Another Blow for Freedom

I am sure when you read this you’ll wonder if the government have taken leave of their senses.

Sometime in March, if you believe the press, the government will use our tax money to insist that ISPs keep track of our emails. The Home Office apparently insists that the measure is vital for fighting cybercrime as well as combating terror plots.  They say that the stored information does not include the contents of emails… well no, not yet! But then they also said no new taxes!

Given that they have ADEQUATELY and repeatedly demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to look after a paper bag, never mind our data (the magazine article states some examples but I’m sure you all remember various incidents of lost data), I think we should all be PETRIFIED about this.

Can you imagine a list of everyone you’ve contacted recently ending up on the black market on a DVD for competitors to see? How about private, personal conversation or important business dealings?

The argument about this measure being vital for fighting crime is RUBBISH – clearly any terrorist with even half a brain would use temporary email addresses or instant messaging taking steps to cover their tracks. Only the DIMMEST would actually send an email from their regular address.  Sadly, honest businesses and many individuals simply can’t go switching email addresses and providers.

So, Once again, ordinary, decent citizens are having their pockets and privacy invaded to satisfy the needs of a paranoid government!

Oh and if they think you’re going to make trouble they will be able to hack your computer without a court order – does this begin  to sound like the USSR to you?

And as if to prove the point that the public sector is not fit to keep our data  – today’s news… ANOTHER 5,000 patient records lost – this time sitting on a laptop that “went missing. You have to wonder in these days of mobile Internet (I’m typing this on my laptop at the airport – no local copy of this document exists) what on EARTH are they doing with actual databases sitting on a laptop!!!!  This kind of thing happens time and time again.

Free Painting Packages

As part of what I do, I recommend painting packages to people I work with who have to dress up photographs for their websites. Basic features like brightness, contrast, saturation, cropping etc… anyway as part of that I tend to keep an eye open for free or cheap packages.

Personally I use Photoshop so I’m pretty hard to please but I’ve made Faststone image viewer my staple for quickly updating images… well, until now.  I’ve been following some FLASH-based packages for a while now and finally one of them looks like it’s come up trumps.

image SumoPaint has now come out of BETA and I have to say, it makes you wonder why you would want to spend a fortune on some of the alternatives. Layers, a boatload of effects and FREE make this a winner – though I can’t find arbitrary ROTATE which could be an issue. Anyway – go over there and have a look. It could save you some money and time.

Need to convert a bitmap to a vector – or simply improve the bitmap image?

This morning I was faced with a challenge. The company has a logo with the word MEMBER underneath it – and I had to get that available on our website – but the problem was the original logo was simply not that high quality…

Having for once caught up with the email mountain, I decided to look and see if my paint packages would turn our bitmap logo plus the text into a vector image which I could then enlarge and doctor –  and of course they would not – so I started looking around the web – and lo – after much wasted time looking at old programs that don’t even work in XP never mind Vista, I found an online convertor called Vector Magic website – you can only do two images for free – but that was ok – I only had one!  – so I gave it a whirl…


To say I’m flabbergasted by the results would be to understate the matter. The site does a WONDERFUL job of converting a bitmap into a vector file –but parts of the original were far from perfect and I could see I was going to need to do some editing – but then that brings me back to square one, except… no.

The site would let you create various formats of the image – PDF, EPS, PNG and SVG…. hold on, what’s an SVG?  Just for the sake of it I downloaded the SVG file and clicked on it, thinking Photoshop might take a look. Instead a program I’d forgotten all about – a freeby called Inkscape popped up – and it’s capable of editing vector images….

See the original image above – full size, that’s a small part of the image to be sure – the lettering FSB. Notice the jagged edges – not only that the some of the imagery was slightly off-square. Not any more.

imageHere’s a similar shot to the one above – same area from the PDF I produced… remember this is starting from a not-very-good BMP file with VERY little effort on my behalf… yes, that’s a tiny part of the bottom right hand corner of the “B” – not only vastly improved but also ACCURATE. I had to make half a dozen corrections two of which were due to problems with the original image – and I now have a master PDF that could scale up to the size of a block  of flats!

So – there you have it. The links will take you to the websites to use the convertor and download Inkscape. This won’t solve EVERYONE’s problems but it solved mine and hopefully if you’re reading this because you’ve a need to blow up an image, it’ll solve yours. If you found this useful, please do leave feedback.

Clipboards and capturing the Screen

Peter Scargill

Capturing bits of screen and storing them temporarily seem to be tools of the trade for me – I could not imagine NOT having these facilities. I tend to use pictures a lot when explaining stuff as “a picture is worth 1000 words” as they say. For some time now I’ve been using a product called Clipmate (version 7) which is nice and easy to use, you hit a key combination, select the area on the screen you want to save and Bob’s your uncle – it’s stored in a clipboard – or rather in a database – and you can easily store multiple items and get them back readily.

Today I took it off my computer. Quite often, products start with the right intentions and then someone loses the plot. In this case it’s the database – no matter what I did, every power up of the PC, Clip

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mate would start up and archive it’s database – wasting precious time – it’s a screen grabber for heaven’s sake.

The other problem I’ve always had with this program is grabbing images or web pages that are larger than the screen.  It’s a real pain grabbing multiple images and putting them back together into one.

Anyway, gripe over, I’m here to tell you about two other products I’m now using – one is free, the other is around £26. Together they do the job nicely.

The first is called CLIPBOARDS and is simply a program that allows you to CUT or COPY to multiple clipboards instead of one.

imageHere’s the picture – should just about explain it all…

As you can see, you have 9 clip-boards to play with – it’s THAT simple. Simply select which clipboard you want to use by pressing ALT1-9 and go ahead.

So now you can keep bits of graphics floating about for re-use at the touch of button.  Clipboards is free from the site above. They also have some other useful utilities which I’ve not had time to check.

In order to make use of this you need something to clip bits of screen of course and my requirements include any arbitrary part of the screen, the whole screen and something that might be LONGER than the whole screen – like a web page for example.

imageAlong comes MR CAPTOR

There’s a 30 day trial – I just bought it (I was that convinced, I bought the program) and it is wonderful. As you can see, it captures any arbitrary area – it can also capture any arbitrary SHAPE – AND can manually, semi-automatically or automatically capture any WINDOW – and if that window has a scroll bar, it will run down the scroll bar and put together an image in the clipboard of the entire area even though it may exceed screen size. What can I say – marvellous. Check out both of these programs if you write manuals or have a need to manipulate parts of the screen.

I should perhaps in passing say that for most of my simple image processing – ie stuff where just a bit of colour change is needed, perhaps a crop and re-size, I don’t think you can beat FastStone Image viewer but I’ll leave you to investigate that.

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The HTC Touch HD Quick Review – Better than the Touch Diamond?

pete_ted My wife has just received the HTC Touch HD. I’ve been using Smartphones for some years and specify them for others – but there have been times when I’ve wondered what on earth Microsoft were thinking about getting into this game. Early Smartphones were, well, rubbish. The hardware was rubbish, the software was rubbish – and as phones, they were, well, rubbish.

Ok, a bit of a generalisation, granted.  Orange users will remember the first Orange Smartphones – buttons used to drop off, the phones needed regular resets to keep them running properly and there was always that feeling that if they’d JUST made the phone a little faster…

A couple of years ago I recommended to our head office that we use the htc S620 and that proved one of my better decisions. Half decent battery life, decent display, easy to use and most importantly it looked like a Blackberry so the folk in London didn’t lose too much face (if you travel a lot, you’ll notice that it seems that Londoners just HAVE to have an IPOD and a Blackberry, don’t ask me why). This of course was one arm of Microsoft’s mobile platform – based on Windows Mobile rather than Pocket PC and therefore with no touch-interface.

Of course recently the touch-interface has become the "thing" thanks mainly to the iPhone but Microsoft and HTC have been doing this for years.

The HTC Touch Diamond: For those who’re not familiar with HTC, their products are behind many of the branded phones and today Orange don’t even disguise that fact, but the fabulous and fully-featured HTC Touch Diamond with an almost magical user interface has one or two flaws. The WIFI fails occasionally, usually requiring a replacement phone – and more importantly, the battery life isn’t worth a light.  I carry 2 spare batteries around with me because a quick 3-hour session on the Newcastle-to-London train with a bit of data and a lot of talking will EASILY flatten the phone.

The Touch Diamond phone does have something else that few phones have – a small 640*480 screen – so the image quality is superb. That and the touch interface make it worth having.

The HTC Diamond HD: Along comes the HTC Diamond HD – and I think it’s possible HTC  learned something. To say that the phone bears more than a passing resemblance to an iPhone would be to understate. GONE is the crappy HTC headphone USB headphone interface in favour of a bog-standard 3.5mm jack. The screen now takes up almost ALL of the real estate – and it’s BIG – 800*400 big – and beautiful. The new larger battery LOOKS the part and the HD (at least with Orange), unlike the Touch Diamond, which in a fit of madness HTC fitted with a permanent 4gig, comes complete with a micr0-SD with 8 gig of memory – which of course you can CHANGE.

I took the phone out for a spin – 1.5 hours in the car, with the sat-nav running Google Maps – hence running the sat-nav and constant data, with a couple of calls thrown in and the screen kept running throughout – didn’t make a DENT in the battery reading. I am WELL impressed AND unlike it’s predecessor which by now would have been hot enough to cook eggs with, it ran cool throughout.

The graphical interface is pretty much like the Diamond with some minor but significant improvements and the case, well, it’s just really nice, soft, rounded edges, satin back (as against the really silly irregular jagged back panel on the DIAMOND) – unless you like really small phones you are going to LOVE the Diamond HD.

A word to the wise – Orange in their usual customer-unfriendly manner tried to charge us for the phone (we’re on a £35 a month contract and have been with them for years) – and boy did they try. After a bit of persuasion however we got the phone for £45, but with a £60 discount off our future phone bills – so effectively the phone cost minus £12 -  can’t argue with that!

Update 3rd January 2009

Wifi on the Diamond Touch not working: The WIFI on the phone packed in on me -the WIFI simply would not turn on.  Looking through the various forums this appears to be a hardware fault though you never know as so few people know the difference between hardware and software issues. I tried rebooting, cold-booting, installing an update FROM from the Orange site – you name it – nothing had any effect. So I got onto Orange this afternoon and their immediate response was "contact the manufacturure" – I blew my top at this incompetent response and pointed out I pay £5 a month for Orange insurance and I certainly was NOT going to go back to the manufacturer (who would promptly send me back to Orange of course as the supplier – HTC will NOT deal with branded phones or update them).  This is TYPICAL of Orange’s initial reactions to a call – not our problem, mate! It’s as if they deliberately put idiots as the front line of defence. But under UK law as I understand it, the product is under a year old and "not fit for purpose" therefore it is up to the seller to sort the problem out.  The lady I spoke to cleared off to find her supervisor.

I was then transferred to Stacey, who asked a simple set of questions… I have to say she did not give me any grief, replacement handset is on it’s way tomorrow morning – and that’s a Sunday… but it did cost me exactly £2 in phone charges (from a landline) to get to a solution! She even apologised for the first response I got. This again is fairly typical, after blowing customer confidence out of the water – they then eventually get it right.  Now if ONLY they’d trained the first operator a little better in the first place…  anyway, they promised early morning delivery (on Sunday no less) and sure enough, 3 minutes past 9 (and we live in the countryside) a replacement turned up and here I sit 20 minutes later with my brand new phone with working wifi.

Diamond HD -  still going strong: Meanwhile Maureen’s Diamond HD is operating perfectly and there can be no doubt – they’ve solved the battery problem – battery lasts for days. Now, WHY could they not do that on the Touch Diamond?

Update 16th January 2009

Ringer on the Diamond Touch not working: Living in an area where the phones don’t work I didn’t notice in all of this that although everything on the Touch worked a treat, the one thing I could not test, didn’t! Despite test rings working, keyboard sound working and the alarm working, when it came for someone to ring me up on the mobile – the ringer would not make a sound.  I have to hand it to Orange however, I rang  them up yesterday and this morning a brand new replacement phone turned up – no problem.  Of course I can’t test it until next time I’m on the road!

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