What3Words Global Addressing

May 14, 2017 at 10:11 pm | Posted in Internet, Online services, Software, Technology, Web Apps | Leave a comment
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You may be familiar with the domain name system for the Internet. By using domain name servers, the human-friendly domain name is converted into the actual numerical IP address of the web server. For example, you can type Google.com into your browser and it will look up the real address of the server, then load the site. This is much easier than remembering something like 216.58.194.78. And this is even more true of the coming IPv6 that will have much longer numbers.

This issue is greater still for mapping the world. Street addressing is somewhat random and in older cities like London or Tokyo, is rather a maze. And what of meeting someone in a large space like a stadium parking lot or a busy monument? And what about all the places that don’t have an address, like a park or forest?

The US Air Force developed the space-based Navstar Global Positioning System (now just called GPS) in 1973. It was fully rolled out by 1995 but only low level resolution was available to the public then. It has been progressively upgraded since and other overlapping systems have been added by other governments. With a GPS receiver, we can locate ourselves quite specifically on the earth. Most modern cell phones include one.

But once again, we have the same issue as with a server IP address. How human-friendly is a latitude & longitude like 49.303371, -123.136826? What about telling someone to meet you at marching.commented.priced instead?

Huh?

This is where What3Words (w3w) comes in. This is a tool that converts the GPS of a 3 sq meter (about 9′ square) space into 3 random words. 57 trillion human-relatable spaces on the globe and each can be addressed with 3 simple dictionary words. The words are randomized to avoid confusing similar words nearby. Thus, unlike street addresses or postal codes that are usually sequential, w3w is not.

Youtube

Where are you now? You can do a search, then drag the map to place the pointer at your exact location. Simple.

You can search by street address or by w3w address. If searching by street address, be careful with mapping accuracy. Google Maps addressing isn’t perfect. I’ve reported errors to them a few times.

In the free smartphone w3w app, Compass will tell you where you are. Its accuracy depends on if you have GPS turned on in your phone. With it off, my cell phone had a 21m radius of accuracy. Surprisingly close but not precise. With GPS on, it dropped to 7-12m – a big improvement but not the 3m accuracy of the grid. To give an exact address, you can drag the marker to the precise location first. And that depends on the quality of the map – w3w does offer several map options.

The key is giving an accurate reference point to the recipient, then it’s easy for them to find it.

There is no intuitive way of cross-checking accuracy if the map is vague or your GPS is imprecise. Also, the location entirely depends on their system as there is no real-world reference points for w3w, like an address on a building. But I can certainly see the advantages for sharing a point when there isn’t good street address references. Or you want someone to come to a side or back door. The above ‘marching.commented.priced‘ example is on a trail in a large park in western Canada. Want to go to Beaver Lake?

As the technology in use gets more refined, this will automatically become more precise.

w3w is an interesting idea that is evidently being used by transport and delivery companies in parts of the world where addressing has been an issue. If you have trouble getting people to the right place, it may be useful for you too.
David

Syncing Thunderbird to Android with MyPhoneExplorer

September 28, 2016 at 8:03 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Software, Technology | 1 Comment
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Perhaps you’re a little old school like me – you prefer to use an email client like Thunderbird to manage your mail, contacts and schedule rather than using web tools. While webmail is great for traveling, it has serious limitations if you’re managing several email accounts and a lot of traffic.

You may also not be a fan of sharing your entire life with web tools that browse your information for marketing hooks. Yet it would be nice to have your Contacts and Calendar synced with your Android phone. While Google and similar tools make doing that easy, it’s always under their watchful eye.

The solution is to sync your computer and phone directly. Recently I ran into a nifty little tool called MyPhoneExplorer. Originally developed for Ericsson phones, they added Android support.

It allows syncing your address books with your phones, includes a Calendar view for various desktop calendars, and allows browsing your text messages, call logs, file system and various other more geeky things. It also allows syncing to multiple phones. (feature summary)

The focus of this article is syncing Thunderbird Contacts and Lightning Calendar with your Android phone Contacts and Calendar.

You can connect with your phone via USB, WiFi or Bluetooth.
My Desktop doesn’t have bluetooth.

I routinely connect my G4 via USB to download pictures. However, this requires 2 extra things:
– An ABD driver but these have signing issues with recent versions of Windows.
– turn on Developer Options in Android. This is now somewhat hidden. For example, on the G4, it’s Settings, General, About Phone, Software info. Tap Build Number 5-6 times (it offers a countdown). This turns on Developer Options in the General Menu. Theres a switch to turn it off again inside the above. The FJSoft forum has links for other phones, drivers, etc.

Thus, in my case, the easy choice was Wireless.

I didn’t find detailed instructions for this Setup so I thought it worth going over what I did here.

Best to back up your phones contacts and Thunderbird before you do this, in case anything goes awry.

1) Download and install MyPhoneExplorer for your PC.
(There’s a portable option during setup but this doesn’t have the desired sync abilities)

2) In Play Store, install MyPhoneExplorer Client on your phone. The maker mentions it may install with first use of the desktop software, but I’d recommend this approach.

3) In Thunderbird, install the MyPhoneExplorer extension in Tools, Add-ons.
It has one setting, if you use Event Categories.

4) On Android, connect to WiFi (with the same router and subnet as your PC)

5) Start the client app on Android. Add a wifi pin # when prompted.
review Settings for syncing (turn off Google sync, for example)

6) Start the desktop app on you PC. Enter the PIN when prompted (it asked once). Review File, Settings. Autodetect worked fine for me.

Review Settings, esp in Sync:
Contacts:
For Contacts, set to Thunderbird, then click Advanced. Select the Address Books you want synced. For example, you may NOT want Collected Addresses on your phone.
The => symbol marks the default Address Book where new Phone Contacts will be added to Thunderbird. You may want a new address book for that purpose.

The program automatically loaded some Contacts from Thunderbird right away but not always what I wanted. Thus I set it to Sync Thunderbird > Phone only at first. After setting which address books and resyncing, it cleaned up the ones I didn’t want. Before it syncs, review the changes being made. Don’t let it delete phone contacts you want, etc. Select the contact to see the 2 options.

After it synced the right Address Books, I changed it back to sync both ways. I found there was a little cleaning up to do. A few of my Thunderbird Contacts didn’t have First & Last Names, for example, so didn’t display right on the phone. And I use Groups in Android Contacts. Not all of those where set per the Thunderbird Address books. Finally, Android has a Main phone number setting not used by Thunderbird, so that doesn’t sync. Change those to Work or whatever and all will be well. After a little back and forth and resyncing, I had them matching and synced.

Calendar:
Again, set Thunderbird and click Advanced. You can sync Events and/or Tasks. Again as a test, I synced to phone only at first, then both ways.

Tune the sync range. You probably don’t need years of events on your phone. Time Period allows you to control it. You can also set if private events are synced.

Thereafter, Connect & Disconnect the phone using F1 on the Desktop
Then select Contacts or Calendar and click the Sync button. Review the changes and OK.

Now you have your Contacts matching and have your Calendar with you.

You’ll find the best results by entering most data in Thunderbird and syncing. Android apps are simplified, so will do things like put the entire street address on one line. But it’s still handy to save new phone numbers and sync those with the desktop.
David

Windows 10 Upgrade & Tweaks

May 13, 2016 at 9:02 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Software | 14 Comments
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If you’re using Windows 8, the free upgrade to Windows 10 is an obvious choice. Some describe it as what Win8 should have been in the first place. Windows 7 is a bigger jump but unless your hardware isn’t up for it, upgrading while it’s free may be a good idea. I waited for the dust to settle and the bugs to be fixed. But now, the end of the free upgrade period is coming July 29. Experts say it’s unlikely to be extended. If you’re considering it, it’s time to make your move and avoid a last-minute crunch.

If you’ve already upgraded, you may find the Protection section and below worth reviewing.

Usually, I install a fresh version of a new operating system so I’m starting from a clean slate without historical problems. But this requires reinstalling all the software and making all the settings changes from scratch. Because Win10 is a smaller change and my Win8 installs are newer, I opted for the free upgrade.

Preparation
You first want to update Windows fully.

And update your major software to ensure it’s current & compatible with Win10. You may find PSI useful. I had a problem with several things hanging after the upgrade. Turns out I needed to install a new version of my Antivirus tool. I had thought it’s version was current but it turned out not to be.

Next create a full image of your operating system – the update gives you the choice to revert but if something goes wrong, you want to be able to get back to where you started. I had trouble with Windows backup on my tablet. It wouldn’t accept any of the media options that where available. Macrium Reflect (free) allowed me to choose a large thumb drive and get the job done.

For Windows upgrade, you can download the tool to start the upgrade process here. This is preferable to using the “Get Windows 10” tool Microsoft has pushed on many computers.

If you’d like a fresh install, you can get the media creation tool here. It has DVD and thumb-drive options. But you’ll need a prior Win10 activation. To get that, you first have to Upgrade to Win10, then Activate, and then you can wipe the drive and install fresh. When you come to activate that, Microsoft will recognize a valid install on the same system. Fred Langa goes into details here. (paid content)

Installation
The install software first spends time checking your system and downloading the upgrade files. This can be done while you continue to work. When the time comes for the actual upgrade, a lunch break would be optimum.

I upgraded a hybrid tablet and a custom desktop system. Both went smoothly and retained most of my customization and settings.

As the install is completing, it will ask you to log in to your Microsoft account. If you had been using a PIN or similar, be sure to have your original password ready.

Next you get the “Get Going Fast” screen – don’t. Click the tiny Customize link in the lower left and review some of the default settings. If you want some privacy, you’ll want to turn a lot of the initial settings off. Also the default apps if you already have programs you prefer.

After more processing, it will bring you to the desktop. Most of it should look about the same.

If you were using a third-party start menu, it will probably have been turned off. Microsoft told me twice Classic Shell had been “removed” but it wasn’t uninstalled, just tuned off.

Protection
For some reason, System Protection is turned off by default. In Control Panel, System, System Protection, turn on System Protection for your boot drive, set the space at about 2% and create a Restore point. Details. This gives you the ability to roll back if an update causes trouble. Windows Updates are now only automatic so this is important.

Windows key-X will give you a quick menu to access various admin functions, including Control Panel. Or right-click the Start menu icon.

Adjustments
Three areas that need attention are the new variation of the Start menu, Search, and Settings. We’ll look at Settings first.

Continuing in the trend of Win8, Windows 10 has settings in 2 places – Control Panel and the Settings app. The second is accessed by the Gear icon in the Start menu. You’ll want to review each area as some of the default settings are less than desirable.

If you travel a lot and want to share settings across devices, want to use mostly MS products, and want to share everything with Microsoft and the world, you may be happy with the default settings. If not, spend a bit of time reviewing them. This will also give you a better sense of what Win10 offers and what you can control.

System
Most in here are fine. You may want to review Notifications.
Offline Maps may be useful for you if you need map access where Internet service is lacking. But the maps are large files. If they don’t finish downloading before you reboot, you have to start again.

Devices
By default, it has Windows manage your default printer, based on the one you used last. I turned that off. My printer was off during the update and was not on the list. When I turned it on and asked it to search for new printers, it said there was none but added the printer meantime.

Network
It’s notable Windows now tracks your data usage like a cell phone.
If you have wireless, in WiFi, Manage WiFi settings, turn off the automated connection options. You want to manage what hotspots you connect to, not your Contacts, etc. And why would you want where you connect being shared like this?

Personalization
I found that Windows retained my prior settings but the accent colour didn’t look as good.
You may want to tweak the Local Screen settings.
Start is where you adjust the Start menu. If you use default Windows locations for your music and such, you can control which folders are displayed.

Accounts
If you don’t plan to sync settings on multiple devices, turn off Sync. Key to understand here is it’s all synced through your Microsoft account on-line. That’s not exactly privacy.

You will need to keep your MS account but can add and use a Local account so you’re not obliged to sign in to Microsoft (and be connected to the Internet) whenever you’re using your computer. Of course, the later is required for some features.

To create a Local account, go to Family and Other Users: look for ‘I don’t have this persons sign-in’ and add a User without a MS account.

For security, it’s not recommended you do regular computing in an Admin account. One way to avoid loosing your personalizations is to create a new Admin user, then log into it and change the original account to Regular. You’ll need the Admin password to make changes but it prevents malware from running accidentally.

It was also recommended to create a 2nd Admin account as backup, in case the first gets corrupted.

Time and Ease
Worth browsing to see what’s here.

Privacy
This is the big one. Your Advertising ID? There are a series of sections to go over, including which apps can access your personal data. If you don’t use the App, you can turn it off.

Update
Updates are always automatic in Windows 10 Home. In Windows Update, Advanced options, change the setting to Notify. Otherwise it may reboot your computer to update while you’re working.

Some have suggested you can control updates by setting your connection to Metered. But that’s canceled whenever you connect to a new network.

Search
Click Cortana in the Taskbar (by the Start menu), then the Settings icon and turn off online. Otherwise, everything you search for on your computer is also searched on Bing and tracked. Don’t know about you, but I don’t expect to find my work files on the Internet. I also find it more useful to use a browser to search on-line. I can also then use the search engine of my choice. You may want to turn off Cortana reminders at the top too.

You can also change the space it takes – an icon may be fine. For that, right-click the Taskbar, select Search, and then box, icon, or hidden.

Start Menu
As usual, there’s some junk in the Start menu to unpin. I prefer desktop programs over almost any of the apps. Once you clean out the “Get Office” etc, the right side is more manageable. You may also find you can make the tiles smaller. If you’re not on a touchscreen, the big tiles just take up space.

I find the lack of a Programs folder view annoying. The All Apps alphabetical view is much less useful as I group related programs in folders. But I was happy to see you can right click and Uninstall the undesirables.

At first I found some weird things on the list, like program Help links rather than just executables. But that seems to have sorted itself out. However, if you open folders, it shows everything in all the sub-folders together, including files like “legal” & “readme”. It doesn’t show which program they’re associated with. They apparently assumed no one organizes their Start Menu.

You can browse the alpha list and Pin your more commonly used programs, or create a folder with shortcuts for them and make that a new Toolbar (from the Taskbar). Woody shares many other tricks here.

I’ll have to decide how I will organize the Start menu – break programs out of groups? That will make the list vastly longer and require I remember the right name (Office? Microsoft Office?). Or use a third-party Start menu? The free Classic Shell still works for Windows 10 and is great for hierarchical menus. The exploration continues.
David

Music Sequencing

April 16, 2016 at 2:44 pm | Posted in Computers, Hardware, History, Music, Software | 1 Comment
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If you’re not a musician, you may be unaware of one trend in modern music –  sequencing.

Many years ago, sequencing software first arose in tools like Cakewalk. You added a track for each instrument and placed “notes” that used MIDI data. MIDI is a digital language for music data that allowed various devices, instruments and computers to talk. It could produce synthetic notes from pre-defined instruments. Computer sound cards of the day added MIDI instruments to their repertoire.

Old Cakewalk
(the software looks complex but is mainly a series of modules. Tracks, sequencing, notation, mixer, etc.)

You could compose complex songs in such software, or just use it for background tracks like drums and bass.

Over time, the ability to add pre-recorded sample sounds of live instruments was added, greatly expanding the quality and flexibility.

You sometimes hear sequencing software used in live performances to duplicate studio techniques that can’t be easily reproduced on stage – like a backup orchestra. It may sound like prerecorded content – which might also be used – but sequencing software allows adjusting the tempo and changing other details live that can’t be done with recorded content.

A friend of mine, who is not a musician, composes entire songs with samples in sequencing software. He markets the resulting albums on-line and makes a small income from his hobby. Such software now has thousands of instruments available and more can be added.

A parallel development was in instruments like drum pads where rubber pads could be used to trigger pre-programmed drum sets. This allowed drummers to expand their available drums but also to practice much more quietly.

drum pad
Similarly, piano keyboard controllers came out that were used to trigger software or other keyboards (via MIDI) rather than having built-in sounds. They were just a keyboard – like another form of your computer keyboard.

Over time, “pad controllers” were added to other instruments like keyboards as it was easier to play drums or trigger events with pads than keys. Then the controllers became instruments in themselves. They’re used to trigger digital events in computer software – either an individual sound sample (like playing an instrument) or an entire pre-programmed sequence.

nanopad
This shifted sequencing from a software process into a performance process. Recorded as a sequence, any errors can be easily corrected, samples upgraded, and so forth before recording a final song.

Unlike a typical instrument where this key is middle C, and that one is C5; pad controllers are entirely programmable. Any given pad can be anything. And then be something else for the next song. Better controllers have pads that are both touch and pressure sensitive so they can be quite expressive, giving contours to the programmed sound.

Controllers are also inexpensive compared to traditional instruments as the basics are simple. They’re a group of fancy buttons. All the sounds and intelligence are in the software. That’s where you do the programming, assigning sounds to keys. Then you can record the result – as a song or as a sequence to further polish.

In this example, notice how even voice is used as an “instrument” via pre-recorded samples. Also notice the sound samples being played have various lengths – some short, some longer. This is different from a normal instrument.

You have to have good spatial memory for this.
Here’s someone with 2:

A basic 16 pad unit with “lite” versions of the needed software is only about $30. It also works with pretty much any sequencing software like the free Hydrogen drums. (a dedicated drum sequencer, what might be called a software drum machine)

At first, people used pads for programming sequences. But pretty quickly, they began using them in live performance too. I saw a single live musician with a digital drum pad lay down the bass drum beat, then the next drum, then the next, building up over a dozen instruments, then jamming over the top. It has an interesting crescendo effect. One musician playing multiple parts in a kind of time dilation.

A related example:

The next stage of that was recording acoustic instrument samples live into a sequencer and then having that play back while they added other layers. The lines between live and recorded, acoustic and digital all blur.

Here’s an example – watch them use the foot pedal to mark the end of a sample recording. The pedal is carefully triggered so the sequence repeats from that point. (this is called looping) Notice a pad controller also being used but they’re using various triggers.

You don’t see pad instrumentalists on mainstream radio much yet. It’s a new style of musician – but they’re quite common on the net. It will be fascinating to see where this evolves.
David

Really Free Android Games

April 4, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Games, Internet, Software | 2 Comments

I’ve been a fan of the Android smartphone platform, partly because of it’s roots in Linux. But I have to say that Google’s behaviour has me questioning that, treating their users as a commodity to be monetized. Not that the other platforms are above this. Some of the worst aspects of the modern Internet have become concentrated on the cell platform. The “swiss army knife” of telephones becomes a Truman Show experiment.

Google is in a major conflict of interest around advertising. Junk web sites have proliferated with their ad model and they highlight them in search results. Ads get more hits but search results get much less useful. Witness the growth of services like DuckDuckGo that allow you to use Google with less of the manipulation.

But on Android, you’re in Google world so it’s everywhere. When you browse apps in the Play store, the “Recommended” free ones can be some of the worst offenders and there’s no way to filter them out. Reviews are almost useless and some are gamed.

I’ve found myself adding apps like QuickPic (photo gallery) and AIMP (music) to avoid the pushy Google apps you can’t remove.

In the history of computer games, there has been a long record of shareware, trialware and freeware. The last became almost ubiquitous on Linux. But in the Android variant, it’s all about advertising. On the PC platform, it would be called Adware, considered by some to be malware.

This became highlighted for me when I installed a paid anti-malware app on my cell phone, the mobile ESET. ESET includes a review of app security. I was surprised by some of what I’d OKed. One of the worst turned out to be a flashlight app – evidently many of them are rife with user tracking. For a high-rated flashlight?

Apparently, as a way to promote development on the Android platform, Google has been promoting advertising for income. It is certainly fair for developers to earn money for their work. But the implementation has often been at the expense of the user and their experience. A great program spoiled by pop-ups and appalling ads. Part of the game becomes where to click to close the latest interruption. Not to mention reporting your cell phone activity.

On the web, I don’t mind advertising such as you see in magazines and print (aside from “native advertising“). But they didn’t leave it there – many sites went over the top with pop-ups, pop-unders, flashing text, video, and sound. The ads are often obnoxious or inappropriate and they load tracking beacons. I was obliged to turn the deluge off with Adblock Plus and related browser plug-ins. But turning down the volume is not so straightforward when it’s built into the platform.

To add insult, all of this cell advertising is using your paid data. When the ads include video, they can soak up an amazing amount of bandwidth. If you’re using a basic plan, you really DON’T want your apps using up your data.

Sure, some (but not all) will use wireless if available. But generally, I’m using games during a commute, in a waiting room or some such where wireless is not an option. And if it is, do I want to go to the trouble of connecting to a public hot spot just for the ads? And further, you’re now sharing user information on a public network.

This kind of activity also uses your battery charge up much faster than simply playing the game. Pretty lame to have your phone die over ads.

In summary – some of the motivation against using ad-supported free games:
– low quality ads: obnoxious and inappropriate ads the feature nudity, violence and fake warnings. It surprises me legitimate companies put themselves into this mix.
– heavy data usage by ads, especially video
– heavy power usage by ads
– gamed reviews – app reviews are largely useless and some apps game them by asking you to recommend them after a few levels, then they turn on all the crap.
– Play Store “recommended” apps are some of the worst offenders
– tracking of user activity, data, and calls – just watch those permissions when you install. Does this app need access to your call records, etc? Just say no.
– hidden payware where you have to pay to continue the “free” game
I’m sure many of you have experienced other tricks too

If you’re looking for high quality games to play as a pastime, I’d suggest looking for real reviews and buying them. But if you’re looking for a few apps to amuse you while waiting somewhere, you want simple and ad free.

Here is a list of free games I’ve found that are currently free of ads and obnoxious permissions. Quality is a little mixed but I enjoy a few of them. You can find them in the Play store.

Frozen Bubble (bubble matching)
OpenSudoku (you can download other games free)
Instant Sudoku
Trap!
Mastermind
Mines (Minesweeper)
ShokoRocket (maze game)
Vexed
Simple Missile Defense
Scrabble free

There was a great Solitaire game I used to use but they went advertising badly. Not aware of one now.
If you have any of your own suggestions, let us know in comments. No promotions, please.
David

Lorem Ipsum

September 30, 2015 at 5:53 pm | Posted in Online services, Software, Writing | Leave a comment
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You may have occasionally run into a web site containing nonsense text that looks sort of Latin. Like this:

“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.”

This is known as “Lorem Ipsum” or dummy text. It’s used to test page formatting without the distraction of real words with meaning. In fact, it’s been used since the 1500’s when an unknown printer scrambled type to make a type sample book. Remarkably, it has survived throughout the centuries of publishing, into Letraset and on into desktop publishing software and web design tools.

A surprise to me, it’s not completely random text but is actually derived from a Latin work by Cicero from 45 BC – a text on  ethics and good & evil. In other words – it does have Latin roots. However, some of the modern editions have humour and other inappropriate edits mixed in, so be careful of your source.

Here’s is a handy site that discusses the above, shows the original source text, and offers a tool to create randomized dummy text as required. You can choose to start it with the original first sentence but the rest is randomized each time.

Imagine – one could create a large blog, full of articles that contain entirely random text. Ah, the possibilities.  🙂
David

On-line Editors

September 20, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Books, Internet, Online services, Software, Web Apps | 9 Comments
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Writing a book or other long form project isn’t just the writing. It’s also the editing, the publishing and the marketing. Few who start a book project ever produce a complete manuscript. And fewer of those get through the next hurdles. There’s a good reason why many never get it out there.

In these days of self-publishing and ebooks, many more have the chance to get their works published in some form. But without a publisher, too many are skipping some of the steps. Too many titles have gotten into distribution channels without decent editing. That brings down the whole market.

While word processing software has spell and grammar checking built in, this is not “editing”. It only handles some basic kinds of typos.

Traditional publishers will take a manuscript through 4 or more rounds of editing specialists. But you at least want a Substantive Editor to look at the structure, flow, and the coherence of the work and a Copy Editor to take a closer look at word use and proofread the niggly details. You may also need fact checking.

Recently, more advanced editing software has become available that can help with copy editing. You have to go through each suggested edit to make sure it’s valid, but it can cover a lot of the worst mistakes before you have real eyes on the work. That can make the copy editor’s job much easier.

Most of these tools are web services with a subscription model – you pay annually for access via the web. Sometimes, the tools have Word or other add-ins that bring the interface into your software. Some work only with Word.

A few also offer plagiarism services that check if you’ve copied off outside sources. In other words – a really bad idea. Checking has become easy and cheap so always quote your sources. It can also flag if you have potential sections where you might run into similarity problems later. Plus, the tool may help source your quotes.

I looked at various articles and reviews. Many pointed to a batch of similarly priced tools.

Grammarly often topped the pack but there was sometimes overt advertising influence. Personal reviews were more mixed and there were a lot of reports of unresolved over-billing or being billed for the free trial. Plagiarism checking is included.

WhiteSmoke seemed decent but the setup wasn’t as useful for me. Their web site looks to be infected, so I’m not linking them. One reviewer linked instead to another supplier, suggesting a long term problem.

CorrectEnglish looked decent. But all of these tools are over $100. That can become competitive with a copy editors rates if your primary need is one work.

Then I found a couple of writers blogs like Karen’s that suggested others. Further research showed all where positive about them.

The key one: ProWritingAid – you can actually use their on-line tool for free for a batch of smaller works but you have to manually make the suggested edits in your work. I ran a recently posted article though it and was surprised how many  mistakes it found. Doh! For $35 a year, you can do longer works and edit right in the text, then transfer the updates back. If you use Word or Google Docs, they have an add-in to edit right in the doc. WordPress too. For $5 more you get plagiarism checking.

They also have a decent blog talking about the industry, even inviting comparisons with similar products. And their Twitter feed is full related links, author articles, etc. They’re clearly into it.

Karen’s link above also mentioned the free (in beta) EditMinion. It only does small parts but does catch slightly different things. She suggested you use this first, then ProWritingAid.

She also mentioned a great tool if you’re writing non-fiction. WritingHouse gives you a free tool for assembling a Bibliography in the right format with all the little details.

Note that you have to resist the urge to get into fancy formatting of your work prematurely. That can get butchered by the editing process. Formatting comes after you have a polished draft. Plus the style of formatting will depend on your eventual publishing medium. Default word processing format is usually for 8.5 x 11″ paper. That’s useful for a PDF at best. Book formatting is quite distinct and digital ebooks and web publishing are each their own worlds. A carefully formatted print PDF looks terrible on an ebook reader, for example. Ebooks have to be able to flow into their viewing container.

When you get to this point, I’ve found the book Zero Cost Self Publishing by Stephen Norton useful. It’s a step-by-step how-to for print and the primary ebook distributors. And then there is the exploding world market for ebooks in other languages. Why stick with N. America when you can be a best-seller in China?

Long form writing, whatever the final output, is quite the process. We can all use a little help at different parts of the journey.
David

The Collection

August 26, 2015 at 3:58 pm | Posted in Computers, Media, Movies, Online services, Software | Leave a comment
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Movie Buffs come in many forms. There are those who like movies only in the theatres – perhaps at a favoured cinema or an art house. Others like to manage their own schedule and subscribe to various on-line services like Netflix to stream what and when. And still others like the physical media so they are independent. Or maybe they just like to collect. And of course there are mixtures – those who collect just fav films but go to the cinema for the big screen spectacles and stream others. And so on.

Over time, those collections can get to be large. We can start loosing track of what we have, what we’ve watched, what we’ve loaned and so forth. Myself, I began a simple spreadsheet. When that got too large, I migrated to a simple database. I looked at available free cataloging software like I use for my archive discs but didn’t find what I needed. I also recognized the benefit of storing the data external to the database, something most home office apps don’t do (Access, Base, etc). Good databases store their data externally, so I set up a jdbc database. That worked well for a year and then Java updated in a way that my office software didn’t. Broken.

Time for a new solution. After doing some online research and going over Gizmo and Lifehacker, I narrowed my choices down to 4 programs. DVD collection software has come a long ways. After trying several out, I found Eric’s Movie Database best met my needs.

It took a bit of fiddling to get the data out of the old broken database, then convert to csv format, then to add a couple of custom fields to EMDB (easy). It’s also good to review your old data to make sure its in a standardized format. Some of mine like dates was in shorthand that another database wouldn’t recognize. Then I was able to import a large collection into Eric’s. You can then run a batch update through IMDB and it downloaded a great deal more info than I ever tracked. So much easier than all that typing and now I had visual references too. A quick review allowed me to correct a few identification errors plus load TV episodes for those items.

EMDB is a vast improvement over my little custom database. I just enter the name and a couple of details and it collects all the rest. It’s packed with customization options. It has both manual and automatic backups. You can easily add another database for a different collection and cut and paste those titles over. And you can make the whole thing portable. I’m still discovering features.

If your collection is digital, such as on a NAS or media server, EMDB includes a file Location field. You can index an entire digital collection by file name (if you have good naming habits). And you can also launch the movie from within the software, if that works for your setup. Adding a new file, it will index it without even having to type the movies name.

For a small donation, Eric will send you a file to rename the program in your name.
David

New Banking

December 15, 2014 at 11:55 am | Posted in Economoney, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Technology, Web Apps | 1 Comment

There is a new service developing in Canada called Koho. They’re a “technology company delivering a banking experience” rather than being a bank. Yet the money is deposited with a credit union, so is secured and insured in the usual way.

They use a debit-style prepaid credit card, processed through a credit union. But unlike cards like the BMO one I discussed here, this one will have no fees. (other than for things like cheque processing) They’ll use the standard merchant transaction fees to support the business, much as Interac does.

They’ll also donate to chosen causes from your transaction activity automatically. It’s targeting young people with web and mobile apps for saving and managing money. They describe it like Mint, but with the functionality built into your account.

If you’re used to a full-service bank, it may not be your style. But if you have an active life that is technology-supported, it may be a big improvement. They suggest they’ll be the most affordable banking in Canada.

Check out the FAQ page for details. Pretty interesting.

The only downside I can see is it means signing for transactions, unlike a true debit card. In fact, it cuts the non-profit Interac (debit) system out of the loop. But I’ve certainly found using a travel card much simplifies those kinds of transactions.
David

Better Base Databases

October 19, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Posted in Computers, Software | Leave a comment

The open source office suite OpenOffice and the related branch LibreOffice (my fav) are a great package for your word processing and spreadsheet needs – for free. I’ve been using them for years, ever since MS Office started locking up my machine – even when it wasn’t running. I’ve used OO for complex projects like a book with master document and separate chapter documents, auto-table of contents, end notes and more. They work fine with MS Office documents but do even better with the Open Document standard. This standard avoids some of the issues with proprietary formats. (ever tried to open a very old Word document?)

Where the package is weaker is with Base, it’s database component. Data is much more robust when stored externally from the reference document. I had a spreadsheet that was getting a little too large and decided to migrate it to a database in Base. I could then add more fields, have a data entry form, predesigned reports and so much more. I attempted to use an external SQL database (mySQL) but this required a bunch of added software and a very obscure process. While I successfully created a database, it wouldn’t link properly. I needed something more straightforward to manage.

I ended up just using Base, but with a default embedded database.  (Microsoft Access has the same issue btw) As is not so uncommon, it recently hiccuped and was unable to repair 2 components. Happily I use FileHamster, so was able to quickly recover a version saved prior to the hiccup.

But I knew I needed a better solution. This time, I ran into a more straightforward alternative for an external database. This uses JDBC and macros to manage your external data. The database is stored in the folder, outside the ODB file and is thus less prone to being corrupted. The folder is fully portable.

The instructions look long and complex but it’s actually pretty straightforward, with lots of detailed notes. Just follow the steps. I’ve summarized them below to give you a sense of it. They’re the same with OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

For a new database:
– check 2 correct settings (I’d recommend Medium security)
– download and put the Split_HSQLDB_Wiz template in a new folder
– open the template in Base and begin creating Tables and so forth
You’ll notice the 3-4 table files are created outside the ODB file, hence external.

Here are the steps in detail

For an existing database:
– check 2 correct settings (I’d recommend Medium security)
– create a new database folder
– copy your old ODB database into the folder
– using a Zip program like 7-Zip, extract the files in the database folder (your tables) of the old database into the new folder
– rename the extracted files to match the new database name, as in mylist.data
– download and put the mydb_wiz.ODB and jar file in the folder
– open the new ODB and your tables will be seen “within”
– open the old ODB file and drag and drop the Queries, Forms and Reports into the new one
Save and done.

Here are the steps in detail

You can then delete the old ODB and rename the new one appropriately.
The folder will contain the new ODB, the jar file, and the 4 db files (with no extensions). The files have to be kept together but the folder is portable.

When you open the database, the footer in Base will show JDBC | hsqldb:file:///… instead of Embedded, indicating an external database.

If you appropriately use Medium security, to avoid accidentally approving macros in an unknown document, you’ll have to OK the macros each time you open the database. To avoid this, you’ll want to add the location of your new database folder to “Trusted file locations” in Security, Macro Security, Trusted Sources tab.

Happy Data!
David

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