Disappointed with Altec Lansing customer service

Over the past couple of years, I’ve bought a number of Altec Lansing computer audio products. First, a couple of IML237 “Orbit” speakers for my Mac systems. I was and am very satisfied with that product – a single speaker that gets both its power and data connection via USB (it’s a standalone audio device). Based on that experience, less than a year ago I purchased a couple of IML227 Orbit speakers through sellers on Amazon. The 227 is similar to the 237, except that it’s cheaper and has a plastic case instead of metal.

As far as sound quality, both models are functionally equivalent. However, the IML227s that I received have a flaw – when they’re connected to a power source (such as a powered USB hub or a system’s USB port when the system is in sleep or standby mode) but not initialized on the USB bus, they emit a loud random squealing noise. It didn’t take long for me to get annoyed with this problem, disconnect the IML227s, and switch to other speakers.

Eventually I came across this page on Altec Lansing’s support site, which states:

“Some of the initial production units exhibited this symptom. It has since been corrected. Please contact the Altec Lansing Customer Service Team by email at csupport@alteclansing.com or by phone at 1-800-ALTEC88 (1-800-258-3288) in order to resolve this situation.”

About a week ago, I sent Altec Lansing’s customer support department a quick and short email:

“I have two iML227 Orbit USB speakers that “squeal” when they’ve got power but are not receiving signal/output. I got fed up with the problem and put something else in their place, but recently found this: (URL). Am I still eligible for any sort of fix or replacement for these early production units?”

A week later, today, I received this response.

Not only did they not answer my (relatively simple) question, they told me that I have no warranty or service through them and that basically, I’m stuck with the defective speakers. Even a response that indicated they had actually read my inquiry would have been better than this generic blow-off form letter.

I’m very disappointed with Altec Lansing’s customer service at this point, and am not likely to purchase products from them again.

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My Anti-Virus/Spyware/Malware Software Recommendations for Windows PCs


The latest version of this list will always be available here:
My Anti-Virus/Spyware/Malware Software Recommendations for Windows PCs


I get asked for recommendations a lot, especially when people get new computers for the holidays, so here’s a writeup.

First, if you’re running anything older than Windows XP, upgrade. This doesn’t mean throwing away your computer – it might just mean a RAM (memory) upgrade and an OS reinstall. I’ve seen too many perfectly working computers tossed out when all that was needed was $50-100 worth of RAM, a fresh reinstall, and a “tune-up” by someone who knew what they were doing.

If you don’t want to have to bother with any of this – ask a friendly neighborhood geek if a version (“distribution”) of Linux would fit your computing needs!

Second, you can never have too much RAM (not hard drive space; that’s different). Running Windows XP, you want a gigabyte of RAM at the very minimum, and if your motherboard / system model will take it, you want 3-4G of memory. Windows Vista and Windows 7 really want at least 2G to be “usable”. Think of RAM as “working space”, or the size of your desk, and your hard drive as your filing cabinet – your filing cabinet can store a lot more than will fit on your desk, and you swap stuff in and out of it as needed.

If you’ve got a 32-bit processor or are running a 32-bit operating system on a 64-bit processor, don’t bother putting more than 4G of RAM in the system. Due to address space overhead and limitations, you will only be able to “see” and use around 3-3.5G of that 4G total. If you’ve got a 64-bit processor and a 64-bit installation of Windows Vista or Windows 7, you will most likely be able to use as much RAM as you can afford and that will fit into your motherboard. Memory is insanely cheap over the past six months; I recently bought 16G (in four 4G sticks) of DDR3-spec memory for less than $80.

Now, on to the software.

A lot of people use anti-virus / anti-spyware / anti-malware products from companies such as Symantec, Norton, or McAfee. These companies may have had great products ten or fifteen years ago, but nowdays they’re bloated size-wise, slow your system down, adversely affect performance, and in a lot of cases don’t stay as up to date regarding system threats as they should. If you’re running one of these products, no matter if you got it free or have already paid for an update subscription, it is my professional recommendation that you dump it.

My personal choices for the best system protection packages:

FREE: (in order of preference)

Microsoft Security Essentials
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/products/security-essentials

AVG Free
http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage

Avast!
http://www.avast.com/en-us/index

Avira Free
http://www.avira.com/en/avira-free-antivirus

COMMERCIAL / PAY: (in order of preference)

eSET NOD32
http://www.eset.com/us/home/products/antivirus/

Webroot Spysweeper + AV
http://www.webroot.com/En_US/consumer-products-spysweeper.html

In addition to the primary AV/spyware/malware package on your system, there are a few other free utilities that I highly recommend be used to run scans and cleans once a week if the system is used heavily, once a month otherwise.

MalwareBytes Anti-Malware
http://www.malwarebytes.org/

SuperAntiSpyware
http://www.superantispyware.com/

CCLeaner (aka “Crap Cleaner”)
http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner

I don’t use it anymore, but there’s also Spybot Search & Destroy:
http://www.safer-networking.org/

The built-in Windows defrag program is a piece of junk and should not be depended on. For free defrag utilities I like these:

Auslogics Disk Defrag
http://www.auslogics.com/en/software/disk-defrag/

Defraggler
http://www.piriform.com/defraggler

IOBit Smart Defrag
http://www.iobit.com/iobitsmartdefrag.html

UltraDefrag
http://ultradefrag.sourceforge.net/en/index.html

One more important note:

STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER.

Instead, use one of these:

Google Chrome
https://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/browser/

Mozilla Firefox
http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/

These are just my personal preferences and what I tell people to use; I welcome alternative suggestions and comments from other tech types as to what they use and why.

My personal systems are all Macs running OS X or are various Linux desktop distributions. The only Windows machines I own are either virtual machines for development or a couple of systems dedicated to playing video games.

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Using a Motorola Atrix Lapdock as a HDMI Monitor and USB Keyboard / Mouse

A coworker of mine briefly had a Motorola Atrix 4G about a year ago, along with the “lapdock” accessory that turned it into more of a “full fledged” laptop or netbook with a regular Firefox web browser and a more desktop-like environment. I got to play with the setup for a bit, and thought it was a great idea, but with flawed execution (especially at the initial $400+ price for the lapdock alone).

About three weeks ago, I ran across the lapdocks being sold very cheaply through 1SaleADay. After some research, I ordered four of them, then ordered various cables and adapters from a couple of different online vendors after figuring out what I needed. The last part of my orders finally arrived tonight, and I’m glad to say that my idea was a success.

First, I have to give credit to this XDA-Developers thread for the idea. The ports on the Lapdock are really nothing more than a male Micro-HDMI and a male Micro-USB, in the right layout to plug directly into the ports on the Atrix. The only other ports are two normal female USB ports (for thumb drives, etc) and the power jack for the AC-to-DC wall wart.

Here’s the adapters and cables I ordered:

Video:
Micro HDMI socket Female to HDMI Male adapter convertor, $4.64
Generic Hdmi Coupler (Female To Female), $1.51
Normal HDMI Male-to-Male cable, I had one already, they can be found for $1-2

USB:
USB Mini-B Male to Micro-B Female Extension cable, $8.85
USB Gender Changer – A Male/Mini-B Female, $5.00
USB 2.0 Extension Cable – Black, $2.92

First, I had to trim down the plastic molding around the Micro HDMI adapter so that it would fit down on the male Micro HDMI plug in the fold-out “tray” on the Lapdock. For this first one I just used my pocket knife, but now that I know what’s needed, I’ll use a Dremel tool for the other three. The lapdock won’t work without a HDMI video signal, so once the adapter fit properly on the plug, I hooked up the power, plugged a HDMI female-to-female coupler on the adapter, and then connected the lapdock to the HDMI video out on a Windows system.

(6/14/12 update: The Atrix 4G Upgrade Kit consists of short male-to-female MicroUSB and MicroHDMI extension cables that prevent having to physically modify any adapter plugs, but I’ve not found a source for it that doesn’t charge at least $30!)

Here’s what the adapter, coupler, and cable looks like when plugged in:

And here’s the result! My system saw it as a second monitor, and I was able to use the normal keyboard and mouse to drag a browser onto that screen.

Getting the USB cable (using the Micro-B-Female-to-Mini-B-Male cable, plugged into a Mini-B-Female-to-A-Male gender changer, then to a normal USB A-type extension cable) to fit next to the HDMI plug required a bit more shaving and trimming down of the plastic molding around both plugs. I finally got both to where they would fit without blocking each other.

NOTE: I stripped the insulation off a portion of the USB extension cable and *cut the red wire*. That wire/pin carries +5 volts, and is normally used to charge the Atrix phone from the lapdock. Since we only want to use the keyboard and trackpad as input devices, we don’t want to feed +5V back into the USB port we plug into. So, I cut the red wire and re-insulated that part of the extension cable with some silicone tape.

I plugged the other end of the USB cable into a spare port on my PC. Windows 7 detected the keyboard and mouse, installed some drivers, and bingo! I was able to use the keyboard and trackpad on the lapdock itself to drag a browser window onto the “second monitor” that was the lapdock’s LCD screen, and type normally to pull up a web page.

I’m happy with the results so far; the hard part is done. These lapdocks will be used as consoles for systems where I don’t want to “waste” a full LCD monitor and keyboard on a rarely-used console. My next experiment will be trying out a VGA-to-HDMI adapter box that I bought for $30 off Amazon, to see if I can make one of these work with my USB-and-VGA KVM unit.

These will also work wonderfully with my Beagleboard, BeagleBone w/HDMI add-on, or the Raspberry Pi boards if mine finally ship at the end of this month.

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Great customer service

Kudos to Amazon for having GREAT customer service related to their Kindle ebook reader. I bought one last November, and it has worked great. However, this particular unit just REFUSES to upgrade to version 2.5 of the Kindle firmware, no matter what I do (manual installs, etc).

I called up Amazon yesterday, and within five minutes they were doing the necessary stuff to get a replacement Kindle2 sent my way. The replacement unit will be here Wednesday.

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Spreading the Media Player Love

Willa (my current ladyfriend) has been using an old decrepit laptop with a bad keyboard hooked up to her TV at home to watch NetFlix instant-streaming movies. I took pity on her as the “geeky boyfriend” and bought her a Roku HD Player (e.g., “NetFlix Box”) a few days ago.

We just finished doing the initial setup and account connections via my TV and Internet connections here, and she’ll take it home with her to try out tomorrow.

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My XBMC Media Centers

A few weeks ago, I built an XBMC-based media player to use with the 32″ TV in the living room:

XBMC Home Screen

I decided to make another system using an original XBox for the bedroom, since I don’t need to play HD content on the 19″ TV in there. I bought a refurbished XBox from Gamestop for $54 shipped, and picked up the rest of the pieces I needed (XBox-to-USB cables, an 8M memory card) off eBay and from a local shop. I used a 10″ LCD TV while setting it up, so I didn’t have to run back and forth to the bedroom.

Here’s the XBox after doing a “softmod” to install Linux and the UnleashX dashboard:

Softmodded XBox

Here it is with XBMC installed, running the default “PM3″ theme:

XBMC installed on the XBox

And here’s the final setup. Hooked up to the 19″ TV, running the same Confluence theme as the system in the living room, with the XBox DVD Playback kit plugged in so I can use a remote instead of a wired controller.

XBMC XBox Done

Am really happy with both systems; the living room unit cost me around $200 total while the bedroom XBox setup cost me $90.

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