Tuesday, July 20

Windows 7, Sleep mode, and the Blue Screen Of Death

For quite a while now, I've been having an occasional problem with my desktop computer. It's a big, fast, powerful rig from iBuyPower, the Gamer 930-I.

  • Core i7-860 processor
  • 8GB of RAM
  • ATI Radeon HD 5850 video card
  • Dual SATA hard drives running in AHCI mode. The boot drive is a 500GB Seagate and the second drive is a 1TB Western Digital
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Like most old-time Windows geeks, I know that when you have a second PHYSICAL hard drive in your computer, you should put your paging file (aka the "swap file") on that second drive. Run your operating system off the boot drive, and page memory to a file on the second drive. That's been the rule for as long as I can recall, and it's a good one.

(Quick break for the non-geeks reading this.) No matter how much memory your computer has, it will want a paging file. This is a file on the hard disk to which Windows writes "pages" of memory that are not being used. A memory page is just a fixed-length block of memory. Rather than move things around in memory one byte at a time, Windows does it in pages. The paging file is where Windows will move pages of memory that have not been accessed for a while, if it finds that it needs that space for a program that's currently running. If you have two physical drives, you should always put this paging file on the drive where Windows is NOT. This lets your computer load the various bits of Windows at the same time it's paging memory without causing the hard drive to "thrash" by moving its drive heads around furiously. (Okay, enough of that.)

I was experiencing two symptoms. Both symptoms would occur when the computer was attempting to wake up from sleep mode.

Symptom #1: The computer would start to wake up, then crash with a Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD). The error message would be something like "KERNEL_INPAGE_ERROR" or something equally incomprehensible.

Symptom #2: The computer would wake all the way up, but suddenly be unable to access any file or folder on the second hard drive. Opening the Computer folder would show that the second hard drive was missing.

In both cases, a reboot fixed the problem. So what was it?

It turns out that when a computer is returning from sleep mode, it would expect that all hard drives would be ready in 10 seconds or less. It also turns out that sometimes, big hard drives like my 1TB second drive take longer than 10 seconds to be ready. Hence the BSODs and the disappearing act.

The fix is simple. You need an updated MSACHI.SYS file, which you can download as part of this hotfix: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/977178/en-us.

Please note there are three versions of the hotfix, one for x86 (that's the 32-bit Windows), x64 (64-bit Windows, duh!), and IA-64 (for the both of you running Itanium processors in your computer). Also note that there appears to be a "Version 2" of the hotfix. So when you go to download the file, take the one for your operating system with the most recent date on it. I noticed when I did that, there was a "V2" as part of the file name in the hotfix file after extracting it from the compressed file that you download.

After installing this, you should not see any more problems with your computer waking up from sleep mode. If this helps you, leave me a comment and let me know that it was worthwhile posting it.

Friday, July 9

And as quickly as it came -- it goes!

In this post, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime said they are dropping the plan to add Real ID (displaying your real first and last name) to forum postings. In my prior blog post on this (see below), I suggested that Blizzard did not have to use real first and last names, if in fact all they wanted to do was make people accountable for their forum posts. Create a "Forum ID," link it to your Battle.net login so you can only have one, and there you are. Still anonymous, yet accountable.

In the current post, Morhaime says you will post with your "character name + character code." I don't have the details on that yet, but it would appear that they are doing exactly what I suggested they should. Not because I suggested it, of course, I don't for a moment think they read my blog. I'm not even sure that YOU are reading my blog, imaginary friend, but still I press on in hopes that you do.

Now, two NEW questions beg to be asked.

1. Did Blizzard do this as a PR stunt? The outpouring of love to Blizzard for "listening to us" posted by the same people who yesterday were calling for heads on the chopping block suggests that we might have been played a bit, here. Personally, I doubt it, because of my next question, but it's still a valid topic for discussion.

2. Will the consequences be long lasting? People did quit the game over this. In our guild of 39 accounts (listing the characters is meaningless, since we all have more than one), 2 people have canceled their accounts. That's only 10%, but if it is representative of players worldwide, then 1.5 million accounts were canceled. Multiply that by $15 a month, and we're talking about a yacht's worth of income here. That's enough to make even the behemoth Blizzard Entertainment flinch.

And flinch they did. Wisely so, I believe. Now we will wait and see whether the canceled come back, and whether those who were angered will ever get over it.

Wednesday, July 7

Blizzard takes careful aim...at your privacy, and their foot!

Is this the WoW killer? That's the provocative question asked by the popular MMO blog Massively.com in this recent post. Like everyone else, I have my opinions, but let's take a look at the facts, first.

1. Blizzard and Facebook are pals. Don't believe me? Here, read the press release. The plan, as I understand it, is to permit you to share your Battle.net identity through your Facebook friends list, AND to be able to import your Facebook friends into Battle.net. The net effect from either side is the same. Any of your Facebook friends who are also playing a Blizzard game will be revealed to you. You will be able to see what game and/or server they are playing on, and what their character's name is.

2. Blizzard added Real ID to Battle.net. Real ID is a system in which you send a friend request to someone in game using their email address (that's how you log in to Battle.net) instead of a character name. If they accept, you will then see them on your friends list under their real name, with the name of the character they are playing and what server they are playing on at the moment listed off to the right hand side. You have the ability to send a message to your friends even if they are logged in to a different server, or a different game altogether.

3. Blizzard announced that Real ID was coming to the official forums. Although it's not live yet, here's how it will work. To post a message on the official forums, you will need to sign in using your Battle.net account. Of course, you have to do that NOW. What will be different is that instead of selecting a character of yours to post with, your post will go up showing your real name, first and last. You can, if you wish, link a character name to the post, but you cannot post without giving readers your first and last name.

So those are the facts. The first question we must ask is why? Why is Blizzard doing this?

One reason is that Blizzard sees how much cash a game like Farmville generates through Facebook, and although none of the Blizzard games are casual social games like Farmville, Blizzard does not want to miss a money making opportunity. Don't believe for one minute that the sole reason Blizzard does something like this is to promote social networking among gamers. That might be the company line, but the TRUTH is that they are in business to make money. And if this helps them make more money, they will do it.

Another reason is that the official forums are, quite frankly, a cesspool. People create low level characters on a server other than the one they play on normally, and use that identity to post the sort of messages that you wouldn't take home to meet your mother. This has led to one of those phrases you only see on the Internet: "Post on your main or get out." Meaning, don't hide behind your anonymous character, post from your level 80 main character, the one we all will see in game, the one you have time invested in, and the one whose reputation you theoretically don't want to tarnish.

The flip side of that is sometimes you get more honesty when the threat of reprisal is removed. I have seen, on many occasions, messages posted by one of these anonymous level one characters that are brutally honest, saying the things that need to be said but aren't because of potential conflict with your friends. In a perfect world, you should be able to say anything to anyone, as long as it's the truth. But you and I both know that we don't live in a perfect world. People hold grudges, and the threat of that will stifle honesty at times.

Blizzard wants to change this culture. Forcing you to post under a single identity that is forever branded with your real name will pierce the veil of anonymity and bring accountability to the forums in the blink of an eye. There are some who applaud this and declare that it was long overdue. I am not among them.

The Internet is full of smart people. Even if I'm not one, and you're not one, they ARE out there. Time and time again, clever searchers have uncovered home addresses, telephone numbers, the names and addresses of relatives and employers, all from someone leaving their real name. It can be done and it IS done. If you have a disagreement with someone in game, it is not at all outside the realm of probability that this fight could spill over into real life. With everyone having access to the real first and last names of people who post on the forums, connecting the dots to enable such cyber-stalking is child's play.

Here is my opinion: This is a terrible idea and Blizzard does not have to do it simply to make people accountable for their forum rants. It would be a simple matter for Blizzard to link a "Forum ID" to your Battle.net account. All your forum posts would be made under that single identity, thus ensuring that you will not be able to hide when you insult someone, but without exposing people's real first and last name.

Whether this is a violation of privacy or not, legally, is murky. When you buy software or sign up for online accounts, you nearly always are presented with a Terms of Service that you must assent to in order to go forward. I don't read them, you don't read them, and they probably say we pledge our fortunes and our firstborn child along with our immortal soul, for the company to do with as it pleases. I'm quite certain that Blizzard has covered themselves for this somewhere, in one of the many Terms of Service screens we've seen and agreed to.

So I think Blizzard can do it. The question of whether they will do it still remains to be answered. My guess is that the backlash is so intense that Blizzard will back down and re-think this. But I wouldn't consider myself surprised if they pressed forward, either. Blizzard Entertainment, like my favorite fruity computer company, believes that they are Incredibly Smart and thus they know what's better for you than you do.

Oh, one final note. If you choose to exchange Real ID friend requests with someone, you should know that you can then see the Real IDs for all the OTHER people with whom your friend has done the same thing. And vice versa. Any Real ID friend of yours can see the real names of anyone else you've friended in this manner. You can't see any status on these friends of friends unless they send, and you accept, a Real ID friend request. But just having your real first and last name exposed in an online game makes my skin crawl.