The Microsoft “no help” forums

Back in the early days of desktop computing, when WordPerfect was still the king of the hill in word processing, they had a Customer Support number. You’d call up, get in queue, and listen to a real-live “hold jockey” spin tunes, provide information about the software, tell you where you were in line, about how long it would take for your turn to come up, and then connect you to a helpful, qualified, American technician who would help you solve your problem. It was almost like being able to say “shibboleet.”

But ever since the early days of Microsoft, and I’ve been there since the beginning, getting any real help from them has been an exercise in futility. There’s an old, old joke about Microsoft’s technical support, and it goes like this:

A helicopter was flying around above Seattle when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft’s electronic navigation and communications qquipment. Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter’s position and course to fly to the airport. The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter’s window. The pilot’s sign said “WHERE AM I?” in large letters. People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign and held it in a building window. Their sign read: “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER.” The pilot smiled, waved, looked at her map, determined the course to steer to SEATAC airport, and landed safely. After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the “YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER” sign helped determine their position. The pilot responded “I knew that had to be the Microsoft building because, like their technical support, online help and product documentation, the response they gave me was technically correct, but completely useless.”

Sadly, things have gone downhill from there. These days, responses are not even technically correct. Some time ago we “upgraded” to Windows 10 – and those scare quotes are there for a reason – and my wife lost her old suite of games that used to come standard with the operating system, like Solitaire.

Here’s an example taken from a real live Microsoft Community page; I came across this issue today when I had the same question and was looking for help. Of course, it should be noted in passing that to ask questions or provide responses on any of these fora you need a Microsoft account.

The question posted was:

SOLITAIRE ON WIN10 – HOW TO GET RID OF XBOX SIGN-IN

I’ve downloaded Microsoft Solitaire Collection for Windows 10.

When I want to play a game, it presents me with a sign-in screen for xbox live.

I don’t want to sign in to xbox Live and have to go through several steps to get rid of the login screen and play as a guest every time I select Solitaire. How can I get it to stop asking me to sign in?


And here is the “featured response” from Microsoft Representative 
Syed Abdul Jabbar:

Hi [Name],

Thank you for posting the query on Microsoft Community. I am sorry to know that you are facing issues with Windows 10. Do not worry, will assist you with the issue.

If you’re looking for help with audiovideo and hardware driver issues while playing a game on Windows 10, you’re in the right place. 

For anything gaming or Xbox related, head over to the Xbox Forums& they’ll take care of you.

In future, if you have any issues related to Windows, do get back to us. We will be happy to assist you.

By the desiccated skull of Mogg’s grandfather, it’s like the responder (who supposedly represents Microsoft):

a) didn’t even bother to read the question, or
b) doesn’t speak English, or
c) is a bot, or
d) all of the above.

Many of the frustrated follow-up comments point out just how useless this response is, and my experience of Microsoft Community answers is almost uniformly like this. Either the answer is painfully useless, or the solution offered is so complex as to be incomprehensible by the average computer user. If I were the CEO of Microsoft I would be mortified to my very bones if I allowed this to be my customers’ experience. There is only one possible explanation:

Microsoft doesn’t care.

And they haven’t cared since day 1. They’re the biggest shark in the pond, and even though Windows’ market share has declined over the last 5 years from roughly 91% to 88%, they pretty much have the world by the short hairs and they know it, so there’s no sense in expending any resources on helping their customers have a useful, satisfactory experience with their product.

That’s not to say that there isn’t help on the internet – you’re just much less likely to find the answer you’re looking for on a Microsoft forum than in other places. As it turns out, in this case there’s no way to use the Microsoft Solitare Game Pack without an XBox Live gamertag, and the only solution is to head for the app store and find a free app that does the trick. Sadly, most free applications include ads, but at least I can avoid the ones that push you to make in-app purchases.

I think Microsoft made a bad move when they stopped including Solitaire, Minesweeper, and other games as integral parts of the operating system. As we’ve all seen, that’s hardly the only bad move they’ve made – think Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows Vista, and others – but I can’t ever envision a time when they ever start paying the price for their insouciance.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

My Facebook Manifesto

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Two suggestions I’d make to Facebook would be the ability to make a post “sticky” (so that it always appears at the top of my timeline) and the ability to disable comments for any post. That would pretty much solve a lot of issues I find with this online corner of my world.

Until that happens, however, I craft this little “manifesto” in an effort to uncomplicated my life a bit.

There are only so many minutes in a day, and only so much energy – physical and emotional – that I have available for use in moving my life forward and making a difference in the world before my earthly sojourn is over. I enjoy sharing bits of my life and my thoughts and things that I think are important or just ways to brighten someone’s day on Facebook, but endless political/social debates are draining and serve no purpose.

My online presence is essentially an extension of my home. I wouldn’t let someone come into my house and decorate it, in the words of Huck Finn, with “the ignorantest kind of words and pictures made with charcoal.” And while I have nothing against honest and meaningful exchange of ideas, the Internet has changed the way people interact – and I don’t have time to read or deal with the conflicting opinions of thousands of people. It’s just too draining.

So it comes to this: My wall is not a place for political debate. I will post things I believe, things that are important to me, and things I want to see happen in the world. Or sometimes just something to make others smile. If I see a comment appear on one of my posts or a link on my wall that I don’t happen to agree with, I’ll simply delete it – without fanfare and without response. This doesn’t mean I don’t value you as a friend or as a person – it just means that I’m doing some virtual housecleaning. If you have differing opinions, you have your own page: feel free to use it as a place to express those things that are important to you. If I’m interested, I’ll come over and see what the opposition is thinking. That said, sometimes (rarely) I get caught out posting something that’s patently false because it seemed plausible and I didn’t do my research. I’m always grateful for vigilant friends pointing out my folly.

It works both ways. Your wall is like your home, and I’ll do my best to keep my mouth shut if I see things you post that are not in harmony with my beliefs. My one exception to this is if I see someone posting things that are hateful, hurtful, bigoted, or abusive – in such cases I would have no compunctions about speaking out.

To me, this approach makes more sense than blocking or unfriending people whose friendship I value, and from whom I doubtless have much to learn in many areas – and it will help me to preserve my sanity in these most “interesting” times.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

Cannabis: the case against decriminalization

Cross-posted from Livejournal and updated 11-8-2018

☞ The executive summary is, “Because it doesn’t go far enough.” ☜

A photo gallery at Time Magazine brought this issue to the front of my mind again, where it has been many times. Swirling around in the mass of insignificant facts and rabid squirrels that inhabit my brain are thoughts that keep coming back to me over and over again, many of which have to do with the overwhelming societal cost that we are paying for a failing war on drugs.

If recent statistics (CDC, 2009) are to be believed, 6.6% of people over 12 were using marijuana at least once a month – a total of 23.1 million people (minus the ones under 12). That’s us. We’re the ones who are funding the carnage in Mexico as drug cartels battle for turf and slaughter countless people in their quest for American drug dollars.

Prohibition is Ineffective

We saw how well Prohibition worked… all it did was put the country’s alcohol revenue into the hands of the criminal element. Whenever money is to be made, the bad guys will be there in force, because they don’t care how they get it.

“Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became “organized”; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant. No measurable gains were made in productivity or reduced absenteeism. Prohibition removed a significant source of tax revenue and greatly increased government spending. It led many drinkers to switch to opium, marijuana, patent medicines, cocaine, and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition.” Cato Institute Policy Analysis

The Social Costs are considerably less than those associated with tobacco and alcohol

The societal costs of alcohol are enormous, whereas the social impact of cannabis use is significantly less.

“In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user.” (Cannabis, Tobacco and Alcohol Use in Canada)

I can’t recall the last time I heard of some high-flying husband beating his wife and children; it’s hard to be aggressive when you’re giggling. That’s said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but in all my life I have never encountered an angry pot user, whereas the number of bar fights that go on in cities and towns all around America, followed by nights in the slammer and subsequent taking out of infantile anger on innocent domestic partners and children is beyond anyone’s ability to count. The same holds true for violent crime, sexual assault and date rape.

Ask any emergency-room doc, nurse, or EMT: alcohol use contributes to reckless behavior and serious injuries, and it is highly associated with emergency room visits; such visits directly associated with cannabis would hardly make a blip on the radar.

Take the Money Away From the Criminal Element

Drug tunnels like these, as well as illegal farms in national forests and elsewhere, with all their associated risks to innocent citizenry, would become a thing of the past if cannabis were freely available, regulated and taxed in the same way tobacco is.

“The libertarian Cato Institute just issued a detailed statistical analysis on how ending prohibition – a favored term for supporters of pot reform – could help America’s budget woes. According to the much-discussed study, legalizing all illicit drugs would save the government $41.3 billion a year in law-enforcement costs and generate some $46.7 billion in tax revenue; marijuana would account for $8.7 billion of the savings, and another $8.7 billion in taxes. Legalized marijuana would certainly help fatten state coffers in debt-crippled California, where pot is the biggest agricultural crop, with $14 billion a year in sales that never appear on tax returns.” (Newsweek, “The Conservative Case for Legalizing Pot”).

Further thoughts on the tax advantages appeared in the LA Times on 8/27/10.

Prosecution of recreational THC users and those who require it for valid medical reasons is wasting billions of tax dollars directly and indirectly, and taking valuable law enforcement hours away from issues that are significantly more important. Based on everything I’ve seen, heard and read, legalization will have a negligible impact on usage which is already there, and will have societal benefits far greater than any potential increase in disadvantages.

I’m by no means for blanket legalization of all illicit drugs, but at this point marijuana appears to be a no-brainer in terms of cost-benefit analysis. The usage is already there. In a sense, not legalizing it is an immoral act, given how much blood and carnage is resulting from the activity of the Mexican cartels which we are directly funding.

If people could walk down to their local package store for some quality-controlled, legal cannabis, who in their right mind would risk buying it from illegal sources? The illegal marijuana market would simply dry up.

There will be those who question why I’m taking such a position, especially in light of my own religion’s stance on the use of things as mild as tea and coffee, let alone alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. Make no mistake: I’m convinced that if people would give up the use of all harmful and/or addictive substances, the physical, emotional and spiritual health of our nation would rise dramatically, and countless billions of dollars would be saved. That said, I am simply looking at the numbers. Legalization would save lives, free up law-enforcement resources, and redirect funds from the criminal element to other critical social needs. I can’t look at it any other way.

Progress is being made. Canada has legalized marijuana, and just this week they experienced a severe legal problem: there isn’t enough of it.

In the United States, the non-medical use of cannabis is decriminalized in 13 states (plus the U.S. Virgin Islands), and legalized in another 10 states (plus the District of Columbia and Northern Mariana Islands), as of November 2018. (Wikipedia)

It’s time to get cannabis out of the hands of criminals, and good people – who have committed an offense no worse than a three-martini lunch – out of prison.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Not all Soy Sauces are Created Equal

I love Asian foods; Chinese, Japanese, Burmese, Thai, you name it. And with many cuisines (but not all… not all…) soy sauce is either an ingredient or provided table-side as a condiment.

SOY

Long before I did any research at all, I knew that there was a stark difference between the two major brands that are commonly known in America: Kikkoman and LaChoy.

The first, my preferred sauce in the kitchen, is a Japanese-type sauce, brewed in the traditional manner over a period of six months (although traditional Japanese soy sauce can take 18 months to make, or much longer):

soy2

Fermenting soy beans and wheat at the Kikkoman factory in Wisconsin – from the July 1987 National Geographic article, “The Prodigious Soybean.”

The second is what’s known as a “chemical soy sauce.” From an article at Serious Eats by Jenny Lee-Adrian:

Chemical soy sauces: These are made over the course of about two days by hydrolyzing soy protein and combining it with other flavorings. Their flavor is far removed from traditional soy sauces made with fermented soybeans.

Harold McGee explains the process in On Food and Cooking by saying:

Nowadays, defatted soy meal, the residue of soybean oil production, is broken down—hydrolyzed—into amino acids and sugars with concentrated hydrochloric acid. This caustic mixture is then neutralized with alkaline sodium carbonate, and flavored and colored with corn syrup, caramel, water, and salt.

LaChoy is popular, but it’s pretty much in harmony with their old jingle ¹- “LaChoy makes Chinese food… swing American.” It’s what you’d expect to pour on a can of their store-bought Chow Mein. I’ve never seen it in a Japanese restaurant anywhere, they either use Kikkoman or one of the many national brands available now – even in traditional grocery stores. Somehow it just tastes… wrong. But as in all things, that’s just my opinion – and your mileage may vary.

National Geographic also has a lovely 5 minute video on how soy sauce is made in the town of Yuasa, Japan.

Another article at Yum of China by Tiana Matson lists some of her favorite sauces, most of which could probably be found at your local oriental grocery store if you’re fortunate enough to live close to one.

A lot of local Chinese places here in Maine provide little packages of “soy sauce” (those scare quotes are there for a reason) made by Kari-Out Co. If you want brown salt water with hardly a hint of anything else – think LaChoy cut to homeopathic levels – by all means feel free to use it.

5152o_to_go_kari_out_soy_sauce

As for me and my house, Old_Wolf_Sick.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 


¹ And, if you’re old like me, you might recognize the ubiquitous voice-over tones of Mason Adams (“With a name like Smucker’s, it’s got to be good!”) who was a friend of my mother back in the day.

And they say outer space is a hostile environment…

Some days it feels just like this.

  • The plug and the USB are always the wrong way.
  • The thing you are looking for will always be somewhere else.
  • Small, critical things you drop will roll to the most inaccessible place possible, or be lost forever.
  • The drill bit you need will be the only one missing.
  • Your foot will always find that one Lego™
  • Your toast will always land face down, especially when coated with honey.
  • Drawer handles will jump out and grab you.
  • The child will always start throwing up at 2:00 AM
  • Beams will crack you on the head no matter how low you think you’re stooping.
  • The cat will vomit in your shoe.
  • Furniture legs will inexplicably move when your little toe comes near.
  • You will trip on your shadow (Really! there was nothing else there!)
  • Dental work will be done poorly, and you will have to go back.

And whether or not you believe in biorhythms, sometimes all of the above seem to happen in a single day.

When it feels like the universe is verifiably out to mess my existence up, I strive to recall the original quote from Jenkin Lloyd Jones:

Life’s Expectations

“There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks, to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear, the divorce courts are jammed.

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise….

“Life is like an old-time rail journey — delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

Or I eat macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese is good too.

Ṯ͔̪̟̫͇͕̘͕̥͓̞̮̩̝͕̹͈̗́͠h̡͏̜̞̦͔̣̤̲͖͉̗͖͈̘̝͙͕̗͟͡è̦̫͙̪̗̹͙̦̺̺͕͖͞͞ ҉͞͞҉͔̲͔̜̝͚͍̯̙̞͓͔̻͚̤̯̦O̶̦͙̫͔͚̰̳͕͚͙̹͡ĺ̶̰̼̮̗̬̱̻̩̲̺̞͙̣͚̯́́͜d҉̸̨͇̬̮͉̦̫̥̥̪̝̖̠̗̺̮͓͈ ̸͡҉̯̯̼̬͖̲͙̲͚̙͞Ẁ̥͍̜̞͍̙̗͉͉͙̭͔̤͇͈̻̰̖͞ò̴̡͓͈̩̱̪̖̗̀l̵̳͉̼̮̟͞f̷̷̶̡̦͙̫̪̫͓̯̰̮͕̬̟̹͖̤̭̦͚̕ ̶̧̠̰̹̺̜̩͕̳̲̙̲̤̥͞h̢͎̟͖͔̗͎̙͓̹͓̦̱̝̩̯͓̀͟ͅá̡̦͓̮̗̙̜̲̜͢͡͠s̬͔̹̩̦̼͇̭̳͕̖̞̤͈͎͎͞͞ͅͅ ̸̫̩͉̝̰̫̭͇̠̮̘̭̘̪͘̕͢͡s̶̰̼͇͠p̢̡͚͔̣͓͔͔̭̺̝͔̻͕̞͓̱̫̝͘͜ͅͅǫ̸̡̺̪͎̻̣͜k̮̬̳͈͖͘̕͠e҉̦̮̯̲̗̱͍̫̠̘̰̲̪̲͘ͅn̸̸͇̦̖̳̱̗͎͍̤͇̮͙͉̩̬͕͢.̶͖̹̗͍͕̘̰̹͎͚͎̖̮̥́ͅ

Maine’s Implied Warranty Law

Implied-Warranty-1-e1519143773204

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. For legal advice, consult your legal professional.

In light of merchants and sellers practicing deceptive douchebaggery (an Apple dealer, for instance, quoting $1,200.00 to repair a MacBook Pro that was one year out of warranty), it’s a good idea for consumers to check their state statutes.

The state of Maine has a very rigorous implied warranty law.

“It stipulates that regardless of manufacturer warranty, any item purchased new in this state must function normally for the normal expected lifespan of the item under normal usage, and the onus is on the manufacturer or reseller to prove abuse. For computers that is typically 3-5 years. It’s taken seriously enough here that there is a form on the attorney general’s website you can fill out to trigger an automatic complaint. This complaint is actually followed up on, and the consequence for outright refusal is loss of the right to operate in the state.” (With thanks to redditor /u/ijustwanttobejess).

If you download the actual statute, it’s very enlightening. The official summary:

A. Maine’s implied warranty law applies to all new or used consumer goods that are sold by merchants, except for used cars.
B. Used car dealers are allowed to disclaim implied warranty rights and typically do so on the car’s Used Car Information window sticker.
C. The Maine implied warranty law offers the following protection: if you have been sold a seriously defective product or component, even if the product has exceeded its express warranty period, then both the seller and the manufacturer can be required to repair it for you free of charge. In order to prove a breach of implied warranty you must be able to prove within the first four years from date of sale, that:
(1) The item has a serious manufacturer’s defect;
(2) You have not abused the item; and
(3) The product (or defective component of the product) is still within its useful life
(useful life will normally extend at the most four years from the time of sale).
D. It is an unfair trade practice for a merchant (except a used car dealer) to attempt to disclaim verbally or in writing your implied warranty rights and to thereby limit your rights to an express warranty.
E. Implied warranty rights and express warranty rights are often automatically transferred to second buyers.
F. If an item is defective, you should take it back to the dealer and let the dealer arrange the repairs. You should not have to be responsible for returning it to the manufacturer.

What’s more, the question of “useful life” is treated in detail (there’s more in the full document, this is just an extract)

Appliance              Low       High      Average
Dishwasher             5         14        10
Dryer, electric        12        16        14
Freezer, standard      10        22        16
Furnace, warm-air, oil 7.5       40        20
Microwave oven         5         14        11
Range, electric        10        30        17
Refrigerator           10        20        17
Washer                 12        14        13
Water heater, electric 10        18        14

 

To cite a personal example, if I toddle down to the local home-improvement store and buy a fridge, by law there’s no real reason for me to buy that extended warranty that they offer – the store, not the manufacturer, is responsible for making sure that fridge works right for at least the low end of its expected life, which is 10 years.

As they say, the devil is in the details, and lodging a complaint with the Attorney General for failure to honor implied warranty is, to me, the “thermonuclear option” – it’s there to protect consumers from gross negligence or insouciance. As a result, for the last two referigerators we bought I did get that extended warranty, because most repairmen I have spoken with have been united on the fact that ice-makers are mostly crap, and are prone to break down regularly. Both times that warranty paid for itself multiple times over in saved repair costs. It’s faster than going the legal route, saves endless hassle, and is worth the small extra expense. But that’s the only appliance I’ve ever used one for.

I chuckled to read that used-car dealers are exempt from voiding implied warranty, but there’s a certain amount of sense in that. Even the honest ones (there may be one or two) have no way of knowing what might let go next week on that sweet deal they just sold you.

bad-used-cars-lot-1-1024x579

But the takeaway here is that depending on your state, you may not be without recourse when a dealer thinks they have you by the short hairs. Check your state statutes, because forewarned is forearmed.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

I know I’m not crazy

Remember Nik-L-Nips? (You could also buy a box of 8 called 10¢ Nips, but the name will always stick in my memory.)

Wax-758x398

Mentioned these here earlier, and since then found a great blog post about many other kinds of wax candy at Do You Remember, including the “glow stick” kind and the “six-shooter,” which was full of enough syrup for a day’s buzz.

But I remember one that appeared in 1961, the same year as “Atlantis, the Lost Continent.”

Atlantis2

That movie featured a crystal death ray, that did unpleasant things to everything and everyone on whom its deadly beam was focused.

Atlantis 3

Like turning them into instructional medical skeletons.

But that small detail aside, across the street from my home on Prince Street in New York City, in 1961, was one of those wonderful old-style variety stores that had comics and candy and hardware and just about anything else a kid might revel in.

Including these syrup-filled wax candies that looked just like that crystal engine of destruction. I swear it. I bought a lot of them. No trace of their existence seems to remain on the Internet, but I know they existed. I’m not crazy.

If anyone else remembers these, do leave a comment so I can rest easy knowing it wasn’t all an opium dream.

The Old Wolf has spoken.