Desktop Major Freeze

I have intentionally waited a few weeks to see if the issue would repeat itself, but so far it has not. The issue? A major freeze of the desktop (using Windows 10).

I do not know for sure what happened, but it took a failed shutdown & startup followed by hard shutdown to fix the problem. I am suspecting the motherboard may be failing. It is well over 10 years old now and I’ve been somewhat surprised that it has lasted this long.

Another issue that may or may not be related is the suspicious failing of WD Backup to actually back up changed files. The notifications, both in Windows 10 and in the app itself, show that a backup was started then finished, but when I check the files, they are not really backed up with the latest changes.

I use two different WD backup drives and this problem started with one (My Book) but not the other (Passport). I finally just deleted the failing backup profile and started over and for the My Book drive it appears to be working again now. However, shortly after that failure, the Passport backup stopped working and for quite a while it also was not fixed until I started over.

At that point, I suspected the issue to be the WD Backup software needing an update. That suspicion came from the fact that my original issue first appeared after a major Windows 10 update. Another reason I suspected the WD software is I have had some issues with the same software on my laptop (Passport Ultra), but in that case, it just occasionally reported that not all files could be backed up. When I checked which files they are, they turned out to be obscure files, sometimes just one file, and a backup or two later the complete backup worked fine again.

Even so, I finally woke up and went online to the WD support site and discovered they are no longer supporting WD Backup and they recommend Acronic True Image instead. I decided to give it a try, so downloaded and installed it on my laptop (taking a chance that it would work with Windows 11 even though the info online about it does not say it does). It didn’t take me too long to decide that it has some problems – maybe Windows 11 related? – and uninstalled it a day later. I did not like it anyway, especially because the file save format is proprietary and one cannot see the files in File Explorer.

So, I’m back to using WD Backup and will just have to deal with its idiosyncrasies.

Early Days – Uses of Computer

As mentioned in a recent post, much of my earliest computer use was some form of gaming, mostly freeware but some purchased.

For personal letter writing and other kinds of business uses, Apple Works was the go-to program. One particular use of Apple Works in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s consumed a significant amount of my free time. I organized a fantasy baseball league and served as its first statistician. I kept all the league stats in spreadsheets and manipulated and printed weekly reports for each owner using the database function. As I think back, I almost have to laugh at how relatively primitive it was having to manually enter the stats of every American League player (taken from sports section of the Tuesday edition of USA Today) into a spreadsheet. A colleague, who was statistician for a companion National League based fantasy league, used dBase and was able to download the data and avoid the manual labor I went through, but my operation was not that sophisticated. And, as I remember it, the data available for download was not in a compatible format for my use.

Very early, one of the primary reasons I bought a computer in the first place was I wanted to learn how to write programs, possibly for use in my teaching at the university. In an earlier post about my game programming/coding I detailed some of the fun I had with that.

A little later (mid-1990’s), I also dabbled with learning and using HTML. The college where I worked was an early adopter of technology and was one of the earliest to have a college website. In addition, it provided disk storage space (the early cloud concept) online for employees to create their own personal web sites. That is what triggered my learning of HTML. Knowledge of HTML was quite useful as I had professional pages on the college web site to help promote the school and especially for recruitment of new faculty.

Also, in the 1990’s, I got involved in some early ‘social networking’ via newsgroups. That was then a primary way to connect with others online who had similar interests.

With the creation of the World Wide Web and its subsequent rapid expansion, many more things were possible and available online. For example, I had some fun with a financial site that provided a stock market game as a way to learn about investing. I recall playing that game for a several years and probably should have made real investments, but alas did not. How quickly Amazon appreciated even back in the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s should have been a signal to buy!

Reminiscing about all these past uses has been somewhat fascinating. I certainly have evolved in my computer usage.

Early Days – Software

As anyone who used personal computers in the early 1980’s knows, back then all software was loaded by floppy disk drive (the original 5 ¼ inch) into the internal memory (RAM or Random Access Memory) of the computer each time you used the software. And, of course, RAM was limited. In the case of my Apple II+ it was 48K!

At that time I used an Apple at my office as a new academic administrator mostly using a word processor (Apple Writer at first, then what I thought was much better, Word Juggler) but also worked briefly with the early spreadsheet software, VisiCalc.

At home, I used the word processor and spreadsheets, but early on, mostly played games.

I don’t recall when Apple Works first came out, but that more or less revolutionized my use of productivity software as that single program included word processor, spreadsheet, and database components. For many years, that was my standard. As I recall, I also had a hard drive by the mid-1980’s.

In the early 1990’s with the invention of the World Wide Web, many new products became available to take advantage of it. The earliest browser, Mosaic, was primitive but far better than the other options for searching online. In the years that followed I tried many different software offerings. Development was so fast that upgrades and new ideas meant constantly experimenting with the possibilities.

Sometime in the 1990’s a kind of all-in-one product was introduced call the Internet Suite. Several developers took the concept of including browser, newsgroup reader, HTML editor, and email system all in one package. I used Netscape Navigator that became Netscape Communicator, SeaMonkey, MSN Explorer, and a few others as I explored what I liked.

Eventually, by the late 1990’s, I was using Pegasus mail as the supported email software at work so used it almost exclusively at home as well. I found Hot Dog by Sausage Software the best HTML editor at that time and used it for a while when I had my own Web page.

In the office productivity universe back then, Novell was the one we used at my college, probably because our whole fiber optic network on campus was run by the Novell system. We used WordPerfect and Quattro Pro and used the Corel Presentations for public presentations. By about 2000, we were beginning to also support Microsoft Office, so one of the tech support people did presentations to teach us how to use it to its full potential.

On a business trip to the Seattle area in 1995, a group of us academic administrators went on a tour of the Microsoft facilities and were each given CDs with the newly released Windows 95 and Microsoft Office. So, I installed Windows 95 and started using Office some at home.

My next job in 2001 moved me into the Microsoft world almost exclusively, even though I really preferred the Novell products. That college was migrating to Microsoft servers for their network and decided their software was a better fit for it.

I have used Microsoft Office ever since, although about a year ago (now retired and no conflict with work expectations) we moved our email use to Thunderbird (Outlook 2016 was acting up) and browser to Firefox (better security) exclusively. I’ve stuck with Word, Excel, and Access, although I tried OpenOffice, now LibreOffice, and did not like them much. I use GoogleDocs some, but only for certain things when I want to share editing.

Windows 10 App Issues

It was when the Minecraft launcher failed to install that I discovered six other apps, including To Do, were also stuck. They apparently were part of an automatic update that went on in the background unknown to me. Since I use To Do all the time for lists as well as reminders of items to do, I wanted to get that figured out as soon as possible.

At first it appeared the problem might be in the Microsoft Store app, since that is where the apps showed as stuck. So, I tried closing and reopening it; I tried logging in with different Microsoft accounts, all to no avail. Online help suggested some options for fixing the store, so I tried them. Even resetting it did not work. Finally, I tried uninstalling To Do in hopes a fresh install would fix it at least. Unfortunately, it just uninstalled To Do but would not reinstall it properly – still stuck in the store “pending”. After that, I knew I had to get serious about fixing the whole problem because I needed to have To Do back on the desktop.

Ultimately, the only thing I could think of was to do a system restore of Windows to a previous point a few days earlier. I had to go online to get help remembering how to do that, but finally did a system restore. It turned out I actually had to do it twice, because the first time it failed. The failure notice indicated the failure was probably due to antivirus software running and to temporarily disable that and try again. So, I disabled Malwarebytes and Windows Security and tried again. What actually happened next was Windows had to cancel the first restore attempt and when that was done it automatically restored Windows to the latest restore point.

To my amazement, that did the trick. All the apps (minus the new Minecraft Launcher I had stopped/cancelled) were updated and working fine without any warning notices of “updates in progress” or “this app may need to restart”. I was expecting to have to do another restore to days earlier.

I am still not completely sure if the stuck store issue was caused by the Windows 10 Cumulative Updates or the messed-up Minecraft launcher. Either way, I am glad to have To Do back and working as well as ever.

I’m kind of not impressed with Microsoft right now given they own Minecraft and the other apps. Whatever happened was a massive coding failure and I’m not anywhere close to trying to install the new Minecraft launcher again anytime soon.

Minecraft Launcher Crash

A few days ago, I ran into some significant problems that took up a good deal of time in trouble-shooting for days. At this point, it is difficult to know for sure the root cause of the problems because so many different things were updated the same day, if not virtually the same time, but I’m fairly certain a major contributor was the new Minecraft Launcher. I saw the issue was acknowledged for Xbox Game Pass paid subscribers, but I am not one of them, however, the download process did require a login Microsoft account and went to the Xbox profile so maybe it is the same issue.

The series of changes that I did on the two computers include downloading and attempting to install the new Minecraft Launcher, upgrade to Windows 11 on my laptop (got the invitation), installing two cumulative updates to Windows 10 on the old desktop that does not qualify for upgrade.

Coincidentally, my invitation to upgrade to Windows 11 came the same day as the notice of the new Minecraft Launcher and that is the day the problems started.

I decided to upgrade to the new Minecraft Launcher first because I thought it would be relatively fast and I was curious to see what it was about given the hype in the notice. I also was not sure how long the upgrade to Windows 11 would take. When trying to download and install the new launcher it got hung up and never completely installed. When I checked the Microsoft Store it just showed pending, along with 6 other apps, most of which I never use and don’t care at all about. The download/install process never finished. I had the same problem on the desktop.

Back on the laptop, I just gave up and decided to do the upgrade to Windows 11. That went relatively smoothly including, not surprisingly, some updates immediately available.

When I tried to install the new Minecraft Launcher again in Windows 11, it worked and for a day I was able to launch and play Minecraft as normal. Then a couple of days later, when opening the launcher and clicking ‘play’ the whole system crashed all the way to the proverbial “blue screen” (now a dark gray screen in Windows 11). After waiting a minute or two for automatic reporting of the issue, Windows 11 rebooted and all but the launcher worked fine. I tried three times that day to open the launcher, each with the same crash and reboot result, so I quit using the new launcher and reinstalled the old one. Both launcher versions remain installed on my laptop and, fortunately, the old one works fine.

After waiting another day, I tried again to see if it was fixed and ended up with the crash again, so I have not even tried since. Maybe someday I’ll check online forums to see if it has been fixed, but I don’t really care that much because I’m fine with the old launcher and it appeared the new one was more for gamers who want to play on more than one platform and the rest of the new stuff was basically notification hype. Not interested!

Meanwhile on the desktop, the install process never completed. I ended up stopping it which meant deleting the download. The other six apps also never completed download/install so I had more work to do to figure out what was wrong, but that is another story for another post.

As of right now, I am still running the old Minecraft launcher on both machines and finding it works just fine for my use. It is a bit annoying to see the notice every time that there is a new launcher to download (on the desktop), and that as well as a second notice (on the laptop) that says it is installed, that I have to dismiss every time. So far, it is not annoying enough to just uninstall the new launcher as I did on the Windows 10 machine.

Discord

Back when they were still in high school, gaming at a distance with the grandsons meant using Skype (audio only) so we could chat while playing. A few years ago, they introduced me to Discord and we used that instead because they used it gaming with their friends, and we found it more consistently reliable.

For my wife and me, since the pandemic quarantine began in March 2020, Discord has become a regular part of our lives. We tried Zoom a few times and used it when we had to for various purposes such as connecting with our financial advisors, but Discord quickly became the preferred app for our family for several reasons. All three grandkids were tired of Zoom because that was what they used in their school/college. Familiarity with Discord for all of them and me, as well as ease of set up and use, was also an important reason.

Our granddaughter set up a family server for us and added one of the grandsons as an administrator as a backup. We now use it for regular (currently twice weekly) video chats with any family members that show up at the appointed time. We enjoy Discord not only for the live chats, but also to see and post to the many channels we have included – pictures, thoughts, ideas, memes, articles, podcasts, etc. I’ve used the private message feature a few times, too.

We have created some sub-groups for gaming and even have a separate exclusive channel for coding that my son and I use. We all have used the video feature for special yoga sessions – my daughter is a certified yoga instructor – available again to any family members who wanted to participate that day.

Most of us use the free version only. Granddaughter has Nitro (paid version) because she likes to add her own art work, animations, etc. to modify her avatars. She is definitely a budding digital artist with a particular interest in anime.

For us as a family, it is a far better medium than Facebook or any other social media app.

Firefox Certificates Glitch

A few weeks ago, when considering whether or not to restart blogging here, I found an old draft of a post from May 5, 2019 that never was published to the blog. I have hesitated to publish it now over two years later, but I think for my own benefit to remember old tech problems, it will be useful to do so. Back then, a major problem occurred using Firefox. Before finally publishing my draft now, I decided to find what version of Firefox was current back in early May 2019 and discovered the Wikipedia Firefox Version History. According to that, it was most likely Firefox 66.

Following is my May 5, 2019 draft:

A couple of days ago Firefox suddenly disabled all add-ons. I tried closing and reopening it, then tried uninstalling and reinstalling, all to no avail. The instructions given in the general help section said to delete and install the add-ons again. I tried that and was able to uninstall them, but not reinstall. It kept coming up with errors.

Next, I went online checking user forums and found that it had been identified as a glitch in the software and eventually it would be fixed. That was Friday night.

I checked again Saturday and found a comment that said it was fixed, but one had to allow Firefox to install and run studies. I did so, then was able to install all the add-ons I use again.

Most time consuming was reinstalling the feed reader, Feedbro. It was easy enough to get the addon, but it turned out I lost all the feeds I was using. I don’t know if I would have been able to recover them if I had not uninstalled it, but suspect I might have been able to.

This is the worst issue I’ve had using Firefox. The most confusing part of it was the glitch happened suddenly and not as a result of an update.

End of May 5, 2019 draft

My wife and I both continue to use Firefox and have had no problems since. A while back, we also began to use our own profiles making it much easier to navigate with our preferred bookmarks present.

Outlook Profiles

Once again a technical glitch has led to some significant learning about some of the features of Outlook 2016 I had not used before, mostly because I did think I had a need to do so.

The Technical Issue

The issue that triggered some minor panic was a “phantom” message that Outlook was trying to send from the primary account and producing an error every time a send/receive command was initiated. I may have inadvertently caused the problem when a message was stuck in the outbox and efforts to manually initiate send/receive commands did not work.

Attempted Solutions

I had a similar problem occur a while back and eventually the solution that worked was changing the primary account to another one and deleting the original primary account .pst file. Then installing a new account using that email address and keeping it as a secondary account.

This time, in hopes of not having to do that tedious procedure again, I tried deleting the stuck message (after copy and pasting its contents to a new message) and trying to send the new message. That did not work as it got stuck in the outbox too. I then just closed Outlook and reopened it, hoping it would then send upon startup. It did, but that is when the “phantom message” was trying to be sent and caused send errors every time. I tried taking the deleted message and moving it to the outbox, but that did not work.

I suspected the problem may then be my service provider (same as cable/internet provider) so I called them. They were unable to resolve the problem, kicked it up to a higher-level tech person, but they said their preliminary analysis was the problem was with Outlook.

Then decided I was going to have to go through the change of primary account again, delete the .pst file and start over. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of changing the name of the default .pst file to keep its contents and then Outlook simply would not startup at all. A error message came up and it was clear, after multiple tries, it was not going to work. This is what caused the minor panic.

My first idea to resolve the new issue was to reinstall Outlook, which actually meant reinstalling the whole Office 2016 suite. After doing that, Outlook still did not open.

Eventual Successful Solution

I went online to see if there was any help available through forums, and found one idea – creating a new Outlook profile – that looked promising. After learning how to do that and creating a new profile, I started by installing the email account I wanted as the primary (default) account and was relieved when the send/receive worked fine with no errors (confirming the original problem was an Outlook not an internet provider problem). I then simply added the other account .pst files as additional accounts.

Since I had backed up the various email folders, RSS feeds, tasks, and calendar I was able to restore them quite easily. Unfortunately, I had not yet learned how to export the rules I had set up, so those I had to rebuild from scratch. In the process, I have now learned how to export the rules to an .rwz file, so I have backups should I need to yet again start a new profile.

Ironic Conclusion

I was aware for years of the concept of more than one profile for email because I have used multiple profiles in Thunderbird to make it easier to organize various email accounts, but it never occurred to me the same could be done with Outlook. For some reason, I had never paid attention to the option of multiple profiles in Outlook.

I suspect one reason is my first uses of Outlook were on an Exchange Server of my employer and I was the only user of my one account so never even used multiple accounts in Outlook until probably when I upgraded to Office 2007 on my home computer way back when.

Anyway, this set of technical challenges led me to learn about profiles in Outlook, as well as saving and reloading backups of the rules via export/import. I also re-learned I had an opml file to use to import the RSS feeds. Good lessons learned.

Services and Add-ons

As a kind of miscellaneous category, I’ve lumped together several disparate apps or add-ons that have become regulars in my computer use.

I suppose because it was the first cloud file storage service I was aware of, Dropbox continues to be the one I use. I’ve tried One Drive and Google Docs a little, but like Dropbox better. Also, I do not really need more than one place. Someday I might choose to use one of those as a kind of backup, but so far, I have not seen the need for that.

As I mentioned in a previous post about my use of Twitter, I have kept my Facebook account purely for lurking. I never post anything, and long ago deleted what little I had done. I have my privacy settings at the highest level possible. Even so, I’m considering deleting the account completely, because I am so thoroughly disgusted with its failure to follow its own policies consistently, and its intentionally vague responses to avoid full transparency.

Pocket has become one of the most useful services for me. The quick and easy ability to save a site to read later is one of the handiest items created, in my opinion. (When I first began to use it, it was called Read It Later, which still is an excellent name for the purpose.) I learned toward the end of 2018, via a note from Pocket, that I was in the top 10% of users last year, which was a real surprise. And, I’m still a little leery about believing it, but I have used the service for more than just reading later. It has become a kind of archive of stories, sites, etc. grouped by topics I created by use of tags. I have no clue how many sites I’ve saved, but I find it a good way to go back to items I want to use again. Another great feature is it is available on all platforms, so when using the iPad or cellphone items can be saved quickly.

Several years ago, I found Google Reader a useful app and used it for my homepage. It has long since met its demise, but igHome was built by a developer who intentionally created it as knock-off of Google Reader. I have used it now for years as my home page on at least one of my computers.

My Yahoo also was a decent home page option when I was following sports more closely than I am now, but I have discontinued using it. I’ve tried a few other such as Start.me and more recently Protopage, but do not like them as well as igHome.

One add-on I have used for years is Web of Trust (WOT). Some browsers have discontinued it, but it still works fine in Firefox and Chrome. For a brief period of time a couple of years ago, it has some serious security issues, but they have been corrected. The little green/orange/red circle serves as one reminder of taking care not to visit dangerous sites online.

Other add-ons in Firefox: Privacy Badger, DuckDuckGo privacy Essentials, uBlock Origin, Facebook Political Ad Collector, Start Page private search engine, Save to Pocket

Other add-ons in Chrome: Privacy Badger, uBlock Origin, Save to Pocket

The most recent add-on I am now using with Firefox is Feedbro. It is one of the replacements for Firefox’s own feed reader that was just discontinued recently. I have come to really like Feedbro, and had I known about it sooner I would have used it instead of the built-in reader.

For the most part, I do not like to use add-ons, preferring to keep the browser lean, so these are the only ones I use now.

 

Media Players

It is probably a little overkill to have a separate category for the two media player apps I use, but there are reasons for not just using one.

When Windows 10 first debuted, there was no media player with it. I honestly do not know when it finally was added again, but I needed a media player to play CD’s and ended up buying and using VLC Media Player. It has been very useful and I still use it for some podcast listening.

For most basic uses, I have Windows Media Player set as my default, and it works fine.