Google WiFi

We live in an old farm house, with brick walls. When we were doing some renovations about 10 years ago, I managed to run ethernet to most of the rooms. This works if you have a desktop computer and don't mind having it plugged into an ethernet socket. However, almost all the family exclusively use devices that connect via WiFi. We got round the WiFi coverage problem by installing routers in several parts of the house, with separate SSID's. However, there are several parts of the house with poor coverage and you have to remember to connect to the SSID that gives you the best coverage.

Enter the concept of mesh networks. There are several different companies making mesh networks. The main reasons I chose Google are it's trivially easy to configure and the app offers all sorts of performance monitoring. Like other mesh networks you have a single SSID and the network automatically connects you to the unit with the best performance in your location.

Initial setup involves trying out where the WiFi units should be placed. This is where the app really shines. Not only does it tell you what the signal strength is in any room, but you can see the upload and download speed for each connected device. This makes it easy to move the access points around to give optimal performance for everyone.

You can configure the network priority for each connected device to make sure your children don't hog all the available bandwidth. You can setup groups of devices, where you can control access to the network for the group. Useful to turn off Internet access at bed time.

If you need to twiddle with various advanced network settings such as DNS servers and port forwarding, you can do this via the app.

In summary: it just works out of the box, performance is good and it offers lots of twiddling options if you need them.

GPS Tracker

Our dog is a working labrador, who isn't very well trained at the moment. I was taking him for a walk and he was on the lead as the next field had some horses in it. We put up a hare and I just let go of the lead (better than a dislocated arm). He charged through the hedge in chasing the hare. I wasn't too worried as the next field was ploughed and I thought I would be able to see him and whistle him back. However, after clambering through the barbed wire and blackthorn, he was nowhere to be seen and didn't respond to the whistle. It's a big field with thick hedges and after half an hour of looking I called out International Rescue in the form of my wife and daughter. Further efforts to find him failed miserably. Eventually, I climbed into a copse in one corner of the field and found him in the middle. He had done a couple of circuits of a tree and his flexi-lead had got wound round it. He was sitting there with a "What took you so long look" and hadn't bothered to bark when he was stuck.

So onto the GPS tracker. It's very small and light and will easily attach to his harness. It works via SMS. Note it only works on 2g networks (ie not Three), although 3g models are available. You need a cheap PAYG SIM. You configure it by sending text messages. Once it' set up you can send it a text and it will reply with a Google maps link to its position. It can also just send you the Lat and Long coordinates and attempt to look up a property address using Google.

Also, it has a motion sensor and you can configure it to send a text if it's moved and then log positions at regular intervals. The model I chose has a mini transformer, so you can power it from a car and use it as an anti theft device.

There are many configurable options to alter its route tracking behavior and motion sleeping. With moderate use, my unit consumed about 40% of its battery in 24hrs. Obviously, this depends on how many test message it sends.

For a much more detailed review, I would suggest that you watch the AndroidAndy review on YouTube, which I'll link to in a comment.

Ebay link:

Ebay link:

Car and Van Insurance Renewal

Car/Van Insurance Renewal. This week my insurance cover for the truck expires, so I used GoCompare to get some quotes. The cheapest I found from Zenith was about £100 less than the renewal from my current company (Admiral) for the same level of cover.

Admiral have the annoying habit of using your debit card to auto-renew your policy as a "Safety Measure" if you don't contact them to cancel the renewal. So, I rang them up to make sure they didn't auto-renew my policy and they somehow magically reduced their quoted renewal price to slightly less than the Zenith quote.

Orthotic Insoles

I tend to wear my trainers to destruction. Recently, the soles of my feet have been getting sore when walking and when wearing my cycling shoes. Part of this is a side effect of last year's chemotherapy. However, when I looked at the insoles of my shoes they were very worn.

There is a huge range of replacement insoles available. The manufacturer ones for my cycling shoes cost around £40. I can buy a new pair of the same shoe for only a small amount more! Brands like Superfeet are similarly expensive.

Recently, somebody recommended me to try these insoles. There are various different versions, for different sorts of foot problem. I bought a pair of bog standard ones and after a couple of days use, I can say they are very comfortable. At roughly £6, even if they don't work for you they haven't cost a fortune.

Ebay link:

Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard

I have been looking for a foldable BT keyboard for a while. Almost of my computer use consists of using Emacs, a terminal and the Chrome browser. Using the Tmux terminal emulator app, I have got Emacs to work on my Fire tablet. A 7" screen is fine for writing and reading text. When I use Emacs, all my input is via the keyboard, no mouse required. However, most Emacs functions use the Ctrl and Alt keys in combination with another key (e.g. Ctrl-x-s for saving a file), which is almost impossible using an on-screen keyboard.

This keyboard is robustly built, with a metal outer. The latching mechanism looks as though it will withstand lots of abuse. The keys themselves have a nice action and the spacing about the same size as my Dell XP notebook, so it's nice to type on.

The keyboard folds down into a pocketable size. Now instead out taking my expensive laptop out with me, I can achieve the same functionality with a cheap Android tablet.

Amazon link

Bothy Bag

Probably most of you won't have heard of "Bothy Bags". They were originally designed as emergency shelters, mainly for use in the mountains. They come in various sizes - this one will fit 2 people comfortably and weights 350g. It packs down into a very small stuff sack. The shelter has no floor, you just pull it over your head and sit on one of the edges to anchor it to the ground. Within a few minutes you will have created a warm micro-climate inside and no matter how cold and windy it is outside, you can eat your sandwiches in the warmth.

When I bought one some years ago, I was mocked by my wife, who thought it was a bit of frippery. However, a couple of weeks ago, we climbed Skiddaw in the Lake District. it was about -6C in the valley and even colder, with a bit of a breeze, on the summit. I chucked the bag over our heads and we sat admiring the view for about half an hour without feeling cold. She is now a convert to Bothy Bags.

Bothy bags aren't just for mountain use. If you go for a walk and it's windy and wet, they provide a great temporary shelter. Since it's small when packed and light, you can carry it all the time in your bag.

Useless Bike Racks

Useless bike racks. Put your front wheel in the bracket, locl the wheel to the bracket. Some Low Life comes along and flips open the quick release skewer on your wheel and takes the rest of the bike leaving the front wheel locked to the bike stand. OK so Low Life had to buy a new front wheel, but the rest of the bike could easily be worth £1,000 or more.

There are workarounds, but much simpler to install a proper bike rack in the first place. Simple hoops, where you can thread the lock's chain round the cross bar and then through the wheels if you are really paranoid.


Buffalo Windshirt

This was a Christmas present. It's made by the same company as the Special 6 shirt I reviewed. They make all their products in Sheffield and can make sizes specially tailored to you. They are not cheap, but they do last: in the case of my Special Six shirt more than 30yrs.

This has a lighter fleece layer than the Special 6, so is more suited to conditions above freezing! Buffalo make a non cycling specific shirt, which uses the same materials. It's designed to be worn either next to the skin, or over a thin wicking base layer.

As inhabitants of the UK have probably noticed, January has been wet, windy and cold, ideal testing conditions. I have worn this top in temperatures from 0 to 12C and in varying conditions of wind, snow and rain. I just wear a thin Merino base layer underneath. I have never been cold and the only dampness was around my neck, where rain has dripped down my neck.

I'll be interested to see if it's too warm when we get some decent Spring weather.

Montane Windshirt

The Marmot Driclime was one of the original windshirts. Mine is several years old and still works. However, it doesn't have a hood, or pockets, like the one I have linked to. Since this was in a sale, I couldn't resist buying it:) The inner is a microfleece and the outer is Pertex. It's not waterproof, but it is water resistant. In anything other than a torrential downpour, it will keep you dry provided you keep moving and generating body heat.

The Pertex outer is very wind resistant. If it's breezy and you are feeling the chill, just stick this jacket on and you will be instantly warm. It's very light and can be rolled up into its own chest pocket, taking up very little space.

TV Repairs

My son's 32" Samsung smart TV, which is only about 3yrs old developed a fault a few months ago. You could see the backlights come on, but nothing was displayed on screen. Our TV shop offers a free quote service for repairs and diagnosed a faulty T-Con board. They wanted £110 to repair it. We couldn't decide if it was worth repairing as a replacement would cost about £250. It has been sat on the floor looking lonely for a few months now.

Inspired by Dave I took the back off the TV and removed the board. The whole procedure was very simple, the main difficulty was trying to stop the dog grabbing the screws off the table. I Googled for a replacement board and it seemed that it was either out of stock or a used one was about £60 on eBay. I have managed to find a supplier of the original board in China and should receive a brand new board for £33 in a few weeks.,

I think the quote for repair was reasonable, given that the board would have cost them about £60 plus an hours labour.