Bricking Machines: The Microsoft April 2018 Update (1803) (Updated)

LeaveEverythingToUsMSI’m leery of updates. Experience over the decades has taught me this, from my own code to those of others who worked with me, from using content management systems to operating systems.

Updates can break things.

This time, Microsoft broke my Dell laptop – one of my favored machines for dealing with the rest of the world because so many people are tied to their operating systems. Or chained. It’s a matter of perspective.

I put off rebooting after the update for reasons obvious to many. Despite my cautiousness, my Dell laptop still sits there quietly after 24 hours. There has been no official word from Microsoft on this. One shop, The Computer Cellar, had a useful link that mysteriously no longer works. One article indicated that this bricking during the update had something to do with Avast, saying it only happened to a ‘few’ systems – but on Twitter, someone told me that they heard Microsoft representatives say, ‘millions’ on two separate days.

There’s room for some thoughts on conspiracy here, about keeping things quiet to minimize the public outcry. The hashtag on Twitter, #Windows10April2018Update, doesn’t show millions and isn’t representative of anyone but those with a system they could still tweet from to complain about the update.

So, how does one fix it? People have reinstalled Windows, blowing away their previous applications and data. It seems really bad that no restore points could be found with this bug – that’s exactly what restore points are for.

I’m not done fixing my system yet, and I’m not sure that I can, but here’s some tips to help you survive and perhaps get your system back up and running:

(1) Get some media, like a USB stick, that you can boot from. Under the ‘troubleshoot’ option, you’ll find the command prompt. Use XCopy to backup your files directory by directory. I simply did the stuff under my Profile. This way, no matter what happens, you have your stuff.

(2) Get the latest Windows Media Tool. Some well intentioned IT person handed me an older version of this yesterday and we both mistakenly thought it would work for all versions, but as it happens every major release seems to have a corresponding tool. Which would be fine….

(3) If your system doesn’t have a CD/DVD drive, or you lack a burner to the appropriate media, when you run the Media Tool you need to use the USB stick option. This is grotesquely slow – overnight it has managed to only get 80% done for me. I read somewhere it’s faster if you run the Media Tool from the USB stick you’re using it on, which sounds a bit like witchcraft to me, but if you think it will work… This is an annoyance that is simply bad UX on the part of Microsoft, IMHO. Such a large download is… ugh! With better bandwidth, it’s not a problem, but most of the world doesn’t have access to the Big Pipes.

(4) When your USB key is done becoming bootable media – read some books or something – you’re now ready to deal with the violated system.

(a) Let the violated machine boot and do the Update dance until, eventually, you get to the black screen and the errors.

(b) Open up the Task Manager, either by right clicking the taskbar and selecting it or by CTRL-ALT-DEL. Do this only once, despite how unresponsive your system is… or you may end up with more than one task manager. Also, add your hard won USB stick.

(c) Based on what little has been shared on the Internet, I have already disabled Avast’s tools in the startup processes. I’d make sure that they’re not running for the update.  They have a tendency to show up again when the machine restarts for updates, so always check. Allegedly, there’s a fix for it, but I did not get it at the time I fixed my machine.

(d) From the top menu in the task manager, you’re going to add a process from a file. You can attempt to browse for it, as painful as that is. On my system I will only have to type D:\setup.exe. And from there, with the latest tool, it will probably fix things; it did for me after loading again broken, then updating again. With older setups, you end up having to wipe the data.

This was an annoying experience. Microsoft needs to work on doing things better for the people who choose to stay with their operating systems, needs to work better with software manufacturers who support their platform, so that ultimately, they don’t screw over their consumers as they did with an indeterminate number of people with this last update.

Me? Linux is on the horizon for all future machines. I can’t pay people to brick my machine. It’s against my good sense. I can brick my on machine for free.

 

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Running The Biostar Racing P1

b20160823I had a problem. In my apartment here in South Oropouche, I had the need for a sort of media PC in the living room.

Sometimes I want to kick back and write on my old Chromebook while watching Netflix or a streaming news/space service on YouTube. Sometimes I want to write from my dining table – really, a patio table I have indoors because I like it. Sometimes, I want to listen to music while I’m working out in the living room. Sometimes, I want to have multimedia ability in the living room when I have visitors who aren’t in the bedroom (can I write that publicly?).

I’m in Trinidad and Tobago, so options are limited as far as what I can find locally. When I visited Pricesmart, I saw a Lenovo ‘Yoga Pad’ I almost got until I tried the keyboard (ugh!) and thought through what I actually wanted. They had a Haier Mini-PC that looked promising, but there were no boxes and a web search on my phone only showed a link to The Wizz whose site was down for maintenance.

I visited an Apple reseller and stared at the old and somewhat disappointing specs of the Apple Mini, which has become the one thing that Apple doesn’t seem to want to advance. And for the cost? Oh, Apple, your systems are so pretty, and OS-X is nice, but my word, your prices suck. Apple lovers, sorry, I see how you like spending your money but I can buy a lot of beer with the difference in price.

So I ended up at The Wizz in San Fernando, mainly to chase down the Haier and see what it looked like outside of a Pricesmart display that managed to tell everyone nothing. A gentleman helped me out, and dutifully trotted out the competition. That competition included the Biostar Racing P1, which I ended up with, as well as it’s little sibling, an Android version.

I’ll commend The Wizz here – over the years, on the rare occasions when I visited them, they have always been good – even over a decade ago when they were in some ways competition (I had a brief flirtation with wholesaling with one of their competitors). This was, hands down, my best experience with them. I picked up a keyboard, mouse and modest monitor for the system.

I got home. That’s when the troubles began.

Setting Up The Biostar Racing P1.

The box says that it’s Windows 10 compatible – and I mistakenly thought it actually came with Windows 10 on it. No such luck. Instead, it came with a CD for a system that – oh, this has got to take the cake – doesn’t have an optical drive. In fact, it’s so small, an optical drive couldn’t fit in it. So why on Earth would Biostar do this?

The documentation that comes with the system, a folded sheet of color printing, looks informative at a glance until you try to use it – they believe you know more than you do – and it’s actually not much better than their FAQ on installing Windows 10 on the Biostar Racing P1, dancing between informative and ‘WTF?’. It’s then I realized that my other systems also lacked optical drives – who uses those anymore? So here, I have a CD with no way to use it and cagey documentation on how to use the CD.

So I went with Linux. Lubuntu, Kubuntu – I went through quite a few distros in the course of an hour, using Rufus as noted in the FAQ, and every time there was no love for the AP6255 Wifi on the system. Oh, and the sound didn’t work. 3 hours in, I found myself scanning through kernel logs and considering hacking through all of it when I realized:

(1) I’m tired.
(2) I did not buy the machine to be a project, I bought it to be an appliance.
(3) I wasn’t committed to any course of action, I was committed to getting the results I wanted.

As it happened, a helpful cousin lent me a portable optical drive – so I (mistakenly) thought I’d install Windows from it. No joy – there is no Windows on that CD, I found, only drivers (not for Linux). At that point I realized I actually had to install Windows – I was tired – so I went to Microsoft and downloaded the ISO for Rufus to install via USB – that download took all night. I attempted to purchase a Windows 10 License, having figured out that it was necessary, but Microsoft gave me no joy. Amazon.com did. I punched in the product key during the installation on the Biostar Racing P1, and after an hour or so I used the borrowed optical drive to install the drivers.

It works, but honestly, this was annoying for me. Sure, I could have hacked through, sure, I could have done other things, but the documentation sucks and is a little misleading in my opinion. So, what do you need to know?

It’s a pain to get running, largely because no OS is pre-installed (to keep the price down, probably) and because the driver media is in a form that doesn’t come with the machine. You quite literally need another working machine to set the Biostar Racing P1 up, and if you don’t have an optical drive, you’ll have to navigate to Biostar to download the drivers, put them on a USB key, and hope you manage that without problems.

Now, using it once it’s all set up with Windows 10? Not bad. In fact, I wrote this entire entry using the system. Do I like it? Now that the annoyance of setting it up has passed, yes.

Would I suggest buying it for the casual user? Not unless you have a portable optical drive and access to a Windows 10 ISO as well as license. The lack of those two things is infuriating. It could easily be resolved by Biostar if they chose to install the OS at the factory – and honestly, they could toss a Linux distro on it themselves and save everyone some heartache. And money.

Know Your Environment: Oh Tay

Artificial IntelligenceYou may remember – it happened only last week – that Microsoft’s Tay got shut down for being a jerk.

The commentators already have speculated – and in the broad strokes properly, in my opinion – that this is because people were jerks. Tay- which, from what I saw, was pretty much a simple ELIZA brought forward a few degrees1. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but in the really broad strokes, one has to wonder what Microsoft was actually thinking by setting Tay up on Twitter and not having some safeties in place.

Please tell me someone on that team said, “You know, I think that this is a bad idea. We should add some safeties.” It’s like sending a kid on her own to a prison to hang out with the inmates and not expecting something to go wrong. “Pick you up at 5 p.m., have a great time sweetie!”

Maybe you’re thinking, “Twitter isn’t that bad.” Maybe for you it isn’t – for me it isn’t – because I attenuate who and what I ‘listen’ to. Clearly Tay didn’t. All things considered, that’s a pretty important thing for people to do – and frankly, it does seem like we humans get that wrong more often than not.

As Software Engineers, we tend to forget sometimes that while we are building interactions within complex systems that our participation is a functional part of the design2. We shouldn’t just be tossing things out into a Production environment without understanding the environment.

Clearly, the decision to put Tay out there did not factor that in – because it’s blatantly obvious from the days of Usenet forward, people can be jerks. Trolls abound. It takes something a bit more to deal with that, and they should have known that.

I’d wager that at least one engineer said, “This is a bad idea”. Listen to your team.

1Sorry, Microsoft, but that’s kinda what it looked like to me.
2Recommended reading: Design as Participation.