Returning to blogging…

… with a review.

Apart from an incorrectly attached F8 key, my new laptop – a Dell Studio 15 – arrived in pristine condition, no emergency calls to Dell customer “service” required. This is obviously good. Also good is the improvement over my four-year-old laptop It’s nice to have shiny new toys, but functionality is more important. The previous laptop could probably be made better with a clean restore of the operating system. Breaking out a credit card is easier.

A detailed review would probably be boring, and my blogging muscles are slightly flabby. So, a list ignoring the obvious advantages of a faster computer with more memory.


  • Sleek design – very cool
  • No modem, leaving room for useful features
  • Vibrant glossy screen without an excessive mirror effect.
  • Fingerprint reader – Is it reasonable for a libertarian to love swiping a fingerprint as much as I do? It works, so no typing necessary.
  • HDMI port – Connecting the Blu-ray player to my television involved plugging the cable in and nothing more.
  • Backlit keyboard – When I remembered to turn this on while typing in the dark for the first time, I wanted to write poetry – Ode to the Backlit Keyboard.
  • Dell Dock – This is basically Dell’s effort to make Windows Vista into Mac OS X. I like it, although this criticism has merit.


  • Sleek design – in every aspect beyond the backlit keyboard, Dell chose form over function to the detriment of the computing experience. It’s nice marketing to chase Apple, but they should’ve thought about their copying.
  • The power cord protrudes from the right side, interfering with using a mouse. Apple’s power cord offers little interference and it’s on the left side.
  • The 9-cell battery extends down, raising the laptop and making it awkward in a backpack, rather than extending out of the back. Stupid.
  • The screen hinge attaching to the side rather than the top. Cool effect, distracting shift of the screen down. And it limits the range of motion for the screen to angle back. This can be bothersome if the laptop is on a surface significantly lower than my eyes.
  • The keyboard layout is awful. Delete, Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down should be in a horizontal cluster, not a vertical row. And why is the right Ctrl key not next to the arrows? Who uses the keyboard to bring up the right-click menu, anyway?
  • Dell Media Direct – This is garbage. It constantly determines that a Blu-ray update is missing and then finds nothing to update. And using it when the computer is off caused my computer to freeze. As soon as I find reliable Blu-ray software, I’m uninstalling Media Direct.
  • Water Stain – the palm rest has a design that looks like a water stain. I tried to wipe it off when I opened the box. It’s inconsequential but it’s a poor aesthetic.

For my personal configuration, the only real mistake seems to be the screen resolution. I opted for the basic 1280×800. It’s nice, but everything on the screen feels too big. It’s a significant improvement over my old laptop’s 1920×1200, but 1440×900 is probably the sweet spot on a 15.4″ screen.

From this, it might appear that I’m arguing against the Studio more than I am. I probably should be. Instead, and it’s probably just rationalizing that I have this for the next few years, I place most of my quibbles into just a need to adapt. Maybe I just need to break my habits of the last four years.

Dell Heaven?

Based on prior experience, as well as an additional recent incident of poor customer service, I’m probably going to feel stupid in praising Dell prematurely, but allow me to do so. I ordered a new laptop last Friday morning. I received an e-mail this afternoon informing me that it shipped this morning. Dell gave me an estimated delivery date of August 4th when I ordered, so cutting the production time by more than two-thirds of that estimate is impressive.

I have now jinxed myself. The laptop will no doubt arrive without RAM or a screen.


For those who believe only one story, I’m happy to let you take this as another example of American corporations lying to customers. I know I’ll never depend on an estimate again. So, so unreliable. A central planner would’ve done much better, holding the laptop in a warehouse until August 4th to avoid failing to meet my expectations.

Of course the laptop would’ve been ready on August 4th under government production. That’s a given.

Random Computer Nerdery

I’ve mentioned that I’m planning to buy a new laptop in the near future. Obviously that will depend on finding a new contract, but when I do make the purchase, I expect to go in a different direction.

I’ve always used Microsoft’s operating systems. I started on MS-DOS when I first arrived at college. (Yes, I’m that old.) Then I dabbled with a borrowed copy of Windows 3.1, only to abandon it and return to DOS. When I upgraded to a new computer in ’95, Windows 95 came pre-installed. Then I upgraded to a computer with Windows 98, followed by a string of Windows XP machines, in many of its variations. It’s all been very boring and typical.

Now, after a little bit of dabbling in Linux over the last few years, I’m ready to give it a shot at becoming my full-time operating system. The new laptop I buy will inevitably come with Vista. I can’t get away from Windows yet, since my business stuff still requires it to some extent. Still, I can’t help but wonder if I can get better long-term stability out of Linux. I’m tired of the cycle with Windows computers where performance is great out of the box, only to degrade as the machine ages. I understand that some of this is simply using newer, more powerful programs, as well as adding more to the hard drive. But not all of it. With both of my current computers, booting takes longer, and the systems often hang when selecting programs from the Start menu. There has to be a better way.

There might be:

Officially, Dell Inc. hasn’t said a word yet about which Linux it will be preloading on its desktops and laptops. Several sources within Dell, however, have told that Dell’s desktop Linux pick is going to be Ubuntu.

While unable to confirm this through official Dell channels, we have heard the same story now from several internal Dell sources. They tell us that the Austin, Texas, computer giant will be preinstalling the newly released Ubuntu 7.04. These systems will be released in late May 2007.

Ubuntu is the Linux distribution I’m most likely to use. I’ve seen it recommended in several places, and I gave it a try with a live cd. I doubt I’ll get it from Dell, which is where I’ll likely buy my new laptop. I still need Windows, and I don’t expect Dell to offer a dual-boot system any time soon. Still, I can install it myself. I’m not a hardcore nerd, but I’m ready to find out if it works for my everyday use.

Link via Bob Torres, co-host of the excellent VeganFreak Radio.

Convenience isn’t worth forsaking innovation (and liberty).

I normally enjoy John Dvorak’s curmudgeonly writing, but I’m afraid he might be serious with this article.

In this week’s complaint session, I’d like to complain about the little things. And I mean that literally. Little bitty things like proprietary PC connectors. I honestly believe that Congress should pass a law on PC connectors, keeping the number of designs to an absolute minimum. By law, product makers should have to choose between, say, two types of connectors, ensuring that devices work only with those two designs. I’m not kidding.

I agree with the complaint. I know Danielle would agree, given that she’s going through a re-organization of our junk, and we have boxes of orphan cables and connectors. But a law? No, thanks, even though here his call for legislation appears in the same type of context where people incorrectly use literally.

But he continues:

Why, for example, do we have so many variations of USB cables? One side is always the same—the side that attaches to the PC. It’s always a standard rectangular USB connector, and it plugs into any computer you like. But on the other end, the connector is always different. There are large, square connectors. Small, rectangular connectors. Trapezoidal connectors. I-have-no-idea-what-that-is connectors. And God knows how many others. Needless to say, you can never find the right cable when you need it. You end up accumulating so many of them, they’re inevitably scattered around the house. And when that Apple iPod connector goes missing, you can’t update your iPod.

What is the point of all this? I’ve complained about it before, pointing out that camera companies don’t even use the same connectors from camera to camera. Why not? Are they saving 2 cents per connector? Or what? It doesn’t have to be this way. This is USB we’re talking about, a ubiquitous 4-pin standard—not the wiring harness on a 1958 Studebaker. Seriously, we need legislation. This is costing us money for no good reason.

Again, I agree with the complaint, but now I think he might be serious. He gives Toshiba and Nokia as examples of companies that approach this well by putting the company name on the connector/power cord. Dell also does this, although it’s harder to confuse a laptop power supply than it is a router power supply. Still, not every company is dumb. We should applaud and encourage that.

But he continues:

Look, if there’s a law that forces a company to tell you what’s in a can of peaches (“Contains: Peaches, sugar, water”), then there can be a law that forces companies to label their power supplies. Can’t there? The construction industry abides by a book full of rules and regulations when they build out of wood. Can’t we consider mandating some aspects of technology design? Can’t we make a connector that everyone is required by law to adopt and use? Folks, the USB connector has only four pins! How many variations do we really need? Four pins! Now don’t get me started on the subject of batteries.

We do not need legislation. The next time someone needs to use an electronic device and the necessary cord or connector has gone missing, contact the maker of that electronic device and tell them you will no longer buy their products until they start labeling their cords and use standard connectors. Then follow through. It’ll change.

We don’t want to get into a situation where Congress legislates the use of Firewire cables, thus negating the development of the better USB 2.0 standard.

Like a System the Government Would Develop

I’m looking to buy a new laptop computer. I’m probably going to buy a Dell. If I do, I’ll have more to say based on my previous posts. For now, though, I’m fascinated by this:

From now on, whenever you buy a Dell PC, you’ll have the option of donating a few dollars toward the planting of new trees. And it’s not for nothing. A PC requires electricity, and generating electricity typically involves spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth makes pretty clear, this is a big problem, especially for people living at sea level. New trees can offset some of those carbon emissions.

I’ll read more about the program when I get closer to my final decision to determine whether or not it’s a feel-good gimmick or a legitimate strategy. It’s probably a bit of both, and it’s only $2 for a laptop, so the harm is minimal. But I dismissed this connection immediately.

You might think that this is just another way for Dell to take your money, but the company’s putting your money to good use. The fee is a token one, to be sure, but it could change the way people think about consumer electronics. I see it the same way I see that check box on my tax return, the one that sends $3 from my yearly tax bill to the Federal Election Commission. I’m guessing that IRS check box represents the first time the average voter actually realizes that election campaigns are partially financed by the federal government. Likewise, the check box on Dell’s site may be the first time that the average PC buyer thinks about the environmental impact of all that Web surfing.

That $3 checkbox is a silly example of how government can step beyond what is legitimate. I won’t voluntarily pay (through the back door) any money to fund the nonsensical thinking that leads to McCain-Feingold. I’ll donate money only to candidates I think are worthy, which is why I’ve donated $0 in my life to political candidates. That $3 checkbox perpetuates the mistaken notions that 1) two parties are enough and 2) either one of them is competent to govern. Sorry, but I’m aware of how candidates and politicians treat citizens. If the Dell program is anything like that, I’ll keep my $2.

Further down, this:

In addition to taking a lead in carbon offsets, Dell has one of the best recycling programs in the industry. The company announced a free recycling program three years ago, and in June it took it a step farther. Today, you can send any Dell PC back to the company for recycling—without paying a penny. If you buy a new Dell, the company actually sends someone to pick up your old PC. Again, this is a free service, and your old PC doesn’t have to be a Dell. Right now, manufacturers such as HP and Apple charge anywhere from $13 to $30 to dispose of your old computer. That’s just enough disincentive to ensure that most of those systems will land in a landfill.

This is a huge problem—not just for users, but for businesses. Here at PC Magazine Labs, we’re in the process of phasing out the last of our old CRT monitors and replacing them with LCDs. CRT monitors contain a huge amount of toxic lead. We’re talking 8 pounds a pop, if you consider all the glass, frit, and solder in a big CRT. This isn’t something we want leaking into our water tables.

I agree that recycling, or at least proper disposal of old computers is important. Free is a great incentive. And businesses (and governments) are absolutely the place to make the biggest push because they buy and upgrade in bulk. But I’ve priced the laptop I want through Dell’s small business catalog. The recycling kit is $25. Maybe if you’re the purchasing manager for a Fortune 500 firm you don’t care because you know that your P.R. department will issue a press release explaining how wonderful your company is at caring about the environment. For me, as a small business owner, I can afford one $25 payment to recycle an old (Pentium I) desktop I still have. But a small business buying more computers with a limited budget might find that $25 per computer fee a lot more daunting. That seems obvious, as even I’ve balked at the $25 and will look into other methods.

If businesses are the most logical starting place, and I think they are, the goal for Dell, HP, and Apple is on target, but the incentive needs work.

Can I steal a MINI if I spend $25,000 on football cards?

I don’t have much to say on Hollywood’s economic assertions about intellectual property piracy, other than to say that I’m sure it’s overstated, it will result in destructive legislation, and it will delay the industry’s entrance into the 21st Century of electronic distribution. In other words, it’s the typical nonsense from a dinosaur. However, this quote countering Hollywood’s nonsense is bogus:

It’s important to remember, however, that even though piracy prevents money from reaching the movie industry, those dollars probably stay in the economy, one intellectual property expert said.

“In other words, let’s say people are forgoing paying for $6 billion in movies by downloading or consuming illegal goods but end up spending that $6 billion on iPods, computers and HDTV sets on which to watch the movies, which leads to $25 billion in job creation in the computer/software/consumer electronics field,” Jason Shultz, staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in an e-mail.

The net economic effect of piracy is irrelevant to the intellectual property discussion. It does not matter that consumers spend their $350 on an iPod instead of movies. What matters is that $350 is not going to the company that created something of value to the consumer. There are many theories on how best to protect intellectual property and guarantee payment, most of them interesting. But the basic formulation of the problem does not include a community approach to evaluating economic spending. He who takes the risk should reap the reward.

I hope Tom Clancy is not a prophet

If Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman paid any attention to national politics, he’d know that Gambling Is Bad and Americans Hate Gambling. But, until the House gets around to outlawing Las Vegas, Mayor Goodman is in charge. And Tom Clancy has him working feverishly to protect Las Vegas from its no doubt imminent economic collapse, thanks to his new “terrorists invade Las Vegas” edition of Rainbow Six:

“It could be harmful economically, and it may be something that’s not entitled to free speech (protection),” Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said of the game’s realistic scenes, which he had not personally viewed.

“It’s based on a false premise,” Goodman said, adding federal and state leaders have repeatedly assured him that Las Vegas is “the safest place imaginable” nearly five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the East Coast.

“I will ask … whether or not we can stop it,” Goodman said of the game’s planned November release.

In other news Destroy All Humans has completely turned me off the idea of visiting strange towns filled with stereotypical bumpkins. I might end up dead with my brain stem extracted through mental powers. Or worse, I might end up the victim of mind control and be forced to sing and run around in circles. And I definitely fear being in a hotel when a UFO launches a sonic boom or two at the structure’s foundation, thereby causing it to collapse. Why didn’t someone acknowledge that the game’s makers don’t deserve free speech because the resulting fictitious game might scare me?

As stupid as Mayor Goodman’s comment is, I’m going to happily give (hopefully legally take from, of course) Las Vegas some of my money next month when I’m there on vacation. He’s worrying for nothing.

Source: John Dvorak

Day 18 of D-E-Double Hockey Sticks

Over the last eighteen days, I’ve begun to understand “Dell Hell.” Currently, my laptop is in Memphis for repair for the third time since it died in April. During its first repair attempt, Dell replaced the fan and heat sink. When I received the laptop back, I was able to recreate the problem in 50 minutes. When I called, Dell admitted that its staff turned my computer on and let it run for 45 minutes before sending it back. They didn’t bother to examine the laptop to determine a cause. The hardware technician did not diagnose anything beyond what the phone representative imagined as the cause, hence the limited, ineffectual repair.

On its second attempt, Dell replaced the fan, heat sink, and CPU. I do not understand why they believed that a part they replaced a few days before would be the cause of the original problem. The phone representative noted in my case that the next repair attempt should include the motherboard. This did not happen, as I said. When I received the laptop from the repair depot, I managed to kill it in 35 minutes, replicating the original problem by playing a DVD.

So now my laptop is on its third journey. I have no faith that my laptop will be fixed whenever it returns, but that’s mitigated by the knowledge that Dell must continue trying until the problem is resolved. Of course, I have to remind them of that every time I’ve called them, which is frustrating. Why no one at Dell can grasp the simple concept that, because my laptop failed during the warranty period, it is irrelevant that my warranty has since expired if the original problem hasn’t been fixed. Especially when they’ve admitted that they didn’t bother to run a thorough diagnostic or post-repair test.

I’ve learned a few things during this ordeal. Dell is clearly incompetent, which I think is all that works as an explanation. There is an upside to this: my laptop will have all new insides by the time this is resolved. It’s unfortunate that I’m not earning frequent flier miles for all the trips the computer is making to Memphis.

I won’t be buying anything from Dell in the future.

Post Script: Composing anything worth reading on a PocketPC is still virtually impossible, not to mention the hand cramping it causes. Regular blogging will resume soon.