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Meet Mr. Gadd, 83, of Fontwell Magna in Dorset

Posted on by Mike Evans

"Meet Mr. John Gadd, 83, of Fontmell Magna in Great Britain. He keeps a diary. He keeps the most incredible diary I have ever heard of. It is huge,  as in 21,000 pages, filling 151 volumes, and also contains some 33,000 photos and ephemera. The diary dates back 66 years to 1947 and contains some four million pages."

These words are written by Nifty the Notebook Addict who writes a fascinating blog about notebooks and all things scribbly. I never cease to be amazed at the quality and quantity of esoteric information that comes into my inbox every day. While the established print media disappears inexorably behind its self-defeating paywalls, hundreds of thousands of individuals throughout the world now have their own voice. And, in the main, they write more interesting stuff than the paid hacks of the press ever did.

  The Parker 51 had a hooded nib which was relatively stiff but wonderfully smooth, quite unlike most fountain pens we are used to. This vintage Parker from  Penhome.co.uk  is similar to mine except that mine has a brushed aluminium cap, a sign of the basic model, which I much prefer

The Parker 51 had a hooded nib which was relatively stiff but wonderfully smooth, quite unlike most fountain pens we are used to. This vintage Parker from Penhome.co.uk is similar to mine except that mine has a brushed aluminium cap, a sign of the basic model, which I much prefer

Nifty's notebook blog strikes a chord with me. I subscribe to several other similar sites because I have always had an interest in journals, notebooks, pens, pencils and stationery in general. In my younger years I could spend hours in stationery shops, back in the days when there was really interesting stuff around.

Nowadays everything is bubble packed and stripped to the minimum; gone are the tooled binders, boxes of carbon paper, gummed envelopes (heaven preserve us from self-adhesive envelopes that lose their stick after a month or two) and paperclips by weight.

Pens, in particular, have been a lifelong passion. In this I follow my grandfather, Harry Evans, who had a rare collection of fountain pens dating back to his earliest days at the beginning of the last century. They were all bequeathed to me, unfortunately at such an early age that I failed to appreciate them. For my part, my first real pen was a Parker 51, back in the 50s when this was the pen to be seen with. It cost me all of £6.30, or six guineas, at Boots The Chemist in the Manchester Stock Exchange building.

I don't know what happened to this paragon of penmanship but it obviously dropped off the perch somewhere along the line. It was replaced with a long succession of Watermen, Scheaffers, Pelikans and Montblancs; but no pen ever provided the sense of satisfaction I derived from the Parker.

Miraculously, only last weekend, I found an exact replica of my old Parker at The Penman in the Portobello Road market. It is reconditioned expertly and writes like a dream; but it cost 13 times more than I paid for the original all those years ago. Of course, six guineas was two weeks' wages in those days, a quite enormous sum to spend on a pen. Now, £80 is almost petty cash. Were it still made, the 51 would probably be priced north of £300.

As a result of this surprise purchase I have made a resolution to write a page of notes every day, just to keep my calligraphy skills in harness. If you don't use it, you lose it: And this applies to handwriting as well as any other skill. Reliance on keyboards means that eventually none of us will be able to write fluently, Parker 51 or no.

I'm grateful to Nifty for reminding me of this. Mind you, I have a long way to go before I fill 21,000 pages with notes. Sad to say, my daily journal is kept in the Cloud via the estimable Day One app. I confess that, unlike the single-minded Mr. Gadd of Fontwell Magna, I have never managed to keep a handwritten journal going for more than a week or so. But with Day One I am now nearing four years of doings, all without missing a day. Sometimes technology helps; it's just that it's nice to have the best of both worlds. Welcome back, dear Mr. Parker 51, the best pen ever made.

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Mac Security: Making life harder for those with evil intent

Posted on by Mike Evans

It is nearly ten years since I abandoned Windows and bought my first Mac. Better security that came with Apple's computers was one of the most compelling reasons for the change and I took some comfort in the fact that in 2005 Macs were still a niche product. There were so few of them out there, relatively speaking, that most of us believed hackers and malware artists were less likely to target us rather than the soft underbelly of the PC world. This could have been so But, even then, OS X was inherently more secure, requiring a password before the installation of any application for instance.

A lot has changed in those ten years. Mac sales are booming, there is no longer an "Apple premium" and Macs are now reasonably priced, albeit at the higher end of the market. With this success has come more danger as criminals find it lucrative to target OS X as well as Windows. Despite this, many Mac users still do not use virus-protection software because it is intrusive and can undoubtedly cause unpredictable problems.

That said, Mac users tend to be more technically aware and take other steps to operate in as safe an environment as possible. There are some things that every Mac user should do to protect themselves and their computer; they are simply implemented and should be high on everyone's list.

Topher Kessler, writing in Macworld, highlights four security options that we should all know and implement:

While OS X is relatively secure by default, there are some additional steps you can take to ensure the data on your Mac is only accessible by you, even if your Mac is stolen.....Overall, while Apple can do very little to prevent your computer from being stolen, OS X does its best to protect the data it holds as well as offers a chance that you can pinpoint its location. With these options enabled, you can be sure your Mac's data is as safe as possible, with little to no inconvenience for you

You can read the full article here. But Toby's four points are all absolutely essential to your computer's wellbeing and your protection from identity theft or worse:

  1. Enable the OS X firewall
  2. Enable FileVault
  3. Manage your passwords effectively and securely
  4. Lock your computer and enable Find My Mac

Most readers will already have taken these steps, as I have. In particular, FileVault, which encrypts your internal disk (or connected external disks) is an essential protection. It means that even if your computer is stolen and the disk removed for inspection (to circumvent the login lock), data cannot be viewed. I've been using FileVault for many years and have not had the slightest problem. It just works, silently and efficiently.

Similarly, password management is vital. I employ 1Password, as do most savvy Mac users. Not only does it encourage you to create really secure and unmemorable passwords, it manages the whole kit and caboodle brilliantly. All you need to unlock this potential is, as the name says, one password. This should be secure but something you can remember and it should under no circumstances be used elsewhere. 

In addition to Topher's four cardinal precautions, you need to be aware of the security risk that comes with using your Mac in public, particularly on free wifi networks. "Free" often means unmanaged and, if you leave the door of your computer ajar, nasty people could gain access to your data while you are sipping your latte. 

Christopher Breen addresses this problem in another Macworld article. He discusses ways to exclude intruders, particularly by turning off sharing that you might have enabled for a specific reason in the past, and the nuclear option of paying for a VPN (virtual private network) account.

These days, though, I tend not to use public wifi because of the various security scares. With fast 4G cellular networks available in larger cities, it now makes more sense to stick with your phone or iPad's mobile service and enable a hotspot to feed your Mac. In most cases, 4G is actually faster than most public wifi services. Christopher also recommends this and you can read all his advice here.

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iCloud Pricing: Legacy accounts to be upgraded

Posted on by Mike Evans

Two days ago I changed my £70-a-year 50GB iCloud plan to the new 200GB storage limit for £35.88 a year. Then I read several articles suggesting that the 50GB plan would be continued for legacy account holders with the implication that the price would be calculated pro rata with the new plans.

After a long chat with Apple Support I am assured that this is not so. All legacy plan holders will be automatically updated tomorrow or early next week. So anyone on the current 50GB tariff will migrate to the 200GB plan for around 50% less than they were paying before. There will be a pro-rata adjustment on the previously paid annual subscription.

This solves the conundrum and it is probably best to sit back and wait to see what happens. After the upgrade you can change the plan at any time.

At the moment, with three devices backing up, I am using under 30GB of iCloud storage. But this will change when iCloud Drive comes online in the next few weeks. iCloud will assume much of a versatility of Dropbox and I suspect most users will start to need more storage. 

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iCloud: Apple storage costs slashed in UK

Posted on by Mike Evans

Apple has now posted the new, cheaper iCloud storage costs and you can upgrade or downgrade at any time. I was on the old 50GB package (55GB including the free initial 5GB awarded to all iCloud users) and paid £70 for the year, equivalent to £5.84 a month. The new rates are:

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iWatch: The next big thing is coming

Posted on by Mike Evans

A few hours from now we will be introduced to the iWatch and I do not expect to be disappointed. Apple has put so much into this project. It has recruited experts from the luxury watch and luxury good markets and already knows more about what is necessary to succeed than any other manufacture.

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Dropbox bluffs users into paying for more storage than needed

Posted on by Mike Evans

Existing Dropbox Pro users are being asked to pay the same high fees in return for 10x storage. But they are being told if they opt to reduce to the 1TB package they will not be able to reapply for a higher package in the future. This is pure bluff and is a blatant attempt to ring fence current subscription levels. Don't fall for it.

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Dropbox drops prices dramatically in move to compete with Apple, Google, Microsoft

Posted on by Mike Evans

In my opinion Dropbox has always been the best of the cloud synchronisation services. I've been using it for over five years and never once has it let me down. In fact, on several occasions it has saved my bacon, allowing me to recover otherwise lost previous versions of vital databases. Now, in addition to reliability, Dropbox is good value for money.

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Dropbox: Overpriced and over here

Posted on by Mike Evans

Dropbox is to open an office in the UK So it is now a case of over priced and over here, to borrow a second-World War metaphor. Come on Dropbox UK, let's have some pricing action.  If you still want to woo me with your American charm, better reduce the cost of the nylons and the chewing gum.

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End of the landline as we know it

Posted on by Mike Evans

The landline, long considered an essential part of civilisation, is on the way out. Fifty years ago only relatively wealthy, mainly professional families had a telephone. Working-class families relied on the red "telephone box"  or on the one neighbour in the street who possessed the coveted phone. It was seen as a status symbol. By 1995 the landline was almost universal. It was the the mobile phone that had become the status symbol and was the preserve of the relatively rich.

Now mobile phones can be cheaper than landlines and have become the new communications norm. They do a lot more than fixed, wired telephones―in particular, they do texting and, in the case of newer smartphones, video chat and all sorts of smart tricks. For international calls, VOIP services have almost completely supplanted the long-distance phone call. 

Where does this leave the landline? It has become something of a dumbo. Mine seldom rings these days since most of my friends and contacts know that I can be reached more reliably on my mobile. And I use the mobile for most calls simply because it is more convenient with its link to my Apple iCloud contacts book. 

There are only three factors propping up the landline in the UK. First is that a majority of households get their broadband signal over the copper feed; second is the worry that the emergency services are less able to pinpoint your location accurately from a mobile as opposed to a landline. Third, something which few people think about, is the effect on credit status. Ownership of a landline is still one of the criteria which counts towards the credit count. The inference is that people who cannot afford a landline are less credit worthy; but this is surely nonsense these days. 

I could definitely live without a fixed-line telephone and I am seriously considering giving it a go. It isn't about saving the £15 or so it costs every month, it is more the acceptance that the landline has had its day and it is time to move on.

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iCloud: A service to trust

Posted on by Mike Evans

Ben Bajarin:

Given the beating Apple’s cloud services often take, I am sure you will be surprised at what I am about to say. I like iCloud. I rely on it quite a bit. What’s more, I trust iCloud. My expectations for iCloud have always been centered on synchronization. This has always been the killer cloud value proposition in my mind. Even during the days when many in the industry stated with confidence that the killer app of the cloud would be backup, I was confident it would be synchronization.

Read more here

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Happy 25th birthday, dear World Wide Web

Posted on by Mike Evans

  Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web

Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web

Today WWW is 25 years old. Those under thirty have known nothing else. Yet we older citizens can remember what it was like before in the internet and before all the conveniences, such as mobile phones and smart phones, that have been spawned in its wake. For us, it is difficult to believe that all this has happened in the space of a quarter of a century. Today, therefore, is a significant one, not least for WWW's daddy, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. 

This morning The Telegraph features our favourite twenty-something in its how-the-web-was-born feature:

Berners-Lee had to start from scratch and build all the infrastructure. He wrote the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to outline how information would be transmitted between computers, HyperText Markup Language (HTML) to create web pages, the very first web browser called WorldWideWeb and the first HTTP and web server software.

He also wrote the very first web page to ever exist, which simply described his work on the project and how others could create a website. It was hosted on Berners-Lee’s own NeXT computer in his office, with a sticky label on the front saying: “This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER DOWN!”.

 

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FaceTime Audio best app for Apple users

Posted on by Mike Evans

A few years ago I used to spend a fortune on calls to other European countries and further afield. All that changed with the arrival of VoIP apps such Skype. WhatsApp, Google Voice and Fring all have their followers and all have had their moment in the sun. But I do have some concerns over security. In the past I have given several of these apps permission to access my contacts book and I now sort of regret that. In order to use them efficiently you do need to allow them to get inside Contacts but none of us has control of what other use is made of the information. 

I have come to the conclusion that I can trust Apple, probably alone, with the information since it is already sitting on their server farms dotted around the world. All my stuff is up there in the iCloud whether I like it or not.

This is not the only reason I have come to rely exclusively on Apple's FaceTime. It so happens that almost all my regular contacts use an iPhone and many also have Macs or iPads. Up to now, thought, the snag with FaceTime was that it offered only video communication―leading often to broken calls and constant "redialling". Last week, with the must-have update to Mavericks 10.9.2 we can now use FaceTime Audio. I've been giving it a run over the past few days and can report that voice clarity is exceptional most of the time, especially on my fast home network, and the reliability of calls is much improved over the more bandwidth-hungry video. If you haven't already tried FaceTime Audio, Jonny Evans at Computerworld has put together a mini guide to get you started.

With all these advances in communication, the poor old landline is nearing extinction. Mine seldom rings and when it does I get something of a shock. I confess to some irritation at having to pick up the phone and the first question that pops into my mind is why the caller didn't use the more convenient cellphone number. This is especially annoying when I am out and messages are left on the landline when I could have been contacted at any time on the iPhone. There is now no overriding need for landlines in the home and I expect them to be extinct within ten years. If I were to move home in the near future I would have to think hard about the need for a landline¹ and thousands must be in the same position. 

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¹ I acknowledge that a landline is still essential for many as a means of accessing the internet, so it will have a purpose until other means are found to deliver broadband services. In my case I am lucky enough to have Virgin cable broadband running at 120Mbps, shortly to be boosted at no extra cost to 152Mbps. So I could cut the landline and live happily.

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50 Billion devices connected to Internet of Things

Posted on by Mike Evans

Predictions are that 50 billion household devices will be connected to the internet in six years' time. BT, just one example, is currently testing new network technology that will enable large volumes of machine-to-machine data in support of the so-called Internet of Things.  

I'm all for greater integration and more technological help, but I do worry about the implications for humanity as we become more and more reliant on an infrastructure that could one day fail us for a wide range of reasons, from accident to terrorism. Our ancestors were capable of killing a beast, rubbing a couple of sticks together to make a fire and producing a meal at the drop of a hunting knife. Even fifty years ago we could get along nicely without utilities if push came to shove. 

Now, in comparison, we are hopelessly helpless when any of our systems fail us.  Without gas or electricity our lives would be a nightmare; and it is getting the same way with the internet, things or no things. It is bad enough now when the broadband goes now; the feeling of isolation at being thrown back into the 1970s is a massive shock. Just imagine the future when every useful bit of kit in the house switches off one by one. How will we cope?

Perhaps we should start with those two bits of wood and a handy rabbit.

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iBeacon: Watch out, the invaders are coming from Cupertino

Posted on by Mike Evans

Beacons used to sit on hilltops. They were lit to warn of impending disaster such as, in Elizabethan times, the landing of a Spanish invasion fleet. Now we will soon become accustomed to the twitter of the iBeacon as it determines we are standing in front of the special-offer bottle of wine in the supermarket. Apple's inexpensive location checker is poised to revolutionise our shopping habits; indeed, it will revolutionise most of our habits. What is iBeacon? asks Alex Hearn, writing for The Guardian:

Sometimes the biggest changes in technology have the smallest beginnings. In the summer of 2013, Apple announced iBeacon, a nerdy-sounding feature of its new operating system that would "provide apps a whole new level of location awareness".

It's taken a few months to appear in the real world, but from CES to grocery stores – and, of course, Apple's shops themselves – iBeacon now seems to be popping up everywhere.

Soon, iBeacon will be bringing the Internet of Things to your local high street and things will never be the same again.

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