Posts tagged ‘computing’


Human-centred peripherals should be the norm

02.02.2020

I’ve had a go at software makers before over giving us solutions that are second-best, because second-best has become the convention. While I can think of an explanation for that, viz. Microsoft packaged Windows computers in the 1990s with Word and Outlook Express, it’s harder to explain why peripherals haven’t been human-centred.
   I thought about this with my monitor. It’s “only” 24 inches, despite being QHD. But it works for me, as 27 or more would see me move my neck to view the corners. I was always happy with the 24-inch Imac: I had no desire for it to be larger. If I had 27 inches I might need to sit further back, cancelling out the upsizing. Despite saying this, I can see in some situations where people would be quite happy with 27 (and even larger ones for coders), but it begs the question of why there aren’t more 24-inch QHD monitors on the market. My friend Chelfyn Baxter believes it is the optimum size for productivity (granted, he told me this over five years ago, though I still see little to fault him). Are our suppliers driving us to larger sizes, just as car importers are driving us to automatics here? (The latter is not backed up by any research on preferences, to my knowledge.)
   The same thing applies to keyboards. To me, the optimum width of a keyboard is around 40 cm. Any wider, you’re reaching for your mouse and causing repetitive strain injuries. I’ve stuck to my 40 cm rule for a long time and haven’t had the sort of pain I had in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I had a standard-width keyboard. The mouse is roughly where I expect it to be, and I wouldn’t object if it were closer still. Again, it begs the question of why 40 cm isn’t a standard if it saves us from pain.

   Then there’s the mouse—I now use a Microsoft Intellimouse 1.1 from the early 2000s after my 2005-made, 2015-new one gave up. I know there’s a lot of comedy around the US president having small hands, but we’re no longer in the sort of society whose products change to appease a leader. But regular mice are awfully small, a trend that seemed to have begun in the 2010s. I can’t hold them and maybe I have large hands, but I can’t be alone. In so many places I visit, I see some very uncomfortable hands try to grip a small mouse. I learned that was a bad thing in the days of the round 1999 Apple USB mouse (it wasn’t the Imouse), which created a trade in adapters that snapped on around it.
   Fortunately, mice manufacturers do offer larger sizes, recognizing that not all of us accept a child’s size as the standard. Here I can understand why mice have downsized: the manufacturers attempting to save a few bob and forcing more of us into it. However, there must be a decent part of the population who think, ‘I’ll be uncomfortable with that. I won’t buy it,’ and let the market move accordingly.
   I wonder how much more comfortable and productive a chunk of the population would be by following a few basic rules: have a monitor—whatever size suits you—where you limit strain on your neck; have a keyboard around 40 cm wide or less; and have a mouse which your hand can rest on (and keyboard wrist rests and mouse wrist rests to suit to make you comfortable). But I know most of us will just go, ‘The default is good enough,’ and unnecessarily suffer.

Speaking of practical, I hope Mudita gets its designs on the market sooner rather than later. Who needs pizzazz when we all value simplicity? Technology serving humanity: what a novel idea! Here’s how we can help.

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Posted in design, technology | 1 Comment »


Sticking with 24 inches, but going to QHD: a pleasant upgrade

31.01.2020


The Dell P2418D: just like the one I’m looking at as I type, but there are way more wires coming out of the thing in real life

Other than at the beginning of my personal computing experience (the early 1980s, and that’s not counting video game consoles), I’ve tended to have a screen that’s better than average. When 640 × 360 was the norm, I had 1,024 × 768. My first modern laptop in 2001 (a Dell Inspiron) had 1,600 pixels across, even back then. It was only in recent years that I thought my LG 23-inch LCD, which did full HD, was good enough, and I didn’t bother going to the extremes of 4K. However, with Lucire and the night-time hours I often work, and because of a scratch to the LG that a friend accidentally made when we moved, I thought it was time for an upgrade.
   Blue light is a problem, and I needed something that would be easier on the eyes. At the same time, an upgrade on res would be nice.
   But there was one catch: I wasn’t prepared to go to 27 inches. I didn’t see the point. I can only focus on so much at any given time, and I didn’t want a monitor so large that I’d have to move my neck heaps to see every corner. On our work Imacs I was pretty happy to work at 24 inches, so I decided I’d do the same for Windows, going up a single inch from where I was. IPS would be fine. I didn’t need a curved screen because my livelihood is in flat media. Finally, I don’t need multiple screens as I don’t need to keep an eye on, say, emails coming in on one screen, or do coding where I need one screen for the code and the other for the preview.
   Oddly, there aren’t many monitor manufacturers doing QHD at 24 inches. There was a very narrow range I could choose from in New Zealand, with neither BenQ nor Viewsonic doing that size and resolution here. Asus has a beautifully designed unit but I was put off by the backlight bleed stories of four years ago that were put down to poor quality control, and it seemed to be a case of hit and miss; while Dell’s P2418D seemed just right, its negative reviews on Amazon and the Dell website largely penned by one person writing multiple entries. I placed the order late one night, and Ascent dispatched it the following day. If not for the courier missing me by an hour, I’d be writing this review a day earlier.
   I realize we’re only hours in to my ownership so there are no strange pixels or noticeable backlight bleed, and assembly and installation were a breeze, other than Windows 10 blocking the installation of one driver (necessitating the use of an elevated command prompt to open the driver executable).
   With my new PC that was made roughly this time last year, I had a Radeon RX580 video card with two Displayport ports, so it was an easy farewell to DVI-D. The new cables came with the monitor. A lot of you will already be used to monitors acting as USB hubs with a downstream cable plugged in, though that is new to me. It does mean, finally, I have a more comfortable location for one of my external HDs, and I may yet relocate the cable to a third external round the back of my PC.
   Windows 10 automatically sized everything to 125 per cent magnification, with a few programs needing that to be overridden (right-click on the program icon, then head into ‘Compatibility’, then ‘Change high DPI settings’).
   Dell’s Display Manager lets you in to brightness, contrast and other settings without fiddling with the hardware buttons, which is very handy. I did have to dial down the brightness and contrast considerably: I’m currently at 45 and 64 per cent respectively.
   And I know it’s just me and not the devices but everything feels faster. Surely I can’t be noticing the 1 ms difference between Displayport and DVI-D?
   I can foresee this being far more productive than my old set-up, and Ascent’s price made it particularly tempting. I can already see more of the in- and outbox detail in Eudora. Plantin looks great here in WordPerfect (which I often prep my long-form writing in), and if type looks good, I’m more inclined to keep working with it. (It never looked quite right at a lower res, though it renders beautifully on my laptop.)
   I feel a little more “late 2010s” than I did before, with the monitor now up to the tech of the desktop PC. Sure, it’s not as razor-sharp as an Imac with a Retina 4K display, but I was happy enough in work situations with the QHD of a 15-inch Macbook Pro, and having that slightly larger feels right. Besides, a 4K monitor at this size—and Dell makes one—was outside what I had budgeted, and I’m not sure if I want to run some of my programs—the ones that don’t use Windows’ magnification—on a 4K screen. Some of their menus would become particularly tiny, and that won’t be great for productivity.
   Maybe when 4K becomes the norm I’ll reconsider, as the programs will have advanced by then, though at this rate I’ll still be using Eudora 7.1, as I do today.

Incidentally, type on Vivaldi (and presumably Chrome) still looks worse than Opera and Firefox. Those who have followed my blogging from the earlier days know this is important to me.

Vivaldi

Opera GX

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Posted in design, internet, publishing, technology, typography | 3 Comments »


Twitter also tracks your preferences, even after you opt out of ad customization

18.01.2020

As with most platforms, I selected, on Twitter, that I didn’t want my advertising to be personalized. I don’t mind them making a buck, but I do mind them tracking my preferences, just as I did with Google and Facebook.
   Google lied about its advertising preferences from 2009 to 2011 till yours truly busted them, and Facebook lies by continuing to compile preferences on you even after opting out, repopulating deleted preferences in some cases, and now, blocking you from making further edits to them. I was surprised that Twitter had a bunch of options I never saw beyond that old ad preferences’ one till I happened across them after clicking ‘Why did I see this ad?’ You can find this here.

   Go a bit further to this link, and there they are, nearly 500 preferences linked to me, compiled even though I had opted out of personalization—making Twitter just as bad as Facebook.


   What do I do? Exactly what I did on Facebook: I deselected each and every single one. Twitter doesn’t need this to market to me. Frankly it’s enough that it has my IP address and it can geo-target. It doesn’t need any more precision than that. I get to the bottom of the page, having done them all:

   And just like Facebook, within hours it has reselected over 400 of them, repopulating preferences and overriding what the user wants.

   In fact, some were being reselected within seconds, but I put that down to the fact I was using a cellphone. As of this writing, the second deselections have been done on the desktop.
   This is simply not right, but we have been seeing signs in the latter part of the 2010s that Twitter is as bad as Facebook, with its love of bots, bigotry and its mass censorship. Now it’s as devoted to selling its users as the rest of Big Tech. The net result is I’ll begin limiting my time on Twitter because its privacy intrusion has gone too far. It cannot be trusted. It will probably become a work tool as Facebook has, where I do little of my own stuff, and only serve my clients; or I simply have automated content.

I suppose you can always say, ‘Well, at least it’s not as bad as …’ and on that note, I checked in to Facebook to see if I could post a question on why advertising preferences were not editable.
   Eventually I found four others had managed, after wading through Facebook’s many layers of pages before getting to one where you could pose a question, to ask the same.

   Except none of them are clickable to a question-and-answer page. They all take you to a Facebook Business advertising queries’ page.
   Therefore, I asked the question even though it had already been asked. I doubt I’ll hear back, as I noticed that on the same visit, Facebook had censored two of my earlier responses.


   Why? They reveal that Facebook’s platform is buggy, that I was unable to do some things on pages that it claimed I was able to do.
   All I can say is that this is petty. Facebook: for the last 15 years your platform has been buggy. Everyone knows this. Covering up a couple of comments made in your own forums, comments that are truthful and actually helpful to others who encounter the same thing, doesn’t make your platform any less buggy. But this is the Zuckerberg way: all-too-precious, wimpy against criticism, with a self-belief that not publishing something will make it go away. I mean, it’s worked against equally wimpy governments. It is a page out of the Google playbook, too: its forums are full of cultist believers who ask, ‘How dare you question our god?’ when you post about bugs. However, it alienates users.
   It’s probably why the old Getsatisfaction Facebook forum was closed down, because it revealed so many bugs about the system.
   I’m hoping the 2020s will see some sort of mass rejection of these Big Tech social-tracking platforms, but I thought that would happen years ago. I was wrong. There are still good people on them but there are also good people on Mastodon and elsewhere.

PS.: Here we are, four hours later, after I unticked all the preferences. At least 300 of them have been reselected by Twitter. So it is like Facebook. Once again, we have to say to a US Big Tech firm: stop lying. Your claims about your settings are bogus.

P.PS.: Day two, still fighting Twitter, which reticked a lot (but not all) of the preferences. Still in the hundreds.

P.P.PS.: Day two, two hours later, 107 reticked:

P.P.P.PS.: Day four:

P.P.P.PS.: Day seven, still battling:

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 2 Comments »


The descent of Instagram

29.04.2019

The descent of software seems to be a common theme among some companies. You get good ones, like Adobe and Fontlab, where (generally) successive versions tend to improve on those gone before. Then you get bad ones, like Facebook, which make things worse with each iteration.
   Facebook Timeline launched to much fanfare at the beginning of the decade, and I admit that it was a fantastic design, despite some annoying bugs (e.g. one that revealed that Facebook staff had no idea there were time zones outside US Pacific time). It was launched at the right time: a real innovation that helped boost my waning interest in the platform. But then they started fiddling with it. I equated it to what General Motors did with the Oldsmobile Toronado: a really pure design upon launch for 1966, with that purity getting spoiled with each model year, till the 1970 one lost a lot of what made it great to begin with. Don’t get me started on the 1971s.
   Facebook had, for instance, two friends’ boxes when they began fiddling. The clever two-column layout eventually disappeared so what we were left with was a wide wall, a retrograde step.
   They’ve spent the rest of the decade not innovating, but by seemingly ensuring that every press announcement they make is a complete lie, or at least something not followed up by concrete action.
   When they bought Instagram, they began ruining it as well. First to go in 2016 were the maps, which I thought were one of the platform’s best features. Instagram claimed few used them, but given that by this point Facebook owned them, any “claim” must be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps their databases could not handle it. Back in the days of Getsatisfaction reports, there were more than enough examples of Facebook’s technical shortcomings.
   In December I had to replace my phone after the old one was dropped, but now I’m wondering whether I should have spent the money getting it fixed. Because the new phone is running on a skin over Android 7, and it looks like Instagram doesn’t support this version, as far as videos are concerned. So you could say that videos are no longer supported. Since December I’ve had to Bluetooth all my videos to my old phone, peer through what I could make of the details on a dodgy screen, and upload that way, if I wanted a proper frame rate. User feedback on Reddit and elsewhere suggests the cure is to upgrade to Android 8, not something I know how to do.
   It might have been a bug, or it may have been a case of trialling a feature among a tiny subset of users, but for ten months I could upload videos of over eight minutes. As of February 2019, that feature vanished, and I’m back to a minute. I notice others now have it as part of IGTV, but I can’t see anything that will allow me to do the same, and why would I want vertical videos, anyway? God gave us eyes that are side by side, not one above the other. Frankly, when you’ve been spoiled by videos going between eight and nine minutes, one minute is very limiting.
   Now I see with the latest versions of Instagram that the filters don’t even work. For the last few versions, no preview appears for most of the filters; and now it’s constantly ‘Can’t continue editing’ (v. 90) or ‘Your photo couldn’t be processed correctly’ (v. 89).


   Instagram is a steadily collapsing platform and I shudder to think what it’ll be like when they get to the 1971 Oldsmobile Toronado stage. I almost wonder if Facebook is doing the digital equivalent of asset-stripping and taking the good stuff into its own platform, to force us into their even shittier ecosystem. At this rate, others like me—long-time users—will cease to use it and go with the likes of Pixelfed. I stay on there because of certain friends, but, like Facebook, at some stage, they may have to get accustomed to the notion that I am no longer on there for anyone else but a few clients. And they may bugger off, too, sick of every second item being an ad. We’ll have foretold this bent toward anti-quality years before the mainstream media catch on to it, as we have done with Google and Facebook, and all their gaffes.

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Posted in design, internet, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


Work as if it’s 2001

06.04.2019


Asus

One beauty to having new tech, even if it stretched my budget, is how my use of the desktop and laptop computers is more efficient. I don’t just mean the speed and stability (since the previous computers were both Windows 7 machines that had been upgraded to 10) but the way I use the programs on them.
   Some things are constant: I’ll happily edit fonts or magazines on both since they’re both equipped with the same software. It’s now a breeze to copy everything from one machine on to a portable hard drive running USB 3 and putting it all on the other machine. While I can copy them on to a network, this hardware-based method is still faster.
   But where things have really changed are with email. I’ve never seen the benefits of having email on the cloud, especially with how a company can unilaterally take everything away from you. Google is notorious for this—last week I saw many complaints about a service they have removed—so I’ve never seen the problem about having an email client, into which you download your messages.
   Since the end of the last century, I archive old emails on to an optical disc, initially CD-ROMs, later DVD-ROMs. I keep roughly a year on a computer at any given time. It’s sufficient for over 99 per cent of cases.
   When I first started travelling with a laptop in 2001, at a time when I would be the only passenger at the airport gate looking at a device (the reverse is now true: everyone but me is on one), I used to take my email with me. All the email folders from my desktop machine would be duplicated, and I would use Eudora on the laptop for the next weeks. I could queue up replies and connect via AT&T Global, dialling up using a local phone number. When I got back to Wellington, I would copy the email folders back on to the desktop. There would be some conflicts with filenames and embedded files, but overall this was how I lived, as a business person, for a long time.
   A few years ago, with VNC software getting reasonably good and with wifi (or ethernet) fairly prevalent in the places I travelled to, I began skipping this step. I would simply use VNC to link back home and email would stay on the desktop. This would save considerable time copying the email folders each way. Oftentimes, with the fast internet at the office, it would actually be quicker doing things using a remote desktop.
   But in 2019, it turns out that going back to my 2001 method is very reliable. USB 3 is that much faster so copying files is a breeze. On a recent trip I put everything on to my laptop—now big enough to carry it all, with a 1 Tbyte hard drive next to its 240 Gbyte SSD—and only used VNC to grab files I didn’t have with me. Copying it all back upon my return took very little time. Because the copying is so comprehensive, I don’t wind up with filename conflicts. I happily queue up emails till I’m around an internet signal or connection again, just as I did nearly two decades ago. It’s proved really productive and on Saturdays I have been known to pop in to Sierra Café in town and tap away some personal messages.
   It would be highly unfortunate if the laptop was stolen, and I haven’t got into the practice of backing everything up while travelling just yet. Obviously I’ll have to work this in as part of the routine on longer trips, and it could eat up more time than I think. At least with the VNC way, the desktop computer was set up to make back-ups, and I haven’t done that with the laptop since it’s not always connected.

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Posted in business, internet, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


The Singer of desktop PCs

24.02.2019

I never planned to spend quite this much on computers in the first two months of the year.
   The laptop was in dire need of an upgrade, so I had budgeted for it. After getting it, I was impressed, but thought that the desktop PC, which dates from 2012 and upgraded with a Crucial 525 Gbyte SSD just over two years ago, was holding its own. The processor might have been slow, but then, I’m a middle-aged man with reflexes slower than that of a 20-year-old, so I hardly noticed. I thought, best-case scenario, I’d look at an upgrade at the end of 2019.
   Last Wednesday, the PC wouldn’t start properly. I was incredibly lucky as I had backed up all pertinent directories the night before, and only lost a bunch of frequently used scans (which can be re-created) and some text files where I wrote down some drafts. In the grand scheme, this was the least amount of data I had ever lost, and I’m very old-school: I still download emails with a client and burn mailbox archives on to DVD.
   The original diagnosis was a faulty SSD, where the operating system lived. The computer kept booting on to the secondary hard drive, which I used prior to the SSD. The hard drive was cloned in 2016 and became a storage drive, but I never deleted the old OS from it. The plan: get a new SSD and clone it again.
   I took the computer to Atech, where I was a regular visitor anyway. I had even discussed the possibility of buying a PC from them. The boss, Kidd Liang, began cloning the hard drive on to a fresh Samsung SSD, which he believed would be more reliable than the Crucial. But after attempting the process twice, he said there were too many bad sectors on the hard drive for the cloning to be successful. Based on the noise, he deduced something else would bite the dust: either the power supply or the graphics’ card. Nevertheless, he plugged the SSD into the PC—and it was at this point the power supply failed.
   I’ve seen multiple faults like this before—I had one machine in the 2000s die with a motherboard failure, then a CPU one, within 24 hours. Kidd said I was incredibly lucky as someone who had done a major back-up, because I then faced the very real prospect of needing a new desktop PC. I was able to continue working on Wednesday night thanks to my laptop, and when it was plugged in to my big monitor, I finally noticed the speed difference of a modern machine versus my old one. And I liked it.
   Therefore, it was with some excitement I collected my desktop PC from Atech on Saturday morning. I didn’t want to go overboard but at the same time needed to do some future-proofing. Kidd calls it the ‘vintage gaming series’, as he reused my old Cooler Master case and DVD-ROM drive, along with the top fan, but everything else was replaced. It’s like one of those Singer Porsches: old on the outside, new on the inside. My existing Windows licence worked on the new machine. Inside was the Samsung along with a new 2 Tbyte hard drive; the 1 Tbyte I had was also installed, even if it has bad sectors. It’ll be the back-up of the back-up.
   Going with a six-core Ryzen 5 2600 isn’t as impressive as the laptop’s i7-8750H, but once the programs are running I don’t notice much difference (middle age again). There’s an Aorus X470 motherboard, 16 Gbyte of RAM, and instead of going with Geforce, I decided to see how a Sapphire Nitro Plus Radeon RX 580 with 8 Gbyte on the video would be like.
   While everything is more stable and faster, I don’t get a sense of a major leap, probably because of the 2016 SSD upgrade. Nevertheless, it’s given me a fresh start for 2019, with some old software (e.g. Gammadyne Mailer) not having made it on to the new machine. More time-consuming was getting the fonts right: Windows 10 now selects a user directory for some of your fonts and these do not appear in the registry (the trick is to change the permissions of the fonts’ folder, and make sure the fonts are installed for all users). And, once again, the reliability index has gone from 10 to 1 because Windows seems to be allergic to either software or usage. There’s still the odd program that needs to be installed, but as the weekend draws to a close, we’re almost there. The coming week’s going to be a busy one and it’s nice facing it with new tech.
   I have to give Atech public praise, too. When I bought this computer’s predecessor at PB, you could still do a deal with the local manager, and you had the sense you weren’t just a number. Drew and Mark really looked after me. PB has deservedly grown because of its keen pricing and marketing, but as it has done so, you now get the feeling that it’s no longer the friendly, small retailer that it once was, with all of the promo coordinated in Auckland. Kidd at Atech on Cuba Street brings me back to that one-on-one feel: you could talk to the boss and do a deal. Matt, who usually served me at Atech since the Wakefield Street days, did the same. You aren’t just a number here, and it was a pleasure to be able to chat through my exact requirements and have a rig built to my specifications and (meagre, post-laptop-buying) budget.

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Posted in interests, marketing, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 5 Comments »


How to get a perfect 10 in reliability on Windows 10

02.02.2019

I’ve had a great week with my new laptop, though it exhibits some of the same traits I’ve frequently seen with Windows 10: settings’ windows vanishing when attempting to load. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, demo PCs I’ve seen at the store have terrible reliability history scores, and mine is no exception. It ranked a 10 when it left Just Laptops in Auckland, but dropped to 1 when I began installing software on it. The lesson here is this: Windows 10 is allergic to software and usage. Never install a thing on it, and never touch it, and it might continue being a 10. It’s that simple.
   Of course, there is the issue of updating it, and even a PC on absolutely stock settings has trouble with that

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Posted in humour, New Zealand, technology | 1 Comment »


The Asus FX504 is far better than reviewers think

22.01.2019





Top: The new laptop, just unboxed. Centre: Publicity shots at strange angles. Above: The specs, as told by Windows.

When I think about it, I’ve gone through quite a lot of laptops over the years. The first this century (as there was an Apple II-compatible that I used for some months in the 1980s, though I think we called them portable computers back then) was a Dell, ordered online, costing over NZ$3,000 in 2001. That laptop, which is still alive (at least when plugged into the mains), ran Windows Me and I was surprised to see just how small a screen I was prepared to put up with. This was back in the day when I was the only person at the airport lounge with a device; now the opposite is true as I don’t always wish to be glued to a screen.
   There was a HP–Compaq in 2004 that was used by one of my team, and I later inherited it, running it into the ground with a motherboard failure by 2009. I took delivery of an Asus after that (that unit’s still with us, too, now running Ubuntu and plugged into the television), and was impressed by Windows Vista. In my opinion, it didn’t deserve the bad rap that it got. A Lenovo G570 bought off a charity was next, a friend having installed a 250 Gbyte SSD within, so it wasn’t as clunky as you might have expected.
   The laptops I disliked were the Compaq and the Lenovo, since they weren’t bought for me at the outset, and never really suited my requirements. Today I took delivery of an Asus FX504GD from Just Laptops, with a 240 Gbyte SSD within coupled to a 1 Tbyte conventional hard drive for data. It’s running an Intel Core i7-8750H with six cores, 16 Gbyte of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX1050 with 4 Gbyte, and a full HD IPS display. It wasn’t my first choice but Just Laptops discovered a fault while testing that laptop, and recommended this one. I could have had a refund if I chose. The service, I should note, was excellent, especially since I was buying the computer sight unseen, and Des at Just Laptops made sure I was posted about every single stage of the transaction, from the work he had to do and when the laptop got to the courier.
   Of course the review is positive so far, since it’s only hours out of the box. I haven’t trialled it without the laptop being plugged in to the mains, so I can’t give a report on the supposedly poor battery life. But I have definitely noticed more positives than reviewers have let on, though admittedly the FX504s many of them tested weren’t as highly specced. It seems there are some real budget models overseas.
   For a start, the SSD gives decent speeds. I’ve had no issues with the viewing angles on the display; in fact, the type renders beautifully, and while it’s not a match for 4K, it’s still respectable in 2019. In fact, the GTX1050 does a very good job and ClearType works even better here than on my desktop machine (though this could well be down to the smaller 15·6-inch screen). I haven’t even changed the Microsoft default font, Segoe UI, because it actually looks pleasant here. The plastic chassis is fine, since I’ve put up with that on the majority of my laptops. One negative, and this is where I concur with reviewers, is the fan noise, which can be loud when the computer is under a heavier load. I don’t play games but it handles the layout, font editing and photo-editing work that I do, and the fast processor makes life so much more tolerable when I’m on the go away from the office. I’ve found that buying machines destined for gamers helps considerably with the type of work I do.
   The lit keyboard is reasonably good to type on, though generally I dislike chiclet keys. (I had once hoped that the chiclet trend would vanish by the time I had to replace the first Asus; it still hasn’t happened.) The lights turned out to be quite handy in less than ideal conditions in my lounge as opposed to my office. Even though I have long owned a gaming keyboard (a Cooler Master Quickfire TK) where I can turn on the lights, I’ve never seen the need to. I bought that because I make fewer errors with mechanical keyboards; and yes, typing on the FX504 isn’t as much of a joy. Still, it isn’t as bad as typing on many other laptops.
   Finally, I get a decent numeric keypad on a laptop, and the key layout is superior to that on the Quickfire. My other gripe is that I can’t tell when num lock is on.
   The unit feels robust (hence Asus’s TUF moniker, apparently standing for The Ultimate Force, which sounds like a science film narrated by Prof Stephen Hawking—points for those who know the origin of this joke). For someone like me who will use this laptop on the go, it’s good to know that it will stand up to a few knocks, even if I do look after it in a nice case. It doesn’t have the red lines on the case (which might appeal to younger gamers, but not to a middle-aged man).
   Annoyingly, though you can’t have everything, there is no optical drive, something which had once been a non-negotiable. But when I saw the specs and the deal Des was willing to do, that seemed secondary. I could always pick up a separate DVD drive which my partner and I could share, since she found herself sans drive in 2017 when she bought her Asus. If I have to be honest with myself, I only needed that drive a couple of times a year.
   Asus also put every port on the left apart from a Kensington lock on the right: not necessarily the decision I would have made if I were designing, since it would make sense to me to have some things plugged in to the right as well. Once I add, say, a Vodafone USB stick when I’m somewhere without readily available internet, having all the USB ports on a single side could get old really quickly.
   It didn’t take long to install the software that I had licences for, and, importantly, the fonts now match my desktop computer’s. The exercise that did take long tonight was taking everything off the Lenovo, since it didn’t come with installation discs (neither did this Asus, incidentally, which could be problematic five or six years down the line as I had to reinstall the OS on the previous one). I make so many changes to my computers that undoing them, and returning the font menu to stock, don’t bring me much joy. It’s the customizing that’s fun, not taking off the alloys and leather seats.
   Come February there’ll be two laptops for sale as the old Asus and Lenovo will head on to Trade Me. The latter is still acceptable as a workhorse thanks to its SSD, though you may need to be a masochist to buy the former. I feel I’ve future-proofed for a few years now, with a laptop that should suit my working needs.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology | 5 Comments »


A more honest computing glossary

26.10.2018

Since (mostly) leaving Facebook, and cutting down on Twitter, I’ve come to realize the extent of how outdated traditional computing definitions have become. To help those who need to get up to speed, I’ve compiled a few technobabble words and translated them into normal English.

app: in many cases, an extremely limited web browser for your cellphone that only works with one site, as opposed to a proper web browser that works with many sites.

bots: fake, computer-driven profiles masquerading as real humans on, predominantly, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

clean install: something entirely unnecessary, but suggested by tech support people who want to cover up buggy operating systems (q.v. Windows 10).

cloud: hackable online repository of naughty photos of celebrities.

comments’ section: when you see this while surfing, it’s a reminder to leave the web page you are on and make up your own mind.

Facebook: a website where bots live, where post-sharing is intentionally broken to ensure you need to pay for attention. Once paid, your posts are shared with bots, so even fewer humans actually see them.

Facebook friend: (a) a friend; (b) a total stranger; (c) a bot.

Google: (a) a virtual hole into which you dump all your private information, to be sold on to corporations, but feel good doing it because you gave it up to a private company to use against you rather than have the state take it to use against you; (b) a cult that supports (a), whose members will think you have a degenerative brain disease if you dare question the perfection of their god.

malware scanner: malware (especially when offered by Facebook, q.v.).

messenger app: an inefficient messaging program where typing takes 10 times as long as on a desktop or laptop computer. Designed to dissuade you from actually calling the person.

phone: portable computing device, not used to make calls.

remote desktop: when your operating system fails, and the odds of you seeing your familiar screen are remote.

social media: media where people are antisocial.

Twitter: (a) social media with no discernible rules on who gets kicked off and why; (b) where the US president gets angry.

white balance: when racists attack people of colour but pretend they are noble and against racism.

Weibo: a website monitored by the Chinese Communist Party, where users have more freedom than on Facebook and Twitter.

Windows 10: a buggy operating system that requires 10 goes at any updates or patches, hence the name.

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Posted in culture, humour, internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


The porn blackmail scam—ignore it if you receive it

24.07.2018

I’m not saying I can’t be conned—because by my own admission, I have been—but sometimes when you’re very sure of your position, scammers’ lies don’t work.
   Here’s a fascinating one that came in today, a lot more aggressive than the usual request for helping someone move millions of dollars of bullion out of the country. I can imagine people getting sucked in to this, because I have a friend who really was filmed without his knowledge and then (unsuccessfully) blackmailed. I’m posting it in case others have received something similar.

From: Klemens Munger
To: [Redacted]
Subject: jack.yan – [redacted]
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2018 04:27:08 +0000

I am well aware [redacted] one of your passphrase. Lets get straight to the purpose. You may not know me and you’re probably thinking why you are getting this e mail? No one has paid me to investigate you. In fact, I setup a software on the X videos (pornography) website and guess what, you visited this website to have fun (you know what I mean). When you were watching video clips, your web browser initiated functioning as a Remote Desktop having a keylogger which gave me access to your display screen and also web camera. after that, my software program gathered every one of your contacts from your Messenger, FB, and email . And then I created a double-screen video. 1st part displays the video you were viewing (you’ve got a good taste haha . . .), and second part displays the view of your webcam, and its u. You have got a pair of choices. Lets analyze these solutions in details: Very first choice is to dismiss this e-mail. In such a case, I will send out your actual video to all of your contacts and visualize regarding the awkwardness that you receive. Keep in mind if you are in an affair, exactly how it will affect? Other alternative will be to pay me $7000. Let us describe it as a donation. In such a case, I most certainly will right away remove your video. You will keep daily life like this never happened and you will not hear back again from me. You’ll make the payment by Bitcoin (if you don’t know this, search for “how to buy bitcoin” in Google search engine). BTC Address to send to: 1AarwsrgvhQ5CNuhWGMjmv34yPQTXWEaxh [case SENSITIVE, copy and paste it] Should you are wondering about going to the cop, surely, this message cannot be traced back to me. I have covered my moves. I am not trying to ask you for a huge amount, I would like to be paid for. I have a unique pixel within this e-mail, and at this moment I know that you have read this email message. You have one day in order to make the payment. If I don’t get the BitCoins, I will certainly send your video recording to all of your contacts including close relatives, coworkers, etc. Nonetheless, if I receive the payment, I will erase the video immediately. If you want proof, reply with Yea and I will send out your video to your 13 contacts. It is a non-negotiable offer, that being said please don’t waste my personal time & yours by replying to this message.

   There’s plenty of evidence this is automated.
   Think carefully: if he knows this much about you, then why isn’t he addressing you by name?
   And I haven’t used that particular password for nearly 20 years, so there’s a chance he came across this through the hacking of a defunct website. I also seldom use the same password for different websites (there are a handful of exceptions).
   It’s also helpful that I haven’t ever committed a sex act in front of my computer, but I have a feeling that others might think this was a real threat given how many people visit porn sites daily.
   If this was genuine, as it was for a friend of mine, it would come with a screen shot of the video that he claims to have (and that was a two-part image as he claims, so it’s based on scams that have taken place).
   I won’t go into depth on why else I know this is bogus, although most of you who follow me regularly will be able to spot the scammer’s pretty obvious mistakes.
   And do you really think I only have 13 contacts? (Why is the number usually so low with these scams?)
   Finally, out of curiosity, since I take my privacy seriously, I checked to see if there was a tracking pixel. There wasn’t, at least not in the software I use.
   It’s a good idea to turn your images off when it comes to webmail (as they are on Zoho for me) in case future ones come with one. My email client filtered this as junk, as it surely is.

After I wrote the above post, I came across this page, where the scam is discussed. They only wanted $360–$600 a few months ago. The price has gone up, which suggests that it has worked. It appears that the defunct-password technique only surfaced this month.

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Posted in culture, internet, technology | 2 Comments »