Archive for the 'Technology and software' Category

Looking for the right PDF tool

Posted in Technology and software on May 25th, 2015

Never mind. After doing some more looking, reading reviews, talking to one store, and seeing a Memorial Day sale, I’ve ordered Power PDF fromNuance,  the same people who now own Dragon Naturally Speaking. At $80 (including shipping), it’s a reasonable chance to take.

Help.

Here’s the situation: I’ve pretty much entirely moved to my new PC from my old one. I’ve got Office 2013, Windows 8.1, Paint.net, most of what I need.

But…

I’d like to correct a problem I’ve had for some years. Namely, Acrobat 9 (which I do own) doesn’t integrate with recent versions of Word, at least not under Windows Vista or 7, at least on my old machine. (It appears to, but the addin doesn’t work). So, for some years now, I’ve been using Acrobat as a PDF Printer in Word when I need size compression or very high quality photos/graphics in the output, Word’s “Create PDF” when I need working hyperlinks. That’s really clumsy.

My needs are fairly straightforward in terms of going beyond Office 2013’s improved PDF facilities:

  1.  Distillation when needed. (Example: the Word-generated version of the donation-only The OA Landscape 2011-2014: An Interim Subject View is roughly 8MB–but the Acrobat-as-printer version, which lacks working hyperlinks, is just over 2MB. C&I folks may note that the single-column versions, minimized for online viewing, are 2-4 times as large as the two-column print-optimized versions: that’s the Acrobat-vs-Word difference.)
  2. Integration into Word would  be nice.
  3. The ability to retain full 300dpi photos/graphics for high-quality Lulu books. (Word doesn’t seem to do this on save-as-PDF; Acrobat’s printer driver can be set up with options that work)
  4. Ability to combine multiple PDFs into a single price.

Oh,, yes, and one more thing:A reasonable price for a non-subscription program that comes on a disc.

I don’t think I should need to pay twice as much for these capabilities as I did for Office 2013 itself. $299 strikes me as pretty high. ($14.99/month? Not gonna happen–and, again, that’s nearly twice the price of Office 365!)

Yes, I’m on a budget. So far, donations for that book/to support C&I would cover one-third of the cost stated above.

Suggestions?

The Phantom AcroRd Problem

Posted in Technology and software on May 4th, 2015

I’m posting this in the hopes that someone knows an easy fix.

I use Adobe Reader XI, absolutely the most current edition, as a default PDF reader (launched in browsers, by Word when I create a PDF, etc.). It’s just fine. EXCEPT

It has a nasty habit of staying running–always as two AcroRd32 processes–after I’ve shut it down. Indefinitely. And chewing up 40-50% of CPU in a lot of cases. Doing nothing, as far as I can tell–at least nothing I want it to do.

Admittedly, my notebook is old (around seven years old) and weak by today’s standard (an early Core 2 Duo CPU, three gig of RAM). Yes, I’ll replace it one of these months…but, in fact, it’s fast enough for pretty much anything I’m doing. Or at least it is when AcroRd32 (two, or four, or six, or eight processes, no applications) isn’t chewing up all the power.

(There’s another slight issue: when I move five PDFs from one directory to another, Adobe Reader seems to think it needs to start up five times, and once I shut it down five times, there are ten AcroRd32 processes…)

Latest example: I started up this morning, coming out of hibernation; noticed that even after the 10 minutes or so it takes for malware to do its scan, the fan was running at a high speed, even though I was just checking email. This surprised me and worried me; I’d really rather not have the notebook burn out before I get around to replacing it.

Finally, just for fun, booted up Task Manager, and voila: two AcroRd processes, using up nearly 50% of CPU, even though the last time I looked at a PDF was around 4 p.m. yesterday. Closed the processes, and within a minute the fan was down to its quietest level (or off altogether–I know I can’t hear it now).

Any suggestions?

Misleading graphs: an anecdote

Posted in Technology and software on April 10th, 2015

This is the kind of thing I would have posted on FriendFeed to get quick reactions from a few hundred smart library folk. Unfortunately, FriendFeed’s really gone now–and frenf.it isn’t quite there yet. (Maybe soon.) So there may be more casual posts here, although they (unfortunately) almost certainly won’t get the kind of quick, open feedback they did there.

I use Excel for my “statistical” work and to create charts. (Excel 2010 at the moment, maybe 2013 in a few months…)

One thing I’ve always liked about Excel’s graphs, at least as starting points for customization, is that they’ve been “honest”–the Y axis always begins at zero, unless there are negative numbers in the dataset.

Today, I was finishing Chapter 13 of The Open Access Landscape (yes, I’m a little ahead; the posted version will appear on May 22) and adding the “bonus graph” that only appears in the book version (if the book appears–and if it does, it now seems likely there will be some other exclusive content, but that’s another post): a stacked-bar graph showing articles by year (2011 through 2014) with segments for articles in free OA journals, articles in journals with APCs (“pay”), and articles in journals that probably have APCs but where I can’t find the amount (“unknown”).

As usual, I selected the table with my mouse, clicked on Insert, Bar graph, the stacked-bar option.

And noticed at first that the graph was a little more dramatic than I’d expected.

It didn’t take long to figure out why: Excel had used 2,400 articles as the Y axis rather than 0.

It didn’t take much longer to fix, yielding a really non-dramatic graph that happens to be accurate and not misleading.

I’m still not sure I know why Excel made this choice. It could be because, unlike all the earlier similar graphs, the range of numbers–and especially the range of “free” numbers, 98%-99% of the total (there just aren’t many APC-charging OA history journals!)–is so narrow: from 2,683 to 3,039. (The “pay” numbers range from 32 to 56.) Setting the vertical range from 2,400 to 3,200 instead of from 0 to 3,100 made the changes more obvious and made the “pay” segment at least a little visible–but it also made the graph misleading. (Charts of Dow-Jones Industrial changes in newspapers do this every day–they turn tiny little deviations into Big Dramatic Changes.)

The moral to this story? Even though Excel’s defaults are typically reasonably honest, you still need to check what’s happened.

FriendFeed: Wouldn’t it be loverly…

Posted in Technology and software on March 25th, 2015

For those of you who’ve never heard of FriendFeed, carry on.

For those of you who are on it now–whether as part of The Library Society of the World or within other communities–nothing I say here will likely surprise you.

Facebook let us know that it’s shutting down FriendFeed on April 9, 2015. They gave us about a month’s warning, time enough to download our conversations if we chose.

I’m not attacking Facebook here. Fact is, since Facebook purchased FriendFeed (primarily for its people and software, I assumed) in 2009, we–those of us who use FriendFeed–have always assumed (I think) that eventually FriendFeed would go away. Facebook waited six years to do that, and FriendFeed was only about two years old when Facebook purchased it.

So Facebook is fully within its rights and has been remarkably patient. Facebook’s certainly correct that FriendFeed doesn’t have Facebook-size numbers (as far as I know, it peaked at around seven million members and is probably far below that now). It’s never been a big revenue item, especially since Facebook’s never seen fit to run ads either in a sidebar or within the stream.

I’ve written a draft essay for Cites & Insights on FriendFeed and LSW. The essay will appear in the May 2015 Cites & Insights, which will be out right around April 9 (maybe a few days earlier, maybe not).

But wouldn’t it be loverly if the essay turned out to be premature? That is, if Facebook decided that the good will of a few hundred library folks, a few hundred scientists, no doubt thousands of folks in different formal and informal groups, and apparently fairly large numbers of folks in Turkey and elsewhere, justified keeping a server or two running and, as needed, restarting the service when it keels over?

I know I’d like Facebook better if it made that decision. (Make it possible for me to *keep* the Facebook stream at “most recent” without resetting it every day or using an add-on and I’d like Facebook even better, but that’s another discussion.)

I honestly can’t imagine that FriendFeed is costing Facebook all that much at this point. There hasn’t been any apparent software development in some time (and I’m certainly not asking for any).

See, the thing is, FriendFeed just works for LSW both as its oddly open and totally disorganized group of between a few dozen and 1,400-odd library folks and in the interactions many of us library folk have with others in the FriendFeed community. That may be partly because FriendFeed doesn’t have big user numbers. It may be because the software is elegant in its straightforward nature.

The funny thing is, many of us (I believe) really don’t use FriendFeed the way it was apparently originally intended: To feed it all of our various social media streams (Twitter, FB, blogs, etc.) and follow all the activity of our friends in one place. Some feeds still show up, but a lot of what makes FriendFeed worthwhile is conversation–logically threaded, easy to handle, all that.

I’ve seen a lot of professional questions raised and answered on FriendFeed. I’ve seen a lot of personal issues raised and in many cases helped with. I’ve seen one person encouraged to go to library school, mentored during library school, assisted with a post-graduation trip…and cheered on as he’s become an ALA Emerging Leader. I’ve done my own asking and answering. And LSW on FriendFeed, more than anything else, keeps me involved with the library community (and the open access community, for that matter).

For some reason–maybe the lack of size–it’s been easier to deal with trolls and spammers on FriendFeed than elsewhere. Maybe that’s because it’s always felt symmetrical: people who engaged in snark could reasonably expect to get snark back, and I never felt as though there was a hierarchy of FriendFeed users.

So there’s my probably useless plea:

Facebook: Keep FriendFeed running. We’ll appreciate it.

And, if not, at least some of us appreciate the six years’ extra life you’ve already given it.

A hi-def “tragedy” in four short acts

Posted in Movies and TV, Technology and software on October 29th, 2013

Act 1: 2008

Pioneer introduces the Kuro line of plasma TVs, which offer the best picture quality of any flat-screen HDTV ever made (with the possible exception of the 12″ $2,500 Sony OLED TV, and that’s too small to count). The Kuro TVs use a number of special technologies, including panels that eliminate the air space between the plasma pixels and the glass front, which cost extra but make for a superb picture.

Act 2: 2009

Pioneer exits the TV business. End of the Kuro. It sells several patents to Panasonic, and it’s possible that some engineers moved there as well.

(By the way, the Wikipedia “article” on the Kuro is offensively wrong–saying that Panasonic is the only other significant TV manufacturer involved in plasmas omits those tiny little nobodies Samsung and LG.)

Act 3: 2013

Panasonic introduces the ZT60 series (TC-P65ZT60 and TC-P60ZT60, where the P number shows the diagonal size in inches). It involves several technological advances–including a panel with no air space between the plasma pixels and the glass front.

According to a review in the October 2013 Sound & Vision, done by a reviewer who still owns a top-of-the-line Kuro set and included a side-by-side comparison, the ZT60 is essentially the equal of the Kuro in all key areas of image quality. In other words, it’s the best HDTV (at least at 1080p) you can buy.

Act 4: Later in 2013

Panasonic announces that it’s getting out of the plasma TV business.

And, I guess, we wait for OLED to make it to big-screen and reasonable-price.

(About the only weakness of the ZT60 was that it’s not enormously bright in 3D mode. To which most of us might say, “who cares?” )

Does your library website really need Java? Three times over?

Posted in Libraries, Technology and software on June 27th, 2013

Dear public libraries,

About your website…

There’s one old issue (with some of you), which is that the library picture or banner is so high-resolution that it’s the last thing on the page to load, and takes quite a while. (It’s remarkably easy to resize images so they’re more suitable for web pages…)

Let’s not even talk about your use of Comic Sans. Yes, I know, it’s friendly and all…

But this is about Java.

Some of us–millions of us, I’d guess–don’t allow Java in our browsers, for reasonably good security reasons.

When we hit a library website with a Java item (or, as I just saw, three of ’em in a row), the browser hangs, we get an error message, and if the site’s persistent, we keep getting the error message.

Oh, eventually we just get an error message on screen and can go on about our way.

But really…do you really need Java? Is it that crucial for your home page to be so dynamic–crucial enough that you’re willing to annoy security-conscious patrons?

Your call, of course.

Archaic–but also convenient?

Posted in Technology and software on June 22nd, 2013

I find it amusing when Tech Gurus proclaim X is Dead, where X is typically a technology or medium that’s doing just fine but may have ended its growth phase.

Amusing as each instance is, there’s a broader issue for some (by no means all) of the technologies denounced as dead, which is another way of saying “Proper contemporary people shouldn’t use these things.”

To wit: sometimes obsolescent technologies are convenient.

Fax? Obsolete for quite some time now. And yet…sometimes it’s just plain convenient.

Magazines (by which I mean print magazines)? They’re really not either obsolescent or obsolete. But they sure are convenient in a number of settings.

I could go on. But this is just a silly little post, so I won’t.

No major point here…except to note that gurus seems to live in a different world, a world where cost and convenience are secondary to being Up To Date. (Proper gurus make so much money that cost really isn’t a factor, and they probably have People to take care of convenience issues.)

For the rest of us, it’s frequently a tradeoff. If the “old way” still works–well, why abandon it?

Some technologies never die

Posted in Technology and software on June 21st, 2013

Do you have a fax machine at home?

Of course not (I hear some of you thinking). What a silly question?

Are you sure?

Well, yes–I mean, I’d know if I had some bulky old machine attached to a phone line and using roll paper, wouldn’t I?

OK, here’s a related question: Do you have a dial-up modem?

An equally absurd question. Next you’ll be asking whether I have a wire recorder…

One more question: Do you have a multifunction printer (all-in-one or copier/printer combo)?

If the answer to that one’s no, then never mind: We won’t take this any further.

But if the answer to that one is yes, then don’t be surprised if the answer to the other two “Do you have” questions is also Yes.

If you have a numeric keypad on the multifunction printer, I’d almost bet on it–and there’s a decent chance it’s true even if you don’t.

Go look at the printer. Look at the connection area(s). See one with a little phone icon?

Guess what? You do have a dial-up modem…although you can probably only use it to send or receive fax.

Check your instruction manual (if you can find it). Or just look at the front panel for a phone icon. Or, what the heck, open the printer-apps launcher. Don’t be surprised if there’s a fax option lurking in there somewhere.

All you need to do is disconnect a landline phone (if you have any landline phones) at the phone, reconnect that cable to the multifunction printer, and, lo and behold, you have a fax machine.

(The same discussion applies to libraries that believe they stopped dealing with fax some years back…)

And sometimes it’s convenient

Sure, it’s faster to “sign” a PDF and send it back or, at worst, print something out, fill it in and sign it, scan it to PDF and attach it to email.

But some institutions–financial ones, for example–won’t accept that route. They want USMail or fax.

I speak from experience. Not only within this millennium, but within this month.

[The first time I really could use a fax, I knew I had the fax–but assumed I didn’t have a dial-up modem. I was wrong.]

Tools vs. Emotions and the context of EVIL

Posted in Technology and software, Writing and blogging on June 15th, 2013

I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with a post as much as I have with this one. I’d done three minor rewrites, each time saying “Or I could just scrap the whole thing” but not doing so. This time, I’ve scrapped a whole bunch of it.

What’s left may not make much sense unless you’re in the ALA-TT group on Facebook (which, by the way, has nothing to do with ALA) or unless you saw a certain high-profile blog post and were able to make an unnamed connection. I feel I was badly misquoted in that post–but the writer didn’t actually use my name. So I’ve scrapped most of what I was going to say but will leave portions.

Although, try as I may, I still can’t see how “I can’t believe people still choose to use Microsoft” as a complete statement from someone who hadn’t been in the thread before, tossed into a thread on a new iOS version, is humor. Or is not an attack on people (which, by the way, probably include most Mac owners–e.g., anyone using Office for the Mac or Word for the Mac) who “choose to use Microsoft.”

Anyway, shorn of most of the discussion and the names involved, here’s what’s worth saying:

There’s nothing wrong with loving Apple products, if you’re one who extends love to things other than people and perhaps pets. Enthusiasm is a good thing.

I do not understand, and do not appreciate, how it is that loving Product A makes it commendable or even OK to diss those who choose to use Product B.

I like Honda Civics a lot. In my lifetime, that’s all I’ve driven as a primary car–and the one time we purchased something that wasn’t a Honda, we were deeply disappoint. If I was given to loving object, I could say that I love Honda.

But, you know, it would never occur to me to say “I can’t believe people still buy Toyotas.” Or GM, or Subaru, or BMW, or whatever.

The point at which a preference for A turns into the felt need to put down those choosing B–with the exception of sports teams, where the corporate structure seems to rely on this silliness–is the point at which fan turns into fanatic. There’s at least one broad strain of fanaticism that says “our way is the only way and those who feel differently are wrong (and maybe should be punished).” I don’t much care for it.

The post in question–the one that I’ve decided not to name explicitly or discuss in detail–also gets into tools vs. emotions; the person seems to think you should be emotional about (that is, love) your computer.

Here I plead guilty. I’m a tool-user. I like Word a lot because it’s an exceptionally flexible toolkit; ditto Excel. I like that Windows lets me use any of half a dozen different ways to do something, whatever suits my own habits at the time. I don’t gaze in awe at the desktop or have any desire to stroke my notebook. I use it. A lot. I never worry that what I do with my computer might not be “worthy” of Windows or Gateway. It’s a tool (actually a toolkit).

But, you know, if you love your Mac, that’s OK. I know people who use Macs and iPads and iPhones as tools. They’re good tools. For some people, they’re better tools than Windows PCs or Android-based tablets (of which I happen to have one, a Kindle Fire HD 8.9–I find it a good tool, also, but don’t love it) or Android phones. And that’s their choice. If they develop a more emotional relationship with their Apple devices–well, again, that’s their choice.

I honor their preference. I don’t feign lack of belief that they could make such choices.

I couldn’t do as much writing as I do without Word (and, having tried it, I don’t think LibreOffice would work nearly as well for me). There is no way I could be doing the large-scale analyses I’ve done of public and academic libraries without Excel’s speed, flexibility and feature set. I find Windows a welcoming environment for me.

Of course my computer is my primary creative tool–but it’s still a toolkit, a means of producing something, whether it’s a post, an article, a book, a presentation or a tweet. My computer is a means: the end is the actual expression.

As for love? I love my wife (of 35.5 years so far, and shooting for many more). I love our cats. I tend not to love objects–in fact, I like Honda Civics, I don’t actually love them. I am, admittedly, not the world’s most emotional person. I do not love my 5-year-old cheap Gateway notebook, but it sure has been a good toolkit!

Oh, and for those who did read the other post: I never ever said that Mac fans are EVIL. I would never say that. Not even in jest. Here’s what I said:

…good to be reminded that it’s EVIL to criticize Apple fans, but it’s perfectly OK to trash any of us who prefer Microsoft. Thus it has always been; thus it will always be.

If you can turn this into a statement that Apple fans are EVIL, you’re a more clever reader than I am. Just as, if you can turn “”I can’t believe people still choose to use Microsoft,” all by itself, into humor, you have a much keener sense of humor than I do.

It’s obvious–once you know how

Posted in Technology and software on June 3rd, 2013

I see in this morning’s social streams a Mac-using librarian sneering at Windows and Microsoft–this time because shutting down a Windows 8 computer isn’t obvious.

I can sympathize. Sort of.

Several years ago, when my wife & I were visiting my father (now deceased: this was a while back), he was having trouble with his iMac (which I paid for one-third of: we three siblings agreed to buy him a Mac because my brother, a two-platform user who prefers Macs, would be doing most of the support). He wanted to shut it down entirely to see if a fresh power-up would solve the problem.

I looked for the proper shut-down button. Whoops. I looked for a Start menu. Whoops.

Eventually, I stumbled upon what I assumed to be a decorative element over in one corner, the Apple icon. Clicking on it brought up a menu, including shutdown.

Obvious, once you know how.

I’m not saying Windows 8 (which I don’t have) is better. And Windows 7, to be sure, has it under the little Windows logo–but there’s so much under that logo that if you don’t recognize it you’d be sorely hampered. (And I do remember how many people objected to the fact that Office 2010 and, I think, 2007 “hid” the file and print commands under…yep, that’s right, the Office logo. I understand that Office 2013 has changed that, but I haven’t moved.)

What I think I’m really saying is that “intuitive” and “obvious” are both tricky things to say about most any aspect of a PC or tablet interface. (Oh, c’mon, you tell me that swipe-to-unlock is intuitive or obvious: and that’s on a device, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, I rather like–as I guess it is on many other tablets.)

Oh, yes, I almost forgot the shutdown method for OS X that I found when doing a web search: you bring up a terminal window and use a “sudo” command. What could be more obvious? (There’s also a four-keystroke intuitive command…)


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