The Week That Wasn't

The past week had the makings of a nice little vacation - nearly a full week’s worth, the possibility of wandering inland towards somewhere nice, green and warm, loads of books lined up, and a couple of extra gadgets to fool around with.

Guess what, it didn’t happen. First the kids got sick, then it escalated to pneumonia thanks to the utterly lousy weather, and finally my sinuses decided to join the fray and, despite a few hours spent coding late into the night (alternating with a few books that I’ll mention in a later post, as usual) I eventually had to give up and ride it out.

I ended up moping about the house all week minding the kids, the escalating siege to my sinuses and reading - on a Kindle by day and an Android tablet by night1.

When everyone’s better - all bouncy, perky and smiles, what do I end up doing? Clearing out old paper dossiers from the 90’s - rifling through whole chunks of dusty envelopes and sheets, scanning what little is worth saving and shredding the rest - just the thing to get my sinuses all riled up again and without any compunction to go on the warpath all by themselves.

Besides some newfound respect for the benefits of anti-histamines and massive doses of painkillers, there were other interesting takeaways:

Scan And Be Merry

First off our cheap HP OfficeJet 4500, despite lacking native AirPrint support, turns out to work pretty well as a network scanner.

HP’s mediocrity prevents them from supporting it natively under iOS (what little support it effectively had in the past was wiped out from their iOS apps when they invented the stupefyingly idiotic ePrint service), but I’ve already scanned in some 300 pages or so using nothing but my iPod Touch and a VNC connection to my elderly mini server2 to run Preview.

Merging and collating them on my iPad (again via VNC) was surprisingly easy, and all that’s left now is indexing and OCRing the lot, for which I’m considering a few alternatives (Evernote would ordinarily do, but I see no point in cramming all of this aged, noisy data into an app I use for research and archiving of contemporary content, not fossils).

The ideal thing would be something that added the plaintext as PDF metadata, and since I own an (old) license of VueScan, I’ll probably end up going with that. Or maybe Tesseract and some scripting.

Once I can be bothered to open my laptop, that is. I haven’t touched a physical keyboard in nearly a week, which is interesting enough by itself.

Crufty Pockets

Another takeaway was that Pocket is surprisingly useful, but definitely not quite all there yet. I started using it last week on an Android tablet solely because Instapaper doesn’t have - and likely will never have - an official Android client, and I needed a decent reading queue.

After all, reading is one of the very few things you can do just about anywhere and on anything these days, and before the kids got sick I was fooling around with a couple of Android devices - my own Nook Color (currently running a 4.0.4 nightly build) and a loaned Huawei MediaPad (still stuck on 3.2, like pretty much all tablets on retail) that I’m trying to build an app for.

Doing so on any of these would ordinarily be ridiculous given that I’ve recently joined the ranks of the new iPad legion, but the smaller form factor, easy availability of essential reading fare through the Kindle app and my reluctance in risking falling to sleep with an iPad on my lap conspired to make the little droids regular reading companions.

Throw in relatively good screens, days of sniffling and boredom and the Kindle app’s night mode, and it was only natural that I’d try to get more reading done on them.

Also, it’s not as if I can actually do much more on either of them than read. Even though I like Android 4.x’s overall aesthetics, even simple things like drafting text soon become a chore as I hack my way through the hobbled UI (I had to remove Huawei‘s “improvements” to text input methods to make the tablet useful for even that purpose, and most apps I rely on have no equivalent whatsoever, so there were no distractions).

Pocket integrates naturally with Android‘s intents (and well it should), but after using it for a week on all the tablets I had available, I found the apps - all apps, on either platform, flickery and uneven - I’d even go for unpolished, considering some of the things I’ve come across, like full screen whiteouts in “night” mode, flaky offline usage and random crashes (mostly in Android).

It’s cool, colorful and modern (and I quite like the way it deals with video), but still not as good for long-form reading as Instapaper.

TV is Gone

Finally, a little note on legacy media, mostly for later reference.

Our LG TV (a 42SL8000) went for repairs a fortnight ago, was returned “repaired” but exhibiting the same issue (looping reboots while initializing the backlight, probably a PSU issue of some kind) and a new, improved buzzing noise, so while we wait for it to be repaired again (hopefully properly this time) I’ve been pondering replacing it - which is ironic considering that we pretty much don’t watch TV these days (except kids’ cartoons3, some movies and canned shows) and that it was hardly missed during the past week (at least by me).

Nevertheless, nearly four years later, it bears noticing that it’s even harder to find a decent “dumb” panel without an ungainly jumble of frilly features that we have zero use for, and I have to wonder what I’d do if all those rumors about a forthcoming Apple foray into the field panned out…

  1. More on that later. ↩︎

  2. VueScan Mobile works, but I’d be stuck waiting for 30-odd sheets to scan at a time and this way I could let things literally run themselves without any extra software. ↩︎

  3. And even then, we get most of those straight off YouTube or - for those nauseating favorites kids insist on watching a hundred times - from local storage. ↩︎

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