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.

Weekend

Three colored hexagonsThis was a pleasant weekend. I got a bunch of things done and felt pretty comfortable.

I worked on some Perl scripts that allow data entry and calculations with my budget information. I could have done it with an Excel spreadsheet, but developing code was more enticing.

I also have been upgrading my laptop. I installed Windows 10 on it. The system is unacceptably sluggish but I can’t justify upgrading to a new laptop. Right now it is synchronizing my 200k+ files in dropbox. That is taking a long time. I’ll have to see how the laptop behaves once dropbox is settled.

I installed Scrivener, Cygwin and ActiveState Perl. Also Office 365 and I built the 4.07.0 OCaml system. The laptop I’m keeping slightly more “stock” by not installing utilities like Avast and possibly also not other browsers like Chrome and Firefox.

I’ve built a couple websites recently. One, http://alphaomegaonline.org has morphing colors. It’s not interactive although clicking flips between different algorithms for the color transformations. I’m designing an update that reacts to mouse clicks by “fracturing” the screen into sub-screens that morph independently.

The other site http://sesquibits.com/planets.html calculates and displays a running summary of the distance between the planets. It also shows relative velocities and acceleration. You can pick any planet as the center point. A future goal for the site is to present interactive graphs of the planetary distances.

Other pleasant escapades in the weekend were visiting friends, going to the Y and reading a couple of books. I ate way too much pizza.

Replace windows 8 disk, episode 2


So, I replaced the disk that was ruining my system and got everything back to where I started. but…

… the new disk has the exact same symptoms… lots of data errors and seek errors, no bad sectors and 5 to 10 second average access times.

Now I need to do more sleuthing to find out if I’m just unlucky and got two drives with the same problem (which sounds really unlikely) or there’s some other problem going. The troubleshooting tool from the PC’s manufacturer didn’t find any problems which is a problem in itself. It’s really fishy.

I dusted off my Linux box that I hadn’t used for 5+ years. The goal with the Linux box is to not need to tackle Windows malware at the same time.

There’s some Linux bit rot going on because the display is stuck at 640 x 480. I’m fighting with the X configuration file but am not making a lot of headway. The auto-config dumps on me.

I’m finding clues that the Linux box had vmware installed on it. I can’t get it to launch. (It might be because of the screen resolution?) The old virtual machines I have scattered on backup discs are incompatible with modern vmware.

It would be awesome if I got vmware to work because I have antique versions of Windows (98 and Millennium edition) and antique versions of Microsoft Office (2000 and XP) that would be fun to play with again. I have a matching vmware install disk, but that’s for another day.

Repair windows 8 main disk


I needed to upgrade the main disk on my Windows 8 computer. I was fortunate that the old disk allowed me to make a system image. (Monty Python: “I’m not dead.”)

I followed the instructions on a very helpful blog post “Simple steps for replacing your Windows 8.1 system disk with a bigger drive

Everything went as directed until I got to the error message “The system image restore failed.¬†Windows cannot restore a system image to a computer that has different firmware.¬†The system image was created on a computer using EFI and the computer is using BIOS.”

I did an investigation of the error message using my current research workflow. (Just started using that workflow, so I have to mention it. One of its greatest attributes is that it prevents me from jumping down rabbit holes when I’m trying to learn something specific.)

The short answer:

Recent PCs can boot in two ways. One uses the old technique from a BIOS and another uses a different method called UEFI. (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) The solution was to boot the prepared USB drive the same way that the original hard drive boot used.

I found the keypress I needed to go into the boot menu, (For my computer it was F12. Other computers might use other keys.) I picked the option to boot my USB drive with EFI instead of BIOS and now the data is being restored successfully.

….It’s easy to find a long answer to solve the problem.