Archive for June, 2008

the illusion of seamless information

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

i have found the perfect aftermarket bluetooth adapter.

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

The world of Bluetooth radios for computers are, as far as I’m concerned, a wretched hive of scum and villainy when it comes to quality, compatibility and honesty. USB Bluetooth adapters are exactly the kind of merchandise that comes from Asia and floods the market with bizarre variations.

The problems are numerous. You need specific, proprietary driver and software packs to use the things, they won’t exactly conform to standards, they’ll use weaselly words on their packaging to puff up their apparent feature lists, it’ll randomly not work with some devices or some operating systems, it’ll overheat and have to be unplugged for 10 minutes every half hour, and most probably you paid $9 for it on eBay and it’s not worth the hassle to chase up a refund. Nice work, if you can get it.

And don’t think that by sticking to big brandnames you’ll get the best, either. I recently went to Officeworks and paid $35 of my glorious, hard-earned dollars for a USB bluetooth adapter purportedly made by Swann. I’ll tell you right now that this device is identical to the crappy ISSCBTA dongles, down to the supplied driver CD being a cheap CD-R some kid in a factory’s burned the same old software to.

You face the same problem with laptops. Don’t ever buy a new laptop without a factory-fitted internal Bluetooth adapter, because adding them after-market is just painful.

This colourful little dingus is an internal Bluetooth adapter for Dell Inspiron (and probably other) laptop computers. I did the stupid thing and bought it off eBay, and wound up with a device that Just Doesn’t Work.

I’m too embarassed and prideful to say how much I spent on it and the cable, or to get a proper quote from Dell for the same, guaranteed-to-work parts. I don’t need to, either, because I’ve found a bluetooth adapter that doesn’t completely suck.

Yup. It’s a tiny notch of plastic and electronics on the rear end of a USB plug. That’s an 80mm CD “single”, too, not a full 120mm 700MB job.

The box it came in says “HI-SPEED USB 2.0, CLASS 2 + EDR, RANGE 30 M”, which I think means it’s a long-range Bluetooth 1.1 device, not 2 (I’ll doublecheck and update this when I know for sure). I don’t care how fast it is or how far it can shout; I basically use it to copy the occasional photo off my phone and zip other files around when it’s too much of a hassle to find the right cable for a particular device.

Here’s the good thing though: It works out of the box on Windows XP and Vista. You don’t even need the driver CD, and you can use Windows’s own inbuilt Bluetooth software, which turns out to actually be quite excellent:

And here’s the punchline: It costs US$12 delivered anywhere in the world, from DealExtreme. They’re a weird bunch based in Hong Kong who sell all kinds of electronic crud cheaply with free postage, and unlike eBay actually CARE about what they’re selling. I’m not yet brave enough to buy an “iFone”, but for most things like memory cards and card readers and such they’re perfect.

There are slightly cheaper ones available, but I paid $12 instead of $9 for the smallest one possible. Here it is, plugged into my faithful old Inspiron:

It doesn’t stick out very far, and the plug is tight and holds on like crazy. It’s not going to fall off by itself, and as long as you don’t stuff the computer in your bag USB-side-down, you can basically leave it there forever. The only downside is the bright blue LED in it that flashes ceaselessly, but if that’s a problem, scribble over it with permanent marker or something.

Stop trying to find drivers for other adapters. Buy this one instead.

sort by… what?

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Windows Vista gives you the ability to sort through any folder of objects – music, say, or photos – with a certain set of attributes. For music, it suggests track name, or artist, or album, or track number. You can sort My Computer by how much free space is in each volume, or where they are on the network.

I wanted to sort a folder by how recently the files were modified, and got distracted by the sheer choice of things you can sort by.

This is my favourite, by far:

Actually trying to sort my movie collection by station call sign does nothing at all, because movies generally don’t have that kind of attribute. Nor do they have anniversaries, optional attendee addresses, or car phone numbers.

Dear Microsoft, some points:

  1. Please, please, please put “Date modified” back on the Sort By menu for every kind of folder. This is the only sorting attribute I’ve ever wanted or needed to add to a folder.
  2. If you insist on making everything searchable – including the Start menu, which I only ever find myself searching in after bumping the Windows key by accident – for the love of God and all that is holy please make the sorting details list searchable, or at least categorised somehow.
  3. I don’t even know what kind of file would have station call signs as attributes. It’s not part of any walkthrough ever published on the internet. Halp?

bruised, battered but still alive

Friday, June 13th, 2008

I can’t believe I’ve worked at the PC place for a full year without seeing this happen.

Until today. Guy bought a parallel ATA hard drive, and we patiently explained how to install it. He brought it back later, with his computer, to say he couldn’t get it to work.

He’d installed it upside down. In a floppy drive bay, so the screw holes don’t line up. Scratching the hell out of the side doing so.

Then I noticed the real damage.

He’d forced the IDE cable into the drive upside down. There was no way this was going back for warranty, so we took the board off to see if we could straighten the pins a bit. They promptly broke and fell out.

The missing pins are for some kind of nonessential signalling, not anything crucial to do with moving data, so the drive itself is still working and sitting in his machine doing a surface scan.

Maybe he didn’t drop it down a concrete stairwell as well. Time will tell.

in a family restaurant somewhere

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

We asked you nicely…

i hate being sick. (updated)

Friday, June 6th, 2008

I am male, and I have a cold. This basically means I act like I’m tired (I am) and the world’s ending (sure feels like it) and [grunting noises] (how I communicate when I’m too lazy to speak).

Bear with me here.

My job involves fixing PCs. I can diagnose faulty hardware in seconds (and take some weird pleasure in it). I’ve just spent two days fighting with what I believe was some mutant f$@!ing rootkit that half the internet thinks is smitfraud and the other half thinks is vundo. I also have lungs and thus a need to breathe, even when blowing dust out of your computer, so please think again before you smoke next to your computer.

Or cook bacon next to it. Computers that smell like bacon are awesome, but they tend to die young.

Anyhow, my point is I know this stuff.

Computers have drives or cards, cards have electrical components, and all the separate little parts combine to make a system with finite parts.

If you don’t have sound anymore, you might need to reinstall your soundcard driver. If your computer bluescreens frequently, get windiag or memtest86 and test your RAM overnight. If you get weird messages about CMOS settings or your drive letters switch around, replace your CMOS battery. If you get random reboots and your hard drives sometimes turn off while you’re working, test the power supply. If the motherboard doesn’t beep at all with no drives, expansion cards or RAM plugged in, replace the PSU or the board.

Coolest one ever? “There’s some noise in the speakers I can’t get rid of.” (3 second pause) “Mute line in.”

Finite parts can only fail in finite ways. If you have no life, you can train yourself to look at a machine that’s beeping, or blinking, or rebooting, and point at it and say “replug the keyboard in, and jumper the hard drives properly this time”.

The system’s scope is usually that of a single computer, but frequently fun little things like fujacks can involve your entire network. Which, if your network is a lab of random computers from people’s houses, can be excruciating. Stop sharing your C:\ drives with full write permissions, you gits.

(Yes, we could’ve avoided that by isolating clients with some kind of expensive managed switch, but that’s only happened once, and one afternoon isn’t worth the cost.)

It’s just barely manageable though. I watch House, and nod sagely, and realise I do pretty much the same thing – down to the pacing around with fiddletoys – and wonder how the hell medical doctors even exist.

Me? I know to take ibuprofen when it hurts, penicillin when it’s green, antihistamines when I want to sleep *and* breathe at night, and apply coldness when I’ve just burned myself on something or rolled an ankle strolling down a mountain.

That, and strap my belt around my leg and not move much if I’ve been bitten by a snake, so the venom doesn’t rush around my bloodstream as quickly. That’s never happened, so I still have no idea if I’m going to run like hell anyway.

I suck at the normal stuff too. It’s only just recently, at 21 and a bit years of age, that I’ve realised TV is lying to me, and that I need to eat less, not better, to lose a bit of weight. Home-cooked meals mean you eat alright, and I get enough exercise at work, so all I had to do was eat breakfast at brunchtime, dinner at dinnertime, and go to bed before second dinner starts to sound good. I lost 5 kilos in a month because I realised what I was doing wrong, went “oh yeah!”, and fixed it.

With a computer, you can swap out some RAM, or unplug excess drives, or try a different keyboard, or stop using nVidia’s freaking nForce4 IDE driver that kills Windows installs in weeks, and you get instant results. You instantly know that the very last change you made did something good.

I barely remember to shave unless I rub my chin and my fingers start hurting. The two morals in this rantfest are as follows:

  1. If the three following phrases are present on a box of medicine – “Cold relief”, “Maximum Strength” and “Day & Night” (my god, those phrases speak to my male brain) – buy it. You’ll feel weird later on when someone says “ah, you’re into the natural stuff?”, but Valerian is awesome, and you’ll never sleep as well as you will taking it.
  2. You have absolutely no excuse to not be as well-informed as you can make yourself. Forget paying for extra TV channels – you’ll be told some facts about the great wall of China, and gain respect for the ice truckers of northern Canada, but the internet gives you so much more.

Got 15 spare minutes? Learn why you can’t roll-start automatic transmissions, or why advertising should be irrelevant to your life. Or google some lyrics you remember from years ago to find out what the song was called, or a phone number before you ring it back in case it’s bogus. Read about drugs, or how to buy used cars (look for a site localised to your country/state), or which antivirus is best (don’t rely on that friend of a friend who said AVG is all you’ll ever need), or how to get smells out of carpets (baking soda is the golden path), or circumcision (google it yourself).

Go to a geeky channel on IRC and ask them what shaving kit they use. Base your purchases off what they say, because it’ll be excellent advice. Do the same thing with food or cars if you’re on a budget.

Inform yourself, because once you’re out of school the world is an open-ended sandbox where you’re free to up and move to Melbourne if your savings allow it.

Okay, back to coughing. G’night.

Update: I only bought the herbal stuff by accident. The box had all the right words, but a few nights later I took a couple of phenergen and scrounged some antibiotics and today I’ve completely bounced back. Let’s all just forget I ever tried a natural alternative.