Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Yesterday, I have been informed that one of my best friends has been found dead in his appartement. I have known him almost all my life, and we have done many things together: we went to school together, sitting in the same class for twelve years; we went together on holidays and trips, first with our parents, and later with friends or just the two of us; we talked about books and people and movies and literature and art and … life. He was smart, he had a phenomenal memory, he was able to see through fake reasoning and irrelevant propositions in a debate, he fiercely defended a rational and scientific approach to anything, and he always strived to make the world a better place for all people.

Making the world a better place was very important to him. How ironic then, that the Corona pandemic and the measures to fight it played a part in his dead. No, he was not infected. But he was a “loner”, in more than one meaning of the word. He had no partner, no children, no living parents, no siblings, and just a few friends… He was more of an observer of crowds than someone to voluntarily mingle and interact with people. Something from his past – we’ll never know what – weighed heavily on him, rendering him moody and depressed. But he still loved a good talk, and we had many, if not always in person.

Not being able to retreat to his caravan during the weekend and his days off work, in the woods and calm of the countryside, during the last weeks was very hard on him – he told me as much 14 days ago. Not being able to visit his friends for the weekly dinner probably downed his spirits as well.

The so-called “social distancing” we all have to practice to counter the pandemic is without any doubt required if we want to limit the stress the disease can put on our lives and the economy. But it is so badly named: we don’t need “social” distancing, we need “physical distancing”! Man is a social animal, and in times like these meaningful social contacts are essential to fight the limitations that the war on the virus induces in our mind and spirit. If we can’t hug our family and friends in person, then at least we have to call them, write letters and emails, interact with them to let them know we care, to tell them that soon things will be better. Not just once, but often. Because if we fail to do that, I fear my friend won’t be the last one to die alone, while feeling abandoned and desperate…

I was a fan when the series was aired here in Belgium, and I’m happy to see that M*A*S*H still is relevant today!

What a lovely combination! Just the right thing to saunter through a sunny spring landscape… if only there was no pandemic about.

A 1965 BMW R60/2 with a 1953 Steib sidecar

The bike is for sale at 2dehands.be (I don’t expect this link to work for a long time). I hope it finds a caring new owner – unfortunately I don’t have neither the money nor the storage space to be able to call it mine.

These are not the times to fool around on a day like April 1st. The only fools of the day are those people that do not take the current epidemic seriously.

When it comes to sunshine, having to report a very average month of March in terms of solar electricity production is not funny either. If it weren’t for those last 10 days of mostly clear blue skies and lots of sun, March would have been just as dark as the previous months. Here’s the graph to illustrate that:

Our solar electricty production numbers for March 2020

Yes, that is how one of the comments on TechSpot describes the machine built by Daniel de Bruin. Mashable calls it the Googol Visualizer Machine, and that is what it is:

… the first gear needs to make one googol rotations just to turn the last gear one complete rotation.

Click the picture to see it running on YouTube

A googol is a 1 followed by a hundred zeroes in the decimal system – go read the Wikipedia for a explanation. That will also explain where Larry and Sergei got the name for the most famous search engine on the Internet ;-)

The corona-virus hits public life hard in Belgium, so we used the last opportunity in a few (?) weeks to visit a restaurant…

Did we like the food? Oh yes!

Printing from MAC OS X Catalina is hard, when your printer is a Xerox 3260. Somehow the procedures I described a few days ago no longer work (and yes, they did work when I wrote them up). As far as I can remember there were no OS X updates, no printer driver updates, etc. to explain the fact that my measures no longer work… Perhaps there is interference from the old Xerox driver, which is probably still hiding somewhere on the hard disk.

My conclusion remains, however: Xerox has to come up with a solution!

 

UPDATE: just as I published this post, I noticed that Xerox (finally) published a driver update: the Phaser 3260 Mac 10.15 Driver v1.08 is out since yesterday, March 5. I haven’t tested it yet, but I’ll be doing that tomorrow!

The Weatherman of the Belgian Royal Meteorological Institute announced today on TV that this winter (defined as the past months December, January and February) is one of the warmest and darkest ever measured. The electricity production numbers from our solar panels can testify to the gloominess of February: we never had a February delivering so few electrons! 78% of the mean doesn’t seem that bad, but knowing that the number was never lower is not good.

The snow we saw a few days ago was, at least here in the Antwerp region, not meant to stay long: temperatures barely descended below zero Celcius, and that only during the day. I did not (yet?) have to don my winter jacket in the past few months – again, that is something that hasn’t happened often in the past!

The Guardian writes up the story: “Ukraine’s lost photos: restored images reveal Soviet-era lives“. There are some more rescued photographs from what were probably happier days in Ukraine on the website of the man who found them: Samuel Eder. I hope he continues to expand the collection shown on his site, if only because it gives a glimpse into life in a region and period that is not very known to us.

Click on the image to go to Samuel Eder’s website for more rescued treasures

 

Contrary to most pure hardware tools like a hammer, software tends to evolve over time. These days, software evolves faster than ever before – and at the same time most pieces of software that we use regularly are also interconnected with other software. Think of your smartphone, where the operating system updates the apps running on the device, while some – if not most – of the apps require connections to other infrastructural software and “platforms” from the likes of Google, Apple, and many others. Synchronising account and application data is getting more important every day, the more so now that more and more people have more than one device. No wonder then than sometimes things take a turn for the worst…

Case number one: I have been using a couple of home-brewed scripts to get the daily production numbers of our solar panels from the SMA monitor to an Xubuntu computer, and then transfer them to a Google Drive for storage. I used Grive2 to sync new or renewed files to Google Drive, until that failed as I reported on December 15th. Google started restricting OAuth access rights in November 2019, and that poses a problem for tools like Grive2.

My replacement solution using Jdrivesync is actually victim of the same OAuth change, although it is less evident: it can still add files to Drive but fails when reading the metadata of Drive files (and hence is incapable of replacing them as well).

Today I took the time to tackle the issue head-on, and started by re-reading the instructions on Grive2. That answered my question of a few months ago: I now know why Google changed its approach. The Grive2 site also explains how to circumvent the limitations, by creating your own Google API project and OAuth credentials. It’s not the fault of the Grive2 author, but man oh man, what a convoluted process is that. You get to answer a pleiad of questions that may be easy to understand for a seasoned Google developer, but not for an end user trying to get a simple sync script to work again! In the end, after a series of dire warnings by Google during the process, things started working again. Which is nice. But I’m still not sure for how long this will continue to work. That’s not reassuring for a solution that is supposed to work without a hitch for at least 10 more years or so.

I think the burden here is on Google: it would be nice if they could figure out a way for single end users to get a single application instance (project) up and running on a single account in an understandable process. Because that is what I needed: a way to tell Google that MY Grive2 script will sync MY data from MY computer to MY Google Drive. A simple process does not need to bother me with questions about GSuite domains, privacy declarations, consent screens, and what more. Please, Google?

Case number two: since a few weeks I’m a happy user of KeePassium. I use it on my iPhone as well as on an iPad, where both devices open the same KDBX file. Since I also still have an Android device running Keepass2Android, I store the KDBX file in DropBox. This setup seemed to work OK, until a few days ago when a new account added on the iPad did NOT show up on the iPhone nor in Keepass2Android. After a few tests and trials I ended up with saving the file explicitly to DropBox and reopening it on both the iOS devices, and later synced Keepass2Android as well. The latest changes in the file are now visible on all three machines, so that’s good.

However, I fear that I may have lost one earlier password change. I’m not in any position to blame either DropBox, Apple’s Files app, or KeePassium, since I cannot (yet?) explain what happened. So while the situation is “under (manual) control” now, I keep wondering what will happen when I apply the next changes to the KBDX file. Here, like in the case above, the synchronisation should ideally happen without any special interaction on my part. Unfortunately, as long as I’m not certain that the complete setup works “as expected” I may as well continue to sync by hand – and that is exactly what smart software is supposed to automate, no?

Conclusion? As a developer of sorts, I’m familiar with all aspects of software, good and bad alike. I know things can go awry, and I know how to try and figure out what goes wrong and how to try and resolve the issue. But I’m part of a minority, speaking globally, and I can imagine that many (most) people would just declare defeat and call the software they were using “buggy” or “bad” or “useless”. While that may true in some cases, it mostly shows that developers and publishers of software will need to take more care when building their products: no software is an island, and many if not all software tools will have to talk to others – hopefully in a polite and productive manner. Not an easy task, but possibly essential if the tool has to be around for a long time.

Somewhere in the second half of January, Samsung managed to publish another software update for the Samsung Galaxy S7 – I was late in installing it, but here is the resulting situation:

The latest situation on the S7 in terms of software

At least the machine now has the December 1, 2019 security patches.

By telling you this you know that I’m still using the S7 occasionally, although mostly as an alarm clock (there is no longer a SIM card installed in it). It’s a bit a shame not to use such a capable device; with better software support many smartphones, this one included, could have a longer productive life.

For those of you who care: the Samsung Galaxy S Plus (SGS+) I wrote about in the past (5 years ago, that is!) is still somewhat usable. That means nothing more than that it still starts up, running CyanogenMod 12, and its battery still holds out for a substantial time: it just dropped from 100% to 60% overnight – not bad for a device bought in December 2011!

“Seeing” things as colors or sounds has always intrigued me, so I had to have a look at the “What Color Is Your Name?” website. Don’t expect an extensive and scientific explanation of the phenomenon; just enjoy the results. Here’s what the alphabet look s like for Bernadette:

I can see this site being used to select a color scheme by website designers!

In November 2019 or thereabout my youngest daughter upgraded her MacBook to Mac OS X 10.15 (Catalina). Ever since she has had trouble when trying to print to the family’s Xerox Phaser 3260 laser printer: sometimes it would work, if only for one or two pages, and mostly it failed. And when I upgraded my Macbook Pro, I encoutered the same problems, of course. Luckily there’s the old and faithful Mac Mini, still on 10.12 and perfectly capable of printing with a 32-bit printer driver from Xerox…

The cause of the printing problem is not hard to find: Xerox so far has failed to deliver a 64-bit printer driver for many models, including the Phaser 3260. Which is unforgivable, since they are still selling that printer model without a clear warning that it won’t work on the latest Mac OS X version!

For those of you having the same issue I can offer two workarounds that so far seem to work without limitations when it comes to simple print jobs.

The first is to go into the Phaser 3260 settings and enable (and configure) AirPrint in the “Network Settings”. If you also own an iPad and/or iPhone you may already have done so, since it allows those mobile devices to use the printer directly as well. To use this protocol from your Mac as well, you have to go into the “System Settings” of your Mac, and define a new printer using the “AirPrint” driver. That should do the trick.

There is a second way to print from your 10.15 Mac, but it isn’t supported wholeheartedly by Xerox (although it is referenced in the Xerox support forums): you just have to install the “Xerox macOS Common Print Driver from a closely related product”… The hardest part of this solution is figuring out which printers are already supported by this driver. I have been clicking around and had success with the Phaser 3330:

(Click on the image to go to the download page)

The installation of the driver is pretty standard stuff, and once you define a new printer in the “System Settings” of your Mac you will be able to select any of the supported Xerox printers as the driver for your 3260 model. I tried the 3330 model, and so far have not encountered any problems with the printing of PDF’s and HTML pages. Am I just lucky? I hope not!

Having workarounds is nice, but Xerox should wake up and do the right thing: adapt the driver software (and their support website) to accept the 3260 and any other printer still on sale into the Mac OS X 10.15 driver package!

Today is a special day for calendar geeks: it’s a rare “global palindrome day”. In the words of the Solihull School Maths Department:

But I’m here to report that January 2020 was quite dark: sunshine was sparse, as reflected in our solar electricity numbers. Looking at the numbers, it’s clear that the months of January in the last three years gave us a lot less sunshine than before. Let’s hope that this is “just” statistical variability, no?

A couple of months ago I started my search for a good iOS app to replace MiniKeePass; I even wrote about it briefly on November 15th. The situation became very urgent when I switched iPhones two weeks ago: everything moved swiftly from iPhone One to iPhone Two – except MiniKeePass, which had disappeared completely from the App Store!

It took me a couple of hours to read up on the current state of KeePass affairs in the iOS world (thank you, reddit!), and a few more to test and re-test a few candidates. Since my wife will also be using the application, and we both also have an iPad, syncing with the iCloud was a must-have feature.

In the end, KeePassium turned out to be a winner after all. This time (and ever since!) it does open our .kbdx files without issues, and is well integrated with iOS and Face ID. That’s all we need at the moment. Thanks, Andrei!

PS. It must be happening more and more these days: apps that are no longer compatible with current OS versions, or that are no longer actively maintained by their developers. But I feel it might be worthwhile to keep a trace of them in the App Store (and similar repositories), if only when you search for them by name. I’ll give bonus points for a small explanation as to why they disappeared from current search results…