Wednesday, April 29, 2015

First impressions of HP Scanjet Enterprise Flow 7500

Update 2016-08-27:  Scanner is still going strong.  I have had zero issues with it aside from it losing USB communications every so often, which requires it to be unplugged to fix it.  I dive under my desk about once a month to do this.  Keep this in mind and if you see this issue, report it immediately to HP to try and get it fixed. 

As a workaround, I plan to eventually get another Kankun Smart Plug to allow me to reset it   remotely.  But I'm lazy and haven't bothered yet.

----------------------------

I'm just coming off a very disappointing experience with two Canon imageFormula DR-F120 scanners, so bear that in mind, as it's bound to color my opinion.

Also, I didn't read the manual until after I'd figured it all out.  More fun that way.... ;-)  No, actually, it was more a test of how intuitive it all is.


If the Canon is a butler, the HP is a draft horse.  It's big, slightly imposing, somewhat handsome but not pretty, and works like all get out.  It also sits there and nickers every few minutes, so you'd better remember to put it away when your done with it.  (I'll explain that below.)



The HP machine is bigger than the Canon, but that's to be expected since it is a legal-size flatbed.  It is fairly tall, and therefore fairly noticeable sitting on the desk; I expect I will learn to ignore it in time.

It's unfortunately not as cool and sleek looking, partially because the case is about 40% gray, while the Canon is all black.  (Not a biggie, but style matters when you spend this much money.)  I suppose it's aimed at offices more than anything and they wanted it to look like a fax or copier - blend in with the business-grey crowd, as it were.  Home users are unlikely to want to afford this thing.

The shiny black front is a fingerprint magnet.  Even the shiny silver buttons collect prints.  Prepare to clean often.


Software installation is fine, although I still laugh at the reviewer who complained that the Canon software installation was "clunky".  The HP installation is no different, dude - in fact, I don't think ANY of the scanners are going to be any different in this respect. It's a silly comment to make.

Beware when first installing, though - at some point, the HP installer decided my computer had to reboot right now.  Maybe I hit something accidentally (I was typing) but it force-closed all my applications and I lost work, even though I hit "Cancel" on multiple applications once the reboot started.  You may want to tidy up your stuff before running the install, in case my experience was not unique.


The power and USB plugs are nicely hidden under the unit, but this makes it pretty difficult to plug them in.  Be prepared to plug them in to the scanner first with the scanner on a large workbench or the floor.  There are warnings on the back about tilting the scanner the wrong way, so you can't even stand it on end or flip it over to plug the cables in.

It sort of looks neat, but honestly HP - does it matter so much that you have to make plugging in the cables such an awkward hassle?  I was super lucky to get them correctly oriented on the first try, but working blind like this is a recipe for frustration.

On the other hand, the software apparently forgives you if you plug in the scanner before installing the CD.  (Note:  Don't do this. Ever.)


The installation program closed with nary a word as to what to do, and it took me a second to notice the new icons on my extremely cluttered desktop.  There is a "Tools" program, which  configures the scanner; a "Document Scan" program, which scans (I guess) and there is a "Document Copy" which apparently makes it work like a copier.

The setup workflow is that you create your profiles in the "Document Scan" utility, then load them into the scanner with the "Tools" program.  "Tools" deals with everything hardware, while "Scan" deals with everything software.   So it's not quite so weird as it might initially seem.


Unlike the Canon, the lid of the HP stays open when you raise it (yay!).  Another thing that you'd think Canon would get right, but didn't.

However, the black button on the right of the scanner isn't the power button, as you think it is - the power button is way over on the opposite side of the machine (boo!).  To be fair, it was just hidden on my particular desk space due to a small pen box, and it is clearly marked with the power symbol.  I can sort of see why they put a sleep button on but it it still seems slightly redundant.

 The "1" and "2" buttons also took a bit of puzzling since they're not programmable.  After a second, I realized that you pressed the "1" to do single-sided scanning, and "2" for double-sided scanning.  Either one initiates the profile currently selected on the LCD.  (This is in the manual, so RTFM!)

The LCD is nice, but only shows about 13 characters.  Most profile names will be cut off.  It auto-scrolls after sec, but you may still have to wait to see if you've got the right profile.  Knowing this, you can alter the names to make them shorter; I suppose numbering them would help.

You can also (obviously) scan from the PC software.  You would probably only need to do this for something unusual.

The Tools utility lets you set all of the scanner settings, like sleep, power-off, etc.  The unit can e-mail or notify you when maintenance is due and can keep a maintenance log, plus there is a field for an "asset number".  All useful office-y type things.



The system is obviously intended to be scanner-centric, and seems set up such that you can make the scanner itself more or less idiot proof.

There are options for copying settings from an existing profile to a new one, and for exporting profiles - the latter for transferring settings between team members and/or from one PC to another.  Makes setting up several similar profiles very fast, even for a larger group.

The scanning/profiles software, however, is more complex, and lacks the big-button nice-picture friendliness of the Canon software.  So you're not going to be able to teach Grandma the PC side.

 On the plus side, you can control everything you'd ever want to control and then some.  So doubleplusgood for the power user, once you learn your way around.

It's not hard, but some experimentation regarding file naming options, destinations and such is in order.  Some options may not be fully straightforward.

I realized fairly late that the color dropout feature will be useful for things like school newsletters, which are often printed on various colors of paper.  But I haven't tried it yet.



After you've fooled with the settings and such, it is possible to turn off the annoyances such as thumbnail previews, automatic file naming, and so forth, and just get the thing to ask you for a file name each time.  That seems to be what the majority of people want, myself included (though I could be wrong and maybe people really do scan to Evernote?).

The software as installed does have quirks, though:

-   The "blank edges" setting is pretty aggressive, and is set to 1" by default! You might easily end up with fat white borders running into your text.  You will think the scanner isn't scanning the whole page!  Easy fix once you realize what happened.  Better to think of it as masking (like a picture frame) rather than "edge".

-  Blank page detection is not on by default; neither is auto-straighten.

-  It won't let you select a save-to folder on the fly - it always has to go to the destination that is pre-defined in the profile.  Not unusual, but still, it would have been better to have the option to redefine it job by job.

-  You can send the document to multiple destinations at once.  So if you have two directories listed in the profile, it will ask (or try) to put the scan in both places.

This is handy if you need to, say, email and store the same document, but can be confusing if the scanner keeps asking you for a destination you thought you already specified.

To fix, remove all folder destinations from the directory list except the one you want.

-  If you type in anything that doesn't include an automatically generated timestamp or number counter, you get this stupid "Your filename may not be unique" warning.  This is annoying and unnecessary, since it already prompts you if a file already exists with that name.

Yes, OK, you can also set it to auto-overwrite instead.  But the point is that a dialog after every scan saying your file name doesn't pass muster is silly.

Again, maybe a sop to the not-tech-savvy office crowd, but anyone bright enough to set this thing up is going to realize the probability of non-unique file names and deal with it accordingly.  You don't need to be told EVERY time, but it can't be turned off (that I can see).

-  It's easy for the "Save As" dialog to get lost behind other windows.  Click the system tray icon to find it again.



After a few cautious test pages, the unit didn't seem to have any problems with scanning.  So for yucks I stuffed a 97-page document in it that I'd just printed out and scanned it single-sided, color, 300 dpi, to searchable PDF.  It ate it all in like sixty seconds.  Sweeet.

It did take a little longer to process the PDF, to be fair, but that happens in the background and is by no means slow, even on color.  The software does not monopolize the machine, and you can write emails, reports and blog entries like this one both while it scans and while it does OCR magic.

The result was near perfect, or at least as close as you could expect.  No obviously skewed pages, artifacts or whatnot.  (Very small black text was ever-so-slightly fuzzy, which is what you might expect when you scan B&W in color, but that's operator error, not scanner.)

A test scan in 600 dpi color was slower - but not what I call slow - and pretty damn good, IMHO.  B&W was faster but still (obviously) slower than 300 dpi.
I did see it really, really slowed down after about 60 pages - I expect it ran out of memory or something.  (Either that or it decided it was in for the long haul anyway, might as well take it easy.)

It also stops every once in a while, presumably to offload pages to the PC.  But it will keep going reliably nonetheless, meaning you don't have to worry about it - just keep writing your blog, it will get there.

The same slowdown happened at about page 60 when doing the PDF OCR step, too, probably meaning the scanner holds about 100 pages in memory and has to offload the rest.

I then did a 150 page document.  The input tray doesn't hold that much, but the unit doesn't seem to mind if you jam new pages underneath the existing stack in the ADF.  The output tray seems to hold more than 150 pages no problem.

There is a lag when you push a scanning button, as it takes a few seconds to load the driver on the PC.  Just enough to make you wonder if the scanner "missed" the button press.  You get used to it.

I haven't tried duplex color much yet for lack of a fat document to test it on.  Early indications with a few sheets are the scanning/feeding speed is the same for simplex and duplex.  A few sheets are done so fast you wonder what the hell happened, as the slowest part of the process is you typing in the destination file name.

Action shots:  300 dpi B&W simplex and 600 dpi B&W simplex.  (No color, sorry).



For 417 pages of regular, relatively pristine paper (there's a counter), I didn't have any misfeeds, double-feeds or jams.  Not even a hint.  Seems HP has managed what Canon couldn't.

However, the challenge is not regular pages.  On the first try with a mixed batch of receipts and paper, it did "not-feed" a receipt, but that was because the receipt had curled and was jammed up against the edge of the ADF, preventing it from entering.  The scanner handled this pretty gracefully - there was no buzzing, grinding or other nasty noises.

When I did get the receipts to feed (second try, after flattening), I was almost shocked to see the scanner had not only straightened the receipts perfectly - an impressive feat in and of itself - but it had adjusted the PDF pages down to the size of the receipt itself.  It wasn't like a photocopy of the receipt on 8.5x11 paper - it was properly sized and proportioned for the >actual< receipt, but in the PDF.  These are both pretty impressive tricks.

A challenge packet made up of letters, receipts, previously folded invoices and such fed through with little trouble.  One partially crumpled page was crumpled slightly differently, and one page holding a diagram didn't straighten.  But no bad feeds or other issues.

I don't have any really dog-eared pages, so I haven't tried them yet.



The unit does make noticeable noise.  The Canon and my old Fujitsu were pretty quiet while feeding, but not this puppy.  Fortunately, it's not obtrusive, but it ain't silent either.  Workhorse, not butler, but a well-behaved workhorse.  You will not at all mind it when you're using it, but if somebody close to you is using it a lot, the noise may become distracting.


Some things that seemed odd until I figured them out:

 -  The scanner feels the need to move the internal flatbed scanning head around every few minutes while active - hence the "nickers" comment above.  It moves about a few mm and the scanning lamp flickers - you can open the lid and see it happening.  You have to sleep it to get it to fully shut up, which is probably one reason why sleep mode is there.


It's strange and not always consistent.  For the first day, it would nicker constantly.  After I realized I could open the lid and see it, I tried to film the unit doing this, but then it got camera-shy.  Opening and re-closing the lid seems to stop it from nickering for a short while.  I've never seen anything like this and can only guess (in an educated way) as to what this behavior is for.

-  You can set it to automatically sleep after 15 min, or never, but nothing else. 

-  You can set it to automatically power off between 16 minutes (yes, 16, not a typo) and 5 hours.  There is, however, no way to automatically power on.  I suppose keeping it in sleep mode permanently is the solution for both the power-on time and the 'nickering'.

-  It does take about 15 seconds to power on / get ready, and makes a bit of noise doing so. Most scanners do not take quite so much time, nor do they whir and grumble while doing it.  Sleep mode wake is nearly instant.

-  If powered off, it does not wake up when a document is placed into the feeder.  It will, however, awaken from sleep mode upon document loading. 

-  Pressing anything but the power button does not cause the unit to power on.  When it's off, it's off.  I'm not sure exactly why this exists - maybe to save maximum electricity?

So the moral here is: If you work anytime, never fully turn it off.  Just use the sleep mode.  If you work 9-to-5, turn it on in the morning, sleep it all day, and turn it off in the evening (or let it auto-off after a while).



Overall this unit seems great.  Takes a bit of setup, but that's not a bad thing.

Once set up, it's easy to operate with little to no PC-side intervention.  Just tell it what to do and it does it, quickly and efficiently.

Unlike the butler, you'll need to tell it to get going, but once it does, it'll make short work out of nearly anything you can throw at it.

Plus, it won't eat the paper.  And that's a good thing.





Saturday, April 25, 2015

Using a PS/2 keyboard and mouse on the Minix Neo X8-H Plus

You can use this adapter from DealExtreme to plug in an ordinary PS/2 keyboard and mouse combination into the Minix.  Works fine and will probably also work for other similar Android boxen as well.

Why?  Well, lets you use the Minix with a KVM, doesn't it?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

First impressions of the Canon imageFORMULA DR-F120

[Edit 2016-08-27]:  Ended up settling on an HP Scanjet Enterprise Flow 7500.  First impressions here.

[Edit 2015-04-24]:  Both DR-F120 units I tried had problems with tearing up pages, so both have been returned.  See https://youtu.be/nCEgXA_f7og and read the bottom of this post for details.

I am leaving this review up because I really wanted to like the unit.  I probably would have been very happy with it, if it had not tried to eat my documents.  If I'd wanted a paper shredder, I'd have gotten a proper one.

Assuming Canon fixes this in the future, however, this information might still be useful to somebody, at some time.

------------------------------------------------------------

Seems few people have bought one of these yet. I'll try to relate a few things you may not get from the existing photos or reviews.

Be aware that I had a Fujitsu fi-4220c for many, many years, so many of my impressions will be from that baseline.

Capsule review:  This is a tidy, nice looking and proper little butler of a scanning unit.  Just ask and it'll get done - even if you didn't ask quite right.


Hardware:  It's quite a bit smaller than the Fujitsu - it's shorter in length and taller in average height, though not as tall as the Fujitsu sheetfeeder unit.  It's black and looks good in a typical modern office (the Fujitsu looked dated).  It's lighter than it looks and takes up less space than you might think, especially for a dual legal size sheetfed/flatbed unit.  Looks good but not imposing.

The top paper tray feeds like a fax machine, and it returns the paper to the same side of the machine.  This is really quite nice on a desk since you don't need to worry about keeping space in front of the scanner clear for the documents to eject, meaning the machine outline is all the footprint it ever takes. 

It also means you can shove it mostly to one side and still reach the input and output trays really easily - unlike the Fujitsu or Xerox units, which force you to load one end and recover documents at the other end.  The 180 degree return also means it takes up less space.

You can even put small items on the top without worrying about the document paper pushing them around.  Poor idea obviously, since the lid raises to access the flatbed, but for paper handling it's much more like a printer than an old-style straight-through sheetfeed scanner.


You do need room to raise the lid more or less completely.  Nothing stops you from slipping a document under a partially raised lid, but the lid support mechanism is just not strong enough to hold the lid open at an angle, so open it partially and it'll fall down. It needs to be about 90 degrees to stay open on it's own.  This is, IMHO, a strange way to design the thing.

Setup:  Setup was really easy, no surprises.  As one reviewer complained, there are a lot of setup programs, but it just takes some clicks to get through them all.  To hear others moan about it you'd think they had to do pushups until the installs were all complete.

Note you might have to invoke the CaptureOnTouch software manually the first time, just after install.

Operation:  Scanning is reasonably fast at 300 dpi - puts the fi-4220c to shame, obviously - but there is a huge speed hit when moving from 300 dpi to 400 dpi.  Be aware of this if you plan to use high resolution.

However, the 300 dpi setting is perfectly adequate, IMHO, for nearly every document scanning need.  Fine text such as on financial statements may suffer a bit, but the problem seems to be about the same at both 300 dpi and 400 dpi.  So that may be a PDF compression problem, not a scanning problem

Note the scanner handles >small< text just fine - it just seems a little thin with >fine< text.  I have not compared it against any old output so maybe it's nothing to do with the DR-F120 at all.  (Note that everything is still perfectly legible, so this is a minor quibble at worst.)


I've only run a few pages through it and there have been a couple of cases where the scanner has mangled the edge of the document.  I believe the first case of this to be my fault, as I accidentally left the slightly thick, folded Setup Guide for the scanner on the flatbed platen when scanning my first sheetfed document.  The second time the scanner left little teeth marks on the very edge of the page.  After my 3rd scan, though, these items appear to have disappeared.

There were a few cases where I cringed because the paper went in skewed, but it hasn't jammed yet.  This is hardly indicative, though, since I just got the thing.  Lets see how it does on a 375 page standard or some dog-eared receipts.

There were a few pages that came out dog-eared that were not before, which doesn't bode well, but then again the fi-4220c jammed often so I'm paranoid.  (Not a quality problem with the Fujitsu, more the fact the poor thing never saw a service kit.)


Software:  The Canon CaptureOnTouch software is fairly nice and would be most excellent for the novice.  It makes sending scans to different places really easy, and supports a zillion places including Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, Onedrive, SugarSync (whatever that is), Sharepoint, your Desktop, your My Pictures folder, email or even just a printer (photocopy mode).

I imagine these native plugins will be really handy for some - the Evernote fanatic, for example - and the software is easy enough my wife could probably figure it out.  I can probable get it set up so that it works just like a photocopier, which is nice since she asks me for copies occasionally.

Note you don't have to have all of this $hit installed, but I imagine the software footprint is small.  If you do, you can remove them from view in CaptureOnTouch and just leave the ones you actually use.  They're still there for future use, but won't clutter up the workspace for the novice users.

Behind the UI, the software works a charm.  Set everything to full auto and it'll figure out B&W, grayscale or color, page orientation, paper size, paper souce (flatbed or sheet feeder), plus it'll remove blank pages, rotate/orient, deskew and automatically OCR with hardly a pause.  There is no need to pre-adjust the scanner for file size vs. quality, and hardly any need manual post-processing after - unless you get a partially skewed scan or other image anomaly, in which case you'll re-scan anyway.

Good stuff - and compared to the old system where everything had to be preset before starting, it's just so easy.  I'd be embarrassed to count the number of times I scanned a blank platen or an empty sheet feeder, but the Canon handles it all with aplomb.  It'll even right your upside-down scans for you.

The front buttons are assigned through CaptureOnTouch.  Everything is configurable and they just work.  It's so nice.  You get 5 buttons with different icons on them.

There's a pretty full suite of scanning, image and capture options, but not a ton else.  For example, when scanning to file you can postfix the date, but only in YMD, DMY or MDY formats.  There is no option to add dashes, to do the date as a prefix, or to add the time, though oddly enough the option says "Add date and time".  You can also add a counter of 1-6 digits, but again this can only be added as a postfix to your default file name. And that's about it for that.  I don't really care myself, though the ability to add a custom dymanic prefix like "YYYY-MM-DD -" would be cool.

My one bitch about COT is the "Save to folder" option makes you pre-define a single file name and folder for the output file.  The software will adjust by counter or date options as described above, but you have no opportunity to change folders or file names on the fly.  This means you have to save everything to default and rename/move it later, which is a pill, and is not what I wanted.  I want to be able type / paste a unique destination on the fly.

There's a reviewer out there that makes a big deal out of the fact the DR-F120 doesn't come with and "programs".  But as you can scan with nearly any other program that supports a scanner, this is really a nothing concern.

For example, I'm using Acrobat to let me do per-scan file names, and it's working OK for me, but there are 1001 other programs out there, many of them free.  Chances are you have something installed already that will let you scan from the Canon; if not, finding what you want is just a matter of time.

Besides, not having costly programs bundled lowers the price.  Do you want to pay an extra $50 for some collection of programs you'll run once and never actually use?  The lack of software is a pro, not a con!

Conclusion:  I admit I spent quite a bit of time trying to convince myself I needed the Fujitsi fi-7260 or even a  Kodak i2900, but in the end I couldn't justify spending triple for the faster speed.  (Note I need a flatbed AND sheetfeed, not either/or, so units like the ScanSnap were out.)  I don't need a 10,000 page per day / 250-page behemoth, and as much as I'd love to own one - because cool, duh!- I think my desk space is just a little bit too small.  I'm not paying $2.3k to find out of I'm right or not.

Besides, if I decide I just gotta have one, I'll just sell the Canon for a little less than I paid.  At about $600, it looks like a screaming deal for what it is, seeing as it's comparable (not equivalent, comparable) to scanners costing $1500-$2300.  You can buy 3-4 Canons for the price of an i2900, and the Canon is smaller to boot.

More later if I get the energy or discover something the butler doesn't do well.  But I'm hopeful once we get used to each other, it'll just be there when I want it.


Note to any Canadians:  the best price I found on the DR-F120 was Amazon.com.  Yes, .com, not .ca.  Even with exchange, credit card conversion fees, duty, tax and TWO-DAY shipping, it was $50 less than in Canada.  The 2-day shipping alone should have made it $100 more, but not so.  In Canada, it was $50 more, plus shipping, and all shipping options were 2-3 weeks.  It even showed up a day early.

The DR-F120 is still new, so availability and price are bound to improve.  But in the short term, it doesn't hurt to check with the neighbors.

[Edit 2015-04-23]:  The scanner is tearing up the edges of my pages.  Not all, but even one is too many.

I would post pictures and video, but I can't - Blogger is hanging on the add process.  I'll try again later.  Direct video link is http://youtu.be/nCEgXA_f7og.
 
Canon Canada believes it is defective, but can't honor the warranty; Canon USA  can't handle a Canadian address and can't even log the call, much less arrange a return.

Fortunately, Amazon is awesome.  Steps to get a new unit by talking to a real live human being:

1.  Go here.
2.  Fill out the fields.
3.  Get an immediate call from a nice friendly native English speaking customer service rep.
4.  Get replacement unit and return address label shipped to arrive in 2 working days.

[Note:  The contact link above appears to work on all country-specific Amazon sites, once you fill in the correct site.  For example, instead of "amazon.com" for USA, you can edit the link to "amazon.ca" for Canadian customers, "amazon.com.au" for Australian, and so on.]

I had some issues initially trying to work the problem through their A-to-Z guarantee and return policy pages.  However, calling them was easy and everything was sorted in about five minutes. The only trick is finding the contact page URL, which is above.

The rep was knowledgeable and even suggested an option that might have let me get a replacement from Amazon.ca, restoring the Canon unit warranty.  It didn't work out, but damn nice of her to try!

Return shipping was free too.  Even from Canada.

Note the above does not necessarily apply to items bought from third-party vendors, rather than Amazon.

Note to Canadians:  "Amazon Export Services" - as listed on the invoice - is, for all intents and purposes of this discussion, "Amazon.com".  It's not an arms-length third-party contract vendor or any other such sketchiness, and Amazon will not give you grief for daring to live in Canada but Buy American.  Return shipping for defective items is supposed to be free too.

Note to Americans:  Amazon's return and replacement policies kick butt.  Meaning you are obviously a bunch of totally spoiled brats.  Appreciate how good you have it.

[Edit 2015-04-24]  Replacement unit arrived early.  Tested the flatbed, no problems.  The very FIRST page I ran through the sheet feeder came out mangled in precisely the same manner as scanner #1.  A test run of 48 pages, just to be sure, mangled three.

Amazon did not come good on their free return shipping offer, as the generated return label requires shipping to be paid by the sender (i.e. me).  They say that they will refund me any shipping costs I incur by returning the first unit; I trust this will hold true for the second unit as well.

It appears that in order to get my preferred rotary/flatbed combo, I'm now on the hook for a $1600 Fujitsu or a $2200 Kodak.  Now that the old scanner is gone, I'm going to have to revisit my desk layout to see if I do actually have room for separate flatbed and sheetfeed scanners.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Getting a Fujitsu fi-4220c (or similar) working on Windows 7 x64 bit

Short answer:  It can't be done.  Do yourself a favor, don't waste your time.

Long answer:  There is no Windows 7 driver for this scanner, and Fujitsu will never make one.  The 32-bit Windows Vista driver might or might not work for Win 7, but it has zero chance of working on Win7 64-bit, so don't try.

You can run the scanner in "Windows XP mode".  Reports are that this is kludgy at best.  I did not try.

If you search, you will find VueScan.  The software appears to be legit but does not include any device drivers, so it will not solve your issue.  I got suckered into trying the demo, and wasting yet MORE of my time.

But it makes sense.  Q:  How does any company write 1000+ device drivers for hardware they didn't make?  A: They don't.  Without a driver, programs like VueScan are dead ducks, no matter what promises they make on their dodgy and overenthusiastic web site.


I wouldn't be in this mess if my old HP Pavilion hadn't given up after 11 years (mainboard died) and cost me an entire day.  It looked like the hard drive was failing - which it was, but after 8+ hours of restoring backups to a clone drive, it stopped booting completely due to a mainboard short-circuit.  And that was that.

I prepared against this and had a 'spare' Dell Optiplex 320 in the wings.  So I tried to install the Fujitsu driver and Scandall32 on it.

But no matter what I do, I can't get the installation to "stick".  Every time the scanner hibernates or I reboot, Windows XP "loses" the scanner.  It takes about 3-4 reinstalls to get it back up, and then it'll get lost again.  I tried various installation patterns, using a USB hub (seen that work before, on a UPS) and even a new USB cable even though I knew the old one was fine.  No luck.

This is after figuring out how to bypass no less than THREE passwords on this ex-workplace Dell.  I got in, but then this.  Another entire day wasted.

I wanted to try a clean Windows install on the Optiplex, but if there is a factory restore option, I can't find it.  Ctrl-F11 seems to be the correct shortcut, but it does nada, and apparently the 320 has no such recovery option.  I don't have the original media discs (of course) and I'm really not up to a complete fresh XP install.

I wouldn't be so worked up if I knew that I could get a replacement for my trusty old fi-4220c.  But I've read some reports that the nearest replacement that has both ADF and flatbed - the fi-7260 - comes with truly awful Paperstream Capture / Paperstream IP software.  Both appear to be attempts at "document management" applications, which are the last thing I want.  I want the damn thing to scan to PDF and put the PDF where I want it.  Maybe OCR it, but that's optional.  And that is all.

Unfortunately setting up separate flatbed and ADF scanners is quite awkward for me.  My current workstation was partially built with the truly humungous fi-4220c in mind.  Maybe some kind of stand will do it.

I'll have to see if the ScanSnap Manager will do what I want, I suppose.  Early indications are that it will, as long as it's not going to force me to put everything into a fixed destination folder, or force me to do a different profile for every possible destination.  That's just not going to work.

Silver lining is that a newer USB 3.0 scanner will be so much faster than the old 4220c - and hopefully better at ADF, too.  I have to admit that 4220c jammed many more times than I would like.  A glorious workhorse, but by no means perfect.

If anyone has suggestions for a better fi-4220c replacement than the fi-7260, I'm all ears.  But keep in mind I need a solution that includes both ADF and flatbed - though not necessarily in a single integrated device.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Recovering lost Windows XP passwords

I was donated an older WinXP desktop by my dad, but it had multiple levels of password protection.

First, the Optiplex BIOS had the password set.  After some mucking about, I discovered that the password reset jumper needed to be in "reset" position when booting the machine.  It actually says "Password disabled" when you've done it right.  Just moving the jumper with the machine off and/or unplugged doesn't do anything.

The BIOS user /boot password was also set, but didn't appear to affect anything.

The kicker was the Windows XP logins.  My dad tried over a dozen user/password combinations, but none worked. 

I had read about a method to reset XP passwords using the original installation CD-ROM and product key.  It was a Dell, so it had the product key sticker on the case.  But it looked like a time-consuming and cumbersome option. 

There are also commercial options between $20 and $50, but there were enough solutions out there that I figured it wasn't that hard, and therefore not worth that much.  I almost bit on the $20 one, but not quite.

Even Lifehacker had a rare information fail, as they let their "reset your password" thread devolve into blatant advertising and "fixes" that didn't work.  (Don't get me wrong - the Gawker blogs shill a lot of stuff - but usually the commenters rein them in, to a degree anyway.)  I actually tried the "safe mode" option, but this does not work, for reasons that are obvious in restrospect.

Oddly for me, About.com had the right answer with their list of 7 free Windows password recovery tools.  I don't get much useful info from About, but maybe that is just me.  I'll have to be more charitable towards them in the future.

The first entry, Ophcrack, is a free open-source live CD.  It's trivial to use - burn, boot, select the "automatic" option and wait.  That's it. 

You obviously need the ability to burn the ISO to a CD, and the machine will obviously need a CD-ROM drive for this to work.  I don't know if it is USB-able, but it seems there is an alternative, non-CD-based version there as well.  There is also a Win7 version, which I didn't try.

The About author had it take 3-1/2 minutes, but it had all the passwords of relevance on my machine in about 2.  They were relatively simple plain-word-plus-number combinations.  But with this sort of performance it's hard to see how it could take longer than 15 min at the outside. 

(Hell, run it overnight if you want to - I have no idea what the max time might be, but several hours should be enough to give a definitive pass or fail.)

Oh, and don't forget that the "admin" account in XP is "Administrator".  It would not have made a difference for me, but if you're guessing, it helps to get the user name correct.

So rather than reinstalling XP, going through a complex process using the original CDs, or paying money, give Ophcrack a try.  I want to say "worked like a charm", but that will make this review sound as meaningless and trite as all the others you will find.  So I'll just say it worked well for me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Windows 7 sticks at black "X programs need to close" screen, but neither keyboard nor mouse will work

Symptoms:  You try to shut down Windows 7, and it pulls up the black-background "programs need to close" screen.  You try to press either "Force restart" or "Cancel", but you can't - neither your keyboard nor your mouse will actually let you click either button.

Fix:  Try hitting Ctrl-Alt-Del to interrupt Windows and get to the logoff / shutdown screen.  The mouse and keyboard should be working then, in which case you can return to the previous screen, click "Cancel" and shut down the offending program properly.  Alternatively, you may be able to force a restart from the new screen.