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Fixing no mic sound on a Dell Inspiron 1420 (or similar?)

Posted by james on Dec. 4, 2008

I had a friend call me today for a problem on their Dell Laptop. They were using Skype and could hear & talk fine using the laptop's built-in speakers and microphone, but for some reason when they plugged in a headset they could hear fine but the other party could not hear them. My first thought is that they're using a USB headset and Skype is not recognizing the second audio device, but they were using a normal non-USB audio headset.

So I poke around on their machine, and have her connect her headphones. The computer gives a (ginormous, ugly) popup for the sigmaltel sound control panel, showing the 2 (yes, 2) headphone jacks and the 1 mic jack. It shows that she has 1 headphone jack plugged in and 1 mic jack plugged in. But I still can't hear here on Skype. After playing around with Skype sound settings, I go back to the sigmatel control panel. I click on the microphone jack, and it gives options for "Line In" and "Mic". "Line In" is selected, so I select "Mic" and it works! The "mic" jack on the laptop comes configured by default to act as a "line in" jack, which is what you use to connect CD players and iPods into the laptop, but not microphones. It had to be manually switched to "Mic" to be compatible with the mic in the headset. It's not just a matter of levels; electret mics need a voltage supply to operate, so w/o the voltage you will get no signal at all.

So that's that. Dell is stupid (yet again), ships their laptop with a bad default setting (honestly, do they really think the line in is more used than the mic?). But more importantly, the sigmatel software is something no computer newbie would know to go poking around in. They should revamp the UI so you could see all the options avaiable to you w/o having to click on drop downs, and they really should offer a wizard. Without a wizard, most people aren't going to know what settings they need.

Enabling WPA on a Dell Precision M50 with a True Mobile 1150 wifi card

Posted by james on Nov. 21, 2008

I was just helping a friend by fixing is old Dell laptop, and I ran into a problem. It would not connect to my wireless network, and when I went in to manually add it I noticed there were only Open and WEP, but no WPA. The Truemobile 1150 card technically supports WPA, so I figured I'd download the newer drivers. I logged into Dell's site, entered the service code and found a list of drivers.

There was a Truemobile 1150 "utility", which was no more than a useless diagnostic utility, but no drivers. Finally, searching got me a forum link that found the updated Dell Truemobile 1150 drivers, dated 12/15/2003. The ones on the laptop were dated 7/1/2001.

Why didn't Dell put these updated drivers in the list for the Precision M50? Why do they have such incredibly bad support? This isn't the first time I've run into this kind of nonsense, and compared to my other experiences this is relatively benign.

Problem with Gmail Macros

Posted by james on Nov. 15, 2008

I've been using Gmail Macros (included in the Better Gmail extension) for a while, and it makes such a huge difference in using gmail. The single feature I like the most is the L shortcut to label messages.

However, for quite a while now Gmail Macros has been broken on Firefox, both on my desktop and my laptop. Pressing L will only bring up the label popup 1 out of every 10 times. It's been really annoying, and I finally decided to start troubleshooting it. First, I created a new profile in firefox. I then installed only Better Gmail and restarted. Log into gmail, test... and it works! So that means it must have something to do with my profiles.

The first candidate is my extensions. I have quite a few, so I switch over to my normal profile and disable all the extensions. But this doesn't fix the problem. The next candidate would be plugins, but I'm too lazy to disable those. So I change from the Classic Compact theme I'm using to the Default theme and restart. No go. Then I clear my cache. And it works! Could the theme be interfering?

I switch back to the Classic Compact theme and restart. Gmail Macros are broken again. I then clear the cache, and Gmail Macros work. So something in the process of switching themes leaves some files around that screw up the Macros script. I know that a lot of the themes/extensions deal with Firefox's internal Javascript, so it could have something to do with that.

Whatever it is, clearing the cache worked. The funny thing is, I've cleared my cache before on these machines and not noticed Macros being fixed. It could be a temporary fix, but I'm just glad to have something working again.

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