Why we do this…

That’s a Good Question

13 years now, spending a ridiculous number of hours in the Lenovo forums.  I’m not the only one.  Mods, gurus, a legion of engaged “civilians” both asking and answering questions.

Plenty of mod/net nanny chores.  Binning spammers, moving threads to the appropriate forum, the occasional spanking issued for poor deportment… but it’s the tech stuff that’s the most interesting and gratifying. From the deep-in-the-tech-weeds booting and performance issues to the trivial-seeming and almost silly stuff:  New Member: “my webcam doesn’t work!”  Me: “Is the security shield over the lens?”  NM: “There’s no security shield! … Oh, wait… there it is.  D’oh!”

So I guess that’s it.  Not the fat pay check or the bennies  – no such, we’re all volunteers. The occasional tech swag is fine and appreciated, but that’s not it either.  Admittedly, the once-in-a-while attaboy or -girl is nice but that’s not the whole story.  For me, and I suspect many of the others, it’s the compulsion to be useful.  Sometimes that urge gets us out over our skis with a hasty reply, but there’s almost always someone around to add nuance, or even a correction.  Usually taken with good grace.  We’re a team of friends and strangers 🙂

Mostly remote via the web, but recently I had occasion to do some tech help in person.  It was almost literally eye-opening.

The Tech Stuff

Got word via the grapevine that brother-in-law’s desktop wasn’t performing.  Nearly unusable.  He – like me – is well into retirement age, but unlike me he’s still working.  A high-school teacher who loves his work and is respected and well liked by staff and students.  He needs a properly working machine.

This was a ThinkCentre M91p that I had gotten for him 10 years ago.  Fine in its day, but barely functional now: i7 – that’s OK – but 4GB of RAM and a 7200RPM HDD – those are not.  And Windows 7 – really not.  No support, no ongoing security.

Thanks to COVID-19 and circumstance I haven’t seen bro-in-law or the M91p for a couple of years.  A family memorial had us making the 1000 mile trip so I grabbed 8GB of DDR3 and a Samsung 1TB SATA SSD and off we went.

Installed the RAM and borrowed the internal SATA and power cables from the DVD drive to connect the new SSD.  Samsung provides free migration software and 20 minutes later we were booted up on the new drive mounted in an inexpensive 2.5-3.5″ bracket.  Machine is practically snappy now 🙂

Now the software: uninstalled the grab-bag of (probably conflicting) security software and installed ESET.  That took some hackage since it didn’t want to install in Windows 7.  (I hadn’t decided to try upgrading the OS at that point) An older version of ESET would install and activate with my key, and then happily updated itself to the latest version.  Yay.

Ran the Windows 10 upgrade assistant (not the media creation tool) in place and brought it up to Win 10 with no fuss whatsoever.  Activated without asking for a key. Nice. One last issue: a few months ago the machine had started refusing to shut down with the dreaded “operations are in progress…” message.  That’s an Acronis bug that requires some serious digging to fix – and the version of Acronis on the machine wasn’t going to work with Win 10 anyway.  Unless we purchased new software the backup to external drive wasn’t going to be an option any more.  Set him up with Google Backup-and-Sync with its free 15GB of cloud storage and Bob’s your uncle.

[Side rant] He didn’t ask me about the shutdown issue when it happened.  Had a well-known tech support company come in.  Their “fix” was to change the drive letter of the external drive so Acronis would error out and not hang during shutdown.  That left him with no ongoing backup, and the clowns left without warning him.  *bleep*

The Real Stuff

Brother-in-law has a history of serious eye problems.  Corneal transplants years ago, and again recently.  A detached retina that didn’t heal properly. Now cataracts that couldn’t be treated with lens replacement until the latest transplants healed – and one of them suffered considerable delay and challenging complications.  (TMI, I know…)

Hopefully there will be some positive resolution in the next few months but as it stood – even with the decent performance of the updated ThinkCentre – he couldn’t see what was on the display well enough to do much of anything.

I had never looked into ease of access/assistive tech before but it was readily available, and had been even in Win 7.  Got the resolution set to where it should be, found a scaling factor that increased visibility considerably without introducing other issues (some scaling factors cut off part of some applications) and most important: put the magnifier in the task bar.  Showed him that and got a smile… and maybe a tear (mine, when I realized how bad things were and how much this little bit of tech could help) and he was up and running.  So simple and yet so important and useful.

You know, maybe that new forum member with the trivial camera issue wasn’t silly.  That little lens cover is so well integrated these days it’s hard to spot if you don’t know to look for it. And maybe that camera was the difference between making it to an online job interview or not, or being able to attend a remote class or not.  Not so trivial after all.

Well, back to the forums.  See you there 🙂

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How to Dual Boot Ubuntu and Windows – the Picture Book Edition

 

*Click on the gallery for full-sized images and text. Page through images with right arrow on image or keyboard*

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ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6: Future Perfect?

ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6 Collage – images Lenovo (edited)

(This is a public draft of an article written for the Lenovo forums.  The “official” version is there – please join that conversation: ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6: Future Perfect?)

The tech world never sits still. Capabilities and capacities – and bang for the buck – keep improving. Somehow, requirements do too. Processing power, RAM and storage capacity, offset by the tug-of-war between upgradability, battery runtime, footprint, thickness, and weight. Even display density and connectivity.

Nothing is ever “future proof” but given the eye-popping specs of the the X1 Yoga Gen 6 that just landed on my bench, I think we can call it “future friendly”. And then some.  Let’s have a look, but first…

From time to time  Lenovo sends me a gadget. They’re handy to have around – both for my own use and when trying to help out in the Lenovo forums. I do some testing and writing as well. Beyond the use of the laptop, I’m not otherwise compensated. Professional images are Lenovo’s.  Amateur snapshots are mine.  Opinions are exclusively mine.  I do not work for, represent, or speak for Lenovo.

I’ve done my best to gather accurate information, but things are subject to change and correction.  Please double-check anything I say here before using it to make a purchase decision.

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Windows 10 USB Install Media … or MS BS

I got schooled (again) the other day whilst trying to help a forum member.  They’d been running Linux on a Lenovo machine and wanted to boot Windows 10 install media to set up a dual boot situation.

Forum Member: “I’ve made a flash drive with the Windows 10 20H2 ISO but it refuses to boot.”

Mr. Know-it-all: “Did you extract the contents of the ISO to a FAT32-formatted flash drive?”

Forum Member: “Tried multiple techniques for extraction and they don’t boot.  Some try but fail.  And no way to use FAT32.  One of the files in the ISO is too large.”

Mr. Know-it-all: “Huh?  I’ve done that many times – 7zip or Windows Explorer to do the extraction.  No prob.  Just tested it again with 20H2.  Even copied the ISO to Fedora Linux and used Linux tools.  How about a screen shot?”

Sure enough, /sources/install.wim is too large for FAT32.  But WTF, I’ve never run into this.

Hmmm… apparently the ISOs I’ve used have all been built by Microsoft’s media builder.  It creates an ISO using an ESD file – which per the interwebs is more compressed than a WIM file and can reduce the size by ~30%.  There may also be some editing to the contents during the creation process.  Don’t know.

How did the forum member end up with an ISO with a WIM file?  Aha… If one does the download from the MS site while running Windows, it only offers the creation tool.  If running the download from Linux, for instance, it only offers the ISO – and only the version with the over-large WIM file.

Windows 10 20H2 ISOs

Bleeping brilliant. Not.  Why in the world is MS offering an ISO that can’t be used directly to build a FAT32 install drive?  After all, FAT32 is the format common to all UEFI BIOSen when it comes to booting.  Support is required per the spec.  Some PCs may be able to boot UEFI from an NTFS drive, but not Lenovo PCs.

Also per the interwebs, there are ways to split the WIM file using Windows or Linux tools – I’ve not tested either of the ones linked below –  but good grief.  Why make this necessary in the first place?

Windows:  https://www.zdnet.com/article/windows-10-installer-files-too-big-for-usb-flash-drive-heres-the-fix/

Linux:  https://wimlib.net/

Might be easier to just run the MS media creation tool in Windows in the first place.  In a virtual machine, perhaps.  Absurd that any of this is necessary 🙁

[Update 2021.10.08] Things are a bit different with Windows 11 – and yet not… Currently when accessed from a Windows machine the Window 11 download page offers an ISO along with the creation tool option.  That ISO is multi-version and has a .wim file too large for FAT32.  To quote from the page:

“This option is for users that want to create a bootable installation media (USB flash drive, DVD) or create a virtual machine (.ISO file) to install Windows 11. This download is a multi-edition ISO which uses your product key to unlock the correct edition.”

They don’t say how one would make a usable USB flash drive, since some brands (ThinkPads) will only boot FAT32 flash drives when in UEFI mode, and the file won’t fit.  Hmmm….

[Update 2021.10.13] Discovered a a way to deal with it using GUI tools in Windows:  Windows 10/11 ISO: install.wim too large for FAT32

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ThinkPad P1 Gen 2: a Beauty AND a Beast

ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 – images Lenovo

A beauty: slim and trim, carbon fiber display cover, gorgeous UHD OLED touch display.

A beast: hexacore i7, two NVMe SSD slots, major league RAM capacity.

This beastly beauty is my first workstation-class ThinkPad, my first 15 inch machine, and my first OLED display.  It came to me from Lenovo via NateS, an exceptionally generous Lenovo Forum SuperMod.The write-up is a little late – the Gen 3 is already available – but let’s have a look anyway.  Here’s the  usual list of things that I find interesting, a few fixes, and a couple of issues.  But first (and again):

From time to time  Lenovo sends me a gadget. They’re handy to have around – both for my own use and when trying to help out in the Lenovo forums. I do some testing and writing as well. Beyond the use of the laptop, I’m not otherwise compensated. Professional images are Lenovo’s.  Amateur snapshots are mine*.  Opinions are exclusively mine.  I do not work for, represent, or speak for Lenovo.

*  And worse than usual.  I hadn’t realized that a software update had turned off image correction in my phone.  Too late to redo some of them 🙁

There’s probably more low-level detail here than the typical workstation-class laptop user wants or needs, but if you’ll indulge me, read on… as always, double-check anything I say here before using it to make a purchase decision.

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