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July 31, 2006

Blogging Without Any Wires

Thanks to Randy and his new PhoneSharpMT, this morning's entries will mostly be brought to you by the Motorola Q.

May 08, 2006

Spam Sleuthing

Around noonish today, I check my email and find a couple dozen copies of the same spam email. Normally I'd just throw it out, but since I'd been doing some research on the relationship between spam and trespass to chattels, I thought I'd conduct a little experiment: how difficult would it be to actually figure out who this spammer is and get him on the phone? After all, the tough part about prosecuting spammers is usually finding out where one can serve process. Shockingly enough, I actually managed to get the culprit on the phone.

Normally I'd not waste my time, but this opportunity seemed fairly unique. For one thing, the spammer seems to be local, a New York citizen, instead of some far-flung type I'd never manage to contact. For another, I'd already tried to remove one of my other domain names from this spammer's address book two months ago, when he'd sent me half a dozen copies of the same email. (He is as persistent in his nagging as he is incompetent in his emails: today's missives had the same address in the TO field have a dozen times each.)

As you can see from the link above (where another blogger has recreated the spam in its entirety), Mr. Spamalot is hawking his bulk-emailing services. The link in the email takes you to http://p7.hostingprod.com/@boostingyourtraffic.com/cher, which then pops up a nifty javascript warning stating "Your IP Address [number], date and time have been captured only as proof of your request for more information. Click OK to continue." I have no idea what that's supposed to accomplish, but the page then forwards you to Planet-Target.com. Based upon the email I'd received, they may be the least competent spammers ever, but boy do they make it hard work to find them.

Sure, you can enter your email address in their contact form, but I'd tried that and it hadn't worked. According to their website, their address is 35 Rawson Street, Boston MA 02125 USA. But a quick look at Google Maps suggests that the company's building isn't the same as the one they present to users, and besides, there's no phone number.

So let's try WHOIS. According to Register.com, the domain name hostingprod.com was registered by MarkMonitor.com (which seems odd, since that's an anti-phishing and marketing site) and the Administrative contact is Yahoo.com. That seemed . . . well, less than believable, so I looked at planet-target.com. Their WHOIS lookup was even better:

Whois Privacy Protection Service, Inc.
Whois Agent
PO Box 841
Yarmouth, NS B5A 4K5
CA
Phone: +1.9027492060
Fax: +1.9027495405
email: nksmxtsygt@whoisprivacyprotect.com

Well, that certainly didn't look promising. Have you ever seen a bigger "don't try to contact us" red flag? I tried the phone number. Needless to say, it went straight to voice mail.

So electronic tracks had pretty much been covered. How might I find this guy? My next instinct said follow the money. I tried contacting Yahoo--they're listed as the hosts for all these sites--but was told that they couldn't give me any contact information. I could, of course, write to their anti-spoofing department (which I did, even though I wasn't asking about spoofing), but I've not heard anything back, and to be honest I doubt I will.

And yet there's more to the money trail. Planet Target is a business, after all. So I did a little prospective spamming. I went through their process for ordering a campaign right until the point that I'd have to pay. They use Paypal, and one very nice feature of Paypal is the Member Information page that pops up whenever you try to pay something. And here things got interesting.

It seems that if I want to spam the world multiple times through Planet Target, I need to pay OnlyPCTools.com. This vendor offers programs to do keyboard tracking, avoid phishing schemes, remove spyware... everything except avoid spam, it seems. The company is located at 2566 Bronxwood Ave, Bronx, New York 10469. That sounds somewhat local to the address in my original spam email: 250 W. 46th Street, New York, NY 10018. And if you look them up through Paypal, they have a phone number right there.

Having finally found a phone number, I hoped against hope, punched in the numbers. . . . and once again went straight to voicemail. This time, however, I left a message: just my phone number and a request to call me. Maybe he'd think I was a customer.

At 7:11 this evening, I got the call. The voice on the other end of the line wouldn't give me a name, but confirmed that he was the agent of both OnlyPCTools and Planet-Target. I gave him my email domains, and he's claimed he'll remove it. But even better, a reverse directory lookup of the number he used to call me confirms that the number is registered to one of the addresses above.

That's enough for me. I proved that I could find him--although now I'm probably going to receive even more spam. But in the meantime, I've found the spammer and left this information on this webpage. Maybe it will prove useful to some other spamming victim.

Alienware Off, Dell Back

So the Alienware is now winging (actually crawling via Fedex Ground) back to Florida to receive its "onsite" service. In the meantime, I've just renewed the warranty on the old Dell 8500 for a year. After all, I need to make sure I have one machine working when I need it.

May 02, 2006

Alienated: Alienware Monitor Fails, Tony Fails to Read Fine Print

I wake up early this morning, ready for the final stretch of review before the Fed Courts exam tomorrow. I get ready, go to the library, meet my study partner. And then my Alienware doesn't wake up. The screen shows nothing but white.

Just what I need the day before my last exam.

I spend two hours on technical support hoping for a quick fix. It doesn't happen. So I think, "Fine, we'll do what we did with Dell: we'll schedule a tech to come out and replace whatever cheapo part they put in this box." After all, Alienware's customer service is supposed to be better than Dell's right?

Queue the second lousy shock of the day. It appears that for Alienware, the word "onsite" has strange meanings. Spend the extra cash for the "onsite" warranty, and here's what it gets you:

[W]e will first attempt to diagnose and resolve the problem over the telephone. If we determine that the problem is with a defective component covered by your warranty, then we will, at our option, either: (a) have you send your product to our repair facilities for repair or replacement; (b) send a technician to your home or place of business to replace the defective component; or (c) send you a component part to replace the defective component. Option (b) will apply only if you purchased the Alienware Onsite Service along with your warranty.

(emphasis mine) In other words, pay Alienware extra for their premium technical support to give them another option. That's an interesting definition of "onsite."

I suppose I shouldn't find it surprising, but it is disappointing. Talk about a brand loyalty killer. And it seems I'm not alone.

Anyway, the data has burned from my non-functional notebook--it still works using an external monitor--so it's time to wrap this up. I've borrowed a new notebook for the exam tomorrow, and if I'm lucky I can still cram every obscure Fed Courts decision into my head so that I can pass. I'll delay my anger and frustration--and the mailing of the unit back to Florida--until tomorrow. Various forms of protest flit in my mind, of course, but more than likely I'll do nothing: the frustration isn't worth it. Other than, of course, not purchasing one of their machines again.

Lousy timing, though.

UPDATE: It's only fair that I should give some thanks at this point, especially as "this point" is around 2AM on the morning of the exam. Thanks to my study partner for picking up some of the outlining slack while I sat on the phone talking to tech support, and to a good friend who has graciously loaned me her laptop for a day and a half.

November 01, 2005

Sony, Spyware, and Country Music

As a public service warning, I'd advise my readers to check Sony CDs before ripping music to their hard drive: it appears they may install some spyware-like software that's devilishly hard to eliminate. The previous link gives you the technical details, but the upshot of Mark Russinovich's analysis:

The entire experience was frustrating and irritating. Not only had Sony put software on my system that uses techniques commonly used by malware to mask its presence, the software is poorly written and provides no means for uninstall. Worse, most users that stumble across the cloaked files with a RKR scan will cripple their computer if they attempt the obvious step of deleting the cloaked files.

While I believe in the media industry’s right to use copy protection mechanisms to prevent illegal copying, I don’t think that we’ve found the right balance of fair use and copy protection, yet. This is a clear case of Sony taking DRM too far.


Note that "most users" will find the uninstall process Mark provides not merely irksome, but likely to be completely beyond their comprehension. Put it this way: in the time a normal user learned how to properly remove the hidden files without rendering their CD drive useless, they'd be better off backing up their data and reformatting the drive. Way to go, Sony! Instead putting your effort into actually building an iPod-beater, you've given the world one more reason to use iTunes.

(Link to how the mighty have fallen via Wizbang)

October 20, 2005

Gadget Review Thursday

OK, enough curmudgeonly stuff about Bluebooking and Miers. I'm officially declaring today Gadget Review Thursday. Over the next 24 hours, expect some info on matters technical and technological.

September 25, 2005

Creative Returns, or Why I Left the Zen Micro and Went to the Dark Side

As you might remember, up until now I've been an enthusiastic owner of a Zen Micro. Creative's policy of pushing extended warranties--an annoyance to others as well-- drove me away from the fold.

Last week, the player simply stopped working. Indeed, it stopped responding to any commands once turned on, including the "off" switch. I tried everything suggested on the website, including flashing the firmware and formatting the drive, but eventually came to the conclusion that the problem was beyond me and it would need to be returned. Fortunately, I'd bought it twenty-nine days ago.

So I called Creative's customer support. I didn't want to return the unit for another if it could be easily fixed, and figured that getting service out of Creative would be easier than a refund from Amazon. At which point the member of Creative's technical team turns into a salesman.

It seems that Creative's technical support won't pay for inbound shipping on the return. In and of itself, this would be a minor grumble, but then she informs me that if I am willing to pay for the special extended warranty, they'll pay for all shipping for this and any future problems that occur in two years. The gall of this sales technique prompts me to issue two official Three Years of Hell Official Guidance Notices for How Not to Make Your Customer Service Look Like It Is Managed By Malevolent Monkeys:

To Creative's technical department: If a customer calls up with a player that's failed within 30 days, you might want to get the unit back just to see what happened. Given that it failed after installing one of your upgrades, you might want to see if something is going wrong. Especially if the problem has already received a number of complaints on your support forum. (Then again, maybe you know and you don't care.)

To Creative's marketing department: If your genius idea of marketing an extended warranty plan is to offer it to a new customer with a failed product, look at what you're signalling. (1) You're asking me to pay a lot of money for a warranty to avoid a smaller shipping charge. (2) You're asking me to pay more money when I'm legitimately annoyed that your product failed. (3) You're telling me that I should pay now because over the two year lifetime of the product, I should expect it to fail again.

So in the end, I packaged the product back up, used Amazon's helpful return and exchange policy, and am now on the waiting list for a similarly-priced iPod Nano. I just have to figure out how to get all my music to be recognized.

September 23, 2005

Monitor For Sale

As a result of a recent hardware upgrade, my old 19" Dell CRT monitor is now surplus to requirements. I'll probably craigslist it soon, but if there's anyone at CLS who would like to buy a used--but still quite nice--monitor, please send me an email.

September 13, 2005

Writing Japanese on a US Pocket PC

A while back, I wrote a brief piece on my trouble trying to get my new Pocket PC to do Japanese handwriting recognition. I'm happy to say that someone far better at this stuff than I am has cracked the problem. The installation procedure is not for the faint of heart, but the end result is brilliant once you get it working.

August 21, 2005

Peppermint Zen

Since agonizing over which MP3 player to buy earlier this year, I've become quite fond of my eventual purchase, the nicely-tiny Creative Zen Micro. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with quite the range of accessories made for the more popular iPod, and in particular the cases you can buy to protect it from falls and scratches are pretty feeble.

On the other hand, it does seem to have a very dedicated userbase with an ingeniously creative bent. The niftiest proposal in build-your-own case technology? A dremel, a little felt, and a tin of Altoids. I'm taking a quick trip back to see the family pretty soon, and they've got a workshop. Maybe soon I can be keeping my Zen with the mints made infamous by Clinton/Lewinsky sexplay. (I wonder if there's a commemorative-edition tin?)

(For all the Mac-addicts out there, apparently Japanese DIY-tech is keeping pace with Frisk Mint cases for the iPod shuffle.)

links via Gizmodo

July 10, 2005

Dell Quality Control Sucks

So Dell Tech Support outside the US is being typically useless: not open on weekends (you'd think this thing is programmed only to break Friday and Saturday), and always with a very helpful message on the phone before telling you that they won't help you any other way, informing you that you really should look at the website. Note to anyone at Dell reading this: your customers get frustrated when you tell them to look at a website with a computer that's shafted. If you can't get your customers to useful service, then hang up the phone before costing them more money.

In an attempt to avoid buying a new computer, I'm going to get this machine fixed once more. On the other hand, this will be the fifth LCD screen this machine has had, possibly its fourth video card, and it's already on the third motherboard. I've not cracked open my server as often as this machine's been gutted. A complete list of everything that's gone wrong that I got from Dell today?

  1. 035271301 - dell drivers and utilities cd Date : 12th June 2003 [Not a big deal, they thought this would fix the original monitor problem.]
  2. 035583670 - LCD and Keyboard was replaced. Date : 29th June 2003

  3. 035684005 - Motherboard was replaced Date : 29th Auguest [sic] 2003

  4. 036422135 - LCD and Video card was replaced Date : 5th Auguest [sic] 2003

  5. 042565604 - LCD and Video card was replaced Date : 25th Febraury [sic] 2004

  6. 057350883 - Ac adapter and power cable date 15th May 2005

  7. And they don't include--presumably because Hong Kong repairs aren't on their system--how they replaced the motherboard last month.

So I'm wondering if I ought to contact someone at Dell and say, "Look, give me a loaner for a week that I can swap the hard drive out of, and just take this machine back to look at it?" Because nothing should break this often in such consistent ways.

Online tech support is quite uninterested: just book the call, get the serviceman out, close the call, get it off their desks. That seems shortsighted in more ways than one. After all, I will be replacing this notebook once the three year warranty runs out--especially at this rate. One would suspect they would like to impress me if they want another sale and the chance to make back some of the money they've lost on this warranty.

Anyway, I have no idea who I'd contact within the company. I suppose I could put all my Dell-related technical posts into one category and buy a URL like dellsupportsucks.com (which is both already taken and forwards to geeksupport.net, go figure), but that seems an antisocial way of drawing the attention of the higher-ups. Still, I'm at a loss of what to do, other than never buy one of these machines again.

July 09, 2005

Probably need a new computer

It looks as if, even though I still have one more year of technical support left on this PC, I may be replacing my Dell Inspiron 8500. Less than a month since my last technical support call to get the blown motherboard replaced, the monitor has now given way. This is two days before my Note resubmit deadline, which means that there is no real way for me to submit my Note to the Law Review. In trying to contact technical support through expensive international calls and internet cafes, I've spent over $25 in the last two months. In short, I've had it up to here with Dell: in general I find their technical support services to be superb, especially the online technical assistance, but there is no reason I should have to rely upon it so much.

I hate this. I can't afford a new computer--though I was hoping to buy a new cheap desktop when I got back to the US--but I don't want to be without my own personal machine for a month. Dell is telling me that they don't think replacing the monitor again would help, so they're reluctant to do it. Which is fine, but until they come up with a solution, I've got a 6lb. paperweight with one year of warranty left, and no force on earth is going to get my Note nd research off my hard drive. [1]

I suppose I could pull a Bainbridge and ask my readers to donate enough money for a new computer. Even if it would work--and yes, I'm laughing as hard as you are at the thought that I blog in those leagues--I'd feel like a jerk: most of my readers are law students with no more money than I have. Besides, I don't blog to support my computing habit.

But if any of my readers have an idea of where I could get a cheap, quality notebook with good international support--especially if the UK supplier is having a sale--I'd greatly appreciate it.

Update: Great. The chat client that Dell uses for online support crashed just before the tech gave me a case number. I need that in order to talk to UK tech support. The web cafe I'm in is closing. What a comedy of errors, except it's not remotely funny. This, in the end, is the problem with Dell: good support, but it needs to be because the products break down.

[1]: Some Columbia readers will wonder how it is that I can save everyone else's paper from failed hardware, but not my own. If I were back home, I could, but I don't have the toolset that I'd normally use with me. It's probably ironic, in the Alanis Morrisette way.

April 27, 2005

It was the worst of Dell, it was the best of Dell

Irony of ironies, just before exams my computer decides to break down. Specifically, the cord on the AC power adapter finally gave up the ghost and would no longer power my computer. Given that the overstressed battery won't last an hour without the charger, that's a real burden.

So I spent two hours on the phone with Dell trying to order a new one today. (So much for Corporations studying.) Needless to say, I experienced Dell's legendary customer service: calls transferred endlessly hoping to find someone in authority to fix your problem; connection quality that ensures the Dell employee sounds like he's not only halfway across the world (he is) but in a deep well; and endless repetition of customer numbers, order numbers, and service tags.

Finally, while waiting on hold, I went to their website and discovered a new (to me, at least) feature: their "Chat with a Service Representative," an instant-message style interface. Some friendly "Agent" answered my chat request almost immediately. He asked a quick list of questions, assured me that he could send me a part overnight or second-day-air, and apologized for the fact that "arranging the dispatch" would take about 10 minutes before he went off to do it. While I was still on hold with phone support, he solved the problem, gave me a tracking number, and signed off.

Several years ago, there were a number of consumer gurus who swore blind that customers would prefer "personal" service either face-to-face or over the phone, because we valued that "human touch." What these people failed to consider was the careless zombie touch that quite a few service industry humans inflict upon customers. Seriously, if you've got Dell support problems, this IM support thing is the way to go.

March 22, 2005

Damn You, Macintosh

I've been edging around the market for a hard-disk based MP3 player. Indeed, I've been thinking about one for about six months, just waiting until I found something that justified plunking down a couple of hundred bucks instead of waiting until summer. But I'm finding myself caught in a dilemma: I can't find a device with all the features I want.

I could live like a sheep and go for the new Second Generation IPod Mini, with 6GB of space, or the IPod Photo with 60GB. The first is nicely portable, the second would function as a spare hard drive. But neither will play DRM-protected WMA files, so all the Musicmatch songs I've downloaded would have to be burned to CD and then re-ripped into ITunes, which has to be the most annoying music-playing software I've ever encountered. If Apple weren't so insistent I use their blasted software, they'd have me sold.

So I've had to look at alternatives, mostly in the "mini" market. (I briefly considered the IRiver 340, but it seems to have some build-quality and battery issues.) I really like the look of the IRiver H10, it would play my music, and supposedly functions easily as a portable hard drive. But if I wait a month or two, they might have a much nicer 20GB model.

Finally, there's the Creative Zen Micro: DRM-WMA compatible, reasonable functionality, syncs with Microsoft Outlook. Still, the interface doesn't look so friendly to me, and Creative's offerings in larger sizes aren't as feature-rich.

Any advice in this arena would be welcome. I know so little about these silly devices.

November 11, 2004

Japanese Character Entry on an English PDA

As I mentioned a bit earlier, my new PDA couldn't do Japanese handwriting recognition because Decuma's superb kanji recognition software does not play well with Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition. I've now solved the problem. While probably not useful to 99.9% of my readers, I wanted to put the solution here for future tinkerers. (The title of this entry is dull, yes, but it's meant for Google more than anyone else.)

Basically, I installed Monster Chinese. It eats up a ton of memory and the user interface isn't a patch on Decuma's system, but on the other hand, it works.

You'll have to install three programs. First, you'll need the basic Monster.net application. Then you'll need the Japanese entry system. You'll also need the Chinese character entry system. And if you speak Japanese, the problem will be that the instructions (and the interface screens) are mostly in Chinese. But at the end of the day, it mostly works.

I say mostly, because there's a couple of differences between Japanese and Chinese characters, and every so often I was to look something up in my dictionary that I just can't manage. But until Decuma starts supporting the new OS, this is a good interim solution.

Giving The Devil His Due

Blogging Without Any Wires (0)
Spam Sleuthing (2)
Ken wrote: Amazing how life works, I too am fe... [more]

Alienware Off, Dell Back (0)
Alienated: Alienware Monitor Fails, Tony Fails to Read Fine Print (1)
Martin Lloyd wrote: Good luck with the last exam, and c... [more]

Sony, Spyware, and Country Music (5)
PG wrote: Apparently <a href="http://msnbc.ms... [more]

Gadget Review Thursday (0)
Creative Returns, or Why I Left the Zen Micro and Went to the Dark Side (1)
ambimb wrote: Your downward spiral has begun.... ... [more]

Monitor For Sale (1)
russell wrote: how much?... [more]

Writing Japanese on a US Pocket PC (0)
Peppermint Zen (3)
Tony the Pony wrote: Grr. "Hardware," rather. ... [more]

Dell Quality Control Sucks (1)
Matt wrote: Anthony, Not that we know each o... [more]

Probably need a new computer (2)
Anthony wrote: I don't have an external monitor in... [more]

It was the worst of Dell, it was the best of Dell (6)
Duncan Holyoke wrote: I've been reading your blog since s... [more]

Damn You, Macintosh (8)
mikey wrote: Go for an/the iPod. I was surprise... [more]

Japanese Character Entry on an English PDA (0)

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