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Samsung Galaxy S5 Random Factory Reset

Yup, here again. Setting up my Samsung Galaxy S5 after a random factory reset. Unfortunately, in today’s connected world the phone has become the linchpin of my techno-geek world. My two-step authentication system ensures it takes an extra 20 minutes to log into any service I care about when my phone is MIA. Thousands of messages, contacts, and other data needs to be re-downloaded into the phone so I know who (843) 555-1212 is on SMS or when a telemarketing agency is calling. It takes HOURS to reload all the moving parts.

Galaxy S5 Reloading. Again.
Galaxy S5 Reloading. Again.

What a huge pain!

Turns out I’m not alone.

Random factory resets of Samsung Galaxy S5 phones are a known phenomenon that apparently Verizon and Samsung are content to ignore. Too hard to reproduce so it must be user error. Or a bad app. Couldn’t possibly be an issue with Samsung’s hacked version of the Android OS or bad firmware, right?

Android Lollipop Barfing

The most likely and most common problem with the random factory reset appears to be related to corrupted cache files in Android OS after a system upgrade. Interestingly, all 3 times that my phone decided to just reset for no apparent reason it was within 2 weeks of an Android Lollipop update pushed out by Samsung.

Very coincidental, isn’t it?

Turns out that the fix is… A HARD FACTORY RESET.

Wonderful. The only solace with that fix is that you may get to spend the two hours reloading your phone during a time in your life when it is the least inconvenient.

Really not much different than a random reset, but at least you know its coming.

To start the process power off your phone then hold down the power, volume up, and home button at the same time. When you see the loading screen with blue text at the top you can release the buttons. Follow the on-screen menus to do a full factory reset and data wipe.

Yes, this is like getting the phone for the first time. Yes it sucks. Yes you will need to reload all your stuff (you do use Google and Samsung and a third party backup service right? You’ll need all 3 if you don’t want to re-invent the wheel every time this happens). No, your home screen, keyboard, and other configuration settings will not come back. Now you know why so many Samsung S5 users have the default screen. Why customize when you’ll be back to that default in 3 months whether you like it or not.

Bad Battery

Very rare.  However if your battery is defective it will overheat and warp.  Take the battery out.  Put it on a flat surface.  If it does not lay flat on the table you need to replace the battery.   Good luck getting it repaired under warranty.   Luckily batteries are inexpensive.

Bad Apps

Some sites, typically Samsung or Verizon-driven forums and support personnel, claim apps can cause the factory reset.  Sure.  Very unlikely as that is a HUGE security nightmare in Android OS, but I guess anything is possible.   The suggested fix is randomly delete apps that were loaded on your phone until the problem goes away.   Uhhh… exactly how often does a random factory reset happen?   That is like closing your eyes in a dark room, spinning around in circles, and trying to pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey without ever turning on the lights to know if you were successful.

Personally I think this culprit is nothing more than fairy tales and pixie dust to keep you busy and away from the support people.

Samsung OS Updates

Ultimately I think Samsung and Verizon need to stop screwing with the base Android OS builds to cram in a ton of crappy apps nobody wants.   Those apps are nothing but modern day spam that most people don’t want.  They consume excess memory and screen real estate with the only purpose being to line the pocket books of Samsung for hocking other people’s wares.   Wake up.   Nobody wants your crap and if they could delete all the force-fed shit on the phone for more memory and storage space and less app problems they would do it in a heartbeat.

Stop “tweaking” the OS and make a stable version that does not randomly reset every few months.

IOS – The Gold Standard

Sadly, if they ever DO make that version there will be more-and-more people like myself that will refuse to install the update for the ever-present fear of incurring the curse of the random reset.   Instead many people will be in the same situation I am.  Just waiting for my 2-year contract to expire so I can finally stop fooling myself into thinking that Android will every be a gold standard.   iPhone IS the gold standard which is readily apparent by every single device-and-service you could ever want to use granting Apple front-of-line status and relegating Android users to play the role of red-headed stepchild.    Starbucks.   BMW. Smart Lock.  Smart Home.  And big luxury brand has full-feature apps on IOS and half-baked crap and Android.

 

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MacBook Pro Video Problems Solved

I’ve posted about this a few times on this site and now I feel like a fool for not discovering the problem sooner.     I’m not 100% certain if the issue is an HP monitor issue, a cable manufacturer issue, or and Apple hardware/OS/firmware issue.   All I know for certain is that a couple different brands of cell phones will cause my monitors to lose video signal and “flicker” on/off or show video artifacts.     Sometimes the video loss runs in cycles as fast as 1-second on/ 1-second off.  Sometimes the monitors power off for minutes-at-a-time.     Sometimes I just see horrible bands of pixelation run horizontally or vertically on the screen.    In many cases OS/X starts logging all kinds of video events in the system logs, but I am certain that is a side effect of a video data error that is not being handled as well as it could be.

At the end of the day the problem is easy to fix.   Move my cell phone away from my monitors.

Turns out that ALL THREE of my phones, an older HTC Incredible, a newer HTC Incredible 4G LTE, and a brand new Samsung Galaxy S5 all cause the problem.    It also turns out that the problem varies in intensity based on the lunar cycle and its alignment with the solar winds or some other cosmic crap like that.     What I do know is that when the problem starts my productivity goes to hell and as I can never guess when I can see my code or my browser.

For some reason the electro-magnetic fields (EMF) from the phone are causing all hell to break loose on the displayport video communications to/from the monitor.   That causes a cascade of problems which inevitably results in a monitor powering off or a black screen where video should be.     After multiple red herrings, running down innumerable rabbit holes, and even going so far as to not only swap video cables and monitors but also a brand new MacBook Pro,  the real issue is basic electro-magnetic interference and the solution is as simple as “move my cell phone”.

Here is the recap I sent to Apple Support today regarding the issue.   Hopefully someone will stumble across this online and save themselves some headaches as well.

 

Apple Support Communication

I finally figured out the monitor flicker, power cycle, and pixelation artifacts problem with my monitors after MONTHS of dealing with the issue.

This is really crazy, but it is without-a-doubt what is going on here:

PROXIMITY OF CELL PHONE TO VIDEO HARDWARE

I haven’t yet narrowed down the issue to exactly what the root cause is, but here is what I know for a fact:

1) This happens with my older HTC Inredible 4G LTE phone.
2) This happens with my new Samsung Galaxy S5 phone.
3) This happens ONLY on displayport but HDMI does not appear to be impacted.

4) The problem appears to only happen with the phone is within 5cm of the monitor end of the displayport cable.

5) The problem happens on the HP ZR2440w monitor and other HP monitors using DisplayPort as well as a Samsung monitor using DisplayPort  (I no longer have that monitor, wish I could re-test).

6) Portrait or landscape mode was a red herring.

7) I could not reproduce the issue by placing the phone near (even touching) the MacBook end of the displayport cables.
After 5 days of trying to capture the behavior with my camera-phone and the problem suddenly going away after picking up my phone it finally came to me.      Move the phone back and TOUCH the display cable… bam powers off the display like a wireless power switch.     Move it away, pixelation, then the monitor comes back on.

I then tested the FIRST displayport as I have only seen this happen on the 2nd displayport (furthest from power port on the MacBook) and like magic the first monitor turned off as soon as I touched the phone to the cable.

After multiple tests I’ve learned that I need to just be close to the cable (it is not a physical cable connection issue, verified that a few times).   Within 1-2cm the monitor powers off 60% of the time.   Within 2-5cm the monitor may power off (10% of the time) or display pixelation artifacts or the notorious “ants” problem (30% of the time).

It *may* be the minidisplayport-to-displayport cables I am using, however I have swapped out these cables and at least one set of cables is NOT from the same manufacturer.

To be determined:

a) Is this a cable shielding issue?
b) Is this a monitor build issue?

c) Why does the software react to EMF introduced at the hardware level?   (bad error checking/trapping in the video processing firmware/software?)

Just though I’d share so you can close this ticket and possibly disseminate this information to support channels.     I’m guessing my cell phone is not the only possible source of EMF that can cause external display issues.   Given the number of online posts about similar problems I would venture a guess that more than a few Apple support calls and hardware returns may be related to similar EMF-related issues.

I am very techy and know all about EMF but it never occurred to me that the EMF from my phone would affect a displayport signal to the point of being able to actually power down a monitor IMMEDIATELY.

Good to know what it is.  When I have more time I’ll do more homework and post my findings online.

In the meantime I’m relocating my phone charging cable to not be under my monitors.
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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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MacBook Honeymoon Over, Apple Still Shines

Welcome To Apple Support

Day 4 of being a new Mac user and so far it is going well, considering.

My Hidden Talent

For people that don’t know me very well my “hidden talent” is the ability to break ANYTHING related to technology  with astounding efficiency.   All of my seasoned developers at the software consulting business I ran a few years back knew it well.    Whenever someone felt their project was ready for the customer one of my lead tech guys would say “let Lance play with it, if he doesn’t break it in less than 3 minutes you are close”.     Suffice to say that I don’t recall a single project that passed “the Lance test” on the first go.  Or second for that matter.

My favorite anecdote and my crowning achievement to date was breaking a regular ATM machine, and I’m not talking a 30-year old one build on Windows ME but a modern nearly-new ATM, within 30 seconds.  Pull up to the drive-up ATM, put in card, withdraw…wait…no… check balance (while withdraw screen is rendering)… POOF… system crash.   A BSOD on an ATM machine.  Sweet!

Sad Technology
Windows 8 Frowney-Face. Yup, that about sums it up.

I give that background because it applies to my MacBook experience for a few reasons.  First, I have become VERY familiar with technical support lines with every type and size of technology company on the planet.    Second, I have  also learned that there is NO technology I cannot break, even without trying, no matter how solid the platform may be.    My high-end HP laptop, less than 24 hours.   My teched-out 2014 BMW?  Less than 6 hours.    If something lasts more than a day under my full-fledge “run this thing at full throttle abuse” that is impressive.

Macs Are Not Lance-Proof

My MacBook Pro?   Lasted just over 48 hours.   That is somewhat impressive given the fact that I want from vanilla MacBook Pro setup to upgrading the packages software, adding proprietary Logitech unity wireless drivers, proprietary Wacom table wireless drivers, 3 external monitors on 2 display port adapters and a HDMI connection, a 5-year old inkjet, added a pro backup service, 3 virtual box machines, a security dongle, an Android phone, and installed several developer-heavy software packages in that time.     The MacBook survived all of that, ALMOST.

It Worked Great, At First

The AMAZING part is all that stuff worked exactly as I expected with minimal fuss.    Getting 3 external monitors (2 display port and 1 HDMI) on an HP notebook with a docking station SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to run “5 monitors (sales lie, it really can only do 3)” took over a month including a BIOS update, video driver update, and 3 days of level 2 technical support on how to configure and hook everything up.   MacBook?  Plugin in all 3 monitors and BOOM… they are all up and running including a FOURTH if you included the laptop display.  Sweet.

Adding the 4-port USB monitor hub on these HP monitors to the MacBook?  No problem?   Cascade them with monitor 1 USB into monitor 2 into monitor 3?   No problem.   It shouldn’t be.  USB buses, when powered like these HP monitors are, should be able to daisy chain up to 128 units on a single USB chain.      With the HP?   It rarely could find devices on the first 4-port monitor hub.   Daisy chain them?  NO WAY.  NOTHING would be found and the system would crash corrupting files along the way.   The MacBook handled it with aplomb and to put the icing on the cake it recognized a 5-year old inkjet printer, installed it with the right drivers, and was printing through the 3rd hub on the 3rd external monitor in less than 30 seconds after connection.    Under Windows it was a bitch just to get the thing to print in under 10 minutes and only with a direct printer-to-laptop USB connection. Anything else was futile.

Overall I am impressed.

Breaking A MacBook Pro

But I DID break the MacBook Pro.

Somewhere along the way one of the software updates or installs (I’m fairly certain it is software related) caused my external monitors connected to the display port connects on the MacBook started to “flicker”.   By flicker I mean go completely black for 1 or 2 seconds then turn back on.  Sometimes this would happen once every hour.   Sometimes it would happen once every 5 seconds for 5 minutes straight.       When that didn’t happen I got what the Apple community has coined as “video ants”.   “Ants” are horizontal or vertical bands of pixel artifacts that are similar to “snow” you would find on analog TV years ago (for the young kids that don’t know what analog TV or “snow” is, go look it up… I’m sure YouTube has a video).     Needless to say, these issues made it impossible to use my external monitors and get anything accomplished.

Apple’s Stellar Support

What I found was that Apple Support, thus far, outshines Microsoft and just about EVERY vendor in the Microsoft-centric hardware space that I have ever used.    I’ve purchased top-of-the-line equipment from Sony, Dell, Toshiba, HP, Asus, Acer, and Lenovo.   Few can compare to the general engineering finesse of Apple but NONE can come anywhere CLOSE to Apple in regards to customer service.   NOT EVEN THE SAME PLANET.

I did some homework and tried various online remedies.  Nothing worked.    I decided to take advantage of Apple Support that comes FREE for the first 90 days with any Apple computer purchase.     I got online and opened a chat session.     This is where Apple starts to blow away the rest of the market when it comes to support.    Just getting started with support was painless.      Because I took literally 30 seconds to sign up for an Apple ID when booting my laptop I only had to enter my email and password for that ID and Apple could start building my support case.

It only took a minute and involved 3 simple questions before I had someone on  live chat.   The questions start with “your Apple serial number”.   This is easily found from an on-screen menu in the OS.  No flipper over the laptop, or looking under a desk at the back of a tower, or rebooting to the BIOS.  Just go to the main menu and look at System Preference/More Info.   There it is plain as day.  Now THAT is an novel idea… ANYONE in the Windows world paying attention?   The other questions? Your name and a brief description of your problem.

Support Personnel Using English?

So I have someone on chat.  Guess what?   They actually READ AND WRITE PERFECT ENGLISH.  Holy cow, does Apple actually employ Americans for support?    Maybe.    If not they do a GREAT job training people how to communicate in perfect English for the American users like myself.    Not that I’m a xenophobe but I just cannot stand reading blatantly horrid streams of grammatical and syntactically incorrect English for an entire 20 minute chat session.     I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to not be reading or listening to “Yoda-speak”.   I had ENOUGH of that with Microsoft premium customer support for their cloud services last night.   “If you press now please button on computer” or “Hold now down the control button, you shall.”   Really?

And Can Use Their Brain?

Guess what else?  They are ALLOWED TO USE THEIR BRAIN!   They actually are REAL PEOPLE WITH A REAL BRAIN.   I just about had a God-damned heart attack when they literally said “Can you tell me what debugging you’ve already done?  I don’t want to ask you to do things you tried already.  Your time is too valuable to be wasted.”.     HOLY FRIGGING CRAP… YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!  That is NOT how customer support works in 2014.   APPLE…  do you realize you are completely screwing with the customer support paradigm?   This cannot possibly be good for business!!!     That one simple interaction, that has now happened not with ONE but with TWO Apple support people in a row is one HUGE reason why I don’t think I’ll ever stray from Apple from this point forward.  Not unless they decide to be just like everyone else on the planet and go to a 100% check-the-box-while-reading-the-script support model.

I told them all the steps I had taken from swapping cables, ordering new cables, swapping monitors, uninstalling software, reboots, swapping ports, and a myriad of other options.     They read it all, and actually came up with some things I DID NOT TRY.     They did so nearly instantaneously.  Like they actually knew what the hell they were talking about.       Yes, they did have me reset PRAM which did not help.      They also had me reset SMC and run the Apple Hardware Test (AHT) which did not show any errors.      MAYBE the SMC reset did help, though at first I was not convinced because the login screen immediately showed screen flicker, but I will tell you that as soon as I powered off all 3 monitors, turned them back on after trying one more cable swap trick THE MONITORS WORKED.

What is not most impressive is the fact that my monitors are now working again as expected but the fact that I was not asked a bunch of dumb-ass questions or told to “did you reboot”, “did you power off for 30 seconds”, or other obvious options.     They could tell I know a little something about computers and went STRAIGHT to the uber-technical stuff.    They came up with some new analysis and debugging steps nearly immediately.    I was truly impressed.

Just as impressive was the team communication.     After my first contact with Apple Support I was told “this is your support ID in case you need to call back so the next person can pick up where I left off”.   True enough, the next support person after my system reboot and PRAM reset did not work picked up EXACTLY where he first person left off.     That person never needed to ask for my case ID, they looked at the history and said “is this related to the monitor issue”.  Yes.   Moving on to the next item.       That is how support should be.

Hey World – Copy This!

In my book, Apple knocked it out-of-the-park when it comes to technical support.  Why?

  • 30 seconds with a FEW simple questions to get registered for online support.
  • No more than a 2 minute wait for a LIVE support person.
  • Support people are ALLOWED TO THINK, they are not script-driven.
  • Support had a CLUE even with a less-common problem.
  • Support ALWAYS made me feel like they WANTED me to use the service.
  • Every support person said “please let us know if this doesn’t fix it, we want you to be 100% happy with you Apple experience and won’t stop working on this until you are”.
  • They actually UNDERSTOOD the problem and came up with what appears to be the right solution.

Not This!

After a month of dealing with Asurion to get my HTC phone fixed and an entire evening with Microsoft Azure support  I am absolutely blown-away by the fact that Apple has real old-fashioned technical support.

Asurion?  100% script based to the point of absurdity. “I just did a factory reset an hour before calling you, it didn’t help.   them: That doesn’t matter sir, if you DO NOT do a factory reset now I cannot help you.   If we don’t see the phone re-register we will not proceed.  me: Can you see it re-registered 90 minutes ago?   them: sir that is irrelevant, if you don’t do it again now while I am on the phone I cannot help you.”

Microsoft? 4 techs, 3 time zones and at least one guy that my disk failure problem was related to an IP address change (WTF, really?) Don’t forget this guy too: “I am not an expert in that area, I will refer you to someone that is” from the guy that I was originally referred to as an expert in that area.

Apple Fan Boy?

A month ago I thought Apple users where just zealots that had buried their heads in the sand and ignored the myriad of problems that come up on their devices.      I used to think “well they are not overly technical and just don’t push the systems like I do”, but that notion was dispelled a few years back as some of the uber-geeks I know were also raging Apple fans.      Now I’m getting a taste of the Kool-Aid.    If this support experience is any indication of what it is like being an Apple Fan Boy, I’m all in.

And just as I finish writing this… the first monitor flicker on my display port devices in over 3 hours.  Maybe this is not 100% fixed so we’ll see just how deep the Apple Kool-Aid Punch Bowl is.    But wait, it looks like it was the VirtualBox guest going into and out of sleep state while in full screen on my other monitors.    Very like just a VirtualBox bug not an OS/X or MacBook hardware issue after all.

 

 

 

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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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Vendor Rant: Dell & Asus

First off, let me say this is not just a post purely to rant. About once/week I have somebody asking me “what brand laptop/desktop/servers” should I buy. OK, servers are less often but do come up about once/year when other CTOs ask me what I’m buying these days.

Now on to the venting & then some useful info…

This is a rare 2-for-1 rant. Let’s start by re-kindling the old rant with Asus. Talk about a company that has utterly failed in a new market after being successful. Asus makes great motherboards. Asus makes REALLY REALLY HORRIBLE laptops. My top-of-the-line (at the time) Asus G73JH has been nothing but a disaster from day 1.

Asus Service Round 1 : Epic Fail

To recap last year’s rant, my Asus G73JH stopped working in less than seven months. Actually it never quite worked, at least not properly. Seven months in it became unusable with the now infamous “Grey Screen Of Death”. The video processor was completely fubar and on boot the system would hang or just display the gray “pinstripes”. Some blamed it on the video bios, but whatever the problem it had to go in for repair. That is when all hell broke lose.

The “1 week repair” took 4 months. Asus, after random claims of my not shipping it or their not receiving it, finally admitted they “lost it”. The “fixed in 3 months or we refund your original purchase” did not hold. They said that policy does not cover my laptop because technically they’ve not started the repair process, they just can’t find my laptop.

4 months later after having purchased another laptop from Dell, the Asus came back.

Asus Hardware : Epic Fail

Fast forward almost exactly 1 year to the day. We are ready for Asus failure round 2. I have a brand new RMA sitting on my desk and I’m waiting for my new HP laptop to get here so I can ship this piece of junk back to Asus. This time I ordered the laptop BEFORE shipping the Asus as I have no idea if I’ll ever see my Asus G73JH again.

This time around the disk controller built into the motherboard is failing randomly. The disk I/O interface freezes at random times. Usually at boot, due to the high amount of disk I/O, but it can happen at ANY time. Typically this will leave traces in the Windows event log that iaStor 0 has stopped responding just moments before the system hangs. After suspecting a drive failure and replacing the primary drive with a brand new unit, it was apparent it is NOT the drive but the controller. This week the laptop started telling me to “insert the boot disk”, the answer to which is to power-off/power-on and pray. One in ten times it will then boot fully.

The other issues: two distinct “bright spots” on the LCD where the back lighting bleeds through fairly severely making any graphics work on the laptop monitor difficult, a touchpad with dead spots (and I RARELY use it, maybe once/month when travelling), and a usb port that if you happen to TOUCH a usb connector to it upside-down (and who EVER does that) immediately turns off the system with a hard power off.

So, the laptop has a new RMA and will go away for who-knows-how-long.

Dell Customer Service : Epic Fail

I like Dell. Always have. They are my go-to supplier for desktops and laptops and have long been my recommended solution for most of my business clients. However the last few times I’ve dealt with them their service has been horrible. They outsourced all their customer service about a decade ago. It was a horrible experience. About five years ago they brought most of that back on shore, things got better.

Apparently Dell has not learned their lesson. My recent order for a new Dell laptop has shown that Dell decided to go the cost-cutting route and outsource once again. What a huge mistake. This has been the WORST customer service and product ordering experience I have ever had in 20+ years of purchasing hardware.

First off, I ordered a Vostro 3750 Fastship model. It was not exactly what I wanted but I compromised. I needed it here YESTERDAY to replace the failing Asus. I went with this model because they had a special deal AND free overnight shipping AND it would ship the next day. I’d have it in less than 48 hours. Perfect!

But wait, NOOOO… that would not be the case. The day the laptop was promised to arrive I has finished moving all my files off the Asus to an external drive. I cleared out all my settings and my passwords in preparation for repair. After an hour of this process I booted the Asus and got my first email messages.

“Dear customer – your order will NOT ARRIVE TODAY as promised, your new *anticipated* arrival date is this Friday”. Forty eight hours AFTER their promised next day service with their FAST SHIP system. Damn it. The only reason I ordered this system and compromised on the specs was because I could have it in < 48 hours.

Dell : Service Rodeo

The first thing I did was call the 800# that was listed on the order for “more information” or to cancel the order. “John”, clearly in India somewhere, answered. He asked “The Four Questions”:

* “What is your name?”

* “What are you calling in refrence to?”

* “Can I have your order number?”

* “Can I have a call back number in case we get disconnected?”

After answering all 4 questions he looks up my order and basically reads the email I already received back to me. I tell “John” that I need to know why the order was delayed and need to be certain it will ship within 24 hours so I can have it before the weekend. He tells me the cookie-cutter response: “The order was delayed due to a parts shortage, I will look into that for you. Sixty second pause. I don’t see any parts on back-order. It *should* ship tomorrow.”, given the emphasis on SHOULD (his emphasis, not mine) I ask him, “Should? Is there any way to find out for certain, or at least with some high probability that this will actually ship. It is important I have this laptop by Friday.” The response from “John” is “I can’t answer that but a customer service representative can, if you will hold I will get one for you.” I hold. Two minutes later I’m transferred.

“Steve” picks up. Funny accent for Steve, but OK. He asks EXACTLY the same questions. He reads me EXACTLY the same script, a version of my email telling me the order will arrive Friday. I ask the same exact question, he gives EXACTLY the same response as “John”. We follow the same path and he transfers me to a “customer service” representative.

“Prapeet” picks up. Literally a nearly IDENTICAL exchange as John & Steve. Almost verbatim. What the hell.

Twenty five minutes later I’m on the phone with a different “John”. I’ve now spoken to FOUR, no kidding, FOUR people that did the same exact routine. When Steve answers I just about lose my mind. I tell him if he can’t give me an actual answer and tries to transfer me to a customer service agent I’m going to “go postal”. At the end of that conversation he tells me “I can’t get you an answer, but let me have your number and I’ll call you back by end of the day TOMORROW”. WHAT?!?! I need to know before end of day tomorrow or I’ll have no other option but to order something else. He promises to call back within 4 hours.

Dell: The Truth Comes Out

To “John #2’s” credit, he DOES call me back. Guess what? After four people tell me my order *should* be here Friday he gets me the truth. One of the MAIN PARTS is on backorder and there is very little chance my order will ship anytime this week.

What the hell? Dell not only took the order knowing this, but they have trained their customer service reps to lie (or are purposely feeding them mis-leading/inaccurate information). After a series of email exchanges, and thanks in part to “John’s” honesty I ended up having to cancel my order.

The best part is that before the order is fully cancelled, I get an email from Dell on the SECOND PROMISED SHIP DATE saying:

Dear Dell valued customer,

During the process in creating your order, we encountered an error. To resolve this issue, we were required to cancel order number 937687130. Please contact your account representative if you have any questions.

They cancelled the original order more than 72 hours late. Wow. What a cluster.

Dell : On Site Repair Fail

As a side note, which is related to the comments in The Summary below, our last Dell purchase has been great. Until last month. A year into service the motherboard failed. Luckily we had next-day on-site business repair services. It was easy-to-use and well executed. They arrived promptly the next morning and repaired the system.

Sadly, however, the technician used a MAGNETIC screwdriver to repair the laptop. That is a huge problem when you are re-installing a hard-drive after replacing a motherboard.  Shortly after the tech left the laptop was exhibiting drive corruption issues. 1% of the sectors were bad and some files were lost.

We had to purchase a new drive & transfer all the data. We did on our own after a 10 minute run to the local computer shop to buy a drive. We didn’t have time to setup another ticket and schedule another service call with Dell.

The Summary

Bottom line, customer service in general and especially in the consumer electronics world has gone to complete hell. There are virtually NO computer companies remaining that provide professional business-class services any longer, whether on a business or personal computing level.

I blame it on the constant downward pressure on computing devices and the harsh competition between the manufacturers as they attempt to garner market share purely based on pricing models.

The only standout exception to this is Apple. If anyone wonders how they command such large valuations on Wall Street and why their market cap is so high with barely 10% of the market, just look at their price models. They are consistently higher priced. However for that price they at least make SOME EFFORT in customer service.

In fact the ONLY thing Apple is missing, in my opinion, that keeps them from storming the corporate world is the fact that they have ZERO offerings for next-day on-site support. If your laptop, server, whatever breaks and they can’t fix it over the phone you are screwed. If you are lucky enough to have a local Apple Store they can fix generic run-of-the-mill problems for their best-sellers and get you online in a day. However, for any serious problems or for stuff that is not on the best-sellers list like the highest-end laptops or servers you are out 3-5 days while they ship it out to a repair depot.

Someone in the “PC World” needs to get back to SERVICE FIRST and not play the price wars game. I, for one, will gladly pay a higher price for a better quality system with some real customer service.  Next-day, on-site service is a must to retain business continuity.   Today, that leaves me with a single choice: HP laptops, desktops, and servers with an on-site Extra Care warranty.

Apple could easily be there as they already have the quality-of-experience issue down pat, but they need to address the next-day on-site repair service to be viable in an enterprise setting.

My new laptop arrives soon. It is an HP. Dell is now off my list, even though they have next-day onsite, I can no longer recommend their systems due to deplorable service.

Based on dozens of systems purchases over the past 24 months, here are laptop/desktop brands I now stay away from:

  • Sony – Stay away at all costs, the systems come with bloatware, are overpriced, do not have on-site services of any kind, have a horrible repair process, and have horrible driver support. The $4,000 Vaio best-of-breed laptop was discontinued less than 4 months after launch and had ZERO 64-bit support. It is the most expensive laptop in the office and NOBODY wants it.
  • Asus – Again, great motherboards, horrible laptops. Just Google for a bit and ignore the planted 4 and 5-star reviews. You’ll find dozens of laptop complaints, primarily about major system failures.
  • Dell – Decent price for decent equipment, but heaven forbid you have any problems. Both the sales & service customer support is some of the worst in the business. If they could fix this they could recover.

Recommended laptop/desktop brands:

  • HP – But keep away from the low-end or mid-range consumer junk. There are distinct differences in build quality. Spend the extra $100-$300 and go upper-end only. The stuff at Walmart, Best Buy, etc. is mostly junk. For businesses get the Extra Care on-site warranty.
  • Apple – You pay a premium but their support people are zealots. That can be a good thing. The only down-side is that this is a no-go for business continuity if something major goes wrong. A laptop motherboard on a 15″ Macbook meant 5 days with zero use of the system. Just be prepared for that if it happens. It is not as rare as you think. Apple still uses the same chip suppliers and device suppliers as everyone else.

There you go, my experiences and recommendations… at least for Q1 2012.

 

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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?