Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Work -> Money -> Bicycles + Netbook

So I spend 7.5 hours each day being fairly bored and performing reasonably unexciting tasks (when I could be at home, being fairly bored and not performing any tasks) because I need to or I can't graduate with honours. But I'm getting paid with it, so with all the gold I have acquired I splashed out a bit last week.

For the first year in Cambridge, I figured that I didn’t really need a bike, and I didn’t have one. For the second year though, I wanted one to get to the boathouse a bit more quickly. I didn’t really want to take my bike from home, because it was reasonably shiny, and I’d rather it didn’t get stolen. I also wasn’t too happy about just leaving it exposed to the elements outside either. So I figured I’d get a crappy one second-hand for not much money, and have that for university, and keep my nice bike at home. Which is what I did. In actual fact I ended up getting my granddad’s bike for free. He’s in his eighties, so unlikely to be using it that much, and it’s a functioning road bike. It is pretty old, which has the advantage of it looking like crap so nobody is likely to steal it, and it’s actually a pretty comfortable and quick bike to ride, but it does have a few flaws.

The first was that the tyres were pretty old and worn, so I got quite a few punctures in the first term, though I scabbed some newer (but still fairly old) tyres off Peter and they did the job fine. The other issue is that the rear brake doesn’t work. It’s not a huge problem when the front brake works fine, given that the front brake is actually the most effective at stopping you without skidding because of the weight distribution on the wheels. You just need a bit of care to avoid catapulting yourself over the handlebars.
However, the fact that the rear brake does have another side-effect, which is that I can only brake with my right hand. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that the gear levers are on the bike frame, above the front wheel, so I need to take a hand off the handlebars to brake, and to change through the rear-wheel gears, this hand is my right hand. Which means if I’m turning right on a main road, I need to have my right hand on the handlebar to brake, on the frame to change gears, and out to the side to indicate that I’m turning right. Which is pretty fucking difficult to coordinate simultaneously while in the middle of the road.

Switching to MET from Engineering next year means that I’ll be having my classes in West Cambridge, which is about 2.5 miles away and needs a good half-hour walk, if not more, rather than the three or four minutes it takes me to currently get to lectures. So I’ll be cycling to and from lectures each day, given that I don’t want to waste an hour of my life each weekday just commuting to classes. So, given that I’ll be using it a done, I’ve decided I’ll need a slightly more reliable and less questionable bike than the one I’ve currently been using., because I can’t really afford for things to break on it.

I could have splashed out on a fancy road bike, but I do still have my mountain bike, which is what I’ll be using. It’s five or so years old now, but it’s in pretty much perfect condition, the only downside being that mountain bikes are pretty crap when you don’t need to go off-road. So, I spent the weekend pimping it up a bit, and it’s now got hybrid tyres and has been transformed into something which should be pretty good for cycling on roads. It’s got an aluminium frame and no rear suspension, so now I’ve replaced the chunky mountain bike tyres it’s actually pretty light, and should do a pretty nice job. Plus the gears and brakes are fully functional, which makes a change. I also got a new cycle computer for it given the old one wasn’t really working any more.

I took it out for a spin on Sunday before the match, cycling up to Lydiate, then along the canal looping round to Burscough, and then coming back in to Ormskirk, about 18 miles in total so not that much effort for a test run. Except that I neglected to factor in just how poor the track along the canal is to cycle down. The towpath along the Cam is an absolute luxury compared to the rocky, muddy track I was trying to navigate down, which was about a foot wide for most of the way and made going much faster than about 12mph pretty difficult. The hybrid tyres were definitely called for, because doing it with road tyres would have been questionable. Dodging all the dog-walkers, anglers and people biking the other way wasn’t too easy either, and it took a lot longer and a lot more effort than I was expecting it to, so I think I’ll stick to roads if I go out next weekend.

Another thing I’ve been wanting over the summer for the next year of classes is some sort of portable computer thing. I have my laptop, but it’s not really portable. If it wasn’t for the fact that there’s absolutely nowhere in my house to put a desktop, and that moving a desktop back and forth from university each term would be a massive pain in the ass, I’d have gotten a desktop. But I have both those issues, so I got a laptop which has specs which would be pretty good for a desktop, and it has a 17” screen. Which means that it’s more convenient than a desktop to move around, and that at a stretch I can take it somewhere with me without too much discomfort, but it is big and it weighs a fucking ton, so it’s not something I can feasibly have on me at all times.

But I am somewhat addicted to the internet, and it annoys me when I go away on holiday for a few days, or for some other reasons am away from home, and I can’t check emails and stuff, so I’ve been looking for some way to be a little bit more portably online without the totally rubbish scenario of carrying a huge laptop that weighs several kilograms around with me. At first I was looking at smartphones before realising that I’d probably want unlimited internet, and a pretty nice phone, and that it was going to cost me a fortune. My current phone crashes all the fucking time, but £30+ a month is a lot of money to pay for the luxury of having internet when I’m out and about, and phone that I’d be satisfied with (so basically Nokia N900 or equivalent).

So instead I’ve gone for a netbook. I’ll be taking my rucksack to classes anyway most likely, so it’s not really any extra inconvenience to shove a 10.1” netbook that weighs hardly anything inside of it. The main difficulty with choosing which one to buy was that I struggled to compromise between what I would ideally have and what I actually needed it for. Usually with a computer I’d have a look round and basically get what I thought offered the best specs for the cheapest relative price. Sort of like plotting specs against price and finding the point just before the gradient shoots up, only more through intuition than actually working stuff out. The thing is though, I don’t need my netbook to be a beast of a machine. I’ll be browsing the internet, using MS Office and at a stretch I might watch video on it. Which means that it’s totally stupid for me to be extravagant and get an awesome machine, because it’ll just be excessive. But it’s really hard to settle for a lower spec machine just because I know I won’t actually need the extra RAM or hard drive space.

In the end I settled for a Samsung N210. The N220 has come out fairly recently, which means the N210 has had a fairly reasonable price cut. It was cut from £320 to £270 on, and because my Dad works for the Shopdirect group he gets a 15% discount, which means I only paid £230 in total for a pretty nice machine. It’s got Windows 7, Intel N450 processor, 1GB RAM and a 250GB HDD, plus a multi-touch touchpad (which can be very useful on a netbook) and the battery life is about 8 hours.

It’s a nice machine, but jesus christ it came with a shitton of bloatware on it. I hate using new machines anyway, just because I find I really tedious to install all the software I use everyday, but it was even more tedious when I had to spend a while uninstalling all the programs I won’t need and crappy free trials for stuff. I also stuck an Ubuntu Netbook dual-boot on it with Wubi, which is working nicely aside from the fact that the default wifi driver doesn’t work (which seems fairly common for netbooks with Linux). It’s an easy fix, but it’s also a bit awkward to download the driver when your main means of accessing the internet would be through the wifi were it not for the fact it doesn’t work. So far I’m fairly happy with the netbook, though I can’t see myself using it too much when I’m not at University, but we’ll see.

I’ve got one week left now on my work placement, and then it’ll be a month until I go back to Cambridge, which I’m pretty excited for already, because I’m really looking forward to MET (which is a future blog post to come), and also just generally being back in Cambridge with everyone.

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