Robert Galle: Rude Dude of WhereIsIt

I have to say that I think I might have met one of the rudest vendors on the Internet! I was interested in a program to catalog my DVD movies. I did some searching around and found a disc cataloging program called WhereIsIt by Robert Galle. The program seemed well written, developed and supported, so I preceded to order a license for $39.99. I created an e-mail address “whereisit@mylogin.tuffmail.com” for the ordering process as I have gotten burned in the past by merchants that have added me to spam lists. His order page does state that you cannot use a “freemail” address, however, tuffmail.com is not a free e-mail provider and I in fact pay for e-mail access there.

A few hours after ordering I got this e-mail message from WhereIsIT-soft.com after placing my order:

To: Adam Leinss,

An order on your name has been received from ShareIt! (Ref.No. XXXXXXXX, Sun Nov 4 2007, 1:04 CET). For license delivery you have selected email delivery, and stated an email address provided by vendor who offers freely available and/or anonymous email addresses. This is a violation of ordering conditions and against instructions as stated on the order form, no licenses are ever sent to any freemail addresses.

If you are applying for a license, you are expected to behave responsibly.

Please respond with an appropriate email address intended for license delivery and state a valid reason for using a freemail address. Failure to do so within 3 days will result in order being processed as a fraud attempt.

WhereIsIt Orders

1. The e-mail address used was not a “freemail” address

2. The e-mail address used was not anonymous

My personal e-mail address is only given to people I meet in real life. I have no control what Robert Galle does with my e-mail address. I respond back that if he cannot send the license to the address I used to cancel the order. Robert replies back with this:

Ordering conditions are clear and they go for you, too.

This order is hereby considered a fraud attempt, and will be treated accordingly.

Robert Galle

I think Mr. Galle missed Customer Service 101. How can I commit fraud with my own credit card? I didn’t even get a license: all I did get was a bunch of attitude and quite undeserved attitude at that! Can you imagine getting tech support from this individual?

Since Mr. Galle does not want to sell me his program, I was able to find a freeware replacement called Disk Explorer Professional. I strongly urge you to check out this program if you are in the market in for a disc cataloging program.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Critical Analysis: Getting Gouged by Geeks

From time to time, I have thought about doing PC repair work as a side business. Recently, I saw a link from Consumerist to an undercover story on Getting Gouged by Geeks (alterative link). The whole episode is available on their web site. After watching it, I have to say that I am disappointed by the spin given by CBC. It’s a bit frightening to think what other stories the media are editing to make a good story.

Let’s look at the first setup: shove a bad DIMM into a PC so that it doesn’t boot. CBC lists this as a “small, common problem“. Then, call out the nerd herd to your house, tape it with your hidden video camera and have a good laugh when they misdiagnose the problem. There’s a few problems with this setup: namely that this is not a common problem. I’ve worked at two companies with various PC hardware manufacturers (and 700+ PCs onsite) and never had a PC not boot with bad memory being the cause. That’s not to say it never happens, but it is rare in my experience. I have, however, encountered memory that has gone bad in a PC. This causes the operating system to crash and the PC to act strangely. Diagnosing this type of problem is usually simple as running a memory test from a boot CD or switching the memory with known good memory.

PCs can take many types of memory and I’m guessing that these technicians do not carry each speed of memory and every capacity: it’s just not practical. The correct way of trying to diagnose it, of course, is to listen to the beeps at POST. The CBC makes fun of one technician who is repeating the beeps, saying [sic] he’s talking to the computer, lol! The joke, however, is on CBC. Repeating the beeps is perfectly logical: he’s probably trying to distinguish which beeps are long and which are short.

Example from here:

  • No Beeps: Short, No power, Bad CPU/MB, Loose Peripherals
  • One Beep: Everything is normal and Computer POSTed fine
  • Two Beeps: POST/CMOS Error
  • One Long Beep, One Short Beep: Motherboard Problem
  • One Long Beep, Two Short Beeps: Video Problem
  • One Long Beep, Three Short Beeps: Video Problem
  • Three Long Beeps: Keyboard Error
  • Repeated Long Beeps: Memory Error
  • Continuous Hi-Lo Beeps: CPU Overheating

As you can see, there are two types of “3 beeps”: one for a keyboard error and one for a memory error. One uses a series of “long” beeps; the other “short” beeps. This tech that “talks to the computer” is actually one of the techs that correctly identifies the problem. Of course, this tech cannot be let off the hook: he’s charging $120 for a 1 GB DIMM! CBC detects a ripoff!

Our little nerd friend Steve Gazo from Humber College checks online and proclaims $64.99 for the 1GB, PC3200 DIMM. It’s unclear, however, whether he’s looking at the price in Canadian dollars or US dollars. Take a look at a Google search I ran:

The US prices are lower and the Canadian prices higher. Going on the Internet and looking up a price proves nothing in terms of whether the tech is overcharging or not. Depending on where you go for pricing, you can manipulate the pricing up and down as this article shows:

I can say Vista Ultimate is $179 (OEM version at Newegg), $399 or $602. Someone selling Windows Vista Ultimate at $602 is not necessarily ripping anyone off: you have to put things in context.

CBC states that 4 of the 10 companies suggest to buy a new PC and it was only a $25 part that needed to be replaced. Wrong! Their own tech found the part for $65. An honest mistake by the CBC? Probably.

Next case: laptop with corrupt operating system files. Supposedly, this is causing the wireless card not to work as one of the techs says the wireless card may have to be replaced. CBC goes off to stay “there’s nothing wrong with the wireless card“. In the end, the wireless card is not replaced: the charge is $113 for an OS reload. The tech is simply giving some reasons what may be wrong with the laptop: creative editing at work.

Some shops say the laptop had malware and the CBC eagerly protests that it did not. The common causes for corrupt operating system files are either bad memory, bad harddrive or viruses/malware. Since it isn’t the first two, the technicians claim the laptop had malware. This is a perfectly logical conclusion. The customer may have already tried to clean it off, but perhaps cleaned off too much and deleted critical files in the process. Operating systems files do not corrupt on their own: there has to be some type of explanation. In this case, the malware is our nerd friend Steve Gazo.

The same Steve Gazo places fake files on the laptop named “nice pose.jpg” among others to encourage technicians to check them out. CBC takes the laptop in for service and then brings back the laptop to Gazo. He claims that two of the pictures were opened based on the date accessed field. Fact number #1: Date Accessed is not reliable. If the technician ran an antivirus scan on the machine, it could update this field. This field also wouldn’t update on the files I tried accessing on my Windows Vista Ultimate box.

Fact number #2: Dates can be manipulated as shown by this utility. This information is stored in the NTFS metadata of the file. Date Accessed means absolutely nothing. However, there’s no excuse for a technician to be snooping through people’s hard drives (if it truly happened). One would be naive to think that they don’t. However, it is the responsibility of the user to secure THEIR data by means of either moving the data to a flash drive and keeping it at home or encrypting it. If you walked around your house naked would you not expect the neighbors to peek in on you? You would likely pull the blinds before doing such an act.

Half the show is dedicated to a nerd from “Nerds On Site”. They finally find a golden nugget for their show. This guy is truly clueless and deserves to be fired for his conduct. He claims that her hard drive is bad without even opening the case! Of course, we know it’s just the DIMM.

It would have been interesting to see the two cases reserved: taking the desktop in with bad memory problem into the brick and mortar store, and leaving the laptop at home. My guess would be a lot more correct repairs then what is given in the video. A more interesting case would be to put a failing hard drive into the computer in the house and see what the techs would do in terms of being able to recover the data.

The only honest part I found with this video was the interview of the 3 tech guys sitting on the stools.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Free Remote Control Via the Web!

Here’s a company doing something really slick: giving away remote control services over the Internet for FREE! Now it is free for only personal use: if you use it for commercial purposes, you need to purchase a license. Each session can be 30 minutes in duration and you are allowed to use 10 hours of the service per month. Now you can help all your friends without leaving your house!

Setting up the remote control session is dangerously simple: download the program on your PC. Your party can either download the client or you can generate a URL within the program you have on your PC to give them. Basically, the program connects directly back into their service and drives the whole experience. The URL method is slick because the end user just has to enter a URL: the web site delivers a Java based client so no installation on their part is necessary.

If you go for the free license, you are obligated to recommend the product to 7 associates or link an ad to your site. I have opted to link an ad to my blog below since it gets 200+ visits a day.

Update (4/30/07): It gets even better…they removed the session limit, bumped the time per month from 10 hours to 25 hours and you do not have to register to use the software anymore!


TeamViewer Remote Control
Free Remote Control

Utility Review: SWI – System Information for Windows

AIDA32 use to be my dearest love for system information, until it turned into Everest Home and then it vanished from the freeware scene into payware. The Ultimate edition is $30 up front, with $20/year maintenance to get updates. They recently offered an “Engineer” edition that is $199/year. However, maybe you want something that is freeware to check your own system or some elses, but you want the power of Everest. Introducing: SIW!

The web page for the program is here and is cleverly laid out as a Windows desktop. The author goes into a lot of detail into each feature with screen shots: very classy! The program is one executable: no installation, no DLL or INI files. I like the simplicity very much. Now some programs will just give you very generic information (ahem, Belarc Advisor), but SIW goes in depth like Everest does. The first page I go into is the Operating System tab. My Windows Vista product key is there: very nice! However, it only seems to be able to determine the activation status on Windows XP. When I ran it on Windows Vista, it was completely missing. Clicking on Licenses brought up my keys for Office 2003 and 2007: impressive. It does, however, misidentify my Office as being the Enterprise edition. It’s actually a copy from Technet using a retail key, but it’s close enough.

Upon clicking on Domain Groups, I was presented with all the groups in my company’s AD structure. That’s a bit unsettling given that I have regular user access to AD. Likewise, clicking on Domain User Accounts gives me a listing of all the AD user accounts in the DS and which groups those accounts are in, including Domain Administrators! I’m very tempted to try running this utility on another network to see if would pull up the same information.

Clicking on the Secrets tab makes my jaw drop: all of my Firefox passwords are presented to me in cleartext! VNC passwords are also presented here and those are supposed to be encrypted! Wow, I’m really starting to like this utility! Clicking on PCI under Hardware presents a listing of information regardless of what driver is installed. That feature alone makes this program a keeper and definitely a replacement option for Everest. SIW is unable to get the SPD information of my DIMMs: Everest has no problem. SIW is able, however, to identify the size in each bank of memory.

Embedded within the program is a program called Eureka! This allow you to reveal passwords behind asterisks. I tried it on both Windows Vista and Windows XP and it does work! Yet another reason not to save passwords in Internet Explorer or Firefox. Oh look, an embedded Windows 9x password cracker! Move over Cain and Abel (if you ever tried cracking PWL files you know what I mean, wink, wink)! There’s even ping, trace and network built in to this rig, along with remote execution goodies. Again, all of this is in one little 1.4MB file!

You have to remember that SIW is written by a freelance programmer in his spare time and does not have the resources of a corporate entity. For that, I have to say he’s done one hell of a job making this thing! Now if you want to use this for commercial purposes, there are licenses that you need to purchase. For a technician license it is $75 for unlimited use. Very reasonably priced vs the perpetual $200/year that Everest charges.

I give this program my highest rating and recommendation:

Do you have a utility that you find useful in your tech work? Send your information on it to web..(at)..leinss.com and it could be featured here!

– Soli Deo Gloria

Review of the book “The Old New Thing”

Having been called to jury service recently, I decided to read a new book that I just got from Amazon called “The Old New Thing: Practical Development Throughout the Evolution of Windows” by Raymond Chen. Raymond Chen is one of the original software developers on the Microsoft Windows operating system. The book is an interesting collection of Raymond’s blog entries with a few augmentations thrown in. Several chapters are dedicated just to programming propeller heads, but there’s enough interesting stories of how Windows operates to keep the general audience interested.

One of things the book acknowledges is how Microsoft “works around” program incompatibilities by coding “fixes” directly into the operating system. If you remember about 2 years ago, 20% of the source code for Windows 2000 was accidentally leaked. This article details some of the things found in the source code. This fact alone validates that the Windows 2000 source code posted is valid. It also explains why Windows has so much “bloat” in it.

So why not block applications with bad programming techniques? According to Chen, when a user upgrades their operating system and their program stops working, they blame Microsoft and not the software vendor. Why wouldn’t they? The user has no idea that their vendor is using sloppy programming. In order to secure sales, Microsoft will bend over backwards to provide application compatibility to the point of incorporating the fix into their operating system directly.

The responsible thing to do of course is to notify the company that made the software and inform them of the fix. Microsoft (I’m equating Chen with Microsoft since he clearly has been entrenched in the Microsoft culture), however, makes the excuse that the company may have gone out of business or may not be willing to issue a fix. Why not issue just a hotfix for that company through the PSS? Microsoft holds back certain hotfixes from the general public and holds them hostage in the PSS. Only if you are willing to pay a fee and or deemed worthy of the documented hotfix is it released to you. Why should it be any different with sloppy programming fixes? Why do I need a fix for an application *I* don’t use bundled into operating system *I* use?

Microsoft has some what rectified the situation using Application Compatibility shims in Windows XP.  However, this begs the question: what else is being injected into the Windows code base?  From www.kickassgear.com/Articles/Microsoft.htm:

Microsoft’s David Cole emailed Phil Barrett on September 30 1991: “It’s pretty clear we need to make sure Windows 3.1 only runs on top of MS DOS or an OEM version of it,” and “The approach we will take is to detect DR DOS 6 and refuse to load. The error message should be something like ‘Invalid device driver interface.”

Microsoft had several methods of detecting and sabotaging DR-DOS with Windows. One was to have Smartdrive detect DR-DOS and refused to load it for Windows 3.1.  There was also a version check in XMS in the Windows 3.1 setup program which produced the message: “The XMS driver you have installed is not compatible with Windows. You must remove it before setup can successfully install Windows.” This was not true, but rather, was an attempt to undermine the competition.

Brad Silverberg, the Microsoft exec who had been responsible for Windows 95, emailed Jim Allchin (now Senior Vice President of MS) on September 27th 1991: “after IBM announces support for dr-dos at comdex, it’s a small step for them to also announce they will be selling netware lite, maybe sometime soon thereafter. but count on it. We don’t know precisely what ibm is going to announce. my best hunch is that they will offer dr-dos as the preferred solution for 286, os 2 2.0 for 386. they will also probably continue to offer msdos at $165 (drdos for $99). drdos has problems running windows today, and I assume will have more problems in the future.” 

Jim Allchin replied: “You should make sure it has problems in the future. :-)”.

Andy Hill emailed David Cole, Windows group manager: “Janine has brought up some good questions on how we handle the error messages that the users will get if they aren’t using MS-DOS. The beta testers will ask questions. How should the techs respond: Ignorance, the truth, other? This will no doubt raise a stir on Compuserve. We should either be proactive and post something up there now, or have a response already constructed so we can flash it up there as soon as the issue arises so we can nip it in the bud before we have a typical CIS snow-ball mutiny.”

Cole replied to Hill: “Let’s plead ignorance for a while. We need to figure out our overall strategy for this. I’m surprised people aren’t flaming yet, maybe they won’t.” Cole also sent an email to Silverberg suggesting a less severe message be used when DR DOS was detected: “A kind-gentle message in setup would probably not offend anyone and probably won’t get the press up in arms, but I don’t think it serves much of a warning. BillP made an excellent point, what is the guy supposed to do? With a TSR, the solution is to just remove it. With DR-DOS, or any others, I doubt the user is in a position of changing. He will no doubt continue to install. When he finds problems, he will call PSS. We will get a lot of calls from DR-DOS users.”

“Perhaps a message in the phone system for Windows. It would say something like ‘if you are not using MS-DOS or an OEM version of MS-DOS, then press ##’. Then give them the message.” Silverberg replied: “What the guy is supposed to do is feel uncomfortable, and when he has bugs, suspect that the problem is dr-dos and then go out to buy ms-dos. or decide to not take the risk for the other machines he has to buy for in the office.”

For more trips down “OS memory lane”, check out Toastytech.com in addition to Raymond’s book. Raymond Chen’s blog can be found here.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Utility Review: FreeCommander 2006

There’s tons of neat little utilites on my Tech Files sections and I rarely talk about any of them here on the blog. Here’s one that I recently discovered for file management: Free Commander 2006. Now, I know what you are thinking: why another file manager? I wanted a folder size utility to prune my disk (I actually wrote about ExplorerXP before to do that, but I didn’t think of it at the time). One of the great features is being able to sort by file and folder size. It even keeps this view when drilling several layers up and down the tree. This saves having to sort per folder view which is such a nice time time saver. To get the size of folders, you actually have to hit Folders>Size of Folders. This is done because you might not want a lot of disk I/O from it computing folder sizes.

Free Commander also has native built-in handling for opening ZIP, CAB and RAR files. Nice! I also like the handy icons in the upper right hand corner that give easy access to the Control Panel, Start Menu, Desktop, System Folders and Computer Management. This was written with a PC technician in mind! You can also map network drives, get to a Run box or Command Prompt from the Extras menu.

Free Commander also lets you edit file and folder timestamps like Total Commander. Total Commander, in my opinion, tries to do too much. Another nice thing is that you can do a RUNAS on Free Commander to run as administrator and therefore change permissions on files and folders.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Windows Vista News You Can Use

After giving Microsoft a tongue lashing, I decided to post about some of the things I like about Vista. Here’s a real nifty one: Reliability Monitor. You can track, over time, the reliability of your PC. Here’s a chart to see what I mean:

This is a chart of my work PC. As you can see the chart dipped around 10/2/06. This is around the time I did an inplace upgrade of my PC from build 5600 to 5728. On 10/9/06, I did an inplace upgrade from build 5728 (interim build) to 5744 (RC2). During the in-place upgrades, Windows flagged several programs as incompatible, thus the dip in score (along with a few explorer crashes!). The same historical data can be done for performance as well. This should be a welcomed featured for both users and IT professionals. Say you install a new program on a user’s machine and they state the computer is slower since you installed the program. You can now objectively look at the historical data and determine if that really is the case.

Windows Vista packaging. Take a sneak peak at what the boxes will look like for holding the Windows Vista media.

No Aero Glass for machines with 512MB or less of memory since build RC2. Here’s the workaround:

1. Ensure that you have the following registry value set to :

HKCUSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsDWMComposition set to 1 (32-bit DWORD)

HKCUSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsDWMCompositionPolicy set to 2 (32-bit DWORD)

2. Restart DWM by opening a command prompt with administrative privileges :

– Type ‘net stop uxsms’

– Then ‘net start uxsms’

Just remember I told you get nothing less than 1GB of memory for Windows Vista!

Looking to spice up your sidebar? Get the freeware version of a sweet sidebar call Desktop Sidebar. You’ll wow your friends over the bland sidebar that comes with Windows Vista. This sidebar also works on Windows 2000/XP/2003.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Windows Recovery Environment for Windows Vista (Build 5384)

Having access to the Windows Vista Beta 2 bits, I decided to take a look at the system recovery options. This isn’t your Windows 2000/XP recovery console: it is a full blown version of WinPE or should I say WinRE. The list of options given are these:

Startup Repair – Automatically fix problems that prevent Windows from starting

System Restore: Restore Windows to an earlier point in time

CompletePC Restore – Restore your computer from a CompletePC backup. Although this sounds exciting, it really isn’t. CompletePC is an all or nothing proposition. You can backup your whole hard drive to another hard drive or burn it to DVD. However, you cannot restore individual files or folders.

Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool – Check your computer for memory hardware errors

Command Prompt – Open a command prompt window

To get to WinRE, first pick System Recovery options when booting from the Vista DVD. You are then given an option to choose your keyboard:

Next, it looks for Windows Vista installations. You are given an option to load drivers for your hard drives if WinRE cannot find them:

I decided first to pick Startup Repair. It states “If problems are found, Startup Repair will fix them automatically. Your computer might restart several times during this process. No changes will be made to your personal files or information. This might take several minutes.”

At the end, it found no problems, so it asked me if I wanted to send more information to Microsoft so they can help create solutions. You can then pick “Send” or “Don’t Send”.

You can view a log at the very end of this procedure. It appears to run some file sanity checks, checks the boot manager, and the event log.


System Restore: Wow, I’ve been waiting for this feature for 4 years! The only way that you can run System Restore in XP if Safe Mode didn’t work was to get a copy of Winternals ERD Commander which runs about $1200. Microsoft now lets you run system restore from the CD. The really cool thing is the format of the list it gave me:

5/25/06 1:12 AM (Install) Device Driver Package Install: Linksys Network Drivers

5/25/06 1:25 AM (Install) Installed Wireless Network PC Card Configuration Utility

You can see, in real time, what action was done last and reverse that option.


Memory Check – Reboots the PC and provides a comprehensive memory check. Test results are given after you log into Windows Vista. You can pick from “Basic”, “Standard” or “Extended” testing by hitting F1 when booted into the testing process.

Command Prompt – There appears at the moment that there is no “help” command and when I attempted to run explorer.exe, I got an error that shdocvw.dll wasn’t found. Basic programs like notepad did work, however.

WinRE, however, leaves me rather disappointed. A GUI front end with registry editing and file copying features would make WinRE so powerful and useful, as would networking support (my guess is that it caches the error reporting data you submit in WinRE until you boot into Windows, then offers to send it later on when you have networking support). A crash dump analyzer and event log viewer would be really neat too. WinRE has so much potential, so hopefully Microsoft hasn’t finished WinRE for good.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Vongo is a No Go

After seeing a commercial on the service “Vongo” on TV, I decided to sign up. It’s a service that lets you download an unlimited number of movies to your PC and play them for $9.99 a month. I picked the PPV option since that lets you browse the movie selection for free (apparently, you cannot browse the movie list without registering, that should have been my first red flag). Even though it’s free, they still want your CC number (red flag number two). They boast a selection of 1500 movies, but after seeing all of them I was quite unimpressed! I decided I didn’t like this service much and I wanted to cancel.

Hmm…how to cancel? Every reputable service has a cancel option online, but apparently not Vongo. To cancel you have to call 1-877-866-4621 and speak to someone in customer service. Excuse me? You brag about not having to drive to the Blockbuster to rent a video and how convenient your service is and I have to call you to cancel? Oh, it gets better. They store your credit card number right in their service! I wonder what the legality of doing so is without giving you the option to remove it? I mean, I had no balance: nothing, zip, zilch. Why can I not remove my credit card information? I tried to change my credit card information to another (non-active) number so they couldn’t charge me, but apparently they are pretty swift on that. It appears they crosscheck your CVV number with the issuing bank’s ZIP code to make sure they match up.

Why make it so hard to remove my credit card information? Why make canceling so hard? So off I went to cancel by phone (I really hate having to explain myself). I was connected relatively quickly to a customer support agent. “Why are you canceling?” asked the customer support person. Why should I have to explain my reasons? This is precisely why an online option is so valuable. I explained I just wanted to cancel. “Oh, but you haven’t any charges” she quipped. I explained her service was storing my credit card information on their service and I didn’t appreciate that. She then preceded to cancel the account asking all of my information (name, address, city, zip, blood type, etc).

This is critically important…if I just let them hold on to my credit card information, what happens if they are hacked into? I have to keep worrying about them charging me for something I didn’t buy or some cracker getting my information.

I urge you to go to www.vongo.com and click on Contact Us. Tell them how crappy this policy is. Vongo doesn’t own my personal information, I DO!

– Soli Deo Gloria

BeyondLogic: Another Sysinternals Type Web Site

After testing the latest version of VNCScan (which is much improved since my last entry on it…they encrypt the local administrator password now instead of storing it in cleartext), I saw they were using beyondexec instead of psexec. This piqued my interest, so I went and did a Google search on “beyondexec” and it lead me to www.beyondlogic.org. The site looks a bit amateurish, but it has some interesting utilities on it, namely PortTalk and Trust-No-Exe. PortTalk lets legacy programs write directly to COM/LPT ports under Windows 2000/XP. I actually could of used this utility about a month ago. I built a Gateway 600YGR laptop for one of our EE’s with Windows XP. He tried his EEPROM program on it (16-bit) and it was a no go. The program wanted to write directly to the LPT1 port and Windows XP doesn’t allow this. I had to put Windows 98 on the laptop to get it to work.

Trust-No-Exe is an interesting concept that could be used for a kiosk type machine. Basically, it allows you to greylist the executables you don’t want running and whitelist the ones you do. Getting back to beyondexec, one advantage of it over psexec is that you can issue shutdown commands to the remote system after executing your remote program. Looks like you can also send messages to the user which could come in handy.

– Soli Deo Gloria