Monday, 22 May 2017

Ah, windows updates and human factors

After the WannaCry debacle I thought I'd best check that J's old HP laptop that used to be used for work was fully patched.

It's been used infrequently over the last year or so, so I thought it might be missing some important updates.

I wasn't seriously worried about WannaCry as it had never run SMB services and was turned off during the rampage, but it's stupid not to patch machines after an incident like that.

Well when I checked it I discovered human factors had been at work here - it was set to check for updates at 0300, but J always left her laptop switched off overnight, so consequently it had never, ever checked for updates. Definitely an Edvard Munch moment!

On top of that windows update was knackered such that it just flailed and looped when I ran it manually.

Reading the KnowledgeBase articles it could either be that the update servers had moved, or that the download directory was corrupt. Either ways, running the trouble shooting tool and swearing under my breath seemed to fix that.

So, three quarters of a gigabyte later we're patched.

The only major irritant is that as windows update was knackered we've also missed out on the free upgrade to Windows 10 despite creating a reservation ...

Monday, 17 April 2017

Facebook ...

Facebook and I have never got on.

While I've had an account for years I've only really used it for authentication services. I've never seen the point of Facebook, preferring twitter, blogger and wordpress, plus reading my news via rss.

Since moving to the country that's been changing. Turns out a lot of cafes and small restaurants use Facebook to announce menus, and specials like a Friday night pizza and beer evening with a band, not to mention small specialist backyard operations like small scale plant nurseries, or the man who makes traditional ie strong farm and garden tools as a hobby and sells them on the side.

So, reluctantly, I'm less of a refusenik, but I still don't really see the point ...

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Faxes ...

For long after everyone else has stopped using faxes I've maintained an online fax account.

Not any more, it's gone. You would think it should have died years ago, but every time I've gone to delete it it's suddenly proved stupidly useful.

Builders use faxes to send orders and sketches, lawyers still use faxes due to their end to endness - ie you can get a receipt and a record it's been received at the other end (yes we know about read receipts and email but these are not universally implemented) and doctors offices still use them to send confidential documents for much the same reason.

And of course, if you need to test something, or indeed sign off on an order to a builder, or get a copy of your medical file from overseas, you need a fax machine, or in my case, something that emulates a fax machine. And suddenly it's clear why many multifunction printers still have fax options, and why office supplies superstores still carry fax machines -  they're still in use out there on the outernet ...

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Instant on

Following on from my last about the instant on of Chromebooks compared to almost anything else, I was playing with J's HP Beats Audio laptop (purchased late 2012 at the start of the Windows 8 debacle when it was the only Win7 device left in the store) trying to get an old Wacom tablet to work.

The laptop is still on Windows 7 so I thought we might be in with a chance - we weren't. But when I gave up and shut it down I noticed a second power on button next to the 'proper' power button.

So I pressed it.

And it booted up into a customised copy of firefox running in a little linux kiosk environment. I'm guessing there's some jiggery pokery on the circuit board that boots from the main disk if the big power button is pressed, or from linux, either from a separate partition or a little  bit of SD ram if the second button is pressed.

The nice thing about it is that it is instant on - not quite as fast as a Chromebook, but not far off it, and with a recent browser, good enough for gmail, outlook, evernote, zoho docs or almost anything else you can think of.

And it's instant off as well, making it idea for checking mail, writing a quick note or whatever.

Nice one HP !

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Chromebooks vs tablets

Despite the fact that I'm writing this using gedit on a Linux laptop, I'm increasingly finding that I'm using my chromebook in place of either of my two Android tablets.

Don't get me wrong, tablets are good lightweight devices, and when I'm away from home I find the small form factor of the 7" device, as well as good battery life makes it an invaluable companion device.

At home, however, I surf the web, interact with websites and write things and also edit spreadsheets. And it's a hell of a lot easier to work with spreadsheets and text on device with a keyboard.

It so happens that beacuse I use gmail to read mail, and inoreader to read my rss feeds I can use browser based applications as straight alternatives to locally downloaded apps, and with a reasonable network connection offloading a lot of the processing is feasible.

A chromebook isn't the only possibility. I could use my MacBook Air - the form factor's about the same and web based applications run just as well on it, and of course I could use something like TextWrangler or FocusWriter as a lightweight writing tool for offline work, and certainly the Air would be  (and is) the goto device for anytime I'm offline.

But compared to the Air, the Chromebook offers instant on and instant off - checking a link, or something on wikipedia means that you can work the way I work with a tablet when I'm reading or researching something, as an electronic scribblepad cum library search device, and instant on means I don't need to have it powered up, or indeed be constantly in search of a power socket. (Don't get me started about my windows laptop, despite the improvements with Windows 10, the boot process is elephantine to say the least).

And this means I can work from the sofa, the back deck, basically anywhere I can get a decent signal.

And using a linux laptop? Well sometimes one needs a general purpose computer with a little bit of grunt to run a bit of perl or python ...

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Auspost self service terminals - a cautionary tale of receipts

A couple of weeks ago I found myself back in Canberra for two or three days, and I had a parcel to post.

Yes, I could have posted it at home where you line up and they weigh your parcel, tell you how much it is, and give you your receipt, but I'd forgotten to go to the post office and it wouldn't wait till I got back.

So I went round to the Woden post shop in Canberra. Last time, about twelve months ago, it had been a fairly conventional Australia Post outlet where you could post parcels, buy stationery, printer ink and SIM cards. However, I found it had moved round the corner and was a larger outlet. What was still the same was the queue of people wanting to lodge parcels and collect registered mail.

And then I spied a self service terminal, the first I'd seen.

So I used it. It was fairly conventional, basically a cross between a supermarket self service checkout and a library self service machine. Basically you weigh your parcel, type in the postcode it's going to, it works out the cost, asks you if you want tracking, and you wave your credit card at it.

It also gives you the option of entering an email address to have a copy of the receipt mailed to you.

All pretty normal.

The receipt never turned up in my mailbox, but we had the paper slip from the machine, and even though we keep them religiously we've never had to use them as we've never have had a problem with parcels going astray.

Of course this time the parcel went astray (actually it hadn't, it had just take an an eccentric route through the Australia Post delivery network - Woden to Sydney via Hobart), and of course when we realised it might have gone AWOL we couldn't find the paper receipt - I suspect we'd accidentally thrown it in the bin along with some parking and restaurant receipts.

So I went looking for the electronic copy. It wasn't in spam, or junk, or even automatically deleted because Thunderbird has taken a dislike to it, and as I've two email addresses, one which is harvested into the other I checked both services via their web clients.

Definitely not there.

And because I buy a lot of books (and other stuff online) I checked my MyPost account in case it was there in my Australia Post Digital mailbox.

Definitely, definitely not there. J, by this time had called Australia Post's helpline, found someone helpful (!) who had traced the transaction from the terminal logs and confirmed that it had got where it was going this morning, albeit with a short sojourn on the Apple Isle.

Remember I said I had two email addresses (actually I've more, but that's another story)  I use.

In the midst of our panic I remembered that sometime ago when I was still working I'd used the other one to set up a second MyPost account  to keep work stuff separate and simplify claiming expenses.

So I logged into my other account for the first time in eighteen months, and yes there was the receipt, sitting in my digital mailbox.

I'm guessing that the self service terminals have a rule that if the email address is associated with a MyPost account they save the docket to the account's digital mailbox rather than emailing it to you.

I can't remember if it terminal asked me to scan my MyPost card or not - I didn't have it with me - before asking for an email address.

The obvious experiment would be to try sending something with a non-MyPost associated account, and see if it emailed you the receipt ...

Friday, 17 February 2017

Using an older Android phone

What I was looking for when I found my old Handspring Visor, was my old Samsung Galaxy Sii, which was my day to day phone until a couple of years ago when I upgraded to an S5.

The reason I went looking for my old Sii was quite complex. If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll recall that we bought a pay as you go SIM from Telstra, the dominant mobile phone provider in our area, to complement our contract based regular phones as Virgin doesn't play quite so well (or at all in our case) in rural Victoria.

Originally we had the Telstra SIM in an old Nokia phone because of the Nokia's superb battery life, but I switched it across to my old Samsung due to the spate of power outages we've been having recently - none very dramatic, an hour at most, but given the serious outages they've been having in South Australia, it's been a worry.

Now our local powerline operator is a company called AusNet and they have a really helpful outages page on which you can check the cause and the estimated time to fix, but for this you need an internet connected device.

Well, if our Virgin phones had been reliable we'd just have used them, or created an ad hoc temporary hotspot to get online, but as they're not reliable we needed to press my old Android phone into service, especially as Telstra have quite a fast bit of private network into the town.

So what's it like winding back a couple of generations?

Physically the main difference is the phone's smaller, with a smaller screen making onscreen typing more of the old fashioned hunt and peck (in fact remarkably like using my old Visor) than the smoother experience on a newer phone.

The camera is not as sharp - no  surprises there, but strangely, that's about it. Battery life's about the same, Applications, while they're older versions are more or less the same in use, and while one is Android 6.x and the other 4.x, there's very little difference in the user experience, suggesting we've more or less reached a plateau in UX as far as Android is concerned.

Basically, both make calls, connect to wifi and the internet, and both need a daily recharge - they are effectively indistinguishable in use ...