Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Windows 10 follow-up

In my last post on Windows 10, I talked about a couple of failures I'd had installing the software. A few friends tried it and succeeded, so I gave it another go. First thing I discovered is that the best install path is to download the media creation tool. Run it and choose the "Install now" option. The process takes a couple of hours but seems to download the proper files. If you download the media to create an install disk, the install process is less reliable. Doing this with my netbook running Windows 8 worked perfectly, so I tried it on my ancient desktop running Windows 7 and it worked also.

With these two under my belt, I went back and tried the laptop that had failed the first time and succeeded with it as well. Finally, I tried my older laptop and got Windows 10 up and running only to have it freeze after a short time. I rebooted. It froze again. After running chkdsk without solving the problem, I checked on the Internet. Sure enough, there were a bunch of complaints out there for the same problem with no definite solution. So it was back to Windows 7 for that computer.

I'm left with the same caution that I expressed in the last blog entry — wait. Windows 10 is still experiencing teething problems. In spite of their extensive beta testing, there are bugs which could force you to revert to your old operating system. Best to wait and not be forced to do the install twice. The free period has many months left.

In addition to the bugs, there are privacy concerns with Win10. If you don't go to some lengths to stop it, the operating system will phone home to MS extensively. During the install process, Win10 will try to trick you into believing you have to create a Microsoft account to get the OS to work — you don't, but the options to install with a local account are nearly hidden. Even after creating a local account, many privacy settings will be set to send information unless you drill down into the settings to find them. Getting the OS to not send telemetry info to MS requires editing the Registry and turning off several services. Winaero has a tutorial. Completely shutting off Cortana is even trickier. I realize everyone with a smartphone gives away a lot more information than MS is getting from Win10, but that doesn't mean I want to compromise my privacy to that extent. On the three computers that are running Win10, I've done all I could find to correct the privacy holes and the operating system seems to still work well.

One other annoyance with Win10 is the number of "modern apps" it installs. Some of them can be easily uninstalled but most require using powershell to uninstall them. Once uninstalled you'd think that would free up space on your drive, but Win10 doesn't actually get rid of these apps. If you look at the hidden "C:\Program Files\WindowsApps" you'll see that they're all still there. To completely delete them, I used the Unlocker program which is available at most software download sites. On one of my computers I was able to free 1.45 Gbytes of space by deleting all the apps that I wasn't going to use. That's a lot of wasted space. Before you completely delete the "modern apps" remember that you can only get them through the Windows Store which requires a Microsoft login, so if you think you might want to use them in the future, just do a standard uninstall and you'll be able to recover them.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

On hunting and Cecil the lion

Let me start by saying I do not have a problem with hunting. We are, under this civilized skin, still hunter-gatherers. Our bodies require animal food. Humans don't produce vitamin B12 which is necessary for healthy nerves and the only source of that vitamin is animal food. Hunting is how we have traditionally procured it. In my own young adult novel, the protagonists hunt; however, they hunt legally with all licenses and in designated territories, they hunt deer which is not endangered or threatened, and they eat what they hunt. I do not object to hunting if either the quarry is eaten or it constitutes an imminent threat to life or property.

But trophy hunting makes no sense to me. Why would you want to kill something just because it's big and beautiful and then drag the dead carcass home and mount it on a wall? As to the argument of "pitting man against nature", the man (and it almost always seems to be a man) is almost always armed with a weapon that is a technological marvel. If the man really wants to pit himself against nature, let him find the resources and make his own bow and arrows or spear by hand and then take on nature. That would be a much more even fight.

As for the case of Cecil the lion, personally I think this is a Casper Milquetoast dentist hypercompensating for his internally perceived lack of masculinity. The man is pitiful and probably in need of psychiatric help. A stuffed head on your wall doesn't make you a "man". For the price of his crossbow, he could have bought an incredible camera and then went to Africa and stalked all the animals he liked, brought them home and mounted their pictures on his wall to the amazement and delight rather than revulsion of his friends. His $50,000 would have been better spent on mental health treatments than big game poaching.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I checked the Win10 release. My advice — wait.

July 29 was the first day to upgrade (and I use that term loosely) to Windows 10. Since I have a spare computer, I decided to take the plunge on that one. I started by doing a full backup with Macrium Reflect so that I could restore the machine. Macrium has a free version that will allow you to fully backup and restore your computer. It's saved my bacon several times.

Having backed up my machine, I tried using the GWX program to do the upgrade. After a couple of hours of staring at a "Please Wait" screen, I checked for alternatives and found you could download install media from Microsoft. That took about an hour, but at least I now had a DVD in hand I could use multiple times. Inserting this into my spare computer and clicking on the drive started the process. Don't be in a hurry to use the machine, the install takes a couple of hours. At the end of this process, you can choose to use their default settings or squint at the screen to find the teeny tiny link to set custom settings. If you use their default settings, all of the "modern" apps will be defaulted to and you'll be sending MS a ton of info about yourself and your computing habits. I turned all of that off.

At long last you reach the login screen. It's very pretty, but NumLock, which I'd finally managed to get turned on by default in Win8.1, was again turned off. At last I was into Win10. Here are my first impressions:

  • By comparison to earlier versions of Windows, it's ugly. There are no 3d effects. It's flatter looking than any Windows has been since 2000. The title bar is dead white and can't be changed. The menu bar is also white making the two blend together in a way that is confusing. The contrast levels are terrible and the screen is hard on the eyes. In the taskbar, the only way to tell that an application is active is a tiny underline in a color that barely contrasts. This may well be the worst visual display ever for Windows (and I can remember what Window 2 looked like).
  • It's slow. This was completely unexpected. Win8 is somewhat faster than Win7 and Win10 was touted as being faster than 8, but not so. In spite of pre-release versions being fairly speedy, the final lugs. I can only think that bloatware like Cortana (their intelligent search engine) must have bogged down the final release. Load time for Firefox (my default browser) was about double what it had been in 8. Even after shutting off everything I could, the speed resembled Vista.
  • It's loaded with "modern" apps that have no uninstall. You can't uninstall their Photo app or the Map app or the Weather app or a dozen others. Most apps in Win8 had an uninstall function. The new Edge browser can't be uninstalled either unlike the old IE browser (which may be in violation of their agreement with the European Union settlement of their monopoly case). Even the apps that do have uninstalls don't actually go away. If you check the Windows Apps directory, you'll find they're still lurking taking up valuable disk space. The only way to finally rid yourself of them is to use the Unlocker program and have it delete them since just hitting the delete key will result in an error.
  • It breaks Anti-virus software. My copy of AVG had to be reinstalled as did the anti-exploit software I use. This seems to be their attempt to get everyone to use their own Windows Defender anti-virus.
  • It uninstalled both PDF printers that I use. I know it comes with its own PDF printer, but that doesn't mean I want it to remove the ones I already know work with my software. It also installed some network capable devices that are connected to my router (DirectTV devices). I didn't want them, so I uninstalled them — it kept putting them back.
  • The new Start Menu is lame. It comes with tons of "live" tiles, but if what you want is to get to a program, it takes more clicks through a less intuitive maze that isn't customizable. I also somehow got the Start Menu into a full-screen mode and couldn't get it out of it. Classic Start Menu which I used in Win8 to get a useful menu back does work in Win10, but it doesn't show the "modern" apps like it did in Win8.
  • You have only one month to uninstall it. It only took me one day to figure out Win10 wasn't working, but if you're more persistent and take 32 days to make your decision, the choice will no longer be there. And don't expect the uninstall to take you back to exactly where you were. Once again, my anti-virus and anti-exploit software would have had to have been reinstalled and all the passwords for my wi-fi networks were gone. I didn't wait to figure out what else was missing, I went to my Macrium backup and restored the image I'd made the day before.

So if you're happy with Win7 or 8, don't upgrade yet. Some of these problems may be corrected before the end of the year-long free period to install 10.

Now for a fearless prediction: MS will cease support for all legacy operating systems 7/31/16. It just makes sense from MS's standpoint. At one point, they were supporting XP, Vista, 7 and 8 while developing 10. By giving away 10, they can say they've provided a support option for all of their older operating systems that still had time left on their support and they would only have one operating system to worry about in the coming years. They plan to upgrade 10 incrementally, so they could keep everyone supported with minimal staffing. Updates on Win10 are mandatory, so everyone will have the same version. Win10 Pro users can delay but not opt-out of updates all others get them automatically whether they like it or not. The inability of most users to even delay updates may have severe consequences since Ms has occasionally sent out an update that breaks all or part of the operating system. Power users tend to delay updates a day or two just to make sure nothing bad happens. I would expect MS to announce in a month or two that everyone either upgrades or is left out in the cold to fend for themselves. Since I really like Win7, I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The falacy of the religious liberty argument

Back in 2013 I took on the argument that marriage was for procreation purposes in a blog post about why my late wife and I should not have been allowed to marry. So now that the gay marriage issue is behind us thanks to five Supreme Court justices who recognize, as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," it's probably time to take on the next fight - the religious liberty argument. To start with, the scare tactic that clergy will be forced to perform gay marriages is complete nonsense. Clergy are not required to perform any wedding that is not in keeping with the tenants of their faith. Rabbies don't have to marry Catholics, priests don't have to marry couples who are not in good standing. The law does not oblige them to do any ceremony that is against their conscience.

So the argument boils down to whether civil servants can be obliged to perform ceremonies for gay couples and businesses obliged to provide goods and services. Both are fairly straight-forward arguments. Lets take the first: If I was an engineer working for a defense contractor and converted to the Quaker religion, could I expect my employer to keep paying me if I refused on the grounds of my pacifist faith to do any defense work? Would my employer be legally bound to keep me or could they fire me? I think the answer is obvious, I could be fired. The same is true of a civil servant whose job it is to perform weddings or issue marriage licenses. If they refuse on faith grounds to perform the job they were hired to do, they can be fired. If the task they were hired to do is so odious, they should find new employment and not expect the public to pay them for non-performance of their job.

As for businesses, if faith can be an excuse for not providing goods and services, where does it end? If my religion does not believe in mixed marriages (as is true of many), can I refuse to provide a wedding cake for the wedding of a Catholic and a Protestant? If your church bans interracial marriage, can I refuse? Can I refuse anyone not of my same religious faith? What can I refuse to sell on the grounds of faith, food, medicine? Can I refuse medical treatment? The implications of a faith based opt-out go well beyond a wedding cake for a gay marriage. If we don't want to go back to the days of Jim Crow, businesses must provide good and services to all regardless of race, ethnicity, creed or gender identity. Again, if that is personally odious, then sell your business or prepare to be run over by the steamroller of history just as the segregationists were in the 1960s.

Civil rights took a great leap forward this morning. About darn time.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Windows 10 or why I hate "Modern" apps

I've been testing out Windows 10 (never mind asking where 9 went) for a few months now. The good news is that it's fast and works with any computer that will run Windows 7 (and probably most that run XP). But with Microsoft there's always bad news. In the case of Win10, the bad news is they're trying to bring us kicking and screaming into the era of "modern" apps whether we like it or not. They're not so subtle strategy is to give the operating system away. Already most owners of computers running Win7/8 have found an icon in their system tray urging you to reserve your copy of Win10. You can expect the pressure from MS to increase as rollout time approaches.

Anyone who's seen Win8 will recognize Win10. It starts with the same stupid, useless lock screen. Unlike 8, it drops into the familiar desktop after login, and there in it's expected place is a Start button, but it doesn't bring up the classic Start menu we've been used to since Win95. Instead, the menu is a hybrid of the Win8 start screen and a dumbed down version of classic start. The program list is rudimentary and can't be user modified. To the right of that list is an area where you can place tiles. The resultant Start menu is neither fish nor fowl and unsatisfactory to either a confirmed desktop user or a tablet/phone user. I installed "Classic Shell" which returns a Win7 style menu; however, it can't load a list of "modern" apps in Win10 like it does in Win8.

MS introduced "modern" apps with Win8 (initially called "Metro" apps). Pretty much the first thing that everyone who got Win8 did (after installing a program like Classic Shell to restore the Start menu) was to get rid of as many "modern" apps as they could. Why? For one thing, in Win8, "modern" apps had to run full screen, not windowed as we've been used to since at least Win3. Win10, thankfully, corrects this. What it doesn't correct is the inherent slowness of "modern" apps. Understanding why they're slow requires a little lesson in computer history.

In the beginning, programmers had to code everything their computer did. This included handling bit-by-bit how the computer talked to the world. This was hugely inefficient, so the industry coded a set of low-level programs that handled things like booting the computer up, finding what was attached to it and handling how the computer talked to peripherals in a standard way. This was BIOS or basic input/output system. And basic it was. So on top of the BIOS the manufacturers built the OS or operating system which handled yet more of the operations of the computer. DOS was an example of this type of operating system. It would let a programmer talk to disks, printers, monitors, etc. in a standard way that minimized the work, but they didn't handle graphics well. Programmers still had to do all the work of creating graphics themselves. Individuals and companies created sets of standard routines that handled graphics, but each of these solutions was proprietary. Xerox created a solution to this problem by loading a set of standard graphics routines on top of the operating system so any programmer could access them. This was the GUI or graphical operating system. Because it is larger and more complex than earlier operating systems, it is slower, but the loss of speed is made up for by the ease of writing programs for it. Jobs stole the idea from Xerox for the Mac and Gates stole it from Apple for Windows.

The problem with the GUI operating system is it only runs on one family of computer chips. So when Apple moved from the Motorola 68000 processors to the Power PC processors, they had to rewrite the operating system and software that worked on one type of machine didn't work on the other. They did it again when they moved to Intel processors making orphans of yet another generation or their computers. When Apple made the IPad which uses a different processor, they wrote an entirely new operating system for that. MS is trying to get around this problem with their "modern" apps. They will run on any machine with the Win8 or Win10 operating system even though they use a variety of processors. To do this, they set up an idealized processor and build an emulator for each different processor that there operating system runs on. An emulator is software that takes the commands given to the idealized processor and translates them into commands to the actual processor. In short, it's yet another layer of software that has to be loaded and worked through, which is why the "modern" apps load slowly (the emulator has to load before the app can) and runs slowly. And to make matters worse, "modern apps" don't die when you stop them, they keep running in the background taking up memory and processor power. A native Windows program will always run faster than a "modern" app. In spite of this, MS wants to migrate everything to "modern" apps.

So when you get Win10, it will come with a passel of "modern" apps. With each iteration of the operating system that has loaded on my test machine, the number of apps that you can uninstall has decreased and each time the OS updates, it reinstalls all the apps whether or not you've deleted them and it makes them the default programs. It also deletes your antivirus program and installs its own.

And if this wasn't enough, it tries to force you to create a Microsoft account so that it can store tons of information about you. It also makes their cloud storage as the default place to store new files, so you might not be able to access them if you're not online. If you manage to figure out how to create a local account, it won't let you access the Windows Store. On the other hand, since I really didn't want to load any "modern" apps, not being able to access the Windows Store is not a problem for me.

If you haven't guessed, I'm happy with Win7 and have no intention of updating to Win10. At some point, updates for Win7 will cease as they have for XP. Then it may be time to consider Linux, but not yet. Linux is still too geeky and too likely to fail. I keep hoping it will finally stabilize into a unified, reliable operating system, but it hasn't yet.

If you feel you must update to Win10, I recommend two programs: Classic Shell gives you back a useful Start menu, and Unlocker gives you a tool that makes it possible to delete "modern" apps in spite of MS's attempts to make it impossible to do so.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

On sexual politics, religion and Sci-Fi

There has been an open dispute in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy community about openness. The Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies contend that the community is too politically correct, causing it to overlook some authors whose work is otherwise meritorious. If this was their only point, their arguments might have some merit. What bothers me specifically is, in this supposedly Christian group, their prejudice against gays. I realize Brad Torgersen is Mormon which some people do not consider Christian, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says it follows Jesus teachings, so I include him as Christian also. And what did Jesus say about homosexuality? Nothing. That's right, nothing. Paul mentions it three times in Epistles, but Jesus, never.

Christians like to selectively pick and choose the sections of the Bible they want to believe in. They will point to the verses in Leviticus that say gay sex is punishable by death but overlook where Exodus allows you to sell your daughter into slavery, or Leviticus injunction to put fortune tellers to death, or Exodus statement that any man who strikes his mother or father should be put to death, or Leviticus where simply cursing mother or father is worthy of death, or Deuteronomy where conversion is grounds for death, or in Exodus death for not keeping the Sabbath. As that goes, most Christians keep Sunday as the day of rest although the Bible explicitly states it's Saturday (Sunday was chosen to co-opt the worshipers of Mithras, an early rival to Christianity). Most Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter although both of these are, again, held on pagan feast days as a means of co-opting their worshipers; but they don't celebrate Passover, Tabernacles, Day of Atonement or any of the other of the seven feast days expressly called for in the Bible. So if you're being selective, why not select to ignore what Jesus ignored? Jesus, as stated before, said nothing about homosexuality, but Jesus did say that "prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of God before you" (referring to the Chief Priests) (Matt. 21:31) and Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners (Matt 9:10-11, Mark 2:13-17). So I doubt if Jesus would have ostracized gays. Rather, I think if he were around today, he'd be more likely to have dinner with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (who do wonderful charitable work, in drag) than the Christian right. Amen.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lessons of life

Recent events have me thinking about the important lessons we only take to heart after the bad breaks in life. My wife, Joy, has cancer. The oncologist says it's chronic. How precious time is only lifts to consciousness when it is limited. Currently, the cancer is under control, but it could, as it has several time in the last few years, pop up in new places requiring yet more debilitating treatments. For now, we have a quiet summer to watch the bees fly, harvest honey and fruit and enjoy the delights of coastal northern California.

A friend and fellow Writers of the Future winner, Tina Gower, had a tragedy in her family. Her parents house burned down. No one was injured. All that was lost were material possessions. Her response to the tragedy, Memories don't burn is a reminder of how unimportant the "things" we obsess about truly are. She is turning the experience positive with #100DaysofGoodKarma.

Time is short — write, read, love.