Misery loves company

One of my colleagues brought this article to my attention. Dutch only, I’m afraid, but I’m linking anyway in the interest of getting as wide as possible a dissemination of it. Apparently, Dell has admitted to at least one construction problem with their Inspiron 5150 laptops (of which we have two), and has offered to replace motherboards for free.

Or so I thought… I called Dell on the special number this morning and was connected to a friendly man who, on hearing I had a broken 5150 connected me through to technical service, all the while reassuring me that everything would be fixed, no hassle, no problems.

But the young man at the technical service desk, a certain Yussef or a least his name sounded a lot like that, told me he couldn’t do anything for me since I couldn’t perform his diagnostic tests. Well, I’m in Amsterdam at the moment, and the laptop is in Deventer, and besides, I know what’s wrong with it. But no, no tests, no replacement. And when he heard that the computer wouldn’t start at all, replacement was out of the question. He’d decided that the
wrong thing was wrong with my laptop, so I would have to pay for it myself.

Couldn’t help me, couldn’t connect me to his boss, and if I wanted replacement parts for Irina’s 5150 I would have to call the special phone number again. The only thing he could do for me was to have someone call me back within a few days.

I don’t understand Dell: they have blundered already, and instead of doing some damage control by replacing all motherboards, no questions asked, they tell people they won’t replace a broken motherboard because it’s broken for the wrong reason. Apparently they don’t realize that if they have to do replacement for one design error, they will have to do it for all faults caused by all design blunders in this misbegotten chunk of plastic.

So, I called again, the replacement parts should be sent out today for Irina’s laptop — the man who answered the phone told me he could only deal with laptops that are not broken yet — and I’ll be called within half an hour about the broken laptop. We’ll see… To be updated soon, I hope.

Broken again

My Dell Inspiron 5150 is broken again… This time, the blasted thing won’t even start up nine times out of ten attempts, and the tenth time it shuts down after very short while — I’d be able to login, but nothing more. The eleventh time, I thought I was lucky: it didn’t shutdown until KMail had downloaded all my mail from my mailserver. Then it halted again, the only sign of life was the whirring of the fan, but even the little blinkenlights were off.

Which means that I cannot hack on Krita for the time being; that I cannot answer any mail I’ve been sent this weekend and haven’t answered yet; that I will have to try and do my work on this six-year-old Powerbook that’s curiously enough still working; and that I will have to try to convince Dell that a laptop that’s broken down six times in two years is bad product that they under Dutch consumer law need to replace or repair for a very nominal sum if not completely free.


Can wifi pcmcia cards actually break? Like, not from actual physical abuse, but with age? I’ve got a wireless lan at home that used to work pretty well. Six laptops, six wifi pcmcia cards. Four are Lucent Technologies Silver Wavelan cards, two are a different brand. But all of a sudden, the Lucent cards only give us a very intermittent connection.

About as bad as I had in Malaga, in fact — and this time it’s my own fault and I don’t know what to do! Are the cards broken? Should the access point be dusted more often? Why do three out of six cards exhibit the broken behavior, but two others never?

Hardware, I’ll never understand it. Especially when it works with funny invisible waves.

Calling the score

Two Dell Inspiron 5150 laptops, bought in February 2004. In one year and six months:

Within warranty:

  • 1 broken keyboard
  • 2 broken power supplies
  • 2 broken hard disks
  • 1 broken fan
  • 3 little rubber feet lost
  • 2 cases of overheating due to bad design

Outside warranty:

  • 1 broken hard disk — one week after warranty expiration 🙁
  • 1 broken keyboard

I admit that these machines see a lot use; about twelve hours a day — but not much abuse. But for my next laptop, Dell is not in the running. Perhaps Asus, or IBM — if they still have the same reputation for quality next year or so.

I hate hardware

I truly, intensely, hate hardware. Hardware breaks, is expensive and doesn’t cooperate. The two Dell Inspiron laptops we bought February last year have had the following wrong with them within the warranty period:

  • Two broken power bricks.
  • Broken keyboard
  • Two broken hard disks
  • Processor and fan replacement
  • Little rubber feet that melt off because they are placed directly under the cpu
  • A design blunder that makes the fan suck up dust and coat the processor with it, making it necessary to blow the fan aperture through regularly.

And then, Sunday night, two bloody weeks out of warranty, the hard disk of my laptop breaks again. Nothing doing with Dell, no replacements, so I had to buy a new one. Paradigit (an excellent shop, at least in Deventer, where we buy our supplies and parts regularly) had a replacement drive of the right type, so Irina went and bought one, and I spent the night building it in. I’m no hero with those fiddly little screws that are always tightened way too hard in the factory, but I finally succeeded.

Only to discover while moving my music collection from the server that’s bringing you this blog page that calcifer’s hard drive is failing too. I hate hardware.


We were in need of a new printer. Our HP Deskjet 500 was still in relatively fine fettle, considering its decade and a half of service, but the output isn’t good enough for today’s agents and editors.

So we went and bought a new printer. A real laser printer — if you’d asked me ten years ago that in 2005 I’d own a laser printer I’d have ridiculed you with all the sarcasm that I could muster. But now we have on of the little (yes, they’re small, nowadays) beasts.

And it’s boring… Really, utterly boring. A Brother HL-5150D, and it just works. Copy the ppd file from the CD, feed it to cups, tell cups everyone in the house is allowed to print, and there we are. Everything works. No challenge at all, it’s not fair. I’d counted on an interesting Friday evening messing with drivers, googling, testing and then proudly presenting the slain animal to my wife, like my forebears presented their hunk of dinosaur to their wives. But no scope for my hunterly instincts, no, with thanks to Peggy Seeger, mighty restored hunter. It just works.

Except for printing pdf’s with two pages to the sheet from KGhostview. Maybe I can salvage my honor! Here’s luck, let’s crack some skulls and give a toast!

Today is a good day

For making backups. No, it’s an excellent day. Trust me on this. I had been intending to make a backup for, and I hardly dare admit it, three months. So, Friday afternoon Irina’s laptop crashed when noatun tried to read its config file — a config file that happened to be located on a bad block. And our last set of backups was from September

You can easily determine when we have had a major system crash by looking at the dates on the backups. A period where there is a cd for every two weeks means a crash has happened prior to that period. And when the backups become less and less frequent, you can bet that we have forgotten about that crash and that a new one is imminent…

Fortunately, I found the instructions at Namesys quite clear. First, I needed to create a list with bad blocks using /sbin/badblocks, and then feed that list to reiserfsck: reiserfsck --rebuild-tree --badblocks badblocks.txt /dev/hdc1, and everything went swimmingly. Once I had disabled DMA because using DMA on a broken hard disk made the computer hang.

So now we have backups again… And Dell is going to deliver a new hard disk today or tomorrow.

It’s dead…

My poor Powerbook, a Pismo, is more or less dead. I used it mainly to quickly blog a bit or check mail from my comfy chair, but also to compile Krita and check it for endianness problems. And it’s not even the machine that’s completely broken; it’s the yo-yo power supply. And I used it to make the acquaintance of OS X.

Of course, the nearly five-year old computer had its little aging aches; the screen was as yellow the fingers of a chain-smoker, the dvd-drive only worked if you kept it pressed against the contacts. That’s why I’m not going to spend another $70,- on a new adaptor and $199,95 on a new dvd drive (after the $99,99 for the battery). The whole computer only cost me €300,-.

Anyway, these Pismo’s were pretty good machines — expandable, up to 8 hours juice with two batteries or feather-weight with the weight-saving device. Plenty powerful, even now: it ran OS X without any trouble in 386MB of ram on a 500Mhz G3, complete with Photoshop in Classic mode and Safari and Mail running at the same time.

And it has stood up to some pretty rough treatment, too, first from Tryllian’s resident artist, then from me, during holidays (where I used it as an image tank) and about and around the house.

What now… I’ll probably try to flog it on a second-hand mac website or eBay. I don’t want to be without an Apple, so I’m in the market for a cheap replacement. G4, for preference, so I can mess with altivec instructions in Krita. But whether I’ll buy the cheapest second-hand tiBook I can find or a new iBook, I’m not sure yet. We’ll be taking it on holidays, so something sturdy seems indicated. But old tiBooks are well supported by Linux and have the better screen.


Wiser councils prevailed

And I managed to buy a new power-supply for my Pismo. As the man said who sold me the thing (it’s the whiter iBook version rather than the more bronze Powerbook version of the Yoyo), the Pismo is a beautiful machine. Pity about the rotten LCD panel…

But at least we’ll have money for a small laser-printer this January. And given that we’re still using the HP Deskjet 500 we bought for my 386sx twelve years ago, a printer that has seen about sixteen computers pass, we may well feel it’s high time.

Don’t buy Acer

Acer, a fairly popular manufacturer of none-too cheap laptops is a very bad firm to do business with. Their hardware sucks; their warranty sucks; their knowledge of consumer law sucks, their helpline sucks and the idiots they employ suck, too. My advice: do not buy Acer. Ever.

We were stupid enough to do so, slightly more than two years ago. We bought a nicely-specced Acer Aspire laptop, to run Linux on. For E1700,-. After a month or eight the battery was flat, but that’s not covered by the warranty anyway.

Then the machine, which had never been a pleasant thing, itself started to fail: the processor would get so hot it would shut itself off after a few minutes of running, especially if not placed high above any surface by means of of an extra support, and the backlight gave in.

Let me first explain about Dutch consumer law: if you buy something, the manufacturer has a responsibility for as long as the item can be reasonably expected to function. Since this is a bit more than two years for a laptop, this goes beyond the statutory warranty. If you have a defect, even outside warranty, then, if you bring this to the manufacturer’s notice within two months, you still have rights. Simply fobbing a person off by sending him to a repair center where you’ll have to pay for repairs yourself is not an option. Because if the thing breaks during the period in which you might reasonably expect it to function, the manufacturer has delivered a defective product.

This I explained to Acer in a polite letter, with a reference to current law. Today someone from Acer rang me up and began to tell me that since the laptop was out of warranty, I should go to their designated repair center and pay for
repairs myself. He didn’t even announce he was from Acer, he just started his spiel.

When I tried to explain the law to him, he told me the law didn’t matter, and that I was on my own. After being treated like a moron for a few moments I rung off.

I hadn’t expected much, I must admit, but still: damn him, his company and his products. I should probably sue them to teach them about the laws of the country they operate in, but I’ll junk the laptop instead and warn everybody
about Acer’s bad quality, their atrocious service and complete lack of regard for their customers.

Sod Acer.


Another call from Acer… This time I had someone rather more polite on the phone, probably the first person’s boss. Still he was as unhelpful as can be, referring me back to their head-quarters in the USA. So: my opinion still stands: never, ever buy something from Acer.