Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hospital and back

The walk to the hospital takes me through Christchurch's Botanic Gardens which were looking wonderful in the autumn sunshine today.
OK. I’ll make this medical missive a ‘one off’ (the health stories of those of us who are past our ‘use by’ date hardly make interesting reading). But, as matter of record, today was my annual check up at the hospital.

PKD is one continuous down-hill ride to kidney failure - at least that’s what the doctors believe. But, for the third year in a row, my kidney function has remained steady at 40% (low, but not dangerous).

“You seem to be atypical” the doctor says. “Coupled with the fact that neither of your parents have PKD, and your diagnosis was fairly late in life, I am wondering whether what you have is really PKD.”

“Well, if it’s not PKD what is it?” I ask.

“Haven’t a clue. In all other respects it looks just like PKD. Your kidneys are hugely enlarged and you even have some cysts on your liver, typical PKD. So it must be PKD. But it should be getting worse and it’s not. Anyway, it doesn’t change how we need to treat it. Controlling blood pressure is the most important thing. Let’s see how that is doing … 120/76. That’s pretty impressive for someone your age."

“So, it looks like PKD, but might be something else. It should be getting worse but it isn’t, and my blood pressure is the best it’s been for years. Sounds like reasonably good news to me.”

“Yes. Looks like we don’t need to see you again until next year.”

So, that was my day at the hospital. The PKD (maybe) is not getting any better but, most importantly, isn’t getting worse. What was a short fuse, seems to have stopped burning - at least for a while. That’s something to feel very thankful about. I guess my cameras will have more work to do yet.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Down the Linux Drain

I am unsure how much of my life has gone down the Linux Drain - probably it would be measured in months rather than hours or minutes. What do I mean by the Linux Drain? Well, it’s all the time spent trying to get something to work in Linux, rather than actually using Linux to be productive. Linux is like that - it usually comes broken and needs repairing before you can get to work. For this reason it has been a few years since I invested any time in Linux; life is too short.

Then along came this Chromebook which just worked right out the box. Chrome OS is built on Linux. Maybe things have improved. So I looked at resurrecting an old Netbook, which, apart from the rubbish Windows 7 Starter Operating System, was otherwise in good condition. Perhaps Chromium (the open source version of Google’s Chrome OS) could bring it back to life.

Nope. Same old, same old. Unless the Chromium OS has been tailored to the hardware (as Google and their partners do) chances are that things will be broke. In the case of the Netbook I couldn’t get past the networking (wireless and wired) not working. One day down the toilet searching the web and trying assorted solutions that yielded no positive results.

The problem is I don’t like to give up easily. Problems require solutions and that’s what I do - find solutions. So I parked Chromium as a lost cause and went looking for a lightweight Linux distribution that would work on my Netbook. Enter Peppermint 5, a distribution specifically designed for the cloud (like Chromium) and for older (read underpowered) hardware.

Peppermint 5 running on an ASUS 1015PX Netbook
I would like to tell you that Peppermint 5 worked straight out of the box. But it didn’t. What did work was all the basic hardware on the Netbook, including the network - at least that made it possible to resolve the other issues which were largely to do with partitioning the Netbook’s hard drive when it came time to do the permanent install. Getting Peppermint 5 working on the Netbook took another two days of my life. (Did I mention my persistence?)

In this instance I am very pleased with the result - a nicely working Netbook class machine that boots quickly and runs way faster than it ever did with Windows 7 Starter - new life for older hardware. But with Linux it doesn’t always end so happily - too often it ends in tears of frustration and failure. Linux is built for those who love tinkering with operating systems; not for those who simply want to get things done. It’s a shame, Linux could be so much more and so much better, than a drain.

(Article written in Gingko, and Blogger using Peppermint 5 running on an ASUS Netbook)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ANZAC crosses

It was a grey, wet morning as people began to gather around the Charles Upham Statue to remember the ANZACs of WW1. It seemed fitting somehow; that we should stand in the wet to remember lives that were lost in the atrocity of war. A sunny day would have been far to easy. The returned servicemen were there of course, but so was every other age group including the many school children who were there to plant a cross each for the fallen.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Enter a Chromebook

I have been a slow convert to “the cloud” and reluctant to commit my precious data to it. It’s a suspicion born of an age where shared computing resources were notoriously unreliable and data loss a constant worry. Nevertheless, I am not anti-cloud; in many cases the benefits of cloud based computing do outweigh the risks - I just prefer to be in charge of my own destiny when it comes to the really important stuff. However, when a family member’s ageing laptop came due for renewal, a Chromebook looked like a reasonable option. And, after weighing the pros and cons, we decided to give it a go.

There is nothing like trying something before buying and, in this context, running the Chrome browser on a normal (Windows/Mac/Linux) desktop and exploring the Chrome Store with its  various apps, provided a good idea of what a Chromebook experience might feel like. If you are considering a Chromebook purchase then I would certainly recommend trying this out before you buy. You will need a free Google account of course but this is a useful thing to have as it gives you access to all the Google services. You will also need an account should you ever decide to purchase a Chromebook.

The Acer Chromebook 13, running Gingko - used to write this review
If you find you can live with the range of apps provided in the Chrome store then  your Chromebook purchase will add some great extras to the computing experience:

  • Firstly, compared to a Windows or Mac computer you will get almost instant start up when you turn on your Chromebook. Ours is ready to use in under ten seconds from off or instantly from standby. More like an iOS or Android tablet experience.
  • Secondly, and depending on model, you should get excellent battery life. Ours is rated for 11 hours so, unlike a Windows laptop, the normal mode of use is likely to be on battery rather than plugged in to a power outlet. Much more convenient.

With those two differences out the way, the rest of the Chromebook experience will be very familiar to any Windows or Mac user; not exactly the same but similar enough that the learning curve is light and easy. Like a desktop or laptop, a Chromebook is a multi user device, and each user can access their own data and services attached to their Google account. If someone steals your Chromebook, they haven't got your data as well - it's all in the cloud.

Once you have mastered the Chromebook experience everything else is down to the apps that you can find in the Chrome Store. There are the staples like Google drive, Docs, Sheets etc. Free storage for 50,000 of your music tracks on Google Play Music and for your photos on Google+. After that it’s a case of ‘seek and ye shall find’ in the Chrome Store. There is plenty on offer of a general nature and more being added all the time. If you really must have all the features of Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint, even Outlook, then these are all available from Microsoft as free online versions - very usable.


The Chromebook experience has come a long way since it was introduced. It is now a very viable alternative for general use usually at a reasonable price. Unlike the old Netbooks, inexpensive doesn’t necessarily equate to a slow and crippled experience (not all Chromebooks are created equal however) and provided you usually have a good wifi connection to the internet you should feel as though you are on cloud nine.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Seirpinski’s Spear

It’s time for a fractal again. I’m calling this one Seirpinski’s Spear. Partly because it is based on the archetypal fractal, the "Seirpinski Triangle", and partly because I thought the final shape was very spear-like - deep, eh? ;-)

Oh, all right, I’m feeling particularly fractal today so here’s one from a few days ago: I called this one “String theory”.