Monday, 11 December 2017

iPhone X vs last years Android flagship.

What do you look for when you're buying a new handset? 
  • Good Camera?
  • Screen quality? The more pixels the better?
  • Battery life? Everyone hates poor battery don't they?
  • Good Performance, so Processor speed and Ram?
Many people look for these and also like their handsets to be well designed and good value for money. Which brings me on to a recent bargain I think I landed. In the black Friday sales a couple of weeks back. I nabbed myself a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge,  I'd always found Samsung flagship handsets to be a little overpriced. But I picked one of these up for £380. To say I'm happy with my phone is an understatement. I bought the gold one as I think it suits the premium design, but I appreciate beauty is within the eye of the beholder and many simply dote on the iPhone X design. Which is understandable. Anyway, I wondered in terms of specs, how does last years £380 flagship stack up against Apple's £1000 plus 2017 flagship?

So I did a comparison and was surprised at some of the results.

CAMERA
Whilst the judging of one camera against another is always going to be subjective, and the iPhone boasts 2 lenses; on paper the handsets are both pretty similar. Both produce 12MP images (yes I know MP aren't everything), the Samsung scores a small victory by having the best aperture (not enough to win any arguments) at f1.7 vs f1.8, and has a slightly wider field of view at an effective 26mm vs 28mm, they both boast 4k, HDR panorama etc, but the iPhone does sport a quad tone LED flash. Where as the S7 only has one, however the S7 does tend to overcome it's one LED issue with an almost perfect white balance. Which, at the end of the day is the main problem with LED flashes. Anyway, like I say this one is subjective, but there's enough to argue this one forever. I'm amazed with the S7 camera, but I've also been amazed with the iPhone camera too. Maybe it's a draw. Maybe you can pick a winner?

SCREEN
Both the iPhone X and the Samsung Edge 7 have AMOLED screens, which give infinite contrast ratio, in other words, lovely bright whites and dark blacks. It's measured this way because, effectively, AMOLED screens can turn pixels off; which not only uses less power, but also means that the screens can be partially used when the phone is on standby. So far, the handsets are equal, but when you look at overall resolution and pixel density, the Samsung takes the first clear win. Yes, the last generation of Samsung handsets has a higher resolution screen than the iPhone X. 1440x2560 vs 1125x2436, it's not much, but this is a 2016 handset versus Apple's £1000 (entry level) model AND, because the iPhone screen is 5.8 inches, not 5.5 inches, that also means it's pixel density is less. 458 pixels per inch, vs the Samsungs incredible 534! Thats a clear win to Samsung. The display is better, and that's a fact.

BATTERY
Samsung 3600 Mah
Apple 2716 Mah

Another shocking win for Samsung and an embarrassing loss for Apple. iOS claims to be more processor friendly, but GSM arena tests suggest the Samsung has a 92 hour endurance rating, vs the Apple's 74 hour. Another factual win to Samsung.

PERFORMANCE
Honestly, I can't really say a great deal about the processing power that can't be explained in the benchmarks. And here, it's a clear win for Apple. The Samsung S7 Edge scores half what the iPhone does, meaning, for fluidity of operation, the iPhone will feel more natural to use. Indeed it sports a 120 hz display meaning scrolling and the like will be ultra smooth and gaming won't work the handset too hard at all. But I game on my computer and console. I don't play immersive graphic intensive games on my mobile. I just don't enjoy it, which means I'm left with an Octa-core handset with a dedicated graphics chip that works perfectly with 90% of apps, regardless of which handset I choose. So although it's a win for the iPhone, the point is moot, for me.

RAM
Samunsg 4Gb
Apple 3Gb
It's got more, its that simple.

VALUE FOR MONEY?
Discuss

The smartphone debate will rage on and there is more to the iPhone X than is mentioned here. But, this is a handset that (if choosing the 256Gb model) is 3 times MORE than the last generation of Samsung flagship handset compared here, and it loses on too many points. If you buy the Apple flagship handsets and if you've bought the iPhone X you'll probably have something to say about this comparison tell me what I'm missing, because digging around for an extra £800 is going to take some convincing as thats a FREE holiday to some people!





Friday, 17 November 2017

Really serious What's App & Huawei security concern and a valuable lesson.

So today I got myself a shiny new Samsung S7 Edge.

We'd decided that my wife would have my old Huawei P8 and I would help her set it up later on in the day.

When I got my new machine, I took out the Micro SD card from my old P8 and Sim and put them in the new phone. I did a complete factory reset on the old P8 and put it on one side for later. Then I spent all day playing with the Edge.
Later on my wife returned home from work and I removed her sim from her old phone and put it in my old P8. Now, we had toyed with the idea of selling the P8 but eventually she decided she would take it. But hold that thought, because it's really important.

From the fresh reboot (again, to re-iterate, this was many hours after a FULL factory reset) I set her handset up. For clarity, I used NFC. I held her old phone with it's back facing my old phone (my S7 was on charge not in the same place - there's been no NFC confusion here). I did the same process with my phone and all 108 apps installed fine. My wife only had 47 apps, so I left it alone and we came back later. Most of the backups had worked perfectly and kept her log in details too, she was able to log in to her facebook account and her gmail, everything was working as one might hope it would.

Then she started What's App. As would be expected, she logged in with her phone number, the verification text came through, and she got a message about allowing the app to auto read her SMS, I checked the app permissions and they were already enabled. The SMS came through, returning to the App, and we were logged in. Logged in, with her account, her profile picture and her name, but, and here is the thing I was fuming, curious & bewildered about. All of MY conversations we there, every single word, every contact, every conversation.

So, to be clear,

  • I bought a new phone, 
  • Factory reset my old phone,
  • Gave my old phone to someone else,
  • They logged into their whats app account,
  • They got all of my conversations. 
Later on the same evening after I'd deleted What's App and reinstalled it (which worked) my wife opened Google Photos. 
"I think I've got some of your pictures here as well"
I looked and sure enough, all of my screenshots were there, mingled with her new ones. 

This was when I realised what had happened. This was my fault. 

When you factory reset a handset, there is a tiny icon I forgot about. I didn't want to format my SD card, so I didn't give it a second thought, but this checkbox formats a portion of the internal memory. A part of the internal memory that Android has stupidly called it's SD card for years. But it's not an SD card at all. It's internal memory. 

Once I figured this out, I went back to factory reset and noticed this small green checkbox. Like I said, technically, this was my own fault. But, how many people have bought 'factory reset' android handsets that have been through the process as above. And as so many millions of people use What's App, and the preinstalled Google Photos app? How many times have people ended up with other peoples What's App conversations and worse still, personal Google photos?

When selling a handset on, ensure you click that 'erase sd card' or 'erase internal memory' the one that isn't checked by default. 

Learn from my lucky mistake. 



Friday, 27 October 2017

Drones and social housing savings.

I've just been directed to an excellent blog post entitled 'Superfly guy' from 2014 which strongly suggests that Drones will be the future of housing surveillance and surveying. From this, from the same author Tony Smith, recently tweets, asking ....

were going to save the world, what happened to them?

The tweet also contains a link to the original article, which is well worth a read here.
http://tonysmiththathousingitguy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/superfly-guy.html

Now, I'm not sure how drones alone could save the social housing world especially with the current state of underfunded affairs. Nevertheless, the idea that they could, or should, save housing companies significant amounts of money and time by simplifying seemingly costly and time consuming survey work at height, is a realistic assumption and one that really needs to be addressed.

The article also mentions very briefly, one of the major obstacles that I believe is causing drone operators the biggest headaches in undertaking such work.

I've recently been approached by a housing association with a portfolio of over 300 properties. They need all of their estate's chimneys to be examined due to a recent failure. Without drones, this challenge could take years; to get a 'top down' view of the cement on top of the chimney stack, scaffolding would be necessary. For 300 houses, the cost would run into the 100's of thousands. Then there is the time to erect the scaffolding. The time required to call the surveyors out, to climb the scaffolding, capture the images required and subsequently the time to dismantle the scaffolding. Imagine that, times 300. It's insane with the technology we have, surely?

So the obvious answer, you'd assume would be to contact a drone operator. The first street I looked into was a relatively wide street with terraced houses down either side. 90% of the houses are owned by the company. Legislation dictates that the safe take off for a drone needs to be 30 metres clear of people or other property that's not 'under the control' of the PIC (Pilot in Command). With the property being owned by the housing association, a safe take off point was easily identifiable by looking on the plan, at one of the largest back gardens. Googles 'measure distance' tool is a handy and accurate enough mechanism for covering a site survey. This particular site was 30m clear of other peoples property. So far, so good.

However, several of the houses on this one street weren't owned by the housing association. Also, google street view showed that the road had a number of privately owned cars parked on either side of the road. Now here's were the legislation becomes prohibitive. When the drone is operating, legislation again dictates that it should be 50 metres clear of 'people or property'.

To tick all of these boxes. Either the housing association, or the PIC would need to remove all of the cars from the road and the owners of the privately owned houses would need to be 'under the control' of the Pilot in Command. The legislation also warns,

So woe betide any pilot who dares fly directly over someone else's car, but as the properties would be under the control of the pilot (via the housing association) that would be ok.

But even taking into account the altitude of the drone, getting 50 metres away from the cars parked by the side of the road is nigh on impossible (assuming you want to capture a decent image of the terraced houses chimneys). So, here's the sticking point for lots of operators.

  • Do you leave the permissions aspect to the housing company having clearly stating what work you expect them to do to notify residents?
  • Do you charge for your time, contact the council, close the road, clear the cars out, set the date, and then find out on that particular day, the wind is higher than your operations manual states you can fly (or simply too windy for you to risk it, as 100% control and low wind is required for close up inspection work), or ..... worse still, it's raining? 
  • Do you assume complete responsibility (I have complete faith in my ability to pilot a drone around a row of houses without incident) and just get the job done, grumbling that the legislation is prohibitive and that certain aspects of it make it clear that the risk is yours so it's 'ok'ish? 

To be honest the CAA guidelines which drone operators are required to adhere to is poorly worded frequently contradictory and at times utterly baffling. See articles such as this one. I spoke to a NQE trainer about this particular job, and he advised me that written consent to fly wouldn't need to be obtained from other home owners, but they would need to be 'under my control' which is fine. I can work around that. But any pilot with any apprehensions or anxieties would be understandably reluctant to carry out the work full stop.

Until we agree that the risk is with the Pilot, that the skills of the pilot have been assessed as safe (as they have) and we honour pilots with more authority and autonomy to make their own decisions on what constitutes a safe flight. I fear the housing industry will see a very slow uptake of services offered to them or simply a reluctance to take work on. When busy bodies know about the 30 metre - 50 metre guidelines it takes a brave pilot indeed to fly within an 'urban area'. It's simply impractical to vacate a street of vehicles at short notice (as is often needed when the work relies on the weather).

It's a veritable omnishambles of a situation and one which needs a common sense approach to start to see an uplift in this sort of time and cost saving work. As a country we're fantastic at keeping people safe, but we're morons when it comes to making things easy for ourselves.












Monday, 16 October 2017

4k camera upgrade - for iOS (and maybe Android).


So, if you have a Retina display or a UHD display on your TV or your computer, you'll know just how amazing 4 and 5k can look. But if you've investigated UHD camcorders, you'll also have noticed how the market is divided. Cheap action camera's from China claim to record UHD content. But the results are lacklustre at best and downright ugly if we're being honest. Most struggle to process the data that's required fast enough, meaning blocky results and unsightly artefacts.
At the other end of the market is the branded camcorders, and digital cameras. £300 seems to be the entry level, but the sky really is the limit.

So what if you've got a standard iPhone or iPad? Something that might be a couple of years old, but only has 1080p or 720p options in the menu? Most apple devices have wonderful lenses on them, and significant processing power, which is whats required for recording 4k. Well, I may have some good news for you. Because of their processing capability, they're most than powerful enough to record in 4k, and furthermore, the limitations of the OS menu aren't enough to stop you harnessing that power. In theory, the same should be true of Android devices, but my Octa-Core P8 isn't powerful enough with the apps I've tried.

iOS
Firstly iOS - The app I tried for this is called ProMovie recorder. As well as a whole host of manual camera controls that geeks like me might find useful, there's also the option to boost the resolution to way beyond 1080p. To test the app costs nothing but to unlock the app (and remove the watermarks) is a relatively affordable £2.99, well, more affordable than an iPhone upgrade anyway.
You can download it here.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/promovie-recorder-4k-video-camera-manual-control/id1076481548?mt=8

Android
On Android, the 'Open Camera' app has a hidden feature to 'force 4k' although it does state that this is very much experimental and, as previously mentioned, it didn't work on my Huawei P8, which, to be honest, I thought would have been powerful enough. You can download this for free from this link. It gets lots if positive reviews, so I can only assume many people have succeeded. Let me know if it works for you and which phone model you have.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.sourceforge.opencamera&hl=en_GB

Upload your 4k content to youtube to show off your phone or tablets hidden power!

You're welcome.

What drone upgrade?

So, after a week of some pretty challenging weather and flying, I've come to the realisation that it may be time to upgrade the trusty Phantom 3 professional.

But what a decision this has turned out to be.

After some estate agent work mid week, I returned to the studio to find that the capture was suffering from vibrations coming from the gimbal. This isn't the first time I'd seen this, but I thought I'd resolved it. Since then, I've stripped the gimbal down, found a fan with a couple of loose screws on top, and a worn part that is still rubbing against the gimbal arm, which I've bent into a better shape that gives the arm a few microns of clearance. I've reassembled it and done a couple of test flights and it appears to have fixed the problem. The video footage I captured was so still, my wife thought it was a photo until she saw the trees moving. I was able to find many usable clips from the work and put together a video which the client was happy with. But if you look carefully on a 4k or higher screen, you'll see the vibrations.

Anyhow, I have some other work looming which will involve more skilled piloting, and the Phantom 3 pro isn't renown for it's in flight stability. Take a look at this video comparing the 3 with the 4 and you can see how much more difficult it is to fly the 3, especially for close inspection work, which may be required.

So, all things considered, I'm thinking perhaps it's upgrade time, however my budget is limited. £1000- 1500 is the ideal cost, well, no to be honest nothing would be ideal, but £2000 is my upper budget. However the options here are surprisingly limited.

The obvious choice is the Phantom 4. This is the natural upgrade to a Phantom 3 and has a number of significant upgrades. The stability is much better than the 4, and the Pro version has a 4k 60fps camera, which is significantly better than the 4k 25fps of the phantom 3. The camera quality has also been improved with a 20mp unit, with a mechanical shutter. But, and here's the rub. It still looks like a hobbyist machine. It's totally competent, it's a minor miracle of technology, but image is everything. And showing up for a paid job, with one of these, makes you look like you are on a budget. I appreciate the quality of the work and overall level of professionalism should be the key for a client to do business with you, but, well. In the back of my mind, I know..... it looks a bit like, well, a toy.


So that brings me on to option 2. The original inspire 1. Now available from a number of outlets for around the £1700 mark, this machine oozes professionalism and high tech. With it's retractable landing gear and futuristic looks, it would impress most clients who've never seen one before. And it comfortably crosses the boundary from amateur to pro (in my opinion). But, it only shoots 4k in 30fps, it has no collision avoidance (like the Phantom 4) and is a bugger to set up. Not only that, I'd also know my flight time was more limited, as it's so much heavier than the 4, it only last about 2/3 of the time in the air! The accessories are more expensive and well, I'd also know, in the back of my mind, it was yesterdays technology, and I think, the 4 is a better all rounder.

So how about option 3? The Yuneec Typhoon H Pro. This Hexacopter also looks professional. But, well, it isn't. 10 minutes on youtube will show you the video is soft compared with either of the previously mentioned DJI products. It has an incredibly impressive controller, but it runs on Android 4.4 and won't allow you to install apps or share footage easily and is clunky and horrible to use by comparison to the Dji Go app. It has collision avoidance, which is nice, but whilst it's an incredible budget option, it's still obviously a budget product. Although it might impress the client, ultimately, they'd get worse footage as a result and, well I couldn't live with that either.

So none of these choices aren't without their compromises. The head says that the Phantom is the best all round option. The heart says the Inspire, but common sense says hang fire for now. This generation of entry level prosumer drones is just not quite there yet. And if the gimbal of the 3 is working, then perhaps I should see if I can get another 300 miles out of it?

Or, perhaps the heart will win? Lets just wait and see how long the Phantom 3 lasts. Interested in others opinions, bear in mind, the video work I do is mainly, survey, corporate and estate agent, not music video or movie.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Uploading your class to Google GSuite admin for Schools.

If your school has Chromebooks or anything that uses Google services, at some point, either as a head or an IT leader, you're going to realise you need to upload your entire school to Google Admin console. This can seem like an overwhelming task.

You could input this information pupil by pupil (not advised) or you can upload a .csv ('comma separated value file' or 'spreadsheet'). 
Stay with me, it doesn't matter if you don't know what this means or not. 

You also need to input every pupils email address, and create a unique password for them. Imagine trying to make 200-300 passwords up!
Doing this manually is a wicked waste of any teacher or secretaries time. So I'm going to share my tips for simplifying this seemingly overwhelming task. 

1 DOWNLOAD THE TEMPLATE
Fig 1

Login to you google admin console. Click Add Multiple users. (see fig 1 - this option only shows up under USERS and the top level of the organisation). 



Select add multiple users. Then click download as .CSV (see fig 2)


Fig 2








Once that file has downloaded, upload it to your google drive. (open drive.google.com and login). 

Drag the file into your google drive. 
BUT - LEAVE A COPY ON YOUR DESKTOP

Goto sheets.google.com and open the spreadsheet you just uploaded. 

When you open the sheet, you'll see many columns, the only ones we need are columns a through to d
a) First Name
b) Surname
c) Email Address
d) Password

The first two you will need to have ready on a spreadsheet first. Ensure that they're in the correct order (Column 1 First names, Column 2 Surnames) and simply copy and paste that data into the spreadsheet. 


2 CREATING THE EMAIL ADDRESSES

Now we need to populate the email address field. In the box to the right of the surname of the top student (should be row 2) 
We need to tell the spreadsheet to create an email address

This example assumes you'll want your email address to look something like this. 

For a pupil with the name John Doe

J.Doe@schooldomain.com

If your list is first names and surnames we need to pull the first initial from the pupils first name. 

Assuming the first pupil on your sheet is in row 2, in cell F,2 type 


=LEFT(A2,1)&"."&B2&"@schooldomain.com"



This lovely little string tells the sheet to pull the first letter from the Cell with the name in it (A2) and add a full stop & then add the surname, and then the school domain. NB - Don't actually write @schooldomain.com put your schools ACTUAL domain example '@ysgolwales.com' 

In a nutshell, this will create the email for the pupil. Which may seem like a lot of hard work for one pupil. However, now you have it, you can drag the box to the bottom of the list and it will auto populate the email address column. 

To do this, select the column with the equation in, either double click the small blue square, or drag the small blue square (see fig 3) in the bottom right of the cell straight down column C. This will duplicate the equation relative to the rest of the data and create your email addresses.
Fig 3


NB - If you want to differentiate pupil emails from teacher emails (and avoid duplicates), you may want to either use your teachers full names on their accounts, just use Mr or Miss/Mrs etc, or add a .p to all of the pupil accounts. In the last eaxmple, that would mean the equation you entered above would look like this

=LEFT(A2,1)&"."&B2&".p"&"@ysgolmaesglas.co.uk"

The only thing different being the & dot p

This would create the email address j.doe.p@schooldomain.com

MAKE SURE YOU CHECK FOR EMAIL DUPLICATIONS, ESPECIALLY BROTHERS AND SISTERS! Lily and Lucy for example.


Amend any email addresses manually (Lose the EQUATION and just type over the data in the cell with a made up email address). 

3 CREATE PASSWORDS

First thing we need to do is to add a plug in to google docs, which is much easier than it sounds. Follow this link and click install. 
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/random-generator/jbmegemikfiklkooomkedgngifmimhmk?hl=en

When the plugin is installed select all of the cells in the password column 


Fig 4
On the tool bar (Fig 4), choose Add-ons, Random Generator and Start.

From here, it's really simple to decide how to generate your passwords. 

For simplicity for the children, I've chosen a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and I've excluded special characters. I've also made the passwords 8 characters in length. 


Fig 5
Once you've chosen your options simply click the generate button (Fig 5) and within a second or so, you'll have all of your random passwords generated as well as the emails. 


4 COPY THE DATA INTO THE CSV FILE.

Now we made it this far we simply need to copy the data we've generated into the original CSV file on your desktop. Select all of the data and press CMD and C or CTRL and V. 

Copying and pasting into numbers (Mac), just pastes the data (not the equations) which is exactly what we need. 

On Excel, Click Paste Special and select Text only or Values only. 

UPLOAD TO ADMIN CONSOLE

It's plain sailing now, go back to Step one and click add multiple users, then upload your CSV file. 

I hope this helps make what is an otherwise agonising job, somehwat more bearable and considerably less time consuming. 

Disclaimer - I accept no responsibility for incompetence. The above is intended to be a guide only and is followed at your own risk etc etc, It's your responsibility to ensure you don't mess up your schools g-suite account, unless you want to hire me. In which case the email is info@roughcuts.ltd


Friday, 22 September 2017

Microsoft Store Customer Care.....

So; family sharing.

Setting up a family account with either Google, Apple or Microsoft has a number of benefits, for example locating your kids (and wife), controlling PC access, checking web history, setting parental controls and generally looking after your family online.

Plus, the great benefit of sharing apps between a number of family devices. For example; Minecraft, which our family is heavily into, having built @chester_craft on Xbox 360 and having over 2 million downloads via maps for minecraft on Android (Search Chester if you want it for free).

We've used family sharing on Apple devices in the past, Downloading Minecraft on the Parent iOS device, and easily downloading it for free on a childs device.
However everything over at Apple hasn't always been plain sailing, sometimes I've had problems with purchases, which have needed rectifying.
Once my very young daughter inadvertently bought £12 of in app purchases (while in app purchasing was still in it's infancy). In that situation, via iTunes, I logged into my account clicked 'report a problem' next to the item, filled out a quick form, explained whats happened and had the issue resolved with shockingly good customer care very quickly.

When I recently purchased a PC for work (for a Minecraft job oddly) I ensured that family setting was working as best as I could. My children are listed on my family correctly on my account page and should be able to share apps purchased via the Microsoft Store. 'The shopping bag icon in my taskbar' as this guy on hold keeps reminding me about every 3 minutes (I'm 46 minutes on hold as I type, I've just had a battery low warning on the handset as I have it on speakerphone, so I'm not hopeful).

Anyway, in my first month, I purchased Minecraft for Windows, with the view of getting our Chester map onto it later (I teach digital media in schools as well, so it could be used for educational purposes). A couple of months back, I bought my two girls Acer laptops with Windows 10, primarily for school, but also, we ought to be able to play Minecraft together, like we do on Xbox, only full screen. Alas no. When my daughter logs in, using her child account on her laptop, her only option is to buy it for £22.49.

So I tweeted @Microsoftstore and stated that it should be easier than this.
The first reply sent me to a Minecraft help page. I replied that this didn't address the problem.
The next solution was to log in using my daughters account on my PC, effectively creating a new user profile on my computer - which I don't really want, but nevertheless, I did it anyway. But disappointingly, that didn't work either. Via Twitter, again I explained that when she did this, on my computer, the store said she could 'play' or 'buy to keep'(? Huh) But on hers, it still said 'Buy', or 'play free trial'. None of which acknowledged that it was in our 'family library' and ought to be obtainable free of cost.

So, back on twitter and I'm redirected to some help pages for the Microsoft store. I click the obvious connection to contact them (email) and this lets me share the support page with someone else (aaargh).

I find another link which takes me through to what appears to be a Tezcorp robot.

Here's our chat.



Basically she wants to explain Emoji's in Skype to me after a question about Minecraft and family sharing? Go figure, one of the most powerful IT comanies in the world and a question with the phrases 'minecraft' and 'family sharing' results in an answer about skype and emojis. Pull the plug on this junk Microsoft it does your reputation as much good as the HMRC robots. 

So (obviously) I return to Twitter - where I'm asked if I tried calling. Like they used to do in the olden days. Alas, I have not, and I come to the realisation that perhaps a good old fashioned phone call might be the only way.

I point out however that the page I have been directed to has no UK phone numbers, and I'm offered another one, which (thank goodness has an 0800 number). I thank them for the freefone number, but then I'm directed to another page, with an 0344 number, no thanks, I'll stick with the freefone number.

(Spoiler alert - Phone has just died this story has a sad end).

So I call and after only a couple of minutes I speak to the first person. Sadly, he cannot help me, but he knows a guy who can and puts me through. 12 minutes later and my saviour answers, however, he can only help me with Microsoft store purchases. Huh, I explain, that's exactly what I'm having a problem with, but no, he insists he's not the man to resolve my problem, but, it will only be a matter of seconds before some supreme super hero is helping me. The next 40 minutes are spent listening to the same music on loop, which lasts approximately 3 minutes, with a guy with the mosht [sic] infuriaching achent telling me how great Microshoft productsh are. Until the phone dies.

So for now, this is the end of the story, hopefully I'll be able to update with a successful resolution, but for now, my advice is, if you have a family and want to share apps, shtick with Google or Apple.

Life is too short.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

How to smackdown ransomware forever.

If your local ATM display showed that it had a virus would you be worried about your bank balance? I'd assume the answer is 'of course not'. As you'd know the bank would be keeping it safe.

If the worry of a ransomware attack on your computer concerns you, then it's possible you may want to rethink the way you manage your files. Cloud based storage has existed in various guises for many years now. The first service I used was Dropbox. Google are now (in my opinion) market leaders in this respect, with Microsoft a close second. iCloud is sadly too dependant on Apple powered devices to be taken seriously, where as the other solutions are happy on a number of platforms; including Apple.

If you still use 'my documents' or your home folder on your computer to store your most important documents, or worse still, your desktop, then ransomware will still most likely be a worry. This will be more true if you don't keep regular backups of your data. However, One drive and Google Drive both have desktop clients, for PC and for Mac, which will allow you to synchronise your data with their cloud service.

I ran a session last month for a school trying to integrate better with Google Drive (their school has a suite of chromebooks) and I've done similar work for staff in a neighbouring school. Helping them rely less on USB drives, and more on cloud based solutions. It surprised me how many people didn't already use this for their backups.

The ATM is pretty much a 'terminal' for a bank, although it might be networked, it's nothing more than a slave computer. Your laptop, or desktop should operate in a similar manner. Whilst its ok to keep sensitive data on your computer, it should at the very least be backed up, but for ease of use, having it synchronised with Google Drive, or One drive will take ALL of the worry of ransomware away from you.

If your machine becomes infected, you'll know that you can either simply reinstall your operating system (windows or Mac OS) and carry on as normal. In the interim period, all of your files can be accessed via another machine. Tablet, mobile, laptop or desktop with internet access.

Google Drive software has just been updated to a 'backup and sync' program, which is a far more descriptive title for what it actually does. Not only does the app give you a google folder to place important items. to save you the hassle of changing the way you work, it also allows you to sync your home or my documents folder AND... your desktop. So if someone asks you where X is if you've ever replied.... 'Ah it's on my desktop on my home computer', so long as you have your mobile, you'll be able to access that file..... EVEN if in the meantime, your home computer is infected with ransomware!

If you need any help setting up a worry free workstation.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Is it easy flying a drone?

This is a question I get asked more often than most others. And for the part, I answer without thinking. Yes, I say, If you can fly one of the cheaper drones, you'll find the more expensive one's simple.
And to a degree that's true.

The smaller £30 drone's like the one I started with, the Hubsan H107 is a real handful. In fact the first time I took it out, a few days after Christmas (wihtout my glasses on) I lost sight of it at about 50ft, the wind got hold of it and I spent the next 40 minutes traipsing round a field looking for the little flashing lights, which fortunately, because of the quick loss and lack of power going to the motors were still flashing. (They usually only last 6-7 minutes).
The reason the smaller drones are harder to control (and thus better to practice with) is because they don't carry any technology that would aid the pilot. No GPS, no ultrasonic or visual sensors, no altitude controls or compass, although the Hubsan does have a gyroscope to keep it stabilised. However the real (hardcore) racing drones are harder still. These guys really deserve your respect. Anyone who can control one of these and fly it through small hoops has serious skill (or years of experience).

By contrast the pricier professional drones are equipped with an abundance of safety equipment, which makes them much harder to crash. But, not crashing is only half of the problem. When you're flying you still need to have considerable spatial awareness. When your drone is facing away from you, the controls are logical. When you're flying towards yourself, these controls are reversed. If you're landing in a tight spot, this confusion can quickly become panic if the drone drifts too close to, well, anything. The right thing to do in this emergency is to lift as rapidly as possible, but this emergency procedure takes preparation.
In addition if you're going to capture video, then there are a number of additional skills you need. Especially if you want to get creative with your shots. While it's true that there are a number of automated tools to help you get the perfect shot, none of the one's I've seen are smooth as manual inputs.
For example, you want to do a flyover of a house or an object. You have a number of options.

Gain altitude and accelerate over the object. (easy, looks a bit dull, final shot will be looking over the subject).

Gain altitude and accelerate whilst panning the camera down (not too difficult, looks ok).

Gain altitude, accelerate, pass on the left or right, slowly counter-rotate the drone towards the object and pan down to keep the object centre (much more difficult, but looks amazing).

Now lets say that the object is moving, fairly quickly and you're looking to get a shot like this one?


Was that easy? Honestly, no, it wasn't. It took every ounce of concentration from spotting it in the distance, to decreasing altitude, flying backwards, spinning at the same speed the train passed, regaining altitude and keeping the framing right until it disappeared. With only one chance to get it right, I felt an overwhelming relief when I realised I'd captured it.

So there you have it, is a drone easy to fly? Yes, it's easy to keep in the air. Can be tricky landing if you haven't practised first and is pretty complicated if you want to make great looking video. If you want to fly around for 10 minutes at high altitude and put videos on youtube. Yeah, Simple. Enjoy it, it is an amazing amount of fun to master.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Why should I pay..... again?



It's important if you're going to hire a drone operator that he or she, or the business that they represent are properly insured and qualified. I know this, and hopefully those who hire drone operators to carry out any work for them, know this as well.
How you go about finding a legitimate drone operator is more of a quandary. There are now a number of drone registers appearing who will put the customer in contact of a legally qualified operator. Regardless of the size of the work or the location in the UK, these drone registers will point you in the direction, or let you search on their website for a local drone operator to you. 
For those of us running a one man show; who look after the site survey, risk assessments, video capture, flight, equipment, video edit, final production and delivery, who can keep the cost low for clients, this is a considerable additional expense, especially if we decide to register with more than one. 

But how do small businesses get found if not via the multitude of drone registers? 



Well, I'm hoping word of mouth and reputation, based on previous projects that are evidenced online, oh, and ability! I appreciate that this is perhaps naive, but I begrudge paying even more than I've already paid out, to appear on a list of approved operators: when one already exists.

It's called CAP 1361 and it's published by the CAA. It's a list of all of the drone operators in the UK who have already paid up to £900 for training and assessment, £400 for insurance and £130 for their Permission for Commercial Operation (PfCO) certificate from the CAA. Two of these considerable costs reoccur every year. 

It's been a tough first year for Rough Cuts in terms of Drone work. Most of the business income has been from other video and support work. This year it's unlikely we'll recoup or make a profit on the Drone arm of the business. But next year, thanks to a new partnership, it's likely we'll recoup and start making profit perhaps 2-3 months in. But if I was to start with the registers, although more work might come in, it would take significantly longer. 

So to my point, if you're in need of a drone operator and you want to keep costs low, and support local business my advice would be to use google maps to check for local drone operators and ensure that they have PFCO, in order to save time, just check to see if the drone operator is on CAP1361. 

Here you are, here's a link -

https://publicapps.caa.co.uk/modalapplication.aspx?appid=11&mode=detail&id=7078

We're under Rough Cuts!


;)

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Rough Cuts Ltd is moving.

"Cramped and too blue" the old Rough Cuts HQ
It's been a great year for Rough Cuts Ltd. In under a year from first becoming registered they've gone from zero turnover to some. In light of this success, and due to increasing levels of complaints from their employee. They're moving offices. From it's inception Rough Cuts has operated from a combination of 'the sofa' and the main offices upstairs in what was previously known as 'the old playroom'. Employee complained that it was too cramped, too blue and that the feng shui was all wrong, he said [quote]
"I hate sitting with my back to the door it's creepy, and the blue, it looks like we stole it off the navy".
Company directors maintain that the offices (at the time) we're fit for purpose and that 'employee' was the lead designer for the project some 8 months ago. Nevertheless due to increasing use of 'sofa' the business has acquired new property.

Surround sound, gaming and a new chair, the new HQ. 
The new premises are a short distance away along the landing and into much newer, and more modern space that was created when the house underwent an extension several years back. It's previously been known as 'the spare room', 'the boys room' (despite the household being dominated by females) and 'the man cave' (as it is currently signposted).
The plans for the new offices are radically different and are a significant step up. The feng shui has been considered and 'employee's back will soon be against a corner wall, facing both the window and open door. Employee will soon have additional recreational space and increased desktop space for more than one computer. This is a significant new investment for the business with a speculated budget of 50,000 pennies. So far the project is way under budget at only 19,798 pennies for a new corner desk and chair. However contractors 'wife and kids' state that paint will be needed to be paid for and perhaps further storage space. Employee has suggested a cold storage facility for beer or soft drinks, but our source stated that this was unlikely as he has already got a dart board and Xbox 360.
However progress has faltered due to workplace injuries recently occurring when 'employee' sliced his finger open while sanding down the skirting boards, reports state he accidentally snagged his index finger on the grip strip and he said it was like razor wire. Witness reported a lot of blood and feelings of queasiness. More updates to follow over the coming days.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Setting up a new Windows computer - to do list.

Buying and setting up a new computer is a big pain in the bottom. If you're planning on treating yourself to a shiny new laptop this summer, then there is a whole host of things you'll need to do before you can start using it as your main machine. 
I've just helped my two daughters set up their new machines and realised what a faff it is, if you're not really sure where to start.
I tend to do myself a personalised 'to do' list, but, if, like my two daughters, you're at a bit of a loss where to begin, then hopefully, this might help. 

1) Update
The first thing the PC will most likely convince you to do, is several minor and perhaps major updates. If, (like me) you're a bit of a bargain hunter, then it's likely your PC will have been in storage for some amount of time. During that period, Microsoft boffins will have been releasing updates to their software, to iron out bugs and introduce improvements to make your machine, and millions like it, run more smoothly. Make sure it's on mains power, it can take the best part of the day, but it's essential. Let it do it's stuff, make a cup of tea, have your lunch. 

2) Delete any bloatware
Machine manufacturers junk. Mcafee have deals with major suppliers (like Acer) to have their software pre-installed. But what if you don't want that software? What if you want to use windows defender (which is deactivated with Mcafee installed) Avast, or AVG?
Windows 10 makes uninstalling programs more simple. Right click can work on many programs app icons, or hit the windows key and type uninstall - look for add/remove programs.  The kids computers had booking.com links on theirs, I like booking.com, but I don't want it on my new desktop thanks. 

3) Set up cloud storage
It makes sense nowadays to sync your files across your devices. Windows will try and persuade you to use Onedrive, the Microsoft solution, but Google Drive is my preferred option. Installing google drive on your desktop not only gives you a handy way to share files across your devices. But it will synchronise folders with your google drive online, thus giving you a handy free backup solution for your important documents. 

4) Install Chrome?
Likewise, for synchronising my bookmarks, I sign into chrome with my google account. This means, when I use chrome, all of my bookmarks are at hand. Open Edge, or heaven forbid internet explorer, and simply search for 'install chrome'. Edge is a good browser and it tends to work better with swipe gestures than chrome. However Chrome can work with swipe (back/forward) gestures, but you need a third party plugin. 

5) Change your desktop background. 
Now the machine will start to feel like your own. time to search for some smart desktop backgrounds to make it yours. Boot up chrome and search for your desktop size wallpaper, for example if your new machine had a desktop resolution of 1366x768 then search for 'star wars 1366x768 wallpaper' and all of the relevant images you want will crop up. Select an image, click view image and when the image opens in a new window, dual click or right click (depending on your setup) and choose save image as. Once you've saved the picture, right click it again, and select set desktop picture. 

6) Install Whats app
Whats app is great on a mobile device, but it's handy to have on your desktop too. visit Whatsapp.com and download the desktop client to chat to your contacts without needing your phone all the time. 

7) Get your files
If you're upgrading your machine you may want to move your files from your old one. Everything that isn't saved on google drive will need transferring manually. Existing files, that are stored on google drive will synchronise with your computer after you've successfully installed google drive on your new machine. 
Failing that, you'll need an external USB drive to drag the folders onto, then plug that USB drive into your new machine to drag them to where you want them. 

8) Ensure windows defender is running up to date and working
Hit the windows key and type defender. Start the program and look for a green status light. you may need to run a quick scan, or update the virus database (it's updated almost daily). Ensuring that it's running 'real time' will help keep your machine safe. 

Install other software. 
Open the Windows Marketplace app and look for other programs to personalise your machine. Apps you may want to consider;

  • Twitter 
  • Facebook
  • Steam (for gaming)
  • Instagram
  • Facebook messenger
  • Thunderbird (a better email client than the native mail app)
  • Paint.net (A great paint replacement)
  • VLC player (for media playback)
  • MusicBee (an iTunes rival for your music library, arguably better). 
  • Google Keep (for synchronising your notes)
  • Ccleaner for keeping your machine running. 
Have I missed anything? What would you do differently? 

Friday, 7 July 2017

Where's my Android family?

Sometimes, it's comforting to know that your loved ones are ok. Find my friends is a great way to do this on iOS, but Android solutions, until now have been somewhat convoluted. Some families have a mixture of iOS and Android users in them too, so a cross platform solution would be more useful.

Glympse is a great app for letting a client or friend know where you are on your journey. You can share your location via whats app or text, but some friends I know have had problems seeing the location and it's available on both Apple and Google devices.

Google have just stepped in with a fantastically lightweight application called trusted contacts. The fact that this is a separate app sits nicely with me, I like the fact that if I want to share my location, or check the location of a loved one, I can safely open this app, and action that need straight away.


The options for 'Trusted Contacts' are really very straighforward,

1) Send an alert.
 This will contact all of your trusted contacts and let them know that you've sent an alert.
 Could be useful in an emergency.

2) Request a location.
 The user can respond (which lets you know they're alright) or after 5 minutes, the app will send you their location.
Great for locating people who could be lost or in trouble.

3) Share my location. 
 Send your location to all or selected trusted contacts.
Handy if you're running late and you know they'll be concerned about where you are.

In a nutshell, this serves as a comfort blanket for kids or parents. For parents with young teenage kids who're heading out more and more often (like me). It'll mean less stress, and that's a good thing. Technology making life easier and less stressful.

The bad news, at the moment, it's not yet (July 2017) available on iOS, but they'll email you when it's ready. For now, those families can work with Glympse.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Solve a host of networking problems (or discover one's you didn't know about) with one simple tweak.

Generally speaking, advances in software are usually worth adopting. Sure sometimes software fixes actually take a step backwards, but for the most part, updates tend to enhance interoperability.
Over the last few years we've seen the introduction of DLNA. A universal platform for a multitude of devices to exchange information easily. In theory, this ought to allow your tablet or phone to cast media (from the Youtube app on your phone for example) to your DLNA TV (or DLNA ready Set top box.) Or files from a USB drive plugged into your router, to your devices around your home.

However after a recent router upgrade, I found many of these services (I used more than I realised) stopped working.

The chances are, like me your network is secured with a password. The chances are unless you've got devices over 10 years old, (March 2006 to be exact) these devices will be using WPA2 (not WPA). This technology encrypts your data, with a password to exchange across devices that use DLNA.

However, having this set to combined WPA/WPA2 can cause problems and most routers, out of the box are set to this combined mode.

The reason for this simple share, is that tonight, I've fixed an inability for my devices to connect (via a new router) to my TV by changing this setting. A router upgrade introduced these new problems, whereby my Samsung Tab couldn't see the Set top box at all, but before it worked fine (the Youtube icon above was missing completely) and my Huawei P8 caused the Humax box to crash. Setting the network encryption to WPA2 (only) fixed this problem immediately and I've been streaming Fail videos faultlessly for the past half hour.

Enjoy, let me know if it makes your network more reliable.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

MAC - 0 ; PC -1 - A lesson learned.

If you've a modern router, the chances are somewhere embedded in the side is a USB port. Perhaps you're using it for wireless printing? Perhaps you've attached a drive as a handy place to back up all of your vitally important files? Maybe you're using it for your Mac Time Capsule backups (anyone tried this; it ought to work shouldn't it?) Or maybe, you weren't aware you could?

I have a wealth of important (to me) files backed up on a 500Gb Buffalo drive, in order of importance

  • Videos of the children growing up (yes they're also backed up on Mega)
  • The contents of my daughters old computer (ready for when we can get her a new one of her own)
  • My Music (also synchronised with Google Music)
  • My Photos (also synchronised with Google Photos)

All of this data takes up over 250gb of a 500gb drive. 

So when the new vodafone router wouldn't work with it, after I'd got my number back, I set about solving this quandary. On the first night this drive was causing the router to reboot every 2-3 minutes, in itself a nightmare to try and diagnose. Fortunately (eventually) I remembered I'd seen this problem before, so I simply unplugged it and got stable internet back. 

A few days later I set about investigating the problem. The help information only stated that the drive needed to be formatted to FAT32. But it was, I double checked. It was definitely formatted to FAT32. I tried a SSD memory stick formatted at ExFAT, but that showed in the router diagnostic pages as Unsupported USB device. So I formatted that to FAT32 (and lost the data) but found it worked. 

This gave me a plan of action, although it was going to be time consuming. 
Remove all of the data from the Buffalo drive, 
Reformat it
Check it works
Return all of the data back over the wireless network. 

This meant some serious space management was required. I wasted a lot of time deleting old files off the Buffalo drive, stuff I could recover if I needed it again, stuff that we could live without. 

Then I cleaned up my Mac, and gained as much space as possible and started the transfer. Music 1 hour; done. Molly's old school computer data (20gb!) done. The old movies 120Gb; had to put that on the old memory stick. The last folder my Photos, I had no more room for, so I'd have to use my PC. 

I plugged the Buffalo drive into the Windows PC and was presented with a warning. 

'This drive has errors, would you like to fix them'

You might've already guessed where this is going?

Yes, I replied, 10 seconds later, the repairs on this drive are now fixed. 
Chancing it, I plugged it into the vodafone router and opened finder on the Mac. 
Sure enough there it was. No rebooting. 

I'm currently in the lengthy process of transferring all of the files I have moved off the device, back onto it, over wifi. I daren't unplug it again. 

The lesson here is, if you have a drive that won't work with your router, try letting Windows fix the errors on it before you do anything drastic. 



Sunday, 28 May 2017

The excitement of the ISS (& photography).

Watching the international space station pass over your house is exciting. Even before you start capturing the experience on camera, just knowing that this hulking great big metal mass is flying around the earth every 1 and a half hours, with people on board is extraordinary in itself. Tracking it as it flies over Paris at 200,000 feet as far as Poland and still being able to see it as it disappears into the distance is mind boggling.
If you're in the least bit interested (and I've yet to meet anyone who isn't) then the first thing you need to do is check where it is, and if a visible pass is likely. These clear warm summer evenings are by far the best time to see it. However, it's not difficult once it comes into view. It's totally obvious as it looks like a star, that's moving fast!
http://www.isstracker.com/ is a good place to start. but if you want an app, try ISS?  for Android.
The orbit shows up as a sine wave on a flat map, but of course the orbit is circular. The best time to prepare is as it passes south america, it's usually about 15 minutes away once it leaves the coast and starts passing the Atlantic ocean. Depending on how far south the pass is, you'll need to set up your camera accordingly. If it's passing directly overhead, obviously you'll need to be pointing your camera straight up. If it's passing over France, (from North Wales) you'll need your camera pointing about 30% into the sky. These low passes often make the bast shots, as it's easier to get an interesting foreground in.
To get the ISS to appear as a long streak, you'll need a long exposure. First up, a tripod is almost essential. If you don't have a tripod, you might just get away with a bean bag. 30 second exposure will produce a lovely flight path, but obviously it could create over exposure problems, if the ISO and aperture aren't correct. Select a high Aperture (best for focus) and ISO 100 if you can. Before the ISS arrives, take a number of test shots, to ensure your settings are the best you can get them.
If you have the option of a digital display, flick your camera display on, and make sure you manually focus the camera on a star. This is harder than it sounds. When you're certain the camera is focussed correctly, with your camera on Manual, select 30 seconds exposure time, frame your shot and make a note of where the right edge of your camera meets the scenery. (Assuming you're looking south, it's going to pass right to left). Set the aperture to between 3-9 and the ISO to 100 or 200. Take a test shot and see if you need to adjust anything. The darker the evening, the more you're going to have to compromise on your settings. If your focus is spot on, it's best to compromise on the aperture, before you compromise on the ISO.
When you're sure everything is set up the way you want it, wait for the ISS to appear and when it passes the scenery where you know your camera is aimed at, hit the shutter.
This shot was taken a few years ago, if you look carefully, you can see another streak in front of the ISS, this was a food delivery that was due to dock in the following hours.

Have fun and let me know if you give it a go.


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Troubleshooting, anxiety and experience.

Technology suits people with a certain mindset. Many a time I hear defeatist language being used when someone shuts off, or has run out of patience when troubleshooting a technical problem together. It's peculiar. Anxious people also have similar unhelpful thoughts, perhaps a defeatist mentality; not weakness. People who can't solve computer problems aren't weak, they just think differently (about certain things). Likewise, I don't see myself as weak because I suffer with Anxiety, I'm just wired differently.

It's curious, because when it comes to resolving computer problems I am totally determined and tenacious.
"I will do this"
"What's wrong with this, I need to sort it"
"This is frustrating, but I'm absolutely not giving up"
"If that doesn't work and this doesn't work, then maybe this is the answer" is the type of language I use when I'm troubleshooting computer issues.

"I'll never be able to do this"
"I'ts hopeless, it's just not working"
"I don't know why I'm even trying" could all be used by someone suffering with social or other anxieties and likewise someone giving up trying to figure out a problem with say, a new router.

Yesterday for example, our broadband with BT ceased and we went live with Vodafone, what little I read of the literature (I'm not a cheat), suggested I needed to simply plug it in and let it connect.
So I did, as soon as BT went off. I hooked up the new Vodafone router and saw the red light come on. I assumed it would go green (like the BT router) when it connected, so I did my days work and came home 6 hours later.
vodafone router
Vodafone huawei router, the red light is always red.
Light is still red. Hmm, peculiar. I examined the router and found a green light reading 'internet' on the top, indicating, perhaps their is a connection. I picked up the phone, and sure enough, we had a dial tone.
'This should work' I presumed, so again, I made sure my mobile was connected to the internet and booted Facebook up. Nothing, no connection. So I hooked up a laptop. Navigated to the router control panel and was presented with a slider 'how safe do you want your connection to be?'.
Seriously, this was all I needed to do to get online. I hooked up the ethernet cables to the other devices and my 500Gb USB HDD and started linking all of the other devices up.

"It's gone off" daughter A shouted.
"It's rubbish" shouted daughter B.
"I need to watch the next step, seriously Dad"

It was my fault, the new broadband was pants. So the troubleshooting started. What had I done? Besides splitting the two broadband frequencies 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, nothing. I unplugged some devices. Still, working for 5 minutes, and then off again and several minutes to reboot.

"Can you send it back Dad?"
"Can we go back to BT?" they protested.

'Should I factory reset?' No, it's virtually fresh out of the box.
Should I disconnect everything? Hundreds of questions to how I could overcome this problem. Did I believe we had a faulty router? No, I didn't, I thought surely Vodafone would be better than this. The answer had to be in the house. I disconnected the powerline adaptors (Time capsule upstairs was flashing orange to suggest it wasn't connected properly) but still the frequent reboots persisted. Logging into the control panel was equally as time consuming, as the damn thing kept dropping off. Then it struck me, several years ago, with another Huawei router, it'd done exactly the same thing when the external HDD was connected.

I unhooked it and waited. Everything slowly reconnected from the last reboot. I cautiously checked the router menus, ran a speed test and hooked up the last few devices.

That was it, the external HDD was to blame. Experience knowledge and tenacity had solved the problem; perseverance and logic. It's possibly something to do with the way it's formatted, but that's another problem for another day. And the time capsule needs connecting too, but they're jobs for another day. For now at least, my eldest daughter could watch the next step and I'd avoided an hour or more on the phone to Vodafone.

Again, there's probably a lesson here to do with personal resilience, strength and acquiring new skills. But, as before, I'd need someone more intelligent to tell me what that lesson might be! I guess I would benefit to applying the same mindset to my life, "I can do this", "it should be ok"!