Thoughts on eBooks

In recent months, I have been doing a clear out of paper books in case the recent European Union referendum result in the U.K. affects my ability to stay there since I am an Irish citizen. In my two decades here, I have not felt as much uncertainty and lack of belonging as I do now. It is as if life wants to become difficult for a while.

What made the clearance easier was that there was of making sure that the books were re-used and eBooks replaced anything that I would wanted to keep. However, what I had not realised is that demand for eBooks has flatlined, something that only became apparent in recent article in PC Pro article penned by Stuart Turton. He had all sorts of suggestions about how to liven up the medium but I have some of my own.

Niall Benvie also broached the subject from the point of view of photographic display in an article for Outdoor Photography because most are looking at photos on their smartphones and that often reduces the quality of what they see. Having a partiality to photo books, it remains the one class of books that I am more likely to have in paper form, even I have an Apple iPad Pro (the original 12.9 inch version) and am using it to write these very words. There also is the six year old 24 inch Iiyama screen that I use with my home PC.

The two apps with which I have had experience are Google Play Books and Amazon Kindle, both of which I have used on both iOS and Android while I use the Windows app for the latter too. Both apps are simple and work effectively until you end up with something of a collection. Then, shortcomings become apparent.

Search functionality is something that can be hidden away on menus and that is why I missed it for so long. For example, Amazon’s Kindle supports puts the search box in a prominent place on iOS but hides the same function in menus on its Android or Windows incarnations. Google Play Books consistently does the latter from what I have seen and it would do no harm to have a search box on the library screen since menus and touchscreen devices do not mix as well. The ability to search within a book is similarly afflicted so this also needs moving to a more prominent place and is really handy for guidebooks or other more technical textbooks.

The ability to organise a collection appears to be another missed opportunity. The closest that I have seen so far are the Cloud and Device screens on Amazon’s Kindle app but even this is not ideal. Having the ability to select some books as favourites would help as would hiding others from the library screen would be an improvement. Having the ability to re-sell unwanted eBooks would be another worthwhile addition because you do just that with paper books.

When I started on this piece, I reached the conclusion the eBooks too closely mimicked libraries of paper books. Now, I am not so sure. It appears to me that the format is failing to take full advantage of its digital form and that might have been what Turton was trying to evoke but the examples that he used did not appeal to me. Also, we could do with more organisation functionality in apps and the ability to resell could be another opportunity. Instead, we appear to be getting digital libraries and there are times when a personal collection is best.

All the while, paper books are being packaged in ever more attractive ways and there always will be some that look better in paper form than in digital formats and that still applies to those with glossy appealing photos. Paper books almost feel like gift items these days and you cannot fault the ability to browse them by flicking through the pages with your hands.

Batch conversion of DNG files to other file types with the Linux command line

At the time of writing, Google Drive is unable to accept DNG files, the Adobe file type for RAW images from digital cameras. The uploads themselves work fine but the additional processing at the end that I believe is needed for Google Photos appears to be failing. Because of this, I thought of other possibilities like uploading them to Dropbox or enclosing them in ZIP archives instead; of these, it is the first that I have been doing and with nothing but success so far. Another idea is to convert the files into an image format that Google Drive can handle and TIFF came to mind because it keeps all the detail from the original image. In contrast, JPEG files lose some information because of the nature of the compression.

Handily, a one line command does the conversion for all files in a directory once you have all the required software installed:

find -type f | grep -i “DNG” | parallel mogrify -format tiff {}

The find and grep commands are standard with the first getting you a list of all the files in the current directory and sending (piping) these to the grep command so the list only retains the names of all DNG files. The last part uses two commands for which I found installation was needed on my Linux Mint machine. The parallel package is the first of these and distributes the heavy workload across all the cores in your processor and this command will add it to your system:

sudo apt-get install parallel

The mogrify command is part of the ImageMagick suite along with others like convert and this is how you add that to your system:

sudo apt-get install imagemagick

In the command at the top, the parallel command works through all the files in the list provided to it and feeds them to mogrify for conversion. Without the use of parallel, the basic command is like this:

mogrify -format tiff *.DNG

In both cases, the -format switch specifies the output file type with tiff triggering the creation of TIFF files. The *.DNG portion itself captures all DNG files in a directory but {} does this in the main command at the top of this post. If you wanted JPEG ones, you would replace tiff with jpg. Shoudl you ever need them, a full list of what file types are supported is produced using the identify command (also part of ImageMagick) as follows:

identify -list format

Compressing a VirtualBox VDI file for a Windows guest running on a Linux Host

Recently, I had a situation where my the VDI files for my Windows 10 virtual machine expanded in size all of a sudden and I needed to reduce them. My downloading maps for use with Routebuddy may have been the cause so I moved the ISO installation files onto the underlying Linux Mint drives. With that space, I then set to uncovering how to compact the virtual disk file and the Sysinternals sdelete tool was recommend for clearing unused space. After downloading, I set it to work in a Powershell session running on the guest operating system from its directory using the following command:

./sdelete -z [drive letter designation; E: is an example]

From the command prompt, the following should do:

sdelete -z [drive letter designation; E: is an example]

Once, that had completed, I shut down the VM and executed a command like the following from a bash terminal session:

vboxmanage modifyhd [file location/file name].vdi --compact

Where there was space to release, VDI files were reduced in size to return more disk space. More could be done so I will look into the Windows 10 drives to see what else needs to be moved out of them.

Resolving Windows Update Error 0x80244019 on Windows 10

In Windows 10, the preferred place to look if you fancy prompting an update of the system is in the Update & Security section of the Settings application. At the top is the Windows Update and the process usually is as simple as pressing the Check for updates button. For most the time, that has been my experience but it stopped working on my main Windows 10 virtual machine so I needed to resolve the problem.

Initially, going into the Advanced Options section and deselecting the tick box for Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows helped but it seemed a non-ideal solution so I looked further. It was then that I found that manually resetting a system’s Windows Updates components helped others so I tried that and restarted the system.

The first part of the process was to right click on the Start Menu button and select the Windows Powershell (Admin) entry from the menu that appeared. This may be replaced by Command Prompt (Admin) on your system on your machine but the next steps in the process are the same. In fact, you could include any commands you see below in a script file and execute that if you prefer. Here, I will run through each group in succession.

From either Powershell or the Command Prompt, you need to stop the Windows Update, Cryptographic, BITS (or Background Intelligent Transfer Service) and MSI Installer services. To do this, execute the following commands at a command prompt:

net stop wuauserv
net stop cryptSvc
net stop bits
net stop msiserver

With the services stopped, it is then possible to rename the SoftwareDistribution and Catroot2 folders so you can refresh everything to remove the .To do this, execute the following pair of commands using either Powershell or the Command Prompt:

ren C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution SoftwareDistribution.old
ren C:\Windows\System32\catroot2 Catroot2.old

Once you have the folders renamed, then you can start the Windows Update, Cryptographic, BITS and MSI Installer services by executing the following commands in either Powershell or the Command Prompt:

net start wuauserv
net start cryptSvc
net start bits
net start msiserver

Once these have completed, you may close the Powershell or Command Prompt window that you were using and restart the machine. Going in to the Update & Security section of the Settings tool afterwards and pressing the Check for updates button now builds new versions of the folders that you renamed and this takes a little while longer than the usual update process. Otherwise, you could let your system rebuild things in its own time. As it happens, I opted for manual intervention and all has worked well since then.

More thoughts on Windows 10

Now that I have left Windows 8.x behind me and there are a number of my machines running Windows 10, I have decided to revisit my impressions of the operating system. The first Technical Preview was something that I installed in a virtual machine and I have been keeping an eye on things have developed since then and intend to retain a Windows Insider installation to see what might be heading our way as Windows 10 evolves as now expected.

After elaborating on the all important upgrade process earlier, I am now moving onto other topics. The Start Menu is a big item but there are others as you will see below.

Start Menu

Let’s start with an admission: the prototype Start Menu that we got in the initial Windows 10 Technical Preview was more to my liking. Unpinning all the tiles allowed the menu to collapse back to the sort of width that anyone familiar with Windows 7 would have liked. If there was a setting to expunge all tiles at once and produce this state, I would have been well happy.

It was latter that we got to learn that Microsoft was not about consign the Windows 8 Modern interface entirely to history as many would have wanted. Some elements remain with us such as a Start Menu with a mandatory area for tiles and the ability to have it display full screen. Some are live but this can be turned off on a tile by tile basis and unneeded ones can be removed altogether. It is even possible to uninstall most apps by right clicking on a tile or other Start Menu entry and select the required option from the resulting context menu. For others, there is a command line alternative that uses Powershell to do removals. After this pruning, things were left in such a state that I have not been moved to restore Classic Shell so far.

The Start Menu settings used be in the same place as those for the taskbar but they are found in the new Settings tool. Some are in the Personalisation section and it has its own Start subsection for setting full screen mode or highlighting of new apps among other things. The equivalent Colours subsection is where you find other settings like assigning background colours based on those in a desktop background image, which itself is assigned in it own subsection in the Personalisation area.

Virtual Desktops

Initially, I failed to see the point in how Microsoft implemented these and favoured Virtuawin instead. My main complaint was the taskbar showed buttons for all open apps regardless of the screen in which they are opened. However, that was changed so your taskbar shows different buttons for each virtual desktop, just like the way that Linux and UNIX do things. Switching between desktops may not be as smooth of those yet but the default setting is a move in the right direction and you can change it if you want.

Cortana

This was presented to the world as a voice operated personal assistant like Apple’s Siri but I cannot say that I am keen on such things so I decided to work as I usually do instead. Keyboard interaction works fine and I have neutered things to leave off web searches on Bing to use the thing much in the same way as the search box on the Windows 7 Start Menu. It may be able to do more than that but I am more than happy to keep my workflow unchanged for now. Cortana’s settings are available via its pop-up menu. Collapsing the search box to an icon to save space for your pinned and open applications is available from the Search section of the taskbar context menu (right clicking the taskbar produces this).

Settings

In Windows 8.x, the Control Panel was not the only area for settings but remained feature complete but the same is not the case for Windows 10 where the new Settings panel is starting to take over from it. The two co-exist for now but it seems clear that Settings is where everything is headed.

The Personalisation section of the tool has been mentioned in relation to the Start Menu but there are plenty of others. For instance, the Privacy one is one that definitely needs reviewing and I found myself changing a lot of the default settings in there. Naturally, there are some other sections in Settings that need hardly any attention from most of us and these include Ease of access (accessibility), Time & language, Devices and Network & Internet. The System section has a few settings like tablet mode that may need review and the Update & security one has backup and recovery subsections that may be of interest. The latter of these is where you find the tools for refreshing the state of the system following instability or returning to a previous Windows version (7 or 8.x) within thirty days of the upgrade.