Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

What’s Wrong with Computers

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

This weekend was an object lesson in why computers are still such an unbelievable pain in the neck.

It all started when I installed Windows Vista on my very new Gateway computer. Now let me be clear right up front: I adore Vista. The Aero visuals are wonderful eye candy, and features like the built-in results-as-you-type search boxes and the Photo Gallery are just amazing. I wouldn’t go back to Windows XP for a lifetime supply of Puffin and a night out with Halle Berry. That said, I’ve had a few nagging problems with my Vista installation. For instance: When I turn on my computer, it always asks for driver discs for the various media card readers and USB hub built into my Dell widescreen monitor. Now, as you probably know, therer’s no such thing. USB hubs and card readers are automatically recognized by Windows. There is no such driver disc. I have to cancel the New Hardware dialogs–all six of them–every time I start my computer. Annoying? Yes. But that also means I can’t use the card readers or USB ports in the monitor. I’m not getting what I paid for.

So I decided to send an e-mail to Dell to see if they could help me solve the problem.

First problem: The only way–and I do mean the only way–to communicate with Dell is by entering the product’s “service tag code” in the e-mail or online chat form. Dell thoughfully failed to stamp a service tag on my monitor, so I used various tools on their site to look up the code based on my customer number and order number. They all failed. Argh. So now I pick up the phone. That means I’m being inconvenienced by having to wait on hold because their Web site makes no provision for situations like this. Why don’t I have a service tag? How do I know? All I do know is that I’m now spending Saturday on the phone listening to hold music.

Finally I get through to someone, who initially gives me a hard time about not having a service tag code. Then they route me to three different departments becuase no one is quite sure who does tech support for monitors. Finally I find the monitor support guy, who, after insisting that updating the display driver will fix the problem (trust me — it won’t), tells me I need to update the BIOS on my computer and ends the call.

Now that actually makes some sense, and I feel dumb for not thinking of it sooner. Actually, it may or may not be a BIOS issue, but it’s likely that this is an issue that’s fixable by visiting the computer manufacturer’s Web site. So I go to Gateway. There, I’m encouraged by the fact that when I look up my computer’s serial number, there are a half dozen suggested Vista updates ready and waiting for me.

I install each one and find that:

  • One update won’t install becuase of an unspecificed error
  • Two updates intstall just fine, but don’t have any visible effect on my PC. In other words, my problem is not fixed.
  • One update, intended to address the sound card, causes Supreme Commander to play without sound. I troubleshoot it for half the day, and in the end (around 4pm) I use System Restore to roll my system back to its original configuration before the sound driver update.

And that’s how I spent my Saturday–I screwed around with my PC all day, and in the end I literally clicked Undo to remove all the changes, which didn’t fix anything but in fact created at least one new problem of its own. If I can have these kinds of problems, what hope is there for my mom and dad?

The Clumsy Path to Here

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

So how did I actually find myself getting a new domain name? After all, it’s a PIA to tell all your friends, relatives, co-workers, web sites, and animatronic kittens about your new e-mail address. Which is why I had the same one for so long.

I could claim that I’ve been subjected to mental anguish by the maddening length of my old domain name. I could assert that typing “” just took too darned long. After all, I’m a busy guy with things to do. And I know all my friends are busy too, so having such a long e-mail address was really a lose-lose situation all around.

There’s some truth to that, but the reality is that my old web host was really expensive. For years, I was too lazy to do anything about it, and chalked up the quarterly hosting fees as the cost of doing buisness. But recently, I saw that Office Live had a free web hosting offer. I scanned the terms, and it all seemed pretty cool, so I signed up and transferred my domain name. I did all this while literally packing to leave for a weekend trip, so I failed to read the fine print.

When I got home a few days later, I discovered that my free service didn’t include POP e-mail — you could only get mail via a webmail application. Ugh. And it turned out that upgrading to a subscription service that would give me POP email again proved to be nearly as costly as my original plan.

So, I turned to I’d heard good things about them, and a friend uses them. This time I really did read the fine print, and man, they offered a ton of cool features and services for a very reasonable fee. So I bit.


Now, right about this point I learn that in order to mitigate fraud, you can’t transfer your domain name more than once in a 60-day period. D’oh. So, I did the only thing a sloppy, impulsive person like me could do: I bought a new domain name and started over from scratch. Voila!

Dave Johnson’s web site v2.0 is, in other words, the result of me bumbling along as usual, only reading the words next to pretty pictures and trying to make major life decisions while putting underwear in a suitcase.

Smells like fresh paint

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

After the better part of a decade with my old domain,, I thought I’d start fresh. Totally fresh. I have a new domain, a new hosting service, and I’ve even decided to try WordPress, which I’ve heard great things about.

The old site was admittedly lame; it was so dusty that I’m pretty sure archeologists could have analyzed the fossilized links to draw conclusions about Aztec religious ceremonies. So today, we try a blog-based site and see if that helps prod me into making this more current.