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Delving into the black box yet again - Tactical Ninja

Oct. 24th, 2013

09:22 am - Delving into the black box yet again

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I R FRUSTRATED

My general demeanour is usually cheerful (I think, anyway), but there are a couple of things that are guaranteed to get up my nose in a big way. One of them is gear failure. This one annoys me inordinately, because I expect things to just work and when they don't it confuses my lizard brain. This particularly applies to black box type things. I'm told that sometimes you should just trust that the black box works and not worry about how it works, but that means that when it breaks, you don't know how to start fixing it.

Coincidentally, Aristotal (my desktop PC) is a black box. Literally.


I've learned mostly by osmosis and necessity, to the point where last time I did a rebuild I did the whole thing myself, from backup to fresh installation, without a problem. I'm pretty good at troubleshooting and I've lost count of how many times I removed malware from the YoT's machine before he got internet savvy. I have never failed to get things working again.

So you'd think I wouldn't experience the black box confusion any more when computers go bung.

Last night Aristotal went bung. You know sometimes you get that "This page is running a script but it's a bit fucked up, do you want to continue or stop script?" message? And you stop the script and shut down that page and everything goes back to normal? It started like that.

Then it stopped working altogether. Then I got a black screen - it couldn't even manage blue. So I did a force shutdown because at that point nothing was happening.

The first step in troubleshooting is usually to work out what changed between it working and not working. In this case, I'd updated AVG. I'd been a bit pissed off with it because it used to be a pretty good free anti-malware tool, but this installation came complete with auto-checked boxes wanting to install toolbars and extras that I don't want, and I had to go through and uncheck them all before I could proceed.

Incidentally, this is usually the point where Geeks In The Know jump in and tell me I shouldn't be using AVG, I should be using XYZ instead, because lots of highly technical reasons. Fact is, I've been using AVG (free version) pretty much since it first came out, and this is the first time I have had a problem. But yes, it's enough of a problem that if I don't have to uninstall it to get my machine running again, I'll probably do it as soon as we're back in business anyway. Stealth toolbars are one of my pet hates.

Anyway, so I figure it's probably something to do with that. Perhaps I unchecked something I shouldn't have, perhaps the new installation is incompatible with something else, or perhaps a grinch ate one of the files on the way thtrough. It seems the installation didn't go smoothly, and when I restarted my machine it auto-ran a disk error repair, then said it was doing a system restore. Although I'm not convinced it's actually done it. It was doing this when I went to bed last night.

To complicate matters, Wednesday night is the night I have set for Windows auto-updates. I've no idea if these occurred, but this morning I woke up to the login screen. Sweet. Typed in password, waited. Waited some more.

Eventually I got a partial desktop with most of the icons, but it was really struggling to actually do anything - a lot of 'not responding' and just sloooooooooownesss. I couldn't open Firefox and that's when I got the message that a particular .dll was missing and my program couldn't open. No, don't ask me which .dll it was - it started with MSM but googling just that from work has brought me no joy. Luckily I have Socrates (wee netbook) and could google it from home (pretty much always my next step for troubleshooting). I found a bunch of sites, the most useful of which gave me a list of things to try, and a list of possible reasons, which ranged from Oh Fuck Malware!, through to hardware failure. The list of things to try is basically a diagnostic set of troubleshooting steps, and if none of them work then it's hardware.

I really hope it's not hardware.


Sadly, I had to come to work before I could get started and I didn't want to leave it running in that state. I had to force shutdown again because my poor machine couldn't even manage to respond to that in Task Manager. Now I'm sitting here going "But I have a knotty problem at home to fix!" And that's where my frustration is coming from. I like to think it's progress that I'm not actually tearing my hair out over the problem, but instead over being prevented from tackling an interesting puzzle by my need for food and shelter.

*ahem*

Meanwhile, I need to cut some stainless steel dog whistles that are too wide for the job I have for them. I have a hack saw but surely there's an easier way? One that doesn't involve buying a laser, that is. Any ideas?

Comments:

[User Picture]
From:ferrouswheel
Date:October 23rd, 2013 08:47 pm (UTC)
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I didn't say you shouldn't use AVG, I just said I use something else, so I know absolutely nothing about AVG.

It sounds like what you said:
- Hardware problem, first thing to do: boot memory testing tool and leave it running a little bit. Second thing: boot into live linux cd and check the SMART statistics on the hard drives which can give a hint if things are close to failing.
- Failed Windows Update (when are your Windows Updates set to install? Is it possible they were updating at the same time as AVG?) The reason I dislike anti-virus software is it can sometimes fuck with the internals of the OS to make it more "secure", but can also have unintended consequences.
- Malware, but of the kind that's tried to infect your machine but failed and instead broke it. It'd be worth checking with T whether his computer problems have gotten worse. If his machine is infected, then it may try to exploit a weakness in yours. I've kept my machine in Linux for the last week, and will probably keep it in Linux until this is resolved.
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[User Picture]
From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 08:58 pm (UTC)
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That wasn't aimed at you, it was based in experience from pretty much every time I've mentioned computer problems on my blog. Often I get three or four conflicting pieces of advice from Folks What Know Stuff, all telling me I should be doing something different from what I was doing.

I said in my post that Wed night is the night for Windows Update, but I don't know if it did it because when I left it the machine was running disk error repairs, and therefore I don't know if Windows had actually loaded by the time WU was due to run. There was no evidence on startup of it having run, but the whole thing was so slow it probably didn't get that far.

My planned approach:

Start in safe mode.
Run System Restore to last week. If this works, completely uninstall AVG and start from scratch. This should detect whether it's a failed update of any kind.
Run malware check. This may or may not work because if AVG is the problem it may not run. But there are other options, and will exclude malware.

The site I looked at recommends that if neither of the above (or a couple of other software fixes) don't work, do a fresh install of Windows. I'm loath to do this because the way my machine is behaving I'm unlikely to be able to back up before doing that and the thought of reinstalling all my games leaves me cold. So instead of doing that, this is where I'd start looking at hardware testing problems.
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[User Picture]
From:ferrouswheel
Date:October 23rd, 2013 09:12 pm (UTC)
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I would suggest starting with the livecd Linux option first. My reasoning is that if things are fubared, then the longer you run things on a broken or malware infect environment, the more likely/possible that more data could be lost.

Linux can load without touching the data on your hard drive (much), so there's a better chance of recovery or detection of hardware problems before they make windows destroy itself.

But, that's just my 2c ;p
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[User Picture]
From:t_c_da
Date:October 23rd, 2013 10:23 pm (UTC)
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From an experiential point of view, I have to agree with Dr Wheel. I had a series of BSD's in the space of 35 minutes a couple of weeks ago, which BIOS diagnostics revealed to be a failing hard drive. Linux was able to let me recover all my data before the drive completely died although Windoze, even in Safe Mode, couldn't stand long enough to do anything reliable.
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From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 10:24 pm (UTC)
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1. I'm pretty sure I'll find out quickly if Windows won't stand long enough to do anything reliable.

2. Irony!
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[User Picture]
From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 09:03 pm (UTC)
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I think an angle grinder would work. Possible a dremel would too, come to think of it.

The trick will be holding the thing steady while cutting. They are small, and the amount I want to cut off is also small - see the red lines in this pic:



I wonder if any of the cutting tools my dremel came with will do the job? Hmm..
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From:t_c_da
Date:October 23rd, 2013 10:25 pm (UTC)
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I have a tool which may do the trick. It's a hand powered nibbler of a type unseen previously by the guys at my local men's shed, and it can handle steel up to about 5mm thickness. I can bring it into town tomorrow for you to try if you wish.
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From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 10:26 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! I'll give the dremel-with-cutting-tool a go first, just to save the hassle, but if that doesn't work I might just take you up on that. Cheers. ;-)
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From:pombagira
Date:October 23rd, 2013 09:06 pm (UTC)
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ok so i am having this exact same problem, with the black screen and no blue screen, and the OMG SLOW and forced shut downs, etc etc..then i took it for cups of tea with Nicola, and hey presto working fine, and it did for a week, then back to OMG SLOW, as in taking half an hour to start up, didn't like doing all the things i used to do on it all at once, and that is with out an AVG update.. and i ran the avg to see if it was something virusie..

so i ended up taking mine to a repairman cause i didn't knwo if it was hardwear or softwears.. and i was all like..but its only 2.5 years old.. so we shall see what happens today when i get it back...

err yeah.. very odd
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From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 09:10 pm (UTC)
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To me, an intermittent error like that would seem to indicate a hardware problem. Software seems to fail every time if it's going to fail at all. Or at least that's been my experience. I'm by no means an expert.
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From:pombagira
Date:October 23rd, 2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
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well so far the repair dude didn't find any hardwear issues.. so has re-installed everything, and is currently testing it all.. so i guess i will find out this evening when i go and pay for it and pick it up..

so i'm all like, are you sure it was not hardwear?

yeah...
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From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC)
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It was the hamster. You fed it the wrong kind of peanuts. Clearly.

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[User Picture]
From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 09:41 pm (UTC)
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Booting to Linux is pretty easy as long as your machine is still recognising its disk drive - and you have a boot disk. But yeah, it's definitely a handy option to have.

Meanwhile, I've googled for problems with installation of AVG 2014 to Win7 and am getting information that suggests it's a bit fussy. I know the installation failed because it told me so - what I'm not sure of is whether it failed because I have a problem or I have a problem because it failed. It all happened at once without any priors so I'm guessing it's somehow related to the AVG update - which Polly didn't do before having problems.

System Restore should help me find out if it's related, anyway.
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From:t_c_da
Date:October 23rd, 2013 10:29 pm (UTC)
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I generally set my windoze (and Linux) installations to download updates automatically and tell me they're there, but not to install until I say so, just to avoid that sort of "what happened when to cause this clusterf*ck?" moments. But then I'm a little paranoid about such things...
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From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 10:33 pm (UTC)
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I have Windows set to update every Wednesday automatically, everything else has to ask my permission. The only reason Windows Update is even getting a mention here is because it was set to update overnight on the very night my manual update of AVG failed and this problem happened. I doubt it has anything to do with the problem, although it seems unlikely the auto-update will have run because the borkingness happened before it was due and my machine was busy tying itself in knots instead of dutifully updating.
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[User Picture]
From:tatjna
Date:October 23rd, 2013 10:34 pm (UTC)
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Oh god, someone had to say it....

Perhaps I should get Aristotal to converse with Weishaupt?

(weishaupt never has these kinds of problems)

Edited at 2013-10-23 10:35 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]
From:pombagira
Date:October 24th, 2013 01:32 am (UTC)
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maybe Asistotal just needs to be taken for a walk and have cups of tea..??

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From:meathiel
Date:October 24th, 2013 07:12 am (UTC)
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Ugh ... that sounds like my worst nightmare. I hope you get the thing to work again ... ;-)
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From:tatjna
Date:October 24th, 2013 10:02 pm (UTC)
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It would be less of a nightmare if one of two things were the case:

1. I was an expert and didn't doubt myself enough so that every bit of conflicting advice I'm given sounds better than my own experience.
2. I was completely ignorant and could just sit back and wait for someone else to do it.
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