Friday, 23 December 2016

I lost some files!

And I don't know how. An entire directory seems to have just vanished, and I only found out when I tried to use one of the files in it.

So I went to my latest backup. It wasn't there either.  Because the latest backup was a backup of the computer without that directory. Huh.

So I went to the backup done 4 days ago. And there it was, so I copied it back to where it should have been. Panic over.

I actually have three sets of backups; one is done on the 1st to the 10th of the month, one on the 11th to the 20th and one on the 21st to the end of the month. The reason for this is exactly the scenrio that just happened.

Reorganisation of the office

Now that the new computer is working well, I wanted to incorporate it into my office, together with the two new monitors.

Once upon a time, there were two video standards, mono and colour-graphics (CGA). They were completely incompatible, it was one or the other. I used both (on different computers), because the mono was great for text, CGA was needed for games. A CGA monitor would cost about £400. CGA gave you 320 by 200 pixels, and four colours (choice of two sets of four colours). If you wanted 16 colours, then the resolution was 160 by 100.

And I played games on that!

Then along came EGA (vastly better colour graphics, also completely incompatible with the other two). 16 colours chosen from a palette of 64, resolution 640 by 350.

And then, at last, VGA.

VGA started as 640 by 480 pixels, but it gradually got better (1024 by 768) and better (1280 by 1024) and better; now you can run VGA at 1920 by 1200, which is really nice. And for all that time, which was about 20 years, the connector was the same. And I looked upon it, and it was good.

And now it's changed again. There's still VGA, but there's DVI, HDMI and Displayport, and some video cards now don't have VGA any more. Within DVI, there's DVI-I, DVI-D and DVI-A and the first two can be either single or double link. And the connectors are almost, but not quite, the same.

The Raspberry Pi has HDMI, and at least there's only one shape of connector.  And the latest interface is DisplayPort, which is supposed to be one standard to replace all the others, but (as always happens) it's just one more standard to worry about. The great thing about standards is that there's so many of them.

If you want to go above 1920 by 1200 (such as my new 2560 by 1440 monitor) you need to use something more modern than VGA. And there's so many standards now, it's become a pain again.

Also - I have a couple of switcher boxes that let me connect several computers to one keyboard, mouse and monitor. But they're VGA.

So here's how I ended up.

The 2560x1440 monitor is connected via DVI-D to my main workstation; I use that for everyday office-type work. The new computer (32gb memory, twin-xeon and a very high-spec video card) is connected via DVI-D to the new NEC Multisync 1920 by 1200.

And the other three computers are 1) the one that I use to run several terminals to various servers, 2) the one I use for updating GSAK and 3) my old gaming computer, and they are all connected, via the KVM box, to a 1920 by 1200 monitor.

So there's three mice, and they are all Microsoft optical mice, which is the best product that Microsoft ever sold. Two of the keyboards are IBM model M; more than thirty years old and still the best keyboard there is, and the third keyboard is a cheap clone because I do almost no typing on it.

And my office is now reorganised,

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Excellent tech support

I was given Civilization 6 for my birthday, and I've been playing it on my old games machine. It's not fast. So I set up another machine, much faster, plenty of memory (32gb) and a really up-to-date video card (GTX 1050). And to my great disappointment, Civ 6 wouldn't run. When I started it up, it said "running" for about a second, then nothing.

I tried reinstalling, I tried this, I tried that, I tried the other; I tried everything I could think of - no result. Eventually, I tried to contact tech support.

Civ 6 comes from 2K, so I went to their web site to find a support number. I couldn't find a phone number, but they did have a form I filled in. I gave all the details that I thought they'd want, and I expected a reply some time in the new year.

But no! I got a reply almost immediately!

I'm guessing that it was a standard cut-and-paste reply - verify game cache, reinstall directx, reinstall vcredist ... and it told me *exactly* how to do each of those steps. The first two suggestions didn't help, but after the third suggestion ... it worked!

This is how tech support should be. Well done 2K.

New monitor part 2

And the NEC multisync has arrived. It does 1920 by 1200, it's bright and clear, and after I switched the on-screen display from German (I bought it from a German company, hurrah for the EU) easy to use. It cost a tidge under £60, which is an excellent price for such a good monitor.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Terrorism by vehicle

How awful it was that 12 people were killed, apparently on purpose, by someone using a stolen lorry as a weapon. But actually, how awful?

To assess awfulness, we have to make a comparison, and the obvious figure to compare, is how many people were killed on the roads in Germany? In 2013, there were 3540 road deaths.

That's about 10 per day.

I have to say that this is a *much* bigger problem than the recent crime in Berlin. And that is why we need self-driving cars, and we need them as soon as possible.

Our legislators have to move urgently to create law on liability in case of accidents (because there surely will be some). If I'm a passenger, then I have no liability, but if something goes wrong, then it may well be that no-one is at fault (for example, if the car is struck by lightning), or that someone is at fault, in which case is it the car manufacturer, the software designer, or who? With that legislated, insurance becomes possible, and the costs can be built in to the price of the  vehicle.

The biggest incentive is the much lower accident and death rates we'll get when cars are driven by software that doesn't get distracted, doesn't fall asleep, doesn't drive while drunk and doesn't text on phones while driving.

And it should also be feasible to make it impossible to hijack a lorry and drive it into a crowd.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

New monitor part 1

The Hanns-G HQ271 27 inch monitor (costing £208) arrived. 2560 by 1440 of loveliness. Two 1280 by 1024 monitors aren't nearly as good as this. You can get them a bit cheaper if you order a similar monitor direct from South Korea, but I wanted this one ASAP.

It was pretty easy to install; the DVI cable that I have doesn't work with this monitor, it's got a slightly different pin set. So I used HDMI and that worked fine. I can't make the sound work, but I'm not bothered, I'll continue to use my desktop speaker.

It doesn't seem to have any way to adjust the monitor position, but fortunately it's pretty good as it is.

A video card also arrived, that's a GTX 1050 that I hope to use to play Civ 6 on. As soon as Civ 6 has finished installing (it takes dozens of hours, becuase it's downloading something huge) I'll try it.

And Catan has arrived, which is going to be our Christmas game.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Monitor problems

Troubles come in threes. Not always, but often enough.

This started a couple of days ago with a problem on the monitor on my games computer, a nice 1920 by 1200. It stopped working. I don't know why. So I swapped it for the monitor on my terminal server, the computer that I use for terminals to my various servers, and on the terminal server, I put a Dell 1280 by 1024, because it doesn't really need to be high resolution.

Then, today, I went into my office and all the pies had stopped working. That was a power supply problem. They are powered from the 12 volt line of a standard PC power supply (actually the same power supply that feeds my terminal server) and then via power-over-ethernet to a step-down card that reduces the 12 volts to the 5.5 that the pies like. I replaced the 5 amp fuse (the fuse hadn't blown, it was the fuse holder!) and they worked.

That same 12 volt line also powers my QX2710LED 2560 by 1440 display, which I use as my main working display. So that was out too, but when I got power back to it, it would no longer work. Maybe that's what caused the power problem. So I swapped it for another 1920 by 1200 that I had spare, an Edge 10. That worked OK ... at first. Then the display started to shake and shudder and soon became unreadable.

At that point, I'd run out of high resolution monitors.

So I put on one of the four Dell 1280 by 1024 monitors that I got recently, really cheap, and that worked fine, except that the resolution is only 1280 by 1024 and I'm used to a *lot* more than that on the screen. And with more on the screen at once, I work more efficiently.

Then I had an inspiration. My workstation computer has a VGA port and a DVI port. What would happen if I put a monitor on each port?

I can tell you what happens.

You fumble around quite a lot until you realise that the computer thinks that the monitor on my left is actually on my right, you swap the monitors over, and now it's almost like I have one very wide 2560 by 1024 monitor. If I click and drag something from the right monitor towards the left, it appears on the left monitor, and I have them butted side by side so it's very natural.

Still, I miss my 2560 by 1440, and I'm going to get another one on Ebay - they're less than £200. I've ordered a 1920 by 1200, £57, coming from Germany (hurrah for the EU, it means no annoying customs duties to pay and then a huge sum to Fedex for doing the customs paperwork). And I'm bidding on a 27 inch 2560 by 1440, but if I don't get it, I'll keep trying until I get one.

 ... later ...

I got outbid on the 2560 by 1440, so I've ordered a new one for less than the second hand one went for!

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Beta vulgaris

I look down into the porcelain, and saw a colour you don't want to see there - red! Red as in blood, red as in danger, red as in oh my god, what's happening down where the sun doesn't shine?

Then I thought, ladysolly has been giving me baby beetroots in my salad recently, and my fingers have been stained that same colour.

So I'm going to avoid beetroot for a few days, and if the red goes away, I'll know it was only the beetroot.

 ... update ...

After a couple of days of my non-beetroot diet, the red vanished, and everything is nice and brown again. So no problem!

Text message

I was just updating my Flash player (they found another 17 vulnerabilities) yet again (I have to do this so often now, I have a script to do it) from version to version 24.0 r0 (huh?) when the phone rang. It was an SMS message, delivered via my land line.

I get very few SMS messages on my mobile, because I don't give out my mobile number to any Tom, Dick, Harry or spammer. The message told me the number it came from, and it wasn't a number I know, so I refused to accept it.

Uh oh. I foresee a blizzard to these in future. Thanks, BT.

So I called  0800 587525, pressed 1 then 5. That means that I can no longer get SMS messages sent to my landline.

And then I finished updating my Flash player.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Another outing

Yesterday, SimplyPaul and I went caching. First we visited Wheat Hold Walk; 12 caches plus a bonus in a wood. Many of these caches were difficult to find.

One of the caches was by a bridge; we spent a long time looking for it before giving up. Later at the event, I spoke to the cache owner, and we'd looked really hard in exactly the right place, so it wasn't there.

At one point in this series, we faced a steep downhill which, I assumed, would have a stream at the bottom. It didn't, it had a deeply muddy area. Then, on the other side of that, there was a steep upslope, about 30 degrees. Plus it was about 12 inches wide, with a couple of feet sheer wall restricting the 12 inch gap. Going up that on foot would have been really difficult - going up with a bicycle was nearly impossible. Push the bike a few inches, move the feet a few inches, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, slide backwards a foot, fall over onto the brambles ... eventually I got to the top.

After we finished those dozen caches, which took more than two hours, we got back to the cars for lunch. Then we drove to Baughurst Common, and whizzed around on the bikes to pick up a bunch more. One of the best was a cache very cunningly hidden in a way I've never seen before (and I've seen 46000 caches). Sadly, we found the hide but the cache wasn't there. At the event afterwards, I talked to the cache owner, and he confirmed that we'd found the hide.

Here's something we liked as we biked around.

The top righthand window featured an animated Santa. The noticeboard at the front explained which charity it was supporting.

Then on to the event, which was the regular Cunning Cachers event run by the Teddies. It's a while since I've attended one of their events, and it was very good.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Take our survey!

I'm seeing lots of spam asking me to take a survey. For example, I recently had one that claimed to be from Amazon, claiming to be a survey about "your recent purchase". Well, actually I have made a purchase from Amazon recently. It's coming up to Chrismas, millions of people will have done the same. I don't know what happens when you visit the "survey" site - nothing good, I'd guess.

Here's another one, apparently from "Star Bucks".

Complete the survey to unlock coupons and deals.

Notice the special spelling of "starbuckss". That's another link I'm not going to click on.

So how do you stop people from clicking on links like this? You won't do it by educating them - you can't even educate people not to risk their lives by texting while they drive. But here's a way to stop most of the unthinking clicks.

I use Alpine. Alpine is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. The great thing about Alpine is that it isn't a browser-based email system. This gives me several advantages.

1) Javascript can't run
2) Pictures don't display
3) I can't click on attachments
4) Any links in the email, can't be clicked on. I can tab to the link then press enter, but that runs Lynx, a text-only browser that doesn't do javascipt.

Occasionally, I do get a problem because it seems to be a universal assumption that *everyone* runs a browser-based emailer. I can get round that problem my doing a cut-and-paste of the link from the email to a browser.

More malvertising

A cunningly contructed exploit stores it's code in png files. It relies on javascript to extract and run the code.

That doesn't affect me; I run A) an ad blocker (and this kind of thing is the main reason) and B) a javascript blocker. Lots of people don't.

The adverts that you see when you go to a web site, aren't actually hosted by the web site that you visit; they're hosted by a third party, an advertising network. An ad network buys space on web sites, and sells space to advertisers.

But here's the thing. Lots of advertising networks allow their advertisers to include javascript code with their ads.


This is crazy - it's just asking for trouble.

There's a full description of the malvertising malware on the Eset WeLiveSecurity web site. But that's just one bad malware thing. There's plenty of others. That's why I run uBlock Origin to block ads, I block advertising sites via my hosts file and I disable javascipt using NoScript.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Shopping around.

I was tasked to purchase a Christmas present for grandson.1, a "Toys 'R US Fast Lane Radio Control FLX Nano Drone". I don't think he reads my blog yet, so it's safe to reveal this. So I went to the Toys 'R US web site, £29.99, plus £2.95 delivery.

Then I went to Ebay. Same thing, £19.99, plus £2.95 delivery.

And the funny thing is, that's also from Toys 'R US!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Brexit means ...

David Davis is the "Brexit secretary". He's said that we might be willing to pay the EU to get access to the single market. I'm guessing £350 million per week?

Boris Johnson, our Foreign Minister, has said that he supports freedom of movement (although he said that it isn't government policy).

So all we need now is harmonisation of regulations (already in place) and free movement of capital. And then we can leave the EU while keeping all the advantages of membership.

Truly, Brexit means ... um?