Trouble Comes In Threes – Part Four: Microsoft

What, don’t tell me you were only expecting to see three issues within a “Trouble Comes In Threes” montage? Do keep up.

Having more-or-less recovered from the Windows 10 update nightmare, having ordered a replacement printer and having calmed down, yesterday I thought it might be nice to actually grab an hour or two of PC gaming…

You know, what with that being one of the reasons I spent so much money on the thing in the first place…

So there I am, enjoying a decent bit of fun in Skyrim, when my PC performs an instant and full-on crash and gives me a “Blue Screen of Death”.  Now, in fairness to Microsoft, these have become extremely rare since the arrival of Windows 10. This, then, was a big deal. I waited for an error code, but got,

WHEA Unrecoverable Error

In other words, nothing useful. The system rebooted and I had just re-loaded Skyrim from the most recent save when… another blue screen. Same error code.

Grr…

Nothing for it but to wait, reboot, and try again. Whilst obviously checking the logs files and looking for obvious problems – nothing on show…

When the computer crashed for a third time, the Blue Screen Of Death gave me a “new” error code – certainly not one I’ve seen before. This time I got,

Clock Watchdog Timeout

Interesting. And that was it…

There’s nothing in the “Update” logs to suggest that anything has changed in the build, but then Microsoft aren’t exactly truthful. Or it could be that they had reached out and turned on a piece of their spyware that isn’t normally active and that this occasionally-run piece of code was clashing with the gaming environment. That’s the problem of Windows 10. You just can’t know what it’s doing. When it does tell you anything [which is a pretty rare event these days] then the information is minimal. Even Event Log has become largely useless.

Is this it?

The end of the shambles that has been the latest Windows 10 Update? who can tell? This is part of the charm of Windows 10 – you just don’t know what is going to screw up next – or when.

Sigh.

Bastards.

Trouble Comes In Threes – Part Three: Amazon

OK… so having been left with a dead printer in the wake of the complete fiasco of Microsoft’s recent Windows Update, I needed a replacement. A check of Amazon’s various offerings and the shortlist narrowed to an OfficeJet 8210 (basically the latest version of the unit that had just died). Now, in fairness, you might be wondering: hang on, if you’ve just had one HP printer trash itself under very suspicious circumstances, why would you throw more money at HP? Are you mad?

Well, yes. I did quite a bit of research, looking at offerings from Epson, Canon and the closest I could get in terms of specification was the Epson EcoTank ET-4500. On the positive side of things, it comes with vast ink tanks – and the ability to buy bottles of ink that top up the tanks at an extremely reasonable cost. As a bonus it has a good quality epson scanner – even with a paper feeder – built in. On the down side it is not cheap [£350], but the clincher was that it has a reputation for poor print quality, where the HP is always super-crisp.

Do I print so much that the economy of the Epson would make a big difference? No. Do I need the scanner? No. And the clincher was that I could buy five of the HP printers for the price of one of the Epsons… Even if the HP died at a year old… it would still work out cheaper than if the Epson lasted 4 years…

OK, decision made, I ordered one, from a very well-reviewed Amazon reseller, at 11:19am on Sunday 18th March.

At 09:42 on Monday 19th March [the next day] I received an email to tell me that the printer had been dispatched by Royal Mail and was expected by Thursday, 22nd March.

Thursday came round. No printer.
Friday. Nothing.
Saturday. Zip, zilch.
Sunday. Nada.

OK, time for a polite check with the reseller… I dropped them an email to ask if I might have the Shipping Number from Royal Mail, so I could trace the printer. I received a reply within 30 minutes, to say that there was nobody in the office on Sunday [the message picked up on a mobile phone] but that I would have a reply first thing Monday. Well, can’t argue with that…

At 10:32 on Monday 26th March I received an email from the reseller which read,

Thank you for your recent order. However, the following items are on Back Order with our Suppliers and not due in for another month.

I a very sorry regarding this.

1x D9L63A#A81 – HP OfficeJet Pro 8210 Printer Instant Ink Compatible

Are you happy to wait for these to come back in to stock, or would you like to me to locate an alternative for you? If you prefer, I can refund these items for you. If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us.”

Wait, what? I got an email exactly one week previously, telling me that you had shipped this printer. Now I ask you where it has got to, you tell me that you never had it in the first place? What the #### is going on? I was properly angry. It’s not the first time I’ve had an issue with an Amazon reseller – and although I’ll never be able to prove it, I have a suspicion that what some do is to claim shipment [to get Amazon to pay them], order the goods from a wholesaler, then ship them out once they arrive. Easy and requires no up-front cash. OK, time to complain to Amazon.

I wrote Amazon quite the snot-o-gram, mainly because I was angry with them for allowing this dubious practice and for deducting money from my credit card when they had not received any evidence from the reseller to show that the goods had actually shipped. I received an acknowledgement from Amazon [not a copy of my email] at 12:10 on Monday 26th.

At 13:44, I received another email from Amazon, telling me that I had asked for a refund and that in so doing, my comments had been, “Did not receive full order, after dispatching and charging why you said the item is due for another one month, hence filing for a full refund.” Except: I had not asked for a refund – in fact my note to the reseller had asked them to explain what they proposed to do to rectify the issue – and I most certainly had not written the words attributed to me in the Amazon email….

What the #### was going on?

I immediately wrote a brief note to the reseller to let them know that I had not initiated a refund request – that this was all Amazon’s doing – and that I was still waiting to hear from them…

At 14:40 on Monday 26th, I received a full explanation from the reseller, which reads,

Apologies it was marked as dispatched by Amazon, they do not have access to our tracking therefore they estimate and assume.

Would you like to cancel the order or are you okay to wait?”

Wait, what? Are you telling me that Amazon just “decided” that the reseller had shipped the printer, and decided to bill me anyway? Yes, apparently. That is exactly what the reseller was telling me.

Stop and think about that for a moment… Amazon handle the order, pass the details to the reseller – and then, entirely by themselves, decide when they think the reseller will ship the goods – and then they bill the customer for the goods. They have absolutely no evidence that the reseller has in fact shipped the goods. But, by billing the customer’s credit card, they grab the money and put it in their bank account immediately.

Then, at some point [and it isn’t clear to me how or when this happens] Amazon gives the reseller the value of the order, less the commission they [Amazon] take from the sale. So why would they operate like this? They communicate the order details to the reseller, surely they have the means to allow the reseller to log in to a page and confirm shipment?

No.

And here’s why. When you think about the number of orders placed with resellers every single day, the sums of money must run to tens or hundreds of millions of pounds [and dollars, euro’s, yuan, yen and so on]. By taking the money from the customer – and then perhaps not paying the reseller for a couple of days – Amazon get the opportunity to “overnight” that money. What does that mean? It means that they put it up as collateral [it’s not their money – no risk to them!] for overnight loans, likely facilitated by their bank and most likely using something like LIBOR [the London Inter-Bank Overnight Rate]. In other words, if a bank or major borrower needs short-term liquidity, they can borrow money literally for one night. The duration is short, but the size of the loans are so huge [to balance the books] that a worthwhile amount of interest can be charged. Exept, of course, that anyone offering the money for a loan is going to earn a nice little bit of interest. Amazon would be able to earn interest on other people’s money.

In Summary
Amazon are ripping everyone off. They are sending emails as confirmation of shipment, yet doing so with no evidence that goods have been shipped. They are taking money from clients.

Section Two of The Fraud Act of 2006 notes that Fraud can occur by false representation:-

2  Fraud by false representation
(1)A person is in breach of this section if he—
(a)dishonestly makes a false representation, and
(b)intends, by making the representation—
(i)to make a gain for himself or another, or
(ii)to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

(2)A representation is false if—
(a)it is untrue or misleading, and
(b)the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

(3)“Representation” means any representation as to fact or law, including a  representation as to the state of mind of—
(a)the person making the representation, or
(b)any other person.

(4)A representation may be express or implied.

(5)For the purposes of this section a representation may be regarded as made if it (or anything implying it) is submitted in any form to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention).

So: when Amazon tell you that goods have shipped – and charge your card – with no knowledge of whether or not that has happened, are they committing fraud? You be the judge.

Bastards. Utter, utter Bastards.

Trouble Comes In Threes – Part Two: Hewlett-Packard

After the complete disaster that was Microsoft’s KB4088776 update, one of the things I had to do was to re-install the printer drivers for my two printers. I have an Epson XP-950, with I use almost exclusively for photo printing, along with an HP OfficeJet Pro 8100, an A4 duplex (double-sided) workhorse printer. The HP has been absolutely fantastic – it’s compact, quiet, extremely fast and economical to run, even with the very expensive HP inks [I only use original inks].

After the rebuild of my “Office” system, I downloaded and installed the latest HP printer driver, but, in a momentary lapse, allowed it to perform a “complete” installation, so in addition to the basic drivers, I also ended up with all the “phone home” technology.

Later that day, I went to print off some documentation I had been working on, only to have this HP printer throw an error. “Print head failure…” was being reported… Wait, what? I had just been using the printer earlier that same day, from Mint Linux running from my little fanless system, and all had been perfect. What gives? OK, print head…

The 8100 comes with a removable print head [it used to be possible to purchase spares] and as a result I lifted out the unit to give it a thorough inspection. There was absolutely nothing showing from a physical point of view, even scanning the print nozzles using my camera and a macro lens…

I took an hour to painstakingly thoroughly clean everything with isopropyl alcohol and put it all back together, and… a different error. Reboot. A different error. Reboot. A fourth error. In short, the printer was completely toast. According to my records, I purchased the 8100 from GA Business on July 20th, 2014 – so I’d had it roughly three and a half years. In all that time I had probably printed 500 sheets, half of which would have printed double-sided, so say 750 sheets of paper… Print quality was flawless, right up to the moment it died.

In fact, the only thing that was remotely unusual was that the failure happened the moment the Windows “HP software” connected to the Internet and phoned home.

Coincidence?

What do you think?

Bastards.

Trouble Comes In Threes – Part One: Microsoft

Back on the 13th or 14th of March, Microsoft rolled out a massive update to the Windows 10 OS. Like all Windows 10 updates, it’s invisible: unless you check your network traffic, there’s no evidence it is even being downloaded.

There is a long and painful history of what went wrong here (Microsoft Support Site): the short story is:-

KB4088776 completely trashed two builds.

Build One – Symptoms – “Dead” Monitor

A machine running Windows 10 was left “alone” during a copy of files to external disk for backup purposes. On return only 2 out of 3 monitors were working. All three screens are identical Dell U2415W monitors (running a Dell Driver date-stamped December 17, 2017), connected to the system via DVI-D, HDMI and DisplayPort, respectively. The “DisplayPort” monitor was dead. When I checked via my nVidia Control Panel software, it reported that one of the three monitors was no longer recognised – the panel looked like this:-

Build One – Fix

Using the Windows Installation USB Key provided when I purchased the Windows 10 License [64-Bit Pro edition] I was able to boot the system as far as the first setup screen, from which I was then able to select “Repair” and this allowed me to “roll back” the KB4088776 update. There had been no other changes to the system in that time.

Conducting the restore didn’t solve the problem 100% – I was still left with only two monitors, but I was now able to go in and reactivate the “de-selected” monitor and get back to my triple-screen setup. Eventually I was left with something that looked like this:-

Build Two – Symptoms

Unfortunately, things got worse, a lot worse, from there. The hardware that I use for gaming includes an amazing little unit from Akasa that slots into a 5.25” drive bay and gives me no less than four 2.5” drive slots. It looks like this:-

Because the drive bays make it easy to replace the drives they contain, I can swap between different Operating Systems in the time it takes me to power down, swap drives and power up again… So I bought a pair of Windows 10 Pro 64-Bit licenses [£200 each – ouch!] and away I went…

On the second drive, I used the same method to boot from the Windows 10 Installer USB stick, but when I attempted to “Repair” the OS, I was told that there was nothing there to be repaired… What? I went back to the now-working “Games” build and booted it, then used an eSata dock to take a look at the C: drive from the “dead” Office build…

What I found was a completely trashed operating system. The update process had left two Windows directories and had also dumped some error files in the “service” partition at the front of the disk. The above-linked series of posts on the Microsoft site provide details. In short, the OS was toast.

Build Two – Fix

Nothing for it: a wipe of both the C: and D: volumes [after making careful note of what had been installed] and a clean build of the OS. For the most part this went smoothly [it took all day] with the exception of the re-installation of Nuance Software’s OmniPage 18.

That refused to go back, claiming I had exceeded my license count… I dropped a line to their support desk and eventually I was granted an extra “activation” to get the job done – after being warned that version 18 was not compatible with Windows 10. I can’t find a more recent version, so: whatever.

 

I don’t know what Microsoft are doing with Windows 10 – other than completely and utterly screwing it up.

Bastards.

Oh iTunes, How Do I Loathe Thee? Let Me Count The Ways (2)… aka “Your iTunes Store session has expired”

I suppose it stands to reason that the moment I write a post about the utter pile of sh1te that is iTunes, so of course iTunes would find a new and irritating way to annoy me.

Which, of course, it has.

When I set up the domain that now supports this blog, I created a whole host of mail forwarding accounts, including one dedicated to my Apple iTunes account. So, of course, I went to the three instance of iTunes I run [one on a Mac Mini, two on Windows] and changed the “Account” information. For all the good it did me: basically, every single time I now launch iTunes, I’ve been getting a prompt to re-enter my Account ID and Password. To rub salt in to the wounds, this prompt comes back a minimum of three times in a row [sometimes more] and even though I type in exactly the same details every time it seems to take several attempts to get this to “take”.

Grr…

Well, this evening I found a work-around.

First, keep typing your account details in to iTunes until the prompt goes away. This seems to be indicative of your credentials being accepted. Then, go to the Account item on the top menu bar, and select Sign Out. Because, of course, you’ve only just signed in, so that’s logical, right?

Except, in this case, the act of signing out would appear to force a synchronisation of your locally cached credentials with the Apple “back end”. Hence, the next time you Sign In, it seems to just work – first time.

 

I can see some of you reading this and thinking: ‘Well, come on, that’s obvious…’ Just to be clear, then: if you count yourself in this group, you can F#@& Off…