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Hardware Hacking

Journal Journal: Crappy Hardware I've owned recently

Just in the last couple of years, In no particular order:

4. Creative Sound Blaster LIVE!: Monopolies are great; monopolies mean you get to make money by raising the price and saving money on QA. What's the record for most years using creative products without a serious problem? My personal best is maybe 6.

3. The Masscool 520UI 5.25" enclosure. Yes, I looked at this before buying, but not close enough. The case looks good enough -- solid build quality, easy opening lid (with sliding locks), IE 1394 and USB 2.0 support -- in short, what you need.
Only when I take it home do I recognize the US plug at the end of the power supply -- no problem, most of my stuff is US-plugged; I got adapters. I plug it in, and wham! my first surprise. IT'S A DISCO BOX! They got translucent plastic on the sides. One side has two red LEDs, one two blue. First the red one is flashing. Then I connect the firewire to the computer, and the red one goes solid, the blue starts flashing. Then I try to format the damn thing. Yes, the blue one goes out for data transfer. Of course, the format fails. Now the thing is back to "xmas tree mode". Hell, even the power supply's LED is pulsing! I'm surprised they didn't put air dams, a spoiler and a big R-Type sticker on the damn thing! Okay, so wire the USB, and continue the format. Now try to access it. No good. Okay, sleep and deal in the morning. Try again. Now only the red light is flashing, the fan is spinning, but the HDD doesn't come up. Put in a spare HDD I have in my drawer. Okay, now both blue and red are flashing. My neighbors are now looking around for the cop car. Look again at power supply. You know, it's rated to 240 W, but that LED really shouldn't pulse like that; come to think of it, the fan shouldn't be pulsing either. Does anyone know what an inverter is these days? Let's try the PS from my Bytecc 3.5" 1394 enclosure.
[whine of fan achieving proper RPMs, lights stay solid on].
As I finish writing this rant, I pick up that PS, with the pulsing light, givb it a whack against the side of the table. OF COURSE THAT WORKS. I forgot the cardinal rule: electronics need tough love.

2. Siemens C-65 Mobile Phone: Another turd. Tiny keypad -- which is standard for the genre -- with a little 4-way pointing stick above the keypad, set among the softkeys. Right between the pointing stick and the keypad is a non-soft softkey: hold it down for a second, and it'll go to the send SMS feature. Tap it, and, well, it loads the web browser. After what feels like 30 seconds to a minute in which you can't use the phone, the web browser comes up. Now this handy little key works _anywhere_: dialing a number? WebBrowser. Entering a SMS? Forget that, time to download some porn buddy! Taking salacious pictures? No sir, webbrowser for you!
Okay, I'm not being fair. The C65 is worse than that. The firmware I had on the version sold to me featured sporadic hard crashes (=remove undersized and underpowered batter to continue) until I had to buy the proprietary USB Serial cable to reset it. Speaking of which, the computer software for this thing is among the worst in the business. Transaction based? Not on your life! Everything is synchronized with the phone. Want to delete a bunch of files? No problem. Let's just get the directory at 9600 baud. Now select the files you want to delete, waiting between each selection for the phone to acknowledge your selection. Now hit "delete", and wait while the phone marks those files for deletion, then deletes them.
What? You selected more than 6 files? I'm sorry, the computer got bored and decided the phone was no longer there. Unplug the USB cable; shut down all the software, reconnect, start the software, and wait up to two minutes for the phone to be recognized again (if at all). Now, repeat the same process, this time with fewer files. Then wait while it reloads the directory.
Another brilliant C65 design move: this is a candy bar phone, so it needs a keypad lock feature: you know, you put the thing somewhere loose, and a key or two might inadvertently get hit. Evidently, previous keypad locks were too complicated, requiring the user to enter in some sort of combination. Not the C65: just press the # key once and you're good to go. If you didn't get it, I'll spell it out: the feature they designed to prevent inadvertent key presses can be defeated by a single inadvertent key press. Hell, before that thing died, my pants made more phone calls from it than I did!
No, really, this was a great phone -- Siemens advertises it as a "MMS-allrounder", or something, but I was unable to get the MMS function to work in any way on two separate European networks in separate countries (one Vodafone, one TIM), attempting both automatic and manual configuration. Fortunately, the circuitboard/battery connection was genuinely crappy, and the power started to drop out at the most inconvenient times. After a week of this, it wouldn't stay on without constant supervision. I suppose I could file a warranty claim, but why? I've learned my lesson never to deal with Siemens again (or BenQ for that matter).

1. MSI TV @nywhere Master: On paper it sounds really cool: silicon tuner, so it changes channels really fast; CX23883 audio/video decoder, producing high quality video, a super-slim remote that's really cool. There's just two slight problems: A) No other retail, shareware or freeware/OS TV tuner program supports the proprietary tuner and audio. B) Intervideo wrote the bundled software, but apparently forgot to ensure it was stable. Sure you can watch TV on it, but if you hit spacebar, it starts PVR-on-demand that was never debugged, and it's time for the ATX "standing six count". You can get timeshifting to work elsewhere, but the Audio runs as a pass-through cable, out from the video card, into the sound card. Oh yeah, and the PVR software can only record audio or play back audio, not both. The MSI forums, and any other forums, are peppered with the wails of the damned who'd bought one of these turds. They may have fixed these problems, but I've already shipped my card to Hell, so the devil can be sure to have enough gorgeous nude models on hand to string anybody responsible for this product up by their genitalia and pull on their feet. In a sentence: interesting hardware, crippled by shitty firmware, and no QA.

--- (I don't link here, just figgered that it might turn up on a search or something and at least amuse someone, if not save them from buying junk) ---
User Journal

Journal Journal: California Raisins

Okay, so the story on Movie Games sucking caused a horrible flashback to what I consider to be the worst video game I ever encourntered.
It was summer 1991 (could have been 90, but pretty sure it was 91), and I was working my summer job (if you could call it that) doing beta and final testing for a house that contracted mostly to a whole range of gaming companies.

Somehow, I drew the unlucky straw that day, and I got saddled with this NES project -- the story was vague, the thing had been written and forgotten about for 18 months, or it was way overdue and the publisher had already given up on it -- anyway, the NES was on its way out, and this game really, really, REALLY sucked. I'm talking about California Raisins.

It was painful: I had to explore all the annoying little cracks in this uninspired Mario ripoff (With all of four -- count them, four -- levels) eight hours a day in a roomn where everything flashed at 60Hz. I was amazed I never killed anyone on the way home. In short, the game was bad in every sector: the music was the first bars of "I heard it through the grapevine", over and over again, the jumping part was all based on precision with lethally punishment for failure. Worst of all, by the time I saw the game, the California Raisins craze was over by nearly two years.

So yeah, I worked on that game, tested it, and gave the client my personal opinion that schlock like that would never sell.

Then today I google the damn thing ("the game that, when I was paid to play it, convinced me a needed a career change"), I find that thank God, it never was published. And I thanked myself for that.

But what's this? One EEPROM escaped, and it's been used to multiply that game? 12 years after I did my moral best to damn that game into oblivion, even at personal financial loss, it emerges from the grave. Worse, that one bit of evil somebody missed, now has, thanks to the "legend of the game that never was", returned to even greater stature than it would have had before?

How? why? where could it come from?

Google found that too:

An interview with a NES cart collector reveals that a woman received them, along with a couple other NES titles I remember very well from that era from someone who "used to work for a gaming company".

I looked at the shot -- it's been many years, it's a generic proto cart, but I wouldn't be surprised if my fingerprints were on that thing.

Damn, I wish I had insisted to the boss that the cart be destroyed.

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