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Yesterday I went to take my mother to buy a new laptop in Nottingham. I’d read the reviews, I’d browsed the stores. And I thought I’d nailed it – either the 14″ Chromebook or a 15.6″ entry level laptop. How wrong I was, and it took only 15 minutes in PC World to figure it out.

I’d made two fatal mistakes collecting requirements for the OAP laptop – I’d missed one, and assumed another:

  1. My mum doesn’t need an actual laptop. It stays still on a desk. She just had a laptop as I’d bought her one from the US in my hand luggage – easier than bringing in a tower.
  2. It needs an SD card reader for her camera. Now I know that I have a USB to SD card attachment that I could have given her. That’s just one extra thing to lose or break though, so I didn’t want to go this route.

So what laptop did we decide on for my mum?

The Chromebooks were all too small. Good value. Budget level Celeron processors. But too small, and the HP Chromebook 14-x000na (NVIDIA Tegra K1, 2 GB RAM, Chrome OS) didn’t have an SD card reader. Despite me so wanting to get a simple computer, they just didn’t fit.

The laptops were in the running – but we got scared off by the sales associate at Curry’s who told us the Celeron would be underpowered in the medium term. So we upped our budget a bit and passed on the amazingly good value Lenovo G50-30 – a brand we like.

We ended up with an all-in-one – primarily as it had speakers and microphones and a webcam and a 19.5″ screen. It was also much more powerful, sporting a Pentium or four (or two as the label in store claimed). It’s easy to see. Not too big to fit in an alcove. It has a full sized keyboard and mouse, and it’s been a general pleasure to set up. It was £320 in store versus the £230 laptops, but then again, hopefully with additional processing oomph it will last longer and with a bigger screen it will survive the varifocal glasses for longer too.

The moral of the story is not to assume too much, and to get in a store and play with the boxes. Also, screen size wins. I’d like to think that Amazon was cheaper, but in this case it was the same price for the same model (maybe £10 cheaper if we’d got the black version rather than the white version they carry in the shops). That said, Amazon certainly has more options in the all-in-one category, and you can find some different configurations.


Best Laptop For The Over 65s


Will the little Chromebook win the shootout?

My mum is not really a little old lady in my eyes, now that I’m a middle-aged man. She is still in her 60s having survived the 1960s, and after working on the same laptop for seven years, it’s time to get an upgrade. Not to my mum, to her machine.

What do older people like in a laptop?

My mum turned 30 in an age without personal computing. In a way, I’m projecting my own expectations and wrapping them with her description of what she wants here. She’s a casual internet user.

  1. Simplicity. Who doesn’t want simplicity? Well a few decades ago I thought computers were fun, and learning how to tweak and optimize them was a useful thing to spend time on. Now I just want to drive them and keep the bonnet down. This is making me lean towards a Chromebook
  2. Size. Her last laptop had a 14″ screen, and with the challenges of varifocals, I’m going to say that bigger is better, although screen size is a big driver of price.
  3. Keys. Yes, my mum still types text messages without predictive text on her cell phone. So it’s truly a miracle when I get a long message as it has probably taken her an hour. That said, fiddling around with a tablet is probably not for her. She likes to type. She’s proficient at typing.
  4. Familiarity. Who likes learning stuff just for the sake of it? Well, I do. But I think my mum has used Windows for a long time, and I don’t fancy being the on-call support for her learning something that isn’t intuitive and laden with familiar metaphors. I moved to Windows 8.1 a few days ago, and it was a pain in the everywhere. If I could get a new computer with Windows Vista on it, I would.
  5. Value. I made the mistake of walking into Best Buy the other day and telling the salesperson that I wasn’t bothered about cost, I just wanted something for myself that would last a long time. Under demanding conditions. My mum just wants something that will sit in her house and get opened a few times a week for her to browse photos of the grandchildren, send some emails and do online banking.
  6. Skype. Since she has remote grandchildren, the occasional ability to do some kind of online video calls would be useful. This is pretty key as in moving to a ChromeBook, Skype isn’t supported initially. But apparently it’s possible to run skype and many other Android apps on one with a little effort.
  7. Something you can buy from John Lewis. I’m not sure what this brand devotion is about – it certainly predates my tendency for online disintermediation (I want to buy it from an online marketplace like Amazon)

So there we have it – this is what we need:

An entry level Chromebook with a 14+ inch screen for under two fiddy pounds.


Or will the discount conventional Windows machine win out?

So there are a few out there, some of which are just under 14″ at 13.3″ screens – hopefully close enough.

  1. Toshiba 13.3″ Celeron 2GB RAM, 16GB SSD for under £230. (model I’m looking at is PLM01E-004007EN.) This is only about nine quid more expensive than the equivalent at Amazon.co.uk.
  2. HP 14″ Nvidia Tegra 2GB RAM, 16 GB Flash for under £230. This is a similar spec and has a slightly larger screen. This is a similar price to the same chromebook on Amazon.

But why John Lewis?

They claim to give a 2 year guarantee on every laptop, and of course will want to upsell tech support and maintenance plans. And you can go in and try the keyboards – pretty important when you’re typing. And they let you prod them in store.

So it sounds simple, right? The only challenge is that for the same money or less you can get a 15″ laptop with Windows 8.1:

  1. Lenovo G50-30 4GB RAM Intel Celeron 500GB HDD – for under £230. This is really quite a deal. But not as much as a deal for the same laptop on Amazon which is on sale for £180. This Lenovo boasts accu-type keys on its keyboard – I’m not sure what that means. My mum is very deft with her hands, so this might not be a factor. It’s about 2.5kg vs the Chromebooks approximately 1.5kg. the battery lasts half as long as the Chromebook batteries. And it can do a whole bunch of things that my mum doesn’t want to do. Which could detract from the simplicity that was one of our motivating factors.
  2. What about the Acer Aspire ES1 4GB 1TB HDD with Windows 8.1 – for less than 200 quid? It’s got the same 15.6″ screen, the Intel Celeron dual core processor and you can get it from Curry’s. Curry’s will tell you it can get 7 hours of life from the batteries, where other reviews quote 5 hours. Still – it shows there’s choice in the 200 pound range.

So how to decide on Laptop vs Chromebook for an OAP?

I would personally like to see my mum try the different ones out in store. I think it’s going to come down to size and keyboard. While the Chromebook will spring to life and hopefully require less support and maintenance from yours truly, I can see the conventional laptop winning out.

So tomorrow we go testing in store!


Tough Guy 2015

Tough Guy

Photo credit: quantumlars / flickr

My multiple and frequent mid-life crises normally manifest themselves as car purchases – maybe like the last supercharged V8 purchase. This time, it’s a run with some relatives. How card could it be? After all I ran a marathon once and did a variety of kickboxing and boxing training in the last decade.

How did I train for Tough Guy 2015?

I retired from kickboxing about 18 months ago as I had been training after neglecting so many injuries that I was like the Black Knight – fighting with mangled limbs at best, bloody stumps at worst. Not that I was kicking so hard I snapped my own leg like Anderson Silva, I just have shoulder issues and hip issues. After that I went to physiotherapists for many months. I did lots of exercises, but had to lay off any serious training. I had long since given up running, and gradually I descended into a world of cake and apathy. A far cry from the six-pack I almost thought I might have had once.

So about 3 months ago, I started running again. I did the couch to 10k in 2 months – you know – any random training plan from the internet where you start at pizza and end up at 10k. I did it, and realized that I was running before I could even stand – having spent too long driving and writing sat down at a desk, my posture was so horrible that I wasn’t even strong enough in the right places to stand up. Let alone walk. Or run. So after developing crippling shin splints, I then followed this with a 10k to couch for a month. I stopped running, instead researching all the ridiculous methods suggested by Dr. Internet for halting the pain in my shin whenever I started to run. I bought new shoes, stopped running altogether, and went back to the physio.

Now instead of running 10k in mud, up hills, and doing cross training, I was back to the abs classes at the local gym frequented by the over 65 year olds. I was humbled by their strength and a little despondent. Three  weeks ago I started another couch to 10k program that involves mostly walking. But then I realized that I couldn’t get to the target of 15k if I didn’t skip some weeks, so I fast forwarded a bit.

I also ate lots of cake, crisps and bars of Dairy Milk.

After reading some race reports, it looks like a pretty brutal experience. That people train hard for. Experienced, healthy people. I did a race in November with my brother – the Wolf Run and found it chilly but not cold, dirty and fun. I remember being surprised as I was halfway around the 10k mud course, and saying out loud, “I think I’m enjoying this.” The only obstacle I couldn’t hack was the monkey bars – my hands weren’t too slippy – the rings were covered in mud and I wasn’t strong enough to keep my hand gripped around the muddy metal.

Things that I have done a bit of:

  • ending a shower with cold water – I can’t face a cold shower yet.
  • being outside in the English winter – wearing less when I do run outside
  • read about hypothermia
  • wake up in a cold sweat worrying about it
  • worrying about what to wear

Things I have done none of:

  • running around carrying a giant crucifix. Yes, 100 people do this on the day.
  • jumping in icy lakes

What are my excuses?

Like a Formula 1 driver, I want to have my excuses ready. Mine are that my hips are still weak, my shoulder is still impinged, and I’m generally 25% bodyfat unfit. It’s not like I didn’t know the event was in February 2015, and indeed I have known this for some time. I think I’ve been plagued by injury that has stopped me training hard. Also, having just moved back to the UK from the land of the Hershey process (a cheap process that makes foul tasting chocolate) and having been inundated with Mr. Kipling and his sultry wench Madame Cadbury, I have been eating my weight in sugar and fat on a weekly basis.

So as usual, I’m avoiding the sense of “train hard, fight easy.”

What to wear at Tough Guy?

I’ve read all sorts of reports. Less is more. More is more. Cold is bad.

The fundamental principles I’m following are that anything that can stop scratches, heat loss and provide protection are good and anything heavy or soggy is bad. This is my current gear plan:

  • Hat. probably a cheap wooly hat. Maybe a swim cap in my pocket.
  • Trail running shoes – the ones I train in. Not the Enduro 1000000 Mud Splayers that everyone rants about, just ones that are a good fit for my terrible running style of over pronation
  • Runners tights – anything to stop the abrasion and ones that will dry quickly
  • glove-socks – ones that stop the toes chafing and dry fast
  • gloves – I’m torn between wetsuit gloves and cycle gloves
  • Compression calf socks
  • shorts to hide my junk and to keep the bottom abrasion down
  • A compression under garment
  • Either a wetsuit vest or a running top – depending on what I can find

What is the Tough Guy race like?

It looks physically challenging – for me running 15k over muddy hills would be difficult enough with today’s level of fitness – I can run for maybe 7 minutes without reverting to a walk in my current slowly, slowly, catchy no injury plan.

So there’s that. It’s also mind-blowingly cold. The water you wade through is covered in ice. Sharp, heavy, mud covered ice that slices at your limbs. And of course, you have to completely submerse yourself in the water, not just chest deep but completely over your head deep. So the ice slices at your face too.

The challenge then isn’t just physical fitness and to become stubborn enough to finish. It’s about keeping moving fast enough that you don’t succumb to hypothermia. A very real danger.

So why do it?

Because it’s there. It may be some attempt at defining masculinity. It might be about bonding with my future brother-in-law and my brother. It might be about learning more about myself and getting out of the cocoon of comfort in which I typically reside. Twenty years ago I was riding a motorbike across the Sahara. Ten years ago I was trying to climb mountains. Five years ago, after my first child was born, I was running a marathon – the adventure you can do without leaving the country. Now my challenges are necessarily shorter and more intense.

My fears are that I’m going to grow more decrepit as I age, that I’ll never recover the use of my left hip and right shoulder. I plan on challenging those fears.

Statistically there’s a fair chance I’ll fail as a first timer at Tough Guy. It’s good to fail.