September 2012 in the Life of Ben (Blog)
13th London Scalextric Club (25th September 2012)
My best distance was 18.10 laps on Blue lane. Best lap time was on yellow lane, a decent 9.67 seconds. Too many scruffy laps to finish in a good position.
Setting the brakes just below maximum made the little Can-Am with a Gulf livery fairly easy to control. Steve lent me this car, as usual.
Laptop: Uninstalled AVG Free 2012 (23rd September 2012)
For over 10 years I’ve had good service out of the free version of this software. Many business I work at use the professional one because AVG just works, without hogging the whole machine.
After tuning a lot of settings, it only checks for things which aren’t use error. Being careful about downloads and e-mail attachments removes the main routes for serious viruses to get onto an up-to-date machine. Windows Update in Windows 7 helps with that.)
Startup times are OK but the HDD thrashes for minutes after I’ve logged into the desktop. Resource Monitor says it’s due to Windows Live Mail, which makes sense. But I’d like to be sure it’s just that and not some interaction between the two.
Also, I keep reading that Microsoft Security Essentials with the Windows Firewall and a hardware router is adequate protection.
Life Without AVG
After uninstalling the system tray popped up a balloon telling my Windows Defender was out of date. So I let it update, which took about a minute.
The updater lead me to the normal interface for Defender. The default settings make it scan daily but only when the computer is not being used. Hmm, that could prove to be a resource hog.
Also, the Action Center icon in the system tray has a critical error icon on it. Clicking it says I must Find an antivirus program online (Important). Thought I already had that in Windows.
This was a late night decision. I’ll see how it goes tomorrow and come back to it if necessary.
Action Center also said Windows Defender needs to run a scan, or words to that affect. So I decided to click the item before sleeping the laptop. Windows Defender opened and was 20% through a quick scan and the was moving fast. So I let it continue and the bar crawled down to a less magical speed. It was still churning through lots of files, obviously the bar is designed to appear it’s a fast process and uses that illusion to compell the user into allowing the scan to finish.
It took 6 minutes and 12 seconds to do the scan. That seemed to be all it needed to do so I slept the laptop at this point.
Downloading an Anti-Virus Program
Clicking the link took me to the plain-English Microsoft’s list of anti-virus software. Politely nestled far below the fold, in the bottom right corner, is Microsoft Security Essentials. I thought I already had that. Clearly I don’t after all.
I followed the link and the product is introduced delightfully:
The anti-annoying, anti-expensive, anti-virus program
Informal, relevant and easy to understand. Windows tone of voice being pushed to it’s limits in the right direction.
This is right next to the download button. But I had to choose between 32-bit and 64-bit which is a question most users won’t be able to answer! The Firefox UA string contains
WOW64 so I would think that could be used, at least to select a default option.
The download was 12MB and I ran it from the Downloads list.
Microsoft Security Essentials Installer
Very grey and with unnecessary gradients. Apart from that it asked me some questions and required clicking Next a few times.
When it finished it asked to scan my computer. Windows Defender already did that, so does this mean I now have 2 anti-virus programs which will conflict?
At the end of the installer the Action Center icon told me Security Essentials was needed to be updated! But I only just downloaded it!
The final page of the installer has a long checkbox which says: Scan my computer for potential threats after getting the latest updates.
So clicking Finish in the installer should solve the issue about it being out of date. And then will let it do a first scan. So I’ll ignore the Action Center for now.
First Scan Complete
Took about 17 minutes and made the fan blow pretty hard most of the time.
A quick look through the various tabs and all seemed sensible. Closed the window and it made Firefox load a web page telling me:
Upgrade to Internet Explorer 9 enhanced with Bing™ & MSN® and enjoy a more beautiful web.
Hmm. No, thanks.
See How It Goes
Action Center says: No current issues detected. So I guess the experiment has begun!
CCleaner Helps Again
After letting it check for updates, I downloaded the new version and installed it.
Removed just over 1GB in just under 1 minute. Lots of boxes to confirm will keep the things I want each time but it’s the fastest way to clean up lots of separate fiddly aspects of the machine.
Moved to the Registry tab and clicked Scan for Issues. It found 114 minor things so I clicked Fix selected issues. Most were leftovers from uninstalling programs. Quite a few were FTP locations I had browsed in Windows Explorer.
Finally I removed all but the most recent System Restore point. That saved another 8GB. Easy as pie doing it from CCleaner after cleaning those other areas.
Will shut the laptop down now. It will have a fresh boot at work tomorrow so I can see how long the HDD thrashes for when Windows Live Mail is loading.
Haircut 16 (22nd September 2012)
Will likely be my last one of the year, so had it trimmed quite short and thin by my standards. Should look quite wild as it grows out as there’s plenty of of ‘texturing’ in the finishing cuts. I’ll look like a VO5 advert. But without my scalp being drenched with petrochemical byproducts.
(Protip: You don’t want your scalp to be drenched with petrochemical byproducts.)
12th London Scalextric Club (18th September 2012)
FIA GT cars are my favourite to watch on TV. There’s a big difference in performance between the cars at the club so I usually struggle to be competitive with them.
Happily this evening I managed a 3rd place in a 3-minute race, racking up 17 laps with Steve’s yellow Porsche. That was on red track, the toughest lane!
HDMI Rocks (11th September 2012)
I am convinced that digital video signals are visibly better than VGA.
- Text is finer and clearer.
- Detail in very dark colours is sharper. (iPlayer backgrounds and TRON: Legacy desktop wallpaper.)
- Edges are sharper.
- Had to change colour profile as it was massively skewed towards teal! Think this is why I gave up last time I tried it.
- Sound now goes to screen via HDMI then comes out through stereo Audio out to 2.1 speakers.
- Headphones still plug into left of laptop.
- To switch audio output: Right-click Volume Control in the taskbar then click Playback devices (I press P to select it). Right-click the device you want then click Set as default device (can press S to select it).
Another handy thing is I only plug/unplug a single cable for audio and video now. Before, I had a VGA lead and a stereo jack to contend with.
My headphones can remain plugged in all the time now that I’ve discovered the Playback devices area. It’s worked out very neat.
11th London Scalextric Club (11th September 2012)
Touring cars, my next favourite class. Managed 17 laps on blue lane for a 3 minute race with Steve’s CLK DTM car.
Fastest lap was 10.05 on blue lane and 10.15 on yellow.
Got a really good feel for this car but keep slipping off the controller and crashing when I got excited! A controller might be my first slot car purchase since getting back into it.
Lumia 800: Software Update via Zune (10th September 2012)
For a while my beloved smartphone has been notifying me about a new software update. It requires installing the Microsoft Zune software onto my beloved laptop, though.
These systems can be badly made monstrocities which I’d like to avoid. However, my nearly always reliable phone might benefit from what Microsoft calls: “Other quality improvements. Includes many other improvements to Windows Phone.”
So I’m going to give it a try. Dad says it worked wonders for the mobile data connection speed. Uninstalling the Zune software should be possible afterwards, if it annoys me.
First I clicked the Sign in link in the top right. I’ve gotten used to this helping personalise services from Microsoft – something that’s hard to do but they’re doing it well.
Next I click the pink Sign up and download now button. This prompts me for my Windows Live password, which I check in the list Firefox saves:
- Click Tools > Options menu.
- Click Security tab.
- Click Saved Passwords… button.
- Click Show Passwords.
- Click back into the Search box.
- Search for live.
- This immediately texts me a code. (An unexpected noise at 12:18am while Fiona is asleep in the next room!)
- It has 7 digits which is easy enough to type in.
- Takes a few seconds for it to move off that page, then a couple of seconds at a blank screen, then I arrive at a my account page.
Setting My Place Loses My Place
The page is set to United States at the bottom. Not really a problem but as some phone things are specific to carriers and continents, I want it to be correct. So I click Internation since that’s the only link near it, which gives a bit list of regions. One of them is United Kingdom (English) so I click that.
This dumps me back at the homepage, breaking whatever sequence of steps I was being led through in order to get the Zune software!
I click the Back button twice as that’s the only way I feel sure will take me back to the process I was going through. Happily it does bring me back to the my account page, displaying United States as before.
Nothing on this page tells me how to download Zune software.
That’s the whole reason I just signed up.
I hover over Products in the main navigation and a dropdown menu shows ZUNE SOFTWARE as the top item. I click that and get a similar page that I had originally.
This time the buttons about signing up are replaced by rainbow text and a Download now button. Finally!
Commence the Download
I click the Download now button but the page reverts to the version which asks me to Sign up and download now. But I just signed up! And it didn’t let me download straight after doing that!
I click Sign up and download now and then notice a pink bar appeared across the top of the promtions area, saying something about region mis-match. Expletives deleted!
I click the Back button and set my language from within the pink bar, then click OK.
This dumps me back at the homepage again.
I click on Get the Zune software which is numbered and highlighted, as if that’s the step I’m already on. (This is what I had to do to find the first link I gave in this article.)
Guess what? The page it takes me to doesn’t have the rainbow text. It has the Sign up and download now button again.
So I click that again and it goes straight to my account. I hover over products and click ZUNE SOFTWARE. Now I got the rainbow text and no pink bar about reasons. So, with bated breath, I click Download now.
Guess what? Rainbow text goes away and it shows the Sign up and download now button yet again!
Better Things To Do
This is when I gave up trying to get Zune software. Stupid, stupid, stupid user experience before even I get to try the software.
One Last Try
After a few minutes I notice that the text around buttons might just be badly written. The first explanation says “the Zune software” while the text for the other button says “the free Zune software”.
This made the think the second one was a lesser version of the software. Why else would they be named differently and why would one require signing up while the other did not?
So I tried clicking Download now (you know, the one without the rainbow text) and Firefox tells me the download size would be 101MB. That certainly can’t be a cut-down version! So I save it:
C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Zune\ZuneSetupPkg.exe
Why does the filename say
Pkg? (Obvious to nerds that’s short for package but to anyone else I wager it means nothing.)
Slow to Install
So far so bad. After one of the all-time undersized terms and conditions windows, it continues to one of the slowest installs I’ve seen on this machine.
Really hope updates over the air become available for my phone so I won’t have to do this again.
It Gets Worse
It adds an unwanted icon to my desktop. Only the Recycle Bin lives on my desktop. I could probably turn that off but it’s a useful reminder.
starts with a message about features in Zune have changed since the last time I ran it and that I should restart it. Or restart my computer…it didn’t display long enough for me to read it carefully.
That message fades away and I get a WELCOME TO ZUNE window. While typing this up I left the screen unattended for a while. It then showed a fairly old-school Yes/No information message box on the otherwise non-standard interface asking if the screen was displayed correctly.
Given how hard my laptop fan is blowing when I’m just looking at some text with 2 buttons and 1 link, plus this message, I guess they have a lot of problems with this screen being slow to respond!
It’s not a great story so far.
No Way Out
There is no close button on the window. Nowhere. So if that previous message needed me to restart anything, the program can’t do what it asked me to do. WHAT?!
Whatever…there’s a Start button so I’m going to click that.
The next page asks me to select some artists I like. Thankfully there’s a SKIP button, so I click that.
Ah, now I see the message saying “FEATURES HAVE CHANGED”. Now I have time to read it also says: “Please restart the Zune software to see the new features.” Which still doesn’t make sense, as I never used this program before so there’s nothing for it to have changed from.
Whatever. I click OK to the message then press the top-right X to close the program. It closes quickly, so I go straight to the Start menu and Zune is highlit at the bottom. So I click that and it starts right away.
That’s more positive. Except it’s telling me “welcome” again, this time in a popup which I can see around but which doesn’t have a close button.
Oh wait, once my mouse gets on the window I realise the thing scrolls horizontally in the opposite direction to mouse movement. That brings things to either side into full view.
Plug It In
I use the USB data and charging lead for my phone to connect it to the laptop.
The taskbar system tray tells me it is installing software. A few seconds later it tells me “NOKIA Lumia 800” and that the “Device driver software installed successfully.” Good.
Also, the Zune window has changed to a Windows Phone screen, taking to me about “START” and “NEXT STEPS MIGHT INCLUDE”.
I click Next and then Next again, since it alread detected a sensible name for my phone.
It now checks for updates and finds something – just as I wanted. (At some point during this the fan noise died down to normal.)
“UPDATE YOUR PHONE”
Some interesting details it gives are:
Available update: Update for Windows Phone (
THIS PROCESS WILL INSTALL ALL AVAILABLE UPDATES AND COULD TAKE ANYWHERE FROM 30 MINUTES TO SEVERAL HOURS, DEPENDING ON THE NUMBER OF UPDATES.
- Adds features related to SIM card contacts. You can now export phone contacts to a SIM card and selectively import SIM card contacts to your phone.
- Includes many quality improvements to Windows Phone.
The random spacing between elements, use of fake list bullets and uppercase bold for a message about ways the software will inconvenience me are actually quite shocking. Please rewrite using the effective and well defined Windows tone of voice.
Details aside, I click UPDATE NOW as that is the purpose of this exercise.
- Heavy fan noise.
- Downloading updates.
- Still heavy fan noise but happens fast.
- STEP 6 OF 10: RESTARTING YOUR PHONE …
- After the phone restarted, the taskbar system tray started ballooning about installing device software again.
- STEP 7 OF 10: CREATING A BACKUP …
- This took at least 1 minute. Slowest step so far.
- STEP 8 OF 10: INSTALLING UPDATES …
- This took at least 2 minutes. A percent complete readout was conspicuous by its absence. Maybe this is the half hour to several hour part? I make a cup of tea.
- STEP 9 OF 10: RESTARTING YOUR PHONE …
- This went fast.
- STEP 10 OF 10: COMPLETING UPDATES …
- This was after about 20 minutes.
It finished! But after that it started a new step, without a number: Checking for addiotional updates.
This seemed to find something and triggered another 9-step update process! Whiole glancing at my phone it had said success! to me, then changed to a different message, then said goodbye while the Zune software restarted it at the new STEP 6 OF 9.
This took a long time. But after 50 minutes in total, the Zune software told me SUCCESSFUL UPDATE and my phone again told me Success!
I clicked close on the phone and got a blank screen. I clicked FINISH in Zune and it took me to a light theme instead of a dark theme, now showing a picture of a Lumia 800 (in the wrong colour) and telling me it had synchronised the phone.
The last screen told me I could disconnect the phone. I used the taskbar system tray to Eject it like any other USB device. BUt it told me Problem Ejecting USB Composite Device. I clicked OK as that was the only button.
Turn Down the Sync
In the Zune software I clicked VIEW SYNC OPTIONS. A plethora of options lay before me. My fan was spinning up like mad again, as it had done through most of the update cycles for the phone.
The phone just stayed blank, even after pushing some of the touch buttons below the screen. So I clicked STOP SYNC in Zune software. My phone had gone to sleep so I pushed the power button and saw the lock screen, with the right wallpaper and a calendar event.
But swiping past the lock screen just gave a blank screen, apart from time and charging indicator.
After much fruitless searching through the Zune software and the help online, with my fan still working hard, I clicked the top-right X to close Zune. (Although I did find a handy explanation of Windows Phone system tray icons.)
Within seconds my fan speed halved. A little while later it was silent, which is the normal volume for it.
Ejecting my phone now worked. Unplugged it but still a blank screen.
“Turn it off and on again”
As immortalised by The IT Crowd, this workaround to technology problems was the only place left to me. I powered down the phone, waited several seconds, then powered it up again.
The result? My start screen was back! Within a second the phone live tile told me it had found vodafone UK. Other things soon filled in, such as the big Calendar tile.
From Start I swiped to the apps list, clicked Settings and then About. This opened the SETTINGS about page and I clicked the more information button:
- OS version:
- Firmware reviosion number:
That’s the one! We’ll see how it goes from here. Definitely want to get rid of the Zune software this week, if the phone seems OK.
Uninstalled Zune (10th September 2012)
Phone is working fine. Zune software doesn’t fit in with Windows GUI conventions. It’s needlessly heavy on GPU.
The uninstaller ran quickly and politely with very few steps. A redeeming farewell, at least.
Front Wall Broken (7th September 2012)
When I got back from work a bit after 6pm I lifted my bicycle over the wall, as usual. Then I noticed a couple of bricks on the top had separated.
Then I noticed a metre long section of the wall had been completely snapped off and was now leaning back into the garden! Further inspection shows all the brick shelters for our rubbish bags have been ‘parallelogrammed’, as my dad puts it.
My best guess is a reversing truck hit them and either didn’t realise or wasn’t honest enough to report the mistake. Must’ve pushed quite hard and for quite a distance. Maybe it thought it was bouncing against the kerb when an overhang was actually knocking over our wall?
There’s a narrow width restriction traffic island just past our property with a small road opposite. The restriction isn’t signed on any approach road so we get a few vans and trucks come down here every day. All have to make a pretty sketchy set of manoevres to get turned around and head back to the junction.
(There are at least 5 horn blows a day at that junction due to its claustrophobic layout and thoughtless road markings. That’s another story, though.)
10th London Scalextric Club (4th September 2012)
NASCAR this evening, perhaps my favourite class! I was leading a race and then crashed. In a later race I was 2nd but crashed again, luckily worked my way back up to 3rd before the end of the race.
Glad I packed my trousers – had ridden there in shorts but the temperature dropped a lot during the evening. Rode home at nearly midnight!
A Bit about the Club
It’s located at
N21 2RS, so pretty far North. There’’s a little town centre nearby.
They have a straightforward website: London Scalextric Club.
They race every Tuesday night. Track starts being put together at about 7:15pm and I’m usually there near 7:30pm. Races start at about 9pm and run into the night, the before that is free practice.
Steve a lean, bespectacled racing machine. He’s also the chairman and can lend cars, controllers and 4 decades of slotting wisdom. Rino is a stocky chap with black hair. He’s the club secretary and he generally looks after the club. (This includes bringing in delicious cakes made by his sister!)
Those two and me tend to be the only ones who arrive before 8pm. So get there early and have lots of free practice with us.
NASCAR, Touring Cars and Rallycross are heaps of fun for newcomers. The cars are less extreme and therefore more predictable in these classes.
Bought Continental Tyres for Bicycle (3rd September 2012)
The manager of Hadron Cycles made the case that slick (aka treadless) tyres work just fine in the rain. Because they are so narrow on a bicycle, they easily displace any water and make full contact with the tarmac.
Today I bought a pair of Continental Gator Hardshell tyres and had them fitted. Also got a pair of spare Continental inner tubes as I’ve had so many punctures with my previous tyres.
Naturally, wet tarmac is less grippy than dry tarmac so one must always be extra careful in wet weather. The point stands that treaded tyres have less rubber on the road and more rolling resistance. They might bite through a bit of building dust but riders naturally take it easy on adverse surfaces.
The rounded surface of the tyre further helps to push water out of the way. Many aeroplane tyres don’t have tread, especially military jets. The contact patch is so small compared to the weight that they always displace the water.
Car Tyres are Different
In contrast, car tyres have a wide, flat surface. There is a very large contact area compared to the weight, so they can’t displace the water. This makes them quite prone to float above deep puddles, called aquaplaning.
Car tyres use treaded tyres so the high blocks can push water into the low grooves. In effect, the tread creates a row of skinny slick tyres with small gaps between them.
On a bicycle, the tyre is already so narrow that there’s no advantage to dividing it any further.
All Good! (21st November 2012)You definitely don’t need treaded tyres on a bicycle in the rain.
After several wet weather rides, including about of deluges, they have been totally safe. The theory and experience is all true. The only sketchy moments have been riding across manhole covers with raised edges that are also rotated at an odd angle to the road. This has made the front tyre skid a few centimetres to the side before it climbed up the raised edge.
This would also affect treaded tyres. You should always beware of metal covers and painted lines in wet weather.
Also, the reduced rolling resistance is staggering! Going from mountain bike tyres to treaded road tyres was like night and day. But these high-pressure slick tyres…it’s at least that much difference again.
Since buying them I have had no punctures from road debris. I damaged the rear inner tube after removing a broken spoke but that’s no fault of the tyre.
Astonishingly reliable rubber. I must have saved hours of journey time by avoiding punctures.
I’m convinced, once more, about the advantages to good (aka expensive!) tyres on a road bicycle.
18th Blood Donation (3rd September 2012)
Unfortunately my iron level was only 133 so I was not able to donate. Next appointment booked.
Will make more of an effort to eat foods rich in iron.
Meat and vegetables I like are high on the list, along with baked beans and brown bread! So it’s a very good excuse for some of my favourite meals, such as Full English Breakfast.