FreakoutITGeek's Blog

Random IT postings from Freakz

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Apple ‘Phones 

There’s been rumours, as usual, about the next Apple iPhone (7) and as usual they are as mixed and as outlandish as usual.

One of the most recent articles I have read (from uSwitch) berated the rumoured removal of the headphone socket from the next rumoured iPhone.

Personally I have, in the past, looked at changes that Apple have made and not understood the reasoning. I first made that mistake when Apple removed the floppy disk when they produced the iMac.  When you look back, with hindsight, why were we so blind to think that a PC needed a floppy disk drive. Writable CDs then DVDs and then external drives and UBD pen drives have quickly replaced the unreliable and space limited removable devices. It’s dot to the point that if you asked a teenage kid today they would be shocked that such devices existed at all.

I feel that Apple, if they are removing the headphone jack/socket, have taken a bold leap into the future and it’s a long time coming. Personally I find the headphone socket to be unreliable and prone to being easily damaged. I believe people my age, remember walkmans [other portable tape players were available], MP3 players and them mobile phones that played music. But the number of times I’ve seen such devices lying broken by a headphone jack jammed , a piece of paper/material jammed into the socket, the internal contacts bent/broken and other issues that indicate that the headphone connector has had it’s day, make me think that it’s well past time that somone took a stand and got rid of this outdated and obsolete connector.

The rumours are that Apple will use the lightning connector instead, which could lead to some interesting possibilities. Could apple add some additional capabilities that are not possible with the traditional headphone socket? better noise cancelling? Advanced sound quality ?  or something amazing that has never been tried before?

To be honest I’m not sure why Apple still have a headphone socket.  I listen to music, music apps and on-line radio stations (Margaritavile is a must) on occasions, but the headphones that come with my iPhone became faulty some time ago and I think I would replace them with some bluetooth headphones if they weren’t so expensive. 

Any attempt by Apple to improve on the standard headphone socket may render traditional headphones unusable and, I believe, may lead some to criticise Apple and lead some to question their motives.
I see a lot of people walking around with the white Apple headphones, mostly talking, but sometimes listening to music. I suspect that if new lightning Apple headphones were provided with their new iPhone these users wouldn’t really care as long as they don’t loose any abilities that the original headphones had and if the headphones had additional capabilities then, I believe, making the switch would make sense to many.

Personally I am hopefull that Apple do make a radical change.  Apple have always pushed us into the future and make decisions that go against widely held beliefs but make us realise (in time) that what we have clung to so long is a relic of the past, something we have clung to like a favourite child’s toy / blanket, a sense of the familiar, without questioning why!

Of Mice (or Trackpads) and Men

I have always had an interest in how to use computers without using the mouse / trackpad.

I guess this is not a normal obsession for some, but I grew up using the IBM and Microsoft command line Operating System DOS as well as the Graphical interface of the Amiga and Atari operating systems.  As Windows [and IBM’s OS2] took over and PCs became more usable for non technical users, the tide turned but there were occasions where knowing how to work without a mouse was handy, especially as a support person.

My interest used to come in handy in the old days of Windows, where you had to load drivers before Windows actually knew that a mouse was present.  Without knowing how to use the keyboard to navigate and load the drivers the PC was pretty much just a beige box with some glowing lights and a big screen illuminating the room.

More recent versions of Windows, Linux and Apple operating systems automatically detect most mice and trackpads without needing any additional software to be loaded, but there are still times where the knowledge comes in handy.

On one occasion I was lucky enough to help a customer who was blind. As such they did not use a monitor or mouse, navigated around their Windows PC only using the keyboard, something that opened my eyes to the issues affecting people with disabilities who use a computer in their day to day lives.

More recently, I was in the Braehead Apple store and found that the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro had been set up but the Magic Mouse on the Mac Pro and the Magic Trackpad on the Mac Mini were not responding.  Being the type of person I am, I decided to try and figure out how to get them running, but I soon found the basic attempts to switch them off and back on did not allow them to be re-detected by OS X.

That’s when I found the secret…

You can use the FN key and the F4 key to open the Applications folder and go to System Preferences (using the arrow keys)

Once there you can use Search to choose “Bluetooth” which should start searching for bluetooth devices.

By resetting your mouse or trackpad (I had to remove and reseat the battery compartment on the Magic Trackpad – Luckily no one noticed and they didn’t think I was stealing the batteries) it should try reconnecting with your Apple OS X system and you should be ready to go.

Once I got home I decided to have another look at the accessibility tools on my MacBook and as I already knew how to log in by choose the account by pressing the CMD key and the first letter letter of the amount name (shift key will also work) it was easy to get to the desktop.

By repeating the above to get to the System Preferences and choosing Accessibility you can also “Enable Mouse Keys” from the “Mouse and Trackpad” option.
This sets keys on your keyboard to move the mouse left[u], right[o], up [8], down [k] and diagonally [7 9 j l ] and select [i]

You can even toggle the Mouse Keys no and off by pressing the Option key five times (if this option has been pre selected) which can be handy to enable and disable the feature as having it enabled makes typing practically impossible.

In order the keys should be:

7 8 9
u i o
j k l

Fore more information on “Mouse Keys” on a Mac try Apple’s support site pages here (Mavericks) or here (Yosemite)

For More information on “Mouse Keys” on a Windows PC try Microsoft’s website here (Windows XP), here (Windows 7) or here (Windows 8) [ Unfortunately there’s no info on “Mouse Keys” on Windows 10 at time of writing this]

For More information on “Mouse Keys” on Linux try here (Ubuntu) or here (RedHat) [or here for other accessibility keys if you don’t have a RedHat Support subscription]

There’s also a good general description on Wikipedia with relevant links.

I hope that someone finds this information useful.

Another chip off the old block

So after months of deliberation a realisation came to me that my change from a diesel car to an electric was not going to be possible due to the lack of supply of suitably cheep second hand vehicles in central Scotland and my lack of finances and the longer I left the purchase of a new(er) vehicle the more it would cost me.

So I’m now the owner of a second hand Seat Altea XL, purchased through a local Seat dealership.  As a compromise I have gone for an ecomotive version, with low emissions and for my own peace-of-mind loads of mod cons such as automatic lights, Stop-Start technology (should save some pollution & money) and (not something new for my american readers, but new to me) Cruse Control.

As a past Seat Altea owner, I found the change to a new car really easy as it’s just the same car with a few refinements and a bit more space. I have often wondered why more people don’t know about the Altea as it has a lot of space whilst not looking like a big car.

For a couple without kids, a big question is why do I need so much space? To be honest I probably don’t but in the past we have taken our nice and nephew camping and down for a few days away to Alton Towers, something that needs quite a bit of space (especially when camping with our 5 man tent and all the associated equipment).

The Altea XL has quite a bit of extra space that will come in handy as we may also have to take our youngest nephew with his sister and brother (assuming that they haven’t got to that age that hanging out with their aunt and uncle is something that they would rather be dead than doing).  I also use my car for work at times and several laptops and or desktop PCs with monitors can take up quite a lot of space that most cars don’t have (even with the seats down).

My big issue is that the Altea does have some serious blind spots, which can cause you to miss cars, vans and even HGVs , depending on the angle of the vehicle.  I believe that the blind spot is (ironically) due to some security features such as airbags and body strength.  As I’m aware of this issue is shouldn’t be an issue with the Altea XL.

It’s been a while since I bought a car (over 5 years) and I’ve found that the service you receive has slowly deteriorated.  A few cars back (10+ years) I would get the car, either go for the dealerships finance deal (usually more expensive) or get my own finance (There are some great finance deals just now, such as a 3.6% personal loan for existing Nationwide Building Society) but no matter which option you went for you had the car valeted, car mats, good tyres, a full tank of fuel and a nice bunch of flowers.  The last two cars I have purchased have only included two of these options, namely the tires (which are a legal requirement) and the valet (which is sort of the minimum I would expect from any car dealership). In a world where simple actions such as a bunch of flowers and a cheep set of car mats can make a difference, I’m surprised that this tradition has fallen by the wayside especially when there are so many places vying for customers and any small way to make the customer happy can make that customer into a regular, helping to increase the customer satisfaction whilst keeping the business successful, after all it costs more to find new customers than to keep existing customers.

So all in all I’ve got a new (second hand ) car, which isn’t exactly what I want, but a compromise is better than nothing and sometimes you have to accept the changes because sometimes you aren’t able to get what you want.

A rugged, mobile wifi device brings the web to schools in Africa and beyond

Not just tech for tech’s sake, but making a difference in people’s lives. From a simple original idea, life changing technology that could bring amazing possibilities and changes to people’s lives.

TED Blog

Now that BRCK has launched, Ushahidi is turning its attention to where it will be best put to use -- in schools. Photo: BRCK Now that BRCK has launched, Ushahidi is turning its attention to where it will be best put to use — in schools. Photo: BRCK

BRCK is best described as a “backup generator for the internet.” When it was announced, the idea of a rugged, rechargeable, mobile wifi device captured imaginations as a good way to bring robust connectivity to people in places with spotty infrastructure – particularly in developing countries.

The device is the brainchild of Nairobi-based technology company Ushahidi, and was created partly out of simple frustration with dropped internet connections and power outages in the city. After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, BRCK has now manufactured and shipped more than 1,000 units to 45 countries, many of them in emerging markets, and is catching up on the backlog of orders. So — what next?

Here, Juliana Rotich — a TED Fellow and founding member of Ushahidi — tells the TED Blog that BRCK is…

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Edinburgh Apple Store Grand Opening

I know I’m really late in posting about the Grand Opening of the Apple Store, Princes Street, Edinburgh but as I was lucky enough to be there and take some photos, I thought it’s about time I wrote something about it.

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I arrived about an hour before the opening time, but despite this, the queue was not as long as I had anticipated.

The queue was separated between people wanting to purchase the new iPhone 6 (or 6 Plus) [shortish queue] and those wanting to see the shiny new store, who formed a long, winding queue which snaked in front of the building next door with a small brea , for the lane that runs down the side of the store, to allow traffic to pass.

The queue was well mannered as usual and despite the cold Scottish wind (luckily the rain had stopped by this time), the queue was well mannered and cheery. After speaking to a few people in the queue and overhearing some conversations, it appeared to me that the latter half of the queue had never attended an Apple Store opening before and most were a bit bemused by the situation, but realised that it was all part of the experience.

As with the other Grand Openings, which I’ve had the opportunity to attend, Starbucks staff were on hand with a smile on their faces and a small warming hot chocolate or coffee to keep everyone’s spirits up.

Just before opening the sound of bagpipes filled the air and the Apple Store staff came out to welcome everyone with a quick procession around the queue, clapping and cheering everyone who had been waiting for so long.

The security staff. who were managing the queue, were friendly and well mannered despite spending hours on site after setting up the barriers in the rain earlier in the morning. Their simple pass system for ensuring that no one was able to ‘skip’ the queue, as the queue passed over the lane beside the store, worked really well and appeared to also being utilised for those waiting in line for iPhones at the same point in their queue.

Once beside the store, the sheer vastness and open clean design of the store was evident, even with the crowds of fans and staff who had already filled the ground floor of the store.

A short wait later and I was finally passing through the glass doors and getting the customary high fives from the corridor of staff that welcome you into every Grand Opening as you grab the opening day t-shirt (I’m still surprised that some of the fans in the queue didn’t know about what would happen and that the t-shirts are only available in one size, to the first 1000 to enter the store).

Once in the store I had a quick look round and realised that the ground floor was a bit too crowded for me. After bumping into a regular face at these events and a short chat, I was soon heading to the side of the store and up the beautiful staircase (no glass this time) to the bright, clean and airy upstairs, which I believe is the Genius’ area (although there didn’t appear to be a Genius Bar )

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Upstairs was a lot quieter and had space for the children’s area, Genius area, Training area, loads of accessories and all the stuff you find at the back of the ‘mall’ Apple Stores (or Upstairs in Glasgow’s Buchanan St Apple Store).

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The look of the store really caught my eye, from the aluminium air conditioning ducts, floating from the ceiling, to the amazing staircase (which I kept taking pictures of – a bad habit of mine [see my Flickr account] ) and the sense of light and space, which was ever present, even on what could be the busiest day of the store.

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Looking out the first floor window, I could see the Apple flag curled round the flag pole and even an hour after the store opened (yes it took me that long to get in and have a look round – Something my long suffering better half was a bit unhappy about as she sat patiently in McDonald’s up the road) the queue was as long, if not longer, than it had been when I had joined it initially.

Unlike other Grand Openings, it stuck
me how busy the store was. There
were Genius Appointments happening within an hour of the store opening (if not before) and there was a clear demand for the new iPhone 6 / 6 Plus, which is something I’ve not really noticed before, at least not on the same scale.

Hopefully my photos will do the store justice, but I would recommend a visit if you’re in Edinburgh.

I’ll certainly be back in the Edinburgh Apple Store when I’m next in the capital and maybe next time I’ll get a better feel for what the store is really like, without all the clamour of the Grand Opening.

If you want to find out more about the history of the Edinburgh Apple Store, I would suggest checking out Gary Allen’s blog “IFOAppleStore” (IFO=In Front Of) which details the rumours about the Edinburgh Apple Store over the past decade as well as interesting details on many of the Apple Stores throughout the world and other info on that Apple fans may find as interesting as I do.

Spudger find

during a recent lunch break, I popped into the Linwood TK Max store with a work colleague.

As usual I took a few minutes looking at the tools, phone covers, headphones, car accessories and the general geeky and man crap that lies unordered on random shelves in a section of the store.

I like having a look in TK Max as I have found some interesting screwdriver sets and other oddities that you don’t often find elsewhere.

My eyes lit up when I spied the following item: A Spudger!!

The pack (see photo) contained a Nylon and metal spudger from “Rolson Quality Tools” for £1.99 [ RRP listed as £3.49 ?] and it’s already been of great use to me when I had to strip down our Virgin Media remote control after it was accidentally drop end and the casing popped open.

The tools won’t last long under heavy use ( there are already deep scores appearing ) but for the occasional use in prying open the odd laptop or home electricals ( thinking my nephew’s game controllers, remote controls etc) they should do the trick.

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The Cycle of Mental Illness

An interesting, accurate and personal view on mental health from the viewpoint of a close family member.

True to life and very touching.

Cellulite Looks Better Tan

It starts again.  The cycle.  The never ending punch in the gut, jolt to the heart, baffling cycle.

The first stage:

Denial

“Have you talked to mom?”  The question I hate to hear when one of my four brothers calls.

“Yes.”  I close my eyes before I ask, “Why?”

“She just seems,” Sigh, “Out of it.”

“No. I haven’t noticed.”  I lie.

Then I end the call and pretend it never happened.  I go about my day.  I play with my children.  We do homework.  I cook dinner for my family, a mediocre, limp mess that we call a meal.  I sit in my chair at the kitchen table, fork some food into my mouth, chew, and swallow, all the while trying to push her illness away from my reality.  I smile at my son as he tells me something really important about one of his Lego Star Wars characters…

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Joining the dots

As an Apple fan, I was intrigued by the latest WWDC invites, which show a series of rounded edged squares which leaves an impression on the white background, which looks like the top of that Apple logo.

As usual there is a lot of speculation about what “clues” are hidden in the invites. As usual I don’t care.

But it got me thinking, but not about the usual Apple rumours.

Firstly I started thinking about my past postings and the invite reminds me of old dot matrix printers, that used rows of pins to form images on the paper. modern ink jet printers USA a similar process but instead of pins they use little jets that push droplets of ink onto the paper. Could this be Apple stepping back into HP’s pool and updating printing technology? As much as I would personally love this, I doubt it (although it would be a bold move, that could just work considering the creative background of Apple and their users, not to mention the number of photos that are taken on iPhones)

So, if the invite isn’t something as mundane as the current range of rumours about improved Displays or improved Apps, what could it be about?

I suddenly remembered rumours that surfaced about Apple’s introduction of the iPhone. The rumour was that Apple wanted to produce a device that didn’t rely on The usual cell phone (mobile phone) companies. There was talk that Apple were intending to roll out their own network of some sort.

Recent changes to FaceTime, to allow voice calls over 3G and 4G networks as well as the “Personal Hotspot” option and other sharing options could hint that Apple haven’t given up on their ideals.

If Apple did take the bold step to allow iPhone users to share their Wi-Fi and cellular network ( which I’m sure the Mobile [Cellular] companies wouldn’t be happy with ) it could be really good for everyone. No more poor signal quality, no more slow download speeds just one big shared network. loads of iOS devices all connected together to form an independent network of devices.

As much as I believe it’s a great idea and I’d love to see if the concept could work, but I suspect that in the UK the lack of public WiFi and I suspect the Mobile companies clamping down on “tethering” as they call it, could stop the concept from taking off this side of the pond.

A mesh network of loads of individual networks, if it’s possible, could change the future forever.

saying yes

As you grow up you are faced with decisions, choices that shape you and your future.

Whilst these choices may lead you in directions you may have never thought about at the time, they are part of everyday life for amost everyone, part of our joint existence in this world.

Many of these choices are major steps in most people’s lives: asking the person you ‘fancy’ out for the first time, choosing a career path, college or university, deciding to drop out, balancing studies / family life / social life / work, proposing to our significant other, accepting such a proposal / or not, getting engaged, getting married, applying for a job, accepting a job offer, getting a personal loan, learning to drive, getting a car, getting a mortgage, finding your dream home, and so many more decisions that people take every day of every week, every year.

Most of these decisions will affect your life in a big way, shaping your future as well as ourselves in the process, often in ways we had never considered and which, at the time, could not have been foreseen.

These decisions are sometimes tough decisions, with lots of feelings, thoughts, considerations, research and soul searching, but most are just part of being an adult and being in control of yourself, your future & your destiny.

So this leads me on to possibly one of the biggest decisions of my life.

The Scottish Referendum.

From a purely personal view, Scotland has had it’s own legal system, with it’s own police force(s), laws and judicial system, it has health and education systems that are vastly different from the rest of the UK and in recent years we have had our own parliament to make some decisions about how we live our lives.

Unfortunately, we are presently run, on the whole, by a Government in Westminster, that we did not vote for, who are making decisions about The UK that appear to be based on what certain parts of England want and not what the whole of the UK actually needs.

When I was growing up I remember the Conservative government at the time, bringing in things like the poll tax, which hit Scotland hard, at a time when the main industries of the country had been brought to it’s knees by the Conservative government, lead by the then PM Margaret Thatcher. Since then, I have found the thought of the Conservative Party ever having power over Scotland again to be the most abhorrent thought, unfortunately it has happened again.

I the last General Election in 2010, only 16% of the Scottish population voted for the Conservative party, with only 1 out of the 59 Westminster seats going to the Scottish Conservative party, with the majority (41 seats) going to the Scottish Labour Party and yet The UK is controlled by a party that the country of Scotland did not want, or vote for.

In order for Scotland to grow, develop and have a future, I believe, we have to vote YES for independence from the rest of the UK. I will be sad to leave the UK, but if a relationship is not working, what’s the point in dragging it out and making things worse.

Whilst I understand that the decision, for most people, to vote to break away from the rest of the UK is one that could be seen as one that has many risks, uncertainty and it may feel scary. I believe it’s no different from any other big decision in life. It comes down to if you want to be able to choose your own path, if you want to be an adult and to take those tough choices yourself. It’s like deciding to move out of your family home, to become and independent adult. The Scottish parliament was Scotland’s equivalent of going to College or University or getting your first apprenticeship / job, it’s a good move but ultimately you have to move on, get your own space, be yourself, instead of being confined in the bubble of family life. Moving out doesn’t mean that you won’t keep in touch, that you will loose everything, that everything suddenly changes. No. Moving on is good, healthy and helps everyone, going on your own is part of life, part of the path we all must tread.

Making tough decisions is about looking at where you are now and where you you think your future lies and making the choices that you feel comfortable with, that will take you to where you want to be, where your heart lies. Life is rarely easy, and big life decisions often come with great risk and great struggle, but ultimately, they are worth every moment of that struggle, just to come out the other side stronger, happier and look back on what you have achieved, the lessons learnt and realise how you have grown from the experience.

I look forward to the future and hope that Scotland makes, what I believe to be, the right decision later this year and votes YES for independence.

Disclosure: For as long as I can remember I have wanted to live an independent Scotland. Throughout my adult life I have consecutively voted for the SNP [Scottish National Party] because they were the only party offering independence as an option and during their time in power both in the UK government and later in the Scottish government, I feel, they have delivered time after time, where other parties have failed to deliver for Scotland.
Whilst I do not always agree with some of their decisions (i.e. The Shore Energy Coatbridge plant see Monklands Residents Against Pyrolysis Plant on twitter and on Facebook ), in general they appear to stand for similar principals to my own.

History: I’d like to point out to readers who are not aware that a Scottish and Welsh Referendums on independence were also taken in 1979, where the majority of voters (51%) voted for Scotland to be independent. Unfortunately I was too young to even remember this event, let alone participate, but I understand that the wording of the referendum was confusing and ‘It required the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an order repealing the Act unless at least 40% of the eligible electorate voted “yes” ‘, with less than 33% of the voters, voting YES, the act was then repealed.

Taking the next step

I have been looking around for a new role over the past few years but have newer found the right fit that would persuade me to make the move.

I have a LinkedIn profile and have been approached quite a few times with roles that don’t tick the right boxes for me in some way or another.  Some of these roles have ben with some big organisations such as HP, Sky or GE but they just don’t have the right feel about them so I’ve not made that move.

Probably one of the more interesting approaches was a UK based company, with an office in Edinburgh, that deal with constantly developing and expanding cloud computing market and appear to have a bright future but at the same time realise that they need to provide the dull and boring grey IT services such as Blackberry integration into their offering.  I have noticed that the organisation is again hiring in Edinburgh after successfully opening a new Amsterdam office in 2013.

Despite all these approaches I’ve failed to find that fit. As some readers will know in 2013 I unfortunately missed out on a role that I had hoped that I would have been able to finally secure.  The role is one of the hardest roles to secure in IT support, but I still took the plunge after finding out that the organisation in question were hiring for a new Scottish location (which is still in construction, after several years of rumours and over a years worth of structural work to the existing building).  One of the organisation’s recruiters even ran through a screening telephone interview and I was very hopeful to secure the role, but alas it was not to be.

 I am now faced with yet another dream role, which Unfortunately I can’t take… I have approached by two separate agencies (actually one agency has had three different members of staff try to contact me about the role as I appear to be such a good fit for it !!??)..  The role is a Apple Server role, with Mobile Device Management (MDM), Active directory / Open Directory / LDAP, iMacs iPhone / iPad and soo much more..

This amazing role is for a very solid (and prestigious) organisation, the pay level is amazing and the location is pretty good as well.  Looking at the description of the role it is the sort of dream role that I would love, it even appears to be one of these amazing roles that you could take and develop with as it grows and changes, it has challenges, new skills to learn, old skills to update, and it appears that there is a real desire within the organisation to invest in Apple technologies and systems.

So what’s the issue?  It’s a 3 month contract role!! I’d have to give up a full time permanent role in order to take a bucket load of money for what could be a short term contract (there is mention of extension but there is no mention of a permanent position) and then what? 

Now some IT guys will probably think I’m crazy, some of these guys go from contract to contract, taking the work wherever it is and that’s fine for them. I’ve know some guys would take the money and run (even if they didn’t have the skills and knowledge they would sell and BS their way in to get the pay off and worry about the consequences later ). Personally I’m not one of those guys. I like to take on a role and grow with it, develop with the oganisation to create something. I have a mortgage and I don’t mind turning down the big cash payouts in order to keep a steady pay check, a roof over my head and some form of stability in my life at a time where I have enough stress in my life.  I gave up contract work over 13 years ago (when I was single, had no commitments and was free to take stupid gambles on my future) got married, got a mortgage and moved on with my life, I’m not willing to risk it all for a short term dream role, no matter how amazing that role looks. 

So maybe 2014 will be the year of that elusive role that ticks the right boxes without all the negatives, I hope so?