Sunday, 14 April 2019

Not another bloody thinkpad ...

I've recently blogged about how I finally got around to getting myself a new larger screen laptop to replace my old Dell Inspiron, and of course I bought myself an old Thinkpad around about a year ago, which did a stellar job of replacing my official HP Probook when I dropped coffee on it.

Well I've been so impressed by both of my Lenovo machines I've gone and bought myself a Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 11E, one of the old touch screen models you can use as a bulky tablet.

Windows 10, 128GB SSD and 4GB RAM, and a reasonably specified processor - all for around $200. I even get 3 months warranty from the refurbisher.

So a bargain, and quite a rational purchase.

I'll explain why:

To get the most out of my old Thinkpad I really should upgrade it to Windows 10, and guess what, the upgrade cost is near enough what I just paid for the Yoga. Now if that was the only consideration I'd probably just have bought the upgrade, but I've two other pressure points:


  • My Chromebook has gone end of life - no more updates, and gradually things will cease to work. At what point it becomes unusable is unknown but what's clear is that the replacement cost will be around $400. One of my major uses of my Chromebook is reading my email and rss feeds in bed - the Yoga with it's touch screen etc is a more than decent replacement
  • My MacBook Air (a 2012 machine) is probably going to drop off the OS X supported device  list sometime soon. On top of that it could probably do with a new battery - it used to manage a couple of hours between charges, it's now managing barely an hour. A new third party battery replacement kit is around $150 if you fit it yourself, or a bit over $200 if you have a repair shop do it for you. The Yoga is heavier than the air and little bit bulkier, but could feasibly make a decent travel computer, and being roughly the same form factor as the Air will fit in both the travel backpacks I own.
So, at the moment, I seem to own a stupid number of computers. However, the old 2008 vintage iMac I use when working with old documents is showing its age, it's already unsupported as regards MacOS and I expect that Google will soon stop supporting Chrome for that version of the operating system, and it will eventually fade away. 

The Air will obviously last a little longer, but one can see the writing on the wall, as one can with the Chromebook. I expect to keep on using my old unupgraded Thinkpad X230 for another couple of years at least.

The Yoga, being ruggedised for educational use, should last as long, and survive trains planes and car trips reasonably well. It also has a decent thinkpad style keyboard to type on (as good as the X230's) which adds to its attractiveness, so I reckon at $200 it's a bargain, and while $200 is a reasonable amount of money, it's not much more than a night in a decent city centre hotel ...

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Coffee 0 HP Probook 1

As I'm sure you're all aware, about six weeks ago I was stupid enough to pour coffee over my work laptop.

Well, it went off to the repair shop, and obviously my prompt if panicked reaction saved the day.

It was stripped down, cleaned up in an isopropyl alcohol bath. The processor daughter card was damaged, but that was replaced with a refurbished spare - tracking one down was the reason it took six weeks to repair my laptop, and it's back, almost as good as new.

All the data has survived, not that it wasn't backed up. The only problems are that it seemed to have lost its network configuration data - hardly a problem really, and the SSID was tied to the processor, so naturally excel whinges that it hasn't been properly activated, again something that just requires the contacting corporate IT dance .

Resyncing the data back wasn't a problem either, all I needed to do was download the data from OneDrive to cover the missing days and open OneNote, and tell it to do a sync. Fifteen minutes work at most.

Obviously before I say it's really fixed I need to use it for a few days, rather than a quick click around but everything looks great.

Oh, and if you're worried that you might be at risk of spilling something on your laptop, check out this sensible advice from the NYT...

[The original title of this post was 'Coffee 0 HP Powerbook 1' - complete brain snap on my part, the laptop in question is a ProBook - a 6470b to be exact]

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Power outages and documentation

As a rider to my use of coffee to prove a documentation methodolgy, we had another proof of the scheme's robustness a couple of days ago.

Under the scheme, data is saved twice, once to the computer's local drive and secondly to a USB stick. The data on the computer's local drive is also backed up to OneDrive, and entrusted to Microsoft to look after.

The crucial point is that you don't need a functioning internet connection to carry out documentation - as long as you have access to one somewhere in the piece to back the data up everything is fine as you always have at least two copies of the data - very useful as I found in the coffee pouring incident as I was able to check and confirm that all the data had been backed up.

This time it was the power company. The power went off with an unscheduled outage, and more importantly stayed off. However as I had (conservatively) about three and a half hours of battery life left on my computer and the same on my phone - I use my phone to take pictures of the artefacts and transfer the data to my computer. Normally I recharge my phone as I go from my laptop, but obviously I didn't do that once the power went off - a severe case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

So, with three and a half hours worth of power I could stay working.

Which I did - the only limiting factor was that it began to cloud over in the early afternoon, and the light began to go, making it difficult to work.

Once home, I powered up my laptop, let it sync to OneDrive, and hey presto, we were done and backed up...

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Ok, finally got myself a new computer

Well,

about a month ago I finally got round to buying myself a new computer.

Lenovo had a special offer on their AMD Ryzen systems where you got a 512GB SSD for the cost of the standard 256GB unit, and the one thing I'm hungry for is storage.

So I went for it.

Of course as it was a special build to order configuration I had to be patient and wait for it but it eventually arrived yesterday.

Out of the box it just worked. I can't say I took to the slightly shouty voice enabled activation assistant, but, but it all just worked.

And once it was configured, all I needed to do was add the tools I use, much as I last year with my old thinkpad.

Speed to set up, download and configure were impressive, and while the keyboard wouldn't be my first choice (I prefer older clacky ones), it's pretty nice to type on.

The only annoyance was that to install Dropbox, I had to unlink some of my older machines, as Dropbox now limits free accounts to three clients, but then there's also sendtodropbox.com for use with older machines, and I guess I could start using Box more ...

[update 31/03/2019]

which indeed I've done. I've added the box client to my new computer and to my ipad (on which I'd never got round to installing dropbox) - and we'll see how this goes ...

The use case is of course slightly different - when dropbox, box, and the rest first came on the scene there was little in the way of cloud based storage, and sharing files between machines essentially meant copying them between machines.

Dropbox like services' unique proposition was that the files were always in sync providing you had a working connection.

Things of course are different these days. Be it OneDrive, Google drive or Amazon's services there are lots of way to both share files between machines and ensure that they stored securely. For exampl, if I'm working in a library somewhere with my ipad, I can easily save the notes I've written by sending them to OneDrive from pages, or indeed saving them to icloud.

What Dropbox (and the rest) now have as their unique proposition is  now 'save once, sync everywhere' without people having to go looking for the latest version.

Given the chaos I've seen with shared editing of funding proposals, that's a pretty powerful proposition for a group, but for an individual, especially as the first tier up costs the same as any other storage solution - say A$15 a month for a terabyte - perhaps less so.

As I said, we'll see how this goes ...

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Things I didn't know: part 183 - Alt F4 and shutdown

Once, a very long time ago, I used to be a power windows user.

Built and maintained windows based network installs, that sort of thing. Then I got to be a boss and had people to do things for me.

So while I learned and did new things I definitely lost my technical edge. In fact the last version of Windows I really knew anything about was XP, and even then I really just used my XP machine for remote console stuff and getting onto linux machines.

And when you work like that you really don't know a lot about the underlying OS, it's only a vehicle to get you there.

So much so that for the last 10 years or so before I retired I never really used Windows. Ok I did a bit of windows 7 at home, but 90% was mac or linux, and as I say it could have been BeOS as long as it ran a standard, and recent, web browser and you could run an ssh tool without having to put a snail in your left ear and dance round a tree at midnight. Standardish applications were useful, but once LibreOffice cracked Microsoft Office file level compatibility it really didn't matter what you used (unless of course you had to deal with a funding proposal created with some really bizarre Word template),

But I did use windows 7 enough to know about automatic updates and windows' irritating habit of sitting there and fiddling about installing updates when all you wanted to do was shut down and go to the pub.

Of course what you do in a work situation, or at home, is mutter under your breath and leave it to it. That is providing you don't want to take your machine home with you.

I did use to idly wonder what you did if it wanted to fiddle with itself when you were in a situation where you simply had to do shutdown - such as in an airport and about to go through security.

I thought there must be a way of doing it, but never bothered to find out, after all I had a MacBook or Dell XPS with Ubuntu as my work laptop(s).

Well yesterday it happened to me. I've been using my Thinkpad for the documentation project ever since I accidentally dropped coffee on my office laptop. And when you are working in BYOD mode, of course you want to take your machine home with you (not to mention that our NBN FTTC link at home is a lot faster than the Trust's ADSL link, so it sometimes makes sense to finish off stuff at home).

Got the dread little orange shield and exclamation mark thing on shutdown on my Thinkpad. And it was a time when I had to shut it down properly.

So I googled, and discovered all about Alt F4 and accessing the full shutdown dialogue.

And it works. Like a dream.

And you can use the same trick on Windows 10, which is kind of useful to know as I've finally bought myself a new Windows 10 laptop ...

Thursday, 7 March 2019

DNA testing of old family documents

Over the holiday season I spent a bit of time messing about with family history research.

One of the things I found was that if your ancestors got up in the morning, went to work, didn't end up in court, or burn down public buildings, they don't leave much of a trace in public documentation sources like newspaper archives.

Just the same as they don't end up in military records, or indeed convict records. but if they come from a country with a functioning public records system, you can at least trace the shape of their lives back to the 1850's, and possibly earlier, that is providing no one burned down the records office or pulped the records as no longer required.

The other sort of thing one can have are collections of letters passed down. This is particularly so in countries built on the back of migrant communities such as Australia, where people's ancestors may have come from places without a public records system, or one where war, revolution, and ordinary disasters has introduced gaps into the system.

However, even though the records may have gone a lot of places had an excellent postal system, which means that if you have the shoebox of granny's letters when she was still a schoolgirl in the Ukraine, you can trace your missing ancestors - maybe.

Certainly you can trace the aunts an uncles from the contents and perhaps a little more from old love letters, but you still come up against the problem that paper burns.

But if you could trace the DNA, maybe you might get a match from the stamp, or the envelope - sealed with a loving kiss - which I guess might well be driving the move to offer DNA testing of old letters - and that might offer people closure of some sort, particularly if your family was torn apart by the chaos that engulfed places like the Ukraine in the early part of the twentieth century.

There are of course other scenarios, Indian sailors who jumped ship and went to work in a curry house is one that comes to mind, or indeed trace the movements of British soldiers around the empire, and indeed the wives and sweethearts (and perhaps children) they left behind ...

Saturday, 2 March 2019

My Chromebook's gone end of life

This morning (2nd March here in possum town, but still 1st of March in the US) I made myself a cup of tea, fed the cat, took Judi a cup of tea, and powered up my chromebook to read my email.

All what happens most mornings, except that this time a little window popped open to tell me my Chromebook was end  of life and no longer supported.

Well this seems a little ridiculous -  while it's almost exactly five years old, it still works well, does its job.

So my plan is this:


  • procrastinate until it becomes unusable
    • I only really care about email and a couple of web based services
Loading an alternative OS, such as gallium OS or neverware  isn't really an option as my Chromebook is one of the Samsung Eyxnos powered devices - an HP11-1101 in fact and the firmware (it is said) restricts matters as regards alternative OS's.

We'll see how this goes. I guess long term the answer is to buy one of these very cheap eMMC memory based windows laptops - after all all I need is Chrome, and perhaps Thunderbird ...

[update 03/03/2019]

And slightly bizarrely, this morning I got an operating system update, so I guess that in this case unsupported means no guarantees about updates continuing to work, rather than we don't want to talk to you any more ...