Category Archives: Problems

MAC Virus?

Until recently, most MAC users were confident that their computers could not get viruses.  Most users don’t have any virus protection on their systems, because of the perceived view that “MAC’s can’t get viruses”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While the MAC OSX is impervious to Windows based viruses, it can become infected with 3rd party software viruses that infect Java, Adobe Flash, etc.  MAC users tend to not do their system updates on a timely basis, just like some Windows users.  I wrote about this problem in a previous post, which you can read here.

Last week, the Washington Post acknowledged that a major MAC virus was on the loose and took advantage of a JAVA vulnerability.    The F-Secure website published a set of instructions that required the user to type commands in “terminal”, something that most users are NOT comfortable doing.  Within a few days, the Mashable Tech website had published a zip file with 2 automated scripts that detected the infection.  I downloaded the file, and ran it on my MAC laptop, and was pleasantly surprised to find that my computer was not infected.  It seems that the virus likes to infect Safari, (the MAC web browser), so anyone that uses it should check your system immediately.

After checking my system, I downloaded Sophos Antivirus for MAC, and ran it on my laptop to make sure that I hadn’t picked up a Windows virus in my email.  (I use my Macbook to send and receive all my email).  I did a full scan of my hard drive, just to make sure that my laptop was clean, (it was).

This has just re-affirmed my reasoning that if you don’t do updates to your system on a regular basis, you are just asking for trouble!


Updating my Dell Inspiron 1501 Bios

In two previous posts, (Dell Hell Again and Dell Hell Again continued), I told my tale of trying to update the BIOS on my old Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop.  Well I finally took the old 80GB hard drive, and loaded Windows XP on it, and then tried to update the BIOS.  Once again I got an error -144 message, but this time I went and Googled the error message and found many pages to read.  The Dell official forum pages were absolutely useless, but buried in the results I found a forum with a posting from 2008 with the same problem that I was having.  It suggested removing the battery and then running the BIOS update.  I did that and sure enough, it worked!

There is a saying that “no good deed goes unpunished”.  After feeling really good at what I had accomplished, I then plugged the battery back into the laptop and heard a “beep”.  Looking at the battery icon on the tray showed that the battery was “charging”, but at 0%.  I left the laptop alone for an hour and when I checked the battery again, it still said “charging” and “0%”.  So, in short, my laptop has the latest BIOS now, but will not charge the battery!

After reading about the battery not charging, I will have to replace the battery and/or the A/C adapter.  Dell and HP both put an extra wire in their A/C adapters that tells the Motherboard to “charge” the battery.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress, (or lack thereof).


Why you should have multiple email accounts

SPAM.  Everybody gets it, and nobody wants it.  If you have only one email address, SPAM can drive you nuts.  Always guard your primary email address like you would your SSN.  Only use it for communication with your Internet provider.  Most folks hand out their primary email address to friends and family, but therein lies a big problem.  You can be as vigilant as a Marine Corps drill sergeant, but if one of your friends or relatives is a security slacker, (yeah, you know who you are), you can still be in big trouble.  But don’t worry, there is a solution, and it’s called having multiple email accounts.

Everyone needs to have at least three “throw-away” email accounts.  This can be an email account from Hotmail, Yahoo, Excite, or Gmail.  They are free to setup, have built-in SPAM protection, and when you start getting overrun by SPAM, simply stop using that account and create another one.  This email account could be used for all your friends and relatives.  Get another account just for your social media connections.  Get a 3rd account just to do all your online bill paying and banking with, and do not give this address out to any of your friends, relatives, or associates.

If you do a lot of online shopping, create another account just for that.  By separating email account functions, it will be easier to manage the amount of SPAM that you get in your inbox.  If you need to download something and it asks you for an email address, try using a free service like 10 minute email, so that you don’t give out a real email address that some spammer can grab.  Spambox is another free service that creates a dummy email account for you and forwards the mail one of your “real” email accounts.  When you start getting SPAM, simply delete the Spambox account.  There are other tools that you can use, such as Cloudmark, Mailwasher, and a host of other services,  (just Google “free spam blockers”), and you’ll see what I mean.  But in my opinion, the best defense is to have multiple email addresses.

Here are a few simple rules to reducing the amount of SPAM that you receive:

  1. Get multiple email addresses, one for communicating with friends and relatives, one for social networking, one for your banking and bill paying, etc.
  2. NEVER, EVER respond to a SPAM email.  If everyone would stop responding to SPAM, the profit motive would dry up, and SPAM would go away!
  3. NEVER give your primary email address out to anyone.  If you follow this rule and you start getting SPAM on this account, you can complain to your Internet provider, as they have sold their email list to someone.
  4. Tell your friends, relatives, and associates, that if they want to send you that funny email that has been forwarded all around to world, to use BCC:, (blind carbon copy), instead of TO:, so that your email address doesn’t show up.

These rules are brought to you by someone who has learned them the hard way.  Years ago, when I first starting getting my own domain names and developing web sites, I foolishly placed my real and primary email addresses on my websites.  That was over 15 years ago, and I still get SPAM email from all the spammer lists that those email addresses are on.  I’ve had to change primary email addresses, and create “dummy” email addresses that forward to “real” accounts, just to cut down on the SPAM.

Remember, the only good SPAM, is the one that comes in a can.



One of my clients called me a few nights ago, and was having problems getting and staying on the Internet.  After talking to him for a few minutes, I was able to determine that the computer system had been hijacked by a new variant of the program called PC Guardian.  I loaded up fresh USB stick with Simply Super Software’s Trojan Remover, and off I went to his house to “fix” the computer.  Unfortunately, this was the same computer I fixed a few months ago using Trojan Remover when another rogueware program hijacked it.  This computer has a current copy of GFI’s Vipre on it, but the virus definitions hadn’t been updated in over a month.  (This gentleman is rarely home, and does not leave his computer on all the time).

When I realized that SSS’s Trojan Remover was not going to work, (it wanted me to buy the software), I unplugged the desktop unit, and took it back to my house.  Once there, I removed his SATA hard drive, loaded it into a SATA external HD case that I have, fired up my desktop, and did a full scan of his drive using Vipre.  It quarantined the Trojan-Downloader.Win32,Fraudload virus, but did not get rid of all the underlying files.

I have been wanting to do a “wipe and reload” on this computer for over a year now, but the owner hasn’t agreed to it, yet.  By this time it was getting late, and I decided to get a fresh start on the problem in the morning.  The next day, after bouncing a few ideas off my buddy Ernie Hatfield, (who owns Heart of the Rockies Internet Solutions in Salida, Colorado), I decided to give the ComboFix tool a try.  (NOTE: only use this link to download ComboFix, as this is a trusted source.  There are some bogus versions of ComboFix out there on the Internet).  ComboFix is a great tool, but should only be used by a someone who understands the consequences of Murphy’s Law.  (There have been problems when using this tool on Windows Vista OS based computers.  This particular computer is still running Windows XP).

After reading the instructions, I loaded the ComboFix tool onto the infected desktop computer, and ran the program.  It took quite a long time, (being very thorough), to inspect all the files and remove the infected ones.  Once the computer rebooted, (which it did sucessfully), everything was fine, the PC Guardian icon was gone from the tray, and the computer had no problems getting, (and staying), on the Internet.

I returned the desktop computer to the gentleman, with a stern warning about updating Virus protection first, before doing anything else.

Where’s the ANY key?

In the early 1990’s, I was Sales Manager for the largest computer builder and repair shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  We sold a lot of custom built computers every month, and our clients included Sandia Labs, Los Alamos Labs, Albuquerque Public School System, and thousands of professionals.  We did very little advertising, we had no big yellow pages ads, mainly just a small ad every Monday in the Albuquerque Journal’s business section.  We also had a large client base of personal users, usually obtained by referrals from our business clients.  We even gave classes to new computer users on Tuesday and Thursday nights at our training center classroom, right in the store.

I personally sold a lot of computers every month, with most of my sales coming through the front door.  There were a lot of options that we had to cover when someone would order a new computer system.   Case style and size, processor type and speed, amount of RAM, hard drive number and size, operating system, how many floppy drives, (yes, floppies), perhaps a CD reader, monitor size and brand, mouse style, and selection of keyboard, as we carried about 10 different types of keyboards.

I had sold a new system to a retired couple, and they were taking advantage of our “newbie” classes.  They had taken our “introduction to computers” class together, and he seemed really interested in learning about installing software.  I was working the late shift one night, (we were open until 9PM, M-Sat), when in he came, madder than a wet hen.  He told me, (in a raised voice), that I had sold him a “defective” keyboard.  I said “no problem, let’s go pick out another one“, and we moved over to the keyboard section of the store.  He looked over all the keyboards, and exclaimed, “but all of these are also defective“.  When I asked what he meant by defective, he explained that he was installing a new piece of software on his computer, and when it finished, the message on the monitor said “Hit any key to continue….“.  He had looked all over the keyboard and could not find the “any” key.

Too bad we didn't offer this keyboard


When I explained to him what the message actually meant, we both had a good laugh.  I made sure that our class instructors added a section about the “any” key to our curriculum.

This experience taught me a lot about how you talk to new users.  I learned that no matter who you were talking to, always start at bottom, in the simplest of language without being condescending, because you can always ratchet up the “geek level” if need be.

Years later, I saw that an enterprising entrepreneur had developed a raised “any” key that you could stick on your keyboard.

Beware of

Well, here we go again.  CyberDefender, (a known malware and rogueware company), has brought up a new website called  This new website wants you to call them and let them take control of your computer.  Then they hope to sell you a “protection package” to help keep your computer “clean” and fast.  It’s funny how this new website has the same photographs of “actual users”, that the other CyberDefender television ads and websites use.  Here’s my other posts, Antivirus Scams & More Malware Scams, about the different websites and scams this company perpetrates on unsuspecting computer users.

WARNING: Avoid these scam artists at all costs.  If your computer is infected with viruses, spyware, and rogueware, the last thing you should do is be on the Internet!  Unplug your computer and use a “clean” computer to download tools that will help you get clean.  Here’s a list of some of the best FREE tools out there on the Internet:

There are a host of other tools that you can find on the Internet, but these two, (IMHO) are the best.

We these two tools, you should be able to get most Windows based system clean.  It has been my experience, (over 20 years of repairing computers), that some Windows based viruses become so embeded in the operating system, that your computer may need to be “wiped and reloaded”.  Wiped & Reloaded means to back up your data and settings, (not programs), reinstall the operating system, (and all the patches that it needs), reinstall a reliable Antivirus program, and restore your data and settings.  I have seen shops that charge upwards of $250 to do all this, but when I had a repair shop in Colorado, I would charge $90 to do this even though sometimes it took 5 or 6 hours to complete the job.  (I still have a friend in Colorado that does this for $75 even today).

Here is a just a short list of articles about CyberDefender:

Keep your system “clean” by doing operating system updates on a weekly timetable, update your antivirus software every day, and scanning everything that comes into your computer, such as downloaded programs, emails, USB drives, CD’s, etc.  Being vigilant will keep your computer clean and safe, easier to get clean if and when your computer does get infected.

Dell Hell: A New Customer Story

One of my long term customers from Colorado, Lee Rooks, contacted me about a month ago, looking to buy a new laptop.  Even though I was having “issues” with my 4 year old Dell Inspiron not being able to upgrade the BIOS, I told him that I thought a mid level Dell would fill his needs.  Below is his email to me after he started having problems with his brand new Dell purchase:

Hi Walt,

I gave Dell a try.  Inspiron 15 R, supposed to come loaded with McAfee virus scan, had to go online to download it, it wouldn’t let me, tried to download Vipre, don’t know if it did or not.  Computer came to a stop. Called Dell, they wanted $230 for “North American service” to fix the software problem that they gave to me.

I took the computer to Ernie, (Editors note: Ernie Hatfield is a good friend who runs Heart of the Rockies Internet Solutions in Salida, Colorado), but then I called Dell and for the privilege of giving them a 15% “restocking fee” I will be free from this piece of crap and stress.  The tech I talked to kept saying I got a “very powerful wirus” …wirus????  I told him I had been using computers for 16 years and I didn’t know what a “wirus” was. He just kept saying I needed software support for $230.00.

When I told Dell I wanted my money back for this piece of crap, they offered me $35.00 to keep it, when I refused, they offered me $50.  I told them, ” that’s stupid, your tech tells me it will cost $230 to fix the stupid thing, if you would just fix the thing I would keep it”.  They didn’t want to fix it so I am through with Dell.

Please understand, I’m not blaming you, I know some people have great results, I just didn’t.

After I got this email, I called Ernie to verify what had happened. Ernie told me that he had another customer that the same thing had happened to, and Dell’s response was the same.  Pay us $230, and we’ll fix your problems.  You don’t tell someone who just spent money buying your product, that you can fix their problem if, and only if, they pay you more money.

Now folks, I ran a computer hardware and software business for almost 20 years.  Granted, we did not sell millions and millions of PC’s and laptops every year.  But we always put ourselves in our customers shoes when they had problems.  We gave unlimited technical support, both in person and on the phone, for the life of the product, not just for 90 days, or six months, or one year.

I would hope that Dell, and for that matter all hardware vendors, would offer at least a 30 to 90 day, no questions asked, we’ll fix your problems for free, no matter what the problem is, warranty.  Whatever happened to vendors standing behind their products and services?


The Bottom Line
Dell really missed the boat with their treatment of Lee.  If they had just fixed his problem, he would have been a happy customer, and probably told many folks about his pleasant experience with Dell.  Instead Dell has now created a monster of customer unhappiness that will tell his story to anyone who will listen.  It has always amazed me how much money a company will spend to get a new customer, but how little they will spend to keep a customer!  This is simply not good business.

Dell Hell, again, continued

In my previous post, (Dell Hell, Again), I explained my troubles with my Inspiron 1501 laptop.  I was contacted in an email from Dell, (I had used their contact form to complain about the BIOS situation), and I responded with the service tag information that they wanted.  Below is the exchange of emails between the Dell support representative and me.

Dell Hell Again

This is the email that I sent Dell through their contact form:

The website gives DOS installation instructions for the Inspiron 1501 bios files, but when you try to follow the instructions, (place file on a floppy disk), you can’t because the file is 3.5mb. I used a USB stick and tried to follow the instructions, but after booting from a floppy disk, it gives you the “you cannot run this program from DOS mode”. If you try to run the program from inside Windows 7, (even giving the program administrative rights), it errors on the .sys file. Very frustrating, and I am a computer literate individual!

Here is the email that I received a few days later from a Dell Support Representative:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for contacting Dell Small and Medium Business Hardware Online Support

I have reviewed your e-mail, and I understand that you have issues with your Inspiron 1501. I apologize for the problems you have encountered with your Dell system. I appreciate the opportunity to work with you to resolve the situation. System has a Return to Depot and Phone Support contract which both expired last 2008-07-06.

Since the system came with limited warranty, you will need to purchase a per incident support so we can provide you further assistance. Once you are done, you can either proceed with phone assistance at 1-800-8228965 or reply to this email. If you wish to proceed with email support, kindly provide the order number of the purchased per incident phone support.

Thank you for choosing Dell,

Dell Rep ID 164439

Technical Support Agent
Dell Hardware Warranty Support

And here’s the reply that I sent to Leslie:

Dear Leslie,

I am not about to “pay” for support that Dell should have provided prior to the warranty expiring.  If you look at the Internet postings for this problem, they exist back in 2007, long before my warranty expired.

All I wanted was to have the correct, functioning BIOS files posted on the support website, but since Dell has had over 3 years to correct the problem and hasn’t, I don’t think me “paying” for support is going to correct the problem.

Thanks, but no thanks.  Dell just lost another customer.

Sincerely Yours,


Dell’s refusal to solve the problems with the BIOS installation that date back to 2007, along with their eagerness to sell you a new system, has me extremely frustrated. I realize that Dell is in business to sell folks NEW computer systems, but I would also expect them to fix a support issue from 2007.  I have not heard back from Leslie, and I don’t expect to.  So much for me ever recommending Dell again to any customer.  Too bad for Dell, as I had started shopping for a 17″ laptop for Carolyn.

Dell Hell, again!

Many times in the course of trying to fix someone else’s Dell computer, I have found myself in what can only be described as “Dell Hell”.   DH is the situation you find yourself in when you cannot find the support files or instructions that you need to fix the problem(s) correctly.  On the Internet you can find many references to DH, most having to do with dealing with Dell’s telephone sales or India based customer support.  In my case, this is how the most recent episode unfolded:

I was experiencing some “issues” with my Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop, circa 2007.  It came with 2GB of RAM, an AMD Dual Core CPU,  an 80GB Hard Drive and Windows XP Home.  In mid 2010, I installed a 250GB Hard Drive, and Windows 7 Home Premium, (the 64bit version).  Even though Dell does not have any support, (driver), files for this model running Windows 7, everything worked, (except for the scroll function on the trackpad).  Carolyn had been using this laptop without any problems for over 6 months.  Without warning, Internet Explorer 8 started crashing on a regular basis, along with trouble getting the computer to “wake up” from sleep mode.  Thinking that perhaps Microsoft had downloaded a patch that was causing the problem, I restored the computer back 1 week, but the problems still persisted.  I then went back another week, but to no avail.

I rummaged through my linux CD’s, and found one that has a memory tester as a boot program.  After running the memtest, it found that one stick of the RAM had errors.  I removed that stick, and Carolyn continued to use the laptop.  All the problems went away, but it was noticeably slower.  Dell’s website says that 2GB of RAM is max for this model, but there are lots of folks on the Internet that say they have 4GB installed, with no problems.  So me being adventurous, I ordered 4GB of RAM from, and within a week, (with their FREE shipping), I had the RAM in my hands.  Putting both 2GB sticks it got me a blank screen with no beep codes, but no booting the OS either.  Removing the 2GB stick from slot B, and then the laptop would boot correctly.  No matter what combination I tried, I could only get the notebook to work with 2GB of RAM.

Switching gears, I then went to Dell’s website to look for BIOS updates.  The BIOS is the Basic Input Output System for any computer.  All computer devices have a BIOS.  Since “updating” the BIOS can solve certain problems, (like seeing more memory), it was worth a shot.  Sure enough, Dell had two updates to the BIOS on this particular model, one update marked as “critical”.   I downloaded both updates, planning to do them incrementally, and tried to install them.  Most BIOS updates have to be installed from boot/DOS level, but these particular Phoenix BIOS updates came only with a Windows installer.  Well, after messing with the Windows updater for several passes, and dealing with the various “error” messages that it generated, I was not having any luck.

Being the brilliant technician that I am, I decided to give the “DOS” version a try.  Following the instructions on Dell’s website, I prepared a 3.5″ floppy boot disk.  (Yes, I have a USB external floppy disk drive for just these occasions.)  Dell’s instructions say to copy the complete BIOS file to the floppy disk.  Now friends, if you can figure out how to copy a 3.4MB file onto a 1.44MB floppy disk, please enlighten me!  Frustrated, I decided to search the Internet for a solution.  After running into numerous postings of folks with the same BIOS problem that I was having, I decided that this laptop will have to live with only 2GB of RAM installed.

More Malware Scams

I saw a new TV ad today for a website called  This is yet another website giving away a “free” antivirus/antispyware scan sponsored by CyberDefender.  Don’t fall for these scams!  I absolutely hate these websites that try to trick unsuspecting customers into downloading their software and and then try to extort money from them to remove the imaginary viruses and malware.

If you are still unsure about CyberDefender, (the software that you have to download and install), then just Google “Cyberdefender scams” and see what happens.  Seems like CyberDefenders’ new tactic is to go after anyone that writes a bad review.

Stay away from these guys at all costs.  Make sure that your system is protected with valid antivirus/antispyware software.  We highly recommend using Vipre, (see the banner ad below), a lean and mean AV solution for your PC.