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2015.06.04 The Mystery of the Disappearing Files

posted Jun 4, 2015, 4:42 PM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Jun 4, 2015, 9:38 PM ]
The tl;dr version is that it turned out to be a Windows folder network sharing problem.  While the folder in which the disappearing files was shared with everyone on the local network, the folder in which the files were originally created was not.  Somehow, in moving the files to the shared public folder, Windows "remembered" that they originated in a private folder and kept those settings.  The ultimate solution was to make that original folder public as well.

I am typing this in June of 2015, and Windows 10 is literally coming out at the end of next month.  This is amusing because I've only recently upgraded the last of the computers used by my family to Windows 7, except for that one computer still using Windows Vista which will be explained later.  We skipped Windows 8, and Microsoft is skipping Windows 9.  I mention all that because the Mystery of the Disappearing Files is similar to a known Windows 7 bug, but ultimately had a different cause.  I wonder how it all would have played out if we were using Windows 10...

2012.10.05 Windows 32 bit vs Windows 64 bit
Anyway, a long time ago (like when Windows 95 was still new and shiny) I bought a computer.  Over the years I upgraded everything multiple times.  The only original component left was the case, and I heavily modified that.

(This is to be expected, as I was one of the original case modders with my creation known by some as Blown Wood. While now pretty much every computer case has a side view window or holes for extra fans or fancy lights, we used to do these weird things ourselves, making up new technology as we went along. Or, as one pioneer in the field once said, we have a "far higher likelihood of encouraging lethal interpretive dance.")

This computer eventually ended up running Windows Vista 32 Ultimate or Professional or Bacon Ranch Edition or something like that.  It had a quad core AMD Phenom(tm) II X4 965 Processor, 4 GB of some type of RAM, an old 200 GB IDE drive, and three SATA drives ranging from 500 GB to 2 TB.  Yes, when I would install a new version of Windows, I'd install it on a new drive, then leave the old one in place as a "backup" drive.  It also had a couple of TV tuners handled by some DVR software.  That DVR software was known as SageTV.  I haven't mentioned it in a while because SageTV was bought out by Google to use in their Google Fiber TV offering and wasn't available for sale anymore.  However, it was recently announced that the original SageTV software would be released as open source, so it will soon be available again.  I highly recommend SageTV.  Note that this is not the same thing as offering to do technical support for your HTPC.

This computer was running Windows Vista 32 and relegated to the role of a media server for the rest of the house because I was not sure what effect upgrading to a newer version of Windows or a 64 bit operating system would have on the fragile collection of hardware and software that made up my homegrown DVR.  I knew from reading it directly from the manufacturer's website that if one of the TV capture devices saw the full 4 GB of RAM (32 bit Windows usually only sees about 3 GB because reasons) the drivers would choke and probably take down the rest of the system with it.  I wanted to experiment with newer versions of Windows and this whole 64 bit thing, so I bought a new computer and off I went.

The DVR computer has multiple hard disk drives where "media" is stored.  This media is (this media are?) TV shows recorded by SageTV, home videos from various cameras and recorders, ripped DVD and other movie files, and every mp3 collection of every person who's ever lived here.  (I miss you, Dad, and I still have your USB phonograph turntable around here somewhere.)  SageTV records to hard drives E: and J: in their respective folders of \VCR and \VCR2.  I am nothing if not imaginative in my naming of things.

So that everyone on the local network (wired and wireless) can access their favorite TV shows, drives E: and J: have sharing permissions set so that everyone can, well, share.  No passwords or other security settings.  Everyone has read only access, so they can't accidentally "fix" something.  It worked and it worked well.  Until...

Due to power fluctuations and lightning storms and God hating me, in this household we had four (4) hard drives fail in as many months.  I replaced them with newer, faster, and cheaper models.  One computer is still down.  I have the new hard drive around here somewhere; I just haven't gotten around to installing it.  One of the drives in question was drive E: (500 GB) on the DVR computer.  I replaced it with a 1 TB drive that I'd actually bought for a different computer, but needs must when the devil drives.  Once I got SageTV to understand that this was a new drive E: and all the recorded shows on the old drive were dead and gone and not coming back, everything worked fine.  Until...

The family couldn't find their latest TV shows.  SageTV showed that they were recording, had been recorded, and were sitting happily there on the drive, but the family couldn't find them.  I quickly found the problem.  Since drive E: was new and, more importantly, empty, SageTV was recording all the stuff it was recording on the new drive trying to fill it up.  But when the family accessed the DVR computer through the network and looked for shared drives, they couldn't even see drive E: anywhere.  I had forgotten to set sharing permissions on this new drive.  It didn't show up on the network.  I shared drive E: making sure to use the same settings I'd used when sharing the original drive E: which incidentally were the same settings I'd used for drive J: back when I first installed it.  Everything was fine.  Until...

The family reported that Windows could not access the drive, they did not have permission to access it, and they were to contact their network administrator to request access.  Since I was the network administrator, this confused me, as I'd already given everybody access.  I tried it myself from my other computers and found that, yes, they were correct.  I changed settings and changed more settings and made new access groups and read every page that came up in every internet search, but shared drive E: while visible to every other computer on the network could not be accessed by any of them.  During my efforts to find a solution, I found only more problems.  There were other drives and folders on the DVR computer which could not be accessed through the network.  I'd just never noticed before.  Again, this was a Vista machine being accessed by an assortment of Windows 7 desktops and laptops, plus the occasional tablet or pad or smart phone running whatever OS they run.  I was focusing on the Windows 7 machines.  I eventually realized that while I couldn't successfully share drive E:, I could successfully share the \VCR folder on drive E:.  The family could now access their TV shows.  Problem solved.  Until...

The family noticed that the mp4 files of recently recorded TV shows, ones recorded after I successfully shared the \VCR folder, never appeared in said folder.  Older recordings were there.  Recent recordings still in mpg files awaiting conversion were there.  Other files associated with the recordings were there.  But the new mp4 files of the new recordings simply weren't there.  As time went on, and more and more of the older files were viewed or copied and eventually deleted, there were fewer and fewer mp4 files visible until eventually, they were none.  At all.

SageTV records files in MPEG-2 format, which is roughly the same format as used on DVD discs.  Technically, it records whatever the TV tuner device throws at it, but most of the time that's MPEG-2.  (I had one external USB TV tuner that could record MPEG-4 format, but it was flaky and created non-standard files that SageTV couldn't play most of the time anyway.  It's in a box around here somewhere.)  At standard 480i resolution at a "DVD quality" bit rate, this format uses about 3 GB an hour.  At digital HD resolutions as recorded off the air from an antenna with a different tuner, I've seen this go as high as 12 GB an hour.  Now, while my monitor is 1920x1080, I don't generally watch recorded TV with my face pushed up against the screen.  Usually, it's in a window in the corner while I check my email or play flash games or write articles for my website.  If I am watching full screen, it's usually from across the room.  So, I don't need DVD quality and I certainly don't need HD.

The solution is first scan the mpg file to strip out the closed captions and mark any commercial breaks, so they can be displayed and skipped later, respectively.  Then I scan the file with HandBrake in an attempt to see if the video is interlaced or not.  Interlaced means that every "frame" is made up of two "fields" one holding the odd numbered scan lines and the other holding the even numbered ones.  Interlacing is okay when you're displaying the video on a television, as television invented interlacing, but when viewed on an LCD computer monitor, especially when the image is blown up to fill a huge monitor, the interlacing is noticeable as jagged horizontal lines called, among other things, "mouse teeth."  There are usually settings on your media player to deinterlace during playback, but you have to set that one a video by video basis, and that interferes with the viewing enjoyment.  You see, not every video recorded from television is interlaced.  Most HD shows are progressive (that is, not interlaced), but not all.  Most SD shows are interlaced, but not all.  Now, you can leave the deinterlace filter running all the time without doing any serious damage, except that most deinterlace filters work by averaging together and/or throwing away half your scan lines, meaning that while your output is still 480 lines of pixels high, it's really made up of 240 lines with each line doubled.  That's okay if it's getting rid of the mouse teeth, but if there are no mouse teeth of which to be rid, you've thrown away half your resolution; video which was smooth is now jerky, and diagonal lines which were smooth are now jagged.

Also is the matter of letterboxing, pillarboxing, and pictureframing.  According to my spellchecker, none of those words exist, including spellchecker.  Standard television SD resolution is 720x480 or 704x480 or similar.  The pixels aren't exactly square, so it ends up displaying at 640x480 or 4:3.  Most digital HD is 1280x720 or 1920x1080 with square pixels at 16:9.  Note that HD is exactly twice or three times the width of SD but not quite that multiple in height.  16:9 in SD is about 640x360.  4:3 in HD is about 1280x960 or 1920x1440, and it's not completely unknown to find 4:3 computer monitors or laptops or tablets with really weird HD resolutions, though most maxed out at 1600x1200 before everything went 16:9.  (DVDs can use even more not-square pixels, stretching the 720x480 out to about 853x480 for yet another 16:9 resolution.)  The important takeaway here is that most SD television and some really old movies display at 640x480 4:3.  Newer HD television and some movies are 16:9 at various resolutions.  Recent movies are mostly but not always wider and shorter than 16:9, but may be cropped or padded to 16:9 for the DVD release.

The cropping and padding part is the problem.  Suppose you have a 640x480 4:3 source that you want to show on a 1920x1080 16:9 screen.  You could simply stretch the image to fill the screen.  This would make everyone look short and fat, but at least it would completely fill the screen.  (In the words of my late father, "I paid for all them pixums, so by God I'm going to use them!")  You could cut about 60 pixels off the top and bottom of the image so you end up with 640x360, which will evenly scale into 1920x1080.  Unfortunately, this might cut off the top of people's heads or the subtitles at the bottom or other vital information.  The third option is to uniformly scale up the video to the proper height and just leave the extra horizontal space blank, usually black.  You aren't using all your "pixums" but people's heads are the right shape and aren't cut off, and the image is as big and clear as it's going to get.  This is called pillarboxing because it reminds people of looking through a pair of pillars at the scenery outside.

Suppose you are going the other way.  You have a 16:9 (or wider) source that you want to display on a 4:3 screen, or at least transmit through standard SD television signals.  You could simply stretch the image and leave everyone tall and skinny.  You could cut pixels off each side so that the image fits the 4:3 mold, but unless you center on the action of every scene, you're going to miss something.  And if the two people talking are on opposite ends of the screen, you're going to have to "pan and scan" back and forth between them.  The third option is to uniformly scale the video to the proper width and leave the extra vertical space blank, again usually black.  This is called letterboxing because it reminds people of looking through a mail slot, and there are people who absolutely hate it.  Yes, these are older televisions owned mostly by older people used to 4:3 programming.  Even if they intellectually understand that they're getting the best representation of the original picture, instinctively they feel like they're missing the top and bottom of the video.  These are the people who seek out the pan and scan versions of modern movies on home video, even though in those cases they really are missing out, in this case on the sides.

The third case is pictureframing.  Imagine you have a source of a certain display ratio which was "fixed" by boxing it up with black bars for display in another ratio.  Now, imagine that someone now wants to show that video in the ratio for which it was originally intended.  You could (and should) strip off the black bars or even go back to the original source of the video, but what some TV stations or DVD players or televisions do is slap even more black bars on the other sides to get the right ratio.  It now has black bars on all four sides, making it look like a small picture in a too big picture frame, hence the name.  This process can be repeated.  This is made even worse if the resulting ratio doesn't match the display ratio on your TV or monitor, so the device adds it's own black bars.  I've attempted to watch videos which literally covered only 1/4th the total viewable area.

The upshot of all this is that with all the different televisions and computer monitors and laptops and tablets and smart phones in the house, boxing and framing and scaling willy nilly are going to make somebody unhappy.  (Really, spellchecker?  Willy is a word but nilly is not?)  Using a program of my own design, which admittedly steals the hard work of other programs by rifling through their debug files created as they process the original video, I can recognize the original video in the midst of all the boxing and framing, then do my own scaling to bring it up to or down to roughly SD number of pixels.  This is not ideal, as upscaling can make the picture a little fuzzy and downscaling loses some of the crispness and detail of HD, but it's a good compromise.  As long as I'm having to decode and re-encode the video anyway, I take advantage of advances in technology and convert the old MPEG-2 mpg file into a nice new h.264 mp4 file.  This gives me roughly the same quality at sometimes 1/10th the original file size.  That 3 GB hour long show sometimes is as small as 300 MB, for example.  I also take the time to do some sound leveling as I previously explained.

Now, when SageTV records a show off cable or antenna or wherever, it doesn't just stick the file in the recording directory (in my case, remember, drive E:\VCR or drive J:\VCR2) and forget about it.  It also maintains metadata about the file.  If you view the file in SageTV, it can tell you when the file was recorded, off what channel, which episode number in which season, who is guest-starring, what date it originally aired, etc.  This is all data from the EPG or Electronic Program Guide, which buying SageTV got me a lifetime subscription of, or at least until Google shuts it down.  We are unfortunately deleting the original file and replacing it with a very not exact duplicate.  But as long as we keep the file name the same (especially the cryptic 12-digit string of numbers near the end), SageTV will pick up on the fact that this is intended to be the same file and will associate the metadata from the old file with the new file.

Sometimes, SageTV scans the recording directories while my program is in the middle of converting.  This causes SageTV to see both the original file and the not-finished converted file at the same time.  This has lead to confusion and the loss of metadata.  To fix this, I changed the program so that it created the replacement video in a temporary folder called EZMedia.  I called the program doing the scanning and converting EZMedia because it did it all automatically and was much easier than doing it manually.  Still, I'm reminded of a movie quote:  "You think that was easy?"  Anyway, I'd put the replacement video in a temporary folder until it was finished processing.  Then, I'd very quickly move it to the original recording folder and just as quickly delete the original recording.  SageTV would later scan the recording folders, notice the change, associate the old metadata with the new file, and all would be golden.  As for the various family members watching various videos on various devices, well, if the aspect ratio wasn't perfect on a particular video on a particular device, there was only one set of black bars added by that device.  It worked flawlessly.  Until...

As I said before, the family couldn't see the new mp4 files on drive E:.  They could see the old ones, at least until they were viewed and deleted.  They could see the new mpg original recordings, at least until they were processed and deleted.  They could see the various log files of the various programs which scanned the original file in the process of conversion.  But they simply could not see the mp4 files in E:\VCR, even though they could still see all the converted files in J:\VCR2 just fine.  This was annoying because some members of the family liked to copy the videos to USB flash drives or even burn them to DVD to take with them to watch at a friend's house, for example.  It reached the point where I would have to go to the DVR computer and manually move requested files from E:\VCR to J:\VCR2 where of course they were perfectly visible and accessible through the network.  This of course used up all the space on drive J:, so I'd have to move some of my favorite shows over to drive E: to free up space.  SageTV didn't mind as long as the file ended up in a known recording folder.  Unfortunately, SageTV required a product key, of which I only had one and couldn't buy any more because Google bought SageTV and shut down all the sales, so I couldn't just install SageTV on everybody's computers and let them watch their videos that way.

According to teh interwebs, these invisible files were because of a known problem in Windows 7.  Well, known to Windows 7 users and system administrators, but denied by Windows 7 sales drones and technical support.  They kind of acknowledged it and released a hotfix which users say didn't actually fix the problem and created a bunch of new ones.  But a quick internet search revealed that I wasn't the only one who noticed that remote users couldn't always see new files added to a server's shared folders.  It was ultimately blamed on some kind of Windows folder sharing network permissions issue.  The newly created files weren't immediately shared with the network.  The main difference was that for everyone else, eventually the files did show up and become usable, either by themselves after a period of time or after the server or remote computer was restarted, and some computers on the same network with roughly the same hardware and same software could see the files as soon as they hit the shared folder.  I couldn't even get tablets and pads and smart phones that weren't even using Windows to see the files.  The propose fix was to change/add/delete some scary registry settings which changed the way Windows 7 looked at shared network folders, either on the server or on the remote computers.  It turned off some caching or changed the time before caches were cleared or something like that which Windows 7 had some kind of hangup about.  The problem was that the DVR computer, the server in this case, wasn't running Windows 7, but rather Vista which supposedly definitely didn't have this problem and definitely definitely didn't have the registry entries I was told to look for.  Furthermore, I'd have to apply this registry change to every remote computer trying to view the files.  In addition to possibly messing up otherwise perfectly functioning computers, I had no idea how to make similar changes to every tablet and pad and smart phone that might come into the house.  Also, since we had that big difference that everybody else's files would eventually show up and ours stubbornly remained invisible forever, I was pretty sure this scary registry edit wouldn't fix anything.  I never tried it.  (Really, spellchecker?  Else's isn't a word?  It's a perfectly cromulent word with a simple apostrophe and "s" at the end.  As long as you recognize the root word, making it a possessive shouldn't cause you to underline it with red squiggles.  Really, really, spellchecker?  While I'm typing out a complaint about you underlining else's, you suddenly un-underline it as if it's spelled correctly, only to re-underline it again the next time I use it?  Really?  And un-underline isn't a word but re-underline is?  Really?)


To make a long story short, in order to let the family see the disappearing video files, I was having to manually move them from drive E: to drive J:, then having to move files I wanted to keep from drive J: to drive E: to free up space.  This had gone on for a year or so.  This had gone on ever since I installed the new drive E:.  This was, as we say in the South, dumber than the proverbial box of alleged hammers.

Every time I had to go back to the DVR computer to move some files around, I felt pwned by Windows.  Keep in mind that I had set up the DVR computer to run unattended.  It didn't even have a mouse or keyboard attached, and the monitor was still there mostly because I didn't have another place to store it.  To access the DVR computer, I'd use a remote desktop product from my main computer.  Now, in theory, I or any member of my family could have used that exact same remote desktop process to access the DVR computer and move files around from any computer on the network, but did I really want my family having the ability to move files around and change settings on an antique collection of hardware and software which is responsible for all my television viewing enjoyment?  I'm not a well man.  Some days, even sitting at a computer is beyond me.  Some very bad days, pretty much all I can is lay in bed and watch previously recorded television shows on my computer monitor.  "Live" TV with commercial breaks and pointless padding and endless musical numbers annoys the crap out of me.  I have this weird USB hockey puck that lets me use a generic Windows Media Center remote control to, well, control a SageTV remote client running on my main PC.  I can skip past the boring parts, cue up the next show, remind SageTV to record or not record an upcoming show, delete old shows, etc.  It makes the bad days bearable, so my family and friends will just have to wait until I feel up to sitting at the computer and moving those files around for them.

Oh, and they can't just bring their USB thumb drives (my brother T3 insists on calling these "zip drives") and plug them into the DVR computer to access the files directly, because this is an old case and the only USB ports are on the back way down at the bottom under a big tangle of cables.  Even if they did hit the port blind, they'd need to use my main computer with the remote desktop software to copy the files, and as previously discussed, that ain't happening.

One day, I was moving mp4 files from drive E: where they were completely invisible to drive J: where they were completely visible, and vice versa, when suddenly I realized that I had forgotten to also copy the corresponding closed caption, commercial skipping, and various log files.  These files weren't strictly necessary, and I usually deleted the various log files once I was finished with them, but I've grown fond of closed captioning and I absolutely depend on automatic commercial skipping.  These files have to be generated from the original mpg files, as the conversion process ignores the closed caption data and the free version of the commercial marking program only works on mpg files.  While looking for these files, I happened to just open the shared folders from my main computer through the network.  Remember, only the mp4 files were invisible; these other files associated with the missing mp4 files could be seen through the network.  As I was looking through the troublesome drive E:, I was shocked to see (drum roll, please)  a bunch of mp4 files.  These were the same mp4 files I'd just moved from drive J: to drive E:.  Looking further, I found that every mp4 file I'd moved from J: to E: over the last few months (that hadn't been deleted through SageTV) was visible.  I was narwhalled.

"Narwhalled" is a term I invented to describe a situation in which some fact is obvious and well-known, yet somehow has manged to escape your notice.  You feel like the educational system, society in general, your family, or even the universe itself has somehow conspired to keep you ignorant of this fact.  You feel betrayed.  You feel gobsmacked.  You feel like you've run full-tilt into an invisible wall.  You feel like someone who has spent their entire life believing that narwhals are mythical creatures like unicorns and faeries and centaurs only to run into evidence that narwhals are real.  You want to go out and find someone, grab him or her by the shoulders, and shake violently while screaming "Why didn't you ever tell me narwhals are real?"  The least profanity-filled section of that last link goes something like this:  I also feel a certain sense of betrayal that nobody bothered to tell me the truth about narwhals. I seriously sat at my computer yesterday slowly scrolling through my gchat contacts thinking, "All of you know that narwhals are real animals and not a single one of you told are all TRAITORS!!!!1"

I checked with members of my family.  Apparently, they had been seeing mp4 files on drive E: for a while now, but since all the videos they wanted to watch had been moved to drive J:, they didn't feel it necessary to mention it to me.


Once I got over the shock and awe, I started experimenting.  mp4 files moved from J: to E: were visible.  Also, mp4 files moved from E: (where they were invisible) to J: (where they'd always been visible) and the back to E: were now visible.  I'd always suspected something was wrong with the files themselves -- maybe some kind of encoding error -- that kept them invisible, but this disproved that.  Moving the files around, making bit by bit copies that were completely 100% perfect replicas of the originals, somehow fixed the invisibility problem.


I didn't even have to move the files to drive J:.  I could move them to another folder or drive on the DVR computer, even a folder or drive that wasn't shared or was shared but gave an access violation every time you tried to access it from the network, then back to E:\VCR, and they'd be visible.  I could move mp4 files to that E:\EZMedia folder where they originally created and back and they'd be visible.  Half of this wasn't even technically copying or moving.  If you move a file from one folder to another on a single drive, Windows doesn't actually copy or move anything.  The file is still on the same sectors of the hard drive as it always was.  Windows just changes a variable somewhere so that it looks like the file now lives in a different folder.


Okay, so moving an invisible mp4 file from one folder to another and back made it visible on the network share.  Fine.  I could do that.  I cobbled together a quick batch file to automatically move all the mp4 files to someplace else and back.  It only took a few minutes to write, and it took less time to run.  I then pulled up the network shared drive and found that the invisible mp4 files were... still invisible.  Blankety blank blank blank.

I grabbed a few invisible mp4 files and manually moved them around.  I checked and these were perfectly visible through the network.

Blankety blank blank blank.

Moving the files manually made them visible.  Moving the files automatically with a program running under my login with the same administrator rights and privileges did not.  Since the whole point of the DVR computer was to automate all this, having to go there every so often to move files around on drive E: felt like exactly the same amount of Windows pwnage as moving the files to drive J:

Blankety blank blank blank.

I panicked.  After sleeping on it, my only thought was "How can I automate this?"  I ended up making a fork of EZMedia just to test something.  When it converted files from drive J:, it was business as usual.  When it converted files from drive E:, however, it put the converted files in drive J:.  All these converted mp4 files were visible.  Of course, this would have the side effect of slowly filling J: while slowly emptying E:, unless I manually moved some files back to E: every so often.  Eventually, E: would be empty except for the most recently recorded mpg files, while J: would fill up and SageTV would start deleting the oldest recordings just to make room for new ones.

If that was the case, why bother with E: at all?  Well, it was a 1 TB drive, which was 1/3 of my total recording capacity.  I didn't have enough free space on the 2 TB drive J: to move everything over.  Besides, what would I do with E: if I stopped using it for a recording drive?  Move it to another computer?  Put it in a portable enclosure and use it for backups?  Take it out back and shoot it with a high-power rifle?  I seriously considered that last one.  I didn't want to use it for anything important because I thought maybe the invisible file problem was caused by the drive itself.  What would happen if a vital backup or necessary system file suddenly became invisible?

I promised to make this long story short several paragraphs back, didn't I?

I was converting files one day, marveling at how some were visible and some were not (and how my spellchecker says there is only one "L" in marveling) when I remembered something from my research of the problem.  "It was ultimately blamed on some kind of Windows folder sharing network permissions issue."  I further remembered that when I first installed the replacement drive E:, I could not successfully share it on the network.  Sure, I could set all the settings and the drive certainly looked shared, but there were access violation errors if you actually tried to navigate to it over the network.  I eventually solved the problem by making the VCR folder shared instead.  However, the temporary folder, EZMedia, where the mp4 file was stored while it was being created, was still at whatever default sharing level it was at when the folder was created.  In theory, it had inherited whatever sharing settings belonged to it's parent directory, drive E: itself.  In spite of what Windows itself claimed, drive E: was not really shared and threw up errors every time you tried to access it through the network.

What if the EZMedia folder was the same way, supposedly shared but ultimately unsharable?  What if, hear me out now, the newly created mp4 file inherited this shared-but-unsharable setting when it was created in the EZMedia folder?  What if, OMG, the newly created mp4 file somehow kept this shared-but-unsharable setting when it was automatically moved to the VCR folder?

Testing was simple.  First, go to drive E: and the EZMedia folder, setting it to be shared with the world.  Second, navigate to that folder from another computer on the network and verify that, yes, it is indeed shared.  Third, run the conversion program on a new recording, putting the resulting mp4 in E:\VCR.  Finally, navigate through the network to that shared folder and look for the new mp4 file.

It was there.  Visible and everything.  I almost cried.

As near as I can tell, moving a file into a shared folder using a batch file or a compiled GFA BASIC 32 program (which was what EZMedia 5000 was) caused Windows Vista to keep the original file's sharing settings.  However, moving the same file manually caused Windows Vista to say "Hey, the Administrator is moving this file into a shared folder!  He must want this file to inherit the sharing settings of the new folder!  Let's share this thing with the world!"

And that, my friends, is how Uncle Troy solved the Mystery of the Disappearing Files.