03 October 2014

Failure configuring Windows updates reverting changes...

At 2pm I started tidying up a new Windows 8 laptop that I had bought for a friend in the village. After getting rid of a few trial programs that manufacturers insist of including, presumably in the hope that they'll get some commission when people forget that their trial has ended and the payments have started to kick in, I got Windows update under way.

It's now nearly 9pm. For several hours, and by several I mean at least five, possibly six, I was staring at a screen which told me first that x out of 96 updates were being downloaded and then installed. That was reasonably bearable at first but when the next ominous message appeared I felt a chill in the air.

Failure configuring Windows updates reverting changes. Do not switch off.


That's scary. Especially as there was little help from Microsoft on their site which suggested that it might take up to 30 minutes! I read quite a few other posts from people who had had similar problems and it seems that when you have a really really large number of updates then there's an awful lot to download and install and things can go wrong. The sensible suggestions were, if you could ever get back to a normal screen, to pick and choose essential updates only and do them a few at a time. Indeed there may well have been loads in those 96 I was doing that weren't necessary at all. Unfortunately, unless you're prepared to bite the bullet and do what you're not told and switch off there's no way back to a normal screen. So I decided to leave it to it for a while. One chap on a forum post had said that his had taken 4 hours and all had been well at the end so I decided that I would leave it all night if need be and see what had happened in the morning, assuming that some power settings hadn't chipped in and turned the damn thing off anyway!

So it was with some relief that after the five or six hours the display changed and finally I was back with a start screen and what seemed a working laptop!

If you're starting off on something similar then be patient, and hope. You may also be able to download all the updates but be selective in what you actually install if you feel happy taking control of what is normally automatic. As soon as you can, install Windows 8.1 which has significant improvements. You try turning 8 off or switching from those full screen applications! It's all pretty much trial and error but 8.1 adds a bit more control.




09 July 2014

Help needed for iframe code for embedding a spreadsheet

I need help. After days of trying to edit some <iframe> code, hopefully someone out there will come to my rescue before I need psychiatric help as well!

I want to display a section of a Google Sheet on a web page where someone can enter something in one cell and view some data related to that entry.

The Google publishing suggestion provides this code

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1AxmM43iugG3eAViyK_ip_I0Z9gSFxLI4BfUuHkT8ouY/pubhtml?widget=true&amp;headers=false"></iframe>

which produces this result.


That is neither editable nor displays any results either. Basically it's not much better than a picture! I suppose it might update as and when I change the source sheet but that's it.

Looking around (and believe me I have looked around) I discovered some alternative code. So I tried this:

<iframe width=500 height=437 src="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=1AxmM43iugG3eAViyK_ip_I0Z9gSFxLI4BfUuHkT8ouY"></iframe>

which produces this result and I have used something like this in the past (but annoying people kept fiddling with the formuale) :






That is 'live' and you can put either AH or AH2 in the box and get different displays which is what I want. However, this also shows the toolbar so anyone can mess around with formulae or lose it completely if they're that way inclined.

I am sure there must be a way to display just a selection of cells but none of the &range=A1:K10 type additions to the code have worked. I am pretty sure I am merely missing something obvious or just not entering the extra bit of code correctly but I can't figure out what is correct. If someone out there has a few minutes I would very much appreciate some code that works.

I think I have set permissions so that only B2 can be edited but even that was a lot more complicated that in needed to be. Basically, I had to protect ranges column A, Row 1, B3:J100 and K1:Z100 individually. That still leaves a pile of columns and rows that people can get at but I can extend the 100 to something bigger. While anyone can just add a new row column from the menu, though, there's not much point!

So I do hope someone has some bright ideas.


13 June 2014

Photos, photos everywhere but none to drop just here


I have just posted about this on Google+ but something else occurs to me and so I thought I'd write here too - sort of a frequently asked question that I can't answer!

I have a Google+ My Business Page about Corgi Toys and would like too add pictures to the Photos section. Even though it has the text 'Photos of you' which I think is a hangover from the normal user-type page it is clearly a sensible idea to show people who drop in on a business page something relevant to your business.

Now, you can upload photos from your computer in the usual way. That's OK but nowadays photos are massive - 4000 by 3000 pixels is a pretty common camera size as standard and I've seen plenty bigger too. Even though people have larger resolution displays than the old 640 days I am quite content with images around the 1600 x 1200 size which are still going to fill best part of a great many monitors and these will show plenty of detail too.

So the process would involve first resizing the original, renaming it and saving it somewhere, then uploading to the Google+ page. That's OK for a few images but I have nearly 2000. That's not all - why should I spend what could be many hours uploading them all when copies are already uploaded! Google Photos Auto Backup service has one or two things that annoy me but they're fairly trivial and the important thing that it does really well is upload everything almost as soon as it finds it. Indeed, as the more observant may spot, the screenprint below shows Picasa adding the 1600 versions of 1434 photos that Irfanview is batch editing from 4000x 3000 originals in one hit. Just out of shot is Google Photo's Auto Backup busily uploading the new 1600 size files.

Now, if the new 1600 size files were being uploaded to a place I could get at them from my Corgi Toys Business Page that would be brilliant but they're not. I can get at them as me but not as the me editing my Business Page.



Just to make this all even crazier - and you may have already appreciated this and smiled ruefully - Google Photos Auto Backup has already backed up the originals (well a slightly reduced size version which makes a zero impact on my file storage space but more than enough for web use). So there are now two perfectly usable image files up there and neither can be simply transferred to my Business Page. It's not as if I am asking for something impossible here; Google's Blogger makes this simple - using an image from a Picasa Web Album.


I suppose someone may write to me and say that I am missing something really obvious but I suspect that there are actually many others out there who have several Pages on Google+ and would like to be able to share images more sensibly.

I first wrote about this in connection with articles bout American Idol and X Factor where I had albums of contestant photos on my hard drive but had to upload to each place separately. That was bearable as there were usually just 20 or so at the most. With 2000 and counting Corgi Toy images this is a serious business!

I am presently using Irfanview to change the dimensions and save new files and will then upload a few at a time and see how that goes. It is such a drag but, until someone comes to my assistance, that's how it has to be. Or, I suppose, I could just not bother and just have a blog post about each model and the post and one photo will get automatically added by Blogger to the Corgi Toy page. That works well ad I am at a loss to know why it cannot work within Google+.

Oh well.


29 May 2014

Blue Screen Of Death prompts me to change

I have finally made the move to Windows 8. Well, I am about to; the machine is ordered and will be on its way in a couple of weeks. Several things made me go for the change. Seeing the good old Blue Screen Of Death was one!


I honestly can't remember when I saw that last on one of my own machines. It really must be very many years ago and I am not sure I have ever seen it on this desktop which has been going well since 2008. No idea what that particular message means but obviously something isn't as it should be, or wasn't last week.

That alone wouldn't have made me change, though. The machine had been shutting itself down from time to time but since I changed a web site so that it didn't need to process so many hundreds of images each time I changed something that hasn't happened more than once or twice.

It's probably several little things that have made me make the move now. My keyboard is not good and can be a bit of a nightmare to type on. I bought one with backlit keys which was great in many ways when my desk was positioned in shadow in quite a dark part of a room. After a while the key graphics wore away so many were just a blue blur and my son bought me a new one. That was nice but some keys are very sticky, sort of scruntchy and usually the A doesn't appear unless I make a specific effort to check and hit it hard. That has been quite a drag and almost every piece of text has had lots of errors, massively increasing the time it has taken to perform many tasks. It is also now located in a bright place and the back lighting is simply not needed. In fact, the key graphics are now very difficult to read! So I need a new keyboard. Not exactly the best of reasons for a new system but it did contribute.

I managed to make XP read my new XD card in a new camera some time ago but it has never wanted to delete images from the card so, after copying, I have had to run through them on the camera itself and delete through a quite laborious process involving each being selected individually. As I take photographs almost every day that has been a big drag. However, I don't know if Windows 8 will change that so it's more a hope than a reason!

It does take an age to get going. That is a good reason to change. I have tried all sorts of cleaning, removing stuff but all to little avail. I switch it on in the morning and then go and make breakfast. Even then some programmes take a good time to load. That's been getting increasingly annoying and I am sincerely hoping Windows 8 will transform that part of my life. The morning wait was OK but not the minutes' wait while something decided to start up.

Quite a big reason is Google Photos' refusal to edit my images in XP. That's annoying so, amusingly in a way, Google have sort of promoted a Microsoft product there.

Although Microsoft Security Essentials does continue to protect from viruses and is, presumably, updating virus definitions every day, that ruddy red castle icon and the messages every morning that I am at risk did get annoying. I had installed Avast but probably didn't need to and that is always suggesting this or that in an effort to wean me off the free version. All in all a bit tiresome. And you do tend to feel just a little bit more vulnerable, even if there is no real reason for that.

So that lot all adds up to time to change. Desktops are very cheap and, I guess, going out of fashion but a box on the floor is fine for me. I have a tablet and Chromebook for wandering around with. I've ordered a system from Mesh, who have given me equipment that has stood the test of time and my and my children's pretty intense activities since the late 1990s. I am sticking with an AMD processor, a quad core A8 this time with a 2GB Radeon graphics card to give me some future-proofing as I'm likely to use this to watch tv and films. Apart from Windows 8 Pro and 8GB RAM the computer itself isn't that much different but I won't be nagged about upgrades and I have a feeling it will be a lot quicker! The cost is almost exactly the same as 2008. Fascinating, and that includes a 24" monitor. That will be nice but, with a 1920 resolution compared to my current 1440 I have a feeling I shall need my glasses even more and sites will look tiny!

I am also intrigued to see how few programmes I will need to install compared to six years ago. 

 

Admittedly, the full list does have some duplications but it looks a lot tidier after all the green deletions of things I am not going to need. I used to experiment a lot with alternative software and, in particular, Office and web design tools. Now, Google Documents handle all my day-to-day 'Office' requirements and Serif's WebPlus my site editing. I have several sites, though, for which I'll need Dreamweaver so it'll be interesting to find out if my ancient MX version will still function! If not, then I may be firing up an old machine again for that as there's no way I'll spend as much as a system on the latest Adobe software. In fact, I am looking seriously hard at Wix and others. Maybe even I'll give Google Sites another chance. My lovely CSS code sites were interesting to develop and have some advantages over the somewhat ponderous Serif product but the future is code that is written by the program not me.

Looking at what I need more closely,

Media programs
Total Recorder
Winamp
Spotify
VLC
Amazon Cloud Player
Skype

Design programs
Irfanview
Picasa
Serif DrawPlus
Serif Photo Plus
Serif WebPlus
JAlbum

Utilities
CCleaner
Nuance PDF Reader
7 Zip
Prey
G Drive
Greenshot
G+ Auto back-up
Tom Tom
Sony 

No doubt there'll be games and some other odd bits and pieces but that is a significantly shorter list than the one I would have made six years ago.

One matter troubling me slightly is how I can transfer the huge amount of photos and music I have accumulated. Need to give some thought to that. I used a little cable six years ago which worked a treat but I have a feeling it might not work with Windows 8.

I shall write again with progress on the move. As almost everyone else in the world will have moved ages ago this may not be the most vital of articles but I just want to store all this for the record. In years to come we'll look back and grin. Or grimace.




09 April 2014

XP and from one scary message to another

OK. I admit it. I am still using Windows XP on a desktop. There, it's out now. I am so bad / lazy / unconcerned / old-fashioned / stupid [delete as appropriate to fit whichever news article you read]. Microsoft's support for the operating system stopped yesterday. I now get a warning when it starts and the Microsoft Security Essentials flag icon in my tray has turned red. Add to that a mass of articles and it is difficult to ignore the fact that XP is no longer 'supported'.

So, all credit to Microsoft in a sense for a massive increase in their name being mentioned everywhere. It is quite remarkable just how many people have stuck with Windows XP over the years. Vista really did not appeal and the press were critical at the time, Windows 7 initially seemed like a slightly fresher version of Vista (although it was a considerable improvement) but didn't seem that big a deal when XP was still managing fine and, having used both a lot over the years, I genuinely didn't see much difference in performance and decent protection kept systems running and free from nasty bugs etc. The years passed and Windows 8 definitely didn't appeal visually. I have had lots of clients, friends and colleagues call me up to ask for help with quite simple things with Windows 8 where, basically, they couldn't figure out what to do whereas they had been quite adept in earlier versions. That put me off upgrading too. I would have liked the more efficient system and anything that's faster and more secure is welcome but the interface had no appeal whatsoever and I dreaded the thought of being a beginner again!

So here I am. Still running XP on my desktop, which I use daily for all sorts of stuff. I do have Windows 7 on an ancient laptop but that is so slow and clunky in many ways that it's not a pleasant to use at all and it hasn't moved for many months. The main alternative machine is a Chromebook. That's is brilliant but I still need quite a few bits of software for drawing and web design that I can't do on the Chromebook. There are apps and they're improving all the time but I would struggle without my Serif, Dreamweaver and one or two other bits of software.

I will have to take the plunge into the Windows 8 ocean soon and have been looking at some new kit but, in the meantime, I thought I should do something about the dire warnings of imminent disaster. Microsoft do say that they'll keep updating the virus stuff in Security Essentials for another twelve months but that doesn't stop the flag being red or the warnings bout the 'system' not being updated. I think that means that if there is another hole discovered in the operating system code that allows people to wander around inside your files and steal data then Microsoft will not be fixing it. I understand that. It's fair enough. You buy an old car and accept that it may not do everything it should. Once the guarantee's up, you're on your own, even if they made a mistake when manufacturing it. You do get the feeling though that Microsoft are not so bothered and might not put much of an effort into protecting us old XP folk. They may update virus definitions or they may leave them for a while. Who knows? There may be more income-generating things to do. Now, I'm sure they won't deliberately put my files at risk but I don't feel comfortable and that damned red flag keeps reminding me of the fact.

So, as an interim solution for my nerves if nothing else, I downloaded Avast! a free anti virus programme that I remember using years ago. There are a few alternatives out there. AVG gets good reviews too as do some others. As with many free programmes, though, you need to be alert. Attempting to download from one quite reputable news site, I find a screen where I have to choose some add-on on the way. I cancelled that and went direct to Avast!'s own site. That was better and avoided the extra programmes. On the way you may need to untick some browser extensions or add-ons but there's nothing significant to worry about. I am not at all sure this will give me any more security at all, just more system resources being used up and an occasional scary message from some woman coming through the speakers, but I feel a bit better.

Now, back to deciding between a Shuttle and traditional desktop...



06 January 2014

Return Of The Desktop


Both HP and Lenovo have new releases this month. Desktops. Desktops running Android operating systems. They may be seen as some as just large tablets with leads to keyboards and a mouse (although they do have touch screens so the mouse may be an option) but could be a sign of something of an unexpected change of direction.

We have been getting used to Chromebooks - getting very popular as more and more people see that they can use them and that the devices are not merely for those of us who they used to think of as geeks. Android, however, is a far more familiar environment, being on the majority of their phones.

At prices the equivalent of under £300, however, and that can include a reasonably decent big monitor, and abundant apps already available for virtually any task, could this type of device become the living room controller? The central co-ordination point for (almost) all the other devices you wish to use. 

Phones are great - they'll do almost anything and are there, ready for your thumbs, wherever you are. But the screens are a bit small - you can't comfortably share views with anyone other than boy/girlfriends or little sisters. (The screens are getting bigger but they're also getting uglier and too big to slip into pockets so where that line of development is heading I do not know.)

Tablets are cool, provided you don't want to type a lot. Nice screens and something you can pass around on the sofa but you're not going to leave it plugged in to do anything long-term. They never stay in one place either. Someone has usually borrowed it and forgotten to return it where you want it when you want it. They're also OK for close-ish viewing but not really standing alone in the corner for more than a few to watch.

Smart TVs are good as TVs and just about manageable if the internet programme is already selected or immediately to the left or right. above or below whatever's currently selected but that's it. Try to use a keyboard and the remote gets thrown at the cat.

Chromebooks are fine but not much bigger, screen-wise, than a tablet. Nor are any of the laptops, notebooks etc on the scene. All super toys and even work devices but they're not something to be left on or shared much.

A Windows desktop. Remember them? Nice big screen and it sort of sits somewhere and seldom moves - reassuring computing. But Windows 8 has made devastating inroads to our confidence as users. Do we click here or there. Where is that menu that opens - was it this edge or that? Oh, there isn't a Windows App for that then. Pity. I was very happy helping the few that needed help navigate their way around XP and 7 and could make the screen display just about anything I wanted it to. I tend to leave 8 alone and gingerly tap on rectangles and the background may forever be that dark shade of mid blue. 8, 7 XP or Vista, the fans whirr and buzz and interrupt any quiet moment. A black screen is never really black and there'll be updates that take an age just when you want to turn the damn thing off.

A silent running device in the corner, troubling no-one unduly, simple to work and substantially maintenance-free, at a price that allows it to be chucked out after a couple of years (or taken to bits by an inquisitive teenager), may be just the thing for 2014.




13 December 2013

The Dour And Unfathomable Nandsi

Thought I'd buy some British Premium Bonds. With interest rates on deposits almost non-existent at the moment, the idea that my cash is safe while standing a chance of winning something is far more attractive than 2 or 3% at best! Even if I win nothing all year I'll have lost no more than the cost of a pizza or two for each £1000 invested.

But how difficult does HM Treasury (or whatever those who hold the purse strings at National Savings) make it? You'd think anyone offering to top up the Government's coffers at this time would be welcomed with open arms.

First, I cannot just go on-line and buy them. I need some number. You can only get a number by downloading a form and printing it, signing it and posting it to somewhere near Blackpool.

Three weeks later, I get a letter with a secret password. It's almost something you'd expect to find in a Corgi Toy James Bond car set - little peel off windows with what could be invisible writing to the uninitiated. It might have been exciting had it not been so slow. I went to the site again and tried logging in with this new password. No luck.

It seems that the password isn't the number I need at all. That, apparently, arrives in a separate letter. So I wait. Another few days go by and this morning a letter arrives with a number. No peel off secret mission things, though. Never mind, now I can access the site, amusingly called nsandi.

The number works. Great. So does the password. But before I can do anything else I have to change it. I invent something complicated. No good says the first message in tiny red capitals in a red outlined box like something you might have seen in the late 1990s. Apparently I need a special character. OK, I throw in a full stop. Success.

Now I have a page that shows I have a massive £7 of Premium Bonds. Actually, I thought I only had one so that was a surprise. Now to buy a few thousand more... There ought to be a link to buy more, invest or something somewhere...

A few minutes later and I am still searching. OK, I'll try the main site rather than my account section. No Buy Now button anywhere so I try an Invest link and follow that through a page or two. It wants me to enter my number again. OK. here goes. More little red capitals. Number not valid. Hang on, it seems to want my Holder's Number and that is not, by the seems of it, my number. OK. I dig out my original Premium Bond document, now on fading yellowy paper with computer printing like an old typewriter.

So, I put that number in and it gets accepted. But then another box of small red capitals tells me that I have already registered. Well yes, I know that. So what? So I couldn't go anywhere from there and there was no clue whatsoever on the page to tell me what to do now. I went back to my account section, logged in again. At least that was uneventful. Here I looked around again.

No obvious place to buy at all. OK, I thought, I'll look at what I have already and clicked a link to my £7 Bonds. Interestingly, I saw that they'd all been bought in 1957. There was a link to see if any had won so I gave that a click and there's a place to enter two dates. I try some time in 1957 in one box and today in another.

Small red capitals again tell me to select a date bigger than 1/1/2011 for the start box. OK, I see a note saying there are no records on-line prior to the on-line service starting but there is no clue as to when that was. I presume it was that 1/1/2011 date so enter 2/1/2011 just to be on the safe side.

More little red capitals tell me to choose a date bigger than 13/12/2011!! By now the air is blue and I am glad the children aren't within earshot. I enter another date and it tells me in the same tiny red capitals that I haven't got any prizes in that period. Nothing about the previous 54 years, though. If they had come up notification could have gone to any one of about thirty addresses. Oh well. Move on, and back to trying to buy some more.

It occurred to me that my Holder's Number was like an Account Number and not the 'Premium Bond' number and so maybe, as it currently held 7, there could be a way to add to that. Sure enough, there was. Finally.

It took over three weeks and at least thirty fraught minutes but I have now got 1007 Premium Bonds. There are limits on how many you can buy with some cards so I'll have to make several transfers but at least future ones may only take a few minutes.

Having said that, for some reason almost as inexplicable as the site navigation, my new Premium Bonds won't be eligible for any prizes until February 2014!! That's a bit disappointing to say the least and simply isn't the way to make customers lending you lots of money feel happy. If there was an alternative I would use it but, unless you know differently, the dour and unfathomable nsandi rules as OK as any.

I actually had more pleasure today unwrapping an old Corgi Toy Aston Martin I'd bought for £14. I get an immediate sense of satisfaction and achievement and a feeling that it might even be a better investment than cash in the bank too!