Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Space-age sunglasses

I was having a beer with a friend in a small cafe in Peñíscola. Later, when we headed to the beach my friend missed his sunglasses. He was recently shooting a movie in the Moroccan desert. When we returned to the cafe looking for the sunglasses we were told nothing was left on our table. However, after insisting on our point the cafe owner "discovered" the sunglasses in their box. Curious.

I was not familiar with that brand and my american friend told me it's Revo, a high-tech brand of sunglasses that claims to offer the best bandpass filter using space-age technology. I cannot tell you first hand, but on paper they look good if you have two hunderd dollars to spare. They are only available in USA though.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Toshiba Qosmio F30 oddities

The Qosmio line from Toshiba adds a new capability to their laptop line: It's a DVR and DVD player using some BIOS software. The result is that you don't need to boot any OS (i.e. Windows Media Center) to use these features. It also means that even if your system is destroyed by a virust these features will still work. On top of this, Toshiba ships the system with a remote control that will make your experience even more comfortable and the Harman/Kardon loudspeakers deliver a good audio experience too (with richer bass sound than most other laptops).

But there are several catches that Toshiba let slip under the carpet. My first surprise was that inside the package they include a USB infrared receiver. My first thought that it could be there just in case you do not have a good angle when using the built-in receiver. I was wrong. I latter learned that Media Center Software is not compatible with the laptop's built-in infrared receiver so the USB one is required to use the remote control with Windows Media Center software.

My second surprise was that even though I had a working wireless conection with the laptop, Windows Media Center consistenlty ignored. Only after I did configure Wifi access within Windows Media Center I could download the TV program guide off the Internet. I do not know if this a bug or a "feature" but it took me several attempts to get the thing right. (Maybe it is written somewhere in the user docs, who knows).

While I have almost no trouble getting the built-in DVB-T receiver working under Windows Media Center, I failed to discover whether DVB-T is available or not under the QosmioPlayer BIOS software. In fact I only managed to get the the analog TV receiver under the QosmioPlayer software. It seems odd to have some features available under Windows Media Center but not others and, at the same time, to have the missing features with the QosmioPlayer BIOS software (just a reboot away).

I did fail, too, to get analog TV under Windows Media Center. I was not important but it might be due to the fact that the Qosmio F30 laptop seems to have a dual analog/DVB-T receiver (although most of the online reviews do not emphasize the fact). As I have zero experience with Windows Media Center it might be single cause of my failure.

All in all, I think Qosmio laptop line (I've tested a 15 inches model) is a good desktop replacement and a heavy laptop. It performs well and it is a good companion for your big flat screen.

By the way, you should stop using your DVD player to see your family photos on TV and to switch to analog VGA (or even better HDMI) to take advantage of your new plasma/tft TV. Photos will look sooo much better ... just give it a try.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Weird Wireless

I'm visiting a friend who has a new house and a new wireless setup from Telefónica. He needed some help from his company IT department to get the thing working. On arrival he tells me that he can use the wifi connection and it works, but at the same time the computer says it is not connected.

I suspected that odd behaviuor could be due to the common WinXP/manufacturer driver schizophrenia where both the system and the wifi card manufacturer's software are trying to manage the card settings. I tried to disable the WinXP handling of the card but then I was getting disconnected. So I tried the wifi card's software: Hmmm, cool! Network scanning shows a beautiful sonar-like display where you can the different networks on your neighbourhood, names, MAC addresses, channels and ... surprise: There are two different AP using the same ESSID nearby on different channels. This is probably because a neighbour has a similar setup as my friend's.

Ok, time to change the ESSID to something different, like my friends first name. However, I cannot log on the wireless router web interface. I do not know the admin password and it is not provided together with the user documentation. What it is provided is a windows software that does the configuration of the wifi router. A couple of attempts gets the ESSID changed to unique name (unless in this neighbourhood).

Now I should be able to get my laptop and my wife's working at my friend's but it is a no go. My laptop just cannot see that network name even if am ten inches away from the router. It does not seem like a signal problem as my friend's laptop is working ok. I started my trusty Ubuntu and I can see the network and I can received the beacons using ethereal with the card on monitor mode but I cannot log on the network. The problem becomes apparent when I try to select the channel: iwconfig eth1 channel 12 gives me an error. So the problem is that channel 12 is not allowed in this country and both Ubuntu and WinXP are avoinding it. Time to change to a new channel.

Once the channel has been set to a valid channel everything goes ok with any of our systems. Please note that setting your ESSID to a unique name in your neighbourhood is a key point to get a trouble-free wireless experience. If you use the default ESSID of your router you are calling for trouble. You can or cannot be lucky, but if you are unlucky the problem is that you'll have intermitent connectivity.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Getting a ticket to Oulu

I have to visit Raahe (near Oulu, Finland) in September and the EU is quite stingy about ticket cost (unless you are a politician which I am not). Our staff wanted to get it done for not more than 650 Euros. Most airlines either do not fly to that destination or charge you more than 1000 Euros. Time to put some of my vacation time to the task of saving some of that taxpayers' hard-earned money.

The old fashion way of using a brick and mortar travel agency seemed to be a no go, as I am still waiting for a quote from them. Expedia or Travelocity had served me well in the past but it is unclear if you can get a ticket from them if you are based in Spain.

A local e-company, provided a very nice price of 476 EUR, but when I tried to complete the check-out it gave me an error. It was also unclear whether I would need to go to baggage claim when changing airline or not. It was time to give them a call (or more).

First call: All our representatives are busy, line hung-up. (Nice customer service)
Ok. maybe I can send them an email. I did it, but I'm still waiting for their answer.
Second call: The call got through, I asked them if I could check-in my baggage only once to pick it up at the destination. The answer was: "Perhaps, but you better call the airlines". (Not very helpful).
Third call: "I'm afraid there is a problem as I am getting an error message on checkout", after providing them the data of my trip I was told that "Sorry Sir but our system works with an offline database and the price offered cannot be granted at the moment, would you like to pay around 1000 EUR and get it fixed?". (I declined).

Ok, so it seems they offer what they cannot deliver. Well, the point is that it is not only the cost what it is at stake as I do not want to arrive to my destination at 1:30am (even worse because Oulu still 50 miles away from Raahe).

Just in case, I phoned to Air France to ask them about their baggage policy for trips combined with other companies (SAS in my case) but a direct answer was not provided.

So I get back to Travelocity website where I learn that they are affiliated with in Spain (probably it is the other way around). So I did my search one more time and, again, I was pleasantly surprised with exactly the same route as before for a similar cost. As the previous deal was not possible at the moment, I thought this one will end up being broken somewhere in my checkout process. However it did work out. However, I was asked to provide the shipping address in a, somehow, odd way and I was not sure they will try to ship to the exact address they printed on-screen (which was not ok), so I gave them a call to sort it out. All their representatives were busy at the moment and I should call them later. Tired, I tried email with these e-company and to my surprise it was answered and I was assured they will ship to the right address no matter what they show on-screen (provided you entered the right data, which I did).

So I ordered the ticket just to realise, later on, that I might not be at home during their delivery window. So I email them again to ask delivery has to be done in hand, which it was. I guess the delivery guy will have to visit my home several times.

It only took me three hours to get my ticket. And, because I did it in my vacation time, it cost the EU nothing and it saved around 500 EUR. Not bad. Next time I want to have my share!!

Wow!! these guys are fast: In less than 24h I've got my ticket delivered to my home. Not a bad service.

And just in case you are wondering ... the address label was like the one on their web I complained about. The regular postman won't deliver to that but it seems they have properly trained their own delivery service to handle that weird address label scheme. I still think they could do something to avoid some customer anxiety because of that.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Carry-on e-gear

I've just realized how many different devices my family is carrying around when traveling. I mean computer-based devices. I can count two laptops, three cellphones, five MP3 players, one DivX hard drive, one mobile DivX player with a small screen, a nice unit that doubles as a flash-based MP3 player and self-powered loudspeakers, a Palm PDA, a fantastic CASIO dictionary plus translator and a Canon digital camera.

It is an amazing number of devices that suggests me that, at least for us, we are really far away from those devices that do almost everything. We are more the kind of customer that prefer one device that performs one task well. But I guess that other customers will enjoy multifunction devices. Just a question of user preferences.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Xtreme summer sports: Internet access in rural areas of Spain

It should not be that difficult. After all, last year I was attending a free Internet access (wifi) on a public libary in the north west of Spain (Galicia). But this year's experience proved quite tough and challenging.
To make a long story short I will tell you the local hotspot was not properly configured to accept user's laptops. So until I was able to let that message reach the network management people the problem prevented me to access the Internet. The problem, as with cellphone operators, is that their CRM is designed to prevent user's complaints to get to the right technicians. So it took me some courage and time till I got things sorted out.
Right now I'm sitting on the street with my laptop writing this message. The speed is so low that I am not sure I will finish the post before running out of battery :-)