Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

What do the ebook readers actually do?

It sounds like a daft question if you’ve got one but isn’t quite so daft if you don’t so I thought a potted guide would be in order.

Although in theory there are loads of them out there, in the UK for practical purposes there are basically two makes with a total of four models.

The Sony ones let you read PDFs and a number of other formats of which epub is the main one that they use. They have two ways of enlarging the text though the pocket edition only does the first one. The first way is through enlarging the text but not the images with the pocket edition offering effectively six sizes (three portrait, three landscape) and the touch edition ten (five portrait, five landscape) ie the six of the pocket plus four larger sizes. How this works with PDFs varies depending on how the PDF was prepared but generally you find that the photographs appear but diagrams generally don’t. The second way is a zoom facility only available on the touch edition which lets you magnify the PDF image. This would be perfect but doesn’t let you move to the next page so you’ve to unzoom the image, move to the next page and zoom it up if you want to do that. In practical terms I use the font enlargement method nearly all the time and it’s rare that I use the PDF zoom facility. You can add notes and highlighting on the touch edition which sounds useful but is very hard on the batteries and in practice I’ve never really used that facility. The pocket edition has a 5″ screen, the touch a 6″ one; it makes quite a difference to the reading with the larger screen but you get used to the smaller one and for some reason I find it easier to get through the reading with less words on the page but that might just be me. Price-wise it’s aroud £140 for the pocket edition, around £220 for the touch version.

I gather that the Amazon versions offer similar facilities using Kindle format as default but they also handle PDFs. Big plus points are that they are a lot cheaper (£109 for the basic 6″ version) and that you can buy books direct from Amazon obviously (with the Sonys you buy on your computer and transfer the books to the reader later). On the book buying front, prices are generally around the hard book price level although there are thousands of free ones (eg www.gutenberg.org has over 30,000). There’s also the Kindle DX which is around £250 and gives you a 10″ screen. They both come with a little keyboard for note-taking though as I say I’ve never really used the facility on the Sony so this isn’t a deciding point.

To transfer documents (which can include your own documents in Word and PDF form) you connect the device to your computer where it comes up as another disk drive; just drag and drop from there. In principle you can also use the supplied software (or Calibre which is free and better) but drag and drop works fine. With the Kindle you can email PDFs to your Kindle (but they charge you for that) or buy using the one-click facility. Both can charge up via the USB link but it’s much faster to plug them into the mains (you need to get a Sony PSP charger [about £20] to do that, the cheap Kindle comes with the charger).

One thing to watch is that effectively all the readers are black and white. Colour is available but at around £800 so in reality it’s probably best to wait a couple of years for that. Most of the time you don’t miss that but, depending on what you read, there are times when colour would be really handy. Due to limitations of the technology you can’t run videos. Page turning usually takes a fraction of a second but can be longer on complex pages. It’s difficult to define “complex” in this context as it depends on how the authors have prepared the page so you couldn’t tell by simply looking at a page in a book if it were “complex”.

The other major limitation if you’re buying books is that there is currently no second hand market. Basically you pay close to the full hardback price and can get nothing back if you’ve finished with a book you’ve bought.

If I were starting again I’d go for the cheap Kindle basically because it’s the cheapest.

However, do you really need one of these things? Certainly if you’re only reading the odd paperback the answer is probably not as not only are you looking at hardback prices, you also need to part with at least £109 to begin with. However, if you’re one of those people who need a few dozen paperbacks on holiday it’s a different matter as it is if you have access to a large library of PDFs like many students.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Differences in the questions and the answers online

Differences in the questions and the interpretations of the answers on websites seems to be increasingly common lately.

At the top of the annoyances list is the bank which, as part of their security set up, asks what is your mother’s first name yet when asking you to confirm your security details asks what was your mother’s maiden name which, of course, is a completely different question and with a different answer.

Even more insidious is Facebook as I’ve just found out. I generally get around to looking at it once every couple of months so just got around to setting up a bit more of my profile on a whim a few weeks ago. One thing I noticed was that you can now say you’re in a relationship with somebody that’s on Facebook. The options under that are extremely limited for the complicated lives that people lead these days and basically look like they’ve been written back in the 1950s. Anyway, the only one that seemed to match up me and Wendy was “in a relationship”. Snag is that at the other end it asked Wendy to confirm that she was my girlfriend which doesn’t really equate to “in a relationship” to me and doesn’t really come close to describing said relationship seeing as James is now 8 and we’ve been together for getting on for 10 years.

Can’t people sort out these two-place questions?

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Moving your email from Windows Outlook over to Evolution

Moving to Linux would be very easy were it not for the hassles of getting your emails transferred over. However, at least it’s not the showstopper that it was just a few years ago.

Your first issue is finding your .PST files which you can do by clicking on properties. To copy those over, go out of Outlook and copy them onto a USB stick. Likewise for contacts, calendars, etc. if you want those too though I’ve never used them so won’t be talking about them here. Evolution has a PST import limit of around 500MB so if your PST file(s) are bigger than that you’ll need to create some more and move your email into them until you’ve the PST files below the limit. At this point, it’s best to disable Outlook which you can so simply by changing the POP server that it uses to pick up your email; note down the settings as you’ll need those to set up Evolution.

Next you will need to install Evolution if you’ve not done so already and also ReadPST.

Evolution can take quite a while to import PST files (hours in my case) so you’ll need some patience for this step. Once that’s done you’ll discover one limitation of its import facility: it doesn’t import email in top level folders. Thus you’ll find that various folders which it has created are empty. This is where ReadPST comes in because it will read those PST files and separate them out into the various folders with mbox files in each of them. For the folders which Evolution has left empty, you need to import the contents from the appropriate spot in the folder hierarchy which ReadPST has created for you.

Finally, there’s the business of getting new mail  into Evolution. Go into Edit, Preferences and create the email accounts that you had in Outlook. As always, the settings here aren’t quite the same as those in Outlook (why that’s so is a mystery as the mail servers obviously work with all mail clients). In my case, I found that 1and1 needed a bit of tweaking to get outgoing mail to work, the settings being server: auth.1and1.co.uk (as per Outlook), server requires authentication, no encryption, authentication type: login. Once you’ve those set up, it’s best to send yourself a message to check that it’s all working.

What about email rules? I took the chance to do a little rationalisation of my email folder structure so didn’t bother trying to import those but that seems the best approach anyway as Evolution doesn’t seem to have nearly so much complexity as Outlook did. I say complexity rather than flexibility as there are just so many options in there that if you’re not careful email can seem to go into random folders sometimes.

And that’s it. Sadly, importing the messages isn’t as automated as it could be and, in my case, took quite a while but then that’s down to me having email back to 1996 and a far too complicated folder structure.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

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Moving out of Windows to Ubuntu

For me Vista was the final straw that decided me upon dumping Windows at the earliest opportunity. Never before had I seen such a poorly tested system.

That was a couple of years ago but moving out of Windows wasn’t possible for me then as I’d heaps of mail in Outlook which I wanted to take with me. Now it’s different though as the mail import facilities available in the Ubuntu mail programs have come on considerably so at the moment I’m in the process of cutting down the size of the PST below the 1GB import limit which seems the final barrier. Still, it’s on the home run so later today I should have everything moved into Ubuntu.

Aside from the email the move has been incredibly easy to do. Backing up everything in Vista and restoring it all in Ubuntu worked just fine. The only preparation required for that was making sure not to use the Office 2007 file formats though even that’s not really a requirement these days as OpenOffice can read those just fine.

What’s the benefit of the move though? Well, the Vista computer was quite simply becoming unuseably slow thanks to all the junk that’s associated with Vista. One notable improvement that I did make on Vista was disabling the “indexing” facility. That’s there simply to speed up searching for text within the files on your computer. Sounds like a useful facility, doesn’t it? How many times have you ever used it? For me, it’s at best once every couple of years yet enabling indexing has a major impact on the day to day speed of your computer (it’s the reason why your disk is in almost constant use even when you’re not doing anything). Even disabling it takes hours though as it needs to switch off indexing on every file on your computer which probably means hundreds of thousands of files these days for almost everyone.

The other major benefit is that Ubuntu is smaller. A lot smaller. It runs just fine on the netbook computer with 512MB which isn’t an option for Vista. That smaller size means that it runs a whole lot faster. Running SkyPE works great on the Acer 751 in Ubuntu; the same computer can’t deal with video when running Vista. It takes a lot less discspace too. The basic Windows 7 installation needs about 25GB, the basic Ubuntu installation needs less than 10GB. That’s not comparing like with like either as the Ubuntu install includes a fully working Office installation.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Upgrading the computers to 9.10 ubuntu

I’ve been weaning everyone off Windows over the past year so we’re getting into the first multi-computer upgrade of Ubuntu.

One of the problems seems to be that an Ubuntu upgrade seems to take forever if you’ve been installing bits and pieces of software over the course of the year. Of course, that’s pretty much the situation everyone is in thus it seems to be over 10 hours for everyone (my Aspire One weighed in at 15 hours).

On the other hand, a new install of 9.10 on another Aspire One took under 30 minutes although there’s another hour to download prior to the install.

Granted, there’s more software to download in an upgrade and indeed that “30 minute” install will likely end up at two or three hours counting downloading time. That’s still a long, long way short of the 10-15 hour times for upgrades though.

I’m going to see if I can speed things up somewhat for the next upgrade by copying the downloaded packages from /var/cache/apt/archives. There’s the “proper” way to do this but it sounds simpler to just copy all the .deb files and plonk them on with dpkg. Doing that should mean that I can get away with a backup, clean install and package install for the last couple of machines with the only thing remaining being setting up the Internet and email on them.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.
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