Microsoft Just Neutered Outlook

Some time in July or August of 2017, our users started having problems with Outlook search. Attempting to search using a “More” field would result in the search term getting stuck in the search field box, and the user has to restart Outlook to get rid of it. I reported this issue to Microsoft via the Office 365 Help tool.

It’s now September 2017, and it appears the “More” fields as well as the Advanced Search are completely missing from Outlook. I spent a good few hours chasing tail with troubleshooting articles and a full Office reinstall to try and get this feature back for some of our users who mysteriously had these features go missing. Other users were not affected. Turns out these search features were removed from Outlook in a recent update that Microsoft rolled out. What the hell?

This is not a nice thing to do to customers who purchased the software with the expectation of being able to use the features it came with. It’s even worse for application developers who have built solutions around Outlook integration and search, which entire companies rely upon. I opened another ticket to find out why the search features were missing and the engineer told me they were not being used by that many customers so they got rid of them…

Outlook search was bad enough with its hit or miss results and the abomination called search indexing, but now we can’t even search at all.

https://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/office/en-US/650900b7-cbfb-4c5f-8bba-469cc9399f89/outlook-2016-advanced-search-button-disappeared-overnight?forum=officeitpro

https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Upcoming-changes-for-Recent-Searches-Advanced-Find-and-Expanded-Find-5df360da-a50d-4203-bd46-fde18c77d736?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US

UPDATE: I’ve discovered an easy workaround for searching “More” fields, even though this feature has been removed from Outlook. You just need to manually type the “More” field into the main search box, along with the term you wish to search. For example:

[subject]: macaroni

That will search for items where the Subject matches macaroni.

[organizer]: john doe

That will search for items (appointments) where the Organizer matches John Doe.

This also works for custom fields so:

[custom_field]: pasta

Replace custom_field with the name of the custom field. That will search for items where the custom_field matches pasta.

UPDATE 10/3/2017 – A recent auto-update for Outlook has restored the missing search features. Nothing is “new” either. I’m guessing those search features got bugged due to an update, then they released an update to removed the bugged features, then a third update to fix it all. Whatever.

Bitlocker is a Sleeping Cryptolocker Virus

This is a sincere warning for anyone purchasing a laptop with Windows 10, Bitlocker, and/or the Trusted Platform Module (TPM). As of yet I’m not sure which part of this is the culprit, but there is something severely defective with this hardware/software combination on some laptops, which will turn a dormant/disabled Bitlocker security feature into an active/enabled Cryptolocker virus.

A Cryptolocker virus is something that encrypts all the files on your hard drive without your permission. Once encrypted, the files are basically impossible to recover.

I seriously can’t believe this happened!

I purchased three Dell Latitude 7480 laptops, both with the same specs. All three laptops were prepared by me and then sent to users in the field, like always.

Two of those laptops remain fine (I’m crossing my fingers still), but one of them decided to go into Bitlocker Recovery mode on startup for some reason, even though we never enabled this feature or received a Bitlocker Recovery key from Dell.

There is absolutely no way around it. Bitlocker without a recovery key, stuck at the Bitlocker Recovery screen, is essentially a Cryptolocker virus. It’s the same EXACT thing.

Keep in mind that I absolutely despise drive encryption for our company laptops because we have nothing that important to encrypt and it only causes issues like this. I never enabled or configured Bitlocker on any of these laptops.

In fact, every time I purchase laptops from Dell – and I’ve purchased at least 200 so far – I specifically choose no Dell Data Protection (DDPE), no Trusted Platform Module (TPM), no Bitlocker, and no full drive encryption. We don’t want or need those features, they are a burden to us.

Needless to say, the user was surprised to see one morning when he turned on his brand new Dell Latitude 7480, a Bitlocker Recovery screen was prompting for some kind of key which he did not have. This user contacted me for the key, which I did not have either. I can only assume this is some kind of defect in Windows or with the Dell laptop where Bitlocker turned itself on.

So I had the user return his new laptop and pick up his old one.

I contacted Dell a total of three times. The first time they gave me a bunch of options to disable in BIOS, per this article:

http://www.dell.com/support/article/us/en/19/sln304584/bitlocker-asks-for-a-recovery-key-every-boot-on-usb-c—thunderbolt-systems-when-docked-or-undocked?lang=en

None of that advice helped. At this point I needed to recover some of the users work from the drive. Turns out Microsoft OneDrive hadn’t synced his work for a week, so the copies in the cloud were too old. Not knowing much about Bitlocker (I never use it), I decided to pick up an M.2 hard drive adapter and stick the drive into another computer so I could try recovering the data. No dice, a Bitlocker screen popped up asking for that same key.

Stepping out of the official support lanes for a moment, I decided to do some research. It turns out other people are experiencing this problem too, and the “answers/solutions” are a bit unnerving:

BitLocker locked me out on Surface Pro 3; I’ve never set up BitLocker and key is not stored anywhere

Bitlocker Enabled Without Warning, No Recovery Key!

Bitlocker – becoming an irritation

Soooo…the answer is Bitlocker can’t possibly do this? But I should nuke the drive and start over?

On the final call with Dell, they acknowledged that their engineers are looking into a potential issue where automatic updates might be triggering Bitlocker somehow. The only thing they could do is tell me to contact Microsoft and get back to them with an update so they could follow through with replacing the hard drive if necessary.

I have a feeling that a Windows Update changed something on the system like a driver, or the Dell Update Client automatically installed something like a BIOS or TPM update, which triggered Bitlocker to somehow turn on unattended and encrypt the drive.

You have been warned.

A Divine Experience

What do you get when you pair incredible music with cooking in the great outdoors? Get ready to find out! I discovered this a few months ago by accident while watching some videos on YouTube. The recipe for this experience requires just two ingredients:

Simply fire up any video from Almazan Kitchen, then put on your favorite Pink Floyd album. The music syncs up with the cooking in an organic way and it becomes a truly unique experience. I’ve found the best time for this is right before making a home cooked meal, probably dinner.

What makes this recipe so divine? The combination of “food porn” and “ear porn” to be exact! Almazan Kitchen and Pink Floyd are quite majestic on their own, but the combination of the two invokes a phenomenon called ASMR. Ephemeral moments of pure luck and randomness occur that would never happen watching either video alone. It’s a music video without the director.

Let’s try it out – play both videos below and prepare to embark on a journey of light and sound. Full-screen the Almazan Kitchen video and set it to 40% volume while Pink Floyd plays in the background.

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Snip Tool – A Free Snipping Tool Compatible With Windows XP

Are you familiar with the Snipping Tool in Windows 7? I can’t live without it, so I decided to build Snip Tool which is a direct ripoff of Snipping Tool, but this one works in Windows XP! It’s sort of a bonus I did for my other article Installing and Using Windows XP In The Year 2017.

Usage is the same as Snipping Tool. Running the program immediately puts you into snipping mode. Simply draw a rectangle around the screen region you wish to capture.

Requires Windows XP or better and .NET Framework 4.0.

Download Snip Tool

Installing and Using Windows XP In The Year 2017

Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft. Installing it will usually result in a less than satisfying experience, until some fixes are applied manually. This article will explain why and how to do that.

It’s 2017 For Crying Out Loud, Are You A Madman?

Yeah, yeah. Windows XP has it’s flaws. Microsoft doesn’t support it. Everyone says move to Windows 7/10. Security concerns and marketing scare tactics aside, there’s a whole lot of computers and laptops out there with Windows XP still, and here are a few reasons for maintaining such a machine:

  • The computer is a hand-me-down for a family member or kid. Nothing expensive to worry about if it gets damaged. You did pay for this thing, remember? You did purchase software and games for it back in the day, remember? Might as well squeeze out that extra ounce.
  • The computer cannot be upgraded to a newer version of Windows due to hardware requirements. You did pay for this thing, remember? Just because Microsoft doesn’t support it doesn’t mean you need to trash it. The computer still computes.
  • A service technician needs to interface with an old machine (like an office copier or PBX phone system), using an older cable interface such as 9-pin serial, or older software program such as MS-DOS. Sometimes Windows XP is the only solution here.
  • The computer is part of a legacy system or network environment that cannot be replaced without incurring overhead, downtime or fees. Chain restaurants like Subway may still use Windows XP for taking orders. These are typically disk imaged to make fast deployment and repair possible, working as a turnkey restaurant solution.
  • You want to run a virtual machine (VM) with a licensed copy of Windows for whatever reason.
  • You’re a cheapskate and thought it was a good idea to buy a computer w/ original media on eBay or at a pawn shop for $50. I won’t say that was a good idea, but you may still be in luck.
  • The computer is kept around for preference, nostalgia or cyberpunk/cypherpunk reasons. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

For these reasons it is a good idea to always save your Windows XP disc and serial number. These are things you paid money for, and there is no way to recover them if lost. Another important thing to save is the driver disc, because as these computers get old it becomes more difficult to find the drivers online.

Now let’s walk through the steps necessary to get this antique operating system up and running.

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S I M P S O N S W A V E

Need some music for the winter holidays? Tired of the originals?

Try some S I M P S O N S W A V E. It’s a take on the vaporwave genre, set to memorable scenes from The Simpsons. Vaporwave works kind of like hiphop where artists take old school jams, often long forgotten ones, and soup them up with retro-modern digital DJ loopers and effects. The borrowed sounds range from Sade, Diana Ross and Kim Wilde tracks, to newer R&B stuff like Jamie Foxx, and even some of Jim Lang’s jazz from Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold. It works well, almost too well.

Even if you’re not a huge Simpsons fan or haven’t seen the show, this stuff is very mellow and cool, with lush keys, saxophones and beats that conjure up a relaxing mood for the holidays. Every so often a disco funk track pulls you out of the chill zone and gets the energy flowing.

Still confused? What the Hell is Simpsonwave?

Or just check out the songs below:

If you lurk on Reddit and you like this stuff, check out /r/simpsonswave.

UPDATE: unfortunately the video I first linked was removed for a DMCA violation, but the user has re-uploaded it (and hopefully addressed the DMCA violation so it doesn’t get removed again!)

There is Something Terribly Wrong With Windows 7 and svchost.exe / wuauserv

I recently purchased six (6) Dell Latitude E7000 series laptops with Windows 7, which are very nice by the way, but they all came fresh from the Dellcrosoft factory with one glaring showstopper. Straight out of the box, you lose about a quarter to half of the performance, operating time and battery life that you paid for as soon as you power them on.

Why’s that you say?

It’s because a core Windows 7 process called svchost.exe eats 25% of the CPU constantly:

You might think “this is a temporary issue, it’ll pass on it’s own”. No it won’t. We’re talking all day, everyday; this thing just keeps going and going. If you check that process with a tool like Process Explorer to see what internal service is chowing down on system resources, 9.5 times out of 10 it is the wuauserv service which is Windows Update.

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Quick Status Update

Just found out today that CloudFlare DNS took a dump on my website, making it inaccessible for a week or two. This has happened before, last time it was caused by the Wordfence plugin for WordPress.

The DNS problem has been fixed.

UPDATE: turns out this issue may have been caused by 1and1 web hosting DNS failure or changes on their end. My subdomains broke too, which is not part of CloudFlare. I tried walking the 1and1 tech support guy through my problem, but he was very slow so I had to end the call and ask for a follow up from him once he finds the issue. I never received the follow up, so I just went into the 1and1 control panel, re-created all my subdomains, then everything was fixed. I still don’t get why even the CloudFlare page cache was failing to serve a cached version of my website though…I thought that was the whole point of using CloudFlare – to mitigate DNS issues and site downtime? Really scratching my head over this ordeal.

UPDATE 2: 1and1 got back to me and said a glitch in their system is what caused my sub-domains to stop working. They also informed their engineers of the problem and wanted me to know how important it is for them to answer my questions as quickly as possible. Although the support was slower than I would expect for a business package subscriber and I had to take matters into my own hands, I’m not too worried about this event and will be staying with 1and1 for the near future.