July 11, 2007

Not that fun at all

Last Thursday, in a split second, my computer turned into a very expensive paper-weight. It locked up, froze up, melted down... in short, it refused to do anything except run the cooling fans full blast.

From what I could gather, it looked like it may have been a hard drive failure, which would have led to heart failure on my part. But much to my surprise, I was able to get through to an ENGLISH speaking tech guy in minutes, who promptly had me doing open-heart surgery on the thing to try to isolate the problem. He said (from Timbuktu or wherever he was) that he thought I needed a new motherboard. Oh boy.

So I sat back to await the call from the computer repair guy who would come over to my place and scare the crap out of me as he rooted around in my computer like it was an in line 6 cylinder or something.

They said 3 to 6 days... and the magic geek showed up in two.. not bad. He slammed around and replaced the motherboard, then had me biting my nails as he roughly switched the processor from the old to the new board, plugged in all my expansion cards (not in the same places, which wasn't good) and booted it up. It didn't work. It was worse than it was before.

Now even the cooling fans didn't work. Nothing happened. He snarkily said "We have problems." Oh wonderful.

Then I looked over the situation, saw that he'd plugged it into a power strip (this was at a Dopette's house, not Dope Manor) and after a moment's desperate thinking, I said, "Maybe if I flip this wall switch...." upon which the thing whirred to life. Close call.

Long story longer, everything appears to be back in fine shape... no data loss, no damage. After rupturing a few discs lugging the thing around and putting it back in place, including at least 1,385 cables and wires which I had to locate and plug and/or screw into the correct spots on the back of the computer BY FEEL, and a few tweaks here and there, it was good as new.

I can breath again.

It was so bad without a computer that I actually accomplished all sorts of long delayed chores and read about 350 pages of a book I'd been reading sporadically and finished it. (Doris Kernes Goodwin's "Team of Rivals", about Lincoln and his cabinet, an excellent book. Highly recommended.) It almost got to the point where I was considering initiating human contact in person.

It was sheer hell.

But just wanted to let you know the reason there's been nothing new here and no comments have been posted. That was the reason. There still might not be much new on the blog, but not due to technical problems.


At 7/24/2007 6:55 PM, Blogger nicodemus said...

WELCOME BACK! Sounds like a major hard drive crisis! I know the feeling. And whenever I have had to call in the technicians I am grateful and I think of how much we are really at their mercy.

At 7/25/2007 5:28 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

You hit the nail on the head.

A computer failure can literally make you sick, since you simply have no solid idea what happened, or how much damage was done, much less what it will cost in time, money, and possible loss of data.

That's the worst part of it all, that you're at the complete (almost) mercy of some guy with Cheeto dust on his chin. I consider myself pretty knowledgable about the workings of computers, but even so, once the guy starts working, there's not much you can do unless you see him making a horrible mistake.

And I do know enough about computers to know that an average person could very, very easily get ripped off horribly by even a half-assed computer tech.

As it is, if your problem is software related, in other words, some code or program is messing things up, 99% of the time, they'll just say they have to wipe your hard drive clean, losing everything, and then reload windows and start from scratch. It would simply take too much time and effort to try to track the problem down, they assume, that they don't even try. This may be the case sometimes, or even most of the time, but it would seem worth at least an effort considering that they may be wiping out forever important documents, records, photos, etc.

Hardware problems are a bit more concrete, but again, you have to take their word for what part they say you need to replace, unless you happen to have some sort of sophisticated testing equipment and can actually see if they're right. (and even if you did, it wouldn't be practical)

You're very right though, it's that sinking feeling that it's going to be a major problem, you might lose valuable data, and it is going to be very expensive that is the worst, precisely because, as you said, you have to take the word of this person who is, after all, in business to make a profit.

Not a very secure feeling at all. In many ways, it's easier to rip people off in the computer repair business than it is in the auto repair business, a business which has a reputation for such things. At least with an auto repair situation, you can ask for the old part and have a chance to check it out to see if it indeed needed replacement. With computers, you're completely vulnerable to whatever the tech says.

You can see an oil leak, but you can't spot a microscopic short on some circuit board or tell if a cable is bad.

The tech might see right away that the only problem was that you had a floppy disk in the drive which prevented the system from booting up. It would take him 10 seconds to fix, but he wouldn't make much money. If he was dishonest, he could easily say that your RAM was bad, you needed a motherboard, or any number of pricey things that would make him a tidy profit. What would you know? Can anyone tell if RAM memory or a circuit board is truly defective just by looking at it? Would it even be possible to prove that the guy committed fraud? Not likely.

In that respect, I was a nervous wreck until I knew for certain that the thing actually worked. And I was also very lucky that everything went straightforward and didn't cost me a dime as it was still under the standard warrenty. (I NEVER shell out for any extended warranties that they're always pushing, and I've never had a case where I regretted it. For the most part, they're a huge rip-off... that's why they push them so hard.)

When I called the manufacturer (Dell) I got a human on the phone within a few minutes, it took only three days between my call and having it up and running again, and it didn't cost a dime. I certainly can't complain.

But man, what a sickening feeling I had between the time it occured until it was up and running.

As you say, helpless.

At 7/25/2007 2:32 PM, Blogger Robbie C. said...

I love computer problems. They are a great challenge and learning experience.

You are right though. Often you are at the mercy of the repair man. I feel the same way every time my car breaks. A couple months ago I had to drop a few hundred to the nice folks at Midas as they informed me all my back brakes needed replaces. They had it up on the hoist and taken apart, who was I to argue with them???

Its now becoming deathly important to not only have friends that are lawyers, doctors, and mechanics, but also one that is a computer geek.

Glad you got it fixed. If any of my babies ever died, I would cry. Though I did finally give away my first computer from 1999 to a buddy that fixes them up. It was pretty much old parts that I didn't need, so I finally made the call and dumped it. I guess having 5 other computers is enough for now...

At 7/25/2007 4:39 PM, Blogger nicodemus said...

Consider converting to an iMac. You will be glad you did. I know I used to be afraid to make the change from Windows to Apple, thought it wouldn't be compatible. But once I made the change, I found it to be a more stable operating system. That, and I don't have wires and powerstrips all over the place.

I had this Dell Laptop and even though I always kept it updated and only used it about once a month, it still sucked. Hard drive was always crashing after I turned the power on, and it was already on its second motherboard. The wireless connection was hit or miss. So last month I got a macbook, and so now I left the world of Windows behind.

At 7/26/2007 3:26 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...


Truly as the Good Book says, "And the geeks shall inherit the earth."


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