Dear Nokia, I hate you. Love, Me.

I guess the title sums things up pretty well. Remember two years ago when I first found out about the N900 and I was like “OMG THIS PHONE IS AWESOME”? And then remember back in November 2009 when I finally got the N900 that I had pre-ordered and I was like “OMG THIS PHONE IS AWESOME”? And then remember how I’ve really liked my phone for the past 19 months? Well that all came to a screeching halt earlier a few weeks ago when the micro USB port (which is used to charge the phone) came loose and I could not charge the battery.

This is a widely-known and oft-complained about fact of N900 life, so I figured it’d be no big deal. Nokia knows how to handle this little defect in their design. So I dash off a quick note through their website and two days later I get a call back. The answer “well your phone is more than a year old, so we won’t do anything for you.” I understand that a warranty can only last so long, but it’s a design flaw, you assholes. It’s your problem, you fix it. I’m pretty ticked off that I’ve spent all this time telling everyone what a great phone the N900 is, that I paid full price for it, and now I have to go pay another $70 to get the damn thing fixed.

Look, I understand that I’m a nobody. A whiny nobody at the moment. But in case you haven’t noticed, Nokia, your smartphone strategy mostly consists of running around going “Oh sweet cellphone Jesus! What do we do? What do we doooooo?” First it was “hey check out this N900. Maemo is so cool!” Then it was “oh forget this N900 that we just told you was awesome. We’ll be coming out with a Meego handset, soon.” Then nothing happened for a while. Then the plan was “Meego? Lame. Check out this Windows Phone 7 that we’re totally going to use.” Then it was “oh hey, check out this N9 which runs Meego except it’s really Maemo 6 just API-compatible with Meego. But don’t worry about buying this because we’ll be abandoning it this fall for Windows Phone 7.” Are you guys stoned?

At least the company that fixed my phone was easy to deal with. Thank you OnSite Cellular Repair of Houston, Texas for your responsiveness. And an extra thank you for replacing the broken left arrow key, apparently for free?

Dropping Dropbox

When Dropbox first came to my attention, I was in love. What a great way to keep various config files synchronized across computers. Then it came out that Dropbox’s encryption wasn’t quite as awesome as they let on. It turns out there’s no technical restriction on (at least certain) employees accessing your files. The data is encrypted, but server-side. Now, I’m not all that concerned that someone will target me to find out what my .ssh/config file contains (heck, I’d put it on dotfiles if someone asked nicely), but it does make me reconsider what is appropriate for Dropbox.

Recently, Dropbox announced some changes to the Terms of Service. While the license part is what caused the most uproar on the Internet, the de-duplication part is what stood out the most to me. I know it’s not in Dropbox’s best interests to pay to store a thousand copies of Rebecca_Black-Friday.mp3, but that’s not my concern. The wording suggests that the de-duplication is block-level as opposed to file-level, which is less worrisome, but given their previous lack of transparency about the encryption, I wonder how they’re actually implementing it. If it’s file-level and if it spans multiple accounts, then that seems like a really terrible idea.

I’ve recently switched everything I had in Dropbox over to SpiderOak. The synchronization seems a bit slower and the configuration is less simple (but it’s much easier to back up multiple directories, instead of having to barf symlinks everywhere), but the encryption is client-side so that it’s impossible for SpiderOak to divulge user data (unless they’re lying, too). If you’re interested in trying SpiderOak for yourself, sign up through this link and we’ll both get an extra 1 GB of storage for free.

The “Amazon tax”: who’s the bad guy?

ArsTechnica had an article recently about how Amazon has decided to cut off its California affiliates in order to avoid having to collect California sales tax. The California law considers independent affiliates to be a physical presence of the affiliated company, a position Amazon disagrees with. In the midst of an overwhelming budget crisis, it’s understandable that Governor Brown would want California residents to pay the same tax on their Amazon purchases that they would at BigBoxStoreCo. There’s concern that this could end up resulting in a loss in tax revenue as employees of these affiliates lose their jobs. I did a cursory search for reports of such job losses in other states that have enacted similar laws, but couldn’t find anything concrete.

I understand why Amazon is taking this position. They’re not avoiding paying taxes (the customers would be the ones paying), they’re avoiding the overhead of determining the appropriate sales tax for every combination of address and product. Sales taxes are complicated. They vary not only by state, but sometimes by county and city. Different products are sales-taxable and others aren’t. Some customers are exempt from sales tax for certain purchases. Trying to keep all of that straight for the entire country is a non-trivial overhead.

So what’s the solution? One argument is that sales taxes are inherently unfair as they disproportionately affect the poor. Some would argue that a uniform sales tax is the solution. Another issue is that sales taxes are the sometimes only way to get money people who don’t live in the area but use services and infrastructure. This is a complicated problem and the solution is way more political than I care to be on this blog (if you like law and politics, Doug Masson’s blog is an enjoyable read). I take this as an example of how governments have yet to catch up with technology. It’s not unreasonable that online retailers collect sales taxes, but it’s unreasonable to expect it until the process is simplified.

The Casey Anthony verdict

I’m not a lawyer (if you want to read a lawyer’s reaction to the case, see Doug Masson’s blog), but I have watched a lot of “Law and Order”. I haven’t paid much attention to the case, but I was made quite aware of the verdict by the rest of the world. Seemingly, everyone in the country except the 12 who mattered thought she was guilty. I’m not convinced that Casey Anthony killed or was involved in the death of her daughter. Why not? Because I’ve seen almost no facts regarding the case, I’ve just picked up a few bits and pieces from commentary elsewhere. While I know there are some who have watched the coverage of this trial closely, I suspect most people have received their information the same way I have: filtered through one or more layers of reporting.

I understand that people think Casey Anthony is guilty. I expect that most people are convinced that O.J. Simpson is guilty of murder, too. There’s a case from the homeland where the accused has been twice-convicted of a triple murder but has had the verdict overturned on appeal. And you know what? I think that’s a good thing. It should be very difficult to convict someone of murder. The penalty for murder is justifiably harsh, but it is a greater travesty of justice when someone is wrongly convicted.

The other noteworthy point about this case is the question of: why is it news? Is it news because Nancy Grace has shoved her face into it? (On a related note, have you seen the episode of “Leverage” where they take down an obvious Nancy-Grace-alike? It’s good times.) As tragic as it is, I don’t see a reason for this to be national news. The sad truth is that many children are abused and sometimes killed across the country. I’ve never understood why some become national news and others barely get covered at all.

But that’s 322 words about a case that I’m not familiar with from a person who isn’t a legal expert in any sense. So we’ll call this the end.

Trouble with Dell support

I love Dell’s higher ed support. Their consumer-grade support, though, leaves something to be desired. A few years ago, we bought an Inspiron Mini 9 for my wife and it’s recently been having a few problems. First, the AC power adapter wouldn’t stay plugged in, so we had it replaced. Then the battery wasn’t holding a charge, so we had that replaced, too. Most recently, the laptop would shut off if the AC adapter was wiggled, even though the battery (according to the OS) showed a full charge.

I tried the easy fixes first. All software packages were already up-to-date, so I thought I’d try the newest BIOS. Except that Dell no longer provides the DOS-based BIOS packages, only the weird Windows installation program. The community provides some Linux support that Dell refuses to, but there’s no BIOS repository for the lpia architecture. I was able to update the BIOS by extracting the package in a Windows VM and then finding a few utilities to throw onto a USB stick. Sadly, it was all for naught, so I surrendered and contacted Dell support.

They sent a new motherboard and a technician. When the technician saw the motherboard, he was dismayed. On the Inspiron Mini 9, the motherboard does not contain the AC adapter port. So he sent the part back and asked for the correct part to be sent. The new part was again a motherboard. He called and spoke to a support rep who insisted the right part had been sent. Finally, he gave up and said I should just send it to the repair depot. He was clearly frustrated, but he wasn’t making any progress.

I was tired and cranky by that point, so I decided to get on the Dell support chat. Over the course of the next hour, I very patiently tried to explain to the person I was chatting with that the motherboard is not the correct part. Apparently, it got escalated up a rung or two and resulted in a conference call between the service rep, the technician, and several managers. On this call, they came to the conclusion that the motherboard was not the part I needed. There’s a small cable that connects the AC adapter to the motherboard that isn’t listed in any service manual or parts list. As it turns out, that’s shipped with the plastic base. So a few days later, the technician was again at the house with a new power cable…and also another motherboard.

In the two months since, the laptop has worked well, but I’m really put off by the whole experience. Why sell a product that you have no intention of actually supporting (see also: Nokia)? But if you have a Mini 9 and you have power problems and it doesn’t take three trips to get it fixed…you’re welcome.