Connecting two Bluetooth devices at once to a Volkswagen Tiguan

Tomorrow, the leased Volkswagen Tiguan (2012 model) that I’ve been driving for the last three years is being collected. Only last week, I worked out how to do what I’ve wanted to do for most of the time I’ve had the car – i.e. to have one phone connected over Bluetooth for calls (my work phone) at the same time as another is connected for playing music/podcasts (my private phone).

As long as both devices are paired to the car, it’s pretty simple and the steps are in the video below:

 

If you can’t see the video, then these are the steps:

  1. Connect the phone that you want to use as a phone to the car. In the video you can see “Mark Wilson’s Lumia” is connected.
  2. using the steering wheel controls, scroll down to Bluetooth and click OK.
  3. Scroll down to Media player and click OK.
  4. Select Paired devices and click OK.
  5. Select the second device (in the video it’s “Mark’s iPhone) and click OK.
  6. Click OK at the Connect prompt, and again at the “End current connection?” prompt.
  7. After a few seconds, the second device should connect and you can play media content from this, whilst still making/receiving calls on the first device.

Short takes: managing Bluetooth devices in a Volkswagen; seating Micro SD cards in a Hudl

In an attempt to close some tabs in my browser and transfer some notes to blog form, another “short takes” post…

Deleting paired Bluetooth devices from a Volkswagen MFD

The advice is for a 2012 Passatt but it worked for my Tiguan and probably for a Golf, etc. too (there’s a maximum of 4 connected devices – although only one can be active at any one time):

  1. “Go to the Phone on the center information panel
  2. Go to Users and you will the the phone names
  3. Scroll to the phone you want to remove
  4. Push the OK button on the steering wheel
  5. You will be offered some options, scroll down to Delete and hit OK”

Incidentally, Know Your VW is a useful site (although it is intended for the North American market).

Patience required inserting a Micro SD card in a Tesco Hudl

After buying my Tesco Hudl a few weeks ago, I decided to get a memory card to expand the on board capacity (e.g. cary more music/video with me).  Of course, Tesco is the last place I want to buy accessories like that and I picked up twice the capacity for half the price (or something like that) at MyMemory.co.uk.

The problem came when I wanted to insert the card into the Hudl.  For a while I seriously thought I had a faulty tablet that would need to be returned (a bit of a shame after getting it just how I wanted it, including rooting and customising…) – I kept on pushing the card in but it would spring straight out again.  It turns out that the Hudl’s card slot is very deeply recessed and some long nails (or even a knife) might be needed to push it in far enough and get it to stay in place!

 

 

Hardware lineup for 2014

For the last few years, I’ve written a post about my “hardware lineup” – the tech I use pretty much every day (2011, 2012, and 2013). This year, Dan Delaney reminded me when he borrowed the idea (and I originally stole it from someone else…) so here’s the belated 2014 line-up…

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

I’m still enjoying my current company car even as it approaches its 2 year anniversary and am actively working to keep the mileage down as I may buy it at the end of the lease. Whilst I might be able to get a deal on a second hand Q7 or Toureg, this was specced up the way I wanted it  including a retractable towbar and I’m more than happy. Verdict 8/10. Hold (tied into a 3-year lease).

Phones: Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini

Windows Phone 7.8 was a disappointment and the lack of apps for the Windows Phone platform means I’ve gone back to iOS for my personal phone (second-hand from the SmartfoneStore), although I hope to jailbreak it to get some of the features that are missing for me in iOS 7. Meanwhile, my company iPhone 3GS has been replaced with an Android model (the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini), which is infuriating in many ways but at least lets me get experience of working with the other dominant mobile platform. (iPhone) Verdict 7/10. Hold – something new is too expensive. (Galaxy Mini) Verdict 5/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadMy iPad never replaced a laptop as a primary computer but it’s still great as a Kindle, for catching up on social media content, and for casual gaming (read, occasional babysitter and childrens’ amusement on long car journeys). I was disappointed to have to pay to replace it after the screen developed a fault, but there’s no reason to trade up yet, especially since we bought a touch PC for the family (read on). If anything, I might consider a smaller tablet (maybe a Google Nexus 7 or a Tesco Hudl). Verdict 5/10. Hold, although it’s getting old now.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook P702 (Intel Core i5 3210M 2.5GHz, 8GB RAM, 320GB hard disk)

This PC is my main computing device and is a small form-factor replacement for the previous Lifebook I used.  I like it, but a BYOC scheme would be more likely to leave me buying a competitor’s PC. Just as well we only have CYOD! Verdict 7/10. Still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work but not holding my breath.

Family PC: Lenovo Flex 15 (Intel Core i5 4200U 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard disk)

Lenovo Flex 15When it eventually arrived, I set this PC up with Windows 8.1, Office 2013 and an account for everyone in the family.  It’s been a huge hit – the kids love it and I find it really useful to have a PC in the kitchen/family room.  I’m glad I held out for a touch screen – Windows 8 is so much better with Touch – but I should possibly have got something with a bit more memory… Verdict 8/10. A bit underpowered but a good balance between price and form factor.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Rarely taken out of the drawer – only used when I want to play with Linux (Ubuntu) or upload some new code to the Arduino. Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100Although I’ve fallen out of love with photography, I’m sure I’ll get back on the wagon some time. A full-frame DSLR is still my favourite format and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.  Newer bodies offer video but I don’t miss that, and the low light performance on the D700 is pretty good. The P7100 continues to function as my carry-everywhere camera (it lives in the car), offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like and I increasingly tolerate using the iPhone instead (poor camera, but always with me). (D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold. (P7100) Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)My MacBook is getting old and, although I upgraded to a 750GB disk, I’m struggling with disk space whilst 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive. Still too expensive to replace, but as long as I’m not doing much photography, this will last a while longer… Verdict 4/10. Hold.

Media: Samsung UE37ES6300 Smart TV

Samsung UE37ES6300Our late-2012 technology purchase, this replaced an aging (c1998) Sony Trinitron 32″ widescreen CRT and Internet-connected television is now an integral part of my family’s media consumption habit with my children watching more iPlayer content than live.  The software is a little “buggy” but it does the job – as a half decent TV it’s more than adequate and I’m thinking of getting a 22″ version for the den (when we build one…) Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, iPhone 4S, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers, Samsung UE37ES6300) Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year and I still haven’t re-ripped my CDs after the NAS failure a couple of years ago (although the Dell server I bought a few years ago has come out of retirement in preparation for that task). We bought a Yamaha PSR E-343 music keyboard for my son this Christmas so this PC may be brought back to life with Garage Band or as a media server as it takes up almost no space at all. Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should but my sons make more and more use of it, and bought me a copy of FIFA 2014 for Christmas, so the Xbox is starting to get a lot more use. No plans to replace it with a newer model though. Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Raspberry Pi, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo, various USB HDDs

The Raspberry Pi has replaced my atom-based infrastructure PC, whilst one ReadyNAS is used to back up my work and the other has still not been recovered from its multiple disk failure a couple of years ago.  I still need to consolidate the various USB hard drives onto the  3GB Seagate Backup Plus Desktop drive and sort out the various cloud-based services that I use. (Raspberry Pi) Verdict 10/10. What’s not to like about a computer that costs just £25? (ReadyNAS Duo) Verdict 5/10. RAID failures mean I’ve lost confidence.

Other tech: Arduino Uno, Canon ImageFormula P-215 document scanner

I’m still occasionally playing around with electronics using an Arduino – although I need to do more with this. I’m also slowly regaining control over my filing using the document scanner (and it’s very cathartic shredding old documents!) (Arduino Uno) Verdict 10/10. Inexpensive, with loads of scope for electronic prototyping and a thriving community for support. (Canon P-215) Verdict 9/10. Impressive scanner, although a little on the expensive side.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostatLego Mindstorms

Just as last year, I still have my eyes on home automation and tech toys but budgets (and other hobbies) mean they are unlikely to become real for a while yet.  A smart watch is a possibility too… just waiting for the right one…

Hardware lineup for 2013

For the last couple of years, I’ve written a post about my “hardware lineup” – the tech I use pretty much every day (2011, 2012) and I thought I’d continue the theme as we enter 2013.

In these times of austerity, there’s not a lot of scope for new geek toys (some more camera lenses would be great, as would a new MacBook) but there’s no harm in a bit of aspiration, and it’s always interesting to take a look back and see how I thought things would work out and how that compares with reality.

So here’s the tech that I expect my life will revolve around this year…

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

My company car was replaced in April (a nice 40th birthday present) and the Volkswagen Tiguan I drive will be with me for at least 3 years. Whilst there are plenty of more capabile 4x4s and the space afforded by a 7-seater might be nice at times, “the Tig” has been great – my family all love the high riding position, my wife is happy swapping between this and her Golf (she should be – they are practically the same underneath the covers!) and, whilst I miss some of the refinement of my Audi, I get a lot more for my money with the Volkswagen.  Putting a retractable towbar on this car has created new possibilities too, allowing me to use a 4-bike towbar-attached carrier for family cycle trips.

Verdict 8/10. Hold (tied into a 3-year lease).

Phones: Nokia Lumia 800 and Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GSNokia Lumia 800My initial enthusiasm for the Nokia Lumia 800 waned considerably, after Microsoft announced its Windows Phone 8 plans and the handset lost 60% of its value overnight.  That means I won’t be trading it in for a new model any time soon and, depending on whether Windows Phone 7.8 ever makes it out of the door, I might consider looking at options to run Android on the (rather nice) hardware instead.  Still, at least we got an update a few months ago that, finally, enables Internet Sharing on Lumias (Windows Phone 7.5 supported this capability, but the Lumia 800 firmware did not).

I still have an iPhone 3GS provided by my employer (and my iPad) to fall back on when apps are not available for Windows Phone (i.e. most of the time) and, whilst I’m unlikely to get another smartphone from the company, I am considering a second-hand 4S to replace this as the 3GS is getting a bit long in the tooth now…

(Lumia) Verdict 5/10. Hold, under duress.
(iPhone) Verdict 3/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadMy iPad never replaced a laptop as a primary computer but it’s still great as a Kindle, for catching up on social media content, and for casual gaming (read, occasional babysitter and childrens’ amusement on long car journeys). I was disappointed to have to pay to replace it after the screen developed a fault, but there’s no reason to trade up yet and there’s still nothing that comes close to the iPad from a media tablet perspective (except newer iPads).

If anything, I might consider a smaller tablet (maybe a Google Nexus 7 or an Amazon Kindle Fire) but and Apple’s decision to stick with a 4:3 screen ratio on the iPad Mini means I have little interest in that form factor (it’s almost the same hardware as my current iPad, albeit in a smaller package). If I were to get a new tablet, it’s more likely to be something that could really be a laptop replacement – perhaps a Microsoft Surface Pro? We’ll see…

Verdict 7/10. Hold, although it’s getting old now.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Fujitsu Lifebook S7220This PC is my main computing device. I’d love a ThinkPad, but the Lifebook is a perfectly capable, solid, well-built notebook PC, although I frequently find myself running out of memory with the number of tabs I have open in a typical browsing session! A recent hard disk failure meant my free space dropped (my 250GB drive was replaced with a 160GB one) but it’s due for replacement soon.

I’ll be looking for a smaller form-factor device to reduce the weight of my work-bag – at least until BYOC becomes a possibility (an ultrabook, Surface Pro, or a MacBook Air would be nice, but not available to me on the company’s catalogue).

Verdict 6/10. Unlikely to be with me for much longer now, although still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Yet again, this device has hardly seen the light of day. Usurped by the iPad, it now runs Ubuntu and is only ever used for tech projects (e.g. uploading software to my Arduino). My kids have one too but even they are frustrated by the small screen and tend to use my wife’s notebook PC instead.

Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100I still love my DSLR and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.  Newer bodies offer video but I don’t miss that, and the low light performance on the D700 is pretty good, even 2 years after launch.

The P7100 continues to function as my carry-everywhere camera (it lives in the car), offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like.

(D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold.
(P7100) Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)My MacBook is getting old and, although I upgraded to a 750GB disk, I’m struggling with disk space whilst 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive.

Still too expensive to replace, I think this will last another year, at least…

Verdict 4/10. Hold.

Media: Samsung UE37ES6300 Smart TV

Samsung UE37ES6300My most recent technology purchase, this replaced an aging (c1998) Sony Trinitron 32″ widescreen CRT and has given us back a lot of space in the living room! I’ve been really impressed with the Smart TV functionality (more on that over the next few days) and Internet-connected television is now an integral part of my media consumption habit.

In time, it may be joined by a sound bar (to improve the experience when watching films) but at the moment the TV’s built in speakers will have to make do.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, Lumia 800, iPhone 3GS, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers, Samsung UE37ES6300)

Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year – except for the addition of a Smart TV – and I still haven’t re-ripped my CDs after the NAS failure a couple of years ago. I still haven’t bought the music keyboard and this PC’s role as a multimedia PC for the office with Spotify, iPlayer, etc. has been replaced by a Smart TV in the living room.

It may not be the most powerful of my PCs but it may be brought back to life as a media server as it takes up almost no space at all.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should to make full use of it but the arrival of BBC iPlayer and the death of our DVD player promoted the Xbox to be our living room  media centre, at least until the Smart TV arrived (and the two still complement each other). My sons are reaching the age where they play games too now, so the Xbox is starting to get a lot more use.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Atom-based PC, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo, various USB HDDs

The Atom-based PC still provides infrastructure services for the home, whilst one ReadyNAS is used to back up my work and the other has still not been recovered from its multiple disk failure a couple of years ago. I recently bought a 3GB Seagate Backup Plus Desktop drive to replace an assortment of smaller USB hard disks and am preparing to supplement this with suitable cloud storage as we become more and more reliant on our digital assets.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

New toys from 2012: Arduino Uno, Raspberry Pi, Canon ImageFormula P-215 document scanner

At the end of my 2012 post, I mentioned a few potential purchases and I did pick up one of the first Raspberry Pi computers, which is a fantastic hobby/educational machine to use with or without my children.  I also started to play around with electronics using an Arduino – which is great fun – and I hope to be doing more with both of them this year (more Raspberry Pi postsmore Arduino posts).

I’m slowly regaining control over my filing with the aid of a dedicated document scanner. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s portable, but the fast duplex scanning to PDF and multiple sheet handling (with very few mis-feeds) is a huge step forward compared with the all-in-one printer/scanner/copier I have in my home office.  Mine was an “Amazon Warehouse Deals” purchase (which saved me a few pounds) and the advertised condition suggested it may have a scratch or two but it seems to be in perfect condition to me. It will certainly be a big part of my push to digitise much of my paperwork this year.

(Raspberry Pi) Verdict 10/10. What’s not to like about a computer that costs just £25?
(Arduino Uno) Verdict 10/10. Inexpensive, with loads of scope for electronic prototyping and a thriving community for support.
(Canon P-215) Verdict 9/10. Impressive scanner, although a little on the expensive side.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostat, Romotive Robot, Lego Mindstorms

Of course, as a geek, I have my eye on a whole host of potential purchases and these were two that took my fancy in last year’s post, plus one more that I’ve had my eye on for a while (may be something for the kids to get and Dad to play with?).  In all honesty, I’m not sure that I’ll be buying much at all this year, but anything I do is likely to be in the general electronics, robotics and home automation field.

Towbar 101

A few months ago, I mentioned that my new car had been delivered, complete with factory-fitted towbar (incidentally, the instructions to release/retract it are in the handbook, just not under any index heading that might help, such as “towbar”).

Since then, I’ve been having fun with my new 4-bike carrier on the back of the Tig’ (no more piggyback carriers scratching the bikes and the car…) but I did go through a pretty steep learning curve, so I though this post might help other “towing virgins” (except perhaps caravanners).

Firstly, I should clear up that I have no aversion to caravanning (well, actually, I do – particularly when trundling along  behind them on single carriageway roads on a summer Saturday – but that’s not the point here) however, I understand that caravans need extra electricity or something (for fridges, etc.). I was advised at order time that the factory-fit towbar on my car has “single electrics” and so that might be a consideration for those who use a caravan (sadly at least one Skoda-driving-caravan-owner was not given the same advice).  As I have no intention of joining the Caravan Club any time this side of… ever… that’s not a big issue for me but I appreciate that for many it would be…

A trailer might be useful sometimes though, and I already mentioned that my use of the towbar is to carry several bikes on the back of the car (the roof would be another option – but more expensive, and more difficult to lift them on/off).

One thing I quickly found was that, in common with many older trailers, my carrier had a UK-style 7-pin “N type” plug (cf. the 7-pin “S type” used for caravan wiring) and that my car had a 13-pin Euro socket (albeit with just 10 live pins). Halfords sell a suitable converter for under fifteen quid and that did the trick nicely, although I struggled to get it on the first time, it’s become easier over time (full marks to the guys in Halfords, Wellingborough, who were really helpful).  Unfortunately I can’t leave it on the car when not in use as it prevents me from retracting the towbar (no great shakes really).  Those who do have a full set of electrics and who need to tow a house on wheels might find a “spider” adapter useful to split the 13-pin Euro connection into two 7 pin connections (one N and one S, confusingly known as 12N and 12S!).

I found it interesting that the wiring on my car is intelligent enough to disable the rear parking sensors (the display shows a picture of something being towed) and will also sound the alarm if disconnected when the car is locked.  It should also disable the vehicle’s fog lights in preference to the trailer/trailer board’s lights, although I haven’t tested that.  Whilst I sometimes wonder if it might have been less expensive to have an after-market towbar, features like this are a useful side-effect of using a factory-fitted model.

Of course, towing something generally obscures the rear registration plate so I needed to get an extra one (the dealer who supplied the car was happy to oblige there – thanks to Citygate Volkswagen’s fleet sale department) but I needed to drill holes in the plate to mount it on my bike rack.  A few tips that might help here (I picked most of these up from a forum for Vauxhall Vectra enthusiasts):

  1. Start with a small drill.
  2. Use a slow speed (turn town the speed if your drill is variable).
  3. Leave the protective plastic cover on (I started from the front side) until the holes have been made.
  4. Drill through onto a block of wood.

Finally, I got a bit nervous with the bikes on the carrier using just the supplied straps (they are OK for a few miles but I’d be concerned using them for long distance at motorway speeds).  I picked up a 5m ratchet strap (again, from Halfords) and I use this for extra security.  For those who aren’t used to ratchet straps, they can be difficult to get used to but there is a great video on YouTube that might help.

So that’s my top tips for towbar newbies. It’s not complicated, but there was definitely a learning curve involved. If you’ve any tips to add, please leave a comment, although I can’t really support people with their towing questions (especially when it comes to caravans!).

Short takes: Kids coding in C (!); new car; and finally “fit at 40”!

Last week I kicked off my new initiative to actually get some blog posts out, despite not having time for all the details…

This week was less event-focused but nevertheless contained a few things that I thought were worthy of note.

Kids coding in C? (Our Arduino)

Last weekend, I was “playing” with my new Arduino proptotyping board, with my sons.  Understandably, my 5 year-old wasn’t too bothered (to be fair, he liked putting components onto the breadboard) but I was amazed to see just how my eldest (who is 7) grasped the programming side of things.  I’m not saying he’s writing C – but just using some example code to flash a set of LEDs in sequence, he asked why he was putting // in front of some lines.  I showed him that each was a function call and he was “turning on and off” different things that the program could do.  Before I knew it, he wanted to chain functions together, before then moving on changing the delay times on the lights.  I thought that the coding side of things would be an uphill struggle but I was really encouraged to see how quickly kids can start to adapt the examples. Hopefully our Raspberry Pi will arrive later this month – and then I’ll get him writing in Scratch or another child-friendly environment!

New toy for Mark

Last November, I wrote about ordering my new car and it arrived on Monday. No longer am I tarred with Top Gear-esque comments about Audi drivers (I did really like my A4 though) – I’m now a sensible, 40-something Volkswagen-driving type! The Tiguan (or “softroader” as my hardcore Range Rover-driving manager calls it) has a towbar too, so I should be able to load the family bikes on more easily and, hopefully, we’ll get out a bit more this spring/summer… which leads me on to the next feature…

Another decade on the clock – and my “Fit at 40” challenge draws to a close

Towards the end of the week I celebrated  my 40th birthday – which marks the end of my Fit at 40 challenge. Having hit my target weight a couple of weeks ago, I’ve managed to hold that off but haven’t managed to push any further yet.  The final numbers are not quite in, but it looks like I’ll have raised just under £2000 (plus gift aid) for The Prostate Cancer Charity – thanks again to everyone who has supported me and helped make me a happier, healthier husband and father to my wife and children!

Releasing and retracting a factory-fitted towbar on a Volkswagen Tiguan

This post is probably of limited value because it only applies to a factory-fitted retractable towbar on certain Volkswagen models (mine’s a Tiguan Sport) but, being a towbar newbie (I don’t tow but I do want to fix a decent bike rack onto my car!), I wanted to see how to “fold out” the towbar (and to retract it again).  The driver who delivered the car didn’t know how, there are no instructions in the handbook, and googling didn’t turn up much either but it’s quite straightforward once you find out how…

  1. Lift the rear hatch (boot) door and look out for a cover on the top-left of the rear bumper.
  2. Lift this cover by tucking something into the hole and prising it off (the car key works well for this) – there is a “knob” underneath.
  3. Give the “knob” a good tug and the towbar will be released. Pull the towbar it out until it locks into place.
  4. To retract the towbar repeat steps 1-3 but push the towbar back in under the bumper.

Hardware lineup for 2012

Last year I wrote a post about my “hardware lineup” – i.e. the tech I use almost every day so I thought I should really do the same for 2012.  Much of it’s still the same but there are some changes – it will be interesting to take a look in retrospect next year and see how my plans for 2012 have worked out. So, here’s the tech that I expect my life will revolve around this year.

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

My company car is due for replacement in the spring and I’ve ordered a Volkswagen Tiguan to drive for the next 3 years. I really like the Audi A4 Avant that I drive at the moment but it’s recently had a lot of money spent on it (new clutch and major service costing over £2,500 – thankfully not paid by me) and I’m not sure that a three-year-old car with 60,000 miles on the clock is  worth the money the lease company wants for me to take it on…

Due to price increases, another A4 with the same spec will cost me quite a lot more each month and, whilst the Tiguan is a little smaller, it’s also more practical (I looked at the Q3 too – but it’s “fugly”, overpriced and there is limited engine choice at the moment). With my growing family the addition of a towbar should allow me to take 4 bikes around on a carrier without scratching the car too.

Verdict who knows – it’s not been delivered yet!

Phones: Nokia Lumia 800 and Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GSNokia Lumia 800I recently joined the 1.5% and jumped into the Windows Phone market. I like it – and want the platform to succeed – but really feel Microsoft has a long way to go. Thankfully I still have an iPhone 3GS provided by my employer (and my iPad) to fall back on when apps are not available or when the Lumia is just too infuriating…

It was a risk buying the Nokia Lumia but the hardware is lovely, the software will improve, and it was a major investment so, realistically, it’s likely to remain with me for the next 2 years! Meanwhile, I’m still hoping to get myself an iPhone 4 or 4S to replace the 3GS but the chances are best described as slim.

(Lumia) Verdict 7/10. Hold.
(iPhone) Verdict 3/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadNo change here – the iPad is my media tablet of choice and no-one else even comes close. I may be tempted by an Amazon Fire or the new (rumoured) baby iPad but at the time of writing this device is still great for occasional surfing, a bit of TV catchup, and social media on the move.  It’s also great for the kids to play games and catch up on vital episodes of childrens’ television programmes that they missed (using BBC iPlayer)!

Verdict 8/10. Hold.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 250GB hard disk)

Fujitsu Lifebook S7220I’m still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work, but this PC is my main computing device. I’d love a ThinkPad, but the Lifebook is a perfectly capable, solid, well-built notebook PC, although I frequently find myself running out of memory with the number of tabs I have open in a typical browsing session!

When it comes up for replacement, I’ll see if I can blag something smaller (really need to be a grade more senior for that) and reduce the weight of my work-bag…

Verdict 6/10. Holding out for a BYOC scheme at work.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Netbook, schmetbook. I hardly used this in 2011. I did install Ubuntu 11.04 on it and have a couple of blog posts to write before I use it to play with Windows 8. I bought the S10e for Windows 7 testing 3 years ago so it owes me nothing but the netbook form factor has been usurped by tablets and low-cost notebooks. My kids have one too but even they are frustrated by the small screen and tend to use my wife’s notebook PC instead

Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100I still love my DSLR and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.

The P7100 joined me this year as a device to carry everywhere and it’s been pretty good, offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like.

(D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold.
(P7100) Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)This MacBook needs to last a while longer before I can justify its replacement but I did upgrade the hard disk in 2011 and it may get another upgrade this year. 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive. I’d better get saving for something new in 2013…

Verdict 5/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, Lumia 800, iPhone 3GS, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers)

Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year – although both disks in one of my NASs failed and I need to re-rip my CDs for my music library (iTunes had already done a good job of mangling it). I still haven’t bought the music keyboard (maybe this year) but it’s lasting well as my multimedia PC for the office with Spotify, iPlayer, etc.

It may not be the most powerful of my PCs, but it’s more than up to this kind of work and it takes up almost no space at all.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should to make full use of it (although I am enjoying my latest purchase: Lego Pirates of the Caribbean). Hopefully the next few months will finally see iPlayer land on the Xbox at which point it will become a really useful media centre for the living room (it works with my aging SD TV).

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Atom-based PC, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo

My Dell PowerEdge 840 has been retired to save energy (although it could still be wheeled out for any virtual machine workloads to test infrastructure scenarios) and, as I already mentioned, one of my ReadyNASs has suffered a multiple disk failure (waiting for me to sort out some warranty replacement disks) but, once recovered, these machines will remain as the mainstay of my computing infrastructure. Cloud storage for my photos is still too expensive so I’m likely to add another NAS at a family member’s house to maintain an off-site backup.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostat, Romotive Robot, Raspberry Pi

These have taken my fancy and I’m seriously considering them all in 2012. Only time will tell what I buy (and when) but I’m sure you’ll hear about my exploits on the blog!

The hardest thing about choosing my new car? The colour!

A few weeks ago, I received the paperwork to replace my company car. My car scheme gives me the option of taking an allowance or leasing a car via the company and I’ve always chosen the latter option – there may be other ways to save some money but it’s probably not that far off the mark, it’s not my problem when things go wrong and it doesn’t leave me committed to payments on a car if I lose my job (not that I plan to… but you never know in the current economic climate).

I really like the Audi A4 Avant S-Line I drive at the moment so I considered getting another one – until I found that the same car with the same specification was going to cost me considerably more money (partly due to price increases and partly, I think, due to Lloyds TSB Autolease being sold to Lex). I also liked the idea of a Q5, but would have had to drop from the S-Line to an SE in order to stay within my budget, effectively placing Audi out of reach for me. So I looked at BMW and even test drove a 318d Sport Plus Touring (which is very tax-efficient due to its 120g COemissions). Unfortunately, for all its many qualities, the 3 Series failed to inspire and its orange dashboard felt like I was being transported back to the 1980s.

With all of the favourites out of the running, I started to thinking about other options and it seemed that the choices to suit my lifestyle came down to mid-powered diesel estate car (wagon for US and Australian readers), MPV (I think the Americans call these minivans) or an SUV.

A few years ago, one of my friends suggested that men who drove MPVs had given up on life. Clearly he gave up before me (last time I saw him he had sold his Porsche 911 and the family car was a Ford S-Max) but that has stuck in my mind, particularly as I approach my 40th anniversary on this planet.  After a succession of estate cars (Passat, Saab 9-3, A4), it seemed like my time had come but when Mrs W. and I tested a Touran (with Audi off the table, Volkswagen was next in line) she didn’t really like it. Result – no MPV for me! We also test drove a Passat but, even though it’s a great car, the days of having to fill its cavernous boot with pushchairs and assorted baby/toddler paraphernalia are, thankfully, behind us and it would be  just a little too long with a 4-bike cycle carrier on the back.  Then I saw the Tiguan.

Built on the Golf’s PQ35 platform, I thought the Tiguan would be too small for my family but the high driving position means you sit up, rather than back, which means more leg room in the back. Combined with rear seats that slide forward to give a choice between leg room and boot space (for camping trips, holidays, etc.), it seemed like it could work well for us (at 470 litres, the boot is larger than a Golf’s 350 and only marginally smaller than my A4 Avant’s 480, but a more practical shape).

Leasing the Tiguan will involve “topping up” my monthly allowance and so I looked at the Skoda Yeti as a less expensive alternative, except that it was missing some options that I find useful (like iPod integration). I also considered the Audi Q3 but there are none in the UK yet so I would have been ordering “blind” and the brochure indicates a body shape that leaves too little boot space. I was pretty sure that the Tiguan was the right choice and a couple of weeks ago I had one on a 72 hour test. We all loved it so I decided to order one.

Unfortunately it wasn’t quite that simple. Most of the options were straightforward (this is the configuration I went for; sadly there is no R-Line Tiguan at the moment) but I was stumped on the engine choice and the colour.

Engine first and, contrary to popular belief, SUVs do not have to be gas-guzzling monsters. I was tempted to go for the 2.0 TDI 140PS model with BlueMotion technology, but my Audi A4 has a 170PS  variant so I’d be looking at quite a drop in power (20% lower output and 10% less torque), combined with a 50% heavier car. If all my driving was on motorways that wouldn’t be too much of an issue but I live in the sticks and being able to overtake safely on rural roads is an important consideration.  I got in touch with Volkswagen and they told me that a local dealer had a 140PS version that I could test so I arranged to drive it, only to check the sticker next to the spare wheel and find that it was actually a 125kW version (i.e. 170PS).

A friend told me about an £89 “economy tuning chip box” that can be fitted to take the power from 140PS to 165PS and I have to admit I was tempted, but  I didn’t really want to make unauthorised modifications to my company car (I figured that could get me into hot water). So, with no opportunity to drive the low-power diesel, I decided to played it safe and to take the tax hit on the 170PS version – vowing to walk/cycle a little more often instead of driving… (had it been my own car, I would have gone for the 140PS and the box of tricks).

That left the colour. I didn’t want to pay for metallic or pearlescent paint but there are only two solid paint options on the Tiguan in the UK. Mrs W doesn’t like “Candy White” so that left “Deep Ocean Blue”,  for which Volkswagen didn’t have a swatch.  Brochures and websites are no good for colour matching (even the pictures in the brochures are computer generated these days) so I spent hours on the ‘net one evening last week searching for Volkswagen Deep Ocean Blue cars…

I found that Deep Ocean Blue has a colour code of LA5H but I couldn’t find any examples (except the same colour code, called Blue Lagoon, on a 2001 Jetta). After about 4 hours of searching I found a Deep Ocean Blue Touran for sale at an Audi dealership in Germany… and was not convinced.  With minutes to go before the end of the month, and fearing a manufacturer price increase, I decided to pay for metallic paint (Night Blue) and placed my order anyway.

There’s a 5-6 month wait for it to be built (Volkswagen seems to have particular delays on 2.0 TDI engines right now) but I’m looking forward to taking delivery in the spring… in fact, it should arrive just about in time for my birthday…

[Update 20 November 2011: I finally found a swatch for “Deep Ocean Blue” and it’s not the colour in the links above… it’s not too bad actually (the website colour is not far off) – probably best thought of as 1970s British Rail blue…]