Friday, 10 October 2014

Is Google Docs feeling the strain?

We've used Google Docs in conjunction with Chromebooks to provide a low cost office environment. Google seem to keep changing the name at one point they called it Business Apps. There is a free version which has good functionality, but we've elected for the paid version to gain access to the Google Management facilities. At approx. £3 per person per month it is not exactly a massive spend.

However we have been noticing that loading documents from the system has become somewhat erratic and unreliable of late. We often see the spinning circle on the browser tab, then after about one minute's delay we're told there was a browser error and we should "refresh". Then the cycle repeats and eventually the document will load.  It is not the reliable service we'd come to expect from Google.

Their performance page does not appear to reflect these problems.

At quiet times of the day (6 am London time) there are no problems with these delays and we do have a fast Internet connection.  I'd expect these types of problems from Microsoft, but not Google. Currently I'm taking Google Docs off the recommended list. Given it is an underlying foundation of the Chromebook concept I'm not a happy bunny.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Electrifying against terrorists

We're awaiting delivery of the components for a 150 metres electric fence. After a lot of research we've decided to go for a six strand fence running at 9000 volts. The energiser will deliver a 3 Joule shock. It needs to to be that powerful because some of the potential intruders resort to insulation to protect themselves. If we were protecting against a herd of elephants  it would only be 4000 volts. 

Government legislation requires we identify the electric fence by warning signs, but we don't necessarily have to use a notices in the first language of the intruders. It will need new permanent fence posts installed, stringing galvanised braided steel wire, wire tensioning, myriad insulators carefully placed and trimming back of stray vegetation to prevent shorting of the current. We'll also install a comprehensive electrical grounding scheme both through the earth and also on selected wires to ensure the electric shock load is delivered to an unwary invader.

We had a break-in last winter through an insecure fence at our remote site. After a ram raid the intruders did a lot of damage, but once we were alerted we were able to drive them away from our property. We restored the fences and it kept the intruders at bay.  The local police were not interested. The electric fence will present an additional layer of security and deterrence to keep these cunning intruders at bay. The intruders are of course sheep from a neighbouring field trying to raid our orchard when our winter grass looks more attractive than their field. 

The fence will protect our investment in recently planted fruit trees and also a hedge recently relayed in a the traditional manner (expensive). Protecting the hedge for a couple of years will allow it to regrow the natural defence of sharp thorns and intertwined branches.

The set-up cost, excluding labour, is only £5/metre or approx $3/foot of fence. Extending the fence costs less than £1 a metre. Planning the installation was quite a useful refresher course on planning for security situations where deterrence is required for human intruders. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Taking a break

I'm taking a break at the moment up in Derbyshire. Beautiful countryside and loads of beautiful driving and walking. In the evenings I've been helping a couple of friends with the websites for their businesses. Using Google Sites can be a really cost effective method of providing a reliably hosted web site, while allowing a simple interface for the business to maintain their own information. Here's one example from a local driving instructor. Pass with Paula is the site for Paula Duddles who is based in Belper Derbyshire. The site is all her own work developed from scratch, though I've helped her over some of the tricky technical bits and grasping how to use the Google webmaster tools.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Unrepentant bankers

Here's a quote from the Economist (on-line 21 June 2014)  from an article entitled "The shrinking of British banks is bad for their employees, the City and Britain"

Before the credit crunch, finance was Britain’s most successful industry, its biggest exporter, taxpayer and provider of well-paid jobs. 

The article is about senior bankers moaning about the reduction of the importance of banking in Britain. It is clear they haven't got the message! Their actions were responsible for almost destroying the British economy. They think they should be allowed to carry on as they did in the good old days. The public debt arising from their lack of integrity will take decades to pay off. The banking system invented a gigantic fraud for which many more people should have received long prison sentences, but now they think their overpaid life style should continue as by right.

Pensioners and savers continue to be penalised by low interest rates as a consequence of the bankers' dishonesty yet the bankers' remuneration continues to spiral upwards.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Work-around Epson WF-7110DTW Google CloudPrint

As mentioned in the previous post we have some problem with the WF-7110 printer from Epson losing connection to Google's CloudPrint. We'll have to wait for Epson to produce a firmware fix, but we have found that using the printer's browser interface to manually "Suspend" and then "Resume" the CloudPrint connection will nudge it back into life.

Friday, 6 June 2014

How do we feel about the Epson Workforce WF-7110DTW

In the previous post I mentioned we'd retired our old HP DJ1220C on the grounds of feebleness and frailty and the high cost of care. The lively new replacement is an Epson Workforce WF-7110DTW, an A3 colour inkjet printer with built in duplex printing. Here's our initial review. We like it.

The printer is clearly designed, as it's name implies, to work in an environment where it is shared between family/co-workers. It has a USB connection which was useful during set-up, but the main connectivity is over a local area network. It also supports cloud printing by 3-4 different methods. It makes it relatively easy to print from mobile devices with LAN or Internet connection. You can also print by sending a document via email to an account at Epson which then sends the formatted print to your printer via the internet.

The print quality is fine for most business usage. It is not really a photo quality printer, though it does a reasonable job at printing photo's when run at its "high quality print" setting. The colours on the photo prints look a bit washed out compared with our Oki colour LED printer. If we'd wanted to print a lot of photographs we'd have chosen a different, more expensive, inkjet printer.

So far the paper handling seems to work just fine on A4 and A3 paper. We're mostly using 80 gsm office printer paper and there have been no mis-feeds. The duplex printing is achieved by dual-pass of each sheet but requires no user intervention other than changing the print setting to specify double sided printing. There was a slight vertical offset between the two sides of each page which needs manual intervention during the print layout design, for example a block of colour specified on two adjacent pages will appear about 2mm out of register if you hold the printed page up to light.

When printing double sided at high quality the printing speed drops considerably from the advertised rate, though for routine office printing it is just fine. Having two separate paper trays/cartridges as standard is a real gain for network printing, we keep one loaded with A4 paper and the other with A3 paper.

We like the Epson Durabrite Ultra inks used by this printer. They are oil based pigments for all of the CMYK inks which gives a smudge free, effectively waterproof result. There is very little ink creep even on lower quality paper. The black is not as dense as a laser printer, but it is perfectly acceptable for day to day business use.

The starter cartridges supplied with the printer don't last long, so be sure to order extra spare cartridges when ordering the printer, changing the cartridges is easy. So far we cannot comment on the number of pages we'll print for each cartridge, but having separate cartridges for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black will save money in the longer run if the use of colour is unbalanced (using one colour more often during printing). The "maintenance cartridge" is an additional unit, a small plastic tank filled with absorbent material. As the printer cleans/charges the printer nozzles the scrap ink is dumped into the Maintenance Cartridge. I've seen no prediction from Epson as to how frequently it has to be renewed, at £18 retail it is an additional operational cost, let's hope it doesn't need frequent changes.

The network administration and monitoring of the printer works well. Setting up for WiFi was straightforward and changes after the initial set-up were not difficult. It is possible to password protect the admin settings. We use Google cloud print and this printer includes the interface as standard. There is a similar facility for the Apple cloud printing system, but we haven't used that facility.

Edit 7th June 2014: We've come across what looks like a persistent problem with Google Cloudprint/Epson printers. There are quite a few reports of this over a sustained period when we searched for solutions. It is an annoying rather than serious problem, but Epson do need to get together with Google to create a proper lasting fix. It appears to be at the printer firmware level. This problem has been evident too long.

The nature of the problem is when left unused for a few hours the printer appears to drop off-line so far as Google Cloudprint is concerned. We have to use the printer's web based Admin  interface to Suspend then Resume the printer service to get the connection running again. We still like the 7110DTW printer, but would not recommend it for businesses who wish to make extensive use of Google Cloudprint in their operations.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Paper not feeding on HP 1220c A3 Inkjet Printer

We do most of our printing on a highly reliable Oki LED printer C5800 colour printer. We've had this for several years  and it rarely jams or gives us any problems even with the double sided printing. You just need to change the toner cartridges occasionally and once in a blue moon the CMYK drums. It sits alone in a store room attached by LAN and always works.We also have a venerable old HP 1220C A3 Inkjet Printer that we use on the odd occasion, though since the office move this time last year it's been shelfware. 

This week though we had the need to print on A3 paper in colour so I dug out the HP1220C and plugged it by USB into our workhorse office PC and fired it up. The paper feed has always been a bit flaky but we coaxed it to accept paper through the manual feed. We discovered the HP original cartridges had dried up, no great surprise there as we'd not used the  beast in a long while. Nothing to fear as we had an unused spare set of new HP cartridges in the store cupboard and we whacked those into the machine. The black ink worked well and the colour was okay if we lived in a magenta only world. No amount of cartridge cleaning would persuade the new cartridges (Type 78) to print in full colour. By now time was running short and I could not wait for a next day delivery of new ink cartridges. We had to drive 20 miles round trip to the local PC World to buy some more. PCW only sold a combined pack of 45 and 78 Cartridges for a shocking £59! We bit the bullet and paid the ransom. Back at the office we hand fed the paper into the printer and coaxed it to produce 20 copies of an A3 document. If you take into account the 6 cartridges we worked through and fuel costs, the printing cost was £8.00 per page excluding any man hour costs.

As a consequence, we now have a new Epson A3 duplex inkjet printer on order for £200. The old HP 1220C will go to the car boot sale.

However to get back to the title of this post I had some free time this weekend and was determined not to be bested by the HP printer. I knew nothing was broken, other than the original poor design, in the printer. It was just a matter of cleaning the right part to remove paper clay from feed rollers. Of course the HP is not constructed for simple maintenance by office staff. Getting to the relevant feed rollers was quite difficult, but I eventually prevailed. If you look into the paper "tray" slot into the depths of the machine you can see a dark grey rubber feed roller on the right hand side. A torch help to see it. Using a nylon kitchen scourer pad, slightly moistened, on the end of a steel ruler I was able to clean the roller. You cause the printer to make a few page feeds while pressing the kitchen scourer against the roller using pressure from the ruler. It made some grinding noises, but did not pull the scourer into the works.

Since then the paper feed has worked perfectly!

Edit: 4th June 2014: - I spoke too soon, the HP 1220C decided to feed multiple sheets at the same time from the paper tray. It has to go! The Epson Workforce WF-7110DTW arrived the day after I ordered it on-line from Printerland. So far I'm very impressed. It has many modern features, such as remote printing which make the purchase well worthwhile.