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.

Comparing Apples and Dells

This seems to be a pretty popular sport in some nooks and crannies of the world — viz. Mezzoblue or OSNews, so I decided to put up a feature-by-feature comparison table of the laptop I wanted to buy, and the laptop I actually bought.

Keep in mind that I would seldom use the OS X that would come with the Powerbook, and never use the OS that comes with the Dell. I much prefer KDE to OS X. Also keep in mind that these are the configurations I choose; the standard Powerbook has a DVD-writer and a bigger hard disk, and costs €2,973.81.

Apple Powerbook 15″ 1.25 Ghz Dell Inspiron 5150
Keyboard gripes No delete Tilde in a silly location
Other gripes Dunno, never seen one in real life Makes a whistling noise.
Suspend & Resume Perfect Suspend, but no resume…
CPU G4 1.25 Ghz Pentium 4M 3,06 Ghz
Battery life Reported to be about 2 hours 4 hours (with brightness turned down to half, but compiling a lot of stuff on the road)
HD 60 GB 40 GB
RAM 512 MB 512 MB
Graphics card ATI Radeon 64 MB NVidia 32 MB
Screen quality Never seen one live, but reported to be good Completely perfect
Resolution 1280 x 854 1600 x 1200
Material Aluminium Plastic
Ports 2 x USB2, 2 x Firewire, TV-out, audio in, audio out, 1000 Mbit ethernet, pcmcia, modem 2 x USB2, Firewire, TV-out, audio in, audio out, 100 Mbit ethernet, pcmcia, modem
Wireless Yes No
Weight 2.5 Kg 3.13 Kg
Size (HxWxL) 2.8 x 34.8 x 24.3 44.5 x 32.9 x 27.5
Price (inc. VAT and transport, in Euros) 2,664.41 1,306.- (now reduced to 987.- + 97.- transport)

So, then it boils down to: is it worth paying €1,359.- for the privilege of giving up a bally perfect screen and a CPU that’s twice as fast where it counts (compiling Java and C++) and a platform that’s best supported by Linux to get better looks, more HD space, a conceivably tougher system and perfect suspend and resume. If the difference hadn’t been more than the price of the Dell itself, I might have hesitated.