Techno Rants

The past 5 days have been something of a saga. If you read my Stumbling Blox post on Goodreads.com, you might remember that this past weekend  was going to mark my migration from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. I had everything mapped out, everything planned and absolutely nothing went as expected. It all began when I ran a system-wide backup late Fri. afternoon. It went as expected and I was off to a good start – or so I thought.

That evening, I made a few minor changes to my files & on Saturday morning, I decided to do another system-wide backup in order for my back-up to reflect the current state of things. I started the back-up process & went to run a couple of errands. I was back home in less than an hour and the backup was done. Not a good sign since the thing usually takes 3 hours +/-. I restarted the application and this time around it took longer – like all afternoon and into the evening. Since this was well over twice the amount of time that a full back-up takes, I decided to investigate and discovered that absolutely nothing had been backed up.  Rather than waste any more time, I decided to manually make copies of the important stuff. I finally went to bed around 1:00 AM.

The following morning, everything was ready to go and I began the migration by inserting the upgrade DVD and powering up. The installation reached the point where it asked for my product key but none of my keys worked. I decided to quit the upgrade, reboot and look in a few other places for the right key. That was the intention, anyway. I quickly discovered that the installation had changed things on my hard drive and now, I couldn’t log in. My Windows 7 installation DVD was MIA so there was nothing for it but to go to Staples & buy a fresh copy of Win 8.

Staples was out of stock so I had to go to BestBuy where I stood in a queue to check out and had the anti-theft alarm go off when I tried to leave the building. On my way home, I stopped at Jimmy John’s and ordered a ham sandwich to go. When I got home, I discovered that I’d been given the wrong order.

After lunch, things got slightly better and I was finally able to install the new operating system and began re-installing the world. 48 hours later, I had things the way I wanted them and set about getting my notes in order so I could resume writing. I’ve been assisting a small business upgrade from Win XP to new laptops, go wireless & move to a new location for the past month so Urban Mermaid has been on hiatus.

Well folks, part of my notes for the novel have vanished completely – not all of them, mind you – just some of the more recent stuff. How much is missing is unknown and I can probably reconstruct a lot of things from other sources. It’s what I don’t know is missing that worries me.

This is going to be a short rant even though Dr. Data is mightily honked off. I have been hard at work on two interviews, a couple of book reviews and who knows what else. Today, I had a completely clear lunch break as well as some chunks of thumb-twiddling time while I repeatedly waited for a CGI process to finally time out and thus made the best of it by wrapping up one review and starting to work on formatting the interview for publication. I made a lot of progress on the interview and was looking forward to getting ahead of the game this evening.

I have been using Ubuntu 1, DropBox, and Microsoft’s SkyDrive to shuttle documents, scripts, images, etc. between work, home and the ancestral family estate in Hopewell, VA. On this particular day, I was using SkyDrive for my cloud storage. After the CGI process timed out one last time, I shut my work machine down, and headed for the parking lot secure in the knowledge that this evening would be super productive.

After supper, I fired up the Dell Studio and opened my SkyDrive folder so I could get to work. There was one wee problem; my work from earlier today was NOT in the folder. Apparently, the software never synched things between my work machine and the couple of gigabytes that I call my own somewhere out there. The stuff is still on my work machine. I’m not particularly worried that I have lost the work as the same thing happened with DropBox a while back. Then, as now, I had really hoped that I could catch up on things at home.

Remember folks, man’s best friend is a flash drive!

You’ve probably heard about it by now and I’m already tired of hearing about it;  the story broken by the UK’s Guardian newspaper – it figures -concerning the surveillance being carried on by the NSA (National Security Agency) on Verizon’s phone call meta-data as well as other aspects of internet communications like e-mail. For those of you who may not quite get it, meta-data is information about data; not the data itself.  The NSA does not give an R.A. about calls to your mistress/boyfriend or your predilection for phone sex. By the time they get the meta-data, your 3:00 AM call to Jake at Snake Farm is long over. Instead, they are looking for patterns like calls to the local 7-11 from Abbottabad, Pakistan that occur only when Achmed is behind the counter on the grave-yard shift.

There is the predictable hue and cry that this is the end of America as we know it or that the Government has done the “freshy-fresh” with the Bill of Rights. No-one seems to give a fig about the Police running your licence plate when they spot you parked at the Achmed’s 7-11 at 1:30 AM. Indeed, La Polizia have run the plates of a certain Mitsubishi pick-up with a canoe on top driven by a bearded, kilt-wearing, pipe-smoking, Scotch-drinking, hippy freak in ear-rings more times than I care to think about. They probably needn’t bother because no-one in their right mind would use a 23 year-old pick-up with an “I brake for Mermaids” bumper-sticker on the back as a get-away vehicle.

Yes, it’s a shame that things have come to this but it’s the price we pay for being under siege by sub-humans who would gladly suicide-bomb a day-care just to inflict a bit more pain and terror on Americans. Dr. Data can remember the common cries of “Protect us! Protect us!” in the wake of 9/11 and the Boston bombings. Well, the NSA, et alia, are trying to do just that. Moreover, the government has been doing that for a lonnng time. Back during the cold war, a certain female-type person with whom  Dr. Data has had a more than nodding acquaintance for nearly four decades, had relatives on the east side of the iron curtain. Letters arriving at her grand-mother’s house had already been read and redacted by both sides. Her brother – like Dr. Data – was into short-wave radio during that time and a Federal agent showed up at their house wanting to check his QSL cards . . . no doubt looking for coded messages.

So folks, let’s turn down the histrionics and hope that the NSA does its job before the next airliner flies into an office tower. If  you’re worried that the intelligence community may want to know about your relationship with that visiting professor who works part-time as a dominatrix, then do the following:

  1. Get rid of your phones – smart and not so smart
  2. Get off the internet
  3. Blow up your TV
  4. Pay for all transactions with cold, hard cash
  5. Read only old-fashioned books printed on real paper
  6. Travel only by foot or bicycle
  7. Hope and pray that Achmed does not hijack a Cessna and fly it into your house.

Resources:

NSA PRISIM programme spied on e-mails, searches

This past week-end, my brother and I rendezvoused at our stately ancestral home in Hopewell, VA. The aforementioned brother said he had a problem or two with his laptop and I — having nothing better to do at that moment — volunteered to have a go at fixing his machine. Midway through turning off a few start-up items, I casually asked what he planned to do with the laptop once support for Windows XP ends next April. To my dismay, he said that this was the first he’d heard of it; Proof positive that he does not read this blog as I’ve mentioned the XP “sell-by date” quite a bit over the past year.

XPdeath

So just in case you’ve not paid any attention to what I’ve said over the past year – I’ve been married for 37 years so I’m used to it – Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP on April 4th, 2014. That means no more patches, security updates, etc.  Since there are 500 million +/- XP machines out there and comprising around 40% of the market as of May 2013, those PCs still running XP will be sitting ducks for the malware industry. Those guys never miss a beat when it comes to vulnerability so don’t expect them stop attacking Windows XP when the 8th of April rolls around.

Those of you still hanging on to your XP machines will have to make some serious decisions and soon. Computing hardware has progressed so much in the 12 years that XP has been with us that your trusty laptop purchased in 2006 won’t be able to run Windows 7 or 8. You’ll need to either buy new hardware or consider switching to Linux; Ubuntu or Mint will run quite nicely on my brother’s Gateway laptop. Whatever you decide to do, you need to be quick about it. Whether you choose to buy new hardware with Windows 7 or 8 pre-installed or make the move to the FREE Linux operating system, doing it under the gun is no picnic and leads to a significant increase in frustration. There’s always a period of adjustment when you make a move like this.

Because I seem to be a voice crying in the wilderness – at least on this blog – I’ve added a count-down clock to the side-bar.  Remember, tempus fugit.

RESOURCE:

See Microsoft’s End of Support page at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/endofsupport.aspx

Depending upon whom you listen to, a full one-third – and then some – of PC users are moving their computing activities away from PC’s and towards what are termed “Post-PC Devices”. For ordinary folks, that’s the term for things like tablets and smartphones. People are shifting their web browsing and Facebook activities away from desktops and PCs and are now starting to rely on Smart Phones and Tablets for these two all-important tasks. {{1}}

A good bit  – indeed, probably most – of this is, no doubt, due to the fact that a third of PC users probably only ever used their lap/desk-tops for these activities. Toss in games, music and the occasional term paper and you will probably account for the vast majority of their need for a traditional PC. In previous posts, I’ve argued that we will see more a diversification of platforms and less a death knell for the PC so I’m not going to belabour that point here. Instead, I’m presenting a short digest of reviews dealing with Microsoft’s Surface Pro – a somewhat pricey hybrid of tablet and PC. I mention the pricey-ness because if Microsoft’s entry in the mobile computing area is ever going to gain ground and acceptance, the price IS going to have to drop considerably.

If you’re considering – today or at some point in the future – moving to a tablet, here are some things to consider:

ZDNet’s Steve Ranger offers an in-depth comparison between the Surface RT and the iPad for use in a work environment. In case you haven’t been paying attention, there is a significant difference between Microsoft’s Surface Pro and the Surface RT. The former can run many of the applications designed for the standard Windows desk/lap-top while the RT cannot. In many respects, the Surface RT is more a consumer device like the iPad. Yes, the iPad has been employed in business applications and no doubt the RT will too . . . if it survives.

In a second article, Steve Ranger puts things in perspective with an article entitled Surface Pro, Windows 8 and the Rebirth of Microsoft.

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Tech, Jason Hiner delivers a preview of the Surface Pro and argues that its Triple-Play User Interface is the device’s greatest innovation.

PC Magazine’s Joel Santo Domingo argues that the Surface Pro is  “. . . the Windows 8 slate tablet to beat when you need the performance and convenience of a PC in a compact tablet form factor.” This article is definitely worth a read. By the way, can anyone remember when PC Magazine was at least 3/4 of an inch thick and when rolled up, became an instrument of deadly force?

Joel also has a second article that covers both the Surface Pro and the Surface RT; Microsoft Surface Pro vs. Surface RT: Which One Should You Buy?

Back over on ZDNet, Mary Jo Foley provides answers to why Microsoft chose to deliver the Surface RT before the Surface Pro as well as a few other questions.

Not to be outdone, PC World’s Jon Phillips argues that the Surface Pro is the best Windows tablet in the world but, nonetheless, is still a bit lacking.

Finally, Robin Harris, writing for ZDNet, claims that Microsoft goofed on the Pro’s available storage.

There you have it; eight articles that provide food for thought about the Surface Pro by Microsoft. If you’re interested in buying the Surface Pro, these articles will provide good research material. If not, they’re still good to have up on your browser at work so your boss will think that you’re ahead of the curve . . . for once.

[[1]] One-third of PC users shifting activities to post-PC devices: Report – Adrian Kingsley Hughes, ZDNet.[[1]]

Let’s see now:

  • Laptop – check
  • Geek glasses – check
  • Nerd shirt in a colour not found in nature – check
  • Stack of Linux/Unix manuals – check
  • Stack of Perl manuals – check
  • iPhone with Whipped app – check
  • Assorted flash drives – check
  • Other assorted stuff that no self-respecting computer dweeb can live without – check
  • Autographed copy of The Wit & Wisdom of Sheldon Cooper – check

[stextbox id=”Question” float=”true” align=”right” width=”200″]Just how much of a dyed-in-the-wool Hokie is my brother? He refuses to wear a kilt until he can find one in Burnt Orange and Chicago Maroon![/stextbox]

Looks like I’ve got everything. I’m off on a 10-month contract with the University of Virginia ITS (Information Technology Services). My brother, Jim Parsons – no, not THAT Jim Parsons! – a dyed in the wool Hokie, must be hiding his face in shame over all this.

So far, Day 1 has been slow but that’s the way 1st days usually are. There’s a cardboard stand-up of Mr. Spock next to my cube and Iron Man collectables on the shelf across the aisle. I have a first-rate view of the train tracks behind the building so I can foam and work at the same time. I’m in Nerdlandia.

We have a few news items for you today so let’s get crackin’.

Microsoft Surface Pro – When Windows 8 launched at the end of October, 2012, so did Microsoft’s new tablet known as the Surface RT. The RT received mixed reviews – from good to wretched – with some writers claiming that it was a laughable/forgettable product. Among the points its favour were assessments stating that it was a good, solid performing tablet but not a spectacular one. There were a few more negative items including the fact that it could be somewhat lethargic loading programmes as well as the fact that it would not run programmes that a PC could. If you wanted an application to do something or other, you would have to go to the Windows Store to find one designed to run on the RT. Given the fact that the shelves in the Windows Store were somewhat bare at that  point, it was easy to see why many reviewers were less than enthusiastic.

To be fair, the Windows Store opened with more RT apps than Apple’s App store had iOS apps when the iPad launched. Microsoft’s prediction that there would be 100,000 apps available 90 days after the launch has failed to come true with slightly more than 25% of that landmark ready for downloading in the waning days of January. There were complaints that the RT apps were mostly crap but from my experience, there’s plenty of crap to be found in Apple’s App Store as well.

Comes now the availability of the Surface Pro, a tablet that can run PC programmes as well as those designed for the Pro platform. The  price is somewhat dear with the entry-level version costing just over $ 1,000 when all is said & done. Will the price come down? Probably in the same way that the iPad has come down in price; a noticeable reduction but still nothing to write home about. Consumers are more likely to buy Android based devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Note or Google’s Nexus 7 or 10 than the Surface Pro . . . at least for now.

ZDNet’s Ed Bott has penned a pretty good review of the Surface Pro that is well worth reading. Meanwhile, ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley is ready to tell us why she’s not trading her RT for a Pro. Finally, TechRadar’s James Stables has a mostly favourable review of the RT, published not at launch time as so many reviews were, but instead 90 days post launch. Read them and decide for yourself.

DELL Plans To Go Private – It’s a goal for many small and not-so-small companies to grow to the point that shares are publicly traded on of the major exchanges. Dell did just that back in 1988. Well folks, the days of “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” are long gone now and the company is starting to move towards buying itself back. The price is $24.4 billion and includes a $2 billion loan from Microsoft.

What does all this mean? How will you be affected . . . if at all? Here are some stories that will – hopefully – begin to answer those questions:

HP Contemplating A Break-up – The long, strange trip of Hewlett Packard is taking yet another turn. According to one report, executives are mulling a company break-up as well as other options. Of course, other sources say that there is nothing of the kind going on. This is not the first bout of indecision for the company. You may remember that HP was going to get out of the PC business until they changed their mind and decided to stay. They introduced a well-received tablet only to drop it 5 months later; not unlike Microsoft dropping its Kin smart phone after a similar length of time. The trouble is that the Kin was a deeply flawed device while the HP Touchpad was quite good and now suffers from a lack of applications as well as other support.

For more on this latest development in the HP saga, read HP reportedly considering company “breakup” on ZDNet. Even if does turn out to be a faux report,  consumers might want to weigh their hardware options carefully if their choice include HP.

 

Here are a few items to close out the month of January.

  • Windows 8 Market Share – According to an article in ZDNet Tech Today, the market share for desktop PCs remains low compared to Windows XP & Windows 7.  As of the first of January, Windows 8 had a 2.26% share of the market – ahead of Apple’s Mac OS X 10.7 or OS X 10.6 but slightly less than OS X 10.8 – which is rather small when you compare it to Windows XP’s 39.51 % and Win 7’s 44.48%. It should be noted that Post-PC devices like tablets have shown a significant rise in popularity and this has impacted the share of desktops belonging to Windows 8. Nonetheless Win 8 is selling fairly well – all things considered – and continues to gain momentum. What sales will do in January remains to be seen. On the consumer front, Xmas is now behind us so the figures for January may not be spectacular. Enterprise sales may pick up now that 2013 is here but it is worth keeping in mind that surveys back in the 4th Quarter of 2012 indicated that there was no great rush to move to Windows 8. Many companies are still moving to Win 7 and some plan to wait until Win 8’s successor appears to see if it is any more promising than Windows 8. Read all about it on ZDNet.
  • [stextbox id=”Question” float=”true” align=”right” width=”200″ mleft=”10″]Do you plan to move to Windows 8 this year? Tell Dr. Data all about it.[/stextbox]Windows App Numbers Fall Short – Way back in October of 2012, Redmond predicted  that there would be 100,000 apps available in the Windows Store within 90 days after the launch of Win 8. Well, 3 months later, the count as of January 8th, 2013 was only 26,643; not even half of what was predicted. The low market share held by Win 8 may account for some of the reluctance shown by 3rd party developers to start coding for the new platform but 26,643 is a disappointment by almost any standard. Read all about it on Tech Republic.

That’s it for this week. Have a good weekend.

KCAPTCHAWe’ve all had to deal with them in some way at one time or another. The CAPTCHA; a brave attempt to prevent spam-bots from filling out things like the contact form on your website and sending you e-mails telling you about cheap Viagra, Nigerian Princes seeking to recover their fortune and busty blond bimbos who have been oh so lonely and are looking for a man just like you in order to have a meaningful, fulfilling relationship and/or a good time.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”150″ mleft=”5″]Wikipaedia has an excellent article on CAPTCHAS. [/stextbox]Though they are there on the front lines of spam defense, they more often frustrate than protect. How many times have you filled out a web form only to be baffled by the distorted letters and numbers you are required to read and enter before you hit “Submit”. Is that a “1” or an “L”, an “O” or a “Q”, an “R” or a “K”? You give it your best guess and click the “Submit” button only to be told that what you entered is incorrect and are then redirected to an empty copy of the form that you’ll have to fill out again. Not only are they driving you mad but there are serious questions as to their efficacy.

The hey-day of the CAPTCHA may be over. Ticketmaster is dropping them in favour of entering common phrases or answering things like multiple choice questions. A New York based outfit named Solve Media claims that it takes the user half the time to comply with the new approach than it did to try and decode a CAPTCHA. Solve Media also believes that this method is better at blocking bots than the old way which often proved quite successful at blocking humans.

Only time will tell whether this approach will be the answer to a form-filler’s prayer. In the meantime, you can read all about it in PC Magazine.

I am on the horns of a dilemma. My Dell Studio XPS  machine – which will be 4 years old in May – is suffering from applications not playing well with the Operating System. Some of this is the result of installing and un-installing a multitude of applications over the past few years and a contributing factor is having forgotten applications still hanging around long after I stopped using them. That is, of course, if I ever did use them in the first place. Even the best PC clean-up utility available will still fail to get everything. Believe me, I’ve tried a number of them over the years.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ mright=”10″]Nuking is a technical term used by trained professionals to describe the process of wiping the hard disk and re-installing the Operating System.[/stextbox]A PC which has been around a while can definitely benefit from nuking the system and starting over.  One of the advantages of doing this  is that you have the opportunity to inventory your software applications, determine which ones you don’t like/need/want and vow not to re-install them on the pristine copy of the OS you’ll have after you’re through. This, of course, gives you the freedom to install new software applications that  you don’t like/need/want.

I am on the cusp of wiping the slate clean and starting over and my dilemma is that of deciding which OS to install once the hard drive has been sanitised. I have my choice of installing:

  1. Windows 7 – I currently use this OS
  2. Windows 8 – I’ve got this on my test machine and have found it not to be quite as bad as anticipated
  3. Linux – I have Ubuntu dual-booting on my test machine and Mint running as a virtual machine on the Dell Studio XPS

So which one should it be? On one hand, Win7 works for me. On the other hand, I hate to get Win 7 all set-up, configured & applications  installed only to have to do it all over again in 12 to 18 months time because of Win 8.

I could just go ahead & install Win 8 since there are work-arounds for most of the major interface complaints but there are still a few “why in the hell did they do that?” items – like scroll bars -that I am somewhat loathe do deal with on a daily basis. Hopefully, someone will cobble a work-around for those.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ mright=”10″]Dr. Data tried this approach on his test machine and – after hours of trying to make things work the way that they ought to – wound up Nuking the system and starting from scratch.[/stextbox]Before you say “Why not save time and trouble by upgrading Win 7 to Win8 and thus avoid having to re-install the world?”, I should mention that such an upgrade also migrates the bad settings, misconfigured applications and other gunk  from Win 7 to Win 8, often with less than desirable results. So much for the ease of migration between Windows Operating Systems.

[stextbox id=”Information” float=”true” width=”150″]WINE stands for “WINE Is Not an Emulator”. [/stextbox]Finally, I could do exactly what I’ve wanted to do for many moons and make the move to Linux. The problem is that I’ve got plenty of $$$ invested in Windows applications for which there is not a Linux version. Even when there is a version of, say,  XYZ available for Linux, I would most likely have to buy the Linux version as if I was buying the software for the very first time. Linux does have WINES which allows one to run things like MS Outlook in an X environment but it does not get along well with the Windows software. It’s dollars to doughnuts that Dr. Data has a bunch of applications that fit into this category.

Where will all this end up? It’s hard to say right now but sooner or later, Win 7 on the Studio XPS is going to get to the point where Dr. Data’s hand will be forced in one direction or another.

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