Done with Dell? Probably.

I’ve been a proponent of Dell for years, for a variety of reasons. I’ve generally liked their build quality, and while their home support is as bad as anyone else’s, their business support has always been phenomenal. Until now, that is.

I have a Dell Vostro 3500 I got early last year with Pro Support. I got it specifically because it was their only business-class machine in the range that had a touchscreen, and I knew the next version of Windows was going to have a heavy focus on touch (and of course I turned out to be right).

While it turned out to be a bit bigger and boxier than I would have liked, I overall liked it and its performance, and the screen definitely paid off with the release of Windows 8. It always had an annoying issue with the card reader constantly uninstalling and reinstalling itself if any pressure was placed on the palm rest, though, but it was never worth getting serviced on its own. But things started to take a turn earlier this year.

First my system fan started making hideous, loud noises. Clearly it was failing, so I called up Pro Support and they offered to have someone out the next day to repair it. There ended up being a scheduling issue, so it was one additional day past that, but he arrived with both a new fan to resolve the noise and a new mainboard to resolve the card reader problem I could finally have them look at.

An hour later I had a fully-functional paperweight. The computer wouldn’t power on. He tried switching back the mainboard, but now nothing would function in any combination. He called his support and they said they’d ship out a cardboard coffin and I’d need to send it in and have it back within five business days. At the time I had a spare I could function with, so I agreed.

Roughly five days later I received my repaired unit back, functioning again. Except the keyboard was badly bowed upward (the entire right side had a notable bubble to it), and there were very visible, ugly pry marks around the edges of the keyboard from when it was removed by either the onsite technician or the depot tech. I called, and they issued a replacement keyboard, palm rest, and a different onsite technician to repair it.

This technician got everything replaced quickly and smoothly, and my computer looked as new as it had the day it first arrived. I was happy.

Within a few weeks, though, I noticed new problems. One: my Bluetooth was gone. Neither Windows 8 or 7 could see the device anymore, and it wasn’t listed in Device Manager. Also, my computer wouldn’t stay asleep anymore in my bag. If I closed it, let it sleep, and popped it in my bag, I’d arrive at my destination to find the computer on and 140 degree in its self-made fabric oven. There was clearly a faulty lid sensor tripping from minor movement.

I put up with these two issues because I couldn’t afford the downtime from repairs again. I’d handle it eventually, but alone they weren’t enough. Then my touchscreen started to fail. It would randomly stop responding, and I’d see that Windows was reporting one wasn’t installed. I eventually found that if I placed pressure on the palm rest beneath the base of the screen I’d eventually hear the install sound and it would come back for a while. I put up with this, too, until one day my computer began turning itself off after a few minutes running.

After doing my own troubleshooting, followed by work with a Dell support rep over the phone, we managed to get the computer to stay on with the battery pulled, and then eventually with the battery reinserted, through multiple cold boots. But since I had him on the line, we went ahead and scheduled to have my other issues resolved.

The next day the same technician as the last visit arrived with a new display and a new Bluetooth module. He confirmed to me that my Bluetooth hadn’t been working because it was missing entirely from my system, presumably not transferred during one of the previous repairs. Once done we fired up the system, and I tested the touchscreen.

Nothing. No response. No touch. No sign of function. Windows reported it as functional, and the person at Dell that the technician called tried to walk us through driver downloads (pointless, as none were compatible with 8 as 8 supplied its own), calibration (can’t work since it wasn’t registering touch), and more.

Finally the phone rep asked if I could send it in. I put my foot down and said no. I had no spare this time and I couldn’t do my work without it. So they asked if sending an exchange replacement would be suitable. Find by me, so long as I have a working computer. The technician even informed me that odds were I’d get a newer model due to availability, so this option worked in my favor. Fantastic. I’d go a few days without a touchscreen, but get a newer model to replace it? I can work with that.

And three or four days later, I got a box with a brand new Vostro 3560 in it. Thinner, lighter, sleeker, 3rd-gen i5 processor, USB 3.0, and a few other improvements. Wonderful.

Except… the screen was matte. Now, I love matte screens, but I’m not aware of any matte touchscreens. Oh, that’s because there AREN’T any. They sent me a non-touch replacement. And a quick glance at their site showed me why: the Vostros don’t have touchscreens anymore. So why was this offered as a solution?

I emailed my rep to express my confusion and received an apology and an assurance that he was working on a solution. It took about a week to receive any confirmation, but he eventually came back with the same information I had found: their only comparable model with touch currently available is the Inspiron 15z, an “Ultrabook” (they stretch the definition, as it has a 15.6″ screen, optical drive, mechanical hard drive [+32GB SSD cache], and isn’t nearly as thin as most) that’s not technically in the business line, but they’d be willing to provide it anyway. Fine by me. Upgrade in virtually every way (except going from an nVidia 310m to an Intel 4000 GPU, but I don’t game on it anyway), including a 3rd-gen Core i5 to my 1st-gen, USB 3.0, a bump to 6GB from my 4GB, and it’ll be brand new.

The order was approved and placed, and in less than a week it arrived. I opened it up, reached out to touch the screen that was recessed, which I found odd for a touchscreen these days, and found myself touching a soft, matte, display that didn’t respond in any way. I had received, once again, a NON-touch replacement computer.

This time I didn’t leave it up to email and instead called the Pro Support line, put in my express service code, and waited on hold before my call was answered by a woman with an Indian accent. This was odd, as Pro Support is based in the US. And sure enough, she said she was with Basic Support. I told her there was an error, and I was supposed to reach Pro Support. She apologized and asked me to explain the problem so she could forward the call correctly. I briefly explained the problem and, when done, was asked, “Okay sir, so your network is not working?” *sigh*. I explained again, and explained that I have Pro Support, and to please transfer me. I think my tone had an impact, as she agreed to transfer me immediately. I gave the next person my service tag who immediately transferred me… back to Basic Support. I gave this person my service tag, explained that I needed Pro Support, and was transferred again to someone who picked up the phone, said nothing for about three seconds, then hung up. I literally heard the handset hit the receiver and then was informed my call was disconnected.

I called back and was extremely clear with the first person I spoke to about what I needed. This person was nice enough to look a little more clearly and realize that the problem was my Pro Support warranty had already been transferred to the new computer, and so I needed to provide that service tag number. I did and was transferred to someone else who asked for my service tag who transferred me… to Basic Support in India. I explained to this person, as well, who argued with me and asked if I was SURE I had Pro Support. I told her I was 150% certain. She finally transferred me AGAIN to Pro Support, where I poured out the entire story to the person I got BEFORE providing my service tag. Justin (the first and only name I’ll mention, as he’s the single bright star in this entire process) immediately apologized, promised me that he lives for a challenge, and told me he wouldn’t hang up with me until I was satisfied.

Justin took down both service tags and quickly figured out the warranty wasn’t attached to either which was why the system gave me the runaround. But he found it and corrected it, and then began to spend an hour on the phone with me trying to resolve my problem. He quickly found that the computer had auto-ordered the 15z instead of the previous agent doing a custom build, and so it had ignored the touchscreen as a priority function. He then quickly learned that the touch version was on backorder until December 18th, so decided to track down a different suitable custom model.

Justin jumped through hoops for me, trying every model he could think of with touchscreens, and getting consistently shocking results. It seems that with the launch of Windows 8, Dell was completely blindsided by the idea that people might want touchscreens on their computers for an OS designed primarily for touch. They had virtually no models supporting it, and the few they did were, predictably, sold out and on backorder. Justin worked his way up into the highest-end, niche devices he could find, easily doubling or tripling the value of my machine, searching for anything that would ship sooner, but we eventually had to accept reality: my replacement unit would have to be a Christmas gift. He also worked to make sure it would have Windows 8 Pro, since my Vostro had shipped with 7 Pro, so getting “upgraded” to a Home version of 8 wouldn’t make sense.

Justin spent more time dealing with supervisors and others to ensure the system properly reflected the exact and ONLY model that had the touchscreen and that it wouldn’t auto-order a different model and assured me everything was finally going to be handled properly, even if later than each of us would prefer. I want to reiterate again, Justin was the bright star in this entire process and the only person to make every imaginable effort to make me feel like a valued customer. I need to say that now because unfortunately the story isn’t over.

A week or so later I still didn’t have instructions for shipping back the wrong 15z. I also was beginning to feel nervous again about receiving the right one. I emailed the only email contact I had and asked about the return shipping, and to say I had noticed the backorder date had improved by about 10 days and to be sure that I was definitely on track for getting one of the first shipments of the touch model. I was sent a UPS label and given assurance that while they couldn’t predict ship date, everything was still accurately on track.

Finally we reach today, when I received a call from an unknown 866 number. The voicemail left informed me that my exchange had shipped yesterday and providing instructions about returning my old computer. Already? That’s nearly three weeks early! Finally, Dell’s coming through. Clearly they put me at the top of the backorder list as an apology.

I sat around my office keeping busy and excitedly awaiting my new, final computer and refreshing FedEx so I’d know to run up to the shipping department to pick it up. And soon it showed delivered and I went to get it.

I immediately surveyed the box and its spec sheet. What’s this? Core i7? 8GB of RAM?! nVidia GeForce 630M with 2GB of RAM? Wow, they bumped me up to the higher model in apology for all the mistakes in addition to shipping it sooner! How ni–wait a second. I had specifically never suggested the higher model, as hadn’t Justin, despite it shipping sooner. Why? Because…


I scoured the box, first noticing “Windows 8 Home” on the spec sheet (where’s my Pro?), and then ensuring no mention of touch anywhere in the display section. Then I popped the service tag into the support site. Also no mention of touch. Finally I opened it up. Sure enough, the screen is inset and matte. No touch.

At this point I have no idea what’s going on. Maybe the computer decided I was waiting too long for mine and “upgraded” me automatically, ignoring all the manual flags meant to prevent it. Maybe processing the UPS return tag for the last one reset the flags. But odds are I’ve lost my place in the backorder line now all in the name of an upgraded computer without the function I cared about most. Yes, yes, an i7 and more RAM and a discrete GPU is fantastic, and I should just be happy. But this is Windows 8 time. Touch is something I use a lot and had for a reason. I’m not settling. I didn’t settle from the beginning and I’m not doing it now. I’ll take the spec hit if need be to get what I want, but I’m getting what I want, which is what I HAD to begin with.

I’ve emailed my rep again. I usually don’t hear back for at least half a day. But I’m not going through that phone hell again, either. No time for it. We’ll see what they have to say for themselves now, but I know what I have to say for myself now:

ASUS, Lenovo? I’m ready to do more business with you. A lot more business. And expect to hear from my clients, too. And the direct, in-store support of that Surface Pro from Microsoft is sounding damn good, too.

Anti-Vax argument on Hallmark Facebook wall

Just got into this argument on a Facebook post on Hallmark’s wall. I decided to present it here so some of my interested friends could view it easily. Here it is in three parts:



EDIT: Corrected the last image. Had accidentally combined it with bits of another one.

Help Call Out Homophobia

I could explain what this is about, but the embedded video kind of does that better than I could… and I’m in it! Check it out:

So if you’d like to help with this worthy cause and join the Non A-holes, please click here to head to the IndieGoGo page where you can donate. Or if you can’t right now (we totally understand), at least Like the video and/or share it.


Cleaning and Securing a WordPress Hack

A few weeks ago my friend Wendy told me she was having trouble accessing The Odds Must Be Crazy, as Chrome was informing her it was referencing a known malware site. While I had no difficulty accessing it myself, and Google’s own Webmaster Tools claimed to see nothing wrong with it, a quick poll of my friends found they were experiencing the same. Bother.

So I did a little digging, installed a plugin or two (I think Sucuri was the main one that I initially relied on), and quickly found the issue: my PHP files had ALL had the dreaded base64 hack injected into the tops of them. Blech. I’d heard of this before, but this was my first time directly experiencing it, and I knew I was in for trouble.

Through trial, error, and research, I managed to come up with a plan of attack. I first backed up the entire file contents of the site (I have the database backed up automatically via email every week using WP-DB-Backup, so I wasn’t worried about that) to my hard drive, and then found a script I could run via SSH to automatically crawl through and remove the code (I’m purposefully not linking to the script for a soon-to-be-obvious reason), logged into my host,  ran it… and promptly killed both The Odds Must Be Crazy and my personal blog (the one you’re reading now, which foreshadows the happy ending to the story). The script apparently removed a lot more than just the injected content and ruined every PHP file. Sadly I had NOT backed up this blog because it had stupidly not crossed my mind that the script would run across my entire web server and impact more than the backed-up TOMBC. *sigh*

So I quickly switched to plan B: manually clean the code from the TOMBC files. Initially I tried to automate it with Notepad++ (which I love), but the string in question is way too long for its Find field. So I spent two hours manually removing it from each and every PHP file (NOTE: there’s better news later on this) and then reuploading the entire site structure. I then used a variety of resources and tools over the next few days to track down a few stray, rogue files and issues, and remove them, rendering the site clean as far as all scans could tell.

I also reinstalled this blog from scratch and connected it back to the old database and reinstalled the appropriate plugins. It wasn’t (and still isn’t as of this writing) perfect, but my priority was the other blog.

Fast forward to this weekend when I decided to start working on fixing up this blog and found that the Dashboard was completely damaged and unusable for some reason. I did more digging and found that, while it hadn’t previously been infected, it now was. And a quick check of The Odds Must Be Crazy found the same. Fuck.

But this time I was determined to learn from my previous lessons, apply new knowledge, and fix this sucker faster, better, and protect it. And in the process I decided to share my steps so they can help others, as I didn’t find other guides online that fit my needs as well (most called for a full reinstall of the blog, and I customized things too much to feel good about that).

Continue reading

Parking for Church and State

So late last night I was walking back to my car in Hollywood with a friend and passed this nearly-empty parking lot:

It was in a rather odd spot, all on its own, and we stopped to read the first sign we found to see what it was for:

Okay, uninteresting enough. A Presbyterian Church that we passed on our way laid claim to it. All right. Then we continued past and found, not a few feet later, a second sign for the same lot:

This parking lot is apparently ALSO used by the Superior Court of California Hollywood Courthouse.

That’s right, the parking lot is SHARED by church and state. It was a strange, goofy night already, but this definitely got a chuckle out of me. Reminds me of the Church and State Fair in Arrested Development.

Mr. Deity and the Bang! – Season 4 Finale

And here it is, guys, the episode you’ve all been waiting for. Probably. Just humor me.

Glorious, isn’t it? I think it’s a pretty epic sendoff to season 4. Keep in mind, this was the prequel season. So that’s essentially meant to lead into season 1, and season 5 will pick back up where season 3’s cliffhanger left off. Confused? You should be.

Simple Thoughts: Holding the door

I get a small kick over the awkward confused shuffle that occurs as people are entering or exiting a building, stumbling to hold the door for the next person, or the person going the opposite direction. Sometimes this results in holding the doors in the most uncomfortable ways, or with extreme feats of strength, or in ways that aren’t actually at all helpful, just to maintain the social courtesy of holding the door for others. It makes me smile to see people putting this much effort into simply trying to be polite to a stranger. Makes you wonder what it would be like if the same people were proportionately as willing to make awkward strides to help strangers with bigger problems.