December 2009

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I am finally a cell phone owner.  It took about 9 months before something that could justify the exceptional expense that cell phones cost.

The experience of buying and owning a cell phone involves several parties.  The parties involved are the reseller, the service provider, and the phone itself.  I’m going to break these 3 part out for this review.

The provider:

This was the easiest decision for me.  Sprint has the cheapest plans right now.  Plus, I get a 15% discount through an employer perk.   The coverage isn’t that great, but it is good enough.  My overall rating of Sprint is a 6/10.

The reseller:

Best Buy was first on my list of places to buy the phone because they handle the rebates for you, instantly.  No waiting 6-8 weeks, no mailing out 17 pieces of information, they just handle it.  Plus, I will never go to a Sprint store again due to the awful customer service I’ve had with them.

I would have no problem buying a cell phone from Best Buy again.  They seem to care more than the Sprint store does about customer satisfaction.   There were two problems I had with the phone that they helped to clear up with me.  I think that these stories sum up my experience well.

The first issue I had was the phone went on sale three weeks after I bought it.  I was still looking in the fliers after purchase to see if the phone would go on sale.  It did.  The phone went from $179.99 to $99.99.   I was still in the first month of my plan, so I could cancel the phone and buy a new one for the reduced price.  This option would’ve involved quite a bit of hassle, so I was relieved when Best Buy credited my credit card with the difference without issue.  After the horrible experience I had at the Sprint store with the Palm Pre, this was _really_ a nice change.

The second issue I had was a phone issue.  The battery life on the phone wasn’t up to my standards.  I took it to Best Buy and they replaced the battery for me.  No prying questions, no acting like I was the problem; they just took a battery from another phone and gave it to me.

The phone:

I’m going to cover Android here to.  The phone and the software that run it are, warranty wise, inseparable.

The draw to the phone was two-fold.  I wanted a Android phone.  I wanted a keyboard.  The Samsung Moment was the only phone that meets these requirements that Sprint carries.

Android has been good but not great.  The Moment runs version 1.5 of Android.  I’ve found it buggy at times.  The default setup is odd.  For some reason, the GPS is on by default.  This will cause poor battery life out of the box.

Android has a great app store.  The app store is the main reason that the phone and platform are a buy.  I can download a million or so ringtones and wallpapers for free.  There are fun games to play as well to burn all of that spare time we have.  There are apps for Facebook, sports scores, alcoholic beverage creation, and for reading the US Constitution.  The amount of apps is staggering.  The quality of the apps is always iffy.  I’m only installing the top rated and downloaded apps.  Don’t be surprised if your phone crashes when using an unpopular or unsanctioned app.

The phone comes with demo applications that cannot be uninstalled.   Google makes money off of your personal information.  This comes through in their phones as well.  There is no option to not sync contacts.  If you don’t want Google to know about your friends, don’t buy one of their phones.  One of the best examples of Google trickery is the GPS setting.  There are two ways to do GPS, wireless networks, and GPS satellites.  The description under wireless networks reads: “See location in application (such as Maps) using wireless networks”.  The description under the GPS satellites reads: “Locate to street-level (requires more battery plus view of sky)”.  The descriptions are true, but biased.  Clicking on the Use wireless networks setting reveals why.  A consent form appears stating: ” Allow Google’s location service to collect anonymous and aggregate location data.  Collection will occur regardless of whether any applications are active.”  This means if this setting is on, you become a data provider for Google.  No, they don’t pay you for the information you provide.

The phone is mechanically great.  The non-slide backing feels really good in my hands.  The overall build quality is quite good.  I would rather have tactile buttons rather than the touch sensitive buttons at the bottom of the screen.  The screen is nice and bright.  It looks like a bigger screen would’ve fit in the same form factor.   I would’ve preferred the screen to fill out all the space instead of having a border.  The keyboard is good and has nice raised keys, keys for numbers, and a directional pad.  I’ve read some criticisms about the touchpad button.  I actually like it as a concept, but the implementation is poor.  The OS is slow to recognize movement on the touchpad, which makes it difficult to use.

Now for the Achilles’s heel, battery life.  The battery life of this phone is just aweful.  This phone should be thought of as more of a laptop in terms of battery life.  It is that bad.  I’ve followed all of the tips in the forums and still only get about 13 hours of standby time.  It’s bad enough where you have to plan a day around it.  If you stay at work late, or have a long drive home, the phone might die before you get there.  Connecting a personal phone to a charger at work is an annoyance and not the message I want to give to my employer.  Even using the GPS in the car makes me worry about when the next charge will have to come.  Its bad enough where it puts a shroud over all of the good features the phone actually has.  This phone has roughly half of what I would consider decent batter life.

Like I mentioned before, I’m keeping the phone.  It does what I want it to do, and I can cost-justify it.  However; i am, getting three phone chargers for Christmas and await a higher capacity battery with great anticipation.

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Take 4

I post way too infrequently.   It seems like every 4th post is about how I had some sort of elaborate hardware failure.  So let me tell you about my most recent one.

Roughly a month ago, my NFS requests started failing.  This was odd.  The server was still happily running along, but, after further investigation, totally unresponsive.   I’m thinking this is bad, but I didn’t know exactly how bad.

After resetting the system, nothing happened.  Now I’m a lot worried.  Several resets later, I sat back and pondered the results.  About half the time, the system would get half way through posting.  Once, the system nearly booted, but have a disk error and locked.  Sporatic results like these point to a motherboard, CPU, or, most likely, a power supply.

I took the power supply out of my main desktop box and plugged it in.  The system would boot to a certain point every time, but still throw disk errors and refuse to fully boot.  This was a huge advancement.  Any issue that is reproduceable is explainable and solvable.

It was time to buy a new power supply.  It seems as though every time a component fails, I am able to buy something better and more advanced.  There is nothing that spawns learning quite like failure.  The power supply that I purchased was a Enermax Revolution 85+ ( Eight hundred and fifty watts!!!!!! ).  Enermax is my favorite power supply maker at this point.   This power supply had a few bonuses too.  It is exceptionally efficient, it is fully modular, it can power two dozen or so hard disks, and it had a $70 rebate.  I am totally pleased with the purchase.

The next step was to figure out the disk issue.  With hard disk issues, ears are an efficient trouble shooting tool.  Really?  Really.   If you hear a hard disk making sounds it doesn’t normally make, back up your data instantly.  This tip would’ve saved my bacon on many occasions.  I noticed the server making odd noises days before the failure and should have acted then.  After the new power supply was installed, it was totally apparent.  I had two failed disks.  The easiest way to see that a drive is failed is that it doesn’t show up when a system is booting.  During the power cycle, a system will check the disks that it has attached to it and, most of the time, display the specifications of the disk.   I could see that two disks that were properly plugged in and they were not detected; therefore, they were bad.  That, and I could hear that they weren’t spinning up properly.

Disk failure shouldn’t be an issue in servers.  I had RAID implemented on the disks.  RAID typically allows for a disk failure, that is, unless you use a type of RAID that doesn’t.  Because of space concerns I had when building out the box, I decided to use RAID level 0 on the disks.  RAID 0 will allow many disks to appear as one disk while combining the storage capacity of all of the disks.  Unfortunately, when one disk fails, all data is lost.  Only data that is ok to be lost should be put on an array where the disks are configured in this manner.

All data was not lost, however.  I did follow my own rule and only put data that could be lost on disk arrays that could not withstand failure.  The problem was that I considered my main OS to be something that was expendable.  The virtual machines, like the one that runs this site, were protected and recovered.  The problem with this setup is obvious.  When the main OS is down, the virtual machines will no longer be able to run because of their dependency on the main OS.  This was a classic mistake on my part, I should’ve put the OS in a safer place.  That won’t happen again.

The disks that I purchased to comprise the new storage core of the server are from the Western Digital Black family.  I really like these drive because they are built for performance and because they are cheap.  I purchased 3 of the 750GB model for $60 a piece.  I don’t know how reliable they will be until one of them fails.  The drives get good reviews so I’m not too worried about it.

Two disks and a power supply at the same time?  How on earth could that happen?  My current theory is that the power supply didn’t fail.  It degraded to the point where it couldn’t muster the power to get the entire system running from a cold start.  The system had to cold start when I received a disk failure on my main system array.  The second disk was part of my backup array that could survive a disk failure.  It is possible that the disk had been in a failed state for some time.

I have to give props to Zalman and Seagate.  Both companies stood by their product’s warranty and replaced the faulty products.  There was only 3 months left in a 3 year warranty on the Zalman power supply that failed.  The disk was an enterprise quality disk (but it failed so….), it had roughly 2 years left on the warranty.

Props also go to volume management and filesystem resizing utilities.  I used the CentOS 5.4 live CD as a recovery disk to transfer data from the disks after the operating system had failed.

Another year, another hardware failure.  This is why only professionals (like me) should host their own equipment.  Typically, people are better off letting a hosting company handle problems like this for them.

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