Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Moving on from the Eee

Our Eee PC701 SD travel computer has been truly useful.

I've taken it overseas to conferences, used it for travel in Europe and Asia and it has always been utterly reliable.

Latterly it's being showing its age, or more accurately its badge engineered Xandros linux version has, due to a lack of software updates. A lot of these don't matter for what is fundamentally a stateless machine. Stateless because we use it for web applications when we are away, gmail, google docs and accessing things like banks to move money around and check bills are paid, not to mention airline check ins. The only stand alone application used is skype.

And there's the rub - no more updates means that the version of Firefox it came with is way out of date. Gmail pushes us into HTML mode, Google Docs suggests we run away and hide, and our bank sternly warns us we're unsupported and some features of its website may not work.

Rather like when I powered up an old iMac - useful, but not that useful - the killer being that if you use cloud based services you do kind of need to keep up with their requirements as regards browser capability.

So what made the Eee useful?
  • light and compact
  • stateless - used cloud services so no data loss if its stolen
  • rj 45 for the surprising number of Asian hotels that have wired ports in the rooms and wireless only in the lobby
  • skype for calling home
  • keyboard for writing/notetaking via google docs or a local editor
So what to replace it with?
  • light, good battery life
  • keyboard
  • skype
  • android browser
  • native gmail client
  • supports bank's web app
  • pretty near stateless
  • no rj45 port
  • not stateless
  • bulkier than the Eee
  • up to date browsers
  • keyboard
  • skype
  • rj45 port
  • can support standard 3g dongles
On balance, for a trip to the back blocks of south east Asia the windows netbook wins, but for a weekend away or a short business trip the tablet would probably work just as well providing I knew there was decent wifi at the other end.

There are of course a couple of alternative solutions:
  • upgrade the Eee 
  • I really don't have time to do this and debug things before I go but installing Lubuntu or Puppy might well give the machine a second lease of life. This is something to be investigated at a later date.
  • spend $300 on a chromebook. After all it is
  • stateless
  • relatively lightweight
  • up to date browsers
  • has some offline capability
  • the acer model has an rj45
  • no skype
The other solution would go buy an ipad and a keyboard. Probably a great solution for travel if I already had one, but subject to the same problem as the seven-incher - dependent on a decent wi-fi connection. If I didn't have an alternative already I'd probably go for the chromebook ...

Friday, 26 April 2013

So what do you actually use - quarterly update

Back on January 24 I posted an article summarising what tools I actually use and undertook to track and review my use throughout the year.

So far there's not much change in the applications used, it's more my adoption of markdown as a basic documentation format.

One of my common workflows now is to use a text editor, such as text edit on my tablet to take notes during a meeting in markdown format, sync them to dropbox, clean them up using either Kate (Linux) or TextWrangler (Mac), push them through pandoc to make an odt format file.

I then use Libre Office to apply a standard template and then email the documents as pdf's to evernote and any other relevant parties.

Other than that my only other addition is postbox as a lightweight email client for windows and GanntProject for gannt charts and nice pdf reports

My amended list now reads:

Dropbox – used mainly to sync files across computers irrespective of file format
Libre Office – platform agnostic document editor for off line writing. Often used in conjunction with Dropbox
Evernote – used as a notes and document management system (Nixnote is used on Linux to access my evernote files)
Wunderlist for 'to do' list management
Chrome – browser extraordinaire
Gmail – email solution
Postbox - lightweight email client for windows to cope with slow connections
Evolution - linux email client principly used in conjunction with Libre Office
Google docs – fast means to create quick and dirty documents irrespective of platform
Windows Live writer – offline blog post creation
TextEdit – android text editor for note taking and integrates nicely with evernote and Gmail
Kate - my favourite editor
TextWrangler - my secondmost favourite editor
Pandoc - converts markdown to a range of other formats
Microsoft Skydrive – used for document backup
Excel Web App – for these occasions when Google Spreadsheets or Libre Office Calc will not do
GanntProject for gannt chart generation
Google reader for rss feed management - but changing to Feed demon
Twitter for tracking interesting things – rarely for messaging
Hosted Wordpress and blogger for blogging, and wikidot for creating structured web pages

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

the way we live now (the fibre optic version)

the way we live now
Originally uploaded by moncur_d.

if anyone has ever wondered about how technology and bandwidth changes lives, take a look at this picture of my niece preparing dinner.

She's not a techo. She doesn't care about bandwidth or protocols, but because her house has a reliable highspeed fibre optic network connection she finds it normal to store recipes as bookmarks and stick a laptop on the kitchen bench and expect everything to just work ....

Tuesday, 23 April 2013


one thing I’ve learned since we’ve taken to going to remoter places with network connections that resemble wet string, is that web mail is not that good an idea. The connection assumes that you have bandwidth at your disposal and that you can be reasonably chatty.
Not so. I’ve reverted to a desktop mail client that works well on a minimal netbook windows seven install and talks nicely to gmail. I did try the free windows live email client but that seemed clunky, and slow to start up.
I’ve moved over to PostBox, which is not special, just a nice simple lightweight three pane client that seems to work well, and what’s more, integrates nicely with libre office.
So, if you need a client that can work offline – try postbox – they're online at http://www.postbox-inc.com/ and you’ll be sure to find it and the supporting doco …

ipads as cash registers

So there we were at the Himalaya Bakery in Daylesford having a pretty nice lunch of soup and fresh baked bread, and of course there then came the moment when we had to pay.
Now I’m notorious for never having any money on me as most times all I do is use my card at a supermarket or servo for petrol, so not surprisingly I only had five bucks on me and the bill was more like twenty or twenty five.
No worries I thought, I’ll use my debit card as I could see that the cash register – really just an old Dell computer with some cash register software, had a card reader attached.
Ah, says the man, our card reader’s down. And before I could mumble something about going down the street to the ATM, he whips out an ipad from beneath the counter, hands it to me, asks me to type in my email address, takes my card, types in the number and the authorisation code and some magic number of my own and we’re done.
He’s got his money, I’ve got a receipt mailed to me and no one had to go down to the ATM.
Pretty good, and the first time I’d encountered that.
Strangely enough the NYT had an article recently about some cafes in Oregon using the same sort of system – wonder how long it’ll be the norm for your waitperson to whip out an ipad mini rather than these older windows ce tap and click units they use …

Monday, 22 April 2013

a little twitter observation

I have a twitter feed, and it usually trucks around with 200+ followers.

I actually started the feed as a way of archiving bookmarks rather than as a means of communication, but I reckoned that, if anyone wanted to follow it, so much the better, but it has stayed a fairly idiosyncratic personal feed.

I spent last week in Daylesford, in central Victoria, again by accident off then net. Not totally true, I had  my phone but I spent the time doing human things and not posting updates to twitter.

You'd expect the number of followers to go down, as anyone following me out of curiousity would have got pretty bored that past week. Likewise the spammers and os on would have gone away,

Nope, the follower count went up.

I don't have a rational explanation. It's not an invasion of robots or people trying to get me to click on links for dubious reasons. In fact most look fairly legitimate.

Just odd ...