Happy Birthday To Me

It was my birthday during the holidays. I’m not so big on buying things these days, but, a few weeks later, I bought myself a little toy, which came today.

Last weekend, my missus told me that a shopping channel had a special deal on those things they call “truly” wireless ear phones. You know, you can listen to music from your phone, but with absolutely no wires anywhere.

Now, I like that idea, but they were always too expensive, These too were expensive, but they were Bang and Olufsen – for such a prestigious name, bery reasonable. But still too expensive for me. My listening is not worth that kind of money these days.

But it obviously sowed a seed, and I got to wondering if maybe the price had come down generally. So I had another look that evening. and lo and behold saw some that were rated really highly for just £40 (about $55). So I thought I’d give them a whirl.

They arrived today and, for the money, I am blown away.

Skullcandy Jib. I’d heard of the make in passing, but never had anything from them before.

Any bets on how long it’ll take me to lose one?

Zoomed Out

I had a “funny” with my charity this morning.

They offered courses on mental health, to volunteers. Might be useful, I thought, so I booked myself on. I made sure I asked, Is any specific software required? No response.

The meeting happened this morning. Last week, they sent out details. I learned that it was to be a Zoom meeting. I have never used Zoom, and I remember, when everybody was going Zoom-crazy at the start of lockdown, seeing an article in a reputable UK newspaper, listing issues with Zoom that were as long as your arm.

So I made a mental note to be cautious of it, to look at these issues in more detail if the time ever came.

I was a bit cheesed off last week when I received this Zoom request. Why hadn’t they responded when I had asked? To allow me some time to look into it and form an opinion? So, I backed out of the meeting.

Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to install anything, they replied. That’s funny, I thought, I had heard that you do. I request clarification. You just open up your browser and away you go. As they had obviously used Zoom before, and I hadn’t, I said that I would attend.

This morning, the day of the meeting. Fifteen minutes before, I’m on my PC, I dig out the email and hit the link. The very first thing it does is to ask me whether I want to install some software! Exactly what the charity had said wouldn’t happen.

So I hurriedly fired up the tablet. The meeting is getting close now. Guess what was the first thing it said? That’s right, install some software.

So, basically, that’s where I had to leave it. I’ve sent an email to the charity explaining that this is the reason I didn’t attend their meeting. I left out the bit about them telling me a complete pile of nonsense. Because, what’s the point?

I did do one more thing. I tried to find that Guardian link I saw all those months ago. I couldn’t, but I did find this, written just a week ago, which shows that some people, at least, still have issues with Zoom.

Word Frequencies

This post is specifically based on a conversation I was having with Linda Kemp, but if you’re interested, this info is good for anybody. But straight away, this is pretty niche stuff, so when you feel your eyes glazing over…

As some of you will have seen, I have been writing some creative writing over the last few weeks.

Forget the writing itself. But I was thinking, I would like something to analyse what I’ve written, to tell me about word frequency – how often I used the word “idiot”, or whatever. Just in case I find that I have sub-consciously written the word on every other line.

Some words will anyway be more prevalent than others, like the word “the”, but I wanted specifically to check that no words/phrases had crept into the document by mistake. One of the ones I notice about me is the phrase “of course”. You might have noticed this if you read my posts, although I do try to edit most of them out.

First off, I have been using Microsoft Word to create my story. It will check spelling, grammar, and will read (audibly) the document back to me. I was surprised that this feature – the frequency of words – was not already part of the program, but no matter – I went looking for an add-on online.

In the end, I found https://gregmaxey.com/word_tip_pages/word_usage_and_frequency_report.html. Seemed to be just what I was looking for. But this add-on looked like it had been written for an old version of Microsoft Word. This looked like in was Word 2010, whereas I just buy an annual subscription from Microsoft, so have the latest software.

Anyway, Step 1 was to visit the site and download this add-on. (The first time I visited this site, I did, of course (see? I told you!), read the blurb.)

This downloaded a compressed (.ZIP) file into my Downloads folder.

Step 2, I decompressed that file. I won’t show that but I can tell you how if you want. It contains two files, which I just extracted into a folder under my Downloads.

Step 3 (I’m showing this) I opened Microsoft Word. I loaded one of my story documents. Then, I installed the Word Count add-in.

As you can see, this add-in counts up the words in your original document, then creates a fresh document, creating a table with items ordered by frequency.

In my example (only a 1-pager) the most common word was “the”, closely followed by “was” and “a”, so I suppose I can’t complain – those words are pretty inevitable. But hopefully this will allow me to spot where I have over-used certain words. I don’t know how far down this list I’ll need to look.

I only just found this add-in, I haven’t looked at any of the options yet. I believe it can detect phrases, too. I believe you can exclude certain words from the analysis. The other thing, I don’t know if this will load every time I open the document, start Word, and so on. So there is still some figuring out to happen.

It’s certainly something I’ll be looking at and trying to use. If it is any good, I’ll be sending this guy a bit of money – after all, this is the kind of thing I have been doing these last few years. If this is something you find useful, please consider the same.

No Internet

Power cuts.

Power just came back on, but it has been on and off this morning. It might also have screwed the router (but I have a spare). I will post when I can.


Power cuts appear to have stuffed up the old router. I have a backup router, which I am using for now. I need to get more of an idea about the status of the old router later, though, but I will do so when I am dressed. We keep all of the internet equipment in the garage, which is not joined to the house.

The Skype’s the Limit

Just before the lockdown we were advised (here) to avoid unnecessary contact, which people duly ignored. Except me. I said to Age UK that I was happy to do the calls [the voluntary work I do each week is calls to about 10 clients, any subjects, just to help combat lonliness], but I wanted to do them from home rather than from their office. A phone is a phone is a phone, after all.

When the lockdown came, we embarked on reassurance calls, too, specifically as a result of the crisis. Do you have groceries? Do you have meds? in particular. So, my calls jumped to 20 per week. In an email to someone, I jokily said that rather than just picking up the phone, I should put the computer to work and make use of my always-on internet connection.

Afterwards I thought about it more seriously. Why not? So I started looking for a program to do it.

The first link I hit told me I could use Gmail. Great, I don’t really use Gmail, but I have an account, so I logged on. Sure enough, I could place a call but when I tried calling my wife (on her mobile, in the next room) she couldn’t hear me.

So I assumed that the microphone on the PC was not really clear enough, and ordered a headset off eBay. That’s a good idea anyway, because it allows me to make calls handsfree, useful when only one arm works since it allows me to type, if I need to write something down.

That headset finally arrived Saturday. Just an unbranded one – I figured that a brand like Logitech will just take an unbranded Chinese item and stamp its name, so didn’t see the point in paying more (a Logitech headset was 50% more). So I plugged this thing in and … same result! No can hear me.

I fiddled with the settings for a while. But Audacity could hear me just fine. Microsoft’s voice control software could hear me just fine. But my wife couldn’t when I tried to call her through gmail.

So I decided to explore other programs. Microsoft bought Skype a few years back and there it was, already installed on the PC. So I set it up. Hey presto, I was making calls within minutes! I had to take out a cheap subscription, just to be able to call old-fashioned landlines, but it should work out cheaper than just using my house phone.

I’m still not too familiar with the Microsoft flavour of Skype. Last time I remember it was years ago, when communication through the computer was a new thing (and poor quality). I thought I got a phone number, so internet geeks across the world could call and say Hi, but it looks like I need to pay extra for that. Hmmmm…. Microsoft Marketing at work, no doubt. No matter, I only really need the calls to go one way, anyway.

As it happens, I can claim any of my call expenses back from the charity, so I didn’t really need to do any of this, but I’m sure they have better things to spend their money on than my phone bill, so it makes sense if I can minimise everything. And I can now listen to posts without disturbing anyone else!

Nudge, Nudge

I’ve had Android phones for, like, fifteen years. Over that time, I’ve installed plenty of apps, which are taken across every time I upgrade the phone itself. Probably ten years ago I hit a limit – every useful app was pretty much already installed.

The upshot is that it is very rare indeed for me to install new apps these days.

Two apps, however, that I have installed recently are the WordPress app, when I moved my blog to WordPress, and the Spotify app, when I finally bought a subscription. Both in the last few months.

In that time, my phone started misbehaving. Specifically, it would beep when a notification arrived. Even in the middle of the night – beep, beep – bastard!

Suspicion fell on these two apps. But why would Spotify beep me at all, especially in the middle of the night? Of course, I looked at my phone’s list of notifications, but could not see anything suspicious in there.

It is true that, when I installed the WordPress Android app, I allowed it to send notifications, just on the basis that it would send them sensibly.

So, a few days ago, I changed one of the settings, in the app itself, to turn off notifications. But they kept coming, any time you like.

Of course, that might well indicate that this problem was nothing whatever to do with WordPress, but I wasn’t satisfied.

So, yesterday I went into the phone’s system settings, and revoked permission for the WordPress app to send any kind of notifications. Specifically, just on that one app. The other hundred-odd were still able to send notifications, if they chose.

Last night, I enjoyed my first uninterrupted night’s sleep for weeks.

Badly behaved WordPress? You decide. Let’s just say that in my few months on here, I have heard one particular theme probably above all others.

My Official Birthday

My very first bank card, I received it longer than I care to remember ago. It would only operate in the bank’s own machines, and the PIN number they sent could not be changed. So I had to make sure I remembered it. As time has gone by, it is now a standard feature on all cards, to be able to change the PIN. But that first PIN number stuck, so every card since then has been christened with that same PIN.

It was the same with computers. I bought my first laptop back in 1992, and so began the era of needing personal passwords for things. My first password was based on the model of that very first computer, now fortunately long-since forgotten so even harder to guess. Of course, over the years, the password has become more complex, just by concatenating several other pieces of information to it. Unless you’re me, you’d be lucky indeed if you guessed it – the phrase chance in a million springs to mind, but more like a chance in a million million million million million.

Now, with the coming of the internet age, we log on to many web sites, so I have added a site-specific element to go even harder. So that I have many different passwords. The passwords themselves may all be different, but the rules for building up the password are the same (almost) every time.

And thus it was with other data, too. When I got a Facebook account, it wanted to know my date of birth. So I made one up. It was sufficiently close to the real birthdate that I didn’t get tripped by silly age-verification checks, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Entered it, then promptly forgot.

So at that time, it was just a random, one-off invention, but since Facebook, more and more sites ask for this information (Spotify did the other day, see my recent post) although it is none of their business, it is easier just to fill something in. And so I dreamed up another date, which is slightly more memorable, and which I now use consistently. My official birthday – actually it was the birthday of my friend in elementary school. It took a few years for me to adopt that rule universally, but I now give that DoB out for most everything, except for important things. And using some online service is definitely not important.

So, dear reader, that is why I have two dates of birth, my real date and my official date. But if you wish to send a card on my official birthdayrather than my real one, go right ahead 🙂.

Twenty-first Century Boy

It must have been six months ago when I first got my voice-controlled tech. I blogged about it here. It all started when Google offered their home hub at half price – £25. I guess that’s around $25 or €25, give or take. I’d seen them advertised, so I thought I wonder what it can do?

Actually, on its own, not much. It connected to the web, told me the time, the news and the weather, and within a day I was bored. The device came into its own when I started looking at add-ons. It took a few days research, but I identified a light bulb. Hey, Google, light on. Bear in mind that I tend to crash into things when it’s dark – the stroke affected my balance and although it also affected my eyes, I crash about less in light than in dark. The bulb was just off eBay. Spurred on, the obvious next question was what else can it do? I found a smart switch, again on eBay, which allows me to boil the kettle first-thing. Okay, the switch was more out of decadence than a great practical use, but that too was cheap. I still need to go into the kitchen to feed two hungry cats, but at least I can wait until the kettle is almost boiled before I leave the comfort of my duvet.

My wife – my wife is able-bodied so she doesn’t need any of these gadgets – my wife was impressed by the light especially. We had Black Friday last week, and she picked up an Alexa device, plus bulb, at a third off. Amazon also had a deal on their Prime membership, three months free. At the weekend she finally devoted some time to setting it all up. So, we now have two totally independent circuits in the house, each doing these gadgety things.

One of the things I thought about, then dismissed, was paying for a music streaming service. The main reason is that I already own most of the music I’ll listen to (apart, of course, from SLS!) so it felt like I was paying twice.

However, with my wife’s trial Amazon Prime subscription came also a trial of their music service. And I must admit that I liked the idea, yesterday, of saying Alexa, play Graceland by Paul Simon, then having a leisurely soak in the bath. So, a bit more open-minded, I had a another look.

Google support several providers. They don’t explicitly say they support Amazon, for the two are direct competitors in this market, but they do say that they support any service. But no matter, I won’t buy from Amazon, deal or no. Of the several services they specifically mention, I had a look at them over the weekend.

There is Google Play and YouTube Music – I couldn’t tell the difference, they are the same company after all, and offered the same deals. Deezer is French in origin, so possibly not so many tracks than American services? And not one of them had any sniff of a Black Friday deal, although they did all offer a free trial upon signup. So, in the end, I went with Spotify. Again, no promotion, but three months free, so I have until March to cancel.

I have friends who have, for years, used Spotify happily, although I suspect that, at the time, there was less choice. The price of £10/month was universal – the word cartel springs to mind. But, three months was the longest trial. And Spotify had a student plan, which recognises people on a low income and charges them less. No disabled plan, unfortunately, but at least they have taken a small step in the right direction.

So, I decided overnight, and set everything up this morning. On laptop, tablet and phone, plus of course this Home Hub – it is nice just to lie on the bed and say what I want to listen to. (You can have is on as many devices as you like, but only listen to one at a time). I’m listening to something now. So those lists I made for my Tick-Tock posts might have yet another use, after all.

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