The Toshiba A8 Laptop, a trial

Another one of those posts that I’ve really been meaning to do but other things have got in the way.

A little while back Toshiba loaned me a Tecra A8 to do an appraisal of for their TalkToshiba site. Incidentally, it’s a very good idea from Toshiba in terms of getting exposure and feedback from bloggers and if anyone else would like to send me something to trial, I’m more than happy, although things of a technical nature are preferred.

I will declare an interest. Up until then I had only ever actually purchased one laptop in my life and it was a Toshiba (Pentium MMX with 64Mb Ram if memory serves me correctly) and I loved it until the motherboard eventually gave up but I couldn’t complain, it had been everywhere with me and I’d used it constantly.

So with that in mind and fond memories I was looking forward to the Tecra. It was on paper a great spec. I nice little Dual Core Intel processor. A gig of ram, a 256mb ATI graphics card and I was up for putting it through its paces.

On looks:

Well, it’s a laptop, it’s black and there’s not much more to say. I appreciate that Mac has done well in stylising it’s laptops and if that’s your cup of tea then good on you but the vast majority of laptops are black or grey slabs and that’s what the Tecra A8 is. That isn’t a criticism because, at least from my perspective it’s performance, what the machine can do and functionality that’s important.

On performance:

With anticipation of playing around with a computer with a specification that blows all my other machines out of the water I eagerly booted it up, incidentally it came pre-installed with Windows XP. Now I am going to state that yes I do know there are much more accurate ways to bench test hardware but I thought a more layman’s perspective would be better because after all that’s what your end user notices so I decided to test performance through boot-up times/shut down times and graphics through games.

The first thing that struck me when I booted the machine was how slow it was. In terms of boot-up to usable desktop, my Celeron D 3.4Ghz with 256Mb of Ram outperformed it. It also only marginally outperformed my ancient Packard Bell laptop P3 800Mhz with 128Mb of Ram. However, once up and running it was decidedly faster and graphics wise was very good. I might note that the slowness of booting, because it really did under-perform could well have been due to a poorly installed OS because there really shouldn’t be any reason for the slowness I encountered.

With this in mind I decided to cross compare it with a Linux OS. My personal choice was Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn and the performance at boot time was staggering in comparison. It easily out-performed everything else I’ve got and despite ATI graphics cards sometimes being a bit of a pain on Linux due to unavailable proprietary drivers I had a 3D Beryl cube desktop up and running in minutes. It also performed well running games graphics wise even through Wine which is a Windows emulator for Linux. It did however have a problem rendering video while spinning the cube desktop which my other PC with a very old Nvidia card in has no problems doing. I will however put this down to the drivers and not the actual hardware.

All in all it was quite impressive. I personally liked the robust nature of the design, it felt strong and well built with good segmentation of hardware for upgrade and maintenance. I know it’s only a small touch but I really liked the volume switch which simply moved the volume up or down by pushing it one way or the other, none of this trying to scroll it round like mad. However I didn’t like the touchpad. Not out of any kind of unresponsiveness but more that the edged were raised by about 1.5mm above the pad and I kept hitting my finger on them and losing the cursors position.

Would I buy one?

Well, much as I really liked the build quality and I really appreciate well built things, I’d have to say no. The touchpad would drive me mad after a while and user functionality is very important to me. Although the model is discontinued I did look over the price range of what you get from Toshiba for your money and for an independent who has to buy things directly out of what he earns then I felt them to be a little pricey. I could get better spec for less money if I hunted around a bit but it’s obvious that I’m not the core focus of Toshiba.

I also couldn’t get the speakers working with Linux, headphones were fine, just no speaker sound. I’m sure I could have come up with a fix but I was too busy and after all it was just a loaned laptop, if it had been mine then I’d have put in the extra effort. This of course does highlight one important factor. Dell in many ways have stolen a march on other PC manufacturers in that they’ve started selling PC’s with Linux pre-installed. Not that I’d buy one because for some strange reason it costs more, but it does tell me as a Linux user that I could buy their machine and know my OS definitely works with all the hardware which is something I couldn’t be sure of with other makes.

Who’s this laptop for?

Well, it’s a workhorse. It’s not pretty but it’s well built and designed for people on the move. It’s a salesmans/company execs laptop and these are usually purchased in bulk by organisations or companies where price is not necessarily the determining factor. For that market it’s perfect but for the independent and Linux user such as myself, price factors and compatibility are of greater importance so unfortunately it wouldn’t be my first choice for a laptop.

Shame on me

I’m not sure if it’s something to do with fatherhood, work, or that we usually only watch German TV at home but this is the first Rugby World that I haven’t watched a single match.

That said I caught the last couple of minutes of the England-France semi-final and all I can say, is come on England, I may well even break a habit and go down the same pub I watched England win the last world cup to watch it if Mrs Penguin lets me out.

Our little furry friend

Mouse

Here he is the little blighter. Been scurrying around the house for the past few weeks. We hadn’t heard anything from him for ages until Mrs Penguin sent me a text, a matter of less than an hour ago informing me there was a mouse in the bedroom.

So strategically I wedged blankets under the door to the living room and bathroom to cut off his likely escape route meaning that at worst he’d have to hop down the stairs where I’d have the opportunity to flush him out one of the doors.

I proceeded into the bedroom where I spotted him dash under the bed. Heading over to the other side of the room so as to flush him out into the direction of the landing I started moving all the assorted crap from under the bed until he legged it.

I cornered him on the landing and almost had him till he hopped off down the stair and into the kitchen. Somehow I managed to catch him between my feet while I was kneeling down which is probably better than the way I caught the last one (it ran up my trouser leg and I had to catch him on my back).

Finally I managed to get hold of him and drop him in a plastic tub with a sealed lid. Air holes punched I took him off to a bit of local wasteland to let him go free.

I know it’s not exactly hunting down a mamouth or a wild boar but some primeval hunting instinct seems to have been satisfied and I’m feeling rather pleased with myself.

Compost envy

I’m a keen gardener. I’m proud of my humble little garden and we try to live a fairly ‘green’ lifestyle in our house. Apart from all the recycling and re-using of items we also compost as much as we can.

I have one of the Dalek style composters in the corner that I managed to pick up in the days when Walsall Council actually used to give them away for free. It suits the size of our garden and the household waste we produce which is why I’m completely envious of this.

Compost-heap

This is Mrs Penguin’s father’s compost heap and it’s not far off the size our our entire garden. It’s got pumpkins growing on it and everything. Must buy a house with a bigger garden. With a compost heap that size and the amount of heat it throws off I could run the central heating through it.

Where’s all the roundabouts?

What do we British have about roundabouts? I’m not saying they’re good or bad but we seem to have a lot of them in Britain. There’s hardly any around here, I don’t know if that’s typical of Germany as a whole but they seem to very much favour the junction which you probably notice mostly when you’re on the Autobahn.

I’m trying to remember a single junction off a motorway in Britain that isn’t a roundabout and I’m sure there must be some but I’ve never come across them. Haven’t seen a single roundabout here off the autobahn but presumably there must be some here too.

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On not being connected

It’s now the seventh day of not being hooked up to the Internet. Half way through the holiday and it’s a strange cultural change from living both ones primarily professional life and to some extent social life through electronic communication. When we’d arrived we’d hoped to have a connection set up but it appears that it’s either tradition or the law in Germany that when you sign contracts you are given a fortnights cooling off period to change your mind meaning that any connection would be setup the day after we have returned home which isn’t much use.

It’s strange but the first couple of days were the worst, a bit like going cold turkey I craved my net connection. Now sitting outside with the laptop penning a few posts with distinctly no connection to the Internet, it all feels that little bit more relaxed. I’m not a vexed about not being online and apart from not being able to keep up with news back home that’s about it. It is after all August so I’m sure nothing of any importance will have happened in British politics in the fortnight I’m away and it’s good to get a break from it anyway.

It is interesting to come to realise how not dependent on technology we are. I know people who live their lives through the net and I do a little too but I’m of an age that remembers life before it. It’s going to be very interesting to see how my son grows up in an increasingly online society deals with it. That reminds me, was going to pen a post on equality and modern communication methods ages ago and never got round to it. Might just remember to do it in the next week I’m here or then again I might not.

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Patio cleaners

For someone who’s spent many an hour on his hands and knees scrapping between patio paving I’d often wondered if there might be a slightly more efficient method than using a hand tool than looks like a mini-pickaxe to do the job.

I like DIY stores in general but after going around a few in Germany I’ve come to the conclusion that B&Q and Homebase are a bit light on choice. I’m not sure if it’s anything to do with the German mentality for doing things right but there seems to be something for everything so while in Britain I’d probably pick something up to do the job fairly well or bash about a bit till it can solve the problem, here it seems there’s a specific little jobbie designed to fulfil the task at hand. Still haven’t found a downpipe water diverter yet, but it appears they do that particular job differently here, more on that probably later.

I did however find this which seems an interesting idea.

patio-cleaner

I’m torn between thinking it’s a novel idea or that it wouldn’t work in practice. On the outset it seems good, no more stooping down, a nice long handle but how long would it last? I’m quite brutal with tools at times. I expect a lot in terms of endurance and I have found with alarming regularity (hating to sound rather too much like my father) but they don’t seem to make them like they used to.

I in general don’t go in for nostalgic views of the past. When people bang on about how you could leave your door unlocked at night or that the kids were better off in their day I feel at pains to do a bit of a reality check. There is, contrary to popular belief no army of burglars that come out when the sun sets to try on every front door in the town just on the off-chance that someone left it unlocked. I’m sure that I could happily get away with leaving my front-door unlocked at night and be at no more risk of being robbed than anyone else, it is simply a question of luck or not as the case may be that my house or anyone else’s gets targeted.

What it does say is not that the risks are specifically higher but our fears of the risks are higher, however that’s a topic for another post one day. Quick note on it being better for children in the olden days. Well as far as I can tell, if you’re a child these days, your chances of dying in the first few years in modern Britain are next to nothing. Mark this against infant mortality rates of 20% less than a century ago (my own mother lost two siblings rather less than a century ago) combined with the safety of knowing that you’re not going to be sent off down a pit at the age of 14 or even younger in some cases then I think the kids today get quite a good deal.

However, back to the subject in hand, the quality of tools. I know people who’ve picked up various garden tools from the likes of B&Q and broken them within a few weeks of work, in particular forks. Personally myself, I happen to be the proud owner of a garden fork which was my fathers. I have no idea of it’s age but easily more than forty years seems reasonable. It’s made of forged steel, none of that shiny stainless weak stuff and it was wholly built in England. I think the wooden stay is either oak or ash but it’s as strong as steel and shows no sign of giving up anywhere in the near future despite all the demands that have been put on it.

Returning to this patio cleaner. It is essentially a wire brush that is fixed to a pole. The brush can be loosened presumably to turn it around when it’s either bent or worn down. I’d be tempted to give it a try if it would fit in my suitcase, after all it’s not expensive but sadly it won’t fit, nor can I find one where you can just buy the head of the tool, I must hunt further.

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