Thursday, August 03, 2006


Well, it's been a tough couple of days on the PC. Our story begins in June when Windoze update was running. I shut it down mid-coitus, as it were, and the computer did not react well to that. For one thing, update hung. For another, the PC would not completely shut down. *sigh*

Still, I ignored the problem hoping the gremlins might pop in and apply a fix to the machine. After two months that hadn't happened, so I begrudgingly decided that it was my duty to deal with the mess. I decided that my problem was probably an unstable Windoze install, so I went ahead with a plan to repair Windoze.

That took several hours. At first I thought that I'd use my Windoze CD and slipstream Service Pack 2 into it so I wouldn't have to do as much updating. However for some reason which is still unclear to me, my burner wouldn't burn the disc either by creating an ISO or burning an ISO. I tried the slowest speed possible and no love. This meant that I had to do it the old fashioned way (and, of course, it took me several hours to resolve myself to that method).

I loaded the Windoze disc in and began the repair. It took a fair amount of time, but completed it's task successfully. As I had downloaded SP2 earlier, I went ahead and ran it on my machine from the disc drive. Calling home that night to warn the co-signer, I found out that the update had failed. *sigh* Trying the SP2 update the next morning revealed another failure, but this time after a reboot, the machine read that SP2 had indeed taken hold.

Next step was to get the remaining updates (54 for Windoze alone). Once again, that took some time, but 53 of the 54 installed without a hitch. Well, one hitch - the video driver was no longer valid and that hosed up my screen so that I was seeing everything in 4 colors and at 640 x 480 resolution. Easy fix as I just downloaded the latest driver from the manufacturer's website, but another delay. Then I upgraded to IE 7 and went to the Microsoft Updates site. Nine more updates were called for (including the one that failed). At this time, for no apparent reason, my downloads stalled just as they had done in June. *sigh* A little research revealed that I had to shut down the Background Intelligence Service and the Automatic Update service and re-register the DLLs related to those processes. That did the trick! Seven of the 9 updates downloaded and installed correctly.

Of the two remaining updates, one was for the .NET 2.0 framework. For some reason that update did not want to take. Finally, I came across dotnetFx_cleanup_tool. I uninstalled .NET 2.0 Framework, then reinstalled it and applied the update and all was well. That left one more update and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why it wouldn't apply. It took nearly an hour before my eyes saw the problem: it was Office XP SP3 and I'm running Office 2003. Doh!

Finally, Windoze was fixed and up and running properly. But while this was happening, another problem crept up. Mozilla Thunderbird had an update and, for what ever reason, my RSS feeds stopped reading. Today I spent a few hours tracking down the problem. In the process, I did a clean uninstall and clean reinstall of Thunderbird. I reinstalled my profile using MozBackup. MozBackup did a wonderful job of restoring my data and extensions, etc. However, the RSS problem persisted. I asked questions on the Mozillazine forums, but got no reply.

It occurred to me that I should run the Java Console built into Thunderbird and capture a detailed error message. I copied the message into the forums in hopes of some good advice, but none came. I read the message closely, realized that one file was pinpointed in the message as being the problem and so I decided to investigate it further myself. Lo and behold, I found my problem. During the upgrade my feeditems.rdf file became corrupted. That file stores the URLs for individual posts from an RSS feed. It must be in synch with the feeds.rdf file (which stores the feed URL) in order for Thunderbird to function properly as an RSS reader. Someone on the forums confirmed this for me, though that person referred to these as database files and they are nothing of the sort. They are flat XML files that I read with notepad.

The solution? I had a backup of the uncorrupted file from the end of May. I restored the file, but it was still out of synch with the feeds file. So, I manually went in and re-entered the feed URL for any of the feeds that did not update automatically (which was most of them). This seemed to do the trick, even if I had to look at the error message saying that that feed URL was already in the load. Two hours later and Thunderbird was reading all of my feeds again. Backups and a little digging saved the day.

Still, many people have experienced such problems with this latest Thunderbird update. This is certainly not a good or proper way of storing the data. The program needs a much more robust system of maintaining that data if it is to be considered a serious tool for RSS feeds. It's nice to have that functionality in the program, but most people are not going to take the time to A) run backups as often as they should or B) to investigate what went wrong. My post here is to aid the more diligent people who are having problems. Unfortunately, if you don't have a backup of your feeds somewhere, then there's nothing that I know of that can be done for you. Your best bet might be to export the feeds, import them elsewhere (for safe keeping and to make certain that the export functioned properly), the clear out both the feeditems.rdf and the feeds.rdf files and re-import your feeds into Thunderbird (assuming that the prior export worked properly).

As for the file structure, you'll have to rebuild that manually. Also, thanks to the reinstall that I did, my spam filter is re-learning my spam rules, the RSS feed posts that I had labeled for organizational purposes are no longer labeled, and the individual rules I put on folders for retaining feed posts (no more than 30 days) had to be reapplied folder by folder.

In any case, I'm back. But for the rest of today, I'm going to take a break from the computer.