Watchdog: March 2008

Nathan Edwards

Chanel, watchdog of the month

Fuzzy Math

A dog pound full of readers barked that the Dog used some bad math in his February column that took iPodMechanic.com to task for its handling of Esther Wheat’s iPod repair. To sum up, the Dog called iPodMechanic.com on the carpet for recycling Wheat’s iPod without giving her a chance to reclaim it. The Dog also chided iPodMechanic.com for not honoring its 180-day warranty policy. The problem, readers pointed out, is that the dates the Dog reported (December 8, 2006–June 16, 2007) add up to 190 days (or 183 or 191, depending on which reader you ask), which is just outside of Wheat’s 180-day warranty.

What went wrong? Rather than breaking out a calendar and a pen (which is difficult for someone with paws), the Dog relied on an Internet time calculator, which either had a burp or, possibly, the Dog got distracted by a Frisbee and entered the wrong dates. Wheat, who did receive a replacement for her recycled iPod, maintains that the dates iPodMechanic used for her warranty period are not correct, that she was within the 180-day period, and that the warranty was not the main issue concerning her experience with the company.

Although the Dog stands by his assertion that iPodMechanic.com erred when it recycled Wheat’s iPod without giving her a chance to get it back, he obviously erred on the warranty times and apologizes to iPodMechanic.com for that error. Woof.

KillerPings.com Killed

We have been renting Halo game servers and a TeamSpeak voice chat server from KillerPings.com for the past two or three years. The pings were always some of the lowest and the service was excellent; our primary Halo server has been ranked in the top 10 in the world for quite a while.

Back in mid-November, we paid for another three months of service. Unfortunately, only a day or two after that, many customers’ servers went offline (including ours), reportedly due to a massive hardware failure. I figured, “Fine, that could happen to anyone.” Because of our past good experience with KillerPings, I trusted that the company would fix the situation, even though it was taking a long time and its customer support seemed to be too busy to respond as quickly as it used to.

Over the following several weeks, KillerPings moved some servers to its “partner,” Art of War Central, but said the billing would remain with KillerPings. Our server has not worked since the move, and I suspect it is because of a misconfiguration.

But that’s not the worst of it. Around 10 p.m. on January 1, 2008, all servers still hosted by KillerPings went offline, and the company’s website says it has been suspended by its ISP. Happy New Year, indeed! Several customers have posted on various forums that KillerPings packed up and disappeared, taking everyone’s money. Other customers report that the contact information has been changed, but a Google search for KillerPings pulls up an unofficial support page put together by customers. Someone mentioned that PayPal has a claim process that allows you to recover your payments. I tried this, but since my claim was placed 47 days after my payment, PayPal automatically closed the claim (PayPal’s site says you should file a claim within 45 days). Still, I emailed PayPal support asking them to reinstate the claim, but I don’t know if they will do anything.

What happened to KillerPings? And more importantly, what recourse do we have at this point? Are we out the $130 we paid KillerPings back in November or is there still some way to recover it?

— Rob Zerr


Rob, after much gumshoeing, KillerPings.com’s disappearance is still a mystery, but the Dog has discovered that the company has left perhaps a few hundred customers in the lurch.

On New Year’s Eve, one of the owners of KillerPings, Chuck Lowney, showed up at the company’s Chicago co-location provider, Gigenet.com and began disconnecting its servers.

An employee stopped Lowney and police were called to the office as well. About 15 servers were left in place as collateral. KillerPings.com, according to Gigenet.com, is behind on its bills to the tune of about $26,000.

According to Steve Phallen, owner of Art of War Central, his company had agreed to take on some of KillerPings.com customers after the company had a hardware failure. Phallen said he had also been in talks to buy KillerPings
and was prepared to cut a check when the company simply shut down and all of its customer data was lost.

“We would have liked to have added it to our business,” Phallen told the Dog. “We don’t know what happened, but the whole thing just sort of fell apart over there.” Phallen says he doesn’t understand why the owners of KillerPings.com didn’t just sell the company to him. Phallen went on to say that the 80 or 100 KillerPings.com customers still being hosted on Art of War Central hardware will be contacted and offered a chance to sign up with his company.

The possible sale of KillerPings.com also came as a surprise to former employee Tom Smith, who told the Dog that he had no idea the company was in trouble. Smith, who also runs the game support site Alliedwarclans.com, said that if KillerPings.com’s owners knew they were going to shut down the company, why not let the employees and its customers know in advance so they could back up their files first?

Smith said many people lost gigabytes of custom maps, websites, and customized server scripts when KillerPings.com folded. Even worse, some customers are unable to move their domains away from KillerPings.com.

“I’m really pissed off at the way they treated their customers,” said Smith, who also said he believes the company was still processing new orders in December as things were falling apart. Smith went on to say that as far as he knew, the business was going well, and he estimated the company had close to 1,000 clients at one point. He said the owners had invested in custom applications and had just finished doing a redesign of the site. Support had been top notch and the pings were truly killer. Smith said KillerPings.com did have a setback when Electronic Arts did not select it as one of the companies to host ranked Battlefield 2142 servers. The company also didn’t make the cut to host ranked servers for Enemy Territory: Quake Wars either.

Smith hasn’t had any contact with the owners of the company since the meltdown and said the handful of other employees were also kept in the dark about a possible sale to Art of War Central. Smith said there was chatter that a falling out occurred between the owners, but no one really knows.

What do the owners have to say? Nothing. The Dog’s phone calls and emails to Lowney and co-owner Alec Kopman were not returned.

Rob, the Dog believes you are sadly out of options. Customers who paid with credit cards, however, may be able to get refunds through their credit card companies.

Reading the Fine Print

I want to warn people about Norton AntiVirus retail packs with a “three user license.” I went to install my third license last night on my mom’s PC, and it had only 43 days remaining! I contacted Symantec support only to be told that all three licenses start on the day you install the first one! How big a scam is this? According to Symantec, this policy is spelled out in the EULA. Too bad I can’t find it on the box. Long story short, I’ve got a three-user license that is totally worthless. I thought I was being a smart consumer. Shame on you, Symantec!

—Greg Garrett


The Dog spoke with Symantec officials who said that while they feel your pain, the company does actually spell out its policy quite clearly on the box. Printed on the box for a three-PC license of Norton AntiVirus 2008 is this statement: “1 YEAR PROTECTION—With this service you receive the right to use this product on one PC or on the specified number of PCs during the service period, which begins upon initial installation.”

The writing is small, but even the Dog has a problem faulting Symantec since the front of the box directs the consumer to the top of the box for more information. Just under where it says “1 year protection for up to 3 PCs per household” it also says: “See top for details.”


Got a bone to pick with a vendor? Been spiked by a fly-by-night operation? Sic the Dog on them by writing watchdog@maximumpc.com . The Dog promises to answer as many letters as possible, but only has four paws to work with.

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