Category Archives: Computing

Working with Google Sheets

In my previous life within a large corporation I worked a lot on metrics and reporting. Because tech writing is usually an afterthought when it comes to a large R&D and Sales focused organisation like the one I worked for, naturally we had no money for this so it was all done with a digital-equivalent of make do and mend. Our stats were spread out everywhere in different systems (systems is overstating it somewhat) and the formats weren’t unified. It fell to a nerd like me, someone who just can’t stand that level of chaos and also has a thing for Excel, to design a more streamlined system that would enable me and my fellow managers to a) keep track of the monthly stats for our team and b) create meaningful(-ish) reports to justify our existence for the higher ups. In tech writing, a fairly uncreative definition of the stats usually means numbers of docs, pages, etc. That’s what our main superior was interested in (he was a numbers guy and didn’t care for modern nuances like quality, consistency, customer satisfaction) so that’s what we did.

Anyway, I digress. What I’m trying to say is that I used Excel – a lot. Now, on my home PC, I have Open Office and I also use Google Sheets. I like Open Office very much because it’s free open source. It’s not as easy for me to use as Excel, I think because I’m so familiar with the Excel interface. That’s just a learning curve. Functionally, I think it’s on a par but since I haven’t had the need to put it through it’s paces, I can’t say that sure.

Google Sheets, on the other hand, I mean please. It’s sooo basic! And slow. We have a 20MB connection here and it’s tedious just trying to format a cell. I’m trying to set up some really simple accounting spreadsheets and it’s painful! I know I could use OO but I really want these particular docs in the cloud as then they’re handy to share with my accountant and also accessible from any machine. It would seem the price for ease of access is functionality, unless I’m missing something. Anyhow, in the spirit of keeping things handy, here’s a link to the list of functions that can be used for calculations.

Google spreadsheets function list

I know I’ll need it again.

Now to figure out whether it can do pivot tables (I suspect not!) should the need ever arise again (I hope so! I have a rather love-hate relationship with them; mostly it’s love.)

Do you do fancy, clever spreadsheety things with Google Sheets? If so, please enlighten me!

How to Back Up Your Anki Flashcard Deck

Boring post alert! This is for mine and James’s benefit really because living in this tiny house things get lost all the time. James is in the habit of posting any new techy info he needs to remember on his blog, which works really well so I thought I’d try some of the same. As things like this are bound to come up again I’ve created a new category called Nerd Alert! This and any future computing-related posts will be filed under there. (This is me trying to be more organised and also rewaken my work brain.)

So, Anki flashcards. What are they and why am I backing them up? Well, the clue’s in the name. Yes, they’re digital flashcards that can be customised so that you can design your own system or download an existing deck and start from there. We’re both using the template deck that Gabriel Weiner advocates on his Fluent Forever site. The software is open source freeware that with versions for PC, Android, Mac. It’s a brilliant tool for learning a new language – or anything else, for that matter. You create your deck, adding new words or phrases then open up the software which uses spaced repetition to show you cards depending on how well you have learned them. Words or phrases you’re familiar with get shown less often than those you’re struggling with. It basically feeds you information in the same way that a parent teaches a child new words. Similarly, the key to success is little and often. Anyway, I digress.

The Anki software is easy to use – just download it from the web (for your PC) or from the Google or iTunes stores (for Android or Mac) – and away you go. If you’re moving between devices, as most people are these days, you can create an AnkiWeb account, which allows you to sync any changes in the form of new cards you’ve created or the latest results from a revision session so you can pick up and continue on any other device. It makes the learning method very portable unless sync doesn’t work properly. This has only happened to me one time and I think it was a “feature” of the way the Kindle Fire handles memory but enough hard work wasted in that one time – about three weeks worth of new cards, I think – that it can really throw your progress because without a backup you have to create any cards that have been lost from scratch. With so many new words to learn that’s not something I would wish on anyone (remember the days before autosave where the essay you were about to print out just disappeared because of a power cut?) Anyway, let’s just remind ourselves – always back your work up. Since that fateful day that an Anki sync ate my homework, this is the method I use. It works because I only ever use my PC to create new cards. Any other devices, like the Kindle or the mobile, come out when I want to test myself while out and about. With the “development deck” existing only on the PC, here are the steps I take to back it up after every deck update:

  1. Open SyncBack and run the Anki backup.

Haha, yes, that’s it! SyncBack is a genius bit of freeware that saves me hours of time backing up individual software programs or folders. When I got into trouble with Anki I created a new backup profile for Anki and now I can update it without having to remember where any of the files are.

So let’s make that:

Step 1. Download and install SyncBack. There’s a freeware version that I use but if you like it and will used it more extensively there are also paid for versions with more features.

Step 2. Open up Syncback and create a backup profile for Anki. This is what mine looks like. (**** is the username.) You want to backup (copying contents of folders A, B, and C, to D) not sync.


Step 3. Run the Anki  backup profile. You can check the files list or just okay it. I think I checked the first few times but now I’m happy with the way it works I just hit OK.

Step 4. Relax, you’re done!

Easy peasy, eh?

Are you using Anki to learn a language? How do you backup your files? Feel free to share!




Living under a rock

Since we arrived in France we’ve been almost entirely without real, bonefide, always connected, not worrying about data limits 21st Century Internet (and hence, Wi-Fi) in the house. For a holiday, no big deal. For an adventure in a new country when you have a million things to sort out, friends and family to keep in touch with, bills and moving practicalities to put to bed, a zillion questions flying around in your head, and a whole new language to learn, it’s a real pain in the arse. Do you know how many times a day you reach for Google? No, because the odds are you just pick up your phone or lift the lid on your laptop and Google away. Not being able to Google anything is amounts to not getting things done on steroids. Do you want to know what days the markets are? Tough, you’ll have to wait until you pass a tourist office and ask there, if they’re open. Which estate agents have properties you want to look at it? No idea. You’ll just have to go into each town and wonder round aimlessly until you find one then go in and be at their mercy. Want to make a cheeky offer on an overpriced house? No-can-do because the agents will only show you houses within 10,000 euros of your stated budget so as not to do themselves out of oodles of commission. Ah, so you want to search LeBonCoin, to bypass the agents and buy direct? Hahaha, no chance. Oh, you also want to reassure the grandparents that their grandchildren will remember them? (Yes, we’d been gone barely two weeks and my mum actually said that to me.) Well, Skype is out of the question. Do you need to find a phone number, maybe a phone number for calling from outside the UK to notify a utility company that you’re not at your old address? Good luck with that one, buddy! You can dial 0800 numbers until you’re blue in the face. No-one can hear your screams. And don’t even get me started on YouTube. It’s impossible learn to do anything that an instructional video could teach you. Every now and again I’ve set my mobile to allow roaming data because I just can’t take any more but try learning a new fold for the cloth nappies (I know there’s a fold for a heavy wetter – boy – out there) based on some fairly shoddy step-by-step drawings and you will fail, trust me. So there you have it.

The only workaround we have is to piggyback on a neighbour’s setup. In theory this means we can take it in turns to wander up the road and sit on a step opposite said neighbours house to use their Wi-Fi. In practice this means James thinks of something he needs the internet for then trots off up the road leaving me pinned under the smalls. Since we got here at least one of them seems to be breastfeeding at all times. Lord knows what’s going on with DD but for a small child of almost three she spends more time on my boobs than the baby. The times that I’m pinned under both of them are when my new found inability to mindlessly surf the Internet – usually reading blogs of women the World over similarly pinned under at least two small children and trying despeartely to see the funny side – is most keenly felt. To make matters slightly worse, getting it sorted is almost entirely in the hands of the property manager, who seems to have trained at the chocolate teapot school of effectiveness. Let’s just say we’re not hopeful that any of this will be sorted any time soon. In the meantime, you can find me under a rock (disguised as a couple of small and hungry humans). Send a telegram or something.

Not so simple: how to transfer videos from an iPhone to a PC

Or, how my morning was sucked up trying to do something that could (should) be very simple but turned out not to be.

It’s always the same, isn’t it, when you’re in a rush or have a million things to do, that one of those jobs, theoretically the most simple, chews up all your free time. So it is when trying to backup an iPhone with a PC.

I’ve taken some lovely videos lately. Originally I had iCloud running, backing up all my photos and videos automatically, but turned that off a short while ago when I exceeded the limit of my free space and was expected to pay for it. No, thank you. Alternatives I looked at were Dropbox, but I quickly hit the free space limit again, particularly as I used it to backup all the pics from my old Android phone, and paying for space – £7.99 or more a month – is not something I want to do, given we’re living in budgetville for the forseeable future. Having read  around the subject I decided to start copying my images to Flickr, which comes with a terrabyte of space – lovely – using the iPhone app and that’s been going well, except that it doesn’t seem to have been backing up any videos*. Whaaat?? With my iPhone close to running out of memory and video playback starting to get a bit sketchy, backing up the videos was becoming one of those jobs that I might regret not doing if I kept putting it off. Which leads me to here.

I started by doing the obvious thing and attaching my phone to the PC with a cable. Did it show up in Explorer, as any “normal” device would. Well, of course not. So I Google it. Several options are available, it seems. It turns out there are five options; three, if you discount, as I already have, Dropbox and iCloud. Actually, it’s two, since the cabled connection wasn’t working in Explorer the way the article explained. By this point I’m starting to feel the rest of my morning – if not the day! – slipping away.

I immediately discount option #1: downloading an app to perform the task over Wi-Fi as I have iTunes installed and trust that more than any third-party software. So I open it up. Lo and behold I immediately fall into a new software wormhole because my iPhone software needs updating (and it’s the first time I’ve connected it to this PC) so I set that process running and put the kettle on. Ten minutes later I’m back in the game, but now I see that I can backup the iPhone to my PC via iTunes. Great! Perhaps that will enable me to get to my photos? I set that running and sit here sipping my coffee. I run out of coffee. The backup has finished so I look for the backup folder on my PC. I can’t find it. There’s nothing in Settings telling me where to find it. I change tack.

Picasa! Can you find it? Yes, phew! Picasa allows me to import from my iPhone, but it only seems to see 628 images and there are well over 1,000 listed in Photos on the phone, so there’s something wrong there. Hmm. After changing the settings so it doesn’t delete anything from the card, I go ahead and import the 628 images anyway. All is looking good. I check the folder with the downloaded images in it. There are 568 images. Brilliant. So that didn’t quite work. What next, I wonder?

I’m all out of idas by now, so it’s time to give in and go for a third-party app. I downloaded and installed something called Simple Transfer and set it running on my videos folder. Unfortunately, the free version limits you to the first 50 files in any folder but it’s slick and seems to do what it says on the tin (connects to the PC via Wi-Fi so you can download from a webpage) so I pay the £2.25 in order to, hopefully, just get the hell on with it and get on with my day. It’s working – phew! It looks good. Why, then, does it think there are only 30 videos on my phone? There *were* 68. I check the phone. The phone now thinks there are only 30 videos! By now I’m nearly in tears. Then I remember iCloud. The videos that have gone are old ones and, luckily, were backed up to iCloud before I ran out of space. I select all my video files in iCloud and start to download them, hoping that between iCloud and Simply Transfer, I’ll have them all.

Which brings us right up to the present time. My videos are downloading from two different sources and the next job will be to sort them out by removing duplicates and the like, my iPhone is backed up to somewhere random on my PC, and my whole morning has been wasted, except for the baby snuggles (DS has been either snoozing or wriggling in my lap the whole time) and this blog post. And now we’ve run out of coffee. Thank you, Apple. You really know how to show a girl a good time.

*UPDATE: Within 20 minutes of writing all the above, while sitting here, still waiting for my downloads to finish, I found this thread in the Flickr Help Forum. Two short minutes  laterI was staring at a complete list of videos I’d uploaded to my camera roll, which conveniently includes all the ones I was struggling to find from my iPhone. They were there all along! Now they’ve been tagged and added to a new album so they’ll be easier to find in future. Brilliant.