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Mavericks Screen Flicker Fix

At some point during my software updates and installs last week, I managed to get the video system on my MacBook Pro Mid-2014  to “get wonky”.   That is a technical term, in case you are wondering.

“get wonky” – the point when something stops working correctly but is still almost functional.   AKA “FUBAR Light”.

The issue only appeared on my external monitors on the displayport connections.   The HDMI external monitor never had the flicker or “ants” issue.

[cvg-video videoId=’25’ width=’800′ height=’600′ mode=’playlist’ /]

After a couple of quick chat sessions with Apple Support the problem was resolved.   I’m not sure what the source of the problem was but it was definitely software related.  The software tests had passed and the problem did not exists for the first 48 hours that I owned the laptop.

I am fairly certain an SMC reset on the MacBook fixed the issue, but the 3 steps that were performed to get there are listed below.  Hopefully this helps with your Mavericks video issues including both flicker (screen goes black as if turned off then back on) and “ants”, which apparently is  Mac-community term for video pixelation artifacts that appear briefly as horizontal or vertical bars that quickly appear and disappear at random intervals.   If you squint a bit while looking at your screen I guess it does sort of look like ants marching down the screen.  Drinking a fifth of vodka before doing the squinty-eye technical assessment helps as well.

Here are the steps I used to fix my Mavericks video issue on the MacBook Pro:

Reset Pram

Shut down the laptop.

Power on the laptop.

IMMEDIATELY press and hold the following keys, you must do this before the first gray screen appears:

Option + Command (⌘) + P + R

Reset SMC

On the  MacBook Pro Mid-2014 running Mavericks you reset the SMC by holding down these keys ON THE LAPTOP (not a USB keyboard) simultaneously for approximately 5 seconds:

Left-Shift + Control + Opt + Power Button

Login / Full Shutdown

When I powered on the laptop after doing these steps the video issue appeared to be WORSE.

Log in to your main admin user account, then shut down.

On reboot my problem was fixed.

Hopefully yours will be too.

 

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Becoming A MacBook User

After 25 years of system crashes, dozens of laptops failing under warranty, months of lost productivity in patches, system reboots, and restores I have finally had enough.    You might call it being stubborn.   I call it 25 years of retained knowledge that I refused to let go.   All the Windows shortcuts.  The black magic required to find system files and bend them to my needs.   Navigating system security.   Knowing nearly any app that existed so I could find the right tool for the job.

Then came Windows 8.   Half of that knowledge was now useless.    Even the decades-old F8 key press on system boot to get to safe mode to recover a broken PC was gone.   I learned that last week when my HP laptop went AWOL for the FIFTH TIME since December.    A $2500 high-end enterprise class HP laptop turn out to have been my second all-time productivity killer right behind my $3800 Asus top-of-the-line gaming laptop I bought a few years ago.    Lesson learned: It doesn’t matter how much you spend on a Windows Laptop it will break and the more costly it is the longer it takes to get parts to fix it.

The Camel Surrenders

This weekend was the last straw.    I literally spent nearly every hour of the past 4 days trying to get my primary development system, that HP laptop, back online.    What did I do to break it?   Installed a CRITICAL HP security update from their laptop-specific HP Support Assistant software.    When it rebooted the only thing I got was the Windows 8.1 version of the “Blue Screen of Death” (BSOD)… the inevitable frowny-face which means 2 more auto-reboots to end up at the “Restore Your System” state.    Sadly system restore, system fresh, and even the Factory Restore Disk applications did not work.    That last one, Factory Reset was the best.  The ONE application that is the “nuke it all, restore the system to Day 1 status” did not work.   It could not run because there was a problem with the primary Windows installation.  AWESOME.   Why do you think I wanted to do a Factory Restore?  Because I was bored?  Because I had so much fun installing 5 days of downloaded apps to get my system setup the first time around?    Because I’m a glutton for punishment.

Windows 8 Frowny Face
Windows 8. Yup, 🙁 just about sums it up.

Well, that last statement may be true given my opening remarks in this article… but I digress…

I had now added SIX MORE FULL DAYS of lost productivity to my lifelong count of 1,356.9 days lost trying to restart a broken windows PC.

Midway through day FOUR of lost productivity I had enough.    I called the local Apple Store to see if they had the newest MacBook Pro available.   Sadly they were out of stock, but my favorite online shopping site, Amazon and their Smile charity program, had the laptop I wanted and at a LOWER PRICE even after the $5 overnight Prime shipping!

New Toys

Today the MacBook Pro arrived.

My old HP laptop, that sat their in defiance all weekend with that damned frowny-face on EVERY ONE of the 18 RESTARTS, I wish I was exaggerating, booted up like nothing was ever wrong literally 90 SECONDS after I opened that MacBook Pro box.    I swear I heard a wav file playing from it’s speakers in  whispered-voice that sounded an awful lot like “Oh shit, he wasn’t kidding when he said 25 years of Windows was enough!”.

MacBook Arrives And HP Plays Nice
As soon as I booted up the MacBook and took the HP out to take some size-comparison pics the HP decide to play nice. Too little, too late HP-Z. It was real… and by that I mean a real PITA.

The Apple Package

My brand new MacBook Pro 15″ laptop.    I had forgotten the great job Apple does packing their products.   I remember being impressed the first time I opened my first-generation iPhone some years ago.  I did notice other companies started to copy the “Apple style” for gadgets-in-a-box and I thought the most recent laptops and phones I got from other brands were “just like what Apple was doing”.   Turns out Apple has pushed the envelope even further as they continue to refine the product packaging.    Yes, it is a small thing, but it show how Apple seems to iterate over every element of the customer experience until it is perfect; until tomorrow when they come up with something better.

Apple Packaging
Apple packaging is clean & simple. Others try to mimic but Apple just has that little-something extra.

A Laptop For Laps

Immediately I noticed how THIN this new Apple laptop was.   It has just about the same technical specifications as the HP ZBook 17″ I’ve been lugging around.     Nearly identical processors,  identical RAM, the same video ports, and a 512GB SSD drive (far faster) on the MacBook versus a 768GB SATA on the HP.   The MacBook screen is a touch smaller at 15.4″ to the HP 17″.    But DAMN is this Apple machine so, so, so much smaller and lighter and easier to tote around than that HP.    Even bringing the HP into the living room to hack around was a chore and after 15 minutes on my lap I could feel my legs going numb from the weight and the heat that thing throws off.

Lightweight MacBook Pro versus Heavyweight HP
This MacBook Pro is going to be SOOOOO much nicer to haul around. A true portable PC. It’s been a while. I’m looking forward to it. Come to think of it I just decided I want to travel more…

This Apple is going to be FAR easier to travel with this fall.     I’m going to truly enjoy how much less size and weight I carry around both around town and to the various conferences I hope to get to around the country this year.

External Displays

I must say that the Windows display system is far more flexible than the OS/X system.   However the OS/X display system in this MacBook actually WORKS right out of the box.     Within minutes I had 2 external HP ZR2440W monitors, which are really nice monitors by the way, connected with the proper resolution and display placement.   What did I have to do to get my 3-up display system working on the new MacBook?  Plug them in.    That’s it.    Nothing more.

On that high-end HP laptop that claims “out of the box support for 5 monitors”?   Turns out that is a lie.   It can handle 3 monitors.   Even with the “simple” 2 external monitors + the laptop display, same setup as my new MacBook, it was far from “plug-and-play”.    I had to download and install a new BIOS on the brand new HP laptop.   Then I had to install a new Video BIOS.   Then I had to install new drivers.  Upgrade Windows.   The entire process required 3 reboots and even then it did not work properly.  Any time the system went into sleep mode one of the  monitors, a random one each time, would not come back.    I got a patch from HP 2 months later for that, which required another download and reboot process.

3 Displays No Problem
3 Displays. No driver installs. No BIOS updates. No reboots. Winner? Apple by a mile.

The Out Of The Box Display Support winner is the MacBook Pro 15″ by a mile.

The next display test?   Connecting THREE external IPS displays to the MacBook.   Rumor has it this is “no problem” according to the Apple Store.   When my mini-displayport to display port cable comes in later this week I’ll let you know, but we’re off to a good start.

External USB Ports

The MacBook Pro is a bit shy on USB ports.   It has a couple, but that’s one less than I need and one less than my HP laptop.     Actually 5 less if you count the HP docking station but I’m sure I can buy a $300 Apple accessory that adds more ports if needed.     Instead I tried to do something that NEVER WORKED properly on the HP laptop; use the 4 USB ports that come with EACH ZR2440W monitor.

With my older HP laptop I went through over a DOZEN USB driver updates, monitor driver updates, and even had a full monitor replaced before I could get even HALF the USB ports working that are built into the displays.    Supposedly you can connect a USB cable from the laptop to the monitor and immediately have all 4 ports recognized by the USB bus.    The high-end HP enterprise-class laptop connected to a high-end HP enterprise monitor was a bust.     When the ports did work only half would work properly and any device attached would drop off the USB bus at random intervals.    I could never use my keyboard or mouse with that setup.   I had to buy that HP docking station to give my system 4 additional STABLE USB ports.  The ports in the monitors were useless.

With the MacBook Pro I decided to give it another shot.  I connected a port on the laptop to one of the monitor ports.   I connected my keyboard, Logitech unify dongle, and Wacom table dongle to the monitor.     Everything worked beautifully, perfectly, and with ZERO configuration on my part.     I’ve now written this entire article without a single dropout from the keyboard or mouse.

External USB device support winner?  Apple.  By a mile.

Getting My Stuff

Over the past few days I’ve had my development environment scattered between the Mac Mini, a broken HP laptop, and some USB drives.   Now I need to get tens-of-gigabytes of files, install packages, and data over to my new laptop.

Getting ANYTHING on Windows 8.1 to talk to anything else is a disaster.    It has been since all the way back to Windows 7 when NT server-class security technology crept into the desktop OS.    Getting any Windows PC to share anything is an exercise in patience.    That is why the entire hokey “Homegroup” sharing thing came about.   It work, but it is SLOWWWW.   Somehow Windows managed to find a way to throttle their own Windows-To-Windows network transfers with some fancy restart-where-you-left-off transfer protocol.  The entire thing is FUBAR.

On the MacBook Pro I found that getting anything from my Mac Mini was blissfully easy.    HOLY SHIT why can’t Microsoft make it this easy.     On the MacBook I went to Finder and immediately found my MacBook mini (where I had turned on File Sharing from System Preferences early in the week by checking a box… no driver or security configurations needed).    Click on that MacBook Mini listing and it asks for my username and password on that system.    I turn it on and guess what?   All my shit is there.    Quick, easy, and accessible.

Installing Sonos From Remote Mac
Honestly, I never expected it to work. I guess that is the norm for a shell-shocked Windows user, but installing things from my older Mac Mini downloads folder was quick and painless.

So what did I try next? Something super crazy that just NEVER WORKS RIGHT on Windows systems.   I decided to run the Oracle VirtualBox and Karabiner installs from off that Mac Mini without copying the files over to my MacBook Pro first.    It ran fast as heck and perfectly, just as if I had run it from the local disk.     HOLY CRAP.   I though for sure it would barf all over itself and require a system reboot and restore like so many remote Windows installs I tried over the past 25 years.

Bluetooth Sharing

This is something I tried to do for months with the HP laptop, and several other PCs before that.   Send a file using bluetooth from my Android phone to the laptop.    On the HP I could get the devices paired and the send/accept file started but it NEVER finished the transfer.  It always aborted no matter the file size.

On OS/X Mavericks?   Pair the devices.  Go to sharing in System Preferences and check “Bluetooth sharing”.    Go to the phone and share via bluetooth.    The “accept file” dialog shows up on OS/X and guess what?  The file actually APPEARED in the downloads folder just like it should.    No extra drivers to install.  No security warnings.  It just plain worked.   Nice!

Summary

Yes, this is all little stuff, but in my first HOUR of working with the MacBook Pro I am already impressed.   Yes I’ve used OS/X before but never have I had much interest in getting things DONE quickly and exactly the way I wanted.   My prior forays into OS/X have been purely as a secondary system to my Windows development boxes where OS/X only existed to supported some IOS development as needed.    But this time around I’m going “all in” and thus far I am impressed enough by the “simple little stuff” and how much better it is than the Windows experience that I had to share.

Yes, all things will likely go to hell soon enough.    I have a unique ability to break ALL THINGS that use spinning electrons to do their magic. But so far I’m liking this new toy.  If it holds together for more than a week without my breaking it I will be truly impressed.    We shall see how good this Apple deal really is.

If it doesn’t work out you may find me tending bar somewhere around town in the next few weeks.

If it does work out, on the other hand, Apple may have just converted another Windows user and I could be one of the biggest “Apple Fan Boys” yet.

 

 

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Find Your Android Phone With Play Store

Banner Google Play Store

Lost your Android phone somewhere in your house, car, friends house or other undisclosed location and cannot find it? Not that I’ve EVER done such a thing, but I did stumble upon a feature in the Google Play Store that I never knew existed…

Geolocate and RING PHONE.

Android Find Phone
Android Find Phone

Where is this feature hidden?

Right out in the open on Google Play.

Surf to Play.Google.com.

If you are not already logged into your account, log in to the same account you use to setup and sync your Play Store apps on your Android device.

When signed in you will see the settings icon, a gear in the top right corner of the page.   Click on that and choose “Android Device Manager”.

Google Play Android Device Manager
Google Play Android Device Manager

Google will ping your device, get the GPS location, show it on the map and give you an option to ring the phone at full volume for 5 minutes.

If the battery is dead you are on your own.

At least you don’t have to borrow a friends phone to ring your cell… though you may need to borrow their computer to surf to the Google Play Store!

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Sonos Service’s Little Secret

Sonos Banner Slacker Out

I learned something new about my Sonos music players this morning that I REALLY don’t like.

EVERYTHING you do with Sonos is handled through a centralized Sonos server.   

Want to play your Slacker music?  Sonos servers manage that for you.    Pandora?   Amazon Music?   ANY music that you thought was on YOUR account at the music service provider?  Sonos gets in the middle.

My assumption, which is clearly incorrect, was that once you set up your Sonos controller app on your tablet and paired it to a Sonos speaker and added your favorite music service, Sonos got out of the way.  I figured they maintained an account profile on a Sonos server that keeps what music services and stations you like, but after the “initial handshake” to share those details with your mobile app the Sonos servers handed everything off.    Sure, if you add a new station or add a new service the app talk to the Sonos server, but when playing music… that must be between the app itself and the music service only, right?

Wrong.

That is so wrong.

Sonos Servers In The Middle

EVERYTHING you do with Sonos goes through their server.   Skip a song?  Your Sonos controller sends that command to a centralized Sonos server which in turn relays the command to Slacker and then returns the Slacker response to your app and all the Sonos components in your house.

Not a big deal, right?

Well, it sort of is a big deal.

Slacker Offline at Sonos
Slacker Offline at Sonos

The BIGGEST issue is that any time Sonos servers crash you cannot play your music.    How often does THAT happen?   Servers NEVER crash these days, right?  WRONG.    Today Sonos servers are broken.  They cannot talk to the Slacker servers.   That means NOT A SINGLE SONOS PLAYER IN THE WORLD can play Slacker music.   Slacker from ANY OTHER DEVICE?  No problem.    Your $300 Sonos Play 3? Nope?  The $500 Play 5?  Nope.    The $2000 worth of paired speakers from Sonos… NO SLACKER.   Sorry.   Someone at Sonos messed up, or one of their vendors, or someone that manages the Sonos account at Slacker… regardless of whom is to blame… if you own Sonos equipment you cannot access your Slacker stations.

That sucks.  Especially since Slacker is my go-to premium music service and all this Sonos equipment + Slacker premium music channels with thousands of rated and custom-curated stations is now useless to me.

 

Sonos Problems Are Your Problems

Even more important are the revelations of what this means:

– If Sonos goes out of business your Sonos hardware is useless.

– If Sonos screws up and writes bad server software your Sonos controller and hardware apps will break.

– If the people managing the Sonos servers, whether in the cloud of self-hosted, mess up and the servers crash your Sonos system is unusable.

– If the vendor that provides the network connections cuts a line and the network goes down at Sonos your equipment is a very expensive paper weight.

In other words, if ANYTHING goes wrong over in “Sonos Server World” your costly music hardware suddenly looks like a bad investment.

 

Music Privacy?

We don’t even need to discuss privacy issues, do we?    Not that I listen to anything that would raise and eyebrow of even the most prudish conservative listeners out there… OK, well maybe that is not QUITE true with thins like Eminem on my playlists, BUT I certainly am not listening to things like “live sex talk” on Sonos…. BUT…. if I were to do so guess who would be able to keep a record of all that?  Sonos.   Yup, that’s right.    Sonos is listening… and it only takes on hack from the our government friends over at the NSA for them to be seeing EVERYTHING YOU LISTEN TO thanks to the centralized Sonos servers.

Welcome To The NSA
Welcome To The NSA

I don’t ever recall being notified that Sonos has access to my bans or favorites, what stations I listen to, when I listen to them… but they do it.    Did I accept that intrusion in some privacy policy somewhere?  One of those “click if you agree” boxes I NEVER READ (trust me, if you did you’d NEVER accept ANY OF THEM and you’d have ZERO access to technology… go read the Android release, or FaceBook, or Twitter, or Google… to paraphrase all of them “we can do whatever the hell we damn like, if you don’t like it… leave”)…

Yup, it sucks.   I can’t use Slacker today because someone over at Sonos or at one of their vendors screwed up.

Yes, Sonos is very likely tracking all of my likes and dislikes without my knowledge or consent.

But I still like the system and my techno-geek DNA will not let me STOP using the service because of it.

Now I just have to sit-and-wait until someone over as Sonos fixes this mess.

In the meantime, at least I can feel good about at least telling SOMEONE that Sonos is “listening” to you… so now you are at least a little more informed than I was up until a few hours ago.

 

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Envy 17 17-3070NR Video Problems When Recording

HP Video Fail Banner

Environment

  • HP Envy 17-3070NR with latest video drivers & BIOS
  • 3x HP ZR2440w Monitors attached, 2 on display port, 1 on HDMI

Problem

Any time I access ANYTHING to do with recording, such as going to the windows sounds interface and clicking on the recording tab, the screen on ONE of the Display Ports flickers to the point of being unusable.

It shows flashing thin 1 or 2- pixels white lines in random patterns on the screen, then the entire display shuts off.  It turns back on and looks fine for 2 seconds, then does it again until I click on the Playback, Sounds, or Communications tab.  This happens with ANY access to “recording” from any app including my Skype call recorder or my Screencast recorder.

This did not happen before I upgraded to the 1920×1200 ZR2440w monitors, which I did after confirming with HP support that the Envy 17-3070NR would indeed support 1920×1200 resolution if I used display port connections.

The problem continues if I swap monitors, so it is not a monitor issue.

The problem continues if I disconnect/disable the 3rd monitor on HDMI, in fact the cycle happens even faster with that display disconnected.

This looks very much like an old-school video memory corruption issue like you would have back in 1996 on  a Windows XP computer with crappy video cards and/or poorly written video drivers.      If I had to guess I would say BIOS and/or AMD drivers need work.

Has any else seen this problem?

Any clues how to fix this besides “don’t use 3 monitors” or “don’t record screen casts”?

Customer Non-Support

The best part is that I am entitled to email or chat or phone support from HP with my extended warranty.  Yet HP completely fails in that regard.    First of all the website the checks to see if you are entitled for support looks up my serial number and product number, shows the right product in the sidebar yet the customer support form only allows for PRINTER options on describing what is wrong.

HP Consumer Division Incompetence A Laptop is Not A Printer
HP Consumer Division Incompetence A Laptop is Not A Printer

HP needs to hire some programmers.

HP Fails At Selling Customer Care Packs

Then, to make things more fun, when I contact HP directly they tell me I do not have a warranty.   I have a dozen emails back & forth from HP stating I DO have a warranty for 3 years.    I can understand why they are confused, however, since THREE HP employees over the past year have screwed up my extended warranty so badly that nobody can figure out what the hell is going on.  Not even their escalation team.

The first person sold me the wrong warranty.

The second person “fixed” the warranty and attached a DIFFERENT, but still incorrect, extended warranty.

The third person, in the HP Escalation Division, fixed the problem again but did not properly attach the extended warranty to my serial number so nobody can find it.

Unfortunately there is no online form or interface available to the mundane every day HP Customer Support people that allows them to “enter the personal email sent from an HP manager ensuring the customer has an extended warranty” box.    Since my case falls completely outside of their scripted responses they are completely baffled.     Customer Support lemmings are not trained to think, just click the boxes, recite the words on the screen like Obama reading a teleprompter, and move on.  No thought required.    Come to think of it, maybe HP is training everyone to be the next POTUS.

 

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HP Care Pack – Buyer Beware

HP Support Assistant

I love HP equipment, especially their servers.   My HP Envy 17 laptop rocks, very “apple-like”.  However I am FURIOUS at HP for blatant mis-representation of product when it comes to the HP Care Pack.

My laptop is my lifeblood.  I use it for home and business EVERY DAY without exception.  It is how I earn a living.   Last time I sent an Asus laptop for repair they lost it for 3 months.  I had to buy a new laptop and when they finally sent mine back I didn’t need it any longer.  That was a $1200 mistake I vowed to never make again.

As such I opted for the $400 on-site extended warranty with accidental damage protection.   The on-site repair has a guaranteed 6-hour turnaround and they send a technician to your house to do the repairs.  Perfect.

From the HP website:

Description
 
Enjoy the convenience of having a technician come right to your home or office, if needed, to help resolve desktop or notebook PC issues with HP Care Pack On-site Service. You’ll also have access to 24×7 technical support and extended security while keeping your PC covered by the manufacturer that knows it best. Extended coverage begins the day you buy your HP PC. You’ll get the most coverage and value if you buy this plan when you purchase your PC. For example: • If you buy the 2-year plan when you purchase your PC, you’ll get coverage for 2 full years. • If you buy the 2-year plan 3 months after you purchase your PC, you’ll get 21 months of coverage only. Multi-year options are available. 
  On-site hardware repair
  24×7 remote support
  Replacement parts and materials
  Monitor coverage
  • Help improve system uptime. Convenient onsite support. Reliable response times.
  • • Reduction of incidents by anticipating issues through real-time monitoring of the environment and case history trend reporting Through the availability to purchase options, Proactive Care helps you by providing:.
  • • Increased accountability and personalization through the assignment of an account support team that will provide support planning and reviews • Maximize return on IT assets through performance and availability analysis.
  • • Simplified operations from fully utilizing management software • Flexible resourcing through access to skills on demand that can help with peak workload and project requirements.
 
 
 
Service and Support provided by:
Hewlett Packard
     
Technical: 800.334.5144

 

Yet today, after having damaged the HP Envy 17 while travelling last week, I had the “opportunity” to exercise the HP Care Pack warranty and see how well it works.  Well, in short IT DOESN’T.    The on site repair does not apply to ANYTHING other than replacing a hard drive or memory.  Period.   Damaged case?  Ship it away for 2 weeks.  Damaged screen?  Ship it away for 2 weeks.    Odd.   HP offers a standard damage protection warranty WITHOUT on-site service for $180.     So I paid a $220 premium to have them ship me a hard drive if it fails so I can replace it or have their tech do it, but I guarantee I can do it faster.   Everything else?  Good Bye Laptop… for 2 weeks.

Wow.   I’ve been had.    I damn well guarantee I’ll never buy an on-site warranty for a consumer product from HP again.   I feel like they completely screwed me out of $220 and NOWHERE is it made clear the on-site service or 6-hour turnaround does not apply to 99.99% of the cases where your laptop would be damaged.

HP just served up a huge helping of fail cake.

Don’t believe it?  Call HP and find out.

HP Customer Care:  1-800-474-6836 (1-800-HP INVENT)

HP Escalation Team: 1-877-917-4380ext. 93.

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Unlocking Your Phone Is Now Illegal

This brief audio clip from NPR explains Digital Millenium Copyright Act and how the cell carriers have lobbied to have DCMA extended to cover the software in cell phones.   This change makes it illegal to unlock a cell phone.    This audio clip explains why after giving a brief background on how it applies to music and they segues into how the cell carriers got it to cover your phone.

I agree with the comment of the lead expert in this interview… “it is like making illegal to pick a lock you put on your own home to gain access to your house”.    Couldn’t agree more.

Here is the NPR piece on this subject:

Digital Locks Limit Access To Copyrighted Works

by STEVE HENN

Owning a copy of a movie or a piece of music doesn’t mean what it used to mean. You have it for good on your digital device, but you can’t sell it or give it away the way you could with a DVD or LP. And, the phone you may be watching or listening on is similarly out of your control.

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HTC Incredible 4G LTE Drivers

No matter what I tried I could not get my new HTC Incredible 4G LTE to show up on my Windows 7 (64-bit) system.   I found a TON of posts and sites, mostly spam sites, giving me advice or trying to get me to install something I didn’t need.    At the end of the day the solution that worked is ridiculously simple.

How I Got Win 7 To See My Incredible

Two easy steps:

1) Make sure I was not running in debug mode (not a default, but I develop mobile apps so I had this on).

2) Select “Media Sync” as the mount mode.

Turning On Media Sync

If your phone is acting normally it will sense the connection to a PC when you connect the USB cable.  If not, make sure you are using a qualified micro-USB cable that provides both data and power connections.  The cable that came with your phone definitely has this as will 99% of after-market cables.    I had “mucked with” my phone so much that that connection did not always come up.

You can change the connection type manually by going to your phone settings, and going to “Connect to PC” and changing default type to “Media sync”.  Disconnect and re-connect the phone.     When I did this my phone magically was recognized by Windows 7 and the phone driver was automatically installed.

My HTC Incredible 4G LTE is shown as an “Android Phone” device name “ADR6410LVW”.

HTC Incredible 4G LTE Driver Details
My HTC Incredible 4G LTE driver details.

Failed Attempts

Oddly enough with ANY other mode the phone was seen as connected but windows update would always say “could not locate driver” and leave it as an unrecognized device.   I also had downloaded the HTC Sync Manager and installed it.  That created a folder in my Program Files (x86) directory with Windows 7 64-bit drivers as a folder but NONE of those drivers, even after installing them manually worked properly.

Some of the things I tried:

Verizon Backup Assistant

Huge bloated software that tries to be a PC backup for your media, but is a poor excuse for a backup app.  If you want backup go use Crash Plan.   In addition the Verizon Backup Assistant, or BA Plus as they call it, requires Apple QuickTime.  Talk about bloat.  Then when it runs it is very unstable and hangs frequently.   Worst of all it never “saw” the HTC Incredible so the threads that said this would install the proper drivers did not help one bit.

HTC Sync Manager

Much cleaner & lighter than the Verizon app, and a native Windows 64-bit application.   It looked like a nice UI and did create a drivers folder with HTC Incredible 4g drivers for Windows 7.  In fact I may very well need those when I do my Android apps and need to connect with the ADB (Android Device Bridge) but they DID NOT help my PC “see” the Incredible and I could not mount it as a hard drive in either “Disk Drive” or “HTC Sync” mode.

Summary

At the end of the day simply changing the connection type to “Media Sync” got all the pieces I needed.   Hopefully that will work for you as well.  If not, here is the driver kit that was installed “automagically” for me in my Windows System 32 folders:

DRIVERS\UMDF\WpdMtpDr.dll  6.1.7600.16385 (win7_rtm.090713-1255)
DRIVERS\ winusb.sys 6.1.7601.17514 (win7sp1_rtm.101119-1850)
DRIVERS\WUDFRd.sys 6.2.9200.16384 (win8_rtm.120725-1247)
WpdMtp.dll 6.1.7600.16385 (win7_rtm.090713-1255)
WpdMtpUS.dll 6.1.7600.16385 (win7_rtm.090713-1255)

Hope this saves you a few steps.

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Choosing A Wireless Router

Last week the network dropped.  Again.   This was the 5th time in about a month that I lost all connectivity mid-session.  I was in the middle of pushing some web updates and, as usual,  Comcast left me hanging.   When I made my 10PM call to customer service I was met with one of the rudest know-it-all “customer disservice” people I ever encountered.   She argued with me about everything and told me I had no idea what I was talking about when I told her that rebooting my laptop would not get my cable modem to sync up with their head end router.   (I had checked the logs on the modem and it lost sync and the signal level was out of spec.)

Even though the Comcast Business Class service rep., who came out the next morning instead of THREE DAYS later as the “service rep” insisted was the ONLY option, was very helpful and knowledgeable ; the damage had been done.  I was sick of sudden drops, lag, and network throttling that Comcast insists they do not do.    It was time for a change.

What does this have with wireless routers?  We will get there in a minute… just bear with me.

Knology To The Rescue

Fast forward three weeks.  The Knology installation guy shows up at my house EARLY (take THAT Comcast), was courteous, professional, and *gasp* actually knowledgeable about his trade.     He tested the lines, replaced several faulty splitters that Comcast had installed and eventually got a perfectly clean signal at the modem connection point.    We connected the modem and had a great connection.   The 20M/2M service was actually pulling 27M/2M consistently with 0.0001% rate fluctuation.    This guy actually tested things after he installed (take THAT TOO Comcast).   Everything looked great.   Then all hell broke loose.

I HAD NO WIRELESS ROUTER!

My old Comcast modem had wireless.   The new Knology modem did not.

Setting Up My Wireless

I left the install connected to my wired hub and went to work.  While at the office I picked up a couple of pieces of wireless network equipment we had lying around that was no longer being used.   In the mix I had an old Netopia Wireless DSL modem, which can be used as a wireless access point if you disable the DSL port and a 2-year-old Belkin Wireless N router that was a $200 top-of-the-line unit back in the day.

When I got home the first thing I did was hook up the Belkin Wireless N.  I was connected within minutes.  However I did notice the network was lagging.    I attributed it to being on wireless and having several devices on the wireless network as well as the TiVo and DVD connected.     Then I started getting dropped connections. However this time the modem logs looked perfect.  NO errors, no sync problems no dropped connections there.     Eventually I narrowed down the problem.  It was the Belkin router.    It was getting all kinds of packet loss and transmission errors and was dropping a TON of packets with .190-199 in the last IP address octet.  Very odd.

I temporarily tried the Netopia Wireless but that is a simple A/B series wireless router.  It worked, but was very quickly saturated as soon as other devices came online.  It simply did not have the bandwidth over the wireless channels to get the job done with a tablet, 2 wireless phones, the VOIP hard line phone, 2 laptops, the TiVo and the DVD player.    It worked but was slow as heck at peak load.

I needed something better.

The Netgear Utopia

Netgear N600
Netgear N600

I did some homework and found several glowing reviews for the Netgear N600 series wireless N routers.   Since it was now Sunday and neither my Netopia DSL router or my Belking N router were up to task for a big marketing and site update project, I decided to shop local.   Turns out Walmart had the very router I was looking at AND it was a fair price.   Even with taxes it was within $5 of the Amazon pricing and was near or below most online competitors.

40 minutes later I had returned from Wally World with my new router (and a big-bag of M&Ms, a new garden hose, and 3 coloring books for my son… this is WHY you don’t go to Walmart to shop for “just a router”… dang impulse buys).      Within 15 minutes my new router was installed, fully configured to my liking with a new SSID and passwords, and was online.

HOLY SMOKES WAS THIS THING FAST!!!

I mean LIGHTNING FAST compared to ANYTHING I was using before.     I immediately saw my laptop speed tests pulling the full 27M/2M speeds we had seen with the wired test unit at the router.  This was with all the other network equipment still online.

Bad Communication = Slow Networks

After doing a good bit of testing, re-trying the Belkin, re-connecting the Comcast service (it was not turned off yet), and doing a bunch of general cross-checking and sanity tests it had become clear.    Choosing the right networking equipment is paramount to maintaining solid throughput to your desktop (or tablet) computers.  If any link in the chain is weak you will suffer.

The technical reasons for highly variant network performance has a lot to do with packet re-transmission.   To keep it somewhat less technical, think of it as a simple phone conversation where you MUST get every word right.   To do this you ask the other party to repeat every word they hear.   If they say a word incorrectly you repeat that word until they say it back correctly.    On a poor connection this may happen 3 or 4 times on every-other-word.   That can make for a VERRRRRYYYY long conversation.

In today’s networks a lot of things can go wrong to make your surfing destination and your computer “repeat the words” over & over again.   A wireless network often adds a lot more possibilities for interference.   For example, turning on the microwave oven, or a neighbor turning on their TV.    You don’t HEAR the interference, but your wireless network does.  Think of it like someone turning on a vacuum cleaner right next to you while you are doing the “repeat every word” conversation with your long distance friend.  You are likely not going to hear very well and be repeating a lot of words.

Erradicating Slow

In my case several things were causing problems.   The Comcast connection to my house is not very good which means the “volume” of the conversation is very inconsistent, too loud some moments, too soft at others.   Then the modem Comcast had was an old model that was very slow, think of it as if you had a semi-retarded phone operator in the middle trying to keep up with the “repeat the word” conversation and they just skip words when they fall behind.    The Belkin router refused to repeat any word with the “ch” sound in it, like a Chinese waiter mixing up L’s and R’s and you trying to guess what they really meant.     The Netopia DSL router was mostly just very retarded and easily distracted, barely being able to keep up with a slow deliberate conversation.

In the end I eliminated all the slow, retarded, missed-translation, volume related issues.    A tested solid clean connection with a modern high-speed modem from Knology connected directly to the Netgear N600 Wireless N Router keeps everything humming along.  The conversations are crystal clear and the Netgear N600 + Knology modem rarely, if ever, repeat a word.   A 2-minute conversation takes 2-minutes, not 20.    That translates into getting the full 20M (27M) /2M service all the way from “the Internet” straight into my wireless network.

Get The Best

In your network, choose the best equipment you can afford.   Read online reviews and select the RIGHT solution.   Higher price does not always mean better performance.    In my case the reviews proved out to be well founded and I too give the Netgear N600 (WNDR3400v2) 5-stars.

Netgear N900
Netgear N900

I liked the Netgear N600 so much I bought the “big brother” N900 (WNDR4500) for the office and I like that one EVEN better.  It too was quick to setup and improved network performance.  It also gave us the ability to quickly and easily turn a USB drive into a network share and turn my old Brother MFC-4800 laser (another great piece of equipment, by the way) printer/scanner into a network printer/scanner within minutes and with one quick/simple applet install on our Windows and Mac computers.

If you are in the market for a wireless router I highly recommend the Netgear N600 and N900 routers.

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Kindle Fire A Quick Review

Kindle FireThe Kindle Fire arrived earlier than expected, showing up at the door of Cyber Sprocket’s Headquarters in warm sunny Charleston yesterday afternoon.   I’ve only had 24 hours to play with it, but with plenty of experience with other mobile and tablet devices I have already formed some opinions & have decided what Fire’s purpose in life is.

Go Green

The first thing I noticed is the packaging.  Every single consumer product company should take cues from Amazon in this regard.  The Kindle Fire comes in Amazon’s “frustration free packaging”, which is something they offer on a number of products.  It truly is frustration free.   A simple cardboard box.  Inside is the Kindle Fire nicely cradled in a raised cardboard bumper wrapped in a thin plastic protective covering that is easily opened by lifting the lightly-glued flap.  Underneath is the power cord with a simple cardboard loop that reminded me of a napkin ring for hobos or Occupy Your Town folks.

Aside from the fact that you don’t need to drive to the local fire station and borrow their Jaws Of Life to open the product package, the other BIG benefit is that it is earth friendly.   I respect that.   I’m not overly “earthy-crunchy”, but if there is a simple, elegant, and low cost way to get the job done then why not do it?   The entire package contents other than that one very small piece of protective plastic is 100% recyclable cardboard.   Even better is that cardboard breaks down in the environment, so for those of you that don’t recycle the chances of something blowing into one of our local Charleston marshes and staying there for 3,297.5 years is zero.

Extra points for being green and being smart about it.

 The Geek Stuff

Ok, enough with the “go green” and packaging comments.   Now on to the device…

Form Factor

The form factor is perfect, IMO.  The 7″ screen is the perfect size for my hands, yet large enough for the screen to be usable.  The 10″ Toshiba Thrive tablet is nice, but simply too heavy and too big to make reading a book comfortable without propping it up in the carrying case.   The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, is perfectly comfortable to hold and light enough to not strain your wrist while doing so.   I watched the first 20 minutes of Ip Man last night without even realizing it had been that long, holding the Kindle Fire in my hand the entire time.    5 minutes of reading a book on the Thrive and I have to put it down or prop it up on something.

The Screen

The screen is nice.  It seems brighter and crisper than the Toshiba Thrive and the HTC Incredible.  I would say it is on par with the iPod Touch 4th gen that we recently got in stock.   It is not even close to the original Kindle eInk based devices as far as readability in bright light, but with a completely different technology behind it that is to be expected.  Color eInk would be awesome, but my guess is we’ll be waiting another year or two for that “surprise announcement” from Amazon.   In the meantime this display can compete with any other “glass” on the market for this type of device.

The video processor is decent enough, but does not seem to be on par with the nVidia Tegra in the Toshiba Thrive.  I did notice some artifacts when watching Ip Man, which do not appear on the HP HD monitor on the laptop or on the Thrive even though the bandwidth was the same in all 3 cases (in other words the artifacts were not caused by buffering).  Still, good enough to no distract from the experience.

The Apps

Here is where things are less than perfect for the Kindle Fire.   Amazon has made a concerted effort to ensure they can capitalize on any & all content that they can offer via Amazon.  That means you can only get apps through their app store (unless you hack the Fire).  Much to our surprise there are a number of apps that I don’t see as competing with Amazon that are NOT available via the marketplace.

Many of my favorite apps are missing, and one of the most important – the email app, is far inferior to the built-in Google Mail app on the Thrive or the Incredible.   That hurts.   I was really hoping this smaller, lighter device could take over for the Thrive as my go-to mobile device.   The built-in email app wouldn’t even recognize the settings for my Google Mail Business Apps account.    So no email for me on that device other than via the mobile web browser.  That will work in a pinch but is far less pleasant an experience than native Google Mail available on a full-fledged Android device.

Some of the other apps that are missing that I use regularly include direct competitors to the Amazon digital library.  Things like the USA Today mobile app, which is FREE on most other Android devices has been explicitly removed from the Amazon version of the Android Marketplace.   Sames goes for the CNN app.   That is a price you pay for getting a device that Amazon is selling AT A LOSS.   Rumor has it that Amazon is losing $50/device on the Kindle Fire and expects to make up the difference over time through the Kindle Store apps, like their paid subscription to USA Today for example.

Not sure I agree with that move.  I’d rather have paid $50 more for the device & had full access to the entire Droid Marketplace.   Amazon could still capitalize on the Kindle Fire experience by having a slicker interface that is better integrated with the device for their native Amazon content.   In other words, keep the full marketplace and leave the rest of the UX alone.

Speaking of User Experience

One place the Kindle Fire does excel is the user experience.  It is different from Apple, but very much on par with most of what Apple has done.  The interface is slick, refined, and generally trouble free.  Most elements are intuitive, though I would prefer a “hard button” to get back to the home screen and/or find the main menu  when in a running app.   You can get used to the screen swipes but that is sometimes not intuitive.  I know I’d be getting support calls from various family members if they owned this device asking “how do I get out of this movie?”.   That aside the general animations, graphics, and interface elements are very well designed and easy to navigate.

The connection with Amazon services is also very well done.   The integration is managed so well on all levels that you don’t even notice all the cool technical trickery going on behind the scenes.  They’ve even gone the extra mile in a few places, like when I first turn on the device… I put in my WEP key for the wireless network and the device did everything else.  It picked up my Amazon account  & synced the device with the account I used to purchase it from with NO INPUT on my part.   That was nice.   My eBooks where readily available and the movie that we watched via our Amazon Prime account was right there, remembering where we paused it the night before on our living room TV.   That is pretty slick, though not unique to the Kindle Fire; the “remember where I left off” feature is standard on all Amazon media devices.

Overall Impression

The Kindle Fire is a nice device.  It is a clean package, nice user interface, and has most of the tech widgets you’ll need for mobile interaction.  However it is clearly designed to be a consumer entertainment device and not a business tool.  Music, books, movies and the like are all very well done and easy to use when combined with the Amazon services.  As a general around-the-house, surf the web, check a few simple web based email messages, and read a book it is great.     But it is NOT a mobile workstation in the same way the Toshiba Thrive is.

The Amazon Kindle Fire is well designed and a great value, but it is not a laptop replacement nor a mobile phone replacement.  There is no camera, no 3G/4G cell network access, no expansions slots or device connectors other than the mini-usb charging port.   That is not necessarily a bad thing.  It keeps the device simple, light, and focused on its task which is a home entertainment and media device.  For that it is perfect.

For me, I will continue to use the Toshiba Thrive as my go-to device as I am  very much a power user.   The Thrive can serve as a mini laptop replacement.  Perfect for business meetings, presentations, and even the occasional movie or book.  However the weight & size will probably ensure the Kindle retains a place in my backpack as my on-the-go digital library for reference books when I’m not “fully engaged” in the business world… like on vacation this week at Disney, where the Kindle will be the perfect pool-side companion.

 

 

 

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Mobile Apps Presentation

Mobile Apps What Your Biz Needs To Know Charleston Digital Corridor invited us to speak at their “Fridays At The Corridor” event this morning. The presentation was an introduction into the world of mobile apps from a business perspective.   Why should you do a mobile app, how to get started, and how to engage the development team.    It was not an in-depth discussion but rather a chance to hit on some of the high points, the recurring topics we discuss when clients ask us to develop an app for them.

A copy of the slide show can be found here.    The Digital Corridor will also be publishing the podcast on their website.  When that is done we’ll put a link up here to that as well.

 

 

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Apple’s On Top & How They’ll Self-Marginalize

AppleApple Exceeds Exxon’s Market Cap

An article was shared on a discussion list I am a part of about Apple having the same market cap as Exxon.   I wasn’t forwarded the original reference, but I think this story can be attributed to Radio-Info.com.  The excerpt:

Apple was actually bigger during part of the trading day, while Exxon pulled slightly ahead by the closing bell. Do you realize what that means? Exxon has long reigned as the world’s largest company ranked by market cap (price per share times the number of shares). By the time 4pm rolled around, Apple was valued at $346.7 billion, about $1.5 billion less than Exxon. Apple (“AAPL”) gained $20.80 on the day to close at $374.01 a share. Remember that Steve Jobs isn’t just into making hardware – he wants to control a lot of the IP-delivered traffic going to those devices. Just try getting something new onto your iPad without going through iTunes or the App Store. Pretty soon, a lot of radio will be going through Apple devices

As one person commented, “they have done a master job at creating brand awareness through advertising”.  Agreed.   But I also think there is more to it than that.

The “Apple Look”

Bringing touch screen computing to the masses via the iPhone was a big risk & a huge payoff.  They executed that perfectly.   It was the first small form factor touch screen with a user interface that could be understood by non-geeks.  Combine that with the sleek Apple “look”, which was used as a marketing tool itself, and a superb run of advertising campaigns (as Randy pointed out) and Apple exploded back onto the market overnight.

IMO, a key element here was the pervasive “Apple look”.  From the hardware itself, to the graphics on the devices, to the product packaging, even to their stores.   The attention to detail on the brand appearance was far beyond anything before it.  It was something most mainstream consumers had never seen before, that sort of attention to detail was reserve for exclusive luxury brands most consumers never see.  Apple raised the ante on what it takes to present a quality consumer experience, recognized that fact, and leveraged it in their branding & awareness campaigns.

Genius.

Will History Repeat?

Now to see if Apple can stay ahead of the competition.   Their stranglehold on the proprietary elements of their platform & the tyranny of requirements to play in their sandbox suffocated them once before. They are showing signs of repeating history.  Many of the tech guys I know prefer open Android platforms for development.  The other 10% drank the Apple Kool-Aid and barely acknowledge the existence of any other brand.  The only reason most of these tech people do IOS (Apple) development first is market share, but that part of the story is changing rapidly.

My Prediction

My guess is that Apple will retain their stranglehold on their channels and will continue to irk the hardware and software developers that make the IOS platform so successful.   The Android marketplace will continue to refine their products, market share will grow, and eventually Android will become the “go to first” platform for developers.   Soon after it will be the go-to platform for consumers as well.

Maybe Apple’s cash position will provide the resources to save themselves. I’m betting they go from defining the market to becoming a reactionary company that starts bleeding a lot of that cash.   They’ll bleed cash pushing more & more advertising.  They’ll start pushing product development outside the box in high risk moves that won’t pay off.  They’ll start cutting prices and working the “loss-leader” angle.

Eventually Apple might relax their policies.  It will be too late and they’ll have tainted a large part of the developer channel.  Many development firms won’t come back to the IOS platform purely on principle.    Within a few short years Apple’s market dominance will once again be marginalized just as it had been in the early PC market.  They’ll again be representing 10% of various market segments.

I’m hoping this doesn’t happen, but Apple sure is showing their typical colors here.  Just look at the Apple v. Adobe fiasco.   When people see my Toshiba Thrive the FIRST QUESTION they ask is “does it run Flash”.   “Of course, it’s a Droid!”.

Sound Off…

What is your opinion?  Where do you think Apple is headed in the next 3-5 years?

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Mobile Phones Don’t Play Nice With WiFi

Now that Verizon has dropped their unlimited data plan it is time to follow up on the previous Droid Incredible Crashes WiFi Networks article. Since the Droid Incredible wreaks havoc on the home and office networks I often turn off WiFi on the phone. I do this so often that the WiFi on/off widget is on my home screen and is probably the most-used application on my phone. That is sad.

As sad as that may be, a much more troubling issue is now on the horizon… and by horizon I mean arriving TODAY. While I was perfectly happy scanning my email and checking the latest news on my phone via the 3G network this is now going to be  a very costly endeavor. Every megabit has now become very costly and thus I need to make a choice. Crash the entire local network and render it useless or pay a premium to have a network service that works.

It is time to take off the kid gloves and put on the boxing gloves. If Verizon is going to charge for every bit & byte then they sure as hell need to provide a phone that works on the WiFi network. I’m starting that battle today, we’ll see where it goes. Probably nowhere.

Check back here for updates.

 

Update : Verizon Unlimited Plans “Grandfathered”

Something of note from Verizon’s response to my email about fixing the WiFi on my HTC.  This certainly helps make the broken WiFi less of an issue as I constantly use 3G even when I’m in WiFi range due.

We understand your concerns about your device and new data plans. Please note that customers with unlimited smart phone data plans will be able to keep the data plans as long as the plan remains on the account. Because of this, existing customers with unlimited data plans are not required to select from the new data plans. 

Bernard

Verizon Wireless

Data Technical Support 

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Asus Laptops – Half As Good

Tonight I was on hold for Asus Warranty Services for over 25 minutes. I found it quite humorous that at least 5 times while on hold I got to listen to the Asus marketing propaganda about how great their laptops are and how their laptops require repair at least “3 times less often than the competition”. Wow, someone at Asus really has no clue about appropriate markets. Someone somewhere said “yeah, run that quality of product commercial on our RETURNED MERCHANDISE HOLD LINE”.

If Asus ran a funeral parlor they’d be running ads telling people how their new vitamin water adds years to life, “buy a case today!” in an exciting happy voice… just what you want to hear while planning grandpa’s burial.

Someone literally thought “let’s run ONE AD on all of our hold music”, regardless of how inappropriate it is. Ok, I added that last part. However it underscores an important point. Asus may have half a clue, but HALF a clue is not good enough. This is just another indicator of how Asus thinks… or doesn’t think as the case may be. It is obvious that the people behind Asus spend virtually all of their time thinking about one thing… how to make the most profit by cutting the most corners.

Really Meaningless for Asus Numbers

This very same thinking has led to another interesting situation while dealing with Asus warranty repairs.    When you find yourself needing repair of your brand new Asus Laptop (which will surely happen sooner or later given all the cut corners),  you will learn that you MUST HAVE AN RMA NUMBER before you can send in your laptop.   They drill it into  you at every corner.  You can’t do ANYTHING without that RMA NUMBER.

OK, I’ve worked in computer support and return centers before.  That makes sense.  It is a great system.

So you put the RMA number on a box.   Asus sends you a FedEx prepaid ticket with that very same RMA NUMBER embedded right in it.    Wonderful.   You must put the RMA on the box, on a paper in the box, and on the return label address.    All makes sense.

Then the Asus repair facility gets that box with the RMA on it and all the paperwork.  But guess what?

ASUS CANNOT TRACK THE SYTEM BY THE RMA NUMBER ONCE IT IS AT THE REPAIR FACILITY!!!

Yup, you read that correctly.   As I was told by Andre, an Asus Technical Support Supervisor “somewhere in the Caribbean”, they could not possibly locate my laptop at the repair facility by using just the RMA NUMBER.   No way, no how.   They MUST HAVE THE FEDEX TRACKING NUMBER.

To be absolutely certain that poor Andre was not confused about what I was asking for, I made it very clear that someone told us on Tuesday afternoon (just 4 days ago) that they had in fact received the laptop and that it was being given to a technician.  I also noted that FedEx has the package listed as being received and signed for by someone in their Jefferson Indiana location.       I was confused why they needed that tracking number to get a “status update” on my repair.

I was told “We cannot track down your laptop with an RMA NUMBER.   It is much faster to find your laptop with the tracking number.”.    Again, I was CERTAIN Andre was confused as to what I was asking him.   I stated that I knew their repair facility had already received the laptop, that a technician was working on it according to ONE of the people we spoke with on Wednesday, and that I just wanted to know if they had an estimated date for having the repair done.

Again Andre made it very clear to me that Asus cannot locate repairs by the RMA NUMBER.    That is when I realized that RMA does not mean “Return Merchandise Authorization” but rather is “Really Meaningless for Asus” in every sense of the word.

Half Solutions = ZERO Business

At this point I can only pray that I once again see my $1500 laptop some day.    Now I feel like I spent $1500 on this thing that I may never see again.    I basically rented an Asus Laptop for $1500 for 90 days and there is no  guarantee I’ll ever get to use it again.

Asus focuses on HALF of the solution.   They have a system for generating an RMA and require it be adhered to by the customer.  Then they completely throw that system out the window once things are internalized.

I can only believe that this is exactly why that $1500 laptop failed in the first place.    I imagine they only put in half the screws, or soldered have the connections, or ran half the QA tests.

One thing is for certain, they got ALL my money on this purchase but they are going to get a hell of a lot less than HALF of my computer budget for as long as I am in the business.   I’ll certainly be recommended to ALL of my clients to spend 10% more and go with a company that gets the WHOLE picture.

Sorry Asus, but half the effort simply is not good enough for me.

Asus Fail Cake Update

In the 2 weeks since we shipped the laptop we have heard the following from Asus:

Day 1: “We have not received the laptop.” (we have proof of signature from FedEx)
Day 2: “Someone is looking at your laptop.”
Day 3: “We have not received your laptop.”
Day 4: “The ticket is not updated, we can’t give you a status.”
Day 5: “Please give us the tracking number, NOT THE RMA, so we can locate your laptop. We don’t know where it is.”
Day 6: “Nobody has updated the status.”
Day 7: “We did not receive your laptop.”… “oh wait, yes, we did”… “the technician has not updated any notes”.
Day 8: “The status has not been updated.”
Day 9: “The status has not been updated. We cannot tell you who is working on it. We cannot tell you when it will be fixed”.
Day 10: “We have not received your laptop”.
Day 11: “We have not received your laptop”… “we DID receive your laptop”…”status has not been updated”… Supervisor: “There is not status update. I HAVE NO SUPERVISOR OR MANAGER. We have 10-14 days to repair and get the laptop back to you. No, I can’t tell you when you’ll get it back. No, it may not be there in the next 4 days.”

Nice job Asus!

Fail Cake Ingredients – In Writing

Well, Asus finally put their excuses in writing.   The best part is this is more than TWO WEEKS after they have signed for the FedEx package.  Their online customer service agents are trained to give the same exact excuses as the phone agents.

Asus appears to actually be training their customer service people to deal in excuses and puts extra effort into avoidance techniques.  What a joke.

From: Trinity Sparks [mailto:tsd@asus.com.tw]
Sent:
Sunday, January 16, 2011 2:00 PM
Subject: Re:<TSD> Notebook G73JH [ID=RWTM20110112257317560-148]

Dear Mr. Cleaveland,

Please provide the tracking number and I will chcek on the RMA and see what is going on. As of right now I do not show that we have received the unit. Once I have the tracking number I will send the proof of delivery to the Indiana facility to get status and ETA of when the unit will ship back to you. Thank you and have a greta day1

Best Regards,
Trinity Sparks

———- Original Message ———-
From : lance@cybersprocket.com
Sent : 1/11/2011 7:06:33 PM
To : “tsd@asus.com.tw”
Subject : <TSD> Notebook G73JH

[CASEID=WTM20110112257317560]

Apply date : 1/11/2011 6:57:31 PM(UTC Time)

[…]

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HP 2509M Display Truncating With Intel HD Graphics

The new Dell Inspiron 17R that was purchased recently is a good office computer with a couple of notable “gotchas”.  The audio “buzz” on the headphones due to internal electrical noise is a bit of nuisance.   However, as a programmer and 15-hours-a-day computer junkie, the screen resolution problems with the Intel HD graphics was even more annoying.    As a gadget geek, I knew going into this that integrated graphics would never perform as well as discrete graphics cards when it comes to high end applications like Photoshop or when playing modern games such as Starcraft II.    However, what I didn’t expect was the problems with various HD monitors that we would be connecting to this laptop.

After many hours of research both online and with the clueless technical support people at Dell (ok, I’ll give them a break, I don’t expect the $18k/year phone support employee to know much) I realized knew the problem was simply due to a driver compatibility issue.   On older HDMI capable monitors the Intel HD Graphics driver had no problem recognizing them as a standard computer monitor, which conveniently gets recognized as an RGB device.    This is an important point, because many monitors connected with HDMI report back that they are actually a television display.

That is notable since there IS actually a difference in how television displays and monitors are handled, even though they are nearly identical these days when talking about LCD or Plasma displays and how they function.   The way television was broadcast and how those old CRT screens were made led to some creative innovations.  One of those innovations was something called overscanning (or sometimes referred to as underscanning, which is a misnomer).    The simple explanation is that the picture coming into the device would be painted beyond the edges of the screen to hide annoying flicker and other artifacts of the synchronization issues between the broadcast signal, the code/decode mechanisms, and the dispay device itself.   The bulk of the picture showed up on the screen with a small 5% border being “trimmed off” all the way around the display.  On most tv programs, who would notice?
As it turns out, modern devices still account for that overscan.   In this particular case, the HP2509M monitor is being seen by the Intel HD Graphics built into the Inspiron 17R as a television.    The Intel HD graphics card is then sending a signal to the HP monitor that is automatically overscanned by about 5%.  As such I cannot see the start menu or anything else on the edges of the screen on the extended display.     However, there is a fix for this.

The Fix

NOTE: This will replace the Dell OEM driver.  Dell will no longer support your video configuration and you may render your computer inoperable if you do this incorrectly. If you do not understand what is going on here then STOP NOW and call Dell support and beg them to update their custom driver to include Intel’s latest patches.  Just because this worked on my Inpsiron 17R does not mean it will work on yours.

Replace The Dell OEM Driver

First – go to Intel and find the HD Graphics page.  Go to the drivers & download page and snag the proper ZIP FILE driver kit for your video card.  Make sure you get the right 32-bit or 64-bit version for the card you have.   Do NOT get the exe version, as you have no control over the vendor check and it will abort your install.

Once you have the downloaded ZIP kit, extract the graphics folder to your desktop.    You will use a driver file in that folder to update your graphics driver.

Right-click on your display, select “change resolution”, then go to advanced settings.    Go to the adapter tab and click on properties.

Click on driver, then select update driver, browse the computer, have disk, and go find the kit*.inf file in your extracted graphics folder.

After you install the updated driver, restart your computer.

Eliminate Overscan Via Graphic Properties

Now that you have the new driver you can eliminate overscan by setting up a custom resolution.  Start by right-clicking on the extended HDMI connected display.  Select Graphic Properties.

Click on custom resolutions.   Make sure the display has your HDMI connected display selected.  Set the width and height to your NATIVE resolution for the monitor (1920 x 1080 for my 2509M).   Set the refresh rate (60hz is typical).    Set the color bit depth, normally you just want 32 Bit.    Set the underscan percentage slider to 0.   Set the Timing standard to CVT-RB (that is a newer one supported by most modern monitors).    Click ADD.     It will ask to overwrite the existing setting, choose YES.

It will then apply the new custom resolution.  If you had set your scaling under general settings to something other than 100% you will want to put it back to 100%.  You should NOT need to scale if your native resolution & overscan in custom settings is set properly.

Unfortunately I’ve not found a way to name these resolutions uniquely, which means when I go home and connect my Asus 1920×1080 display with 32-bit graphics at 60hz it will show a black border.  My fix will be to set the Asus to 59hz thus giving me 2 different “custom settings” with different overscan settings (the Asus is recognized as a monitor and thus the default resolution was not overscanning).

Summary

Now I am enjoying the 25″ HP 2509M monitor in full 1920×1080 resolution with NO SCALING.    Trust me, this is a HUGE difference when working with text.   There is no more blurry text ANYWHERE on the screen.  This is how these monitors is supposed to look.  Don’t settle for less just because Dell doesn’t give you the tools you need to make this work.   Who knows, maybe someday they’ll have newer drivers that let you set this up properly.