Tech Support With Thomas Hawk

Ok, I’ve been thinking about doing a post like this for a while. This is going to be the post where I bitch about technology not working right. Except that this is going to be a living breathing post that frequently jumps to the top of my blog. Basically it will work like this. From now on I’m going to begin documenting in this thread (it’s going to get very very long), as many technical problems that I’m having with regards to my computers, networks, media center, etc. that I can. I’ll keep the post divided into two areas. Problems remaining and problems solved. Feel free to chime in if you think you know what my problem is and I’ll try out your solution (maybe).

I’ll change the date on this post every time I update it to bump it to the top of my blog.

So to start with I’m going to start with two problems I’m having tonight. Each problem will be numbered. Part of why I’m doing this is that I’m hoping that problems that I have will be solved and as my Google Page Rank is reasonably high others will find these solutions in the future when having similar problems.

Ongoing Open Problems

1. Problem number 1. My computer seems to be inexplicably freezing up (yes it’s a Windows machine, I know, I know, get a Mac) periodically. These are really bad freeze ups. Control-alt-delete does not return my PC. I can’t alt tab. Total freeze up. The only way to get my computer back is to restart. The last time it happened I had Pandora on in the background (but this is probably just coincidence) the music even stops and stutters as the freeze happens. The most recent thing I’ve installed is Windows new Live One Care. My next step is going to be to uninstall Live One Care and see if that helps me out at all.

Update: 10 hours or so and no crashes so far since uninstalling Windows Live One Care. If my freeze ups go away for a week straight I will probably consider this one solved and that Windows Live One Care was somehow the culprit. If they come back though I’ll probably need to continue troubleshooting. Thanks for all the memory advice and hardware suggestions. I’m going to try to run a memory diagnostic from Microsoft once I can figure out how to get an .iso image burned and Ed Bott also suggested some Dell Diagnostic tools that I’m hoping to try out if they are free as well.

2. Problem number 2. I’ve got Blogger set to remember my user ID and password. But for some reason when I go to Blogger in Flock it is prefilling out my blogger user ID and password with my email address and wrong password. I have to over write this info every time I publish to blogger. When I go to Blogger in firefox, even when I tell Blogger to remember me on this computer my blogger log on and password are blank. As I type the first letter Firefox shows me the correct ID in the form, but I can’t seem to get Blogger to either truly remember me on this computer or have it prepopulate my blogger user ID and password with the correct fields in either Firefox or Flock.

3. Ok, I lied, one more problem (I remembered this one while trying to uninstall Live One Care). When I go to add/remove programs in windows and launch it, it takes a really, really, really long time to open up the list of programs. It says, “please wait while this list is being populated” but it can take upwards of three to four minutes before the list populates. It’s been this way for about a year. Why so slow? Update: make that at least 10 minutes. It shouldn’t take 10 minutes to open the add/remove programs control programs app.

4. Ok, while downloading a Windows Memory Diagnostic from the Ultimate Boot CD site suggested by Sean (great site by the way Sean) I went to go find the downloaded .iso file on my C: drive where I downloaded it. The problem is that Windows Explorer seems to think that my C: drive is somehow an album instead of my C: drive and rather than my usual headings in Explorer (most recently modified, file name, etc.) I’m getting, album title, year, duration, type headings instead. I’m not sure how to force Explorer to show me the correct file headings instead of album track headings. This is happening to other folders on my PC as well. Of course there are some mp3s on my C: drive, but this should not be over riding my menus.

Update: I even removed all of the mp3s off of my C: drive and it still thinks my C: drive is an album in Explorer.

Solved Problems

None solved yet, but I’m optimistic many will be moved down here in the future.

38 Replies to “Tech Support With Thomas Hawk”

  1. hmmm shahn, thank you for that link to Raymond Chen’s blog. That was some very informative reading on the add/remove control panel. I didn’t really see anything that directly addressed my problem per se though. I think the people in the comments section are talking about it taking a long time and maybe 30 or 60 seconds is long to them, but in my case it can take over 10 minutes. This does not seem normal. I certainly do wait 30 to 60 seconds on my office PC and on my Media Center PC and on my laptop PC, but 10 minutes seems excessive for my main office work horse. Would love to find a fix to clear out whatever is making it take this long. Thanks for hte pointer Shahn!

    Rohit, look forward to reading that email. Thanks.

  2. For #1, my first though is that a driver is the culprit. Any hard lock like that sounds like spinning at ring zero.

    Audio drivers are notoriously tricky beasts – and as audio was spluttering when the lock happened it sounds (pun intended) likely.

    Have you tried upgrading them? Are the current drivers microsoft written or supplied by the audio card manufacturer?

  3. I agree with Steve, #1 sounds like a hardware error of somesort.

    Have you tried doing a general system check (doing a memtest on your ram, video card test, etc)? If not, there is a tool called “The Ultimate Boot CD”, which contains hundreds of tools for fixing hardware problems (and it’s free!)

    Hope this helps

  4. Hi TH.

    In my own experience, “hard freezes” are usually the result of a hardware failure, most often, RAM.

    RAM is physical, and it decays physically over time. I’d replace RAM for sporadic “hard freezes.”

  5. #1 could also be dodgy memory or badly seated memory. I’ve ‘built’ a few PCs in my time and one would crash at completely random times. It turned out to be dodgy RAM which I had replaced for free.

    But yes, generally if the crashing doesn’t seem to relate to a specific software event then it’s something in the hardware. If you have two memory slots try removing one and then the other to see whether that solves the problem.

  6. Ok, memory problems seem to be suggested a lot here. I took Sean’s advice and went to that Ultimate Boot CD site and downloaded an iso file that looks like it tests memory from Microsoft. I’ll run this and see what if it gives back a healthy report.

    Audio drivers are a good call as well. Although I do use Windows Update to try and keep things updated I will look into my specific audio drivers and see if there are not more recent drivers from my soundcard manufacturer.

    As to the advice to completely reinstall Windows, I’d hope to avoid this as it would require quite a bit more work than I’d like to do at present and could have unintended consequences with other software I’ve got installed. But it’s worth keeping in mind as a worst case scenario.

    Since I started this post and uninstalled Windows One Live Care my computer has not frozen yet. If my freezes stop since that uninstall I’d probably chalk it up to that being the culprit. If they come back though I’ll need to keep digging. The driver updates and memory tests are good things to do anyways of course. I’ll keep you posted and thanks to everyone for all the great advice.

  7. Ok, the file that I downloaded from Microsoft came over to my C: drive ok, but I’m not quite sure how to use it. I need to learn more about .iso files I think. I first dragged and dropped the file to my CD drive and had it burn the file to a CD but that doesn’t seem to do anything for me to actually run a program. The file’s name is Windiag but when I double click that file on the CD it launches something called Win Image (it seems like some kind of an extract application). Inside the Win Image folder is a folder called I386. If I extract this file to a folder on my C: drive I get a file called WinDiag. When I double click on this file, Windows asks me which application I want to use to open this file and at that point I’m lost. I guess my question is how do I get this file that I downloaded into the state where it is a workable application that I can launch and actually use to perform a memory test on my PC.

  8. I have to agree this sounds like a hardware problem. Something similar just happened to me, as I explain here.

  9. Thomas, an ISO file is a CD image. You need to use a burning program to copy that image to a CD. If you have Nero, look under the Recorder menu, for the Burn Image command. (Or Google iso burner.) When you’re done you’ll have a bootable CD.

  10. Ok, great to hear from you Ed. Tech support from Ed Bott. Impressive. I don’t have the program Nero so I did exactly what you said and Googled for a program.

    The first program I tried was ISO Recorder v2 I installed the software successfully (I think) but then couldn’t find it anywhere on my computer. It didn’t show as a new program in my “All Programs” menu and when I searched for “iso” on my C: drive where I installed it I couldn’t find the app. So I gave up and tried another Googled choice. Deepburner:≺=provsfree

    Unfortunately I could not figure out how still to get my .iso file written to a disc. I burned 4 or 5 discs but it always seems to just be a copy of the .iso file.

    I’m reluctant to buy a commercial program like Nero as writting .iso’s is not something I do everyday. I may need to keep looking for a better a better free .iso writting program that I can figure out how to use.

  11. ok, also I went to Creative’s Website and tried to update my audio driver. The driver on my computer for my SB Live Soundcard showed 2002 so I figured I’d give it a try. Creative had a driver update for my card but they didn’t show the driver version anywhere I could easily find. I figured since my driver was from 2002 it wouldn’t hurt to try their latest update so I ran through their software update. Unfortunately it seems like I’ve got the exact same driver installed as before, so I’m assuming that version, dated 7/24/2002 from Creative is in fact the most current audio driver for my soundcard.

  12. Wow, a lot of things in here.

    First, if you have an ISO recorder program (Nero, WinISO, ISO recorder, etc) then you can burn CDs. The simplest – ISO Recorder, which you already downloaded and installed (sounds like) doesn’t let you do any modifications – just burn a CD. Right-click on an iso file and you should get a “copy to CD” option I believe. Burn away.

    For memory I like memtest86+ from Burn the ISO, reboot to the CD and let it burn through your memory for a while. It exhaustively tests your memory and will tell you if there are any errors. Haven’t tried the ultimate boot image.

    What type/model of laptop do you have? I have an IBM Thinkpad with the ActiveProtect (?) hard drive software which parks your head if it detects a drop (ie if I drop the laptop). I’ve bumped it hard a couple times on accident and it locked up.

    Of course I’d look for bios updates, other firmware updates, etc.

    Sorry about your add/remove programs. Not sure, I’ve seen a lot of complaints about it. If you really are bugged about it try some programs that show you what’s going on (see for some that I like. There won’t be an obvious smoking gun (most likely) but you could see what’s taking so much time – disk i/o etc. Your big key is “it didn’t used to take so long.” Try disabling any/all anti-whatever programs (virus/spam/etc) and things that monitor whatever, then try add/remove, see if its faster. Maybe the Live OneCare is scanning everything in site. If its faster, start programs until you find the 1/2 that are the “cause” of the slowdown.

    Or take some suggestions and use 3rd party software.

  13. Thomas,
    When you install ISO Recorder it basically adds a new right-click option to ISO files. To burn a CD of the image you can right-click on it and there should be an option like “Burn to CD” (I don’t currently have it installed). Give that a shot. Once you do that a wizard comes up and your off to the races.

  14. Not sure about the Add/Remove Programs thing, but I can give you some pointers:

    Try running a registry cleanup program–there might be something corrupted or incorrect in the Windows registry.

    Do you have Windows 2000 and IE 5.5 or 6? Try re-installing IE or do a detect-and-repair on it.

  15. For #4: You can set what type of folder you have by right-clicking on the folder and going into properties and then the customize tab. Documents is the type you are looking for I believe. Not sure how you can get to this on the drive root, but it works for any folder.


  16. About the long time for Add/Remove, I have found that Windows creates a very large list in memory to show in that window.

    To create the list Windows iterates over the registry looking for all programs installed and registered, then it searches for information for each (how recently used, disk space, etc), and makes the list appear. This activity is normally spread all over the system.

    What it sounds like is that while creating this list, it uses up all the physical RAM in you machine and starts swapping. Then creating the list will slow down tremendously. (100 times or more.)

    The way to check this is to run Task Manager before opening the Add/Remove icon, and watch the amount of memory that the program uses. When the Commit Charge (at the bottom of the window) goes over your physical memory size (2G or whatever :), then you are actively swapping, and performance completely tanks.

    BTW, this could be related to your hard hang problem. Windows is notorious for hanging while actively swapping.

    The solution to this is to:
    1. remove a large number of the programs installed
    2. install more memory
    3. remove all the system tray fluff to free up memory (you can do this temporarily on most by right-clicking and selecting Exit)

    Please let me know if I have not been clear enough.

  17. TH, you can use an .ISO file without actually burning it to CD, which may save you some time. Install the Virtual CD PowerToy from Microsoft that you can find here:

    You have to tell the the app where the driver is (which is inlcuded), then create and mount a virtual drive to the .ISO file. Might save you some time. I use this method to install the Vista beta .ISOs so I don’t have to burn DVDs. Good luck and ping me if I can help.

  18. Ok, I’m at work right and tonight is my 10 year anniversary with my wife but I’m going to try and check on some of these solutions that you all are leaving. I’ll try to answer stuff I can from work though too.

    Steve, I don’t think my add/remove programs thing is a memory resource issue. I’ve got a gig of RAM on the machine and even if straight from startup with no other apps open it takes this long to open.

    Kate, do you have a particular registry cleanup program you’d recommend? I don’t use IE on the machine, only Firefox and Flock.

    Anonymous, with regards to changing the type of folder that I’m viewing, yes, I’ve done that in the past. But I’m not sure how to change it for a drive. Windows thinks my C: drive is an album and I can’t go into the properties and change what kind of folder it is like I can with folders.

    Shahn, I’ll try that right click burn to CD thing with the downloaded ISO file and hopefully that will work.

    Mike, thanks for the same advice and for those links. I will certainly check those links out and report back. When I say add/remove didn’t used to take so long that was about a year ago. For the past year or so it’s been dog slow like this though. Hard to pinpoint what made it change. I think I’ve uninstalled all the software I can. The remaining items are either things that I know that I want Flock, Photoshop, etc. or they are things that I don’t know what they are and I’m reluctant to uninstal (things like tons of Windows hot fixes). I’ll try and put a list together of everything that I don’t know that is installed in the add/remove programs box though and maybe some of you can point me to what I can safely remove.

    Thanks all for your help. I think this is going to be an interesting and educational series and hopefully I’ll have a better/faster machine in the end.

  19. Thomas–Nope, I generally hand-hack it based on usergroup information or MSKB information. There’s MS’s “RegClean”, which is no longer supported and apparently can cause corruption while cleaning it up. Fun.

    Whether you use IE or not, is it installed on your machine? If it’s installed (which can happen automagically via Windows Updates), you might try the re-install/detect-repair thing anyway.

    When ARP opens up, do you have any large blank spaces? There’s an issue with some program installers that identify a program icon with a -1 in the registry (don’t ask why) which causes some problems (AutoCAD is the one I’m used to).

    Also, there’s this MSKB article titled “Add/Remove Programs Tool Responds Slowly” –

  20. Hi Thomas,

    It looks like #4 hasn’t been really addressed yet. It’s probably just a case of the wrong column headings being selected in Windows Explorer. Try right clicking on one of the column headers (like Album Title). This should display a drop down menu of all the available choices. Then just select the ones you want.

    You can change the order by dragging the header and dropping it where you want it to go. Once you have this set up the way you like, you can apply it system-wide by going to Tools | Folder Options and clicking on the View tab. Click on the Apply To All Folders button and all your folders will have the same layout.

    Then, you can just reset your MP3 folder(s) to the music-centric layout by changing that folder’s columns as required.

    Hope that helps.

  21. Re Kevin Tofel’s Virtual CD suggestion: Won’t work here. You need to create an actual physical CD and boot off it.

    Re item #4: Try Start, Control Panel, Folder Options, View tab, Reset All Folders.

  22. Oh, and Happy Anniversary. Judy and I celebrate 10 years at the end of November.

    Please lock up any connected devices you have before you leave for the evening. No geeking out on your anniversary.

  23. I’ll chime in to agree with the others in thinking that problem #1 is a hardware issue. I had a similar problem with an old IDE controller for one of my hard drives. A driver upgrade solved the problem. It may be worth going through all of your hardward and checking the manufacturer’s websites for updated drivers.

    As for #2, I noticed that the Blogger login screen was pre-filling the fields with my Gmail address. It started after what looks like a recent upgrade (maybe one or two weeks ago)? There may be some Google integration going on that’s tricking Firefox. Is it consistently filling in another address? Try clearing out that password in your password manager:

    Tools > Options > Privacy > Passwords > View Saved Passwords

    The next time you login, Firefox’ll ask you if you’d like to remember the password. As far as Blogger “remembering” you, it’s likely that your cookies are getting periodically deleted, likely when you close Firefox. Check the following settings:

    Tools > Options > Privacy > Cookies > Keep cookies

    Set it to “until they expire” if you’d like to keep them. Personally, I like to clear my cookies each time I exit Firefox (it clears out all of the crumbs gathered while I surf).

  24. Ed, thanks for pointing that out! I came into the comments late and thought TH just needed to run the .ISO from within the OS. You’re right; this solution won’t work for booting; my bad!

  25. Memory diagnostic is always a good starting point. If you have a Vista DVD start a boot from that when asked to hit a key to boot from DVD hit the esc key. Now instead of starting a vista install a memory diagnostic tool is loaded allowing you to do exhaustive memory tests. This is obviously there so PCs can be tested for memory problems before commencing an install, but as in the future you are always likely to a have a Vista DVD close to hand it will save the hassle of looking for a 3rd party diagnostic tool… that you will have misplaced when it is most needed 🙂

  26. To fix your issue with C: coming up as an album you might want to try this:

    1) Click on Start -> My Computer
    2) Click on Tools -> Folder Options
    3) Click on View and then Reset All Folders
    4) Close all explorer windows, and then reopen C: and it should be normal.

    This post is posted AS-IS, with no Warranty or Guarantee of any kind.

  27. Thomas,

    I’ve just gotten done dealing with a very similar issue with the freezing. I think you are on the right track with Windows One Care. My issue was with the Windows Update service (wuauclt.exe).

    You might want to review my blog post.
    Thawing an XP System


  28. 1a) Memtest86 can also be downloaded and put onto floppy disk, which can be used to boot a system as well (assuming your system HAS a floppy drive now…). It also comes in an ISO flavor to burn on CD.

    I’ve used on it many systems and been able to confirm what it found “software” wise when putting the memory stick on a hardware-based mem-testing unit.

    1b) Consider downloading and running Sysinternal’s ProcessExplorer (freeware) while your system is running and you are doing your normal tasks. If your system begins to bog down, flip over to it (if you have a multi-display rig just keep it maximized on the other window) and see what process(s) are hogging all your CPU cycles (if any). That can help you get a name to track down.

    1c) We haven’t discussed malware/spyware/virus activity. I’m sure it would be a long-shot with you, but stranger things have happened. I’m assuming you’ve been running your security scans and they have come back clean? My choices blogged: Claus Valca’s Top-10 Anti-Malware tools.

    1d) I’ve not used Windows Live One Care, but I’ve noticed that when my systems go “on line” to check for Windows Automatic Updates, the update process can take a big chunk of processor CPU load. If your CPU is beefy (2GHz+) you might not notice, but if it is lowly it might “lock-up” until the update process has ended. You didn’t mention your system OS version, but I’m guessing it’s a flavor of XP. Try disabling Windows Automatic Updates for a bit. See if that helps.

    2) I don’t use Flock, (preferring Windows Live Writer (freeware). But have been feeling HIGHLY aggrieved with Blogger. Ever since they set their “dual-login” (Blogger or Gmail) up, Firefox has refused to save or remember my password/account name no matter what I do. I suspect it was a page coding issue interacting with Firefox. Nothing I tried (and I tried everything!) could fix it. Anyway, Blogger just now changed their Blogger login page design again and the new method is retaining my user login name and password on my machine again (Firefox user!). So that problem seems to be history. Maybe it will have fixed yours as well. You will probably need to tell Flock/Firefox to remember it again after you log in this new method for the first time.

    3) If you’ve got a sizable number of installed applications in your Windows Add/Remove list, it can take a very long time to open and build the list. I don’t think this is a system problem (per-se), but an implementation problem with XP/W2K. I’ve given up using Add/Remove in the Control Panel and now use either of these two mini-applications to accomplish the same thing in a few seconds:

    Uninstall Tool 1.6.6
    (freeware) — tiny, fast and brilliant! A must-have utility on my pc! Never look at MS’s Add/Remove again.

    Safarp (freeware) — I used this one before finding Uninstall Tool. Also brilliant, tiny and fast!

    Take your pick, and never look back!

    4) That is weird. I say go with what mike suggests for lack of a better suggestion!

    (extra issues that you posed) I generally don’t do much registry cleaning. Not that it doesn’t get “messy” from lots of installs/uninstalls over the years, but “defragging, cleaning and compressing” the registry just hasn’t netted me much noticeable pperformance gains over the years on the pc’s I’ve tried it on. That said, take a look into these applications: Like Kate suggests, I’ve used RegClean from time to time. (See warning about using on W2K/XP systems!) Others you may want to try are: CCleaner (freeware) — it does a ton of system cleaning including the registry. Used it faithfully for a long time with good results. Also ToniArt’s EasyCleaner (freeware). Dependable pc housecleaning application. Finally, there is RegSeeker (freeware) – another dependable registry/system cleaner.

    –Best regards, Love your photography!

  29. Regarding #4.
    Your bags are full. Well, there is something in the registry that keeps track on your folder views. its set to remember just a few and when you reach that its starts to screw things up. Reset them and it will be normal again but if you have some special setting on some folder those will be lost. The position and size of the explorer window will be lost too.

    Regarding #3
    Perhaps its time to clean your registry. I dont know if that would help. Perhaps it will, perhaps it wont but its always good to get rid of junk.

  30. Hi there, I found your posting about Alex Feinman’s Isorecorder. According to the first line of the tutorial, you have to right click on the iso image icon and you will see Copy Image To CD. Then a nice little GUI/wizard comes up and helps you along. Good luck.

  31. My add/remove programs list takes a long time to load. I traced the problem to the long time it took to scan my Netgear NAS drive. Apparently add/remove programs scans all the (non removable) drive letter drives on your computer. I discovered this by running DU meter which shows a high volume of LAN traffic (to my network drive)during the add/remove program list scan. A feature of the Netgear device is that it can be assigned a drive letter as though it were on the local computer, rather than being a network share drive.

  32. Thomas

    A little too late – but then all the more reason to ask.. Did you ever find a resolution to point # 3 ?
    Takes 20+ minutes for my pc to come up with the list of applications installed on my computer in the “Add Remove Programs” option. For the generic advice folks: This is a brand new install of Windows XP and all I can say is that something got installed over time to make it so. Not sure what causes it but I ahve seen this before Any inputs will help Thomas.

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