Trapped in Hp-double toothpicks…

It’ll be a cold day in you-know-where before I fork over any more money to Hewlett-Packard for a printer or a computer.

I don’t want to get into a war of words on product quality with one person saying that hp products are the best around and me saying the opposite. In fact, I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. Hp has had a reputation of quality for decades. My printer, a 990 Cxi DeskJet prints fine. I like the features of the printer driver and the fact that I can do automatic 2-sided printing. My laptop has had plenty of troubles but it was an insurance replacement “factory refurb” so I don’t necessarily want to judge the quality of all their laptops from that.

No, it’s not their quality that I necessarily question, it’s their corporate indifference toward their customer…their business practices that makes owning one of their products more trouble than it should be. (I speak specifically of the public consumer and not necessarily the business client. I’ve no experience there.) My experience is basically the following:

  • With the laptop, and I assume it’s no different with their desktop models, one does not get full operating system CDs. One gets “system recovery” CDs. These should definitely be labeled differently. One can’t “recover” from a problem with them at all. Their is only one thing that you can do with these CDs…destroy all your data and installation customization and start from scratch. Thankfully we have 2 computers, as I have had to do this twice and have not lost much in terms of personal data because I’ve been cautious to transfer stuff to the other computer ahead of time. Time and energy and frustration however…that’s another story! What I’ve seen on their forums is that hp’s policy is to not sell you the license to XP (you are told this in their fine print), but to only give you the right to use it…on their terms. You need to re-install a .dll? You need to run a special utility? You want to exploit some feature that’s not installed but is on the XP disk? Well, unless you have access to another XP disk, you’re out of luck!
  • Printers – hp has built a reputation about their printers, but their rhetoric is growing tired. Many printers are just as good. The market is full of quality printers. That isn’t the defining selling/buying point anymore. Now it’s cost of ownership. Cartridges…need I say more? The expense of owning an hp printer is nuts. I own one. I’m nuts. I know! ;c) Because of this expense, I chase my tail trying to re-fill the cartridges (half the time in vain…printer rejects them) and buy re-cycled ones. The color cartridges are 3 colors in one so that if you run out of just red…well…you need to do something with the whole cartridge. Hp discourages re-filling by the way it designs their cartridges and their ink-level detection software doesn’t take into account any re-filling you might have done either. I’ve known for some time that my current hp printer will be my last one but have figured that I’ll wait until it dies to replace it. I’m beginning to think that that I’m wasting too much money to keep going like that. It may be cheaper to simply switch now!
  • Drivers – Is your product obsolete? Don’t expect to find drivers for it at If you’re not up-to-date, you’re out of luck.

This sort of customer relations, which pretty much shouts “customer is hostage!” rather than “customer is king” basically turns me off and, I think, increasingly turns off the rest of consumer public. We’re looking for companies who will work with us in the complexity of computing. Complexity insures that there will be problems. I’s rather buy from someone who works with me to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.


For any of you who may be subscribed to the RSS feed of my blog, especially via the RSSFWD service (see the button on the left), or who are being notified when this page changes by the ChangeDetection service (see the tiny little form on the left) please accept my apologies for the perhaps repetitive emails you’ve gotten in the past few days. I’ve been fine-tuning my RSS feed for this blog because of some hiccups I encountered.

I thought this might be a good opportunity to do a little technology blog on the techniques I’m using for an RSS feed for this blog. Here goes…

I wanted blog for my site but I didn’t want a whole server-based system. I settled on “Blog” by Fahim Farook (other than rolling your own, I don’t know what else exists specifically for blogging that’s client based freeware like Blog). I’ve done a fair amount of tweaking to get it to where it is now and I’m pretty happy with it.

But, if you have a blog, you have to have an RSS feed. After all, darling, they’re all the rage! Of course I wanted an RSS feed before I really knew what it was. It definitely is a “bandwagon” kind of thing. Personally, I want my information to come to me in email form, I don’t want to have to launch yet another app to find stuff. Then again, I’m not trying to keep up with some specific subject matter category either.

Anyway, in searching for a way to come up with an RSS feed, I found a few other things that were interesting:

  • RSSFWD – This service allows you to receive RSS feeds by email. You tell them your email address and the web page (the viewable one) on which a feed exists (for instance this one!) and it will poll that page’s RSS feed regularly to see if it’s changed. When it changes, it sends you the changed parts of the feed as an email. Those who publish pages (like me) can put the little button on their page so that people can simply click the button and they will be taken to the RSSFWD page where they enter their email address and they’re done. They now will receive RSS feed changes from that feed. I’ve already used it to sign up for some other RSS feeds.
  • NewslettersByRSS.Com – This service let’s you send your newsletter to them (i.e. include them in your mailing list) and they will create and host an RSS feed for your newsletter. They do it via scraping the email and reformatting it with RSS tags. Then you give people the link for that RSS feed and voilà, they can do what they like with your RSS feed. So, if they prefer to receive news via RSS rather than by email, they can. You can combine it with RSSFWD to create a new way of letting people sign up to receive your news, etc.
  • ChangeDetection.Com – This service isn’t an RSS service but it is a way for people to be aware of content changes on your web site. For a blog, it’s a handy feature. Instead of the RSS feed in their mailbox or newsreader, perhaps someone simply wants a notification when something has changed on your blog (or any other page you want to do this on for that matter). You sign up with them and put the email collection field and submit button on your page and you’re done. Your users put in their email address and are now notified by email when that page changes.

Ok, so now I need an RSS feed. What do I do? Well, Blog works with templates so some people have successfully created RSS templates for Blog. I believe that the process is that they publish their blog and then publish their feed simply by switching the ftp site and/or template and re-publishing. You can check out the details on the Blog forum and search for RSS. Lots of stuff there.

That, however, seemed to not be quite as seamless as I was hoping for. I really was looking for a “set it and forget it” service/setup. While I didn’t want a major PHP blogging system, I didn’t mind a script here or there. I found 3 different RSS-feed-creating PHP scripts out there. There certainly may be more and there are several good RSS tools portals out there. You’ll find them fine with Google. Each of the 3 I found work on the principle of some markup of the page that needs to be converted into a feed and all three are designed with blogs in mind. You place these markup tags (either SPAN class=”specialtagnamehere” tags) or in the case of the one I chose, specially formatted comment tags. All three let you use the script on their site or install it on your own server to play nice with their bandwidth.

They are:

instantRSS written by Ben Wilson is, IMHO, the most flexible of the 3. I was using blogger rss and when I did some formatting on an entry where Blog put in a SPAN tag to do the formatting for the text, blogger rss broke. It couldn’t handle embedded SPANs in the blog text because of the way it used SPAN tags to demark the blog text for the RSS description field. Knowing that this might be a problem in the future, I started looking for another solution. rssgenr8 doesn’t give much flexibility in its tag set so your feed contains what it wants it to contain. So that wouldn’t work.

I stumbled on to instantRSS and it actually comes with COMMENTED CODE! Imagine that. Not being a PHP guy, that was nice. Also the tag set is very complete and you can send stuff to instantRSS via commented content so that you are not limited to simply tagging that which is visible on your HTML page…i.e. you can make it do what you want it to do. A real plus when you’re as an*l retentive as I am! ;c)

I even was having a glitch on running it on my server, and since Ben actually volunteers his help on the web I sent him an email. It was answered promptly and I’m running smoothly now. So, I can certainly recommend instantRSS.

So, I tagged up my Blog template and it all appears to be working!

When I finish up an idea I have for enhancing my comments system, I’ll write about that. Until next time!

Home Improvement… DIY… Bricolage…

In France they call it “bricolage”. In the UK, it’s DIY (Do It Yourself) and in the States, it’s often “Home Improvement” (though I struggled a bit in finding the exact word we use in “American”). In my language, I call it a “trial!”

The advent of my first blog entry coincides nicely with the end of a frustrating day working on the house. I’m struck by the comparison of fiddling with computers and fiddling with houses. Both can be beset with huge, time-wasting problems that work hard to rob you of your joy. But for some reason, I find myself in the minority of those who would rather have my time wasted and consumed by my computer than my house.

There are probably many a danger signal in that for me, of course…fodder for another day’s meditation…

On my computer, I’ve just created this blog, and it took a fair bit of effort to get it to look and work the way I wanted it. There are still things I’d like to do and problems I’ll encounter, but the blog is largely “done”. Now, I simply need to “move in” and enjoy it.

On my house, we’re trying to take our 1900’s era Alsatian house that was lived in by a widow for the last umpteen years and transform it into something that a family of 5 can actually live in and enjoy. We’re doing it on no budget at all and, at least in my case, little skill and even less experience. At least my wife has an eye for these things!

It’s good for me to get the experience but it’s not pleasant. I’ve enjoyed the new things I’ve learned while getting this blog functioning. I can only hope that I’ll eventually enjoy my new-found home-improvement skills and enjoy a nicer home when all is said and done.

In the meantime, I’ll cozy up to my keyboard and enjoy my new virtual surroundings.