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Chasing unicorns (or transcription software!)

Occasionally one gets off on the wrong foot and no matter how obvious this becomes you doggedly persevere.

In this case I was investigating transcription software, my aim to be able to obtain text transcripts of French audio or video files to help prepare material for my U3A French groups. By transcription, I mean automatic text generation. After a bit of research I downloaded a trial copy of Ingscribe, which at $99 isn't cheap. I duly loaded an mp3 audio file and waited to see the results. There weren't any !

So for the next couple of hours or so I kept re-reading the instructions, but to no avail. I obtained the 14 day free licence in case the basic free edition was the problem but that made no difference. In desperation I then tried Express Scribe, but with much the same lack of results. I even tried to uninstall Soundflower in case this was creating a conflict, but found that not to be as easy as it sounds (excuse pun) despite running the uninstall script.

Then it dawned on me, perhaps the two applications weren't supposed to produce an automatic transcript but were simply aids to manual transcription. The option of a foot pedal control to stop and start the playback should have alerted me, but tunnel vision prevailed. These apps are obviously aimed at manually capturing the transcript and their power then lies in using that transcript to professionally enhance videos etc.

So a few hours wasted and a bit more knowledge gained, but I'm still no nearer finding an automatic transcribing app, which in this day and age I find astonishing. It appears that pay-by-content services have cornered the market but these can be expensive.

After Mojave I've given my site a dark theme

Among the new features that come with Mojave, the dark theme has perhaps been the most publicised. For years I avoided 'dark' layouts, preferring a clean white-space look. But fashions change.

The new theme compliments the original monochrome banner image and I must say that I'm quite pleased with the result. In particular, the photographs in the galleries seem to stand out more. I needed to modify some of the miscellaneous images that originally had white backgrounds. I also wanted to keep the little fisherman gif on the fishing diary page, it having been a feature from the earliest days of my site. Changing the background involved splitting the four separate images, editing them in Photoshop Elements, and then reassembling them as a new animated gif. All quite fiddly but the Picasion (http://picasion.com) site was a great help in achieving this.

I also had to rearrange this Blog and the Film Search page as the original layouts didn't work well with the new theme.


Upgraded to Mojave - almost painless

Having been nagged for months with notifications to upgrade to Mojave I finally took the plunge. It wasn't really a plunge, as I considered with release 10.14.3 most of the initial problems would have been ironed out. Also, I spent quite a lot of time preparing to migrate.

I reviewed all 32 bit apps on my iMac and cleared out some little-used stuff, while transferring some other apps that I use occasionally to my 2009 MacBook Pro running El Capitan. I checked all the remaining apps for updates. I cleaned out a lot of files using Disk Doctor Pro, finding in the process a cache of over 8GB associated with my Tom Tom Connect app. Finally I did a First Aid scan with Disk Utility.

The install went without a hitch. I selected dark mode but while it looked great on my 4k iMac screen, it wasn't very good on my now ageing Apple Cinema second screen. So I reverted to light mode. I had to give my Avira Anti-Virus access to the computer, the Avira app prompting this after the upgrade and guiding me through it. Some other apps needed permission to access files, which was simply a matter of agreeing when the pop-up message appeared.



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The trials and tribulations of self-publishing

Kindle Direct Publishing - the paperback story

I have written a book. It took me a while, and over the past few weeks I have been negotiating Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing system to get my book to market. Amazon seemed the best place to go, given its reach in the marketplace and the maturity of the publishing framework. There is copious advice on all stages of the process, which in the case of a printed book requires a properly configured Word or PDF file. You also need a cover and back cover, for which you can choose from templates or design your own. I did the latter, using an outline template to ensure correct positioning of all the elements. Fiddly but achievable in my Photoshop Elements application.


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High Sierra clean install - a bit of a problem!

I wanted to pass on an iMac to my daughter and decided to perform a clean install of High Sierra. The iMac was running Sierra so I first updated it to High Sierra. I was under the impression that a restore copy of this would at the same time be saved to the hard disk, from which I could reinstall after reformatting the main disc partition. But after I had erased the disk, when I tried to reinstall from the recovery option I received the message that the recovery server could not be contacted.

Some online research suggested that I needed to open Terminal and reset the date, which if incorrect can apparently result in a loss of synchronism with the Apple servers. Unfortunately in previously exploring one of the menu options I had seemingly exited Utilities. I did a Cmd-R restart, expecting to reboot into Utilities, but instead a small spinning globe symbol appeared in the centre of the screen with the option to select a WiFi connection and recover over the internet. This done, a download bar gradually progressed and in time I was presented with the install screen for Mavericks, the OS that was on the iMac when we got it.

At least I had the option to install something. Once Mavericks was up and running I once again updated to High Sierra, but the whole thing took a lot longer than I had expected. And I was a bit disappointed that despite following Apple's guidelines I had ended up with the server error. Installing High Sierra twice certainly was an unwelcome frustration.

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 office.com/setup. 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.

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.


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Rapidweaver - adding 'Read more' to text content

I use Rapidweaver for my own personal website and a few others that I manage. On my personal site some of the pages were text heavy and I thought that a 'Read more' feature would make them less off-putting. The trend seems to be to have minimalist content because web surfers are notorious for rejecting anything that looks like it will need time to digest. I think they're called the 'Now Generation'.

There are many third party developers that produce add-ons for Rapidweaver that allow a host of additional features without the need to code or have any detailed technical knowledge. So I thought it would be easy to find what I wanted. However, I was perhaps guilty of not doing my research deeply enough, as I had two false starts before getting what I wanted.

My first port of call was DooBox where I found Trunk8 (truncate - get it?), a 'stack' (an add-on) that limited the number of lines shown on screen with a 'Read more' link to see more. This seemed to fit the bill, but I should have been a bit more circumspect as the demo of the add-on showed how it can keep multiple columns the same length by fixing the number of lines displayed.


Trunk8

I bought the stack and tried it out, only to find that if I had any layout in the text, such as paragraph returns, these were completely ignored. So when applied to a page of text the resulting display showed it all concatenated. This wasn't what I wanted. A posting on DooBox's Slack forum elicited no response from the company, so I guess it does what it does and so tough! The £8.99 I paid is probably not wasted as I may one day want to do what the stack is designed for, but not today.


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