Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Four IT Gripes...

Just to get things off my chest... four IT related gripes, knowing these things just might help you.

Much as I like 1&1 hosting - unlike Fasthosts I've never had ANY trouble with them at all - I do find their documentation and Help service is a little lacking from time to time.

I was recently asked to set up a simple contact form on a web site, and looking throught the 1&1 help files, there was a lengthy explanation of how to use FormMail, a public domain bit of Perl code that would do the job with minimum effort.

Except... having spent quite a lot of time messing about with it, I couldn't get it to work. Much head scratching and searching through help files later, I finally cracked the reason. It wasn't my stupidity or a software glitch, or finger trouble or anything like that - it was simply that the account I was trying to get this working on was the cheapest 'Starter' flavour... and it turns out that it didn't support Perl scripting. Arggghhh. This is made a somewhat obscure shortcoming, you have to delve deep into the hosting features to spot this, and at no point did the documentation about how to implement FormMail mention this. Another hour of my life I'll never get back. (I ended up writing myself a PHP script, the results of which are a lot better, IMHO.)

A few months ago I purchased a Seagate Freeagent Goflex Desk 1TB USB drive, and it has worked well and I'm very happy with it. Part of its appeal at the time I purchased is was that it sits in a cradle that, as Seagate put it is "a unique adapter that lets you upgrade instantly or change the drive’s interface for faster transfer speeds". I.e. you can upgrade from the USB2 I have to the new USB3, with its promise of 10x faster transfer rate.

So... I've recently purchased a new Lenovo laptop (see below) which sports 2 USB3 ports, whoopee. I therefore have a look on t'internet for the USB3 cradle for my drive. They are very hard to track down. I could find a cradle and PC card combo, but I don't want that. Eventually I found one on Amazon, though not sold by Amazon themselves, for 45 quid. Now... I can buy a complete USB3 external hard drive for that much... so I emailed Seagate asking where I could buy them from at a reasonable price (I speculated at about 20 quid). They replied promptly, thus:

"I apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused you.
You will have to get it from Amazon or through the internet. The reason some or most retailer or distributors might not have it is because the drives that came after are all USB 3.0."

So, polite though that was I think I've just been told to bugger off and not bother them. Not very helpful, and of course that's the last time I'll be buying from Seagate.

As mentioned above, I have purchased a Lenovo laptop recently, which is jolly nice, and I will be writing a review of it once I've been using it for a little while. It's a G580, and cost a very reasonable £400 from PC World.

However, there was, as could be expected, quite a bit of Crapware on it out of the box. (For those not in the know, crapware is software manufacturers stick on their products presumably sponsored by the authors to do so, and it's pretty much always complete... well... crap - or if not exactly crap it's certainly not Free software, it's trial versions mostly).

So, expecting this the first thing I did was uninstall it all... I didn't even run most of it to find out what it was, life is too short.

Having then loaded the machine up with lots of my stuff, I was asked to reboot, and I did, and Windows (8) started updating. Only it failed. It got to 15% and then said there was a problem and gave up, specifically it said "failed configuring windows updates reverting changes". Bit of a worry. And there I was, stuck, cos it just wouldn't do the updates.

I finally tracked down the problem (more lifetime lost never to return) on a Lenovo forum. Turns out that the glitch was caused by one of the bits of crapware. The advice was to go to the crapware and change some settings, but of course I'd uninstalled it!

I finally solved the problem by doing some messing about with the services manager in windows, and finally got through it. But I'm an IT professional who wasn't taking no for an answer.

I wonder how many normal folk out there are sitting in front of Lenovo laptops that will not update vital malarkey in Windows because Lenovo installed crap crapware on their nice new machines?

Bit of an outrage really, but as I said the laptop is (so far) very nice, so maybe I'll just need to move on from this initial setback. Watch this space.

 And finally, I've always been a little bemused by the spam checker incorporated into Gmail. It has frequently dumped perfectly good emails from Google themselves into my Spam folder, which seems extraordinary.

As mentioned above I was writing a contact form for a web site, and in the time honoured way with programmers, I inserted the 'Ipsum lorem' text into my first test. (For those happy individuals who are not programmers, this is a bunch of Latin words that are used as fake input for testing porpoises.) So, I sent the email, and lo, it did not arrive. More head scratching, until I realised it had ended up in my Gmail spam folder. Why? Well it's hard to say, but on investigation there is a Gmail spam rule that states that if the email isn't in the language you are using, then it gets marked as spam. Hmmm. Maybe they ought to introduce a  caveat to that rule to allow Latin?