Thursday, 25 March 2021

Software creep and James Clark Ross

 If you've been following my other blog, you'll be aware that I've become intrigued by the Lady of the Heather story.

Now I researched James Clark Ross's account of his visit to Campbell Island via Google Books on my Huawei mediapad.

Like many nineteenth century accounts Ross's account of his voyage is highly readable and I thought 'maybe I'll download the pdf and read the whole book later'. 

Nineteenth century books can be difficult to find second hand, especially collecable books like travel books,  and by the time you've bought yourself two or three print on demand copies, you might as well have bought a cheap tablet to use as a dedicated device to read the books on. After all GoogleBooks lets you download the digitised copies of out of copyright books as PDF's or EPUB's.

While my full size tablet has proved incredibly useful I find that smaller format devices are better for portability and can fit comfortably into a small backpack or briefcase, yet the screen size is about the same as a printed book. And of course if you download the content to the device, being somewhere without network access - such as a bus - is not a problem.

Now I have a couple of old 7 inch tablets, a 2014 vintage Samsung Tab Lite and a 2015 vintage Alcatel Pixi-7, both of which were stuck on different versions of Android 4, meaning that they would not support the latest versions of acrobat. However both have the same formfactor as an A5 (paper) notebook - more or less anyway - making them ideal to use as an e-reader.

The Samsung turned out to be just that critical bit older by a few point releases and the latest version of Acrobat it supported had difficulties reading the Google Books PDF. 

Since the device was seven years old, and clearly limping a bit, I decided to wipe it and send it to the e-waste people. ( is an invaluable source of information as to which version of the Vulcan death grip is required to wipe a tablet or phone before disposal)

Amazingly, the Alacatel, despite being a bin end device bought from Telstra's disposal store turned out to be just up to date enough to cope with the downloaded PDF.

So, probably, it's good for a little bit longer.

But the lesson is that software creep does kill old Android devices sooner or later ...

Monday, 15 March 2021

Google Docs on an iphone ...

 I've never seen the point of having Google Docs (or indeed any other text processor) on a phone.

Screen's too small and fiddly, in fact I've found over the years that even on a seven inch tablet, you really need an external keyboard to use a text processor effectively.

But today I realised that I'd been thinking of smart phones as if they were sophisticated general purpose versions of personal digital assistants. (And yes, I was once a PDA enthusiast - wonderful useful liberating machines and now hopelessly out of date)

And indeed phones are highly effective pda replacements.

But of course what they also are are information access devices. Unlike the original PDA, your phone can also access the internet, and by extension, cloud storage.

So this morning, I was in our local post office posting off a package. It was a one off thing, so I hadn't saved the recipient to my contacts file, but cut and pasted his address to google docs and printed off a copy of the document.

I, of course, naturally, left the page with his name and address on the printer.

So when I'd bought a padded bag from the post office and went to write the delivery details in the address section, I had a problem.

So out with my iPhone, install google docs, and sixty seconds later, I had the name and address of the recipient.

This of course only worked because the post office has quite zippy 4G coverage, close to the theoretical maximum.

But it taught me a lesson - you don't need a creation capable device to view content, and you really don't need to print off notes and short emails.

Strange it's taken me ten years to realise this ...

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Learning palaeography ...

 I've previously written that I like messing about with old documents, either as part of family history , or as part of my documenting the contents of Dow's pharmacy.

I reckoned that I had been doing reasonably well reading old documents and pharmaceutical labels, so I decided to put my skills to the test by doing the Futurelearn course on Early Modern Scottish Palaeography.

I didn't bother with paying for a certificate of course completion or anything formal, as I just wanted to benchmark my skills and see how I was doing.

I came away both challenged and satisfied - I can say that I'm not bad with eighteenth century running italic - which is what I need to read Kirk Session records ( and by extension some early colonial period Australian convict records).

Due to the documentation cliff effect with records in eighteenth century Scotland I'm not sure how far back I can push the timeline of my family history - basically if they were too poor to own a horse or a clock, and didn't incur the wrath of the Kirk Session for extramarital sexual adventures - they will not have left much of a documentation trail.

And that leads me on to secretary hand - the style of handwriting more common before the eighteenth century. Scrawly and difficult and peppered with odd contractions and abbreviations. I learned that I could read it, but that if I was to become good at it I'd need a lot more practice, which was as I thought.

But for a short course it was good - three self paced two hour sessions with a mix of videos and written material, along with quizzes to see how you were travelling.

You had to concentrate, but it was interesting and concise. Understandably it was more targeted at people interested in Scottish history, but given that you can skip some of the historical material, that's not a great drawback.

So, if you're sufficiently mad to want to learn to read old records, you could do worse than start with this course ...