Archive for the ‘Computers and the Internet’ Category

Office 2016 for Mac: Because Microsoft Figures You Like Crap

March 7th, 2015 2 comments

For the first day and a half, the download would not work. They seem to have worked that out finally. Got it, installed it. My impression:


Major changes:

  • It now looks very similar to Office for Windows
  • They finally made it work with Microsoft’s cloud service
  • A few new bells & whistles, like a new presenter view in PowerPoint, were added

Maybe there’s more of significance, but I can’t find it, not yet at least. It’s more or less an Office365-compatible version with a more Microsoft-ish Ribbon, and not much more.

But hey, it’s now working with the cloud! Like, only years after Google and Apple have been doing it. But you get to use Microsoft’s version, which is even more difficult to use than Apple’s!

In fact, it has made the save and open dialogs much more annoying. You get the cloud dialog first, and have to click “On my Mac” to get into the dialog box to save the document on your own computer. As if it’s impossible to do what most other cloud services do, which is to create a sync folder on your computer, or allow you to change the settings so that you don’t have to work extra to do what you want to do.

Not to mention that the cloud connection takes time to establish each and every time you open it, making you wait—something I am fairly sure will not improve with the final version of the suite. And from what I can tell, you won’t be able to change that.

There are other bugs which one expects with betas like this—Word’s font menu is fracked up and will not jump to the font you want with keystrokes, and in Excel, simple cell selection is buggy and sometimes gives you the spinning cursor for as long as a minute. Those I presume they will fix in the coming months. However, too much else will obviously not be fixed.

What they did not do: fix the annoying and pointless perennial screw-ups in the software. Such as, why is there no “Default” button in the paragraph dialog box? It makes zero sense. It exists in the Windows version. Why not in the Mac version?

Why are page numbers in headers & footers still fracked up? You used to be able to just add the page number anywhere, in live text. For the past several versions, it was changed to be more like the Windows version, which is not as good as the old way of doing it on the Mac. Worse, the new Mac version is still different from Windows, and in a horribly crappy way: the auto page number fields are separate from the rest of the header text, in a way that is totally screwed up and easy to make the document look horrible.

The preferences pane is also still horrible, with maybe 1/10th of the options available in the Windows version. In fact, they seem to have even removed some things, like the way to get the ruler to stop showing character measurements instead of inches.

The Find and Replace interface sucks even worse than before, and the ^p and ^t in searches never works like it used to in Word 2003. What used to be the best and most powerful find and replace engine I ever saw is now annoyingly useless to me.

MLA citations are still fubar. First, you get that annoying fugly-blue bold “Works Cited” title, and the rest of the citation is just as screwed up. For as long as the MLA citation engine has existed in Word, it never produces a Works Cited list in MLA format. Seriously. More than just the non-centered title. There’s no hanging indent. Data points like the date don’t format right unless you type it in just right, making the point of a reference engine mostly pointless—I still find it much simpler just to use my MLA handbook and type it by hand. And it still seems to be stuck on the 6th edition style, which has been out of date for many years now. Hell, titles are underlined instead of in italics, which was changed at least two editions ago! Really, how hard can it be to get that right? Obviously, someone at Microsoft did a piss-poor job six years ago and nobody has bothered to change it since then.

Automated lists are still aggravatingly idiotic. Want to make an MLA-style outline? Fuck you! We’re giving you a maddening morass of crap instead! First, we change the font to Calibri 14 point (14??), then change the spacing to 1.15, and just to fuck with you, add 24 points of before-paragraph spacing! We’ll make every indent a smaller font size, and just to tick you off, we’ll have the I-A-1 correct, and then switch to a non-sequitur a), in italics to boot! And to change this bizarre styling which no one wants to use EVER, you have to navigate the multi-level list styles, which are frustratingly unclear and buggy! You’re welcome!!!

When I made a list at the end of an MLA-styled essay, before the Works Cited list, it not only made what I selected into a list… but then added two extra empty list points, both centered, one below the rest of the list, and one on the works cited page! And neither formatted like the rest of the list. WTF? Yes, there is a long-standing bug that still hasn’t been fixed in which formatting before a break will spill over between the boundary… but in this case, I had an extra blank line between the list and the break, did not select that extra line, and the bug manifested not when making a numbered list, but instead when I selected the new multi-level style. In short, lists still have all the bugs they used to have, and now a few new ones, too!

In fact, almost every single annoyance from Word 2008 and 2011 seems to still be there, a few even worse than before.

I have seen similar comments in articles about the update: “Great! A new update! I hope they have fixed [perennial failing]. … oh, wait, it looks like they didn’t.”

What Microsoft should have done is said, “Okay, let’s focus on making Word for Mac it’s own product, just like we used to, and concentrate first on making it work better and more smoothly than ever before. Let’s get rid of all the bugs and irritations, and see if we can make it do what users want, without extra hassle.”

They clearly did nothing of the sort.

Instead, it’s as if Microsoft completely ignored user feedback, ignored obvious flaws, and their only mission was to make the Mac version an even more badly bastardized junk imitation of the Windows version. Office for the Mac went downhill ever since they corrupted the entire app by trying pointlessly to do that. It used to be snappy and well-designed. Now it’s a crappy morass of blah.

I’ll still use it when I have to (more often than I would like), but am increasingly moving away. I use Keynote for presentations, Google Docs for word processing (in particular with my classes), and, well, I use Excel simply because everything else I’ve found is even crappier.

But hey, new app icons!

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags:

One Problem with Windows

February 21st, 2015 1 comment

It’s that you really don’t know when the computer you buy is going to be compromised from the word “go.”

Recently, Lenovo sold more than 43 different models of laptops and desktops on which they loaded the usual assortment of crap bloatware. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a collection of various programs which the maker is paid to load onto the computers it sells. Often the bloatware is questionable, producing annoyances for users. More than once I have known people who were incredibly annoyed by it, but could not figure out how to uninstall it—and so were forced to make calls to the maker’s technical support line to find out how they could rid their computer of it all.

Usually, the worst of the annoyances are System Tray popups, like you get now from software like Avast. Stuff that has to constantly be dismissed until you’re annoyed enough to pay—nagware, as it’s often called.

However, recent Lenovo users started noticing that their computers were doing more than the usual amount of intrusions. They began to notice that web site that shouldn’t have any ads in them started showing ads.

I’ve seen this before. I create web sites for the classes I teach, and of course there are no ads. So I was surprised when a student in the computer lab asked me why I had put ads on my site. I looked, and lo, there were huge sidebar ads on the page! For a moment, I thought my site had been hacked, until I checked other machines in the lab, and it became clear that only this one PC was affected.

Another time, a family member was suffering from all kinds of unwanted ads appearing, including those pop-up banners across the bottom of the browser window. Turns out that a browser add-on was responsible.

That’s the kind of thing Lenovo had built into a large number of their computers sold in past months—specifically, adware going by the name of Superfish, which is not just adware, but adware which opens gaping security holes in your system. Worse, Lenovo’s “solution” is to remove the adware… but leave the gaping security holes intact.

It’s hard to tell if this is worse than the time Dell sold computers for a couple years that had severe hardware defects—defects which Dell knew about, but still sold the computers and lied about the flaw to customers. I was acutely aware of this because my school had bought these very computers, and just weeks after the one-year warranty expired, fully half of the computers in our lab failed in the exact same way over the span of just a few weeks.

Nor are these fly-by-night operators: Lenovo is the PC unit of IBM that was sold to a Chinese manufacturer, and Dell is hardly an unknown lightweight in the market. Nor are they the only ones with problems like these.

Discussing this at work, a colleague (who hates anything Apple) complained that Apple computers are loaded with bloatware. And it is true that when you get an Apple computer, there are dozens of apps pre-installed. However, to call them “bloatware” is, I think, more than a little unfair. If you define “bloatware” as nothing more than “potentially unwanted software pre-installed on a device,” then technically the statement is correct.

However, the term “bloatware” has come to mean much more than that. The most powerful connotations include:

  • Demo Software which quickly become useless nagware;
  • Software which runs on startup and consumes significant system resources;
  • Adware, as noted in the Lenovo/Superfish report above;
  • Spyware, collecting data on the user without the user’s knowing consent;
  • Software which creates security risks the user is unaware of;
  • Software which takes up an inordinate amount of disk space;
  • Software which is difficult to remove.

Of all the above connotations, only one, possibly two apply to any Apple products. GarageBand comes pre-installed on most, if not all Macs, and includes almost 3 GB of support files (mostly loops and tutorials) which can be difficult to delete only because most people don’t know where to find them. Once you know, it’s simple—just throw them in the trash, along with the app. iLife and iWork, the next biggest offenders, come with less than a gig of support files between them.

And that’s about it. That’s the worst of it. Most other Apple apps have a relatively small profile before they are used. No demos. No adware, spyware, or malware of any sort. What little that runs on startup is part of the operating system, providing as-advertised system functions. Most are dead simple to get rid of.

And, unlike most of the “crapware” that comes on Windows boxes, Apple’s apps are, for the most part, pretty decent. Take a look at the a list of the the more notable apps:

  • Activity Monitor
  • Automator
  • Boot Camp Assistant
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Dictionary
  • Disk Utility
  • DVD Player
  • Font Book
  • GarageBand
  • Grab
  • Grapher
  • iBooks
  • iPhoto / Photos
  • Keychain Access
  • Keynote
  • Maps
  • Messages
  • Notes
  • Numbers
  • Pages
  • Photo Booth
  • Preview
  • QuickTime Player
  • Reminders
  • Safari
  • Terminal
  • TextEdit

You may not like all of them, or even most of them, but frankly, there’s some excellent stuff in there. I am unimpressed with Pages and despise Numbers… but Keynote is an excellent app. Dictionary is invaluable, especially how it works system-wide. Most people get a kick out of playing with Photo Booth. Keychain Access is imperfect, but very handy, and is much more useful now that it works over iCloud. Previous versions of Messages was so-so until Apple hooked it into your iPhone’s SMS app. Disk Utility is useful in addition to being simple and easy to figure out.

Perhaps the most overlooked app is Preview, which acts as a PDF reader and an image editor… and is really good at both. Not to mention how OS X, from the start, has had built-in system-wide PDF authoring capability.

Out of the 28 apps listed above, I use about half on a regular basis, and others from time to time.

If you want to call this bloatware, fine—but I would take Apple’s bloatware over that on any Windows PC any day of the week and twice on Sunday. There is a massive qualitative difference between the two. Apple’s is designed to be valuable, useful software of use to as many people as possible without cost or annoyance. The crapware on Windows boxes, even when not a major security risk, is put there primarily to make money off of you and annoy the fracking hell out of you.

So, yes, slight difference.

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Unbundling Is Overdue

February 7th, 2015 1 comment

The FCC’s recent stance on Net Neutrality is nice and all, but one critical elements is still missing: unbundling, which requires carriers that own infrastructure to lease their last-mile connections with competing services at low, regulated rates. You might think that it’s unfair to force companies to share private resources, but (1) these resources are built on public land, and (2) were heavily subsidized by federal, state, and local governments—i.e., you, the taxpayer. They may own it, but you mostly paid for it.

This egregious sop to the telecoms largely goes unnoticed, but the lack of bundling more or less prevents meaningful competition, thus causing higher prices and slower service. Unbundling in Japan and Europe has created healthy competition and far superior service. For example, I get fiber-optic FTTH Gigabit service at home, which includes telephone service (we could add TV for a nominal fee if we wanted) and my monthly bill is less than $60. Plus we get $150 – $300 per year off our two cell phone contracts for using the same carrier for both. $30 a month can get you 100 Mbps service.

In the U.S., how many choices do you get for Internet service? In Japan, it’s not uncommon to have your choice of half a dozen providers offering various deals and packages when you go to any electronics store and visit the carrier counter.

My Computer students are always shocked to hear that Internet service in the U.S. is slower and more expensive than in Japan. Yes, some of it is due to the U.S. being a larger country, but the lack of strong government incentives, too little regulation, or any kind of comprehensive national policy to promote a healthy market are far more responsible for the shoddy product so many Americans suffer with nowadays.

Apple Security Myths

February 6th, 2015 2 comments

How many times have you heard Apple users say that Apple devices are invulnerable to malware, 100% safe from viruses, and simple are so secure that they can never, ever be hacked?

It might seem that you have heard it said countless times.

However, I’d be willing to wager that you have, in fact, never heard any such thing.

What you have likely heard is a combination of two things. First, Apple users saying that their devices are more secure than other devices, and second—and likely much more commonly—you have heard people annoyed by Apple users claim they have heard Apple users make such claims countless times.

Here’s an interesting test: go to Google, and search for “Apple” along with terms like “invulnerable” and “hack-proof.”

I guarantee you that you will not find hordes of Apple users gushing about the bulletproof nature of their products. In fact, you will probably not see even a single result of that nature.

Instead, you will find an endless stream of results which impugn the purported claim. These consist of two basic groups: reports which “debunk” the “myth” of Apple’s invulnerability (often by security companies making overblown claims about the vulnerability of Apple products so as to sell their Mac-based products), and non-Apple users expressing undying irritation at Apple users smugly claiming that their devices are invulnerable.

But not anyone actually making the claim itself.

This tracks with my own experience: I have never heard any Apple user claim that Macs are 100% secure.

In short, the myth is not that Apple products are incapable of being hacked. They myth is that Apple users make that claim at all.

Here’s what Apple users will claim:

  • Apple devices are more secure than Windows or Android counterparts (true)
  • Most Apple users have never experienced any kind of malware attack (probably true, though some may have just never discovered the attack)
  • There have been very few successful attacks against Apple devices that have resulted in any harm (true)
  • Hackers less often target Apple devices, often because the target is much smaller (probably true, though ironically, an argument more often made by Windows enthusiasts trying to prove that Macs are equally vulnerable)
  • As an Apple user, they don’t really need security software (a matter of opinion—not a claim of invulnerability, but rather like not having to buy insurance against being struck by lightning)
  • Apple’s OS software has built-in security (true)

When Apple users make such claims, this is inevitably translated into the often-heard “My Mac can’t be hacked” claim.

Imagine telling people that you live in a safe neighborhood, and then later hear other express exasperation at your smug claims that you live in an impenetrable fortress and criminals could never, ever break into your home.

Wouldn’t that kind of irk you, just a little? ‘Cause it does me. I get really tired of the endless whining about how Mac users are just so smug and so stupid.

Here are the actual myths: (1) that Apple users commonly make the claim, and (2) that Apple devices are “just as vulnerable” to attack as Windows and Android devices, and happen just as frequently.

Regarding the second claim, it just isn’t true. That does not mean there are no successful attacks against Apple devices—the 2012 Flashback trojan, which could infect a Mac without users helping it, infected a large number of Macs.

However, one should note that that event was the single worst successful attack against Macs. Almost all other malware for Macs consists of social-engineering trojans, or else fringe attacks which have little actual effect.

The social-engineering trojans are inevitably going to appear on any system, and no security system will ever be able to fully protect a computer from them. They are essentially programs which the user is tricked into installing, usually software purporting to allow videos to play.

What you hear about more often are the fringe attacks, usually things like rootkits which require physical access to the device, or else proof-of-concept hacks and attacks which do not penetrate the community deeply and/or do little if any damage at all.

These are usually ballyhooed by security firms like Sophos or Kaspersky, made to seem like dire universal threats so that Mac users will be frightened into using their software. However, apps claiming to protect your Mac are usually more trouble than they are worth. They give the impression that they provide a wall of security for your computer, but in fact cannot block any exploit which is not already in their libraries—thus, any new attack will slip by them. This happened with Flashback, which Apple fixed with security updates almost as quickly as apps like Sophos added the ability to detect and thwart the attack.

When I myself used these anti-virus apps to do sweeps of my Mac, I was eminently annoyed by the fact that the apps reported dozens of threats. I was not annoyed because my Mac was infected, but because it was not infected. What the “security” app reported was all the Windows malware that sat in my Mail app’s attachment repository. Not a single Mac threat among them—but this “security” app I used did not note that fact, and so I wasted an hour or so looking up every last one on the list, only to discover that none were in fact a threat to me.

I do use security on my Mac; I won’t go into detail about the specifics for obvious reasons, but I will say that I don’t use Sophos, Kaspersky, or apps of that nature on a regular basis. From time to time I will install one and do a sweep out of curiosity, but then I’ll delete the app, for good reason. I have several other solutions, one of which protected me from the Flashback trojan at a time when the “security” apps would have missed it.

I also follow some basic common-sense rules which every computer user, Apple or otherwise, should know and follow. Don’t trust pirated software. Don’t follow email or other links which claim to give you profit or protection. Try to download apps or plug-ins only from trusted sources, and ensure you are doing it right by directly entering the URL (to update Flash, for example, I never follow a link from a broken video; I type “” into the address bar). Before clicking on a link, check the URL displayed in the status bar, and watch the address bar for any suspicious redirects. If I do install something, I get 1000% more suspicious when the installer requires the system password. And I monitor the news for emerging malware threats to the Mac.

Am I invulnerable to attack? Hardly. But I live in a good neighborhood, have a security system, and I keep my eyes open. That’s about as good as it gets.

Microsoft Bing: Small Tsu = Porn?

May 3rd, 2014 1 comment

I am on Facebook a lot now, and try to read some Japanese-language posts, especially ones written by my wife. They have the “See Translation” option, provided by Microsoft’s Bing, which supposedly translates the Japanese text into English.

The problem is, it often translates like it was written by a deranged screenwriter specializing in bad porn. Seriously, it’s like one of those Chinese dictionaries that resulted in obscene English labels in Chinese supermarkets.

Now I know that machine translation between European and East Asian languages is spotty at best, but one would think that certain words would simply not be in the translation matrix, or whatever it’s called.

However, it seems to be mostly related to a single Japanese character.

Take this sentence in Japanese:

フィギュア男子素晴らしい演技でしたね。 すごいっ!ステキっ!

A fair translation would be, “It was a wonderful performance in the men’s figure skating. Wow! Great!”

On Facebook, it was translated as:

Figure men’s amazing performance was … wow.! Nice boobs!

I tried going to Bing translation directly, pasted the sentence there—and it was even worse:

It was the figure men’s great acting. Amazing boobs! Nice boobs!

Seriously? “Boobs”?

Turns out that the “boobs” comes whenever a small “tsu” () appears out of place, used often in Japanese to create a sudden stop, acting kind of like an emphasis for the exclamation point. On Google translate, it comes out as “tsu” or (strangely) “LI.”

But “boobs”?

Here is a Bing translation of a single Facebook post:

In less than two hours March! (early!) fliped over my private calendar is out! (did buy a desk calendar “Hoshino Chan” thanks for accepted calendar for a super House by mistake, I have is and & my husband face big boobs a March to forgive.) was indeed warm day, so it was just a happy. Mood shop & cold hardens me you cum Sasha! I’ll do it! (what? for) of switch “chubby!”, I feel that it was. (Lol) weekend winter mode is, but another relapse is also no sense.

Seriously? “Big boobs,” and “cold hardens me you cum”? I’ve been getting questions from my family as to what exactly Sachi is writing in Japanese.

When I put the text into Bing’s official page, again it identified the small “tsu” () as the part translated as “boobs”—but it also translated the exact same character into “cum” in another sentence! What the…?

This is what you get if the exact same message in Japanese is put into Google Translate:

March in less than 2 hours to go! (Ll soon) Tsu was turning a private calendar of my home!
(And me accepted me to buy a desk calendar calendar super home for you’ve had “Hoshi-chan” by mistake and … face Deka-tsuna March excuse of & husband thanks) Today is because it was a warm day, I was happy with it. For me, that hardens and cold moody & was the day that was popular, the feeling that “Pochi” was the switch “Yaruzo pretensions” of (what for) … (laughs) The weekend seems to winter mode, but there is no sense going back.

As you can see, the translation as a whole is better on Google. It’s still mangled, but much more clear, and no porn terminology.

The thing is, it’s not just the two strange “tsu” related hiccups I found—strange words find their way into the text fairly commonly. Here’s a collection of sentences that I have strung together from various sources, to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

Gaping! I always do you have weed… Hand fetish with me! Will drink your father who ate and I’m sure. Walk to him cum ♪ suffice in the exercise of said. I was the time you pack. Also to go out, when combined in the dog ultra-most fortunately I’m a boobs. Requests off my husband cum!

So, was Microsoft’s software intentionally sabotaged, and after months or years nobody at Microsoft noticed? What the hell is going on there?

The Disk Wasn’t Ejected Because We’re Stupid

April 26th, 2014 2 comments

I simply cannot believe that Apple still has this infuriating bug after all these years. Connect external volumes and try to eject… and OS X comes up with this message:

The disk “(diskname)” wasn’t ejected because one or more programs may be using it.
To eject the disk immediately, click the Force Eject button.

The “one or more programs” is so idiotically vague as to be worse than useless. The thing is, it’s almost always some process in OS X, some stupid Apple service like indexing the volume, something that of course should just shut down when you try to eject… and after all these years Apple still hasn’t corrected it. Freaking pisses me off to no end.

In order to eject the disk, you usually have to close every app you’re running and reboot the computer—something that is so SCSI and 1980′s that it’s pathetic. Follow the “Force Eject” suggestion, and some disk formats will not remount until OS X spends 20-30 minutes working on it somehow.

It should be a simple and obvious point, but Apple seems to be either incapable of fixing it or else doesn’t give a crap.

Tweetless Twitter

April 14th, 2014 Comments off

This did not surprise me at all:

According to a report from Twopcharts, an online service that tracks twitter users have found that, 44 percent of twitter users do not use twitter. These users have a twitter account, but never tweeted anything. This report says 30 percent of existing twitter accounts have sent 1-10 Tweets.

In other words, 74% of all Twitter accounts result in people never really doing anything with them. It does not surprise me because that’s about how long it takes for people to figure out that they really don’t want to tweet as much as they thought they did.

And I’m one of them. Never got into the Tweeting habit. Tried it, thought “meh,” moved on.

Except I use my Twitter account all the time: I find it is excellent for getting me into comment sections of web sites. I despise having to register an email address and wait for the sometimes unforthcoming confirmation email before I can drop a quick note into a discussion. A lot of places now allow you to sign in with Twitter. And that does not bug me in the least, as I used a junk email account to initiate it, and never put anything up on my page.

Essentially, for me, Twitter is just a way to comment on sites more easily. Works swell in that way!

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Well, This Is a New One

February 18th, 2014 2 comments

I am used to the idea of splogs—fake blogs which steal content from real blogs so as to generate income from advertising—but today I saw something I had never seen before. Perhaps, in the spirit of “splog” (spam + blog), perhaps you could call what I found a “Spews Site”—Spam + News Site.

I was searching for more information about a news story and was running through dozens of syndicated duplicates, when I came across one which was almost the same as the other dupes… but was worded rather ridiculously. I soon realized that I had stumbled onto a site which took syndicated news stories, but presumably to avoid paying the fees, they had a robot script go through and replace every 4th or 5th word with a random synonym from a thesaurus. Since it was done mechanically, a lot of the words come across as somewhat bizarre.

Here’s an example—real story on the left, and ripped-off version on the right:

Confederate sub made history 150 years ago Monday

On a clear, moonlight night 150 years ago, the hand-cranked Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley glided out over glassy seas off South Carolina, sailing into history as the first submarine ever to sink an enemy warship.

A century and a half later — and nearly a decade and a half after the sub was raised — just why the Hunley and its eight-man crew never returned is a mystery, albeit one that scientists may be closer to resolving.

Monday marks the 150th anniversary of the Feb. 17, 1864, mission in which the Hunley sank the Union ship Housatonic as the Confederates desperately tried to break the Civil War blockade that was strangling Charleston. While the Housatonic sank, so did the Hunley.

Confederate underling done story 150 years ago Monday

On a clear, light night 150 years ago, a hand-cranked Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley glided out over slick seas off South Carolina, sailing into story as a initial submarine ever to penetrate an rivalry warship.

A century and a half after — and scarcely a decade and a half after a underling was lifted — only because a Hunley and a eight-man organisation never returned is a mystery, despite one that scientists might be closer to resolving.

Monday outlines a 150th anniversary of a Feb. 17, 1864, goal in that a Hunley sank a Union boat Housatonic as a Confederates desperately attempted to mangle a Civil War besiege that was slaying Charleston. While a Housatonic sank, so did a Hunley.

Now, to their credit, they link to the original… but it still comes across as pretty shameless.

Network Neutrality Dealt a Heavy Blow

January 15th, 2014 4 comments

The D.C. circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision today to essentially give Telecoms sweeping powers to manipulate Internet access, control content, and do their worst to make the Internet more expensive and snarled.

Telecoms can now freely block content as they please. If there is a competitor to their own services or services provided by an affiliate, they can throttle or block them; if there’s an app they don’t like, they can cripple its traffic.

Consumer advocacy group Free Press lamented the ruling. “We’re disappointed that the court came to this conclusion,” Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said in a written statement. “Its ruling means that Internet users will be pitted against the biggest phone and cable companies—and in the absence of any oversight, these companies can now block and discriminate against their customers’ communications at will.”

More importantly, they can now charge whatever fees they wish for faster speeds. Netflix or Amazon wants to stream video? Well, they better pay huge wads of cash to the Telecoms if they want their current speeds to continue. Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T can now decimate their businesses unless they pay the Telecoms whatever the market will bear.

Which means that you, the consumer, will be paying more and more in the long run, because those fees will without any doubt whatsoever be passed on to you. The Internet just got a whole lot more expensive—and the Telecoms, already gorged with profits, will be swallowing all of that up.

Now, remember for the past several years how the Telecoms have been whining about how that excess revenue is absolutely vital to fund rollouts of faster fiber service nationwide? Well, they said that when they got permission to raise fees years ago, and they lied then—there is almost no doubt that they are lying again now:

In the U.S., there’s no practical competition. The vast majority of households essentially have a single broadband option, their local cable provider. Verizon and AT&T provide Internet service, too, but for most customers they’re slower than the cable service. Some neighborhoods get telephone fiber services, but Verizon and AT&T have ceased the rollout of their FiOs and U-verse services–if you don’t have it now, you’re not getting it.

Meaning that, despite years of promising that they would give us all bright, new, shiny bandwidth in exchange for today’s ruling, we will get only what profits them the most and not on baud more.

Expect the Internet to get less efficient and more expensive. I hope I am wrong, but we’re talking about a newly-unfettered corporate will now able to do almost whatever they want in a market ripe for exploitation. It seems impossibly naive to expect anything but a worse consumer experience.

The Metro-Interfaced Turd

May 13th, 2013 2 comments

Microsoft is getting fed up with people telling them how badly Windows 8 sucks. Frank Shaw, a Microsoft VP of communications, said:

In this world where everyone is a publisher, there is a trend to the extreme — where those who want to stand out opt for sensationalism and hyperbole over nuanced analysis. In this world where page views are currency, heat is often more valued than light. Stark black-and-white caricatures are sometimes more valued than shades-of-gray reality.

So let’s pause for a moment and consider the center. In the center, selling 100 million copies of a product is a good thing. In the center, listening to feedback and improving a product is a good thing.

“Nuanced analysis” being sales-talk for “I’m about to lie to you.” Hate to carp on this, buddy, but you didn’t sell 100 million copies. That may be the pipeline number, but as for actual copies sold and in use, the number is closer to 60 million. Some of the licenses have been shipped but not sold, and a good many are simply not used—users even pay a premium so they can downgrade to Windows 7.

Not to mention that of the 60 million probable actual sales, it is more than likely that most were not willful, but instead were people who simply bought computers and Windows 8 happened to be on them. Not to mention that Windows 8 is now on tablets, which cannot downgrade to Windows 7, and tablet sales are included in the numbers reported, inflating the overall numbers and yet making the picture more dismal for the Desktop.

This all means that instead of matching the adoption rate of Windows 7, Windows 8 is doing probably only about half as well, if even that.

Which, of course, is in line with reality, as most people agree: Windows 8 sucks on desktop computers. I get the same vibe from W8 users that I got from Vista users. If Vista was a Chrome-Plated Turd, Win 8 is a Turd in a Metro interface. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not just trashing Windows, else I would call W8 a total failure. The fact is, for a tablet, 8 is supposedly a sweet ride. But that’s the problem: Microsoft designed 8 for tablets, and apparently figured that it would be perfectly fine for desktops as well.

Which raises the same question I had on the first day of the Windows 8 public beta release: What the frack is Microsoft thinking? It took me all of five minutes to conclude that Windows 8 was a complete and total frack-up on a desktop. It was not an act of genius on my part, it was simply stupendously obvious.

I mean, really: changes to the basic user interface without even a hint to users about what to do? No tutorial? No step-by-step? Are you kidding me? And then later, with the official release, still no compensation?

And even if Microsoft had decided to keep the Start menu in it, the OS was hardly a worthy upgrade for desktop users in the first place.

Shaw’s complaint comes across as… well, let’s just say that if we pause for a moment and consider the center, the center is realizing that you have seriously screwed up and so you have to cover your ass with excuses. Which explains his corporate ass-covering statement.

Microsoft has had four OS releases in the past 12 years. Two have been successful, stable, and well-liked releases. However, the other two have been breathtaking pieces of crap.

That’s not really a very good track record.

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags:

Windows 8 PC Sales: “Horribly Stalled”

March 10th, 2013 1 comment

A computer industry analyst talks about why:

There were certain decisions that Microsoft made that were in retrospect flawed. Notably not allowing people to boot into desktop mode and taking away the start button. Those two things have come up consistently. We’ve done some research and people miss that.

“In retrospect”? Really? They didn’t see that coming?

Before the official release of Windows 8, I noted:

Windows 8 will be released very soon, and when it comes out, we’ll see if Microsoft is completely stupid or not.

The test: whether or not Microsoft has added a tutorial to Windows 8. One which pops up immediately and tells people how things have changed, and how to get around the OS.

With Windows 8, the Start Menu is gone, cannot be brought back, and has been replaced with the now-infamous start screen. Going from one place to another now requires new actions which are not apparent because they are not visible on the screen. It is anything but intuitive to figure out that moving your cursor to a corner will bring up a screen you are looking for.

When I first downloaded Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I was hopelessly confused. I could not figure out how to get around—and I’m no n00b to Windows, either. There are bound to be lots of people who will be stymied when they see Windows 8, and who will hate the transition. “What?! I can’t bring back the Start menu? Why not?!?”

This was posted well after the beta release, but that’s just when I blogged about it. As I note above, when I downloaded the OS and installed Windows 8—on the very first day of the public beta—I immediately decided that Microsoft was insane to have removed the start menu and Desktop bootup, not to mention having new gestures be required without giving any tutorial, even a hint, as to what those were.

It wasn’t just an opinion: it was obvious. Clear as hell. I remember shaking my head and wondering what the hell Microsoft was thinking.

When I ask people who are using it, the basic response is, with a tablet, it’s pretty good. With anything else, it’s terrible.

How long before we can start calling this “Vista 8”?

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I Do Not Accept the Terms of This EULA

February 16th, 2013 5 comments

So, you buy Office 2013—except now the purchase has changed. Instead of paying, say, $125 for a Home & Student version, which you can use for as many years as you like, you will pay a subscription for Office 2013, $100 a year. So, if you use it for just three years (I have been using my Office 2008 for 5 years now), you would pay $300. Deal, right?

It gets better. With Office 2010, you can transfer the software to a new computer. Your old computer gets too slow, so you buy a new one. Just delete Office from your old PC, reinstall it on the new one, and you get more years of use.

Not so with Microsoft’s new setup. Here, the suite is tied to a single machine. You get a new computer, you pay all over again. Even if your old computer is stolen or breaks down.

I know some people—not many, but some—who still use Office 2003. They may have paid $125 or $150 ten years ago, and still have a usable app. Microsoft’s new arrangement means that in order to do the same thing, they have to shell out $1000. Sure, you (presumably) get the upgrades over time, but people still using 2003 obviously don’t need them. And yes, you can still get the non-subscription apps—but Microsoft is clearly signaling a sea change here; you can expect the future to be by subscription.

They try to sweeten the deal, like with 60 free Skype minutes (Microsoft bought up Skype, making changes I hate, like the “home” screen you are unable to escape), and 20GB of SkyDrive space.

A lot of people feel compelled to get Microsoft’s office suite. Because it’s what everyone uses. Because they believe that only Microsoft’s product can create or open Microsoft files. Because they don’t know that any alternatives even exist.

Well, they do. There are cheap and free alternatives. If you use a Mac, Apple sells their suite for $20 an app (Microsoft sells theirs at $110 a pop as standalones), or the whole suite for $60, no subscription. Outlook sells for $110 also, while Apple’s Mail is free.

But even better are the freebies. You could use Open Office (if you feel like you want to use an Office 2003 clone), or even better, just use GMail. It will open and save MS Word docs, so there’s no problem with compatibility.


Just create a free GMail account and get 10GB of storage (my school account gives me 25GB). Get Google Drive and have synced folders on your computers. Go into your account and click on the “Drive” link at the top, and you see all the files that are saved in that folder, from any computer you choose. You also get an Office Suite, not as powerful as Microsoft’s now-even-more-pricey version, but with all the features you are likely to use. Available on any computer you sign into GMail with—ultimately portable.


Go into the word processor, and use an interface not unlike Word’s. Use any of Google’s 600+ online fonts, or just the standards. Do text formatting, indents, margins, alignment, line spacing, the works. Keyboard shortcuts work much as they would on a regular app. Headers and footers with automatic page numbering. An equation editor. Comments. Insert images, create shapes, make tables. Open any document, save it to your Google account, or export it to your desktop as MS Word, PDF, Open Office, RTF, or plain text.

Printing will save the file to your computer as a PDF, preserving the fonts (though you can download and install any or all of them if you want).


Same goes for spreadsheets instead of Excel, presentations instead of PowerPoint. There’s a drawing program and a form builder. And then you can add from a long list of extra apps, including code editors, QR code generators, Mail Merge, photo cataloging and editing apps, chart and diagram builders, as well as more alternatives for text editing and presentation building. More than 100 add-on apps.


OK, so there’s no “Smart Art” or “Word Art.” How often do you really use those, anyway? If you need advanced features, then you’re out of luck—but probably 95% of all Word users don’t. And I have not checked all the add-on apps; it’s possible that some have the missing features you might need, like Mail Merge.

Don’t like where Microsoft is going? Don’t use it. Just get free GMail. Save a cool grand over a decade.

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Another Telecom Attack on Network Neutrality to Grab Profits and Suppress Free Speech—International Edition

December 6th, 2012 Comments off

There’s a conference in Dubai which is only now breaking out in the news. It’s a conference to discuss a 25-year-old international treaty on how the Internet works worldwide.

These people talk about how they only want to increase access to people in the third world, and make the Internet better for everyone:

“The brutal truth is that the internet remains largely [the] rich world’s privilege, ” said Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union, ahead of the meeting.

“ITU wants to change that.”

The people running the show claim they’re not doing any harm:

Gary Fowlie, head of ITU liaison Office to the United Nations, insisted in a phone interview that his organization’s effort to revise outdated telecom rules is not an attempt to change the way the Internet is governed.

“This whole idea there would be some kind of restriction on freedom of expression, it just doesn’t fly with what the ITU has stood for,” he said, stressing that as a U.N. entity, the ITU is bound to uphold Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to free expression through any media.

Sounds great, until you realize that “ITU” stands for “International Telecommunication Union.” That right away should be a giveaway. The next hint:

But the [ITU] said action was needed to ensure investment in infrastructure to help more people access the net.

Red flag time! Hear those alarm bells and sirens going off? Any of this sound familiar? “We want to help people get access to the Internet. That requires infrastructure.” This is the inevitable preface to the next statement: “We need money to do that. Let’s talk about how we can make more money.” And thus we arrive at the actual motive behind the lobbying, and upon closer inspection, find the justifications to be specious.

Yep. It’s just like when the U.S. Telecoms tried to gang up and buy their way to Internet ownership in the U.S. Virtually nothing is different: the telecoms are whining about how they’re losing so much money because of the big, bad Internet:

Some telecommunications companies are looking at WCIT as an opportunity to address the business reality that new technologies are severely eroding traditional revenues from old-style voice calls. Customers are no longer making phone calls as they once did, and are instead using an application layer on the Internet to carry voice and video. Landline services are increasingly being replaced with mobile communications services that are themselves increasingly being used to provide data connectivity. Beyond voice, the companies argue that large content providers are making revenue from customers’ access to those services over their Internet connections.

So these companies see this treaty as a way to “re-balance” revenue streams between carriers and “over-the-top” providers. Claiming that regulatory help is needed to ensure the ongoing investment in the Internet’s infrastructure, they have dusted off an old concept known in telecom circles as “sending network pays.” On its face, the idea is simple: The network or ISP of the sending party should pay for the delivery of their traffic (just as with cross-border telephone calls).

That’s the same bullshit argument made by the U.S. telecoms, the billionaire’s cry of poverty. “We’re losing revenue from people using Skype instead of making international phone calls, so we need to make up the money somewhere else.”

What a complete load of crap. As if these people are not making huge profits on all-new revenue streams in several different areas, many of which derive specifically from the Internet usage they now claim cannibalizes their revenues.

Let’s see. I pay for my Internet connection—a monthly fee which easily exceeds, by quite a bit, what I used to pay for my traditional land line. I also pay for cell phone use—in fact, I pay, in a way, for no fewer than three different Internet connections, one the aforementioned home connection, and two more times for the data plans for my wife’s and my own cell phone plans. Each of which costs about the same.

Repeat this throughout the entire world, and you begin to understand that the telecoms have never had it better. If they want to cry poverty, I demand they first cough up their balance sheets for close inspection. Because I will bet you quite a bit that their profit line is probably not very far behind Big Oil and Big Pharma.

Once again, they try to make it all sound more palatable by saying they are going after big corporations:

One of the other concerns raised is that the conference could result in popular websites having to pay a fee to send data along telecom operators’ networks.

The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (Etno) – which represents companies such as Orange, Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom – has been lobbying governments to introduce what it calls a “quality based” model.

This would see firms face charges if they wanted to ensure streamed video and other quality-critical content download without the risk of problems such as jerky images.

Etno says a new business model is needed to provide service providers with the “incentive to invest in network infrastructure”.

Again, the same bullshit argument they made in the U.S. 6 years ago. And it’s still full of crap. They already have all the incentive they need to expand infrastructure. They already have huge profits. The content providers who send bandwidth-intensive content already pay for sending this data, as do the users who consume it. And we have seen before when Telecoms make promises to expand infrastructure in exchange for the ability to charge more, and they never do what they promise.

What they really want here is virtual ownership of the Internet. They want to be able to wring every last penny, yen, pound, and deutschmark that they possibly can by charging for something, then charging for it again, and then charging someone else for the same thing as many times as they can manage.

Piggybacking this wave are governments scared shitless over the freedom of expression the Internet represents and the threat this is to their control over their populaces, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by people who know the Internet better than anyone—like Vint Cerf, co-creator of the TCP/IP protocol and regarded as one of the “fathers of the Internet,” who wrote this message of warning:

Today, this free and open net is under threat. Some 42 countries filter and censor content out of the 72 studied by the Open Net Initiative. This doesn’t even count serial offenders such as North Korea and Cuba. Over the past two years, Freedom House says governments have enacted 19 new laws threatening online free expression.

Some of these governments are trying to use a closed-door meeting of The International Telecommunication Union that opens on December 3 in Dubai to further their repressive agendas. Accustomed to media control, these governments fear losing it to the open internet. They worry about the spread of unwanted ideas. They are angry that people might use the internet to criticize their governments.

The ITU is bringing together regulators from around the world to renegotiate a decades-old treaty that was focused on basic telecommunications, not the internet. Some proposals leaked to the WICITLeaks website from participating states could permit governments to justify censorship of legitimate speech — or even justify cutting off internet access by reference to amendments to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs).

Cerf then urges us to remain vigilant against those in power corrupting one of the most invaluable advances in communications and freedom of expression in human history:

A state-controlled system of regulation is not only unnecessary, it would almost invariably raise costs and prices and interfere with the rapid and organic growth of the internet we have seen since its commercial emergence in the 1990s.

The net’s future is far from assured and history offers much warning. Within a few decades of Gutenberg’s creation, princes and priests moved to restrict the right to print books.

History is rife with examples of governments taking actions to “protect” their citizens from harm by controlling access to information and inhibiting freedom of expression and other freedoms outlined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We must make sure, collectively, that the internet avoids a similar fate.


Let me reiterate something I feel is very important: the Internet is the single most important advancement in communications technology in the history of the human race. More important than the printing press, more important than radio and television.

Why? Because the Internet is the first human technology which allows worldwide dissemination of speech and ideas which is not controlled by the wealthy.

Before the Internet, if you wanted to speak beyond the reach of your own voice, if you wanted to deliver an idea beyond just the few people you have contact with, if you wanted to speak to more people than you could gather in a local public place—you had to beg at the feet of the Gatekeepers.

The Gatekeepers are the ones who used to control communication. They are the publishers and the regulators. They are the wealthy and empowered who controlled all means of publishing content. Want to write a book? Not unless we say so, and thanks, we’ll keep almost all the profits for ourselves. Want to speak over a network? Not unless you can make us big profits, or lend a popular or sympathetic face and voice to opinions we wish to propagate.

Much of this was justified by the expense of said networks. Publishing books and building broadcasting networks isn’t cheap, and the available resources were few. So there was not much complaint about the lack of freedom to communicate.

However, the Internet changed all that. This blog can be accessed worldwide—and I don’t have to pay much to publish it. I can write almost anything I want, within reasonable law, and within seconds, people in Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Israel can read it. I pay about $10 a year for the domain name, and maybe $100 a year for hosting; I could get cheaper pricing than that, or I could pay nothing and instead have a blog hosted by WordPress or some other blogging service.

This ability to speak to the world has never before existed.

That is a greatly unappreciated fact of the Internet: how it has opened the doors to potentially anyone in the world communicating with a large portion of humanity, openly, freely, instantly, and (usually) cheaply.

A freedom and availability that would be threatened if the ITU got what they wanted.

So pay no mind to the weeping billionaires and multinationals, or the angry dictators fearful of losing control. Disregard the claims of the super-rich telecoms crying poverty and claiming they only want to give fiber-optic to children in Africa. Ignore the claims of sock puppets for dictators that no one is trying to squelch freedom of expression. Recognize these for the obfuscation, distortions, and lies that they are.

And whenever possible, write to your legislatures: give the Internet to the Telecoms, we will vote you out. Threaten free speech over the Internet, and we will overthrow you. We have only just received this freedom, and we refuse to surrender it.

Windows 8: Upgrade to Confusion

October 22nd, 2012 Comments off

Windows 8 will be released very soon, and when it comes out, we’ll see if Microsoft is completely stupid or not.

The test: whether or not Microsoft has added a tutorial to Windows 8. One which pops up immediately and tells people how things have changed, and how to get around the OS.

With Windows 8, the Start Menu is gone, cannot be brought back, and has been replaced with the now-infamous start screen. Going from one place to another now requires new actions which are not apparent because they are not visible on the screen. It is anything but intuitive to figure out that moving your cursor to a corner will bring up a screen you are looking for.

When I first downloaded Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I was hopelessly confused. I could not figure out how to get around—and I’m no n00b to Windows, either. There are bound to be lots of people who will be stymied when they see Windows 8, and who will hate the transition. “What?! I can’t bring back the Start menu? Why not?!?”

As I noted previously, Microsoft itself, when making a case for how it was better than the Mac OS, used as one of their key points, repeatedly, that Windows was better because people were familiar with it, and would have to spend time and effort readjusting to the Mac OS.

When I downloaded the Consumer Preview for Windows 8, however, there was no tutorial. Nothing to prepare you for things being different.

That astounded me. You completely change the UI and you leave users completely in the dark about how to operate things? Not even an apparent “Help” icon? Are you kidding me?

When Windows 8 comes up for the first time, it should have a tutorial (which can be dismissed, of course) which points out all the new UI features and the ways users can operate them. Once finished, the tutorial should then shrink to a small question-mark button on the Start screen, and stay there, with a note to users that they can disable the button if they wish.

Anything short of that will be, in my mind, proof positive that Microsoft is being run by morons. Even with it, Microsoft is throwing away one of their key advantages as they themselves define it. Without it, they are virtually begging for another Vista-level migration to the Mac.

Seriously, they have had eight months to realize that people are being stumped and aggravated by the lack of instruction. It should have been obvious before the Consumer Preview; it should be positively glaring by now. And there’s not shame in a tutorial; lots of people do it, it’s considered a feature, not to mention a necessity often times. Without it, people will be lost.

And then there’s the “What For?” effect: Windows 8 is mostly an upgrade for tablets. The new UI is the only notable new feature, aside possibly from the App Store—excuse me, the “Windows Store.” (Really, Microsoft—if you absolutely have to integrate mobile and desktop operating systems into one, why not make the desktop features dominant on desktop machines, and tablet features dominant on tablets, and have both set of features accessible on both? Why force desktop users to use an OS which is not appropriate for a desktop?)

This means that people who “upgrade” to Windows 8 on a laptop or Desktop will be getting a new and confusing user interface designed for something different than their current device, while at the same time, they get to be confused by a new and unexplained interface setup and lose the one tool they have spent most of a lifetime getting accustomed to—the Start Menu.

That’s pretty much it. A few other bells and whistles, like having a USB-based version of the OS, a new backup system (strikingly similar to Apple’s), and a smattering of other changes they won’t notice because they’ll be spending too much time trying to figure out how the hell to do even the most basic things.

So, Microsoft. Tutorial? Or not?

Enough with the “Invulnerable” BS, Okay?

April 20th, 2012 3 comments

Ars Technica headline:

Mac OS X invulnerability to malware is a myth, says security firm

Following it is an article which lays out how Macs are not “immune” to malware.

To quote two commenters: first, “Duh.” And second, “It’s a myth that there is a myth of invulnerability.”

Another commenter posts that “every single Mac owner” he has ever known claimed their Macs were “immune.” Something tells me that whatever number of people told him this said that their Macs were immune to PC malware, probably specific types that were the subject of conversation.

This is likely the source of the “Macs are invulnerable” myth. I have never heard a Mac user claim this, but people who dislike Macs and/or Mac users claim it all the time. It’s probably from just such cases–“Oh, you were hit by Conficker? Heh, my Mac is immune to that. I don’t even run antivirus software.” The Mac user does not mean “my Mac is perpetually invulnerable to any kind of attack,” but the annoyed PC user hears it that way, and starts spreading the claim.

However, articles like the one on Ars will be around as long as antivirus vendors are. And PC users will continue to perpetuate the “invulnerable” myth despite it’s lack of basis in fact, because it was never about facts, but about wanting to have something with which to attack their sources of annoyance.

As a side note, here’s a quote from a post I put up seven years ago, noting something I have steadily pointed out many times over the years (2006, 2007, 2008, and then in 2011):

So essentially, there’s no evidence that a wave of Mac viruses is headed for your computer. Not that it’s impossible, mind you–Mac OS X is very strong, but not completely impenetrable. It is assumed that at some point, a virus will break through. But it is also acknowledged that cracking OS X with any kind of substantial virus or worm is extraordinarily difficult.

Which remains true–there have been no viruses or worms that have had any success in infecting the Mac community–they are primarily trojans, which are more about tricking the user than they are about defeating the system’s security. That the Flashback trojan was able to infect without getting a password is troubling, however, and hopefully there will be re-thinking on Apple’s part toward eliminating that possibility.

Once again, the Mac is not invulnerable. It’s just safer.


February 19th, 2012 1 comment

Microsoft is changing their Windows logo to… a window:


Just in time, too–after years of being a flag, they’re making their logo back into a window… just as their OS is transitioning away from using windows. Will it make sense even to name an OS after a feature that no longer exists? Well, we have had cars named Pinto and Mustang. Still, it sounds more like IBM naming a new laptop the “Selectric”–though 20th Century Fox does seem to be faring well in the 21st century.

However, this could be good news for Greece; one way they could help their economy would be to sue Microsoft for trademark violation:

Greece-Flag         Grkflg

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Steve Jobs: 1955 – 2011

October 6th, 2011 4 comments

The news just broke. Gotta go to work. Needless to say, this man influenced the computer industry like none other.

T Hero

Especially upon the event of his passing, his commencement speech at Stanford University is a particularly appropriate way to remember him.

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags:

More DIY

August 5th, 2011 Comments off

In July, we built our second computer in the college’s Computer Making Club, and it works just fine. Core i5 2400 CPU, ASRock H67M mobo, 8 GB 1333 DDR3 RAM, 1 TB HDD, Blu-Ray reader. Not bad–the most powerful rig in the school, and it cost ¥50,000 (the semester budget for the club). Using last semester’s (the one interrupted by the earthquake) funds not spent on a whole computer, we could buy 3 Full-HD monitors and an SSD with the spare change. Maybe next semester we’ll trying SSD caching on a Z68 mobo.

Today, students from last semester’s club wanted my help building two computers for their friends. They bought roughly the same equipment as I listed above, but they really wanted smaller cases. We got all the parts, in duplicate, and spent much of today building the computers–I worked on one while the students copied my moves on the others.

We finished, and then did a test start–and nothing. Dead. No power, no lights, no fan movement, nada. We checked and re-checked the wiring, then checked it again. Everything was OK. Tried different cables. Tried both computers. Tried alternate arrangements for the power switch connectors, even tried using a paper clip on the leads. Nothing. I brought the club’s new rig, the one built in July, and ran that rig’s power supply wiring to one of the new mobos–nothing. We must have tried a dozen different things and nothing worked. For all we could see, we had two computers, both completely DOA.

Which didn’t make sense–two different computers dead in the exact same way? One rig having a dead part I could understand, but two different ones, having the exact same fault? I began to suspect that the students were sold defective parts–but that didn’t sound right, either. Even a dishonest distributor would not sell one person the same defective part twice.

We checked the instructions–but one of my main gripes about the computer world is that documentation sucks. As it did with this case–it said very little at all. Really fracking annoying.

Salvation came from a half hour of Googling the case, then the mobo–and I found someone who had the same problem and solved it by removing the motherboard from the case. Wires attached, just lift it from the case mount, and it worked, so the post went. So we tried that.

It worked.

From there, it was a simple matter of working backwards. If we set the motherboard down in the case, unscrewed, would it work? Yes. How about if we added this one screw? Yep, still works. Another one added, in that hole? Works. How about adding one more screw, here? Bango, no power.

After looking into it later, it seemed that a lack of insulation and the way the board was set up caused the mobo to be “grounded out,” whatever that means. This case was apparently designed so poorly–and did not include fiber washers–that in any case of this design, screwing the mobo in place on one side causes a ground-out. What’s more, they included a rubber “bump” which could insulate the board and didn’t mention what it was for. It’s listed in the parts, but no mention of how or why or when or where it is used. Seems to me that if your design so regularly causes power loss via “grounding out” and you know this well enough to add a part to deal with it, then you goddamn fracking better well mention it before your customers spend hours figuring it out, or worse, spend days ordering new parts.

So, because the case maker screwed up the design and failed to note it in the instructions, we spent two hours agonizing over the whole thing. Major pain in the ass. Sometimes you just want to find the corporate offices and kick these idiots.

Once we figured this out, it went like a breeze, although the BIOS showed a core CPU temp starting at 40°C and climbing to 55° or so, just in the BIOS. I read some posts saying this was relatively normal, and both rigs had the same readings, so I let it go but warned them to install the hardware monitors and keep an eye on the temps.

Not too shabby a day, but I could have done without the useless anxiety and frustration. All part of the DIY experience, I guess.

ZOMG! Run for the Hills! Another Antivirus Press Release!

July 24th, 2011 Comments off

E! Online has apparently just fallen off the file-sharing turnip truck, where it apparently was born yesterday.

They are acting like something new and unthinkable has just happened for the first time. Under the headline, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Computer Virus? Could Happen!” they report:

Antivirus software maker PC Tools has uncovered a phishing scam lurking within BitTorrent, where massive files (like the ones containing feature-length films) are transferred via smaller chunks to make them easier for computers to handle.

According to PC Tools publicity rep Curtis Sparrer, a result claiming to have located a free download of the final Harry Potter film will actually prompt you to visit another site so that you can obtain the required password “to stop automated leeching and detection.”

After you’ve saved what looks to be a legitimate file, the virus purveyors will have access to your hard drive. And, to add insult to injury, there’s no movie.

They located one? No, they uncovered one! Wow, that must have been hard!

Obviously, this is not a “virus,” as the headline claims, and any idiot who reads comments or has been sharing files for more than one day knows all about “password protected” downloads, just like they know about the multitude of fake torrents that litter the filesharing landscape. It’s hardly new–in fact, it’s older than BitTorrent itself. They also skip over a whole bunch of steps between visiting a web site and them having control over your hard drive, but I found it on another “news” report which gave more detail–on the malicious site, you have to go through a whole bunch of steps which includes installing a file on your hard drive and, I presume, giving it access–in other words, a trojan. Again, not a virus.

Looking at all the reports out there, most call this “new,” or the “latest” threat. I imagine the people who have downloaded movies and other files for any length of time must be laughing at the naivete of these “n00b” statements. It’s kind of like saying that if you travel to a big city, you should not stop and chat with the aggressive panhandlers, give them all the cash in your wallet, and provide them with your home address and times you’ll be out so they can “return the money” once things start going well for them. After all, that’s the latest new scam on the streets! Imagine New Yorkers rolling their eyes–or almost anyone, as you’d have to be light-years beyond bumpkinhood to not see that as obvious.

I suppose that this is just what happens in a mostly tech-illiterate media when an antivirus software maker issues yet another press release to stimulate sales.

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags:

Computer Stuff Came

July 7th, 2011 5 comments

Yesterday, I ordered a new computer. Most of it arrived today. It’s my first personal DIY–we’ve done two of these in the club I sponsor at school (third one coming soon), and I wanted a full-featured Windows box at home, for a variety of reasons, the primary of which is that I teach using Windows and so have to use it, and doing it virtually on the Mac can have its drawbacks. Another reason is that it’s new computer gear and (hopefully, depending on what problems may crop up) it’s fun.

The big boxes that just arrived are the case (a Gigabyte GZ-X5 with a 500W power supply) and the monitor (a BenQ G2420HD 24“ LCD display). Amazon put the rest in one box–a 4-core Intel i5 2500K at 3.3 GHz, an ASRock Z68 Extreme4 motherboard, 8GB (4GB x 2) of Kingston 1333MHz DDR3 RAM, a Western Digital 1TB 7200 RPM SATA3 HDD, and a Buffalo 12x Blu-Ray burner. I also ordered a Crucial 6GB SATA3 SDD drive to take advantage of the Z68 chipset’s SSD caching feature, but it’s from a third-party seller and might not arrive until the weekend.

The whole purchase set me back just a shade under ¥94,000, but it’s going to be a very nice rig when it’s done. Store-bought, the same rig would cost at minimum an extra couple hundred bucks even with a 2400 i5 and without the Z68 chipset–the cheapest BTO setup I could find. Everything else I found was much more expensive, even with similarly lower specs.

Now I know what I’m doing over the weekend…