Monday, 20 June 2016

Rejoining Telstra

As I've written elsewhere, we've recently moved to rural Victoria, something which in technical terms has involved a bit of backtracking on our part.

Outside of the cities all these competing telecom companies don't really operate, it's like telecom deregulation had never happened, it's Telstra all the way.

We had been Telstra customers but their service was so bad that at the end of 2013 we ditched them for TPG, who actually managed to provide working broadband, and used the money saved to put a backup 3G connection in place for when our internet went down (basically every time it rained).

Well TPG worked for us for a couple of years,even if the internet service started becoming as erratic as Telstra's once Netflix arrived, especially during school holidays, but the 3g service kept on as a reliable, if slow backup - I was actually quite impressed at how good it was, happily supporting two or three outgoing connections and managing an almost undetectable switchover whenever the main ADSL service failed.

But there's no TPG in Beechworth so it's back to Telstra, something I was dreading given our previous bad experience, but we've ended up with a service that's four or five times faster than TPG ever managed in Fadden, more than adequate for streaming media - finally we've caught up with the rest of the world.

The only annoyance is that our hipster mobiles don't work reliably - if you've been following the latest series of Rake on the ABC you'll remember the sequence where Cleaver is hiding out in some quiet place in the bush and has to climb a ladder propped up against the outside dunny to get a phone signal.

We're not that bad, but if you want a conversation it's either down by the compost heap  at the bottom of the back yard or the front porch, neither of which are great for privacy. Text messages work, and usually the phone will ring inside the house meaning a mad dash across the yard before the other person rings off.

On the other hand Skype works well due to our decent wifi and internet so there's always an alternative - at worst I can redirect mobile phones to our Skype service ...

Monday, 9 May 2016

Windows 10 tablets


hard though it is to admit it, I'm quite enjoying Windows 10 on my Dell laptop. Yes, there's some minor irritations, but it's no worse than Xubuntu or OS X.

So, out of curiosity I thought I'd do a desk exercise of seeing if a Windows tablet could replace one of my Android tablets. I've no intention of doing this for real, I've already got a ridiculous number of devices.

So the device. A little hunting with Google's shopping search shows that you can get a reasonable 8" device for just over $100 (be aware, this is slightly unrealistic - one of the big box retailers is dumping stock through ebay at the moment), however you can get noname Asian devices for around the same price. For a brand name device, entry level is between $150 and $200. You can pay more for a bigger screen, more internal storage etc but you can get something reasonable for under $200.

Applications - well the reason to use Windows is that you can use the same applications as on your desktop. So what windows apps do I use already?

  • The Guardian
  • Weather
  • Twitter
and that's about it. On my day to day Android devices I use the same applications plus a Markdown editor, Dropbox, an rss reader, the ABC news app and gmail and a calendar app that syncs with Google.

Well, hunting through the Windows app store, they (or equivalents) are all there - there's even a gmail app even though I'm guessing Microsoft would prefer me to use my Windows Live account.

So, if one of my daily use Android tablets was to die on me and I needed to replace it fast Windows  would fit the bill, but, and it's a big but, while I could source a discounted 10" Windows tablet for around $200, I could equally easily pick up a decent discounted brand name  Android device for about the same ...

Friday, 18 March 2016

Moving to Windows 10 ...

Well I finally clicked on the 'Get Windows 10' button on my Dell laptop that I've been using increasingly as my day to day machine, ever since I got round to configuring Thunderbird to work with my calendar and contacts as well as manage my mail.

I've no idea how long or how tedious the upgrade process was, basically I kicked it off one evening before going to bed and left it to it, and there, in the morning was Windows 10.

Performance was no better or no worse with Windows 7 and all my programs were there - basically I only use Libre Office, EverNote, Thunderbird and Chrome, with an occasional foray into FocusWriter and a Markdown editor, and they all seem to work fine, as does printing and all the other things you'd expect.


The date format was changed to what I privately label as 'Stupid American format', ie MM/dd/yy. There's no default dd/mm/yy format so dd/MMM/yy it has to be. And of course I had to change the time back to the 24h format.

It also changed my default browser from Chrome to Microsoft edge. Now I've nothing against trying edge but I've got a pile of extensions set up in Chrome (Zotero, Evernote and so on), so I'd like to stay with them until I've got to play with them.

Other than that, not a lot. It managed to lose my avatar picture, but that's not a life or death issue and easily fixed.

I'd describe the upgrade as pretty inoffensive - as always time will tell whether it is or not ...

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 ?


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 ...