Saturday, December 30, 2017

Battery issues and the 4th & 5th R

In the last week Apple showed us how not to 'extend' battery life in a machine.  There will be a lot of experts and Apple fans who will debate both sides, but, here is my observations of the issue.

  • Batteries in all devices degrade over time.  Give the users a tool to allow them to select the power options and explain in simple terms the implications of using them. I have an Android device and when I unplug the machine I turn on the power saving options so I can get a longer life out of the device until I plug back in.  I was informed of the power options for my phone and tablet and I was given a choice to make use of that option!
  • Don't make system changes in the background hoping the users won't notice, they will!  Be up front and explain the issue as there are enthusiasts who will find out and let the whole world know.  If there is an issue that requires changing hardware settings let us know, communicate the issue and what the options are.
  • Don't overcharge us for parts.  I understand and agree you need to make a profit, but, the prices at times seems to be set so it is cheaper to buy an new device.

Everyone knows what the three 'R's are.  Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  I believe there are two others.
  • Repair.  Don't make it difficult to repair and only at the authorized dealers with over inflated prices.  Nothing is a bigger turn off in my not so humble opinion than being forced into this option.  Make it a bit easier to repair the devices and open up who can make repairs to those devices.  You can set up training and certification (at a reasonable price) for this and then let them compete based on price, service and quality.  As a side effect of making it easier to repair it also will make it easier to recycle the device as it can be more easily disassembled into parts for recycling.
  • Replace.  Make it easy for us to replace the batteries and screens in our devices.  Replaceable batteries is one of the first things I check for when I buy a new device.  I do this not just for phones, I also do this for ALL devices (tablets & laptops especially) that have batteries.  I don't want to buy a device and when the battery is failing either go for an expensive repair or forced to buy a new device as we cannot get a battery.
Over the years I have done various upgrades and repairs to my laptops and cell phones.  It was a simple thing to pop out the old failed battery and then replace it.  For my netbook it gave me the option to do a major upgrade for the battery and I replaced it with a much bigger battery that allows me to work on the machine for most of the day unplugged. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Had to nuke my Win 10 machine

This is why I don't like forced updates.  The latest version from MS caused my Win 10 box to go into a endless reboot.  I would turn it on, get to the logon screen and15 seconds or so the screen will go black, then blue, then reboots.  I went to the DELL tools when it started up and did a hardware check and it was all good.  Safe mode wouldn't tell me what the problem was, all it showed was 'hardware' failed according to the software.  Rather than working on what driver (if I could even find what was causing the issue) was at fault it was faster for me to restore the machine to its original state.  One of the normal tasks I had was backing up my data so that wasn't going to be a major issue for me (I thought).

I forced the system to go back to the original Win 8.1 installation and then went through the process of updating that.  I have made the decision that going Win 10 isn't happening on that machine.  It took me a few days to get things up-to-date and patched.  Removing McAfee was a bit of a pain as even when I said to remove it I was told I didn't have the authority (I was using the admin account).  McAfee did have a tool to do a complete removal and that worked.  So far the machine is running very well, no reboots!

The only issue I had was restoring my email (Thunderbird).  My latest backup of the mail folder didn't work, but, as I had multiple backups I could go back to an older backup.  All my other documents, videos and pictures restored without a problem.

Lesson learned is that I will now have checkpoints to restore back to in the case a future update messes up the system.  I turned it off thinking I wouldn't ever use it and I could use the disk space for other things.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lubuntu 17.10 upgrade and Synaptic issue

I did the upgrade to Lubuntu 17.10 and for the most part it went smoothly.  The only time I had a problem was when I tried to run Synaptic.  It kept complaining about 'zesty' and the latest is 'artful'.  I surfed a lot of user groups and did find one reference to /root/.synaptic and to change the line in synaptic.conf to the release you want to use.  Rather dangerous, but, I made the change for DefaultDistro as root, saved the change and Synaptic is working!

 Once Synaptic launched I did a refresh and it appears to work.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Upgraded PCLINUXOS and a new mouse

A few things that I had to do for the Linux box.  For the last couple of weeks I have noticed at times I would get a double click on the mouse when I pressed only once.  I am not surprised there as the machine is used for a MMORPG (Runescape)for at least one hour a day.  Reading online forums it is somewhat common and if you are brave you can disassemble the mouse and fix the issue.  I am not willing to do that so I checked out the stores and the Logitech mouse was on sale and I picked up a new one.  The old one still works and I will take the batteries out and store it as an emergency mouse.

The other thing is PCLINUXOS has stopped upgrading KDE 4 and a couple of packages I use are not being upgraded.  This is not a huge deal as it has been a few years so I am overdue for a system upgrade.  I used the backup software to create a TAR, but, I didn't notice I clicked the option to compress every file.  I made two copies, one to a USB hard drive and a second to a USB stick.  I then verified that the files were readable on another system before I started to reformat and rebuild this machine.  Like before it didn't take very long to install and reboot.  That is when I noticed that all the files I backed up were compressed with the BZ2 extension.

I did a lot of online reading and found a number of forums with fancy scripts that could do the work, but, rather than me taking a few hours of setting up a script and then run I would do it all manual.  It isn't as bad as you might think.  The major directory was all of my files on Google and I just reinstalled GRIVE2 and re-synced in about 30 minutes.  The other files I used midnight commander, navigated to each directory and manually typed 'bzip2 -d *.bz2'.  Midnight commander has a nice feature, if you press [ALT]-P it will bring up the prior command(s).  I used that for the Thunderbird, Firefox, documents and photo folders and in about 1 hour I was done.  I had to do each folder and sub-folder as bzip2 didn't have an option I could see that would allow me to automatically unpack recursively the folders.

KDE5 does look somewhat similar to KDE4 so the change isn't that jarring.  The theme that was the default I wasn't thrilled with, but, that is also easy to change.  So far it seems to be running smoothly and it feels faster (I haven't done any timings there).

There are still a few more things like configuring my network printer, reinstall the XSANE scanner software, but, just about everything else is there by default.  I also have to get accustomed to the new mouse as it is a bit smaller and I am accidentally right-clicking the mouse.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A mini-rant on the state of store web pages

Too many stores don't take time to build a web site that is user friendly.  They are probably going with the experts who say it is perfect, but, take it from me they are far from perfect.  There are a few that I have problems with and it is frustrating in the least when I am looking for products.

I check out the online sites to see what products are available, their specs, reviews and prices.  When I see something I am wanting to buy I prefer going to the store to check it out the product before I purchase.

A few not-so-humble suggestions for your online sites:
  • Allow us to pick online only.  Many people do order online, but, for those of us who want to be able to go into the store and check out the product so we can make the final decision before buying give us the option of seeing only what is in the store.
  • Same goes for your affiliates.  Again, if I am interested I will click on the box to show them.
  • If the product is not available allow us select a check box so as NOT TO SEE them.  If they are not available, or sold out, then I don't want to see it.  This is the equivalent of empty shelves in the store.  If it isn't there then I am not interested in seeing a pretty picture. If not available, give an option quickly inform us how long it would take for it to be stocked locally.
  • This is a biggie and too many sites do this.  Check boxes are only that, you click on them and there is a check mark or it is empty.  Clicking on it WILL NEVER initiate an update, that is completely against what click boxes are for.  Allow the user to select what they want to see and then have a 'REFRESH SELECTION' button to present the user what they want to see (example below).
  • When I tell you NO on my location respect it! There is a site that every page I go to it asks me for my location and I keep telling it no.  The same goes for asking for my postal code and not allowing me to see anything until I do.  When I want to tell you my location (to see if stock is available locally) I will tell you and not until then.
  • Keep the scripting and fancy images to a minimum.  Not everyone runs the latest hardware that can handle all of the scripting quickly.  I have a high end machine for development work and pages there renders quickly, however, I have a netbook that I also use for development work and the same page sometimes takes up to a minute to render and that is not acceptable.
  • Test your pages for IE, Edge, Chrome and Firefox.  Too often I have to open up another browser so that your pages will properly render.  Again, follow the W3C standards for your pages and thoroughly test your pages.

For those thinking these are small business the answer to that is no.  These are large multi-national corporations who I would expect to be able to afford great web developers with the skills and knowledge to build sites that make it easy for customers to quickly find what they are looking for, confirm that the product is available locally. 

Check out the W3C site for web standards and how to develop a website that should work cross platform and with different browsers. 

It has been a while since I coded web pages, but, if I remember correctly you can use the following as an example of how to do check boxes.  Change the { and } to < and >.  I changed the values so that you can see the code and not the form.

   {input type="checkbox" id="In Store" name="instore" value="itisinstore"}
   {label for="In Store"}Show product that is in store?{/label}
   {input type="checkbox" id="Online Store" name="onlinestore" value="itisinonlinestore"}
   {label for="Online Store"}Show product that are in the online only store?{/label}
   {input type="checkbox" id="Out of Stock" name="outofstock" value="outofstock"}
   {label for="Out of Stock"}Show product that are temporarily out of stock?{/label}
   {button type="submit"}Refresh your selection{/button}

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trying out Open Live Writer for my Blogger sites

I have been using Firefox for Blogger for my creating and editing various blog articles.  While it works I didn’t have any offline tools to compose my blogs unless I was using my Android tablet.  My Android tablet has an app that does the basic work quite well, but, I was looking for a similar tool for my Windows machine.  I am trying out a new package called Open Live Writer that may allow me to compose offline.  If you are familiar with Word or Libre Office you will be comfortable with the editor.  In Windows 10 this application is available in the app store just a click away.

The initial set up was a bit of work as I have multiple blogs, but, it took only about 15 minutes to download the various settings for all of my blogs.  As I go on I also have been adding automatic links.  This is a nice feature as I can use a word/phrase and the package will automatically insert the link the first time I use it in my blog.  The category option is very nice as it is a drop down list and I can click on the tags appropriate to the blog and quickly add new tags.

The tool is basic, but, it does what I need it to do.  There are a couple of things I would like to see in the future.

  • Import of past postings so I can see and modify the post;
  • Change the default font and size.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Learned how to install TTF fonts not in PCLINUX

I use a twitter client CoreBird and it works almost perfectly.  The only issue is that it wouldn't display some of the emoji characters.  I checked around and it was missing the SYMBOLA TTF library.  I checked PCLINUXOS and it wasn't in the repository.  My next task was to figure out where it was and then download and then how to install the font.

The download was easy and I had a copy of the font in ZIP format.  The next task wasn't as easy, but, a quick Google search found me a link with instructions.  I followed it and created a local directory in my profile and ran the command fc - cache -fv in a terminal window.  I did it that way as I didn't want to mess around with system folders and if I screwed up it was fast and easy to remove it from my user account.  With the instructions it was easy and when I shut down CoreBird and restarted I could see the emoji displayed properly.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Software and Tools - Backups

One of the most important things you can do after you secure your device is to make regular backups and just as important is to test your backups.

Why backup?

  • Hard drives fail.  It doesn't matter how new the drive is or even if it is a SSD they will fail sooner or later;
  • You lose your device or it is stolen;
  • You drop your device and now it does not work;
  • When you patch or update your operating system it fails.  It doesn't matter the O/S you are using, I have had failed Linux updates and it required me to rebuild the machine;
  • You migrate to a new device and want all the files on the old machine moved to the new machine;
  • You finger slips and you accidentally delete an important file/directory; 
  • There is a disaster (ie. fire or flood);
  • Your device(s) infected with a virus or a trojan.  Again, it doesn't matter the O/S you are using, there are nasty programs out there that works in Windows, Linux and OS/X.
If one or more of the above happens you will need a backup so that your important documents are available to you when you rebuild the device or copy to a new device.  I have had people come to me with dead and dying devices asking if I can pull off their data and they have not made any backups.  Too often I cannot recover all of their files and important documents, images, videos are lost and they don't have any backups.

Things to think about

How often do you backup? 

  • That all depends on your personal preferences and how many documents you are adding to your device;
  • If you don't create very many then it may be safe to backup infrequently (monthly); 
  • If you create a lot of files (like scanning family photos), then frequent backups (daily) may be a good thing;
  • Once you set a schedule stick to it.  I put up a recurring reminder in Google calendar to remind me of when backups should be run.  Also you can set up a recurring task in Windows and Linux (cron) to run your backup scripts on a set schedule.

How many copies do you want to keep?  

  • Again this is a personal preference, but, multiple full backups is a good thing just in case one fails for some reason; 
  • An option here is a monthly full backup and then weekly backups of new/changed (differential backups) files;
  • Another reason as backups may fail and if you have only one copy then you have nothing to go back to.  I know this happens as decades ago when at work we were doing a DRP (Disaster Recovery Plan) exercise at work and one of the corporate backup tapes failed.  It wasn't a major problem as we did keep multiple backups and restored from an older image;

Off-site location for your backups?  

  • It doesn't matter if you have a good set of backups if you cannot get access to your site;
  • How secure is the off-site.  If you have sensitive information you don't want anyone getting access to the backup;
  • You should also figure out who should have access to your backups and let them know where it is and how they can get access to the backups if required;

Media for backups.  

  • Decades ago floppies were the media, then CDs followed by USB drives;
  • When you backup make sure that the tools, hardware and software is there to allow you to read the backups.  An example of this is some time ago I had to pull off backups from my father-in-law 3.5" floppy drives as he didn't have a floppy drive in his machine.  We were lucky in that I have an external 3.5" USB floppy drive for this and it was set up in Linux.  I also have an external CD drive and a blu-ray drive (call me paranoid) so I can pull files from backups in that format;
  • To the cloud.  Don't depend on that as your main backup as it may not be there when you need it.  I like Google drive for a secondary backup myself and the bonus is that the files I put there are available anywhere I have a web browser (and the firewall allows access).  With the various sites getting hacked I also don't keep files there that are sensitive and when I do put up a file of that nature I use encryption on the file/directory.  I also have a small script using GRIVE in Linux to pull a backup from GOOGLE drive to my machine.

Software and file format for backups.  

  • Over time operating systems do change and the software that did the original backup may not run on your new device and the new devices may not even be able to read your backups;
  • I tend to work with the lowest common denominator for backups that does work across platforms.  I prefer to use "ZIP" files as I know Windows and Linux both can work with that file format.  I assume OS/X will be able to read them too, but, I don't use that operating system so I am not 100% sure;
  • On my Linux machine I am partial to KBACKUP.  It is fairly easy to set up and use and it stores the files in a format that I can open in an Linux distro and Windows;
  • On my Windows box I use a simple XCOPY routine.  It isn't pretty, but, it works and the files are in a format that my Linux machines can read;
  • For my Android devices they get backed up to Google drive;
  • Several times a year I take one of my backups and plug it into a different machine to see if it is readable and I can pull one or more files off the backup.  Make sure what is backed up can be restored!  It is also a quick and easy test to see if your restore steps work and if there is anything else you should be doing when restoring from a backup;

When you restore.

  • If the restore is due to a virus or a trojan I strongly recommend that you don't ever use your backups until you have a clean and patched machine.  If the machine is still infected and the media you are using can be written to you don't want those backup files corrupted;
  • Make a checklist of what you need to do the restore and the steps performed when doing a restore.  This includes steps on how to verify that the restore worked;

My KBACKUP routine

Here are screen shots of my starting KBACKUP, running the backup and when it finishes.
Shortcut in my toolbox

Loading my backup profile

Directory & file list for backup

Backup running

Backup done with filename