I have been working this week on fixing three computers.
MacBook Hard Drive Replacement
Daughter #1's Macbook has a small 250GB hard drive, and because she takes many photos, the drive quickly filled up.
I read on the Internet that it is easy to switch drives and move the data on Macs (not so for Windows PCs!). I removed the 640GB hard drive from my daughter-in-law's old, broken computer. It took about 3.5 hours to move the data from MacBook hard drive to the external one, and then another ten minutes to physically swap the drives. Well, that and a few more steps, as outlined in http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com/gizmos/2012/12/how-to-replace-the-hard-drive-in-your-macbook.html
I didn't mention in that blog posting that Apple uses proprietary bolts to mount the hard drive in this model of MacBook. Fortunately, a pair of narrow-nose pliers became the effective alternative to removing them.
(The daughter-in-law's old computer was my dad's new laptop from a few years ago. So, that PC's hard drive now runs in a MacBook.)
PC Laptop Hard Drive Replacement
Daughter #2's computer broke down while she was in Germany, and now that she is back home, I examined it. Sure enough, the hard drive had suffered a catastrophic hardware failure inside. No data access software I tried could access the data on it, it just went clunk, clunk, clunk. So, she lost it all -- including her computer's copy of Windows.
A new drive is about $80, and a fresh copy of Windows 7 is $250. But you can get a entirely brand new laptop for $380! For me, the economics did not work out.
However, I had a spare 500GB hard drive laying around, and put it into her computer. So that cost nothing.
Then I found that it is legal to download a full copy of Windows free, if (a) you need it for a computer whose hard drive is gone, and (b) the computer still has the Windows activation sticker.
This worked, but because the version of Windows made available for these situations is a bare bones version, I had to also download files specific to the computer, so that the networking and sound work, so that the resolution is correct on the screen, and so on.
Fortunately, the laptop manufacturer, Acer, makes these additional files available on their Web site. I downloaded about a dozen driver files to my desktop, copied them over via USB thumbdrive, and then installed them. Sometimes it was a bit tricky; for example, Acer has drivers for ATI (AMD), Intel, and nVidia graphics boards; a bare bone Windows won't tell you what the hardware is. It was a matter of trying one 500MB driver, being told no such hardware existed, and then on to the next.
(Funny story: for a while, Windows said it could not find the drivers I had downloaded. I tried over and over again. Finally I realized that while I was telling Windows to look in the laptop's C: drive, the files were still on the USB thumbdrive.)
Finally, I hunted around my backup drives for any copies of daughter #2's materials I might have. (She had failed to back up her laptop.) I found about 8,000 photographs, a bunch of her music, and dozens of documents (which she had emailed me for checking or printing). So, we were able to get back some of her stuff she thought she had lost.
A Tablet Bricked Hard
Last of all, I did not have success with my tablet. I managed to brick it last week in trying to upgrade Android to Cyanogen v4.2. ("Bricking" means that it won't start up, and so it acts like a brick.) I spent a few days, on and off, trying various tactics to resuscitate it, from instructions I gleaned off the Internet, such as EasyFlasher, NvFlashTf, and the Universal Naked Driver -- plus countless videos on YouTube.
The fundamental problem is that the APX driver disconnects just when flashing software starts flashing the OS back onto the tablet. I could find no solution to this problem.
Finally, I contacted the maker, ASUS, and they gave me authorization to ship it to their repair facility in North Bay, Ontario. I will mail it today, and we will see if they fix it for free. (It is still under warranty.)
So, two successful computer repairs that cost me nothing, but time!
I've written before about the dreadful state of LaCie and its line of hard drives. I am slowly getting rid of the ones I have.
At one time, I thought that a network drive would solve the problem created by Microsoft, in which they make it difficult to access data on networked computers. Since networked printers had worked well in our office, I got LaCie's Network Drive so that data could be easily stored and shared among multiple computers.
Short story: didn't work.
The LaCie Network Drive is a beautiful beast outwardly, but inside it is a nasty beast. Because of its minimalist design, it lacks even a serial number stamped on its black bottom, should one want tech support from LaCie. No serial number, no support. (Remember to cut the serial number from the cardboard box and then clumsily scotch-tape it to the drive.)
Installing a network drive is tough, software-wise. It is not plug'n play. As one of LaCie's troubleshooting pages admits:
IP Configurator and Network Assistant [software] use a less common protocol called ARP to find an Ethernet Disk. As this isn't often used by computer users, many firewall and security programs will interfere with it.
This is not a sentence you often read in pre-purchase marketing materials.
Anyhow, I got the drive set up and operating. It appears in the network section of Windows Explorer, with two primary folders: one private (needs a password to access it) and one public. That was fine, but often Windows could not find the drive, as LaCie explains to you only post-purchase (see quote above).
More irritatingly, the drive's heads constantly moved, making this scratching noise that never ever stopped. LaCie tech support explained to me that this was a bug, in which the drive continuously updates its index of files found on the drive. They sent me an update, which fixed the problem.
The difficulty that Windows had in reliably finding the drive, however, made me give up on using it. Because I could not use it for every-day use, I thought I would use the drive just as a backup for files that I don't need frequent updates, such as my collections of photographs, videos, book projects, and software.
Fine, but then last week I needed some files from the drive, and for the first time in a couple of years I reconnected it to my computer. This was the start of about a week spent battling the drive to get it to give up its files to me.
Windows saw the drive, but copying files took, well, centuries it would have been. I don't think a single file was fully copied the first day. I went to the LaCie site and got a software update, although I was not sure if it was the right one, because of the drive being devoid of markings.
The LaCie utility software for applying the update to the drive didn't think it saw the drive. In any case, it spun its spinner for a day or so.
Even the simple act of turning off the drive meant eventually pulling the power plug, because it would not shut down. (BTW, network drives have tiny Linux computers inside, just like routers and other network devices.)
At one point, I took apart the drive, and installed it in my desktop computer. But while the computer recognized it as hardware (Windows installed the correct drivers), Windows did not see the drive at the software level. I think this is because it is a network drive, and is not meant to be installed directly in computers.
At one other point, LaCie's software complained that Bonjour was not installed on my computer (which it is), which it needs to operate. Bonjour is installed, so this was another irritant LaCie provides customers.
Eventually, I came across this page at LaCie's site -- http://www.lacie.com/support/support_manifest.htm?id=10300&guideid=10596 -- and I did the following things to get my files back.
The reset process is safe: no files are destroyed. But it does remove all updates, and so this drive is back to its annoying, relentless indexing.
Never mind, Windows now was able to copy my backup files. The 77GB of photos were copied in about six hours. I was surprised at how slowly the drive delivers its data. The final black mark.
I'll get a few more files off it drive, and then junk it.
My dad decided he wanted an iPad so he could do computing laying on the couch. He is 88, and is no computer dummy, having used DOS and then Windows desktop and notebook computers for 20 years. He wrote his life story in Word, formatting the text and scanning in old photographs.
He did look briefly at my Android tablet, but for some reason prefered my wife's iPad. Staples had an unheardof $40 off 'new' iPads last weekend, and so I bought him one. My daughter gave him a tutorial, and then he took it home. Here is an archive of his emails to me subsequently:
Mon, 03 Sep 2012 20:12
Tried my hand on the iPad. I got stuck on "Music", which was blank of course, but I could not get it back to the beginning, no way, regardless what I tried. So I looked for the instructions, tough luck, no such thing in print.
I wrote back: The Home button takes you to the home screen. It is the single button on the front of the iPad.
Mon, 03 Sep 2012 21:05
That little black dot on the short side of the iPad? I did everything with it but kissed it, no dice, stubborn as a mule: "No Music".
I wrote back: The iPad does not come with any music on it. There are three ways to use it to listen to music:1. Listen to music over the Internet: click the TuneIn button, found at the bottom right corner of the Home screen. Select a radio station to listen to. [I earlier installed this app for him.]
Tue, 04 Sep 2012 12:39
I was touching the little black point [button] on the LH side frame yesterday, wrong, wrong, wrong. Today I saw a pale square on the opposite side, and that brought the Menue back. I will keep on playing around with it to become familiar with its many features.
Continuing on with LaCie's unhelpful attitude, their tech support tells me my solution to their power supply breakdowns is to buy a new one for $35.
Since this is the second LaCie power supply to go bad on me (the first was bad out of the box), I think I'll decline purchasing the replacement.
I now realize that buying LeCie drives is a mistake, because of two crucial problems with their power supply:
This means that it is dangerous for me to employ LaCie drives, as they are unreliable due to the lack of reliable power. What good is it to use LaCie drives when I are faced with the power supplies breaking down and replacements not instantly available?
Worse, LaCie tech support is unable to tell me which power supply to use: "The exact specifications for the power adapters we ship with our drives have changed from time to time over the years. As such, I cannot definitively tell you what specific power output values you will find on the adapters that shipped with these devices, even with the serial numbers for the units."
Yet their Web site warns, "Using a power supply that was not intended for use with your drive could result in damage to the device and will void your warranty."
I'll be looking elsewhere to backup 600GB of data.
I used to think that LaCie made good hard drives, but the problems I've encountered makes me now avoid them.
There was the 1TB drive I bought some years ago (around the time such a big drive became first became affordable), and it turned out to be just two 500GB drives stuffed into one large case.
It didn't really work properly, and time spent with LaCie tech support resulted in them shipping me a replacement power supply.
The last drive I ever bought from LaCie was a network drive. It would power up and down all day long. Time spent with LaCie tech support resulted in a firmware update.
The hard drives in my latest computers have become so large (500GB+500GB in one, 750GB in another) that I no longer needed external drives, and the trio of LaCies sat on the shelf.
Recently, my daughter needed a solution to her MacBook's puny 160GB hard drive, which now has just 6GB free -- due to some 100GB of RAW photo files and so on. I hauled out the LaCie drives, and then puzzled over the power supplies.
For you see, the drives have no power requirement labels, as do all other electronic goods. Two have DIN connectors, but the two DIN-connector power supplies are of different amperages, one large (1.5A input) and one small (1.0A input).
Naturally, the large power supply works with both drives. The smaller one, however, works with neither:
- with the 1GB drive, nothing happens
- with the 250GB drive, the blue light flashes and the drive does not start up.
I scoured the LaCie site, product specs, product brochures, and user guides. None made reference to the power requirements; the only reference was to "power supply." So, I asked tech support, and here was their remarkable answer:
The exact specifications for the power adapters we ship with our drives have changed from time to time over the years.
As such, I cannot definitively tell you what specific power output values you will find on the adapters that shipped with these devices, even with the serial numbers for the units.
I am incredulous that a company calling itself "the premier manufacturer of high quality digital storage" has no clue as to the power requirements of its external hard drives.
Fortune ran a story on a comparison test made by well-known analyst Gene Munster (of Piper Jaffray). He asked 800 questions of voice search services in a quiet room, and then another 800 in a noisy Minneapolis street. Google's voice search got a B+, Apple's Siri got a D. See http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2012/06/29/minneapolis-street-test-google-gets-a-b-apples-siri-gets-a-d/
Other bloggers re-reported the results, and it is an interesting exercise to compare the difference in wording of headlines. Many are neutral, others are biased and try to spin the results to suit the perceived reading preference of their respective audiences:
Eric Slivka / MacRumors:
Siri Shows Increasing Promise, But Accuracy Falls Short of Google Text Searches
Neil Hughes / AppleInsider:
Street test measures Siri comprehension at 83%, accuracy at 62%
Apple's Siri Gets a ‘D’ Grade, Google Search Gets ‘B+’ in 1600 Question Test
Christian Zibreg / iDownloadBlog.com:
Siri's search accuracy graded as a D, Google text search gets a B+
Tim Barribeau / everythingiCafe:
In A 1600 Question Quiz, Siri Still Doesn't Hold Up To Google
iClarified: Apple News
Google vs. Siri: A 1600 Question Comparison
Jesus Diaz / Gizmodo:
1600 Question Test Shows How Bad Siri Really Is
Adam Satariano / Bloomberg:
Apple'S Siri Gets Below-Average Grade From Piper Jaffray
Jordan Kahn / 9to5Google:
Siri vs Google search in 1600-question street test
Jon Rettinger / TechnoBuffalo:
Google Search vs. Apple's Siri: Voice Assistant Battle
Bryan M. Wolfe / App Advice:
New Study Suggests Siri Is Still A Dingbat
In today's keynote at the annual Apple developer conference, company ceo Tim Cook repeats the spin that Android tablets don't have as many apps as do iPad tablets, as reported by Engadget:
There are now 650,000 apps on the App Store, 225,000 of them are iPad-specifically designed. "This compares to just a few hundred for our competition."
This is spin, because it is a negative for Apple.
It is true that there are fewer apps designed specifically for Android tablets than there are for iPad tablets. The difference is that apps have to be redesigned for iPads; on Androids, they don't. Mr Cook cannot admit the problem, because it is an embarassment that the foundation of iOS was poorly planned.
You know what happens when you run an iPhone app on an iPad: it appears small and centered on the large screen. Unless you click the 2x button, in which case the iPhone app appears large and fuzzy. iPhone apps must be rewritten to look correct on iPads; iOS developers have no choice in taking on this extra programming effort.
Not so on Android. Apps designed for small smartphone screens fill the larger screens of Android tablets, and look clear. Not half-size, not fuzzy.
Sometimes, however, Android developers will rewrite their smartphone apps for tablets to add UI features made possible by the larger screens. But for most apps, there is no advantage to the developer in rewriting his app for the big screen, and so there are "only" hundreds of tablet-specific apps for Android devices.
Janko Roettgers over at GigaOM says much the same thing in "Here’s why Apple didn’t open up Apple TV." A digital tv represents two more resolutions that iOS cannot handle natively, while Android can.