Category Archives for Stories

Norton Security’s pop-up spam

Not to be outdone by BitDefender, it seems Norton is now issuing pop-up spam in the latest version of their software, Norton Security.

I had enjoyed 12 months of pop-up-free antivirus with Norton Internet Security when it came to time to renew my subscription. I was given two options: renew the current product for £49.99 or take out a new subscription for the latest version, called simply Norton Security, for £39.99 (or £34 as it turned out to be with a discount coupon). So much for rewarding loyalty. I chose the latter.

The day after upgrading I was shown the displayed popup for the first time – and just two days after installing I’ve seen it FOUR times already.

I had already been inside the software’s settings area and had disabled the “Special Offer Notification” feature and no other features seemed to relate to notifications. I decided therefore to ask customer support how to disable them – maybe there’s a hidden setting somewhere; perhaps I have to manually edit some file; or maybe they can make a change on the back-end service on my account?

In an online chat I explained the problem to a customer support representative from India. After taking care to describe the problem in as much detail as possible, his opening response was that he would be happy to help me uninstall the Chrome plugin. Since of course the issue was not needing to uninstall any plugins at all but rather prevent this annoying pop-up from displaying, I sighed and described the problem again.

His first suggestion was for me to tick the “Do not show this message again” box before closing the notification. Of course, had such a box been present then I would have done exactly that but as a cursory glance at the screenshot will confirm, there was no such box. Do Norton customer support staff not know the software they’re providing support for?

His next suggestion was for me to allow him to remotely take control of my computer to resolve the issue. Not a chance – just tell me what I need to do please. He wanted to disable the firewall by right-clicking on the icon in the task bar and selecting “Disable Smart Firewall”, and then to “try” uninstalling the application and re-installing it. Trial and error, basically.

Of course I work in IT but I don’t think that background is really necessary in order to appreciate that a) disabling a firewall in order to prevent built-in pop-up ads from displaying is crazy talk; and b) uninstalling and re-installing software that installed just fine the first time isn’t going to give you different behaviour. After all, this pop-up isn’t a bug – it’s a deliberate “feature” that some idiot product manager somewhere decided to shoehorn into the product.

I explained to the guy that his suggestions seemed like they might not be the best options, and asked if there was instead some kind of hidden option I could change to stop the pop-ups from appearing. His response was to insist again that I disable the firewall and uninstall/re-install the software.

I wasn’t going to waste precious time performing completely unnecessary and unrelated tasks, so I asked for a refund – which he readily agreed to and in fact has already sent through before I even finished this article – and for the full amount of £39.99 too. I’m accepting the £6 profit as compensation for the inconvenience caused by this stupid new “feature” and ineffective customer support.

Given the 12 months of hassle-free operation I received with Norton Internet Security I’m tempted just to go back to that with a renewed subscription instead, but as the support representative said himself this is now a legacy product which has been superseded so I’m not sure how wise that would be – after all, why pay for a subscription to a product that is on its last legs as far as support is concerned? So it looks like another search for a decent antivirus solution that doesn’t spam its users is in order…

When will these pesky product managers learn?!

Goodbye BBC – Hello Massive Interactive

After two and a half years at the BBC where I worked on iPlayer, News, Sport, Music Events and the embedded media player that powers them all, I’ve decided it’s time to move on and look for a new challenge.

This new challenge will be provided by Massive Interactive who provide next generation video entertainment products for on-demand, ‘TV Everywhere’ services for clients all around the world. While at first glance it looks like I’ll be home from home, Massive do things a little differently – they’re one of the most prominent supporters of the Haxe language and use it in the development of all of their products across a wide range of devices.

So, a new language, new approach, new products, new clients and new devices. I can’t wait!

BitDefender’s pop-up spam

bitdefenderI recently installed the latest version of BitDefender. Within hours of installing what was supposedly the latest and greatest version of their anti-virus and anti-spam software, I was rudely interrupted by a pop-up window that prompted me to extend my subscription.

The problem was that I still had 188 days (which is over 6 months!) left on my subscription and was therefore nowhere near my renewal date.

Such a large and obtrusive pop-up window (740×400!) might have been justified if the software was alerting me to a virus or a network attack, but all this pop-up was trying to achieve was to part me with £29.95 a full 6 months before time.

In disbelief I closed the pop-up but it wasn’t long before it appeared again, and having looked through the software’s settings there doesn’t seem to be any way to disable it.

That such spam would originate from a product that is supposedly designed to protect you from such nonsense is ironic, but unfortunately this irony is lost on the developers who have responded to complaints with comments along the lines of, “clicking on a close button once in a while isn’t that bad”. I’m sure that’s what all the spammers say.

The haemorrhaging of customers that is apparent over at the BitDefender support forums in response to these pop-ups is convincing evidence that customers do not like to feel like their trust has been misplaced, but BitDefender still don’t seem willing to rectify the situation. It’s almost like losing customers is their intention.

Well, if it is their intention then I’m pleased to say that they have succeeded – I’ve switched to Norton.

Installing an OCZ Vertex 2 SSD in an HP Mini 210

Over the weekend I installed an OCZ Vertex 2 SSD in my HP Mini 210.

I ran a benchmark before and after installing the drive and the results are quite amazing:

Original HDD

Linear read speed – 30MB/sec
Random read speed – 3MB/sec
Average access time – 8.74ms
Score – 3,637

Vertex 2 SSD

Linear read speed – 134MB/sec
Random read speed – 53MB/sec
Average access time – 0.27ms
Score – 495,793

The Mini now feels like a different machine. It boots in seconds, logs in instantly and opens Firefox pretty much as soon as I’ve released the mouse button. I now use it all the time! According to Windows Experience Index, the bottleneck is now the CPU with a score of 2.4; the SSD has a score of 7.7 and everything else on the machine sits between 3 and 5. I can’t upgrade the CPU as it’s soldered to the motherboard, but to be honest there’s no need!

Toshiba Satellite 320CDT

Back in 1998 when I was 16 my father bought me my first Windows computer – a Toshiba Satellite 320CDT laptop from PC World in Chester. It had a 233mhz Pentium MMX CPU, 32MB of RAM and a 4GB HDD with Windows 95 installed.

Although new to Windows, it didn’t take long for me to realise that Windows 95 left a lot to be desired. I upgraded to Windows 98SE at the earliest opportunity and boosted the RAM with an additional 64MB taking it to 96MB in total. For the next few years I used that little laptop extensively and I learned a lot from it.

Tired of BSODs I eventually upgraded again to Windows 2000 which offered a much more stable environment at the notable expense of speed and responsiveness. Eventually it became time to upgrade to a desktop and the Toshiba was handed down to my younger twin sisters who, as it turns out, thoroughly abused it.

I dug out the machine while at my parents’ house a couple of weeks back. I was quite mortified to find the keyboard and screen covered with various bits of food, the modem cable was missing, the track pad nipple was missing, the little door covering the PCMCIA slot was missing and the charger socket was loose which meant the laptop would only charge if you held the cable in at a certain angle. Considering I had always kept the machine in good order I was not impressed. I decided to rescue it in the interest of nostalgia and brought it home with me.

The first thing to do was get all the food stains off it, which was quite easy with some wipes after taking out the keyboard. Next I got onto eBay and found a replacement modem cable, track pad nipple and PCMCIA door. I ordered one of each and then set about fixing the loose charger socket. I doubt I’ll ever use the modem again as I have a wireless network card that will fit this, but it’s better complete than incomplete nonetheless.

After finding a service manual for the laptop (mirrored below) I was all set. I opened it up to discover that the machine had obviously been pulled around by the cable as the solder was cracked and broken on BOTH pins! No wonder charging was so hit-and-miss! A little touch-up with a soldering iron and that too was fixed.

Over the next couple of days the various replacement parts arrived and eventually the laptop was as good as new – apart from the Windows installation which was full of all kinds of freeware/adware/spyware. I decided to reformat and re-install, which was easy as I’ve kept ISOs of all my OS disks over the years.

Interestingly Windows Update no longer works for any browser older than Explorer 6 SP1. As Windows 2000 comes with Explorer 5, I had to find an offline installation executable to manually update that before I was able to download the other 100+ updates required through Windows Update.

After hours and hours of downloading and installing updates I now once again have an as-new Toshiba 320CDT laptop, fully up-to-date (as far as Windows 2000 is concerned at least) and ready to go. It’s too slow to use every day, but as it’s where it all began for me I do feel much better having restored it to its former glory.

If anyone else is restoring a 320CDT, here’s a list of resources and software that might be of interest:

Update 17/2/2014: I’m afraid that I’ve been asked by a representative of Toshiba to remove any links to the company’s websites so you’ll need to use a search engine to find the above downloads page.

Currys will price-match their competitors, but not their own website

Having picked up my old Mustek 600CU scanner from my parents’ house over the weekend, I discovered today that it won’t work with Windows 7. The drivers on the website relate to Windows 98, and a Windows 2000 patch that I found years ago (which also worked with Windows XP) refused to work on a 64-bit operating system. Hmm.

Rather than spend a few hours trying to hack something together with drivers from the four corners of the internet, I decided that I’d buy a new scanner. After all:

  1. Scanners aren’t expensive;
  2. Technology has moved on a lot since I got that old Mustek and a new scanner would give better results, faster;
  3. A new scanner (and its software) would actually work on 64-bit Windows 7.

I needed to scan some documents to send over to my graphics designer ASAP, so rather than place an order online and wait a few days I decided to pop down to the local industrial estate and get something from Currys/Comet.

Both Currys and Comet are right next to each other in Southport, so I went into Currys first with a view of seeing what they had available and then going into Comet to compare. On the way in I noticed a reassuring sign next to the door that claimed that Currys would beat the price of a range of local competitors including “Argos, ASDA, Comet, Jessops, Tesco, John Lewis… in fact any local retail store”.

Inside, Currys had three scanners – a Canon LiDE 100 for £69.99, a Canon LiDE 200 for £89.99 and a Canon CanoScan 5600F for £149.99. Thinking those prices were on the high side, I went into Comet to see what they had. Nothing. Some laptops, some printers, but no scanners. Back to Currys.

At this point I decided to check Currys’ website because I knew their products were cheaper on there, so the plan was to go in and ask for one of those scanners for their online price. After all, if a company is willing to beat its competitors in price then it should happily match its own website. I got my phone out and navigated to the Currys website where I found that the scanner that I was most interested in (the LiDE 200) was indeed on there for a reduced price – a full 25% off in fact at £68.28.

I approached a member of staff and asked if the store would match the price they had on their website for a scanner. The assistant said no, they don’t match websites. I pointed out that this was Currys’ own website and he replied that indeed he couldn’t price-match his own website either!

I noticed that there was a “Reserve and Collect” facility on the website, which upon closer inspection allowed me to reserve an item online for local store pick-up. I hit the button, selected the store at which I wanted to reserve my item (no prizes for guessing which store I selected), entered my name and email address and then went to the till where my reservation was already printing out. With the ink on my reservation still wet, the assistant asked a colleague to fetch the scanner for me. I paid the £68.28, got my receipt and left!

CANON CanoScan 5600F

PIXmania slashing prices on price comparison websites

Not happy with the transfer rates I get with my Thecus N4100Pro, I decided to look into what could possibly be the problem. It turns out that with overheads, the maximum transfer rate I’ll get from it is around 8-10mb/sec – if I’m lucky. Since I deal with large files on a regular basis, this has already gotten to the point where it’s beyond doing my head in so I decided to upgrade my router to a gigabit model. That way I could expect transfer rates more along the lines of 70mb/sec!

I eventually settled on a D-Link Xtreme N Gigabit DIR-655 and promptly searched for some prices on Google Products.

PIXmania was the first name that I’d heard of before and bought from previously, so although they weren’t quite the cheapest I decided to go with them – the power of brand recognition working a treat. PIXmania had it for £79.90 including VAT, so I went to the site, added it to my basket and went to checkout. Just then Firefox crashed, so when it loaded back up I manually navigated to PIXmania’s site and searched for the router. To my amazement the router was now £96.98 including VAT! That’s a 21% increase in price, with the only difference being that on the first occasion I was referred from Google Products and on the second there was no referral.

I went back to Google Products and did the search again from there. Sure enough, the router came up again for £79.90, so this time I went in and bought the router from there. I checked out, paid via PayPal and now have an email receipt for £79.90.

It would seem that PIXmania is slashing prices on price comparison websites to make themselves more competitive, yet hiking them up again for shoppers who go direct to their website. The moral of the story here is to always use price comparison websites whenever you’re making a purchase online!

D-Link Xtreme N Gigabit Router DIR-65D-Link Xtreme N Gigabit Router DIR-6555

iPhone 4G fools Engadget

Yesterday I was reading through my RSS feeds, catching up with the world’s news and this one about the iPhone 4G on Engadget caught my eye.

Engadget had some (slightly blurry) images of what was supposed to be the latest version of Apple’s best-selling iPhone, reportedly found left behind at a bar in a 3G case. The whole article was written in a sceptical tone and an update at the bottom confirmed that the phone was indeed a fake. The update linked to a Twitter page that seemed to be home to several independent sources claiming the phone was a cheap Chinese knock-off.

The tone of the update was pretty bullish because they had apparently been offered time with the phone for $10,000, but had decided not to proceed because they suspected it wasn’t a genuine item. They then took great pleasure in informing the rest of the internet that in their wisdom they had not been fooled by any of it – and that pity should be bestowed upon anyone who had.

Well, what a difference a day makes!

The same phone has now turned up on Gizmodo, and not only do they have lots of hi-res photographs of it but they’ve also examined it inside and out to confirm that yes, it is genuine.

I thought Engadget’s smug proclamation of wisdom and (in this case unfounded) self-belief would look pretty stupid now, so I headed back over there to see how they’d taken the news that they had “done a Decca Records” and passed up the real deal.

I arrived at the site to discover that Engadget had removed ALL references to this phone being a fake! They’d re-written the update at the bottom of the page to say that the phone looked like a Chinese knock-off, but the smug proclamation was gone. Not only that, but on another post dated the day after, Engadget had the brass neck to declare, “Well, we told you so. The fourth-generation iPhone prototype that leaked its way out into the world over the weekend has found its way to Gizmodo, and they’ve examined it exhaustively, erasing any doubt that it’s real.”

We told you so“?! Umm, no. What Engadget actually said was that the phone was a fake! “We told you so“, indeed!