Sunday, March 30, 2014

F-ing Computer

Originally Posted 4/22/14 7:43 PM Pacific Daylight Time.
The one thing that is not adjustable in the world of the infinitely adjustable digital realm is the way blogs post everything. Newest at the top, oldest at the bottom. If you want to use this platform in a way inconsistent with that you can go fuck yourself. As a result I had to give this a Published on date in the composition window before the posts I want to show when you first get to the website. After All this one is just me bitching. Those are my vacation and the one following this is cool too. Unless you are a computer geek that wants to laugh at my ineptitude skip this post and go on to the next one. 

About 5 years ago I cut the cable. While I am not one of the true believers that don't watch TV at all, I am pretty picky. I used to watch documentaries; nature shows and such. Not so much anymore. They move so slow and since they, by nature, are not highly technical are repetitive. Life cycle, robot’s life cycle, people’s habits and so forth. Once you identify the pattern of each topic, each similar program becomes a slow moving game of ‘spot the unique tidbit or fact’. Alright, so that’s an oversimplification. In general it is the case more often than not.

One type of TV show that I haven't watched in years is sitcoms. Even as a kid I felt insulted by the contrived plots, undeveloped characters and so called humor. Don’t get me started on the convoluted misunderstandings that any real or marginally sentient person would avoid with an obvious question or two. That’s all true but not the real reason for cutting cable. Just like they say in all the police procedurals - follow the money.

I had my online banking all set to send the cable company $78 a month. This was for basic cable and internet. This system had worked fine for years. I never bothered opening the bills. Till one day I did open one just for kicks. I was behind a hundred and forty bucks. WTF? They had raised the rates. It was my fault for not looking at the bills but the $140 added up over just 4-5 months. Their cost should have risen a little but not that much.

Besides they make money on both ends. They charge me and they charge the content providers. If the system was honest it would be one or the other, not both. I was outraged and told them to discontinue the service. I didn't have a choice but to keep their internet service since it was the only one available in my neighborhood. I went home and unplugged my TVs from the cable. Of course they were dicks about it. The cable to my house was connected to the lines at the pole in the neighbor’s yard. The neighbors would not allow them in their yards. Eventually the neighbors moved and they did whatever it was when the house was empty. This was after trying to charge me for months for a service I did not use.

I didn't need them. Even at that time Hulu had most of the network programs I did like and there was always Netflix. Other programs were found at different places on the web. A very few programs that I did want to watch that were not online for free were available on iTunes for a price. $1.99, $2.99, $3.99 This rankled because they hardly make that much from advertisers for each viewer each time it’s shown. Still at 1 or 2 every other month it hasn't been bad in comparison. At some point when it’s decided that advertising is a stupid way to pay for things (sorry Google, love you Google) those prices will be untenable.

The reason I was able to do this was that I had acquired a great deal on a refurbished Gateway DX4200 PC. It had been designed for gamers so already had a fast processor (by 2006 standards) and a very good video card. It even had extra USB ports, surround sound card and special ports and an HDMI port so I could connect directly to flat panel TVs. Less than $300 as I recall. It came with Windows Vista installed. It was a factory refurb so had a warranty but even better, upgrade to Windows 7 was also included when that became available a few months later.

I have been a hard core Mac user since 1988 when I got my first one. I got it because it was made by geeks for the users. Windows on the other hand was made for geeks by geeks then for office use. Casual or home users were allowed if they could keep up. By 2009 this had changed allot but not totally. Mac keeps reducing the size of their sandbox. Forcing even expert users to be limited by simplified options. Windoze added a Mac like interface with Windows 95 and has come a long way in ease of use. They are also the worst in creating what is called bloatware. Every new function or cool thing that it can do is piled on top of everything that came before. This makes the operating system huge and full of extra operations for the processor to do. It just gets slower and more clunky all the time.

This shouldn't really be a problem for me since all I am doing is internet and watching video on my machine. I am not a computer geek per se. I am an expert at Mac software and making the thing work. With a Mac even non geeks can set up a network fairly easily. This was even more true in the 90’s. Daisy chaining a group of Macs was almost plug and play then. I do however follow technology with some fascination. Microsoft and Apple are two of the biggest corporations in the world. I am not a fan of big corporations. I had been hearing of an operating system (the software that makes it a computer and not just a box of parts) called Linux that was made by volunteers and was free for anyone to use. It even had specialized version for home users. At that time the most popular was Ubuntu.

I looked up the Ubuntu website and read the instructions. Kind of a new challenge but if it worked as was told it was the opposite of bloatware, simple, clean, and easy to use if a bit bare bones. The process involved downloading it, then putting it on a CD. Then you got your computer to use the CD instead of the hard drive when it started up. It took a looong time but was Ubuntu instead of windows. To make it work better and faster I clicked a few buttons and it made a partition on my hard drive where it installed itself. Well, it was okay. Thing is all the little stuff like drivers for my fancy video and audio cards was “experimental”. I had to dig into what is called “The terminal” to install things and make adjustments. “The terminal” is that part of the operating system the programmers and other geeks use all the time. Full of “code”. No mouse or clicking just typing in instructions. Like I said this was just for watching video. I got most of it going. When I got to configuring the wifi I lost interest.

Since then every time I start the thing up it asks me “Windows or Ubuntu”? The simple way to clean the Ubuntu partition from my hard drive was to buy special disc. Screw it I thought. I’ll do it later. Over time the hard drive developed some errors but worked ok so I overlooked those too.
Who sucks more?

Now it’s a few years later and I've upgraded to Windows 8 that upgraded itself to Windows 8.1. Between the hard drive and the vista>7>8>8.1 bloat it was getting annoying. The best way to deal with it is to wipe the hard drive, check it for physical defect and re-install Windows 8.1 from scratch. A ‘Clean install” it’s called. I found out that Windows will let you create an install disc DVD or USB drive to do this. Yay. Only because of the damage to my hard drive my copy of Windoze wouldn't let me do it. No problem, in these modern times I can log onto the Microsoft web site and do the same thing online. Except that it calls for a product key (like a very long password) to activate this function. I had done the upgrade in Feb of 2013 and vaguely remember having a key to do that. One of the few things I am really anal about it passwords and product codes, serial numbers etc. I even have a special high security program for saving, organizing and using them. Not this one however.

Not wanting to hassle with all the waiting and dealing with ESL is went on their chat with a tech thing. Where a little window appears and you type back and forth. I had bought the upgrade on their website but they had no record of it. I should have had the email they sent to confirm and that had the key. I couldn't find it. SOL. The PC started acting better so it was easy to let it go till it broke for good. I or a repair tech could fix it then or find a new refurb or maybe a NUC or Google chrome. To buy Win 8.1 Pro that I got as an upgrade with the media pac for $39 is $199 just to buy not as an upgrade now. $119 for the 8 not Pro version. In the meantime it seems that in earlier versions of Windows the key was something you could find in the settings. Not in Windows 8. I used a little hack program I found to find it with “The terminal”.

A month or 2 go by and I’m thinking that Linux must be pretty smooth by now. Turns out that besides Ubuntu there are a number of flavors of to choose from. I find one called Mint. The web site described it as current and very usable. I started being skeptical when just getting the thing onto a DVD required using “The terminal”. A few tries finally one worked and was ready to use to start up. This required going into the bios a kind of mini terminal that is an actual part of the computer hardware. It tells it about different kinds of drives and how to use them. Other stuff too but that was what I was interested in. There were many misfires and weird complications but it finally loaded and was slow as expected. Then wouldn't do the partition thing to load itself onto the hard drive. I tried again loading it onto a USB stick. Then I had to tell the bios to use the UBS stick to start up. This time it partitioned and got all installed. I’m not sure what happened to the partition I put in there years earlier. After all that the driver situation was worse than it had been before. The sound wouldn't work at all. My mind needed the stretch so it wasn't a total loss. Back to windows. I thought.

It seems this time linux installed something called Grub. This tells the hardware what to load before the regular window I was used to asks “Windows or Ubuntu”?. It took a whole day to figure out a way to get it to start up windows. Windows has this thing that is supposed to be a cure for massive troubles or follies like mine. Restore. Restore has it’s own partition with all it needs to reset everything to like it way is was a week ago. Only there were those hard drive problems I was telling you about. sigh. Okay what about another shot at getting an install DVD with the system and hard drive repair on it? This time the online chat thing went smoother. It took me a while to convince the guy to send me a disc but he did it. He looked at my system remotely and told me I had 8.1 not 8. I thought Duh, it upgrades automatically. He told me he would be sending me an 8.1 disc and for some reason couldn't send me the new 8.1 key in an email. Acted like he was breaking rules. Even called me on my land line (terrible connection) to tell me so. No record. Also no record of our chat that included the new key. I had to save the key to a cloud drive anyway so clipped the whole chat session just in case there was some questions later. I didn't owe that tech dick in India anything. I paid for Windows 8 Pro and deserve a copy for $15 additional plus shipping.

It got here in just 3 days. Yay! I stuck it in and clicked to re-install windows. It asked for the key. I just happened to have a fresh new one. It told me me key was ONLY for upgrading or adding software. Not for installing. A clean install is what I told the guy. I also told him the system was damaged and needed to install from scratch. I tried the old key. Nothing. I tried both keys on the online re-install thingy. Nothing. AAAaaaa!

Online chat session #3. I got it to boot into windows one more time. Beforehand I typed out a one paragraph version of what was happening. I pasted it in as soon as we were connected. This got things going a little faster but it still took time to go through all the steps. They must have a script to follow. He was actually quite helpful. It took a long time and he even did that thing where he took over the machine remotely. During all of this it occurred to me to search my email a different way. The original sales confirmation with the key was in there. Huh. Lot'a help now. I had already given him both of the keys I had been using. He double and triple check that I wanted a clean install. Yes delete everything. What little I store on this machine was backed up yesterday. The keys didn’t work for him either. I reminded him that that was why I had contacted him at chat support. Then it occurred to me to compare the key that I had extracted with the hack to the one in the email. They were different. Voila it worked! He said the reinstall would take some time and several restarts. Great I went off to do other things.

When I came back I found the same old grub start terminal thing. Boot not found. Fuck me! I tried a bunch of different things to at least get back to the bios. Then tried booting from the USB stick. It loaded but that didn’t want to work. I finally got to a place where it offered to Restore, Reset or Repair. Repair seemed to work and ran for an hour or so then decided it was more than it could do and suggested I get a repair or install DVD. God Dammit! I went to sleep. Next day. One more thing to try. I went to my mac in the other room. The chat tech sent a confirmation/thanks/anything we can do email, unlike the 2 before him. It had a link so I clicked. It went to a place where you pay for online support. I couldn't even find the page I had used before. Maybe this was because I was on a Mac or because Microsoft is an asshole. That works out they are assholes in both cases. I am not sure how I did it. I think I was doing a web search trying to find a solution went there was a link to the microsoft site that was unfamiliar. It let me use the order number from when I did the upgrade to order the Windows 8 Pro DVD I didn't opt for originally. This time it took a whole day just to get confirmation. I foolishly opted for the $9.90 fast UPS shipping rather than the slow $3.95 USPS that is usually faster these days. I will get the disc Thursday.

The question now is: Will the key that allowed the online install, allow the DVD to repair the drive and finish the install?

Hell if I know.

The time waiting for the magic disc to arrive seemed like forever. It did however work. Just to make sure I don't develop any warm feelings for Microsoft or any of their products The install process took 6 hours +. Of course just getting the disc to load was a minor ordeal. Of course telling it to do a clean install wasn't simple a matter of checking a box and then a click to start the process. I had to venture into a window to pick the partitions to delete then format them. I crossed my fingers that it didn't need something on one of the partitions. Like the original Windows Vista that allows the upgrades.

As expected it took an hour or so to do the initial install. Then I checked for updates and it waned 88. I clicked update and a dialog opened. Then nothing. It read 0% updates downloaded. I went do to something else and came back to 0% updates downloaded. I finally remembered that it sometimes does it's update thing when it shuts down and restarts. It never hurts to do a restart and let it reset it's self. At restart it downloaded 100% of the updates and installed them. Then again half a dozen times. Not automatically. Oh no each time I have to coax it to do the updates.  While I was waiting for the disc to arrive Microsoft announced something about a cut off for updates. If you hadn't done the update all the way to Windows 8.1 by Friday April 25th you were out of luck. I didn't get the disc till 6:45 on the 24th. Time was running out. I had also heard that the deadline was an exaggeration and shouldn't include people like me. It is Microsoft so who knows.

By the time it had downloaded a few hundred updates and I lost track of how many times it restarted I had to sleep. At 2 AM I had kind of lost hope that I would get 8.1. I went ahead and started down loading a few of the applications I would need like Foxfire and Chrome. I tend to want to think of Mozilla and this kindly open source outfit. When I was installing Foxfire I was hit with an array of 'click to continue' buttons. Kinda my fault for installing software while sleepy. More fuck you Mozilla. My clean new computer got it's first trash-ware programs. Not just trash but aggressive trash that wanted permission to take over a bunch of functions that do fine without help. This is where I was reminded of what got me onto this project in the first place. Windows 8 has 2 sometimes 3 systems for getting things done. You can uninstall unwanted programs with a right and left click if they appear in the Win 8 Metro thingy that is in front of the desktop. Or you can follow that Metro thingy to a different full screen with uninstall options. Or you can do it with the control panel like in the earlier versions. That thing where each application is like an app on a tablet or phone is mind numbingly stupid. On those devices the apps have to take up the whole screen, the screen isn't big enough and processing power is too limited for floating windows like on a real computer. Duh. Just like on a tablet some of the apps are cool and/or useful if difficult to use with other applications. I was very sleepy at this time but was on a roll and opened the 'store' app to find and re-install the New York Times app. There it was. Free! Upgrade to Windows Pro 8.1 with Media center. I clicked and started to watch it download the 2.45 GB of data but fell asleep.

 Windows Pro 8.1 with Media center is different from when I had it installed before. For one thing when it starts up it lands on the desktop every time. Before it would be the Metro thingy most times, but sometimes what they call the lock screen or the desktop. Now, so far, it is consistent about this and many other things. It is good to know that it really did need the clean install. It took another couple of hours of trial and error to figure out the new way it does password protection. This machine is just for watching TV and casual browsing. I do cloud writing like this on it. Nothing important is stored on it. No one but me ever turns it on. So going through the whole login-password process every time I start it up is a waste of tedium.

Off and on it took a whole day to finally get it installed to the point I can use it for it's intended purpose. Refinements like the proper drivers for the video and sound cards will get done in time. I need a refund for that first disc.

I've done all this writing so it seems right that I give a summation.

Microsoft Sucks right down to it's source code.

Windows is easy enough to use. Does lots of cool things and is infuriating. A few solid basic programs should be included. The ones that come with the Windows 8 interface are phone apps and all but useless on a desktop computer. It comes with type pad and note pad neither of which even has spell check. They are for software programmers. I have looked and a simple easy pleasant to use word processor that isn't either huge or is an expensive commercial product. This goes back to what I was saying about it being designed for geek by geeks. The whole metro interface is done as if the designers had never met an actual non geeky user. As if it were planned and done completely byway of vague reports from a third party who did the actual deed of meeting and studying end users. So if when you get the machine it has been set up for you with everything you might need and the bullshit pre-removed it is likely a fine way to go. If it breaks down on you and you have to fix it yourself or, like me, you feel it should be user configurable it nothing but sucks.

By contrast in the 26 years I have been using Macintosh I now have a new appreciation for Apple.

Apple sucks too. You don't get to be the richest company by being nice. They do have that halo effect and the Jobs reality distortion field. Now that Jobs is dead his distortion field is dissipating quickly. He also took with him the innovation machine that created the halo effect. The same kind of bean counters that make Microsoft suck so hard are chipping away at what made Apple rich.

Macintosh has always been easy to use. The difference in price becomes insignificant when you consider all that comes with it. Like a word processor that is not the greatest but is easy to use and works well. If you have a Mac that doesn't have the latest built in software or operating system upgrades are cheap and easy to get. The process that took me over 2 weeks to do I have done a number of times on my Mac in a couple of hours. The iMac I have now was acting strange so I went to and requested a support call at a specific time. I got the call at that time, no waiting. The tech was able to look at my machine, like the Microsoft tech did that machine, but in a smoother way. She started a re-install within 10 minutes while I was on the phone. I came back in a hour and all was fine. This wasn't clean install but the way automatic back-ups are done that would have only added an hour or 2 and can easily be automated. Hardcore Windows users I know don't like that Apple is a walled garden. I have to admit that the wall is getting higher and is making getting work done harder than it has to be. Job's death has let the stupid ideas drift in. Like the idea of removing functions from the built-in applications so that they are as gutless and lame as the phone and web versions. Even before it all went to web installs the process of doing the upgrades from what was installed by way of disc to the current version were periodically bundled into one. I'm sure many of those updates and restarts I had to watch over yesterday were updating and installing the same things each time. Macintosh can be obtuse and frustrating. It has unnecessary limitations. But, like they say: It just works. So it doesn't suck.

Enough of this typing for fun. I need to edit a video down to promote my show with the software included on my iMac. I am in real need of paid gigs. It needs to not suck. If it does suck it will be because of me not the computer.