The Technician Beware!

Going into people’s homes is not always a positive experience. When I enter a home, I am usually positive and upbeat and try to have fun with the customer. Most of the time, it is a pleasant experience.

However, there times when I have had the crap scared out of me. One time I was in the house of a couple monstrous Hawaiian brothers. They seemed really nice, and actually they were. The intimidating thing was their size and that both of them had shed their shirts and sporting a dazzling array of tattoos.

While we were in the room of one of the brothers, the older brother was getting ready for work. I was paying attention to the computer work I was doing while he got dressed. Suddenly, I heard the bolt of a pistol being cocked open and slammed shut. He had just chambered a shell in his 9mm. My heart was racing when he turned to his younger brother and me and said, “Well off to work. See you in the morning. And thank you for fixing my computer”. Turns out he works security at a local casino. I didn’t let them know that I needed a change of underwear!

Another time, I was asked to come to a nice elderly lady’s home to work on her computer. She is fairly tech savvy which was a refreshing change. It seems that most elderly people, including my mother, are very resistant to technology or anything that includes some change. My mother went to her grave never having had to lay a hand on a computer.

Anyway, I was busily trying to resolve the issues on her computer, and there were many. Meanwhile, this dear woman’s boyfriend (a man that was her age or older) was feverishly making dinner for the two of them.

About an hour after I had been working the computer and making good progress, this man with a heavy German accent was wandering about the house making remarks about computers. “Chicky (his nickname for the woman), why do you need za computah?” He would start talking to the bird… “Markus, why does Chicky need za computah? Can they get money out of da computah? No. They can’t get money from the computah.”

“Chicky, ask da gentleman what good is za computah? How can you get money from the computah?”

Meanwhile, we were trying to get things wrapped up. He was carrying on and on about “za computah”. As the dinner came closer and closer to being completed, he grew more and more impatient with the two of us dealing with her computer.

“Markus, they are never going to get money out of za computah. Why do they waste all zis time on da computah? It is time for the gentleman to tell Chicky why she needs za computah.”

If you haven’t already guessed, I am “the gentleman”. He was getting more and more vociferous and loud. At one point he came into the room where were working and demanded “why does Chicky need zis computah?” while he was standing right behind me. He actually tried to push me off of the chair!

I was never more relieved to leave a customer’s home than I was at that time. This man was really quite neurotic. These are the risks of going into people’s homes.

Some have asked me if I am ever nervous or feel vulnerable when entering the homes of my customers. Well after these experiences I have become a little more cautious.

The Pet Odyssey

I am an animal lover. I am never without a dog. My customers are always happy when I tell them that they do not need to put their dog out in the back yard while I am there. Their dogs always spend some time snuffling me. They always recognize that I am a dog person and enjoy hanging around with me while I work on their human’s computers. Many are surprised at how their dogs take to me.

The names they choose for their dogs and cats often strike me as humorous. I was working on one customer’s computer. They had a large desk with a 19” LCD screen. His cat, Harold, was “helping” me fix the computer. Harold sat between me and the monitor and spent much of his time swatting at the mouse cursor on the screen.

One other customer had a very hyperactive Poodle mix. We were working on his computer when she came running through and the mouse and keyboard disappeared from their place as the dog’s leg caught their cords. The owner was yelling profanities at the poor dog and chased her off. She came back and managed to get tangled in the phone cord connected to the DSL modem. The modem went flying off the desk and the phone cord was violently ripped out of the wall. The best I could tell, this dog’s name was “Son of a Bitch”. Funny I thought, supposing that she was more of a “daughter” than a “son”.

When I entered another customer’s home, I noticed they had one of those funny, smashed-in-nose Pugs. When he snuffled me, he sounded like a little pig snorting and grunting which just cracked me up. I asked her what his name was… she said “Homer”. I don’t care where you are from; a Pug that snorts named Homer is just darned funny!

In Pursuit of Filthy Lucre

It is amazing to me how so many people have their reality skewed by the fact that something cost an inordinate amount of money. I admit, I have fallen into this fallacy of thinking myself. Many of us believe things like “I paid $25,000 for my car… therefore, it will last me a long time, like 10 years.” This is a non sequitur, but that was my thinking with my Pontiac.

Most of us have had the experience of our wonderful American cars falling apart after about three years. We have to buy new tires, new breaks, transmissions fail, blown head gaskets, etc. Then we grumble in anger when we must pay our mechanic fees to keep it together.

Well, computers don’t even begin to have the same “long life” as our automobiles. In the past 10 or 12 years, computers have ended up being obsolete almost as soon as we take them out of their boxes and install them. We can expect a good two to five years service of an average desktop. Even less is true of notebook computers because of their small parts and the fact that most parts are not user serviceable.

When I sit down with a customer to assess the problems on their computers, I am the first to explain to them that, if their computer is more than five years old, it might be best to consider their budget. In reality, it would be better for their budget to take the $80 to $250 they might spend on my efforts to affect repairs and/or upgrade to their computer and spend that money on a new computer.

Many are surprised that I would talk myself out of business like that, but admit that they have been thinking about it. Frankly, between you and me, it is in my best interest. I hate working on old computers from the last millennium. It is a hassle to find the parts to upgrade older computers – one usually has to hunt down used parts on eBay. And they are so blasted slow… “come on computer, I haven’t got all minute!”

In the case of notebook computers, it is already expensive to have a technician find the hardware problems, and most won’t even look at an older computer because it is not cost effective for anyone. And even when I do get upgrades and/or repairs completed, the customer is usually disappointed that I haven’t made it work as fast as their friend’s computer, or their neighbor’s computer. So, even when I do a good job, I lose. And I never hear from them again because they assume the work I did and the money they spent was not a good value – which reflects back on me.

One of my customers has a notebook computer with a Pentium III 300 Mhz. It was sluggish and had a number of errors that occurred on start up. I did my normal triage and was pretty quick to explain that it was a very old computer and she would be better off spending her money on a new computer. She said, “I spent $3,000 on this computer in ’96 and it needs to last.” Then I said, “Until when??? 2006? This is not a car!”… on the inside, on the outside I said, “Ok, we’ll see what I can do here.”

I explained to her that the costs of computers have come down considerably and she could get a replacement notebook for less than $1,000. But she wouldn’t hear it. “I am not spending any money on a new computer. I paid $3,000 for this computer and it is going to last.” I kept plugging away on it and made some headway. Of course, she was still not pleased with its performance. I repeated my warning of spending money on this when she should invest it into a new computer. She chanted her mantra once again, “I paid $3,000 for this computer and it has to last.”

She said, “I am going to get DSL installed in a couple of weeks and I know that it will be much faster then.” I scratch my head in wonder every time I hear a customer say this or ask me if DSL or Cable will speed the computer up. The answer is NO. Having DSL does not speed up the computer in any way, shape, or form. It speeds up your internet connection and you internet surfing speeds. But I digress.

After two hours of trying every trick I knew, I squeezed a little more performance out of it. To me it was not a satisfactory use of my time, but she paid me for it and that made it worth it… especially because she didn’t make some insinuation about my abilities.

Two weeks later, she called me back for another hour and a half session on her $3,000 laptop… she had DSL and suddenly was bogged down with spyware and viruses (gee, what a surprise). She had no firewall or virus protection, and of course no one makes a decent firewall that works with Windows 98 anymore. I installed a few useful freeware programs that will help, but no matter what I do, it is never going to be a $3,000 computer anymore.

But, I developed a new mantra for me: “It doesn’t bother me any more to work on an old computer because time spent on a customer’s computer is money in my pocket.” In this instance, I have to set aside my desire for “job satisfaction”, and settle for satisfaction in “filthy lucre”.

To BB or not to BB

Eventually, I do actually make it into people’s homes to work on their computers. Most visits are very pleasant and I enjoy very much working with people and having fun with them. I am often a source of entertainment for them while I do my work.

However, once in a while, I get customers who are “not quite right” in the head. I was summoned to a business that was actually being run out of a residence. Of course, this is very common. My first year of business was run completely out of my home and vehicles.

Just for the sake of the story, let’s call him Donald Anderson… because that is his name. The chances of him reading this are about reasonable as believing blood can be extracted from a rock.

Donald is a very quirky individual, which should have been a warning sign to me. My first visit, I arrived at the appointed time. He arrived 45 minutes later completely unaware that he should have been there to meet me. So after he remembered, he felt bad and offered me a drink. We talked about his needs: he has a network that included two PCs and two Macs.

My specialty is PC systems. So I told him that I would hire a Mac professional that I know and he would pay me and I would in turn pay her. While we were discussing the problems and he was showing me around, he was slipping ahead of me and grabbing things off the counters and desks and stuffing them quickly into drawers. I thought nothing of it until later.

The day arrived that we (my Mac professional, let’s call her Jane – and that is not her name – and me) were to do the work. As usual, Donald was running back and forth between the bedroom/office and the family room/kitchen with strange people coming and going. One of the people who came had a box full of watches of every kind, NOT in their packaging and showing signs of wear. They were cleaning them and trying to guess what they could get for each one. I am sure you can imagine what went through my mind – some watch thief was trying to fence his goods.

I talked with Donald prior to the start of our work. I explained to him that there are two of us working on this, so I was going to charge him an hourly pay that was double. He understood and agreed. Donald’s secretary showed us where we should start – we will call her Maria.

Jane and I began our work. While we worked, Donald engaged in a number of strange things. Besides the running back and forth, scrubbing used watches and other used valuables, he was drinking one whiskey after another. He was cussing at pigeons outside his house and believe it or not, he pulled out a bb-gun and climbed up in the windows and poked it out the door and was killing them.

He said that the pigeons were good eating. Then there was a stray cat that he hated (I am guessing because it was stealing the pigeons he was killing). Him and another neighbor (who also had a gun) both went out and hunted the cat down. He came back bragging of his kill. I began to get a little scared.

Jane and I worked and in about two and a half hours, we got everything working quite well. I paid Jane and sent her on her way (as we were both a little freaked out about Donald’s behavior – but her more than me). I wrote up an invoice and asked Donald if he could pull himself away from his “work” in the back room. I waited about another half hour for him.

He offered me another drink, which I accepted but did not drink – because I was afraid he was drunken enough that he might be offended if I refused it. Anyway, I told him what he owed me. He was silent for an uncomfortable length of time. Suddenly he went from a calm demeanor to a fire-breathing dragon.

He used so much profanity that the paint began to peal off of the walls. A sailor would blush… He began to call me every name in the book. He said that what I was asking was outrageous and he ran up and down the halls spewing profane things about me, my business and my maternal relatives. He even sat down in the back room and explained to his watch thief friends what an immoral business man I was and made fun of my business name.

His secretary, Maria, was cowering in a corner and from the look on her face, she was about to burst into tears. When he went back into the back room, screaming obscenities, she and I whispered. She told me she had never seen him act this was. Of course, she had only worked for him about two months. And she only worked for him another week after that incident.

The tie-raid continued for another five or ten long minutes. I asked him to calm down and we could discuss it, perhaps even negotiate. Every time I tried to get his attention, he shut me up with loud screaming and threats of bodily harm. He even said that if I didn’t get out of his house he was going to “kick my ass all the way downtown”. He threatened me with a law suit and literally dared me to send him a bill.

Heck, I know when I am not wanted. I cut my losses and made for home. I had to keep looking back while I was walking to my car to make sure he wasn’t coming after me with his bb-gun.

I Know It All

I was deciding which eatery would get my lunch business when I received another call that was quite aggravating. He started out with a tone of professionalism and sincerity:

"Hi there. I wanted to get an idea of what your charge for your services. How much do you charge per hour?"

Well, I have a polished schspiel just for such an occasion. "My hourly fee is $60 but on my initial visit, the first half-hour is free. However, I offer a number of services that are tailored to fit most of the tasks asked of me on a regular basis. For example, I offer a complete computer clean-up which involves the scan and removal of all virus, worms, spyware, adware, etc. It includes the installation of all of the latest Windows updates, three free anti-virus and anti-spyware application and optimization of the computer. I do all of that for $99."

Well, obviously he was not too impressed, because he knows all of us are cheats and take advantage of our customers. "Ya, what does it take to scan for viruses, 20 minutes? I can do that."

So, I get my hackles up a little bit while I am thinking about how many scans I actually do to eradicate all of the malware on any given customers computer. If I sat at their house to do it, I would rack up about three hours! Maybe I would rather do that and get $180 instead of just $99. But I bite my lip and continue to listen.

"How about laptops? Do you sell laptops?"

"No, but I can help you get a good price on one. I am an authorized Dell VAR and that is the brand I recommend." I could tell he was anxious to say something else, so I stopped.

"Like how much do you think I can get one for?"

"Probably anywhere from $600 to $1000, depending on what you want. It is the best bargain around, and you are avoiding the middle man."

"Ah, come on! I can go over to Sam's club and pick up a laptop for about $400. Why would I want to spend all that on a Dell? Well, see, my daughter has a laptop and it is slow and has so many problems it is useable. How much will you charge to fix it?"

$400 at Sam's club? What is this guy smoking? No one on planet earth sells laptops (useful, quality laptops) for $400! Maybe if he meets someone in a dark ally somewhere near Sam's club and buys it out of the back of an old Chevy van. "I will have to come by and take a look at it. Remember, the initial half hour is free. But if it is filled up with viruses and spyware, and you want to take advantage of my Full System Clean-up service, as I said it will be $99."

"You want me to pay that much for a quicky scan of the computer?"

"Well sir, then I suggest you run your 20 minute scan on her computer yourself, and it that doesn't work, then go to Sam's club and pick up that $400 laptop to replace it." That is what I wish I had said... what I really said is "Well, sir, I don't think we can do any business together. Thanks for your call."

Do you know what I know?

Going about my normal duties of visiting customers computers in their homes (the customers' homes, not the computers'), I received a call on my cell phone. I answered in the normal way clearly defining myself as a computer technician.The first words out of his mouth were "What do you know about computers?"

Well, this is one of the most nebulus questions I have been asked in a while. I though I would do the proper thing and find ways to narrow the search of how to answer him."Well, sir, what do you want me to know?"Believe this, or don't, his reply was "Everything I know."I thought to my self, well, I left my crystal ball at home and the last time I checked I was not telepathic. So how could I know if I know for sure if I know everything he knows. What if there is one thing on the list that I don't know... will I lose all of my credibility? Will I not gain him as a customer?"

Maybe you can tell me how I can help you, let's start there", I said with a calm confidence."I have an ASUS A7N8X-E motherboard with an Athlon 2200+ chip, a gig of RAM and an ATI Radeon Sapphire card. I need to replace it with something comparable that will accept the Athlon chip".Ok, now we're getting somewhere. He is talking my language. "So, tell me how I can help you with that?"

"Where can I get a replacement for a good price?" He had the same 'almost challenging' tone he was maintaining the whole conversation."I recommend that you do some searching on the internet. Might I suggest, or They have really good prices. Or..." he cut me off and his tone changed from challanging to angry: "How the *&@@! can I buy anything on the internet when my %@@*!#*^!@ computer is broke down???"

Well, see, I did not know everything he knew. I didn't know that his computer was non-functional... but thank the Lords of Kobol, now I know everything he knows, so I thought that since I knew everything he knows, it would be a good time to hang up.


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