Archive for the 'work' Category

Solved: “Bluebirds” installer on LG GH22NS50 DVD-RW

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

LG GH22NS50 DVD-RW. LG GH22NS50 sticker.

This is the LG GH22NS50. We’ve started stocking these at work – just the next low-cost SATA burner option for us. Except it comes with a nasty surprise, and that surprise is Bluebirds.

Bluebirds 'disc' shown in My Computer.

It’s some kind of drag-to-disc software included with the drive. Not on a CD, of course; it’s hacked into the drive’s firmware, and shows up when there’s no disc in the drive at all. Which means that every time you close the tray with nothing in it, you get prompted to install it, thanks to Windows helpfully autorunning it.

It’s not really a malicious program. It just sits in your system tray until you close it or uninstall it (Control Panel -> Add/remove programs, in XP). It’s probably even helpful, for the few people who let it sit around long enough to find out. I haven’t seen anyone do that yet.

Way to go, LG; not only does your drive automatically try to install an unwanted program on your customers’ computers, but you’ve changed a fundamental thing about how CD drives work: If there’s no disc in the drive, it should be empty and that’s the end of it. You’ve changed how it behaves, and that fills us with false and misleading knowledge.

It’s as bad as when ISPs used to rebrand Internet Explorer as being “provided by [some telco]”; none of my customers could ever understand that IE was just a program on their computer and nothing to do with their ISP.

Anyway, the fellow who started this forum thread has the solution – there’s a firmware update for the drive that removes the Bluebirds installer, along with the fake disc-in-drive thing. Not to steal his thunder or anything, but I wanted to complain too. 🙂

Firmware update for LG burner.

The firmware updater orders you to remove the disc from the drive before running the firmware update, which is the most passive-aggressive thing I’ve ever seen a PC program do. You have to eject the drive and let it sit there poking its tongue out for 30 seconds while you erase the Bluebirds part of its brain.

I’ve uploaded the program to my /static/ folder, so there’s another place on the internet for it to be found:

You might want to read that forum thread anyway. The utter lack of official information from LG about this is disturbing.

Obviously this just removes the installer and auto-runner from the drive; if you’ve clicked yes to install it, you’ll have to uninstall it from your computer as well. I don’t recall seeing it in Control Panel; there’s a link in the Bluebirds folder in your Start Menu to get rid of it.

Update 30/9/09: There’s a separate version for the Lightscribe-enabled GH22LS50; that can be found here:

LN01 firmware update for LG GH22LS50 (Lightscribe) DVD-RW: (2MB)

Update 7/1/10: A few commenters here run Linux or BSD or something else that isn’t Windows; I don’t currently have a practical way to experiment with it myself, but one commenter successfully reflashed his drive using Crossover Linux. They offer a fully-functional 30 day trial here, and I recommend trying that if you possibly can.

If you seriously have no way of flashing it yourself though, any little PC shop ought to be able to do it for you for a small fee – if you visit the place you originally bought it from they may do it for free if you complain logically enough. At my work we pre-emptively reflash the drives before they go out because we couldn’t stand the thought of selling them with the Bluebirds crap still in them.

Update 23/5/10: A commenter has informed me of the new 02 version of the firmware for both of these drives. It took me a good 30 minutes to track down both of them, thanks to every region-localised website LG operates containing the full product page of each and every product they’ve ever made, but the respective support pages only showing the products most relevant to that region. I still have no idea where the Lightscribe version of this drive is meant to have been sold, but it’s sure not any country I’ve heard of.

Anyway – well-deserved plug here for Firmware HQ. If only companies would properly support their own products, we wouldn’t be so utterly reliant on the goodwill of sites like that. The Lx02 firmware apparently adds support for Windows 7, although I don’t recall having problems with it at work…

LN02 firmware for GH22NS50: (2MB)

LS02 firmware for GH22LS50 (Lightscribe): (2MB)

Solved: Error 0x800704dd running Windows Update

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Frequently referenced as error 80240020. The fix depends on what version of Windows you use. Microsoft happily document each solution on its knowledgebase page here:

I wouldn’t bother blogging this, but the fix for Windows 2000, XP and 2003 involves adding a registry key that’s gone missing. Something happens to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Notify\SensLogn, namely that it disappears. Not sure what’s causing it, but I’ve seen it on two PCs at work in the last week, and I quickly tired of re-typing the key information (there’s 14 different fields to fill in…).

Here for your (and my!) quick reference is SensLogn.reg. Right-click, save to anywhere, and merge with your registry on 2000, XP or 2003 to fix error 800704dd.

Solved: Blinking cursor, no boot on Toshiba Tecra M2

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Here’s a weird one. Today it was a Tecra M2; I suspect it’d apply to a number of models, and in fact a number of different brands too.

This laptop had stopped booting off its hard drive. All it would do – after running through its boot device priority list including CD/FD/network boot – would sit there doing nothing but blinking a text cursor at me from the top left corner of the screen. No error message, nothing to indicate any kind of progress or failure, it’d just get to the point where it should be booting off the hard drive and did nothing.

We tested the RAM – no faults. We chkdsk /r’d the drive – no faults. We ran a different surface scan tool, no faults. I pulled the drive out and checked it on another machine – every file present and accounted for. There was nothing visibly wrong with the thing.

Google results were mostly unhelpful. Apparently you get this if you flash a Toshiba laptop with the wrong restore image. Plenty of people were directed to change the drive, or reinstall Windows, or a million other things that wouldn’t end up helping.

The actual problem is that certain laptops can’t boot off a partition that’s above a certain size. Older laptops won’t see drives above a certain size – Dell Inspiron 6000s came with a 100gb drive for a good reason – but if you have a boot partition above about 128gb, some Toshibas will silently fail to boot at all.

The clue came from this Tomshardware thread, where a guy with a Dell came in on a Toshiba discussion with the ultimate solution. I resized the partition from 160gb (the size of the drive) to 120gb (a size suitably under the 137gb that guy suggests – I initially tried ~135gb but that made no difference), put the drive back in the laptop, and voila. The XP boot logo never looked so sweet.

Worked for his Inspiron 9300, worked for my Tecra M2. Grab a copy of Partition Magic from somewhere and give it a go, you might be surprised.

Best. Chinglish. Ever.

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

This is the Wise WS-1008D network switch.

Wise WS-1008D network switch.

This is its utterly nonsensical and M15+ manual. Seriously, there are some very rude words in there. The bottom of pages 1 and 4 are particularly racy.

page1 page2 page3 page4

Solved: Graphics flicker on GA-MA78GM-US2H

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Gigabyte MA78GM-US2H motherboard box.

We just got two of these in at work today, and both went into new PCs. Both had the same graphics glitch: Some violent-looking video flicker the whole way through Windows XP setup, which calmed down a bit once the drivers were installed but then had a weird row of green boxes flickering across the top of the screen.

The guys in this forum thread suggested turning Cool’n’Quiet off in BIOS; that made no difference to me, but updating the BIOS fixed it for everyone. I went from version F2 to F5; it seems to be fixed in F3 and up. Go here and scroll down to get the latest BIOS update.

Our two boards were revision 1.0. There’s also apparently a v2.0 of this board with a slightly different chipset (SB710 instead of 700). I don’t know if it’s affected or not.

I’m surprised this made it through quality control; it’s an obvious problem and all you need to see it is to try installing XP. It happens on both CRT and LCD monitors. It’s easily fixed though – you just put the new BIOS image on a FAT32-formatted drive (a USB flash drive will do) and hit F8 from within BIOS to get to Q-Flash (or the End key from the POST screen).

Howto: Find drivers for XP on new laptops

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

This is increasingly becoming a common situation: You’ve got a brand new laptop, it’s got Vista, it runs like a dog, and you want XP on it instead. You’ve got a spare copy of XP – for one reason or another – and you’d like to install it.

Here’s the catch: Tons of new hardware is being brought out without drivers being written for Windows XP, and laptops are just full of it.

Case in point: an HP dv6836TX, which a customer recently brought in to have XP loaded on it. HP do not provide XP drivers for all of its hardware, only some of it, and it took me a good half a day to find everything. Software for the card reader – a Ricoh R5C822  – came from a similarly-specced Dell Inspiron 1525. The onboard LAN pretended to be a Realtek 8139, which XP has drivers for, but those drivers actually hung the system; it’s actually an RTL8102E, or something like that.

The simplest way to identify hardware in a computer is to run a program that looks at all the individual devices, matches them up to a big list of vendor and device IDs, and tells you who made each thing and roughly what it’s supposed to do. 99% of the time at work, we use Everest for that, which isn’t a free program but the trial version is perfectly capable of IDing hardware.

The graphics gave me the biggest headache by a long shot. NVidia do host drivers for laptop chipsets now, but because HP (and practically every other laptop maker…) subtlely customise their hardware, NV’s software for the 8400M GS failed to see any compatible hardware, and flat refused to install.

It’s the most frustrating kind of incompatibility: it comes down to one little text file missing one little line with some numbers in it, the result of which is that you’re completely dependent on your computer manufacturer for software updates.

Or, to put it another way: You’re not. I mention in passing on my driver guide, but today they deserve some serious recognition. These guys collect those little lines from all the laptops they and their friends can find, and put them all in one big text file – the .inf file, which lists all the hardware a driver is compatible with – so that NVidia’s own drivers will recognise NVidia’s own hardware.

It’s a bit tricky to do – their site is a little confusing in places, and financially supported by well-placed driver-promising ads where necessary – but their forum is run by human beings, and anybody even slightly technically minded ought to be able to figure it out.

I managed to, and that 6836TX went home running XP like a champ.

My latest venture

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I have started a new project, in the same vein as my driver guide. I’m collecting service manuals of every laptop computer I can find and hosting them on a new page here:

These files contain parts lists for each model, and how to disassemble them, down to the LCD screen and the motherboard. As a repair aid, they are invaluable, as they can easily halve the time it takes to replace a keyboard, and attempting a motherboard swap without one is a risky, unreliable procedure.

The manuals are often difficult to find, though; very few manufacturers actually publish them for the general public, and I strongly applaud and recommend those that do. Those that don’t, on the other hand, only make it more difficult to repair their laptop computers, which reflects badly on them as companies who care more about their sales than their support.

I invite everybody to have a look, email people the link, digg it, tweet it, whatever. The more people who see it and know it exists, the more will (hopefully) help me expand and improve it over time.

That little orange light

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

A frequent question at work is whether or not you should turn your computer off at night. The answer is pretty simple: leave it on if you’re coming back to do something later, and leave it off overnight unless you’re downloading something.

(The above situations are kind of perpetual to most geeks, and answer 1B is often “get a second, low power, quiet computer to do your nightly torrenting for you while the firebreathing tiny god sleeps”.)

Not many people realise that their monitors also drain lots of power – large LCDs are often no better than the CRTs we used to lug around – and they still chew current in standby mode. One recent customer, though, was more worried about something… else.

Customer: Should I turn my monitor off at night? Does it do any damage leaving it on?
Coworker: It’ll still use a bit of power in standby mode, but it won’t damage anything to leave it on, no.
Customer: Oh… won’t that little orange light wear out though?
Coworker: *blink*

bodge job: chassis intrusion switch

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

A local business recently retired its elderly Xeon server, replacing it with something a little more powerful; the Xeon was repurposed as a normal desktop PC, with a new copy of XP Pro and all. The guy who was to get it asked us to install a sound card, so we did that.

And then it stopped working, saying we’d triggered the chassis intrusion alarm. On most computers, you’d go “oh, okay, that’s cool”, hit F1, and go about your business.

Not so with a server based on an ASUS NCLV-DA. This board yanks on the air-raid siren, barks at its own barking, and thumbs its nose at you if you take the side off the case. It refuses to boot until you reset the CMOS, which of course wipes out the clock and other settings.

At least one other unlucky tech had come across this problem before me; someone’d stickytaped the switch down, so it wouldn’t trigger if the case side came off. This had served well until today, when the tape let go and the motherboard went into panic mode in front of me.

I had a more permanent solution up my sleeve: I stuck a jumper across the intrusion sensor pins on the board, effectively closing the circuit and cutting the little switch and its ever-so-thin wires out of the loop entirely.

hey, these wires feel hot strangely

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

burn1 burn2 burn3

This computer had been hanging frequently, after killing one PSU two months ago; it was only while swapping out RAM during testing that I noticed the damage here.

I shudder to think what might’ve happened if I’d left it memtesting overnight.

My exact words were “Hmm, those wires feel… what the f… jesus, the… wow!”.