Archive for the ‘ Technology ’ Category

more 10 troubles

No, not for me, not yet at least. One of the guys I work with called me from home and told me about his HP printer woes. Seems he went to print something and nothing happened. He had upgraded to Windows 10 from Windows 8.1 a couple of weeks ago, and it was working fine right after the upgrade. So now what?

A call to HP seemed in order, so he got customer support on the line. Apparently the young woman he was talking to was able to get the printer working again. Great! Until today, when he again went to print something and the little circle went round and round and round . . . and nothing came out. He went to check the installed printers and found that the HP printer was no longer marked as the default printer. Easy fix, right? Just make it the default. Except that all the buttons on the printer and device window were greyed out and he couldn’t get anything to take. Another call to customer support at HP didn’t get him any further as they were stymied, too.

So, a call to the computer company, Acer, seemed in order. It did no good, of course, as they were as stymied as the HP support person was. They did, however, offer to sell him a one-year support service contract. They were out of luck, though, as HP had already been successful in selling him a two-year support contract and he was in no mood to spend more money, particularly when he got no satisfaction from them.

So, the amateur tech person was next in line to call – and that would be me.

I advised him to ignore Acer’s service offer and instead call Microsoft. I explained to him how Windows 10 was in a constant state of upgrade and revision and that the problem was most likely Windows 10 and not the computer or the printer. Sure enough, I got a call back a short time later telling me that Microsoft had straightened out the printer. It had somehow lost it’s “connection” to the computer so the Microsoft guy removed the existing “connection” and established a new “connection.” I’m not quite sure what that was about, but it fixed his problem, for now. And they didn’t try to sell him a service contract!

Again, fair warning to those of you who may be less than tech savvy – if your computer is telling you that it is ready to install Windows 10, you can just ignore it and go on your merry way. You have all the way until next July to upgrade and I suggest that you give it at least a few months before you do. As a matter of fact, that might be a good New Year’s project. Hmmm, if I don’t hear any really horrible things, I just might do it then, too.

windows 10 uh-oh

A couple of weeks ago I decided to risk upgrading my laptop computer to Windows 10. It was running Windows 7, and the upgrade, though lengthy, worked just fine. Until today.

Today I turned on the laptop and after signing in, a big critical error notice popped up saying that the Start Menu and Cortana were not working and that “they” would try to fix the error next time I signed in. They kindly provided a sign-out button to facilitate signing back in again, to which I availed myself. Unfortunately, it did no good. So I signed out and signed back in under the administrator user. Still no good, even after signing in and out under both user names and restarting the computer several times. I can only assume that Microsoft put through an update that has managed to really screw with my computer.

That is why, despite the notice that keeps popping up, I am NOT going to move my main desktop computer over to Windows 10. I can afford to deal with problems on a laptop that I use occasionally, but I would be screwed if my main computer went wonky. So, no thanks, Microsoft. I’ll give you several more months to straighten out your Windows 10 messes before I commit to “upgrading.”

Update: I looked around on the web for a bit to find a solution. Apparently this was something that was happening to the earliest upgraders. I’m not sure why it took a few weeks to pop up on my computer, but there were fixes out there. One was to uninstall Avast anti-virus software if you had it installed (I did) and another was to reboot into safe mode, and then reboot in regular mode, which is what I did. It worked, but it took a while for the computer to reboot each time.

After it was fixed, I decided to remove Avast anyways, just in case. It took over an HOUR for the computer to reboot after the uninstall! Man, Windows 7 was never like that. I’m assuming that Microsoft still has a ways to go before Windows 10 is up to the usability level of Windows 7. I suppose it doesn’t help that my laptop is a little weak in specs, but it was running Windows 7 just fine and the pre-upgrade scan of my computer said it was okay for Windows 10.

I’m still sticking with my decision to delay upgrading my main computer.

kindle vs. paperback

I was looking for a book on Amazon.com just now. In particular, I was looking for the Kindle version of the book for a friend because she thought she might like to read it on her laptop. However, with a brand new paperback version of the book available for $6.00, she saw no sense in spending $9.78 for the Kindle version, and neither do I.

I get it that the Kindle can be handy, particularly if you are traveling and don’t want to haul a stack of books around with you. Or maybe you don’t like to clutter your house with books, though to me that’s sacrilegious. Or maybe you are physically handicapped and find it difficult or impossible to hold a book. Maybe there are some people who really have a good reason to pay more for a Kindle version of a book than for a physical copy, but that’s not me.

It’s a mystery to me how they can charge more for an electronic version of a book than for the paperback version. There’s no paper, no ink, no printing, no shipping . . . no nothing but electronic bits going through the ether. Sure, the publisher, author and distributor need to get paid, but why do they get paid more for the Kindle version than the paperback?

Sometimes things just don’t make sense.

a guarantee giggle

I bought a small camera case today that brought some merriment into my life. Reading the back of the card the case was displayed on, I find that the card was printed in China and the case was made in Vietnam. No, there isn’t much humor in that, but there sure is in the quality guarantee of twenty-five years.

I paid $9.00 for the case. The likelihood of me using that case for as much as twenty-five years are pretty much slim to none. But let’s say that in a year or two a seam blows out or something. Am I going to save the receipt and guarantee from when I bought the case? Will I even remember there was a guarantee? Will I be able to find it again if I need it? Would I be willing to go through the effort it would take to fulfill that guarantee? Most of all, for $9.00, what are the odds that I wouldn’t just throw the damn thing away and go out and buy another case? In essence, that’s a pretty damn safe guarantee for the manufacturer to make. If they get even a tiny fraction of one percent of purchasers taking them up on that guarantee I would be shocked.

On the other hand, how many of the high value things that you buy today – particularly electronic goods – come with much more than a thirty-day warranty? You’re lucky if you even get that long a term. And when you have a problem and try to take advantage of the warranty, the company will do everything in its power to find that the problem was caused by you, the purchaser, and not a flaw in the product!

There are always exceptions to the rule but those exceptions seem to be further apart as the years go by. To tell the truth, with electronic gear, unless something craps out right away, the odds are that you are going to wind up replacing it with something newer, better, more up-to-date, more whatever, before you need to use the warranty. It’s the old planned obsolescence on steroids. Who (other than me) is still using the cell phone they used ten, or even five, years ago? Oh well, I guess it keeps us all employed . . . if you live in China or Vietnam.

tiresome ageism

Recently, while reading the PC magazine to which I subscribe, I came across a comment that the technology being discussed was something that you couldn’t expect “your parents” to be able to understand. Now, I’ve been building my own desktop computers for many years. The only PC I ever bought off-the-shelf was my very first one, back in . . . good grief – the early 90’s! (This does not count, of course, the Vic 20, Commodore 64, 128 or the very first, a Timex Sinclair 1000 – those do not qualify because none were a “PC” – an IBM PC or clone. Laptops also don’t count.) I’m of the age to be that author’s parent, but I can somehow muddle through the technical subject and handle it. But so what?

I don’t know. Maybe I just have a different perspective now, but I’m getting awfully tired of this inclination to deprecate senior citizens as doddering old fools who can’t handle modern society and are technologically stuck in the 60’s (or earlier). This is called “ageism” and sjust as tiresome as racism. I have a sense of humor, but when you start to become the butt of all jokes, it wears thin after a while. Are there older people who are incompetent, either or both physically or mentally? Of course there are. Do seniors have an exclusive claim on that? Hell no. Just check out some of the “reality” shows that reveal many young people as vapid, empty-headed goons or goon-ets. There’s a bell curve to pretty much everything. Let’s not treat everyone like they are at the bad end of that curve.

A special note to advertisers. We are a large part of the market and when you insult us, we remember. When you direct all your advertising to young people, we are alienated and more inclined to find alternative sources for your products that have the sense to include senior citizens as part of the overall market. When your product apparently can only be used by good-looking, hard-bodied young people, there is no reason for us senior citizens to take your product seriously. In spite of such bias, we seniors still buy and use technology.

Now, if I could only find my buggy whip I could get the hell out of here. Oh, wait . . . “Hey, son! How do I shut this damn electronic typewriter off? And what am I supposed to do with all this typing anyways?” I guess I’ll have to let him figure that out. I’m too old and stupid.

a day late

That figures. Yesterday I finally gave up on my Canon Pixma iP5000 inkjet printer and ordered a new printer. After months and months of head cleaning and wasted ink, I just could not get the old one to print right anymore. Besides, when it did print, it would make black streaks on the page, particularly at the top of the page as the sheet was feeding in.

Since I figured the printer was toast, today I decided to pull all of the ink cartridges out and see if there was any way to get to the print head to clean it. Well, hell. If it were any easier I could have done it blindfolded. Take the cartridges out and, bingo, the print head lifts right out. Back when I bought the printer I probably put that whole section together, but six years ago apparently is too much time for my feeble memory.

Anyways, I take the print head out and, lo and behold, there is all kind of black ink built up on the bottom. No bloody wonder there was streaking! Ten minutes or so with a soft cloth and some rubbing alcohol and the whole bottom of the print head is one heck of a lot cleaner (though my fingers are a lot blacker). Wonder if it will print any better. Um, yeah, it prints like new.

That would have been good news if I had done this yesterday. Amazon is too damn fast for me – ordered yesterday with free shipping, which should take five to six days, but when I check to see if I can cancel my order I find it has already shipped. Since I really don’t need an extra printer and the old one seems to be printing fine (and since I have back-up ink cartridges for the old printer that can’t be used in the new printer) I think the printer I ordered will be making a round trip. Oh well, at least I’ll save the biggest part of the cost of a new printer. You live and you learn . . . hopefully.

bank hack?

I’m working on a project I didn’t expect to need to do. I have an email address that I only use for financial matters. Any online banking, savings, 401K stuff, etc., is supplied with that address – no one else – no stores, casual contacts or otherwise. However, suddenly today I am receiving spam at that address. So one of two things has happened; either one of my financial organizations has had their customer email list hacked (or worse) or they have shared my address with a thoroughly unscrupulous or insecure “partner.”

In any event, today I have created a new email address for that purpose and I am going to all my online financial connections and changing my email address. I suppose the smart thing to do while doing that is to change my passwords, too. What a pain in the ass. Oh well, might as well get to it. One of the hazards of a computerized, on-line life.

Edited 7/4/11 – Further reflection on this incident makes me wonder if someone just took a gamble on what might be a valid email address at my domain. It was a common word that would have made sense to use for that kind of email, so maybe some spammer took a chance and one of the many variations they tried actually hit home. I haven’t received any further email at that address (I am monitoring it, even though I no longer use it) so I think that may be a possibility. Lesson learned? Don’t use common words for the first part of your email address.

So what the hell is up with my fancy-schmanzy “atomic” wall clock that is supposed to receive time signals over the air to keep it on the minute? I get home and . . . what the heck? Is that really what time it is? How did I gain two hours? Oh. For some reason the clock has decided to reset itself to two hours earlier than it actually is. I wonder when, and if, it’s going to correct itself.

Do you think that we will ever be able to rely on computers to run our lives without fear of them ever making a mistake? I know I have grave reservations about that idea. Thank god my atomic clock wasn’t running a train, because there probably would have been one hell of a mess to clean up today.

sorting out the phish

Sometimes sorting out valid emails from phishing emails can be very confusing. “Phishing,” for those of you who have been under a rock for the last few years, is the practice of spammers sending emails that appear to be from legitimate sources. These emails usually state that there is something wrong with your account and that you need to take a certain action to correct it. They provide the means to make this correction, either by telling you to respond directly to the email or by directing you to a web site, but in any case it is a direct connection to the spammer rather than the apparent sender of the email.

This can be particularly disconcerting when the email has all the appearance of really coming from an organization such as your bank, PayPal, UPS or Federal Express, or even the government. The emails may carry the actual logos of the company involved and may even warn you about spam right in the email. When you click on a link to their web site, it too can look for all the world like a legitimate site from the organization. So how do you tell the difference? Here’s a few ideas, as well as some suggestions on how to avoid the emails in the first place.

First and foremost, if the email you receive asks you to reply to the email with your user/account name and password, it’s spam, plain and simple. No legitimate company will ask for this information through an unsecured means such as email. So you click on the link in the email and it takes you to a web site that looks legitimate and it asks you to sign in – should you do so? Hell, no – you’ll just be giving the spammer your log-in information! If it is a company that you normally do business with, instead go to that business’s regular web site where you usually log into your account. If they need something from you, odds are that they will tell you as soon as you log in. If the email really, really looks legit and you don’t get any notice when you log into your real account, call the organization (and don’t use a phone number that came with the email) and ask them if they need anything from you.

Normally, you can spot illegitimate web sites by their URL’s. If you hover the cursor over a link in an email the web site address may be seen. A web site address should contain the company’s real web address as part of the base address. In other words, if a link takes you to something like “http://www.hytrremb.paypal.com” it is probably legit. Note that the “paypal” part has to be next to the “.com” part. If the address reads “http://paypal.hytrremb.com” it is NOT linking to PayPal, but to the “hytrremb” domain. Don’t click on it. This can sometimes be difficult to determine, though, because spammers create links that are meant to disguise the true URL.

Unfortunately, even legitimate companies use newsletter services, polling companies, etc., that do not link directly to the company’s home web address. Also, really clever spammers can make links look like you are going one place while the link actually takes you elsewhere. You take a risk clicking on those links, but as a rule if you are not asked for personally identifying information just clicking on the link is ok. Note – I said “as a rule.” THIS IS IMPORTANT! There are web sites designed to automatically download malicious software, viruses, etc., if you merely visit the web site. You may not see anything happening and the web site may look legit, but you can get really screwed if this happens. I strongly suggest that you never click on a link that comes in an email. Always go directly to that company’s web site to take care of whatever issue is involved. If you chose to do otherwise, I hope you have a really good computer condom on.

How can you sort out the spam from the legit emails? Other than the above, I have a pretty effective system. Since I have my own web site and my hosting company lets me create up to one hundred email addresses, I have one main address that I use for most of my public contacts, such as signing up for mailing lists, advertising, etc. This is the account with the most public exposure and where I get the most spam and phishing emails.

I then create special email addresses for each important web activity. For example, all financial matters may go to higgle@hytrremb.com. I can even create an email address for each individual account, if I want. Then, if I receive any email from one of the companies that has that address I can be pretty sure it came directly from them. If I receive any email from them addressed to the main address I am sure that it is not legitimate and I can ignore it. Was that clear? In other words, if PayPal sends an email to the email address I set up for them, it’s most likely valid, but something that appears in my main email address purporting to be from PayPal is almost certain to be a phishing attempt.

Usually your ISP (Internet Service Provider) will let you set up more than one email address. Even if it is only as few as five or ten this can still be an effective system. Also, you can use Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo mail for the same purposes. Yes, it can get to be a hassle dealing with all those email addresses, but with an email client on my computer like Thunderbird (Mozilla’s email solution) or Outlook, I don’t find it onerous at all.

In the end, suspicion is the key. Never believe what ANY email says. Deal directly through the supposed sender’s verified web site – one you have visited before – and you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

a little overkill

Good grief! Something is wrong with this picture. I just received a new 8GB Toshiba USB flash drive that Amazon was offering for only $14.99 as a “Lightning Deal,” and a good deal it is. Picking up the sealed, plastic package that everything seems to come in today – and that you need a chainsaw, hardhat with face shield, and cut-proof gloves to open – it felt awfully heavy for a thumb drive. Hmm, seems awfully thick, too.

Well, no wonder. Inside the package, besides the drive and packaging copy, are four – count ‘em, four! – folded, multi-page tomes, one of which is a user guide and the other three being warranties. Being a detail-oriented kind of guy, I just stacked, compressed and measured them; they are 3/16” thick, more than half as thick as the flash drive itself.

Having once been in printing, I bet the stupid flash drive probably cost less to produce than the packaging, including literature. I guess I can understand the user guide if someone has never in his life used a USB flash drive, but three massive warranties? Like I am going to bother sending a fifteen dollar flash drive anywhere to get it replaced if it goes bad. It would cost me more than that in packaging, shipping and aggravation than it would to just order a new one.

I guess I can understand it in this age of legal “gotcha”-ism. After all, most of the warranty stuff is explaining how they are not liable for the loss of any data you stored on the flash drive. I guess they have to allow for idiots who think all data storage devices are 100% reliable, 100% of the time. Still, it speaks volumes about the ridiculous lengths to which manufacturers must go today to protect themselves. In the end, all it does is drive up the price of things. Oh well, what else is new? Kind of reminds you of “defensive medicine,” doesn’t it?