March 2006 Archives

Dead PowerBook

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The dead hardware saga continues, my PowerBook died. This is getting ridiculous, I've never had such a streak of bad luck. Even worse, it's embarrassing. It's like the old proverb of the cobbler whose children go barefoot. I'm the guy people call for help when their computers go bad, to have my own computer go bad is pitiful. It is especially pitiful considering the machine died due to an upgrade. This upgrade was supposed to improve performance, but now I have no performance, it won't even boot.
My PowerBook has been acting cranky ever since I installed a new 1Gb memory stick a few days ago. It ran much faster with the extra memory, but then suddenly, I saw the dreaded "kernel panic," and now my PowerBook won't boot.


Diagnostics said the hard drive is corrupted, most of the data is irretrievable. I used every technique I knew to repair the disk directory (and I know a lot of them, it used to be my job to recover damaged disks) but nothing worked. My disk is hosed, the data lost. Fortunately I don't use my PowerBook for anything really critical, it's my backup machine for light web surfing and email, so it's not a major disaster. But it is a major waste of time, having to reinstall and reconfigure it from scratch.
After wasting a whole day trying to resurrect my hard drive, I finally realized it might be a memory problem, so I ran the Apple Hardware Test disk, it proved the new memory stick is defective. I thought it might be the infamous Upper Memory Slot problem but my PowerBook isn't in the affected range of serial numbers. I tried installing the RAM in the lower slot, but it tests as defective in that slot as well. The memory module is definitely dead.
Curses to Other World Computing for shipping me a bad memory module that hosed my hard disk! They promised a lifetime advance replacement warranty, but that hardly compensates for hosing my hard disk. My machine will probably be OK now that I've removed the bad RAM, the hard drive is probably not permanently damaged, but I'll have to reformat my hard disk and reinstall the OS. And in a couple days I'll get a replacement module from OWC. But you can be damn sure I'm going to run hardware diagnostics to test the new RAM as soon as it's installed.
Update: I got the replacement RAM, it works properly this time. I reformatted the hard drive, installed everything from scratch, and my PowerBook is working well again. But it was a lot of wasted time and work that I didn't really need to go through at all.

Class of '96

I was surprised to receive an announcement of the 10 year reunion for my university's 1996 graduating class. It's not like a real reunion, it's just the annual Homecoming Week and football game, if I attended, it would be extremely unlikely that I'd encounter anyone I knew. But I was shocked by how fast 10 years passed and I am still stuck here in this town. Tempus fugit.

Dead Electric Razor

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My streak of dead electronic devices continues, my Braun electric razor died. As I contemplated the replacement of yet another expensive machine, I came to a realization: I am glad it died. My old Braun Synchro razor must be at least 10 years old, the battery wouldn't hold a charge anymore, and the motor was weak, and finally it completely stopped working. So I replaced it with the new Braun Activator with a self-cleaning base station. Oh boy is it nice, electric razor technology has come a long way in the last 10 years.
And that is what lead me to an epiphany about all this broken machinery. I usually buy expensive, top of the line products, under the assumption that quality products last longer and tend to be cheaper over the long term. But get a good return on your investment, you have to keep them a long time. All my recently-dead products lived a good long life, and proved me right. But there is one thing you don't get when you operate this way: the latest technology. And now it is obvious to me, I haven't really bought any serious new products in over a decade. So it is nice to get back up on top with shiny new machines, they work so much better than the old ones did (even when the old ones were new). I hope the new machines last as long as the old ones!

Dead Inkjet

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While I'm on a roll, I thought I'd complete the dead hardware trifecta, and whine about my dead inkjet printer. My Epson 1520 died in the stupidest possible way. The printer mechanism works fine, but the safety interlock is broken. The interlock is designed to shut down the printer when you open the lid, so you don't injure your fingers by sticking them into the mechanism while it's printing. Every time I turn on the printer and it complains the lid is open, and refuses to print.
I suppose I could disassemble the printer and bypass the interlock, but I think I'll just toss it in the trash. The 1520 is a wonderful printer, it's the last 11x17 CMYK printer Epson made, so it's perfect for prepress proofs. The new generation of 6 and 8 color printers are way too good for prepress proofs, they don't produce realistic CMYK proofs, they're too saturated and bright.
But there is no sense in beating a dead horse. Epson no longer makes drivers for this printer, you have to use CUPS, which is included free in MacOS X, but it isn't very color accurate. Time to send the old beast to the graveyard.
Fortunately my ancient HP Laserjet 5MP is still going strong. I don't even remember when I bought that printer, I think it dates back to the 1980s.

Dead CRT

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My beautiful Sony sf300 20 inch CRT just died. This isn't too surprising, the CRT was acting cranky but I was hoping it would last a few more months before it died. This was the worst possible time for a sudden breakdown. I'm right in the middle of a project, so I had to run out and buy a replacement monitor. Saturday night at 8PM is not a good time to shop for a new monitor. The only place that was open was Best Buy, and I've never ever been satisfied with any product I bought at Best Buy. But I really didn't have much choice, so I bought a cheap 17 inch Samsung LCD.
I hate LCDs, I prefer a CRT for critical color work. Back when I bought the sf300, it was extremely expensive, a top-end monitor designed for color calibrated work. Its color was always very accurate, even up to the moment it died. I think I bought the sf300 around 1993 so I suppose it had a good, long life.
The Samsung LCDs are supposedly the same LCDs used in Apple Cinema Displays, but I've seen the big 30 inch Cinema display and the text is a hell of a lot clearer than this Samsung. You get what you pay for. And this is what is most disappointing, I had to spend money I was reserving for a new system. I've been thinking of buying a new PowerMac Quad G5 and a 30 inch Cinema Display, but I wanted to wait a couple more months. I had a great scheme, I can register as an Apple Developer for $500, and buy a quad G5 and a 30 inch display for a huge discount, I think I recall pricing out systems with discounts as high as $1800. So an Apple Developer registration really pays off if you plan on buying a high-end system, you spend $500 and get back $1800.
But this was an emergency, I wanted to get back up and running fast. I was prepared to buy just the 30 inch Cinema Display, even without the Developer discount, so I called the nearest Apple Store. If they had a video card capable of running the Cinema Display on my old MDD dual-1Ghz G4, I would have bought it and picked it up in the morning. But there is only one video card that can do the job, and they didn't have it. That Radeon 9800 Pro card costs $250, almost as much as this cheap Samsung LCD display. The fastest I could get a 9800 card was Tuesday, by mail order. Oh well, so much for that idea.
I was hoping I'd get over the next few weeks and then splurge on a new system, I figured I should buy one last PowerPC system to get me past the Mac Intel transition. I was hoping to move out of Iowa and buy the system once I got to a new residence, to avoid having to move more hardware, but now I'm not sure what to do. I don't really want to buy a $250 video card for an old machine, when that's almost 10% of the price of a new machine. So Monday, I guess I'll call up Apple and become an official developer, and get a new system, and then I can return this piece of crap LCD to Best Buy.