Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kodi / XBMC not respecting ".nomedia" file or "excludefromscan" tag in advancedsettings.xml

Things to know:

-  XBMC is too old to recognize the ".nomedia" file.  You'll need to upgrade to a recent build of Kodi.

-  To get a proper ".nomedia" file in Windows, you have to tell Windows to name the file ".nomedia.", with a trailing period.

-   advancedsettings.xml should be in "%appdata%\Kodi\userdata\".

-  You don't need all the fancy regex crap you see in the examples.  <regex>somethingsimple</regex> will do.


-  If you're having problems with "excludefromscan", you should know there is a separate tag for TV shows called "excludetvshowsfromscan".   So if you're having problems with "excludefromscan" not excluding TV show directories, this is probably why. 


That last one killed me for bloody hours.  I suppose it makes sense to have different settings for movies and TV, but why oh why isn't the first tag "excludemoviesfromscan"?

Also, Kodi 17 Krypton doesn't seem to respect the .nomedia file properly in all cases.  I don't know why I seem to be the only one having that problem.




Monday, April 3, 2017

Programs such as Excel, Word, Acrobat suddenly and persistently pop up dialog boxes on the wrong monitor

Problem:  After weeks/months/years of trouble-free operation, various programs such as Word, Excel, Acrobat etc. start popping up their dialog boxes on the "wrong" monitor in a multi-monitor display.

For example, the "Find" or "Format cells" dialog of Excel may appear on the right-hand monitor instead of the center one, or on the center one instead of the left-hand one.  Or, for dual-monitor displays, it shows on the left if Excel is on the right, or vice-versa.

Possible solution:  If you are running an AMD FirePro graphics card, chances are your monitor settings recently got f^ck@d up for no apparent reason at all and completely scrambled your nice monitor setup.  God only knows why this happens at all (I sure don't) but I'll bet it happened to you.

You went through all the pain of resetting monitor positions in the Windows Display settings, because your left monitor became your right, your center became the left, etc.  And (probably) re-organizing all of your 100s of desktop icons on your displays which similarly got scrambled, and your damn icon restore programs didn't work.  Now you find that dialog boxes are effed up as well.

If all of the above is true, the culprit could very well be the AMD Catalyst Pro Control Center setting called "Enable Dialog Repositioning".  It is buried in Catalyst Pro Control Center under Hydravision / Desktop Manager.  Chances are it is enabled and set to "Show on preferred display" where the "preferred" display is NOT the one you want.

To fix it, you can turn off dialog repositioning completely - I really don't know why it is there in the first place - or you can reset it to "Show on application's display".  You may need to try both settings to see which one works better.

Of course, if you prefer dialogs to appear on one of your displays all of the time, you can keep it set to "Show on preferred display".  Just make sure the number of the "preferred" display, waaay off there to the right, is actually set to the one you want to call the preferred display!  It does NOT automatically default to the Windows "main" display.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sudden and inexplicable "Your connection is not secure" on Firefox with major sites (Google, Mozilla, PIA, etc.)

Problem:  Firefox suddenly barfs "Your connection is not secure" messages on major sites such as Mozilla, Google, Blogger, PIA, and possibly several others.  But several other major sites (news, Bing, etc.) are OK. 

Phones, tablets and other PCs on the same network are not affected.  And there is nothing in recent news that Google has somehow messed up their security certificates and basically screwed the entire online population of the planet.

Solution:  Chances are your PC clock is wrong, either because you just reset your BIOS or replaced the backup battery in your PC, and forgot to re-set your clock. If your PC thinks it's 2004, it will fail a lot of current security certificates.

Another possibility is your antivirus is interfering with Firefox security validations.  This is not likely unless your AV and/or Firefox has changed recently, but is supposedly a known problem with Avast in particular.

Similar issues can cause a "Your connection isn't private" error in Chrome.  For a list of possible fixes to both issues, see this post at Quora.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Hard drive indicator solid, seemingly large activity from System process (PID 4)

OK, I assume you didn't deliberately change anything.  If you did, start checking the drivers for your latest hardware before doing anything else.

Symptoms:  Stable Windows 7 x64 system suddenly has HDD indicator light on solid (or nearly solid).  Happened suddenly without warning, re-occurs within a few minutes after booting. 

PC will freeze for at least several seconds at a time.  CPU activity is high.  Task Manager is slow, hangs frequently and tells you nothing useful.  Process Explorer seems to show System process (PID 4) taking lots of CPU, but no other details - no real indication which process is actually hogging your hard drive. 

Turning off antivirus doesn't help.  Acrobat may complain about a "serious error" when started and/or freeze up.  Inability to use Disk Management tool.  Shutdown takes tens of minutes, if it happens at all; might freeze on "Logging off" or "Shutting down".


Cause:  Something probably broke.  Chances are your DVD-RW drive, CD-RW drive (if those exist anymore) or a secondary hard disk/SSD in your system has bit it.  This can cause the HDD indicator light to stay on permanently even though the PC is actually not trying to do anything in particular.

(As a guess, it's probably that "secondary" high-capacity hard drive you stuck into your PC when you did your first SSD upgrade.  You don't use it much and tend to forget it is there.  It's probably old, old, old by now.)



If you're smart enough to have placed your virtual memory swapfile on the pseudo-dead drive, you may have additional problems.

Poking around in "My Computer" may tell you which drive is at fault.  It may show up but be inaccessible; it may be partly accessible but might disappear later.   You will probably not be able to run any kind of disk check on it; trying will result in an Explorer hang.

Solution:  Manually shut down and disconnect the suspected offending drive or burner.  If possible, try reconnecting with a Dock to run Seatools or other diagnostic utilities and/or to copy files off the drive.  (You are backing it up, right?  RIGHT!?!?!?!  Stupid!)

Note that maybe the SATA port went bad, rather than the drive.  So be sure your replacement is a known-good drive and/or use a different port.

(Why this affects Acrobat is beyond me and is just one more example of why that is a poorly coded program.)


If it's not the above, then you're down to shutting down programs to see if you can find an offending process.  Good luck.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Samsung created a bare metal restore miracle and apparently nobody noticed

It's been a maxim in the backup industry for years that you can't image a live system.

You always, always, always have to shut it down, boot from alternative media, and image that way.  Having spent more hours than I'd like on this, I can state this has always been true.

Until now, apparently.  The Samsung Data Migration utility just imaged my live Windows 7 system, in all its glory, from a smaller M4 SSD to a larger 850 Pro SSD.  It took about 30 minutes.  It even kept the hidden system partition.

Does nobody else realize what a godsend this is?  It's a working bare-metal restore solution for a live system.

OK, yes, the Samsung utility only writes to Samsung SSDs.  (That's touted as a safety feature, as you're unlikely to have two Samsung SSDs in the same system, but we all know why that really is.)

But, still - backup of a full image of my SSD on a live system?  Anytime I want to?  Really?  It's a god-damned miracle.

In case you haven't groked it yet, I do keep backup images of my boot drive.  Rare, I know.

Further, I actually keep a second SSD, fully imaged and bootable, on my shelf.  If my regular SSD fails, I can slot in the spare and be back up in minutes - not hours.  Ever rarer.

However, if you work for yourself or are in any situation where you just don't have the time to recover a crashed PC, having a spare worth a couple of hundred bucks is damn great insurance.  I can't imagine I'm the only one out there with this particular problem.

Developing a working imaging system was a pill.  I tried all the software that claimed to do live backups - all failed.  I know because I did the image, a bare metal restore, and physically plugged in the "new" drive in place of the "old" drive.  All failed to launch, DOA.

Eventually I settled on using Bart PE on a rescue CD, coupled with Image for Windows.  Reboot using Bart PE to keep the SSD from being "in use", and Image could copy it.  Restore the image later to any compatible device, plug it in and we have liftoff.

Of course, downing the machine, booting with a Bart CD and doing the image was rather slow and inconvenient.  It was worth it, but not something I liked doing, as it required me to go offline.

And then here is the Samsung Migration Utility.  Hassle-free, fast disk imaging anytime at the push of a button.  Keeping a spare SSD handy has never been so handy.

Maybe this is old hat.  My Bart/IFW solution was developed 5 years ago, perhaps everyone has moved on somehow.  But this is my first experience with a one-click live-system bare metal restore that works.

And yes, I will have to go out any buy a second Samsung SSD for my spare. I will do so quite cheerfully since never has a company deserved it more.

(Being practical, however I'll probably get the less-expensive 850 EVO model for the backup; no point in wasting money.)

Update:  Turns out I had purchased an identically-sized 850 EVO as my cold spare drive sometime in late 2015.  I had imaged it with my tried-and-true Bart PE solution and shelved it.

Of course, the EVO also came with the migration utility, but as I routinely ignore OEM software for straightforward items such as SSDs as bloatware, I never even looked at it.  Migration is not mentioned on the box or any of the visible packaging.  If I had not spotted the byline on the vendor website that mentioned the Migration Utility for the 850 Pro, I never would have known it existed.

Imaging my 256 Gb 850 Pro to my 250 Gb 850 EVO (yes, 250 Gb) was equally painless and again took about half an hour.  Live backups ahoy!

Why your PC should have a hard drive dock

The single best damn accessory you can buy for a PC is an internal SATA hard drive dock.  No, not the crappy external USB kind, the internal built-in SATA kind.

Why?  Because:

0.  ZERO compatibility issues with anything.  It's SATA, works with USB boot stick, Hiren's Boot CD, UBCD, all other boot media, all third-party utilities, etc.

1.  It lets you plug in another hard drive and make hot backups daily.

2.  It lets you remove said drive and replace it with another in about 5 seconds.  Meaning now you have both hot (online) and cold (offline) backups, and are proof against nearly every virus out there (including ransomware).  Good for weekly, monthly and quarterly backups.

3.  It lets you take your backups offsite; now you are proof against disaster.  (Hey, a 10 months old backup is better than nada.)

4.  It lets you migrate your current HDD/SSD to a newer, replacement, and/or larger HDD/SDD very easily.  Which is what I'm about to do.

5.  It lets you expand your nearline storage endlessly.  Just take a HDD off the shelf and plug it in.  Great for storing unlimited movies, TV, games, etc. where you don't need it online all the time.

6.  You don't pay monthly fees for cloud storage, and there are no tiers or storage limits.

7.  Newer models accept both 2.5" drives and 3.5" drives directly.  No adapters.

8.  Newer models accept 3.5" drives without a supplementary screw-on tray or caddy (i.e. trayless).

9.  If your HDD crashes, you can boot from CD/USB and plug in a new HDD/SSD to recover as much as you can.  No worries about USB support not working on your recovery CD or stick.

10.  Direct SATA connection much faster than USB connection (yes, even USB 3.0).

Do yourself a favor and the next time you buy a PC, spend the $50.  It's worth it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The late adopters / inheritor's guide to an original Nintendo Wii that has been "softmodded"

For my kids first console I went with the original Wii: Wii is best for kids, the games are (usually) pretty good, and the hardware and games are cheap.  What the Brits call a "cheap and cheerful" solution.  Six-year-olds can't tell the difference!

I was lucky and managed to pick up a "softmodded" Wii, which had been modified to run game ISOs from an external hard disk.  This was good for me since most game discs are wearing out from inevitable wear and tear, and the Wii disc readers can't be too far behind.  Hard drive copies are impervious to both issues.
 
My system was blank (no games).  And I had no real idea how to use it or how it was set up, and the info on the web was horribly disorganized at best.  This information is aimed at any other late adopters who don't need to set it up, but do want to understand it.

This guide presumes you have/use the following:

Configurable USB Loader softmod for Wii. If your Wii shows "cfb" when starting the Loader Channel, it has this UI.

- WBFS Manager 3.0 (WBFS-M) because that is what I used.  WBFS Manager supports drive cloning and multi-game copying, which makes life easier.

Basics

There are several programs that let you run games from hard disk on the Wii.  Mine used Configurable USB Loader.

Softmod Wii systems use two storage devices:
-  An external USB hard drive for games
-  An SD card, plugged into the front slot, for covers and "resources"

I bet you didn't notice the SD card - it is plugged in under the little front cover.  Go take a look.


The hard drive is just a plain old ordinary USB hard disk.  But it can be formatted as Windows-compatible (FAT32 or NTFS), or with the proprietary WBFS file system used for the Wii.

Some claim WBFS is more stable, and it is obviously the safest, so WBFS is popular.  This means it can't be read by Windows or Macs if you just plug it in to your PC.  I bet you tried already.

Note:  If Windows asks to format the drive, DO NOT DO IT.  You will lose everything.

The SD card is also an ordinary SD.  As another guide says, this is the perfect task for an older 512 Mb or 1 Gb SD card.

Safeguarding/Backing Up Games

Hard disks fail, so obviously you want to ensure you're safe against a hard disk failure.  This means copying your game ISOs elsewhere for safekeeping.


Games are stored on the HDD as regular ISO files.  If you have a FAT32 or NTFS disk, you can plug it in to your PC/Mac and copy away.

If you have a WBFS drive, get WBFS Manager 3.0 (or similar).  Be sure to get the x32 or x64 edition, as appropriate for your type of Windows.  Use that to copy the ISOs from the WBFS drive elsewhere. They will be copied as ordinary .iso files using the game name as file name.

Note:  WBFS Manager requires you to "Refresh" the drive list and "Load" the drive manually, only after which will you see the list of games on the drive.  See this video for how that works.

Wii games are about 2 Gb each, typical, but it varies a lot.  For reference, I saw a system that had 440 games - which are nearly all of them - that required about 850 Gb.  Meaning a 1 Tb to 1.5 Tb drive will be enough for just about everyone.  The associated SD was 2 Gb and was also likely larger than required.

Cloning Your Drive

Another easy way to back up is to get a second USB drive and do a drive-to-drive copy.  This video shows you how by using WBFS Manager 3.0.  (There are also other WBFS programs out there but I don't know if they do drive cloning or not.)

Drive cloning is slow: Copying 400+ games from a USB 2.0 drive to a SATA drive will take ~10 hours.  It will not tie up your PC, but don't sit and watch it.


Adding Games to Hard Drive


You can add game ISOs directly to the Wii hard drive by:

-  Using WBFS Manager to copy directly to the drive, or
-  Putting a game disc into the Wii and using the "Add Game" function.

I used the second method to put my existing game discs on to the hard drive.  It takes 5-10 minutes per disc, but is pretty simple.

To use WBFS Manager:
-  Plug your hard drive in to your computer
-  When prompted, DO NOT format the drive
-  Start WBFS Manager
-  Click "Refresh Drive List"
-  Select the correct drive letter
-  Press "Load".  You will now see the list of games on the drive (if any)
-  Press "Browse"
-  Find the game ISO to load
-  Press "Add to Drive"

For further help, try referencing this guide.  Just substitute "hard disk" for "USB stick".


Using CFB

OK, data all saved, games loaded, now how the ^*!@$#! do I use this thing?

In theory, CFB is somewhat self-explanatory.  In practice it's confusing and it's pretty easy to get lost.

On startup you should see some sort of cover flow.  Look in the bottom left-hand corner for a list of the remote buttons and what they do.

From here:

-  "A" selects a game
-  "B" goes back
-  + adds a game
-  1 brings up game options

-  If hovering on a cover, 2 brings up the game.
-  If not hovering on a cover, 2 (usually) brings up the favorites list.


After selecting a game or function, read the text on the resulting screen to see what to do next.  Generally, A progresses/selects, while B cancels/goes back.

Where things go to $h!t is with the cover flow options.  There are a lot of them, selectable with Up and Down.  But they don't always go in the same order so it can take a lot of fiddling to get back to the one you like. 

My advice:  keep pressing DOWN until you get to the last view (Flow 1), then go up from there.


Organizing Games

As far as I know CFB offers the following options for organization:

-  You can tag Favorite games.  These show up when you press 2 on the UI.  But there is only one Favorites list.
 -  Teen/Mature filter:  This hides inappropriate games from the little ones.
 -  You can sort by: # of players, # of online players, and several others.

You can not do any of the following:

-  Organize games into folders.
-  Have different lists or settings for different people.
-  Sort by game rating (E, E10, T, M, etc.)
-  Sort by game rating / popularity

Parental Controls

CFB seems to bypass parental controls.  Maybe there are per-game options for this, but I don't know yet.