Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Cloudconvert and plumbers

I used cloudconvert a lot when I was working, usually to convert notes in markdown to pdf for circulation - I used to do this on my Chromebook at home while half watching the news, hence the use of web applications rather than using something like pandoc, but since I retired almost not at all - a few check lists for real estate agents when we were looking for our new house, and that's about it.

However we're about halfway through a major extension/renovation saga when we hit a snag - part of our major works involves putting an extra toilet and shower at the end of where the kitchen used to be. (The kitchen has moved to the new open plan living area).

As it's only really an extra for guests the whole toilet/shower area is only around a 3.5x1m space, which means a pretty small slimline basin. In case you're interested, the rest of the old kitchen becomes a laundry and storage area that you walk through to the new toilet.

Now the basin proved problematical, as the installation guide wasn't online and the plumber had a panic about the location of the tapwork for such a small basin (tolerances etc).

While the installation guide wasn't online, the CAD drawings were. Of course, I don't have AutoCAD at home, but Cloudconvert saved the day by allowing me to convert the drawings to a pdf, and the plumber, who knew the overall size of the unit to measure off the location of the bolts which solved the immediate problem, and giving me time to email the manufacturers to have them send me the 'proper' install guide, which indeed they did ...

Monday, 5 December 2016


we've all done it - fed a twenty page document through the scanner the wrong way and ended up with an upside down document on a fileshare.

Fixing the problem should be easy, but a number of pdf viewers out there (including Adobe's) don't let you save the rotated image, as you're supposed to use the edit addon. You could of course feed the document through the auto feeder the right way round this time, but when it's a bound document that's distinctly painful.

Very irritating.

Up to now, my solution has been to use either Preview on the Mac or gsview on linux.

But of course, one day, I found myself using windows and couldn't be bothered powering up a second machine just to deal with my stupidity.

That's when I happened across, which basically does that for you. The site appears to be located in the Netherlands and looks reasonably legit. Certainly works well and works for me ...

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Novabench on my elderly mac book air

Just for fun, after I upgraded my five (nearly six) year old Air to Sierra, I ran NovaBench on it and got a score of 296 - a bit better than the score I obtained on my old iMac, but not remarkably so.

Which of course brings me back to one of my old hobby horses, just how much computing is needed for day to day computer use ?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

MacBook Airs and the opposition

I like Macs. They're nice machines and well made, so much so that when I retired I bought myself a refurbished MacBook Air to take travelling.

And I'm pretty pleased with it, a good lightweight machine, but other than Textwrangler, there's no application that I use regularly that is Mac only - Chrome, Libre Office, Thunderbird and Focuswriter are all available for windows and work well.

And, since I upgraded to Windows 10, I've had a pretty positive experience with windows. But there's also been the clunk factor - ever since netbooks went out of style windows laptops have tended to be a bit bigger and clunkier than their Mac equivalents.

So, when I caught the train earlier this week, and saw the guys on the train working on small Dell ultrabooks, I got to thinking, would a small windows machine make a viable alternative?

So I did a little bit of research on the usual suspects' (Dell, HP, Lenovo) websites. I couldn't identify the model of Dell ultrabook I saw being used on the train, but you could certainly put together a nicely specified Dell Inspiron for travel for around half the cost of a new MacBook Air, and also get a couple of USB ports and an SDcard slot as well.

Perhaps not quite as sleek or stylish, but definitely practicable. There is of course the option of  two in one device if that suits you better.

I'm certainly not planning on replacing my Air anytime soon, but if I had to, it might not be with a fruit themed device ....

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 ...

[update 26 Nov 2016]

Turns out my timing was better than I thought. I've been a bit distracted recently with a whole lot of work we're doing on our house, so I've been neglecting my hobby writing, but yesterday the builders cried off because the roofing iron was stuck on a truck somewhere between here and stuff central, so I thought I'd update my old imac and MacBook air to the latest iteration of OSX (aka MacOS) and guess what, the old imac has dropped off the supported list.

Not that I'm surprised, I was surprised first time around it was still supported ...

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 ...

Monday, 1 August 2016

OCR, scanning and print on demand

I’ve been thinking about Ernesta, Christina and OCR (and the problem of book digitisation).

Scanning books essentially allows you to take an image of each page, and may introduce artefacts caused by blotches, foxing and dead spiders, but the result is generally something that can be read by a human being, and of course the book can be printed out, bound, and sold.

That’s what the various print on demand people do and what the Espresso book machine was designed to do.

And because human being are good at working out page layouts you don’t beed need to correct for headers, footers, page numbers and so on. What you scan is what you get.

Enter the ebook reader, either as hardware or software.

For a start they want text not images. OCR software is good, but not perfect, which means that artefacts introduced either by poor quality printing or dead spiders will give you unreadable runs of gobbledygook. Also any page headers and page numbers tend to end up embedded in the text, and because the text is reflowable, ie is automatically formatted to fit the screen, which is treated as a little porthole onto which you see the book as if it was printed on a roll of toilet paper that is unwound past the porthole, headers, page numbers etc don’t make any sense.

And having read several books that have been converted like this I can tell you it’s a pain on the Kindle.

Gutenberg ebooks are usually good because they have been rekeyed. Books from mainstream publishers are usually generated from the electronic source and structured appropriately.

Scanned and OCR’d books need some TLC (and possibly some TEI), and that takes time and requires effort, which is expensive.

This means that print on demand will live on as a way of reading out of print out of copyright books as it’s probably cheaper to this than restructure and correct the text, especially for one off productions ...

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 ...