Jan 272013


Since yesterday I am upgrading my 5y old Dell XPS M1740 laptop from Windows Vista to Windows 8 Pro. Vista made me not using Windows anymore; the machine mainly collected dust in the past years since I stopped gaming. Recently I enjoyed the metro UI on my Windows Phone 7, so I decided to give Windows 8 a try to see what all the fuzz is about. Thankfully the machine just about fits minimum requirements for Windows 8. 

I thought upgrading is going to be simple, I just needed to download the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant and things will go smoothly. … not quite, it’s now 24h later and I am just about done. I did undergo a lot of pain as i kept getting an error message during verification of my machine. The exact error message was: Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant: Internal Error: Error retrieving the scan report. No further information, details or anything. Thankfully there was google, but most pages I found were suffering people left in confusion about this error, pointing out custom tools, configurations etc might be the cause and some systems just aren’t upgradable. 

Despite that depressing search results I didn’t give up but stubbornly attempted to somehow make my system upgradable. After all .. it is just a bunch of software, so why should it be impossible? I read a bit and got even more depressed, because there were lots of indications that customizations of any kind might be preventing Windows Vista from being upgradable. I haven’t used the laptop in the past 3 years, so how could I possibly remember what I had done back then – especially as I mainly used MacOS and CentOS in the past 3 years and forgot most about Windows?

Anyways, back to the upgrade procedure. It involved a lot of swearing and I also dug quite a bit around in the internet. First I had to find out where the damn log file was located that might indicate what errors occured: The file setuperr.log is located in a hidden directory under the user’s home directory in AppData/Local/Microsoft/WebSetup/Panther.

In my case It only contained 3 lines:

2013-01-26 23:33:59, Error                 CONX   [PerformTransform] [0x8007007e] Transform node failed.

2013-01-26 23:33:59, Error                 CONX   [CreateReport] [0x8007007e] Failed transforming report.

2013-01-26 23:33:59, Error                 CONX   Failed to retrieve the HTML report from the compatibility controller. HRESULT = 0x8007007e.

So the report assembly failed, nothing else seemed to be wrong with my system. Following ip on the particular error code let nowhere helpful. I resembled all my partial knowledge about pains of windows and decided to follow this path:

  • Windows Upgrade – the solution to everything: I started with performing a Windows Update: as I hadn’t done one since early 2009. 108 updates were found and installed over a couple of hours, 2 failed to be installed, so I ran it again, also Microsoft Securiyt Essentials and Microsoft Windows Essentials failed too in the first attempts (ironically because another install program was running – Windows Update.. d’oh). So I installed them manually, rebooted and tried to run the Windows Upgrade Assistant again. The error still occured.
  • Cleaning up the system: I uninstalled all software i don’t need anymore or where I didn’t remember what it was for. As I read in a post that it was suggested to remove Microsoft Office 2013 Preview, I decided to uninstall the Microsoft Power Point 2007 viewer (I’m working long enough with computers to not apply logic anymore..). It turned out the PPT Preview Install as corrupted and I couldn’t uninstall it. I found this Microsoft knowledge base article that helped on the deinstallation, sadly that didnt solve the problem either, Windows 8 upgrade assistent still failed the same error.
  • Asking google about Vista update errors: So I searched again for Windows Vista Upgrade issues, and found another knowledge base article. I installed the System Update Readiness Tool for Windows Vista. Not too much to my surprise it didn’t solve the problem either.
  • Reaching desparation – Just fix it: Pretty close to giving up I just searched how to fix a corrupted windows installation and found Microsoft fix.it. I selected as problem Install or upgrade hardware or software and selected Fix the problem with Microsoft Windows Update that is not working. It found a problem and repaired it. I restarted the upgrade assistant and the problem was gone!

So… either the last step or the combination of all of the above fixed it!

Then windows update was asking me what kind of data i want to keep. Just to be sure that I my data is save I tried to upload it to mega this failed as well as the upload speed for a 16GB archive was not sufficient, I ended up copying everything to an external hard drive and then proceeded with the upgrade procedure. After patiently watching progress bars for more than 1h I see now the start up screen about customizing Windows 8. Yeah! 


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Jan 102013

I hate distractions while I am at work – especially those which come by mail. For some reasons I get over hundred mails a day – notifications, internal and external mailing lists, group mailings, gigantic discussions via mail threads and important mails directed to me or my team.

As I work in a cross function for the engineering team and have to respond to developer issues in an appropriate time I keep a close eye on my inbox. Concepts like checking mails only to specified times or not at all during the day don’t apply to my work flows, filtering mails into various sub folders makes them forgotten or unseen as I actually want to read all the mail – just not all the time. 

These days my mailbox contains these folders:

  • Inbox: I usually try to keep the total number of mails in there below 100, only mails I have to follow up on or that are related to future events or where I am waiting for response in a mail thread are in there. I have notifications for my inbox active as I want to be notified if there is an important mail. Up until this Monday I got all the clutter of updates, mailing lists etc. in there too which was pretty distracting. 
  • Now what I have setup now is a new secondary inbox and a filter that filters all those mails I don’t need to pay attention in-time. The filters are defined conservatively to ensure that I won’t miss an important mail. The immediate effect is that I got less than 20 new mails in my Inbox over night, 40 more I found in the secondary inbox.
  • {Notifications}: There are a few tools and platforms I receive notification mails from I can’t configure so all status updates about everything is fine go directly in there – I couldn’t care less about. I only worry about something went wrong which stays in my inbox.
  • {Projects} + subfolder: contain mails related to certain projects and initiatives I am working on.  
  • {tech mailing list}: all mails to an internal mailing list – a very valuable source of information which I regularly use to look for answers as I usually remember having seen a related question before, but I never seem to remember the answer.
  • Unsorted: all other mail that is either unrelevant, resolved or any other information. I used to have a much finer granulation, but at the end I don’t really care about threads that are out of date and hence I don’t need to make the effort to sort them.  

This might be common sense, but years of creating massive filters, creating no filters, having smart mailboxes, reading about suggested workflows I never found a solution tailored to my needs. Now it’s simple: I check the inbox as soon as I got the notification of a new mail, I check the secondary inbox 2-3 times a day.

Btw, while writing this I noticed that Gmail actually tries to do something similar with the Priority Inbox which seems to be the reverse approach of the above. 

For my private mails I took a different approach a while ago. For private mails I use Gmail which comes with a different set of features than the chosen mail server of my company. In the past I had a lot of subfolders, rules and configurations which ended up in a massive inbox with over 10.000 unread mails, tons of unread mail in other folders and I never really noticed if I had new mails or not and where they ended up. So one day I archived all mail and marked it as read disregarding if there was something I wanted to follow up or not and started with a clean Inbox – 0 mails. I removed all filters: all mail to my private mailbox gets delivered to my inbox, I delete it, read it and/or either archive it straight away, answer it or leave it for follow up. Goal here is to have less than 20 mails in the inbox and to have a clear overview of whom I owe an answer.

So long story short: Simplicity rules, automated filters and folders suck.

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