Chocolate Express (Jersey) Review – Not Express at All!

This is a review of my recent experience of:

Central Market Confectionary (sic – the fact they can’t spell confectionery should have been a clue!) Ltd, trading as Chocolate Express, 75-77 Central Market
Halkett Place, St. Helier, Jersey, JE2 4WL
Telephone: 01534 873834
Registered Co Number: 69169

Thinking of ordering from Chocolate Express? Don’t bother.

I ordered a box of chocolate cherries as a Christmas present for my Mum on 7th December on the basis that the site promised next day 1st Class shipping. The ‘Delivery’ tab on te product page gives you every indication you will hav ethe product in 3-5 days. See the screen grab below. Chocolate Express Delivery

Despite there not being any indication that the product may be out of stock did not receive a shipping notification until 14th Dec. However I have my doubts that it was shipped at all as I still haven’t received the product on 24th December (Happy Christmas Mum!!!), certainly not 1st Class if it has shipped! In my experience it’s normal practice to let people know if you are likely to be outside delivery times indicated on your site, or am I being too demanding Chocolate Express?

Over the last 2 weeks I have emailed 3-4 times, tweeted, phoned numerous times (always get the answerphone), none of which have been replied to until an email I sent yesterday, 23rd Dec, to which I received a reply today saying “We are now closed”. This was sent by a human despite an attempt to disguise it as an autoresponse as it didn’t arrive until today (autoresponders are always instant – I sent another just to test, no response, they think I’m stupid), so they could have addressed my concerns. So someone is there, they have just chosen not to reply to any of my attempts to contact them.

This company doesn’t make the products so they are entirely about customer service and added value. They knew this was a present and they didn’t have the decency to let me know I wasn’t going to get it in time, just awful and damn rude! I order stuff every week online and have done for many years. Quite often stuff is late, sometimes not in stock despite the site indicating otherwise, arrives damaged etc etc. Things go wrong from time to time, nobody’s perfect but always, always I have either been informed of what is going on without prompting or I have received a timely reply to an email or call addressing my concerns. Not with Chocolate Express. Quite clearly someone at Chocolate Express has seen my emails, chosen to ignore them and even written a pretend autoresponse rather than take my concerns head on. Woeful customer service, just terrible as well as downright deceitful. Don’t even think about buying from Chocolate Express, there are plenty of other places to buy chocolates. Even the name is a joke – Chocolate EXPRESS indeed!!

Killing Chinese Comment Spam

Is any body else suffering from considerable amounts of comment spam from China? Is Chinese comment spam managing to bypass your Captcha plugin? I seem to be getting an awful lot, most of it from Putian in China. I have 3 WordPress sites yet only one of them is really badly affected – this one! It’s as if it has managed to get itself on a list somewhere and just gets bombarded by up to several hundred spam comments per week.

Now, I have Akismet installed and believe me, if you don’t have it you must get it, it is just fantastic. All the spam goes straight to your spam folder and it misses very little. Plus it learns all the time from other WordPress users what is and isn’t spam. I have also been using SI Captcha Anti Spam which appears to have done nothing to reduce the amount of Chinese spam. Although Akismet firmly places it all in the spam folder, it is still a pain as it can quickly mount up to several hundred spam comments making it a bit of task to skim through to double check no ham has slipped into the spam folder.

I can only assume either the Chinese spam bots have a clever way round SI Captcha or there are people happy to get paid not very much for sitting there and manually commenting on blog posts.

chinese spamEither way, I think that I have found a way round most of it that suits me. If you rely on traffic from China, this method will not be so great. I installed Wordfence which is also a fantastic plugin for protecting your site. I won’t go into full details here as I am just focusing on spam but have a look, it has many great features and is a real doddle to set up.

Wordfence has a feature that enables you identify and ban individual IPs and even whole networks. Now a bit of patience and persistence is required initially but over just a day or two you can pull the IP addresses from your spam comments and either block individually or block the network.

To get you started, here is a list of Chinese networks that have been spamming me:

IP Range: Block visitors with IP addresses in the range: 27.159.0.0 – 27.159.255.255
Browser Pattern: Allow all browsers
Reason: Spamming

31 blocked hits
Last blocked: 5 hours 45 mins ago

IP Range: Block visitors with IP addresses in the range: 27.153.128.0 – 27.153.255.255
Browser Pattern: Allow all browsers
Reason: Spamming

12 blocked hits
Last blocked: 3 hours 43 mins ago

IP Range: Block visitors with IP addresses in the range: 27.148.0.0 – 27.151.255.255
Browser Pattern: Allow all browsers
Reason: Spamming

6 blocked hits
Last blocked: 12 mins ago

IP Range: Block visitors with IP addresses in the range: 222.77.0.0 – 222.77.255.255
Browser Pattern: Allow all browsers
Reason: Spamming

73 blocked hits
Last blocked: 26 secs ago

IP Range: Block visitors with IP addresses in the range: 59.56.0.0 – 59.61.255.255
Browser Pattern: Allow all browsers
Reason: Spamming

156 blocked hits
Last blocked: 25 mins ago

IP Range: Block visitors with IP addresses in the range: 220.160.0.0 – 220.162.255.255
Browser Pattern: Allow all browsers
Reason: Spamming

28 blocked hits
Last blocked: 2 hours 44 mins ago

IP Range: Block visitors with IP addresses in the range: 117.24.0.0 – 117.31.255.255
Browser Pattern: Allow all browsers
Reason: Spamming

58 blocked hits
Last blocked: 36 mins ago

All these hits were in the last couple of days. You could make things a lot easier by just paying for the premium version of Wordfence and getting the additional Country level blocking feature.

Anyway, I hope this helps and just to make absolutely clear, I have no connection with Wordfence and as far as I am aware, they don’t pay for referrals, I’m certainly not getting anything from them, I just like the plugin and don’t like people spamming my blog.

Good luck!


Epson Printer Service Reset

Apart from one Canon Printer I have always used Epson Printers. No specific reason but at the time of buying, reviews, prices, and my own increasing bias due to no previous problems led me to buy Epson. At the moment I have two; an Epson Stylus Photo PX700W and the more recent Epson Stylus Photo PX730WD. I think they’re called Artisan rather than Stylus in the USA but they are essentially the same. I use the PX700W for everyday printing and the PX730WD reserved for photo printing.

I don’t really do a lot of printing on either so I was a bit disappointed when I got an error message on the PX700W “ink pads are nearing the end of their service life” and indicating that the only person who could sort this out was an Epson Service Engineer. Do Epson really think that anyone is likely to call a service engineer for a several year old printer that cost £150! My guess is replacing the pads professionally would cost fairly close to the price of a new printer.

What are the ink pads? They basically sit under the print head and soak up any excess ink. More expensive printers will actually have a tank.

Anyway, before committing the printer to the recycling plant I did a bit of research on the error. The message is indicating that the pads that soak up waste ink are getting full. Only it doesn’t actually indicate that at all, the message is set to appear after a set number of prints. After a further pre-determined number of prints, bang, printer shuts down, no more prints… even the scanner stops working. This is in spite of the fact it is actually still a fully functioning printer and scanner.

Stylus Photo PX730WD
Stylus Photo PX730WD

Now I find this a bit annoying, especially when I’m paying in the region of £1,500 PER LITRE for ink! That’s right, work it out, what do they make that stuff with? The irony is that if the printer had just conked out, I’d have been perfectly satisfied that I’d had a relatively cheap item last as long as it did but having it shut down because it’s programmed to really sticks in your throat.

Anyway, a bit more routing about on the internet I found a piece of software designed to reset the counter in Epson printers. In fact it will do a full service check and make adjustments of just about every parameter of your printer. I know for sure it does 700 series because it reset my PX700W in 20 seconds and the printer is now running fine again. It may do 800 series and possibly a lot more.

So, here’s the software exactly as I downloaded it. Before you do download it, be aware that it is NOT Epson software, I have no idea of its origins and it is entirely your responsibility to make sure it is virus free. I’ve obviously checked it and it has caused me no problems whatsoever but just making it clear that whatever you do with it is your responsibility. If your printer is still within warranty, get it fixed by Epson. Any damage caused by this software is down to you.

Click here to download Epson Reset Program

Once extracted, double click the .exe file, select your printer (it needs to be switched on), select ‘Particular Adjustment Mode’ then ‘Consumables Maintenance Counter’ from the list under ‘Maintenance’. You can then load up the current counter values and then reset them with the ‘Initialization’ button, done!

The pads obviously do actually get full eventually causing ink to saturate the paper on both sides. However, Epson err on the side of caution and commerce and mostly you can reset the counter and carry on printing no problem at all. I’ve hard of people re-setting 3 or 4 times without problems. Theoretically it is possible to wash the pads but it’s not something I’d want to try after going to work for a week with a black thumb just replacing a black ink cartridge, I can only imagine the mess!

Remember, all at your own risk!


Blue Tit Nest Box Camera 2014

The blue tit nest box has been cleaned out for 2014, put into place and the camera feed tested. Last year nesting didn’t start until the first week of May, very late and probably due to the cold winter. This year has been relatively mild up to now so we can probably expect nesting to start earlier. In 2012 it was the first week of April but it’s not unusual for the birds to show interest from early March.

The bird box camera feed will be online as much as possible. Go to the Nest Box Camera Live menu link.

Blue Tit Nest Update

080613The chicks started to hatch on the 2nd June. They were very tiny so it was hard to see how many hatched but they were reaching for food straight away when the parents returned.

Both parents are bringing food and if you look on the nestbox camera you can tell them apart from the male’s tatty hairdo. He’s top left in this picture.

Several days after hatching it’s still not easy to see exactly how many chicks there are. It looked like there was at least one egg unhatched a couple of days after the others and up to 7 beaks have been seen so far. Looking quite healthy and growing quickly, the parents are very active and appear to be finding plenty of food. We have heard of a lot of pairs nesting earlier than these two where the nests have failed. Hopefully with these two being late they have avoided the shortage of food due to the late start to spring.

Mark

Looks Like 9

We have seen 9 eggs this morning, on per day since the first egg was spotted on 13th May. This morning the female has been spending most of the time sitting on the eggs so it looks like she has started incubating them, which also means that 9 eggs is probably it.

Incubation will take around 2 weeks, between 12-16 days and fledging a further 15-23 days. Last year was just about 3 weeks but a lot will depend on the food supply, which could have been affected by the cold winter.9eggs210513

Blue Tit
Breeding Starts: Mid April
Number of clutches: 1-2 (2 is rare)
Number of eggs: 5-16
Incubation: 12-16 days
Fledge: 15-23 days

Mark

Blue Tit Nest Box Camera 2013

After just about giving up for this year, we noticed that a pair of blue tits were nest building in our camera nest box over the weekend of 11th & 12th May. Last year building started around 5th April, so a good bit later than last no doubt due to the persistant cold weather throughout April.

Early on Monday 13th May we noticed that we had one egg.7eggs190513 Since then another egg has been laid early in the morning each day up to todays count of 7 eggs. There can be anything up to 16 eggs, however blue tits nesting in gardens as opposed to woodland tend to lay less, usually around 10.

She comes back to the nest box occasionally during the day and then returns for the night sometime after 7pm, well before dark. She will only start incubating them full time once all eggs have been laid. This ensures that all the eggs hatch around the same time.

We do have a live stream from the nest box, just follow the link abve. The nest box camera is not always active as it requires our main PC to on, which it is not all the time. However, once things become a bit more interesting we shall try and keep the live feed up as much as possible.

Just leave a comment below if you have any questions.

Mark

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013

Enter the competition

Enter Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 and take part in one of the world’s most prestigious photography events.

The competition opens to professional photographers, amateurs, young and old, worldwide from 7 January 2013 until 25 February 2013.

Adults may enter up to 20 images for £20.00.

Entrants aged 17 and under may enter up to 10 images FREE.

Please make sure you read the 2013 adult rules and category definitions or young rules and category definitions and the image editing guidelines in advance.
Reasons to enter.

    1. Compete for one of 2 coveted grand winner titles, plus a share of the £30,000 prize fund.
    2. Win a trip to London to attend the exclusive awards night at the Natural History Museum.
    3. Be showcased in the world-renowned exhibition and delight millions in venues across 6 continents.
    4. Revel in the critical acclaim of the global media spotlight.
    5. Be published in a limited-edition hardcover portfolio book.

Full details on the Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition and the 2012 results can be found on the Natural History Museum website.

Dell UltraSharp U2410 24” IPS Monitor Review

Dell UltraSharp U2410 Overview

First of all, I probably need to make it clear what this review is not. It is not an in-depth technical review of this monitor’s theoretical capabilities, it’s also not a complete explanation of colour management or colour managed workflows, if you desire that level of geekiness, I’ll point you in the right direction shortly. What this review is about is an overview of my first few months using a Dell UltraSharp U2410 24” IPS Monitor for photography, gaming and general use and show you why I think it is perfectly reasonable and practical to use a wide gamut monitor for everyday use other than just photography.

Dell UltraSharp U2410 IPS Monitor
Before purchasing this monitor I had a cheap but perfectly functional 21 inch Samsung Monitor. It did the job but colour accuracy wasn’t great, it was a bit on the small side and viewing angles were extremely limited before you got colour distortion. I needed a bigger monitor for photography and I wanted 16:10 aspect ratio so that I had the extra vertical space. I never have understood the rationale for 16:9 screens for a PC that’s used for all sorts of stuff as you can still watch 16:9 movies on a 16:10 screen. The greater depth is better for just about anything else you do on a PC apart from watch 16:9 movies but for some reason it is the most popular format and 16:10 screens are getting harder to find. I ideally wanted an IPS (In Plane Switching) panel for it’s wider viewing angles and better colour over the traditional TN (Twisted Nematic) panels and I wanted to be able to use it for games too. I also was hooked on the idea of wide gamut; although most people will tell you that even serious photographers don’t really need wide gamut monitors (your average printer can’t reproduce all the colours anyway) I still wanted to know what I was seeing on the screen was as near as possible to what Lightroom’s native colour space of ProPhotoRGB was trying to show me. Nevertheless, remember that the only people who actually need real colour accuracy are those who need to match real life to screen to print accurately such as catalogues/brochures for clothing, fabrics, colour swatches, paint etc. Most regular photography is an interpretation anyway!

Whilst hunting down everything I could read on the Dell UltraSharp U2410 24” IPS Monitor, the same complaints kept cropping up on various forums; the screen is grainy, it has a colour cast, hard to calibrate, gaming mode has odd colours, wide gamut makes non colour managed programmes look over saturated.

Well, from my experience I can tell you that this is a fantastic monitor and I will answer and dispel all the above concerns over the nest few paragraphs.

Out of the Box

Unpacking the Dell UltraSharp U2410 24” IPS Monitor it is immediately obvious that it is a high quality piece of kit. Build quality is very high, certainly compared to budget monitors that I have had in the past. It comes complete with all the leads you are likely to need including several PC/monitor connection options; VGA, DVI-D & DP (Display Port). There is also a USB cable to connect the monitors 2 USB slots and SD Card Reader to your computer – very handy indeed, especially for images.

The stand is rock solid, easy to fit and adjustable for tilt & swivel, vertical and it rotates so you can view the screen in portrait mode. Not sure how much I will actually use this aspect as the screen is generally big enough vertically in the regular postion but I’m sure pro users will find it very useful – perfect!

Dell U2410 Portrait

Controls

I won’t go into the Dell U2410’s controls in much detail, there isn’t much point as if you plan to get this monitor it’s so easy to understand how they work it’s quicker for you to just learn as you go than remembering anything I put on here. Suffice to say, it’s very straightforward, with a touch sensitive panel at the lower right that lights up blue as your finger approaches – spooky!. It’s very simple to quickly change between preset modes, which is what you’ll be doing most of if you plan on playing games.

Preset Modes

As mentioned above, switching between modes is just a few simple clicks through the menu. I use this monitor for general viewing, photography and games. The modes available are: Standard, Multimedia, Game, Warm, Cool, Adobe RGB, sRGB, Custom Color. Now for general viewing it’s all about personal preference. Personally, I have Standard Mode colour calibrated using a Color Munki Display. I use this mode for general viewing and for photography. Some people claim calibrating the adobe RGB preset is better but I get on OK with Standard. Custom Color preset would indicate that this is the one to use but I couldn’t get on with it and apparently there are numerous technical reasons why it’s not ideal. I’ll include a link later that will take you to a full technical review if you want all the details.

I use the Game preset for games as this mode bypasses certain internal circuitry to reduce input lag to speed up keyboard/mouse to screen response times.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Myths about the Dell UltraSharp U2410

Presets

OK, number one, “A wide gamut monitor makes all your colours off and over saturated for general viewing” Well, actually, no it doesn’t. In some instances it will but not all, it depends on the application. If the application is not colour managed what happens is, for example, you will see the relatively limited range of sRGB colours stretched into the wider spectrum of your wide gamut monitor, making some colours, especially the brighter ones like reds etc, over saturated. A better explanation than I could ever give can be found here.

Firstly, use a colour managed browser such as Firefox. Firefox can read the profile of an image and display it properly, taking into account your monitor profile, rather than assuming the image is sRGB and letting the monitor profile stretch those limited sRGB colours into your monitors wider colour space. The preview pane in Windows Explorer is not colour managed and you will notice that your images are over saturated here on a wide gamut monitor. However, double click the image file and it will open in Windows image viewer, which is colour managed. I don’t see that as a problem, after the preview pane is just that and only meant to show you which file you’ve selected. All that’s left is your Windows Wallpaper and programme icons which will be over saturated. This seems to bother some people, I don’t know about you but I don’t spend much time staring at these so it doesn’t bother me.

Image handling applications like Photoshop and Lightroom are, of course, colour managed so you will see everything as it should be seen it all its glory so long as your monitor is correctly set up and profiled. This means that I just have to flick between my calibrated Standard preset and Game preset. If it bothers you that some parts of Windows are not colour managed, you’ll have to use the sRGB preset for general viewing but you need to remember that ALL presets use the same calibration profile. If you want to calibrate the sRGB preset separately you will have to switch profiles when you switch presets, otherwise you’ll just have to accept how sRGB looks once you’ve profiled your preferred image editing preset.

Dell UltraSharp U2410 IPS Monitor
Number two, game mode has odd colours. Well, it depends on the game. It can make some colours, yellows especially, over saturated. I play Call of Duty mainly and the colours are fairly muted anyway so I don’t find it a problem. If you do, there is a work round to avoid the over saturated colours but remain in Game mode. Switch to the Game preset and click OK (tick) and you will see the screen go off briefly as it clicks into Game mode. Then select your preferred colour preset but DON’T click OK (tick). The screen changes colour but the monitor doesn’t actually switch out of game mode.

The Screen is Grainy

If you are used to the high gloss screens of certain fruit based personal computers and tablets the screen will definitely look matte but it’s not grainy. One of the main advantages of this screen is it’s lack of reflections and wide viewing angles, perfect for photography – a high gloss screen isn’t.

It has a Colour Cast & is Hard to Calibrate

Some of the earlier models apparently did. Make sure you buy the latest revision, mine is A10 and is absolutely fine. I had no problems at all calibrating using the Color Munki Display. The screen is naturally very, very bright so you’ll will find you have to turn the brightness down much more than standard monitors. My Brightness is set to 5 and Contrast at 50. Just remember to return both to 50 before calibrating/re-calibrating.

Overall

I love the Dell UltraSharp U2410 24” IPS Monitor and am extremely happy with it, having initially hesitated due to indecision around some peoples experiences with wide gamut. If you really don’t think you need wide gamut (most people don’t, even serious photographers) or if you don’t do much photo editing (then you definitely don’t) why not take a look at the Dell Ultrasharp U2412M 24 inch IPS Widescreen LED Monitor or maybe even the Asus PB238Q 23 inch Widescreen IPS Multimedia Monitor. Both have an IPS panel and cost a fair bit less than the Dell UltraSharp U2410 24” IPS Monitor but be aware that the Asus has a 16:9 aspect ratio, so you are losing a bit of height.

Also, if you really want to look into the tech specs try TFT Central for a full technical review and all the facts and figures you could hope for including a in depth look at preset modes and why ‘Standard’ is probably your best bet for calibrating and colour sensitive work.

Mark