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Telstra service status

February 15, 2017

For my Aussie readers: If you’re having a problem with your Telstra landline, you can enter your postcode into this site (http://servicestatus.telstra.com/) and get a status update. There are three ‘buttons’ at the top of the screen — current interruptions/maintenance, scheduled maintenance, and completed maintenance. The service they’re referring to is landline voice calls ONLY, not ADSL internet.

And why did I find this out? Each of the three calls I made at various times today and to various numbers gave me a message that the ‘service to the telecoms network I was calling was temporarily congested, and please try again later’.

So I called iinet who my phone is through, and their 13xxxx number worked straight away from my landline. The lovely support person I spoke to said Telstra keep the 13xxxx numbers free in case of emergency as they’re ‘more important’, and told me about this Telstra site. Sure enough, we have ‘scheduled maintenance’ going on right now (‘Customers may experience difficulties making and receiving calls using their home phone service’) and it’s expected to last from 15 to 28 Feb (!!!). However, she said typically Telstra work on one part of the exchange for a day, which means we might only be down for the day. Fingers crossed. Meantime, Telstra gave us NO notification that the phone would be out, nor do they notify iinet of such outages.

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Methods for converting a scanned image of text into text

February 7, 2017

A few years ago, I documented how to use Adobe Acrobat’s optical character recognition (OCR) function to convert an image of text into actual text you can edit. I’ve since found other (free) methods to do this; hopefully one of these may work for you. My preferred method is OneNote, because it’s quick and easy and secure (if you’re using Microsoft Office installed on your computer).

NOTES:

  • None of the methods I tried gave 100% perfect results (but then, paid-for OCR software isn’t 100% either), but all were much quicker and easier than retyping the text. You’ll need to compare the results against the original PDF/image and fix the (hopefully few) errors that didn’t convert.
  • Online services have the added risk that you don’t know what happens to the files you upload, so be aware that there may be a ‘cost’ for ‘free’.

Use online conversion software

A quick and free option is available from http://www.onlineocr.net. You can upload and convert up to 15 PDFs/images (up to 5 MB per file) per hour without registering; you have to register if you want to do more than that. Outputs include Microsoft Word, Excel, and plain text.

I found it quick and easy to use, and the results were acceptable.

Use Google Docs

If you have a Google account, use your Google Drive. Then follow these instructions: https://support.google.com/drive/answer/176692?hl=en. (If this link no longer works, do this: Upload your image file to your Google Drive, then right-click on the image and select Open with > Google Docs.)

Once you’ve converted the image to a document, you’ll see the original image at the top of the document and might assume nothing has happened. Scroll down — you’ll find the converted text below the original image.

Use Microsoft Office OneNote

Add the image into OneNote. Right-click on it and select Copy text from Picture. Then paste it into Microsoft Word, Notepad, or whatever text editing or word processing software you use (you can also post it into OneNote).

OneNote comes with Microsoft Office, so if you have Office, this is a really easy method — you don’t need a Google account, and you don’t need to use an online service where you have no idea what happens to the files you submit.

 

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Outlook: Lost the preview pane and minimized to the title bar only

January 16, 2017

Something went askew with my Outlook — I only had a title bar when minimized, so had to maximize the window to see my emails. And instead of getting a list of emails with a preview of each in the lower part of the screen as I clicked on each one, I could only get the list of emails OR the current email fully displayed, not how I had it before. I don’t know what happened or why, but I was able to solve both issues with a bit of Googling.

Resize the Outlook window

I could maximize the window fully, but when I restored the window size it went to just a title bar. I could drag a handle to make the title bar wider or narrower, but I couldn’t pull down the corners to display the window.

Solution: Drag the title bar to either the right or left edge of the window. You get a ghost outline of the new window dimensions, so release the mouse. You should now have a workable window you can resize to your requirements.

Restore the Preview pane

No matter what I set in Outlook’s View tab > Reading Pane settings, I could only get either ALL my emails listed (with the unread ones showing about 3 lines of the email) , or get a single email listed with the details of the sender in the lower half of the window. My usual way of viewing emails is a single line list on the right (whether read or not; #1 in the screenshot below), a preview of the email in the middle part of the screen (#2), and the sender’s details and other communications in the lower part of the screen (#3). No matter what I set, I couldn’t get my usual view back.

outlook preview pane

I found the solution that worked for me here: http://community.spiceworks.com/topic/198544-outlook-reading-pane-turns-off-each-time-outlook-is-closed

In case this webpage ever goes missing, here’s what to do:

  1. Close Outlook.
  2. From the Start button (I’m using Windows 7, so vary this for the version of Windows you’re running), type Run then click the Run program.
  3. In the Open field on the Run dialog box, type outlook.exe /cleanviews (Note: there’s a space after exe but no other spaces).
  4. Click OK.
  5. If this works for you as it did for me, Outlook should reopen with your preview pane back as it was. Adjust the heights of the preview pane elements to suit.

outlook_preview_pane02

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2016 blog statistics

January 1, 2017

Sometime towards the end of 2016, this blog hit 9 million views since I started blogging in 2008! Some 1.75 million views occurred just in 2016. These figures don’t include any visits I made to my own blog (yes, I use my own blog for stuff I can’t remember!).

I wrote far fewer blog posts in 2016 (less than 30), so many of these visits were to posts I’ve written in previous years. I’ve written 1715 blog posts since 2008.

Surprisingly, I only have 528 subscribers (you can subscribe by clicking the ‘Sign me up!’ button on the right sidebar and entering your email address) who have signed up to receive email alerts each time I post a new article (and 779 Twitter followers for @cybertext), so I have to assume most readers are ‘hit and run’ readers — those who have a problem with Word or whatever, find one of my posts via Google etc., read the post, get what they came for (or not), and leave without checking out anything else.

Here are some graphs and tables for the 2016 statistics for this blog, as well as some comparative ones for ‘all time’ (‘all time’ is actually 2008 to 2016 — I started this blog very late in 2007, but didn’t really start posting until January 2008, so the 2007 statistics are so low as to be insignificant).

Total views by month/year

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Average daily views

2016_blog_stats03

The average views per day started to decrease in 2016 (4777 per day) compared to 2015 (5533 per day). The graphs above and below are for the full seven days per week, though most views occur during the five business days of the working week, probably reflecting the need to find answers to Word questions and the like when people are stuck with a problem at work. Weekends and major public holidays (particularly in the US) see a noticeable drop in views.

2016_blog_stats04

Top 20 posts

2016_blog_stats05

Some posts are just more popular than others! Those 12 highlighted in blue appear in both lists — the top 20 posts of all time (2008-2016) on the left, and 2016 only on the right. Those without highlighting only appear in one of the top 20 lists. The numbers to the right of each title are the number of total views for that post in the time period.

Long tail

As expected, there’s a significant ‘long tail’ for this blog’s views. The top 20 posts (all have 20,000 views or more) garnered the most views. Everything else was a poor cousin to these top posts.

When I extracted out the views just for the top posts for 2008-2016 (i.e. >20,000 views each) and the top 20 for 2016 only (both below), the long tail was very evident. Again, the top 10 posts for all time garnered the most views, with posts 10 to 97 tailing off and flattening out. And for the 2016 view, the top five posts garnered the most views, then tapered off significantly after that.

2016_blog_stats07

 

2016_blog_stats06

So, there you have it. Nine years of blogging, 1714 blog posts published, and almost 9.2 million views (with 1.75 million of those in the past 12 months).

I guess I must be doing something right, even though the monetary return is close to zero. I pay an annual fee to WordPress to NOT show advertisements on this blog (I wouldn’t get any return from these even if I allowed them), and I refuse to try to ‘monetize’ my blog posts by hosting them elsewhere and running ads — I don’t like ads cluttering up and getting in the way of good content and potentially trapping readers into clicking on them, and I suspect my readers don’t like them either. Instead of ads, I have an option for readers to donate to this blog’s expenses if anything I’ve written has got them out of a bind, saved them time (and therefore money), or helped them be more efficient. In 2016 I received perhaps the equivalent of one hour’s paid work in donations… I use that money to pay my annual bill to WordPress to keep this blog free of ads and to have the convenience of adjusting the style (CSS) of this blog.

As in 2016, I’ll be writing posts sporadically in 2017 — I still have a day job that I’m committed to, and paid work always comes before unpaid work.

See also:

[Links last checked January 2017]

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Word: Find and replace multiple spaces after punctuation

December 21, 2016

You receive a document that has multiple spaces after standard punctuation — periods, commas, semicolons, colons, question marks, and exclamation marks. Sometimes the author used two spaces, sometimes three, sometimes five!

How to fix it?

Well, you can run several find/replace routines but as the number of spaces is unknown and as there are many types of punctuation, that could take quite a lot of time. Instead, you can use a wildcard find/replace routine to find them all at once, keep the punctuation, and replace the unknown number of spaces with a single space. Here’s how (for your own peace of mind, test this on a COPY of your document first):

  1. Press Ctrl+H to open the Find and Replace dialog box.
  2. Click the More button to show more find/replace options.
  3. Select the Use wildcards checkbox.
  4. In the Find what field, type: ([,.;:\?\!])( {2,9})
    NOTE: There’s a single space before the {2 — make sure you include that. To be safe, copy the ‘code’ in this step, and paste it into your Find what field.
  5. In the Replace with field, type: \1 followed immediately by a single space.
  6. Click Find Next to find the first instance, then Replace to replace the multiple spaces with a single space.
  7. Repeat step 6 as many times as you need to be confident that it’s finding the right things. Once you’re confident, click Replace All to run through the whole document and fix all instances.

Use wildcards to find and replace multiple spaces after defined punctation

Explanation for how this works:

  • ([,.;:\?\!]) looks for any of the listed punctuation characters. Question and exclamation marks are special cases and need to be ‘escaped’ with a \. Because you’re using wildcards, you need to surround the text you want to find in parentheses. This string defines the first section of the Find.
  • ( {2-9}) looks for a space followed by two or more spaces, up to 9 spaces (you can put whatever numbers you like inside the curly braces — if you think you might have some instances of punctuation followed by 15 spaces, then change these numbers to {2-20}, for example. Again, this section is surrounded by parentheses to define it as a separate section.
  • \1 replaces the first part of the wildcard string with itself. In other words, the punctuation character found is replaced with itself, so no change apparently occurs.
  • The space after \1 replaces the multiple spaces found in the second part of the wildcard string with a single space.
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The problem with ‘simple’ instructions

December 18, 2016

Bottom line: Simple instructions are good, but don’t make them TOO simple. Include key prerequisites. Users familiar with the product may choose to ignore the instructions, but new users will thank you for them.

The problem with ‘simple’ instructions is they often leave out critical information, assuming that the user already knows it. But what if this is the first time you’ve used a product? Or if you just don’t know (or forget) how it connects to other stuff?

What prompted this post? I have an under-sink water filtration system — the previous one required a plumber to fit the replacement cartridges, but this new system (Puretec’s Puremix X6 System) allows the user to change the cartridge ‘like changing a light globe’. The system has been in place for 12 months now, so it was time for me to replace the cartridge.

The only instructions on the new cartridge’s box were ‘Quick-change cartridge, easy to replace — just like changing a light globe.’ That’s it. I thought there might be instructions on a leaflet inside the box, but no. Nothing. There was an instruction on the new cartridge itself — ‘Twist old cartridge from head [what’s the ‘head’??] and twist new cartridge into head until firmly sealed. After installing cartridge flush unit for 5-10 minutes.’ But that was it.

How hard can it be?, I thought.

Well, at least for the first time, much harder than the instructions lead you to believe!

I pulled the new cartridge out of the box and found it had a blue cap covering the top — do you remove this or not? For those big water bottles you get delivered, you DON’T remove the blue cap, but that was the only reference point I had. And remember, there were no clear instructions to tell me what to do.

So into the cupboard under the kitchen sink I went, removing all the paraphernalia in front of the existing cartridge. I untwisted the existing cartridge to remove it — and water gushed EVERYWHERE!!! Why? Because they didn’t tell me a key step before changing the cartridge and that’s to turn off the mains water to that unit!!! Yes, I should have realised this, but I’ve been sick the past few days, so my head’s not in a good place. But if I was a young 18-year-old in a rental apartment and had to change the cartridge, would I know to turn off the tap first, or even how to find/identify that tap?

After a few seconds of water gushing everywhere, I turned off the mains tap. Then I spent the next 10 minutes mopping up — fortunately, we had an old bath mat under the water cartridge in case of any minor leaks, and it absorbed most (but definitely not all) of the water.

OK, now everything’s mopped up and the water’s off, so I untwist the existing cartridge and remove it. That was pretty easy. I saw that the old one didn’t have a blue cap on it, so I figured I needed to remove the blue cap on the new one. This required powers of extrapolation, which my brain wasn’t dealing well with at all. Off came the cap.

Next, to seat the new cartridge in place of the old. Not so easy. Why? Because there are notches in the top of the cartridge and you have to line them up precisely with the static part of the system (that’d be the ‘head’, I figured). Fortunately, we didn’t have quite enough room under our sink for the plumber who originally installed the system to screw the ‘head’ to the back of the cupboard (as per their images on Puretec’s website), which meant I was able to turn it at an angle where I could see the notches that had to line up. After a few attempts, I got this right and was able to seat the new cartridge and twist it to tighten and seal it. I then turned the mains water tap for the filtration unit back on, then the tap for the water filter spout (which gave me fright by spitting air at me for a few seconds before the water came through), and then ran the tap for about 7 minutes, checking inside the cupboard to make sure there were no leaks.

It shouldn’t be this hard! The box the cartridge comes in, and the cartridge itself, are large and there’s plenty of ‘white space’ on them. To add a few steps would have prevented the issues I (and no doubt others) encountered.

Here are my steps for replacing a Puremix X6-R water cartridge:

  1. Turn off the mains water tap to the water filtration system; this is likely inside the cupboard below the system.
  2. Take the new cartridge out of the box and pull off the blue cap. Note the single and double notches on the ‘shoulder’ of the cartridge.
  3. Twist the old cartridge in an anti-clockwise direction (left) to remove it from the head unit.
  4. Position the new cartridge so that the notches line up with the corresponding parts of the head unit.
  5. When aligned, push the cartridge up into the head unit.
  6. Twist clockwise (right) to tighten fully.
  7. Turn on the mains tap.
  8. Turn on the tap of the water filter spout — wait a few seconds for the air to clear the line and water to start running, then leave the water running for 5 to 10 minutes to flush the new cartridge.

As a final step (not listed above), I’d also add some information on how to dispose of the cartridge appropriately — including whether the water inside it has to be drained or is sealed in there.

 

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Using Avidemux to split a video file

December 11, 2016

This blog post is for me, in case I forget how to do these steps! If it helps you, well and good, but it’s part of my brain dump for myself as it’s is only something I’ve done once before and had to relearn it for the second time I needed to use it.

Problem

My Samsung TV is from 2010, so it isn’t a ‘smart’ TV. Occasionally, we watch videos from an external hard drive. However, I think my TV has problems with large files (anything much over 2GB). No matter the format of the files (MP4, MKV, AVI etc.) they won’t even show on the TV as existing, if they’re over ~2GB (I’m not sure what the magic number is but it’s a tad more than 2GB but substantially less than 3GB). I did some Google searches and found that it could be the format of the hard drive — so I tried reformatting a spare hard drive as exFAT, FAT32, and NTFS, as recommended in various forums. Nothing worked. Still the >2GB files wouldn’t show.

What I needed to do was split the video files into smaller chunks, each less than 2Gb in size. Enter Avidemux.

Solution

I used Avidemux because I already had it and had used it once before for something quite some time ago. I had to relearn what to do, so for my future self, here’s how to split a large video file into smaller chunks.

Environment: Windows 7, Avidemux 2.6.8 – 64 bit

  1. Load the file into Avidemux (either drag and drop from the folder or use File > Open).
  2. If displayed, wait a minute or two until the two progress bar screens are finished.
  3. Check the settings on the left side of the Avidemux screen: Video and Audio Output – Copy; Output Format – select the same as the original file (e.g. MP4, MKV)

    avidemux01

  4. Use the slider or playback controls to get to the starting point of the new clip.
  5. Click A.
    avidemux02
  6. Use the slider or playback controls to get to the end point of the new clip.
  7. Click B. The new clip is bounded by a blue box in the slider area.
    avidemux03
  8. Go to File > Save, then navigate to where you want to save your new clip.
  9. Give it a file name, then click Save. The recording will start and take a few minutes.
  10. When finished, you can either create another clip (as you would if you’re splitting a large file), or close the file. To create another clip, click A again then repeat steps 6 to 9.