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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lenovo Y530 Freezes

I wanted to take this opportunity to write about my recent trip to Canada, but there's a topic that's much more pressing for me: My laptop.

My laptop, a Lenovo Y530, has a weird behavior where it freezes up and becomes totally unresponsive at random points. This happens once every few days, and I can't seem to figure out what causes it. I thought that it was a heat issue, so I've been very careful to keep the bottom uncovered and make sure it has proper ventilaton. However, it happened again tonight with no signs of over-heating, so I guess that is not the cause.

This crash happened the first night I got it on WinXP, and it happens now on Linux too, so I doubt it's a software issue. I'm becoming convinced that it's a hardware issue, but at the same time I'm damn certain that I've voided my warranty by installing Linux. I need to go back to the fine print to double-check it, but most OEM computer manufacturers don't have a history of being too tolerant of things like that.

The behavior is quite a simple one: The computer locks up at random times with no aparent warning. The screen freezes and it becomes completely unresponsive to user input. I haven't tried to connect it to an external monitor (to isolate any potential problems caused by an LCD failure), but I doubt that's the issue anyway.

When it freezes, the caps-lock and num-lock indicator lights start flashing in unison. The flash rate is about 1Hz with no patterns or variations. One time I left it in this condition overnight, and when I came back in the morning it was still happening. I've also tried any other things I can think of to "snap it out of it", to no avail: hitting sequences of control keys, clicking the power button, closing the lid, unplugging/plugging the power cord, etc. I'm trying to think of things that would trigger an interrupt and maybe snap the computer back into a functional mode. Nothing. The only solution is to hold down the power button for several secods until the computer turns off, and then power it back on again.

I've done some quick google searches, and was a little dismayed by what I've seen. Nobody else has mentioned this problem. The user manual doesn't mention this condition at all. I can't find any mention of it anywhere. What I have found, however, is a long series of cut-and-paste "reviews" about the laptop. That, in a word, is not helpful. Tomorrow I may try to get in touch with technical support, but I don't have high hopes for that conversation ("Is the computer plugged in? Do you have the latest drivers? Oh you're on Linux? Sorry, we can't help you"). Tech support, in my experience is rarely helpful or supportive.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Heading up north

I don't talk about work much here on my blog, and I avoid it for a number of reasons:
  1. If I complain about my current company in a forum like my blog, I could get fired. Plus, if I come across as a general malcontent, other people won't want to hire me. Of course, I have nothing negative to say about my current employer.
  2. I generally don't feel like talking out it after I've come home from doing it all day.
  3. I signed an NDA but can't really remember what it says I can't talk about, so it's easier just to not talk about anything.
Anyway, I do talk about work a little bit when it starts to affect the rest of my life too, and this is one of those cases.

On Monday, I'm hopping onto a plane and heading up north to Ottawa. We have a vendor up there that we work closely with for our satellite communication doodads, and my boss wants me to go up there for training and to resolve some outstanding issues that we have with them. I leave Monday morning, stay the night, and come home Tuesday evening. It should be a nice little trip, although there are a number of reasons why it won't be as productive as we hoped it would be when we booked the trip.

I don't mind doing what needs to get done for the team, and I definitely don't mind doing the things I'm supposed to be doing for my job. What I do mind is when work starts to encroach on real life. It's not like I come home at night, crack a beer and watch the evening news. I have things that I do when work is over: Wikibooks, Wikimedia, and Parrot. Plus, I have a lovely young wife that I like to spend my time with when I'm able. Getting on a plane and leaving the neighborhood is an all-day-and-all-night thing: No evenings to sit with my wife, no time to hang out on my computer and get cool things done. Sure I might be able to grab some wifi in the airport, and maybe my laptop battery will last long enough for me to do some reasonable work on the plane, but that's hardly the same and it's never a guarantee.

I'm going to be missing the weekly Parrot planning meeting on Tuesday, so that has me a little disappointed. However, I also haven't gotten too much accomplished on Parrot this week worth reporting anyway. Maybe next week will be better.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Learning to hate Windows Vista

I use Windows Vista at work. It's not by choice, we're a Microsoft house and all the tools I need aren't available on Linux. I've tried, but can't possibly make the switch for my work laptop like I did for my personal laptop. Every day I seem to find one new annoyance in this system, one new aggravation that I need to search for solutions to instead of doing my normal work. Here are some:

  1. I've got junkware files on my computer that I cannot delete. These are files that either I am able to install, or that install themselves automatically with minimal input from me. For the record, a UAC dialog box that says "OK?" doesn't really count as being my input. I click to delete the file, says I don't have permission. So I enter the labyrinth of file permissions, change myself to the file owner, give myself all permissions, set the owner and the permissions to be inherited by any subfiles or folders, and click delete again: Don't have permission. So I activate the administrator account, switch users to become the system administrator, go through the process above to set the administrator to the owner of the file and give myself all permissions, click delete again: Don't have permission. Talk about security. It's so secure that when I do get spyware or malware installed on my computer I can't possibly delete it ever. That spyware and malware is secure right where it is, at my expense.
  2. Can't change the way files open. I can't change the actions available to me in the right-click menu when I click on a file, and I can't change the way those actions are implemented. It wasn't easy to do this on Windows XP, but at least it was freaking possible. On Vista, my only option is to change the default program a file opens with, not how the file opens or any of the other actions I may want to perform. I've got a library of perl scripts that I can't run on this computer anymore because my perl scripts are opening with the command "C:\Perl\bin\perl.exe %1" instead of "C:\Perl\bin\perl.exe %1 %*" Like I need. Any chance I'll be able to fix this so I can actually run the programs I need to run in a reasonable way? Not a snowball's chance in hell. So much for productivity.
These are just the issues I've had to deal with this morning, and it's frustrating me to no end. I haven't looked into Windows 7 yet, and maybe after this Vista experience I never will.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's damn cold

The title to this post says it all: It's damn cold outside. I don't know the exact number, I don't need to. It's freezing-freaking cold.

Our apartment has a lousy heating system. We've got baseboards along one wall of the apartment broken into three zones with independent thermostats. The problem is that it doesn't work. At least, it doesn't work well. The system has a behavior where it appears to give up if the task is more then it can handle. For instance if we turn the thermostat up to 70, it will be colder then if we have it at 62. When the system tries to work too hard, it stops working at all.

Well, today is one of the coldest days of the winter, and the increased temperature differential is more then the little thermostat that could can handle. In short, it's freezing-freaking cold.

Dana says it should be warmed up on Monday, although I don't watch the news so I wouldn't know. I hope it's true though, I'm tired of being bundled up in my own damn apartment like a sick Inuit.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Perl 6 Microgrant

Got news today that my application for a Perl 6 Microgrant has been accepted. Here's the announcement, and here's my first post about it. I'll be posting updates on my use.perl blog and not here.

The microgrant isn't huge money (the "micro-" prefix in front of it should indicate that), but it is a cool opportunity for me to do some important work with a carrot dangled in front of my face and get some publicity for both Perl 6 and Wikibooks. I'll post more details about the grant and my work for it later.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Been eating like a king this week, it's sort of amazing how easy it is and how cheap it is to have some world-class food if you put your mind to it. Since I never follow a recipe, it's always a bit of a gamble. But, it's that much more rewarding when things turn out delicious.

Tonight I put together my take on the classic quiche Lorraine. Some Gruyere and Emmenthaler cheese on the bottom, some cubed hamsteak, some herbs (oregano and basil, salt, pepper) make up the base of the quiche, and towards the end I throw some grated parmesian on top to form a nice brown crust.

Yesterday Dana and I did a grilled chicken salad inspired by a side dish Dana got over the weekend at Panera Bread. The chicken was marinated in apple cider, red wine vinegar and some spices. The salad had some baby field greens with green apple slices, gorgonzola crumbles, and candied wallnuts. The dressing was a quick vinagrette with apple cider, balasmic vinegar, and some good olive oil (plus the requisite seasonings).

Tuesday night Dana didn't come home because the lousy weather turned the roads icy. I made some chinese dumplings for myself with my signature home-made ginger dipping sauce. When the frozen ginger slipped, I hit my finger on the microplane and roughed the skin up pretty good. No worries though, it's not like I spend most days typing with that finger or anything.

Monday we had some nice cheese raviolis. The raviolis came frozen from Trader Joes, so I won't claim they were my doing. However, I did make the sundried tomato sauce that went over them.

Sunday, Dana and I whipped out our slow cooker and made a nice big serving of chili. We used a very lean ground beef (in the past I've also mixed in about 50% lean ground turkey, with good results), some onion, red pepper, and corn. Not the best chili I've ever made in my life, but it was warming comfort food on a cold day, and provided leftovers for lunch this week.

I'm hardly a creative person in most of the things that I do, so food is my artistic outlet. This is why I never follow a recipe, because it's hard to get as creative when you're reading instructions off the card.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Smell that Surrounds You

It was an interesting weekend. Dana and I spent most of the time lounging in front of the TV or playing Guitar Hero. We're both becoming pretty decent at the game, both being about half way through career mode on medium now. We also did some shopping and cooked up a good bit of chili which was both a dinner on Sunday night and 3 ready-made lunches for Dana and I this week.

Before bed on Sunday night, Dana came out of the bedroom with a disgusted look on her face. Both our bathrooms had an awful smell to them like backed-up sewage or something. Close examinations of the toilets, sinks, and the tub didn't reveal any obvious sources, neither did a cursory examination of the rest of the rooms. We called the maintenance people who said that the most likely cause would be a back-up of the system (for which there were no obvious signs) or a dried J trap under a sink letting in gasses from the sewer line. Running both sinks, checking all pipes for leaks, flushing the toilets, and running the tub didn't alleviate the problem.

Finally, we closed the bathroom doors, stuffed towels under them to prevent gasses from leaking into the rest of the apartment and went to bed. Lo and behold, this morning the bathrooms didn't smell bad: In fact, they both smelled nice! It's good that our place doesn't stink like sewage, but the engineer in me is disappointed that we couldn't find a root cause for it. Plus, the maintenance people are going to take a look at it today, see that there is no bad smell to be found anywhere, and conclude that we are completely crazy.

The repair guy for Raymour and Flannigan is coming over tomorrow to (finally) repair our damaged couch. We've had the thing for like 3 months now with a damaged corner, and it's just now getting fixed. They sell you on how great their warranty package is, but don't tell you how inconvenient it is for you to exercise that warranty. At least they haven't forgotten about it.