Today I received a box containing the replacement PC for my wife. I got a really great deal on a refurbished HP Desktop with a quad core AMD processor, 8Gb of memory and a 750Gb drive from

I’d been waiting about a week for it to get here, and my poor wife has been limping along on my slowly dying laptop in the meantime. I suspect that it’s about to die, as it has become painful just to start up a browser or read email.

The UPS lady arrived at my door shortly before 5pm, and told me that she had heard a crash from the back of the truck in the morning. At first she thought someone had been drinking in the truck: she smelled beer.

As it turned out, a box containing beer had fallen and was leaking in the truck. She showed me the bottom of my package was wet, and said I could refuse the shipment and have her take it back.

I figured that it would probably be OK, since they usually pack things like desktops pretty well (in plastic and foam), so I asked her if I’d be able to send it back after looking inside. She told me that she could come by tomorrow and pick it up and gave me her supervisor’s number.

I opened the box and found that there didn’t appear to be any dampness or liquid inside (so far so good). But then when I actually pulled the desktop out, the front panels were all poked out, and the Styrofoam pieces were broken.

Now I figured that it would be just my luck that it would work initially and then start having weird problems caused by having been dropped. So I decided to send it back, and I called the number the UPS lady had given me.

Her supervisor told me I had to call the shipper and have them make a claim, that they couldn’t return the box once it had been opened. So I called TigerDirect to get a return label and see if they could ship a replacement.

The return part was easy, they sent a link to my email. Interestingly enough though, during the order process, they had offered me a $5 discount for using Google Checkout, and that meant they couldn’t just ship a replacement out. The customer service rep told me they could process a new order and give me free next-day shipping, but it would require a new order.

After looking at the inventory, the machine I had ordered was the last one of that model, and they offered me something that looked similar in price. I looked at the things that were available and decided to wait, so I’m back on the hunt for my replacement desktop.

Maybe somebody is trying to tell me something, this hunt for a new computer has been painful, maybe I should just look for another Mac

This month has been a bad one for me and computers. First my MacBook Pro died (due to a video card that had been recalled), and then my desktop PC decided to fall over dead.

The Mac failure was another study in why I love Apple service: The video just died one day, no screen, external monitor wouldn’t work. Since a Mac has a real operating system (Mac OS X – a Unix variant), I was able to determine that the machine was actually still working by connecting from my desktop PC using ssh.

I did a bit of system administration black magic, and turned on the remote desktop service (see or for a writeup of how), and was able to connect to my MBP using VNC. That allowed me to validate things were working, and to make sure I had a current backup before doing anything else.

A quick call to Apple’s support desk, and the helpful tech looked up the problem, found there was a recall on the video logic board for certain MBP systems, and walked me through a few things to validate it wasn’t just user error. He gave me a case number, told me to go to the Apple store, and have them check for the recall.

So I made an appointment at the store, got there a little early, and waited for that piece. In a reasonably short time, my “Genius” was testing my MBP for the recall issue, and sure enough that was the problem. Next a few minutes as he got the RMA set up, inspected the machine (noting that there was a small ding on the case), and asked me if I wanted it shipped back to my home address. The usual disclaimer about “if we can’t fix it, we might charge you $100 for looking at it”, and it was off to the races.

A couple of days later, I get a call from the Apple Repair Center. The guy on the phone tells me that yes, the recall is covered, but it appears the machine was dropped (which it was many moons ago), and there are all sorts of things that need to be replaced to bring the machine back to factory specs. This all comes with a price tag of $1,200 … Once I recovered my breath, I tell him “but at the store they said all I needed was the recall”. He tells me that, yes that would give me a working machine, and they could probably have fixed it at the store, but since it’s at the repair center they have to apply quality to it.

I tell the guy I’m not in a position to come up with the $1,200 right now, so can he ship it back to the store and let them do the repair. At this point, he tells me, that since I’ve been nice, and since I’m a good customer, he’s going to waive the fee. So Apple basically solidifies my glowing opinion of their service, and I get what for all intents and purposes is a brand new MacBook Pro.

I’m so relieved that this didn’t happen with my wife’s PC …..

Murphy’s law bites me again …

…. But while my MBP was off for service, I revived an old laptop I have for backup purposes. I had it almost completely configured when I got my MBP back. Then, a few days ago, my desktop PC (a Sony) crashed.

I go to the Sony web site, and do one of those instant chat sessions, and through a little back and forth, the chat agent tells me it is either a bad video card, or my memory has gone bad. In either case, it will require service. Now the wheels start spinning, because I know how much video cards cost, and I know I’ll have to pay a few hundred bucks just to get somebody to look at the machine (no Genius bar to bring my Sony to).

In the old days I would have just replaced the video card and memory with spares, but since I’m greener (and don’t really work on hardware any more) these days, I don’t keep things like that around. So now I have a useless desktop, with an unknown problem, with 500Gb of data that I can’t get to. Worse, the Sony has a RAID card, so I’m not sure the disks will be readable  except in that machine (it’s really 2x250Gb).

So I’m still trying to figure out what to do to recover the PC, but I’m guessing that will wait for a while …

Restoring my wife’s PC

Luckily for me, I had rebuilt my spare laptop, so I’m able to get the most important files onto my spare laptop, and within a few hours, it’s happily driving my big Gateway monitor (with Quicken and email files restored).

This is possible because of two backup strategies: Quicken online backup (which is a remarket of Connected Backup), and Microsoft Live Mesh.

I’ve used the Connected product ever since I learned about it while working at Cisco. They use the enterprise version, and it does a great incremental backup of your PC, that helped me recover accidental deleted files more than once. For a few bucks a month, the home version does the same thing for a few gig of data.

Live Mesh on the other hand, is a synchronization tool, that is a bit like the old Microsoft Briefcase on steroids. You mark a folder as being a Live Mesh folder, and it gets replicated to the Microsoft cloud. You can then synchronize that folder across systems, and even share it with other users. I created Live Mesh folders for all of my web site work as a way to share files with my clients, and to keep data on my Mac and PC in synch.

What I hadn’t really realized was that I was in effect getting a backup with this as well. I simply shared the folders to my backup laptop, and voila, I had all of my important data back and ready to update. For me, this is one more bit of evidence that there will continue to be interesting applications brought about by the cloud: I hadn’t really thought of Live Mesh as a backup strategy, and it lacks the versioning piece, but in a pinch it’ll do.