Thursday, 18 August 2016

Mobile phones and rural life

As I've said before we've done the treechange thing.

Reluctantly we went back to Telstra for our internet service, but while it's more expensive, it's not been a terrible experience.

Our mobile phones have been a different story. We're both locked into contracts with Virgin (which is really Optus with a red t-shirt), and the contracts don't expire to June next year, and Optus only just flickers into life where we live meaning missed calls, texts, and making those bank transactions where they text you a security code a fun exercise.

In all the towns round about, Albury, Wangaratta, Myrtleford, Bright and so on they work fine. Even three blocks up they more or less work. But not just where we live.

So, what to do?

At home we have the internet for everything. The phones are good enough for most places we go to.

The only real problem is texts and calls when at home plus that nagging doubt about what to do if we have an emergency where we're out of range.

The answer is of course Telstra. So we bought a  pay as you go SIM, stuck it in the old Nokia Blackberry clone we use as a second phone when travelling which can go for days without a recharge and has QWERTY keyboard for texting, and when we activated the phone clicked the option on the SIM plan for  to say we wanted a long time between recharges rather than extra data - they give landline and internet customers a freebee in the hope we'll sign up for something more expensive down the track.

So we've got calls and texts, and minimal running costs, which is basically what we need - just such a pain to have to have an extra phone ...

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

IP TV ...

When we moved back to Telstra they gave us this little Roku box that does Netflix and the other streaming services, as well as the public broadcasters on demand services.

Before then our internet in Canberra (yes it's the federal capital, but we lived out or reach of the VDSL cable and our ADSL service was overloaded and slow) was crap and basically not good enough to watch streaming media reliably except during the day when the kids were at school and people were out at work.

And having the streaming box has   changed our habits. We hardly ever record anything to watch later these days, and we have become devotees if various dubbed dramas and docos which are online only.

At the same time we also have a second tv in the guest room which we originally bought as a special offer from a big box store to give us a tv in our new house while we had two houses and were commuting between them.

Currently our guest room tv doesn't have an antenna connection, and for various boring technical reasons doesn't actually pick up SBS that well if you plug an antenna into it (weak signal, tuner performance and whatever -  basically the joys of rural life). Being odd people we only ever watch SBS and the ABC (in the days of analog tv we only ever had these two channels tuned in).

So, what to do? The TV wasn't doing anything useful, and installing an antenna socket and a booster would cost more that I wanted to pay.

What I did go was do looking for one of these Android powered streaming devices. Usually they come only with Netflix and some Asian language services preloaded but as it's Android it's an easy task (once you've sorted the onscreen keyboard mystery) to install the major broadcasters streaming applications giving us both live TV and the on demand services, plus the usual YouTube and what have you, all for a little less than sixty bucks (or a quarter of the cost of having an additional socket installed plus a signal booster). Installation and configuration was no more difficult or time consuming than setting up a new  phone or a tablet.

Interestingly, when we were in Croatia last year, one apartment we stayed in had basically the same system - internet box with a set of preconfigured streaming apps, except that the box was provided by the local isp and also functioned as a wireless router.

Obviously it'll eat into our internet quota, but as it's the guest room / second tv it won't do that much, and anyway, at the moment we've bandwidth to burn.

Simples ...

Saturday, 6 August 2016

FX Docuprint p115w and linux

Back about Christmas time I wrote a blog post about how I couldn't get my new and shiny FujiXerox cheapie to work with linux.

Instead of hacking the driver I moved house and lived with the fact that if I needed to print from Linux it was to a pdf and then via dropbox from another device.

But I didn't give up - and yesterday I came across this post on using the Brother HL-1050 driver, so I thought what the hell and tried it. and amazingly if you configure it as a brother hl1050 it seems to work - certainly prints the ubuntu test page ...

Monday, 1 August 2016

OCR, scanning and print on demand

I’ve been thinking about Ernesta, Christina and OCR (and the problem of book digitisation).

Scanning books essentially allows you to take an image of each page, and may introduce artefacts caused by blotches, foxing and dead spiders, but the result is generally something that can be read by a human being, and of course the book can be printed out, bound, and sold.

That’s what the various print on demand people do and what the Espresso book machine was designed to do.

And because human being are good at working out page layouts you don’t beed need to correct for headers, footers, page numbers and so on. What you scan is what you get.

Enter the ebook reader, either as hardware or software.

For a start they want text not images. OCR software is good, but not perfect, which means that artefacts introduced either by poor quality printing or dead spiders will give you unreadable runs of gobbledygook. Also any page headers and page numbers tend to end up embedded in the text, and because the text is reflowable, ie is automatically formatted to fit the screen, which is treated as a little porthole onto which you see the book as if it was printed on a roll of toilet paper that is unwound past the porthole, headers, page numbers etc don’t make any sense.

And having read several books that have been converted like this I can tell you it’s a pain on the Kindle.

Gutenberg ebooks are usually good because they have been rekeyed. Books from mainstream publishers are usually generated from the electronic source and structured appropriately.

Scanned and OCR’d books need some TLC (and possibly some TEI), and that takes time and requires effort, which is expensive.

This means that print on demand will live on as a way of reading out of print out of copyright books as it’s probably cheaper to this than restructure and correct the text, especially for one off productions ...

Monday, 20 June 2016

Rejoining Telstra

As I've written elsewhere, we've recently moved to rural Victoria, something which in technical terms has involved a bit of backtracking on our part.

Outside of the cities all these competing telecom companies don't really operate, it's like telecom deregulation had never happened, it's Telstra all the way.

We had been Telstra customers but their service was so bad that at the end of 2013 we ditched them for TPG, who actually managed to provide working broadband, and used the money saved to put a backup 3G connection in place for when our internet went down (basically every time it rained).

Well TPG worked for us for a couple of years,even if the internet service started becoming as erratic as Telstra's once Netflix arrived, especially during school holidays, but the 3g service kept on as a reliable, if slow backup - I was actually quite impressed at how good it was, happily supporting two or three outgoing connections and managing an almost undetectable switchover whenever the main ADSL service failed.

But there's no TPG in Beechworth so it's back to Telstra, something I was dreading given our previous bad experience, but we've ended up with a service that's four or five times faster than TPG ever managed in Fadden, more than adequate for streaming media - finally we've caught up with the rest of the world.

The only annoyance is that our hipster mobiles don't work reliably - if you've been following the latest series of Rake on the ABC you'll remember the sequence where Cleaver is hiding out in some quiet place in the bush and has to climb a ladder propped up against the outside dunny to get a phone signal.

We're not that bad, but if you want a conversation it's either down by the compost heap  at the bottom of the back yard or the front porch, neither of which are great for privacy. Text messages work, and usually the phone will ring inside the house meaning a mad dash across the yard before the other person rings off.

On the other hand Skype works well due to our decent wifi and internet so there's always an alternative - at worst I can redirect mobile phones to our Skype service ...

Monday, 9 May 2016

Windows 10 tablets


hard though it is to admit it, I'm quite enjoying Windows 10 on my Dell laptop. Yes, there's some minor irritations, but it's no worse than Xubuntu or OS X.

So, out of curiosity I thought I'd do a desk exercise of seeing if a Windows tablet could replace one of my Android tablets. I've no intention of doing this for real, I've already got a ridiculous number of devices.

So the device. A little hunting with Google's shopping search shows that you can get a reasonable 8" device for just over $100 (be aware, this is slightly unrealistic - one of the big box retailers is dumping stock through ebay at the moment), however you can get noname Asian devices for around the same price. For a brand name device, entry level is between $150 and $200. You can pay more for a bigger screen, more internal storage etc but you can get something reasonable for under $200.

Applications - well the reason to use Windows is that you can use the same applications as on your desktop. So what windows apps do I use already?

  • The Guardian
  • Weather
  • Twitter
and that's about it. On my day to day Android devices I use the same applications plus a Markdown editor, Dropbox, an rss reader, the ABC news app and gmail and a calendar app that syncs with Google.

Well, hunting through the Windows app store, they (or equivalents) are all there - there's even a gmail app even though I'm guessing Microsoft would prefer me to use my Windows Live account.

So, if one of my daily use Android tablets was to die on me and I needed to replace it fast Windows  would fit the bill, but, and it's a big but, while I could source a discounted 10" Windows tablet for around $200, I could equally easily pick up a decent discounted brand name  Android device for about the same ...

Friday, 18 March 2016

Moving to Windows 10 ...

Well I finally clicked on the 'Get Windows 10' button on my Dell laptop that I've been using increasingly as my day to day machine, ever since I got round to configuring Thunderbird to work with my calendar and contacts as well as manage my mail.

I've no idea how long or how tedious the upgrade process was, basically I kicked it off one evening before going to bed and left it to it, and there, in the morning was Windows 10.

Performance was no better or no worse with Windows 7 and all my programs were there - basically I only use Libre Office, EverNote, Thunderbird and Chrome, with an occasional foray into FocusWriter and a Markdown editor, and they all seem to work fine, as does printing and all the other things you'd expect.


The date format was changed to what I privately label as 'Stupid American format', ie MM/dd/yy. There's no default dd/mm/yy format so dd/MMM/yy it has to be. And of course I had to change the time back to the 24h format.

It also changed my default browser from Chrome to Microsoft edge. Now I've nothing against trying edge but I've got a pile of extensions set up in Chrome (Zotero, Evernote and so on), so I'd like to stay with them until I've got to play with them.

Other than that, not a lot. It managed to lose my avatar picture, but that's not a life or death issue and easily fixed.

I'd describe the upgrade as pretty inoffensive - as always time will tell whether it is or not ...