Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The ever shrinking Arduino

The las version of Arduino I bought is the micro. Around the size of the Arduino Pro Mini but
featuring a processor that handles the USB port too and costing $7.50. As I bought mine from an Asian online seller off eBay I decided to give a try before providing feedback.

Last week I have got trouble with two items I bought on Aliexpress: a set of Kossel linear rails that have rough spots along the rail and a set of hardened chromed smooth rods that are very smooth but bent too. In both cases they first impression was they were ok and I give them the heads up so they could get my money. Unfortunately, on closer inspection I discovered the problems mentioned above and I am still in the process of sorting it out with the sellers.

This time I wanted to be quite sure everything worked as expected ... but it did not. I could happily upload new sketches once I selected the Arduino Micro as the target board. But I could not get Blink program to work. After checking Arduino docs about the Micro it was clear pin 13 was actually the LED pin on it. But I had not one but two leds staying on all the time (besides the power pin).

A closer inspection revealed my unit was another variant called Pro Micro. It turned out this board does not have the led at pin 13. The two leds availables are somehow weird, as one of them is connected to RX_PIN that happens to be pin number 17 but the other led is connected to TX_PIN which, oddly enough, is not associated with a pin number, but two macros: TXLED1; will set it off and TXLED0; will turn that led on.

You can get the Blink program for that board from Sparkfun. And a micro USB cable is needed (similar to the one most Android smartphones phones use).

I am happy to report that at least this device works ok :-)

Thursday, September 04, 2014


Today, after a long wait, I made my mind to shopping for a brand-new MacBook Air. I went to the Apple store in my city before the summer but I did not like what I was told: They will make me a nice discount for being a university professor but only if I was billed personally. I wanted the machine to be invoiced to my university that would slash the discount seriously. It did not matter that my university was a leading public university in the country. I left the shop shocked and empty handed.

After checking with some colleagues it seems that is Apple's usual policy, though nobody was able to explain why. Anyway, after doing some taxes math I saw it was still more convenient for me to charge the bill to my personal expenses account I hold with my employer so I went for it.

These is more or less my experience today at the Apple Store in Valencia.

Apple rep1 (at the door): How can we help you today Sir?
Me: I would like to buy a MacBook Air.
Apple rep1: Do you have it reserved?
Me: No, I don't. But I do know the model I want. Do you mean I need to make a reservation for a unit?
Apple rep1: No Sir. I did not say you need to book a unit in advance.
Me: I just heard you asking me if I have it reserved ... (odd awkward moment)

Apple rep1: Please come with me so my colleague will handle your order. (We are guided to the MacBook Pro 15" area and we are told to wait there for the representative that will help us next, and so we do).

Apple rep2: (After asking as our names) What can I do for you?
Me: I want to bay an i7 MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. I want the order to be invoiced to my [employer who is a local] university.
Apple rep2: We'll let me check if we can do that, as the university counter should come here for such an order with the tax number.
(After a while he is back and confirms we can proceed) But now the discount will be much lower than if you were buying the unit personally.
Me: I acknowledge that but insist I want the invoice to be to the name of my university:
Apple rep2: Unfortunately my colleagues that handle business accounts are already off and I am afraid I won't be able to get your university taxes number. Do you have it by any chance?
Me: Of course I have it, it is ******.
Apple rep2: Ah, ok then. Please give company name and address. Would you pay credit card or cash?
Me: I would pay credit card.
Apple rep2: Ok, hold down and I'll be right back.
... one minute or two later ...
Apple rep3: Congratulations on your new MacBook Air. Now my colleague will proceed with the billing.
(Some conversation about the university takes place now, as Apple rep2 is a graduate from my university but I do not think that is relevant to this post).
Apple rep3: These are the details of the transaction (and repeats all my company data). Is that ok?
(he has been frantically using the inch-thick iphone-based device they use as a terminal for a while and eventually produces a ticket which hands over to me).
Me: What is the invoice number? (nothing like invoice number text appears on the ticket).
Apple rep2: (pointing at a barcode) That is it.
Me: Ok thank you very much.
Apple rep2: Would you like to configure your new laptop in the shop?
Me: No, thanks, I will do that at home.
We both say good-bye and I leave the shop with my laptop in a bag.

I really did not like the feeling in the shop. It felt like unless you make clear you know nothing about computers and they do not know how to handle you. I do own several Apple computers I have bought over the years though I am not an Apple fanboy. I think next time I am buying an Apple computer I will buy it online as half of my interactions with the shop representatives were kind of telling me that buying might not be possible at all. I am not asking for pushy salesman but a bit of a profesional salesman would help, even if they are not in their twenties but know the ropes.

As for the Air, what can I say? It is a light but powerful beautiful machine.