Dr. Nancy Scheinost, my Rheumatologist

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a great Rheumatologist.  Dr. Nancy Scheinost is the fourth  Rheumatologist I have gone to, and she has done the most to curtail  my level of pain and improve the quality of my life.  I wish I had found Dr. Scheinost sooner, as I might have been able to avoid the crippling deformities to my hands and feet.   Dr. Nancy takes a whole body approach to treatment, such as a blood test that showed I was very low for vitamin D.  ( No other doctor has ever checked my vitamin D level.)   Since I started taking the vitamin D supplement, my health in general has improved,  I have more energy, and even had improvement on my osteoporosis bone density test.

Dr. Scheinosts’ office is located in Bryan TX about 150 miles away. It’s a long drive, but the regular schedule is once every three months.   It is more than worth the drive, (6 hours round trip),  to have a caring, progressive person taking care of me.  Rheumatologists are scarce to begin with but that doesn’t mean you should settle for someone who you don’t have complete confidence in.  RA is a lifelong disease with many ups and downs, so you really need someone who you feel completely comfortable with.

Beware of ustechsupport.com

Well, here we go again.  CyberDefender, (a known malware and rogueware company), has brought up a new website called ustechsupport.com.  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.

Mepis 8.5 OS 64bit

This morning I downloaded the new Mepis 8.5 OS 64bit version, and installed on the Dell Inspiron 1501.  I had the original 80GB SATA Hard Drive that came with this Dell, so I installed it on that drive to test it thoroughly.  Over the years I tried a lot of different Linux distributions, but I always come back to Mepis, as it seems to be extremely reliable and stable.

After installing and configuring the wireless adaptor, I was quickly on the Internet and downloading a few patch files that were needed.  For a long time, most Linux distros have quite frankly been a pain in the ass to configure a wireless connection to the Internet.  Starting about 2 years ago, most of the popular distros have simplified the configuration process, so that now it is a no brainer.

I don’t seem to be having any screen issues with this version of Mepis, as some of the current distros, (Ubuntu and Fedora included), want to “freak out” on the ATI video chipset that is built into this notebook.  Everything seems to work “right out of the box” which is comforting for novice users.  Linux has always had an uphill battle competing with the two “for profit” operating systems, Microsoft and Apple.  Linux doesn’t have millions to spend on marketing and lobbyists, or for convincing the public that it needs the latest and greatest bells and whistles.  What it does have is large grass roots support from individuals, software developers, and smart corporations that don’t want to be tied to a particular vendor for their computer operating systems.

If you have an older computer, either a desktop or laptop, try downloading a Linux distribution and playing with it.  Start at DistroWatch, do your research, go to the particular distro website, do the download, and try it out.  Most distros have a “live CD or live USB key” option, that allow you to “try out” the distro before installing it.

A side benefit of running Linux as your operating system, is that it makes it impossible to infect your computer with Windows based viruses or malware.  Have fun playing with your new Linux box and enjoy the freedom of open source software!

BTW, I wrote this post using the Dell laptop running Mepis.

Carolyn’s New HP Laptop

Over the last few years, Carolyn has migrated from using a powerful desktop computer for her work, to several different laptops. In Colorado, we always had at least two desktops in our home office, and 3 desktops at our business. In the summer of 2006, we bought a Dell 15″ Inspiron that has served us well until recently, (see previous Dell Hell posts).

Carolyn uses a notebook exclusively to update her website, surf the Internet, send and receive email, and work with pictures taken with our Nikon DSLR. She had me pack away her desktop a few months ago, because she hadn’t used it in over a year. I started looking for a 17″ laptop to replace the injured Dell, and had thought seriously about buying a unit from the Dell Outlet store, until I had the run-in with Dell’s tech support. That incident combined with the experience that a good customer of ours recently had, convinced me to look elsewhere.

I noticed after Christmas that our local Walmart had reduced the price of a particular HP 17″ Intel Core 2 Duo laptop from $548 to $448. Carolyn and I looked at that model and she tried it out with her hands, as they are badly deformed by her Rheumatoid Arthritis, making keyboarding somewhat difficult. We decided to wait, as we are still spending money on the remodeling of the house. I went online to make sure that this particular model could be upgraded to 8GB of RAM. On our subsequent trips to that Walmart, I saw that they still had a small stock of the HP’s left. Then we started having problems with the Dell, and I would fix the things that popped up. First it was a bad stick of RAM, which led me to the BIOS update problems. Then it started having video problems with the screen going crazy with vertical lines. I updated the ATI video driver and the video problems calmed down, though they would crop up occasionally.

About a month ago, after finishing a 2 day hardware swap-out at a bank NE of Lufkin, I decided to stop buy the Walmart and see if they had any stock left on the HP. Much to my surprise, not only did they have 3 units left, but they had reduced the price another $50. With Carolyn’s birthday coming up, I could not resist, and went ahead and purchased it for $398 plus tax, for a total of $430. It had 3GB of RAM, a 320GB HD, and a 17″ LED screen with full keyboard. When I got home, Carolyn was thrilled. I had (2) 2GB sticks of RAM that I had bought for the Dell and couldn’t use because of the BIOS problems, so I immediately “upgraded” the RAM to 4GB. I’ll keep watching the price of RAM and buy 8GB when it gets really low.

Carolyn has been using her new HP for almost a month now, and couldn’t’ be happier.  This HP is actually lighter than the 15″ Dell it replaced, which is a BIG deal for Carolyn.  I’m going to use the Dell as a platform to test Linux and BSD distro’s.

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,

Leslie
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,

Walt

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 Buy.com, 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.

Better late than never

About 5 years ago, in the middle of a brutal Colorado winter, I decided to rip all the music CD’s that we had into MP3 format, get them on a hard drive, and organize it all.  I never got into music “file sharing” like the original Napster or any of the other incarnations of torrent downloads, not only because they were and are illegal, but as a computer repair business, I had seen too many viruses getting transmitted to unsuspecting clients.

All in all, our music collection totaled a little over 22GB of MP3’s.  Other than playing them on our computers, we never had a portable MP3 player, until now.  As a Christmas present to myself, I purchased a used 6th generation iPod Classic with an 80GB hard drive from a reliable seller on Ebay.  The 2000 Ford Windstar van that we drive has a non-functional CD player in it, but a functioning cassette player.  I bought a cassette adaptor for the iPod so that we can use it in the van.  I also bought an adaptor to plug the iPod into our home stereo system.

Before I loaded our music collection onto my Macbook, I made two backup copies of the “clean” MP3’s.  After importing the MP3’s into iTunes, I connected the iPod and downloaded our music collection to it.  Carolyn and I are having a ball creating “playlists” of our favorite tunes.   One of the things I really like about the iPod is the ability to download audio and video from our favorite TV programs.

So there it is, Carolyn and I are finally listening to our iPod, only about 10 years behind the times.

Upgrading my Macbook

In mid 2009, I bought a new all metal 13″ Macbook model, (just like the 2010 Macbook Pro 13″ model).  It came with 2GB of RAM, an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4ghz CPU, and a 250GB sata hard drive. I use my Macbook about 99% of the time, for everything from email, downloading pictures from our Nikon D5000 DSLR camera, to writing posts for this website and others.

Since RAM is the heart of any computer system, I’ve been wanting to upgrade to 4GB for a while.  Mac laptops have the smallest phillips head screws that I have ever seen.  None of the screwdrivers that I had would work, but I found a small set at Lowe’s the day after Thanksgiving for less than $5.  Before I ordered the RAM, I did a trial run of taking the screws out of the back of the laptop to get to the memory slots.   While I was there, I cleaned the fan with some compressed air.  I got everything back together and fired up the laptop to make sure that everything still worked.

After searching the Internet for the best deal on the RAM, I ordered it from Buy.com, (see the link on the right side of this blog), as they not only had the lowest price, but also FREE shipping.  The RAM arrived in a week, and I disassembled the notebook as I had done in the trial run.  In less than 10 minutes, I had the RAM installed and was back up and running.  The Macbook now runs faster and smoother than ever before.  As I’ve said before, extra RAM is the cheapest upgrade that you can do to any computer.  For less than $50, I was able to double the amount of RAM in this Macbook, and make it work as a viable computer longer.

Using Thunderbird for email

Being someone who has a lot of email addresses, I am constantly on the lookout for the “best” email program to help me manage my accounts.  With the advent of Windows 7, Microsoft decided not to include an email client in the base installation, forcing users to download “Windows Live Mail“.  I’ve used WLM for a while, but it seemed to give me the dreaded “Program not responding” error messages a lot.

As most of you know, I’m a big fan of FOSS, (Free and Open Source Software), so I thought I would give Mozilla’s Thunderbird a try.  I’ve been using Thunderbird on my MacBook for over a year now, and it is so much better than the stock email client that comes with OSX.

(Side note:  Over the last 6 years, I’ve either used a Linux computer running Thunderbird, or now my MacBook as my primary email computer.  Doing this eliminates the effects of Windows based email viruses.)

I like Thunderbird’s ability to manage multiple email accounts, when correctly set up, it sends email to the appropriate inbox, not lumping everything into a global inbox.  Years ago, when I used Outlook Express, I would have to set up different “identities”, and also run Mailwasher to deal with the SPAM.  Thunderbird does a wonderful job of dealing with the “tons” of SPAM that I get from 3 of my oldest email addresses.  These email addresses probably show up on all of the spammers marketing lists that are sold everyday.  Although you have to “train” Thunderbird as to what SPAM you want removed, it does a great job of keeping my inboxes clean.

Give Thunderbird a try by downloading it here.  There are versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers.