Pop Quiz: When Is An Error Message Not An Error Message?

Answer: when it is a complete and utter pack of lies.

Yes, this is about Microsoft. How did you guess?

Back in 2012, after an Apple Time Capsule I’d previously purchased decided to die on me, I got serious about my data and purchased a QNAP TS459 Pro II NAS box. This turned out to be such a wise investment that I subsequently purchased a larger TS-670 and now use that as my “main” network storage device, with the original serving as a “daily backup” server for critical files, with a 7-generation set of backup scripts running at 02:00 every morning…


Except. Any time I try and open any Microsoft Office file that has macros in it, where that file is stored on a NAS, I get a little “warning strip” with a scary-looking message about the dangers of macro viruses. Never used to. This is another one of those Microsoft “improvements”.

Because I can just click the “OK” button and make the problem go away, I’ve ignored it for a while. This might have something to do with my reporting the issue to Microsoft [when I upgraded to Office 2016 for the princely sum of £389] and being told that although they couldn’t offer me the solution for free, I could buy the fix off of them.

Wait, what? No. Just: no.

Being a stubborn so-and-so, I’ve been returning to this problem from time to time, trying to figure out what needs to be done to fix it. This evening I was trawling the web, looking for suggestions, when I found this thread. Buried in there was a post from “philbo2112” [obviously a keen Rush fan] who suggested that the problem could be fixed by right-clicking on Access and selecting “Run as Administrator”.

Well, not quite. However, after doing this and then attempting once more to navigate my way through the Office “Trust Center” and “Trusted Locations”, I discovered that, as “Administrator”, I was no longer able to “see” my network-mapped drives that connect my desktop to my NAS boxes…

Meh. I’ll just use Network Browse and go in that way… And – there was the solution to the problem. Going in “the long way”, revealed that CIFS required the full [canonical?] path name of

\\NAS1\Public\Data\Office Files\

when, of course, Windows Explorer would show the exact same thing as

\\NAS1\Data\Office Files\

The “name of the share” [i.e. “Public”] is “lost” by Windows Explorer once the mapping is made. So… it turns out that all I had to do was hand-hack the path name back to the fill value and that looks to have solved the problem.

Clearly, the programmer[s] who wrote “Windows Explorer” felt they were being helpful by hiding/masking the name of the network share to which my network drive was being mapped. The programmer[s] who wrote the code for Office Trust Center were somewhat more pedantic and wanted the full network path to be explicitly recorded.

If these two products had been written by different vendors, you could sort-of understand how this might have happened. [i.e. because the OS vendor had failed to give clear guidelines on the mapping of network file systems.] But when the programmers for Office and Windows both work for Microsoft, this is inexcusable.


Lies, Damned Lies, and Amazon Parcel Shipping Announcements

On April 2nd this year, I ordered a copy of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on Bluray.

At 14:17 on Sunday April 8th, I received notification that it had shipped, via Amazon’s own, in-house courier service.

At noon on Monday April 9th, I checked the delivery status via the Amazon ordering page and was told that the parcel was out for delivery and would be with me by 20:00. I checked again at 19:55 – just 5 minutes before the deadline and was able to confirm that it was still expected.

At 20:05 (and, largely curious to see if stepping past the anticipated delivery date would cause anything to happen with the shipping details) I checked again. I was told that the parcel was now still in transit, but that Amazon were “sorry” that it was delayed and that if it had not arrived by Thursday, I should contact them for assistance. Uh-uh. Where’s my parcel?

So I contacted a representative via a chat window. Top tip – if you ever have to contact Amazon, use a chat window. You will get the chance to receive an email copy of the entire transcript – which is useful evidence.

As to be expected, the loyal Amazon helper fell over himself to apologise – and did really well. To be fair, this was a rather unusual event. However, coming hot on the heels of some flat out lying and deceptive practices from Amazon regarding a printer order, I was inclined to be careful… This was what I got from the Amazon helper:

Please allow me to explain what seems to have happened. We do our best to ensure that all orders are delivered by the date provided when you place your order, but occasionally due to the volume of orders dispatched, there are rare occasions when a carrier receives an order that wasn’t originally assigned to them. However, we still expect your order to arrive as expected.

Be assured, this is not an common occurrence and our transportation team is working hard to eliminate these issues and continually monitor instances like this.”

When I expressed relief that the helper suggested the parcel would arrive on Tuesday April 10th, I got a bit of a surprise:

I don’t want to set any false expectation to your but as the parcel arrive to the carrier facility which was not assign to the order so there might be 1-2 days of delay as we have to ask the carrier to locate your parcel which takes 1-2 days.”

Wait, what? What’s this “locate my parcel” lark? You’ve just spent 10 minutes telling me that the parcel is with the courier and is in the van that delivers to my local area. So there was quite a bit more bluff and bluster about how everything was all in hand, but, basically, that was it.

Or was it? Take a look at the photograph, below, which is the shipping envelope in which it arrived today… See the dispatch date, at the top? “09/04”. Monday. [You might notice I’ve blanked the delivery address, just for the sake of privacy…]

So all that lovely detail about how it had been dispatched on Sunday morning was just complete fabrication. Typical.


A Question of Earth-Shattering Importance

This last weekend I met some friends for lunch. Over a fantastic afternoon, one of the topics that came up for discussion was the movie “Blade Runner 2049“, starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.

This led to the supremely important question from the original movie: Is Deckard (Harrison Ford’s Character) a Replicant?

Spoiler Alert:

In narrow, simplistic terms: yes, yes he is. But – it’s just a tad more complex than that.

Before we dive in to the complexity, however, here’s a brief explanation – and proof – that the above statement is at least partially true. In a televised interview, made after the release of BR2049, Ridley Scott explicitly confirms that the “movie version” of Deckard is a Replicant.

He explains that in the middle of the film there is a scene in which Deckard sits at a piano, in his apartment, where he dreams. The dream sequence is of a verdant, grassy meadow with a unicorn galloping gently towards the camera.

Then, in the closing scene of the film, where Deckard is “escaping” with Rachael, we see him scout the way as he escorts her to the elevator in his apartment building. He turns back to check that they are alone and spots a tiny origami unicorn, placed on the floor just outside Deckard’s apartment. At that moment we hear Gaff (the always-awesome Edward James Olmos) calling out as if from a distance, “It’s a pity she won’t live!”

The first scene mentioned here clearly shows the view that Deckard is experiencing a dream. The second also shows us that Gaff knows the content of the dream and has found a way to let Deckard “know that he knows”. Obviously, the only way that Gaff could know about Deckard’s dream would be if Deckard were a Replicant. Earlier in the movie the viewer is given another example of this – when Deckard applies the Voight-Kampf test to Rachael, they discuss her dream about the spiders – a “memory” implanted in Rachael but which Deckard had been briefed on. The unicorn dream is the same approach applied to Deckard and Gaff.  Given the perceived threat of rogue Replicants, it’s conceivable that Gaff would at some point have been asked to “retire” Deckard – the origami unicorn at the apartment was Gaff’s way of saying, “Get out of here – scram – I’m not going to ‘retire’ you…”


All of which – but in particular Ridley’s comments in the linked YouTube clip, give us a very definitive answer – for the movies. However, that’s not the whole story.

Blade Runner itself [the original] was based on a book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”,  by Philip K. Dick. In the book, at least, this question was never definitively resolved. The origami we see in the film was a device added to the story, by Scott, with the specific intention of answering this question – but in a really subtle way.

I am still searching for a quotation from Philip K. Dick on the subject and will update this post if I find one I can link to.

Was Deckard a Replicant or a human? Yes, he was definitely one of those.

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.


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.



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?


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.