Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mr Fixit

As one of the office 'Computer Guys', I often get called upon to fix other people's computers. More often than not, they tend to be laptops.

This time it was a faulty Sony VAIO VGN-FZ18M.

The fault was with the GPU, a nVidia 8400GT. This is a well known fault - Sony and nVidia admitted fault and extended the warranty to 4 years after purchase.

Of course many folks may just be encountering the fault (like this example - dashed lines across the screen with a failure to boot or get stuck in a restart cycle) and may be beyond even the extended warranty.

There are few, if any, guides for stripping down this particular VAIO on the internet.

So I decided to write my own, and it can be found here (PDF). File hosted by

The guide describes how I repaired the GPU with a paint stripper. Yes, a paint stripper. It was an all or nothing fix.

Rather incredibly, it worked. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

It's in the bag...

Click for the big picture
Seems the thing to do if you run a tech site is to write about what you carry about in your bag on a daily basis. And while 'run' might be a bit optimistic for MyGadgetLife (more like 'curate'…) I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and post about the stuff I carry about with me pretty much everywhere.

First up is my trusty Swatch Irony. And it is an irony, since it's constructed mostly from aluminium, making it extremely lightweight and comfortable to wear. I've had this watch for nearly fifteen years - it keeps perfect time, is water resistant, has a stopwatch and tachymeter markings. One day I might figure out what they're for…

Next is my Nintendo 3DS. I love this for it's sheer quirkiness. Not only are there three cameras on board (the stereo pair at the front and one rear facing), there are no less than six - count 'em - six status LED dotted around. Astounding. What were they smoking when they designed this thing? "Only 5 LEDs? Are you quite MAD?!? More LEDs dammit!" But in Japanese. 

The 3DS is more than just the 3D - there has been some significant evolution between it and it's predecessor, the DSi. I'm talking about the 3D still and movie abilities, the augmented reality abilities (in 3D, natch), the gyroscope, the analogue stick, the drop in charging cradle. The ability to receive stuff while it's sleeping… neat. Oh and let's not forget the Mac-a-like 'snoozing' LED when you snap the lid shut.

Currently [still] playing Advance Wars DS.

Moving on, then. A simple aluminium case for caring my work permits and passes. Available from Muji.

Below that, an iPod nano. This was acquired through Apples nano replacement program late last year. The old nano… well the old nano was a great piece of engineering what with its classic polished stainless steel and lucite casing, scroll wheel and postage stamp sized screen. So when Apple announced potential problems with the battery and could we please send our (pretty much mint condition) Original nano back, well it was done with mixed feelings. So while I appreciate Apples' generosity in replacing the nano Original with a new model (and let's face it, they can afford to do this), I can't help the feeling that our old nano might end up in MOMA and that I might have to pay to see it again.

To go with the nano, there are my earbuds. In this case a pair of Ultimate Ears MetroFi 220s. These I purchased when massively discounted from their RRP. They sound great, significantly better than my old Sony EX71s and a pair of Sennheiser buds that make my ears hurt. The white earbud case is one I designed myself and had 3D printed. You can get one for yourself over at Shapeways.

Next is my Messograph pen, with built in Vernier calliper. For those times you absolutely have to know the dimensions of something to the nearest 0.1mm. Actually, this is a really well made item - chrome plated brass for the angular barrel, finely machined brass innards and aluminium clip to finish off. I like the little copper coloured rivets that hold the clip in place. As a pen, it's a bit awkward to hold, but the gas pressurised ballpoint writes nicely enough. Get yours from Cultpens.

The Sandisk memory stick is only 2Gb, but is stuffed with Portable Apps. With Inkscape, Gimp and Open Office, there's very little you can't do on any PC you happen to be near.

Up from that, a Kingston 16Gb memory stick, for, y'know, stuff.

The little Amzer micro-USB cable reel neatly avoids any cabling tangles at the bottom of my bag. Amazon.

That purple thing? A multi card reader. It cost a pound. A single GBP. And, yes, I did worry it might fry my $1000 laptop before plugging it in for the first time. But it didn't, it works great and so far hasn't dumped it's payload of malware. I am of course kidding… or am I?!?

Ok along from that is my Android, yes, Android powered Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S phone. Much better than the old HTC Magic. Has an 8Mp camera and does 720p video. Has a great screen and even the battery life is acceptable. It's a great phone.

Last is of course the iPad. If you hate the iPad and everything Apple stands for, I suggest you stop reading now.

I can't stress enough how transformational the iPad is as a device. As soon as it was announced I knew - just knew - that it would change our relationship with 'computers' for good. Now, of course, there are many, many competing devices of similar form factor and function, so the following equally applies to them as well as the iPad.

I pretty much use the iPad for all the main software categories - gaming, photos, music, movies, internet, email, calendar, books, interactive books, maps and productivity. That last category covers things like writing, photo editing, music creation and editing PDFs.

All in a sleek, solid state, aluminium and glass enclosure. Remarkable.

Apple's camera connection kit, pictured alongside the iPad let's me pull images off SD card and, curiously, allows me to attach a USB MIDI keyboard to interface with all that lovely music software.

So that's my bag. It keeps me amused, informed, entertained, creative and enlightened. All in one place.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Yearplanner V4.0 available

22 November 2017: Hi folks! Thanks to everyone who's downloaded and enjoyed my year planner macro over the years. I have had reports that the macro does not work under Office 2016 which until now I have not been able to test. As I write, the macro (V4.1) works unchanged on a new Office 365 install on a Mac. However if you have another workbook open it will fail with a 'Subscript out of range' error. I promise to fix this in the near future! So, close all other open workbooks and try again.

It's taken me a while to get around to updating it, but here it is, Yearplanner Maker V4.0!

This update streamlines the Control Panel dialog, but more importantly introduces a new feature: split years. So if you begin a chart in June, it'll run to May the following year.

I've included a security disclaimer/guide for those struggling to get it to run under Excels' default macro security settings (tip: you need to turn security off).

In addition, there's a few lines describing the basic use of the Control Panel.