Posts tagged ‘software’

Welcome to Vivaldi


Earlier this week, I installed Vivaldi browser, and decided to make it my default after reading CEO Jon von Tetzchner’s blog post about the potentially corrupt practice of suspending his company’s Adwords campaign after he was critical of Google.
   I have resisted browsers made from Chromium because I was never sure how much went back to Google, but seeing von Tetzchner’s honest blog post about Google’s alleged misdeed made me think that Vivaldi would likely look after my interests as a netizen.
   It wasn’t the only reason, mind. Firefox, and before that, Cyberfox (a 64-bit Firefox that had been my default for quite some time) had begun eating memory on my computer. The memory leak would still happen after I got rid of many extensions, and even on safe mode, Firefox took up a lot more space than I expected. Firefox had been having issues with certain ads from some networks for months, too, resulting in script errors.
   It didn’t take much time for Firefox to chew through 6 Gbyte, freezing other programs that I relied on, and crashing Windows altogether. It happened right after I installed a Crucial SSD that I bought from Atech Computers on Cuba Street, but fortunately I didn’t blame it on the new gadget. Logic prevailed and I discovered the culprit, though an upgrade to Universal Media Server didn’t help either: 6.7 is poorer than 6.5, confusing video files for JPEGs and forgetting what had been recently played. (Like Windows 10, which regularly forgets settings, modern software seems to have a memory poorer than its users.)
   A screen shot of the Windows 10 Task Manager shows just how much memory Firefox ate in around 10 minutes, whereas at this point Vivaldi had been on for quite some time.

   It mirrors the experience I once had with Chrome, which handled memory and web pages so poorly that I began calling it the ‘“Aw, snap!” browser’ because of its regular crashes. The same problem that cemented my use of Firefox (and Waterfox and Cyberfox) has now happened to Firefox, forcing me to look for an alternative.
   First indications are that Vivaldi is a well made product, with a built-in screen-shooting feature and notes. There are some things that are harder to get to, such as a menu where I can customize which cookies should be blocked (I like living in a YouTube-comment-less world; I feel my IQ is preserved as a result), but overall I’ve managed to get myself the right extensions to mimic what I used to do on Firefox. I’ve also switched off the Google phishing and malware protection setting, for obvious reasons, blocked a bunch of cookies from dodgy big US tech firms (Google among them), and done the ad opt-outs.
   It might be marginally quicker, though if I was just interested in speed, Blaze beats Vivaldi and Firefox hands-down, and has a smaller memory footprint. However, a browser is not just for pleasure for me; if it were, then maybe this blog post would have been about another browser altogether. I’ve downloaded Blaze for my phone, and I’ll try it out soon.
   I wonder if this is a longer-term change. I remember beginning surfing on Netscape 1, and if I recall correctly, 1·2 had just come out so I actually began browsing in colour. Netscape stayed good till 4·7, and 6 was bloatware and truly awful. I switched to Internet Explorer 5 at this point, before moving to Maxthon (when it had an IE core, but its own interface). Firefox had issues back then with typography, preventing me from switching, but as it matured to v. 3, I went over and wasn’t disappointed. Chrome also had typographic issues for a long time.
   I invested a lot of time troubleshooting Firefox with the devs over the years, so I don’t make this move lightly. But there comes a point when a piece of software becomes impractical to keep. Firefox hadn’t changed much on the surface yet when it forces two hard resets a day, you have to make a hard call.
   If it weren’t for von Tetzchner’s blog post, I mightn’t have made the decision to use his company’s browser quite so readily. But it is a good product, even at v. 1·11. Vivaldi has obviously invested into making a decent browser from day one, and it’s not just for technologists and power users, which some seem to think. The fact it works better than Firefox should automatically make it appealing to the bulk of users, and if its CEO isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade when it comes to Google, the general public should be impressed.
   But, as we’ve seen, an honourable stand doesn’t always mean success: Duck Duck Go hasn’t overtaken an increasingly suspect Google, and people still flock to Facebook for social networking despite that platform’s privacy gaffes and unanswered questions about its forced downloads. I only hope that Vivaldi stays the course because the public deserves a product that hasn’t come from a morally questionable source.

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Posted in internet, technology | No Comments »

The lies and myths of Facebook, and what the tech press is too scared to investigate


Lie no. 1: ‘We want to show you ads that you’ll find relevant. That’s why we have ad preferences, a tool that lets you view, add and remove preferences we created for you based on things like your profile information, actions you take on Facebook and websites and apps you use off Facebook.’ ‘Choose an interest to preview examples of ads you might see on Facebook or remove it from your ad preferences.’

This is BS. You can remove all you like (mine has tended to be completely blank for most of 2016) but in the last few days, Facebook has been repopulating this page. This is despite my having Facebook interest-based ads switched off. There’s actually no need, then, for Facebook to keep these, and many of them are inaccurate anyway. Yet various advertising bodies, of which Facebook is a member, are too scared to investigate.

Here’s my ads’ preferences’ page on June 14. I had been keeping an eye on this, and keeping it clear since March 2016.

Even as late as October 25, 2016, there were very few things in there. While Facebook shouldn’t be collecting this data, at least it allowed me to delete it—as it claims you can. And no, I’ve never heard of Mandy Capristo.

Regularly since November 27, 2016, Facebook has repopulated this page, putting all deleted preferences back. This was how it looked on November 28. Within hours Facebook would repopulate it, so any deleting is useless.

Not only has Facebook repopulated the page, by today it’s added even more preferences. I’ve been through five rounds of repopulation now.

A check of my Facebook ad preferences shows that interest-based advertising is switched off. This is as bad as Google in 2011.

Lie no. 2: ‘We’ve worked with F-Secure and Trend Micro to incorporate free anti-malware software downloads directly into our existing abuse detection and prevention systems. These are the same systems that help us block malicious links and bad sites from among the trillions of clicks that take place every day on Facebook.’

More BS (links and a lot of comments here and here). There’s plenty of evidence to show that Facebook’s so-called detection systems target certain accounts. A computer identified as having malware, necessitating a user to download their so-called anti-malware products, still works for other users, who aren’t confronted with the same prompts. Companies like Kaspersky clam up and even delete comments when you begin asking them about the programs Facebook gets you to download. Once downloaded, they can’t even be found in your installed programs’ list: they are hidden. No one in the tech press wants to cover this. Scared? We’ve our theory about why they want to slow down some users, and there’s some suggestion that you can ignore the warnings and log into Facebook several days later—the same thing that has happened to users in the past whose Facebook accounts have become faulty due to their database issues. Coincidence?

‘We’re also testing a new tool that will let people provide more information about their circumstances if they are asked to verify their name. People can let us know they have a special circumstance, and then give us more information about their unique situation.’

There have been instances of the drag community, for instance, whose accounts have simply vanished with no means of defending themselves and giving Facebook those circumstances. Facebook claimed that the above applied to the US only in December 2015. However, in 2014, Chris Cox of Facebook wrote, ‘Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name.’ Try telling that to the people who have lost their accounts and never given a chance to give their side of the story.

Facebook has 1·79 billion monthly active users.

While I can’t counter this myself, there’s plenty of evidence to show that the site has problems with spammers and bots. If you run a large enough group, there’s a good chance that the majority of new members in your queue are not human. Therefore, you might not actually be reaching the number of people you want in Facebook’s calculations. Since the ad preferences have some very strange information on users, I’m not that convinced about the accuracy of targeting anyway. Facebook is complicit in spam by supporting click farms, according to Veritasium.

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Posted in business, internet, media, technology, USA | 1 Comment »

Bye to the US news app that ranks the Steven Joyce dildo incident above Martin Crowe’s passing


I’ve just switched from Inside, the much vaunted news app from entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, to Wildcard as my principal news app on my phone. I never got to use Circa (which I understand Jason was also behind), which sounded excellent: by the time I downloaded it, they had given up.
   But we all need news, and I don’t like the idea of apps that are from a single media organization.
   Inside seemed like a good idea, and I even got round to submitting news items myself. The idea is that the items there are curated by users, shared via the app. There was a bit of spam, but the legit stuff outnumbered it.
   However, I can’t understand the choices these days. A few items I put in from Radio New Zealand, Māori Television and The New Zealand Herald were fine—stories about the flag and the passing of Dr Ranginui Walker, for instance—but none of the ones about the passing of Martin Crowe, possibly of more international interest, remained.
   There were other curious things: anything from Autocar is summarily rejected (they don’t even appear) while I notice Jalopnik is fine. When it comes to cars, this is the only place where the publication with the longest history in the sector is outranked by a web-only start-up, whose pieces are enjoyable but not always accurate. The only car piece it accepted from me was about Tesla selling in Indiana, but Renault, Volkswagen, Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin and other manufacturers’ news didn’t make it. This I don’t get. And I like to think I know a little bit about cars, in the week when Autocade hit 8,000,000 page views.
   Now, if this is meant to be an international app, downloadable by everyone, then it should permit those of us in our own countries to have greater say in what is relevant to our compatriots.
   Visit the New Zealand category, and you see a few items from yours truly, but then after that, they are few and far between: the Steven Joyce dildo incident, for example, and you don’t have to scroll much to see the Otago car chase being stopped by sheep last January. A bit more has happened than these events, thank you. No wonder Americans think nothing happens here.

According to Inside, these news items—separated only by one about Apple issuing a recall in our part of the world—are far more important to users following the New Zealand category than Martin Crowe’s death.

   The UK is only slightly better off, but not by much. I notice my submission about Facebook not getting away with avoiding taxes in the UK vanished overnight, too.
   News of the royal baby in Sweden wasn’t welcome just now. Nor was the news about the return of one of the Hong Kong booksellers, but news from Bloomberg of a luxury home on the Peak, which I submitted last month, was OK. Lula’s questioning by police has also disappeared (admittedly my one was breaking news, and very short), though Inside does have a later one about his brief arrest.
   Yet to locals, the rejected ones are important, more important than Gladys Knight singing to a cop or a knife on O. J. Simpson’s estate (which have made it).
   This is a very American app, and that’s fine: it’s made by a US company, and I’m willing to bet most of its users are American. However, the “all” feed, in my view, should be global; those who want news tailored to them already have the choice of selecting their own topics. (It’s the first thing the app gets you to do after signing in.) And if some fellow in New Zealand wants to submit, then he should have the same capacity as someone in the US. After all, there are more of them than there are of us, and I hardly think my contributions (which now keep vanishing!) will upset the status quo.
   Or does it?
   I mean, I have posted the odd thing from The Intercept about their country’s elections.
   Whatever the case, I think it’s very odd for an app in the second decade of the century to be so wedded to being geocentric. I can understand getting stuff weeded out for quality concerns—I admit I’ve posted the odd item that is an op-ed rather than hard news—but this obsession to be local, not global, reinforces some false and outdated stereotypes about the US.
   It’s like Facebook not knowing that time zones outside US Pacific Time exist and believing its 750 million (as it then was) users all lived there.
   My advice to app developers is: if you don’t intend your work to be global, then don’t offer it to the global market. Don’t let me find your app on a Chinese app centre. Say that it’s for your country only and let it be.
   Or, at least be transparent about how your apps work, because I can’t find anything from Inside about its curation processes other than the utopian, idealistic PR that says we’re all welcome, and we all have a chance to share. (We do. Just our articles don’t stay on the feed for very long.)

Wildcard has an attractive user interface, and its mixture of news is more appealing, especially if you want more depth.

   Admittedly, I’ve only been on Wildcard for less than a day but I’ve already found it more international in scope. It also has more interesting editorial items. It is still US-developed—east coast this time, instead of west coast—but it supplements its own news with what’s in your Twitter feed. It’s not as Twitter-heavy as Nuzzel, which I found too limited, but seems to give me a mixture of its own curation with those of my contacts. The user interface is nice, too.
   I’m not writing off Inside altogether—if you’re after a US-based, US-centric news app, then it’s probably excellent, although I will leave that decision to its target market. I can hardly judge when dildos matter more to its users than the greatest cricket batsman in our country.
   For me, Wildcard seems to be better balanced, it doesn’t make promises about public curation that it can’t keep, and I’ve already found myself spending far more time browsing its pieces than the relatively small amount that seem to remain on Inside. It is still a bit US-biased in these first 24 hours, probably because it hasn’t taken that much from my Twitter contacts yet. There seems to be more news on it and I’m getting a far better read, even of the US-relevant items. I’m looking forward to using it more: it just seems that much more 21st-century.

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Posted in business, China, culture, globalization, Hong Kong, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, technology, UK, USA | 1 Comment »

What Facebook’s anti-malware malware does to your Windows 10 computer


When I said in January that Facebook’s and Kaspersky’s anti-malware malware (there’s no better term for it, though of course they will deny that it was malware) had it in for McAfee, what did I mean?
   As some of you know, I fell for Facebook’s insistence that I download its malware if I wanted to gain access to the site, and no, I was not phished. This is a “feature” that Facebook and Kaspersky have bragged about.
   After you download the program from Kaspersky, that company refuses to tell you how to remove it from your computer. It doesn’t appear in your installed programs’ list. I put a very polite comment at their blog entry on the subject, but it was never approved. They don’t want to help people who were laboured with this unnecessary and invasive software. I once thought highly of Kaspersky, but their willingness to collaborate with Facebook, their opaqueness on this matter, and the earlier (unproven) accusations that they were party to faking malware to harm rival products have made me highly wary of the firm. I’ll never purchase anything from them because of their behaviour, at least till I see some change that they are willing to get with the programme as far as transparency and integrity are concerned.
   Thanks to Reddit, I learned how to remove what I could, but the fact remains that after the whole Facebook–Kaspersky scan for non-existent malware, McAfee would not work properly any more. This wasn’t due to any other malware—I had run a very comprehensive series of legitimate malware scans guided by an expert in Germany at Bleeping Computer in the wake of this incident, and confirmed all was well. As far as I could tell, the only noticeable change to my system was what Facebook put on.
   I was eventually forced to remove McAfee after 27 years of using their products, in favour of Avira. This is why: whatever was left on the computer kept fighting McAfee to turn itself off (above right, and video below). My Windows computer didn’t like the idea of having no antivirus program. I had attempted to reinstall McAfee once already, which stopped this behaviour for about a week. McAfee Virtual Technician could not resolve it, and I never got very far with McAfee support (as opposed to the incredibly helpful people on their forums). Over a month after Facebook forced its download on me, I was still paying the price of following their instructions—when we should know by now that anything these idiots tell you cannot be of any advantage to the user. Sometimes, when you get their warnings at 3 a.m., you don’t necessarily think as clearly as you would at 3 p.m.

   I don’t know how many hours I wasted on this in total, but I know I have saved many users a lot of time. For many days I found a lot of other Facebookers forced to do the same, and gave them some simple advice so that they would not fall into the same trap. Others have come to this blog: I’ve had some decent traffic around the two posts I wrote on the subject.
   People really need to know that not only is Facebook messing around with your settings and tracking you, they are putting things on your computer. I’m glad, then, that I will principally remain there for a few messages, and page and group administration—the latter very necessary given all the bots and spammers that now plague the website. I’m sure I can’t be alone in spotting numerous spammers per day, spammers which Facebook often does nothing about when reported. That, too, should make us wonder.

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Posted in business, internet, USA | 3 Comments »

Meizu M2 Note: welcome to a Google-free mid-2010s


Other than for the landline, I’ve never bought a phone before. Each cellphone has come as a result of a company plan or a loyalty gift from the telco, but when my Huawei Ascend Y200 began needing resets several times a day—I’ve had computer experts tell me this is the phone, or the SD card (like any endeavour, it’s hard to find agreement; this is like saying that the problem with an axe lies with the handle or the blade)—I decided to replace it. Plus, having built websites for clients it seemed only fair to have a device on which I could test them on an OS newer than Android 2.3, and after a few days I have to say the Meizu M2 Note has been worth every penny. (The Xiaomi Redmi Note 2 was on the shortlist but the Meizu performed better in online tests, e.g. this one.)
   You can find the specs on this device elsewhere, in reviews written by people far more au fait with cellular technology than me, but a few things about arriving in the mid-2010s with such a gadget struck me as worth mentioning.
   First, I opted for a blue one. They’re usually cheaper. Since I have a case for it, I don’t have to put up with the colour on the back anyway, so why not save a few bucks if the guts are the same?
   Secondly, it’s astonishing to think in five inches I have the same number of pixels as I do in 23 inches on my monitor.
   Thirdly, cellular battery technology has come a heck of a long way. (Down side: you can’t replace it in this device.)
   But here’s an absolutely wonderful bonus I never expected: it’s Google-free. Yes, the Flyme OS is built on Google’s Android 5.1.1, but the beauty of buying a phone from a country where Google is persona non grata is that I’m not stuck with all the crap I had on the Telstra Clear-supplied Huawei. No Google Plus, Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps and all the other stuff I had to switch off constantly. I could have had the phone rooted but it never was a big enough priority, even with my dislike of the big G.
   I don’t know how much ultimately gets back to Google through simply using its OS, but I’ve managed to keep away from signing in to any of their services. In this post-Snowden era, I regard that as a good thing.
   The phone booted up for the first time and gave me English as an option (as the seller indicated), so the device’s OS is all in the language I’m most fluent in. However, it’s not that weird for me to have Chinese lettering around, so the apps that stayed in the Chinese language are comprehensible enough to me. There is an app store that isn’t run by Google, at which all the apps are available—Instagram, Dolphin Browser, Opera Mini, plus some of the other admin tools I use. Nothing has shown up in my Google Dashboard. The store is in Chinese, but if you recognize the icon you should be all right, and the apps work in the language you’ve set your OS to.
   The China-only apps aren’t hard to dispose of, and the first ones to go were Netease, Dianping (I don’t even use an Anglo dining review app, so why would I need a China-only one?), Amap (again, it only works in China, and it can be easily reinstalled through Autonavi and its folded paper icon), and 116114, an app from a Chinese telco. Weibo I don’t mind keeping, since I already have an account, and I can see some utility to retaining Alipay, the painting app, and a few others.
   And having a Google-free existence means I now have Here Maps, the email is set up with my Zoho ’boxes, and 1Weather replaces the default which only gives Chinese cities.
   What is remarkable is that the Chinese-designed default apps are better looking than the western counterparts, which is not something you hear very often. The opposite was regularly the case. A UI tipping-point could have happened.
   I also checked the 2G, 3G and 4G frequencies against Vodafone New Zealand’s to ensure compatibility—there are at least two different M2 Notes on the market, so caveat emptor. Vodafone also recommends installing only one SIM, which suits me fine, as the other slot is occupied by a 64 Gbyte micro-SD card.
   The new Flyme-based-on-Android keyboard isn’t particularly good though, and I lose having a full set of smart quotes, a proper apostrophe, and en and em dashes, but far more obscure Latin-2 glyphs are accessible. I’m not sure what the logic is behind this.
   I had an issue getting the Swift keyboard to install, but I’ve opted for Swype, which, curiously, like the stock keyboard, is missing common characters. Want to type a g with a breve for Erdoğan? Or a d with a caron? Easy. An en dash? Impossible.
   This retrograde step doesn’t serve me and there are a few options in Swype. First, I had to add the Russian keyboard, which does give an em dash, alongside the English one, though I haven’t located a source of en dashes yet. Secondly, after copying and pasting in a proper apostrophe from a document, I proceeded to type in words to commit them to my personal Swype dictionary: it’s, he’d, she’ll, won’t, etc. This technique has worked, and while it’s not 100 per cent perfect as there’ll be words I missed, it’s better than nowt.
   I see users have been complaining about the omissions online for three years, and if nothing has been done by now, I doubt Swype’s developers are in a rush to sort it.
   Swype’s multilingual keyboards are easy to switch between, work well, but I haven’t tried my Kiwi accent on the Dragon-powered speech recognition software within.
   Going from a 3·2 Mpixel camera to a 13 Mpixel one has been what I expected, and finally I get a phone with a forward-facing camera for the first time since the mid-2000s (before selfies became de rigueur). It’s worth reminding oneself that a 13 Mpixel camera means files over 5 Mbyte are commonplace, and that’s too big for Twitter. I’m also going to have to expect to need more storage space offline, as I always back up my files.
   I haven’t found a way to get SMSs off yet (suggestions are welcome), unlike the Huawei, but transferring other files (e.g. photos and music) is easier. Whereas the Huawei needed to have USB sharing switched on, the Meizu doesn’t care, and you can treat it as a hard drive when connected to your PC without doing anything. That, too, has made life far easier.
   I’ve been able to upgrade the OS without issue, and Microsoft (and sometimes Apple) would do well to learn from this.
   It leaves the name, Meizu (魅族), which in Cantonese at least isn’t the most pleasant when translated—let’s say it’s all a bit Goblin King. Which may be appropriate this week.
   I’m not one who ever gets a device for image’s sake, and I demand that they are practical. So far, the Meizu hasn’t let me down with its eight cores, 16 Gbyte ROM and 4G capability, all for considerably less than a similarly equipped cellphone that wears an Apple logo. And it’s nice to know that this side of Apple, one can have a Google-free device.

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Posted in China, design, New Zealand, technology | No Comments »

Facebook forced me to download their anti-malware, and my own antivirus gets knocked out


When Facebook says it cares about security, I laugh. Every day I see bots, spammers and click-farm workers plague the site, and despite reporting them, Facebook lets them stay. It will make a statement saying it would no longer kick off drag queens and kings, then proceed to kick off drag queens and kings. So when I was blocked last night from using Facebook on my Windows 10 computer, after using a website with a Facebook messaging plug-in, with the claim that there was malware on the system, I knew something was fishy.
   Like Google’s false malware accusationsso serious that people have lost websites over them—I knew to take this one with a massive grain of salt. However, I didn’t have a choice: in order to get in to the site, I had to download a Kaspersky malware program, and let it run. The program never appeared in my installed list in Windows. I let it run overnight, for seven hours, whereupon it was frozen at 62 per cent. Restarting the computer, I was back to square one.

Above: Doing things the Facebook way. Listening to them was bound to end in tears.

Above: There’s no sign of Kaspersky in Windows’ installed programs’ list.

   Here’s where things started getting very strange. Windows 10 began saying I had no antivirus, anti-malware, or firewall up. Normally I would use McAfee. However, no matter how many times I tried to choose it, the warnings kept coming, thick and fast. In one case, it chose Windows Defender for me—only because I decided to let it run—and would not permit me to change it back through the settings. The timing of these events was all too suspicious.
   There was a rumour, denied by Kaspersky, that it was creating malware to throw off its competitors. The jury’s still out, but it’s just odd that while Kaspersky is running its Facebook scan, of what I knew to be non-existent malware, that McAfee would be inaccessible. I went to the McAfee website to file this.

Above: While the Kaspersky scan proceeded, McAfee was knocked out and could not be switched on. Coincidence?

   Unlike most people, I have options open to me, so I began to go on to Facebook using several different methods. A VirtualBox containing XP on the same computer was fine, if incredibly slow while Kaspersky was doing its thing. (Think about Windows XP on a 386.) Lubuntu was fine as well, as was Mac OS X. I Tweeted the McAfee community link, and thought it odd that it did not appear in Facebook (I have my Twitter set up to post there). I then tried to paste the link into Facebook manually, whereupon, in Lubuntu and Mac OS, I was told that my computer was now infected with either a virus or malware. Unlike Windows, I had the option of telling them they were in error, and I was able to continue using the machines.
   This really sounds like Facebook and Kaspersky have it in for McAfee and, possibly, rival products, if the scan knocks out your choice of antivirus and anti-malware program, and if the mere mention of inside Facebook results in a warning box saying your computer is infected.

Above: On a Mac, I couldn’t even tell people about the post on The second I did, Facebook said my computer was infected. The same thing happened on Lubuntu. Facebook accuses you of infection on the mere mention of

   Eventually, the entire system froze, and while I could still move the mouse about, I couldn’t access the task bar or go to other programs.
   I was forced to do a hard reboot.
   But you’re asking now: was I ever infected? No. It’s Google all over again.
   Peter, the very knowledgeable McAfee support tech who came to my aid many years ago, was present again and put me on to two other programs after this restart. Getsusp analysed my system for malware, and, you guessed it, found nothing. Malware Bytes did the same, and found some PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), all of which I knew about, and I had intentionally installed. They’ve been present for years. In other words, two other malware scanners told me my system was clean. Malware Bytes did, however, restore McAfee as the correct antivirus program, exactly as Peter had predicted.
   He also suggested a system restore, which sadly failed, with Windows giving the reason that an antivirus program was running. Having restored this system once before (after some bad advice from Microsoft), I knew it couldn’t be McAfee. The only difference on this computer: I had had Kaspersky doing its Facebook scan. It appears that Facebook and Kaspersky don’t want you restoring your system.
   I had fixed the newer issues, but the original one remained: I couldn’t get on to Facebook. The Kaspersky scan never finishes, incidentally—you’re stuck on 62, 73 or 98 per cent—and while not having a personal Facebook is no great loss, I have businesses that have presences there.
   I stumbled across a Reddit thread where others had been forced to download antivirus programs by Facebook, and, fortunately, a woman there had found where hers resided. In my case, it was at C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Temp\FBScanner_331840299. Deleting this, and all cookies mentioning Facebook and Kaspersky, restored my access.
   What to do if you ever come across this? My advice is to, first, run Malware Bytes, but ensure you run the free version, and do not opt for the trials. Once you’re satisfied your computer is clean, head into your cookies and delete all the Facebook ones, and any from the antivirus provider it recommends. This second Reddit thread may be helpful, too. I don’t know if this will work completely, but anything is preferable to following Facebook’s instructions and wasting your time. I really need to stop following instructions from these big firms—you’d think after all these years, I’d know better.

PS.: I found this video from last July which suggests the malware accusations have nothing to do with your computer set-up:

In addition, I cannot paste any links in Facebook. The situation began deteriorating after I regained access. Initially, I could paste and like a few things, but that facility eventually disappeared. Regardless of platform, I get the same error I did on the Mac yesterday (see screen shot above). Liking things results in the below error, and the wisdom there is to wait it out till Facebook staff get back to work on Monday.

P.PS.: Holly Jahangiri confronted the same issue as I did a few days later. She was smarter than me: she didn’t download the anti-malware malware. Have a read of her post here: other than that one difference, it’s almost play for play what happened to me for four days. She’s also rightly frustrated, as I am, by Facebook’s inaction when it’s legitimately needed.

P.P.PS.: Not only does Kaspersky delete your comment when you ask on its blog how to remove the malware scanner, they also clam up when you ask them on Twitter.

P.P.P.PS.: I’m beginning to hear that deleting cookies will not work (April 26). Facebook seems intent on having you download their suspicious junk. In those cases, people have switched to another browser.

P.P.P.P.PS.: Andrew McPherson was hit with this more recently, with Facebook blocking the cookie-deleting method in some cases, and advises, ‘If you get this, you will need to change your Facebook password to something very long (a phrase will do), delete and clear your browsers cache and history, then delete your browser, then renew your IP address to a different number and then reinstall your browsers.’ If you cannot change your IP address but are using a router, then he suggests refreshing the address on that. Basically, Facebook is making it harder and harder for us to work around their bug. Once again, if you sign on using a different account using the same “infected” computer, there are no problems—which means the finger of blame should remain squarely pointed at Facebook.

P.P.P.P.P.PS.: June 17: for those who might find Andrew’s method too technical, the current wisdom is to wait it out. It does appear to take days, however. Reminds me of the time Facebook stopped working for me for 69 hours in 2014.

P.P.P.P.P.P.PS.: January 28, 2017: David has come up with a great solution in the comments (no. 103). You can fool Facebook into thinking you are using a Mac by changing the user-agent. He suggests a Chrome Extension. I have Modify Headers for Firefox, which might work, too.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.PS.: May 9: Stephan, on my other thread on this topic (comment no. 66), confirms that David’s solution worked and has posted a few more details, including extensions for Firefox, Safari and Chrome.

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.PS.: October 24: Don Dalton found that he was able to replace his Chrome profile with an older one to bypass Facebook’s block. Have a read of his comment here.

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Posted in internet, technology, USA | 171 Comments »

Capricious Cortana


I have never seen a program as inconsistent as Microsoft’s Cortana.
   We were always taught that computers were very logical, that they all followed a certain set of code each time.
   Not so Cortana, which has had more different behaviours than anything I have ever seen.
   When I run into technical issues, it’s the fault of certain parties for failing to anticipate the behaviour of ordinary people or for adopting a head-in-the-sand position to bugs that are very real or crooked company policies. These have been covered many times on this blog, such as Six Apart’s old Vox site refusing to accept a log-in, or Facebook ceasing to allow likes and comments; and then there’s the human dishonesty that drove Google’s failures on Blogger and Ads Preferences Manager.
   This still fits into those categories, as Microsoft’s engineers on its forums are peddling standard responses, none of which actually work. One even damaged my start menu and forced a system restore.
   The bugs are so varied, and that to me is strange. Normally bugs will take one form and one form only. Address that, and your problem is solved.
   However, Cortana has done the following.

Day 1. Refused to work, with Windows saying US English was not supported (curious, given it’s an American program). I downloaded the UK English language pack. Worked perfectly for the rest of the day. How novel.

Day 2. Refused to work, but prompted me to set up again, and then it worked.

Day 3. Cortana becomes deaf. No prompts to set up again, but I do it anyway. It works again.

Day 4. I play with the microphone settings (by ‘play’ I mean clicking on a setting but not actually changing it) and Cortana would work intermittently.

Day 5. Cortana would not work except at night, and I play the movie quiz.

Day 6. Cortana claims my Notebook is inaccessible because I am offline. Clearly I wasn’t offline because I was doing stuff online.

Day 7, daytime. Cortana refuses to answer and sends all queries to Bing. The Notebook screen just displays animated ellipses.

Day 7, evening. Cortana works after I plug in my headphones (which has a microphone). After I unplug it, my regular webcam microphone starts picking up my voice again. Cortana works again.

Day 8. Cortana hears me say ‘Hey, Cortana,’ but then just goes to ‘Thinking’ for minutes on end. It might display, ‘Something’s not right. Try again in a little bit,’ after all that. Apparently Cortana still cannot retrieve my interests because I am ‘offline,’ which is amazing that I’m posting to this blog right now.

   The microphones work with other programs. And browsing the Windows forums, this has been going on since July. The November service pack was supposed to have fixed a lot of issues, but clearly not.
   I’ll be fascinated to see what it does tomorrow. But I am tired of the BS that their techs are dishing out as “solutions”. I’m being reminded why I don’t use Word or Outlook: because I have a short fuse when it comes to crap.

PS.: Day 9, same as day 8. Day 10, asked a few set-up questions (again) and it works, though ‘Thinking’ still came up for a few seconds on the first go. Day 11, worked without intervention (amazing!). Day 12, see day 7 (evening).—JY

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Posted in India, internet, technology, USA | 1 Comment »

My first day with Windows 10


I never expected that the Windows 10 download would ever begin. I had registered for it, but the Windows 10 notification window kept coming up with various excuses, talking about my drivers being out of date, then claiming that because of the automatic log-in, the download would not start. Clicking ‘Tell me more’ never did a thing: that took you to Microsoft’s home page. This went on for months.
   But on a day when I upgraded a new office Mac to El Capitán (and migrated the old data on to it), and reinstalled Lubuntu on another PC which threw a wobbly after being asked to adopt the Cinnamon desktop (which took many hours), Windows 10 decided it was ready after all on my main Windows 7 machine, via Windows Update.
   First signs were promising, with the 2½ Gbyte download coming in five minutes, although the computer stayed on ‘Preparing for the upgrade’ overnight. I had heard that the upgrade process would take an hour or so, not overnight, so something was wrong. Typically I had this trouble with one of the Macs on OS upgrades—one took 18 hours while another took 30 minutes once—but this was new territory for Windows.
   One thing I will say for Windows is that when things go wrong, there is help. One piece of advice, which proved right, was to crash out of the process (using the process manager), and to start it all over again.
   Windows just need a second stab at it, and recommenced the download. This time the ‘Preparing’ window flashed up and was gone, and the hard yards then began. It did wind up taking just over an hour. Getting it on a second attempt isn’t bad, considering I’ve had Mac OS upgrades fail far more times than that.
   First impressions are pretty good though most Windows 7 initiés will tell you that things are a bit harder to find. Don’t believe a soul when they tell you it’s faster to boot up: it isn’t. I’m sure it takes an extra minute compared to 7. Doing some basic things in the File Manager takes more movements of the mouse, to open menus and to click, and the menus aren’t as streamlined once you open the panel to find the functions you used to see at a glance. Little annoying things included Windows 10 forgetting that I had set Cyberfox as my default browser—it really loves Edge, and admittedly, it is a nice, fast program—and the time zone changing without you noticing (I prefer GMT, but Windows kept altering it to NZDT). You have to dig a bit deeper into the menus to make these things stick, such as going through the default programs’ dialogue box, and turning off Windows’ ability to check the time. Having opted for UK English, Cortana refused to work—curiously, it claimed that the installed US English pack was an unsupported language, until I downloaded the same for UK English.

Cortana gives completely the wrong address for me. I wonder if the resident of 39A Aparima Avenue is getting identified as the home of a lot of Windows 10 users.

   There’s not an awful lot that Cortana can tell you. Most enquiries wind up on Bing, and she’s only really good for the weather and exchange rates (as I have discovered so far). There are a few fun questions you can throw at her, asking if she’s better than Siri, or whether if she’s met Bill Gates, but generally, but we’re far from Knight Rider or replicant technology here. A New Zealand accent presents no problems. One thing she gets very wrong is my location, which is allegedly 39A Aparima Avenue in Miramar. I’m not sure how she arrived at that address, as I don’t live there and I don’t believe I know the person who does.
   It’s not too unpleasant to look at although the mobile-specific features can get a bit annoying. The menus feel too large overall, because it’s all designed from a mobile-first standpoint, while the biggest gripe from me comes with the typography.
   Microsoft has ruined ClearType here in its attempt to make something for mobile first, and most type looks very poor on screen. Fortunately, a Japanese website still hosts the MacType plug-in, which brings the font display closer to what we experience on Mac OS X. It even goes beyond what we were used to in Windows 7, which had been Microsoft’s best use of its ClearType technology to date.

After installing MacType, ITC Legacy Serif looks far more like it does in print.

   You can alter the fonts through the Registry Editor, and I set about getting rid of Arial as always. Windows 10 doesn’t like you removing a system font, so the trick is to replace it with something else called Arial, then remove the original from HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Fonts.
   Windows 10 removes your ability to change the icon and menu fonts, and they now have to be changed in the registry, too, at HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics, and very carefully.
   After tinkering with those, the display began looking like what I was familiar with, otherwise there was a bit too much Segoe on screen.
   There have so far been no program incompatibilities. As upgrades go, it hasn’t been too bad, and I haven’t been stuck here forever downloading updates. Apple still gets higher marks for its OS upgrade processes (when they work) but given how much data I have on my main Windows machine, and how different each PC is, Microsoft has done a good job. I’m glad the system waited till now, and delivered me a relatively bug-free transition. Software upgrading is one area where I don’t mind not being first.

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Posted in design, technology, typography, USA, Wellington | No Comments »

Bugs galore: frozen while using Firefox; keyboard and mouse unresponsive when using Windows 7


Last week was an interesting one for computer bugs. Apple took 42 attempts to install the latest Itunes update on one Mac (and that was the good one that normally presents no issues with updates), but, to its credit, once it was done there were no further problems. Windows, however, gave me a few headaches and I’m recording the solutions here for others who might have the same, since what I’ve read online doesn’t always apply.
   The old laptop was freezing every time I used Firefox. God help us, I even downloaded Chrome when I was in the Philippines, since it was the only browser compatible with YouTube, to which I had to upload a few videos for work. (Internet Explorer kept producing an error, with YouTube saying I had to get the latest version, and Microsoft saying I had the latest version.) And no, I didn’t accidentally turn on my search history since the dates don’t even correspond, and I was using another account.
   Fix: remove Avast. The bug had been plaguing that work machine for a few weeks and I had an inkling it was Avast. One of the team had accidentally allowed an Avast 30-day trial to proceed, which was the root of the problems. It was roughly at this time the issues began. I had downgraded back to the standard one, but things were so irreparably damaged that the only solution was removal altogether. That laptop is back to AVG, although Microsoft Security Essentials is recommended to me.
   My main desktop computer, which is running Windows 7 (since Microsoft has been completely silent on how to upgrade to Windows 10, with the advisory box giving me no clues other than I am in the queue), began freezing me out earlier this week. Twice at night the keyboard and mouse became unresponsive, although the computer itself had not hung: things were happening in the background normally. I had to do a hard reset twice that night, and had a painless day for the subsequent day, but then the bug recurred around 10 times on Friday.
   In the meantime, should this happen, putting the computer to sleep works, which, like most bugs, seems to be the opposite of the advice you get. I was still able to access the computer via VNC on Android, and control it through there. Putting the PC to sleep (discovered entirely by accident) and then awakening it worked in getting keyboard and mouse control back.
   You begin suspecting certain things.
   Keyboard and mouse faulty? You would hope not, since I spent NZ$160 on the former, though it is under warranty. On two occasions I heard a USB disconnect sound. However, both were checked and appear to be fine. I altered some USB sleep settings, but they made no difference (and were put back to default).
   Hacked? Actually, yes. I run TightVNC, and there were repeated hacking attempts from IP addresses in the US, the Netherlands and Colombia of late. These were added to the firewall and the TightVNC program updated to the latest version. The Event Viewer had picked these up.
   But the bug persisted and even became more regular.
   Was it to do with the Windows Error Reporting service? I had not signed up, and it was switched off, but I still went into the Task Manager and disabled the associated tasks. No joy, nothing changed.
   One person wrote that they experienced this error after downloading the Intel update driver utility, which I had done so, too, after Microsoft advised that I had Intel issues and was unable to upgrade to Windows 10. That was in August, but it was close enough to the September bug—and I had been away, after all—that it was a possibility. I removed it, but, the bug continued.
   I did the usual disk checks and verified the hard drive.
   What finally worked? Removing everything by Apple with the exception of QuickTime. It turns out that not only was the Itunes update problematic on a Mac, it could freeze you out on Windows. That meant removing every updater, Itunes, any Apple utilities connecting you to portable devices, and an Apple service called Bonjour (which had generated a lot of errors in the Event Viewer). Till Apple sorts itself out with Itunes, that’s the thing you should avoid. Although having used it for the first time in many, many years, only to be told that what I wanted to buy was not available to New Zealanders (who, incidentally, could have watched the same programme for free from the copyright owner’s website), I’m not entirely sure why anyone would. At this rate, I won’t be using it again in a hurry, at least not for another few years till someone asks, ‘Can I download Itunes on to your computer?’

Postscript: A few days after writing this post, which included a trouble-free day, the problem recurred, and this time, there was nothing in Event Viewer at all. After even more investigation, it turns out that in Windows, a faulty mouse can knock out your keyboard. Go figure. Of course, that could lead to a full post about mice.—JY

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Posted in internet, technology | 2 Comments »

Firefox, Waterfox, Cyberfox displaying no text? Do the opposite of what you are told


After months of avoiding the latest Mozilla Firefox because it would display no text, installing, removing, and reinstalling an older version of Waterfox just so I could do some work, and experimenting over the last day with Cyberfox, which included editing fonts, looking at GFX settings, editing the registry, and doing an awful lot of research, I have now fixed the problem of having no text in these browsers.
   As I discovered years ago, the trick is to do the exact opposite of what the experts suggest.
   When trying to set up the office network in the mid-2000s, the only way I could get it going was to do the exact opposite of expert advice, by making sure the speed on every device did not match.
   Tonight, the solution was as simple as pie. Almost every piece of advice I had received when reporting this issue was: turn off hardware acceleration. It was already turned off, so, logically, I kept looking at other things. It got to the point where I was advised by Loic, one of the helpful guys on the Mozilla forums who had hitherto walked me through possible solutions, ‘As you are able to reproduce it, could you use the tool mozregression to find a possible regression range, it will help to narrow the underlying regression.’
   Software people think I am a lot smarter than I really am, and I had to admit to the writer that I am a layman and I had no idea what he was talking about.
   The correct solution, if you want Firefox, Waterfox and Cyberfox to display text where there was none, is to turn on hardware acceleration.
   You can imagine my feeling right now: a sense of satisfaction knowing that I am running the latest, most secure browser and that I overcame this rather serious bug, with the usual disappointment in realizing that I trusted again in expert advice that wasted time for a lot of people, including those kind developers on the Mozilla forums, and Alex, the guy behind Waterfox, who were trying to find a solution for me. I simply do not know enough about computers and software beyond what I have to do to make a living.
   The concluding remark from one of the guys, Nicolas, on the Mozilla thread was, ‘This means that (at least in your case) the issue is most likely specific to the cairo drawing backend. Good to know, thanks.’
   I hope documenting this bug has helped someone out there. Merry Christmas!

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Posted in internet, technology, typography | 4 Comments »