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.



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.


Under the keys

On Saturday I was cleaning my computer keyboard. Whilst doing so, I noticed there was a lot of fluff stuck underneath the keys. My engineering instinct kicked in and I immediately dismantled my entire keyboard to get to the parts underneath.

Once cleaned I then realised I hadn’t any idea which keys went where. There’s a few obvious ones, the F keys, QWERTY, the number pad. But then there’s a lot of random ones, mainly punctuation and features such as “sleep” and “wake up” which are fairly unique to my keyboard. And then there’s other keys such as the left ctrl key and the right ctrl key. Do they have a specific orientation? And what about the up/down and left/right arrow keys?

So I started off with doing all of the keys that were obvious or I could make a sensible guess at where they went and got surprisingly far:

Who really knows how the bottom row of letters goes? (I realised shortly after that the M key was in the wrong place)

But I actually know more keys than I thought I did. Not in my conscious mind, but in my subconscious and my finger muscle memory. When do I ever look at the keyboard when typing? All I had to do was pretend to type and see where my fingers were hitting and that’s where the keys had to be. And that’s how I got back up to a full complement of keys.

Note: There were initially a couple of minor mistakes. I had the [ ] and – = the wrong way round. And the ‘Scroll Lock’ / ‘Pause Break’ / ‘Print Screen SysRq’ keys in the wrong order (but who even uses those? – apart from when I accidently hit them because of the bad design of this keyboard). The * and / keys in the number pad were also the wrong way round but again they’re right in the periphery.

So that took up about an hour of my bank holiday and also gave me something to write about today. Want to challenge yourself to see if you know where all the keys on a keyboard are? All you need is a keyboard and a screwdriver.

Lessons from the lockdown Technology

Lessons from the lockdown #3

For a long time I’d been thinking of getting a new computer. My 6-year old laptop is still pretty powerful and does everything I need it to (I massively overspec’d it when I bought it), but it is laptop and the case is starting to fall apart. Regular readers may remember that it previously had an issue where the battery died and needed replacing. Three years on, and the replacement battery is also no longer able to hold a charge and requires permanently being attached to the wall. However, until my laptop died outright I was unwilling to replace it.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve kept and updated a list of components I would buy if I was to build my own computer. By late 2019, I had decided that late April/early May 2020 would be when I put my plan into action.

And then the lockdowns started to come in. With the factories in Asia shut down, the internet was predicting that computer parts would drop in availability and increase in price over the next few months. This would be exactly when I was planning to buy my new computer. So, in mid-March, I decided to accelerate my purchasing plans and spent a couple of days finding the cheapest places to buy each of the components I wanted.

A week or so later (and several trips to various parcel depots around London), and I had a new computer built and working:

Since the initial build I’ve also added the additional RGB fan at the back and the two vertical RGB strips (mainly to look better). The light strips could be a bit tidier, but that would involve a lot more effort. The only other planned change I would like to do is to move the graphics card to a vertical orientation, but the parts I want to do that aren’t available at the moment.

Speaking of availability, remember how I mentioned that it was thought that availability would go down and prices would go up as the lockdown went on? Well, I’ve kept track of the prices since then (whilst hoping to avoid buyer’s remorse). Here’s my findings normalised to 100% at the price I paid:

(Note: It’s not entirely scientific, because this is just the prices for each item at the retailer I bought each item from. When doing my initial price checking, I compared all 9 items across about 20 retailers, but I wasn’t going to do that each time. I also only recorded the prices every week or two so it may miss some fluctuations. It’s also not possible to compare with prices before I started recording – prices may already have been trending upwards, or I may have just bought when everything was on sale.)

It may not be entirely clear from that graph, but here’s the key points:

  1. The total price (highlighted in yellow) has gradually increased over the last two months
  2. The second SSD (yes, I have two), the power supply and the memory all went out of stock about two weeks ago. It would be possible to use different components with similar specifications, but then it wouldn’t be the computer I’ve built
  3. The motherboard and graphics card both dropped in price the week after I bought them. However, everything else went up the week after I bought them, and the overall cost would still have been more expensive
  4. Apart from a couple of items, costs have generally stabilised over the last couple of weeks and may even be starting to drop back down again. This is possibly due to increased availability again, or it could just be retailers trying to clear stocks in anticipation of the next generation of components. I may keep recording prices over the next couple of months for comparison

So did I buy at the right time? From the (incomplete) data I have, yes.