Trackball ergonomics

As availability of the remaining Microsoft Trackball Explorers is waning on eBay (or perhaps you’d like to buy a new device rather than a vintage piece whose bearings have worn down, buttons stick, etc.), I have been considering the alternatives. There are few options, although their ergonomics is not quite as spot on as the venerable TBE‘s which fit like a glove.

But they are workable, and human beings adapt. :) There is an interesting point I just realized, and I thought of sharing it. Kensington’s misleadingly named Expert Mouse works very well in situations where the work surface is low (as it should be for decent ergonomics) so that it is possible to use a third party arm-rest (my preference is “330 000″ series ErgoRest forearm support) with it. When your hand ‘floats’ above the trackball, it is quite pleasant to use for extended periods of time.

However, in many situations the desk height is too high and Expert Mouse suddenly becomes much less pleasant to use. Its own wrist support is not that comfortable, especially when more of your arm’s weight is on it. In such situations Logitech’s wireless M570 (for some reason “M570″ sounds like a model of Mercedes-Benz to me ;)) works reasonably well. M570 is like a TBE in reverse. For some reason Logitech opted to place the ball at the thumb and button/scroll wheel controls at the forefinger/middle finger. I wish Logitech introduced a model with the controls (trackball/buttons+scroll wheel) reversed and we’d essentially have a new TBE… but even as it is, it works reasonably well. If you haven’t used a thumb-controlled trackball before it will take you a week or two to become fluent with it, and even then the accuracy is not quite as good as it would be with a forefinger-controlled trackball. But it’s close enough for M570 to work well. And M570 is small enough to lug along with your laptop – a lucky co-incidence since I think M570 works better in less-than-optimal ergonomic settings which you are more likely to encounter while on the road.

N.B.
While both manufacturers provide drivers/utilities for their respective devices, be sure to check out X-Mouse Button Control software as it is able to teach your trackball cool new workflow-improving tricks!

Marvell 88E8056 and ESXi 4.1

So I have an older development/experimental server that runs couple of VMs on ESXi 4.1. The server’s motherboard (ASUS P5BV-C/4L) is from an old workstation, and it has integrated quad NICs which would be nice to be able to use.. except that the default build of ESXi 4.1 doesn’t see them (even though ESXi 4.1 technically supports Marvell 88E8056 NICs).

There are several pages that discuss the issue extensively, and have a lot of good information on them. Yet another page has a quick low down on how to get the driver properly installed.

However, having not worked on ESXi CLI for some time I had forgotten, for example, that busybox that ESXi uses wipes the root files on every reboot. After a while I recalled (from an old note) that to save changes to the /etc/vmware/simple.map I would need to execute /sbin/backup.sh 0 /bootbank/ after making the edits. But even that was unecessary.

One sentence on the brief recap page, would have saved me couple of hours tonight. So here it is: »Just upload the attached oem.tgz into /bootbank folder with scp, then reboot, and you’re done!» And when you do that, you are done – the pre-prepared oem.tgz works perfectly!

Yes, had I known, I would’ve known, but I didn’t. :) Hopefully this saves time for someone else!

LaserJet P2015dn duplexing on Windows 7

HP LaserJet P2015 models use “Universal” driver under Windows 7. When first installed, duplexing doesn’t work by default. This is a surprise for many who come from Windows XP environment where the dedicated drivers had P2015′s built-in duplexing availability turned on, of course, by default. In Windows 7, however, the duplexing selector for P2015 says by default: “Print on both sides (manually)”.

To enable P2012′s automatic duplexing on Windows 7 go to Devices and Printers, highlight the P2015, right click, and select Printer Properties from the context popup menu. Go to Device Settings tab and look for “Duplex Unit (for 2-Sided Printing)” option. It’s set to “Not Installed” by default. Change it to “Installed” and click on “OK”. Now when you go to Preferences when getting ready to print, the automatic (not “manually”) option is available on the Finishing tab, and automatic duplexing works.

Also if you use the excellent priPrinter utility, P2015 honors the “Double Sided” toggle on the Page Layout tab. Same goes for the “Double-sided” checkbox on FinePrint utility, and other applications that provide the option to turn automatic duplexing on or off.

How To Destroy Brand Confidence In One Hit

Couple of a weeks ago the power supply of one of our PCs failed. The system is about one and half years old, so fine – sometimes things break. I replaced the power supply and the system was back up and running. The failed OCZ power supply was under warranty, and so I sent it in for replacement. The usual way: I pay the shipping in, they pay the shipping back.

The replacement – a reconditioned unit – arrived yesterday. First thing I noticed that the “WARRANTY VOID IF BROKEN OR REMOVED” sticker was, well, broken. Hm. So today I went ahead and installed it back into the original system, taking out the temporary PSU. I really hate replacing power supplies when the case is even slightly congested and this one was pretty tough to get to. Finally, the replacement PSU was in place and I hit the power button. Nothing!

Few moments of testing later I had determined that the unit OCZ sent as a replacement was DOA. I had to rip it out and put the temp PSU back in. Note to self: from now on the PSU replacement protocol will include stand-alone testing the new unit before I touch the target system.

I very much doubt the unit broke in transit; I’m guessing they either didn’t test it after repairs were completed, or for some reason the unit was never serviced and so I got someone else’s failed PSU in exchange to PSU I sent in for warranty service. The only way OCZ can salvage the situation at this point and avoid getting on my bad list is if they offer to pay shipping both ways. It’s not that much money, but the time wasted on this far exceeded what the replacement is worth.

Many companies forget that the value of warranty they offer not only comes from what they can advertise but also from the PR – positive or negative – depending how they handle warranty.

UPDATE 21 January 2010: Five Star Damage Control

OCZ handled the situation about the only way they could’ve handled it to minimize the negative impression that had already been created: they offered a free upgrade to a new product, or a pre-paid shipping label to return the DOA unit to service/exchange (apparently in case I had to keep the same model, such as a component for a tightly specified system). I chose the upgrade. Let’s hope the new unit works! ;)

UPDATE 22 January 2010: Not so fast, my friend

More to come. Dealing with OCZ tech support turned out to be less than what the first impression promised.

Something I didn’t know about KVM switches and Motherboard BIOS…

I recently installed Gigabyte GA-EP45T-UD3LR motherboard to a small LAN file server. It’s a decent, stable, inexpensive board. But what I didn’t realize is that if you want to use a shared USB keyboard and mouse with a Windows system, some BIOS options must be available and editable (assuming they’re not set “correctly” by default from the KVM switch’s point of view). This motherboard’s BIOS doesn’t have those options and apparently the BIOS defaults aren’t the right ones for this kind of use. The result: once USB keyboard and mouse have been switched away from the system with a KVM switch, they’ll never be reacquired by the system until the system is rebooted. Fortunately RDC works so that the console is not usually—or at least is very rarely—needed…

For reference, if you’re planning to use a Windows system with a KVM switch, make sure its BIOS has the following options:

  • HALT ON ERROR: All but keyboard (usually in Standard CMOS settings)
  • PnP OS: yes (usually in PnP/PCI settings)
  • USB IRQ: enabled (usually in PnP/PCI settings)

Without these options set the only way to find out whether a specific motherboard will or will not work with a USB KVM switch, is to try. Gigabyte GA-EP45T-UD3LR does not.