Monday, January 23, 2012

Why I'll Never Buy Another Lenovo Computer

I won't bore you with all the details since they're in another post, but despite my overhwelming preference for GNU/Linux for some very specific reasons I wound up needing to get a Windows laptop last month. I didn't need anything terribly fancy and Costco had a good deal on a Lenovo G770 so I went for it.

Well, ever since I got the thing it's been bluescreening and/or just shutting itself off periodically, consistently every single night and at other random times during the day.

I don't think it's ever crashed while I was actually in the middle of using it, and as I mentioned in my previous post it seemed to be related to power saving activities (e.g. screen dimming, etc.). Since this isn't my primary machine it wasn't enough of a nuisance that I dropped everything to figure it out.

I did some searching and troubleshooting as I had time, looked for updated drivers and BIOS, etc. and since all else failed, I figured what the heck, it's under warranty, let's call support and see if they have any bright ideas.

I started with the Costco Concierge support that came with the machine, and I was pleasantly surprised. They answered the phone right away, listened to all the troubleshooting I'd done thus far and based on that had a couple of suggestions I hadn't tried, and overall were quite good.

That didn't fix the issue however, so they connected me to Lenovo support. Lenovo asked me a bunch of questions to try and eliminate the hardware being the issue (I'm still not convinced it's not, personally), and they said since it sounded like it was just a power saving driver issue they'd pass me on to software support to get it resolved. The software support queue was very backed up so they said they'd put me in for a callback within an hour.

Several days passed and I hadn't heard anything (again, not a terribly pressing issue) so I finally called the phone number they gave me and gave them my case number. After 30 minutes of back and forth with the support person (and I gave them a case number, remember) I was told I had dialed hardware support and that I had to talk to software support. (I dialed the only number they gave me, but whatever.) They again told me I'd get a callback but this time in about 15 minutes, so I figured I'd give it an hour and just call back in if they didn't call.

About an hour later I received a call from software support. This is where stuff gets really fun. I explained the issue again, and the short version of their response is that since this is a software related problem as opposed to a hardware related problem, the software is not covered by the warranty but they'd be happy to fix my problem if I either paid for a single incident support ticket, or upgraded to the premium warranty which does cover software.

The cost for either choice was $179.

So I said to the support tech, "Let me get this straight. I bought a Lenovo computer with your installation of Windows on it and your drivers, it's never worked right, and you're telling me that you don't support your own Windows installation and your own drivers."

His response was, "Sir, we find that 70% of software problems can be resolved by users themselves so it doesn't make sense to make people pay more for the computer in order to have that covered since most people don't need it."

Trying not to be offended (I'm a 1337 g33k dammit!) I explained to the guy that I was a computer programmer by trade, and that I had spent quite a lot of time trying to solve the problem myself because I absoultely hate calling tech support since they aren't ever terribly helpful.

I then said, "Look at this from my perspective. I bought this machine. It doesn't work right. I don't care if it's the hardware or the software. I just expect a brand-new machine to work properly. I find it astonishing that you'd sell a computer that YOU configured and if there's something wrong with the software that YOU pre-install on the computer, that it's not supported without an additional charge of about 25% of the cost of the machine."

He just parroted back the "most software problems can be solved by users" line.

I said that's ridiculous, but fine, I'm wasting my time here so I'd like to return the machine since it's still under warranty and I don't like the way Lenovo does business.

He told me Lenovo's return policy is 21 days, which I was just outside. So basically I got penalized for trying to troubleshoot it myself and not calling in sooner.

I was pretty pissed at this point but I figure ultimately I need the damn thing working if I can't return it, so I said, "If I pay the $179 you guarantee this thing will work and you'll keep on it until it does, including sending me a new machine if you can't fix it?"

Short version of his response was that they guarantee they will do everything they can to fix it and if all else fails, they'll send me a system restore disk.

Well that's just dandy. Given that scenario they have no actual incentive to spend any time fixing the problem. Their time is money, but apparently my time is free, so here's how me paying for a premium warranty would play out. I'd pay the $179, they'd probably spend 2 minutes saying stuff like "have you tried rebooting?", and then they'd send me a very pricey restore disk and tell me to wipe the computer to put it back to its original state.

I explained to the guy that it didn't work in its original state, so why on earth would they expect a system restore to fix the problem? Not to mention I already had spent quite a lot of time doing all the Windows updates and installing software.

Since that's all he could do I told him I'd call Costco or my credit card company since I bet they both have better return policies than Lenovo directly. He said he'd call me back in an hour to see if I still wanted to pay them $179 to fix things.

Small detour here--don't get me wrong, I understand I bought a "value line" laptop. I'm not expecting a $3000 ThinkPad for 1/3 the price. What I do expect, however, is that the machine will work, and I also expect that a company will fix something they sell me if it's broken when I buy it.

I then called Costco, and they have a 90 day return policy. So bite me Lenovo, your resellers back your stupid products better than you do yourself. Since Costco had done so right by me through this whole process and was going to take back this Lenogo (see what I did there?) I immediately ordered a new HP dv7t from costco.com. I figure for the $179 I would have paid Lenovo I might as well get a nicer computer instead of adding 25% to the cost of this piece of junk.

Also since I still have a nice window to return the Lenovo to Costco, this way I can get the new computer, transfer all my crap to it from the Lenovo, and then return the Lenovo with plenty of time to spare.

Bottom line here is I'm still quite flabbergasted that Lenovo would sell a computer with their pre-install of Windows, their drivers, etc. and not support a damn bit of it without making people pay extra. I guess they're just playing the odds but here's another thought Lenovo: if you seriously only have to help 30% of the people who buy your products with the software that you put on the computers when you ship them, is that really a big deal? You'd rather have people like myself stop buying your products altogether?

Here's hoping the HP situation turns out much better.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Email Account Zero Achieved

In my "Email is Broken" post I outlined a game plan for getting myself out of the business of managing email. This morning I took a big first step in achieving email account zero, which is not only inbox zero but also means I don't have any email stored in folders in my email account.

Going back through my old email folders was pretty eye-opening. I had thousands of messages dating back to 2006, so for the most part I took the "if you haven't looked at it since you can't remember you don't need it" approach and deleted large swaths of email with reckless abandon. I at least scanned each folder to see if anything jumped out at me but (surprise!) it was all outdated crap.

I did have email folders for "Accounts," "Servers," and "Serial Numbers" that took a bit more attention since they had information in them I didn't want to lose. For those folders I looked at each email and moved the information to the following places:

  • If it was something like a server name, IP address, etc. I made sure it was in our server wiki on FogBugz
  • If it was login information for an application, I put that information in KeepassX
  • If it was a software serial number for server software (meaning not a personal serial number just for me) I made sure it was in our serial number wiki in FogBugz
  • If it was a software serial number for an individual license for me personally, I put it in a Tomboy note for serial numbers
  • If it was an email containing at attachment I wanted to save, I saved it to my local hard drive in a logically named directory
  • If there was email in my inbox that was only sitting there as a "to do" reminder, I put it in a "to do" note in Tomboy

Also I have one particular application that sends out a lot of alerts that contain important information, but that typically someone other than me has to do something about, so I took myself off that distribution list. The info is all saved in log files anyway so I can always trace it back that way if there is something I need to look at.

And with that I have zero email in my account, I'm much better organized, and I'm not relying on email as a filing cabinet. Email wasn't designed for that so it's no wonder it sucks at it.

Much more ahead but this big step eliminates a lot of what Scott Hanselman calls "psychic weight" I was feeling related to my email.

Next up is adventures with StatusNet and stopping treating email as IM.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Email is a Broken Communication Medium. Here's What I'm Doing About It.

I had many, many, many thoughts today on why email is a completely broken communication medium in the workplace, both in terms of its effectiveness as a communication tool and in terms of the horrendous unproductive time suck it can so easily become.

For example, when there are issues with production systems high-speed, high-volume email threads between co-workers should not be the primary means of communicating. Generating a horrendous amount of noise and distraction in a crisis is pretty much the last thing you want to do, and certainly reading and replying to emails about a problem should not make up 90% of the time spent solving the problem.

Furthermore, in a lot of organizations email is seen as something it's not, namely a synchronous, instantaneous medium. Email is not IM. Email isn't a ringing phone that someone has to answer right away. We need to stop thinking of it that way.

Sure, email is delivered more or less instantly, but the habit that I (and I'm sure others) fall into, particularly if you get an alert sound or some other indication every time you receive an email, is checking the old inbox as a Pavlovian reflex.

Rather than merely flapping my gums with an "email sucks" rant, I'm finally annoyed enough with the problem and convinced about how bad it is on numerous levels (some companies think it's so bad they're banning email entirely) that I'm going to do something about it. Doing something--anything at all--is better than doing nothing, so here's what I came up with so far.

First, I installed StatusNet on a server so my co-workers and I can pilot it. To me that's pretty much "problem solved" for a lot of issues but I'm sure some folks will take some convincing. That's understandable, but I'm remaining optimistic for the moment. (My colleagues and I have about a gazillion ideas on just how counter-productive and horrible email is as well as how StatusNet will be used and some of the problems it'll solve, so I should have more to say about that as we put our lofty theories into practice.)

Second, I am adopting the following rules for my work email:

  1. Inbox Zero. No almosts. No exceptions. Zero means zero. Included in this is not using my inbox as a to-do list, something of which I am horribly guilty.
  2. No folders or saved email. No exceptions. If something in an email is important enough to save, it must be saved somewhere appropriate for the specific type of information, be that a wiki page, Keepass, a good old-fashioned browser bookmark, or whatever. My email account will no longer be used as a filing cabinet.
  3. I will not check my email every time I hear my phone buzz. I will add a hopefully not-too-offensive note to my email signature explaining that if something is urgent and requires a reply any sooner than 1 hour minmum, people should contact me via IM or phone. (There may be some issues with the defintion of "urgent" during the adjustment period but I think this is a good starting place.)

Throw some Pomodoro Technique into the mix and I'll probably be so productive my hair will catch on fire.

I'd be interested in hearing your experiences with this. How do you treat and handle email? Have you tried to break the email habit? If so, what worked and what didn't?

When I look back at a day like today and the amount of actual work accomplished is such a small percentage of the 14+ hours I spent furiously working on issues, that's a clear indication something is drastically wrong. Even if some of what I outline above fails it's better than the status quo, because the status quo is failing miserably.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Solution for Windows 7 "The Computer Has Rebooted From a Bugcheck" Error

I'm not proud of it but over Christmas I bought a Lenovo G770 laptop running Windows 7 (Home Premium 64-bit specifically). It's a really nice machine for the money, particularly given the deal I got on it through Costco.

The main reason for me getting a Windows machine--OK, call it an excuse if you will--is because I needed a machine to run Pro Tools and Adobe Audition for both voiceover work as well as some volunteer production work I hope to be doing for KBCS before too long. Yes, unfortunately when you get into needing to run specific software like that there's some things that unfortunately don't run on Linux. This also opens the door to doing some live shows on CodeBass this year using SAM Broadcaster or maybe just take some of the load off Vicky by uploading my own damn show for a change!

Anyway, lately the machine's been shutting down when I'm not looking, so I took the time to dig into the Event Viewer today and saw the error "The computer has rebooted from a bugcheck" along with the location of a memory dump file. Also occasionally when the screen shuts off I'll hear the fan go nuts and it won't respond to keyboard or mouse input, requiring a hard reboot to get it to come back.

I was concerned maybe it's a hardware issue of some sort but I found a solution that seems to be working thus far, though the real test will be if it makes it through the night tonight without dying. I found a lot of posts about this that were unrelated to anything that would be happening on my machine (many of which basically said "uninstall Zone Alarm" which I don't have installed), but one I came across sounded plausible since the error seems to occur when it's doing something related to power saving.

This isn't the exact error I was getting but what's described here has thus far done the trick since it tends to happen at least once during the day as well:

  1. Run a command prompt as administrator
  2. Type "powercfg -h on" without the quotes and hit enter

I then rebooted just to be safe (it's Windows, after all).

What that does is manually re-enable hibernate mode, and apparently even if you don't use it (which I don't) it fixes the issue.

As I said the real test will be if it makes it through the night without dying since it always happens overnight, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

Windows 7 and problems like this sure make me appreciate Linux.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Serious Snow in Seattle

-1636499968

It just keeps coming ...

Testing Posting From Blogger to Google+

Another test post to see if posting directly from Blogger can be shared on Google+. Having Posterous autopost to Blogger didn't seem to do the trick.

Here's another cute picture of Angel for testing purposes. And because she's so gosh darn cute.


Testing Posting From Posterous -> Blogger -> Google+

Forgive the test post, just seeing if I can post in Posterous and have that go to Blogger which in turn shows up on Google+. Sticking picture of Angel in here to see where pictures wind up as well. Dawww isn't she cute?

Angel_face

Saturday, January 14, 2012

webOS 3.0.5 86 Available

If you go to System Updates on your TouchPad you should see webOS 3.0.5 86 listed. You can either wait for it to auto-download when the device is idle, or you can click the Download Now button. (Like anyone's NOT going to click download now!)
As outlined in a previous post the 3.0.4 update never did show up for me so if you're having issues you can use webOS Doctor and update that way.
If you're interested in following all the work that's being done on webOS as they make the transition to open source be sure and follow @webosinternals on Twitter.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Installing Packages for Sublime Text 2 on Linux

I decided to give Sublime Text 2 a try on the next sprint on my current project. I've heard a lot of great things about it and have been impressed in the bit of messing around I've done thus far, and as I've said before although CFEclipse rocks for CFML development after using it for years and years Eclipse is just starting to feel like a lot more than I need. Eclipse is great for the Groovy and Java work that I do but for CFML I've been looking for something more lightweight, because for CFML work I tend to use Eclipse as a pretty basic editor and file navigator. Like most programmers I also tend to get bored and simply want to try new things once in a while.
I used emacs on the last round of updates to the OpenBD admin console. I really, really like emacs but you're stuck with using the HTML syntax highlighting and code formatting since there's no CFML plugin for emacs (that I could find anyway), so it falls over pretty hard if you try to do too much CFSCRIPT. I also use vim quite a lot as an editor but for full-blown project work I've never made the switch for whatever reason. I'm also a big fan of UltraEdit and although they do have a Linux version, it's pretty sluggish. Hopefully that'll get better in newer releases.
But I digress--the real point of this post is a quick tip on where to put Sublime Text packages on Linux. Not a huge thing but I figured I'd share since I did have to do a bit of hunting around. Even though Sublime Text is available for Linux (which is awesome), most of the information around this assumes you're using either Windows or Mac.
After you extract Sublime Text 2 and run it for the first time it creates the directory ~/.config/sublime-text-2 and this is where you put your packages. You just copy the directory containing the package you want to install into ~/.config/sublime-text-2/Packages, restart Sublime Text, and you're done.
Let's use the ColdFusion Plugin as an example. After unzipping the plugin, you'll copy the ColdFusion directory (the entire directory, not just the contents) into ~/.config/sublime-text-2/Packages so you'll wind up with the directory ~/.config/sublime-text-2/Packages/ColdFusion Restart Sublime Text and if you go to View -> Syntax you'll see ColdFusion in the list.
Note that in some of the Mac instructions I found they indicated you have to also add a symlink in ~/.config/sublime-text-2/Installed Packages that points to the directory of the package. I did that first and it works but given that all the other packages in ~/.config/sublime-text-2/Packages show up in the menus, I decided to delete the symlink and after restarting Sublime Text everything still works.
I'll be using Sublime Text 2 hot and heavy over the next few weeks so I'll share my experience with it. If you have any tips for a n00b or stuff that tripped you up when you first started using Sublime Text I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pro Tools LE 8.0.5 and Buffer Underrun Error (-6085) on Windows 7

Quick tip for an error that seems to plague a lot of Pro Tools users. I recently installed Pro Tools 8.0.5 on Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit and was constantly getting the dreaded "H/W Buffer Underrun" error (-6085). I only ever record a voiceover track in Pro Tools (occasionally with a music bed in another track), but even with a small session such as that it would happen consistently, sometimes after only a few seconds, but at best I'd get 5 minutes of recording time before it would throw the error. It would also throw the error when bouncing a mix to MP3, and the length of the bounce didn't seem to matter much.
To try and fix this I tried (almost) everything listed in Avid's Windows 7 Optimization Guide to no avail, and also scoured the far reaches of the interwebs looking for a solution with no luck, so I finally ponied up the $39 for a support ticket and gave them a call. (As an aside, Avid's support is top-notch. I was on hold for a while but once it was my turn I got exceptionally good assistance.)
For reference the machine I'm using is a Lenovo G770, which has an Intel Core i5 (2.4 GHz), 8GB of RAM, and a 5400 RPM (yes, slow) drive. I also have a 1TB USB 3.0 USB-powered Western Digital hard drive attached to this machine, but regardless of if I recorded to the main drive (the one with Windows and Pro Tools on it) or the external drive the error would occur. At first I was a bit worried about the hard drive speed but Avid said it should be OK, but they did recommend that even if you use a USB drive it's better to record to an external drive. The other tidbit the support tech shared is that solid-state drives aren't yet recommended for Pro Tools recording.
After the support tech ran me through most of the things I'd already tried, had me delete some preferences files, and then gave me some other settings to try, I was initially able to get a 10 minute stretch recorded without any problems so I optimistically tried to record some stuff for real, but after only about two and a half minutes the error occurred again.
As what I thought was a last ditch effort I tried the one thing I hadn't yet tried since it seemed like a stretch: I disabled both my wired and wireless network cards. That, in combination with reducing the number of CPUs from 4 to 2 and setting the utilization to 90%, seemed to do the trick. Ultimately it may have only been the networking cards that were causing the problem but I violated a major rule of troubleshooting and changed two things at once, and now that it seems to be working I'll probably just stick with these settings.
If you search for the -6085 error in your favorite search engine you'll get tons of suggestions and unfortunately you may just have to experiment, but in my case once I disabled the network cards I recorded for 20 minutes without a hiccup which was quadruple what I'd been able to do before.
The Avid support technician did tell me that in Pro Tools 10 they leverage RAM more in the playback engine instead of streaming to disk so heavily, so if all else fails you may want to upgrade. I personally didn't want to do that because I really don't need anything that Pro Tools LE 8.0.5 doesn't do so kudos to Avid for still supporting it, and supporting it so well.