What were they thinking?

hp invent logo

In fact, they weren't

I don't know why this pseudo-concept of 'intelligent design' gets so much traction. God knows evidence abounds that much of what passes for design is anything but intelligent. Take my new HP laptop for example.

When you open it up and look at it, it appears to be a thing of beauty: The display is in wide-screen format and crystal clear, like a high-definition television screen. The keyboard is large enough to accommodate normal-sized hands, and there is much-better-than-average labeling of its various ports and controls.

HP Pavilion dv4000 keyboard

But one thing is very wrong: Everything is perfectly symmetrical (red line in picture). While symmetry is often a good thing, when applied to the laptop it is a big mistake. You see, for a QWERTY keyboard, the "center" of the keyboard is the line between the G and H keys (green line); typists use the F and J keys as home positions for their index fingers. Look what happens when the right hand is in proper typing position (below):

keyboard with right hand

With the user's hands in the correct ergonomic position — and this is something HP is obviously very concerned about since the keyboard carries a !WARNING of serious injury and an exhortation to read a Safety & Comfort Guide — the heel of the right hand is directly over the touch pad and right "mouse key." If one succumbs even occasionally to the temptation to rest one's wrist on the invitingly-wide platform, this usually results in a "right-click" of the mouse with unintended results. And if the base of one's thumb should happen to graze the touch pad, the cursor may jump unexpectedly to a new location.

I encountered this problem within five minutes of unpacking the laptop. If the laptop had been subjected to testing by even one real user, the problem would certainly have been discovered. One is forced to conclude that no real users were involved in the design or testing of the machine. Or, one is forced to conclude that real users were involved and pointed out the problem, but for reasons of cost or timeline HP decided to go ahead anyway. Either conclusion is no compliment to a company with the word "invent" in its logo.

I do have two other beefs with the laptop. The first is that at a hefty 6.5 pounds, it is more a luggable than a portable. But that's not a big deal since I don't carry it around very much, as someone would do taking it back and forth to an office. The second is that the vaunted built-in wireless networking by Intel — centrino™ mobile technology — is very flaky, cutting in and out at random.

  • Vivian: Hello Paul.
  • Vivian: Welcome to HP Total Care for HP Pavilion Notebooks. My name is Vivian. How may I assist you today?
  • Paul Williamson: Hello Vivian - my new Pavilion laptop is driving me nuts! The Wireless assistant seems to keep shutting itself off so I keep getting network errors
  • Vivian: I am sorry for the any inconvenience caused.
  • Paul Williamson: The icon in the tray always reports that it is ON, but the light goes off. Is that normal?
  • Vivian: To better assist you, may I have the Serial (eg: CNS34915MC), Product (eg:DS542U) and Model Number (eg:Pavilion zt3000) of the Notebook?
  • Paul Williamson: Pavilion dv4000
  • Paul Williamson: Serial number 2CE524015H, product number EC321UA#ABA
  • Vivian: Did you try uninstall and reinstall of the wireless drivers?
  • Paul Williamson: It's a BRAND NEW MACHINE!
  • Paul Williamson: No, of course I didn't try to uninstall and reinstall -- that's not an accdeptable first step in troubleshooting.
  • Vivian: I understand Paul I would like to perform you the uninstall and reinstall the drivers so that if any corrupted drivers are installed the issue will be resolved.
  • Vivian: Are you able to perform those step or shall I provide the steps?
  • Paul Williamson: You did not answer my question -- is it normal for the light to go on and off even though the button has not been pushed?
  • Vivian: No it is not normal Paul.
  • Paul Williamson: Glad that's clear. Now WHICH drivers are you talking about?
  • Vivian: Unless and until the drivers are installed properly this will happen.
  • Vivian: I am talking about the wireless network card driver
  • <SNIP>

In fact, it was the wireless networking that prompted my first — and so far only — call to HP technical support via online chat (see right).

The beginning of this chat illustrates perfectly what is wrong with technical support as practiced by most big companies today.

• Vivian is almost certainly a nom de chat. It's likely that her real name is Amrapali, Harshada, Leelavati, Rajnandhini, or Vanhishikha.

• Although I asked a simple, direct question ("Is that normal"), Vivian would not be deterred from her script, which dictated that she ask for all the product identifiers.

• Even when those details were provided, Vivian still did not answer the question, but went right on to tech support's solution for anything and everything: uninstall and reinstall something. Granted, that often works, but it is like suggesting that the first thing to do when there is a problem with your car is to take the engine out and put it back in again.

• Since it was a brand new machine, not two days out of the box, any "corrupted drivers" must have been corrupted at delivery since I had installed nothing to that point having anything whatever to do with networking.

• Uninstalling a network driver on the machine one is using for an internet chat has the effect of cutting off communication, so if one really needed step-by-step help reinstalling the driver one would be SOL, as they say in techie-talk.

In Vivian's defense, I will note that uninstalling and reinstalling the Intel(R) PRO/Wireless 2200BG Network Connection did clear up the problem of the Wireless Assistant willy-nilly shutting down my connection.

For a while. In my own defense, having claimed that the built-in wireless networking is flaky, I will note that it is doing it again! By contrast, the PCMCIA wireless networking card that I used in my old laptop never once disconnected my wireless connection, anywhere, any time.