Thursday, 4 February 2016

(Not) my trip to the genius bar ...

I have a Mac Book air that I bought second hand from one of these people who sell ex lease machines. And I have to say, despite my protestations of the adequacy of my Xubuntu netbook for many tasks it's a really nice machine to take travelling, even if I still use my Chromebook for surfing and my old windows laptop as a desktop replacement when the Chromebook won't do and the Air needs charging, which it does with monotonous regularity.

And thereby hangs the tale. The charger, or more accurately the wall socket adapter for the charger was one affected by the recent recall. And being both responsible and someone who plugs their charger in at airports and the like I thought I'd better go and replace it.

On to Apple's website - it was the day of the recall announcement and they said I had to go visit the Genius Bar at the Apple Store. Personally I thought that was complete overkill but, hell, I've never been to the Genius Bar, so I thought, well let's go see what Apple's support was like.

So I duly made the appointment.

In the meantime the Apple dealer we used to use for work emailed me to say that if I had one of the bad adapters, just to drop by the store and they'd swap it for me. I was tempted to do this, even though my Air hadn't come from them as they'd never know and probably wouldn't care, but no, I thought I'd see what Apple could do.

In the end I never did get to the Genius Bar. Aussie pragmatism had clearly won out. When I went to the store the greetperson said 'Nah, you don't need an Genius appointment. I'll cancel this and Matt'll sort you out'.

Matt duly did, and even asked me if I needed an extra replacement for a colleague, which was thoughtful.

There's a lesson here. When J's HP laptop had a recall on power cables, we had to go and interact with a website that required us to find and type in several multi digit identifying codes to confirm it was affected. HP then mailed out a replacement cable, but the process was fairly clunky and I suspect that a lot of people found it all too much. Apple went for the simpler, human powered approach, which even with their faux pas over the genius bar appointment which reduced the barrier to getting the faulty thing replaced.

HP could claim that they don't have a retail presence like Apple, but Apple have also go their dealer network involved - HP could have done the same and had the same personal touch that Apple had ...

Monday, 11 January 2016

Returning to Windows

It's a strange thing.

A few weeks ago I sort of retired. At the time I fully intended to upgrade my old Dell Windows 7 laptop to Ubuntu.

But then life and practicality intervened - having a laser printer that didn't like linux, while needing a working, printing, machine (yes I could use my MacBook, and in fact did) caused a reassessment.

I thought I'd keep windows (for a bit). So I cleaned out some cloud management stuff I didn't need any more, installed thunderbird - I've gone full circle on mail clients, upgraded Libre Office, ran some mammoth file syncs against dropbox and google drive ( I hadn't synced or updated anything much since June, and hadn't even turned the machine on since October), and what do you know? the machine's just about usable, and reasonably fast with it.

And what's more it's quite nice to write on with something like a full size keyboard and a 15" screen.

So maybe I'll be keeping windows for a bit ...

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The joy of printers ...

My venerable Lexmark E120N needs a new drum kit - something between $70 and $80 bought online from the usual suspects.

It's also not wireless, which is not a great problem at the moment, our router still has ethernet ports, but we're in the throes of buying a new house, and that might mean the printer living somewhere other than next to the router.

What brought the whole problem to a head was we had to print out draft copies of the purchase contract, take one to the bank, two the lawyer and so on, and the photoconductor unit in the Lexmark had decided it was time to stop playing.

One of the big box stores had a pre Christmas special on FujiXerox Docuprint P115W's for less than a Lexmark drum kit, and I could get it there and then. So I did, and we printed nice clean copies and got papers filed the last day before the holidays.

Now for a cheapie I didn't expect much. I didn't expect inbuilt Google Print support, but given it plays nicely with our Macs I thought it might work with Linux as well, after all both use CUPS as print management solution.

Well, no.

FujiXerox don't distribute a ppd file - something that they must have to allow Mac support via CUPS. The obvious solution would be the  the generic PCL driver, which certainly submits the job, and that's about it. (PostScript's worse, it's a great way to push a lot of blank pages through the machine to test paper handling).

I'm guessing that there's something wierd in the job initialisation sequence that is missing from the generic driver output - a language select statement or something like that needs baking into the generic ppd, and certainly there's some hints of this in the printer configuration if you dig round the internal system settings.

The question is which will be easiest - hack the generic ppd or try and extract the vendor one from the Mac printer driver distribution?

Hacking the generic one means it could be released back into the wild, but life would be easier if FujiXerox just released the ppd as an unsupported driver ...

Friday, 11 December 2015

Dear Tim, Chromebooks are as much a real computer as an iPad ...

I'm a Mac user, a linux user and a Chromebook user.

Tim Cook, the boss of Apple, has been very disparaging of Chromebooks, describing them as 'test machines', as in machines for computer based testing rather than carrying out software tests.

Not true, you can do real work on a Chromebook like email, spreadsheets, documents, as well as surfing the web. Something I proved quite dramatically yesterday when our building was closed due to a rather dramatic water main leak.

When I turned up to work the building was already closed off and you guessed it, my work machines were the other side of the safety cordon. I started off with a keyboard equipped Android tablet sat on a picnic table under a tree while I emailed and called people, shifted meetings and so on.

But useful as the tablet was, it was showing some of its limitations. So I went home.

I started first off with my Chromebook. Again, email, calendaring and so on was all available, because they all have web based interfaces, and google Docs is pretty good at displaying word, odt and pdf files these days.

Even when we had a server failure and someone had to remote in, I could deal with the service desk incident purely because it's a web based service.

In fact the only reason I stopped using my Chromebook was that by about threethirty in the afternoon the battery was down to 8%.

So I swapped over to the old linux netbook I take travelling and finished my day.

So, why do I have a MacBook as well ?

Convenience.

The Chromebook needs a good internet connection. I've learned from experience that while it will work on a 4G connection or even a good 3G connection, if the internet's in the least bit crappy, you might as well go home.

And travelling's about slow, crappy, unreliable internet. It's why sometimes I take my own 3G network box with me as it's often cheaper (and more reliable) than using hotel wifi.

So, with my old linux netbook, I can work offline, and upload material and documents at the end of a session, especially at conferences, which nowadays seem to involve a lot of frenzied typing and overloaded wifi connections.

I could live in a totally linux based world except for the need to occasionally use some of the software the rest of the world uses, and for that reason I have a MacBook ...

Friday, 27 November 2015

Huayra 3.1

Since it's a bit more than eighteen months since I last downloaded and played with Huayra, I thought I'd have a go at building the latest version Huayra 3.1.


It's a 3.4GB download for the iso image. Building it on virtualbox was reasonably simple - it's debian based, and while some knowledge of Spanish helps, if you've installed Debian based distros before it's really just a case of following the bouncing ball.

The only snafu is that you end up with a 9.5GB virtual box disk image - which is larger than the default virtual hard disk size of 8GB. The installation script does quite a bit of clean up towards the end of the installation so I'd be generous when creating the virtual hard disk - 20GB seems about right.

It's a fairly standard environment, and is obviously targeted towards education and programming with such nice extras as iPython and the Arduino development tools installed by default, but it has all the standard tools as well.

All in all faster and slicker than the old version, and interesting to take a gander at if you're interested in the use of linux in education ...

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Teaching Robotics

Yesterday, I tweeted a link to an Argentine initiative, part of the Huayra initiative, encouraging students to build a simple robot out of (mostly) recycled parts and an Arduino board.

On the same theme, few days previously I tweeted a link to a news story of how some Mexican high school students had won a robotics competition in Romania.

There's a story here. Recently the news has been full of stories about robots are going to take our jobs. Possibly true, possibly not. Past experience of the IT revolution suggests that the changes will be different to those predicted but equally disruptive.

But let's assume for a moment that robotic devices become a lot more common. That means that, initially at least, we'll need a lot more technicians to set them up and configure them, do a little bit of tweaking, carry out field upgrades and the like.

Not advanced cybernetics, but good solid run of the mill technician work. The robotics equivalent of the early 20th century workshop 'fitter'.

When I look at our education programs here in Australia, I don't see a whole lot of evidence that we're headed in the same direction - rather more we're still stuck on teaching kids to use Microsoft apps and webmail.

Useful, but not necessarily the best thing to equip them for the future.

Maybe I'd better start working on my Spanish ...

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Riding the wily werewolf

Having upgraded my Mac to El Capitan, a few days ago I upgraded my Linux laptop to Ubuntu 15.10, aka Wily Werwolf.

I'd been running the 14.04 LTS (long term support) version very successfully - it was stable, booted considerably faster than my Mac, and apart from very occasionally getting in a stupid state where it didn't come out of hibernation properly, problem free.

But, some of the applications packaged with it were beginning to be out of step with some of the newer versions available on some of my other machines running Debian and the like so I decided to upgrade.

Upgrading involved going via 15.04 - I actually thought about stopping at 15.04 and not upgrading to 15.10 as it was so new the paint wasn't fully dry, but 15.04 felt unstable on my laptop.

Nothing I could put my finger on, it just didn't feel as rock solid as 14.04.

Going from 15.04 to 15.10 gave me a few more patches, the new versions of the applications I wanted, and more, it felt more stable, and it's proved to be fairly solid in use.

The upgrade process was fairly mechanical, just a case of following the prompts, and while it wasn't quite as slick as a Mac or a Windows upgrade, it was all there and it all made sense - strangely this is the first Ubuntu upgrade I've done in a long time - mostly I just rebuild the machine from scratch - but this machine had a slew of files and extra applications that would be a pain to reinstall, so an upgrade it was. And everything still worked afterwards.

What it showed is that Ubuntu is mainstream quality, does what you want, and works well. No complaints so far ...