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02 November 2015

American Enigma

I have the pleasure of knowing a few Americans. Some I have met in person, others I've merely corresponded with via the Web.

I have visited Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington DC. The experiences were good, the people I met were kind, generous, and friendly.

So I'm not starting an anti-USA rant here, far from it; I'm raising a particular question to which I have no answer.

I'm also aware that my own country (UK) has many peculiarities, and many traits that are undesirable, for example (to mention a few) our tendency to regard ourselves as superior beings, an unwillingness to reform our democratic processes, a belief that something should never be changed because it's "served us well" for generations, our dislike of immigrants, and our inability or unwillingness to learn any language other than English. (Indeed a good many of us cannot even master our own language!)

What makes Americans so different from us is (1) Religion and (2) Guns.

In 2014, 71% of Americans regarded themselves as Christians. (Pew Research Centre)
In the UK 2011 Census only 59% of the UK population described them as Christians, but various surveys suggest that they are not actually practising it, with between only 7 to 10% being actively involved in the Church(es).

A YouGov poll this year found that nearly 30% of Brits either called themselves Atheists, Anostics or Humanists. The religious beliefs of political leaders in Britain are not considered a big deal. The previous Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, and the previous leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg were publicly open about having no belief in God.

In the USA the contrast is stark: "In God we trust" is printed on the currency. It is usual for leading US politicians to end their speeches to public gatherings with, "God bless America". If a British Prime Minister ended a speech with "God bless Britain" it would be met either with puzzled silence or laugher (or a mixture of the two).

The pages of Facebook are littered with American postings exhorting people to put their trust in Jesus, accept the Lord, Praise the Lord, Amen, Amen, Amen, and people ask to be placed on Prayer Lists.

The USA is about 4% of the World's population but Americans own 42% of all the guns on the planet. So far this year there have been 45 school shootings in the USA. The number of gun deaths per million people is 106 in the USA and 7 in the UK. The right to bear arms is vociferously defended in the USA, and one of the most common and trite responses to criticism whenever there is another mass shooting is, "It's not the gun that kills - it's the man behind the gun".

The Enigma
And so my question that nobody has yet managed to answer for me is this : How do we reconcile the American love of guns with the American love of Jesus?

Are the gun lovers and the Jesus lovers the same people, or are they two distinct and separate groups? I'm suspecting there's a significant overlap, but I don't claim to know.

30 October 2015

American Justice

Well, it's taken only 13 years for the CIA and the FBI to decide that they have no evidence with which to charge Shaker Aamer. Now he's been returned to the UK.

I despair at the way in which the USA, the self-styled beacon of Democracy for the rest of the world can throw out every tenet of natural justice that they are supposed to espouse, when it is done in the name of National Security.

To my mind, it is not good enough for you to be thrown into prison and subjected to torture (and by the way how does that square with the American Rule of Law?) solely on the grounds that you might have committed a criminal act. There is either evidence to support that, or there isn't. If there isn't then there is no justification for depriving you of your liberty. Once you accept that particular perversion of justice, then all sorts of people can be banged up for any old trumped-up charge and left to rot in prison.

Surely, that was the way of the old Soviet Union. It is the way of all tyrannical regimes. It should not be the way of a so-called civilized democracy.

18 August 2015

Windows 10

Evaluation of Windows 10

Lionel Beck – August 2015

Available from 19th July 2015 as a free upgrade.
Delivered to my PC on 7th August 2015

No problems with installation – took approx. 2 hrs. with some cute and cuddly progress messages, e.g.,

  • We’re setting things up for you
  • This won’t take long
  • Taking care of a few things
  • Just a few more tweaks
  • It’s taking a bit longer than usual but won’t be long now

At the end of the process as I was left with a plain screen showing date & time in the bottom left, and a wireless icon bottom right. So I clicked on the screen and then I got a sign-in box. This turned out to require the password used for signing into my Microsoft Account, the one used (for example) for signing into OneDrive or online Calendar. It seems that we are now not so much signing into the PC, but to the Microsoft Services that drive it.

The Good the Bad and the Ugly

Keyboard number pad

Each time I booted up the PC I found my keyboard’s “NumLock” had been switched off. I don’t know if this is intentional or a Windows 10 gremlin at work. I hoped I’s solved the problem by going into my Logitech Wireless Keyboard settings and disabling the “NumLock” but this didn't work. Each time I boot up I have to press the "NumLock" key to activate the number pad. It turned out in the end that this wasn't too unfortunate as the first Windows screen you see is the "Lock Screen" which requires a mouse-click or any key press to take you to Login. So I now press the "NumLock" key killing two birds with one stone.


The  Mail App called Mail for Windows 10 is very poor. It is basic to the point of being threadbare. Whilst you can use Insert to embed an image into your email, you can’t simply “drag” it into the text. Most importantly for me though, you can’t create folders and sub-folders, so your Inbox will becomes a massive clutter of miscellaneous messages. It should be possible to create a collection of named sub-folders for the Inbox, but it is isn’t. There are complaints about this. If  you like downloading your emails to your PC I recommend the use of something like Windows Live Mail which is far superior to the Windows 10 offering. Alternatively, access your stuff direct on your Mail Server(s).
Accessing the Internet
The built-in web browser is called Edge. On the plus side ..

  • It is fairly quick and clean looking, and opens/loads pages in reasonable time.
  • Here’s a surprise .. you can use a “pen” or a “highlighter” to draw attention to parts of any web page, and you can insert text notes, then send a copy of the page with your annotations to someone. Here’s an example using the Website for Botterills Minibuses & Taxis ..

Fig.1 You can annotate on a Web Page in the Edge Browser.

On the minus side ..

  • Crucially it does not (as yet anyway) support any extensions or plugins. This means that if you are security-conscious and have many different passwords for different sites, you might have an on-board Password Manager (e.g. Dashlane) to sign you in automatically. Well, if you do, you can’t use it with Edge! So you might as well carry on using Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.
  • On the other hand Edge does have a built-in password manager, but then any browser that remembers passwords is a bigger security risk than a 3rd party manager sitting on your computer.
  • For the same reason you can’t use anything like AdBlock to block advertisements, so these can be annoying.
  • I couldn’t find any way of importing “favourites” or “bookmarks” from any browser other than Internet Explorer.

The Start Button (or Windows Button - between Ctrl & Alt)

Fig.2 Start Menu

Clicking the Windows logo icon far-left of Task Bar, or pressing the Windows Key (on some keyboards it’s marked as Start, and others show the Windows logo) produces something like Fig.2 above. I say “something like” because you can tailor its content and layout, and this one happens to be mine at the time of writing. (NB the right-hand side of the screen has been cropped for the purposes of this example). Pressing the Start Button again closes the menu screen, leaving with you with the familiar Windows screen (on which, incidentally, you may still choose to include your familiar shortcuts to individual files). The left-hand column above Start displays lists some most used APPS and some quick access to functions like File Explorer, Settings, Power button, etc. At the bottom of this list you’ll see All Apps. (Let’s now get used to the fact that “Programs” or “Applications” are now called “Apps”!

Clicking All Apps produces a full alphabetical list of everything on your computer. You can scroll through them, or if you click on any single LETTER you get the entire alphabet in a small grid and you can then click on – for example – N if you want the list of apps beginning with N.

Fig. 3  the left-hand column in “All Apps” mode..

You can drag an app from the list into the main area and it becomes a TILE.

There is no “Control Panel” any more. Most of the controls you want will be found in Settings (that’s the usual cog wheel icon seen near bottom left of Fig. 1) If you want to uninstall a program, simply find it in the alphabetical list shown in Fig. 2 above, right-click on it, and one of the options will be Uninstall.

Those (mainly blue) TILES

Some of the TILES are pre-set with the installation, but you can remove them, change their size, change their position, put them into different categories, and you can create new categories. To place a new TILE on the menu, find the app you want a TILE for in the Apps list, then drag it into the main menu area. In the above image you can see I have added a category called OFFICE, in which I placed TILES for Access, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Open Office. Size, option to uninstall, turn of “live” functions, unpin from Start, can all be found by right-clicking a TILE.

Some TILES are “live”, for example you can see the Weather App showing the week’s forecast for my location.  Beneath that there’s a Photo App running a random slide show from my pictures.  The red App TILE (sometimes a photograph, sometimes text) is a live News Feed. Clicking on this takes you to an up-to-date News Page.

The Calendar TILE: If you have made an online calendar entry for the current day, e.g., Doctor’s Appointment, Vacation, Joe Bloggs’ Birthday, this information will show in this TILE. The blank TILE above it takes you to World Time Zones. I replaced this on 11 Aug with a free App downloaded from Microsoft Store that displays the current time as a simple clock.

The Windows 10 menu system is designed to operate, if required, in touch-screen mode – suitable for Windows Phones, Laptops and Tablets.

For normal Desktop PC operation with a mouse, all TILES are activated by a SINGLE left-click.

The Start Menu Search Box initially refused to function, but behaved satisfactorily later. Forum posts have indicated that after first installation of Windows 10 it takes a bit of time for the indexing system to settle down. But nearly a week later it had another melt-down which I resolved by re-starting the PC.

You can type anything into the Start Menu Search Box – a single word, a file name, phrase, question, and possible answers are displayed (as links) as you type. You have the option of searching on “Your Stuff” on the computer or alternatively on the Web. The file for the document you are reading is called “Notes on using Windows 10”.  All I need to do to open it is type into the Search Box .. Notes on .. by which time the file’s been identified and shows as a link above the Search Box. Clicking on it opens the document. Search results for the Web by default are displayed by the BING search engine. No surprise there .. it’s Microsoft’s own!

Bing is not bad in my opinion. It’s just that Google got in there so far ahead of the game that the phrase “To Google” is common parlance, and it’s encouraged a kind of psychological dependency, accompanied by a nagging suspicion that Bing (or anything else) cannot surely be as good. I typed “taxis thornton dale” into both Bing and Google ..
 Fig.4 – Bing Search Results

Fig.5- Google Search Results

Different formats, but similar results.

Incidentally, I was able to print Figs. 4 and; 5 here by using another feature of the Edge browser. In addition to annotating with pen and text notes, you can also take a clipping from the page. It’s copied to your system’s “Clipboard” and is then available for pasting into your document.

Typing “Lionel Beck” into Bing and Google produced the following ..

 Figs.6 and 7 – Bing & Google

In the first page Bing found fewer relevant entries than Google, and Google found more images. The one significant difference was that on Bing’s first page, Facebook was listed, whereas on the Google first page we find both Facebook and Twitter links.

Again, Figs. 6 and 7 show the editing feature of the Edge browser. Ticks, crosses, and circling with red pen, then clipping, copying andpasting from the page.

Having said all that, if you don’t like the fact that the Start Menu Search Box uses BING by default for web searches you can, of course, just open a Web Browser and go to GOOGLE!


Windows 10 comes with Microsoft’s OneDrive.

If you move your important file folders into OneDrive and/or save your files into the OneDrive folders, then they are synchronised with storage in the “Cloud”.

Going to you’ll find copies of all your files. They can be viewed, shared, or downloaded back to your computer in the event of loss.

So what about, say, SugarSync? (to name but one other cloud storage system). Good question. Do we need it?

SugarSync is a subscription service, but it gets more favourable technical reviews than OneDrive. On the other hand OneDrive provides 15GB of FREE storage. File formats are restricted to those normally founds in MS Office apps, though if you work entirely in Apache OpenOffice independently of the usual Microsoft stuff, you can specify that OneDrive accepts those formats.

Currently I have decided to adopt the security of Belt, Braces, & Nail through the Belly Button:

I have my important files in OneDrive, and my OneDrive files are also synchronised to SugarSync!!

What could possibly go wrong?! J

If anything does, I’ll report it, but I created a test Word document and saved it. Then, within a minute, I went to and my file was there. I went to and my file was there too. Sweet!


I tried the Maps App and found it to be quick, efficient, and useful. I typed my Post Code into the Maps Search Box and it produced a clear street map and my location.

As you’d expect you can zoom in or pull out of this (until you’re looking at the whole Country if necessary). You can also select Show Traffic.

You can select a “Google Earth” type view (which Bing maps call “Aerial”) ..
I then tried the Route function and typed in          From: (my Post Code)

                                                                                        To: Falkirk Wheel, Scotland
And got the entire route on a UK map. This was accompanied on the left-hand side by a detailed set of driving instructions and approximate journey time.
Selecting Traffic as a map option colour codes the principle roads according to traffic density: Green, Yellow, and Red. (Stripes indicated Road Closed).


This App puts up a screen with all the current financial news, and there are menu options for Currency Conversions, Markets, Watch List, Mortgage Calculator etc. It all seemed to work well.

Phone Companion

This allows you to sync your PC with your smartphone, and you can choose between Windows Phone, iPhone, or Android.

3-D Builder

Well, it’s all very clever, but as I don’t have several thousand pounds to spare for a 3-D Printer I’m not going to use this APP so I’ve uninstalled it.


I am still using Malwarebytes anti-Malware on my computer.

Microsoft’s free anti-virus program Security Essentials is now baked into Windows 10 as  Windows Defender”.




More features than Windows 7
Initial unfamiliarity. Many people don’t like change.
Ability to tailor the Start Menu screen, sizing and positioning of Tiles, and placing in named categories.
Start Menu Search Box a bit flaky. Resolved by a PC re-start.
Start Screen Tiles are activated by single left-click.
Mail for Windows10” is poor, but you don’t have to use it. If you had an alternative mail app on Windows 7 you’ve still got it.
Easy Uninstall for unwanted Apps by right-clicking the Tile (or the Icon in the list of Apps.)
Whilst Tiles are linked to Apps and can also be linked to Folders, they cannot be linked directly to a specific file. NB: but shortcut icons to files can still be put on the standard Windows screen  visible when the Start Menu is closed.
Seamless synchronisation with online services such as Calendar, OneDrive cloud storage, News services, Financial News, Movies and TV, Games, Weather etc.
The Windows10 Search Box by default utilises Bing search engine for Web results. NB: This is only a problem for people who insist on Google but there is nothing to stop you opening a Browser and going to Google anyway.
Edge” Web Browser is quick and clean looking, with facilities for annotation, highlighting, drawing, and clipping. Passwords can be remembered (though this is a security risk).
Edge” Web Browser (so far) doesn’t support extensions or plugins, which prevents linking to external password managers, advert blockers, bank security monitoring apps etc. No facility for importing Bookmarks or Favourites from any previous browser other than Internet Explorer.
NB: You are not obliged to use Edge.
Easy-to-use Settings screen (instead of the old “Control Panel”).

OneDrive – A convenient facility for Backup to the “Cloud”.

Maps function, using Bing Maps, provides clear mapping including ability to view them with traffic information and as aerial Google Earth-type views; also Routes and navigation instructions.

On current performance at the time of writing I feel it is unlikely that I will revert to Windows 7.

© Lionel Beck - 13th August 2015


14th August 2015
Support for Windows 7, i.e., extended support and security fixes, ends in 2020

Getting Help with Windows 10

I’ve found that trying to get help via the Microsoft Help Desk is a hopeless venture. Although online chat is available it is too heavily subscribed to be of practical use; you could be waiting hours. You can schedule a call back, but again it could be many hours.

The good news is that another option is to post your query to the Microsoft Community forum. I’ve mentioned a couple of problems, and found that within a couple of days, someone comes back with an answer (often from a Microsoft Engineer).

15th August 2015

My NumLock key still needs re-setting each time I perform a cold boot, but I'm still pressing that key as my way of getting from the Lock Screen to the Login Screen.

The Start Menu crashed today. I could use the standard Windows screen and shortcuts on it, but pressing the Windows Button or clicking on the Start Button produced no reaction. I restarted the PC and all was well again.

12 May 2015

UK General Election 2015 - A View from the Asylum

Well, that was a jolly little election wasn’t it? The polls got it wrong. Or was it the Poles? (Blasted foreigners coming over here and taking away our sense of reality).

But then I thought the anti-immigration sentiment encouraged by UKIP had had some effect when I was told something about Exit Poles, only to discover I’d got the spelling wrong, and an Exit Poll was a system of finding out how people had actually voted (as opposed to how they said they would vote.

The Exit Polls told us that all the other polls had been wrong, and that far from being faced with a “Hung Parliament” (some say hanging is too good for them) there would probably be a Conservative government with a workable majority.

The trouble was that we had all learned to believe the earlier polls, and now we had the Exit Poll none of us believed it. Indeed one-time leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown said if the Exit Poll was right he’d eat his hat. So far as I know this has not yet actually happened. A dollop of custard might help it go down, and it would be appropriately in line with the Party colour.

Similarly, ex-Labour Press Secretary Alistair Campbell said he’d eat his kilt. Again, yet another broken promise.

What do I think of Clegg?
So, in the end we did finish up with a Conservative Government, and now David Cameron (left) has got to learn how to govern without the moderating influence of the Liberal Democrats.

I’m sure we are all going to enjoy the ride, and I recommend we all hang on tightly and try not to scream too loudly. It’s going to be a scary ride for Cameron himself as he now heads a government with hugely reduced majority compared to the one enjoyed by the previous Coalition.
Many of the swivel-eyed loons on the Conservative back benches that John Major used to refer to as “the Bastards” are still there ready to kick up a rumpus over membership of the EU.

Once again we have gone through an electoral process that is increasingly falling to bits, as more and more Parties build up a following. “First-past-the-Post” cannot in any way be deemed as democratic in a multi-party environment. I’ve never been a great fan of either UKIP or the SNP, but they’ve thrown into sharp focus the ludicrous nature of our system.

One and a half million people voted for the SNP and got 56 seats. Nearly four million people voted UKIP and got 1 seat (they had two before, so that’s a 50% reduction). Who is going to tell me that this makes any kind of sense?

Under a proportional system the Conservatives would still have won (with about 250 seats), Labour would have come second (with about 200 seats), UKIP would have come third (with about 70 seats) and the Liberal Democrats would have come fourth (with about 50 seats). SNP and Green Party would also have been represented but with fewer than 50 seats.

What do I think of Cameron?
As the results from our ridiculous system came rolling in, it soon became obvious that the Exit Poll was actually spot on, and as the day after the night before began to shine its Tory-blue light into our bleary eyes, our ears picked up a strange sound, rather like dead flies falling on to a parquet floor. In fact, that’s what it was .. the sound of Party Leaders falling like dead flies: first of all Nick Clegg (right)
- who managed to retain his seat - resigned his leadership of the Liberal Democrats. 

Labour Leader & some guy in a suit
Then Ed Miliband (left) resigned as Leader of the Labour Party (having failed to convince the British people that what they needed was more distinct Socialism, more class envy, and acceptance that if they were not fat-cat bankers then they were some kind of victim).

And then – keeping his promise that if he failed to win the South Thanet Seat he would resign – UKIP Leader Nigel Farage (below) did in fact resign. It was the end of the war and the Farage Balloon had been deflated. He was now free to spend more time with his beer and fags.
UKIP - United Koff-sticks & Independent-Breweries Party

And on the third day he rose again!

After pressure from Party members Nigel Farage decided to un-resign. (Is that a word? My spell-checker’s accepted it anyway). Susan Evans, his appointed deputy, had enjoyed the shortest period of office in the history of the world. A pity – I quite like her.

And what are we to say about Scotland? Having lost the referendum on Independence, the SNP managed to destroy the Labour Party in Scotland and won all but a couple of seats. Their
Let's hear it for me!
leader Nicola Sturgeon (left) - a bit of cold fish in my view - was hailed as some kind of heroine, and you could sometimes see the flicker of a smile hovering around those thin lips. Now, thanks to the vagaries of our electoral system, she has 56 seats in the Westminster Parliament on only 9% of the UK vote.

The SNP is a National Party with a set of policies closely resembling Socialism. “National Socialist” .. now why does that ring a bell? A National Socialist Party with a charismatic leader. Oops! Now watch them make merry with Prime Minister Cameron. It won’t be long before the Scots are so fed up with the UK Government that the “Smiling Assassin” will be able to whip up enough enthusiasm for a second attempt at Independence.

Don’t even think about boycotting Haggis .. it was invented in England! It was in an English recipe book by 1615. It’s not found in Scottish documents until 1747. Crikey, that’s just over an hour and a half between them!

I must draw this academic analysis of the General Election to a close, happy in the knowledge that we have some excitement to look forward to in the shape of leadership elections for Labour and the Liberal Democrats. I was looking forward to a UKIP leadership election too but Mr Farage has denied me that pleasure by only pretending to resign in the first place.

©Lionel Beck
The Last Liberal Democrat in Town.
May 2015