About William Brown

William is the founder and head of Dirt Cheap Computers, an IT company for regular people. He is also an expert on consumer products and why he hasn't started a hugely successful podcast is not clear.

They Only Come Out at Night

If at all possible, if you have the ability, you should spend a couple nights In, At and Around any place you plan to relocate to, move someone into or acquire. I know its old advice. I have heard it myself… or read it in a NOLO Press book on real-estate or Landlord-Tenant Law. See, you never really know what you are getting into AND if you have any choice, choice can be a good thing.

The most obvious is probably the most creepy, but very true and very real: Crawlies. We are lucky. Our cave is not and apparently has never been very bothered by crawlies. But if you ever wound up poised to rent a place like my brother Marlo did in San Diego, you would—at the very least—want to be warned. I visited Marlo in ’82 when he was renting off-base housing, while stationed in the US Navy. I’d probably been there a couple days when he showed me that if you suddenly turned on the lights in his bathroom, all kinds of little friends would scurry. Yikes! We had never had any kind of bug problem where we grew up. I had never even seen a cockroach ‘cept for a display of some kind of wooded roach, in the ‘nature glen’ of Navarro Boy Scout Camp. The pests, of course, were not isolated to the bathroom and had hundreds of friends than one would care to know about. Even with inspections etc, I don’t think you can really know what you are facing, bug wise, unless you are able to surprise them in the middle of the night. ALSO worthy of note, it is not limited to the confines of the intended abode. I know a nearby neighborhood which has both a dairy plant and a grain processor. On that block, late at night, if one dares stroll there and dares to illuminate select sections of pavement, one might reconsider the premise of late night walks altogether.

Another pretty obvious thing that goes bump in the night pertains to late night scavengers. We live not far from the town police department. To those not in the know, that is not altogether a good thing and often quite the opposite. There is a generally accepted phenomena which indicates neighborhoods near law enforcement agencies tend to be ‘questionable’ on more than one level. Now add surrounding elements of low-income housing, both retail and light industrial zoning and railroad tracks (often referred to, on the streets, as the Mexican highway). It is a sketchy enough area during the day, but between the hours of 2:30 and 5AM things get extra special. I have seen groups of 4-5 homeless people, on bicycles, divide and ride down each side of the street and indicate to each other specific addresses that look worthy of gleaning… verbal accounts of how many bicycles and other noticeable items can be found on each property. Yeah, I was on my porch, in the shadows, enjoying a break from an overnight project. Many times locks have been cut and human-powered transportation stolen. We also have two sets of dumpsters in our complex. The very early morning hours seem to be a preferred harvesting time for recyclables. This activity too is generally carried out by an armed and intimidating crew of 4-5 homeless people, with loud banter and camaraderie. Add close proximity to bars and liquor stores and you also have the frequent drunken fight on your porch. In one incident last year, a fighting couple believed they were scuffling on their own porch, which was actually blocks away.

Yes, we could see, when we moved here, there was a nearby market and, in another direction, a nearby min-market (read liquor store). No prob. The only thing that came to mind about those was convenience. These businesses have a staggered schedule of very noisy business-related events. The market receives shipments of stock 2-3 times a week, after 1AM, by the arrival of a big rig that blares its horn twice upon arrival. There is a 2AM parking lot cleaning and power wash, once a week. On another day the shopping carts are power washed at 4AM. The worst, however, is the 3AM garbage truck which empties the liquor store dumpster on Tuesdays. The backside of the building faces our complex and seems to amplify the sound as the dumpster is pounded several times against the open top of the truck. This particular event I never fail to notice. Some nights, I can fall back to sleep almost instantly… other nights, I have to get up and write.

The front of this apartment complex features two mixed-use buildings. One houses a daycare (which does not receive younglings until 6:30) and the other the traffic enforcement division of our local police. Apparently, motorcycle traffic enforcement begins between 3 and 4AM. I am also told, by a couple bikers, that police motorcycles are the only ‘bikes’ on the public roads that can legally have illegal pipes (exhaust systems which are specifically altered to make them much louder). Add that to the frequent code3 (lights and siren) responses to distant emergencies and it becomes quite a noticeable feature of the neighborhood.

Spending a night or two, on different nights of the week, at or near an address you are considering for residence or business could reveal elements you may not be comfortable with and help you avoid a bad move. If you find yourself, however, in a situation of limited options… try not to fret. Learn to roll with the punches. Maybe find a way to be productive at off hours or days. Maybe buy a nice set of headphones and get used to sleeping to music.

Turbo Tax vs Tax Act

20140414-turbo-tax-logo.jpeg Turbo Tax vs Tax Act 20140414-logo_tax_act.jpg
Which is Best?

OK. We are down to that yearly last minute crunch time… but people still want to know which they should trust with their taxes. The shortest easiest answer is, use the same service you used last year. Both of these and most of the services will import tons of data, automatically, from the previous tax filing. That saves a lot of time, makes for less mistakes AND can help you catch mistakes or omissions from the previous filing(s). So, especially if you have put off doing the deed til today, that is the best answer.

I did not wait ‘til THE last day, just the day before… so, this time, I had a little bit of time to play with both softwares. To me, Turbo tax is a hair less intuitive, but more like filling out the actual paperwork, by hand. I think Tax Act might be a little more clumsy of an interface and it tried harder to upsell me to other versions and services. It is, however, who I submitted my filing with. There were many more questions, esp of ones that relate to business operations, that in Turbo Tax. Plus, as noted, this was apparently who I filed with last year and at several key places in the Q&A Tax Act showed me a side by side comparison of 2012 and 2013, which was quite helpful.

I played with both last year as well. This year, when trying to log back in, I found TA had a harder time confirming who I was and getting everything up and running. I did, however, find it easier in TA to revise numbers on the fly as my wife was generating more accurate figures.
I believe, last year was the first time I completed the process with TA instead of Turbo Tax. Every year, there are little tweaks and differences in the interface and navigation tools. For some reason, I felt in 2012 that TA was out-performing TT. This year as well, it seems there were some things TT was not asking me, such as interest paid on a student loans. I found that deduction category, but never the specific place to input that figure.

TAX ACT you are the winner! (for this year, at least)

It’s Credit One Not Capital One

Well, the world of banking and credit is indeed a scary place.

Somewhere I stumbled across a credit offer—think it came to my business email—for a new credit card. Since I have been cleaning house lately, credit wise, I thought it might be a good opportunity to consolidate some small debt under a new account. Usually new accounts offer a short period to opt for fee-free or reduced fees on balance transfers with a reduced percentage or 0% introductory interest rates.

In this case, I was especially feeling good about my option since I already had credit with Capital One and was understanding this to be an offer to consolidate my two smaller cards into a single account, with room to grow. (Yikes… With better terms and perhaps a second shrubbery, to create a two-level effect.)[1]


This was not my old friends at Capital One. No. This offer, as it turns out, came from Credit One, which is not only a sound alike company, but also a look-a-like company, since their logo (which is what I really had noticed) is damn close to that of my current creditor. Check it out:

Capital One vs Credit One

Well, the new cards arrived (one for me, one for the espousa). I was shocked to find the offer was only for a $1,000 line of credit and carried a truckload of fees. The paperwork enclosed stated that if I did not activate the cards, the account would be terminated. So, I let things rest as-is.

Today I got a statement from Credit One Bank with a balance of $100.95 and $25 minimum due. Yikes again. The fees included an account initiation fee, a second card fee and a fee for choosing the card design I wanted. Now, I don’t have a totally cuddly relationship with Capital One Both my accounts have relatively small yearly fees, but I do know they will allow me to pick a damn card design and a second card for no extra charge.

Anyway, the good news is they actually did allow me to cancel the account prior to activation, and owe nothing. I called Capital One and gave them a heads up on my mistake. They said they are well aware of the common error but its clearly deceptive name and logo are considered different enough to be legal.

[1] In case you don’t get the reference:

Accidental Movie Watching

MoviesWell, I guess the title doesn’t say it all. It could mean when you are flipping channels and are about to hit the hay, when you stumble on something that looks vaguely interesting… And you wind up watching an entire movie. Has it happened to you? I’ve done it a lot. In this case, I mean confusing one movie with another, usually because of a key word or similar words in film titles. This too, I have done a lot.

One time, my friend Frank Moraes and my brother, Marlo, were going to a movie and asked if I’d like to go. They were headed to see something at the discount theater, which showed 2nd (3rd?) run movies and classics, for cheap. In this instance, they were going to see something called Blue Velvet. I wasn’t that interested in seeing a horse movie. No, you are correct: Blue Velvet is not a horse movie. I was mistaking it for being something along the lines of National Velvet or Black Beauty. Well, I went. I was entranced. I was shocked. And, to an extent, disappointed. Did I mention I have done that a lot?

Such was the case last night—late at night. At first things went the other way… I began to watch The Yellow Wallpaper, and the first three minutes confirmed it indeed was a story, of the same title, I was forced to read in college. (“Hey, layoff… I went for a few years.”) I stopped that one and fumbled through the selection for something that sounded familiar but which I had not seen, or fully seen.

I found it. The Woman in Black. That’s it. I always wanted to know more, some of the hypothetical aspect would be nice too, of that woman, the wannabe actress, who was murdered and mutilated in the outskirts of Hollywood. Um, no. Wrong again. That most recent theatrical retelling of that story is titled, The Black Dalia, and I wound up watching a much different story.

It’s the Transitional part of my story…

When I was ten (10! Ten!), my much older, adult sister, Kathleen Maxwell Abeta-Brown (now known merely as Kathy Winters) decided the next mistaken, parent-unapproved gift for her youngest brother was to be a drastically abused console television. It was within a month or two of my birthday, one way or the other (I don’t really recall).

That was it… I was off to the races with my addiction to Abbott and Costello, Lucile Ball, and the Bowery Boys. I was the most severe television fanatic of any person I’ve known or heard of, prior to the era of 200 channels we don’t watch. I watched everything. It almost never turned off. In the mornings before school; late at night, with little or no volume. The weekends were a blur of old movies, classics or not, anything that aired within reach of our antenna.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

So, that The Woman in Black was not a dramatized murder mystery and instead was a ’40s style ghost story, was familiar, almost welcomed, territory. The review of said film is mixed. All of us go into things with preconceived notions, it’s our nature… They can work for or against you. In this case, I was pleasantly surprised, but I could understand being in the minority as this is pretty classic in its pace and level of special effects. In our gilded cages, we are accustomed to bright lights, shiny objects and over-blown special effects, especially in languishing tales of woe of the likes of Harry Potter and his friends. It seems the main character of The Woman in Black is also the lead from that movie series. It also seems that people are expecting too much of an actor struggling to free himself from type-casting.

I’m not really saying you should run out for the nearest Redbox or embark on some other pilgrimage to acquire your own copy of this movie, but given the approaching holiday, if you’d like to disturb your mate’s slumber by jumping suddenly a few times here and there, it’s not a bad way to justify it.

Crypto Locker and Other Ransomeware

CryptoLockerLet’s start this by stating the obvious: Back up all your important files, NOW! Being more specific… Just backing up your files sounds simple enough but some aspects of correctly doing so are not so obvious… and if you are competent in doing so, it’s not likely to be the case for your neighbor, family member or co-worker. Please warn them and help them with the process.

Your files that really matter to you: Taxes, spreadsheets, the photos of dead Aunt Edna (referencing N.L.’s Family Vacation), the best resume you ever wrote… All should be manually copied over to an EXTERNAL hard drive AND that drive needs to be kept a safe distance from your PC. OK, viruses of the computer varieties cannot be transmitted by mere close proximity, but they are easily spread and conveyed and can be activated/launched/etc at any inopportune moment. In other words, DO NOT keep your backup drive, or your main backup drive, connected to any of your PC’s. This is for many reasons, but above all, is the fact that any connected drive, when infections launch, will likely suffer the same damage as your primary system drive.

The worst of these malwares, right now, seems to be the famed Crypto Locker, which does actually ‘lock’ your files away with monstrously effective encryption. This means you will NOT be able to open, access, edit, print your files. Even if you are fortunate enough to eradicate the actual infection and prevent its resurfacing, any damage previously done is essentially PERMANENT! Yikes and yikes again.

As of yet, there is no fix for this infestation. No antivirus application has been shown to be effective in prevention or removal. Articles about Crypto Locker really started to crop up in September of this year, 2013. Now, in late October, the stuff has really hit the fan.

The term Ransomeware refers to any malwayre which demands funds to correct, remove or unlock your system or files. In this case, Crypto Locked files will supposedly be unlocked for you, once the proof of payment is confirmed…..but don’t count on it. Check out this safe link from BleepingComputer:

Where do we pick up computer viruses? Well, the point of infection is almost an endless list. The old way, convincing the user to download, unzip and execute files, has been replaced by drive-by infestation… visiting a polluted website or following a seemingly innocent link to say a UPS tracking number.

Other common transports of malware are media files, such as music or video downloads. It is assumed that clicking boarder adds on popular sites, such as Facebook, can lead to infestation.

I cannot promise this posting will be followed with a later one, offering a comprehensive solution. Furthermore, I don’t know if the false comfort offered by that type of information would truly be helpful. Consider this a wake-up call for your own diligence in being prepared for a worst-case scenario.

Brown vs Blue: UPS, the Last Straw

Some read “UPS” as the plural of “up,” but it is correctly read as “oops.”

There are a few things to note about UPS. OK, one of them is I really don’t like them. I think it’s only fair to begin with that statement, since it is not really my plan to try giving them an unbiased review, in this writing.

Most of my adult life, job wise, I have found myself working in customer service and shipping.

I’m not a particularly fast worker. I do my best, but because of my inability to assemble miniature artificial trees at an acceptable rate, I was offered a position as a shipper, for the same company where I was interviewing for a production job.

Years later, at the now defunct startup BroadLink Communications, on my first day of work, I received a package from UPS. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a package BC had shipped to a customer a month prior. I researched the tracking information (which, at the time, provided much more info than they do today). Not only did the shipment never reach the customers address, it never even visited their state. Instead, I was provided with the grand tour of the US, which the package had underwent… visiting no less than 10 UPS facilities spread across 8 states, until it finally made it to the address they had entered as its destination: BroadLink Communications, its point of origin. Nice.

Years later I worked purchasing, shipping and receiving audio/visual equipment, which largely was installed in hospitals. I would get urgent requests for a replacement unit, managers screaming at me over the phone. I’d say to my boss, “the route isn’t there for another week, I can get a delivery there in two days, via UPS.” He would shake his head and tell me no way could I get a small tv to the (SF) East Bay, 35 miles away, in one piece using UPS. Over some time, I boxed with excess padding; I double-boxed; I even triple boxed one unit….and all I accomplished was proving Mr. White correct. I am an awesome shipper, but I could not get the men in brown to deliver a single electronic shipment, via 2-Day Blue, intact, over a 35 mile distance. Why ship a product 2nd-day delivery, over a 35 mile span? Because GROUND could take 3-4 days to make it across the bay…….about a 40 minute drive. Something also worthy note is, in general, if you buy 3-day delivery, it makes it there in three days. Never two. This is frustrating.

Over the years I have shipped many products, ebay sales etc. I have, in the process, become very fond of the people in blue, your United States Postal Service (USPS). Despite all disparaging remarks about USPS regarding inefficiency, incompetence, laziness etc., I have been beyond satisfied with their service, both shipping domestic and international. I have entrusted them with fly-fishing poles, expensive camera (telephoto) lenses, children’s acoustic guitars, glass ornaments and the ever popular Beanie Babies. They have NEVER lost, misplaced, delayed or damaged one item. WOW!

Its time for me to disclose what spurred this rant. I received a package on the day I began writing this. I waited all day for my shipment, knowing UPS delivers to my apt complex twice. Sometimes three times in a day. I ran downstairs at the sound of every truck or van noise…..school buses, water deliveries etc. High priority packages, Overnight Red get here in the AM. Blue 2nd-day sometimes do too. But if your package is arriving via Ground, enjoy the wait, especially if you are receiving at a residential address.

Tracking Number: 1Z3F07V74202253498
Delivery Time: 7:07 PM
Delivery Location: RESIDENTIAL

UPS, when you absolutely have nothing better to do with your day!

Aerospace, Newsgroups, and Sports

Rocket News

I think it’s only natural to be drawn to some things. Most things we find alluring, we are supposed to feel guilty or ashamed of…
Mostly, I am referring to common vices.
Al Gore, whether he was a contributor to the advent of the internet or not, was not likely a player in the elements which really spurred on the growth of it: Vices.

Some of us were users of online life prior to any graphical interface being layed over it. Everything was text and most of the ‘net was in the form of UseGroups or Newgroups, sometimes called Usenet.
My understanding is, its pretty much gone, that raw form. But tonight I ran across a smidgeon of what once was and my participation in it. Ever search for yourself? I did.

As a substitute for actually gambling on sports, me and some other guys used to participate in an exercise of futility called RGS. I don’t recall what the name stood for, but it was myself and some aerospace engineers who fancied themselves Sports Handicappers. You found online ‘lines’ for sporting events of your choosing and risked imaginary funds in an ego-driven contest for manhood.

I searched for RGS and my handle, Kimba1964 and found this entry from 2009. Though way before the time of this communication, the web had become graphically fancy, many of us old dudes still liked the old ways of doing things. Indeed, nowadays ‘groups’ are long destroyed by spam and trafficking of illegal files and, as a result, provider after provider has been cutting off all direct access to them. Here’s a sample of the RGS group format and my final entry:

rec.gambling.sports ›
Gerald wins the RGS Baseball Week 9 Contest
Hash: SHA1

Updated through Sunday, June 7

Gerald won the Week 9 Contest and $250 had been added to his total.

Player Previous June 7 Current Week Month BOTW?

Kimba $7269 3-2, +$314 $7583 4-9, -$128 4-9, -$128 Y
Gerald $6586 1-0, +$100 $6936 7-6, +$ 73 7-6, +$ 73 N
Gary $4523 0-0, +$ 0 $4523 0-0, $ 0 0-0, $ 0 N

June 7:

W +$ 80 TOR -1.5 rl, -125 play of the month //NO SUCH THING AS POM
W +$186 nym -108 play of the day
L -$100 CWS -119
W +$248 SF -121 play of the week
L -$100 LAD -121
3-2, +$314

W +$100 Oakland Athletics -114
1-0, +$100

Weekly Contest Winners (+$250 bonus):
Week 1: Gerald 9-5 +$506
Week 2: Kimba 7-3,+$412
Week 3: Kimba 13-9,+$505
Week 4: Gerald 3-2,+$ 48
Week 5: Gerald 5-3,+$256
Week 6: Gerald 1-0,+$100
Week 7: Kimba 13-10,+$136
Week 8: Kimba 8-2,+$678
Week 9: Gerald 7-6,+$ 73
Week 10: (pending)

Monthly Contest Winners: (+$500 bonus)
April: Gerald 13-5,+$938
May : Kimba 32-26 +$149
June : (pending)

Player Notes:
Kimba: Always to risk (e.g., -110 = risk $100 to win $91)
Gary : Always listed pitchers
Gerald: Always action, unless specified; Always Pinnacle, unless specified

Version: GnuPG v1.4.9 (MingW32)


RGS Baseball CONTEST -My Participation

Usenet is being dumped by at&t
we are also likely going homeless in 2-3 weeks, sans a miracle……so the
point be moot.
Been nice playing with you guys over the years. I will have this for a
couple days more……please feel free to write me via my old email:
kimb…@yahoo.com and be sure to include RGS in the title, so that msgs
could be found……….would be interested in knowing if there are any
truely FREE third party news access servers.

Will likely also be dumping my domain: www.BestWager.info which i have
owned for something like 6 years.

Got three little ones and a mrs to worry about……and the shelters are not
accepting anyone.



Why this exchange of notes has been preserved by the web, when almost no other traces exist? Who knows… But herein, I pay homage to what was the basis of what we take for granted.

Where Have All the Channels Gone?

Comcast - I love how this pic looks like a billAs consumers increasingly turn away from cable, cable tightens the noose on those skating by…

-By “cable” I specifically mean Comcast.

-By “those skating by” I mean those who have the most basic internet access at home and somehow, by default, have a very limited access to cable service (called “limited basic” by Comcast personnel).

For many years, those who subscribed to a basic level of cable-based internet have found, that if they connected a digital tv and did a channel search, they had something they weren’t supposed to have, for “free.”

Just recently, in the San Francisco northbay and many other regions of the US, Comcast has put an end to the freeloading.

The access was very basic, only allowing a handful of English-speaking networks. Mostly, what you would get as free broadcast, if you were close enough to the nearest major population (MSA).

In theory, we are close enough to San Francisco to get free television broadcasts, but the surrounding terrain make the signal impossible to pull in from 39.5 miles away.

What you are left with is a couple channels carrying FM audio and a very annoying video of a 20-something Comcast Rep telling you about how they have made service changes in your area to streamline your cost-effective options.

Comcast… Thanks for making me consider signing a contract… with satellite service.

Joel LaGrou isn’t on Facebook

Joel at HomeIn my late teen years, my girlfriend Edy and I were not allowed at each others homes. Make of that what you will. So, we spent most of our time hanging out alongside a jogging path and workout course that wound around one of the urban creeks of Rohnert Park.

Among those we met there were Linda and Joel LaGrou. Joel was 7 or 8 years old and Linda was his 30-something mother. Joel’s mom was a student at Sonoma State University and a single parent. She was studying towards a Psych-Tech certificate of some sort, allowing her to work at Sonoma Developmental Center (Sonoma State Hospital).

Joel was whip-smart. I taught him how to play chess (not that I’m much of a chess player, as I don’t use or believe in en passant). In only a few games he was challenging my skill level and soon forcing stalemate and then beating me.

There were some times we lost touch for a year or two, but Linda did become a Psych-Tech and Joel did well in High School and took up saxophone.

We then lost touch for a few years… phone numbers and addresses changed… and I later re-met JL… when he was panhandling in Old Courthouse Square of downtown Santa Rosa. At that point Joel was going by the name of Smiley. I saw and spoke with Smiley over a few months in the summer of 1998 before he, again, vanished.

I’ve looked for my old friend many times. I’ve watched for him every time I am downtown in Santa Rosa. Frank Moraes, my wife, and the aforementioned Edy Giem have all heard me speak fondly of Joel—with not unfounded concern.

My search continued online. I found no record of his death (only that of his mom, Linda)… even looking for familiar descriptions in John Doe listings.
And, of course, there were attempts on Facebook. I was hoping he finally got SSI and was somehow online.

Today, Joel/Smiley/My old friend, found me…in a Dollar Tree store. I spoke to the odd looking person first. The stranger had an unusual assortment of items and I suggested picking up their new pack of mini screwdrivers, which the shopper found of great interest.

At the checkout, he asked me that thing my wife has grown to dread, “isn’t your name Will?”

Me at Joel's place

He’s going by Joel again. He said the street name thing associates him with gangs, in the eyes of the police… and that police is something he has dealt with quite a bit, these past 15 years. Well, those were the intelligible things that were said. Lots of catch phrases and facial contortions I had known his mother to be plagued with… patterns I am familiar with through the multitude of mental patients I have met in my use of public transit. So, when Mr. LaGrou told me he has a place to stay and I am welcome to come over, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Then again, when he led me to his home under a bridge, I was not surprised.

This story has a bi-line of the pending closure of the last of the mental hospitals in California. The facility here in Sonoma County, Sonoma State Hospital, is where Joel’s mother eventually worked and where he has stayed himself, from time to time. Now, those who are not judged dangerous enough to keep locked up (criminally insane) and who don’t qualify for group homes or independent living, may be driven to find their own bridge, gully, hovel, cardboard shanty…

I am not arguing that locking up men, who find themselves as lost in society as they are in their minds, is the answer or even an answer. I don’t think I can provide a weightful opinion in the matter. I just feel that such closures limits the levels and types of support and treatment that can be prescribed.

This writing and photos are included with verbal permission by subject himeself, Joel LaGrou. I love him, miss him and hope someday he is truly found.

…Add Cheese

Taco BellI am mildly curious about my recent ‘fast food’ encounters. Twice, recently, I have been at the final stages of a transaction at a fast food counter… fumbling for those last few coins or an additional bill to pay the total. The first of the two events occurred at Taco Bell, across from Walmart in Rohnert Park, CA. After the morning rush of taking our younglings to their schools, my wife and I found ourselves aimlessly driving and eventually agreeing to try an item from the AM menu and said “restaurant.” We ordered in the facility at the counter and our total was in the 5 or 6 dollar range. At the aforementioned precipice of the transaction, my pocket scurry was cut short by the counter person stating, “It’s okay, don’t worry about a few cents; I adjusted your price for a Senior discount.” I found that odd. (I had just turned a ripe 49, the day before.)

McDonald'sTonight, I was again at the same Walmart… and I was hungry… and wanting of somethingish… but did not want to complete the purchase of a random chip-bag and reshelved the colorful curiosity… then made a bee-line to the in-store Mickey D’s; ordered the diet edition of a name brand dark liquid and something to wash it down with…. and, once again, found myself in the forlorn fumble of those who still engage in the use of cash. And once again, the (em)pathetic employee bid me assurance that the transaction could be concluded sans the presence of the full monetary amount. This time I stood temporarily firm in my assertion that I did indeed have the funds and would take but a moment to produce them… but was told it was only a matter of a few cents (19 to be exact) and the difference, of that and my contribution, was negligible. Okay, two strikes against me in the karma war.

I can’t help but ponder a few things relating to this phenomena… Are the employees sometimes contributing to the till on my behalf? Are the prices negotiable? Isn’t anyone’s job at risk? Is it bad for me to accept unneeded help? How common an occurrence is this price-fixing and where does management fit into this scheme?

McDonald'sMostly, I have found myself, in reflection, thinking back to a time when I was a new transplant to Minnesota. Mankato, Minnesota, to be exact. One day, in my first week or so of residing there, I was out on foot exploring and looking for work opportunities. Also, I was lost. I was returning from what I understood to be downtown (later found out it was Old Town or the old downtown) where I had been unsuccessful in both my quest for finding work and in pawning (read selling) an ex-girlfriends ex-husbands gold wedding band. I had not a dollar on me, but I had a pocket full of change. Well, not exactly full. As I happened across a Wendy’s, I decided to go in and find something temporarily filling. In the pre-economic crunch, I found out the coinage I had fell just short of their cheapest item, with tax. In fact, the only item on the menu in my price range was add cheese. Though initially disheartened, I found some assurance in this latter discovery and attempted the purchase, only to be denied. It seems, you cannot purchase just the upgrade. No adjustment or offer was made to the guy with the California accent.

(re-edited for Bob Portlock)

Gateway SX2802-07 DVD Eject Button


What we’ve got here (is failure to communicate! sorry) …
is the uncooperative DVD (optical drive) button on a Gateway SX2802-07, which can be easily fixed.

This unit does not want to eject a DVD and it has nothing to do with the functionality of the drive itself, it has to do with the way the button Eject button on the chassis is made. This is what the inside of the front panel looks like, on the portion which is of concern to us:


What I did was take the button out (carefully), take similar plastic from a VHS tape housing and glue a small flat piece to the angled end of the button. Then used nail clippers to trim it down to size and a jewelers file to shape and smooth it, to wind up with an 8th inch extension of the button end, so it looks like this:


If you try this repair, be very careful not to snap off any tabs inside the panel and not to lose the springs that make the button stay up.

Short Entry of Tech Thoughts


If your OS loads from CD only part way (yes, some of us still use discs), then hitting several errors about loading drivers or files…… very often it is a mismatch of Master-Slave relationship on the optical drive(s). CS (Cable Select) option is an easy way to set these up, sometimes…. but some cables and drives just don’t work right together, in this mode.

No video at startup……machine you just worked on not sending display? Often we find this to be a ram issue. While most boards will send error beeps, several models -including HP DX2400 series PC’s- just don’t……. they take a more passive approach, not starting all the way. Check the ram for proper seating and type.

No video after changing video card. Many possible answers here….This is far from a complete checklist, but some of the things to check:
-Used/bad video card? Try a known/spare card.
-Bios setting, making sure the slot you are using is set as an active or preferred video output (which can be done, of course, only if you have video during bios)
-Ram/board not syncing with new card…. try full reset of bios to default. This does NOT only mean taking the CR2032 out. Google ‘bios reset.’ This is more common than you might think.
-Wrong card specs for board/slot. This was a big issue with 4x/8x etc AGP boards and slots.
IF the system has on-board video, please back track, simplify and make sure that feature works.
I’ve seen this problem go from days to weeks. You have your work cut out for you.