The ‘Frugal (maybe?)’ category:

UK TV in France

December 1st, 2012

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As you might have noticed, we live in France, so we have French TV.

Amongst people like us this is quite unusual; most people from the UK have satellite TV. Initially I wasn’t bothered and was actually quite happy watching French TV. My personal favourites are Fourchette & Sac à DosDes racines et des ailes and J’irai dormir chez vous – mainly travel documentary style programmes.

I must admit that I do download programmes such as ‘Have I Got News For You’ on iPlayer, so it’s not all French language stuff. And if you fiddle with the settings on your TV you can watch programmes like CSI in VO (version originale) which is quite good; everything foreign is dubbed on French TV rather than subtitled, and dubbing makes plots difficult to follow.

Anyway, with Christmas on the horizon, we were envious of our friends and family back home. There’s nothing quite like watching some Christmas telly with a few mince pies and… a few more mince pies. So it was time to install satellite TV.

Initially I thought this would be expensive, but I looked into it and discovered that the parts themselves are very cheap. I bought a 60cm satellite dish for 25 € and 10m of cable for 8 €, both from Leroy Merlin. The assistant wanted to sell me a bigger dish when I mentioned I was planning on getting UK channels with it; I ignored his advice since I’d read on forums that 60cm is plenty. Friends had an old Sky box that they were happy to lend to us, so I didn’t need to buy a satellite decoder. However, if I had needed to buy one I was surprised to learn that I didn’t need to use a Sky box; any Freesat box would do the trick. These start from around £35 for a basic model.

I put the dish together and, with the help of my compass and the coordinates of the relevant satellite on a piece of paper included with the dish, pointed it in the right direction. With the window open, the Sky box on channel 101 and the volume turned up full, I gently moved the dish around a bit until I heard BBC1 blaring out. Success!

It wasn’t quite as easy as I make it sound. The next day it was raining and we had no signal at all so I moved the dish but there were some branches between the dish as the sky and it didn’t work. After some more adjustments I got it to 100% signal. It wasn’t that difficult.

The only trouble now is that the boys are glued to CBeebies all day long!

Expensive new computer; expensive new software?

June 21st, 2012

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What do you do when you need expensive software but can’t afford to buy it? Steal it… or go open source.
[Warning: this is a slightly geeky post and might not seem at home on this blog, but  there is a free range element to this, I promise].

My web design business, Uncomplicate (he’s very good you know, and quite reasonable), is picking up and I’ve been getting quite a few new jobs recently, which is brilliant! I was struggling to get on my old MacBook to actually do the work though because Corrie liked to use it in the evenings so I decided to use some of my earnings to buy myself some equipment.

So I bought myself a snazzy new MacBook Air; I’ve always worked on Macs (since 2001 anyway) and I’m quick and comfortable on them. It’s awesome: 8GB RAM and all flash storage means it’s super-quick, quicker than any computer I’ve ever used. And it’s teeny. So it’s the perfect tool for making websites in a house filled with screaming boys where no desk is safe from scissors and paint. But it doesn’t come with any website-making software, and I needed some.

Even though all my websites are now made in WordPress I still use software in the process. I used Dreamweaver (for connecting to servers, managing file transfers, messing about with layouts, working on source code) – that costs £360. I also used Photoshop (for preparing images for the web, making logos, working on website design elements) – that costs £660. So over £1,000 for the software; I’d need to make a few websites to make that back. But anyway, that’s very expensive!

So I decided to cheat and downloaded ‘free’ versions of both these pieces of software. This involved some fiddling about with host files on my lovely, new, innocent laptop so that the software would be blocked from connecting to the internet to verify the serial numbers. I felt dirty. After a day I uninstalled these, put the host files back to how they were, phoned Adobe and apologised, and looked for legitimate alternatives.

And here are the legitimate and affordable alternatives for Mac…

Dreamweaver

  • BlueGriffon – it looks nice, is light (93MB) and does what I need it to do. Except ftp stuff, but (and this is the beauty of open source stuff) there’s an add-on for that: FireFTP. Excellent. And it’s free. Perfect!

Photoshop

  • GimpShop – sounded good and is good, but I need ‘save for web’ functionality and I simply couldn’t figure out how to install the plugin. If you can figure that out, it’s the answer, probably.
  • Pixelmator – a slick designed-for-OSX piece of software that only costs £10. I’m finding it slightly awkward to use as I’m familiar with Photoshop so I’ll need to get the hang of it, but it appears to do everything, including ‘save for web’ – I’m on day 2 of the 30-day trial.
  • Photoshop Elements – if Pixelmator doesn’t do it for me I’ll go for this. It costs about £60, does everything I need, and is familiar.
With a little bit of effort it seems you can find anything you need on the internet, and often you don’t need to resort to stealing. It feels good to do the right thing.