junk search engines
Wednesday, September 10 2003
I had a bad personal computer day, meaning my personal computer was acting badly and required me to dedicate a day to getting it back in working order. Such days are mercifully rare since I switched from Windows Millennium Edition to Windows 2000 in the Spring of 2001, but I've still been known to experience the odd catastrophe, usually associated with the installation of new hardware or an incompatible version of PCAnywhere.
When I use the term catastrophe, I mean a problem so severe that I'm forced to re-install Windows from scratch. I've only had that experience once or twice in the past two years.
Today's catastrophe began this morning as I tried to install software capable of operating both my Pioneer DVD burner and my Memorex CD burner. These were two new hardware installations I'd made last night, replacements for a CD burner and a DVD player which were two years old and still fully-functional.
Most consumer CD burning software is written in such a way that it only operates one particular make or model of CD burner, and so the person with two burners on one computer is forced to use two different programs to operate each one. I find such restrictions on my computational experience arbitrary and capricious, and I am willing to invest considerable effort into disabling them. In this case, the effort included downloading several different copies of [name of CD burning software that came with my new CD burner] using KaZaA Lite and then testing them to see which ones allowed me to use both my burners. Something about one of these installations was poisonous to my computer, because when I rebooted it, I got a very bad blue screen, the kind whose verbiage includes, "If this is the first time you've seen this Stop error screen, restart your computer. If this screen appears again, follow these steps: [useless advice snipped]."
In such situations, I've had remarkable success simply running a repair on my Windows 2000 installation, but I couldn't get that option to work today, so I ended up installing a fresh new copy of Windows 2000 on a different partition and leaving the old partition behind to be picked-over and perhaps resuscitated later.
Now it's important to note that the sick computer I'm talking about was Woodchuck, my main machine, the one I use for nearly all of my computational activities. It also serves as the gateway and proxy server for the household computer network. With it offline, there was no internet access possible in the house. I'd never seriously considered what to do in such a situation. Bad things happen, and it makes sense to be prepared for them. I knew I needed to take the time today and build an alternative method for getting on the internet. The prime candidate for an alternate internet-capable computer was Badger, the 666 MHz Pentium III in the first floor office. It's near a phone line, it's centrally-located, and it is always on.
So I spent a large part of my afternoon installing a modem in Badger and then making all the connections necessary to get a second phone line into the first floor office. The phone wire was already strung, but no one had bothered to hook up the yellow and black wire at any of the junctions between there and the boiler room.
The good thing about such work is that it breaks up into nice little segments that can be punctuated by running upstairs to the laboratory and babysitting the next stage in a Windows 2000 installation. Oh yes, I'm in the Eastern Timezone. No, I won't be making a startup disk. Do I really have to enter a Workgroup name? Okay, how about "Fuckyou" then. No, I won't be naming my computer GUS782123. Restarting in 15 seconds? How about just fucking restarting! Still registering components? Get it over with already! That sort of thing.
Actually, this sort of work was great for all kinds of multitasking. Yesterday I'd finally gotten around to putting up shelves for my flatbed scanner and the FM transmitter equipment, and today while I waited for installations to happen, I painted the cables that snake their ugly way up to a hole in the wall that leads to the dipole antenna. (I love to paint cable whose colors do not match the room or which need protection from ultraviolet sunbeams.) By the way, with my main computer out of commission, I was forced to broadcast music from my main Linux box, which has (I was delighted to discover) a perfectly functional CD player application.
While I was painting and installing software, I was able to handle a third task: talking a client through the process of regaining control of her computer after it had been commandeered by advertisementware. She'd allowed her teenage daughter to install some "music software" and now it was useless. (If I were her, I'd turn that girl over my knee and give her a good spanking - I don't care how old she is. Teenage girls, with all that peer pressure pressing down upon their computational negligence, have become zombie soldiers in the war to completely commercialize everything in the Universe.)
In talking to the client, I was able to make all sorts of useful suggestions, but her computer was running too poorly for her to do anything. Pop-ups would jump up in front of anything she was trying to look at and cover it before she could react. With thirty-forty-fifty Internet Explorer windows open (most of them advertising anti-popup software), her computer gradually slowed to a crawl. I had her unplug the internet connection to silence the shitstorm, but the the worst offenders in the Add/Remove Programs control panel refused to be removed. So I set up an appointment for tomorrow to exorcize her computer.
Difficulties using the add/remove software control panel reminded me of something I've encountered with Microsoft Office. Let's say you buy or are given a used computer and it comes with Microsoft Office already pre-installed. But suppose you don't want to run Microsoft Office anymore, perhaps because you think it sucks or because you are an upstanding citizen who only does things in strict accordance to the law, and without a proper license, you know you are committing a serious crime just by allowing the program to exist on your hard drive. But when you try to uninstall Office from the Add/Remove Programs control panel, you find it doesn't allow you to take this action unless you can provide it with the Office installation disk. But you don't have the disk, and anyway, what could possibly be on that disk that it needs in order to remove itself? A program that isn't wanted should know how to die, and die quickly. Anything other than that is rude and presumptuous.
In my computer back in order, I needed a driver for the Microtech Zio! compact flash reader. Like everything else that could be bought for a computer two years ago, the Zio! is a discontinued item. Usually that's not a problem, since reputable manufacturers continue to provide drivers long after they stop manufacturing a product. Evidently, though, Microtech is not a reputable manufacturer, because I could find no Zio! drivers anywhere on its site, or (for that matter) anywhere on the web. Happily, a search of my hard drive found an updated driver I'd downloaded a year ago. For the convenience of anyone who is as desperate as I was, I have decided to host the Zio! Windows 2000 driver myself.
Download the Zio! Compact Flash Reader driver for Windows 2000.
In the process of searching for this driver, I encountered yet another form of Internet pollution, this one being the phenomenon of the junk search engine. Junk search engines are "search engines" whose search "result pages" end up as high-relevance links in Google searches (probably because they have figured out a distributed method for gaming certain keywords in the Google system). But if, in your foolishness, you go to one of these search "result pages," you find that, though some clever backend script has taken your query and built a page of links seeming related to it, the links provided all go to pages that attempt to install spyware into Internet Explorer. (Viewed with Mozilla, all they can do is complain that your software isn't up to date.) An example of a junk search engine is SKC-networks. I'm sure they claim in their brochures to be a "leading provider of search engine technology," but I defy you to find anything useful with it.
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