Archive for September 13, 2009

Challenge ICD Craft CLM-300A – cheapo electric mower :)

Challenge ICD Craft CLM-300A – cheapo electric mower 🙂

G’day 🙂

Well, I often get a headache from the fumes from the ol’ Rover 4 stroke, so took the gamble on getting one of these from eBay. (Cost $105, not too bad given the UK retail is 44 pounds.)

They are retailed in the UK by a company called Argos.|cat_14418702|Lawnmowers|14418813/Trail/searchtext%3EMOWER.htm#tabrev

I have a fairly rogue Aussie lawn, but it is handling it OK.

The one concern has been the strong smell of hot plastic when it’s been running for 15-20 mins, and taking off the top cover reveals that the motor runs quite hot.

In an effort to prolong it’s life, I’ve modded it to increase the ventilation. This isn’t a total cure as the bad smell returns after 20 mins of clump-busting, but it’s certainly helping a bit.

The reviews over at Argos are almost all positive so it sounds like they are reasonably reliable nonetheless.

CLM-300A extra cooling

Added parts are a Sony laptop power supply and a 24V fan from an ancient server; plus some flyscreen, cable ties, etc.

The entire mod is removeable with no evidence so if the poor bugger does die before the 12 months is up I guess I can return it. However, it’s probably not worth returning as the seller whacked $70 postage on it – immoral really I know but otherwise his reviews were good and this model is hard to get here in Aus.

Other notes: Power usage is actually only 350 watts when not actually cutting, rising up to around 650/700 on the bigger clumps. That could be useful info for those of you living green off the grid 🙂

ZZ Cruizer / ZZ Cruiser Broke

ZZ Cruizer / ZZ Cruiser Broke

G’day 🙂

Well, after 1,100km, on the second drive belt and set of batteries; the ZZ Cruiser has suffered a more serious breakdown. This time, a combination of rust, metal fatigue and relatively poor design all conspired to a break as seen here…

Broken :(

I have a friend who will attempt to weld it back together.

It broke in the driveway after a weekend 4km run so it wasn’t dramatic. Much rather it do this here than at midnight doing 15kph downhill with the dog attached!

Only other issues so far: Main axle is a little bent, causing the bearing to rattle a little. My driveway is 400 metres unpaved and rocky so it has taken its toll too

Assorted News 23 – Speedup Tips.

Assorted News 23 – Speedup Tips.

Speedup Tips

Time to remove AVG.
A new defragger
How much RAM, how many brains?


How to edit PDFs for Free.
A New Virtual Machine.

Stories & General Banter

Bluebird’s over the mountain, still.
Yagi on board.
Other Trivia (Chooks of Doom, Scooter Broke, Mower Mod.)

Time to remove AVG?

One thing that is certain in life is change. And one thing that has changed in the last few months is AVG. It has slowly become a slow memory hog. Not as bad as the evil Norton / Symantec, but certainly no longer the zippy thing it was in version 7. So, if you have an older computer (say 2+ years) or a computer with one brain or low RAM (see later for how to tell) then I think it’s time to change. (You can partly test how much it’s slowing down your computer by temporarily disabling the “Resident Shield” part and restarting your computer.)

If your computer is slow, I’m recommending changing to Avast. At this point in time it is still quite light on the computer, and is comparable if not better than AVG in detection; and arguably better at removing bugs. The free version is available at

The one drawback with Avast is the need to register every 14 months. This involves filling out a form on a web page at – if you want to cheat for the first 14 months, you can use the code W27115188H1400A0811-9DW8UF5R – they don’t notice if a few people share the same key.

Don’t forget to remove AVG first or you’ll get a double dose of the slow as the two fight with eachother 🙂

One of the great advantages of Avast over AVG is that if you do get a bug; it has a special way of restarting the computer and killing the bug before the computer finishes starting again. Some newer bugs, especially the sneaky ones known as rootkits, can start up before the computer is ready and then hide themselves from Windows and the antivirus program; and Avast can often kill ’em.

A New Defragger!

Defragging is a mystery to most people, but it’s something that can make a huge difference to the startup and operating speed of your computer. In short, here’s what happens.

Imagine I have three files called xxx, yyy and zzz. Here they are sitting on the hard drive next to each other:


Now, lets say file yyy gets bigger. It might be a letter you’re writing, or an email storage file, etc.

It can’t fit in the space any more so here’s what the computer does:

[xxx][yyy][zzz][yy] (it sticks it in the next gap it can find.)

Now file zzz gets bigger…

[xxx][yyy][zzz][yy][zzzz] (same again…)

Now file xxx gets deleted.

[ ][yyy][zzz][yy][zzzz] (there’s a space where xxx used to be.)

Now file zzz gets bigger again.

[zz][][yyy][zzz][yy][zzzz] (Now zzz is in three parts, the last one being the first on the actual drive.)

As you can see, the file zzz is now stored in three ‘fragments’ and to open it, your computer has to find those three bits. On old computers, you can hear this rattling sound as the hard disk drive head jumps from place to place trying to find it. (It’s a bit like trying to play three bits of a song on a record player – a lot of hard work, and slow too.)

Most computers have a special program called “Disk Defragmenter” which will go through and put all these bits back in order. You can normally find it by clicking Start –> Programs –> Accessories –> System Tools –> Disk Defragmenter.

The built in one does a fairly reasonable job of it. However, there’s one thing that it, and almost all over defragmenters seem to ignore; which is that the disk is usually faster at the beginning than at the end! (If you ever played with marbles on a record player you’d know they spin much faster towards the edges. You can test this with if you’re curious.)

Now, there is a free defragmenting program that does this, as well as making space for often-chopped-up files to grow and moving the big but rarely used files (like videos, etc) towards the end where you don’t need speed. It’s called “MyDefrag” and you can get it from

Once you have it, choose the Slow Optimise icon and then go to bed as it may take a long time. You can then use the Fast Optimise option to keep it up to speed, and maybe use the slow one every few months.

Vista machines and laptops in particular can see a big difference in speed after using this program.

How much Ram? How many Brains?

RAM. A kind of Memory. It’s like the table you’re working on. If it’s too small, you’ll be working hard to make space. It makes no difference how many photos are in the cupboard (Hard disk) since they’re not on the table so having a stack of photos won’t normally affect your computer’s memory…

Not having enough RAM is one of the main reasons for a slow computer. Here’s an easy way to tell if you have enough RAM.

1 – Hold down Ctrl + Alt + Delete.

2 – Choose “Task manager” if asked what to do.

3 – Click the Performance tab.

You’ll see something like this:

4 – (For Windows XP) Compare the PF usage to the Total Physical memory. If it’s nearly the same or higher, then your computer doesn’t have enough memory for what you are asking it to do. (In this example, PF usage is 114 MB, which is roughly 114,000 KB, The Total Physical Memory is 237,040 KB so I’m OK 🙂

Note: For Windows Vista you need to compare the two items I’ve underlined in the picture at
(Compare Physical Memory with the first number next to Page File.)

Ram is not terribly expensive for modern computers, but for the older ones it is getting harder to find and thus the price can sneak up a bit.

Note that you often don’t need more RAM but instead need to kill off some background programs, which you might not even realise are there. Common memory hogs that run in the background are HP updater, Skype, Limewire, etc. You can turn off the ones you recognise by clicking Start, clicking run (if it’s there) and typing in msconfig … Then, untick the items you don’t want starting in the “startup” tab. Note that this does not remove programs from your computer.

Oh, and to determine how many brains, if you see one chart next to CPU usage then you have one brain. If you see two, then you have two, etc. The advantage in having more than one brain is that it means your computer can be thinking about two or more things at the same time, at full speed. This is more useful these days than in the past as it means your computer can be doing virus scanner updates, etc with one brain while your work is done with another.

How to edit PDFs for free.

Method 1

If you don’t know what a PDF is, you probably won’t be interested in this next bit. Suffice to say they’re a kind of file that was invented so that it would look the same on any computer irrespective of brand, etc.

It’s often the case with PDF files that you can’t easily change them. This can be annoying if you ever need to!

Previously I’ve mentioned Foxit Reader – a free program that you can use for viewing these PDF files. (Much better than Adobe reader in speed and size.) You can use this program to make changes, but unless you pay them money to buy a fancy version, they won’t let you save the changes. However, there is a way you can cheat.

If you don’t already have some sort of PDF printer listed in your list of printers, there’s a free one called CutePDF writer; which I’ve also mentioned before. This program lets you make PDF files by ‘printing’ them. It’s free from

So, the trick is to make the changes in Foxit reader, then cheat by printing the changed version with CutePDF writer. You end up with the new copy with your changes.

It won’t technically be as efficient as being able to save from Foxit reader, but it’s almost always good enough.

Method 2

Another solution to this problem has recently come to light in the form of an addon for Sun’s OpenOffice program. (OpenOffice is a free alternative to Microsoft’s relatively expensive Word, Excel, PowerPoint group of programs – free from

Once you have OpenOffice installed, you can grab the Sun PDF Import addin from

Your results with this combo can sometimes be a little unexpected – but in cases where you want to add logos, remove words or whole pages, etc you may find it does what you need.

A New Virtual Machine.

A Virtual Machine is a computer that lives inside another computer! It uses some of the computer’s brain, memory and disk space to simulate another computer. That second (virtual) computer is blissfully unaware that it doesn’t really exist! (A bit like the Matrix movie.)

This is for the more IT aware among you – and for those of you with Apple Macs that want to run Windows. Sun has released a new free version of VirtualBox which is significantly better than Microsoft’s free program and comparable to the non-free Parallels program for Mac. With it, you can run almost any operating system on your computer that you desire, without replacing your main one – and they both run at the same time. Free from

For others among you it might mean you can run your old Windows 98 programs on Windows Vista if you really want to.

Bluebird’s Over the Mountain?

Well, the stealth Bluebird is behaving itself after some preventative maintenance in the form of a timing belt and water pump change… and I was amazed to find not one but three instrument panels at Guyra Motors. (Needed some new lamps and an idea on how it was designed as it’s like a disco with gauges turning on and off because of a design flaw common to that series.)

The Kingswood is still resting. I took it out for a short run last weekend and of course the evil sounds have gone away for now. Nonetheless I’ll still be getting it seen to soon – money permitting of course.

Yagi on board?

A few of you might have spotted this strange sight some weeks ago, especially up near Ben Lomond: – a car with what looks like a TV antenna sticking up behind it.

I decided to do a bit of an experiment with targeted advertising – driving to properties, getting a wireless broadband speed reading, taking a photo of the mailbox, printing it and the results out from a printer inside the car and depositing it in the mailbox.

There were some teething problems, and it was a bit slow going but the results were good. The car itself certainly attracted people’s attention. (Admittedly a little too much possibly when the boys in blue flashed at me one night on the way home – didn’t pull me over but perhaps they didn’t like the fact the number plate wasn’t illuminated. The aerial itself was folded down level with the tow bar when not measuring.) What really surprised me was how agitated people get when you take a photo of their mailbox and give it to them! (The concept of fear of recording devices, whether sound, image or video, in public places, is alien to me.)

Anyway, the whole project was predicated on the notion that like any other broadband connection I make through Exetel I’d see 10% of the revenue – as this has been a handy backup income source lest I get sick, etc and covers offering free support. I later discovered that for the majority of the wireless broadband connections I earn 45 cents a month irrespective of usage. (This is for the $5 per month plus usage plan which is popular with light to moderate Internet users.) Given I don’t charge like a wounded bull for installation, this makes the surveying project unviable.

As a side note to that, I’m still happy to support other companies as well even though I’m not in their pocket. For example, TPG has the best mobile deals going at about 8c a minute. Exetel can’t match that so I don’t sell Exetel mobiles any more. Telstra’s prices are still ridiculously high in most cases, but their service has improved somewhat. (Handy hint: If you want to speak to someone at Telstra, and don’t like talking to the computer, you can press 1 for the first response, 2 for the second, etc until you’re roughly in the area you want, and / or just keep pressing # until the computer apologizes for not understanding you 🙂 I can’t help with the foreign accents however unless you want me as a translator 🙂

Other Trivia.

A select few of you are amused by my non-IT stuff for some reason. The latest events in that department:

1 – Discovered, almost certainly, that eating any MSG enhanced food will cause me to lose a night’s sleep. Enough of it causes an irregular heart beat. Common problem it seems, but it’s in an area of subjectivity on the ‘net. Other key signs are losing the skin off the roof of my mouth. I’m fairly confident that Coles BBQ chickens have MSG or something else that sets me off. I’m pleased to advise that Moxons and Guyra bakeries staff seem to believe their food is MSG free.

2 – Scooter broke. After 1,100km, a tiny patch of rust weakened a structural part, resulting in a non-spectacular but serious failure. A friend will attempt to re-weld it. Picture at – Fear not, I still have the bike; just have to actually do some work now to cause it to move. Electric bike kit (legal) on it’s way from eBay $429

3 – New Electric Mower. I always get a headache from the fumes from the ol’ 4 stroke Rover. (And every spring the bugger won’t start without it’s service in Armidale.) Shelled out $105 for an electric mower. It’s smaller than the Rover, but quieter and much lighter. It gets a funny hot plastic smell when running for a long time however, so (predictably) I’ve modded it with an old server fan and laptop power supply. I’m happy with it. and – apparently the postie refused to deliver it from the Guyra PO 🙂 Wouldn’t fit on the bike perhaps? I think the smell is that of a thermo-set plastic which I’ve not smelt since High School rather than burning enamel so I don’t know if it’s a breaking-in smell or a ‘cut more grass and I’ll go on strike’ smell. Of 86 reviews for that model, 81 are happy.

4 – Nearly caught up after the holiday. Still getting about 15 mobile calls a day which I can’t handle in real time, so the answering machine’s getting a good workout! One unhappy camper even texted “are you still trading” after my return calls were unnoticed. Oh well, I’m doing my best, chooks of doom notwithstanding. Occasionally even the answering machine goes on strike so apologies to those few of you who got hung up on by it. (Once it gets 200 messages stored, it likes to play random announcements – often going for the ‘sorry I’m sick” or “I’m in Tassie” one for some reason.)