2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Lumia 820 Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 / GDR2

On Friday night the second development build of Windows 10 for Phones became available to download via the Windows Insider preview programme. After a few hiccups during the release process and people hitting the servers with a ‘check for update’ request every few seconds, things settled down and the download became available. However what became apparent was that the phones that weren’t part of the initial preview, were getting Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 aka ‘GDR2’. 


I decided to hang fire when requesting the update and waited until Saturday morning when things were quieter and my download request on my Lumia 820 came through without any delay. As per the initial reports I received GDR2, which to be honest I was pretty pleased about.

One of the things I’ve been wanting to try out is the Bluetooth HID keyboard support so later in the day, I dug out my keyboard (a no-name third-party keyboard) and switched on Bluetooth on the Lumia 820. It looked to pair the device and up popped the keyboard, so I typed in the code presented on screen, on the keyboard and hit return. I then loaded up Office and started a blank Word document and started typing. Despite one report that I’ve heard by Steve Litchfield at All About Windows Phone where the keyboard / screen response was delayed for about five seconds once you started typing. However mine was absolutely fine and I found the typing was accurate for the whole time I typed.




Still running Lumia Denim, but now on Windows 8.1 Update 2…

Pleased with that test, I then had a look at the next major difference which can be found in the settings menu. The seemingly random order list has been categorised into nine groups:

Network + Wireless




Time + Language

Input + Accessibility


Update + Backup


… which makes finding what you are looking for a little more logical – though I do have one slight criticism is that the items listed in each group aren’t in an alphabetical order – they are still in a random order.

I did also notice that you can change the name of the phone (as shown in the graphic above) which makes more sense so you can identify your phone on a network or Bluetooth search.

Another minor change is at the bottom of the start screen, instead of just a right-pointing arrow, you also have the words ‘All Apps’.

There are probably more ‘under the hood’ changes, but these are the main ones I’ve found so far. Though I haven’t found any reliability issues, you should note a few things if you want to try the update yourself:

If you sign up for the Windows Insider update process, there is no guarantee that you will get GDR2 – you may get the Windows 10 preview straight away, so its at entirely your own risk (and I accept no liability whatsoever if you brick your phone due to this article!)

I’m going to stay with GDR2 for a while before I try Windows 10 and see how the reliability pans out. Hopefully GDR2 will be released officially soon so I can update my Lumia 830!

Capturing the UK Partial Eclipse with the Canon SX20

On the 20th of March the UK experienced a partial eclipse of the sun. From where I was in the UK it was about 85-90% partial and because the weather forecast offered a good chance to observe it, I decided to have some equipment ready to capture some images.

Because I wasn’t sure what would happen to my camera, I decided to use my Canon SX20 instead of my SX50 in case there was a risk of damaging the cameras CCD. I also had some grade 10 welders glass borrowed from my dad which I intended to fix in front of my camera to reduce the glare from the sun. 


The best way I found was to tape the glass to the rear of my Skywatcher 130 telescope and mount the camera on top using the camera adapter on the telescope mounting rings. It’s a bit Heath-Robinson but the cardboard and tape fixing worked well on the day!

On the morning of the eclipse, which was due to start at 8.30am UK time, there was low cloud and mist but the weather report promised that this would clear in time for the start of the eclipse. I set up early, picking a spot where the rising sun should clear the trees at the front of my garden. I had to set the camera up in such a way that it would see through the welders glass as, at a certain distance it would only see it’s own lens reflection. 


I also read in Sky at Night magazine some suggested settings for photographing the eclipse, such as a shutter speed of 1/500 and an ISO of 100. Using the full zoom of the SX20 (20x optical) I focused in on the sun in time to see the moon just starting to transit the sun. The weather at this stage was cold but the mist and cloud was rapidly clearing and was becoming sunny. 

Over the next few minutes I took some shots but adjusted the shutter speed down to 1/1600 (the lowest on the SX20) as the sun still appeared a bit too bright in the images. I also used the self-timer function set to a custom trigger of 4 seconds as my remote shutter attachment wasn’t supported on the SX20. A good thing about using a camera in this way is that you don’t have to look directly at the sun, I had special eclipse viewing glasses for this purpose – thanks to the Society for Popular Astronomy and Sky at Night magazines for those! 


What was also apparent in the images was a sun spot transiting the left-hand side of the suns face which was quite pleased at capturing!


Still sunny, the strength in the output of the sun was becoming noticeably weaker though the light wasn’t the same as the setting sun, it was quite strange and it was becoming noticeably colder. I had to pop inside the house and noticed the sun catching a glass ornament in the living room, which produced an interesting effect where the sun reflected also had the moon transiting. This is best illustrated in the images below. 




Because I had to move back up the garden, by about 9.10am the sun became blocked by a small bush and I had to perform some quick trimming of the top branches to stop my view behind spoilt!

At 9.30am, the sun reached its maximum totality, so I’ve combined a number of images into the image below illustrating the progress of the transit.


There had been reports of an ‘eclipse wind’ to watch out for and though I didn’t notice any change at the time, the birds had become noticeably quieter as the eclipse progressed to its maximum totality.

At 10.30am it was all over – considering how poor the weather was in the rest of the UK, I was quite lucky to be able to capture the images I have done.

Now I know that the welders glass works fine with the camera, I think I may try the SX50 with a piece when there is a larger number of sun spots to photograph. With the SX50’s better photographic capability (RAW image output, 50x optical zoom) it should help to produce some interesting solar images – something I’d never expected to be able to do with a point-and-shoot camera!

Always have a Backup

Only fifteen years ago, it would be fairly rare to have a mobile phone. My first was a Nokia nk402 on Orange (I’ve still got it, its currently stored in the loft) which was an Orange-branded version of the 5110 which I got for the special offer of £99. Nowadays, mobiles, smartphones and connected devices are everywhere and its ‘unusual’ to be out without such a device. However, there are some instances where you don’t want to be taking your 5 inch Lumia 830 out with you (eg. if you like sports) and its impractical to keep the phone on you or use it where it could get knocked about.

I’ve kept a few of my old phones and have a PAYG mobile SIM that I can use between devices. I’ve been grateful for having a backup – I’ve had to send my C7-00 back to Nokia for a chassis replacement because it was starting to split at two screw fixing points and I swapped back onto my Nokia 6680. Most recently, I used the C7-00 whilst the Lumia 830 was away for replacement, for the problem with the screen coming loose.

I’m going to do a couple of articles on the merits of keeping an old phone usable so you can drop back on such a device, if you’re planning on going yomping over the moors one weekend.

However, what if you don’t already have an old phone that you don’t mind getting knocked about? Microsoft are still releasing this style of phone under the Nokia brand name and for such a knockdown price they are hard to ignore. The one that has caught my eye is the Nokia 215 – a monoblock device based on the Series 30+ operating system. It sports a 2.4 inch QVGA 240×320 screen in 18bit colour, supports 32Gb MicroSD cards and has a 1100MaH battery with 29 days standby time. 

You can take a look at the device spec’s in more detail by clicking the link below:


Amongst other features such as an FM radio, torch and durable outer shell, but should be noted it only supports 2G networks – there are no 3G speeds here. In some ways, this is to an advantage of the device; the are parts of the rural UK that only have 2G network coverage and running it in 3G mode could have a detrimental effect on the battery life by hunting for a non-existent signal.

The device is pitched with internet-capable apps for accessing services such as Twitter or Facebook, Opera Mini browser, Messenger, Bing Search and MSN Weather. In my experience, 2G speeds are fine for getting this sort of information from the internet, you just have to set expectations that its not going to be instantaneous.

It also supports Bluetooth audio devices, so this would be great connected to a Nokia MD-12 portable speaker (though the speaker will run out of juice before the phone!)

There isn’t an official release date set yet though it can be bought on Amazon for £39.99. If anyone from Microsoft / Nokia wants me to trial / review one of these devices when they’re out I’ll gladly give it a shot!

In the meantime, I’ll take a look at the C7-00 and 6680 as backup phones in some coming posts.

Lumia News and Windows Phone 10 Preview Release 2

Bit of a mixed bag of news for this post, but stuff that’s all relevant to this blog. I’ll kick off with a mention that a few days ago, Microsoft posted that the next release of Windows 10 for Phones will include a lot more models in the supported line-up. This will hopefully include (from my perspective) the Lumia 820 – it is on the list, but the ‘final’ release may have a slightly adjusted device list if last minute bugs are found. A link to the Windows Insiders Preview Programme with the full device list (numbering over thirty phones) can be found here:


Hopefully the next test release will be available very soon and I’ll be able to try out Windows 10 for Phones on my backup Lumia 820.

Next bit of news is to do with the Lumia 830 manufacturing fault I had back in December. I came across this article on wmpoweruser.com last week: http://wmpoweruser.com/nokia-lumia-830-has-a-serious-hardware-flaw-stay-alert-while-buying/ 

The writer of the article had the same issue I had with their Lumia 830, where the screen started to come away from the outer aluminium housing, oddly enough at the same place on the right-hand corner. Though the articles headlines I think are a bit sensationalist, ie. I wouldn’t say that the 830 has a serious manufacturing fault, but awareness is always helpful but I wouldn’t dismiss the Lumia 830 because of a small batch of faults. Nokia has always provided excellent after-care along with a two-year warranty, so as in my personal experience, if something does go wrong, its how a company deals with it and in my case, the device was swapped out in just over a week – which I was more than happy with.

The final post in this news round-up is that the brilliant HERE maps have been updated for Symbian after nothing for two years. Bearing in mind that the Nokia account closure is imminent, this seems like almost like a last ‘hurrah’ towards the Symbian platform. I don’t know what will happen to the Symbian Nokia maps, once the account service closes down, as you now have to have a HERE account to use the maps app on the Lumia. I guess that the favourites will remain on the device but obviously there won’t be any synchronisation available. To update the maps, use the map loader and check for updates – they will have a date stamp of the 26th of February 2015.


Denim Update on the Lumia 820

As I mentioned in my last post, the last of the ‘second generation’ of the original Lumia’s which included the 820 and 920 received the Denim update about a week ago. A couple of friends who own the 820 and 920 on EE also received the update (my 820 is on O2) so this appeared to be pushed out by Microsoft and wasn’t operator dependant. What was surprising for me was that the voice-recognition service Cortana was available as well. From what I’d read there was some doubt as to whether the app was going to be available as the CPU might not have been upto the job.


However, it was very nice to see once the update had completed – but when I tried to launch Cortana, it failed stating that my language settings hadn’t been set. The language and speech settings suggested that the correct speech add-on was already installed, which led to a few frustrating attempts to confirm the settings. I finally found the correct setting by going into settings -> speech -> speech language -> select your country language. This installs the add-on and if I remember correctly, the phone has to be rebooted (it reports that a critical add-on has to be installed). Once reloaded you can then use Cortana in the same way as the Lumia 830, ie. by pressing the search key and start speaking.


In addition, you get Lumia Camera – but not the version ‘5’ which has received so much attention. On the 820, the version number has hit and at time of writing, there are no updates available. Rich capture isn’t available however, this is no bad thing as you still get all the settings to control aspects such as shutter speed, white balance and ISO value. The 820 still takes some excellent pictures with its 8MP camera, especially in automatic mode.

Something I have noticed in the two plus years that I have owned the Lumia 820 is that the four major updates which include the Windows 8.1 and Nokia / Microsoft specific features, thee hasn’t been and detremental change in the performance of the device. Compare this to the Apple iPad, where I have noticed that updating from IOS 6 to version 8 has slowed my iPad 2 down significantly and hit the battery life.

With Windows 8.1 update 2 (aka ‘GDR2’) on the horizon which will offer additional features such as Bluetooth HID profile for the connecting up of external keyboards, I hope to get a lot more use out of my Lumia 820.