Read-testing a drive with 7-Zip hash check

June 11, 2017 Leave a comment

I recently needed to test that all files on a backup drive were readable. The question was, what was the fastest way that I could do an ad-hoc check on those files?

It turns out, that 7-Zip (which I had installed already) comes with a context menu option in Explorer for generating a hash check on a file. Although it’s intended for comparing file integrity, this involves reading the entire file in order to generate the hash, so it does the job.

To use, simply Shift-Select all files on the drive, and generate a hash. I wasn’t sure about CRC, so I selected SHA-1.

As it turned out, it was pretty quick. It took a while to warm up, but eventually both Windows Task Manager and the WinZip dialogue said they were reading at 100MB/s. Since my Western Digital 4TB USB3 drive shows public benchmarks at 114MB/s sustained for sequential read, and the file-based hash has no guarantee on file size or sequentiality, I was very happy with that speed.

 

Of course, generating the hash is CPU-intensive, and my Mac Pro was using 30% CPU in the Win10 VM, but since it seemed to be ripping through the drive as fast as possible anyway, I didn’t mind.

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive test – it only tests files, not the whole disk, and if the sectors are dodgy but the drive manages to read the file anyway, then you’ll be unaware of that problem. But this was only intended to check that I should be able to read that backup drive in the offchance my VM migration fails, and I also had a cloud backup (albeit much more work to retrieve) so it was low risk.

 

Categories: Uncategorized

An excellent bluetooth speakerphone – the Bose Mini Soundlink 2

April 24, 2017 Leave a comment

So a few weeks ago, I was on the train into London heading to a critical workshop with a big customer. We had hired a hotel meeting room, we had the SVP in the room with his team, and other stakeholders from around the world dialling in to the webex. I’d spent the week preparing, when I got a text:

“Have you got a speakerphone? The meeting room doesn’t have one.”

Ouch.

So – turn to Dr Google. A few checks of “the best bluetooth speakerphone”, and by the time it was my stop, I had a shortlist. I walked to the meeting via a department store, where I picked up a Bose Mini Soundlink 2.

image.png

So – we road-tested it in the critical meeting, in front of the customer, and it did fantastically! We’ve since used it for an internal zoom call in our own office, and again, it’s brilliant. The sound quality and presence is excellent, as you’d expect, but more importantly, the microphone appears excellent. It had no problem picking up a heavily accented analyst from 8m/24ft away in that hotel boardroom and everyone on the call heard them without an issue, where even most dedicated speakerphones would have struggled to pick up the voice.

Of course – if you were looking for a mobile bluetooth speakerphone, you’d probably look for something from Plantronics, Logitech, Belkin, or similar – either a business electronics manufacturer, or maybe some cheaper PC or eBay vendor. But this is an un-obvious, yet logical choice; this device has a mic in it, this is one of its functions, and, as you’d expect from Bose, it’s excellent. So why not?

In summary:

  • It’s available on Amazon, in any department store or airport, and reasonably priced at GBP140 (discounted now that the model III has been released)
  • The sound quality and mic pickup “just work”, are of immaculate quality, and are hassle-free, even in a decent-size room
  • It’s small and portable, although weighty
  • It has an excellent battery life
  • Charges off standard microUSB (it sits on a light, thin charging dock you might take with you)
  • Worked fine over bluetooth with my Macbook Pro 15″ and Zoom
  • Turning up with a Bose product in a customer meeting isn’t going to hurt at all
  • Also pretty good for music in the hotel room (smile)

If you’re often hitting issues with crowding around a laptop on a concall, your iPhone on speaker, or even worse, a customer’s poor-quality speakerphone that mystifies anyone as to why it wasn’t thrown out long ago, then I would recommend adding one of these to your road warrior’s toolkit!

Categories: Uncategorized

Impossible to recover a discontinued iOS app

March 25, 2017 Leave a comment

You may have seen me enthusing previously about “Clips” by Fly Labs, a simple and fluid video editing app which was perfection itself. I wasn’t the only one who thought so, as Google aquihired the company, and shut down the app, removing it from the App Store. 

I had it on my phone, so was happy… and then my phone had serious corruption issues, and hence I was forced to restore it from backup… only to find the app was gone.

So – how do you restore a discontinued app you once had?

You can’t. At all. There are many suggestions on the web, but they relate to older versions of iOS and iTunes. As of last year, every avenue of doing so has been  shut down by Apple:

  • You can’t download the app from the App Store if it’s no longer there. Even if you previously owned it
  • If you backed up your phone to iCloud, you also won’t get the app back. iCloud only backs up your data, and then instructs your phone to restore the apps from… the App Store.
  • If you have another device with the app (such as a family member’s phone), you’re not getting it from them either, even if you share an Apple ID. Apple has removed iOS functionality that once allowed you to copy purchased apps from your phone to iTunes as a .IPA file
  • If you backed up your phone to iTunes in its entirety…. you MIGHT find the app restored. This is something I’ve yet to try

So – for those apps you haven’t yet backed up, it’s too late. Here’s what to do for those you can still download, in case they’re discontinued in the future:

  • In Mac/Windows iTunes, show your purchased apps in the App Store, and click to download them to your PC: that’s still possible. They’ll be downloaded to your iTunes music/data directory
  • Back them up, for good. I use CrashPlan cloud, since it allows me to back up an entire history of my files for as far back as I’ve been using it, with no risk of deleting older backups.

I am naturally going to complain like hell to Apple, and they are naturally going to do nothing about it.

Categories: Uncategorized

Certify Expenses Review – driving me nuts

February 11, 2017 1 comment

I’ve just googled Certify reviews, to see if I’m the only one finding this a nightmare… and it seems like I am!

I’m not sure why; maybe the reviewers have been using paper-based systems until now? My personal use of expenses has been most recently with Expensify, our corporate SAP-based system, and before that, Excel sheets. And Certify is just a huge blocker to my productivity.

Let’s look at some gripes:

  • It doesn’t work offline: although there’s this concept of ‘wallet’ which is local to the phone, you can’t open the app without network connectivity, as the first screen is a login screen.
  • You have to log in every time you open the app, although it saves your password. WHY? WHAT APP EVER DOES THIS, EVER?! Surely much of the utility of using a phone-based app is that you authenticate partly by the fact you have the phone, which is something you have, often behind a lockscreen, something you are/know. Thus, the app itself has a session cookie which keeps you logged in.
  • You can’t edit expense data on the web app. Believe me, I’ve tried. Is it hidden?
  • They don’t auto-populate emailed receipts – the OCR app is embedded in the phone, so anything that doesn’t come through the phone camera has to be edited manually… BUT you can only do that in the phone, after syncing the receipts on their servers back into your phone by explicitly pressing the “Sync” button in the phone app.
    • Still with me? Good!
  • The OCR of photographed receipts is flaky – they seem to find an amount, but rarely anything else. Expensify seemed to use “mechanical turks” (ie. people doing manual data entry in a low-wage country), which is, well, far more accurate!
  • Adding a receipt is a simple 16-click process:
    • Open the app
    • Log in
    • Press “Add Receipt”
    • Select your resolution (WTF?! Shouldn’t they know?)
    • Snap the photo
    • Click “Use Photo”
    • Press “Autofill”
    • (These steps may vary according to your company category selection):
      • Select your Department
      • Select your Category
      • Confirm the amount OCR’d was correct
      • Type Vendor (it has autocomplete once you start typing)
      • Type Location (same)
      • Type Reason
      • Select Reimburseable/Billable if appropriate
    • Save
    • Hit Sync again to sync (only needed when reporting)
  • Compare this to a force-press on the Expensify app, and simply snapping the receipt, to cover steps 1-7

 

Seriously! Why?!?!? Surely any UI/UX designer on the team, or even a developer, would see this app has a horrible experience against so many other apps, even outside the realm of expenses software.

On the upside, I suspect possible the business back-office processes and dashboards are great, beacuse they often are on an app that is this user-unfriendly.

 

And yes; I’m a company employee, writing this blog post about software that’s supposed to make my life easier and make me more productive on my primary role. Because it just so doesn’t!

 

Categories: Uncategorized

CarHireExcess.com review

January 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Last month, we came back to the UK after some time abroad.

Since we were moving back before Christmas, and there was going to be chaos for a while, I rented a car from Heathrow for a couple of weeks. Through the various discount voucher companies, I found a no-brainer of a deal: GBP160 for 9 days for a Golf Estate (we had a family of 4 with luggage), brokered by AutoEurope, with the rental from GreenMotion. The excess was not quite as stupid as it can be – GBP1500 – but it was the usual case of knowing that if you put a foot wrong at any point, the bargain would turn out to be a horrendous money pit! That’s likely how they make their profit.

Now – I ‘wised up’ to these deals a long time ago, so I had an annual carhireexcess.com policy, and then always turned down every offer of insurance. The policy seems pretty straightforward and not too onerous, and I was nervous of the catch that had to be there, but I kept it and used it.

So – when I reversed the high-spec Volvo C70 (we upgraded for GPB25) into a bollard, my heart sank! Definitely my fault, and no way to hide it. I was returning the car to GreenMotion that day, so I took refuge in my excess insurance policy, and paid out the GBP939 for the damage to the bumper and panel on my card.

A few days later, when the statement was on my credit card, I phoned carhireexcess, got put through to their insurance company OSG, and got sent a form. Completed form, drivers’ licence, documents from Green Motion, card statement, all got scanned and emailed off, and I hoped.

And… to my surprise, a few days later, without a single further question or attempt to wriggle out of it, I received a short email: “We’ll reimburse you in full”. Another few days later, I received a cheque (cheque!!?). I paid that in, and this morning, it cleared. Paid in full!

So – to my surprise and happiness, this is a positive review for what was a no-nonsense policy and process. I’ll have to wait and see whether my premiums go up elsewhere, or whether they insure me again, but for the moment, I’m pleasantly surprised, and will use them again.

 

Categories: Random

Certify Expenses iOS app review

January 6, 2017 Leave a comment


I used Expensify at my old company before changing job and being given Certify at my new.
Certify’s app is horrible. If you value your employees, or at least value their opinion, don’t use it.

Expensify is a native app that works offline, syncs intelligently, and offers automatic receipt transcription.

Certify just fills me with hate. It looks and feels like a web app packaged as an application. For example – it appears to offer caching receipt photos locally with a sync to the server, so that must mean it works offline, right? No. You are required to log in EVERY TIME you open the app, although it does auto-enter your password, and if you aren’t online – you can’t log on.


It does dynamically change fields based on the type of expense; good for all sorts of back end statistics, I’m sure, but bad for actually entering them.

I’m serious: the ability to simply snap a photo as you get out of the cab / step away from the counter, makes expenses truly frictionless, and removes an annoying admin burden from people who want to do their job. But that’s Expensify, or other similar products – it’s definitely not Certify.

Categories: Uncategorized

Amazon Echo can’t discover Hive Home devices

January 1, 2017 Leave a comment

I’m having a really annoying problem with Amazon Echo.

I’ve just bought some Hive Home smart devices, including Thermostat, Hub, and light bulbs, but for some reason I can’t get the Echo to discover them.

A fair amount of googling has shown that no-one else seems to have this problem. The problem appears to stem from some issue with the Hive skill itself. When I search for it in the Amazon store, it doesn’t come up, although it should definitely be there.

Stranger still, if I search for “Hive” as a skill, Amazon reports three hits, but only shows one – a bee quiz game. While the Hivehome skills must be there, they are for some reason hidden.

 

I phoned Amazon and they gave me a URL that takes me directly to the skill. However, when I enable it, although it shows as enabled, it is not listed under my list of available skills in the Alexa app

So – it seems the skill is there, but it’s hidden from me. It feels like a country restriction, but I have my account, and Echo, set to English (UK), and Hive is primarily a UK product.

Hive is also a ‘strange’ skill – it’s a Smarthome skill, but not in the Smarthome skill list. It’s treated as a standard skill, but it isn’t one. I’m not sure if this contributes too. I’ve tried using Discover Devices under Smarthome, which is the recommended way of discovering Hive devices, but nothing shows up. This is also if putting the Hive Hub in discover mode (turning off and on again!).

I’ve spoken to Amazon, and have also created a new account from scratch, but the problem remains. Other skills seem to work fine!

I’ve emailed Amazon, and will see if they come up with any other suggestions.

Categories: Uncategorized