Posts tagged ‘Microsoft Windows’


Returning to Firefox?

17.02.2020

I wonder if it’s time to return to Firefox after an absence of two years and five months. After getting the new monitor, the higher res makes Firefox’s and Opera GX’s text rendering fairly similar (though Chrome, Vivaldi and Edge remain oddly poor, and Vivaldi’s tech people haven’t been able to replicate my bug). There’s a part of me that gravitates toward Firefox more than anything with a Google connection, and I imagine many Kiwis like backing underdogs.
   Here are some examples, bearing in mind Windows scales up to 125 per cent on QHD.

Vivaldi (Chrome renders like this, too)

Opera GX (and how Vivaldi used to render)

Firefox

   Opera renders text slightly more widely than Firefox, but the subpixel rendering of both browsers is similar, though not identical. Type in Firefox arguably comes across with slightly less contrast than it should (especially for traditionally paper-based type, where I have a good idea of how it’s “supposed” to look) but I’m willing to experiment to see if I enjoy the switch back.
   In those 29 months, a lot has happened, with Navigational Sounds having vanished as an extension, and I had to get a new Speed Dial (FVD Speed Dial) to put on my favourite sites. FVD uninstalled itself earlier today without any intervention from me, so if that recurs, I’ll be switching to something else. I don’t like computer programs having a will of their own.
   A lot of my saved passwords no longer work, since I change them from time to time, and it was interesting to see what Firefox remembered from my last period of regular use. I’ll have to import some bookmarks, too—that file has been going between computers since Netscape.
   The big problem of 2017—Firefox eating through memory like crazy (6 Gbyte in a short time)—could be fixed now in 2020 by turning off hardware acceleration. It’s actually using less right now than Opera GX, and that’s another point in its favour.
   I also like the Facebook Container that keeps any trackers from Zuck and co. away.
   I did, however, have to get new extensions after having resided in the Vivaldi and Opera space for all that time, such as Privacy Badger.
   If I make Firefox the default I know I’ll have truly switched back. But that Opera GX sure is a good looking browser. I might have to look for some skins to make common-garden Firefox look smarter.

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Posted in design, internet, typography | No Comments »


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 »


When Universal Media Server loads the wrong dot-conf file for your device

25.08.2019

The latest Universal Media Server has never worked for me. Many years ago, I downloaded what must have been v. 6, and it went well. Upon receiving notification I should upgrade, I did—only to have no videos play any more. Only thumbnails appeared and that was the best UMS could do.
   Fast forward to 2019, when I buy a new computer, expecting that, with a clean installation of Windows 10, any prior issue would be history. Not so: UMS still behaved the same, so I ran v. 6.3.2, which works about 85 per cent of the time. This is, of course, better than 0 per cent for more recent versions.
   I’m at a loss on why newer versions don’t work, considering this computer shares little with its predecessor other than licences for programs that have no relation to media streaming. Yet I must be in a minority (again) since there are few entries of this in UMS forums.
   Today’s error was interesting, and this is a note to myself and anyone else who comes across it. Those who believe software runs the same every time are either unobservant or kidding themselves: while on a Mac this usually holds true, on Windows it is sheer fantasy. UMS refused to recognize my TV as a TV, loading the configuration for Microsoft Windows Media Player (WMP) instead. Naturally, nothing played—in fact, nothing was found in any of the directories.
   Fix: I edited the UMS configuration file manually, searched for selected_renderers =, and added what the program usually found: Vizio Smart TV. Quit and restart (the executable from the program’s directory).
   It does mean the other configurations might not load, but since most of the time I’m watching UMS-streamed content on my TV, then I’m sorted. If I have other devices to load, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

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In my experience, the only browser that works with Jetstar’s website is Safari for Mac

23.07.2019

I’ve found some forum entries about this, but they date back to the beginning of the decade. I alerted Jetstar to this in March, and the problem has worsened since then.
   Basically, I can’t book online, and I don’t know why. Consequently, I booked one flight with Air New Zealand and only managed, after huge effort, to get the other (for a colleague) with Jetstar.
   Back in March, I couldn’t book with Vivaldi, but I was able to switch to Firefox. I let Jetstar know.
   Now, this strategy does not work.
   Before you suggest it, cookies and caches have been cleared.
   Here’s what happens after I’ve selected the cities and the dates, and I go to select times. Let’s begin with Vivaldi on Windows, which is based on Chromium (which, as we know, is what Chrome, the browser Jetstar suggests you use, is based on):

Switching to Firefox now results in this:

Switching to Edge on the same PC gives this:

   Fortunately, I also own Macs, so here’s what Firefox for Mac returns:

   The only browser that works with the Jetstar website: Safari on Mac. As I’ve sold my Ubuntu laptop, I was unable to test using that OS.
   Not many people would go to that effort, and while Jetstar’s Twitter staff (after some pushing from me in DMs) said they would refer it on, I don’t expect anything to happen.
   Maybe Chrome would work, but I’m not ever going to download it to find out. Why invite Google on to your computer? But if that is the case, it seems foolish to limit yourself to such an invasive browser. My experience is that whatever is blocking me from booking with Jetstar (some may argue that this is a good thing), it is expanding across browsers.

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Posted in business, design, internet, technology | No Comments »


‘The last USB device you connected to this computer malfunctioned’—such a simple solution for phones

30.06.2019

Over the last few years, I’ve had some USB memory sticks go bad. There was one particular type—a cheap one from the Warehouse—that failed once on Windows 10. The error was ‘The last USB device you connected to this computer malfunctioned, and Windows does not recognize it.’ The problem was that any other USB stick of the same brand would return the same error, even non-faulty ones, from then on.
   I took them back to the Warehouse and while one of them actually was kaput, the others I alleged were faulty weren’t. The trouble was that there was no way to make Windows 10 forget the error.
   I did the usual ways you find on the internet: going to the device manager, removing the device drivers, scanning for hardware changes, etc., to no avail. Once guilty, forever guilty. There was no turning back.
   Tonight, I encountered the same error when plugging in my phone. However, the last time I had plugged it in, there were no errors, so something already was amiss. When probing more, the error was ‘Windows has stopped this device because it has reported problems. (Code 43)’, and again, every bit of advice online was useless.
   These included: restarting your PC; uninstalling the affected device driver; installing generic Android drivers (none were available at Meizu directly); checking all cables; using different USB ports. Two hours later, which included contemplating getting a Bluetooth dongle for my PC, I came across a solution that should have been obvious much earlier: reboot the phone.
   That’s all it took.
   I’m putting this here since no one else seems to have suggested this, of all the pages I read over the last few hours. It’s obvious now with hindsight, but not when you’re following well meaning advice online and trying to do it all procedurally. I knew instinctively I didn’t have to uninstall everything that was USB-related, and I’m glad I never made it that complicated for myself. Hopefully this blog post will save others two hours’ trial and error.

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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 »


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 »


PS/2 keyboard one way to get your Windows 10 computer back after bricking

10.05.2018


Everybody wants PS2. Still from The Professionals episode ‘Servant of Two Masters’.

I read this article in The Guardian, thinking: surely, after Microsoft rolled out some terrible updates, it wouldn’t be so stupid as to do one that bricks customers’ computers again? Especially after the bug was reported a month ago.
   The April update worked reasonably well, though I lost my wallpaper. But everything else was there, and I was using Vivaldi, which is a Chromium-based browser.
   Then I rebooted.
   That was it: my computer was bricked. The first boot, a very tiny rotating circle eventually appeared, but I couldn’t do anything except move the circle with my mouse. Subsequent reboots just resulted in a black screen—something, I must say, I had already encountered with an earlier Windows update that saw my having to take the PC back to the shop.
   I rebooted the computer three times to force it into recovery mode, but then there was another problem: neither mouse nor keyboard worked. It was as though USB was dead.
   Out of sheer luck I had a PS/2 keyboard that was unused, and after more forced reboots, I was able to use the old keyboard to look at various recovery options. Remember: no input device on USB works, and this was a bug that had surfaced with the last update in February.
   Forget system restore: the April update is a fresh OS, so there are no restore points.
   I had no choice but to roll back to the previous version I had installed.
   And here I am, back again, an hour wasted. It would probably be longer if I didn’t have an SSD.
   Microsoft, get your QC sorted, because this current model you’ve employed over the last few years simply does not work. I have spent more hours on these updates than with any OS you have ever rolled out, and that includes XP Service Pack 3 on a comparatively ancient system.
   And if you get stuck like I do, and like all those in The Guardian’s article did, I hope you still have a way of plugging in a PS/2 device and have an old-school keyboard lying around.

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Posted in China, design, globalization, marketing, technology, USA | No Comments »


When Microsoft says your Windows 10 needs a reset or full reinstallation, they might be wrong

14.02.2018

As many of you know, between around December 8 and February 2—dates during which I had Microsoft Windows 10’s fall Creators update without the January 31 cumulative patch—my computer suffered roughly three to six BSODs per day. Going on to Bleeping Computer was helpful, but Microsoft’s wisdom tended to be hackneyed and predictable.
   While I was lucky at Microsoft Answers and got a tech who wasn’t rehashing remarks from other threads, eventually he gave up and suggested I download the old spring Creators update, if that was the last version that was OK.
   I never had the time, and on February 2, I got the cumulative patch and everything has been fine since.
   It means, of course, that Microsoft had released a lemon at the end of 2017 and needed a big patch to deal with the problems it had caused. No word to their people on the forum though, who were usually left scratching their heads and concluding that the only option was a clean installation.
   I had bet one of the techs, however, that there was nothing wrong with my set-up, and everything to do with the OS. We know Windows is no longer robust because of the QC processes Microsoft uses, with each team checking its own code. That’s like proofreading your own work. You don’t always spot the errors.
   I said I could walk into any computer store and find that the display models were crashing as well.
   Last weekend, I did just that.
   Here are the Reliability Monitors of two Dell laptops running factory settings picked at random at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt.



Above: The Reliability Monitors of two display Dell laptops at JB Hi-fi in Lower Hutt, picked at random.


Above: My Reliability Monitor doesn’t look too bad by comparison—and suggests that it’s Microsoft, not my set-up, that was responsible for the multiple BSODs.

   The Monitors look rather like my own, not scoring above 2 out of 10.
   They are crashing on combase.dll for the most part, whereas mine’s crashing on ntdll.dll. Nevertheless, these are crashes that shouldn’t be happening, and a new machine shouldn’t have a reliability score that low.
   For those of you who suspect you have done nothing wrong, that your computer has always worked till recently, and you practise pretty good computer maintenance, your gut’s probably right. The bugs aren’t your fault, but that of slapdash, unchecked programming. I doubt you need full reinstallations. You may, however, have to put up with the bugs till a patch is released. It is the folly of getting an update too early—a lesson that was very tough to relearn this summer.

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