Category Archives: Computers

No Context For You – February 11th

By the way, DisplayPort cables are wonderful! When I upgraded my monitors last week I at first was using the DVI cables from the old monitors, which was fine, it worked. But it was obvious that I wasn’t getting 100% of the results I wanted. Turns out that with these fancier, newer video cards and monitors the various outputs and cables (HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, or, god forbid, VGA) all have different maximum resolutions. (I’m sure there are those of you going “DUH!” but while I may have plenty of experience with both hardware and software going back well over forty-five years, I don’t always do this on a daily basis and there are always new things to learn.) A little research resolved the issue and now everything’s WONDERFUL with my new setup. 27 inch dual monitors and 2560 x 1440 resolution might not be ideal for gaming (which is where a LOT of equipment is sold these days) but it’s wonderful for business.

Which is good, because it looks like when things open back up with COVID, I’ll continue to work from home along with a big chunk of the rest of our office staff. Why pay for all of that office when folks can work as well from home?

Brave New World. It’s here…

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong – February 09th

Chugging through my day, dealing with the usual…

My office desktop that I connect to in order to run our accounting software pops up with a message that there’s a Windows update it’s ready to install. Okay… I had heard that there’s one out there. The timing’s a bid odd, middle of the day and all, but sure, go for it.

Less than five minutes later, I’m back online. No problem.

About a half hour later, my office laptop, which I use to connect to that office desktop, gives me the same message about a Windows update. Sure…

Less than five minutes, no problem.

An hour or so later, my personal desktop, which I use for about 99% of everything else in this year of “work from home” (which is more like “live at work” sometimes), gives me the same message. Sure…

It goes through the usual Windows update screens with the progress reports and the spinny-balls thing and the warning about not turning of your computer…

And I get this:

Wait! What?

Ten minutes later both monitors are blank, but the computer still seems to be on. I’ll wait.

A half hour later, nothing on the screens, no beeps, no error messages, nada, zippo, zilch. Starting to sweat a bit – I’ll wait.

An hour later, having started a new book (pretty good so far, “The Second Star” by Alma Alexander), nothing, nothing, none, nada, zilch. I’ll wait. It’s time for Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist anyway. (WHAT! You’re not watching the show yet??! Jeez louise… Your loss. Best new show since probably Game of Thrones or The Good Place.)

Another hour later, we’ve gotten through the end of Zoe’s “fall finale,” check the computer and find the status quo. It looks like it’s on, but no sounds of any disks running, no blinking lights showing any CPU activity, nothing showing up on the screens. I know it said, “Do not power down your system,” and I’m a big proponent of following computer instructions in bold, red text, but c’mon. It’s been almost three hours.

So I hold the power button until it shuts down, give it a minute for the capacitors to discharge, then power it back up. Only to be met by about twenty seconds of disk activity, a click, and a shutdown.

Shit.

I blame myself. I’ve got a dentist appointment first thing tomorrow and I hate going to the dentist about as much as I hate getting a colonoscopy, and I had been whining about needing and excuse to not go. It’s that whole “Monkey Paw” thing – be careful how you word those wishes. Having to do emergency computer surgery in order to be able to work from home without doing EVERYTHING on that laptops isn’t quite what I had in mind as an excuse. But I guess I wasn’t specific enough.

Try the reboot again. Same.

Breathe. Think. I’ve been fiddling with computer since (literally!) before there were IBM PCs. I started doing hardware and programming on paper tape on a PDP-8 using 32-bit machine language, one command at a time. I can do this…

Unplug the system and let it sit. Perhaps it’s not quite in a completely powered down state yet. There’s “off” and then there’s “OFF.” To make sure we’re getting a clean reboot, let’s make sure it’s OFF. Wait another fifteen minutes. (What did the Kings do tonight? Lost 4-3 in a shootout. At least we got the one point, but still in last place. I guess now that I won’t be wearing my Chiefs gear I should get out my Kings jerseys.)

Now, once more with feeling and four part harmony…

The system comes back online normally and seems to be working.

Some days the gods are just fucking with you to make sure that you’re not getting cocky. (Those would be days that end in “y.”)

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Efficiency Strategy

Sometimes to get more done, and to be able to get more done in the future, even though you’re on tight deadlines NOW, you need to back off and do something else to make yourself more efficient. It might seem counterintuitive if you’re tightly focused on the goal and the methods you have to get there, but it’s a lesson to be learned about not losing sight of the bigger picture and being open to opportunities.

Case in point – it’s now been almost a year since the pandemic hit and many of us, myself included, ended up working out of a spare bedroom or odd space at home. When that crisis hit, and one crisis after another, we had to simply deal with it with the tools at hand. In my case, while I have a company laptop here for connecting to the server and accounting software there, the laptop with a single, smaller screen and fixed keyboard and trackpad isn’t the best form factor for me to get volume work done. It can work – it’s just not the easiest or fastest way to work.

However, I have my personal desktop computer here that is quite capable, has dual monitors, a full-sized keyboard, trackball, and so on. So I’ve worked out ways to get a lot of my work done on that computer, simply because it’s so much easier to work on.

But one thing I’ve noticed in the handful of times that I’ve gone back into the office is how much I miss my big 27″ monitors at work. The ones I’m using on my home desktop were picked up when my former office shut down about nine years ago, and while they were pretty cutting edge then, they’re small by today’s standards. They’re also slightly mismatched, different manufacturers, which is a little bit crazy-making in a dual monitor setup. But the price was right (they were being thrown out) and they work fine for what they are, so I’ve gotten used to it.

Earlier this week it struck me – I can do better. Those 27″ monitors today are about 1/3 the price of what those much smaller monitors were ten years ago. And I could use that extra screen space to get much more done, faster, easier…

The new monitors came in today, and while I’ve got deadlines, I took several hours this evening to NOT be working on those Excel files and deposit coding and data entry, and instead rearrange and clean my desk, move the old monitors out, and get the new ones in. It’s like a weight has been lifted, one that I didn’t even realize I was carrying.

Onward and upward! Work smarter, not harder! (Insert totally inappropriate non sequitur platitude here!)

 

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Erratum – They’re Not Wrens

Remember the birds from the back yard? I called them “house wrens.” They’re not.

They’re “house finches.

(The Cornell Lab Merlin App)

I don’t share this with you simply because I know that some of you, out of an overabundance of politeness no doubt, have been biting your tongues for days, knowing that they were finches and not wrens but not wanting to rain on my parade. (I know no such thing.) No, I share this because I found this really cool free app!

I don’t know about Android phones, but if you’re on an Apple iOS device, look for the “Merlin bird ID” app. It’s from Cornell Lab at Cornell University and it will ID birds with a picture, by answering five questions, and possibly (I just got it this afternoon, so maybe?) with a live photo as you’re watching the bird? It doesn’t appear to be able to ID birdsong, but if you ID your bird from a picture you can hear a sample of the birdsong for that species and confirm the ID that you just completed.

Check it out, it’s cool!!

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I, For One, Welcome Our AI Overlords…

Some time late last week, while sitting on my ass and perusing the internet as is my wont when I’m trying to unwind a bit, I had a question enter my mind about the weather for Saturday when I would be out at the CAF hangar in Camarillo.

Being a savvy, hip, handsome, intelligent, completely not full of shit, modern sort of guy, I said, “Siri, what’s the forecast for tomorrow’s weather in Camarillo, California?”

Simple, eh?

Until my phone, my iPad, and my watch ALL ANSWERED AT THE SAME TIME.

And all had slightly different answers.

I’m really, really looking forward to when they start arguing among themselves about those different answers.

When it gets to physical violence, or trying to infect each other with computer viruses in retaliation, then I’m turning them all off and moving to a cave in Alberta that’s 100 miles from the nearest cell phone tower.

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Filed under Computers, Farce

Too Many Computers

00:07 Friday morning (Okay, it’s Thursday night…)

I just finished writing (what is now) last night’s “Too Many Numbers” post, the process of which was way, WAY too stressful.

Too tired, too many computers (five right now, counting the iPhone and iPad which I’m using to pull up data), too many screens (seven total), too many numbers…

And suddenly I see that my website directory has vanished. The directory on my local hard drive which keeps all of my working files for my website as well as the original copies of all of the pictures I’ve posted for the past five years or so, as well as the backup documents and…

But that’s okay because it’s on Dropbox! I can recover it! Yeah for Dropbox!

Except that Dropbox isn’t showing ANY of those files in its deleted files list…

Crying starts to sound like a perfectly good option…

There was a power outage today – did that fry something? I’ve gotten an occasional error message from Win 10 that the primary SSD hard disk is doing unexpected things – did that fry something? Do the gods just hate me?

From somewhere a calmer brain takes over. A quick search of Dropbox for the directory name shows that it got moved to be a subdirectory of another directory. It’s now sitting under a directory that used to be next to it alphabetically on the list of directories. Which makes me think that I’m using too many mice, trackballs, and Apple Pencils on too many computers on too many screens.

I wonder if I didn’t point, click, and drag on computer B when I was looking at computer A and computer B did exactly what I told it to, i.e. take this directory and move it and drop it on top of this other directory, which translates in most OS’s as “move this thing into that thing.”

I need a smarter and less literal computer. And an antidote for adrenaline.

23:40 Friday night (not Saturday morning yet!)

Oh, and I had the sense while I was waiting for my heart rate to stop resembling a hummingbird’s to pull out a 6TB external drive and let it run overnight, copying everything off to something less dynamic than DropBox.

When did you run your last full system backup to an external drive?

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Dummies

So, at risk of going off on a rant about a particular thing that really triggers me, let me just say that there’s this program that I think really, REALLY ***SUCKS*** but I’m being forced to use it. For reasons.

Among the many reasons I think this particular online, cloud-based product is so terrible is how limited it is, especially compared to the full, desktop version, which I use every day and think is spectacular. But this online version is the genetically mutated, stunted, warped, weird-looking, keep-it-locked-away-in-the-woodshed version. It’s buggy.

And it it slower than hell. I keep being told by those who are forcing me to use it that it must be my system or my connection – bullshit, I have new Dell top of the line systems with a high-speed connection that runs just fine on 99.99999999% of other uses. Perhaps if 999,999 programs work perfectly well and this one doesn’t, then perhaps it’s the mutant that’s the problem.

Okay, I’m stuck with it.

What can I do to maybe lessen the pain? There’s no online help with this thing. Every time I run into a brick wall trying to get it to do something trivial I go looking for help or a FAQ or something, only to be referred to a “user’s group.” The UG apparently is populated by those who somehow believe this program to be the greatest thing since sliced yogurt.

Wait… There’s an “Absolute Worst Program Ever Created for Dummies?” Overnight that sucker to me, Amazon!

I spent a big chunk of tonight looking for the secrets, the magic, the special codes that would let me be at the very least semi-functional using this useless piece of shit excuse for a program.

Q: How do I do task “A” which should be trivial?

A: You don’t. It can’t do that.

Q: WHAT? Wait, so then how do I do task “B” that’s absolutely critical?

A: You don’t. It can’t do that.

Q: YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING! Well surely it can do task “C”, right? Even someone like SCROTUS would figure that out!

A: What part of “you don’t” are you not understanding. It can’t do that. Ha! Fooled you! You’re totally screwed!

As has been noted, “Who’s the more foolish, the fool, or the fool that follows him?”

Maybe I can just fake it in Excel and plug in the totals.

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…It’s Another

As in, “If it ain’t one thing…”

Anyone know what a “SMART event” is when your computer pops open a window to tell you you’ve had one? Neither did I until about a week ago when they started popping up once a day about 10:00 every night.

It’s not good.

Basically it’s software built into your operating system that monitors hard disk health and gives you a warning when your hard disc drive is about to fail. Once might be an anomaly. Daily isn’t an anomaly. Running a second set of diagnostics (the first was from Intel, the second from Dell) that gives an even more panicky warning will put a hitch in your getalong all day long.

The good news is that the Dell drive is under warrantee, hasn’t actually failed yet, and it looks like Dell will ship out a replacement quickly. I’m hoping that means that I can just install the new drive, do some imaging/transferring/installing/copying “computer magic” and just go on my merry way.

We’ll see.

(We’ll probably see what the NEXT thing is is what we’ll probably see, but I’m trying to go to bed on an upbeat note.)

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Hey Apple Design Team!

For the most part I’m pretty well constantly amazed by the Apple Design Team. There are so many incredible things about the iOS and iPhone and iPad designs that I’m just gobsmacked.

But this one?

When the timer goes off, the huge yellow button that’s prominently displayed in the middle of the screen is to “STOP” the alarm. If you want to do what is presumably a secondary choice, “Repeat,” then you press the smaller, more obscure button on the bottom.

This is a good design. The alarm’s going off! You’re in the middle of a meeting or a movie or a make-out session (sidenote – do the kids these days still call them “make-out sessions”? – my money says “no”) and you forgot to silence the damn phone so now it’s going of and you want it to SHUT UP! Fast! Maybe you don’t have your glasses on and they’re lost underneath some piece of cast off clothing. Hurry up! HIT THE BIG ORANGE BUTTON!!

But then…

When a pre-set alarm goes off (not the timer), the huge yellow button that’s prominently displayed in the middle of the screen is to “Snooze” and have the alarm go off again in eight minutes. The smaller, more obscure button on the bottom of the screen is to “Stop” the alarm.

Wait, what?

You’re still in that meeting or movie or trying to keep that mood going, you still can’t find your glasses, you’re still in a HUGE hurry so you hit that big, orange button…only to get to do it again in eight minutes.

Am I missing something here? What’s the logic behind diametrically opposed design emphases in two almost identical circumstances?

Someone might have dropped the ball on this one, Apple.

See if you can get someone on that for iOS 12.2!

 

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Silly Twitter Ads

On the one hand, it’s sort of impressive (in a Big Brother’s watching, creepy sort of way, but I completely understand how it’s done and there’s potentially as much good as evil, so I’ll let it stand) how Twitter is able to track where you are and insert ads based on that.

For example, when I went to visit the Norfolk / Virginia Beach area at the beginning of June I started to immediately get ads in my Twitter feed for businesses in the northeast Virginia area. (The Twitter app saw what network I was connected to, communicated that back to the mother ship, and Mother started feeding ads for that area – simple.)

At risk of giving them ideas though, I have to wonder at the TYPE of ads I got. Almost all of them were for things like car dealerships, utilities, industrial consultants, and so on. With all of the data they have, why aren’t they about 99.9% sure that I live in Southern California? (I mean, simply based on where I’m always connected from, down to the cell tower(s) nearest my home and office.) And if that’s the case and I suddenly vanish for five hours and then show up in Virginia, how hard is it to figure out that I’m travelling? It’s probably irrelevant for a first cut analysis to know if I’m travelling for business or pleasure.

If you know I’m travelling, why would I want a utility company? Or a car dealership? Or a light industrial park real estate ad? How about restaurants? Tourist traps? Theaters?

As invasive and even more creepy as that might be, it might actually be useful.

But then, here I am back at home, well over a month later, and I’m still getting ads like this:

DelMarVa Power?!

Sure, I would love to save energy and money. But for this ad to have anything to do with my reality I would have to have be spending at least $0.01 on power or gas or water or some sort of utility in the Delaware – Maryland – Virginia area.

To repeat, I’ve been back in Los Angeles for over a month.

For an app that has functions that can be really clever, this one can be pretty freakin’ stupid at the same time!

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