Monday, March 19, 2007

Troubleshooting XP x2

Surfin on a wavy LCD monitor

This afternoon, shortly after running my iTunes update, I noted that while I had it up on my 2nd LCD monitor (both displays are Samsung SyncMaster 930b's), the text in iTunes was...weird.

It seemed that there were horizontal bands about an inch wide alternating down the display.

I could drag it over onto my digital signal monitor and it was perfect. Drag it back--and the text quality was very blurred on each one; readable, but "Not Right™."

Oh no.

Relived as I was by that dragging exercise to find it wasn't due to the new iTunes installation, I was bummed for a bit that this might mean my flatpanel was going out.

First thing I did was to run the XP ClearType wizard on the display to see if that would tighten things back up.

No dice.

Next I adjusted the display settings on the monitor, trying all known combinations and settings.


My digital output display (I have a dual-head video card, 1 digital output and 1 analog output) was pristine and sharp. It was the analog display that was wigging out.

So I undid and reseated all the cable, moving the signal cable away from the big speaker in case that was causing interference.


So I opened up my Samsung software tool: MagicTune used to optimize certain display units. I spent some time working with it but nary a fix.

Put the cigars away...

So as a last resort, I logged on to their web-page to see if a newer version than my 1.3.6 build was out. Yep. Now available MagicTune Premium.

I uninstalled the old version, installed the new version...rebooted and launched it.

A few setting tweaks and viola! Wavy blurred bands were banished! The display was crisper and sharper than I have ever seen it...especially cool as this was the analog signal display.


Past Notifications Area Data Purge

That led me to tweak my XP system tray icon area settings to deal with the three new arrivals, courtesy of MagicTune Premium.

Also known officially as the "Taskbar notification area, this is the location on Windows systems where a user's clock usually runs in the system tray. Next to it are all kinds of tiny icons...letting you know that something important is running as it should....usually system related...though not necessarily.

As a minimalist, I generally abhor having a stream of these things displayed. Some folks I know have a list of icons there taking up almost all the space on their taskbar. I try to pare these processes down to the bare minimums with careful tweaking of options and some "square-peg-in-round-hole" methods using the Sysinternals hammer known as AutoRuns.

For the ones that I need to leave running, but don't want to look at, I like to set these to "always hide." This way they are running and available, but I don't have to look at them until I need them.

To get to this customization area, right click on a blank-space on your taskbar, and select the "Properties" option. You should see the "Taskbar and Start Menu Properties" window appear.

Now, under the "Taskbar" tab, find the "Customize..." button at the bottom right and click it.

Congratulation! You have reached the "Customize Notifications" window.

You can set any icon running in the Taskbar notification area to be in one of three states: "Always show," "Always hide," and "Hide when inactive." It's pretty safe stuff here. You can't make many mistakes, and they have that handy "Restore Defaults" button to click if you think you messed something up.

So I there was, going to work making my system tweaks. There are two sections, a "Current Items" and a "Past Items". I took a look at "Past Items" area and it was filled with several years' worth of "flotsam and jetsam" of system notification icons gone past. There were quite a number of applications that had long-since been uninstalled and no longer used.

I had to clean that out, pronto. That was stuff just begging for confusion.

But how do you remove past items from the notifications area?

You would think you could just select the item(s) and delete them...but it isn't that easy.

After a long, unproductive visit on the Tubes via Google, I finally found this Microsoft Help and Support page that did the trick: How to Clear Past Items from the Notification Area.

Warning: it involves messing around in the Registry! Here lurk dangers!

OK, on to the fun!

Open up regedit and browse to the following registry key:


Select the "TrayNotify" folder on the left-hand side.

In the right-hand side you will see some entries. We are looking for just the following keys (though others will be in there as well):

  • IconStreams
  • PastIconsStream

Now, to be safe, let's make a copy of the registry key before we go messing with it. That way we can restore it if we must.

Right-click once more on the TrayNotify folder and select "Export"

Give it a name say, "TrayIcons" and save it somewhere handy; I put mine directly on my desktop.

Now, on the right-hand window pane of the Registry Editor, select the "IconStreams" item. It should highlight.

Right-click and select "Modify". A window called "Edit Binary Value" will appear and it will be filled with hexadecimal code. Select as much text as you can and start deleting it. If you don't have too much data you can try to put your cursor at the top line then pull the slide bar down to the bottom and press the <shift> key and click the last line. That should select most everything. Press the Delete key on your keyboard and it should be gone. Clean up any bits with the delete key or backspace. In the end you should just have a 0000 entry you can't delete.

Once you are done, press the OK button.

Let me be clear: DON'T DETELE the IconStreams key...just modify and delete the data it contains.

Repeat the same process for the "PastIconsStream." This might take a while to empty out. It took me five runs and about five minutes to get this puppy emptied. (I later looked in my saved .reg file and this key alone contained a whopping 41836 lines of hex-code!)

Remember, we are deleting the data values out of the key, not the key itself!

Done? Good.

Close out regedit.

Press <Ctrl> + <Alt> + <Delete> keys on your keyboard all at once to open the Task Manager.

Click the Processes tab, find Explorer.exe and click it to select, then click the End Process button.

Your desktop will get strange, flicker, and most likely a bunch of stuff you love and enjoy will disappear. Ooohhhh. Scary....

Now in Task Manager on the Menu bar, click on "File," select "New Task."

Type in the word "explorer" and click OK.

More screen flashy and most everything will begin to reappear.

At this point I advise doing a restart on your system. You can keep working, but you might panic if you don't see icons in your notification area you expect to see is often the case they don't respawn after relaunching explorer. You might have to enable any task-bar toolbars as well.

After the reboot, you should go into the "Notification area" again to confirm the Past Items list was purged.

If something goes horribly wrong...find your exported .reg file, right-click on it and select "Merge." This sends your registry data back onto the system.

This isn't required maintenance. I doubt you will get any performance gains of any kinds. It's just something to do to clean up old stuff. That's about it.

Don't feel obligated to try this on your machine. I just thought it was arcanely interesting.

Mischief Managed


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