Sunday, 10 October 2021

The dance of the dying chromebook

For the last seven and a half years or so, I've used a chromebook to read my mail in the mornings

No more - the battery has finally died - basically, it won't charge any more, and it's not worth replacing the battery, especially as the machine itself went end of life in March 2019.

All that was left to do was to powerwash it while it still had some charge left and put it with the other stuff for the e-waste centre.

So, would I buy myself another chromebook?

Yes, it was a good experience for what I used it for - basically web based things like mail, calendar, online news sites, and unlike a tablet, it had a decent keyboard meaning you could do a draft using Google docs, or put together a spreadsheet.

I even used the Google Slides on a number of occasions to put together presos.

So all good. You can most definitely use them to do serious things if you're so minded.

So you're off to JB HiFi this afternoon are you?

No. As you might recall I bought myself one of these lo spec Lenovo Celeron laptops in a stocktake sale a few months ago both to replace the chromebook and step in should my 2011 vintage MacBook Air become unusable due to the fact it's off support - not to mention I'm a windows user again these days, so I've no pressing need to buy myself another Chromebook.

And I have always been a staunch believer in eating one's own dogfood, so the Lenovo it is for the moment (although I confess I used my elderly Air this morning out of habit).

I won't be off to the e-waste centre this afternoon either. 

wiping the old EEEpc701...

I've a couple of old 32-bit linux netbooks that I havn't touched for a year or more. I've decided that over the next week or so I'll wipe them and give them a clean install and take them to the e-waste centre along with the chromebook  ...

Friday, 24 September 2021

An old ipad mini

Way back in 2019, I bought myself an old iPad Mini, which I outfitted with a discounted bluetooth keyboard.

I originally envisaged using it as a note taker, and certainly the form factor was right - about the size of a Moleskine notebook, but I never truly warmed to it, the keyboard feeling cramped.

which was a pity, because it certainly still has the Apple niceness despite being incredibly underpowered by today's standards.

Recently however, I've revised my opinion. 

What with lockdowns and so on, and then the gradual lifting of restrictions it's come into its own.

Grab a coffee, sit at an outside table, and turn on your personal hotspot if you are out of wifi range you can work researching things, or simply depress yourself by reading the news.

Like the dogfood tablet, the small form factor makes the device supremely portable, meaning it can be crammed into a small backpack or shoulder bag alongside hand sanitizer, an umbrella, and a paper notebook. And while the keyboard is cramped, you do get used to it in time.

Like the original EeePC, the small form factor makes it supremely portable, something you appreciate when perched on a socially distanced park bench.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Cats, polecats and good ideas

 Here on the east coast of Australia we still have a native predator called a quoll.

They're not very common but they can be found in remote areas in east Gippsland and on the edges of the Snowies.

In the nineteenth century the early settlers sometimes called them native cats, just in the same way wombats were sometimes called native badgers - due to wombats excavating large burrows like badger setts than any physical resemblance.

But quolls?

Well they don't really look like cats, more like European polecats.

European polecats are also pretty rare these days, but when I worked at the Field Centre in mid Wales, there was a guy trying to work out how many were left, and he had a couple in a cage that had been hit by cars.

So not only have I seen the pictures, I've seen live polecats and can confirm that they really do have a marked odour.

So, were the early settlers thinking about polecats when they called quolls native cats?

The answer's probably unknowable, but if we had more references to native polecats in the first have of the nineteenth century and more to native cats in the latter half we could say maybe with some justification.

So, using Tim Sherrat's querypic to search for the phrase native polecat what do we see?

Looks promising, with the phrase being more common earlier on.

But if we search for native cat we see something similar

which is not quite what  I expected. In fact if you graph the two queries together you find that native cat has always been a much more common usage

so, it was a good idea, but one that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Incidentally if you graph native cat against quoll you see something quite similar

with the phrase native cat predominating over quoll.

The Trove corpus of digitised newspapers only goes as far as 1950, so this means that the name quoll only came into common use sometime after 1950, which is exactly what you would expect, given that it was not until the 1960's that David Fleay campaigned successfully for the name quoll to be used in place of the older colonial name of native cat ...

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Wm Docker and straw hats

 In our collection at Dow's we have glass bottle embossed Wm. Docker Sun Brand

which looks like a late nineteenth century or early twentieth century medicine bottle. I'm not alone in this, the WA Museum has a similar item in its collection - but unfortunately, no image:

which is fine, except for the fact that William Docker was known as a varnish and lacquer manufacturer, which begs the question as to why a bottle from a varnish maker was in a pharmacy.

When I documented it back in 2018, my best guess, and it was only a guess, was that the bottle had originally contained linseed oil, which is not only used in varnish manufacture, but was sometimes used as dietary supplement and also in in animal husbandry - in fact you can still buy linseed oil capsules today.

But I now have another idea. The bottle originally held dye for straw hats. 

And for that hypothesis I have to thank ebay.

As I've written elsewhere, ebay can be a useful research resource, as collectors and bottle hunters often advertise old bottles and ceramic pots for sale, although often unprovenanced.

Well I was idly surfing ebay and I came across these two items, which were described as straw hat dye bottles:

and they clearly the same as the Dow's bottle.

Hat dye for straw hats makes sense as it allowed one to add a little colour to one's outfit.

So did William Docker make hat dye?

Well google was completely unhelpful, wanting to sell me a straw hat, including those by a certain well known manufacturer of men's apparel, but Trove came up trumps, including this advert from the early 1920's

So, while on one level it's all hand waving - after all there's no label or evidence to connect 'our' bottle directly to hat dye - circumstantially it fits, and a country pharmacy might well be where one might go to buy hat dye ...

Monday, 30 August 2021

Search engines being helpful ...

 A good part of my work documenting the contents of Dow's Pharmacy involves chasing down and documenting old pharmaceutical companies and products.

Some are easy, some are difficult and some doubly so because either the name has been reused by a later, better known product - sometimes overseas - and sometimes because the name resembles a well known name and search engines increasingly have an auto-correct like capability.

I'll give you an example.

Over the weekend I did some family history work and needed to research a farm in Angus, Scotland called Burnmouth of Kintyrie.

Traditionally east coast Scottish farm names in the form X of Y mean either a house or smaller property associated with either a larger fermtoun or even a small community.

So to keep things simple I searched for the fermtoun name alone as they tend to persist while houses and smaller subdivisions can disappear, especially in the last fifty years or so as farms increasingly became larger, more mechanised and reabsorbed subdivisions.

So what did I find?

Well, everyone uses Google don't they?

Helpfully, by default, it assumes that I meant the more popular Kintyre, on the other side of the country, and not what I was looking for.

Microsoft Bing is not much better:

and bizarrely, the best is Yandex:

which is not the answer I would first have thought of.

Now, there's a problem here. I'm aware of the problems of search engines and know of various tricks to to sharpen a query, but a lot of people don't, and there's quite a bit of evidence that most people only look at the first page of results.

Search engines are basically advertising supported, which of course means that it is in their interests to be 'helpful' and provide answers that not only provide them with revenue but actually answer more common queries and take account of common typos etc.

Not what you really need when trying to research a particular item, location or whatever.

The problem is easy enough to work round, but I've the impression, and only the impression, that it's become more of a problem in the last eighteen months or so ...

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Another use case for google docs on an iphone ...

 Way back in March, I wrote that I had finally found a use case for installing Google Docs on an iphone.

I've now found another use case for Google Docs on an iphone.

Here in regional Victoria we're currently in lockdown, as we have been, of and on, since March last year - while we've had quite long periods where we seem to be on top of the virus and can have something like the life we used to have, it's been punctuated by periods under lockdown when there has been an outbreak.

One of the lockdown rules we have in Victoria (and it may be different where you live) is that only one person in a household can go to the supermarket at a time, and then only once a day - a measure aimed at reducing community transmission.

Now, before the pandemic, we usually used to do our shopping together, and basically we didn't plan - we used to make it up as we went along, buying what looked fresh and good, plus the basics. 

This of course meant sometimes we bought too much, and sometimes we forgot things.

Come Covid, we couldn't be so slack about things, so we took to maintaining a Google Docs shared document to which we added items as we ran out of them, plus anything else needed - basically a living document.

When one of us did a supermarket trip or an online grocery order, we'd print the document out, scribble any last minute amendments on it, and then use it as either a shopping list or as document to work from to build an online grocery order.

Nothing that unusual in this, except that, as we had been historically crap at lists we would miss things leading to flurries of last minute text messages of the 'can you get?' kind.

Well, we can't do much about the online orders - shouting Rinseaid! from the kitchen works as well as anything else when it comes to last minute updates.

Supermarket trips are something else. Remember the one person once a day rule.

That means that you can't go back and get something if you forget it first time around.

The geeky answer we've come up with is to update the Google Docs shopping list online - no more illegible scribbled additions - and the simply view it on the phone rather than printing it out.

Now I'm sure we're not the first to do this - after all, despite not being very good with lists we've been emailing shopping lists to each other and using PDA's for shopping lists since the start of the century - I was once stopped in the Marks and Sparks food store in York some time around 2001 by one of the store security personnel for walking round a store with a palm pilot doing our shopping. For the record, when I showed them what I was doing they were absolutely fine about it.

What is different this time  from simply passing a document back and forth is the shared editing of a living document meaning that additions can be made in real time, rather than simply viewing a static instance of a document - which may of course be out of date.

Ok, it's incredibly geeky as a solution, but it works (for us at least).

Friday, 20 August 2021

Documenting offline ....


Well, for the moment, we're out of lockdown, which means back down to Dow's for a day of documentation.

So, off I went last Wednesday to record some artefacts - like the 1930's hair removal wax (pictured above) still in its packet - only to discover when I got there that the internet was down - probably just the router needing a reboot, but as I don't have a key to the router cupboard it might as well have needed exorcism after having been beset by demons from the deepest circle of hell for all I could do about it. It didn't work and that was how it was going to stay.

This didn't worry me as, I knew from previous experience that my methodology works offline, and so it proved again. Which was rather pleasing as it meant that the procedure was still robust and there had been no creep.

Perversely, I wished that I had thought to bring my portable internet modem as I'm still looking for a real world case to prove that it will work using a 4G connection in place of either an ADSL or NBN connection. No reason to think it won't, it's simply a matter of checking for performance or some unsuspected gotcha.

But for the moment I need to research some 1930's cosmetics ...