Category - Windows 10

Saving Money On Magazines

ReadlyA couple of years ago I was having a clear out and I was amazed at the number of magazines I’d collected over the years. They were mainly my Classic Rock mags, and part of my decision to have a clear out was that I’d been getting more and more disillusioned with that particular publication.

At the time, I was on an annual subscription, but Planet Rock had just launched its own magazine and that did exactly what it said on the tin – it covered rock music. Classic Rock acquired a new editor, and she made it clear in her introductory piece what she was planning. Subsequently, any rock music they covered had to include at least half female acts – meaning it became obscure and far from ‘classic’, at best – and they also decided that (as just one example) Depeche Mode somehow ticked both the ‘classic’ and ‘rock’ boxes at the same time (actually, they decided twice in the space of just a couple of months with that one example). Then they did their ‘best 100 female artists of all time’ issue, and necessarily had to include non-rock genres to fill it out. That was it from me, and I cancelled my sub.

Before any feminists start frothing at the mouth over this, I go to see lots of female artists and bands with female members. I actually seek them out if I hear them on Planet Rock and like the sound. Like Samantha Fish, Haim, Paramore, Evanescence, Courtney Love, Joanne Shaw Taylor, The Lounge Kittens… I just don’t need any feminist magazine editors trying to filter out the men for me. And if you don’t like the fact that I don’t like that fact, click the back button and go somewhere else.

Planet Rock mag suits me fine, but when the lockdown came along, it also came with a lot of extra time for reading and finding tips on how to do stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise had time for. And going out to buy magazines wasn’t an option – even if it would have been of benefit with the ‘current’ issue on sale (you usually need a series of them).

A few years ago, as a result of my quest to find some authentic German food recipes, I came across a subscription service called Readly. It carries – and this is no exaggeration – thousands of UK titles. They’re all the ones you see on the newsstands (and many you don’t), from TV Times, OK!, Hello!, through all the photography and amateur DIY magazines, through to music and musicians (including Classic Rock). They cover specialist computer and technology subjects, gaming, weddings, cycling, fishing, horse riding, pets… everything (but no X-rated adult stuff). Including back issues, too, which multiplies the content by at least ten. And as I already implied, they have similar numbers of publications from Europe, Asia, and America. They’ve also recently started including newspapers, though it’s only The Independent and Evening Standard right now.

My normal Readly subscription is less than £8 a month, but they offer a two months for free trial. Even so, at £8 a month, that’s the newsstand cost of just three magazines! If you were after foreign magazines, you’d probably pay more than that for a single issue once shipping was included.

You can get the Readly app with the offer through Amazon (it’s free), and you can read on your phone, tablet, or computer. You can also read offline by downloading the content.


Windows 10 and Disk Imaging Software

I originally wrote this in 2015 and updated it in mid-2016. It has been popular again recently as a result of the Wannacry and Petya/NotPetya outbreaks.

I upgraded to Windows 10 [2014], and I haven’t regretted it for a moment. The only drawback to Microsoft’s “free upgrade” at that time was that you didn’t get an installation disk (though you can make your own), and it was just that: an upgrade. Hard disk internal view

I have been building my own computers for the last 15 years or so, and I like them running in tip-top condition. Windows has always suffered from what is known as “OS decay” (also called “software rot” and “Windows rot”). The simple fact is that ALL software is liable to degrade over time, and it isn’t just a Windows issue, and what happens is that all the juggling of files, upgrading, installing and uninstalling, software bugs, crashes, and so on, can cause a lot of small changes on a computer. Over time these may accumulate to such a level that the system becomes slow or unstable, and the only sensible way around it is to format your hard drive and do an absolutely clean install of Windows, followed by all your other drivers and software. Absolutely the last thing you want to be doing is upgrading a system which is already in bad shape. But that’s pretty much what you had to do with Windows 10 in order to take up the free offer.

I’ve done clean installs so many times on my own machines (and those of others, including over the phone when I worked in tech support) that I can usually do a format and have a clean machine running in a few hours. I have all my software’s installation files saved along with my software keys, which I just cut and paste as and when I need them. It sounds easy, but even when it’s your own system and you know what you’re doing, it’s still a bloody nuisance. You lose anything you haven’t backed up, and no matter how careful you are there’s always something you forget or misplace. I’ve never been 100% happy with doing it this way. It’s a right pain in the arse.

In the past I’ve toyed with using disk imaging software. The idea behind this is that you can effectively take a snapshot of your hard drive – with Windows and all your software on it – save it, and then copy it back (re-image) on to your disk at some point in the future if you need to. Each time you restore a saved image snapshot, you end up with a system which is in exactly the same condition it was in when you took the snapshot.

For some years I used Paragon software for creating backup images of my Windows installations. On paper, Paragon’s program was very good, but in all honesty it was the absolute pits when it came to doing an actual restore. It wasn’t at all user friendly, which is why I’ve tended to go for clean installs. But with Windows 10 initially being an upgrade rather than a standalone install, I decided that I really did need a proper disk imaging system once and for all.Macrium Reflect

After a bit of research, I found Macrium Reflect. It is available as a free version, and installs in a few seconds. I can’t believe I mucked about with Paragon for so long. I have since upgraded to the Pro version of Reflect.

When you first run Reflect it nags you to create bootable rescue disk (the Pro version also allows you to create a bootable USB stick), which you need in order to restore an image. Creating the rescue disk is very simple, and once you’ve done it you’re free to create your main image.

With my initial Windows 10 upgrade, what I did was this:

  • backed up all my important stuff (photos, documents, emails, etc.) to separate hard drives
  • ran the Windows 10 upgrade in order to activate my free licence
  • did a clean install of Windows 10 (which you can do once you have the licence)
  • installed my drivers
  • created a Reflect image of that system (“clean image”)

Then I installed all my software, activated it, and created another image (“clean working image”).

Periodically, I create a rolling image of my system as it stands at the time. If anything goes wrong in the short term I can restore that, but more serious issues might require me to use one of the previous two images.

A good example of needing to re-image my system stems from my participation in the Windows Insider Program. Due to a couple of cranky Insider builds, I decided I wanted a clean install. All I had to do was export my Outlook files (my other personal files are not stored on the C drive), then run the Macrium restore. It took about 5 minutes and I had a fully operational clean install from the “clean working image”. I then reinstalled any software I’d purchased since that image was made, and that was it.

Macrium Reflect is perfect anyone who wants to create a safe backup of their system. Just remember that you need somewhere to store your image files. My system has 8TB of storage across seven HDDs, but if you only have single HDD you’re going to need at least 20GB free space to create an image.

Doesn’t Windows’ own backup keep my files safe from Wannacry?

No. Windows backs up your personal files, not itself. If you get a virus, this will infect Windows and probably all your backed up files anyway.

Is a disk image safe from Wannacry?

As long as the image is clean (i.e. you didn’t have the virus already on it) then the image itself is safe to use. However, it would not be wise to keep the image on a networked drive where any virus could get at it. In the case of Wannacry, it encrypts everything – and I assume this would include .ISO images and anything else it found.

My images are stored in the cloud, and on spare hard drives and USB devices.

Why is imaging better than a full reinstall?

My own opinion is that it is a pain having to start from scratch with all your software when you do a full reinstall, whereas restoring an image yields a 100% functional system (or one that is close to 100% if you installed software after you made the image).

Bear in mind that a Windows installation DVD is about 4.7GB maximum capacity. A clean image of your hard drive following a clean reinstall will typically be about 20GB (over 5 DVDs). My clean working image is about 60GB (15 DVDs). Since DVDs can get scratched and become unreadable (especially ones you burn yourself), that method of storage is unreliable (in my opinion and experience).

You need to allow for these file sizes when you are backing up.


Windows 10 Update (KB3087040) Fails

Windows 10 tried to update yesterday for a known Adobe Flash Player vulnerability. However, the update repeatedly failed (a further three times today) with an error 0x80004005.Windows Update history

Until Microsoft fixes it, the workaround is to install the update manually. Download either the 32-bit or 64-bit installer (use the link that is relevant to your system) and run it. Then run Windows Update again just to make sure the KB3087040 install is confirmed – it should now report that your machine is up to date and checking your update history will show a successful install.

Apparently, the update installs on Windows 7 and 8 system with no trouble. It’s just Windows 10 where there’s a problem – and even then, not with every Windows 10 machine if reports are true.


Windows 10 and Quiet Microphone Level

I’ve been using Windows 10 for almost a month now and I’m very impressed with it. I’ve not had a single crash, and every piece of software I have works on it.

Something I want to start making more use of is speech recognition and speech-to-text (for dictation purposes). I looked around for a decent headset (headphones + microphone), but I couldn’t find one I liked. To be honest, their appearance put me off more than anything, with the boom microphones just looking like flat strips of plastic. I was really after something like my Sennheiser HD 205 phones, but with a mike fitted. And then I thought: why not fit a separate mike to my Sennheisers?AntLion ModMic retrofit boom microphone

After some searching I came across the AntLion ModMic. I checked out the reviews and decided this was the way to go, and a little more searching revealed that it is distributed by several companies in the UK. I chose LimeXB because they had the lowest price).

Once I’d fitted it – and it fits well – I started testing it. The first thing I noticed was that the sound level from the mike was very low. Windows could pick it up, but it was advising that I either speak up (which could have resulted in my lungs being expelled from my body, since I was already shouting), or move the mouthpiece nearer my mouth (which at that point in my testing would probably have meant inside it).

I’ve been through all this before with Windows. It’s not an actual fault with either hardware or software. It’s a settings issue. And I discovered that Windows 10 has a setting I’ve never seen before which fixed the problem immediately. Here’s what to do.

Click Search and type “sound”, then press enter. This opens up the Hardware & Sound app. Alternatively, open the Control Panel and select the app from there, then click on Sound. This dialog box (or similar – you may see different devices listed) appears:Sound DialogClick the Recording tab and you see this (again, you might have different devices listed):Sound app - Recording tabDouble-click the Microphone device and this dialog appears:Microphone propertiesNow click the Levels tab and you will see this:Microphone properties - LevelsYou’ll probably find first of all that the Microphone level is set to less than 100% (mine had defaulted to 80%). Set this to maximum. The interesting one is that Microphone Boost slider – I’m sure I never saw that in Windows 7 or earlier versions, though I’ve not really bothered with using a mike much in the past. Set this to maximum, too. Then click OK to close all the dialog boxes.

You should now find that your microphone is ultra-sensitive. You may even have to adjust the boost to a lower setting as it might be too sensitive, but you can do that as needed.

I’m just getting to grips with Windows 10’s speech recognition. Even without any training (the computer needs to learn how you speak) I can open, close, and manipulate various apps. And dictation (which IS going to need some training) looks like it could be great fun.

How do you pin microphone levels to the task bar?

I’m not sure exactly what you mean, but they’re already pretty much there. If you look at the end of the task bar, you’ll see the speaker icon. Right-click it and you’ll get a menu like this (note that I have my task bar on the side of my screen):Microphone settings on task bar

If you select Recording devices it takes you straight to the dialog box with the Recording tab I discussed above.


Windows 10 and Live Writer

I use Windows Live Writer (WLW) as my blog editor and – with the benefit of hindsight, which I didn’t have last night – it stopped working at pretty much the exact same time that Outlook decided it didn’t like me and told me I couldn’t access my .pst files anymore.Windows Live Writer

Then, this afternoon, it suddenly hit me after I read the error message properly. It was another “access denied” problem, and the target file path was given in full in the message.

The cure is exactly the same as the one for Outlook. Navigate to the folder WLW is trying to write to, right-click it, click Properties, click Security tab, click Edit… select the Home Users group, and make sure the Full Access option is ticked.

Click OK to exit all the dialog boxes, restart WLW, and it should work.

Incidentally, I checked all the folders in my “Users” folder and all of them had been set so that access could have been denied if any program had attempted to write to them. I suggest you go through the same routine outlined above for all sub-folders inside your “Users” folder.

Windows Live Writer works fairly well with Windows 10, though it does have an annoying problem with the cursor not wanting to stay where you drop it with the mouse.