Sunday, January 08, 2006

In a second hand bookstore, I bought a book called Famous Potatoes. On the second page, someone has written the single word Vibrators. It's the only annotation in the whole book. I wonder why: a shopping list? a mild epithet?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Eat my cycles

I was noticing that my new Thinkpad was running very slowly. It would sometimes take several minutes to remove the screen saver (which is, if course, totally unnecessary for an LCD, but that's another story). Checking System Monitor in the wonderful Google Sidebar showed me the CPU was at 100%, and the Windows task manager showed that a process called QCTRAY.EXE was responsible. This proved to be the Thinkpad utility for switching between different location profiles. I also have this on my work Thinkpad, where it is somewhat useful, but for my home laptop I don't really need it. It's one of those annoying things that starts up on boot, off a key in the registry. It seems to work just as well if you start it manually, so deleting the key doesn't mean losing it completely. A quick edit to the registry and things get much better. Quite why it took all the CPU is a mystery. Lenovo's web site suggests it has a bad interaction with Symantec Anti-Virus, but I switched to MacAfee as Symantec is such a pile of poo, so that doesn't seem like why.

Monday, January 02, 2006

While I'm on this subject...

At the risk of revealing that I really am a middle-aged curmudgeon, here is a companion piece to my rant about Lenovo. The subject this time is UPS. We ordered a new bed for our dog a short while back, and arranged for UPS to ship it. No one was at home the first day they tried to deliver it, and they left a note saying we could ring up to set a new delivery time. This actually seemed to mean a new delivery day, as they wouldn’t commit to any specific time: it could be from 9am until 7pm., they said. As the dog by this stage was weak from lack of sleep, I stayed in all day so as not to miss it. No UPS delivery. Oh dear, they said, tomorrow we’ll deliver it in a mutually agreed two-hour window. Again, no delivery the entire day.

Contacting UPS, by the way, means ringing a central number, navigating the call center, and talking to a person who says it’ll all be OK, but otherwise has no power to set the delivery time. If you call the local depot, the phone rings and rings and rings, but no-one answers. So the next time we called, we escalated it to a supervisor. After checking with the local depot, he told us that the bed wasn’t delivered the last time because they had put it in a big trailer out the back, but they weren’t sure which one, and they’d forgotten all about it anyway. Tomorrow they’ll be trying again. If it fails this time, I’m strongly tempted to ship them a small package delivered by the dog.

Is my computer a vegetable?

I feel a rant coming on.

In early December, I ordered a new laptop, a Thinkpad. I've had five Thinkpads over the last 10 years, and have found them to be much better than any other laptop I've used (a couple of Dells, an odious HP, and a fashion accessory called a Powerbook). When IBM sold off their Thinkpad operations to the Chinese company Lenovo, many people expected the quality to decline. This appears not to have been the case. Thinkpads are as good as ever, and have even added some whizzy gadgets like fingerprint authentication and disc protection for the levobipedal amongst us.

Where Lenovo seem to have compromised is in the quality of their operations. Let's take it step by step. It took me four days to place an order through their web site. For the first three days, I'd get to the stage of placing an item in the so-called cart, only to get a database error. This was eventually fixed. The best Lenovo customer service could offer was "keep trying". Choosing the model was also confusing: they display hundreds of Thinkpad variants on the site, with very little to guide you to a choice. The division by the basic models (T, R, X, etc.) is a reasonable top-level distinction, but then within each model they are classified as ThinkExpress, Standard and Custom, with no explanation of how the first two of these differ. There does not seem to be a rational system behind the pricing. I ended up with a model with more disc than the one I had originally decided on for less money.

Lenovo were quoting 10 day delivery on the web site. By the time of the order, this had gone up to 15, which was annoying but not an uncommon experience. In fact, they shipped it after 12 days. I had paid for 2-day UPS shipping and as it was shipped on December 13th, you'd expect it to arrive on Dec 15th, right? It actually arrived on December 27th. Lenovo ship from the far East to Ontario, California (it's in or near LA), and that is where the problems arose. Here is what the UPS tracking said (slightly edited and reformatted):
Dec 14, 2005 1:06 P.M. ONTARIO, CA, US

Some quick web searching (with Google - it's good, isn't it?) suggested that this is not an uncommon experience, and it allegedly happens because Lenovo botch the paperwork. Due to the way they do importing they can't just fax a correction, but have to resend the whole documentation, and if it is still wrong, they have to go round this loop until they get it right. Repeated emails to Lenovo customer service resulted in two things: about 25% of the time, I got a non-committal reply with no useful information, and the remainder of the time, I got no reply at all.

Finally, on Dec 22nd, the hold was released, and this appeared on the UPS tracking:
Dec 22, 2005 1:14 P.M. ONTARIO, CA, US

It is not totally clear to me why the FDA should need to check my laptop (insert random joke about Apple here). Perhaps they thought it was a vegetable. The hold was released the next day, just in time to get it delivered on the last business day before Christmas. Except it wasn't, and I had to wait until Tuesday.

I emailed Lenovo suggesting they should refund the extra $50 I paid for 2-day shipping, as it had taken more than two days. They agreed, but in an oblique way that gives the impression they will get you the refund but without actually giving any indication of how to make it happen.

Here's a final area where I think Lenovo are cutting costs. The laptop arrived with no recovery CDs, and very little documentation. The preinstalled software (including the OS) is on a special partition on the hard disc. This has two disadvantages: it takes between 10 and 15 GB off the disc capacity, and if the hard disc fails, you're stuffed. You can create recovery CDs from the disc; it takes 7 of them, and you can only do it once, due to Windows XP licensing.

I'm sure that in a week or two, I will have ceased to think about any of this. I like my instant gratification, and I like it now, so to get these delays is really a petty annoyance. But if I buy another Lenovo product, I'll be checking them out more carefully before I go ahead.