Tag Archives: christmas

Hardware vendor shit list

In keeping with my recent stance on blog content, this has nothing whatsoever to do with programming. It won’t educate you about esoteric languages, you won’t learn good development practices from it, and frankly you probably won’t care about it.

This is a post about hardware companies who suck. This post has two purposes:

a) In the hopes that it will prevent someone else from having to deal with these issues.
b) A small measure of petty revenge against those who have SERIOUSLY PISSED ME OFF. It’s not like they’ll notice the loss of a few sales, but if this persuades even one person not to give them money for their crap it will make me feel better.

There’s a tentative c) that if anyone could give me a suggestion for fixing my laptop I’d be eternally grateful. :-) But I don’t really expect that.

The past six months have not been happy ones for hardware. My work machine has never worked right, and my personal laptop has mysteriously died. Twice. The incompetence of Mesh in dealing with the desktop’s problems has been rivaled only by the astoundingly poor communication skills and unreliable hardware of Asus.

First, Mesh.

The problem with the desktop is a very annoying one: The screen would intermittently go black for a second or two. At first it did this once every few hours and I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t just power saving mode or something. Eventually I verified that no, it really was happening, and it was happening in both vista and ubuntu, so it most likely wasn’t a software problem. As time went on the problem got progressively worse – these days the rate is several times per minute.

I eventually narrowed it down. The problem would only manifest in the exact following circumstances:

a) This exact PC. Any other one worked fine.
b) The exact brand and make of monitor. Brand and make you say? Want to know how I know this? It’s because they sent us three. Sending us the second one was quite reasonable – it looked like a monitor problem. After the second we pointed out that maybe this wasn’t such a productive use (however we didn’t complain too hard, as the monitor had developed several dead pixels. But they wouldn’t replace it for the dead pixels sitting smack in the middle of the screen. You need at least 5 before it’s a replaceable condition. More on this later.).
c) Only on DVI input.

c) was the fortunate point which meant that I’ve actually been able to get work done in the last six months. I dislike VGA, but it’s at least usable.

Speaking of the brand of monitors, here’s another shit list entry: Mirai, the brand of this monitor. Quite possibly the worst monitor I’ve ever used. Despite my best efforts and tinkering the colour has never been anything less than washed out. They’ve developed dead pixels, random image problems (my favourite was the “yellow line down the middle of the screen”. That was a fun one. The flickering effect was another nice touch).

Anyway, back to mesh and this peculiarly specific hardware problem. Very random, isn’t it? What’s the chance that two pieces of hardware picked out of the blue would demonstrate such a specific incompatibility?

Wait, picked out of the blue? That doesn’t sound right. Let’s try again.

What’s the chance that two pieces of hardware picked and provided specifically to work together would show such a specific incompatibility?

Having exhausted monitor options they concluded that maybe we should replace the motherboard (it had onboard video). And so they did.


It took more than a little trying and them sending no less than four people out (it might even have been five. I forget if we had one or two no shows). Between these four, they managed the following problems:

a) A no show
b) someone who came out with a very handy motherboard box. No motherboard mind you, but one out of two isn’t bad, right?
c) Someone who in his truly inspiring competence managed to bring not only a motherboard box but an actual motherboard contained within. Rapture! What service! Oops. Wrong motherboard. What service?
d) Finally someone who managed the simultaneous combination of box, motherboard and correct brand of motherboard. He didn’t arrive until 7:00 in the evening and seemed to think he was going to be visiting a home address, but oh well. Why be picky? He managed to replace the motherboard successfully and everything, we booted up the machine and the display appeared stable. Could it be that after all this time the problem was finally resolved??

For context, I should clarify that I was now working on a different machine. We’d cut our losses and moved me to another desktop (a Dell. I’m not a big fan of Dell, but I have to admit their customer service is great). This meant that I wasn’t directly observing the other machine, but we booted it up with the intent of testing it and once we were sure the problem was resolved putting it to another use.

At some point during the following day I got a question from someone who sits next to where I had the computer set up.

“David, did Mesh come to fix this last night?”

I moved around to talk to them. As I did I said something along the lines of “Yeah, they replaced the motherboard and it seems to have solved the… oh shit”

Flicker. Flicker flicker. Blink.

Which is about where we stand currently. I don’t know what we’re going to do now.

Now, Asus.

I went with Asus because I’d been told their laptops were very reliable. Yeah… not so much. Also their website is awful, their customer support is awful, and their communication skills lie somewhere between “awful” and “nonexistent”.

I placed the order on a weekend. I got a generic “thank you for placing an order” with a note about sending confirmation when they were ready to deliver. On tuesday I still hadn’t heard from them so I made a mental note to call them in the morning to ask when they were likely to deliver.

And arrived to find my laptop sitting on my doorstep. On the one hand, yay laptop. On the other hand, RANDOMLY LEAVING EXPENSIVE HARDWARE ON ONE’S DOORSTEP IS NOT COOL. Granted it was internal to my building, not on the street, so clearly someone had to have let them in and signed for it, but this is still not acceptable behaviour. But even setting that aside, the key point here is that there was no communication, no advance warning, nothing. If they’d just done exactly what they should have done and said they were going to and let me know that they were planning to deliver that day I would have planned accordingly.

Anyway, rather than tear them a new one, I decided to let it pass. After all, I had a laptop (and a reasonably nice one). No harm done.

A week and a half later the laptop turned into a brick. The power light came on when you pressed the power button, and some vague whirring noises, but nothing more than that. I called up asus technical support, reading their support procedures on the card with growing dread (it involved sending you a snail mail form to fill out if they decided that yes really you needed replacement hardware). Fortunately their procedures were 71% less insane than claimed, and the dreaded form was in fact an excel spreadsheet. Hurray.

Upon filling this out and getting confirmation I had to call an entirely different branch in order to arrange a pickup. When I did they asked me to call back later as the details had yet to come through. Apparently their inability to communicate extends to eachother as well as their customers. It’s good to know I’m not being singled out.

Eventually I persuaded them to pick up the laptop. In fairness it didn’t require *that* much persuading. They picked it up promptly once arranged.

And then silence.

Two and a half weeks later I finally found time to call them up and say “Soo… laptop. What’s going on with that?”. “Oh, yeah, we sent it out this morning. You should be getting it today”. Fine, great, I’m glad they sent it back. But again with the total non-communication. And slowness. Two and a half weeks is not a nice length of time to be laptopless. For additional failure to communicate, they gave no indication whatsoever of what the fault was. I should have enquired, but I couldn’t be bothered at the time. This was a mistake.

That was a couple of weeks ago – I forget how many, but definitely not longer than a month – and the absence of this knowledge is now highly relevant, because the laptop has just done it again. This time it appears to have been the result of leaving it on until it went into power saving mode – I fell asleep with it on, woke up four hours later to discover that I no longer possessed a functioning laptop. If anything it’s brickier than last time – I’m not even getting a power light when pressing the switch.

This is especially upsetting as it means I will have no laptop over the christmas period. This means no working on personal projects I’ve been putting off due to work and, more importantly, a very limited amount of communication – in particular I’ll have to borrow my parents’ computer if I want to use Skype or IM (and no video at all. Sigh). It also probably means that you get a respite from my blogging. :-)

For added irritation (and admittedly I can’t blame this on hardware vendors, although if I could I’d try at this point), I seem to be running a moderately high fever. All in all this does not result in a happy David.


I was bored.

I don’t just mean the sort of boredom that arises from not being very interested in what you are doing, I mean the sort of soul crushing mind numbing boredom that rises up from the deep, saps you of all your energy and causes you to reach the point where anything you might do to prevent the boredom just seems like too much work.

As you can imagine, this sort of boredom is a problem. I get it a lot, and being currently unemployed (which will change soon, hurrah! I just need to decide which offer to accept.) while all my friends are gainfully employed in jobs or PhDs, I’m particularly prone to it at the moment. There are plenty of things I could be doing, but if I get into a slump then they all seem like too much effort.

This time however, a solution arose. Lunchtime.

My stomach grumbled. “David”, it said “I hunger. You should feed me.”

“I don’t know. That sounds like a lot of work.

“Yeah, it is. But if you don’t feed me then I’ll be forced to escape from your body and go on a rampage. Millions will die to sate my hunger, and it will be all your fault.”

“Hmm. Well, that would be bad, yes. But I’m still not sure…”

My brain chimed in. “Yes. You should cook something. I’m bored out of your mind here. Cook something new and write it up for ‘Playing with your food’. That way you’ll have an hour or two of entertainment, and your three readers will get something to amuse them as well.”

“Alright, alright. You’ve convinced me.”

When your body parts conspire against you there’s really nothing to do but to go along with their wishes.

Unfortunately I was still uninspired. This needed to be remedied if I were to effectively produce a new meal. So, Robin, to the blogmobile!

My method of finding new cooking blogs to peruse was very simple. I wandered over to Food, in the main… and clicked on every link on the right hand side of the page.

Eventually I settled on this. I’ve heard about latkes before and I keep thinking “Hmm, I should try to make those.” but never get around to it. Well, the time for procrastination was over. Latkes it is.

Purely by chance, somewhere in between deciding on this and cooking it I thought I’d check my weight (I haven’t in months) and noted that I’d somehow managed to drop down to about my desired ideal weight with no conscious effort on my part. Right after christmas and new years.

How much oil was in that recipe again?

Anyway, time for some cooking.

What I used

About 7 small to medium potatoes, peeled
Three small white onions
1/2 tbsp of salt
Two eggs
1/2 a cup of flour
1/2 a cup of sunflower oil
1/2 tsp baking soda

What I did

As you will probably have noticed if you’ve followed the above link, there’s not really an awful lot of resemblance between my ingredients and Debbie’s ingredients. They’re the same sort of things, but the quantities are only tangentially related. This is in part due to my usual tendency to adapt, in part because I peel potatoes on autopilot and peeled far more potatoes than I actually needed before I knew it, and mostly because the recipe was all the way upstairs and it would be so much work to go up and check it.

I used the grateresque attachment for the food processor and got a large pile of shredded potato. As directed I put it into a metal colander and squeezed as much of the juice out as I could, but it was still quite damp. It was at this point I decided to employ low cunning to complete the task and sprinkled the salt over it, mixed it up thoroughly and went to do the onions. These I decided that rather than shredding I would do with the normal processor blades, turning them into more of an onion puree.

As an idle observation, if you run the grater attachment to the food processor and just drop a potato on top of it then it bounces about in an amusing manner. I can’t help but imagine the little potato pleading for its life as it avoids the spinning blades.

But maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, I’d decided to mix the Latkes in the kenwood. Why? Because I’m lazy, that’s why. And it’s the same amount of washing up, so why not? I transferred the onion to the kenwood bowl and returned my attention to the potato. The salt had done its work quite admirably and I was able to squeeze a lot more liquid out of it. Having done so I transferred it to the kenwood as well.

I then added the eggs, flour and baking soda and mixed it all up. It produced a batter with a texture fairly similar to my normal pancake mix, which was encouraging.

I then poured the oil into a nonstick pan and heated it. At this point I looked at the pan, slightly disbelieving. Buddha on a pogo stick that’s a lot of oil… I know I have recipes which use almost that much oil, but that’s in a large curry. The sole purpose of this oil is for frying things in. This somehow makes it more alarming.

Anyway, I used a heaped spoonfull of batter for each latke. The pan fit about four of them, and there was enough batter to make eight. I fried them for five minutes on each side until they were a darkish brown.

Towards the point where I wanted to flip the first batch I noticed that the best spatula was currently in a pile of washing up leftover from my brother cooking bacon and egg earlier (the irony amused me briefly). I quickly washed it up and moved to flip the latkes.

Point of reference? Putting a wet spatula into very hot oil isn’t a great idea. Ouch.

Anyway, latkes duly flipped, they cooked for another five minutes and then I transferred them to a plate and put the next batch on.


I was already pretty sure these would be good. They smelled wonderful.

Good lord. They tasted even better. These are really really good.

I’d made far more than I was going to be able to eat, so I rushed upstairs to get the Boy. (‘The Boy’ is my affectionate name for my brother).

“Boy”, says I, “Would you like to try something indescribably delicious?”

The Boy is skeptical. I cook strange and unnatural things, with vegetables and hardly any dead animal to speak of. However upon my description of what a latke is (“It’s basically a pancake made out of shredded potato and onion”) he is convinced to give it a go.

The Boy agrees. They’re really very good. He’s rather full from having had the aforementioned bacon and egg, so he only has one, but I make up for this by having three (and another one halfway through writing this post). The rest will keep to be reheated in the oven later.

So, a definite success. They do generate a lot of washing up, and they do stink up the house, but they taste amazing.

The only thing I would do differently in future is make sure that they really were a quite dark brown. Some of them were slightly undercooked and, while still nice, they were a bit to soft inside and lacked the crispness of the really well cooked ones.

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