Category: Computers

Subtle but still strange

I know not everyone believes in the supernatural or ghosts or things of that nature.  I do.  I’ve grown up with it all my life in one way or another.  If you are a potential employer reading this it should have no bearing on me.  Believing that there are unexplainable forces in the world is no different than another person saying that they believe in Jesus or another saying that they believe in Darwin (just go with me here).

Obviously whatever is in this new house of ours is fascinated with electronics.  We’ve lost and had returned a flash drive, a portable USB backup drive and a Nikon flash.  Bit of a trend going on there.

So today either continues that trend or Kira is a flippin’ savant at less than six months of age.

I haven’t touched my computer since we got back from a wet session of garage sales in the rain.  The only one who has was Kira banging on my keyboard while I held her in my lap.  I just came back to my computer about an hour later and this is what I find on my screen:

communication from who?

At first I thought “Oh I know Calc was the active program while Kira was playing with the keyboard.  She must have hit a bunch of numbers.”  Then I started thinking, she can’t really reach the top of the keyboard to hit numbers.  Then I took a closer look and thought – “Is that what I think it is?”

Sure enough, I did a Google search and that my friends is the numerical value of Pi to what looks like 32 decimal places.  Uh… OK.  So of course I went to the other room and asked Muse if she’d been on my computer at all and of course the answer was ‘No’.

So I thought, well…  maybe somehow Kira just accidentally typed in a fraction that some how calculated to Pi.  It doesn’t seem like that is possible though.  According to that Wikipedia article, the trick with Pi is that it can’t be expressed as a fraction.  I didn’t know that.

So did Kira type it out?  No I don’t think so.  She was on my lap and couldn’t reach the number row.  Besides she was busy barfing on my mouse.  Did the cats tap dance it on the keyboard?  They’ve been given credit for some pretty unbelieveable computer feats, but no, I don’t think this is possible.

So if I didn’t do it and Muse didn’t do it… then who did?  And why Pi?  I guess because whoever or whatever did it knew I would figure it out.  I dunno.

Sure there will be people out there reading this who will just scoff and not believe a word of what I’ve typed and frankly I don’t blame them.  I’d find it pretty hard to believe if it hadn’t happened to me.  So take it for what you will.

Netbook fever

Hey man.  I got netbook fever and I got it bad.  I need a hit, man.  Come on… you can leave Windows off of it if that will make it cheaper.  Just give me the cash and I’ll buy my own.  I swear I’ll use the money on a netbook.  Yeah I can get one of those cheap Asus EEE or one of its new competitors like the MSI Wind or the Acer One.  I’d even be happy with the low cost Dell Mini 9 or the slightly more expensive HP Mini Mi. Those are all fine examples of the netbook craze.

But the one I really have my eye on is the Lenovo U110.  That baby is freaking sweet.  It has an 11″ screen with a resolution that is actually useful (1366×768) unlike all those others I listed.  Something else it has that none of those other netbooks have is an actual DVD/CD burner built into that tiny chassis.  No lugging around the extra weight (and expense) of a slim external USB drive since it’s built in and always there if you want it.

The bitch of it is the price.  Oh that is where it hurts the most especially nowadays.  Where as all those other netbooks listed cost anywhere from $200-$400 US dollars, the Lenovo U110 starts at $1,600 US dollars!  What the fuck?  That’s why I’m pissed about this thing.  It’s perfect.  OK not really – if it had a Blu-Ray drive then it would be perfect since that higher respolution can display 720p.  But still, does this near perfection give them the right to charge $1,200 more than the highest priced alternative?

I guess the answer is: If people will buy it for that price then yes it is worth it.  They are idiots, those people who are spending that much money on this little netbook.  Idiots.  How can they justify that unless of course they are stinking rich and don’t have to worry about cash.  Then OK, I get that.  I’m jealous and I hate those people but I get it.

So here’s the deal.  I need EVERYONE to stop buying the Lenovo U110 (especially the red one).  Drive market demand for these little netbooks down as far as it can go.  Then we all win.  We can all buy them at the same time for probably around $500.  A much more reasonable amount for such a computer.  But you have to do your part.  Otherwise it’s a failure.

Single Sign On (SSO)

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but one of the projects that got dumped on me when I got back to the St. Louis office is helping to get Single Sign On working between Active Directory and PeopleSoft.  I know nothing about PeopleSoft.  Abso-smurf-ly nothing.  And yet here I am. It’s running on HP-UX Unix and an ancient Informix database as well.  Uh….

And this isn’t just the SSO where PeopleSoft uses LDAP to populate the user IDs.  No this is the SSO where people will automatically get logged into PS because they are already authenticated in Active Directory.  It seems there is a big difference.

So I don’t know if anyone out there has any experience with that sort of thing, feel free to leave some tips or links in the comments.  Otherwise, I’ll just be sitting here…  Googling….

Tech Tips… kinda

Here’s another edition of Tech Tips! Although in this case, it’s not so much tips as warnings.  About a few things… read between the lines.  Or not.

Tip #1: Never let cybr have free time with a razor knife and spare junk laying about.

This, you would think, would just be common sense.  However time and time again I find myself with a box cutter or retractable razor knife and idle time while software is installing.  It seems somethings never change.

Tip #2: If cybr has a knife, don’t let him sort through CDs.  At least not unsupervised.

Again, this should just be common sense, but I have an office and it was an unusually quiet morning.  I was sorting through all the old CDs and DVDs laying about the office and throwing out all the discs that have never and will never be used.  Of course, I don’t want people fishing them out of the trash and using them illegally.  Because I’m against illegal software and stuff.  Yeah.  So I was using the retractable knife to cut grooves into each disc I was trashing.  But then I started to get bored with that and started making curvey lines instead of straight and then making the discs look like an eyeball or the CBS logo.

Then at random I picked the next CD: A standard MSDN disc

Nothing strange there, just another uneeded CD.  So I started cutting it to make it unusable.
Here’s what I ended up with:
carved CD

Tip #3: If you let the scenario in Tip #2 go on for two long, cybr starts getting even more creative.

So cutting the bottom of the discs is effective but quite a strain on the blade and edge.  So I wondered what would happen if I sliced the top/label side instead.  Wow! That was even more effective!  Even the slightest slice made the label and reflective surface pull away from the plastic disc making the disc completely unrecoverable.  Then… I noticed that the label could come off.

The slicing kind of got out of hand on the third disc I damaged in this method:
Oops, the label came off

Here’s what a CD looks like without the label and the reflective surface underneath of the label:
I don\'t think this one is going to read anymore

As you can see the reflective material you see when looking at the bottom of a CD is actually part of the label.  But you can still see where the data written to the CD starts and stops on the clear plastic.  The data is actually written in the plastic and is completely see through!  Pretty cool, huh?

The reflective layer of the label only exists to give the laser in the CD drive to bounce it’s light beam off of to be able to read the data in the plastic.  With out the mirror layer, the beam of light would just pass through the data and never be able to be understood by the computer.  So with that in mind…

Tech Tip #4: CDs and DVDs will play with scratches in the bottom surface, but if the top label is damaged, the disc is probably not recoverable.

Hey, that was a real Tech Tip!  I wasn’t really wasting your time after all!

Tech Tips: Clues for the Clueless

Are you a computer user?  If so, today’s post is aimed squarely at that bullseye on your forehead.  Tech people already know the list below by heart, but the common user seems to be oblivious to the following 10 tips on how to get better tech support.  This list was put together by me based on my own experiences in tech support of corporate clients.  If you re-use this, please link back to this site.

Here’s my Top Ten list of things to consider when you need tech support:

  1. If you want our help, please get up from the chair and let us get access to the PC.  This is an immediate clue as to the intelligence level of a given user if they ask for help but don’t think to get up and let us work.  If you really want to piss us off when we ask to see your PC, just swivel the keyboard around and stay seated that way we have to balance on one foot to keep from touching the unholiness that is your presence which is dumb enough to think that this actually helps.  We don’t want to catch whatever you have.
  2. Hovering over our shoulders while we work is not only irritating but often times distracting.  Unless we specifically need your input or are trying to show you how to do something… give us space.  We don’t need you to constantly take the mouse out of our hands to show us things that are completely irrelevant to the problem at hand.  Also, unless we are really close friends, we don’t need to hear all about your family and where you went on vacation while we are trying to fix your PC.  Hearing about your fantasy vacation to an elite resort on a private island could cause something unexpected.  Like your hard drive being mysteriously formatted.  I’m just saying….
  3. Sitting in a chair across the desk from where we are working and continually whining about your deadline or lost data or missed appointment will not speed things up.  Crying will also not help.  It kinda freaks us out.  Just because you need your PC to be working right now does not alter the fact that it’s not working.
  4. Please don’t call us for help with a problem and give us no information to go on.  This is especially annoying when you tell us that your PC is down when in fact, you just have Internet Explorer set to Work Offline and nothing more.  Better yet, call me in the middle of the night and tell me that the network is down because you can’t get your e-mail from home.  There are about 8,326,287,491 possible causes of this problem and only one of those is the network being completely down.  OMG.
  5. If you are getting error messages on your PC, please please please take a screen-shot of that message or at least write it down.  Don’t be that user that just automatically clicks OK on every pop-up no matter what it was and then wonder why nothing is working.  Those error messages are sometimes clues as to the problems you are having.  They are important.  At least read them.
  6. If you’re going to drop your PC off on our desks, leave something that will give us a clue as to what we are looking at.  I’ve found unlabeled notebook PCs sitting on my desk or chair before with no note, no name, no contact number, no indication of a problem… nothing.  Then at the end of the day So-and-So will call asking if their PC is fixed.  The answer is always going to be NO.  At least leave a Post-It note with your name or number so we know who to call to find out why we have an orphan in our office.  Even a snapshot of you with your dog would be more desirable than nothing if you can’t be bothered to write even your own name.
  7. If you know that you will be getting a new PC setup at your desk take a minute or two to clean up around the hardware that will be replaced.  If you aren’t sure what will be replaced, then just clean it all up.  That includes removing all the Post-It notes, toys, pictures, shwag, stickers, make-up, food, mobile phone adapters, USB aquariums, etc. that are obviously going to be in the way of us helping you change your equipment.  Or if that’s too much trouble, then don’t complain when you find all your precious “stuff” swept off to the edge of your desk in a ball of clutter that would make the King of the Cosmos weep with pride.
  8. If your PC is having a problem and we ask you if you installed anything on the PC – don’t lie.  We are not that stupid.  You’re only making yourself look bad when you lie about things like that.  More than likely we, or someone on our team, built that PC you are now using.  So when we look at the problem computer and see that Yahoo Instant Messenger, Ask Toolbar, 1001 Smileys, Free Animal ScreenSaver, Bejeweled, Nokia Mobile Connect, etc. are installed on your PC we not only know that you lied but you have given us proof.  Everything installed on a PC can potentially change how the whole system works.  We don’t just ask this for fun.  If you lie it’s not going to change the reality of what you did.  Just be honest.  We may think you are ignorant for not knowing better but at least you can look us in the eye with some sense of dignity.
  9. If you don’t like an answer you’ve received to your PC questions, then by all means ask for explanations or clarifications.  Not all tech people are as open and friendly as I am.  Many techs have the social skills of a badger suffering from crack withdrawals.  Sometimes you may need more info.  But whatever you do, DO NOT get angry with us if we have worked on your problems and given you an honest answer that you just don’t like.  The best way to ensure that you will never receive quality tech support again is to yell and scream at the servicing technician because there is no way for them to recover your files off a crashed hard drive or a failed USB thumb drive.  Threatening our jobs because you don’t think we’ve done our jobs right, even though we’ve told you that what you are asking for is impossible, will also not get you very far.  Even if you succeeded in getting that particular tech fired, you will quickly run out of IT people when they all give you the same answer.  Attend some anger management classes but do not take out your problems on the tech.
  10. You don’t need us to do or see every single thing that happens on your PC.  If you got a message in Internet Explorer that said it will be showing you both secure and unsecure items, yeah OK, no problem.  That’s normal.  If your screen flickered once and never again… probably a fluke or you kicked the power cord under your desk.  And if you get an error or warning message on your PC that comes complete with an explanation of the problem you are having and instructions on how to fix that problem then by all means please try it out.  Not only does it save time and gives you a certain sense of pride that you were able to fix your own computer problem but it also keeps you from wasting our time.  Many programs do offer fixes for the problems that can arise.  Most developers also make these message “dummy-proof” so even the most computer illiterate person can understand and follow the instructions.  We are not here to hold your hand every time the computer beeps.  It’s not scary.  It will be OK.

There you go.  That ended up being a lot longer than I had thought it would be.  I think the next Tech Tips will cover the opposite angle and focus on the techs themselves.  Users are always to blame but we have to share some of the burden sometimes.  Sometimes.

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