Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The shoemaker's children

This week I seem to be surrounded by dysfunctional electronics, and I
am not a happy camper. Or maybe they just are attracted to me, or I to

My oven is on its third electronic control panel in as many months. It
has very fancy touch-pad controls, and when we first got it everything
on the panel worked with the sole exception of the on/off switch. And
the fact that it couldn't get beyond 290 degrees — it was a very
expensive crock pot. Cooking the turkey for Thanksgiving took the
better part of the day. But perhaps the third time will be the charm.

Then my stepson needed help with getting his Xbox connected on his
wireless network. I had done him no favors by setting up his wireless
router to use WPA2, which is the one security protocol that doesn't
work with the Xbox wireless adapter. That was luckily quick work to
downgrade him to just regular WPA. Why can't Microsoft support a
protocol that is several years old on its equipment is a mystery to

How about my home laptop, which for some odd reason won't keep its
batteries charged? I guess it is a flaky motherboard power connection,
so the laptop needs to be plugged into the wall all the time. That is
annoying to say the least, but then it is a aging Dell that is due for
replacement, so maybe this a sign. Of course, finding something that
runs XP is an exercise in patience these days.

Speaking of Dell, I was looking for an inexpensive machine that I
could stuff with oodles of RAM to run in my lab. You would think with
all of the machines that they sell that it would be easy to find out
what the maximum amount of memory you could install in one of the
desktops would be. Not so easy to do on their Web site. So I took the
unusual step of calling them and that wasn't much better. I could
order a PC with a 64-bit Windows OS and that was the trick to boost
the RAM on the order, but a 64-bit OS is almost as much trouble as
Vista. I want a machine that will actually run my applications, thank
you very much. When I went into the Dell Outlet store to search for
used PCs, there was one yesterday that had 8GB for sale.

And I was excited to hear about the latest crop of devices that will
accept streaming video from Netflix, including a Samsung Blu-Ray video
player. A friend has been having a lot of fun using his Xbox and
streaming videos to it (you need to have both subscriptions to Netflix
and Xbox Live services though to do this). Trouble is, I bought the
cheaper model Samsung that doesn't do the streaming, even though it
has an Ethernet jack and runs Windows CE and can be upgraded across
the Internet. Another friend has the right model and was singing all
of its virtues and how wonderful his streaming videos were. Too bad
for me. Now I have one more computing device that can get infected,
require periodic care and feeding, and is already obsolete within a
few months of its purchase. I sure know how to pick 'em. At least I
haven't had to replace the front panel and the on/off switch is still
working. But it sure throws off a lot of heat, I guess from all the
graphics processing firepower inside.

At least my iPhone is running without any troubles, knock on formica.
I think I only have had to reboot it maybe 3 times in the past six
months. The fact that I used "only" in that sentence is a sad
testimonial to the state of my electronic life. They say the
shoemakers' children go barefoot. I would settle for a device that
would just operate as intended.

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About Me

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David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.