A call from the Windows technical department

I just got a peculiar telephone call on my house phone. A woman with an accent that suggested that she was from India or Pakistan, said that she was from the “Windows technical department” and was calling me about my computer. She said that there were errors detected on the “main Windows server” and that she was calling to help me walk through solving the problem.

In the heat of the moment, one doesn’t necessarily think of every reason why something like this makes no sense. I had just posted some questions on a Windows forum about how to stream DirecTV video to my Surface tablet, and I’m a frequent user of Microsoft OneDrive which involves Microsoft servers. My brain wanted to file this under those topics, although I knew it didn’t fit. Still my scam alert went off immediately because Microsoft (a word she didn’t use) doesn’t call people like that, and there is no “main Windows server.”

I stayed on the line to get an idea of what was going on because this particular approach at social engineering was novel to me. So she asked me if I was in front of my Windows computer (which I was). My reply was “which computer?” She said, your Windows computer that you are using at that location. I said: “Which one? I have several Windows computers.” She hung up.

After the call, I noted other anomalies:

  1. They never asked for me by name. If Microsoft knew my phone number, they would have had my name also.
  2. They never mentioned Microsoft
  3. How could they know I had an error?

I found references to scams like this going back to 2010. Usually the caller will eventually ask for a fee to help remove a virus. They might also ask for remote access to the computer and then they could plant malicious software to steal passwords and financial information.

Surprisingly, Microsoft may actually call you about an infected computer, according this Microsoft article (may require a Microsoft account login to read). Here is the relevant portion:

There are some cases where Microsoft will work with your Internet service provider and call you to fix a malware-infected computer—such as during the recent cleanup effort begun in our botnet takedown actions. These calls will be made by someone with whom you can verify you already are a customer. You will never receive a legitimate call from Microsoft or our partners to charge you for computer fixes.

Read more:

Posted in Scams, Technology | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A couple of hummingbirds

I shot some video just now of a couple of ruby-throated hummingbirds at the feeder, looping and diving and just being amazing.

Update:

I switched this to YouTube as some folks were having problems viewing the native-hosted version. When viewing full screen, use the YouTube settings icon to switch to 1080 p HD.

Posted in Nature | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Take two tablets…

In my continuing quest to find the perfect device, I bought a Surface 3 Pro (I5, 128 GB) today at Best Buy, along with the Type keyboard and a sleeve.

My venerable XPS Dell laptop from January 2008 has been a sweet machine, but its limited resolution makes the screen too small for some modern applications. Also since I upgraded it to Windows 8 (from Windows 7, upgraded from Vista), it’s been running hotter and the fan is making noise. Since the primary use for this machine now is audio recording, noise is a problem. The Surface 2 RT I have won’t run the recording application, Audacity, nor my own LVTool, so EBay is the destination for the Surface 2; I don’t know what I’ll do with the laptop yet.

The Surface 3 Pro is marketed as both a tablet and a laptop replacement. Reducing the number of devices is always a win, so what I am hoping to accomplish is to get a laptop replacement and a killer tablet in one device.

I had a license for Office 2010 and I put that on. (The laptop had Office 2007.) This Surface (unlike the RT models) does not come with Office. Deleting the preinstalled but unlicensed copy of Office 2013 freed up 2.1 GB of storage. I also installed a 64 GB Micro SD card where I’m putting the file history. I have it encrypted. The Surface 3 comes with a Bluetooth stylus.

Laptop replacement

The tablet has a little less storage than the laptop (128 GB vs. 160) but the laptop wasn’t full, and it had stuff on it I never used. Also the 64 GB Micro SD card brings the tablet ahead of the laptop, and that’s where my file history and media goes. The tablet screen is a little smaller (12” vs. 13”) but the resolution is much higher with the tablet at 2160 x 1440, where the laptop was only 1280 x 800. (My huge desktop monitor is only 1920 x 1080!)

I don’t like track pads, and the Surface 3 is as bad an example as I have seen for false detection of tap gestures. Things happening at I didn’t intend gets old very fast. Put bluntly, I don’t like the Surface 3 track pad. I rarely used the track pad on my laptop either (although it’s better), opting for a mouse, so the track pad won’t make any difference to me. I think I’m going to like the Surface 3 keyboard apart from the track pad. It always takes a while to get comfortable with a new keyboard. About the only thing I cannot do with the Surface is mount a DVD. That is somewhat offset by the ability of Windows 8 to mount ISO files. I think that the tablet is going to work as a laptop replacement, using the Surface 3 keyboard and a Bluetooth mouse.

Tablet

The tablet role is different. What I like about the Surface 3 Pro as a tablet is the excellent Bluetooth stylus. Handwriting is excellent, and the ability to navigate the Windows desktop with it takes care of the problems in doing that with your finger, which is too big for the user interface. Scroll bars now work. A special button starts the One Note application, which unlike the rest of Office, is bundled with the tablet.1

Size matters

tabletcompare

The photo above shows the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet up next to the Surface 3 Pro. The Venue is right at one half the weight and one half the footprint area of the Surface, and therein lies the quandary.  The Dell, the size of a paperback book, is too small to do much useful work, and the Surface is too big to just grab and go. Coincidentally, the Dell Venue 8 Pro has exactly the same screen resolution as my old laptop, 1280 x 800.

My Dell came with a fold over Dell case that doubles as a stand; the Surface has an integrated kickstand, and its keyboard provides the cover, with an added weight penalty. I bought a sleeve for the Surface just for added protection. I rarely used the sleeve I got for the Surface 2 and that may prove the case here.

It is ironic that the Dell Venue 8 Pro that I would consider unusable without a stylus, comes without a stylus, while the Surface billed as a laptop replacement comes with a stylus, but without a keyboard.

Two other criteria for choosing which tablet to carry are the lack of a standard USB port and HDMI output on the Dell (both functions require accessories—in the case of USB you need an “On the Go” cable, available at Staples or online). Both are standard on the Surface. (To be fair, you do need a special micro HDMI cable for the Surface, but they are not all that expensive and easily found.)

I am currently thinking that while I can do without a laptop, I can’t work well with only one tablet. The Dell will be the thing I will just grab when I go somewhere, where I won’t need heroic battery life, and where the most input I will ever do is type a URL or a password. The Surface will go when I know I have some productivity task to accomplish, or when I need it to run all day without recharging the battery.

Update:

I had my first laptop replacement session with the Surface 3 Pro, recording an audiobook chapter. Overall it worked well, although there were two snags.

A USB hub was required to use my wireless USB mouse, and my Blue Yeti USB microphone. That worked OK, but when I plugged in a USB flash drive as the third device on the hub, it became unstable. That flash drive must draw a lot of power because it’s always hot after I use it. So it appears that the amount of power available at the USB 3.0 port is not limitless (or it could be the hub). I got a powered hub and that solved this special problem. I could also have just used a Bluetooth mouse to reduce the number of devices on the hub and that might have worked. The microphone could be a power hog too.

The other thing that came up has to do with the display: The mouse cursor is really tiny in the Audacity application.

Update 2:

The infinitely variable kickstand is a real winner. The Type keyboard can be folded around as a stand for your lap, and then the kickstand at a low angle makes a virtually perfect angle for lap use. It is extremely stable and makes both hands free. This is a really nice feature. I tried to accomplish the same thing with the Dell Venue 8 Pro and the Dell flip cover, but it was totally unstable.

Update 3:

Before I got the Surface, I did my audio recording on a laptop upstairs where things are quiet. After recording, I would move the audio files to my desktop computer for editing and uploading. This week, I tried doing everything on the Surface, and that worked superbly. Audacity exported the MP3 files at about the same speed as the quad core desktop, and not having to copy the large audio files either to a USB drive or across the Wi-Fi network is a definite time saver. I have massive amounts of “stuff” on my desktop computer, but the Surface continues to get used more and more.


1I found out that the version of OneNote that comes with the Surface is not the full version that is a part of Office. The big missing item is that it doesn’t do character recognition when you write with the stylus. While you can start Office OneNote with the stylus button when installing Office 2013, it won’t work with earlier versions of Office, like the 2010 I installed. The while pre-installed OneNote thing proved mostly a disappointment.

Posted in Microsoft Surface | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Fix for OneDrive Application Error Event ID 1000

This started happening sometime in the last week and a half. I couldn’t turn on the Windows 8.1 option to make all files available offline. There was this message: "you can’t turn on this setting while Onedrive is being set up." The Application Error was in the Event Log.

I had this both on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. Uninstalling OneDrive and then reinstalling fixed the problem for Windows 7.

For Windows 8.1, I found a hint on a Microsoft forum to enter (in a Command Window):

SkyDrive.exe /reset

It runs a while and everything was fixed. Took two hours wading through junk to find the hint.

Otherwise, I still love OneDrive. It just keeps solving more and more problems.

Posted in Microsoft Surface, Technology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Canon SX280 HS low battery indicator problem

I’ve used a variety of Canon products over the years, and it’s a name I have come to trust. It was with a bit of a shock that I discovered the controversy about the low-battery indicator for the Canon PowerShot SX 280 HS after I bought one and had a problem. If you’re interested in the history of this, there are two items I would suggest:

imageMy new camera came with the latest firmware and it supposedly fixed the issue of the camera flashing low battery when taking a movie, even though the battery is nearly full. What the customer sees is that their battery indicator shows 2 or 3 out of 3 bars, but when they switch to movie mode, the low battery indicator flashes immediately or after taking a minute of video. The camera may decide to shut down. Turning the camera back on restores the battery indicator to show the battery near full.

There are, in my opinion, several factors working together to create this problem in the perceived operation of the camera. The first is that the camera is underpowered. The standard 1000 mAh battery is only rated for 200-400 photos or 25 minutes of video. The camera gets noticeably hot when taking long video shots, indicating the power drain. This camera can be a battery hog especially if you use the Wi-Fi and the GPS features. The second factor is common to rechargeable batteries: new ones require a few charging cycles to reach maximum capacity. The third issue is that this camera reportedly requires a huge amount of power to zoom while taking video. Finally, it appears that the battery indicator operates differently depending on camera mode—what’s a nearly full battery for taking snapshots is a nearly empty battery when taking movies. The indicator may well be working correctly for each mode, representing what the camera can do in that mode, but it is confusing when switching back and forth. It appears to me that in movie mode, the battery indicator is overly pessimistic. I take photos, plus an occasional video, so I rely on the photo setting to gauge my battery life, and then am surprised when I find the battery depleted in movie mode.

My experimentation revealed that I got better battery life on the second charge cycle than on the first. I found that on the second charge I could take 39 minutes of video (in two long segments) zooming twice briefly, 6 snapshots, and still have battery left. Now during a good portion of that video shoot the low battery indicator was flashing, but the camera worked OK. The video was shot at the maximum resolution of 1920 x 1280  at 30 fps.

I found NB-6L replacement batteries by EZO at Newegg,  two for $14.99. They have the same 1000 mAh rating as the original equipment battery. At that price it’s practical to carry extra batteries when shooting all day. Note: I haven’t used these batteries yet and so this is not a recommendation of the brand.

The camera is new and I haven’t used it nearly enough to form an overall impression. The battery issue is confusing, but it’s not that big a deal. I decided to keep the camera and not return it.

Posted in Bad Commerce | Tagged , , | Leave a comment