The Windows taskbar

When you first get your computer with Windows already installed, along the bottom of the screen is the Taskbar.  Window 7 and later combine this bar with the quick launch menu (before ie XP and 95, the task bar solely showed the currently running programs which could be accessed sequentially using [ctrl][tab] – this still works in later Windows versions too).

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Windows 7 Taskbar

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Windows 8 Taskbar and part of the Start/Metro screen

 

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Windows 10 Taskbar

Windows 10 has expanded and changed the functionality of the taskbar somewhat but it is still recognisable as the taskbar, visible almost always, except when you have chosen a full screen option (F11 or a right click menu option) for, say, your internet browser or video player . It needn’t sta on the bottom of the screen nor stay that size – you can left click and hold on a blank area of the bar and drag it to any of the sides of the screen and if you hover your mouse pointer over the top edge of the bar you’ll see the cursor change to a two headed arrow and you can left click and drag that edge to make the bar as wide as you want.

If you have widened the taskbar to give you more space to show tasks (quick launch or running), I’d recommend a rethink of how many quick launch icons and/or how many programs you run at the same time. Quck Launch icon should be just you handful of regular programs you use, not everything, you still have the start menu and the desktop for lesser used tasks. Running too many programs does eventually cause problems, try to keep only tasks currently in use running, you’ll have a much smoother speedier Windows experience.

 

The taskbar has evolved throughout Windows versions and extra functionality has been added with each new release. Its main purpose remains the same however; that of quick access to, and an overview of running tasks. Next blog I will delve deeper by breaking down each element of the taskbar.

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USB, bits and bytes.

USB1, USB2, USB3, 3.1, micro-USB, even bits and bytes –  I’ll try to demystify these for you below.

The term USB or Universal Serial Bus will be familiar to most of you as used by memory sticks (flash drives, thumb drives are the same thing), commonly about the width of your thumb and slightly shorter (though as these have developed, they have go shorter to the point where I now have one that sticks out less than 5mm from the slot). The main development has been in capacities, speed  and price. 128gb* is the max currently at an affordable price of about £25 though 512gb is available for about £150 and 1tb for £600). If you see very cheap ones such as one I see now on Amazon UK 1tb at £26, they are certainly fake. I know this because I have bought an allegedly 128gb stick and failed to copy my 60gb of music onto it. How do the sellers get away with it? Because normally it will take months for many people to reach the actual limit of perhaps 1gb (if you’re lucky). I researched and found a free software utility called h2testw (you’ll find it if you google that, if not email me and I’ll send you a free copy). Essentially this runs a read/write test and compares with the alleged storage space and speed stored electronically on the device itself.

USB standards have jumped several times. USB2 was up to 4 to 5 times faster than USB1 and USB3 (initially ( to 6 times faster) is now in version 3.1 (faster still at twice that of USB3). New models of computer will support all USB versions but older models, for instance 2014 laptops will only support USB2 and below.

It is also possible to use USB to power external drives though some need more power than available on USB and so require a separate power supply unit. The usb port can be expanded to extend other usb ports and also other devices such as wireless network connectors, Bluetooth (for phones etc), wireless keyboards and mice.

 

As far as connectors go, this image from wikipaedia (left)says far more than I can  in words. there are also male/female equivalents allowing extender cables.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/USB_3.0_Micro_B_plug.PNG

Here  also a new USB3.1 plug called a micro-B superspeed plug

  • Ok a quick lesson in size and speed units. The basic unit of zero or one is a bit. Because early PC transfer was 8 “wires” wide this became a standard byte. You’ll rarely see bits referred to except in broadband speeds as Mbit/sec). OK if you’re still with me, Storage space is usually talked about in terms of Kb, Mb, Gb and Tb each 1000 times the previous one. Although Mbyte strictly means 1000² and is an international standard (IEC 1998), but it is still sometimes used to mean 1024² and its not always obvious which.
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The Turing test and support desks

Back in 2014 it was news that a chatbot had passed the Turing test. Way back in the 50’s Alan Turing (“father of modern computing” and he of ‘Enigma’ etc) proposed a test which translate today as two people chatting via text or a messaging window. If one were actually a computer (ie a chatbot) and it wasn’t possible to tell who was the real person, the computer (manifesting as chatbot) could be considered as having passed. Of course this doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly going to become our Artificially Intelligent overlord (although apparently chatbots on Twitter gain followers more quickly than humans); it just means that someone has devised a good set of rules that seem natural. In fact the case I am talking about was an entity called Eugene, modelled on a 13-year-old Russian schoolboy with English as a second language. So any observers would probably be more forgiving of little idiosyncracies. Most such chatbots are easy to get into loops; e.g.”Whats your name?” Eugene, ”How do you spell that?” How do I spell what?, “Your name?” Eugene…

So what has this got to do with support desks? I’d like to propose the opposite test – when does a support “chat” fail the Turing test. We have all had dealings with Asian help desks and their varying effectiveness. On the plus side they allow support to be provided 24/7. I recently change web hosts for my 20 some websites and email. It was, to my surprise, fairly straightforward. Despite the fact that they offered to do the job for me at $75 per web site, the actual transfer took a matter of minutes once I had jumped the hurdles of actually transferring the 6gb of data and handling the interruptions that halted the automated process (fwiw I ended up zipping up locally and using Ftp). The problem came when they used different terms to those my prior host had. For example, to use an independent domain (such as mydomain.com rather than a sub domain such as mydomain.patbell.co.uk) I needed to park a domain. Their help desk directed me to their online manual for cpanel (the open-source interface for hosts). However the icons I was directed weren’t there since the open source but means that the program can be changed but the manual had not. Anyway after they offered to do it for me and had done it backwards so none of my sites worked at all I managed to resolve the problem without their help at all. The point is that when giving me “help” at no point did they acknowledge that any previous instructions were wrong. I learnt that “We are sorry for the inconvenience” message actually meant “I have no idea, but wait a few minutes and I’ll serve you up some more crap” The first line support failed the Turing test and clearly followed a flow chart that needed drastic updating. The second line support made so many cock-ups they had to be human!

Just recently Microsoft created a chatbot called (see www.Tay.ai) aimed and teenagers and young adults.  Its “persona” was a somewhat naïve teenage girl who started out with “gee its really stoking to meet with all you humans” then “wouldn’t it be great if everyday were puppy day” but within an hour the mischievous imps of social media had turned the adaptive “AI” chatbot into a right-wing racist bigot who was saying things along the lines of “Hitler would have done a better job of 9/11” and Donald Trump for president not this monkey” Its gets worse but MS took it down within an hour.

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