Posts tagged ‘software’

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


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 | No Comments »

The folly of Windows 10


Now that I’ve gone four days without a BSOD, it does appear Microsoft realized it had rolled out another lemon, and, nearly two months later, patched things. Goodness knows how many hours it has cost people worldwide—the forums have a lot of people reporting BSODs (maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I really don’t remember this many, ever). I posted this in a discussion entitled ‘Windows 10 is a nightmare!’, and the comments there make for sobering reading. A small number have had to purchase new computers; others report that the OS has made their computers unusable or that countless hours were spent trying to fix things. I can believe it. My addition:

I have to concur with the original poster: Windows 10 has been, hands-down, the most shockingly unreliable OS ever made, by anyone, anywhere.
   I have spent more time here for this OS than at any other time with Microsoft products—and Windows 10 has been terrible from day one.
   Most recently, I have had multiple BSODs per day since the fall Creators update was installed, and until Microsoft rolled out a patch at the end of January that finally fixed problems of its own making. If your computer is BSODing multiple times a day, with 800-plus events in the reliability monitor per week, then you can imagine how little work gets done. Things finally calmed down on February 2, when I received the cumulative update. You can see the thread for yourself here: I actually feel sorry for the MS tech who stepped in, because he’s solving problems a crap product with faults not of his own making. They won’t be bugs that are in his handbook. Looking at this part of the forum alone, BSOD comes up a lot in the subject lines, more than I ever remember. So it isn’t us, Microsoft, it’s you.
   Going right back to day one, I can’t believe how many threads I’m involved in. Windows 10 started up differently each day, as it would forget its own settings each day. Some days Cortana worked, other days it didn’t. Sometimes I had the UK keyboard (which I had never once installed), other days the US. In November 2015 I had to post a queryto ask how many hours it would take for a Windows 10 machine to shut down. That’s right, hours. At least that’s better than some of you who commented earlier who can’t get yours to start up.
   Initially, Cortana required fiddling with each day to get it to work. Notifications once went back in time—on a Saturday I began getting notifications from the previous Thursday. None from Friday though, they all vanished. Windows began forgetting my default browser and default PDF application, and no, you couldn’t fix either from the standard settings. The Anniversary update took 11 attempts to install on this PC—and one of them screwed things up so badly my PC was bricked and wound up at the shop, where I had to spend money to get it fixed urgently. (I joked at the time it was called Windows 10 because you needed more than 10 attempts to do anything.) It never installed on my laptop at all: by the time Creators spring came round, the one update that was compatible with my laptop, it had been through 40 unsuccessful update cycles.
   There’s still more that I can share, and you can probably find it via my profile. I would add more but on the original reply I actually hit a limit on these boxes. I guess Microsoft has a limit to how much bad news it can take from one user.
   Microsoft has actually changed its QC procedures for the worse—that is a matter of record—and you’d think after three years of abject failure they would switch back. We see the same hackneyed official responses here day in, day out. They need to spend more time getting things right before they ship their OSs, and spare their community people a lot of wasted hours with solutions that generally do not work. In my latest thread, I fixed it—yes, the tech helped a bit, but ultimately I had to listen to my gut and believe that MS had messed up. I was right, but wow, at a massive cost to my real job with days lost to being Microsoft’s unpaid technician.

   It is good, however, to come out the other side (knock on wood)—and despite the countless hours spent, I was once again right, and conventional wisdom was wrong. I’m not sure if that’s something to be that proud of. A healthy mistrust of big firms stands one in good stead nevertheless, and remember, every industry has thick people making stuff.

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Posted in technology, USA | 2 Comments »

The path of least resistance: we humans aren’t discerning enough sometimes


I came across a thread at Tedium where Christopher Marlow mentions Pandora Mail as an email client that took Eudora as a starting-point, and moved the game forward (e.g. building in Unicode support).
   As some of you know, I’ve been searching for an email client to use instead of Eudora (here’s something I wrote six years ago, almost to the day), but worked with the demands of the 2010s. I had feared that Eudora would be totally obsolete by now, in 2018, but for the most part it’s held up; I remember having to upgrade in 2008 from a 1999 version and wondering if I only had about nine years with the new one. Fortunately, it’s survived longer than that.
   Brana Bujenović’s Pandora Mail easily imported everything from Eudora, including the labels I had for the tables of contents, and the personalities I had, but it’s not 100 per cent perfect, e.g. I can’t resize type in my signature file. However, finally I’ve found an email client that does one thing that no other client does: I can resize the inbox and outbox to my liking, and have them next to each other. In the mid-1990s, this was one of Eudora’s default layouts, and it amazed me that this very efficient way of displaying emails never caught on. I was also heartened to learn from Tedium that Eudora was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s email client of choice (‘The most important thing I use is Eudora, and that’s discontinued’). I’m in good company.
   However, this got me thinking how most users tolerate things, without regard, in my opinion, to what’s best for them. It’s the path of least resistance, except going down this path makes life harder for them.
   The three-panel layout is de rigueur for email clients today—all the ones I’ve downloaded and even paid good money for have followed this. Thunderbird, Mailbird, the oddly capitalized eM. All have had wonderful reviews and praise, but none allow you to configure the in- and outbox sizes. Hiri’s CEO says that’s something they’re looking at but right now, they’re not there, either. Twenty-plus years since I began using Eudora and no one has thought of doing this, and putting the power of customization with the user.
   But when did this three-panel layout become the standard? I can trace this back to Outlook Express, bundled with Windows in the late 1990s, and, if I’m not mistaken, with Macs as well. I remember working with Macs and Outlook was standard. I found the layout limiting because you could only see a few emails in the table of contents at any given time, and I usually have hundreds of messages come in. I didn’t want to scroll, and in the pre-mouse-wheel environment of the 1990s, neither would you. Yet most people put up with this, and everyone seems to have followed Outlook Express’s layout since. It’s a standard, but only one foisted on people who couldn’t be bothered thinking about their real requirements. It wasn’t efficient, but it was free (or, I should say, the licence fee was included in the purchase of the OS or the computer).
   ‘It was free’ is also the reason Microsoft Word overtook WordPerfect as the standard word processor of the 1990s, and rivals that followed, such as Libre Office and Open Office, had to make sure that they included Word converters. I could never understand Word and again, my (basic) needs were simple. I wanted a word processor where the fonts and margins would stay as they were set till I told it otherwise. Word could never handle that, and, from what I can tell, still can’t. Yet people tolerated Word’s quirks, its random decisions to change font and margins on you. I shudder to think how many hours were wasted on people editing their documents—Word can’t even handle columns very easily (the trick was usually to type things in a single column, then reformat—so much for a WYSIWYG environment then). I remember using WordPerfect as a layout programme, using its Reveal Codes feature—it was that powerful, even in DOS. Footnoting remains a breeze with WordPerfect. But Word overtook WordPerfect, which went from number one to a tiny, niche player, supported by a few diehards like myself who care about ease of use and efficiency. Computers, to me, are tools that should be practical, and of course the UI should look good, because that aids practicality. Neither Outlook nor Word are efficient. On a similar note I always found Quattro Pro superior to Excel.
   With Mac OS X going to 64-bit programs and ending support for 32-bit there isn’t much choice out there; I’ve encountered Mac Eudora users who are running out of options; and WordPerfect hasn’t been updated for Mac users for years. To a large degree this answers why the Windows environment remains my choice for office work, with Mac and Linux supporting OSs. Someone who comes up with a Unicode-supporting word processor that has the ease of use of WordPerfect could be on to something.
   Then you begin thinking what else we put up with. I find people readily forget or forgive the bugs on Facebook, for example. I remember one Twitter conversation where a netizen claimed I encountered more Facebook bugs than anyone else. I highly doubt that, because her statement is down to short or unreliable memories. I seem to recall she claimed she had never experienced an outage—when in fact everyone on the planet did, and it was widely reported in the media at the time. My regular complaints about Facebook are to do with how the website fails to get the basics right after so many years. Few, I’m willing to bet, will remember that no one’s wall updated on January 1, 2012 if you lived east of the US Pacific time zone, because the staff at Facebook hadn’t figured out that different time zones existed. So we already know people put up with websites commonly that fail them; and we also know that privacy invasions don’t concern hundreds of millions, maybe even thousands of millions, of people, and the default settings are “good enough”.
   Keyboards wider than 40 cm are bad for you as you reach unnecessarily far for the mouse, yet most people tolerate 46 cm unless they’re using their laptops. Does this also explain the prevalence of Toyota Camrys, which one friend suggested was the car you bought if you wanted to ‘tell everyone you had given up on life’? It probably does explain the prevalence of automatic-transmission vehicles out there: when I polled my friends, the automatic–manual divide was 50–50, with many in the manual camp saying, ‘But I own an automatic, because I had no choice.’ If I didn’t have the luxury of a “spare car”, then I may well have wound up with something less than satisfactory—but I wasn’t going to part with tens of thousands of dollars and be pissed off each time I got behind the wheel. We don’t demand, or we don’t make our voices heard, so we get what vendors decide we want.
   Equally, you can ask why many media buyers always buy with the same magazines, not because it did their clients any good, but because they were safe bets that wouldn’t get them into trouble with conservative bosses. Maybe the path of least resistance might also explain why in many democracies, we wind up with two main parties that attract the most voters—spurred by convention which even some media buy into. (This also plays into mayoral elections!)
   Often we have ourselves to blame when we put up with inferior products, because we haven’t demanded anything better, or we don’t know anything better exists, or simply told people what we’d be happiest with. Or that the search for that product costs us in time and effort. Pandora has had, as far as I can fathom, no press coverage (partly, Brana tells me, by design, as they don’t want to deal with the traffic just yet; it’s understandable since there are hosting costs involved, and he’d have to pay for it should it get very popular).
   About the only place where we have been discerning seems to be television consumption. So many people subscribe to cable, satellite, Amazon Prime, or Netflix, and in so doing, support some excellent programming. Perhaps that is ultimately our priority as a species. We’re happy to be entertained—and that explains those of us who invest time in social networking, too. Anything for that hit of positivity, or that escapism as we let our minds drift.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, design, internet, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »

Windows 10, with the BSOD-prone Creators fall update, is calming down


I wonder if we have finally got there with Windows 10’s many BSOD crashes.
   Since my last post on the subject in late January, I have had a few more BSODs, but (knock on wood) things have been more stable for a few days. Then again, I haven’t pushed the computer quite as much. Here’s how the Reliability Monitor is looking:

Changes since my last post included adding lines to eudora.ini to switch Quicktime off, which seems to have stabilized that program, and brought the number of appcrash crash messages down.
   However, when I did get a BSOD a few days ago, it looked like this (again after using Explorer):

A post shared by Jack Yan 甄爵恩 (@jack.yan) on

   The memory dump revealed nothing new; it was the same as the one I saw when all this began (as far as I can make out).
   The big change seemed to have happened after I installed the Intel chipsets, and the number of crashes reduced from dozens to between seven and ten.
   I don’t think I have got to an absolute cure yet, but we are getting closer.
   The cumulative Windows update (KB4058258) released a couple of days ago may have helped, too—if it did, it showed that Microsoft had released a lemon with the fall Creators update and rushed to fix things. The number of fixes during the month of January alone suggested that they knew that the OS was iffy. That update was installed yesterday.

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Windows Unreliability Monitor


Microsoft should rename Windows’ Reliability Monitor to Unreliability Monitor.
   This isn’t too unusual for Windows 10, is it?

   I’ve put Oracle Virtualbox and Cyberlink Power2Go back on, because it’s becoming more apparent that Windows 10 is incompatible with my hard drives in certain circumstances. It’s always when a drive (including a phone set up as a drive) is accessed that the system BSODs. It may also be a USB incompatibility. To be on the safe side, I have unplugged one of the two external drives I use.
   The Microsoft technician has finally given up and asked I do a clean install. As if I have the time—the last time I did that was on an Imac: it took days to get all the OS X updates and the software up and running again. Bwv848 at Bleeping Computer is, like me, determined. I’ll do a memtest (their latest suggestion) when I get a chance.
   Just another day using Windows 10 then.

PS.: Since the post: as my settings window would not come up (another fault of Creators fall), I deleted everything out of C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe. That was solved. I also went to Intel to download SetupChipset.exe. Not saying these are solutions to the original cause, and I was largely away from the computer for Sunday. However, I have a real suspicion that, because the computer often BSODs when Explorer (or something relying up on it) is open, there are hard-drive drivers that are failing despite, according to Device Manager, being up to date. One of the modules regularly affected is ntdll.dll, something the Reliability Monitor revealed.—JY

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Posted in technology, USA | 1 Comment »

Another program rendered incompatible with Windows 10’s fall Creators update


It’s fast becoming apparent that Windows 10’s fall Creators update is a lemon, just like the original Windows 10.
   As those of you who have followed my posts know, my PC began BSODing multiple times daily, on average. There were brief interludes (it went for three days without a BSOD once, and yesterday it only BSODed once) but these (now) anomalies don’t really diminish my ‘three to six per day’ claim I made earlier by much.
   And it’s all to do with drivers. I won’t repeat earlier posts but the result was that drivers that came with Mozy, McAfee, Malwarebytes and Oracle Virtualbox caused these. In Mozy’s case, it was an old one. Same with McAfee, the remnants of a program that even their removal tool could not take out. Malwarebytes didn’t even show up in the installed programs’ list, and required another program. In Virtualbox’s case, there were both old and new drivers. They all had to be removed, in most cases manually, because removal procedures don’t seem to take them out. This is a failing, I believe.
   But with all these drivers gone, I still had a BSOD this morning. Four before lunch. The culprit this time was a CLVirtualDrive.sys driver that came with Cyberlink Power2Go, which came bundled when I replaced by DVD burner last year.
   And Cyberlink knows something is wrong with this driver. On December 13, two days after I began getting BSODs, it issued a patch for its latest version. Of course, it leaves those of us with older versions in the lurch, and I was surprised to find that the one it had issued for mine (years old) wouldn’t even run because I was on a bundled OEM edition.
   I’m crying foul. If your program is causing BSODs, then I feel it’s your responsibility to help us out. It shouldn’t matter if it’s a trial version, because this is a window into your business. This signals that Cyberlink doesn’t really want to offer a simple download to prevent users from losing hours each day to fixing their computers, even when they’re partly to blame for the problems.
   Let me say this publicly now: if any of our fonts cause system crashes like this, contact me and I will provide you with fresh copies with which you can upgrade your computer.
   I’m removing Power2Go as I write. It’s superfluous anyway: I only use it because it came as part of the bundle. Windows’ default burning works well enough for me.
   But there’s one thing that Cyberlink’s pages have confirmed: the fall Creators update has problems and it seems to me that it is incompatible with many earlier Windows drivers. We can lay a lot of these problems at Microsoft’s feet. Indeed, based on my experience, you could go far as to say that Windows 10 is now incompatible with many Windows programs.
   That’s all well and good if you have a new computer and the latest software, but what of those of us with older ones who will, invariably, have older drivers or upgraded from older systems?
   Are we now reaching an era where computing is divided between the haves and have-nots? It’s not as though decent new computers at the shops have got any cheaper of late.

Next part: click here.

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Mozy driver could have been behind 100–200 BSODs since the Windows 10 Creators fall update was installed


A post shared by Jack Yan 甄爵恩 (@jack.yan) on

Two very helpful people—bwv848 at Bleeping Computer and Sumit Dhiman at Microsoft—have taken me through the steps to figure out what was going on with my Windows 10 desktop computer, on which I’ve had between 100 and 200 BSODs since the Windows 10 Creators fall update arrived.
   Windows claimed that the error was a DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL in tcpip.sys, but we know that that wasn’t the cause of the crash.
   They had both got to the point where the Driver Verifier had to be run again. On the first attempt, the process had identified an Avira driver, although after removing and reinstalling the anti-virus program, the crashes continued. I had found other dodgy things in the Event Viewer, but solving them didn’t get rid of the BSODs.
   Now that I’m back from holiday—and with Windows 10 crashing one more time and costing me more work that hadn’t been backed up—I gave Driver Verifier one more go.
   I had been averse to it because of the crashes that resulted from it, and had a sense it would tell me the same thing it had in December.
   True to form, Windows wouldn’t even load and it BSODed during the boot. But this time, running Windbg on the dump file revealed something called mobk.sys (Mozy Change Monitor Filter Driver), part of a program called Mozy.
   I’ve never heard of Mozy, but it appears to be a back-up program. Checking my driver, it dates from April 2010 and was installed in 2012—around the time I bought the computer.
   It could well have been installed by me as part of a bundle, or by PB (the retailer).
   Mozy wasn’t helpful. They have a forum, but when you sign up to use it, you get to a page where they want to charge you US$109 for one of their plans. Personally, if I was making software, I’d want reports from people like me. It’s not as though the question was complex: I wanted to know if it made sense to delete the offending driver in safe mode, or maybe download a trial version of their program, then remove it, in the hope that the driver would be overwritten and deleted. It’s only been a couple of hours since I Tweeted them, so I don’t expect any replies till tomorrow.
   Rather than wait, I popped into safe mode and deleted mobk.sys from the system32\drivers folder.
   These errors are deeply frustrating and in direct contrast to the stability that my Imacs have exhibited. Even though I’ve tired of OS X, at least I wasn’t losing work because of three to six BSODs per day.
   The advice I can give to others is to create a system restore point, then run the Driver Verifier, and repeat the two processes until a culprit has been identified.
   There are a few silver linings to this: I got rid of certain software which might have been insecure, and the random resets were quite handy in “clearing” the PC sometimes when I was doing work on it remotely.
   I wonder what had changed in Windows between the spring and fall Creators updates that generated this very serious problem. I haven’t seen Windows crash this often since a dying laptop, on Vista, needed a fresh OS installation (it now runs Ubuntu). I’m still of the mind that Microsoft shipped a lemon, given that I’ve had no end of problems with this OS since it launched, from inconsistent behaviour (Windows 10 would originally be different each time it booted up, from Cortana settings to which keyboard it believed I was using), to very difficult updates (Anniversary took 11 attempts on this PC and never made it on to my laptop even after 40 attempts; it only updated to Creators because all other updates would fail).
   While I can understand that there was no way either Mozy or Microsoft could have checked on a 2010 driver for compatibility, and there are so many configurations of Windows out there, there’s still no escaping that Windows 10 could have shipped with fewer bugs. Happily, as it turned out, the troubleshooting procedures may have worked, even if things wound up taking a month.
   I’ll blog again if I’m wrong about Mozy.

PS. (January 18): After 24-plus hours with no crashes, I got another one, with the same message. Following my own advice, I ran the driver verifier again. Windbg pointed this time to Oracle Virtualbox. I intentionally ran an older version of this because since 2015, no newer version would work due to its hardening feature. Faced with no choice but to update, it had the same error which, finally, I traced to Mactype. This was the error, for those searching:

The virtual machine ‘Windows XP’ has terminated unexpectedly during startup with exit code -1073741819 (0xc0000005). More details may be available in ‘C:\Users\User\VirtualBox VMs\Windows XP\Logs\VBoxHardening.log’.

Result Code:
E_FAIL (0x80004005)
IMachine {85cd948e-a71f-4289-281e-0ca7ad48cd89}

The key is to insert these three lines into Mactype.ini:


   The error also picked up that there were McAfee drivers left behind from what should have been a full removal. I ran mcpr.exe, found in a thread with the ever-helpful Peter (Exbrit on the McAfee forums). Mcpr.exe did not remove the three drivers, so I took them out manually (despite this going against expert advice): mfeclnrk.sys, mfencbdc.sys and mfencrk.sys. There was also a driver from Malwarebytes, which I downloaded after expert advice in the wake of the damage done by Facebook and its forced download in 2016. Malwarebytes had to be removed with a program called mb-clean as it didn’t show up in the Windows 10 programs’ list.
   One important point: when the system restored itself after the latest crash, it appeared the old mobk.sys reinstalled itself into system32\drivers. I removed it again in safe mode. I’ve since created multiple restore points so hopefully none of the now-removed drivers resurface to cause problems again.
   I am very happy that I’m running the latest Virtualbox, too, since posting in 2015 resulted in no solid leads. It’s why I’m posting all of this stuff, in the hope others find it useful.—JY

P.PS. (January 22): No crashes for three days, I update both the Microsoft and Bleeping Computer threads with the good news, and within nine minutes, bam! Oracle VM Virtualbox is to blame again, if the driver verifier is accurate. That was yesterday. Today, I attempted to remove the program from the Windows Control Panel. Merely removing it caused three BSODs for three attempts, literally within minutes of each other. I booted into safe mode once, tried to remove it (I couldn’t), then back to the regular mode. I was then able to remove Virtualbox. I have since reinstalled it—let’s see what happens next.—JY

P.P.PS. (January 23): Two BSODs this afternoon, still so very disappointed software is this unreliable today. Removing a networking driver from Virtualbox has made no difference. Same error as before. I haven’t re-run driver verifier, but I have now updated MacType to the latest version and double-checked the ini file changes are still there.—JY

P.P.P.PS. (January 24): MacType update did nothing. Bwv848 recommends removing Oracle Virtualbox altogether. I may have to do that, and reinstall it only when I need it, and see what happens. Sumit at Microsoft has given up for the time being.—JY

P.P.P.P.PS. (January 25): After one more crash despite some tweaking of the power options last night, I removed Oracle Virtualbox this morning. There were five remaining drivers that removal did not address, two from the latest version (VBoxNetAdp6.sys and VBoxNetLwf.sys) and three from the old one (VBoxNetAdp.sys, VBoxNetFlt.sys and VBoxUSB.sys). I manually removed them. No crashes since, though I will be interested to know if reinstalling, without any of the old drivers present, will make a difference.—JY

P.P.P.P.P.PS. (January 26): Got to its first crash by 11.45 a.m. Driver verifier now blames CLVirtualDrive.sys. Found one user on Virtualbox’s forum who had the DRIVER_IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL crash but the mod doesn’t like me helping out (very protective people, who don’t like their favourite software criticized). A system restore saw Oracle Virtualbox return, even though I made a restore point long after I deleted it. Let’s see what CLVirtualDrive.sys is. Four BSODs before noon. Man from Mozy got back to me—the first contact other than on Twitter—because they wound up spamming me and never responded to my original support question. Amazing how a few events—including Facebook’s forced download in 2016—have directly led to this time-wasting point in 2018.—JY

Enough postscripts. The next episode of the saga is here.

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Posted in technology, USA | 3 Comments »

The perfect storm: there’s a spike in users being told by Facebook they have malware today


Many years ago, I was locked out of Facebook for 69 hours. It was completely a Facebook database problem, but in those days, they just locked you out without any explanation. It happened on a Friday. I believed I would not get back in till Facebook staff got back to work on Monday—and I was right. This is a company that seems to close down for the weekend, and the important techs don’t get back till afterwards. It also doesn’t understand the concept of time zones, as six years ago, Facebook walls stopped working on the 1st of each month in every time zone ahead of Pacific Standard Time.
   As it’s the weekend before the Gregorian New Year, Facebook’s probably closed again, so if their databases mess up, you could be stuck till Monday. Maybe later.
   Except these days, I believe they run another con altogether, as I explained in 2016.
   The theory: they now shift the blame to their users, by saying their computers are infected with malware, and forcing a malware scanner download on us. No one knows what this scanner actually does, but I know first-hand that it wrecks your real anti-virus program. I know first-hand that when Facebook and its scanner providers (which once included Kaspersky) are questioned on it, they clam up or they delete comments. I also know for a fact that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” PCs. All this is in earlier posts.
   Some affected users over the last few years have said that they could wait this out, and three days seem to be the standard period (though some were out for a month). That sounds awfully close to 69 hours, which I was out for in 2014.
   If word got out that their databases were this fragile, their share price would tumble.
   In a year when Apple has had to apologize for short battery life on their Iphones, and sexual predators in Hollywood got outed, maybe we could finish off 2017 with Facebook having to apologize for lying to its users about just what this scanner does. Because we also know that people who have legitimate malware scanners—including ones supplied by Facebook’s “partners”—have usually reported their PCs were clean.
   Today is the day of the perfect storm: if there is a big database outage at Facebook, it’s the weekend, and no one is around to fix it. For whatever reason, thousands of people have been receiving Facebook’s malware-scan message, telling them their computers are infected: today has seen the biggest spike ever in users getting this, beginning 14 hours ago.
   In my two years following this bug, I haven’t noticed any real common thread between affected users.
   With Facebook’s old bug, where walls stopped working on the 1st of each month, there was a particularly noticeable rise in reports on Getsatisfaction when 2011 ticked over to 2012—probably because no one was at work at Facebook to switch 2011 over to 2012. (I wonder if it had to be done manually. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me.)
   While some of this is admittedly guesswork, because none of the companies involved are saying a thing, there are just too many coincidences.
   Let’s sum up again.

• When certain Facebook accounts died three to four years ago, you were locked out, and this took roughly three days to fix (in my case, I got hit at a weekend, so nothing happened till Monday after a Friday bug). These bugs were account-specific.
• On January 1, 2012, Facebook walls around the world stopped working and would not show any entries from the new day—till it became January 1, 2012 in California, 21 hours behind the first group of people affected. It seems there is some manual tinkering that needs to go on with Facebook.
• Today, Facebook accuses people of having malware on their systems and demands they download a scanner. Yet we also know that others can log in to their Facebook accounts on the same “infected” machines. Conclusion: those computers are probably not infected as the lock-outs are account-specific. If it’s account-specific, then that leads me to believe it’s a database relating to that person.
• When people refuse to download Facebook’s scanner, many of their accounts come back online after—you guessed it—three days. Ergo, they were probably never infected: Facebook lied to them.
• Those that do download the scanner cannot find it in their installed programs’ lists. Neither Facebook nor their scanner partners have ever come clean about what this program actually does or why it needs to reside in a hidden directory on Windows.
• It is December 30, 2017, and it’s a weekend, and there’s a spike in users getting this warning. It began, noticeably, 14 hours ago. It’s very hard to believe so many got infected at the same time by the same bug: even a regular virus, or the real malware that gets spread through Facebook, doesn’t have this pattern. It all points back to something happening on Facebook. My reckoning is that this won’t be fixed till January 1, 2018 or afterwards.
• Facebook is the home of fake accounts—it’s very easy to find bots and spammers. Logically, if resources are used to host the bots, then that means fewer resources for the rest of us, and potential database problems.

   If you are stuck, I recommend you read the postscripts and relevant comments to my earlier posts: here and here.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 8 Comments »

Developer creates a tool to expose bigoted, fake Twitter accounts; Twitter bans it


In theory, one of the positive things about social media should be the fact that a company has as much chance of succeeding as an individual. Another is that it shouldn’t matter who you are, you have the same opportunity to get your word out. No one should get special treatment.
   But, on Twitter, they’ve come out and said a few very disappointing things over 2017. First is that we’re not equal. President Donald Trump of the US may say odd things regularly, things that Twitter would kick you and me off for, but because it’s ‘newsworthy’, there’s an express policy to let him stay. (Believe me, I’d be equally unhappy if a US Democratic president, or anyone, behaved this way, which goes against basic netiquette. This is nothing to do with politics—as a centrist and swing voter I follow people on the left and the right.)
   There are numerous things wrong with Twitter’s position, not least who gets to decide what is newsworthy. Can someone working from Twitter in the US decide if a Tweet of mine is newsworthy in New Zealand? I’m unconvinced. One US news app thought Steven Joyce getting hit with a dildo was of greater significance to us than the death of Martin Crowe, for example.
   Secondly, one would have thought their country was founded on the notion that everyone is created equal, but clearly that’s not the case on Twitter. Maybe no one in charge there read their country’s Declaration of Independence (second paragraph, wasn’t it?), and hanker for the days of Empire again. There’s some truth, then, when Silicon Valley is accused of élitism.
   More recently, Twitter changed one of its rules. Formerly, it was, ‘We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power’; now, it’s a simpler ‘We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue.’ I’ve had to read up on what truth to power means, and as far as I can discern, it is an American term with the meaning of ‘speaking out with your truth to those in power’. That seems a perfectly reasonable position: that if you are going to have a dialogue with someone (in power or otherwise), you should do so with integrity and honesty. To me, the alteration in wording suggests integrity and honesty aren’t needed, as long as the dialogue is open. Perhaps at odds with the author of this rule, I always thought Twitter was open anyway, if you did a public Tweet.
   Now I see that Twitter is effectively allowing bots, in the wake of it and Facebook being investigated for allowing bots that might have influenced their country’s presidential election.
   I’ve warned about Facebook bots reaching an epidemic level in 2014 and those who follow this blog know how frustrating it has been to have them removed, even in 2017. Facebook’s people tend not to recognize what any average netizen would, which suggests to me that they’re desperate to keep their user numbers artificially high—even after getting busted for lying about them, when researchers discovered there were actually fewer people in certain demographics than Facebook claimed it could reach. (That desperation, incidentally, could be the reason the company lies about malware detection on websites.)
   Twitter has had a bot problem from the start, as it’s very easy for someone to create an automated account. They tended not to bother me too much, as I followed back humans. However, now I read that some netizens developed a tool that would identify neo-Nazis, only to have Twitter ban it.
   Even under Twitter’s own rules, these accounts impersonate others, at the least by stealing profile photographs from real people. Yet according to journalist Yair Rosenberg in The New York Times today, who said he had received ‘the second-most abuse of any Jewish journalist on Twitter during the campaign cycle,’ Twitter, it seems, is fine with this.
   ‘These bigots are not content to harass Jews and other minorities on Twitter; they seek to assume their identities and then defame them.
   ‘The con goes like this: The impersonator lifts an online photo of a Jew, Muslim, African-American or other minority — typically one with clear identifying markers, like a yarmulke-clad Hasid or a woman in hijab. Using that picture as a Twitter avatar, the bigot then adds ethnic and progressive descriptors to the bio: “Jewish,” “Zionist,” “Muslim,” “enemy of the alt-right.”’
   The account would then send out bigoted Tweets in order to defame the group of people that their profile photo or name suggested they belonged to.
   A developer, Neal Chandra, created a tool to unmask neo-Nazis, and the program went on Twitter to alert people that their discussions had been interrupted by an impostor. However, these accounts began mass-reporting the bot, says Rosenberg, and Twitter ultimately took their side.
   This is exactly like Facebook refusing to remove bots and spammers, even after users have reported them. Chandra’s tool does the same thing in alerting people to fake accounts (which, like Facebook’s, steal someone’s image), albeit in automated fashion, yet again fake accounts have won.
   I find this particularly disturbing at a time when both companies are being questioned by their government: you’d think they would hold back on tools that actually helped them do their jobs and ensured their T&Cs were being complied with. This either speaks to Twitter’s and Facebook’s sheer arrogance, or their utter stupidity.
   These platforms will stand or fall by their stated ideals, and Twitter is genuinely failing its users with this latest.
   It really is like someone coming to a company saying, ‘I will solve one of your biggest problems, one that a lot of your customers complain the most about, free of charge,’ and being trespassed from the premises.
   I’ve quit updating my private Facebook wall (though others continue to tag me and I allow those on my wall), and I wonder if Twitter is next. I reckon we’ve passed peak Twitter, and going to 280 characters—something I was once told by a Twitter VP would never happen—seems like the sort of scrambling that went on at Altavista and Excite when they realized Google had them beat for search.
   I’ve defended this platform because I believe the charges levelled against it by some are unfair: it’s not filled with angry people who want to politicize and divide, if you choose to follow decent ones back. I don’t see much of that in my Tweetstream, and when I do, I might choose to ignore it or, in some cases, unfollow those accounts.
   But if Twitter continues to make dick moves with its policies and practices, then we may feel that our values no longer align with theirs.
   In 2017, Twitter only really worked properly for 11 minutes.
   There’s a lot of work in branding that shows that people choose to support brands that express their values, and that corporate social responsibility is one of the ways to make that connection. Twitter is going the right way in alienating users. Could it be the next one to go, as Mastodon picks up the slack? Sooner or later, one of the alternatives, services which let you keep your identity, something that users are getting increasingly concerned about, is going to get a critical mass of users, and both Twitter and Facebook should fear this.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, social responsibility, technology, USA | 1 Comment »

Even before the exposés, I never used Über


I really don’t know why anyone would use Über.
   All the sexism and misogyny aside, I actually don’t know how anyone could use it.
   For example, on my phone, I installed it (before I learned about their totally inappropriate behaviour), tried to log in, and the app would tell me I have used too many log-in attempts. Well, if one is too many (and no, I didn’t get my password wrong) then that’s fine. I don’t need to use it.
   Today my other half wondered just how bad the app was. Unlike me, she has a locally bought Android phone, so it has some Google software on it.
   After signing up, and unlike me she was able to log in, the app said she needed to update her Google services.
   She actually set up a Google account and a Gmail (you all know how I feel about this), so now her phone is spied on by a horribly invasive company. She didn’t want anything to do with Google, but she is now linked to them, and her phone is tracked by them in her Google account. (We’ll soon be deleting all the Google stuff off it as it really has no utility.)
   Still no go. She gets in but the app insists we live next door. You simply cannot feed in our address.
   A Visa card has already been added to her account. As far as she knows, she has never done this.
   We tried to add in an address in Tawa but it wouldn’t stick (despite it appearing in the pull-down menu). I tried to correct our address, and it plotted a route to Paraparaumu. Again, one that neither of us had ever added.
   My suspicion is that the Visa card is our neighbour’s and that we could probably steal rides off that pretty easily. Not that we ever would: we like our neighbours. I also believe the route to Paraparaumu could be one she fed in.
   Basically, Über has an app that is deeply invasive and doesn’t actually work, pays their drivers badly, and has a sexist and misogynist work culture. Do they have any redeeming qualities?
   If we’re not driving, then we’re all for superior public transport and professional taxi drivers. I see that as a good thing.

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Posted in culture, internet, technology, USA, Wellington | No Comments »