Country Ways, Devon holidays

I had to write a little bit about the place I’ve been staying in just outside Great Torrington in Devon, called ‘Country Ways’ .

I arranged a very last minute trip to the west country to try to find a relaxing space to do some thinking and a bit of work. The Country Ways web site came up with a late availability, and I thought it looked good. I was not mistaken – this is a collection of small cottage buildings within a farm that offer the visitor a really good standard of accommodation. The units are all converted out buildings, by the look of them, and inside they are very well appointed. My residence for the last few days has been the ‘Dray’ – big enough for two people, with one double bed a bathroom (en-suite) and a modest but very comfortable living area complete with kitchen.

The ‘resort’ (if you can call it that) also has a laundry facility, a gym, pool room (the table based game, not a swimming variety!) and a whole load of open space, swings and walkways, etc.

Located between Dartmoor and Exmoor, south of Barnstaple, it is ideally located for North Devon walking and trips to some of the best coastal resorts, such as Westward Ho! and Bude, amongst many others.

The units are self catering, so bring food! There is no supermarket nearby – the closest being in Torrington which is around 8 miles away. There is no nearby petrol station either – again, you go into Torrington. This suits me, but if you are hoping for all the mod cons of living in the London area, or any urban area for that matter, you’ll be left wanting! This is Devon, and life is different here!

Just to add, last night I was able to see more stars in the night sky than I can remember ever seeing – a truly awesome sight – no light pollution, just the outer spiralling arm of our galaxy. Wow….

iPad vs iPhone vs Macbook Pro

iPad Image
The Apple iPad

I’ve been a very lucky chap this Christmas, and after months of saying I don’t need one, I was given an iPad (32Gb WiFi only) ! What a brilliant gift to get, but I was a little sceptical about how useful it would be. After all, I have a decent Mac laptop, and I have long had an iPhone, so what could I possibly need an ‘inbetweener’ device like an iPad for?

It turns out that since opening it on the 25th, I haven’t actually put it down, which tells me something must be quite good.

First up, battery life. The iPhone is notorious for the need to re-charge every day, often before the whole day has finished. The thing is, using the phone as much as I do for work, it soon runs low – calls, emails, occasional browsing and the odd gam or two whilst on a train all take their toll. The device just doesn’t have the level of power I need. The Macbook, on the other hand, is amply blessed with power – running for about 4-5 hours between charges. Simply put, it’s not enough for a whole day on battery alone, and needs a charge at least once during the day. Now, the macbook is in use constantly, all day, every day whilst at work. It gets used for high level activities such as film editing, 3D design, DVD authoring and so on, as well as email, web browsing, presentations and such like. All in all it is the workhorse of the work place. The iPad has been charged once since I got it – it runs about 8-10 hours before needing more power, and this is pretty significant.

Screen size – as I get a little longer in the tooth, so I find things harder to read without adequate light, and distance. The iPhone is just about bearable, but I more often than not turn it to landscape and enlarge the images (especially web pages) just to be able to read things. So I need glasses… but not when I use the Macbook Pro – everything is dandy there. Lovely screen, everything perfectly sized for me. The iPad is also pretty well sized, and what I need to enlarge on the iPhone I don’t on the iPad. The screen is gorgeous.

Apps are available for iPhone and iPad – many simply transfer with no problems from phone to pad. Some do still run at the same size as the phone when on the iPad, but there is a handy ‘2x’ button to enlarge the display. This is used more frequently than you can imagine. The Facebook app, for example, is not yet able to run natively at full size on an iPad. Others, such as the Twitter app are fine, and the BBC News app is simply brilliant on the iPad. It’s OK on the iPhone, but crashes from time to time.

Other apps, like those I use regularly on the macBook Pro are there too – ‘Keynote’ for presentations, ‘Numbers’ for spreadsheets and ‘Pages’ for word processing. They are pretty fully featured copies of the software for a fraction of the price of the main application, and well worth buying.

One or two things in the apps annoy me. When typing I find it very very easy to hit a command button, often located along the top edge of the keyboard layout area, which does me no good. More than once I’ve been typing a blog post to see it all disappear in an instant! Frustratingly, it is more my fault than the software, but I wish these sorts of buttons weren’t put so close to the typing area!

Now the bigger issue – connectivity. With just the wifi version I don’t have a simple way of connecting to the internet when out of range of a wifi hotspot. My phone has a 3G signal, and I have a 3G dongle for the macbook. the iPad without a 3G connection may prove to be infuriating, although I have a plan.

The iPad has no USB port (what?? I can’t quite understand why…) and so no way of attaching a broadband dongle. The Macbook has two USB ports, of course and so no such limitations exist. However, the broadband dongle is a pay as you go device, with 12Gb data to use over a 12 month period. That time is nearly up, so a new dongle will be needed. Rather than buy a straight replacement, I think a ‘MiFi’ device will be needed! These superb little gadgets connect to the internet using 3G as usual, but they act as a wireless hotspot as well, allowing up to five nearby devices to share the connection they make. Genius. With a strong password it should be fine to use in a public place, I think… I’ll let you know when I get one and try it out!

Smaller irritations include the fact there is no simple ‘video out’ – to do this I need to buy an adaptor which plugs in to the dock connector and converts to VGA. I would think it a considerable improvement to add this to the box with the iPad, but no, it’ll cost a further £20 to have this ability.

Finally, no cameras. Is this a disadvantage? personally, I think not. Whilst it would be nice to have the occasional video chat through an application like AIM, I am not distraught at not being able to. I have lots of other ways to take photos, after all, and if I need to video chat with folk I think I’d prefer to do so on the ‘workhorse’, not the iPad. As for connecting cameras to the iPad, or just connecting a memory card, or even a USB device to transfer images, this is a bigger cause of complaint. The iPad boasts the ability to display images like a digital photo frame. Wonderful. However, getting images onto the iPad is a bit of a performance, requiring iTunes to achieve it. How much simpler it would be to just insert an SD card, or a USB hard drive to transfer files directly.

In conclusion, the iPad is a superb piece of kit. I have been astonished at how often I use it when I was convinced there was no place for it in the line up of tools at my disposal. I can see now that it forges it’s own niche very easily, and is simply brilliant at doing the simple things that an iPhone makes tricky. In terms of processing power there is more than enough there, but I wouldn’t use it to edit video – it’s best placed for lightweight work -the occasional presentation, word processing or spreadsheet work, but ultimately it is brilliant at displaying web pages better than an iPhone ever will be. And better than getting the laptop out too – far less intrusive, lighter in weight and pretty well capable of doing most common tasks.

But by far the biggest advantage over either phone or laptop is the battery life. It is outrageously good at staying on! With the ability to run for 8 hours easily, it more than compensates for any shortcomings it may have.

Oh, and did I say it looks pretty snazzy too?

The iPad then is a rather good device. It is slightly overpriced (most Apple gadgets are, though) and has some features missing that you’d expect to be there. However, it is a very good device, and one which I am surprised to say I didn’t know I needed until I had one for about two hours. From then on it was obvious that I needed it!

City College Norwich FE Awards

Last night I was at the FE Awards ceremony run by City College Norwich to celebrate the achievements of the young people going through college.

This sort of awards cerony generally happens at university graduations, and I’ve never seen a ‘FE’ version until now. Even better, Cleveratom were one of dozens of companies sponsoring the awards, so I got to stand up and present a trophy, certificate and small cheque to a couple of students.

The event was excellent! Well organised and run and cheery in just about every way! It was held at the Forum (nibbles and dinner) and St. Peter Mancroft church just opposite. It was a delightful feeling to see the look of joy on the young people’s faces as they collected their awards, and to know that Cleveratom played just a tiny part in it all.

We sponsored two awards, and next year I would hope we sponsor more, but I am reliably informed that we can’t do more than three, no matter how much we want to!

Well done to Harry Greiner – an admirable Master of Ceremonies, who had to keep on top of just who was collecting the awards as many students couldn’t make it and were represented variously by families or members of the students’ union. A quick handshake for all was followed by a few rapid photographs – a copy of which I should get to put on the office wall. I can’t wait!

Pictures show the ceremonies inside St Peter Mancroft, and the evening at the Forum. What I didn’t get a picture of was the dance group from the college performing at the Forum, or the Norwich Youth for Christ Gospel Choir, who performed flawlessly.

iPhone and Google calendars, sync Google and iPhone, Nuevasync

It is really not pleasant when you read that your iPhone will sync with Google calendars, and that iPhone software version 3.0 will allow you to have up o 25 calendars at a time, to find out that it actually doesn’t work as you think it might.

The instructions from our friends at Google are simple enough – use MS Exchange, add in your account details and you are good to go… but must first enable mobile devices in your Google dashboard (obviously this doesn’t apply to a personal Google account, only a business or academic one). In the instructions it lovingly tells you all will be well, but doesn’t mention what to do if all is decidedly unwell.

Every time I have tried to do this, I have managed to get my main default calendar only. It doesn’t matter if it is iPhone 2.0 or 3.0… still the same. And still the frustration mounts!

Having upgraded to version 3.0 today, I was fired up and ready to try a final time. Not easily put off when facing defeat, I tried for three hours, all to no avail. What a waste of time. I then read some other blogs and came across a third party service – www.nuevasync.com – and since it is free, decided to try it.

Lo and behold, after typing in the right details to Nuevasync, my iPhone shows ALL of my calendars, not just the general one. Glory be!

Now, if Nuevasync can do this, I’m pretty sure it is possible for Google to do it. I don’t see why we need a third party in the loop here, but for goodness sake, nobody let Nuevasync go out of business!

I now get to see all of my calendars in iCal on my phone, can add events and they sync to the main google calendar, add others, and have others add to my diary (yup, it’s a preference setting for work based calendars)… it ALL works as it should.

If you are as frustrated as I was, go to the Nuevasync web site, sign up for a free account and edit the settings. You’ll be running in about three minutes where before you were plodding.

Just be a little careful with your contacts and email though – if you enable these through Nuevasync, you *will* lose everything off your phone when the first sync happens. Be sure that you have got everything you need backed up, or in Google… or both!