Windows 10 Fall Creators Update breaks the start menu, task bar, and notification window(s).

If you are on build 1709 of the Microsoft Windows 10 Fall Creators Update (Edition) (fall, 2017), then you may run into an issue in which your start menu no longer functions.  Left-click on the start menu and nothing happens, etc.  This is usually accompanied with an error when you try to shut down your machine (virtual or real) that presents a ‘Windows Task Host’ is busy finishing an install, which is preventing shut down.

Here is the fix that worked for me:

First, somehow get your start menu to function so that you can get to settings.  You can try a combination of right-clicks and left-clicks to get it to eventually pop up, or you can try the Windows key button, or try Windows + I to go straight to settings.

Your goal is to get to Sign-In Options within Settings, and under the ‘Privacy‘ section, you need to turn off  ‘Use my sign-in info to automatically to finish setting up my device after an update or restart’.


Turning this option off seems to fix reboot issues and a non-functioning start menu, etc.

Good luck!


High Sierra install problem with firmware (un)verified error – solved!

If you are trying to install OS X High Sierra (10.13) and are encountering a ‘firmware could not be verified or validated’ error, here is a possible solution for you.

But first, why is this happening?  High Sierra tries to update the storage firmware in preparation for APFS, however if you upgraded your storage via a 3rd party SSD (such as Samsung, OWC, Crucial, etc.), the install process firmware update will fail.  This includes folks who have a makeshift do-it-yourself (DIY) Fusion drive.  High Sierra thinks the firmware doesn’t work (or that the drive does not support APFS), so the install fails with the ‘could note validate or verify firmware’, and everything halts and rolls back.

After a couple weeks of searching, somebody smarter than I am left a comment in one of the many articles posted about High Sierra install problems, and essentially the solution is to do the firmware update before you start the install for High Sierra.  You can do this by extracting the firmware updater from the High Sierra install package, running it, and then proceeding to install High Sierra.  Since the firmware update has already executed, the installer won’t try to do it again, and High Sierra should install without any hiccups after that.

To save you time in extracting the install package, here is a link to download High Sierra’s firmware update installer. And a mirror for that link.

To verify the file has not been tampered with, here is the MD5 hash for the unzipped .pkg file: 24a1731b514c633c7aff07b5d739828c

Download the .pkg, install it and let it finish, then install High Sierra on your upgraded mac!  If for some reason the above links expire, leave a comment and I’ll provide a new one.

Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program Nightmare

The following is @kalaeeg‘s experience with the not-so-wonderful Apple iPhone Upgrade Program:

If you have gotten your new iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus this morning, consider yourself very lucky. I unfortunately fell into the category of “suckers who signed up for Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program in 2015” and got effectively blocked from pre-ordering within the first five minutes of the sale going live.  I did not manage to reserve an iPhone and instead was told to check back on Sept. 17 at 8am.  

Since that debacle, many have complained to Apple and the internets, and even a class action lawsuit has been filed to appease the upgrade rage.  To their credit, Apple immediately created an iPhone Upgrade Program customer service team.  I took advantage of this and got in touch with them the next day after pre-ordering went live.  The representative on the line was nothing but courteous and very upbeat. I was told that she was going to “make magic happen”.  I was reassured numerous times that I, as someone who was already part of the upgrade program, was their number one priority (in fact, she repeated that IUP customers are their number one priority about 5 times… Apple must be really nervous about this?).  She took down my information and asked what my ideal iPhone was.  I responded that an AT&T iPhone 7 Plus 128GB (matte) Black was my ideal phone.  After a moment of silence, she asked what my second color option would be, which I decided was Rose Gold.  After filling out the proper paperwork and documenting everything, she submitted an order stated  that “magic was going to happen” and I will hear back from them within 48-72 hours.

Surely enough, about 48 hours later I received an email from the Apple Support team letting me know that they have found me an iPhone 7.  But that was it, no further details.  I decided to respond to this email and let them know that I was expecting an iPhone 7 Plus, and whether they could confirm this was indeed what I might be receiving.  No one responded to that email.  I waited patiently and by Friday (launch day)  morning I received a second email from Apple Support letting me know that my new iPhone 7 with 32GB was being shipped to my desired Apple store location.  What(?).  This was not at all what I had discussed when opening my support ticket.  This was not “magic”… this was a mistake.  I respond a second time to this new email thanking the support team for the effort they had put in for locating an iPhone, but since the phone they found was not at all what I requested, I was wondering what my options where. This time they respond back with essentially: it’s too late to do anything now because the phone has already been shipped to the indicated Apple store location and If I was not interested in the phone I should contact the store directly.  Well, shit.

I once again call Apple customer service, wait on the phone, and ask again to be connected to the Apple iPhone Upgrade Program team.  I spoke with a representative and explained the situation.  She could not account for why the confusion happened since she could see my original request.  After being placed on hold for over half an hour, the rep told me that she had no idea what to do, other than to put in another order and start over – something I would have done myself, had Apple allowed us “Upgrade Customers” to do when pre-orders went live.  Instead, they forced all of us Upgrade Program customers to use the broken and stock-limited in-store appointment option (that is, if it even worked for you), and now here we are.

It is Friday Sept. 16, launch day, and I am still no closer to getting the new iPhone 7 Plus.  As a customer who bought into Apple’s promise of the “Upgrade Program” being the “best way to obtain the new iPhone”, this is beyond frustrating. You do exactly what Apple directs you to do and in the end in you get screwed.

TLDR: I signed up for the upgrade plan, but got shut out of being able to pre-order any phone.  I contacted Apple’s customer service and put in a request to get a phone, and they wind up sending the wrong phone out.  I contact them a second time and I get no real answer of why the confusion occurred and nothing more is offered beyond putting in a second order.  At this point all I can say is thanks a lot Apple, and where do I sign up for that class action lawsuit??  At this stage I am not sure when I will get the new iPhone while all along making monthly payments into this not-so-magical “Upgrade Program.”

ps – The lawsuit sounds like 1st world problems gone wild, however you have to understand that people are making monthly payments on a phone that isn’t upgraded on-time, which could push your payment quota on the next upgrade cycle back (you have to make 12 payments in order to qualify for an upgrade)… unless Apple somehow acknowledges the delay and makes adjustments, which is what the lawsuit is seeking to guarantee.

Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program needs fixing

If you signed up for the Apple iPhone Upgrade program last year, and are upgrading to the new iPhone 7 this year, here are some observations I’ve discovered:

To upgrade, you must schedule an in-store appointment. This makes sense. You need to turn in your phone before they give you a new one. But there is one problem: In-store appointments can only be booked based upon the stock that each individual store receives. All other online iPhone purchases are drawn from the global supply, shipped directly from China. In-store appointments draw from the inventory of each individual store. This severely limits your ability to not only obtain the phone of your choice, but even a phone at all.  You are competing with not only a very limited batch of phones allocated to each store (as compared to the global supply every other online order draws from), but also every other person who pre-ordered for an in-store pickup.

In the case of the iPhone 7 launch, if you didn’t manage to book an appointment within a few minutes of the phone going on sale, you were blocked out of upgrading at all until the phone actually arrives in stores – at which point you are forced to check the inventory of all local Apple Stores until you find one that is acceptable.

Is this how Apple really intends the ‘Upgrade Program’ to work? This is an awful experience. So how do we make it better?

One solution I can see working: Let us reserve the iPhone from the global inventory, and have it ship to a local Apple Store. Even if the ship date slips, you still have the choice to wait for the phone you want, and it completely alleviates any anxiety of having to search for the phone you want daily, competing with all of the other customers who didn’t pre-order, or whom aren’t on the upgrade program.

Sounds simple and fair, right? Hopefully Apple reads this and takes it under consideration. It really stinks to be on the Upgrade Program, with no convenient and viable path to upgrade.

Mac Rumors has a post and thread echoing these exact woes.

Did Siri or dictation stop working for you on your iOS device? Try this.

Did Siri or dictation stop working for you on your iOS device? Try this.

I noticed a few days ago that both Siri and keyboard dictation stopped working for me.  However, they both would still work in my car (over bluetooth).  This initially led me to believe that maybe my iPhone 6+’s microphone was starting to fail.  I launched Voice Memos, and recorded a new memo, and that worked fine.  Plus, I’d had conversations with family recently, so I knew my mic was still working.  I figured it must have been something in the new 8.3 update, so I did a full-reset and restore in hopes that starting “fresh” would squash the gremlin.  It didn’t work.

This one had me stumped for a few days, and then after some GoogleBinging I remembered that the iPhone (6+, in this case, though this has been true for a while) has multiple microphones, and I distinctly remember Apple mentioning in one of their keynotes that the iPhone 6 /+ will use different microphones to pick up audio, depending on the situation.  I already knew my main mic (for voice calls and memos) worked, but what if Siri and dictation used a different mic?  And how do I test it?  As luck will have it, there is a simple test:

How to test your iPhone’s alternate (secondary) mic:

  1. Launch the Camera app
  2. If necessary, touch the ‘flip camera’ icon to use the FaceTime camera (selfie cam)
  3. Start recording a video of yourself talking
  4. Stop the recording, go to your camera roll, and watch the video
  5. If you don’t hear any talking, or you hear a bunch of static, your alternate mic is BROKEN

My video was full of garbled static… thus, my alternate mic was broken!  Lucky for me, the phone was still under warranty, and AppleCare took care of it.  This perhaps brings me to the moral of the story: if you plan on keeping your devices for longer than a year… get the extended AppleCare!

Just in case it was unclear above, here is how to test your main microphone as well:

  1. Launch Voice Memos
  2. Record a new memo
  3. Watch the read-out as you record, you should see voice ‘waves’ appearing as it records
  4. Stop the recording, play it back, and make sure it sounds good, clear, and without static

Happy debugging!

eBay’s greatest scam – duping sellers out of fees caused by fake eBay buyers

Let’s say you want to sell an item on eBay… such as that old iPhone 3G that you just replaced by another phone.  You list it on eBay, maybe pick a reserve price (just to be sure it doesn’t sell for pennies on the dollar), and a few days later, viola!  The phone sells.  Great!

But then you realize that the buyer who just bought your item has zero feedback, and created the account less than a month ago.  Red flag.  But let’s be optimistic… surely they created an account because they wanted your old iPhone so badly…  Surely they will pay!

Nope.  They don’t pay.  So you want to re-list your item as quickly as possible to get past all this, yet eBay makes you wait about 4 days before they consider the item ‘unpaid’.  Fine, we wait.

A week rolls around, and finally the item falls into an ‘unpaid’ status, where you can use the ‘unpaid item assistant’ to file a claim on your behalf.  Why do you need to file a claim?  You need to because you now owe eBay the commission on your item that ‘sold’, even though it is now unpaid.

Makes sense?  No, it doesn’t make sense to me either.  This is eBay’s scam #1.  Now, on to scam #2:  This claim won’t be filed until the next month, so you are stuck ‘owing’ eBay money until the next billing cycle.  I can live with that part, but guess what?  They will only refund you the commission and the listing fee… They WILL NOT refund you the reserve auction fee!

That’s right, eBay’s scam #2 is that they do not issue a full refund on unpaid items, because they consider certain options (such as reserve price) a ‘service’ to be used at the time of auction, to help your item get sold in a manner that you want.

The only problem with this logic is that your item never actually sells because the auction was rigged by a fake and scummy buyer who never had the intention of paying in the first place.  However, eBay doesn’t care what the end result is… they just want their fees.  So in the end, the breakdown is something like this:

Insertion fee: $2.40 (this will be refunded, in a month)
Reserve auction fee: $2.40 (fuck you, pay me)
Final Value Fee: $30.00  (this will be refunded, in a month)

The best part?  I get to pay another $2.40 to re-list my item as I wait for this claim to go through.

What a fucking scam.  And just in case you were wondering, I’ve been an eBay seller for over a decade, with many sold items under my belt.  I’m a veteran eBayer, and as such, I have every single seller protection tool enabled that I can possibly enable, including blocking all buyers that:

  • Don’t have a PayPal account
  • Have received 2 Unpaid Item strike(s) within 1 Month(s)
  • Have a primary shipping address in a location I don’t ship to
  • Have 4 Policy Violation report(s) within 1 Month(s)
  • Have a feedback score of -1 or lower
  • Are currently winning or have bought 1 of my items in the last 10 days and have a feedback score of 1 or lower

These are the most aggressive settings that eBay allows, yet they are missing one critical setting:  The ability to block bids from ‘new’ or zero feedback accounts.  You can only block bids from shoppers with a known sketchy history.

I understand why they don’t allow this setting… after all, how could any new eBay shopper be able to shop if all sellers enabled this setting?  Fair enough.  Maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to have this kind of restriction available to sellers.  But as it stands now, sellers on eBay can be effectively bled dry of money simply by being scammed over and over by these fake eBay shoppers, all while eBay collects the juice.

Fuck that.  If this happens to you, call eBay and scream bloody murder until they give you a FULL REFUND on your original auction, including all ‘service’ fees.  That’s what I did, and I’ll do it every single time this happens to me until eBay addresses this issue properly.

How should they address it?  Howabout automatic refunds on unpaid items for ALL FEES, and a discount on re-listing your auction (as a nice gesture for your lost time and hassle)?

That would be a great start.

Beginning of the end for the beloved Zune Pass?

Say what you will about the Microsoft Zune and Microsoft’s apparent abandonment of the Zune hardware platform, but the one thing that Microsoft got right was the Zune software, interface, and subscription model.  For subscribers of the latter (known as the ‘Zune Pass’), a change has been recently announced:

The good news: the price has been reduced from $14.99 to $9.99.  The bad news: instead of syncing to 6 devices (3 portable, 3 computers) and keeping 10 tracks a month, you now get 4 devices (any combination) and don’t get to keep anything.  If you are already on the $14.99 plan, you get to keep it, but it’s not an option for new subscribers moving forward… only the $9.99 plan is.

For most, the reduced pricing will be a welcome change, but for long-timers like me, I see it as the potential beginning of the end.  Microsoft is effectively taking away a couple of nice features that really set the Zune Pass apart from competing subscription models.  I have always seen the Zune Pass as being generous, so I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen, but that generosity is exactly why I’ve been a subscriber for so long, and one of the main reasons why I love the Zune so much.  As it stands with the new plan, there isn’t much (by way of raw subscription features) to differentiate it from others such as Rhapsody or Napster, and it clearly gives Spotify (or other free-ish streaming services) a leg up.

Consider how my family uses the pass now:  We have two Zune players, and 3 PCs that we synchronize from.  That’s a total of 5 devices all coexisting happily under one Zune Pass account, each with their own libraries of music, and I can independently sync what I want, when I want, without having to blow out any libraries, etc. (try that with iTunes, et al).  AND, I get to keep 10 tracks permanently as MP3 copies, every single month.  If you count an MP3 download as costing roughly $1 (in iTunes, it would be $1.29 or so), then I’m really just paying about $5 for the streaming service – an incredible bargain.

Under the new plan, I’d have to get rid of one of the devices (most likely a PC), and I no longer get to keep any tracks as MP3.  Really kind of a bummer.  I wish Microsoft would just keep both plans, and continue to offer the old one to new subscribers.  In the context of music, taking away choice is never a good thing.

For those of you who just don’t understand what makes the Zune so good, download the desktop software and give it a go.  Explore the Marketplace, the Smart DJ, the ‘Picks for you’, and the Mix Views, etc.  Anything else will seem positively ancient (looking at you, Spotify and iTunes), and I guarantee you’ll never look back.