Saturday, May 20, 2017

Windows 10 - is it me or are they just having a laugh?

A little shield icon popped up at the bottom of my screen that I did not recognise so I clicked on it and the following message was displayed:

Useful huh? I wondered which device driver was the cause of concern. In my ignorance I thought that if I clicked on the button marked, helpfully, 'learn more' then I would indeed learn more. But no. The aforesaid click opened up a standard Microsoft web page with a search bar. A blank bar. It did not even have 'device driver problem' or similar pre-inserted. Having told me I could learn more, it did the equivalent of a taxi driver picking up someone at Heathrow who asks for "central London, please driver" and dropping them off in Slough near the station.

So I have no idea which device has incurred the wrath of the backroom boffins  and if they want to play the game of alarming me for no obvious reason, I'm damned if I'm going to play along.

Techie note:
I had just done a backup to my USB 3.0 flash drive, which appears to be working perfectly well, but presumably Windows is capable of identifying it more intelligently than by the useless word "device". Or is it?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Flattery and the scam caller

People phoning you up to claim there is a problem with your computer, so that you will install software that permits them to steal your data or make you pay for something useless, is nothing new. But I may have found a new way to deal with them. This morning's call found me in a good mood so instead of my usual sarcasm or time-wasting tactics, this is how it went.

The phone rings, I hear the usual tell-tale silence followed by a burst of call centre background noise so I am well prepared for the intro.

"Hello, this is George1 from BT Technical Department2. How are you today?3"
"I'm fine"
"Good. I am ringing because we have identified a problem with your internet connection"
"That's funny because your department called me three days ago so why are you calling again?"
"Oh ... did they fix the problem"4
"Yes, they did a wonderful job. Why are you calling again?"

A baffled silence and he rings off.

1. Funny how all these guys in Indian call centres have European names
2. Yeah. And I'm Crown Prince Albert of Schleswig-Osnabruck
3. I suppose I ought to go on and on about my gammy foot
4. My line wasn't in his script but he recovered well. Some callers become abusive at this point but 'George' kept his cool. Well done

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Windows 10 - the perils of the update

I haven't written about my computer's operating system for a while so you might have thought all the problems, the criticism and the carping had gone away. Alas, the golden rule of IT is that if you have a good working product then it has to be "updated" or "enhanced" or "f*****ed up" (as we ex-IT professionals say). Yesterday there were two full restarts and updates, then a message about some glorious new future with something called the "Creator's edition". Microsoft still, after all these years, doesn't seem to understand the fundamental difference between an operating system and the programmes (or "apps", if you insist) that run on it. 

There was a scheduled reboot in the early hours to apply the finishing touches and I woke up my pc this morning hoping all was over. I entered my password on the loading screen and saw a message I had never seen before in some 25 years of using Windows - "User profile service failed the logon". And back to the loading screen. Ah, what to do? I tried again a couple of times. Same result. I tried the alternate profile that I created soon after installation last year but have never used. Same result. No help whatsoever on the screen to explain what this error means and how to progress.

A quick internet search on my mobile revealed this is normally indicates a corruption of the user profile and the standard recommendation is to use another. Fairly unhelpful in my case when both profiles are being rejected. Going into safe mode and activating a default admin account was also posited but in the end I settled for the good old-fashioned reboot and this time the profiles were accepted and everything was good.

Everything that is, except my carefully crafted desktop picture of the wonderful National Trust property Cotehele, site of some of our regular holidays. It had been replaced with some ghastly Microsoft blue screen. Why? Yes, I was able to retrieve it so no harm done. But why? All other desktop settings had been retained. What had my humble jpg done to incur the wrath of the coders from Redmond? Perhaps we shall never know.

The system did stick up a brand new email program and immediately complain that it wasn't associated with an email account. The fact that my emails go into Microsoft's very own Outlook 2007 seemed to pass it by. I think it may be a bit pushier with one or two other things, like hinting that I use Edge; we shall see.

My point in writing this little bit of spleen is to emphasise that the system had failed to load correctly, it had given me an error message but had not provided any assistance in solving the problem. I could not use the pc to access the internet to find a solution because the desktop had not loaded nor had I been given the offer of a default desktop. Despite all the help and user-friendliness supposedly embedded in Windows, when a critical problem occurred, there was no help at all. I can well imagine this causing genuine distress for some less experienced users.

All this a couple of days after a massive encryption-ransomware virus spread across the world, doing severe damage to the systems used by many NHS hospitals and surgeries. I saw this at first hand - whilst visiting my mother-in-law at Northwick Park Hospital, a porter arrived in the ward to take another patient away and told her "There'll be a delay love, all our servers have gone down".  Appointment systems were shut, forcing cancellation of operations and access to patients' data was restricted. The worst of this seems to be over for now, helped by a bug within the ransomware that allowed it to be halted, but the next one could be worse. Cuts in IT support expenditure in the NHS have made it very vulnerable.

We, as a species, have only become reliant on computers for the lifespan of about one generation and the speed of the adoption has been way too rapid for us to keep up. If they fail we don't have adequate fallbacks. It's getting a bit scary.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

President Khan dismisses head of MBI

From our own correspondent in Karakorum who is requesting a transfer to the Aztec Empire

 Sources close to President Ghengis Khan announced today that his old ally, General Jacomi, is no longer in charge of the Mongol Board of Informants. Apparently Jacomi is no longer able to do the job - for which he was widely praised by Khan before the election of the latter - because his head is no longer fully connected to the rest of his body.

The President was reported to be deeply distressed by the need to have Jacomi's body heaved out of his office and onto the nearest dungheap, in accordance with sacred Mongol tradition, and did not quaff more than 10 brimming goblets of beer and ox-blood at dinner. He was also said to have spent some time cleaning his scimitar before waving it about saying "Still pretty damn sharp, eh?"

Jacomi had been linked to the discovery of messages sent to the Chinese ambassador that appeared to confirm an attack on Karakorum was being planned. Rumours about these messages are thought to have assisted Khan's election campaign. However the discovery of a message from Chinese Emperor Bing that was translated as "Give us back Beijing and we will send you much gold", a message subsequently explained by Jacomi as "Just a joke I knocked up after inhaling too near a camel" may have caused the President to doubt his suitability.

The President is now considering who to appoint to the vacancy. There has been a surprisingly large number of dustclouds seen on the horizon recently, and there are no fast horses available for sale anywhere in town. The President's search for his next stooge fall-guy apprentice continues.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Election 2017: 2 - The Big Yawn

General elections used to be fairly exciting. The parties would present their proposals and leading politicians would battle it out over their ideas and suitability for office. Results could be hard to predict and votes mattered (at least in a number of marginal seats).

This year it seems flat and pointless. The lead between the Conservatives and all other parties is, in electoral terms, huge. In terms of the popular vote it is not - they are on about 38% - but the quirks of the British system means that this guarantees a significant majority in the House of Commons and if a majority of UK voters do not actually support them - well, tough cheese because elections here are not about winning national majorities but simply getting more votes than any one else, constituency by constituency.

Furthermore, the national agenda has been suborned by Brexit. It is like the anti-communist era of 1950s USA. If you voice any disquiets about the rush to leave the EU and cut all ties (the mantra "No deal is better than a bad deal" is how we are being softened up for this) then you may be branded at best a moaner, an anti-democrat and at worst a traitor. Just about any political policy can be framed in terms of whether it agrees with what voters are supposed to have voted for when they chose Brexit, albeit that the referendum did not ask anything whatsoever about policies, only about whether the UK should continue to be a member.

It is a pleasure to be able to record that the French public, in the Presidential election last Sunday, chose by 2 to 1 to put in a pro-European centrist.  Only 21 miles away from us1 but so very different in outlook. Mind you, something similar could be said about the Scots.

The Conservatives are running on "Strong and Stable" government. I am not terribly clear what the key slogans of any of the other parties are (mainly because I can't be that bothered to find out)2. It is a little curious that the British are being invited to re-elect the ruling party to make it stronger, rather than be told they will be better off, or that the nasty foreigners will be kept well away3 . It seems to be having to do with facing down those ghastly Europeans and ensuring that no deal whatsoever is done over anything, because that will really jolly well show them and make them sorry they ever forced us into leaving in the first place, or something. I am still wondering what will happen when the first planeloads of British pensioners, kicked out of Spain at a moment's notice, touch down at Gatwick and they all demand access to the NHS and housing.

1 From Dover, I mean. Not from beautiful Ruislip.
2 If any election material ever arrives I suppose I might be able to issue an update on this one.
3 Of course this does not apply to dear old Rupert Murdoch and his perpeptual attempts to buy up British broadcasting. Or any rich person who wants to buy up any property they can get their hands on and hide the ownership in a trust based in a country with no extradition treaty with the UK and total commercial secrecy.  Or any offshore trust that wants to do a dodgy deal with a Labour council in London to steal the ground from a much-loved local football club in order to make profits for themselves and their mates back in the Town Hall.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The rains have failed

This has been one of the driest winter/spring periods for many a year. In recent times I have documented torrential rainstorms and floods. From Somerset to York to Cumbria and beyond there have been harrowing stories of rivers gushing through poorly-protected towns, bridges swept away and farms drowned and cut-off. Not so in 2017. We had a week in Cornwall recently and, amazingly, had dry and sunny days throughout. There has been barely a drop of rain in beautiful Ruislip for what seems like ages. The ground seems to be holding sufficient water for the plants and trees to be flourishing, fortunately, but the first story of possible hosepipe bans has just appeared in my morning paper and it may be the harbinger of many more.

One really good test of the adequacy of rainfall is how often I need to top up the lake in my estate [pond out the back: Ed]. Again, in recent years, I have been bailing it out most winters in order to keep the garden from being inundated. This year I have twice had to fill up a large half-barrel with tap water to keep the level up. We did get a bit of rain a few days ago, enough to fill up the water butts but if the dry spell continues - as it is forecast to do - then I'll be unwinding the hose and topping up the pond yet again in a couple of weeks.