Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Monday, February 25, 2008

iMac 2007 not behaving, again!

Just after installing a software update that required a restart (I guess a kernel or firmware upgrade) our iMac did it again: After the initial chime, it started beeping and it refused to boot up.

In a previous post I mentioned that as three beeps means a RAM memory problem it may well be caused by a non properly seated memory module. So this time I remove the power cable and I opened the memory hood on the bottom of the case. It looked ok but, just in case, I took the memory out and I plugged it in again. It looked to fit well (before and after).

Unfortunately this procedure caused no change on system behavior: After the initial chime the system will beep twice and then it will continue making three beeps until you power it off.

Knocking the unit did not help either. It's time to consider the choice of sending the unit back to Apple. But as I could not do this on a Sunday afternoon I decided to try to learn more about the issue. Googling lead me to some awful stories. I guess I'm glad I'm still using the original memory supplied by Apple.

In some forum messages it was suggested that resetting (or zapping) PRAM could help. Apparently there are certain values that are stored in non-volatile memory, some of them related to the system RAM. The idea is that the RAM is ok but improperly configured then it won't work.

So I did reset the PRAM thing, by holding the four keys Command, Option (labeled as Alt in my keyboard), P and R. Not an easy thing if you want to do that using one hand, so you can use the other hand to power on the computer, as keys need to be pressed before the gray screen appears .

This procedure did help and the computer booted afterwards without a problem. Now I am not sure what to do. If I go to the Apple shop and it is working I'm guess I'll be told the system is fine. If I wait till the problem happens again they may well reset the PRAM and the system will be fine again. The point is: Can I trust this computer? Is this a sign of computer malfunction or is it a software glitch?

Unfortunately I do not know the answer and, even worse, I'm not sure what is the best thing to do next. Having to reset the PRAM every now and then is a minor annoyance if this is all what it is. But failing to get the computer serviced while still it is under guarantee would be foolish too.

Update: Although previous attempts with the Hardware Test software haven't spotted any problem in the past. I tried again as kernel panic messages were happening more often last week. This time I've got a Memory error in a few seconds: Bingo! Now it is time to bring the computer to the Apple shop. Hopefully the root cause of all my trouble is just a bad DRAM SIMM! (the original memory that came from Apple).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Vertical Plotter article

The March issue of Circuit Cellar Inc magazine is out and it features an article I've authored about the canvas painting machine I built a while ago. A video of it was also included here.

It all started when I learned about another project on the net. However, though I have tried to contact the authors they've never answered any of my emails.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Keeping myself out of trouble


Just when the anger from a previous rip-off on eBay fades away, I'm watching myself doing it again: I was bidding on an item that had only 30 minutes left. I went to do other things and when I was back I tried to see what had happened. However, what I've obtained was the warning shown here. Apparently the auction had been canceled.

After checking my emails I realized that I had been outbid by another bidder who actually won the bid. Nothing surprising here, but a few minutes later another email informed me that the auction can been canceled "Cancelled - Results Null and Void" was the subject. However not much useful information was provided, or so I thought

We're writing to let you know that eBay has ended the following item you were bidding on due to factors beyond the seller's control:

Item Number - 200201885499
Item Title - BRAND NEW *iPod touch* 16GB 16 GB WIFI,TOUCH WIDESCREEN

As eBay removed the item, you are no longer obliged to send payment for it. However, the seller is free to list the item again so you may like to watch for future listings from them.

Thank you for your understanding. We wish you all the best buying and selling on eBay.


Regards,

Customer Support (Trust and Safety Department)

Not sure what it really happened, I guess the seller was not happy with the maximum bid he was getting (mine) so he fake a higher bid. Not sure on this as the details cannot be seen anymore.

My feeling is that I might have been avoided some trouble, but at the same time it feels so weird that this is not really contributing to increase my willingness to do more shopping on eBay but the opposite.

In case you wonder, it was eBay UK.


Update: Although I've got no more information from eBay or the seller it seems that this can be caused when then winning bid is done from a hijacked account. How they know an account has been hijacked I do not know, maybe it is after the owner complains of not having bought something ...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Selling virtual goods

I know it is not new, but I've been surprised when my younger kid told me he was selling several of his accounts of certain on-line games for some money to his classmates.

I just hope he'll stay out of trouble, but I'm surprised of his entrepreneurship character.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Open Citizen's Network


In my recent trip to northern Finland I had the opportunity to use a cool network service in the Oulu area: panOULU is an open wifi network you can freely.

Freely meaning several things: not only that you do not have to pay but also that you do not need any type of user ID, which is great if you happen to just be visiting the area for a few days.

Just opening your laptop and being able to use the network with the peace of mind it is not going to cost you an arm and a leg it's just great. I was able to upload the photos to my Picasa account so my family and friends could be updated. This same action would had been outrageously expensive should I were using the GPRS or 3G connection (getting the photos printed and sending them by a courier service is actually cheaper than your cellphone data service).

This week I've read that European regulators are asking the mobile operators to reduce users costs when using their mobile data services abroad. The point is that as far as the EC is about a Europe without borders, it does not seem to make any sense that we, European citizens, are being charged a lot more money when we use our cellphone on another European country than when using it at our home country.

Fortunately, most of the time I can wait till I get an inexpensive data connection when I am traveling so I do not have to face huge cellphone bills. Still, I've just fell in love of having free and open wifi access as a city-wide service. It is so convenient for travelers!!

By the way, I have to mention that I also selected the Oulu Scandic hotel (quite nice actually) because they offered free Internet access too. So my point here is that the same way as city planners think carefully about many other useful services to be deployed, like light poles or traffic lights, they might start thinking about how much value an open city wireless network may mean to visitors.

Of course, they fact that such a network might be used by some people to make VoIP calls may upset some cellphone operators (though some cellphones are actually equipped with Wifi just for this same purpose). But governments should be for pleasing citizens (voters) more than operators (campaign contributors?).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

For your flying pleasure



Not much could I anticipate this morning when I woke up at 4:00am to be, as advised, two hours in advance the boarding time of my international flight to Paris. It was actually the first round of a tiresome trip to northern Finland.

My final destination was Raahe but I was flying from Valencia to Oulu. And to do this it seems one possible choice was to go through Paris and Helsinki. I bought my ticket online, with the freedom that gives no having any miles program, to the cheapest seller (not sure it is the safest choice now, but read on).

I usually try to avoid Madrid airport, but I recently read on a BBC News article that Paris – Charles De Gaulle – was one of the worst airports in Europe. The only problem I've got there in the past was that they tend to add letters to the gate numers, so you may have, for example, several 53 gates. Of course the tickets do not reflect this “feature”.

I'm writing this on my laptop while sitted on a very comfortable chairs next to gate 20a at Helsinki airport. So it seems that this trend is catching up beyond Charles De Gaulle.

Anyway, my first flight (to Paris) did work as expected and we arrived on time. I went, once again, through the required security control and this time I was asked to take my boots off, which I did. Though the metal arc did not ring I was searched anyway (maybe routine searches). Once at the gate I could see that though my flight to Helsinki was scheduled to board at 11:40 there was another Finnair, AY873, boarding at 10:05. I asked on the counter but I was told I had to wait till the next flight, that was mine. Nothing surprising here.

I waited till the boarding time, 11:40 and then, as the scheduled gate was 53 (one of them!) and no boarding was happening nor nobody was explaining what was going on I go to the display to double check the gate. The information on the display was that this flight, AY880 was on time and the scheduled gate was, in fact, 53. I could see a good number of people near the gate that were, likely, waiting for the gate to be opened for boarding as I was.

Anyways, as soon as somebody appeared around the counter wearing a reflective color jacket as asked him about my flight. Given that it was already 12:00 I thought some delay indication was due. The guy told me he was not sure but I should talk to the guy on 55A.

When I talk to this guy he asks me for my ticket, which I produce and after a moment he tells me that it is already 25 minutes after the boarding time and therefore what has happened is that I have missed the flight. What? I replied astonished. I was there all the time, I could not have missed it. Sir, these things happen all the time. I still could not believe him, so I ask him to check in the computer to see if the boarding actually happened. After fiddling for a moment the guy replies back: Sir, there were 79 people on that plane and you have missed it. I am sorry but you have to go back to the tickets counters to buy a new one.

I just could not believe what I was being told. Maybe I missed it? Am I already insane? Well, at this very moment I was starting to challenge my own sanity, but still I could not believe what I was being told was correct.

After pondering things for a moment, I go back to the person on gate 53, but now there are a few women over the counter too. I talk to one of them and she confirms me the plane is delayed (but the computer display still states on-time, more than 30 minutes the boarding time has passed!). I am told there is a 20 minutes delay and that the captain will make a faster ride so we'll arrive in Helsinki on time.

It seems that the two guys I've talked before are not with Finnair, so they have no clue (quite dangerous!).

Unfortunately, after 20 minutes more (already 50 minutes the scheduled boarding time) we are not yet boarding nor more information is provided. It starts to take shape the idea that I am going to miss my connection to Oulu in Helsinki.

The plane actually departs at 13:45 instead of 12:20 so the delay is one hour and twenty five minutes. I am definitely missing my connections.

Once on board I ask the cabin crew about my connection problem and they check my boarding ticket for this next flight. “Ah, your flight is with Blue1, not Finnair, we will see ...”. Other passengers with connecting flights are being informed on their choices, but when they come to me they tell me I have to got the transit desk on the airport to get more information.

We arrive in Helsinki at 17:10 and I initially go to the FinnAir desk, together with a chinese woman who also has lost her flight to Shangai but because of her limited English I decide to help her out too (afer all today is the Chinese New Year).

The FinnAir desk clerk tells me that provided the connecting flight I've lost is done with Blue1, then I will need to talk to them to get it fixed.

Firstly I miss the Blue1 desk, as you need to know that what it says in big letters is SAS and not Blue1. A few minutes later and thanks to the nice lady on the currency exchange counter I find my way to the Blue1 counter.

Unfortunately there are like seven people in line. I ask the last person if he's the last and I queue for half an hour. There is only one person dealing with this counter but she has to use two different computers as one of hers seems to be broken. Apparently passengers are requiring her to talk extensively over the phone to sort things out. When I think I am going next she anounces out loud that anybody going to Copenhagen should jump the queue as time is short. I won't tell that I love this consideration with other customers.

Anyway, after 45 minutes I find myself on the counter explaining the situation, again (as I have explained before to FinnAir clerk), that I have missed my scheduled flight with Blue1 because my former FinnAir flight experienced a significant delay.

After checking thins on the computer she tells me that I should have run to the gate, that she was telling us to do this. I do not understand a thing as she did not say anything like that while I was there. She checks again and she realizes that actually my flight left long ago and she apologizes and tells me the day is being a disaster because of some delays and the fact that she is today alone, when she use to be with another person.

I told her that my final destination is not Oulu but Raahe and that somebody is picking me up from Oulu airport and that this person is also having to wait a long time so it will be great if I can be rescheduled for the next flight to Oulu. The next flight to Oulu (now it's 18:10) is at 19:05 but it is not a Blue1 flight but a FinnAir flight. I ask her to try to arrange a ticket for me on that plane, but after checking with the computer she says something like “The computer says no” (kudos to Little Britain show fans!). She cannot book me on the 19:05 flight to Oulu but suggests that the FinnAir people could.

So now I am back on the FinnAir counter, explaining my problem to a very polite clerk that after listening to my explanation concludes that the only thing they can do for me is to sell me a ticket for 19:05 flight.

Not that I think they are being fare, as I explain to him that, from my point of view, the root cause of my problem is the Paris-Helsinki flight delay. And definitely this is is my book a problem created by FinnAir.

The guy replies back that although he understands how I may think this way, the European regulations do not impose FinnAir any responsibility on the situation they have caused me and, therefore, no compensations should be expected on my side. However, he quotes me the one-way ticket Helsinki-Oulu at 19:05 for 389 Euros. Of course I decline the offer (I paid slightly more for my round-trip ticket Valencia-Oulu-Valencia).

Powerless, tired of this exercise of frustration, I go back to the Blue1 counter (I mean SAS counter) and I ask them to book me on the flight they initially have offered me. It's a Blue1 flight to Oulu but departs at 22:10.

I am really worried as the person picking me at Oulu airport may or may not pick me that late, after all she has a family and this is way off her daily work hours. On the other hand I am no sure I can book a taxi to pick me up at Oulu airport to give me a ride to Raahe. On the other hand, I do not have the key of the apartment I am supposed to stay tonight, so things have gotten quite complicated for arriving in Oulu at 23:10 instead of the scheduled 18:05.

Once I've got my new boarding ticket for 22:10 flight I am told that I might ask for a food ticket to FinnAir. Not very convinced nor hungry I return to FinnAir counter where the same polite and sharp employee explains to me that no compensation is due for the delay and this includes no food ticket.

Only one company seems to me to have failed to do their part and this one is FinnAir. Even worse, they have shown no mercy when I was asking them for help to make the trouble a bit smaller. At first sight it is an exercise of arrogance that I am not sure they can afford and, definitely, I will mention the case for quite a long time to anybody interested to listen to it.

I cannot tell my problems are over yet because:

  1. I still need to get to Oulu (I'm sitting here, at Helsinki airport, writing this entry)

  2. I really hope that the baggage I checked-in will show up in Oulu tonight

  3. I still have to do the return flight to get back home, where chances are I can experience another new type of nightmare.

Frustrated and tired I go to the loo and then to have a sandwich at a local cafeteria. I pay ten Euros for a beer and an Artic Salmon sandwich. It was pretty good though. The coffee that came later was not that good.

Epilogue

For the moment and until I can check the applicable laws I am not sure FinnAir can weasel away this time. But even if they do, the company image will suffer. The worst thing is that there are no winners in this history: I didn't buy a new ticket and the FinnAir plane to Oulu probably flew with empty seats (they didn't even consider putting me on a waiting list). Blue1 one might have lost one seat if they did not overbook the flight I've lost. And me, well I guess that you'll understand I have had better days.

I am going to keep any paper record about this incident and in case there is a chance to strike back I'll do. And speaking about striking back, next time you are buying an airline ticket, check if you fly FinnAir.


Update:

I was finally booked for KF209 Blue1 flight to Oulu, scheduled departure 22:10 and 21:45 boarding time. I went to the scheduled gate, number 20, and sat there for quite a long time. Suddenly, the flight code disappears from the gate and the display at the end of the hall shows all the gates but shows no gate for my flight. This time I was not amazed nor surprised. More than ten minutes have passed without a gate number but when I check again there is gate number 12 and, guess what, it is all the way down the corridor till the very end.

Ok I get there, it's only me and another guy but the gate panel shows my flight code. Unfortunately we are told the flight is slightly delayed. We end up departing at 22:30 instead of 22:10 but at least I' approaching to my destination. While boarding I called my friend to pick me up at the airport and I mention the delay.

In an amazing turn of events, on arrival, my baggage appears almost the first, lucky me. We take the car and get to Raahe, good. I am going to bed after a long day. I try to open my lock but the code is not working, damn! A few more tries and I get it open (somehow the code has changed a bit). But when I finally open my trolley a weird smell comes out: one of the bottles of Rioja wine is broken. And worse than that, the plastic bag I sealed with has been punctured with a piece of glass and now all my clean clothes smell the same. I think I am going to bed to see if I can get some rest.




Monday, February 04, 2008

Picasa upload tools


For those of you using Windows you wonder who might need another tool than the free (and great) software to manage your photo collection and to upload selected ones to your Picasa on-line photo sharing web application.

Mac users have been wondering for a while if there was a better way to get photos from iPhoto to Picasa Albums. I discovered this morning that there is a new upload software for Macs that integrates nicely with iPhoto (I'm not checking very often so this feature may be available for download for a long time, I just do not know).

Things for Linux looked really bright when I saw a post claiming that you can install a similar software to the one you use in Windows for Linux. Actually it was too good to be true because what they have done is to package a Windows binary with WINE. Unfortunately this binary lacks the upload feature. So if you want to upload many files at a time it is better to copy on a pen drive and then use a Windows or Apple computer to upload the batch to your Picasa Album.

I've tried unsuccessfully to install some Python code to access several Google APIs, Picasa Albums among others. Unfortunately, there seems that Python changes between 2.4 and 2.5 versions are breaking some things. Ubunty Gutsy maybe doing something wrong too because I couldn't get the thing running.

However I have discovered today a nice and easy software that does the job of uploading many files to a Picasa folder very simple (if you can do command line). And because it is done in Java it will work in any computer, no matter you use Windows or Apple (or GNU/Linux as I do). The only problem I've got it the available binaries are compiled for java-6. Anyway sources are available too.