Sunday, 25 April 2010

In Praise Of Hardware Series... Cheap Satellite Navigation

A gadget that has become ubiquitous over the last decade is the Satellite Navigation device or Sat Nav. Having reached a price level whereby every car driver in the UK now appears to own one, I'm going to have a quick look at what makes this gadget more useful than just for navigating by car.

Many Sat Navs, even the cheap ones, have a "walking" mode. This is fine if the default set of instsalled maps include all public footpaths but this isn't the case. Note that I'm restricting this discussion to cheap Sat Navs. I'm aware that there are many other GPS enabled devices out there for handling car and on-foot navigation but their cost of ownership, in my opinion, is high enough to make them true luxury devices.

So, the good old cheapo Sat Nav. Ebuyer is a good starting point for value models. If you pick a model carefully, it can be a fairly simple task to then install additional software (after all this is just a computer) and a useful example with OS maps is Memory-Map.

The final part of the jigsaw is an external battery pack. Value Sat Navs have a serious flaw when it comes to being used on foot and that is their battery is not designed for out-of-car use. An external power supply from somebody like Portable Power Supplies will provide a reliable backup. An example of this kind of device is shown in the main picture.

So a value Sat Nav does its job in the car and can easily double-up as an emergency on-foot location finding device. Only time will tell if these simple and cheap GPS devices will be superceded by bloated multi-function devices but until then they are an invaluable asset for the road - and footpath - roaming punter.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Like Beer? Vote Lib Dem

Well do you need a better reason? This letter sent to local CAMRA from the Surrey Heath Liberal Democrat candidate:

RE: Beer Drinkers and Pub Goers Charter

Thank you very much for writing to me about the CAMRA campaign for real ale, real pubs and consumer rights.

I am proud to be a signatory to the charter and to help bring attention to the much-needed support required for well-run community pubs, local brewers and consumer rights which all contribute to community life and boost the local economy.

Well-run pubs are important to tackling alcohol misuse, they are not part of the problem. Government policies, such as continually raising duty on beer and refusing to reform the beer tie, have led to a situation in which more than 5 pubs a day are said to be closing. It is hugely important that we stand up for the pub industry during these difficult times.

Liberal Democrats will continue to push for fairer alcohol taxation. We believe it should be levied in such as way to discourage irresponsible drinking but this should not be done at the cost of penalising responsible drinkers and hurting local industries.

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me on this important matter. If you require any further information or assistance with this or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Alan Hilliar
Mr Alan Hilliar
Parliamentary Candidate
Surrey Heath Liberal Democrats

Aldershot Road
Guildford Surrey GU12 6PD

PS. The image comes from, rather appropriately,

Friday, 16 April 2010

In Praise Of Hardware Series... The Multifuntion Printer

The introduction of the new Apple iPad, which we shall look at in a future Blog post, reminds me of another multifuntion device - the All-in-one Printer (or AIO for short). A typical such device is shown above.

An AIO typically perform 3 functions: printing, copying and scanning. The most useful also includes wirefree connectivity. This is a multifuntion device which has peaked in terms of usefulness, ease of use, size and last but not least, price. I picked one of these devices up from Argos the other month for £35. What a bargain!

You'll probably think this is one of the most boring devices around. And you'd be correct. I vowed never to buy a scanner just because it would be used once a year, if that; it would have been a complete waste of space. But the AIO solves that problem straight away. Some of the AIOs have additional facilities like faxing and email. Some have card readers which allow instant preview and print of card images. But in general the add-ons are few and far between and have never proved that popular.

So the multifunction printer is a prime example of a multi-funtion-optimised peripheral that fits into the home and workplace without being noticed because it does the jobs it's designed to do and no more.

In future blog posts we'll look at devices that haven't quite got the balance of functionality over usefulness right.