Thursday, 21 March 2019

Things I didn't know: part 183 - Alt F4 and shutdown

Once, a very long time ago, I used to be a power windows user.

Built and maintained windows based network installs, that sort of thing. Then I got to be a boss and had people to do things for me.

So while I learned and did new things I definitely lost my technical edge. In fact the last version of Windows I really knew anything about was XP, and even then I really just used my XP machine for remote console stuff and getting onto linux machines.

And when you work like that you really don't know a lot about the underlying OS, it's only a vehicle to get you there.

So much so that for the last 10 years or so before I retired I never really used Windows. Ok I did a bit of windows 7 at home, but 90% was mac or linux, and as I say it could have been BeOS as long as it ran a standard, and recent, web browser and you could run an ssh tool without having to put a snail in your left ear and dance round a tree at midnight. Standardish applications were useful, but once LibreOffice cracked Microsoft Office file level compatibility it really didn't matter what you used (unless of course you had to deal with a funding proposal created with some really bizarre Word template),

But I did use windows 7 enough to know about automatic updates and windows' irritating habit of sitting there and fiddling about installing updates when all you wanted to do was shut down and go to the pub.

Of course what you do in a work situation, or at home, is mutter under your breath and leave it to it. That is providing you don't want to take your machine home with you.

I did use to idly wonder what you did if it wanted to fiddle with itself when you were in a situation where you simply had to do shutdown - such as in an airport and about to go through security.

I thought there must be a way of doing it, but never bothered to find out, after all I had a MacBook or Dell XPS with Ubuntu as my work laptop(s).

Well yesterday it happened to me. I've been using my Thinkpad for the documentation project ever since I accidentally dropped coffee on my office laptop. And when you are working in BYOD mode, of course you want to take your machine home with you (not to mention that our NBN FTTC link at home is a lot faster than the Trust's ADSL link, so it sometimes makes sense to finish off stuff at home).

Got the dread little orange shield and exclamation mark thing on shutdown on my Thinkpad. And it was a time when I had to shut it down properly.

So I googled, and discovered all about Alt F4 and accessing the full shutdown dialogue.

And it works. Like a dream.

And you can use the same trick on Windows 10, which is kind of useful to know as I've finally bought myself a new Windows 10 laptop ...

Thursday, 7 March 2019

DNA testing of old family documents

Over the holiday season I spent a bit of time messing about with family history research.

One of the things I found was that if your ancestors got up in the morning, went to work, didn't end up in court, or burn down public buildings, they don't leave much of a trace in public documentation sources like newspaper archives.

Just the same as they don't end up in military records, or indeed convict records. but if they come from a country with a functioning public records system, you can at least trace the shape of their lives back to the 1850's, and possibly earlier, that is providing no one burned down the records office or pulped the records as no longer required.

The other sort of thing one can have are collections of letters passed down. This is particularly so in countries built on the back of migrant communities such as Australia, where people's ancestors may have come from places without a public records system, or one where war, revolution, and ordinary disasters has introduced gaps into the system.

However, even though the records may have gone a lot of places had an excellent postal system, which means that if you have the shoebox of granny's letters when she was still a schoolgirl in the Ukraine, you can trace your missing ancestors - maybe.

Certainly you can trace the aunts an uncles from the contents and perhaps a little more from old love letters, but you still come up against the problem that paper burns.

But if you could trace the DNA, maybe you might get a match from the stamp, or the envelope - sealed with a loving kiss - which I guess might well be driving the move to offer DNA testing of old letters - and that might offer people closure of some sort, particularly if your family was torn apart by the chaos that engulfed places like the Ukraine in the early part of the twentieth century.

There are of course other scenarios, Indian sailors who jumped ship and went to work in a curry house is one that comes to mind, or indeed trace the movements of British soldiers around the empire, and indeed the wives and sweethearts (and perhaps children) they left behind ...

Saturday, 2 March 2019

My Chromebook's gone end of life

This morning (2nd March here in possum town, but still 1st of March in the US) I made myself a cup of tea, fed the cat, took Judi a cup of tea, and powered up my chromebook to read my email.

All what happens most mornings, except that this time a little window popped open to tell me my Chromebook was end  of life and no longer supported.

Well this seems a little ridiculous -  while it's almost exactly five years old, it still works well, does its job.

So my plan is this:


  • procrastinate until it becomes unusable
    • I only really care about email and a couple of web based services
Loading an alternative OS, such as gallium OS or neverware  isn't really an option as my Chromebook is one of the Samsung Eyxnos powered devices - an HP11-1101 in fact and the firmware (it is said) restricts matters as regards alternative OS's.

We'll see how this goes. I guess long term the answer is to buy one of these very cheap eMMC memory based windows laptops - after all all I need is Chrome, and perhaps Thunderbird ...

[update 03/03/2019]

And slightly bizarrely, this morning I got an operating system update, so I guess that in this case unsupported means no guarantees about updates continuing to work, rather than we don't want to talk to you any more ...

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Using coffee to prove a documentation scheme

Last week I did something I have never done before.

I dropped coffee on the keyboard of my laptop while down at Chiltern working on the documentation project.

Being the highly trained IT professional I once claimed to be, I screamed 'Sh-i-i-t!!' while simultaeneously pulling out the power cable and inverting the laptop in the hope that any coffee that had got into the innards would go back out the same way without causing any damage.

Not a chance. It shut down before I managed to turn it off, so I pulled the battery out and then carefully carried it to my car and drove home, where I have minature screwdrivers and the like.

I took the back off, used J's hairdryer on a low setting to evaporate off any moisture and then put the device in an open book shape on our outdoor table on the back deck, out of direct sunlight - as we're still getting 35C in the afternoon I reckoned that should dry it out nicely.

Given I drink my coffee black and sugarless I thought there was a slim chance of the laptop still being in the land of the living, and certainly when I tried to power it up the fan started and it began to boot, and failed on self test, while blowing the smell of java (what else) out of itself.

Probably that meant there was still some coffee trapped inside somewhere, and probably the next stage would be to take the individual boards out and clean them with isopropyl alchohol and blast the case with compressed air.

Well, I don't have a suitable home workshop, so I took it back into work, said what I'd done, about which they were really nice.

The laptop was an old one - you can pick up the same machine from the various specialist refurbishers for something round about $400 - and a little more for one with an SSD in place of the hard disk - and no data was lost, so off it went to a repair centre to decide if it was fixable.

(We have an insurance based maintenance scheme - so basically if it costs more to fix than replace it goes in the bin).

But this of course left me without a laptop to work on, so I went into BYOD mode with the old Thinkpad I bought last year.

I'd designed the whole documentation methodology to be platform and application agnostic - the only dependency was OneNote for the supporting material, and Windows 7 supports that albeit with a different client interface, just as it supports OneDrive.

Despite having previously suggested Gnumeric as an alternative to Excel I decided to use Libre Office Calc as the windows port of Gnumeric is now  deprecated

Libre Office Calc opened the data spreadsheets without difficulty, and Texts.io easily handled the day to day documentation created in Markdown with CodeWriter.

The net result was a seamless changeover, in fact more seamless that I hoped - everything just works and the Thinkpad as a slightly nicer keyboard to type on.

So, while I didn't mean to, I think I've demonstrated that designing data collection protocols focused on some standard formats, rather on a particular set of tools allows simple migration to other tools, and potentially other platforms, although the dependence on OneNote and OneDrive is a constraint here - but perhaps only to the ideologically pure, OS X and both Windows 7 and 10 support One Note and One Drive, so in practical terms it's not a problem ...


Friday, 22 February 2019

We have internet again ...

Now I've already written elsewhere about our internet troubles, but I'm glad to say we're all fixed now.

It did mean that for a couple of days while we waited for the NBN man we were dependent on our 4g modem, but the speeds were quite usable as long as we didn't stream any content - you could probably run a pop up business on a Telstra 4G modem.

Well, the NBN man turned up when he said he would, listened to my story about the guys working in the street, agreed it was most likely a cable break, pulled out his reflectometer, and voila, there was a break at 33m.

So off he went, looked at the street wiring cabinet, and there it was - our cable was broken off. Quick re kroning job later and we were up and running - time to fix 10 minutes, something I found quite impressive.

Now we were up and running I could back up my last set of data from the project, upload my photos from Norfolk Island, sync things and I was away.

We also got our internet tv service back. And thereby hangs a tale.

Our internet tv box uses an antenna connection for all the free to air channels, which had meant that when the internet died we could still watch them via the box.

Unknown to us it had quietly downloaded a new version of the system before the internet broke, but because we'd never powercycled the box we were running on the previous version.

Now, we'd had a notice from the power company to say that during the week we were aways they would be turning off the power in the street to do some routine work. When we got back we had clocks to reset and so on, but what we didn't realise is that the internet tv box rebooted into automatic configuration mode for the new version of the software, and imediately hung because there was no internet.

Not good design. Ideally it should have a 'carry on without an internet connection mode', to deal with scenarios like this.

Fortunately I'd never disconnected our old hard disk video recorder, which had a separate connection, so we could watch free to air tv via that.

Still, everything's tickety boo now, but the next time I see a cable van in the in the street, I'm taking a picture in case there needs to be some followup ... 

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Newspaper access solved

I've recently written about my experiences doing family history online, and if you've been following my stuff more generally, you'l also know I use Trove, the NLA's  digital archive quite a lot.

What I don't have access to is UK newspapers, or I didn't until now.

Now I live in rural Victoria, and while I knew the State Library had access to a lot of these online, I thought that you had to visit the State Library itself to use some of the resources. (I remember discussions with database vendors in the early days of CDROM networking where access was restricted to a block of ip addresses - something they called access within a single building and I called frustrating).

Anyway I discovered that the State Library provides networked access to a shedload of resources including the Times and the Irish Times archives, but you need to (a) sign up and (b) prove you are a Victorian resident, usually by showing some ID to the membership team at the State Library, or by a more complex postal procedure.

Well, I was in Melbourne for other reasons, so I made time to go to the State Library and sign up for resource access.

I was so curious to see if it worked, that when I got back to our AirBnB apartment, I tried it using my iPad over our 4G modem - and it just worked!

Having spent a good part of my professional life trying to get these things to work I was quite astounded at just how good the service was (mind you, to get the best you probably need something with a little more poke than an iPad).

The service looks to be provided via Ex Libris, nothing special there, and uses the standard ProQuest databases. And it works.

I'm quietly happy ...

router spam (sort of)

I've written before about our new 4G portable router, including its ability to be used like a pager to receive SMS requests.

Well, a few days ago I turned it on, and it told me I had a new SMS. I assumed it was a warning of a planned service outage, so I clicked on it to see if it was relevant to where I was.

It wasn't.

It was an SMS spam message telling me that there was an inheritance waiting for me and to email a totally unlikely looking email address.

Needless to say I didn't ...

Monday, 7 January 2019

I bought an ipad ...

Until a few weeks ago I was possibly almost unique in the western world for never having laid a finger on an ipad in any sort of serious way.

Sure I'd fondled them in an Apple store, looked at them when people showed me documents and images on them, but I'd never used one or owned one.

Not that I was tablet agnostic - I bought myself an Android tablet in 2011, and while I've been through several since, for a long time they did the job - as a notetaker, for research work in public libraries, and a few other tasks.

While most people use a tablet to surf the web and check their email in bed, I mostly use a Chromebook - principally because it has a keyboard and I can write on it, so my tablet use has gradually declined.

At the same time, I've begun to listen to podcasts more and more, and I've got some reference material in pdf's which is mostly digitised nineteenth century directories (family history folks!) and so on.

And with it's sudden wifi wierdness my Pixi wasn't cutting it anymore.

So I bought myself a refurbished iPad mini. They're reasonably cheap, as a lot of them come out of point of sales devices, and since they've usually spent a large part of their lives in a protective housing, they're usually in pretty good order.

To it, I added the logitech canvas keyboard - they were on discount on amazon, I only paid around fifty bucks for mine, and that's given me a device about the size of an A5 notebook on which I can type, listen to podcasts, and do web based stuff, be it research or fun.

I've yet to use it for serious typing, but I've downloaded both a plain text editor and a copy of pages, and I guess I could always use Google docs if necessary.

What I can report is for scrolling through things such as the 1865 Scottish County directory - all 500 odd pages of it - iBooks certainly does the job better than anything I've found for Android, and of course one gets the Apple niceness - one suspects that some of the people who put the environment together wear ties and nicely pressed chinos - which after linux, windows and android comes as a pleasant change ...