Thursday, 27 October 2016

Google maps goes social

Part of my role in life now I'm retired is to be a misanthropic curmudgeon complaining about how things have changed.

Well instead of Windows 10 upgrades, I've a new peeve - Google maps and it's social aspects.

Like just about everyone on the planet I use Google maps to find things and find how to get to things, especially as my elderly Subaru doesn't have a GPS and while I've got $50 Chinese no name add on unit I don't always turn it on.

Anyway, last week I was at Protester's Falls in the Nightcap national park, and the falls were impressive enough to merit a picture or two on my phone. And up pops Google asking me to add a picture to the location.

I was so amazed at getting a signal in a goanna infested rainforest I clicked yes. And obviously this put me on the list of people to nag

- can you contribute a picture of the motel you stayed in in Armidale?
- can you do a review of this Indian restaurant you ate in?
- can you review this coffee shop ?

and the answer is no. maps is a tool, and I don't appreciate screens asking me to do a review when I'm trying to find somewhere specific. Soliciting reviews is fine but nagging that gets in the way of what I'm trying to do is not ...

Ipads as point of sales device

I guess we're all used to the fact that cash tills are all software based these days - pc in kiosk mode with a touch screen running the sales application and a second slave display showing your purchases as they go through the checkout. There's also these customised tablets distributed by the Commonwealth bank that cafes love to total up your tab and take your card, and there's been some similar generic iPad applications around for sometime, but I was in my local wholefoods store yesterday and I saw an implementation I hadn't seen before:

An iPad as the cash register, but hooked up to an iPad mini as a slave display on a stand to show you how much you'd spent, and on what.

The hardware clearly costs more than a generic pc, but it's small, light and flexible. Being a wholefoods store I'm guessing cost will be an issue for them, so despite the comparatively high cost of the hardware involved the cost of the whole package (software+hardware+maintenance) must be competitive ...

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Windows 10 - the irritation of upgrades

I was feeling quite positive about Windows 10 until the latest major update - now I just feel irritated.

Nothing bad happened, yes it lost my lock screen picture and my desktop background but everything stayed working, but irritatingly the upgrade changed some of the defaults, most irritatingly the default browser, which was switched back to Microsoft edge.

Now, edge might be a fine browser, but besides a Windows laptop I use a couple of macs, a linux machine, an android tablet and a chromebook on a regular basis, which means that I prefer a browser that is both common and syncs across all platforms.

If it wasn't for the chromebook I could use firefox, but it has to be chrome for me.

So Microsoft, I don't care how good edge is, it doesn't work for me (incidentally the same goes for Apple and the new Safari, but at least Apple don't change my defaults.)

Now, I'm an extreme case in my use of multiple platforms, but given that Windows has singularly failed to conquer the tablet space, I'm sure that there's a lot of Windows desktop users who use an ipad or an android tablet and want a common browser, all of who are going to be irritated by a forced change of default browser.

By all means ask, but don't force changes on people, it's not good marketing ...

[update 30 Sept]

... and they've changed the default for viewing pdf's from Acrobat to edge. Adobe interactive forms people. Ok I can fix it, but I've been around computers forty plus years. What does someone to whom it's really just an appliance do ?

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Upgrading an old iMac

Way back at the end of 2007 we bought ourselves an iMac, and at the time it was pretty spiffy. Nowadays less so but it's a tribute to its inherent spiffiness that it lasted us so long, but it recently reached the point where we needed a new one, principally for J's art and photographic work.

So we bought ourselves a new one, which left us a problem as to what to do with the old one (Intel 2GHz core 2 duo, 2GB memory, OS X 10.6.8 because you never upgrade an old machine).

Well it was destined for the old machine's home until I looked at the screen and realised that it would make a great writing machine, but equally that it could do with more memory and a newer operating system.

Well, as what is internally designated as an iMac7,1 it just scrapes into the compatibility list of the latest version of Apple's operating system, but it would need more memory. How much more was an interesting question.

 It's a peculiarity of the early aluminium iMacs that they only support 6GB of RAM, which is a silly number, as it means  the most you can install is a 2GB and 4GB DIMM. If you've already got 2GB the logical answer would be to buy another 4, but then the existing memory could be installed as 2 1GB DIMMS.

So, I was hoping when I ran the system profiler that we would have 2GB in a single DIMM which would mean adding either a 2GB or 4GB DIMM, but no, Lady Luck was against me, and we had 2 1GB DIMMS, which meant pulling and replacing both DIMMs, so it was going to be a 4GB upgrade. I could have sourced a 4 and a 2 but that's not a cheap option.

Old DIMMs can be hard to track down but I found a company in Sydney that specialised in upgrade kits for older machines, and they had suitable memory in stock. Not the cheapest way of doing it, but easier than tracking down second hand memory on ebay which can be a bit hit or miss as often people don't describe components accurately.

So all I had to do was wait for the bits to arrive, which they did, nicely packed and with a good quality 'how to' guide, which turned out to be useful as just about the only problem I had in the upgrade process was removing the cover from the memory slots as whoever had put the original memory in before shipment had had a little bit of trouble fitting the cover such that it bowed when I took it out. Having the installation guide convinced me that there really only was one screw to remove.

Memory fitted, it was time to fire off the operating system upgrade process, which took about two hours including download time.

The upgrade just worked, as you would expect with Apple.

Performance is adequate, feeling similar to my 5 year old MacBook air or my old work 2010 vintage MacBook Pro, both of which only have 4GB RAM.

I havn't run any detailed comparisons but NovaBench gives me a score of 278 which is a little on the low side but probably due to a slightly lower than average processor speed - in use, and I'm using it to write this post it seems fine for use as a writing machine - not lightening, but perfectly usable ...

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Mobile phones and rural life

As I've said before we've done the treechange thing.

Reluctantly we went back to Telstra for our internet service, but while it's more expensive, it's not been a terrible experience.

Our mobile phones have been a different story. We're both locked into contracts with Virgin (which is really Optus with a red t-shirt), and the contracts don't expire to June next year, and Optus only just flickers into life where we live meaning missed calls, texts, and making those bank transactions where they text you a security code a fun exercise.

In all the towns round about, Albury, Wangaratta, Myrtleford, Bright and so on they work fine. Even three blocks up they more or less work. But not just where we live.

So, what to do?

At home we have the internet for everything. The phones are good enough for most places we go to.

The only real problem is texts and calls when at home plus that nagging doubt about what to do if we have an emergency where we're out of range.

The answer is of course Telstra. So we bought a  pay as you go SIM, stuck it in the old Nokia Blackberry clone we use as a second phone when travelling which can go for days without a recharge and has QWERTY keyboard for texting, and when we activated the phone clicked the option on the SIM plan for  to say we wanted a long time between recharges rather than extra data - they give landline and internet customers a freebee in the hope we'll sign up for something more expensive down the track.

So we've got calls and texts, and minimal running costs, which is basically what we need - just such a pain to have to have an extra phone ...

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

IP TV ...

When we moved back to Telstra they gave us this little Roku box that does Netflix and the other streaming services, as well as the public broadcasters on demand services.

Before then our internet in Canberra (yes it's the federal capital, but we lived out or reach of the VDSL cable and our ADSL service was overloaded and slow) was crap and basically not good enough to watch streaming media reliably except during the day when the kids were at school and people were out at work.

And having the streaming box has   changed our habits. We hardly ever record anything to watch later these days, and we have become devotees if various dubbed dramas and docos which are online only.

At the same time we also have a second tv in the guest room which we originally bought as a special offer from a big box store to give us a tv in our new house while we had two houses and were commuting between them.

Currently our guest room tv doesn't have an antenna connection, and for various boring technical reasons doesn't actually pick up SBS that well if you plug an antenna into it (weak signal, tuner performance and whatever -  basically the joys of rural life). Being odd people we only ever watch SBS and the ABC (in the days of analog tv we only ever had these two channels tuned in).

So, what to do? The TV wasn't doing anything useful, and installing an antenna socket and a booster would cost more that I wanted to pay.

What I did go was do looking for one of these Android powered streaming devices. Usually they come only with Netflix and some Asian language services preloaded but as it's Android it's an easy task (once you've sorted the onscreen keyboard mystery) to install the major broadcasters streaming applications giving us both live TV and the on demand services, plus the usual YouTube and what have you, all for a little less than sixty bucks (or a quarter of the cost of having an additional socket installed plus a signal booster). Installation and configuration was no more difficult or time consuming than setting up a new  phone or a tablet.

Interestingly, when we were in Croatia last year, one apartment we stayed in had basically the same system - internet box with a set of preconfigured streaming apps, except that the box was provided by the local isp and also functioned as a wireless router.

Obviously it'll eat into our internet quota, but as it's the guest room / second tv it won't do that much, and anyway, at the moment we've bandwidth to burn.

Simples ...

Saturday, 6 August 2016

FX Docuprint p115w and linux

Back about Christmas time I wrote a blog post about how I couldn't get my new and shiny FujiXerox cheapie to work with linux.

Instead of hacking the driver I moved house and lived with the fact that if I needed to print from Linux it was to a pdf and then via dropbox from another device.

But I didn't give up - and yesterday I came across this post on using the Brother HL-1050 driver, so I thought what the hell and tried it. and amazingly if you configure it as a brother hl1050 it seems to work - certainly prints the ubuntu test page ...