Illegal System DLL Relocation – Burned by Windows Updates Again!

Use the above link if you get:

Illegal System DLL Relocation

The system DLL user32.dll was relocated in memory

Apparently, a recent Windows XP security update was buggy (no, really?). So QuickBooks and a host of other programs are crashing now. Are we having fun yet?

Even though I have done a lot of programming in my day, I just can’t comprehend how there can be so many bugs still left in a 6 year old operating system like Windows XP that will allow a hacker to take complete control of your PC.

Shucks, when the owner of the PC tries to take complete control, Windows usually crashes!

Maybe you’ll like this video “honoring” Bill Gates accomplishments:

Who Loves Money? – Na, Just the Things that Money Can Buy!

Two themes I get barraged with over and over.

  1. “You emphasize money too much”
  2. “Tell me what you think of this laptop”

(I’m tempted here to do the “Hello, McFly!” thing from Back To The Future, but my loving wife tells me I over due it.)

I fully understand why people keep asking me about cheap laptops. Day after Day. Hoping my answer will change.

Here’s the answer:

  • AMD Processor – not bad in and of itself, just an indicator that the manufacturer is cutting every corner possible.
  • 5400 RPM hard drive – “Oh, that’s Ok.” They say now. “Is there any way I can speed this clunker up?” Is what they ask 2 months later. (Buy a 7200 rpm hard drive – no exceptions – until 10,000 rpm are available, that is.)
  • 1 year warranty, mail in no less – Do you really want to have to box up the laptop and ship it, insured – then wait 2 weeks to get it back? What are you going to say in 13 months when it dies and the repair estimate for your $600 laptop is $800?
  • Shared RAM and Vista Home Basic – How many times will you ask why your Vista doesn’t have the cool Aero interface like everybody else’s? Or where the convenient Scheduled Backup feature is? (It’s in Home Premium and above.)
  • If all this is really what you want, then buy it. But PLEASE don’t call on me to fix it or “speed it up”.

But I empathize with them

They don’t have a money tree! They work for the man, day in, day out, and watch their expenses go up faster than their salary. Yes, this is despite what the liars, I mean bureaucrats, tell us the rate of inflation is. We know better. Unlike Rudy Giuliani, we do shop at the grocery store and know what everything costs.

According to Michael Masterson, who writes ETR, making more money is the answer

Well, I’ve looked into Michael’s advice. And you know what? Maybe he’s right.

I came across something this morning that looks like it might really fit the bill:

Who Loves Money – Zero Investment Marketing Techniques

It’s an ebook due out May 1, 2007. The research I’ve done on the two guys who authored it is pretty impressive. I’m going to check it out, maybe it’s right for you too.

Who Loves Money eBook

Who loves money? Not me. But I sure do like the things money can buy. Like a decent laptop.

RAID – Is It Worth It?

You might have noticed a lot of motherboards and complete systems touting onboard RAID controllers for data protection.

Evidenced by some of the newsgroup posts I have seen lately, it is generating interest in buyers.

But is RAID really worth it? Now, just to be clear, I am NOT referring to servers running a server operating system here. For that, we use professional RAID solutions all of the time.

What I’m referring to here is normal desktop computers being configured for either RAID 0, for performance, or RAID 1 (known as mirroring) for data redundancy.

RAID 0 will gain you an insignificant performance increase since the job of handing off data to the operating system is divided between two drives. But if the chance of a hard drive failing is 1 in 100 (I’ve seen stats indicating that 2.5 in 100 is closer to reality), RAID 0 DOUBLES the chance that you will experience a drive failure, from 1% to 2%.

With RAID 0, either hard drive failing means your data is toast. Now, with RAID 0, there is no need for a RAID monitoring utility – that is likely not provided or buggy – since you will be painfully aware when a drive fails. Of course, you won’t know which one unless it’s a total catastrophic failure.

RAID 1, on the other hand, actually has the potential to be a data saver. But it’s CRITICAL to know when one drive fails so that it can be replaced immediately. Otherwise, you become no better off than if you didn’t have RAID.

The problem is, few systems come with a reliable, bug free monitoring utility to let you know the status of the RAID system. Most of these systems will tell you when you boot up the computer, but if you leave the PC running for a particular purpose – like running your security system DVR – you don’t want to reboot to find out the status of your RAID!

Those that do come with a reliable utility, few indeed, do not jump up and down like they should to tell you of a failure. Usually it’s just a slight change in the system tray icon which most users pay little if any attention to.

I personally have gotten fed up with Promise controllers a long time ago. One of my colleagues has as well. Just not worth the hassle. The controller seems to go bad more often than a drive. Adaptec controllers are better, but the expense is horrific, and Adaptec support isn’t what it used to be either.

If you want your data secure, buy a quality hard drive to begin with, then use (sounding like a broken record here) Acronis True Image to schedule backups to another computer or a connected USB hard drive.

Acronis offers a free trial download.

How to Buy a Laptop – 7 Areas to Cut Costs

I get asked time and again how to buy a laptop. Sometimes it’s for a student, other times for an adult who just wants the freedom to roam around the house while computing.

The best advice I can give is to consult my laptop buying guide.

But what if the advice there leads me to a $2000 laptop that I can’t afford?

Simple. You make compromises. At this point, only you can decide where you are willing to skimp.

The $2000 laptop is tailored to last 3 – 4 years, with contented computing along the way. Ok, maybe you’ll have to reload Windows at the 2 year point to regain that new computer performance, but at least you can do it.

Here are 7 areas to consider for paring the cost:

  1. Overall brand quality. Not a good idea in my book. Witness previous posts about the Sony VAIO. Others on the web have had similar recommendations to avoid that one.
  2. Processor. I normally pick the fastest processor on the price/performance curve that sits right where cost starts increasing faster than performance gain. You can cheat a little here and hopefully still get 3 years from the hardware.
  3. RAM. This isn’t a bad place to save some money, because you can easily upgrade later. Just don’t go through the manufacturer; companies like DELL can really sock it to you on upgrades. Choose someplace like instead.
    Tip: Depending on price structure, getting, say 512MB in 1 DIMM now lets you add 1 more 512MB DIMM later for a total of 1GB and still make use of the 512 that came with it. If you buy 512 via 2 DIMMs, you will have to remove 1 or both DIMMs later to add more, thus throwing away value (maybe you can eBay it for a couple bucks).
  4. Screen. Older eyes might prefer the lower resolution of a less expensive screen. Most laptops have 1 or maybe 2 native resolutions that actually look good. These are fairly high resolutions that many over 40, especially women, find difficult to read. Dell’s WSXGA is as good of screen as WSXGA+ or WUXGA, just lower resolution. Compare before you buy!
  5. Hard Drive. Go smaller if you like, but don’t go slower. 7200rpm or faster (faster not available as of this writing) is all you want to consider. End of discussion, don’t listen to anyone else.
  6. Video card. For strictly business usage on Windows XP, you can save a little here. If you are doing a lot of graphics work, watching movies, or expect to use Windows Vista with the Aero interface, I wouldn’t advise skimping here.
  7. Warranty. This is your call. See my post on CompleteCare. Repairs are expensive; do you ordinarily self-insure? Computer hardware has a nasty habit of dying within 30 days of warranty expiration – call it Murphy’s Law if you like.

There you have it!

The choice is yours. Choose wisely!

Laptop Warranty Anyone? CompleteCare if you dare!

When it comes to computer warranty, I expect to see a minimum of 3 years on everything. When it comes to a laptop computer, I want the warranty to last as long as I expect the unit to be in service.

Why? Repairs are just too expensive – and too likely to be needed. (Especially if a student under age 30 is involved.)

Here there is a connection to why I don’t think too much of big box stores, as I have previously written. Usually they offer a low, low price with very little warranty; and usually a crummy laptop besides. After you add the cost of a decent warranty, you could have bought a nice Dell.

Dell offers a comprehensive warranty package called “CompleteCare”. What this does is cover the laptop against abuse that you yourself impose upon it – like dropping it, spilling on it or leaving it in a cold or hot vehicle. No, the normal warranty won’t cover that stuff.

One recent incident where a client wished they had purchased completecare came after an employee used the laptop at home, on a desk, with a 100 watt bulb in a flex-head lamp poised right on top of the screen.

The next day he noticed that not only was there visible melting of the top of the case, but the screen had a 1 inch black stripe extending from top to bottom just under the melted spot.

Repair cost? $759 for JUST THE PARTS. Labor is extra.

Worth the cost of repair for a 2 year old laptop? Not hardly. Either use it with an external monitor for the rest of its life or junk it.

CompleteCare costs more, but you decide if it’s worth it to you. From time to time, CompleteCare can be as inexpensive as $79 more.

USB Flash Drive – Rough & Rugged now available

I’ve long been a fan of Corsair memory products, but I’ve never really taken a look at their USB Flash Drives before.

Not everyone makes multiple copies of their backups as I recommend. But even if you do and you put all of the copies in the same location, such as a cold or hot car, beware that the same adverse condition can effect them all.

CD’s are not immune to very cold or very hot temperatures, neither are hard drives, flash media isn’t either. That doesn’t mean they’ll be destroyed each and every time they are subjected to hot, cold, or maybe being dropped; just don’t count on it.

Now I see that Corsair, a trusted source for PC memory, has a USB flash drive designed to take a lot of punishment.

Thought you might want to take a look. Here’s a link to a 4GB model at, one of my favorite places for picking up items such as flash memory.

Acronis True Image – Saves the Day Again

I wrote the other day about the Sony VAIO laptop with Vista Home Premium loaded, but no support for Windows XP.

As it turns out, I actually formatted the hard drive and installed XP before I discovered that Sony had no drivers. Sounds stupid, maybe, but it just never occurred to me that a company like Sony wouldn’t have XP drivers for a new laptop. By the way, this means you would NOT see this laptop used to any extent in Corporate America – one big clue to whether you want to own it or not.

It also turns out that Sony provides no recovery CD; just a recovery partition that I had also removed. From forum posts on the web, I found that one isn’t even available from Sony! (Is this a company you want to buy hardware from?)

Other forum posters who had done what I did now have an expensive doorstop. Pretty useless.

Me? Just so happens that before I did anything to the laptop I took an image of the entire drive, recovery partition and all, with Acronis True Image.

So, I plugged in the USB drive, inserted the Acronis boot CD, rebooted and restored. Good as new… as good as that is.

For more details on Acronis True Image, look here.

Flash Memory – Corruption With Low Camera Battery

Flash memory in cameras is fantastic. However, the only times I have experienced corrupt data (pictures) on flash memory is when the camera has started indicating low battery but we kept taking pictures anyway.

Fortunately, pictures can be salvaged from corrupt flash memory. Here’s how.

Don’t chance it. When the battery starts indicating it’s low, change it or charge it. Might save you a couple bucks and a lot of frustration.

Best Buy and other Big Box Stores – Just say “No”

Maybe I need to start a series for “Just Say No”.

I have long beat the drum to avoid buying computers at Best Buy and other Big Box stores. Sure it’s cheap, but most times you get what you pay for.

Latest incident is a client who, a couple of year ago – before meeting me, bought a garbage laptop from Best Buy. It was nothing but trouble from day one.

This laptop would overheat and lock up. Best Buy was unable to fix.

Finally, it was junk, so it was set aside. For whatever reason, the client dug through receipts and found that he had, after all, purchased an extended warranty. (Remember, junk like this usually carries the tail light guarantee of 90 days to 1 year.) Naturally, after you purchase the extended warranty, it’s no longer cheap!

So Best Buy offered this client anything off of the shelf for $750 or less (first clue as to quality). He picked a nice looking Sony Vaio laptop loaded with Vista Home Premium. Great. this is for the office network, not home entertainment. Neither of the “Home” versions of Vista are able to join a Windows domain.

My advice? Ebay. Take the money and buy a decent laptop. Learn how here.

Cleaning Pays

This morning I was at a Doctor’s office where the computer system was a complete afterthought. No central “data” room, not even a central location for the cabling to hub together. (Which was quite confusing to the phone guy there to install a couple more data runs.)

Since just the other day the Doctor had to pay me to come and find a power plug kicked loose by someone’s feet under the reception desk where the wireless routers, cable modem and Fortinet Firewall were all stuck in the same area as a no longer used data mux to another office, he was in a mood to pay me to straighten things up.

Everything no longer used was ripped out, what is being used was protected as much as possible and tidied up.

The payoff? Besides the hope of not having to pay me to find a kicked power cord soon, I also found a check for $662.89 that no one even knew was missing. That made his day on the one hand, how it was able to get lost without being notice was quite troubling on the other hand.

I love found money.