Vista update: CSCService kills puppies

Following up on my earlier post about built in system services sucking CPU: when we last left the story I had disabled the Offline Files service, better known as CSCService, as a likely candidate for my regular out-of-resources situation. Four days later, it looks clear that CSCService is the culprit. I have had no resource errors, no forced reboots, or anything like the pain I was experiencing.

This isn’t to say that life is roses now. Vista is still slow and seems to get slower (to the point of being almost unresponsive) under relatively light loads. But it recovers now and it never did.

So the next question is, what caused this process’s CPU and memory consumption to render the system unavailable, and why did it go haywire in the first place? I don’t know the answer to the second question, but I can only suspect that there’s something in my list of offline files that caused the service to start killing my system. I’ll try purging the list and reactivating the feature to see what happens.

But the other question: I’m pretty sure that the unresponsiveness has to do with the fact that CSCService was running in the same process space with half a dozen other services, including the window manager. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, as Juliette Lewis said in Natural Born Killers. I think I read something about changing the affinity setting for svchost processes in the registry to prevent this behavior; that might be the other thing worth trying to get the feature working again.

For now, I’m just happy that the perp has been fingered.

It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights…

…It’s time to wait for the Cavaliers to blow it in the fourth quarter, on NCAA football (tomorrow) night.

Speaking of the Hoos, a UVA undergrad on Facebook told me that the South Lawn project (building new academic buildings over Jefferson Park Avenue and into the parking lot across from New Cabell) has claimed the life of the Glee Club House Annex, also known as Acme Acres (former phone number: AXE-ARCH). Moment of silence. I crashed on scary futons in that house on more than one occasion and designed a fair amount of Glee Club paraphernelia on Tyler’s computer there. I was also exposed to the horrors of Paul Stancil on a sugar high, and Jack Van Impe telling us that the Bible says that the Antichrist is coming from Spain, so watch who the UN puts on the Security Council. Plus “This rotund marmot is not amused.” Sigh.

Driving friendships between creators and critics

So: the Comics Curmudgeon rips regularly on Sunday newspaper feature Slylock Fox (“Kids! Find the 6 differences between these two panels! Help Slylock figure out how Cassandra Cat murdered those girl scouts and turned them into cookies!”)—probably incidentally driving up readership of the strip. Slylock Fox creator Bob Weber returns the favor with a custom-designed t-shirt of Cassandra Cat playing Ursula Andress, to be sold through the Comics Curmudgeon. Very cool.

RIP to the Beer Hunter

RIP Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, whose writing taught me everything about beer that I never learned at college. The front page of All About Beer has a tribute and his final column, ironically about surviving a near-death experience earlier this year (sorry, no permalink). They also have a guestbook, which currently features signatures and stories (some quite lengthy) from various beer luminaries including homebrew club members, Finnish brewers, and Sam Calaglione of Dogfish Head.

Catching up

A ton of links that have stayed open in various browser windows for a few days as I dug out of work in the next few posts:

Let’s start with an oldie but goodie: Lawyer and administration critic Daniel J. Solove investigates the Playmobil Airport Security Screening playset, which is now even further behind because it lacks a 50-gallon trash can for mixing passengers’ potentially hazardous bottles of liquid together.

iET Solutions in the Gartner Magic Quadrant

Last Friday, Gartner released the Magic Quadrant for the IT Services Desk, a research report that identifies the top players in the enterprise market for IT service desk software. iET Solutions made the Magic Quadrant for the first time this year. The report costs $1,995 from Gartner, but you will be able to access the report from the iET Solutions corporate site this week.

Gartner describes IT Service Desk as a standalone market; our experience, as they say in the document, is that many customers are looking for an integrated solution that treats IT service delivery as a full integrated lifecycle, from incident through change and release management. We have always believed that an integrated approach was important in this context and our addition to the quadrant helps to validate that.

The points Gartner makes about innovation in core service desk functionality are well taken, I think. The service desk market is crowded and in danger of commoditization, but at the same time many organizations fail to achieve the benefits from their service desk implementations because they are implemented with weak processes or as standalone functions that have no connection to the management of the infrastructure. This is why our company’s focus on IT Service Management best practices, particularly ITIL, is so important, and paradoxically why so many vendors have left the core service desk functionality alone to focus on other areas of ITIL. I think that now that there are a number of players who have built out a strong vision in the core ITIL v.2 areas (Incident, Problem, Change, Configuration, Release, Service Level, Availability), the market will split. Some players will continue to build out support for the new ITIL v.3 processes; others will retrench and seek to differentiate themselves in core functionality like incident and problem management.

It is amazing that after all this time there is still activity in something as basic as “helpdesk” software. And you know what? It’s a lot of fun, too.

A possible solution to Vista issues

My previous exploration of Vista service packs and hotfixes led nowhere close to fixing my Vista issues. I was a little dejected for a while. But now I may have something to go on.

Excel 2007 just locked up on me today, as did Outlook. Recognizing the symptoms of an incipient total freeze-up of the system, I went in to take a look at the Task Manager. This once, I caught the conditions early enough that I was able to launch it and do some exploration. I quickly found a svchost process that was consuming a fair percentage of CPU (around 33%), and more troubling was also consuming memory—as I watched and investigated, it climbed from around 33 MB to over 60 MB.

I ran tasklist to see what that svchost process was running (svchost can run multiple services), but couldn’t figure out which process was the problem one. I found that if I right clicked on the process on the Process tab and chose Services, it would take me to the first service in the list that was running in that process. I then sorted the list of services by PID, opened a command prompt, and started net stopping the services owned by that PID systematically.

I found a few surprises; for instance, if you stop the uxsms process, which is responsible for the window manager, your screen goes totally black—but still accepts keyboard input. I was able to type in net start uxsms and bring back up the window manager. But none of the services I stopped fixed the climbing memory consumption, until I hit pcasvc, which is a service that is provided for compatibility with older versions of Windows. When I stopped the service, the memory usage stopped climbing and fell back, and I was able to do a clean reboot—though my Excel session never recovered.

A search indicates that other users have trouble with the same svchost process, though they indicate other culprits (ReadyBoost is one that gets mentioned). So there may be something going on here.

Update: Further testing indicates another possible culprit, which I disabled at the same time: CSCService, which supports Offline Files. It now appears pcasvc is OK. We’ll see if disabling CSCService does the trick.

Review: Magnet, The Simple Life

magnet the simple life

When an artist is so moved by the release of his new album to break a world record for highest-altitude concert, it’s hard to avoid puns about other high things: spirits, melodies, hopes. Norwegian artist Magnet raised just such allusions in a March solo acoustic performance of his new album in a plane between Oslo and Reykjavik (in-flight altitude: 40,000 feet; check the video). Now the album is being released stateside, and the question is: will the high spirits of the album live up to the high hopes for its release? Will its world record for altitude take the album to similar heights on the charts?

Before we tackle those questions—what is it about Scandinavian indie rock artists? First Peter Bjorn and John come out of nowhere (er, Sweden) with “Young Folks,” with a whistle hook to die for (and which is already being sampled by Kanye West). Now Magnet, aka Even Johansen, brings a brilliant collection of pop songwriting in his third full-length, The Simple Life, along with pop production that the Shins would give eyeteeth for. What is it about the Scandinavians? Something in the Northern Lights, perhaps.

So, about the music. Some things this release is not:

  1. A continuation of the dark, earnest vibe of The Tourniquet
  2. Anything to do with Paris or Nicole

Instead, The Simple Life is a collection of upbeat, clever pop, propelled by killer horn and string riffs and buoyed by Johansen’s high, aching vocals. Where The Tourniquet’s “Hold On” registers as an urgent, synth-thick plea, many of the songs on The Simple Life are joyous little ditties, including the handclaps of “The Gospel Song” and the bouncy drumline of “Lonely No More.” Throughout, unusual instrument choices pop out of the texture: a banjo here, a treble harmonica there, poking through the horn sections and pianos.

In fact (again apropos given Magnet’s world record), the one adjective that comes to mind over and over again on relistening to the album is buoyant. That is not to say, however, naïve. The song craftsmanship is tight throughout, with “You Got Me”’s brilliant fingerpicking and horns offset with the string quartet and oboe of “Count.” Buoyant goes a little overboard in the cover of Bob Marley’s “She’s Gone,” including whistle chorus and woodblock percussion. It’s like a meringue, so airy that it threatens to dissolve into nothing at every turn. It holds together somehow, but I sincerely hope a full Magnet/Marley tribute album isn’t in the works.

Is this going to be the album that sends Magnet up the charts, to the toppermost of the poppermost? Unlikely. For all the airiness, there is a depth of sadness and empathy in the lyrics that grounds the album in an un-poplike sensibility. So it is that a wine bottle solo in “Lucid” takes on emotional resonance that belie the rest of the album’s grin. And this is the ultimate joy of The Simple Life: it bears close examination and re-examination and brings new pleasures in each new light, all while still remaining a hummable pop masterpiece. So, probably no pop stardom for Magnet. But maybe the beginning of a beautiful friendship for the lucky listeners who wind their way into this album.


I had one of those dreams last night, the kind I almost never have: I dreamed about an ex-girlfriend. No, not that kind of dream. I don’t, as a rule, dream of ex-girlfriends; as Lou Reed once sang, “when things/end for me, they end.” But last night I did. In this dream, I was at my office, and headed for the door when she came in. We haven’t seen each other for 13 years, so there was a brief greeting and a comparison of notes.

In the dream, she told me about driving up to Boston from Virginia and about her mansion in DC that had to be subdivided to sell. I told her about work, about the things that I do, about life when I was at Microsoft.

In the end, I told her it had been nice to see her and she agreed. Then she said, “Let me know when you’re hiring.” I was puzzled—software isn’t her field. She continued, “You are so passionate about your work, you care so much, that I can’t help but want to work here.”

Then I woke up.

But honestly, the dream couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s been very mixed at work, a lot of challenges and trials, but also some exciting things just around the corner. And sometimes in the thick of things it’s hard to remember that I’m doing what I love to do. I think I needed to hear an affirmation, and dream ex provided it. Thanks, dream ex!

Databound menu item names in XAML

I keep telling the engineers who work with me that once we ship, we’ll have to write some articles with all the tips and tricks that we’ve discovered in Microsoft’s .NET Framework v.3, specifically WPF and WCF. The technology is easy enough to use, as I’ve written before, that even a product manager can do it.

My engineers challenged me to find a way to dynamically bind the name of our application into the menus, so that we would not have to update the menu names separately when we changed the code name of the product to the final released name. After some playing around, it turns out to be pretty trivial. As in my About Box example, you have to reference the AssemblyInfo class, which has the name of the assembly as a property that can be databound. Then it’s just a question of databinding the name to the menu.

With the way that menus are created by default in Expression Blend, this can look tricky because the text that is shown is in a parameter of the MenuItem tag called Header. What you have to remember is that WPF allows you to embed other controls into various contexts, but that you generally have to be explicit about how you’re doing it. So your code might have started out looking like this:

<MenuItem Header="_Help">
  <MenuItem Header="_About MyProgramName"/>
  <MenuItem Header="MyProgramName Help"/>

After you break out the header element and embed the databound names, it ends up looking like this:

<MenuItem Header="_Help">
          <TextBlock Text="About " />
          <TextBlock Text="{Binding Path=Info.Title, Mode=Default, Source={StaticResource ApplicationBaseDS}}" />
           <TextBlock Text="{Binding Path=Info.Title, Mode=Default, Source={StaticResource ApplicationBaseDS}}" />
           <TextBlock Text=" Help" />

It’s probably obvious enough to an experienced WPF programmer, but I found no ready references for making this happen so I figured I’d give it back to Google.


recording engineer at recording of Songs of the University of Virginia, 1947, courtesy Special Collections, UVA

I got a nice score for a collection of Glee Club memorabilia today: I purchased an LP on eBay called Songs of the University of Virginia that was recorded in the late 1940s with the Virginia Glee Club and a University band. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the record, as much to clear up the discography as anything else. While the eBay listing gave the record number as RPC 81952 (a listing that doesn’t turn up any other Google hits), an exhibit at the UVA Library cites the record as an RCA Victor recording.

There is a surprising amount of documentary evidence about this session, including the picture to the right (from the University of Virginia Visual History Collection in the Special Collections department of the UVA Library). From the notes on these photos, we know that the disc was recorded under the direction of Donald MacInnis and Stephen Tuttle, and that it was to be released on RCA Victor in 1947. But even here there is some confusion. Another 1947 photo shows the Glee Club with Harry Pratt, who was apparently also a director of the group. So the chronology of directors is a little confused.

This is why I have currently only completed the history of the group through 1915. The documentary evidence for subsequent years, up until the time when the group split off from the Music Department in 1989, is scanty—at least online. I know other records (concert programs and posters, University newspapers) will help to fill in the blanks; since I only get to Charlottesville every four years or so, I may have to get some help to piece the rest of the evidence together.


I managed to make it through a family reunion this weekend. The family part was fine; the traffic and weather almost did us in. It managed to pour the whole day of the August Brackbill picnic for the first time in a number of years, stranding us on the porch of the house. This after Lisa and I drove almost three hours from her parents’ (where we left the dogs for the day), then drove back through the same muck and mess. At least it was good to catch up with some family, particularly my grandfather.

Today was another day back at the office. I think things will start to get a little more interesting in September and October, when I will do a user conference, a product launch, a trade show, a partner conference, and at least one trip to Europe in about a five week period. Oh—plus, if I can make the travel work out, I will be making my Carnegie Hall debut with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. More to come…

On the brink of Inbox Zero

mailboxes out of control

I have been interested for a while in the Getting Things Done productivity methodology, but one thing that has stood in my way is my email. I have email messages that date back to 1993 in my archives. When I was in grad school I had separate mail folders for every class I was in, plus every club, plus … And as you can see from the screen cap on the right, it hasn’t gotten any better.

Enter Merlin Mann, whose 43 Folders site ran some recommendations this week on how to live with just a single mail archive folder. The one that I’m particularly keen to try is Mail Tags. I don’t think I could live in iPhoto without tagging; wish I could do the same in iTunes; and have been aching to try it out in Mail since forever. So we’ll give it a shot and see how we do.