Friday, February 26, 2010

Damn - did Microsoft or the EU drop a clanger? Part II

I wrote yesterday about the disarrrster that was my mother's experience of the EU imposed browser ballot.  Well, I tried it out on a test machines and here are the screens you should expect to see.

Firstly, remember that if you install the patch as you shutdown then this will occur on the next power on without any notice - this could be some time later!

If you install patching and then take the restart now, then on logging on to your computer this windows will appear (click on the images below to see them full size):

The eagle eyed will also spot this new icon on the desktop:

However you will also notice that the browser ballot requires you to be connected to the internet, and the OK button just takes you to the next screens (see below).  My mother's experience was that the X to close the windows and ALT-F4 did not work.

All in all, I have to agree - this feels and looks like malware.  A popup insisting you are connected to the internet for the next steps, and has no company name on it is not likely to be taken for a piece of legitimate software - although I would emphasise my suspicions that this is part of the imposition from the EU to prevent "Microsoft bias".

Please pass the message on - for all the IT Pros out there who support their extended friends and family network, I can see this is going to be a serious nuisance.

Enjoy :-)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Damn - did Microsoft or the EU drop a clanger?

Today I got a rather worried email from my mother. The message was titled “virus?”.

Earlier today she had switched on the computer and been confronted by a screen that asked her to choose some software to install. Worried that this might be some sort of malware attack she took immediate action to disconnect from the internet and shutdown the computer. Once isolated she then quite correctly started up and ran AV tests. So she was off the computer and the internet for quite a few hours today.

However, mum used dad’s computer to email me her concerns. Unfortunately as I was at Microsoft Cardinal Place in London where decent phone and data signal is as rare as rocking horse droppings I knew nothing of it until I was on the train home.

It rapidly dawned on me that Microsoft Update had somehow selected mum to be one of the first recipients of KB976002 which is the implementation of the EU directive to provide choice of web browser to consumers. The infamous browser ballot.

I asked her to go to Microsoft Update and check the installed patches, the KB was there:

If you read the knowledgebase article you’ll see that browser ballot loads on the first reboot after installation. In mum’s case it was a shutdown and install updates last night that installed the patch, and then today’s power on activated the ballot form.

I am pretty angry that the implementation of this has been done in such a manner. I suspect that the agreement does not allow Microsoft to inform the consumer what (and why) this is happening and ‘finger’ the EU as the cause behind the interruption of normal service. I would have preferred to have seen something along the lines of:
“In accordance with the agreement reached with the European Union, Microsoft are obliged to offer you a choice of Web Browser. The following options are available for you to choose…” you see what I mean. This would have provided some context and allowed mum to make a more reasoned response to such strange behaviour.

So normal service is resumed, but after a run of good things, I’m a bit narked that we seem to have taken a backwards step with this. And of course – how long before malware uses this to target users?

Rant over...

Oh, and if you are wondering – then yes XP is the right solution for mum and dad. They’ve had their machines since before Vista, and I strongly urged them not to upgrade because I was not satisfied it would be a good experience for them. Windows 7 I certainly recommend, but a wipe and install upgrade is not the right approach either. When they get a new machine(s), then yes, I will whole heartedly support Windows 7 on it!

The Humans - a Twitter review

Obviously at a gig involving Robert Fripp, respect for the artiste forbids you from using your mobile phone to do any photography or reporting. So mine stayed firmly off on Tuesday night when we went to see the Humans at the Junction in Cambridge. However on getting home, I just had to share, so I did my 140 char or less thing a few times.
After positive comments (much to my surprise) for my twitter review of the King Crimson 5.1 DTS remasters I thought I'd share here. I won't keep you long!
Things I never expected to see (again) 1. Robert Fripp, in a band, in England.
Things I never expected to see 2. Robert Fripp play Purple Haze
Things I never expected to see 3. A gig without a single camera flash, out of respect for artist's wishes
Things I never expected to see 4. Robert Fripp sound like Steve Rothery (albeit not for long)
Things I never expected to see 5. Robert Fripp play a short soundbite that sounded a bit Starless
(& finally) Things I never expected to see 6. Robert Fripp play short soundbite that sounded a bit like the start of One More Red Nightmare

Kings Cross

The new booking hall and route has been open a while, but to be honest I think TfL have got it wrong.

When I arrive at Kings Cross the underground walk to get to the Victoria line appears to be half a mile west to St Pancras and then half a mile east.

So Boris, I suggest:
* Call it St Pancras/Kings Cross from now on
* It'd be less walking to go on shank's pony to Euston and take the tube from there
* maybe open up the old route in from the Kings Cross concourse

Or is that too much to ask?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Back to the garage then

Well, it looked like an election start, it was in an educational establishment (again). It has a slogan. I think it's a duck, but as @dhmorton said:
"I took a "second look" at New Labour: It confirmed they're the same corrupt, authoritarian, neoliberal war criminals I saw on my first look."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Politicians, start your engines?

Reading the runes it seems GB might have decided that the recent polls that closed the gap to single figures might be enough to justify a General Election now. Frankly I don't think he can pick a date that will improve his chances beyond 0% but I guess the calculations might be:
* Keep the Tories on their toes
* Stop the Tories spending loads more on posters and other General Election type behaviour, that whilst regularly vilified, get them more publicity than the initial cost might have expected. Once the campaign begins, my understanding is that all spending will come in the £18m limit count. The Tories seem to have more than that to spend.
* A budget cannot be anything other than bad news given the dire economic straits in which the UK finds itself
* The increasingly likely double dip recession will not yet have happened (won't it need 2 quarters of negative growth again?)
* More cynically, whilst it won't be a khaki election, he might perceive a benefit if Operation Moshtarak achieves some or all of its goals in the short term - certainly whilst in progress it will limit opposition opportunity to criticise Afghanistan policy
* He might yet get out of the Chilcott enquiry investigation if a General Election is under way
* Avoid the possibility of local election campaigning, due later on this year, impacting and affecting the General Election campaign.
* There's loads of interesting political issues coming in the next few months that he might like to avoid rather than have further problems in the rundown to an election
* He'll avoid any other bad news he knows is going to come his way - I cannot imagine he can expect much in the way of good news.

But maybe more than anything, he might want to believe he has some control still to exert on the body politic instead of being boxed into the last possible date

Or am I just being cynical?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I challenged my body today...

I have an interesting intolerance. All my life I've been unable to eat fruit as something in the flesh goes off like an acid bomb in my mouth. My Mother and her Mother both have something similar.

If I screw up my courage I can just about cope, but to be honest orange juice and cooked apple is the limit. The real problem lies in mayonnaise, pickles, some mustards, tomato, vinegar and so on. That seems not too bad until you think about the average contents of a sandwich machine in the office or sarnies at the coffee store. Nearly all have some content that I cannot really eat.

Today the only sarnies that were close were free-range chicken Caesar. I checked the contents and the mayo was 10% and the vinegar was way down in that list. It was _just_ about OK, and nice. But there was an undertone that was unwelcome.

Then tonight in the pub the freerange chicken (again) on bacon/mushroom risotto came drizzled in balsamic vinegar jus. Yuk. I tried, but had to scrape the chicken pieces and leave the contaminated risotto.

Me 1 Acids 1.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

the iPad

As a non-Apple user I’ve watched the iPad excitement from the sidelines with interest. This time round there seems to be a considerable wave of negativity and not just from the anti-fanbois. So what to make of it?

It’s my contention that the negative views are because those commentators and reviewers are trying to see it as a small iMac or a large iPhone/iPod. I think it’s neither.

I reckon Apple have learned some lessons on revenue for the future (especially from the app store) and are thinking differently. Despite not inconsiderable margins on the hardware; I think they are following the Polaroid and the inkjet manufacturers.*

The profit opportunity comes from content. If you marry up the iPad with an always connected world (be it Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G), then the device makes revenue sense, you tie in customers with content subscriptions, iBooks, apps etc and suddenly the sale of the device is merely the start of a long relationship between your bank account and Apple and its partners.

That my two penny worth.

*Polaroid sell films not cameras
*inkjet companies sell ink, not printers.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

#NHS #FAIL not joined up

I damaged my back in an electrocution at school in the 70’s (need to write about that!). Since then I’ve enjoyed near permanent back pain.
I've also had 5 rear-end shunts in the car and done further damage to my neck (I hasten to add that none were my fault and I was stationery in every RTA!).

So when I started getting pins and needles down my left arm about 18 months ago, I thought little of it and accommodated this new experience. But last summer it got worse and seemed to have developed into a further bout of Supraspinatus Tendonitis in my left shoulder. This is agony, and the pain relief does not really work unless you get onto a morphine drip or heavy duty codeine. So after some co-Dydramol and ibuprofen treatment on and off last year I finally went for a orthopaedics appointment. This was supposed to have been booked via “Choose and Book”, however the “computer’s down” got us and I had to go away.

TWO WEEKS later and this “instantaneous” system was still in #FAIL mode. It seems that when choose and book fails, the system reverts to the paper based system and my appointment was still not in process. So I challenged the surgery – could they not logon to choose and book, call me, and then complete the process instead of me getting an appointment I could not make and then end in a spiral down to hell?  Seems that this brilliant idea was new, and so we tried it – it worked. Hallelujah.

The appointment came and went well, and being analytical I enjoyed the diagnostic processes, and ended up with the expected referral to the physiotherapy department.

A week later and a letter arrived and this is where things in the NHS started to really show it’s #FAIL colours. The appointment was with the specialist and not for physiotherapy – or so it seemed. So I had to call them to find out; and yes, it is possible to get a follow up appointment for treatment that is not yet booked.  That's clever., not. #FAIL.

So I had to call the surgery – they advised me to call the physio department.

I called the number given, ask for physiotherapy and get put through. I’m not on record. Damn. However it transpired that although I called one hospital the switchboard had transferred my call to a remote physio department. Seems I HAVE TO KNOW that there is more than one department on the end of the phone line, even though the one they put me through to is in another county. The idea of checking with the caller which physio department you want is anathema.  #FAIL

So I call again, get put through to the right department, and get the answerphone and leave a message.

Later in the day I am called back, and an appointment made. But it seems to me that without my pro-active call; I would still be outside the system waiting for an appointment.  #FAIL

My point is, that for a basically fit and OK (but injured) person this is an annoyance only. For someone who is seriously unwell or injured – do they have the energy to go through these hoops?

But more importantly, if the NHS is the largest employer in the land and has seen records sums invested. WHY THE HELL IS IT STILL SO DISJOINTED???

Monday, February 01, 2010

First Demonstration Day on the Bombe #bpark

Sunday was my first day on the bombe with visitors. I’ve previously blogged on the first day of training , but this was to be different. Still learning, but this time in public :-)

The day kicked off with a necessarily early (for Sunday!) alarm, and then off in the car. The first major event of the day was the sudden appearance of a 2’6” horizontal crack in my windscreen. One moment it wasn’t there, the next it was. Great!
The next thing to strike me was the realisation that although the SatNav said BP was 60 miles away, and my car said it had 72 miles in the tank, the actual route is 73 miles. Not wishing to tempt fate, I did a quick splash and dash on the way.

Despite the fuel thing, I arrived on time, and collected my shiny new Bletchley Park Volunteer pass at the security gate, along with parking permit, and drove up to the old tennis court car park. I was car number 2 – a good sign. John H was already there, and we delighted in the warmth of the Mansion for the team brief instead of the freezing room that would have been in Hut 4.

Bryan took the meeting, although there was not too much to talk about, and then John introduced what the Bombe project is now up to with the other site volunteers and explained that today we would be trying a few demonstrations to visitors. It was decided we’d piggy back Frank Carter’s Enigma presentation at 11:30 with a Bombe run.

So we headed off to Block B and with Jean and John G, started to load up the Bombe. If you’ve been to BP or researched the Bombe you’ll know that there are three banks of 36 drums along the front of the machine. The highest bank is a little too high for the vertically challenged, so we decided to make life easier for ourselves by moving the dummies on the middle bank up to the top, and then load the real drums onto the middle bank. We followed procedure properly and inspected every drum for any loose or bent wires that might cause a short and invalidate the testing.  However we've not been issued with regulation eyebrow tweezers yet :-)

The last check is to make sure the drums are all properly set to the right values from the ‘Menu’.  In this instance ZZ on the top and middle row, and then various letters on the lower. We then switch the machine on. Clickety-clack it went (as one person tweeted on Sunday). We ran the machine through to make sure we had no slippage on the drums, and then ran a full test of the menu, and got the 4 stops we were expecting, along with 2 we weren’t, hmmm. Maybe try that again later, for by now, Frank had turned up along with a crowd of expectant visitors and he opened up the Enigma machine for his demo.

Frank covered the demo well, and I think the young lad who got to help was rather chuffed, and then, after a few questions it was over to the Bombe. Everyone turned around 180° and John H gave an overview of things, and then finally we switched on. I kept very much to the background as there was far more knowledge around me, but I did speak to a few people and helped answer a few questions. After this was over and the visitors had meandered off I was challenged by a colleague
“have you spoken to many people”
“a bit, but I don’t really like talking to strangers!”
“that’s no excuse – you should always talk to them”
You see, the thing is, I do find it a bit odd talking to strangers in a contrived manner. I’ll happily talk to people I don’t know at a gig or IT trade show; but in the context of the Bombe demonstrations I found it a bit intimidating offering myself up for interrogation. It's sort of because I know how much I don't know - when I should really be thinking of how much more I know that the average visitor.  Silly I know, but…

So now it was time for lunch, we staggered lunch breaks so that we could keep an eye on the fully loaded Bombe, and reconvened about 1:30. By this time a few people had come by and asked if we could do another demonstration, so we decided to kick off and get the machine going.

This time I got more involved and approached visitors and asked them if there was anything they wanted to know. They did, and I was able to help them. The key interest seemed to be in the complexity of the problem being solved. At one point someone asked me about something they’d read elsewhere in the display, and I realised I didn’t know what they were talking about, so (having admitted I was new to things!) I asked to be pointed to the article, realised what they meant and then learned something for myself (but also got the answer and told them).  So it wasn't tooooo difficult.

The crowds disappeared again, and we decided that the trainees should try to plug up a menu from first principles. I decided for myself it would be interesting to try to take the “standard” menu layout without the ancillary information and see if I could plug it up correctly. What I wanted to achieve (but failed!) was to see if it was possible to do it without ‘prior knowledge’ of the correct menu plugging. The issue is that I have been told that the WRENS who operated the machine did so independently at the front (drum settings) and back (menu plugging). So I wanted to approach the problem from a position of ignorance (easy enough!) and then go through it. I managed to get most of the way round the menu, but then things fell apart. More for the next time I think.

For the rest of the afternoon visitors came by every now and then, and where I could I would answer questions that came up, or point them at BP’s reports (numbers 4 and 9 are very good!)

Finally the day over, I went home. Tired, but pleased with the way things went, and looking forward to the next time.

Updated: Changed the blog title to avoid confusion with an earlier blog

Would #Humax and #Microsoft please talk (yeah, right)

I have and use both a Humax 9200T and a Microsoft Media Centre computer to record TV for offline watching. After several years of this setup I now hardly ever watch TV ‘live’ and the boxes just record all I’m interested in and I just consume at will. But neither platform is perfect. So what’s the chance of Microsoft and Humax looking at each other’s products and improving. Yup, thought so, 0%. So…

Microsoft please:
  • Let me edit the programmes easily and cut down the file sizes
  • Can you make my hardware work in Windows 7 please
  • Let me multi-select a few programmes and delete them in one go
  • Develop a remote control that works from my WinMo phone
  • Develop a media extender that is NOT an XBOX.  I don't want a noisy console, I want a small, discrete, quiet unit that will stream the files over WiFi.
Humax please:
  • Give me a 14 day EPG
  • Have an unlimited series follow – 25 is so random (and low)
  • Have an unlimited number of recordings – 50 can be too few
  • When I chase play, and then stop, please remember where I was!
  • Can you give me network access to the recordings
  • Let me quickly (one button) delete the recording when I stop playing it
On balance I still don't know which one I prefer to use, guess I'll keep them both going for now!