Friday, December 19, 2008

It's usually quite interesting reading the Microsoft User Experience guidelines

...because they seem to like pointing out things that are actually wrong in Windows! Here is one I saw the other day:

In this incorrect example, the use of glass is distracting. A plain window background would be a better choice.
(It made me laugh, anyway... :P)

This is what happens when you stick to hibernate instead of shut down...

...and keep Visual Studio and Firefox permanently open:

First entry is biggest WTF. It is a part of Visual Studio. What it is doing with 785MB committed memory (~45MB private working set (!) ) is a mystery (well, the problem is probably that it is doing nothing with it..). That is Visual Studio 2008 SP1 also. Maybe if Microsoft included this column by default in Task Manager some application developers may pay more attention to it.. (!)

I had a lot of tabs open in Firefox, but nevertheless it does seem to feed on GDI objects. System-wide there was about 8.7K GDI objects in use... which is the kind of point where I seem to face rendering glitches. Such as black screens in place of UAC prompts. It gets pretty annoying. (Not entirely sure if this is related to GDI resource usage actually.. possibly not.)

The other process using over 1K GDI resources in sidebar.exe. Must be a leak since it doesn't do anything particularly different after some weeks than shortly after boot-up (where it is using about 94). I will axe the only 3rd party gadget loaded and see if that makes any difference..

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Yes, it will always be "explorer.exe".

One of the most annoying issues I have with applications when running under Vista 64-bit, is when applications (or rather their developers) decide that it will be a good idea to call explorer.exe directly for their implementation of "Open file location"/"Open containing folder". Apparently Shell APIs do not exist, or maybe they are scared of GetProcAddress et all if they actually care about Windows 2000 support.

Not only does calling explorer.exe directly work like ass, but generally when 32-bit applications decide to do it, it launches an instance of the 32-bit explorer.exe rather than the 64-bit version (I wasn't referring to this in the linked post though). For me I have this issue with Firefox and uTorrent. As a result, all of your 64-bit shell extensions will be unavailable. For me that includes 7-Zip and my anti-virus - the things I usually want to use on files downloaded with those two applications. Thankfully this was at least fixed in foobar2000. [Update: Seems to also be fixed in Firefox 3.1]

Accumulated installer issues
On a vaguely similar note, I seem to remember (some years ago) some retarded setup applications doing something like extracting a file called setup.exe into the temp folder, but then running an entirely different setup.exe from the (downloads) folder where the original executable was. Or something like that anyway.

The other similar installer issue is when (self-extracting) installers - such as most of nVidia's - decide the drive you wish to extract them to is the C: drive - even when it does not exist or is not the system drive. Who knows, maybe they fixed it by now.. I wouldn't bet on it though.

Installers launching the installed application with admin privileges when the installer is running under UAC elevation also seems to be something people have got wrong repeatedly in the past. Let's hope not so much in the future.

Another OS bug
It doesn't warrant a new post but I finally tracked down another issue I was having with Windows (Vista). I had downloaded an executable file, moved it into a sub-folder of Program Files, and created shortcuts everywhere for it. Now, whenever I ran those shortcuts, or even the executable directly it would always warn me about the file coming from another computer. Even when I unticked the box about always prompting for that file. Eventually it annoyed me enough to investigate. I opened the properties for the file, and tried clicking the 'Unblock' button. But it didn't stop the messages, and the button came back next time you opened that page! At this point I could work out what the problem was (two-fold):
1. Vista needed elevation to unblock the file (as it was in the Program Files folder) but failed to prompt for it.
2. It silently failed when it couldn't unblock the file (and temporarily acted like it succeeded).

There is probably a few ways to work around this - I don't remember which one I used, possibly moving the file out of Program Files, unblocking it, and moving it back. But there sure is a couple of sloppy things on Microsoft's side here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nokia N85 WiFi - "No gateway reply" with Thomson routers (also E71, N79, 5800, ...)

If you have one of the recent Nokia phones (N85, E71, N79, 5800, ...) and a recent Thomson / SpeedTouch / BT Home Hub router you may face the "No gateway reply" problem when using the WLAN. By trial and error, I found that this can be resolved by disabling WMM on the router via CLI. So it seems all of the phone's traffic is being QOSd away. Whose side the problem is on I don't know; they are both WiFi certified for WMM of course. An N95 (which doesn't have WMM support) is unaffected either way. Just thought I'd save someone who may come across this via Google the hours of pain I went through..

Someone actually did find this apparently judging by the comments. To access the CLI you normally use Telnet. Open a command prompt and type "Telnet" (if you changed the default IP... you probably don't need these instructions.) (Note: On Windows Vista you have to install Telnet client first, under Programs and Features in Control Panel). Enter your username and password. (For unbranded routers the default username is Administrator, case sensitive, with a blank password. Things may be different if your router is ISP branded.) Finally run these commands:
:wireless qos config mode=disabled

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Verdict on replacement Seagate ST31500341AS

It will also be going back, for a refund this time. This one hasn't completely died like the other one, but it makes a click every time it powers up (the same type as the other one did repeatedly when it died), and the reallocated sector count is increasing slowly (on ten so far.. ten too many for a 2 week old drive). I didn't bother installing an OS on it this time.

I don't know if the packing/shipping of the retailer has anything it do with it. It came in a very tight air pack thing (the type where you would put the object inside it and inflate it) and that itself was loose in a large box.

I also found out there are two versions of this drive, ST31500341AS and ST31500343AS. More often than not it seems the former has SD1x firmware version whilst the latter has SD3x firmware. Not much info around on the latter model.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

How many bugs do window scrollbars (APIs) have with visual themes enabled?

A never ending amount, evidently. Amusingly they go away if you disable visual themes for the application.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Retrieving data from the dead hard drive

The process I followed is relatively funny really:
1. Unplug hard drive SATA power lead & boot into Windows. Wait until it has finished loading.
2. Connect SATA power lead, copy as many files possible (using Robocopy) before hard drive starts persistently clicking loudly and stops responding (in practice was about 2.3GB worth of files).
3. Remove SATA power lead, wait a little bit until the drive spins down. Then go back to step 2.

That was fun, I can assure you. Handily Robocopy does not recopy files that is already copied sucessfully when you re-run it with the same command, so it was actually very useful.

I also tried formatting the larger partition after I had recovered the files, which of course forces all handles to the partition to be closed. It did about 70GB before it started clicking, which tells me the background things Vista was doing were not helping when I was copying files off the drive. BUT if you have a look around on the internet this drive appears to have issues when running under most other operating systems for some reason (the firmware issues, apparently). Booting a command prompt through the Vista DVD would probably normally be a good option - but I wouldn't have been able to address the >1.1TB part of the drive without loading the new SATA controller driver. It could most likely be done but I just wanted to get my data back ASAP, and I didn't think of this at the time. If my replacement drive goes the same fate I may be trying this method, however.

The most ridiculous thing about this was that I managed to check the S.M.A.R.T. values for the drive whilst I was copying my data from it. And NONE of the values were below their thresholds! It had been through so much clicking at the point, I was expecting something bad, but nope.

Computer woes continued

It seems my suspicions of the nVidia SATA controller driver being bugged were in fact correct. So if you are using the Seagate ST31500341AS or another affected drive (one with enough sectors) on an nVidia chipset, make sure you have the latest SATA controller driver. (It may have been designed like that rather than being a bug, but then it is poor design instead anyway).

As it turns out, it seems my hard drive has let me down afterall. Since today, shortly after logging in to Windows the drive stops responding (well, any app attempting to access the drive does) and emits a continous ticking sound. Nasty. The drive is only two weeks old :/ And, it passes the drive short self test in SeaTools (!) All seems very odd. There are a few similar reports in the reviews on NewEgg, and I've read a few reports that said Seagate themselves have said the SD17 firmware has issues. But the drive was working great up until now so I don't know, I've reluctantly gone for a replacement, so we will see what happens. Some more googling reveals there is in fact a new SD37 firmware. For now, I need to try and get my data off the thing :/

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

General computer woes

This is what happens when I decide to upgrade some parts of my computer:

1. Seagate 7200.11 1.5TB hard drive

It turns out the nForce 590 (AMD) SATA driver on Windows Update (version 5.10.2600.998; it was a new install of Windows Vista, the previous version included with Vista SP1 also didn't work) has some issues with this drive and/or 1.5TB drives in general. Windows Experience Index benchmarking fails ("Cannot complete assessment"); running the command-line WinSAT tool in verbose mode reveals some scary errors in the hard drive benchmark (when it reaches close to the end of the disk).

I was doubtful something was actually wrong with the drive, and things seemed OK with SeaTools etc. I ran a long drive test in SeaTools DOS overnight just in case. To my annoyance, when I returned in the morning SeaTools had decided to quit to the screen where it tells you how to read the log. Checking the log only showed a start time of the test, and nothing else, so no idea what happened there.

Moving on, the next thing I decided to try was booting the previous install of Vista and running the WinSAT tool against the 1.5TB drive. Strange, no errors. So I wondered what could be different and the only thing that sprung to mind was possibly the SATA controller driver. So I checked and indeed, the new install was running a fairly older 5.10.2600.998 version compared to the version on the old install which I had got from the latest nForce driver pack.

So I proceeded to install the latest nForce pack on my new install.. and for some reason it didn't want to install the SATA drivers. So I did them manually through device manager. Finally, that cleared up the WEI/WinSAT problem. No idea if there was any other problems evident as Windows was installed to a 300GB partition.

2. Update motherboard BIOS (M2N32-SLI Deluxe) to prepare for new CPU.

My current BIOS didn't support the CPU I had ordered so I had to update the BIOS in preparation. Given the past woes experienced in updating the BIOS on this board, I had put this off until now.

Rightfully so, it seems. Updated BIOS to version 2101... no boot, just graphics card fan whirring at full speed (?). Reset CMOS and it boots again. A bit of investigation and hassle and it appears enabling SLI memory support causes this (which was fine in the previous version). It may be related to the 2.2V voltage set in the EPP profile of my RAM, but anyway it was working fine before. Several people have reported the same on the Asus forums. Anyway I manually set the timings at 2.0V and that was stable.

3. Actually install new CPU.

Well, physically installing the CPU was easy. But it was running hotter than I expected for a 65W CPU. A bit of investigation and it seemed that the CPU core voltage (as reported by the motherboard) was a bit high at 1.39V. The CPU was rated at 1.30/1.35V (side question: what is the slash meant to mean here? The CPU is AMD ADO5600DOBOX). So I tried manually setting it at 1.35V, but it was still reported at 1.39V. So I then tried seting it at 1.30V and it was now reported at 1.34V. It shaved about 5 degrees C off the reported temperature so a result it seems.

Conclusion: I knew it already, but this motherboard sucks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why does the Control Panel mock me?

I just opened up the Control Panel on my Vista x64 machine and just felt very annoyed. Why? Because it looked like this:
What's wrong here?
  1. Half of the applets did not load correctly... I have complained about this before but it doesn't hurt to complain again. A refresh sorts this out. It may be some kind of time-out loading applets.
  2. For some reason Vista has arbitrarily decided to change the current view to large icons. It likes arbitrarily changing the views of folders you see. This is incredibly annoying.
I saw this the other day. I didn't read all of it, but just by looking at some of the pictures it looks like much of the stuff I've noticed. Let's hope things are better if not in SP2, then Windows 7....

PS: Another annoyance is when you try to execute a large downloaded file (or something like that, there may be other factors involved). Nothing happens for several minutes whilst it verifies a digital signature or whatever. You'd think they'd know better and show some kind of progress dialog. Even worse, it can leave you wondering if the double click registered so you may double click again. Now try doing that over a network..

Friday, August 08, 2008

Unspecified brilliance

Windows Explorer surprised me today with a lovely new message whilst I was browsing a folder on my network:


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Strange messages in Windows: Part N

I do like making a note of strange dialogs for some reason. Here is one I got trying to copy a file in Windows Explorer:So what does Internet Explorer have to do with copying a file? The source and the destination were both on my local computer. Actually, the source file was inside a Zip archive I downloaded, not using Internet Explorer though.

Oh, and that icon looks a bit dated too.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Useless error messages

Don't you love them? :)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Visual C++ 2008 Incremental Link Bug

Finally, Microsoft released a hotfix for it. You can download it from the above link.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More Amazon have a little thing on their website where you can submit corrections in their product listings. It seems a bit cheeky really, but even worse look what happens if you do actually bother to submit a correction:

Greetings from,

Thank you for using the Catalogue Update Form.

For ASIN: B000YO1MJU, Title: LiteOn 20x Int. DVDRW IDE Retail Kit, we have received your updates to the attributes listed below. Beneath each attribute we include the action we have taken.

Attribute: Brand Name

Current value: LiteOne

Your suggestion: LiteOn

Action: None. We could not verify the requested update.

Data accuracy is highly important to us. We appreciate the time you have taken to submit your updates to us.

Best regards,

Catalogue Department

Wow, lol.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Amazon artwork grabber script

If you're like me and you like storing all your album art in a single folder I made a quick and dirty Windows Powershell script that automatically grabs artwork from Amazon for all tracks in your foobar2000 Media Library (using foo_comserver2). It works pretty well for me, I only got one wrong artwork that was due to tagging issues, but this will probably vary depending on what is in your media library.

You'll need to modify the script a bit for your own needs. You'll need to set $AWSAccessKeyId (you either find one from e.g. some other software or failing that register at Amazon yourself).

I would have made it a proper Powershell script but I was put off by the restrictions in place by default on executing those so you'll just have to copy and paste it to the prompt and press enter a couple times if needed.

Update: Script moved here.

Friday, February 29, 2008

What's NOT fixed in Vista SP1?

Oh, they definitely fixed some problems, but they also didn't fix some (and possibly added some).

1. I think this one is new because I never noticed it before. Open an explorer window and start renaming a file. Change the extension and then left click in some empty space in the explorer window. The "Confirm file extension change" change prompt comes up, left click on Yes. Now very annoyingly a selection box appears.
2. If you open an explorer window, select a file, and then minimise and restore the window the keyboard focus is lost and set to nothing useful (you can visibly see the selected items having the inactive colour). This means you can't use the mouse wheel, left/right keyboard keys, CTRL-C etc. until you click on the item list again. I have no idea how such an obvious bug remained in RTM and even in SP1 - it completely broke my work patterns using CTRl-C and CTRL-V. For more weirdness, after doing this you can press the application/context menu key to see a context menu pop up in a random place.
3. On my desktop with Vista x64 I still see the problem where randomly (although very rarely) some icons in the Control Panel display as blank, useless icons. Reopening the window sometimes fixes it.
4. There's still some issues with the synchronisation of the "File name" field in the "File Open" dialog. In this screenshot, what will happen if you click on Open?

In this instance (the events beforehand matter), it wouldn't open Test.mp3 specified in the "File name" field but rather the Test2 folder.
5. Oh, this isn't my complete list, just the first ones that popped into my head.

Also, not technically a bug, but it's extremely annoying how the Safely Remove hardware command refuses to safely remove a portable disk drive (specifically: an iPod) when any Windows Explorer windows have a folder in the drive displayed. XP used to close those automatically (I mean, I did say I wanted to disconnect the device after all..?)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Problem Reports and Solutions

How many things are wrong in the screenshot below?
In case you're wondering, this is the rather random file linked.

Maybe this solution came from Microsoft's "COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS CONTENT" which also produces some pretty bad knowledge base articles - just how do you lunch Internet Explorer?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The government talks about the cons of having elephants as pets...