Assorted computer advice and diagnostic tools.

To start with, if you’re looking to get a laptop and looking at Acer, you might want to be wary. Their support is decent and fast, but if you’re anything like me, you use your PC a LOT and any time not having it around is quite the inconvenience. Over the course of the past few months, I’ve been learning more than I would have normally liked to as a result of my troubles, spending a fair amount of time scouring the Internet for some of the software tools I’ve been using.

That honestly shouldn’t have been the case, if you ask me. I’m no expert, but my experience so far has taught me several things, these first few parts being the most basic:

  1. If you’re having any issues, try the easiest solution first. Just reboot your computer.
  2. Didn’t solve it? Things can get far more complex here, but your next best bet could be to go to your PC manufacturer’s (or component manufacturer’s) site, find their support page, then look up your particular model, and look for drivers. Which driver you’ll need will typically depend on what you’re having trouble with, but it’s generally good to have up to date drivers all around.
  3. At the end of your rope here? Drivers not fixing things? Still have your PC under warranty? Try working with the tech support of the manufacturer. This could be awful, so if you really don’t want to, and you can still return it, well, that might be the better option.
  4. Out of your warranty and return period? Well, that’s probably why you’re here in the first place, but my advice is to Google even more specifically what your problem is. Think of how best to describe it, too. Otherwise, you’ll probably get many misleading results.

To make things way easier, here’s a list of links to some of the more popular PC manufacturers’ tech support pages:

Acer Tech Support.

Asus Tech Support.

Dell Tech Support.

HP Tech Support.

Lenovo Tech Support.

Samsung Tech Support.

Sony Tech Support.

Toshiba Tech Support.

In case your problems aren’t exactly rooted in hardware issues or driver issues, you may want to try using the most obvious support pages of all:

Apple General Support.

Microsoft General Support.

Also, it should be noted that sometimes the drivers on support pages aren’t always up to date, so if you’re a gamer and work with dedicated graphics cards, you’re better off going with those manufacturers’ support pages:

AMD/ATI Support.

Nvidia Support.

That’s the basic route if you’re not terribly tech savvy. If you’re more tech savvy, there’s a variety of things you can try.

Disclaimer: If you’re a less tech savvy user, I do not advise using much, if any, of the software below unless you take the time to read the instructions. Some of this software could potentially cause further problems for you if you’re not careful with its usage. You have been warned.

Chances are you’ve already gone through most of what I’ve described above, but there are still some pieces of diagnostic software that may help you out:

General tools:

There’s CPU-Z and HWMonitor on the CPUID website that provide some detailed info on your computer’s various components. Voltages, fan speeds, temperatures, and so on.

Fan/Temp-related tools:

If you only want more specific information related to your processor fans or temperatures, there’s also SpeedFan and RealTemp. I’ve used RealTemp a lot to try and find if my laptop’s issues were heat related, and I cannot praise it enough. You can tell it to play a sound when your internals are getting too hot, to log the temperature changes for every second or in intervals of seconds in Excel files (or Calc files if you’re a LibreOffice user), and tweak it in a few other ways. Very great tool.

Intel processor torture testing:

Not sure what it might be, or maybe want to see how your processor runs under high stress? Prime95 is what you’re after. Google it and you’ll find it’s a tool heavily used by overclockers, but it can also help pinpoint problems with unmodified processors. Don’t follow the instructions beyond the most basic on the site (i.e. which version to download), instead download it, start it up (it won’t do anything immediate, don’t worry), select Just Stress Testing, then use the small FFTs test. If you know what you’re doing, feel free to use the other options, but do be careful, as from what I’ve heard this software really can legitimately harm your components if there’s a problem or you’re not careful.

I can certainly attest to it raising the internal temperatures significantly.

RAM testing tools:

If you’re concerned your RAM may be giving you troubles, then the best tool I’ve found to use has to be Memtest86+. The only downside is that you need to burn it to a disc, then boot from it to run the software. However, that’s a minor inconvenience in comparison to working with malfunctioning hardware. (This is if after you’ve tried reseating the RAM and it’s still causing issues, mind you.)

Hard drive recovery tools:

While I’ve fortunately not yet had to use these tools, I’ve recently dug up some hard drive recovery tools, in case you come to that worst of circumstances. The first one that I’ve found that I’ve seen a good amount of praise for is a program called TestDisk. From what I’ve read, it’s supposedly rather effective too, but as with all of this software, I highly advise reading the instructions and guides.  Alongside this, there’s EaseUS Partition Master, which while holding a host of tools, also allows users to hopefully retrieve their hard drive contents.

On this note, if you’re working with external hard drives, and it’s not being detected whatsoever, some basic suggestions are: try it with a different power cord, if available and it uses one, and if another cord isn’t available, blowing into the power cord port on the external hard drive itself. It sounds crazy, but I had it work. (After also blowing into the power cord tip itself that goes into the external hard drive.) If working with older hardware in general, remember that you may be working with a faster USB setup (e.g. USB 2.0 or 3.0) and it may not be supported.

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Well, that’s about all I’ve found in my research as I’ve tried to solve my own problems. I hope this comes to someone else’s aid and reduces the time they have to dig about. =D

 

 

On piracy…

Every discussion is influenced by the words used, and their understood meanings. This comes to matter significantly when such discussions are concerning legislation and thus what is permitted. Especially so in the case of the Internet, which is a largely unregulated network, and unfortunately, frequently misunderstood mode of communication and content distribution. It is this misunderstanding then, of how it may be used, that permits such words as “piracy” to replace more accurate terms or phrases such as “file-sharing” and directs the conversation around the Internet towards heavier regulation and restriction of how people communicate and exchange content over the Internet, instead of towards methods of adaptation. As such, it must be explored how and for what reasons this subtle usage of terminology affects and influences the course of interaction with the Internet, and why it is vital that terms are used that accurately convey the actions and behaviors taking place through the vast medium of communication and distribution that is the Internet.

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A Great New Year.

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Yes, undoubtedly so, but that’s not very relevant since this hasn’t gained much attention from anyone, including myself, clearly. Well, I’m not about to say I’m going to work on that, as I’m still deciding what I want this to be, exactly. However I did decide that I’d write a post here, letting anyone that’s interested know I’m still alive and that this blog has been, at the very least, on the edge of my attention. With that, I thought I’d bother to mention a few things here, while this does have my attention…

Twitter:

It’s not my favorite site ever, by far, but I’ve found a way to make use of its distinguishing feature, that of its short tweet format. For quick media and news consumption the site by far has the best setup I’ve found. While some may argue that that’s not true, that it just clutters up in your feed, they clearly haven’t spent much time interacting with the interface. Organizing your followed news sites into lists and using those to manage your information consumption is an excellent means of handling it. It could certainly use some work, like taking a lesson from Google+’s volume control to determine the amount of info received from each followed user, or from each list of followed users, but for now, it’s decently functional for quick information consumption.

Facebook:

First off, it’s not the devil. Worried about your personal information? Don’t give it to them. Teach your friends a lesson in navigating the Internet by using an alias, befriend them by sending a message telling them something that makes it apparent who you are without giving too much away. The site hosts too many people to not use it to network and keep track of specially delivered info from certain companies of personal interest. Besides that, it’s another Internet community, which we cannot allow ourselves to separate ourselves from. The strength of the Internet is found in our ability to easily communicate amongst each other and relay details of certain unsavory actions of entities larger than ourselves, such as governments and corporations. Segregating and isolating ourselves within our various Internet communities does nothing more than cripple us.

Tumblr:

It doesn’t even compare to here, except in it’s slight ease at uploading certain media, such as music and videos. At least, from my experience, it may have (and hopefully has) improved here. Nevertheless, it’s showed its strength in getting its users attention to big issues such as SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act, this site could have done its part but didn’t for whatever reason, unfortunately. I suspect the primary reason being that this site likes to leave users to their own business, something which I can respect. Besides that, Tumblr doesn’t offer the flexibility of WordPress, which further supports its controlling air. This will be its downfall unless it allows itself to bend to the users, whenever it comes to it.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution:

Best. PC. Port. Ever. This game does practically everything right for the PC gaming community. The only feature it lacks is something the original title lacked major support for, modding. Otherwise it does everything incredibly well and even goes a bit further in certain areas. Multi-monitor support and 3D? Were those necessary? Not really, but the Nixxes Software team went above and beyond to provide the best experience possible, it seems. This was probably at the demands of Eidos Montreal, and so both deserve praise, one for doing it and doing it well, and the other for being in touch enough with the PC gaming community to know what they’d expect.

Humble Bundle:

What can I say? These games are amazing. They, alongside Valve with Steam and CD Projekt with GOG, are keeping the PC gaming scene alive and in a healthy way. They’re not discriminating, they help get indie games to basically all the different operating systems and provide as much support as they can. They help fund charities and innovative developers, and all this without DRM. The only downside is that they don’t also provide bundles of more popular titles, but that was never their point or purpose to begin with, so that’s just setting unrealistic expectations for it.

…Anyway, I know this is abrupt, but that’s it for now. Hope you all have a good rest of the year! =D

Late to the party. (Assassin’s Creed analysis)

Assassin’s Creed became a major hit in the gaming world…Four years ago, upon a quick wikipedia search. Talk about time flying by. In all those years, I still haven’t managed to complete the first one, and I’m going to outline why below for anyone that cares. Let me go ahead and say that the game did do some incredible things at the time of its release, contextual controls not so much, but the low and high profile control swaps were genius. The graphical quality and animations were and still are to this day, rather superb. However, it is still lacking in many key areas, one of which I will immediately state as it has been so often noted:

Repetition.

This game is incredibly, abhorrently repetitious. For every assassination you must do the same tasks in preparation of them. They make sense, yes, but doing it over and over is not fun, which a game is meant to be.

Suspicion.

I haven’t noticed this mentioned nearly as often as that first point, but the suspicion meter is absolutely annoying. I’m sure they’ve likely fixed it in the newer additions to the series, but in the first, it’s a game killer. First off, you’re in a hood and white robes, clearly sticking out, so how you’re to get around the world without enemies becoming suspicious is, well, beyond me. They provide many means to do it, certainly, but getting between the different towns, which should, you would think, be a quick endeavor, becomes a mind-numbing chore as you trot about on a horse trying to avoid rousing the enemies to aggression. And you must trot. If you switch to high profile, you get an incessant alert noise and a load of annoying shouting at you.

Suspicion is a great mechanic technically speaking, it just needed some more adjustment. A later release that’s gameplay is highly inspired by Assassin’s Creed, The Saboteur, has a much more refined and less cumbersome system in place. Keep your weapons out of sight, don’t get too close, and the enemies typically won’t mess with you. Oh, and you’re not walking by default in that game, but that’s another matter entirely.

Forced Immersion.

I honestly think suspicion was an attempt by the designers to force immersion upon the player. Where they couldn’t get it with the HUD, the UI, story, art direction, animation, music, or atmosphere, they seem to have tried to get it with gameplay. Instead of running about all the time, they make you walk by default. Instead of allowing you to just zip to towns via some Animus magic, they make you gallop there by horse (maybe they’ve changed this in the newer games), and rather than allowing you to leave a saved citizen as a mysterious hero, they make you go up and listen to the same repeated lines (sometimes differing).

What doesn’t make sense here, however, is the entire concept of the Animus, and the lines of Warren Vidic at the very start of the game, reminding Desmond that none of it is real. It’s all very contradictory. They want you to synchronize with the memories of your ancestor while realizing none of it is real, and then several of the gameplay elements encourage synchronicity while maintaining an immersion breaking HUD and general UI. Even many of the in-game elements (invisible walls and flags) break immersion by their very appearance.

It is as though the designers didn’t have a solid idea of what they were trying to do. Did they want to immerse the players or did they want the players to immerse Desmond? It seems more like the latter, but the gameplay feels like they also wanted to do the former.

Poor Characterization.

Probably the primary reason I still haven’t finished Assassin’s Creed is that I really don’t care about Altair. I know this was definitely a point with many others, and hence Ezio was born and is purportedly a much more interesting character. I’d hope so, after the flat character that is Altair. All the other players are pretty interesting, Al Mualim, Lucy Stillman, Vidic, and Desmond. Yet most of the first game centers around Altair’s stupidity and arrogance and redeeming himself.

Not the most fun story for a first game.

Poorly Paced.

This blends in with forced immersion. The game feels slow. I’m not sure what it is, maybe the fact that it’s coddling you. Or perhaps it’s Altair himself. He knows what to do, so you feel as though you know what to do, and it drags the game’s pacing down. This was an awful decision, in my opinion. In terms of story it’s well explained, but the character you’re playing as makes it terribly annoying to go through. This is especially noticeable at the beginning of the game after Al Mualim stabs Altair and strips him of his rank and sends him out on a novice mission.

It’s irritating and frustrating for both the player and Altair, which should never be the goal of the designers, to irritate and frustrate the player. Challenge them, yes, but not induce negative feelings. I think this is likely part of the reason many players don’t care for Altair. The beginning sequence is fast-paced, then it slams into a sluggish crawl. It’s basically a very brief high and then a long, drawn out crash.

In short, don’t design a game where you appear to be trying to force immersion, put in conflicting aesthetics in the HUD and UI, and pace it so that you have to experience the dreadful rising up the ranks with a character that has little to no development to make him even slightly interesting. The gameplay may be fun, but all of those characteristics make it more of a bloody chore to get through than a joy to, which is not what a game should aim for.


Mining to the Core.

Everyone’s writing about Minecraft. Why? The story is that it was made by one very dedicated man in Sweden, I believe. That’s only one part though. The other part is the openness of the game, and the creativity that is permitted by it. It doesn’t have impressive graphics, and it’s certainly not a casual game, but it has burst on to the scene. On one hand, it’s word of mouth, and on the other, it’s the results of the game’s openness itself. All sorts of things are being created, or are in the process of creation, daily, I would say, and when they are unveiled, they are quite impressive. Yet what makes them impressive? The tools that the player must work with. They must create their tools and gather their resources for what they wish to create.

Games such as Dwarf Fortress, which inspired Minecraft, are much the same, so what makes this game different? While the graphics aren’t stunning, that isn’t what matters, what matters is that it is more easily discernible what the player has created. A person who knows nothing of Dwarf Fortress and leans over the player’s shoulder won’t have a clue what all the squiggles and characters mean, so even if he or she is told what it is, he or she’ll just nod his or her head and walk off.

However, what also makes this different, is the time taken in each project. That isn’t to say places made in Dwarf Fortress are quick to create, not at all, well, perhaps a bit, since there are more workers, but nevertheless they still take quite a bit of time to get up and running. Similarly, it takes an incredible amount of time to terraform the landscape in Minecraft to suit your needs or desires, even in smaller areas. That’s even ignoring having to deal with the creatures of the night which may decide to mess with your creations or modifications of the landscape. Therefore, what really makes this game stand out isn’t just its viral spread and boom in gaming media, albeit that certainly helped, but the ability to clearly see the results of the player’s or players’ labour, and, if the game has been tried before, the understanding of the time it took to construct whatever it is that is being shown.

Originally posted: Oct 29, 2010 @ 18:05

There are no messianic products.

When a genre becomes filled with trite rubbish that barely differentiates itself from its predecessors, people grasp at anything that attempts to be innovative as being refreshing. It may be, but it’s merely setting the stage for the next wave of trite products. What was refreshing then slips away into hackneyed rubbish. We still give it credit, because it tried to do things differently, and it deserves that credit…However that doesn’t change the fact that it changed things for but a moment. You create the wondrous wheel and then everyone duplicates it. You give it rubber tread, then everyone else does as well.

Everything new is short-lived. It is because of this that there cannot be any messianic product that changes everything for the better. When everything changes, what was seen as better in the originator of the change becomes mundane and uninteresting as it is replicated by others and sold with a different finish. Contributing to this deterioration of the sensation of refreshment is the basic fact that every new product will be a rearrangement of existing elements. How often do you see a scifi game or book depart from terrestrial worlds? Rarely, as even their most exotic species are imagined as existing on such worlds, with some water lookalike only offhandedly mentioned to have a different chemical makeup from what we’re familiar with. All new creations have to work with what we are familiar with, with what our senses can receive, and thus are they restricted to simply rearranging things to be slightly different yet comprehensible to the senses without pushing the limits too far, unless that is their goal.

This unfortunate restriction means we have cycles of stagnant material, bursts of creativity that change everything, and then a rapid decline back into a period of stagnation awaiting a sudden shock of innovation.

What brings all of this to mind is my eye on the MMO genre. Presently we’ve had a long period of duplication of World of Warcraft, copycats trying to cash in on its success, only to ultimately fail. Now we’re coming to a point of sudden change, where designers are trying to do something new, to alter the game, to make dynamic content, some have failed at their attempts, some are showing some degree of resilience, and yet one unreleased game is being foolishly hailed as the messiah of MMOs, Guild Wars 2. This will not be. It will no more be a messiah of MMOs than World of Warcraft was. All it will likely do is set the stage for the next period of stagnation.

Might it be fun? Perhaps. But we never know when to leave a good thing alone. We ride the fresh young horse to exhaustion and then we beat it until even the vultures won’t pick at it, until the dogs have no bones to chew upon.

Internet Immersion.

I consistently use the Internet. I partake of the fruits of this wondrous tree of information voraciously. Sometimes the fruits are rotten, but you have to figure out which ones are ripe and good for picking with all types of fruit-bearing plants. And once you figure out which you enjoy the most, well, why would you ever descend from the tree that generously provides for you? There are many reasons, remembering how to traverse the land, keeping in contact with the ground-dwelling creatures, and so forth. However, I forget these reasons. Frequently. I mix the tree with the land, and the land with the tree, and am surprised when I find the inhabitants of the land are unfamiliar with the branches of the tree and its various fruits.

For more social people, this probably isn’t an issue. They neither remain within the tree nor on the land, they descend and ascend as it suits their interest and fancy. They tire more easily of the tree’s fruits, and its occupants, than those such as myself. I must wonder then, how many others are there like me? How many people think saying hello to someone you saw on the street through the Internet isn’t odd? It’s simply another means of communication. It’s little different than using that someone’s friend or acquaintance to get their number to call them, and there are not many that are too disconcerted by that, as far as I know.

Yet to cross this line, to be able to leap from the ground and pluck quickly a fruit that permits contact to another, this seems to startle. It is as if the occupants of both tree and land, not necessarily those that are social, think there is a difficulty to be had in finding the best fruits of the tree. To be able to single out the right one, and slice in, extracting the seeds for whatever use. Personally, I had thought the presence of the Internet had permeated enough for this sort of behaviour to be normal, for people to be comfortable with it, excluding those obvious cases where access to the Internet is not as prevalent and it is rather unfamiliar to the majority. Yet it would seem no matter how much this grand tree expands, it is only its branches that expand, and its roots take up a much smaller area beneath, not extending throughout the land but only directly beneath the tree’s trunk.

I made the mistake of thinking that its expanse was drawn from the roots, that the branches could only grow from that sustenance derived from the ground, and that the ground was shallow, requiring it to shift throughout the surface level influencing all upon the land as much as those within the tree. Hopefully one day, the ground’s depths will be reached, and it will occur as I had mistakenly thought it would, so that there is not as much discomfort between those of land and tree, and those who only briefly occupy either.

Edit: Originally posted: Oct 26, 2010 @ 19:21. <Note to self.

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