Archive for October, 2015 review

October 30, 2015 1 comment

2000px-Blue_vacuum_cleaner.svg[1]Having moved house recently, we decided to try, which a friend had tried and recommended.

For a start, the price was lower – $80 for our 2 bed/1 bath house, versus $105 for our regular cleaner previously. Through a friend referral, we both received a $40 discount on our next clean as well.

Having had three cleans with, the business model is coming through. It really is an Uber for cleaning, which has both good and bad aspects for the customer.

An Uber for Cleaners?

UberX draws on amateur drivers who would not otherwise have the means to get into running a taxi – as long as they’re ‘clean and keen’, and have a smartphone, they can sign up, get a police check, respond to a job, pick up a fare, and drive them to the destination. Easy!

The app, and company behind it, handles everything else – payment, licensing, scheduling, marketing, insurance (or not), tasking, customer support, and customer relationship. And though the modern culture of app-based services, they can do it far cheaper and easier than the old-school methods.

Also because it’s very ‘freelance’ with no guarantees, that’s the kind of person they attract – young, flexible, lower-income, with no demands, willing to take any good opportunity for an honest job. Students, immigrants, working holiday visa holders.

So it is with In return for the lower cost, you’re expected to provide the basics that the cleaner can’t carry on public transport – usually a mop and vacuum. And that is how they arrive, on public transport, with a rucksack of organic cleaning products.

This is all fine, of course. It’s actually very efficient – you have the vacuum and mop, so why have the cleaner lug around their own (a full-time cleaner will likely have favourite tools for the job, like we all do, of course)? Even public transport over their own van is environmentally friendly, although of course very time-inefficient – which they put up with, at first.

Too Good to be True?

However, it has some downsides. We had a really excellent cleaner the first time; she lived in Sydney and her husband lived in London. It’s hard to articulate this without coming across sexist, but I think because she had lived as a housewife and worked as a cleaner professionally before, she knew what a housewife’s standards would be, and did the job she would have wanted herself, which was excellent.

The second time, we had a different lady – she was actually an engineering student. I would assume she’d never maintained a house or had kids herself, and it showed – she didn’t mop the floor, didn’t thoroughly clean the chairs, and so on. Our feedback to was that she didn’t do a great job.

The third time, we had another student; she did a better job, between the first two. We did ask for the first lady again, but she declined as it was a long way to travel out of her other scheduled jobs.

And these are the problems with; it’ll be amateurish, and inconsistent. Most of the workforce are likely young students or temp workers. A professional cleaner will work hard to impress customers, so as to build their business with a client base they like, and maintain it, in locations that work well for their schedule.

So where do we go from here?

A flexible temporary worker will have other motivations in life – their degree, their travels. The cleaning is probably a gap filler, and as long as they do well enough to not be dropped by, they’ll not really be motivated to build a reliable client base, and then hold onto it.

Also, the flexibility works both ways. The fact is, the customer doesn’t want flexibility. They want the same person every week, to clean well in the same way, at the same time. Ideally, they want to trust that person enough to give them a key to the house.

The cleaners at likely do value the flexibility; they’ll come and go, depending on class, what else is on that day, whether they need the money. And the customer will get what they get.

Don’t get me wrong – all the cleaners so far have been very personable and friendly. I can picture the interview and induction process; assessing personality and enthusiasm, warning of no-nos like arriving late or accepting food/drink, advising to call ahead, communicating well.

But – at the base of this, is whether cleaning is a personal service. You likely have a favourite hairdresser; a favourite cafe, maybe a favourite barista; a favourite financial advisor; a favourite taxi/hire car driver, if you travel often. You build a trust with them, rely on them, you know them, and they know you.

But do you have a favourite Uber driver, or a favourite cleaner? The service model is very different, and so is the relationship. And can you rely on them as a result?

Time will tell.

Categories: Uncategorized

HP Slate 7 Beats Audio

October 26, 2015 Leave a comment

This came out around a year ago, and was fairly ordinary and typical of the HP excursions into other product categories like home tablets – it was not too fast, not too slow, midrange in every way, quite decently put together, look pretty OK, and for a good price.

So, all ok – but no wow. So why did I get this?

Well, firstly price. I got this in a stock clearance for $99. For any 7″ that’s not in a megacheap housing, that’s not bad at all. 

But, now I have it, as a family device I love it! It’s fast enough to launch Spotify in a few seconds, which is what it is used for 90% of the time. Its red case is easy to spot lying in a pile of stuff on the table. It’s easy enough to add stuff to the online shopping list.

And – it’s magnetic! So it lives on the fridge door – we put it on the hinge side so it doesn’t get shaken off when opened and closed – and that makes a huge difference for always being able to find it, never have it in the way, and have it conveniently accessible for just a few seconds to change track or add something to the list, without having to physically pick it up.
And if it falls off… Did I say it was $99?

If you can find one at that price, then why not? It won’t beat your $600 phablet, but for a home device, it won’t annoy you either.

Categories: Uncategorized

More Spideroak pain – replacing files with error messages

October 13, 2015 4 comments

Aside from the usability niggles, I did notice some more concerning behaviour that seems that it originated from Spideroak.

I opened a Powerpoint .PPTX file one day, to find that it reported the file as corrupt. Puzzled, I opened it in a text editor, and saw this:



I found another similar file – same issue. And another. And another. I backed up, and did a search for ‘Tiny’ files in Windows Explorer, and sorted by ascending size. These were all PDFs, PPTXs, and other files of at least a few hundred KB.


There were lots! In total, around 150 files had been overwritten with a server error message.

I noted this, and checked my Spideroak backup. i saw that all the files suddenly went from their original file size to 75 bytes (the error message) on the same day.


I wondered if perhaps the Spideroak sync service had suffered an outage on that day, and the sync client had erroneously synced the error message as the file! Or maybe the client couldn’t handle some local network issue, and caused that error. The fact it’s a classic server error made me think it was more likely to be the former.

OK, so, that established, I started restoring.

Crashplan is a beautiful tool here; you can specify the date and time of before whatever data loss you suffered, and it’ll let you restore whichever backup version it had saved of the affected files before then. So, I couldn’t quite drag-select and right-click the tiny files listed in WIndows explorer and restore them that way, but i could at least run through the list manually, checkboxing their counterparts in Crashplan, and on pressing ‘Go’ it would restore the relevant backup version, directly over the corrupt file on disk.

Spideroak is… not so elegant. Pretty bad, actually. On the plus side, you can right-click an original file and view in the Spideroak client, which shows the versions – so you can work directly off the ‘hit list’ of 75byte files, but only one at a time. On the downside, you can’t select ‘a point in time’ to restore from, as Crashplan can – you have to select the version of each file manually, and then restore it. Understandable for a file sync product with versioning, but not as good as a dedicated backup product.

But the worst is yet to come – although Crashplan lets you restore to the original folder, it does not overwrite the bad file! Instead, it places a copy of the restored file as a “….(1).” copy. So – after you’ve restored the 150… 250… 1000 – however many files you’ve corrupted, you then have to go through each folder manually deleting the corrupt file, and renaming the “(1)” copy to remove the “(1)”. And, of course, this is then seen as a new file by Spideroak, and uploaded to the cloud all over again!


Again, I can see this is a corner case. If the file was completely deleted, I can see that Spideroak wouldn’t place the (1) extension. But the fact they do, and Crashplan simply overwrite the file (as you asked it to do), is to highlight that they’re not a fully fledged backup product, despite claiming to be that too.

It’s a shame for me; I really liked the Spideroak concept, but now that i’m using the tool – it’s a little rough around the edges, not quite up to its peers. And the corrupted files is very concerning!

Categories: Uncategorized

Spideroak after Sugarsync… is disappointing

October 12, 2015 1 comment

Around four months ago, I moved from Sugarsync to Spideroak. I’d been using Sugarsync for over a year, and had been a keen advocate for the platform – indeed, I’d referred about 30 people to the service, and it had been my go-to cloud storage as that sector emerged, a few years ago.

However, although I loved the service and the app, one thing that concerned me was the security wasn’t up to my requirements – the fact that data might be encrypted using AWS standard techniques, but would still be accessible to any staff, any US federal agency that served a warrant (or didn’t) to the company, anyone who hacked my password (no 2FA), and anyone who found a vulnerability.

I wanted to store client data in the cloud, and feel some level of confidence that no-one else would be able to read or hack it, and if they did, then I had done everything I could have possibly done to protect it

So – I moved to Spideroak. Spideroak offer a similar service, but only you hold the keys to your data; no-one else can decrypt it. They also offered some convenient secure-sharing options that Sugarsync don’t, like password-protected ‘sharerooms’ where you can share a folder with a third party, and temporary download links you can send to share a file, but which expire after a few days. As a bonus, they offered massively more storage than Sugarsync, competing with Dropbox at the new standard of 1TB for $10/month.

The trouble with Spideroak is… everything else. The service is way clunkier for a number of reasons:

  • No mobile upload. With sugarsync, when reading documents or attachments in my email, I could file them away on my disk, there and then, by sending them to sugarsync and choosing the folder. Done! Finished! With Spideroak, the mobile client has no ability to upload! I’m back to flagging and emailing files to myself, to store away later when I’m back at my PC
  • Lack of mobile search. You can’t search for a file in the mobile client, unlike Sugarsync filename search, or full google-style search in Dropbox. While this is to be expected – you can’t index server-side when data is encrypted – there are acceptable partial solutions; such as storing a filename index on the mobile device, just to quickly jump to a file by typing its name.
  • Lack of mobile caching. If you access a file from your mobile device – and it is quite slow at doing this, sometimes unusably so – you’d expect it to cache recent files so that if you open then a second time, they’re just there, right?  Well – no. You have to download the file all over again, each time. The workaround is to ‘favourite’ the file first, so it’s downloaded and cached locally.
  • No collaboration. You can’t sync a folder with a colleague/friend. This is a fundamental capability of Dropbox, Sugarsync, Box, and almost every other service, but Spideroak’s security model seems to prevent this. I have a folder of all household documents shared with my wife’s laptop, and in the end, I simply logged her desktop sync client into my account.
    Yes, there are sharerooms, but they work with you as the master folder owner and others signing in on the web client; there’s no desktop sync
  • Slow, unpredictable sync. Spideroak uploads in groups of files that total a certain chunk size, which is interesting; they do explain this on their blog. What is more interesting, are the long periods where I see zero upload bandwidth on my bandwidth monitor, while the Spideroak client seems stuck at nn% of the upload. Why? Why isn’t it uploading?
  • Inability to prioritise/cancel uploads. Sit and wait is your only option
  • Unable to handle PST files. Outlook PST files are a pain, since they appear to break the Windows Volume Shadow Copy Service model that most backup/cloud storage apps use. Even Crashplan has issues with this. They all backup the whole file each time, even though not a single email has been added to the PST.
    With Spideroak, it means every time it checks for new files, it queues my five PST files totalling 10GB, and starts to upload them all over again from scratch! I get the impression other services do manage to do a diff and upload only the changed blocks – Crashplan ‘uploads’ (or block diff/syncs) in a few minutes, and Sugarsync never complained – but Spideroak tries to upload the entire 10GB each time. I have to remove those from the backup list
  • Slow to generate sharing links, unusable for new files. Spideroak has plenty of options to right-click a file and generate a 72-hour unique link to a file. But it’ll take 30-60 seconds to do it… you wait patiently for 20 seconds while the client struggles open (I have a mobile i7 laptop with 16GB RAM), then it tries to create the link, and then…. usually, nothing. Nothing, because for all the reasons above, I have a 30GB upload backlog, and the file I want to share probably isn’t synced. Particularly for new files you’ve just created, they’re added to the upload queue with no prioritisation possible (and will be grouped with other files and slowly uploaded in a batch), so it’s entirely useless for quickly uploading new files. I always end up using Dropbox.
  • Mystery downloads. I use Spideroak to sync my main content-creation laptop to a rarely-used convertible laptop and occasional access from my iPad. Nothing is created on these. So why do I see my bandwidth monitoring showing a download at 15Mbps, which TCPView identifies as going to the Spideroak service. What is it downloading? I guess it could be a program update, but I’ve not noticed any updates in the app, and it happens too often for my liking.

In comparison to Sugarsync, Spideroak feels generally more clunky all over – the app, the desktop client, the web service. You can expect much of this given the additional effort of encryption and key management across all this, but there are also many unexpected/uncontrollable behaviours that cause concern.

Sugarsync recently submitted a poll for new features, and client encryption was one of them. I suspect that it won’t make it – although privacy is gaining pace worldwide – and they will be faced with many of the performance/accessibility trade-offs that client encryption present. But if they do implement this, and get it right, I would happily jump back to their service, even for the much smaller storage allowances.

RJays Motorcycle Cover Update

October 11, 2015 Leave a comment

With RJays’ being an Australian brand, you’d expect their outdoor heavy duty cover to be well suited to the Australian weather.

Well; not so:

This is their XLarge cover after a year in the Australian climate – and this is Sydney, not northern Queensland. The seams are yellowed, cracked and falling apart, the material is fading and drying, and the liner is wearing where the cover has split open.

To compare sun vs shade, have a look at the shady side, with the much darker original colour.

Interestingly – this is the third cover from them. The second, I bought two years earlier, and it suffered a similar fate, so I sent it back as not fit for purpose for a refund. The first, that I inherited when I bought the bike, also went the same way.

I’ve looked at RJays’ website for care instructions… Do I wax-spray it, moisturise it – buy another cover for the cover?? Alas, it’s quite sparse, and the distributor also seemed surprised that the cover aged so quickly.

I don’t think there’ll be a fourth time for me.