Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Windows Black Screen Nightmare

Folks, I have a warning to utter that is somewhat outside my usual preaching.

For the past couple of days one of my laptops has tried to install Windows updates but didn’t succeed. In the morning I would find an error message that said something went wrong. I ignored this because really I couldn’t care less what problems Microsoft causes itself. But this morning, Windows wouldn’t properly start. All I got was a black screen with a mouse cursor. This is the computer I use for my audio and video processing.

Now, I’ve been a Windows user for 20+ years and I don’t get easily discouraged by spontaneously appearing malfunctions. After some back and forth, I managed to open a command prompt from the task manager to launch the Windows explorer by hand. But this just produced an error message about some obscure .dll file being corrupted. Ok, then, I thought, I’ll run an sfc /scandisk. But this didn’t work; the command just wouldn’t run. At this point I began to feel really bad about this.

I then rebooted the computer a few times with different login options, but got the exact same problem with an administrator login and in the so-called safe mode. The system restore produced an error message, too. Finally, I tried the last thing that came to my mind, a factory reset. Just to have Windows inform me that the command couldn’t be executed.

With that, I had run out of Windows-wisdom and called a helpline. Even the guy on the helpline was impressed by this system’s fuckedupness (if that isn’t a word, it should be) and, after trying a few other things that didn’t work, recommended I wipe the disk clean and reinstall Windows.

So that’s basically how I spent my day, today. Which, btw, happens to be my birthday.

The system is running fine now, though I will have to reinstall all my software. Luckily enough my hard-disk partition seems to have saved all my video and audio files. It doesn’t seem to have been a hardware problem. It also doesn’t smell like a virus. The two IT guys I spoke with said that most likely something went badly wrong with one of those Windows updates. In fact, if you ask Google for Windows Black Screen you’ll find that similar things have happened before after Windows updates. Though, it seems, not quite as severe as this case.

The reason I am telling you this isn’t just to vent (though there’s that), but to ask you that in case you encounter the same problem, please let us know. Especially if you find a solution that doesn’t require reinstalling Windows from scratch.

Update: Managed to finish what I meant to do before my computer became dysfunctional

54 comments:

  1. Had this problem on Windows 10 a year or two back, also caused by a windows update. I almost gave up on it but it recovered by itself after multiple restarts. There are some failsafe mechanisms that kick in if the computer fails to get to windows after multiple attempts. It seems you weren't so lucky.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Always make a boot cd in case of problems like this.

      If you don't have one, you may reboot many times while trying to enter "safe mode". Each time Windows does some diagnostics which may be different on each boot. Once in safe mode, go back to the prior update.

      If it doesn't work, your last bet is entering the BIOS and hope you have some options left. It depends on your BIOS version.

      Delete
    2. In fact, I had the exact same problem last June with the same effect and same resolution. I suspected a problem with the update compatibility with my antivirus software. In the last 3 years I got 3 major problems, each time due to a Windows 10 update...

      Delete
  2. I don’t have an answer to your windows problem (I’m a MAC use), but wanted to write to say Happy Birthday.

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  3. From this link I would recommend the WinRE environment if the problem would re-appear :
    https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/12376/windows-10-start-your-pc-in-safe-mode

    Choose the 3rd option (from a blank or black screen); follow the procedure exactly since it needs cold booting more then once.

    M.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The problem did appear in Safe Mode (both options) as I wrote.

      Delete
  4. Happy Birthday Sabine! And I'm so sorry to hear about the Windows frustrations; I hope the rest of your day goes way better.

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  5. Finally, something in my area of expertise!

    https://github.com/dlebansais/Kill-Update

    (I'm the author) (Scroll down a little for instructions if your screen is small)

    This program prevents Windows from updating, until you want it. Then you just manually turn off the lock.

    It's not going to help you in this particular instance, but perhaps you'll escape similar troubles in the future. Although you will never know about them.

    Feel free to ask for support. I realize the page is not very user-friendly but it's intended to a specific audience.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Also chrome is showing me a red sign with “Not secure” in the URL place (for this site). And if I click on the learn more: https://support.google.com/chrome/answer/95617?visit_id=637042412030042076-2172091136&p=ui_security_indicator&rd=1
    Whats this about?

    I saw the same thing happen with Woit's blog here: https://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=11298#comments

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. asnant,

      You should ask Google, not me. It's probably one of the widgets. This has happened a few times before. Every once in a while some anti-malware checker mistakenly identifies one of them as harmful. Comes and goes.

      Delete
    2. I think it has to do with your subscribe links not being https. Even if I copy the link and edit it from http to https, the feed itself reverts to http.

      Not sure what you can do about that except get the hell off this terrible blogging platform. I use WordPress, and while it's not perfect, it's a lot better than this. (Google has really gone downhill the last few years, IMO.)

      Delete
  7. hope someday you can change to Linux.
    Otherwise change for a Mac.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MacOS can have the same problem or worse. For a few years MacOS encrypts everything on the hard drive. One of my colleges had a failed MacOS update which meant he also lost all his data as some of the encryption keys were deleted during the update. Even admins at our company confirmed, there was no way to recover the data.

      Delete
  8. I worked with this stuff for 30 years. [long exhalation]. Yes, reinstallation from scratch was your shortest route back to functionality.

    Windows updates are fully deterministic. Microsoft denies the existence of free will.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The update mechanism is of course fully deterministic. But Microsoft should indeed better try to believe in free will! If they would, they should be able to create something much better rather than the current mess ;-)

      Delete
  9. *Everyone* should regularly back up essential files onto a different storage device, such as an external hard drive, thumb drive, or online. You can do it by hand. I have Macrium Reflect back up my files daily and back up my entire hard drive weekly. I then copy the backups online. I use the 1 TB of free online storage in OneDrive that comes with Office 365.

    You are lucky your "hard-disk partition seems to have saved all my video and audio files." The most common hardware failure is the hard drive goes bad, and that can destroy everything. Backups also come in handy if you accidentally delete a file or folder (I've done that a lot), or your laptop gets stolen.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hello Sabine, Happy Birthday! I have to comment your last video.
    I have the feeling there is a big misunderstanding on the information definition among physicists and engineers. What definition of information Physicist are using? If it's the Shannon classical definition given in bits for example, this information is not conserved because of the 2nd law of thermo. or because irreversible processes are the rule even at Quantum level. You are talking about information not accessible to an observer but still here, there is a big contradiction because any bits of information has to be potentially accessible by definition. Absolutely Hidden Information doesn't exist by definition of information, something absolutely hidden to our physical world has physically null information by definition. But may be physicists have another definition of information? thanks for your insight.

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    Replies
    1. Here is an answer that, if wrong, may at least provoke a sensible correction. I believe that when physicists speak of information as a conserved quantity they are speaking of something that is physically manifest and thus effects the outcome of a physical interaction or measurement. This would include the signature characteristics that differentiate atomic particles i.e. charge or spin.

      In order to make sense of the many uses of the term information I find useful to identify its two major species – the domestic and the feral. Shannon speaks most clearly for the domestic side while the feral is physically manifest in the world, on the hoof and speaks for itself.

      Here, ‘on the hoof’ takes the meaning – ‘not yet domesticated through measurement’. And here of course is a possible confusion since the recording of a measurement as abstraction on the domestic side requires a physical medium in which it can be retained, thus leading one to the notion that ‘all information is physical.’ This is not very useful. I would like to say that the domestic and feral species may be differentiated according to their ‘metabolism’ with feral information having the larger energy throughput. I am not sure that is uniformly true.

      In any case, on the domestic side – Happy Birthday, Sabine.

      Delete
    2. Let me carry on this interesting subject, I note that we tend to mix up the information quantity in bit and the information itself. For instance a message, a picture are informations but the interesting point is how much information in bit they contain. This quantity in bits is rarely conserved over time.
      The idea of some physicists, if I am understanding well, is that these lost bits are in principle traceable in such a way that we could retrieve the original message, always in principle.
      But in principle it's not possible by the 2nd law of thermo. stating that Entropy is always growing.
      Here again it 's the meaning of this thermo. law which is in question.
      Entropy is uncertainty measure. What is uncertainty on something?
      there are also 2 species of uncertainty one domesticable and one feral, the first one is just by ignorance, the other one feral is absolute.
      With the domesticable one, uncertainty by ignorance,it's possible that at least we can reverse any situation in principle.
      But with the feral one it's not possible at all because it is precisely in principle that any process contains a certain irreducible amount of uncertainty,I am talking of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
      We will see here that at the very foundation of QM, even in principle, information cannot be conserved.

      Delete
    3. Not sure I follow this. I tend toward the ‘bit from it’ description, see it as most useful even if simple minded.
      Physical information constrains physical outcome. When you turn the door knob, open the door and walk out to have the ‘wind comb your hair with its six soft fingers’ you are dealing with physical information. You can represent your passage with an assembly of logic gates that are bits from it...

      Okay, here is another analogy. Say that rocks are physical/feral information. You can pile the rock in to a carin that is a sign/symbol of the proper path or perhaps a hidden stash of food. You can knock down the pile, the symbol is gone, the rocks remain.

      Delete
    4. Hi Fred, I think you explained my point quite well.

      "I note that we tend to mix up the information quantity in bit and the information itself"

      The basic meaning of information within quantum theory comes close to an "information quantity" and is only loosely related to the information itself. The "information quantity" is conserved in quantum theory by construction. However it is misleading to call this quantity "information". There is not too much "information" e.g. in a large, massive cloud of identical protons, one could describe the system by the means of thermodynamical laws. Thus, this "information quantity" is more related to "random noise" rather than information itself.

      Delete
  11. Happy Birthday! The Micro$oft problems can be solved with Linux. The coming iteration on Windows is not going to be software you own, but a service on the cloud. Gone will be your local control. In fact the PC, whether on a desk or a notebook is probably going away.

    I don't particularly believe this, but it is fun bouncing off on people. There is the Wheeler Delayed Choice experiment. This means that if one measures how likely it is that an electron can through a certain slit, the wave has been changed so there is no interference. This occurs at the slits, prior to your measurements. What if we do something like this with the universe? What if by measuring the mass of the Higgs, or in the future should we measure some aspect of quantum cosmology from the earliest big bang, we set these values? By doing so now we set them in the past. Maybe there are a vast number of intelligent beings that arise in the universe so there is a great average that actually sets the value.

    That is a sort of anthropic principle idea, and it has some issues and I don't particularly think it is physics to pursue the idea in detail. However, we can't disprove it either, as far as I can see. It would give us some sort of role, even in a sense a purpose, for doing this.

    Largely I think we do it because it is just fascinating to think about and work with.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I didn't realize that the infamous blue screen of death had been upgraded to a more color appropriate black screen. Have a Happy Birthday anyway Sabine, just to spite Microsoft!

    ReplyDelete
  13. My solution to MS updates: abandoned Windows 15 years ago, joined the Linux community. There are compatibility issues with media files (audio/video compression encryption) but for me the benefits from a world-wide support community exceeds the downside. Viel Freude zum Geburtstag!

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  14. Hi Sabine !!!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY !!!

    - a bit belated, now...(busy:(

    I hope your day was Beautiful.
    - enjoyed your recent posts
    and the comments.
    Thank You.

    Thinking of you,

    Love Your Work



    ReplyDelete
  15. It is the windows 10 problem. You should fall back to windows 8 if you can. The system interrupts and tries to install whatever it seems right. I was trying to run a simulatiin in Comsol and it interrupted even there are active programs running. I tried to do everything and schedule the reload to 4 5 days ahead and still I could not manage the laptop OS. But the greatest thing you will get with win 8 is hybernation. It is a life saver in low battery conditions.

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  16. Happy birthday 🎂

    I think a Wilder adoption of Linux is the trend in the science community (esp physiy, esp HEP)

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  17. Glad that you could fix it and no data were erased – happy birthday, Sabine!
    Maybe you can regard it as a surprise present by Microsoft – admittingly a very nerdy one.
    You never know what the future will bring and maybe this wakeup call for more backups is precious, because information can be lost easily ;-)

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  18. I've avoided both Windows and Linux by staying with VMS since I started working with computers. :-D

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  19. Linux is definitely the answers to Windoze woes. But check first to make sure all the software you need is available, such as video software.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Coincidentally -- or maybe not -- I had this just a couple of days ago, Sabine. The machine being updated was a 64-bit Windows 7 (the last "good" Windows O/S). After the update, I just got a black screen, and no disk noises to indicate anything was happening. I managed to get into the F2 set-up, and from there to the 'restore system' tool. Restoring the previous day's version worked, but then the same updates were delivered at the end of that day. I let them in (with heart in mouth) and rebooted ... there was what seemed a long delay before it started, but it did start OK in the end? I sympathise because it's not just about backup-up working data (which I do religiously) but having a machine with everything set up the way you want it. When I finally had to let my old XP laptop go, it took me 2 weeks to get the replacement going as smoothly, even though I had all my data. P.S. happy birthday.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Happy birthday Sabine! Sorry to hear about your experience with your computer. I've had at least one computer become non-functional due to a virus. But my Windows version was out of date. I'm on Windows 8, and am reluctant to upgrade to 10 due to hearing stories of how badly it slows down your computer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. David,

      Fwiw, I actually find Win 10 runs much better than Win 8. Win 8 used to frequently crash when I was using multiple, computationally intensive, apps, presumably due to some memory conflict. The only way I have thus far managed to crash Win 10 is to pull out the plug of my external audio card. No idea what's so terrible about this, but it gave me an instant blue screen.

      Delete
  22. Hi Sabine, supposed your hardware is powerful enough, it might be a good idea to run windows 10 or any other operating system (even server machines) within a virtual environment (eg. oracle vm virtual box) Then it is only a mouse click to restore to any previously saved configuration. Also quite good for the purpose of testing new software

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  23. ps. Happy Birthday !!!
    Hope you will enjoy the rest of the day!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Regarding your video, Sabine, what makes you think, that the individual personal information you aquired during your lifetime is not destroyed and could (at least in principle) be restored?
    The information collected within your brain is of algorithmic nature (natural neural net) I'm convinced that algorithmic information is quite a different type of information as defined in quantum mechanics. We do not have even a clue, how to measure the former.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi! It 's exactly my question what is quantum information???
      The Information reduces uncertainty. It is the more basic definition of information. A bit of information reduce the uncertainty of 1 bit,it corresponds to an answer to a binary question or to a realization of a potential binary system state. Qbit, if I understood more or less well, is a complex state in an Hilbert space, it can't be a piece of information, where is it? Since the so called Qbit doesn't correspond to any realization of any state or to any measurement, how do you concretely reduce your uncertainty on a Quantum System with a Qbit?
      I have the feeling that, above all, there is a deep misunderstanding about the meaning of the Mathematical Model of the Quantum State in Hilbert Space.

      Delete
  25. Good try, you did just about everything you could and I doubt you'll get a better answer than what you tried. Based on my experience I think even if this happened to a senior Microsoft Windows software engineer, with all Microsoft's resources at their disposal, they would have ended up wiping and reinstalling Windows as you did. It's the nature of the beast.

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  26. Your new video nicely captures the allure of deep physics! Alas, the same deep questions that you mention also highlight the odd and frustrating lack of convergent progress in resolving such question since development of the Standard Model. In the half century since that beautiful period of insight, the knowledge tree of strongly asserted but experimentally unproven (and too often unprovable) deep physics explanations has branched out farther and more wildly that the belief systems of any religion of which I am aware. That is sad.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Dear Dr. Hossenfelder
    Happy Birthday, even though I am a bit late to the party.
    A nice Mac would be the perfect birthday present. Don't go Linux. Perfect as servers, good as phones (if you like to sell data of friends and family to Google) but as a desktop only if you really like to tinker with computers.
    There is a reason, why me and so many of my developer and admin colleagues have switched to Mac. We just don't want to have to loose time over Windows problems. Just had to solve one for my daughter. The admins at school could not solve it the whole day, Daddy did it in 5 minutes. A really annoying network problem that I have never seen in a Mac.
    Windows 10 isn't a bad OS, it just has a not so elegant architecture and there isn't community that looks through every line of code like in open source, Linux and MacOS (Yupp, MacOS kernel is open source and called Darwin). And for my taste Windows calls Redmond a bit too much.
    My solution for me is a Mac with VMWare Fusion and a virtual Windows. Best of both worlds and a lot less problems than a Windows preload from any vendor (except Microsoft) with all the crap ware.
    And there is one thing that would always win me over for the Mac, the backup just works (even for the virtual Windows virtual machine). You do backups do you?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Fred Harmand's take on INFORMATION makes total sense to me. Seems many/most quantum folks can't think outside the [quantum] box.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Happy birthday!

    Windows under the hood is spaghetti code junction so its not surprising that it falls over like this. Linux is pretty stable these days and isn't subject to corporate fiddling as windows so that might be a useful tip to keep in mind. Personally I long for the days when I could fix my own computer with a bit of tape and a screwdriver but this is what we get for giving up autonomy to corporations ...

    ReplyDelete
  30. My wife, who has a Windows 10 laptop, has no experience with black screen nightmares sofar, all the more with whiteboard daymares in classrooms.

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  31. Sabine,
    you should have predicted that, by posting this, you would attract scores of Mac and Linux zealots, knocking at your door like Jehovah's witnesses...
    Please, stay with us agnostic PC users, for which a computer is just a computer...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Opa,

      This was totally clear to me, thank you.

      Delete
    2. Well, Linux zealots (as you call them) might be annoying, but they have a point that this type of problems is very much a unique feature of windows...

      Delete
  32. I particularly dislike that with every update the quality of lyceum favorite games decreases.
    Often considered going linux all the way but then I would lose my favorite games and I often had compatibility issues with files for/from other people.
    Have dual boot now but often go back to crappy win 10 out of ease

    ReplyDelete
  33. Changing platforms , as some have suggested, is both extreme & unnecessary

    Instead, license a copy of "Macrium Reflect" backup & disk imaging software (about USD $70).

    Macrium also supports a "recovery" boot CD or USB stick. Even if your primary hard drive is horribly corrupted, you boot the Macrium application from USB stick or CD, and restore the PC's primary disk from the external backup drive.
    Macrium will literally restore your primary drive as though nothing ever happened. You can even restore to a completely blank, new, "bare metal" drive.

    I've been using Macrium for many years in my personal & lab Windows computers, it's always worked flawlessly.

    I never, ever install major new software without first making a disk image backup.

    I also never opt for "automatic" Windows updates, although this requires more admin to manage necessary or critical updates.

    Windows 10 makes it hard to permanently disable automatic updates, it requires disabling some services & other tricks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. With Win10 Pro, Enterprise or EDU you can just use group policy to disable automatic updates, no tricks necessary. Just activate the "Configure automatic updates" policy and set it to 2 (notify before download). This way you have to press the "Update" button in Settings before it does anything.

      Delete
  34. I have had my share of windows update woes (and so do a lot of people, judging by forum posts). Personally i solved this by using the LTSC version of Windows. Its a special version of windows that only receives security updates, but not any of the big feature updates that seem to cause problems often, and its guaranteed to be supported for 10 years. Its designed for mission critical machines, but its basically just normal Windows Enterprise without the big updates. I have it on my workstation since 2 years and its rock solid. Your IT dept can probably install this if you want this.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Win10 is not bad, it's just not perfect; no OS is. As you no doubt already surmised, you get two options: move on knowing you will always carry same risk, or make the investment required to eliminate OS as a risk. I work on the failure-is-not-an-option side. We use VMware ESXi to emulate bare metal, and if an OS instance becomes non-compliant we can (as LEP above states) simply restore to a working image. This also eliminates background meddling by MS since you control the starting image, not them. Expensive, yes; but failure can be eliminated from the system.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Hi Sabine,

    Create a windows system repair disk next time and do a system image of your install fairly regularly. The repair disc lets you boot the machine and run restore to do what you need to do. If necessary, you can return to the state of your last saved image.

    Has saved me a couple of times. :)

    ReplyDelete
  37. FYI: An item that I saw that might be useful

    https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/microsoft/windows-10-is-getting-a-new-optional-update-experience/

    Windows 10 is Getting a New Optional Update Experience

    ReplyDelete

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