Computing Update VI

April 29, 2012

Tobae fired up Excel today and Microsoft AutoUpdate told her of the recent service pack for Office for Mac 2011.  She asked whether she should download it and given our poor bandwidth and its size (110 MB), I said to do it at her office tomorrow.  So she clicked not now and then Excel crashed and Microsoft Error Reporter launched.  Yes send the report and re-open Excel and her file.  Excel crashed again and Microsoft Error Reported launched again.  And so on.

Had the data file been corrupted?  Attached her “Time Machine” disk and restored the most recent backup.  Excel crashed…  But in doing so it had changed the date modified on the file.  I didn’t want to start possibly corrupting every spreadsheet on her computer.  I’d make my own spreadsheet.  File -> New Workbook.  Excel crashed…

Time for some work with Google.  Search came up with many entries having to do with the Outlook killing version of SP2 known as 14.2.0.  But she was still 14.1.4.  Tightened up the search and was led to this article in the Microsoft Support Knowledge Base:  Microsoft Excel Has Encountered A Problem…  There are many similar articles in the knowledge base.   The titles never entertain the possibility that the problem not only was encountered but also created by Microsoft.  And they always involve doing lots of things that you don’t want to do.  An amusing part of the particular one is that it begins with Step 1, then Step 2, then Step 5, then Step 4, then Step 5.

The alternative was to download the now repaired service pack 14.2.1 and be optimistic.  The download took 90 minutes on our rural connection.   It consumed 2% of our monthly quota and will likely have us throttled for awhile.  It seemed to overwrite some of Tobae’s preferences, but the file opened and she was back in business.

My other bit of work on her computer this weekend was to update VMware Fusion to 4.1.2.  Just like when I had updated my own computer a couple of weeks ago, I got the message “The operation can’t be completed because you don’t have permission to modify VMware Fusion.   On my own machine, I have a true root account enabled.  I switched to it and got the update installed.  But I didn’t want to go that path on Tobae’s computer.  Should have used Google before for the solution presented on the VMware Knowledge Base was simple, though not quite intuitive:

To resolve this issue, even though you are already running Fusion 4, install the upgrade by double-clicking the “Double-click to upgrade from VMware Fusion 3” icon.

United, Now “The Largest Airline in the World”

March 3, 2012

“At midnight”, not sure which time zone, the computing apparatus of Continental and United were merged so that “CO” is no more.  Chaos has followed.  A quick look at #United on Twitter will reveal gems like “You know it’s a bad day when the @United Club agent checks you with pen and paper then asks *you* if you have rum for her coke!” and this gate announcement “sorry you chose this day to fly United”.

But I’m not flying today.  I’m in Whistler.  I went on the morning dog walk, a nice snowshoe above Stonebridge on the Flank Trail.  I arrived back home at 10 a.m. to find Mark’s friend Christie on the phone to United trying to track down her skis which did not arrive with her on UA 460 to Vancouver last night.

On the phone is a euphemism for on hold.  You have to like Gershwin very, very much.  After a long wait, she was able to learn that the computer system was down, call back in 20 minutes.  So she dialed, knowing the wait would again be at least that long.  The computer was up.  She provided extensive information on phone numbers and addresses and ticket numbers and the claim check and was able to establish  that the skis were on a flight arriving at 11:49 a.m.  But just as it seemed all might be well, the computer system went down again and so a “file reference number” was not generated.

Could we talk to Vancouver?  No, we were going to continue to talk to India and they would continue to use the unstable computer system to provide “information”.  But we did have the number of the baggage supervisor in Vancouver and a fax number.  Got voice mail for the baggage supervisor.  Sent a fax for good measure.  No response.  Not to mention no response to my tweet to @United, not surprising as they were overloaded.  Time for breakfast.

So another phone call after breakfast to get an update.  Christie learned the “file reference number”.  This allowed us to see that the address was wrong:  Talufwood Dr instead of Taluswood Pl.  Spells out to get it fixed.  Becomes Galufwood Pl.  Tango Alpha Lima Uniform Sierra later the address is right (well the province is BC not YVR, but bet the folk in Vancouver won’t be thrown by that one).  But really no info, because the skis have not been scanned.  Couldn’t we just talk to the baggage people in Vancouver?  No.

Mark begins calling each number in the block 604-482-53xx.  On the seventh dial a message that the party was on the phone!  Called back a bit later and got a human at 1:15 p.m.  They would call back after checking on the status. At 2:10, he is back on the phone.  Nigel the station manager is now on the case, but has no information.

So will the skis make the daily 3 p.m. lost bag transfer from YVR to Whistler?  Just as I was about to post, Nigel called.  Skis are located and they will “put them through customs”.  ETA 5 p.m.


Contrast this with Delta.  Their iPhone app has a feature to photograph your claim check and see all the scans of your bag.  Last Friday I followed my bag through the airport onto the plane, off the plane and onto the carousel.  And there it was.  And if it wasn’t I would know where it was.  Information in the hands of the customer instead of not in the hands of a call center.  Seems like a pretty simple idea.

Vagaries of Canadian Television

January 30, 2012

Something that will always keep me from getting full immigration points to Canada is my lack of interest in hockey.  I just don’t follow the puck as well as is necessary.  Curling, well no.  Soccer though works fine.

In that context, a couple of weeks ago the most compelling televised sports event on Canadian television was the lopsided defeat of the Dominican Republic by the US women’s soccer team to open the regional Olympic qualifying tournament.  I watched portions of this 14-nil game.

In the Canadian way, CBC this morning was reporting that both Canada and the US had qualified for London, while still energizing interest in the championship game of the tournament:  Canada-US.  Low stakes, but considerable national pride.

And so I made note that the game was at 5 p.m.  But is it televised?  No!  The NFL Pro Bowl instead.

Twitter tells me that US leads 4-nil in the 58th minute…

Thomas and Me

January 26, 2012

We get many fewer unsolicited calls in Canada, but they are so much more interesting.  My recent favorites are from Thomas who called last week and then again today.

Thomas purports to be from the “International Security Department of Windows”.  He asserts that my “Windows computer” has been compromised by hackers and I am generating spam and that he will help me solve the problem.  Quite insistently.

English is not Thomas’s first language, so I was much too direct.  I said I did not have a Windows computer.  He said I did.  I said I didn’t and hung up.

Imagine my surprise at being called back today.  (Why continue to robo-dial people that listen briefly then just hang up?  I suppose that I didn’t hang up with enough vigor.)  Tonight I engaged more thoroughly, though it was brief.  Same initial pitch.  So I ask “Thomas, who do you work for?”  “Windows”  “Thomas, Windows isn’t a company.”  “I work for Windows.”  “Thomas, who makes Windows?” [silence]  “Thomas, what is my IP number?”  [silence]  Damn, Thomas hung up on me!

Beware of Thomas.  I think he is FoS.


My Exploding AA Duracell Battery

January 15, 2012

Last night I heard a loud pop and was hit in the chest by the outer casing of a AA Duracell battery.  No bruise.  This a a first for me, but a quick Google search reveals it is reasonably common, at least for batteries installed in devices.  Mine was not, it was in a Ziploc bag sitting on the granite ledge that separates our dining area from the kitchen.  This picture sets the scene: the bag was sitting just to the left of the basket with fruit and avocados.

The battery was sitting in a Ziploc bag just to the left of the basket of fruit.

The remains:  The top of the bag is detached and covered with battery innards.  The outer casing hit me, just where the picture was taken from.  The base piece with the short wire and the inner packing were found in the hallway just under the pictures in the distance.  The plastic bag was still on the granite ledge.

The strength of the Ziploc seal compared to the bag itself is impressive

The debris field covers about a 4 ft x 4 ft area on the wall, with splatter on three of the picture frames and the wall itself.

Typical of the debris field. The largest spot is about 3/8 inch across.

I’m not sure what lesson this is suppose to teach me.  Hadn’t seen such in my 60 years, so probably won’t again.  I guess I am simply thankful that the battery was pointed such that I wasn’t the target of the debris.

Legacy of Integrity?

January 14, 2012

With the change of leadership at UW, I have been imagining a new leader and style of leadership that reverses the downward spiral of the past several years.  Perhaps the clearest, but not only, sign that the trend is not good is a recent letter to all hands dated January 3, 2012.

Our new President, Michael Young, set a piece of context that was striking:

Persons entrusted with academic, administrative, and athletic responsibilities at institutions of higher education have been found to have actively betrayed that trust — or to have stood by passively allowing the destructive behavior to continue.

Then he continued:

In contrast, it is clear to me that the University of Washington’s century and a half of success has been built on a strong foundation of integrity. When problems have been discovered, they have been dealt with promptly and appropriately, as one would hope. Overall, the UW has nurtured a culture of responsible conduct, which has sustained our perennial success in attracting scholars and administrators who share a visceral inclination to act honorably.

And began his conclusion by exhorting:

Having inherited such values, one of our duties is to periodically renew our commitment to maintain these high expectations of ourselves and of one another.


Excuse me, but what part of UW legacy does he imagine demonstrates anything resembling values that are any better than those elsewhere including the cheap shot he takes obliquely at Penn State and for that matter many other top private or publics? A litany of UW wrongs, not dealt with promptly and appropriately, come to mind.  In athletics, just read Scoreboard Baby and then explain both actions taken then and thereafter in the ensuing women’s softball drug scandal and the  men’s basketball date rapes.  In the medical school, the billing scandal and the action that brought the serious sanctions: coverup.  At the heart of the university, total disrespect for shared governance exemplified by a multi-million dollar class action settlement for faculty and exacerbated by unilateral retreat from a salary policy supposedly designed for good times and bad.  Compounded by a narcissistic, sociopathic Provost, left to her own devices, now gone but leaving a wake of dysfunction and lack of trust.  Integrity requires accountability.

David Brewster writes thoughtfully in Crosscut about the challenges that President Young faces, and I agree with much of what he says.  But the last sentence (which I am partially taking out of context) speaks to the concerns expressed here:

The risk is that time is running out, morale is sinking at the university, and Young loses the momentum of his honeymoon year.

It is true for the political arena of which Brewster writes and it is equally true in restoring integrity.  Take off the blinders.

BCS (Bowl Championship Series)

January 7, 2012

There are lots of reasons not to like the BCS system.  The one demonstrated this year is the idea that the ten best teams should appear in the five bowls.  In other words their mean ranking should be 5.5.  It was 8.7.   The Cotton Bowl did better:  7.0.  Maybe I should be glad that the BCS games have not televised in Canada (at least in a 80 channel cable package).