vendredi 30 mai 2014

A solution to Windows 8 "Reverting changes" loop

It's been a while since I haven't posted here, but I managed to work around a hell of a problem, that seems to plague everybody and his cousins, and Google was of no help. Even though it's almost 3am, I think it is worth sharing before I forget everything.

A bit of context: Today is my daughter's birthday, and we have to decided to offer her a computer.

I chose an ASUS notebook with Windows 8. I performed some basic setup (mail, antivirus, removing apps not suitable for children - in my opinion -, and so forth). I did not manage to install the system updates, so I decided to give it a try yesterday evening; it would be a long and tedious process, but I wanted to have the system as up-to-date as possible, perhaps even installing Windows 8.1 (which requires an up-to-date 8 system), before letting my daughter go on the wild west of the internet.

I tried different approaches to install the updates and, during a reboot, Windows decided to install about 60 updates (out of 99). I layed down with a book while waiting for it to proceed.

Coming back a bit later, I had a message telling me that the updates failed, and that the system was reverting changes. OK, it was getting late, so I just thought let it revert it and I'lll check that later.

The revert process ended, the computer rebooted and... I was back to the "Reverting change" message!

I let it run again (about 30 minutes), reboot, and here we go again with reverting changes.

I googled the whole planet Earth, but to no avail. Basically, I discovered I may be able to go back to the previous system state by opening this and that menu in the system. But I cannot boot the system!

Someone said he fixed the problem by pressing all the F8 F9 F10 F11 F12 keys simultaneously at boot time, which I tried, to no avail. All in all, there seems to be a mysterious boot menu somewhere, but I couldn't manage to find of it.

OK. It's 2 in the morning of my daughter's birthday, and her present is AWOL. Talk about pressure at your daily job!

I ended up on a discussion on a shady forum, with content partially deleted, and with the sentence "It's strange F12 doesn't work for you."

I tried using F12 at boot time, an failed. I tinkered with it a bit, and ended up doing this:

1. Switch off the computer
2. Switch it on and go to the BIOS (DEL key on my daughter's ASUS)
3. Do not do any change to the BIOS, and exit without savings.
4. Put your finger on the F12 key and let it there.

And Windows tells me that it failed to start, and proposes me to either reboot or access some mysterious advanced options. These options are a course on what-to-not-do on UI design, since I had to go through 3 or 4 pages before finding the feature letting me restore to a savepoint, located in time before the updates installed by Windows Update, without losing data (but I was proposed to reformat everything on the first page...)

And. It. Worked.

I will fix this Windows update later, but now the computer is its gift wrap, and I'm going to bed, because I feel it will be a long day tomorrow, er, today.

vendredi 16 septembre 2011

Wireless is back!

Hu ho, my good ol' Kindle was not connecting to the wireless anymore...

I wanted to get hold of Neal Stephenson's latest book, REAMDE (no typo!), and, well, no connection.

I tried the rebooting the Kindle. With Wireless off. And on. I checked the power meter, recharged the device. I went outside, looking like a mad scientist raising his Kindle up an down to see if the signal was getting better.

No wireless.

And now it's back, thanks for this geeky 311 trick. Many thanks to the poster!


Ah, and for Neal Stephenson's book, I'll have to wait until September 20th, because it is only available in pre-order in the Kindle store. Mmmm, much ado about what, already?

lundi 4 avril 2011

Books are made from trees

But this one deserves to stay as is (taken today in Paris).

Just wanted to share it with you.

dimanche 3 avril 2011

Blogging on the iPad

As I have already told you, I own an iPad (iPad 1 for that matter, I did not want to jump to the iPad 2!)

I can do almost everything on this smart device, but blogging...

I always had to start my laptop to create a new blog entry. It's strange, but the rich edit control used by Blogger simply doesn't work, but dont'ask me why.

I knew there was some apps to do that, so I had a look and, at last, I added one. Below are a few photos.

It is called Blogger+! and it is far from perfect for handling photos (noting beats pages on the iPad for that!)

But I'm glad to have cosen one. Maybe I will blog more now!

mardi 15 février 2011

What is an ebook after all?

Ebooks are here to last, I think that is an undisputable fact. But how would you define what an ebook is?

The usual definition says that it is a book in digital form, readable on digital devices. I am not comfortable with this definition.

Almost any displayable text-based file on my computer, providing it has a minimum length that matches what we think of a book, would fit this definition: it is a book, and it is readable on a digital device.

As a matter of fact, I have read whole books on screen that were actually plain text files. The first one I remember reading was Alice in Wonderland in the mid-nineties (and, yes, I was more than 25 years old by then...)

We can also argue that any word processor file can be considered as an ebook: I can write, distribute and then read any book in a Word or OpenOffice Writer file (or any other word processor, for that matter).

Last, it is quite common to find books in PDF. Many publishers propose ebooks in this format.

Anyhow, I think this definition does not fit the practices. Now, when you talk about ebooks, you have in mind the reading ecosystem, be it specialized devices, such as the Amazon Kindle, or applications running on general-purpose devices, such as all the Amazon Kindle applications, or Apple iBooks on the iPhone and the iPad.

What matters most, now, is the comfort of reading, more than the digital form factor. You can read a PDF or a Word document on an iPhone, but it simply isn't comfortable: the text doesn't fit the screen, the fonts are ridiculously small, and the screen space is clogged up with the page header and footer. Some applications do a bit better, but it is more convenient than pleasant.

This simply is because PDF and the word processors are rooted in the WYSIWYG: What You See (on the screen) Is What You Get (on the printer). The overall goal was to present the exact layout you will get when printing; then, it is your problem to have a letter or A4-sized screen.

So, I would tend to say that an ebook is a book in digital form, that, ideally, does not contain layout information. This lack of layout information lets you fit the text, and the images, to whatever screen space is available.

That is exactly the philosophy behind the mobi file format, that is used in the Kindle ecosystem, and the EPUB file format, that is used in the iBooks ecosystem: they only contain the bare text, and its logical structure (chapters, paragraphs, page breaks and so on), and let the device fit the text on the screen. They can also handle text formatting when needed, for instance when displaying poetry.

The only caveat is with highly visual books, such as art books. In this case, the layout is part of the "data" of the ebook. Simple cases, such as illustrated books, can be handled with EPUB. Have a look at Winnie-the-Pooh on iBooks (it's free): the images are basically in place, matching the neighboring text.

It is an entirely different story when the image position, respective to the text and to one another, have a meaning. I am not even sure this has been actually tried in actual ebooks. How would the book on the photo above fit in an ebook (Michel-Ange, l'oeuvre complète [Michelangelo, Comprehensive Works], by F. Zöllner, C. Thoenes and T. Pöpper)? It even has a centerfold of the Sixtine Chapel! But, with its 716 pages and its weight of about 10 Kilograms, I would welcome a digital version from time to time...

As you can see, I am not totally satisfied. What is your opinion?

lundi 27 décembre 2010

Crashing William

I just wanted to share with you the latest update message of Readdle's Shakespeare app, a free iPhone app, giving you access to Shakespeare's complete works:

Definitely a fantastic summary of the pros and cons of ebooks!

vendredi 17 décembre 2010

iPad reading

Today's post won't be, for a change, about Amazon!

I not only have a Kindle, I also own an iPad. I bought the WiFi version, not the 3G, because I am less comfortable bringing it everywhere with me, than I am with, err, a Kindle for example (Gee, I promised no Amazon!) The iPad seems a bit fragile to me, and I don't feel like putting it my bag and going everywhere with it.

Nevertheless, it has some ebook features that I'd like to discuss.

You've certainly heard about Apple iBooks, the app that let's you use your iPad as an ebook reader. I will not talk about it today (but I promise to come back to it once soon).

You know by heart the Amazon Kindle App, but I will not talk about it either.

No Stanza, either.

I wish to talk with you about Safari. No, not Safari, Safari. I mean O'Reilly's Safari Books Online which, as its full name implies, gives you access to many books, from publisher O'Reilly, via a Web browser (for instance, Apple Safari...)

I happen to have a limited access to it through an ACM membership subscription, 600 titles out of 13000. It seems a tiny fraction, about 5%, but they are well-chosen titles, and it fits the bill.

Oh, and before you ask, they are computer science titles, not the latest John Grisham best-selling novel.

Above, you can have a quick look at what the interface looks like on a PC, using Google Chrome as the browser. It is a page from Robert C. Martin's Agile Principles, Patterns and Practices in C#.

As you can see, it features a very neat rendering. Figures and code excerpts are rendered OK, text is perfectly readable, and you have a quick navigation from the table of contents on the left. On the other hand, it suffers from the good old lanscape nightmare of today's PCs: You can't actually read the book, since your screen would display approximately half a page, and you will have to constantly scroll down.

On a desktop PC, you often have the option to put the screen in portrait mode, but it is definitely not very convenient to do this on my home laptop.

All in all, you can only use Safari Books Online on a PC for reference material, but not for actual reading.

It is completely different on an iPad.

As you can see on the image on the left, when in portrait mode, you have a nicely laid out page that you can read happily, lying in your bed rather than sitting on a chair.

You have to tweak things a bit to have a comfortably sized font, and to see the table of contents on the left (which I didn't do on this picture), but once you got used to it, you can actually read the book, not just browse it.

Funny note: when you are viewing the book in Chrome, you are actually using a Flash plug-in. When I first had my iPad, it didn't work, of course! There was - and still is - an html view, but it is crappy for code excerpts.

Now, it works like magic on my iPad. I don't know what technology they use. It is not a plain html view, because the displayed page is a single entity (you can only select it as a whole, not select a single paragraph). It is not an image, because you would be able to save it. And of course you cannot see the page source code on the iPad!

So, does anybody here know the technology that is behind it?