Thursday, 17 February 2022

A tweak to the documentation methodology

 When I started on the project to document the contents of Dow's Pharmacy down in Chiltern I needed a documentation methodology - basically a standard procedure for documenting the artefacts.

Basically the procedure was

  • photograph the artefact
  • write a short standard description of the object in an excel spreadsheet and record the filenames of the photographs and what they are (one packet can look very much like another)
  • record the manufacturer name
  • save the spreadsheet and image files in a self documenting file structure (not quite true - each section has a short markdown description listing objects and locations as a sort of finding aid)
  • backup the saved information to a USB drive
Any additional background material was saved in OneNote. The day's work was backed up to OneDrive at the end of the day.

The reason for doing the backup at the end of the day was quite pragmatic - when I started in 2017 we had a rather slow ADSL link, and doing a backup to OneDrive during the day would slow the link to a near unusable state for anyone else.

In fact I often used to back up the data at home where we had a faster connection, even in the ADSL days. Once we had the NBN at home, it was a no brainer - a days work could be backed up in a few minutes. In fact it took longer to check that everything had been uploaded properly than it did to do the upload.

This methodology has proven robust, and has allowed me to work when the power was out, or indeed when the internet was off.

In fact, it's a methodology I'd certainly continue to use.

Recently however, there's been a bit of creep. Now that we have a reasonably fast NBN connection I've been doing a couple of backups to OneDrive during the day, rather than one big backup at close of play.
And then my work computer died on me. Not quite true, but the battery is buggered and not worth replacing.

This does mean I could keep on working normally as long as the power was on, but there would always be a risk of losing work (in rural Victoria the power can and does go off unpredictably during stormy weather).

So I changed computers. My new one is faster than the old one, but instead of a 500Mb hard disk, has a 128Mb SSD, which is just a little too small to hold a copy of the data set.

So, the simplest solution seemed to be to save the data directly to OneDrive, and then do backups of the days work to a USB stick - basically at morning tea, lunch, and at the end of the day, or roughly every two hours. There's no afternoon tea backup as I usually finish documenting at around 1500 or 1530, after which time I do a quality check to make sure that everything has been saved correctly and that OneNote has synced itself correctly.

Unlike my previous procedure, there's an assumption that there will be a working network connection and that OneDrive is online, so the procedure is slightly less robust, but in the event of a problem I can always drop back to the previous procedure, and back up the data once everything is back online.

The way OneDrive synchronisation works helps us here - the file is actually saved locally, and then uploaded in the background, meaning that even if the OneDrive upload fails I can still back the local copy up to the USB backup.

Yesterday was the first time I switched to this way of working and it seems to be robust enough. I probably need to test it in a number of situations, but I'm happy so far.

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Replacing a no name fitness tracker with an Inspire HR

 About eighteen months ago I wrote about my life with a cheap fitness tracker.

Recently I acquired an Inspire HR, one of the fitbit range of fitness trackers, which gave me a chance to compare a no name device with a brandname device.

The Inspire HR actually does less than the no name device, but it records distance walked, heart rate, and exercise sessions, such as bike rides, which is what I was particularly interested in.

Like the no name device it will also show notifications.

So, on paper, you'd say I was right, the no name device, at less than half the price, was just as capable, if not more so.

The real difference is the fitbit environment - the fitbit dashboard which lets you look at your walks and your bike rides, making it easy to track how you are doing - for example you get a nice route map

as well as the usual exercise details

meanwhile the data you get out of the noname device is not so nicely presented

Functional, but not as nice.

Now, if like me, you're trying to lose a bit of Covid belly (like most people over the last two year's lockdowns, despite my best intentions to stay fit, I drank and ate a little bit more than was ideal, and probably didn't exercise as much as I should have), what you are really interested in getting out of the device is how you're tracking, and it's here that the fitbit device wins, purely through the niceness of its online support environment.

Would I recommend you buy one?

Possibly not. If all you want to do is check some basic parameters and can live with the bare bones environment, the no name device is perfectly capable, but the fitbit does give you that little bit extra niceness (as well as having a better designed charger that attaches magnetically - no fiddling with three pronged crocodile clips!)

Having had both, I'd go for the fitbit because it works for me for where I'm trying to get. How much you want to pay and what you want out of a fitness tracker may be different. Certainly having used the noname tracker I'd agonise about buying the Inspire if I was paying full price ...

Friday, 11 February 2022

Medicine Duty ...

 I was down in Chiltern earlier this week and came across ( and solved) this little puzzle

A Medicine Duty tax stamp was a long stamp as in this 1897 example:

and would have been attached in such a way as to seal the package, or over the cork in the case of a bottle, meaning that when the item was opened the stamp would have been ripped off, making bottles with stamps in place pretty rare, as in this screen grab from a Bonham's stamp auction:

I'm not going to claim to be a genius in working this out, there was nothing particularly special in the solving of it, I found the answer via Wikipedia, with a little bit of supplemental googling about revenue stamps, but what I find quite remarkable is the way that something like this, which once must have seemed normal, too normal to mention even, can disappear from the collective memory ...

Friday, 4 February 2022

Public libraries as wifi providers ...

I’ve written before about using public libraries as a place to work, and how even really small public libraries can be tremendously useful in that they usually have a table or two to spread out, reasonable wifi and sometimes even a printer one can use for a nominal fee.

And all of this fits quite well with the portable surveying mode of working.

But of course, come the pandemic, libraries were shut during lockdown to protect both staff and patrons, and understandably the emphasis changed to online services such as e-book lending and providing online access to family history research resources.

Well, despite the Omicron variant, we are increasingly learning to live with the virus, even if at times living with the virus is reminiscent of how the nineteenth century lived with tuberculosis – voluntary self isolation, keeping one’s distance, and the ever present risk of infection.

I’m glad to report however that public libraries are back and are as helpful as ever with their workspaces – now socially distanced, and of course their free wifi.

Since the peak of the pandemic I havn’t used a public library seriously as a place to work, but I have used their wifi, sometimes in the building, and even from an outdoor table at a cafĂ© next door. 

I even used Yarrawonga public library’s wifi from the physio next door where J was some specialist physio in connection with her shoulder op, to check some notes I’d made down at Dow’s the day before.

Public wifi is undoubtedly an incredibly valuable resource. A public good, in fact.

When I retired, the one thing I expected to miss was eduroam, even if I had begun to doubt how relevant it was in a world with almost universal free wifi, even if sometimes the free wifi in shopping malls and the like is not exactly free.

Well these days I hardly ever go to university campuses, so even if I still had eduroam access it wouldn’t be much help – but public libraries and their free wifi, not to mention local authorities who are farsighted enough to provide public wifi nodes, have largely filled the gap …

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Google assistant amusement

 We've finally cracked and put a smart speaker with Google assistant in our sitting and tv area purely so we can play music via Spotify.

Now every couple has something that they like to do together that's a little bit odd - ours is watching non English language cop shows.

So we were peacefully watching Hierro, a Spanish language series produced by Movistar and currently available on SBS on demand (and it's excellent, give it a go).

SBS only ever subtitles foreign  language programmes so of course you get the full force Spanish dialogue, which naturally includes raised voices and Spanish spoken at 250km/h.

Google Assistant of course monitors for someone saying 'OK Google', rather than particular voices meaning it monitors everything going on from us discussing what's for dinner, talking to the cats, and also listening to what's on the TV or the internet radio when we have them on.

And suddenly in the midst of Hierro,  it heard something that made it think someone was talking to it and started complaining loudly that it didn't understand and generally being confused. Telling it to shut up stopped it.

The obvious solution is to turn the microphone off, which given we basically only use it for Spotify, wouldn't be a great loss, but it just shows, they're listening ...