Acer Iconia W510 Windows 8.1 Reinstall

September 8, 2019 at 1:59 pm (computers) (, , , , )

Not quite sure why I’m persevering with this one, but it is quite a nice machine!  But as I mentioned last time, it is full and has stopped updating.  So time has come to re-install and conventional wisdom on the Internet seems to think that I won’t get anywhere putting Windows 10 on it, so Windows 8.1 re-install it is.

First problem though – I’d forgotten the admin password – doh! (actually I’m sure I wrote it down somewhere and made a Win 8.1 install disk – but I seem to have lost them both!).  Thankfully a local user account is still functioning and it would appear that from a local user account you can still invoke the start-up options to refresh (i.e. re-install) the computer.  So I did.  Which is good as it is almost impossible to invoke the rescue options any other way.


  • Windows 8.1 32-bit (English) Installation Media – get it from here:
  • USB DVD Drive (I burnt the ISO to a disk).
  • USB keyboard, mouse and ethernet adaptor (you’ll see why in a moment).
  • Micro USB connected (in my case via an adaptor) USB hub for the above.

On reinstallation of Windows from the ISO it doesn’t recognise the dock, touch screen or Wifi so I have to use a USB hub via the tablet’s built-in micro-usb port to connect up a keyboard, mouse and USB ethernet adaptor to get online.

There is a driver package on the Asus website that covers everything:

It is quite scary to run though as you get a very DOS looking type update programme running on restart and I’m pretty sure it is updating the UEFI BIOS somehow.  Still, once installed and restarted it was all running fine again.

But I instantly hit the same problem with Windows Updates as when I first got the machine, which I documented here.  Basically there is a problem with the Windows Update programme, and to fix it Microsoft helpfully suggest installing KB3102812 using, you guess it, Windows Update!

On examining the files already installed it looks like the Win 8.1 ISO has all the right files to have included the prerequisites for installing KB3102812 – I checked the version numbers of a few.  It also seems to list under “update history” the April 2014 cumulative update, so I simply downloaded and installed KB3102812 myself by hand as detailed in my previous blog post.  Of course, what would have been immeasurably more useful would be for the ISO to include at least up to the point of the fixed Windows Update!  Oh well.

  1. Download of the update for KB3102812.  The 32-bit download is here:
  2. Open a command prompt as Administrator then extract and install:
cd \Users\me\Downloads
mkdir temp
expand -f:* “Windows8.1-KB3102812-x86.msu” temp
cd temp
start /w Pkgmgr /ip /

At this stage nothing seems to happen for a while, then you get a message box saying Pkgmgr is deprecated, but do you want to restart now? On restart you get the standard Reconfiguring Windows Update type messages and then Windows starts.

At this point we can run Windows updates normally. In my case several times to get everything up to date again.

The final step was to create a system image of the new, clean Windows 8.1 machine.  But the option to do that is quite hidden, but still there somewhere.  Basically it is hidden away under FileHistory – but not the Windows 8 PC Settings File History – you have to go to the original Control Panel -> File History, then there is an option at the bottom of the left hand panel for System Image Backup.




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More Windows (8) Update Woes

August 11, 2019 at 10:09 am (computers) (, , , )

That really nice Acer Iconia W510 tablet that I had such fun with before has started playing up again.  It isn’t clear from the wisdom of the Internet if I could put Windows 10 on it or not, but I did wonder if it was worth seeing if the free update was still working or not.  I haven’t yet, but the Windows 8.1 updates seem to have stopped again and I get a range of errors popping up, 0x800F0831 seems a favourite this time.  Apparently this isn’t in the list of common corruption errors, but, well, this is Windows, so who knows!?  It seems to be related to some kind of mismatch in applying updates.

I did wonder if it was getting too full (there is only 32GB onboard storage, and only around 1GB free) and so managed to get itself in a mess.  This post is by way of documenting some of the more useful suggestions I’ve found online for dealing with Windows update issues as I’ve tried to sort my issues out.

There does seem a ‘standard’ but complicated procedure for resetting Windows update (assuming the built-in troubleshooting doesn’t do any good).  There are two helpful Powershell scripts available here that can do all this for you, alongside details of all the manual steps involved too.  The only issue I found was that I had to temporarily change the signed execution policy to allow them to run.

In a “run as administrator” Powershell prompt, I had to do:

Set-ExecutionPolicy -ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process

Before running the script.  The slacking of policy should only be temporary (unlike some other suggestions I’ve seen which change it permanently).  Once the script has run, a reboot is required to kick everything off again.

Still no go for me though. Next up is some advice about using the tools sfc and dism – that’s the “system file checker” and “deployment image servicing and management” tools.  Full details of what they do can be found here and from Microsoft here, but the summary is:

sfc /scannow
dism.exe /Online /Cleanup-image /Scanhealth
dism.exe /Online /Cleanup-image /Restorehealth

That will do some basic checks of the running system image (sfc); check the health of the  running instance (dism /Scanhealth) and then repair it if required (/Restorehealth) using the online Windows Update servers as the reference source material. Nothing says this, but I assume you need to run sfc again after the two uses of dism, otherwise I’m not sure what the actual point is!  The /Online means “target the running operating system” rather than an actual file or other partition containing a non-running Windows image.

By the way if dism gets stuck at 20% or 40% apparently this is quite common – you’ll have to wait it out.  Eventually it will jump to 100% complete.

If your system is too corrupt then it looks like you can use dism from a working Windows installation to repair the image of a broken one or specify an alternative source of known good files if the link to Windows Update isn’t doing it for you.  I downloaded the 32-bit Windows 8.1 installation ISO from the MS download site and then dropped it onto a USB memory stick so it can be mounted from the tablet.

To specify a new reference source, use the switches /Online /Cleanup-image /Restorehealth /Source to specify a known good source of files.  You need to point to \sources\install.wim from the mounted ISO image.  It is also worth using /LimitAccess to stop it phoning home to Windows Update and using the Windows Update client.  More details again here.

It may be that this would have helped my Windows 10 boot problems I described before.



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Surfing on Entropy

March 21, 2019 at 10:28 am (art, computers, music) (, , , )

I was passed a link to this interesting comment from Brian Eno: “There is not enough Africa in computers” (thanks Richard).

I’ve now read this a couple of times and was still left wondering quite what lay behind the comment.  So I tried to find the original interview between Kevin Kelly (then editor of Wired I believe) and Brian Eno so I could read it in full.  Unfortunately it isn’t on the same link anymore, but with some googling, you can find it in the Wired archive here.

There are a number of really fascinating discussion points – I really recommend reading the whole article – and it provides the context for that isolated quote. I did find some of the answers a little contradictory at times though.

A disclaimer, to date the music and views of Brian Eno seems to have passed me by, so these comments start with this interview in isolation. I look forward to seeing what he would say now and finding more about his ideas of generative music.

On the one hand I believe he is saying he doesn’t like the “set it in motion and it will perform predictably” aspect of computers – he likes the idea of providing inspiration and guiding principles that may or may not produce something depending on the live inputs of the viewer/reader/listener – he appears to like the serendipity of it all … but later on he talks of “black boxes for music” where he has set the rules and the box produces the music according to those rules, with some input from the listener depending on their mood.  The box become some combination of player and instrument if I understand his view correctly.

Right near the start of the interview, he suggests that the orchestral tradition is too constraining, but I see it as a (more limited admittedly) set of programmable components ready to do the composer’s bidding.

When you look at how the orchestra developed from Mozart’s time through the Romantic period, contrasting those early Classical period works with Beethoven, Brahms and then the later large scale deployments of Mahler, there is quite a lot of scope for variability there and the basic “machine” evolved enormously through that time. Then when you look at what Stravinsky did in his ballet music or what Debussy did with his completely alternative view of harmony through to the likes of Messiaen recreating birdsong in his Turangalia symphony (including incorporating the electronic Ondes Martinot), then as a “programmable box” an orchestra is actually quite a versatile person/machine system in action.

I guess he doesn’t like the idea that a composer sets the rules and the orchestra is then condemned to just reproduce them.  But I wonder what he thinks about jazz and improvisation? Good jazz still follows rules, but every performance is different. But it isn’t random. Is a jazz ensemble “more Africa” than an orchestra?  Or maybe it is a matter of the illusion on unpredictability.  When I look at something like the Long Player – that is a key set of rules, and you exactly determine what the music will be at any point – but the cycle is so long (designed to last a thousand years) that every time you dip into it, you don’t really know what you will hear.  Or at the other end, is John Cage’s As Slow as Possible where you can go back after several months and the music is still exactly the same.

I guess some of this relates to the difference between analogue and digital.  Digital is obsessed with chopping up the analogue reality into small measurable chunks – be that discrete frequencies that we call semitones in Western music, pixels on a computer screen, or even the digitising of the end results as a digital bit stream to be played back via audio hardware off a CD or MP3.  But even when digital and in theory part of a finite space, that space is so vast as to approximate to the entire musical repertoire or pictorial output of any artist, composer or musician (as least as far as human senses are concerned).

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the computer screen representing an unimaginably large single number and that counting through them all would show every possible image that screen could display.

In theory the digitisation of music could be represented the same way – if every note on the piano keyboard had a number 1 to 88, then a piece of music (forgetting rhythm for the moment) is essentially one very long base 88 number.  That’s not too dissimilar to how a pianola worked, although physical layout of the cut-outs are key here, or even MIDI in today’s world, when linked with a sense of the flow of time of course.  I remember my school having a dictionary of musical themes and it basically worked on those lines (although it only worried about a single octave, so it was essentially a 5-10 digit “base 7” number).  I’ve always wanted that book, but so far have never seen one since.

So just because things can be reduced to number and handled by computer, is that any less “Africa” than a free-flowing analogue equivalent?  I guess a key distinction is not necessarily digital vs analogue, but more pre-determined vs unpredictable.

In a weird way, fast forward these last 20 years and computers have become so complex as to be largely unpredictable to many.  Now that these already complex machines are hooked up to the even more complex global machine that is “the Internet” (by whichever definition to choose to use – remember it is just a series of tubes), then most of us would be hard pushed to be convinced by the argument that computers are things that always behave the same way based on the same inputs.

I am reminded here of Bjarne Stroustrup when he said (I believe): “I have always wished for my computer to be as easy to use as my telephone; my wish has come true because I can no longer figure out how to use my telephone.”

I’m also reminded of the fact that computers may soon be able to pass the Turing Test, not because they’ve become as smart as humans, but possible because there is a real possibility that humans are becoming as dumb as computers…

Back to Brian Eno:

“What people are going to be selling more of in the future is not pieces of music, but systems by which people can customize listening experiences for themselves.  Change some of the parameters and see what you get.”

He was after unfinished pieces of musical ideas to be combined in a new form as the listener experiments.  Of course, in a sense he was overestimating the listeners – today listeners want “customized listening experiences” but at the granularity of the song, the tune, not the musical extract or idea or concept.  And they don’t really want the effort of having to produce it themselves.  Of course they have it in droves with on-demand streaming where algorithms are “changing the parameters” on your behalf.

His ideas for evolutionary music and art may still come about, but again probably more by presaging the idea of algorithms creating music and art. But does that make the algorithms the composers and painters?  The jury is still out on that one, but he may well get his “furniture music” this way – his “ubiquitous 24 hours a day” music “infiltrating every waking moment of our lives”.

It is interesting his view on the use of machines.  He suggest we all need to be “surfing on entropy” – to be able to ride the wave of unpredictability and complexity becoming apparent.  I think that is very, very apt today, but the huge irony here being that this unpredictability and complexity has come about by the very components he considered too constrained, “not enough Africa”, now being let loose as they’ve grown more powerful and complex, on the world.

Machines are no longer doing “predictable, boring and repetitive things” – they are the very instruments of uncertainty.  We can still exert influence – by surfing the wave of complexity:

“When you surf, there is a powerful complicated system, but you’re riding on it, you’re going somewhere on it, and you can make some choices about it.”  You either ride it an use it with skill to get your own direction, or you give up and go with the flow.

There is an interesting section discussing the difference between art and science.  Art “doesn’t make a difference” – in that he means that whilst art will stimulate emotions, create large emotional experiences (e.g. watching a film) then end when the experience ends.  Of course, with today’s blended and mixed reality, is that still the case?

A fascinating read, especially with the benefit of 20 years passing in the mean time. The context might be slightly different, but many of the thoughts are still amazingly apt for today.  I’d love to know what he thinks about these thoughts again today.



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Raspberry Pi Family Tree

December 8, 2018 at 10:44 pm (computers, maker) ()

There are a number of pages around listing the history of the various models of Raspberry Pi, and a few photo galleries of all models, but so far I haven’t been able to find an actual evolutionary family tree of the various boards produced to date.  So I’ve created one which will do until I find a better one.


And the images themselves were picked out from Alex of’s Raspberry Pi Family photo from March 2018:

(with the manual addition of the 3A+)

I think I’ve got the right linkages, but if not let me know.  Anything with a line across to the right hand side is still listed (at the time of writing) as a live product on as far as I can see.


Raspberry Pi Family Tree.png

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Extractivism and the Anatomy of AI

November 6, 2018 at 10:20 pm (computers, interesting, science) (, , , )

I found this fascinating website – the Anatomy of an AI System – which takes an Amazon Echo and attempts to map out the behind the scenes costs in terms of manual labour, material resources, and data required to power the ecosystem.

It is particularly telling how much it focuses on the raw material impact of our modern lifestyles, which when all said and done is not unique to the Echo, but a symptom of our continued fascination with electronic gadgetry in its totality.  It has a word, that was new to me, for the way much of the impact is continually hidden from end consumers by large companies – extractivism – and attempts to bring to the fore the continued extractivism going on in support of the huge technology base being created (and in some cases just as quickly obsoleted) by large technology companies.

It uses as one example, The Salar, which is a high plateau in Bolivia that apparently contains the majority of the world’s source for Lithium, becoming increasingly important of course in our desire for mobile power (both smartphones and electric vehicles).

Another interesting example is the metaphor of “the cloud”:

Vincent Mosco has shown how the ethereal metaphor of ‘the cloud’ for offsite data management and processing is in complete contradiction with the physical realities of the extraction of minerals from the Earth’s crust and dispossession of human populations that sustain its existence.

We think of putting our data in “the cloud”, of using services in “the cloud” and all the mechanics are abstracted away, out of sight, out of mind. It is rarely that the physical realities of “the cloud” surface, expect in exceptional circumstances, usually where something goes wrong.

I would be interested in reading an update to Andrew Blum’s Tubes, updating it to make “the cloud” real in the same way he did for the also ethereal Internet itself.

Another interesting observation to come out of the study is the importance of the multiple roles of the end user:

When a human engages with an Echo, or another voice-enabled AI device, they are acting as much more than just an end-product consumer. It is difficult to place the human user of an AI system into a single category: rather, they deserve to be considered as a hybrid case. Just as the Greek chimera was a mythological animal that was part lion, goat, snake and monster, the Echo user is simultaneously a consumer, a resource, a worker, and a product.

(emphasis in the original paper).

This also comes out in the scale of income distributions – with Jeff Bezos at the top (apparently earning $275 million a day) – through US developers and workers, through overseas developers and workers – right down to “unpaid user labour” at the bottom generating the data that feeds the system and continually improves it.

The study rightly points out the fractal nature of attempting to display any of this in a linear manner on a single diagram.  Of course, each supply chain is supported by components each with their own supply chain.  Its supply chains all the way down until you reach the raw elements.

In summary I am minded simultaneously of Carl Sagan:

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

But seeing this complication laid bare, somewhat in defence of humanity, also of Douglas Adams (from “Mostly Harmless”):

“The available worlds looked pretty grim. They had little to offer him because he had little to offer them. He had been extremely chastened to realize that although he originally came from a world which had cars and computers and ballet and Armagnac, he didn’t, by himself, know how any of it worked. He couldn’t do it. Left to his own devices he couldn’t build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich and that was it.”


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Fixing Windows 10 Boot Problems

June 29, 2018 at 9:19 pm (computers) (, , , )

Had an issue with a Windows 10 laptop where it stopped booting.  It was failing at the flashing cursor on a black screen, which to me looked like either a disk failure or some odd boot loop.  It wasn’t registering that there wasn’t an OS and it wasn’t trying to boot an OS and finding errors.

Booting off a Windows repair CD didn’t get anywhere with startup repair either, so into the command line I had to go.

There are a number of Windows commands that relate to boot that came into play:

diskpart – to look at disks and partitions to work out how it is configured (using the commands “list disk”, “select disk 0”, “list partition”, “list volume”, etc)

bootsect – to fix the boot sector (in this case, I used “bootsect /nt60 sys”)

bootrec – to fix various boot and boot record issues – “bootrec /fixmbr”, “bootrec /fixboot”, and finally “bootrec /rebuildbcd”.

Unfortunately rebuildbcd (bcd = boot configuration data) generated an error, “the file or directory is corrupted and unreadable”.  So after a bit of Googling, then also found bcdboot.  This is supposed to setup the boot environment by copying the relevant files form the Windows installation over to the boot area.  Running that though, came up with more errors, so poking around in the two areas, the PC had a boot partition on C: and the system drive was D:.  It was attempting to copy from d:\windows\boot\pcat to c:\boot and failing for some reason.

So at this point, I thought a chkdsk might have been in order – so “chkdsk /f c:” came up with a load of index errors related to all the language files which it seemed to fix.  bcdboot was still struggling, so I manually copied the rest of the files over.

At this point bcdboot largely succeeded, but still had one error, so running it in verbose mode highlighted a problem accessing the bcd catalogue from the d:/windows/system32/config area.  But not really knowing what it was trying to do with it, in the end I just ran “bootrec /rebuildbcd” and that seemed to work fine this time.

At this point, we felt it worth attempting a boot again, and thankfully at this point.  It all worked.  Windows did its own chkdsk again whilst starting up and we were finally in once again.




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Repeated iPad Activation Requests

July 30, 2017 at 2:54 pm (computers) (, , , , )

I had a recent problem with an iPad.  It was asking to be activated, yet when you walk through the menus, it wouldn’t connect to the Apple servers and activate, it would only get kicked back into action when connected to a PC running iTunes.

Once activated, all was fine – Internet fine, browsing and apps, fine – apart from iTunes itself.  For some reason it was never able to get in touch with the App Store from the iPad itself.  After a while, it would then get stuck back in the ‘your iPad requires activation’ loop.  This could take a few hours or it might be after a day.

Typical error messages included: “activation error”, “ipad could not contact activation server”, “ipad could not connect to iTunes”.

The one that usually came up once trying to activate the device manually was “Your iPad could not be activated because the activation server is temporarily unavailable. Try connecting your iPad to iTunes to activate it, or try again in a couple of minutes”.

The Internet has various reasons for this – the server really is unavailable, your Internet connection isn’t working, and in some cases there was a report of activation problems after an iOS update.  There are various suggested solutions too – reboot, connect using a PC (which solves it in my case but only temporarily), remove the account from your iPad and add it back in, or even factory reset and restore from backup.  Nothing worked for me.

As I was contemplating a factory reset, I noticed that the clock on the iPad was out.  For some reason automatic updating of the clock from the Internet was turned off and the iPad was a hour out compared to the actual time.  Once the time synchronisation was turned back on and the clock updated, it all worked again.

I know that many cryptographic protocols can be time sensitive – if the clocks are out by too much between the two devices trying to communicate securely then the connection can not be established.  This is a problem I had with a Windows machine once – when the clock out of sync it wouldn’t ever update.  Looks like the same was probably happening here.

So if you are having odd activation errors on your i-device that keep reoccurring, check your clock settings and make sure it is telling the right time and in the right time zone.  This isn’t something I’ve seen mentioned anywhere in response to activation problems.



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Updating Windows Update when Windows Update Won’t Update

December 21, 2016 at 9:39 pm (computers) (, , , , )

I’ve recently picked up a reconditioned Acer Iconia W510 Windows 8 Tablet PC with a docking keyboard, and to be honest, I actually quite like it.  But it is proving a bit of a trial to get going.

First, I found that it wouldn’t activate or start updating at all.  No matter what I did, it wasn’t happy.  Reading that Windows 8 is no longer supported, and I’d have to update to Windows 8.1, I looked for it in the Windows store.  But it won’t install from there without a pile of recent updates being installed first, but updates were having problems too.  Worried that I might have to reinstall from installation media, I set about looking for the Windows Product Code, but it was nowhere to be found.  Nothing on the box, nothing on the device, nothing with the installation and recovery media.

It turns out that many modern devices just come with a Windows Product Key in the BIOS itself.  There isn’t an obvious way through the standard Windows interface to find out what it is either. It might be in the BIOS, I don’t know I didn’t get that far.  This simple utility from nirsoft will dig out any product keys on a running system and tell you what they are.

Before all the pain of a reinstall though, I wondered if Windows Update might kick the activation off, so tried that a last time.  But that was still failing consistently with error 80072F8F.  Apparently you might get this if your PC clock is too far out of sync with Microsoft’s update servers.  Sure enough, even though the time and date were correct, the year was 2012 not 2016.  Fixing that kicked off both activation and updates, so all was looking good.

Sure enough, post first bought of updates I could now install Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store, which went through successfully.  I did wonder about skipping ahead to Windows 10, but Microsoft now want around £90 for the upgrade, which is a bit mad on a device like this.

At this point though, I soon hit another problem.  Windows Updates kept stalling permanently “checking for updates”.  There isn’t a clear “this is how you fix this” on the Internet, but the general Wisdom seems to be that there is an issue with high CPU usage and hangs of the Windows Update service on Windows 8.1 that needs the Windows Update service components themselves to be updated.

So, in short I tried all the following to no avail:

  1. Just leaving it running.  Some people suggest it might perk up after 20 hours.  Some say leave it 24 hours.  I left it running for around 30 hours (after realising I needed to change the power settings to stop the device auto sleeping after 10 minutes) and still nothing.
  2. Resetting Windows updates by stopping bits, wuauserv, cruptsvr; renaming the c:\windows\SoftwareDistribution directory; running the Troubleshooter to Troubleshoot issues with Windows Updates; then rebooting.  No effect.
  3. Tried booting into safe mode to see if that helps.  Note to self: Before trying Safe Mode for a Windows tablet, check that the docked keyboard and touch screen will still function when in Safe Mode.  For the Acer, they only way to interact with it was via an external USB keyboard (using the micro-USB socket too)!! Doh!
  4. I found that KB3102812 claims to fix it, but this relies on installing KB2919355 which itself seems to rely on KB2919442.  Downloading and running these separately invokes the wusa.exe executable, but this too hangs on the “searching the PC for updates” stage.  I left one of these going for around 6 hours.
  5. During the course of my travels I also stumbled across KB2950153, which describes a problem with wusa.exe freezing, but once again trying to install this isn’t trivial without wusa.exe which itself still hangs.  At this point I was running the Performance Monitor to spot disk activity and sure enough you can see the svchost hosting the Windows Update service trawl through the SoftwareDistribution area, updating logs, caches, db files and so on – but eventually all disk activity just stops and the check is still not complete.
  6. Next on the hitlist was finding a way to install an update manually without relying on the Windows Update GUI or wusa.exe.  One promising avenue is the PSWindowsUpdate module for PowerShell.  This gives  fairly comprehensive access to Windows Update from PowerShell.  Following the instructions here, but using the Get-WUInstall -Verbose command to see what is actually going on, this never seemed to get past the “Trying to connect to Windows Update Server” stage (I tried with both -WindowsUpdate and -MicrosoftUpdate options).

Finally, before seriously considering a reinstall, I looked up any other way possible to install a Windows update without needing wusa.exe.  Eventually I found this site which shows how you can expand a .msu file and use Pkgmgr to install the .cab file directly.  Now this is not without its risks – this is bypassing all the good configuration and dependency management that the Windows Update service does behind the scenes, but things were getting desperate.

To be sure, I started looking at the versions of some of the files on the system, so I could which updates might already be installed.  I was looking at the version of wusa.exe and wups2.dll files in c:\windows\system32.  From what I could see, I think I must have already included the two dependent installs from KB2919422 and KB2919355, so I figured I might be able to get away with installing KB3102812 directly, which is supposed to fix the performance issues.  As I say, this is not without risk, but the chances were looking good that if I could just force the update of the Windows Update Service, I might be on to something.  So the steps eventually were:

  1. Check versions of the files to give some assurance that older, dependent service updates where probably already included in my Windows 8.1 installation.
  2. Download the (in my case) x86 version of KB3102812.
  3. Open a command line (using the “Run as Administrator” option).
  4. run the following commands:
cd \Users\me\Downloads
mkdir temp
expand -f:* “Windows8.1-KB3102812-x86.msu” temp
cd temp
start /w Pkgmgr /ip /

This took a few minutes, but eventually looked like it had done something and told me I had to reboot to finish the installation (after also telling me that use of pkgmgr was deprecated).  Sure enough, on rebooting I got the familiar “Configuring Windows” display and once running again, I could see from the dates in the c:\windows\system32 that quite a few Windows Updates related files had been updated.  Curiously not wusa.exe though …

At this point, I ran Windows Update as normal, whilst watching disk activity again using the Performance Monitor, and yes, after quite a few minutes, it finally declared I had 213 updates to install and proceeded to download and install them.


Fingers crossed, this has now got me up and running and past the irritating, Microsoft-acknowledged bug, that exists in Windows Update for Win 8.1 that, infuriatingly, they only seem to provide a fix that requires installing via said problematic Windows Update.  Talk about chicken-and-egg!

Update on the updates: once all 213 were installed successfully, there were 7 additional updates and 10 optional updates. Thought I’d get it fully up to date so selected all 17. Turns out that one of the optional updates causes a perpetual shutdown-reboot cycle.  Also turns out that it is nigh on impossible to use F8 on a Windows 8 PC to enter safe mode – hence I guess why you set it using msconfig.  Thankfully I was able to use the Acer boot menu to start the troubleshooter and restore from a system restore point. Unfortunately it was the restore point prior to the 213 and the manual fix … Off we go one more time then … But really, an update that shuts down before you can even type CTRL-R msconfig?  Really Microsoft??  Moral of the tale-once it’s running ok, create a manual restore point and create a system image backup pretty quickly!

Update on the update on the updates: Of course Microsoft removed the backup and restore options from Windows 8 that let you create a system image so you have to use the command line wbadmin tool …



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Long playing for 1000 years

December 10, 2016 at 6:29 pm (computers, music) (, )

I first stumbled across the Longplayer project when I saw a mention of their Longplayer for Voices on Kickstarter.  Then I completely forgot about it until Christian Payne (Documentally) mentioned that he’d caught up with the originator of the project on his long-form, email newsletter, ‘Backchannel’ at which point I looked it up again.

The project is great – a very long-term musical project (a bit like As Slow as Possible) conceived and composed by Jem Finer.  The one line summary is that he has recorded a sequence of music for some ‘singing bowls’ and the project combines various processed versions of this 20 minute piece in a range of different ways, resulting in a piece of music that will play continuously for 1000 years without repeat.  The long version can be found on the about page for the project (its worth a read).

To listen along, there is a live stream available from the website or listening stations in a couple of locations in London and San Francisco.  There are a series of live performances too where players play extracts of the piece.

And more recently there is now an iOS app that uses the same 20 minute piece, the same time-driven algorithm and a sense of shared time via the Internet to make the app play exactly the same part of the music available in the physical spaces and via the web.

The ‘score’ is a simple representation, with six concentric rings showing the sounds in six variations of the 20 minute piece.  But the algorithm behind Longplayer will play each ring at different speeds – with one of the rings taking 1000 years to complete.

There is a visual representation of the score with an indication of which part of each ring is currently playing.  This is available via the web and the iOS app.  The following show four stages of the app over a 24 hour or so period.

Notice how the second ring progresses the quickest, but some of the others hardly at all.  The third ring is the 1000 year ring, so over 24 hours there is no movement at all

2016-05-06 21.00.352016-05-06 23.15.362016-05-07 06.15.482016-05-07 13.13.332016-05-07 17.27.24

A great app, a great project and fascinating music!



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Custom Blockly Block “does not know how to generate code”

March 8, 2016 at 10:56 pm (computers, kids) (, )

I’m playing around with my Espruino board (embedded board, programmed with JavaScript) as part of my quest to find a kid-friendly embedded controller.  One of the nice things about Esruino is that it comes with a Web-based IDE that provides a terminal console that allows you to write JavaScript directly onto the board or allows you to programme it using Blockly.

I want to write some custom blocks, so downloaded the source for the EspruinoWebIDE and did the following:

  • Created a new file “EspruinoWebIDE\blockly\blockly_myfile.js”
  • Included this file in a SCRIPT tag in the top of “EspruinoWebIDE\blockly\blockly.html”
  • Proceeded to create my blocks – initially as defined using the Google BlockFactory and then added to blockly.html to present them in the UI

There are already a few files defining extra blocks – blockly_espruino.js is the main one and blockly_robots.js is a simpler one, that actually makes quite a good example to follow if you are doing your own.

The basic idea is that there is a ‘toolbox’ definition for your block in the blockly.html file (which makes it appear in the menu of blocks in the user interface), supported with a block-definition file detailing the physical appearance of the block and what it needs to connect to within the user interface (Blockly.Blocks.mycategory_myblock) with an accompanying code-generation block.  In this case, generating JavaScript via Blockly.JavaScript.mycategory_myblock that uses the Blockly API to get what it needs from the user interface and returns a string that contains the corresponding generated code.

There is a setting in the EspruinoWebIDE – Settings->General->Overwrite JavaScript with Graphical Editor – which is quite handy at this point, as it means that every time you hit ‘Send to Espruino’ in the graphical editor, the JavaScript window is updated with the generated code.

Except when it isn’t.  There were no obvious errors, and the ‘Send to Espruino’ always said ‘Sent’ but there was no outward sign that anything had happened.

If you use the Inspect option of the Chrome browser then it was apparent that there was a JavaScript error:

Language “JavaScript” does not know how to generate code for block type “mycategory_myblock”

This hidden message indicates that there is a miss-match between the Blockly.Blocks.mycategory_myblock function and the Blockly.JavaScript.mycategory_myblock function and even though the block is available through the user interface, Blockly doesn’t know how to generate code for it.

Except in my case, no matter how it was written, generated, typed or checked, it was ignoring my code and I just could not spot what the error was.  Eventually, I changed the order of the SCRIPT statements in blockly.html, wondering if there was some kind of load-order issue and it suddenly started working.  Once I changed the order back again, it kept on working – so unfortunately I have no idea what was causing the problem, but just guessing some weird local caching issue or something not picking up my changes.

But if you are finding things aren’t working but there are no visible errors, definitely try Inspect and look for JavaScript errors and see if you can somehow force the application to re-load all files from scratch to make sure you aren’t working with an old version or something similar.  I still don’t know why it started working, but at least it works now.

The only reason I’ve written this is that Googling for various hints as to what might cause the issue was failing me – even once I knew what the error was.  So thought I’d write it down myself in case others have a similar issue – this might give someone else a clue.

Despite this rather irritating issue, I actually quite like Blockly.

In a future post, I’ll talk a bit more about what I’m actually doing with all this.





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