Gadgets, Productivity, Tech, Work

From Paper to Pixels, By Phone

Documents

Image by Jerzy Górecki from Pixabay

One problem with email is keeping messages of interest beyond the confines of the email system.  Short of emailing them to another account it used to be difficult to save something interesting, useful or funny and the only option was to copy and paste into a word document.  I have many files of such amusements but also many printed emails of jokes and so on from previous workplaces.

Over the years I’ve tried to digitise piles of saved magazine articles and such like using a variety of desktop scanners and the one problem has been speed – the scanning process taking thirty seconds to a minute per page and then if I wanted to manipulate the text I’d have to run it through an OCR (optical character recognition) program to extract the words, taking even more time.

I’d finally decided to have another crack at the problem of a pile of funny emails stuffed in a box file and vaguely remembered seeing smartphone apps that can scan documents using the high-res main camera and save them as Adobe PDF files.  I searched and downloaded Adobe’s own app and it’s again amazing how technology has moved on.  As new phone cameras have improved in quality the images produced are crisp and clear so are perfect for document archiving.  When you start scanning the software automatically detects the edges of the document, photographs it, straightens it and then, best of all, before giving the option of scanning more pages or saving to PDF it OCRs the text too.

The end result is a portable document, or multiple pages in one file if necessary, which even has selectable text that can be copied into a word-processor document or spreadsheet, an ideal way of digitising and making all those previously fixed words editable and searchable again.  The very best thing though is it all takes a matter of seconds per page.  For anything that needs a bit more precision or detail – photos for example – I’d still use my high-res flatbed scanner.

It’s another example of how smartphones are becoming ubiquitous tools, the digital Swiss army knife, used to communicate, inform and amuse, entertain, create, record and archive.  All the processing power the scanning requires also underlines how far microprocessors have progressed, being able to do this in a tiny handheld box less than ten millimetres thick.  All the effort of scanning over fifty pages did leave my phone a little warm admittedly, so I decided to give it a bit of a rest and write this instead – on my big desktop PC.

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Gadgets, Music, Tech, Television

Timeshift

I can admit when I’m wrong, I don’t always like it but I can. When companies started talking about internet based on-demand TV I thought that the bandwidth requirements would overwhelm the technology, I was wrong and I’m really quite glad about that.

I haven’t signed up for any of the paid-for services but have found uses for the free ones. I’ve said before that I watch Antiques Roadtrip and as this is on while I’m at work I use the BBC iPlayer to watch it via a Roku on my TV, or on my tablet. Similarly I tended to relocate other shows to a time when there wasn’t anything else on the TV – or more recently on the radio, as I hardly use the telly anymore, or when I’m not busy doing something else.

It’s a far cry from when I was growing up – when the only technology we had to timeshift a programme was a VCR and a selection of tapes. The major problems, I remember, were remembering to set the timer; hoping that a power cut didn’t wipe the machine’s memory before it recorded whatever it was you wanted; finding a blank tape, or one you could reuse and ensuring that nobody wanted to record something else at the time. There was always the worry that someone would record over something you’d not watched yet. I do vaguely remember the broadcasters’ and manufacturers’ reminders that the VCR was only intended to temporarily timeshift shows like this.

After the VCR came other tech including hard-disc recorders, often including multiple tuners so you could record programmes from two or more channels at once, but these were soon rendered obsolete as well by streaming and catch-up services.

Recently I took advantage of an Amazon Prime free trial to watch Star Trek: Picard, and then signed up for a month so I could finish it – not being a binge watcher myself. This was an extreme example of timeshifting, being almost a year after it came out – a bit easier than waiting for it to be repeated on normal TV. Not that TV repeats are all bad – I usually end up watching QI a year after it’s shown on the BBC on the Dave channel, which has itself been so successful in repeating that it now gets referenced on shows such as, er, QI.

Catch-up and live internet radio is just as useful for listening to a show that’s on too early or late at a time when another show you’re not interested in is on. It also comes in handy when you’re listening to live radio, for example last week’s Liza Tarbuck on BBC Radio 2, and you miss something that someone’s said. In this case I grabbed my phone, fired up BBC Sounds and rewound the show by a minute. Which is one of the benefits of all these internet based services – radio and TV: you can go back and look at something again, pause it and write something down, or, most importantly, take a break and make a cuppa.

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Health, Science, Society

A Shot in The Arm

Vaccine

Image by Ali Raza from Pixabay

It looked like a scene from a dystopian SF novel.  A long queue of slightly uneasy looking men and women, two metres apart, in a long cattle shed.  It was eerily silent…  No, it wasn’t, a elderly woman and her daughter behind me were talking about the Llamas the daughter had photographed recently on her phone, which was fine, in the circumstances.

This was the Newark-on-Trent mass vaccination centre for covid-19 and about twenty minutes earlier I’d received a text message asking if I could go straight away to have my jab a couple of hours earlier than my booked appointment.  So had everyone else – as the man on the entrance said “the last time we asked for early attendance nobody turned up, this time everyone has”.  But nobody minded queueing, because at least it was a lovely sunny, warm Spring Sunday evening and secondly, we’re British.

Many in the queue were there for a second dose of the Pfizer, only a few of us were having the first and as such we were fast-tracked through to the side administering the AstraZeneca vaccine.  The vaccinations, I should add, were carried out in one of the showground’s offices, alongside the cattle sheds.  The staff were friendly and efficient, many were volunteers, all doing a wonderful job and all should be applauded for being there doing this for our benefit.  We were all there, eager and grateful to get the jab, I even got a sticker to say I’d had it.  Which brings me to the other subject of this piece.

A friend put on Facebook a few months ago that he was Anti-Vax – he didn’t like how they cleaned the carpet and preferred a Henry vacuum cleaner instead, ba dum tish.  It’s a joke, much like the actual anti-vaxxers.

So many debilitating and deadly diseases, affecting anyone in the population like Covid-19, have been eradicated by vaccination, it’s the only way to get rid of them, wishes and positive thoughts have no effect on viruses like SARS-CoV-2, much as we’d like them to.  

Anti-vaxxers claim that their protests are about vaccine safety. During the protests, against all scientific evidence (which they also encourage us to ignore), they have made unfounded claims about the vaccine, and they say the vaccine kills people so we shouldn’t use it – have they not noticed that Covid-19 kills people.  If I’d been present I’d have liked to have said to them “Ok, I want figures, citations, references and peer-reviewed evidence”.

They claim it’s about civil rights, shouting “we want our freedom back” – but as previously regarding face masks and lockdowns, what civil rights, what freedoms have been taken away exactly? To this end what right have they got to tell us whether we should have a vaccine, what right have they got to try to deny it to those of us who want it, to try to intimidate and scare people at vaccination centres and buses into not having it – if you don’t want it shut up and take your chances. At the end of the day it’s mostly people just protesting against rules: their egos can’t stand being told that they’ve got to do something, or can’t do whatever they want to do. Others, of course, just want to cause trouble for the hell of it, to show how big and clever they think they are. 

Some of them though are just selfish and arrogant – someone who does work for us told me that a friend of his was going to have his vaccine “under protest” because “why should I have it just to suit other people.”  Then many of them are simply afraid of looking weak, still insisting that they don’t need protection, that they’re too tough to catch it, be affected by it or pass it to their family. 

If too many people refuse to be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 then it will keep circulating amongst those who aren’t immune and we live like this forever; wearing facemasks and queueing in cow sheds every six months.  Thankfully most of us actually want our freedom from Covid-19 so the anti-vaxxers won’t win.

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Society

Areas of Outstanding Natural Stupidity

Vintage Sign

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

I was walking home in the rain, I was wearing my big waterproof coat, gloves and a woolly hat under the hood, and a white van went past.  As it did the driver shouted out of the window, which he’d wound down for the purpose, “it’s raining mate.”  No shit, I replied.  I could also have said “No, God is crying, because His creation made you” or “Oh, is it?  I’ll just go home and get my car, oh, no wait…”

The next night a youth in dark clothes on an electric scooter turned off one not well lit road onto a side road and towards an oncoming car – on the wrong side of the road, expecting the car to get out of his way.  The next night I was walking along a long straight road, again with limited lighting, when out of nowhere on the narrow pavement which is separated from the road by a grass verge comes another youth on a bike at high speed, again in dark clothes, no lights and apparently with his head down so not looking where he was going at all.  I literally had to jump out of his way into someone’s driveway which I was fortunately passing at the time.  A few seconds later I might have been over a wall and upside down in a flower bed.

Talking of which another evening I was walking home when two youths initially nearly knocked me over as they rode their bikes across the pavement and abandoned one outside a shop – the other youth blocking the whole path so I had to walk on the road.  Minutes later the same two passed me on the opposite pavement further down the road.  One of them reached down and picked up a road cone and lobbed it into the front garden of a house.  They honestly think that such behaviour is big and clever, real gangsta – a ride-by coning, perhaps.  There are other examples of this badass behaviour around though – people pulling all the plants out of town centre planters and throwing them on the ground, pulling the yellow padding off of scaffolding and throwing it on the ground.  Similarly “big” acts include stealing a stack of lottery playslips and spreading them along the pavement outside the shops, similarly with offer leaflets, takeaway menus, Argos catalogues etc. One night I was driving along a narrow single-lane street and some youths who I’d seen walking that way a few minutes before I set off has put a traffic cone in the middle of the road, having first rung the doorbell of the house it was outside – true anarchists, aren’t they.

Another common behaviour is groups of lads walking down streets – the road not the pavement – and expecting cars and vans to stop or go round them, to show how big and important they are.  One day someone who thinks that they’re even bigger and more important, or just doesn’t give a shit about idiots being macho, will come along in a big van a flatten the lot of them.  Not a shit will be given by anyone else.

In Fortean Times 403 there is a news sideline about men in a van driving around a town in the early morning shouting “wakey, wakey” and driving without lights on shouting “you can’t call the police because you can’t see us.”  There are of course many stupid people driving vehicles, last year a woman in a large pick-up truck pulled out of a side road without even looking or stopping across the front of me on my bike and as I write this I’ve just got home from shopping in the car and an SUV pulled into a side road across the front of my car, causing me to brake sharply.  The attitude with such drivers is “I can do what I like I’ve got a four-by-four” “yeah, but you’ve got a two-by-one brain” “eh?” “thick as two short planks.”  Ba dum tish.

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Fashion, Psychology, Society

Rescue Rover

Cat and Dog

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Today more people in the UK get pets from animal rescue centres than other sources and this is a good thing for the animals that have been removed from cruelty or neglect and the various organisations doing the rescuing do a great job.  Battersea Dogs and Cats Home even say in their adverts “rescue is our favourite breed”, to encourage people to look beyond pedigree and perfection to choose a pet.

Why though do so many people who obtain their pet this way emphasise the fact whenever they mention their dog or cat – for example someone writes in to a radio show saying “From Ellie, Tom and Boris, our Rescue Dog”?  Is it now a fashion tag – along the lines of “shabby chic”, or a badge of honour – a way to look good in other people’s eyes, to show how caring you are?

Personally whenever I hear the words “our rescue dog” I imagine that at any moment a beeper will go off and the dog will grab a rucksack and head off out the door and up a mountain clutching a Kendal Mint Cake. 

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Politics, Society

Quarantine Party!

Flock of Pigeons

Image by Greg Montani from Pixabay

A colleague today made a good suggestion for what to do about large groups of people who insist on ignoring Covid lockdown rules and any kind of common sense and have large parties, raves or wedding receptions for hundreds of people.  There would no doubt be complaints about Human Rights though…  no, wait, stay with me people…

Instead of fining everybody the police should just lock them all in where they are for two weeks, with regular food and medical supervision.  You could even seal up the doors with big “quarantine” signs.

There you go, you wanted a party, now you’ve got one, a fortnight long one, enjoy.

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Cars, DIY, Fashion, Psychology, Society, Transport

Less is More & More is Less Authentic

Car

Image by strikers from Pixabay

Why do so many people not want others to know what they drive?  So often it’s bloody obvious.  A common practice is de-badging which removes everything including the makers marks, the Vauxhall, Ford or Peugeot badges etc.  I’ve often wondered if some of them have watched TV police shows where they say “you’re looking for a dark blue Ford Fiesta” and they’ve thought, I can get one over on them, I’ll take all the badges off so they won’t know what kind of car it is at all.  Generally though car customisers say it’s about individuality, about not caring about such superficial frippery as brands and badges.  Okay.  It’s definitely not about not wanting people to know they actually drive an everyday branded car, of course, which brings me onto the additions…

Image does matter to some people though to the extent that they add badges that weren’t there when the car left the factory.  I’ve seen many old BMWs in particular which are clearly not M3s or M5s (the details are all wrong, I’m a car geek and make no apologies) and yet the badge on the back says 325i (petrol) when the car’s clearly a Diesel and there are M3 badges on the side, usually applied in the wrong place and at some kind of jaunty angle too – if you’re going to make out that you’ve got a higher spec car than you actually have then at least settle on one model rather than mixing two together and then find out where they’re meant to go and use some masking tape to mark out their location first – there’s this magical thing called the internet that has lots of instructions and even pictures, Google Image Search is your friend.  A quick search on Ebay reveals thousands of badges that can magically transform a humble hatchback into Type R – not even just a Civic Type R but a Fiesta Type R, a Polo Type R, a C3 Type R…  (glances outside at the silver car in the car park).

The best fakery I’ve seen (by which I mean the most unbelievable) was a brand-swap.  It is common for people who own Smart cars to apply the badges of Smart’s parent Mercedes Benz to their cars but the association on this one was, as far as I know, non-existent.  I saw a Ssangyong SUV parked and I noticed after a few moments that the badges looked odd, the owner had glued AMG badges over the Ssangyong ones, not replacing but stuck on top of the originals.  I looked at the back as he drove away and the same was true at the back but then the piece de resistance…  “Turbo” badges which were clearly from a Porsche, I could tell by the distinctive style of the lettering.  There was another equally preposterous badge on the rear but it escapes me what it was – something like AMG’s Black Edition or something similar.  Lastly I did see a 2004 Volvo V50 sporting Ferrari badges.

Finally there are the attempts to make an older car look newer – now this can have merit, it’s been done on Wheeler Dealers on TV many times including a Land Rover, a Range Rover and a Merc G-Wagen and it can even add to the resale value but another example that takes the biscuit was an Audi A3 which had the split-grille that preceded the current single, large trapezoidal one they use across the range now.  In an attempt to look newer the owner had painted the silver bit of the bumper between the two grilles black, painted or removed the top chrome trim of the bottom grille and the bottom of the top grille and added stick-on silver trim at the edge of the bit he’d painted.  Five stars for the idea, one star for the execution.

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Society

The Dying Art of Queuing

All our plastic ducks in a row

Image by DaKub from Pixabay

Not much is more English than queuing.  We are the best in the world at self-organising into an orderly line without being corralled like rowdy cattle.  Or at least we were.  We used to take offence, in a chorus of disapproving murmurs if someone just ignored a queue, or barged in.  We instinctively know that, for example, outside the bank I use if someone’s already at the cash point the queue will extend along the wall of the building, not across the pavement and into the pedestrian area.  

In the past I’ve even been barged aside in a supermarket by two women who were desperate to get to a newly opened checkout lane.  Usually when I’m in a queue and a till is opened I will usually suggest to the person in front of me that they go to it before me, as they were there before me but not many people do now.  I was once in the barber’s shop and another man walked in and sat down.  A customer paid for his haircut and left, the hairdresser said “who’s next please” and the man, who I can only assume was related to Usain Bolt, shot from his seat and into the chair before I had even had the chance to say “where the feck are you going, I’m next”.  Being English I, of course, harrumphed, wished bad karma on him and waited for the next chair.

I’ll admit that most of us still have our instinctive ability to line up, many even offer to bump you up the line ahead of them if you only have a mars bar and box of tea in the supermarket and these people are to be blessed and cherished but…

During the time of Covid and social distancing I’ve noticed that people’s inability to see queues has increased, and others have reported the same.  You’ll be queuing at the end of an aisle as required, then someone will walk past with a basket or trolley and march straight up to the checkout having seen that you’re standing there and not so much as wondered what you were doing – “yes, I just loiter next to the discount freezer for the fun of it, you meet such interesting people, such as the TEN PEOPLE WITH BASKETS BEHIND ME”.

Even in a virtual queue few people are willing to wait, most think they’re more important, that their job should be done before everyone else’s, their food should come first, “but I’ve paid for it” they whine, but so has everyone else, and all before you.

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Politics, Psychology, Science, Society

It Was Bound To End In Tiers

I’ve just heard yet another news report about anti-lockdown protests in London, people chanting “take your freedom back.”  What freedom has been taken away exactly?  The freedom to contract a potentially deadly virus and then pass it on to someone else who might then die or perhaps the freedom to die yourself?  Such people say it’s their responsibility if they catch it, or they don’t believe it exists – one man, when asked if he had a face mask said he hadn’t and was asked to remain behind the screen instead at which point he said “it’s sad that you’ve got to believe in this crap”– and this attitude demonstrates the levels of sheer selfishness in modern society and ignorance in the face of overwhelming evidence – ask someone whose relative has died from it if it isn’t real.  Their protest is not about freedom, it’s about ego.  It’s about being told they can’t have parties, go to the pub and show off to their friends.  If they wear a mask then it means accepting, visibly, that they’re not able to do whatever they damn well like, that they’re not so badass and indestructible.  They’re terrified that they’ll look silly in a mask, weak, or afraid of the virus.  They’re terrified they’ll look boring, subservient or submissive, it’s not cool to follow rules.  They want to show that they’re too special or tough to be affected, that even if they catch it it won’t bother them, when this attitude is demonstrated by so-called celebrities who should be setting a good example then it’s all the worse.

What they’re also showing is that they care not a jot about anyone but themselves.

Since we started wearing face coverings in the UK I’ve seen quite a few people, men and women, wearing a mask over their mouth but not nose – a fundamental misunderstanding of the plumbing inside their own heads and the nature of Covid-19, preferring to live, as it does, in the lungs not the mouth, it’s not fatal halitosis.  I also saw a young couple, of the type you see on so-called Reality TV shows – all gelled hair and excessive makeup.  He was wearing a mask and at first sight she wasn’t, until I noticed she was wearing one – on her wrist.  I know she might have had a good reason to take it off but you have to wonder if she was instead taking the definition of “wearing” at face value, or not face value.  In our shop a man came in with what appeared to be a scarf covering his mouth and when he started to talk he pulled it down to around his neck.  I saw the same thing in another shop.  I wonder what they think the face coverings are actually for.  Similarly during the Tour de France and Giro D’Italia there were spectators stood in the road on the slow climbs, leaning in to within a couple of feet of the riders, shouting “encouragement” at them, many with their masks worn round their neck or on their chin at the most – potentially one big dose of the virus sprayed into each cyclist’s face.  No doubt it would have been the same at other such events.  I’ve even heard it said that “it’s ok, I’m outdoors” – hence large groups travel halfway across the country to see some snow.

The first lockdown was imposed because something had to be done fast to keep people apart as face masks weren’t readily available.  But it was also because of the reason the subsequent lockdowns have happened – because a large number of people won’t follow rules and as such they have to be legislated into doing so.  We’re told to wear masks, many won’t; we’re told to stay two metres apart, they won’t; we’re told not to go to each others houses or gather in large groups, people gather in large groups and have parties at each others houses, or just continue to visit their friends and family like nothing’s happened. 

The lockdown measures aren’t the fault of the government or scientists but the arrogant and/or stupid who refuse to follow simple rules, who can’t compromise for a year – to go without socialising, to go without their holidays like most of us have.  If they’d be sensible then the pubs that they complain about being closed could still be open.

Those crying about losing their freedom would still expect the NHS to make them better if they catch the virus, they’ll probably also be the ones shouting loudest to get the vaccine first too. Our global situation needs cooperation not selfishness – we’ve seen plenty of the former but sadly too much of the latter.

[For those outside the UK the title refers to our Tiered Lockdown system, where we’re mostly in Tier 4, or is it 5?]

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creativity, Tech, Work

The Universal Instruction Manual

DIY

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

I still have a copy of a book that was once the bible for anyone who built or fixed PCs, it weighed about a kilogram and was roughly two inches thick, could break your toe if you dropped it on your foot and doubled as a doorstop when a new edition replaced it. It was one of many such books, many of which are still updated and published today, which were the go-to place for guidance when the machine or network you were fixing wasn’t cooperating. I have similar books for DIY and cookery as many people do. I also used to maintain lists and folders of useful settings and tips that I’ve either found or worked out but I find that I’m referring to these less as the smartphone is taking over.

I recently set up my new laptop and there are a couple of things I like to tweak on any new Windows setup but as it’s been a while since I last did it I couldn’t remember where the settings were – especially as one, the setting for turning the Caps Lock key off with the Shift key as on an old manual typewriter, seems to keep moving to different dialogs. Not a problem, I just picked up the phone and searched for it and the answer was provided via Google. Other search engines are available, of course.

The internet is an amazing resource for learning in this way, I developed an Access-based database ten years ago by doing the same thing, searching for how other people have achieved the action I wanted, whatever your struggling with someone will have a suggestion or a whole tutorial. At work I’ve found instructions on changing the side indicator lens on one of the vans and at home how to reset the service indicator on my old car. Naturally there are instructions for exercise, positive thinking, painting, brewing, relaxing, productivity, using tools and how to do home repairs – as we noticed from the number of people during the first Covid lockdown attempting their own glazing. The other advantage of the internet is that you not only have words and pictures but video too.

As well as the amount of crowdsourced instructions manufacturers also have their product manuals online too, which is useful if, like me, you can never find the manual for something you’ve not used for ten years – like my car battery charger I needed during the first lockdown which is an old piece of equipment yet the manual was there on the manufacturer’s website, which saved me half an hour of looking through a large box of instruction sheets.

I have another book that is called “How to do just about everything” – well, the internet on a smartphone is like having a million page illustrated book in your pocket called “Now we really mean how to do everything”.

Of course not everything in life should be attempted without professional training – gas repair and dentistry come to mind – also not all the advice and instructions are entirely accurate or advisable and as the saying goes “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, but as with going to the pub it’s all about knowing your limits.

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