Thursday, 11 February 2010

Norton and Me


Late October 96 and I picked up a brand spanking new computer loaded with Windows 95 and Word Perfect for business use. First two items actually loaded: presents from Christmas, WarCraft and a Norton utilities program (cannot recall the version or name) for maintenance and anti-virus. Major annoyance was the periodic launch of an ‘imaging’ check on my system which caused the screen to go spasmodic - particularly brutal in the middle of an Orc campaign - eventually bringing the computer to its knees by way of freezing. So I became well versed in the ctrl+alt+del method of regaining control and restart.
At other times, some minor flickers - I assumed one of the Norton utilities was trying to call home but lack of an  internet connection just caused it to give up. Once online, however, the flicker ceased as I imagine the wee program could now upload my files for perusal to Symantec. Pretty uninteresting stuff at the time, mostly Quattro files. However the imaging got worse and no replies from my numerous pleas to head office somewhere in cyberspace. Finally tiring of the battle for control, I removed Norton by removing the folder, since it lacked a uninstall feature, and tossed it into the recycle bin for immediate disposal. Swore I would never use Norton again.
Kept that machine for 7 years without ever installing an anti-virus program and never had problems. Upgraded to a cheap used computer running Windows 2000 and an outdated copy of McAfee. Upgraded the system with memory, bigger hard drive and newer software and still no attacks or intrusions I was ever aware of.
When I purchased this latest machine loaded with Windows 7 and a free years worth of Norton 360 “all in one security’ , I figured what could go wrong!  Nothing for a month or so. Then mysteriously, the once weekly background scan suddenly began to occur every hour or so. Left alone it busied itself for ten minutes and shut down. Since it had a tenancy to annoy me, I opened the program and hit stop scan. Mistake! Computer froze.


Once up and running again I reopened the program and there on the screen in the upper right hand corner was a ’Help and Support’ button, so I hit it to see the menu. Clicked on ‘Get Support’ and waited for a download to occur to connect me directly to a faceless technician.  Since it seemed to be taking a rather longish time, I clicked the close button with no effect, but instantly recognized the computer had once again departed into freeze mode. Back to the ctrl+alt+del to access Task Manager and of course a “Norton is not responding’ message.  Lucky me I stopped trying this method of contact after the second shut down.
Instead I went online to the Norton 360 site to seek aid in rectifying my problem. Nice long form to fill out and eyestrain trying to type in the product key number - why so long and tricky?  A nice thank you popped up and a promise to reply back within 24 hours. Now back to business but the background scan pops into existence again and immediately freezes the system.
Ah! Why wait? Phone them direct on the 1-800 number and clear this mess up tout-de suite. Only a 30 minute (the screen with my incident number said the last customer only had to hold 1 minute) wait listening to weird music cutting in and out until I was on the line to India. Tried to explain the goings on, but a geek/non-geek conversation just went in circles. Better just to agree and then let the techie take over my machine. Then I got to watch for 90 minutes as the mouse flung itself everywhere, opening and closing files until I noticed Norton 360 being uninstalled. Then a 30 minute virus scan of the computer which came up empty and the re-install together with some ‘minor changes’ to the program without any explanation. Probably too technical for me anyways.
Once I resumed control all the glitches appeared to have been resolved and just to be positive I also brought up the Help and Support which connected without a hitch.Next day the techie called and I said everything is okie-dokie.

A week or ten days have  passed. Ever since the re-install by the techie, every time I start up in the AM the ‘Activate Norton Online Backup’  popup notice bounces on to my screen and I dutifully hit the ‘never remind me again’ button to no avail. Next morning follows in like Groundhog Day as the inquiring screen pops up again. Hey, just hit that help and support button, go directly to online help and check how to stop the malfunction. Unfortunately, the ‘loader is not responding’ scenario repeats itself and freezes the system. Shut down, start up and go online to Symantec/Norton, fill out the long form, type in the product key, hit submit, receive the thank you for contacting us and we will get back to you within 24 hours.
Poking about I did go into start up manager and there is a way to shut off  the ‘active backup’ pop up (I’ll wait until tomorrow to verify). Perhaps I’ll chat with my techie tomorrow.

Which reminds me, I always wonder what the Norton (or just fill in any competitors name) program does in the computer innards besides updating and scouring for evil viruses and malware. Maybe I should not entertain so much suspicion. After all, the great god ‘Google’ pontificates that if I have nothing to hide why should I worry needlessly about any Tom, Dick or Harry sniffing around my hard drive. Fortunately, my subscription still has 281 days to run giving me ample opportunity to find a replacement for Mr. Norton.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Sleeping Beauties


On reading this item, the salient factor to grab ones attention is the guinea pigs of the study - civil servants.  Is there a country in the western world where government employment does not rise at much quicker rate than general population growth?  By even instituting a 10% reduction in ‘work load’ per year, government mandarins or municipal state or county officials can bloat their departments and double their size in a decade. Which means, of course elected or appointed bureaucrats whine constantly of their heavy work loads and responsibilities which only pay raises and benefits can assuage. Ditto for their underlings to keep them both quiet and complacent.

So a sharp reasoning group of scientific investigators - taking advantage of generous grant funds from the same governments - reaches the startling conclusion that sitting about all day on ones butt leads not only to boredom, but a possibility of an earlier death. Plenty of other studies, finished and published, also have discovered the identical conclusion. Slumping in a chair all day, wolfing down coke and doughnuts, has a detrimental effect on your health leading to obesity, medical complications and more chance of a truncated lifespan.
At the rate we’re going in another couple of decades, everyone will be on some level of government payroll with nobody left in the general population.  At last, we will have achieved the perfect bureaucracy - all systems functioning smoothly with nary a public soul to create day-to-day problems and foul up the machinery of government. And the added benefit will be lowered life expectancy. No more worries concerning increasing old age medical costs or unfunded pension liabilities.
Gee! An easy answer to over population, climate change, war plus numerous other difficulties facing the world - or to be less egocentric, humankind - simply bore everyone to death by giving them useless tasks to fulfill or just let them sit in a room staring at empty walls.

Okay, that last bit sounds a little too much like a prison cell. Could someone please unlock the door or at least allow me to change the television channel?

Photo by Flickr user EdgAr H. used under Creative Commons

Friday, 5 February 2010

Toyota & Others - Preordained Malfunctions?


The accompanying picture represents vehicles in general although my Subaru engine compartment happily raised its hood for this revealing photo-op.  Look closely and discover the numerous electronic gadgets. Each blessed with its own wee chip and who knows how much built in instructions. Floating through the cyber world one hears the interesting rumours that Toyota’s brake problems have less to do with straight mechanics and may be directly linked to weird electronic mishaps. This point has been vigorously denied if only because the blame can be nimbly shifted to parts suppliers. This despite the fact that Toyota engineers have to okay the designs, test and formally accept all of their outsourced components.
The reasons for all the electronic gear packed under the hood, dashboard  plus other various nooks and crannies: more smoothly operating vehicles, better gas mileage, greener air blowing out the tailpipe, tons of onboard dash goodies (voice activated only), and of course easier diagnostics. Then why when automobiles hit the shop has it become so difficult to read the computer and find the problem. Subaru relies on something like 100/150 codes; however, it appears codes are solely an aid in pointing to ‘a maybe’ certain direction and in no way lead to any malfunctioning parts. Over the years since electronics have been introduced, the explanation - and the rising cost of diagnostics - for the inability of the computer to locate the problems have led to some very convoluted explanations from service advisors at more than one dealership.
As to other uses for installed electronic goodies. How hard can it be to implant a microscopic chip with very simple instructions - keep count of times this item is used and once it hits a predetermined or random number fry the part or otherwise cause it to malfunction?  Remember we have to keep all the dealerships, repair shops and parts manufacturers joyously supplied with faulty vehicles to keep their sales high and their profits higher still.  Determining well ahead how often your new car will have to spend a few hours in the shop and the required parts , enables the entire industry to plan ahead.  Or should! The past year reveals that the auto companies - even with all the chips on the table - are still unable to figure out the game. However, with governments as their willing backers, intelligence in this industry no longer surfaces as a requirement for upper management.
Besides all the crash testing done by the IIHS and emission analyses, it may be time for independent investigation and research into just what instructions may be built into car parts.

Thursday, 4 February 2010



Ah! What’s in a number? Well the title digits belong to Telus. And yes it is their call centre telephone number - one of many I suspect - but it is the particularly annoying one employed to irritate me. Over the past three years a seemingly random series of ringing intrusions designed as a psychological ploy to endeavour drawing me deeper into the Telus network. Not every day but sometimes 2 or 3 attempts per day. And then a 2 or 3 week break whereby I relax into believing they have lost my number. Not a chance!
Since I already use a Telus landline - once upon a time I was also a pathetic dial up internet customer (need I explain more) - I am deemed to have a business relationship; therefore, I cannot appeal to have my number removed. However, one moment of weakness a couple of months ago caused me to pick up and begin a conversation. Nothing much to do but sit back and try to digest the set piece which must be delivered without pause or interruption. So all the wonders of Telus digital TV and improved high speed Internet come gushing and cascading through the already overloaded wire. Then my opportunity comes to pose my questions and since I have little better to do, I blurt out every concern I might have with the service.

How much down time (none!), quality (10° above excellent), number of channels (hundreds and rising), installation (free as long as I stay at home constantly for the next three weeks), support (instantly online or the phone - forgive my scepticism), my satisfaction guaranteed for pennies a day, at least for the initial 1 month offer.
Yes then, could I inquire as to the size of my bill after the regular rates kick in sometime in the next 60 days or so?
Well that is difficult to say because it really depends on the final package you choose.
Well could I choose a package?
Well we are not certain of the number of channels or Internet speed at your particular address so you would have to wait until after signing up for the final cost.
Ah yes I see.
Now this is a month-to-month package so I will be able to cancel at anytime?
Why, of course you can cancel by paying a cancellation fee.
Didn’t you inform me only a few scant minutes ago that there was no contract involved and no length of agreement?
I assure you no contract is involved as long as you do not terminate any of the services for the next three years.
I get it: a contract which is not a contract involving a rather large fee to end service even if it is sub par, pay for high speed internet even if it arrives at dial-up slowness, number of channels promised in the hundreds but more likely to be around the 30 to 40 range, quality maybe so-so as you are still trying to upgrade your system.
Could I get back to you on this as I am delirious with joy contemplating wasting precious moments considering your inane offer?
Of course. We will place you on the call back list so you don’t even have to worry about calling back.

Present situation. Same as before. Random calls which I ignore. On the bright side, it is a small price to pay for not having to deal with Telus and their problematic digital television which according to the rumour mill has been blessed with a plethora of bugs or the difficult to deal with techs on internet service.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

What? Me Text!

Did TransLink not get the message or they above the law? All the restrictions on cell phones and operation of electronic devices have pretty well been communicated to the public by the media as shown by a story on Global BC. Apparently, Solicitor General Kash Heed neglected to forward a copy of the legislation to the TransLink head office or in the interests of national security surrounding the Olympic Games the transportation authority has carte blanche to ignore the rules.
Just this evening around 7PM as we drove west in the far left lane on Lougheed nearing Willington, a Translink supervisory vehicle A729 weaving in the right lane nearly clipped us as he swerved almost 3 feet out of his lane. As we passed just before coming to halt at a red light, we were surprised to see the vehicle driver merrily typing away on his laptop with his eyes firmly glued to the screen. Too bad we couldn’t have slipped him the following note quote “No holding or operating any electronic device including cellphones, hand-held radios, BlackBerrys, video game consoles, iPods, gps, or laptops”. Even though the laptop is mounted to the dashboard, it is operated by hand and not voice. And by-the-way there were no buses in sight so any excuse of tracking the rolling stock would not hold up.
Wonder if the police, RCMP or VPD, - the so-called Translink “police” could hardly be expected to ticket their buddies - have considered fining or at least warning these transgressors?
Which reminds me. Don’t the police units also come with installed computers which the officers are always plugging away at while cruising about town?
Photo by Flickr user R. Flores used under Creative Commons