Windows has encountered an error…

So I just got to play with two things I never knew existed in my PC

The UEFI BIOS recovery system and the Windows 7 recovery system.

… was doing a Windows Update, PC turned off, when I turned it back on the power button got stuck and made the PC repeatedly power up and down which corrupted the BIOS.

So then after that Windows went mental and decided to bluescreen at boot (because, unknown to me various subtle BIOS settings had been set to useless factory defaults – I gained a serial port though!). Thinking my machine had got corrupt I had a play with the system restore stuff in Windows 7.

It’s really cool, you have various options to really break your machine, drives are identified by GUID labels rather than useful names people understand and there’s a tempting command prompt option if you really want to destroy your data. Or you can just click the ‘restore my computer’ button which repeatedly reassures you that your documents and other non system data will not be altered. It told me that three times, it was quite reassuring.

This didn’t fix my PC though. Going into the BIOS and setting my SATA controller up properly fixed my PC. Took all of five seconds.

So yeah… turn on all that automated backup crap that comes with Windows 7 (and I presume 8), it does actually work and seems better than totally re installing everything.

Oh and my wireless USB keyboard stopped working until I installed the drivers for no obvious reason. Logging in with the onscreen keyboard is a right laugh, I highly recommend it.

Remote nerd alert

And now for something utterly pointless and wholly nerdy…

I like to use IRC to chat to people. I dislike Windows IRC clients, and much prefer irssi in Linux, which is great because I have a Linux server that I can run it on. Even better is the combination of SSH and GNU Screen, allowing me to SSH into my machine from anywhere while preserving the state of my login.

I also have access to a Windows machine via RDP which is in someone’s office, about 50 miles from here.

For no real reason I thought it’d be amusing to run PuTTy on the remote Windows machine (via the Remote Desktop application on my XP machine), and use it to SSH into my server to chat on IRC.

So, I am using remote desktop which sends compressed 1440×960 bitmaps across the Internet so that I can run PuTTy to see ASCII text via SSH to the computer sat next to me. So efficient, encrypted, compressed SSH data leaves my server, goes through the Internet to the Windows machine. There it gets drawn on the screen inside PuTTy, with the whole screen being captured, compressed and sent back over the Internet to my Windows PC.

Oh, did I mention the remote Windows PC isn’t actually a real PC? It’s a VMWare virtual machine instance running under Windows Server 2003 on a 2.67GHz Core i7.

Earlier I had it printing from the remote machine to the printer plugged into my own PC, which was actually useful, unlike the mess I just described above which was completely pointless but fun. No, I have no life, I’m about to sit and write some SQL.

Lenovo S10e Touchpad problems – how do I disable browser zooming?

Right then, here’s a nice challenge… please read carefully because it’s not the usual thing you’re already thinking…

I have a Lenovo S10e netbook running XP. It has a Synaptics touchpad with the touchpad drivers installed. For some highly irritating reason, running my finger down the left hand edge (NOT the right) makes my web browser zoom in and out.

How do I turn it off? It’s driving me crazy.

I have been into the Synaptics touchpad control panel and disabled all scrolling, touch zones and everything except the tap-to-click. The really irritating thing is it only happens in web browsers, and only zooms them in or out. And it’s really useless.

Your computer is crap

Xerox Alto
Xerox Alto

And now I have your attention, I will explain why.

The computer you see in this image is a Xerox Alto, a prototype computer that contained a graphical user interface, pointing device called a “mouse”, full A4 screen with a virtual “desktop”, it was connected to other computers using “ethernet” and could display print quality documents on its screen.

And it did this in 1973.

Now look at the computer on your desk. It contains exactly the same things, and does exactly the same thing. You control it with a mouse, it can display print-quality documents on its screen, is networked using the same ethernet. The only difference is in the looks and speed of the device.

The mouse was invented in the 1960s, as was the concept of hypertext, as demonstrated by Douglas Engelbart.

Then let’s look at the software we use on our computers. Our main pieces of software are wordprocessors and spreadsheets. The first spreadsheet was Visicalc on the Apple II, created back in 1979 and looks like this:

Visicalc on an Apple II
Visicalc on an Apple II

 If you compare this to Microsoft Excel (because all the other spreadsheets such as Lotus 1-2-3 have died off) it’s remarkably identical. OK so Excel contains half a million extra features, and Windows Vista/Mac OS X has the benefit of 30 years of research and development, but the initial concept and idea are identical to those first prototypes created in the 70s.

We’ve not advanced at all. We’re just making variations on a theme, polishing innovative ideas until the sharp edges are all blunt and “user friendly”. We’re using 30 year old ideas and every year re-releasing them while claiming the latest ideas to be the next thing in computing.

Windows – No Disk. Make it go away! Help!

Argh wise people of the Internet, tell me how to make this dialog go away. Randomly, when using my PC I get a message box saying “Exception processing message c0000013” and if I press “Cancel” 108 times it goes away for a while.

I can’t spot a pattern to it though, it just appears. There’s one on my screen now taunting me, and if I shut it 108 times it’ll come back again after a few minutes. Do I really have to reinstall my PC to fix this?

Windows - No Disk error dialog
Windows - No Disk error dialog

Gallery of the broken tech

I’ve just been sifting through my photos using Picasa, looking for ones to add to my Retro Computing Collection. Amongst the masses of outdoor photos and I came across a small group of pictures like this one – public information displays, Internet kiosks, cash machines, etc that all have one thing in common – they’re all broken or not behaving as they should be.

Consider this album a celebration of when tech goes wrong and nobody is around to reboot it. I’m always on the lookout for this stuff, it’s funny.

There’s also some curiously dumped monitors that I found in the middle of North Wales, miles from anywhere. Some thoughtless sod had evidently parked his car near the wall and thrown them over the side. And while in Oxford one year we found this monitor just lying on the pavement.

Late night hacking

I’ve not done this in ages 🙂 Sat, in pieces, in my office is a Compaq 486 all-in-one PC that Amy has given to me. It came preloaded with Windows 3.11 and contains a network card. My aim was simple – get it on the network, then see if it would go on the Internet.

Getting it on the network was easy, all I had to do was install the Windows 3.11 TCP/IP update and configure it. The machine popped up on my network and managed to install Netscape 4.0 off my Linux server. It had no idea what to make of the long filenames, but coped very well.

I ran out of disk space, the tiny 100meg HDD only having 7 meg free. So out it went and in its place went a 256MB CF card in a CF-to-IDE converter. Some farting around with fdisk and xcopy gave me a neat clone of the original HDD that booted.

Netscape didn’t run too well on the weedy 486SX/25 CPU and with only 4 meg of ram it was constantly swapping to the disk. Fortunately I had 8 meg of ram in another old PC so in that went, bringing the machine up to 20 meg of ram and instantly the disk swapping stopped. But it was still quite slow overall, so out of the old 486 came its DX2/66 CPU.

And here’s the current state of things. The CPU is designed for a ZIF socket because DX2/66s need heatsinks and fans to keep them cool. Originally I got around this issue by supergluing the heatsink and fan to the top of the CPU. This worked, but the superglue has gone brittle and the heatsink fell off. My next plan is to somehow attach a Pentium MMX class CPU cooler and heatsink to the processor, probably using cable ties and luck.

It’s fun though, and it’s been ages since I sat up for half the night fiddling with a PC.

XNA Game Studio

Well they’ve made this a bit easy! I’ve spent the day following the beginner’s tutorial and have a rudimentary spaceship shooting game working. It shouldn’t have taken all day, but the tutorial videos are aimed at someone who’s never used Visual Studio or C# before. I know what an “if” loop is now, at least 😉

MS appear to have made it quite straight forward to get things moving around the screen, which is good.

In other news, my Internet connection is having problems and is currently grinding along at 3MBits after spending the past half-hour having a fit and disconnecting every two minutes.

Fog and more motorway driving

It’s pretty foggy out there. I’ve just been ‘over the border’ (between Yorkshire and Lancashire) along the M62 to visit Steve to sort out some things we’re doing. The weather wasn’t so bad when I left, just the usual drizzle and rain, but over the tops it’s a near whiteout. Coming back in the dark was a slow and difficult affair, playing the game of ‘spot the red lights’ and avoiding the trucks.

Steve’s local pub has wifi, and also a rather poorly chosen password on the router. We did the slightly poncy thing of installing Visual Studio on my Macbook in VirtualBox while eating our tea.