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Issue #569: June 17-23, 2018

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Q: I have a problem that is hindering lots of things on my PC. I have a Toshiba laptop running Windows 7. There is the usual circle running on the screen most of the time showing something is busy. We have run Windows Task Manager & Malware Bytes to try to find something running, with nothing showing up. Also any printing of pictures looks like a negative instead of the picture I wish to print.

– Teresa S.
Odessa, Texas

A: First of all, Teresa, I don’t think the two issues you mentioned are related. The printer issue sounds like a misconfigured print setting, or perhaps some sort of a print feature that’s accidentally turned on. Some software offers a “Print Preview” feature, which shows an on-screen depiction of what will be sent to the printer. Try that out, and see if the preview looks like a negative also, then look for a setting that’s causing it. Adobe Acrobat, for example, features a “Negative” checkbox in the Advanced Print Setup dialog box that does exactly what you described. Look for a similar control in whatever software you’re using to print pictures. If the preview looks normal, but the printer outputs a negative image, that sounds like an actual problem. In that case, you should verify that you’re using the correct driver for your printer make and model, and that you have the latest version installed, which is a good idea in any case. When all else fails (including writing to that Geek-guy in the paper for help) contact the printer manufacturer’s customer service department for assistance.

So, on to your main problem. That “usual circle running on the screen” is what’s called the Wait Cursor. Speaking as a software engineer who has specialized in window-based programming for nearly 30 years, let me declare my contempt right now for software that uses the mouse cursor in this manner. By its very nature, the mouse is an input device. Its purpose is to point to things on the screen, and I believe that should be the extent of its tasks. The line becomes blurred when the cursor is used to indicate status (such as “wait”). This input device suddenly becomes an output device, but an utterly unreliable one. First of all, the mouse cursor is not in a fixed location on the screen, so you have to locate it and be looking right at it to see the change in status. Second, pretty much every program has the ability to change the cursor, including Windows itself. How exactly is one supposed to interpret a change in the mouse pointer? Some software turns it to “wait” when you don’t really need to wait – you could be doing something else. Even worse is poorly-written software that seemingly forgets to turn the wait indication back off when the mystery condition that triggered it is done. At that point it’s like being behind someone on the freeway whose turn signal is stuck on. I could go on and on, but it’s all these reasons and plenty more that cause problems like yours, and lead to my disdain of program-driven cursor changes.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to query the system to ask it why the Wait Cursor is being displayed. That puts you into diagnostic tech mode, trying to figure out which of the dozens of processes that are running are the cause. To that end, I can give you some general guidelines of what to look for, but since there are no hard-and-fast rules of when the Wait Cursor displays, you’ll have to do a lot of guessing and searching.

First and foremost, you should perform a good deep malware scan to see if this problem isn’t being caused by malicious software. Then begin to look at the system’s legitimate processes. In general, a program displays the Wait Cursor when it is about to begin a task that blocks the availability of a system resource from other programs. For instance, trying to access a network drive, or sending data to the printer. Other programs display the Wait Cursor only inside their own windows when they are performing an operation that is going to take some time. For example, opening a large file, doing a search on a large document, and so on. In these cases, the cursor should appear normal outside of the program in question, and the computer should be available for other tasks while you wait for the blocking one to complete.

There are some procedures that you can perform to try and identify which software is triggering the Wait Cursor. It’s a somewhat tedious, manual process, and is a little too complex for me to try and describe here. So instead, I’m going to refer you out to TinyURL.com/IGTM-0569. This was only one of many, many pages I found online that have ideas for tracking down problems like yours. Short of knowing which software is causing the problem, I’m afraid that’s the best you’re going to do. Good luck!

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