Monday, February 27, 2017

Products With Bad Batteries: Don’t Make the Mistake of Buying Them


 I've been meaning to write a post about batteries for a while.  I think about this theme every time I use a product where the manufacturer has gotten cheap and used low-quality batteries -- and the product is dead, useless because of the cheap batteries. 

If a manufacturer makes a good product, that product will contain high-quality rechargeable batteries that hold a charge for more than a few days, even several months. 

On the opposite end, I've bought too many products where cheap, low-quality batteries have obviously been used.  These items end up showing their low quality.  When you need to use them -- they aren't there for you.  You therefore have to keep these tools or gadgets on the charger all the time, and they eventually cost you a lot more than products with high-quality batteries.  

My biggest disappointments have been Garmin nuvi GPS units, which seem to be made of very low-quality components.  Oh, how can I forget laptops from HP and Asus, which make me tear my hair out when I use them?  

Here's a list of some products and their makers where the batteries would go dead after being unplugged from the charger for just a day or two. 

I've been increasingly surprised and disappointed at the low build quality of my Garmin nuvi units.  A 1350 model that I bought five  years ago is no longer usable, as it will not accept my finger touches on its touchscreen.  It is maddeningly unusable.  I bought this for my wife, who treats all gadgets with great care.  (From my Amazon order history, I see that I bought a StreetPilot c330 GPS Navigator back in February 2008.  We've come a long way). 

The new 2595 LMT model that I bought last year has a very mediocre battery life, losing its charge completely after just a day or two.  It's evident that Garmin has cut corners by putting crappy, inexpensive batteries into its nuvi units.  These batteries will lose their power if they are sitting in the car for just a couple of days.  A device with a better quality battery will hold its charge and power on after sitting for one or two months, maybe more.  C'mon, Garmin.  Your GPS units cost a lot, and surely you can put higher-quality components in them. 

The only device that I've ever had damaged while traveling was a Garmin, which suffered a cracked screen when I had to check in my rolling carryon.  None of the four smartphones in that carryon got damaged, nor did any of the four hard drives suffer any damage.  I've never had anything else in my carryon or checked baggage break, after 30 years of traveling.  Well, I am sure I have, but that would have been my fault -- and I can't remember. 

One of my biggest disappointments was trying to use iPod touches as a music player when swimming laps.  I bought FOUR iPod touches in all, selling all of them.  Every one of them would lose a charge if I let the iPod sit for more than a day.  The iPod were devices from hell.  If I sat them on my desk and looked at them every day or week, they'd keep a charge for over a month.  Once I was satisfied that the battery was OK in the iPod, I'd seal it in the waterproof pouch for swimming the next day, and when I'd be in the pool ready to use it -- SURPRISE!  The iPod had run out of battery power.  I f***ing hate Apple iPods.  They are over-designed, with batteries that are too thin. 

Surprisingly, the iPad mini 2 that I have works just fine and seems to hold a charge for several days.  The iPad 2 and 3 that I owned before this mini worked fine for two years or so, and after that, their batteries would not hold a charge for more than a day or so. 

Be careful of buying used Apple iPod touches and iPads.  They are overdesigned, and they use very thin batteries that probably only have a life of two years or so. 

On the other hand, I've recently bought four-year-old used MacBook Pros and Airs, which still have good batteries, and are simply awesome machines. 

I had an Asus Nexus 2nd generation tablet that was even worse.  The battery in this otherwise fine tablet can't sit for more than 12 hours before it loses its charge. 

I have four Windows 7 laptops that do various tasks around the house, such as serving as a Windows Media Center DVR.  The Asus is a real piece of s***.  This Asus laptop was the most expensive Windows 7 laptop I ever bought.  It had fine specs, so I thought that I was getting a great deal. The touchpad has never worked right.  I started using it seriously for a while, had to buy a separate mouse to use it.  The battery dies almost instantly -- it won't hold a charge.  Then the hard drive starting giving me problems.  Even worse, when the hard drive started acting up, I got a mysterious message from the Asus laptop (well, I guess I have to blame Windows) and chose the wrong option, erasing and reformatting the hard drive.  The hard drive did the same thing a week later. 

My HP Envy laptop worked for a year, but then the battery on it died.  The battery would not hold a charge.  I bought a replacement battery on Amazon, which was just as bad.  Don't buy a battery from Amazon seller ZTHY TECH. I bought the battery in August 2016, but it's going to be too much trouble to rip it out of the Envy and ship it back.  Oh, and the HP Envy's hard drive died within the first week of purchasing it.  After a huge amount of hassle, HP took the laptop and replaced the hard drive (something I could have done easily myself).  The hard drive that they put in started acting up a year later, and I had to replace that one too.  The Envy is now in storage, as is the Asus. 

I have an MSI laptop, and a Fujitsu laptop.  Both are inexpensive Windows machines with i3 processors.  I think that the MSI laptop's battery is bad now.  Who knows about the Fujitsu.  I am wondering what the hell I was thinking by buying four Windows laptops.  At least they are Windows 7 machines. 

My LG G3 phone has such a large screen that it sucks up the battery.  I loved my G2 phone.  The G3 phone is ridiculous, and a real disappointment.  Maybe the battery is high quality, but the engineers who designed this phone did not put enough thought into it.  If I am driving and using an app like Waze on the phone, it sucks up so much power that the phone will steadily drain EVEN IF I have a charger attached to it!  As a result, the phone is almost useless. 

Finally, I've now built up a collection of eight vacuum cleaners across our main home and our summer home (and several storage areas).  The newer Black and Decker handheld vacuums that state they have lithium batteries are great and will hold a charge for weeks:
Black & Decker HHVI320JR02 Dustbuster Cordless Lithium Hand Vacuum

I bought an old B&D Dustbuster that has to be plugged into the charger all the time, and is therefore useless.  The Eureka 96HX Quick-Up Cordless 2-in-1 Stick Vacuum had the same issue and is retired.  Lastly, if you are looking for a small handheld vacuum, definitely get one with a battery (and a good battery).  I bought the Eureka 71B EasyClean Corded Hand-Held Vacuum, and I just never used it because of the hassle of having to hook up the cord.  I use the newer Black & Decker cordless vacuums all the time, and they are great tools for all kinds of things (like cleaning the dust out of my computers), rather than useless objects rotting away in storage. 

Before my readers say that all I do is complain, I would like to point out some super awesome products that have only been great. 

My Panasonic wireless phones. These phones are amazing.  I can walk 50 yards from the base unit and still hear people talking on them clearly.

Most of the Panasonic gadgets that I've bought in the past 30 years are still working. 

My Macbooks (and other Macs); all 2012 or 2013 models, are simply awesome machines.  If you are buying a used Mac, note that Mac laptops will show the number of battery cycles if you call up the System Profiler.  

My small 2000-watt Honda generator: I had to use this for two days during a power outage.  It powered two refrigerators, ran a microwave and espresso machine, charged all my phones, and powered my MacBook Pro for 12 hours on half a gallon of gas.  

A paired set of Makita tools -- a drill and nut driver -- that I bought from Home Depot during a Black Friday over four years ago.  The batteries that came with this set hold a charge for a year or more.  Just fantastic quality.  

My 3-year-old chocolate labrador retriever, Moose, has an all-day battery that recharges in 5 minutes and goes all day, all the time.  I expect his battery to last 12 to 15 years.  

Monday, February 6, 2017

Getting "Live file system repair is not supported" Errors When Using WD Hard Drive with Mac

I've used dozens of hard drives with my Macs.  I highly recommend the OWC
NewerTech Voyager S3 hard drive bays, where you can put a bare hard drive into the bay, which then works with Macs or PCs through USB 3, Firewire, or eSATA. 

Here's an example:

I use the S3 USB3.0 dock with my Macs, and they work great.  They are fast and reliable. 

I bought a WD 3tb desktop hard drive a few months ago, and I've had a really difficult time getting it to work with my Mac.  I tried transferring files to it all weekend, and for one reason or another, the transfer process would get interrupted about 4 hours into the process.  The drive would not act right -- I could not open it to view files, or it would show that no files had been transferred, or I could not eject the drive. 

I had to restart my Mac three times and tried reformatting the drive, and checking its health, using Disk Utility.  This took all weekend, a real waste of time. 

I kept getting the message "Live file system repair is not supported".

Forums on the web showed that this many other folks have the same problem.  Here are some quotes:

Force ejecting the drive, shutting down and restarting provides a temporary fix (Disk Utility checks out the drive fine) but the problem comes back on a regular basis now.

I am also now seeing this problem after upgrading to Maveriks (sic). Time Machine stops working with an external USB drive (Seagate) and Disk Utility can't repair the drive with the error "Live file system repair is not supported".

I just thought I would share my solution. I was having the same issues, but I turned off file sharing and it repaired the drive with no issues. Once it was done I turned file sharing back on.

+1 for turning off Sharing.

I figured that this drive was defective, which was surprising.  Western Digital's drives are generally considered to be very reliable. 

I ran WD's Mac-based "WD Drive Utilities" app on the hard drive.  They never used to have an app like this for the Mac, so I learned something today.  It showed that the drive was fine. 

I did not believe this, so I took out my Windows 7 laptop (an HP Envy that has caused me a lot of trouble, more on this later) and ran WD's "Lifeguard Diagnostics" utility on the drive.  The quick tests showed that the drive was fine, so I ran the 6- hour sector diagnosis.  Six hours later, I got the message that all sectors on the drive were fine. 

From the forums above, I had seen the note that turning off file sharing in System Preferences had worked.  I doubted this and never tried it (because I've had File Sharing on when using dozens of other drives and never had a problem), but I stumbled onto this possible solution:

In Disk Utility, partition the drive as Mac-journaled (this is what I did, other formats may work)
Select the drive and choose Get Info (cmd-I or File--.Get Info). 

The Get Info window for the drive will appear.  I've never see this before, but under General: there is a checkbox and the words "Shared folder."  I unchecked the box, and I am hopeful that this solved this bizarre problem.  We shall see; I am two hours into a cloning operation and it is fine so far.  We'll see in three hours. 

Here's another thing I found:

So, if you have a disk greater than 2TB you cannot have Disk Utility format the boot sector as an MBR type (i.e. MBR would be grayed out).  If you must have an MBR formatted disk drive you will need to purchase a 2TB or smaller disk drive.
(MBR formatting is an option when partitioning hard drives; it allows the drive to boot up Windows machines). 

Super Awesome Internet and Wifi Devices

My friends know that I spend way too much time trying to figure out how to get Internet access when I am on the road, camping; or at my summer house in Washington State. 

Here are two devices that I've tested a great deal and can recommend highly. 

TP-Link CPE210 2.4GHz 300Mbps 9dBi High Power Outdoor CPE/Access Point: about $57 at Amazon

This TP-Link router picks up someone else's wifi hotspot from 100 yards away or more.  It's a WISP router, meaning I can pick up a Comcast Xfinity hotspot from a neighbor's house, and then turn it into my own wifi hotspot with a different name. 

Comcast has blanketed the US with wifi hotspots.  Most folks with Comcast internet become unknowing and unwitting broadcasters of Xfinity hotspots.  When I am on the road or at my summer house, I use this TP-Link router to get an Xfinity signal from a neighbor across the water or from a far-away RV park hotspot, and it is plenty fast.  Not enough for streaming video, but good enough for everything else I need to do. 

Folks are using these TP-Links with their RVs, also setting up two of them to talk to each other, supply a remote cabin up to a mile away from the main house with internet. 

This is not very portable, so I only set it up if I am going to use it for a few days in the same location.  It is an incredible tool for picking up wifi signals from far away that you can then use.  (I am a Comcast subscriber at our main home, so have a username and account that I can use with their Xfinity hotspots). 

 I've been using the Freedompop free cell phone and cellular hotspot services for three years.  Freedompop really gives free cell phone and hotspot service -- but you have to be aware of the "gotcha's" and disable things like their premium services, which adds charges. 

Freedompop's customer service through Twitter messaging has been GREAT.  I've received better customer service in the past month through them than I've ever had from just about any company.  That's either saying a lot -- or maybe it's sad that I am getting such poor customer service from all the other companies that I deal with. 

I have noticed that a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone, with Sprint's 3G and 4G network, has not been working as well as it did.  I believe that Sprint's 3G network might be getting less attention from Sprint and degrading in area and quality.  Sprint's 4G network seems to be getting better, but the area it serves is fairly small compared to Verizon's.  

I recently bought a FreedomPop Netgear Zing hotspot.  This device takes a cell phone signal (4G) and lets you access the internet through Freedompop's (Sprint's) cell network.  I have been very happy with how fast this hotspot works, at my summer house, which seems to be on the edge of Sprint's 4G network.  This wifi hotspot uses cell data and is plenty fast.  I get 500Mb of data to use monthly with this hotspot for free; I have not opted to pay for the 3G fallback data.  

The Netgear Zing hotspots always show low battery and no power warnings; but despite the warnings, they have been working fine.  I will have to see how long they last.  I've only had one for one month; but I've been so  happy with it, that I bought another.  Freedompop has been selling them for $20.  The Netgear Zing hotspots DO have 3G fallback capability, from what I could tell -- but that costs $3.99 per month.  Using the hotspots only in 4G mode is free, if you only use up to 500Mb of data per month.

Using Freedompop is free but you need to know how to turn off the gotcha's.