Tag Archives: Rant

Encounter in the Wild (Windows 8)

Even long-term readers of my blog may not be familiar with my background in computers.

I got my first “micro-computer” in 1978 – a TRS-80 at the age of 13. Just like my modern day counterparts, I was obsessive about the computer. I taught myself to program it, taught myself the hardware and spent my time trying to make it do increasingly complex and interesting things.

I sold my first program that same year. It was nothing complex, just a simple stock portfolio tracker, but it was the start of my career.

I had three fields of interest when it came time to go to college. (There was never any doubt I would go to college and even to this day, kids who don’t want to go mystify me.) Ultimately for reasons I won’t expound upon here, I chose computer engineering over paleontology or forestry.

In 1983, while attending Arizona State University, I used a sizable chunk of trust fund to purchase an original IBM PC, with 2 floppy disk drives running IBM DOS 2.0.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I’ve worked with PCs every day of my adult life and while I don’t normally get down to the hardware level anymore, I am a long-time professional.

If you’ve not been living under a rock, you probably know that Microsoft Windows 8 came out recently and it hasn’t met with the greatest of reviews. This isn’t uncommon and you have to take these things with a grain of salt. Yes, I admit, my computer nerdy friends and I have looked at the asinine touch-screen laptops running Windows 8 at Best Buy and Costco and laughed at the once-mighty Windows, but the fact is, I’d not had a chance to actually use Windows 8 until yesterday.

All I had to do was setup a wireless network and a couple wireless printers, but I’ll say that Windows 8 seems to be the most illogical, counter-intuitive bag of hurt I’ve encountered in a long, long time.

Yes, I know that unfamiliarity makes things more obscure, but this isn’t entirely that. How many different places does one operating system need to call “devices” when none seem to contain any devices? (You know, like printers or something) Or how many places can you find that say “settings” or “change my PC’s settings” and still not find things like network settings?

While its certainly within Microsoft’s purview to change the names of things and make them less specific and confusing, I would argue it’s not a good idea to do so.

Did I find what I was looking for? Yes. But I had to force the machine into “Classic” Windows 7 mode where it was easily found on the task bar at the bottom of the screen.

And what’s up with the damned trackpad? I’d be using it to navigate and suddenly it was like a poltergeist was in the machine. I might be scroll right to left and suddenly screens would change or it was hop backwards a page. Irrelevant screens just kept popping up on the screen unbidden.

On another occasion, I popped a CD into the drive and a dialog popped up in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. First time it happened, I looked at it, started to read it and it went away. I could not find a way to get it back without ejecting the disk and putting it back in.

The second time I moved the mouse to the dialog, but it disappeared as my mouse crossed into the dialog box. I managed to click the box on the third try but it went away anyway. It’s completely unclear to me if it was just evil or there’s some trick that the trackpad holds and was playing wonky with me. Fourth time was the charm, but why it didn’t do the same on the third, I haven’t a clue.

Windows has, in general, be getting better over the years – with that minor detour for Windows Vista – but this was like a trip to bizarro world. What the hell are they thinking? Any IT manager would be a fool to implement this on their users, the costs in training and lost productivity would just be wasted money.

Roll on Windows 9.

I Don’t Know If I Should Laugh or Cry

It’s been a frustrating evening.

About three weeks ago I received a surprise. I received a text message and a picture message from an unknown Arizona phone number. The text message looked like it was a piece of forwarded junk. You know the kind, some idiot receives a humorous picture by email and then forwards it to every poor idiot they know. That’s what this looked like, only it was via SMS/MMS from a phone number, not an email address.

The message said something like, “Somedays you feel like you butt is draggin'” or some other stupid reference to being tired or lethargic. The accompanying picture was an animated picture of a naked woman’s butt as she walked on a treadmill.

I must admit, it popped up on my iPhone while I was at lunch and I was quite surprised. It wasn’t what I’d call it “obscene”, but it certainly a tasteless and not-family-friendly image, and certainly not something I’d like popping up on my phone while I’m at work, either.

Because it came from a phone number within Arizona, and because I didn’t recognize the number, I assumed that some moronic jackass has forwarded this stupid message to me by mistake. I almost contacted him back, but then my suspicious nature got the better of me. E-mailers send out spam designed to look like a mistake in the hopes that people will respond, thus confirming their e-mail address. It would be far worse if that was what was happening with this message. SMS spam, unlike email spam, costs money.

I decided to let the matter pass and I deleted the message. I would rethink my course of action if I received more messages and could decide if it was an honest mistake or some cunning plan.

A week or so went by and I received no further messages. Then I received the second one. It followed the same pattern, the message looked as if it was forwarded but it came via SMS/MMS. Again it seemed like one for those jokey picture mails, but this time the picture was quite a bit worse. Suffice to say that the subject was “You’ve been bushwacked” and the picture featured a much more explicitly posed picture of a naked woman in desperate need of a bikini wax… or more likely, electric hedge trimmers. It was not a pretty sight. This time the picture popped up on my phone while I was at work. I deleted the picture, but this time I kept the SMS portion. It was also an Arizona (east valley) phone number and if it happened again, I wanted to know if they came from the same number. Now I was sure this was a scam to get me to reply.

Today, about a week later, I received a third. This time the message said something “Shut the f*** up, or I’ll stick my foot up you *ss” – the accompanying picture, again of a naked women, demonstrated in no uncertain way that such a feat (or should I say ‘feet’?) was anatomically possible.

It was time to take action. Not only am I now sure that the goal is to get a response, I’m convinced that it is a logical pattern. Each message gets more obnoxious and more obscene with each try. They know if they keep pushing something will give. I don’t even want to think what the next one might be!

So I called AT&T to see what could be done. After all, I have to pay for text messages, surely there’s something that can be done. Wouldn’t you think?

The AT&T rep was very sympathetic. I told her my tale, and she told be that, “Really there are only two things we can do. You could change your number, or we could setup a block on the offending phone number.

The later choice sounded much better to me and so she started to set it up for me. After we’d gone through quite a bit of the process, she dropped the bombshell: The can only block SMS messages, not MMS messages. In other words, they could only block the text not the pictures.

I expressed how ridiculous that was to the rep, and she was most apologetic, but totally useless.

I vented my frustration with AT&T on twitter. Then I called the police. Surely having someone harass me with obscene photos was something they could do something about.

Apparently not. The messages aren’t threatening enough. It seems; however, that if I get enough of them (although it’s unclear how many that is) they could “try making a harassment call”, which I assume means treating it like harassment and calling up the perp and giving them a stern talking to. The police were of little use unless this problem continues for some greater, but undetermined, length of time.

Then, the twitter gods smiled upon me. Or more specifically, some automated twitter scraper setup for or on the behalf of AT&T noticed my tweet rant and brought me to the attention of someone at AT&T whose job is apparently to help out when customers are publicly expressing their dissatisfaction with AT&T.

I hate the fact that we live in a world where the phrase, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is true more often than not, but I was glad that someone was going to try to help. Big points to AT&T for that, at least. They were on it within an hour.

I laid out my story to the new AT&T rep via twitter and e-mail and he got with his colleagues and they discussed it. They sent me info on how to disable the pop up preview on the iPhone and more importantly, they took the offending number and promised to look into what could be done.

A while later, I got a call from the rep. He’d checked out the number and it was a prepaid cell phone from a company he’d never heard of. No real way to know who the person was, and nothing they could do about it. The only option available to me was to change my cell phone number, which they would graciously do for free under the circumstances. I’m not quite ready to abandon my phone number of 5-7 years just yet.

He was very nice and very sympathetic and I discussed with him that I thought it was ridiculous, from a technological standpoint, to believe that AT&T could block SMS messages, but couldn’t block MMS messages. He explained that the SMS message ride on the phone portion of the carrier channel while MMS message ride on the data portion – this, he explained, makes it impossible to block.

“Impossible” is clearly the wrong word because, ignorant though I am of cell phone technology, AT&T must, in some way, be routing that MMS message by phone number to my phone, and if they route it, there must be a way to block it. “impossible” in this case clearly means, “we don’t want to spend the money to set that up”, “It’s too much hassle” or any of a number of potential real reasons, but “impossible” as in “not possible to ever do” is clearly bullshit. I don’t blame the rep for this, it probably is impossible for him to set this up, but AT&T could find a way.

Whether I liked the explanation or not, I had it, so I pointed out that I was receiving 2 (actually 3) messages each time. The first was SMS, looking like a subject line, the second, the MMS picture and the third was the body of the message text. So, by turning preview off, I wan’t going to be “shocked” by any progressively more disturbing pictures – or worse, have my children see them. If I could get rid of the SMS part, that would help, so I told the rep I wanted to set the SMS block up.

…and he said, “Now comes the part you’re not going to like.”

Honest, that’s word-for-word what he said.

Apparently, setting up the ability to block SMS numbers costs $5 per month and the first rep never bothered to tell me.

Basically, I’m screwed. Surely this problem, and problems like it, warrant some mechanism to stop unwanted harassment without the solution being pain on the victims’ side!

I’m tempted to publish their number in this post so that Google will pick it up, in case anyone else is getting these messages from them.

If Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth, Facebook is…

…the most depressing place on Earth.

(Needless to say, I’m not cross-posting this one to Facebook.)

Facebook is a fascinating phenomena. You can, for example, find out what Mini-Me is doing right now.

It is certainly also an amazing tool for finding old schoolmates and even long-lost friends. The “net” that the social network casts out has lead me to some really surprising “finds” of people I thought I’d never, ever hear from again.

The thing is… it’s all rather grim. For every one person who grew up and became mildly interesting, 10 more grew up to be ignorant racists, crystal loonies, ultra-rightwing republicans or worse. I have Facebook “friends” who subscribe to religious beliefs that include listening to snakes talk and glossolalia (More commonly called “speaking in tongues” -in effect, gibbering and making bizarre-assed noises and pretending this power is gifted from god.)

It’s all so depressing. These people had the same education as me, where did the system fail them?

I’m not going to deny that I may have had an advantage in terms of raw brain horse-power. It would be disingenuously for me to deny that I was identified as “gifted” by the time I was three and put in a special school. (Hated it!)

Nonetheless, arrogant and self-important that may have made me as a child, I have still always believed that most people can absorb and use the vast majority of the education that is afforded them.

Facebook proves that premise is horribly, horribly false.

I had a brief exchange with one of my classmates from back in the 70’s. It wasn’t pleasant as I was being given a dressing down for both being (supposedly) a smartass and apparently for being educated. Funny thing was, I wasn’t actually being a smartass. I suspect there was some simmering resentment or hatred towards me that has been there for 30+ years.

I’m going to reproduce the last piece of the exchange because, lest you think I’m exaggerating, I want to document just how depressing some of these people can be.

This has had all names changed, but the spelling and punctuation are exactly as I received them. Can you imagine this is from a 45-year old person and not a second grader?


Well, I won’t write back, instead, I’m going to ridicule your English skills just by putting them out there for people to see. (Now I am being an arrogant smartass.)

Ironically, the original discussion was started because this person was slagging off our English teacher back then and I think you can tell that this person might not have learned a lot in that class.

Most tellingly, there was not the slightest reference to religion prior to this message. Apparently, they found out I was an atheist from my profile. It’s amazing how some people can really get their backs up against the wall and attack when they learn you don’t share their… umm… as Richard Dawkins would say, “delusions.”

Security with Frickin’ LASERS…

IMG_0121I’m not the most “glass half-full” person in the world, but I do try to pry some minor comfort from a situation that can only really be called a “loose-loose situation.”

Last week, our home was burglarized. I can tell you, it’s quite an unusual feeling to come home on a normal day, start about your normal home-arrival routine and start to notice that “…things are amiss.”

After the obvious almost-physical impact of discovering our Wii, all the games, two computers, iPods, jewelry and other sundry items missing, there’s days more of stumbling across little things, like a pair of headphones or a knife missing. Each time you stumble across something it drives home again that… no matter what you do, you cannot fully protect against this sort of loss and it is an enormous invasion of your personal space.

So what’s the positive side? Well, it’s hardly a positive side, but I’ve spent the better part of the week re-enforcing the home defenses. New deadbolts, metal re-enforcing plates, new doors, surveillance systems, alarms and most importantly… and this is the part I like… a security system with frickin’ lasers.

Expensive? Yes.

I only wish I could have worked sharks into it somehow.

Triumph in Ticketing


There are some distinct disadvantages to this whole “time zone” arrangement they use to keep the clocks on this planet all organized.

One of the bad things is that when you want to do something in another time zone, it’s just the wrong time, and so it was for me early this morning.

Tickets for the World Twenty20 championship next year in London went on sale today at the reasonable time of 10:00AM, BST. Being an international cricket championship, there’s a lot of interest from cricketing nations around the world, for example India (where it was 2:30 PM), Australia (7:00PM in Sydney), New Zealand (9:00PM) or South Africa (11:00AM)… all perfectly reasonable time to be purchasing tickets.

But consider us poor folk in Arizona. 10:00AM BST is 02:00AM here. That’s not a reasonable hour to be doing anything, except sleeping.

And yet… there I was, at 1:50AM, with only a small nap in the afternoon, preparing for the mad rush for tickets.

The Internet and credit cards are the great equalizers in the world today, and I was hopeful that I’d at least be able to get tickets for a Super-8 match, but I had my list prepared, in order from most desirable to least desirable match.

At 1:50, the ICC website changed. The link to buy tickets was now real, and so I immediately followed the link to the ticketing company. It was still too early, but a message came up saying, “Due to the current high demand you have been placed in a queue.”

How uniquely British! Rather than a major ticket vendor like TicketMasters have sufficient hardware to handle the task (What? They don’t have big events?) they developed a way to appeal to the British love of forming queues.

The estimated wait time progress bar crept across the screen, and, after just 10 minutes, I was deposited on a ICC T20 page – I think. The page was a squib. THere was nothing on it except ICC graphics. What to do? What to do? Should I continue to wait, or should I try a page reload? The page might not be auto-refreshing, on the other hand, reloading the page might dump me back to the beginning of the queue.

Or… could the bad page be because I was using Safari for my browser?

By now it was 2:05 and I fired up Firefox and put it on a second screen. It was waiting in queue, and the progress bar was slowly moving. I decided to gamble and I hit reload in Safari. The squib page reloaded, so I tried again,

This time a login page popped up: You must login or register to purchase ticket. I clicked the register button… I got a squib page. I tried a reload and I ended up back at the login page. I tried register again, this time the registration screen came up. Quickly I entered my information and hit “submit”. It was 2:09… and after a minute, a “page not found” came up.

I tried reload again – and was put at the back of the queue. Had I registered? How long would I wait?

I decided to let the Firefox copy run and I shut down Safari. Firefox had already achieved a 25% complete progress bar. My hopes of getting tickets to the final match were fading fast, especially when I began to realize the progress bar would periodically shorten itself. One minute it would be 40% done, the next 15%.

One hour, 45 minutes later and I was once again put to the login screen. I risked it and tried the login I had tried to create earlier. It worked! I was in! I zipped to the tickets for the final, fully expecting them to be sold out and… bought my my tickets, paid for them, logged out and went to bed.

OK, the story ends somewhat anticlimactically, but it it helps make it some more problematic, by this time it was 4:00AM, and I was soon due to wake up for work, and the adrenaline rush from desperately, impatiently waiting had wound me up enough that I couldn’t really sleep.

Still. June 2009, the UK.

Let’s hope the world economy doesn’t collapse so badly that it’s possible to actually use those tickets.

Snake oil isn’t dead

OK, we’re all feeling the pinch with gas prices, but I really hate it when people start taking advantage of others when they’re vulnerable. That’s bad enough, but when the local news helps them, I’m appalled.

Today, the local ABC affiliate, channel 15 published this story.

It’s about a company that sells magnets (yes, magnets) to improve your gas efficiency by 10%. Hmm, if only it were that simple. Why is it they just have testimonials from people who say things like, “Gosh, I sure was plumb skeptical of your claims until I tried this amazing product” rather than some real science explaining the principal rather than the pseudoscience babble on their site?

You’d think one of those darned smart scientists would have come up with this 50 years ago, wouldn’t ya? But, we all know, magnets are magic and their properties aren’t fully understood by modern science.

So remember, just because there’s no evidence for it, magical can magnets change the molecular structure of gas making it more efficient, they can realign the iron inside algae, making your pool more algae resistant, and they can filter free radicals from your blood.

I believe you can even buy magnetic condoms that go around your ankle. This system allows one to fully experience sexual intercourse without troublesome physical barriers and still prevents all forms of pregnancy, HIV or STDs. </SARCASM>

So this is a shame on ABC 15 for helping take money from people that could use it for something better – like a proper tune-up, which could actually help. What’s next? Psychic pet detectives can improve gas mileage by telling you where your dog should sit in your vehicle?

Save Early, Save Often

I just finished up writing my review of The Sontaran Strategem and the Poison Sky, my MacBook turned off.

It was low on battery, a bit, but it hadn’t even hit the critical level yet, and it didn’t hibernate the machine, either. It just turned off.

Now I have to go back to my last save point… how tedious.