Friday, February 14 2003
My valentine to Gretchen today was a single wooden match upon which I'd written
in tiny writing. I also outlined four tiny hearts on the four cardinal directions of the red matchhead.
HAPPY VALENTINE DAY
Gretchen's valentine gifts to me were somewhat more elaborate and included the tackiest card shopliftable in the Mid-Hudson region, a photo keychain featuring her picture surrounded with a frame labeled with the word "GIRLFRIEND" (pronounced, I believe, with an urban female African American affectation). She also made me a thick silvery heart out of Sculpey, her favorite craft medium.
For our valentine dinner, we ate out at an unpretentious Chinese restaurant in Uptown Kingston. Being as unpretentious as it was, it wasn't a hot spot for couples celebrating the piercing of their hears by Cupid's arrows. Most of the people there had brought their kids, and nothing is less romantic than a dinner with the progeny.
Two years ago today, Gretchen sent me an email, the beginning of our first communication in twelve years.
I remember back in the early days of long distance competition, one of the big upstart competitors was MCI. But in recent years the MCI brand was somehow lost. What happened to it? It turns out that it was sucked up, right along with the dust bunnies and paperclips, in a huge ungainly megacorporation. This corporation was Worldcom, and they spent a considerable amount of money lobbying Congress to make laws so it could do the sort of things that later lead to its own disgrace. It also spent a lot of money marketing its brand, Worldcom. Back in the 90s, corporations believed it was worth lots and lots of money to build brand recognition. But once Worldcom was disgraced, its brand marketed itself, but it was the wrong kind of marketing. Worldcom was thrown into a namebrand dustbin from which the Worldcom brand-building geniuses could find no easy way to extricate themselves. The one place you can hear the Worldcom phoenix stirring these days is during NPR's All Things Considered, which it sponsors. As part of the sponsorship copy, listeners are encouraged to visit their website to get an "update."
In the meantime, the MCI brand is back! Worldcom has brought it down from the shelf, dusted it off, and run market tests with rooms full of average Americans. These folks think of MCI as a dashing upstart, a handsome David in a world full of AT&T Goliaths. I'm even seeing MCI in television commercials again. This is an advantage I hadn't foreseen in corporate consolidation: by the time the megacorporation is disgraced, it has acquired a vast library of unsullied brand names upon which it can fall back.
The other day I bought a Dell ATX power supply from P&T Surplus, hoping to use it as a bench power supply for use with loose motherboards. I've been trying it out for the past couple days, but it hasn't worked. In frustration, I did a search for ATX pinouts on the web. In so doing, I made a disturbing discovery. Dell ATX power supplies are nonstandard. It's not just that they make slight variations from the ATX standard for admirable purposes; they completely scramble the arrangement of wires in the ATX power connector, both on their power supplies and on their motherboards, while using a connector that still looks (and physically fits) like the standard.
|Pin || Bummer, just the standard || Dude, you're getting a Dell|
|1 || +3.3V Power +3.3V || +5V Vcc +5V|
| 2 || +3.3V Power +3.3V || GND|
| 3 || GND Ground || +5V Vcc +5V|
| 4|| +5V Vcc +5V || GND Ground|
| 5 || GND Ground || PWROK Power Good|
| 6 || +5V Vcc +5V || 5VSB +5V Standby|
| 7 || GND Ground || +12V Power +12V |
| 8 || PWROK Power Good || -12V Power -12V |
| 9 || 5VSB +5V Standby || GND Ground|
| 10 || +12V Power +12V || GND Ground|
| 11 || +3.3V Power +3.3V || PS-ON Remote Power ON/OFF|
|12 || -12V Power -12V || GND Ground|
| 13 || GND Ground || GND Ground |
| 14 || PS-ON Remote Power ON/OFF || GND Ground|
| 15 || GND Ground || -5v|
| 16 || GND Ground || +5V Vcc +5V |
| 17 || GND Ground || +5V Vcc +5V |
| 18 || -5V Power -5V || +5V Vcc +5V |
| 19 || +5V Vcc +5V || Key|
|20 || +5V Vcc +5V || +5V Vcc +5V |
This means that you cannot use a Dell motherboard in a Gateway, and you cannot use a Dell case with a Gateway motherboard. This use of nonstandard parts is obviously a deliberate move to lock users into using Dell parts. The thing that's terrible about this is that I didn't know they did this. If I didn't know Dell did this (and I'm something of a computer hardware professional) then who does? The upshot of all this is as follows: don't buy Dell hardware. Always buy commodity units that come with standard parts. Gateway computers, for example, use parts that art entirely interchangeable with no-name machines. I get most of my computer hardware from Tiger Direct, a fine supplier of commodity equipment. They've never let me down yet, although I've heard they have horrible customer service.
While we're on the subject of Dell computers, let me take a moment to say something about their advertising. (For the record, I generally think it's a bad idea to buy any brand that is being heavily advertised, since a company that advertises heavily has made the decision to allocate money that could have been spent making their project better into an effort that only makes people think their product is better.) I've noticed in recent days that Dell gradually replaced Benjamin Curtis, the goofy "Dude, you're getting a Dell" spokesdude, with a couple of youthful (and racially diverse) spokesinterns. They're both better-dressed and more serious than the Curtis had been. The other day I learned that Curtis had been busted for pot possession (bummer, dude). Interestingly, on that very day he disappeared from Dell ads entirely. Evidently Dell fears the economic wrath of parents who will think there's a link between the Dell brand name and their children's use of illegal drugs, and even terrorism. (As a dipshit prospective Dell buyer without any knowledge of their proprietary power supply connectors, I'd be far more concerned about the connotations of that crooked E in the Dell logo.) I have to wonder if the Dell folks were tipped off about Curtis's impending drug arrest months in advance, because his weaning from the ads was a gradual process, with the overly-serious spokesinterns appearing several weeks ago and only taking over the ads completely on the day of Curtis's arrest.
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