WHAT NOT TO DO WHILE RUNNING DIAGNOSTICS – Marilyn Armstrong

Why is my computer freezing and sending me blue screens? I guess I should run some system diagnostics. I ran them recently and I was assured everything is hunky dory.

If it’s so hunky and dory, why does it keep freezing?

Diagnostics-89

FREEZE!

No, Marilyn! You cannot run diagnostics while surfing.  Bad Marilyn.

MORE FREEZING! 

No. You must not check email. Okay, check it, but don’t send anything. Shoot. Frozen again.

PUZZLEMENT

Why is it prompting me to update the drivers I just updated? Should I do it again? Nah. Waste of time.

BAFFLED CONFUSION

Why is Dell installing the software again? This is the fifth time. It’s installed. Geez. It’s just doing this to aggravate me.

HEADACHE, POUND, POUND, THUD

I need lunch. Afraid to leave the computer. Who knows what mischief it might get into?

STOMACH GURGLING

Bathroom, I don’t care what’s going on. I gotta go NOW. Computer? Sit! Stay! Don’t do anything while I’m gone.

FREEZE!

I guess no matter how boring it is, I should NOT play Bridge while running diagnostics.

ANOTHER FREEZE!

I suppose this means running diagnostics is not a perfect opportunity to thoroughly clean the keyboard.

HUH?

My system is fine. Absolutely nothing wrong. So what’s with all those Blue Screens of Death referencing my video card? Let’s stress test the video card.

ZZZ

This is more boring than watching paint dry. Are we there yet?

Diagnostics-91

RESULTS!

Everything is freaking fine. I’ll tell myself that the next time it locks up. Thanks for nothing. Another afternoon I can never get back.

EPILOGUE

It turns out that the fancy sound I use is part of the video card. This is the “fancy” sound most people only use when they are playing video games. I use it all the time because the sound is so much better than the standard sound. But, that means I really am using my video card for the sound I’m playing — while I’m photo-processing.

So if I’m listening to an audiobook while trying to process photographs using both Photoshop and Topaz filters, everything runs fine unless there’s a particularly big draw on the memory. Then, it just locks up the computer. Sometimes it brings up the blue screen, indicating a video card problem. It isn’t video or at least, it isn’t only the video.

It’s the combination of video and audio together.

The answer? I could choose to not use the fancy audio sound which runs on the big graphics card. Except, I don’t like the other sound.

Better yet, I can play the book on my Kindle and process photographs on the computer. The audio doesn’t use much memory, but Photoshop with Topaz uses a ton of it. And I’ve got 16 gigs of memory on this computer. It was a lot worse on the old computer which had a mere 12 gigs.

HOW DELL DONE ME IN – Marilyn Armstrong

How a vague idea became real when the company you loved gives you the final boot. Dell, Apple, and why Apple has finally won the endless war.


I have been buying Dell computers for more than 20 years. Not only have I always loved how Dell’s were made, but they lasted a long time.

On the other hand, their customer service which had been great, was on a rapid downhill slide for the past 15 (or more) years. Above and beyond liking Dells because there’s no bloatware on them and they are designed to do a job, was their sturdiness. They were business machines for people who took their work seriously, even if their work was a hobby. I’ve used their equipment for work only, for work and play, for whatever I’m currently doing which you can call whatever you like. Dell did the jobs.

The old 14Z in its youth …

Many Dell’s I bought 10 years ago are still working. Some needed a reinstall of the operating system and a couple needed new hard drives, but that was small stuff, all things considered. I really use my computers. I push them hard, I make them work.

Until the past two — expensive — Alienware — machines. The one Garry has lost its battery after less than 3-years. The only other Dell that ever lost a battery lost it after 7 yeas and it was a cheap machine. I replaced it and it works again, though now it seems to be losing its monitor. It’s old. It doesn’t even have Bluetooth, so it has, I think, hit the end of its road. It doesn’t owe me a thing.

When the little old Dell was beginning to display not having enough video to do what I do, I got a new Dell with the biggest NVIDIA video card I could afford and passed the two-year-old Alienware machine to Garry. After which the battery died. It’s pretty new so the price of getting a new battery is high. The battery replacement was more than most laptops.

The old one works, as long as it’s plugged in, so I suppose you could call it a laptop-shaped desktop. It weighs more than most desktops at a solid 9-pounds including its brick.

My new machine is working fine and does what I bought it to do, but I’m out of service contract. The company got in touch (and back in touch, and back in touch) asking me if I wanted a one-year contract for service on the new machine.

Older Alienware

The price? I kid you not: $850 for a single year of service. I had tried to get service from them during my first two years with the computer and they were useless. No one had a clue how a dual hard drive machine worked and all the advice they gave me was wrong. I eventually doped it out myself, but I’m still not really sure it’s backing up the way it should. There are many things about this computer I love, but also a bunch that I don’t.

One of the problems is weight. The thing feels like two cinder-blocks. I have developed significant upper body strength picking it up and moving it off my lap to a side table. Taking it with me when we travel is just this side of a nightmare.

I’m sure most of the weight are the batteries which basically last for just over two hours. Which means effectively, even WITH a working battery, the machine is still a desktop.

I hate new computers. I hate moving material from machine to machine and moving the material from a PC to a Mac doesn’t sound like fun. I’m sure there’s an app for that and I will have to find it because all my photo and writing backups are for PC and won’t run on a Mac.

I’m not a Mac fancier. The loose style that has been typically Mac/Apple since forever annoyed me. I like orderly computers. I like knowing where stuff is, where it belongs. How to find it. Ironically, the recent changes Mac is making to the operating system is going to make them much more PC-like and PCs are making their OS slightly more Mac-ish. The world comes round and round.

Reality bit. I couldn’t keep hauling the big, brawny, 10-pounds of Alienware and moreover, I didn’t want to. I’m not getting younger. Garry’s machine, now that it has to be plugged in, is developing other signs of flakiness that make me wonder if it will survive.

I knew I could not buy another Dell. I’ve used other bloatware special PCs and I won’t go there. Also, I know what I need, which is a honking big piece of video ram and equipment I can pick up which will not dislocate my shoulder from its joint.

Apple.

Then they offered me the Apple Card. Zero percent interest. 18 months.

I got a Macbook Air — as high-end a version of it as you can buy. It isn’t their top machine but it comes with sufficient USB 3 ports and other connectors, like an SC reader slot. Sometimes, the newest machine on the rack isn’t your best choice.

Meanwhile, Garry needed something. I thought long and hard about what Garry really does. After serious thought, I figured he could live his virtual life on an iPad with a keyboard. And enjoy it, too. Meanwhile, as long as the big Alienware works when plugged in, he has a full-size computer to fall back on.

My only question is why does this iPad have a mouse? You can’t use a mouse on an iPad. Even I know that. Did the photographer just happen to have a new mouse to show off?

In the end, you can’t take two heavy computer users and have only one fully functional computer in the house. It won’t work.

I need to point out to Dell that I was about as loyal a customer as you could find. It took them a decade to get me to where I couldn’t deal with their customer service department again. Ever. They did me in.


Mac/Apple did not win my custom. Dell LOST it. 

I’m pretty sure half of Apple’s new recruits are people who just gave up trying to stay with other companies and were driven screaming into the night.

I am one of them.

THE AGENTS IN THE DELL – A THURSDAY RANT

I wasn’t going to bother to write this because you’ve heard it before. And you’ll hear it again. The same old sad story. Dell makes some amazing computers — yet they have what must be the worst customer service on the planet. I do not see how it could be worse. It is so bad on so many different levels, it’s hard to know where to start. But then, I realized I might as well write it. Writing it could make me feel better. Eventually, I will also find it funny. I’m nearly ready to begin laughing. One more cuppa coffee and I’m there. Laughing.

This problem — not a huge problem, mind you — was whoever put my machine together forgot to install the Adobe software I bought with the computer. Or leave a link — or give me an unlock key to download it myself. Knowing Dell as I do, I considered just forgetting it. Let them keep the money and move on. But it’s $80. A bit too much to let slide.

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The thing about Dell Customer Disservice, other than its general suckiness, is that they never connect you to the right department. They repeatedly ask for the same information, but whoever you talk to next won’t have the information and you’ll have to provide it again. If you ask for the number to which they are supposedly transferring you because you fear they will disconnect you, you can be sure the phone number is either no longer in service, or is completely wrong. The ones they gave me were either: (1) disconnected, (2) A cruise scam organization (you know, free cruise if you give us all your personal information?), and (3) Direct-TV. What I wanted? Sales Support for Alienware.

customer-service

Any agent to whom you talk will never read what (if anything) a previous agent wrote — so you are always back on square one. No one ever calls you back or can provide you with a number to get you to the same person again.

They put you on hold and forget about you. Or disconnect you. They transform minor problems that could be dealt with by any normal company in a couple of minutes, into a week-long crises.

The first two agents I spoke to insisted I really had the software and was too inexperienced with computers to find it. Both agents went poking around INSIDE my computer (remotely). Each independently ascertained that the software isn’t there, nor is there any download link for me to acquire it. So, finally, after I got a bit strident about it, they connected me with a supervisor (this identical scenario played out twice). Both of whom informed me that they would not be able to deliver it. The first said it would be another five days. What? A download?

72-alien-two-tools-10212016_10

I was in “patience is my middle name” mode, so I waited. Five days later with no further contact from Dell, I called again. The first agent told me I would have to wait ten days more and disconnected me. I hit redial. When finally I got an agent, I shouted: “I WANT MY MONEY BACK.” I felt I needed to get his attention before he disconnected me again.

The agent (aka idiot) explained he could escalate “my issue” and maybe (only maybe) I would get my money back. He would “send a request” up to whoever were slightly more in charge than he was, but he could not guarantee they would comply. Because, he said, I probably already have the software and simply can’t find it.

I started to say something, but choked on my own words. Several deep, cleansing breaths later, I pointed out Dell had failed to deliver something for which I had paid. They do not get to NOT give me the product OR return my money. That’s theft. But my idiot said those were the “rules” and I said “we have other rules in this country and I want to talk to a supervisor. NOW.” My idiot assured me a supervisor would say exactly the same idiotic thing. I said that, were this to prove true, then I would keep going up the ladder to the damned president of the company if I had to, so put the supervisor ON the phone NOW.” I think I may have been yelling by then.

Got the supervisor. After he too explained that the software was ON the machine and I explained he should read the notes on this case number (yes, I had a case number) and he would see that no, I don’t have it and no, I’m apparently not going to get it, and frankly, I’m sorry I ever ordered it, and now give me my money back before I call the Attorney General and report the company (I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first) for Felony Stupidity and Customer Malfeasance.

72-alientwo-10212016_01.

Eventually he said he couldn’t give me the $82.95 Dell owed me, but would $100 be okay? I said yeah, fine. He was still talking when I hung up. I’d been on the phone for three hours and the dogs needed feeding, Garry wanted help unloading the groceries and my ear was getting sore.

Yesterday, I was issued a refund for $82.95. Can I sue for emotional distress?

I still don’t understand why there is any problem. It’s a download. I could download the software on the spot from Adobe. I’d only bought it from Dell because it was much cheaper.

This is supposed to be (wait for it, wait for it) PREMIUM CUSTOMER SERVICE. I hesitate to imagine the standard shit they are dishing out these days to regular, non-premium customers.

I buy Dell computers in spite of Dell. The computers are great, but oh-lord-give-me-strength to deal with their “customer disservice.” This morning, they sent me a “customer satisfaction” survey. I didn’t bother to fill it out.

THE AMBIVALENCE OF A NEW COMPUTER

side view alienware closeup computer

We all want cool toys. The latest (hugest) iPhone. The hot sports car. We want all of it. Now, please. For this, the credit card was invented. I believe after the world ends and only cockroaches remain, Visa will still be sending threatening letters to cardholders.  The price tag is part of my ambivalence even though I was wild to get my paws on a computer so incredibly hot that it would virtually sear my fingertips. Most of the mixed emotions are because setting up a new computer is a total immersion experience into tasks simultaneously critical and intensely boring.

72-alien-102914_14 computer keyboard

It arrived yesterday. Packed in a beautifully designed box so nice it feels wrong to throw it away. So I haven’t. Yet. It’s on my dining table. Every time I go into the room, I am amazed at how gorgeous it is. That’s just the box.

I was caught short when it arrived. Dell had told me to expect it on or near November 4th. Although I know Dell typically delivers early, this was very early, beating their “expected delivery date” by two weeks. Not that I’m complaining. Just explaining I wasn’t ready to immerse myself in the experience known as “setting up a new computer.” It’s immersive because once you begin, you can’t stop until you are done.

alienware side view computer

Perhaps if you use your computer just a little, swapping to a new computers is a plug-and-play event. Not me. According to my last backup from a couple of days ago, I have 40,000 photographs and 3,000 documents. A lot of stuff. And that’s just data.

Applications needing installation included Photoshop. Lightroom. OpenOffice. Audible. Kindle. Chrome. All the other stuff I’m forgetting. I can’t skip any of it. Setup isn’t only installing. You can’t plunk an application onto the hard drive and you’re done. You have to configure it too. And let’s not forget configuring the computer itself. I have specific preferences for how my computers works. I want it to shut off when I close the lid. Not sleep or hibernate. Turn completely off. I want the power optimized for performance — no dimmed monitors. I want updates to self-install when the computer is not in use and then, only important updates.

I want everything to open with a single mouse click. I need on-screen text bigger than standard. I want the mouse marker thick enough to spot easily amidst text.

I also wanted to make my keyboard glow like a rainbow and the alien head glow green — because on this computer, I can.


alienware computer front full

It was late morning when the carton arrived with DELL splashed across it. My stomach gave a flutter.

Unready though I was, a shiver of excitement with an undercurrent of fear goaded me to action. It unpacked easily. I plugged it in. Turned it on. It went through its self-setup. This is Windows 7 Professional — I’ve never used it before. I’m not clear what the difference is from plain vanilla Windows 7. I’m counting on the computer to know what it needs and where to put it.

72-Alien_103014_20

It asks me to give my new baby a name. I call him “Alien.” What else?

alien specs

Seven hours later, it’s all done but the fine-tuning. I’ve transferred my data from the new external hard drive, programmed my rainbow keyboard (totally cool).

I’ve never had a computer that felt this good under my hands. Beautifully designed and solid. I am surprised how much I miss the larger screen of my 15.6 inch XPS. Alien is 14 inches. Not tiny, but not large. A good portable size and the monitor is remarkably crisp, clear, and non-reflective. I have a 23″ monitor in the other room, so I can always plunk my butt in my office chair and use the big high def monitor. Maybe I will, maybe not.

I have yet to install the printer and I need to make a variety of small adjustments to the computer and various applications. Mostly, it’s done. Including today, it has taken about 10 hours.

Was it worth it?

Alienware keyboard computer side

I love the way Alien feels. I love the keyboard, the graphics. I don’t understand why the hard drive is only 5400 RPS. My XPS is 7200, but that option wasn’t offered on any of the Alienware machines. Why not? So everything is supersonic — except HD read/write. Yes, I can tell the difference. The speakers on this computer are okay, but the ones on the XPS were great. A lot better. If I want better sound, I’ll have to use headphones or a clip-on speaker.

Nothing is perfect. Not the car of your dreams or my new computer, but it’s close. It is definitely what the doctor ordered for what I most need. It handles even the heaviest graphics without a hiccup.

Just to give you an example, while it was importing and sorting 36,000 photographs into Lightroom, the computer also installed 64 Microsoft updates. I turned down its offer to reboot after installing the updates because it was still finishing sorting all my photographs into a continuous timeline, something I’ve wanted to do but never had the strength of character to attempt.

Wow. Really. Wow.

ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION, GET A SIMPLE — WRONG — ANSWER

I bought a small Dell tablet that I hope will serve a purpose … something compact that I can use to connect to the larger world, but tuck in my bag for quick excursions when I’m not going to be processing photos or writing posts for my blog. It has been ordered, but not yet received. When I ordered it, I was told it accepted a standard SD memory card up to 128 GB in size. Cool. Adorama was advertising a sale on memory today, so I popped over to see what bargains were to be had. I figured I’d get — depending on price — one or two 64 GB cards. And realized that anything larger than 32 GB is XC, not HC.

So I used Dell’s chat to ask a question. I thought it was a simple question. Will the Venue Pro 8 read an SDXC card?

This is how the first call went. After this, I went to working the phone.

This is an automated email sent from Dell Chat. The following information is a log of your session. Please save the log for your records.
Your session ID for this incident is …
Time Details
01/20/2014 11:07:21AM Session Started with Agent (A-D)
01/20/2014 11:07:21AM Marilyn Armstrong: “.”
01/20/2014 11:07:27AM Agent (A-D): “Welcome, my name is A-D. I can be reached at … How may I help you?”
01/20/2014 11:07:45AM Marilyn Armstrong: “I have one question about the Venue Pro 8 which I’ve already ordered”
01/20/2014 11:08:15AM Agent (A-D): “No problem you are free to ask questions Marilyn”
01/20/2014 11:08:19AM Marilyn Armstrong: “I know it takes an SD card, but does it read the newer SDXC cards?”
01/20/2014 11:08:55AM Marilyn Armstrong: “HC is the older format, but all the larger cards – 64GB and up — are SDXC, not SDHC.”
01/20/2014 11:09:42AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Hello??”
01/20/2014 11:10:15AM Agent (A-D): “Yes you can still use other SD card …”
01/20/2014 11:10:24AM Agent (A-D): “I mean other brand”
01/20/2014 11:10:24AM Marilyn Armstrong: “SDXC?”
01/20/2014 11:10:34AM Marilyn Armstrong: “This isn’t a brand. It’s a FORMAT.”
01/20/2014 11:10:46AM Agent (A-D): “Yes it can”
01/20/2014 11:10:53AM Agent (A-D): “It is back ward compatible”
01/20/2014 11:11:21AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Are you sure? Because this is a NEWER NOT AN OLDER FORMAT and I don’t think you understand what I’m talking about”
01/20/2014 11:11:50AM Agent (A-D): “let me double-check for you”
01/20/2014 11:11:53AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Please connect me with someone who understands the technology.”
01/20/2014 11:13:27AM Agent (A-D): “Upon double checking the format can only support SD, SDHC only”
01/20/2014 11:14:08AM Marilyn Armstrong: “So it can’t actually accept a 128GB card because they are ALL in SDXC format. The bigger cards are all SDXC
01/20/2014 11:14:16AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Is there someone I can really talk to?”
01/20/2014 11:14:27AM Agent (A-D): “yes it is …”
01/20/2014 11:14:54AM Agent (A-D): “you can go on this link http://support.dell.com/support/topics/global.aspx/support/en/chat?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs&~ck=mn for you technical support”
01/20/2014 11:14:56AM Marilyn Armstrong: “Where? Not on dell, not on Amazon, not on Tiger Direct, not anywhere.”
01/20/2014 11:15:01AM Agent (A-D): “You’ll be able to contact our Technical Support Department at 1-800-624-9896, they are open 24/7”
01/20/2014 11:15:39AM Marilyn Armstrong: “This is a simple question. I don’t want to spend hours on the damned phone. Just have someone who actually knows the specs of the item I already ordered.”
01/20/2014 11:16:41AM Agent (A-D): “I already give you the information that you want…”
01/20/2014 11:18:38AM Agent (A-D): “that is the only format that can support the tablet is SD, SDHC only”
If you require further assistance, please visit us at support.dell.com

Two phone calls later:

The Venue Pro 8 only accepts micro SD cards and only SDXC format. Wow. There’s nothing like really terrific customer service to start the day off right, eh?

The previous is an actual transcript of the conversation. Only the name and other identifying information have been changed to protect the guilty.

Try Windows 8.1? I think not.

I’ve given this thought. I reviewed the video from Microsoft. I read the FAQ. I’ve read the articles in ZDNet and anything else that seems to have detailed information. I watched the video a second time. I read the email you sent me and looked at the poll results. I still can’t find any advantage for me in using — or even testing — Windows 8.1.

I  don’t have a machine appropriate for testing anyhow. If I install it on a little notebook, the inadequacy of the machine would so limit what I could test I’m not sure I would learn anything meaningful. I couldn’t use such a little machine to run any important applications. I don’t even know if Chrome will run on 8.1. The information in the FAQ was vague.

75-OfficeHDR-CR-2

Installing and testing would steal time from other projects to which I’m already committed. Others things take priority. If I could install it on one of my real working computers and use it for regular stuff I do … no, I don’t think so. I’ve heard rumors. Ugly rumors. I’m not willing to risk my computers … or waste my time. In the end, I’m merely curious about the system. And that isn’t enough motivation.

Windows 8 does not appear to be a work-oriented operating system. I’m a work-oriented user. The Dell XPS tablet I gave my son runs RT and that’s fine. RT was designed for a tablet and it does well in that environment.

But what’s in it for me? A bunch of apps I don’t need and won’t use? I have no interest in or need for basic photo editing apps. I don’t need simplified anything. I’m way past grade school versions of real tools I’ve been using for years.

Who does Windows 8.1 target? Not me. You? Anyone out there?

I understand what Microsoft is selling. The problem? I don’t want or need it. It’s not a business environment. My wish list for a new operating system is for more and better business tools. Easily organized, searchable databases for graphics, photos, and documents. Tools to help me quickly locate files on huge hard drives. A better media player for audio.

I want an improved email client and a versatile calendar application I can share on a network. And I don’t want to lease or even buy it. I want it to be part of the operating system. I want dependable, easy access to the Internet and in particular, this website. I don’t like Internet Explorer. I hate being prevented from going where I want because my browser is a wimp. I’m not 12 and I don’t need to be protected from myself.

Microsoft urgently needs folks like me to test drive this operating system. They need core users — like me — to work with it, accept it, and enthusiastically endorse it. To talk it up on the Internet. To vouch for it to friends and co-workers.

Instead, we are the people most reluctant to try it and unless something dramatically changes are least likely to adopt it in the forseeable future.

XPS 10 Tablet Details — Dell Windows 8 Tablet - Dell

Does Windows 8.1 work? Probably with a lot of bugs. Eventually Microsoft will fix it. They usually do, though not nearly fast enough. Two very basic questions remain unanswered:

  1. Why should I switch to a new operating system that’s anti-intuitive, ill-suited to my needs, and requires I relearn basic computer tasks?
  2. What advantages does Windows 8.1 offer that might motivate me to use it?

The answers are “no reason” and “none.”

Two words: Why bother?

I have read every article, watched all the videos, played with my son’s RT tablet and I cannot see anything tempting — for my purposes.

Maybe in the future Microsoft will do something to change my mind. But far as I can tell, they don’t know I exist. Or don’t care. One way or the other, they’ve chosen to ignore me and everyone like me, effectively disenfranchising the whole class of business users. That’s a crazy choice for a corporation which depends on business clients. Mind blowing and well … dumb.

Does this mean that there’s no merit in this operating system? I’m sure it has value to someone, but it doesn’t have any to me, at least none I can find. And I’ve really looked. I want to want it. I want to like it.

Sorry, Microsoft. Not happening for me.

 

To try Windows 8.1 or not … THAT is the question!

I got an email from Microsoft asking me if I would like to try the new Windows 8.1. It came out in Beta today. I am not, as you probably know if you’ve been following me for a while, thrilled about Windows 8. I like Windows 7 and can’t see a single reason why Microsoft can’t support both a standard interface operating system — Windows 7 — plus their new tablet operating system, Windows 8. They have supported more than one operating system before and are doing it now. Why not let us — their customers — have an operating system with which we are comfortable and familiar? Why force us to relearn everything when we don’t (a) want to, and/or (b) don’t need to.

Gar14Z-Open-2

I work on my computer. I process photographs. I blog. I edit. I write. I design. I don’t see what I have to gain from Windows 8. It seems to be aimed at stuff in which I have no interest.

But here’s the dilemma. I’m not the kind of reviewer who writes about products she hasn’t used. I wouldn’t put Windows 8.1 on any of the three computers on which I depend, but I have an entirely functional, if emaciated 10-inch Dell notebook. It doesn’t have much horsepower. But, it has a full Windows 7 operating system and it works. There’s nothing wrong with it except it was never powerful enough to do anything except light surfing and email.

Maybe I could install Windows 8.1 and use it for testing? It has a 1.7 GH board, just 1 GB of RAM, but a 320 GB hard drive, so it is a real, if slow, computer. I don’t use it any more so it’s just sitting in a bag getting old. What do you think? Should I give it a trial and see if there’s anything in Windows 8.1 I might like?