Simplifying Technology

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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Don't have a Spammy Christmas

Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's something that I said, but I am getting a lot of nasty Spam just lately.

Lots of different flavours - but they are all still SPAM
I am getting about 10 emails a day all from the the same Spam factory.  The emails are pretending to come from some NZ retailers (and one whose name changed a few years back).  Here is a selection of mail headings:

  • Get discounts on Christmas Meat & Seafood at Woolworths
  • Treat, treat, treat claim this PAK'nSAVE gift card worth $100
  • Friends & Family clearance event on Ballantynes
  • Hey winner of the month! Claim your New World gift card
They all sound very exciting, but they all look and sound just a little bit Spammy, perhaps with a sprinkling of Virus and Malware.  The normal warning signs are there, referring to the wrong retailer, spelling mistakes, the email is from someone at an email address that doesn't match the retailer's name, and the links they want you to click on also don't have the retailer's name.

These could really ruin your Christmas, so do not touch them.  If you are lucky they may only show up in your Spam/Junk folder, but wherever they show up, just delete them.  
#Spam #SpamAlert

Friday, 13 November 2015

Windows 10 and me

I've been using Windows 10 for a while now.  My last post was me joining the queue.  I got fed up waiting in the queue so I manually did the update.  Annoyingly it ignored the existing download, and brought it all down again.  I chose to just upgrade rather than re-install.  This is simpler and quicker and retains all your existing data.  But it does mean that the disk becomes more fragmented and the new software may run slower.

The update for me was simple and it all worked as advertised.  Quite boring - which for this type of exercise is a very good thing.

My impressions of Windows 10 are that it is stable, and the interface is much improved from 8 and 8.1, at least for my conventional non-touch screen laptop.  General performance seems pretty good, but the time to boot up the system seems somewhat longer.  That's probably my lazy update coming back to haunt me.  Maybe one day I'll bite the bullet and reinstall, or maybe try a Restore to see if that tidies things up.  Who knows maybe the latest update, due very soon will improve boot times for me as advertised in the tech websites.

It has worked for me.  Will it work for you?  Who knows for sure, but I suspect that it probably will. Unless your system is a few years old and there is something old and obscure in your system.  Sadly there is only one way to find out...

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Journeys on the Web - Animated music

Animated Bach
I stumbled across something I hadn't seen before.  I was looking, on YouTube, for a piece of organ music that I really like - J S Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565 to be pedantic).  It's very well known, I'm sure you will have heard it somewhere.  I found a really strong, and loud, version that was great, but one of the suggestions that YouTube offered was another version with the a picture like the one above.  Well I clicked on it and was mesmerised.  I am not sure who the organist was but the animation came from Stephen Malinowski who, Wikipedia tells me, is an American composer, pianist, educator, software engineer and inventor.

You should know that I like music, but I am not musical in any way.  I have difficulty playing an iPod.  But I found it fascinating to watch, and listen.  The animation immediately shows how the music is played, which reaffirms my belief that I am destined never to be able to play an instrument.  It also shows the complexity, and some of the mathematical structure, of this work by Bach.

Check it out here.

There are a whole lot more videos out there showing these animations...enjoy.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

I'm in the Windows 10 Queue

I am an optimist, so even after my issues with upgrading to Windows 8/8.1 - see my earlier rant , I signed up for the free upgrade to Windows 10 a couple of months back.  So now I am just waiting for Microsoft to give me the magic incantation that will let me upgrade.  That might be hours, days, or weeks away.  I'm not good at waiting, especially as I know that someone, Microsoft or maybe Father Christmas, downloaded a 4.8 GB set of files to my system a couple of days back.  I know there are ways to get this upgrade going now, but I want to see the process that most people will see.  It's called education.

I'm hoping that I will enjoy W10 much more than W8/W8.1.  I still don't like W8 in general.  It's the two interfaces (desktop and touch) that annoys me.  It's just confusing and awkward.  It looks like W10 will resolve that for me.


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Please don't give me that free stuff anymore

If you have purchased a new PC in the last few years you will probably have noticed some extra 'free stuff' that the PC manufacturer has kindly dumped on your brand new system.  This trend seems, to me, to be increasing now.  It goes by several names.  Bloatware may be the most socially acceptable of them.

The free trials used to be limited to things like virus protection software, or MS Office and one or two more applications, and of course the semi-useless suite of products that each manufacturer creates itself to make it stand out from the crowd.  Now though, some of these manufacturers are really pulling out all stops and adding portals for games (of dubious quality and safety), and additional applications that are likely to be of no value, or limited value at best.

Why do they do this?  
Well the answer isn't that they think you will really benefit from games portals with dubious names like Pokki, SuperFish and Wild Tangent.  What happens is that these 'application' providers actually pay a lot of money to the manufacturer to get their stuff pre-loaded on your computer.

Well, it doesn't do any harm does it?  
Well, yes it can.  For a start your brand new system will take longer to boot and will be slower to run because of these useless programs.  They will also add to your network traffic as they busily update themselves and do who knows what else.  The classic example is Lenovo - arguably the largest PC supplier - who, until recently, were pre-loading something called SuperFish on many consumer PCs.  SuperFish injected additional ads into websites that you viewed, and provided a mechanism for your system to be taken over by Hackers.  There are many articles out there describing this - here is one.

How do I prevent this from happening? 
Unfortunately most of the manufacturers appear to be doing this to some extent.  Maybe this is a chance for one of them to market a clean PC?  Until that happens you will either have to live with the bloat (not a sensible option in my opinion), or spend time (and /or money) getting this stuff removed.  By the way - be careful out there as there are some tools that advertise their ability to clean up your new PC.  At least one that I have come across actually adds it's own stuff into your PC while 'cleaning' it, others make it difficult to download their software without also downloading other Bloatware.  The only solution is to laboriously go through each item and research it first and then manually remove it.  Believe me, this is not as easy as it sounds.

If anyone finds a manufacturer that is not doing this then please let me know.  I often get asked for recommendations - currently I don't have any.

#Bloatware #PC #Freestuff

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Kapiti Tech Expo - Are you going?

There is a Tech Expo happening in and around Coastlands in Paraparaumu next week that promises to be amazing.  There are displays from various tech related companies and presentations/workshops on a variety of technology related subjects - all totally free.  However these are not for geeks - they are for the rest of us.  I am booked in for a selection of presentations, and you will see me there when I am not in a presentation.  I got volunteered to help with set-up, registration and general dogsbody tasks (one of my specialisations).

There is no reason not go and check out the displays and presentations.  There will be something of interest to everybody.

Here's the link again:

Get off your butt couch and get along.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

It's a Global Market out there - part two

My last blog was all about my purchase of a Mobile phone.  I's a OnePluse One - a Chinese brand, obviously made in China, and I bought it online from a NZ-based retailer with links to Hong Kong and other Asian markets.  The phone is still running great and I am still as happy as a sandboy.  See that last blog.

Fountain pen.
Lamy Safari x 2 
I just thought I would contrast this purchase with another I made around the same time.  I don't do much hand-writing or note taking, partly because my handwriting is of the proverbial Doctor Quality. Even worse, when I use a ball-point pen I cannot get much control and even I can't read the ensuing scrawl.  So I usually use a fountain pen which gives me better control, and then there is a chance I can read what I write.  Of course fountain pens are technology and boys like technology, so I have a small collection of Lamy fountain pens, mostly Lamy Safari models.  They are relatively inexpensive, great performers, and a bit of a styling icon.

Anyway I was searching the web for a retailer who could sell me some more ink cartridges (my usual retail shop is in Wellington and I don't get to his end of town often now).  What did I find but a link to a Chinese pen made by a company called Jinhao.  The particular model was a Jinhao 599 and my search had found it because it referenced the Lamy Safari.  Not surprising really as you could describe it as a 'homage to a great design', or maybe you could say 'a knock-off'.  I had a giggle and then, out of curiosity, looked for some reviews of the pen.  There are sites where people, fixated on fountain pens, participate in erudite discussions on the benefits or otherwise of various models.  Well the reviews were all positive!

Now my curiosity was piqued. You see the pens were really cheap, I mean really cheap.  On Ebay I found many retailers selling these.  I picked on one, IChina520, and splashed out and ordered 3 pens, orange, yellow and black, and a package of ink cartridges (although the pens came with a free conventional ink supply as well).  The three pens and the ink cartridges came to the princely sum of $NZ10.44.  With that I got a discount for buying 3, plus the shipping was free.

It took a couple of weeks for the pens to turn up, but they did.  Maybe the plastic quality isn't quite up to the exceptional quality of the $50+ Lamy, but the pens write very well, and sit nicely in the hand - that Lamy design is good.

I don't feel too guilty about buying these copies - I plan to give one to my 7 year old grand daughter, and I would never have considered giving her a real Safari.  Maybe if she likes it I will get her a real one in a few years time.

Take a look at IChina's shop and see the choices - they do other pens as well - some with a distinctly Chinese flavour.    

Monday, 4 May 2015

It's a Global Market out there

Well, I've been dithering over a new mobile phone for a while now. I wanted a good one (boys and their toys), with a big screen for my old eyes. It had to be Android as I am enmeshed in Google's world so Apple wasn't on my agenda. (maybe I'll talk about Windows Phones another day). I loved the new Motorola Moto X, the HTC One M8 was pretty good, I have been a Sony fan for years and think there Xperia Z3 is very distinctive.  Which one???

Along with all of these great phones I came across another phone from a Chinese Start-up - the OnePlus One. Although it had high specs, and was significantly cheaper than my other candidates, I didn't take it seriously at first as it was difficult to buy, and I didn't imagine I could get one here in New Zealand. Well I was wrong, there were some on-line retailers here (with obvious links back to Hong Kong and China) who offered the phone. So, being an adventurer when it comes to shopping, I ordered a top of the line 64GB White OnePlus One.

Love the OnePlus Company logo

 I received it just before Anzac day, after a small delay while it flew in from Hong Kong, . After charging it I switched it on and up came the OnePlus logo and Cyanogenmod logo (it's the variant of Android that it runs). So my first fears were removed - it wasn't running a Chinese language Operating System. The only booklet that came with it was all Chinese, so I did have a small fear there. But it was all as it should be and it even offered me the NZ English input option up front.

I have now had it for a decent period and it is everything it was advertised to be. Good build quality, excellent performance, and it looks cool (to me anyway). It did have one issue, the operating system was based on the older Android KitKat level and I wanted the newer Lollipop level. Well that too arrived, after several delays, this last weekend. The phone is now even better.

 I took a risk with an online purchase like this - but there is a NZ-based retailer somewhere out there if it breaks. And I saved myself a reasonable amount of money, although not as much as the US prices would indicate.

Just goes to show that the world is getting smaller and more competitive.  As a consumer I couldn't be happier.

Friday, 20 February 2015

I've been MOOCed

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a reference to a course studying World War One Aviation.  Well, I read Biggles books when I was a kid, and I have had a strong interest in WW1 aircraft and pilots since then.  So what was I going to do?  The course was free - so, having nothing to lose, I signed up.

This particular course is run by FutureLearn (, which is an offshoot of the UK Open University.  It's what is known as a MOOC - or Massive Open On-line Course.  These are quite popular at the moment and many Universities, and other institutions, are involved in providing them.  The subject matter of these courses varies tremendously.

I have just completed week 2 of this 3 week course.  They state that they expect you to take 3 hours per week, or more if you follow up the additional material they provide.  So it's not to hard to fit in the required time.  I am finding it very interesting, and quite thought provoking, as it delves into the military politics and social aspects of the period.

Stupidly I showed my wife a course they were also advertising on King Richard III.  Now I am signed up for that as well, she didn't want to do this by herself!  Life is getting very busy.

Anyway - I recommend getting MOOCed.  Try it.  Let me know what you are doing.  Maybe I'll see you in class.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Another Scammer Tries

Scammers busy at work

Well I finally joined the club and had a call from one of those obnoxious scammers that tells you that you have a problem with your computer.  I was starting to think that maybe they didn't like me.  This just a couple of days after I read an article describing how scammers had confused an elderly lady into giving her bank details and losing thousands of dollars.  So I immediately thought of that, which made me angry.  Anyway I tried to do my duty and string them along for a while to waste their time.

The female (I won't say lady) who spoke to me read from her script and said she was from Spark. I think she is the one on the left in the picture above.  Her Indian (or was that Pakistani) accent, the very noisy background, and the bad line immediately gave her away.  The fact that I am not a Spark customer didn't help her chances either.  She asked me to turn my computer on (I should have thought about that - I could have wasted another couple of minutes there but I told her it was on).  She asked me what screen I was seeing, and then I made my second mistake and said a Gmail screen.  This obviously wasn't in the script so she said she would call her manager.  The manager came on, and I asked him what the weather was like in his part of India (I was getting angrier...).  He insisted that he was at some address in Auckland and gave me an address (probably the Spark HQ).  I said I didn't believe him but to continue on.  I guess he figured I was a lost cause because he hung up on me.  I suppose that was a minor victory.

Sadly I don't know exactly what problem I have on my computer.  Next time I'll try and be calmer and go on for longer and see what my problem really is.  I know what there problem is!