Fixing The BEEP Noise on Linux Mint

Problem

I’ve used Linux Mint for over a year now, and I have to say this is as close to perfection as I’ve ever seen in a Linux distro! 

The only recurring issue in my installs relates to sound: after a few minutes of playing audio, my machine will emit a loud buzzing beep noise that is impossible to mute with the volume controls.  This happens using system speakers or the audio jack, so I know this isn’t directly a hardware issue.  The beeping doesn’t immediately return on reboot. 

Running pulseaudio –k in terminal stops the sound immediately.  The sound may or may not return during that session.

This is a known bug for many of us on lightweight PCs (e.g. Acer Chromebook 15, my test subjects).  The exact reasons seem to vary depending whom you ask, as do the fixes (power saving options?  Intel drivers?) but the fix has been the same for all of my Chromebooks:

nano etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf

Add this line to the end of the file:

options snd_sof sof_debug=1

Office 2013 / 2016 Start Screen, Themes and that Weird “Smooth Text” Feature

Office is what we’d call a “productivity” application.  Which leads me to wonder why Microsoft keeps sticking these road bumps in the way of… you know, getting productive.

One of my least favorite features is the first thing you see when you open an Office 2013 or 2016 application – the start screen.  Never mind that Word takes an additional 5-10 seconds to load now (find a copy of Office 2003 if you don’t believe me – there is absolutely no lag time, it starts instantly).  Your first view is the insulting “Start Screen”, a continuous reminder that Microsoft really cares “what do you want to do today?”

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Let’s get rid of it.  You’ll have to open a blank document, then hit File –> Options

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And there it is, plain as day.  Uncheck “Show the Start screen when this application starts”.

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This also works with Excel and other Office applications.

While we’re in here, let’s get rid of that ridiculous theme and do something about that horribly washed out look of this program (whoever thought light gray on white was a good contrast scheme should be taken out and shot).

Those silly decorations are good for nothing.  The minimalist window resize buttons are hard enough to see as it is.

Choose “No Background” and “Dark Gray” for the Office Theme.

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I sure wish Microsoft had more options for themes.  I’ve never had so many uninstall requests as the month my company rolled out Office 2013 – all because of the washed out color scheme.

Last, let’s talk about that weird animated-typing thing.  It used to be that your cursor would progress to the next space as soon as you typed a character.  Not anymore!  Microsoft is sure you want the cursor to smoothly drag across the page as you type, in direct contrast to the action of typing a single character on a keyboard.

This, unfortunately, is a Windows setting. 

  • Go to your system properties (Windows Key + R, type “sysdm.cpl”
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  • Go to the Advanced tab and click “Settings” under Performance
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  • Click “Custom” to change individual settings, and uncheck “Animate controls and elements inside windows”
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OK your way out of System Properties.

You’ll have to log off and back on for the settings to take effect, but now your cursor will advance one space with each keystroke as it used to.

originally published 11/3/2016

Recover NT4 filesystem after NTOSKRNL.EXE error

Our voicemail system died after what may have been a power blip.  Black screen, “ntoskrnl.exe not found”.

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This is a Nortel CallPilot NT4 Workstation system on a Nortel Meridian rack.  Essentially, it’s a motherboard and CPU with a parallel IDE hard drive mounted on the chassis.  Knowing this particular error from the past, I thought I could repair it with Windows NT Setup repair option.  I had three very big problems:

1. This is a Windows NT4 system, so the chance of outside help was slim to none. 

2. There is no CD drive and no way to connect one.

3. This system does not have USB either, and USB boot support in a system this old was not a hopeful proposition.  The only peripheral is a SCSI tape drive for the voicemail backups. 

We do have backups of the voicemail system on tape, but no extra parallel drives to clone this one (for a backup of the original system) and of course no time to rebuild it (system setup takes 6-8 hrs according to our fabulous Nortel tech).  I pulled the drive from the blade and connected it to my laptop with an external reader and power supply.  We found a Windows NT4 CD in the archives.  Maybe we can fix this manually?

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Here’s what the first partition on the system looked like:

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See anything missing?  This should be the Windows partition, but there’s no Windows directory (or Win4, or NT4, or WINNT).  Hopefully there’s a clue somewhere in that OSSetup.log file

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… and there is!  This is the OS drive.  The WINNT folder is missing, along with all its subfolders.

Running a chkdsk on the drive resulted in a handful of the dreaded found000x.chk files which, as we all know, may or may not contain anything useful.  With an entire Windows directory missing, I’m betting there is something useful in there.

Out of an abundance of caution I’m setting up a NT4 VM to confirm the folder hierarchy is what I remember it to be.

The setup process offers some hope (the default Windows directory name is “WINNT”).

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Enjoy some LOL at the simple CD key (remember, this is years before “Product Activation”)

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Here’s what the WINNT folder should look like.  I’m looking for folders named Config, Profiles, system, and system32. 

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Back to the drive.  I searched for the ntoskrnl.exe file we know is supposed to be in a \system32 folder. 

NTOSKRNL.exe is there, but hidden in a .chk folder

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Right-click and open file location, you can browse .chk folders this way in Windows 7/8/10/11.

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… and it looks like “found.000\dir0001.chk\” is actually the System32\ folder.  I made a WINNT folder on the drive and a \system32\ folder inside that.

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found.000\dir0000.chk\Profiles is the c:\winnt\Profiles folder, so I moved that as well.

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found.000\dir0000.chk is the remainder of the contents of the WINNT folder.  Moved it to the WINNT folder.

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Cross my fingers and plug it all back in.  It boots!  We don’t see the ntoskrnl.exe error anymore, but we see that a rather important folder is missing.  Herp a derp, I didn’t recover the Windows registry… the Config folder is empty.

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Back to my desk with the drive.  I searched for a file called SECURITY (or DEFAULT, or SAM).  It turns out found.000\dir0002.chk\ is the system32\config folder.  May as well replace that too.

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I replaced the drive, plugged it into the Meridian rack and… we have Windows!  CallPilot starts up, voicemail is back.  This system will be backing up to disk from now on.

Thanks to Dylan for finding the NT4 CD and reminding me that IDE drives require power.  Thanks to Danny for finding the Administrator password and for moral support!

Hope you enjoyed the read.

originally published 11/3/2016

Disable Windows 11 Run Command History

The Windows Run dialog is one of the most efficient, straightforward and ad-free (for the time being) methods of starting a program or running a custom script in Windows.

If you’re like me, you may have grown to despise the ridiculous amount of mousing that Windows now requires. Features and controls that used to be one click away are now hidden behind layers of gross, flat Metro UI filth. Windows Run dialog still works as it did back in the 95 and 98 days, quickly launching an arbitrary program or script without traversing folders in the Start menu.

Lately I’ve updated my scripts to take usernames and passwords as arguments instead of hard-coding these in the script. All the reasons boil down to ‘security’; you don’t ever want to risk exposing usernames or passwords anywhere. That means turning off history and never, ever storing passwords in plain text! Bonus, this method makes the scripts easier to generalize and share on GitHub.

Via the UI

In Settings, go to Privacy & Security, and turn off the option ‘Let Windows improve Start and search results by tracking app launches’


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Via Registry

Open Registry Editor (Win+R, regedit) and go to

Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced

Double-click the DWORD value Start_TrackProgs and change this value to 0



Via Run Dialog

Back up your registry before making changes!

The above registry edit can be done directly in the Run dialog and this is a beautifully ironic way to use the Run dialog for its last, un-remembered command.

Win+R and enter the following in the Run dialog. Windows will not ask for confirmation with the /f option, so be sure you know what you’re doing!

reg add "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced" /v Start_TrackProgs /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f

What do these commands do?

reg invokes the registry editor

add is the argument to add a value. We also use this to modify an existing key.

“HKEY_…” is the path in the registry to the hive key we want to modify.

/v means we want to change a value; “Start_TrackProgs” is the value in the key that we want to modify.

/t is the type of value we’re adding / deleting / modifying. In this case, it’s a REG_DWORD, a regular 32-bit number. Read more about registry types here.

/d is the data we want to add. Here, we want the data for this value to be 0.

/f will force the change – silently, and without confirmation.