Switching to decaf

I like coffee. But I drink too much of it, so I've mainly switched to decaf at the moment. My objections to most decaffeinated coffees are 1) they don't taste the same, and 2) I'm worried that they're full of other chemicals left over from the process of removing the caffeine.

So I've been experimenting. Or rather, my wife has been experimenting and I have been the tester/victim. Actually, it's not been too bad, she has chosen wisely.

So far the winners are...

Ground coffee: Grumpy Mule Organic Sumatra

Instant coffee: Clipper Super Special Organic Decaf

Both are organic and fairtrade. Both use a water process to remove the caffeine, so no nasty chemicals. And both taste OK, IMHO (I think they're pretty nice actually).

Sometimes I mix them with a regular coffee to make a 50/50 blend, just to get a little caffeine. Just occasionally.

They are worth checking out, if you're looking for a nice cup of decaf.

Freddinos, Puerto de la Cruz

We went on holiday to Tenerife recently. It was nice, but very hot - the on-street temperature displays were reading 39°C on the day we arrived. So it was a real shame that the air conditioning was not working in our hotel :-( Actually, it's the first time in over a decade that we've felt let down by Thomson holidays (TUI). The hotel was just not up to their usual standard. But apart from that, we had a nice time.

Anyway, when on holiday I'm extra-happy if I can find a decent cup of coffee.. Most of the Spanish coffee is not to my personal taste, so I have pretty low expectations when I go to the Canary Islands. I mostly prefer the Italian style of caffeinated beverage of course...

But we actually found this place, which did nice 'Italian-style' coffee and was also extremely cheap:

Result! So look out for Freddinos if you're in Puerto de la Cruz and want a nice coffee.

But I have to say their ice cream and cheesecakes were awesome too, look at this beauty:

We had to go back several times, just to make sure...

Lenovo IdeaCentre K430 Desktop PC

So my wife needs to run a bunch of different Virtual Machines for her work. Doing that means she can easily clone an existing VM, mess about with stuff and throw it away afterwards if needs be. Then she doesn't need to worry about having left her computer with lots of weird settings at the end of the day.

So she really needed a fast machine with loads of storage for all those VM virtual disk images, and a decent amount of RAM as well.

We looked around, and she went for the Lenovo IdeaCentre K430. It has a 4TB hard disk, a intel Core i7 processor and 12Gb RAM. So there's lots of space for VM disk images there and a nice amount of RAM to run them. We've created a separate partition just for the VMs to be stored on. All that RAM means you can easily dedicate 4Gb of memory to a VM without any worries.

When I got my hands on the machine, there was loads of rubbish pre-installed by Lenovo, so I erased the entire disk, set up my own set of partitions and reinstalled from scratch. But it was a pretty smooth process. I didn't even need the Lenovo driver disk, everything seems to have been detected by Windows 8 automatically.

I was tempted to suggest she tried Linux as the host Operating System, but in the end I decided she'd be happier with Windows.

Using VirtualBox, when you set your VM to run full screen it seems just as fast as the old PC running natively, you don't really notice. So that's pretty good. But I will upgrade to Windows 8.1 as the host OS when it's released, I've been using the Windows 8.1 preview on my tablet and I like the tweaks that have been made.

... and I've virtualised the old PC so I can keep it as a VM, just in case there's something left on it that we need. Yet again Disk2VHD comes to the rescue.

More photos from the garden

My wife also found this Privet Hawk Moth caterpillar (Sphinx ligustri) munching away in our garden. Apparently it's the biggest moth we get here in the UK, the moths can have a wingspan of nearly 5 inches (about 12 cm). It was hanging upside down on our privet hedge:

I think it was reasonably young, because I reckon it will get even bigger. It was great to find it and be able to take a couple of photos.

Butterflies in the garden

The buddleia bushes we planted in the garden a couple of years back have started to get really big now, so this year our garden has been full of butterflies. I thought that I'd share a couple of the snaps I took:

I'm not a very good photographer, but you get the general idea. I've found it quite relaxing to enjoy a few moments on a sunny day with all the butterflies flitting around.

Gold Rush

I've become hooked on the TV series Gold Rush which comes out on the Discovery Channel.

In fact, I seem to watch a lot on the Discovery Channel these days. I blame Mythbusters. They started it.

But I suppose that any program involving a load of big digging machines combined with the thought of being able to extract gold from under your feet is bound to come out pretty good...

Having said that, I do find myself shouting "you're an idiot" at the TV quite a bit. So it's probably one of those things where you'd like to think that you could do better yourself. In reality, I'd probably not last five minutes if you sent me to Alaska and told me to try and do what they're doing.

I think that part of the appeal is the often makeshift way they go about fixing things or solving problems. It's all very man-with-beard-in-his-shed type stuff, and I think we could do with more crazy men with beards building things in their sheds. I'd like to be one myself - but I'm more of a man-with-stubble-working-in-the-spare-room. But I'm doing the best I can, okay.

Iced latte saved my life

Well, two iced lattes actually. Yesterday, I was presenting at an implementation workshop in Westminster. It was the hottest day for 7 years apparently. It was over 32°C in London. Just riding on the tube was enough to make you sweat. It really gets hot down there.

So when I got near the venue, I went looking for some kind of cold coffee type beverage. I ended up just round the corner, in Victoria ... where I found a Coffee Republic.

[Photo taken from google street view]

So I went in and bought an iced latte - and didn't regret it. Then, in the afternoon, when my presentation was over (which was in a non air-conditioned room) and I was baking hot, I went back to Coffee Republic for another one.

I then journeyed back down into the tube, with my iced latte and the ice cubes still rattling round inside the cup. There were many envious (even desperate) glances from other passengers as I sipped on my ice cold coffee. Sorry guys.

So, if you're in the Westminster/Victoria area of London, try the Coffee Republic down there. The coffee was great and the service came with a smile too. I expect I'll be going back next time...

Sony MEX-BT3900U Car Stereo Head Unit

I like it when things just work. Recently I replaced the standard Honda stereo head unit in my car for a better one. I wanted something that would work with my iPhone (both to play music and make phone calls) and that I could plug a USB stick into ... as well as the normal CD player, FM radio type stuff.

I managed to get one of these Sony MEX-BT3900U units on special offer (less than half price in fact).

I'm very pleased with it, everything just worked out of the box. It talks nicely to my phone over bluetooth (I can use the USB cable too which means I can charge my phone whilst driving).

I even fitted it myself. If like me, you have steering wheel controls on your car make sure you get the right adaptor. At first I got a basic Autoleads PC2-68-4 which worked fine, without any steering wheel controls. But now that I have the correct adaptor for my car everything works. Very cool.

Formula One and Lego

What better way to mark the impending start of a new season of Formula One than with some Lego:

Yes, we've been buying Lego. Some second hand stuff from eBay and some of the new 'Lego Creator' kits. Such fun. We made the car and then decided that it needed a garage to be kept in. Not a bad way to spend part of a Sunday afternoon.

Virtualise, Wipe and Reinstall

My home PC had been getting slower over time ... over the years I have installed a lot of software that I don't really use anymore, and there were still a bunch of Lenovo tools on there from when it was new. So it was time for a clean reinstall - a reformatted disk with a fresh copy of Windows can work wonders. But I still wanted a full backup of the old machine, just in case. So I thought that it would be good to virtualise the whole machine before I wiped it. Then I could always go back to the old version if I needed anything. Which is normally the case...

Anyway, I used the excellent Disk2VHD tool which can virtualise a hard disk whilst it is still running. So you can create the VHD on the machine that you're virtualising. Very cool.

So I'm now using VirtualBox to boot up the Virtual Hard Disk which has been created. It was a very nice way to achieve a clean install without losing anything, and it was pretty painless. I might do the same thing on my laptop actually...