Our trusty Dell Inspiron 1525 recently started playing up with what seems like a common problem: it stopped recognising its power adapter. The charge level on the little battery meter icon in the system tray started dropping, and hovering the mouse over it showed the message “Plugged in, not charging”. I managed to get into the BIOS settings on boot and that showed that the power adapter was unrecognised.

Being a citizen of the twenty-first century, naturally I Googled the error message (other search engines are available!) and, as ever, turned up masses of people with the same problem and a range of putative solutions of the “works on my machine” type:

  • You need to replace the battery.
  • You need to replace the charging jack.
  • You need to replace the charging circuit board.
  • You need to replace the motherboard.
  • You need to uninstall the power management device driver.
  • You need to totally discharge the power supply (by shorting it out!), totally discharge the machine by holding the power button down, clean the adapter plug, take the battery out, put it back in, plug it back in and reboot.
  • You need to flash the BIOS back to an older version.
  • You need to sprinkle the unit with dew collected on midsummer morning, place it in a chalked pentagram, mutter an incantation to Beelzebub and hold down the power button with a lucky rabbit’s foot from dawn until dusk on the winter solstice and then reboot. (I made that one up; but only just.)

Interestingly, before I could pursue it further, I had to go on holiday and we took the laptop with us, complete with power supply as the battery was by now totally discharged. The Minibishes used it a couple of times to do some e-scrapbooking, but that was all. Much to my surprise though, when we got back the battery was back to 80% charged, so either there was something magical about the west country electricity or the laptop was perfectly capable of charging given enough juice. Plugging it back in here though, showed the same old, “plugged in, not charging” message.

I decided to turn my attention to the power supply unit. After all, we do tend to leave it plugged in and switched on even when the machine itself is shut down and after, what, four years or so of slow cooking there was every chance its output had dropped below the level that the laptop required. With some trepidation I looked on Amazon for replacement power supplies, knowing instinctively that I wouldn’t want to pay for a pukka Dell one. There were many available, most advertised as Dell originals even though they they were clearly unbranded clones with Dell labels stuck on them. Reviews for these were mixed: they clearly worked for some, but others had various faults ranging from simply not working to overheating and even going up in smoke. Not for me then, even though they were temptingly cheap.

A few results pages further on though, I found a ray of hope: the Anker Golden Laptop Adapter. Fewer people had bought them, but the reviews were almost uniformly good, and even though they were more pricey than the “Dell original” parts, many reviewers sang their praises, saying they solved the charging problems, speeded up their machines and ran cooler that the Dell originals. An unashamed, even proud, third-party compatible replacement power adapter for fifteen quid. Sold!

It turned up today and I am happy to report that it solved the charging problem for me too and I am now back to 100% capacity. The unit comes in proper professional-looking packaging (recyclable cardboard box, not plasticrap), and even has a little instruction manual, an 18-month warranty card, an invitation to submit a online review and lots of support contact information (which I haven’t had to put to the test yet). All very confidence-inspiring. I’m not sure the machine is any faster but I wasn’t expecting miracles.

Obviously it’s early days but so far I’m pleased to have solved the charging problem without having had to delve into the guts of the machine. Or having to gather any dew.

Dear Tom Devine

March 24, 2013

Thank you for your recent junk direct mail informing me of the advantages of Sky over Virgin Media. I am sorry to have to tell you that something must have gone awry in your demographic selections as almost all the points you make therein fail to entice me into taking up your offer. Perhaps I could help you to target future mailings better by addressing them individually.

All my mates are talking about the brand new series of Game of Thrones [but Virgin Media don’t have it]. Tom, I don’t know what gathering of my mates you have been to but I would be astonished if feeling deprived of the latest series of Game of Thrones featured anywhere in the topics of conversation (unless you started it yourself!). I’ve no doubt that some of them may want to watch it if they are tired of reruns of Baywatch and Xena: Warrior Princess, but I’m not sure any of them would cross the road for it, never mind changing TV providers. Perhaps it was someone else’s mates you were talking to?

…this super-duper fast broadband is always going to stay that way [but Virgin have a traffic management policy]. Well Tom, I take you at your word on that, even without digesting the three inches or so of very small print that accompanies the offer and seems to be full of pound signs. If you’ve been talking to my mates though, I think you’ll have picked up that those that have Sky complain much more about failures in the service than those on Virgin do. I’ll take my chances thanks, it’s worked well so far.

What about watching TV on my iPad on the bus on the way home from work [Virgin customers can only do that with Wi-Fi]. Tom, you must think I’m a TV addict! Listen, I really don’t want you and your team worrying about me missing America’s Next Top Model: Series 15 (fifteen! seriously?) as depicted in your brochure just because I commute to work. I’ve got lots of books I can take to read, some podcasts I can listen to; or I can snooze for a bit, especially on the way home; or just enjoy the view from the windows as we pass through the townscape and countryside – it’s very picturesque to see the sunrise through the mist as we cross the river. Do you get time to look out of the window occasionally Tom?

[Sky has Formula 1 in HD, whereas Virgin customers can only see it in standard definition.] Tom, I’d agree with you that HD is a big improvement for people with huge TV sets who want to see things in great detail. I think can live without for a Formula 1 race though, don’t you? The best way to improve Formula 1 coverage in my opinion would be to miss out the bit between the first five laps and the last five laps. And standard definition will be perfectly ok on our little TV, honestly. I can still make out the colours and shapes well enough if I sit close.

[Sky has more HD channels than anyone else.] Indeed you do! You have so many I couldn’t even make out the total: is it 45, or 56 or 62, or more? Goodness Tom, I don’t know where I’d get time to watch all of that! I’d have to give up virtually all my other activities like cycling, music, reading, spending time with my family, voluntary work. Maybe even my day job Tom, that takes up quite a chunk of time, doesn’t it! Do you ever get out on your bike at all Tom?

I’ve just bought an amazing new 3D TV [but Virgin doesn’t have a dedicated channel]. You must have me confused with someone else Tom, I don’t have the money for a 3D TV. Did my mates tell you that? If so they are pulling your leg. Those guys! No, I have looked at 3D TV and was very impressed, it is much better than the 3D that has been inflicted upon us in cinemas recently, but there’s lots of things I would spend the money on first, like getting the kitchen and bathroom fixed up just for starters, or music lessons for the children. How much do you get paid Tom?

Well now, Tom, look how you’ve got me going! I’ve spent more time on this than I’d intended. See how much of your life TV can take up? And we haven’t even been watching it! I hope I’ve made it clear Tom that I have other priorities at the moment, and that getting more TV is pretty low down the list. It would also be good to hear someone talking from time to time about the quality of TV rather than the quantity! As your own company’s strapline has it, “Sky: I can’t believe it’s not better.” Or have I got that mixed up with margarine? Whatever.

Must go and help the kids to make some fairy cakes for tea. Enjoy your weekend Tom, and in case this all sounds ungrateful, I do appreciate you thinking of me.

Long live Freeview!

  1. Don’t make an effort. I know how busy you are so don’t bother with a covering letter. If that feels just too lazy, dash off something along the lines of “Here’s my CV, loser” or “I’m available, come and get me.”
  2. Don’t make any attempt to address the selection criteria. I might have spent ages thinking carefully about the sorts of qualities, knowledge and experience that would help someone succeed in the job but why not just throw your generic CV at me and let me try to work out whether you meet them? I’ve got a lot of time on my hands right? That must be why I’m recruiting.

  3. Don’t waste time proof reading anything. I will be able to make out your talent shining through the misuse of “their” and “there”, “your” and “you’re”, misspellings, bad punctuation, Spurious Capitalisation, half-finished sentences and txt spk, and if I can’t then you don’t want to work for a moron like me anyway. No job these days requires attention to detail or communication skills, so don’t sweat it.

  4. Don’t worry yourself about researching my organisation, it’s pretty much the same as all the others: we just want to exploit you for own own gain for as long as we can get away with, and you just want the money. It’s just a job, for Pete’s sake! For extra quick consignment to the shredder, consider getting the name of my organisation wrong in your application, or even apply using a competitor’s form.

  5. Have no qualifications, aptitude or experience that matches the job? No problem. Apply anyway and don’t even attempt to show me how you think your transferable skills will enable you to grow into it, or your personal skills will help you meet the challenge. I can work that out from a list of places you worked before.

I feel better now.

Actually I don’t. I know this business is a pain for both of us; I’ve read “What Color is Your Parachute”. But I’m constrained. I have HR practices to follow, equal opportunity and diversity to consider, I have to justify my selections. And I don’t have a lot of time.

So please make it easy for me. Show me how you meet the selection criteria for my job, or if you don’t, be honest about it and give me reasons why I should consider you anyway. Bear in mind that I may have dozens of applications to look through and it may be nearly midnight and yours may be the last one. What would you want to see in an application under those circumstances? Exactly.

Note to self: read this before applying for next job.

So we finally bought an Xbox 360* after a good deal of deliberation, and the venerable Playstation 2 has been retired (keep your eyes on Ebay folks!). Of course we signed up for the free one-month Xbox Live Gold membership so we could do all those new-fangled media centre things like YouFlix and NetTube, and so that MiniBish1 could fraternise with his cousin in online alien-creaming adventures.

And so came the dread day when the free one-month trial expired. Forced to look at paying for our new online habit we checked the Xbox Live website and found that for a single membership Micro$oft wanted forty of our Earth pounds. Fair enough; I don’t at all mind paying for the service because it does look to me as though they have taken a bit of trouble over it to keep kids safe and out of the way of nasty content and people, but it’s only human to look around for a bargain so I did a bit of elementary surfing.

And here’s the thing: Amazon sell 12-month membership cards for thirty Earth pounds. That’s 25% cheaper!

Yes, it costs ten pounds less to generate a magic code, print it on a little card, put it in a load of glossy packaging and wrap it in plastic, send it to an Amazon warehouse fulfilment centre, take my order at Amazon, pack the lot into another envelope and have a man in a van drive it across the country to my house where I type the code into the Xbox and send it back over the interweb to Micro$oft; than it is to carry out a completely computer-based operation to take a payment and update a database at M$HQ. And it works!

That simply cannot be right.

And yes, my web search did turn up some of those sites that just generate codes for you electronically for even less money, but frankly I wasn’t convinced that they were straight-up honest. I’m willing to accept evidence to the contrary  though, ready for when the dread day comes that our new 12-month membership expires.

*Oh and while I think of it: boo to the first delivery company who left the Xbox in our driveway in the middle of the day making it inevitable that someone would just walk off with it, and kudos to Amazon for taking responsibility without demur and sending another via a different courier. That’s the sort of customer service that invites repeat business.

BIG FAT WARNING: I’m not recommending this procedure to anyone, just documenting it. I feel sure you can royally foul up your printer by doing something wrong. Canon’s advice is to send the printer to an authorised service centre where they will do all this for you. So there. Continue at your own risk.

For a while now my printer has been whinging about it’s ink absorber being full. I found several places on the web where people recommended pressing various combinations of buttons to get around it, but even if they work the problem recurs next time you disconnect the printer from the mains, as any environmentally person would when it’s not in use.

Happily, I have now found a permanent solution and this is it.

  1. Your waste ink absorber almost certainly is full (or nearly). Getting rid of the error message won’t change that and you might end up with extremely stainworthy ink leaking out of the printer if you don’t either replace or clean them. You need to pull the printer apart to do that.
  2. Download a copy of the printer service manual from the web. Search for “canon ip1600 service manual”, and you might end up at http://www.divshare.com/download/3022178-935 for example.
  3. Download a copy of the iP1600 service tool. Search for “canon ip1600 service tool” and you might end up at http://rapidshare.com/files/27422186/ip1600st.zip for example. Naturally you will check it for viruses before unzipping and running it.
  4. Read the service manual. No really, read it, including chapter 7. If you don’t find it interesting, you’re probably not the sort of person who should be attempting this.
  5. If the error message you’re getting is that the ink absorber is full (not just almost full) then, like mine, it may have the two front panel LEDs blinking alternately. In this case I believe you have to put the printer into service mode before running the service tool. The service manual explains how to do this. If the absorber is only almost full, I think it will work just turning the printer on normally.
  6. Start the service tool program “GeneralTool.exe”.
  7. Select the correct USB port from the dropdown list (there’s probably only one choice).
  8. Click “Devcice ID” to display the printer information. Make sure the correct model is shown. If it’s not, click “Lock Release” and select the iP16oo using the model buttons.
  9. You can now have a look at the waste ink counter if you want, by clicking “EEP-ROM Information”. The main absorber is shown as “Dd”, the platen absorber as “Ds”. At least one of them should show 100% meaning that it is full.
  10. Now all you need to do is click the button in the “Clear Waste Ink Counter” section that relates to which absorber is full. Click “Main” if “Dd” is at 100% and “Platen” is “Ds” is at 100%.
  11. Now if you look at the “EEP-ROM Information” again, you should see that “Dd” and “Ds” are showing 0%.
  12. Quit out of the maintenance tool.
  13. Power off the printer.
  14. You’re done.

Please bear in mind I’m not a service engineer or anything like that, and I’m not especially interested in entering into a discussion of the rights and wrongs of this procedure. And no, I don’t know where you can get replacement ink absorbers. Canon I guess.

Update: A few weeks after this the printer started playing up again. This time, the paper pick-up wasn’t working and the printer was constantly reporting that it was jammed. After taking considerably more of it to bits, the reason why became obvious: great sticky gobs of thick black ink had built up underneath the feed mechanism and were gumming up the cogs. There was an unbelievable amount of gunk in there, and what seemed like gallons of liquid ink in the main absorber too. I shudder to think how much I’ve paid for all that. I spent a happy evening cleaning it off with cotton buds, methylated spirit and an entire copy of the local paper to absorb it all.

Put it all back together and it all worked, much to my surprise, and continues to do so. If any chump tells you just to reset the waste ink counter when errors start coming up and hope for the best, you can officially tell them they’re an idiot.

Arguably Donald Rumsfeld’s most famous remark was his “unknown unknowns” explanation of the Afghanistan situation of 2002.

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.”

This can be summarised in this grid:








(Mr. Rumsfeld came in for a good deal of criticism over these words, rather unfairly I thought. It is a perfectly understandable concept expressed in commendably simple terms, even if the Plain English campaign didn’t think so. Wikipedia’s article provides similar examples of this idea from other speakers.)

But, as is obvious when displayed in the grid format like this, there is an important quadrant left empty which really deserves equal attention: unknown knowns. These are the things that we don’t know we know.

I’ve long been rubbing my chin over this one. Almost anyone who works in a large organisation will know that a fair amount of time and effort is wasted on doing or re-doing things simply because individuals don’t know what the organisation knows. There’s a famous quote from within Hewlett Packard which expresses this well, although the attribution seems uncertain:

“If only HP knew what HP knows,
we would be three times more productive”

Apparently this is the domain of “knowledge management”. It’s a really thorny issue. Small organisations can probably get away without it as the individuals concerned will meet each other and be fairly aware of who knows what. Very large organisations have probably dealt with it to some extent otherwise they would die. But in the middle, we seem to be struggling.

The worldwide web in its various guises has made publishing information much easier (to the extent that the sheer volume is almost overwhelming) and search engines have made it somewhat easier to consume. Yet it still seems as hard as ever to find out who knows what in the organisation, and even what questions to ask where about what information is available.

I’m sure somebody, somewhere is working on it.

Too Much Memory

November 2, 2009

I’ve been having problems with my desktop PC on and off for a while; it kept running painfully slowly and occasionally freezing up altogether. To be fair it is now fairly venerable,  an AMD Athlon 2600+ with 500M of RAM – a museum piece these days. We’ve had it for over five years and a lot of software has passed under the bridge in that time, as well as the suppliers, Carrera, having gone bust a while back.

I’d scanned it for viruses, adware, spyware, all that nonsense, and also ran a full disk check, but all that did me no good. I suspected a shortage of RAM, and a few months ago I replaced the original two 256M DIMMs with three 500G ones of the good stuff from Crucial. At first it looked pretty good and started up really fast, with the exception of a strange pause for  several seconds during which the Windows XP progress bar would stop before restarting and bringing up the login screen. However, shortly after that, strange and seemingly unprovoked reboots started to happen. Windows reported severe errors on recovery, but in unspecified device drivers. I used msconfig to turn off all but Windows services: that didn’t help. I removed lots of programs we no longer use – no good. I tried a different power supply unit – no dice. I disconnected the old internal Zip drive as I know they can be prone to failure – nope.

Then today I removed one of the three memory DIMMs, taking the total RAM down to just under 1G and leaving the supposedly paired slots 2 and 3 populated. Lo! and behold the mysterious pause during boot has gone away, and the machine has not hung up since (touch wood). I’ve re-enabled all the normal startup services and stuff and still so far so good.

Perhaps there is such a thing as too much RAM as well as too little.

I’ve started to look around for a new machine anyway, now that Windows 7 has come out, but as ever the choice is somewhat bewildering, so I’m glad that the current machine seems to have got a stay of execution to allow me a bit longer to procrastinate over the marketplace.