Altium Designer & Windows 10

If you are a regular user of an older version of Altium Designer (AD), you may find some “interesting” problems when running on the latest version of Windows 10.

When recently creating a smart PDF I noted that the reference zone text within the page boundaries of a schematic had suddenly disappeared. Thinking this was odd, I also tried printing to a PDF no dice, worse yet a print preview gave the same result. So where did they go ?

There was little useful help from the Altium website about such issues, other than to say it could be a video card or print driver problem and to delete all drivers and add them back one at a time until you work out which one is causing the problem. Sigh, so not helpful.

Instead it turns out in older versions of AD may use the 32-bit GDI+ interface to render text, this was always going to end badly with the latest 64-bit edition of Windows 10.

Thankfully one can disable this feature within AD by clearing the “Render text using GDI+” checkbox in the following Menu;

DXP > Preferences > Schematic > General > Options

After unchecking, the reference zone characters reappeared in both my SmartPDF and printed copies, woo were back ! I’m filing this here so I can remember what to do the next time I have this problems, I hope that others may find this useful.

pfBlockerNG + GeoIP and the unintended consequences

For anyone using pfBlockerNG with GeoIP enabled there are a couple of hidden gotchas if you like Streaming Services !

During this COVID-19 crisis I was able to work from home remotely. During this time I noticed that every hour at 1 minute past the hour that various streaming services would loose connectivity for approximately 60 seconds. Apart from being very annoying and embarrassing, my co-workers began to set their clocks in meetings each time I dropped out.

So after ruling out the usual DHCP issues on my WAN, ISP issues, low level hardware issues etc I then remembered some weeks before this COVID-19 malarkey installing pfBlockerNG using instructions from one of my favourite YouTube channels Lawrence Systems (click). There are no such things as co-incidences.

So investigating various options and double checking configurations I noted this unassuming check box at the bottom of the pfBlockerNG IP configuration page;

So thinking about this a little, what it means is every hour on the hour this will force any current IP states in the firewall found to be within a blocked range to be cleared. This includes established states. It was about then the penny dropped, what if the streaming services I was currently using were in a GeoIP blocked group, every hour on the hour any established connection would close, then be forced to renegotiate a connection. Sigh. So this is how I had configured my GeoIP settings;

What you can’t see here is within Oceania I’d unblocked my own country “Australia” from these rules. What made me twig to this being the problem is some of the streaming services I use were not being interrupted, upon a little digging all of these used a CDN (mainly Cloudflare) and were coming from IP ranges that were not being blocked. Where as services like Foxtel Go, Microsoft Teams and even ssh connections to my virtual server in Japan were dropping with frightening regularity.

To stop this from happening all I needed to do was not enable the kill states and away it went again. I could have also taken a longer route and identified IP ranges for stream services I wanted to allow, and may investigate this further. YMMV.

The Windows 10 Conundrum

One of my son’s laptops recently suffered a hard drive failure. He’d been using his “roadkill” laptop for a year or so that came pre-installed with Windows 10. Until now I’ve avoided upgrading any of my machines past Windows 7 (why fix what isn’t broken) and I personally prefer Linux on my laptops for reasons.

The roadkill laptop I’d given my eldest son was a HP business machine so it wasn’t hard to slip a new WD Green SSD drive and give it a small boost in performance at the same time.

Reinstalling Window 10 was also rather simple, simply requiring creation of a USB media stick and following the bouncing ball with the license codes I had on paper.

So far so good.

However upon booting the machine I was horrified with the push to sign up for a Microsoft account to “simplify your user experience”. Ummm childs laptop, not a good idea to suck on the cool-aide and allow tracking of habits at a young age, there stills needs to be some privacy. So with the help of Google we managed to create a local account (not intuitive), which does not require internet access to login.

So now we have an account on the local machine I could see what the new UI looks like. Once again I wasn’t impressed with the standard apps installed, the bloat and blatant adverting gumph plastered on every screen. There was content waiting and ready to download as soon as you clicked on an icon, installed games and a host of stuff I wouldn’t let corporate users access too. So off they came too.

I’m going to be forever thankful to the writers at HowToGeek for there series of articles on how to disable the advertising and things like Cortana (also not what I want on my childs laptop). Below are the two articles I found most useful;

One day the likes of Lego may learn that Linux exists and the one App that forces me to use Windows 10 on his laptop will allow him to move to Linux on his laptop, fingers crossed.

I am not looking forward to when I must move my last Windows 7 machine to this new monster. At least now I’ve had some experience disabling the features that I personally don’t like.