My laptop and my Android tablet, left behind over a month ago at the LAX security checkpoint, have come home! Welcome, you prodigal devices! Let us feast and celebrate. You will always have a home here.

Kudos to the LAX Lost and Found department, the L.A. Airport Police who actually do the work to reunite 5-7000 items with their owners every month, and the shipping company that handles mailing the items home. Eridani and Tabula Nova were very well packaged and sent out promptly after I paid the quite reasonable $35 for Priority Mail. Hey, kudos to the USPS, as well!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, all.


Meet My New Laptop, Eridani

posted in: computers 2

Laptop Eridani

My old faithful laptop, Antares, went neutron star on me a month ago. I hated that, partly because I really liked her red glowing keyboard, and liked her in general. But nothing lasts forever, or so they say. I almost jumped in about four different directions on the replacement, but this is the one I settled on. I named it Eridani.

The dictionary will tell you that this name (a constellation, the River, though this is the genitive form), is pronounced:


This is balderdash, as any spacer will tell you. Out there in the Up and Out, we pronounce this name:


Get it right, please. Eridani is a Dell XPS with a 15-inch OLED screen of amazing brilliance and resolution. I had a difficult choice, because the Dell Latitude has a better keyboard, but a worse display. Way worse. Keyboard and display are the two things I look hardest at, but in the end I chose easy on the eyes, and accurate rendering of colors (especially when creating book covers), over keyboard. I have had occasional regrets about that, as I work to get used to this slighty-smaller-than-standard keyboard.

So far, it’s a fine machine, and fast. Just for the fun of it, I thought I’d show you the list of programs I had to install to get back up to speed, even with the old Antares hard drive plugged in at its side. Herewith, my guide to:

Software to Install on New Computer

FIRST: Do not set up Windows by signing into your Microsoft account! That way lies only pain and regret! Set up a local account, which won’t impose a brain-dead user-profile path that will break all of your libraries, playlists, etc. You can sign in afterward. Now, as soon as you’ve uninstalled McAfee, start installing:

  • KeyTweak – swap Caps Lock and Left Ctrl keys
  • OpenShell or ClassicShell replacements for Windows Start button
  • Dropbox (select which folders are online-only with SmartSync)
  • Reassign Pictures library in File Explorer to Dropbox>Pictures
  • Microsoft Office, esp. Outlook and Word
  • Firefox (and LastPass)
  • Chrome
  • Sync2 to sync Outlook contacts and calendar with other machines
  • Scrivener
  • Malwarebytes
  • iTunes
  • VLC media player
  • Calibre (copy plugins from other drive)
  • Paint Shop Pro or maybe a newer graphics program
  • Printer drivers and utilities
  • Scanning utility for printer (Canon or Epson)
  • Kindle for PC
  • Send to Kindle
  • Kindle Previewer
  • Nook reader
  • Adobe Digital Editions
  • Overdrive console
  • iDrive Backup
  • Aomei Backupper
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader
  • 7-Zip utility
  • WinPatrol
  • Safe PST Backup
  • Filezilla
  • Quicken
  • Audacity
  • WhatsApp
  • Sigil epub editor
  • Handbrake
  • Audible Manager
  • Zune
  • CD/DVD burning utility
  • Customizations to Word:
    • Change location of templates: Options>Advanced>General (scroll down)>File Locations
      Use: C:\Users\myusername\Dropbox\Microsoft\Templates
    • Custom dictionary: Copy your own custom.dic to:

Done? Now back the whole damn thing up before anything goes wrong!

Now you can relax and enjoy your new machine.


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It’s a Miracle! Windows Update Succeeds!

posted in: computers, Windows 10 6

Both my laptop and my desktop computers have finally run the gauntlet of last year’s major Windows 10 update to ver. 1909, without getting borked by the update! Why is this a miracle? Let me count the ways, or rather the times both computers have—all on their own—tried to do this, each time ending in disaster. Windows tech support, including Level Three (high) support, invested hours in trying to solve this with me, all ending in failure. This time it succeeded, but only because of other Windows users to the rescue.

What went wrong was that the update program each time created a new user profile—[username].000—and moved all of my files into it, text, music, photos, everything. That’s what it left me with, plus the nearly empty shell of the old profile [username]. What’s wrong with this (besides offending my sensibilities)? Everything! All my software is set up to look for files in a particular location. This changed the paths to all the files. Dropbox failed. Onedrive failed. iTunes failed, Word and Scrivener failed….

What brought about the miracle? Some user’s discovery, posted on a Microsoft support board, that if he uninstalled his Zune software and removed all traces of it before the update, everything worked the way it was supposed to. Please note: Zune software is a Microsoft product. I use it to support my Zune music player, which I still use, and love. Don’t you think Microsoft should have designed their update to take their own legacy software into account? Failing that, don’t you think they should have informed all support personnel of the workaround, especially since the information has been posted on a Microsoft support board since last summer? I kind of do.

It took me a while to find the time and determination, but I finally did the same thing: ran a full backup, uninstalled Zune, tried the update. And it worked! It worked! No more do I live under the Sword of Damocles of unplanned update/borks! (For now, anyway.) And I reinstalled Zune, and all is well.

In celebration, I present you with a picture of my 20-year-old lava lamp! It doesn’t exactly work right anymore, but it’s still trying.

Lava lamp, still trying after 20 years

The Empire Strikes Back

Microsoft, the evil empire, has struck back at my efforts to keep my computers running. I have a desktop and a laptop running Windows 10, and both have tried to update to the newest, greatest iteration of Windows, cleverly named 1903, and both crashed and burned due to bugs in the installation software. Microsoft support people actually spent a couple of hours on the phone with me, but they couldn’t solve the problem (though they did acknowledge that there were a lot of people having problems).

I’m back in business, though, with the older version of Windows, thanks to full disk image backups I’d run to external hard drives. Not quite as recently as I’d wished, but recently enough.

If you have a major Windows update coming, do yourself a big favor and get yourself a fat external drive if you don’t already have one, and back up your whole system before the update! You’ll be glad you did.

Even if the emperor isn’t.

Antares Rises from the Ashes!

It’s been a month since my Asus laptop, Antares, died from motherboard failure—a year to the day after I purchased it. After much nudging, pleading, and cajoling on my part, Asus agreed to take it back for warranty repair. It came back this week, running again, but with Windows restored to a factory-new condition. Good(-ish)! I run a lot of software, and that means a week of reinstalling everything… unless… unless I can restore it from backup.

Before I sent it in, I’d pulled the hard drive and made a disk-image backup using Aomei free backup software, and a second backup using Paragon backup software, just in case. You can’t be too careful.

So I plug in the backup drive, run Aomei, and tell it to restore the drive from my backup. What could go wrong? Runnnn… brrrrrrrrr…boom, restart computer, and we’re back to Feb. 8. Right?

Restart computer. Boom. “Boot device not found.” Thud.

“It’s still dead, Jim.”

Two days later, and I’m still running different permutations of the restore, using a boot thumbdrive that Aomei created for me.  (Paragon created one, too, but it didn’t boot.) No response from an email to tech support.  And then, on the user forum, an admin casually notes that my backup procedure was flawed—can’t backup the system files from a drive in a USB enclosure. Oh, shirt.

As a temporary diversion, I spend an hour playing Mr. Fixit, replacing the faulty inlet valve in our dishwasher. At least that works!

I have more backups, though, right? Surely I do. Here’s one from November.  This is my last hope. I run it. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr… (it’s on a different backup drive, a slower one). Two hours later, restart. Boom. My heart leaps as I hear the Windows welcome chime! I have my desktop with all my stuff as of November! Restoring the missing data is just a detail, and I’m back in business!  Aomei Backupper, you came through!

Antares is alive again!

Asus Comes Through!

Will she come back to life?

Previously on the Star Rigger Chronicles…

We left our hero shedding more than one tear over his beloved laptop (It’s dead, Jim), which abruptly died a year to the day after purchase—and muttering imprecations about the manufacturer whose tech support said, “Sorry! Out of warranty!” It was a dark day.

But today, the shrouds of darkness have scattered! After receiving two voicemails from Asus asking if my problem has been resolved (Duh! No!), I (the hero is me) call them back. At first, the answer is the same, only better: “For an estimated $700, we will diagnose your machine and call you with a new estimate, which may be more. If you wish, you may dispute the new estimate.”

“Huh? Dispute the estimate? What does that even mean?”

“You can try to get a discount.”

 Groan. “Look, it died one year to the day after I bought it. Can’t you help me?”

Repeat refrain. Eventually, though, she says, “Let me put you on hold.” I hold. She comes back and says, “We are going to escalate this to corporate. You will get a call within 48 business hours.”

“Forty-eight business—” calculating in head “—does that mean six days?” No, that was just customer-support talk. It means two days.

Two hours later I get a call from corporate. They need a copy of my purchase receipt so they can escalate it again. I find the receipt, and with some difficulty get it scanned to a pdf. (The dead laptop is where I usually handle scanning.)

That was yesterday. Today I get the reply: “Yes, we will fix it under the warranty.”

From somewhere in the clouds, we hear, faintly, the triumphal sounds of John Williams and the London Symphony, playing the Throne Room theme from Star Wars! Yay!

Never give up! Never surrender!


WTF? Demons? Gremlins? Squirrels?

My trusty laptop Antares failed to power up today, precisely one day after the warranty expired. Nothing, nada, dark. That would have been bad enough, but it was my second machine to bite the dust between last night and this morning. My amazing Panasonic DVD recorder, Grabber, kacked in the middle of a DVD burn last night and now sits lifeless, with a hard drive full of movies and TV shows. And to top it all off, squirrels picked last night to bite through the light string on our outdoor tree, killing the pretty blue lights we had left on to brighten the winter nights.

For the laptop I hoped that Asus, the manufacturer, might cut me a little slack, especially since I believe that it shut itself off last night—which is probably when whatever happened, happened, on the last day of the warranty. No dice, though: “You called today, and your machine is out of warranty.” I declined to send it to them, did all the standard troubleshooting stuff, and then mournfully carted it off to the local computer repair place.


Edit: Asus has reversed its position! More to come at eleven.

And then there’s the Panasonic. I love this machine, a DMR-E85H, for those who care about such things. I got my first one close to fifteen years ago, and it continues to be a great way to collect movies and favorite shows from cable. (Yes, it’s legal.) Even recording a standard def analogue signal, it does an impressive job. It’s pretty much my only hobby right now—well, along with beating on the timpani in the basement.

This is my second Grabber. They work great for years, and then something goes—usually capacitors, at first. You can open the case and see visually when capacitors have failed, and they’re big enough that even I can solder in new ones. And then eventually something less obvious goes, and you’re done. I will open up Grabber 2 a little later to see if I can fix it. But meanwhile, there’s one just like it on ebay, and I’m, er, grabbing it. They stopped making these things years ago. I may just turn out to be their last devoted user!

And as for the squirrels? Electrocution’s too good for you!


The Laptop Is Dead (sigh). Long Live the Laptop!

Yeah, this is not how I was planning to spend my first week at home. But my laptop, Cygnus-X, started failing on the trip and limped along just far enough to get me back to Boston. In this case it was the screen, not the smart innards, that went bad. I googled the problem and tried the most common fix, which was replacing the video inverter for $20 from Amazon; and that killed it dead. Here’s me, heroically trying to rescue trusty Cygnus, but it was too little, too late.

Given that the little fellow was over seven years old in laptop years—which is I don’t know what in dog years, but old, and slow—I decided it was time to replace it. (But really, two computers in three months? Seems extreme.) Anyway, here is the new beauty, Antares. Named for her glowing red backlit keys (Antares is a red star), and for the lovely Antares in the Chaos books.

Antares is an Asus gaming laptop. I don’t do gaming, but I wanted as much speed and capacity as I could afford, because in two years, it’s going to seem like molasses. So get a running start, is what I figured. Plus, I really like the keyboard!

Antares, live long and prosper! Please.

The Computer is Dead! Long Live the Computer!

My office computer Polaris, five and half years into its five-year mission, has gone to the great computer heaven in the sky. My new computer is a Dell XPS tower, with lots of power and a great deal of memory (by today’s standards; tomorrow, not so sure). It was on sale at Costco for a good price. I decided to name it after another great computer, renowned for its stability and wisdom. Minions, fans, and onlookers, I present to you…HAL! HAL, meet your minions, fans, and onlookers! Long live the computer!


I like my new computer. Windows 10, on the other hand…? Well. Let’s just say that several hairbrained design decisions on the part of Microsoft developers made the transition a lot harder than it should have been. For instance, whose idea was it that when you enter the profile name you want for your account, Microsoft quietly truncates it and uses the short form for all your file paths—rendering impossible what you probably want to do, which is to mirror the setup of your old system. Document paths? Gone. Itunes playlists? Gone. Well, that ought to be easy to change, right? No, actually, it’s not. I did finally fix it—thanks to Google, other users, and a bit of hacking in the Windows registry. (On a new machine! Really?)

I also decided it was way past time for a new monitor for my poor eyes. My new one is much bigger, with higher resolution, and so on. Thought I, this should make all the text on the screen easier to read. Wait, what? Why is all the text now tiny? Oh yeah—more pixels per inch. Smaller letters. Okay, sure—but how stupid is that? My wife nodded knowingly and said she gave up on her office computer and just got used to reading small text. (Yes, you can go into settings and enlarge the text, but you degrade clarity and performance when you do.) Why has nobody fixed this problem? Are all those developers in their early twenties, with great eyesight? That must be it. Same idiots who use light gray font on websites. What did I say about walking on my lawn?

Still, I think HAL and I are going to be great friends. Right, HAL? Could you open the pod bay door for me, HAL? HAL?

How Windows 10 Borked My Computer and Ruined My Life

Okay, it didn’t ruin my life, exactly, but it sure ruined my day. Microsoft laid the “Windows 10 anniversary update” on me—and I was still waiting to discover how the first Windows 10 upgrade was any improvement over 7—and that was the last time my office computer worked right. I’m typing on it right now, but I know it’s only a matter of time before the blue screen of death strikes again. I’m dancing at the edge of a crumbling cliff here. I’ve already fallen a couple dozen times, and I’m feeling bruised.

First place, this machine is only five and a half years old, for Heaven’s sake! Yeah, I know that’s, like, 35 in dog years, and a century in computer years, but I still don’t like how fast these things turn to rust. I also don’t like when “upgrades” break things that worked just fine!* And get the hell off my lawn! spent the better part of a day running updates and diagnostics and doing everything but turn it upside down and shake it, I’m now thinking: Keep spending time trying to make an old computer run right? Or is it time to start checking prices at Costco…?

*Comcast/Xfinity was the subject of my wrath last week, when they summarily removed their very useful online DVR manager from their website, and replaced it with crippleware that I can only run on my Android tablet. I’m still fuming about that. And what’d I just say about the lawn?