Product reviews

One of the things that’s most unnecessarily annoying in modern life is the way that companies can often find a way for “procedures” to ensure that the customer doesn’t get reasonable treatment if something goes wrong with a product or a service.

Good companies try to do their best. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes not. But they try. Bad companies try to wiggle out.

As a conscientious consumer I feel it is almost a duty to make an effort to give bad companies the bad reputation they deserve, and good companies the good reputation.

The internet and its search engines are highly efficient at dredging up content if it’s specific enough. So I’ll use this space to put some product reviews, both good and bad, that I hope will be found by people searching for some of the things I’ve bought over the last year or so. I hope they may help the buyer and give the seller some reason to give good service.



Bad Reviews

Hewlett Packard Printers

Disclosure: I used to work at HP. Many friends still do. HP makes some wonderful products. The calculators are great. I’m typing this on a 2005 (or so) HP laptop that still works perfectly. I’ve printed thousand of pages on office grade LaserJet printers. I have a bunch of other HP products that are great and very well built.

The consumer printers are not great, nor well built. I’ve bought three or probably four in my time. None are still for sale but I can only assume that the current models are just as bad.  One was the Photosmart 8100, which was an expensive machine with built in DVD drive. It kept having “ink system failures” and then just died one day. Another the Photosmart 2750, which had to be fed sheets of paper one at a time. Another I don’t remember the name of.

They were all crap. They didn’t pick up paper reliably. They broke down. The software you had to install was lousy, and HUGE.  The 2750 was so bad at picking up sheets of paper that HP sent out a piece of sandpaper to use to roughen the pick-up wheels in the hope that it would pick up paper. It didn’t.

To their credit, the output was actually fine, but the pain you had to go through to get a page to print was just outrageous.

If I have any wit, I’ll avoid them in the future.

Lomo Long-John wetsuit

Sailing gear can be dreadfully, and usually unnecessarily expensive. In the spring I wanted to get a wetsuit suitable for dinghy sailing. The brand models were PRICEY. And I mean PRICEY.

So, I was delighted when I came across Lomo. They’re a Scottish company that makes waterproof gear for sailing and canoeing and diving.  For the summer I thought their Long John wetsuit would be great. It’s advertised as being built for really heavy users, like sailing centres. I wanted durability over pretty, plus the price was sensible.

After a couple of months twice-weekly use the lining of the wetsuit was delaminating from the neoprene.  After a month more (or so) the right knee was failing completely with the lining delaminating and the rubber of the knee itself completely compressed.

I bought other products from Lomo that were fine, and one that they replaced with no argument. When I write about the wetsuit they ignore the question.

I’d love to be able to recommend Lomo to other sailors. They’re as local as it gets. The prices are sensible. Unfortunately the quality seems to be variable and they try not to engage. Sad.

Good Reviews


I actually had one of the very first Chromebooks – the internal Google prototypes.  That was in 2011, if I remember correctly. Loved it. It booted up faster than my phone. Light, long battery life, decent speed. Then finally the prototype team wanted it back in mid-2013 so I actually had to buy one.

So, off to Amazon and got one of the basic Acer models. Still running. Still great. Still boots faster than my phone – even than the old Nokia E72 I use quite a bit.

I suspect the battery life is shortening, but it’ll play HD movies for hours. It does get hung up on a couple of badly designed web pages that cause it to run out of memory. It doesn’t like to play videos in full screen mode from within Facebook. And you can’t play Minecraft on it or run windows programs. But you can do everything else.  I think the only thing I’ve wanted to do that I can’t do are Minecraft and video editing. Otherwise, everyone should have one.

Merell Shiver Moc Waterproof slip on shoes

When I first came back to Ireland, one of the things I hated most was rain in my face and on my glasses. Second to that was having cold wet feet.

My first solution was a pair or Clarkes waterproof slip on shoes. But man, they were ugly. They also weren’t very stable on your foot. But they lasted several years. When they finally died I found that no-one in Europe sells waterproof slip on shoes, which seems odd. But they’re a big category in the US so I bought the Merells from Oh man!  Solid build. Good support. Comfortable. Warm. WATERPROOF. Almost acceptable looking in polite company.

Just great shoes for the crap Irish climate.

Craft Thermal Underwear

Thermal underwear isn’t the sexiest topic in the world. Far from it.

However, there are several reasons I have learned to appreciate good underwear. I lived in Scotland once. I sail in the winter in Ireland.  And I live in a house that’s as airtight as a colander.

I keep coming back to one particular set of thermals I bought MANY years ago. They’re from CRAFT.  The type I have is their basic “Zero” line. Exactly the same thing I bought 10 years ago.

Let’s see. They’re warm. And soft. And comfy. And stretchy. And they wash and dry really quickly. And if they get stinky you can boil wash them.  And they seem to last for ever.  And they’re warmer and more breathable than you can imagine. And they resist Irish damp fabulously well. And you can sit with warm knees in  cold drafty rooms.

Others I’ve tried? Variously not stretchy enough or not warm enough or hard to wash or hard to dry or itchy or with a tendency to pong. Naaah.  The Craft ones are the best.

Kenwood Chef

A couple of years ago my wife and I were visiting some friends in Dublin. They had one of those fancy Kitchen Aid things. We were imagining all the nice things we could make if we had one. Being a geek I looked into it and we got a Kenwood Chef.

Damn but that’s one good machine.

Way more powerful than anything else I’ve seen. It produces pizza dough (home made Pizzas are the BEST), cakes, crepes, bread, etc., etc., etc., with no fuss, not too much noise and the stuff is all built like the proverbial brick outhouse.  Instead of being stuck in a press and never used (like we feared) the thing is getting used several times a week. Every week.

Nintendo Wii

The kids love it. They can play the games. It’s easy to use. It supports Netflix. It’s quiet. It’s small and sits unobtrusively beside our soon to be disabled TV.  It has the news and the weather forecast. After several years of use the kids STILL like to play with it, even with the original games.

It’s been 100% reliable.

OK, it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have HD output. And…Ehm….it doesn’t have HD output. Oh yeah, the browser stinks. Who wants to browse on their TV anyway?


I’m old enough to remember when Bass, a beer, was one of the most recognized brands in Ireland and the slogan “Aaah! That’s Bass!” was commonplace. It’s not any more.

However, Bass is still for sale.

In cans it’s slightly more expensive than Dutch Gold, which is hardly a prestige end of the market.  Yet it’s a perfectly straightforward ale. Better than most. Not as subtle or complex as some, but then it costs a third as much as those ones.

Insurance companies!

(well, Allianz and Zurich at least)

We have the usual stuff to insure. And a few small dinghies. Allianz and Zurich have been a doddle to deal with. We do some of the insurance through a broker in Cavan, FWE Crowe. They’re a doddle to deal with too.

Who would have thought? Dealing with the insurance company is easy. Almost a pleasure.

No claims yet so the moment when push-comes-to-shove hasn’t been tested yet but I actually have high hopes.

Merino underwear

It may not be a surprise to people to realise that Ireland is not a tropical paradise. We’ve had several good summers recently (writing in Oct 2014) but the winters are cool and wet. And despite the fact that no-one else in the country seems to want to be warm, I decided I wanted to be….so I wear thermal underwear in the winter. (no, not sexy to say it, but warm).

I’d bought some Craft gear years ago, and it is very good (see above). Last year I bought some Lidl stuff and it was OK and some Aldi stuff and it wasn’t. And last year I bought some very lightweight Uniqlo stuff on a trip to London which is fine too. But the artificial stuff shared a problem with the entirely unwarming cotton shirts that they went with. You can only wear them for a day without starting to get stinky. Cotton is a disastrous material for Ireland’s climate. If you sweat it’ll start to smell after hours. And it’s a bear to wash and to dry. And if it rains or is cold you get wet and cold and you stay wet and cold. And while the synthetic thermals dry quickly you still end up washing them all the time too, because of the tendency to stink.

So, time for an experiment with merino undershirts.  Not quite as warm as the Craft gear and not as soft on the skin but after several days of wear they do not smell bad. At all. Like at all. Really. Even up close. I’m not kidding. Apart from the fact that I’m nice and warm and that the merino stuff looks more civilized than the synthetic stuff, I actually feel fresh and clean at the end of a day…whereas a cotton shirt and synthetic undershirt often has me feeling, well, smelly at the end of a day (with the partial exception of that Craft gear, again).

But the wool gear is a revelation. These aren’t your grandfather’s wool underwear either. Not scratchy at all. And I can tumble dry it all too (or almost all) but it’s amazingly dry after a quick spin so often it gets hung out briefly then brought in. Try that with cotton! So far it’s all Norwegian gear (Devold, Janus and Helly Hansen) and it’s all good. Apart from Helly Hansen these aren’t well known brands. But they make good stuff.

Oh, and I can sit in my badly build drafty Irish house in comfort even with the thermostat turned down. Hows that for environmentally friendly?


Ok, they’re not generally pretty. But being married to a Dutch person I have an increasing understanding and appreciation for practical shoes. And Crocs are practical.

There are many fake crocs around and some of those aren’t bad, but let’s talk about the real thing for a minute. Light. Comfy to walk around in. Easy to clean. Usable indoors and out. Dry 30 seconds after you stop getting them wet. And they’re ugly because there’s lots of room for your toes.

In an Irish context they’re great slippers. Warm around the house but wearable outside. Or pool shoes. In warmer climates they’re great beach and casual street shoes. And there are versions that don’t look too bad.



Bose QuietComfort 35


Ok, they won’t pair with my Chromebook, but that’s apparently the chromebook’s fault.


Toyota Corolla Verso (2004-2009) 1.8 MMT

We looked around for a car for quite a while – looking to replace our beloved SAAB 9000. Saloons like Volvo S80s and Merc S class saloons. Full-size MPVs like the Renault Espace and the Fiat something-or-other. All sorts of things.

Finally, in a moment of good sense we bought the Toyota. Gotta be seven years ago now, more or less. It’s flown through every NCT. It’s never died or given trouble. It’s put up with kids and bumps and sand and salt and beach gear. It’s easy to park. It’s great in town. It’s more than fine on the highway. The handling on country roads is actually excellent. You can put seats up or down to your hearts content and carry either vast amounts of gear or 7 people. While the final two seats are small, I’m 1.86m and can get in and out and survive a cross-town trip with east.

It doesn’t have too many fancy features but we really don’t want them. We’ll drive it into the ground and – hopefully – replace it with a Toyota flying car.

Its limitations? Well, it’s not the kind of car  you have strong emotions for. And you can’t carry lots of gear AND lots of people. And while we love the MMT gearbox now, it does take a while to get used to and you can’t really drive enthusiastically with it. And it’s not autonomous or battery powered. That’s about it.

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