Friday, 18 April 2014

The Great Conversion

The Thamesmead Grump is moving to Linux

A couple of years ago, I bought a powerful computer to cope with the need to crunch lots of data when using Photoshop. My old machine was consigned to a cupboard where it sat gathering dust until I brought it out of retirement so Mrs Grump could sit for hours sifting through old government records in the search for her elusive ancestors instead of squatting like a toad on a stone on my computer. 
A slightly cross Thamesmead Grump

Everything went well enough for a few months then it started playing up. First, it kept losing BIOS data so I changed the battery. This didn't help and unable to find any other likely cause I decided to wipe the hard disk completely and start again. 

Now my problems really started. I've got an old copy of Windows XP. After loading it, I needed to install the later service packs but Microsoft have stopped providing support, haven't they. I can't download Service pack3 without Internet Explorer7 or higher. I can't download Internet Explorer7 unless I have Service pack2 or higher installed. 


I had been thinking about it for some time so this was the kick up the backside I needed to consider Linux. I spent ages trying to install it then discovered that I had downloaded the 64 bit version and was trying to put it on a 32 bit machine. Finally got the right version and the old computer now works like a dream. It's very different to Windows and I am still tiptoeing my way around it. I still cannot work out how to install programs from a CD yet. You can't just click on the .exe file like in Windows and all the instructions I have seen online are incomprehensibly dense. They are the sort that you are only ever going to understand if you already know how to do it. Why can't Linus just create a simple installer? 

Anyway, for the time being I can be insufferably smug about the fact that I am now a Linux user and hope that no-one asks me anything technical about it and spoils my image.


A friend told me about this through facebook and I have been looking at it ever since although Mrs Grump thinks I am mad.

I would put the actual page on but although I have done it before, I can't remember how I did it.

A Rare Visitor

We have had an unusual visitor in our garden. I thought it was a Coal Tit but it seems that it may be something called a White-eared Bulbul. They don't grow in the UK so it must have escaped from somewhere.
White-eared Bulbul

Their natural home is in the Middle East, from Iran through to Northern India and Afghanistan. Looks too well fed to be a refugee so I guess it must have escaped from someones collection. It has a green ring on it's left leg although you cannot see it from this picture. It didn't stay long so I don't know where it is now but it's a long way back to Afghanistan.

The Grim Reaper

It seems that the Government has decided to issue guidance on how long we are likely to live. It is supposed to help us plan our finances better by giving us an idea how long our pension savings need to last.

These life expectancy calculators have been available online for years. The last time I did one, it turned out that I had already been dead for the last 18 years so I'm not sure how reliable they are. This scheme though means having a personal consultation with an adviser, the cost of which will come out of your pension pot. Personally, I think it is just a stunt and will sink without trace, time will tell.

Caveat Emptor

Back in my younger days, very few people were able to afford to buy domestic appliances such as TVs and the usual practice was to rent them. One of the market leaders was a company called Radio Rentals. They had been around since the 1930's and people would rent a radio when the cost of buying one was about the same as buying a small family car. 

Other companies soon jumped on the bandwagon and by the 1970's, there were a number of business to choose from, renting all manner of items such as colour TVs, video recorders and white goods like washing machines and dishwashers. For a weekly fee, you were supplied with the appliance which also came with full repair and replacement cover and the opportunity at the end of the rental period, usually about 2 years, to hand it back and get a new one. 

This was especially appealing as the development of these things, especially TV's and video recorders were advancing rapidly. It also meant that you were not saddled with something that became obsolete almost as soon as you got it out of the box. (Think Betamax).

Major changes to consumer credit law and the dramatically falling price of electrical goods eventually brought about their demise as it became easier to buy these things on credit. Unfortunately for a few who, for whatever reason, were unable to obtain credit it meant that they were left out. 

I have noticed that a few companies have popped up to fill in the gap and are now trading on the high street. They provide credit to the non credit worthy to buy the goods they want and which also comes with the repair and replacement package that the old rental companies used to provide. 

One such company is called BrightHouse but there are others as well. Unfortunately, in their advertising they only say how much per week you will pay for the product, not for how long, so there is no way of comparing the price until you have applied to buy it. 

There is a saying in the retail business that "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it" and I think that rule applies here. 

Anyone considering buying anything from these companies needs to be very sure how much they will be paying in total before committing themselves. BrightHouse charges an eye watering 64.7% interest rate but that is probably not that exceptional for high risk customers. I would imagine they get a lot of customers defaulting on their payments and unlike the old hire purchase schemes, the company cannot recover the goods in the event of this happening. It is extraordinarily difficult to recover consumer credit debt in the event the customer stops paying. 

However, I think the main reason that they cannot tell you the total price is because in the small print it says that the APR could vary according to your circumstances so you may find yourself paying a lot more than the 64.7% interest rate advertised. In any case, what happens is that the people who can afford it least finish up paying the most.

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