Monday, December 24, 2012

Acronis True Image Backup Fails

When trying to do a disk and partition backup on Acronis True Image Home 2012 build 7133 to an external USB drive, the backup failed repeatedly with a read error.

Upon contacting Acronis support, at first I got a suggestion that the error had been "fixed" in the latest version, and that I should upgrade to the 2013 version of the software. Conveniently, the support tech I'd been corresponding with provided me with an affiliate link to purchase the new version. 

It seemed rather odd that a support tech would provide an affiliate link to purchase an upgraded version of the product rather than help with the customer's current version. I decided, instead, to press the issue and fork over $9.99 for a paid support incident. My case then got reassigned to someone who seemed to be more on the ball, and asked me to take some basic troubleshooting steps, including scanning my C: drive, which happens to be an Intel SSD, with the chkdsk utility, revealed so issues whatsoever. 

Subsequent back and forth with the support technician proved largely unhelpful until they asked me to try backing up a single file or folder rather than a whole partition. I then tried backing up the My Documents folder, and it failed quickly with an error stating the system couldn't find the path R:\TEMP, which happened to be associated with a RAM drive I'd had set up until recently.

I remembered that in the time between making my last successful backup using Acronis, I'd uninstalled QSoft RAMDisk, a utility which enables you to use a portion of your system memory as a very fast RAM drive. Trying to create a backup with Acronis since the RAM drive had been uninstalled proved fruitless because Acronis seemingly balked at not being able to find the RAM drive registered with Windows any longer.

Serendipitously, the developer of the RAM drive software released an updated build of their software earlier this month, so I decided to reinstall it and give it a try. I installed the software, then set up a RAM drive with the same drive letter as I'd originally used. 

Upon reinstalling the RAM drive and rebooting, the backup proceeded successfully. 

The moral of the story appears to be, if you happened to have a RAM drive installed on your system at some point prior to having Acronis installed, you'd best make sure the RAM drive is existant so that Acronis won't complain and decide to no longer complete your backups.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Battlefield 3 Disconnects

For months I'd been having issues with lag and stuttering in the PC version of Battlefield 3. Worse, though, were frequent, seemingly random disconnects.

I'd connect to a server, be able to play for 10 minutes or more, then my system would lock up hard, unresponsive even to Ctrl-Alt-Del for a few minutes until finally BF3 exited and the Battlelog site came back with anything from a disconnect message to one saying I'd been kicked from the server. 

Despite having the latest updates to BF3 itself, as well as for EA's bloated and unnecessary Origin software, PunkBuster, and my system's video drivers and Windows updates, the disconnects continued to occur, making it so that I seldom if ever got to the end of a round without being disconnected.

Finally I decided to take the plunge and configure my DSL router with port forwarding specific to BF3's needs, according to this page on EA's support site.

The site handily provides instructions specific to many router makes and models for the PC, XBox 360, and PS3 versions of Battlefield 3. One note, for the listed TCP ports specific to the PC version, I found that all but ports 80 (http) and 443 (https) were necessary to seemingly work around the disconnect issues I'd been having. You might need these ports forwarded if you plan to have your PC act as a BF3 server, but given that I don't it doesn't seem to make a difference.

Why the BF3 installer or the game itself doesn't specifically tell you which ports to forward in the beginning I don't know. Why EA and DICE rush out their games hurriedly without addressing their users' complaints, I don't know either. I'm happy to have found this works around my problem, and that the game is at least playable for more than 10 minutes or so at a time, but given their track record with previous games and their various issues, I'd like to see BF3 go open source someday and get in the hands of numerous software developers who would likely care more about the game and its users than EA.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Foscam FI9820W Review

I recently purchased a pair of Foscam FI9820W wireless IP cameras to augment my existing pair of FI8918W ones.

Featuring 720p video resolution, H.264 video compression, pan and tilt capability, SD card support, and IR cut to help filter out distortion in the camera's daytime mode, wireless IP cameras like these are very handy because they can be placed anywhere within the reach of your wireless network and a household power outlet, and transmit images and even live video wirelessly. 

In addition, if a burglar happens to break in and swipe or disable the cameras themselves, there's a fair chance that before this happens, the camera will have gotten a nice face shot of the perpetrator discovering the camera, and then send it via email or FTP if configured to do so, for you to later submit to the police.

This newest, more expensive camera in Foscam's lineup unfortunately suffers some significant shortcomings. Compared to the more mature FI8918W model, the web interface is still disappointingly ugly and Internet Explorer-centric, utilizing an ActiveX control to render live video in a browser and a few hoops need to be jumped through to get the interface functional in a more mainstream browser like Firefox or Chrome.

As if that were bad enough, a serious security issue arises with the FI9820W's lack of full WPA / WPA2 passphrase support. If your wireless network happens to be protected with one of these security protocols and uses anything other than an alphanumeric passphrase, you'll have no choice but to compromise your wireless security by making your password simpler to accommodate this camera.

Although the picture quality is outstanding in the camera's grayscale night vision mode with all its H.264 sharpness, the daytime mode leaves much to be desired. Even in a well-lit room the image appears blurry and washed out in spite of the included IR cut feature.

Night vision engaged, the image is relatively sharp and clear.

Another downside, whereas with the FI8918W you could set up its motion detection to optionally take a variable number of snapshots, the FI9820W allows no more than a single snapshot per activation of the motion alarm. Add to that the fact that the camera shares the similarly short AC adapter cable as its predecessor, there isn't a lot to make this camera in its current form worth the higher cost.
Daytime, even with IR cut the image is disappointingly grainy and washed out.

To summarize...
  • High video resolution.
  • Sharp night vision.
  • SD card support.
  • Nonstandard WPA / WPA2 passphrase support.
  • Grainy, washed-out daytime video.
  • Internet Explorer centered, 1990s-era web interface.
  • Short AC adapter cable.

I contacted Foscam's U.S. based technical support about the camera's disappointing features and anemic firmware, who responded to my inquiry on the FI9820W's shortcomings:
"Your suggestions will forward to our R&D team, we'll try to fain [sic] these features in the future software. Highly appreciated your feedbacks. Thanks a lot."

Let's hope they will!