I have never seen a program as inconsistent as Microsoft’s Cortana.
We were always taught that computers were very logical, that they all followed a certain set of code each time.
Not so Cortana, which has had more different behaviours than anything I have ever seen.
When I run into technical issues, itâs the fault of certain parties for failing to anticipate the behaviour of ordinary people or for adopting a head-in-the-sand position to bugs that are very real or crooked company policies. These have been covered many times on this blog, such as Six Apartâs old Vox site refusing to accept a log-in, or Facebook ceasing to allow likes and comments; and then thereâs the human dishonesty that drove Googleâs failures on Blogger and Ads Preferences Manager.
This still fits into those categories, as Microsoftâs engineers on its forums are peddling standard responses, none of which actually work. One even damaged my start menu and forced a system restore.
The bugs are so varied, and that to me is strange. Normally bugs will take one form and one form only. Address that, and your problem is solved.
However, Cortana has done the following.
Day 1. Refused to work, with Windows saying US English was not supported (curious, given itâs an American program). I downloaded the UK English language pack. Worked perfectly for the rest of the day. How novel.
Day 2. Refused to work, but prompted me to set up again, and then it worked.
Day 3. Cortana becomes deaf. No prompts to set up again, but I do it anyway. It works again.
Day 4. I play with the microphone settings (by âplayâ I mean clicking on a setting but not actually changing it) and Cortana would work intermittently.
Day 5. Cortana would not work except at night, and I play the movie quiz.
Day 6. Cortana claims my Notebook is inaccessible because I am offline. Clearly I wasnât offline because I was doing stuff online.
Day 7, daytime. Cortana refuses to answer and sends all queries to Bing. The Notebook screen just displays animated ellipses.
Day 7, evening. Cortana works after I plug in my headphones (which has a microphone). After I unplug it, my regular webcam microphone starts picking up my voice again. Cortana works again.
Day 8. Cortana hears me say âHey, Cortana,â but then just goes to âThinkingâ for minutes on end. It might display, âSomethingâs not right. Try again in a little bit,â after all that. Apparently Cortana still cannot retrieve my interests because I am âoffline,â which is amazing that Iâm posting to this blog right now.
The microphones work with other programs. And browsing the Windows forums, this has been going on since July. The November service pack was supposed to have fixed a lot of issues, but clearly not.
Iâll be fascinated to see what it does tomorrow. But I am tired of the BS that their techs are dishing out as âsolutionsâ. I’m being reminded why I don’t use Word or Outlook: because I have a short fuse when it comes to crap.
PS.: Day 9, same as day 8. Day 10, asked a few set-up questions (again) and it works, though âThinkingâ still came up for a few seconds on the first go.âJY
Cortana gives completely the wrong address for me. I wonder if the resident of 39A Aparima Avenue is getting identified as the home of a lot of Windows 10 users.
Thereâs not an awful lot that Cortana can tell you. Most enquiries wind up on Bing, and sheâs only really good for the weather and exchange rates (as I have discovered so far). There are a few fun questions you can throw at her, asking if sheâs better than Siri, or whether if sheâs met Bill Gates, but generally, but weâre far from Knight Rider or replicant technology here. A New Zealand accent presents no problems. One thing she gets very wrong is my location, which is allegedly 39A Aparima Avenue in Miramar. Iâm not sure how she arrived at that address, as I donât live there and I donât believe I know the person who does.
Itâs not too unpleasant to look at although the mobile-specific features can get a bit annoying. The menus feel too large overall, because itâs all designed from a mobile-first standpoint, while the biggest gripe from me comes with the typography.
Microsoft has ruined ClearType here in its attempt to make something for mobile first, and most type looks very poor on screen. Fortunately, a Japanese website still hosts the MacType plug-in, which brings the font display closer to what we experience on Mac OS X. It even goes beyond what we were used to in Windows 7, which had been Microsoftâs best use of its ClearType technology to date.
After installing MacType, ITC Legacy Serif looks far more like it does in print.
You can alter the fonts through the Registry Editor, and I set about getting rid of Arial as always. Windows 10 doesnât like you removing a system font, so the trick is to replace it with something else called Arial, then remove the original from HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Fonts.
Windows 10 removes your ability to change the icon and menu fonts, and they now have to be changed in the registry, too, at HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics, and very carefully.
After tinkering with those, the display began looking like what I was familiar with, otherwise there was a bit too much Segoe on screen.
There have so far been no program incompatibilities. As upgrades go, it hasnât been too bad, and I havenât been stuck here forever downloading updates. Apple still gets higher marks for its OS upgrade processes (when they work) but given how much data I have on my main Windows machine, and how different each PC is, Microsoft has done a good job. Iâm glad the system waited till now, and delivered me a relatively bug-free transition. Software upgrading is one area where I don’t mind not being first.
I can be staunch on IP protection in a lot of casesâbut in the case of Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals AG hiking the price of an Aids drug from $13Â·50 to $750 per pill, not so much (for obvious reasons). If youâre in pharmaceuticals, then there has to be some element of wanting to benefit enough of humankind so that they can be, well, alive to better societyâor, if you want to be monetarist about it, so they can consume more products and services. Whichever side of politics youâre on, productive people are a good thing for everyone except the armsâ industry. Yet the pharmaceutical industry is the one thatâs trying to patent natural ingredients and phenomenaâand thatâs a step too far. It was something we were taught at law school that could not happenâhow can a corporation own nature?âso for the industry to challenge both that jurisprudence smacks of greed. If you didnât originate it, you shouldnât be able to own it. Even if it could be protected, nature has been around long enough for that protection to have lapsed. Patenting genes? Please.
Sure, everyone has the right to make a buck from intellectual endeavours, but their track record needs to be a lot cleaner. Why was there so much opposition to TPPA et al? Because there had been far too many cases of corporations taking the piss when it came to basic rights and established laws, and governments havenât upped their game sufficiently. I love the idea of global trade, the notion âweâre all in this togetherâ, but not at the expense of the welfare of fellow human beings. Simply, I give a shit. Hiking the price of something that costs $13Â·50 to $750 is laziness at the very leastâletâs profit without lifting a fingerâand being a douchebag at the worst. And I donât believe we should reward either of these things.
I have a friend who is against vaccinationsânot a position I agree withâbut his rationale boils down to his mistrust of Big Pharma. And why should he trust them, with these among their worst cases? (As far as I know, he doesnât oppose other forms of IP protection.) Somewhere, thereâs something that kicks off various positions, and corporate misbehaviour must fuel plenty.
Meanwhile, hereâs Martin Shkreliâs point of view, where he doesnât see his actions as wrongful, as told on Tinder, and as told by Yahoo. His view is that Turing isnât making a profit and he needs to find ways where it does. He has a duty to his shareholders. It seems incredibly short-termâone would hope that innovation is what turns around a pharmaceuticalsâ businessâand we come back to the notion that it all feels a bit lazy.
I was surprised to see that Autocade managed its 7,000,000th viewer some time this month, five months after the 6,000,000th. Considering it took three years to get to the first million, this means people are willing to use Autocade more regularly as a resource on the web. As something that started on the side, this is very heartening news, especially as there have been relatively few updates since the 6,000,000th due to general busy-ness.
Here’s how the numbers stack up:
March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 page views (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 page views (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 page views (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 page views (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 page views (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 page views (eight months for sixth million)
October 2015: 7,000,000 page views (five months for seventh million)
With the mouse being the culprit on my main computer causing mouse and keyboard to be unresponsive in Windows 7(Iâve still no idea when Windows 10 arrives and Microsoft has been no help at all), I decided to shop for a new one again. The failed mouse was one I bought in 2012, which also made it the most short-lived. Made by Logitech, I had expected better. It replaced a 2002 Microsoft mouse which was my daily unit, and that had failed around 2013. Another Logitech, a few years older, was already giving up the ghost when plugged into the office Mac, and I transferred that to an old Windows machine that we use very irregularly for testing. It was fine there, but the fact it only works on Windows (and Linux, as I later found out) meant that itâs faulty in some way.
One thing I did know, although mice fail in my care less easily than keyboards, is that quality was important. Some months ago, Corporate Consumables advertised old-style Microsoft mice for NZ$12. Considering that type isnât made today, I assume it was old stock they were trying to get rid of. It was the most comfortable I had used last decade, but it appeared that the NZ$12 sale was successful: there were none left.
I headed again to Atech Computers on Wakefield Street, as Matthew had always looked after me and knew I could be fussy. He sold me a Lenovo mouse (above), which he believed would have better quality than the Logitechs, and let me try it out. It was fine at the shopâit was more sizeable than the Logitechâbut after prolonged use I discovered it wasnât wide enough. My ring and little fingers were dragging on the mouse pad, but since there was nothing technically wrong with it, it wouldnât be right to return it. Lesson learned for NZ$30: itâs not just the length, width is important, too. That Lenovo is now plugged into the Linux PC and the older Logitech put aside for now. I might wind up giving it away knowing that itâs not in the best condition, having given away quite a few recycled PCs of late from both myself and a friend when she got new gear for her office.
Corporate Consumables had let me see a dead-stock Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 on my earlier visit and I decided I would give that a go. Armed with the Lenovo, I went to the Wellington office to compare the two and the width was, indeed, right. It was a bit closer to the 2002 model I had. It was narrower, but the sculpted design meant I had somewhere to rest my ring finger, within the body of the mouse. Although manufactured in 2005, it was still in its packaging and Corporate sold it to me at a very low price.
I donât mind that it left the factory a decade ago, if, roughly, the newer the mouse, the shorter the life. A 10-year-old mouse might last me another decade or so. A few years back, I bought a Microtek Scanmaker 5800 to replace a faulty 5700: although it was obsolete and I bought dead stock, it was at about a third of the price of what it was when brand-new last decade, and it plugged into my system without any software alteration. As long as a gadget delivers the quality I wantâand the 5800 gave better results than a newer scanner with a plastic lens, for exampleâthen I donât really mind that that particular model isnât the latest thing. Even the office printer was in a box for about five or six years before it replaced something we bought in 2003 that had gone kaput.
Have mice changed that much between 2005 and 2015? Not really: they do the same thing, more or less, and the old ones might be better made. Iâm perfectly happy with bringing something forth into October 2015 that isnât a De Lorean DMC-12 with a Mr Fusion on the back.
Last week was an interesting one for computer bugs. Apple took 42 attempts to install the latest Itunes update on one Mac (and that was the good one that normally presents no issues with updates), but, to its credit, once it was done there were no further problems. Windows, however, gave me a few headaches and Iâm recording the solutions here for others who might have the same, since what Iâve read online doesnât always apply.
The old laptop was freezing every time I used Firefox. God help us, I even downloaded Chrome when I was in the Philippines, since it was the only browser compatible with YouTube, to which I had to upload a few videos for work. (Internet Explorer kept producing an error, with YouTube saying I had to get the latest version, and Microsoft saying I had the latest version.) And no, I didnât accidentally turn on my search history since the dates donât even correspond, and I was using another account.
Fix: remove Avast. The bug had been plaguing that work machine for a few weeks and I had an inkling it was Avast. One of the team had accidentally allowed an Avast 30-day trial to proceed, which was the root of the problems. It was roughly at this time the issues began. I had downgraded back to the standard one, but things were so irreparably damaged that the only solution was removal altogether. That laptop is back to AVG, although Microsoft Security Essentials is recommended to me.
My main desktop computer, which is running Windows 7 (since Microsoft has been completely silent on how to upgrade to Windows 10, with the advisory box giving me no clues other than I am in the queue), began freezing me out earlier this week. Twice at night the keyboard and mouse became unresponsive, although the computer itself had not hung: things were happening in the background normally. I had to do a hard reset twice that night, and had a painless day for the subsequent day, but then the bug recurred around 10 times on Friday.
In the meantime, should this happen, putting the computer to sleep works, which, like most bugs, seems to be the opposite of the advice you get. I was still able to access the computer via VNC on Android, and control it through there. Putting the PC to sleep (discovered entirely by accident) and then awakening it worked in getting keyboard and mouse control back.
You begin suspecting certain things.
Keyboard and mouse faulty? You would hope not, since I spent NZ$160 on the former, though it is under warranty. On two occasions I heard a USB disconnect sound. However, both were checked and appear to be fine. I altered some USB sleep settings, but they made no difference (and were put back to default).
Hacked? Actually, yes. I run TightVNC, and there were repeated hacking attempts from IP addresses in the US, the Netherlands and Colombia of late. These were added to the firewall and the TightVNC program updated to the latest version. The Event Viewer had picked these up.
But the bug persisted and even became more regular.
Was it to do with the Windows Error Reporting service? I had not signed up, and it was switched off, but I still went into the Task Manager and disabled the associated tasks. No joy, nothing changed.
One person wrote that they experienced this error after downloading the Intel update driver utility, which I had done so, too, after Microsoft advised that I had Intel issues and was unable to upgrade to Windows 10. That was in August, but it was close enough to the September bugâand I had been away, after allâthat it was a possibility. I removed it, but, the bug continued.
I did the usual disk checks and verified the hard drive.
What finally worked? Removing everything by Apple with the exception of QuickTime. It turns out that not only was the Itunes update problematic on a Mac, it could freeze you out on Windows. That meant removing every updater, Itunes, any Apple utilities connecting you to portable devices, and an Apple service called Bonjour (which had generated a lot of errors in the Event Viewer). Till Apple sorts itself out with Itunes, thatâs the thing you should avoid. Although having used it for the first time in many, many years, only to be told that what I wanted to buy was not available to New Zealanders (who, incidentally, could have watched the same programme for free from the copyright ownerâs website), Iâm not entirely sure why anyone would. At this rate, I wonât be using it again in a hurry, at least not for another few years till someone asks, âCan I download Itunes on to your computer?â
Postscript: A few days after writing this post, which included a trouble-free day, the problem recurred, and this time, there was nothing in Event Viewer at all. After even more investigation, it turns out that in Windows, a faulty mouse can knock out your keyboard. Go figure. Of course, that could lead to a full post about mice.âJY
Check your YouTube settings: even if you switch off your search history, Google may turn it on again
Here I was, telling friends that 2014 marked the first year in which I didnât have to call Google out over something, be it privacy breaches, deceptive conduct, or simply not measuring up to its claims.
As usual, I spoke too soon, as tonight I stumbled across another example of Google saying one thing and doing another. All in the quest to get data on you, without you knowing.
Last time that happened, Google had to change its practices regarding its Ads Preferences Manager, a system where it claimed you could opt out, where it then inserted an opt-out cookie, but, when you werenât looking, removed the opt-out cookie and began tracking your preferences again. Now, if only it sold diesel cars, thereâd be an uproar in the US media.
But it was all sorted very quietly, with the Network Advertising Initiative forcing Google, its largest member, to stop its deceptive conduct.
This was a year before the Murdoch Press exposed Google for hacking Iphone Safari browser users, for which the company was eventually fined $17 million, or four hoursâ earnings. Again, if only it was selling diesel cars, the fine would be a thousand times greater.
This oneâs related: the tracking of your history on YouTube. Google wants to track your data so it can customize advertising to you, since Doubleclick, its advertising unit, makes milliards a year. I had suspected it was going on in July 2014, since the site was delivering a large number of motoring advertisements to me, but needed to gather more proof. Like the investigation I made into Ads Preferences Manager four years ago, I should have checked Googleâs settings; at the time I didn’t, thinking that Google would be incredibly stupid, callous and ignorant to manipulate user settings again after getting busted twice in the last five years for disrespecting them. But when the punishment is four hours’ earnings, with hindsight, of course, it wasn’t afraid.
I have had my YouTube history turned off for years, ever since I first discovered Googleâs cheating over monitoring. However, in 2012, YouTube had switched this on again, without my intervention. You could argue that I had forgotten, that I must have switched it back on myself, as unlikely as that would be. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently concerned that I blogged about it in November, noting that I had found myself with a YouTube viewing and search history earlier that year. Itâs something I would have deleted and turned off again in 2012.
What did I find when I checked my YouTube history today, now that Google has revamped its account management interface? You guessed it: a search history. Itâs not completeâit doesnât have everything Iâve searched forâbut it does begin again on July 23, 2013. This jumps ahead to August 14 and 23, then October 3; June 23 and 30, July 3 and 4, 2014; then August 24 through 27, 2015. You have to ask yourself: how does Google have a search history for someone whose search history was turned off in 2012 (and even before then)? The only conceivable answer to me is that Google switches it on again without your permission, and it was indeed on again when I visited the Privacy Check-up pages today.
I also have a watch history, with videos in March, April, November and December 2012.
I shanât be deleting either, as this will serve as a record of the fact Google still messes around with our privacy settings regularly. But I will say again, today, that I had to âpauseâ the search history for YouTube again, and Iâll check in again later, although not three years later, to see if Google switches it back on.
I was surprised to find that I have a YouTube account, and Google gave me the option to delete my zero videos, playlists, subscriptions and subscribers. However, if I proceeded, and I might after this investigation, the above histories would also vanish.
We may have another Ads Preferences Manager case on our hands, one where the US and tech media will just shrug its shoulders and proclaim Google to be the Almighty on which their jobs hinge. At worst, some states’ attorneys-general will go after them for another few hours’ pay.
Remembering the victims of 7-7 today. Ten years on. RIP to my friend Colin Morley.
I’m glad we toasted you this year at the Medinge London dinner, and we filled in the newer members on who you were, and why for many years we named an award after you.
Medinge has changed greatly over the last 10 years but it’s the memory of people like Colin who help remind us of our purpose.