Archive for the ‘software’ Category

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves” – Albert Einstein.

Paying attention.  It is the most important thing to practice while driving, and often times hard to do, especially on a long drive, or an overly familiar one where your mind tends to wander.  The laws are trying to encourage it, and enforce it, but we all need to ignore the distractions around us, even the pretty girls.  Sorry Albert.

Technology can help with this, if used properly.

I drive a lot for work, going to new places all the time is one of the perks of the business, (if you like driving and exploring this vast country we live in) and quite often I forget to put the address into my car’s Nav system before leaving the office.  It is still a new-ish toy to me and I forget you can’t add an address once the vehicle is moving, so sometimes I rely on my phone to let me know where to go.  Other times I pull over and key in the address and use the Navigation system.
Today was one of those times I figured I’d just use my iPhone, and as it turns out also my Apple Watch, which I didn’t even know was a feature.  Driving along, I stopped long enough to click on the notification on my phone telling me of the meeting and the address and it launched “Maps” showing me where to go and how long, etc. and headed on my merry way.  Not too far along I felt the now familiar tapping on my wrist from my watch.  Assuming it was just a text message or my watch telling me it was time to stand up I didn’t think much of it.  Then again, as I neared my next turn, same thing.

I glanced over at my watch to see a very simple notification telling me of my upcoming turn, and ETA.  Cool.  The interface is simple enough a glance is all you need.  That is not to say the latest update to the Maps App for iOS is not well laid out itself,  but having the info on your wrist is pretty sweet, and less distracting.

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Watch screen capture

iPhone screen capture

As I said, the watch lets you know when a change in direction is coming up, or as may be, a choice in direction is coming up and the app tells you to keep going the direction you are going.  Sometimes those notifications can be extremely annoying when traveling along a highway and constantly being told to keep going where you were heading like some sort of robotic backseat driver “continue on highway for 3 kms”, but I digress.
When I first thought of getting a smartwatch, honestly I did wonder how much I would use it, and how much I was getting one just because it was cool tech and I didn’t have it.  (seeing the keynote about the Apple Watch Series 2 pretty much hooked me)

I had stopped wearing a regular watch around the same time I started carrying a cell phone in my pocket.  Seemed silly to me to wear something that really only provided one purpose.  Well, two if you include the date function, which by the way, if I ever forget what day it is and I’m not retired already or on vacation, put me out to pasture.  But anyway, having a smartwatch actually makes sense for me, since there are many times my phone is either not in my pocket (at the office for one, around the house for another) or it is in my pocket but not convenient to access, for instance when driving, working outside, or on a job site.  Often the notifications are all that is needed, and no or minimal interaction is required.  Driving is a perfect example of this, and anything that can be done to keep attention on the road is a good thing.  The watch OS does a good job of this, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves, along with how many other ways the minimalistic approach of working with a smaller screen changes how we interact with technology.

Not to mention it is just cool tech, and in my opinion, smartwatches will become as standard as the iPhone has become.  Integrated into our lives so completely that in a couple of years we will wonder how we ever got along without them.

Getting back to good old Albert Einstein, who knew he was such a player.

barkerp

I get a lot of email. A LOT. Between work and personal emails it is a wonder I find time to do anything other than answer or deal with emails.  All I know is, that on those days when something goes wrong with our email server, there is a lot more work getting done, although the urge to keep checking to see if it is back up and running does cause some stress.

Part of the curse that is email, is dealing with spam and junk emails. If you set your filter too strict you end up missing important emails, and if you don’t use any filtering you end up with so much crap to deal with you will be pulling your hair out.  Of late I’ve noticed an increased amount of utter crap coming in again.  Not sure why, seems to be a cyclical thing every few months, and I have to laugh at the horrific spelling and grammatical errors in the emails and wonder if they ever catch anyone in their webs with these?  Below is a perfect example of what i mean…

greencard

The nice thing is that the spelling and grammar mistakes usually make it easier to spot the spam. (‘appliance’ used when they meant ‘application’ for instance)

Another dead giveaway is the “actual” email address that the email is coming from or directing you to reply to (dontreply@perfectinput.org in the example).  More often than not, you will see a link that when you hover over it you can see the address which rarely matches the supposed subject (witoptions in this case does, but if you google it it doesn’t exist as a company and is fishy enough not to clink the link) and takes you to some ad website that will get you stuck in an endless loop of trying to close popups and pop-unders.  A good idea is to use a domain lookup site like “Whois” and check the domain name to see if it is even valid.  If it’s a real site, there will be info on it.  That doesn’t mean it is a valid website or email, just a better chance that it might be legit.

When spotting spam in the wild, there are tons of common phrases to look for.  Offering pills is big one of late, and I’m sure we’ve all seen at least one from some President of some foreign country offering to send us money if we give our banking info.  Many make vague statements about you and your previous involvement with their company, or offering you something for nothing.  Typically I find it best to toss any suspicious emails without even opening them just by previewing the subject line.  It used to be you could create a list of words to block, but even that is getting tougher since many bots or people substitute other letters or characters for some letters in words to sneak thru.  A bracket ‘(‘ for a capital ‘C’ for instance, or using the number ‘0’ for the letter ‘o’.

Remember, no bank is going to contact you via email and request info, or confirmation of any interactions you’ve had with them, so anything you get from any bank it is best to assume is fraudulent and follow-up with your bank directly.  I’ve even forwarded a few emails to my bank so they are aware and can warn others.

The old adage, “when in doubt throw it out” is never more on point than when dealing with email nowadays.  Thankfully the scammers and spammers are attacking in bulk and hoping they get one response out of the thousands they send out, and as such their attacks are easily spotted with a little vigilance.  Keep your eyes open and be careful what you click on or reply to.

“He is most free from danger, who, even when safe, is on his guard”. (Publilius Syrus)

-barkerp

ipad proWhenever I get a new toy, I like to see how it works and try to find the flaws so there are no surprises later on. Whether it is a tech toy, or some new tool, or vehicle even, the need to see inside and figure out how it works and what its deficiencies are is always high on my priority list.

My latest toy, my iPad Pro is no exception.  As soon as the Apple Store started taking orders for it, I was logged on credit card in hand since i’d already poured over the specs, watched the keynote when it was announced, and determined I would be buying one.  Delivered to my office on Friday the 13th without having to fight the line ups or crowds in an actual store – to quote an overused TV ad – priceless.  I got to spend the morning on my bike en route to Port Dover as all friday the 13ths should be.

Speaking of fighting, I’ve fought off the urge to physically open it up (so far), but getting under the virtual hood is another thing.  Putting it thru its paces and seeing how it compares to my previous iPad is job one.

Its been a week and so far, the one thing that annoys me most is the lack of the on-screen split keyboard on the iPad Pro.  This is the one device that would really benefit from having a split keyboard, since it’s too wide to try and type on it without first sitting it down on something in order to use the full-size on-screen keyboard. The people who say it’s not necessary because it’s too large to use two-handed and type with your thumbs haven’t tried to do it obviously.  I used my iPad in landscape mode with a split keyboard all the time and this Pro version is narrower in portrait mode than the landscape mode of the iPad.  I don’t find it unwieldy at all, I just can’t reach all the keys using my thumbs and I think it would be easier to have a split keyboard than to get surgery and have my thumbs extended.  And less painful too.

From a hardware perspective, Audio on the Pro surprised me.  I expected it to be better than the mono iPad I had previously, but didn’t realize how good until I was listening to music on it without plugging in speakers like I usually do.  I’ve actually taken to just listening to music on it without external speakers.  Both volume and quality are quite good.  The new audio system in the iPad Pro has four speakers that can be cranked up reportedly three times louder than the max volume of an iPad Air, and I can believe it, but not only that, it adjusts the orientation of the high frequencies according to how you’re holding it.  Sweet.

Speedwise, this thing is noticeably quicker than my old iPad and right on par with my iPhone6 if not quicker I would say.  Hardware has a big effect on speed, but also some of that is probably the latest iOS which seems perfectly at home on here, and I finally get to use some of the great features they built into the latest iOS.

ipad pro split screen

Slide-over (shown opposite), or Split-screen mode (shown below) for instance.  Making multitasking actually work the way it should.  Depending upon the app of course, some still just pause it seems, while others continue to remain live while slide-over is active.

Slide-over lets you respond to texts easily, while showing you more of the history and not just the last message.  Very handy, and easy to use.  Just slide a finger over from the right side of the screen and you will see all the apps you have installed (that work with slide-over), and can select which one to use.  Once selected you can use it in the slide-over window, or continue to drag it towards the center of the screen and split the screen making both apps usable at the same time.

Software wise, MS Office was one group of apps I was looking forward to using on the larger screen.  As it turns out, without a valid subscription to Office 365, I’m not able to do any editing on my iPad Pro.  (notice the “read-only” on the right side of the split screen image.  That was Word letting me know that it is not going to work on the Pro for free.)  I took the time to let the people over at blogs.office.com know, but I’d bet that falls on deaf ears…

ipad pro office blogThis annoyed me, and I suppose I should have looked into this further prior to getting my Pro.  The writing was on the wall, er, well, website…

Word is ready for iPad Pro and looks amazing on the 12.9-inch screen. Read Word documents on iPad Pro for free. To create and edit docs, you need a qualifying Office 365 subscription. Try it for free for 30 days.  On iPhone, iPad Air, and iPad mini, the core Word experience, including viewing, creating and editing documents, is free. Or unlock the full Word experience with a qualifying Office 365 subscription. On iPad Pro, you need Office 365 to create and edit documents.”

 Argh.  It is annoying, but not “this-is-going-back-to-the-store” annoying.
The size is something you need to get used to, but once you do, its tough to go back to a smaller version of the iPad without feeling cramped.  I got the back cover and smart cover for it since it travels with me back and forth to the office, and they don’t add much weight or bulk to the Pro, which is good since it barely fits in my messenger bag as it is.
I ordered the Smart Keyboard when I placed my order for the Pro, but for whatever reason it is not available for 3 weeks, which seems like poor planning on Apple’s part… “You should see this, it works great, its made for it, you’ll definitely want one…. but you can’t have it for 3 weeks” – doh!  I think that accessory will change the way I use the iPad Pro, but will have to wait to see how much.  Right now I’m getting used to using it sans keyboard and have gotten pretty proficient using the onscreen keyboard while it rests in an inclined position on my desk.
With the larger screen and multi-tasking possibilities, the dust on my laptop (my trusty but getting long in the tooth MacBook Air) gets thicker and thicker as I find myself only using my iPad and iPhone of late.  The MBA rarely gets opened, and usually only to back up my idevices.  As much as I’d love to see a big update to the MBA, with the functionality and capabilities of the iPad Pro I’m not sure I’d be getting one even if they did.
This may not be the death knell for the laptop, but the bell is definitely swinging.
-barkerp

I was in OS upgrade/update hell.  Okay, maybe not hell, but hell adjacent.

I am of course referring to the latest Mac operating system, OS X Mavericks.  The actual download was not so bad, if you don’t mind waiting for a 5.3 GB download that is, but the related app updates afterward got to be a little tedious and time-consuming. Especially when you get one that you’ve already done showing up again like the persistent iMovie 10.0 update.  I’ve already installed the latest version, but for some reason the App Store wants me to install it again since it seems to be showing up with a different date even though the release number is the same.  sigh.  All in all, if you are doing the update, make sure you set aside a large block of time and LOTS of bandwidth/data.  Maybe find someone with unlimited data from their ISP.
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mavericks-06Speaking of updates, I lost track of the number of them and the size, but suffice to say the first time I connected my Time Machine backup to the updated MBA running Mavericks, there were over 65 GB of changes to be backed up.  Thanks to a rather speedy Thunderbolt drive, it only took a couple of hours.
mavericks-04There were a few strange glitches after the Mavericks install. The first time I connected my iPad and synced it, the “finishing sync” lasted for an hour before I gave up and ejected it. Thankfully no harm done.  Another was the mail app that didn’t want to fetch new mail, even though it was set to “automatically” retrieve it seems to be on it’s own schedule.  I changed it to “every minute” and its working fine now.

mavericks-05I haven’t had much time to play with it yet, but the install went smooth for me (it’s always a crapshoot on a x.0 release so you may want to wait for the x.1) and speed seems to be good for opening programs.  I’ve noticed that my fan on my MBA is not running as often, which makes me think they’ve done some nice behind the scenes work on power usage.  To that end, in the battery indicator located in the menu bar, the “No apps using significant energy” is kinda cool.  I’ll have to try to bring my little laptop to its knees with some graphic and memory intense apps and see what that readout changes to.

If you were already running the last version of OS X you may not notice a lot of changes on the surface, aside from some new icons for a few apps.  Seems most of the big changes are behind the scenes.  Maybe they are running low on major changes to the operating system, after all its been a decade now since OS X debuted.

old iPhoto

old iPhoto, new Maps & iBooks

new iPhoto icon

new iPhoto icon

Speaking of changes, I have to say, bringing the Maps App from iOS to the OS X version has made it much nicer to find and adjust your route on a larger screen and then have it automatically appear in your recent’s on the iPhone and iPad. Sweet.  Also a welcome change was moving iBooks out of iTunes to become its own app and allowing it to be synced across all devices.  Sometimes I like to read on my Mac, not just my iPad or iPhone, so for me it is a good thing.  Depending upon your setup, you may not be as excited, but picking up where i left of on any device makes reading more accessible.

mavericks-08One thing that hit the news after the update was the fact people were seeing the latest iWork apps for free on some computers.  Turns out if you had a trial version of certain Apple software on your Mac, the trial allowed you to update to the full version after installing Mavericks.  I read a little about the issue and wondered if it still worked after the install was already done.  As a proof of concept – you know, purely for scientific reasons – I tracked down an installer for the trial version of iWork ’09.  It is still out there on a number of mirror sites if you hurry.

I installed the trial from the nearly half GB dmg file, and as soon as I opened Pages on my Mac I was greeted with the window telling me there was an update and asking if i’d like to install it.  No “purchase now” tab, just “update” in the App Store.  To ensure it worked, I of course installed it and yes, in fact, it is a full-blown version of Pages.  Same thing happened with Numbers and Keynote.

mavericks-07As was reported from an Apple source on MacTrast’s website… “Rather than maintain separate updates for these in addition to the Mac App Store versions of each app, Apple has decided to eliminate their legacy software update system for apps entirely. Instead, when Mavericks discovers legacy apps installed on your Mac, it provisions them as a Mac App Store purchase using your Apple ID. It saves us a lot of time, effort, and bandwidth. After the provision is complete, it will appear in your Mac App Store history as though you have purchased the Mac App Store version of the app.”  

Apple knows about the “glitch” and seems to be fine with it, figuring most people are honest and won’t abuse it.  They are probably also hoping that not many sites will continue to host the iWork ’09 Trial, but I personally expect a resurgence in the popularity of that particular download.

There will always be small problems with any major update to an OS and if you are using your Mac for business you may want to wait a week or so until the 10.9.1 update comes out, but I for one am happy so far, especially with having a few new free iWork apps to play with.  You know just to ensure they work.

barkerp

“Necessity is the mother of invention”. This phrase rang true for me, or in this case the mother of investigation, when I finally got frustrated enough with time being wasted dealing with an all too common problem of late.  It is AutoCad related so if you have no interest in, or use for AutoCad I won’t be offended if you just skip over this post.

First off, what are AEC Objects and why are they such a problem?  AEC objects are custom objects used in some flavours of AutoCAD to represent items like doors, windows, walls, etc.  When these drawing files are opened in other versions of AutoCAD that don’t use AEC objects these objects are called proxy objects.  Usually a warning box is displayed letting you know of this when you open the dwg file.  The problem is sometimes these proxy objects need to be edited or changed, and the only way to do that is to explode them, which creates its own set of problems.  Typically parts of the proxy disappear.  For instance a wall may have windows and doors embedded in it until you explode it and they disappear and the wall fills in the area the window or door was.  Not good when you don’t notice, or have to redraw them by hand.

This is the problem we were having.  Entities disappearing when we exploded the proxy objects.  We used to be able to save to an earlier version of AutoCad and the objects would be automatically converted to entities but that process no longer worked in the current versions of AutoCad.  As I said, necessity, and frustration caused me to spend a little time investigating since I figured there must be a better way.  Low and behold, enter the EXPORTTOAUTOCAD and AECTOACAD commands. (yeah i know, “enter” – bad pun)

The EXPORTTOAUTOCAD and AECTOACAD commands create a new drawing file and explode all the proxy AEC objects into editable AutoCAD objects.  The information stored within the AEC objects is lost in the new file, but the former AEC objects can now be easily modified and manipulated.

aectoacad
The commands have a number of options you will need to pay attention to:

1.  Filename: This is the name of the new file you are creating.  It’s best to use the Prefix or Suffix options to create a unique filename and avoid overwriting your original file.
2.  Prefix:  Added to the beginning of the filename, the default is “ACAD-” which helps differentiate from the original file.
3.  Suffix:  Appended to the end of the filename, the default is “no suffix” which is what i use.
4.  Format:  File format for the new file. Options are r14, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013. – typically just select whatever version of Acad you are running.
5.  Bind:  If the Bind setting is set to Yes, Xrefs are bound to the drawing. Blocks, layers,styles etc. are merged into the new file. If set to No, the links to the Xref are retained.
6.  bind Type:  There are two options when the Bind option is set to Yes: Bind and Insert. When Bind Type is set to Bind the Xref name is added to the beginning of block, layer and style names, when Insert is used, the names of blocks, layers and styles are merged into the new drawing.

Hit enter and wait for a few moments (depending upon size of file, number of AEC objects and speed of computer) and presto, all done and ready to be edited and cleaned up as you see fit.

Hopefully this will help some of you who struggle with this issue as we do, or more precisely – did.  It is a definite time-saver, especially with some architects we deal with, and in a business where time is money, saving any time at all is a good thing.  Especially in this world were deadlines have gone from weeks to complete a project, to mere days.  I think it’s a conspiracy by the coffee makers to keep us so busy we have to drink more in order to do our jobs, but that may just be the caffeine talking.

barkerp