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DVD collection catalogued into compact sleeves

Our DVD collection had long since overtaken the available shelf space, with cases piled up on the top shelf. Hardly an attractive look for the living room. Some while ago I bought compact sleeves from Samba Tech Limited into which I planned to transfer the DVDs. But first I needed to catalogue them, as with no visible spines finding individual films would be a challenge. Fortunately, I had been maintaining a database of the films using the superb Collectorz software, so it was simply a matter of deciding on categories and indexing the individual discs accordingly. I say simply, but in fact it turned out to be quite time consuming.

With a total of 511 recorded entries you will not be surprised to learn that there were a few errors in the data. A couple of DVDs had seemingly gone missing, probably lent out and never returned, while there were a number that I had omitted to add to the database when they were purchased. I decided that I should create a fair number of categories and limit the number of discs in each. Without visible spines, I needed to file them alphabetically, but not as one single collection. I therefore created categories with no more than about 60 DVDs in each. It has worked out very well, and because of the respective numbers in each section, it has been possible to retain the original cases for some DVDs, especially those containing two discs or with special cases.

You can buy folders that each house about 25 sleeves, but this adds to the cost and in our case would have used up the valuable space that we were trying to recover. As it is, the sleeves on their own, when viewed as a group, appear almost like a blank black space on the shelves between those DVDs that I've retained in their cases. The effect is quite aesthetically acceptable.

DVD collection

I can now use the iOS app version of the Collectorz software to look-up individual DVDs, but I've also created a paper listing by exporting the database into Excel, which has allowed me to customise the document to my own requirements, rather than just printing from the Collectorz database. There were a couple of hitches in doing this, the first being that accented characters (in French film titles) didn't appear correctly when the exported text document was opened in Excel 2016 for Mac. I resolved this problem by first opening the raw exported text document in TextEdit and then opting to 'Save As', while changing the Plain text Encoding to Western (Mac OS Roman) in the 'Save As' options. The second was to be careful not to re-sort by title while in Excel. The Collectorz database ignores the words 'A' or 'The' at the beginning of a title when sorting, whereas Excel doesn't. It's fine to sort on other fields, but not on the titles, which has allowed me to create a second listing based on category.

All in all a very satisfactory outcome.

High Sierra behaves itself but Chrome doesn't

After holding back for a while I finally updated my iMac to High Sierra this week. I had read about various problems affecting some applications and, of course, the more recent security scare that has been patched in 10.13.2. The update went without a hitch, although it took a while. I think the file had downloaded some time previously, as no sooner I had updated than I received another update message to install the latest version, which also took a while.

High Sierra

In launchpad a few applications were marked with the symbol indicating that they were no longer compatible. Final Cut Express was one such, but this wasn't an issue as I had long since abandoned it in favour of Adobe's Premier Elements. There was an associated application, LiveType, which was also shown as non-compatible, but was equally of no interest to me. Adobe Bridge also had to go, but again I never used it. I had already upgraded to Office Home and Student 2016, expecting problems with my 2011 edition. Luminar prompted for an update, but having installed it I then decided to go for their Holidays' offer and upgraded to the 2018 version.

All seemed well until I updated one of my managed websites using RapidWeaver. I had a minor rendering problem in Safari. This resolved itself after clearing all caches but there was a fair bit of head-scratching before I got to that point. Firefox behaved impeccably but in Google Chrome the navigation symbols were showing visual artifacts. No amount of cache clearing or resetting would clear the problem, and having visited some forums it became clear that there are indeed some issues with Chrome when used with High Sierra. Having effectively given up on this particular problem I downloaded the still 'early adopters' version of Chrome Canary. I don't use Chrome generally and really only wanted to see if the issue persisted in this 'bleeding edge' version. I'm pleased to say it didn't. So for the time being anybody viewing the website using the original Chrome with High Sierra will experience this problem, but my hope is that the number of people in this category will be small.

The only other issue I experienced was with Word. I keep all my data on a network drive and when I attempted to close a document after saving, I received an error relating to permission to access the temporary file that Word had created. These files should be removed when the document is closed, but this wasn't happening. Again, it took a while to find out what was going on, but I eventually found an explanation that suggested that this was a problem associated with network drives with Word on High Sierra. The fix was to uncheck 'Save Autorecovery info' in Word, which of course disables auto-recovery, but it seems to have cured the irritating error messages and the orphan folders that were being created.

There may of course be other issues awaiting me as I use applications that I've not yet launched but, as they say, so far, so good!

Microsoft encounter! - Installed Office 2016

With Microsoft discontinuing support for Mac Office 2011, and suggestions that there may be problems with it should I upgrade to High Sierra, I took the plunge and bought Mac Office 2016. John Lewis were doing a £20 discount and I had some JL vouchers.

Office setup web page

The first surprise, which shouldn't have been if I had read the product details fully, was that all I got was a pretty little box with a product key card inside. I would have preferred a disc. The instructions read that I should go to This landed me on a web page that appeared very unlike what I would expect from Microsoft. Talk about Web 1, it looked like something a first time web builder would have knocked up. Totally misleading as to what one was supposed to do, and raising suspicions in my mind that it wasn't a site where I was going to enter my expensive product code.

After a bit of browsing I navigated to a much more official looking Microsoft site, where I was asked to open an account. So here we go, I've just paid good money for a product and I must open an account to get past go. Having done that MS emailed me to verify my email address, then I had to negotiate a captcha code, and finally I got to entering my product key. A file downloaded into my downloads folder. I opened it but nothing seemed to be happening. But then I noticed the download progress bar on the Safari menu bar. After a while an installer package appeared in the downloads folder and this launched the familiar (Mac) Office installation dialogue.

Everything installed, I opened Excel and was presented with the next hoop to jump through. I needed to sign in using the account details I had generated earlier. This done, I was ready to use the software. Why do Microsoft make software installation so complicated? What a performance.

I haven't started to play with the new ribbon layout yet, although it appears pretty much unchanged content wise. In keeping with recent trends the icons on the ribbons appear 'flatter', exhibiting a 'button' relief only when you hover over them. I think I may prefer the 2011 look, but no doubt I shall get used to the new one after a while. You can keep the previous version on the Mac; a fall-back if I really struggle! It may be imagination but it feels as if the individual applications open more slowly.

I'm really pleased that the only time I need to deal with Microsoft is in respect of the Office software.

Site images now warehoused

Over the past few weeks I have been rather laboriously warehousing the images on this site. I use the RapidWeaver web building application that allows you to add images and format them. However, the result is that the RapidWeaver project file grows and grows. Warehousing resolves this issue by storing the images on the web server and using embedded links to call each image as required. There are an enormous number of third party add-ons for RapidWeaver and many include the option to warehouse any images. For example, my photography pages are built with the Nick Cates Photo Stack and use warehousing. However, the basic blog page in RapidWeaver cannot be significantly enhanced with third party add-ons, which leaves you with the need to format the image position on the page, requiring some code.

Image warehouse

My challenge, therefore, was to modify the three sections of this site that use the basic RapidWeaver blog page, namely my film reviews, the golf diary and the long-standing fishing diary that dates back to 2003. The film reviews weren't too bad to modify, as most have only one image, which is centred. Similarly with the golf diary. I only needed one piece of code to sort out most of the formatting in these cases. But the fishing diary was a different matter. Many entries have multiple images and even before I started, the layouts of the individual reports weren't that attractive, with images stacked one above another down the page. This was the time to improve things.

In the end, after browsing forums for tips, I put together code for placing images to the right of the page with wrapped text, which was a suitable solution for the majority of the entries. More of a challenge was placing images side by side with suitable spacing, but after a bit more research I achieved this as well. And I learnt some new things along the way, including the use of the new HTML5 <FIGURE> and <FIGCAPTION> tags. Modifying all the diary entries was a slow process but it's now all done and I think they look much better than before.

The fact that all images are warehoused shouldn't affect the viewing of the site, although in some cases there may be a slight delay as the image loads, during which the ALT TEXT should show. And my project file is now 16MB, down from 115MB.

New battery for mid-2009 MacBook Pro

Back in May I upgraded my MacBook Pro with an SSD, vastly improving the performance. I've now replaced the battery, which was rapidly discharging under use. Fingers crossed that these two upgrades will now keep the computer going for a while.

I had previously replaced the battery in my wife's MacBook and I again went to The Bookyard for the new battery. I chose the Newertech battery, a new item, which is considerably more expensive, but I had read less than enthusiastic reviews for cheaper alternatives. Delivery was next day by UPS to a drop off point in town, this being the cheapest option. I have been very impressed with The Bookyard on the two occasions that I've shopped with them.

The battery was nicely boxed and came with the two screwdrivers necessary to remove the base of the MacBook and the battery. On this model there are only two screws securing the battery itself, so replacement is extremely straightforward. Following this you are advised to carry out a battery conditioning procedure, which involves fully charging the battery and then completely exhausting it. This calibrates the power management system, allowing:

  • your new battery to achieve its fullest charge capacity.
  • your new battery to reach its full lifespan.
  • the system to accurately display the battery level.

This done, I now have a very capable mid-2009 MacBook Pro that I hope will provide a good few more years of stirling service.


High Sierra last macOS to support 32 bit apps

With High Sierra now available I made the customary check to see what possible problems may result from installing it. What I found was a bit worrying. Not in respect of High Sierra itself, but the fact that the subsequent update is not going to support 32 bit apps. A quick check on how many 32 bit apps my Mac is running revealed a very long list, and they are not by any means all minor pieces of software. For example, Amazon Music, Audacity, BBC iPlayer, Kindle, Libre Office, MS Office 2011and many more, a lot of which I use regularly. Perhaps the respective developers will be producing updates before the fateful day, but I would imagine that rewriting 32 bit code into 64 bit code is no simple task.

macOS High Sierra

As for MS Office 2011, I further discovered that MS are not going to support it on High Sierra, and in fact all support for this version will end on 10th October this year. With Microsoft limiting its basic Home and Student offering to one computer, replacing the copies on my Mac, my MacBook and my wife's machine would be very expensive. My existing Office 2011 came in a family pack with three licences. I may, therefore, initially only upgrade the copy on my Mac. My MacBook is still running El Capitan, being too old for Sierra, and fortunately my wife rarely uses Office.

Every so often Apple makes a move that renders a lot of legacy software, and sometimes hardware redundant. We are I fear approaching one such paradigm shift. The arrival of Snow Leopard cost me money and it seems that the post-High Sierra world will do likewise. But, on the other hand, this clean-out of arguably less efficient technology at least avoids the situation in which Microsoft finds itself, where the need to continue to support legacy programs has resulted in the Windows operating system containing far more code than it need do.


Echo & Alexa

I bought the Amazon Echo earlier this week on a bit of a whim. Amazon had reduced the price from £149.99 to £99.99, but that's still expensive of course. I thought that this was a permanent reduction, but checking the Amazon site today it has reverted to the higher price.

Set up was fairly painless using the app on iOS. Reviews of the said app weren't great, but this perhaps relates more to accessing content than the set up process. Having signed in with your Amazon details you first need to connect to the Echo's WiFi network, which appears in the available WiFi connections in iOS Settings. This done you need to connect to your own WiFi. At this point I did have a problem in that Echo failed to connect to my BT Hub, which was literally right next to it. The Amazon help information recommended that I switch Echo off, and then power up again. After this going through the process worked.

Amazon Echo with Alexa

Having spoken to Alexa and tried a few simple commands, next I set up the two 'Skills' needed to communicate with my recently installed HIVE system. This was painless, and I've tried asking Alexa to increase the temperature. This worked, although while the new temperature was shown on my iOS HIVE app, it didn't alter the target temperature on the physical thermostat. Time will tell how this will perform in practice, but not while the weather is still warm enough to not need the central heating.

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More thoughts on disappearing sparrows

The sparrows are still missing from the garden. I've done a bit of browsing and came across an article on the Discover Wildlife site. With regard to sparrows, this is what it says:

Summer holiday

Another bird that seems to disappear in the month of August is the house sparrow, an absence you are especially likely to notice if you live close to a farming area.
This desertion would seem to be out of character, because sparrows are usually the most sedentary of birds, remaining faithful to their colony and to their colony’s turf for the whole of their lives.
But in August they are seized by a collective tendency to wander to farmland fields and hedges to take advantage of ripening grain and the farmers’ harvest, much as shoppers may be gripped by the fever of high-street sales.
They don’t wander far, but they do wander en masse, and so in the madness of summer, all the local flocks come to feast on the plenty. They will scoff, drink and bicker in a striking parallel with holidaying Britons during an overheated August.

Let's hope they're right, as I'm already missing the little blighters.

Sparrows have vanished

I've been feeding birds in the garden for years and have attracted a large number of sparrows to the exclusion of almost everything else. They cost me a small fortune in bird seed devouring three large feeders full every two days. Then, on Wednesday, they suddenly stopped coming. The seed wasn't touched and the two bowls of water that are usually splashed dry by the end of the day were still full.

This is a mystery. There have always been a lot of cats around so I can't believe that this is the cause. Perhaps a sparrow hawk? Or perhaps it is because on Tuesday I trimmed back the ivy that grows up the corner of the house, and which had already enveloped our external light and a cctv camera. I know that the sparrows enjoyed flying up to the ivy from the feeders, and I'm sure that there may be a nest or two deep inside. But I only trimmed the edges where it was encroaching and left the bulk of the growth intact. Maybe they are super-sensitive to such things. I'll be sad if I've inadvertently caused them to leave, and even more so if they don't come back!

New gas boiler

We had the boiler changed today by British Gas. It brought the date forward a day and everything went very smoothly, in spite of it raining for most of the day. The parts were delivered by a plumbing suppliers at 07:45 and the fitters arrived at 08:10. The only slight hiccup was a missing bypass valve, but one of them popped around to Travis Perkins and bought one.

The unit was a direct replacement so that part was reasonably straightforward, but being a condensing boiler (Worcester Bosch Greenstar) there was a need to fit discharge piping, and as there wasn't a main drain connection near a small lime-chipping filled soak-away had to be dug. We also had the radiator system flushed. And the icing on the cake was the Hive control system, thrown in for 'free' as part of the quote, although I accept that British Gas probably charge more than most anyway.

The work went very smoothly with everything on the gas side of things being completed by about 14:00. The electrician arrived shortly afterwards and fitted the Hive system. A small unit plugs into the router, a Hive thermostat is installed to replace what you have, and another Hive unit replaces the programmer. They all communicate through WiFi. The system can be programmed from the thermostat, or more easily through your web browser, having set up an account and registered the devices. A smartphone app allows you to communicate with the system from your phone, so you can switch the heating on or boost the water on your return from a trip, so it's all nice and warm when you get home. Hive also market other devices, such as lamps, sockets, a camera and door and window security fittings.

Hive units

And there is one other device, referred to as Boiler IQ, a revolutionary new technology developed in partnership with Worcester Bosch for British Gas. It basically monitors the boiler and lets British Gas know if there is a problem before you have perhaps realised anything is wrong. This becomes a £3/month subscription service after the first year.

All in all we're very pleased with the new installation and must praise British Gas and its fitters. Things went smoothly from the moment we accepted the quote until everything was switched on today.


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