Friday, November 30, 2012

Aphid avoidance

By sowing broad beans in autumn, they flower a few weeks earlier than those sown in spring, when there are supposedly less aphids around to feed on the plants and potentially ruin the crop. Growing in an exposed position, they benefit from sticks or old raspberry canes for support.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Monday, November 05, 2012

Bad Apple

Four friends have experienced computer failure in the last fortnight and the reason that this blog hasn't been updated recently is because a once relied-upon brand has started to rot from the core:

At the start of the year I bought a refurbished MacBook Pro, after the PowerBook I'd been using for years started having kernel panics and threatening to die: I'd taken it to a friend for attention and reinstalled the OS, but in the end I daren't turn it off in case it wouldn't boot again and I had to resort to leaving it in sleep mode. The display had packed in some time before and would have been prohibitively expensive to replace, but I'd got used to running it with an external monitor until I could afford or was forced to upgrade.

The second-hand A1226 MacBookPro appeared to be in very good condition for a three or four year old model and importantly, came with a shedload of creative software (the software for the old PowerBook wouldn't run on the newer Intel Mac with Mac OS Lion). I'd bought a PowerMac from the same reseller thirteen years before which had served me well, also pre-installed with software, and although his prices were higher than those charged for reconditioned models I could buy elsewhere, installed with nothing more than the system software, it was worth it.

The transition to Mac OS Lion wasn't particularly advantageous as it doesn't support old USB audio hardware and various bits of trusted software were no longer available. Annoyingly, the Mail email software wouldn't work properly and couldn't recognise the outgoing mail server: Emails are received but can't be sent. Many handy features of the older OS are hidden or unavailable with Lion.

Peculiarly, the old PowerBook started behaving better and although I still daren't shut it down or risk restarting it unnecessarily, I continued to rely on it for months before getting into to the MacBook Pro.

Once upon a time, towards the end of the last century, Atari computers were arguably the best practical choice if you wanted to produce and play live electronic music on a modest budget, superceding the Alesis sequencer (which Orbital used to use eight of). When Apple computers became affordable, they proved as stable, reliable and long-lasting as their predecessors and had the added bonus of being ideal for photo and video manipulation too.

In the meantime, the internet had come along and Microsoft and PCs had taken over the home market, although they were still fairly useless for creative digital media manipulation, but slowly, once the soundcards were sorted out, it became possible to have a reliable and powerful setup that wasn't a Mac. Those entering the game on a budget were probably more likely to go for a PC, whereas those with years of good experience of Macs would upgrade to better models, or stick with existing and refurbished machines that carried on doing what they were supposed to do for years.

Then the worm got into the apple. Apple went off into the world of iPods, iPhones and iPads, started making computers in a similar way to PCs and in around 2007, so rumour has it, began using a different lead-free solder on the logic board, as a result of which the graphics chip is liable to become detached: This is what happened to mine and as I tried to boot it up, ten minutes after it had been working fine; despite a hopeful chime all it produced was the dreaded black screen of death.

Far from being a case of simply soldering it back on yourself, the solution that Apple offer is a replacement logic board for £390, which some believe is susceptible to the same problem. Some repairers offer to reflow or bake the chip back onto the board for half that price, although there's every chance that the same fault might reoccur after a few months, especially if the processor's busy and getting hot.

Some lucky people have managed to get Apple to replace the logic board for free, if the model is less than four years old: This was the first course of action recommended to me by the reseller I'd bought it from. After a painful and fruitless visit to my nearest 'genius bar', my model / logic board was deemed to be over four years old, despite trying to plead the case that being refurbished, the serial number on the case may not have related to the rest of the machine.

If that encounter was disappointing, the following phone call to the reseller was a kick in the teeth: Not only could he not offer a repaired or replacement logic board, but all he would pay for scrap value was £40. I stopped listening as he started to try to sell me another model for the same price of the original and tried to work out a way to reach through the phone to strangle him.

Thankfully, a friend took pity on me and offered a generous part-exchange, persuading me to buy an older refurbished A1211 model from him, which preceded the A1226 and doesn't have the graphics chip and solder issue. The hard drive from the faulty machine was easily swapped, giving me all the files and software back.

Much time and money, to return to where you were before. Built-in obsolescence?