Shivering on the 49th Parallel
Thursday, 22 January 2009
Ironically I watched the first episode (the one where the plane comes apart and they crash land on a tropical island) WHILE I was on a flight from Cayman to Miami on a PSP.
Thursday, 22 January 2009 08:46:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Links | Misc#

I’m not sure how I could have possibly forgot, but I let this domain expire. :)

 

I saw the email from Network Solutions on my phone this morning and assumed it was just one of those “your services expire in six months! renew now!” semi-junkmails. Nope! this one said “Your Network Solutions Service has Expired”.

 

Oops.

 

And the DAY before payday, too. Ahh well. I suppose that’s what credit cards are for.

Since my laptop is down for the count (I’m expecting the new replacement laptop to arrive today or tomorrow) I haven't synced my iPhone for about two weeks since I installed Windows 7 to try it out so it hasn’t been syncing my calendar.

My email is downloaded via POP3 from my Exchange mailbox, so when I connect to Outlook Web Access, I don’t have contacts or calendar to remind me there, either.

In the end, no harm, no foul. I’m back up and running and the DNS servers probably didn’t even have a chance to propagate to the pending deletion landing page.

Dell now has three open service calls for me, and I sense it’s going to get worse before it gets better.The local firm that Dell contracts to do their re/re’s told me that I would be receiving a new unit. Then Dell’s national technician appointment center called me to let me know a new part had shipped out and I would be contacted by a technician to arrange a time to come and do it. Then the local tech’s dispatch called me to tell me that the parts hadn’t arrived and would call me back tomorrow (today now) when the parts arrived.

I stopped him and asked him if I was getting a new motherboard or a new system, and he didn’t know, but thought that it was odd that the delivery address was both my home address and their business address.

I got his cell phone number and name and said if nothing showed up by Friday noon I would call him back and he could sort it out with Dell. Fortunately (for both me and Dell) I’m not a one-computer household that’s relying on this one system. I’ve got Laurie’s desktop, her netbook she got for Christmas and a media server plus my work laptop all at my disposal. He thanked me for my patience and said he would be in touch shortly.

Thursday, 22 January 2009 08:24:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Tech | WWW#
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Dell’s local supply chain technician called me yesterday morning to set up a time to replace the parts on my laptop that seemingly blew up. They didn’t have the parts yet, but were expecting them later that day so they’re going to call me back this morning to arrange a time to do the repair.

I brought my laptop to work, and the tech’s office is actually just around the corner from mine, so that way he could do it whenever and when I take it home tonight it’s fixed.

I turned to my co-worker James and said “hey, do you want to see my screwed-up video card?” he came over and I turned the laptop on…. and it worked! WHAT THE HELL??

I’ll mention it to the repair tech, but I’ll still have him replace the parts. Save him a trip out again later, ESPECIALLY if he can replace the GPU with another, non-f’d up one.

Update: Well it must have been it's final hurrah. when the technician arrived, it came up with the BIOS logo screen, but then died. He began to disassemble the laptop to replace the system board (that's the motherboard in Dell-speak) and unfortunately it has the same GPU chip on it as the one being replaced. Ultimately he had to stop and make arrangements to come back tomorrow because--get this-- he couldn't get one of the screws out and has to get a different screwdriver. I have one that's the perfect size for laptops, but unfortunately I left it behind on Vancouver Island last week. He's coming back tomorrow to finish it. It's a darned good thing that I'm a huge nerd and have three other computers at home I can use until this one is back up and running.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009 08:57:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [1] | Tech | Gadgets | Microsoft | Windows#
Saturday, 17 January 2009
Ahh the joys and risks of running beta software.
This morning I fired up an xvid video that I downloaded and partway through the video, the audio stuttered and then froze and the screen froze. The screen went black. then it came back, then went black again. i tried to hit escape, out of full screen so maybe i could catch it and click close, but before that happened, I got a Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD). No big deal, they happen from time to time and it IS beta software.
The problem was when the computer restarted, I didn't get the Dell logo screen. I didn't get the Windows logo startup screen. I didn't get a login screen. What I got was a series of lines running top to bottom mostly on the left side of the monitor... multicolored but slowly becoming all white. The rest of the screen slowly started showing vertical lines until eventually the whole screen turned white. Not good. What the hell? How could a crash physically damage hardware? I tried turning it off and on again, same thing.
Watching closely, I could see and hear the BIOS POST (Power On Self Test). After a minute or two, the hard drive activity light blinked out. On a hunch, I entered my password and hit enter. Hard drive activity resumed and it logged me in. Of course, I couldn't see anything so all I could do was shut down gracefully.
Using my other computer, I checked Dell's support site and did the diagnostics they suggested. Turns out my LCD monitor is fine, but the video card is hosed. How on earth did watching a video cause a crash in the driver that resulted in not only a BSOD but a physical corruption of the card itself? That's unheard of!
In hindsight, I think it was a combination of things. My laptop has the nVidia GM8400 video card in it which is known to have a major design flaw. This affected Dell, HP, even Apple's MacBook Pro laptops that had this chip in it. Ultimately Dell extended the warranty of every system with this chip in it for free. The combination of a flawed video chip and a beta driver for a beta OS was a recipe for disaster.
Ultimately I had to call Dell. The NEXT major obstacle is that I bought this laptop through my corporate account... through Dell Latin America. I'm now in Canada and have to have the system transferred. I called the Dell XPS tech support line (XPS has it's own tech support department, which is one of the nice things about paying a premium for a product) I got through to a technician with a slight FRENCH accent, which leads me to believe the call center is here in Canada, rather than Panama for Dell Latin America or India for Dell US and A.
I explained what happened, and what steps I had already taken. (Having dealt with Dell Tech Support for issues for the hundreds of systems I had at my last job, I learned how to work WITH them rather than them having to rely on their flowcharts) I also told him that since this was the known-bad GPU, that I'd prefer to have a technician come on-site and replace the GPU rather than send my laptop in for depot service. You just never know if you're going to get your own computer back, with a freshly-installed OS and no data, photos, emails, contacts or anything else on it. They said no problem, got my address and-waitasecond. This address isn't in Grand Cayman.
Uh-oh. He processed the dispatch for me and then said he was transferring me to customer care to update my records, since tech support has read-only access to customer records. He gave me the case number and transferred me to Customer Care reception. I gave them my case number and said I needed to transfer from Latin America to Canada, and he put me through to someone. Someone else picked up right away (I think I spent less than 2 minutes on hold this whole time so far) and I explained my situation to him. This person, who DID have an Indian accent told me that it was purchased through a corporate account and would have to be dealt with by the corporate sales department, not customer care and would transfer me. I tried to stop him, and he listened to what I had to say and then repeated his script and transferred me... to an automated message saying that the department I was trying to reach is currently closed, and please try again on the next business day. ARRRRRRRGH! I hung up and the call was 19:44 seconds.
I re-dialed the XPS number, and again got a technician, Robby, who sounded Canadian. I said I had just called a few minutes ago, spoke to a tech, got a case number and then was transferred to Customer Care who sent me down a rabbit hole into a dead end. He apologized, asked for my case number, re-confirmed my name, address, email and phone number. Then he said he would re-submit it to dispatch and could he put me on hold for 3-5 minutes. He came back on in about 3 minutes and told me everything was set, he gave me a dispatch number and told me a technician would be calling me sometime early next week (because it's 5:00 PST on a Saturday) to schedule the best time to come and replace the part. Just like that. I asked him if they were going to replace it with the same GPU, the nVidia 8400 that's known bad or were they going to replace it with something that wasn't borked by the factory. He said he didn't know, it would be up to the technician. If they had a better solution at the time of install then yes they would replace my GPU with a different one.
SO. Windows 7 beta: out. nVidia GS8400m: out. Dell XPS tech support: big thumbs up. The worst part is going to be getting through the next week or so with only my desktop, Laurie's desktop and Laurie's netbook in the apartment :)

Saturday, 17 January 2009 17:17:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [2] | Tech | Gadgets | Microsoft | Windows#
Wednesday, 14 January 2009

I haven’t really been using my computer much this week. I’ve been smokin’ busy at work, so by the time I get home, the last thing I want to do is spend MORE time in front of the screen. Everything is on track now for a business trip tomorrow, so starting this weekend when I get back everything should slow down again… until Monday. :)

The last post I made about Windows 7 I mentioned that the fan was acting weird. I went to Dell’s support site and there was a new BIOS version for my specific laptop. I installed that and the fan began behaving as expected, so thank you Dell. I’ve still got i8kfangui running, but just in informational mode only so I can see the CPU temperature.

feedback Every window has a “Send Feedback” link up next to the minimize, restore/maximize and close buttons. I read today that there’s a registry hack you can make to turn it off if it really bugs you. I don’t know why you’d find it annoying though, it’s a BETA TEST of an operating system. It’s provided free of charge in exchange for reporting metrics, crashes and other things… LIKE FEEDBACK. It’s actually pretty cool. There’s a dropdown that you can select what category you’re reporting on, and then some stars to give you a choice of how well it worked (or didn’t) and then comments.

feedback_dropdownThe dropdown list itself is pretty encompassing, too. Everything from Accessibility features, printing, faxing, security settings even Tablet PC functions. Finally at the bottom there’s an “other” category.

So far I’ve sent between 12 and 15 feedback “emails” to the team. Some of them have just been “This works exactly as advertised and as expected”, a couple suggestions and a few negative ones, too. I sent one when I crashed IE the first time the other night, too. Being a beta, you’re not supposed to use this as your “main machine” and in fact, part of the terms of use specify that you won’t use it ‘in a production environment’. I WILL be implementing it in a production environment in a couple months at work. I’m planning a pilot project for myself and my co-administrator, as well as a couple people who are tech-savvy to run Windows 7 with all our line-of-business applications to iron out any kinks that come up over the next year before we start migrating to it (skipping over Vista) in early 2010 when it’s released.

I wrote on the 2009 advancement plan at work that if I tried to upgrade people to Vista that we’d have a mutiny on our hands. I’ve been running Vista on my laptop since last December when I got it, and forcing myself to use it on my desktop at my last job for almost a year previous so I could get to know it before I had to start fielding calls about it. While Vista came out of the gates flaccid with few compatibilities with existing hardware and software, it was something that needed to be done. If Vista hadn’t come out when it did and been a dog, then there wouldn’t have been new drivers and new versions until Windows 7 came out. Then *IT* would have been the dog that nobody wanted. Vista was the pain of living with no floors in your home while contractors reinforced and rebuilt your foundation and drainage. It sucks, and it’s hard, and it tries your patience, but in the end, what you built on top of it was all the better for it.

While I could have rolled out Vista Business with Aero Glass turned off and the “classic” skin/theme selected to make it look like Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 7 takes that option away. I might have been able to slip it past a few people if it LOOKED like the old Windows :)

What everyone seems to forget is that in 2001, XP was hated just as much as Vista is, with people decrying the “Fisher Price toy” interface and the new double-wide start menu but as people actually used it and adapted to it and started to reap the benefits of the new system, they liked it and ultimately loved it (evidenced by extension after extension for the availability of Windows XP for OEM systembuilders).

The difference between 2001’s hate-in for XP and 2007’s hate-in for Vista is a 24-hour news cycle and a lot more people  out there trying to justify their employment filling column-inches. Vista’s missteps were a convenient mule to whip.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009 21:34:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [2] | Tech | Microsoft | Windows#
Saturday, 10 January 2009

Yesterday I watched from the sidelines while the Microsoft web servers were hammered into submission and ultimately failure as people tried to download the Windows 7 Beta. Someone found a direct link to the .iso files and some people reported that their multi-gig files just stopped partway through. I guess there were people physically deleting the iso file from webservers at that point. It was an epic fail; microsoft.com was down for a little bit, windowsteamblog.com was offline, eOpen (licensing site), MSDN and TechNet were all having problems as the deluge continued.

Lifehacker actually posted an opinion piece admonishing Microsoft for not being ready for it and while they DO have a point, I don’t think they anticipated just how many people wanted an alternative to Vista. To give them some credit, there’s a difference between 38 million Firefox 3 downloads and 2.5 million 2.4 gigabyte Windows 7 downloads.

By late last night and this morning they had things ironed out and brought more capacity/bandwidth online and re-opened the beta. (I wonder if they ate their own dog food and used some sort of Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform, or if they just used Amazon S3 or (doubtful) Google’s cloud computing platform. More likely they just upped their commitment to Akamai.

Earlier today I signed up for the beta and got my product code that’s good through August 31st, 2009.

Tonight I backed up my laptop (which has been having wireless connection issues almost since I got it) and then did a hard drive swap so as not to damage my vista installation that has all my data on it. On a side note, I picked up a 320gb, 7200RPM, 2.5” SATA notebook hard drive at NCIX on Friday for $104 after taxes. While not as cheap as 3.5” SATA drive, that’s still pretty cheap.

I fired up my laptop with the Windows 7 DVD in the drive, made a few selections (language, regional settings, keyboard layout, that sort of thing) and then it installed. It seems to have installed a little slower than the Vista beta did a couple years ago. Once it was “ready” it asked for my name, a computer name (for networking) and then asked me if I wanted to connect to a wireless network. Judging by that, it had a driver and installed it during setup. It asked me for my WPA password and that was it. It then checked with Windows Update and downloaded 68mb of updates. One of the updates it downloaded (probably the bulk of the 68mb) was the nVidia video driver for my laptop. (At the time, it was running at 1024x768) Once it downloaded and installed the video driver, the MP3 bug fix and a couple other updates, it rebooted and came up at the native 1280x800 resolution. There was one “optional” update yet to be installed, the Broadcom Ethernet adapter driver. I installed it, and then downloaded/installed the new Windows Live Essentials (including Windows Live Writer, which I’m using right now to write this up)

I opened up the Device Manager, to see if any drivers did not get installed and was shocked to see that there was only one device that didn’t have a driver installed: the biometric fingerprint reader. The good news was that it identified it as a biometric reader interface, rather than just “PCI device” or something like what probably would have happened in an earlier version of windows.

I opened up IE8 and navigated to Facebook, and then I opened a new tab and went to another page. When I was done, I clicked the close button and it asked me if I really wanted to close Internet Explorer, or did I just want to close the current tab? Nice touch.

The only annoyance I’ve found so far, is that my fan is cycling on and off constantly. I don’t know why yet, but it’s probably something simple.

There was a notification that came up, telling me I did not have antivirus software installed. Clicking the notification balloon where it said “click here to find antivirus software online” opened Internet Explorer and went to a Microsoft Security webpage that had links to AVG (woo!), Norton/Symantec and Kaspersky Labs websites. I clicked on AVG and the landing page said “Welcome Windows 7 users!” It had a link to download AVG Antivirus standalone or AVG Internet Security for 38.99 or 59.99 respectively.

I don’t know about anyone else in the position to beta test a new OS, but I sure as hell am not going to pay $60 for a security package for a beta install. Sure I can re-install it in Vista or XP if I go back to it, but what the hell. I clicked on “all products” and then over to “free trials” to get a copy of AVG Free.

So far, the only thing that hasn’t “just worked” right out-of-the-box (so to speak) is the Windows Live Call. I wasn’t sure how it worked or even really what to do with it, but when I clicked it in the start menu, it came up with an MSN messenger-like window with a telephone keypad on it and a text message saying that the service was temporarily unavailable.

Even IE8 seems pretty responsive. Firefox 3 has been getting on my nerves lately. Facebook, Canadian Tire, Rogers and VanCity Savings websites constantly gave me problems with connection reset and other “page cannot be displayed” type errors. If it wasn’t for AdBlock Plus, I would probably have switched back to IE7 by now.

Tomorrow I’ll install Office 2007 Small Business and use Windows Live Sync to copy my pictures, videos, data and downloads back onto this installation and start “using” it for real and contributing feedback to the beta team.

Update: I downloaded and installed i8kfangui which originally was written to control the fans on the Dell Inspiron 8000. It works with the XPS m1330 and Windows 7 (as well as Vista 32-bit) and my fans are silent now until temperature thresholds are reached at which point they kick in until the temp is back below the threshold.

Another thing I just noticed is that IE8 will not run the "rich" text editor on my blog, so if there's any funky formatting, it's because I'm doing this update and manually inserting HTML tags into it :)

UPDATE 2: Clicking around the "Action center", I found the "Check for solutions to problem reports" and clicked it for grins. To my surprise, it popped up a Yellow notification saying "Solve a problem with your Fingerprint Reader" A new driver is available for your Fingerprint Reader. Go online to install this update. I clicked the Problem Response Button and it brought up an explanation and a link to UPEK, the manufacturer of the hardware. I clicked the link and it took me to a page titled "UPEK biometric software for Windows 7 - Preview version (32bit) Well holy crap! I'm downloading it now.

Saturday, 10 January 2009 21:34:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [3] | Tech | Microsoft | Wireless#
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