Time for some PC forgiveness

Blue screen of death parody
Not a real blue screen of death (BSOD) but I’ve seen too many worrying ones this week.

It never rains but it pours, so the saying goes. On top of a chest, throat and ear infection and general exhaustion (more on that, perhaps, in a future post) my desktop PC has now started to play up. It’s time for some PC ‘forgiveness’, reformat the C drive and start again.

With most other versions of Windows that I’ve used (98 second edition, XP, 7, 8 and 8.1) I have performed a full ‘factory reset’, a clean install of Windows, every nine to twelve months.

For me though, Windows 10 has been the most stable version of Windows to date—at least, this side of Windows 3.11 for Workgroups. I have had very few issues with it, and until last week very few blue screens of death: fatal system error messages that suddenly bring your workflow to a crashing halt.

Backup

So, when my PC started acting up a few weeks back I reached for both my trusty Trello board that documents for me what software I have installed, what order things need to be installed, and notes about any installation woes, and my external hard drive to check that everything was backed up okay.

Then my external hard drive died.

Over the last three or more years I’ve been running a nightly back-up, using SecondCopy, to a Seagate Backup Plus drive (1TB USB 3.0).

I have extracted the 3.5″ SATA hard drive from the enclosure to check if the drive itself has failed or just the power supply. But in the meantime I ordered myself a Seagate Backup Plus Slim portable drive (2TB USB 3.0) and have spent the weekend progressively backing up everything: drivers, application files, game progressive backups, music, videos and photos.

As I write this, I’m currently virus-scanning the backup on my laptop to ensure data integrity.

Once that is done I can start the reinstall.

Reinstall

Here’s my general order of doing things:

  1. Reformat the hard drive(s).
  2. Install Windows 10.
  3. Motherboard drivers (including chipset driver, Intel management engine interface, network card, and diagnostic tools).
  4. Graphics card drivers.
  5. Windows 10 updates.
  6. Google Chrome.
  7. .NET Framework.
  8. Soundcard drivers.
  9. Keyboard drivers.
  10. Mouse drivers.
  11. Webcam drivers.
  12. Scanner drivers.
  13. Laser printer drivers.
  14. Gamepad drivers.
  15. Install software…

I generally start with a few system tools and accessories before moving on to the bigger guns like office applications and graphics, multimedia, web development, and lastly games.

Essential tweaks

Over the years I’ve learned a lot from Koroush Ghazi’s TweakGuides tweaking companion documents. But Windows 10 is the most complete Windows operating system that I’ve used to date. I now have to make very few, if any, tweaks at all.

I still rely on the following applications to give me additional functionality:

  • Agent Ransack
    I use this instead of the default Windows search. It’s much faster and more configurable.
  • allSnap
    This makes windows snap together and to the edge of the screen, as though they are magnetic.
  • f.lux
    F.lux adjusts the colour of my monitor depending on the time of day. It helps me sleep better at night by reducing the blue light in the evening, which is what keeps you awake.
  • Pixel Ruler
    This allows you to measure stuff on your screen, in pixels.
  • PrintFolder Pro (paid)
    This allows me to list folders within a directory. It can be really useful.
  • PureText
    This converts any text on the clipboard to plain text, removing all formatting. It’s the quick equivalent to pasting something into Notepad, then selecting all and copying it back to the clipboard.
  • TED Notepad
    This is my Notepad replacement of choice. It has some really nice features like sorting, case changing, trimming spaces, etc.
  • TreeSize Free
    This is really useful for checking the size of directories, say for backing up or pre-zipping.
  • WinSplit Revolution
    This has been discontinued, but I still use the old version. It allows me to quickly move windows around my desktop, for example, align two windows side-by-side, or one to be one-third and the other two-thirds.

I’ll see you on the other side (unless I blog before then from my laptop).

Mobile phone forgiveness–how I reinstall my PDA

20110311-mobilephone

What better way to begin Lent than by offering your mobile phone complete forgiveness? It was getting slower and slower, and last week I was needing to soft-reset it every day or two.

So, last night I performed what is now becoming a six-monthly hard-reset and reinstallation of Windows Mobile 6.1 on my O2 Xda Zest.

Installation order

I’ve pretty much got it down to a fine art now, and simply need to follow the instructions on my custom-made Excel spreadsheet which tells me what to do and in what order.

20110311-mobilephoneexcel

I have 5 main categories of actions:

  1. Hard reset which includes setting the date/time, the O2 Auto Installer, selecting the correct O2 network package (pay monthly), uninstalling the default (and outdated) Spb Mobile Shell and Opera.
  2. Connect to PC which includes connecting to my PC using Windows Mobile Device Center, and setting up Exchange.
  3. Basic Setup which includes setting up the owner (which is used by some software when registering applications), regional settings, calendar settings (week starts on Sunday, show 7-days, show half-hour slots, show week numbers, do not set reminders for new items), connect to WiFi, backlight and power settings (battery: 5 mins; external power: always on), change my ring tones, and schedule ActiveSync (set to manual and no email push service).
  4. Essential software which is now Spb Mobile Shell, Spb Wallet, SK Tools (for the registry editor), Opera Mobile, Microsoft MyPhone (to backup online my files, texts, photos, etc.), Agenda One (for improved handling of Outlook Tasks), CoPilot Live, moTweets (although I haven’t installed it this time and MyMobiler (so that I can view my mobile phone screen on my PC).
  5. Optional software which includes Pocket e-Sword bible, MobiPocket (eBook reader), DivX Mobile Player (for movies), FourWinds mahjong, Spb Keyboard, A-Z (Edinburgh, Glasgow and London).

This time I have purposely not reinstalled any of the optional software. Most of it I don’t use on a day-to-day basis so I just want to see how I get on without it.

Regional settings hack

By default in the UK regional settings the long date format is either

  • dd MMMM yyyy (e.g. 01 March 2011)
  • d MMMM yyyy (e.g. 1 March 2011)

but there is no option for including the day of the week. However, I discovered that if I did the following I could trick Windows Mobile 6.1 (and I’ve used this hack with earlier versions of Windows Mobile too) into using the format that I wanted:

  1. Start > Settings > System tab > Regional Settings.
  2. Set Region to English (United States).
  3. On the Date tab select dddd, dd MMMM yyyy from the drop-down.
  4. Click OK.
  5. Reboot Windows Mobile.
  6. Start > Settings > System tab > Regional Settings.
  7. Set Region to English (United Kingdom).
  8. Click OK.
  9. Reboot Windows Mobile.

If you now visit Start > Settings > System tab > Regional Settings you’ll see on the Region summary tab that the long date has remained in the format dddd, dd MMMM yyyy (e.g. Friday, 11 March 2011):

20110311-mobilephoneregionalsettings

Custom ring tones

The other thing that I have to remind myself every time I reinstall is where to store custom ringtones. I have two that I use an old phone ringtone for my calls, and the ‘24’ CTU phone ringtone for my text messages.

Once the files are in place I go to Start > Settings > Sounds & Notifications > Notifications tab to set the ringtones.

Phone ringtone

I have a .wma file that I drop into \Windows\Rings\ on my phone’s internal memory.

SMS ring tone

I have a .mp3 file that I drop into \Windows\ on my phone’s internal memory.

Conclusion

And that is pretty much it. It took me about two and a half hours to do, including backing up old files and photos from my Micro SD card.

PC absolution

Windows XP Professional

Yesterday, just about lunchtime, I finished writing my sermon for this morning on the theme of “letting go (and letting God)”. About an hour later I found myself letting go of my old, increasingly corrupted installation of Windows XP Professional on my desktop PC.

My PC has now been forgiven, is absolved of all its dodgy registry settings and bloated system files and I feel quite relieved — like a burden has been lifted.

I’d been aware that I was needing to do this for some time, but just didn’t have the time. But yesterday morning my applications were revolting. Outlook crashed about every 5 minutes, Firefox crashed every second page I browsed to. It was time.

Device drivers must be getting better: this was the smoothest, most hassle-free reinstallation of Windows XP that I’ve ever had. I had a bit of bother with my onboard NVidia soundcard, but once I installed the correct drivers it’s been plain sailing ever since.

Ghost

I even managed to create a Norton Ghost 2003 disk image of the Windows XP partition with just Windows, device drivers and Windows Updates installed. Something to roll-back to just in case.

I’ve used Ghost before — it basically takes a snapshot of your hard drive (or partition) so that you can quickly restore it as and when you need to. That way you can return your PC to a predefined state of health. I used it quite a bit when I had Windows 98se. I could restore my PC in a little over 30 minutes, which was much better than taking 2 days out to wrestle with installation CDs and device drivers.

What I’ve learned…

What I’ve learned so far is

  1. It is a good thing to reinstall Windows XP every couple of years to get rid of Windows-bloat and return my PC to its speedy-goodness
  2. I have no idea where my Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI installation CD-ROMs are
  3. Adobe Acrobat 7 requires a reboot after each and every update

Off to watch Scotland v Argentina now, while videoing the new series of Top Gear on BBC 2.

The website that nearly was

Coming soon?

Yesterday I was going to blog about an exciting, fresh new website I’ve been working on. I was going to share with you something of my process of taking a website from an initial idea, through the various stages of design to launch. The site was going to be launched yesterday morning.

But then something happened.

The background

During the last few months I’ve been working quietly and diligently on two Web projects for a couple of friends. I offered to work on them for free, in my own time, which — along with travelling back and forth between Fife and the Scottish Borders helping Mum out in preparing for her house move — has been the main reason that I’ve not been blogging quite as much as I’d like to.

Meanwhile my blog drafts have been piling up behind the scenes; here’s an insight into what is to come in the following weeks/months:

  • Post # 1251
  • Misheard
  • O2 Xda Orbit desktop cradle
  • Customizing SMS tone on Windows Mobile 5 (Phone edition)
  • One year on …
  • Get away
  • O2 Xda Orbit
  • Misery
  • Credit card rip-off!
  • Buying a domain name
  • Job satisfaction
  • Blog content warning
  • Windows Start menu organization
  • Structured Content

Ready …

This week I was ready to go live with one of the projects, having more than put in the hours trying to fix bugs (mostly IE5.5 and IE6) this week.

On my snag list were a few IE fixes, a couple of print-related CSS files to write and a last-minute check to make sure that the Google AJAX Feed API was working properly. I finished the fixes around midnight on Tuesday.

The client has only static webspace, so I decided to use the Google AJAX Feed API to ‘pull in’ a newsfeed from a WordPress.com blog into their news page. It was a cheap and simple solution to add a bit of RSS loveliness and to enable the client to add content quickly and easily, without having to learn HTML.

Steady …

So having been working closely with this client (a charity) and probably having racked up more than 40 hours working on the architecture, wireframes, design, coding and debugging, I was ready to go live.

I sent what I thought would be a quick, courteous email to the charity committee chairman to say that I was ready to go live, and unless there were any obvious reasons not to, I would go live yesterday morning at 08:00.

I was quite excited, to be honest. I was looking forward to it going live; proud of what I’d put together: the most Web 2.0 web design I’ve ever done, contemporary, fresh, fun and accessible, with a tip-of-the-hat to a couple of retro elements. How wonderfully postmodern. And the use of the Google AJAX Feed API, I felt, was quite an elegant solution.

And then the phone rang … and a couple of emails popped into my inbox. All saying the same thing:

Stop!

It would appear that the committee were not happy. My understanding was that I should be working closely with the charity’s store manager; theirs was that I should be working closely with the charity’s committee.

Yeah … because website design by committee is always so much easier (irony!).

I’m disappointed, partly because I’m usually so good and making absolutely sure at the start of a project that I’m dealing with the right parties, that I’m not caught up in the the politics of the organization and from the word ‘go’ I know with whom I’m supposed to be liaising.

I thought I’d done that. I was obviously very wrong, I’ve now clearly stepped on some toes for which I’m very sorry, and so I spent most of yesterday evening composing an email to the committee chair explaining where I think things went wrong and how we might move forward with this. But, at the end of the day, I can only really go on what I’m told.

Coming soon?

The upshot of it all is that my new, shiny, rounded-corners and Web-2.0-gradients website may not be going live any time soon. Which, while understandable, is disappointing.

Not least because I could have been spending those 40+ hours doing something more profitable. Like writing a free website for client #2. Or reading another Douglas Coupland novel. Or playing Battlefield 2. Or reading up on the ethics of IVF. Or building a Linux box. Or … you get the picture.