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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Dear Reader,

A letter I recently sent to
To whom it may concern: (Long message, please read it all)

In January of ’04 I decided to replace my 2 year old Dell Inspirion. Not because it was malfunctioning but because it was 2 years old and I felt it was time to upgrade. After looking around, I decided on Alienware because you were the only company offering a P4 HT processor in a laptop. I placed my order in late Feb and anxiously awaited my machine.

It arrived in early March and I unpacked my baby and began playing with her. She was a beautiful cobalt blue and looked snazzy. Other than the fact that on the very first day I used her she gave me a Windows “Blue Screen of Death” everything was wonderful. I decided to overlook this and move on.

Soon after, sometime in May, it became apparent that there was something wrong. My Dell had served me faithfully for 2 years, most of which it stayed folded up in a cramped docking station. My Ailenware (Quaagar) was having problems just staying operational for more than a few days at a time. I called support and was assured that the problem was simply RAM and I was send 2 new sticks to replace the ones that were obviously defective.

No matter what combination of memory I tried between the new and the old, it was still pretty easy to get Quaagar to Blue Screen on me. Now, even more disturbing, it started overheating. Sometimes when I would reboot, the machine would hang before POST with the screen alternating between black and gray. I called support again and was told not to worry, simply unplug it, remove the battery, wait 10 seconds and then plug it back in, reinsert the battery and it should work. Strange I thought, I never had to do this with my Dell but ok, it worked and I could reboot the machine.

Then things in my life took a weird turn and the computer became the least of my worries. I won’t go into details but suffice to say that I endured this new reboot ritual and sometimes when even that wouldn’t work, I simply turned it off and walked away. Coming back later when it was cooler.

Finally, July of ’05 arrived. I had a new job in a new city, I’m physically (but not emotionally) seperated from my family and I have nothing to do in the evenings, my attention turns back to Quaagar and her problems. About this time, the DVD drive starts to malfunction as well. (IMHO, the heat finally got to it) So, since it was under warranty I decided to call and get them to replace it. Much to my surprise, the engineer said we couldn’t replace it till we ran a few tests. One of the tests was to reformat the machine and reload Windows! Having had to do this for other reasons back in April, I explained to him that I had already. He then wanted me to burn a CD to run some diagnostics.

“Um, what am I supposed to burn a CD with, the machine’s burner is what won’t work.” I said confused. To which I was instructed to use another machine. Looking around the small room I was renting, I then asked the kind (but not of this country) support engineer “Where do I get another machine?” He insisted that I had to have access to another machine and that it was a simple matter to burn a CD of their diagnostics so we could run some test. I insisted that it was not a simple matter and that since their machine was malfunctioning, it was not incumbent on me to beg, borrow or steal any additional parts or blank CDs to prove what I could see looking at the machine. The drive wasn’t reading disks about 1/2 the time.

We reached an impass. He would not send me another one without me running the diagnostics, I could not run the diagnostics. So he simply refused to go any further. Frustrated, I hung up. Later that same night, as luck would have it, Alienware sent me some Spam (BTW, I NEVER said you could send me SPAM guys!) asking me to recomend them to a friend. I was outraged. I had been stewing all night. So I replied ccing president, postmaster, sales, support, feedback and root. Anyone and everyone explaining exactly what was going on and that there was no way I would ever recommend them to anyone. One of those notes reached someone. the next day, someone form support CALLED ME asking where they should send my new drive. I was flabbergasted. and we soon worked out the details (which included me giving the a cc number to guarantee the dead part’s return) and my new (?) drive was on the way. It arrived a few days later and I anxiously tore open the box and inserted the drive. Booting the computer I was greeted with a sound aakin to someone shuffling a deck of cards as the drive initialized itself. Thinking this must be normal on the “newer” drives, I overlooked it and once WIndows was up and running, I inserted a CD. Another loud ratcheting sound and then nothing, no CD. It wouldn’t read CDs, DVD, or anything, it just sat there making noises like my great grandmother used to make late in her life. Dismayed, I pulled the drive and inspected it. Upon close inspection, it was obvious that they had sent me a remanufactured drive. (The sticker on the drive had a 2002 date on it!) So once more unto the breech. I picked up the phone and dialed support. (at this point, I’m half expecting to be greeted by name) I brusquely explain the situation and that I’d like another drive. I’ll spare you the details but suffice to say the words diagnostics came up again and I lost my temper. After 20 minutes or so, I had a new (?) drive on the way.

Sometime later, the second new drive arrives and I put it in. Everything works fine now except now, for some reason, Quaagar won’t run for more than 30 minutes. Assuming it was something I did, I inserted the Windows disk and attempted to reformat and reinstall Windows. No such luck. Every attempt to install Windows ended the same, the machine overheating at some critical juncture and refusing to finish the task, instead alternating the screen between black and gray. And so I called support.

I explained to the gentleman that now I had a completely non-functional machine as it had no OS on it and I couldn’t get it to install. I walked him through the steps and sure enough, it died again. I explained to him that since the video card was getting too hot to touch and it was non-functional, it seemed to me that maybe the video card needed to be replaced. He seemed to agree but asked me to remove the new DVD drive. I did. Then he asked me to turn the machine on and see if it would boot. I replied “Son, exactly what is it supposed to boot from? There is no OS on the hard-drive and you just had me remove the DVD drive. I was greeted with silence.

Finally, after much wrangling and no small amount of yelling on my part, he agreed to have his supervisor call me in the morning. NOTE: No supervisor ever called me. So 2 days later I called back. The machine now had “assumed room temperature”, it was tits up, it had gone to see it’s maker, it was an EX-laptop. It would not boot, it would not do anything except flash the screen black and gray. WONDERFUL I thought, now I’ll call them and let’s see what diagnostics they want to run now.

The enginner and I went round and round.
HIM: Please remove the video card.
ME: I can’t one of the screws was put in so tight that I can’t get it out.
HIM: Please remove the hard-drive
ME: My god, what do you use to put theses screws in with? The hard drive has one that won’t come out.
HIM: …silence…

Finally, after over an hour, I convinced him that the only way to fix it was to RMA the entire machine.

2 weeks later…I got my machine today.
I opened it, I placed it on a Lapcool2 I had bought just for it, I turned it on. 20 minutes into sitting there doing nothing but running the version of Windows that it had on it when I get it back, it gave me the blue screen of death. My heart sank. I looked over the paperwork returned with the machine. Yes, they had been able to replicate the problem. But instead of replacing the defective parts, they cleaned and replaced the heat sink. THE HEAT SINK! The graphics card is damaged beyond use but let’s blow some canned air in there and replace a $.50 aluminum part. No mention of anything else. Just clean and replace heatsink.

Ok, maybe the install was borked. So I got it home to my room, placed it carefully on the Lapcool 2 and started installing windows. 10 minutes into the install it starts flashing the black and gray screen again.

Finally, I’ve had it. I called support and screamed at the poor engineer “Ever” to 10 minutes. To which he calmly replied, “Mr. Evans let me get you another RMA for the machine and we will make it a 2 day express.”

I was floored. In 1.5 years of dealing with your support, I had never had ANYONE take me seriously. (Never mind that I’ve been working on computers longer than most of your staff has been alive) Ever understood. He got it and he gets the prize. Pushing my luck I asked him to add into the notes that both me and a previous Alienware engineer agree that the problem is most likely the video card and it needs to be replaced.

So tomorrow I am packing it back up to re-ship. I have secretly marked the graphics card with a sharpie. I will know if you do not replace it and we will do this again. It is my sincere desire to extract from you either a laptop worth $3.8k or cost you $5k in FedEx charges. I will continue to send the machine back every time it does not work exactly right until you finally give up and replace the parts.

But here’s tip that won’t cost you anything. Fire everybody in your support department except Ever. Throw out the dam scripts that they read and hire people like Ever; people who think instead of read a prepared script without having so much as ever opened up one of your damn laptops. You give Ever a raise…a big one because he’s the only hope your company has. Ever if you read this. I run a tech support department for a hosting company in CA. If you ever get tired of working for them, give me a call. I’ll put you on here.

Thank you Ever…now if I could just get a working laptop for the $3.8k I gave you guys.


Cal Evans

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Until next time, (l) (k) (bunny)

Rapid-Fire Random Thoughts (RFRT)

Dear Reader,

A few programming notes for those of you following along at home.

#1: I have been promoted!
(and a loud w00t goes up from the crowd!)
Yes, starting yesterday I am now officially the manager of both the Development Team (Team IO) and the Ops Team at Jupiter Hosting! Yes, as if managing the raging egos of Team IO wasn’t enough, now I’ve got a whole new set of challenges facing me. (Not the least being that I’ve never run a 24×7 team on this scale) Life just keeps getting more interesting. Oh well, strap on your Re-Org boots boys, we are going in.

#2: New Digs!
Not that the 2 are related but I’ve moved up the road a couple of miles. My new place is a small efficiency apartment. It’s a little bigger than my last place and it has a kitchen! (Yea!!!) No more eating out, I can COOK!

#3: Biloxi Blues (Ok, I know I’m not the only one making that joke!)
My lifelong friend Scott, recently back from Iraq is now stationed in Biloxi, or what is left of it. Pix can be found here. It could be worse, he could be in New Orleans. (What a bunch of animals.) Scott, me and mine are praying for you and yours. I know you’ll let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.

#4: I’ll be off the grid this weekend.
Wife v1.22, the lovely and talented Kathy is making the trek from NashVegas to Santa Clara to spend the long weekend with me. (She thinks she’s taking my Mac home with her…sadly, she is mistaken) Don’t look for me on-line however, we will most likely be at JJs this Sunday evening.

Until next time, see you tonight!


Meanwhile…back at JJ’s

Dear Reader,

What is it about 5 chords strung together in an endless-loop guitar rift that speaks to the very soul of musicians? So it started last night at JJs when Alvin Draper hit the stage. I don’t want to give the impression that this was an orderly entrance or that things were organized. The rest of the musicians had completed their setup about 5 minutes before and were either at the bar talking to JoJo (/me waves at JoJo & Tracy) or outside grabbing that last smoke before the set.

Alvin finished his final setup, turned on his microphone and started picking. Just 5 chords strung together in the musical version of a doodle. Like farm hands hearing the far-off dinner bell, the players all perked up, finished their conversations, took that last drag and stomped the butt out; then slowly, each of wandered onto the stage.

Soon there was a drum thumping time as Pavlov called his dogs. Then the second guitar kicked in and filled in the melody line. The bass player eventually wandered onto the stage and filled in the missing pieces. Finally, the keyboardist jumped up from the side of the stage and sat down. With a fanfare of synthesized organ through Leslie speakers usually reserved for tent-revivals, he threw down and church was again in session.

Alvin and the boys did a wonderful job for the next hour and a half. Alvin himself made his guitar cry as he told us “I’ve Got An Angel”. He and the boys (listed on the program only as “and Friends”) tickled our funny-bones as they threw down “Twist and Shout” and brought the house down near the end of the first set with “Mustang Sally”.

All the while there was a steady stream of couples entering and leaving the small dance floor. “Mr. Strut” made an appearance. He’s an “oldish” gentleman who, for the life of me, reminded me of a caricature of an old man. He was quite entertaining with his unique take on interpretive dance that was somewhere between “The Robot” and “The Jerk”. Then there was a couple who made love on the floor like they were the only ones in the room. They were mesmerizing to watch. Their dance was mental, it was spiritual but to those of us watching, it was defiantly physical. (and quite entertaining in a “I need to go call my wife” kind of way)

All-in-all it was a great ending to a great week. If you haven’t made it by JJs, by all means do. If you are in the valley, there’s always something interesting going on. I’m usually there Sundays after 8:00. Drop by and give me a shout-out. (I’m the overweight white-guy with the silly grin on my face!)

Until next time, (l) (k) (bunny),

Scenes From My World

Dear Reader,

Note:This post is outdated. It is left here for archival purposes.

As I travel through the Valley, I keep seeing things and describing them to people and never doing them justice. Sometimes, it’s just the beauty of downtown San Jose, the colors of The Mercado or the geeky delights of seeing all the computer companies out here. So spent some time yesterday shooting pictures of places that are either meaningful or interesting to me. Because I can’t do anything normally, I decided to set them to music. I’ll warn you, this is a big (201MB) download and it’s really only of interest to those who know me. (I question whether it’s of interest to them) If you want to view it, download it here (link removed). If you are only mildly curious, visit my photos page (link removed) and just hum the tune Kodachrome my Paul Simon as you look at them.

Until next time, it’s getting harder and harder to fill my free time. Expect more silly projects.


Mac…one week later (Clues for Windows users switching to Mac.)

Dear Reader,

My new companion, my new life-long friend (her name is Squatty, inside joke, those who know it are already giggling) has survived her first week with me and has come through unscathed. She is in as good of condition as when I bought her. (I know that’s important to at least one of you.)

So here’s what I got working this week:

– Kensington Expert Mouse
Trackballs rock! I’ve used this particular brand of trackball on every computer I’ve had for the past 10 years. The one I had plugged into that OTHER computer plugged in and worked out of the box. A quick trip to landed me the OS X drivers and now all the buttons and the scroll wheel work.

– Logitech Media Keyboards
Again, plugging it into the USB port of my baby and answering a couple of questions and I’m now free of the traditional (albeit pretty and functional) Mac laptop keyboard. Again, a trip to scored me the OS X drivers and now all the media buttons control iTunes, etc. As with the trackball, this keyboard has been my companion through a couple of computers now and it makes switching to Mac much easier when I don’t have to lose my old friends.

– Logitech Premium USB Headset 350
This is the headset I used to use with Trillian to talk with my wife in TN. (Saves us a TON in long distance charges) As with the keyboard, it just worked. I didn’t even install drivers for this one. It worked out of the box.

– Logitech Quick Cam Pro 400
This little boy plugged in but was not a flawless install. You have to download a couple of different drivers and such. I’m still working to get this one installed. Once I get it working, I’ll let you know how well or how bad it is.

– LG 19″ Monitor Final piece of the hardware puzzle. I plugged in my LG 19″ flat panel display. Again, it recognized it without a problem and now I run a dual display system with the 19″ running as the primary when it’s plugged in and running at 1280×1024. (I think)

So now, my new friend feels like my old computer, at least to my hands and eyes. I am truly amazed at how easy it is to get things to work with the Mac. As someone who has made a good living over the years helping people get DOS and Windows working correctly on their hardware, it scares me to think what I’ll do if more people discover the Mac.

That’s all for today readers.

Until next time, have I mentioned the weather here is beautiful?