Archive for the ‘Technology and software’ Category

Bandwidth of a 747

Tuesday, June 13th, 2023

A while back–ending in 2011–I got involved in a multiyear discussion of the bandwidth of a 747 carrying packaged data from New York to LA–that is, latency issues aside, how did it compare to online transmission? Back then, big tech companies would use trucks as data transfer devices when latency wasn’t crucial. I suspect they still do.

Looking back, I see that the champion for consumer-grade devices was originally Blu-Ray discs–and that, even then, the limiting factor for a 747SP was weight, not volume. By 2011, the champion was hard disks, and the effective transfer rate was 250 Terabytes per second.

That’s still pretty impressive, but of course storage keeps getting denser and cheaper, and with SSDs, a lot lighter than hard disks. Specifically, today’s 4TB Sandisk Ultra SSD weighs about 1.4 ounces, compared to 1.6 pounds for the 3TB Sandisk/Western Digital hard disk of 2011. (It’s a lot cheaper, too: Sandisk’s currently selling them for under $250.)

A little quick calculation yields a bandwidth of 5 Petabytes per second–5,000 Terabytes. I won’t even bother figuring out how much data that is…

Just for fun. And, since I still remember the difficulty my former employer had trying to find money and space for one terabyte of additional storage, a reminder of how things change.

The requiem that isn’t

Sunday, January 21st, 2018

A week and a half ago, I started having problems with my computer while doing the marathon GOAJ3 scan of 10,800-odd OA journals. Once a day or so, usually late afternoon, first the external Sony display (where I had the “to do” spreadsheet) would go black, then the notebook display (usually showing Edge, although the “done” spreadsheet was also there but hidden, as was a Firefox session if I wanted a break from the scan) would go black, then one or both might come briefly back to life…and I’d eventually have to force a power-down and reboot. Sometimes I’d lose no work; sometimes 5-10 minutes (but after the second time, I started saving fairly often).

At first, I thought it might be the notebook itself, but after discussing it with the sensible person in the household–my wife–we concluded that it was most likely the external display, or possibly–unlikely–the cable.

Since replacing the cable (male VGA to male VGA) was really cheap, and since it was true that the old cable wasn’t a very secure fit on the notebook size (for some reason, Toshiba produced a notebook with only a VGA display connector–but didn’t seem to feel there was any reason to make it possible to secure the cable screws: there are no screwholes), I obtained a new cable. Still, we both assumed it was most likely the 12.5-year-old Sony SDM-HS95P display. After all, it was 12.5 years old (built in May 2005, and purchased shortly thereafter), and for the last 10.5 years it’s probably been on around 60-65 hours a week (that is, since OCLC decided I was of no further use: for the first two years, it probably got 30 hours a week or so. Add it up, and the display–expensive at the time (close to $1,000 as we remember it) and with spectacular quality for the time (look up the model number: it’s still one of the physically classiest displays around)–has probably been running for around 35,000 hours. I wouldn’t even assume a CFL backlight would last that long…


I made one other change: instead of running the to-do spreadsheet full-screen, I ran it 22 rows tall (I normally do ten journals per pass, and move completed journal rows to the Done spreadsheet in 20-journal chunks), or about half-screen.

And when the blackout happened again, I realized that it was neither the cable nor the display: only the spreadsheet went black, while the Windows background picture stayed active. So, even after 12.5 years, the Sony continues to work (and to be a great display). I don’t see any rush to replace it whileit’s working: the 19″ (4×3 ratio) display fits the working space nicely and offers 1280×1024 resolution; to get the same vertical space and the same-size text on a newer (and certainly much cheaper!) 19×6 display, I’d probably have to go for at least a 24″ display, which would be awkwardly wide.

So the requiem or elegy for this long-surviving display will be put off for a while.

What’s the actual problem?

As far as I can tell. it’s either Excel 2013 or some interaction between Excel and Edge. (I’m using Edge for this pass because it seems faster than Chrome, has close-enough-to-equivalent autotranslate, and handles Ctrl-F, which I use a LOT, in a manner that makes it faster/easier for groups of journals with similar characteristics. I won’t make it my “standard” browser because it still won’t let me set a preferred typeface, so I’m dealing with the deluge of Arial/Helvetica/other dreary sans text on journal homepages.)

[Yes, I’ve done an Excel repair–but not a reinstall, because it’s not bad enough yet.]

Yesterday, another oddity arose, but this one turns out to be a blessing in disguise, sort of: Excel stopped converting cells containing URLs into hyperlinks by double-clicking. And here’s the thing: turns out that the Excel-activation-of-browser process, along with occasionally blanking out for a bit, was slower than what I’m doing now: copy the cell, open another Edge tab, paste the text, Enter. Four keystrokes and a touchpad move–just one keystroke more than the method I was using, and now I can inspect URLs without having them activate accidentally.

The blackout? Hasn’t happened again, yet, and perhaps the lack of Excel-to-Edge interaction has something to do with that. I still save early and often, and eventually I’ll try to figure out what’s going on and fix it.

But for now…back to the spreadsheets.

I’m leaving this one open for comments. Someone might be saying “I know what the problem is,” and if so you’re invited to comment. (Comments along the lines of “the problem is you’re still using Windows” will be cheerfully ignored.) And, yeah, maybe I’ll fire up LibreOffice and see how it does with the spreadsheet… [Added a bit later: Tried LibreOffice. At least with LibreOffice 5.4, there’s no such double-click-to-make-hyperlink functionality, so never mind.]

Update 2/8/18: It’s too early to say for sure, but I might have found the problem: Edge. Now running Chrome with Excel. On one hand, Find/ctrl-f across multiple tabs is much slower than with Edge; on the other, it’s nice not to have to look at all that bloody sans serif (since Chrome, like Firefox and unlike Edge, lets the user select a typeface. Most significantly (but it’s early yet), after the problem kept recurring every day or two, it now seems to be gone–and there are some suggestions online that Edge has or had stability problems. Sigh

Further update 2/13/18: Given the non-recurrence of stability problems, I’m now fairly sure that this is the problem–either some MS software doesn’t play nicely with other MS software or Edge just gets tired/cranky after lots of tab opening and closing and shows its edginess.

Looking for the right PDF tool

Monday, 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.


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,, most of what I need.


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.


The Phantom AcroRd Problem

Monday, 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

Friday, 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 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…

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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?

Thursday, 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?

Saturday, 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

Friday, 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.]