tech dilemma

A while back I mentioned that I had finally managed to organise myself with regard to my tax returns. The result of all that came to a conclusion last Friday when I discovered that a nice amount had been credited to my account from the tax office. All paperwork is done for 7 years of returns, including 2011/12, so I am completely up to date as far as taxes are concerned and the return was within the ballpark of expectation.

Priority number one is new hearing aids. I inherited my current pair from my dad and they’re about 10 years old now – that’s a reasonable life span for a pair of hearing aids. There have been substantial developments in hearing aid technology and the aids themselves are now smaller and lighter – I can even get them in red! The other step is to look at what sort of options are available with regard to hearing aid support and sound systems. My current TV doesn’t have great sound and there are options for systems that can pipe directly to the hearing aids via a combination of bluetooth and the traditional hearing aid loops. I don’t even have a stereo anymore as I tend to listen to music via my ipod with a decent pair of headphones. I am reluctant to make any move in that direction til I have the new hearing aids.

The other area I’m looking at is computer stuff. When I changed back to public sector, a mate gave me his old Mac Pro which continues to serve me well and has even converted me a little to Mac though mac stuff annoys me at times. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support the new Mac OS, Mountain Lion. Other than that it works well and I’m loving that it has unix underneath with easy shell access. On Windows machines, which I also love, I usually had to install cygwin or run it as a dual boot with linux to get the functionality I wanted. Things I love about windows most are text handling ie keyboard shortcuts for manipulating text and moving the cursor around – that would be the primary point of friction in my mac conversion.

Now I’m looking at options for the home. A part of me is tempted to return, in a sense, to what I had when working for Gale: a good laptop that I took everywhere and connected to a decent monitor at home. I had hoped that the ASUS Transformer Prime would fill this gap and it does somewhat but it lacks the true multi-tasking ability of a laptop eg the ability to edit multiple documents at once (it might and I may need to explore that more).

For home at least, I reckon a dedicated server/tower should suffice and the Mac Pro is doing ok though I’m tempted by moving to either a mac mini or a windows based tower. I remain ever tempted by the Mac Air (11″); the air continues to be sexy and interesting. Mostly, I need to work out what my needs are, keeping in mind some of the unique issues of my needs – hearing being a big one.

sounding out

I have a whole bunch of ideas on the boil for #blogjune, but right now, none seem to really fit. I had my first regular day in a while: wake up – work – home for the evening. A few glasses of red, some leftover pizza and time in front of the TV…or at least a DVD. Alas, I’ve discovered there’s a vertical black line on my new LCD so I will need to return it. I bought it just before filmfest so it is well and truly under warranty. I’m not looking forward to the hassle and can’t spare time off work at the moment…which is why I had it delivered it prior to filmfest.

Oh well, other than the line, it looks fab and I have no regrets. Admittedly the sound quality is not as good as the previous LCD I had. This could be a little problematic as I’m definitely not ready yet to invest in a sound system. That’s a dangerous path to go down, though it may be one time where my deafness is to my advantage. Being partially deaf means I’m unlikely to pick up the sound differences between an expensive high end system and something low to middle range. Plus my needs are different to many folk: I need a sound system that is good for dialogue, whereas big, booming soundtracks and explosions are stuff I need to dull down. I suspect this means that I can consider rear speakers at the low end with some reasonable side speakers.

The most important one is likely to be the centre speaker as I think that’s where the dialogue comes through. I was in a hifi shop a few weeks ago and tested a few centre speakers and did notice substantial differences in my ability to discern individual sounds; speaking parts had a greater clarity on some of the more high end options.

My deafness isn’t so much about volume as tone and pitch: I’m mostly missing the lower and upper registers. Some levels of sound I don’t need my hearing aids at all, some I can’t hear without them. Consequently, I’m probably looking for a good receiver, a decent centre speaker and low end back and side speakers. It sounds reasonably straightforward but again, it’s a path I’m not ready to go down just yet.

sputtering along

Been a while though with some good news: I’ve passed my 6 month probation at the State Library. I think that means I’m safe-ish for the next 18 months, until my contract ends. This is good news. I was saying to someone on Friday that while there are pluses and minuses, it feels like I’m in the place I should be. A different sort of work and a different sort of pace. One of the aspects of the job I’m hoping to develop more this year is dealing with data, particularly OAI and API type stuff. I’m still somewhat new at this sort of thing but have been pushing myself out into associated communities. Plus I’ve done a couple of coding workshops at conferences on interacting with such. Early days though.

However, it’s not all good as I managed to put back on all the weight I lost in my first 3 months in the new job. I totally blame an addiction to a computer game called Skyrim that lasted about 3 months or so. Very addictive. Most days, I would return home after work and sit on the couch, playing through til well past bedtime. Needless to say, weekends disappeared all too quickly. Food was rushed and consumed while playing. Not a healthy lifestyle. Though I’ve racked up a few hundred hours of actual game play, it remains unfinished. I stopped playing 3 weeks ago and have been rediscovering my life since, even cooking and eating at, if not a decent time, not too late either.

I’ve also been conferencing. In changing jobs, I was anticipating a drop in the number of conferences I attended. So far the only difference seems to be that I’m now self funding my attendance :-) In my first 6 months in new job, I have been to 5 conferences: NLS5 (Perth), Library Camp (Perth), THATCamp (Canberra), VALA (Melbourne), and Library Camp (Melbourne). Admittedly both library camps were one day events following a major conference. I think I’m enjoying the camp approach the most: there’s room for learning new things, room for talking about new things, and room for generally socialising. All done with a group of people similarly minded; made many new friends.

a coffeeThere’s been an odd development in the last 6 months too: I’ve come to the conclusion that I no longer like staying in hostel dorms. There, I’ve said it. The Perth trip last September was the first time I stayed in a room alone: though it was my own room in a hostel with shared bathroom/dunny. $70/night instead of $25. The privacy was nice. I didn’t feel like I had to be totally paranoid about my belongings…or worry about my snoring, or other people’s snoring. On my recent trip to Melbourne, I found a room discounted from $320 to $90/night and that was fab. I’m getting rather used to this :-)

On the tech front, I now have a mac desktop tower at home, XP based desktop at work, an XP based netbook (ASUS Eee 901), and an android based phone (Samsung Galaxy S2). Whereas in my previous job I had the same XP based laptop for work and home, the same netbook, and an iphone. 6 months on and the mac continues to piss me off regularly. Though I’ve recently been reminded that it has a full unix underneath it and I’ve just set up a web server (XAMPP for Mac as I have XAMPP for XP on the netbook) so I can work through the code from the workshops I’ve been to; not to mention as a space for developing code to handle XML and manage data sets. Some aspects of the mac I like and some aspects I don’t. It doesn’t seem as flexible as the PC or as modifiable. Being a keyboard junkie, I consider some of the keyboard shortcuts on the mac to be utterly stupid. Plus there’s a design ethos for the OS (Lion) to work better with smaller screens rather than my 22″ widescreen desktop.

The Galaxy S2 has been a wonderful delight – I was very fond of the iphone 3GS I had which I had to give up when I changed jobs. This was a few months prior to the launch of the iphone 4S. 6 months of use later, I love the S2 and am very happy that I didn’t wait for the 4S. Speed is good, flexibility is good, and modifiability is excellent. I still haven’t replaced my netbook but I have decided on the replacement: ASUS Transformer Prime. It came out a few weeks ago: looks and feels fab. Unfortunately, only the champagne version has come out locally so I’m holding off until ASUS fixes a couple of design issues (related to GPS/wifi) and releases the amethyst grey version locally. I’m a little old fashioned when it comes to tech and would like to be able to walk into a store and buy it…not to mention return it should there be an issue.

another day

This is a tricky time of year for me with sad anniversaries on Dec 31 (4 years) and Jan 8 (6 years – can’t believe it’s been 6 years) and I suspect that I hate Christmas too…which is doubly sad as I am a christian. I find no joy in the day. The last few weeks have been busier than usual, though for good reasons, but it has meant I didn’t quite get the downtime I needed. Consequently, I’ve needed to shut out the world a little longer than usual. Thanks to those that expressed concern; I take the time I need.

I need to rethink things somewhat to avoid going down a dead-end. For example, I’ve spent 6 years blocking out the Sydney Festival as dad died near the start of it. It’s always hard to look January in the face. I avoid all things festival-y though I used to go to lots of stuff…I remember enjoying the ACO at the $10 Proms (with dad and his partner if I recall correctly), not to mention the Taikoz drummers and other acts. Indeed, I got the news of dad’s passing just as I was about to bolt out, hoping to get a ticket at the door for some concert or other.

I need to work through this, as the festival is a bloody good thing; full of interesting pieces. Due to my reticience for the period, I’ve only discovered in recent days that one of my favourite composers will be in town, Philip Glass. The downside is that his big show has sold out. Oh well, hope remains for a better show, that being Dracula, the 1931 movie, with music performed live by Glass and the Kronos Quartet. Oh my, be still my beating heart. The only choice, though it’s not really a choice, is whether to see the 7.30pm session or the session at midnight. Will book my seat shortly.

While locking yourself away from the world is a good thing to do, it remains important to keep up with the world and somehow seek a way to find happy moments around sad times.

back to the bush

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I was planning to do some tramping in NZ at the end of the year. Now it is the end of the year and said tramp is a week and a half away. Needless to say, I am rather nervous and occasionally paranoid. I am scared of being lost in the bush, or spending nights stuck in places I really shouldn’t be.

I have chosen one of NZ’s Great Trails, in this instance Routeburn, near Queenstown. Some of the attraction with the Great Trails is that they are well marked and you get to stay each night in a bunkhouse. For Routeburn, I’ll spend around 6 or so hours each day on the trail based on the detailed track estimates (provided by the NZ Dept of Conservation). At this time of year there are plenty of hours of daylight so 6 is easily achievable. I have consulted widely and friends in NZ assure me that it’s so well marked I won’t need a compass though of course I will have map/compass with me regardless. It turns out some local friends have also done it and they too reassured me. It’s a 3 day hike and you have to book beds in the bunkhouse. I have made the appropriate bookings.

All is ready to go.

I shall remain nervous until it is done. This is about me easing myself back into outdoor activities, in a relatively safe way. This time I won’t be going off the beaten track, nor abseiling in the middle of the wilderness. It’s all about reacquainting myself with the bush and the outdoors, in a way that hopefully won’t end in disaster.

I’ll be doing it solo too. If it goes ok, I hope to pop over to NZ occasionally and complete more of the Great Trails.

a mishmash with a bit of e

A moment.

Been a while; a busy while. Relaxation and exhaustion – they do actually make sense in the same sentence for me.

Since my last post I have chilled, gained a cold, a new phone, a new laptop…not necessarily in that order…not to mention frustration. Oh well, these are but #firstworldproblems. All of the above remain true for the moment.

In pursuit of e. My ereader, a US kindle (thus no wifi in Oz), continues to make me happy…or rather an eink based device with a reasonably sized screen really works for me. I’ve read a few books on it now and it is a pleasure, though the “ooh shiny” effect has worn off and I don’t seem to be reading more or less than prior to having an ereader. That may well be dependent on my choice of reading material. I’m currently reading the 5th book in the Malazan series – books that are ideal for e as they’re so bloody heavy in p. This one drags…and though I’m a fair way through, am finding it a slog. While reading it, I have already finished two other p: The Shop of the Mechanical Insects (a short story by Ray Bradbury, Subterranean Press edition) and finally reread and finished The Shadow of the Wind (by Zafon, Subterranean Press edition) and am halfway through Amberjack (by Terry Dowling, Subterranean Press) and a few stories in to The Complete Martian Chronicles (by Ray Bradbury, Subterranean Press), with another unfinished e: Spook Country by William Gibson which I’m also finding slow. I think this simply proves that while I am loving the convenience of e, it is not changing my reading habits greatly. I am determined to finish Malazan no. 5 as the first 4 have been impressive, and I am looking forward to continuing with the series, challenging they be.

I seem to have acquired quite a few books by Subterranean Press of late, a smallish press specialising in SF&F. I like their approach and their bindings and will continue to buy their stock. I find them nice to hold and a pleasure to read. Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles was an unexpected score. I had been eyeing it for a long time and ultimately decided, now that I am with mortgage, that I needed to stop buying expensive books. So I passed on it and it sold out quickly early in the year. A second opportunity arose around my birthday as they had kept a few in case of damages. I could not say no, and made it a birthday present to me. It is beautiful and I have no regrets.

I have a single bookcase devoted to special books. it is full of gems like the Subterranean Press editions, Don Quixote, and Lord of the Rings; Folio editions and Folio Society.

Curiously I have read articles of late that suggest that folk with ereaders are less likely to go into a print store, or at least p stores have lost some of their shine. I don’t think that is true for me, or at least my approach to e seems to be following similar paths to p. For years now, as I have documented here, I go into p stores and discover new things to fascinate and often I resist the urge to buy but save the ISBN for later recollection; feeding it into booko, looking for the best deal. I find out about books from many sources: gleebook newsletters, blogs and tweets, conversational mentions,  casual browsing of p, amazon recommendations and odd references here and there. Packages used to arrive regularly from places afar: abebooks, book depository and amazon of course (less regular packages not due to buying e but simply that I’m restraining my buying urges). The advent of e doesn’t seem to have changed my book finding habits. Finding interesting stuff, stuff I don’t otherwise come across, seems easier online than off. The exception currently is Australiana, where I am dependent on browsing p physically. Whether it’s e or p, I am tending to buy online and I think it is increasingly the case that my spend at the physical bricks & mortar is decreasing.

My choice of e or p is content dependent; my purchasing source is more and more online regardless of format.

circle work

Today, I popped out to the old house at Bankstown, which my sister and I are slowly clearing out. The long term plan is to empty it, get it fixed up and rent it out. It’s mum’s house and the plan is for the rental money to go toward her care in the nursing home. Having moved all the stuff I wanted out long ago, most of my stuff remaining is heading straight to the bin, with some stuff to the Salvos.

my old bike
my old bike

Lurking under the house however, is my old racing bike, and it’s been for around 20 years. It was originally bought from Jack Walsh at the store he ran in Punchbowl. As a teenager I rode it quite a bit as well as training myself up for a big ride from Goulburn to Canberra; my longest ride ever and I barely finished. I no longer remember why I stopped and the bike was eventually locked in the shed for many a year. Later, it was moved under the house – this being a fairly standard house for Bankstown. It used to be a weatherboard place and was converted to plaster and fibro in the 60s. There’s a lot of junk under that house.

As per my recent post, I’ve been thinking about getting back into cycling. My initial idea is to restore the old bike and continue with it at least in part for sentimental value and hopefully too that would be a little cheaper than buying a new one. With that said, I’d probably need to spend around $700 or so to get myself a reasonable city bike. However the hard reality is that I’m likely to be riding a lot sooner if I buy a new bike. Knowing what I’m like, the restoration project is probably going to take a long time…if indeed, I ever finish it.

rusty gears
rusty gears

Today, I got the bike out from under the house, stuck it in the back of my hatchback; it now sits at the back of my parking spot at home. It doesn’t look quite as disgusting as I was anticipating (I’d forgotten it had spent a decade or so in the shed) though it does need serious help. Based on a cursory once-over by someone who knows bugger all ie me, I reckon it needs: a lot of rust removed, a new seat, new brakes, new wheels (tyres are flat though the rims might be salvageable), and then there’s the gears. If I recall correctly, it was a 10 speed racer, and the chain and gear bits are *very* rusty.

A couple of friends commented that I would be better off converting it to a single speed (or fixie). One of the reasons for doing so is that there’s been so many developments in bike equipment that it’s likely to be hard to find replacement parts. A second reason is that most of the riding I’m likely to do, ie casual riding in my local area and surrounding suburbs, doesn’t really need a geared bike. I’ve already had good recommendations from friends (@gcwhite, @malbooth, daniel) for bike help sites. Friends have also suggested a couple of good bike shops locally including Deus and Cell.

my old bike
my old bike

Whether I restore or buy new, there are a few things to consider. It seems a foregone conclusion that a fixed single-speed bike is the way to go – I rarely used many gears in the old days and tended to be clumsy on the gear change. I reckon the two biggest decisions ie the bits most likely to affect my overall riding comfort, are the seat and the handlebars. The old bike has a racing set up, though I tended to ride it with my hands on top rather than set in the curvy bits. The bike is set up for that at least as there’s an additional brake bar with that grip in mind. However, I’m leaning more toward a horizontal bar sort of approach and dispense with the racing style altogether though if I do a proper restoration, I’d rather retain the curvy handlebars..perhaps. There seems to be lots of options for seats and I figure that’s something I need to read up on, not to mention going into a bike shop and talking to experts. I can’t do much til September so there’s plenty of time to consider the options.

Jack Walsh
Jack Walsh crossbar