To VIM or not to VIM. The decades old text editor inspires avid devotion or utter hatred. I fell into the latter camp.

However, now that I’m experimenting with the Raspberry Pi for some hardware projects, it’s obvious I need something with more features than the nano editor. VIM pretty universal, will run in a terminal, or a non-GUI linux, and is undeniably fast editing once the steep learning curve is overcome.

So here are some of notes on VIM – particularly,setting up syntax highlighting with a nice colour scheme – a first step in making VIM palatable to my GUI insticts.

Colour Schemes

If I’d spent half the time learning VIM as I’d spent trying to customise the colours, I’d be a VIM Jedi already.

Good Schemes

I particularly like solarized

On Windows (Putty)

If you want any chance of getting the genuine Solarized colors working in VIM through Putty, the colours in Putty must be changed.

The easiest way to do this is with this reg file which sets up some sensible defaults for Putty, including the solarized dark colours

You will need to recreate any existing sessions to get the new defaults

On The Raspberry Pi

Connect and login using Putty. Your shell session will already have the new colour scheme

sudo apt-get install vim
cd ~
mkdir .vim
cd .vim
mkdir colors
:e $HOME/.vimrc
i     (insert mode)
syntax enable
set background=dark
colorscheme solarized
:wq!      (save and close)

Now to add my VIM config to source control, we copy it to the .vim folder and symlink it first

cd ~
mv .vimrc .vim/.vimrc
ln -s .vim/.vimrc .vimrc
cd .vim
git init
ls -la         (shows hidden files)

Configure GIT
git config --global "your full name"
git config --local "your full name"
git config --global "your email id"
git config --local "your email id"
git config -l

still in the ~/.vim folder…

git add .
git commit -m "Initial commit of my vim configuration"
git remote add origin

//had to do a git pull first
git pull
git push origin master


My VIMconfiguration is now on github.

To install my Vim Config onto a new server…

cd ~
git clone .vim
ln -s .vim/.vimrc .vimrc



When Free Goes Bad

On 2013/08/31, in Customer Service, by Greg Woods

We all love free stuff. Google mail, calendar, contacts, docs(drive), music. All superb free services. Dropbox, SkyDrive, UbuntuOne all add options for free cloud storage. Various other startups offer free services such as notes and picture storage. Free is appealing. But it’s risky, and as our dependency on these services grows, and the costs associated with running them goes up, we’ll see more and more either go to the wall, or start charging.

This week I got stung rather badly by the news that – the ultra simple online note taking app, decided to “move in another direction”, and discontinue the service with only one month’s notice. Thankfully I can get my notes out, and import into another service. My problem is that I had spent a year learning, and developing a Windows Phone app that was 100% dependent on their API. Oh dear! That is a lot of wasted man-hours of work.

This is the second time I’ve been caught out by a free online service disappearing. I was an avid user of Google Reader before the plug was pulled. For those companies who keep their products, we are seeing a shift towards a pay model.

Now, I don’t mind paying for stuff to have a degree of certainty that the product will still be around in a years time. My big problem is the cost some of these companies charge. Apple may have introduced the idea of selling apps in bulk for peanuts, but the idea doesn’t seem to have caught on with most companies who are either too greedy, or too busy subsidising the free users, to charge a sensible fee. Dropbox are a prime example. Great product, but at $100/year for 100Gb, it is undeniably expensive. Yet I am more than happy paying Microsoft £32 ($48)/year for the same 100Gb. If I paid for the Premium versions of all the online services which I occasionally use, it adds up to a reasonable sum. Endomondo, Evernote, Dropbox, Google Apps. Most of these services are worth paying something for, but the pricing models are based on users who are using their product as a core part of their life. I don’t, so I won’t pay.

I can’t help thinking all these services would be cheaper if they weren’t giving so much away for free. To attract the customers, a more sustainable model may be to offer the full premium service for free for a long trial period. No more ridiculous 14 or 30 trials which are no use to anyone. No trial should be shorter than 120 days, and for something long term like online storage, make it a year – then make it cheap to sign up a t the end.


Living with the Nook HD+

On 2013/01/27, in Review, by Greg Woods

So, I got rid of my Kindle DX, which I decided was unsuitable for technical manuals. And due to Amazon’s culling of the product I made a nice profit on it on ebay, and snagged myself a 9″ Nook HD+ (used) for £135. How have I found using it for the last few weeks?

My Use Case

Although I did once find myself jealous of iPad-wielding friends with their fancy games and apps, this soon passed. I wanted a device for reading programming books. One that could handle PDFs as well as ePubs, and one I could look up additional info on the web before returning to the book. In summary, the Nook HD+ is a superb device for this. In some ways, not having access to the Apple or Android app stores is a good thing. There are less distractions. As to value for money, even at it’s full price of £239, it is great value. A little used one on ebay is unbeatable.


  • The ‘retina’ class screen resolution
  • The large 9″ screen
  • Magazine-page-ratio is pretty good for books
  • Excellent PDF support, including table of contents
  • Good web browser
  • Locked down, so little temptation to tinker with it
  • ‘Resume reading’ icon always available
  • ArticleView on web pages is a nice touch


  • Occasional browser bugs. Google Reader doesn’t always render well
  • Locked down, so tinkering with it is just more of a challenge (must resist temptation to root it)!
  • Most books show with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Usable screen is actually 8.2″ for many books
  • (The best aspect ratio for programming books is probably 4:3 – an iPad)
  • Pinch-zooming-in on a PDF doesn’t shrink those black bars. You instead immediately get a vertical scroll bar. A poor implementation of zoom
  • The only icons I use on the home screens are ‘Library’ and ‘Web’. It would be nice to be able to show entire folder contents on a home screen to cut down on navigation taps


It’s a great experience. I’m reading more, which is the real benchmark of success. Being able to quickly flit back and forth between different book pages, and the web is making the learning stick. An e-ink reader is totally unsuited to this form of reading.

How long will I keep it? Unknown. The more suitable aspect ratio of the iPad is tempting, but I will never shell out £399 for a reader. A iPad mini could win me over, if the screen resolution were  better. When the iPad mini with retina display comes out – as I’m sure it will –  it could sway me to the dark side.  The only problem then will be the temptation to use it for 1001 other things rather than catching up on all my nerdy reading.




Sleep Credit

On 2013/01/04, in Life, by Greg Woods

Sleep appears to be an area of human ‘activity’ which we are still learning about. One observation of sleep is that we can rack up a sleep debt – where we can go a night or two with reduced sleep, and perhaps feel OK for those few days. Eventually the debt must be repaid, or we’ll start falling asleep at the wheel, getting irritable with others etc.

Well, I’ve long maintained that I build up sleep credit. My optimum sleep is likely 7 hours, maybe as low as 6. Mrs Woods seems to need at least 8. So we go to bed somewhere in between – which I suspect is doing neither of us any good. I wake up alert early, fail to get up because the bed is a nice place to be. So I fall back to sleep and the alarm then wakes me in some part of the sleep cycle which you probably shouldn’t be woken from. I feel OK, but not as good as I did when I first woke.

So after 2 weeks with no really late nights, I seem to build up sleep credit. Last night was one of those nights. In bed at midnight. By 1:15am, it was obvious I wasn’t getting to sleep, so I did the correct thing and got up. I started programming on a Windows Phone app I’ve been struggling to devote time to. I made the best progress in a long time. By 4am I wrapped it up and went to bed. I still wasn’t tired, but tossed and turned until 6am when I did get some sleep – though not much.

So in one night my sleep credit has turned into sleep debt. But as long as I don’t give in to the temptation of a post-work nap, or go to bed really early, I should sleep normally for the next week or two.

Maybe I should try polyphasic sleep – though I suspect we’d need separate beds for that!


Sleep is a complex thing. My little ‘sleep credit’ theory could be complete rubbish. Subconscious anxiety, too much caffeine (I admit my body can’t handle caffeine as well these days), a slightly disturbed sleep environment could all have contributed to last nights sleep deprivation. Though the sleepless nights do seem to follow a vague pattern.


Replacing My Kindle DX

On 2013/01/03, in Uncategorized, by Greg Woods

A comparison of the Google Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD and 8.9″ HD, the Nook HD and HD+

I had high hopes for the Kindle DX. A 9.7″ screen e-reader with PDF support. Ideal for reading technical manuals. The battery life measured in weeks not hours. Readable outside with an easy on the eyes passive e-ink screen. After owning one for over a year, a summary of my thoughts are:

  • Being able to show a full page of PDF without reflowing or zooming is great
  • However…
  • I rarely read outside (blame the British summer)
  • Incredibly annoying “screensaver” is not good when you may be referring to the same page for days at a time
  • Table of Contents doesn’t work for PDFs
  • Flicking back and forth between pages is frustratingly slow

So I’ve come to the conclusion – a little later than Amazon who recently canned the Kindle DX – that a LCD screen tablet would be better for my purposes. But which one? For technical books with diagrams, tables and formatted code listings it is important to be able to view the content of PDFs as they were originally intended. So the most important qualities are the combination of screen resolution and screen size. PDFs viewed on my laptop’s 1280 x 800 16:10 ratio screen look good when I rotate the screen to portrait mode, so I’m looking for this resolution and higher. Even at this resolution, I’m not convinced that viewing a full page on a 7″ device will be comfortable without turning into landscape mode and doing a lot more scrolling. I also found whilst playing with a variety of tablets in HMV a year ago, that an (overpriced at the time) 8.9″ Samsung tablet seemed the sweet spot for size. My final criteria is price. I won’t pay £400 for a tablet, half of that is more reasonable.

How do the current crop of tablets compare to my criteria? (sorted by screen size)

Device Resolution Ratio* Screen Size Notes Price
Google Nexus 7 1280 x 800 16:10 7″ 16Gb £159
Kindle Fire HD 1280 x 800 16:10 7″ 16Gb £159
Nook HD 1440 x 900 16:10 7″ 8Gb, microSD £159
iPad Mini 1024 x 768 4:3 7.9″ 16Gb £269
Kindle Fire HD 8.9 1920 x 1200 16:10 8.9″ 16Gb £239*
Nook HD+ 1920 x 1280 3:2 8.9″ 16Gb, microSD £229
LENOVO IdeaTab A2109 1280 x 800 16:10 9″ 32Gb £199
iPad (retina) 2048 x 1536 4:3 9.7″ 16Gb £399
Google Nexus 10 2560 x 1600 16:10 10″ 16Gb £319
Microsoft Surface RT 1366 x 768 16:9 10.6″ 32Gb £399

* Aspect ratio is calculated by dividing the pixels high by pixels wide and comparing to the ratios for 16:9 (1.78), 16:10 (1.6) 4:3 (1.33). The measurable screen aspect ratio may differ if non-square pixels are used. However, for my usage of mainly reading, I am only interested in the aspect ratio in terms of pixels – where 4:3 and 16:10 are better for most books, and provide better experienceswitching between landscape and portrait than a 16:9 device, which is comically wide for these tasks.

* Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ not available in the UK (yet). Price is estimated by converting the USD price to GBP at current exchange rates, and adding VAT at 20%. This calculation is accurate for the UK released Fire HD

* Storage capacity comparisons not entirely fair, since the operating system takes a variable chunk of this.


For my use case, which primarily reading PDFs and web sites…

  • All except the ipad mini and Microsoft Surface meet my minimum resolution of 1280 x 800
  • However, I need to look at the iPad mini in person, preferably with some techy PDFs
  • A larger screen is better
  • Being able to run all the apps from Google Play is not important
  • Lots of customisation options is not a priority – I do not need more gadgets to tinker with
  • Low price is important
  • A 3G option would be nice, but tethering to my Windows Phone is very easy
  • microSD is nice, but lack of it is not a deal breaker
  • Although I have a Kindle DX already, most of my purchased content is fiction, which will look just fine on a new 6″ Kindle. So I have no strong vested interest in the Amazon ecosystem
  • No matter how much I like the Windows 8 UI, the screen resolution and aspect ratio make the Surface RT a non-starter, and the price is simply a joke


The Nook HD+

The Lenovo looked good on paper, but CNET slated the dull display – which is my main criteria.
So, the Nook HD+ is (currently) the winner, with the unreleased in the UK Kindle Fire HD 8.9 close behind. It has my favourite screen size, awesome resolution, reading-centric aspect ratio, and is extremely well priced. The downside? I’m tied to the Barnes and Noble ecosystem, which may not survive alongside Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft – and this will affect my ebay resale price in a year’s time.

Of course, between now and me parting with cash, we could see the UK release of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, or who knows, maybe even a Google Nexus 9. Either of these events could sway me.

Now, does anyone want to buy a used Kindle DX?