Fox News: Fair and Balanced?

Too bad you can’t say that about all their advertisers.

I like Fox News. Why? For the most part they try to be Fair and Balanced (that’s their motto, btw). For example, they strive to give Democrats and Republicans exactly the same amount of time to bloviate. They try to look at both sides of an argument (aka, left and rigth). They try to balance positive and negative pieces, like about candidates. Now I’ll admit some of their commentators may push this “fair and balanced” envelope a bit (thinking about Hannity) but overall they really do try.

Generally speaking Fox is way more fair than some of the other news outlets like MSNBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, NPR, the list goes on. These others are just so left it’s surprising – and they don’t even try to hide it. If you switch from one to another to another you hear the same exact points of view. It is almost as if they were purposefully conspiring together to promote their agendas. Otherwise shouldn’t they sometimes have different points of view on the multitude of topics they cover?

Mr. O’Reilly is especially fair. The spin really does stop with Bill. He really IS fair and balanced. Of course he has to be because that’s the main premise of “The Factor”, his wildly popular TV show.  You can tell he prides himself in being fair. He is just so old school he HAS to be fair. One look at his face and you can tell he is nothing but a straight shooter. He says what he thinks and he thinks what he says. He isn’t afraid to say anything even when it isn’t popular, mainstream, or politically correct. I genuinely like the genuine guy that he is.

That doesn’t mean I agree with him on everything. For example, he labeled Madonna as a pinhead. That hurts.  How could she be a pinhead? She’s beautiful.  She is my age.  I’ve seen her in concert many times.  Her music is greater than great (thinking of Like a Virgin, Lucky Star, Holiday, Vogue, Music, 4 Minutes) and at 300 million records she is the world’s top-selling female recording artist of all time. So I just really hope William is not right about her. I don’t want to think she is a pinhead, Bill.

To be fair and balanced myself I should note I watched a piece on Billy’s show recently which revealed some of her charity work maybe wasn’t exactly charity for the poor so much as charity for her. She was supposed to raise money to build a school in some super deprived place I can’t think of right now. Apparently the school never got built. Hmmmmm. That certainly isn’t cool Madonna.
If you say you are raising money for a specific purpose but then nothing comes of it, that’s not right! I’m hoping to see another piece on O’Reilly where she comes on the show to refute the story, and builds the school, and furnishes it with lots of computers and books and teachers, etc. Don’t let me find out you’re just a material girl Madonna Louise Ciccone. Please? I really hope William is not right about her. I can’t bear thinking of her as a “pinhead”.

Sorry, we were talking about Bill O’Reilly weren’t we? He is a honest guy for certain. I trust him to tell me both sides of stories, and to give me his unbiased opinion. Okay…no one is unbiased. You can’t be. It is impossible. But at least he tries. Although I vehemently disagree with him on a couple of things, by and large he seems to size things up correctly, and as fairly as he can, given the innate biases which we all have.

Sorry, we were supposed to be talking about the ads on the Fox Channel. I’ve not done a formal study of this but it seems like there are far more ads on Fox News than news.  It seems like if you just randomly tune in Fox day or night you’re more likely to see an ad for buying gold or suing somebody than you are to see actual news, but that again is a different subject.  Some of these ads are clearly not fair and balanced like the show promises to be.  Doesn’t give a person the impression Fox is being super careful looking out for their viewers in this regard.

As a prime example lets look at the totally misleading ad from your friends at “PC Matic”.

PC Matic (more correctly PC Scamamatic)

If you haven’t seen the ad, it shows a whiny teen berating her father because her laptop is soooo slow. She says “Take me to the store and buy me a new one” as if to suggest everyone can just go buy a new PC whenever they want, just because theirs is a little sluggish. 

This is all your stupid fault Dad. Go get me a new laptop pronto!

Her tone is in the vein “Yo.  Dirt bag. This is all your fault for buying me such a cheap piece of crap in the first place.  Get out your wallet and go get me a new fricken’ computer this instant”.

Then the all knowing father, in a very consoling voice says, “Oh Honeypoo, rude daughter that I have spawned, you don’t need a new computer, all you need is PC Matic. It can fix everything, anything, and make the whole world smell of roses, even my big butt.” Then he waxes poetic about the many wonders of the miraculous program and all the things it magically does to bestow good health to a computer.  Nay. Not just to good health, but super health.  In fact the happy user below claims, “My computer ran 200 times better after I did the scan and fixed all problems”.

200 times faster? Seems too good to be true doesn’t it?  I suspect he was comparing the “after” speed to the “before” speed which he must have measured when he had forgotten to press that little “ON” button : )

This is such a load of crap. Software alone can’t fix the problems that screw up a Windows PC. If that was the case Microsoft would have created the software to fix PCs themselves. They didn’t … because it can’t be done. Remember the human mind is the most powerful computer ever made and even the best minds can’t fix computers all of the time. It’s a tenuous process which, done correctly, takes quite a bit of time. And in many cases to really fix a PC you have to rebuild it from scratch or go buy another one. The sad truth is, the honest truth, buying a new computer is often the right answer (albeit a painful answer).

If you look at the “features” of PC Matic many of them are duplicates of the “features” Microsoft has already given you with their operating system. Take for example PC Matic’s program to “defragment” your hard drive. All this software does is take files that have become “split” over time and it puts them back together.  Defragmenting is not exactly rocket science by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s certainly no magic bullet in the quest to fix a broken PC.  At best it incrementally speeds up file access, and only that in certain rare cases.

Truth is if you run the Microsoft (or any) defragmenter program more than once every 3 months or so you are just wasting your time. Defragging your drive certainly won’t change your slow PC into a lightning fast machine. PC Matic gives you a defrag program despite the fact one has been included with every PC for the last 10 years. Wow!  Such a deal.  Hands down I’d choose the Microsoft product to do this somewhat risky maneuver over any off-brand software every time.

This is Microsoft "Disk Defragmenter" which really is "Free" with every PC!

I’m not going to go through all of PC Matic’s offerings one by one but let me assure you, coming from a person who has easily “repaired” hundreds of severely hosed up PCs, it just plain and simple cannot possibly fix your PC the way they suggest it can. Last example: Like its registry fixer upper. It is a generally accepted fact registry fixers are completely unnecessary and in my experience I’ve seen them do way more harm than good.   

But wait. My big point was “fair and balanced” advertisements on the Fox channel – the fair and balanced channel. So what is not fair about “PC Matic”?  The ad clearly suggests the product is free.  It is not free; not like the ad would have you believe.

Note it says "... you need to purchase a license key to run the software completely"

The only part of PC Matic that is free is the download.  Yes, you can download it all day long but it won’t do you any good. Why? When you run the “free” software all it does is tell you what is wrong with your broke computer. It doesn’t fix a thing. To do that you must first take out your credit card and buy a license for it. What? Yes, the free download only tells you what a sorry state your computer is in.  Want to bet the “reports” make your PC look really bad?  Most of the problems it reports are dubious at best. But without you coughing up some dough it won’t “do” a thing to get rid of your PC’s supposed problems.

You don’t see that part in the ad now do you?  Daddio certainly makes it seem like he just installs the software onto the sick machine and voila, everything starts humming right along, “even faster than it ever was”. So much BS!

They neglected to show you the part where he takes out his wallet and hands it to the bratty little girl to buy the software so it will actually do something other than just show them the bogus report detailing the millions of problems her PC has. What a scam! 

Now do you really think a company that creates a totally deceptive ad like this is going to have amazing software which can actually fix your ailing PC? I think not.

So Fox channel is promoting, by way of allowing this ad to air on their show, a scam. How much do you think PC Matic has made by way of this completely deceptive ad? Millions no doubt. Maybe more considering ads that run on the most watched prime time news broadcast in the world certainly wouldn’t come cheap. Shame on you Fox News for not using “fair and balanced” advertisers. PC Matic’s ad is all about spin, exactly what you purport to stop. Instead you are promoting the very spin you supposedly disdain.

The truth is the spin might stop during the O’Reilly Factor but then is in full force during the advertisement breaks. “For shame, for shame, for shame” to quote Gomer Pyle. I expect more from you, Fox News. I expect you to vet your advertisers to make sure they too are pulling no punches. Sadly it is clear Bill is not a technical guy; a point he makes fairly frequently. And therein lies the real problem.

Bill’s not technical enough, neither is the producer, nor the ad sales folks, to know legit software from scamware. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Billy hasn’t pulled out his card and bought PC Matic for his own daughter. And for that, Mr. O’Reilly, you are being a “pinhead”.

For his sake, I just hope his children are not as snotty as the PC Matic girl!

Need a Skype Auto Dialer (aka Redialer)? Glad You Asked!

Skype is good. Skype is great. Let us thank them for thy good.

But let us also count thy many, many ways it could be better. Much better. Seriously, there are so many stupid things in Skype it is ridiculous. I mean really. For example (admittedly a dumb example but that’s exactly my point) Skype often presents the user with a contact name (field) you have to first click on before you can put the contact name in. But only on some screens. It depends on how you get to the contact name, i.e., hitting the Add Contact button verses editing a contact. Or on the dialing screen vs. the contact screen, etc. Sometimes it pre-fills the field with text that you have to first delete to put in your information. Some times you can’t right click and select “paste” to paste in your contact name. But if you know how you can use the keyboard command (Control V) to paste the information in. Why?

It’s just painful and super dumb. It’s as though different programmers worked on each screen in a vacuum from each other. Like each one decided how to implement their screen themselves with no central guidance. However (badly) they thought to do so on that day! And this is just a silly user interface problem.

When you call someone Skype removes their name from your contact list. After some undermined amount of time Skype places the name back where it started, where you clicked on it, in your contact list, sorted alphabetically. Why would they do this? Why is this a problem you ask? If you try to call someone and the connection is terrible, like you can’t hear an entire ringing tone for example and you know the call is going to suck, you are best served by just hanging up and redialing. Oops! You can’t because the contact name has gone missing. You have to wait for it to show up again. Odd at best.

And don’t even try to figure out the myriad of different screen layouts you can display. Half the time you don’t even know what you did to get the call screen separated from the rest of the program. Want to put your callee’s picture at the top of your screen near your camera so you don’t look like you are looking at the floor? Or like your eyes/brain have some serious defect? Well Skype will automatically size and position it how it feels that day, no matter how hard you try to put it where you want it. Admittedly there are subtle hints about what you can and can’t do on the screen some times but you can’t really see them and they don’t give you even a hint as to what they are for.

Here’s another oddity. When you call a number, if it is busy, it comes back with a tone that sounds like … struggling here … “nee naw”. What does that mean? In little tiny text where you wouldn’t think to look it says “busy” too. I’m just saying if they are going to make a noise, why not make the noise say “Busy”. And how about a big status bar that tells you the line you were calling is “BUSY”.

When I input numbers to dial it frequently stops me at “3217″ and warns me that Skype can’t call emergency numbers. What? Since when is that an emergency number? To override its refusal to accept the number I need to dial I have to reach up and use the keyboard (not the dial pad I was using) to finish inputting the number. The most frustrating thing about any problem with Skype is you can’t call them on the phone with your Skype phone calling service to tell them about the problem(s). You can only send them a message online. Never once have I gotten any answer but “install the latest version”. Of course I understand that it is free and they couldn’t handle the call volume (with their millions and millions of users). But what if they did? Think the program might get better? Way better? I do.

And the list goes on. The really weird thing is for such an incredibly cool, awesome program there are so many lame things it is truly mind boggling. I mean, here is a program which lets millions of people concurrently communicate across the world via live video and audio. For free no less! Come on. How nice is that? I wonder just how many parents have used Skype to connect with their kids once they go to college. No doubt the number is in the millions. These folks are using a VOIP system and I’d wager 98% of them don’t even know what VOIP means. And they shouldn’t have to. They don’t have to. They just download it, install it, and it works. It is just so easy. Note I didn’t say it would work really well or every time. But, again, it’s free and it works well enough to do the job the majority of the time and that’s all that counts.

Another problem that doesn’t involve their lackluster, confusing, non-intuitive user interface: Half the time you go to use the dial pad (you know, “Press 0 for the operator”) the stinking DTMF tones don’t even work (you know, those little beeps you hear when you press the buttons on a phone, technically known as “Dual-tone-multi-frequency-signaling”). How could that be? There you are on a call and you can’t do a thing except hang up and try it again. WTH! (aka, What the heck).

It hurts my brain how a program, being used by (right now) 23,160,854 people madly chatting away with each other, could be so clever and so stupid at the same time. Seriously. How can they not fix things that are so remarkably wrong? Are they blind? Do they not see? One would think they could since it is a video chatting service, right? Wouldn’t they have had to look at the interface with eyeballs to know everything is working? That is one of those questions you don’t need to answer.

Actually one of the absolute best, coolest features of Skype is just plain old voice communications. Technically Skype is giving you VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) for a pittance. I’ve used this service for about a year now and I think it costs me something like 12 bucks a year via $3 quarterly charges. It could be more, or less, but it automatically bills me and it is so trivial I don’t really notice it. Until the charge hits when I’m least expecting it, like when I’ve not deposited any money into my checking account and it overdraws me. Which then incurs a 35 dollar charge because, of course, poor TD Bank can’t pay the 3 bucks because, presumably, it too doesn’t have that much in its bank account either. I guess TD then has to then borrow from Chase Bank, or their parents, or someone, to pay my measly debt. Which explains why they charge me 10 times the $3 overdraft.

But I digress (and disgust : )

Where was I? Oh yeah. Skype calling – the best thing since sliced bread. (Can you even imagine that slicing bread was an invention?) Come on. Chewing off the end of a loaf of bread? How could slicing it turn into a phrase one would coin. And where did the phrase “coining a phrase” come from in the first place? Sorry. I digress again – which I believe the past tense for is “digross”. But … anyway.

So Skype calling is great. Why? Because there you are at your PC with the phone number of the place you want to call right there on the screen but you have to go get a phone, or find your cell, just to call it. Nay. There is a better way. The number in your browser’s screen has a little Skype symbol next to it and you just click on it and it starts Skype calling the number. Any number in the US or Canada in fact, day or night, cell or land, toll free or not. Ring, ring, ring. And the party answers. Most of the time. And you can add worldwide calling for almost nothing if you happen to have family in Siberia, or somewhere.

Okay, in fairness, some of the numbers you call don’t answer because Skype doesn’t always send caller ID information (resulting in the “Unknown” caller ID). Mind you one can pay a little more if you want to “have” a “number”, like one that doesn’t change for each call.

To be perfectly fair, I should tell you that some numbers seem to work sometimes but not every time too.

And okay, in fairness, some of the time you can’t hear the other person, or they can’t hear you, or both. Or the quality of the call is crappy. But you just hang up and dial again which surprisingly isn’t as big a deal as you would think it would be. But POTS it is not. POTS is the name of the phone system that has been in place since the late 19th century. And believe it or not the “retronym” stands for “plain old telephone service”. How quaint is that?

Sidebar (or another digression if you want to call it that): POTS is the most incredible system ever created. Think about it…you pick up a phone, punch 7 (or 10) (or more) numbers and almost immediately you are connected to the person, place, or thing you called. How cool is that? All by just punching in some numbers. Does it ever fail? Less often than snow in Florida. Every single solitary time you dial, it connects, in seconds. And you can hear the other party as clear as a bell. And you stay connected until you decide to hang up. Simply Amazing Technology that everybody just takes for granted now. And think how long this system has been in place, slugging out millions of calls day in and day out. Did I say “Amazing” already? Simply AMAZING! There, I said it again, all in CAPS too.

And on that point I should, in fairness, point out that about 95% of my Skype calls fail (as in disconnect) somewhere after 14 minutes. Sometimes, most times, almost exactly at 15 minutes. It is almost (must be) like they do it on purpose. Which really sucks because this is when you most do NOT want the call to fail because it is a pain in the ass call that has taken this much time in the first place and you are not done with it or you would have hung up the phone yourself if you were, but you are not, and then you (usually) have to call back and start over again, and the call will take forever again, and you will be dropped again. What a pain in the ass.

Maybe the best feature of Skype calling is all of your Contacts are in the cloud which is a fancy (and stupid) way to convey that if you use Skype on one computer to call folks the same numbers show up on every computer that you use Skype on. How cool is that? Want to have everybody’s number handy? Add them to Skype and use Skype to call them. Their numbers follow you wherever you go!

So…the long and short of it is Skype calling is awesome, even if it isn’t perfect – which it isn’t – even close to being. One of the biggest things I don’t understand is why you can’t ask the Skype program to dial a number a certain number of times. So if the number you call is busy you don’t have to manually call them again, and again, until it isn’t, busy.

Getting back to the point of this blog, last week your humble blogger was calling a certain insurance provider I won’t name in a certain state which I will not name (Medicaid in Florida). No matter when you call them on whatever day you call them the message is (and I’m not kidding about this)…”We are sorry. We are busy. We can’t answer your call. Call back later”. That’s right – my tax dollars, and every other Floridians, hard (not) at work. They don’t tell you how long you have to wait. They don’t take a message. Aren’t answering machines fairly cheap these days? Nope. Instead they suggest you to call back. And whenever you do they tell you to again. And again. And again. Monday through Friday. 8 to 5. Just like Dolly’s song.

Truth be told, after several days of calling, non-stop, from 8AM to 5PM, with God on your side (preferably the right side), you might actually get through, and then you are put on hold for a wad of time. Which sadly is precisely when Skype will disconnect your call without your permission. Arggg. I had another point there but the shear emotion from having this happen so many times, coupled with the aggravation of having to call for days and days to get the Florida Medicaid answers that I so need, my mind has clouded and I’ve forgotten the point I was making. So I’ll make another.

NOTE: I’m calling Medicaid, in Florida, because I’m looking at 10K worth of hospital bills because my son decided to fall off the playground equipment at his pre-kindergarten head first, bouncing down the ladder, one rung at a time, opening a two inch whole in his forehead (you could see the head bone), exposing his collar bone, scraping skin off his body all the way from his noggin to his buttocks. On the way bright side, he could easily have paralyzed and/or killed himself, so I take the whole calling non-stop with a little, bitty, teeny, weenie, tiny grain of salt. It is amazing how close we are to death every day.

So … Necessity being the mother of all inventions I created a simple, no frills, auto dialer for Skype. Like Skype it is far from perfect but it did what I needed and that is what counted. It only works on PCs because, well, I’m using a PC with Skype to make my calls. It isn’t pretty and it can definitely hose up because it uses a method called “SendKeys” which is so simple it just plays back keys like you are pressing them on the keyboard.

Which means if you are on your desktop (not in Skype) when you start it “playing” all hell can break lose. It can wreak havoc on you and your computer. If you happen to bring up another program while it is running the keystrokes to dial Skype slam right into the program that is “active” and cause it to do whatever those keystrokes do in that program.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Seriously…

DON’T SAY I DID NOT WARN YOU. I DID! YOU ARE WARNED. FOREWARNED EVEN. DUELY WARNED NO LESS. USE IT KNOWING IT CAN HAVE DISASTROUS AFFECTS.

USE IT OR DON’T USE IT. THAT IS THE QUESTION. IT IS YOUR DECISION IF YOU DO. I’M NOT FORCING YOU AND I WON’T BE RESPONSIBLE IF YOU DO. GOT IT?

I AM NOT LIABLE IN ANY WAY. ESPECIALLY IF YOU RUN IT IN A MANNER IT SHOULD NOT BE RUN.

KEEP IN MIND I’VE SCREWED UP AND BROUGHT UP PROGRAMS WHILE IT WAS RUNNING MYSELF. IT HAS TYPED STUFF RIGHT ON TOP OF ITSELF, RIGHT INTO NOTEPAD, THE PROGRAM I USED TO AUTHOR THE SOFTWARE. IF I CAN SCREW UP AND HAVE IT TRASH WHAT I’M WORKING ON (WHILE I’M WORKING ON THE PROGRAM ITSELF) YOU CAN TOO.

Keep in mind even I, the creator of the program, have screwed up and run the program when I shouldn’t have. In fact, I’ve opened NOTEPAD while it was running (the program I used to create the program) and it typed its keystrokes right into NOTEPAD, right on top of itself, inserting characters into the text of the program. If I can screw it up myself you can too, so be careful.

So here is a link to my little Skype auto dialer (really redialer). Actually I’m not going to provide a link. Could this be because of liability? You betcha. Instead I will provide it here, where you can just copy it and paste it into a file to run it. I know. This is pretty ghetto but it gives me a chance to show you just how simple it is, and therefore elegant. No compiling. Just cut and paste into a text file and run it. WOW. You can see the code and create the file and it will dial Skype for you. HOW COOL IS THAT? And, maybe, just maybe, if you have to knowingly cut and paste it to create a working version of the program on your computer it will be easier to defend against anyone trying to sue me because they didn’t understand it could have negative consequences if you don’t use it according to my instructions.

So here it is (as soon as I paste it here which will probably be tomorrow because it is my injured son’s bed time and I have to read another chapter of Nancy Drew to him). So sorry…if you are reading this right now (which won’t really be “right now” my time) you will just have to wait and come back tomorrow when I have had the time to paste it here.

To be continued…tomorrow : )

Well here it is, tomorrow, at least here where I am, but not so where you are probably. As I promised, here is the code that drives Skype to dial, and dial, and dial. Well actually only to dial as many times as you ask it to dial. It cleverly prompts you for the number of times you which it to dial.

Real quick: Here is the user manual. Okay so it isn’t really a user manual, as such, more like a bad “Quick Start” document. It leaves out a lot, and doesn’t dive in to much. Suffice to say this program is more a starting point for someone than a finished product, although it does do as described, which is make Skype calls.

There are a couple of caveats – so pay attention if you intend to use this. In the first place this file is a .vbs file, which means it is a Visual Basic Script. A script is just another name for a program. It is like a batch job from the days of DOS. A down and dirty way just to get things done that doesn’t require the typical things a program usually does, like a development environment with a compiler that outputs a binary format (like an .EXE) to run on your computer. Still it is no less a program than one written in C, or FORTRAN. Does anybody write in FORTRAN any more?

The benefit of using a Visual Basic script is it is very easy to just type in code and run it, but very powerful in that you can do almost anything you can in a full fledge programming environment/language. This is because the VB script calls other Window’s functions that are very, very powerful. A script is typically thought of as a single purpose, quick, short, program that someone uses for administrative purposes, like getting the IP addresses from each of the computers in a business.

Normally to do this one would have to go to each computer, log in, and run a command at a command line to determine the PC’s IP address. There are other ways to do this but administrators don’t really want to walk around to every computer, and log in, and run a command. It makes them look low-tech. And folks see them and talk smack to them about why their computer is so slow, and why they are not allowed to look at the sites they want to at work, and how to get rid of the thing where Word brings up documents they open from Outlook in a hard to see “reading view” all of a sudden.

But scripts are available to do this kind of stuff, and other stuff, really quickly and easily. No programming required. That’s a lie. Of course no matter how small, or if you call it a script and not a program, if it makes your computer do something on its own, it is a program (and any script is really just a program, really). Being a VBS script just means it is a readable text file that “calls” on other parts of Microsoft’s Windows program to do things it needs to do.

So how do you use this “code”, “script”, “program”? You select it right here from the screen and place it in a text file, and save it with a name that whose extension is “.VBS”. If it were me I’d select it from this screen, bring up Notepad (type Notepad at the RUN, or Search, command just above the Start menu), and paste the code right into the blank Notepad document. Then save it to your desktop because it will be easy to find again. And don’t forget to save the file with an extension of “.vbs”. This is critical because it tells Windows what kind of file you are running so it knows what to do with it.

Once you have pasted it into Notepad and saved it to your desktop with a name ending with “.VBS” (or .vbs), you just have to click on it to run it.

Oh yeah. You should add the contact name and number of the place/person you wish to call. The first section of the program uses the contact name to find the contact, and the related telephone number. You could just as easily, maybe more easily, just include the number right in the program, but I didn’t for some reason that I probably thought through once but have forgotten now. So don’t forget to add the contact and then change the code to have that contact name in it.

It is easiest to run Skype first and then click on Skype to activate it. As soon as the program sees that Skype is running it will start to “push” the keystrokes you have programmed it to replay into the Skype program causing it to dial the numbers you have programmed it to dial. If you hear a person answer you tell it to quit running and talk to the person on Skype. If you hear a busy signal, or no answer, you tell the program to dial again, or you enter “quit” for it to stop dialing.

So, when you start the script, you should start Skype, or click on it in the toolbar, and sit back while the program does it thing. If you interrupt it the program won’t care, and it will continue to try and dial Skype (by typing the commands Skype uses to dial) until it reaches the number of times you have told it to dial. It is not very forgiving because of the nature of the beast – you want it to dial automatically so if you kept throwing questions up on the screen the user had to answer, well then, it wouldn’t really be automatic. And if it isn’t very automatic why now just dial the numbers with Skype like usual and skip the whole “auto” part period.

I think I quickly hit on everything there…copy the text from the screen, place it in a text file (you could paste it into a MS Word document and save it as a text file too), and then click on it. And yes I’m over simplifying it because if you take the program exactly the way I wrote it the program would use Skype to dial the Medicaid hotline in Florida, type in my SSN, and my birth date, and I probably don’t want to give you those details…nor would you want to access my Medicaid account. That might screw things up even more so than my own state of Florida can screw it up. So you are going to need to change the way it works to dial the numbers you want it to dial, and then type in the right keys for whatever it is you want to do.

This program calls the Medicaid number based on finding the Medicaid number in my contact list. It doesn’t have to be done that way I just wanted it to work for me, and I had already added the Medicaid Hotline number into my Skype contact list, so the program types in the name of the contact (the first part of it actually) and not the entire telephone number it has to dial. Maybe I will change it before I post it so you don’t have to set up a contact for whomever you Skype to autodial. I also won’t leave my SSN or my birth date in the program – you will have to come up with your own.

Clearly this is very specific to Florida, but this code works here, and did what I needed it to do. If you want it to call someone else, you will have to remove where I have the number for Medicaid (or not) and change my SSN to your own, and you would have to decide what other options you need your code to answer, or select, when the automated attendant answers the phone. PS. I have not used this same code to dial dirt bags just to harass them. I wouldn’t do anything like that. No kidding. I wouldn’t.

So change the telephone number it is dialing. When you run it a prompt for how many times to dial comes up. If you tell it to dial again it will, if you give it anything else it will stop in its tracks – which is a good thing.

Okay….here it is….I think I’ve given you everything you need to run this. The code is not well documented but just looking at it will give you the information you need it to change the code to do what you want, which may or may not be to call Medicare constantly until you get an answer. Since I’m posting it here I might even go in and make it better, easier, since I only had a very specific thing I had to do during my phone call, and they probably are not right for your situation. In any case not much looking at the code will let you see what you need to change. Some of this is trial and error. When I first started the code I dialed the number I wanted, and then wrote down the exact keystrokes I needed the program to type in for me to do exactly what I needed the program to do for me. Your code will not look exactly like mine. It better not anyway.

So, without further ado, here is the not-very-well-documented-code:
———————————————————————————
Option Explicit ‘ just makes you have to define all your variables first

Dim objShell
Dim Success
Dim x
Dim strContact
Dim strAnswer
Dim intTimes
Dim i

Set objShell = WScript.CreateObject(“WScript.Shell”) ‘ don’t ax what this does : )

strContact = “DCF Access Info” ‘note this is the contact name you want to call
‘You probably don’t really want to call the DCF Access Info line like I did so…
‘change this to the name of the contact you have previously added to your Skype
‘contact list. Otherwise it won’t work. BTW: You could change the program to
‘not do this, but instead just enter the number directly. But I didn’t – so you
‘would have to modify the program to work like this.
‘But, hey, if you are also trying to get ahold of Medicaid in Florida – add a contact name just like what you see with their number and you will be in fat city.

Do While x = 0
intTimes = InputBox (“Please enter how many times to redial:”,”Redial Skype Contact”)
If intTimes = “” Then
Wscript.Echo “You must enter a contact name (or type “”quit”" to quit).”
Else
If intTimes = “quit” Then
Wscript.Echo “Quitting”
Exit Do
else
‘Wscript.Echo intTimes
Exit Do
end if
End If
Loop

Wscript.Echo “Please activate the Skype™ program now.” ‘ click Skype to active it
wscript.Sleep 1000 ‘ this just causes the program to wait 1 second…just in case

‘the following checks to see Skype is activated…which it should really do before
‘typing anything in … but I was lazy and knew I wasn’t going to screw up – hah!

Do Until Success = True
Success = objShell.AppActivate(“Skype™”)
Wscript.Sleep 1000
Loop

objShell.SendKeys “%1″ ‘open Contacts tab
wscript.Sleep 1000

objShell.SendKeys strContact ‘search for contact to contact
wscript.Sleep 500

objShell.SendKeys “{DOWN}” ‘select the contact returned from the search above
wscript.Sleep 500

objShell.SendKeys ” ” ‘activate the contact that was selected above

For i = 1 to intTimes ‘ the meat of the program…this places the call and waits
‘note here that this is not just dial a phone number – this is actually using the
‘Skype dial pad (which flat out doesn’t work about 25% of the time) to select the
‘right options and enter information specific to my calling needs. In fact, in
‘my case (calling DCF) it requests I input my SSN and my birthdate even before it
‘tries to connect me. Which is really lame because then you are forced to input
‘this stuff (first) before it transfers you to the message that they can’t be
‘bothered answering your phone call right now. Note I have cleverly not left my
‘SSN and birth date here for you. I’ve put in a somewhat random SSN and birth date
‘which hopefully isn’t really valid – so you won’t have DCF coming to your door
‘if you forget to change this and try to access someone else’s data – which you
‘could.

wscript.Sleep 1000 ‘ wait 1 second
objShell.SendKeys “%A” ‘open the Call Menu
objShell.SendKeys “C” ‘place the call

objShell.SendKeys “%A” ‘open the Call Menu
objShell.SendKeys “M” ‘mute the microphone

objShell.SendKeys “%A” ‘open the Call Menu
objShell.SendKeys “S” ‘ show dial pad

wscript.sleep 35000 ‘wait 35 seconds to wait for the SSN and Birthday prompts

objShell.SendKeys “1″ ‘press #s ‘ this is typing in fake SSN of 111-22-3333
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “1″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “1″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “2″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “2″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “3″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “3″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “3″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “3″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 14000 ‘wait 14

objShell.SendKeys “1″ ‘press #s ‘this is typing in fake birthday of 12/12/2012
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “2″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “1″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “2″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “2″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “0″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “1″ ‘press #s
wscript.sleep 500 ‘wait 1/2
objShell.SendKeys “2″ ‘press #s
wscript.Sleep 10000 ‘ wait 10

Do While x = 0
strAnswer = InputBox (“Press “”t”" to talk, anything else to redial”,”Redial Skype Contact”)
If strAnswer = “t” Then
objShell.SendKeys “%A” ‘open the Call Menu
objShell.SendKeys “M” ‘unmute
Wscript.Echo “Talk away!”
wscript.Sleep 2000
Exit For
Else
objShell.SendKeys “%A” ‘open the Call Menu
objShell.SendKeys “N” ‘hang up
Exit Do
End If
Loop
Next

——————————————————————————-

So there it is in all its gory, err, glory I mean. Remember it is dialing a number and answering the prompts for SSN and birthday, which you won’t need if you
aren’t dialing the same place I needed to. Just for you, and by “you” I mean “you”, the reader of this blog, I will include a virgin of this that just calls a number and doesn’t use the dial pad to enter other stuff. In fact I will put it right here:

——————————————————————————-

Soon : )

——————————————————————————-

Don’t forget to add the contact name you want to call, and to change the program at the beginning to have this contact. And PLEASE DO NOT FORGET if you change to another program while it is running it will type commands right into this program which can have disastrous affects on your computer’s health and well being.

Once you look at this code you see how simple it really is and how powerful it really is. If you want to know more about it google “VB Script” and look at the Microsoft information about it. You can look at other sites – but let the browser beware of course since some of the sites that come up in the search likely could be evil and bad people out to harm you and your computer.

Don’t say I didn’t warm you : )

Scott

Everybody Loves (to hate) Microsoft : (

I just went to my WordPress Dashboard and received a message telling me that my browser is “insecure”. Hmmmm.

Is it just me or does it seem odd the fine folks at WordPress are complaining about my Microsoft browser problems?  Do they check every browser’s version?  Aren’t all browser’s inherently unsafe because they are a portal unto loathsome people with domain names and websites that would like nothing better than to install evil software on your computer to do you harm?  The answer to that question is “YES” btw. So are they trying to be helpful, or hurtful? Do they just dislike Microsoft? That’s my question and my guess.

Worse than simply bitching about Microsoft’s lack of programming ability, the nice people at WordPress are simply wrong in this case.  Below is their helpful warning message telling me I have an “insecure” version of Internet Explorer. (Wouldn’t that be unsecure since I’m thinking software can’t really have traits like a human).  My About dialog confirms my version is version 9 – the current version from Microsoft – at least it was at the time of this bloviating.

This is the version of my Internet ExploderNo help at all!

If I believed their warning and took the action they encourage … woe would be me.  I would click on the link they so handily provided which would in turn take me and my supposed old, stale, stank, stagnant, error ridden browser to the Microsoft Internet Explorer website.  Then if I could actually figure out how (it is clear as mud) I would install Version 9 - the same one I already have.  And this could very likely totally and completely scrog up my PC.

NOTE: I didn’t do this because I’ve seen this issue way too many times – and it never turns out good.  Why? Running the installation for software which is already installed will either fix the problem (low chance) or screw things up hopelessly (much better chance).  OF COURSE…In all cases any software SHOULD warn you if you already have the same software installed before it lets you run the install, right?  Or if you are about to install an older version (always bad) the software SHOULD stop you before it does anything catastrophic, right?  At a bare minimum it SHOULD tell you what you are doing is going to screw up your PC, right?  And I SHOULD be a billionaire, right?

Keep in mind I like most folks have the Windows Update feature turned on and if Microsoft doesn’t think I need to do anything with Internet Explorer right now I would be ill advised to do so.  Realize if I did take heed of the WordPress warning and successfully install a new version of IE, before my normally scheduled Microsoft Update would do so, what then?  Trust me on this one.  It is best not to do this. Far better to be “insecure” until such time as the creators of the Windows Update beast decide to tame another rogue bit (pun intended) of it – with their tool expressly made to do that – namely, Windows Update.

Painful experiences with the monster that is ‘Windows Update’ haunt me to this very day (and night).  ‘Windows Update’ is one finicky piece o’ software.  It would prefer to do everything itself and the truth is I put on white gloves and cross myself before I hit the Update button.  Truth is I ALWAYS reboot my PC first and I never run any software before I perform the updates.  This is because for a long time the most likely chance of screwing up a perfectly working PC was doing the very updates Microsoft foists on you.  It is not as bad now, maybe, but it is best not to treat ‘Windows Update’ poorly.  Because it could turn out badly – very badly indeed!  Just let it do what it wants and don’t help things along, aka, don’t apply what are known as “Hot Fixes” – they can burn you!

If I wasn’t so sure of myself I’d try it on the PC I’m using right now just to see what happens.  No way, Jose, am I gonna do that.  Doing so could easily toast the Windows Update functionality itself.  When ‘Updates’ go bad sometimes the only thing that will fix the problem is … wait for it … REBUILDING THE PC FROM SCRATCH.  Why?  Because when you can’t update your PC it becomes (over time) a veritable sucking wound for evil virus and Trojan on the Internet.  And when new versions of software are released … you can’t use them because they require low level software that is brought to you by Windows Update. If it doesn’t work you can’t get the newer low level software installed thus you can’t use the latest and greatest software that requires it. Did that make sense?

For the record I’ve seen this happen in real life (as opposed to unreal life) countless times – at the time of this writing at least 50 times. Windows Update renders the update system itself unable to update the system any more, due to no fault of the operator, or anyone.

Ok. Ya got me there! No one’s fault except of course the damn programmers at Microsoft whose fault it is : )

To be fair, and to get back to the original point of this post, which I think was why the heck WordPress folks would be checking the specific version of any browser I’m using, and my suspicion they are not checking all versions of all browsers (remember that?), I would like to mention their own WordPress editor I’m using to type in this blog keeps randomly moving the insertion point (the cursor) up about 3 or 4 paragraphs to a part of the blog I’ve already written and am perfectly happy with. Truthfully I’m never perfectly happy with anything – but that is a way different subject – not to be discussed herewith.

Maybe the issue is not poorly written software. Maybe the WordPress programmers are much smarter than I think and the editor is trying to get me to change something up there that just isn’t right. But it would be much more straight forward if they would just put up an error message like “Hey Scott. We don’t like the way you put that idea in this post. We are now going to move your cursor without your okay (over and over again so you can barely write anything new) so you will correct your terribly deficient manner of conveying your thoughts. Signed, The friendly folks at WordPress.”

Maybe instead of complaining about Microsoft (which anyone can do and not be wrong) they could concentrate on making their editor not jump around aimlessly while people try to use it. Maybe.

Troubleshooting: A Form of Art!

I used to say ‘the ability to troubleshoot separates the men from the boys’ and every time I did I caught flak from the female staff.  So now I say ‘troubleshooting separates the experts from the hacks’.  I also say ‘What the heck is ‘flak‘ and why would anyone want to catch it?’

Seriously being able to troubleshoot hardware and software is an art form.  I read every bit of information about it, listen to every webcast, and am generally obsessed with being a great troubleshooter.  In fact I love troubleshooting because it forces me to think hard.  I am so sick I harm perfectly working computers just to see what it makes them do.  I’m not kidding. 

Look at all those extra parts!

I'm a capacitor and I'm on the right at the front

I recently yanked a capacitor (the big thing at the front right of the picture) clean off this video card just to see what Windows would say about it.  To say I was surprised is an understatement because the poor PC I picked on worked without a hitch.  It booted up fine, I created some files, I edited some documents,  sent some email, and I even surfed the web.  It didn’t even blink.  What it did do was show me my favorite screen of all time – the notorious “Blue Screen of Death” – after it sat on the test bench all by its lonesome for several hours.  Not exactly what I expected.

Now whenever I see a BSOD the first thing I do is check to see if the video board is missing any capacitors.  I’m kidding of course.  The truth is I now know a failing capacitor, or any number of other components, might not cause an immediate problem, but more importantly, what kind of problem it can cause.  I now know a computer missing a capacitor can run for hours without any symptoms, only to fail later when it is quietly playing all by itself.

This type of knowledge is, like the American Express commercials profess, priceless.  It gives me a whole new appreciation for how PC hardware and software can interact.  And I would never have learned this unless I jammed my long nosed pliers into a wholly working machine.    Note: I did pull the power cord before entering the unit with my tools.

BLOG SAFETY DISCLAIMER: Please don’t try this at home, or the office, or the home office for that matter. 

Coming soon to a web page near you: My Abbreviated Steps to Troubleshoot a Windows Based Computer.

As for the above…I tried doing it but the Internet ran out of disk space!  I’m not kidding.

THE “Cloud” IS NOT “New”

The “cloud” is old.  The “cloud” is a throwback to the way things used to be done.  The “cloud” is the most overused and misunderstood term.  The “cloud” is a stupid term used by CIOs and Sales people who are clueless as to its meaning or merit.  ‘Cloud’ is roughly analogous to ‘computing somewhere other than right next to you’.  Yes, it even sounds stupid!  Talk about marketing hype.  Oh em geez.

I cut my technology teeth on mainframe computers.  Giant IBM machines housed in raised floor, fiercely cold, fire protected, battery backed up, environments about the size of a football field.  The machines themselves were truck sized with countless peripherals nearly as big, as in ‘the-disk-drive-would-kill-you-if-it-tipped-over-on-you’ big.  This was “cloud” computing at its finest.  And it still exists.  And it still is – the finest.

Then came the Personal Computer (and the Mac) and the push to install a computer on every desk on the planet, even those that didn’t need one.  Yea, verily, this came to pass.  Its success really depends on who you are.  If you are Microsoft – success.  If you are a business – partial success.  If you are a PC support person – success and failure at the same time (this is complicated and brings tears to my eyes, so I won’t bore you with the tails – right now :  )

So the PC is effectively the anticloud – the antithesis of the cloud – polar opposites.  PCs on desktops are analogous to having many small clouds, little puffs of moisture if you will, all over the planet.  Does it make any sense that we started with huge clouds, moved to desktop mini-clouds, and, just when we have accomplished that, move back to huge clouds again?  I think not – at least not for everything – and at least not yet. 

Of course we could just waffle back and forth on this for centuries to come; whether to put computing power in one big place or in lots of little places.  Imagine if your phone didn’t really do anything but go to a website to do all the things you want to do with it.  They tried this and quickly realized folks in a tunnel and other non-phone-friendly environments didn’t care for it because their phones were rendered useless.

Obvious Example: What if you wanted to turn your phone’s camera’s light on to use it as a flashlight BUT to do this the software had to be loaded from the Internet AND you didn’t have Internet access?  No flashlight function.  Thus, if the CLOUD isn’t UP you are DOWN, whether it is your phone, the office systems you rely on daily to do business, your email you can’t be without, etc.  Down.  Is in: can’t do business, can’t operate.  And try to call someone who cares.  Ha.

Clouds are as old as the hills.  Actually much older considering clouds preceded plate tectonics.  Unless you are in dire need of water, clouds are actually not really good - so maybe the name is descriptive in that sense.  Think rain clouds, storm clouds, whole bunches of swirling dark clouds, hurricanes.

Don’t forget dust clouds. 

File:I-5 Dust Storm in 8 Seconds.jpg

Above picture obtained from Wiki at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:I-5_Dust_Storm_in_8_Seconds.jpg

Geek Squad? More Like Death Squad!

Geek Squad

A client of mine purchased an ASUS PC from Best Buy the other day.  Technically they were not my client before they purchased it and they were not my client after I fixed it – but that is another story (and a sad story for me). 

This story will be short and sweet, comparatively speaking, say to the Bible.  Person calls me and asks me to come take a look at their office/business setup.  It was an investment firm with 3 women and 3 computers.  They had very specific software they had been using for a while and were having some serious problems.  They had an old failing PC and had bought the new to replace it.  Another person had set up the PC and loaded all the software.  It was failing left and right.  I was asked to make everything right.

This is pretty standard: Scott can you come over and fix everything because the guy we hired (spelled cheap labor) has botched up the job.  The tough part is I can’t possibly know what evil and bad things “cheap labor” did prior to my engagement.  I can guess what might have been done to cause the problems, but I’d be guessing.  Truth is there are an unlimited number of possibilities, and not being a time traveler, sorcerer, or psychic, I can’t possibly know what has screwed up a machine.  This doesn’t mean I can’t fix it certainly, but it does mean it will be more difficult, thus more time consuming, thus more expensive.  How many times have I heard “But it is a brand new computer”?

This is the ultimate no-win situation: try to help someone with a new computer that is screwed up.  Why everyone knows computers spring out of their cardboard boxes onto your desk, duh, already turned on and ready to work.  Okay.  That’s a lie but it is what many non-technical folks believe. 

It follows then these same folks would have no clue why you would bill them for unboxing their PC, the monitor, keyboard, mouse, UPS, etc., setting up the hardware, connecting everything, turning it on, and going through the process of setting up Windows, the networking, the millions of Windows updates, activating software (like Office, Adobe, DVD software, etc.), updating Office, Adobe Reader or Acrobat, registering/configuring antivirus-type software, etc. etc. 

These folks also believe the new computer comes complete with all of their old email, contacts, signature blocks (think Outlook).  Plus it already has all of their files on it, their pictures, everything they have stored on their desktop, their QuickBooks companies, etcetera, etcetera.  Furthermore the vendor has placed all of these files in exactly the right place before placing the computer into the cardboard box so when it is opened they won’t even know they are using a new computer, except for the fact that the thing is no longer dusty as hell.

To pull a machine out of a box and set it up is sort of trivial, but it does take some number of minutes.  Just untwisting the stupid twist ties on all the wires is a 10 minute job.  When you replace an old PC with a new one you you have to remove the old one and put it somewhere else.  Again, trivial, but it takes time – real time.  Time I charge for. 

To get files off an old PC is never trivial (caveat: when done correctly and completely).  If someone needs their Outlook email a la contacts, their old files, their old pictures, all the stuff on their desktop, their music, the favorites, their Quicken files, etc. etc. this is more an art than a process.  This takes time.  And it is no fun because folks squirrel stuff away in the oddest places.  If you want Outlook to fill in a name as you are typing it on the TO: line you have to find and copy the OUTLOOK.NK2 file from the old PC to somewhere, then copy it back to the new PC, putting it in the only location that will make it work.  Just this effort alone can take literally hours.

So an hour or two to set up a PC and an hour or two to make it work like the one it is replacing.  “Four hours!  It is a brand new PC!  All you had to do was take it out of the box!  I could have done that part for you and been done!”  How many times have I heard that?  My answer is a question: “Why then did you call me to drive here to do it for you?”  You can’t win for losing in this business.  Really.  And I’m trustworthy, worthy of trust, and I’m going to do what needs to get done in the fastest possible amount of time.  Sadly many clients feel like after they spent their money on the new PC they are done; any additional charges are just fluff. 

Truth: If you set up a PC wrong, despite being new, it will be hosed for life.  This is true if you rebuild a PC wrong too.  I see a lot of PCs that have been “rebuilt”.  Unfortunately it isn’t enough to rebuild them with the Windows CD.  You have to add other things, important things called drivers, to the PC for it to operate as designed.  Frequently I see rebuilt PCs missing the driver for the motherboard.  This causes the PC to run at about a 1/2 speed.  The PC is working, it is rebuilt, but it acts like it has been hit with a slow stick.  One stupid mistake and it runs like crap – forever. 

So back to the short and sweet story.  I look at the problems the client is having and perform the steps I think will remedy the situation.  They don’t.  The PC continues to have problems.  I look at other things that could be happening.  Since I have no idea what others have done before me I keep an open mind as to what I am dealing with.  Problems continue to plague the PC.  The errors don’t seem to be related so I start thinking maybe the brand new ASUS PC is the issue.  People don’t like to hear their brand new PC is the problem.  Why it is brand new and new things always work, especially super complicated ones. 

I run some memory diagnostics.  They run flawlessly.  I run them again.  Goes clean through memory test after test but there is an unrelated error on the screen.  Finally I tell the client I think it is the hardware and even offer to take it back to Best Buy for them to try and get the problem resolved.  I give them the option to – they ask me to do it.  So there I am at Best Buy at the Geek Squad desk.  Nearly 10 minutes later I’m still there – no one is waiting on me.  I lean over so I can see if there are Geeks in the area and to my amazement there are – in fact they have been looking at me through two way glass all along.  I ask for service – someone comes around to help me.

A surly Squadder takes my PC, plugs it in, turns it on, and it boots it into Windows.  He turns and looks at me with disdain, and says, there is nothing wrong with your PC.  I asked him how he knew that and with a exhaustive sigh he points to the monitor showing the PC has in fact booted.  I said the problem is not that the PC won’t boot it is that the PC behaves erratically – blue screening at seemingly random times.  He said that was a software problem – the hardware is fine.  I told him I thought the problem was related to memory.  He scoffed saying it was a brand new PC (as if the new memory was incapable to failing).  I asked him if it was under warranty and he again scoffed saying I hadn’t opted for a real warranty so all I had was the manufacturer’s warranty.  I pointed out that it was less than 3 weeks old and that I wanted to send it back to ASUS for repair. 

He explained the process to me.  He said I could drop it off and he would send it out for repair.  It would go to a Best Buy depot somewhere.  Then in two weeks it would be sent from there to the ASUS depot.  Then it would take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks to get repaired.  Then another week to get to the Best Buy depot and then another week or two to get back to me.  Quickly adding up the delays it appeared I might not see the PC (that just needed new memory) for another month and a half or more.  I contacted my client and let them decide.  They didn’t have another PC to use.  I said I thought it was memory and could pull a chip out and see if it starts working better (a 50/50 chance I pull the non-working chip of course).  They opted to go this route. 

I let the guy know my client didn’t want to send the PC back under warranty.  I asked him if they had the right kind of memory for my PC, and if I could buy it.  He said, “no”.  I asked him if Best Buy had the same kind of memory.  He said he didn’t know.  Then he looked at the PC, looked at the screen showing the Windows desktop, looked at me, and yanked the plug out of the wall by the cord.  In my line of work we call that “a crash”.  I asked the “Tech” if he was aware he had just pulled the plug out while the PC was running.  He said, “Did I?  My mistake!”  I suggested the Geek Squad might have some basic technical training that would cover very basic concepts like how to power down a computer without crashing it.  I explained to him irreversible damage can be done to Windows based computers when you don’t use the Windows options for shutting them down.  I am fairly certain he knew this already.  What an ass!

I took the PC back to my client’s office, opened it, pulled one of two chips, closed it up, set the PC back up again, and connected everything to it.  I explained what I had done, that I might have gotten lucky and pulled the right chip, or not.  If it continued to fail I would come back and swap the two sticks.  I didn’t hear back from the client for weeks.  In my business this means they are having no problems but just the same I called.  I was told the PC was working fine and was asked to bring back their PC Problem Log Book – an inexpensive spiral bound yellow notebook that I had asked them to record the various problems they were having in.

During the whole repair process I had told the client she should have purchased a PC from Dell, rather than what might be the cheapest (costwise) PC to operate her business with.  She agreed.  I spent some time working with Dell and my client to get them all the right options – at least two hours of back and forth calls and emails.  My client wanted to use this PC as the business PC and to fix the ASUS and use it as a backup.  I sent an invoice for the time I had spent trying to fix the problem.  I didn’t charge for taking it to Best Buy for example, in fact I only charged 4 hours for at least 10 hours I had spent.

She got the invoice but then didn’t pay it for a while.  When I called she said she thought it had been paid, and asked if there were any further charges at this point.  She asked me for a detailed analysis of how much time it was going to take to install the new Dell.  I had worked with her and her staff to buy the Dell computer for hours and I mentioned this, and that there was probably was another hours time outstanding at this point.  She never talked to me again.  No explanation.  No nothing.

Now I know I know my line of work.  And I know I’m good at it.  I might not be the best in the world but I’m better than most.  I’m not being conceited.  I’ve been in this profession for a long time and I’ve met a lot of others in it.  I’m not an asshole.  I’m not rude.  I’m not hard to talk to or hard to understand.  Why would a perfectly nice person running a reputable business decide not to use me after I fix a super hard to fix issue for her?  I don’t know but I suspect it is because she had to pay to get a new PC to work.  Maybe because I wanted to charge her for my time to buy the new Dell PC.  Maybe because I didn’t return the PC Problem Log notebook that they didn’t need to use any longer.  I don’t know and I’ve thought about asking the client directly, but I haven’t.  I don’t like rejection.  And I certainly don’t want to hear about it after I’ve done a stellar job, been polite about it, gone way above the call of duty, and not charged the full amount.

In the end not much of this was about the Geek Squad.  It is outrageous for any support person to knowingly pull the plug on a running PC.  If you have done any time with Windows you know it can completely scrog up a machine.  He knew this and pulled the plug to be a jerk.  I spoke to the Best Buy manager about it.  The manager said he was helpless because GS was an entity unto itself and he had no control over it.  I doubt most Best Buy customers know this.  When they get crappy help from Geek Squalor it reflects poorly on Best Buy.  Sadly I don’t think BB is super concerned about image or they would answer their phones when they ring – and ring – and ring – and ring.

 

HP Paper: All your HP printer needs – to work properly.

I called HP the other day.  They told me the reason my printer wasn’t working was because I wasn’t using HP paper.  I’m not lying.  Flat out.  The tech support person said “HP’s sensor’s are so sensitive they can detect paper that isn’t within spec”.  As if it was a good thing.  I said “If the printer can’t print on anything but HP paper should it say so on the box somewhere?”  He said he wasn’t sure it wasn’t.  I said “I’m looking at the box and have checked all 6 sides.  It does not say anywhere you must use HP paper for it to operate properly.” 

Great printer - assuming you have genuine HP paper, aka, God's gift to mankind!

He said it he was aware that it wouldn’t print with some off-brand paper, and he mentioned “Office Depot” by name.  I mentioned that was funny because I had taken the paper for the printer out of a package that said “Office Depot”.  He asked if we had any HP paper.  I said we bought a ream of off-brand Office Depot paper and typically only bought more paper after we ran out, which it didn’t look like we ever would with this HP printer.  I told him the paper was purchased while buying the printer at Office Depot because it was cheaper than the HP paper.  I mentioned that many people probably buy the cheaper Office Depot brand paper and then get back to their office with the HP printer and it won’t print”.  He said, “Well you can always call us.”  Apparently HP is okay with customers having to call them before they can get their new printer to work?  After they buy their HP paper.

What he already knew from my case number was that I was calling him after having just received this printer back from HP as a replacement for another one.  I explained I was having the exact same symtoms the first printer exhibited.  My first support call had resulted in the return process.  Now on the phone again the technician told me I should first check the paper path was free from flotsum and jetsome.  I told him it had only printed 8 blank sheets of paper since it had been taken out of the box from HP (mind you I had already gone through these steps since they take only a few minutes – just in case).  But he was looking at the only think I saw on the HP website saying the light meant the paper path wasn’t clear.  It was – the light was wrong.

Then he asked me to tell him what message was being displayed on the front panel.  I asked him if he was the same person that had been on this support call with me all along.  He said “yes”.  I told him the printer has no front panel.  In fact it has only three complelely unlabeled buttons on its face.  He said “oh”.  I told him when I print a test page, or any page, a blank page shoots out, the right most unlabeled button blinks yellow, and the printer is taken offline (which incidentally means the very HP software that is supposed to monitor and diagnose the printer can’t even connect to the failing printer). 

He then asked if any buttons were blinking.  I told him, when I try to print a test page the printer spits out a blank sheet and then the rightmost button blinks yellow.  He then asked me if that was the only button blinking or if any other buttons were blinking.  I told him had other buttons blinked or turned on I would have said as much.  I was not a happy camper.

So he tells me the good news is the printer is so sophisticated it can tell if my paper isn’t exactly perfect to be printed on, and I should be happy to know my paper isn’t any good.  All I need is to use HP paper and the printer will work as expected.  Unhappy camper.  To prove this he has me put the printer into fast mode (he didn’t know the steps himself) and specify 11 x 17 (the size of the paper).  And shazam … the printer printed something.  He splained to me that the fast mode “bypassed” the sensors, thus why it printed okay.  He asked if there was anything else he could help me with.  I said “Wait.  You mean I can only print in fast mode, no high quality output.  He said with my paper.

I changed the mode back to normal and left the correct size paper selected – it printed.  “Doesn’t this prove the sensors just are not working, since it works so long as you tell it what size the paper is?”.  He reiterated how it was bypassing the sensors in fast mode.  I told him it was on Normal mode now.  So the sensor can’t sense the wide paper is wide so it won’t print on it until you tell it what size the paper is – now overriding the sensors really.  And this was the same problem the first printer had.  And I had been on the phone 40 minutes – cell phone minutes pissed away because HP’s printer can’t print on anything except HP paper. 

The tech was trying to help but at one point he kept asking me what setting I was using in Word.  I hadn’t used Word, nor would I with this printer, as it is to produce ‘Plan size’ or 11 x 17 inch AutoCAD drawings of buildings typically but he was insistent on knowing my printer preferences in Word.  Odd.  I explained I had done all my testing by using the Windows printer test which he did not seem to be familar with. 

So I was happy that the printer was printing once again – sort of.  Actually it wasn’t the brand new printer that I bought but a refurbished one technically.  And I wasted valuable time trying to get it to work, then on the phone with them trying to get it to work, then recieving the new one and unpacking and testing it (the test worked flawlessly albeit not as the instructions indicated), wasted more time packing up the first one to send back, hooking up the new one, trying to print on it – just to have the same problem.  Arggg.

 

 

HP: Great Hardware – Crappy Software – Useless Support

It is such a shame.  HP was the best.  Now it is marginal at best, selling off their computer lines, their phone and PDA products, their net books, I guess everything but their printers.  Admittedly I didn’t bother to read the whole press release.

HP once produced what can arguably called the best printer of all time: the HP LaserJet IIISi.  Here is a picture of it in all of its crowning glory.

Ugly but beautiful

Best printer of all time

This beast was a workhorse.  It produced a monochrome, 300 dpi page every 17 seconds (first page in 4).  The printer was released in March of 1991 and discontinued in April of 1993; a lifetime of hardly two years.  Which is impossible since I’ve seen literally hundreds of these printers in my lifetime.  This could only be if every business in the US had bought one during this short life span.

The HPLJ3Si was butt ugly and gave off noxious fumes, yet as a printer it was the pinnacle of reliability and ruggedness.  It ran (nay galloped) without complaint for years on end only occasionally asking anything for itself (toner).  If you did the recommended maintenance the printers literally would not die – and usually even if you didn’t.  I know of one which was alive and (printing) well in 2010 – nearly 20 years after it was made.  Can you say “They don’t make ‘em like that any more”?

My daughter just recently pitched an HP OfficeJet scanner/printer I bought for her only 8 months ago Christmas 2011.  The printer hadn’t printed but a few hundred pages, not even a ream, exclusively on HP paper (aka, God’s gift to mankind) when it started to eat paper – sideways.  I contacted HP and they said that it was a power problem.  Fortunately my daughter changed to Normal print mode and it started working fine.  Apparently the paper was being yanked in so fast in EconoFAST mode that it went crooked and jammed.  Then the printer quit working in Normal mode. 

Note: The only visible difference between Normal and EconoFAST modes is your hands in front of you replacing the ink cartridges at high speed.  Econo means: “Don’t buy ink all the time”.  It uses anywhere from 1/10 to 1/20 of the ink to produce what is definitely usable for all except the best output you output.  For this you must use “Best” mode (translate: Use gallons of ink to get modestly high quality if also printed on expensive paper).  Oddly Best mode is not best because Maximum dpi is best.  To me it would seem simpler if the modes were Modestly Good and Best (with Best being best).  BTW: There is also a Fast Normal mode which, with the naked eye (mine wear pants), is indistinguishable from EconoFast and Normal.

So when it quit printing the second time I was told, again, the power was bad by HP support.  When I pointed out it had worked for months in the same location the support person told me that was understandable because someone probably plugged in a new device, likely a refrigerator, on the same circuit, which is why it won’t print any longer.  That was the extent of their troubleshooting.  It was my daughter’s fault her new printer wouldn’t print.  The fact that there could not have been anything new on the circuit, like a refrigerator, was not part of the equation either, because the technician explained it could just be the house wiring was getting old.  I kid you knot – the suggestion was made to try her printer in another house.

But back to the old days of HP printers that wouldn’t die.  HP hardware was made for combat – the like of which was inflicted by normally docile office workers who hated their jobs and took their hatred out on the innocent printer.  You could pull springs and plastic parts out for months before it would fail.  It wasn’t exactly the fastest thing around but it could churn out two full reams of paper an hour, 16 a day, for days on end.  Without looking back.  Without even complaining.

But then HP software bloated and turned ugly.  HP has told me on more than one occasion that I should install the printer I want to work most last – BECAUSE it was the only one that was going to work any more (new installations ruining any existing HP installations).  Recently I had to uninstall some HP printer software because it wasn’t installed correctly.  What it did was fix the installation first and then uninstall it.  Why didn’t it just fix the installation and stop?  Why didn’t it just uninstall the botched installation?  Why?  Because somewhere someone at HP was an idiot.  I can’t even estimate what installing an HP printer will take now.  I’ve waited literally hours for HP software to install itself – and not work.

So how do you get rid of a faithful printer like the HP Laser IIIsi that won’t die (and coincidentally raise capital for HP)?  You quit making toner duh.  Check out this page on the HP site.  The jist of it: Your printer is old.  Buy a new HP.  Talk about lipstick on a pig: These print cartridges are used in HP LaserJet printers that were introduced up to 17 years ago and have provided our customers with many years of reliable operation. However with the advances HP has made in print performance and cost reductions, now is the ideal time to upgrade to a new HP LaserJet printer and realize the benefits and savings of HP’s new technologies. 

‘Ideal’ of course because you can’t get toner to use in your old one so it is useless and thus an ideal time to buy a new one if you want to print anything.   Look at all these printers HP is essentially “killing off” because they won’t make toner for them any longer.  And sure there might be third party toner for some of these but I always recommend my clients only use the real McCoy (HP toner that is).

Past its useful life?

If you can't buy toner you have a boat anchor

 

How cool is this?

Very Cool.  Autodesk sent out the new 2012 versions of their famous CAD products in colorful boxes containing bejewed memory sticks (my picture doesn’t do it justice) instead of the conventional CD or DVD.  If the software is half as cool as the media it is stored on I’m going to like it. 

Autodesk just did something fairly amazing.  They let folks with just standard releases of their products upgrade to the new “Suite” versions.  Anyone with a release of just Architectural, Civil, even their basic AutoCAD software (under Subscription) was allowed to upgrade the product to a suite with a whole lot more software- for zero cost, aka, free.  Pretty unheard of in the sofware business.

Here is an unassuming cardboard box.  Related Question: If you “unassume” does it mean it makes a non-ass out of you and me?  Hmmmm.  Anyway here is a great photo of a box whose dimensions are 8″ x 6″ x5″.  Small in size.  Large in capabilities (and cost).

Box o' Fun 

Here now behold the contents of the above box.  Feast your eyes on the beauty that is AutoCAD.  The wonder of its capability.  Unsurpassed it is.  Did you know that Pixar has used the AutoDesk software to create all of the Grammy Award winning movies?  Did you?  Well I didn’t but a salesperson from AutoDesk told me so.  I doubt she was lying.

 Good things come in small boxes.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but in this case the ‘pictured’ is worth about a bazillion dollars; let me add it up for you.  From top-left to bottom-right in the direction the hands of a clock revolve (when looking at it from the front): $4,295, $5,495, $5,495 (x2), $4,940 (x2), $5,495 (x2) or a whopping $41,650.  Expensive?  Yes.  Worth it?  Yes.

You just can’t do what this software can do without this software.  There are no great alternatives.  AutoDesk has been around for a long time and they are smart folks.  Keep in mind that the prices above are actually 1000s off the cost of the software that is bundled in these suites.  Also keep in mind if you had your software under the AutoDesk Annual Subscription program you were allowed to upgrade to these suites for no cost.  Amazing but true.  And true the subscription prices went up but only by a fraction; adding at most $150 per year to a subscription.  Well worth the price of admission.

 And finally a few shots of the bejeweled memory stick the software comes loaded on.  It has a regal red light to indicate I/O.  At precisely 11 each morning it serves tea and crumpets.

Bejeweled memory stick or software?

 

Hello world?

Everything a person does in life should rightfully begin with “Hello World” and this blog is certainly no exception.  Laymen and laywomen may not be familiar with the concept of “Hello World” so as my first blog post I will cover the concept in its entirety. 

Interesting Note: Many “Hello World”s are terminated with an exclamation point.  But not my “Hello World”s.  No.  Not even.  I terminate mine with a question mark just to be totally crazy.  Some programmers have been known to add smiley faces : )  Programmers with bad attitudes invariably and predictibly replace “Hello” with “Goodbye”.  To date I have never seen Hello World frowney face – it would be a contradiction.  Interesting?  You know it.

Anyway, “Hello World”, “Hello World!”, and its variations is a de facto standard in the technology field.  It seems like just a simple shout out to everyone on the planet.  But no.  It is much, much more than that.

Hello World is the programming symbol of success.  It is used as the most basic determinant something you were trying to do worked.  When you are trying out new technology and you see the text “Hello World” you know you are the bomb, your poop doesn’t stink, etcetera, etcetera.  Here is a simple example to make it as plain as day (an odd saying certainly since my days are anything but plain).

Let’s say you were trying to use Word Press for the first time in your life.  Well in order to use Word Press you have to install it first.  Since I’m hosting on GoDaddy, and GoDaddy automates a lot of the normal ugliness of things (like installing WordPress), I had the option of just clicking on a big green icon that said “Install Now” to install WordPress, now.

Programmer / technology types are manual types, meaning, if they have an option to click a friendly green button to do something verses doing it the long, hard way, they will usually choose the latter.  I looked over all the manual instructions and I could have have chosen to follow them to do the installation but in this case it looked like the button was the better option (plus I had other things I wanted to do today).  Therefore I pressed the big green button with my small white cursor to start the install process.  I was prompted for various things, like a name to give the WordPress site, a user name and password, where to install it, etc. and then off it went to perform all the manual steps I would have otherwise had to perform, manually.

After breakfast I received an email from GoDaddy saying my WordPress installation was complete.  Complete with a link to see my new blog site in all of its glory.  And guess what that big green button did.  It automagically added the first post to my new blogging site and entitled it, you guessed it, “Hello World!”.

Suffice to say “Hello World” has probably been printed out and displayed on screens more times than any other text in the whole wide world (what the “www” in a website actually stands for : )   Hmmm … what I say when I am thinking.  Having just written that, and then thought about it some more, it occurs to me “Error”, “Please wait” and, my favorite, “A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer” (aka the blue screen or black screen of death), have all been seen many more times than “Hello World”.  But “Hello World” is pretty darn near the top in any case.

NOTE: It is rumored (albeit hard to prove now) that when my own mother (God rest her soul) spat me out from her loins, instead of crying (like a baby) I instead exclaimed to the good doctor and staff “Hello World”.  I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that.

And now you know the whole concept behind “Hello World” in its entirety.  Aren’t you proud?  Don’t you feel more worldly (worldlier) than just a few minutes ago? 

And now I will end this first blog with, naturally, Hello World.