Screaming Into The Abyss

Free Kensington Orbit Trackball
By Ben Zvan
On September 21, 2006 at 12:35
Product Reviews

I recently started a job where I am required to use a PC at least until I can prove that a Mac can do the job just as well. One of the ergonomic benefits was that I got a Kensington Orbit optical trackball to replace the carpal-tunnel-inducing mouse that came with my workstation. This is the same trackball I use at home on my mac so I have become pretty familiar with it's features. One of them is "scroll with mouse", a feature that allows you to "chord" or press both the left and right buttons at the same time and then use the trackball as a giant scroll wheel. This works great on my Mac at home but I discovered on my first day here that it's quite sluggish and choppy under Windows. I don't honestly know where the problem is and I figured that I'd just deal with it for a while.

A few weeks ago, I decided to take it up with tech support. After being instructed to un/re-install MouseWorks and try again, they determined that my trackball had bad firmware and sent me a new one. Well, you can guess that that didn't fix the problem. I opened a new ticket with Kensington's tech support and was instructed to un-install MouseWorks and then go through and look for a long and specific list of stray files that could be preventing a good re-install, then re-install the software. No luck, most of the stuff they told me to delete wasn't there anyway. Guess what they said. You got it "As the issue is related to the firmware of the mouse so we are replacing it for you. Please note that I have placed an order for a new trackball and you will receive it within 12 to 15 business days."

I for one would like to see how many new trackballs I can get this way, and I encourage anyone else who has had this problem to do the same.

If the third one really doesn't have a firmware problem, I'll be sure to update this post.

Update 10-03-2006: I received my new trackball via FedEx but I haven't bothered to open it yet.

Update 12-20-2007: I replaced my desktop machine with a MacBook Pro. The trackballs work like a charm.

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iPod 004
By Ben Zvan
On March 16, 2006 at 06:31
Product Reviews

In the interest of being complete about documentation here, I now am on my fourth iPod. Tuesday afternoon, I grabbed MiPod, plugged in the iTrip and hit "Shuffle Songs". I don't remember what the screen said it was about to play, but it skipped that and played the next song. Since I kind of wanted to hear that first song, I hit the back button and MiPod displayed the grayscale screen of death.

I signed up for a genius appointment yesterday morning and showed up at the Rosedale Apple Store at 5:00 that evening. The nice man behind the counter took MiPod into the back room, and I waited. When he came out, he said the hard drive cable had been loose and he just reconnected it. MiPod looked alive again and I was happy.

On the way out to the car, I started remembering the other symptoms of a dead iPod. In particular, the lack of ability to remember what language I spoke. I rebooted MiPod and waited for the Apple to go away and it asked me to choose a language. OK, maybe somehow he skipped that in the store. I chose English. I rebooted again. I chose English again and headed back into the store. On the way in, I checked out what the "About" screen said, and it came up with a drive capacity of zero.

We reformatted the drive and ran the iPod updater software and everything looked good. I insisted that we copy a bunch of music onto it because it hung at around 100 songs last time. We put 111 songs and 2.6GB of data onto it and everything looked fine again. Then I rebooted it. "Please choose your language" it said. "OK" the Apple genius said, and handed me a new iPod. He also said that, since this was my fourth iPod, If something like this happens again we will "pursue other options". I can only assume that means replacing my 40GB click-wheel iPod with something newer. I told him I was satisfied with the service I was getting and that as long as they'd keep replacing them, I'd keep bringing them in. He told me that after a while, there's a point where that just doesn't seem like enough and he'd reached that point.

This is in no way to be taken as a rant against Apple or iPods. They're one of the best products I've had except for the fact that mine keep dying. The guy at the store had a first-generation iPod and I know people with older iPods that have lasted longer. Apple continues to be willing to replace my iPods under my Apple Care extended warrantee. That last sentence in that last paragraph says a lot too. They want me, their customer to be happy with my purchase and I still am.

Here's to getting a 60GB 'Pod next time

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Drive Utilities for Macintosh
By Ben Zvan
On March 03, 2006 at 10:36
Product Reviews

My real desktop isn't tidy, but I like to keep my computer desktop organized as much as possible. I file things away where I think I'll find them again later and I can usually locate the document I'm looking for without resorting to Spotlight to find it. Things that are in a queue for filing are kept in a folder on my desktop with the uninspired title of "Stuff". If it's in there too long, it gets trashed or filed eventually and if it's something I just downloaded to look at later, that's probably where it is. I noticed this morning that "Stuff" was missing from my desktop. Probably because I emptied it and deleted it but don't remember doing it. I'd like to search my hard drive and verify what was in it and when it was deleted, but I ran into a few problems.

Ages ago, Norton Utilities was the killer app for defragging and otherwise maintaining and repairing your Mac's hard drive. I actually just bought a new version this September in order to use undelete. Well, Symantec has stopped supporting most of their Mac products and now I just don't know where to turn. Any suggestions?

Apple's website only seems to have a link to Micromat Inc. and their TechTool Pro software. I think this is the same thing they're selling in their brick stores too. It seems good, and their TechTool Protege product is really cool if really expensive.

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Foreign Language
By Ben Zvan
On February 09, 2006 at 21:50
Product Reviews

A while ago, I purchased a product from Transparent Language and I have to say that it could work for someone who can learn in a very abstract way. I thought that was me, but I guess I was wrong. I guess I can't say it was wasted money exactly, because I learned something about the way my brain works.

I've been checking out a company called Rosetta Stone for the last week or so to see if their software is a good fit for me and I'm starting to think it is. It's not cheap though. As of this date, the price for German: Level 1 is $195 as compared to Transparent's $39.95 for German Now! which is what I got. Looking at the Transparent Language website, I may have just gotten the product that doesn't work for me, but Rosetta Stone has been doing nicely with their pictures-and-words approach. Rosetta Stone also has an online version that is a little bit cheaper if you learn quickly and, since I have already taken German 1, 2 and 3 in High School hmphm years ago, I may do just that.

We just got out of the hot tub a little bit ago and saw 8 deer heading out across the lake and away from the pile-o-corn. It looked like a buck and a doe and 6 fawns keeping together to make it through winter. It makes me wish I'd gotten a deer this fall so that not so many of them would have to tough it out through the cold Minnesota winter.

Peace Out

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iPod number 3
By Ben Zvan
On February 01, 2006 at 06:39
Product Reviews

bad iPodWay back in August of 2005 I mentioned in passing that my iPod had died while I was on a road trip. Well, the iPod I was given under warranty in early September was working fine until a couple of days ago. Since I didn't really go into detail, I'll elaborate here.

The first failure started as an occasional faint clicking sound while playing, I suspect it came from the hard drive, and the occasional tendency to skip forward, out of the song it was playing. I didn't think much of it at the time since it had also had the occasional tendency to reboot while playing. I figured it was a corrupted mp3 file that I just needed to find and remove since that was what all the forums recommended for that particular problem.

After a while, I was driving through Missouri or Illinois or someplace like that and the iPod just stopped playing. "Ok, maybe it's a dead battery." I thought. When I connected it up to my laptop that night, it started up and gave me a complaint about not being able to communicate with the device and suggested that I restore it using the iPod updater. Well, screw that: I've got 37GB of music on there and a week left on my trip. Of course, rebooting and recharging did nothing, so I ended up restoring it using the iPod updater but that didn't fix the problem. What I got was a little folder icon with a warning sign in it and the text "". Anyway, nothing I did would help and I ended up taking it back to the Apple Store in Roseville where they said "Yeah, if it asks you what language you want every time you reboot, the drive's dead." They also listened to it really close when rebooting it to see what kind of noises the hard drive made. I can tell you, none of them were good.

So, one iPod replaced under warranty. Woot!

The second iPod died in a similar fashion. I would occasionally get a message from iTunes saying that the device MiPod could not be written to, please restore it using the iPod updater. If I just disconnected the cable and reconnected it (it wasn't mounted at this point so that's Ok to do) it would suddenly be recognized by iTunes and the automatic playlist update would work fine. Then, one day, that didn't work. since I was at home, I found that restoring my iPod and clearing off all the music was a much easier thing to deal with, so I did that and got that same "" message I had dreaded, yet thought quite cute. Back to the Apple Store

At the Apple Store, they listened to it boot, connected it to their laptop and got all the same messages I did. They ran the iPod updater's restore feature and it worked for them! Yay, my iPod is Ok. When I took it home however, I got the same "device could not be written to" message while I was copying files back onto it. After 2 more restores and tries to write to it, I found that it would die at around 100 to 150 songs. Back to the Apple Store

At the Apple Store, they said "here's your new iPod". Well, they also said "your warranty is up" and "your Apple Care policy will cover it".

So I am now on my 3rd iPod and, at $250 per replacement, my Apple Care Warranty has gone way, way beyond the paying for itself stage

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iSkin Evo2 is an innefective prophylactic
By Ben Zvan
On April 21, 2005 at 20:01
Product Reviews
Here's a feedback letter I just sent to iSkin about their Evo2 iPod protector. At first I thought I'd just point out that they had some design flaws, but then I just got angry.

I love the idea of the iSkin, but I have a little complaint. I spent $400 on my 40GB iPod back in January and I wanted to protect my investment from the rigors of daily use. I decided on an iSkin EVO2 because, from the soft-contact screen cover to the ventilated back surfaace, your descriptions made a convincing argument for it being an effective means of protection.

I just removed the iSkin from my iPod so that I could use the dock that has been sitting idle since the iSkin makes the iPod to big to fit and was horrified to find that the iSkin, while protecting my iPod from scratches had actually caused scratches itself. The dust that entered alongside the click wheel was held in place by the iSkin causing a fog to appear, the RevoClip backer has etched a halo around my Apple Logo and each of the 6 "soft contacts" on the screen cover has created a distinct dot on the front face.

I think that the iSkin is a great concept, but I would have been better served by one of those cheap iSocks than by your scratch-o-matic. I think it is irresponsible to continue to sell these products as protective devices.
I guess I really don't think this is too harsh. I love my iPod even if they did lower the prices a week after I bought it and I thought I was protecting it by getting an iSkin. I don't know now if I'll just stick it in my back pocket or what, but I don't want to put it back in the iSkin.

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