Free computer software


Latvia's flag

Latvia’s flag

Today is Latvia’s ‘Independence Day’. In fact the country is celebrating its 100th birthday today. Two years ago I would not have known that, nor would it have had any importance to me. Now, thanks to the wonder of blogging, I know far more about this small (certainly in terms of current population) country and take an interest in its culture, history and language. Admittedly that’s down to one blogger, Ilze, with whom I’ve developed a particularly close blogging relationship.

Many years ago I did visit Riga briefly, on the way to Helsinki and St Petersburg (it was then called Leningrad), though which way round I don’t remember but probably Finland first as that was work, USSR as it was then was just an interest in the city, as it was for Latvia’s capital. In those days, running my own business with overseas clients, I often used a client visit as an excuse to make an itinerary to take in other places of interest.

Would Riga now be ‘disappointing’?

I would probably be disappointed now by Riga – I suspect that though the architecture would be the same, as in Sibiu in Romania, the culture which attracted me has probably been overwhelmed by commerce – tourist cafes and restaurants, etc. I’m not a city person but nevertheless I would like to see the city again now that I know much more about the country.

Latvians are rightly proud of their independence; they fought hard for it in every sense of the word. Again, thanks to blogging I know not only much of the overall story but even some individual, personal stories.

The general story you can find elsewhere on internet, so I will not repeat it here, but personal insights are thanks to my special blogger friend, which I will not repeat here either. What I will do is pick out some unusual facts which have intrigued me.

Aerial photo of the beach at Salacgrīva

The beach at Salacgrīva

Seven things you may not know

  • Latvia is believed to be now the country with the tallest women, though I believe there are individual women who are taller elsewhere. Although I am well past doing anything about that now it is interesting because I have always found tall women attractive, as anyone reading my short story ‘The Girl in Block 18’ might have concluded.
  • Latvia is a leader in terms of internet connectivity.
  • It is also a leader in use of open source software. Perhaps that is more linked to freedom than saving money. Internet was, of course, intended to be free to all but has been largely taken over by commercial or governmental interests. I use a lot of open source software and had I not been introduced to PCs with an Apple computer (Europa II) long ago (actually 44 years ago) I would probably be using Linux today.
  • I knew of course Latvia had a coastline but I didn’t know it had a beautiful seaside, golden sands stretching from sand dunes to an inviting sea. So, if I ever manage to visit the country a stop in Salacgrīva, the home town of my ‘special’ blogging friend, will be a must.
  • Latvian food is mostly extraordinarily simple but delicious, from what I’ve learned from following blogged recipes from my good Latvian friend.
  • The country in which you will find the most Latvians who have left their own country is right here, the UK. You are all very welcome.
  • Latvia should be referred to as a ‘northern’ country, not an ‘east European’ country. If you know the history you will know why Latvians dislike being referred to as ‘east Europeans’. That’s not just because it is geographically incorrect.

So, on this day especially I wish my good blogger friend Ilze and her family, along with all Latvians everywhere, a great celebration and a bright future.

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lettersTrying to get back into regular ‘personal’ blogging I have the dilemma of what to blog about – skipping from food and cooking to another hobby, eg photography, writing, classic cars, or varied hobby horses, etc, as I used to do – or stick to one topic, as advised by the blogging gurus. I’ve decided on the former, for the moment. It suits me. I am working up to a cooking one soon, in which I’ll be asking for advice from the many brilliant cooks I follow, but today here’s something completely different, though it was brought on by a guest post from Joanne Gennard on the Ilford blog ‘Best in Black and White’.

Memories brought flooding back

When my mother died several years ago I found that she had kept letters which I wrote to her during my time in Romania. Many friends have suggested I should turn them into a book; though I wasn’t sure about that, I did promise myself that ‘one day’ I would save them in another, more widely accessible, form by scanning them and storing them also digitally. I have never looked at them until the past few days and, when I found them, assumed that she had kept all the letters, from March 1993 to mid-2004. Having recently been reminded forcefully that I am not immortal I decided to do something about it. Having read about a quarter of the letters, I’m so glad I have started the job: there is so much that I had forgotten which I’ve been delighted to be reminded of – eg, experiences with the many children I taught, for example the ‘Bunnies’, a delightful special needs class, pictured on the right (some of them have featured before, in a post on 27 January 2013) and even experiences at the start of my relationship with my wife leading up to New Year’s Eve (her birthday) 1999. We married in 2000.

ltr2-toner_ed

Not a letter but included with a letter to show my mother something about my internet projects and show her a picture of a class of delightful special needs children I worked with. I could not print colour then so stuck on a colour photo.

Sorting through the packet a few days ago, I found that the earliest letter is from over four years after I arrived in Romania, when they began to be written on ‘computer’ and printed. The many before, written by hand on what I seem to remember were called ‘aerograms’ are not there, not one. Why the printed ones were saved, but the handwritten ones not, I cannot explain.

Simple OCR

One of the reasons I had never got around to the task was that I thought I would have to transcribe from handwriting. No excuse now, I thought, as OCR (optical character recognition) should make the job easier. I’ve also found that it can be done in a much more relaxed manner than using a scanner and computer, by using an iPad and a great free ‘app’ called ‘Doc Scanner + OCR’. It takes a while to figure out how to work it but once that hurdle is jumped it is very good. It is not happy when the printing to be scanned is light, ie a pale grey, but really excellent when the type is a strong black. I’m still working on that, and on getting reasonably even lighting across the page being scanned.

scansetup_edFor my first attempts I just put a sheet of typing on the floor and handheld the iPad over it. It was quite difficult to hold the iPad steady enough and parallel to the sheet so I’ve now made a simple jig by carving up a suitably sized cardboard box (pictured). The zoom slider in the latest iPad OS camera is a big help in getting the image to the optimum size.

Once scanned and converted to text, I’m copying it and pasting into another free app called Pages, in which it is easy to edit (the OCR conversion is good but never perfect). Pages is another really great app which I use a lot, for everything from writing letters to drafting blog posts. Finally I’m backing it up to Dropbox and my ‘Personal Cloud’ as a pdf. When I’ve completed all the letters I’ll print them out.

I might even make a book 😉 .

Boxing Day was restful: a superb walk up to the Chevin Inn for lunch. Time in the afternoon to watch again some of the great dancing in ‘A Christmas Carol’ at the New Bradford Playhouse by watching my video clips (and later to put some more pictures and video clips up on the net – see below – as promised on the village blog which I edit).

We’ve called in the Chevin many times for a drink when walking back home from Otley Chevin but have never eaten there (though we quite often ate at sister pub The Stansfield Arms when we lived close to it). The food was good – wild mushrooms and gammon steak for Petronela, chicken liver parfait and braised lamb shoulder for me. The young people serving were very pleasant and efficient, and the Timothy Taylor’s Landlord was an excellent accompaniment. All in all a good experience. (more…)

Free very useful computer applications

I’m so impressed with some of the free computer programs/services I use I thought it might be useful to say something about some of them in case there are any readers of this blog who are not aware of them.

I must say at the start, I’m no computer expert though I have been using one daily for work since 1984, when I started on an Apple Euro II, long before PCs and Windows.

Of course you know the free WordPress. I paid for an upgrade only to register my username (grumpytyke) as a domain to reserve it; I set up the blog about four years ago but only began to use it in June this year but noticed one or two other people had begun to use my user name. Now it’s reserved and no-one else can use grumpytyke.com.

Dropbox

So, do you know about ‘Dropbox’? This can be used with any PC though I use Macs. This post was prompted when I was scanning my test films yesterday evening, straight into Dropbox. I use a MacBook laptop for work but have an iMac at home, to which my scanner is connected. Dropbox is installed on both. So when the files go into the Dropbox folder on the iMac, they appear instantly or a short while later (time depends on the size of the files) in the Dropbox folder on the laptop (when they are connected to internet). You can then ‘share’ the file with anyone else for whom you have an email address and they have access to them. No more attempting to email a lot of large attachments. Great for sharing family photos and videos. I will not say more but it’s a great service and it’s free (though, as usual there are upgrades from the basic for a fee). You don’t have to install Dropbox to access a folder which has been shared with you, but if you do the ‘sender’ gets another 500Mb of free space. If you have installed Dropbox and connect a digital camera, you are instantly given the option to download the files directly into Dropbox so as long as you have a good internet connection, you really do not need to take space up on your own computer.

SuperDuper

If you do use a Mac you will probably know about SuperDuper. This produces a ‘clone’ of your complete hard drive(s) from which you can boot up if your internal drive should fail. You boot from the external drive and it will behave exactly as the original. Far better than just backing up all your data or programs. When you replace the internal hard drive you just SuperDuper copy back the bootable version and all is as before. Again the basic version is free with upgrades for a modest fee.

OpenOffice

Then there’s OpenOffice. Why anyone would buy Microsoft Office for personal use I don’t know. This free version will provide more or less the same facilities as Word, Powerpoint, Excel and Access and it costs nothing. I write my posts in it then copy and paste into WordPress.

So, if you don’t use them already, have a look at Dropbox and OpenOffice if you use a PC. If you use a Mac have a look at SuperDuper too.

I haven’t put the URLs for each of the above programs as a Google search will bring them up instantly.