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Monitoring bushfires

January 29, 2019

Nowhere in Australia is immune from bushfires, but some places are deemed safer than others. The block of land I live in south-western Western Australia is relatively safe (no trees near the house, lots of hardstand surrounding the house, etc.), but nearby (within one kilometre) are high-risk areas of bushland and homes on hilly land that is just covered in trees, grasses, and native plants. I have a fear of bushfires, so over summer I listen for aircraft activity beyond what’s normal (‘normal’ is maybe a couple of light aircraft a day) and check various websites etc. to assess the danger. The risk on some days is worse than on others—particularly those days with strong easterly winds and high temperatures, and if there’s been no rain for weeks. Once the wind swings around and comes from the west, I start to breathe easier as the danger to my property from that direction is much less.

Here are some of the local and national sites I use to check various conditions and situations, in case it helps others who live in Western Australia:

  • a weather site (wind speed and direction, temps)
  • the Emergency WA website (https://www.emergency.wa.gov.au/) for all sort of emergency reports in the state (the zoom-in feature is great)
  • the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (dfes_wa) Twitter feed for updates and links to emergency situations (https://twitter.com/dfes_wa)
  • occasionally the MyFireWatch website (http://myfirewatch.landgate.wa.gov.au/) and the Sentinel website (https://sentinel.ga.gov.au/)
  • FlightRadar24 (https://flightradar24.com; there’s an app too), which is a plane spotter’s goldmine, but which I use to identify planes and choppers going overhead (most are just standard light aircraft, the RFDS planes, and the rescue chopper), but occasionally they are firefighting aircraft.

This sort of monitoring was not possible just 20 years ago. Google Maps and the ability for services to overlay other satellite data and create instant warnings has changed the game. Technology working for good!

The image below is a screenshot I took from FlightRadar of two firefighting aircraft battling a bushfire near Collie on 20 January 2019. By clicking on the aircraft icons on the map, I get the information on the left about the aircraft and the flight paths for the past hour or so.

Flight paths of two firefighting aircraft helping put out a fire near Collie, Western Australia

Update 5 February 2019: We had a bushfire close to our place (within 5 km — too close for comfort!) and I found that the FlightRadar24 website gave me accurate, real-time information on what the firefighting aircraft (including the massive air crane, ‘Georgia Peach’ [N154AC]) were doing. The Emergency WA website was only being updated every few hours, but with FlightRadar24 I could see what sorts of resources were being deployed to control this fire. And from the flight tracking I got some questions answered, like whether ‘Georgia Peach’ could refill from the ocean (she could)—she actually refilled her 7500-gallon tank at least 10 times (it takes her about 45 seconds to do this, which is pretty amazing). In the first screenshot below, you can see ‘Georgia Peach’ heading down from Perth and taking on her first load of sea water just off Myalup. In the later screenshot, you can see that she’s made the first of many sorties to refill off Binningup. The two Dunn Aviation aircraft (yellow water bombers) can’t take on sea water, so had to return to Bunbury Airport each time to refill with their fire suppressant, adding precious time to their ability to be effective. The Rotowest chopper circled the whole time—I suspect it was the spotter aircraft guiding the others where to best deploy their loads.

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13 million visits

January 24, 2019

Approximately 4:30 am (Australian Western Standard Time) on 24 January 2019, this blog hit another milestone—13 million visits! It clicked over to 12 million on 20 June 2018, so that’s a million visits in just six months.

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Word: Fields won’t update

January 18, 2019

I’ve been using Microsoft Word for Windows since about Word 2.0 (yes, more than two decades…) but sometimes it still stops me in my tracks with something I didn’t know existed. And I usually ‘find’ the thing that I didn’t know existed because I’ve come across something in a document that I can’t solve and have to investigate (search Google) to find the cause and the solution.

In a recent document I was editing, I could update the TOC, list of figures/tables, and the fields in the headers/footers using one or more of the usual methods (switch to Print Preview view then back to Print Layout; F9; right-click and select Update Field; update table of contents command etc.).

I’d assumed all the cross-referenced fields in the document had also updated and did my usual check for ‘Error!’ to find anything that broke during the update. On this document I fully expected several of them, but there were none. That in itself was a little unusual especially as I’d redone the Appendix headings, so the original cross-references to them should have broken. But what told me definitively that something wasn’t right was that old template used 3.0, 4.0 etc. for the numbered Heading 1 style, whereas the new template I’d transferred this document to used 3, 4, etc. When I Ctrl+clicked on a 3.0 cross-reference (for example) it went to the correct place. But why wasn’t the cross-reference showing as 3 instead of 3.0?

I thought I’d just try updating one of these cross-referenced fields, but when I selected it and right-clicked, Update Field was grayed out (greyed out). I’d never seen that before, so I tried a few more with the same result—I couldn’t update a cross-reference!

Off to Google… where I found that if the fields are locked (who knew?) then you get a grayed out Update Field option. I had no idea you could even lock fields (or why you’d want to), but I figured I’d try unlocking one of the fields using the method described to see if it worked. It did! Next, I tested (on a COPY of the document, as always) to see if I could select the entire document and apply the fix to ALL fields in the document—that worked too! Immediately all the fields in the document were now updatable.

The fix (test on a copy of your document first):

  • Press Ctrl+Shift+F11 on the locked field to unlock it.
  • To unlock ALL fields in the document, press Ctrl+A to select everything, then press Ctrl+Shit+F11 to unlock all the fields.

Thanks to Charles Kenyon for having a list of field functions, which is where I found this solution: http://www.addbalance.com/usersguide/fields.htm#Function.

[Links last checked January 2019]

 

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Dropbox login not working

January 18, 2019

I’m not sure why, but my Dropbox.com login wasn’t working on a particular computer. I tried several browsers, cleared the cache etc. but it just didn’t want to work. It was fine on another computer. Off to Google…

The solution was simple enough—once you know how! After you type your username and password, do NOT press Enter or click Sign In. Instead, hold down the Alt key then click the Sign In button.

For some reason that worked and I was able to log in to Dropbox on that computer.

Hope this helps someone else!

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Word: Macro to add left and right padding to all table cells in a document

January 18, 2019

Here’s an issue I found in a document I was editing this week—someone had set most of the tables to have 0 cm padding for the left and right margins of each cell (the default is 0.19 cm for metric users). This meant the text butted right up against the cell borders (it was most noticeable on the left as I was using ragged right justification). I needed to change the cell padding back to 0.19 cm.

This is easy enough to do if you’ve only got one or two tables to fix (select the table, right-click and select Table Properties; on the Table tab, click Options, then set the left and right margins to 0.19 cm; click OK to save and exit).

But this was a nearly 300-page document with hundreds of tables, many of which had their margins set to 0 cm. Off to Google to see if someone had a quicker way. They did. I tested the macro and modified it a bit for my purposes, then ran it on a copy of my big document and fixed the problem on all tables in my document in seconds.

Notes:

  • This macro will set the left and right margin padding for ALL tables in your document. In most cases that’s what you’ll want, but if you want some tables to have different padding, change those tables or cells manually after running this macro.
  • ALWAYS test on a copy of your document before running the macro on your main document!

Here’s the macro (I suggest you copy it from here so that you get all of it—on some devices, the text may go off the screen):

Sub TablePadding()
'
' TablePadding Macro
' Adapted from a macro by Greg Maxey: https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/msoffice/forum/all/vba-code-to-set-all-word-tables-left-cell-margin/420672d4-d294-40a9-8832-7bebb3ab9bf0
' Set left and right cell padding for ALL table cells to 0.19 cm
'
Dim oTbl As Word.Table
 For Each oTbl In ActiveDocument.Tables
    oTbl.LeftPadding = CentimetersToPoints(0.19)
    oTbl.RightPadding = CentimetersToPoints(0.19)
 Next

Thanks to Greg Maxey for the original macro that I modified. If you want to change the padding to be smaller or larger, change the 0.19 value to a smaller or larger number.

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MYOB: Dealing with PayPal payments and merchant fees

January 9, 2019

This is for me, because I’m bound to forget what to do the next time someone pays me via PayPal and I have to account for the PayPal fee incurred.

Follow Steps 7 and 8 in this support note from MYOB: http://help.myob.com/wiki/display/supae/PayPal+payments+from+customers

In case that webpage ever goes missing, here are those steps:

Step 7: Receive Payment

When payment for the sale is received it comprises the net payment you will receive for the sale, plus the PayPal fees. In our example the total sale was $100, which comprises a net sale value of $98 plus a $2 PayPal fee.

This is recorded as two separate Receive Payment transactions:

  • one payment for $98 which is allocated to the PayPal Bank Account
  • one payment for $2 (the PayPal fee) which is allocated to the PayPal Clearing Account.

To record the payment for the sale

  1. Go to the Sales command centre and click Receive Payments. The Receive Payments window appears.
  2. In the Deposit to Account field at the top, select the PayPal Bank Account.
  3. In the Customer field, select the customer to whom you made the sale. The customer’s open invoices will be displayed.
  4. In the Amount Received field, enter the net sale amount, in other words the total sale amount minus the PayPal fees. In this case it would be $98.
  5. Click in the Amount Applied column for the customer sale. The amount will be automatically applied. See our example below.
  6. Click Record.

 

To record the PayPal fees

  1. Go to the Sales command centre and click Receive Payments. The Receive Payments window appears.
  2. In the Deposit to Account field at the top, select the PayPal Clearing Account.
  3. In the Customer field, select the customer to whom you made the sale. The customer’s open invoices will be displayed.
  4. In the Amount Received field, enter the amount of the PayPal fees. In this case it would be $2.
  5. [Optional – see Task 1 above] In the Payment Method field, select PayPal.
  6. Click in the Amount Applied column and the amount will be automatically applied. See our example below.
  7. Click Record. The $2 will be allocated to the PayPal Clearing Account and this will be cleared out in the next task.

Step 8: Clear the PayPal Clearing Account

The final task is to clear the PayPal fees from the PayPal Clearing Account to your Merchant Fees expense account. To do this:

  1. Go to the Banking command centre and click Bank Register. The Bank Register window appears.
  2. In the Account field, select the PayPal Clearing Account. The payment made to this account in the previous task will be listed.
  3. Click to highlight the PayPal payment.
  4. In the bottom section of the widow in the Type field, select Spend Money.
  5. In the Card field, select the PayPal supplier card.
  6. In the Amount field, enter the amount of the PayPal fees – in this example that would be $2.
  7. In the Account field, select the Merchant Fees account created in Task 4 above.
  8. In the Tax/GST field, select the relevant tax/GST code.
  9. Click Record. See our example below.

*********
My next step is to find out how I can add an automatic percentage fee to an invoice to account for the PayPal fee (and BPay fee, if I ever get it). It doesn’t look like this will be easy to do…

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2018 blog statistics

January 9, 2019

In June 2018, this blog hit 12 million views since I started blogging in 2008, and by late December it had had almost 13 million views. Some 1.84 million views occurred just in 2018 (about 500 more than in 2017). 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 didn’t write many blog posts in 2018 (just 50), so many of these visits were to posts I’ve written in previous years. I’ve written 1799 blog posts since 2008, with an average word count per post of 400.

Despite those large numbers of views, about 700 people have subscribed to my blog (you can subscribe by clicking the ‘Sign me up!’ button on the right sidebar and entering your email address to receive an email alert each time I post a new article), and I have 880 Twitter followers for @cybertext. From these figures, 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 2018 statistics for this blog, as well as some comparative ones for ‘all time’ (‘all time’ is actually 2008 to 2017 — I started this blog very late in 2007, but didn’t really start posting until January 2008, so the 2007 statistics are too low to be significant).

Total views by month/year

Average daily views

The average views per day increased marginally in 2018 (5164 per day) compared to 2017 (5053 per day), but were still a little behind the peak recorded in 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, as does the December/January holiday period and the northern hemisphere summer (July).

 

Top 20 posts

Some posts are just more popular than others! Those highlighted in blue appear in both lists — the top 20 posts of all time (2008–2018) on the left, and 2018-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) in 2018 garnered the most views, with the top 6 clearly ahead of the others. Everything else was a poor cousin to these top posts.


When I extracted out the views just for the top posts for 2008–2018 (i.e. >20,000 views each), the long tail was very evident. The top 10 posts for all time garnered the most views, with posts 10 to 122 tailing off and flattening out. Remember, I’ve written some 1800 posts, and this graph only represents the 122 posts that have had more than 20,000 views since 2008 — most posts have far fewer than that and aren’t represented in this graph.

So, there you have it. Eleven years of blogging, 1799 blog posts published, and almost 13 million views (with 1.84 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 2018 I received perhaps the equivalent of one week’s worth of groceries 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 for 2018, I’ll be writing posts sporadically in 2019 — 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 2019]