My Computer Problems

One of the reasons that posting has been non-existent (in addition to prepping for a hurricane) is that we came to Florida with a broken laptop. Our Toshiba Satellite (a year and a half old) is flaking out, refusing to boot, and when you can cajole it to, it will die in mid session. That means that the only computers we have are our phones and Patricia’s iPad. Which means that I haven’t had a keyboard (other than finger painting on glass, which is largely useless).

I ordered a Bluetooth keyboard from Amazon on Sunday, and it arrived today. I’m typing this with it on the iPad, and I don’t feel crippled any more, but I still have to stab at the glass to make things happen. The mouse is supposed to arrive tomorrow, which will allow me to clear out my mailbox.

I’ll probably write a long essay sometime soon about how much I hate Steve Jobs and his hatred of useful user interfaces over aesthetic ones.

[Late Saturday evening update, as the storm approaches]

It’s not utterly impossible to blog from an iPad, but it’s close enough to it that it’s not going to happen. It is almost impossible to copy and paste, or to embed a tweet. Because apparently Steve decided that mice would not be allowed with His Preciousssss.

[September 19th update]

Welp, the authorized Toshiba repair place says it needs a new mobo and battery. Over $500 for a machine we paid $350 for a year and a half ago. I’m going to go pick it up and see if I can find some used parts. Despite the fact that it only had a year’s warranty, you’d think that Toshiba would be a little embarrassed to have it fail so soon.

[Bumped]

75 thoughts on “My Computer Problems”

      1. The Samsung Note series comes with the S Pen. That helps a lot with precision input. Between that and that Bluetooth keyboard you should be set. I saw a guy a couple of years back with a hard foldable Bluetooth keyboard that looked really nice. Only problem was the keyboard was about as big as his smartphone. But at least when folded it still fit into a pocket.

        1. My Samsung Tab S2 supports OTG–cheaper ones, like the A, appear to as well, from a cursory Google.

          The nice thing is an OTG cable is like $3, so you can just buy one and toss it if it turns out it doesn’t work with your tablet.

          Obviously you probably don’t want to carry a full-size keyboard everywhere…but at home, it’s pretty nice. (My phone, an LG G5, also supports OTG. It’s pretty funny to use a full-size keyboard with it.)

      2. Mrs. McG is contemplating replacing her Windows 7 laptop. My perusal of the options surprised me with how common touchscreens have become on laptops.

    1. Modern Android tablets and phones support USB On The Go, meaning for the cost of a cheap micro-B to A adapter, you can plug in a real, full-sized keyboard or mouse. (You could probably plug in a hub and use both at the same time, too, but I haven’t got one handy to try.)

      I’m not sure if iOS supports that or not–obviously you’d need a slightly different adapter–so I don’t know if this would help Rand.

      1. That got me curious. I also use an LG G5 but haven’t looked at peripherals in a while. You can get a USB C hub that allows for pass through charging of the phone while you run other devices off other usb ports. One even has an HDMI out, so you can hook the phone to a TV/monitor.

    1. Apple is a lot like Twitter. “We’re going to improve the product for you!” “Great! Wanna know what we want?” “Absolutely not!”

      “We want longer battery life.”

      “OK, cool. We’ll give you a thinner phone, and take away your earphone jack!”

      1. Steve Jobs had a thing for minimalist design. One big passion of his was black and white high resolution screens… That’s why the Lisa and the NeXT had those while nearly everyone else had long since moved to color. The Lisa ended up with worse graphics in practice than an Apple IIe. The other thing was that he hated noisy computers with fans. So quite a few of their computers had overheating issues (e.g. Powermac Cube).

        1. I don’t agree that Steve Jobs had a “big passion of…black and white high resolution screens,” at least the black and white part. I also do not agree that “nearly everyone else had long since moved to color.”

          When introduced in 1988, the NeXTcube had a screen resolution of 1120×832×2 [1]. In 1990, IBM launched XGA graphics with 1024×768 pixels using an 8-bit palette [2]. Later, NeXT would offer a color video board and a color inkjet printer.

          [1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NeXT_Computer
          [2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphics_display_resolution#Extended_Graphics_Array

      2. Isn’t your Toshiba still under warranty? Here in the EU they force every product to have 2 years warranty minimum.
        If you are going to buy a new laptop, I would probably recommend ASUS or Lenovo.

    1. An iMac would not solve the problem I’m describing at a reasonable price. And it would have its own flaws. Like the crap Apple UI. But gotta love when I complain about computer problems in general and Apple problems in particular and people tell me to get a Mac.

  1. Can i tell you about this really spiffy new electric car that replaced all tactile control buttons on the dash and console with a big ass touch screen ?

    1. Please don’t. I hate the fact they did that to the Tesla Model 3. They may know a lot about how to design a powertrain but human interface ergonomics? Not really. I was kinda hoping they would have a HUD or something. At least for the speedometer. But nope.

      1. I was thinking something similar. Give us a heads up please when there are cars with touch screen steering wheels so that we know to look out for the drivers flailing at their dashboard like a ravenous hydra. And I’ll remember to stay off the streets once they have remote driving cars (from the comfort of your living room couch via the ultra-secure smart home network).

  2. I can imagine the perfect computer and there’s no chance in hell it will ever exist because it would empower the individual and be non-intrusive. A pair of glasses perhaps?

    What may exist will be a permanently installed Pavlovian group-think device that punishes you for thought crimes. Everybody will believe they’ve become part of a networked genius brain never realizing what is omitted. The big lie will be reality. Freedom of speech will be defined to only be that which is approved.

    …and it will freeze with daily s/w updates and memory bloat will require socialized medicine for upgrades.

    1. That is the big danger of a Matrix like jacking in and downloading “knowledge” into your brain. You aren’t just assimilating information but someone else’s dogmatic interpretation of that information. Literally being about to reprogram people’s minds and consciousness must be very appealing to some people though.

      No debates, no wars, no re-education camps, and no mass executions.

  3. “I’ll probably write a long essay sometime soon about how much I hate Steve Jobs and his hatred of useful user interfaces over aesthetic ones.”

    I think, Rand, you’re confusing “useful for your hyper-geek needs and workflow” with “useful for a tablet system aimed at the mass-market”.

    My Grandma can use an iPad with relative ease.

    No UI you’re likely to find “useful, not aesthetic” is one she’s going to be comfortable with.

    Hell, I probably would prefer more Jobsian UI, and I’m a professional programmer and have run barebones Unix for fun.

    Sorry, I do UX for a living, and people who prefer Linux for their home OS should take care to remember that their ideas about “useful UI” are immense outliers from normal people.

  4. I don’t know. There was a time when the simplicity of a CLI interface and only dealing with 24 lines of 80 chars per line were sufficient to accomplish enormous amount of work. The added side benefit was it was so much easier to explain to the newbie. Try using verbiage to navigate around a GUI! It’s pretty awful. Worse when those of the Great Generation back in the 90’s tried to learn GUI’s from the Boomers via verbal description and the never ending comment “oh let me write that down”… Totally self defeating and impossible to explain why….

    1. I’d love to take out my revenge on the millennials by removing the screen and keyboard altogether. There is just a black box with a printer and a slot for taking paper punch cards…. ahahahahahahaha..

      1. New fangled paper tape? Toggle switches and blinky lights my boy. That’s the ticket. Real programmers do Kansas City standard bootloaders from memory!

        1. I’m glad I’m a fake programmer, then, because that sounds awful.

          Which is why programmer laziness invented automated bootloaders ASAP.

          1. What was awful was sharing code memory with video memory because there wasn’t enough of either. The good news was you could see your monochrome program change as a strip on the screen. I/O included sound if you blinked an LED at the correct rate after hooking it up to a speaker.

            500 Hz RCA 1802 Cosmac Elf (Deluxe version I had, had hexadecimal keypad.)

        2. Been there done that as well. One of my uP project’s used a series of breadboards wiring up a switch bank, CPU / Memory and an I/O board to a National Semi IMP-16. First program that was ‘switched’ in was a program to run the paper tape reader off a Teletype Model 33 to make it work as a console terminal. And so that it’s O/S could be loaded off the paper tape.

          But as great as all that was, there is my fondness beyond fondness for my first ‘digital’ computer. A Geniac. Received on Christmas Day, 1966….

  5. Rand, I really enjoy my Lenovo ThinkPad. It is a T series and built like a tank. I also use the 9hr battery which juts out a bit from the back but worth it. It is heavy and bulky compared to the newer X series and Carbons…. My biggest gripe with laptops these days are they make the damn touch pads too big. I’m always hitting it with my thumb or palm of my hand and hyper-spacing off… When not on the road the best way to use it is with it plugged into a docking station with big monitors, keyboard and mouse. Works great! Turn off the touchpad and use a wireless mouse when on the road. Works great! Highly recommend it. Also don’t bother with any kind of drive other than an SSD. They are big enough, much much faster and less prone to mechanical disturbance, damned near immune to it in my book. Not a big fan of touch screens when trying to do serious work. I like keeping hands down on desk not constantly having to reach up. Too awkward. As a side note, I also like trackballs as much if not better than mice and esp. in place of touchpads! I’m still particularly fond of the one that was embedded in my first laptop, a Mac PowerBook 170 of which I am still a proud owner of such an antique. But that’s just me….

    1. Downside of a Lenovo is all the extra software that comes bundled. A lot of it can be removed but it takes a lot of work. Re-imaging from a Windows 7 disk will lose some important drivers so it’s damned if you do damned if you don’t.

      BTW Windows 7 is it for me. I’m on Windows 10 on a loaner laptop and just not impressed.

      Also there is the claim out there that China has embedded spyware throughout in Lenovos. Maybe. After all for most laptops bear the sticker “Intel Inside”. Richard Stallman says that sticker doesn’t just refer to the company….

      1. AFAIK most Lenovos are designed in Japan and manufactured in China. But the thing is, with the amount of hardware manufactured in China, who’s to tell that everything manufactured there isn’t tainted?

    2. I always turn off my touchpad. I hate, hate, hate touchpads because they are both difficult to use precisely and move the cursor when you don’t want it to. But my biggest problem with a conventional laptop is that with the new seat pitches, you can’t open it on a plane. I was hoping the two in one with an extra keyboard would solve that problem, until it quit working.

  6. As I’ve said before here: Apple’s stuff doesn’t work for you – fine. But it works great for me, and others I know, so don’t go confusing your preferences for universal truths.

    (Obligatory recitation of tech cred: written hundreds of thousands of lines of Fortran, C, C++, Ada, Python; favorite text editor is XEmacs and I can hack Emacs-Lisp; expert with TeX; have taught classes to help fellow engineers get the most out of X11; have contributed to open source projects; ran various Linux flavors at home and work; etc., etc. Have been Apple-only at home for about 10 years, and it works great for me.)

  7. Most android phones and tablets should be able to connect to Bluetooth keyboards and mice. That would save you the hassle of trying to connect to all of: a charger, a USB-OTG adapter, a USB hub, a wired mouse, and a wired keyboard.

    BTW, most current high-end Android phones with USB-C are DisplayPort compatible. YMMV.

  8. I’m getting tired of carrying around my two year old Asus N750 17 inch laptop but it has the horsepower I need to run virtual machines with various iterations of engineering software. Windows 10 is annoying, many of my programs only work on Windows 7 or lower, and it seems to like to reboot automatically even though I’ve switched that feature off.

    Would really like a laptop that would reliably run VMs on Linux or something other than an Apple / Microsoft OS.

    I have an iPad with a Zagg Bluetooth keyboard which is great for email and browsing. Not so good for managing file systems.

    SSD hard disks are the only way to go if you want less weight, more speed, more reliability and less power use.

  9. Last year, I bought a Lenovo Thinkpad. It’s the best value computer I’ve ever owned. For less than $400, it has a big hard drive, lots of RAM, good battery life, and all the ports I need. It doesn’t have a CD ROM drive, but I have a USB external one. I just loaded Libre Office and Open Office after I got it, and bought Simply FORTRAN for $100 (it’s like Leahy, only 50 times cheaper). This machine could easily run Linux (mine is Windows 7, and I have no complaints). I highly recommend it.

      1. Libre’s spreadsheet has some features Open doesn’t, and each has quirks when it comes to working on various Microsoft Office documents. If one doesn’t work, I switch to the other.

  10. In theory the Microsoft Store sells laptops, converibles and tablets by brand name makers as ‘Signature’ editions with no bloat ware, just Windows. Haven’t tried them myself.

    1. LIkewise, the Surface convertible line from Microsoft is supposedly quite flexible and powerful. Haven’t tried one, but might suit Rand’s purpose. You still get the Windows 10 “features” …

  11. When Macs first came out, I disliked them at once; whatever wiring in the brain it is that “just take all the options away” is the right interface, I don’t have. Windows was better, in that you could use the GUI for what it was good for, and the command line for what it was good for. It wasn’t until I found the source material from which MacOS and Windows were copied that I understood what they were aiming at. UNIX with X-Windows was a fantastic environment for me. Used it most of my time at Intel after mainframes phased out, and I loved it. The main difference in the paradigm is that in UNIX/X-Windows, the GUI is an application, with each window being a separate process. I had my workstation up for over a year once, without ever having to power it down. Oh, individual windows would hang or crash, surely, just as they do in other operating systems, but then you’d just kill that window and get on with your work. No blue screen of death. No stray processes with memory leaks. It was really wonderful, and I really enjoyed working with the GUI 98% of the time, able to use the command line for things the GUI can’t do.

    Sadly, even though Linux is proliferating now, the center of gravity of the software I use is still very much on Windows, so going back doesn’t make sense — but it is frustrating to realize that the problems and limitations of MacOS and Windows were needless, and that the systems from which they were copied had all the convenience of GUIs without the limitations.

    1. The Mac isn’t nearly as bad since OS X came out. It’s based on BSD UNIX with their own desktop environment system. Which is based on NeXTSTEP. It is pretty good as a workstation environment actually.
      You have a UNIX command line now. The problem is most applications aren’t designed to use it, but it’s there and you can compile and run UNIX apps in it.

  12. Remember when audio systems were all components? That makes sense for a computer as well. That way, you just keep the components you like and only upgrade the components you want which would simply snap together. Everything connects to a small box you keep in your pocket which has multiple very small universal wireless micro-usb connectors. To connect your keyboard, display or any other large component you simply remove any fingernail sized connector and attach it to your device. Plug in modules would include whatever size battery you choose, any cpu/gpu, a ROM OS (instant boot, no incremental upgrades) both static and dynamic memory, etc.

    Plug in both a 7″ and 72″ display if you choose. Always use your own perfect keyboard (which you might keep for twenty years while you upgrade everything else 20 times.)

    Share a single wireless usb connector with the person sitting next to you and they can use their clam-shell device (nothing but display and keyboard) without any interference with your own work.

    1. We are kinda, sorta, almost there. I have got the CPU brick (in the Windows world could be an Intel NUC, a Dell Micro, or a Surface on its “kickstand”) down to three plugs — the power plug, the USB plug from a hub, and a video plug. The video is not-quite-there-yet to send that over the USB connection.

      As to those wireless USB plug-y-thing-y-s, the point of going wireless is to go cordless, so how do you power your mouse, keyboard apart from giving them a battery? And then you need to replace batteries? I decide the battery replacement hassle wasn’t worth it with batteries quitting at the worst time and where-in-creation-so-you-find-that-funny-form-factor-battery?

      As to instant boot, we are almost there with the newer, faster SSDs, but the no incremental upgrade? The Bulgarian-Russian-Ukrainian Axis of Hackers removed that possibility. They are thinking that even your fridge is going to have to get security updates . . .

      1. All good points.

        I had a keyboard similar to this. It recharged from usb but mine cost me about $100. It was very nice. I gave it to a friend. It had a wireless usb, laser pointer and nice touchpad. It worked great with any computer with usb.

        A clamshell would require a bigger battery and wireless recharge does already exist (although not as Tesla envisioned, rangewise.)

        Video over usb would require a protocol of smart graphics primitives (possibly with FORTH like extensibility?) and/or a faster connection. A message passing OS line QNX might be the ticket? Much could be done with existing X11 but high power games would require something better.

        There’s a reason for no incremental upgrade which promotes sloppy insecure code because “Why get it right? We can always fix it.” attitude. I don’t think security was a big issue for the Commodore 64 or Atari 800. The problem with security is they give it up before the hackers even attempt it. The belief by many is you can’t write a secure system which is total BS. What you can’t secure is the idiocy or ignorance of the user. You can write an OS so complicated that nobody understands it well enough to make it secure. But that isn’t the same as “an OS can’t be secure.” It can and be perfectly functional and flexible. You can plug the ignorant user hole as well with biometrics.

        your fridge is going to have to get security updates . . .

        No doubt, but that’s not because it can’t be done right but because enterprise doesn’t have the motivation to do it. This is the same reason internet info is mostly plaintext (or equivalent) when it could all be encrypted as standard practice without any user requirement. Encryption does have overhead but that can be proportional to application. It should just be SOP.

        We are kinda, sorta, almost there

        Which is my point in laying it out. It’s easier to hit a target when you see it. The first iteration doesn’t have to be perfect, just show the way. We may get there anyway, even by a less direct path.

        I remember seeing a QNX demo in NYC in the late seventies. They just never marketed it for the masses but even then it blew away much of what we have today.

        1. Imagine if every business offered free internet with a default custom ordering homepage on connection? No app download required. Out to their parking lot? While everybody had a $20 clam shell device or smart phone?

          A temporary guest account would be established for every connection (no user password required because your clamshell or cell phone already has your security.) The guest account would time out and be wiped after a few months from last use.

          Class rooms would be the same. Each with a default homepage each student would see on connection, individualized by device security.

      2. “We are kinda, sorta, almost there. I have got the CPU brick (in the Windows world could be an Intel NUC, a Dell Micro, or a Surface on its “kickstand”) down to three plugs — the power plug, the USB plug from a hub, and a video plug. The video is not-quite-there-yet to send that over the USB connection.”

        I bought a Skull Canyon NUC last year. It’s a 45W quad-core i7, so almost as powerful as a high-end desktop. And it has a USB 3 port with Thunderbolt 3, which has enough bandwidth you can use an external video card with it. That’s an expensive solution, and it’s not as good as a desktop with the same video card, due to bandwidth limitations, but it IS serviceable video-from-USB (according to all the reviews. I don’t feel like spending the money on an eGPU.)

        Many of the eGPU enclosures also sport a couple of USB ports, meaning you could plug your mouse and keyboard in there, cutting you down to power and USB cord being the only thing coming out of the NUC.

      3. “The video is not-quite-there-yet to send that over the USB connection.”

        Your information, or at least your equipment, is out of date. USB-C on new Macs and high-end Android phones support DidplayPort. So do Thunderbolt ports.

        As for batteries, can you give a specific example?

  13. I just picked up a reconditioned laptop with quite a few bells and whistles and windows 7 for $229.00 pretty cheap if you do not mind used.

  14. Rand, you wanted a mouse on an iPad? Apple used to prohibit that, has something changed? IIRC there was a jailbreak tweak, but stock iOS wasn’t allowed to connect to mice. And yes, as they put more ornaments on iOS, the tree is sagging. Apple seems to be trying hard to break iPads.

  15. I have an iPad mini which I bought just for running an aviation flight planning/mapping/information app. Miserable PoS. Slow and flaky wifi and Bluetooth, unresponsive keyboard and generally a miserable web surfing experience.
    I have also used an Apple desktop at a sister in law’s place in NZ. Wasn’t impressed.
    I also bought a A$100(about US $75) Android phone which seems to work about as well as an iPhone.
    HTF does this company stay in business?
    Have had minimal problems with Win 10 and have a Win7, Win 10 and a little old eeePC running XP (great OS) in my workshop (mainly is the display system for an oscilloscope).

  16. >HTF does this company stay in business?

    Apple is essentially a fashion company now. People buy iStuff for the same reason women buy $1000 handbags. Remember when they had the solid gold watches? Their virtue signaling has become painful to endure, but it’s part of their entire marketing strategy.

    iOS is becoming terrible, possibly due to an attempt to turn content-consumption devices into content-production devices, because that’s Tim Cook’s vision: iDevices replacing laptops and desktops. MacBooks are well-built, but there’s a huge premium for reasonable upgrades (especially RAM) that can only be installed at the factory. Apple’s neglected the Mac Pro and Mac Mini in favor of all-in-one iMacs that, again (except for hobbyists) can’t be upgraded.

    Windows is passable, but has lots of issues. My powerful desktop freezes for about 60 seconds once or twice per hour. The thread on the Microsoft forums for that issue is pages long and years old. My Android phone works, but simple things like getting music onto the phone bring hours of frustration as the music sync program I paid for doesn’t seem to work right anymore, and I’m not sure it’s even being updated. I can’t escape the feeling that basic functionality of almost all tech is suffering so “bling” features can be added.

  17. Agent J, my PC which I’m writing this on (used to run Win7 now 10) used to freeze as you describe. Fixed (under warranty by ASUS) by installing new hard drive. No problem in the last 5 years.

    1. Thanks, Mike. From what I can tell, it is indeed some issue with the computer talking to the SSD. Some people are suggesting downloading the drivers for the SSD controller directly, I guess the thought is that the Windows generic drivers don’t really work.

  18. Sounds like the system board on your Toshiba needs to be replaced. I worked on Toshiba’s for a while when we carried them at work. I routinely came across laptops that were displaying diagnostic codes indicating some type of voltage issue. If you do a search on Google for the model # of your laptop and “system board” you can maybe find a new board for $50 if it has a removable processor. If the processor is embedded in the system board it’ll possibly be a couple to a few hundred dollars though. The board swap just entails a number of #0 and #1 phillips screws holding the chassis together. There are also some ribbon cables and few wire connectors for the bios battery, power supply, lcd panel, speakers, keypad, and touchpad. You’ll also need some thermal compound to reseat the heatsink to the processor. Usually takes a couple of hours to swap, though I can do it in about 45 minutes.

  19. 1) As I mentioned on Twitter, after years of preferring Toshiba laptops, a bad warranty experience led me to switch to HP.
    2) My experience has been that an extended warranty IS a good idea with laptops. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done that with that last Toshiba.

    1. HP is dead to me; I bought a laptop from them in 2010, that died after 8 months. I spent the rest of the year’s warranty sending it back repeatedly–supposedly they replaced the CPU twice and the motherboard twice, but they never actually fixed it.

  20. Shame doesn’t seem included in most business models. For decades I’ve spent real money on software products I’d be ashamed to sell myself. That’s one reason I give my loyalty to some and not others.

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