Return Of The Living Gateway

Those who have noticed a quiet over CQ this evening might wonder what has kept me from my regular blogging into the evening. Keeping me from my keybord is no mean feat; in fact, one might presume that some kind of monster had taken me away! And, in a way, you would be right — in fact, two distractions developed this afternoon.
First, the Gateway laptop returned from the Dark Lagoon, or Gateway tech support, whichever you prefer. I had only sent it back on Tuesday afternoon, and didn’t expect it until a week or two had passed. However, my blog posts on this subject did get the attention of Gateway’s corporate public relations people, and I have had a couple of conversations with them this week. Their Corporate Escalation department promised to keep an eye on the progress of my complaint, and perhaps that moved things along.
Now, however, I have to reload all of my software all over again. I expected this, as several people warned me that the hard drive would get wiped and re-imaged, and that’s exactly what happened. I backed it all up to my network storage system and thankful I don’t have to redo a lot, or at least at the moment it looks that way. Right now I’m restoring my profiles from Firefox and Thunderbird, and I’ve still got to reboot before I can reload Microsoft Office.
Before I started all that, though, I skipped the dancing around at the Democratic debate and went to see the Little Admiral start Irish-dancing lessons. The Twin Cities has an excellent dance school for Irish dancing called Scoil na Trí, which I have known since I studied Irish locally. In the 3-5 age group, there was a lot less dancing and a lot more cat-herding going on, but she loved it. She’s been asking to do this since she saw Irish dancers at a fair almost three years ago, so Grandma & Grandpa decided to get her started.
So, I’m going to be doing configuration changes until late in the night; expect a slow start in the morning, but a refreshed and hopefully stable infrastructure for tomorrow. In the meantime, keep checking Heading Right for more great conversation from your favorite conservative BTR hosts!

My Weekend With Gateway

Many thanks to those who commented and e-mailed after my post detailing my frustrations with Gateway support. Some were even kind enough to offer free technical support from other companies, but I wanted to see how Gateway would respond to the issue. I’m a certified masochist in that regard, but as a former customer service professional, I wanted to see how long they would try to string me along before acknowledging the hardware problem.
First, I should note that I left the external wireless adapter attached all weekend long — and it never failed. Actually, the adapter is specifically not Vista compliant, but it worked anyway. In fact, I’m writing this post on the Gateway system now. That shows pretty conclusively that my router works just fine, as if the other two computers using it wasn’t proof enough.
Over the weekend, I received a series of four e-mails from the “Advance [sic] Technical Support” group. The first e-mail instructed me to make a series of changes to my TCP/IP protocols, which their Tier 1 group had already performed when I allowed them to take remote control of the laptop. I sent an e-mail reminding them of this, and their next reply instructed me to reload my drivers from the Recovery program. I replied that if they would have bothered to read the chat dialogues from my earlier contacts with Gateway support, they would know that I had done that several times already. The next e-mail instructed me to change my router, and my reply instructed them to quit wasting my time and read the damned dialogues.
Finally, this morning, they acknowledged what CQ readers and I knew all along: the hardware is faulty. They told me that “based on the troubleshooting, we have determined that parts of your notebook need to be replaced.” No kidding! I wonder which part of “troubleshooting” determined that — my input to them on all of the ways I had already isolated the problem, or the fact that I wouldn’t go away? I’m suspicious that it’s the latter and not the former.
Gateway will send me a box and an RMA to get the work done, which they say will take 7-10 business days after delivery. I expect it to be gone three weeks. I’d take it back to the store, but I’d wind up with the same hardware, and I think the problem is in the Realtek chipset. I can’t believe it took Gateway this long to reach this conclusion, and I’m left unsatisfied as a result.

My Breakfast With Gateway (Updated – Still Not Working!)

As I mentioned earlier, I have had an ongoing issue with connectivity that has put me behind schedule last night and this morning. The issue involves my new Gateway laptop, the one I purchased six weeks ago as a business-contingency plan after I started considering working from home on a full-time basis.
The Gateway MT3705 has developed a nasty habit of dropping my wireless connection to the D-Link DIR-625 router, forcing me to reboot it, sometimes several times a day. Three weeks ago, I spent an hour with Gateway’s tech-support chat service, which recommended that I reload the drivers for the Realtek wireless adapter to resolve the issue. That worked — for a while, perhaps a day or two. Despite reloading it several times over the last couple of weeks, it continues to drop the network and stop recognizing it, even though I have two other computers connected to the wireless network that have no issues whatsoever.
Today, after losing two posts, I finally dug out an external USB wireless adapter and reconnected with Gateway’s chat support to get them to fix the problem. What I was told was that Vista somehow interferes with the 802.11 wireless standard, and that I needed to replace my router. Somehow, Gateway wants me to verify that I’m connecting to a Vista-compatible router everywhere I travel with this laptop, rather than provide me with an adapter that connects to any 802.11-b or -g router. Seriously — here’s the transcript:

Brady_GWER9395 says: If this do not work, you should contact the router manufacturer for any update so that it will be compatible with Windows Vista,.
Edward Morrissey says: the router isn’t connected to the computer — why would there be a compatibility problem?
Brady_GWER9395 says: Yes, for some router is not compatible with Windows Vista.
Brady_GWER9395 says: And this cause the connection issue,
Edward Morrissey says: why?? they use a standard 802 communication program. why is vista having a problem with that?
Brady_GWER9395 says: Because there are firmware that is not compatible with Windows Vista.

Now, the router in question isn’t attached to the laptop. It’s wireless. The communication protocol is standard on routers and adapters — the 802.11-b or -g standard. As a standard, it means it should be platform independent — which I tried to explain to the tech:

Edward Morrissey says: look, the router shouldn’t make any difference at all — it’s not being exposed to Vista, and that’s my point. Either the Gateway uses the 802 standard or it doesn’t. If it does, it should connect to routers that support it. If not, it’s not because of Vista, it’s because of the hardware being flaky. that’s what “standard” is supposed to mean.
Brady_GWER9395 says: Windows Vista is the new operating system launched with Microsoft, And it’s file format is different from XP.

After this, I asked to speak to a supervisor. Same story:

May_GWER2387 says: Edward, Brady already provided you steps on how to correct the issue. …
Edward Morrissey says: are you telling me that when i travel with this laptop, i won’t be able to connect to 802.11 wireless routers unless EVERYONE upgrades to Vista-compatible routers?
May_GWER2387 says: Yes, Edward

So Gateway wants me to verify everywhere I go with my new MT laptop that wireless providers have upgraded their routers to be Vista compatible. Is this correct? Does the 802.11 standard change for Vista? Perhaps I’m not clear on this, but when I’m told that the system supports the 802.11 standard, I figure that it wouldn’t make any difference whether the routers likes Vista, XP, OS-X, or anything else. Otherwise, as I told Gateway, this laptop just ceased being useful at all to me. If I can’t rely on it to maintain a connection to other 802.11 routers, it’s useless on the road.
Besides, I’ve got an external on it that seems to be working just fine. How does that compute with their explanation?
They have forwarded the issue to their Advanced Technical Group — which won’t get back to me until Tuesday of next week. In the meantime, I guess I have to use my external adapter and write off the hour it took for them to escalate it to a technical expert. It’s been a complete waste of time dealing with their first and second tier support, and I am either going to have to install XP or try to get my money back on the laptop. You can be sure that I will not be buying another Gateway.
UPDATE: CQ reader James sent me a link to the updated Realtek driver, which I have loaded. I’ve also rebooted the computer, and we’ll see if the connection stays up. I’ve also confirmed that the D-Link router is on the latest firmware. We’ll see if that solves the problem.
UPDATE II, 5:09 PM CT: Well, it failed again, and in the exact same manner. The driver does not appear to be the problem; it looks like a flaky adapter. I want to see what Gateway does about this.

Are These The People To Trust With Truth?

Google has made itself into the essential tool for Internet research, a success that all free-market fans applaud. Now one of its executives wants to expand its use into “truth predictor” functions that would assess the honesty of politicians:

Imagine being able to check instantly whether or not statements made by politicians were correct. That is the sort of service Google Inc. boss Eric Schmidt believes the Internet will offer within five years.
Politicians have yet to appreciate the impact of the online world, which will also affect the outcome of elections, Schmidt said in an interview with the Financial Times published on Wednesday.
He predicted that “truth predictor” software would, within five years, “hold politicians to account.” People would be able to use programs to check seemingly factual statements against historical data to see to see if they were correct.
“One of my messages to them (politicians) is to think about having every one of your voters online all the time, then inputting ‘is this true or false.’ We (at Google) are not in charge of truth but we might be able to give a probability,” he told the newspaper.

Truth in political statements? That should set records for smallest hit lists on Google searches.
Schmidt’s new effort will likely find many fans, especially in the blogosphere. However, as Daniel Freedman notes at the New York Sun’s It Shines For All blog, Google seems a poor choice for a partner in the search for political truth. This is the same company that cooperates with China’s government in suppressing political truth in exchange for access to China’s burgeoning Internet business. Google gave the Chinese information that allowed them to track down dissidents who posted criticisms of Beijing on line.
Is that the company we want in charge of Internet “truth”? I know I won’t trust them with a search for truth prediction until they stop collaborating with tyrants.

You’ve Got Pink Slips

Radio Shack laid off 400 workers from its labor force yesterday. Perhaps taking their role as a technology company too seriously, they notified the workers of their termination by e-mail:

RadioShack Corp. notified about 400 workers by e-mail that they were being dismissed immediately as part of planned job cuts.
Employees at the Fort Worth headquarters got messages Tuesday morning saying: “The work force reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately your position is one that has been eliminated.” …
Derrick D’Souza, a management professor at the University of North Texas, said he had never heard of such a large number of terminated employees being notified electronically. He said it could be seen as dehumanizing to employees. “If I put myself in their shoes, I’d say, ‘Didn’t they have a few minutes to tell me?”’ Prof. D’Souza said.

Consumers may want to rethink their loyalty to Radio Shack after this decision. If this is how they treat their employees, imagine what Radio Shack thinks of their customers.
It’s an inexcusable business decision. Managers who lack the fortitude to communicate terminations directly should not serve in that capacity. I can tell you from long experience how upsetting a termination can be for the manager involved, but in well over a decade of management, I have never once been tempted to do it by mail, e-mail, or semaphore. Even the worst employees deserve to have their manager take the time to sit down with them and explain the decision to terminate employment.
I doubt this will get very wide press coverage, or even generate much comment or criticism in today’s business climate. The professionals I know as my peers would be embarrassed to be associated with such a heartless and cruel method of downsizing for any reason, but shame appears to be waning as a quality in direct proportion to the waxing of mindless impersonality.

AOL Will Try Giving Itself Away

One of the earliest on-line experiences for home computer users came from America On Line, known better now by its initials AOL. It started service in 1989 as an exclusively Apple service, but gained popularity by providing squeaky-clean content in a single user-friendly interface for computer neophtytes. It took several years before AOL allowed its users to access the wilds of the Internet, but eventually dominated that market as well. At its peak, AOL had over 26 million paid subscribers to its service.
Unfortunately, those days have long since passed. With the broadband revolution, AOL’s dial-up services are increasingly anachronistic, and their subscriber base has begun a steep decline. After losing close to 40%, AOL has decided on a new strategy — giving itself away:

Time Warner, the symbol of the early dotcom rise and fall, geared up for a last desperate throw of the dice yesterday. In an attempt to save its ailing AOL internet business, which has been rapidly losing lucrative American users, Time Warner is turning its back on its well established subscription model. AOL will offer its distinctive services such as email and web security free to anyone with broadband, relying on the revenues generated by online advertising. …
AOL has lost nine million customers in almost four years, slumping from a high of 26.7 million in September 2002 to 17.7 million at the end of June this year. The rate has been increasing as dial-up users migrate to broadband. Attempts to get into the broadband market have been hampered by the make-up of the US cable and telephone market. It has tried to sign wholesale deals with network companies to use their pipes for a broadband product but with little success.
As a result AOL’s dial-up users have to pick a rival broadband service if they want super-fast internet access. To make up for the lack of broadband access, AOL has made its services available to broadband users for a monthly fee – generally about $15. About 6.2 million Americans who have broadband provided by someone else pay for this service. But as consumers become more web savvy they have been realising that they can get free email from the likes of Google and they are dumping AOL.
“Our members don’t want to leave,” said Mr Bewkes. “They want to keep using AOL and they tell us that the number one reason that they leave AOL when they switch to broadband is price, so now we are fixing that problem. We are going to stop sending our members to our competitors.”

I’m surprised that AOL took this long to figure out their problem, and I’m still not sure they understand it fully. Broadband only represents one reason for their decline. The other comes from the natural expertise developed by Internet users and the wide availablity of content.
AOL built its business on its one-stop interface and exclusive content. At one time, Internet users without AOL had little choice in general-interest content, or at least a limited way to access it. With AOL, one could find reference materials, news services, magazines, chat rooms, e-mail, gaming, and a wide variety of other content in one spot. The Internet, without that powerful interface, was uncharted territory for most casual users. That changed with the advent of Yahoo!, Google, and other navigational sites. Instead of relying on AOL’s slow-loading interface, netsurfers could find their content quickly and reliably, using just a web browser.
AOL had one other key asset — its reliable and national dial-up service. Straight Internet providers rarely could provide that kind of ease, at least not at first. For those users who traveled frequently, AOL gave them a fully portable account where e-mail and stored information could easily get accessed. Web mail sites, offering their services for free, eroded that advantage over the last few years.
Broadband has not been quite the bogeyman painted by the Guardian in this article. AOL recognized the issue of charging a dial-up subscription rate for users who wanted faster access. They developed the Bring Your Own Access plan, which cost users only $4.95 per month to access the service outside of their dial-up servers. It still required the AOL software to be installed on the computer, however, with all of its overhead and slow responses magnified by the speed of regular Internet surfing.
Will the new model work for AOL? Hopefully; those of us with Internet sites hope that Internet advertising becomes a successful model for content providers. AOL may in the end suffer from its almost-inherently anachronistic approach. In a world of expert Internet users and ever-easier methods of netsurfing, who really needs the handholding that AOL offers?

Back To Thunderbird

CQ readers know that I have had a lot of fun with e-mail clients over the past year. I started off using Thunderbird, but after having a few meltdowns, I decided to look elsewhere.
First I tried Outook, the comprehensive program included in Microsoft Office. I actually liked Outlook a great deal, Its integrated approach made it easy to use schedules and e-mail all at the same time, as well as organize my contact lists somewhat rationally. Unfortunately, as an intergrated program, it kept eating up memory and slowing the computer to a crawl.
I then switched to Outlook Express, which I had used successfully in the past. It ran faster than Outlook, but had its own quirks. It didn’t handle junk mail properly, and had a nasty habit of junking the wrong e-mail message when I used the toolbar. I switched to Eudora last week in frustration, even paying for the license. However, while Eudora ran well and has a tremendous number of features, I just found the interface too clumsy for efficient use. The user has to open each mail folder as a tab, and then switch between tabs just to see how many unread messages await and to access them.
So now I’m back to Thunderbird’s latest release, and hopefully I can keep the meltdowns to a minimum. I’m compressing the folders on a regular basis and automatically deleting anything older than 30 days. I’ll let you know how it goes, but it’s nice to be back on familiar ground.

Tech Notes

A few weeks ago, I asked for some assistance on improving the performance of my computer. Thanks to all of the assistance offered by my readers, the laptop performs much better. I added memory, defragged the hard drive, and eliminated some unnecessary background programs.
When I added memory, most of that had not yet taken place, and the installing tech got a little frustrated with the boot time of my laptop. One of his recommendations was to get rid of Norton Anti-Virus, which has lots of features but throws a lot of processes into the background. He recommended PC-Cillin instead. His store sold both (as well as other brands) but I decided to hold off on making that change, mostly because I still had a few more months on my subscription. However, with all of the down time I’m facing, I figured that this might be the best time for me to play around with it, and I picked up a copy on a rare field trip this afternoon.
So far, it appears to work pretty well. It has all of the same features as Norton, but it initiates significantly fewer processes. My programs launch more quickly, and their commands seem to work faster as well. Of course, the true measure of an anti-virus program is how well it protects you, and I haven’t had enough time with this product to know that. So far, I’m pretty pleased.
I’ve also been testing Internet Explorer 7.0 for the past month. This beta release has the same kind of tabbed browsing that Firefox has. I’ve still got Firefox as my default web browser, but I use IE7 to manage the website through MT. IE7 has a nice spell checker that allows me to quickly verify that I haven’t misspelled anything in a post before finishing it. So far, I like it, although I doubt that I’ll stop using Firefox.

Outlook Bleg

I’ve been noticing a problem with my computer ever since I switched to Microsoft Outlook as my mail client after multiple meltdowns with Mozilla Thunderbird. Even though I have 504 MB of RAM, the program thrashes the hell out of my hard drive and sometimes locks everything up until I close it down — which takes several minutes when it happens. Tonight I turned off the Microsoft Word option for e-mail editing, and it seems better for the moment.
Has anyone else experienced any problems with this? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Microsoft Helping China Censor The Internet?

Agence France-Presse reports in its Asian section that Microsoft has aided China’s efforts to censor the Internet for millions of subjects of PRC’s autocratic rule. MSN’s China-based Internet Spaces has started blocking specific words tied to political liberation:

Users of Microsoft’s new China-based Internet portal were blocked from using the words “democracy”, “freedom” and “human rights” in an apparent move by the US software giant to appease Beijing.
Other words that could not be used on Microsoft’s free online blog service MSN Spaces include “Taiwan independence” and “demonstration”.
Bloggers who enter such words or other politically charged or pornographic content are prompted with a message that reads: “This item should not contain forbidden speech such as profanity. Please enter a different word for this item”.
Officials at Microsoft’s Beijing offices refused to comment Monday.

Many blogs, including mine, took Eason Jordan to task for deliberately enabling oppression in Iraq by misreporting the news, a charge Jordan admitted in an op-ed to the New York Times. It seems to me that Microsoft’s actions here, if true, amount to a similar sin. Microsoft has touted its entry into the blog market in part as a way to expand free speech and personal expression. Instead, it looks like it has sold out the principles of freedom that allowed Microsoft to flourish in the first place in order to gain access to the Chinese market. Bill Gates has sold the oppressed Chinese people out in order to allow Beijing to extend its oppression — and all this at the same time that the world noted the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, where that same government that Gates supports slaughtered peaceful protestors looking for liberty.
Yahoo! and Google have also signed onto the official Chinese plan for keeping the peasants in line while the corporate officers take their money under false pretenses. All three companies should be ashamed of themselves. I’m normally not a Microsoft basher, but this smacks of nothing less than collaboration with an oppressor. If this is true, I’d encourage people to use any other paid service than those offered by these three companies. (hat tip: CQ reader Bruce K)