The Sweet Smell of USB

From the random multi-purpose accessories department.

SAM_0064med

In a shop that sells a variety of items I saw a USB hub for 99p, now as I wanted a powered hub anyway I thought I’d get one.  On the box I noticed it had a disc on top marked with Open and Close.  Was this cable storage, batteries?

The cover was difficult to open but when it eventually gave in beneath it was a cotton pad in a holder screwed into the centre of the hub with no apparent means of removing it.

Stranger and stranger.

SAM_0062medThe box text was all in German, as were the instructions in the box.  So to find out what this strange device’s special feature was I turned to other technology.  I scanned the instruction sheet, used OCR software that came with the scanner to turn it into text for me then copied that into Google Translate.  Less than a second later I had my answer.

“USER GUIDE – USB Hub with Scented Oil Distribution”

I’ve seen USB drinks warmers, fans, reading lights, dancing flowers and Christmas trees but now I’d inadvertently found a USB hub that was also an air freshener.  Sweet.

Beware Geeks Bearing Solutions

Windows Generations

Windows Generations (Photo credit: UWW ResNet)

This morning my phone rang, it was an unknown number but I answered it because I thought it might have been the same person who had just sent me a text regarding a tech query.

The caller identified himself as working for Windows Support Services or some such company and immediately I thought, right how shall I work this one.  I’ve had this call before, as have friends of mine.  The ruse is that they call and say that your computer has suffered an error and has sent Microsoft a message which has then been sent to Windows Support to follow up and that is why they’re calling.  They ask you to go onto your web browser, type in bing.com and search for their name.  Naturally it appears in the search results but as it’s Microsoft’s search engine they use this to claim that they work for Microsoft, saying “look, you can find us on Microsoft’s website.”

You click on their site and immediately download and install a remote access client.  With this client running the caller then remotely disables your antivirus.  This is when they start asking for cash, in order to allow them to keep your PC running healthily.  I have removed this client from various PCs, it’s not difficult but if you were a novice you’d never know that it was malware.

I had decided that when I next got one of these calls I was going to play dumb and go through the whole spiel, pretending to type in the web address, pretending to look at their website, pretending to allow him to connect.  Pretending that I couldn’t understand why whatever they were trying to achieve wasn’t working.  Then I was going to say “does it matter that this is an Apple computer not a Windows one?”  Click, beeeep.

As it happened I was a little busy with my genuine tech query so in the end I let him go through the script, which has changed now and no longer talks about errors being sent to Microsoft but now says that you may have picked up viruses and spyware inadvertently but as a registered Windows user they have been asked to check your computer for problems.

“That’s strange though,” I said.  “I don’t use Windows.”

“You don’t have Windows?”

“No, I use a Mac.”  (I don’t, I have a Windows 7 laptop, Windows 7 netbook and Windows 8 desktop, FYI).

“You don’t have any Windows computers?”

“Nope.  And I want to know who gave you my details, this is very serious, I’m going to look into this.  And you should know, I’m an IT manager.”

“Who for?”

“A local company, that’s irrelevant.”

“Well, I can’t tell you who provided the details…”  blah blah blah.  “Thank you for your time, have a good day.”  Click, beeeeep.

On an online forum another person called by the original scam called them out on the “Microsoft gave us your details” part, as I had done on the previous call – he told them that Microsoft never gives out customers details to third parties, and he should know, being a manager at Microsoft UK.  Click, beeeeeep.

Quality.

A Syncing Feeling

Cloud Computing Image

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some may be forgiven for thinking that The Cloud was something Apple invented due to the high-profile launch of iCloud – it’s much touted system for sharing content seamlessly between iDevices and Macs – but it was a ‘thing’ long before it was an ‘iThing’.

The ubiquity of internet connectivity has enabled cloud computing to blossom in recent years.  Now there are the online file storage and sharing services like  Box, Microsoft’s Skydrive and others; cloud disk drives like that provided by Dropbox (and the upcoming file system integration of Windows Skydrive); and automatic content syncing systems like iCloud.

The ultimate goal of cloud computing is beyond such storage and syncing of files and moves all of your apps and data onto remote servers operating in a similar way to the thin-client terminals that those of us old enough remember fondly.  Google’s ChromeOS running on ChromeBook laptops are the first foray into this new world however they assume a mostly connected situation and online OSes and apps won’t be replacing Windows, MacOS and desktop apps anytime soon though their features and functionality are improving all the time.

The most useful aspect of the cloud for me so far has been syncing of data.  To be able to add an item to my to-do list on either my laptop, netbook, tablet or, using the webapp, my work laptop and know that it’ll be there when I fire up one of the other devices is a joy.  My app of choice for this is Wunderlist but others have similar functionality.  (I also use the similarly syncable Evernote for more in-depth notes).  The same is true of having files I use on the laptop synced via Microsoft’s servers to my netbook whilst being simultaneously backed-up in the cloud as well.

The future may not be entirely based in the cloud but in huge server farms cooled by Arctic fjords our data will be shuffled between our devices and shared with our friends, seamlessly and effortlessly.

And I won’t have any excuses for forgetting to do something on my to-do list.