Wednesday, 21 November 2018

What is my problem with Twitter, anyway?

If you follow me on Twitter, you may see me complaining that I have become invisible.

What do I mean by this? Well, if I reply to anyone on twitter, I do not appear in their notifications. If I @ anyone, I do not appear in their notifications.

If I like a tweet, *including my own replies*, they do appear in notifications.

I do appear on the timeline of people that follow me, and I do show up in threads if you read the replies. It's simply notifications - the lifeblood of twitter, where conversations start - that I do not appear.

I have never been suspended by twitter or received any sort of warning. I do not generally participate in controversial threads, and I certainly don't go around attacking random people with my unwanted opinions.

I just enjoy interacting with my twitter friends.

Having researched this issue, I understand that the term for this sort of behaviour is that I have been "shadow banned".

However, I can find no evidence that Twitter engages in this sort of shadow banning of people. Here is Twitter's policy on Shadow Banning:
I have searched the internet and cannot find anyone who describes a problem like this. 

When anyone mentions a shadow ban in regards to twitter, it tends to relate to searches. I have found this Shadow Ban Checker service which checks for the common problems, and it flags up no problems with my account:

This leads me to only two likely conclusions:
1. Contrary to their stated policy, Twitter does shadow ban and has done to me for some reason (perhaps by accident?)
2. Twitter has a problem and some accounts are simply not generating notifications

I have described this problem on my twitter, here:

I've done tests between two twitter accounts on both web and mobile accounts and you can see my evidence of the problem here:

I was first alerted to this problem on Saturday, although I believe it had started before that:

Here are some of the things I have tried to resolve it:
 - Checking and adjusting settings (e.g. turning "Quality filter" on/off)
 - Ensuring I have a valid email address and phone number linked to my twitter account
 - Changing profile information
 - Using the "log out of all devices" option on twitter and logging in again
 - Deleting and reinstalling the mobile app
 - Setting my account to private, and then to open again
 - Changing my password
 - Deactivating and reactivating my twitter account (scary!)

I think if I could see any word from twitter acknowledging that this could happen, or that it lasts for X amount of time, or any of those things then I'd be happy. But right now I've been silenced and have no information about when or if I'll get my twitter voice back again.

Frankly, if I read someone else describing this, I'd be suspicious. Whether due to them having cocked something up, or thinking they had done more than they said.

I hope with this post I have suggested both unlikely. I have investigated every avenue I can to try to determine whether this is a problem I can solve or may have caused. I hope that by the depth of this post and my investigation of issues I have also shown that I am not the sort to go shouting for no reason.

For some reason, whether it be by accident or not, I have been silenced on Twitter, and I do not know why.

The Risk of an Invisible Future

I love technology.

I'm not a specific fan of "gadgets", but I absolutely adore technology. For my fourth birthday, I wanted a typewriter. When I was five, we received our first home computer (Christmas '84). I was fascinated by it. My Dad would buy the old computer magazines and type the code in to make a game or a program. Within a year I was experimenting with simple programs myself.

I look around the world today, and I am excited by the technology around me. I laugh, too, because I am sure that it will not be too many years before people will laugh at how primitive it was.

I think about recording videos to show my (hopefully future) children what technology is like today. They'll marvel at how ridiculous and simplistic it is.

I said that I'm not a specific fan of gadgets, and sometimes it may take me a while to decide to adapt to a new technology depending on the benefits I see. Just because something is new and exciting doesn't mean it's worth pursuing.

It was a while before I could bring myself to care about Facebook, and it was a while before I could bring myself to care about Twitter. And even then, it was a few years before I really started actually using Twitter.

But now I do. And the people I follow, the people I interact with regularly, they are my "Twitter friends". I've been to a number of tweet ups. I love so many of the people I see on there. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me think, it helps me to explore my own thoughts. Twitter helps me to grow as a person.

Plus it's a great way to waste some time when you're sitting on the loo, so, everybody wins.

But I have recently found myself silenced on Twitter. Invisible to my friends. Unable to send congratulations, condolences, or commiserations.

It upsets me. To see a friend say something funny that you can't join in the joke with, or to see someone share something painful and know you can't offer any support. Twitter is at its best when you see love and joy and support, and to be apart from those things is sad.

I do not know why or how I have become silenced on Twitter. I do not believe I have done anything wrong, and I do not know whether it is intentional. All I know is that my friends there can no longer see me.

We live in an age where technology surrounds us and is fast becoming a part of every day life. I shun cash for contactless. I'm happy to order from my phone at a certain well-known chain of pubs if I believe it will be faster than ordering at the bar.

We also live in an age where spam has advanced. We still get the odd Nigerian banker in our emails, but as the Internet and technology has advanced, so too has the spam we endure. I've received messages on Instagram, on the PlayStation, and on Twitter from ladies begging me to look at their dating profile on [whatever website they're trying to sell]. And we've all (probably) heard by now of attempts to manipulate voters during the American presidential elections and Brexit by bombarding us with fake news, fake accounts, and fake people, designed to try to influence us, or to waste our time arguing with a computer.

I have thought nothing of companies such as Twitter and Facebook trying to fight this behaviour. Weed out these bots and make our lives that little bit easier. If this is the situation today, what will it be like in twenty years time? When Facebook and Twitter and Google and Microsoft all work together to try to combat spam, and bots, and fake accounts?

Computers analysing all of our content, trying to decide what is a real person and what is not. Trying to work out when to close an account down, and when to silently ignore it.

And what happens when those computers make a mistake? What happens when, instead of silencing another computed program, they silence a real person?

If Twitter detects a likely bot and tells Facebook and Google and Microsoft, what happens then? If you send emails and they silently disappear? You try to speak your friends and are discreetly silenced? You contact support departments for those companies but are automatically weeded out as spam?

I have experienced but a few days of not being able to interact with my Twitter friends as I normally would. But when I consider the same problem happening to someone in another twenty years time, when technology will be even more pervasive, when it is so much more essential to our every day routines... For the first time, I am not excited for the future of technology, I am worried for it. Not due to some AI like Terminator or the Matrix, but due to a simple cockup, quietly silencing a real person, isolating them, restricting their communication with their friends.

I hope we find a better future than that.

Friday, 10 November 2017

On Salsa Family, and Stephen Jones

I didn't know what to expect when I first started salsa.

After all, the idea first came when I googled, "Things to do in High Wycombe". As I mulled the idea over and spoke to people about it, more things seemed to mysteriously point to it being A Good Idea.

I'll tell you what though. It was absolutely one of the scariest things I'd done in my life to that point. Terrifying. I did not possess any innate dancing ability, so basically here I was making an absolute arse of myself in front of a whole load of people.

And yet... I really enjoyed it.

The particular class I started with was wonderfully friendly. You always had to make sure you learnt the name of your partner, or you were bound to get asked what it was and consequently stand staring into your partner's eyes desperately willing some braincell to fire and remind you.

Within weeks I was getting invited to peoples' birthdays. Saying hello and goodbye with a hug or a kiss. Learning to be comfortable being so close to people. Seeing these same, wonderful, mad people, week after week.  Several times a week. Before long, you're at each others' houses. You're sharing rides to salsa parties and other venues. Talking to them about life, the universe, and everything.

I found these people didn't just become friends. They became my extended family.

If you'd have told me that beforehand, I'd have nodded and smiled whilst quietly disagreeing. After all, your family is your family!

But we are, without doubt, a salsa family.

One of the most wonderful things that can happen within the salsa family is when two people meet through salsa and fall in love. You get to see, almost feel a part of, that whole relationship - of them as growing as individuals, and then growing together. Salsa weddings can be wonderful, joyous affairs; full of love, and laughter, and dancing.

All of which brings me to Steve and Bryony.

Steve and Bryony started salsa as a couple, but we got to see and share so much of their time growing together that they "feel" like a couple who found each other through salsa.

Steam Punk-themed New Year's Eve, 2012. You can plainly see how happy they are here - the only thing that came as a surprise was when they got engaged about two weeks later... They were so perfect together, I think we'd assumed they were already married!

Their wedding, in 2014.

One of the things that I loved about Steve was that you could tell he didn't always find dancing easy.

I think that gave me a lot of hope. I loved to watch Steve dance because he was a bloody good dancer, but you could tell he had to work at it. If you've ever watched Strictly, Steve is like one of the people who starts "ok" but as the weeks go on, he gets better and better and you'd find yourself really rooting for him to win, believing that he could.

I adored their wonderful wedding dance.

Can I tell you how much I adored it? IT MADE ME FUCKING LOVE A JAMES BLUNT TRACK! THAT'S how much I enjoyed it. Steve and Bryony danced a simply beautiful bachata together (Three times, as it happened).

Honestly, I now love that song, and every time I hear it it reminds me of Steve and Bryony. I noticed recently that they had the words to Bonfire Heart framed in their home, and it really made me smile.

I loved to watch both Steve and Bryony dance. Both together, and separately. They're a joy. Something else that sticks in my mind is how much I loved to watch one of them watching the other dance with someone else. I remember only recently watching Steve watch Bryony dancing. It was a face of happiness, of joy, a face that proudly seemed to exclaim, "that's me bird!" (although, perhaps not in those words).

By this point, much excitement was in the air as Steve and Bryony expected their first baby.

Tragically, Steve was taken from us in a motorcycle accident six days before their birth of their first baby.

Some people, you don't know what they're really thinking, or how they really feel. I never once felt that from Steve. He was warm and genuine and passionate and honest. In my head, I can still hear a cheeky chuckle from him, perhaps a 'reluctant' agreement to have another drink, if you're offering. Steve always made the effort to be inclusive, to talk to everyone, at the expense of no-one.

I really liked Steve.

Steve, I wish I could call you an idiot and give you a hug and this all be a huge misunderstanding. You were a bright light at salsa, at parties, in friendship, and you will be missed so very much by so many people. I am glad for the light you could bring to us for that time, and that it will live on through Bryony, through your daughter, your family, and all of your friends and those who knew you.

With love,

Colin xxx

A first draft of this post appeared as a series of Twitter posts.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Visual Studio 2015 Professional - Solving license issues

We have some Visual Studio 2015 Professional licenses as a Microsoft Partner through the Microsoft Action Pack scheme. Microsoft have made this really "fun" to work with by, instead of simply giving you a product key, requiring that the VS users are all defined as "Technical Contacts" in the Partner Center.

Then, it's simply a matter of taking the Technical Id you are given from that portal, and linking it to your MSDN account.

Then, it's simply a matter of logging into Visual Studio using that MSDN account.

... Until it stops working.

... Until one day, you simply want to get on with some work, and Visual Studio says, "This copy is not licensed." and won't let you do anything.

Trying to tell it to refresh the license resorted in this simple error, "Could not download a license please check network connection or proxy settings." Great. Thanks. No clues there, then.

I have spent hours on this. I tried installing Update 3. I tried repairing Visual Studio. I tried completely uninstalling and reinstalling Visual Studio (this one was at the suggestion of a Microsoft support rep - "Do you know how long that takes!?" I asked him; "I have no idea, I am not a technician," he replied). I tried searching Microsoft forums, Google, following random bits of advice on the internet.

Eventually, I resorted to using good old procmon.

I found that when hitting the "Check for an updated license" link, Visual Studio checks the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\VSCommon registry key.

So, I exported a backup of the key (ALWAYS DO THIS FIRST!) and then I deleted the parent key of anything I could see that included the email address bound to my Microsoft Account, and anything that looked account-related.

This included things under:

  • VSCommon\14.0\ClientServices
  • VSCommon\ConnectedUser
  • VSCommon\KeyChain\Accounts
The next time I ran Visual Studio, I had to log in again, but after that, lo and behold!

Finally! PHEW!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Why I Spent a Month Balancing an Anemic Slug on my Upper Lip

Movember. It's great, isn't it? All those people. Growing moustaches. It's become so popular too. Moustaches, are in. Movember has succeeded in popularising the moustache to the point that it's now plastered all over everything from pencil cases to cushions.

Brilliant. Success. Movember has clearly achieved its goal of changing the face of men's health.

Except... It hasn't. It's clearly done well as a brand. And they've clearly raised a lot of money for a good cause.

I participated in Movember because I wanted to encourage people to talk and be open about their issues, about their health, about their bodies.

Y'see, I lost a bollock when I was 14.

You could clearly tell something was odd, because I remember being up early that day. Remember being ready for school on-time. Remember rolling around on the sofa in agony within an hour and not making it in to school at all.

But it wasn't my Christmas baubles that were causing me trouble. I had a tremendous pain in my right side, above my waist. My lower back was also killing me.

A doctor's appointment was made.  By the time I got there, the pain had subsided. Everything... seemed to be ok. The doctor was... not helpful. "It could be your appendix, if you hadn't had that out three years ago. It could be your kidneys. It could be indigestion."

The pain got worse.  I was back to the doctor's the next day.

By the second trip, I remember having thought, "I do believe my family jewels are feeling a little unusual." (Ok, that wasn't EXACTLY what I thought, but it was along those lines)

I told the doctor that I thought one of me bollocks was swollen (Is that a technical term?). When you're 14, it's a bit odd getting your knob out and asking another man to have a look at it.  ... In fact, personally speaking, I think it's fair to say that I'd still find that more than a "bit odd" even now.

Oddness aside, the doctor looked at it.  Personally, I thought it had seemed a little swollen. Not by much, just a little. NO NOT SWOLLEN LIKE THAT, AND CERTAINLY NOT IN THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES, thank you very much.

"No," said my doctor, "it's fine. There's nothing wrong."

I believed him. Why wouldn't you? It didn't hurt or feel uncomfortable, and I couldn't say it looked alarming (Any more than usual), and... He's a doctor.

My doctor, in his infinite wisdom, diagnosed me with indigestion.  He gave me a prescription for some cruddy "settle your stomach" tosh.

Now we (my family) knew this was clearly an absolute load of bollocks (there's some irony for you), and my mum wasn't having any of this, so off I went to hospital.

They poked me and prodded me and (I think) kept me in for a night.  The pain continued to persist in my side and in my back. I didn't mention to them that one of my baby-making balloons appeared to have been a little inflated; why would I? The doctor had told me there was nothing wrong, and it had left my mind.

I was sent home from hospital. They could find nothing wrong.

By the next day, or that night; I can't remember, the pain in my side and back was so bad, I was back into hospital again - by ambulance, this time.

I was exhausted, and I had been in pain all day. By the time they'd got me a bed in a ward, I think it was something like 2am. My mum stayed with me that night - she heard one of the nurses on the phone saying "he seems fine; he fell asleep straight away; nothing wrong with him."

The next day, they finally figured out what the problem was. My testes was twisted. (Now, there's a tongue twister for you ;) )

By this point, it had been twisted so long, they couldn't simply untwist it. It had to go bye-bye.  Awhhhh, that poor li'l guy never even got to say hello to a lovely lady ;)

I don't really remember the detail of what happened after that. I remember them explaining that they didn't look for a twisted nut in boys below 15 at the time. I remember a ... What's the collective noun for a group of medical students? I'll improvise... I remember a fuck-load of medical students all coming in with the senior consultant to hear and see all about it.

Come to think of it, I do remember nurses helping me to bathe and clean it. Ohhhh yeah ;)  That makes me smile now, but when you've got a great gash and stitches in your ball sack, it's a bit more difficult to appreciate! (It did sting a bit ;) )

They told me the remaining one got tied down with a "bit of cat gut" to make sure that it can't get twisted like the first. one.  Reassuring.

You know what? I'm bloody glad that human bodies are built so damn well. All these backups. I'm glad I've still got at least one of my lovely love spuds, and that it makes no difference to my chances of making little people.  They told me I could get a plastic prosphetic, but I've never seen the point (then or now).

I try to look after the other li'l survivor. I don't mean that I buy little treats for him every now and again (a fine hat, or an ice cream, maybe), but more... Keep an eye on my health. Speak to my doctor if anything unusual happens - and WHEN it happens, not after a few months of going "I wonder if that's a problem?" - I happen to know that an early diagnosis does make a difference :-P

I trust myself and my body a lot more too. And doctors a lot less.

And Movember?  Movember's a great idea. A great way of "changing the face of men's health".  But... Don't forget what it's about. Don't forget to THINK about your health. It ain't about the 'tache it's about the todger ;) (I'll let them use that, if they ask me nicely ;) )

Movember isn't really "about" what happened to me - a "simple" case of a twisted bollock. But it IS about raising awareness. Not just your meat and two veg, but your arsehole and all the other personal problems that aren't fun or pretty to talk about.  So, just... Be aware of your body, and don't be afraid to go to your doctor, and trust your own instincts and feelings when you talk to your doctor.

Long may you live, and never may your balls be lopped off.


Monday, 11 May 2009

Microsoft Silverlight: Installation failed (successfully)

The message told me, “Unable to install Silverlight.”

I clicked for “More information”:

Silverlight - did it or didn't it

According to the error code, it “installed successfully”.  Hmmmm!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Web Translation Services

I recently received an e-mail from a delightful young lady called “Alina”.


Now, I don’t actually know anyone by the name of Alina, but she clearly knows me, because she “liked my structure on one of places for acquaintances”.  Alina tells me that she wishes to “find much unique love and the true partner in life” and shall “wait my answer with impatience”.  Alina is clearly a good catch because she is “very cheerful and at me am a good comic genre”.

If you too wish to be able to send e-mails to acquaintances in foreign climes, with at least the same eloquence and charm as Alina has sent me, then I suggest you resort to randomly firing it through a web translation service and not checking the result.

If, on the other hand, you have some foreign text that you wish to translate (as I recently did when I was given a set of documentation in German) into something vaguely intelligible, then I suggest that use several different services in tandem.  Note that I would never dream of using this approach for external documentation (Find someone that speaks the language, and speaks it well), but that for my own internal use, this approach worked well.

Most often these days, I found myself using simply Google Translate.  However, back in the old days, Yahoo! Babel Fish (once AltaVista Babel Fish) was the way to go.  I also discovered Windows Live! Translator.

Running the same German text through each, I discovered some interesting results.  On the whole, I found that text translated via Yahoo! Babel Fish made the least sense.  Being “the original”, I was actually quite disappointed about this.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the results I got from Windows Live! Translator.  This was likely due, in part, to the fact that I was translating technical documentation, and apparently Microsoft has their existing (and vast) technical library behind this technology.

Google Translate came somewhere in-between Babel Fish and Live! Translator.

Oh, and as for Alina?  I’ll pop that e-mail back into my Junk folder now, but thanks for the chuckle all the same.  For entertainment purposes, her e-mail in full:

Greetings the Friend!!!

I liked your structure on one of places for acquaintances, and I have made a decision to write to yours. Wash name Alina. In me 28 years. I wish to speak at once to you, that I search for serious communications. I wish to find the one who wished to experience a long and happy life. I very cheerful and at me am a good comic genre. I wish to find much unique love and the true partner in life. I wait that you will answer me,

I ask you to write only to this direction – some@email.address

I am applied my photo and with pleasure I shall answer you if you will write to me. I shall wait your answer with impatience and I wait that you to not neglect my letter. It is thankful in advance, Alina.