I use the open-source Pidgin IM client, and came home to discover it had stopped connecting to my MSN Messenger account with the error “Unable to retrieve MSN address book.”

Turns out that Microsoft have blocked the version of the protocol Pidgin’s MSN plugin uses to communicate with their servers.  While this is bound to be fixed in an updated version of Pidgin soon, I got impatient and fixed it myself.

To sort this error out, simply install the MSN Pecan plugin and restart Pidgin.  If you edit your accounts, you’ll see a new option for account type – WLM.  Choose that instead of MSN and it’ll start working again.

MSN Pecan is available for Windows, Linux, and MacOS and is fully open source – albeit unsupported by the main Pidgin developers.

EDIT 20090119: The problem can also now be resolved by upgrading to Pidgin 2.5.4 or later, saving you having to install a third-party plugin.

Steam – Valve’s digital distribution mechanism – is having a sale at the moment with some reasonable bargains, including a decent deal on Max Payne and Max Payne 2.  Having enjoyed the original and never having played the sequel, I snapped it up.

There are problems, however: while the original works fine, Max Payne 2 suffers from major audio glitches in the video sequences.  Sticking, juddering, popping every few seconds – it’s a mess.  I tried setting processor affinity, turning Direct3D acceleration off, setting Windows 2000 compatibility mode – the works.

I finally figured out that it’s not actually Max Payne 2 that’s the problem, but rather the Bink video playback DLL that comes bundled.  Having upgraded the RAD Video Tools to the latest version, I was able to recreate the problem outside the game engine simply by playing back the – admittedly fairly high-resolution – intro video within the Bink Player.

It turns out that some older software – Bink playback tools included – don’t like SMP systems, i.e. systems with two or more logical processors.  The good news is that there’s a relatively simple fix.

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