Category Archives: Technology

An introduction to Apple CarPlay (and Android Auto)

If there’s been something that’s never really worked all that well since the introduction of the smartphone, it’s how they integrate with your car.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise as car manufacturers work many years in advance and they want to control as much of how you interact with their vehicles as they can. However, customers have been crying out for them to add support for Android Auto and CarPlay, the systems written by Google and Apple respectively to enable their mobile devices to communicate with vehicles.

Gradually support has improved and most manufacturers now offer both Android and Apple variants. Some (I’m looking at you BMW) are trying to charge their customers an annual fee to access the service (do what?) but most simply include it as part of the package.

And it does make a difference!

Yes, on older cars without Android Auto or CarPlay, you can still plug in your phone via USB or WiFi and see your contacts and sometimes music on the in-car display, however the implementation has been pretty unconvincing. What Android Auto and Apple CarPlay give you is access to the apps you might like to use on your phone while you’re in your car using a familiar interface. They also support Google Assistant and Siri making the whole experience even better. Say what you like about Siri, but when it comes to natural language queries, it’s generally far better than Alexa and therefore much better for when you’re on the move. Google Assistant is also no slouch in this area and is the pick of the bunch for this kind of task.

In the video accompanying this post, I take a brief look at Apple’s CarPlay and discuss it’s merits (and those of Android Auto, although not being an Android user I can’t demonstrate it in the film). I’ve only just started using CarPlay so if you have any questions please post them to my YouTube channel (or below) and I’ll make a follow up film.

Thanks for watching, and don’t forget to hit that like button!

What Mac did I buy in November 2018?

When it comes to buying a new computer, it’s not something that I do every day! Or even every year. Or every 2 years. In fact sometimes I go almost a decade between purchases.

When I bought my first Mac, a Mac Mini, it was 2005 and some people thought I was bonkers as Windows was very much king in those days. However, I’d become a bit disappointed with the annual wipe-and-reinstall that seemed to be necessary to keep Windows XP running optimally. Plus my experience with Windows Phone (on a crappy Motorola filp-phone) had nearly sent me insane. It was time for a change!

I loved Mac OS X Panther so much that 18 months after my Mac Mini purchase I bought a first generation Mac Pro. This was the last Mac to receive an update to Intel processors.

My next Mac came several years later, in 2014. A “trashcan” Mac Pro.

As you can see, my Mac life has entirely consisted of the headless variety. I brought my own keyboard and mouse (in latter years, those offered by Apple were my preferred options). However, in November 2018 I suddenly found myself needing to buy a new machine. The Mac Pro has something of a disappointing recent history and this isn’t going to be fixed until a completely revamped model comes out at some point in 2019, so what was I to do?

In the video above, you can find out what Mac I bought next, and why.

Thanks for watching! Catch you next time.

First steps into the Smart Home

Here’s a video where I look at three options for smart home lighting: Philips Hue, Ikea’s TR√ÖDFRI and Lifx.

I won’t give anything away about which of the three systems I choose. Please watch the video to find out!

Please give the video a thumbs up if you enjoyed it. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified when new videos are uploaded.

Networking update – the finished system

It’s been a while since my last blog post (over 2 months) however I’ve been active on my YouTube channel uploading several videos. One of them, is the fourth part of my networking series (above).

In this video I get to the final stage of the process putting everything into the cabinet – very nice!

There’s a follow up video (below) where I take the network to the next stage by expanding it to elsewhere in my home.

Apologies for not posting these films to my blog before now. Please subscribe to my channel on YouTube to find out when I upload new videos.

I hope you enjoy!

iPad Pro 10.5 inch unboxing

Here’s a video where I unbox my new iPad Pro 10.5 inch and compare it with two older generation iPads.

The iPads on show are the 3rd generation that was launched in January 2012 and the iPad Air from 2013/4.

We look at the difference in screen sizes, bezels and thickness (or thinness as Apple insist on calling it). I don’t mention one of the major enhancements in this newer iPad and that is the 120Hz refresh rate. I’ll likely cover that more if I purchase an Apple Pencil (watch this space)!

If you like unboxing videos of Apple products then I have two more on the way before the end of the year. Not huge products, but they’re in a box so qualify as unboxing videos. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified when the videos are uploaded.

The fourth part of my networking series is on the way soon!

Thanks for watching. ūüôā

Home office networking progress

It’s been a while since I posted part 2 of my network series, but finally after a short delay, I’m pleased to be able to post part 3 where we really get cracking with the install!

In the video above you’ll be able to see me talk through the final few parts I bought for the new rack as well as see the equipment installed into its new home.

The whole point of this project was to improve my office environment by getting rid of excess cables, extension leads and equipment dotted around different work surfaces. As you will see when you watch the latest part, I’ve largely achieved that goal. However, there is one thing that is going to prevent me from calling this project complete and will mean that I will have to have a “part 4”. Watch the video to find out the reason for this unexpected turn of events.

If you have any comments to make on this project, you can do so here or over on my YouTube channel (click the icon at the top of the page). Thanks for watching!

The home network revamp continues!

It’s time for the second part of my network upgrade series.

This may be extremely geeky, and I’m yet to get to what will pass (even vaguely) as interesting in this project, however if you’re sticking with me over this journey then I’ll show my first purchases and, crucially, unveil the main event – the rack!

There’s not much more to say. Please watch the video to see what I’ve bought.

Coming next will be two supplementary videos in the series where I unbox my new rack mounted switch and my UPS. After that will be part 3 of the revamp series when things really start coming together.

My office revamp. The big cable untangle!

My home office has had more or less the same layout since I first moved into my current home in 2009. Sure, I’ve altered things here and there and slopped a new colour of¬†paint on the walls every¬†so often but the basic layout¬†has pretty much stayed the same.

Until now.

As a project for the¬†remainder¬†of 2017, I’m going to revamp my home office and bring it¬†in to the 21st century. I’ll be replacing the radiator¬†and will¬†have a bright new colour scheme,¬†however¬†the headline change here is the introduction of a rack cabinet.

Racks are more usually found in¬†Data Centres and are in use there because they enable many servers to be stacked in the most space saving way possible along with tidy and organised cable and power management. I’m going to use the same philosophy for my home office. By introducing a rack I’ll be able to put the vast majority of my equipment in¬†one space and greatly enhance my power and cable routing.

The video above talks briefly about my plans and shows the extent of the¬†problem I’m hoping to overcome: lots of disorganised cables and equipment dotted all over my office; some – like my NAS – not in the ideal location!

I hope you’ll join me on this journey as I seek out a UPS, rack mounted switch, PDU’s and the like and re-organise my space to be much more efficient. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified when part 2 goes live and let me know what you think!

I’ve finally bought a games console

I’ve never been¬†what you might call a “hard core gamer” (and that’s not someone who plays video games in their underwear),¬†however for some strange reason, at the ripe old age of (nearly) 47, I’ve decided to buy my first top of the range dedicated console. Why?

When I first¬†owned a computer in the mid-1980’s (a Sinclair ZX-81), the only thing that interested me about games was how they were written. I remember a silent, black and white three dimensional maze inside¬†which a large collection of black pixels in the vague shape of a T-Rex would come after you. I was amazed by this first person aspect to a game and while not being all that interested in playing it, I was desperate to know how to code it.

It was things like that that got me interested in programming¬†and here I am more than 30 years later and it’s my job. I don’t write games, but I do write code.

Because I’ve always been interested in writing code and not all that good at games, my exposure to gaming has always been quite limited. On the Commodore 64 and then the Amiga 500 I hardly ever played any. However, when I bought my first PC in the mid 1990’s I started attempting to play a few titles. Usually with no success whatsoever.

For the next few years I played Toonstruck, Total War, Frontier, Black and White and others but most of my money went on various versions of FIFA. I was blown away by the “virtual stadium” in FIFA 96. I can remember standing in GAME open mouthed at the demo as the camera flew down through the clouds into the stadium. Awesome!

I was rubbish at FIFA 96. And FIFA 98, 2000 and 2001. I think the last copy I bought was FIFA 2002 and not long after I switched to the Mac.

The wilderness years
At that point my gaming pretty much stopped for a few years. I didn’t even worry too much about games on the iPhone and later the iPad. The odd puzzle game perhaps, but nothing too time consuming. I bought a console when I turned 40 which, embarrassingly, was a Nintendo Wii.

My reason for choosing the Wii was so that I could play games without having to learn complex button combinations (always a problem¬†for me) and also so that my wife could join in. She’s a total technophobe so would only play games where either I¬†can¬†“drive” (like Toonstruck¬†on the PC) or that she can¬†control by throwing her arms about (as on the Wii).

Even by the time I purchased my Wii, it was already a little of out of date. By then I had an HDMI 1080p TV set and the Wii’s 480p connecting by composite video was clearly not ideal. However, the games were fun and it still sits by my TV set, despite not having been¬†switched¬†on for about 3 years.

Deciding to have a mid-life crisis and buy a proper console
With hindsight, I think that the main reason I’ve never been all that successful at games is because when I was really trying to play¬†them, I had a PC with a kind of low- to middle-of-the-range graphics card. PC games at the time also suffered from users having different controllers so¬†most games were best¬†operated via¬†the keyboard. This led to a poor quality experience for many games. I probably should’ve invested in a console back then, but it was easier to just give up and not bother.

At some expense, I purchased a licence for Elite Dangerous on my Mac Pro. With my 2013 “trash can” Mac Pro the graphics are pretty good,¬†however it has the same problem that I had back on the PC 20 years ago – you will never have the optimal gaming experience unless you have the best possible hardware to play it on. And I don’t. I even tried buying an extra Windows licence¬†and installing the game¬†under Bootcamp just so that I could use Crossfire for the Mac Pro’s graphics cards (and also run the latest version of Elite as Frontier stopped supporting the Mac in the latest releases, annoyingly). While being mildly distracting, I still feel like I’m not having quite as much fun as I would if I had the best possible hardware and didn’t have to spend ages trying to get¬†the best looking view on my 4K monitor.

Fast forward to Autumn 2016 and I’d been thinking about buying a console for a while to help with much needed relaxation. I’ve had no holiday this year and it’s all work, work, work. Much as I enjoy my work (and I do, I’m a geek, I can’t help it) it would still be nice to unwind at times. Much of my unwinding is achieved by walking the dogs, drinking real ale and playing my saxophone. Not all at the same time, although that’s an interesting thought…

With my re-kindled interested in gaming gaining momentum,¬†I¬†read¬†that Playstation were bringing out the Playstation 4 Pro. That was good timing as I was wondering about holding fire completely and waiting for the Playstation 5 (which might be another 2 or 3 years away) or Microsoft’s updated X-Box One code named “Project Scorpio” due out in late 2017.

In the accompanying video (above) I go into more detail about why I chose the PS 4 Pro over the X-Box One S (the current incarnation of the X-Box One that will be replaced next year). The specs of the PS 4 Pro look great and so I decided to pre-order it for delivery on the day of release.

The second video (below) shows the PS 4 Pro arriving!

At the time of writing I’ve had the PS 4 Pro for nearly 2 weeks and for all of this time it’s been sitting in a box in my dining room. I won’t open it until my birthday in December, as it’s my gift to myself (via my wife).

I’ve bought 2 games. FIFA 17 and Project Cars. I’m also planning to use it to stream content from Amazon Prime and Netflix (although the latter is available on several of my set top boxes so I don’t need to use the PS 4 for that).

Hoping I do better
It’s my sincere hope that I will do better with gaming this time around. From spending my entire gaming life using less than adequate hardware, I now own the highest¬†spec¬†console on the market… at least until Project Scorpio, but that’s a good 12 months away.

I know people with custom PC’s will say that they have the best hardware – and they do, however for me an expensive top-of-the-range PC build was out of the question. I just wouldn’t use it enough. My hope is that once the PS 4 Pro is set up and the¬†novelty wears off I’ll still find that I want to use it. And not having to think about settings and configs and knowing that what I’m playing has been optimised specifically for the platform will help a great deal, I’m sure.

Now, the next thing will be a 4K HDR TV to plug it in to…

Changing from a Canon cartridge printer to an Epson EcoTank

For the last 6 years I’ve been using a Canon MX 870 printer. It was a good printer, the quality was fine and I liked the fact that it had¬†multi-functions and 2 paper¬†trays. However there was one fatal flaw with the device that meant that it just had to go!

For some time now (years, probably) the printer has suffered from an identity crisis. Sometimes it would happily advertise itself as available on my network and churn out prints. Other times, it would be switched on and active however not show up on any device. Worse still was when it sat somewhere in the middle – advertising the fact that it would accept prints but then blatantly ignoring all my requests to actually do so.

The problem was “error 300”. Lots of people seem to get this with Canon¬†MX series printers. It’s all over support forums on the interwebs and not just for Mac users (although OS X does some to be prone to it).


After suffering with this issue for far too long, I decided earlier this summer that the printer had to go. I started looking around for an alternative.

Getting on board the tanks
I’d first come across the Epson EcoTank series when it was released in 2015. I like this concept very much. These printers don’t use traditional cartridges, instead they have large ink tanks on the side into which you squirt the liquid that will ultimately make up your prints. The ink is cheap and because the tanks are so large Epson claim that you can do somewhere in the region of 11,000 pages once you’ve filled up. Obviously this depends on how much coverage there is on the paper, but however you look at it, this is considerably more than cartridge hardware can manage.

Because the ink is so¬†cheap, Epson make their money on charging more for the printer. If the EcoTank 4550 was a “normal” printer it would likely be a third of the price but then you’d end up paying more for inks.¬†Even if you use third party options (some of which are pretty awful) the cost per page is still going to be much higher than the 0.5p of the Epson.

I’ve posted a video review of the¬†Epson EcoTank 4550 to my YouTube channel. You can view that here. In it, I unbox the printer, add the ink, set it up with my¬†Mac Pro and then try some test prints before giving my overall impressions of the unit.

The video was recorded in June 2016 and added to YouTube on 10 September (I take my time editing, clearly).

Other EcoTank models are available with different features to the model I review. Check out the Epson web site in your local country for details. I mention special offers in my review, both of which have now ended.

I am not writing this review or posting my video with the knowledge or support of Epson. I purchased the hardware as a consumer using my own money and my comments are entirely down to what I think of it. You should always take on board a variety of opinions and decide yourself what to do before making any purchase.