Reasons to hate Microsoft, part 2

A beautiful morning, I have just got up, and already I hate Microsoft.

That’s because part of my routine is to turn on my laptop and look at my email.  This I did and … it wouldn’t let me in.

I don’t have a password on my laptop; it never leaves my house, and only I use it.  But … yesterday I installed some software via the Windows Store – a first – and it made me login with my “Microsoft account”, and then reset the password, and a load of other nonsense.  Then Apple made me do the same.  I did my task and thought no more about it.

This morning I discover that Windows silently applied that “Microsoft Account”, not to the Windows Store as the display suggested, but to my entire computer.  And that is why I was presented with a demand for a password.  Of course I don’t know it – it’s a junk password.  I don’t *want* to login to my PC using that account.  So I requested shutdown, to see if I might get the option to “login as another user”.

Nope.  What I got was “we are installing an upgrade”.  Very very slowly.

They’re still doing it.  Almost half an hour later, it’s “working on updates 15%”.  I’d like my breakfast, please, but Microsoft have forced me this morning – twice – to fight with their software.

I’m typing this from a backup laptop.  I’ve found easily some Google results that suggest I can get rid of the unwanted account from my PC.  I imagine that an hour’s work will undo the havoc: an hour of my life gone, simply because of corporate arrogance.

Is it too much to ask, Microsoft, that you ask me before you screw up my morning?

UPDATE: An hour and a half after I first guilelessly wandered into my study, things seem to be back to normal.  I’ve returned the PC to use a local account.  In the process I found that Microsoft decided that I wanted to use tapping on my touchpad, so I had to work out where that was and disable it.  Then, when I restarted, it didn’t go to the desktop, but sat, displaying some pretty landscape picture – yes, they’d decided, silently, to force display of a picture on the “lock screen”.  I disabled that too.

Amusingly they also fiddled with my taskbar.  I don’t use Edge – does anyone? – so I put Internet Explorer as the left-most icon.  Microsoft primly moved Edge back to the prime position, and moved IE two along.

We need legislation.  This is a lovely morning, and half of it is gone, and I have no redress, purely because of arrogance by someone whom I have never heard of.

Where do you go to, my hateful?

Where have all the atheist forums (sic) gone?

I was reading Twitter earlier this evening, and did a search on “atheism”. I found some stale jeering, a few self-important or foolish tweets; and a mass of muslim propaganda.  If ever I saw an area dying for lack of participants, it was this.

This made me think of the atheist discussion groups of yesteryear.  First before all others, there was usenet.  I remember alt.atheism, where you could get a good fight, if not much common sense.  There were other usenet groups where interesting discussion might be had.  Often the baby atheists would trot out some outlandish historical claims, culled from some ignorant or mendacious source, in the belief that few would know better.  It was a real pleasure to track these claims down.  It provided stimulus.

Then there was the Internet Infidels forum, which morphed into Freeratio.org, whose BC&H forum had quite a bit of useful historical stuff.

Dirtier, and pretty irrational, was TalkRational.  A strange US atheist called Sam Harris had his forum, with some of the dimmest followers that I ever met.  Acharya S had her forum, although you never quite knew how many of the “posters” were actually her in disguise!  Richard Dawkins had a bunch of discussion groups on his website.

Yet today all of these are gone.  Usenet was first to go, as people stopped using usenet clients and relied on DejaNews website, which was replaced by Google Groups, and then discreetly rendered useless.  I suspect that some of the Google hierarchs prefer that the antics of their younger days are no longer accessible, in these intolerant days.

Internet Infidels spun off their forums, which were eventually taken over by some strange woman who picked fights with the regulars and then closed the whole thing down, for no apparent reason.  Acharya S is dead.  Dawkins closed down his forums.  TalkRational has gone.  And, as I found today, the atheists don’t really use Twitter that much any more.

I never found Theology Web that interesting, but I wandered over and it was still there.  But I could find nothing of interest.  In fact it has been so long since I visited that they have deleted my user account.

So where do they go to, the people, as Peter Sarstedt might have sung?  The cranks, the atheists, and so on?

Truly I do not know.   But something has passed from the web, that was interesting and useful, and a valuable stimulus for work.

Paypal and “We’re sorry, but we can’t send your payment right now.”

Paypal is pretty much the only game in town for online payments.  But as with every monopoly, that causes poor customer service.

I needed to pay a translator yesterday, but I fumbled.  I entered the wrong password three times.  When I did manage to log in, I entered the details of my payment – to someone that I have paid many times before – and got the unhelpful message:

We’re sorry, but we can’t send your payment right now.

Which means nothing.  After several attempts, I contacted Paypal customer service via the link – and got back a form letter which told me nothing.  I responded to that … and never heard anything more.  Poor service indeed.

But 24 hours later, I tried again and … it worked!  Yay!

It seems that Paypal lock the account for certain transfers for 24 hours, after which you can try again.  But they don’t tell you this!  I suppose it helps reduce their losses from fraud.  But it’s bad luck for anyone who urgently needs to send money.  Effectively Paypal becomes unreliable.

I wish one of the big banks would roll out some competition for them; really I do.  It is much the best way to send money overseas.

A curious software puzzle

A correspondent has sent me a link to a dissertation, which, he assures me, it is possible to download as a PDF.  Unfortunately his email was vague as to how, and I simply can’t work it out.

It’s presented in some obscure online viewer software, which, to my eye, simply doesn’t have a download option.

Can anyone work out how to download the blasted thing?  It’s here.

I am reminded of the curse in The Dying Earth, “May Kraan hold his living brain in acid”.  That summarises how I feel about all these pieces of useless “viewer” software.  I merely wish that the authors of such viewers be forced to use their own frustrating creations!

More archaeology on our own PCs

In my post Archaeology on my own PC, I discussed what I did with some files from the early 90s, that I found archived on my PC, and how I got them into a modern file format.

Some of the files were in .drw format.  These were produced by a long-vanished DOS-based drawing package, Lotus Freelance Graphics.  I read online here that Lotus SmartSuite 9.8.2 Millennium – itself long vanished – should be able to open them, and save the results to PowerPoint.  Copies of SmartSuite are available on eBay, so I ordered one, and it arrived yesterday.

I popped the CD into my PC, and ran the installer.  I marked every part of it, other than Lotus Freelance Graphics, as “do not install”.  Freelance installed fine on Windows 7 (64-bit), and started fine.

I then tried to open some .drw files, and found that it would not play.  But the same site advised me:

I can open a DRW file and store it in another format (like PowerPoint 97 or one of the many alternatives). …

I installed Freelance only from SmartSuite 9.8 on a Window 7 PC, no problem. Open the DRW file in a blank page, use ‘save as’ to convert.

And that’s the trick.

You will probably wish to avoid this by setting a user preference: File | User Setup | Freelance Properties | Skip the startup dialogs and bring up a blank page with no look.

Note also that the “blank page” will be in landscape, whereas you probably want portrait (since that was the Freelance for DOS default).  This is File | Page Setup | Portrait.  I have yet to discover how to change this by default; or how to fiddle with the page size either.

Once you have a blank page open in Freelance, then when you do File | Open you get a long list of file types.  There are two .drw imports – use the Freelance one at the bottom!  Here using keyboard shortcuts will speed things up quite a bit – e.g. Tab, Down arrow, End, Up arrow, to choose files!

It is very clunky doing the imports, I must say.  Also I get a warning:

Lotus Freelance Graphics - import warning for Freelance for DOS files
Lotus Freelance Graphics – import warning for Freelance for DOS files

“Freelance Graphics cannot duplicate the colors that were used when this file was saved….” Which is impenetrable.  And … “the device that the file was saved for”?

But then, in the days of DOS, when printer drivers were the responsibility of the application, not the operating system, you got extreme coupling like this.  What device is involved I don’t know, of course.  Probably some long forgotten screen or printer.

Anyway if you OK that, you get your diagram imported.  Mine all seem to be black and white, but I hazily remember that this was the case back then.  It was a marvel, in 1988, to be able to draw at all on a PC!

So … this strategy does work.  For most of the files, anyway.

A few simply were blank.  This may be fixable, tho.  In one case, it was blank if I imported into a landscape page, but when I saved it anyway to PPT, a load of text was scrunched up at the top of the page.  So I tried again, imported it to a portrait page, and it worked fine.

One problem that I encountered was where bitmap files had been imported.  Even when these were in the same directory, Freelance refused to find them.  I’m unclear how to fix this.

I wouldn’t try to do new work with Lotus Freelance Graphics, tho.  After a while, “f32main.exe” started to crash when I saved as .ppt.  Why this happened I don’t know, but no doubt has something to do with being a very old piece of software.  We can do rescue stuff only.

About to reboot.  Hope that fixes it!

UPDATE: It didn’t.  But I found that if I saved a few files as .jpg instead, then turned back to .ppt, it worked.  Weird.

Your article, your footnotes: getting started with Zotero

These days you may have to submit an article to one of a number of journals, each of whom uses a different format for footnotes.  To cope with this foolishness, it’s a good idea to have all your references in a database somewhere, and insert them into your paper in Microsoft Word using {field} tags, or something like that.  The exact format inserted is controllable by the database software.

This is what Zotero is: a database for articles, plus a Word plugin (“connector”), and a web-browser plugin so that you can add the complete data for your article – journal, year, pages, etc –  to your database from Google Scholar by a couple of clicks.

It helps a lot if someone shows you how it’s done.  The best way to find out is to use YouTube, and pick short videos (I hate video myself).  If you are lucky, you will have a SmartTV in your house, which is connected to your Wifi and has a YouTube app (which is what I did).  If not, you can still use Youtube on your PC.

Here’s your first video, about 4 minutes long: Getting started with Zotero using Zotero standalone.  This shows you how to install.  Do watch it, even if you think you know; it has a couple of tricks.

After that, you have Zotero Standalone, you have Zotero’s plugin in Word, and also in your browser (I used Google Chrome).

Next is a 2 minutes video Zotero Word Plugin.  This shows you how to insert footnotes into your document.  (If you choose the Chicago Style, rather than the one they choose, you will get footnotes, rather than inline references.)  (This is another of the same kind, about 5 mins).

After that, you will want to know how to get articles and books into your database of articles.  Google Scholar is the answer!   There’s a page on the Zotero site, Getting Stuff Into Zotero, with a 5 minute video at the top (which I haven’t found in YouTube yet).

Basically you search for your article in google scholar.  You have an extra icon at the top right of your browser, Chrome (or whatever).  So when Google Scholar comes back with a list of results, including the article you want, hit that icon and you’ll get the list of results in a box.  Check the one you want, and it’s saved!

There are many other sites you can use it with.  It works with COPAC, for books.  But for articles, at the moment the only source of references that I know about is Google scholar.  There are others, I believe.  Anyone care to list some?

Archaeology on our own PCs – unravelling old file formats

A good few years – seventeen! – have passed since I left off working for a certain major corporation, stashed a bunch of documents and sometime projects in a directory on my PC, and went off to seek my fortune.  But this week the past came back to me, in the shape of reunion drinks; and I found myself looking for a document that I hadn’t seen in 20 years.

When I found it, I found that it was in a file produced by WordPerfect 4.2.  For DOS!  It was last edited sometime in the late 80s.  Fortunately at the time I had the habit of using “.wp4” etc as the file suffix, so I knew what the format was.  I found other files, suffixed as “.ws5” – WordStar 5!  There were some “.drw” files, which I knew were vector graphics files, and proved to belong to Lotus Freelance.  There were bunches of zipped up directories; but in “.lzh” directories, produced using the lha.exe archiver, which is now dead.

I know a crux when I see one.  Whether I can retrieve all of this now I do not know; but certainly the problem won’t get better if I leave it.  I once thought these files worth keeping.  But there’s not a lot of point, if I can’t open them.

Dealing with the WordPerfect 4.2 files was relatively straightforward.  Corel bought WordPerfect long ago, and a correspondent showed me that the conv50.exe file at the Corel FTP site, under the WordPerfectDOS 5.0 directory (which you can’t open in IE, but can in Google Chrome) was a self-extracting zip file which contained the convert.exe file used to convert 4.2 to 5.0.  So I got hold of this, and converted my file to Wordperfect 5.0.  Few utilities indeed will work with WordPerfect for DOS versions earlier than 5.0, although in fact 4.2 was a far more popular and widespread version.  You can run this quite happily in a Windows 7 (64-bit) command window, and it will prompt for input – I put *.wp4 – and output, and it will do all the files in the directory in one go.

Now I have a WordPerfect 5.0 file, there is a utility you can obtain, again from Corel, to convert wp5 files to an ancient version of Word.  This may be found in the WordPerfect for Windows 6.1 directory, and is named wp_convert_utility.exe.  This is an installer, actually, which installs a windows utility in the c:\program files (x86)\corel directory on your PC.  Don’t get creative with installing it, by the way – it plainly is on its last legs.  Here’s a screen grab:

WordPerfect Convert Utility
WordPerfect Convert Utility

 You can’t actually browse to files anymore – that doesn’t work!  You must type the names in yourself, and choose the right output type.  You want Word 97, which is actually the next item.  This will give you a nice .doc file.  I was then able to double-click on the file and open it in Microsoft Word 2010; whereupon I promptly saved it in some new, shiny, file format.  In the same directory, naturally.

The Wordstar files were simpler to deal with.  Long ago Microsoft produced an import filter for all versions of Wordstar 3.0-7.0.  They don’t include it any more; but it is out there, on a Microsoft FTP site.  The site is incredibly slow, tho.  The file, wdsupcnv.exe, is a self-extracting zip file, which creates a bunch of .cnv files and a readme.  You then copy these into C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Textconv.  Once you have done this, you open the .ws5 (or whatever you called them; if you called them .doc, as was the default, then I don’t know if this confuses Word) by double-clicking and choosing Word 2010 as your application.  It opens, prompts you to confirm the file format, then asks you to say “Yes” to something, and …. your file opens.  I then saved it as a modern Word .docx file – again next to the original.

I haven’t yet managed to open the .drw files.  But I gather that Lotus SmartSuite 9.8 Millennium should be able to open it, and save the results in Microsoft PowerPoint format; and copies are available cheaply on eBay, so I have ordered one.  Whether this will work on 64-bit Windows I do not know.

The worst problem that I got was with the collection of .lzh files.  The lha site is gone, and although 7Zip will open these files (although not on the command-line version), that doesn’t help you if you have a couple of hundred.  If you have an old copy of the lha.exe file, you will find that it doesn’t run on Windows 7 (64 bit), because lha.exe is a 16-bit applicatio1n, and Microsoft thoughtfully ensured that any compatibility layer was only present on the rare 32-bit version of Windows 7.   However I was able to find a clone LHA for Windows, and this worked fine.  I copied the new lha.exe into my directory of files, and adapted a little batch script that I found online to scan for all the .lzh files in a directory, and unpack them to a new subdirectory of the same name:

@echo off 
setlocal enableDelayedExpansion 

set MYDIR=.
for /F %%x in ('dir /B/D %MYDIR%\*.lzh') do (
  rem set FILENAME=%MYDIR%\%%x
  set FILENAME=%%x
  echo Processing !FILENAME! to !FILENAME!.DIR\
  md !FILENAME!.DIR\
  cd !FILENAME!.DIR\  
  D:\MYFILES\lha x ..\!FILENAME! 
  cd ..
)

And it worked: FRED.LZH was unpacked to a new directory FRED.LZH.DIR, and so on.

It’s been an afternoon of archaeology.  I think that I have now converted all the files (except the .drw) that I have on disk.  I hope that these will go with me into the future.  Unless we are careful, even the past that we have saved carefully and archived will vanish.

From my diary: the evanescent internet

Today, at work, I cast around for a web-based form to point a computer program at, for testing purposes.  I recalled my own feedback form, at Tertullian.org, and decided to use that.  I was having one of those days, you know, when everything goes wrong.  But at least my own website wouldn’t let me down, right?

Wrong.  The form didn’t work.

Clearly it hadn’t worked, for quite some time.  Yet I couldn’t see why.  It was a very simple piece of software, and hadn’t changed in, well, probably a decade.

But of course it wasn’t running on the hardware-software platform of 2004 any more.  Somewhere, sometime, my website provider had upgraded.  It happens all the time.

Some software upgrade had broken it, silently.  The form is written in PHP, and clearly one or the other of the PHP upgrades had silently removed features on which it depends.  It emails me in a distinctive format, and, now I come to think of it, I haven’t seen one in quite some time.  A year?  Two?  How time flies…

I spent a less than pleasant hour this evening, rewriting the way it captures variables.  The new version is considerably more baroque than the old.  It’s longer.  It might be more secure, I don’t know.  But it’s not the same form any more.

Of course this makes me wonder what other PHP scripts are lying around on my website, long forgotten.  I can’t even face looking.

This is how the internet dies.  We all know that it is less than permanent.  What we forget is that software less than a decade old, designed to run and be accessible by the world, is probably only sporadically working.

All those eager-beavers, upgrading and improving constantly, are … leaving a trail of wrecked websites behind them.

I wonder how many of us are actually hosting deadware – scripts that once worked and no longer do?

How to download a book at the German Arachne – DAI site

I had trouble with this, so I am going to document it here!  With pictures.  Because it’s about as user-friendly as a cornered rat; but obvious once you know.

Say you want to download a volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum?  These are here.  So go to that link.  You get a page like this (you can switch the language to English somewhere on the site, at top right – may as well).

arachne1Click on a volume.

When you get it, there will be a floppy disk icon top right.

When you do, you will get a pop-up:

arachne2IGNORE the “Download” button!!!  All that will give you is some crappy catalogue info.

Instead click on the “Download book as PDF file”.  And … your download will begin.

Be warned: the size of these books is in gigabytes.  Which won’t matter a bit once the internet speeds up a bit, but may make your eyes pop a bit in the mean time!

The decay of digital media

This evening I was looking through some PDF’s of a Mithras reference volume, which a correspondent very kindly scanned for me some time back.   I keep a copy on my travelling laptop, and so when I am working away from home, I can work on the site in the evenings in the hotel.  I was, in fact, looking for information on the Nesce Mithraeum, in Latium; and, rather to my surprise, that page was missing.

So I decided to go through the PDF (which I received in parts of a few pages) and check whether any other pages were missing.  A few were, but I can obtain photocopies from a library and patch the PDF’s.

But I came to the end of the directory, and double-clicked on a file and … it wouldn’t open.  Adobe informed me that it was corrupt.

This was a surprise.  I knew the file must have been OK once.  All the files in that directory were emailed to me, and I certainly opened them all at least once, and often many more times.  How could it be corrupt?

Now I carry around with me a back-up of my hard disk, on external hard disk.  It’s kept up to date every weekend.  So I went to that and tried to open the same file.  And … it wouldn’t open.

Somehow the file that I had downloaded to my PC at home had become corrupt, at some point in the past.

In this case there was a happy ending.  I never got around to deleting the email(s) that sent me this book, and so I could just download the piece again.  And, sure enough, that was fine.

But that PDF file has never been anywhere except on my hard disk.  How could it have become corrupt, without any other intervention?

More seriously … I have gigabytes of PDFs of books.  How many of these, I wonder, have silently rotted?

Nor am I the only one.

Today I accessed a website discussing an obscure technical subject.  The article was less than a year old, but the links to samples and bitmaps no longer worked.

It’s not so long ago that I found that the zip files on the Electronic Journal of Mithraic Studies website – which seems pretty much abandoned – no longer unzip.  Somehow, at some point, in their state of neglect, they have rotted.  But how?

We need a way to check the integrity of our collections of electronic books.  There is no manner of use in having them, if they are not there when we need them.

I don’t know how it might be done; but done it needs to be.

Gentlemen … check your files!