Christmas Bounty…. Yaaargh!

Whoa– holy cow did Jaime and I get a lot of stuff for Christmas. Here is the comprehensive list, in no particular order.

Best Buy giftcards – $105 worth
Linens and Things giftcard: $30
Visa giftcard: $100
Chesapeake Bay Candle sampler
Land O Lakes Hot Cocoa Sampler
Chicken can rack (two of them)
Table cloth
3lbs chocolate chips
1M candlepower flashlight
Black & Decker Gizmo can opener
Simpsons DVD season 6
Godfather part I DVD (two of them– uh oh!)
Godfather part II DVD
Clerks DVD
Wireless Forecast Station
Proctor-Silex 4 slice toaster
Wolfgang Puck 19pc Stainless Steel cookware set
Two ornaments
2.5lbs Hawaiian Coffee
Panasonic RC-CD350 radio (with digital tuner woohoo!)
Mrs. Wilkes Boardinghouse Cookbook
Limited Edition Chicago White Sox print
$50 cashola, baby.

I *think* that is it.

Jaime and I used the BestBuy giftcard already to get:

Philips 20″ Flat-Tube TV with Component Video Inputs – Silver – Model: 20PT6441

And we used the $100 visa giftcard towards:

KitchenAid KN15E1XPP Accolade 400 Stand Mixer, Green Peppercorn. Yes it is a stand mixer. Yes they are awesome. No, I can’t wait to get it.

That’s it, I think. So, what did YOU get?

The storm literally killed him.

Alright, so I was just listening to the radio a moment ago, and the news guy reading his northeast-centric news is talking about the snowstorm that just yesterday hit all the suckers who have chosen to live in a frozen tundra for a third of the year. The news idiot says, “The storm is responsible for ten traffic related fatalaties.”

WHAT?

The storm did it?

How exactly does a storm kill someone? I have been thinking about this for a few minutes now, and I am very hard pressed to come up with many types of weather events that can actually kill someone, particularly if they have the standard in modern technology– a car, shelter, heat, a radio, a tv, etc.

The easiest way to avoid killing yourself in a traffic accident during a snow storm?

STAY HOME.

Idiots.

Firefox Whois Bookmark

So I was doing some experimentation with javascript and bookmarks in FireFox, and I came up with a nifty tool.

Let’s say you’re at a webpage, and you want to lookup the whois information on the domain. Normally, you open a new tab, open a whois engine, type or paste the domain name, and wait for the results.

With my bookmark, you just click the bookmark, and it opens up a whois search for the current page you are viewing.

It opens the bookmark in a new window (or tab if you have firefox set to open new windows in new tabs). It takes into consideration subdomains, and only looks up the root domain. It also takes international domains into consideration– like www.bbc.co.uk. In cases where the domain ends in co.anything, it appends the next segment of the url to the query to make sure you get the right results.

So, here is the code. Just create a new bookmark, and use this code for the URL:

javascript:URL=document.domain;arrURL=URL.split('.');lookup=arrURL[arrURL.length-2]+'.'+arrURL[arrURL.length-1];if (arrURL[arrURL.length-2]=='co') lookup=arrURL[arrURL.length-3]+'.'+lookup;win = window.open("", "Whois Search");void(win.location.href = 'http://whois.webhosting.info/'+lookup);

Enjoy!

Mike

Jury still out: xPCgear.com

On November 16, I ordered an external USB enclosure to use for a hard drive. xPCgear had a well-reviewed unit on sale for around $20 after using a coupon code, so I ordered one.

21 days later, I still have no working enclosure.

The enclosure I was sent just doesn’t work. It powers up and is recognized by USB, but I can’t complete a format (“format failed” is the error message, thank you Windows for being so verbose). If I format the drive on an IDE connection and then stick it in the drive, it works for about 20 seconds before I’m thrown a “delayed write failure” error. I’ve tried 3 computers using 3 cables and 2 hard drives– none work. This thing is defective.

So I email the manufacturer with all of the information they need, and their one sentence response can be summarized as: defective unit, return it.

So I contact xPCgear.com and let them know that the manufacturer thinks the enclosure is bad. I ask them if there are known issues with the enclosure, and if I just had bad luck on this particular item. I asked if they recommended a replacement or a refund.

Their first response– while taking several days– was friendly and seemingly genuine. They asked me to do some basic troubleshooting and send them back the results. Of course, I had already done all of the troubleshooting, so I sent them the information they needed.

That was three days ago. They haven’t replied to my email yet, so I sent them another email asking for resolution. Still no response, and it’s been a few hours.

xPCgear.com has NO phone number. I can’t call and ask for resolution, and that is frustrating. As a result, I cannot recommend xPCgear.com in the future. No phone number + delayed email responses = No repeat business.

I rated them at Yahoo this morning. I gave them a very poor review because that is what they deserve. They have terrible support, they force me to use UPS shipping, and did I mention they have terrible support?

So, now I have the decision of trying to RMA it for a replacement in hopes that enclosure number two works, eating the cost of shipping, or I can just return it as defective and pay return shipping. I’m leaning towards the second option, and never doing business with this company again.

Unless they make good on their support.

I’m not holding my breath.

Pushed out by the big (stupid) guy.

I work with computers for a living. Well, I try to anyway. If you have a piece of hardware you need setup, a piece of software you need installed, a broken computer, the desire to setup a network in your home or office, need computer training, need a basic website or graphic design, need an extensive custom php script, can’t get your internet to work, or you have spyware or viruses you need removed, I AM YOUR GUY. I can just about do it all.

I’ve been using computers practically my whole life. I’m not sure when it started. It was one of two places. It could have been in 5th grade programming an Apple IIc (or was it a IIe?). I wrote simple games, played with arrays, made the screen draw nice big blocky images, and– my biggest accomplishment– I wrote a script that drew a multi-colored 3-d parabolic curve on the screen. It took 2 days to complete.

But, I may have gotten started with computers at a friend’s house earlier than that. I just don’t know the timeline. He had a little TI computer that you hooked up to a TV. It was a piece of junk. No storable memory at all. We would spend hours programming this little Pacman-like car game. I wish I knew the name of that game.

Anyway, I quickly progressed into a series of Commodores– I had a 64 with a 5.25″ floppy, I had a Commodore 128 with a 300 baud modem, and I eventually upgraded to an Amiga 500 and then a 2000 (I think).

I got my first PC in the early or mid 90s while I was still in high school. It was a screaming Pentium 90 (no floating point error) with 8mb ram and an 850mb hard drive. I think my dad paid about $3500 for it.

From there, it just ballooned. I think I have used a computer just about every day since around 1996. There are very few instances when I was in a location remote enough to not have a computer near.

I love computers.

So today I was upset learn that a customer who admits being perfectly happy with my work in the past year has cancelled my services. Upset doesn’t even begin to describe it. I am angry. I am angry about the way it was handled, and I am angry that my customer was unable to distinguish the difference between someone out to make a dollar and someone out to make a happy customer.

See, my customer has two offices, after merging with another company. We’ll call them the big city office, and the small city office. I originally had a contract with the independent firm that was the small city office. They pay me $1680 a year in quarterly payments and can cancel any time, and I in turn handle all of the computers in the office, and at the owner’s house. It was a ridiculously low rate, and I charged so little because someone very close to me happens to work there, and the success of this business impacts me personally.

So let me give you rundown on what happened.

The big city office decided to get some software to make office correspondence and management easier about 6 or 8 months ago. They hired some guy to come in, undoubtedly at a high rate, and setup a “server.” This idiot sets up an actual server. A server server. For about ten people. So, several thousands of dollars in to the actual server cost, and several thousand dollars in to the server setup cost, this idiot skips town. Nobody knows where he is. He leaves them with a functioning system, but with no passwords for the VPN endpoints.

Enter the big (stupid) guy from the title. He’s the new “IT guy.” His rate is 5x that of mine, and he charges hourly.

He decides to reset the VPN so we have access to it. As the small city contact, I have to handle this. But, as VPN is not covered in my contract, my involvement in the process is as simple as filling in the forms as the IT guy specifies. Unfortunately, he is clueless. He has no idea what he’s doing. While on the phone with him, and as he tries to guess a configuration that will work for the client, I read the manual. I ask for access to his router, which he grants. I then setup the VPN. This guy charged at least 4 hours for this (assuming $125/hr we’re looking at $500– $80 more than my contract for the quarter). I wasn’t paid any extra. Fine, I want the company to succeed. Surely the customer appreciates this, and will reward it with continued business.

Some time passes, and it’s time to get the email addresses setup for the new domain. Since the server is in the big city, I am not involved in setting up the addresses. Makes sense– I’m not paid for it. So the new IT guy sets up Exchange server for all nine of this company’s employees. He contacts me to have me go in to setup the addresses.

Upon arriving and contacting him, I realize he has no idea what he’s doing. He doesn’t have the right login names. He doesn’t know the passwords. He doesn’t know the server paths. What is his deal? This guy is charging 5x my rate, and can’t even provide the minimum information needed to setup a stinking email address? Is he some kind of n00b?

Eventually we give up. I end up getting contacted by one of the decision makers at the big city office. He wants to know why the email addresses aren’t setup. I explain that it is because his IT guy couldn’t provide valid information. I explain how the minimum information needed to setup an email address hasn’t changed in nearly a decade, and how without the information I would not be able to complete the setup. Seems simple to me.

He explains that his IT guy is from a “well respected company,” as if that is supposed to provide justification for his inability to configure email addresses.

The situation eventually works to a point where I make a form for their IT guy. It has blanks for email address, username, password, SMTP server, and POP3 server. It takes a week to get an answer.

When I setup the addresses, they send function doesn’t work. I contact IT guy. He says it’s because the clients need to use their ISP’s SMTP server for sending. That’s right– this company is sending their email through their ISP’s unmanaged SMTP gateway when they have a several-thousand dollar server used for communications between the office.

And this server. Can I say it is the biggest joke I’ve seen yet? It is. They have a client-server application running on it. Fine, good use for a server. Their IT guy has the offices connected through the VPN that I setup. Seems like a logical decision– send the data over the encrypted tunnel. Here’s the problem. He has them using Remote Desktop to login to the server, and run the application remotely! No client-server functions, just remote desktop. MORON! Does he not realize that having screen images sent over a VPN that is connected with two DSL lines is MUCH slower than sending data– or to break it down further, bits and pieces of data?

So back to the email. This was a big sticking point. I had to eventually refuse to work directly with this guy, in favor of submitting “requests for information” for the setup that needed to be done on my end. I wouldn’t even start until I had the info I knew I was going to need to get the job done right.

So the IT guy finally gets me email information, and it turns out that he has no clue about network security. None. At all. I’m not kidding.

He setup the user passwords to be the username in pig latin. Pig latin! OK, fine. Maybe it was a temporary password. But no! He also setup their logins for the remote server to be the username in pig latin! Well at least you can only login via the VPN, right? No! Any ol’ IP will do. Well at least you’re running user accounts, and not running users as admins, right? No! Users are admins!

So this guy is an idiot. I think this is well established. There’s no way around it. Get him a sign.

New tangent. Throughout the last six months, I’ve been working to get the owner’s home computers back online after a power surge that took out two PCs, a router, a garage door opener, and more. This had to be a hell of a jolt. Obviously, problems with their home power frying out two PCs and a router are not part of my contract. But, I want a happy customer, so I bent over backwards to get them set back up.

I correctly diagnosed the problem in one PC as a bad motherboard, diagnosed another as a very bad motherboard (actually shot out a flame when I powered it up with a good PSU), and the router as just simply dead. The customer asked me to prepare a letter for their insurance company detailing the damage, which I did. Of course, the letter included that there would be labor to be paid. But, the customer never submitted the letter, and I never got paid.

After enough time passed, I got on the phone with Dell to get this finished. I don’t like having a 2-month-old broken computer sitting at a customer’s house. Since it was a power surge, Dell wouldn’t do a warranty repair on the system– I knew this from the past. But, I still called Dell, plead my case, and convinced them to come out and repair the system. They repaired it, and I went and set the computer back up for them. I wasn’t paid at all for any of this. Good customer though, right?

Well, I’m not so sure. The owner had told me after six months that I should raise my rates. I asked if he was happy with my work, and he said he was. I told him that I was a man of my word, and that I committed to a rate for a year. I refused to raise my rates because I said I wouldn’t, and that is part of what got me the contract. I did say that I would be raising them at the end of the year, though.

So now, we’ve got two decision makers in the big city location, and one decision maker in the small city location. The big city computer guy has a weekly appointment (assume $125/week for managing a server for less than a dozen people, I guess). He doesn’t like that I require actual valid information to do a job, and he doesn’t like that I don’t play guessing games to fix a problem. He doesn’t like that I told him that his policies or network administration were insecure, and that his passwords could be cracked by a 15 year old.

He convinces the decision makers in the big city that I’m a bad guy and don’t know what I’m doing, and they outvote the seemingly spineless decision maker in the small city. That does it. I lost the contract. All of the months worth of free work that I gave them, knowing that they would renew and I could increase my rate. All of the bending over backwards. The writing letters about network security concerns. The going out of my way to make sure that first and foremost, they were happy. The refusal to increase my rate knowing that satisfied customers renew contracts (and the customer to this day says he is and was totally satisfied with my work). It wasn’t worth jack shit.

So, that’s it. I’m done venting. I’m still very upset, and could probably go on for 10 more pages. My customer just made a bad decision that will cost him thousands of dollars for the IT guy in the big city, and he will get very little in return. His server will continue to be open to easy compromise, and his email will still sit on an outsourced server for longer than is necessary. His employees will still lose massive amounts of productivity by using a remote session over a VPN when client server is a better avenue. His IT guys will bend him over backwards with fees for substandard work, only to make sure there is always one more thing to fix to extend that almighty hourly fee.

Mike