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Fixing a Thinkpad T41

Posted by james on Dec. 3, 2007

7 pictures.

Melissa's laptop broke recently, it wouldn't charge at all. With power problems, it's usually the power adapter wire failing (due to metal fatigue), or the power connector on the laptop failing, or the battery causing trouble. She said that the same thing happened with a friend's power adapter, so I guessed it was #2 the power connector on the laptop.

So in I go to open it up, and after a whole lot of disassembling and unscrewing (the power connector was under the motherboard... why??) I found it. The screw holding the power connector in place had loosened, and the slight wiggling had caused one of the wires to break connection, and then the laptop couldn't charge. I simply soldered the wire back on, taped it up, screwed it back in tight, and everything worked.

It's funny; screws seem like such inconsequential little items, but they do cause a lot of problems when they're missing or loose. The IBM service repair handbook actually says that their field techs are not to reuse any screws since they are specially nylon-coated, and only good for one insertion. The nylon coating acts as a sort of soft thread-locker, preventing the screws from coming loose. After they're removed, they must be replaced with new coated screws.

Of course, I don't have spares so I reused the existing ones. But it is interesting that the manual states that loose screws are the cause of much failure and service problems. For want of a nail...

My new phone: the Blackberry Pearl

Posted by james on Oct. 30, 2007

1 picture.

I have a new phone, and for once I'm actually satisfied with it. Not that it's perfect; things can always improve. But I find myself continuing to enjoy the use of this phone even after a few months, and that's a good thing.

My new phone is a Blackberry Pearl (aka 8100). It's a pretty popular phone, and is Blackberry's first foray into a multimedia-friendly smartphone , versus their previously all-business-and-no-play phones. The first thing that impressed me about this phone was the size. It's so much smaller and nicer in person that in the pictures, especially after using my Treo 650 for so long. After the physical form, I also liked the feature list on paper. It has many of the things I really wanted; blackberry qwerty-style keyboard (2 letters to a key, not the individual chiclet-style keys of the Treo), a good smartphone-style organizer, PC sync, internet friendly, good reception, good battery life, 2.5mm jack. So I took the plunge and bought a used one that looked like it had been through a few torture tests; ugly, but fully functional.

First, I'll just list all the things I like about this phone. It works well and has a good and consistent UI. It's amazing how often that simply isn't true about most phones, even the "smart" ones. It has good sound quality and reception, and battery life is decent (though I don't spend 6+ hours a day on the phone like I used to). It has a 2.5mm audio jack and a USB charging/sync jack, none of this "Let's create another connector!" nonsense. The keyboard is very good; the keys flex/wobble a bit, but it's still very good and much better than my Treo (although, the typing software needs work... noted below). The calendar is very good, and does pretty much everything I'd like it to.

Now, some things that I don't like. I really wish they'd fix their crazy smart-typing system. It's like T9, except much more adaptive and crazy. Since each key has two letters (Q and W are on a key, E and R on the next, etc) instead of the typical 3 letter layout (ABC, DEF, etc), it's much easier to type. In theory if you type something that could be a few different words, the phone lists the possibilities and then lets you choose which one you want. Great. Except it really seems finicky and very temperamental. Sometimes you'll type a word that could be "Go" or "To", and it'll list both. Great. Other times I'll type something obvious, like "Run", and it'll list "Rib" first, then Rin, then Eib, then Ein, etc. Then you delete the word, start over, and it lists the correct word first this time. What the heck? Then sometimes you'll type half of the word you want and mess up, then delete that word and start over, and it'll force you into typing a word you didn't want (and often gibberish). I think it's clear; if you type something, it should list all the words it recognizes (with the best guess first). If your word is not in this list, you should be able to spell it out. Suggesting and forcing me to type gibberish instead of a word it recognizes is not helpful. There's also a way to force the spelling of a word, and that's even worse and more temperamental. I suspect there are no algorithms at all in the typing software, but instead there are two tiny gremlins. One understands English, and the other has ADD and likes to push buttons. Both are helping me type in this device. When I find them, I will most likely kill one of them.

One of the biggest problems with these devices is that they were always intended to be controlled by an administrator, and not the (stupid) person using the phone. Great for offices, where the IT department can add/remove things for all users. Bad for individual power users. If you don't have an admin, then basically your phone company (TMobile, in my case) becomes your admin. They can control which features you use and how. They don't interfere much, but you can definitely tell the difference between an independent device like the Treo and a locked-down one like the Blackberry. Also, the syncing on this phone is limited and a bit difficult. It's great if you sync with your multi-thousand dollar Blackberry company server. But if you're just an individual, then you get syncing with Outlook, which I don't use. I really would love to find a phone that syncs how I use it; Gmail, Google Calendar, Rainlendar, etc. There aren't any feasible workarounds yet either, which is frustrating.

Last, it's always fun to think about how I could use the multimedia on this phone, even though most likely I'd use it about as much as I did on the Treo; almost none at all. But the few tests I've done show that the sound quality is good, but the interface is simplistic and lacking, the delays very annoying (takes a while to read the songs before you can select one to play), and it locks up every time I try to play videos from my 2GB micro-SD card. At this rate, I could put a 128mb card in there and not notice. If the media part were better, I'd use it to listen to music on runs (no moving parts) and maybe an occasional TV episode when I'm waiting somewhere.

Overall, I love the phone. When I got it I was undecided, and didn't know if I'd end up reselling it and going back to the Treo. But from the minute I started using it, there's no going back. Palm is dead to me now; not just the device I owned, but the brand as well. The Treo 650 is such a miserable little device, and more recent iterations don't seem to be doing much more than updating the hardware a bit and adding a few features to the now-ancient OS. I loved the openness of the OS, but it's crappy and should be buried. Where's linux , Palm? Where's anything really new? I don't know what will be my next phone, but I'm done looking for what may be quite a while. If I could get an open-source phone (like the <a href="http://www.openmoko.com/">OpenMoko</a>) that had the same physical format and general operation, I think I'd have found my ultimate phone. So I'll wait till the OpenMoko people get past their first device, and enjoy my phone.

Now, if I could only find a decent bluetooth headset...

Moo Cards &amp;amp; the New Car

Posted by james on Oct. 26, 2007

12 pictures.

I'm ordering moo mini-cards from <a href="http://moo.com/">Moo.com</a> to use as business cards. Below are the pictures I chose, I hope they come soon! I needed something to pass out that is not a handwritten number on a napkin (no matter how useful that may be for picking up guys in the Mews... Danielle). I think my favorite one is the pumpkin twins. Lauren and I found them that way, someone had thought to stack them. Of course. What else would you do with two pumpkins?

I've been mostly silent since returning to RI. I really haven't been doing much; not working much, just hanging out with Lauren, not accomplishing all the little projects I always wished I had time for (and now I finally do). I guess I get into empty times every once in a while, and this was a down time.

I did get a car though! It's a black 1995 Eagle Talon TSI AWD - just like my black & white car in HI (the Rat, not to be confused with the Rat-car) except that one was Front-wheel-drive only. I can't wait to try this one out in the snow this winter. I had to drive all the way to NH to get it (three times!), but it's in remarkably good shape. I've seen a bunch of other similar cars around RI, and all of them were promised to be in "great" shape... whichapparently around here means "great except there's no paint", or "great except there's no seats", or "great except it doesn't run and I took the A/C out because I don't know what I'm doing and someone said that makes it faster". So many sad, destroyed and neglected cars. I have yet to name this one.

I just landed in some more work, which is great. I've been itching to get back into programming and I've finally gotten it. Looks like a fun project too, so I'm sure that'll keep me busy for a while. I also have a couple more projects that may happen soon, although these jobs seem to be like C.S. Lewis... "I call all times soon". So whenever that is, I may have a lot of work to do which is better than just sitting around waiting all the time.

I've been able to enjoy the Fall a bit, which is great because it's the best time in RI. It smells amazing, and when the sun's out it's just a completely different world. Even at night it's nice, since it's not cold enough to make you hate the state, but still fun. Tonight was a full moon that acted like a spot light, and I keep wishing I could stay out looking at the stars or go walking on the beach at 11pm again in near-twilight.

Hopefully I'll update things a bit more here, and my goal is to start taking more pictures (at least one every day).

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