Quickie: Great Customer Support at Extech

Extech Instruments is a maker of Measurement tools.

As i wrote about in my last post, my Extech EX330 recently displayed a weird, potentially unsafe, behavior. The continuity feature would beep constantly even with test leads disconnected.

It sounded like a short-circuit to me.

I dropped a quick email to IntlSupport@extech.com (International Tech Support contact) asking if there was anything I could do to fix the issue myself.

I was hoping for some form of factory reset but I guess this is too basic of a device to have such a mechanism.

The answer came a few hours later, pointing me to an online R.M.A. form (so no, no way to fix it myself).

Less than 24 hours later, a lady from FLIR (Extech’s parent company, notable for their fancy handheld infrared cameras) tells me my replacement unit will be on the way .


In 1-2 business days too, and there will be no need to return the faulty one (so no shipping expenses for the customer).

Simple. Cheap. Fast.

This is how customer support should be!


Everything goes wrong for my tools

In the past handful of days, a staggering number of tools and devices around me failed. I am generally clumsy and careless and these events just proved it to me once more. Clearly most of these problems wouldn’t have occurred if i had either took better care of my tools, acted more cautiously before-hand or if i hand’t procrastinated when smaller issues arose.

  1. Bosch GKS 190

    Entry level professional circular saw

    Entry level professional circular saw .

    I recently got this circular saw and it looks like a beast. I’ve done some woodworking in the past but i had never used one of these. I was making one of the first cuts on a piece of 20mm plywood clamped to a table. While cutting i did think about blade depth but i was *sure* it was shallow enough.

    Detail of a grazed tooth from my saw

    Detail of a grazed tooth from my saw

    I was wrong. The blade was set too deep and i bit into the table. Not only i did this nasty grazing on the teeth that first made contact but i felt a little sting on my cheekbone. Once i took a look at the table i realized the “sting” was a metal shrapnel flying off it and passing by at high speed MILLIMETERS from my unprotected eye. I now have a reverence and a terror of this tool that i will never ever try something like that again. What i also have is a dented blade that i can’t afford to replace right now. Go me.

  2. Eihnell WB50
    Cheap, Handy Worktable

    Cheap, Handy Worktable

    I used a table of this kind a few years ago when making my first pair of loudspeakers. It’s the cheap no-brand kind of worktable that you can find at DIY stores. A local shop had one nearly identical to the one i used for €25. I’m on a budget and i have very little working space so this fit the bill perfectly. This particular one is much sturdier and stouter than the one i used years back.

    Worktable Damage

    Worktable Damage

    Yeah. This was seriously dangerous. The chunk missing from the frame flew off and not hitting my eye was a matter of millimeters.  I wasn’t wearing any protective eye-wear and i was an idiot.

  3. Singer 7146
    Diagram of my wife's sewing machine.

    Diagram of my wife’s sewing machine.

    My wife bought this machine second-hand from a facebook group. It worked for a couple of weeks of light daily use and suddendly the bobbin wheel stopped moving.

    The mechanical engineering is impressive. It’s the first time i opened a purely mechanical machine such a this and i’m amazed at how tightly everything works together and realizing this was made when computer aided design was just at the beginning (and likely not used at all on this particular model) is astonishing and awe-inspiring.

    Broken rubber gear.

    Broken rubber gear.

    In the end the issue was a rubber gear that transfers motion from an horizontal axle directly to the vertical gear moving the bobbin wheel. It was ripped apart, likely due to a couple of tries we did with a different bobbin wheel that was too tall and didn’t clear the edge of the seat properly. We had a nasty weave of thread in the machine and i think that exerted too much pressure on this gear.

    Ordering a new one from a certified parts reseller costed half of what the whole machine was bought for. If i ever get into making platic molds i might make a mold of the main gears of this machine because original parts are crazily expensive for what they really are (€20 for a rubber 20 mm gear is crazy).

  4. Extech 330
    Premium Entry-level DMM.

    Premium Entry-level DMM.

    This unit was recommended on a video blog i follow, Dave Jones’ EEVBlog. In his Episode #91 – $50 Multimeter Shootout, this unit pretty much came out on top. This is no Fluke but it looked like it would be a good addition to my tools for meddling with electronics. I had a cheapy chinese 10$ one before it.

    Except after using it just once and storing it away for a month or so, it now presents this weird behaviour. I’m not an experienced electronics hobbyist, but this looks like a short-circuit inside the PCB. If it shorts on a simple continuity test, what it’s gonna do with mains? I lost all confidence i had about this unit and i wrote to the manufacturer. I hope they’re gonna replace it.

  5. Google Nexus 5
    Reference Design phone by Google.

    Reference Design phone by Google.

    Few months ago i made an investment. I’m an IT professional and i need several tools in my trade. A good smartphone and a tablet are invaluable. I frequently need an hotspot and it needs to be *reliable*.I used to have a Samsung Galaxy S Advance (2012 refresh of Galaxy S) and it just wasn’t cutting it. The tethering code was very buggy and it would lose connection on inbound calls and frequently froze. The Nexus 5 behaved well while it lasted.

    I’m brutal with my work tools, i’m clumsy and careless when in a hurry. The Corning Glass, as usual, is next to indestructible but the phone fell on a corner one time too many and now the image is collapsed all on one side of the display.

    It’s likely just a matter of the LVDS (or whatever else video signal these units use) connector that dislodged but it’s still under warranty and i hope to R.M.A. it so i will not tear it down. Working without it for a few weeks will be annoying.

  6. Google Nexus 7
    Lightweight Web Browsing Machine.

    Lightweight Web Browsing Machine.

    The second of the tools i bought for my day job is a Nexus 7 2013 LTE. It’s a great complement to the N5 if i am on a long on-site activity because the battery will last much longer if i need to have a tethered connection for extended periods of time. The screen is bright and overall i’m extremely satisfied with it.

    Huge "ink" blot on my N7 screen

    Huge “ink” blot on my N7 screen

    Sadly, a few nights ago i just jumped on my bed and i must have had my thumb on the leather cover of the tablet while putting weight on it because i had this annoying ink blot on it ever since. I still manage to read on it but it’s so disheartening and distracting to have a tool like this ruined by carelessness. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t look like the *actual* pixels broke because this blot shifts like a fluid and the pixels that were previously covered by it work perfectly when the puddle of liquid moves elsewhere.

  7. Seagate ST1500 / Western Digital WD15EARST
    The icing on the cake of this unlucky week was the failure of two hard disks in my home storage unit. The Seagate one was not in a raid volume and i likely lost all that was currently on it. I have backups and i think i lost only some very old backups, Wasteland 2 game saves, my whole steam collection (minor nuisance, it will just take a long time to redownload it) and a section of my movies and tv shows collection.

    FSCK trying to recover data.

    FSCK trying to recover data.

    The Western Digital was backed up a few months ago on the Seagate unit and decommissioned. Since the seagate has a nasty power-up problem, i gave up on restoring it. The WD one though looked like i might have a chance to recover something from it.I’m not that optmistic anymore. FSCK has been restoring errors in a VM ever since friday night and it’s late sunday afternoon. We’ll see what comes out of it but i guess i just lost this data. Over the years i learned not to fret over it.

    This one in particular is a cautionary tale i really need to learn from. The Seagate disk vanished from Windows once a few weeks back and it showed up again after a reboot. I did setup a backup schedule for my documents folder after that event but i didnt immediately move everything off it and replace it because frankly, i couldn’t afford it. I’m not even sure exactly what i lost and even a file list would be invaluable. If 2015 will be as prosperous a year as 2014, i might look into putting it into professionals hands.

The hard lesson these failures taught me was one i already knew and ignored. I will try to be more diligent and more committed to keeping good care of my tools because i’m past my 30th birthday and the money and effort i put into these devices is starting to pile up and seeing them destroyed or non-functional is really hard.

Hard Work, Motivation and Studying

Whenever i set myself to do something, i have a “honeymoon” phase with the idea or subject i’m approaching, followed by long strides of feeling demotivated and having a hard time going on with a project.

It’s a battle that i decided to lose for most of my youth and the first chunk of adult life.

The first time i felt truly committed to something was when i got my CCNA R&S.

I’m now tackling CCNA Security. I’m doing it as a stepping stone for CCNP. I got my CCNA in 2012 and in the mean time i focused on Work, getting better at what i do and learning as much as possible “in the field”.

Taking a look at the blueprint, the year i got left of CCNA would not be enough to properly prepare for one of the CCNP exams. Rather than risking it, i decided to go for a “Tier 1.5″ certification, and CCNA Security fits the bill nicely.

Now the time is right to get back to actual studying.

I already failed the test once, i went unprepared because i was in a hurry. I came 30 points short of the objective.

IINS Feedback - Need more hard work!

First attempt at 640-554

I tanked two subjects and did so-so on others. I still feel grossly unprepared.

Main issues i meet while trying to study are:

  • Work is often draining, long hours and important issues that needs to be thought through. It does not leave much mental energy to study.
  • Personal life is already paper thin and it suffers from studying. Family sees studying as a concession that’s been made to me.
  • My attention span is extremely short. I think i have an above average natural focus, but it comes in short bursts and i need to be alone. Also, i never trained it. I have never been a hard worker, but i’ve been trying to fix that these past few years.

One perspective-changing realization i had since i got CCNA though, is that working hard *really* gets you to where you want, or close enough that you will not live in regret.

To me, this means that by stubborness and constant failure, i eventually get where i want. It already happened and each time just strenghtens my resolve that bit more. There is no natural gift (although liking the work helps), there is no trick to it. Just crushing into the wall over and over again until it crumbles and you can go further down the road to the next one.

I only have this weekend and the next to study for the exam. I’m ready to postpone it if necessary but i’d really like being done with this.

We’ll see.


Cisco Licensing is really hard.

I work for a Cisco Partner.

Collaboration Licensing is hard. I recently had to provide a BoM for a BE6000 Solution.

In one configuration, to get modern functionality (eg: Voice Mail and VoIP on Smartphones) i had to attach *four different SKUs* to each user in order to be correctly licensed, plus one service and one subscription. That’s 6 SKUs for each user.

If you want to save an inordinate amount of money, you have to know the deep end of the UCL licensing Model.

You will also need to be certain of what you’re gonna need and thus the SKUs will multiply because A users will need 3 SKUs but B users will need 1 then again C users will need 3 but not the same of A.


It feels like several people are watching the same blue print from different orientations and each adding a piece to it from their perspective and they’re expecting it to work properly. This is borderline split personality disorder.

To process a BE6000 Order, you need to read a 30 pages long Ordering Guide!.

There is also an “easier” licensing model, UWL. With it, you only need 1 SKU + 1 Service + 1 Subscription (still 3 SKUs.) The premium for the convenience of a simpler licensing model means a 2x increase in license cost over UCL Enhanced.

That is without considering that for most users, a cheaper UCL license would be enough.

That’s how much of a difference there is between the flexible model and the unified one.

Cisco Live 2014 is currently on in San Francisco and in an interview, an exec was talking about “Smart Licensing”, an expansion on the CallHome feature already present in a lot of Cisco Gear.

It will supposedly allow customers to (purchase and) activate licensing options directly from the devices, right at the moment when that feature is being configured for the first time.

This is not a solution. This will only open the door for even more atomization of feature licenses, hidden behind this supposedly automatic licensing scheme.

This means that each time an engineer needs something, he will have to trust the algorithm to pick the correct license and actually figuring out if they really need it will be even harder.

Once it’s automatic, what stops the vendor from just adding obscure SKUs after obscure SKUs? no customer will *really* need to know them because the system will acquire the license for them!

I don’t have a solution, but this is a big problem from my perspective

Networking between professionals

One year into my career i discovered Packet Pushers. It’s a community of people working in my field. They changed my way or perceiving my job and my career.

I didn’t know any professional network engineers in my local social circles and getting to know them was very educational. I’ve made a few friends and i learned the importance of “networking” with people: making bonds on a professional and human level, with peers in your profession and people you respect.

I still have to solve this puzzle in my area. I don’t know any network engineer in Italy and i have very limited contact with people in IT, mostly among developers (one of which, i am not).

One of my aim for the next couple of years is trying to build some kind of connection with italian professionals, because most of what i learned about careers in networking apply mainly to the U.S. market, where rules are profoundly different from Italy.

Part of the struggle is due to a couple of factors:

  • I am not a CS major. I studied Contemporary History and none of my former university colleagues work in IT.
  • Not many people like Networking. This is something that came as a slow realization to me. People dealing with Networks full-time are rare enough here, but among them, those that are willing to *engage* on the topic, and not just drone through each working day are even less.

Despite this, i have examples nearby of people that do take part in the international networking community (and a prominent one at that) while living in countries with much of the same difficulties as mine.

Ivan Pepelnjak is admittedly one of the most accomplished networking professionals out there with a public profile. He lives in Slovenija, but that doesn’t stop him from being a protagonist in the social media scene for our industry.

I’d love to move to an english speaking country but for the time being, i will have to make an effort into networking with peers in my city (Rome) and in my job market.

We’ll see.