In the department of giving credit where credit is due, I have to say that I had occasion today to use Dell’s online manuals for the disassembly and servicing of the company’s laptops, and I was extremely impressed.

At the end of last week, the laptop of a family member of mine had an unfortunate run-in with a nearly-full cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, and amazingly, the keyboard bore 100% of the brunt of the unprovoked attack. He quickly shut the machine down and dried off the keyboard as best as he could, and then tried to take the worst-hit regions of the keyboard apart to dry the membrane underneath. Alas, as is the case with most laptop keyboards, that was a road fraught with peril, and the result was one broken spacebar, a few misaligned key caps, and a bunch of keys that just didn’t work anymore. He enlisted my help, and we found that a replacement keyboard from Dell cost a very reasonable $25, so we ordered it up. The part came yesterday, and the service manual gave very clear directions on all the steps needed to get the broken keyboard out and replace it with the new one. In fact, they were so clear that I also felt confident enough to remove the display and the entire top section of the laptop’s plastic case, fix an older problem with the trackpad’s buttons, and put the whole thing back together again. (And there weren’t any stray screws left over at the end!)

I know that Dell has had its share of issues over the years, but in this case, the presence of accessible and well-illustrated service manuals made me pretty happy.

Seriously, I love that the New York Times wrote an article about the Capitol Hill house shared by U.S. Representatives George Miller and Bill Delahunt and U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer. (And we’re reasonably close neighbors!) It’s refreshing that the four roommates have to deal with the same mundane stuff that all roommates do — who gets the groceries, which people aren’t making their beds, who deals with the vermin — yet wake up in the morning and cross the street to serve as leaders of the Democratic Party in Congress.

It’s fascinating to me that this Sports Illustrated gallery of the magazine’s “favorite Muhammad Ali fight photos” doesn’t include what is perhaps the most famous Ali fight photo ever, a photo shot by Neil Leifer that was considered so amazing it appeared on the cover of the SI double-issue carrying the headline “The Century’s Greatest Sports Photos”. I’m assuming that the prominent “license photos at” link below each of the photos is a big part of the explanation; although has SI printed the photo a few times over the past 40 years, the magazine doesn’t own the rights to the picture. (Neil Leifer himself still owns the rights, and has told his story about being in the right place in the right time a few times.)

So, I guess the photo gallery might more appropriately be entitled, “SI’s favorite Muhammad Ali fight photos for which we can sell you a license”. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some amazing shots in there, but it’s like a list of best steakhouses that doesn’t have Peter Luger on it, or a list of worst movies that doesn’t have “Random Hearts” on it.

For those of you who are salivating over Apple’s newly-announced iPhone, you might want to do a little research on Cingular, the other company you’ll be getting into bed with if you run out and get an iPhone in June. As an example, did you know that Cingular now forces you to waive all rights to trials by jury or participation in class-action lawsuits in order to become customers of its services? Or that its number of complaints per million customers is nearly double that of the next large market player (T-Mobile)?

In all honesty, the most amazing thing to me about Apple’s iPhone announcement is the exclusive multi-year pairing with Cingular, which locks Apple fans into an agreement with what might be one of the most customer-hostile companies ever. And what’s worse, can you imagine how awful it will be if the expectation is that customers go to Cingular for all techinical support of the iPhone?

I guess this’ll all play out in the coming months, but my first reaction to the whole thing is that this might be the time that Apple learns what it’s like to release what looks by all accounts to be an amazing device into a world in which the company doesn’t exert 90-plus percent control of the entire end-to-end user experience. Hopefully, it’s planning on some clever strategies to deal with this… but I can’t see the Cingular side of this going well at all.

Wow — any respect or relationship I had with Brian Ball and the macZOT enterprise just flew out the window. The basics of the story, for those who don’t have the time or energy to click through, is that Brian signed a contract to buy the application xPad from Garrett Murray for a hair over $5,500, and one month into the ten months of scheduled payments, stopped replying to invoices or emails and eventually proclaimed that it was overvalued and that he couldn’t justify continuing to meet his payment obligations. What an incredibly dirty way to do business; I figure now’s as good a time as any to cancel my macZOT account.

For a while, I’ve been pretty irritated that the ESPN home page has a video and audio block (part of ESPN Motion) that starts playing without any intervention on my part and blares ads and sports highlights through my speakers. This morning, while looking for this weekend’s NFL playoffs schedule, my second pageview of the site launched a pop-up ad in a way that managed to defeat the pop-up blockers in both Firefox and the Google Toolbar. At this point, it’s clear that is too hostile to users for me to use; there are way too many alternatives to make it worth my blood pressure to deal with the desire of ESPN’s site designers to subvert their users’ preferences.

It’s amazing to me that when a (pretty inflammatory) article in The New York Times turns out to have been based on exaggerations and outright falsehoods, the Times doesn’t amend the electronic version of the article with any kind of note to that effect. (You know, something like: “The article you’re about to read might make your blood boil, but before you let it get to that point, you should know that it’s all a bunch of made-up horseshit.”) How hard can this be?