IRIScan Book 3: pretty much useless

I just got an IRIScan Book 3, a portable scanner that looks promising when you check it out online. And I’m sending it back. The problem is that you can never rely on it actually scanning the whole page that you intend to scan. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to make a video of this but I hope I will manage to do one before the 30 days trial period is over.

The device is a nice idea, but it simply doesn’t work. If you get one, you can expect to have problems with it all the time. No, my device is not defect. The product is simply badly designed. There are two main problems:

1. As far as I can see, the scanner measures its movement through the rolling thingy on  the bottom, i.e. it does not use the actual optical sensor to register movement. As a result, it will stop scanning once the rolling thingy has rolled over the edge of the book so that it is suspended in the air. In other words: while the scanning sensor is still gliding over your text, the “wheels” tell the device that it is no longer moving and it will therefore stop recording the signal coming from the sensor. This may not be a problem if your book has a margin of at least 1.5 cm, but if your margin is narrower (or if you want to scan the notes scribbled on the margin) then the Iriscan Book 3 just wont work for you.
2. The frame of the device is too thick so that it wont scan what is towards both ends of the sensor, i.e. the width of the scanned image is smaller than the sensor window on the bottom of the device suggests. Again, you could work around that making a mark where the sensor really starts and use the device accordingly, but the problem is that you may not always be able to do so because the fold of the book is preventing you from shifting the device far enough. Similar to point 1 mentioned above, this will not be a problem if your book has large margins, but I have one here that has just under 1.5 cm margin at the centre fold and the leads to the first letter or so of each row to be cut off.

I could also complain about the wifi functionality (on the Irisscan book 3 executive), but that has become a minor quibble compared to these problems. The problem with the wifi functionality is that the Iriscan Book 3 does not conntect to your existing wifi but it sets up its own wifi hotspot and if you want to connect your computer or ipad with it, you need to disconnect from your wifi (and hence the internet), connect to the Irisbook wifi, scan, connect back to your original wifi and only then can you upload the scanned documents.

Honestly: this could have been solved better. Why did they call it IRIScan Book, when it can scan single pieces of paper just fine, but not books? Anyway: I’m sending it back. Luckily they I.R.I.S. is giving a 30 day money back guarantee, so that should not be a problem. Despite this, I recommend anyone to think twice before ordering this. If you think you might want to use it for scanning pages out of books, don’t buy it.

Instead, I will try a fascinating software called booksorber. I had considered it before I bought the Iriscan Book, but I thought it would be nice to have a dedicated device for scanning, rather than setting up my camera everytime I want to scan a couple of pages, but now I’ll give booksober a chance. I’ll post my exoerience here as soon as I had time to test it.

UPDATE [31-10-2013]: If you are looking for an alternative portable scanner, you might want to have a look at the Xcanex document scanner by piQx which I reviewed in another post.

ASUS Transformer Book and Windows 8: a big disappointment

OK, this is a bit off topic, but I have to briefly air my frustration about the ASUS Transformer Book (TX300CA – C4005P), which I’ve been waiting for so long for. After a few days of good willed fiddling with it, I’m sending it back cause I know that this will just continue to frustrate me, even if I am starting to get used to some of the annoyances of Windows 8, that drove me crazy at the beginning, such as the layout of the on-screen keyboard or the fact that it does not always show up automatically when you are in a text field (it does work with genuine Touch Apps, but only sometimes when you’re in desktop mode), or that you have to aim for the little X in the corner in order to close it, rather than a bigger key or a swipe gesture.

I guess I needed to use a Win8 tablet in order to understand what a good job Apple did with the iPad. I was similarly annoyed with my iPad 2 when I first got it and I still think it has major faults (not to speak about the closed systems approach of Apple in general), but I have to admit that they at least got the basic essentials of the user interface working. Things like browsing a webpage and doing a quick pinch to zoom in to read small print or smooth scrolling or simply making it easy to tap on a link or button or whatever without having to be dead on centre, those are the things that I now appreciate on the iPad. Because they don’t work.

While I appreciate the amount of pixels on the Transformer Book screen, this leads to buttons, menus, and text being incredibly small on your screen so that they are not only almost illegible but, most of all, un-tapable with your fingers. Only when I increased the screen display to 150 percent did the device become somewhat usable via touch screen. In the default mode, it you just keep tapping and tapping until you finally hit something and get a response (though it might be the wrong one, cause you tapped slightly too far right or left or so). Why can a convertible in this upper price range not be configured so that it is usable from the start?

And let me say, that even with 150 percent screen display, I often have to tap multiple times to, for example close a tab in Chrome. I guess you have to be dead on centre on whatever you are trying to tap and there is no tolerance or smart algorithm that makes Win8 realize that when you tap 5 pixels next to a link, maybe you were trying to tap that link. Oh, and speaking of browser. I installed Firefox first and it seem like they havent managed to produce a touch screen compatible version yet, cause what happens, at least on some pages (most importantly: google search results), when you try to scroll by swiping up: you are selecting the text on the page. WFT? – Anyway, this is not ASUS’s fault and probably not that of Win8 either, but it’s part of the experience.

Similarly, with the Evernote App: I wrote a note on the Transformer Book up to today but it did not sync until today. And it did not do so until I went back and tapped sync and waited in the App until it had synched 100%. Apparently it does not synch automatically in the background. WTF?

Another very basic problem was that when I first started the Transformer Book, the PC clock was apparently set to a date several weeks ago. OK, you cant expect the time and date to be right when you get the device, but did Win8 bother to check time and date with one of the many NTP servers out there? No. I had to manually trigger that my going to time and date settings and clicking on “Sync with NTP server” or something like that. And when did I do that? After I spent about half an hour trying to figure out why I was getting security certificate issues from Chrome all the time. It would not let me visit the most basic websites, claiming that there was a problem with that site’s security certificate. – The reason was that my PC time was weeks in the past and the website was claiming to be way in the future, and that is of course suspicious. So that was another wasted 45 minutes, just because Windows 8 was unable to automatically correct the date. What year was this operating system produced again?? Oh, and another consequence of the wrong date during installation was that when I corrected the date, the 30 day trial version of McAffee expired and Windows started bugging me that my computer was not safe. Not that I am in any way interested in McAffee bloatware, but what if I had installed other trial versions that I actually did want to try for 30 days?

It’s about time for me to mention one of the major failures: at some point the TouchPad stopped working! And no, it was not because I deactivated it with Fn + F9, it truly did not work. When I went to the Device Manager, the Touch Pad was listed as a “hidden item” because it was apparently not recognized by the system. (NB: the TouchPad is built into the Keyboard dock of the ASUS Transformer). I tried updating the driver, but it said that it was up to date. The way I eventually solved it was to boot Windows 8 in Safe Mode (Took me another 30 minutes or so to figure out how that works in Win8, since the F8 button that used to bring up the Boot menu in previous versions of Windows no longer works with Win8. It was so complicated (multiple clicks into some menu) that I don’t even remember how I did it. But when I eventually booted into safe mode, the Touch Pad started working again and continued to do so when I booted normally again. (Yes, I did try to reboot normally before, but to no avail.) I mean how can a Touch Pad just stop working on a new device??

But it fits with another annoying problem: the left swipe, which shuffles you through open apps, does not  works when the device is turned upside down and it also sometimes just stops working in other situations was well (i.e. nothing happens upon left swipe) and you have to use other ways to move around and then at some point it works again. And I think the same has happened with the right swipe, which is supposed to give you the charms menu, but even when the charms menu works, it seems to give you different options depending on whether you’re in desktop mode or metro mode (or whatever it’s called). But in both modes you will still give you some similar options, like the Control Panel, only in metro mode it’s called PC settings, and it only gives you very basic settings. Once you realize that, you still need to figure out which settings you can change via PC settings and for which ones you need to go to to the control panel. This is just an example of a broader problem: even when you decide to ignore those metro tiles and work mainly in desktop mode (which is not easy with a touch screen), it still feels like there are two worlds on your device: the touch metro world, with its apps and settings and what not. And the familiar windows 7 desktop. And the problem is that you don’t really understand how they interrelate.

For example, I installed Sugarsync from the App store, as well as the desktop version of sugarsync, and I still havent understood how they relate to each other. Admitedly, I have not spend much time trying to figure that one out, but that’s the point: I don’t want to spend weeks figuring basic things out all the time. I’m spending enough time doing this anyway cause I’m a gadget and tech guy. So I expect that basic stuff just works intuitively, and that’s simply not the case with Win 8. I can understand now, why PC sales dropped so dramatically: I will avoid win8 on my PC as long as I can too. Problem is: I won’t be able to avoid it on a Windows tablet…

Want some more failures and disappointments? – I really did not install a lot of Apps (afterall, there are really not that many in the App store!), but when I tried to do so. Microsoft app store was unreachable several times. (And no: my internet connection was fine, I tested that). But not only was it not reachable, but what annoyed me even more was that Windows 8 blamed my internet connection and suggested I should fix it when it was clearly a problem on the side of the App Store thatfailing to reply on time or whatever. I know, those kind of error messages have a long tradition in Microsoft Products, but I was under the impression that in Win7, things had improved somewhat and even functions like “Try to solve this problem for me” sometimes actually solve the problem.

And there is more: I calibrated the touch screen because my impression was that it was not reacting properly, i.e. not targeting the item I was trying to tap. The result was (and it again took me a while to find that out!) that the right swipe for the charms menu no longer worked. Its an official bug. Here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2795584. So although there is a possibility to calibrate the touch screen, this will result in Windows 8 becoming more or less dysfuctional, so that you are advised to reset the calibration.
Last, but not least, one of the bigger reasons for me to return the ASUS Transformer Book is that it is quite loud for my taste. Now, admittedly, I am not the typical user when it comes to fan noise. I cannot bear fan or hard drive noise and I don’t understand how people are willing and able to work on computers that not only have a clearly audible fan but one that is really loud. I probably could live with the of the fan of the ASUS Transformer book when it is running in its slowest mode (as it is during surfing and basic activity) but once the CPU gets just a bit busier (for example while installing an app), it accellerates so much that it becomes clearly audible and that is just a deal breaker for me, at least when so many other things are just not right.
It looks like I’m now going to be a bit more patient and wait for convertibles with the new Haswell processor to come out and I hope to find one with a Wacom Digitizer, so that I can highlight and scribble into pdfs while reading them. The Toshiba WT310 looks promising, for example, but if you have any other suggestions that come close to the following criteria, please leave a comment:
• at least a i3 core cpu (i5 preferred, or even i7, but that might lead to problems with the next point)
• low noise
• at least 11 inch screen, preferably 13 inch
• digitizer pen (i.e. non capacitive)
• weight well below 1.9 kg for keyboard and screen combined.
• touch screen
• touch pad in front of the keys

Track your mouse and keyboard usage

This is a bit off topic, but why shouldn’t scholars be interested in tracking how they use their mouse and keyboard? I found this little program called Application usage statistics (or UsageStats) which does exactly that. Its called application usage statistics because it not only tracks your overall usage but also by application and how much you spent in each application. Its opensource and quite new, so it’s not perfect yet, but it works quite well and it’s fascinating how many indicators it tracks (it even tells you your average typing speed and your Mouse/Keyboard ratio as well which keys you used how often and much, much more.

Some of these statistics are more fun than useful for anything in particular, but most of them can become meaningful when you start comparing, either your own data over time, or with others.

Given that statistics are available on a per application basis, you could, for example, compare, say, your mouse to keyboard ratio for a particular program with those of your colleagues and identify the person who is most efficient in using keyboard shortcuts for that program perhaps that person will then share those shortcuts. Or if that person is not even aware of why their ratio is different to that of other users, you can dig more deeply into the usage stats and see how they are using the program differently. Well, maybe my ad hoc example is not so appealing, but you get the idea.

For intra-personal comparison over time, it would be great if someone could come up with a visualization tool similar to Gapminder. But hardcore quantified self apologists will love even the numbers as as they are. 😉

One of the major caveats with Application usage statistics is that it currently only records one monitor. So if you are using two monitors with extended desktop, you will not get the graphical mapping of your mouse movements for the second monitor (clicks and keyboard strokes are being counted, though). If you want to encourage developers to implement multi-monitor support, please vote for the respective issue on CodePlex, where the project is hosted.

Another little quibble is that the program doesn’t install itself into the windows start menu by itself so that you have to navigate to the program files folder, right-click “UsageStats.exe” and select “Pin to Start Menu”.

Also, the program does not open from the tray icon by left-click. You need to right-click and select “Open”.

By the way: there are a couple of similar programs, but none of them comes close to what Application Usage Statistics does. You can trust me on that. But if you have time to waste, then go ahead and check out Mousetron and IOGraphica. Especially the latter is actually quite nice, but in the end UsageStats just combines the functions of the two and goes much much further.

WinEdt + biblatex + refsection

This little latex/bibtex problem has cost me some hours today and I could not find anything on the net about this. So maybe this is of help to someone (please let me know in the comments).

Note: this is probably only relevant to you if you use both WinEdt and biblatex with reference sections.

Problem:

I cannot get to WinEdt to work with multiple aux-files automatically. – Why do I need more than one aux-file for? – It comes from biblatex when you use the refsection command to create multiple bibliographies. Biblatex then creates one aux file for each section (marked by \begin{refsection} and \end{refsection}), and consequently bibtex will have to run over each of them. Something like this:

pdflatex mydoc.tex bibtex mydoc1-blx.aux bibtex mydoc2-blx.aux pdflatex mydoc.tex pdflatex mydoc.tex

(The endings .tex and .aux, are not necessary to run the commands but I include them here for clarification)

The problem with the standard configuration of WinEdt seems to be that all the macros which automatically run bibtex between (pdf)latex apparently don’t understand this special demand from biblatex, they probably just follow the scheme:

pdflatex mydoc.tex bibtex mydoc-blx.aux pdflatex mydoc.tex pdflatex mydoc.tex

Or something like this. I’m not really sure whether this explanation is exactly right, but in any case, I did not manage to get WinEdt to run properly on a document with refsections.And if I had understood the core of the problem earlier, it would have saved me some time.

For someone who is good at writing macros for WinEdt, it surely is not a problem to fix this, but I don’t have the time now to go into this. If you have a solution for this or a correction regarding the above, please post it in the comments.

Workaround:

For now, the only workaround for me, at the moment, is the following:

1. Run pdflatex by clicking the pdflatex icon in WinEdt
2. Open a command prompt window and run bibtex on the two files (i.e. bibtex mydoc1-blx and bibtex mydoc2-blx where “mydoc” stands for the file name of by main tex-document)
3. Run pdflatex twice by clicking the pdflatex icon in WinEdt

You can, of course also run pdflatex manually at the command prompt or write a script or fly to the moon, but since bibtex only needs to be run when my references change, this is most convenient to me.

Finally:

I know that it is very much recommended to use biber instead of bibtex when using biblatex and I would like to do that (especially now that both biber and biblatex are finally part of the MikTeX package). But: I did not get biber to run with WinEdt either. The solutions that I found on the web (here and here) did not work for me because they are not for WinEdt 5.5 but even when I tried them out on a trial version of WinEdt 6, they did not work for me. It just comes to my mind that  that might have been related to the use of refsections (i.e. same problem as with bibtex described above). But since the main point of this post is the combination of WinEdt + biblatex + refsections, I won’t go into this.

Cite original year using biblatex

Just a brief note for those who want to include the original year of publication in a citation when using biblatex (e.g. “Weber (1922/1978)” instead of “Weber (1978)”) .

If you are using one of the author-year styles (or author-year-icomp-tt) and biblatex version 0.8 you could easliy do this by including the following in your biblatex.cfg file:

\renewbibmacro*{cite:year+labelyear}{% \printtext[bibhyperref]{% \iffieldundef{origyear}{}{\printfield{origyear}\addslash}%   <--- added \printfield{year}% \printfield{labelyear}}} 

\renewbibmacro*{year+labelyear}{% \iffieldundef{year} {} {\printtext[parens]{% \iffieldundef{origyear}{}{\printfield{origyear}\addslash}%   <--- added \printfield{year}% \printfield{labelyear}}}}

But things have changed with biblatex 0.9 so that this no longer works. It took me a while to figure out why and so I publish my solution here since I could not find it anywhere on the net.

The reason is that the macros which print the year (in the citation and in the bibliography) have changed. So the additional line that inserts the original year (see above) has to be inserted into two different macros:

 \renewbibmacro*{cite:labelyear+extrayear}{% \iffieldundef{labelyear} {} {\printtext[bibhyperref]{% \iffieldundef{origyear}{}{\printfield{origyear}\addslash}%   <--- added \printfield{labelyear}% \printfield{extrayear}}}}

\renewbibmacro*{date+extrayear}{% \iffieldundef{year} {} {\printtext[parens]{% \iffieldundef{origyear}{}{\printfield{origyear}\addslash}%  <--- added \printdateextra}}}

Just add this into your biblatex.cfg file and look at the results. – If the original year still doesn’t show up, then you probably have to update your bib-file: the field origyear is no longer supported by biblatex (though it is still used internally). It is now called origdate (see release notes).  So what you have to do is simply replace all instances of “origyear” by “origdate”. Now it should work fine!

P.S. If you want to sort the titles in the bibliography according to the original year rather than the year of the used edition, just add sortyear = {1922} to each entry in your bib-file which has an origdate entry (of course “1922” stands for whatever the original year is).