You would think that, given I work in a reasonably technical field, I might have some sort of aptitude with machinery & gadgets. However as nearly anybody I've ever spoken to will attest, this assertion is nothing short of pure poppycock. In the field of “getting stuff to work” it wouldn't be unfair to say that my performance is analogous to the phrase “He couldn't organise a cup full of warm piss in an old folks' home”. The other day I was attempting to hook my “new” scanner up to my PC – utterly without a result which could be even creatively described as “successful” – and it gave me cause to pause and reflect over the litany of technological cockups I've been party to in the last few years. I crave your indulgence as I list them (in no particular order)…

My Toshiba TE2100 Laptop: purchased in Australia before I moved to London, its primary purpose was so that I had a portable computer for travelling. I cunningly bought it from a manufacturer's auction clearinghouse, and from the day it arrived it has been giving me grief. It had a dead hard drive upon arrival, which was covered under warrantee. When I got to the UK there were a number of bizarre noises coming from the inside, which turned out to be the CPU fan choking, resulting in the processor overheating and the laptop locking up. After 2 months of arguing I got it back & repaired under warranty, and a matter of weeks afterwards the harddrive seized as well. I sent it back again and they replaced that as well, and for a time it – nominally – worked. Happily, having just commenced writing this blog post, I attempted to fire up my laptop about an hour ago, and there seems to be no response from the machine to the act of pushing the “on” button. So I suspect it's finally dead.

My external laptop harddrive (about 70 quid): In the interests of backing up the stuff on the laptop I thought it a smart move to get a USB drive to push my data across to. As deskspace was limited I thought I'd go for a nice small notebook drive in a USB caddy. It arrived, I assembled it, plugged it in, and was treated to a flashing red/green indicator lamp & clicking sound. Thinking there must be more to it, I took it round for Toby to look at, and he was confused, because it worked perfectly for him first time. So no, it seems that the issue is my USB 1.1 connector doesn't play with this thing.

My USB 2.0 PCMCIA card (25 quid): No problems, I buy a USB 2.0 expander card to run from the PCMCIA slot on my laptop. The drivers install fine and it seems to work. The only problem seems to occur when you attempt to plug something in to either of the USB ports on it. The problem manifests itself as a nice friendly & helpful Blue Screen of Death. So that's not going to work, is it… (subsequently, during an attempt to use the notebook hard drive in another application some time afterwards, it fails to recognise & spin up and has therefore joined my techie-looking paperweight collection).

ADSL Modem #1 (20 quid, Safecom): A lesson in buying cheap stuff – there's a reason it's cheap… IT SUCKS! This totally failed to work from the outset, although I got my money back for it as least.

ADSL Modem #2 (70 quid, D-Link): I paid out high street prices in the interest of not having to wait around for mail delivery hardware & subsequent further faffing about with Return To Manufacturer processes… so this one worked fine, provided you didn't try to instantiate more than about 4 TCP/IP connections at any one time. Poor thing just couldn't handle the throughput, and would reset itself.

4 port switch (15 quid): As my mp3 player's basestation comes with a docking cradle with an Ethernet port on it, I reasoned that connecting via this method would be superior to connecting to my laptop's dodgy USB1.1 port (which took forever to transfer files, and flattened the mp3 player's battery virtually instantly). It turned out however that file transfer wasn't available via the network interface; that was purely to share music from the player. In attempts to use the switch later with my new desktop PC, whenever I used the ethernet port it would cause bluescreens, so I gave the switch away and swore to only work wirelessly from there onwards.

Lamp #1 (10 quid initial, + 8 for replacement globes, + 3 for fuses): This went remarkably well, surviving both house moves. One day the lamp fizzled and faded, which I put down to the globe blowing – no problem, bought a 2 pack of more globes. Installed & fired it up, fine. 2 or 3 days later, lamp fizzles out again. I replace the globe, but this time it's dead. I swap the plug fuse over with something else I know works and it doesn't… but there's another smaller fuse in the dimmer so I figure it must be that. I go to Maplins to buy some fuses but they only sell in packs of 50. I order some off eBay, they arrive, I put them in the dimmer, plug it all back in and it doesn't work. So I get pissed off, throw the lot out and buy a new lamp from Argos.

Lamp #2 (25 quid + 20 quid globes): Lamp gets assembled & we discover that no globes are included. Next day I pick some up from Maplins. Being the environmentally conscious type I opt for the energy-saver bulbs. Get them home, go to plug them in & find out that I've bought bayonet whereas they should be edison screw fittings. During angry rummage in upstairs cupboard I find a bulb that fits, plug it in, and we're all good to go. I attempt to return bulbs to Maplins to exchange for correct ones, but they say they don't swap bulbs – store policy. I nearly stuff globes up sales assistant's arse and point out that 2 of the boxes are still shrinkwrapped, and after some heated discussions about statutory rights and the fact that I can't even get a look at store policy without paying 3 pounds for the catalogue it's printed in the back of, he agrees to exchange one of the bulbs for 3 non-environmentally friendly 60W bulbs of the correct fitting (and about 80p each, versus the 5 quid or so for schwanky ones). I get home, remove the bulb I pinched from upstairs, fit mone, power the lamp up, and nothing happens. I put the old bulb back in, and still nothing. I swap the plug fuse over, and still nothing. I find a sticker on the underside of the lamp base that says “Total wattage not to exceed 150W”. I swear loudly and throw the whole assembly out and buy a 3rd lamp, NOT from Argos.

Toilet Seat (6 quid, Argos): Hardly high tech, but upon getting it back home and opening the box it turns out that one of the metal hinges is broken. Taking it back to return the following day the assistant gets arsey because I don't have the receipt, however it has their warehouse slip on it with time & date on there, and I indicate that they will be replacing it irrespective of their policy. They do.

Windows Vista / Hard Drive (can't remember how much): I believe I vented my frustrations earlier on this topic, but to recap, my Windows XP installation died in a screaming heap and it looked like file corruption, and upon reinstalling with Vista it turned out that the fault was in fact with my main hard drive, which was loaded with bad sectors.

Bluetooth Dongle (15 quid): though devices would happily recognise the presence of a bluetooth object, any attempt to transmit data to or from it resulted in a series of tersely worded errors from both ends.

SonyEricsson P900i Smartphone: This made my life an absolute misery, culminating in me having a phone for 4 months that had no backlight (and thus nigh on impossible to use indoors or after the sun had gone down).

5.1 speaker system (Creative, about 50 quid): worked reasonably capably for about 18 months then one day the subwoofer stopped issuing the nice clear tones it usually did and instead put out muffled garbled half-noise. Disassembly revealed that there were in fact no user-serviceable parts inside, and so all parts went in the bin. So much for my environmentally friendly attitude, eh?

Dazzle USB Video Capture Card (60 quid): Didn't. I presume it's cos of my craptacular USB1.1 port. Sold on eBay.

Sony Mini DV Handycam (80 quid): bought off housemate on a whim and the sound of a bargain. Primarily I thought it would be useful for being able to hook up to my PC and edit footage I collected, however it seems that my model predates Windows XP and there's no way of getting any compatible drivers for it. At one point I had it convinced it was a different type of camera and it worked hesitantly… but now I've gone to Vista I'm expecting a world of fun reestablishing communications.

Canon LIDE 25 USB scanner (45 quid): Purchased in 2005 for scanning documents, I only got around to plugging it into my PC a week ago, and predictably, it didn't work. I put this down to Vista incompatability (in spite of finding drivers for it), and thought “no probs – I run a virtual XP machine inside my Vista session for some things… I can get THAT to talk to the scanner, cos I know those 2 work together. Only Microsoft Virtual PC doesn't give you access to the USB bus, does it… So I install VMWare (which DOES give you access), install & patch XP on that (another 4 or 5 hours wasted there), only to get an identical error when trying to connect the scanner. This is the point where I swear again, and in a fit of vain hope try to connect the scanner to my laptop. Surprisingly, this works (albeit extremely slowly). So the other day I spent about two and a half hours scanning things in and carving the images up as required… and as I explained several paragraphs previously, I now can't boot my laptop up, so these images are trapped – inaccessible at present – on the hard drive.

That's all that springs to mind. Perhaps I'll print this list out and keep it to hand in case anyone thinks that I might be the person to fix their computer for them.

2007-10-23 : It’s a special gift I’ve got.
🌳 Buy me a Tree