Did someone say, “A good experience with Dell Tech Support”?

I’ve been having a problem with the power supply on my work laptop, a Dell Precision M2300. Rather than charging my laptop, it will frequently beep at me. This makes it difficult to get much done – I’m a software engineer, and all the code and my dev environment is on this laptop. When the battery goes, there is very little constructive work I can do. So I contacted Dell Pro Support. I believe this is different from what most people get – since my company has a contract with Dell, we get the business-level tech support. And they’re pretty amazing. I told him what my problem was and he arranged to have a new one overnighted. Can’t ask for much more than that. And his English was perfect. I don’t care if companies want to outsource tech support to other countries, but the person who speaks with me needs to speak my language well enough to understand and fix my problem. Anyway, I just had to share. I mean, if I write “good experience with Dell Tech Support”, that pretty much guarantees a good Google ranking, right? There can’t be more than a dozen results for that . . . Edit to add: Of note – banging the power supply on the floor a bunch of times makes it work again.

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OpenSUSE fails at mainstream

I still don’t seem to be getting this whole “partition for a multi-boot Linux system” thing. Or maybe I just need to install OpenSUSE before Ubuntu. Whatever the problem is, I have only one OS installed at the moment, OpenSUSE 11.1, but at least this time it recognized my wireless card without any issues. However, it can’t handle Flash on 64-bit Firefox. This is a big giant obstacle to OpenSUSE becoming an operating system that normal people can use. I’m enough of a geek that I’ll figure out how to get Flash working. But most people aren’t, and no matter how much I hate Adobe for forcing their horrible proprietary language on the world, and how mad I am at the world for letting them do it, you can’t be a mainstream operating system if your default browser doesn’t support Flash out of the box. You can do what Ubuntu does and give open source options to people who refuse to put anything proprietary on their machine, but you can’t make people go download tar.gz files from Adobe and then be told that their architecture isn’t supported. Like it or not, Flash is a part of the internet experience. You have to find a way to deal with that, and OpenSUSE hasn’t. Other than that, I kind of like it. The equivalent of the Windows Start Menu is interesting, and clearly the result of looking at Windows and trying to do one better. Once I get Gnome-Do installed, I may never use it again, but many people will, and it looks like they’ve done some cool things with it. The experiment continues. Edit to add: And here’s the script to install 64-bit Flash in Firefox on OpenSUSE 11.x, in case you wanted to know.

Both better and worse than I thought

So, I got the partitioning right. And I cleaned out the old version of Ubuntu.&nbsp_place_holder; Except that I installed OpenSUSE on top of my new version of Ubuntu, and didn’t clean out the GRUB entries from my old install.&nbsp_place_holder; So now I can run OpenSUSE (Which doesn’t recognize my wireless card) and that’s it. It got late last night and I didn’t try installing again, but maybe tonight.&nbsp_place_holder; I have to look up how to clean out old entries from GRUB. I think maybe I can just delete the whole thing, and it will be remade when I reinstall Ubuntu, but I’m not totally sure. My initial impression of OpenSUSE is good, although I think I’m going to download 11.1. I got 11.0 back in June and never installed it, and now the next version is out.&nbsp_place_holder; It looks like the graphical installer got some major upgrades, so I think I will take advantage. That is something that Ubuntu needs to work on – I gave up on their graphical installer after three straight versions refused to play nice with my video card. Anyway, now I’m stuck at work and can’t do anything fun, but I hope to have both operating systems up and running by tomorrow. I’ll post a comparison eventually.

Cross-platform file syncing and storage

Via Lifehacker, DropBox just came out of beta. Installing it gives you a folder on your hard drive that’s synced to their server. Any file you drop in there is automatically synced to any other computer you have registered with the service. It’s cross-platform – I have my work computer (running Windows XP) and my home computer (Ubuntu) connected, and file syncing between them seems to be flawless. There are tons of other ways to do this, but DropBox gives you two free gigs or lets you pay for more, and the interface is pretty sweet. In addition to the desktop folder, you can access your files from a web browser anywhere. It’s really nice to see the level of Linux support they’re offering. They’re not supporting all distributions, but how rare is it to see a service come right out of beta and already have a Linux version?

Once again, I’m reminded why I hate Microsoft

I just spent about three hours this morning trying to debug something at work. It turns out the issue shows up in Excel 2003, which our customer is using, but not Excel 2007, which I have on my laptop. This just goes to show you how important it is to mimic the customer’s environment as closely as possible. Anyway, I figured that part out, so now I had to decipher the error message when I tried to open the file in Excel. XML Spreadsheet warning in Table Reason: Bad Value Okay, sounds simple enough. I just have to find the bad value, and fix it. Excel didn’t offer me any advice, so I figured I’d try MSDN, Microsoft’s developer reference. You’d think that, since I was using a Microsoft product on a Microsoft operating system, maybe Microsoft might have some idea what the error message meant. As an aside, can I tell you how frustrating it is to have Excel tell me that the error has been printed to a log file hidden deep inside some Windows hidden temporary directory? Not only does it fail to provide me with a link to the file, but because it’s hidden, I can’t navigate through Windows Explorer, and I have to actually type the file address in manually. I can’t even copy the text from the error window! It’s like someone intentionally made it as hard as possible to look at the log. Anyway, there were ZERO results on MSDN. Zero. I’m forced to conclude that I am the only person who has ever had this problem. There isn’t any other explanation. It’s inconceivable that Microsoft could possibly have just ignored this error message, never once mentioning it anywhere that their vaunted search engine was able to look. It turns out the error was reasonably simple – Excel 2003 only allows 30 values in a sum. It will handle more if you use the range (A1:A40), but you can’t list the cells individually (A1, A2, A3 . . .). Excel 2007 doesn’t have a problem. Interestingly, if you use plus signs instead of the sum function, the limit of 30 goes away. Which is probably how I’m going to work around this. But couldn’t that have been in the error message? “We’re sorry, you can only have 30 cells in a formula”. Look, that was really easy. So, I hope the next person who has trouble deciphering an Excel error message find this post and saves some time. And I hope the people responsible for the idiocy on which I wasted the last three hours are all hit by a bus. Well, not really. Not a real bus. A three hour bus of mental anguish. That sound perfect.

Stupid IT department

First webmail, now Del.icio.us. Actually, Delicious went first. The webmail ban isn’t supposed to go in for another week. Why is this annoying? Because I bookmark work-related sites through Delicious. Sure, that’s not all I use it for. But a big chunk of my bookmarks there are reference for work. And now I can’t get to them. And I’m not saying they don’t have the right to block what they want, because it’s their network, and they can block all IP addresses divisible by 17 if they want. I’m just saying it’s stupid, it makes me less effective, and it annoys me to no end.

When all else fails, check the system logs

As some of you know, I’ve been using Ubuntu Linux as my only operating system on my personal laptop for about a year now. About a month ago, the wireless stopped working. Our router is a couple years old, so at first I thought that might be the problem. But the wife didn’t have any trouble connecting, and two computers from work could connect, so that wasn’t it. Then I thought it might be the latest Ubuntu kernel update. A few threads on the Ubuntu Forums seemed to suggest that might be the case, but no one seemed to have quite my problem. And then the upstairs neighbor came home from vacation and turned his wireless network back on. I still have his password saved from once when I was borrowing his network while ours was out, and I could connect to that, no problem. So I was puzzled. I posted a few times to the Ubuntu Forums, which usually are very helpful, but got no response. I did a lot of Googling. Nothing. Finally I found something on Google Groups. Someone having an unrelated problem had found the answer in his system logs. System logs? Holy cow, I have system logs! I suppose I should have known about them, but it seems strange that I’ve never seen mention of them on the Ubuntu Forums, or anywhere else. Sure enough, the system logs told me that the stored info that allows the network handshake to happen was bonked. access point 'coatimundi' is encrypted, but NO valid key exists. New key needed. So I deleted the saved connection info for my network and tried to connect again. It asked me for my password, and POOF! Connection is successful. So now I have my laptop back. And all is right with the world. If you are having problems with anything in Ubuntu, or probably any other Linux distro, check your system logs. The answer may be right in front of your face.

Why do you think I’m stupid, Microsoft?

If you read any of the blogs that I do, you’ve probably already seen Bill Gates’ 2003 complaint about Windows Update. Windows Update is a piece of junk. It’s always been a piece of junk. It probably always will be a piece of junk. What’s really disappointing is that it doesn’t have to be. Take a look at the package manager in Ubuntu Linux. It’s probably the same in many other flavors of Linux, but I don’t have experience with them. Anyway, package manager is simple. When there are new versions of software or new patches to the operating system, it puts a little notification in my taskbar. When I click the notification, it tells me what is available for update. It even separates them into recommended vs optional, and tells me a little bit about each update. I can choose some, all, or none of the updates to apply. When it’s finished updating, sometimes I have to restart. It puts another notification in the taskbar, and then that’s it. I can restart when I’m ready. Windows, on the other hand, is much more obnoxious. By default, it doesn’t want to tell me what it’s doing. When it finishes, it pops up a window that tells me to restart now or later. If I say later, it pops up again in a couple of minutes. And again. And again. Look, Microsoft, sometimes I’m at work and don’t have the time to restart. Sometimes I’m in the middle of something and just don’t feel like restarting. Why can’t I have that option? Why can’t you just show me a little “You need to restart at some point” notification and leave it at that? And we’re not even talking about Vista here. This is XP on my work computer. And the only reason Windows is on the computer at all is because it’s a work computer. I’ve restarted now, and everything seems to be fine. I don’t know what update it did, but everything still works, so it can’t have been too big a deal. Nice to see Microsoft still patching XP – I guess they realize that Vista sucks, and most people who don’t have to upgrade haven’t (and won’t).

Help Firefox set a world record

Download Day 2008 is coming. We’re just not sure when. They’re trying to set a world record for software downloads in a day. Since you should be using Firefox 3 as soon as it comes out, this is a great opportunity. In case you haven’t tried Firefox, it is light years ahead of Internet Explorer. Even IE7, which Microsoft put out to implement a bunch of functionality that’s been in Firefox and other browsers for quite some time, is a steaming pile of crap compared to Firefox. Anyway, join in. It’ll be fun to watch the Mozilla Foundation’s servers melt with the download traffic.

Oh, Ubuntu, you make me laugh

I tried out Fedora for a few minutes. The Gnome desktop looks just like Ubuntu. I’m going to do some research and see what the real differences are. When I rebooted into Ubuntu, I had some upgrades to install, which I did. One of them popped up this message:

A security certificate which was automatically created for your local system needs to be replaced due to a flaw which renders it insecure. This will be done automatically. If you don’t know anything about this, you can safely ignore this message.

That’s pretty awesome.