Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Windows XP just keeps searching for updates

When attempting to manually run Automatic Updates in Windows XP, you may get stuck at the page that displays "Checking for the latest updates for your computer..."

I tend to only have this happen on new installs of XP, which due to software requirements, still have to get installed from time to time. It doesn't seem to matter whether I launch AU from the Start Menu or from within IE, or if I click the "Express" or "Custom" update options.

Sometimes, you can force it from the command line:
wuauclt.exe /detectnow

These days I find Internet Explorer needs to be updated first.
(Or just google "Download Internet Explorer".)

I uncheck the prompt to install updates as I prefer to have control over what it installs.

Once it's installed, you can either wait or use the above command line to check for updates. There won't be many at first, but it does seem to get the ball rolling.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Failings of Canada's Emergency Alert System

Alert Ready
Canada has launched a new emergency alert system to notify their citizens of important information. The problem is, instead of using it as an opportunity to build a new and better system suited for the digital age, they've recreated the decades old system already existing in the US.

Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I'm not against the alert system. There's a lot of value in building something this important based on a system that's been reliably operating for a long time. But there are a number of problems and missed opportunities.

What is it?

Essentially, it's a system that allows information regarding "threat-to-life" or "threat-to-property" situations to interrupt normal programming on TV and Radio. (Although media is allowed to broadcast alerts with their own staff on their own schedules instead of interrupting programming immediately.) While many notices are sent out daily, only the most important events are flagged to interrupt service. Extra content, like press releases, pictures and maps, can be included in these alerts for news staff to manually upload to websites or push to social media.

There are plenty of situations it's been designed for, such as:
  • Weather emergencies from a tornado or flood.
  • Man-made disasters like a plant failure, chemical spill or train carrying dangerous goods.
  • Amber Alerts.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Blogger only displays some images in Lightbox

Just solved this one for myself. I've got a page (Hordeboloods) that for formatting reasons, I create in Dreamweaver, then copy the code to a Blogger post whenever I want to update it. Noticed an image that the browser would just open instead of displaying in the lightbox display.

Here's how I solved it:

I compared the image to some of my other images, found some discrepancies and the problem ended up being the "alt" property of the image. Even if you don't have any text in the alt text, it appears you need it. Make sure your IMG tag contains:


or with a description.

There are a few other differences. There's an imageanchor tag in the A link, the link and the image path had different paths, but changing these (even after I got it working) didn't change whether it worked or not.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Schrodinger's Backups

A comment on a cautionary tale from Spiceworks offers a wealth of IT insight:

Schrodinger's Backups:
"When you are not testing them the backups are both there and not there at the same time."
- Wilkins IT Solutions (Though I don't know the original source of this quote.)

Apparently this is a thing. What's this mean? The Schrodinger Cat theory basically boils down to a situation where two states are considered true at the same time until someone checks them. In the case of the cat, you've got a cat in a box that will be poisoned at an unknown time, therefor without looking in the box, the cat is considered to be both alive and dead. (Personally, I'd say it's "unknown" not in both states, but hey, what do I know of quantum mechanics?)

So, you're doing backups? Great. Do they work? Have you ever tested restoring even one?

In this case, backup files physically exist, but without testing them, you don't really know if the backup is valid.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Recycle Bin Backup Files

Came across this over on FailDesk and my how it brought me back to an incident I dealt with / created once. We had issues with the Exchange server filling up and while users weren't bad about deleting large emails or backing them up to local PST's, they never emptied their Deleted Items. This led to full mailboxes and serious performance issues.

I had the bright idea to instigate a group policy that emptied Deleted Items when they closed Outlook. This worked great and quickly managed everyone's accounts for them. Until... "All my important emails are gone!" What? Turns out. A user who, yes, had what I would consider important emails, turned out to use a rather peculiar method of record keeping. They stored emails they wanted out of sight that they'd dealt with, but might have to reference later, in the Deleted Items. What? When they were done with them for sure, that's when they'd manually remove them permanently. (These were emails I probably would have stored, not even deleted.)

So, that caused a bit of an incident. The user could not be convinced that storing emails in the trash was unwise. I believe I was able to restore the emails in question, but wow. Moving forward, I left the GPO in place and it solved a lot of email woes.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

SVCHOST.exe 100% CPU Usage [XP]

Microsoft may be cancelling support for Windows XP, but that doesn't mean your computer's going to stop secretly checking for updates. Ran into an issue today and one of the things I noticed was that in the Task Manager "svchost.exe" was at 99% usage and staying that way. I thought maybe it was LogMeIn since I was connected remotely, svchost's a network process and upon checking another XP machine, it too had the same redline. Dropping out of LogMeIn and reconnecting showed the CPU usage remained constant.

After a little digging, I saw that this issue can point to Automatic Updates tripping up and the solution is to disable AU. Funny thing is, these are mission critical PCs and thus already have AU disabled... double-checking confirmed that.

By now on the other PC I'd checked, it's svchost.exe was back to normal. From what I read, this issue only affects some PCs. (Obviously, since the internet didn't totally blow up.)


First, make sure Automatic Updates are turned off.

Control Panel -> Automatic Updates

I'm not saying don't do updates - In a business environment it's a good idea to control when updates occur. If you've got a bunch of specialized software, you can lower the chance of random conflicts and errors since you'll be able to draw more cause and effect if a problem creeps up when you can control what software is installed, when.

Identify test users from multiple departments who you can roll updates out to and see how things work. You'll get the best control from configuring your own WSUS server. That's Windows Server Update Services. It allows a domain environment to push updates out yourself, to specific computers, in a user friendly GUI. If your site is bandwidth limited, this is a must as your server will download all the Microsoft updates overnight and domain PCs will grab them locally.

Disable the Automatic Update Service

I've seen updates appear when Automatic Updates were turned off and heard that your computer will still check in to Microsoft from time to time and grab the occasional update. Since I already had Automatic Updates turned off, here's what's fixed it for me.

Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Services

Find Automatic Updates in the list and the status will probably already say "Started".

You can select it, then click the little stop button in the menu bar or right-click and choose "Stop" but all that did for me was drop CPU back to normal for a few seconds and back up to 99% with an error that the service can't be stopped right now. The second time I clicked "Stop" it actually stopped and things calmed down.

The sure-fire way is to right-click, choose "Properties" then change the "Startup type" to "Disabled" in the drop-down. This will prevent the service from starting when your computer boots up.

In theory, disabling this service will stop Windows XP from secretly checking for updates.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Leaps of logic [photo]

The leaps of logic people are willing to make when something goes wrong no longer surprises me.

source: Faildesk
I deal with this sort of thing all the time....