Technological problems

Switch off those who find computing a yawn!

Yesterday  I thought I would take advantage of this enforced leisure and try to put up some navigation aids like a search button, list of recent posts and links to dated archives of posts. I managed to bring the whole website down!

I sweated through the evening, having most unsatisfactory email exchanges with a support person from my host service. He did not speak English as his first language and maybe this is why his replies came across as unhelpful and on occasions technically incomprehensible.

Eventually I suggested he restore the WordPress files from just after my last post. This has brought my blog and website back. But there are still important behind the scene problems  (access to CPanel for computing buffs) which I’m going to have to hassle support about today. These problems mean I am not totally convinced the crash was my fault.

No internet today

This morning I stopped at a supermarket to do my shopping. A notice said ‘no bank cards’. I tried the cash machine – no service.

Hmm. With just ten euros I bought dog food and decided to treat myself to lunch at one of my favourite haunts,’Chez Fatou’. I reckoned I deserved it as this morning I nearly fainted during a rather painful physio session in Ganges. (Not the physio’s fault and he quickly had me stretched out with my feet in the air to recover.)

At Fatou’s I learnt from fellow diners that nothing was working in le Vigan –  cash machines, banks and  internet were all down.  I had been lent cash by a friend I bumped into for my lunch. Not necessary said Fatou, I could have just paid when I next had cash. (Sounds horribly like someone who eats out too often!)

Two years ago we had no internet including banking services for nearly a week when someone accidentally cut the cable between Montpellier and le Vigan. Life came to an absolute halt for several days.

Nobody knows what’s happened this time. Others in the restaurant suggested le Vigan was the target of a cyber attack. I said a broken cable was more likely. (This underlines there should really be a second cable bringing internet services to Le Vigan. ) Later, one of the guys at our local diy store confirmed that I was right.

But this experience does both rely how dependent one is on internet connectivity. My reflex action is to reach for my iPhone to find the answer to questions. Not now. I don’t even know when I can post this.

Meanwhile I need to hunt down my cheque book, normally used just once a month to pay my cleaning bill.

Several hours later
My cheque book is not needed.  We are back in business.


Whoopee, my computer problems are sorted.

And as if to celebrate I had to drive slowly down the road from Serres while a whoopy (or hoopoe) walked in front of me, tucking into something delicious in the grass verge. It really is an amazing looking bird. I couldn’t take a photo, so I’ve grabbed a couple from the Internet. (Pity there is no agreement on how his named is spelt, but hoopoe seems the favourite.)

For those who know about these sort of things I had to deactivate cloud flare and my website host’s technical support changed the php version and deleted various security files. Et voilà,everything works again.

Irises – and blog publishing

The strange weather we have had over the past month, with unusual cold nights and more rain than usual has played havoc with grape vines and fruit trees, but everything else seems to blossom as usual. Even in my garden.
I’ve always been an ignorant gardener and now I have to rely on plants that can look after themselves. Thank goodness the irises continue to flourish.
These are the ones in front of my house, so they give me daily pleasure. Further down by the pool I have lots of yellow irises too.

Well, I put up these photos partly to show at least one of my computing problems has been resolved. The company which hosts my website changed some security settings and the version of some software called php, and now Envira, which I use to publish photos, works again.
But my problems with the editor remain an annoying mystery which continues to obsess me.

Computing problems continue

So far I have had no luck from my postings on the wordpress forum or from the support service for the program I use to upload images (they are as baffled as I am). So, my images of my irises will have to wait. Very frustrating – I hate being defeated.

Computing headaches

Well, I may be feeling smug because, as a Mac owner, I am spared all these virus and spam problems – at least so far. But I have been wrestling with problems which have quite turned me against computers this week.

Suddenly, out of the blue, I have had problems with my blog, and my website generally. I use something called WordPress, which is a free open-source content management system. It uses something called ‘Visual Editor’, another bit of free software which allows you to format text and insert images how you want. It is not working. And nor is another bit of software, called Envira, which allows you to upload pictures and insert them in your blog or other pages.

I should add that none of these are problems with my Mac: my website and all associated software is on a server (host computer) somewhere in California, running a flavour of Unix.

Neither is crucial to my well being, but I hate being defeated and I have spent a good part of the last few days trying to work out what has happened. One visible sign is that I have changed the selected layout (known in wordpress or wp parlance as ‘themes’) to one that is more mainstream (not sure if I like it, but it is here for the time being). I’ve been ‘deactivating’ other bits of software (plugins) trying to find the culprit. And I have been googling like mad and roaming around forums (or fora??) trying to find the solution. All I have found so far is that there are quite a lot of people who have had the same problems as mine, but that the reasons for them are so varied there seems no magic solution. I have also strayed into a world whose level of computing expertise – or at least knowledge of the jargon – is way beyond mine.

Anyhow currently I’m waiting for Envira support to come back with suggestions, and I have been exchanging emails with a young (I assume…) Indian who started by answering my queries on a forum and then followed up with email offers of help. Would that I had someone nearer home to turn to!

All of this seems totally unimportant in comparison with the current global cyber attack. One thing I cannot understand about this is why on earth so many computers were running out of date versions of Windows. Were the computers too old to be upgraded, or was it laziness, overwork, ignorance or maladministration that left the NHS, for example, so appallingly vulnerable?

Database struggles

Much of the last week I have been sweating over a database I first wrote well over a decade ago.  Somehow or other I had been persuaded by my friend Rose Pipes to produce the database primarily as a management tool for a project to produce a biographical dictionary, or encyclopedia, of the lives of over 800 Scottish women from all walks of life,  from early days to today.

This was very much a collective project and Rose, the lead editor, needed the means not just to keep track of progress of a project involving a vast number of contributors, but also to be able to produce reports for fellow editors and for the publishers, Edinburgh University Press.  The database also needed to be able to contain the entries as they arrived, generate a complex thematic index as well as cross referencing.

I must have been mad to agree, as I am very much a self-taught amateur of the database software I used, Filemaker Pro (a powerful database package for Mac and Windows supposedly within the grasp of the non-programmer…). All the more so because I was very much on my own, knowing nobody in France who knew Filemaker, and at that time I did not even have broadband to seek help from friends in Edinburgh or on the internet.

One of my most vivid memories of that time was not directly about technology, but about how to generate a consistent form of the names of the women, ranging from ‘The Blak Lady’ to various ennobled ladies with multiple names and titles.  I sought the advice of my father-in-law, a prestigious academic librarian, then in his nineties.  He arrived in France not just with complex instructions for indexing but with detailed entries of the women I had given as examples – he had not been able to resist the temptation to research these women (outside his remit!).

Amazingly, despite hiccups and sweat (Rose’s and mine), the database made its contribution and the dictionary was duly published in 2007. I heaved a huge sigh of relief: the funding had been so precarious that there was no chance of a second edition.

But there was!  A couple of years ago EUP said they would produce a second edition.  Rose contacted me and of couse initially I said “no way!”.  I was a decade older, recovering from cancer, and no further on in database skills – I had not touched filemaker for several years.  But of course, I gave in.  Rose is an old friend, the project is as always, running on a shoe string, and it was not clear who else they could ask to do the work.  Besides, I would have had to clean up the database, which is a bit like a very messy house with all the chaos hidden in the cupboards, before passing it on.

It’s not been easy: the database was not designed for multiple editions, I had to design scripts to integrate the two generations of subjects, cross referencing, changing themes, new authors…. ….   The revised database was ready (hopefully) for use just before I went into hospital last autumn.  But it had not been sufficiently tested, either by me or by Rose, and recently we have hit a major glitch (bug? error?) in the area to do with cross-referencing.

I have been sweating, as this time I am really responsible for the major problems.  I compounded them by renaming two of the 11 files which make up the database – without, as it turned out, sufficient knowledge to ensure that all references to these files were also modified.  Hence some painful time going through a huge number of scripts.

I finished all this yesterday, sent the revised database back to Rose and I’m now waiting in suspense.  All this explains my current obsession and inordinately long entry in my blog! Just to give you a flavour, here are the 10 of the 11 files with their multiple relational links. And if there is anybody out there willing to help, I would be over the moon.





Diversionary tactics

I should be working full-time to preparing the house for several months’ absence, during which the bathroom will be a building site while Stephen does major modifications to the shower.

I have been piling boxes of stuff into the spare room, writing lists of tasks for various people, redirecting my mail . And of course I have had endless last minute medical and dental events, including a crown coming out after the dental checkup, having to go to Ganges to get compression stockings in my size (another saga – I won’t go there now) and having to take two trips to the local blood laboratory to get the various blood tests required by the anesthetist.

Blood tests are another ongoing saga: I have thin veins which apparently collapse as soon as the needle is inserted.  On my first trip a woman tried without success, in three different places. At one stage the boss’s mother (also qualified but now very old) came in to find what the trouble was (the queue was mounting in the waiting room) and had a go as well.  At one stage I sat with both arms stretched out, fists clenched, with a woman having a go on either side.  Eventually they admitted defeat and I had to return the next day for the boss, M. Pages, so fill the little flacons.

In between, for relaxation, I have been carrying out a much delayed computing task: starting to transfer my whole photo collection from Aperture to Lightroom (for those who don’t yawn as soon as I mention computers).  I have now transferred photos from 2009-2016 and put them on a flash drive in case I am up to cleaning up the collection in the months to come, with only my left hand operational of course.  What I find amazing is that so many photos (I won’t go into how many thousands) fit easily onto a gadget smaller than my computer mouse.fullsizerender


Very right handed

Two weeks from now I will go into hospital to have my right shoulder replaced. I will then spend two to three months in a centre de rééducation. The first month the shoulder is immobilised except for controlled movements by the physiotherapist, thereafter slow practise at moving the shoulder, arm and hand.

I am as much preoccupied by the prospect of living without the use of my right hand as worrying about the op.

When my left shoulder was replaced I spent three months with the use of only one hand. But at least that time it was my right hand. I am increasingly aware of just how right-handed I am. Apart from playing the cello and driving I can’t think of any activity where I would choose to use my left hand. Also the left shoulder operation was not a great success. I have no pain but limited mobility. So currently I cannot reach the back of my head to brush my hair with either hand.

I face the little actions of daily life such as dressing and, without going into details, in the bathroom, with trepidation. I know that eating food is not a big problem because there will be staff to help chop up the food and if necessary I will just use a spoon.

But what about my addiction to all my devices – my phone, iPad and computer? I have tried using my left hand with the computer mouse and keyboard. Very awkward, particularly the typing as I am a touch typist. Thank goodness for the iPad. It is much easier to type with my left hand on its visual keyboard, albeit painfully slow.

Nevertheless my usual Christmas card to friends and family will probably not happen this year and the annual photo albums I give to my family will be very late.

On a brighter note, preparing for a left-handed future has given me an excuse – as a gadget freak – to explore a new (for me) technology. I have dictated this blog into my iPhone, whose speech recognition software has transformed it into text. Then on my iPad I have made one or two corrections before publishing it.

Computing support

I continue to have a role as a computing support person of dubious qualifications (the main one being that I know more than the people I help). I have had three people ‘on my books’ over the past fortnight.

The trouble is that two of them were Windows rather than Mac users.  I sussed out soon that Christine Capieu, my first visitor, had a sick PC.  I was tempted to try to reinstall her operating system, but then decided that life was too short to become a PC specialist and pointed her at the the only local shop in le Vigan.  Today Christine was back, complaining that the technician had messed up her machine and she could not print. I soon realised he had upgraded the system and Christine had to look in a different place for the print command.

I have been spending much longer helping my friend Yves Jaffrenou.  His latest work is being self published so he has to come to grips with some complex formatting.  I have set up a series of styles and tried to get him to understand them.  But then a new problem: his PC was making strange noises and closing down.  Some rapid research on the internet and I said I thought  the error codes implied the machine was overheating, but also that I thought he needed to reinstal his machine.  Again, I packed Yves off to the shop, where I’m chuffed to say the diagnosis was confirmed.

The third call for help should have been easier, as it was Charles having problems with his Mac (the same model as mine), and indeed the problems were easy to sort out.  But I do find it frustrating when people don’t make any attempt to understand how their kit works and are not prepared to invest any time (given they are all retired) to take in some very basic principles. They prefer to write down laborious ‘recipes’ for what to do in a particular situation  and these don’t help them address similar but slightly different problems.

But then, I continue to be completely dumb about cooking, sewing and gardening 🙂