A sick Spectre returns, apparently healthy

About a month after it fell ill, the HP Spectre x360 laptop I bought in November seems once again fine–thanks to a little cybernetic surgery bracketed by free air travel.

Spectre hinge close-upI thought repair might be necessary after my last post on this subject, when even reinstalling Windows from a clean recovery image failed. I jumped on HP’s tech-support chat (I’ve never had to call for help, which is nice), and after a quick recap of my situation to date (the rep didn’t ask me to reboot the computer, which is nice), my remote interlocutor agreed that the laptop would require hands-on care.

The next morning, FedEx delivered a box, prepaid return label included, in which I could ship the x360 for repair. The laptop was on its way back that afternoon, and the next day I got an e-mail predicting a return on April 26th. It came back on the 24th, something I found out first from a phone call from FedEx the evening before.

Parts of this machine have been replaced, but I’m not entirely sure which. A printout in the box reported the following details:

“Operating System Reloaded: NO”

“Parts Replaced: LCD DISPLAY”

“Other Repair Actions: PART REPLACED”

Well okay, then! But I do know that the laptop has been working properly since, so I am going to tell myself that the PART REPLACED was, in fact, a part that needed to be replaced.

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My Windows laptop doesn’t seem to want to run Windows anymore

A week ago, I was sure I could cure the squirrelly behavior of the laptop I bought less than six months ago the hard way–by wiping the hard drive and reinstalling Windows from scratch. And for at least two days, that worked.

But then the laptop failed to wake from sleep, and when I force-rebooted it, the machine got stuck in the same “Preparing Automatic Repair” state that left this HP Spectre x360 unusable for a few days last month.

And this time, the laptop was back to refusing to recognize the USB recovery drive I’d created on it–even while it did boot up my ancient ThinkPad.

A chat session with HP’s tech support didn’t unearth any fixes for the problem, so the rep said he’d send me a second USB recovery drive. To HP’s credit, that drive arrived the next day.

But while this “Recovery Media” can erase the hard drive and reload all the necessary installation files on its recovery partition, the computer can’t then load Windows off that partition. At some point into the installation process, it gets stuck at a blank screen that features only Windows’ spinning circle of dots.

The Kafkaesque angle to all this: Installing Ubuntu Linux off a flash drive was no problem at all. Alas, this distribution of the open-source operating system doesn’t seem to recognize my laptop’s touchscreen, fingerprint sensor or Windows Hello facial-recognition cameras, so it’s not a long-term solution.

My next attempt will be to create a Windows recovery drive from the disc image you can download off Microsoft’s site. But if that doesn’t work either, this laptop’s next business trip will involve it going back to HP in a box.

Recommended Precision Touchpad settings

I’ve yet to ease into a new computer without having to fuss with some of the default settings, and the HP Spectre x360 laptop sitting on this desk has fit right into the pattern.

Most of the tweaking has involved its touchpad, because I’ve always found the defaults in Windows to be too jumpy. (I’ve said the same about some Mac touchpad defaults.) But after a few days of clicking around the stock Synaptics software, I realized I should first dump that for drivers supporting Microsoft’s more elegant Precision Touchpad software.

The directions I found on Reddit (embedded here after the jump) worked, and then I could easily shut off the touch behaviors I couldn’t stand.

  • “Touchpad sensitivity”: I changed this from the default “Medium” to “Low” because, again, jumpy touchpads bother me. I may try turning it back off to see if disabling the following two options made the standard sensitivity acceptable.
  • “Tap with a single finger to single-click”: This is the one setting I change on every laptop. If I want to click, I’m more than happy to press down so the touchpad makes an audible click; having it treat a stray touch as a click leaves me randomly dumping the cursor into documents and windows and feeling generally stabby as a result.
  • “Press the lower right corner of the touchpad to right-click”: I disabled this because it’s easier for me to remember to tap with two fingers to right-click than to keep track of which side of this invisible line I’m about to tap.

I hope this advice–which should also work on any other laptop running Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad software–makes for a more pleasant laptop computing experience. If you have other suggested settings changes, please share them in the comments.

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Weekly output: 5G possibilities, Comcast-NBC revisited, switching to Windows, big-media serfdom, Face ID hack, online abuse

Good luck with your Thanksgiving family tech support, everybody!

11/13/2017: 5G’s Economic Prospects: Flexibility and Fuzziness, FierceWireless

Researching this piece about possible business models for 5G wireless helped inform me about story angles I’ll want to look into over the next few years. As with my past work for Fierce’s e-book bundles, you’ll have to cough up an e-mail address to read this one.

11/13/2017: Comcast + NBCUniversal Produces Mixed Bag, FierceCable

Disclosure: Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal has benefited me directly, in the form of Comcast PR inviting me to NBCUniversal movie screenings in D.C.

11/13/2017: How Apple sold me on buying a Windows laptop, Yahoo Finance

An angle I didn’t have room to address in this post: Windows 10’s “tablet mode” represents a long-delayed fulfillment of the promise of Windows XP’s watching-not-creating Media Center interface.

11/14/2017, Barry Diller says big media will be ‘serfs on the land’ of tech giants, Yahoo Finance

The media mogul’s pessimistic assessment of traditional media’s future was an easy sell from the Internet Association’s Virtuous Circle conference in San Francisco.

11/17/2017: You should still use the iPhone X’s Face ID even though hackers say they beat it, Yahoo Finance

I’ve written a few posts over the past year or two on the theme of “security nihilism”–the unhelpful belief of many infosec types that if a defensive measure can’t protect you from the most experienced and motivated attackers, then it’s worthless. Maybe this was more persuasive than the others?

11/16/2017: Technical and Human Solutions to Problematic Behaviors, Family Online Safety Institute

I moderated this panel at FOSI’s conference about ways to deal with people being jerks online. My thanks to TeenSafe’s Tracy Bennett, Verizon’s Ginelle Brown, Twitter’s Patricia Cartes and the Born This Way Foundation’s Rachel Martin for making me sound smarter on the subject on a day when I had to function on about four hours of sleep after a fuel leak forced my flight back from SFO to divert to Denver, after which I didn’t land at Dulles until after 1 a.m.

FYI, Microsoft: Time-zone support isn’t a luxury feature in a calendar app

A day into trying out the shipping version, Microsoft’s Windows 10 Creators Update doesn’t look too different from the prior release.

That’s not all bad–already, Win 10 was at best the most pleasant and at worst the least annoying version of Windows I’ve used. But in addition to leaving out some advertised features hyped by me and others, Creators Update doesn’t fix a problem Microsoft shouldn’t have shipped in the first place: no time-zone support in the calendar app.

When I add an event outside of Eastern time, I have to factor in the time-zone offset before typing in its start and end times to see my appointment shown accurately away from the East Coast. And if there’s one task computers are supposed to free us from doing, it’s basic math.

I’ve seen this movie before, but the last time featured a quicker resolution. In the spring of 2010, I teed off on Google Calendar for the same feature failure–but by the end of that year, Google had fixed that and earned my forgiveness.

Microsoft’s intentions have remained a mystery for much longer. In October, I asked a publicist about the absence of time-zone support in the calendar app and got this mealy-mouthed answer:

“We are always exploring new features for Windows 10 and will continue to add new features and updates over time to help users get more done. We have nothing more to share at this time.”

It turns out that Microsoft really did “have nothing more to share.”

I could fix this issue by paying for Microsoft’s Outlook app as part of an Office 365 subscription, but that would feel like paying ransom. And it would unquestionably represent signing up for “groupware” features I don’t need as a sole proprietor. Or I could make my next laptop a MacBook Air–except that’s another case of an unfeeling company ignoring clear customer desires, this time with more money at stake and a longer history of neglect.

I’ve looked for free or paid alternative calendar apps with time-zone support in the Windows Store but have yet to find one. Is this a giant collective blind spot among Windows 10 developers? Do they all work in one time zone? I know Microsoft employees don’t.

I guess I’ll have to continue grumbling intermittently whenever I use Win 10. Fortunately, I have plenty of practice with that.

Weekly output: switching from Mac to Windows, Comcast Roku app, malware study, Super Bowl vs. “Big Game,” Chromebook security

So, got any favorite Super Bowl ads? I guess all of us, even crestfallen Atlanta fans whom nobody can rightfully expect to show up for work tomorrow, can take some comfort that no advertisers sank to a Nationwide-kid level of awfulness.

Screenshot of Consumer Reports story as seen on an iPad1/30/2017: 5 Things to Know About Switching From Mac to Windows, Consumer Reports

Interesting thing in the comments on this: Readers defended Apple’s software but didn’t mention its hardware, which is one of my primary gripes with the company these days. This explainer got republished on Yahoo later on Monday.

1/31/2017: Comcast now lets you watch cable on your Roku, Yahoo Finance

What I thought was going to be an overwhelmingly positive development turns out to be much less attractive, entirely thanks to Comcast’s Kafkaesque pricing. I didn’t even realize how bad it was until a last round of fact-checking e-mails–with the result being that we didn’t have this story up when Comcast’s 1 p.m. embargo expired, but we did have the numbers right in it.

1/31/2017: Malware study shows people still falling for old tricks, but there’s hope, Yahoo Finance

The most surprising and dismaying part of this Malwarebytes study: That Microsoft Office macro viruses have made a comeback.

2/3/2017: Why the NFL makes companies call the Super Bowl the ‘Big Game’, Yahoo Finance

The NFL’s control-freakery about not just the trademarked name “Super Bowl” but even variations of it is something I should have covered a long time ago.

2/5/2017: How safe are Chromebooks from malware?, USA Today

A reader asked about this on my Facebook page, and I thought it was a good question… especially after my editor passed on a couple of other column ideas.

 

Weekly output: DSL speeds, Uber economics, Windows 10 setup, tech policy in 2017

Merry Christmas! Today is five years and a day from the start of my USA Today column. They never did get around to putting a “#Help” title on the column (though I still use that on my invoices) and they’ve cut back on its length (shrinking its share of my income), but they have kept running it and paying me for it within two weeks of each invoice, which is what counts.

12/20/2016: FCC study shows DSL is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be, Yahoo Finance

This study came out at the start of the month, but it took me a little longer to consult some experts about the potential of digital-subscriber-line connections to compete with cable and fiber. It’s there, but not if phone-based Internet providers choose to forego investing in it. If those same ISPs–hi, Verizon–also forgo expanding fiber into new markets, we have a bigger problem.

yahoo-uber-study-post12/21/2016: 3 ways Uber can help its drivers, Yahoo Finance

Years ago, a mobile-development shop called Proteus had space in a building across the street from the Post, and I’d occasionally lean on its CEO Patrick McQuown for background guidance about the business. Years later, I’m finally quoting him directly in his role as a professor at Brown University who just published a study of the economics of Uber from a driver’s perspective.

12/24/2016: You’ve got a new PC. Now what?, USA Today

When I wrote about Windows 10’s Anniversary Update this summer, a few readers got on my case for not covering their concerns about privacy in Win 10’s operating system. I read up on the subject and took detailed notes as I set up a couple of different Win 10 tablets from scratch, and this column resulted.

12/25/2016: A 2017 tech-policy forecast: Washington slams the ‘undo’ button, Yahoo Finance

I am not optimistic about the state of tech policy under President Trump, and I’ve yet to hear anybody advance a cogent explanation of why I should feel any different. Congress’s history of failing to reform laws that govern law-enforcement access to stored e-mail privacy and enable patent trolling doesn’t improve my forecast.