Saturday, 24 July 2021

Yet another bloody computer !

 


I've bought myself another computer - this time one of these minimalist Windows machines that are supposed to compete with Chromebooks in the education market - 4GB RAM, a mere 64GB eMMC storage, 11.6" screen, Celeron processor.

All a bit minimal these days, but the keyboard is nice to type on and the trackpad is pretty good, and the screen's easy on the eye.

But the obvious question is why did I buy such a low spec machine?

Well, for the past seven and a bit years I've used a Chromebook to read my email in bed (and also look at various online news sites) in the mornings, but two and a bit years ago it went end of life, meaning no more operating system updates.

Recently, it's become erratic, with occasional unexplained shutdowns, sometimes refusing to charge, and a few other signs that it is starting to die on me. It's still usable, but there's a question as to how long it will be before it goes to the e-waste centre.

At the same time my 2011 vintage MacBook Air that I used to take travelling with me (remember travel?) is no longer receiving operating system updates, and there's an obvious question as to how long Chrome and Thunderbird will continue to work on the machine.

The new minimal Windows machine gives me something that allows me to run Chrome, and by extension, applications such as Evernote via their web interface.

The other driver is that these days I'm a Windows user again - the Dow's Pharmacy Documentation project is all based around the Microsoft ecology - Excel, OneNote, Word, OneDrive, and these days, frankly, what you get for your dollar in the Windows world is a hell of a lot cheaper than you can get from Apple, and requires less fiddling than you need to use linux as a day to day desktop environment.

A couple of years ago I did buy myself a second hand Thinkpad Yoga as a carry about machine. It has worked pretty well as something to take and setup for a day or so, but at the same time it's proven a bit bulky to easily carry about,  while my new minimalist Lenovo is lightweight with decent battery life making it as easy as the MacBook Air to carry around.

I picked up the Lenovo in a stock take clearance, meaning that it cost quite a bit less than the sticker price, and markedly less than a new Chromebook built on more or less the same hardware.

So, while I have a stupid number of computers at the moment, we can say that in a few months I probably won't have the Chromebook, and possibly will have ditched the Air.

So what's it like to use?

All the standard stuff works - using Word or Excel you can't really tell that you are running on low spec hardware and saving material to One Drive - sort of like the network computer model which you see in the Chromebook. 

Obviously anything compute intensive would tax the hardware, but then that's not what the machine is for - it's for some simple web browsing, note taking, and email.

Used as a lightweight device, it's absolutely fine. And while it's most definitely easier to use it connected to a network, unlike a Chromebook, it also works fine as an offline device and syncing everything later - something I've done using the Yoga over the past couple of years, and which I have confidence in as a way of working.

So, we'll see how it goes in practice ...


Friday, 9 July 2021

The network computer lives on ...

There was a time, back in the late nineties, when I was very interested in thin clients/ network computers, the idea basically being that you could deploy a standard predictable computing environment using low cost hardware.

My actual idea was to use old underperforming desktop pc's to do this via a lightweight client environment, perhaps based on linux and open source applications to keep licensing costs down.

I wasn't alone in this - some of the major manufacturers got on board producing dedicated client hardware such as Sun with the JavaStation and Sun Ray.

All long gone now, or so I thought.

Today was the day that J was having her surgery, and as always in our overly complex hybrid public private health care system, first off we had the conversation about what Medicare will pay for, what our private health insurer will pay for, and can I have your credit card to cover anything not covered by either Medicare or your health insurer?

And that was all pretty normal.

The accountant had a perfectly normal Dell monitor and keyboard on his desk, but they were plugged into something most definitely not normal, a Sun Ray2.

Quite amazing, especially given that Oracle discontinued the units in 2014.

But then if it ain't broke, don't fix it, especially as refurbished units can be found  online for between fifty and a hundred bucks - neatly proving the cost containment aspects of using low cost devices on the desktop ...

Saturday, 3 July 2021

A surveying we will go ...

 


One of the aspects of working at Dow's that's slightly unusual is that it's more like carrying out a field survey than a normal bit of artefact documentation.

I have no desk, no workspace, so I have to take everything in with me each day and then bring it back at the end of day's documentation.

And it's amazing what you need, rubber gloves, spare box of gloves in case you run out, laptop, paperbased workbook, usb sticks for a live backup of data, usb hub, sd card reader, camera, pens, pencils and all sort of extra doobries like plastic tweezers.

Over the four years or so I've been doing this I've got pretty good at packing and repacking.

Basically I have a plastic cargo box in the boot of the car that holds my spare gloves, anti fungal powder (rubber gloves and an Australian summer do not play well together) and less commonly required items.

The rest has to be taken in and out every day.

I used to carry things in multiple Woolies shopping bags but that was a pain, but then on Catch I saw the ideal solution:


a wheelie box! Basically a collapsible crate with wheels. Everything, including my laptop can be fitted in, and anything extra can go in my day pack, meaning I can set up anywhere where there's a power socket.

While we've NBN broadband at Chiltern, there would be nothing to stop me adding our 4G  travel modem to the mix meaning that I can work anywhere ...


Saturday, 12 June 2021

Out of lockdown and back documenting

 


As I've written elsewhere, lockdown has eased in regional Victoria, meaning that I can get back to working on the documentation of Dow's Pharmacy.

People have been asking me when I'll be finished. 

I thought possibly Christmas, but that's a total guess. Given (a) the on and off nature of normality at the moment and (b) there's some unknowns in that I'm unsure just how much is in the old dispensing drawers, we might be looking at an end date some time in 2022 ...

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Lithium, dogfood and reproducibility

 In my last post - nearly a month ago - I mentioned how I left the lithium open on the dogfood tablet, and I ended up with a warm device and a flat battery.

Well, I've been unable to reproduce the problem, my best guess is that something, some process,  tried to do a background update and got its electronic knickers in a knot.

Anyway, Lithium is almost certainly blameless, which is good, as I really like the app ...

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Of lithium and dogfood ...

 Well the whole dogfood tablet thing seems to be a qualified success.

It certainly makes an excellent pdf reader, including offline pdf work, and I successfully pressed it into service to help me check the contents of Dow's pharmacy when the documentation project restarted.

In addition, I'd also started using lithium as an epub reader. The application is nice, lightweight, and intuitive, all the things one wants, and seems to have no trouble at all reading epubs downloaded from gutenberg.org.

So, sounds like a success.

And until today I would have agreed with you. But today I went to the dentist - again another place with no free wifi, and I took the dogfood device with me.

There was certainly no problem in using lithium to read a downloaded epub. Again sounds good.

But there's one troubling little event.

When I was called in to see my dentist, I just shoved the dogfood tablet back in my pack, with lithium still open,  assuming that after some period of inactivity it would go to sleep as all good devices should, and as it certainly does when using acrobat.

Well, I plain forgot about it for most of the rest of the day.

When I got home and eventually got around to emptying my pack, which was about four hours later, I found that the  battery was flat and the device felt distinctly warm, suggesting that something had been hoovering up compute cycles.

At the moment, I don't know if this is a lithium thing or a lithium and offline thing. Given that I was at home for a couple of hours before I unpacked my pack, I would have thought it would have been able to glom onto our home network, if it was the lack of a network upsetting it.

Likewise, if it had needed to glom onto a network to do something I wouldn't have expected to have a warm device when I unpacked it.

I tend to suspect it's something to do with leaving lithium open - I'll experiment further, there might be a change of epub reading software in the offing, which is a pity, given that lithium is pretty nice to use ...

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

The Dow's pharmacy documentation project is under way (again)

 


You might remember that nearly three months ago I wrote about how the Pharmacy Documentation project was restarting.

As always in these uncertain times it took a bit longer than expected, but today I finally was able to take my gear in and document some artefacts. 

Only three mind you, most of the day was spent using what I'll call the dogfood tablet  - my recently acquired 7" Lenovo e Tab - to access all the pre lockdown reference photos on one drive and check for changes or deterioration in any of the artefacts I'd documented previously.

Thankfully as the old pharmacy building is mostly cool - sometimes downright cold - and dry , I didn't find any evidence of significant deterioration ...