Monday, 27 July 2015

Big phones and smartwatches ...


I got myself a new phone this weekend to replace my 3 year old Galaxy S2 – an S5.

My old S2 was basically running out of puff – it would occasionally crash or flatten its battery and even with an extra SD card to boost the space for data and applications it was always a little tight for updates, making it time to upgrade, especially as my mobile provider had a special deal on the S5.

Obviously it had been a popular offer – for when my phone arrived, instead of being Virgin branded it was Optus branded with the Optus extras. Virgin resells Optus bandwidth in Australia, and I'm guessing that Virgin had run out and Optus still had stock, and someone failed to reflash my phone.

Anyway, I have a new phone. Battery life is definitely better but it's also inconveniently large – too big to fit in a jacket or jeans pocket, meaning it'll have to live in my bag with my notebook and other gubbins. For the first time in a long time I've ordered a case for a phone, living in a bag it has more chance of getting scratched and banged. If a tablet or laptop needs protection in that sort of environment I'm going to guess a phone does as well.

The other thing is the realisation that the bluetooth based smartwatch concept makes some kind of sense. If your phone is stored somewhere difficult to get to – like your work bag, being able to do the Dick Tracy thing and answer your phone from your wrist brings back the convenience of a mobile phone, rather than desperately hunting for it when it rings. The same goes for email and text alerts, and of course you may simply not hear it because it's buried among a pile of other stuff.

However I'm not yet convinced that's $200 worth of convenience ...

Friday, 24 July 2015

The paperless office ...


I grew up in a world of paper.

There were no word processors, only typewriters. Memos were written by hand. Mail meant writing a letter putting it in an envelope, sticking a stamp on it and dropping it in a mailbox. Social media meant talking about a newspaper report over a drink with friends.

Later on there were things like troff and eventually LaTeX, but there wasn't anything like a proper word processor until the advent of WordStar. (For my sins I actually used to teach WordStar and can still remember the macro commands).

Even though eventually we all got access to wordprocessors and email storage was expensive – always the luddite I always used to just bump up students' filestore if they asked – so stuff tended to be printed out and filed just as it would have been in the nineteenth century.

Same with meeting paperwork, expenditure reports, and all the gubbins of system management and solution delivery.

And because I'm a creature of habit I ended up with a 3 drawer filing cabinet in my office full of paper that no one ever looked at.

Well we're moving to a new open plan office next week. All the documents in that filing cabinet exist on my computer, on the various project sites and wikis, or archived using evernote or onenote.

So I took the three drawers of paper, dumped the non-confidential stuff in the paper recycling bin and shredded the rest.

I reckon I can find most things if required. Yes my online indexing might not be the most systematic, but it's no worse than searching through drawers full of stuff.

It's just possible I've finally achieved the paperless office ...

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Eduroam and public wi-fi networks ...


I've previously sung the praises of Eduroam, and it remains by default networking solution when visiting other institutions, but yesterday I had an experience which made me question whether Eduroam is the only solution.

I was at a meeting at the University of Canberra and I'd taken my Xubuntu netbook as a writing device. When I got there, I discovered that I'd forgotten to configure Eduroam on it. Major fail on my part.

So I pulled out my old 7 inch note taking tablet, only to discover that while it was fully charged and connected to eduroam, its certificate was out of date, meaning it wouldn't authenticate (it could of course just be that I'd stuffed up the eduroam configuration – but the middle of a conference on e-research is not the place for network debugging).

And this of course highlights one of the problems with eduroam – the configuration is tricky, and non standard – it's not like most public wifi systems where you get a private ip address, and then sign into the network, provide some identity data and tick the box agreeing to abide by the conditions of use and not do anything involving naughty Nora and her oscillating hamsters.

Setting up to use eduroam involves installing a certificate on your machine and configuring some settings. Not difficult, but fiddly and outside most non-geeks' experience.

The other problem with eduroam is that it assumes that you have a university internet account and can authenticate appropriately. Not all visitors to campus do, such as visitors from government research organisations, commercial bodies, and overseas academic institutions, particularly those in SE Asia.

Like all universities in Australia, UC have an eduroam service. But they also have a new experimental service called UC-visitor, where, you guessed it, you sign in just as you would to a public network in an airport, on a train, or in a shopping centre. I'm assuming that they do some rate limiting to prevent abuse and track usage to avoid people using it as a substitute for their 3G connections.

In use, the service was perfectly adequate for email, tweeting and syncing a file to dropbox, which basically is all you want to do, ie write stuff, show people stuff, tell people about stuff.

Eduroam is a service that has its roots in the days when internet access and particularly high speed internet access was expensive and therefore rationed. We're not living in that world any more.

In Croatia and Slovenia, even Sri Lanka, internet is everywhere – in Croatia,  coffee shops and petrol stations offer it for free, without any need for authentication, and even in one case, a small coastal town (Drvenik to be precise) provided free connectivity on its beach strip. Interestingly, the University of York has recently brought the York city public wi-fi network onto campus, while also extending eduroam coverage to the city network.

In a world where free public internet is increasingly becoming the norm, does Eduroam require a reboot?

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Cloudprint for linux ...


Last year, I upgraded my old EEEpc701SD to Crunchbang linux to make a distraction free writing machine – something that's worked out pretty well, especially since I started using Focuswriter as a basic writing application.

In the meantime my venerable HP PSC1200 inkjet upped and died – the scanner still works and it still sort of prints but quality is variable and sometimes print is intermittent – I suspect that the contacts between the cartridges and print mechanism are dirty or damaged. However, without going into the ins and outs our local big box office equipment supplier had an end of financial year special on Epson wifi workgroup inkjets so I bought one to replace the PSC1200.

Apart from being discounted, one of the inducements for going Epson was that it supported Google cloud print natively, allowing easy printing from Chromebooks and tablets, which is something that's becoming increasingly important to us.

At the same time as setting up cloudprint, I of course added the drivers to our windows machines as well as our increasingly venerable imac to allow them to print to it as if it were a normal local network printer.

 Adding the drivers to my Linux netbook to achieve to achieve the same turned out to be a bit more complex than I thought it would – Epson don't distribute a PPD file as such, you need to install their print management utility, something that meant spending some time with
dpkg -i and apt get -f install.

After that little detour, installing the Epson drivers on the Eee seemed to be asking a little to much against the minimalist spirit of what I was trying to achieve here.

So I went googling to see if anyone had written a linux Google Cloudprint client.

And they have

One of the advantages is that once installed,  all your Google Cloudprint printers, become available meaning that you can save stuff as a pdf to Google drive, which is quite neat as an alternative to emailing stuff to Dropbox which is what I've been doing up to now.

Installation onto Crunchbang wasn't quite as easy as it should be but the following script works (for me anyway, your mileage may vary):

wget https://niftyrepo.niftiestsoftware.com/cups-cloud-print/packages/cupscloudprint_20140814.2-1_all.deb
dpkg -i cupscloudprint_20140814.2-1_all.deb
apt-get -f install
/usr/share/cloudprint-cups/setupcloudprint.py

Obviously you need to run it with sudo rather than straight from the command line.

You also need to have a web browser installed on your machine. The install script will prompt you for the google account name you want to use and generate a magic url you need to paste into the browser url bar.

Google will prompt you to login and then generate a keycode you need then to copy and paste back into your terminal window to complete the authentication key.

And it works. For a writing machine it of course also means that you can work on something on the bus, and using the wifi, queue something for printing and proof reading at home ...

Friday, 10 July 2015

Not using a smartphone (sort of)


Sometime ago I wrote about not using a smartphone.

Well we took the Asha on our recent European trip, with a Go-Sim travel SIM to save us having to buy (and toss) multiple SIMS.

All in all it was a success. Great for making calls, great battery life. And when you're travelling, making calls is what you do – call taxis, call hotels and restaurants to say you're stuck in traffic, and the rest. And when it came to sending texts the Blackberry type keyboard was faster and more accurate than the usual glass smartphone keyboard.

And it did the job wonderfully.

The calls worked out pretty cheap as well – out of the $30 credit we started out with we came back with just under $20 credit.

There is of course a caveat – almost everywhere we went there was free zippy wi-fi, which meant I could use my tablet for google maps, we could look stuff up, check the weather, send tweets and emails. This of course meant carrying two devices, sometimes three, but given that we usually had a backpack for extra jumpers, rainjackets and so on this wasn't a big ask.

Now that of course is not quite the same as real life. But given that increasingly I take a tablet everywhere as a note taker one has to ask whether or not one needs a smartphone as well, and I have to say it's only the convenience factor.

If my current phone was to die, I could certainly live with the Asha while I sorted out a replacement, and to be honest, if your life revolved around phone calls and texts, I'd pick the Asha over a smart phone for one simple reason – battery life, three or four days without a recharge is pretty remarkable these days ...

Pinterest as a visual research diary ...


Recently, I've been spending some time with Pinterest.

For those of you who havn't played with it, Pinterest is a scrapbooking application that lets you save and organise images.

Now I have a deep interest in that nebulous period centred around the Russian revolution, which of course spills into the events related to the end of the AustroHungarian empire and the reshaping of the European map into something like the one we know today.

So, this is a period that interests me, and unlike my other great love, the world of late antiquity, one that had been documented by pictures. Often small scratchy pictures, taken on small simple Kodak cameras, but pictures nevertheless.

And over the last few years various digitisation initiatives to put World War 1 material online have had the indirect effect of putting a lot of photographic material relating to that period online.

And there's a lot. German soldiers who were amateur photographers were encouraged to take their cameras with them, something that was not the case with the British, the Romanovs were inveterate picture takers. There's also a vast wealth of material from the old Habsburg lands and more generally from the successor states to the Soviet Union.

So the first problem I faced was how to archive the material – you never know, one day I might turn it from a hobby to something more serious. My first thought was Evernote which I use to organise and store print material.

The only problem I found is that while text is searchable, unless you tag images correctly and consistently, finding images is a tedious process. You can't look at a pile of images on the screen in order to select the image you want.

I then thought about using Omeka. It's very powerful but it's more a tool to assemble information than one to capture content. It would definitely have a role in putting together and assembling material, but not to capture one.

And then I thought about J's visual diaries – which are basically books full of doodles, images and written notes and how she spends a lot of time with iPhoto organising material and indeed archiving scanned sketches and drawings to iPhoto.

So the answer seemed to be a web application that allowed you to easily capture visual content. And Pinterest seems to fit the bill as a first pass capture tool. It's not about telling a story, it's about assembling the material to tell a story.

Obviously, I both need to extract the images that I saved to Evernote and load them into Pinterest and find a way to get the material out of Pinterest – I can see myself building an Omeka exhibition eventually, but it seems to do the job with a minimum of fuss ...

Friday, 3 July 2015

Further thoughts on Lodlam 2015

The Lodlam 2015 event was pretty interesting, and I came away all enthusiastic about linked data and what you could do with it.

However my bag's research infrastructure provision not research itself. To be sure I have a couple of play projects to teach myself about stuff to better inform/help/advise clients but they are just that - play projects.

So how to raise the profile of linked data in a research enablement context?

After all we're not funded to do projects (not strictly true - we can be but someone has to tell us to do it), and the experience of Project Bamboo suggests that building elaborate infrastructure is not the way.

Likewise simply providing storage and data management skills isn't going to provide that degree of enablement either.

Probably what it comes down to is talking to people, showing people examples, and perhaps showing the play projects - basically we needs a showcase and some demo code.

The only infrastructure required first time around is an old laptop, a copy of Ubuntu, and the ability to use an editor ...