Author Archives: ianjs

Microsoft still don’t get it, do they…

I made a reluctant expedition into the Microsoft jungle this evening because my ISP suggested one of my PCs might be infected with a virus. They suggested checking with Microsoft Security Essentials.

This is the download page.



I can only guess they are offering me the choice of a 32 or 64 bit version but what the hell is the average punter supposed to make of that?

It’s 2013 for god’s sake. Haven’t they learned anything about user experience? Anything?

So, nothing to see here. Time to retreat to the sane world as quickly as possible.

Death and (Microsoft) Taxes

So maybe this is how Microsoft fades out of the OS scene one day? Manufacturers get sick of paying the Microsoft Tax. More and more Android apps start to suit a desktop. Gradually Android infiltrates the desktop market and Windows fades into irrelevance.

Could happen. It’s hard to fight against an OS that is free.

Yeah, it could happen, but don’t sell your Microsoft shares yet. The industry graveyard is littered with the dusty headstones of Windows wannabes that died at birth. (R.I.P. HP New Wave).

And maybe Microsoft doesn’t even care if Android flourishes? It’s been estimated that they will reap $1.5-3.5 billion in royalties this year from licensing agreements with Android manufacturers. That’s more than their entire Entertainment and Devices Division!  And they didn’t have to deal with a single overheating, Red Ring Of Death XBox to earn it. Just needed a big enough wheelbarrow to collect the cheques from the mailbox.

Nice business model.

#microsoft   #android

Your next desktop could be a 21.5-inch Android tablet from HP
You said you wanted options, right?

Just threw out my 3.5" install disks for Windows 3.1

 (all 8 of them) along with the disks for OS/2, DOS 6.0, every driver disk for hardware I’ve owned over the last 25 years and a bunch of obscure games.

The disks are almost certainly unreadable, I don’t have a working floppy drive if they did, the software is only of vague historical interest and I STILL had to agonise for five minutes over chucking them.

The deed is done, but I’m pretty sure that as soon as the garbage truck drives away there will be some reason why this was a bad idea (don’t laugh, it’s happened more than once with old hardware).

Daily Embuggerances #1211

I've just realised there is no way I can adjust our thermostat for daylight savings without reading the damn manual.

It's about time we ditched these crappy devices and buried them in the same landfill as all the pre Android/iOS phones.

A recent gas outage caused it to mysteriously display a scrolling message that would quickly disappear. It refused to start the heater. A call to the supplier came up with:

Sigh. You need to press J12 while holding down the PROG button while rubbing your stomach anti-clockwise to force a reset.

Sounded like she'd told this story many times.

The consumer electronics industry really needs to get their shit together.

The article below gives you a glimpse of the way it should be done, but I don't see Janine letting me stick a phone on the wall with a USB cable sticking out of it.

Elgato Video Capture

Every time I get new computer hardware I think “cool, now I can do some video editing”. And every time I discover it’s still a slow and painful process.

Turns out a dual core MacBook Pro is finally enough to handle it nicely… or perhaps it’s just that the software sucks less nowadays.

I bought an Elgato Video Capture USB widget on Amazon (at half the retail price in Australia by the way, even with shipping) and, in the grand tradition of Mac software, it is trivially easy to use. You just:

  • Plug the three RCA jacks into the Video Out from your VCR (or other video source)
  • Plug the USB connector into a spare USB port.
  • Install the software (Drag it from the CD to the Applications folder)

Whatever is coming out of the video device now appears in a window. Press the Big Red Record Button and you are saving your priceless VHS videos and can edit them to your heart’s content.


Anyway, let’s get on with embarrassing the kids. Here’s a snippet from a VHS recording we did at ScienceWorks back in 1994 where they got to play with video special effects.

Your brakes have failed. Abort, Retry or Ignore?

Medical devices, in-car electronics, police radios and smart phones are going wireless so they can be controlled remotely. The manufacturers seem to assume that no hacker will figure out how to access them, much less completely control them.


This video makes you wonder why cheesy programs like CSI has to make shit up when the real world has such intriguing (and unsettling) stuff going on.

Sunscreen in a Pill? Really?

Sigh. I know there is a lot of this kind of woo out there and, yes the rule is “Buyer beware”, but, seriously you have to wonder how these bastards can sleep at night peddling this kind of crap.

The claim is that:

During a decade of clinical trials, FernBlock® has shown remarkable effectiveness in shielding skin against dangerous ultraviolet exposure [source]

And it’s true;  if you take this product and follow their guidelines:

Use with high SPF sunscreen (SPF 30+)

you won’t get sunburnt. It’s roughly $1.00 per hit and you should take two or more per day…. but don’t forget the sunscreen.

Science Based Medicine‘s examination of the claims indicates that, even with the most generous assessment, this stuff could only add SPF 3 to your protection – in other words bugger all. So for your $29.95 you get to swallow some horse pills and risk a stomach upset (one of the common side effects). Oh, and you will still get sunburnt unless you apply 30+ sunscreen.

I’m struggling to picture the thought process that leads to a sale:

“Hmmm this looks good…. ‘natural extract derived from the fern plant‘, ‘used by Ayurvedic practitioners in its native India for thousands of years’, lots of sciencey words on the label. This has to be better than the evil chemicals some pharmaceutical company is trying to sell me!”.

If I hear one more person tell me “it’s ok because it’s natural” I’m going to scream. It’s a completely meaningless label.  Some of our worst social problems arise from the use of “natural products derived from plants” – alcohol, tobacco, opiates.

I met someone over lunch recently who fervently insisted that a major source of our ills is the dreadful toxins in our water supply and that the only way to get healthy was to buy filtered water or a filtration unit. A friend of mine takes vitamins because his wife insists he “needs” them even though he has a good diet and appears as fit as a Mallee bull.

Even in a country with one of the highest standards of living in the world, there’s an undercurrent of unease that the minor discomforts of life might be symptoms of a conspiracy to make us unwell, and that cynical pharmaceutical corporations are exploiting us for huge profits. The irony is that the companies peddling stuff like Fernblock (such a nice, friendly, woody sounding name) are some of the biggest earners (to the tune of A$1.5 billion per annum in Australia alone) yet they somehow avoid the taint of greedy commercialism in the eyes of the consumer. They also get a special bonus by not having to show that their product actually does anything, unlike the highly regulated pharmaceutical market where extensive clinical trials are required.

Perhaps it’s a reaction to the complexities of life. We are bombarded by conflicting advice, arguments about the pros and cons of health alternatives and  a stream of medical horror stories by the press so there’s always going to be a niche for someone willing to exploit that confusion.

The Rules of Engagement for Instant Messaging

Tsk Tsk. You have been referred to this page because you have committed one or more of the Cardinal Sins of Instant Messaging (IM) and need retraining.

The basic rule of thumb is: “Do I really need to break Ian’s concentration with a red hot poker in the eye right now?”, but here are the specifics:

  1. If I don’t answer immediately I’m not being rude (or I might be, at my discretion). Just wait, I’ll get to you. IM is not the other end of my chain for you to yank.
  2. Don’t interrupt me to tell me what you are going to do.
  3. Don’t interrupt me to say “Nothing has happened yet“.
  4. Don’t interrupt me by answering “Ok“.
  5. Don’t interrupt me with “Thanks“. See 6. Pointless Pleasantries.
  6. Don’t say “Hi“, “Good morning“, “Sorry to bother you” or sign your name. You are not writing a letter so dispense with the noise. It’s ok to be terse; I won’t be offended.
  7. Last, but not least, if you are going to interrupt me, then take the time to compose an actual message. If you fire off a sentence as fragments in multiple messages, I will not sit there waiting for you to get to the damn point, I will come around to your house and rip your bloody arms off.

Ok, now you know, and we can be friends again.

Having read read this you probably just smacked yourself in the forehead when you realised how crass you were. If you are about to Instant Message me to thank me however, please start again at Rule 1.

Dispatches From Another Universe – the Breatharians

Every now and then my wandering on the web turns up a world view that is so far from reality it’s… well… breathtaking.

Take the Breatharians for example.

This page looks like yet another attempt to skim some cash from the gullible, in this case by the aptly named Wiley Brooks. The page that describes his “Immortality Workshop” reads like a clumsy spoof:

The workshop includes a visit to Earth Prime in the 5th Dimension in your physical body if you are ready.
The cost is $1,000,000.00 USD
The process starts with a $10,000 USD deposit by BANK WIRE TRANFER.
No Refunds

But no, a few Google searches turned up a legion of followers who believe that their Fearless Leader really can live without food and absorb energy from the sun like a solar panel. Apparently this is more an example of Poe’s Law than a deliberate scam.

What’s going on here?  Can these people really be occupying the same universe that I am? What is driving them to cling to such a Bizzaro World view?

It’s not as though it’s hard to test these claims. Just stick them in a room with no food, no water, all the sunlight they want and start the stopwatch. In fact, this is exactly what happened in the case of one of our local exponents when 60 Minutes asked her to demonstrate her abilities. To no one’s surprise she was almost dead from dehydration in 48 hours.

You would think that would be the end of it, but of course that’s not the way the world works. She’s still at it ten years later despite the fact that more than one of her followers have died from these bizarre practices.

To quote Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence“. Unfortunately the press, with its constant craving for new fodder, is less than skeptical when a catchy item like this comes along, and before you know it the fruitcakes have some free credibility – “as seen on Today Tonight!!!.

Take this poor soul for example. His story was splashed across the headlines last year when a “Facilitated Communicator” claimed she’d broken through his comatose state and could communicate with him via a keyboard. This kind of communication was discredited years ago but somehow she was given the benefit of the doubt. Eventually they called in the big guns:

“I believe that he is sentient. They’ve shown that with MRI scans,” said James Randi, a prominent skeptic who during the 1990s investigated the use of facilitated communication for autistic children. But in the video, “You see this woman who’s not only holding his hand, but what she’s doing is directing his fingers and looking directly at the keyboard. She’s pressing down on the keyboard, pressing messages for him. He has nothing to do with it.”

Well, no shit.

The story went cold when somebody thought to ask him some questions without the “facilitator” in the room. Yes, that’s right; it was a worldwide news story before someone actually though to do that. Too late anyway. The press had already moved on to the next piece of credulous fluff, and the more interesting story – the possibility that this man was conscious – was trampled in the rush.

It would be nice to think that these kind of fantasies would never get traction because people would ask the obvious questions. It seems that once you decide to dispense with reason life gets a lot simpler and the Dunning Kruger effect kicks in: the less you know, the more likely you are to exclaim that you do, and the less likely you are to listen to evidence to the contrary.

I fear The Endarkenment is upon us.

Apparently Dan Aykroyd wasn’t acting in GhostBusters…

Aykroyd plays Dr Ray Stantz in GhostBusters, an eager, if slightly goofy, scientist investigating paranormal activities in a world where ghosts and the supernatural are real.

I stumbled on this interview with him from a few years ago that seems to indicate Aykroyd may have thought GhostBusters was a documentary.

The earnest interviewer (a “UFOlogist”) says he had to interview Aykroyd because:

I thought it was like Einstein was hiding inside of a comic genius, just so that if he told us the real truth he wouldn’t have to believe it.

Whatever that means.

Aykroyd’s calm, measured delivery might be worth listening to if the material wasn’t batshit insane. The interview goes for over an hour, interspersed with footage of distant shaky blobs, dramatic zooming with the standard motor drive sound effect (“click-click-click-whir”) to show how much more convincing they are as larger pixellated blobs. Sadly none of them are as impressive, or as pretty, as the one Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy described and immediately recognised as the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch.

All the standard conspiracy theories are trotted out, wrapped in enough non-sequiters and question-begging to make your head spin.  “In theory if there were another species in the universe” leads to, in the same breath, “the extraterrestrial machines that are coming and going”. Having dispensed with any sense of objectivity he launches into deep discussions of the “obviously intelligently controlled machines” and their technology and how we might benefit from them. Crop circles, cattle mutilation, abductions – it’s all there.

Of course Famous People are always assumed to have special insight because… well… they’re famous, so they can pontificate on pretty much anything they like and get an audience. Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy, whose respective training in pulling silly faces and flashing their boobs in Playboy qualify them to comment on medical research, have used this to great effect on the soapbox of Anti-Vaccine madness.

Aykroyd is a familiar face soberly discussing a complex subject with all the standard buzzwords like quantum energy, anti-gravity and multiple universes. If you’re a Famous Person, you say it with a straight face and you speak with authority I guess it’s easy for a casual viewer to swallow the story.  Perhaps that’s why so many of them are actors; it’s what they do for a living.

It’s possible that I missed the killer argument towards the end because, to be honest, I couldn’t sit it out.  He started to cite Fox News coverage, Ronald Reagan and “64% of Americans” belief in UFOs  as evidence and it all started to get unbearably silly.