Archive for the ‘hardware’ Category

I read an interesting post on The Verge today: The Lost Secrets of WebOS. For those not familiar with WebOS, it was Palm’s last gasp before HP finally killed it. The article makes a brief mention of upcoming LG TVs that will run WebOS before launching into an interesting discussion of the software’s history.

I was a heavy Palm user back in the day, and it’s interesting to realize that the whole Palm ecosystem is virtually extinct. Hardware, software, accessories, app stores (before today’s current app store model came into existence) – all gone.

That actually makes me think of some housecleaning I did a few weeks ago. It was time to go through my password app and clear out those old usernames and passwords I no longer use. Of course there were logins for a number of Palm-related apps and services that don’t exist anymore. There was an online game from a major entertainment company, a library service from a major content provider, and even services such as Gowalla and Meebo. Of course the last one made me think about all the services that Google has developed or acquired and then terminated.

When the (conservative) housecleaning was complete, I had deleted over 40 usernames. I could probably delete at least that many more without much effort. For me it was an interesting reminder of the rise and fall of tech services. Ars Technica has an interesting and somewhat related article: Ars deathwatch 2014: Companies on the edge of relevance.

Several months ago I wrote about how I solved a wireless printing problem with my HP LaserJet P1102W. One tiny little change to the settings made all the difference in the world.

Recently I returned home from vacation to find that – once again – it wouldn’t print. I started by taking a look at the list of devices connected to my home network. Sure enough, the P1102W was missing. This time though, I suspected that it didn’t have anything to do with the channel on the wireless access point. My hunch was that some other device had grabbed the printer’s IP address.

All of the devices on my home network are using dynamically assigned IP addresses rather than static addresses. (However, I may rethink that after this latest issue.) My theory was that the printer had been off for over a week, so its IP address hadn’t been active on the network. Perhaps when we returned, one of the other devices leased the printer’s address. When we returned from vacation, we brought with us two iPhones, two iPads, one iPod, and one laptop.

For this issue it turned out to be a fairly easy fix. I turned off WiFi on the iPads and phones, and sure enough the printer popped up on the network again. When I re-enabled WiFi on the other devices, they leased new addresses and everything was back to normal. That made me start thinking about how many devices we have on the home network, and once I totaled them up, I was a little surprised.

2 iPhones
2 iPads
1 iPod
3 laptops
1 desktop
1 Wii
1 X-box
1 DVD player

That’s twelve devices on the home network. I realized that we had a lot of gadgets sitting around, but it was interesting to see how many network connected devices we have.

Well . . . interesting until they all start talking to each other and take over the world.

UPDATED 07/18/12

To cut to the chase: Try changing your wireless access point to Channel 11.

The follow-up post may also be of interest: It Won’t Print Again.

Keep reading for the original post.

I have a friend who used to work in another nearby department on campus. He used to call me up just for fun and say, “It won’t print.” That’s all. No “Hello.” No “How are you doing?” Just “It won’t print.” It was kind of a running joke because I used to tell him about a number of the really strange printing problems I tackled.

It’s strange that in this age of being able to do so many things completely electronically people still like to print. They still like things on paper. I’m no different. Some things I just really want on paper. If a company doesn’t send me an e-mail confirmation within about five minutes of an online order, I’ll print the confirmation page. I’ve tried electronic boarding passes before, and I’ve let the airline scan my phone. Somehow though, I feel better with a paper boarding pass. Why? Maybe I feel that I’m more likely to lose my phone than that magic piece of paper. Perhaps my phone battery might die. Or how about this one? Maybe my phone will crash. It has happened before. My paper boarding pass has never crashed. Oh, it might get a little wrinkled and smudged, but the airline has never had a problem scanning it.

Whatever. I still want to print things sometimes.

About a year ago I built a new computer. It didn’t have a parallel port, and the USB-to-parallel cable didn’t work, so I wound up abandoning my trusty old HP LaserJet 6P for a new LaserJet P1102w. As these things often do, it went swimmingly at first. I installed the driver, printed a test page, and all was well. The wireless printing was fine as well, so I installed the driver on another laptop or two. Over the past year, it got gradually worse. It reached the point where it wouldn’t print without a lot of coaxing. I ignored it thinking that I would get around to it someday. Someday finally came when some visiting relatives needed to print their boarding passes and it wouldn’t print ANYTHING – not a test page or even a page of mojibake.

I took a shortcut by printing from a USB connection before settling in to finally tackle the problem. I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the troubleshooting, but anyone who has ever tried to solve a problem knows that there are a number of possible problems with just the printer and the computer. Add wireless printing into the mix and you introduce a number of other interesting variables.

I Googled. I poured over the HP forums. I removed the software and tried reinstalling it. I tried reconnecting to the wireless access point. I finally determined that the printer absolutely was not connecting to the AP. It wasn’t leasing an IP address, and its MAC address wasn’t showing up in the list of devices attached to the access point. Somewhere I finally came across a web posting where someone noted that the printer seemed to work best with the wireless access point was set to channel 11. I changed mine from channel 5 to 11, and I had the proverbial “Voila!” moment. Everything started working again across all devices. Printing was rock solid after reboots, after idle time, and after printer hibernation. I was back in business.

I’ve been doing computer support since the mid-nineties, so I remember exactly how we used to do our troubleshooting before there was such a wealth of technical support material online. Of course people were solving problems like this long before there was any online information, but it sure makes a difference! That experience notwithstanding, I still find myself occasionally asking, “How do we ever do this before the Internet?”

I guess I should also be asking, “How long until I can stop printing?”

I finally talked myself into getting a new Mac. I haven’t owned a Mac or even had regular access to a current one for over a decade. I have an upcoming project that will be Mac-based, and I wanted to get a jump start on relearning the operating system. I could really benefit from the purported 10-hour battery life when I’m at conferences. Also, I just wanted to know what it was like to drive a Mac again. Since there were rumors of an upcoming refresh to the MacBook line, I was watching with interest to see what new features would be unveiled. I must admit to being taken aback by the fact that the brand spankin’ new 13” MacBook Pro doesn’t sport one of the new Core i5 or i7 processors that the 15” and 17” received. Most unfortunate, that. But after convincing myself, the next thing was to see if the store actually had one.

So Tuesday morning, after we knew that the things were official, I called the nearest Apple Store (Saddle Creek in Germantown, TN – about an hour and 45 minutes away) to see if they had any in stock. They wouldn’t answer their phone. At this point, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, new products had just been announced, so perhaps they were slammed with hordes of the Apple faithful all looking for the latest in Mac gadgetry. Since that didn’t work out, I tried chatting online with an Apple store rep. The rep told me that he couldn’t check inventories at individual stores, so my only option was to just keep calling.

I called back later that afternoon and finally found out that they didn’t have any of the new MacBooks, and they didn’t know when they’d be getting them. Well that was a disappointment. Wait, try again another day.

Wednesday. I called Wednesday morning to see if they had received the new MacBooks. Second verse – same as the first verse. Even though the Apple Store at Saddle Creek opens at 10:00 a.m., by 10:30 they still weren’t answering the telephone. Grrrrr. Finally sometime after lunch I was able to talk to a person who told me that they had received the 15” and 17” models, but not the 13”. Try again tomorrow.

Thursday. I called again. Would you believe that an hour after the store opens, they still don’t have anyone answering phones? I should mention here that I didn’t just call once over the last three mornings. I called several times. I should also mention that once selecting the option to speak with a rep, there were no more phone tree menus to navigate. The phone just rang . . . and rang . . . and rang. No one answered. I was annoyed

I started up another chat with an Apple store rep, and I explained the situation. I told her that people at the Saddle Creek store just won’t answer the phone in the morning, and I asked if she could have someone from that store call me. She explained that she couldn’t, but then gave me temporary hope by asking if I was trying to check inventory at the store. I said, “yes,” and she replied, “One moment please.” For a moment hopes were high. I thought I had happened upon someone at Apple who actually knew how to access their online inventory system and who would be able to give me the information I needed. As I said, hopes were high – for a moment. Then she came back and said that I’d just have to call the store.

So . . . about three hours after the store opened I finally got someone to answer the phone. She told me that they did indeed have the 13” MacBook Pro I wanted, and I asked if she could set one aside for me to pick up later that day. She told me to go to reserve.apple.com, pick out what I wanted, and select the Saddle Creek store as the pickup location. When I got back to the office, I tried. Imagine my surprise when I found that they website she provided actually just redirected me to the iPhone page. Double grrrrr.

Back to Apple chat. I explained the situation to the next chat rep. He said, “Just a moment and let me prepare a custom URL for you.” He hit me with a URL that directed me to the Saddle Creek store. I worked my way through the form only to find out that it merely allowed me to make a shopping reservation. It didn’t actually let me select a product. I explained to the rep that his URL wasn’t allowing me to actually make the reservation that the store rep said I could make. I also explained that I didn’t want to drive an hour and a half only to find out that all of the computers had been sold. Another “One moment please” followed by “I’m sorry, but you can’t reserve items online.”

I was irked. The rep cheerfully asked, “Why not take advantage of free shipping by ordering from Apple’s online store?” I replied that the online store – even when I asked on Tuesday – would not be able to get the product to me before I left town for a conference.

Ultimately I wound up just risking it, and fortunately the store still had them in stock when arrived. But it left me wondering, “If service is this poor when I’m just trying to purchase a product, how bad is the ‘service after the sale’? “

Not answering the phone during morning business hours for three successive days.
Giving misinformation during a phone call.
Offering no way to hold an item for a customer driving an hour and a half just to get to your store.

It’s interesting to note that my really dedicated Apple friends all rave about how wonderful Apple’s service is, and I’ve read a couple of articles about their highly ranked service. If the Apple Store at Saddle Creek in Germantown is any sort of indication though, I’m not looking forward to much in the way of service.

A colleague and I were recently talking about some Internet access trouble he was having at home. Strangely enough, this trouble only seems to manifest itself when he is in the middle of a World of Warcraft raid, and stranger still, it seems to affect only World of Warcraft. All other Internet apps continue to work properly. This discussion led to some of the exotic troubleshooting techniques he has seen suggested on various support forums.

For quite a long time, I have felt that most of the significant hardware advances we see are the result of gamers. Gamers’ needs push hardware development. If it weren’t their needs for better sound, better graphics, more RAM, more processing horsepower, and larger/faster hard drives, most standard productivity applications probably wouldn’t be nearly as advanced as they are today. The GUIs wouldn’t be as advanced. The programs probably wouldn’t be as powerful because the baseline for processors and RAM would be much lower.

Just as games have pushed hardware along, I think they are also pushing along troubleshooting skills – at least for gamers. Gamers are working with firewall issues and router configurations. They’re checking software and driver conflicts. They’re installing new components to optimize their computers for the game-playing experience. They’re exploring the innards of their computers in ways that their peers find intimidating. The result is a group of people who, from a young age, are being trained to diagnose and solve technology problems. I find it interesting that it takes a game to draw some people into the realm of troubleshooting. But more people developing these skills should be a good thing, right?

Several years ago I was meeting with one of our hardware vendors, and I asked them what cool new things they had coming down the pike. They talked about some pretty boring things and then asked what I would like to see. I described to them a idea for foldable screens. They looked at me like I had just turned blue, and sprouted horns and tentacles.

Perhaps they just couldn’t get their minds around the idea. Poor them. Check it out here: Kyocera and Samsung!

Imagine the possibilities! Think about the last time you lugged that laptop to the conference. Maybe you really wanted something the size of a netbook, but you had to take the laptop because you really needed the larger screen. What if you could carry a nine-inch device with a screen that folded out to seventeen inches?!?!? What if you could roll a 4’ x 8’ OLED screen up and carry it with you in a tube? That would really change the face of “poster” sessions. Imagine being able to stick a thin OLED film to the wall for a special event and then peel it off when you’re finished. This technology could really change the face and form factor of smartphones, e-book readers, and many, many other technologies.

These screens are not yet of the size that I would like to see, but THEY FOLD! This is a great start, and I really look forward to seeing how OLED technology will develop.