Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Frustrating Situations

I went to visit my Grandmother last week and stumbled upon a very frustrating situation. Prepare to read a short story as I set this up properly. A couple years ago she went through me to find her a laptop, meeting her requirements, for a good price. I searched high and low and decided on a Dell 17R 7110. It's not a powerhouse, but for browsing the internet and checking email, it is a great desktop replacement. The only issue she's had with it is the wireless connectivity. It seems to drop WIFI connection every 6-8 months and for whatever reason, will not reconnect. It's actually to the point where I have to do a system restore to get the internet back.

Now I know you know I write this blog, and have talked a lot about phones, and getting deals on things, but it's important for you to know I have over 20 years experience with computer hardware and software support. I can assemble and disassemble any computer and understand it's workings. I have the experience and the certification to do so. I am no means an expert at everything, but I'm proficient enough to never need to take my own computer to a shop, which leads me to the frustrating situation...

It turns out my Grandma has had this connectivity issue a few more times than I had known, and decided to take the computer into a shop a couple times. The first time the technician charged her $80 to clean some things up and eventually do a system restore to resolve the problem. I've walked my Grandmother through the system restore process a few times so this technician didn't really fix anything, but he did get it working for her, and for a reasonable (?) price. When I went to visit her the laptop had been having the same issue and was in the shop with a different technician. She dropped it off on Monday morning and it was now Friday afternoon. Grandma explained she had called the tech a few times over the week and he was very short with her, telling her he hadn't gotten to it yet. She said she called him earlier today and he said he still hadn't gotten to it yet. That's almost 5 days in the shop with it just sitting there, collecting dust! Some people need computers for businesses and important communication and he was just holding on to it for her. I decided to give them a call as I could make further attempts to fix it myself since I was physically there, and not on the phone. I called the tech and he said he had just started working on it, and had found some infected files in a spyware scan. I explained my experience with the issue and he proceeded to talk about how he had plans to replace protocols and the network stack (good ideas but still not likely the solution as I had done it before), but it would likely take a few hours and he wouldn't have time to finish it today. It's Friday, and he won't finish it today!!! That means the earliest it could be done was Monday. I asked him what the "damage" would be if I picked up the laptop right now. He said he had invested an hour into it and it would be $50. I won't argue with the rate as some shops charge $70-100 an hour, but I was annoyed with the fact he had done nothing over the week and wanted $50 for a quick scan. I spoke with my Grandmother and she agreed it would be fruitless to leave it with them as they had plans to do several hours of work, that likely wouldn't fix it, and she would probably end up with a $150-200 bill.

We rolled down to the shop and spoke with the technician directly. He was a social reject who was clearly computer smart, but hardly ever left his mothers basement. I very kindly advised him we would be collecting the computer and we were concerned about the bill, as a full hours rate was high for a quick scan, over a 5 day period. He just sat there, said nothing, and eventually handed us the laptop and a bill for $49.99. He immediately said we'd have to talk to his manager about the cost. We approached the manager, a slightly older fellow, who clearly had less computer knowledge, but more customer service skill. I explained the above to him and he was quick to ask "what do think would be fair to pay?" as I replied "I just don't think the full amount is fair" when he quickly repeated "what do you think would be fair to pay?" I thought about the fact it took them a week to do a 5 minute scan, and that the problem was not addressed at all, and decided paying even $1 would be too much. I told him it should be free and he scoffed at my suggestion, telling me he wouldn't lower the price at all, but he would ensure it was fixed without increasing the price beyond the original $50. The offer wasn't bad, but it took them a week to do nothing, so how long would it take to get the problem solved. My grandmother wanted it fixed 3 days ago, not a week or two from now. We reluctantly paid the $50 bill and vowed to never return.

I won't get too nerdy with you, but I ended up having to wipe the whole computer clean, and install everything from scratch. It definitely fixed the problem, but I'm not confident the problem isn't hardware related and/or something to do with the internet service in the home. Needless to say, these computer shops are like automobile repair shops, they pray on people who need their help and charge whatever they want for services people may or may not even need. These sort of situations are frustrating for everyone.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Small Batteries for Big Phones

I think almost anyone can recall the cell phones of the 80's. They were those massive bricks with the thick 12" antennas. They were horrible, but that's where technology was at the time. Slowly over the years, the cell phones minimized and became almost too small. The thought usually makes me think of a Nokia flip phone, sitting alone on a bus stop as it fell out of a pocket unnoticed. Now, Smart and Superphones are the cats meow and they are getting bigger, and bigger and sometimes so big we're not sure if we are holding a tablet or a phone. With the device changing dramatically over the years, one thing has stayed the same, the size of the batteries. 

Obviously I'm not being literal about the size, but the running capacity has stayed poor since the beginning of the era. Cell phone manufacturers have tricked us for years by advertising the "standby time" and kept the focus away from the "talk time" and now more important "screen on time". Sure, my Samsung Galaxy SIII can standby for a week without using it, but 3-4 hours with the screen on and you'll find yourself begging for a charger. Of course the Galaxy SIV and the iPhone 5s are the current models, and are better then my example, but not by a lot. Each new device model increases in processing power, and with the advancement in app graphics and function comes higher battery demand. The way I see it, these devices are designed to operate from one plugin to the next. Cellular phones have become a lifeline of our social and professional lives and should be able to stay on, while we're on. Having to plug your phone in at night is totally reasonable and should be encouraged. If you can purchase a phone with different colors, processors and memory capacities, you should be able to pick battery life too.

Don't worry, I'm here for you. I wouldn't waste your time letting you read this if I didn't have a solution. Take a look at extended batteries. As an example, my Samsung Galaxy SIII battery is 2100mAh (the higher the better) and this ZeroLemon 7000mAh extended battery clamps on to the back of my phone and puts my 4 hours of screen time to around 15. That means I could literally have my phones screen on all day and not worry about battery life. Now, if phone girth or cuteness is a major factor for you, consider a more conservative option. Batteries are big and heavy so if you want big power you are going to sacrifice something. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Turbo Camaro

Over two years ago I wrote a post asking Can 6=8 For My Camaro? The only logical answer would be "sure, if you want it to." Since then, I've purchased books, DVD's, magazines and read hundreds of articles on engine swaps, crate motors, performance upgrades and several months ago I finally made a decision. My 250 cubic inch Chevy Inline 6 engine will not only equal 8 cylinders, it will surpass the norm. I've got the parts list together to rebuild the engine and outfit a forced induction system.

For those of you who don't want to go read Wikipedia on forced induction, I will give you the straight goods. I'm going to install a Turbocharger, which takes the exhaust gas and recirculates it at high pressure back through the engine, allowing for an accelerated fuel burn. If that makes sense, then you should guess more burn, means more power. This upgrade allows the engine to remain mostly stock, thus keeping stock fuel economy until the gas pedal is firmly pressed. I'll end up with a unique engine, decent fuel economy and the performance of a V8.

I'm actively tracking down the required parts off Ebay and Craigslist and hope to have them pooled together within the next year or so. There will be some fabrication to be done, but nothing I can't manage. I probably won't update my blog as I go, but will certainly post the outcome.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Block the Ads Now!

I think it's interesting to see how people manipulate the internet. I find myself opening web pages, skimming paragraphs and targeting new links at a great pace, but "less experienced" users seem to sloth through pages, look at all the pictures, and even spend time trying to distinguish the legitimate links from the advertisements. I find I can look at a page, and not even notice the advertisements where as others not only see them, but are... yikes, actually tempted to click them. I've heard people actually make money off online advertising ;O

Some of you might not notice the advertisements on common sights like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube because you use them so often, but they are there. The average Facebook page has 5-10 advertisements on it. That's 5-10 extra images your browser has to download on each page! That means bandwidth, data limits and of course, patience is being crushed because of excessive advertisements. Even if you have "the gift" and can see right through them, you owe it to yourself to block them out.

Advertisement blocking software exists for almost every platform. Android has a few ad blocking apps, I use AdAway. It's free and is updated often. Unfortunately you need to be rooted to use it, but shame on you for not rooting if you have an Android phone. 

If you're like me and use Google Chrome on your PC, you should get the Chrome extension Adblock. It installs right in the browser and never bothers you again. I like it as I can see how many ads were blocked on the current page and I can easily check the total number of ads it's blocked for me. As an eye opener, my current counter is over 50,000 advertisements. There are several other extensions and other methods of purging online solicitation, but these suggestions will point you in the right direction.

Some of you might be thinking, what about my Apple gear? I suggest using Google Chrome for Mac! :D


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mobile Gaming

In the year 2000 I had just graduated high school and was just entering the big world of post secondary employment. On my off hours I do spent countless hours on my computer playing games. In fact, until 2007 or so I played mostly computer games and just the occasional PS3 title. What can I say, I was addicted to Quakeworld and World of Warcraft. I've never been a big mobile gamer, except maybe the Sega Game Gear way back when. Until recently I figured that mobile gaming has been a dieing industry.

Now don't get me wrong I realize that mindless games like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Where's My Water, Canabalt, Contre Jour and Temple Run have revolutionized mobile gaming. I agree that those, and many other games are great for wasting time, and even better at draining your phones battery, but to me, they are missing elements of what made gaming on the computer and consoles so emersive. I can definitely be entertained by typical phone games, sometimes I even feel a certain amount of satisfaction when I beat a level or get a high score. Do these games emerse me in a place where I forget the troubles of the outside world, making me want to play non stop? No, they don't as I can put the game down and probably not care about picking it up again until the next time I have nothing better to do. So I guess the big question is, can mobile games be better than this?

They can and are, if you know what to look for. Finding decent mobile games isn't as simple as looking at the highest rated games in the online store. Most of the really good games are featured and reviewed on separate sites, and aren't developed by the more popular mobile games authors. I think some of the best mobile games, are ones that were originally designed to be computer games, but have since been updated and ported to us for use on touch screen devices. Nostalgic games like Another World, Prince of Persia and Broken Sword: Secret of the Templars are perfect examples of immersive, story driven strategy games, that were designed for adults that wanted to sit and enjoy a game for several hours at a time.

My point in all this jabber is to make it clear that mobile gaming has become a time waster, when it should have a similar experience to a PC or console. The developers need to play to the devices strong features and make games with simple controls, good stories, strategy, and quality sound. I don't think people typically expect mobile game graphics to be amazing, and they shouldn't as graphics mean nothing when a game is well developed. I look forward to more old school game ports and developers willing to take a chance with creative, immersive game experiences that don't involve repetitive, short levels with no story.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Trolls Attacked My Blog!

If you were to look at the post before this one you'd probably notice that it's been many months since I've updated my site. Between work, my daughter and my normal day to day life, I just haven't found the time, or inspiration to hammer out a quality post. I've got several draft posts from last year but they are fairly irrelevant now.

It really seems like I've dropped the ball, but one thing I have kept up on is killing trolls! A troll is someone who purposely delays or submits useless garbage to a site like mine. You wouldn't know it, but my Blog gets several thousand hits a month, with no new posts, and those old posts get around 200 comments a month. That sounds impressive to me, but about 190 of those comments are advertisements and people trying to link back to another site. I don't know about you but I hate it when I'm reading through comments on a post about nuclear astro-fusion (yeah right) and their are comments like "try my interweb site ::" and ridiculous stuff like that.

So several times a day I have been getting emails from my site about these jobless blog trolls posting comments, and I have been deleting these comments and reporting them all to Google. Google won't do anything about it, but it's the principal of it that matters to me. Trolls need to be put down. So from now on all comments are moderated. Good luck getting past me!
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