31 May 2005

Medical news -- all good

Last week I had a routine medical checkup, including the usual blood tests, and I'd delighted to report that all the numbers were good. I got a printout that included the results of previous tests going back about 5 years, and could see that some numbers had improved, most had stayed about the same, and only 1 or 2 had worsened, but not enough to worry about. Yesterday I had an appointment with a periodontist to do some "scaling and root planing" on several teeth. On the basis of my x-rays, he'd scheduled two sessions, and the description I was given on the phone sounded ghastly. The reality turned out much better. First, my teeth and gums were in better shape than he'd thought from the x-rays, so a one-hour treatment sufficed; and second, the treatment wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been led to expect. It wasn't even painful without a local anaesthetic, just uncomfortable. Today I had a checkup on my eyes (routine follow up to cataract surgery several years ago) and the specialist said all was well, in fact better than she'd expected. She's been concerned that I might develop retinal problems, but there's no sign of anything wrong. That's a relief! So all of that, along with my chiropractor's enthusiasm about how well I'm doing, and the fact that I feel great, means that I'm a happy camper! Now to get my walking distance and speed up to that of some 80-year-olds I know, and I'll be bloody fantastic!

28 May 2005

Installing Ubuntu Linux

Today I successfully installed Ubuntu Linux on my new laptop. It was so easy! The only complication I ran into was understanding the choices on the partitioning menu. I had two partitions pre-done on the new laptop, and was intending to use the larger one for Linux. I'm sure I would have been better off with only one partition and letting Ubuntu take care of everything. Anyway... the choices were in geek-speak, and even with my Unix buddy Eric helping, we weren't sure which choice was the appropriate one. So we tried several; fortunately the wrong choices returned error messages (instead of doing something awful to the existing paritions) and by matter of elimination I eventually stumbled on the correct choice. After that, I had no problems at all. The laptop was connected to our ethernet network, so Ubuntu helpfully offered to download updates and install them, which it did without a hitch. It also detected the modem, the wireless card, and the wireless network, though it refused to connect to either of them. I suspect I need to do something else to enable that... a question for another day. The rest of the day went quickly as I explored things and installed programs. I enjoyed the beautiful brown Ubuntu interface -- as well as the really cool screen savers!

27 May 2005

My new laptop arrived today!

After the hassle of getting the order approved, I've been watching the Dell website with considerable interest as my laptop moved rapidly through the stages of being built and shipped. The estimated date for delivery was early next week, worrisome because we'll be away for three days, but to my astonishment it was delivered today! Eric's new Mac has been delayed, so now he's into computer envy, and worried that his might come while we're way next week. The new computer promptly found our wireless network as well as being happy with the ethernet connection. Good start! I spent several hours doing the things I do with any new computer, starting with muting the sound and then trying to remember where all the things are that I need to change to make WinXP look like something I want to use, not its "web look" interface that I hate. Tomorrow I'll install Linux.

16 May 2005

Not impressed with Dell's customer service today

When I bought my current Dell laptop a year ago, there was a problem with the order (the website failed to complete processing it), so I had to phone their customer service and get it sorted out. I was very happy with the service I got; it was fast and polite, and I could understand the accent of the person serving me. Today's experience was far less positive. After checking the website each day for several days to see if the order was being processed, and finding no record of my order at all, I had to phone today. (The web site says that once one's credit card payment is approved, then the order will be listed online. The fact that it wasn't there suggested a credit card problem... possibly I'd typed something in wrong.) So I phoned and listened to the recitation of "to do x, press 1; to do y, press 2, etc" twice without finding a choice that seemed to fit my problem. I finally picked something that sounded logical, and listened to music and advertisements for a long time before a person answered my call. Alas, the person's accent was almost unintelligible to me (I assume from the accent that the help desk is somewhere in India), but after I explained my problem, he said he was the wrong person to be talking to, and he would transfer me to the right person. After another long wait I got a different person (with a slightly more comprehensible accent) who also insisted he was the wrong person for me to be talking to, but he would transfer me to the right person. Another long wait (good thing it's a toll-free number, and I was prepared with a cup of tea and some snacks), and I got a woman who I could actually understand... who first said that she was the wrong person for me to talk to -- at which point I said rather sharply that I had been transferred twice and was getting a bit tired of this. She then claimed that all was well with my order even though it wasn't listed on the website. I argued, and insisted that she check the status of my order. She seemed aggrieved to have to go to that effort (being the wrong person for me to talk to), but apparently she did, because... Well, golly gosh, what a surprise -- my credit card payment had not been approved. Why not? I inquired. Don't know, but I'll fix it, she said. So there was something wrong, I said, and isn't it good I asked you to check? Mumble, mumble was the response. An hour or so later, my order is listed on the website, just like it should have been 4 days ago. I hope that call was recorded for purposes of quality control and training, like the recorded message at the beginning warns you it might be.

13 May 2005

Buying a new laptop

After two days of trying to talk myself out of it, I ordered a new Dell laptop. It's an Inspiron 510M with a 15-inch display and lots of goodies in it. It's too heavy, but lighter than my current one. I checked online forums to see if it's compatible with the latest version of Ubuntu Linux; all indications are good, so I'm encouraged. I don't want to cope with tricky setups on my first foray into Linux. I can do command line, but I really don't want to be bothered. I also ordered an optional power pack with an airline connector (among other bits). I've been really annoyed at Dell that they changed the power input socket on their Inspiron laptops; I haven't been able to get a tip for the Igo Juice power pack (that I bought several years ago) to fit the power input on the Inspiron 1150 I'm using now. I hate waiting for gadgetry to arrive...

11 May 2005

Computer envy strikes again

Eric decided to buy a new Macintosh, so I got computer envy and started seriously reading the Dell advertisements in the computer section of this week's Australian (newspaper). Even though my current laptop is only a year old and is working fine, I'm looking for excuses to buy a new one. Let's see... the wireless card in the old one doesn't work with our home network; the card is too old. Never mind that a new wireless card would be way cheaper than a new computer with a built-in modern card. Hmm... I need a bigger drive so I have plenty of room to install Linux on a dual boot and keep all my Windows programs as well as installing Linux ones. That's a better excuse, though I could replace the drive in the old laptop. I need more memory... again, I could put more in the old laptop.

Ah! Got it... I'm nervous having only one computer... what if it breaks down? Now that's a good one... FUD is great as an excuse for doing what you want to do in the first place.

10 May 2005

Resurrecting an old computer (perhaps)

Today I didn't feel like doing anything I should be doing, so I looked on my low-priority list and found "see if the old desktop computer works". I bought this machine in late 2001 and it went through 2 main boards in rapid succession and then (after the warranty had expired) developed more faults, like refusing to start -- an apparent hardware problem. I speculated that it might be heat-and-humidity related, since I've mostly attempted to use it during the summer. Today I tried to start it and it booted up and ran for a few hours before quitting. I booted it again, with the same result. I then took the sides off so I can see whether the CPU fan is failing, or something else semi-obvious is happening -- it failed again while I was out taking my evening walk, but the CPU fan was still going fine. Tomorrow I start pulling out boards and doing other boring diagnostic stuff. Whether we get it working or not, it's going out -- either to a good home (preferably in a drier climate) or to someone to use for spare parts. I suspect that in a less humid climate, it would run fine. A former neighbour had an old computer that gave her endless trouble while she lived here, but after she moved to Canberra (which has a very dry climate) two years ago, her computer worked perfectly.

09 May 2005

Success at last -- I can upload files to OOo

After months of intermittently attempting to gain access to the OpenOffice.org website (specifically to the Documentation Project's pages), I finally succeeded. The route through the SSH and CVS labyrinth was tortuous and marked by misleading or incomprehensible (to me) instructions, obscure software problems (at my end and theirs), and delays due to my travels, other priorities, and inconsistent Internet access. My frustration at this difficult process was not helped by the comments from several people that "it's not a difficult system to use" and the implication (even if unintended) that I must be unusually incompetent to be having so much trouble. Fortunately I was supported by others who agreed that the instructions were confusing; that it wasn't just me. And yes, the system is easy to use, once I got everything working. It was getting it working in the first place that was the problem. The first barrier (not identified for several weeks, and then only by accident) -- I needed to be a "member" of the project before anything would work. I didn't realise I wasn't a member until someone mentioned that I wasn't on the membership list. The what? The "How to Help" section of the Doc Project's home page says nothing about becoming a member; it only says to join the mailing list and view the task list. A closer inspection of the page reveals an item in the lefthand navigation bar: "Membership". Click on that and you get a membership list, prefaced by a line in very small type that says: "If you were registered and logged in, you could join this project." Ok, so I could join. Why might I want to? No indication; presumably the viewer is supposed to know. If you look under "Get help?" diligently enough, and know the right questions to ask, you can find quite a bit of information... but if you don't know that you need to know something, you aren't given many clues along the way. Is this the equivalent of the secret handshake? Sometimes I think so. Once that was cleared up and I was given the appropriate "project role" (Developer), I ran into the problem of "I'm following the instructions but it's not working". Much diagnosis later, I gave up and installed a different set of software and started the process again, helped this time by someone giving me a link to some well-written instructions that I could actually understand and follow. The combination of good instructions and different software seemed to do the trick, but one last hurdle was in store... for a week or 10 days the servers wouldn't let me in. At least one other Australian was having the same problem, so I was reassured that it wasn't just me. At last I am at home on a fast connection, and the problem at OOo's end is allegedly fixed, and -- by golly, it all worked! And as easily as everyone said it should. Incredible.

08 May 2005

AODC - Melbourne

Unpacking after the last trip was hardly worth the trouble, as we were heading off to Melbourne on Tuesday for me to attend the 8th AODC (Australasian Online Documentation and Content Conference) being held at the Hilton on the Park hotel. This is the second AODC I've attended, though I was a vendor at one before than. Last year I was a speaker; this year Eric and I ran a bookshop one day and I attended sessions the other two days. The bookshop was organised by Sue Woolley of Monarch Computing Services, who has gathered a selection of books on technical-writing related topics, many self-published or from small press in Australia. I had several books in the collection, so was highly motivated to help out. The conference was informative and enjoyable, with good food (morning and afternoon tea and lunches) complementing the good talks. The organisers include Joe Welinske, who runs the WritersUA conferences in the USA, and Tony Self of HyperWrite in Melbourne. Evenings were, of course, social events, including the popular "Uncle Dave's Trivia Night" featuring Dave Gash of Hypertrain dot Com.

03 May 2005

Goodbye to Joh Bjelke-Petersen

Former Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, died on 23 April at the age of 94. He was Premier for 19 years, from 1968 to 1987, including the time I lived in Townsville, North Queensland (1974 to 1977). In the early and mid 1970's he was (in)famous for not tolerating dissent; many protesters -- of many issues -- were arrested during his time in office. I wasn't one of them, but I easily could have been, given my involvement in feminist and environmentalist issues at the time. Joh did a lot for modernising the state and making it a place attractive to investors and business, but much of that involved selling off prime bits of coastline, approving development in environmentally sensitive areas, and other things many of us found distressing. And, no surprise, eventually he and many members of his cabinet were found to have been taking kickbacks. (Not that this makes him all that unusual.) His funeral was today. I was delighted to read that protestors had turned out for the occasion.