and it wasn’t waterproof.

See the source image
Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite

Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite

Given the lack of recent BlackBerry smartphones, and my urgent need for a new phone, I was forced to move away in to the world of the Samsung Galaxy series. Its large screen makes content viewing easy, but typing on a touchscreen has never been as fast as the heady days of typing on a BlackBerry Bold. And unfortunately, unlike the original Galaxy S10 this is based on, this phone isn’t waterproof either.

Next phone?

Who knows what’s next? I’m still hoping they’ll fix my current phone and return it to me. If I have to get a replacement again, I’ll probably get the same again or something similar. For now at least anyway. It looks like there could be a new BlackBerry on the way

Life event

Lightning Strikes Twice

I was planning to write the first part of this post at some point, but the second part is not what I wanted to write…

Back in January, I was out walking near Stonehenge in some fairly heavy rain. I had my waterproof jacket and trousers on and was feeling nice and dry. I stopped to took the occasional photo on my mobile, but otherwise it stayed in my trouser pocket, underneath my waterproof trousers.

When I got back to my hotel, I noticed the phone battery was low (not surprising since I’d had the GPS on all day), so I put it on to charge whilst I went off for a shower. When I returned, it had got itself stuck in a loop where it was turning on, coming up with some problem and then restarting again. It was also having problems charging and whatever I did, I couldn’t get it to start up again.

I do have mobile phone insurance which I have had to use once before. For a long time I was considering cancelling it as I hadn’t used it for so long, but fortunately I hadn’t gotten round to it yet. Unfortunately though, my BlackBerry Key2 wasn’t saveable, and even more unfortunately, as a non-mainstream phone, they couldn’t send me a direct replacement. I chose the cash replacement option and went off to get a more up to date Samsung S10 Lite.

Fast forward to this week, and on Monday I was heading home from work. Shortly before I got off the train, there was a very heavy downpour of rain which showed no signs of stopping (and didn’t for a couple of hours). Having learnt from my previous experience, I put my phone into the pocket of my waterproof jacket and didn’t think any further about it (although you can probably see where this is going…)

I was using my phone all evening, and it was only shortly before bed when I noticed that there was some condensation around the camera lenses. I turned the phone off and put it in a bag of rice to get the water out (as recommended on the internet).

The next morning I returned to my phone, and yes, it had worked and was now dried out. Unfortunately, it also wouldn’t turn back on again. I do wonder whether it would still work if I’d just left it on, or whether it would eventually have stopped working anyway as the insides dried out.

Either way, I’m glad that I still have the mobile phone insurance. After not needing it for over 5 years, I’ve now used it twice in eight months. Are mobile phones more susceptible to water damage now? Is the rain worse than it used to be? Am I just outside more? Whatever the answer, I’m back to the olden mobile phone-less days* until I find out whether my phone can be repaired or needs to be replaced again.

(*I am using an old phone temporarily, but I’m not planning to actually install any apps on it as it is, hopefully, just temporary.)


Our survey says…

Whilst writing last week’s post, I was reminded of another similar thing.

Many years at university, I signed up for a survey website. It was a very simple premise, complete a survey and earn two points. When you get to 10 points you could trade them in for vouchers.

The system starts off by giving 6 points for signing up and proving that you’re a student, so after only 2 surveys you qualified for your first voucher (at least that’s how I remember it – it was several years ago).

All of the surveys started with a disclaimer that depending on your answers you could be selected out. The first questions were all about demographics. If they only wanted 10 males aged 18-24, and you happened to be the eleventh, you got kicked out of the survey and didn’t get any credits for taking part.

After receiving a lot of complaints (I may have done), they changed it so that if you got filtered out, you went into a prize draw. I don’t remember what the exact prize was (possibly an iPod) but I wasn’t particularly interested and the odds were so low that I probably wasn’t going to win.

Sometimes you could get even further through a survey before getting kicked out. One of the surveys I did was to do with gin-makers and their marketing campaigns. After various questions on drinking frequency, location etc, as soon as you answer that you didn’t drink gin, you got kicked out of the survey.

After a few times of being sent the same quiz, I realised that if I said “yes” to drinking gin, and a few thoughts on whether I had heard of their products, I could make it all the way through the survey.

Yes, it possibly skewed their survey results, but it’s their fault for designing such a terrible survey where the only way of getting a reward is to tell them the answers they want to hear. After spending several minutes of answering questions to only get a chance of winning a prize draw, who wouldn’t go for the more immediate reward? Particularly as I was simply trying to get to the next voucher qualification level so I could close my account down (which I did do eventually).

So what’s the moral of the story? If you’re going to have people filling in most of a survey (or going all the way to give blood), give them sort of actual reward for that, maybe just one point. But probably also don’t give them two points if they just answer “yes” to everything in your survey.


Giving blood

Today I could have been to give blood for the 25th time.

I say “could have”, because I don’t really know. Technically I *could* have given blood around 67 times if I had given the maximum possible number of times.

But, surely you know how many times you’ve given blood?

Yes, but this is how many times I’ve *been* to give blood. Today I went, but I didn’t actually give blood.

Because of COVID they’ve introduced some new precautions when giving blood. Primarily this is an additional person at the main door who asks whether you’ve had a persistent cough, a high fever or loss of taste/smell (you know, the classic symptoms). She was about to let me in, but then asked if I’d had a cold sore.

I had indeed recently had a cold sore. It’s almost healed now, but you can still see the mark. I had checked the cold sore guidance before I had gone: “If you are not taking any oral medication and have no other sexually transmitted disease or problems with your health you may give blood if the cold sore is dry and not tingling.” So that implies that I should be fine.

The woman checked her COVID sheet and told me that I needed to wait 28 days after cold sore symptoms before I donate. I hadn’t heard of that but I was happy to accept it was the new COVID rules. I checked this when I got home, and the coronavirus pages do indeed say: “In addition, currently have a cold sore, please do not attend.” Yes, it doesn’t mention the 28 days for cold sores here (which it does for the other symptoms), and that it’s not as detailed as the cold sore page, but I’m not blaming the woman on the desk as the rules appear to be complicated and it’s better to be safe than sorry. [Side note: This is the only place I’ve seen any link, albeit vague, between cold sores and coronavirus.] But the intention of this post wasn’t to talk about cold sores or coronavirus…

So you’ve *been* to give blood 24 times previously?

Well, as I said before, I don’t know, mainly because I’ve never counted. There was a long string of appointments that kept getting cancelled shortly before. On one of these occasions, I had already left work to get the train to the appointment before I got the text saying it was cancelled. Should that count as me *going* to the appointment? What about the time I went to give blood but had been abroad recently and so was ineligible? I could have probably checked that one before I got there, but I didn’t actually give blood and so it doesn’t actually count on my record.

So what does your record say?

It says I’ve given blood 18 times.

That wasn’t so hard was it?

Well actually, I’ve only given blood 17 times. Last time I went to give blood, my iron levels were low – still well within normal levels, but just not high enough to donate. This is one of the few criteria where it’s possible to turn up, not actually give blood, but still get credit for doing so (but with a three low iron strikes and you’re out for good). Would my iron levels have been high enough to donate this time? I don’t know because I didn’t get that far in the process. What I do know though is that today almost certainly won’t count as a donation credit in my blood donation record.



This has been a bad week for crockery in my house.

Last week, whilst doing the washing up I broke two side plates. I had balanced the plates on top of a pile of bowls. I knew it was unstable and it’s my own fault they slid off and smashed on to the floor. I’m now down to four plates which means more frequent washing up until I can get to Ikea to buy some replacements. It also means my cupboard is out of balance, with 6 large bowls, 6 small bowls, 6 large plates, but only 4 side plates.

If that wasn’t bad enough, at the start of this week, again whilst doing the washing up, I smashed a pint glass. It’s not possible to replace just the one as it’s from a multi-pack. Although fortunately it is from a multi-pack and not a special occasion one, for example for a beer festival. I still have eight other pint glasses so I’m not too worried about replacing it.

And that got me thinking about a few of the other things I’ve dropped in my lifetime. Here’s three of them:

University graduation mug

This one was a once-in-a-lifetime collectable that got broken. On graduation, the gift bag contained a number of things, including a mug with the year of graduation. I can’t remember what else was in the gift bag, but the mug was obviously the best item. Sadly it only lasted around a year and a half before it hit the kitchen floor.

Work mug

Another mug story. For ages I didn’t have a mug at work. I don’t normally drink hot drinks so it was fine. But then I had a spare mug, so I decided to use it at work for the rare occasion I wanted a hot drink, but also as pen storage at other times. One time I knocked it over (fortunately just holding pens) and it ended up with a huge chip out of the top and a crack down the whole length. I still use it for pen storage, but I don’t think it would be up to containing hot drinks anymore.

Hard drive

And a non-crockery story. In the early days of university, I bought a massive (well massive for 2006) 250GB external hard drive. Several months later I forgot it was still connected when I turned to move my laptop from my lap to the side. The hard drive got pulled off the shelf it was on and hit the floor. It never worked again. I took it to a repair man who actually didn’t charge me anything, but said it would be quite pricey to be fixed and may not be recoverable. I’ve kept the hard drive in the hopes that future technology developments make it super easy/cheap to repair, although that might be unlikely. I have no idea what’s on this drive, and I’m not sure which would be more disappointing: the disappointment of dropping it in the first place, or the disappointment of finding absolutely nothing interesting on it.

Film Review

Star Wars Holiday Special

This post is at the special request of one of my readers who complained that I didn’t include the Star Wars Holiday Special in my recent Star Wars viewing marathon. [Side note: Suggestions for future blog posts are always welcome.]

The most obvious reason for not including it in my viewing marathon was that it’s not on Disney+ which is where I was watching all of the other films and TV series. It’s apparently never been released officially since its original showing, so I didn’t feel too bad about searching it out on YouTube.

The other big problem is that it’s not part of the current Star Wars canon. Yes, whilst it stars all of the main characters and some of the concepts from it may potentially be canon again, it’s an incredibly low quality production and it just doesn’t feel like a Star Wars film.

The only thing I liked about this film is that it shows real life in the universe outside of wars or major events. In the main films there’s not much time to show how real people (or wookies) spend their time. This film did that, but in an annoying comical exaggerated way which I didn’t like. There are now plenty of (canon) examples of real life in the TV series (Star Wars: Rebels and Star Wars: Resistance) which aren’t confined by the movie film format so this isn’t too much of a concern for me.

I also didn’t like the interlude sections which were mainly random musical sideshows. I really didn’t need to see Chewbacca’s child watching the world’s worst video of a robot that breaks down every 5 seconds whilst giving instructions on how to build a radio, or Chewbacca’s Dad enjoying what is clearly adult VR content. The animated interlude featuring Boba Fett was interesting though, especially since this is technically his first appearance in the Star Wars universe (by production chronology, not by universe chronology).

Another major character point that made me not like this film, and would be a major problem for me if this was canon, is that if this film is Chewbacca going back to his family, that also means that he left his family, including his young son, alone to just go travelling with Han Solo for no specific reason. Although the Holiday Special implies that he goes back to them fairly regularly (or at least video chats them), I can’t imagine Chewbacca leaving his family for such a long period to go off with Han, particularly as he’s possibly away from the events of the film Solo, even all the way out to Episode IX (a period of around 45 years).

At the time it came out, this was probably (but more likely not) a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe which at the time only consisted of one film. Nowadays, we have far more films and TV series, and I don’t think there’s really a place for the Star Wars Holiday Special. And if I count this in my Star Wars viewing marathon, do I also need to add the various Lego Star Wars series, and how about Star Wars: Ewoks and Droids? And the original Star Wars Clone Wars TV series? And what about the books and comics which actually are canon?

I would say it was maybe worth the one watch for completeness, but would I watch it again? Probably not. Would I recommend it? Not for the general viewer.


Student loans

Somehow it’s been 10 years since I finished university. With this week’s news about the new student loan repayment tool, I thought I would write a post looking at my student loan repayment over this time (Disclaimer: I actually started writing this post weeks ago, it’s just fortuitous that it’s in the news at the same time).

I started university in 2006, the first year that the (then) new and ridiculously expensive tuition fees of £3000/year came in. For a four year course, this amounted to £12,000. I also received the maintenance loan at another £3000/year. In fact, each year was slightly higher than the previous year because of inflation, and on top of this, interest was added from day 1, so that by the time I graduated, I owed £26,823.07.

This doesn’t start getting paid back until the April after graduation, so when I did start paying it off, it had reached a total of £27,056.05.

The repayments are based on a percentage over a certain earning amount. As a recent graduate, my starting salary wasn’t especially high and so my first repayment in April 2011 was £52. And whilst I don’t have the exact figure, the loan gained approximately £35 in interest that month. This certainly wasn’t going to be quick to repay.

(Note: some years have interest added monthly (where known), whereas other years only have interest added annually, therefore the slight increases each April can be ignored from the trends)

Fast forward 9 and a bit years from when I started repaying and (as of today) I’m down to only owing £16,365.82. By my estimation that’s around 40% paid. At the current repayment amounts and interest rates I should be paid off in just under 7 and a half more years.

Having produced a graph of the amount owed over time, I was hoping it would highlight some really interesting trends but there’s not really much to say about it. For the first couple of years, the repayments were only slightly higher than the interest gained and so the total mostly flat-lined. Increased wages (most noticeable in early 2014) have caused the total to decrease quicker. There have been some drops (and rises) in the interest rate and in the earnings threshold too, but these have been relatively small and have had less impact on how quickly it’s paid off (possibly balanced out by salary inflation?). Without any major increases to my salary or the interest rate (both fairly unlikely), the downwards trend should continue at its current rate.

What does seem sure (at least at the moment) is that I’m not going to get to the 25 year point where any outstanding debt is written off. Come back in another 7 years and 4 months to see how things have gone.

Life event

Mebbies aye, Mebbies naw (Revisited)

I first started growing a beard/not shaving in mid-2014. How do I know this? Because I wrote a blog post about this at the time. I even ran a vote and 60% of people said I should keep the beard (there were only 5 votes though, possibly including myself).

At the weekend, after 6 years, I shaved off my beard. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Partly as I couldn’t remember what I looked like without it, but also because I had just let it grow for the whole of lockdown to see how long it could get, and it was getting slightly straggly and in need of some trimming. At the weekend I was also going to get my hair cut (after 6 months) so I decided it was the best time to try going beard-less.

The old days when I could do “fun” things with my beard vs. my current beard-less visage

Lots of people have commented on how different or much younger I look. I’m still slightly surprised myself when I see my reflection. I thought I would conduct another vote to see if consensus has changed in the last six years.

Should I grow the beard again?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

As before, leave a comment with any additional thoughts. Should I try to grow it even longer? Should I keep it shorter? Stay clean-shaven?