Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Computer problems update...

Computer problems update...  TL;DR: My friend Tim's computer is now back up and running smoothly.  That took four hours of work this morning to accomplish. 

When I arrived at his house this morning, the first thing we did was to look at his computer to see if our attempt to do a clean installation of Windows 10 had succeeded.  Nope, it was a dismal failure.  So we tried a second time.  Failed again.  Then I tried carefully making sure all running applications were closed, disabled his anti-virus software, and tried a third time – and that time, it worked.

That gave us a brand-new copy of Windows 10 with no crapware installed, only the Windows anti-virus, and none of the apps that Tim depends on.  The next three hours were completely consumed with getting his applications, configurations, backups, and bookmarks back.  When we finished with that, his computer was running the cleanest and fastest it ever had.  I think that was mainly due to the absence of the large number of crapware apps that Dell shipped with the machine.

The final step we took was to create a “restore point” (using the Windows lingo).  This we named “clean and pure”.  If his computer ever gets hosed again, we're hoping we can restore to that point and salvage it.  Most of all, I hope Tim and Jeannie never call one of those scammers again!

Feels good to get the poor guy up and running again, though.  He was completely lost on repairing that, of course, as he's about as non-technical as you can get...

Thank you for your service...

Thank you for your service...  It's the custom here in northern Utah (and most likely, in rural areas across this country) to pay respects to veterans of military service on any patriotic occasion.  Independence Day is one of those occasions, and in the past few days I've had several instances when such respects were directed at me – something that very rarely happened in California.  In fact, just once that I can recall in my 40+ years of residence there.

Those of you who don't know me should know that there was nothing heroic about my military service, and I was never in anything even remotely resembling combat.  I was a computer technician, and I was good enough at that to be in demand for work both on my ship (the USS Long Beach, CGN-9) as well as on other ships in the Pacific and on a few land stations.  The closest brushes I ever had with combat were being helicoptered into Saigon for three days (to fix a computer for the Marines) and a rather scarier incident in the Indian Ocean wherein I was part of an operation that almost deployed by plane to rescue American teachers and Peace Corps workers that Idi Amin had taken hostage in Uganda.  That operation was canceled when Idi Amin backed down.  Everything else about my military service was routine and essentially risk-free if you don't count the thick cigarette smoke that I breathed every day.

The first recent instance of recognition was about 10 days ago, at the Hyrum “Star-Spangled Rodeo”.  That event is associated with Independence Day here, though it comes early.  As the rodeo started, there was the traditional parading of the colors and singing of our national anthem.  After that was finished, the announcer did something that caught me by surprise: he called for all the veterans in the audience to stand up – and then he asked those still seated to show their appreciation.  I stood when asked, a great deal of noise was made, and as I looked around a fair number of people were looking at me and clapping or otherwise making their appreciation known.  That is the first time in my life that anything like that happened, and though I knew it was something essentially directed by the announcer ... it was also clear that most of the people making noise were sincere in their appreciation.  This was all quite startling for this veteran who is far more used to derision than he is to appreciation.

Then this past Saturday I was in the local grocery store (Macey's) buying toasted sesame seed oil for the (wonderful!) poke that Debbie made.  As I went through the checkout counter, the clerk – a young woman of perhaps 25 years, who we've made the acquaintance of in the past – said “Weren’t you in the Navy?”  Apparently in some past conversation I'd mentioned that, and she remembered.  When I answered in the affirmative, she reached for my hand, shook it kind of strangely in both of her hands, then kissed my palm and said “Thank you so much for being there when your country needed you.”  Wow. That started a conversation in which I learned that her fiancee was a Marine deployed to Iraq.  She's afraid for his safety, but very proud of her man.  As I pushed my cart away and back toward my car, she ran out and gave me a hug, saying “Thanks again!”  Again, a singularly unusual experience for me.

Finally, this afternoon my phone made the noise indicating someone had texted me.  When I looked, I found it was from Mark T., the contractor installing our sprinklers.  He said “Happy Fourth of July Tom.  Thank you for your service to our country.”  He and I have talked rather a lot over the past year, and my Navy experiences have come up now and then.  Obviously he remembered. His expression of appreciation took me completely by surprise, though.  A pleasant surprise, to be sure, and once again has me reflecting on just how different the culture here is than it was in San Diego.  It's nearly inconceivable to me that any of the dozens of contractors I employed in San Diego would ever do such a thing.  Here it's still surprising to me, but perfectly conceivable. 

I'm still not used to being respected or appreciated for my military service, though.  It feels very strange, but certainly not unpleasant.  Just weird...

I wonder...

I wonder ... how many Americans under the age of about 40 have ever actually read the Declaration of Independence?  I suspect it's a small number, since in most schools it is no longer taught, and it's not the sort of thing people would read for entertainment.  If you're one of this presumed multitude, here's the whole thing.  Read it, and ponder the courage of the men who wrote and signed it.  Every one of them knew their signature made them marked men, subject to arrest and execution unless they could pull off the unlikely miracle of actually winning the war this document would start...
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Paradise ponders: mules and computer problems edition...

Paradise ponders: mules and computer problems edition...  I spent most of yesterday catching up on bills, bookkeeping, and other such chores.  Somehow there seems to be more of these things now that I've retired. :)  In the early afternoon, while chasing down one vendor to see if they'd received payment, my phone rang: my friend and neighbor Tim D. had a computer problem, and he wondered if I could give him a hand.

Well, of course I could!  Anything to get out of doing that damnable paperwork!  So I walked over to his place, a couple hundred yards north of my barn office.  On the way, I stopped by another neighbor's property to introduce myself to his mule.  That neighbor (Heath C.) had recently put up some barriers around the weeds along the periphery of his property, so that his mule could eat them down.  The mule was friendly enough, and seemed to like having company, even if it was for only a few minutes.

Then I continued on to Tim's house, where I asked a few questions and discovered that my friend had been the victim of a scam.  His wife (Jeannie) had been looking for a recipe, when up popped a window in bright colors, with the Microsoft logo, warning her about a virus and telling her to call a phone number on the screen immediately.  Unbeknownst to either her or Tim, that window was just a clever, dishonest, and deceptive advertisement served up by the recipe site.  That ad used JavaScript to provide a good simulation of a locked down computer – nothing worked.  She called Tim over, and then Tim did the wrong thing: he called that number in the ad.  The people who answered had a strong accent (Indian or Pakistani) and were members of a criminal group that makes their living scamming people who aren't very technical (like Tim and Jeannie).  They led him through installation of some tools – tools that gave them remote access to his computer.  Yikes!  Then he sat there and watched them doing things to his computer that he didn't understand, doing their level best to scare the crap out of him.  They were doing a fine job of that right up to the point where they asked him to pay $250 for their services to “fix” his computer.  At that point he hung up on them and called me.

I couldn't tell, after the fact, exactly what they did to his computer.  But one thing was absolutely clear: it had serious problems.  It was extremely slow, strange programs were running in the background, and it was completely sawed off from the Internet.  Years ago, when I was a Windows user, this would have instantly called for a re-installation of the operating system.  Windows 10 has a “fresh start” option built in to make that easy (allegedly), so we started that up.  Two hours later it was still running, with no sign of completion.  At 7 pm we gave up and decided to let it run all night.  This morning we'll see if it finished.  If so, perhaps his computer will be working again, albeit missing all his data (which he has backed up) and applications (which he has very few of).  If it hasn't finished, we're going to power cycle his computer and try again.  It may well not boot, in which case he's going to take it to a local computer shop and get Windows 10 reinstalled from DVD.  Sheesh!

Those damned ads are evil!  They looked so scary, and so genuine, to Tim and Jeannie – exactly as their creator intended.  The foreign criminals made themselves look legitimate by using a forwarding phone number that appeared to be American, but in reality was answered by someone in an untouchable foreign country.  Those criminals have basically no risk at all, and a significant chance of success once someone calls their number.  The ads cost very little, and only if someone clicks on them.  I can't think of any way to stop this sort of thing, other than educating every last computer user in the universe.  Tim and Jeannie are now educated.  I'm also trying to persuade them to get a Mac. :)