Stuff I Want But Don't Need

* Grizzly Drill-Powered Hobby Lathe — another clever way to reuse a power drill. Not sure how large a part you could really fabricate on this but still. Oh and here is a hand’s-on review
* Alpine’s latest car deck — i love the crazy looks of high end car decks tho I have never purchased one…
* The LED Jellyfish Aquarium
* Universal Key Fob — just a concept but man do I want this
* TEAC Bone Conduction phones — because they look cool
* Generally I find USB hubs to be disasters but this one is awesome looking

Velocity Micro Vista box from

I got a velocity micro box from with Vista preinstalled. Some early impressions:

* did a nice job on availability and shipping. they had what they said they had, it shipped on time and got here fast. no complaints there.
* The machine arrived nearly stillborn. Random reboots every hour. Velocity Micro support was nonexistent — unresponsive to email requests, long hold times. And their website self help options are awful. I suspected a bios issue, they don’t document their motherboard model number in the provided doc and their website doesn’t tell you what they use, and in fact doesn’t even link to nvidia as a supplier. but visual inspection told me what nvidia part it was, and a bios download definitely made things happer. This machine was obviously never burnt in at velocity micro, and their support sucks. Beware.
* Vista — ehh. Random moving around of commands just to make things feel new — finding how to add a printer took me forever (a plug for network magic, it was the easiest way to connect to a printer), finding the log viewer applet is even harder (and when your machine is rebooting every fricking hour you want to look at logs). iTunes doesn’t work right. All that work on search and it doesn’t even index it’s own help files???? You have to separately search help for “add a printer”, if you type this into the prominent search box it doesn’t give you anything useful??? Oh and the security popups are so frequent you basically just learn to OK them all, apparently no one learned any lessons from ActiveX. A net yawn for me. And some anger that iTunes is screwed up, and anger that a not insignificant oem and retail partner could ship a machine with an incompatible BIOS — how can this be happening in 2007???

Hat Tip to Amex; Alienware still sucks

I raised a dispute with American Express concerning my problems with Alienware and I have to thank them, it is making things happen. I finally got a personal contact from alienware today:

Dear Mr. Ludwig,

I tried to call you earlier today and left you a voicemail on the following regard. As I stated in the message, your system is ready to be shipped out, however earlier today Alienware received a chargeback dispute from your credit card company in the amount of $XXXX.XX. Unfortunately, we cannot ship the system out until this dispute is lifted. If you can please contact your credit card company and lift this dispute, it will be most helpful in expediting your order. Please feel free to contact me at anytime should you have any questions regarding this matter.

Thank you,

Critical Issues Agent
Alienware Corporation


Needless to say I will not be lifting the dispute. It is apparently the only lever I have — the system is just coincidentally ready to ship out the moment they receive the dispute notice. They can ship me the system and if it is perfect I will pay. I’d rather the money back.

An "alienware sucks" roundup

UPDATE 11/6/06: I’ll leave the original entry below for history but Alienware finally worked this out with me. I received a full refund. So at the end of the day they were reasonable. I have to credit Amex with assistance, I am sure that raising a dispute via them helped to resolve things. Original entry follows.


Why? Because I ordered an Alienware box in July, it arrived broken in August, and it is now October and I have yet to see the fixed box returned to me. I have moved on to trying to get my money back. I have contacted support via phone and email so many times I’ve lost count, and all I get is handwaving.

* Alienware Sucks! — the classic with a complete guide to providing pressure on recalcitrant merchants. Even merits a small WIkipedia mention
* Another guy who managed to get a refund
* some guy has created a t-shirt immortalizing the sentiment
* another set of gripes
* plenty of forum posts about unhappy alienware users — for instance, or here
* Reseller ratings which shows a lot of dissatisfaction, and dropping overall scores

Personally I am contacting American Express in an attempt to get my money back, I am sending mail to Alienware daily. I’ve given up on phone support as you will a) spend a lot of time on hold, b) have to reeducate someone new each day (Groundhog Day), and c) learn that they don’t know what is going on and can’t find anyone to help you.

Link Grab Bag

Alienware experience

As i previously mentioned, my widowpc gaming computer has been acting up — it has always had thermal issues, and their support has been weak. I finally ripped open the box and figured out exactly how the liquid cooling system worked, forced some bubbles out of the system and probably broke up some vapor lock in the pump. WidowPC shipped no doc with the system and their support staff doesn’t really know what it is in my box, so I can’t recommend them highly.

I was hoping Alienware: High-Performance Systems – Notebooks, Desktop PCs, Workstations, Peripherals would be better, given their Dell ownership and longer tenure in the market. My new alienware arrived yesterday and ominously, the shipping box had a big gash in it — the shipping materials were very flimsy. The front of the case was marred in several spots and when I turned the unit on, it sounded like an Oster Blender. Not Good.

I took a bunch of pictures of the shipping box and the PC and emailed them to Alienware last night. Response email this morning directed me to call in. So call I did. I had to walk three different people (none of them native English speakers) through problem and all the pictures. The last guy wanted me to open the case and figure out exactly what component was grinding itself into bits. This was 45 minutes into the call, I refused. I paid top dollar for a machine that was broken out of the box, and I paid for 3 years of onsite support — I didn’t realize I was the onsite support. He backed down and agreed to take the machine back, it took more than an hour to finally get receive an RMA and Fedex label — nearly two hours total. Everyone was nice but this is crazy, way too much time. So I can’t say I am thrilled with Alienware so far.

I bounce back and forth between building my own machines/providing my own frontline support, and buying retail and demanding retail support. My time is constrained right now and so I fired myself as an assembly/support person and have gone back to retail. But this is no fun.

Technology deals and rebates

Rich got me excited about rebates and deals on technology — Tong Family Blog: Current Canon Rebates — great deals on Canon cameras. I did a quick search because i need a new printer for HP Rebates and wow there are a lot of offers out there — HP Rebate Gateway
, HP Hot Deals, HP Web Deals (Is this an official HP site?). Oh I might need a new TIVO too and so I found the Tivo Rebate center. I suspect if I cataloged all the hardware and software on my home network and methodically looked for logical deals and upgrade offers, I would find a lot of great offers. And then there are all the local retailer deals. It is inconvenient to sort thru all this, I really need an automagic way to harvest all the deals I am likely to be interested in.

Switching my gaming PC

Getting ready to switch from a WidowPC box to an Alienware box. I’ve had the WidowPC box 8 months, it is a nice SLI liquid-cooled box, but it has had thermal problems from the day I got it and no longer runs. WidowPC is honestly not that responsive. I think they are just too small — my order number suggests I am approximately customer number 1000, and my support requests suggests they have handled ~4000 support requests — not large numbers, and too many requests per box.

Alienware offers onsite service and for the kind of bleeding edge boxes I buy, I think that is worthwhile. I just don’t have the time to be front line of support for myself, like Bob is for himself.