Wednesday, 28 July 2010


With regard to the Frustration Post, I also hate the new version of Freecell on Windows 7. Being an organised kind of person I like to do each different possible puzzle in numerical sequence and starting at game one a decade or so ago, I have nearly reached 10,000. Apart from the horrible colour scheme which was introduced in Vista, which makes it hard to see which cards are highlighted, the W7 game will not let you select a new game of your own choosing without it couniting as a loss on your statistics. At least, I have not found any way of avoiding this happening. Definately a cheater's game too, because you can go back and undo as many move as you like. The older version was much more difficult because you could only go back one move.

Friday, 23 July 2010


I recently had a slight problem with my main PC. One program was not responding and throwing up error messages, which was not a major problem since I did not use that program often. What prompted me to look deeper was when my Internet Security program started to report regularly that the Antivirus database was corrupted. Suspecting an infection I tried a reinstallation only to find I could not remove the old files. I then remembered my days as a Network administrator and decided to look at the Event Viewer and check out any error reports and found it chock-a-block with red error messages dating back some weeks. Investigating these showed to my horror that the hard drive was suffering from damaged data blocks. This was preventing my Internet Security software from writing to the allocated space on the disk where it kept the Antivirus updates. Nothing unusual about a failing disk but bad blocks on a hard drive means that a part of the magnetic surface of the disk is starting to break up and will soon spread to the whole drive. A bit like discovering inoperable cancer in a human, the early symptoms may be trivial but they are harbingers of something much worse.
What did amaze me was that I would have expected Windows XP to tell me there was a disk problem in large flashing letters long before this, instead of simply making a note of it and tucking it away whilst misleading me by reporting faulty software.

Having discovered this, I hastily backed up my more important data and went out to buy another hard disk. I had already decided that I would upgrade to Windows 7 about January, but had never implemented it, even though I had bought the software, and installed it on a disk already on the computer and tested it, I had never bothered to set it as my start disk, because that meant that I would have to reinstall every application to make the change and up to then XP had been working fine.

Now I had to, I started using this as the start disk and consigned my new one to a data store role. Having installed and activated happily back in January, W7 immediately informed me that it was an illegal copy and I must re-activate it. I had bought it from a main dealer in a certified pack and as far as I could ascertain was entirely bona fide having all the proper holographic labels and so on, on it and it had not complained when installed in January. I can only assume that it did not recognise my computer after a long rest and seeing a different set of disks assumed I was trying to use it on another computer. I ignored this and carried on and it has never complained since.

Everything went well as I installed the most needed of my old software and then I started to install my hardware, printer, scanners etc. Of course, these all needed new drivers, so scouring the Internet for manufacturer’s upgrades I was successful in all but my A3 scanner. This does not seem to have a W7 driver so will only work on XP, but no real big deal since I run two computers and do not intend to change from XP on the other one now that I have tried Windows 7.
Eventually I was ready to start using my computer with my ‘exciting’ new Windows 7, which Microsoft assured me it was going to make my computing experience that much better.
I am curious to know how not being able to edit any of my existing files created under XP is a better experience because once up and running, every time I tried to open a file for editing, I was informed they were ‘Read Only’ and I could not edit or rename them, although I could save them as something else, I did not want that.
After a few frustrating hours, I realised that this is true of every single one of my old backed up and copied files and documents.
I have lots of documents, because firstly I am part squirrel and compulsively store things and secondly I have experienced data loss whilst using Windows software before and so I have made a kind of holographic * backup across two PCs now.
(* Holographic sounds better than disorganised.)

So, more time spent looking for answers on Microsoft’s un-help pages and meanwhile I am still not able to actually use the computer to edit stuff.
Two days of this and I am still at a loss to understand what has gone wrong.
Eventually a trawl across the wider World Wide Web unearths a chat page where two people have been discussing the very same problem. Bingo! It is caused by file ownership.

Obviously if you spend a lot of money to buy a newer operating system from Microsoft, it will change the ownership and permissions of all your old files so that you cannot use them. Why on earth did I not think of that?
(Note; for Microsoft employees who may run across this post; this is sarcasm!)

The cure is really simple…. if you have a lot of patience. What you have to do is right click and select the properties box on any file or folder you foolishly think you may already own, select ‘Security’ – then ‘Advanced’ – then ‘Owner’.
You can now see that your file or folder is owned by a user with a very long name consisting of letters and numbers in a string about half a mile long but is not anything resembling your old user name you were using when it was created.

At this point I realised that I actually have about one hundred thousand files on my computer so I really did not want to correct them one at a time but the cure can be made a little faster if I simply go up a level and select the folders containing my files and do a whole batch at a time.
Having stepped back and started again, selecting my main folder, I went through the menus to the point in this process where I had got back to the ‘Owner’ tab, and then by Clicking on the Edit box, I was able to select my user name from a list and take ownership of my files.
ONLY THAT DID NOT WORK… apparently now I own my files, I still cannot do anything with them until I have re-set the Read, Write and Delete ‘Permissions’. Only then can I actually edit them.
To do that I have to go most of the way through this process again but this time stop at ‘Security’ and edit the ‘Permissions’.
Once done I then find THAT DID NOT WORK EITHER!!!
I calmed down and stopped to think, and looking over what I had done again I discovered a little check box in one corner that says, ‘Include all the files and folders too.’
It did not work because I had not checked this box.
After several revivals of this tedious procedure on my different folders, I now have a computer that will work under W7 and I can now edit and save and do all those things I own the computer for but which Microsoft seem to consider an extra feature.
Well nearly.
For editing pictures I have long been using Corel Draw version 7 which includes PhotoPaint and I am very familiar with this package so I reinstalled this under W7, but although it ran, ok, as soon as I started to do any actual work, a huge window popped up telling me that I cannot use the Help Pages in this version of Windows. Fine, I know this version inside out, so I don’t need help pages, but the window pops up each time I try to do anything and this makes the package completely unusable. The irony of this is that in the box is a little message from Microsoft saying ‘Was this helpful?’ No it certainly wasn’t! I sent off several slightly sarcastic replies which someone may have read but not to worry I have cured that one too!
I went into the Program Files folder and simply re-named every single Help file in the Corel package. I can do that because I own them… tee hee……all of them… hee hee
hee ha ha ha

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Adverts and packaging

Some of the ideas that marketing people get paid to use to promote a product worry me, for instance...

‘Made from all natural ingredients’ – what are unnatural ingredients? Ectoplasm?

‘New Improved!’ – What was wrong with the old product? Have you been selling me an inferior product all these years? I want my money back

‘Organic!’ The opposite of organic is inorganic, does this mean that food not labelled organic may contain Arsenic trioxide, copper sulphate or cadmium fluoride to name but a few inorganic compounds.

‘Fun sized!’ More like small and poor-value-for-money size.

Don’t hang around singing about fruit juice you foolish blackcurrant! – run for your life!

Putting vitamins or certain plants in something you wash your hair with makes it healthier? How does your hair digest this food?

As for Fairy washing up liquid, it clearly said in the advertisement that it would wash up a whole load of dishes and showed me how many. I left it with my dirty dishes all night and it did not wash up a single dish!

‘Just Spray on’ shower cleaner. Nothing about rinsing and wiping after? Sure it cleans, like a layer of some sticky chemical over the shower tiles is clean.

Another thing that worries me is, according to some adverts how some people let their sinks/toilets etc become disgustingly filthy before they consider going out to buy something to clean them. The idea that these products will actually clean up ten years of neglect in a single wipe is a little optimistic and it must prove deeply disappointing when these lazy suckers actually buy the product.

‘Kills 99% of all known germs!’ In terms of a risk assessment that seems quite good figures but what if only one of the one percent is highly virulent? So what germs are not killed? Please tell us what they are – I’m scared.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Busy week –3

This time we were off to a reunion that I try to attend every year. It is held in different parts of the country and this year was held in Dudley, a part of England known as The Black Country, a name that is a legacy from the industrial revolution.

The group is made up of a number of people who were once employed in the training department of what was part of a corporate electrical and electronics company. During the eight years I worked there the company management became rather over enthusiastic about the then popular term ‘leaner and fitter’ and steadily reduced the effectiveness of the company’s ability to deal properly with its customers by reducing staff levels. As a part of that drive, we were made redundant in dribs and drabs until a department that had once had eighty people or so was cut down to four. I was able to be re-employed in each new ‘leaner Fitter’ department a total of five times until I realised that I did not want to be blamed for not being able to do my job any more. By that time the department was not so much leaner and fitter as skeletal. When the department had got to this point, our now ex-departmental head suggested a commiserative party for the threatened staff and all those who had gone before and the idea of a yearly reunion grew out of that. The commiserative party, as they do, had become a little morbid by the end of the evening and we all ended up singing ‘Things can only get better.’ This worked out to be correct, because once I had departed from that moribund company things did get better.
So for several years now, one of our group takes a turn to organise something for the reunion weekend and this time it was the turn of JC who lives in the midlands.
My turn to organise this event had been in 2008 and I had arranged it to be in the Lake District, but the weather had not co-operated and we were rained out. I missed last year’s event because I was in America for that week, but it had been more fortunate and this year the weather was as good as it gets in the UK.
JC had booked us into a large hotel near the Merry Hill district in Dudley next to a canal basin that has been ‘regenerated’ from its industrial past to cater for people taking their holidays on the canal.
We arrived Friday evening and met up with the gang. JC had booked us into a local pub for a meal and typically of our group, a disorganised discussion resulted on how to share transport to get there. Only a few cars could go, since there was very little parking and it was a bit too far away to walk. There were enough drivers who did not drink for nearly everyone but not quite, so four of us decided to order a taxi. As things turned out, whilst I was at the hotel desk ordering a cab, a taxi turned up to drop someone off at the Hotel and we were able to take the empty cab. After the meal we all returned to the hotel where the hardened drinkers congregated in the bar and settled down for a long session. This is not something TBH and I do well so fairly soon we bid them goodnight and retired to our room.

The Hotel and the canal basin

For such an expensive and prestigious hotel we were rather disappointed to find they had no air conditioning. We were on the third floor and the bedroom window, whilst giving us a splendid view of the canal basin, only opened a crack. It became very stuffy and we did not sleep well. To add to our difficulty a kind of party or event was taking place on the ground floor and the music did not end until well past midnight, so we stifled with the window closed until the sound stopped and then we stifled slightly less with the window opened as far as it would go.

The next day JC had arranged for us to visit the Black Country Living Museum. This is a place where they have rebuilt, as close as possible, representative buildings and streets dating back about 160 years or so with people dressed up in period clothes acting as guides and historians.

A typical view of the streets found in the Museum

A policeman in an Edwardian uniform met us and gave us a short talk on the purpose and history of the Museum.

Our group being briefed by the copper

We had all been booked into the schoolhouse for a lesson but had about forty-five minutes to kill first. Some of us decided to go down the coal mine to see how our ancestors suffered in providing the nation with coal. This was one of those typical shows where you struggle through an authentic mine reconstruction with life sized workers in set displays at intervals showing each stage of the arduous task of getting coal out of the pre-mechanised mine. As we approached each scenario, the guide would throw a switch and the new scene was illuminated and a sound recording came on with ‘authentic’ coal mining sounds and voices telling you in the first person what they did. The rather ancient guide was very knowledgeable but whenever he started up a canned commentary, he talked over it so that you could not easily understand what either was saying. We were issued with hard hats so we all resembled Bob the Builder as we stumbled about in pitch dark. The hats, certainly in my case, proved essential. In many parts of the mine you had to crouch down to get through the highly authentic four foot high tunnels. Eventually after crouching or standing in total darkness and experiencing the sound of blasting in a tunnel; we were herded out into the bright sunshine and it was time to go to school.
This was more fun. We were all given a slate and some charcoal and made to sit quietly in rows whilst a retired school teacher told us about the kind of school Victorian children would have attended and then gave us a lesson in writing copperplate script. She was very good and at one point had to discipline some of the class because she had discovered that some of the ‘girls’, the hussies, had nail varnish when she inspected our fingernails and one of our group, JW, was discovered to have written ‘I have seen your knickers’ on his slate.
They were all taken out to the front and she explained to everyone the kind of punishments they could expect if they had been real school children in a Victorian school. She then swished a cane close to them - no actual contact - and they had to say ‘Sorry Maam’ before they could sit down again.

Getting the cane and having a hard time keeping a straight face

By then it was lunch time after which we wandered around looking in the various houses and shops and were dismayed to find how many things we found there that we remembered from our own childhood. It is not a good feeling to find that what you still think of as everyday items are in fact museum pieces.
One building is a working bakery, although they are not allowed to sell the bread for H&S reasons. TBH found this fascinating because her Grandfather had owned and run a family bakers and she spotted some of the things he had used, including some bread tins that she had inherited and has at home.
The site is quite large and to help us aged, there was a tram service and a trolley bus running through the grounds. When I was very young, both trams and trolley busses were an important part of the public transport system since we lived close to London. Whilst I rarely used the trams before they were scrapped and the rails removed, I often used to take a ride home from school in a trolley bus. I told TBH I would like use the trolley bus for nostalgic reasons but TBH was only vaguely aware of the difference between the two forms of transport, having never used either regularly, or cared much anyway. She had only ever ridden in a tram in Blackpool so she had not really appreciated the difference but steering her in the right direction, we got on the one that I insisted was a trolley bus.

A trolley bus

A Tram

Trams run on rails like a train and usually have a single wire to supply their power, the other contact being the metal rails, but trolley busses run from a pair of overhead wires and have normal road wheels. Of course like a tram, they can only go where the wires go but the ones I used also had a battery that allowed them to go about a hundred yards if they ever lost connection with the wires. This enabled them to get out of the way of the other traffic if this happened. It did happen occasionally by accident but also if they needed to change routes and had to be hooked up to another set of wires. I had often witnessed this on my way to or from school.
So we had a ride on a form of transport that I had not used for over fifty-five years.
Both trams and trolley busses were scrapped in London for economic reasons but also because they did not mix well with modern traffic and the quiet trolley busses had a bad record of killing unwary pedestrians who failed to hear them coming.
This needs to be remembered now that people are considering introducing electric cars. It has been suggested that they have a built in engine noise generator or they will be so quiet, that they may start knocking down people who do not hear them coming.

One of the attractions in the museum is a canal boat ride through a network of tunnels that pass beneath castle Hill, yes there is a castle in Dudley.

Dudley Castle

One of the canal boats used to tour the tunnels

At one time, the owner of the castle wanted to mine and transport the various minerals found in the different strata beneath Castle Hill and so he had a series of tunnels and galleries dug out beneath the hill and joined the lower ones to the existing canal system. Despite their recent - recent geologically - construction, there were some impressive stalactites that had formed on the ventilation shafts from water seeping through the hill.


Quite early in the trip, just as you have got used to the dark, the tunnel opens up into a deep hole in the ground where several tunnels were dug for mining purposes that is now open to the sky creating a strange place surounded by trees and creepers. Then you go back into the dark tunnel again.

At one point, the engine is shut off and two volunteers are called for to ‘walk’ the boat through the tunnels. This requires they lay shoulder to shoulder across the boat and literally walk their feet along the opposite walls of the tunnel to drive the boat along. This was common practice before canal boats were powered. Traditionally a horse was used to tow the barge outside any tunnel but it could not be taken through the tunnel and so the horse was led over a hill via a bridle path whilst the bargees would walk the boat through the tunnel themselves using this method. This has a history in my family because my father, whilst in the national Fire Service during WWII, had to take an un-powered barge on his own through one of the many underground waterways that link the Thames to the canal system. Because he was alone, he had to lay on his back on the roof of the cabin and walk the barge along using the roof of the tunnel. Since a canal tunnel is built as small as possible the boats just fit the tunnel, so this was perfectly feasible and also was standard practice for a lone bargee or in this case fireman.

JB and SM walking the boat

Outside again on a short, little used, part of the canal some boats had been moored and had sunk. On one of these, some coots had built a nest and I managed to get a snap of the chicks walking about around the nest with the mother bird sitting on the nest, oblivious to the people coming and going around the canal.

The next day we were intending to go to Cosford, an airfield and aircraft museum but the lack of sleep and hectic life style I have been living these past few weeks, or both had caught up with me and I did not feel too good and could not really face breakfast, a sure sign I am not quite right. So TBH decided that rather than drag me around a possibly much larger site than the Black Country Museum, thought it better to go home early. Those I saw at breakfast expressed their concern and so making my apologies, we skipped the aircraft museum and went home a few hours earlier than everyone else.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Twilight Zone

Just an interlude between the 'busy week' posts. On another web site someone asked the question, what was the weirdest thing that happend to you? and it remided me of this odd moment I had a few year ago.
It happened to me was when I went into Boots the Chemists to look for a particular button cell battery I needed. I was peering at the rack, concentrating hard on trying to match the one I was holding in my hand to the myriads of subtly different ones on the battery rack, when an announcement came over the PA. I tend to ignore these as a matter of course since they are usually promoting a bargain I don’t want, or announcing something to the staff, so I shut it out. I am quite able to shut out the rest of the world when I want to which has been a really useful talent when working in an open plan office and not so useful when sometimes at home TBH has to drag me back from what we now call 'The Zone' when I am concentrating hard on something I am doing.
Back in Boots, failing to find my particular battery, I straightened up and turned around intending to go and look elsewhere, when I found everyone else in the shop standing perfectly still and in total silence, several of them nearby staring ominously at me.

For the several long seconds it took me to realise it was not a mass takeover by aliens, but 11 o’clock on the 11th of November and everyone else in the shop was observing the two minutes silence, it was a real ‘Twilight Zone’ experience.
The final straw was that, when I glanced back at the rack of batteries, only then I noticed it had a sign above it saying DEAF AID BATTERIES. I imagne everyone was thinking poor old deaf git and maybe wondering how to tell me in sign language, but it gave me a good excuse for not hearing the announcment. After the silence ended, I sidled out of the shop hoping not to meet anyone I knew in the crowd. Luckily I did not.