Smart phones are so much more than just phones. They are net connected, with thousands of applications available. We may balk at the cash price for some modern units. But the value? A recent application suggests most phones are capable of much more than we might think. Although it does go rather outside expected use and specs and undoubtedly voids the warranty.
NASA has launched 3 satellites run by smart phones. In fact, each made mostly from a smart phone. These “phonesats” are expected to be the cheapest satellites ever launched, using off-the-shelf products – in this case Nexus One phones running Android. Their mission – to see if smart phones can be used to successfully run a satellite in space. They’re also going to try to use the built-in cameras to take pictures of earth. And of course, they have built-in GPS. So far they’re operating normally.
They did have to add a larger battery pack and a powerful radio. The result is about 4″ square. And no – you can’t call or text them. A little out of your calling zone.
Combine this with low-cost rockets to launch and the satellite game changes completely.
Times change. When XP launched many years ago, it wasn’t much of an issue if people stayed with Windows 98 or DOS for a while. But now, in the Internet age, your computer needs regular updates to keep it secure while surfing. XP is web-connected, from right inside the operating system. (as the old IE debate illustrated)
Microsoft extended support for XP but that’s ending in a year (April 2014). However, between 30 and 40% of computers are still running the increasingly insecure XP. Many of those computers may not support the latest operating systems. Thus the only solution is a new computer.
Those who put this off are now typically facing a jump to Windows 8 and a totally different interface. It could be argued it’s as big a change as from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. And it rather sucks on a non-touch interface, though you can install third-party programs that restore the Start menu. The issue is particularly large for businesses still on XP. Evidently 64% have not completed a migration to Win7. The expense, training and loss of productivity are large obstacles. Not to mention software upgrade costs, old custom software, and the economy. But staying with XP is unsafe and will potentially create even larger problems. XP on the net will be like wearing a kick-me sign.
The issue for many is that XP does what they need. Email, Word, and web. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. My friends scenario should illustrate the problem though. He has a PowerPC G4 Mac. Until recently, it did everything he needed. But gradually, it all stopped being supported. No system updates. Then browsers, Flash and Acrobat stopped updating. Sites like webmail are gradually changing with features that don’t work on the old browsers. He has trouble even logging in to email now.
The big difference though is it’s a Mac. There are far fewer Mac viruses. XP is on a PC and there are thousands of viruses seeking it out. When it stops being updated, it becomes a sitting duck.
Another example comes to mind. I used to have an old NT server I used for monitoring the other servers and making sure everything was up and fine. Without being aware of it, it’s AV stopped updating as it was no longer supported. (they didn’t bother notifying us) The server got infected. I quickly cleaned out the infection but it was infected again in 10 minutes. It had to be updated to a new, supported operating system or taken off-line.
This is what XP users face. Personally, I’d find a supplier who can still build Windows 7 machines and pro-actively make the migration, like a friend did last week. For old software that is not cost-effective to upgrade, seek out free versions. Or you can use that old XP licence: install XP in free Oracle Virtualbox, then install those apps in XP. The app will run in XP in a window in your current OS. Of course, we’re talking local apps. Web-connected software will remain an issue in XP.
There’s a new botnet that is infecting WordPress-based blogs and web sites and then using them to infect others. The botnet can then be used to attack other web sites in denial of service attacks, etc. Because web servers are always up, it’s superior to virus-infected home PC’s.
Think it’s minor? Over 90,000 IP’s are already involved. Evidently, symptoms of an infection include slow performance and the inability to log into the WordPress account. They may also go off-line for a short time.
WordPress itself is not to blame. As with webmail accounts being hijacked, the issue is poor passwords. Apparently its still common to use “admin” or other simple passwords. Brute force password-trial attacks can discover easy passwords in seconds. You need a strong site admin password for your web site – even if it’s not WP based. Do you want to be infecting visiting customers? Or have their AV block them from your site? Friends have had these problems.
Hopefully, server-based anti-virus will be developed to reduce the issue. Some web hosts don’t provide web site anti-virus though. That’s how the virus problem spread in the first place.
Even if you don’t care about your own site, please do others the courtesy of not becoming a vector to attack them.
I talked about good password techniques here
One of the interesting trends in software is web applications – especially with the advent of HTML5. Rather than finding and installing software on your computer for this or that occasional task, you simply bookmark a web application and it’s there when you need it without anything to install or update. Many of these are free, at least for basics.
Here’s a new, free on-line drawing tool with the shapes for doing flowcharts, plans, etc.
Just go to the home page (draw.io) to use it. No signing up or cost. It supports multiple platforms, so you can use it anywhere and save to on-line storage for retrieving it anywhere. It also supports real-time collaboration. I notice that it has automatic alignment tools, making a tidy layout easy.
If you Save, you’ll get an XML file. If you Export, you can save to standard image formats like PNG and JPG. (PNG is better for graphics, JPG for photos) XML is for works in progress and later editing. A graphics bitmap format like PNG is for final output, sharing, etc. Caution suggests you save both in case you wish to edit later.
Here’s a nice brief introduction to how the Internet works – they touch on IP addresses, headers, packets, and routing.
And the background to the clip: The World Science Festival and the intro to “Internet Everywhere: The Future of History’s Most Disruptive Technology.“
(This is of course http or web pages we’re talking about. ftp, email, telnet and other technologies share tcp/ip but vary in implementation.)
Computer in your glasses? I remember an old telephone company ad where they talked about a “friendly future”, showing a person walking around with heads-up display glasses and making a phone call. It was a fantasy then.
Over 10 years ago, a company demoed their heads-up display glasses to my company. They were in town looking for funding. The impressive part was being able to see large construction blueprints, unlimited by screen size.
A few years ago, I talked about the MIT “Sixth Sense” presentations. This was more a pendant than glasses.
Last year, Google demoed their new Glass project with skydivers, bikers and wall scalers during a conference using remote live video from the various wearers.
Google has recently added patents for bone conductance audio (no one can overhear your caller), a laser projector to project an interface (keyboard, number pad, etc) on a nearby surface or your hand, eyescan, a speech interface, real-time augmented imagery, and a compact see-through display. Some of this is much like MIT was experimenting with.
Google is now launching a program with developers to app out the hardware.
This illustrates a few of these potential ideas:
The demos have generated lots of parodies.
Windows 8 is a big change from prior versions of Windows. There are several key things to know before making any decision about it.
1 – It’s based on a touch interface, like a smart-phone. You probably will NOT be pleased with it on a mouse-and-keyboard computer. That’s called doing it the hard way.
2 – If you buy a new computer with Windows 8, get one with a touch screen. If you get a cheap laptop without one, you’ll probably just find it annoying.
3 – The new Windows tablets out are running Windows RT. RT does NOT run prior Windows applications. RT apps are only available in a new RT store. Wait until the new year to get a Windows 8 tablet if you want to run traditional Windows applications.
4 – If you do any more typing that a little texting, you’ll want a tablet with a keyboard. A keyboard you can type comfortably on.
Chris Pirillo of Locker Gnome discusses further:
Keeping your computer up-to-date helps keep it reliable, more secure, and bug-free. Windows Update will keep Windows and some related tools like IE current. Even if you don’t use IE, you should keep it current due to its close ties with Windows. Tools like Secunia PSI help review your other software, including links to the makers updates. You especially need web tools like Java, Flash and Acrobat to be current.
But what about drivers? Drivers are pieces of software that communicate between computer devices and software. They translate what the software needs into hardware commands and vice versa. A printer driver, for example, allows a Word document to be converted into a paper document. (printed) Every component inside your computer and every item you attach to it needs drivers to work. A typical computer has many, many drivers.
There is some debate about updating drivers. Some feel that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If your computer is working fine, don’t mess it up. Others note that driver updates can include bug fixes, security patches, and added features. An ideal tool would allow us to easily update drivers but roll them back if there’s a problem.
Worse, updating drivers can be a fiddly job.
First you have to exactly identify the device you need drivers for. This means the make and model of the original component. Free tools like SIW can help a great deal. I can remember having to open up the PC and look around with a flashlight for the part’s model number.
Next, you have to go digging in the manufacturer’s web site to look for updates. (Support, Downloads section typically) By manufacturer, I mean the original maker of the component, not the assembler of the PC, like Dell or Sony. While the assembler often has component updates, they don’t usually keep them updated for more than a few years.
And you have to do this for each device, not knowing if it needs updating or not. Complicating the issue is web sites and software that purportedly offer to help but are actually scams to feed you ads or infect your computer. You can see why many don’t bother.
Recently, a friend’s computer was randomly blue-screening with little consistency. After checking the hard drive (chkdsk), system files (sfc) and memory (diagnostic), I looked at driver update utilities.
Several forums recommended the free SlimDrivers. It not only found out-of-date drivers but it offered links to manufacturers updates. (not its own or second-hand sites) Click the link and it will ask you to set a restore point (recommended) and will back up the old driver. Then it downloads and starts the install which you take over to completion.
I noticed a few people complained it wanted you to reboot the computer after. This is normal. For Windows to enable a new driver, you have to restart the computer. It’s also a good idea to reboot as you go along rather than in one big go after a lot of updates. Then, if there’s any issue, it’s easy to roll back the problem. While update problems are not common, they’re much easier to fix this way.
A few notes on installing Slimdriver:
- When installing, it preselects installing AVG toolbar. Just deselect that. (all too common)
- When you finish installing, deselect Run Now. It won’t work well without Admin privileges. Run it after from the Start menu so you can approve them.
- It sets itself to start with the computer. You really don’t need driver updates except occasionally. After starting the program, select Options (the toolbar gear) and deselect ‘Run at Windows Startup’. Then click Save.
As this Major Geeks intro indicates, start at the top and work down. Some drivers will update in groups. And note that the Uninstall menu is for uninstalling driver updates, not the program.
I would recommend getting Windows updates from Windows rather than using other tools.
UPDATE: ran into a little gotcha on one system that it’s good to be aware of. System started bluescreening some weeks after driver updates. Analysis pointed to a driver issue and the IRQ pointed to the video chip. Video driver was current. However, an ATI driver for an ATI chip may not actually be the right one. If it’s an onboard multimedia chip, most common in laptops, the scenario might be specific to the maker where a generic chip-manufacturers driver is unsuitable. Make sure your video driver is coming from the system maker rather than the chip maker in that case. When I installed the seemingly older Sony video driver for that system, the problem was resolved.
Gradually over the last few years, I’ve been digitizing my stuff. It takes less space, it’s easier to find, it can travel with me, and I can work and play with it immediately. I can also re-purpose it, like turning photos into a screen-saver, music into a play-list, and school notes into a reference library. Files are all one style, not stored by media (records, tapes, etc.) or misfiled or needing yet another device to play or piece of furniture to store. The computer becomes a repository of my life.
After getting a digital camera, photos were the first to migrate. Mostly I used an HP scanner with a photo feeder. If you have the option, a quick programmed action in Photoshop to colour balance, despeckle (dust), and sharpen left a polished job reasonably quickly. All is now sorted in folders by year, month and event.
I found a film projector at a garage sale for the old super8 films and videotaped that. A little klutzy but the films were in rough shape and many edits had broken. Home videos I then turned into DVDs using a DVR. The Panasonic model had a built in hard drive so they could be digitized then sorted onto DVD’s. That model DVR died prematurely but fortunately after conversions were done.
Another project was all the various music media, including old albums and cassettes. The free Exact Audio Copy is best for CD’s (add Lame for MP3 output). Audacity has the pop & noise removal and editing tools for older media. If you have music you own that you don’t have the device to play to digitize it, use the power of Google to find replacement files. Google allows you to search for file-types using specific search commands. Tools like Gooload and GoogleMusicSearch make this easier. Read what the second has to say about the technique and spam sites. You’re looking for plain directories of stored files, not graphical promotion and spam sites. And you’ll also want to check the conversion quality (bit-rate) of the source. (R-click file, Properties, Details, Audio Bit-rate)
I also tackled the family photo albums, some hand-tinted going back 100 years. As the photos and memorabilia were glued to the pages, this required a large format scanner.
There are now 2 types of scanner lights. Traditional bulb scanners like Epson’s are great for art and professional uses where there is some depth of field (focus range) and colour precise imaging is required. Newer LED scanners don’t have the depth of field but are fine for the flat stuff and much less costly. You’ll see reviews are stratified for LED scanners as some are caught unawares by this difference.
I got a Scanexpress A3 1200 for this project. Now, many family members have copies of the old family albums and we don’t have to worry about where to eventually store the big pile of crumbling, fading albums.
Slides, I thinned out. The slide attachment for my HP scanner illustrated how the dust on slides is massively magnified and way to much labour to fix. The old travel slides were mostly scenery and had bleached out. Some of the best had been printed anyway. I picked out the very best of the rest and had a photo lab handle the conversion. The cost can add up but a pro shop has the gear to clear dust and do it well.
The last big project was all the paper. Binders of school & course notes, workshops, family records, business cards, writing, recipes, references, correspondence, and on and on. Very little of it needed to be kept in paper form, filing boxes and file cabinets. And some of it would be much more useful if it was searchable.
Enter yet another scanner. This one, the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i. While the above could do the scanning, it would take far too long. My old company uses Fujitsu scanners to scan thousands of pages of documents every day. They’re a real workhorse but not inexpensive. I was pleased to see this one at a reasonable cost but remarkably full-featured and smaller than a loaf of bread. Just flip open the lid and it turns on. Stick in the paper – from business card size to 8.5″ x 14″ – and push start.
In one pass it will:
- scan both sides of the page if they have content
- straighten the image if its sideways or a bit crocked
- determine if it’s B&W, gray-scale or colour content
- determine the page size
- combine each batch into a PDF
- and more.
The unit will also scan to email or on-line storage which can be synced to smartphones. The list goes on and on. (see the above link for more)
That PDF can then be made searchable with the built-in Abbyy Finereader OCR (Optical Character (text) Recognition) tool. You can set it to do this automatically but I’d recommend this be a second step after scanning. You can start OCR and scan more at the same time. Also you can skip messy handwritten documents, images and other files unsuitable for OCR.
In addition to being searchable (quick find), an OCRed scan can be used to cut and paste quotes, though the quality of OCR text will depend on the quality of the original. Expect a few typos.
Documents that have been bound or hole-punched together may be prone to stick together. In this case, load a page, then the next, and the next a little ahead of the feeder. This ensures they don’t bind and the scan is complete. I’ve done hundreds of pages in a single file this way.
PDF editing tools may be useful after if you need to combine or separate PDFs or insert pages. You can find free recommendations through here. Note to OCR first. Some tools will change the Meta source info of the PDF. ScanSnap Abbyy will not OCR files identified as from other sources. (that’s a more expensive product)
Now that I’m caught up, it’s easy to convert new documents. Just flip open the top, stick in the pages and press start. By default, the file-name is the scan date & time so I rename and file it after. No boxes of archives and a mostly empty filing cabinet. I can also use it to scan photos so it’s become my day-to-day digitizer.
And of course, order your statements and such digitally rather than in paper. Then you have less wasted paper to scan. I get little postal mail now.
You do want to learn to organize files on a computer. A heap of dated scans really doesn’t serve you well long term, though you can use Search to find content. Give the folders and important documents names with dates for faster finding. File them in a sensible folder structure. See more in Digital Filing Cabinet.
Of course, if you go digital, make sure you have an automated backup system. For myself, I copy off the assembled scans to DVD for archive and have an automatic daily backup to an external hard drive. If it’s important to you, store those DVD archives in another building.
For Windows 7, the imaging tool included works well. For an extra data backup tool, I use the free Cobain Backup. Both to an external hard drive and both scheduled.
Hope the suggestions are useful.
Digital paper formats like PDF (Portable Document Format) have been around since the rise of Desktop Publishing in the early 1990′s, prior to the WWW. But recent eBook formats are a different animal. The text is sharper and designed to adjust and reflow into the size of the viewing screen; from a cell phone to a 50″ TV. The text can be annotated, highlighted and bookmarked and the software typically automatically reopens the file where you left off last time. No remembering page numbers.
The recent proliferation of eBooks has meant cheaper, more accessible books requiring vastly less storage space. Files are typically compressed like music’s .MP3 format, making them smaller than PDF’s and easier to take with you. If you use books as a reference source, a quick search is a great bonus. They’re greener and quickly accessible at purchase too. No commute to the bookstore or wait for shipping. (though I still love to shop in bookstores) Recently, eBooks began to outsell paper books and vast repositories of free books are growing on-line. Some traditional libraries have begun offering eBook “loans” or on-line reading and some on-line stores have a selection of free eBooks too.
As with many new technologies, this one is coming with a large surge in special file formats. Each supplier has their favorite format and many devices only support a few of them. There are a few standards like .ePub but the market is still settling out.
Some eBooks you buy come with copy protection (DRM) that limits how many devices you can put it on. If you have a few devices (cell, reader, and the computer you downloaded it to, for example) and you upgrade your hardware periodically, you’ll have to rebuy your favorites when you copy them over a few times. Built-in obsolescence of knowledge?
On the other hand, devices like Amazon’s Kindle are tied to their store to make shopping easy and painless. eReader devices have been driving this vast expansion as people discover the ease and advantages of a library that fits in your purse or case and lasts a week between charges. They organize and back up your books for you. Like your cell phone is tied to your provider or the iPxx devices are to iTunes and Apple, easy technology sells. It also makes you a dedicated customer.
If you’d also like to read those eBooks on your laptop or desktop, suppliers handily offer special proprietary viewers. But do you want to be stuck shopping at only one store on your PC or have different programs for each outlet competing for your library? Do you want someone looking over your shoulder at what you read? And who wants to hassle with file conversion to read what you’d like?
Caliber is a recommended free PC (Win, Mac and Linux) eReader program that can view and convert a wide range of formats but it likes to organize your eBooks their way (a la iTunes). If you already have a library structure for your different kinds of eBooks, you don’t want a program to go rearranging your bookcases. But if you’d prefer a program that organizes for you and you like to sync your books to various devices, you may prefer Caliber. It depends on your style of computing and who you want managing your library.
At first, I used the free CoolReader (Win, Linux, Android) as an unobtrusive program. It requires manually opening files (not just a double-click) but supports a wide range of formats. It’s a good choice if your needs are simple. This worked well for me until the number of eBooks I received grew (exponentially it seems) and I started getting other formats like DjVu more often. I gradually needed a viewer that was more sophisticated.
My usual sources for recommended free software weren’t helping. And then I ran into something unexpected. Software designed for viewing the full range of science and technology document formats. The STDU or “Science and Technology Document Utility“ was just what I was looking for. It’s free for personal and non-commercial use. It includes a tabbed interface, text and image export, and some limited conversion features.
(see the web site for details)
A single viewer that easily handles all the formats I’m running into was just what the doctor ordered.
eBook formats: EPub (most standard), FB2(Fiction book), TXT, CBR or CBZ(Comic Books), TCR(Psion), PDB(PalmDoc), MOBI(Open Ebook), AZW(older Kindles), and DCX(Fax)
Document Formats: PDF, DjVu, XPS, JBIG2, and WWF.
Image formats: TIFF, BMP, PCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, WMF, EMF, and PSD files.
A few use .CHM for eBooks. It’s a Windows HTML Help format that will open natively in Windows (only). Add copy protection and you get the .LIT format that evidently requires the propriety Microsoft Reader. As the MS Reader has now been discontinued, it illustrates why it’s best to avoid such closed, non-standard formats. Similarly, the oft-recommended but ironically named MobiPocket Reader converts your Mobi and other files into a proprietary PRC format. Believe me, this invites headaches down the road. If you’ve been browsing the web for awhile, you know what a hassle it was until Web Standards became commonly supported.
More less common eBook formats are listed here.
When you’re installing STDU, review the file associations (checkboxes) you’re assigning. For example, even with full Acrobat, I prefer the fast Foxit Reader for quick and secure PDF viewing. And I have favorite Image viewing tools like XnView. But for all these eBook and less common Doc formats Like DjVu, STDU gets my defaults.
If your main interest is something to view all these formats and you like to organize your own library, I’d recommend STDU.