Alienware sucks worse than MSI

Last year, my Alienware laptop died after 18 months of service due to a power-related failure. I replaced it with an MSI because I could order it quickly, but it came with problems. To summarize my main issues with the MSI - it only boots successfully about 50% of the time, and otherwise freezes while booting, so it's often challenging to get it started. To avoid this, I have to keep it running most of the time. In addition, the keyboard misses keystrokes, and has an exceptionally awkward layout. Among other things, pressing Home and End requires a combination with the Fn key. Overall, not great for work.

Because I really liked my previous Alienware, and my wife likes hers, I decided to buy a new machine sooner than I otherwise would have. I opted for another Alienware. Oh boy. That was a mistake.

Ladies and gentlemen, what I have in my hotel room, resting in a suitcase next to me, is a $3,720 paperweight. I'm still typing this on my MSI laptop, because the Alienware shipped defective out of the box. It does not run on battery power. The motherboard fails to recognize the battery. It does run on AC power - but that's not what a laptop is for.

Adding insult and increasing injury, Alienware's service has been inept. I called Dell as soon as I unpacked this glorified brick and discovered the problem. It took me an hour just to get the right person on the phone. About 4-5 people forwarded my call from one department to another, incurring a 10-15 minute wait each time, each one saying I got the wrong department. When I finally got through to Alienware Tech Support, it took another hour to work with them and go through the diagnostic steps. The problem was confirmed, the fault must be in either the motherboard or battery. This was last Monday; they scheduled to ship both parts to a Dell technician in the area, who ought to call on Wednesday or Thursday. Because I don't have a US phone number and I'm staying in a hotel, I provided Dell with contact information for the people who helped me order the laptop in the first place.

About an hour after the support call, I figure I can set up a Skype number so the technician can call me directly, and come to my hotel room. I send updated contact information to Dell. Oh, boy. What could be worse. Their process now requires them to cancel the initial service order, and place a new service order. This will now cause a delay of 1 - 2 days, even though I sent new contact info just an hour after the call.

On Tuesday, I get a call from Dell, and they're confused about who to call and where to send the technician to. I don't care, whichever address works for me, I'll bring the laptop where it's needed. Just get this done. OK, they decide, the technician will go to the original contact address.

Comes Thursday, I receive an email from them saying they've canceled the original order after all, and have to place a new order using the new contact information. Then a few hours later, they call to say it turns out that Alienware batteries are completely out of stock. They agree that there's a 50/50 chance the problem is with the motherboard, so I ask that they send just the motherboard, so we can try replacing that. They say OK, and confirm that their technician will now call early the following week. I'm leaving the US later that same week, so this is cutting it short now.

Next Monday arrives, and there's no call yet, so I send them an email asking about what's up. They reply they've now realized the motherboards are out of stock as well. They can do nothing to help, but they are very sorry. I should initiate an ownership transfer procedure so as to get warranty in Costa Rica. Then I should beg for help when I get there.

So what I'm left with right now is a $3,720 Alienware Paperweight™ which won't work on battery power. I can't return it, because that's a process that takes 2 weeks to complete, and I need to be home by then. It can't be fixed, because the parts are out. All I can do is beg and hope that their international division will be able and willing to take care of this problem at some point after I return to Costa Rica. Which I'm pretty sure they're only promising because that's how they can get rid of me, and they actually won't.

Update - August 4, 2014: They shipped the motherboard after all, and a technician came to try and replace it, but that didn't fix the problem. It seems to be the battery. The technician called a service representative, which promised without any doubt that they can send a battery, and it would arrive within 1-2 business days. At some expense, I extended my trip to the US to allow for the battery to arrive. The battery, of course, didn't. The representative was again completely uninformed about the actual status of their inventory, and the batteries appear to still be on back order.

I have since returned to Costa Rica, the laptop is with me, and its battery is still dead. It now rests on a shelf next to my other dead Alienware.

Update - September 19, 2014: It was the battery. As I predicted, Dell sent no response to my request to transfer ownership of the laptop to me in Costa Rica. Unwilling to deal with them any further, I first tried to order a replacement from a specialized battery website that listed it for under $140. The website turned out to be dodgy, they neither responded nor fulfilled my order, so after waiting a few weeks, I had to turn to PayPal for a refund. I then ordered through a third party seller that sold the battery through Amazon, which cost $240 to ship to the US, then another $50 to re-ship to Costa Rica (could not ship to Costa Rica directly), then another $145 of import duties in Costa Rica (yes, they are high).

All in all, an extra USD 435 - on top of all the hassle and expenses I incurred earlier. But, now it works with the new battery. Or at least, it worked one time so far. Knock on wood and fingers crossed that it keeps working.


On the relative value of money

Money makes problems go away. That's nice. But when the problems in your life are gone, the remainder is not happiness. It's vacuum.

If life were a game, then getting rid of the problems is like skipping to the end, past all the obstacles. You have the entire map uncovered. You can travel any place, buy anything you want that in-game vendors are selling. You can complete all the little achievements - find all ten of this, kill all six of that. And it's easy; you have all the upgrades you want, and you can kill everything in one shot.

But it feels hollow, and shallow, and it's nothing like playing the story for the first time - with appropriate difficulty, where fights are a challenge, and you have to keep trying to win, and winning feels rewarding, and you're at the center of a story with dramatic turns, and you don't have the means to know everything yet. You can deprive yourself of the advantage - unequip your gear, try to kill everything with a knife in close combat - but you know such restrictions are arbitrary, and just as lacking in meaning as any other way. But you'll do that - because what else is there to do - and then that will be done, too.

Having all the money you want is like having your life in front of you, and it's already game over. You've already won, and that's in the past - perhaps it happened before you were even born. Nothing you do from here on really matters, and after you've explored the trivialities of the world, the only mysteries that remain are the hard ones, the unyielding stone walls imposed by nature; the borders of our known world, which no single man can realistically overcome, regardless of what wealth they have. What you can realistically hope to do is help chip away at eternity - contribute what little you can in the gargantuan task of expanding our world a bit more.

If you're in that spot, and have passion and love in your life, it makes all the difference. Money makes a good life better; but arguably, it is more worthwhile to have passion and love, and be poor, than lack that, and have all the money in the world.


/r/polyamory and me

I have a love/hate relationship with /r/polyamory. On the one hand, it's the one place to discuss my favorite topic - on loving people without owning them. On the other hand, it's disproportionately populated with participants who somehow manage to push my buttons. While many are great conversational partners, others reek of unfounded superiority of the liberal arts type, combined with a firmly held belief that they can write, even though they couldn't read to save their lives. I think of them as neckbeards and beardettes, which seems to about fit the profile, if I can believe photos and reports of their meetups. In addition, the place is overseen by this perfidious type of moderator who consistently fail to police subtle insults, but are quick with the banhammer against someone who explicitly counterattacks.

As a result of this setup, participating in that subreddit makes my blood slowly boil. For months at a time, I'll try to remain calm against people whose obstinate failures to comprehend range from overconfident ignorance to outright malice. But in a while, the sublimated anger accumulates, and a day arrives when I'll have had enough, along with a person who presses my buttons a little bit too much. I'll give them one chance after another, but they'll keep stabbing me in the back, until I can no longer keep my cool; and then, Mr. Sensible turns into The Incredible Hulk. I'll tell them exactly what I think of them, and I will tell them really well - at which point they'll alert the "police", and...

What surprises me is - after the initial shock, this comes to me as a relief. I both didn't, and did want this to happen. I could have avoided it, but I kept it up because I've been seeking it all along. It's a necessary break from trying to talk sense to pretentious, unempathetic, "socially concerned" (but really quite egotistic), "tolerant" (but really not) artsy liberal arseholes.


It's just a hunch...

A funny little thing happened. A few days ago, I woke up after dreaming about a problem in our SSH Client. The dream called my attention to an issue I had never really thought about, or considered a problem. In currently released versions, when the client is run for the first time by the installer, it starts elevated - it runs with full administrative permissions of the installer, which means it runs in a slightly different security context than every next time it is run. I dreamt that this is causing problems, but after I woke up and thought about it, I couldn't quite put my finger on what these problems are. I wasn't even sure that it runs elevated in the first place. So at first, I didn't want to make a big deal about it. It seemed like a theoretical issue more than one with immediate impact, and we have other issues to deal with.

Still - later that day, before I went to bed, I remembered the dream again, and gave it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I couldn't think of how it causes problems, but the behavior is incorrect. I opened a case about it, and Andrej fixed it soon after that. The fix isn't yet available in a released version, but it will be.

A few days later, we receive a follow up from a customer who had reported strange behavior with the SSH Client. He previously found that some of his network drives aren't visible from the SSH client, but now he found that the problem occurs when he uses the client after installation. The drives become visible if he closes the client and opens it from the shortcut again. I get a hunch, and ask the customer to try running the client from the shortcut, as Administrator, using elevation, and see if that reproduces the problem. Sure enough, it does.

So I dreamt about a problem that I didn't understand, and we fixed it a few days before recognizing an example of its impact. Cool. :)


Adderall vs. street meth

Fascinating article on US drug culture hypocrisy with regard to speed in the form of Adderall, vs. speed in the form of street meth:
The Speed of Hypocrisy: How America Got Hooked on Legal Meth

Most people understand that heroin and Oxycontin are both hard, addictive drugs. Not so with speed. When it comes to amphetamine, we’ve chosen a national split-screen in which doctors airily put millions of healthy children and adults on daily speed regimens while SWAT teams throw concussion bombs in baby cribs in pursuit of small-fry meth dealers.
“By the time I had the seizure, I was taking 90 milligrams of Adderall a day,” she says. “I knew girls who were taking the same amount or more. I don’t know if any of us had so-called ADHD, but the effects [of the Adderall] started to look exactly like how ADHD symptoms are described. I was told I needed it, so I believed it, but it was really just addiction.”
No pimply meth dealer ever tried to tell me his product was a harmless stimulant. No Mexican cartel ever made huge buys in medical journals to corner the market on fifth-graders, or hired pop stars to push their product on young moms on national television.