Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Day to Stop Huffing Freon

I’m getting this a lot today:

Which is not good, because I have a book to write. However, even if the main computer melts down again, I am prepared: The novel is saved in folder shared across the home network and written to every time I save, so I can work on it off my laptop, and besides I mail it to myself after every chapter and save the text to Google Docs. So unless the every computer in the house and the entire Internet dies, I will be able to work on my book. Screw you, Blue Screen of Death! You can’t hurt me anymore!

Oh, yeah, for all you smug Mac bastards about to say something about the blue screen: My Mac’s power source seized up months ago. Right now it’s a big paperweight. So don’t get cocky.

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

75 replies on “Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Day to Stop Huffing Freon”


I did something similar when I was working on my master’s thesis this year. I backed up everything to my second hard drive on the desktop computer and then kept an up-to-date copy on my laptop. I kept a forth copy on a flash drive.

There’s a great utility called Wingdir that graphically compares two directories and facilitates synchronizing them. It really came in handy for making sure that all of the copies were current.

8 TexasPatrick: That’s one reason to use FireFox.

Main entry This doesn’t look like a driver issue (I can’t quite read all of the error codes); it looks like either a boot-sector error (really, really bad… and actually fixable in Windoze and baseline Linux, but not on a Mac) or a problem with the paging file. See if you can boot that machine from a bootable CD-ROM, then remove the CD-ROM and see if it will continue operating. If that works, “all” it may require is reinstalling Windoze… which Micro$oft has made a needlessly painful process, but that’s another story entirely, closely related to COBOL.

So that is the infamous blue screen of death. I have used Windows since it was just “Windows,” before it had modifiers like “95,” and have never seen that. Interesting.

I didn’t say I’d want to witness it. I do have my standards.

Also: Speaking as a Mac partisan, I would hope you don’t see any smugness show up. Apparently the new OS X version causes its own screen of death in some upgrades (can’t speak from experience, though). Okay, maybe a little smugness — our crash screen is reportedly a nice, refreshing green.

Re: Your Mac.

Did you ask Apple to replace your power supply? Mac power supplies seem to be frying right and left…

Wow, the weirdest thing just happened. My wife just called and mentioned that two new Macs where she works have died again after having the power supplies replaced once already. Maybe the paperweight idea isn’t so bad after all.


Ouch, sympathies about the computer woes. But all sorts of admiration about the thoroughness of your backups of your writing! I may have to do that “mail to myself and save to Google docs” trick, as well as Drew’s very sage pointer about a flash drive. I’ve written enough things at this point that I’d be very, very irritated if I lost anything due to a meteor falling on my computer.

At work, we simply blow the image away. At home, I did that with the intention of moving all my data onto an external hard drive I need to backup more often than once a month. (If you are a web design client of mine, I meant to say once every other day.) Took a couple of hours, but then all I have attached are a printer and two external drives.

I’d start with the memory, though, then look at what got updated.

And if it’s on Vista… Well… I’m not cocky about any particular platform since I’ve seen all them meltdown spectacularly, but Vista so far has bitten the big Hebrew National. That’s all I’m gonna say about that, and I’m an XP user.

Having never seen the BSOD myself, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to show me the level of PC hell I’ve been spared. Argh for you, and I hope it turns out to be fixable.

Actually, the only machines that have suffered fatal errors under my fingers have been Macs; all my PCs work fine.

*knocking furiously on any and all wood and wood-like substances*

Damn. I was hoping I’d be the first smug Linux user to comment. I guess it’s a good sign there are so many of us that I wasn’t the first.

As another smug Linux user, I’d like to say that system failures related to the OS are exceedingly rare, in my experience. Of course, that doesn’t translate to it being a good idea for everyone else to use Linux (there’s still the small matter of applications to consider…) but I can’t recall losing any work time due to an OS crash.

Hardware failures are another matter entirely, of course.

Either way, good luck with it. Hurrah for online applications!

OK, looking at the picture it looks like a stop 0xBE, which is ATTEMPTED_WRITE_TO_READONLY_MEMORY if my list is correct. Unfortunately, all that one normally means is that you have a buggy driver. It could be a flaky piece of hardware though.

I can’t quite make out all the text, but on that one the first parameter listed on the stop line will be the address that it happened at. It might be 0x80D00D03, a hexadecimal address. Windows 2000 would dump out a handy list of drivers at the same time so you could find it, but XP appears to not do that. In any case, if it keeps happening, and you want to figure it out, zip up and send me a dump file or two (they should be at c:\windows\minidump) and I can pop it into a debugger and tell you for sure, at least, what driver is crashing.

It’s entirely possible it’s a transient error — unless you’ve got ECC, you’re going to get a random bit error periodically. (Well, even with ECC, you will, but you’ll need at last two simultaneous errors for it to die.) If the problem re-occurs after a reboot, then I’d start trying to diagnose the problem. Some sort of system test utility would be useful :).

Interesting fact: you will get about one unreported error every 8 terabytes of disk I/O (I think that’s the number — something very like that). That’s a flipped bit, a bad read, a bad write, any kind of error. (Reported error rate is higher, but a lot of them get handled automatically by the disk drive.)

I can probably get a Mac power supply for free, and I’ve sent John email to that effect :).

8/11: Sending info to Microsoft is as optional as sending info to Mozilla when Firefox crashes.

BSODs are usually the result of third-party drivers.

And anyone who doesn’t do offsite backup (like emailing stuff to themselves on gmail or hotmail etc) is not prepared for the meteor, or the house-fire or burglary that takes out all the local backups. Most people seem to store their backups within 2 feet of their computer (which burglars will take) or in the same room (which a fire will take). In particular storing your backup CDs with your filebox of system discs is particularly dumb, since burglars like to take those. Storing them in your laptop bag is even dumber

8/11: Sending info to Microsoft is as optional as sending info to Mozilla when Firefox crashes.

BSODs are usually the result of third-party drivers.

And anyone who doesn’t do offsite backup (like emailing stuff to themselves on gmail or hotmail etc) is not prepared for the meteor, or the house-fire or burglary that takes out all the local backups. Most people seem to store their backups within 2 feet of their computer (which burglars will take) or in the same room (which a fire will take). In particular, storing your backup CDs with your filebox of system discs is particularly dumb, since burglars like to take those. Storing them in your laptop bag is even dumber

“The novel is saved in folder shared across the home network and written to every time I save, so I can work on it off my laptop, and besides I mail it to myself after every chapter and save the text to Google Docs.”

Ye gods, Scalzi! You’re a techy guy, I thought surely you would be using version control.


0x8E is a generic Kernel Mode Exception, which by itself isn’t helpful (the the codes following it are if you can track them down). Any unexpected situation in the kernel or in kernel mode software (drivers) will cause this. Paging faults with RAM would be one possibility, but that generally means that a RAM module is going belly up.

A more like cause is either new kernel mode software installed (John, did you update any drivers, install any burning software, or listen to a CD published by Sony recently?) or changes to settings of existing drivers (for example, futzing with Video acceleration options, changing audio configurations, weirdness with hot-pluggable USB and Firewire devices, etc.).

If it started TODAY it could be a bad patch for windows, but that is pretty unlikely (it usually takes a couple hours for patches to distribute, and generally QA on windows update patches is pretty high). I would have to look at their fix list if to see what they altered.

Failing all of that, you might have hardware going belly up, but the bluescreen for that tends to be a darker shade of blue (yep, they color code their shade of blue to associate with the problem) and the error message would likely be different.


IE, or ANY application, only sends info back to MS if you click a dialog each time specifically allowing it, and discloses exactly what is sent back if you click details. MS has one of the most transparent information disclosure policies in the industry. It is very rare for any MS application to call home without user permission, and then even rarer if there is any identifying information disclosed. That is formally against company policy (corporate customers are sensitive to proprietary info being transmitted after all).


Kernel mode faults from 3rd party drivers or bad hardware will bring any consumer OS to their knees (mainframe OSes are disguntingly robust but also disgustingly limited). A modern windows configuration with mature drivers and no malware is easily the equal of any other smug OS out there; likewise it is pretty easy to have an unstable linux/bsd/OS X box if they are running crappy drivers. That said, I am more forgiving of Windows and Linux than Apple; Apple controls the hardware configuration and should be able to ensure a greater deal of stability because of it. Sadly, that isn’t the case.

El Chupageek is right – if it’s an 0x8E, that’s an even less useful one than 0xBE. But in any case, if it keeps happening I’d be happy to look at a dump to diagnose things. I used to do that sort of thing for Microsoft, although I haven’t worked for them for a few years now.

Careful what you wish for…this summer my computer gave me the blue screen of death.

Before I could pull it out a tech smashed my thumb drive. My google doc backup was corrupted so were the files in my email. My laptop’s power supply died, and my cd backups were unreadable.

Yes I cried.

Luckily a nice recovery company saved my data from the thumbdrive.

14 JJS Says:
“So that is the infamous blue screen of death. I have used Windows since it was just “Windows,” before it had modifiers like “95,” and have never seen that.”

Interesting. So, who exactly does one have to sacrifice to Satan to get this kind of stability from Windows (or any other OS, really…)? Does it have to be a blood relative, or would a close friend do the trick?

Jeff Hentosz: As far as I know, the only BSODs related to the latest OSX upgrade were caused by a non-Leopard-compatible third-party application, which Apple had specifically recommended against, although many users including my husband had installed it anyway. It wasn’t terribly hard to fix in the end, though he did say he was surprised that the BSOD was in fact blue – but that’s because it wacked out as it booted, and froze at the nice, refreshing light blue background there. So – still blue, but nice blue.

And, as a smug Mac user, I’d like to point out that Leopard’s Time Machine will fulfill the backup dreams of all but the most paranoid – and I course I still always email my finished documents to myself and save them in various other places anyway.

Betsy: Thanks. Good to know. I said I had no personal experience with this, not because I’m lucky, but because I’m sticking with Tiger for the time being. I only knew from Mac-related news headlines.

Speaking of colors, though, here’s something that makes me jealous — I read somewhere Vista has a PURPLE screen of death. Now that’s going down in style!

“My Mac’s power source seized up months ago. Right now it’s a big paperweight. So don’t get cocky.”

Ye gods, Scalzi. You know that a)if you have AppleCare, they give you a new one if you just call 1-800-APL-CARE and spend ten minutes waiting for a tech? And b)new ones are readily available at any time from or your local Apple authorized retailer? And c)it’s really kind of fun to get instructions from and crack open your mysterious and wonderful machine, only to find out that it’s really, really easy to replace stuff inside it? Just saying…also, I think Apple releases bad batches of stuff sometimes. I had an iBook with the exploding logic board of doom and the badly designed power cord of god that’s got to be irritating to keep throwing at warrantied owners, and now I have a year old Macbook whose only issues can be attributed solely to my clumsiness rather than faults in the product. It’s all in when you buy, it seems.

DUDE. I think we’ve got a right to get cocky, but only because your problems are SO easily fixed O_o Unlike the Windows screen…so can’t help you there. I last purchased a Windows machine in late 2000, and it still chugs along happily with very few blue screens. But then again, I don’t think I USE it enough to have blue screens.

Tumbleweed, what console would you be using, then? My WordPerfect was green on a black screen (or orange, depending). White with a blue screen recalls QBasic to me…

Jeff, we really have a screen of death? I only ever managed to lock up my iBook in its dying days, but I never got a screen of death! I WANNA SEE!!!!

Of course not. All I’m saying is, the repair is really easy, so telling Mac users not to get cocky because something broke and you haven’t had the time to fix it for months is slightly silly at this moment. :)

Speaking of colors, though, here’s something that makes me jealous — I read somewhere Vista has a PURPLE screen of death. Now that’s going down in style!

This would be a pretty big departure for them and I haven’t seen it. Generally if something is going to cause the system to go down and the kernel is in a sufficiently known state it just cleanly reboots without dump. I have seen a couple proper bluescreens in Vista related to my on board audio which has been on its way to hardware afterlife for a while, so that version has been preserved. I have also seen one of the dark blue blue screens when my cat unplugged a sata cable during operation (because the side of the case was off to get airflow to the dying audio chipset in hopes of extending its life…ARGGGG). I would mark that down to wild rumor.

One thing that has surprised me about Vista is actually how tolerant it is of certain drivers failing. The video driver can be rebooted without taking down the system, which is actually rather remarkable from an implementation standpoint. likely that feature alone will cut the number of bluescreens people have in half (at least people using ATI video drivers… why the heck can’t that company hire some decent coders)..

“So that is the infamous blue screen of death. I have used Windows since it was just “Windows,” before it had modifiers like “95,” and have never seen that.”

For a nitpicking computer geek remark, technically what is commonly refered to as a BSOD in Windows X.X and 9x isn’t a blue screen of death. Those are only present in NT based windows (NT,2k, XP and beyond). In the 9x line the blue screen appears most often when a device isn’t ready, and can be caused by something as simple as an unreadable CD. The difference is that the kernel is often still alive and the screen would occassionally go away if the problem was rectified (cleaning the CD, re-inserting it, and hitting enter for example). That said, it occured much more frequently and more often then not the system couldn’t be recovered. I suspect you have probably seen that screen at least a couple times.

@Joe Brockmeier: I currently use Kubuntu. What’s your Linux poison?

@El Chupageek: Yup, I’m well aware of how bad drivers can cause headaches with any OS. I was just pointing out Linux in response to Mr. Scalzi’s BSOD as I felt left out not getting a mention (like those smug Mac bastards). I prefer Linux for my machines, but I am aware of how stable Windows can be as I’ve been using both OSes for years. Still I’ve had more problems with Windows (especially with bad drivers) than on any other OS.

It could be a RAM problem. Go here and download Memtest+:

Unzip the zip file and burn the newly created ISO file to a CD. Here’s an article that shows a few ways of burning the ISO file:

Now after your ISO file has been burn to a CD, leave it inside your CD drive and reboot the PC. Go into the BIOs to make sure that your motherboard boots from the CD drive first, not the hard drive. Now your PC should be booting from the newly burnt CD.

Now Memtest+ should be running. Let it run for at least 3 hours or so or 24 hours max if you want to rule out the RAM. If you start seeing red errors all over the place, then your RAM is bad and malfunctioning. Most RAM has lifetime warranty. So contact the manufacturer of your RAM for a replacement. Or buy a new set.

I live with a Mac geek – the type you call when you’ve already done the easy to guess issues yet it’s still not working like it was yesterday. He and his cohorts have the same “yah but our OS doesn’t suck” attitude that John is talking about. I support PC-based tools, so you can imagine the pillow talk at our castle of geekdom.

I have to say that the mac tends to be more stable, and if you have a certain mindset, the fixes are obvious and intuitive. But having listened to my personal ACN guy when things are down, I have to say that PCs are certainly easier to fix when you do hose it completely. Kinda like the difference in rebuilding the engine in a classic auto vs trying to locate the reason for a check engine light in a modern car. Which can you do yourself?

The leopard situation, though, is only slightly better the vista. However, leopard will likely improve, while Windows based software are just going to have to maintain on XP as long as they can. Sigh.

All seriousness aside, I have a Dell laptop with the incredibly stupid “MediaDirect” program, which if improperly activated will create a BSOD that is only ameliorated by sticking a DVD video in the DVD slot.

Then, turn off the computer, start it by clicking the MediaDirect button and you’re back in business. Or forget it and dual-boot the partition with Kubuntu instead.



Julia – my monochrome days predate WordPerfect and DOS, so I associate that white on blue colour scheme with the CGA days of DOS WordPerfect. My first wordprocessing program was on an Apple 2, called ‘Magic Windows.’ :)

I skipped the whole DOS thing, anyway, and went straight from my Apple 2 to an Amiga, and then to OS/2, to my current mix of Linux & Windows XP (which will hopefully be my LAST version of Windows).

I still look back fondly on my days on the IBM mainframe at college, programming in REXX, and avoiding my class assignments in Fortran 77.

Yay for offsite backups. I have my files automatically backed up on (free, also yay). Not great for actual use (it’s a restore file, not a “use it from your desk” file), but still. It’s there if I need it.

And ever since the interweeb gnomes started convincing my client’s computer that the doc files I emailed to him could only be opened with Wordpad (and thus completely confugling the track changes bits), I’ve started an online wiki account for every client I work with.

Every chapter or project section gets it’s own page, files get uploaded to the server and linked to their appropriate page and every one gets updates when changes are made and notes are left. Everyone can download the files to work offline, but no one has the only copy of the last, 8-hours-worth-of-work revision solely on their drive (unless they just finished and haven’t uploaded it yet.)

I like this better than Google Docs, because I always seem to have compatibility issues transferring stuff from Docs to my computer. Of course, this means I have to have access to an onboard word processor in order to edit my files. But chances are if I’m online, I’m online with something that has productivity apps.

Way better than “cross your fingers and hope it reboots.” Been there. Barely slept for days.

Since programming is my day job, I’m well acquainted with version-control software. As such, I always do my writing in a VCS-friendly format (usually plain text, but I’ve been experimenting with Scrivener for OS X). The odds of my laptop, my backup drive (which, thanks to Time Machine, has nightly (well, most nights, anyway) backups back to the middle of November), my _second_ backup drive (less-frequently updated, but is fully bootable, and stored at my office), and my server halfway across the continent all failing simultaneously…

I highly recommend checking out Subversion or Mercurial — the first one is simpler and more popular, but uses a client-server model, which means you can’t commit changes when you’re on the go without a connection to your server. Because of this I’ve been switching to Mercurial, which is decentralized; you can commit changes locally and then push those commited changes up to your server when you get a chance. With both solutions, the ability to easily run a diff on your text can be quite valuable.

Here <valuta denom=”$$$$$”/> is a wad of virtual Meeses² — just give them to your neighborhood UKOD¹ rep and, like, chill, m’kay? But please, don’t inhale the stuff. Blue is just not your color.

¹ Undisputed King of the Ozone Destroyers
Windows has detected that a gnat has farted rainbows near your computer. Press any key to reboot. ?

Windows… BAH. I am a long-time PC-user, but damned if I am going to buy another one. Internet Explorer 7 is a pile of steaming dog turds wrapped in a shiny spinach tortilla. Every link I click on opens a new window, in spite of their precious “WOW TABBING NEATO” blather, and when I that window down, it shuts the whole program down, including all windows.

Magically rediculous. Time to buy a Mac.


I hear that FireFox is now available on Windows… and if you hate IE just wait until you are subjected to Safari. I don’t have words that can properly express the burning rage I feel when using it. Seriously, if IE is your gripe it is a lot cheaper to download an alternate browser (even Opera has been free for a couple years, though it has some seriously unforgivable bugs that have been present for several versions) than buy a new machine. If you happen to contain an abnormal quantity of self loathing you can even grab Safari for windows to properly punish yourself for any percieved wrongs you might have committed (fair warning, it is by far the most insecure browser with any noticable market share. You are better off running IE 5.5 in that regard, and that is pretty damning).

A new power supply will fix your Mac, nothing will fix your Windows PC (aside from installing Linux of course).

Have you seriously used Linux and a recent (XP or later) version of Windows side by side as a desktop? Linux has come a long way, but its lack of coherent stategy, UX designers, and sufficient developer resources couple with a habit of fracturing efforts,have handicapped the platform. For example, lets take just the installer of Ubuntu, the self proclaimed “user friendly distro”. It has 7 screens during the installation program and it can’t even get all of those right. For example, when selecting Time Zone, rather than just selecting your time zone it instead has you search a list of hundreds of cities trying to find one that happens to fall in your time zone. How in the heck is it more usable for me as a resident of Tennessee to claim I live in Chicago (because it isn’t a very comprehensive city list despite its ginormous length) rather than say I live in the Central Time Zone (GMT – 06:00)? Such a flaw is indicative of the entire user experience on the platform. It is something that is passable but far from good.

At least Apple traded their functionality away for form (The dock, from a usability standpoint, is absolutely atrocious, but it looks pretty so people forgive it. Much like how someone like Kelly Pickle is forgiven for being an absolute moron because she has a pretty voice and body, so is the dock). The Linux desktop experience, regardless of desktop manager, cannot even say that. They trade away functionality for some notion of false elitism and moral superiority which at the end of the day isn’t smarter or pretty on the eyes.

In the words of three dead trolls in a baggy, every OS sucks, and it is true. They just differ in how they suck. OS smugness is only achievable if you are either ignorant of the OSes or willfully ignore flaws out of some sense of loyalty (for the record, I ripped into OS X and Linux because they were the evidence of smuggness, but I have volumes of critisism for the various versions of Windows as well, starting with the “all programs” menu in vista which I detest without boundry).

Firefox + gSpace. Backed up months and months of research daily. (Twas only toward the end that I figured out that learning subversion or some such was a much more useful, not to mention marketable, thing to do…)


I can’t speak for the installer of 7.10, as I am not going to go back and re-run it just to verify. That said, in the “Time and Date” applet out of the Administration menu there are NO time zones listed (I just scrolled through the list several times to verify I wasn’t overlooking it every other time). Worse, unlike the installer, once you select a city it doesn’t even tell you what time zone it is in (at least the installer will do that). Stupid usability decisions like that are common in the Linux desktop experience and will prevent it from ever getting any appreciable market share until they are uniformly addressed at their root. It makes the smuggness of linux advocates seem fairly silly(at least when speaking of the desktop experience).

Don’t get me wrong, there are strengths to the OS (personally I am a BSD fan but alas the company I work for prefers linux servers), but as a desktop those strengths are overshadowed by myriad of flaws, and putting linux on a windows box doesn’t “fix” it if a desktop experience is what the user is looking for.

@El Chupageek: bullshits. Maybe you Americans know in what timezone you are (if not, how could you watch TV), but in the rest of the world nobody gives a fuck of CET/CEST, WET or EET, while everybody can point to a city in his country.
The current time selector is functional and easy to use.

Now I’m having flashbacks to a year ago, when our server at work had a kernel panic. I work at a photography studio— all digital— so this was really freaking bad. In the end, it turned out that two of the four drives had decided to melt down. Thank goodness we were actually able to recover the critical data— three month’s worth of retouching and color-correcting on seven school’s worth of senior photos.

But our color-correcter’s gamma driver stopped working for some bizarre reason and they haven’t been able to fix it. So she can’t adjust her screen color to match her prints, so color-correcting is an adventure. (Family-owned businesses have their downsides, one of which is a lack of ready capital for, say, buying a new system for the color-corrector that works.)

Thinking back, maybe that was the RAID panic, not the kernel panic. We’ve stabilized the server system since then, but last fall was an interesting adventure, what with the inconsistent power in the temporary building and all.

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