Communications: Forget Specter/Meltdown for a minute.  And, if you’re a Mac, Android, or Linux user, stick around – you may get some jollies. Because this morning I’ll tell you the tale of tracking down a miserable bug in Windows 10 that I spent much of my “down time” working on over the holidays.  Try 12-hours worth, to be exact.  The “Meltdown” has been me.

Windows is a dandy operating system, don’t get me wrong.  Still, the headlong rush of OS (operating system) designers to all jump onboard with the rollout of voice recognition systems feels as though some obvious bugs elsewhere in the code are still not fixed.

The story of how I found my Win10 bug – and fixed it – should be instructive for those still trying to run grown-up computers.  It also explains by Android and other simpler, phone-based systems, are so appealing.

(Continues below)

 

Bud Description:

My problem began when I installed a new update to work with my Brother label printer.  I have a label printer (in addition to the duplexing laser) because it’s a huge time-saver.  Oh, and my writing is mostly illegible.  The more education, the worse the writing got.

The Brother label printer comes with something called P-Touch software.  I was simply going from version 5.1-something to 5.2-something.  It had been a while and it was part of my systematic clean-up work to get ready for some serious website development work.

At this point, though, before Christmas, I didn’t know I had a problem…

I installed the update and everything was fine.  Until, that is, I loaded up the maze of spreadsheets that our ChartPack in the Peoplenomics reports comes from.  This adventure started the Wednesday before Christmas weekend.

A day or two passed before I discovered the problem:  Suddenly, all the charts in Excel looked like incomprehensible little boxes of goo.  Gone were all the charts.

The simplest solution was to recover to the most recent Restore Point.  Which took a fair bit of time.

Once done, the charts came back.

Except now, the new P-Touch labeler was wonky so I decided to take it off and reinstall.  Using Revo Uninstaller (great program, marvelous for this kind of work), I got P-Touch off and put it back on.  The problem of bad charts came back.

No problem…I had the old version of P-Touch another hard drive (H:) [I have lots of drives] so off came 5.2 – again.

You know what I was thinking, right?

“No problem – I will just do a restore point restore and back in business in no time….”   Or, so I thought….

Wrong.

In my zeal to get the offending software off, I had managed to eat the part of the system where the last several restore points once lived.

Crap!  Damn…  Sweat was beginning to pour out.  What the hell would I do for charts in Peoplenomics?

Lots of options, of course, but each one was fugly:  Do the report on the computer in the recording studio.  Problem: That would require install of Expression Web on that machine.  Lots of time.

OK, what about doing it on my traveling laptop?  Problem:  The charts need to be big and since the eye operations, even though I am 20-25 and cool with driving, doing charts with hard contacts in is a beast. Squinting hurts in no time. When doing charts I tend not to blink enough anyway…more lost time was ahead.  The traveling laptop is not on Win 1709 so Updates would be a troublem.  *Elaine’s word, lol.

Either of these options had something going for it, though:  It would allow me to have a second fresh ground-up copy of Win10 on my machine, but I had been through THAT process just a couple of weeks prior with a whole reinstall of everything including all apps because of problems building a WordPress sandbox site which (when the LAMP stack was removed) ate the Win OS as an appetizer…

There was one more option:  Find out what the hell was going on with the charts.

I hit Google and read more Microsoft support comments than  I care to remember.

Then I got lucky!

I found a post going back 3-4 years that described almost exactly the same symptoms I was encountering.  I knew the .xlsx files were NOT roached because they displayed fine on two other machines.  Peoplenomics charts live on 64 GB SD card to reduce the odds of hard drive of SSD failures.  They get backed up onto the bigger drives and NASD weekly.  (Investor note:   Not the National Association of Securities Dealers.  This refers to the Network Attached Storage Device, just so’s we’re clear…)

It turned out the problem – which has been around for a couple of years – is that when certain software is installed, it “grabs control” of the printer controls in Win-10.  From what it looks like, when the P-Touch 5.2 installation using default settings ran, it toggled on “Let Windows Control Printers” option.  That was NOT a good idea…IF you don’t have a default printer set.

Huh?

Yeah…I can see how that would work:  I’ve got Win-10 (1709) and it’s working perfectly with Office 365 and rolling Excel 2016 in this case.  With my previously declared printer (Brother duplexing laser) the rendering to the printer (and screen – which is a GeForce 730 driving a 3820 x 2160 UHD 55″ monitor) there were no issues.

BUT when P-Touch 5.2-something installed,  it left my printer with no default and hence, no default device to render charts to.

When  I finally nailed the problem (and solved it for good, it seems) – by turning off “Allow Windows to Control Printers” and declaring the duplexing hi-res laser the default, everything worked flawlessly.  My charts were back!  Tears of Joy!

I’m telling you all this because there are a couple of “lessons learned” even for an old-timer who’s been chasing bugs since the VIC-20/Trash 80/CP/M days…

The first is before installing ANY new software, set a restore point. 

I think all of us are guilty of taking new software as “good to go” and on things like the new P-Touch, who would have thought?  Yet there it was.

The second is learning to use Google with as few words as possible to describe a problem because that’s faster than reinstalling your OS plus all the programs and reactivating.  I shudder at retraining the voice recognition software.

Searching was how I eventual zoomed-in on this problem with Windows – it had been in discussions for a couple of years.  Why it hasn’t been fixed previously is beyond me.  I think Cortana is in software ‘bitch-fight’ with Siri…and blocking and tackling bugs like this one get back-burnered.

All in, I am still a huge fan of desktop computing:  Since we don’t text, having no cell coverage out here, when we want to connect with friends it’s via Skype and big screens.  Leave us smack in the land of real computers.

If you’re an Android of Mac user, don’t be so smug.  Sure, we can’t get our home automation to turn on the lights with a phone call, but Microsoft, unlike Apple, doesn’t degrade phone performance due to batteries wearing out, if you have been following all that.

And if you think I’m going to trust a password on an Android to my critical support systems (trading platforms and banks come to mind) you’re nuts.  End-to-end desktop SSL is fine and we are great admirers of the Gibson Research Password Haystacks discussion over here.

Phone users tend to be sloppy with security and we choose not to be. A massive cracking array would take 1.65 hundred centuries to bust us.

Yeah, all the backups in the world is a fine thing.

But the past two weeks, I would have traded all my backups of the data for a single restore point… Thus today’s lesson.

A BUG?  I can hear it now: “What Mr. Ure encountered was not a bug at all.  It’s what s/w engineers call “and undocumented ‘feature.’”  Yeah, dat’s it….of course…

Fly-Bye

Had a dandy note from a former flight attendant who used to fly for Ed Acker’s old outfit about the last US 747 flight:

George:

Good morning. I had sent this to several of my Pan Am cronies, but I’m also sending you this because I know you’re an aviation buff.

It’s a very bittersweet event, but the last 747 flight is now a reality. My Pan Am days included the 707, 720, DC 8, 747, L1011, and a few others. The Pan Am fleet wound up in the boneyard out in the Mojave, not in AZ, but it’s still mind boggling that virtually every aircraft I operated is now destroyed, either through the crusher, or a crash (back in December 1988 I had operated a flight on the 747 that was the same 747 in the Lockerbie disaster – it was just days apart); a few of my 707s also had ignominious ends. I’m glad Delta is doing this so “Fat Albert” can have 1 last glorious time aloft.

The flight should be ‘in the books by now’ as it was scheduled for Wednesday, per the NY Post.

As a cub reporter, going to press conferences at BCAC (Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company) at age 21 on my dirt bike, once borrowed by Jordan’s King Hussein at the Boeing Renton plant where he was on hand for deliveries and he was taking pilot training on them. Hadn’t seen a Honda 350XL single before.  This was when the Renton, WA 727 line was still ‘cranking ’em out’ just down the stream from PACCAR (Kenworth).

Already, though, the Boeing 747 plant in south Everett at Paine Field had come on line.  Few thought there would be so much “industrial tourism” to the plant but people showed up in droves to see what a 98-acre building complex looked like.  In a word?  BIG.

There are still 747’s flying, but not in US carrier scheduled service.  The “new” name of the game that became clear when I was in the airline business in the early/mid 1980’s was the application of computational processes to aircraft optimization.

Nowadays, airplanes begin with rigorous city-pair analysis:  How many people and how much cargo between points A and B.  Then you look at operating costs and other restrictions.  For example, going into JFK or LaGuardia the emergent noise regulations in the area caused pilots to constantly worry about “ringing the bell” – an indication that noise abatement flight profiles weren’t being followed closely enough.

Ultimately, the airplanes than made the most sense depended on the city-pairs.  For short hops, with lots of people, lots of smaller equipment made the most sense.  For a while, one of the east coast carriers was running something called the “SkyBridge” service.  You could show up at the airport and you’d be in the air to NYC or Atlanta from MIA(mi) in less than 35-minutes.

Ah, the days before TSA, eh?

With this, an era passes under the wings – as they seem to with increasing frequency these days.  Once, though, airlines really were ready when you are and they were, indeed the friendly skies.

We were better people then.  We didn’t need a software program to be “social,” either.

Write when you get rich,

George@ure.net

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