Monday, 9 September 2013

"It's Linux Jim, But Not As We Know It" - The Samsung Chromebook

If you have read this blog in the past you will see I have been a lucky Chromebook owner since Google dropped off a Cr-48 to me back in December 2010. Back then Chrome OS was relatively basic, but you got a hint of the potential with the only aspect really holding it back was the need to be connected to the cloud. Recent updates to Chrome OS ensures that it is still able to function as a workstation without an internet connection, thus increasing the appeal.

Samsung Chromebook in all its glory.

The Cr-48 still works fine, the battery life is still very good, in the 4-5 hour range, and every update just adds a little more functionality to it. The real issue with it is performance related as it can feel very slow and clumsy to use especially when accessing large documents via Google Drive, even accessing Gmail takes longer than you would expect. It had been my 'go-to' travel/commute/work laptop as long as I have had it and with the ability to tether to my phone meant I was never without an internet connection if I had a signal. However I needed something a bit more responsive and a new laptop was on the wishlist for going back to university this month.

Stay classy

I have been using daily for over a week now and have to admit that the Samsung is a much much better Chromebook than the Cr-48, especially in terms of responsiveness. In some respects it even outperforms my desktop, though I will not be playing Minecraft of TF2 anytime soon on the Chromebook. The machine is light, easy to carry around and thanks to the new Tuff-Luv case (the Personalised Ultra-Shell for 11.6" Ultra book)  it can safely get from A to B with little worry. The construction seems very good, certainly better than some much more expensive laptops I have owned in the past. The battery life is good for a days work, if you are tweak the screen brightness and keep the internet browsing to a minimum you can add a healthy amount of time unplugged.

The Tuff-Luv personalisation is better than my own

My only criticism is that from wake-up it can take the wifi some time to detect available networks, even when sitting next to the router. Once it detects the network it connects immediately, but for some reason it can spend what feels like an age searching for available networks. That is so far the only quibble I have with the Samsung and the boot up speed is ridiculous! Open the laptop lid and within seconds it is asking you to type in your password. If I need to pop online to check/reply to emails then I grab the Chromebook now. The keyboard is very nice to use, it is modified from your standard layout to optimise your experience with Chrome OS, but you can change individual button functions if you wish but so far I have left everything as standard.

Thanks to Google's sync process as soon as you login you will find yourself in your familiar Chrome setup. Very little feels foreign, except for how to open the apps. I still keep opening a new tab to open an app but in Chrome OS they are found via the bottom taskbar. Its a habit that I am finding hard to break as I move between Chrome on my Linux desktop and the Samsung, but in time hopefully that will change. I should also mention the noise, or lack of anyway. There is no fan whirring away in the background which can sound like a banshee piercing the night on some machines, except for the keys and touchpad clicks you would never hear a peep from this Chromebook.

Google Drive storage post-Chromebook

When I ordered from Amazon UK the retail price was £196 including free delivery to Ireland, that is already a very good argument to consider the Chromebook as a companion. This price also includes 100 GB of extra cloud storage for 2 years, which is worth $119.76 at current rates. So, if you have the standard 15 GB of Google storage now, then you will benefit from 115 GB once you get the Chromebook. Most of what I need to be able to do with the Chromebook is achieved via Google Drive, I am aware of various games, photo editing apps and video editing apps available in the Chrome Store but they are not apps I would need to rely on. I would hesitate to recommend the Chromebook to anyone who does rely on those apps and if there is anything you feel you could not do without then do a little homework and see if alternatives are available.

Overall I am very pleased with the purchase and looking forward to see how things work out. The real test will begin sooner rather than later as I start to rely on it to get work done and nothing decides whether or not it makes the grade then having to meet deadlines.

Peace.
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Friday, 6 September 2013

Putting The Sky To Bed

I have just being scanning through the new "For Your Desktop" apps for Google Chrome, though I had to do this via the Chromebook as Linux and Mac support it coming later.

One thought did cross my mind about this gradual move to the cloud, how to bridge the gap between the user and the cloud? At the moment my largest hurdle is the simple of task of getting all my local data onto the cloud. With sub 300GB of data, even selecting portions of it to upload is just not something my ISP provider is going to facilitate without throttling my connection.

Thus my idea to bridge the divide, is what if Google was to deploy pop-up kiosks/stores with superfast connections to their cloud. You bring along a USB device, plug in and watch it vaccum up your data. You can then go home and manage/organise it. Locations would have to be picked based on a combination  of demand and were the connection speeds could be facilitated.  Maybe go crazy and tether a Project Loon balloon over one or two high profile locations. While at the kiosk people could also kick the tyres of various Google hardware and services available.

Crazy!?

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Touring On The NC700X - Part 1 The Southern Loop

I finally managed to take some time for some touring with the NC700X, it also synced nicely with my final push to snap the last of the Irish Photo Rally locations. I broke down the remaining points into two groups, a Southern Loop and Northern Loop. Both routes will take a night or two camping, include roads of every state and lots to see and enjoy. If long days in the saddle are not your thing you could always break it down into smaller bites or even just do the entire thing in one go.

Travelling up The Healy Pass, not bad at all on a nice day

The Southern Loop

There was no specific reason for choosing to start by heading South, its just what I chose to do. It ended up being a 1,075 KM loop around the bottom half of Ireland over two days. The choice of locations to visit are based on the Irish Photo Rally 2013 points, so you can find more information there.

Google Map view of the route
The route points are:

A - Start
B - Noughaval Market Stone, County Clare
C - De Valera’s cottage, County Limerick
D - Glanmore youth hostel, County Kerry
E - Hungry Hill Campsite, County Cork
F - Thatch Bar, County Cork
G - Kilcooly abbey, County Tipperary
H - Stroan Fountain, County Kilkenny
I - Suir Bridge, County Waterford
J - Sigginstown castle, County Wexford
K - Brew / Natter / Food
L - Finish

Bring a snack and soak up the views

There really is a bit of everything in terms of roads and things to see on this route, from motorway runs to unpaved roads and plenty of miles of each. I was on a time constraint so if you had more time to take then avoid the motorways and enjoy the regional roads which are a lot more interesting. Kerry gets special mention as it is always a fantastic place to travel to on a motorcycle, not just because of the never ending scenery and the roads, but because you can go from tourist/cosmopolitan spots like Kenmare and Killarney to the middle of nowhere in no time at all. The main regional roads are a joy to ride usually being in very good condition and on a dry day that just means hours of chasing vanishing points around the twisties. Of course a caravan/campervan/RV can spoil some of that and if you are like me and prefer to take a slower pace then by taking the passes and other poorer quality roads you generally avoid much of the tourist traffic, bar walkers and cyclists, and better still you get to soak in the scenery. Bring a snack, park up on a nice viewpoint and take some time to enjoy it all in before getting back on track.

What I Pack

The NC700X was loaded up with all the usual equipment and I was all set. My general rule of thumb for packing the bike goes as follows; a pannier for personal items (clothing/toiletries/etc), a pannier for tent / motorcycle cover, luggage roll for long items and 'other' (sleeping mat / tripod / first-aid kit) and then the topcase often is left light / empty with maybe cooking items. Depending on the trip, location of items on the bike and other specifics will change, maybe I want to bring a larger/smaller tent, more or less clothes depending on the weather and so on. So none of it is set in stone but it rarely (if ever) changes once on the road.

Plenty of this when travelling through County Kerry

Where I Stayed - Hungry Hill Lodge Hostel & Camping (Biker Friendly)

What a little gem of a camp-site (location E on map above). Its not a massive location and the privacy from the road is limited but they are the only negatives I have to say about the site. I was camping so only got to use the facilities available to campers, but that did include a clean shower and toilet block, a campers kitchen complete with electric kettle and toaster. The washer and drier are also located in the campers kitchen, I did not use them here but its not a bad idea being able to sit and have a brew while you wait for the wash to finish.

Getting comfy for the night at Hungry Hill

Some camp-sites I have visited will not let you bring the motorcycle onto the grass to leave beside the tent but Hungry Hill had no issue with this, they even suggested several good spots to set up. I did go mid-week so got the benefit of a relatively empty camp ground and when leaving the next morning I only saw the manager enjoying a breakfast brew. It was dry when I got my head down for the night, but it was soon raining and was still raining when I packed up to leave. My tent, a Coleman Cobra 2, performed perfectly and I did not notice any drainage issues around the grounds. Overall I had a very positive experience at Hungry Hill and I would definitely visit again. I highly recommend considering staying here and to keep an eye on how it progresses there is a Tripadvisor page here.

How The NC700X Managed

Fantastic little touring machine. I have obviously added several accessories since I first purchased the NC but I think I have found my almost perfect set-up. The 'trunk' on the bike is an absolute marvel. It defaults for what I would normally put into my tankbag for ease of reach, but being able to stow your helmet in there and walk away is a superb bit of security when touring. The way I look at it is that somebody might whip my sleeping mat, but that would not be the end of a trip, its even replaceable by finding a local Tesco. But anything happens to any of my gear and that's a world of problems.

Ireland's mini-alpine pass, The Healy Pass in County Kerry

The only irritation at the moment is the seat, about 90mins to 120mins into a ride I start getting a little uncomfortable, then it gradually gets increasingly unpleasant. I do have an airhawk seat cushion but I gave up using it on the Buell due to the extra height it added to me reaching the ground. I think I will dust it off for my next trip and see how I get on. Worse case it gets thrown into the topcase.

Next - The Northern Loop

The second part of this will detail my Northern Loop, which should be a little longer and I might add an extra night of camping to calm down the pace. More on that as soon as its done.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Google+ Killed The Conversation on Blogger

You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
~ George Taylor, Planet of the Apes

I have just realised that I am not getting comment notifications any more, so for those of you who's comments have gone unanswered its not me, its not you, its Google+. Turns out that since turning on the Google+ comment integration there seems to be a problem with letting authors know that people have been trying to engage on their blogs.

To show you just how committed I am to solving this I went to the Google Product Forums. Oh yes, I danced in the pale moonlight with "Top Contributors", probably the most highly evolved of the troll species. I did come across various threads looking at the issue, littered with the usual READ THE FAQS type answers, and likewise most threads had gone inactive after nobody stumped up a solution.

Several of these FAQ links sent me to an About Google+ Comments guide, but for those of us that have read it, you will see that it does explicitly state that;
  • As the author of a post, you’ll receive Google+ notifications when readers comment on or share your blog post.

Obviously this is not the case. Further in the Blogger Posts overview page there is no longer a comment count, that may be excused if it is relating to the old comment system. However if it does then why even show it once the move over to Google+ integration is made?

I have yet to find a satisfactory solution to this and the sad thing is if you reply to this blog post with the answer I may never see it. Though my Spidey senses are tingling that with this level of Blogger commitment from Google just might be a sign of an impending Google announcement about the future of Blogger, especially considering the growth of Google+.

But that's just crazy talk.

Peace

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

StrangeFOSS - Or How I Stopped Worrying About Unity And Learned To Love Gnome Shell

I am writing this post with a feeling of uneasiness as after moving to Ubuntu from Windows in the summer of 2007 I have moved again, this time to Fedora 19. Since the end of 2011 I had tried Gnome Shell several times for extended periods and while I really enjoyed the interface I found the compromises made to fit it into the standard Ubuntu repo's crippled it slightly. When the official Ubuntu GNOME was announced I was very pleased and did install it for a time, but again found the same issues with making the two ecosystems work together cropping up. To address some of these the Gnome3 ppa could be added to get up-to-date fixes and packages, but in the end I thought why not just cut out the middle man and install an OS which was Gnome Shell focused from the outset?

This is what led me to the door of Fedora 19 and I have to admit it has not been the easiest of routes to travel down as they do things slightly differently over there. That said, it is a much easier move than my initial jump from Windows to Ubuntu over 6 years ago, but Ubuntu was a very different beast back then too. Ubuntu easily has Fedora beaten in terms of ease of installation and then getting things done once its up and running. While coming from the Ubuntu ecosystem I found myself wary of how much more serious the girls and boys of Fedora take the concept of FOSS and the difficulties that may pose to the causal end-user, like  myself. In reality it is no more complicated than it is with Ubuntu thanks to a few clicks from websites like RPM fusion.

Fedora 19 with a few Gnome Shell extensions applied
That's another thing, deb and apt are dead. It is all rpm and yum! That's really all I know about that difference, the how's and why's are PhD worthy but admittedly a big part of me just does not care as long as Shotwell handles my photos, Chrome gets me around the web and I can play Minecraft when I want a break running on my Nvidia card. I am happy to say that that I had achieved all that within the first few hours of installing and everything since then has been a bonus.

For me the computer/laptop's local abilities have become less important, I use it as a storage device for my photos (many thousands) and back-ups. My music collection is synced with Google Music while virtually all of my work is done via Google Drive now. So long as I can run Chrome then that is 90% of my needs met and probably explains why my next laptop most likely will be a Chromebook. Yes there are debates about relying on the cloud and I am not naive enough to believe it will be perfectly accessible forever, hence I use Evolution to keep a local sync (backup) of all my email and anything I have in Google Drive has is transferred to and from my HDD, though the sooner Drive for Linux arrives the better. I digress.

A more recent screenshot with the Numix theme (details below)

Most of the blame for Fedora's barrier to new-users I put down to a combination of installer and software handling. The Anaconda installer is a minefield of trouble and I personally think it would be much simpler if it was just a flow of options instead of that main landing page and having to dig around various levels to find everything. Then once you are in the Fedora environment the native Software handler is only useful to those that know the specific_name of the apps they are looking for. Its a shame as the Gnome Extensions website handles installation and search so well, and its still only in Beta.

"Well here's another nice mess you have gotten me into" ~ Oliver Hardy

On the plus side I have read that Anaconda is still being worked on and that in Fedora 20 there might be a proper software store. Though I have not yet been able to print a test page in Fedora from my printer as I get a security alert every time the printer goes looking for fonts. Luckily my printer is cloud enabled so I can upload and print from Google Drive. Less than ideal, but it is a Kodak which does not have any native Linux support and was similarly unfriendly under Ubuntu (scanner has yet to work). I also do not like how it is hard to distinguish multiple windows from a single app, namely if I have Chrome and Keep open at the same time, I need to go into overview to find the other open window, or be surprised by pop-up windows I were not even aware of being open. Learning how to use keyboard shortcuts really goes a long way to making Gnome Shell much more user friendly so reading through the 'Help' application is highly recommended.

My preferred Gnome Shell extensions

Gnome Shell does look fantastic. Its also quick, searches your local/online documents, and there are no $£€ signs or Amazon ads in search results. I do have an issue about how it hides notifications, luckily extensions take care of the IM related notifications but if you miss a message from an app then you will never know until you check. I really enjoy the minimalistic environment that Gnome Shell is centred around, I just want to be able to focus on the task at hand without clutter. The default Gnome icon theme has been upgraded with a bit of colour and refinement that makes it much more pleasing to the eye. Overall the default theme settings are more than adequate, and some pretty cool wallpapers too.

In an effort to address the difficulty of installing codecs I have installed the Fedora Utilities tool and the RPM Fusion repo's, both of these have addressed everything from Skype, media codecs and Nvidia drivers. Much how Ubuntu was until recently, you have got to go looking for these solutions. Like I keep referring to, the Software application runs off looking for things and often never seems to come back to install the items, or it does not seem to be doing anything for long periods of time.

If any of the above has not completely soured your desire to give Fedora a try and you have been mulling over the idea of trying out a native Gnome Shell environment then I do recommend giving Fedora a spin, especially if you like clean minimalistic desktops. My general guide for getting it up and running is as follows;

1 - Make a full backup off my system on some external media

2 - Head over to the Fedora Project and download a copy of the OS

3 - Make sure that backup did not miss out anything, actually, just run it again.

4 - Install UNetbootin from the Ubuntu Software Centre to create a Live USB.

5 - 100% confident about that backup? Bet my life on it? No, did not think so. Check it again.

6 - Try out the Live USB and having used Gnome Shell under Ubuntu little seems new here.

7 - BACKUP

8 - Installing with Anaconda (the beast!) took me 3 attempts to get right, each one a variation of partitions, applying Logical Volume Management (who knew!?) and encryption. So good thing I had BACKUPS as in the end I just completely reformatted my HDD and started from scratch.

9 - I tackled Anaconda like so, on the main screen work down from the top going left to right. I took my time. Once I got to the partitioning, and from what I read on the web, I knew I was going to end up with a /, /boot, /home and swap partition. Also I decided to apply the LVM option. To do this meant a reformat and so after removing my then partitions I let Anaconda apply its recommended partitions. I was happy, it was happy... we moved on.

10 - I kept doing the steps, left to right, top to bottom. Set up my root password, then my admin account. After that just let the installer finish.

11 - After a reboot welcome to Fedora! I get a snazzy little video after logging in and then while I wait for 'Software Update' (see, not so different from Ubuntu) to grab updates I am restoring various folders from my backups (phew, good thing I had them). I purposely avoided restoring .config folders and the such to avoid messing with the default Gnome settings and generally remove several years of cruft.

12 - After the updates and backups are finished I reboot. After the reboot I head over to Gnome Extensions to add my favourite tweaks to Gnome Shell, then over to RPM Fusion to enable media codecs with just a few clicks. I also install the very useful Fedora Utilities to also help get me up and running. To get Minecraft working I used this very useful guide on Ask Fedora. When setting up online accounts and you have Google Two-Factor Authentication turned on then this guide will help address that.

13 - If you want to get funky with the theme then I highly recommend you start with the Numix theme, everything to get it set up can be found via that link and well worth installing.

And that is where I have been at now since the start of August. Yes, the software handling does drive me up the wall and the security features can be over zealous in their attempts to defend you, though I blame that on whatever the developer equivalent of hazing must be in IT departments, "awh man, you changed my printer fonts" and the like. For the rest of us though we must stumble along, but nothing worth doing is usually easy.

Peace.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Naughty Or Nice NC700X?

I have owned the Honda NC700X for over a month now and the first service is out of the way, so now I am going to type up my initial thoughts about ownership and anything that has stuck out. It is a very positive review mainly as its all been good so far. I am still smiling every time I climb on board and happy to say that if I could have just one bike in my garage this is the one I would still pick.



Missing Links

Anything I thought I needed to get myself into my comfort zone I bought from the off. This included luggage, chain-oiler, mud-guards and hand-guards. Daytona heated grips and a Honda 12v accessory socket have been installed during the first service as they were on backorder.  Of course owners do bemoan the need to purchase various bits and pieces they view to be obvious necessities. I have to admit that I understand why these items are not seen as deal breakers by companies, because they are not. Those of us that only use and own motorcycles are in the very small minority, for most the motorcycle is now a luxury item and not a workhorse. If I could not sit unaided on the saddle then would buy an Ural outfit before a car, but again that is just me. I am perfectly OK with Honda building a motorcycle as useful as the NC700X and then making it versatile enough to get tweaked to the owners needs and desires, regardless if they lean towards bling or rat.

I will add reviews of the specific accessories I have added in due course, really not had a chance to give everything a good test out yet.

Going Round The Bend

Or coming out of the bends I should say, this is when I notice the difference in engine performance compared to the Buell. Normally I would hustle through the bend, exit and be on the back of whatever vehicle was ahead of me, instead now I exit and watch those same vehicles escaping from me. This was disconcerting the first few times I took the bike out, I kept thinking I was doing something wrong or telling myself that I was taking it easy for the first 500 km so this sort of thing is a given. That said I started coming to terms that maybe I do not need to be on them like Lorenzo chasing Pedrosa into the first corner. Once I detuned my attitude a bit then riding started becoming a lot more rewarding and also much smoother. To paraphrase Lorenzo's phrase, the NC is less about the hammer and all about the butter. Its also a little bit more work on the back roads, the Buell was probably the easiest motorcycle to turn I have ever ridden but with the NC700X I am consciously aware that I need to counter-steer a little more to get myself around.

Out on the open road its a pleasure to ride. The seating position puts you up nice and high, well high enough to be able to see over the tops of most vehicles and get a good narrative of what is going on ahead of you. I notice very little vibration from the engine and likewise it just purrs underneath you all day long. The legal limit on the motorway/highway here in Ireland is 120 km h and the NC handles this with no fuss or stress. Like I said, the only time the power difference becomes apparent is when you want to make a quick overtake, it just requires you to engage the brain a bit more and plan the safest way to do it (or as the rule goes; Is it legal? Is it safe? Do I need to?) . As long as instant power is not an absolute requirement then the NC's power delivery is exactly what you need 90% of the time.

Quality - Build It & They Will Come

I went to the cinema on a Tuesday night, a late night showing of World War Z, which I recommend, and the after midnight run home was going to be my first night run on the NC. I slip into my gear, turn the key and on comes the light. I looked down to check if I had turned the high-beam on by mistake, nope, this was the standard light. At that moment I was smiling like a Cheshire cat, why? Every bike I have owned previous has required me to upgrade the light to some extent, be it expensive bulbs, messing with positions and researching all sorts of accessory lights. The headlight on the NC is superb. I headed straight for the back roads just so that I could use the high-beam, and when I did everything seemed to turn to daylight. I was a very happy camper. Also the side mirrors are a decent size, do not vibrate and do exactly what they are supposed to. Again, the first bike I have owned that I was not going online looking for replacement mirrors or extensions. That sort of attention to detail is all over the NC, yes it is built to a price, but everything is put together very well.

Where you notice the budget the NC is built to is with the suspension. An indicator of this is that if you go through the manual from cover to cover you will find no mention of suspension settings. You can make some limited adjustments but I would hazard that the default setup is as good as it gets. On the bumpy bits or when dealing with speed bumps in built-up areas it is nowhere near as plush as my previous bike, but that was also €6,000 more bike! Most of the time the suspension is perfectly adequate, though I find myself easing off into certain stretches of road which I would not have before.

Economical? Yes...VERY

When I got the bike it had 3 bars on the display and it would be 172 km before I would fill up. I am going to keep a Fuelly.com link on this blog to show how I am doing mileage wise. Some owners have said they see the lowest mileage figures when they first get the bike, that could be down to new bike, new owner or combination of both. Economics had a big part to play in choosing this motorcycle so hopefully this proves to be a wise investment over my period of ownership.

Between bringing Nyx home and dropping in for the first service with 1091 km on the clock I had two full fill ups. On the way home from the service I filled up a third time. In all my average since purchasing has been 3.4 L/KM (or 82.6 UK MPG or 68.8 US MPG).

Summing Up

It does not come with a whole lot, but what it does have I am not looking to replace. Anything I am adding is to suit my own personal requirements. The engine will keep you happy 90% of the time. The fuel economy is ridiculously good. It's also priced pretty damn good. Sure the adventure style might not suit everyone, but that explains why Honda has grown the NC700 range to include naked, maxi-scooter and now cruiser models. If any of the above ticks many boxes for you then give one a test ride.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Clearing Out The Stable - Various Buell Parts For Sale

Now that the Buell is long bolted from my stable doors it is time to start making some space and clearing out the various parts and accessories leftover from ownership. I have started by listing a few of the items on my ebay profile and if you dig around on my flickr page you should also find better images for most of the items.



Most of the items are used, but I do have a few unopened items like H-D relays and a front muffler strap that never were needed. You can find them all via the ebay link above. I do have a few items I have not yet listed, mainly Touratech parts, but I am missing mounting bolts and the cost of me shipping that stuff would probably be worth more than the items. If I come across the mounting parts I might rethink it, but right now they are probably destined for a landfill...or a contemporary furniture installation!

On the plus side in the less than two weeks the items have been up I have already made my first two ebay sales, so have have broken my ebay selling 'duck'. Ebay could make the whole process a little easier by sorting out their Google Chrome integration, they provide a nice little extensions for Chrome but you need to use IE or Firefox to get all the features working when accessing the website, at least on Ubuntu anyway.

Hopefully there will be some bits up for grabs that people will have a good home for, plenty of miles left in them yet.

Peace



Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Logitech K270 Wireless Keyboard "Almost" Just Works With Ubuntu

Last year I invested in the Logitech Touchpad and reviewed it in this post. It is part of Logitech wireless range which allows you to connect their products to a computer with a small USB "unifying receiver". This little device can support up to six wireless products so after almost a year I decided to add my second wireless device, this being the Logitech K270 Keyboard. At the current price of £17.98 I was not 100% about just how good the quality of the keyboard would be considering how well built the touchpad has proven to be. But on arrival I was very happy to unbox an item up to Logitech's usual high standard.

Logitech K270 Wireless Keyboard

Logitech Unifying Receiver beside a €1 coin


It is not a very large keyboard and lacks any of the ergonomic extra's like a curve and rest for your wrist but if you want to use this on your lap then those sort of features are not really required. As I type this blog post up using the keyboard I am finding no issues that jump out. I like that the keys make the more muted typing sound versus others that are much more 'clicky'. It does have the usual option of using it in the flat or raised positions and have to admit I found a recent article on Lifehacker about the real reason those legs are there! The usual media keys are present, except for the media forward/back buttons. They seemed to have been placed with the Home and End keys to save space, but do not seem to work. It only takes a minute to assign a shortcut to them though via the keyboard option in system settings.

Now to the only problem I had with using the keyboard with Ubuntu, when I first turned it on it did not seem to work. As it turns out you need to 'pair' the new device with the existing unifying receiver, which obviously makes sense as you could imagine the issues in a busy office! This Logitech product is branded as being Linux compatible which is all well and good, except that the software that does the actual pairing is only available for Windows and Mac. So while your products will work out of the box, as a Ubuntu user you will need to find a Windows or Mac machine to download the Logitech software, pair the devices on one of the receivers then once you plug it back into your Linux machine everything is working as hoped.

So for the price you get a very good quality keyboard, that also happens to be wireless and when used in conjunction with other member of the Logitech range of wireless products really gives you a greater degree of freedom, comfort and cleaner workspace environment. For all that I am happy to recommend giving this a try, but be warned that if you are planning on pairing devices up you will need access to a Windows or Mac machine for a few minutes.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Another Fill-Up For The NC700X

Nyx watching the sunset over the Village at Lyons

Okay, I know it is early days but I am still in the honeymoon period with the bikes MPG. Being beyond the manuals recommended 500km of conservative riding I have been trying to get into a more natural sync with the NC700X (Nyx). I had been keeping the gear shifts below 3,000rpm and had been finding the feeling from that less than ideal, but I have found that shifting in the 3,500-4,000rpm range is much better. The power delivery feels smoother and the overall riding experience has evolved from quick glances down to the rev counter to just concentrating on the the ride.

With my riding not being as conservative since the first fuel-up I knew that my next average MPG would not be as good as the last, and I was right. We dropped from 84.1 MPG the first time to 81.7 MPG this last fill-up. Not too shabby if I do say so myself. If you want to keep track of mileage keep an eye on my Fuelly page.

Essentially I am getting over twice the mileage out of my 14ltr tank then I was with my previous 15ltr tank. Am I riding her as hard as I could be? No, of course not, but I never rode the Buell particularly hard either and most of that was commuting.

I am waiting to take her in for the 1st service, then after that I am going to do some light touring with her, maybe a couple 100 km's of camping for a few nights. The MPG and how we get on in general over that time will be a good acid test for any bigger trips, though they would not be happening to next year at the earliest anyway.

So yes, I am over the moon still with how economical the NC700X is proving to be and I have yet to find myself missing the power I once had. After that planned short trip also expect some reviews of the accessories I have fitted so far, but needless to say its all been going superb thus far.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Honda NC700X MPG Update

FINALLY got around to the first full fuel-up tonight on the NC700X. The bike came with about 3-4 bars on the dash so when that ran out at 172 km I filled up, reset the trip and tonight the last bar on the dash started flashing to let me know I was into the reserve. Most owners seem to suggest that that flashing bar should be good for up to 70 km's depending on how hard you ride obviously!

Anyway, filled up the tank, logged it all on Fuelly and I can report that I managed an astounding 3.4 L/100km or 84.1mpg.

I am finding it hard to believe, though I should add the caveats that I have been keeping the revs low and generally riding easier than I normally would, at least until I get the first service out of the way. But to say that motorcycles can be fun and still be green at the same time...it feels good ;-)

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Gone In 65 Days

1817 days or approximately 4 years, 11 months and 21 days of Buell ownership came to an end on June 22nd when Bikeworld rang me up to tell me an offer had been made on the bike. Little over 8 weeks up for sale she has found a new owner who I hope enjoys at least as many miles on board as I did. A well deserved thank you has also got to go out to the guys and girls at Bikeworld who not only helped me sell my bike but also arranged a loaner bike to help keep me mobile over the period. Top service and highly recommend you drop into them.

Like they say, when one garage door closes another one opens (or something like that). On Friday 5th July I dropped into Bikeworld again, but this time to collect my new ride. I will admit that economics played a large part in my decision process, but it also ticks all the other boxes I look at when looking for a motorcycle, most of which I talked about in a previous post. This motorcycle will be a new Honda NC700X.

Honda NC700X with fool (me) on board at the 2012 NEC Motorcycle Show

If you are not overly familiar there are some reviews at MCN, Motorcycle USA, Ultimate Motorcycling and Ash on Bikes that should give you a sense of what its all about. On paper it is a lot less motorcycle then the Buell, 1203cc down to 670cc, 103hp down to 47hp and the Honda appeared to weigh heavier at 218kg but that is a wet weight versus the Buell 211kg dry. When I first saw the Honda at the 2011 NEC Motorcycle I was not completely convinced but ever since the first reviews dropped, the owner forums comments and finally my own test ride on one I have to admit that I have become a believer. My motorcycle insurance company, Adelaide, told me it would be a drop of 6 classes, so the long term savings keep coming.

With the Buell I admit I came into ownership more heart then brain lead, while now I am buying the Honda more brain then heart lead. I see little reason why I should not enjoy at least the next 5 years with this bike but it is early days yet and I will be sharing my progress as I go. I have been lurking on owner forums and generally there is little to say about ownership, its a brand new Honda and you get what people have come to expect from the brand.

This will be the  first Honda I have owned, so excited by that aspect too. It has Honda HISS security features in there. There is little more to say now as I frankly have not spent much time with it though I will mention my farkle list, at the first service Bikeworld will be fitting heated grips and a 12v accessory socket. The rest I will add over time, but this is what I am starting out with;

Luggage:



A 3 box Hepco & Becker system since I already have Hepco & Becker luggage and accessories which can be re-used on the NC700X. After almost 5 years using their products and comparing them to my precious Givi experience I find them to be a much better luggage option all round. The Buell had 42ltr Journey side cases and a 38ltr top-case. The size of the side cases would prove to be awkward when commuting, so I have gone for the smaller profile Junior 30ltr cases and matching Junior TC40 top-case. The top-case will fit my small Caberg Justissimo GT flip-up helmet. Thanks to the trunk in the NC700X I have only lost 1ltr in total storage (Buell 122ltr, NC700X 121ltr). I ordered all the luggage from Moto24.org.

Hand-Guards:

Right now leading contenders are some SW-Motech branded barkbusters. Buell was the first motorcycle I had owned with hand-guards and I loved them. Its not like the NC700X has a fairing with sculpted in wing mirrors so hand-guards make a massive difference on those winter night rides home. In conjunction with the heated grips its my idea of luxury. I have these on order from Maddocks and should hopefully have fitted within the next few weeks.

Mud-Guards:




What is it with motorcycles these days and mud-guards? The NC700X does not even have a rear mudguard and that leaves the rear shock prone to undue grit blasting in my opinion. That and getting off the bike to go into somewhere is always better when your back is not covered in mud. Going by owner reviews this seems to be a no-brainer. I used Pyramid plastics on my Kawasaki Er-6f so happy to use them again.

Chain-Oiler:



I do not own a car, if I am going anywhere its on the bike. The Buell was the first non-chain bike I had and it was brilliant. My previous two bikes had Scottoilers fitted, but due to how the NC700X is constructed you need to fit an electronic Scottoiler, which seems silly expensive and an overly complicated solution. Other owners on the NC700 forums and a few magazine reviews speak highly of a new UK company making the Tutoro chain oiler. This is what I have fitted, will need to play around to get the right drip rate, but it seems like a decent bit of kit.

Crash Protection:

Considering getting some crash bars to match the style of the bike and to help protect the plastics in the case of slow speed off. These items will be further down the road after all the rest has been sorted.

Wrapping Up

With ownership I am sure other tweaks may come along based on my own preferences, the above are just items I want to get things into my comfort zone. I already have various universal items so they will be bolted on as and when needed. The best compliment would be that I do not need to add anything else, but lets just wait and see.

On personal note, I do like naming my bikes and have continued the tradition with the NC700X. She shall be henceforth known as Nyx and I am looking forward to many happy miles on board.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

Friday, 3 May 2013

What I Look At When Choosing A Motorcycle

Once my mind was made up about selling the Buell Ulysses XB12XT I had to start making a short list of what I wanted to replace her. As I briefly touch on in a previous most, the main reason for moving on from the Buell is down to economics. I need to start saving (more) cents and having only a motorcycle licence its always going to be another two wheeled machine. Even before I really got started there was a clear contender for the title, but that does not mean that some research was not warranted.

Make

I am not loyal to any particular brand, I have owned Kawasaki's, Suzuki's and Buell in the past and even when owning them I have test-ridden, even rented motorcycles, from across the field. I love them all. Every motorcycle has something going for it and I would never write one off because of the badge. When it comes to ownership though I am relatively dull, I am looking for a workhorse and not a race horse. Not to say that you can not have both, but I also have a spine with a couple of fractures in it, so 'sit up and beg' is my position of choice, especially for those long days in the saddle.

Luggage

I like it, I want it, I need it. Some may baulk at the appearance of a top case or mounting pannier frames but not I. I revel in the the practicality of it all like a pig in muck. Now I have never been overly interested in aluminium metal cases that you can weld back together after a tough adventure from the office to home. Plastic does the job for me just fine. Three boxes preferred, though trying to keep the pannier profiles down is desired to make filtering easier through towns or traffic jams. Top cases I tend to keep small too. Their main job for me is to secure a helmet or two, or putting in those tent poles too long to go anywhere else, but I almost always try to avoid putting weight in the top case while on the road. Remember for me its not just being able to load up with the camping gear either, also got to be able to bring home the weeks shopping.

Ergonomics

As said, my physical limitations have to be taken into account. I am short with a bad back, so lets rule out the taller adventure bikes straight away. Not that they were of serious consideration with their respective price tags. While on the other end of the scale I tend to keep away from low cruisers mainly due to the condition of the roads around where I live. We don't have speed bumps, we have sunken sections of road thanks to a mixture of poor construction and boggy land around where I live. Of course I can just go at walking pace along these stretches, but while I am the practical sort I do admit to having a pulse and not being completely dead and passionless. I wear ATGATT and that deals with 95% of Irish weather, even with the limited weather protection of the Buell I need only add an extra layer of clothing to keep me comfortable. And heated grips...they are worth their weight in gold (some OEMs try to charge as much too).

Performance

Like I have said, it need not be fast, but I certainly do not want it to hark back to my 125cc, 12hp, cruiser days. For all their fun it needed only take a strong wind to either give you an arcade like speed boost or stop you dead in your tracks. I rarely take power claims at face value as they often do not tell you where that is measured (crank or wheel?), likewise the same can be said of seat heights (some are measured with a 'test rider' on board). Once a shortlist is whittled down the main decider as to whether the performance is what I want is down to a test ride. Generally the default setup on most motorcycles should be all you need. Don't believe me? Just ask Rossi if he wished he had an option of a test ride on that Ducati. As for fuel mileage, which is a major consideration for me, I am relying on Fuelly to help give estimates on that front.

Price

In the end this is what it comes down to for me. I will be selling my current motorcycle and will consider a small loan to make-up any difference. Second hand or new is another aspect to this. I am leaning towards buying new at the moment as I really have no idea how long it will be before I could change again, especially if circumstances do not change much. That said, maybe I could buy a second hand without the need of a loan and then the loan is one less thing to worry about if things get worse? My last two motorcycles were bought new, the Kawasaki never gave me a seconds trouble, did not even need oil between services. While the first 18 months of the Buell required bit and pieces of warranty work. Buying a dud second hand bike would leave me up 'that' creak without a paddle. Predictability and stability might win this argument for me.

Measure Twice, Buy Once

At the Motorcycle Live 2012 show and the recent Irish Motorcycle Show 2013 I got to see all the major contenders under one roof. Got to sit on them, talk to the dealers and even the odd owner. It's also handy to see what they look like after a few hundred people have had their leg over. You can see where luggage has been scuffed, paint scratched and chipped, try fitting your jacket or helmet into luggage and looking for what little things might bother you as an owner. Finding online owner forums and lurking there is also a good way to go. I also love the website Motorcycle Ergonomics, it gives some decent indicators at how you will get on physically with your potential or even dream motorcycles.


Final Thoughts

I think I have covered all the bases above, certainly the most relevant ones for my user case. Above all buy something that makes you smile, not everyone is going to agree but wouldn't it be boring if everyone did?




Peace and keep the rubber side down ;-)

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Thursday, 18 April 2013

Old Friends For Sale - Handing Over The Keys To The Buell XT

July 1st 2013 would have marked five years of Buell ownership, alas we did not quite reach that anniversary. For that matter a number of anniversaries were never reached over the last five years, but they are matters to be mused over somewhere else. Right now the focus is on my Buell Ulysses XB12XT and moving on from what has been an eventful journey.

There we are on a trip to John O'Groats
As I have spoken about here and on various Buell owner forums the initial break-in period for the XT and myself were not without their problems. As any Buell owner can attest to, warranty claims can pop-up. My first bump in the road was with an electrical issue that plagued the bike for the first several weeks of ownership, it was all finally tracked down to a short in the fuel pump. A tiny loose wire. Then there were other little issues like wheel bearings getting chewed up, which in the end were replaced with non-OEM parts and have never been an issue again. 

The same can be said about the exhaust on the XT. I went through three under warranty, the third breaking up along the various welds. Again this was replaced by a non-OEM part, this time the Torque Hammer from Twin Motorcycles, and once again I have had zero issues since. In fact the only items that never required any excessive care or attention were the Buell branded Hepco Becker luggage system. They have been fantastic, be it commuting or on camping trips lasting a couple of weeks. 

Other than those issues the rest of the time owning a Buell has been fantastic. Ever since I had heard of the brand and the clever engineering by Erik Buell they had been on my 'dream garage' wishlist. While the release of the original Ulysses got me seriously considering making the jump it was a combination of good and bad luck that landed me the XT in the garage. I had purchased a Kawasaki Er-6f in 2007 and had used for the daily commute and a few short trips around Ireland. Then the new for 2008 XT was announced, basically a Ulysses with a shorter seat height and touring accessories as standard. While I was obviously won over I was in no rush to change the very good motorcycle I now owned...that was until another road user took that decision for me and left my Er-6f rather worse for wear under their vehicle.


A test-ride on the XT, some insurance matters wrapped up and come July 2008 it was sitting in my garage. The handling of the XT is 'point and shoot', wherever you look she will go. Without even trying pegs and toe-sliders are touching down and there have been times when I have worried about the side cases! The engine has mountains of torque, and on the long twisty roads around Ireland you just spend all day rolling on and rolling off as the XT glides along like she is on rails. Don't get me wrong, there are no fancy electronics on the XT, no ABS or traction control. You hit that mandatory deposit of gravel right smack in the middle of your line and you shall feel the rear step-out a bit, but the grin on your face once you come out the other end has probably blinded oncoming traffic. 

While the XT handles all the twisties with ease and can cruise all day on the motorway when you need to cover ground its the top end that some might find wanting. For those quick overtakes, especially if you are new to Buell, they may need a bit more planning than on a in-line. That's about the only time the engine is not 'your friend', when filtering through city centres or engine braking on the approach to bends/stops, it's all effortless. 

Another thing to note is the construction. This thing is over-engineered. Every piece of metal seems oversized and substantial. There is no body-work per se, except for the bikini-fairing and airbox. Everything else is readily accessible and I have always found the Buell easy to work on, regular maintenance, checks and inspections are quickly done. The mechanicals have never been an issue for me on the XT and my dealer seems to be able to efficiently take care of the fork maintenance and more complex tasks that I am not comfortable taking on myself. Even tyre changes seem to take no time. 

Buell under Harley-Davidson's handling may be gone, but Erik Buell Racing was soon up and running and have brand new models coming later this year. Their website even lets you order parts for their older models. The first-stop for me though is Twin Motorcycles when I need something for the Buell. When I ordered the exhaust from them they called me up, talked me through everything and made sure everything was working smoothly. Can not fault them. They now have distributors across Europe and the USA, so owning a Buell should not really be an issue, note that Harley officially backs the brand until 2019.

Yet here I am, moving on from Buell ownership to something else. My main reasons are purely economic, driven by my wallet more than my heart. My current financial situation means not even my garage is safe from austerity cutbacks. Fuel costs are obviously the main issue. Having just done all the exhaust work last year I really did not expect this all to become an issue so soon. But it has and here I am. I have a short-list of what my next set of wheels will be, but that's another blog post. 


For now, it is with much remorse, I am handing over my keys to new ownership and I hope they have at least as many enjoyable miles on the XT that I have had. If you fancy having a look at her yourself you will find her in Bikeworld until someone collects those keys.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.
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