We’ve all felt screwed before. Today, I’m listing the computer/tech items that I felt unsatisfied buying after a little use. These items really go beyond unsatisfied and enter into the completely screwed over or forever hate category.
- Compaq Presario with an Athlon CPU and DVD reader
- HP Digital Camera
- Any Epson Printer
- Any non-GSM cell phone
- Small USB-MP3 player
- Flatbed Scanner
- QIC-250 Tape Drive
Compaq Presario with a New Athlon CPU and DVD reader
Late in 1999, I decided it was time to upgrade my desktop PC. This was before internet shopping had become so easy like today. I’d been doing research and had a list of nice to have capabilities. Mainly my list included the hot, new Athlon CPU and a DVD reader. At the time, both of those items were new. By reading PC magazines and PC-Shopper, I’d figured my new desktop build would run about $600. A little more than I wanted to spend, but still possible.
On the way home from work one Friday, traffic was terrible, so I pulled off the road into the local Microcenter with the intention of buying a new Perl book for work. That job provided money to every programmer to buy books yearly. At the time, Microcenter had the best computer book section of any store around. Anyway, while I was there, I wondered over to the new PC section and was met by a knowledgeable salesman putting up 20% Off signs celebrating Compaq’s 20th Anniversary. Nothing was on sale at this point, but tomorrow, anything from Compaq would be 20% off. I explained my plans to buy parts and build a new desktop. After listing the main parts, he pointed out a Compaq that would be cheaper than my home-built PC AND it would come with some extras that I didn’t have on the list. Further, the video card was exactly the same as one I was already using happily and it came with USB ports and Windows98. What a deal! If I bought it tonight, I could bring the receipt back tomorrow and get the 20% back. This was too good to be true, I pulled the trigger and bought it. Just the tower, but that included a new scroll wheel mouse and keyboard – more things that my build didn’t include. I’m still using that mouse today. It was a re-branded Logitech.
I’d just gotten a fantastic deal, right?
Got home and connected the PC up to my KVM switch and swapped out the old keyboard and mouse, then booted the PC. It was loaded with crap-ware. Loaded AOL, Quicken Trial, and about 10 other crap-ware titles. Oh, it included a 10base-t network/DSL modem combo card too. The extras never stopped! Fantastic.
About 10 minutes later, the first Blue Screen of Death happened. This became a common happening with this PC.
I should have taken the PC back right then. Immediately. I didn’t.
Work got busy, I was traveling more and this desktop became less of a priority. I should point out that my PC at work ran WinNT and was solid with uptimes of 3-4 weeks between rebooting. I was doing lots of Windows C++ development and running X/Windows servers, which are not the most stable programs under Windows. At home, I had very little software on this PC.
Every weekend, I’d hit the Compaq support website, download and install the latest BIOS, firmware and drivers. This was constant from week to week … there was always some update from Compaq. ALWAYS. I read the forums and found that I wasn’t alone. This Presario was crap. It started with BIOS updates, then firmware for the DVD reader, then firmware for the video card, then OS patches and drivers – constant driver updates. The good news was the PC didn’t crash after 10 minutes, but the bad news was it didn’t stay up 24 hours even if I never ran a program. That’s right, I’d turn it off. A few hours later, I’d come back and turn it on. Never login or touch it. The following day, it was at the BSOD … again.
After a year of screwing around, I converted this into a Linux server for backups and running an email server. It was solid with Linux and never crashed. The issue was Windows98, clearly.
I was screwed. To this day, I will never buy anything from Compaq That isn’t hard, since Compaq was bought out by HP.
HP Digital Camera
Around 200 to 2002-ish, I bought an HP digital camera. I can’t recall the model, but it took 4 AA batteries, used CF memory and was 1.3Mpx, I think. Immediately, I learned that it drained the batteries even when turned off. 24 hours later and the batteries were dead. But again, I wanted the digital camera and figured I could pull the batteries out when it wasn’t in use. Well, that basically meant the camera was never in use, since to take a photo, stopping to insert the 4 AA batteries was needed. After draining 4+ sets of batteries, I switched back to my 35mm camera for snap shots. It was cheaper.
When WinXP came out, drivers for this camera were not given away. HP wanted $25 to download the drivers. I’m serious. At work, my project was spending millions of dollars on HP servers – actually, over $10 million. I asked the HP salesman if he could grab a copy of the driver for me. I was the lead designer on this project after all and responsible for specifying all the servers used. He claimed to not have access. We still ordered the servers. I didn’t get the camera drivers.
In 2008, I bought my next digital camera, SONY, which I still have here and it still works. A few months ago, I purchased a new Canon digital camera and I’m extremely pleased to own as well. The SONY isn’t perfect, but it was very nice and took over 12,000 photos for me. The Canon camera has taken a few hundred photos and is also working well. I’m happy with both those digital cameras. That HP camera sits in a box somewhere. I should take it appear to see what’s inside, since it isn’t useful for anything else and never has been as a matter of practicality. I should have returned it within the first week. It has always been crap.
Any Epson Printer
I learned how to buy printers the hard way. I’d had an HP B/W inkjet for many years and was interested in getting a new, color inkjet. There was nothing wrong with the HP, nothing at all. About this time, I’d started switching over to Linux for my back-end servers at home. I found a great deal on an Epson Color printer and bought it. Got it home and connected it to a desktop running Windows (sorry, can’t recall if that was Win95, Win98, NT, or XP). Epson had switched over from pure printer drivers do those printer driver suites that would warn about low ink and other unwanted functions from the printer. In order to print anything, the printer background process had to be running. I think most printers are still made with this today, if they are Windows compatible. Nobody makes plain printer drivers anymore.
I’m not a big printer user. With the Epson, I found the ink was always dry when it came time to print 30 pages every April 14th, the day before USA Federal Taxes are due. That meant a quick trip to the local office supply store for a $40 ink cartridge. Further, the Epson printer wasn’t supported by Linux and the company wasn’t releasing any Linux drivers. As Linux took over my house that became more and more of a problem. I don’t know what happened to that printer, I think it ended up in the trash along with a fresh set of dried up ink.
In 2004, I bought a cheap Samsung laser printer. In all this time, I’ve replaced the toner twice. I still have and use that printer. I did learn from my prior mistake and got a printer that completely supports Linux. Not only did Ubuntu 10.04 recognize it and load the correct drivers, but the manufacturer provides drivers for Linux. This Samsung is connected to a Linux print queue server and is available to any clients on the network here – Linux, Mac, or MS-Windows. If you have any problems with dry ink, get a laser jet printer.
I’ll never buy another printer without checking Linux compatibility first. Life just turns out better that way. Even if you don’t intend to use Linux with your printer, I’ve discovered that Linux compatible printers are higher quality overall.
Any non-GSM cell phone
I was late to using Cell Phones at home. My first cell phone was from Sprint for $39/month. After many years with that same phone, I decided I never wanted another contract phone again. I wasn’t getting $39/month of value, that was certain. The phone was fine, but it wasn’t compatible with any other network. When I was overseas, it didn’t work either. What a waste.
My job had provided a Blackberry GSM phone with a data plan. Since 1999, I’d had a blackberry i-pager (which is an email device), but not a phone. I always used my sprint phone for personal calls – like calling Mom once a week on the way home from work. This used some minutes and made the 45 minute commute quicker. But there was a problem, every time any GSM connection to the blackberry happened; voice, email, SMS, then the Sprint connection would be thrown off the cellular network. So I’m happily talking with Mom and the blackberry vibrates and Mom’s call is dropped. I couldn’t believe that the FCC allowed GSM with this terrible interference issues.
A few yrs later, I switched to a cheap GSM phone with a pay-as-you-go plan that works with a SIM overseas. The 10 day standby time is fantastic, but if the phone is powered off, the standby time is many months, at least.
GSM has all sorts of issues interfering with other devices around them. The dit-dit-dit that you hear on phone calls or over your computer speakers is GSM interference. Still, a non-GSM phone is always locked to a specific cell service, at least in the USA. With GSM, you can switch between T-Mobile and AT&T networks once the phone is unlocked. When traveling to most of the world, GSM can be used as well, though parts of Asia do not support it.
Small USB-MP3 player
I was an early adopter of MP3 technology. In the late 1990s, I converted my huge CD audio collection to MP3. It took about a year rip the audio CDs and another hour to convert into MP3. Initially, I used a CDROM portable player from iRiver that played MP3 files too. It was really great, but I wanted something smaller, so I found a $50 USB MP3 player – no-name, sorry. It used 1 AAA battery and like that HP camera, if the battery was left in the device, 24 hours later, it was dead. It played files back in some unknowable order, to listening to books on tape was not a good use for this device. Playback was not alphabetic, that is certain, but it wasn’t random either. It was by file timestamp. In the end, I wrote a script that copied a file, delayed 61 seconds, copied the next file, delayed 61 seconds, and so on. For a book-on-tape with 100+ files, the copy seemed to take forever, almost 2 hours.
SmartScanner Page Scanner
I think a total of 50 pages got scanned using this device over the 5 yrs I owned it. It eventually broke, but that was definitely not due to over use. I purchased it with the intention of scanning lots of photographic slides, but I never figured out how the slide attachment worked.
Colorado Jumbo-250 QIC Tape Drive – Parallel Port Model
When tape drives became affordable for a home user, I decided to get one. They were sold with three choices of interfaces. A floppy drive connection, SCSI or parallel port. I wanted the drive to be portable so I could bring files between home and work easily. Remember that floppy drives were only 1.44MB in size, so getting entire project files home and back for an evening of software development wasn’t possible. Remote access didn’t really work all that well either. This was around then time that ssh was just becoming popular and dialup connections were 9600 baud. To move lots of files around, tape was the best method. CD-writers were becoming more common, but media wasn’t cheap-cheap-cheap like today.
Got the tape drive and it worked, but it was slow, really, really slow. It also made lots of noise. My complaint isn’t a failure of the device itself, rather it was a failure of my ability to get enough use out of it to make it worthwhile or any real value. Backing up my systems using this setup took multiple hours and it wasn’t possible to use the PC for any other purpose at the same time. The lack of convenience really did matter. I still have this along with about 10 QIC-250 tapes. It might be interesting to see what’s on those tapes after all these years.