Home Computers

I have had several computers.  I have programmed computers all of the life that I care to remember.  This is some commentary on what I have and what I have learned.

Computer Hardware

Many people ask me for recommendations for Software and Hardware.  I have listed some of the more critical items in these pages..

Mouses, Mice, Whatever

Has anyone noticed what has happened to mice? They should be called "Rats" now. To me the most comfortable mouse is the Microsoft Intelli-point Optical mouse.  It fits my hand well.  It has a wheel (useful for scrolling) and two front buttons.  The mouse is symmetric and so I can use either hand equally well.  "Optical" means that  there is no ball on the bottom to get dirty -- just a red laser that attempts to notice changes in the material under it to indicate that it is moving.  Mostly it is successful.  On some surfaces I still need a mouse pad.

So that is what is good for me.  Now the problems as I see them:

Mice

Optical

You really want an optical mouse.  In fact I do not know if they even make the ones with the roller ball on the bottom any more.  Some are better than others for detecting motion.  You might want to try a mouse on different surfaces to make sure you have one that moves.  I have a white "Lifetime" table from Sam's Club.    It has a pebbled surface and is cream colored.  I need a mouse pad for this on my favorite mouse but not with a newer mouse.

Buttons

My favorite mouse has 5 buttons.  The configuration program for it permits me to program these buttons.  Strangely enough the mouse ignores all but the front two buttons.  And yes, I use the proper driver.  Oh.  It uses the middle button for its own purposes.  My programs which look for a middle button never see it. This is wrong but since I am a simple user, it poses no real problem.

Wireless

This goes into all sorts of problems.  I have a Microsoft WIreless Notebook mouse.  It is a little small for my hand but has the requisite scroll ball and the two front buttons.  Also the same stupid middle button.  The Unix systems have a three-button mouse and the middle button causes middle-button interrupts.  I sure wish the WIndows mice with the front button (embedded under the scroll wheel) worked the same way.

Wireless has several ramifications.  First off, if the guy across the table has an identical mouse, you and he will be moving each others cursors around the screens.

Protocols.  Some of the wireless mice use Bluetooth and the others just have their own radio-frequency USB dongle.  You want the Bluetooth version.  Why?  Many new computers come with Bluetooth built-in: you do not need the dongle.  If you have your own dongle, then you get a spare with the mouse -- you do not need both.

If your mouse is wireless, it has batteries.  All batteries need recharging or replacing.  Logitech has a mouse house for recharging you mouse when you are not using it.  Cute.  The latest Microsoft mice have some logic to almost turn themselves off when the computer goes off.

Shape

I like symmetric. I sometimes move around and being left-handed, using the mouse with the most available hand is valuable to me.  Microsoft has had some non-symmetric mice with curves such that it was comfortable in either hand but different.  This is OK too. The latest incarnation of Microsoft mice (7000) is not symmetric.  It is impossible to use with my left hand.  It has the two extra buttons on the upper left side where it is impossible to reach them.  The darn thing is built at an angle such that my wrist twists when on the mouse.  Weird.  And extremely uncomfortable.

Size -- Critical Here

This is a problem for me.  My little notebook mouse give me cramps because it is so small.  The 7000 Mouse is so large that it bends my wrist upward at an uncomfortable angle (let alone the weird angles).  The darn thing is a s big as a baseball.  This is the mouse that has become a rat.  It is strange contraption.

Brand Names

Having attempted to use Logitech mice of very different models, I am convinced that the head of design of Logitech has a deformed hand.  No Logitech mouse has ever been comfortable in my hand.  Cheap off-brands are not worth what you are going to pay for them.  You will have to deal with erratic drivers and low-quality hardware and things that are too complicated to write here.

Trac-balls, other devices

I have tried to use the Logitech Trac-ball.  My comment about the deformed had holds.  And it only works for the right hand.  And as far as I am concerned it does not work at all.  One hour and I need a heating pad for my thumb and wrist.

Laptop Devices

On a few laptops I have seen a little disk somewhat like a nickel coin.  I think that this works fine.  I liked the eraser-head thing on my IBM.  What I do not like are touchpads.  These are the creation of the devil.  They are erratic and often placed so that the new drivers must be able to detect the difference between a finger and a wrist.  Worse off, if the drivers do not detect the touching with two fingers, your cursor will jump around the screen in unpredictable manners.  They have special options for touching their corners, sliding on their edges, etc.  I have met a person who liked them.  Of the dozens passing through my clinic I guess there would eventually be someone who likes them.  But in 4 years of clinic, only 1 such person was found.

As far as I can tell the primary reasons for touchpads are that they are space-savng, flat, and probably cheap.

Keyboards

I really like the Microsoft Ergonomic keyboard (7000, etc.)  It is extremely comfortable to have my hands separated and at natural angles.  It is a little large for some people but I like it.  Using a little rectangle is now impossible for me.  Years ago I found a similar ergonomic keyboard that I liked better but they have gone away.  The problem I have with Microsoft keyboards are those little tabs at the bottom to raise the front end.  You can not buy new tabs and lean on the keyboard once and they break off.  The new 7000 has no wires.  I hope the batteries last a long time.  And it needs a USB dongle (it shares it with the mouse).  If it were Bluetooth, I would not need the dongle.


My Recent Experiences with Computers

My IBM Thinkpad

I bought this before I found out how bad the Celeron processor really is.   The Celeron processor was rated at 200mhz.  My desktop PC was an old Pentium I rated at 120mhz.  You would not believe how much faster the desktop was than the Thunkpad.  This was my primary complaint about the IBM: slow.  You can read the hyperlink to the Celeron paper (written by someone else).  If you are unhappy enough to have a Celeron or are considering one, look at what Intel did to the Pentium to get the Celeron.

The Celeron bus is a half-width bus.  This automatically reduces the speed by 75%.  The processor may be the same speed as the Pentium but the processor needs to reference memory.  The devices need to reference memory.  They do this through the bus which has half the capacity.  Why not just half the speed?  Why divide by 4?  Because in order to update just one byte of memory, you must make 4 bus references.  If you only make memory references to half-words, then there is not much reduction.  Mostly you reference bytes or words – ergo, the problem.

There is a second problem that exacerbates the first: the primary cache is gone.  The invention of the processor onboard cache was a great thing.  It prevents bus references for multiple attempts to read and write the same memory location.  A device may only reference a single location once but the processor program normally references the same locations very rapidly.  Forcing the processor to retrieve information across the bus every time rather than counting on it being stored locally is so slow that doing so in the current technology should be a crime.

Enough about the Celeron.  The Thunkpad was nicknamed that because it historically has been so heavy.  This one was.  Heavy, that is.  Until the maid in the hotel in Paris dropped it, the computer worked fine.  Slow.  Heavy.  But worked fine.  I cannot blame IBM for lousy maids who do not own up to what they do when you are not there so all of the problems with power-up and down were not the fault of IBM.  The problem with the hard drive and the keyboard were the result of multiple opening and closing of the device as I sorted out the problems with the broken pieces of the power switches.

When the keyboard connector died, I was more than happy to get a new laptop.  I needed something: the desktop had been stolen in the great RV theft.

My SONY VAIO

When I bought my SONY laptop it had problems that two trips to the manufacturer finally resolved.  It still has a third problem: it locks up randomly and must be rebooted.  I have attempted to keep it up to date with Windows updates but these seem to exacerbate the problem and so I do restores.  Nothing makes it go away and it locks up at the worst possible times.  While in the hospital, I have had time to localize the problem.  The SONY has a built-in touchpad mouse replacement.  I just typed this and three more paragraphs and it locked up again.

Because I am poor, I now have only one computer.  I bought the SONY VAIO because I thought it would be a premium computer.  I paid for a two-year extension warrantee.  Never again.  I have added a 17-inch CRT monitor (big), an ergonomic keyboard, and a Microsoft 5-button Intelli-point Mouse.  This is the mouse with a tail and the red laser-thing on the bottom.  They have a seven-button mouse with no tail.  I have seen blue laser-things lately.  The world has gone south.  In any case, this tail-less mouse is too big and the other one is even bigger.  Many football players must use Windows to justify such growth in rodents. 

In any case, for some perverse reason I have associated the lockup problem with the Touchpad.  Maybe guilt by association.  This is not a rational association since I normally type on the attached keyboard and use my Intelli-point mouse leaving the laptop with the cables hanging out the back off to the side.

Multiple complaints to SONY have said that it is not their problem but a software problem.  Without specifying the nature of the software problem and with no resolution I think it is still their problem but they will offer no support.  Never again a SONY anything.  Never.  Since restores and updates can make the problem better or worse, they may be correct but they ought to give me some hints since they obviously have seen the situation before.

While in the hospital, I have none of my extra devices and I have to use the darn touchpad.  Oh.  Once the mouse fell on the SONY keypad and loosened the ‘;’ key.  The key now hangs loose and I cannot figure out how to reattach it.  I have not called SONY for fear my language would result in a call from the local police.  I can live with this but I must adjust the touchpad.  The little ICON for it is gone.  Maybe this is a clue.  I start playing with the Windows Device manager and start removing and adding devices.  No luck and the little ICON does not come back.  Finally I go to the device manager for the touchpad, which says that it is an Intelli-point device, and roll back the driver.  I expect this to say nothing to rollback but instead it actually rolls back the driver and gives me back the little ICON.  Wow.  This could explain everything.  The SONY driver was replaced by the installation of the Microsoft mouse.  This makes the touchpad work strangely and could cause interrupt lockups.  I think I have found it.  There is probably a newer version of this driver online to prevent such things.  A smart company knowing it had similar problems would do this.  No such luck.  I spend a couple hours online with the SONY site, the Windows update site and the ALPS Touchpad site to no avail: the only driver is the one I have.

But it seems to have almost resolved the problem: the SONY only locks up once a day or so now.  The ICON permits me to adjust the touchpad to work in an amenable manner and I am happier.  A whole year later and now the problem is better.  I have lost respect for SONY.  I have a wallpaper monitor that changes the background color every 5 minutes.  If I walk past the monitor and the color has not changed for a while, know it has locked up again.  That's right:  it will lock up with nothing happening and no one touching the touchpad, mouse, or keyboard.  Software my eye.

I figured it out.  I also figured out that SONY is aware of the problem.  It is indeed the Touchpad driver.  Here is the deal.  The ALPS Touchpad is hardware-connected to the IBM PS/2 mouse port.  This makes sense.  It also causes stray interrupts – probably known by its own driver.  When you install the Intelli-point driver for the USB mouse, it also sets itself as the driver for the PS/2 port.  If the ALPS Touchpad were rational this would be a good thing.  Why?

The ALPS driver is stupid:  its internal timer confuses multiple spaced clicks with double-clicks.  There is no way out of this.  Updating its menu items for timing double-clicks only makes the problem worse.  I have written enough drivers to know what they are doing.  Since I use the computer more than most, I double-click pretty rapidly (not as rapidly as my daughter).  I set their driver to its fastest speed.  In comparison, the ALPS fastest rate is about 75% of the Microsoft fastest speed.  This is not the problem.  The problem is that the ALPS does not release its down count for a single click properly and therefore signals a double-click when you successively hit the mouse key outside the double-click speed.  I guess people who use touchpads are normally slower than mouse users.  In other words, the ALPS driver is not good for the touchpad and absolutely not acceptable for the Intelli-mouse.  Just try playing a game with the ALPS driver and a mouse: you will be dead in the first screen.

If you use the Intelli-mouse driver for the ALPS touchpad, the system locks up randomly.  I have not figured out how to specify that they should use different drivers.  I could disable the Touchpad in the BIOS (I think) but then I could never use it and sometimes I forget the Intelli-mouse when I go into a Kinko’s and must use the Touchpad.

None of this describes why the system freezes with a better driver but it does.  After all of these years with a lousy driver you would think that ALPS would have written a new one.  After searching ALPS, SONY, Microsoft, and Googol sites, I seem to have the latest.

I am sure that SONY has had enough complaints about their Touchpad that they do not want to tell you that they have an inadequate hardware device covered up by a bad driver, which they will not update.  Either that or they should have fixed my PC on the warrantee.

I have a workaround that actually proves that I am correct.  With the Intelli-Mouse driver (version 4 or 5) loaded, go into the hardware manager and uninstall the PS/2 mouse.  This resolves the problem until you reboot the second time.  The Touchpad still works at this point but the problem goes away.  When you reboot the first time, Windows reinstalls the PS/2 port but still leaves the Intelli-Mouse driver.  The system still works.  When you reboot the second time, Windows re-inserts the ALPS driver and the system hangs within 5 minutes.  I try to use Hibernate to eliminate the reboot but if I must reboot, I need to immediately repeat the uninstall process.

September 12, 2004

A year ago, Christmas, I bought a SONY VAIO.  This lemon of a laptop had to be returned to the factory 2 times before it would even power up properly.  After that they claimed that the random crashes were software errors and refused to honor their warrantee. (See above)  I shall never buy another SONY anything since I resent corporations with egos so large that they feel a need to refuse their warrantee

In any case, the failure became solid the other day: it would not even power up.  It went into a loop restarting Windows.  With some reluctance, I hauled out the recovery CDs.  I disconnected everything, I thought.  It turned out that the external hard drive I had on a USB port was not disconnected.  I maintain backups of all my work on this drive since the crashing of the SONY makes data on it totally unreliable.  It also turns out that the recovery software supplied by SONY is even more destructive than the SONY itself!  Although I checked the box saying to recover ONLY the C: drive, the recovery software instead cleared the C: drive and then recovered to the external drive thereby destroying ALL of my data.  This caused me serious depression.  Mostly I wanted to do damage to the SONY and its source. 

I emailed SONY by sending it a copy of the letter I mailed to Quetek blaspheming the SONY corporation for selling junk and refusing to honor its warrantee.  They sent a response pointing to a support FAQ web page.   I replied with a “Junk is Junk” message.  They replied that maybe I should have escalated my original calls although they also warned that this might have done no good. .  I repeat “Junk is Junk”.

The SONY software development team is Malicious

My Malicious SONY laptop destroyed itself.  And the SONY recovery disk – contrary to its specific statement that it would ONLY overwrite the C: drive, formatted and overwrote my external hard drive (backup) instead.  It took six months with a good recovery program to recover most of what I lost.  In the meantime, I got to improve my hatred of SONY and its refusal to honor its warrantee.

Compaq

I went to Costco (El Centro) to buy an eMachines but the only ones in stock had Celeron processors.  I returned to Sam's Club (Yuma) and bought a Compaq (AMD-Athlon) for a $50 more than the eMachines Celeron.  My new Compaq has been running a week with no glitches at all.  It is nice to be able to work without waiting for the next lockup.  It took most of a week to update Windows and identify what my SONY had done to my external hard drive.  I rebooted once during the week due to the number of Windows Updates installed.

I then recovered the files with recovery software.

In any case,  I am recovering the pictures and my other files, I shall be spending the next week burning CDs and printing hard copies

Gateway

In September of 2002 I ordered a modem for Megan's computer from Gateway and after emails indicating a better-than-published price and a surprise gift, the order never was filled.  Instead I received an email from Gateway saying that they would not sell me anything unless I bow down, kiss their VP’s shoes, obtain a certified check and wait 15 days for it to clear before he would consider selling me anything.  Multiple requests to the company for such an absurd response got me nowhere.  I never use checks as everything I order online is with my credit card (as was the modem).  Subsequent emails to Gateway got ‘it never happened’ types of responses.

I guess someone had a bad day and took it out on one of their customers.  Too bad as this puts Gateway on my permanent do-not-buy-from list.

Hewlett-Packard (HP: High Priced") 2008  July

I bought one of their laptops from Costco Online.  What I got was different from what I ordered but close enough and really more than I asked for.  The zinger was that it came with Windows Vista Ultimate when I ordered a cheaper version.  No complaints here.  The only hardware problem was that it came with 1 GB of memory.  If you want to immediately hate your newly purchased computer, get this combination: 1 GB with Ultimate.  It can take an hour to perform a simple operation.  I bought 4 GB for it and now it works like a champ.  Referring to Windows software as "bloatware" is an understatement.

The problem is the HP attitude.  I previously wrote firmware for an HP work terminal.  I know how complex their stuff is.  It took a year to write the emulator and it worked better than theirs.  But the features.  Unbelievable.  And of the 25-pin RS -232 standard plug of which most other hardware uses no more than 5 pins, HP used 12.   Since other hardware did not support all of these pins, this was the sole loophole in our product and our customers never saw the difference.  And we had color and disk support.

We will not even go into their hardware emulator support.  They had the IBM position: if management buys us, management cannot be faulted.  The fact that each and every one of the HP emulators had serious deficiencies never rocked their ivory tower.  And my management believed the HP salesman over their own engineers.

But HP has always had this same arrogant attitude toward PCs.  They write software to their own definitions and you get it whether you want it or not.  And if you do not want it, there will be a hole in your system.  Sort of like writing software using their emulators: some of the processor features must be ignored.

My best example on this new PC is their Quickplay software.  You want it because only it supports the row of media controller buttons (blue) across the top of the keyboard and the handy little multimedia remote controller  -- and I did buy a multi-media laptop.

The problem is that the Quickplay program initializes in fiull-screen mode and is the first and only thing you see when you power-up.  Any power-up.  Moreover no menu shows at the top so that you can exit the program.  If you push the escape key or click the mouse in the general area, the menu items magically appear.  In other words, HP is determined that you learn to love (or hate) their media player software.

So I went to Quickplay Help.  Nothing there.  I went to the HP general Help page.  Nothing there.  I went to the HP online help page.  Nothing there.  I went to the chat session.  I would have better stayed away.  I think they have hired a bunch of hackers that enjoy cute little internal tricks rather than hire serious people to assist and improve their customers computers.  And the last time I went to chat I ended up with an extra log in called "Administrator" that does not use the built-in fingerprint recognition.  And System Restore does not remove it.

This time I got some joker who told me that when he could not find the Quickplay program in the msconfig (Now Defender) Startup menu, to disable ALL items in startup.  He said I had a button to do this.  There is no such button.  I know how to turn them all off but this is the baby with the bathwater problem.  And in this case, there was not even the bathwater, it was just trashing the baby.  I disconnected.

Oh.  I solved the problem.  I went to the HP Quickplay directory and renamed the program.  I then went to the on-screen ICON and changed it to match.  Now powerup cannot find this atrocity and I can invoke it when I want to.

Any other manufacturer or software company would have made the program a configuration choice.  Not HP: take all of our shit or you are on your own.

Adobe has a similar attitude but they do not sell computers and so you sort of have a choice.

HP Online Support

HP has hired a cadre of hackers for its online supoort.  You do not believe me?  Their primary reference is a geek website.  They will even give you a link to if you ask.  Here is an example.  When I used the Windows Media Center and I exited, the NVIDIA driver crashes, and crashes, and crashes.  I also had trouble with my WiFi network so I tried their HP Wireless Assistant.  nonexistent.  I try their support web page. It says it needs detailed model information.  I have previously downloaded their tool for this but now I cannot do it again and there is no link to it, etc. I have paid for extended support so I try to go online.  I get some guy called Kenneth.  He refuses to help at all unless I give him the numbers from the label on the bottom of my PC.  I point out that this is not convenient.  And it really is not.

I tell him the NVIDIA problem.  He has me download the Belarc tool.  It gives me the model and serial number.  Not good enough for Kenneth -- no hope for NVIDIA.  The nonexistent assistant -- Recover the entire hard drive back to its original.  When someone tells me to do this I know that all they want to do is improve their call center statistics times since I will go away having been given a solution and when I return I will get someone else.  I refuse and ask about Windows Recover.  He says it does not exist on Vista.  He is a liar.  It exists but the HP software has turned it off.  I turn it back on.

A third problem is handled in the same arrogant manner: erase and start over and no other help.

I tried.  I really tried.  I suspect we each think the other rude.  Now. WOnder of Wonders. The HP software includes a "Health Check".  And it is exactly the scheduled time for it to run.  The results are interesting: I have an old BIOS and an old Health Check.  So I download and upgrade the BIOS.  I download and upgrade Health Check.  The new health check finds a half dozen other things that need to be fixed: including the NVIDIA driver.  So I fix them.  Things are much better.  The new NVIDIA crashes and stays crashed.  The Wireless Assistant is installed (on their list) and in general things work.

Now there are things here that should be improved upon.  Kenneth should have had me run the Health Check before galloping off to Geek Central.  We would have immediately resolved 2 of the 3 problems without extreme measures.

The second thing is that he emailed a transcript of our session.  They always do this.  Feedback?  Arrogance does not accept feedback.  There is no way to respond to the lack of help from their online chats.  As far as HP is concerned they gave me a solution: scrap the system and start over.  As far a I am concerned I was slapped in the face for spending my hard-earned money.  But the extended warrantee is worth it for when the hardware dies.   No, when turkeys fly with eagles the result is chaos.  HP is no eagle.

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Written:  2004                 Updated:  August 06, 2008                 Back To Top