Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to Adjust the timing on a Subtitle SRT file using Subtitle Workshop 4

In a previous post, I discussed ways to find subtitles to add to your AVI movies and I also looked at using Google Translate to modify them if they weren't in English (or your chosen language).

Note: All of the software mentioned here is free.

See: Finding and Adjusting Subtitles on AVI Files.

In this post I want to look at how to change the timing on subtitles.

Why would you need to do this?
Movies have different frame rates depending upon the country that they are shown in and the system they are shown on.  Common frame rates are 23, 25 and 29 frames per second.  You'd be surprised how quickly subtitles can get out of whack if they're designed for the wrong frame rate.

Find the Start and End of the Dialogue.
Open your movie in a player, like the excellent VideoLAN (VLC Media Player) and locate the first and last sentences in the movie.  You'll find the time in the bottom right hand corner of the player - make a note of it.

Adjusting the Subtitle File
Open the Subtitle File in Subtitle Workshop 4 and check the first and last line in the file. They should be the same lines as in the movie. Sometimes the author of the subtitle will put their name in the file as the first or last entry - if this is the case, you'll have to remove those lines or they'll upset the timing.

  1. From the menu, choose Edit, Select all (or Ctrl + A)
  2. the Edit, Timings, Adjust Subtitles (Ctrl + B)
  3. You'll be presented with a dialog box.
  4. Choose the simple tab and adjust the timings on the first and last line to what you wrote down earlier.
  5. Click the button marked Adjust.

That's it.  It's that easy.
Just save your subtitle file (Ctrl + S) and then exit subtitle workshop.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Notes and Domino 8.5.3 are out...

The Server
I've upgraded our test server from 8.5.2 to 8.5.3 and it took slightly under 5 minutes. Now that's what I call a good server upgrade (are you listening Microsoft???)

Anyway, so far, so good, everything seems to be working but then I haven't done a whole lot of testing yet.

The Client
My client took 21 minutes to upgrade from 8.5.2 to 8.5.3, which felt like a long time. It also came back a little weird and some views didn't populate immediately. Refreshing them made a big difference.

Again, so far, so good (mostly).

Unfortunately I lost the ability to click on a URL and have it launch my default browser (Chrome). Instead, it pops up Notepad (weird!!) and a bizarre little message.

The filename, directory name or volume label syntax is incorrect.

I'm on a 64 bit Windows 7 Professional PC and Chrome is located in;

"C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe"

I've already checked my HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\http\shell\open\command key in the registry and it says;

"C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe" "%1"

The related keys look fine too.

If I switch to the browser embedded in the Notes client, it works, but then when I switch back to my Operating System's default browser, it opens Notepad.

I decided to make Firefox, then Safari my default browsers and they worked properly, then when I made Chrome the default again, somehow the problem got fixed.

It's a trap to look out for.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Finding and Adjusting Subtitles on AVI files

If you enjoy watching foreign films or if you're hard of hearing like me, then subtitles are a must in your movie collection. In my last post, I covered how to convert movies from DVD to AVI for playing on a portable player. In this post, I'll be discussing subtitles.

There are two types of subtitles, burned in and selectable. Obviously the selectable type is best because you can turn them on and off and you can obtain different languages too. Within the selectable type, there are a few formats with the most common being sub/idx files, txt files and my personal favourite, SRT files.

In order to get your subtitles to play in players like VLC VideoLAN and on player boxes like the WD TV box, you'll usually need to put the subtitles in the same folder as the AVI and name them the same. So if you movie is called "Return of the Scary Kittens.avi" then your subtitle should be called "Return of the Scary". Some players allow you to have multiple subtitle streams by including language codes near the end of the file name (eg: "Return of the Scary Kittens.eng.avi") but if you only have one, it's best to name it the same.

Finding Existing Subtitle Streams online
Why build something that already exists right? You can search for your subtitles online. First though, you need to find out the frame rate of your movie. Right-mouse click on your avi file and choose properties. Click on the Summary Tab and look at the frame rate, it will usually be 23, 25 or 29 frames per second.

Next; try a search on Podnapsi ( to see if there are any subtitles in your chosen language. If you get a few results, pay careful attention to;
(a) The number of frames per second and
(b) the number of people who have downloaded it. (the more the better).

If possible, simply download your SRT file, rename it carefully and put it in the same folder as the AVI.

If you can't find the subtitles on Podnapsi, do a wider google search for; SRT ENG "My Movie Name". This is often also quite successful.

Extracting Subtitles from a DVD
Assuming that you've already ripped your VOB file (as described in the AVI conversion procedure), you can rip the subtitle from the VOB. The freeware you need to download is subrip (from: There's no install for this software, simply download and extract it. You can then open a VOB file and you'll be prompted to answer some questions. Since subtitles are OCRed, you'll have to provide a sample of each of the common letters.

If you make a silly mistake like I did, it will make a mess. I said that open bracket "(" was "( BIRDS CHIRPING )" not realizing that I was being prompted only for a single character. Don't worry, you can always open the SRT file in a text file later and do a search and replace.

The Foreign Option
If you really can't find any subtitles in your language, try a language that is close (for example, French is reasonably close to English) and download the subtitle file. Next, go to Google Translator toolkit ( and upload your file. It only takes a few mouse clicks to convert the entire file to your language and download it.

Sure, conversations they sound like yoda sometimes - but they're better than nothing.

Resychning Subtitles
The final thing that you may find yourself needing to do is to resynch subtitles. You need to do this when the subtitles occur too soon before (or too late after) the actual spoken parts of the movie. If this happens to you, play the movie carefully in VLC and make a careful note of the time count when the speaking commences.

Next, close the AVI file and open the SRT file in the freeware Subtitle Workshop ( Highlight all of the subtitles but scroll to makes sure that you can see the particular line of dialog you mentioned earlier. With all entries highlighted, press Ctrl+Shift+N to shift the time backwards and Ctrl+Shift+H to shift forwards.

When you think it's done, click save and retest the subtitles.

That's it, now you can have subtitles for your movie even if the ones on the original DVD weren't in your chosen language or were not properly synchronised. I will quite often add subitltes for movies in the AVI stage when manufacturers don't bother to make them available on the purchased item.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Converting DVDs to Good Quality AVI Files - Part 2 (The Procedure)

Forget the why and wherefores of what we're doing - That's part one which you can read here.

Lets get started;

  • A computer with a large hard drive 20GB Free? Pentium 4 3GHz or Faster and a DVD drive
  • A copy of DVD Decrypter - it's free
  • A copy of AutoGK - it's free

DVD Decrypter
This software allows you to copy the files from a DVD to your hard drive. The project was shut down some years back but it's still possible to get hold of it on the internet.

An alternative to this is DVD Fab. There's a free version and a commercial version. The difference between the two is that the commercial version handles more DVD protection schemes.

AutoGK is short for Auto Gordian Knot which describes a knot so difficult to untie that it was cut instead. It's quite apt considering the purpose of this tool.

It's not a single piece of software but rather installs several pieces tied together by a single front-end. As a result, the setup program will spawn other setup programs. Watch them carefully because otherwise windows will get popped over and you'll think the install has frozen when it's really just waiting for input. All of the pieces of software in AutoGK are well worth having.

PART 1: Getting the files onto your PC using DVD Decrypter
  1. Put the DVD in your computer's DVD drive

  2. Start DVD Decrypter - it should detect the disc

  3. It might also prompt for the region code (if it finds RCE protection)

  4. Look at the list of files - they're named confusingly but the first number is the "title" and the second is the part.
    VTS_01_3.VOB means
    Part 3 of the first title.

    VOB files are video
    IFO files contain informtation about the VOB files.
    I don't know that BUP files are.

  5. You can either manually select all of the series of the largest files or you can click View, Select Main Movie Files plus IFO files.

  6. Next, Click on Tools, then Settings.

  7. Click the tab marked File Mode and in the options section make sure that File Splitting says NONE.

  8. Then Click on IFO Mode and again, in the options section make sure that File Splitting says NONE.

  9. Choose a location to save in.

  10. Then click the DVD to file Icon to start the decryption.

  11. It will take a while, so go find something to do for 15-30 minutes.

PART 2: Converting the VOB to an AVI
  1. Start AutoGK

  2. Click on the little folder icon marked Input file and browse to the folder where you saved the output of DVD Decrypter.

  3. If everything went well, you should have a single VOB file and a bunch of IFO files. Only one IFO file will match the VOB's name.

  4. Open this in AutoGK.

  5. It should read in the VOB and display soundtracks and subtitles.

  6. Click on the little folder icon marked output file and chose a location and name for your output.

  7. Have a look at the audio and subtitle options. You'll want to pick one audio track - usually the top one. It might not matter so much about subtitles unless the movie is in a foreign language. If, like me, you prefer to have a subtitle track, you enable it here but it will be "burned in" to the movie. It's often easier to download a subtitle track in SRT format from Podnapsi later.

  8. Next you'll want to select a file size.

  9. If you movie is about 90-100 minutes, you should be ok with 700MB but if you movie contains a lot of action scenes (or is long) consider increasing the size to 1400MB. You'll end up with much better quality.

  10. Next, click advanced settings and make sure that the resolution is set to Auto Width and the Audio is set to Auto. Note: If you were making a copy for a portable device like a phone with low resolution, these are the settings you might change.

  11. Choose an Video codec. XviD is recommended though DivX works well too.

  12. Leave the subtitles options unchecked and click ok.

  13. Finally, click Add Job and then click Start.

  14. You might think that nothing is happening but it will actually be working. It shells out to a DOS/Command line app for a lot of the work.

  15. Depending on your computer, the settings you chose and the movie you are converting, it could take 3 hours but at the end you'll have a good quality AVI file.
If you right-click on that file and choose properties you'll be able to find the frames per sec. Use that number to find a matching subtitle file on Podnapsi.

Note that if you can't figure out which track is which, you might want to try playing the VOB file directly in VLC Media Player. You can switch audio tracks in there and figure out which one you'd prefer.

Easier Instructions
Of course, I didn't figure all of this out myself and if you'd prefer video instructions, you might want to check out my inspiration on You Tube.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Converting DVDs to Good Quality AVI Files - Part 1 (The Waffle)

I'm very much a believer in the idea that "files" will be the next big format for video entertainment after DVDs. I guessed right from the start that blu-ray would win the format war against HD-DVD but I never thought that either would take over.

About 15 years ago, after having ridden the music upgrade from LP Records to tapes and to CD, I stumbled across this "new" format called MP3. Back then, there were no MP3 players, just computers but I was enthralled by the idea that with enough storage, I could save my music collection in a way that meant that I could play them without ever having to get a CD out of the cupboard again.

I emarked on a quest to convert my entire library of Music CDs to MP3. People thought I was weird but a few years later as MP3 players became more readily available, I reaped the rewards. I didn't have to convert anything - it was already done.

I see video entertainment as following the same path. As with my early MP3 conversions, the problems were two-fold.
1. Finding a reliable converter/process
2. Storage

Recently, I bought a Western Digital WDTV box (mainly so that I didn't have to burn Doctor Who episodes to DVD when downloading them from the UK). Copyright people; don't give me those accusatory stares - I buy the DVDs when they become available. It's just that the net has a bad habit of "spoiling" the twists when I wait for Australia to screen them - yes, even when it's only one week later.

Of course, I don't want to stop there. It's my ambition to convert my sizable DVD collection to files for discless viewing - and perhaps I'll throw in a few fixes along the way.

Fixes? you say? Huh..?

As a partially (mostly) deaf person, I find that I really need subtitles with my movies - and I'm really annoyed when they aren't provided. Recently I bought Mozart and the Whale. Unfortunately the Australian distributor of this film doesn't care about subtitles. I ripped it to AVI format and then I went looking on for a subtitle file (SRT format). I managed to get one and now when I play the file in VLC Media Player - or on my WDTV player it works!

The final question is one of quality. We can get close to movie quality in AVI format (with a big enough file - 800MB for a movie) but sound is a problem. It's MP3 format. I used to care a lot about surround sound but since I'm deaf, it really doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me. Still, sound and quality are important considerations. For now, the AVI format will do but I'm on the lookout for something better.

When a royalty-free file format capable of holding, video, 3d video, multiple angles, multiple subtitles, various soundtracks, chapters and display covers appears, I'll jump there pretty quick.

Next time; Enough of the Waffle - Next time I'll explain how to rip a DVD to a good quality AVI file using free tools.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Scheduling Maintenance Tasks on the Domino Server

I'm sure that most Domino admins have been doing these tasks regularly but if you don't have occasion to touch them often, you might this post useful.

As I mentioned last week, we've been having issues with the JVE running out of memory on our server. One of the "solutions" (band-aids) was to restart the domino HTTP task. I've been experimenting to see how long I can leave it and the shortest it's been is about 30 hours.

It seemed to be a good idea to stop and then restart the domino HTTP service on a timer. In admin-talk, that means a program document.

The steps I'm using here are for Domino 8.5.2 but I don't think they've changed in years.

1. Start Domino Administrator
2. Click on the tab marked Configuration
3. In the left hand navigator,click on Server (and expand it)
4. In the left hand navigator,click on Programs

This will take you to a screen where you can expand your servers and see what other regular tasks are scheduled. If you've inherited a domino admin job, this is one of those important things to check out.

Typical things to find in here include;
Note that the case on the parameters is very important.

There's a good list of the parameters here.

Interestingly, today I stumbled across an old technote from IBM suggesting that these tasks shouldn't be programmed. I'd be interested to hear comments from other people as to whether or not they do them on their servers.

Anyway, enough with the side-notes, we're adding our own tasks.

5. Click on the big button marked Add Program

This takes you to a new screen (a new notes document).

6. Fill in the program name, command line and server to run on.

a. The program name will usually be NSERVER (for Windows Servers) or - apparently - SERVER for iSeries. If you were doing the other tasks mentioned earlier (UPDALL, FIXUP or COMPACT), then the program name would be one of them. I looked for a document which listed the Possible Program names but couldn't find one. (IBM... this should be a picklist).

b. The Command line will change but if you want to run a domino command line, you usually start with -c and put the rest in inverted commas.

I created one document for each of these two and scheduled them 15 minutes apart - with the quit document running first obviously.

-c "tell http quit"
-c "load http"

I could possibly have used Tim's excellent suggestion of "TELL HTTP RESTART" but I was too chicken to try it out on a schedule. Maybe later.

c. Pick your server... Luckily this IS selectable.

7. On the Schedule side of things, pick the days and times for the commands to run. If you don't want them repeating again throughout the day, leave the repeat interval as 0.

8. Finally, Click the Save and Close button.

Now I just have to sit here and wait until 4:15am... just kidding (I hope).

More Fun Ideas to Try
You'll find that you can run several commands at once by redirecting the input from a text file but I'll leave that for IBM to explain.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Domino Resource Issues under XPages

A couple of weeks ago, we launched a new XPages app. Hopefully the first of many. It was very impressive and we got a lot of hits....

...until the server crashed.

Not a big deal. Our server is set to restart automatically, and it was up and running in no time. Then about 1.5 days later we had another crash.

We've decided to tackle this on a few fronts, first of all we're rewriting some parts of the app to be a bit less intense and to take better advantage of the recycler. That's all cutting edge development stuff, so it's really not "me".

On the admin side, I wanted to see if we could release resources a bit. I checked the server close to a crash but there's no indication on the Windows 2003 side of things. Of course, the Notes Logs tell a different story.

HTTP JVM: CLFAD0211E: Exception thrown. For more detailed information, please consult error-log-0.xml located in e:/Lotus/Domino/data/domino/workspace/logs
HTTP JVM: >>>>
HTTP JVM: The XPages runtime engine faced an OutOfMemoryError
HTTP JVM: You can fix this by increasing the value of the HTTPJVMMaxHeapSize variable in notes.ini
HTTP JVM: >>>>
HTTP JVM: Out of memory exception occurred servicing request for: /publicsite/OurNewXpagesDB.xsp - HTTP Code: 500. For more detailed information, please consult error-log-0.xml located in e:/Lotus/Domino/data/domino/workspace/logs
HTTP Web Server: Command Not Handled Exception [/publicsite/OurNewXpagesDB.xsp] Anonymous
HTTP JVM: CLFAD0211E: Exception thrown. For more detailed information, please consult error-log-0.xml located in e:/Lotus/Domino/data/domino/workspace/logs

So, we decided to try a http restart next time these error messages started building up.

It worked!
Doing a TELL HTTP RESTART bought us two more days of uptime.

To Restart or not to Restart?
We looked around and found that our problems weren't as unique as we'd imagined. There are a few people on 8.5 and above (we're currently 8.5.2) who have this problem.

Apparently also, a Tell HTTP Restart flushes memory but doesn't do much for the JVM.

To flush the JVM, we need to think about;

then after a few minutes

or as the guy in the IT Crowd says "have you tried turning it off and on again?"

We'll be doing this until we get our application sorted but the question is; should this be part of our normal nightly routine? Maybe it's good practice to restart your web server's service nightly - especially if you have a cluster which could take the load while the restart occurs.

Does anyone think that this is "best practice"?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to Do a Mail Merge to Email using Lotus Notes - Version 2

I wasn't happy with the usability of my last post, so I've redone it as a presentation.

You can view it fullscreen here;

or embedded below.

How to Do a Mail Merge to Email using Lotus Notes

Why do one?
In today's "green" world, it makes much better sense to send out emails than letters but you still want to personalize them. Sadly, by itself Lotus Notes doesn't support mail merge to email. Of course, we know that outlook does (but then it lets anyone and anything send emails for you - even when you don't want them to).

So, how to do it in Notes?

The first port of call is OpenNTF ( This place is full of great things but most of them are really badly documented. Still, these guys give things away for free and they develop in their spare time, so we should be grateful for what we get.

There's a great little project there called MailMerge Excel to Notes. Go there, click on releases and download the ZIP file.

Getting to the Code
The installation is tricky though I've noted that since I asked the author about the install, it's been updated (so maybe these steps are less necessary).

Unzip the files to somewhere on your hard drive (eg: C:\temp). The version I downloaded had three files;

  • MailMerge-CreateMerge.lss
  • MailMerge-SendMerge.lss
  • Lotus Notes Mail Merge Function.docx

The LSS files are not viewable in Notepad (not sure if this is a problem with those particular files) and I couldn't find any means of importing them into an agent. If you attach them to a mail message in Lotus Notes though, you can right-mouse click on them and choose VIEW.

From there, you can copy and paste them.

I copied and pasted both LSS files into text files for easy reference.

Creating the Agents
1. Open your mailbox in Lotus Domino Designer

2. Expand Code and double-click on Agents.

3. Click the Button marked New Agent

4. Give the Agent a Name, (Either Mail Merge\Send Mail Merge or Mail Merge\Create Mail Merge depending on which agent you're putting in). You're going to have to do this twice anyway.

5 . The new agent will start with a bit of comment code in it. Just highlight and delete it

6. Copy and paste the entire code of the relevant LSS file out of notes viewer (or notepad). Don't worry, the routines should all find their correct places.

7. Depending on how things go, you might end up with errors (I obviously did). These aren't code errors but are either related to the way that the Notes viewer displays things or the way it pasted from Notepad.

To fix these errors, follow the little red circles with crosses in them.

Wherever you find a line which ends in &_ the notes client expects a line immediately below it. My paste had blank lines - so I just removed them all.

8. When the Agent is free of errors, press Ctrl+S to save. If it saves ok, you can close it and repeat steps 2 - 8 for the other LSS file.

That's it. You're done with the Installation.

Preparing your Spreadsheet
The spreadsheet is simply and excel spreadsheet with TO SUBJECT FIRSTNAME and whatever other columns you want to merge. Note that I left off the CC column (it still works but it's probably better to include one).

Save your spreadsheet as an Excel File (eg: C:\temp\Merge.xls)

Preparing the Email
Next, we go into Lotus Notes and write an email. Don't bother with the TO, CC or SUBJECT because they'll be overwritten.

Just write your email and if you want to include any fields from your spreadsheet, just add them in square brackets.

Save your new email as a draft and close it.

Generating the Merge
Go into the drafts area of notes and make sure that you've got the right draft selected. Then choose Actions, Mail Merge and then Create Mail Merge.

You'll be prompted to select the file which contains the mail merge data. Browse for the excel file you saved earlier.

You'll get a nice little warning screen (if you forget the CC) and you'll get an ID for your mail merge. Make sure that you write this number down somewhere.

Click Ok to Continue.

Hopefully you'll get a message that says that you encountered 0 errors.

Your drafts area will also get a bit busier because there'll be more documents in it.

Sending the Messages
I'm guessing that you could send the messages individually if you wanted but it's best to simply select all of the documents in the draft area. You can do a Ctrl+A and even select those which aren't in the merge (they won't be sent).

From the menu, select Actions, Mail Merge and then Send Mail Merge.

You'll be prompted for the ID number that you wrote down earlier.

When you click Ok, your emails will be sent.

Final Bits
Just a reminder, before you send to a large group of people, make sure that you do a test first and make sure that you remove any test text from your email and spreadsheet - we all know about the "Dear Rich B@st@rd" letters that one particular UK bank sent out years ago.

Thank You
Finally, a really big thank you to David Turner and Sacha Chua for developing such a worthwhile project. IBM ... this should really be a feature in the default Notes Mail Template.

BTW: I used Version 1.0 of the Mail Merge utility, Notes 8.5.2 and Office 2003 to do this.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How to Turn off Local Encryption by Default in the Notes 8.x Client

What's this All About
If you have a test environment for your Lotus Notes applications, then chances are that you regularly find yourself copying (not replicating) from Production to test - and probably via a Local connection.

If you do this a lot, then chances are that at some point you've forgotten to deselect the default local encryption. This is a great security feature but it's quite embarrassing when you arrive at your test site with a database which won't open.

Did you know that you can change the default. It happened sometime in release 8.x but I don't know exactly when. I just know that I changed it a while ago and a few times since I've had developers express surprise because they didn't realize that we now have that feature.

Here's How to Turn it Off by Default
In your Notes client;
  1. Click File then Preferences from the Menu
  2. On the left hand side of the preferences screen, expand Replication and Sync.
  3. Click on Default.
  4. In the middle of the Preferences Panel, deselect [_] Encrypt Locally Using.
  5. Click the button marked Ok.
  6. The Change will take place immediately.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

If you were buying a PC today...

I'm often asked to tell people what to look for in a PC and recently I was asked to provide something in writing for all our staff members. These people aren't serious gamers and generally aren't all that computer literate (or computer-adventurous for that matter). I thought I'd share it with the rest of the world.

Note that prices are in Australian Dollars and specs are as at 11 May 2011. I've ignored netbooks even though I personally find them cool. I've also mostly ignored non-windows platforms because as I said, these people aren't adventurous. Finally, where I've mentioned brands it doesn't particularly mean that they have my overall endorsement or condemnation. It's just my experience with them - and the "vibe" I get from other people who use them.

What for?
Throughout this document, you need to be thinking about the use to which you intend to put your computer. Is it just an office machine? Is it only for the internet and word processing, spreadsheets etc or will you want to run specialised software on it, like MYOB. Will you be running games? If you have kids, how long do you expect your computer to last and will you eventually give it to them for games?

There are three main systems for computers; Windows, Mac and Linux.

You don't need to buy a Windows computer. The other types will run office applications and the internet just as easily. It's mainly a matter of choice.

If your computer will be used for games other than simple ones like solitaire and Angry birds, then you probably need to go Windows. Games run well on the other systems but there's much less choice.

Mac and Linux computers are safer than Windows ones but nothing is 100% safe and they'll still need protection (anti-virus, firewalls etc). Don't let any vendors tell you that it isn't needed.

If you choose an alternative system to windows, you'll still be able to run windows on that device too. Macs and Linux PCs can "dual boot" allowing you to choose which system you want to run and both can also run virtual machines (ie: a Windows PC in a window).

Macs are generally well known for their speed and ease of use while Linux computers are known for their speed and security.

Windows XP is no longer being sold, so you can't buy that. It's immediate successor Vista should not even be considered. Windows 7 is much better. It's important though to make sure that you get 64 bit windows 7, not 32 bit. The 32 bit windows 7 will only use between 2 and 4 GB of memory regardless of how much is installed in your system so you'd have to convert someday. It's better to start off converted.

Brand Names
HP is arguably the best brand of PC at the moment with Sony being the best notebook brand.
Other good brands include Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba (notebooks only).

Acer and Asus are lesser brands but still good.

Most computers these days are built by the lowest bidder in a single factory. The main differences are in the casing and the brand label. Internally, they're all quite similar.

While you can go for a no-name brand, this will reduce your costs but increase risk. It's not recommended.

Desktop Computers typically cost between $700 and $2,000. You should not pay outside this range. Notebook Computers are always more expensive and typically range from about $1,000 to $3,000

The current intel processors are expressed in terms of Core I series.

As a general rule, the I7 is more powerful than the I5 but actually any of the I-Series processors is fast enough for all but the heaviest CAD/Design and video editing usage.

So long as you get an I Series, you'll be ok.

Most computers these days are being sold with about 2GB of Memory. This is not nearly enough. You should consider 4, 6 or 8 GB of memory. Memory is installed in "slots". If you're going to stay with 2 or 4 GB, you should talk to the computer salesperson to find out if there will be spare slots. If there are no spare slots then you'll have to throw the old memory out and buy all new memory once you decide to upgrade.

Since smaller amounts of memory are often cheaper, you may find that a PC with four slots and 4 GB of RAM uses 4 x 1 GB sticks. This means that you're at your limit. If you later decide to upgrade to 8GB, you have to throw all your memory out and buy 4 x 2GB chips. On the other hand, if your system was originally populated to 4GB using 2 x 2GB sticks, then you've got two slots free and you just need to buy an additional 2 x 2GB sticks when you're ready to upgrade.

Hard Disk
Most computers these days are shipping with about 160 GB of hard drive space. For most users, this is ample though Gamers and video editors may want a little more. 160 GB should store all of your documents and music without any trouble.

If you're planning to store a lot of video there (ie: saving your whole DVD collection on hard drive), then you'll probably want to consider more. It's not a great idea though because you'll still have to back it up. Instead, consider getting a couple of 2 Terrabyte USB hard drives ($120 each). You can back all of your data up to them. Note that I said TWO - that's because you'll want one for "real" and one as your backup.

While I'm on this point, you'll need to learn how to disconnect your USB drives. It's not just a matter of pulling out the stick. If you keep doing that, you'll eventually corrupt the data on the drive.

Network Card
All computers these days should ship with a gigabit network card. This should be sufficient. You might also want a wireless card added particularly if you're using a notebook. I haven't seen a wireless card in a recent computer which doesn't comply with standards so any new card should be ok.

Sound Cards
The sound cards which ship with modern computers should be perfectly adequate unless you're planning to use your computer to replace your entertainment system. In that case, you'll probably want to check for DTS and Dolby Digital 6.1 sound.

Video Cards
This is the biggest trap in new computers today!

If your computer isn't going to be used for gaming or design then the video card that it ships with is fine. If you're a gamer however, you'll need to get a decent graphics card.

It doesn't end there though because although you can easily replace most of the other components in your computer, the video card usually needs a dedicated slot. You'll find that many computers including the big brands like Dell will skimp on the slot if they don't have to supply a card.

If you're planning to add a game card later, make sure that you inspect the computer's motherboard to ensure that there is a slot available for you. Get the salesperson to help. These days, the slot is called a PCIe slot.

At the minimum, you'll want a "DVD Burner" DVD-RW, DVD+R etc. This ensures that your computer is capable of reading and writing DVDs and CDs. You might want to pay extra to get blu-ray capabilities particularly if you like watching movies on your computer. If you've got spare money, a Blu-Ray writer may come in handy.

Other Slots
Most of the other slots on your computer are pretty much the same from one computer to the next but you'll want to check that you have enough USB slots and that they support USB 3.0.

You should have about 4 USB slots in the back of your computer two in the front. That's the minimum. More is even better. Don't make it a deciding factor though because so long as you've met the minimum, you can easily add more via a little gadget worth about $10.

If you've got a digital camera, you might want to check to see if the computer has slots for these cards (Usually SD, MicrosSD, XD or CompactFlash). It doesn't matter if it doesn't though because an external USB card reader will set you back about $15.

You should also make sure that your computer comes with both a DVI and a VGA video slot. You'll want the DVI slot for higher quality video. Having both also allows you to have two monitors connected if you want.

Bluetooth - this is a good thing to have on a notebook but it's not essential unless you already have a bluetooth device you want to connect.

Aside from Windows, you shouldn't rush out and get software unless you actually need it. Bundles are good but make sure that they're entirely bundled and not just trialware. Microsoft Office and Anti-Virus packages will often ship as trial software and they will stop working after a few months unless you pay money.

The free Microsoft Windows Defender is as good as any anti-virus software on the market today. I know, I've tested it and it found viruses that McAfee missed (on several occasions). Don't be tempted to have Windows Defender AND a commercial anti-virus package on your computer. It won't make it any more secure and it will slow it down.

Microsoft Office isn't free but there are some very good alternative systems which are not only free but also compatible with Microsoft Office. In some cases, they're better (Libre office includes a really good drawing package). They're all easy to use and it's recommended that you check them out before spending money on software you don't need.

Libre Office (Previously Open Office) ( )
IBM Lotus Symphony ( )

Most desktop PCs come with a one-year warranty but a lot of Vendors like Harvey Norman and Dick Smith will offer to extend these for a price. It's usually worth doing but a PC which survives the first year will generally survive for much longer. Check the warranty to see if they'll come out and fix the computer (on-site) or if you have to send it away.

Notebook computers are a different story. You should get the longest warranty possible because these computers are more prone to failure (due to their rougher handling).

Some other Alternatives
Finally, if all you want is the internet, you might want to investigate some other options. Netbook PCs are under $500, Old PCs can be converted to fast internet-only PCs by installing GoogleOS or Ubuntu Linux and then there's the plethora of tablet devices like the iPad and Android. If you're willing to wait until mid-June, Google will have their new PC and operating system out by then.

Best of luck shopping for your new computer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Book Review "IBM Lotus Domino: Classic Web Application Development Techniques" by Richard G. Ellis (Part 2)

In part one of my review, I looked at the opening and closing chapters of this book. They're fairly non-technical and provide a very useful set of guidelines for the development and testing of Lotus Domino applications - and they're just as relevant to XPages development.

In part two, I want to look at the middle chapters. These chapters cover CSS and JavaScript as it relates to forms, views and agents. The book talks about some features which are only available in Notes/Domino 8.5 but it never discusses XPages.

If you're already a domino developer and you're looking to move into XPages, then this book certainly isn't for you. If however, you've been using Notes and want to quickly port some applications to the web or if you're familiar with classic HTML, CSS and JavaScript but want to get some Domino projects off the ground, then this is the right book.

Of course, if you're on a version of notes/domino prior to 8.5 with little prospect of upgrading in the near future, this book will help you to get the best development potential out of your existing systems.

The book offers a lot of great web development advice and code. It covers basic design rules mentioning some stylistic considerations which many web developers seem to overlook. It looks at form validation, usability and export functionality.

The book exposes each increment in usability/design one step at a time. This will provide people new to domino with an understanding of the effect of each of their changes. It's a great way to cover these topics.

There's also a whole chapter dedicated to navigation. It covers action buttons (how to style them, where to put them and when to use them). It provides tips for adding better URLs to your applications and provides some great coverage of the "go forward" navigational strategy.

This is a really good book with great explanations and good technical detail. If this book had come out three years ago, it would have been a bestseller. Sadly though, XPages is taking over (at least in the minds of cutting domino developers) and this dates the technology in the book a little.

If you're not going XPages yet and you're interested in classic domino development, then this is easily the best book I've seen on the subject.

IBM Lotus Domino: Classic Web Application Development Techniques is available from Packt Publications and Amazon.

Honesty Clause: I was provided with a PDF version of this book free of charge for review purposes.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Book Review "IBM Lotus Domino: Classic Web Application Development Techniques" by Richard G. Ellis (Part 1)

I'm doing this review in two parts because the opening and closing chapters of this book are vastly different from the rest.

I have to admit to wondering, when I was first asked to review this book, exactly what the market was that it's aimed at. After all, aren't all domino developers heading towards XPages now? Could a book on "traditional web programming in domino" still be relevant today?

Well, surprisingly it is.

The opening chapters deal with issues and requirements that our developers and I still constantly struggle with . They cover version control, issues logs, staging servers, commenting/documentation, standards and the big killer "scope creep". There are sections on using the "champions" in your office to drive projects, maintaining consistent URLs and setting up a developer test environment.

These are aspects which affect all domino development regardless of the technology level (XPages, Notes, Pure HTML or JavaScript/CSS). If you regularly contract domino developers to develop applications for your environment, those first chapters are absolutely required reading. They're not overly technical and are very suitable for management level reading.

The last two chapters of the book cover Security, Performance, Testing and Debugging. Again, these are mostly high-level. The security sections discuss planning for security, ACLs, reader and editor fields, the problems of hidden fields and sensible additions such as edit prevention after approval and logout facilities. The performance sections discuss archiving, code optimisation and the measurement of response time. The testing and debugging chapter talks about the requirements and limitations of user-testing and suggests various ways this testing could be improved. There are also some great sections on debugging which will help those new to domino to track down issues in their applications.

As for the rest of the book, I'll cover it in part two of this review suffice to say that a long time ago, my favourite domino book was a web development guide written for release 4. The book was amazingly useful all the way up to release 6.5. This book feels, in every way, to be a sequel to that book, picking up more or less where it left off and delving into CSS and JavaScript with a specific domino slant. All that's missing now is a book which covers XPages as neatly.

This isn't a book for the seasoned domino developer but if you're new to Domino or new to CSS and JavaScript or if you're a technical manager overseeing domino web development projects then this book is definitely for you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Microsoft's "Killer" Update for Powerpoint 2003

This morning I got a call from a colleague who was having problems opening one of our Microsoft Powerpoint files. After quite a while of saving back and forth (My newly created and not-yet-updated PC had no problems with the files), we discovered that it affects everyone in the office - in fact, everyone in the world.

As it turns out, Microsoft issued a "Killer Update" on 12 April which causes Microsoft Powerpoint to fail when opening presentations or presentation templates which have a graphical background (like our company logo for instance).

Microsoft's "Workarounds"
They've acknowledged the problem here.

Their fix generally suggests that you upgrade;
  • Workaround 1: Open the Affected file in Powerpoint 2007 or 2010.....
  • Workaround 2: Open the affected file in PowerPoint 2010....
  • Workaround 3: Open the affected file in PowerPoint 2007...
  • Workaround 4: After the error message is displayed, save a copy of the presentation, and then perform edits on the copy.
Workaround 4 is the only one which doesn't specify the need to upgrade Powerpoint. It's bad for two reasons;
  1. They're expecting you to basically redo your presentation.
  2. It doesn't work anyway - saving in Powerpoint 2003 only causes it to freeze.
In all honesty, I don't believe that Microsoft was that oblivious to the problem - don't they test these fixes. I think they were using it as an underhand tactic to get people to upgrade.

How to Fix the Problem without Upgrading
Microsoft reported the problems at least two days ago and still there's no fix so I'm writing to highlight the issue and to tell you how to get Powerpoint 2003 working again.

These instructions are for Windows XP but should work on other platforms too.

  1. Make sure that you close Powerpoint before trying to do this update.

  2. Start Control Panel (Start, Settings, Control Panel)

  3. Double-click on Add or Remove Programs.

  4. Make sure that the box marked Show Updates (at the top of the screen) is ticked, then scroll down until you find Microsoft Office.

  5. Look for an update under Microsoft Office called "Security Update for PowerPoint 2003" which was installed on 15/04/2011 (or thereabouts) and click on it.

  6. Click the button marked Remove.

  7. You'll be prompted to remove the program. Click Yes.

  8. The process should take seconds and then you'll be able to use Microsoft Office again.

Just a Reminder
Of course, no post about Microsoft's underhand forced-upgrade antics would be complete without a reminder about the alternatives - specifically that;
...and all of these are compatible not only with each other but also with Microsoft Office.

Lotus Notes 8.5.2 and Microsoft Windows 7 64 Bit

We're currently testing Windows 7 - Not because we actually see a business need. It's not about support, applications or even new features. It's simply that it's too hard to buy PCs with Windows XP loaded on them these days.

Over the last few months, I've learned one very valuable lesson: There is NO benefit in Windows 7 unless you go 64 bit! Of course, that doesn't mean that there are many 64 bit applications out there to run on it.

Why is 64 bit so important for Windows 7?
Well, like all new Microsoft Software, it uses a bit more disk space and a bit more memory that its predecessors. Unfortunately, there's a 2GB memory limit in 32 bit windows - and it still applies to Windows 7.

That means that now Windows itself takes up more space but your maximum memory remains the same. Even if you have a PC with 4, 6 or 8GB RAM, 32-bit Windows will only use 2 GB.

Windows 7 64-Bit is a different story but weirdly, the limits aren't imposed by the bit-space but by Microsoft themselves - and it's different depending on which version of Windows you're running;
  • Starter: 8GB
  • Home Basic: 8GB
  • Home Premium: 16GB
  • Professional: 192GB
  • Enterprise: 192GB
  • Ultimate: 192GB

Where's the 64 Bit Version of Lotus Notes
Good question. There doesn't seem to be any answers on this one and even the IBM Helpdesk tech I spoke to yesterday was surprised that it didn't exist. I'm sure they're working on one though.

So.... The short answer is that There is NO 64 bit version of Lotus Notes 8.5.2, you need to use the 32 bit version instead.

But wait .... there's more.

I tried and Lotus Notes was so slow that it barely ran at all.

I've since applied Fixpack 1 and Fixpack 2 and it's back to normal - perhaps better than normal because it's got more memory space to run in (Windows isn't taking a big bite out of the 2GB space).

In reality, I think you only need fixpack 1 but it's good practice to add both.

Another short answer; When using 32-bit Lotus Notes 8.5.2 on 64 bit Windows, make sure that you have Fixpack 1 and 2 installed.

I hope this saves some people a bit of time since it's not quite so clearly stated elsewhere.
(and in the meantime, keep petitioning IBM to hurry up with the 64-bit version)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What do I have on my Blackberry?

A couple of weeks ago my Blackberry Bold suffered misfortune during a canoeing event with the Scouts. I had to temporarily revert back to a barely functional pearl. Now however, I've got a replacement Bold and I'm reloading all my "stuff" onto it.

I could have simply restored my settings from a backup of my old Blackberry but I figured that I'd rather exclude applications which I haven't used. So I did a manual reinstallation.

I thought this might give me a chance to talk about some good blackberry apps. So... what have I got on my blackberry now?

The Default Applications
It goes without saying that I have mail, calendar, SMS, Messenger (which I never use), MemoPad (which I use heaps) and all of the rest of the default Blackberry apps.

Google Applications
Google Mobile App ( - FREE
This is usually the first thing that I put back on the blackberry. It gives you a google search portal but more importantly, it's a great starting place to launch the installs for Gmail, Google Maps and Google Sync. I'm a big Google junkie and these apps are my lifeline. When set up properly, Google synch will synchronise your Google contacts with the phone - that's a nice feature and very handy to have if you need to suddenly restore data.

I should point out that I don't synchronize my Blackberry and Lotus Notes contacts (so I never sign into Notes via the Blackberry Desktop software). I don't do this because our corporate contacts are all in our server's address books and I find it's much easier to manage personal contacts via Gmail.

Also in the Google App is;

Google Talk - FREE
Since Gmail is my platform of choice, I use Google Talk. There are other apps for Yahoo and Windows Live - and even apps which combine them all but I've converted most of my chat buddies to Gmail, I don't need them.

Google Maps - FREE
This has been an amazing resource on my driving and scouting trips. It gives you satellite maps and street maps. I don't have a GPS so this is the next best thing.

Other Applications
Moving away from Google, we have;

OperaMini ( - FREE
This is a much better web browser than the one that ships with blackberry (although I'll admit that the BB one has gotten a lot better). If you find that your blackberry browser sometimes runs out of memory downloading a page, then try Opera-Mini. You'll find it works there. It's also very good practice to have a second browser at your fingertips.

Blackberry App World ( - FREE
This is a great launch pad for installing lots of Blackberry Applications. For some reason, it doesn't seem to be installed by default on Blackberries. Since I'm a fan of free stuff (who isn't?), I'll usually sort items by price.

From Blackberry App world, you can install lots of great apps. I haven't included URLs for these because you can simply search for them in Blackberry App World.

Applications from Blackberry App World
Twitter for Blackberry - FREE
If you've used twitter this is fairly self explanatory. You can set your status, view other people's tweets and watch trends.

Facebook for Blackberry - FREE
If you've used facebook this is fairly self explanatory. You can set your status, view and comment on other people's status, mail your friends and upload photos from the blackberry camera.

Evernote for Blackberry - FREE
This is (hopefully) my cure for constantly sending myself emails. If I need to remember anything, I simply type it into EverNote. I have Evernote on my work and Home PCs too so it's easy to look through my outstanding Notes.

The Weather Network - FREE (has adverts down the bottom of the page)
I've tried several weather applications but so far this is the best. Unlike many weather apps, it includes weather outside of the US. You can get short and long term forecasts. Even better, it displays an updated icon on the blackberry desktop so you don't even have to open it (if you want current conditions).

LocalPedia - FREE
This is a weird little app which allows you to look up a town and get information on the facilities. I'm not entirely sure that I'll use it a lot but it's good if you're in a new place.

Mobiola xPlayer - FREE but has Adverts
This has a bit of a weird interface which takes a little getting used to but it's still a great player. I find that I like to listen to music and to talking books on the blackberry but I don't like having to constantly juggle playlists and sort order settings. Instead, I set the blackberry media player up to play randomly (and point it to my music playlists), then I set the Mobiola xPlayer up to sort by filename and play my eBooks using it. It works a treat!

Well, that's it for now. I'm going to see if I can reload Sametime on the blackberry although I hardly ever used it. What I am surprised about is that sametime isn't in Blackberry App world - and also that my old instructions no longer work. IBM, are you listening?

Monday, March 28, 2011

How to get your Notes Webmail working in Firefox 4

Note: This isn't my solution, all credit goes to "nickbeee" who posted a couple of lines on the firefox site. I've had to document this for our internal users and figured that other people may benefit from a more detailed explanation.

Also: I'm a stickler for long explanations with pictures....

It seems that the new security features in Mozilla Firefox 4 prevent Lotus Notes/Domino Webmail from working. Here's how to get that functionality back.

First: The problem that you see looks like this;

It states on the webmail screen simply (and cryptically)

A problem has occurred which may have caused the current operation to fail.

The problem seems to be that firefox has security-blocked your webmail. In order to unblock it, you need the Remote XUL Manager extension.

To get it, browse to:

and click Add to Firefox.

You'll be prompted to install the extension and then you'll be told to restart Firefox.

After the restart, the Remote XUL Manager will appear in the tools menu.
Note: To get to the menu in Firefox, press the Alt Key once.

Click Tools, then Remote XUL Manager.

A mostly empty dialog box will appear.
Click Add.

A text input box will appear. Type your mail domain in here and click Ok.
If you use several domains, you may want to add the others in now.

When you've finished adding domains, click the X on the top right of the Remote XUL Manager box to close it. Don't worry, it's saved.

Now, you should be able to refresh the page or simply put your cursor in Firefox's address bar and press Enter - and your mail should appear.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Perfect Storm: How a Combination of Random Events can lead to Disaster

No, this post isn't about that Wolfgang Peterson & George Clooney movie but it does borrow from the concept in a business sense.

This week we skirted close to disaster but the rest of the business was completely oblivious to the danger.

I wasn't worried, it was all under control but my boss said to me later, "we nearly had the perfect storm today". I thought about his words and realised that he was right.

I was wondering just how many times we, and other businesses nearly have the perfect storm and don't even realise.

What is a Perfect Storm?
In the book and movie of "The Perfect Storm", the storm wasn't a cyclone or any kind of normal severe storm event. It was just a normal storm in which several other conditions were perfect. It's simply the combination of several unlikely events which results in disaster.

Our Experience
Factor 1: Backup
This week we've struggled a bit with backup. We had a faulty tape which meant that we missed out on our backup job for one night. I replaced the tape for the next night and tried to run the backup again. It failed again - this time because the previous night's tape had left a bit of gunk in the drive. I cleaned the drive but although the system was ready for backup, we now had two days worth of "unsaved work".

Factor 2: Backup ISP and Server
Like many critial businesses, we have offsite redundancy. In our case, we have an offsite domino server which is part of our cluster. Our offsite provider had told us a little while ago that they needed to switch ISPs and re-run our infrastructure. We were told a month ago that there was no pressing urgency. Of course last week, on the night of our last successful backup, we were told that it was starting to become urgent.

You can imagine our surprise when we came into work on Thursday to find ourselves disconnected. Our main systems worked, the internet worked, everything was Ok. It's just that our redundant server was no longer accessible.

Factor 3: Board Day
I work at one of those lucky companies who don't have board members in attendance every day. In fact they're usually only around on monthly basis. Guess what.... the day of the storm was a board day.

A Lucky Escape
We were careful, we took precautions. Earlier in the week we'd had some work done on our main production databases but on that day, they were out of bounds.

Like I mentioned earlier, nothing happened. The production servers all stayed up, we eventually got our offsite server back and we got a backup that night. All was well but you have to think...

If anything had gone wrong on the day, we had no backup and no offsite server. We were hosting one of the most critical meetings of the year and the most important people in our company were all onsite watching.

The question is; would you recognize the perfect storm if it started forming near your company?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

IBM Celebrations at Packt Publishing (20% off)

In case you've missed it, Packt Publishing is holding an IBM Tuesday celebration because;
  • They're publishing four IBM books on the same day
  • IBM is turning 100 this year.
To celebrate, they've got 20% off IBM books for the entire month of February.

Go here to read all about IBM Tuesday.

It doesn't end there though because they've got a competition which is drawn on the Tuesday of each week, the prize for which is a years subscription to PacktLib, their online library.

Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Change Your Notification Options for New Lotus Notes Mail in version 8.x

Don't worry, I'm not patronizing you (my readers), I just decided to re-document this for one of our internal users and thought you might want to be able to use it in your own user documentation.

Some people who don't get a lot of mail, like to be notified when such an event occurs.

Notification can be;
  • via a sound
  • via a pop-up box
  • via the system tray (where the computer clock is)

The pop up box looks like this;

Other people, who like myself, get too much mail would rather not be notified. The aim of this document is to tell you how (and where) to turn these options on and off.

To change your settings from the Notes 8.x client;

  1. On the Menu, click File, then Preferences...
  2. On the left hand side, click on the little plus sign to the left of Mail to expand the options.
  3. Click on the option marked Sending and Receiving.
  4. In the middle section, under receiving, you can control your notifications.
  5. If you untick the box marked [_] Display a popup alert, you will stop those annoying (for some people) pop up boxes.
  6. If you don't like having your computer make a noise when mail is received, you might also want to disable the option above it - or browse to find a quieter noise.
  7. Click OK to save your changed preferences.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Resolving the Lotus Notes 8.5.1 (and Higher) Attachment Issue

A long while ago, November 2009 actually, I posted about an Attachment Problem which was introduced in Lotus Notes 8.5.1. At the time, I pushed IBM for a solution and they eventually produced a half-solution (slightly better but no cigar).

Since then we've been living in pain.

Recently a commenter named "CIS" left a note on my original post to try putting AttachmentsUseCaption=0 in the notes.ini. It worked **THANKS** - you're my hero of the hour!

I decided to describe the problem and solution here in case others were in the same boat.

Here's how our attachments used to look prior to using the Lotus Notes 8.5.1 (and higher) clients.

At 8.5.1, the text under the attachments disappeared completely. This left me with a screen with two PDF files and no description. Not a good look for our extranet service.

We halted our Notes 8.5.1 rollout until IBM provided a fix but when they did, it wasn't a particularly elegant one.

Here's how it looked;

The attachment text (file names) stopped being under the icon and started being to the right of the icon. It might have been ok, if IBM didn't still keep invisible spacing under the icon.

It probably would have looked great if I could just left align the icons but it was not to be.

When the problem was still present in Lotus Notes 8.5.2, I decided to start upgrading our clients. I wasn't happy with the fix but at least we had descriptions for our attachments again.

A couple of days ago, following Cis' advice, I edited my NOTES.INI file;

C:\Program Files\IBM\Lotus\Notes\Notes.ini

The location may vary for you - especially if you're using the Multi-user install.

I opened the file in Notepad and added the line somewhere near the top.


Then I restarted the Notes client and detached and reattached a file.

The result looked like this. (File No 1.)

Yay!! We've since added the line to our policies, so all our clients will get it when they reboot.

Now all we have to do is detach and reattach everything we've done since November 2009 - Thanks IBM, at least now nobody can say they've got nothing to do.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Getting Real Business Value out of Cheap eBook Readers

Everybody wants an iPad but if we're really honest with ourselves, most of our reasons aren't exactly business reasons.

The iPad has a lot of great uses but it's amazing how often I see its business use limited to email and web browsing. If you've already got a work supplied mobile phone with these capabilities, blackberry for instance, then what is the business case for duplication?

Right now, the iPad is still a little pricey for mainstream business use but it's not a bad idea to start building your usage patterns with a cheaper device.

I recently picked up an eBook reader (from MiGEAR) for under $100. For comparison, the iPad costs about $700 here. The main advantage of the eBook reader over the blackberry is proper PDF file support.

The eBook reader I got didn't support DRM (although I've since downloaded and installed a patch which fixes this). I'm not bothered though because as a business tool, it doesn't need to support DRM.

I'm finding that it's very useful for saving all kinds of quick-reference data on. Sometimes in text format and sometimes as PDF. There are plenty of free PDF converters/printers available for download and the capability is now built-in to Lotus Symphony, Open Office and apparently, Office 2010.

Some of the great things you can store on your eBook reader for easy reference include;

  • Lists of important IP Addresses in our system
  • Contact Lists
  • Our Disaster Recovery Plan
  • Important Notes.INI settings information
  • Redbooks from IBM

When iPads (or their sucessors) eventually become standard issue at my workplace, I'll be ready but in the meantime, the eBook reader is getting me used to working "portably".

You might think that a reader is no good for taking notes on but the fact is that most of my notes, including this blog entry, are done on the blackberry while using public transport. I don't need a larger device to write, only to read.