My new website

My wife and I have just set up a joint web site.  The home page just contains two big buttons.  The one the left is to enter my web site and the one on the right is for hers.

The URL is: www.intellisigsys.net

The main purpose of my site is to list all the ways I can help computer users who dislike (or can’t really afford) paying a lot of dollars to have someone come and do things to their computer.  Some tasks that fall into this category are:

1. Remove malware and crudware from the computer.

2. Install software and optimize it.

3. Set up a new computer and make recommendations for what pre-installed software to keep or get rid of.

4. Help set up a home network.

5. Consulting about which computer to buy to fit your intended use.

6. Want your own website?  I’ll be happy to assist from initial design through coding it up and all the way to putting it out on the web.

7. Assist in upgrading your computer with new hardware or software.

8. Help maintain your computer – dustballs inside it can be deadly.

I work generally in the Dayton, Ohio area and inside 20 miles I won’t charge for gas.  Before I do a thing, we will have agreed on a price – and it won’t make a huge dent in your budget.  Anyway, the URL is active now but the home page is as far as it goes.

 

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Never Outsource Some Things

The corporate mind seems to think that sending things overseas will cure all their monetary problems.  In a very few cases this might even be true.  But there are some things that should never be outsourced.  Brain surgery using Skype comes to mind immediately.  Crisis intervention is another.  The major item I wish to expound on today is: Technical Support.

My Internet went out two days ago.  My ISP is AT&T (what used to be SBCGlobal) so I call the AT&T hot line.  Remember that I wear double hearing aids and cannot hear too well anyway so this tale will either chill you or strike a sympathetic chord.  First crack out of the bag is CHIME CHIME CHIME WELCOME TO AT&T!!  The phone blasts into my ear.  Good, I think, at least I will be able to hear them – from across the room.  Next, there is a click and someone way down in a rain barrel tells me, in Spanish, to press ‘1’ if I want Spanish.  I say nothing.

Then this robotic voice appears and asks me in a conversational tone (I am paraphrasing here) “Well, howdy to friendly old AT&T.  At any time just speak whatever it is that’s bothering you today.  Things like ‘service’, ‘pay your bill’, ‘tech support’, …”  At that point I speak and say “Technical Support”.  Pause.  “I’m sorry, what was that again?”  I repeat what I’d just said.  “I’m sorry, what was that again?”.

Now, I remember that he said ‘tech support’ instead of ‘technical support’.  Well, maybe he’s brain damaged (from too much surgery over Skype, no doubt).  I say ‘tech support’.  A pause.  Then “Tech support, fine.  Now, for which type of tech support do you desire?”  Hmmm.  There are types?  He launches again ‘home phone’, ‘wireless phone’, ‘megaphone’, ‘two tin cans and a string’, ‘internet’, …”  Aha!

I speak ‘Internet’.  Now I am faced with “Which kind? ‘dial up’ (does anyone still use that?), ‘high-speed wireless’, ‘DSL’, …  Aha, again!

I speak ‘DSL’.  “Thank you.  Now, let me confirm your telephone number.  I have you as calling from # # # – # # # – # # # #, is that correct?”  I say “Yes”.   He says “Thank you.  Please wait for the next technician.  Low-pitched BEEP!  High-pitched BEEP!  I wait, cringing from the tones while my hearing aid resets.

Now I am treated to a voice extolling the virtues of using the Internet to contact technical support simply be going to “ATT dot COM forward-slash Support”.  Ummmm, excuse me, I can’t get ON the stupid Internet dude.  That’s why I’m calling!  Sheesh.

Finally the phone begins to ring.  Thirty five rings later it is finally picked up and a singsong voice says … something so rapidly that I have no chance of deciphering it.  I have been shifted to a country where English is perhaps a fifth language.  I say “Huh?  What was that you said?  Please speak slowly because I wear a hearing aid.”  He responds “HI, MY …  NAME … IS … FLAUBERT … HOW … MAY … I … HELP … YOU?”  Now, I have a wise-ass.  I am only hearing impaired, not intelligence impaired.  Now, this person reduces volume to around forty decibels and again sings me a song asking if he can help me – albeit a bit slower.  I begin my explanation.

halfway through, this guy interrupts me to ask me what phone number I am calling from.  I say “Hey, I was already asked that already.  Don’t you have end-to-end CRM? (Customer Relations Management)”  He says “Huh?” and asks me for my phone number again.  I give it to him.  Now he wants an alternate in case we get disconnected.  I give him my cell phone (from rival Cincinnati Bell – take that, AT&T!)

I start again with my problem.  He interrupts me after I tell him my DSL has been out for about an hour and tells me he is going to “run some tests against my modem and am I sitting in front of my computer?”  “Which one,” I ask.  “I have seven of them.”

This throws the guy for a loop.  I already know how the game is played having gone through his once before though and have isolated my DSL modem so that it is connected directly to only one computer because I know that is going to be the very next instruction.  I try my best to forestall ANY further kindergarten-grade preliminaries by telling him I’ve been in IT and computers for around 48 years.  This has no effect and he keep driving ahead on the script he has in front of him.

“Please to be opening your Internet Explorer and entering the following numbers.”  He gives me the IP address of the modem which virtually every modem in the known universe has as a default.  “Stop,” I say.  “I don’t have Internet Explorer on any of my computers”.  “Oh, you are very mistaken, Sir.  Every Windows operating system has Internet Explorer.”  “Well, mine doesn’t ever since I ripped it out, threw it on the floor, and kicked it to death.”

This really fakes the guy out.  “But, I do have Firefox so we can proceed from there and I’ll fake it.”  He doesn’t understand the meaning of the phrase ‘fake it’ so I have to explain.  Anyway, after socially dancing for five minutes I tell him I have the login page of the modem showing.  Now, He tell ME what my username is and wants me to put it in the first box.  I’ve already done that, but to make him happy I move the mouse over to the desktop and hit a bunch of keys randomly so he can hear them.

Now he really throws ME for a loop.  “I have to ask you this security question to see who I am talking to.”  He proceeds to ask me “Who is your favorite hero?”  My what?  What the hell is he talking about?  Favorite Hero?  I may, back in the dawn of Internet time when I set up my first DSL connection gave some answers to questions like this, but after around eleven years, who remembers them?  I tell him this.  “Oh, I am very sorry, sir, but I am unable to give you the password until you answer this question.”

I go ahead and type my password into the box and tell him I’ll just guess what the password is because I have no idea who my favorite hero is.  He gets excited and tells me it starts with an “M”.  Mickey Mouse?  Margaret Thatcher? Missing Link?  I haven’t a clue.  I relent and tell HIM what the password is.  He gives up and we proceed.  I click Connect.

The modem thinks about it for around two decades and then resets the page to the login screen.  At the top, in tiny little letters that my trifocals can’t read without the aid of a big magnifying glass I keep on the desk, “Cannot reach the Distant equipment”.  I relay that to said technician.  He thinks about it and then gives me another password to try.  Same results.  We go through five passwords (after re-confirming that I’ve entered my proper email address every time).  Each one fails with the same message – which I pass on to this idiot technician.

Each time we go through this, I remind him of what the modem is telling me: I cannot connect to the distant equipment.  This clearly (in my mind) tells me that there is a problem on the DSL line somewhere between the back of my house and the “cloud”.  He refuses to believe it and pronounces my modem as bad.  However, I am not to feel badly because AT&T will be happy to sell me a brand new modem for around a bazillion bucks plus tax, installation, and green stamps.  I tell him no, I think I’ll keep mine and wait until the serviceman finds the blockage and fixes it.

“And what blockage would that be, Sir?”  He asks.  “The blockage between here and the rest of the world.  Please assign a control number to this trouble call and pass it to the repair service so they can set up an appointment.”

By now, he is sputtering that things just aren’t done that way, but I override him and he reluctantly agrees (maybe to just get rid of me and keep his ‘calls per hour’ numbers higher).  He finally tells me that I will receive a call “within the hour” scheduling a serviceperson’s appearance.  We hang up.

Sometime, during the night, little technical gremlins (the good kind) went out and repaired my DSL line and left me a message on my cell phone (instead of my regular phone) at 0400 telling me they have judged it an equipment outage on their network and that a service call won’t be necessary.  This morning, I reconnected my modem, router, switches, wireless access point, and all other things properly and I’m back in business.

Some things should never be outsourced.  Give me a fast-talking New Yorker, a twangy Floridian, or a California surfer any day.  Please, all you corporations, can’t you at least bring technical support back within our own borders so we can communicate better?

 

Not in a good mood…

I have no idea how long this post will be today.  It all started (the day, that is) at the horrible hour of 0600.  The wife could only get an appointment to see her Doc. at 0710 so we had to get up and ready for that.  At this time of the morning, I am bleary-eyed and definitely not bushy-tailed.  We joined the throng headed for Wright-Patt AFB and headed for the hospital.  They tell you to arrive 15 minutes early, but what they don’t tell you is that the clinic opens at 0700, so being there at 0655 is counterproductive.  We stood until five after for it to open.

Then the receptionist opened the door, wafting out a cloud of toxic stuff she had dipped herself in.  This immediately slapped my sinus openings closed.  In seconds, the noxious cloud had spread to the entire waiting room.  Fortunately, we weren’t there very long before we had to leave for the lab, then her PT session for her shoulder.

For those who don’t remember, she had shoulder surgery to re-attach a tendon she tore while out in Colorado trying to corral a feisty grandkid.  She is wearing what I can only describe a sling on steroids.  It consists of many straps, clips, Velcro fastenings, and a huge foam pad under her entire forearm.  I don’t know how comfortable it is, but I do know I wouldn’t like to wear it.

. . .

My truck (1996 Nissan Frontier) is rapidly converting available iron/steel into rust.  The latest thing is for the tires to very slowly lose air.  I might not notice it until I have to fight the steering wheel as I drift towards the right side of the road on a semi-flat tire.  My only means of pumping it back up (save changing a $10 bill into quarters to feed the greedy “free air” machines at filling stations) is to try and use my old 12v pump.  I’ve had it for a while and, at first, it used to work rather well.  Over the years, however, it has slowed down considerably.  Now, I can attach the clip, start the compressor, and go read “War and Peace” while the pathetic thing puts a few pounds per hour into the tire.  My regular service guy(s) tell(s) me that older wheels will develop what they call ‘rusty rims’ and start gradually losing air through them.  This is what is happening.  So, the next time I have to buy tires, I’m going to have to spring for a wheel cleaning and refit.  Bleh!

. . .

It is apparent now that I bought some really cruddy suet blocks for my feathered friends.  I found some at a place called “Ollie’s” that were marked down to $0.75 each.  I don’t know what they were made of, but none of my usual birds or squirrels will touch them.  The same suet block has been out there, hanging on the tree, for a week now and had just a few peck holes in it.  I tossed it on the ground and it’s still there a day later.  Even the squirrels won’t eat it – and it’s supposed to be a tough winter this year.  That’s the main reason I don’t have any animal antics pictures lately.

. . .

I have also been beating my head against the wall trying to figure out what is wrong with one of my computers.  At first, I just thought is was some playfulness of Vista, but that was not the trouble.  What happens is that it will suddenly, for no reason at all, freeze.  The mouse stops moving, the keyboard stops responding, and it just sits there looking stupid.  I have to power down to recover.  Then, during power-up and re-boot, it may or may not stop responding yet again.  At first I thought it might be memory but overnight tests say no.  Then I tried power supplywent from a 250W to a 475W unit.  Still does it.  Then I bought a new video card for the PCI-X slot – no change.  Then I tried a new 500G hard drive – no change.  Finally I threw caution to the winds and yanked all the connections and pulled the motherboard.  I examined every square inch of it by magnifying glass.  Couldn’t find a thing except one of the hundreds of pins on a RAM-stick slot was bent.  As a test, I pulled the stick out and firet the computer up.  It ran for two days and I thought I’d ficed it.  BOOM!  Still halts again.

Now enter the big guns.  I fired a salvo of Ubuntu LINUX at it.  This ran nicely for three days, then started halting again.  So, unless I can come up with the cosmic force that has inhabited my computer and making it fail, this one is headed for the old graveyard in the closet along with my 8″ floppy drive and my tape backup units.

Meh!

 

Revolving emails

Early this morning, I started up my email client (Mozilla Thunderbird) and was told that I had 86 emails in one of my accounts.  Stunned by this revelation, I quickly clicked on the inbox for this account.  Every one of these 86 emails was identical.  I had received ONE email from a friend down in Australia and it was being replicated even as I read it.  By the time I finished reading the email and storing away the attached TGA picture, I had accumulated 17 more identical emails.  Total now being 103.

During the next hour I received around 30 more of them.  During the rest of the day, I got a total of over 250 emails, all identical to the first one.  Clearly, it was time to call the professionals.  I fired up Firefox and managed to navigate AT&T’s really convoluted web site to get to “Web Chat with a professional”.  The conversation:

him: “Hello my name is ……. how may I help you?”

me: “Hi, I have a problem with a repeating email continuously being sent from your server queue to my Inbox.”

H: “Oh, I am sorry to be hearing you having this diffuculty.  Please let me assist you in helping you to solve this problem”

(Eh?  Howzat? Two guesses which country I’m now in contact with.)

M: “At the risk of repeating myself – I have a problem with a repeating email continuously being sent from your server queue to my Inbox”

H: “Is it the same email?  if it is, do not open it because it is a virus.”

M: “No – it is NOT a virus.  It is a legitimate email sent by a friend and contains an image I need from him.”

H: “I repeat, sir, please not to be opening it, it contains a virus.”

(By this time I’m ready to strangle him)

M: “NO – it is NOT a VIRUS!!!!!!!!!  It is simply a message that, for some unknown reason, is being resent from your server to my Inbox.”

H: “I speak from experience, sir.  It is a virus.”

M: “My experience trumps your experience, man.  I’ve got over 45 years in computers – beat that!  It is NOT A VIRUS!”

H: “Yes, sir.  Is there anything else I may be helping you with now?”

M: “Yeah – my original problem – how about that?”

H: “I have told you repeatedly that it is a virus and not to open it.”

(Yeah, I gotta kill this guy.  If I could climb down the wire I would.)

M: “Okay. What do I do with the other 255 of them?”

H: “Delete them?”

M: “Fine – they’re gone.  Whoops, another one just popped up.  Shall I beat that one to death also?”

H: There is no reason to be rude to me.  Call this number for AT&T second level service (877xxxxxxxxxx).

-hangup-

I reach down to the floor, pick up my anger, which has been biting me on the ankles, and pick up the phone with a sense of foreboding that somehow I will get the very same guy – only this time in audio instead of a chat window.  I don’t.  Instead, I get a really nice guy who speaks English like a native.  When I ask, he’s from Georgia (that’s still in the US isn’t it?)

I repeat my original complaint and he put me on hold for about 30 seconds.  When he comes back, he asks if I would start up Internet Explorer and allow him to take control of my computer.  Hmmmmm.  I’m not altogether too keen on this, but I allow it.  First, I have to find IE.  I haven’t used it since IE2.3 but I know is has to be on my Vista machine somewhere.  Finally, down in a very unused corner of my hard drive I find it and get it running.

He gives me a URL and I enter it.  It allows him to assume control of my machine.  I watch as the cursor flutters, then steadies on the screen.  He bounces around a bit and then (over the phone) asks me where my task bar is.  I tell him to run the mouse to the bottom of the screen.  He does, and it pops up.  “Neat” he exclaims.  (Oh, great.  I’ve got probably the only kid in America that doesn’t know you can ‘auto-hide’ the taskbar.)

He types the URL for my web mail interface and it creaks open.  I’ve never used it since around the invention of the Internet so I am really surprised it works.  He clicks on the Inbox and it is immediately filled with around 50 or 60 identical emails.  “Whoops,” says he.  “Looks like you have mail.”

“Well, gosh,” says I.  “Looks like they’re all the same email doesn’t it?”

“Yup.  Sure does.  Is this what your complaint is?”

“Yup.  There used to be over 250 of them.  These just came in while I was flapping my fingers at the Indian guy.”

He proceeds to make the mouse pointer wander around the screen (which I watch like a hawk watches a mouse since HE is on MY machine) and clicks a few items.  He gets down into my email options and sets the offending email address up as SPAM.  This causes new incoming copies of the email to get routed to the SPAM folder.  “There!”  He proclaims.  “That will make it go away.”

“Yabbut (one word), what happens when he send me another email.  Won’t it get shunted to the SPAM folder?”

“Yeah.  Isn’t that what you wanted?”

I count slowly backwards from ten thousand to zero – by sevens – until I have control of my mouth.  “That’s not solving the problem – only forcing the email to a SPAM folder.”

“But you can see it every time you get your mail.”

“How?”

“When you come to the web interface.”

“Sorry, weren’t you listening when I said I don’t use the web interface?  I use Thunderbird exclusively and get my email using the POP server.  The SPAM folder on the web interface is not emptied by my POP client.”

“POP what?”

(Uh, oh.  Big trouble here in River City.)

“Never mind.  Thanks for your help and have a good day.”

“Bye and thanks for using AT&T services.”

We hang up and I immediately check to see if I’m getting any more emails from my friend.  Nope.  They seem to have stopped for the moment.  I’m dreading taking his email address back out of the SPAM locker in fear of receiving all the backed-up emails stored there.  If I’m really lucky, however, marking it as SPAM might (just might) take it permanently out of the deadlocked queue and stop it from SPAMming me any more.

Sheesh!

Bill

 

A busy week

Last week I finally decided to get to work on my gaming computer.  For some time now it has been running for a while and then shutting down suddenly.  It was very hard to pin down exactly why this was happening.  Sometimes I could let it just sit there for a day – powered up – and come back from shopping and it would be powered down or completely frozen.  Other times it would freeze almost immediately.

When it froze, I could see what was on the screen but none of the controls, keyboard, mouse, or anything else worked.  Since the screen was displaying exactly what was happening when the computer froze, That meant (generally) that the graphics card was still working.  It had to be something else.  The only way I could regain control was to hold the power button down and wait for it to go off.  This, of course, made XP very angry and caused all the discs to be checked on power-up.  When you have three hard drives, and the smallest is 175Gb, this takes a while.

So, finally, last weekend I dragged out my testing equipment and went to work.  I hung all sorts of monitors, gauges, and other devices wherever I could and started exercising all my CPU/GPU dependent software.  I ran Flight Simulator X, Trainz 2009, and a couple of other programs that were memory intensive.  No problems noted, but sometimes the mouse would lose connectivity for a couple of seconds.

Then, after I added a recording oscilloscope to the mix I found that my power supply fan was running at half speed.  This, along with power demands, would cause the +12v and -12v rails to drop to around +/-9.5 volts or so.  This would, in turn, force the DVD drives (and all the hard drives) to slow down slightly.  When this happened, the various programs would start acting up.  As soon as one of them would stop responding (usually after a request for data from a drive, or a write request).  This froze the computer.

As things turned out, I found a toasted transistor in the power supply and replaced it.  The fan came back up to speed and, apparently, my troubles are over.  I have been flying with my friend Pete now for several days for varying amouts of time and haven’t had a single problem.

This computer will need to be replaced next I think.  I’ve replaced my primary development desktop with a Vista machine, and have seen ads for computers with as much as 6Gb of RAM and Terabyte drives for as little as $600.  The gaming computer has been with me now for almost 5 years but it’s getting long in the tooth.  I don’t even have a USB2.0 version on it, only 1.5.

My front yard has been sparsely populated for a while.  Given the very hot weather, coupled with an occasional huge thunderstorm, my families of squirrels have given up and remained in the trees.  I did manage to sneak up on one squirrel who, when I popped around the tree and surprised him, ran towards my front porch.  As I pursured, he goe excited and ran up the side of my brick house and shot completely across the front of the house and leapt for a tree near the corner.  I’ve never seen a squirrel do that – run up a vertical wall and then scamper across it.  If I’d had my camera I could have shot some neat pictures.

I have also been unable to capture a picture of my chipmunk.  He still darts out from time to time and grabs a mouthful of seeds spilled on the grass, but I’m never in a position to take a picture.

So, that’s all that’s been going on over here.

Hot, hot hot

Right now, it is just over 93 degrees and past 1700.  The air is completely still, and the lawn must be mowed or large jungle animals will begin creeping into it.  Especially the Dandy Lions, and Tiger Lillies.  Luckily, I have a riding mower, but it is still a very hot job.  I’m not looking forward to it at all.

Later:  Yup, I was right.  I’m completely pooped out and ready for a nice cold drink of water.  Between the water I took in and the water that oozed from every pore I’m not sure which won.  If my neighbors were just a little farther away I’d mow at night.  My mower has headlights.  Now, one really has to wonder just WHY a mower would have headlights?  Certainly there aren’t legions of mower-people out there that would actually MOW at night are there?

No pictures to add for today though.  I’ve been trying for days to grab a photo of my little chipmunk that lives under my front porch.  He will dart out, grab a mouthful of corn/seeds/clover and dart back.  I think he might be afraid of the large ravens or crows that circle overhead.  One day I’ll get a good one of him and his overstuffed mouth.

My household is doing it’s darnedest to help keep our local public library open.  The Ohio governor has decreed that his shortfall of $384 million will come out of the social and public services budget.  This is really insane.  Our county has so few social services now that any they offer are laughable.  Our library has resorted to having occasional book sales to raise operating capital and the state wants to cut their budget further?  What a crock.

Most of the day yesterday I played with a new, free, program that I got from Scruffy Duck Software (that resides somewhere over in the UK).  It is called Airport Design Editor and works with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X.  It is really easy to work with and I’ve been having fun creating airports out of thin air and flying in/out of them.  I made a chain of airports all down the Baja California peninsula and then made a flight plan that takes in all of them.  For anyone with a passing interest in doing this yourself, snag a copy of ADE.

Time for my cold one.  Ta.

Bill

Another dead computer

It has to be some sort of networking conspiracy.  I have yet another computer just die on me.  We had a heavy thunderstorm heading our way, so I shut down my computers.  They all shut down normally.  I have a UPS, but it was connected last storm we had so my power supply in another computer got killed by a surge.  So, what the heck use is a UPS?  But I digress.

Today, when I started up one of them, it told me that ‘boot.ini’ was invalid and couldn’t load ‘hal.dll’ because it was corrupted.  Both of those are absolutely necessary for a proper boot.  I fiddled around for almost three hours trying everything I could think of to get the system running.  I ended up doing a “repair” install of XP.

This is really a misnomer – what you are doing is making a completely fresh install of the operating system.  I went from XP Pro SP3 back all the way to XP Pro SP-nothing.  I had to then hunt up a copy of SP1a, SP2, and SP3.  With each install, it took a reboot (actually several of them).  On the final reboot (after SP3) the damn thing told me – using a Blue Screen of Death – that I had an ERROR: 000000000000000000007E.

Now, this error is very insidious as it won’t actually TELL you anything that you don’t already know – you’re screwed.  I tried Safe Mode – it worked.  Nothing amiss in the device manager but I disabled practically everything anyway.  No good, same BSOD.

This computer is used, normally, as a printer server.  I have several printers and all are connected to this machine.  Now I had to shift all of them over to another machine so that remote computers could have access to the printers.  This also meant I had to go around and tell everyone that I had done this and for them to create another shared printer for their computers.  Pain in the behind, for sure.

I’m tempted to just start the stupid thing in safe mode with networking and use it that way.  But, there is a snag: USB devices aren’t loaded in safe mode – damn.

So now I have added this computer to the “wall of shame” in my garage which now holds seven computers in various states of operability.  You can’t get rid of them without “harming the environment”, but you can’t actually USE them either.

I swear that if I had some sort of cruicible, I’d dismantle every one of these machines and melt them down for their gold.  With my luck, it would probably turn out to be fools gold.