Monday, August 24, 2009

Dealing with MSN as an ISP and their Tech Support

And 10 Things I've Learned after 2+ Weeks of Updates gone Wrong and a day Wasted Waiting on hold between being shunted from one Call Center to the next.


Lamentations of a Man who Thought the Problem had been Fixed.

1. Tech support is a misnomer. Tech savvy they're not (9 times out of 10).

2. You can never get a straight answer but will learn to either endure their "agents" (when did "operators" go out of style?) trouble shooting "checklist" or defenestrate your phone.

3. MSN as an ISP when it comes to "update" time means one hour/day you can connect, the next you can't; just as one hour/day when you call tech support you're assured your OS is supported but the next day/hour you're told it isn't and you should upgrade to VISTA/ XP/ whatevah. (see #2)

4. It takes 1-5 minutes to actually get passed the stupid automated call center, whether you try to annunciate clearly or not doesn't matter. You can recite poetry, play heavy metal, put the phone down and watch paint dry, you just have to endure those 1-5 minutes until the automated call center forwards you to the live call center.

5. While waiting to be forwarded to the next live "agent" you'll be inundated with canned info blurbs (spoken by a woman that sounds suspiciously like Demi Moore) informing you that all your problems can be fixed online. 'Did you know. .' the voice will begin, and repeat over and over and over as MSN rapes your ear hole with nonsense you couldn't care less about.

6. It takes a minimum of 1-5 minutes to give the people in the live call center your information before they'll actually TALK to you about why you're calling.

7. It will take 5-10 minutes of explaining your problem to the "tech support" people before they forward you to a "specialist", who you'll have to explain everything to all over again.

8. If you call "after hours" (meaning anytime after 12 noon EST) your call has a 50/50 chance of going to a call center where everyone has Indian or Pakistani accents. (The chance goes up to 100% after 5-7 o'clock EST.)

9. People with strange accents that may or may not be in a call center in India or Pakistan do not comprehend "M-E" as a operating system, but if you tell them "millennium" (and give them a minute or three to put you on hold while they consult their call center manual) may recognize it as a OS that Miscosoft has tossed into the dung heap, along with anyone still unfortunate enough to have a machine running it. (Don't laugh. It was okay as an crappy iMachine for internet usage, until a couple weeks ago.)

9. When dealing with call center people with the hard to place accents no matter how many times you explain simple concepts, like explaining what your OS is or your current browser version, they'll stick to their "check list" and never quite grasp that "I'm on DIAL-UP" means you can't A) connect while you are talking to them, B) are calling them because you can't connect thus you can't DOWNLOAD updates, and; C) if you're lucky their trouble shooting "fixes" don't do anything to make your problem worse. If you're lucky.

10. When the tech support guy with the funny foreign accent says all you need is to upgrade to the most current version of the proprietary browser software and everything will be fixed; it'll only make the problem worse. (As in NOTHING WORKS after.)

11. Finally- yes, like Spinal Tap, I can't count too well- it took one heck of a talk, explaining re-explaining, questioning with confused frustration, for someone to finally hem and haw around the truth, which I suspected all along (despite being told otherwise in what amounts to bold faced lies): My OS is NOT supported. Microsoft has apparently (I'm guessing; see #2 above) instituted a new 'framework' update designed to cut off all OSes older than XP and Vista. Why I couldn't have been told this 2+ weeks ago is beyond me. My best guess is MSN wanted to get one more month of FEES out of me. I am not amused. I am not a happy camper. I will NOT be continuing with MSN. Where I'll end up, with whom, or if I'll be back any time soon only the Fates can augur.

# end

P.S. I knew I shouldn't have posted that message about eugenics and the apocalypse. ;-)

Expect me when you see me my friends!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Eugenics, Movies, and the Apocalypse

Since I last posted here I've more or less stabilized my connection, found a ex-rental VHS of the post-apocalypse rarity, THE AFTERMATH, and watched in utter disbelief the cable news networks. But first THE AFTERMATH. I've never seen it and have been looking for a copy for sometime. I could string together a googolplex of adjectives to tell you how bad that flick is but, suffice to say, it's not worth the money I paid for it. So I wont be wasting space talking about it here.

Instead I'm going to talk about current events, in a science fiction context, since "real life" seems to have taken a turn down surreal street. (At least on certain cable news shows.) I have noticed, as undoubtedly have many others, that depending on which cable news network happens to be on, America seems to be falling apart at the seams-- Only the why's and what fore's seem to vary. According to certain of the talking heads people are taking to the streets in protest, even carrying guns, and the sky is about to come crashing down as the Obama regime is about to institute a form of eugenics that will kill grandma, blot the sun out of the sky, and make Satan seem like a jolly fat man in a red suit yadayadahohoho. All this while yet other talking heads say it's all fabricated Astroturf nonsense.

And then there's the talk/discussion/shouting matches about healthcare, death panels, progressives, Nazi's, and yet more talk about eugenics.

This talk of eugenics got me thinking. The concept has been around for a long time. It was practiced in ancient Sparta, where it really was state enforced. The basic idea is a simple one, if a bit convoluted, depending on who happens to be trying to explain it at the time. Being a fan of science fiction, wherein eugenics has been explored in both it's pros and cons for decades (it's even a central theme in the back story of Star Trek), I find some of the current discussions about eugenics by political pundits rather funny; and woefully uninformed. Thus I've decided to provide a public service announcement, of sorts, by going to one of the sources and quoting a/the turn of the century author that wrote about this 'science' and letting you, the reader, using the author's own words, see what the concepts behind eugenics are/is. So read, think, and judge for yourself. I'm just a guy that writes reviews.

We'll begin by quoting from APPLIED EUGENICS by Paul Popenoe, originally published circa 1918 (Full text here: ::

"Eugenics consists of a foundation of biology and a superstructure of sociology" designed to produce a "practical means by which society may encourage the reproduction of superior persons and discourage that of inferiors" therefore "it is desirable to discriminate as much as possible" in favor of those individuals bearing traits considered positive for the betterment of the state and society.

How is this to be accomplished?

Ideally the goal of "eugenics is to make such legal, social and economic adjustments that (1) a larger proportion of superior persons will have children than at present, (2) that the average number of offspring of each superior person will be greater than at present, (3) that the most inferior persons will have no children, and finally that (4) other inferior persons will have fewer children than now."

One may wonder how such ideas came into being. As the author states in his introduction:

"The Great War has caused a vast destruction of the sounder portion of the belligerent peoples and it is certain that in the next generation the progeny of their weaker members will constitute a much larger proportion of the whole than would have been the case if the War had not occurred. Owing to this immeasurable calamity that has befallen the white race, the question of eugenics has ceased to be merely academic."

In otherwords the author is worried about the potential decline of "the more valuable stocks" of humanity. One may ask what these "more valuable stocks" of humanity are, who decides, and to what ultimate purpose? Interestingly the author provides a answer to this quandry as well as the means whereby the above may be instituted:

"The fear of racial decline provides the eugenist with a far stronger leverage than did the hope of accelerating racial progress."

Racial decline of whom? Why the "white race" course! (see above) So this "racial progress" is designed to "inspire the superior to rise above certain worldly ideals of life and to aim at a family success rather than an individual success." Sounds fair enough. After all politicians are aways waxing poetic about family values. There's nothing sinister about family values, is there? Such a plan as this might provide "methods . . . by which . . . the people of America might be made, on the average, healthier, happier, and more efficient."

What could possibly be wrong with that?

Guess it depends on who you are and whether you belong to one of the ethnic groups deemed to belong to the "valuable stocks" of humanity.

Sounds like crazy science fiction, right? Maybe not. Some of these thematic elements have been touched upon in recent movies like GATTACA and IDIOCRACY (though as an unintentional satire of the concept) but they're far from crazy. The idea of eugenics, though the term itself has fallen into disuse due primarily to the excesses of the Nazi regime in it's applications of eugenics in practice, remains a very real social engineering construct. It's not merely some crackpot theory, nor is it limited to the Nazi's, who merely borrowed it as they did so much else. However, where science fiction is concerned, perhaps the best serious example of eugenics at work can be found in Frank Herbert's DUNE.

The Bene Gesserit sisterhood are essentially eugenicists caught up in a centuries long breeding program working for a singular goal; the creation of a Kwisatz Haderach, or superhuman. Of course Paul Atreides wasn't exactly part of the plan. His mother wasn't supposed to have sons. Which makes one wonder what the outcome of the Bene Gesserit program would have been. A Khan Noonian Singh perhaps?

(to be continued)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Word of Warning RE: the Microsoft Network

Goodbye Again Friends,

Something is fishy in Denmark.

I can but can not access the internet. My machine has been experiencing some very odd behavior that I feel anyone using a PC should be made aware of. Obviously right now I am online, as I have posted this, but to do so I am forced to reset my security settings so low that any of those invasive malware programs that do not exist in MSN's browser software et al have free access to whatever servers they do not connect to from my system. This is unacceptable. And I'm more than a bit miffed at the situation, which I shall outline in more detail below.

Long story short Microsoft (as I previously mentioned they are my Internet provider) somehow got through my firewall and installed something on my system that I never gave permission for them to do. Considering I do not use their MSN Browser, instead preferring the simplicity of logging in via IE or Firefox, my initial discovery of an inability to log in had me calling tech support. Despite assurances that all I needed was the newest version of the MSN Browser and everything would be fine once I downloaded it- which is a load of BS but then that's the problem with outsourcing to foreign countries, these people don't speak English as a first language and thus are incapable of comprehending simple facts spoken to them in simple terms like: I'VE TRIED TO UPDATE AND AM UNABLE BECAUSE I GET MESSAGES SAYING MY OS IS NO LONGER SUPPORTED. They keep insisting. So all you can do is let them feed you their line of BS and hope.

But that's not what really annoyed me. What annoyed me is discovering, after a bit of kludging around, that Microsoft managed to hack past my firewall and install something on my computer. Let me repeat that. . . My service provider, the people who take my money every month, appear to have hacked into my system to force an "update" on my machine that effectively CRIPPLES my ability to access the service they are taking my money for.

I could be paranoid but the facts seem to support the theory that a forced "update" was executed on my machine to disable it. My first clue, as I may have mentioned in my earlier post, was noticing something trying to load on my system. It was attempting to force, I thought, a shockwave update. Now I've never figured out how to block these. These updates circumvent my firewall, actually they don't even register they just seem to start and my only clue is everything suddenly slowing down to a crawl. I've observed this many times, usually only during those few times I am forced to lower my security settings. Thus my only, and best, defense against them has been to surf the net with my security settings set to high. Alas when you log in to check e-mail and such you have NO CHOICE but to compromise your system and lower your security settings. My best guess is Microsoft used one of these times to hack into my system.

Now "hack" may seem like a harsh word to use. But read on.

Long story short a program downloaded onto my system in the Shockwave directory a few weeks ago. I discovered it was there because it was loading during boot-up and instantly attempting to access the internet. The only reason I was aware of this is because I have dial-up and have my system set up to manually dial in, thus the dialogue box for dialing out kept popping up for no reason. Took me a while to figure out what the problem was. What I had to do was manually find and delete this mystery file, including it's registry key. I forget exactly what it was called but I think it was something like POSTUPDATE.EXE. Shortly thereafter my problems began. Obviously I did not find and remove this invasive program in time.

Currently there is a way for me to access the Internet, but it's round about. Considering this is a paid for service which is suddenly being denied with absolutely NO forewarning AND my IP installed something on my system without my consent I find this disturbing. I am NOT a happy customer.

For those thinking this is a overreaction consider this: There is a program that now wants to run on my system: LOADQM.EXE. This is an important fact because I stopped using MSN Browser because it had too many programs wanting open ports through my software firewall. (And I don't use IM.) Now the most invasive of these programs, one which I PHYSICALLY REMOVED FROM IT'S DIRECTORY AND PLACED IN A ZIP ARCHIVE was, you guessed it, LOADQM.EXE.

So since I removed this program it shouldn't be running on my system. So how did it get back ON my system? Remember my OS is no longer supported. That means no updates. If I can't update then how did this program get back on my system? I do not know.

Nor do I know what the purpose of this program is. I do know it kept crashing my system and giving me blue screens as it was constantly trying to worm it's way through my firewall, despite me denying it access, which was why I removed it. Yet now it's back on my system. It is, I think disabled again. And, surprise surprise, that seems to be what was slowing everything down. Was it because it was forcing ports open through my firewall and doing. . . Something?

Again I do not know. According to Google this is a program associated with IM. But that' a load of BS. IM is non-functional on my machine. I do not use IM. But even if I did IM appears to currently be disabled. Besides the information I can find claims it's some sort of auto-updater, again BS as my OS is no longer supported. A fact Microsoft seemed intent on driving home to me by crippling my system. Which makes me wonder what other invasive programs they might have placed on my machine, all while CONTINUING TO TAKE MY MONEY for a service they seem to not want to provide to those of us using older OS platforms.

What's up with that? I paid good money for this computer and the software that came with it, brand new I might add. The OS has never really worked. Has Microsoft ever apologized for releasing barely functional OSes that crash over 50% of the time? Issued a single rebate? Used any of the information that we are forced to provide them to contact us, the people they ghettoize as "end users" to help us in any way? No.

They take our money then, when you try to set up YOUR OWN PROPERTY to be as secure as possible they hack into it to install a backdoor to CRIPPLE it because they decided that it's time for you to upgrade to the newest flavor of barely functional OS? Am I the only one that has a problem with these heavy handed tactics?

Honestly if not for the fact I kind of sort of need my e-mail addy I'd have canceled this service in a heartbeat. Probably will. In the meantime look to your own systems. Be sure that your service providers haven't installed something nefarious on your machine.

Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius

Friday, August 7, 2009

Forced Hiatus Looming

Greetings Loyal Readers,

Everything seemed to be working, if not perfectly fine, at least passably so earlier today. Then, wham, nothing wanted to work. Long story short after placing a call to tech support it appears that the Microsoft Network (my service provider) in their finite wisdom have decreed that all those whose computers aren't up to their specs and using the most up-to-date version of their malwa- koff- sorry, their web surfing software shall NOT be allowed to connect to the web. At least until they upgrade. Funny. They take my money for the service yet don't bother to give a guy a heads up, send me upgrade discs, or anything. I mean is it too much to ask for a heads up that your service provider is about to cut their entire network off from those using older versions of their software? What's up with that? Is it because I'm using older software and thus I don't matter to them?

Oh, sure, according to the tech support guy I apparently was informed, via e-mail. You know some of us don't check e-mail every day. And when we do it's usually so full of spam that gets past the filter we spend most of our time trying to weed through the chaff. But, hey, according to the tech support person, who sounded like he was from India or Pakistan (or wherever Miscrosoft outs ources to) I WAS informed. So far be it from me to dispute such lofty facts. Not that I tried. Before I could the tech guy informed me I probably deleted the e-mail by accident. Yeah, okay, whatever.

Long story short Internet Explorer (the browser I was using to log in with as I despise the invasiveness of the MSN browser) no longer logs me in. I'd been noticing something trying to eat up my bandwidth for the past couple of days. I thought it was Shockwave trying to force an update but, apparently, it was MSN updating something to force me to go out and buy a new PC. Bass turds!

*waves impotent fist at nobody in particular*

Not really sure what sort of PC to get. Don't really want to buy a new one but it'd probably be cheaper than updating the OS on this machine. I'm not saying that if I saw Bill Gates on fire in the middle of the street that I wouldn't urinate on him, but this entire concept of corporations not just foisting new software onto you whether you like it or not but forcing you to upgrade ad nauseum ad infinitum is exhausting.

But I suppose those poor execs at MSN need more money to feed their pet bald eagles, or whatever. So I guess you can expect to see new reviews when you see them. Sorry about that. Ain't much a guy can do when their service provider cold cocks them. Everything is slow as molasses, but I'm not going to tell you the odd manner in which I managed to connect lest someone at MSN be reading this and close that hole up too. But, suffice it so say, it makes surfing the web even slower than usual.

Sigh. Well it's be grand fun. Hope to have (and be able to post) new reviews for you soon.

Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Of Hercules, Giant Robots, and Reviews

Having recently purchased the double feature of Hercules/Adventure of Hercules for the princely sum of $3 at a Big Lots I was working on a review of both movies. But, try as I might, the second movie is a brain freeze. I find myself pausing the movie, noting the time on the counter, then ejecting the disc. Why? Because it's offal! That's not a typo, it's really awful beyond words. I've not been able to bring myself to watch it all the way through. Alas haste makes waste and the early bird gets the worm, or in the case writes the review.

A wise [expletive deleted] once said that "great minds think alike" and a recent discovery of a review at Black Gate for Lou Ferrigno's Hercules (posted yesterday no less) would seem to prove that axiom. I was working on a review to post here but after reading Mr. Ryan's review mine now seems superfluous. He not only quotes from the same Starlog article- possibly found online at the same site I found it?- but makes a lot of the same or similar points I was/might have so I'm tabling my review.

That said I'd like to now direct you to the fine article Hercules vs. the Giant Robots

Kudos to the reviewer. Very well written sir.

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