kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
My morning routine is to shower and dress, then munch a bowl of cereal for breakfast while I sit at my desktop PC and catch up on FB, clear out the junk e-mail, maybe check some news, that sort of thing. I was doing that yesterday, nothing out of the ordinary, when Windows 10 suddenly gives me a Blue Screen of Death talking about CRITICAL_STRUCTURE_CORRUPTION. Yeah, that doesn't sound healthy, right? I try a reboot, and as soon as the boot process hands off to Windows and the loading screen appears, it almost immediately locks up. That's no good. So I try it a couple more times with the same result--occasionally there's text on the screen saying something about Automatic Repair, but that immediately freezes as well. But I've gotta get to work, so I just power it down to deal with when I get back home.

So I get home and set to work. Presuming it might be a failing hard drive with some corrupted Windows files, here at the office I'd downloaded the Win10 setup to a USB drive, so I try booting from that to run a repair.. and it won't boot from the USB. The latest copy of Windows I have on cd is 8.1, but I figure that's better than nothing if I need to reinstall anyway, so I try booting from that instead.. and it won't do that either. Every time, the PC goes through POST, but then as soon as it hands to Windows it freezes. I try some BIOS tweaks, I try the PC's boot menu, nada--it won't boot from the hard drive or anything else. I try getting to Windows' own boot menu to try going into Safe Mode but that won't even come up, and in fact starts giving me errors about disk read/write problems, which again makes me think it's a failing hard drive. That's actually not so bad, since I always dedicate a hard drive (or partition) to the OS, and keep all my data files on other drives so I can always format and reinstall the OS without losing much. But I want to try ruling out everything else before I get into that, so I go so far as to open up the PC, re-seat the RAM, disconnect and reconnect the hard drives, just to make sure everything is solid in there. Try booting up again, and still no dice.

I'm just about to swap out that hard drive with a spare I have lying around and do a fresh install, but before I do that I do one more search online for suggestions on PCs that freeze at boot. And I come across a forum post somewhere, guy says his PC wouldn't boot so he unplugged all his USB devices and then it worked. And guess what? I unplug everything USB aside from the mouse and keyboard, and the thing boots right up. Sheesh. So I figure maybe my USB memory card reader locked up somehow, and that was the whole problem. Though I swear I went so far as to turn off the power supply at some point, which should have powered down the USB ports and cleared that problem. But then again, maybe I didn't. So anyway, all that hassle and frustration and it was as simple as unplugging a card reader! Hopefully I'll remember that next time. :)

Jeez, I've been pretty absent in these parts lately. I should do a catch-up post that isn't quite so geeky and boring. Hope you're all well, anyway. :)

Win10.

Aug. 5th, 2015 04:39 pm
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
So far I've updated two of the PCs at home to Windows 10--the Home Theater PC and my own desktop PC. So far so good, really. The upgrades went smoothly in both cases, and I was pleased to see that the desktop reports Windows is activated even though it was upgrading from an, er, unauthorized copy of Windows 8. Maybe that's part of M$'s plan, get even illicit users onto a licensed platform, so they can buy apps and whatnot (and might even pay to upgrade when the next version comes along). I normally don't jump on upgrades, but both of these PCs have had some annoying USB issues under Win8 that I am hoping the upgrade fixes. The movies the HTPC plays are on an external HDD, and it has an annoying habit of dropping out in the middle of playback--just enough to make the movie stop, but if I click to play again, it picks up just fine. And the desktop, occasionally it would just stop recognizing all the attached USB devices, which kills the Internet, mouse and keyboard. Makes it a bit difficult to do anything when that happens, as you might imagine!

So initial thoughts, I like the OS. It's not all that different from Windows 8 for me, since I always had my computers go to a normal Desktop instead of the hated Start screen, and I had Start8 installed to provide a Start menu. It's nice that Win10 defaults to the Desktop and restores the Start menu natively. Performance seems fine so far. The HTPC had one ugly crash immediately after the install, but it's seemed fine since. Haven't really tested enough to make sure the USB dropouts are resolved, we'll see. The desktop has been fine, it seems to have carried over all my settings and whatnot, which is nice, and so far all the software I've tried has worked normally. The one issue I had was with the USB WiFi adapter--it's dual-band but the PC was only seeing the 2.4GHz side of things, and for some reason after a day or so it started being reaalllllly slow with the WiFi. But I found a new driver for the WiFi adapter which seems to have fixed both issues.

So anyway, I figure I'll upgrade the girls' PCs soon as well, and Heather's. She hates Windows 8 so I think she'll like the idea. :)
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
In other news, my shiny new home theater PC was waiting for me when I got home from work yesterday, so I spent much of the evening getting it set up with Kodi (the HTPC interface formerly known as XBMC), VLC player, media server software, etc., and getting it set up in place of the little nettop it's replacing. About the only thing I didn't do was actually test video playback, but it seems like a pretty zippy little box so I don't see that being an issue. Overall I'm very pleased so far--it's much more responsive than the nettop, and I can already see the benefits of utilizing a USB 3.0 port to connect to the external HDD where my media files live. MUCH faster access times.

And I got to thinking.. with a decent little PC attached to the tv, finally, there's a great opportunity to get it set up as a little emulation machine for playing the classics. NES, SNES, Sega Master System and Genesis, even the Commodore 64 games which so defined my adolescence. So I ordered a pair of USB gamepads that look like SNES controllers, and those should arrive today. I think I'll try firing up some Super Mario Brothers to educate the girls with this evening. :)
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
Since video games were such a great part of my own childhood, and something I still greatly enjoy (yet feel guilty spending too much time on, but that's another topic), I've been glad to inculcate an interest in them in my girls. We play Wii, they play on their computers, and we even fire up the venerable PS2 and Dreamcast now and then, not to mention the MAMEd arcade cabinet I have hiding upstairs. And they're pretty good, I must say! But mainly they play things like the LEGO games, girly dress-up games on the Internet, point-and-click type adventure games, etc. They see me playing first-person shooter type games now and then, and have seemed interested, but obviously I haven't wanted to just drop them into those since most are pretty tough, not to mention M-rated with murder and mayhem and language and blood and guts everywhere.

So it came to mind that maybe the Tomb Raider games would fit the bill, especially for Hallie with her love of Indiana Jones. I'd mentioned it but then dropped it, until this week when Hallie came to me asking me to put a game on her PC, but she couldn't tell me the name or even anything about it. I was thinking it was something she'd already played, but she said no to everything I named. Finally she said she thought it started with a T and was about a girl adventurer, and finally it clicked. So I took a look at the newest Tomb Raider game, but found that it too is rated M with the ultraviolence and adult language, so it's out. But then I thought, what about the old-school TR games? And I found that there's an updated (Anniversary) version of the first one, which is still rated T. So I installed that for her, and so far she's digging it (er, so to speak?). I was afraid that the controls and gameplay might be too much for her (she's only 7, after all), and indeed she doesn't quite grasp the WASD+mouse control setup yet. But she still does pretty well, and I think we can work up to getting both hands involved properly. The game itself is pretty cool--I'd never actually played any TR myself, but so far it's mostly just navigating the environment, jumping around cliffs and ledges and ropes, with the occasional beastie (bats and wolves so far) popping up. So I think it's a fine introduction to this sort of game. Thus far we've only jokingly mentioned the fact that Lara Croft is running around a snowy mountain cave wearing shorts and a skin-tight tank top, so I hope it's not warping their minds too much, you know? At least it's a strong female character so there's a Girl Power angle in there somewhere, I hope.

The only wrinkle so far is that Hermione wants to play it now too, so I installed it for her as well. But I'm using Steam with their family sharing feature, which means only one of them can play it at a time, which is kind of a bummer since they often like to be playing the same thing. I guess we'll see if that becomes enough of an issue to justify me finding a not-so-legal copy to install instead. :)

Do any of you gamers have suggestions for other games they might like, in this or any other genre? I'd considered the Half-Life games as another FPS they might dig, since the bad guys are monsters and mutants instead of people. Maybe the newer Fallout games for the same reason, though there are some human adversaries as well. I guess I'll just see how well TR holds their interest, and if they might want to explore more in that genre. I should find some things to install for LAN gaming, like Worms. Any other ideas?

While I'm on the subject, Amy's taken nicely to having her own PC as well. Though yesterday evening I had to run to the store to get her a new video card. Night before last she was playing and I started smelling a strange odor, which I finally determined was coming from her PC. So when I got home yesterday I popped the case open and found that it was coming from her video card--the fan on the heatsink had seized up, so it was overheating even at idle. Hopefully that also explains why some games would make her PC shut down after a few minutes. Slapped in a new card and so far so good.

Oh, and the other day there was a really good NewEgg deal on a mini desktop PC that should be great to replace the little nettop I've been using as my home theater PC. I like the old one from a size and power-usage perspective, but it's just clunky and underpowered as a PC, and it only has USB 2.0 ports which means the USB 3.0 external hard drive where my movies live doesn't work as well as it could. The new one was only $140 after rebate, and that's with Windows 8.1 included, so I couldn't pass it up. I was hoping it would arrive by Saturday so I could get it set up this weekend, but I guess that is not to be unless UPS is mistaken. Hopefully this one won't take a wrong turn to Abu Dhabi.

And speaking of games, we haven't played much D&D or other tabletop games lately. We've done Munchkin another time or two, and are getting the hang of it, though the last time we played I resolved to be more evil and never got the cards to do so. Maybe this weekend. I also signed on to the Kickstarter for Exploding Kittens, since that seems right up our admittedly-skewed alley. It won't be shipping for a while, but I am looking forward to it.

And that's the latest geeky news in the cp household!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
20121201-IMG_2786

We had a death in the family this weekend. Seems to be a lot of that going around lately, as I've seen here on LJ as well as elsewhere on the web. For us it was Hermione's guinea pig, Gingerbread. She got him shortly before her 8th birthday, so a little more than 2 years ago. No idea how old he was then, but I don't think he was anywhere near elderly for a guinea pig. Anyway, Friday evening she commented that he hadn't touched his dinner, and indeed he looked a bit lethargic and unkempt. Saturday we hand-fed him a little water and dissolved food, but he wasn't looking too good. We went to the pet store to see if we could get him some vitamin supplements or anything to help, but it was too late. When we got home he'd expired. From the research we did, it seems that guinea pigs go downhill fast if they get sick, especially if whatever it is makes them stop eating and drinking, as this did. I feel bad that we didn't recognize it sooner and get him some better help, but at least I don't think he suffered much.

I felt mainly bad for Hermione--I hated the thought that she might blame herself. We've always had a houseful of critters, but he was the first pet that was her own, and she always did a wonderful job taking care of him. I made sure to tell her that she did great with him, and that it wasn't her fault that he got sick. Still, I know she was pretty sad. We buried him in the back yard. I am not ashamed to admit I got a bit misty and choked up. He was a good little friend, after all.

I doubt we'll be in any rush to replace him, though. It will actually be nice to get the smell of timothy hay out of her room for a while, and it's nice that she can leave her bedroom door open now. The cats wasted zero time getting in there to explore and make camp on the window seat where his cage always was. So we'll see if and when she wants to try another pet, whether it's a guinea pig or something else.

Otherwise the weekend was pretty uneventful. I'd been having sporadic problems with my PC at home, which finally coalesced into a failing hard drive, so Sunday I got a new drive and reinstalled the OS. I wouldn't have minded doing that if I hadn't just reformatted and reinstalled a few weeks back! Oh well, so far I haven't been seeing the issues I was having, so hopefully it was worthwhile.

I also got some stuff and tackled a few small projects around the house, and in the afternoon (beautiful weather!) we went to Lake Lotus for a short hike. Not much going on there in the wildlife department--one of the rangers we know told us where we might spot a big alligator, but we didn't see it. Saw one tiny monarch caterpillar in their butterfly garden, and along the boardwalk we saw a ladybug and a few trashbugs (lacewing larvae).

Meanwhile, back at home, the peach tree is blooming! We got it last year, and it produced 2 or 3 fruit, which were delicious. It's grown a bit, and seems happy--it has a pretty good number of flowers already, and lots more buds to boot. Looking forward to the peaches this summer, if the squirrels don't steal them first.

20150125-IMG_4858

Hopefully that will help you Northerners bracing for the oncoming winter storm. Stay warm and good luck!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
So I got a new laptop PC at work. My old one wasn't THAT old, but they decided to go ahead and replace it instead of just upgrading the old one to Windows 7 (it was still on XP, insanely enough). I'm glad they did, though--whether it's better hardware, Windows 7, or the combination of both, its performance is way better than the old one. But our IT people are a bit ridiculous and overzealous when it comes to locking things down--I can install hardly anything, and couldn't even delete some shortcuts I didn't need on the desktop. Considering myself a bit more capable than the average end-user, that can't help but perturb me.

Anyway, the ironic part. One of the things I've had installed for years is a little freeware application that pulls in photos from my Flickr stream to use as my desktop background. It's a simple little thing, but I like it. It also adds a 3-month calendar to the desktop, which I often find very handy. So I asked if it could be installed, and of course the response was no, since it's unlicensed freeware we consider that a security concern. But if you want a calendar on your desktop, Windows 7 has a gadget for that. They were trying to provide a partial solution, at least, I guess that's good. But the built-in calendar gadget isn't great, so I went to browse more gadgets--and got a page saying Microsoft has discontinued all gadgets because of the platform has "serious vulnerabilities." Heh. I just found that ironic.

Anyway, just a little Friday afternoon rambling nonsense. I'm ready for this week to be over. Halloween Horror Nights opening night this evening, weather permitting! :)
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
So I've mentioned the Great PC Relocation Project for the girls and all that lately. The PC that's now Hallie's used to be Heather's, and it's also long served as our media server--all our movies and music were on it, for streaming to the tv and elsewhere. We'd typically leave it on all day for that purpose, and since Heather tends to check her e-mail and whatnot as she gets a few free minutes here and there throughout each day. But now that she's switched over to the laptop, it doesn't make as much sense for that PC to stay on all day, since the girls only use their computers for maybe an hour each day, and as a full-on desktop PC it takes a good amount of juice to keep it up and running.

Sp phase 2 of the project was to find another media storage and streaming solution. My first thought was to buy or put together a NAS box, something I can just connect right to the router and voila. And that would work for streaming at home, but I also occasionally stream music to myself here at work, for which I use Tonido (which is one of the best free products ever, as far as I'm concerned). But Tonido is a server that needs to run on a PC, so a simple NAS wouldn't cut it.

Then I got to thinking about the little net-top PC I picked up a few years back, one of these. It's been our living-room computer for years, but rarely used because it's kinda slow, the little wireless mouse/keyboard I got to use with it isn't very handy, and it didn't stream too well over the network (though I only had an old 802.11g adapter to use with it). But I thought what the heck, I'm gonna wipe it, replace Windows xp with Win7, install XBMC and see how it does. (I also ordered 4GB of RAM to drop in, which should be way better than the stock 1GB, and an 802.11n WiFi adapter.) So I did that yesterday evening, and wow. Oh, I should also mention that at Costco a week or two ago, I was looking at the external hard drives and saw they had a Seagate 3TB desktop drive on sale for $99, which seemed like a pretty good deal, so I snagged one of those.

So anyway, yeah. XBMC is awesome, and it seems to work very well when playing from the external HDD instead of the network. We were watching an HD copy of Jurassic Park 3 last night and it looked really good--I noticed a hint of jitter and slowdown occasionally, but that may have just been because it was also scanning the rest of the movies for metadata at the same time. I'm also hoping the additional RAM will help stabilize it, since the system RAM is also the video RAM. Between the library functionality and the fact that it remembers where we stopped playback, Heather was like, "Why didn't we do this sooner?" Good question!

I'm looking forward to playing with it some more--I installed a few addons that looked fun, but I'm sure there are some must-have ones that I need. Any suggestions, if you have an HTPC and/or XBMC? I saw there's a Spotify plugin, that's pretty awesome. I like the default skin but I may try some others to see what I think--one blogger I saw swore by the Aeon Nox skin. Next I need to get Tonido working on it, and maybe Serviio so we can still stream directly to the tv, and to my tablet and other PCs. Then I can snag the hard drive from Hallie's PC that currently has movies on it and put it in my desktop for more photo storage instead. :)

Sorry to geek out--I was just excited that this seems to be such a sweet solution, and something we should have done before!
kv0925: (Gromit Reading)
That rhymed! I'm really no good at coming up with subject lines anymore. I should work on that.

Anyway, as the shoddy subject indicates, I finally installed Windows 8 on my desktop PC at home this weekend. See, my photo drive was 97% full, and that was scaring me, especially with a number of shoots coming up. So I went out and got a shiny new 2TB drive (I considered 3TB, but that's a lot of eggs in one basket. I really need to invest in a RAIDed NAS unit sometime--in the meantime I back up most important stuff to my website's ftp space.)

Anyway, the plan was just to add the new drive, copy over what I need from the old drive, and then put the old drive in my wife's PC since that's the one we stream downloaded movies and tv shows from, and it was quite short of storage for that job. Everything went to plan until I went to reformat the old drive, and Windows wouldn't let me. That's weird, said I, it's just a data drive, right? Turns out notsomuch--somehow when I installed Windows 7 on the last go-around, it put some of the system stuff on that drive. So not only would it refuse to format it, once I removed it completely I got the dreaded OPERATING SYSTEM NOT FOUND error on boot. So I figured no matter what, I was looking at a reformat/reinstall, so why not try Windows 8 while I'm at it?

I know, discovering that one needs to reformat one's PC and reinstall the operating system is generally bad news for most people. But similar to my love of rearranging furniture, I actually sort of relish the chance to start from scratch with my PC. I don't always have the TIME for the process, of course, but I actually sort of enjoy the process itself, and luckily we had a nice rainy weekend on tap so I didn't have much else to do anyway.

So it's only been a couple days, but so far my one-word assessment of Windows 8 is: Nice. Performance seems fine, even improved, especially on startup. They advertise it as a fast-booting OS, and it really is; once the POST and BIOS stuff completes, the actually loading Windows part takes remarkably little time compared to older versions. No software compatibility issues thus far, it's happily installed and run everything I've tried so far, 32- or 64-bit. And since I've been doing a lot of file copying with the hard drive move and all, I REALLY like the new file copying status box, in which the progress indicator is also a line graph showing the transfer speed over time. Slick!

The major complaint I'd read about Win8, of course, is the new Start screen, which is designed for touchscreen devices and apparently doesn't even work all that well on those. Expecting that, though, I also knew about Stardock's 8Start program, which changes it to boot directly to the Windows 7-style Desktop and also restores the Start button/menu on the taskbar. So that was easily remedied and works great. The other complain I have so far is that playing media brings up a full-screen, solid-colored player interface with no apparent close button. That bugs me, but the fix for that seems easy as well, just reassociate those file types with a different player by default (I like VLC for video, Media Monkey for audio). So we'll see how it goes from here.

As a sidenote, I'm excited that the media PC will now have scads more storage space for movies and whatnot. It inspired me to get a new DLNA media server application, in no small part because the one I was using (TVersity) no longer offers a free option and also had no clear way to remove the old folders it was set to look in. So I found Serviio, and so far--wow. It's rare that I get a piece of software that makes my jaw drop because of how well it does what it's supposed to do, but this may just be one of those cases. It looks up every piece of media it can identify, and classifies everything in multiple ways. Movies, for example, it can make available by title, genre, actor, director, producer, etc. Nice! It also actually identified the various media devices on the network--Sony Blu-Ray player and LG HDTV in my case--and claims to be able to apply a profile to each one so it can transcode incompatible video on the fly. The girls are often disappointed when something I've downloaded for them fails to play because it was encoded in some way our tv doesn't like, so hopefully that will reduce those instances. Altogether so far, I'm just amazed at Serviio, especially for the price (zero dollars).

Aaaand I think that's about all the PC-related geekery that went on over the weekend. Now to get more movies for the media server!

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