Archive for the ‘IT Toolbox’ Category

A bit of a Review – Kit: High Power 20,800 mAh Dual USB Emergency Charger

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

So.  I don’t do this sort of thing very often.  Never, in fact.

I was asked to review a bit of tech on my blog here.  Specifically, MobileZap saw my blog and asked me to review “a good bit of kit” – a 20,800 mAh USB Emergency Charter.  I said sure – as long as you know it will be an honest review.  To their credit they were happy with that proviso.

Unfortunately, this leaves me with a bit of a bind – at the time of writing, at least, I understand I get to keep the bit of kit they sent me, which is a nice fillip.  Sort of repays some of the blog expenses.  But, if I write a review slamming the thing, they might ask for it back (sending these things back in Australia actually presents a problem – see later).  But if I write a review praising the thing, my legion of blog-fans (hi Mum!) will accuse me of being a bigger sell out than Metallica.  So, I’m going to stick with the honest review and see where that takes us.

Before we start

Obviously, I’ve written this review at the request of MobileZap.  Who I’ve never heard from before, and may never hear from again :).   My experience was about usual.  The item was packed well and was despatched reasonably quickly – about a week to arrive, I think.

Still, I googled the name. If you read the online reviews, there’s a bit of a mixed-bag of experiences with this online retailer.  On ProductReview at the moment they’re about 3.2 stars out of 5.  The negative posts relate to non-delivery or late-delivery of items that, though were marked as in-stock, weren’t.  Overall, these comments seem in line with a lot of these electronic online retailers.

I suppose I will temper that by saying that someone who feels gypped by a product will tell everyone they see (including ProductReview) whilst someone who ‘gets what they expected’ rarely does put up a positive comment.  In that context the comments and ratings on ProductReview are at least about average.  Still, you can get this product somewhere else if it takes your fancy, I’m sure.  They do have a good range at MobileZap, including iPad Air accessories (something they seem particularly proud of on their website).

Let’s take a look at this Emergency Charger

So, what is an Emergency Charger?  On the MobileZap website it looks like this:

And frankly, when I opened up the package at an Australia Post parcel locker (great service by the way), this is what I had.  A fairly heavy, smooth shiny black device.  By heavy, I mean it’s got a good heft about it.  It weighs 443 grams – which is pretty much a pound (sorry, I’m a metric baby).  More than you’d like to put in a pocket but perfectly portable in a man-bag or such like.

So.  To the review.  What matters?  Portability (weight and power source), looks (style), and fit-for-purpose (does it do what it says on the tin?).  In the traditional manner, I’ll talk about its pros and cons, as well as overall value, only after that discussion.

Portability

Upon opening, there’s a USB cable with a connector on one end, three connectors that fit onto the connector, and the charger itself.  That’s it.

Regarding portability – that weight is pretty much fine for what it is.  Yes it’s a pound, give or take, but it’s rectangular and about two centimetres high.  If you were out and about with a shoulder bag you won’t notice it too much – just slip it in there.  It won’t go in your pocket but it’s quite portable.  I believe there are smaller options if that matters to you.

Regarding the power source – by which I mean, can you power it up anywhere?  The answer is pretty much yes.  It’s USB-powered (which takes forever to charge up) so you can trickle charge it from your laptop or a standard USB charger (one of those ones that your mobile phone and/or tablet probably uses.  This good bit of kit does come with an adapter that connects to the USB for charging it up – and you’ll need to keep track of them.  The three adapters are a Micro USB, Mini USB and a 30 pin (old-style Apple) charging adapters.  You could use any USB cable with those adapters permanently affixed, I’ll warrant.  It certainly works for an iPad with a Lightning connector – just use your original cable.

I’d still like it if the product included a small bag or something to keep these adapters together.  Otherwise there will be tears at charging time.  I just put mine in a small zip lock bag, as shown in Exhibit A:

For some reason my photo’s not quite as good as MobileZap’s.  Still, from this photo you can also get an idea of how big it is – for comparison I’ve put a AA battery there.  It’s about 17cm long x 7cm wide x 2cm high.  While we’re talking about things that are missing from the case, it would be nice if it had its own charger.  Yes, they’re a dime a dozen but a dedicated one would be nice.  Particularly I’ve found that if I use a low-amp phone charger it takes ages (like, 24 hours) to charge this sucker up.  But you can just charge it using pretty much any USB port, and without the charger I guess that keeps the costs down and it’s one less thing to lose.  Buy one on ebay if you must.

Overall this charger is really quite portable.  If it is too hefty, there are smaller ones.

Looks

Looks-wise – hmm.  I’m an accountant, so not the harbinger of high fashion.  It’s basic black, so it’s unobtrusive.  Easily lost at the bottom of a dark bag I guess, but realistically that’s not an issue.  It isn’t garish and it’s pretty unobtrusive.  The finish is fine, there’s no pointy bits to catch on anything, and the joins are visible but no gaps.  It’s built well and feels like it’s built well.  That heft gives it a nice feeling of quality, and in an emergency you could use it to fend off an attacker in a dark alley – as it’s shiny black, they’ll never know what hit them.

It seems to be a fairly generic power-kit made in China, so there are no obtrusive logos.  It simply has a power-specifications label on the underside of the item.

Fit-for-Purpose?

And now the biggie – does it do what it says on the tin?

Let’s be frank.  I’d never gone looking for such a thing, partly because I didn’t know they existed, and partly because I didn’t know I needed it.  I do have battery cases that my phone clips into – it then goes from being Slim & Fashionable Phone of 2012 (HTC One) to DorkPad.  Those power cases from Mugen are pretty handy, but this is handier in more situations.  It really does shine as a portable charger for someone on the go, particularly with the ludicrously poor battery life phones still have.  I didn’t take it with me one afternoon and after an hour or two of Facebooking and texting back-and-forth, I wished I had.  My phone went dead, and that’s unhappy-time. It’s one of those life-skills of the 21st century – keep your phone charged.

The battery is mammoth.  Let me get my rave on a bit.  It has 20,800 mAh.  My One XL has 1,800 mAh.  I literally charged this pack up and one week later was still charging my phone from it.  I charged the phone four times from low power (<20%) to 100%, attached it several times when I wanted a perma-wifi hotspot, and the charger was still half-charged.  My biggest gripe about my phone is its lack of battery life – and if I use it for a wifi spot when I am out with my laptop or ipad, I can count on needing to charge it up again pretty soon.  Sigh.

I’ll note that the claim on MobileZap’s website is ’12 recharges of an iPhone 5S’ (which has 1560 mAh).  I think 12 is a bit optimistic (because some of the energy will be lost as heat and battery discharge), but maybe you’d get there.

With this charger I would be able to have literally hours of wifi hot spot (just got to watch that Telstra charge for going over my 1.5gb data limit).

I should note that there are two ‘out’ USB ports.  One is 5v, 2.1amps (that’ll be for your tablets and such), and the other is 5v, 1 amp (for your phone).  There’s also a button on the top – press it, and presto, you’re charging the connected device.  You can charge two things at once this way (a tablet and a phone).  Don’t try and charge a phone from the 2.1amp socket, though – my phone didn’t like that very much.

I guess that this ‘rave’ does highlight a problem with this charger.  It’s big – and because it’s big, I have a ridiculous amount of power to keep my phone running.  Perhaps I’d prefer to have something slightly smaller with less weight.

Still and all.   I can charge my phone and/or ipad wherever I am, without needing to find a power point (useful for international as well as inter-state travel).  The number of times I’ve been inter-state and at the end of the day discovered I’ve got very little charge left.  And since this will allow me to use the wifi hotspot with my laptop without worrying about having no phone, the charger is a definite plus.  It’s definitely fit for purpose.

I can think of a number of good applications for this.  For instance – in the car with children running out of power for devices (yes I can charge from the cigarette lighter but that’s not always that reliable). On the bus while playing Angry Birds when coming home from uni. Or, while camping.  Or, it can be slipped into my motorcycle pack so that if I do have a breakdown I can charge up my phone.

Don’t laugh – it happens!

A good buy?

Or, in a more mundane manner I can travel around the place and just use my phone with impunity – unless I’m away from powerpoints for several days, I’m good to go.

So.  Is it worth it?  At the time of writing, this ‘good bit of kit’ is up for $68.49 on the MobileZap website.  Shipping is $4.50 for standard slow-boat-from-China all the way up to $17.95 for standard and $24.95 for express delivery.  Still the good side of $100 (just).  I’d say it’s well worth it.  I’ve spent more than that in a taxi for a trip away.

So if you are the sort of person who is regularly away from your desk, this could be your new best friend.  If charging devices is not a challenge for you, maybe it’s not worth it.  I think that for me it probably is good value, even weighing up the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Good weight, very portable
  • Looks the goods – unobtrusive and professional
  • Definitely fit for purpose – with the caveats noted below.  You should get a few decent charge–from-empty charges for your phone at least, and you can use it to power your phone while it’s acting as a wifi hotspot without worrying about losing power.

Cons:

  • Those little connector bits should have a little bag to keep them all together – maybe they do in standard orders, but mine didn’t.  The lack of a Lightning connector seems to be an oversight.
  • Similarly – a dedicated charger would be a nice-to-have
  • Precisely because it’s so big, maybe you’d prefer a smaller and less weighty version.  Still it’s pretty light.

Value:

  • For < $100, it’s right proper worth it, if you’re away from a power source regularly.

Overall I hope you found this review interesting.  The charger is certainly a ‘good bit of kit’, with a few relatively minor issues.

Post-Script

Now, there needs to be a post-script to this review, and this relates to the issue of lithium batteries with Australia Post. I googled the product ID and as best I can tell this thing has a lithium battery in it – which is what I would expect.

It seems to be well-documented but you cannot legally send a lithium battery through Australia Post.  Mobile Zap can send you a lithium battery by post, because it’s being sent from China and is thus under their rules.  China doesn’t seem to consider it a dangerous good.  So, Australia Post will deliver the package from China, but they won’t let you send it back.  You have to use a specialist  courier – who are always going to be more expensive.

Yes it’s a silly situation, but there it is.  The upshot is, there is a problem with the charger, or you want your money back, you’re going to have a bad time.  Of course you can do what everyone does, which is go outside the post office and declare it as non-dangerous.  Australia Post can’t open the parcel to inspect it – so they rely on your declaration.  If that’s what you do, that’s between you and your moral code. Legally, you can’t send it back.

This issue seems to be a result of international cooperation gone bad – frankly I can’t understand how it’s not safe to send a battery by post when I can carry it on-board as a passenger.  But there you go.

More information

Scrivener to Word Visual Basic Formatter – Converting Scrivener to Word with Style

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

So I have said previously that one of the issues I have had with using Scrivener to write with is also one of its strengths:  Scrivener doesn’t do formatting. It separates the formatting of the word from the writing of the word. The idea is, you write your Great Australian Novel in Scrivener, and then when it is all done and dusted you compile and format it in Word.  But when you format, you want styles and you want them now.  In Word, styles allow the Table of Contents to be generated (Scrivener has one, but, yeah).  

It is a real pain with Scrivener trying to maintain a master manuscript but working with others who want to see your work in Word.  Particularly when you format the document up in Word, and then move sub-section 1.1 to become 1.3, that can wreck your whole weekend.  You will want to make the change in your master, and in the formatted version of the document.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to generate formats up quickly? Take your Scrivener document and publish it to Word, and then format it quickly to enable styles and such, in about 30 seconds?

Well I had seen where people suggested you use use a specific font size in your Scrivener document for headings and then search and replace using styles in Word.  If you do that, your headings will quickly be able to be moved to become styles.  But it’s still tedious.

So where’s all this going?  Today I wrote a Word visual basic macro that converts an RTF version of the document to a Word version with styles.  Now, it’s still rough.  It’s not polished, and no doubt it’s buggy – so although I am sharing it in this post, please don’t use it with the only copy of your thesis!!! 

So here’s what I’ve done:

  • It’s a single document (download scrivener-formatter.docm using this finely crafted link) that should run in Word for Mac 2011 (presumably, Word 2007 or later – but if you’re on Windows, I don’t know that you’d be likely to be on Scrivener – but maybe you are).
  • There are five styles in this document (Heading 1, 2, 3 & 4, as well as Header).  They are fairly standard thesis-style formats at the moment – but if you download this document, and modify the styles, those styles will stick with the document.  So modifying Heading 1 to be Arial rather than Times New Roman is done the same as it always has been – and when you save this document it will be the new style it applies for Heading 1.
  • To use, compile your Scrivener document to RTF and open it up in Word (if you are using EndNote, format the paper to add the citations in).  
  • Open up the scrivener-formatter document in Word, and copy -and-paste (I know, but I did you tell you it’s still rough) your compiled RTF into the scrivener-formatter document.
  • When you open up the scrivener-formatter document it should warn you that has a macro in it – well that’s fine; check out the macro (source code is included) to be sure if you like.  I attach the macro to a button on the toolbar.  You may wish to do the same.
  • The macro assumes your core text will not be any larger than 12 point font.  Any font that is font size 13, 14, 16 or 18 will be mapped to the four styles according to the below:
    • Font Size 18:  This will assign style Header to the paragraph.  In the Table of Contents by default, anything assigned a style of Header will appear as if it were Heading 1.  The main difference in the document between Header and Heading 1 is that Heading 1 has a list numbering effect (currently, Heading 1 is “Chapter X:”; you can change this by modifying the style).  I created Header as I don’t use the Chapter numbering for the References heading, and I still want the References heading appearing in the Table of Contents (the same will apply for Appendix headers etc).  If you don’t want this, don’t use 18 point font.
    • Font size 16:  This is Heading 1 (I label this Heading in my Scrivener document).  Heading 1 style (currently preceded with “Chapter X:”) is TOC Level 1. Gets a section number in the current format style.
    • Font size 14:  This is Heading 2 (Scrivener:  Section Heading).  TOC 2. Gets a section number in the current format style.
    • Font size 13 (without italics):  This is Heading 3 (Scrivener:  Sub-heading).  TOC 3.  Gets a section number in the current format style.
    • Font size 13 with italics:  This is Heading 4 (Scrivener:  I label this Para Heading).  This does not appear in the TOC by default, and does not get a section number:  it’s merely a paragraph heading in italics without numbering.  
  • The macro also deletes any in-line comments in the document.  I use comments extensively, but I don’t want them in the final formatted version.  So they’re gone ski.
  • I use a placeholder for the reference list of [ENDNOTE:DELETE] to ensure formatting is properly assigned to the references generated by EndNote.  This placeholder is deleted by the macro.  If you wish, ignore this – so long as you don’t have that placeholder in your document you will be fine.
  • Finally, a Table of Contents is generated at the beginning of the document to give you a visual map and a ToC.

That’s it, all takes a very short time to run even on my current 50 page draft.  

Now although I don’t anticipate any problems, this is not extensively tested.  It seems to work fine for me, but I haven’t put it through its paces yet. Nevertheless it promises a bit of time saving. I am also toying with the idea of using placeholders for tables and having the macro look for those tables and inserting them at designated placeholders – we will have to see if I get that far.

Feedback welcome!  I hope this VB macro is of use to someone using Scrivener.   Remember you can change the fonts to suit, and it makes the document into a heading of some sort if it is font size 18, 16, 14, or 13.  

Download the Scrivener formatting Word macro document here.

Happy automatic formatting in Scrivener with Word Styes.  Please leave feedback in the comments below or by email on micheal@michealaxelsen.com if this is useful or could be improved (not that I can guarantee I’ll do it!)

Mac OSX, Scrivener and Word for Academic writing

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Well, about 18 months ago I bought a new Macbook Pro.  I had sworn that Mr Gates’ hegemony had to deliver on Windows 7, and, although it was OK, it was not quite to the standard I wanted.  So I thought that, as I am currently doing my phd full time, it would be a good idea to try out this Mac thing full time. On account of how my need for my computers to play well with others on a corporate network is less.

And, speaking as a Windows user of long standing,  generally it’s been a Good Thing.  Sure, the Macbook was expensive compared to the Windows equivalents, but then the software is generally cheaper and OSX just feels more bulletproof.  Of course, software development is a bit harder to get into (but then AppleScript is very good), but at least when Office 2011 came out they brought back VBA for Mac Office.  Thank goodness!

And there are two items of software on the Mac that I have coveted and used a lot since converting to the Mac side. Devonthink Pro is one that I have just not managed to find an equivalent for – which should be the subject of a future post – and Scrivener is the other.  In fact, I made a video on YouTube and a post here on my blog, and since it’s consistently my most popular blog post and video by a mile, there’s a lot of love for it.

So, I have adopted Scrivener for writing.  And it’s a great all-round writing package.  The structure, the mechanism behind it, and the ability to compile to many formats (including ebook) and slice-and-dice your writing is wonderful.  I of course also have Office 2011 for ‘other writing’ and for final formatting.

The default for most phd candidates is of course Word, and on the Mac that’s periodically been a beast competent at short writing but not so good at long writing.  However, I have recently been using it to write a large report for a client (55 pages, 20,000 words)  and in the space of 24 hours it lost me 6 hours’ (yes, even with auto recovery files being saved every 10 minutes).  I would be editing and moving text around in Microsoft Word and then I’d get the spinning wheel of death (see – I have turned into a Mac user). Word would just end up not responding.  And when you’re consulting for a client that is paying hourly, losing that many hours is not much fun for your hip pocket. Nothing like the market’s invisible hand to make you think about your software choice.

Turns out there is a bug with the ‘Smart Cut-and-Paste’ function – go to /Word /Preferences /Editing Options and turn off Smart Cut-and-Paste and that problem with Word in Office 2011 crashing should go away.  After I found that tip I proceed to write for a week without a single crash.  I had been blaming it for EndNote incompatibility but this document wasn’t using that and I’d disabled that functionality.

So.  Word on the Mac can be made to work.  Although you can still lose work, and it is dependent upon you regularly saving your document if you want to avoid wholesale problems (and saving is slow on Word).

And so to Scrivener.  I love Scrivener.  Mostly.  The structured approach is good and the ability to move your text around is fantastic.

However – there are several issues for academic writing.  Graphics were a problem for a while but I worked out you need to draw your diagram in another package (e.g. Powerpoint), save to PNG, import the image, and then scale the image to consistently be the width of the page (411 pixels, incidentally).

Firstly – and insurmountably – you do have to play with the world of others if you are a co-author with people.  If you are the primary author, then you can compile, send it to your co-authors, and have them mark it up with changes for you replicate in your document.  But it’s a bear if your supervisor says, ‘Just give me the electronic copy and I’ll finish the report for you’.  Particularly since styles and text tags (such as the <$n:table:demographics> table you have on page 6) don’t translate to tags in Word – when they are expecting these things.

Secondly – and I suspect uniquely to academic writing – Scrivener’s tables, well, there’s no better phrase to describe it:  Scrivener’s tables suck.  Mostly because if it’s anything other than a straight vanilla table with no merged cells and so on, aligning tables is pedantic.  And I know that that’s because it’s really OSX’s tables.  And I know that Microsoft Word’s tables are proprietary and thus evil.  But, the tables just cannot be made to work.  I had gotten to the stage where I would do the tables up specifically in Word, and then import the RTF document (putting all the tables in their own sub-directory, with the same name as the $n:table reference in Scrivener) into Scrivener.  And that sort of worked when it was compiled out.  But sort of not.

Thirdly, a lot of academic papers come with arbitrary word limits and requiring submission in Word.  I have just had a paper accepted at AMCIS that was ‘5000 words including tables and references’.  Great – so I have to compile with EndNote every time I want to know how many words this thing is (noting, I suppose, this is really a function of EndNote’s sulkiness and thus you have to do this with Word too).  But you end up compiling from Scrivener to RTF, formatting EndNote tokens, saving to DocX and then reviewing the final output and changing a word on page 4 – and now you have two copies of your paper.  Sigh.  So you track change that paper, and then re-input your changes back to Scrivener later… which is every bit as painful as it sounds.  And if you then edit the paper in Scrivener, you’ll have to re-do all that formatting again.

Finally – it is in the nature of the academic to procrastinate.  If a paper is due at 5pm, then at 4:55pm you will be madly checking the format.  One of the great things Scrivener does is separate the writing from the formatting.  But the formatting is integral – presentation is communication.  Formatting the paper can take Quite a While.  And as Styles in Scrivener don’t work as they do in Word, a decision to make your section headings 18 points instead of 16 points can really wreck your day.  This is a problem when you are up against a tight deadline.

So… I am conflicted with Scrivener.  I think that for writing the Great Australian Novel it is the perfect tool.  And being able to compile different versions of the same document is excellent as well.  However, there are a few issues that I am trying to get my head around to make it work for academic writing. I just may have to accept that I do not have the time to do that and thus may need to ‘stick with Word’ for my PhD.  As a bit of a ‘new tool’ buff, and being able to see the advantages of Scrivener, that hurts, but more procrastination just isn’t an option when you are past the journey to knowledge and wanting to graduate.

[Footnote:  Since writing this post, I have gone back to using Scrivener as Word crashes far too often on the Mac.  Word is fine for two page letters on the Mac but that’s as far as I’d trust it.  I have written an automatic style formatter in Word (very rough, very basic, and very ugly) that converts fonts of a certain size to a Heading 1, 2, 3 and 4 style in Word – see this post here:  Scrivener to Word Visual Basic Fromatter].

Of droughts, and flooding rains, of businesses and broken business continuity plans.

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Well, this is a blog entry, and I have a thing for bad business poetry.  In Brizvegas, as you may have heard, we’ve had droughts a-plenty until the last two years, and then the flooding rains that just created a seeping, growing, black mess that crept stealthily towards everyone’s place of business or abode.

Well, that might seem a little melodramatic, but you know what?  It’s not.  We’re all affected here in Brizvegas, even in little ways such as losing our carparks (my wife doesn’t think that’s so little) or daycare centre (my daughter, yes, same attitude as her mother).  My house was perfectly fine, halfway up Mount Cootha, but I went for a ride on my pushbike to see how my daughter’s daycare centre was faring.  As I rounded a corner and ran into deep, black water quite some time before I rather thought I would.  Squealing on the brakes, I thought to myself, ‘That’s not good!’

I also came to the realisation that my five-year old daughter was not going back to daycare tomorrow.

And so from my back deck, all seemed fine as I looked over the tall trees of Mt Coot-tha, but at the same time some people were cut off from food and petrol – friends of mine were refused service after the floods because they ‘looked grotty’. Well, how would you look after 5 days without power or a shower?

It was an odd flood, bright sunny day, and yet still I noticed the Lexus dealership madly moving cars, and the people at the Brumby’s bakery madly moving flour to the only bakery down the road that wasn’t flooded (it appears they rather had some trouble finding the key, and saved the flour only just in time or the western suburbs would have had to start eating crushed up gumleaves spiced with mud. And then having to drink the wooded Chardonnay left in the wine rack – oh the humanity!)

But the point (and there is one!) is that we precisely do not know what will ever happen to our homes or places of business.  Some of us thought we were really very safe at the time.  That idea’s comforting, but not always true (I can see a mountain full of trees from my back deck – so one day bushfires are on the cards).

Here’s a video I took of a house normally way, way above the river:

All of us banana-benders are looking at each other now, after inland tsunamis, floods-that-weren’t-supposed-to-happen, and Cyclone Yasi, and saying that if we had a blizzard come down Queen Street we’d let loose a suitable expletive and get down to it.

So how do you as a business prepare for these things?

Well, fortunately we do have best practice approaches available such as COBIT and ITIL.  A year or so ago, when I was lecturing at QUT in IT Governance, I asked the students to use COBIT’s framework to help with the development of a business continuity plan.  This is what it, rather drily, says:

DS4.2 IT Continuity Plans: Develop IT continuity plans based on the framework and designed to reduce the impact of a major disruption on key business functions and processes. The plans should be based on risk understanding of potential business impacts and address requirements for resilience, alternative processing and recovery capability of all critical IT services. They should also cover usage guidelines, roles and responsibilities, procedures, communication processes, and the testing approach.

The exercise for the student was to take a look around their bedroom and work out what they might lose, what they could afford to lose, and how they might get back on deck.  I seem to recall one student came up with a contingency plan that involved explaining to his lecturer how he didn’t need to submit the assignment that week – I believe I may have said he needed to improve that excuse for his risk register.

Anyway, business continuity plans are things that are really hard if you don’t know where to start.  So I took that reasonably vague statement above from ITGI’s COBIT and turned it into something like the below.  Feel free to borrow it as a template if you like for your business.  It’s not great, it’s not fantastic, but it’s a start, and at least you get thinking about what you need to do in the event of problems like droughts, flooding rains, bushfires, cyclones, blizzards, alien invasion, or inland tsunamis.  Try adapting this for your purposes:

And so I’m going to leave this blog entry right about here, now that I’ve gotten to use some great phrases like ‘a seeping growing black mess’ (seriously, anyone who saw that floodwater will agree that it was pretty yuck).  Readers, please take a look or download the example business continuity plan – a BCP doesn’t need to be hard, it just needs to work.  In fact, if it’s big and hard and ugly, it’s likely it’ll never work.  ‘Keep it Simple, Silly’ is the appropriate rule of thumb.  It’s a good start for some businesses, possibly not for others.

But please don’t find yourself caught on the hop and having to remove those files from the basement where they’re stored to the top floor of your building in your pyjamas and best thongs, like some people I’ve heard of.  Or the people at the Lexus dealership, who were frantic because they couldn’t find the keys to the four wheel drive blocking the driveway.

PS:  I hope I rickrolled somebody in one of those links up above…

HP Printer Support – Officejet Pro L7580

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Exactly two years and two months ago, I bought an HP OfficeJet Pro L7580.  That cost me about $500, and had a one year warranty.  At the time, I was prescient and bought a $35 extended warranty – all through Harvey Norman.

The following is not a rant, as such, but it does highlight how support structures can become so alienated from the client that the client gives up in frustration.  I have had so many people advise me – since this episode – that they will never, ever buy an HP printer again for similar reasons.

To tell the tale, it was a fine autumn day about three to four weeks ago when my black ink cartridge ran out.  That was fine, there was no urgent need for it and so I didn’t worry about it for a little bit.  Besides, we went away for a week’s holiday – it could wait until then.  Upon my return, I went to Harvey Norman and bought all the ink cartridges – they were all running a bit low.  I nearly died at the $200 (approximately) price tag (I bought the XL ones).  Then the problems started.  I replaced the black and yellow cartridges (they were both empty) and fired it up.  Then the cyan cartridge claimed to be empty.  That struck me as odd, but I replaced it anyway.  I fired it back up – and it claimed the cyan cartridge was empty.  It would show a full ink cartridge, and then go straight to the empty cartridge error message.

I mused as to whether this was a dodgy cartridge, and so googled the symptoms I had.  I found a seven-page forum showing that the problem essentially had one solution:  buy a new (Canon) printer.  The ink had dried out.  Apparently you have to regularly print with the printer to stop this occurring.  I’d never heard of this one before (sigh).

So I sent an email to HP support.  Remember, I know the printer is out of warranty by over a year, but still:

Subject: HP Officejet Pro L7580 All-in-One Printer e-mail support

Country of Residence : Australia
product_name : HP Officejet Pro L7580 All-in-One Printer
part_number : C8187A,CB037A,C8188A
purchase month : 2
purchase year : 2008
problem area : error messages
serial number : MY7C4642PB
operating system : Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64

How is your product connected to your PC? : USB Cable

errormessage : Replace the following empty ink cargridge(s) to resume
printing: Cyan (C) Job Cancelled

problem description : I had just replaced the black and yellow cartridges.
It sat idle for three weeks (we had a holiday awayas well). Upon replacing
the black and yellow cartridges (they had previously shown as empty,but the
cyan and magenta ones were about 1/4 full), the cyan one started coming up
as empty. It flashes up with the 1/4 and then goes to the error message.

I replaced the cyan cartridge and I get the message continuing. I have now
spent nearly $200 on ink cartridges and am not a happy camper.
troubleshooting : I have read on other forums that it seems I have left it
sit for too long? I had no idea this would be a problem – I’m not sure that
it is. I would hope very much that it isn’t.

A Harvey Norman 24 month extended warranty was purchased at time of purchase

(08/02/2008).

This machine has not had heavy duties, but it has been fairly continously
used.

setting changes : I have changed/reformatted laptop to Win7 64 operating.
Otherwise no real changes.

tech skill : Intermediate

first name : Micheal
last name : Axelsen

phone : 0412 526 375
email : micheal.axelsen@appliedinsight.com.au

And of course meanwhile I am tweeting, as a mad keen twitterer, about these dramas.  For a week I tweets, tweets and tweets, and no contact.  Here’s some of the flavour of the discourse interspersed with my emaildiscussions.

Unhappy. I think my HP Officejet printer may have given up the ghost after just over 2 years. Empty cartridge message but new cartridge.

@ThCartridgeFmly Old one showing 1/4 full, but suddenly flashed over to empty. So replaced it with brand new hp one out of box. Same msg.

@raark wtf is a pixma?

@raark I need something that works. I’d thought HP was reliable. Can’t print client invoices! Argh!!!

@raark Where were you when I was in harvey norman two years ago then?

@raark I do have an extended warranty, so *fingers crossed*

Hewlett Packard (HP) customer support has just lost me as a supporter of HP products. Let the record state this fact.

After emails & phone calls, HP & I are not getting on. We are seeking counselling and request privacy at this time. #fail

My HP printer failed. Could be cartridge or printer. HP support useless. Solution? Buy a new printer. Old one 2 years & 2 months old.

All right so far.  Let’s see what response I get from HP (quite timely, the next day):

Subject: RE: HP Officejet Pro L7580 All-in-One Printer e-mail support

Hello Micheal,

Thank you for contacting HP Customer Care.

Micheal, we regret to informyou that, as per our database, your product
appear to be Outof Warranty.

According to the new HP Policy we are providing Specialized Web Support for
Out of Warranty Products.

Therefore, we would like to direct you to the HP support Web-site.This
dynamic website has free and easy to access support content, and is
continually updated with answers to our customers most frequently asked
questions.

www.hp.com/au/customercare

NOTE: Clicking the link may give an error indicating it is invalid. If this
occurs, copy the portion of the address on the remaining line and paste it
at the end of the address showing in your browser until the complete
address is displayed in the Address box.

* Open the Web-link.
* Click on the Out of Warranty product announcement on the right hand side
of the page.
* Select you product and you will directed to support page of the unit.

However, if you believe that product is In Warranty (purchased in last 12
months) , please email back copy of Proof of Purchase of the product.
Please mention Serialand Product number on it. We could update the
database and provide In Warranty Support.

If you wish to avail paid support by paying one time support fee. Please
contact the regional HP Phone Support on the following number.

The Online Technician will assist you in this regard.

1300 721 147 If dialing internationally: +61 3 8833 5000
Monday – Friday – 9am – 5:30pm; Saturday 10am – 3pm; (excluding public
holidays)

Sincerely,
Kevin
HP Email Support Team

All right, I’m a little snarky.  Remember, I just want someone to tell me what might be wrong with my printer (is it the cartridge?  is it the printer?):

RE: HP Officejet Pro L7580 All-in-One Printer e-mail support

Hello Kevin.

That was not the right answer.

Thanks: Micheal Axelsen
Director
Applied Insight Pty Ltd
m: 0412 526 375
t: 07 3139 0325

The ever-helpful Susan advises me to contact the HP support phone line:

Subject: RE: HP Officejet Pro L7580 All-in-One Printer e-mail support

Hello Micheal,

Thank you for contacting HP Customer Care.

Micheal, I understand your concern and apologize for the inconvenience
caused.

I request you to please contact your regional support at the number given in

the previous mail and they would assist you further.

Sincerely,

Susan Gloria
HP Email Support Team

At this point I rang Sean on the helpline.  Sean – and I’m sorry, but I’m going to guarantee Sean was not local – wanted my private details (name, address, serial number).  He also wanted me to pay the service fee immediately – before hearing what the problem was.  I’m sorry, but I’m not going to pay before you tell me whether you think you can help me.  Sean sounded suspiciously like he was reading from provided notes to me.  As I didn’t want to give my private details lightly, I was provided with the same website as above – www.hp.com/au/customercare.  I had already been to that website before making my first submission.  It was positively of no use.  I told Sean – and I admit I was fairly uptight about it – that I didn’t feel that throwing me to a website I’d already been to was an appropriate response.  Particularly not if I was a non-technical user of the device.  After telling Sean that I did not think much of HP’s approach to supporting customers, I sent the following email:

RE: HP Officejet Pro L7580 All-in-One Printer e-mail support

Hello Susan.

I contacted regional support at the number given in the previous mail. They
did not assist me further.

Thanks: Micheal Axelsen
Director
Applied Insight Pty Ltd
m: 0412 526 375
t: 07 3139 0325

It’s a $500 printer, and no-one will send me to the right resource and no-one will give me a path to resolution!  This time I got Jason replying back to me.

HelloMicheal,

Thank you for contacting HP Customer Care.

We would like to direct you to the HP support Web-site.This
dynamic website has free and easy to access support content, and is
continually updated with answers to our customers most frequentlyasked
questions.

www.hp.com/au/customercare

NOTE: Clicking the link may give an error indicating it is invalid. If this
occurs, copy the portion of the address on the remaining line and paste it
at the end of the address showing in your browser until the complete address

is displayed in the Address box.

* Open the Web-link.
* Click on the Out of Warranty product announcement on the right hand side
of the page.
* Select you product and you will directed to support page of the unit.

However, if you believe that product is In Warranty (purchased in last 12
months) , please email back copy of Proof of Purchase of the product. Please
mention Serial and Product number on it. We could update the database and
provide In Warranty Support.

Sincerely,

Jason

HP Email Support Team

OK I’m not happy.  In their defence, HP is giving me back timely responses.  It’s just that I am screaming in cyberspace, but no-one at the support desk can hear what I am asking:

RE: HP Officejet Pro L7580 All-in-One Printer e-mail support

Hello Jason.

Whatever. You people have no idea how annoyed HP customer support as a
whole has made me. Three emails. One telephone call. All directing me to
the link as if the link is the font of all knowledge. The link is next to
useless.

I have never experienced such a lack of support. I know it’s only a
consumer device, but you could at least send a link specific to the product
in mind. I wouldn’t be asking if it was a frequently asked question. It is
precisely because it ISN’T frequently asked that I am asking the question.
HP needs to pick up its act; you could at least direct me to a repair centre
that doesn’t want all my details and payment before they’ve even asked what
the question is. I would also remind you that in Australia there are
requirements beyond your own warranty relating to merchantable quality.

As I say, whatever.I have contacted my extended warranty people and
hopefully they are able to make my HP into something slightly more valuable
than my boat-anchor. I am so, so sick of products that don’t last, but I am
even more sick of customer support that is nothing but.

Thanks: Micheal Axelsen
Director
Applied Insight Pty Ltd
m: 0412 526 375
t: 07 3139 0325

I don’t think Kevin liked my tone (we’re back to Kevin it seems):

Subject: RE: HP Officejet Pro L7580 All-in-One Printer e-mail support

Hello Micheal,

Thank you for contacting HP Customer Care.

Micheal, I would like to inform you that as per the HP policy we are unable
to assist you and the only option available is the paid support .

Since the issue might be related either with the cartridgeor with the
hardware of the unit itself.

Therefore, please contact the HP phone support number and they will assist
you further

Sincerely,

Kevin

And I continue to tweet:

@kissability They actually told me it could be a cartridge or printer problem. But I’d have to pay to find out. I have extended warranty.

@kissability it’s ridiculous I have a printer that is two years old that cannot be made work (no-one will even look at it).

@kissability And meanwhile I can buy a 30 year old motorcycle that passed its safety certificate ‘with flying colours’ today.

@xandertigerclaw +infinity – there’s your global warming problem right there. Meanwhile I have a 45 year old typewriter that still works.

@raark no – they’re replacing it. No-one’s even looking at it to see what’s wrong. #crazyworld

@ThCartridgeFmly Replacing entire printer (!) on my extended warranty. I think it’s a printer problem (not that anyone’s checked). Crazy.

@IdeasCulture meanwhile I’ve been complaining about HP and they haven’t touched me :(. I am untouchable.

But that’s OK, I didn’t like Kevin’s tone either:

Subject:    RE: HP Officejet Pro L7580 All-in-One Printer e-mail support

Hello Kevin

Thank you for contacting me, the HP customer. The one who has spent about
$2000 personally on HP products in the past two years, and who advises SME
clients of 1250 seats on their hardware and infrastructure purchases.

I would like to inform you that I appreciate that you feel bound by the HP
policy. I have a policy too, now, in this context. Perhaps you can guess
what it is.

How could you even know what the issue relates to since no-one asked? All
HP did was ask for private details and money. And if it is the freaking
cartridge, I just bought $200 worth of genuine HP cartridges. You could at
least have given a diagnosis to see if it is the brand new cartridge that is
the problem. I am not going to pay someone to solve a problem on out of
warranty hardware if it is related to a new consumable.

As for contacting the HP phone support number, I already did that. They
didn’t assist me further.

As I say, end of story. I’ll see how my extended warranty – which I PAID
for ALREADY! – deals with it. So far that seems more likely to get a
positive result. Sheesh.

Thanks: Micheal Axelsen
Director
Applied Insight Pty Ltd
m: 0412 526 375
t: 07 3139 0325

And so finally I’m back to Jason:

Hello Micheal,

Thank you for contacting HP Customer Care.

Micheal, we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused.  Your email has reached the HP E-mail Support.  As per our policy, we are not in a position to assist you.  As mentioned previously, please call our online phone support for further assistance.

Sincerely,

Jason

By this stage I guess I’m just mucking with them.  I’ve come to the realisation that HP isn’t going to lift a finger to help me.  They haven’t even directed me to the user-based self-help forum – that really surprised me.  But – and this is the real kicker – I ring my extended warranty people.  I tell them that in my opinion my printer seems to be dead.  This is on a Saturday.  But to my surprise, I am quickly advised that I have a year to go on my warranty, and that a technician will call me back this week.  I get the phone call.  They are going to replace it with a brand new printer.  So, I am looking at a printer that was absolutely fine three weeks ago, but then had a cartridge problem.  That needs to become landfill while it is replaced with a brand new machine.  Honest to goodness, is there any wonder why we have a global warming problem?  It’s cheaper for me to throw the machine out and claim on extended warranty than pay $35 for them to tell me they can’t fix it.

And a week late I’m still tweeting about it:

@ThCartridgeFmly yes well HP isn’t on my christmas card list… think it’s terrible for the environment though to replace without looking.

@ThCartridgeFmly HP Officejet Pro L7580 – apparently if you don’t keep using it the ink dries out and it dies.

And through all of that, no contact from HP, no contact from Harvey Norman either[edit:  that’s not quite true – I only mentioned HN once, and their extended warranty dealt with it immediately, so no flak on HN should be had. And their social media manager rang me directly this morning to discuss as he’d seen this blog post and my tweets – which is a plus – MSA 30/04/2010] I received the phone call today telling me I can come and collect a replacement HP (grr) printer.  Positively unbelievable.  If HP had directed me to a website where I could solve my problems instead of the generic customer care website, it might be different.

For the record, I’ll continue to recommend HP to clients where appropriate.  I’ll take some convincing though to recommend a home printer from HP again though.  Every tells me I need a Canon Pixma.  Maybe this is true.

Am I unreasonable in my requests?  I know the device is out of warranty, but if I could at least have been directed to the support page directly, that would have been helpful (except of course that I’ve already been there and there’s nothing there about my problem).  Thoughts and comments?