Don’t You Just Hate It When Technology Doesn’t Work Right?

As a geek, when I implement new technology in my life, I always hope it’s going to go smoothly – but I also know that not every product is designed perfectly, and there’s a good chance it may take some extra work to get things working right. But what I wasn’t expecting three days ago, when I swapped out my D-Link 624 802.11g router for a Linksys WRT54G 802.11g router, was that a device on the network would stop working. Why the new router? I swore I wasn’t going to get a new router until the 802.11n spec was finalized and shipping routers were really up to hardware spec, but I’ve been seeing lame performance lately from the D-Link router that no amounts of reboots would see to fix, and I had some issues with it when I was testing out Slingbox mobile. The guy I was dealing with, Jeremy Toeman, told me that D-Link routers tend not to very very spec-compliant, and that Linksys were the most trouble-free in his experience. I’ve tended to avoid Linksys everything, because I think the hardware is ugly and I’ve seen a few Linksys routers go bad. But I was fed up with my D-Link, so I wanted something new.

Oh, did I mention that in the past 12 months I’ve also purchased a Belkin pre-802.11n and a Netgear 802.11n router? Both gave me trouble as well, constantly dropping WiFi signals and generally conking out and requiring reboots. I know part of the problem is that there are about eight wireless networks within range of my house, so my router has to content with a lot of interference. You’d think that those supposed kick-ass MIMO antenne on the pre-802.11n routers would have solved that, but they didn’t.

At any rate, I hooked up the Linksys WRT54G, updated the firmware from 1.00.9 to 1.01.0 (don’t you just love engineers?) and got all my machines working. Everything grabbed an IP ok, speed was awesome across all my machines. But my Roku M2000 wouldn’t connect and get an IP. Normally the Roku M2000 is amazingly stable and works well, but despite repeated reboots, it wouldn’t connect to the network. I checked the DHCP tables on the Linksys router, and I could see that the M2000 was getting an IP address…yet the M2000 claimed it has no such IP and reported an internal IP of 169.*….if you ever see a computer with a 169.*.*.* IP, you have a problem because that’s not a “real” IP that a router would dish out. I searched the Roku forums, and discovered a post where someone was having exactly the same problem as I was. The solution that worked for him was to roll back to the 1.00.9 firmware.

So I started down that road myself, only to discover that Linksys only offers their current firmware from the Web site. Here’s something good to know: if you ever need old Linksys firmware, you can get them all from the Linksys FTP site. I waited 30 minutes in a queue with tech support to discover that little gem of information. I’ve now rolled the WRT54G back to 1.00.9 and the Roku M2000 is now working perfectly. Things really shouldn’t be this hard.

Firefox Session Restoring: What the Hell?

I’ve been a Firefox user for a little over a year now, and think it’s a fantastic browser. However, with the new 2.0 release, they’ve managed to confuse the heck out of me and I can’t seem to find a solution. With Firefox 1.5, I had an extension (I think it was Tab Mix Plus) that would allow me to shut down Firefox with tabs open, and when I re-started Firefox it would restore all my tabs. This was handy for me because I often have tabs open for days (if not weeks) and I use the browser as my workspace – I’ll open a tab for a product I want to look at, but will ignore it until I have time to take a look. Firefox 2.0 has a “session restore” feature that works like this: if you have multiple tabs open and an extension or crash forces Firefox to restart, when it comes back up, all your tabs will still be there. Great! But, stupidly, it doesn’t seem to do the same thing if you click on the “X” to shut down the browser. I’ve dug through every option I could find, and even looked in the help file, but there seems to be no way to enable this session restore to work outside of the narrow scenario that the developers imagined people using it for. I’ve installed Tab Mix Plus, but upon first start of Firefox, the browser informs you that it already has a session restoration feature built in. I ignored the warning the second time I installed the plugin, went into the settings for Tab Mix Plus, and tried to configure it to not use the built-in session recovery. It still has no effect. If I have five tabs open, and shut down Firefox, the next time I open it I have a single homepage tab. What am I missing here? How could they have possibly screwed this up so badly? I’m keeping Firefox 1.5 on my main workstation for just this reason, which is completely ridiculous.

Forum Spam: So Frustrating

It’s amazing to watch how international spamming is getting, especially forum spamming where they try to be “natural” by having conversations where one spammer posts a question, and the next spammer answers by posting a “helpful tutorial” about the perfect product to help. Here’s a short example of some spamming that went on at Digital Media Thoughts:

momoko [IP 220.232.188.195, Hong Kong]: i suppose Imtoo dvd ripper is the gadget you are looking for, it can help you convert dvd to MPEG or AVI files so that you can edit them with ease~~~

mingming [IP 218.249.29.21, China]: haha ,monoko ,are you also using the software imtoo dvd ripper??glad to see that , i am using it now!!!it is really a perfect one ,isn’t it?

happyboy [IP 59.108.111.2, China]: I don’t konw much about these knowledgeI but I hope the software of Xilisoft can help you.There are many kinds of tools such as ImTOO DVD Ripper Platinum v4.0 ,you can look for more information here

First I find one of the IPs: 218.249.29.21, which I look up using the ARIN WHOIS tool. That tool directs me to the APNIC Whois Database, and I discover it belongs to these guys:

inetnum: 218.249.29.0 – 218.249.29.255
netname: BEI-JING-JIAO-TONG-DA-XUE
country: CN
descr: Beijing JIAO TONG DA XUE CO.LTD
descr: CO.LTD
descr: Haidian Distric, Beijing
admin-c: PP40-AP
tech-c: PP40-AP
status: ASSIGNED NON-PORTABLE
changed: [email protected]ragon.net 20050603
mnt-by: MAINT-CN-DXTNET
source: APNIC

This is the worst kind of spam to stop, because at first glance it appears legitimate – but when you start to factor in the odds of three people from China coming to my Web site to discuss a “problem” that has one magical solution, the product they link to…you just know it’s spam. As a site owner you learn to think heuristically and trust your instincts. It’s like that old quote about pornography: you might not be able to describe it, but you know it when you see it. That’s what this spam is like. Now the question is, are these guys paying for this spamming service, or are these over-zealous third-party affiliates trying to be clever? I’d suspect the former…

Dell Semi-Horror Story

I’ve had some really bad experiences with Dell, and a couple of great ones. A couple of weeks ago was a “medium bad” experience with Dell. I ordered a 19″ LCD monitor for my mother-in-law on October 11th at 10:39 AM CST during one of Dell’s “10 Days of Deals” – the monitor was normally priced at $329 CAD and it was $80 off, making it only $249 CAD. I placed my order, got to the point where I had an receipt, which I printed off. A week passed, and when I went to check on my order, I realized I hadn’t heard anything about the monitor. I logged into my account on Dell.ca, and there was no record of my order being placed. HUH? I checked my email receipts folder (where I keep things like Dell electronic receipts) and I had no record of an email from them. I dug up my paper receipt, and unfortunately there was no order number on it. Yet I had the receipt, presumably meaning I was going to be charged for it.

I called Dell customer service – it seems their entire online sales group is based out of India – and tried to explain my problem to the agent. I’m not one of those ultra-patriotic types who believes that every job should stay in his own country – I believe that if a company can be cost-effective with a call center, while still providing excellent service, they should out-source. The problem is that the Dell call center does not, in my experience, provide excellent service. I quite often have to explain my problem over and over again, and the agents don’t seem to grasp the concept of “customer service”. It’s not a language issue most of the time, it’s a cultural issue, which isn’t something that can be put in database. At any rate, after explaining the problem to the agent, he explained to me that the problem was that the Dell Deal of the Day I ordered was no longer valid because the day was over. I explained that I had a receipt indicating that Dell had accepted my order. He explained that I had no order number because the monitor I wanted was out of stock. I explained that I had a receipt indicating that Dell had accepted my order, and that I wanted the product.

We went back and forth for a few minutes, where I explained that if Dell runs out of stock on a product but continues to sell it and take credit card numbers, then it’s their problem not mine. Eventually I asked to speak to his manager, which always makes the Dell sales agents very nervous – they must have some sort of performance metric tied into call escalation. He put me on hold, came back, and made me an offer: he’d sell me the monitor for $269 CAD, $20 more than the Deal of the Day. It was a good offer, and $20 isn’t much, but the principle of the issue was still the day: the big corporation offered a product at a certain price, and now they were trying to change the rules. I persisted, asked for his manager again, and he finally offered me the monitor for $249 CAD.

Here’s the kicker: after jerking me around and making the entire thing difficult, he had the nerve to give me his sales ID number (#1308) and ask that I’d use that ID number whenever I placed online orders. As if he had done me a huge favour and I should feel grateful for getting the product for the price I expected in the first place. Needless to say, I will not be using his sales ID number. As much as well frustrates me sometimes, their prices are hard to beat, and I really like the design of their monitors. Got any Dell horror stories of your own?

Sometimes I WANT To Be Marketed To

Most of the time, we all dislike advertising – but that’s usually because it’s not targeted toward our interests. When I was a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons in the ’80s, the commercials were an integral part of the morning – what new toys were out there, what new food did I want to ask my mom to buy? [she rarely did, she loved her kids enough to feed us healthy food] As an adult, I’m constantly bombarded by advertising that’s so far off base I do everything in my power to avoid watching it. Yet sometimes, I’m stunned at the way I’m NOT marketed to…case in point: a few minutes ago Ashley (my wife) called me to say that she heard an ad on the radio that Evanescence was coming to Calgary for a show in January and that tickets went on sale today. I’m a huge fan of that group (and Amy Lee in particular – what a voice!) but I’m not enough of a groupie to know that they were even on tour. I somehow assumed that the marketing machine would take hold and somehow I’d be exposed to an advertisement that a band I’d pay almost anything to see was coming to my town. That didn’t happen. I ordered tickets five hours after they went on sale, and ended up getting seats that aren’t all that great. Crap.

I found out after the fact something that I should have been signed up for: House of Blues Canada. A friend of mine knew Evanescence was coming, had access to early ticket sales, but didn’t buy tickets – and he didn’t tell me because he didn’t know I was a huge Evanescence fan. Doh! I’d gladly give up some non-aggregated personal information about my interests if it meant that I’d be presented with advertisements that really appealed to the things I’m interested in. There’s a lot of money to be made by the company that can figure this out.