Space Shuttle’s Y2K-like Problem

Here’s curious tidbit from someone on reddit.com who identifies themselves as a Johnson Space Center Employee:

The Shuttle suffers from its own Y2K problem. The system computers run clocks that are set for GMT days: I think today is GMT 49. Anyway, when it gets to December 31, it’s GMT day 365. When it moves to January 1, it goes to GMT 001. This screws up the flight computer. I don’t believe there has ever been a Shuttle flight over a new year. A software fix is possible, but it has never been worth the millions of dollars necessary to fix it.

This actually seems very believable. For a little background, the Space Shuttle originally flew a set of 5 IBM AP-101‘s. In 1991 they upgraded to AP-101S, which has about 1 MB of semiconductor memory (as opposed to the core memory on the AP-101) and 3X the CPU speed. 4 run in sync, and 1 runs a separate set of software written independently for the ultimate in redundancy. They sit in two separate places in the orbiter and are quite rugged and power-hungry at 550W. That’s substantial considering the processing power. Since they mainly handle number crunching for the orbiter’s thrusters and run through things like the launch sequence. They just need to be reliable. They are programmed using HAL/S. The original memory limitations are likely why it uses GMT dates, and the reason to avoid upgrading the software is because of the complexity of the environment.

While a software upgrade would likely fix this issue, upgrading something that needs to be this well-tested would be insanely expensive.

Making Products Easy To Repair

Lately consumer protection and financial laws seem to be a favorite of politicians who want to help the American people “keep their hard earned money”, er whatever slogan it is they go with these days. For a long time I’ve been of the feeling that they are overlooking the obvious. Making things easier to fix, hence longer lasting. Sames money, and helps the environment. How’s that for killer legislation?

Most household items are surprisingly simple to repair. Thanks to automation at the factory, everything has been pretty much broken down to LEGOs in complexity. Simple modules that are interconnected to form products. This technique also allows them to use the parts in multiple models hence lower cost of production. But every so often one part breaks rendering the product to be a giant paperweight. From home appliances to your computer, it really doesn’t matter what the product does.

What’s really needed is easier access to parts. Every manufacturer’s policies vary, but in many cases it’s extremely difficult to find parts. When you do your often paying hundreds of times what that tiny piece of plastic is really worth. Of course it’s still sometimes cheaper than replacing the product, but not by a huge margin.

This should really be law:

  • Standard Screws – Products should be assembled using standard screws. No more proprietary heads. In situations where a screwless design is used (iPod for example) explanation of how to open should be available.
  • Parts breakdown – Every product should either include on paper, or upon request from manufacturer a list of all parts in the product with part number.
  • Easy Access To Parts – Replacement parts should be available at cost + 10-15% + shipping & handling. Keep them affordable and easy to order. It should be either through the manufacturer directly or via an authorized agent, via phone or online. Parts should be available for a minimum 3 years after the last warranty expires for home electronics. Home appliances should be longer, I’d say 10 years. If the manufacturer provides repairs themselves or service parts to authorized technicians the parts should be available for as long as they are to service centers, whatever is longer.
  • Warranty Disclaimer – Should state what are “user serviceable parts” and can be replaced within warranty, and that anything else will void the warranty (it’s your problem not theirs).
  • Hazards Warning – Should warn of any obvious and non-obvious hazards within the device, such as capacitors that can contain high voltage even when unplugged (yes, newbie, it common, and I’m sure it hurts if you make that mistake), chemicals, or sharp objects. Ideally devices would color code such hazardous parts, and perhaps things that need to be disposed of specially such as batteries.

By making things easier to repair, this would ensure that people can conserve money by not replacing products because of one small problem. This would also be a major environmental win because people can conserve and avoid filling landfills with mostly working products. This is especially true for electronics.

LCD AssemblySo far the only one who seems to come close to meeting my guidelines is IBM/Lenovo. They make it very easy to order replacement parts (though it’s hard to find the page). They also have excellent diagrams of the whole product exploded so you know exactly how it goes together. This makes owning a IBM/Lenovo product a lot cheaper since you can just order the replacement part as needed. If your under warranty they seem to have no problem shipping replacement parts if your comfortable installing and don’t want to ship your laptop out for repairs (which sucks, trust me).

A close second is LG. I’ve ordered replacement cell phone parts a few times. No diagrams or assistance from them, but their parts # is very helpful in identifying the actual part every single time. Just give the model number and explain the part. Required overnight shipping which added significantly to the cost, but overall not a bad deal.

NordicTrack isn’t bad either. I was able to order a replacement controller and turn a seemingly dead-as-a-doornail treadmill into a perfectly working treadmill in a matter of minutes. Nice diagrams on paper, and online ordering process was pretty painless. That simple replacement saved significant cash and kept a heavy treadmill out of a landfill. Price of parts weren’t too bad either.

For those who suggest eBay, that’s really a last resort. Your essentially buying salvaged parts of unknown quality or origin. If you treat your stuff well, why put in some part that’s likely been tortured by a previous owner to the point where the product was sent to salvage? Low cost replacement parts are the way to go. Also prevents bogus counterfeits, buying damaged goods.

That would go a long way to helping people save some cash, give companies a new revenue model (10-15% above cost is a pretty nice margin), and help the environment all in one sweep. Some companies are already much closer to fully complying with this list than others. That just proves to me that this is a reasonable proposal. It’s insane to replace something because of one small piece.

Image From Lenovo

IBM Joins OpenOffice

I guess everyone wants in on the office space. IBM is joining OpenOffice. Not a bad move considering IBM’s general investment in non-Windows based OS’s. IBM seems to have favorite projects when they participate in open source communities. I wonder what specifically IBM is planning to work on. For example IBM’s big interest with Mozilla was XForms. It’s going to be interesting to see what they do. There are many things that they could be interested in.

Thinkpad Access Connectons 4.1

Downloading Thinkpad Access Connections 4.1 right now, looking at the changelog, I see one thing in particular I really like:

– (New) Support Firefox internet browser setting in location profile

Yea! Now Firefox can be configured using Access Connections too. This is great because Access Connections is used by many business people on their Thinkpads to manage multiple connection profiles. The ability to adjust Firefox settings quickly like that, brings it that much closer to matching IE for business needs.

On a sidenote, 4.01 causes my CPU to spike every several seconds (not much, but enough to be wasteful). Hopefully 4.1 contains a fix for that issue (no mention of it in the changelog though. I was looking around for a way to report this bug, but haven’t found any place on the IBM/Lenovo website.

The ports keep marching forward

I’m a strong believer that form = function. A well designed product just works better.

My T43 is a fairly well designed computer, minus it’s few shortcomings. Now take a look at the T60, which I just don’t understand. Why is the VGA port half way down the side of the laptop? Why is USB so far down the left side? Why is Ethernet there?

Perhaps they are operating under the idea that everyone uses their laptop on the go, and nobody uses it at a desk. But personally I find even the T43’s Ethernet (which is further to the back on the left side) a little annoying. I think the new positioning is just asking for it to get hit and broken.

Am I the only one who likes the cables in the back (out of the way)?

Hopefully they at least figured out that using an SATA drive would be a good idea. That way they get rid of those 2010 errors plaguing T43 owners.

I do however like that they kept the same simple design, rather than go with the glow-in-the-dark plastic with flashing lights design that many seem to like.

New Keyboard

I said the other day, I asked IBM support for a new keyboard because I felt the one that shipped was of lower quality (to which many Thinkpad users agree). Yesterday, a 14″ keyboard arrived. I called them, they acknowledged the error, and sent me a 15″ keyboard (my laptop has a 15″ display, so the frame of the computer is a bit different). Today it arrived.

The difference may be subtle to some, but it outright obvious to me. This keyboard feels “smoother” than the old one, just like others have said. The right side has absolutely no flex anymore, and the keys are very quiet. I could type on this, and someone just a few feet away would not know I’m typing. The squeak sometimes apparent in the trackpoint scroll button is not there (another annoyance).

This keyboard lives up to the IBM Thinkpad reputation. No question about it. This is like comparing a McDonald’s to a 5 Star restaurant. Sure McDonald’s isn’t so bad you can’t eat it, most enjoy it every so often. But when you want quality food, you don’t even think McDonald’s.

Perhaps in the future IBM/Lenovo will stop using these lower quality keyboards.

I’m one happy customer at this point. My laptop feels just like my old A31 did (the A31 is apparently one of the last actually manufactured by IBM), but with a little better performance, and a thinner profile.

Thanks to IBM for taking care of this problem. This keyboard is exactly how a laptop keyboard should feel. Quiet, no squeaks, no flex. Just solid typing. I can finally type full speed without tripping over keys that almost feel loose.

New Laptop Redux

I definitely like my new IBM Thinkpad (made by Lenovo). I did have a few complaints of things that weren’t quite ideal, so I though I’d do a quick little post on how they have been resolved (or if I adjusted to them):

  • PATA->SATA Bridge – This little chip was causing problems prohibiting you from using a third party hard drive in a T43 without an annoying error on boot. While still not officially supported, IBM did release a new BIOS to disable the error. This makes it easier to upgrade. So I consider this fixed. A major setback, as I really want a 100GB Hard Drive in this beast.
  • Fan Noise
  • Web Navigation Keys – I got used to not having these anymore. Still liked the feature though.
  • IBM Backup Software Stinks – This wasn’t a big deal, I got Acronis True Image, and I’m thrilled with it.
  • No 2nd hard drive – Now that I can get a 100GB Hard Drive, I could partition. Now I have a lighter computer, and the storage. Very cool

In addition to these mainly minor complains, the Keyboard is a little strange. Still better than many other brands, it doesn’t feel “right”. Especially compared to my old A31. The response isn’t always there, causing missed keys, and it occasionally squeaks (mainly the trackpoint scroll button). There’s slight flex on the right side. After a little research, I found out that some T43 keyboards are made in China (Alps brand), and others are made in Thailand (NMB). A simple call to IBM today and the support rep had no problem sending me a new keyboard. This type of stuff typically ships same day (and arrives the next). Now that’s service!

So yes, I’m very satisfied now. I was satisfied, now I feel very satisfied. The keyboard was the last thing that got on my nerves. Once you miss a few keys, and know your finger touched them, you get a little frustrated. At first I blamed it on myself, and that I just need to get used to the new laptop, but I’m convinced it’s the way the keyboard is. I hear the NMB are vastly preferred.

A few weeks ago, I decided to make backup CD’s for my Thinkpad (restores to factory defaults should the HD die or I replace the HD). I made them, but the last one failed. I tried again, and couldn’t do it (in retrospect, it appears that uninstalling the backup software may have broke a shortcut or two in the whole Access IBM deal. I found a few dead ones, fixed them, and everything was fine). Called IBM, and they sent me the CD’s ASAP. Hopefully no need for them, but it’s good to have in case there is a problem.

So IBM service just rocks. They make stuff like this so easy to resolve. When I asked the rep just said “sure, I can do that for you”, and got my information. My last real complaint on the replacement computer is resolved. I guess I’m once again a completely satisfied customer. They screwed up my A31’s repair pretty bad, and the replacement process was way to slow. But I feel that I’ve been taken care of very well again.

So for anyone out there that just doesn’t understand why their Thinkpad keyboard feels inferior compared to other Thinkpads they have used, check the part number and see what model it is. The NMB’s (made in Thailand) are considered to be the better made ones.

So yes, the Thinkpad T43 gets a 5/5. It’s a fantastic laptop.

New Laptop

I’ve now had about about 48hrs with the new laptop. Just a few thoughts (in no paticular order):

On the plus side

  • Well built as typical of IBM. Nothing if squeaky, flimsy. It feels very solid, despite being so thin.
  • The 9 Cell battery sticks out the back a little (about an inch). And provides longer battery life over standard 6 cell. No big deal and more battery life.
  • ATI Radeon X300 Graphics Chipset (64MB) is much better than the 3200 ATI Radeon 7500 I had.
  • DVD±RW hasn’t been tested yet. I should get some DVD media (anyone have brand preference?)
  • Fingerprint reader is so 007. Very cool way to log in. Now nobody sees you typing your password.
  • Intel 802.11a/b/g card works fine. Not sure why so many people swap them out for IBM cards. As I see it right now, it’s working perfectly.

On the questionable (not really much here)

  • Fan Noise – this is the biggest complaint I’ve heard about the T43. The fan does seem to be a little louder than it should, but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker. Mine will likely cool a bit when more RAM arrives and my paging file doesn’t cause my hard drive to spin for hours on end.
  • Rescue and Recovery for backup purposes (imaging) isn’t that good. It’s really slow, and doesn’t seem to like incrimental backups. I’m going to order Acronis True Image to do the job instead.
  • PATA->SATA bridge causes many normal ATA drives to produce errors with the IBM BIOS. Ideally IBM would have just used SATA already, or stuck with ATA, but this bridge means great drives like the 7k100 won’t work, at least not yet (fingers crossed they release new ones with upgraded firmware).
  • No 2nd bay for extra hard drive. I’ d have to swap between the DVD/CD drive and another drive
  • No web navigation keys. I got used to having them.

So there’s really not much to improve on. The biggest would be the fan noise, and getting backups to be quick and smooth. Both aren’t that big of a deal. Fan noise I can deal with (my old laptop I think was louder), and the backups will be done with other software.

I’ve also decided to abandon Sygate as my software firewall, and move to Kerio (which is going to be unsupported soon). I really run these only because it’s a laptop, and not always on my clean firewalled network. Anyone have a recommendation for a good (free) firewall on Windows that doesn’t suck (read: no zonealarm). How could it have gone this long without an open source contender? Kerio doesn’t seem to bad, but I don’t like that it’s approaching End of Life.

Oh yea, Opera fans [read: anyone who doesn’t like IE, including Firefox fans] will be interested in this (if they haven’t found this yet). If you boot this system, and press Access IBM you go into an emergency partition on your hard drive (apparantly powered by a scaled down Windows NT or 2000 with a bunch of utilities. One option is to browse the web. On closer examination, they use Opera, not IE (info on the feature found here search for “Get help, by being connected”).

It’s alive

The laptop story is finally over.

Yesterday, a shiny new Thinkpad T43 arrived. I gave it a few hours yesterday and it performed well, no signs of any problems. I’ve got some extra RAM on order to help things out even further.

Executive Relations did come through, despite some supply issues limiting their abilities. They actually sent two (2) laptops in an attempt to get this resolved by today (Friday 10/21/05). One coming from Lenovo/IBM itself, one coming from a business parter. One arrived yesterday, and one arrived ahead of schedule (today) rather than next week sometime, and will now be mailed back.

Thanks to anyone over at Lenovo/IBM who slaved over my old A31 in attempts to resurrect it, or battled supply issues to get me a new T43 replacement.

And a reminder to everyone with a laptop: keep that warranty going for as long as you value your computer. It’s very good to have.

For anyone wondering, the fingerprint scanner, is somewhat of a toy (it’s not really any more secure than a good password, because it apparently on matches parts of your fingerprint, not the entire fingerprint, for speed purposes)… but makes logging in much less obtrusive. Kinda feels like 007.

And yes, I’ll be back working on the reporter tool a bit during the week now, not to mention mozPod, which I’ve neglected for months.

The Laptop Saga Continued

Zach was taken care of by Apple (I guess it’s now clear Apple wins for service as well as hardware design). I got a few days tacked onto my ordeal as my laptop is expected to ship out a few days later now. Unfortunately for me, there is no “store” to go to. My laptop still needs to be assembled, and from what I’m told there is a “parts constraint”. So if anyone out there is working for a company who owes Lenovo/IBM parts: get working!

Edit: Added link for those who didn’t see last weeks episode.