Fall Creator, a.k.a. Windows 10 v 1709

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
In May 2017, the WannaCry virus locked hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Windows computers, displaying a ransom demand payable in Bitcoin. Total damages were hundreds of millions of dollars. The government of North Korea seems the prime suspect of security experts, with some blaming US intelligence agencies’ negligence as a secondary cause.

In the autumn of 2017, Microsoft began distributing the “Fall Creator” Windows 10 update, also known as version 1709.

One day in December 2017, on our machine LILY, Windows Update invited me to install updates and shut down. We use 10-year-old LILY to watch Netflix and Amazon movies and Reuters.tv. I clicked the button. I went to bed. On restarting LILY, it ran 1709 normally. LILY continues to run normally.

On or about January 15, 2018, Windows update, running on 3-year-old ORVILLE, asked me did I want to install a new update "tonight" or "now". I use ORVILLE for writing and for big spreadsheets of analytical stuff. ORVILLE’s Nvidia GeForce GT 730 video card provides 4K HD signal to a Sharp TV via HDMI.

I chose to update "now", after which ORVILLE displayed patterns of colored lines even after many reboots. About 2 hours later, after swapping out the HDMI cable (unnecessarily), and installing new Nvidia drivers by using user interface on still-functioning regular HD channel, and rebooting a few times, ORVILLE worked fine in 4K HD.

Daniel Brockman, "Pinstripe" (Jan 2018, using Fall Creator)
On January 24th, as I buckled on my helmet for a bike ride, my heavenly girlfriend said, “Dan, I did the update, and now something’s wrong with my computer. I have two articles to write and a thesis to review and, oh yes, I’ve got to update my website. Will you fix it?”. She gave me a quick kiss, walked out the door, and vanished. I looked at the blue screen of her machine, 5-year-old TULIP. It showed 5 buttons, including one labeled “Power OFF”, which worked perfectly. When I restarted TULIP, it showed the blue screen with 5 buttons. I tried each button. One labeled “Troubleshooting” led to 3 more buttons. I went through the buttons systematically. Each eventually led to 3 buttons: “Roll back to Windows 10 on Volume 7”, “Roll back to Windows 10 on Volume 7” (just like the other one), and “Roll back to last version”. Each eventually led to the blue screen with 5 buttons. I thought of the 1962 Anthony Perkins movie of Kafka’s book “The Trial”. My old colleague, a systems manager and engineer with decades of experience advised me to buy a new machine.

I found two articles on https://answers.microsoft.com, one of Dec 24, 2017, and the other of Jan 6, 2018, that helped me make a flash drive for installing Windows 10 v 1709 cleanly, replacing the old Windows 10. The future of my data was in doubt, but I had backups and a feeling I could resurrect TULIP. The guys who sold me TULIP, Dell, offered to fix it for $129. I said I wanted to pay nothing. The supervisor told me it wasn’t possible, which merely means someone decided not to do it. Microsoft, offered to fix it for $499. I declined. I thought of the economic incentives for tacit or explicit collusion to spur customers to buy new machines and customer service. I thought of my economic incentives colliding with theirs. I thought of WannaCry.

Daniel Brockman, "Bridge Out" (Jan 2018, using Fall Creator)
I’ve no good estimate of the numbers of computers affected by 1709, but you can google “Windows 10 1709 Fall Creator trouble” or search your favorite social media to see many instances.

My darling returned home. “Did you fix it?” “No.” “I want a new computer.” She threatened to write a letter about ransomware to Bill Gates. “There’s one more thing I want to try. Then we’ll buy a new computer if you want.” “I need a new computer.” We put the matter aside for the night.

The next morning, I put the flash drive in the computer and booted. It came to the blue screen and offered me a new button for using the USB device. I clicked. It asked several baffling questions with yes/no answers. I tried each choice but the clean install, hoping I could still save the data. All took me back to the blue screen. Then I went for the clean install. That went well. I set up some users. I set some settings. It was much like a new machine.

I downloaded and installed the applications that no longer existed: Avast antivirus, Chrome browser. Searching for the Microsoft Office download, I discovered that, for a 1-year subscription, in July 2017, I had paid $99. I called customer service, getting a sparklingly helpful agent who set it up nicely. Then the Western Digital SmartWare and encryption lock for the backups. I restored critical directories from the backup disk, congratulating myself for my foresight. My princess returned home. We installed Quicken together. Everything seemed ok. She was glad we didn’t have to buy a new computer.

Daniel Brockman, "Mario Brothers" (Jan 2018, using Fall Creator)
I have two more computers:
12-year-old LILAC which Windows Update hasn’t yet invited to update to 1709. LILAC still runs the predecessor 1703. LILAC is shut off, unused, most of the time.
15-year-old HONEYBEE, which runs XP most reliably, automatically playing music via Winamp all day, plugged into an old boom box with great speakers.

My recommendations on updating to Windows 10 v 1709:

Block the 1709 (OS build 16299) update till Microsoft releases a later one.
If already broken down or not, prepare what you can of these:
Get a full backup.
Set a system restore point manually.
Make a flash drive for clean install. See http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-10/media-creation-tool-install .
Update all video and audio drivers.
Be aware you can’t predict how or if the 1709 update will fail for you.
Check your backups.
When ready, proceed with the update. If setting up a fleet of systems, then do the first 10 machines 1 at a time, 1 per day to gain experience. If the update fails, try rollbacks first. Use the flash drive after you have tried everything else. You rely on your backups. Good luck.

Daniel Brockman, "Rings of Saturn" (Jan 2018, using Fall Creator)
If two students in a dorm room release some software into the world that locks thousands of computers and displays a screen saying “Send us $129 and we will release your machine”, then we call them “criminals” or “agents of sinister foreign powers”. But if two large commercial organizations do it, then we want to think they meant well, but nobody’s perfect, and we call it “customer service”.

My thanks to my dear friends who critiqued prepublication drafts.


Daniel Brockman, “ORVILLE” series (Jan 2018, Use with attribution, Pinstripe_Fall-Creator_201801_IMG_1252.JPG, Bridge-Out_
Fall-Creator_201801_IMG_1254.JPG, Mario-Brothers_Fall-Creator_201801_IMG_1258.JPG, Rings-of-Saturn_Fall-Creator_201801_IMG_1262.JPG)

Sigismund Jacobi, “Portrait of Franz Kafka” (1906, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kafka1906.jpg)


Google search, “Windows 10 1709 Fall Creator trouble” (retrieved Jan 29, 2018, https://www.google.com/search?q=Windows+10+1709+Fall+Creator+trouble)

Franz Kafka, “The Trial” (1925, https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin=B003N2P42G&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_edrBAbZN7HJ53)

Microsoft, Support Pages (retrieved Jan 27-29, 2018):





Wikipedia, “WannaCry ransomware attack” (retrieved Jan 27, 2018,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WannaCry_ransomware_attack)


Investing Cash in January 2018

I know a fellow who had two homes. He sold one of them to raise some cash. He’s now looking for a better house for him and his wife to move into. When he finds it, he will buy it, and sell the other house. He says he’s investing the pile of cash in bonds. Indeed, short term bonds or cash is the place to put a few tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars if you expect you will want to make a down payment on a house with it during the next two or three years. You will miss some of the higher yields available in stocks, but if the stock market crashes, short term bonds will retain nearly all of their value or maybe even increase in value a little, and you will still have your down payment.

S&P 500 Jan 18, 2007 to Jan 18, 2018

If you are buying bonds, remember that as interest rates rise, the value of a bond (especially a long term bond) will go down. These phenomena resemble two sides of the same coin. They are literally inseparable. So, if you’re stashing your cash in bonds, buy short term bonds, like VTIP Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities ETF, with 2.5 years average duration.

VTIP Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities

But if you have a longer time horizon, you might seek a suitable investment in real estate, on the theory that it might not crash so much if the stock market crashes, and might even go up. Now, that’s not a recommendation exactly, but a hypothesis. If you take that view and base your thoughtful speculation on it, then you have some good choices.

I'm currently aware of two ETFs of good quality invested in REIT indexes of many REITs so that they more nearly approximate the wisdom of a real estate index than the brilliant ideas of 3 or 4 analysts running an actively managed fund that the market can easily outperform. These have a good combination of book value to price, low expense ratio, high & consistent rate of dividend growth.

VNQI Vanguard ex-US Real Estate

SCHH Schwab US Real Estate

Some brokerages might well have their own indexed fund of REITs, probably with the promise of commission-free trades for their own products. However, with the commission on a trade being $5 (at Fidelity and Schwab, for example) for even fairly large (non-institutional) trades, the value of "commission-free" is among the most trivial things. Indeed $5 is overwhelmed by the expense ratio and the dividends paid and the price movements in the market. So, "commission-free" shouldn't guide your choice of investment.

Individual stocks necessarily have a deeper potential downside than REIT ETFs. They also have a more spectacular potential upside. Some stocks I'm aware of that we can expect to move with the general value of real estate include the following three.

DLR Digital Realty Trust, REIT specialized in Data Centers.

DHI D. R. Horton, House builder.

HHC Howard Hughes Corp., Large-Property Development & Management

HHC is rather more speculative, in my opinion. While the company has made a profit in only the last two reported years, the level of profit has increased monotonically during each of the last 4 reported years, suggesting they have learned to manage making profits consistently and at increasing levels.

DLR and DHI survived the last market crash. HHC didn't exist at that time. The S&P 500 peaked on Oct 9, 2007, then declined to bottom on Mar 9, 2009. I find it interesting to look at the change in price between these dates afterward to Mar 9, 2010.  DLR lost 32% of value, and DHI lost 47% of value from market peak to bottom, so that both performed better than the median stock during the decline. In the recovery from bottom to a year later, DLR increased by 97%, slightly above the median of 81% for stocks, & DHI by 70%. Overall, from peak in 2007 to the 2010 anniversary of the bottom, DLR increased in price by 34%, and DHI decreased by 9%. During the last 10 years, DLR increased in price by 200%, and DHI by 290%, both above average for stocks, and both have increased in price in 8 of the last 10 years, rather more consistently than all but 3% of stocks.

Regarding the resilience during the crash of 2007-9 and aftermath, there are two stocks that performed well during this period which I regard as good long term investments.

EBIX Ebix, insurance exchange software, increased 15% from Oct 9, 2007 to Mar 9, 2009 & 154% from Mar 9, 2009 to Mar 9, 2010.

PCLN Priceline, travel services, decreased 14% from Oct 9, 2007 to Mar 9, 2009 & 204% from Mar 9, 2009 to Mar 9, 2010.

All that said, There's nothing too foolish about buying the S&P 500 and never selling it. Crash or no crash, just hold on to it. Warren Buffett recommended that specific strategy for his heirs and further specifically the Vanguard S&P 500 fund (VOO on NYSE).

VOO Vanguard S&P 500 fund.

See page 20 of his 2013 letter to shareholders 2013 letter to shareholders, or the short version in the news article from Mar 13, 2004 MarketWatch. The shares of Mr. Buffett's company Berkshire Hathaway sell for about $210 (BRK.B on NYSE). I regard BRK.B as a better long-term investment than 2/3 of stocks, provided you put just a small fraction of your life’s savings in it. In case of a crash, just hold on to it.

Disclosure: I own shares of SCHH, VNQI, VOO, EBIX, PCLN, and BRK.B.