The “Random Command Prompt Flash” Issue

If you’re using Windows 10 and Office 365, you might have noticed a strange issue: for the past six weeks or so, some users have reported command-prompt windows popping up for a fraction of a second, seemingly at random. This issue may affect computers running Windows 7 or 8.x and\or Office 2016, but so far I have only seen the issue on computers running Windows 10 and Office 365.

I noticed the issue on my own computer a couple weeks ago, after the latest Office 365 update. But the random command-prompt pop-ups didn’t happen immediately after the update, so I failed to connect the two. At first, I thought it might be some kind of malware, so ran scans using multiple products… which came back clean. I checked Event Viewer, but there were no obvious issues there. I looked at Task Scheduler, but nothing appeared to be amiss there, either.

Stumped, I downloaded and installed Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), an open source video capture tool. I closed all open apps, except for a single Chrome window, which I left open on a maximized nearly blank page. I set OBS to record my screen for two hours and walked away. I returned later and played the video back on my second monitor in VLC, with the playback speed cranked up to 4x. Sure enough, I eventually saw the command-prompt flash:

Office Handler window

If you can’t make out what title bar says, it’s

C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\root\Office16\officebackgroundtaskhandler.exe

If you’re having this issue, you should be able to make the pop-up happen any time you want to by opening Task Scheduler and going to Library > Microsoft > Office, right-clicking on

OfficeBackgroundTaskHandlerRegistration

and choosing “Run”.

I don’t know how to “fix” this issue, and I assume Microsoft will address it in an upcoming Office 365 update. However, there is a workaround to prevent that damn command-prompt window from popping-up: right-click on the task and choose “Properties”. Click the “Change User or Group” button and change the user from “Users” to “System”. It’s not the most elegant solution (especially from a security perspective), but it works.

Outlook 2016’s “Unsafe Rules”

Microsoft Outlook has a robust system of rules that you can use to move, copy, delete (or alert you) when you receive an email based on a number of conditions.

One option I use quite a bit is “when I receive an email with x in the subject line, run a script”. Here’s why: I have an app that downloads files to a specific folder that cannot be changed. When the downloads are complete, I want to move those file(s) to a shared network folder. So I have Outlook set up to where if I send an email to myself with a certain string of letters and numbers, a script runs that moves the file(s) from one folder to the other (I often want to do this while away from the computer, hence the need for the Outlook rule and script).

However, it would appear that December’s updates for Office 365 removed the “run a script” option from the rules, along with a couple other “unsafe rules”. Thankfully, it appears that Microsoft didn’t remove the options, it just hid them. If, like me, you use the “run a script” option, here’s how you can re-enable it:

  1. Close Outlook, if running.
  2. Open Regedit.
  3. Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Outlook\Security 
  4. Right-click on an empty space in the right pane and choose New > DWORD Value. Name the new value EnableUnsafeClientMailRules and set its value to 1.
  5. Close Regedit; open Outlook.

At this point, go to the “Rules & Alerts” applet. You should see that the “(error)” message next to any existing “run a script” rules is gone, although you might have to check the box to actually enable the rule again.

A Virgin Mobile Tip

Whether you’re considering becoming a Virgin Mobile customer, or if you’re an existing customer looking to upgrade your phone, consider looking at Virgin Mobile phones on Amazon first.

I bought a Samsung Galaxy Ring back in 2014. I hated it: it locked up, rebooted, and stock apps crashed all the time. Virgin Mobile replaced it four times, but after the last time I said enough was enough.

I bought an LG Tribute ($79.99 on Virgin’s site) as a temporary fix until I could switch carriers, or until Virgin got some better phones. But I ended up liking the Tribute. It had an awful camera and a mere 4GB of space, of which only 1.1GB was available to the user. But other than that, the phone just worked. It never once locked-up or rebooted, and was generally everything you could hope for in a $79.99 Android phone.

But then my girlfriend accidentally dropped it in a parking lot, creating a huge crack in the screen. She offered to buy me a new one, so I thought I’d check Amazon to see if they had a better deal. They did: $39.95!

I got the upgrade bug in December 2015 and saw that Virgin had the LG Stylo. But it was $199… not super expensive, but a bit too much for an impulse buy, especially at Christmas. I checked Amazon and saw that it was $109.99. Toss in a $25 Amazon gift card I’d gotten and the total dropped to $85.99 – 58% less than Virgin was selling it for.

A couple weeks ago I was running some errands and the Stylo’s screen starting acting weird. It was “wavy”, like an LCD monitor with a bad capacitor. Amazon to the rescue again: the LG Stylo 2 – $179.99 on Virgin Mobile’s site – was only $69.95 at Amazon! That’s 61% less than Virgin Mobile’s price! (Virgin has since put the phone on Black Friday sale for $129.99 while Amazon has raised their price to $99, so it’s not nearly the deal it once was.)

If you’re wondering, all the phones I’ve purchased from Amazon have been brand new in sealed Virgin retail packaging. Virgin does have refurbished phones they send as warranty replacements. These come in generic white boxes with no graphics. The Amazon phones are not refurbs.

Also, these kind of deals don’t last long, so you have to move quickly. These deals mostly apply to Virgin’s middle-of-the-road ($129-$249) phones. You won’t see Virgin Mobile iPhones or Samsung Galaxy S phones with such discounts. You can find Virgin’s low-end phones on Amazon, but there won’t be much of a discount: the Alcatel DAWN is currently on sale for $39.99 on Virgin’s site but $74.80 at Amazon (a slight discount off Virgin’s regular $79.99 price).

Exporting LG’s Quick Memos

Many LG phones come with Quick Memo, a pre-installed note taking app. It’s not as good as OneNote or Evernote, but since it can’t be uninstalled, I thought I’d give it a try rather than waste precious storage space on duplicate apps. Come to find out, it handles my basic note-taking needs pretty well.

One downside, however, is that there’s no Quick Memo app for Windows. Thus, you can long-press on a note to share it with yourself (or others) via Gmail, but once you save the attachment, there’s no way to open it on your desktop or laptop. Nice.

However, after futzing with a sample file for a while, I found that the exported LQM files are just zip files, and can be opened with most compression apps. I’m a big fan of WinRAR, so here’s what a note looks like when opened in that app:

Quick Memo

As you might guess, any audio or video files saved in a memo will be located in their respective folders. Image files are saved in the “Images” folder, while text (or drawings) captured by stylus input will be saved in the “Drawings” folder:

Quick Memo Drawing

If you’d like, you can right-click an LQM file in Windows and choose Open With > WinRAR and check the “Always use this app to open these files” box to have Windows always use WinRAR (or WinZip or 7-Zip) to open the Quick Memo files.

Open a Command Prompt from File Explorer

Most power users know this already, but I’ve noticed that a surprising number of “Average Joes” do not: if you’re using File Explorer (or Windows Explorer, as it’s known in older versions of Windows) and you want to open a command prompt at that particular location, all you have to do is type CMD+Enter in the address bar:

cmd_shortcut_01
File Explorer, open at C:\adb

 

cmd_shortcut_02
Type CMD in the address bar and press ENTER.

 

cmd_shortcut_03
Command Prompt opens to the current folder

Thanks, Spotify!

One of the big draws of Spotify Premium is that the service allows you to download music for offline listening. So if you’re going somewhere where LTE or Wi-Fi might not be available (camping) or might be expensive or slow (most airports and flights), you can save tunes to your device and listen offline. Hell, even if LTE or Wi-Fi is available, you might want to download a song anyway: if you’re one of those people who plays a track on repeat, it’s better to download a song once over Wi-Fi than use your precious data to download the same bits over and over again.

Spotify Premium allows you to download music to (up to) 3 devices. Like most software with such limits, you can log in to your account and revoke permissions for a device… in case one of your devices is lost, stolen or broken and you order a replacement. But Spotify’s UI isn’t that helpful:

Spotify WTF

I have Spotify installed on an LG G Stylo (phone), Asus ZenPad (tablet) and Amazon Fire (tablet). But I can’t tell which device is which, because Spotify’s programmers can’t be bothered to add a few lines of code to their app.

Thanks, Spotify!

The Welcome Screen 24 Hour Clock

I once worked in an industry that used the 24-hour clock (“military time”) almost exclusively. While I hated it at first, I’ve grown to love its lack of ambiguity. There is no “7AM” or “7PM” in my world, just “07:00” and “19:00”. I’ve set all my electronic devices to display 24-hour time, and even bought an alarm clock specifically because it can display 24-hour time.

Which is why Windows 10’s Welcome Screen drove me insane. In Windows, most regional settings are handled on a per-user basis. So if my GF and I shared a computer, I could use the 24-hour clock on my account, but she could use the 12-hour clock on her account. But the thing is, when you boot up a Windows 10 computer, no user is logged in. By default (in the United States, anyway) Windows 10 displays the 12-hour clock. It’s hardly the end of the world: I only reboot my computer once a month for updates… but it just nagged at the OCD part of my personality to see “2:34PM” on the Welcome Screen instead of “14:34”.

Can you change that? Of course you can!

Open Control Panel and go to “Region”.

If you haven’t already, use the drop-down boxes to choose the 24-hour clock option under “Short Time:” and “Long Time:” (red arrows) and click “Apply”. Then (or if your computer already uses the 24-hour clock) click on the “Administrative” tab (blue arrow):

Welcome Screen 1
(click to embiggen)

Click the “Copy Settings” button:

Welcome Screen 2
(click to embiggen)

Lastly, check the box under “Welcome Screen and system accounts”. I also read a couple of posts saying to check the “New User Accounts” box, too. Since I’m the only one who uses this computer… why not?

Welcome Screen 3
(click to embiggen)

From here on out, the Welcome Screen should display the 24-hour clock. Hooray!