Wednesday, February 22, 2017

TIP – Add Safe Mode to the Boot Menu of Windows 10 (and 8)

Recently I had a PBSOD (pale blue screen of death) crash with one of my Windows 10 systems, and kept getting crashes within minutes every time after rebooting the system.

Somewhat annoyingly, starting with Windows 8 Microsoft removed the old boot menu options that we were used to with Windows 7 and previous versions. Run a search like this to see the complaints about this from the Windows user community.

It’s not a bad idea to modify the Windows boot settings in order to get back the capabilities of the old boot-time settings:

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As good an explanation for doing so, in easy steps, can be found in this article at How-To Geek and I recommend that you do it on your systems too, in advance of being caught out.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Informed consent, software-wise -- or software-dumb?

This is an update to a post originally published way back on 11 January 2010. Unfortunately, the industry of creating stupid software still is thriving in 2017.

You should learn something new each and every day of your life, so I keep reminding my young grandsons. It’s a maxim that I still follow myself, in a desperate bid to keep my brain alert and defer that day when my grey matter finally degenerates into a useless pile of wobbly jelly.
As an example, this morning for the first time I came across the legal term “informed consent” which is explained thus at Wikipedia:

“An informed consent can be said to have been given based upon a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences of an action. In order to give informed consent, the individual concerned must have adequate reasoning faculties and be in possession of all relevant facts at the time consent is given.”
I was led to this learning opportunity by David Platt’s MSDN Magazine Blog post The Myth of Informed Consent (go read it yourself before continuing here). He finishes with:
“We developers are the experts, and users depend on us. We cannot abdicate our responsibility by asking for guidance from someone who cannot possibly know. Informed consent in computing is a myth, and companies that claim it as an excuse for their malpractice are weasels. Stop it. Now.”

“Low Risk”? Who knows?

David was commenting on the a dialog box generated by Norton Internet Security which leaves the hapless computer user to work out and decide on the significance of the meaning of an obscure message. Actually, I’d go even further and call the message is obscurantist (rather than just obscure), leaving the user most likely to have to guess what to do, rather than coming to a reasoned conclusion.
Software tends to be rather difficult to design, develop and test, and in my experience the people involved typically focus on the the technical architecture/design/coding accuracy rather than the textual precision and accuracy.

Usability testers should always be involved, and if worth their salt they should pick up on wordings and meanings that are obscure, incomplete, misleading, indeterminate, and so on. I wonder how much software gets released without any significant degree of usability testing.

Sensible and accurate wordsmithing takes time and effort, hence adds cost (which is doubtless the reason why it’s often not done). Further, not all people are good at writing clearly and concisely – not to mention spelling properly, as well as using accurate terms and terminology.

As an aside, my pet peeve at the moment is the schoolboy howler error of referring to a single building as a “premise” when discussing broadband (such as Australia’s National Broadband Network), using terms such as cabling is laid right up to the premise and  in-premise terminating equipment. However it wasn’t my intention here to focus on poor writing, spelling mistakes, bad grammar, and the like, bad practice as they are.

David Platt’s security warning dialog box is just one example of the sort of rubbish that software designers and developers keep forcing upon us.

You’ve surely got your own examples.

Below, without further commentary, are a few others: inane, puzzling and meaningless gibberish from software vendors big and small,  that I’ve collected over the years …

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Mr. Software Vendor, I do happen to run more than one application at a time,
not just the one YOU developed, whichever it is of all that are currently active!
And I have multiple hard drives, so which one?

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At least I know that the problem’s occurring with Eudora,
but that’s about all I know.

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Thanks for telling me, so what?

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I knew this was associated with Acronis True Image. but what should I reply?
[It took some time to discover which of the drives was “hard disk 7’ and
I wonder why they don’t make it easy by quoting the drive letter instead]

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You don’t say!

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I do really like Lotus Notes, but for crying out loud.


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Oh no, Techsmith's Snagit suffers from such inanity too.

The above messages are about as useful as the following unique device:

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Click “Yes” or “No” .. or so you say:
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Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing?

 

One of many applications has sent me a message:

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UPDATE:
Here’s yet another one, just encountered:
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Enough, enough! We need some relief.
The above are laughable (or perhaps “cryable”),
but the following is laughworthy:







"For gorsake, stop laughing, this is serious."
Stan Cross (in Smith’s Weekly, 1933, Australia).

One of my favorite illustrations of all time!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cricket can be a deadly game


Two old blokes, Dave and Pete, had been friends all of their lives.
When it was clear that Dave was dying, Pete visited him every day.

One day Pete said, "Dave, we’ve both loved playing cricket ever since school. Please do me a favour: when you get to heaven, somehow you must let me know if there's cricket there."

Dave looked up at Pete from his deathbed and said, "Pete, you've been my best mate for many years. If it's at all possible, I'll do this favour for you."

Shortly after that, Dave died.

A few nights later, Pete was awakened from a sound sleep by a blinding flash of white light and a voice calling out to him, "Pete...., Pete...."

"Who is it," asked Pete, sitting up suddenly. "Who is it?"
"Pete... it's me, Dave"

"You're not Dave. Dave just died."
"I'm telling you, it's me, Dave," insisted the voice.

"Dave where are you?" Image result for royalty free cricket cartoons
"In heaven," replied Dave. "I have some really good news and a little bad news."

"Tell me the good news first," said Pete.

"The good news," Dave said with joy and enthusiasm, "is that there is cricket in heaven. Better yet, all of our old mates who died before me are here, too. Even better than that, we're all young again. Better still, it's always springtime and it never rains or snows. And best of all, we can play cricket all we want, and we never get tired. "And we get to play with all the Greats of the past.

"That's fantastic," said Pete "It's beyond my wildest dreams! So what's the bad news?"

"You're opening the batting next Tuesday."

Friday, October 21, 2016

Zuver hosting is so boring!

Congratulations to the folk at Zuver Hosting for providing a service that is so fast and reliable that I’m getting oh so bored with receiving weekly performance reports like the one in the following screenshot:

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The above free weekly report comes from a US-based monitoring site, and the connect times would probably be even better if measured from within Australia.

Since November 2014 I’ve experienced the same boringly good performance and reliability, week after week, and all for such a low monthly rate.

Note that I’m not at all saying that there aren’t any equally good Australian web hosting companies, some of which I used previously, just that I’ve found Zuver pretty darn good and great value for money. This is just my pat on the back for their team.

DISCLOSURE:
I’m just an ordinary customer of theirs, with no business affiliation whatsoever -- not an agent or reseller of their services or anything like that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Brain stretch

Here’s a reminder of our place in the grand scheme of things.

The above movie was generated using the iOS App "Cosmic Eye", written by Danail Obreschkow at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at the University of Western Australia.

Watch for the quarks making the briefest of appearances in the atomic nucleus.

There are older versions of this “cosmic zoom” approach, such as this one created by the National Film Board of Canada:

Enough of the easy-peasy visual stuff.

A new research report indicates that there are even more galaxies in the universe than we thought 

This article links to: The Solar System recreated to scale in the Nevada desert

And if all the above hasn’t sated your appetite, then take a look at
Size comparison of the universe 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

You just can’t get through to some people

I was browsing for Java programming books yesterday, and came across this one:

URL: http://www.worldofbooks.com.au/catalog/product/view/id/4152420/

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Notice the asking price?  $1,421.99 (Australian dollars)

The same book (Introduction to Java Programming: Comprehensive Version by Y. Daniel Liang) at other sites such as Amazon was – depending on the edition and type (hardcover or paperback) and whether new or used – going for anything from around $20 to $240.

I thought that I’d warn the seller (World of Books) that there was a serious anomaly here, so sent them an e-mail advising that there was a major pricing issue with this particular book (and asking whether the pages were made of gold leaf).

Well, they did me the courtesy of answering, but can you imagine my disbelief that they just didn’t get my message. Here is what they replied:

We have an automatic pricing system which adjusts the prices of our items based on several variables, including things like market demand and availability. The postage prices for each country are also fixed by the marketplace themselves, so we’re unable to alter these in any way.

Our listing prices are updated many times each day – sometimes they increase, sometimes they decrease. Please check the marketplace listings to keep up to date with our prices.

Kind Regards,
Customer Service Assistant
(name supplied)

That’s right, blame the computer – “We have an automatic pricing system” – and completely disregard the GIGO principle.

You just can’t get through to some people.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Everything is up to date!

Error messages and information dialogs and displays. Oh, what a prime subject for commentary and criticism.

I started blogging in 2005, and one of my early posts was Note item not found in November of that year. Later on I made several other posts on similar matters, such as An error was encountered while opening a window and a more general critique: Reveal the error, for crying out loud. Am I right, or am I right?

When I worked at IBM, I spent many years supporting midrange systems, starting with the IBM System/3 and then the IBM System/38 and its descendants (IBM AS/400, IBM iSeries). At other stages I worked with IBM mainframes (starting with IB< System/370 released in 1970, the year that I joined IBM), the IBM System/7, the IBM RS/6000 (their first product running a variant of UNIX), and networking products such as the IBM 37xx family of communications controllers.

These IBM products were all extensively documented, and had excellent information about information/error messages.

After I retired from IBM and started working with Windows systems and Windows-based application packages, I found myself in a totally different rough-and-ready environment, more like being in the Wild West where just about anything goes. The same can be said about Web browser interactions and Web apps, as well as apps running on smartphones and tablets.image

I find this especially to be the case with the information/error messaging side of things. Perhaps my greatest bugbear is the Something went wrong class of error message> They indicate that an application’s designers and developers have paid little attention to conveying accurate and pertinent messages.

In the picture at right, at least we know something went wrong in a Web browser environment, but I’ve seen similar messages pop up -- out of the blue, on one of the four monitors on my system – which might have been generated by any one of the dozens and dozens of foreground and background tasks running om the system. The worst of these have a blank title bar and give not the slightest clue about where they originated! Oh so cryptic. Oh so hopeless.

When developing NotesTracker (now passed on to Alex Elliott at AGECOM to support and continue development) I painstakingly paid attention to providing users with accurate and detailed information and error messages. Here are a couple of them:

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My approach, when specifying and coding apps,  is to give both positive and negative feedback, and whenever an error occurs be sure to give clear instructions (or hints, at the very least) about the steps needed to recover.

I also made sure to review and refine the messages with each new version of the product, to reflect user feedback plus changes and enhancements in the product. Stale, out of date information is anathema.

Well alright, enough of my complaining about the faults of the software industry. Today’s diatribe now ends, let me move on to happier thoughts.

This post was kicked off by my amusement when I checked for updates to my installation of Everything Search Engine (for Windows). It’s an excellent free utility that I use all the time to ferret out files and folders from amongst the millions that I have on my system. It claims to “locate files and folders by name instantly” and it sure delivers on its promise. Well, perhaps it overstates its promises in the following info dialog that it produces:

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Everything? … Everywhere? … Now that’s a claim!

Reminds me of the following claim made about Kansas City:

What’s next? They’ve gone about as far as they can go!

UPDATE:
The developer of Everything Search Engine, David Carpernter, has informed me that if you’re unfortunate you might see the following error message heaven forbid:

Everything has stopped working

Monday, August 15, 2016

Discover Lotus Notes–The Fastest Way to a Responsive Organization (1993 demo)

What’s old is new, even if it’s old, and Lotus Notes (nowadays called IBM Notes) certainly is one of those things.

Some of the basic concepts and capabilities of Lotus Notes still are of great benefit to organizations using Notes, even though its fundamental architecture comes from the 1980s and early 1990s. Some of the NoSQL database products that have evolved over the last decade have variations (and improvements?) of what Notes provided way back then

Here’s a little something I’m leaving for posterity, which will possibly bring tears of joy (I hope) to the eyes of anybody associated with Notes in its early days -- in my case that was 1993, starting after my 1992 early retirement from IBM.

Lots of you won’t have seen this diskette-based presentation Discover Lotus Notes–The Fastest Way to a Responsive Organization so I’m giving you the opportunity to run it on your own PC. Only a few minutes of downloading and setup are required.

Firstly, download the zipped diskette image from my website … Discover-Lotus-Notes-1993-diskette.zip 

Please retain a copy for archival purposes (since every year I’m getting closer to my “use by date” and upon my expiration there won’t be anybody to maintain the site so it will disappear into the great bit bucket in the sky).

Discover-Lotus-Notes-1993-diskette

Then extract the diskette image into a folder called NOTEDEMO on your Windows system (C:) drive, which should contain three files:  AUST.DSP, DEMO.EXE and PLAY.EXE

You need a PC x86 emulator to run the demo, and my suggestion for this is DOSBox, an x86 emulatimageor with DOS but you may prefer something else.

Perhaps run the installer (DOSBox0.74-win32-installer.exe) as Administrator to overcome any execution-time permissions. I suggest this because I’ve found Windows 8 and 10 tend to be rather finicky regarding permissions, but you shouldn’t have any problems with the demo.

There’s a built-in manual to assist you:

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Launch the DOSBox emulator, and enter the following three commands (case insensitive):

  1. mount  C  c:\NOTEDEMO
  2. C:
  3. play

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The demo fires up, and away you go! Follow your nose through the various sections of the demo (using the keyboard to navigate, not the mouse). Here’s the initial part of the Discover Lotus Notes 1993 demo:

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

A race you don’t want to win–the Skin Cancer Susceptibility Index

New Zealand and Australia have, by far, the highest incidences of skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Susceptibility Index created by Derma Plus (website shows both German and English versions).

In the southwest Pacific, down here where I live, things look pretty grim for Aussies and Kiwis, as I know from personal experience.

Go to the original article to see how your own country rates.

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(click on the image to go to the original article by Derma Plus)