An underused tool

My Mom’s computer had its printer failing to print with the problem “printer is in an error state.”

When I searched online, most of the information had four levels of suggestion: “Check that key is in the ignition,” “Replace the spark plugs,” then “Put in a new timing belt,” and sometimes “Take it to my buddy’s shop.” The vast majority of the help sites do not suggest “See what the operator manual suggests.”

“Check that the key is in the ignition” includes “Make sure that the printer is plugged in.” “Make sure that the printer is turned on.” “Make sure that there is paper in the printer.” “Make sure that the printer cable is connected.” These are all low-impact solutions. If any of these solve the problem, you don’t need to proceed to the next level. Performing them will not make things worse.

The missing level of “Check the operator’s manual” include running Windows troubleshooters and consulting printer manufacturer documentation.

“Replace the sparkplugs” include things such as make sure the printer is the default printer and clear the printer queue. Things that you can do with the menus and options available from the Windows interface. They’re not likely to cause damage, but may require more experience to follow the instructions.

“Put in a new timing” belt are things like “Uninstall drivers,” “Revert to an older version of Windows.” “Delete the files a folder,” and “Modify the registry.” They often require an extra confirmation step. Often they’re irreversible and may be pointing you toward the abyss.

“Take it to my buddy’s shop” include “Call our help line,” and “Install our software to repair it.”

The next thing one should do after “Check the key is in the ignition” is to “Check the operators manual.” With a PC, that means running the troubleshooter to diagnose and repair the problems automatically. Had I thought to suggest that first, Mom could have done it over the phone.

This is a general problem with online resources to help you solve a problem. They often want more that you would stay with their site longer, rather than of suggesting that you use existing tools to solve the problem.

Microsoft’s troubleshooters are not sexy. However they’re built in and maintained by the manufacturer. They can be more thorough by accessing the internal architecture of Windows. Many help pages that do suggest running the troubleshooter give it only a passing one or two sentence statement. Then go on to offer more extreme suggestions that seem plausible. Another non-sexy option is to go to the printer manufacturer’s site and see what their troubleshooting instructions are.

Any help site that includes “modify the registry” and install outside software shouldn’t be trusted with any of the rest of their suggestions.

For my Mom’s computer, the troubleshooter was all that her computer needed. Her computer got back on the road without needing an overhaul.

Zorro the cat and my mouse

A green thought bubble
Cats like their mice.

Zorro has taken to lurking on my computer desk. Sometimes she starts watching the mouse on the screen intently. Once in a while she even tries to bat at it with her paw.

Today I noticed some ex-bird parts on the ground next to my car. Some cat had had a nice midnight snack and left me a couple souvenirs.

Good fortune

Phone with exclamation point
My main computer locked up while making a crash log last week. The blue screen error said “page fault in non-paged area.” When I tried to reboot it, it wouldn’t even POST. The disk would appear active for a second and then the computer would stop making any progress. The splash screen never came up.

I took it into a local computer shop so that they could fix it. Because of the holiday, they didn’t get to it promptly. While I was waiting through Christmas, I decided that if it was broken, it’s old enough that it wasn’t worth fixing.

I started looking for a replacement computer to buy. I had an selection of parts on Newegg and called the computer shop to pick up the old machine. Much to my surprise, when I got it home, it booted up fine.

I thought that that was quite fortuitous that it worked. I saved about $900 + lots of work in buying a new computer or $125+ if they repaired it.

It isn’t “fixed”, but I’m hopeful that it won’t crash that way again for a while. I need to use a memory testing tool since failing memory is a likely cause of the problem.

It is a massive tangle of cables in the back of the computer. I think I’m better at putting it together again if/when I need to open it up again.

Clutter on the disks

I have a lot of clutter on my disks. I keep projects around “just in case.” One thought was “Maybe I’ll go back some day.” As I migrated from computer to computer, the files kept multiplying… one copy on the old computer and a companion on the new. As partitions got full, files moved from one to the next, making new copies to add to the clutter. The debris of unfinished projects are everywhere.

This summer I took all of my old drives that were still readable and loaded them into the main computer, allowing even more clutter to spin silently. It’s amazing how small drives were 10 – 15 years ago. I even discovered that I have files of my floppy discs from the pre-Windows computer era.

To help with the declutter project, I wrote a utility that visits all of the files on the computer and records their name, size and where they’re located. I used the logs from that tool to find all of my “NewPoetry” folders. (NewPoetry holds copies of my poetry since 2010 and I really only want the most recent edit.) Now I only have one NewPoetry!

I am searching for an old project takes my poetry and formats them as a website. I haven’t used that tool for several years. I hope that the HTML formatted files can be a companion to blog where I published many of my poems